I’ve just had my camera stolen. As per usual, I’m intellectualising it to death. Yes, I am incapable of taking anything at face value – I guess this is my way of coming to terms with this very annoying occurrence. My friends have permission to be amused by my pontifications.

No-one can convince me that the universe doesn’t have an ironic karmic order to it. This is merely the latest in a long series of dramatic events in my life that have strangely coincided with related intellectual realisations. I can only laugh at the dark humour of fate. 

This disaster comes in the wake of my reflection on Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions, that I have been reading. Sowell distills broad political conflict into two opposing visions of man: the constrained and the unconstrained vision. The constrained vision proposes that humans have limitations built into them. We are fallen, have a propensity for selfishness; at best, we reason imperfectly. The unconstrained vision proposes that we have no inherent limitations. There is no special reason why we cannot inhibit selflessness and complete virtue, and can reason our way through everything.

The constrained vision expects people to behave badly. It is not because of a lack of empathy or insight that people don’t do what is “right”, but because it’s prudent for us not to. The unconstrained vision reckons bad behaviour is only because the actor hasn’t been sufficiently educated, or their material condition isn’t commensurate to it.

Take the event of a sexual assault. Those who favour the constrained vision’s first instinct will be to advise the victim to be more careful in the future, not stay out so late, wear less revealing clothes, walk with friends, avoid dodgy neighbourhoods. Those who favour the unconstrained vision will be more likely to look to the offender, ask why they were not educated about consent, propose rehabilitation programs.

It’s a theory that truly aids understanding. Here Sowell, in part, explains why opposing sides of the political spectrum end up proposing vastly different policies. Armed with A Conflict of Visions and Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, it’s impossible for the thinking person to be bemused by such vitriolic exchanges between left and right any longer.

It has aided my self-reflection in two specific ways. First, purely on an intellectual level, it has helped me better empathise with the interventionist side of the foreign policy debate. Now the United States neocons don’t seem to be mere jingoistic, blood-thirsty barbarians, but merely responding to strong constrained visions. The building up of military might beyond proportion is a response to an intuitive sense that those who might do us harm are less likely to be persuaded by reason as by significant threat to their livelihood. A military that is three times as big as the nearest rival is pretty mighty, and frightening. War isn’t necessarily irrational – invading nations is actually pretty profitable. Maybe making it unprofitable by the threat of terrifying retaliatory force is the best we can do to stop it.

Don’t worry, I’m still a peacenik. I’m not anywhere ready to go full George W, but at least I can think about it more deeply than “War Is Over If We Want It”.

I never thought it necessary to go into such in-depth foreign policy analysis a la Glen Greenwald and Noam Chomsky, because I never found the interventionist case persuasive to begin with. However, I was recognising some constrained vision in myself. I’ve been thinking lately that maybe the most persuasive reason to be a libertarian is the realisation that individuals can hardly be expected to run their own lives rationally, let alone tell millions of other people how to live theirs. This is a constrained vision of man if there ever was one. When Sowell puts the foreign policy debate in these terms, I can much better understand the interventionist position.

My response to this is to arm myself more strongly against these arguments: come back to the anti-war literature, listen to Scott Horton more, buy Ron Paul’s Swords into Plowshares.

The second way the book has affected my self-reflection is that it’s made me look at myself, and what assumptions I make of other people based on what I know about myself. Do I assume people think things as deeply as I do? Do I believe that people use their reason to make decisions? Do I expect everyone I meet to be as honest as me?

I probably think about all subjects to a level far beyond most people do (anybody who’s read this far has figured that out, for sure). Maybe I am more honest than most people – and I say that only because of a conversation yesterday, before my camera being stolen, that made me realise just how much stealing happens in a supermarket. It has never once occurred to me to steal from any shop. I find most people’s bad behaviour baffling. Hmm, I wondered, maybe I’m not so constrained in my vision as I thought.

Then today, as if to hammer home the point so that I shall never forget it, some bastard swipes my camera, my lenses and my microphone. I won’t bore you with the technical specs, suffice to say, it was a good camera. I’m a videographer, so it’s pretty important.

The initial feeling when I discovered my backpack gutted out was burning anger. It was controlled, but strong. Then sadness, as despite ‘understanding’ that personal possessions aren’t what make us human, yada yada, I had an emotional attachment to my trusty camera. Then a strange sense  of emasculation, as my main means of expressing my creativity, and potentially earning a living, was no longer there. What a cocktail of feels!

My first instinct was to spite the thief; “Why would somebody be such an asshole?”. I tried my best to put myself in the thief’s shoes. I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t just opportunism, but calculated. They must have seen my camera out at some point in a common area (I’m staying in a backpacker hostel), and figured out a time in which I would be out of my room to grab it. There was plenty of time for his conscience to kick in, if it was there.

So really, what’s more realistic, expecting everyone I encounter on my travels to be complete trusting angels, or me having the foresight to be professional about my possessions?

Okay Universe, you win, I get it. From now on, I’m hoping for the best, expecting the worst. Padlocks, insurance up the arse, a thorough system of checks and balances. It’s what businesses do – why not me? Am I not valuable?


Here’s what’ll be missing: :'(