Steven Vincent, RIP

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I'm very sorry to report that Steven Vincent, a regular and highly valued contributor to Reason over the past several years, was killed in Basra early today.

He was living in and writing from Iraq, where he maintained an on-the-spot blog called In The Red Zone. He also published a book by that same name earlier this year.

We'll have a proper obituary for him tomorrow. His Reason articles include March 2004's "Faith, Shame, and Insurgency: Life in Occupied Iraq," April 2005's "Ancient Treasures for Sale: Do antique dealers preserve the past or steal it?" and July 2004's "Grave Injustice: Federal laws about burial remains put politics before science."

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  1. No man is an island,
    Entire of itself.
    Each is a piece of the continent,
    A part of the main.
    If a clod be washed away by the sea,
    Europe is the less.
    As well as if a promontory were.
    As well as if a manner of thine own
    Or of thine friend’s were.
    Each man’s death diminishes me,
    For I am involved in mankind.
    Therefore, send not to know
    For whom the bell tolls,
    It tolls for thee.

    -John Donne

  2. His reporting on Iraq, both with regards to Shia and the Sunni areas, was top-notch. Almost always eschewed the inane bromides of the right and left when it came to describing what was going on. His death acts as tragic evidence of his own observations about how badly the Brits have bungled the situation in Basra. RIP.

  3. I cut this from AntiWar.blog:

    He was another of the mad dreamers of the last few years who confused hopes with plans, but he stood head and shoulders above his fellows, first for his courage, secondly for his absolute refusal to start moving goalposts. He saw the liberation of Iraq as the great cause of his day. So rather than sit home and talk to anonymous bureaucrats or retype governent press releases, he went to Iraq, twice. His great passion was women?s rights, in the Arab world generally and Iraq in particular. He is dead because he refused to trim his sense of justice to fit the latest fashions in colonial PR – on the ground in Basra, he reported the facts as he found them, blowing the whistle on Allied accomodation to theocracy and the increasing oppression of Iraq?s women.

  4. linquist, that was a a really good selection.

    This is terrible news, does he have kin to send condolences to?

    RIP

  5. that i should ever have thought to see donne quoted in this place most ardently made of men and women so often wishing to be islands.

    it’s both sad and perhaps appropriate that it would take tragedy to awake the lesson.

  6. Real classy, GM.

  7. Was he murdered by an 80 year old white grandmother riding the subway? I think not.

  8. Ruthless, the material you quoted from antiwar.com was written by Jim Henley at his blog.

  9. “Real classy, GM.”

    Actually, Gaius marius might have just said the classiest thing on this forum.

  10. In some ways, Vincent’s death brought to mind that of CPA worker Fern Holland. See this NYT Magazine article for her story.

  11. I was really impressed with his reports from Iraq. I added his book to my Amazon wish list back in November, but I haven’t ordered it yet. His honest reporting about the religious parties in the medeival shithole of Basra probably led to his death. This is just so sad.

  12. I guess being pissed off makes me misspell medieval. I hope Muqtada al-Sadr takes a bullet to the head soon, though it’s too late to save Steven.

  13. He joins another fourteen dead Marines in Iraq.

    gauis marius,

    If you think wanting to be an island is the heart of libertarianism, then you aren’t very bright. Not wishing to be coerced into certain lifestyles, etc. doesn’t mean that one rejects human interaction.

  14. too bad for him, if he’d of lived the blood bath that is Iraq I thought he had a chance to be the next Robert Fisk — I mean this as a compliment. Journos sure have taken a beatin over there at the hands of the US and the insurgents…

  15. This is sad and upsetting. Of course, the goons who did this and the fanatics who hired them wouldn’t ever stop to realize, let alone care, that they were underscoring everything Steven wrote about Basra’s cops on Sunday. Now the whole world knows that what he said is absolutely true, that the cops are definitely corrupt and that the fanatics are certainly irrational inhuman monsters.

  16. the heart of libertarianism

    i wouldn’t think it is, gg — if libertarianism still finds its heart in locke — but only that many here who would euphemize themselves ‘libertarian’ are more honestly labeled ‘anarchist’ and perhaps have more in common philosophically with those who killed mr vincent than with that which could defeat them.

  17. Well, any illusions I had about GM being classy just got shattered. Go on, GM, explain to me exactly what I have in common with the killers. I’m waiting; this ought to be good. (Incidentally, I will cheerfully admit to being a philosophical anarchist, in that I don’t think there is any a priori legitimacy for any kind of coercive government. However, in practical terms, I’m a minarchist.)

  18. gaius marius,

    Libertarianism isn’t really derived from Locke. Locke after all defended slavery, which is an anathema to libertarianism.

    Well, being a libertarian and being an anarchist are two different things. Of course, even anarchists believe in community. Honestly, treating libertarians like they are wannabe hermits or misanthropes is absurd.

  19. “This right to life, this right to liberty, and this right to pursue one?s happiness is unabashedly individualistic, without in the slightest denying at the same time our thoroughly social nature. It?s only that our social relations, while vital to us all, must be chosen-?that is what makes the crucial difference.” — Prof. Tibor Machan (one of the early contributors to, if not founders of, REASON) here: http://www.strike-the-root.com/4/machan/machan31.html

  20. If anyone is still interested, Indepundit reports that the Vincent family requests that in lieu of flowers donations be made to Spirit of America.
    http://www.indepundit.com/archive2/2005/08/blogger_killed.html#
    http://www.spiritofamerica.net/

  21. Sorry, here’s the donation page in memory of Steven Vincent:
    http://www.spiritofamerica.net/cgi-bin/soa/honor.pl?rm=view&honor_id=37

  22. I’m going to have to read his writings when I get the chance. RIP.

  23. I left off part of Friedman’s conclusion:

    The implication of this argument is that a market society will have nicer people than either a traditional or a centrally planned society. Virtues will have a higher payoff, so more people will choose to become virtuous. Vices will have a lower payoff, so fewer will choose to become vicious. The result is precisely the opposite of the claim–that such a society promotes a blind, narrow selfishness–often made by opponents of capitalism.

  24. In the market society, since most people who associate with me do so voluntarily and only if they think they benefit by the association, there are sizable costs to being dishonest and sizable benefits to being honest. In the other sort of society, these costs and benefits are much lower. If you are a worker in a centrally planned society, your job is determined and your salary set by someone far away, someone who does not know you and will not have to associate with you. The dishonest employee has the same opportunities as the honest one–and the additional opportunity to steal things when nobody is looking.

    mr darkly, i thank you for your engagement on this.

    but this is wrongly reasoned because it starts froma false presumption of sensible rationality in people.

    since most people who associate with me do so voluntarily and only if they think they benefit by the association, there are sizable costs to being dishonest and sizable benefits to being honest.

    a rational being might behave so, but people are not rational except in very limited circumstances. emancipated people develop emotional attachments — because in a society you would recognize as free there is little fixed discipline to guide them otherwise — and then behave according to those. as situations change, people rarely do, and sustain their inefficiency through all manner of disincentive, often unto death.

    In the other sort of society, these costs and benefits are much lower. If you are a worker in a centrally planned society, your job is determined and your salary set by someone far away, someone who does not know you and will not have to associate with you. The dishonest employee has the same opportunities as the honest one–and the additional opportunity to steal things when nobody is looking.

    this indeed has been a documentable effect of a planned society — precisely because it is planned of spontaneous ideas and economic efficiency and specifically not tradition.

    a healthy and productive tradition, of course, carries a far deeper spiritual resonance in people and can automate discipline in people, in fact providing them great pleasure in conformity and routine. this is a product of our inherent animal behavior, not an unreliable rational subset thereof, and can be extremely persistent.

    antitraditional “progressive” planned societies in our epoch quickly dissipate their authority in their endorsement of ridiculously idealistic programs (often scientifically-derived) that repeatedly fail, forfeiting the reasoned allegiance of the society. having also done everything to uncultivate a traditional allegiance, they collapse into the excessive management of authoritarianism and tyranny.

    the weakness of mr friedman’s point is illustrated in the example:

    One disadvantage to being a bully is that in a voluntary society people stay very far out of your way–they avoid the problem by refusing to associate with you.

    plainly, people often persistently allow themselves to be abused in a situation a perfectly rational person would leave — we can name any number of examples, from playground bullying to spousal abuse. the same can be true for entire social demographics.

    moreover, it denies the possibility that a relationship in which difficult periods occur — where one who is free to leave will — can nonetheless be beneficial for both the individual and society as a whole. it’s hard for me to see the shiftlessness of divorce nation, now well inured of the idea that they need compromise not at all, even where it might reward them well to, either is a healthy adoption of “efficiency” or results in a “nicer” society.

  25. but this is wrongly reasoned because it starts froma false presumption of sensible rationality in people.

    No, I don’t think so. Did you have a chance to read the linked essays, as opposed to just the excerpts? One of Friedman’s points in the first essay was that, in some narrow instances, a shrewdly rational person who stopped to calculate every decision might in fact conclude that he would sometimes have more to gain than lose by acting immorally on occasion. However, rational evaluation of every moral decision is costly, in terms of effort. So it’s easier to just cultivate a habit of being moral. (In part, this is what our parents train us to do.) That was the whole point of Friedman’s first essay.

    The point of the second was that under conditions of maximum freedom of association, it is more likely that everyday experience will reinforce that habit of virtue.

    plainly, people often persistently allow themselves to be abused in a situation a perfectly rational person would leave — we can name any number of examples, from playground bullying to spousal abuse. the same can be true for entire social demographics.

    I don’t think the playground bully example is valid — children, being children, don’t have the freedom of association that adults can and should be able to exercise. In my experience, any anti-libertyarian argument that has to compare adults to children is suspect. 🙂 Friedman was talking more like adult bullying in the workplace or social situations.

    Situations where adults are reluctant to leave abusive relationships are usually actually attributable to bad incentives provided by the state, or traditions that no longer fit well. For example, some reasons that spouses stick with abusive partners are (1) until recently, by tradition women did not stand up to their husbands, or leave their husbands ’til death do them part; and (2) until recently, the government-provided police monopoly tended not to take abusive domestic conflict seriously, or felt unable to meaningfully intervene.

    And in cases of sexual harrassment in the workplace — another example that pops to mind — until fairly recently, by tradition people took a “boys will be boys” attitude and didn’t take those situations seriously, so harrassed women felt they could do little about the situation.

    Actually, I am very pro-tradition. Like Friedman and Burke and some others, I think there is a great deal of value in the wisdom of the ages, amassed by trial and error and containing more real-world guidance than the rational human mind has the capability to formulate.

    If we had to rationally think out the costs and benefits of every action we undertook, it would consume so much time and effort we’d get much less done. Habit and tradition and custom are very useful in this regard. I think Hayek once said something like this.

    Someday if I have time I’ll tell the “Parable of the Apple,” which I once made up to show how traditional, nonrational trial-and-error accumulated wisdom can sometimes be smarter and more humane than logic and progressive determination to be open-minded and tolerant.

    But one of the other advantages of tradition is that it is less rigid than state law, and allows for evolutionary change to cope with new technology or new knowledge or other environmental changes. You can break from traditions when it seems their benefits no longer outweigh their costs. There may be social costs for doing so, but at least without the force of state law, you can’t be imprisoned or lose your property for doing so.

    That’s why I’m an anarchist who leans toward traditional cultural values for guidance, rather than the state, with individual freedom to experiment.

  26. The authors change deep soul, so that the reader is deeply admired, every word dripping every reflects the author’s thoughts and feelings.

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