communitarianism

Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell

Ragamuffin by Tobias BuckellAs I mentioned in my review of Crystal Rain, I enjoyed reading Tobias Buckell’s debut novel, but I enjoyed reading the sequel, Ragamuffin (Tor, 2008), even more. This may be because Buckell has grown as a writer or it may be because Ragamuffin is more a traditional galaxy-spanning space opera, one of my favorite subgenres. But another reason is that there are more prominent libertarian themes in Ragamuffin than there were in Crystal Rain, enough that it was a finalist for the 2008 Prometheus Award.

Where Crystal Rain was set on a lost colony planet mostly devoid of advanced technology, Ragamuffin opens on an advanced planet ruled by an alien race called the Gahe, who are themselves a client race under the rule of the secretive Satraps. Human beings are officially “free” in the “benevolent” Satrapy, but in fact are forced to live on the margins of society — on space stations in the middle of nowhere, on interdicted planets cut off from the rest of the galaxy by collapsed wormholes (including Earth itself), or on reservations. On the Gahe planet, Astragalai, humans who don’t want to serve in the role of intelligent pet for a Gahe master must live on a reservation, which they can only leave when granted a temperary “human safety” pass. Woe to the human who does not return to his reservation before his temporary pass expires: the penalty is death or enslavement.

We are first introduced to the protagonist of the novel, Nashara, on one such reservation called Pitt’s Cross. Fans of Pepper and John from Crystal Rain will be increasingly disappointed not to see them at the outset, so I think it is best to go into this novel with the foreknowledge that characters from Crystal Rain do not make an appearance until about halfway through. Still, Nashara does quickly grow on you and you will get to see Pepper open a big ol’ can o’ whoop ass eventually, so hang in there. And if it’s Pepper-style whoop ass you’re after, Nashara will not disappoint.

So, anyway, Nashara escapes Pitt’s Cross and rides on an orbital skyhook and transport pod up to a space station to meet up with a group, the revolutionary League of Human Affairs, for whom she had just completed a dangerous job. The League wants to overthrow the Satrapy and achieve real freedom for humanity. But Nashara’s loyalties lie elsewhere and she has a greater mission to accomplish. Things don’t go as planned, but Nashara manages to hitch a ride on a spaceship and proceeds to be hunted in a race across the galaxy by agents of the Satrapy.

[Keep reading…]

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MOVIE REVIEW | Ninja Assassin Thumbnail

[Warning: Spoiler in the last sentence of the first paragraph.]

First of all, I found the title of the movie to be redundant from the get-go. The action scenes are mostly way over the top. The gore insanely so. Swords and other blades slice through body parts, even cutting men in half at the waist, as if they were hot knives slicing through butter. Ninja stars fly from hands like they are being fired from a machine gun. They even have chemtrails. Blood fountains and splatters by the bucket load. Our ninja hero takes dozens of lethal wounds, losing gallons of blood, and not only lives to tell about it but keeps on fighting. There is a bit of super-speed blurred movement and mind-over-body self-healing, so the movie is something of a fantasy action thriller. We’re treated to the cliché of the hero being down for the count, about to be killed, when someone he cares about is attacked and suddenly he discovers renewed vitality and determination and, inexplicably, an unbelievable (that’s saying a lot for this movie) leap in skill level.

For all that, I found Ninja Assassin to be entertaining. The action scenes are well-done and stylish. And I particularly liked the parkourinspired sequences. The plot is interesting and tightly executed. The story even has a couple of  elements of interest to libertarians. There are a number of ninja clans that kidnap orphan children and train them to be assassins, indoctrinating them with the belief that the lives of individuals are valueless compared to that of the clan, which is one big family to which they owe unquestioning and unwavering loyalty and obedience. The ninja clans apparently act as secret private contractors for governments around the world, assassinating targets for 100 lbs. of gold. Our ninja hero is one particularly promising pupil of the Ozunu clan. He buys into the propaganda at first, but falls for a pretty young girl, a fellow trainee, who does not. She attempts to escape, and is recaptured and executed in front of all the ninjas-in-training as an example. When he is later faced with killing another girl, whom he is told has similarly betrayed the clan, as the final requirement of becoming a full member of the clan, he refuses and is nearly killed. The bulk of the movie is about his quest for revenge against the Ozunu clan with the help of a female government agent.

Though it is a classic revenge tale, the negative portrayal of coercive and aggressive collectivism is a nice touch. The notion that the individual should be subservient to and acquire his value and ultimate end from The Collective, whatever it be named (the Family, the Clan, the Tribe, the Race, the Nation or State), is an insidious sickness. It permeates the communitarian classical republicanism of Rome (as I explain in my working paper “Roman Virtue, Liberty, and Imperialism: The Murder-Suicide of Classical Civilization” (pdf)), which, along with classical liberalism, with which it is in tension due to the conflict with the latter’s inherent individualism, was one of the major influences on the so-called Founding Fathers of the United States of America. It is also inherent in nationalism and, of course, the modern collectivist political movements of our age. At the risk of being redundant, a truly libertarian and civilized society exists for each and every individual’s own well-being – not the other way round.

[Is-Ought GAP and The Libertarian Standard]

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