Urban Tribalism

The headline of a Slashdot article, Can a computer identify your urban tribe?, got me thinking today. I’ve commented some on tribalism (here and here), but I did go out on a limb to state my belief that tribalism is the most stable form of government.

Granted, my screed here has nothing to do with the notion that an algorithm can deduce your particular social quirk (a.k.a “urban tribe”). It probably can’t tell from my social media photos that I am a confused thirty-something who wishes he had been born in Edwardian England, Tsarist Russia, or Teddy Roosevelt’s America. With its categorizations of Bikers, Hipsters, Goth, Surfers, or Formal, I find it lacking the”No Sense of Style” category. I also find these material categorizations vapid.

But digress I must.

The main benefits of tribalism is that it is small and exclusive. That doesn’t work in our modern, inclusive, multi-culti, everyone-is-right-because-there-is-no-right-or-wrong godless democracy. We are so enlightened that our genius transcends human history, good vs. evil, or the myriad of quaint superstitions practiced in tribalism. We are post-societal man-gods to ourselves. We need need no religion, for it cannot be proven scientifically.

With modern democracy, conflicting groups are often forced to live together, with the majority group running roughshod over the minorities. This leads to strife and conflict. In America, it leads to gerrymandered districts that bob and weave through geographic areas to achieve the desired political outcome. We vote for weak appeasers who are the lesser of two evils. We do not follow the sage advice of President Kennedy and “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.“, we hold out our hand to see what we will be given in exchange for our vote. We neither offer nor accept bribes, because that would be unethical, so we lobby politicians by contributing financially to their campaigns. We allow our elected leaders appoint nameless and faceless unelected bureaucrats, whom we loathe. We loathe them because we are jealous of their unfettered power.

Tribalism reveres the elder and the warrior. Tribalism honors the family as its form of survival. The religion of the tribe is maintained and its gods(s) revered. Outsiders are vetted before being allowed to become a part of the tribe. Members who violate norms are punished. As exemplified in the Cherokee Blood Law, actions not in the interest of the tribe were often punished by death. Order was maintained. Honor was maintained.

Historically, democracy is only temporary. They tend to corrupt themselves and collapse into dictatorships. It may take a decade or several hundred years, but they always fail.

However, tribalism can survive, even while enveloped by an overarching form of government. Using the Native American tribes as examples, they maintain their tribal heritage while also being American citizens. They vote in local, state, and national elections outside their tribal structures. They serve in the United States Armed Forces. But at the end of the day, they are Cherokee, Navaho, Delaware, Apache, while at the same time being American. The United States attempted to destroy their tribal identities over a century ago and failed. Granted, many did assimilate, as my purported Cherokee ancestors did, but a great number did keep their heritage. I commend them.

So what has been the point in my incoherent blathering? We should celebrate our differences. We shouldn’t force conformance. But at the same time we can’t expect unity. We’re not all going to get along. We’re going to splinter off into factions, into tribes, but let us remember: “If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men.” (Romans 12:18 ASV).

A Republic of you can keep it, Part II

In a previous post, I touched on the topic of the instability of democracy. Democracy is an unstable political machine. It requires frequent maintenance and its gears wear out quickly. In America, the gears of the machine (i.e. politicians) must be replaced at two, four, and six year intervals, depending the particular gear being replaced. It is a machine that does not follow a set blueprint, but is in a constant state of flux so that known-good configurations are tossed out for the sake of change. This is the weakness of liberal machinations. While they may run for years, like the American Experiment (as it was called by Benjamin Franklin) has, but it could just as easily fail in a couple generations, like the Soviet Union did. The main problem being the notion of majority rule. If a generation rises, that for whatever reason, wants to radically overhaul the machinery, even if it is working, it is free to do so if it can garner enough votes.

It is interesting to me that a satirist from the late 19th century, Ambrose Bierce, envisioned in his stories a future where democratic systems as we know them did not exist. They had failed and long been replaced with monarchic institutions. In Ashes of the Beacon, An Historical Monograph Written in 4930, Bierce wrote:

“The habit of obedience to written law, inculcated by generations of respect for actual government able to enforce its authority, will persist for a long time, with an ever lessening power upon the imagination of the people; but there comes a time when the tradition is forgotten and the delusion exhausted. When men perceive that nothing is restraining them but their consent to be restrained, then at last there is nothing to obstruct the free play of that selfishness which is the dominant characteristic and fundamental motive of human nature and human action respectively.”

“Of the American form of government, although itself the greatest of evils afflicting the victims of those it entailed, but little needs to be said here; it has perished from the earth, a system discredited by an unbroken record of failure in all parts of the world, from the earliest historic times to its final extinction. Of living students of political history not one professes to see in  it anything by a mischievous creation of theorists and visionaries – persons whom our gracious sovereign has deigned to brand for the world’s contempt as “dupes of hope purveying to sons of greed.” The political philosopher of to-day is spared the trouble of pointing out the fallacies of republican government, as the mathematician is spared that of demonstrating the absurdity of the convergence of parallel lines; yet the ancient Americans not only clung to their error with a blind, unquestioning faith, even when groaning under its most insupportable burdens, but seem to have believed it of divine origin.”

Of course this is a fictional work set  a couple millennia in the future, but Bierce’s view of the failures of liberal institutions, which in America pass as conservative [1] appear to have some validity in the current state of affairs. The notion, however, that Bierce expresses in his work was not new, even in his time. Benjamin Franklin expressed his own reservations at time the Constitution was written.
It is also interesting to note how quickly the Roman Republic fell. Rome did not grant universal suffrage to all it’s citizens[2], but it did conduct its affairs “democratically”. This came to an abrupt end with the ascension of Imperator Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus Divi Filius Augustus as Emperor of Rome. A BBC article documents the fall of the Republic, tracing its demise to the rise of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus in 133 B.C.. The Republic had stood since 509 B.C when Lucius Tarquinius Superbus was overthrown, and remained stable as long as the politicians kept power separated and followed the established checks and balances. As with all republics, this was a precarious balancing act, which was knocked off kilter when Gracchus brought the matter before Plebeian Council (the assembly of the Commons) and circumvented the Senate (the Aristocracy) in a bid to take parcels of state-owned lands being occupied by the rich and redistribute them to the poor. By bringing the vote directly to the masses, Graccus uncorked the genie that shook the tenuous foundations of the Republic. This led to chaos, the dictatorships of Lucius Cornelius Sulla and Gaius Julius Caesar, and ultimately the declaration of establishment of Octavian as Emperor in 27 B.C.. 
So an Republic that had lasted ±400 years prior to Gracchus fell in a little over one hundred years following his actions. If history is to be a guide, The United States of America would apear to be on track for its collapse into a dictatorship in the near future. Looking at America’s timeline, the Republic was born in 1776. It did not face a civil war until the 1860s, and faced its next major civil (rights) disturbance approximately one hundred years later. The current progression toward socialism and redistribution is taking place about fifty years after that. The timeline seems to be nearly halved that of the Roman Republic, so if President Obama is our Gracchus, then we should expect our Octavian in the next twenty to forty years. That would however, give us our Sulla at the end of President Obama’s term. 
Is that a bad thing? It’s not for me to say. The average well-to-do Roman probably stayed fairly well-to-do under both the Republic and the Empire, but we have other governments to pull experience from where that was not the outcome. Wealthy, or even financially comfortable Russians probably noticed quite a difference in their lives following the October Revolution. They were coming out of a monarchy into a “democratic” form of government. That government collapsed in the 1990s into Russia’s current government, which currently has its own Caesar-esque figure in Vladimir Putin[3]. 
Each scenario is different, but to ignore history is to ignore an opportunity to affect, or if nothing else, plan for one’s own outcome.
~~~

[1] American conservatism is built on the notion of conserving the institutions established by the Founding Fathers and enshrined in the Constitution. One must remember, however, that these concepts were very liberal in their time with their opposition to the ancien régime of Great Britain.
[2] Most of the inhabitants of the Roman Republic were not Roman citizens, and there were different classes of citizenship. There were:
  • Cives Romani – full Roman citizens divided into
    • non optimo jure with rights of jus commercii (property) and jus connubii (marriage)
    • optimo jure, those rights plus jus suffragiorum (vote) and jus honorum (hold office)
  • Latini – not full citizens but held the Latin Rights of jus commercii and jus migrationis (move within the Republic), but not jus connubii
  • Socii/Foederati – citizens of states with treaty obligations to Rome. Certain legal rights were exchanged for military service.
  • Provinciales – fell under Roman control or influence but weren’t even socii. The only appreciable right they had was jus gentium (natural law, that which is common to all people)
[3] A study of Vladimir Putin would be an interesting one in and of itself. Loved by many in his country, hated by others, and an enigma to the West, Putin has the makings of a Tsar-in-waiting. Not having a male heir, though, there’s not much to work with in the realm of dynasty building.

American Revolution fought over having a monarch?

Violating to an extent my ban of current political topics from this blog, I want to address a comment by Senator Rand Paul:

”I’m against having a king,” said the Senator. ”I think having a monarch is what we fought the American Revolution over, and someone who wants to bypass the Constitution, bypass Congress, that’s someone who wants to act like a king or monarch.”

In my most amateur of observations, I think he is absolutely wrong in this statement. What the Revolution was fought over was the right to either be represented in Parliament or allowed free course of political action. I’ve noted the hyperbole in the Declaration of Independence in another post, so I’ll not rehash it here, other than to caveat that I do think that the Declaration is a magnificent document when you get past the political bombast.

The majority of American Colonists didn’t have a problem with HM King George III, but as king, he was the easiest target for political darts. Nevermind that the true source of the problem was the Parliament, with its evolving view of democratic representation. It was akin to the way foreign nations attribute the opinions of the current (or any past) President or Congress with the general will of the American people.

The real rub in the matter is that the President of the United States has had increasingly more power at his disposal in the last century than near any monarch still reigning. The President has much more power than HM Queen Elizabeth II of England and the Commonwealth or HM Juan Carlos of Spain, and it is debatable whether any of the six absolute monarchs[1] left in the world have more power of their nations than the President of the United States of America does. Maybe that is Senator Paul’s point, but the truth is that Congress, with it’s bipartisan inability to do anything, is the greater culprit if an Executive power grab has occurred.

In light of that, there might be some positives to a monarch. For one, he or she would have been trained their entire life to accept the role, unless they started out as the spare heir. There are still examples of successful monarchs who rose from that state, HM King George VI being a prime example. As such, monarchs don’t have to concern themselves as much with the political cycles of a nation. They don’t have to worry about losing their jobs every four (or however many) years. Since a monarch generally keeps it in the family, the successor has the opportunity to learn from his or her predecessor  There is a certain stability to that. In fractious democratic societies, presidents and their ilk disavow the acts of their predecessors, often to the detriment to the people.

~~~

[1] HM Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei, HM Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman, CTHM King Abdullah bin Abdul‘aziz of Saudi Arabia, HM King Mswati III of SwazilandHH Pope Benedict XVI, and HH Emir Hamad bin Khalifa of Qatar.

DDoS as a violation of the 1st Amendment

I have serious issues with this:

Anonymous Files Petition To Make DDoS Legal Form of Protest: hypnosec writes “Anonymous has filed a petition with the U.S. Government asking the Obama administration to make Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks a legal form of protest. Anonymous has argued that because of advancements in internet technology, there is a need for new ways of protest. The hacking collective doesn’t consider DDoS as a form of attack and equates it to hitting the ‘refresh’ button on a webpage. Comparing these attacks to the ‘occupy’ protests, Anonymous notes that instead of people occupying an area, it is their computers occupying a website for a particular period of time.”

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Read more of this story at Slashdot.

One this is, to my layman’s mind, a clear and simple violation of the 1st Amendment freedom of speech rights of the website owner. To DDoS the site and shut out the speech of the owner is more egregious than to “suppress” Anonymous’s right to protest.

Here’s the greater dilemma, though: while the premise that the Constitution and its Bill or Rights are based on Natural Law, the Constitution is a legal document between the citizens of the United States of America. It is not binding on non-citizens, nor (in my estimation) does it offer protections to them. By being “Anonymous”, these individuals should not be afforded Constitutional protections. To be protected under the Constitution, one must be identified as a citizen eligible to those protections.

Einstein or Hitler?

Vox Day recently made an entry on his blog entitled “Can you Spot the Criminal?”. In it he linked to a quiz on Reverent Entertainment’s website. In looking through the other quizzes they have posted, one in  particular piqued my interest: “Einstein or Hitler?“, given that one was despised, insane Jew-hater, and the other a beloved,  insanely genius Jew. To say the least, I was surprised with the results.

Blog Commentary and Fair Use

You wouldn’t be able to tell it from my utter lack of fashion sense, but I read a couple fashion blogs (manly fashion blogs, have you) and the post below stirred me to post on a topic that affects the way I pull a lot of content into my site:

Friday Question: U Mad?:
Senior year of college, I took a Comm Law 100 course. I had no daydreams about delivering Law & Order-style closing arguments dancing in my head; I just needed to fill some credits and thought it might be interesting. To this day, all I remember are the name of a few cases and the distinct memory of my father telling me never to be a lawyer.

I wish I’d listened a little better in class, though, because the question of content rights has been swirling around my little menswear world the past couple days, and it would be nice to be a bit better informed.

The gist of it is this:
StyleSeek, the new men’s style curation and discovery site, launched at the beginning of this week. I talked about it on Style Girlfriend a few days ago, as did a few other outlets (a little-known pub called GQ among them).

It came to my attention after the launch that some menswear bloggers (I don’t know how many – could be a handful, could be a whole bunch) weren’t contacted about their work being featured on StyleSeek. If their articles could appear on the site, if they wanted to be affiliated with the site at all.

As for me, I was asked to be a part of the endeavor by Ryan Plett, the creative director of StyleSeek. We had a lovely brunch a few weeks back where he told me all about the site and asked me to be one of its “influencers.” Send them a picture, a bio, and fill out my styleDNA.” Easy enough. I said yes.

So I knew. I knew content from Style Girlfriend would be pulled in. At the time, I didn’t question the legality, morality, or the fairness of my words being repurposed on another website, all for free. At all. To be honest, I didn’t think much about any of it. I was given a log-in and played with the site a little bit pre-launch but figured things would change, as they always do once a site goes live and users are able to kick the tires a little. Like when URL shortener bit.ly debuted a new site; there were a few glaring user experience issues, all of which were fixed in about two and a half days. I’d wait for the site to be up for a minute, I figured, before paying the whole thing too much mind.

Then the site went live and a firestorm erupted. A few of my most eloquent – and unabashedly vocal – menswear blogger friends took to Twitter and their respective blogs to say, hey, our content is up on this site called StyleSeek. We’ve never heard of it and we don’t want the words we’ve written used on some other site without getting paid for it. That is stealing.

You can read more here and here.

Then, since I had written about the site earlier in the week with only good, non-lawyer-y things to say about it, I had people asking me, “Megan, did you know about this? Did you know your content was on this site? Aren’t you mad?” The answer was yes, yes, and well, no, not really…but maybe I should be??
I started Style Girlfriend not as a way to make a living but as a means to getting to where I could be making a living. I wanted to increase my exposure at a time when I wanted to write for a living but didn’t, to communicate with an audience who I thought wasn’t being addressed enough, to engage a reader who I wanted to entertain and educate. I’ve done that, hopefully well, in the past year and change. Now, SG takes up more of my time, and there are ads on the sides and I do in fact make a little pocket change from it, but I’ve stayed frozen in the mindset of “Must get exposure. Get paid in exposure.”

Would I like some of this $1M of funding that StyleSeek has to kick around? Sure. Yes. Of course. Did I settle for the hope that my mug and my words living on their site would increase traffic to my own site, indirectly resulting in a (paltry) bump in ad revenue and potentially more paid content opportunities? Yes. Because as I said above, the nagging voice in my head tells me I should just feel lucky to be asked to the party, as it were.

I wish I could be more of a drum beater for the rights of content creators, but 1) the aforementioned intro-level law survey course under my belt does not embolden me to speak on these matters, and 2) I knew what I was getting into so it would be insincere to express outrage now. And I have gotten some new readers from all this (Hello, by the way! Welcome! Go visit this post; fellas seem to like it). So I got what I was promised by Ryan at brunch so many moons ago; it’s just now that I realize what I was promised wasn’t what I should have settled for.

Yesterday, Ryan announced that StyleSeek would begin shortening blog posts on the site, and link out to those bloggers’ sites. That’s certainly a step in the right direction. Because ideally, I want people to read my content on my site, bouncing around through my archives for a few hours, and finding me so generally delightful that they feel compelled to PayPal me a million dollars on the spot.

But I also want people to know me. To know about Style Girlfriend. To think about it a week from now and visit it. A month from now and visit it. I want brands who show up in my styledna to say, “hey, we want to work with that pretty lady” (I hope that’s exactly what they say) and get in touch and offer me money to write words. I love writing words. I also love paying my rent each month. There has to be a way to be a content creator and a grown up who not only understands but demands for themselves the respect that comes from work-money, money-work.

So for my Friday question, I’m crowdsourcing my reaction: Should I be upset about all this? Should I pull my content from StyleSeek? Should I have asked for compensation up front? I’d love to hear what you have to say on the question of content creation and compensation on the internet. Maybe you think we’re still in the wild west phase of the web, and I should just be happy they attributed my words to me at all?

And heck, while we’re at it, who would you like to see me work with? Blogger collaborations? Brands? I want to maintain the integrity of this site by only partnering with brands I believe in and think you guys would want to hear about, but I also want to keep my lights on and my stove running, and it would be awesome if the time I spent on Style Girlfriend contributed more towards the foundation of ol’ Maslow’s pyramid. Who could i partner with (on sponsored posts, say, or giveaways) that you’d be interested to hear more about? Let’s help keep style girlfriend going, the right way.
And as always, thanks for your support. It means the world to me.

I can understand the bloggers who feel like the site mentioned above has misappropriated their content for profit, which would be unfortunate, but for my purposes, I’d like to look at the doctrine of Fair Use. Fair Use has a long history in common law, but is only as old as I am in codified US law:

17 U.S.C. § 107

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 17 U.S.C. § 106 and 17 U.S.C. § 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

 So let’s look at the way I use other people’s content on this site. It usually happens like this:

  1. I have Google Reader configured to pull in RSS feeds from sites I like.
  2. I have Google Alerts configured to pull in stuff from all over the Web with certain keywords and dump them into an RSS feed in Google Reader.
  3. If I see something I like that I want to share, I import it into my site from Google Reader.
  4. I try to attribute the site I pulled the content from and always leave their links in place.
  5. I either say “look at what I’ve found”, or I provide some type of commentary on why I shared it.
  6. I don’t attempt to make any money off of other people’s content. In fact, I have had Google AdSense account for as long as I’ve had this blog up, and I haven’t made enough from it to buy a good cup of coffee, nor did I expect to.
  7. I license my original works under a  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. This allows:
  1. You: 
  1. to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work
  2. to Remix — to adapt the work
  • Conditions:  
    1. Attribution — You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).
    2. Noncommercial — You may not use this work for commercial purposes. 
    3. Share Alike — If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one. 

    I take an “Information wants to be free” approach to my own writings, but I don’t want to misappropriate other people’s efforts, nor do I want to profit from them. I don’t have a right to determine that other people’s “Information wants to be free”. My goal in running this site is to patch together a quilt of topics that interest me. If they interest you, too, then great! We both benefit.

    Furthermore, I think the way I am using other people’s content fits within the fair use doctrine. My work is not commercial. I don’t attempt to diminish the value of the content in question. I hope that when I post something from someone else’s site, that those who find it on my site will follow the links back to the originator’s site. If they had one snippet worth reading here, you know, they probably have even more gems back on their own site.

    Natural Law in the Nursery

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a much simpler and more concise explanation:

    Natural Law in the Nursery:
    By Walter Olson
    “It’s my toy” = property law
    “You promised” = contract law
    “He hit me first” = criminal law
    “Daddy said I could” = constitutional law
    —Examples that the late Prof. Harold Berman of Harvard and Emory liked to invoke to show how children, from a very early age, grasp some of the basic principles of law. [John McGinnis, Liberty and Law]
    Natural Law in the Nursery is a post from Cato @ Liberty – Cato Institute Blog