Author: Ryan Lau

Ryan is a first-year sophomore at the University of Vermont, double majoring in philosophy and psychology. He is 71 Republic's Editor in Chief and a member of the Board of Directors. The works of Konkin, Goldman, Rothbard and Tolstoy have influenced his anarchist beliefs and led him to seek a way to bring those ideas into reality.

Did Hungary Really Just Ban Gender Studies?

By Ryan Lau | @agorisms

On October 17th, Fox News released a stunning headline. It read, “Hungary bans gender studies because it is ‘an ideology not a science'”. The article prompted vast social media responses, both positive and negative. Some proponents declared that the Euroskeptic nation is moving away from the liberal policies of the EU. On the other hand, others declared that this was going against the desires and interests of many Hungarian students.

In the heated discussions, there was one thing missing: the facts. The thing is, the Fox headline, as well as many other news headlines on the subject, got it all wrong: Hungary is not banning gender studies at all.

A Shaky Headline

Looking at the headline instantly brings about a fair degree of suspicion about its validity. Colleges all throughout the world teach many things besides sciences. In many cases, such courses do fall under the category of ideology. In fact, some, such as political theory, dedicate themselves solely to the study of ideology.

This calls into the question the validity of the Hungarian claim that the decree is due to ideology. At least, it proves a degree of hypocrisy on the part of the Hungarian government for only taking action towards one form of ideology. Yet, even their action against gender studies is quite limited.

Hungary’s New Gender Studies Policy

In reality, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban did sign a decree about gender studies. Effective October 13th, the government did remove federal funding and revoked approval for the master’s program. As such, students admittedly cannot currently sign up to take the program with federal funding.

However, they did not in any way address anything related to undergraduate gender studies. Moreover, the university insisted it will still teach the program to give both MA and Ph.D. degrees.

Further still, the decree did nothing to address gender studies in private schools and universities. There is a clear distinction between a ban and a removal of funding; the latter does not criminalize the act in question. Hungary, clearly, did not make it illegal for someone to practice gender studies. They furthermore will not be giving anyone a punishment for doing so. A lack of funding is not punishment; it is an inaction, not a negative action.

So, the claim, which Fox News, Independent, and many other organizations made, is false. Though the Hungarian government took away federal funding and support for gender studies, they did not do anything to prohibit its practice.


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The Murderous Military Uses Call of Duty for Target Practice

By Ryan Lau | @agorisms

Undeniably, the United States has a culture of violence. From its sky-high rates of sexual assault to violent acts on TV, American society fetishizes aggression. In fact, by the time an American turns 18, they will have seen 200,000 violent acts on TV. However, these examples pale in comparison to one of the deadliest organizations in the history of the world: the United States military.

Since 1945, our armed forces have directly killed at least 20 million people in 37 countries. This astounding figure shows a true world atrocity. Nonetheless, the military continues to adapt and grow stronger, learning new ways to kill. Moreover, it learns new ways to convince people to kill and die for it. A long-standing example of this is the concept of American exceptionalism and patriotism. As time passes by, though, they create more intuitive ways of doing so. A recent example actually perpetuates the violence already present in American culture. In the past couple of years, the military has used Call of Duty and other violent video games in order to desensitize soldiers to killing, making it easier for them to do so in battle.

Murder Training

Since the turn of the century, violent video games have become a major category of entertainment, especially in America. From Grand Theft Auto to Halo, shooting games are widely popular among a diverse audience, young and old. Unfortunately for Middle Eastern civilians, the trend has spread to the military.

The United States military strongly encourages all combat units to participate in games like Call of Duty. Their several varying reasons for such are each about as reasonable as a full invasion of Canada.

A Simulation of Real Combat Experiences

One Iraq War veteran described the experiences of Black Ops 2 as “intensive and highly realistic approaches to tactical combat”. Presumably, the former soldier has held both a gaming controller and a gun, and also witnessed both reality and a digital world. The two are vastly different, and it is disturbing that someone who holds a gun for the United States does not think so.

However similar the decisions may be, a video game simulation can never mirror the weight of having to kill another human being. Pressing the R button on a controller simply does not equate in any way to stopping a beating heart. Such equivalencies may belong in sci-fi works like Ender’s Game, but not the real world. Terrifyingly, though, this soldier is not alone in his belief.

It Desensitizes Soldiers to Violence

In 2012, Brock Bastian and several other psychologists ran a study on the effects of violent video games on the brain. Unsurprisingly, they found a deeply chilling result: the games could actually desensitize soldiers and other people to real-world violence. By simply pressing buttons on a controller, these people reacted less to the suffering of other people.

To the military, this is an ominously great gift. Of course, the very goal of the organization, every time it goes overseas, is to kill enemies for American interests. That is a simple fact of how militaries work. Even though we created many of the enemies, such fact is often irrelevant. In order to carry out their goals, the armed forces require people willing to kill and die for them.

What better way is there to draw these people and ensure their participation than by crippling the parts of their brains that feel for other human beings? From a strategic standpoint, the move is brilliant, as it inevitably will reduce rates of disobedience and deserting. Yet, from a position of morality, the move is nearly as awful as the military actions themselves. To rob a man or woman of morals and feeling is to rob that person of their meaning and being. From an institution with the blood of 20 million in 70 years on its hands, I expect nothing less.

A Mindset Without a Call of Duty

Recently, The Conversation interviewed a number of soldiers and veterans about Call of Duty and other violent video games and their service. Many of them reported the importance of remaining “in the mindset of a soldier” while they were not currently on a call of duty. The argument here falls apart both morally and practically.

When a doctor goes home, he or she (most likely) does not run MRIs on his or her family. Yet, upon returning to work, even after a vacation, that doctor does not lose abilities. If knowledge as deeply complex and difficult as how to be a doctor does not vanish with time away, why would that be true of a soldier? It takes little skill to be one in relation to a doctor. Yet, doctors can take time off without staying in the doctor mindset and still return to duty.

The only way this could be necessary for soldiers, then, is if the job requires doing something that the normal human psyche would oppose, like killing. But of course, that is exactly what being a soldier entails. Yet, this argument still backfires morally. If being a soldier violates basic human nature and decency, why should anyone reinforce it with continued violence?

Surely, Call of Duty and other violent video games are having detrimental effects on American soldiers. By desensitizing troops to violence and making poor simulations of combat, the games make a dangerous promise: to add to that 20 million, the next time American boots touch some foreign sand.


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Is Socialism Bad for a Country and its People?

By Ryan Lau | @agorisms

Through most of American history, our country has demonized socialism openly. In fact, during certain periods of time, refusing to do so was costly. During the McCarthy Era, for example, those who did not condemn socialism and communism were often subject to sharp punishment. In other time periods, the same has been true.

Of course, it is safe to say that punishing someone because of their views is unjust. Nonetheless, it has occurred many times. Why is this? Naturally, there was a great American fear of socialism and communism during the Cold War. But, does this justify the general fear and hatred of socialism itself? The simple answer: it’s complicated.

Is Socialism Bad for a Country?

There are a number of elements to the question of whether socialism is bad for a people or country. In order to properly answer it, it is critical to address all parts of it. Failure to do so, as I will explain below, can create a dangerous partial truth at best.

The Definition of Socialism

First and foremost, one must comprehend what socialism truly is. This notion is logically sound: it is impossible to fairly like or dislike something that you do not understand. Ultimately, socialism is a worker ownership of the means of production. Rather than private individuals owning money and land, the collective society does. In some, more authoritarian cases, the state steps in to handle the distribution of goods. On the other hand, smaller socialist societies claim an ability to do this without the state.

Naturally, this runs in direct contrast to the current American way of life, which centers around private profit. Yet, different is not inherently good or bad. Now, a convincing argument could exist, saying that if the socialist system forces you to participate, then it is a negative force in the world. This, of course, is due to the lack of autonomy and choice that such a system would bring about.

Opt-Out Socialism

What can we say, though, about a more voluntary form of socialism? A number of such communities exist, notably the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. By joining the group, you agree to abide by the rules, but you also can reside peaceably without contributing or receiving anything. This, of course, does not rob you of that same autonomy. At every point, you are free to sever communication and allegiance with the group. The same is not true about a modern democracy or a forceful socialist community. In both cases, there are punishments for refusing to comply. So, if someone is allowed to opt out of this process without harm, there is no loss of autonomy. A form of opt-out socialism, therefore, does not violate the ideal of individual freedom.

Clearly, the idea of socialism does not always take away autonomy. So, it does not necessarily run in contrast to the moral freedom that we as human beings all possess. Various forms may support or oppose the idea of freedom, but it is wrong to place a blanket statement on them.

What is Political Good and Bad?

Beyond the word socialism, it is also important to define the other terms. To know if socialism is bad, you must furthermore know what it means to be bad. The word itself is a negation of good, so for the sake of definition, I will focus on the positive form. The thing is, though, it is frankly impossible to think of a real definition that can apply to a country or group of people.

Economic Growth

When it comes down to it, different people will have different ideas for what is good. Some, for instance, may believe that economic indicators are the surefire way of determining the goodness of a political system. For them, it appears that a more open or mixed market may be a good system. The numbers, on the surface, appear to support this notion. After all, world poverty dropped from 53 percent to 17 percent from 1981 to 2011. This perfectly coincides with industrial revolutions throughout the world and the formation of market economies in developing countries.

Other Measures of Goodness

Looking deeper, though, it becomes clear that this may not truly be good for everyone. Arguments can exist far beyond the economic scale. For example, there may be environmental, moral, religious, or philosophical perspectives on the issue.

From an environmental perspective, industrial revolutions cause a great deal of pollution. In a decentralized, agrarian society without mass industry, rivers would perhaps not be as unclean as they were after shifts to market and industry. Morally, perhaps the consumer lifestyle does not bring a sense of inner peace. After all, would not a happy but poor life to 60 be more fulfilling than a rich, miserable life to 100? Neither capitalism nor socialism will make everyone happy. Inevitably, though, there will be some who would prefer that shorter life.

A Question of Perspective

Clearly, there are countless perspectives on this forever back and forth debate. Is socialism bad? The question is not a fair one. Socialism can mean a number of things, and the word bad is too one-dimensional. It may boost a certain man’s wealth and life expectancy, but take away his connection to his community and pollute his river. Perhaps, in some other cases, it will not drastically affect his income but will make him a happier person.

If we can say that two or more perspectives exist, then the word “bad” is not proper for the discussion. And, with just those two above, we have the two necessary ideas. Of course, many more can exist, and each only furthers my point. Socialism is not bad, necessarily. It very well can be, according to an individual. The word bad, though, is one-dimensional and limiting. Thus, it is not accurate to use it to describe many different perspectives, provided that the preferred system does not initiate force against anyone. And, as shown above, opt-out socialism does not cause any loss of autonomy.

Still, someone may use it subjectively, to describe his or her own life. A woman may prefer capitalism to socialism or vice versa, and declare one of them good for her. But, that woman is in the heads of no other man or woman. Thus, she cannot decide if it is good for any other person, let alone the world. For such a complex issue, we must always turn to the individual: each person can only assess his or her own best interests.


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Larry Sharpe Excluded from NY Gubernatorial Debate

By Ryan Lau | @agorisms

The New York race for governor has been a vicious battle thus far. Democrat incumbent Andrew Cuomo defeated challenger Cynthia Nixon in a recent primary. Now, he faces off against a number of opponents: Republican Marc Molinaro, Libertarian Larry Sharpe, Independent Stephanie Miner, and the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins. However, only Molinaro will get to debate live with Cuomo.

A Lack of Name Recognition

The Monday night move comes after a number of polls showed that the third-party candidates have very low name recognition. Specifically, a whopping 84 percent of voters had not heard of Larry Sharpe. Figures were similar for Miner and Hawkins, at 77 and 86 percent, respectively. Of the voters who had heard of Sharpe, one-third of them had a positive opinion.

As of now, polling shows a relatively secure lead for Cuomo in the state. In recent polls, he averages over 50% in the five-way race. In a strong second, Molinaro has a recent average of 35%. Most of the polls excluded the third-party candidates entirely, but in those that did not, none performed particularly well. Sharpe’s performance in a Gravis Marketing poll was the highest of the three candidates: even so, he received only 13% in this poll.

Prior Exclusion

Third parties, such as the Libertarian Party, have faced exclusion from debates in the past. Most notably, the 2016 Presidential debates did not feature Gary Johnson, who then launched a major lawsuit against the Commission on Presidential Debates. He and Green Party nominee Jill Stein later lost this case. Johnson now is running for New Mexico Senate.

Sharpe took to Twitter Monday, condemning the media’s decision to exclude the third-party candidates. He strongly believes that with fair coverage, he could win the race.

Monday night’s debate, which will be live on Tuesday night at 7 P.M. EST, is the only scheduled discourse between the two candidates before the election. Thus, Sharpe and the other third-party candidates have lost a key opportunity to increase their low name recognition.


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10 Excellent Reasons Not to Vote in Elections

By Ryan Lau | @agorisms

As the midterm season comes to a climax, candidates continue to argue their positions, back and forth. From New York to California and every place in between, Democrats and Republicans fight with tooth and claw in order to secure their positions of power. They get these positions, of course, by the power of the vote. However, it does not have to be this way. A cultural shift is possible, and can finally lead society away from the battling for control, under the brilliant guise of democratic freedom. I now will present a list of 10 reasons not to vote this November.

The Impracticality of Voting

1) Mathematically, an individual’s vote does not count. In the 2016 election, over 137 million people voted. This gives each voter about 0.0000007% of the total vote. In any other mathematical sense, one would recognize this lack of significance. To put it in context, the ratio is the same as 0.41 square miles of the entire planet’s land surface area. This is not a statistically relevant percentage.

2) Also, most states do not offer much a choice anyway. Almost without fail, California will run Democrat, and Alabama Republican. So, if your state is solidly leaning towards one candidate on election day, your vote makes no noticeable difference. A vote for Donald Trump in Texas, for example, makes no difference, as he won the state by nine points.

3) Frankly, it is a waste of time and money. Polling places often have long lines, and many may be miles away from voters’ homes. Why spend the time or money on gas standing to pull a lever that does not make a statistical difference? There are better, more productive things to do with free time on a Tuesday.

A Lack of True Representation

4) When selecting a preferred candidate, you will inevitably have to sacrifice some of your beliefs. There are too many important issues out there for the candidates to cover every combination of beliefs possible. One candidate, for example, may share your belief on taxation, but not war. Why should you have to sacrifice one of those? By staying home, you do not abandon any principles.

5) Only a very narrow set of beliefs are actually represented on the list of viable options. Of course, most ballots only have Republicans and Democrats listed. If there are more choices, though, they are generally third parties without a prayer of winning. When the viable options are on such a narrow spectrum (Democrats and Republicans, ideologically, are not far apart) most people will not see true representation.

6) A politician has no real reason not to break a campaign promise. Now, throughout the election season, different candidates make statements that they often do not keep in office. By voting, you are not voting for those statements, but for the person. More often than not, you will not be getting what you asked for, as politicians often go back on your word. Don’t want to get conned? Don’t participate.

Political Reasons Not to Vote

7) When it comes down to it, a vote is an expression, however small, of political power. But, it is not morally right to use power over another person, especially when that person has not done anything to you in the first place. By voting, you are saying that it is okay for this preferred politician to use force against my neighbor. Rather than selecting who should use force against your neighbor, stay home and declare that nobody should use force against you, your neighbor, or anyone else.

8) A vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil. Even when voting against one candidate, you are voting for another one. Regardless of the circumstances, it is wrong to personally endorse a candidate that will do wrong. In the modern day especially, the vast majority of elections come down to this idea, which leads to a number of people unknowingly voting for evil themselves. In complacency, the worst evils of mankind can arise.

Moral Opposition

9) When someone votes, they are accepting the will of the majority. Basically, a voter claims to support the right thing, but if more people support the wrong thing, then that’s okay because it was a democratic decision. In issues as important as war, we cannot let a voting body decide this. No amount of people, majority or otherwise, should get legal protection of inhumane acts like war. But by voting, you accept the eventual outcome of the election. Thus, contrary to popular opinion, if you do vote, then you shouldn’t be complaining. You consented to the system and agreed to a majority outcome. Only by refusing to participate can you truly say that resulting poor actions are not, in any way, your fault.

10) Lastly, voting for the right is doing nothing for it. If you truly do oppose something inhumane, like war, you should oppose it absolutely, rather than conditionally. A vote is a conditional opposition because when the majority wins, the right principles do not succeed. Instead, it is better to persuade people of your principles in a tangible way, rather than hoping that someone else will use coercion to enforce them. If you oppose wars, you are not ending them by voting for someone who may or may not do so. However, you could help to actually end the atrocities by persuading civilians not to become soldiers, starting a charity that donates to victims, or any number of other methods. Clearly, an action for the right is infinitely stronger than a vote for it.


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