Adonis Diaries

Archive for November 2016

He Frees Minks From Slaughter Area: Dylann Roof

How the term Terrorists is exploited by the law?

Glenn Greenwald published this July 28, 2015

The FBI on Friday announced the arrests in Oakland of two animal rights activists, Joseph Buddenberg and Nicole Kissane, and accused the pair of engaging in “domestic terrorism.” This comes less than a month after the FBI director said he does not consider Charleston Church murderer Dylann Roof a “terrorist.”

The activists’ alleged crimes: “They released thousands of minks from farms around the country and vandalized various properties.” That’s it. Now they’re being prosecuted and explicitly vilified as “terrorists,” facing 10-year prison terms.

Buddenberg and Kissane are scheduled to appear this morning in a federal court in San Francisco for a hearing on bail conditions, while arraignment is set for early September. The indictment comes just days before the scheduled start of the Animal Rights National Conference, the largest and most important annual gathering of activists.

The DOJ did exactly the same thing in July of last year: Shortly before the start of the 2014 conference, they arrested two activists on federal “terrorism” charges for freeing minks and foxes from a fur farm.

The multiple activists and lawyers who spoke to The Intercept since Friday’s arrests are adamant that these well-timed indictments are designed to intimidate activists at the conference and more broadly to chill campaigns to defend animal rights.

This latest federal prosecution, and the public branding of these two activists as “domestic terrorists,” highlights the strikingly severe targeting over many years by the U.S. government of nonviolent animal and environmental rights activists.

The more one delves into what is being done here — the extreme abuse of the criminal law to stifle nonviolent political protest or even just pure political speech, undertaken with tragically little attention — the more appalling it becomes. There are numerous cases of animal rights activists, several of whom spoke to The Intercept, who weren’t even accused of harming people or property, but who were nonetheless sent to federal prison for years.

One obvious and significant reason for the U.S. government’s fixation is that the industries most threatened by this activism are uncontrollably powerful in Washington, virtually owning the Congress without opposition, stacking the relevant agencies with their revolving-door cronies.

Another is that this movement is driven by hard-core believers impressively willing to sacrifice their own liberty in defense of their political values — namely, trying to stop the mass torture and gratuitous slaughter of animals — and that frightens both industry and its government servants; that animal rights as a cause is gaining traction worldwide makes the threat even more alarming.

Yet another reason is that the specific forms of activism this movement has cultivated are shrewd and compelling: As is true for so many types of violence, the savagery, torture and sadism that makes these industries so profitable will be collectively tolerated only if we are not forced to confront their reality. That, for instance, is why the Obama DOJ is so desperately fighting the release of torture and Guantanamo photos, and why it has so severely punished whistleblowers: because few things are more menacing to status quo interests than truth revealed in its most visceral form.

While some E.U. countries have severely regulated or even banned many of the animal abuses targeted by activists, the U.S. factory farms that produce furs are among the cruelest and most sadistic anywhere, imposing extreme amounts of suffering and torture on the animals they slaughter — both in terms of how they confine them and then kill them.

The very graphic photo here shows the carcasses of minks after they have been skinned; this deeply disturbing undercover video from PETA details their treatment at American fur factories:

Independent of the moral questions raised by this savage treatment of animals, these industrial practices spawn serious environmental degradation, exploit small farmers, and produce health risks for workers: practices that can remain undisturbed only as long as we remain blissfully unaware of the harms they cause.

But there’s something deeper driving this persecution. American elites are typically willing to tolerate political protest as long as it remains constrained, controlled, and fundamentally respectful of the rules imposed by institutions of authority — i.e., as long as it remains neutered and impotent.

When protest movements adhere to those constraints, they are not only often ineffective, but more so, they can unwittingly serve as a false testament to the freedom of the political process and the generosity of its rulers (they let us speak out: see, we’re free!). That kind of marginal, modest “protest” often ends up strengthening the process it believes it is subverting.

When, by contrast, a movement transgresses those limitations and starts to become effective in impeding the injustices it targets — particularly when preserving those injustices is valuable to the most powerful — that’s when it has to be stopped at all costs, including criminalizing it with the harshest possible legal weapons.

This is the dynamic that explains the emerging campaign in the West to literally criminalize the previously marginalized BDS movement designed to stop Israeli occupation: It’s gaining too much ground, becoming too effective, and thus must be banned, its proponents and leaders threatened with prosecution. The fear that the animal rights movement is growing stronger and will succeed in exposing the horrifying realities of these industries’ practices is driving the persecution to the point of declaring it to be — and formally punishing it as — terrorism.

Even beyond that, the animal rights movement strikes at the heart of what is most cherished by American elites: the pillars of unrestrained capitalistic entitlement. That so much industrial profit depends upon extreme, constant torture and slaughter of animals is something regarded as, in essence, a sacred right.

Lauren Gazolla, who was imprisoned for 40 months in 2004 for her nonviolent animal rights activism and now works at the Center for Constitutional Rights, said that this movement “strikes at something fundamental. It challenges a way of life: So much of how much we live our lives is based on massive violence against animals, and the more brutal these industries are, the more profit they make.”

Anything that targets or threatens this entitlement is regarded as the highest and most severe threat. That’s why the government, at the behest of the industry interests it serves, is calling it “terrorism”: to them, few things are genuinely more menacing or threatening than an effective political movement aimed at these practices.

he activists arrested on Friday are being charged under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), a draconian 2006 federal law heavily lobbied for by the agriculture, pharmaceutical and farming industries. Its drafting and enactment was led by the notorious and powerful American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), with the lobbying industries also hiding behind groups such as the Animal Enterprise Protection Coalition (AEPC) and the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF).

As is typical for lobbyist and industry-supported bills, the AETA passed with overwhelming bipartisan support (its two prime Senate sponsors were James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.) and then was signed into law by George W. Bush. This “terrorism” law is violated if one “intentionally damages or causes the loss of any real or personal property (including animals or records) used by an animal enterprise . . . for the purpose of damaging or interfering with” its operations. If you do that — and note that only “damage to property” but not to humans is required — then you are guilty of “domestic terrorism” under the law.

Prior to the 2006 enactment of the AETA, animal rights activism that damaged property was already illegal under a 1992 federal law, as well as various state laws, and subject to severe punishments. The primary purpose of the new 2006 law was to expand the scope of criminal offenses to include plainly protected forms of political protest, and to heighten the legal punishments and intensify social condemnation by literally labeling animal-rights activists as “domestic terrorists.”

At the same time as this draconian statute was signed into law, numerous states enacted so-called “ag-gag” laws that — amazingly — “prohibit workers from taking undercover videos at the facilities and impose fines or jail time for those who do.” Moreover, “roughly half a dozen states have passed laws in recent years to prevent workers from taking images or videos of agricultural facilities.”

They’re so desperate to conceal their savage conduct from the public that they’re literally criminalizing reporting and whistleblowing, so that those who enable vital (and horrific and hard-to-watch) videos like this one — showing incomprehensible cruelty to highly intelligent and emotionally advanced pigs — are subject to prosecution:

For a barbaric industry, nothing is more threatening than the truth. As the Wall Street Journal explained in May: “In 2008, a California meat company recalled 143 million pounds of beef — the largest beef recall in U.S. history — after the Humane Society of the United States distributed an undercover video showing workers kicking sick cows and using forklifts to get them on their feet. The condition of the cows suggested their meat could have posed a risk to consumers.”

That case was the result of an undercover investigation at the Hallmark Meat Packing Co. in Chino, which, in the words of the Humane Society, showed “slaughter plant workers displaying complete disregard for the pain and misery they inflicted as they repeatedly attempted to force ‘downed’ animals onto their feet and into the human food chain.” Because the cows were too sick to walk, they were dragged or pushed with hot prods into the slaughterhouse. Some of that food made its way into the National Lunch Program served to public school students.

In other words, cows that were too sick even to walk, because of their savage mistreatment, were being put into the human food chain. This was discovered only because an undercover video revealed it:

Is it any wonder that these industries are demanding that such reporting and exposure be outlawed? And is it hard to see why the brave activists bringing these truths to light and trying to stop them are regarded as criminals and even “terrorists” for doing so?

This latest case shows how extreme and oppressive this law is by design. No human beings were physically injured by the alleged activism of Buddenberg and Kissane, nor did they attempt to harm any. Whatever one thinks of their tactics, it was — even by the FBI’s telling — confined to property damage: essentially vandalism.

In its Press Releases announcing indictments, the FBI tries to depict the alleged acts in the worst, most inflammatory light possible; for this case, this is all it could muster: They “used paint, paint stripper, a super glue-type substance, butyric acid, muriatic acid and glass etchant to vandalize Furs by Graf, a retail furrier located in San Diego.” There is absolutely no commonly understood meaning of “terrorism” (to the extent such a thing exists) that can include anything they did.

Ben Rosenfeld, a lawyer who has extensively represented animal and environmental activists, told The Intercept that “calling this terrorism is utterly irresponsible and offensive to victims of real terror.” Referring to both the DOJ and Congress, he said, “They should be ashamed of themselves.”

He added that in the post-9/11 era, “Calling this terrorism makes it almost impossible to get a fair trial for these activists. It’s very manipulative. Though the public is more jaded about the manipulative use of this term, it makes a huge impression on judges, most of whom have previously been prosecutors.” Because it’s in the title of the law, the term “terrorism” even appears on verdict forms, “so jurors see it very clearly.”

To label this nonviolent political protest “terrorism” yet again illustrates the utterly malleable and propagandistic nature of that term. This is particularly true given that the same DOJ that is charging the activists as “terrorists” just announced that Dylann Roof — who murdered nine people in a Charleston church to advance clear ideological and political objectives — will not be.

Even more abusive prosecutions — based exclusively on pure political speech and protest rights — have been common. Will Potter is likely the most knowledgeable journalist in the country on these issues; he’s author of a 2011 book entitled Green is the New Redand editor of a great website by the same name that exhaustively covers these issues.

Potter has a new story, published yesterday, on the arrest of four animal-rights activists in Oregon for . . . “allegedly writing political slogans on the public street using sidewalk chalk.” Potter reports that “the chalking was done as part of the growing ‘No New Animal Lab’ campaign, which aims to stop the construction of a new underground animal experimentation facility at the University of Washington.”

In 2004, Gazolla was prosecuted — and imprisoned in a federal penitentiary — for 40 months (three-and-a-half years) on charges that she and other activists maintained a website that endorsed illegal protests, and that her chants at a protest outside an executive’s house included advocacy of violence.

Her co-defendant was Andy Stepanian of Fitzgibbon Media, the communications firm that represents The Intercept and, on a pro bono basis, Chelsea Manning. Stepanian was imprisoned for three years, and during his incarceration, was even placed in a highly oppressive “Communications Management Unit,” called “GITMO North,” typically reserved for Muslims accused of terrorism. The FOIA-obtained prison document ordering his transfer tells the story (redactions in original):

communications firm that represents The Intercept and, on a pro bono basis, Chelsea Manning. Stepanian was imprisoned for three years, and during his incarceration, was even placed in a highly oppressive “Communications Management Unit,” called “GITMO North,” typically reserved for Muslims accused of terrorism. The FOIA-obtained prison document ordering his transfer tells the story (redactions in original):

As Gazolla detailed in a 2014 Salon article, the only conceivable purpose of calling activists like her “terrorists” under the new 2006 law is to stifle legitimate speech:

The AETA was pushed through Congress by the immensely powerful animal agriculture, animal testing and fur industries.

The law is not limited to punishing illegal activity; numerous existing laws already punish vandalism, threats and other illegal forms of protest. Rather, the AETA provides special protection to a specific class of businesses by targeting and stigmatizing a particular group of protesters, hanging the specter of prosecution as “animal enterprise terrorists” over their heads, and ultimately scaring them into silence.

Indeed, the very first case prosecuted under the AETA was in 2009, and it included the same Joseph Buddenberg who was arrested on Friday, along with three other defendants. Industry officials and their lobbyists were furious that no prosecutions had been brought in the two years since its enactment, and were aggressively pressuring the DOJ to find a case.

As Potter reported at the time, the DOJ’s entire case, calling these activists “terrorists,” rested on their pure First Amendment activity such as chalking sidewalks, marching and chanting outside researchers’ homes, and distributing fliers. The following year, the indictments were dismissed by a federal judge on the ground that the DOJ failed even to allege with any specificity what they did that constituted a crime.

But the history since that dismissal makes clear that pure political speech and protest are the real targets of these “terrorism” prosecutions. Gazzola told The Intercept that the AETA succeeded for a time in its goal of weakening and chilling activism: “My prosecution scared people,” she said.

But both Gazzola and Potter echoed what numerous activists and lawyers said: that despite the government’s efforts, animal rights activism is stronger, and the cause more widely accepted, than ever before. Others noted that there’s also a growing right-wing faction to the movement and that it’s starting to cut across ideological lines in interesting ways. Gazzola said that “more and more people are speaking up more strongly now, and there is more support from the broader left and social justice attorneys. All of that has really helped the movement come back.”

For years, animal rights activists worked without much support, even from the left, which generally regarded them as fringe and their cause as marginal (this post does a good job of laying that out). But all of the movement supporters interviewed by The Intercept are optimistic that, for a variety of revealing reasons, they have far more support than ever before.

Potter explained that the left’s aversion to animal rights activism was in part fueled by caricatures created by federal authorities. “They told the left, ‘don’t worry: we’re just going after these hard-core extremists, the ones who think you shouldn’t be able to go to circuses or wear leather shoes.’” That demonization made the left wary of being associated with a movement that had been successfully marginalized.

Beyond that, he said, there’s a strong human incentive to avoid thinking about what is done to animals. Potter explained: “People don’t want to engage with these issues because it challenges the most fundamental assumptions about how we’ve structured our society. It makes people confront the assumption we’ve adopted that we, as humans, have the right to do anything we want to the planet and other species for any reason: clothes, food, entertainment, transportation.

Once you engage with those issues, it can be a shocking confrontation with how you’ve been living your life for awhile. These activists are threatening not only corporate profit, but also the fundamental precept that humans are the center of the universe and have the right to do whatever they want.”

But activists point to a number of positive developments as evidence that animal rights is now becoming far more mainstream. There have been a few successful ballot initiatives to limit the worst abuses in agriculture. A single documentary on animal abuses at Sea World all but destroyed that company. Mainstream, influential figures advocate vegetarianism.

The widespread availability of cheaper technology and access to the internet makes it far easier than ever to produce undercover videos and ensure widespread dissemination. Legal changes are, for the first time, recognizing pets and other animals as having emotional worth, beyond their value as “chattel.” (That’s funny)

In sum, said Potter, we are collectively “expanding our circles of compassion, or at least consideration, in terms of the law and our moral framework.” For the first time in the U.S., it is now being recognized that “animals are worthy of moral consideration.”

But these changes, while positive, are limited, and far from what is needed to shield animal rights activism from vindictive prosecution and additional industry-fueled retribution. Potter used the term “greenwashing” to explain that “the Federal Government loves to tell you that it’s great for you to love the environment, but only if you do it in benign ways that don’t threaten industry.” You can and should recycle, but don’t impede lumber companies from cutting down trees or get in the way of whaling ships. Only “eco-terrorists” do that.

The same dynamic is at play in animal rights activism. We’re told that it’s great to love your pets. It’s fine to get outraged when some revolting, piggish Minnesota dentist — or the hideous spawn of Donald Trump — slaughter majestic animals in Africa for their own twisted pleasure or to compensate for their glaring sense of inadequacy.

“But whatever you do,” said Potter, “don’t turn your gaze to the everyday behavior of America’s largest food companies and farming industries in order to shine a light on their wholesale torture and slaughter of animals.” No matter how much people have learned to love animals and regard them as possessing moral worth, that type of activism — effective and subversive of industry — is still radioactive.

That’s what most needs to change. The countless hours of interviews and reading I’ve now done has made me, for the first time, fully cognizant of the shocking amount of legal abuses being undertaken here. At the very least, the activists who are sacrificing their own liberty in order to protect animals from being tortured and slaughtered — activists who are often poor and thus vulnerable to most abusive prosecutions — deserve a vibrant legal defense.

A legal defense fund has now been created to ensure that both Buddenberg and Kissane have the funds needed to defend themselves. You can, and I hope will, donate to that here. Beyond that, both CCR and the Civil Liberties Defense Center have done stalwart work in fighting the pernicious efforts to equate this activism with “terrorism.”

The propagandistic exploitation of the term “terrorism” has produced a wide range of harms all over the globe. Few harms are as severe as its ongoing use not only to stifle, but outright criminalize, political speech and noble activism.

Andrew Bossone shared this link

Just another example why the word terrorist is loaded: free caged animals and you’re called one; kill black people in a church and you’re not.

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The Web We Have to Save

Controlled and monitored space of social media?

A good read.

Seven months ago, I sat down at the small table in the kitchen of my 1960s apartment, nestled on the top floor of a building in a vibrant central neighbourhood of Tehran, and I did something I had done thousands of times previously. I opened my laptop and posted to my new blog. This, though, was the first time in six years. And it nearly broke my heart.

A few weeks earlier, I’d been abruptly pardoned and freed from Evin prison in northern Tehran. I had been expecting to spend most of my life in those cells: In November 2008, I’d been sentenced to nearly 20 years in jail, mostly for things I’d written on my blog.

But the moment, when it came, was unexpected. I smoked a cigarette in the kitchen with one of my fellow inmates, and came back to the room I shared with a dozen other men.

We were sharing a cup of tea when the voice of the floor announcer — another prisoner — filled all the rooms and corridors. In his flat voice, he announced in Persian: “Dear fellow inmates, the bird of luck has once again sat on one fellow inmate’s shoulders. Mr. Hossein Derakhshan, as of this moment, you are free.”


That evening was the first time that I went out of those doors as a free man. Everything felt new: The chill autumn breeze, the traffic noise from a nearby bridge, the smell, the colors of the city I had lived in for most of my life.

Around me, I noticed a very different Tehran from the one I’d been used to.

An influx of new, shamelessly luxurious condos had replaced the charming little houses I was familiar with. New roads, new highways, hordes of invasive SUVs. Large billboards with advertisements for Swiss-made watches and Korean flat screen TVs.

Women in colorful scarves and manteaus, men with dyed hair and beards, and hundreds of charming cafes with hip western music and female staff.

They were the kinds of changes that creep up on people; the kind you only really notice once normal life gets taken away from you.

Two weeks later, I began writing again. Some friends agreed to let me start a blog as part of their arts magazine. I called it Ketabkhan — it means book-reader in Persian.

Six years was a long time to be in jail, but it’s an entire era online. Writing on the internet itself had not changed, but reading — or, at least, getting things read — had altered dramatically.

I’d been told how essential social networks had become while I’d been gone, and so I knew one thing: If I wanted to lure people to see my writing, I had to use social media now.

So I tried to post a link to one of my stories on Facebook. Turns out Facebook didn’t care much. It ended up looking like a boring classified ad. No description. No image. Nothing. It got three likes. Three! That was it.

It became clear to me, right there, that things had changed. I was not equipped to play on this new turf — all my investment and effort had burned up. I was devastated.

Blogs were gold and bloggers were rock stars back in 2008 when I was arrested.

At that point, and despite the fact the state was blocking access to my blog from inside Iran, I had an audience of around 20,000 people every day. Everybody I linked to would face a sudden and serious jump in traffic: I could empower or embarrass anyone I wanted.

People used to carefully read my posts and leave lots of relevant comments, and even many of those who strongly disagreed with me still came to read. Other blogs linked to mine to discuss what I was saying. I felt like a king.

The iPhone was a little over a year old by then, but smartphones were still mostly used to make phone calls and send short messages, handle emails, and surf the web. There were no real apps, certainly not how we think of them today. There was no Instagram, no SnapChat, no Viber, no WhatsApp.

Instead, there was the web, and on the web, there were blogs: the best place to find alternative thoughts, news and analysis. They were my life.

It had all started with 9/11.

I was in Toronto, and my father had just arrived from Tehran for a visit. We were having breakfast when the second plane hit the World Trade Center. I was puzzled and confused and, looking for insights and explanations, I came across blogs. Once I read a few, I thought: This is it, I should start one, and encourage all Iranians to start blogging as well.

So, using Notepad on Windows, I started experimenting. Soon I ended up writing on hoder.com, using Blogger’s publishing platform before Google bought it.

Then, on November 5, 2001, I published a step-to-step guide on how to start a blog. That sparked something that was later called a blogging revolution: Soon, hundreds and thousands of Iranians made it one of the top 5 nations by the number of blogs, and I was proud to have a role in this unprecedented democratization of writing.

Those days, I used to keep a list of all blogs in Persian and, for a while, I was the first person any new blogger in Iran would contact, so they could get on the list. That’s why they called me “the blogfather” in my mid-twenties — it was a silly nickname, but at least it hinted at how much I cared.

Every morning, from my small apartment in downtown Toronto, I opened my computer and took care of the new blogs, helping them gain exposure and audience. It was a diverse crowd — from exiled authors and journalists, female diarists, and technology experts, to local journalists, politicians, clerics, and war veterans — and I always encouraged even more. I invited more religious, and pro-Islamic Republic men and women, people who lived inside Iran, to join and start writing.

The breadth of what was available those days amazed us all. It was partly why I promoted blogging so seriously. I’d left Iran in late 2000 to experience living in the West, and was scared that I was missing all the rapidly emerging trends at home.

But reading Iranian blogs in Toronto was the closest experience I could have to sitting in a shared taxi in Tehran and listening to collective conversations between the talkative driver and random passengers.

There’s a story in the Quran that I thought about a lot during my first eight months in solitary confinement. In it, a group of persecuted Christians find refuge in a cave. They, and a dog they have with them, fall into a deep sleep. They wake up under the impression that they’ve taken a nap: In fact, it’s 300 years later. One version of the story tells of how one of them goes out to buy food — and I can only imagine how hungry they must’ve been after 300 years — and discovers that his money is obsolete now, a museum item. That’s when he realizes how long they have actually been absent.

The hyperlink was my currency six years ago.

Stemming from the idea of the hypertext, the hyperlink provided a diversity and decentralisation that the real world lacked. The hyperlink represented the open, interconnected spirit of the world wide web — a vision that started with its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee. The hyperlink was a way to abandon centralization — all the links, lines and hierarchies — and replace them with something more distributed, a system of nodes and networks.

Blogs gave form to that spirit of decentralization: They were windows into lives you’d rarely know much about; bridges that connected different lives to each other and thereby changed them. Blogs were cafes where people exchanged diverse ideas on any and every topic you could possibly be interested in. They were Tehran’s taxicabs writ large.

Since I got out of jail, though, I’ve realized how much the hyperlink has been devalued, almost made obsolete.

Nearly every social network now treats a link as just the same as it treats any other object — the same as a photo, or a piece of text — instead of seeing it as a way to make that text richer. You’re encouraged to post one single hyperlink and expose it to a quasi-democratic process of liking and plussing and hearting: Adding several links to a piece of text is usually not allowed. Hyperlinks are objectivized, isolated, stripped of their powers.

At the same time, these social networks tend to treat native text and pictures — things that are directly posted to them — with a lot more respect than those that reside on outside web pages.

One photographer friend explained to me how the images he uploads directly to Facebook receive a large number of likes, which in turn means they appear more on other people’s news feeds. On the other hand, when he posts a link to the same picture somewhere outside Facebook — his now-dusty blog, for instance — the images are much less visible to Facebook itself, and therefore get far fewer likes. The cycle reinforces itself.

Some networks, like Twitter, treat hyperlinks a little better. Others, insecure social services, are far more paranoid. Instagram — owned by Facebook — doesn’t allow its audiences to leave whatsoever. You can put up a web address alongside your photos, but it won’t go anywhere.

Lots of people start their daily online routine in these cul de sacs of social media, and their journeys end there. Many don’t even realize that they’re using the Internet’s infrastructure when they like an Instagram photograph or leave a comment on a friend’s Facebook video. It’s just an app.

But hyperlinks aren’t just the skeleton of the web: They are its eyes, a path to its soul. And a blind webpage, one without hyperlinks, can’t look or gaze at another webpage — and this has serious consequences for the dynamics of power on the web.

More or less, all theorists have thought of gaze in relation to power, and mostly in a negative sense: the gazer strips the gazed and turns her into a powerless object, devoid of intelligence or agency.

But in the world of webpages, gaze functions differently: It is more empowering. When a powerful website — say Google or Facebook — gazes at, or links to, another webpage, it doesn’t just connect it — it brings it into existence; gives it life.

Metaphorically, without this empowering gaze, your web page doesn’t breathe. No matter how many links you have placed in a webpage, unless somebody is looking at it, it is actually both dead and blind; and therefore incapable of transferring power to any outside web page.

On the other hand, the most powerful web pages are those that have many eyes upon them. Just like celebrities who draw a kind of power from the millions of human eyes gazing at them any given time, web pages can capture and distribute their power through hyperlinks.

But apps like Instagram are blind — or almost blind. Their gaze goes nowhere except inwards, reluctant to transfer any of their vast powers to others, leading them into quiet deaths. The consequence is that web pages outside social media are dying.

At the same time, these social networks tend to treat native text and pictures — things that are directly posted to them — with a lot more respect than those that reside on outside web pages.

One photographer friend explained to me how the images he uploads directly to Facebook receive a large number of likes, which in turn means they appear more on other people’s news feeds.

On the other hand, when he posts a link to the same picture somewhere outside Facebook — his now-dusty blog, for instance — the images are much less visible to Facebook itself, and therefore get far fewer likes. The cycle reinforces itself.

Popularity is not wrong in and of itself, but it has its own perils. In a free-market economy, low-quality goods with the wrong prices are doomed to failure.

Nobody gets upset when a quiet Brooklyn cafe with bad lattes and rude servers goes out of business. But opinions are not the same as material goods or services. They won’t disappear if they are unpopular or even bad. In fact, history has proven that most big ideas (and many bad ones) have been quite unpopular for a long time, and their marginal status has only strengthened them. Minority views are radicalized when they can’t be expressed and recognized.

Today the Stream is digital media’s dominant form of organizing information. It’s in every social network and mobile application.

Since I gained my freedom, everywhere I turn I see the Stream. I guess it won’t be too long before we see news websites organize their entire content based on the same principles. The prominence of the Stream today doesn’t just make vast chunks of the Internet biased against quality — it also means a deep betrayal to the diversity that the world wide web had originally envisioned.

There’s no question to me that the diversity of themes and opinions is less online today than it was in the past.

New, different, and challenging ideas get suppressed by today’s social networks because their ranking strategies prioritize the popular and habitual. (No wonder why Apple is hiring human editors for its news app.) But diversity is being reduced in other ways, and for other purposes.

Some of it is visual. Yes, it is true that all my posts on Twitter and Facebook look something similar to a personal blog: They are collected in reverse-chronological order, on a specific webpage, with direct web addresses to each post. But I have very little control over how it looks like; I can’t personalize it much. My page must follow a uniform look which the designers of the social network decide for me.

The centralization of information also worries me because it makes it easier for things to disappear. After my arrest, my hosting service closed my account, because I wasn’t able to pay its monthly fee.

But at least I had a backup of all my posts in a database on my own web server. (Most blogging platforms used to enable you to transfer your posts and archives to your own web space, whereas now most platforms don’t let you so.) Even if I didn’t, the Internet archive might keep a copy.

But what if my account on Facebook or Twitter is shut down for any reason? Those services themselves may not die any time soon, but it would be not too difficult to imagine a day many American services shut down accounts of anyone who is from Iran, as a result of the current regime of sanctions. If that happened, I might be able to download my posts in some of them, and let’s assume the backup can be easily imported into another platform.

But what about the unique web address for my social network profile?

Would I be able to claim it back later, after somebody else has possessed it? Domain names switch hands, too, but managing the process is easier and more clear— especially since there is a financial relationship between you and the seller which makes it less prone to sudden and untransparent decisions.

But the scariest outcome of the centralization of information in the age of social networks is something else: It is making us all much less powerful in relation to governments and corporations.

Surveillance is increasingly imposed on civilized lives, and it just gets worse as time goes by. The only way to stay outside of this vast apparatus of surveillance might be to go into a cave and sleep, even if you can’t make it 300 years.

Being watched is something we all eventually have to get used to and live with and, sadly, it has nothing to do with the country of our residence.

Ironically enough, states that cooperate with Facebook and Twitter know much more about their citizens than those, like Iran, where the state has a tight grip on the Internet but does not have legal access to social media companies.

What is more frightening than being merely watched, though, is being controlled.

When Facebook can know us better than our parents with only 150 likes, and better than our spouses with 300 likes, the world appears quite predictable, both for governments and for businesses. And predictability means control.

Middle-class Iranians, like most people in the world, are obsessed with new trends. Utility or quality of things usually comes second to their trendiness.

In early 2000s writing blogs made you cool and trendy, then around 2008 Facebook came in and then Twitter. Since 2014 the hype is all about Instagram, and no one knows what is next.

But the more I think about these changes, the more I realize that even all my concerns might have been misdirected. Perhaps I am worried about the wrong thing. Maybe it’s not the death of the hyperlink, or the centralization, exactly.

Maybe it’s that text itself is disappearing.

After all, the first visitors to the web spent their time online reading web magazines. Then came blogs, then Facebook, then Twitter. Now it’s Facebook videos and Instagram and SnapChat that most people spend their time on.

There’s less and less text to read on social networks, and more and more video to watch, more and more images to look at. Are we witnessing a decline of reading on the web in favor of watching and listening?

Is this trend driven by people’s changing cultural habits, or is it that people are following the new laws of social networking? I don’t know — that’s for researchers to find out — but it feels like it’s reviving old cultural wars.

After all, the web started out by imitating books and for many years, it was heavily dominated by text, by hypertext. Search engines put huge value on these things, and entire companies — entire monopolies — were built off the back of them.

But as the number of image scanners and digital photos and video cameras grows exponentially, this seems to be changing. Search tools are starting to add advanced image recognition algorithms; advertising money is flowing there.

But the Stream, mobile applications, and moving images: They all show a departure from a books-internet toward a television-internet. We seem to have gone from a non-linear mode of communication — nodes and networks and links — toward a linear one, with centralization and hierarchies.

The web was not envisioned as a form of television when it was invented. But, like it or not, it is rapidly resembling TV: linear, passive, programmed and inward-looking.

When I log on to Facebook, my personal television starts. All I need to do is to scroll: New profile pictures by friends, short bits of opinion on current affairs, links to new stories with short captions, advertising, and of course self-playing videos. I occasionally click on like or share button, read peoples’ comments or leave one, or open an article.

But I remain inside Facebook, and it continues to broadcast what I might like. This is not the web I knew when I went to jail. This is not the future of the web. This future is television.

Sometimes I think maybe I’m becoming too strict as I age. Maybe this is all a natural evolution of a technology. But I can’t close my eyes to what’s happening:

A loss of intellectual power and diversity, and on the great potentials it could have for our troubled time. In the past, the web was powerful and serious enough to land me in jail. Today it feels like little more than entertainment. So much that even Iran doesn’t take some — Instagram, for instance — serious enough to block.

I miss when people took time to be exposed to different opinions, and bothered to read more than a paragraph or 140 characters. I miss the days when I could write something on my own blog, publish on my own domain, without taking an equal time to promote it on numerous social networks; when nobody cared about likes and reshares.

That’s the web I remember before jail. That’s the web we have to save.

Andrew Bossone shared this link

The controlled and monitored space of social media and the fewer opinions online that developed in the years that an Iranian blogger was imprisoned.

The rich, diverse, free web that I loved — and spent years in an Iranian jail for — is dying. Why is nobody stopping it?
medium.com|By Hossein Derakhshan

What the priest confessed?

‎غسان كركي‎'s photo.

حدثني الكاهن الذي عرفّهُ

خطاب لم ُيلقَ .أعدّ ووزع مناشير في ليل 8 تموز . استجوبني الأمن العام بشأنه في اليوم التالي . ودخل السجن بسببه عشرات الشبان . ولكنه بعد ذلك ، صار ُيلقى علناً وينشر في الصحف .
تلقاني صبيان الحي بصراخ الهزء حين ترجلت ، وراح أحدهم يتباهى مذيعاً ان التاكسي اسمها فورد ، وأعلن ترب له أنه لونها رمادي ، فيما ضج جمهورهم بإخباري ، قبل أن أسألهم ، أن الكاهن ليس هناك . بل إن أحدهم تسلق السلم وفتح باب العلية من غير أن يطرقه ثم أطل من نافذتها ضاحكاً : “أرأيت ؟ إنه غير موجود” .
ذلك لأن شياطين الحي الصغار صاروا يعرفون عمن اسأل وأصبح يروقهم أني لا أجد من أفتش عنه . ولعلهم لمحوا من تذمري ومن خيبتي ما استثار فيهم السادية ، فجاء جذلهم على نسبة ما تجلى عليّ من زعل وضياع أمل .
فلقد كانت تلك المرة الرابعة التي قصدت فيها إلى رجل الدين لأستطلعه السر الرهيب .
وفي المرة الخامسة توجهت إليه ليلاً وعلى موعد ، فكان هناك . وحالاً أمحت من ذهني صورة رسمها خيالي ، فلم أجد نفسي أمام شيخ متداع أبيض اللحية ، ولم اسمع صوتاً متهدجاً ، ولا صرعتني مظاهر الوقار وكلمات أبوة ، وجلسنا تحز مسامعي توافه الأحاديث التي تعود الناس مبادلتها فور اجتماعهم . وطالت النزهة الكلامية على شاطئ الموضوع ، وبرح بي القعود على عتبة باب جئت لأفتحه ، فوثبت إلى الهدف مقاطعاً المحدثين قائلاً : حدثني يا محترم عن ليل 8 تموز 1949 .
وغاظني من رجل الدين أنه لم بتلبس حالاً بمظاهر التهيب ، بل بدأ الكلام ، بشيء من غير الاكتراث . ولكن صوته ولهجته وخشوعه وانفعاله بل وبطاءه ، كلها تماوجت مع وقائع ما كان يرويه ، فكأنه عبقري يعزف من موسيقاه قطعة رائعة على البيانو . فدغدغت أنامله أصابع العاج أولاً بعفوية لا تبالي ، وتوالت الألحان تتأرجح وتتسامى متجانسة متضاربة متوافقة حتى بلغت ذروة موسيقى من غير هذه الدنيا . فإذا نحن في العلية نكاد لا نسمع ما يقول ، ولا نرى البيانو ولا اللاعب ولا نعي الألحان . بل شعرنا أن جدران الغرفة انفتحت وارتفعت أرضاً بمن فيها ، فإذا نحن و “سعادة” في السجن ، في الكنيسة ، في المقبرة ، في حفرة من الأرض ، في مسمع الدنيا ، بين المغتربين ، في القصور ، في المحكمة العسكرية ، في المفوضيات ، في غصة القلوب ، في عبسة المغاور ، في لوعة المعاقل ، في رصانة التهذيب ، في هدوء البطولة ، في عزة الصراع ، بين يدي الكبر ، أمام الجلادين ، في طمأنينة المؤمن ، في كهف الغدر ، حراب تطارد المجرمين ، أعلام تصفق للجيوش ، زوبعة تمحق ، وصرخة تعكس موكب التاريخ .
وتناول رجل الدين ورقة من مطاوي جلبابه الأسود الفضفاض منتزعة من دفتر مدرسي ، وهم بقراءتها ، فاعترضته وقلت : اسمعني حديثك لا تقرئني أوراقك ، ولو كانت مذكرات .
فراح يتكلم :
حين فتحت الباب على صوت القرع الشديد في منتصف ذلك الليل ، وجدت نفسي أمام ضباط من الجيش يطلبون إلي أن أرتدي ملابسي وأحمل صليبي وعدة الكهنوت بسرعة . قلت : ما الخبر ؟ أجابوا : سنعدم أنطون سعادة هذه الليلة . ونريد أن تُّعرّفه وتقوم بمراسم الدين قبل إعدامه .
قلت : إن أمراً كهذا لا يسعني أن أفعله ، آتوني بإذن من سيادة المطران ، هكذا ينص قانونناً الكنائسي . قالوا : ليس لدينا من وقت ، إفعل هذا على مسؤوليتنا نحن . فاعتذرت من جديد . وراحوا يلحون عليّ مرددين أن خرق النظام الكنائسي هو أقل ضرراً من أن يرسل مسيحي إلى الموت غير متمم واجباته الدينية .
وأخيراً أذعنت بكثير من التردد والحيرة ، وركبت سيارتهم في طرقات تعج برجال الأمن من جنود وبوليس ودرك وأسلحة مشرعة ، وأطللنا على سجن الرمل ، فإذا هو منار من الداخل والخارج ، ونزلنا حيث كان ضباط آخرون بانتظارنا .
وأقبل عليّ مدير السجن يعرفني إلى نفسه ، وأخبرني أن هذا هو الإعدام الثالث عشر الذي مر به ، وأن الأمر بسيط فأجبته : “لقد مضى عليً ثلاث عشرة سنة في الثوب الكهنوتي، وهذا أول إعدام سأشهده” وكان الطبيب الذي اشترك معنا في الحديث مثلي ، لم يشهد إعداماً في ما مضى .
وزاد مدير السجن فقال : إن هذا المحكوم الخائن أنطون هو رجل خائن ، وكافر ملحد يبشر بالكفر والإلحاد ، إنه لن يأبه لك يا أبانا هذا الخائن الملحد الكافر .
ودخلنا حيث كان الزعيم ، في حبس من الغلو نعته أنه غرفة ، فوجدناه مفترشاً بساطاً من قذارة ورقع ، وكان هذا الفراش أقصر من قامته ، فجعل من جاكيته وصلة بين الفراش والحائط كي لا ترتطم به قدماه .
وكان نائماً نوماً طبيعياً ، ورأسه على ذراعه اليسرى التي جعل منها بديلاً عن مخدة لم تكن هناك .
وأيقظناه فنهض حالاً ، وبادرنا السلام ، وخصني بقوله : “أهلاً وسهلاً يا محترم” فأبلغناه أنه لم يصدر عنه عفو وأن الإعدام سينفذ به حالاً . فشكرنا باسماً رزيناً ، واستأذن بلبس جاكيته التي كانت مطوية تحت قدميه ، فأذنوا له ، فشكرهم من جديد ، ولبسها .
وخلوت به ، وسألته إن كان يود أن يقوم بواجباته الدينية ، فأجاب : لم لا ؟ وطلبت إليه أن يعترف ، فأجاب : ليس لي من خطيئة أرجو العفو من أجلها ، أنا لم أسرق ، لم أدجل ، لم أشهد بالزور ، لم أقتل ، لم أخدع ، لم أسبب تعاسة لأحد .
وبعد أن فرغت من المراسيم الدينية ، تركنا الغرفة فكبلوا يديه ، وخرجنا إلى مكتب السجن .
هناك طلب أن يرى زوجته وبناته ، فقيل له ذلك غير ممكن ، وقدموا له ترويقة فاعتذر شاكراً ، ولكنه قبل فنجان القهوة متناولاً إياه بيمناه وأسنده بيسراه ، وكانت تسمع للقيد رنات كلما ارتطم بالفنجان .
وكان الزعيم يبتسم صامتاً هادئاً مجيلاً عينيه من وجه إلى وجه وكأنه يودعنا مهدئاً من روعنا . هنا انفجرت أنا بالبكاء ، وبكي معي بعض الضباط ، بل أن أحدهم أجهش وانتحب .
وبعد أن شرب القهوة ، عاد يصر على لقاء زوجته وبناته ، فسمع الجواب السابق .
وسئل لمن يريد أن يترك الاربعماية ليرة ليرة التي وجدت معه ، فأجاب أنها وقطعة أرض في ضهور الشوير هي كل ما يملك ، وهو يوصي بها لزوجته وبناته بالتساوي .
وطلب مقابلة الصحافيين ، فأخبروه أن ذلك مستحيل ، فسألهم ورقة وقلماً ، فرفضوا ، فقال : إن لي كلمة أريد أن أدونها للتاريخ . فصرخ به أحد الضباط منذراً : “حذار أن تتهجم على أحد ، لئلا نمس كرامتك” فابتسم الزعيم من جديد وقال : أنت لا تقدر أن تمس كرامتي ، ما أعطي لأحد أن يهين سواه ، قد يهين المرء نفسه ، وأردف يكرر : “لي كلمة أريد أن أدونها للتاريخ ، وأن يسجلها التاريخ” .
فسكتنا جميعاً ، في صمت يلمس سكونه ويسمع دويه .
أصارحك أنني كنت في دوار من الخبل ، ومن المؤكد أنني لا أعي كل ما سمعت ، ولكن الراهن أني سمعته ، سمعته يقول : “أنا لا يهمني كيف أموت ، بل من أجل ماذا أموت . لا أعد السنين التي عشتها ، بل الأعمال التي نفذتها . هذه الليلة سيعدمونني ، أما أبناء عقيدتي فسينتصرون وسيجيء انتصارهم انتقاماً لموتي ، كلنا نموت ، ولكن قليلين منا يظفرون بشرف الموت من أجل عقيدة . يا خجل هذه الليلة من التاريخ ، من أحفادنا ، من مغتربينا ، ومن الأجانب ، يبدو أن الاستقلال الذي سقيناه بدمائنا يوم غرسناه ، يستسقي عروقنا من جديد” .
ومشينا إلى حيث انتظرنا السيارات ، والزعيم ماش بخطى هادئة قوية يبتسم ، إنه لم ينفعل ، كأن الإعدام شيء نفذ به مرات عديدة من قبل . إنه لم ينفجر حنقاً أو تشفياً . أنه لم يتبجح شأن من يستر الخوف.
في تلك اللحظة وددت لو خبأته بجبتي ، لو تمكنت من إخفائه في قلبي أو بين وريقات إنجيلي . إن عظامي لترتجف كلما ذكرته .
وحين خرجت إلى الباحة رأيت إلى يميني تابوتاً من خشب . من خشب الشوح لم يخف الليل بياضه. وتطلع الزعيم إلى نعشه فلم تتغير ملامحه ولا ابتسامته .
وقبل أن يرقى الجيب ، طلب للمرة الثالثة والأخيرة أن يرى زوجته وأولاده . وللمرة الثالثة والأخيرة ، سمع الجواب نفسه . فتبينت ملامحه ، وفي تلك اللمحة العابرة فقط من عمر ذلك الليل لمحت وميض العاطفة خلال زوبعة الرجولة .
وسارت الجيب بالزعيم يحف به الضباط وخلفه تابوته ، وقافلة سيارات وشاحنات من ورائه وأمامه ملأى بالجنود المسلحة . ولعل مساً من البله اعتراني ، فبدا لي أن تنفيذ الإعدام سيؤجل ، أو أن عفواً سيصدر . سيطر عليّ هذا الوهم فخدرني ، حتى انحرفنا عن الطريق العامة إلى درب ضيقة بين كثبان . ووقفنا في فجوة بين الرمال كأنها فوهة العدم .
وقفز من بينهم ، مكبلاً ، إلى عمود الموت المنتظر ، فاقتربوا منه ليعصبوا عينيه ، فسألهم أن يبقوه طليق النظر ، فقيل له : القانون .
أجاب إنني أحترم القانون .
وأركعوه وشدوا وثاقه إلى العمود . وكأن الحصى آلمته تحت ركبته فسألهم إن كان من الممكن إزالة الحصى ، فأزالوها ، فقال لهم : ” شكراً ” ، ” شكراً ” ، رددها مرتين ، وقطع ثالثتها الرصاص .
فإذا بالزعيم وقد تدلى رأسه وتطايرت رئته ، وتناثرت ذراعه اليسرى ، فلم يعد يصل الكف بالكتف إلا جلدة تتهدل .
وكوموا الجثة في التابوت ، وتسارعت القافلة نحو المقبرة ، وهناك كادوا يدفنونها من غير صلاة لو لم يتعال صياحي . أخيراً قالوا لي : “صل ، إنما أسرع ، أسرع ، صل من قريب” .
ودخلنا الكنيسة ، ووضعنا التابوت على المذبح ، ورحت أصلي ، والدم يتقطر من شقوق الخشب ، ويتساقط على أرض الكنيسة نقاطاً نقاطاً ، ليتجمع ويتجمع ثم يسيل تحت المذبح .
وخرجنا من المعبد ، ووقفت أمام بابه أواجه الفجر الذي أطل وأناجي الله ، وأسمع رنين الرفوش ترتطم بالحصى وتهيل التراب ، وترتطم بالحصى وتهيل التراب” .
بذاك حدثني الكاهن الذي عرّفه .
أقول لك أن تراب الدنيا لم يطمر تلك الحفرة .
أقول لك أن رنين الرفوش في ذلك الفجر سيبقى النفير الداوي ليقظة هذه الأمة . أقول لك أن منارة الحياة قد ارتفعت على فوهة العدم .
بقلم الأديب الكبير : سعيد تقي الدين

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Liberland? And the making of a President

Along the western bank of the Danube, more or less halfway between Zagreb and Belgrade, there rests in historic obscurity a three-square-mile teardrop of no man’s land.

It is an artifact of a border dispute of long standing, and neither Serbia nor Croatia expresses a desire to rule over this unprepossessing Gibraltar-size property.

The land, marshy and prone to seasonal inundation, is choked with unregulated scrub, with here and there the lone tongue of a poplar or the gentle shag of a willow. The only road is a rutted single-lane dirt track, the only existing dwelling a flimsy hunting hovel, its provenance unknown.

The absence of governmental authority on this land is due to the manipulated course of the Danube itself.

By the late 19th century, the Danube was accepted as the natural border between the regions — at that point still under Austro-Hungarian control — that would become Croatia and Serbia.

There, the river’s path was tortuous and difficult for larger boats to navigate, so engineering work was undertaken to smooth the snaking flow. The straightened Danube was a vast improvement for international riverine transport, but in the process, four large uncontiguous bulges of Croatia became stranded alone on the Serbian side, and one small pocket of Serbia, on what was now the far bank, became attached to the Croatian mass.

Photo

Terra Nullius | Because of a dispute over several pockets of land on the eastern bank of the Danube, neither Serbia nor Croatia will claim the territory upon which Liberland is trying to establish itself.

This latter pocket, which local residents call Gornja Siga, is the no man’s land in question.

When the two countries were neighboring republics of Yugoslavia, these orphaned riverbank plots were of little concern, but since the 1990s they have presented an intractable problem. The stranded pieces of Croatia now contiguous with Serbia are some 10 times larger, in aggregate, than the rather trifling portion of Serbia now joined to Croatia.

Serbia has been all too glad to assume ownership of its expanded territory, but Croatia sees the situation as unacceptable. In light of this ongoing disagreement, for Croatia to accept Gornja Siga would constitute a de facto recognition of the Serbian view of the border and a relinquishing of Croatia’s claim to the more considerable, though equally mosquito-infested and uninspiring, portions of Serbian bank.

And yet Gornja Siga has come, over the last few months, to assume an outsize role in the imagination of many — not only in Europe, but also in the Middle East and in the United States.

Its mere existence as a land unburdened by deed or ruler has become cause for great jubilation. There are few things more uplifting than the promise that we might start over, that we might live in the early days of a better nation.

All the most recent states — South Sudan, East Timor, Eritrea — were carved from existing sovereignties in the wake of bitter civil wars.

Here, by contrast, is a truly empty parcel. What novel society might be accomplished in a place like this, with no national claim or tenant?

Such were the thoughts that had for some time inflamed the spirit of Vit Jedlicka, a 31-year-old Czech politician who traveled to the land earlier this year and, in broad daylight, planted a new flag in its unstable soil.

It was not the first tract he had considered. Previously, Jedlicka had rejected as too small a plot on the Slovenian-Croatian border, and as too inconvenient, dangerous and arid a dominion between Sudan and Egypt, which was subsequently declared the Kingdom of North Sudan by an American named Jeremiah Heaton, who traveled there by caravan to declare his daughter a princess, though his nation remained unrecognized by any other world government.

What instantly differentiated Jedlicka’s aspirations from the minor follies of Heaton and other micronational leaders — of Flandrensis, the Dominion of Melchizedek, North Dumpling Island — is that he had stumbled upon acreage of what may genuinely be unclaimed land.

And so, on April 13, 2015, he and his exploratory committee read, in English and Czech, the following proclamation:

We, the members of the Preparatory Committee of the State of the Free Republic of Liberland, issue this proclamation:

We, by virtue of the right to self-determination, right of discovery and the right of self-governance, proclaim the existence of the Free Republic of Liberland. The Free Republic is a free and independent country; and that as a free and independent state, the Free Republic of Liberland shall have the full power to defend itself, conclude peace, form alliances, establish commerce, and enjoy any other rights which sovereign states have.

As a member of the family of nations, we pledge to abide by international laws that bind all states in existence.

2. The President

Jedlicka had long dreamed of such a proclamation. An avowed small-government libertarian and euroskeptic, he searched for two years for suitable territory on which to establish Liberland.

The man he intermittently calls minister of information technology eventually discovered the plot via consultation of the ‘‘terra nullius’’ entry on Wikipedia.

According to the homestead principle, as well as the rules stipulated by the Montevideo Convention of 1933, Jedlicka felt the land was technically his after the flag-planting rite, carried out by Jedlicka, his girlfriend and a college friend.

Though he claims he did not seek political office himself, and he in fact recused himself from the initial round of voting, Jedlicka was immediately elected the nation’s first president by a vote of two to zero.

In the days that followed his proclamation, President Jedlicka was unsurprised and unembarrassed by the dismissals of the international community; he knew recognition would come with time, once the land was properly settled and his intentions were made clear. The day after he declared independence, the Serbian government released a communiqué that declared the birth of the new nation to be a ‘‘frivolous act’’ that it was prepared to ignore. Croatia’s official position was that it considered Liberland to be ‘‘a joke.’’ When Jedlicka, soon after his election, tried to approach the Croatian foreign minister in Zagreb to talk over the matter, he says her bodyguards blocked his advances, and she fled on foot.

The President is a sturdy man of thickening athletic build, with blond hair and a reddish blond goatee that diminishes up his high-colored cheeks into blond peach fuzz and then asserts itself anew as bright blond bushy eyebrows over long platinum lashes.

He is a soft-spoken, gentle ruler, well mannered and with a schoolboyish eagerness to please. For the first three weeks after the flag-planting ceremony, he and his founding committee could come and go from Liberland as they liked. He spent most of his time at the first Liberlandian Embassy, in Prague, a terraced apartment in the sun atop a hillside not far from Wenceslas Square that is also his home. (Jedlicka enjoys the free and casual use of such terms as ‘‘embassy,’’ ‘‘ambassador’’ and ‘‘minister,’’ though in his more legalistic moods, he is careful to qualify all of them with the adjective ‘‘future.’’) Then, on weekends, he drove the eight hours to Liberland at his leisure.

By May 8, though, which Jedlicka had planned as Liberation Day, his initial command of the situation had begun to erode. Domestically, the legitimacy of his administration was being challenged by a group that called itself the Liberland Settlement Association. The L.S.A., led by a Danish Bitcoin trader living in Switzerland, took at face value the President’s initial declaration of Liberland as a radical libertarian experiment: They moved quickly to settle Liberland themselves, on the premise that it was as much theirs as anyone’s.

On the foreign-policy front, meanwhile, the Croatians lost their patience with the increasingly aggressive and populous homesteaders and were denying entry to Liberland. Croatian police apprehended all Liberlanders who attempted to enter. Jedlicka was arrested and thrown in jail twice.

As a resilient type and an incurable optimist, the President was prepared to forget the various diplomatic affronts, and he quickly came to view the situation with Croatia in a positive light. He had learned from his extensive experience with social media that all attention is good attention and that even no attention could still be considered, at the very least, some attention.

‘‘If they help us, they help us,’’ he calmly explained to his ambassadorial team in Paris, which, along with most of his international supporters, took a rather dimmer view of the Croatian question than he did. ‘‘If they ignore us, they help us. If they harm us, they help us.’’

What further ballooned the President’s spirits amid the national conflict was the great pneuma of world solidarity. Within just a few weeks, he had received, via the Internet, more than 330,000 applications for citizenship.

He had posted the citizenship application online in two parts, an initial registration and a subsequent questionnaire.

The questionnaire asked if the applicant had a criminal history; if he or she was in debt; was respectful of the property of others; was interested in investing money in Liberland; was a member of an extremist group; if he or she wanted to reside in Liberland itself, and, if so, how.

About 40,000 of the initial registrants filled out the entire questionnaire. Final citizenship, for the moment, remained in Jedlicka’s hands, and by June he had awarded only about 130 of what he was referring to (pending constitutional confirmation) as honorary citizenships, mostly to those who showed the greatest commitment to the cause. Liberland was, after all, a tiny nation; he feared his experiment would implode under the weight of too many citizens right away.

The President imagined that the majority of freedom-loving interest would come from those seeking greater freedom in general, as opposed to political freedoms in particular, so he had not necessarily expected that the overwhelming interest in his nation would come from North Africa and the Middle East.

The greatest number of registrants — 82,167 — came from Egypt.

After the Egyptians, the most represented were the Turks, who almost certainly included Syrian refugees; after that came Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. The Czech Republic was seventh, followed by the United States. Then it was Iraq and Jordan.

Jedlicka was both proud of this fact and slightly troubled by it. Still, his first principle was that Liberland should stand for the free movement of persons — with the exception of neo-Nazis, communists and convicted felons — as well as goods and capital; the question of political asylum, like many other small details of refined governance, could be safely worked out down the line, once the land was delivered from Croatian tyranny.

Jedlicka proclaimed that in Liberland ‘‘government will be banned except for three things: security, legal stuff and diplomacy.’’ His more specific platform was in constant flux, as he fielded suggestions and emendations from his supporters, but the pillars of his libertarianism were minimal government, complete privatization of schools and health care, voluntary taxation in the form of crowdfunded state expenditures and cryptocurrency. On some issues, he felt that more discussion was needed before he could divine the proper position.

There was, for example, the matter of immigration. On the one hand, the President believed in the free movement of people; on the other, he understood that many fellow libertarians and euroskeptics believed that unrestricted immigration, particularly by economic migrants and refugees, placed too great a burden on a community created to beget wealth. On this and similar questions, he left the door open to spirited debate.

Before any of these questions could be addressed, however, he had to advance Part 1 of his plan for establishing Liberland as a sovereign state: namely, to gain physical control over the territory. This had already proved more perplexing than anticipated.

The Croatians regarded Liberland as Serbian territory; if you crossed overland, from the Croatian side, you were thus performing an illegal international crossing outside an official border checkpoint. If you crossed by water from the Serbian side, the Croatian police were technically arresting someone for crossing from Serbia to Serbia.

The L.S.A. decided that mass arrests would inevitably bring international attention to the Croatian infringement on Liberlandian sovereignty, but the President knew firsthand the discomfort of the Croatian prison, and he did not want any more of his future citizens to suffer there. His tactic would be diplomatic, and he had to that end sought an alliance with a Czech member of the European Parliament.

If the Croatian police arrested the holder of a diplomatic passport upon debarkation, they would provoke an incident with global repercussions; Liberland was a voluntary signatory to various international treaties and charters, and the Croatian provocation would not go unnoticed.

The diplomat, Tomas Zdechovsky, a Czech member of the European Parliament, had agreed to the mission, which was to be held on a weekend in early June. The diplomat would attempt a landing at Liberland — which for a month no Liberlandian citizen or supporter had done without immediate arrest — and see if the Croatian police were willing to subject themselves to the scrutiny of the international community.

3. The Diplomatic Mission

The first diplomatic mission to Liberland convened at the Prague airport’s old Terminal 1. The flight would be aboard AIR-Liberland, which was not a state asset but a private enterprise contracted to provide regular air service to the Croatian castle city of Osijek, about 20 miles overland from Liberland. Jedlicka had secured, by virtue of this arrangement, a lifetime of free personal transit on the airline. For him, the gesture comported with the dignity of his office, but to his detractors, it recalled the kind of crony capitalism that Liberland had been invented to circumvent.

Though not vain, the President is a man of probity, always conscious of the freshness and propriety of his appearance, and he wore a pressed azure suit with a slight shine; the diplomat wore a blazer with a sewn-in pocket square in maroon and blue. Zdechovsky describes himself as a politician, crisis manager, media analyst, author and poet; he is an acquaintance of Jedlicka’s from the bruising small-town politics of central Bohemia, where they campaigned against each other in the last European parliamentary elections.

The aircraft was given an approach to Osijek over Liberland itself, and the President took a series of selfies with the sandy beach of Liberty Island, a soft crescent in the waters just off Liberland proper, in the background. It was his personal favorite geographical feature of his country. When he thinks of its sucrose shores, which had been host to his early presidential cavorting and now lay just beyond his reach, he is often moved to comment that ‘‘Liberland is not just a tax paradise, it is also a paradise of a sort.’’

On the drive from Osijek to the Croatian border checkpoint, Jedlicka fielded more than two dozen calls, answering each one with the phrase, ‘‘Yes, this is the president.’’ Many of his contacts had never reached a head of state with so little intermediatory fuss. The President had more than a hundred messages via at least six apps to respond to and had to restart his phone more than once when its circuits needed cooling.

He had left his own reserve battery on AIR-Liberland, so he borrowed a white power brick from a Canadian-Slovak named Vince Pillar, one of the President’s growing cadre of assistants, who moved through life in a cloud of sweet banana-chocolate vape exhaust; the cable was too short, so Jedlicka had to hold both the brick and his phone to his ear to talk. We drove by the land entrance to Liberland, which for weeks was blocked by a compact white police car.

After about an hour, Jedlicka’s entourage arrived at the Liberlandian base camp, a sagging military tarpaulin stretched into a tent over a little field half-cleared of brambles on the Serbian side, about two miles upstream from Liberland itself. There were engine problems with Liberland’s official boat, so the mission was delayed until another boat could be made available.

On the far side of the river, 850 yards away, the peaks of squat orange-roofed Croatian houses crouched behind a large defensive embankment were visible. The thick berm had been built to protect against the river’s flood season, as well as the mosquitoes that bred without regulation in the bogs. As we waited, someone shooed one of the wild boars, a prodigious sow running impressively free of governance, back into the thick brush.

In the distance we could at last spy a small metal dinghy speeding north from Liberland toward the camp. The men and women from the boat hopped ashore, the tallest of the five waving a Liberland flag the size of a bedsheet. He was a tall man of considerable bulk, with long, thick hair swept back underneath a fraying straw cap and a Guy Fawkes beard. He wore a thin white short-sleeved dress shirt with an open collar and a Rolex tight around his wrist; at his collar’s notch he wore a gunmetal medallion, with bas-relief imagery of a skull wearing a top hat alongside a gun. This was Niklas Nikolajsen, the director of the Liberland Settlement Association.

A Danish software engineer who now describes himself as a Bitcoin broker, Nikolajsen founded the L.S.A. just days after Jedlicka declared the establishment of Liberland. He was suspicious of the President’s self-declared presidency and decided to stake his own claim. The L.S.A. was incorporated in Switzerland as a limited-­liability company, but it had quickly matured into an autonomous faction of political hooligans that now rivaled the President’s authority.

Nikolajsen lived in Zug, a small mountainous canton of Switzerland. He paid a tax rate of only about 4 percent, perhaps one of the lowest rates in all of Europe. But what if, Nikolajsen asked himself, ‘‘you could even improve on that?’’ This wasn’t just a selfish thought, though he wouldn’t mind paying no taxes; it was also about all of those people who for some reason couldn’t live in Switzerland.

‘‘If you’re sitting somewhere nice, you think, Well, you could spread freedom,’’ he said. The idea had particular appeal in the context of the Balkans, where a byzantine regulatory apparatus allowed for a flourishing lawlessness. ‘‘In many European languages, when things are really bad and bureaucratic, you call it ‘Balkan conditions,’ and there’s a reason for it,’’ Nikolajsen said.

Despite the fragile entente between the President and the L.S.A., there were undercurrents of soft-power maneuvering on both sides, and the threat of schism remained. Earlier that month, the L.S.A. posted an aggressive piece on its website titled ‘‘Liberland’s Constitution: Is It Libertarian Enough?’’ It subtly undermined Jedlicka at every turn, suggesting that he might not be as freethinking as advertised. Where the President had wanted a clause prohibiting public assembly that infringed upon the rights of others, the L.S.A. worried this would be used as a way of ‘‘squashing protests.’’ More alarming, the President seemed to imply, in an article relating to the denial of gun permits to the mentally ill, that there might be any procedure at all to license firearms. The L.S.A. objected, along similar ideological lines, to Jedlicka’s provision that the poor might have the right to gratis legal representation.

Nikolajsen understood that the real promise and the real threat of Liberland was as a libertarian free-for-all: the Croatians feared an armed redoubt of brothels and meth labs, and they were right to worry. ‘‘I created a hundred thousand shares of the company,’’ he bragged to me. ‘‘I sold them all out to investors in the first 40 hours. Everybody wanted a piece. I never sold anything so fast. That’s when I knew this was serious. You can always trust a market. You can’t trust yourself, you can’t trust your mother, but you can trust a market, because it shows you that what you have is something everybody wants.’’

4. The Policija

At last the first diplomatic mission was ready to begin. Nikolajsen turned to Zdechovsky, the diplomat, as the company prepared to walk down to the boat, and admitted something that must have lingered uncomfortably in the minds of many freedom-loving settlers: ‘‘I have often been euroskeptic. But today I am totally for the European Union!’’

With the official state vessel out of commission, the small metal dinghy had to fit eight people. It theoretically had a maximum capacity of six, but the President found he was unable to say no to the four teams of documentary filmmakers who didn’t want to miss such crucial footage. The diplomat unwrapped four containers of kebab, chop and sausage, and laid them out attractively on very thin paper plates. The party picked at the food while waiting for a young Austrian in a blood-lettered shirt of a band called Ulcerate, a recent arrival Jedlicka hadn’t yet met, to inflate a rubber raft for use in a landing.

Nikolajsen stood on the shore, eyeing the raft grimly. He knew that the Croatian police would seize it as part of their ongoing campaign of punitive asset forfeiture. He and the President have profoundly varying notions about what might constitute a libertarian state, but they share an appreciation for national pageantry and its props. He called out, ‘‘We’ve been losing two flags and two rubber boats a day.’’

The President looked to Nikolajsen. ‘‘Can we have a flag?’’

‘‘If you promise to give it back.’’ Nikolajsen fingered his gunmetal medallion and bit his lower lip. ‘‘It’s my last one.’’

The President reassured him. ‘‘I have more in my bag.’’

The diplomat, an official of ambition delighted to be at the center of this special and unprecedented mission, swept his hand across the meat. Its grease had soaked through the paper plates and onto the weathered wooden bench. The aroma of the patties had the distinct ranginess of horse. ‘‘Do you want something to eat?’’ he asked.

The dinghy set off at speed downstream, with the President and the diplomat in the stern taking turns at the rudder. They could barely see anything in front of the boat for all of the filmmakers and photographers, and they had to swerve so as not to hit the concrete pylon that supported the border bridge. The boat quickly slowed, however, and Jedlicka looked back to find that the raft trailing behind on its leash was filling with loden green river water.

The President sighed. He looked down at his textured brown oxfords, polished just this morning and now caked in gray mud. He and the Austrian hauled the raft up into the dinghy, where it rested between two filmmakers. He shrugged and regained his good cheer, throwing his arms up in anticipation of victory. ‘‘These are the obstacles creating a new nation!’’

The dinghy came around a bend in the river, the sun lower in the sky and the light a soft violet on the green width of the river, and the President stood up and laid his hand on the raft to take in the sight of his country. He had studied the poses of George Washington, whose likeness in oil graced the official Liberland Facebook page. Jedlicka beached the dinghy on a small sandbar just north of the Liberland-Croatia border. Black scathing cumuli of mosquitoes formed a needling vapor in the boat.

Jedlicka took the pump and reinflated the raft, which had gone soft in the dinghy. ‘‘This,’’ he said, ‘‘is how presidential work is done in the field.’’ His azure suit was soiled with sludge, and when he wiped the sweat from his brow, his hand emerged striped with black arthropod entrails and jags of the blood of his face.

There was a flurry of activity on the boat. With the raft back in the water and out of the way, all assembled could see before the dinghy, on its starboard side, a white boat with a blue tarp and antenna equipment. In clean blue lettering stenciled on the side, the boat identified itself as Policija. A man in a blue uniform and blue cap gazed at the dinghy through binoculars. A second policeman worked the radio on the bridge. The President stood up and waved. The boats drew up beside each other, and their bows plinked lightly.

The President spoke amiably. ‘‘We’re sending a diplomat now to measure our borders.’’

The diplomat said, ‘‘I am from European Parliament.’’

The policeman was impassive. ‘‘What are your intentions please?’’

‘‘Now?’’ the President asked. The policeman nodded. ‘‘We send diplomat to measure borders.’’

‘‘I will warn you,’’ the policeman said, repeating some lines in English. ‘‘Everyone who steps on the right side of the river will be arrested. This border is not defined. It is in dispute. Croatia defines one way, Serbia other way.’’

The diplomat got involved. ‘‘You must respect my mandate. There is European law here.’’

‘‘We are not here to discuss with you,’’ the police official said. ‘‘Everyone will be arrested.’’ He hesitated, then pointed at the diplomat. ‘‘Except you. Your diplomatic passport protects you. We will inform our minister, and he will inform your home state.’’ The policeman seemed glad to be rid of these sentences.

The two boats continued to slowly circle each other amid the squalls of mosquitoes. The diplomat boarded the raft, with one of the documentary filmmakers, and they set off toward the Liberlandian bank, a gently sloping mud beach under a low canopy of dense foliage. The President started the engine and swung the dinghy, now much lighter, toward the center of the river. The two policemen tied their boat to a tree and went ashore.

The Austrian was encouraged. ‘‘They’re busy on the shore. We can go to Liberty Island and plant flag.’’

‘‘Yeah,’’ Jedlicka said, ‘‘but you’d get arrested.’’ Happy with the success of the mission thus far, he was in no mood to countenance more bodily sacrifice. The young filmmaker who went ashore did not look prepared to spend the night in a dank, windowless cell of the border garrison, where 28 L.S.A. affiliates had already spent at least one night. The President swooped the dinghy in doughnuts around the middle of the river, peering over to see what was happening beneath the forest canopy. He smiled broadly, and two mosquitoes landed as black marks on his white teeth. On the shore, the policemen were arresting the filmmaker and escorting the diplomat to their boat.

As we set off upstream in the pinkening green, the President stood in the stern, sunburned, his face blotchy and cratered with scratched bites, his blond hair darkened by sweat and matted down. Roots extended from the eroded Serbian banks like long gnarled brooms, while the trees on the Croatian bank cast dark and extravagant emblems on the placid Danube.

5. The Matrix

The Ryanair flight to London gave the President his first time to think in several days. He felt, it was clear, that what was required at this clotted, uncertain juncture was a sense of destiny. The only way he could retake full control from the L.S.A. and rally his own troops against the threat of Croatian incursion was to offer his followers a strong and coherent vision for how the nation would be established.

What the President already knew was the following: The nation would be run by a legislative assembly of 20 individuals, but all laws could be vetoed by public referendum. He already had a designer’s rendering of the future parliament building. It looked like a ranch house with an enormous porch, its roof arched in segments like a scaly fish in flight. ‘‘The entire government,’’ Jedlicka insisted, ‘‘will fit into this building, and will not ever grow larger.’’ As far as future construction went, there were varying points of view on how many people could fit on Liberland itself, but at least one artist on the Internet had imagined a hyperdense city of towering skyscrapers.

Liberland was mostly marsh, however, and Jedlicka was not sure about the price of the necessary pylons. Beyond that issue, it was important to him that people not forget that his project was not solely about this small parcel of boar-crossed, mosquito-fogged swampland. This was a unique opportunity to create a worldwide movement for freedom — a way to distribute freedom instead of just concentrating it in this small state.

Exactly how to further this objective was on the President’s mind en route to London. With his mobile phone on airplane mode and his Bluetooth headset stowed, the future of Liberland came upon him as a revelation. The country’s fate rested in his ability to construct a vast online work-flow app. Its integrated user interface would optimize the operations necessary to realize nationhood. It would render public the assigning and fulfillment of the remaining tasks; connect Liberlandians to one another, for cooperative purposes, via a messaging-and-commenting system; and streamline the gratification of logistical needs via a full-dress reservation portal for flights, buses, taxis and lodging.

Though the whole thing sounded complicated, the site design itself would be simple and intuitive. It would resemble an organizational table. Each column would represent a country, and the rows would be labeled with necessary positions: ambassador, financial minister, photographer, videographer, publicity person. Each cell would then be color coded: green would indicate a task assigned and completed, yellow a task merely assigned and red a task in need of the application of industry. Carrying out tasks would earn points, which could then be put toward the purchase of citizenship.

This plan, the President believed, would create a currency that, despite the absence of a central bank or a foundational debt, would have value from the beginning: It would be tied to the labor of nation-building and would unleash extraordinary energy toward that end. The name of the currency was also revealed to him on the meditative Ryanair journey: the Liberlandian merit. His would be the planet’s first fully merit-based country.

Despite an unusually hard landing, it was the President, in his crystalline, buzzing elation, who began to clap, with charisma; the rest of the cabin, dazed and a little rattled, soon fell in behind him with applause.

Jedlicka was greeted by a future citizen holding a Liberland sign complete with national insignia. He was a handsome, tanned, bald man of about 40, and he wore a short purple tie, hung loosely about his collar, over an untucked pinstriped shirt. The aspiring citizen, Jay Picard, said he felt completely overdressed, and removed his tie by drawing the intact loop over his head. He was as eager and nervous to meet the President as the President was to meet him. Liberland already had an official embassy and ambassador in France and Slovenia, but the President had yet to find someone in Britain he could trust with local leadership.

Picard showed Jedlicka to a racing-striped Mini Cooper, in which he had driven to the airport from his sometime home in Bath at, he claimed, more than 100 m.p.h. He turned toward the trunk, revealing a large tattoo of a bar code on the back of his head. ‘‘The bar code,’’ he explained, ‘‘is basically to say, ‘I’m not owned by the government.’ I don’t like to be a subject of the country.’’

As he took Jedlicka’s bag, he drew attention to the Liberland decal he had affixed to the rear bumper.

‘‘Where did you buy that?’’ Jedlicka asked. Though the President claimed to have pledges from investors — sometimes he said $2 billion, other times $20 billion — the nation’s primary revenue stream was through merchandising, and he might have preferred to retain an incidental state monopoly for the time being, or at the very least tributary payments.

‘‘Oh, I just printed it right off the Internet!’’

As the Mini exited the airport, the car filled with the banana-chocolate vape exhaust of Pillar, the Canadian-Slovak assistant. Pillar had almost been stranded in Osijek, because the President’s assistant in Prague, Kristyna Nedvedova, forgot to check him in for the flight in advance. (Nedvedova disputes this, claiming that the President continually fails to pass along the necessary information.)

The relationship among the President’s many assistants resembled his broader problem in his attempt to consolidate his power base: He sought strength in numbers, told people what they wanted to hear and figured that envy and disagreement would resolve themselves down the line.

Pillar puffed on his vape pen, and Picard took this as an opportunity to offer the passengers his own vape pen, which contained a solution of pure cannabis oil mixed with a lovely blueberry flavor. Picard told us that he used it to take the edge off a recent flight from Oslo; he had problems with the British government, in fact he owed them quite a bit of money, and he was nation-shopping. He liked Norway, but his ideal refuge would be a place like Liberland.

Jedlicka was trying to change the shared Google Calendar time of the London meeting on his phone, but his roaming data service was unreliable. Picard took his hands off the steering wheel to pick up his own phone to broadcast as a local 3G hot spot. Jedlicka asked for the password.

‘‘O.K., the key phrase is, first p, as in ‘president,’ then a zero, then, uh, r, n as in Nancy, s, and the ending is t, a, r. That’s, uh, pornstar, but with a zero instead of the o.’’

Jedlicka looked up from his phone and gazed at Picard. At times it seemed clear that the President felt minor but nagging doubts about the personnel decisions he had made. His tendency was to reward alacrity. When he advertised, on Facebook, for a Czech assistant who spoke English, the first person to reply was Nedvedova, a college student in Birmingham. Unfortunately, she still had two weeks of the semester left before she could return to Prague. The President said he needed someone immediately. She left school early, which made a vivid impression on the energetic young President. He had found, however, that it was not always easy to get in touch with her. And there were the frequent airport check-in problems.

Still, the President needed a local vizier, and Picard had driven very far through a good deal of traffic. ‘‘I will make you,’’ Jedlicka intoned, ‘‘the leader of Liberland in Great Britain.’’

6. The Martins

The pub, along the high street in Hampstead, was upscale, the clientele smartly outfitted for a Friday evening. Picard dropped off Jedlicka and went to park the car. Pillar puffed on his banana-chocolate vape pen out front and began asking people if they had heard of Liberland. ‘‘No? Well, do you like paying taxes?’’

The President moved past him and into the pub, which he toured in a quick circle, his phone and battery brick held together to his ear. He took a seat at a table outside. His supporters were probably just late because of the traffic. After a time, the President was approached, with some trepidation, by two men in their mid-30s, with unlined faces, one of them with a conservative style of refined fauxhawk, the other bald. They were neatly kitted out for a night at a downtempo lounge. The one wearing the fauxhawk introduced himself as Martin. Martin asked the first question that the President is usually asked: How did he come to discover Liberland?

Jedlicka, still dazzled by the radiant vision of an integrated user-login platform-portal, was eager to engage his subjects on the concrete matter of the future, not on the country’s Wikipedia origin. ‘‘Oh, yes, we did research, we somehow came over this piece of land, and we said, ‘O.K., Let’s take it,’ ’’ he said. ‘‘The next day, the Serbian government released a statement saying, ‘We don’t mind it, but it’s a frivolous act.’ ’’ Jedlicka laughed. ‘‘What does that mean, ‘frivolous’ — like, of free will?’’

‘‘Not really,’’ Martin began, but the President had already leapt ahead.

‘‘It will be like a large grid, with a row for each nation, and it will show the tasks and the titles,’’ he said, explaining the color-coding system for proper task management. ‘‘It will be like a world collection of shadow governments, with a full Liberland cabinet in each place doing everything that needs to be done. Ambassador, photographer, videographer, P.R. guy.’’

Martin pressed for details beyond the integrated Internet grid. ‘‘But how,’’ he asked, ‘‘are you going to do this? There’s a claim from other governments — ’’

Jedlicka cut him off. ‘‘No, there aren’t.’’ He said that Croatia could not sensibly claim the land on behalf of Serbia. ‘‘What Croatia did was recognize our borders by putting police there. That did more for us than the Serbians.’’ If everything went according to his plan, he added, ‘‘We will inhabit the land by the sixth of September.’’ It would be the President’s 32nd birthday.

Jedlicka had to check Facebook in case he was missing some supporters who hadn’t yet recognized him at the pub. This was supposed to be a meeting with his English patrons, but he had not seemed to register that Martin and his friend each had a slight Slavic accent.

They were from Poland, though they’d been in Britain for more than 10 years. They were software engineers with good jobs. They quite liked life in London but had been made anxious by the waxing anti-immigrant sentiment. They thought they had moved past the era, when Poland joined the European Union in 2004, of fears about the ‘‘Polish plumber’’ come to take away middle-class jobs. But once again immigrants were being scapegoated, and their future in the country was uncertain. They were interested in Liberland in part for the technological aspect and in part because they wanted to make themselves aware of any possible haven, should such anti-immigrant parties as UKIP come into real power.

Like the Egyptians and the Syrians, they might become exactly the sort of political refugees the hard-line libertarians preferred to keep out of their country. The L.S.A. had, for example, firm positions on the matter of immigration; on their website they ran an interview with one member who implicitly spoke for the whole movement when he said, ‘‘I definitely wouldn’t like it if people came to Liberland just because there isn’t political freedom in their country.’’ But the President stood for a big-tent libertarianism and did not want to see the future of Liberland compromised by such small-stakes infighting.

An hour passed before another ally arrived, an overweight, bespectacled man in his 50s wearing a large blue polo. He introduced himself as Martin. He, too, had a Slavic accent. He was interested in Liberlandian citizenship, because he thought it would be an excellent site for a protected data center.

The first Slavic Martin asked where the second Slavic Martin was from. ‘‘Are you English?’’

‘‘British,’’ the second Martin said.

‘‘Really?’’

‘‘From Kazakhstan.’’

Martin from Kazakhstan waited for Jedlicka to be finished on Facebook before he told him, with childlike delight, that he had been one of his earliest and most ardent supporters. ‘‘Now you have 300,000 applications — ’’

‘‘Three hundred thirty thousand,’’ the President corrected him.

‘‘Now you have 330,000 applications, but when I registered on website it was only 200,000!’’

The President was quick to capitalize on Martin from Kazakhstan’s spirit. ‘‘I know,’’ he said. ‘‘When I sent out an email about this meeting, I sent it to only 100 people, and I put you on it.’’ The President looked around the pub. ‘‘And here we are seven. Seven percent turnout for the last minute. Not bad.’’

7. The State Visit to France

Liberland’s ambassador to France, Pierre-Louis Boitel, lives in Charenton, a large suburb southeast of Paris, with which it shares a border. Some status anxiety attaches to a residence there, but the ambassador had translated Ayn Rand and appeared proud to resist the herdlike mentality. The only club the ambassador wanted to be a part of was Liberland, whose exclusivity was something he cherished; he worried that it would be diluted by impure libertarians. He spent the entire car ride from Charles de Gaulle Airport explaining to the President that the chief challenge facing Liberland was the question of citizenship and that they would have to run it on a subscription basis as a very exclusive club.

The ambassador was friends with a retired police officer who was willing to run background checks. He seemed in part to want an exclusive club because of his anxiety about where he lived. For most people, he explained outside the Embassy, ‘‘if you live in Charenton, you are nobody. You say you live in Paris, and someone says where, and you say, ‘Charenton,’ and they say, ‘Oh, then you do not live in Paris!’ But Paris is one hundred meters away, and we are on the Metro and here we pay 35 percent less than you pay to live in Paris.’’

The President worried on occasion that he was too promiscuous with his titling, a common affliction among young micronational commanders in chief seeking to bolster the ranks of the political class, but he still referred casually to Boitel’s apartment as the Embassy. The ambassador, a financial executive, was a lanky man of 39 in an oversize suit, with a long, pointy nose, a thick helmet of overbrushed brown hair and eyebrows whose animation seemed fitful and beyond his control. He showed Jedlicka into the Embassy, saying, ‘‘This is your Embassy, President, you are at home here.’’

The parlor room was done in a subdued baroque style. The walls were painted salmon pink and sea green; gilded Louis XV replica armchairs were reflected in gilded mirrors. Heavy teal curtains were pulled back to admit the hesitant afternoon light, which pooled on the pale herringbone wooden floors. The walls were hung with coarse pastoral and dock scenes in thickly knifed oils, and antique knickknacks were everywhere: daggers inlaid with mother-of-pearl, fragile ceramics, a music stand with the sheet music for ‘‘La Vie Parisienne.’’

Jedlicka had only a few minutes to update his presentation before the whole party had to leave for his keynote speech at the annual convention of the small French libertarian party, but first he needed time alone with the first lady, who had flown in from Prague for the event. The first lady, whom the President refers to exclusively as the first lady, has been the President’s girlfriend for a year and a half, and now she resides with him at the embassy in Prague. She is tall and well scrubbed and very blond; she keeps up an active lifestyle and maintains perfect posture even while seated. Though she did not get involved in her current relationship with the expectation of a full roster of official duties, she has taken on her new role with felicity and elegance. In order to labor on behalf of Liberland full time, she has temporarily given up her work as a massage therapist. The President treats the first lady with extraordinary consideration and solicitousness.

Once the President finished updating his presentation, the legation walked to the Metro. En route, he took out his phone. He would never be anything but unassuming about protocol, but he asked if there weren’t a method of transport that might be more commensurate with his office. There was, after all, a French camera crew trailing him, and it was important that he make the proper impression on the television of a country where he had such a key embassy. ‘‘It’s just not too presidential to travel by subway,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m going to call an Uber.’’

‘‘No, no, you cannot,’’ the ambassador said. ‘‘It is not safe, it is impossible to take Uber here, you will not be safe. There is no time, and we must take the Metro. It will be quick. We do not even have to change the train.’’

The President relented. But he would draw the official line at being filmed carrying his own bag. Pillar, however, would not be arriving in Paris for another seven hours; the President’s assistant had once again failed to check him in, and he had been left at Heathrow.

The President turned to me with a look of anguish. He understood that this was a violation of propriety, but he also very strongly did not want to be filmed by French television carrying his own bag. I felt sorry for him and accepted a short tenure as his bag man.

Jedlicka was briefly mollified, but he was still very embarrassed to be seen on camera taking the Metro at all. Perhaps to compensate for the indignity, Boitel proceeded to cut a very long line of people to buy tickets, claiming that he was traveling on urgent official business.

The presentation, which began with a homage to the writings of the French proto-libertarian Frédéric Bastiat, was well attended, but the crowd was quick to disperse afterward. For the state dinner following the presentation, the ambassador had rented out an entire brasserie — all in crimson and gold — across from the Bourse, but more than 50 people who committed to coming weren’t there. The President told him that in the future, it would be best to have people pay in advance. The ambassador was frustrated. I tried to make small talk.

‘‘I can’t tell you what I do or where I work, because my boss would immediately fire me,’’ the ambassador said. ‘‘I have a total, clean separation between my work and Liberland.’’ He drew his hand down in a sharp chop. ‘‘I work in financial services for a very important and well-known firm, and if it were discovered that I was serving as the French ambassador from Liberland, everyone would immediately think I was washing money.’’

Across the table from the President was a middle-aged consultant with wire-rimmed glasses and a perpetual Gallic pout. He had been observing with some amusement the voltage across the gap between Boitel and Jedlicka, as they had sparred over the question of citizenship. The consultant said something sharp in French, and for the first time the ambassador lost his restrained bearing entirely. His pale face became hot with blood, and he sputtered rapid responses across the table. The consultant remained cool and sipped his Bordeaux, saying very little as the ambassador railed. The word that kept coming up in his ripostes was ‘‘blanchiment’’ — ‘‘whitening,’’ or money laundering.

The ambassador decided to drop the matter and turned to his salmon, which required liberation from drowning in a pool of white butter.

Later, the wife of the consultant, a petite Russian woman with red hair and tiny teeth, explained the dispute her husband had had with the ambassador. ‘‘Oh, the ambassador works at this bank’’ — she said the name — ‘‘and my husband told him that especially in the light of his job, everyone in France would view Liberland as a money-laundering scheme. That is how we view all of the other places the President likes to mention all the time: Liechtenstein, Monaco, Singapore. Those are all tax havens.’’

On the one hand, the President took it as a matter of common sense that high tax rates had put innovation and growth in government shackles everywhere on earth; on the other, the President really did believe that his young nation would be rooted in a like-minded community and would have taken as a great betrayal of his mission the idea that Liberland would only represent a virtual home for some collection of far-flung tax evaders, people who had nothing to do with one another beyond personal greed.

The ambassador was less interested about where the money was coming from than he was in its conversion to cryptocurrency. He advised the President at length about Bitcoin and Blockchain.

‘‘The L.S.A., they are just not serious,’’ the ambassador said. ‘‘They have their shares in an Excel file. An Excel file! That is not serious.’’

It was not wholly clear to the President how his appointed ambassador knew this.

‘‘Why, it is simple!’’ Boitel said. ‘‘I own shares!’’

8. The President in America

A month later the President and I met again, in the greenroom at the Midtown Manhattan radio studios of The Blaze, Glenn Beck’s network. In the intervening time, Jedlicka had been in intermittent touch, sending me an early MP3 of the national anthem — it was folksy and exhortative, like Joni Mitchell channeling the economist Milton Friedman — and telling me about his proliferating media coverage. I told him he looked good, but the reality was that he was clearly under some strain. The tips of his blond hair had lost their light magnesium frost. I asked after his new suit, and he told me he had gained more than six pounds.

New York was the last landing on Jedlicka’s tour. He and the first lady traveled first to Las Vegas, where he spoke at Beck’s annual FreedomFest convention and had the chance to shake the hand of Peter Thiel, a libertarian entrepreneur and venture capitalist. He wanted to play a dollar in one of the slot machines, but the first lady thought that gambling was beneath his station. The next stop was San Francisco; his Facebook post of the supporters’ dinner there remarked that, among the various techno-libertarians he had been courting, a young relative of Kafka had been present. In Washington, he was disappointed not to meet Rand Paul, but he had the chance to meet with representatives at the Cato Institute. Throughout his trip, he had set his Twitter feed to broadcast inspirational quotes from the history of American democracy.

What vexed him most was the continuing recalcitrance of the Croatians. Not long before, on July 4, the President celebrated Liberlandian Independence Day. Croatia issued an official diplomatic statement once again, explaining that the territory identified as Liberland was not, in fact, terra nullius, and that they would continue to forcibly remove homesteaders. As if this weren’t humiliation enough, members of the L.S.A. had photographed Croatian citizens enjoying a summer frolic on the sandy beaches of Liberty Island. But he was as undeterred as ever. In just a week in America, Jedlicka managed to establish 10 consular offices around the country, and he was pleased to discover that the Croatians themselves had only four. (They actually have nine.) ‘‘It’s not a competition,’’ Jedlicka said, ‘‘but. …’’ He trailed off with a grin.

He persisted in his belief that the Croatian border police were helping him through the de facto recognition of his borders. But, it seemed to me, it was helping him even more by barring him and his future citizens from actually settling the land. If the land were settled, it would become obvious to all that Liberland had courted an impossible coalition of fantasists. For some, it was a hedge against resurgent nationalism; for others, a bastion of euroskepticism. It was a haven for exiles and refugees and, at the same time, the promised land of the xenophobe and the techno-pirate. Jedlicka, so profligate with his sympathies, could sell a version of Liberland to tax reformers and another to Bitcoin traders. He could sell it just as well to a Pole in London as he could to a member of UKIP.

The huge-tent dissonance had even been designed into the Liberlandian flag itself, with its yellow, symbolizing voluntary exchange; the black, symbolizing rebellion against the system; and the tree, symbolizing abundance. The bird symbolized freedom, which in practical terms meant support for equal-opportunity disaffection. It was an unassailable social-media strategy in a time of worldwide resentment toward governance, and as long as Jedlicka did not have to govern the terrain of an actual country, it would continue to redound to his credit across the world.

Jedlicka was never more than five minutes away from Facebook, and from his tiny theoretical country, he spoke a plastic message of faith and empowerment. The elites in Brussels and the national capitals, both elected and unelected, had never seemed so haughty, distant and undemocratic. But he was tired.

After so many interviews, the President had grown weary of repeating the things that should have been so obvious to anyone who loved freedom. He held his face in his hands on the couch in the green room — and then sat up and looked across at me with great intensity.

‘‘Did I tell you about the idea I had on the flight, for a color-coded online matrix that would help all citizens get Liberlandian merits?’’

I nodded.

‘‘We have so many people in Prague working on it! We have made so much great progress!’’

John Peter shared this link Liberland

The New York Times publishes a feature on the founding of Liberland.

Travels with Vit Jedlicka, the founding father of Liberland.
nytimes.com|By Gideon Lewis-Kraus

How to Restore the Trust for Young people?

What follows is testimony submitted from Evan Baehr, Able cofounder, to the House Budget Committee of the US House of Representatives for the hearing, “Restoring the Trust for Young Americans,” September 9, 2015.

For years, I wanted to be you. I ran for city council (but lost). I worked at DC think tanks and as a legislative aide in Congress.

I believed that public policy was the best avenue for social change. I no longer believe that.

I met a man named Peter Thiel, who taught me it is precisely the people who want to “change the world” that should start companies instead of working for government or nonprofits.

Peter brought this spirit to bear on many major public problems — and for each he created a company.

  • Wrangle in the Fed? PayPal.
  • Get to Mars? Space-X.
  • Combat terrorism? Palantir.

The good news is that this spirit is alive among my generation.

According to the Reason-Rupe Millennial Survey, 55 percent of millennials want to start a business — and not merely for financial gain, but also to improve the world around them.

When we are asked what factors lead to our ability to pull this off, we respond:

hard work (61 percent), ambition (39 percent), and self-discipline (36 percent).

At the bottom of that list — literally the lowest ranked option — is government programs. In fact, 53 percent say Social Security is unlikely to even exist when we retire.

So largely this means we are a go-it-alone generation. AngelList, LegalZoom, Amazon Web Services, Codecademy, and others have all democratized innovation in important ways.

But here’s the problem: it isn’t just that government doesn’t get it; it’s that government stops many of us who do.

There are burgeoning tech industries such as genomics, mobile health, the quantified self, bitcoin, 3-D printing, massively open online courses, and self-driving cars that could dramatically lower costs and improve services that have bearing on many entitlement programs — but are caught in Washington’s crosshairs.

Coursera and Udacity set out to enable everyone the world to access the best professors.

The State Department banned the export of their content. 23andMe set out to enable every person to map their genetic code. The FDA has effectively shut them down.

My previous company, Outbox, set out to reduce wasted paper and transportation costs with an alternative to the US Postal Service.

In an infamous meeting with the leadership team of USPS, we were told by the head of digital innovation: “Digital is a fad; it will only work in Europe.”

What used to be benign incompetence — like Senator John McCain’s references to FaceSpace and MyBook — has turned into active malevolence.

What do Burundi, Afghanistan, and Mongolia have in common? They are all rated by the World Bank as better places for starting a business than the United States. In fact, we rank a paltry 46th.

This makes sense when we think about the contrast between tech and government:

  • We set up websites and web applications with no permission, whereas you need premarket review.
  • We have freedom of speech and marketing, whereas you have quiet periods and off-label marketing bans.
  • We drive early adoption, whereas you require licenses.

To summarize: if our motto is “move fast, break things,” yours might as well be, “If you move too fast, we break you.”

But there is a new strategy driving companies such as Uber, Airbnb, and, my new company, Able.

When we encounter broken systems, we use technology — and, in particular, mobile, geoaware, and socially enabled capabilities — to organize people around a new, high-potential product.

In the case of my current company, Able, Washington has tightened restrictions on banks so that they are much less likely to lend money to small businesses.

Facing this, we built the world’s first collaborative lending platform so that the Fortune Five Million — those who create two-thirds of all jobs and employ half of the workforce — can access the capital they deserve. Small businesses in 40 states can get funded today at AbleLending.com.

The companies we support so often express the spirit I have been describing to you.

A passion for outdoor adventure and a love for helping people led Greg McEvily to create a Kammok, a premium outdoor gear brand whose hammocks and sleeping bags equip and inspire thousands to be more active.

An undiagnosed illness led Kelly Love and Allison Evans on a quest to rid homes of toxic cleaning products. Branch Basics now has over 25,000 fans who get to clean free of toxic chemicals.

What grew from the aftermath of post-Katrina New Orleans has become Michael McDaniel’s Reaction, Inc., whose modular emergency Exo housing system stacks like a set of coffee cups so it can be rapidly transported down any US interstate highway and is lightweight enough that 4 men can unload enough housing for 100 people in one hour.

These millennial entrepreneurs seek to transform the world they live in through a for-profit company that delights its customers, honors its employees and suppliers, and returns a profit to its investors.

In advance of this hearing, we asked our community what they thought you should do. I’ve included those statements in the full testimony and wanted to share that of business owner Joseph Malchow especially.

Joe told us:

Americans are learning, every day, that when government regulates people, prices, and technology, the people lose.

What’s the price of regulation? Take the cost and convenience of an Uber ride, and subtract it from the cost and inconvenience of a taxi ride.

The American people feel the benefits of the idea of creative destruction every day. And they love it.

Silicon Valley is turning shadowy, regulated industries into genuine marketplaces. It’s high time rulemakers got on board.

Once Washington gets on board, it is our hope that you move a little faster, break a few more things, and let us do the same.

Note: Good promotional article. What is needed is that government institutions care for the people and Not the oligarchy and elite class.

The Other Side of Black Friday Price Tags

Throughout the Global South, underpaid workers face wage theft and injury to meet Western consumers’ demands.

Mind-hacks?  Stoicism? What’s that for both questions?

How Indifference can become source of power?

‘People are disturbed Not by things but by their view of things.

If you consider that you have no choices, forget it and let go?

We do this to our philosophies. We redraft their contours based on projected shadows, or give them a cartoonish shape like a caricaturist emphasising all the wrong features.

This is how Buddhism becomes, in the popular imagination, a doctrine of passivity and even laziness, while Existentialism becomes synonymous with apathy and futile despair.

Something similar has happened to Stoicism, which is considered a philosophy of grim endurance, of carrying on rather than getting over, of tolerating rather than transcending life’s agonies and adversities.

No wonder it’s not more popular. No wonder the Stoic sage, in Western culture, has never obtained the popularity of the Zen master.

Even though Stoicism is far more accessible, not only does it lack the exotic mystique of Eastern practice; it’s also regarded as a philosophy of merely breaking even while remaining determinedly impassive. What this attitude ignores is the promise proffered by Stoicism of lasting transcendence and imperturbable tranquility.

It ignores gratitude, too. This is part of the tranquility, because it’s what makes the tranquility possible.

Stoicism is a philosophy of gratitude,  rugged enough to endure anything. Philosophers who pine for supreme psychological liberation have often failed to realise that they belong to a confederacy that includes the Stoics.

‘According to nature you want to live?’ Friedrich Nietzsche taunts the Stoics in Beyond Good and Evil (1886):

O you noble Stoics, what deceptive words these are! Imagine a being like nature, wasteful beyond measure, indifferent beyond measure, without purposes and consideration, without mercy and justice, fertile and desolate and uncertain at the same time; imagine indifference itself as a power – how could you live according to this indifference?

Living – is that not precisely wanting to be other than this nature?

Is not living – estimating, preferring, being unjust, being limited, wanting to be different?

And supposing your imperative ‘live according to nature’ meant at bottom as much as ‘live according to life’ – how could you not do that? Why make a principle of what you yourself are and must be?

This is pretty good, as denunciations of Stoicism go, seductive in its articulateness and energy, and therefore effective, however uninformed.

As legions of warriors and prisoners can attest, Stoicism is not grim resolve but a…
 aeon.co|By Aeon

Which is why it’s so disheartening to see Nietzsche fly off the rails of sanity in the next two paragraphs, accusing the Stoics of trying to ‘impose’ their ‘morality… on nature’, of being ‘no longer able to see [nature] differently’ because of an ‘arrogant’ determination to ‘tyrannise’ nature as the Stoic has tyrannised himself.

Then (in some of the least subtle psychological projection you’re ever likely to see, given what we know of Nietzsche’s mad drive for psychological supremacy), he accuses all of philosophy as being a ‘tyrannical drive’, ‘the most spiritual will to power’, to the ‘creation of the world’.

The truth is, indifference really is a power, selectively applied, and living in such a way is not only eminently possible, with a conscious adoption of certain attitudes, but facilitates a freer, more expansive, more adventurous mode of living.

Joy and grief are still there, along with all the other emotions, but they are tempered – and, in their temperance, they are less tyrannical.

If we can’t always go to our philosophers for an understanding of Stoicism, then where can we go?

One place to start is the Urban Dictionary. Check out what this crowdsourced online reference to slang gives as the definition of a ‘stoic’:

stoic

Someone who does not give a shit about the stupid things in this world that most people care so much about. Stoics do have emotions, but only for the things in this world that really matter. They are the most real people alive. (Question: what could be “what matter”? Is that a personal selection of what is important?)

Group of kids are sitting on a porch. Stoic walks by.

Kid – ‘Hey man, yur a fuckin faggot an you suck cock!’

Stoic – ‘Good for you.’

Keeps going.

You’ve gotta love the way the author manages to make mention of a porch in there, because Stoicism has its root in the word stoa, which is the Greek name for what today we would call a porch. Actually, we’re more likely to call it a portico, but the ancient Stoics used it as a kind of porch, where they would hang out and talk about enlightenment and stuff.

The Greek scholar Zeno (From Tyr in Lebanon) is the founder, and the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius the most famous practitioner, while the Roman statesman Seneca is probably the most eloquent and entertaining. But the real hero of Stoicism, most Stoics agree, is the Greek philosopher Epictetus.

He’d been a slave, which gives his words a credibility that the other Stoics, for all the hardships they endured, can’t quite match.

He spoke to his pupils, who later wrote down his words. These are the only words we know today as Epictetus’, consisting of two short works, the Enchiridion and the Discourses, along with some fragments.

Among those whom Epictetus taught directly is Marcus Aurelius (another Stoic philosopher who did not necessarily expect to be read; his Meditations were written expressly for private benefit, as a kind of self-instruction).

Among those Epictetus has taught indirectly is a whole cast of the distinguished, in all fields of endeavour.

One of these is the late US Navy Admiral James Stockdale. A prisoner of war in Vietnam for 7 years during that conflict, he endured broken bones, starvation, solitary confinement, and all other manner of torture. His psychological companion through it all were the teachings of Epictetus, with which he had familiarised himself after graduating from college and joining the Navy, studying philosophy at Stanford University on the side.

He kept those teachings close by in Vietnam, never letting them leave his mind even when things were at their most dire. Especially then. He knew what they were about, those lessons, and he came to know their application much better than anyone should have to.

Stockdale wrote a lot about Epictetus, in speeches and memoirs and essays, but if you want to travel light, the best thing you could take with you is a speech he gave at King’s College London in 1993, published as Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus’s Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior (1993).

That subtitle is important. Epictetus once compared the philosopher’s lecture room to a hospital, from which the student should walk out in a little bit of pain. ‘If Epictetus’s lecture room was a hospital,’ Stockdale writes, ‘my prison was a laboratory – a laboratory of human behaviour. I chose to test his postulates against the demanding real-life challenges of my laboratory. And as you can tell, I think he passed with flying colours.’

Stockdale rejected the false optimism proffered by Christianity, because he knew, from direct observation, that false hope is how you went insane in that prison.

The Stoics themselves believed in gods, but ultimately those resistant to religious belief can take their Stoicism the way they take their Buddhism, even if they can’t buy into such concepts as karma or reincarnation.

What the whole thing comes down to, distilled to its briefest essence, is making the choice that choice is really all we have, and that all else is not worth considering. ‘Who […] is the invincible human being?’ Epictetus once asked, before answering the question himself: ‘One who can be disconcerted by nothing that lies outside the sphere of choice.’

Any misfortune ‘that lies outside the sphere of choice’ should be considered an opportunity to strengthen our resolve, not an excuse to weaken it.

This is one of the truly great mind-hacks ever devised, this willingness to convert adversity to opportunity, and it’s part of what Seneca was extolling when he wrote what he would say to one whose spirit has never been tempered or tested by hardship:

‘You are unfortunate in my judgment, for you have never been unfortunate. You have passed through life with no antagonist to face you; no one will know what you were capable of, not even you yourself.’

We do ourselves an immense favour when we consider adversity an opportunity to make this discovery – and, in the discovery, to enhance what we find there.

Another shrewdly resourceful Stoic mind-hack is what William B Irvine – in his book A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy­ (2009)– has given the name ‘negative visualisation’. By keeping the very worst that can happen in our heads constantly, the Stoics tell us, we immunise ourselves from the dangers of too much so-called ‘positive thinking’, a product of the mind that believes a realistic accounting of the world can lead only to despair.

Only by envisioning the bad can we truly appreciate the good; gratitude does not arrive when we take things for granted. It’s precisely this gratitude that leaves us content to cede control of what the world has already removed from our control anyway.

How did we let something so eminently understandable become so grotesquely misunderstood? How did we forget that that dark passage is really the portal to transcendence?

Many will recognise in these principles the general shape and texture of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

Indeed, Stoicism has been identified as a kind of proto-CBT. Albert Ellis, the US psychologist who founded an early form of CBT known as Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) in 1955, had read the Stoics in his youth and used to prescribe to his patients Epictetus’s maxim that ‘People are disturbed not by things but by their view of things.’ ‘That’s actually the “cognitive model of emotion” in a nutshell,’

Donald Robertson tells me, and he should certainly know, as a therapist who in 2010 wrote a book on CBT with the subtitle ‘Stoic Philosophy as Rational and Cognitive Psychotherapy’.

This simplicity and accessibility ensure that Stoicism will never be properly embraced by those who prefer the abstracted and esoteric in their philosophies.

In the novel A Man in Full (1998), Tom Wolfe gives Stoicism, with perfect plausibility, to a semi-literate prison inmate. This monologue of Conrad Hensley’s may be stilted, but there’s nothing at all suspect about the sentiment behind it. When asked if he is a Stoic, Conrad replies: ‘I’m just reading about it, but I wish there was somebody around today, somebody you could go to, the way students went to Epictetus. Today people think of Stoics – like, you know, like they’re people who grit their teeth and tolerate pain and suffering. What they are is, they’re serene and confident in the face of anything you can throw at them.’

Which leads us naturally to ask just what it was that was thrown at them.

We’ve already noted that Epictetus had the whole slavery thing going on, so he checks out. So does Seneca, in spite of what many have asserted – most recently the UK classicist Mary Beard in an essay for the New York Review of Books that asks: ‘How Stoical Was Seneca?’ before providing a none-too-approving answer.

What Beard’s well-informed and otherwise cogent essay fails to allow for is just how tough it must have been for Seneca – tubercular, exiled, and under the control of a sadistically murderous dictator – no matter what access he sometimes had to life’s luxuries.

It was Seneca himself who said that ‘no one has condemned wisdom to poverty’, and only an Ancient Greek Cynic would try to deny this. Besides, Seneca would have been the first to tell you, as he told a correspondent in one of his letters: ‘I am not so shameless as to undertake to cure my fellow-men when I am ill myself. I am, however, discussing with you troubles which concern us both, and sharing the remedy with you, just as if we were lying ill in the same hospital.’

Marcus Aurelius lay ill in that hospital, too. As beneficiary of the privileges of emperor, he also endured the struggles and stresses of that very same position, plus a few more besides.

I know better than to try to improve on the following accounting, provided in Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life:

He was sick, possibly with an ulcer. His family life was a source of distress: his wife appears to have been unfaithful to him, and of the at least 14 children she bore him, only six survived. Added to this were the stresses that came with ruling an empire. During his reign, there were numerous frontier uprisings, and Marcus often went personally to oversee campaigns against upstart tribes. His own officials – most notably, Avidius Cassius, the governor of Syria – rebelled against him. His subordinates were insolent to him, which insolence he bore with ‘an unruffled temper’. Citizens told jokes at his expense and were not punished for doing so. During his reign, the empire also experienced plague, famine, and natural disasters such as the earthquake at Smyrna.

Ever the strategist, Marcus employed a trusty technique in confronting the days that comprised such a life, making a point to tell himself at the start of each one of them:

‘I shall meet with meddling, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, and unsociable people.’ He could have been different about it – he could have pretended things were just hunky-dory, especially on those days when they really were, or seemed to be. But how, then, would he have been prepared to angle both into the wind and away from it – adapting, always, to fate’s violently vexing vicissitudes? Where would that have left him when the weather changed?

Note: If you consider that you have no choices, forget it and let go? Then studying and acquiring knowledge is to extend more choices to events. A stoic must seek ways to expand his choices, the hardest of work to select among many possible choices and work on the choice.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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