Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Make Today "Think Like A Pirate" Day

Me on a purplish-yellow-green background. My political colours
I've seen some things come up in my Twitter stream that underscored my belief that the Pirate way of doing things is the future not just because it's about distributed decentralised systems and routing around obstacles, but because it's about not relying on top-down authoritarian ways of doing things. In theory, at least. In practice, some of us have forgotten to forget left and right. Today I want to focus on the importance of thinking like a Pirate and to encourage other people to do the same.

There are four main reasons I believe that thinking like a Pirate is superior to doing what everybody else in the group you most identify with does or following the one with the loudest, most strident voice.

  1. Authoritarianism discourages thinking
  2. It's important to think for yourself
  3. A nuanced, multifaceted approach to All The Things provides the best outcome
  4. You should engage with the people you purport to be helping

Let's take a closer look at them, shall we?

Authoritarianism discourages thinking

Maru in a box too small for him: Any philosophy predicated on a best case scenario is ultimately doomed to failure
I don't like or trust ideology on principle, particularly when it's cited as a rule, not a guideline. The main reason for this is that it's unreasonable to use someone's opinion or theory as a be-all-and-end-all approach, mostly because they tend to be based on a blue-sky scenario where everything's gonna be alright if you just do what the man says. In practice, what actually happens is that some unpredictable variable hits you where it hurts and you've got no plan for dealing with it. When you ask for help you quickly find that you're on your own because disasters were never a part of the plan, they contradict the unicorns and rainbows predictions of the ideology, as George W. Bush discovered in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. So they ignore them for as long as they can, then do their best to deflect the blame when they can't. Why? People who believe they can create their own reality live in a bubble in which they're always right, even when they're proven wrong.

It's important to think for yourself

While authoritarians differ in the details of their beliefs, the thing they have in common is that they're convinced they're always right no matter what. They also oblige you to agree with them on pain of facing their displeasure, which may result in shaming to force you to conform or ostracism from your chosen group if you refuse. I see this all the time and I get this all the time because I'm a moderate conservative. Yes, moderate, not raving loony "burn the witch!" conservative, like you find in America, running the joint. The main reason I choose not to join the nutty bunch is because I pride myself on my ability to think for myself and thinking at all, much less for yourself, is discouraged in circles where unquestioning allegiance is expected. So, me being me, I sometimes agree a bit with liberals. I occasionally get on board with socialists, and I'm friendly with a few good Greens. Heck, I'll even talk shop with Libertarians and more right-wing conservatives when they're not being offensively stupid because that's what a moderate does. She tries to find middle ground, a place where they can all agree, and build from there. Authoritarians don't like that because they can't be in charge any more; they can't control the situation, the people, or the narrative. This is why it's important to think for yourself: you don't want your fate to be left in the hands of idiots who don't care about you. This, more than anything else, is why I abhor an authoritarian approach to anything.

A nuanced, multifaceted approach to All The Things provides the best outcome

The trouble with authoritarian one-size-fits-all approaches to anything is the outright refusal to consider all the variables. A philosophy can only be promoted effectively if it promises to solve your problems with the minimum amount of effort, after all.

Derek Khanna's modest proposal for organ donors

Derek Khanna, a moderate American conservative (yes, there's such a thing, and we're fairly friendly with each other) proposed a horrifying market-based approach to the organ donor shortage. I was like, ((O.O)), but rather than cast the proposal into the fiery chasm from whence it came I decided to engage with the arguments he was making. I pointed out that his attack vector was causing him to miss the moral mark, thereby undermining his argument that a market-based solution would benefit everyone if an open market in donor organs was permitted. He favourited the tweet on which I posted the link. The takeaway:

  • Over-simplifying issues can and does make them much more complex. 
  • Taking the profit motive out is usually the most effective way of simplifying anything.

You're welcome, Derek.

Local V National solutions for internet engagement

Tim O'Reilly praised Martha Lane Fox for her UK must think big: the internet, women, government blog post. Shortly afterwards, Adrian Short hopped in with his tuppence-worth: Small communities running their own internet services on their own terms. Both approaches were basically authoritarian: do as I say, I'm right. However, I think they are both right in their own way; while I instinctively believe in a decentralised distributed approach like the one proposed by Mr. Short, sometimes we actually need leadership from the top, hence this tweet exchange:

Some things can't be handled by the local community because the means aren't available or the costs are too high. I understand that letting other people do things on your behalf involves a certain trade-off, there being no such thing as a free lunch, per the Americans, but the trade-off can be worth it. Anti-government types don't like the idea of government dictating terms but he who pays the piper calls the tune. We should, of course, be given the option to choose the piper and the tune — and the opportunity to fund it ourselves if we so desire.

Boycott All The Things! The LGBT community edition

When Nick Hanauer went on a rant against Indiana Governor Mike Pence's law ring-fencing religious freedom, which the LGBT community fears can be used to legalise discrimination against them, pretty much all of the right-on people agreed with him. I shared the link with Loz Kaye of the UK Pirate Party because I thought he would be interested. Now it seems that Nick has become a hardcore Liberal Progressive with the ideological bias that goes with it; as a result he tends to adopt an authoritarian approach to policy, which I'm not too keen on. Feminist blogger and Indiana resident Melissa McEwan was not impressed (h/t Erica C. Barnett). Again, this is what happens when you try to apply an over-simplified solution to a particular problem.

Is your governor a jerk? *Nods*
Does he make bad laws that make you angry? *Snarly face*
Well move the heck out, already! *Double-take*

The over-simple approach is favoured by authoritarians because it makes them look like they are Doing Something even when it's completely ineffective. It really does annoy me and is the foundation of every counter-argument I make on social media. If I think you are being a prat, chances are it's because you're proposing an over-simplified approach to an issue that requires a nuanced, multifaceted approach.

Engage with the people you purport to be helping

Okay, so hopefully we've all come to a reasonably similar conclusion: letting people who are Only Human be in charge of anything without some way of holding and keeping them accountable is a Very Bad Idea. It's also best to actually think about the issues you're addressing than chucking money at them or hoping "the market" will sort it out without worrying about what others might think of the conclusions you come to. Now I want to talk about the most important thing to consider when proposing or implementing policy: actually talking to the people you're supposed to be helping.

Where the great political philosophies fall down

The People's History Museum of Manchester's blog has this great and groovy article on Christian socialism. The first of their five principles gets my hackles up at once: they oppose competition. That they feel a duty to help people out of poverty is all well and good, and yes I believe that co-operatives are great but you can't achieve that by banning or limiting competition. Though the market is not free, market forces do exist and we should respect them. While some political groups pay lip service to this fact, they rarely, if ever, address it because doing so goes against the grain of their core beliefs. The great political philosophies demand complete unquestioning allegiance and leave little in the way of wiggle room and that's where they fall down. They're just too inflexible to see the value of the Twofold Principle:

The individual must be free to act and the will of the people must be respected.

You're not going to even consider the Twofold Principle if you take a Father Knows Best approach to All The Things, and the great political philosophies do that; they're authoritarian by nature, by design. How in the world are you going to help anyone at all if you're unwilling to listen to anything they say because you believe they're not capable of making good decisions for themselves? This is why authoritarians either enforce controls on the market or let it roam free like a ravening wolf among a flock of sheep. The idea of actually taking responsibility for their actions and the consequences of their policies never occurs to them.

How to think like a Pirate

If you're going to think like a Pirate, you're going to have to learn to think for yourself, not be afraid of what others might say if you do, and respect the fact that people are bound to disagree with you at some point. Distributed, decentralised systems that put individuals and local communities in the driving seat are at the core of Pirate thinking; leaving it to some distant wonk in a faraway place to make plans on your behalf doesn't generally tend to benefit everyone. We know that the market is not free but competition is healthy and we need more of it; that's why we tend to bash protectionist measures such as IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) — it suppresses the demand-side role in the market and doesn't always pay the actual producer of the works in question. We hate surveillance because it's inefficient and ineffective at catching and stopping terrorism. It also chills speech as people are afraid of saying anything that might get them into trouble. Finally, we tend to crowdsource solutions so dissent is essential; don't be hostile to those who disagree with you, see what can be learned from their stance.

Make today a "think like a Pirate" day. Let me know how you get on.

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