July 28, 2016 § 2 Comments
For almost exactly three years now, I’ve been using a mid-2013 13.3″ Macbook Air as my primary machine. As I explained in a review which has now disappeared with the demise of Epinions, I didn’t expect the transition from an expensive gaming rig to a super-slim, barebones laptop to go as smoothly. The idea behind the move was partially to make myself incapable of gaming during University, and partially to have a single machine through which I would use for all my computing needs. I wanted a “single pane of glass”, as it were.
Sync solutions that aren’t cloud-based generally suck (although they’re getting better), and even when they don’t, there are obvious drawbacks. You know, things like having an internet connection for syncing to happen, or the device needing to be powered up. Controlling several machines in tandem also sucks; Synergy is a somewhat acceptable solution to doing this, but it’s one more piece of software to run, update, configure, and potentially troubleshoot. I wrote something on this in 2008 if you want to cringe. Sometimes, you just want to fire up a machine, open a file you’ve been working on from your desktop and put in some work, without thinking about it. That’s where having one, compact computer with a 10+ hour battery life is very appealing.
It’s obvious that the Macbook Air has limitations, and getting past those limitations will invariably require more hardware. I was completely kidding myself when I thought I would be making savings by going to a less powerful machine, and I’ve got several Us of rackspace to show for it. The real challenge isn’t really saving money, it’s integrating the hardware in a way which sticks to this idea of a single terminal to rule them all. Steam’s addition of In-Home streaming functionality is great for providing gaming in this way. Here’s my experience with getting the thing to run correctly.
As with any gaming setup, the sky is the limit as to what you build to use In-Home Streaming. My setup is relatively humble, a far cry from the flashy (and noisy, and expensive) rigs I was building before. Here are the specs.
Case: Cooler Master Elite 110
Power Supply: Corsair Pro Series AX650
Motherboard: Asrock H81-M ITX
CPU: Intel Core i7-4790K
Memory: Crucial Ballistix Sport 16GB
GPU: Zotax GTX 960 2G
This setup lives in a closet along with my other networking stuff, with only a network cable and a power cable going to it.
Common problems and fixes
The Steam KB covers setup and really common problems well, so I’m not going to bother sharing how to get the thing to work. What I will cover though are the problems that I have personally ran into. Most of them are related to running a machine without any input or output peripherals. Depending on how games manage mouse and keyboard output as well as video output, they may not like not having a physical inputs plugged in, or not being passed on a screen resolution by the OS because the screen is absent.
The most obvious need is for an emulated display. Being a long-time contributor to the Folding@Home project, I was well aware that nothing that uses a GPU would work without either a monitor or a dummy plug. The old-school way of doing this is using the DVI-to-VGA plugs that usually come with graphics cards along with some resistors to cook up a quick and dirty dummy plug; the folding community has used those for years, and they are known to just work. While the internet specifies 68 to 75 ohm resistors to get this working, I’ve done mine with 125 ohm resistors to the same effect. The new-school way would be to use an HDMI dummy plug, which has the additional advantage of emulating an audio output, which eliminates the need for more dongles and hacks.
Audio also needs to have a simulated output, because most audio chipsets theses days deactivate if no headphones or speakers are plugged into them. While I’m sure we all have spare sets of broken headphones around, neat freaks will likely want a cleaner solution. Most motherboard 3.5mm audio jacks have physical switches inside, so all you need is to physically stuff either a dummy plug or an actual, unwired 3.5mm plug and onboard sound will work. I’ve personally run into games which crashes and explicitly gave an audio related message. Some games might work, but you’re better safe than sorry.
Finally, mouse and keyboard input is also need locally for remote inputs to work properly. I’ve played through half of AC4: Blag Flag without the mouse’s scroll-wheel because using it would cause the game to infinitely scroll. This is reported to happen in several games by several editors on the Steam forums. Here again, having a mouse plugged in is an easy solution, but not quite as clean as one would want it to be. My solution was to use a Logitech Unifying adaptor, without the wireless mouse or keyboard connected, as it registers as both mouse and keyboard HID devices. It’s also very low-profile, which is perfect for this application. I’ve been looking around to find a way of emulating HID devices via software, but I have not yet found anything worth mentioning. From my time in big box stores, I knew for a fact that my local Geek Squad would have, for no discernable reason, a buttload of orphaned receivers; that’s where I got mine. See with your local store if you don’t have a receiver handy. Otherwise, the receivers sell for about 10$ on Amazon.
Once all the inputs and outputs are taken care of, you should have minimized the possibility of games doing weird things on start-up. Then comes the optimization of the encoding for maximum performance and picture quality. From the get-go Mac users who have a Nvidia GPU on the backend are SOL when it comes to hardware-accelerated encoding, because of a known incompatibility. The performance is great, but you game will suffer from occasional color spots and artefacts, especially in dark scenes.
For my setup, I found that simply deactivating hardware encoding altogether makes for the most beautiful and smoothest gameplay. Intel iGPU mights seem like a good idea, because it offloads to hardware thanks to Intel Quick Sync Video, but I found it to be lacking, with the video output being quite laggy despite framerates staying high. I’m not sure that’s what Quick Sync Video was meant for; I’d stay away from it. If you have a modern CPU, chances are your bottleneck isn’t the CPU anyhow, so software encoding will probably do little to your experience unless you’re running a very CPU-intensive title. Steam forum posts seem to mirror my experience.
Caveats and important considerations
Despite the fact that this system works great for me, there are some things to be aware of. It works for me because I’m a filthy casual, albeit a very tech-enthousiast filthy casual. I only build a computer to play games when I’ve amassed too many from Steam Summer Sales to not play them. I’ve been gaming on wireless peripherals for a few years now, and I’m not going back. I don’t care too much about latencies, refresh rates and the like. If you’re a hardcore gamer, you probably hate the idea of streaming a game, because MUH LATENCY. If you’re a filthy casual of the non-IT aficionado variety, I’m surprised you’re still reading this. This brings me to what is probably the biggest caveat of In-Home Streaming: I feel like it doesn’t fit too many use cases yet, for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, you need fast networking. I’m talking wired, ideally gigabit if you want your games to run smoothly. Since most normie non-gamers’ idea of fast networking is likely router with “Wireless AC” written on it, it’s probably not gonna work for most folks. The convenience of wifi has long overtaken good old cables, and it’s a hard sell to ask users to drop the convenience and run cables.
Secondly, it’s not like gaming in front an actual display in terms of imagine quality. The video stream coming from the rendering side of the setup is compressed, and those of you with keen eyes will notice this in certain settings, especially if you’re running on a non-gigabit connection.
Thirdly, it’s still not seamless. Most games will work fine, even the ones that require a launcher or aren’t from Steam, but some titles inexplicably require some user intervention via RDP to get things to work. For example, after launching Watch Dogs, other Steam-enabled Ubisoft titles will no longer launch some times, requiring a restart of Uplay. Sticking to the same title is fine, but playing different ones will inevitable at some point cause hiccups which will require user intervention. It’s never something major, but it’s still a pain in the butt.
Finally, there is some of the dreaded additional latency, on input and display. You won’t be winning a CS:GO world championship on a stream of a remote computer. It’s only really noticeable on faster shooters, but it’s there, by the very nature of how it works. As video codecs get better and 10BaseT becomes ubiquitous, we’ll see this concern fading away, but for now we have to deal with it.
To sum it all up, while I don’t think the technology is quite mainstream ready, Steam’s In-Home Streaming is a step in what I see as the way of the future, that is decoupling a computing/gaming experience from the hardware required to provide it. Let’s face it, if you’re building your own computer, you probably can handle the additional legwork of configuring and maintaining a streaming box. If on top of that you don’t mind making minor concessions on performance for the sake praticality, I’d strongly recommend you look into it. For my, having a totally silent work environment alone is well worth it.
In part 2, I’ll go over what I’d like my next Steaming box to look like, and what steps I intend to take to integrate In-Home Streaming functionality to my existing server setup.
July 9, 2016 § Leave a comment
Let me start this off by stating that I’m probably not the good person to review fiction. Following my review of The Free Market Existentialist, Dr. Irwin offered to send me a review copy of his recently released Free Dakota, and I gladly accepted after highlighting the fact that I hardly a literary savant. Reading non-fiction has the unfortunate opportunity cost of not affording me to read as much fiction as I would like, as a result I would hardly consider myself well-read in fiction in any of the languages I know how to read. Knowing this, take this review with a grain of salt.
Not unlike how the key to any good meal is balance, the obvious dilemma in creating any work of fiction with an overt political message is knowing how to properly blend in the message to the plot without leaving too strong an aftertaste. Stating political opinions or preferences in argumentative form is one thing, but using characters as a mouthpiece is a whole other undertaking and definitely has the possibility of back-firing. Thomas More’s Utopia is one work that crosses the line, an example of how slathering normative preference in a thin layer of fiction doesn’t make it any more palatable. Raphael describes what More would not, and the fictional background seems of little use other than presuming the existence of superior moral beings in the form of the Utopian people. In many ways, the Utopia felt more like reading a Wikipedia page on a non-existent country than following characters on their journey. I read enough non-fiction that when I do start reading something fictional, this is hardly an impression I want to have.
From my reading of William Irwin’s Free Dakota, it is quite obvious that the author is well aware of this risk, and has taken many steps to mitigate it. For one, characters both present in dialogue and implied are many, and each one of any significance is presented with all its qualities, quirks and flaws. The use of braided plots serves to strengthen the story, by both diluting the more “theoretical” parts and uncovering intrigues which are bound to happen in any political process. The result is an honest effort at story-based advocacy, that for all it’s merits, still hasn’t quite nailed the balance. The book still has some merits in terms of it’s power of conviction and it’s ability to plant the seed of ideas, but the ideological content is, according me to, still too overt to make it a mass-market success.
Free Dakota is the story of separatist movements. The main protagonist Don encounters two such movements, one in Vermont which he quickly shuns for it’s collectivist tendencies. Later comes a similar effort in North Dakota, a more an-cap collective which grows spontaneously but is rapidly confronted with the reality of politics. With unlikely collaborators, Don rapidly goes from venting his frustrations on blog posts to doing what is necessary to win hearts and minds for his cause. His ragtag entourage, hailing from all walks of life, navigates through conspiracies and power-struggles with a gamut of state- and non-state actors in the pursuit of making North Dakota a beacon of freedom in the United States.
Overall, I saw the book as an allegory for an idea that many defenders of political ideologies, irrespective of their proclivities, tend to forget: politics is in its essence compromise. In an age of Facebook meme wars, niche ideologies have found spaces to grow their following, at the cost of becoming echo-chambers reinforced by content-curation algorithms. Online, compromise is easily recognized as weakness, and granting a point to an opponent is grounds to be considered either defeated or treasonous. Purists have little to lose if not their spare time in defending ideological zealotry, and the impersonal interactions through text make discarding inconvenient rebuttals too easy. In real-life institutionalized politics, hardliners lose. First and foremost for the obvious reason that fringe groups never have the mass appeal to set the political agenda. Secondly because real-world discussions and debates are rarely 100% oppositional and require common ground, which both parties are incentivized to recognize, lest they sound unreasonable to the masses. Thirdly because politics is a messy power-struggle, one in which even the best of plans always get sidetracked.
Despite the idealism that Don shows through his blog posts throughout the novel, the series of events surrounding the pursuit of Free Dakota follows a much more sinuous path. This paths seems to suggest the inevitable fallibility of “pure” libertarianism or anarcho-capitalism, showing some sort of ultra-minimal government as a more likely outcome of a libertarian revolution. In his prior work which I reviewed, Irwin manifested a decidedly minarchist conception of libertarianism, so this comes at no surprise. While it might fall short of pressing all the feel-good buttons of convinced Libertarians, I think that avoiding the trap of describing a utopia sends out a more convincing message to fence-sitters: tasting the fruit of freedom will come at a price.
Being a political scientist from Quebec, the subject of separatism and sovereignty certain struck a cord, but not for the reasons you might expect. Here in Quebec, popular support for state-led cultural imperialism and statism for nationalistic ends is precisely what allows repressive policies, a situation hardly comparable with the Free Dakota movement in Irwin’s book. For American libertarians and constitutionalists who see their federal government as Goliath and states as their David, this story will surely resonate. It’s the story of the revolution all again, the little folk sticking it to the proverbial man in search of liberty. I kept seeing the negative: the imperfection of the pursuit of sovereignty at a smaller scale which still impedes on the ultimate sovereignty, that of the individual. The referendum for Free Dakota passes, but what of the voters who did not consent to secession? They are victims of mob-rule democracy just like libertarians feel they are now. The story doesn’t say what happens to them. The situation is imperfect, but that’s precisely the point, I think: since we are condemned to choose, in life as in politics, we might as well give ourselves as many options as possible. Secession and the founding of Free Dakota isn’t a perfect end in itself, but rather another political option, a way to opt-out of lesser options. Here again, but idea of compromise and the lesser of evils is very present.
If I’m perfectly honest, this is probably not a book I would have picked up for a pleasurable read: the normative charge is apparent from very early on, and Don’s ramblings with himself, on his blog and in dialogue are sometimes a bore if what you’re looking in a novel is escapism. Despite the fact that they lay down ground rules that might be helpful for initiates, it does distract from the plot and upset the book’s balance. This didn’t pose enough of a problem to keep me from reading the book in one sitting however. At under 200 relatively light pages, it’s an easy read, something I’d feel comfortable putting in anybody’s hands as a primer to libertarian thinking. As Irwin’s first effort in fiction, I think the result is good, and I’m eager to read more of his output: practice makes perfect.
June 28, 2016 § Leave a comment
I don’t like independence referenda, and Brexit was not an exception. As with all things political, they invariably end up being subject to manipulation from every side with skin in the game. Campaigns get real dirty real quick, and why not? In the end, the result is decided by numbers so compromise, the secret spice that makes mob-rule democracy somewhat functional despite all it’s pitfalls, is thrown out the window by all. Bitterness and mutual resentment grows, and usually hangs on for a while, even long after the ballot boxes have been counted.
Now that the UK has voted on Brexit, this is where the real work happens, where politicians on both the winning and losing sides of the debate are going to have to work together to respect the democratic consultation. This is going to be a challenge in the UK surely, where the issues was extremely devises, but it’s the European Union who’s going to face its true test.
The above clip of Nigel Farage has been making the rounds on the internet. Abrasive pomp and smugness aside, the message is that the relationship with the EU doesn’t have to end because the UK has decided to get out. Despite the intentions that Remain-ers will try to give the Leave campaign, the only possible outcome of the Leave victory is to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty to negotiate withdrawal of the UK from the Union. NOT the immediate shutdown of borders. NOT the immediate return to splendid isolationism. NOT sending back EU nationals in the UK to the continent by firing them out of canons. The UK will get out of the EU like it got in: through negotiation, politicking, and most possibly a fair share of bureaucracy.
Bureaucracy is a beast that knows no master, but negotiation and political settlement are both things that require one thing to work properly: good will. In the clip above, Farage showed some good will, in his own snarky way. The rest of the MEPs, not usually a rowdy bunch, accepted this good will with booing and shouting. Following Farage’s speech, Jean-Claude Juncker asked the former why he was still here despite the voting having passed, soliciting massive applause. Juncker’s question was stupid, because he knows the answer to it. Unless he is even more of a dunce on the EU than I am, he knows damn well that nothing is over until a negotiated solution is reached. So why the passive-aggressiveness? Where’s Mr Juncker’s good faith?
Other Pro-EU figures have also been very quick to invoke doomsday scenarios, issue threats and generally become very prickly and arrogant about the whole situation. Belgium’s own Charles Michel starts out with literally “I’m not bitter, but…”, then advocates for “making it obvious to the British that their victory is pyrrhic.” According to him, this must be done quickly. Another stunning display of level-headedness that jumps the gun in a spectacular fashion while completely forgetting the dispositions of article 50.
This is the big test for the EU, one that European nations, pretenders to the Union, and trade partners who aren’t targeted by integration will witness. It will determine the following: Is the EU reasonable as a political entity? Is it jealous and vengeful when it doesn’t get its way, or can it remain cool in times of crisis? It’s ok that EU politicians stop acting in the UK’s interest, that’s expected because it’s what sovereignty implies: a country being solely responsible for itself. What’s not OK is conducting a process which is fully recognized by the institutions of the union with bad blood and hope that the doomsday prophecies invoked by Euro-leaders are realized.
If the EU is heavy-handed with the UK, what message does that send to nations with an application still in the works like Turkey or the Balkan states? What does it say to chronic economic under-performers like Italy, Spain which might get a taste of what Greece has been getting in the past years? What does it say to Greeks which are probably already throwing darts at pictures of Juncker? What does it say to Romanians who are scheduled to get forced into adoption of the Euro by 2019? Or to others who might be forced to do the same at a later date? In the long term, I’m confident that the UK will survive, as sovereign nations have for several hundred years now. The same can’t be said of the EU if it chooses to be brutish about Brexit: this is unchartered territory and the world is watching.
As Glen Greenwald said, the true mesure of a society’s freedom is how it treats its dissidents. Calling for the blood of every British firstborn for the UK’s heresy of renouncing integration, even if proverbially, will only hurt the EU.
June 3, 2016 § Leave a comment
Alexander Kirss’ recent article publish on War on the Rocks caused quite the stir in the foreign policy circles in the last days: apart from being a flamboyant example of insubordination from a fellow to it’s think thank, it added fuel to the fire of what some now call the “realist civil war”. It focused on why Trump is not going to be a boon for foreign policy realists, but it was also loaded with other assessments on realism’s “failures” which I think are probably more important than the piece’s main thesis. While denouncing the Center for National Interest’s (CNI) increasingly lenient stance on Trump’s wishy-washy idea of a foreign policy agenda, he lambasts realists for shirking policy-making and staying within the comfort of academia, failing to provide a compelling narrative for America’s role in the world, and not being sufficiently organized in ways that can influence policy. The take-away is that because they fail at implementing policy, realists tend to flock to strong-men like Donald Trump to “save” them.
While his criticism of the realist movement regarding its absence from policy circles is accurate, I don’t believe that realism has “failed” as he implies it, or that it needs a saviour like Trump. In his anger at the CNI’s position on Trump, he seems to have painted realism with broad strokes, and forgotten what it is fundamentally about. The question of Trump being a messiah for realists or not is relevant; a much better question would be what realism is, is not and can be, with or without him.
Let’s remind ourselves of just what realism is exactly: it is a theoretical framework which uses certain premises on the nature of states and the international system to predict the formers behaviour in the latter. The universally accepted premises are well known and widely adhered to in international relations writ large: the international system is anarchic, and states have survival as their first and foremost interest. There are some divergences on the finer points of states’ behaviors and how they go about surviving, but generally, those two premises is something all realists rally around. I’m certain that this is nothing that Mr. Kirss is not intimately familiar with. This framework is used to understand international relations in it’s broad strokes, which all the but the most obstinate realists having no pretension to it’s capacity to explain everything. What’s more, realism in itself carries no inherent normative ideal of how international relations SHOULD function, unlike other schools, notably everything derived from liberalism. To be sure, it is used by many to predict outcomes on the international scene, but it does so in a fatalistic way which considers states to be a certain way by nature. There is no teleologic goal built in to the framework, no gold standard to progress towards. Liberals have things like world peace and prosperity as a goal, and advocate reaching it through different means depending on their understanding on the international system, and this is how you get institutionalists and interventionists; the only thing we realists have it the sisyphean cycle of balancing and checking, buck-passing and bandwagoning into new international orders every so often.
If the academic conception of realism does not invite normative policy recommendations by design, then the obvious question is the following: what do realist policy recommendations look like? I’d answer that the only thing realists can truly hope to achieve is to shed light on what constitutes “national interest” and to better inform decision makers on ways to maximizing it, in the context of the existing international order. Obviously, ask 100 different realists to write up a list of what does and does not constitute interest and you’ll get 100 different answers. Don’t be surprised if self-professed realists differ in their opinions or if they act like they’re the only “real” realist on the planet; as with everything related to politics, the tiniest minutia can and will throw people into arguments that will make all parties blue in the face. But in the grand scheme of things none of those disagreements matter, because they occur within the “black box” of intra-state politics; as long as realism remains a useful predictor and explanans for what goes one once the domestic decisions are made, it has not failed. Realism does not need to be “saved”; it’s doing an immensely useful job at describing the dynamics of world politics, albeit while doing so in the darks corners of International Relations faculties of various universities.
Even if the end-game goal of realists were to enact policy, I think there is a strong argument to be made that this goal could be better reached under Trump. For one, the Donald has gone out of his way to be a contrarian, proposing several policy elements which completely break the orthodox hegemonic-liberal narrative of American foreign policy. As Kirss pointed out, his solutions are scattershot, but that’s precisely what makes him unlikely to carry on the “righteous nation combatting evil” world-policeman role that the previous four (or more) administrations have based their international relations on. His non-commital to a specific over-arching, prescriptive narrative on how foreign policy aught to work is precisely what might give some leeway to a truly rational calculus of interest to be pursued, if not by Trump himself, then by other actors who pull the levers of foreign affairs. If realist ideas are indeed a latent thought in states’ decision-making, Trump’s loose fabric of policy are the best medium through which these ideas can permeate to the surface. That hardly makes him a saviour; the most credit he could be given is not attempting to cloak realist concerns in several layers of liberal feel-goodery.
The fact of the matter is that neither Trump, nor any other politican can save realism from itself because it is unpalatable to the public, and hence toxic to politicians. In The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, Mearsheimer described Americans as realism-adverse because the doctrine clashed their self-perception and values, and there is a case to be made that this is true around the world. There can no longer be Machiavellis, in a world where political leaders have to stand up to the scrutiny of a public unable to accept that the international scene is a dog-eat-dog world. In this sense, realist concerns are doomed to be diluted when presented to the public; wether the dilution is done by a drone-wielding Nobel Peace Prize winner or a cheetos-coloured real-estate mogul doesn’t really matter all that much.
I share Mr. Kirss’ yearning to see more realism-inspired policies enacted, policies which will actually evaluate national interest sensibly and that will stop coating every unnecessary over-seas escapade in the language of realism. I admire that he obviously wants us realists to be more vocal on our disappointment with how wacky nation-building projects are pushed to the masses as a necessity for our security. However I don’t think that his objectives and disappointment with their non-achievement are grounds to lambast realism as a whole. Realism as we know it has been along for a while now as a theory, and for even long in practice; it can and will weather the storm of another bad president. The fundamentals of realism are sane, it’s just a matter of seeing it’s popularity coming around. We don’t need to make realism great again, it already is.
May 19, 2016 § 1 Comment
When I first joined the libertarian camp through my membership and subsequent candidacy in Trois-Rivières for the Libertarian Party of Canada, I had low expectations as to quality of the philosophical discourse I would be hearing. In terms of political philosophy, I had read mostly classical and post-war liberals (those usual suspects in English, and French anti-totalitarians: Camus, Aron et al), which had a great influence on me. Comforted in what I thought to be a solid position on the ethical justification of the free-market in the wider context of the attainment of a free society, I came to be skeptical of other extremes, on both sides of the spectrum. I despised the left, which held no coherent idea of what freedom really meant and believed in concepts like the social contract and social determinism, which I abhorred. On the other side of the spectrum, the radical right’s economics-based justification of the free-market model, with it’s utilitarian leitmotiv implying that it aught to be adopted because it would work better, seemed just as empty as the left’s constant referencing of the socialistic Scandinavian model as an empirical success to be emulated. To be sure, a lot of the discussion of libertarianism I have encountered through my contact with like-minded folks both inside and outside of the party remains either very technical or heavily reliant on moral facts deemed objective, but I was pleased to have discussions that went far beyond that at times. Metaphysics, ontology, epistemology often came to be mentioned.
If there was any doubt in my mind left about the depth and breadth of libertarian thinkers, my recent reading of William Irwin’s The Free Market Existentialist: Capitalism Without Consumerism has succeeded in washing it away. In a political environment where many (most?) adepts believe in some kind of objective reality, either through Randian objectivism, or through the moral a priori of natural rights or the non-aggression principle, Irwin confronts the pack by offering a coherent system of belief that ties in the metaphysics of post-modernity with the political ideals of libertarianism. He reconsiders existentialism in a way which rids it’s wrongfully applied stigma of having been shared by the apologist of totalitarianism that was Sartre, drawing on others who have helped shaped the idea before it’s rise to fame, notably Nietzsche. After having rid existentialism of it’s Sartrian burden, he makes a perfectly sound case for the mutual complementarity of existentialism and capitalism, two systems that promote self-ownership and self-determination on the ontological and material fronts, respectively. The book then suggests alternative ways of defining ethics in the metaphysical void which characterises existentialism. I was taken by surprise about the inclusion of a full chapter on evolutionary ethics, a field that I have never even heard of that ties in evolutionary biology with the ethics of human behavior. The book ends with two chapters on property rights and the minimal state, which offers libertarian alternatives to current political organization that are coherent with the metaphysically existentialistic and anti-moral position presented in the previous chapters.
If not for anything else, this book is important because it confronts libertarians with ideas that are widely accepted within our scene, to the point of being taken at face value by most. Perspective is easy to lose in today’s world, an age where content is custom-tailored to us on various social media platforms, inevitably creating what amounts to high-tech echo chambers. Patting each other on the back for accepting the NAP is unlikely to produce productive debate and further advance the philosophical positions within our movement; in that, Irwin’s book is a helpful reminder that knowing the strengths AND weaknesses of the philosophical underpinnings of libertarianism is the best way of comfortable in presenting and debating it.
Of course, the book has several other merits. Amongst which, it looks to be easy enough to read for the casual reader, with a very straightforward presentation of the arguments in favour of the author’s position. Being intimately familiar with the French obsession with footnoted references and comments which are immensely distracting visually, I can appreciate the authors (editors?) choice of placing all references and notes at the end of each chapter, thus making the book easier to read for everybody while still providing an important list of related materials for those who would like to supplement their reading lists.
One of its other strong merits is that it rings many bells in the post-modern mind: metaphysical nihilism which results on near-absolute moral relativism and evolutionary biology are ideas which individuals from all post-war generations, with exception of a few rabid religious fanatics, accept as true to some extent. At the very least, all are familiar with them. Irwin builds on these ideas which are current and resonate with the times, making for a potent book that, for all its use in shaking up existing libertarians, also has what it needs to win over new converts. Its unpretentious style and presentation only helps to make the book more accessible to others who might be in another corner of the political spectrum.
If I were to have one criticism of the book, it would be on Irwin’s dismissal of Richard Joyce’s definition of moral fictionalism as incompatible with existentialistic ethos. While I’d agree that holding beliefs of moral realism which we know to be false is inauthentic, it seems to me that there is another way of imagining fictionalism which would relate to the existentialist ideal of self-definition. Couldn’t moral frameworks, in addition to being inherited through evolution, be shaped by the individual through empirical experience? What I have in mind is something akin to Popperian epistemology applied to morals. Confronted with the impossibility of empirically testing the outcome of every moral position, some things have to be taken as a priori knowledge: this would be evolutionary core morality. The incapability of proving moral objectivity provides the grounds for falsification at all times, and the process of falsifying pre-existing moral positions is done through individual, subjective experience. As such, a person who empirically experiences that lying generally has negative consequences can maintain the fiction that lying is bad, while knowing that there is probably no objective grounds to defend this. Having not read Joyce, there is little doubt that I am going well over what definition he made of fictionalism; maybe it is closer to Olson’s moral conservationism. Either way, Irwin seems to rejet both on the grounds that they too readily separate real life and abstract philosophical pondering, thus making the individual inclined to shed his make-believe morality whenever it would be convenient for him or her. Much like a person cannot easily shed an identity that it has itself construct, I don’t believe that the kind of moral fictionalism I am describing can so easily be shed. Not unlike with science, such fictionalism would promote gradual evolutions in morality, possibly with occasional breakthroughs, but nothing that would permit jumping and out of moral belief systems at will.
Speaking on Rawls and his Theory of Justice, one of my philosophy teachers told us in that the 20th century had been incredibly stale in terms of innovations in the field of political philosophy, and that environment, Rawls’ Theory of Justice was a beacon of light when it came out. Considering the fact that libertarianism is largely based on ideas that hark back to Locke and Smith, I’d argue that Irwin has the potential to be the libertarian equivalent of Rawls. Nozick rivaled Rawls in terms of his systematic approach to think of justice, but it’s precisely this fact that made him, in my opinion, under-read in libertarian circles: he’s just not a fun read. Much like Rawls, Irwin throws the groundwork for heated debate both within our circles and outside of them, he presents a position which is both unusual and well grounded in literature, and he makes his point in that is accessible and layman-friendly. All of those factors make it, in my opinion, a very important contribution to political science and political philosophy as a whole, and to libertarianism in particular.
May 18, 2016 § Leave a comment
Libertarian discussion groups on Facebook are filled with vitriol, and that’s putting it lightly. Our reputation for infighting precedes us, but I believe that the same thing could be said about ideology-based communities; if the Marxist meme pages I following on social media are any indication, we’re not alone in bickering about doctrinal purity and the criteria for evaluating political actors and their policies.
When Maxime Bernier announced he was running for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC), many underlined his leadership bid as proof of existence of a “libertarian” wing within the conservative party. That, of course, was enough to spark spirited debate on the aforementioned Facebook discussion groups. How can he be a libertarian if he voted for [insert flagrant example of government over-reach instigated by the CPC here]!? It’s a question that’s definitely worth asking, since libertarians put so much emphasis on moral evaluation of government action, but I don’t think it’s the proper question to ask. The correct one is as following: can Bernier contribute to the libertarian movement writ large? My answer to this is I believe he can.
Full disclosure: I’m a current member of the Libertarian Party of Canada (LPoC) and I have run for them in the riding of Trois-Rivières in Quebec in last October’s election, and if given the chance, I will run again. I’m also a self-identifying minarchist; haters, sue me. Despite this, I think that Bernier can help us, if not the party, then at least the movement. Bernier is a camera-friendly guy running for a party which can attract said cameras, and he talks the libertarian talk: he’s outspokenly for limited, unobtrusive government, free markets and individual freedoms; heck, I even heard him quote Bastiat at an event recently. In terms of brand recognition, this is what we want.
Literature on political parties classify the latter in several categories, namely office-seeking, vote-seeking and policy-seeking parties. For all intents and purposes, in our institutional arrangement, office-seeking and vote-seeking can more or less be lumped in together. Wide-spread appeal is what those parties attempt to gain in order to capture the most popular votes and / or offices, and resort to what they can to reach that objective. Many times, this can mean throwing moral considerations and founding principals out of the window when the situation requires it; this is how you get such erratic policy choices during electoral campaigns, with “fiscal conservatives” being in favor of meddling in free market operations and a hard leftist party promising balanced budgets in it’s first mandate. Old parties are experts at this kind of machiavelic road to power, and while they are loathed for it, they have several hundred years worth of seat time in parliament to show for the efficiency of this tactic.
We libertarians are different, or at least aught to be different. We are policy-seekers, in that our policy objective is to reduce government (we’ll settle on this minimalistic platform to avoid bickering). While the power-hungry office seekers from the other party have a stack in discrediting their rivals for the sake of keeping their seats, we have now such incentive; our drive is not to put our asses in seats, but rather affect change in a way that accomplishes our policy goals. Getting into parliament is obviously one way towards this, but we shouldn’t be camped on this option, hence my advocacy for getting libertarian-minded Bernier at the head of the bigger right-wing party.
Another option to make gains is to make our ideas known. If you’ve heard LPoC leader Tim Moen give a public talk just once, you’re probably familiar with his keenness of critical mass theory, in which the winning over of a part of the population on certain ideas sets off a chain reaction which propulses those ideas into the mainstream. It’s a nice theory, not just because of it’s suggestion that we can get libertarianism into the mainstream, but also because it implies that we have to do it the “proper” way: winning hearts and minds in sufficient numbers, and not debasing ourselves to adopting whatever the electorate approves of that day to then stuff it down the throats of the public with professional spinsters.
Spinsters aside however, we still need to get the message out there, and this is exactly what Bernier can do for use. His uttering of libertarianism can only do good. If he’s wrong in his interpretation of it, we’ll be there to set him straight; if he’s right, the party can still ride on the idea that we are the only ones that can claim to have clean hands. Either way, people will be googling “libertarianism in canada”, and last time I checked, the LPoC is the first result of that search. Maybe the keyboard warriors will even unite under the threat of this statist usurper of our ideas; wishful thinking.
Best case scenario, Bernier wins the CPC leadership, gets elected after a disastrous run by Trudeau’s liberals, and actually implements change. Ancap purists, I’m not talking about totally abolishing government within the first 100 days. I’ll applaud any measure to limit government intrusion, heck, I’d gladly take mesures which decentralize power to the provinces, because it’s a step in the right direct. Worst case scenario, he gives the libertarian brand more recognition, which would be welcome in a country where “libertarian” is too often mistaken or misheard as “libertine”.
I’m banking on the fact that Bernier is and always has been a libertarian, despite the fact that he has had to tow the CPC party line for a while to get to where he is. That’s the nature of the beast when it comes to large parties. I can’t be certain of my assessment, because I don’t know the guy personally. But that won’t keep me from getting a membership with the CPC to vote for him, and I think if you’re liberty minded, you should too.
Maybe in the next elections Canada will be feeling the Bern-ier. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
*The views are my own and obviously not those of the party. In any case, please do check out the Libertarian Party and considering contributing.
May 13, 2016 § Leave a comment
Le chat est sorti du sac: après plusieurs mois d’inactions, le ministre des transports a enfin déposé à l’assemblée nationale un projet de loi pour clarifier le statut légal des services de transports comme Uber. Sans grande surprise, le projet de loi réitère “l’ancien régime” de transport par taxi réglementé par le fédéral, rendant ainsi des services alternatifs comme Über formellement illégal. Par contre, le projet accompli beaucoup plus que de simplement renforcer le régime en place: il arroge au gouvernement plusieurs autres pouvoirs en matière de transport par taxi, en modifiant certains structures en place et en instaurant d’autre. Voici donc un résumé des points saillants du projet de loi dans sa forme actuelle, avec chaque article ou alinéa pertinent cité et commenté.
Sauf sur avis contraire, toutes les modifications affectent la Loi concernant les services de transport par taxi tel que publié sur internet en date d’aujourd’hui. Bien que le projet de loi modifie aussi le Code de la sécurité routière et la Loi sur le ministère des transports, et d’autres lois, les changements apportés dans ceux-ci ne font qu’appuyer les dispositions de la première loi modifiée.
Article 1, Alinea 2:
2° par l’insertion, après « services offerts » de « , d’assurer une gestion de l’offre de services de transport par taxi qui tient compte des besoins de la population ».
Cette modification sur un article de préambule de la loi montre l’intention du gouvernement de continuer d’oeuvre comme seul acteur capable de determiner l’offre de transport. Rappelons que le système de gestion de l’offre sous forme de permis est ce qui a causé la présence d’Über en premier lieu.
L’article 2 fait des modifications massives au définitions légales de ce que comporte le transport, le covoiturage, et autres items pertinents. Nous allons l’analyser en plusieurs segments.
« 2° « intermédiaire en services de transport par taxi », toute personne qui fournit, par tout moyen, à des titulaires d’un permis de propriétaire de taxi ou à des titulaires d’un permis de chauffeur de taxi des services de publicité, de répartition de demandes de services de transport par taxi ou d’autres services de même nature;
Modifiant la même loi existante, on fait l’effort d’étendre la couverture de la définition existante d’un intermédiaire en services de transport par taxi pour, probablement pour mieux pouvoir inclure Über ou d’autres services alternatifs.
« 3° « services de transport par taxi », tout service de transport rémunéré de personnes par automobile, à l’exception des suivants:
La définition formelle de taxi est ajoutée à la loi. Sinon que préambule, il n’y a aucune allusion à une tel définition formelle dans la forme actuelle de la loi. Les exemptions qui étaient autrefois présentes à l’article 3 de cette même loi sont maintenant énumérés à même l’article 2.
a) le covoiturage effectué sur une partie ou l’ensemble d’un même parcours, à la condition que :
i. l’automobile utilisée soit un véhicule de promenade au sens de l’article 4 du Code de la sécurité routière (chapitre C-24.2);
ii. le conducteur décide de la destination finale et que la prise de passagers à bord soit accessoire à la raison pour laquelle il se déplace;
iii. le transport soit offert moyennant une contribution financière qui se limite, quel que soit le nombre de personnes à bord de l’automobile, aux frais d’utilisation de celle-ci et dont le montant total n’excède pas celui de l’indemnité accordée à un employé d’un ministère ou d’un organisme dont le personnel est nommé suivant la Loi sur la fonction publique (chapitre F-3.1.1) pour l’utilisation de son véhicule personnel;
Le dossier du covoiturage en est un qui a certes eu moins de publicité que les déboires de Über, mais qui est connexe et tout à fait important, puisqu’il constitute aussi du “transport illégal” au Québec. Les barèmes sont maintenants fixés: l’intention du conducteur et la rémunération sont les critères qui identifient la légalité ou non du covoiturage. Cette définition laisse encore trop de place aux abus de zèle de la part des policiers: l’intention est sujette à interpretation, et la limite des contributions sous-entends encore que de faire un peu d’argent pour services rendus est inacceptable. Les couts d’opération d’un véhicule pourraient être fortement débattus, et je ne me surprendrais pas de voir des défenses être faites sur les bases des coûts totaux d’opération engendrés par les chauffeurs. Un seuil absolu de contributions est aussi établi au même niveau que les indemnités pour utilisation de véhicules personnels accordés au fonctionnaires, comme si les couts d’opération étaient uniformes.
Article 5, Alinea 2
3° par l’ajout, à la fin, de l’alinéa suivant :
« Malgré le premier alinéa, lorsque l’automobile servant au transport par taxi est mue entièrement au moyen de l’énergie électrique, la Commission des transports du Québec peut autoriser le titulaire du permis de propriétaire de taxi à posséder le nombre d’automobiles supplémentaires mues entièrement au moyen de l’énergie électrique qu’elle détermine pour s’assurer que le titulaire du permis puisse continuer d’offrir des services pendant le temps de la recharge. ».
M. Taillefer a manifestement une excellente équipe de lobbyiste. Téo pourra avoir un nombre plus grand de voitures immatriculées T que ce que ne lui permet le nombre de permis de taxi en sa possession, dans l’objectif de faire une rotation en période de charge. À noter que le soin de determiner la taille de la flotte de reserve est entièrement à la discretion de l’exploitant. Je ne voudrais pas attribuer à Téo l’intention d’abuser de leur capacité de reserve, mais il faut au moins constater que le potentiel d’abus y est.
«5.1. Le gouvernement détermine le nombre d’agglomérations et le territoire de chacune d’elles. Le ministre rend publique cette décision sur le site Internet de son ministère.»
Ici, une addition est fait pour rendre formel le contrôle du ministère des transports sur le nombre de permis. Le contrôle effectif n’a pas changé, puisque les nombres de permis pouvant êtres attribués par la Commission des transports du Québec (CTQ) était déjà une prérogative ministérielle. À noter que l’article suivant donne aussi la prérogative au ministère de determiner ce que constitue une agglomeration, ce qui est actuellement une tâche de la CTQ. Cherche-t’on d’autres structures à abolir?
«6.1. Un titulaire de permis de propriétaire de taxi peut offrir de transporter plusieurs personnes ayant demandé séparément une course vers une même destination ou vers plusieurs destinations à l’intérieur du même parcours, à la condition que cette course soit demandée par un moyen technologique permettant à chaque client d’accepter à l’avance le partage des frais de la course. ».
Premier référant plus explicite à des modes alternatifs de contractualiser les transports. L’imaginaire de nos législateur n’est pas totalement desséchée, puisqu’à ma connaissance, un tel système n’a pas encore été mis en oeuvre pas aucun des nouveau joueurs.
« 10.1. Le gouvernement peut, pour chaque agglomération qu’il indique, fixer le nombre maximal de permis de propriétaire de taxi pouvant être délivrés par la Commission selon, le cas échéant, les catégories de services qu’il identifie et les conditions qu’il détermine. ».
Encore ici, la CTQ se voit confisquer une prérogative: c’est maintenant le gouvernement qui émettra par décret le nombre de permis approprié. D’autres amendements aux articles 9 et 11 complète cette modification.
15. L’article 50 de cette loi est modifié par le remplacement de « d’appels » par « de demandes de services de transport par taxi ».
Autre modification mineur pour plus facilement inclure les services décentralisés à la Über. À noter que l’article 34 de la loi rendais déjà illégal le fait de faire du “dispatch” sans un permis approprié; elle a aussi été modifiée pour que sont interpretation puisse être plus large.
«Le prix d’une course peut également différer des tarifs établis par la Commission, selon le moyen technologique utilisé pour effectuer la demande de service de transport par taxi, dans la mesure et aux conditions prévues par règlement du gouvernement. ».
Le but de cette disposition n’est pas claire. Un client pourra-t’il profiter de meilleurs tarifs si il utiliser une application pour commander son taxi, et inversement, cette disposition ouvre-t’elle la porte à une surcharge pour les appels au “dispatchs” téléphoniques? Pourquoi accorder à certains joueurs l’avantage de pouvoir baisser leur prix en augmentant l’efficacité avec de l’innovation quand Über s’est fait reprocher de faire justement cela? Ici encore, cette exception semble faite spécifiquement pour Téo.
«71.1. Un agent de la paix ou un employé autorisé à cette fin par une autorité municipale ou supramunicipale chargée de l’application de la présente loi qui a des motifs raisonnables de croire qu’une personne contrevient au paragraphe 2° de l’article 117 suspend sur-le-champ, au nom de la Société, et pour une période de sept jours, le permis délivré à cette personne en vertu de l’article 61 du Code de la sécurité routière (chapitre C-24.2) l’autorisant à conduire une automobile.
Lorsque la personne n’est pas titulaire d’un permis l’autorisant à conduire une automobile ou est titulaire d’un permis délivré par une autre autorité administrative, l’agent de la paix ou l’employé autorisé suspend sur-le-champ, au nom de la Société et pour une période de sept jours, le droit de cette personne d’obtenir un permis d’apprenti-conducteur, un permis probatoire ou un permis de conduire.
Les menaces de Daoust s’avèrent vraies: des permis seront suspendus sur-le-champ pour les contrevenants. Si la loi actuelle permettait déjà une saisi du véhicule, mesure que les divers corps de police municipaux ont eu recours à outrance, ce sera maintenant le véhicule ET le permis qui sera confisqué. À noter que ces dispositions s’applique aussi au covoiturage, puisque que ce dernier rentre dans les définition d’un infraction à la loi à l’article 117.
Article 31, alinéa 5
«2.2° fixer, pour toute période qu’il détermine, des droits annuels additionnels pour l’obtention, le maintien ou le renouvellement des permis de propriétaire de taxi qu’il indique, dont le montant peut varier en fonction de chaque agglomération, des catégories de services identifiées et des conditions déterminées en vertu du paragraphe 1.1° ou du nombre de permis détenus par un même titulaire;
Si la loi actuelle fait allusion a des droits annuels, elle ne mentionne pas que le nombre de permis détenus par un même titulaire pourrait être un facteur determinant sur les frais que le dit détenteur doit assumer sur ses permis. Je pense immédiatement à un rabais qui pourrait avantager les gros joueurs, et entrainer une consolidation dans un marché où il y a déjà très peu de compétition. Encore ici, Téo est probablement un des gros joueurs qui pourraient être visé par cette disposition.
Articles 37 & 38
« 117. Commet une infraction et est passible d’une amende de 2 500 $ à 25 000 $, s’il s’agit d’une personne physique, et de 5 000 $ à 50 000 $, dans les autres cas, quiconque : 1° offre un service de transport par taxi sans être titulaire d’un permis de propriétaire de taxi;
Les amendes actuellement prévues à l’article 117 sont de 350$ à 1050$. Il va sans dire que l’augmentation est substantielle, et vise carrément à utiliser le bâton pour punir les Über de ce monde. L’article 38 du projet de loi modifie aussi les amendes pour les entreprises offrant des services de publicité et de répartition.
Le projet de loi en tant que tel ne rends pas Über illégal, puisque selon les lois en vigeur, les services offerts pouvaient déjà être considérés illégaux. Ce qu’accompli le projet de loi est l’ajustement sémantique de plusieurs définitions pour mieux pouvoir dénoncer les services de transport alternatifs susceptibles de ne pas se plier à la legislation existante sur les taxis, en plus de grandement augmenter les amendes pour les infractions qui constituent du transport illégal et d’introduire la suspensions de permis en cas d’infraction. Ces dispositions rendent impossible pour Über la continuité de leurs opérations en sol Québecois. Du même coup, le gouvernement s’arroge aussi de nouveau pouvoir sur la determination du nombre de permis de taxis, et introduit des mesures qui pourrait favoriser certains joueurs comme Téo.
C’est la même vielle recette: au échecs du gouvernement, plus de gouvernement; face à l’innovation, une réaction violente des acteurs qui profitent du statu quo. Si le projet de loi passe dans sa forme actuelle, le Québec envoi un très mauvais message aux entrepreneurs et innovateurs: our way or the highway, ou dans les mots du ministre, “chez nous, ca va se passer comme ca“.