Saturday, March 25, 2006

V For Values

Abdul Rahman is currently on trial in Afghanistan for converting to Christianity. The death penalty is a virtual certainty and the people, we are told, are calling for his head.

Paradoxically, Said Mirhossain Nasri (top cleric at Hossainia Mosque) defended execution over exiling. "If he is allowed to live in the West, then others will claim to be Christian so they can too." Here's a crazy idea: maybe the reason people want to leave the country is because they could die for things like converting from Islam.

V For Vendetta references a similar time. It opens with the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when Guy Fawkes tried to blow up Parliment in defiance of the king's criminalization of Catholicism.

A less obvious parallel is the movie's commentary on people in charge. Just as the new Afghan government is made up of those who were terrorized by the Taliban, a Big Brother-type character in this future dystopia is played by John Hurt, who portrayed protagonist Winston in a movie adaptation of 1984.

Laws beget laws. Those once under the thumb of tyranny struggle to "liberate the people" and impose a new ideal onto everyone else. They quickly forget that their exiled masters never thought themselves as tyrants nor do they recognized how quickly they become the very thing they fought against.


ryan said...

I think you might be a bit too pessimistic (which is a bit out of character for at least one of us). Tyranny doesn't necessarily beget tyranny -- for a good chunk of the world, the recent (past couple centuries) trend has been towards freedom. True, violent revolutions have turned out very badly, but positive evolution seems possible. Moreover, it seems like this liberalization has accelerated, at least in some cases -- Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, et al, have all done in decades what took the West centuries. Note that the above examples have arguably liberalized faster due to external pressure -- that is, it's possible for an external force to do more good than harm.

David said...

Oh there's no doubt things have gotten better. I'm saying in the long run, over the course of generations and centuries, laws tend to justify more laws. Until a tipping point, which generates a revolution that undos them all at once. And the process starts over.

Those high points you hit on: Taiwan, South Korea, Japan (and I'd say most of Eastern Europe not to mention the American Revolution) were forged in times of extreme change and in the shadow of tyranny.

Even a founding father (Thomas Jefferson) acknowledged that the nature tendency is for liberty to yeild and government to gain ground. Freedom is sudden; laws creep.

ryan said...

I couldn't disagree much more. What changed during the American Revolution? Well, before we had appointed state governors; afterwards, we had elected ones. Had bicameral legislatures, more or less universal suffrage, property rights,; common law, and all the ideas of liberty that had very slowly been built up and developed by the English & Scottish over centuries. The real birth of American freedom and democracy wasn't a birth at all -- it was a slow development over a hundred years. The revolution didn't do nearly as much as one might think. Korean democracy? That was developed over forty years, pretty slowly. North Korean communism -- now that was pretty quick. The USSR collapsed pretty quickly (though there were years of Glasnost, and decades improvement) but it's not like they turned into a happy friendly libertarian paradise.

The thing is, going quickly is kind of contrary to the whole principle of liberty. Spontaneous order doesn't mean overnight. If you're going to have a super quick transition away from tyranny, you're going to need an army, or it wasn't really tyranny in the first place. And there aren't a whole lot of anarchocapitalist armies. You know public choice -- do you think it's very likely that a general who overpowered a tyrant would want to be anything but a tyrant?

Yes, we can have big, rapid movements towards liberty now. Goodness, it takes *way* less than centuries now. Forty years, tops! To be honest, Afghanistan is going really, really well. This is more or less what a success story looks like in year 5. If 40 years from now they have a parliament and members of parliament aren't beating each other to death, they'll be way ahead of us.