police statism

Dredd 3D

Dredd 3D

The Hollywood Movie Factory has turned out another flick, helping to satiate the demand for competent but uninspired action vehicles conveniently forgettable enough not to take up valuable cerebral RAM for the long-term. This one is called Dredd 3D and is based on the same source material that spawned the Stallone production some years ago. I hardly remember the previous version, and I fully expect to have difficulties recalling the present one when, in a decade or two, they remake it. More interesting than the movie, however, are all the libertarian points it makes without any indication that it means to.

In the future, the United States has become an irradiated wasteland, save for a megacity that stretches from old Boston to old DC. A place of squalor and, one suspects based on general living conditions, a robust welfare state, 800 million inhabitants huddle together inside its protective walls, trying to eke out an existence while spawning the occasional mutant.

There are gigantic living centers hundreds of stories high where like classes of people are housed. These massive structures have all the hallmarks of government housing, from a disinterested janitorial staff to poorly maintained and infrequently cleaned premises to homeless squatters claiming filthy nooks and crannies. As one would expect, drug lords dominate in these neglected mini-cities.

Judge Dredd, a member of the police/military class, has the legal privilege to apprehend, try, and punish on his own authority. He takes a student out with him for a day, a young woman who cannot manage a passing grade at the academy but whose mutant psychic powers make her highly desirable for the force. In answering a police call, they enter Peach Trees, the name of one of the gigantic living complexes, and arrest a prominent member of a powerful drug gang. The local drug lord, fearing what information her subordinate will give away when he is interrogated, locks down the building and tries to eliminate the judges.

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NEWS | Reason.tv Interviews David Brin Thumbnail

David Brin is the author of science fiction novels The Postman, the Uplift series beginning with Sundiver, and others as well as the ever-popular nonfiction work, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?. He recently sat down with Reason.tv’s Tim Cavanaugh to discuss his recent criticisms of “dogmatic libertarians,” his hobbyhorse of government transparency, and the subject of uplifting dolphins.

I have much to say about Brin’s attacks on “dogmatic libertarians,” by which he means followers of Murray Rothbard and Ayn Rand who worship property too much, but watch the video first and then continue on below for my commentary.1

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  1. It’s heartening to see that the video on YouTube has more dislikes than likes at the moment. 

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NEWS | The Right to Free Speech and Firefly on Campus Thumbnail

Malcolm Reynolds, FireflyHave you heard the story about the college professor who was harassed by campus police over a poster of Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly that he put up outside of his office?

I happened to be visiting FIRE’s website today and noticed a video about the story. I first heard about this story a couple of months ago but for some reason didn’t write about it here at the time. It’s a particularly interesting news story for me because it occurred at the intersection of three of my interests: libertarianism, science fiction, and (higher) education. FIRE is the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, whose mission is defending said rights in higher education.

For those who might have missed the story, and in the interests of curating it here, I might as well do a “news” post about it now, eh?

To make a long story short, the campus police at the University of Wisconsin–Stout had a policy of censoring posters that were suggestive of violent threats. James Miller, a professor of theater and speech had put up a poster of Mal with a line of his from the pilot episode of Firefly:

You don’t know me, son, so let me explain this to you once: If I ever kill you, you’ll be awake, you’ll be facing me, and you’ll be armed.

The incident escalated from there, to the point that Miller contacted FIRE for help. Then the SF community got involved. Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, and even Neil Gaiman notified their million-plus Twitter followers about the case. The university at first defended the censorship (free speech in academia!, eh? only for PC speech), but eventually folded under the mounting pressure from free speech advocates and Firefly fans.

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MOVIE REVIEW | J. Edgar: Power, Both Pathetic and Terrifying Thumbnail

J. Edgar, the new film directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is making the news for dealing frankly with the decades old rumors concerning Hoover’s private life. But that’s not what makes the film immensely valuable. Its finest contributions are its portrait of the psycho-pathologies of the powerful and its chronicle of the step-by-step rise of the American police state from the interwar years through the first Nixon term.

The current generation might imagine that the egregious overreaching of the state in the name of security is something new, perhaps beginning after 9/11. The film shows that the roots stretch back to 1919, with Hoover’s position at the Justice Department’s Bureau of Investigation under attorney general A. Mitchell Palmer. Here we see the onset of the preconditions that made possible the American leviathan.

Palmer had been personally targeted in a series of bomb attacks launched by communist-anarchists who were pursuing vendettas for the government’s treatment of political dissidents during the first world war. These bombings unleashed the first great “red scare” in American history and furnished the pretext for a gigantic increase in federal power in the name of providing security. In a nationwide sweep, more than 60,000 people were targeted, 10,000 arrested, 3,500 were detained, and 556 people were deported. The Washington Post editorial page approved: “There is no time to waste on hairsplitting over infringement of liberties.”

Here we have the model for how the government grows. The government stirs up some extremists, who then respond, thereby providing the excuse the government needs for more gaining more power over everyone’s lives. The people in power use the language of security but what’s really going on here is all about the power, prestige, and ultimate safety of the governing elite, who rightly assume that they are ones in the cross hairs. Meanwhile, in the culture of fear that grips the country – fear of both public and private violence – official organs of opinion feel compelled to go along, while most everyone else remains quiet and lets it all happen.

The remarkable thing about the life of Hoover is his longevity in power at every step of the way. With every new frenzy, every shift in the political wind, every new high profile case, he was able to use the events of the day to successfully argue for eliminating the traditional limits on federal police power. One by one the limitations fell, allowing him to build his empire of spying, intimidation, and violence, regardless of who happened to be the president at the time.

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