The big lie about terrorism

There are two notable quotes that “Honest Abe” has imparted on me lately:

The first:

“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”

And the second one:

“The problem with quotes on the internet is that you can never be certain that they’re authentic.”

The facts on the ground are that the terrorist cell linked to the Paris attack was being rounded up in Belgium. Members from that group detonated explosives at an American airlines desk and at a Brussels Metro Station. There were 30 people killed and hundreds injured.

The lies are these: Terrorists are an existential threat; immigrants from Muslim counties are responsible; liberalism is responsible; the security services could have stopped it; people should allow the government to do “things” to stop this from reoccurring. In my opinion the biggest lie about terrorism is that terrorism is novel and somehow an existential threat to the way of life we know.

It is hard to debate in the face of real facts but for some reason debate comes never the less, just louder and with generous interspersing of ignorance and lies. The ignorance and lies don’t change the facts just as a bucket of shit doesn’t change the performance of a Rolls Royce. But that shit on the bonnet sure makes it harder to appreciate the fine craftsmanship that goes into making that beautiful piece of British engineering!

I’ll build my vehicle anyway.

Media Distortions

There have been studies which found that up to 45% to 71% of the press and radio news was about deviance and its control. While the news media shows an understandable interest in crime and violence, the image is distorted. The distortions are many. The media make it seem that all age groups get involved in murder. A toddler shoots his mother, an old lady burns her lover with chicken grease, a woman kills her children. Elderly people, women and children are disproportionately emphasized as victims of violent and egregious crime. Criminals are seen as masterminds, clever scheming conspirators, superhumans who occupy the time of entire security forces and still escape to plan their next attack. Conversely the police are also promoted as being capable, clever, competent and careful.

News items are not facts. Just because we haven’t heard any items about Donetsk doesn’t mean there aren’t regular battles between the belligerents. The country that is East of Europe and West of Russia is an item of news that greatly concerns geopolitics but is seen as something that does not concern the public right now. The UK will not be required to send troops or money because we are not at war with Russia. Whatever troops and/or money go to Ukrainian nationalists will continue to do so below the radar of the public. A more parochial example of the divergence of news and fact is that while actual crime in England continues to decline, fear of crime and reportage of crime correlate upwards. The news media curate truth and therefore helps to define the agenda.

News providers have a standard set of tools at their disposal: immediacy, drama, human interest, high status, simplification, novelty, risk and violence. Listen to any breaking news and you will identify at least half of these elements. People love this formula: crime thrillers, war movies, violent video games, happy endings to all of the above. All of these things sell well and the news is following a similar market force: “If it bleeds it leads”. It’s not a conspiracy to lie to us about the state of the world; it’s simply presenting only the facts that stimulate the most reaction. It’s informational sugar: stimulating but not healthy.

What’s the negative effect of all of this bloody news filled with explosions and smoke and people in distress? Again, research shows that heavy consumers of television and tabloids express greater fear of going out at night and more xenophobia. Heavy consumers of Facebook show higher levels of anxiety and depression. Children that are heavy consumers of both traditional and digital media show developmental difficulties. The internet is not a panacea of objectivity either. It lies more often and distorts the truth more often than traditional media. It’s filled with porn, trolls, chicken littles, liberal crusaders and the worst of human expression. It is filled with many good things as well, but on the internet there are few engineers crafting worthwhile stories….and buckets and buckets of waste.

The pith of this article is about the negative effects of media during a crisis, especially in a crisis caused by terrorist action. What would ISIS be without video websites and twitter? What would Al Qaeda be without two buildings falling down in the middle of the city most featured in movies? Obviously, to the Gulf, Asian, US, Russian and British governments these groups would be quite serious no matter the publicity, but the point is that these groups would be less fearful if they didn’t capitalise on the eagerly waiting camera lenses and publishing platforms of traditional and new media.

The terrorist playbook reads like this: violence, dramatic, human targets, high valued targets, randomness, simplified justifications, increased perception of risk in target audience. This aligns neatly with media’s own playbook. For a terrorist, the number of people don’t count for as much as evidence of the graphic nature of their death. High body counts are valued but high audiences and click-through rates are even more highly valued.

True Terror

War is terrifying. Reading the experiences of the common soldier, you understand what real terror is: Stout ships chewed to kindling by cannon fire; friends dying daily; the smell of human death palpable and constant for months on end; leaders showing a brave face and getting it blown away moments after; swarms of the enemy descending on weak positions. It’s worse when you’re a civilian trapped in a battleground.

When going to work, going to a gig or taking a trip on a plane, death remains a highly unlikely occurrence. In war, death is a near certainty. At the end of war, the question is not “why did that person die” but “how is that person still alive?”. Young people tend to forget that in the “heart of Europe”, this was the case for centuries. Starting from the original “la Terreur” and ending at the late part of the 20th Century, millions of Europeans experienced genuine terror. Generations were born, lived and died with death present in the streets and fields. Then machines rolled across those fields and planes flew overhead designed to kill and bearing enough firepower to wipe out several branches of the European population. There were few places to hide from this type of terror and fewer places to run to. The final war of the 20th century which did not happen would have been the final war. For decades we lived with the threat of nuclear annihilation and two world powers who, on many occasions, could have done it. Had one side or the other fallen prey to uncontrolled irrationality or the need to prove a point about the superiority of ideology, our last moments would have been the most terrifying collective experience history could have ever offered.

The Unholy Trinity

Terrorism on the other hand is more accurately aligned with reality television and the Trump candidacy than the actual horrors of war. Flying a civilian jet into a building of civilians isn’t war, walking into an airport departure lounge with a suitcase full of homemade explosives isn’t war either. Just as how “Pop Idol” isn’t singing auditions or talent, “Big Brother” isn’t living with housemates and voting for Donald Trump isn’t about electing politicians, terrorism is not war. Terrorists, like other media actors, are playing at war for the camera. Their performance is deadly but it is a performance none the less. Terrorism is common criminality but for an audience.

The final actor I’d like to remind you about is the state. In many cases the state pays for, regulates and informs the media. The state also purportedly fights terrorists on our behalf. Less than 100 years ago in the “heart of Europe”, governments were killing each other’s citizens on their citizens’ behalf. The horrors of the last century weren’t carried out by a terrorist cell or by hackers, online drug markets, bankers, pedophiles or any of the other media bogey men of the modern age. So why are we so afraid of them? Are any of these things worthy of declaring a war or crisis?

Not the crisis you’re looking for

Terrorism unfortunately isn’t the national crisis that we’re looking for. While a plane or some Kalashnikovs or a bag full of explosives or the presence of people fleeing war might seem like we’re under existential threat, this is just the media doing its thing again. Traditional media is definitely under existential threat (a crisis even) from falling ad revenue and new and social media channels. The Government is under existential threat and crisis from the cost of living, national debt, lack of trust and digital alternatives to all of its usual bribes towards the populace. Fundamental religion and the ignorance surrounding it is also under existential threat from liberalism, truth and reality. There is one area where the nation is under existential threat. We are still under threat from submarines patrolling the Baltic and Atlantic. If the government decides this, Armageddon would be upon us in less time than it takes to seduce a reality starlet in the back of a Rolls Royce.

The media, the government and fundamentalists share a common cause in that they defend themselves against their existential crises by pretending that we the people are under the same threat that they are. If we are helpless, afraid, angry and irrational then it justifies their existence. The truth is, we’re not under the same threat that they are. These actors do not believe in truth or presenting us with real facts. Unfortunately for them, people are finding out the truth for themselves and with the certainty of death, these actors (along with taxes) will be relegated to the dustbin of history.

Taking Hayek in vain

Well, my hopes weren’t high. I made it to the 16th minute of the BBC’s documentary on Friedrich Hayek, before having to switch it off. I challenge anyone to do better than that.

What we are dealing with is a documentary formula, into which Hayek’s life and work has been stuffed. The particular formula is the one they use for pioneering scientists who discover bacteria or something like that, and the need is to stress just how isolated and way-out the fellow was considered by everybody else. That might be fine for doing the mathematician who cracked Fermat’s Last Theorem, and may lend itself to atmospheric long-shots of the presenter walking through empty courtyards and down echoing corridors, but Friedrich Hayek was not a man working alone, and his ideas built on the ideas of other earlier and contemporary economists. I kept waiting for the name Ludwig von Mises to crop up, and it never did. It’s kind of hard to discuss Hayek’s early years in Vienna without once mentioning Mises. The final straw came when the presenter described his work at the Institute of Business Cycle Research which was founded with Mises at the Chamber of Commerce where Mises worked, and where he held his legendary seminars, which Hayek attended, and even then she could not bear to utter Mises’ name. The following is far from a perfect analogy, but it’s like watching a documentary about Mark Antony with no mention of Caesar.

The documentary is from a three-part series called ‘Masters of Money’. The other two parts feature Keynes and Marx. Somehow I figure the Beeb may be in far more familiar territory with these two, especially the last one, although how he can be considered as a master of money, is a mystery, unless it is referring to his incredible talent to leech off his friends, followers and family to fund his decadent, bourgeois life of leisure.

All I can say, is thank goodness we don’t have to rely on the BBC to (mis-) inform us anymore.

Should I care about the decline of the “Conservative” press?

When I gleefully point out the decline of the left press in Britain (Guardian and KGB “Independent” falling apart – Financial Times down to 50 thousand or so physical sales in this country….), the reply is sometimes give that the Conservative press is also in decline. But I sometimes wonder if I should care – I will give a couple of example to explain why I find it hard to care.

© Shutter Operator

The Daily Telegraph (supposedly the most high quality newspaper in Britain) ran a terrible obituary of Sir Rhodes Boyson  (a headmaster and Conservative party minister – who was proud to meet and listen to) – literally kicking a man when he is down (indeed dead).

Sir Rhodes had a Lancashire accent  – but the Daily Telegraph, absurdly, claimed he was “inarticulate” and even compared him to John Prescott  (a Labour party minister famous for his inablity to clearly express his thoughts), and it did not stop there. None of the books Sir Rhodes wrote was named – and the obitury had a vile sneering tone.

And over at the rival of the Daily Telegraph – the News International owned Times…..

Well the obituary of Sir Rhodes Boyson was better (I will give them that), but in the same issue (Thursday, August 30th), there was….

American coverage that claimed that Paul Ryan planned to “slash” American govenrment spending, destroy the “safety net” and leave people to the “vaguaries of the free market”.

In reality Paul Ryan just want to slow the growth  of American government spending – the coverage in the Times was fantasy.

And in British coverage?

The latest proposal by the leader of the Liberal Democratic party for higher taxes was opposed by the Times – but with their own proposal for higher taxes – an end to “loopholes” “taken advantage of by the rich” (and on and on).

If this is the “Conservative Press” I will not be too upset to see it go.

Murdoch the Indefensible?

The people over at News International have been very naughty boys, that much is clear. Yet there is something troubling about the way this saga has been covered that stretches even to the libertarian blogosphere. Murdoch’s bid to buy BSkyB was a perfectly non-aggressive transaction, yet it was blocked. An application for permission he should not have needed was “deferred” and then abandoned due the pressure of the mob on the State to exercise it’s discretion over a private sale. I wonder if I am alone in noticing that this was wrong; that the State should never have had that discretion in the first place?

News International, Rupert Murdoch and his executives have become the target of sustained speculation, and vilification in daily bulletins over the accusations of privacy infringement and bribery. I have nothing new to say about those accusations and will spare you, reader, a token rehearsal of why those acts were wrong. It is good that Rebekah Brooks has been arrested and I support the application of the rule of law to the whole host of them, Rupert Murdoch included, but I cannot ignore the obvious violation of property rights codified into that law, as it stands.

For a right-libertarian life liberty and the pursuit of happiness requires ownership of our property. Since property is the justly acquired outcome of ones life depriving a man of his property, or of his control over it, is to deprive him of a part of his life. The state’s power of discretion over the sale of BSkyB is an imposition upon Rupert Murdoch’s life and upon the lives of shareholders who own the other 61% of BSkyB. Those shareholders are prohibited, on the basis of one man’s whim, from selling their own property. This means they are prohibited from making good on their investment and achieving the outcome they expected from part of their lives.

This is justified with reference to media plurality, and a fit and proper persons test. Neither of these justifications deserve our sanction. The second should be simple to dismiss, we do not endorse a society which welcomes participation only from screened and favoured applicants, but one based on personal initiative and the consent of those directly involved. This is the law of “mind your own” and the same principle is at work when we stand up to oppose CRB checks and the formalisation of family life. We should be consistent when it comes to the affairs of businessmen.

On the topic of monopolies I will need to set out my case.

Some people see giant corporations currying favour with Government and react emotionally by condemning all corporations above a certain size, while letting the state off the hook for creating those corporations and granting those favours in the first place.

Remembering that limited liability companies are a legal invention, Libertarians identify the actions of corporations as natural for artificial persons in an economy thick with artificial regulations, and the power of Government as the root cause of both. We know that regulations increase the cost of setting up a business, and that larger businesses tend to cope better with new regulation. As such, regulation causes consolidation and reduces the number of competing firms to a few large ones. In broadcasting the Government apportions the available spectrum, and in doing so limits the number and picks the names of the winners before the game even starts. The subsidised BBC also provides stiff competition and crowds out alternative broadcasters. It is little wonder then that media plurality is an issue. The perfect conditions for oligopoly were created by government.

As ever, the state’s answer to a problem caused by imposing it’s will on others is to impose it’s will on them again. Before it was revealed that the Dowler’s had been affected by phone hacking Murdoch was playing a perverse economic game to avoid the arbitrary competition rules that eventually prevented the bid. Painted as populist and only concerned with short term profit he was asked to hive off Sky News and exchange success in one dimension for success in another. He could not have both market share and maximum profit, but isn’t a bid for market share a long term strategy?

Afterwards the game changed. Murdoch became so unpopular that allowing the bid through on the basis of media plurality was unthinkable to the government, who knew it would cost them votes. Responsibility for the proper application of the law was shirked and the decision delayed and passed on to bureaucrats. This is not the Rule of Law but Rule by Popularity Contest. The perverse consequence is that Murdoch was forced to make himself more popular by sacrificing his past success and closing News of the World. Knowing that he was still unable to win sufficient popularity to please his coalition masters he eventually abandoned the bid and was left without News of the World or BSkyB.

Justice is not a popularity contest to determine the use of aggression; it is the use of arbitration and objective rules to replace aggression. As libertarians justice is at the centre of our creed right along with the non- aggression principle which these laws violate. Despite that, we have not applied it when discussing this story on our blogs. Every aspect of the story but the property rights angle has been discussed, but not that one.

On Saturday we turned out in the rain to defend the unpopular smokers of Stony Stratford. We did that because the restriction of one class of people is the thin end of a wedge which represents the persecution and exclusion of any unpopular minority. Rich businessmen – Bill Gates, the bankers, the supermarkets etc – all  have different problems but don’t they also enjoy the protection of the non-aggression principle? Isn’t this mad law just the same wedge applied to another crack?

I hope Murdoch is not so unpopular that he will not be defended on principle.

Simon Gibbs – Libertarian Home
Hanging Murdoch image by Surian Soosay