“Nowadays to be intelligible is to be found out.” — Oscar WildeIn the wacky world of American politics, if you as an employer have a religious objection to paying for your employees’ contraceptives, it is you who is contemptuous of religious freedom.As the New York Times editorial board lectured a judge who thinks otherwise, “the […]
Socialism is the big lie of the 20th century. While it promised prosperity, equality, and security, it delivered poverty, misery, and tyranny. Equality was achieved only in the sense that everyone was equal in his or her misery.In the same way that a Ponzi scheme or chain letter initially succeeds but eventually collapses, socialism may […]
Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government’s National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist’s camera. I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a worldwide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say. I […]
I opened a new bottle of probiotics this morning, and it had one of those circular seals on the top. You know, the one that reads, “Sealed for your protection.”And that seal got me thinking… how much protection do we need? How much security is enough?How much homogenization, pasteurization, disinfection, national security, etc…. do we […]
Last spring, Barack Obama told the graduating class of Ohio State University:“Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems… They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because […]
In the Huffington Post last week, Glenn Greenwald, Slate contributor Ryan Gallagher, and Ryan Grim had an investigative piece reporting that the NSA had been tracking the online porn-viewing habits of several Muslim leaders whom it viewed as radicals. A top-secret document shows that the agency was considering exposing these firebrands’ Internet dalliances as a […]
Americans are still trying to get a handle on the full extent of the government’s domestic spying activities, including the recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and storing the email address books of ordinary Americans using online messaging services. Many users of such services are looking to tech executives for […]
A few months ago at a demonstration against the president of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, a Canadian citizen made the following claim: “We don’t have guns, we are not Americans, we are civilized.” A few days before, in early July, a train of the company had run away and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing […]
From the Tongue-In-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced that her committee will hold a “major review into all intelligence-collection programs.” This surprising declaration followed the revelation, through documents leaked by government whistle-blower Edward Snowden, that the NSA has been listening to the […]
From the Tongue-in-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. – The complex negotiations aimed at bringing a long-term solution to the federal government’s expenditure and debt problem have produced an unconventional proposal. “Although the solution only focuses on a tiny fraction of government expenditures,” declared President Barack Obama, “it is a step in the right […]
I’ve just spent a harrowing weekend reflecting on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, the pamphlet that came out in January 1776 and turned the public toward seeking independence from Britain. I say harrowing because the distance between the ideals found in this pamphlet and those of today’s America is so vast as to be nearly unrecognizable.The […]
It was a wild ride last week in the world of the Deep Web, that section of the Internet that requires special tools to access. The feds took down the site called Silk Road and claim to have arrested its founder and administrator. The news streams were filled with lurid tales of derring-do in this […]
Want to know just how invasive the state is going to get in the United States?Well, take a look across the pond.In terms of the large, invasive state, we English are way ahead of you guys. We’re a good 50 or more years further down the road to serfdom.Nineteenth-century Britain was about as glorious a […]
A tense drama unfolded this week with the virtual shutdown of vital government agencies: the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as many other such federal agencies. Without them, the Founding Fathers could not have imagined the republic.Even if fewer […]
Three months after Edward Snowden’s leaks began to reveal the extent of the U.S.’ mass surveillance program, “serious people” are beginning to make the case that it’s time for the outrage and indignation to subside and give way to a “national conversation” about the future of surveillance. So has the moment come for us to […]
A sixth-grader has been suspended for drawing an inappropriate picture. The drawing did not include any gun, but showed a checkpoint backed up by a SWAT team carrying flower pots while an unarmed drone hovered above.The suspended girl, whose name is kept secret at the request of her family, said she “just wanted to draw […]
The second part of this two-part article reveals an untold part of the story about how they were stopped last time. And shows how, if not again stopped, how it could lead to a fundamental loss of civil rights and freedom on the Internet.The offending legislation was barreling down the track, seemingly — even in […]
Two years ago, Hollywood, no kidding, masterminded a plot to, in effect, steal the Internet (by criminalizing certain conduct, booby trapping the Web in ways that few non-mega-corporations could cope with). There are signs, as perceptively flagged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that the perps are back at it. We should care.This two-part article reveals […]
It has now been nearly two centuries since French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and compared American democracy to the French variety. The Martian asked his Earth correspondent to redo the comparison.The typical Frenchman thinks that Paris is the center of the universe, life without a baguette is not worth living, France is […]
I was at the Canadian border, headed toward the freedom that exists a few feet beyond the last security check. I was gently waved down a side corridor.Ninety minutes later, I was let go, but not before something truly alarming happened. I’m pretty sure that the Canadian government captured a mirrored version of my smartphone […]
Fort Meade, MD – The United States, the least unfree country on Earth, is fighting a major invasion of the Blueshirts.The most visible Blueshirts constitute a 50,000-plus army that occupies all the airports in America. Recognizable by their blue shirts and their inquisitive eyes and hands, they search and humiliate all Americans trying to leave […]
Sometimes, the news of the day causes me to say, “Huh?” The New York Times revelations last month about NSA programs and activities to enhance the agency’s ability to spy on ordinary citizens prompts today’s “Huh?” Who knew that our every phone call, Internet post and tweet is being recorded by the government?I have operated […]
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ […]
Oh, how the media love a good strike. Look at these fast-food workers and peasants standing up to the owners of capital! They aren’t going to take the oppression anymore. The suits in the boardrooms had better shape up and stop hoarding all that money. They need to give it up to the men and […]
Like all great historical ideas, the project of licensing journalists so that they may benefit from the First Amendment was born in a very modest place. In fact, it began in the most modest of all places: the brain of Dianne Feinstein, U.S. senator from California.The new law, which was just adopted by Congress and […]
The position that there need be a state is too often taken for granted.The main body of Sartwell’s book Against the State is dedicated to destroying the arguments for a state from the likes of Hobbes, Rousseau and Hegel. In fact, one thing that becomes crystal clear in reading Sartwell’s book is how bad the […]
Crispin Sartwell is someone you should know. He is doing important work in recovering forgotten greats in America’s anti-authoritarian tradition. Among other works, he’s put forward a lean and powerful book titled Against the State.In what follows, you’ll see why he’s my favorite living philosopher. Sartwell will take you on an intellectual tour de force […]
In large parts of the oldest civilized region of the world, you will find in nearly every room a pretty blue charm that looks like an eye. It’s in the front entrance of homes, somewhere in every room, on boats, in airports, in restaurants, and built into the designs of everything from wallpaper to grocery bags. It’s on jewelry, wind chimes, and serving plates.
It is common in the Aegean Sea region but encompasses all countries and religious traditions. Though it’s never received endorsement from any clerical body — they consider it a silly superstition — it is found in the histories of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. In Turkey, from where I just returned, it’s called the nazar boncugu. That’s Turkish, but in Arabic it is ayn al-hasud. In Hebrew it is ayn ha-r a. In Greek, it is το µΆτι, and in Spanish, it is mal de ojo.
Its purpose is to ward off the evil eye. What is that? Americans imagine that it is some ancient myth that has no relevance to modernity. Actually, the evil eye is right now destroying prosperity in the United States. The more it is doing this, the less we hear about it. Far from being some primitive idea, the evil eye is summed up in a wicked vice we don’t hear about anymore: envy.
The evil eye looks for success and wishes for its destruction. It is different from jealousy in that sense. It doesn’t desire the wealth or happiness of another. It wants the other to suffer because of the other’s wealth, fame, success, or happiness. People since the ancient world have feared this impulse more than any other. It is more dangerous to persons and society than any natural disaster. It is a greater threat day to day than floods, hurricanes, or wild beasts.
In other words, the concept of the evil eye grows out of a very real conviction that the greatest threat to human flourishing is the malice of human beings who resent success. And that is actually a very keen insight! No wonder it’s had such traction in all religions for so long.
Further, the charm here looks like an eye too, though its purpose is to fight the evil eye. The best way to fight the evil eye, in this tradition, is to look straight back at it. That’s what the nazar does. It’s an eye for an eye.
In political theory, this would mean secure property rights. It would mean a legal regime that prohibits the realization of envy. Even if you feel envy in your heart, you can’t use institutional measures to see it enacted.
And yet envy — the evil eye — is the basis of vast amounts of American domestic policy. We tax rich people not because that helps the poor in a material sense but only because it is fun to make the rich suffer. We squeeze middle-class amenities not because it’s good for the social order, but because many organized groups don’t like to see the hoi polloi living well. We block opportunities for business not because that enhances productivity, but because it frustrates the cause of moneymaking.
This is envy at work. It shows up in progressive taxation, of course. And the capital gains tax. And the inheritance tax. Even the sales tax. But it also shows up in monetary policies designed to harm savers and please the debt-ridden classes (especially politicians). It is there in transfer programs that spread as much damage to everyone as possible. It is there is foreign policies that bomb civilized countries, turning them into zones of death and suffering and calling it victory.
A world without institutionalized envy is what we’ve come to call the free society. A world with it is what we’ve come to call statism. Therefore, we can see that the nazar is a libertarian symbol. It is the old world’s version of the Gadsden flag. It says: Don’t tread on me. As a symbol, it is richer in moral content than the coiled snake, and more elegant from an artistic point of view.
Given this, who wouldn’t want it hanging in every space where human beings are working toward a better life? It belongs in every home, workplace, or public space. It should be carried on our person and flashed at every sign of threat. I wouldn’t dare watch the presidential debates without a nazar nearby!
The nazar was in every airport in the Aegean Sea region. And sure enough, people at the airport are treated decently. Security was a breeze. They look at your passport, make sure you aren’t carrying deadly weaponry, and let you go with a smile. And this was even true in Turkey, a country that has every reason to fear real terrorism. After all, it is a secularized Muslim country and an ally of Israel. It is surrounded by enemies. And yet, thanks to the nazar, the passenger feels no threat from the security apparatus.
Actually, the nazar is everywhere in Bodrum, Turkey. And sure enough, I didn’t see a single cop anywhere. Once while walking through an upscale commercial mall, I saw a badge. I asked the woman if she was with the police. She corrected me that she is security, private security, and then flashed a warm smile. The nazar is working its magic here!
But once arriving in the U.S., I didn’t see an nazar. Instead, while at immigration control, everyone watched a propaganda film with a faux-Copland musical score that told all about the glory of American freedoms. Ahead of me in line was a nice family from mainland China, a father dressed in a suit, a busy mom in a dress, and two kids in strollers. They were held for 20 minutes while the rest of us waited. The immigration official forced them to be fingerprinted and handprinted and retina scanned fully three times, and they were interrogated intensely. They were clearly being humiliated, but they maintained a disciplined posture of calm.
I caught up with the father in the airport tram later. I apologized for how he was treated, explaining that while government is getting less invasive in China, it is getting worse in the U.S. He smiled at me and then asked: “Do Americans hate their government as much as the Chinese people do?” I answered with some wishful thinking to make him feel better: “Yes, the American people do not like their government. It is the common enemy of all mankind.” He smiled again, and seem to feel a sense of relief.
The nazar could do a world of good at the U.S. border. In fact, it should be hung in every bureaucracy. Maybe the Washington Monument should just be replaced completely with a giant blue eye to stare back at the bureaucrats, when they stare at all. We need the nazar at every bank, in every home, at every business, and in every commercial center. An eye for an eye. A world safe from the effects of envy.