Archive for the ‘Liberty’ Category
Depending on the circles you hang out in this may be a common scene for you. Last night I witnessed a not uncommon sight in libertarian circles. A group of libertarians were arguing (surprising, I know) about whether income, property, or sales taxes were more moral. The income tax seemed to fall fairly quickly as it was almost universally perceived as a punishment for doing well but the sales and property taxes held on for quite some time.
As I watched this circus unfold I started to think that they were basically arguing about which weapon was more moral for an armed robber to use. Is an armed robbery more moral when the mugger is armed with a gun rather than a knife? Are they more moral if they merely make you think they have a gun by sticking their hand in their pocket in an attempt to make it appear as a gun?
Personally, I can’t think of a weapon that would make an armed robber more moral nor can I think of a tax that would make government expropriation more moral.
I’ve started reading Robert Anton Wilson’s Prometheus Rising. It’s a book about consciousness and while I’m only a couple of chapters in I’m already finding great material. One of the early things Wilson mentions is Orr’s Law. Orr’s Law states that what the thinker thinks, the prover will prove. It’s based on the premise that there are thinkers and provers. When a thinker comes up with an idea the prover will perform the most elaborate mental gymnastics to prove it:
As psychiatrists and psychologists have often observed (much to the chagrin of their medical colleagues), the Thinker can think itself sick, and can even think itself well again. The Prover is a much simpler mechanism. It operates on one law only: Whatever the Thinker thinks, the Prover proves. To cite a notorious example which unleashed incredible horrors earlier in this century, if the Thinker thinks that all Jews are rich, the Prover will prove it. It will find evidence that the poorest Jew in the most run-down ghetto has hidden money somewhere. Similarly, Feminists are able to believe that all men, including the starving wretches who live and sleep on the streets, are exploiting all women, including the Queen of England.
If the Thinker thinks that the sun moves around the earth, the Prover will obligingly organize all perceptions to fit that thought; if the Thinker changes its mind and decides the earth moves around the sun, the Prover will reorganize the evidence. If the Thinker thinks ‘holy water’ from Lourdes will cure its lumbago, the Prover will skillfully orchestrate all signals from the glands, muscles, organs etc. until they have organized themselves into good health again. Of course, it is fairly easy to see that other people’s minds operate this way; it is comparatively much harder to become aware that one’s own mind is working that way also.
It’s not hard to find examples of this. One example that I’ve been using as of late to illustrate this point (unknowingly, mind you) is the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Has the legislation been successful?
It depends on what the thinkers think. Thinkers in support of the legislation will, of course, declare it a success. Their provers will then find criteria that can be used to prove their thinkers right. For example, they’ll point out that the number of people who now have health insurance coverage has increased and therefore the ACA is a rousing success. Why is the number of people who have coverage a good metric to decide whether the legislation was successful? Because it proves the thinkers right.
Thinkers who oppose the legislation will, of course, declare it a failure. Their provers will then find criteria that can be used to prove their thinkers right. For example, they’ll point out that the number of health insurance companies providing their services through ACA exchanges has decreased and therefore the ACA is an utter failure. Why is the number of insurance companies providing their service through ACA exchanges a good metric to decide whether the legislation was a failure? Because it proves the thinkers right.
I like to play with Orr’s Law (a concept for which I didn’t even realize had a name) by periodically arguing both sides of a debate. And I’m always successful.
This is one of the reasons I have no faith in politics. When somebody in power issues a decree they’re using the force of the State to inflict their personal bias on a population. They will argue that it’s for the greater good and a lot of provers will prove that it’s for the greater good. But their opponents will then argue that it’s not for the greater good and a lot of provers will prove that it’s not for the greater good. To throw in a bit of Ludwig von Mises, “If a man drinks wine and not water I cannot say he is acting irrationally. At most i can say that in his place I would not do so. But his pursuit of happiness is his own business, not mine.” In other words we each have the unique knowledge of our own life experiences and therefore are more qualified to know what is best for us than anybody else.
Through the performance of mental gymnastics we can prove anything. That being the case, I believe it makes more sense to localize potential damage by limiting the scope of any single individual’s power to themselves (with the understanding that somebody can prove the opposite as being true).
What term should be used to describe people who cross the imaginary line that separates the United States of American from the rest of the world without first receiving permission from the State? Some refer to them as illegal immigrants. Others refer to them as undocumented workers. Truthfully, both of these labels are stupid. Somebody crossing an imaginary line isn’t doing anything illegal because the entity that has decreed itself the owner of the entire country isn’t a legitimate entity. Likewise, calling them undocumented words is dumb because human beings shouldn’t have to be documented:
It is the promotion of the term “undocumented” term that concerns me. Just as no human is illegal, I see no reason why we should promote the idea that humans should be documented. To me being “documented” conjures up the image of a dystopian future where we are branded with identification numbers that are needed for every little transaction. Indeed, I consider the term undocumented to be worse than illegal since it implies that all individuals, including natural born citizens, should be documented in this manner. At minimum the term implicitly justifies a program like e-verify, a de facto form of national ID in the United States, which makes one’s right to work dependent on government approval.
The idea that human being should be documented by the State can best be summed up, in a German accent, by the phrase, “Papers please.” We’ve seen what happens when the State maintains documentation on people. When it decides to target a subset of those people the State has all the information it needs to do so. The Nazis used its documentation to target Jews. The Soviet Union used its documentation to target counterrevolutions. Here in the United States the government routinely uses its documentation to target those with even the most benign criminal record.
Few things are more dangerous than documentation on people in the hands of the State. The idea that people should be documented by the State should go the way of the dodo.
The Republicans are selling a world where tall concrete walls topped with barbed wire surround the good God fearing white people of American so they can have sex in the missionary position without worrying about getting their throats slit by the evil barbarians they’re bombing killing.
The Democrats are selling a world where the disarmed populace is entirely at the mercy of the lawless but remain safe from unapproved, dangerous speech and any potential transgression against Mother Gaia, real or imaginary, is punished via summary execution.
The libertarians are selling a world where everybody has the right to snort cocaine off of a hooker’s ass in the middle of a private road while both individuals are wearing nothing but gun belts with automatic Glock pistols in their holsters.
How the fuck are libertarians the ones having a hard time selling people on their ideas?
Elizabeth Nolan Brown, one of the few remaining writers at Reason worth reading, wrote an article discussing a particular pebble that has been in my shoe as of late — cultural libertarianism:
Today’s “cultural libertarians” claim to be concerned, first and foremost, with free speech and fending off the “illiberal” or “regressive left.” Where they succeed, from a libertarian-no-qualifier perspective, is in igniting the passions of young people toward the protection of civil liberties. Where they fail is by turning off more people in the process than they win over, delighting in the kinds of tactics and stunts that provoke but little else. Going to a feminist rally and holding up signs saying “there is no rape culture” may seem edgy when you’re 20, but most people realize that intruding on private events just to throw shade simply makes you an asshole, not a radical for free expression.
That paragraph sums up my feels quite concisely. While libertarianism certainly allows for individuals to make complete asses of themselves and I would never use coercive force to stop somebody from making an ass of themselves, I do get tired of these libertarians who seem hellbent on making asses of themselves.
Whenever a feminist, social justice advocate, or any other person these libertarian reactionaries have deemed leftists make a statement they are quick to respond. And by respond I mean with as offensive of statements as possible, not anything that would lead to constructive conversation. In addition to make these reactionaries look like asses their behavior is also counterproductive. There is a lot of common ground between libertarianism and feminism, social justice advocacy, and other so-called leftist philosophies.
Consider racism. If you try to discuss the issue of racism you’ll inevitably have one of these reactionaries calling you a social justice warrior and saying various racial slurs over and over in a pathetic attempt to be edgier than my Benchmade. But the fact of the matter is, many laws in the United States do institutionalize racism even though they claim to be neutral on the matter of race. This is a topic libertarians and advocates of social justice could work together against the State.
An important question to ask yourself, if you’re a libertarian, is whether you actually want to move society towards libertarianism. If you do then being edgy isn’t going to cut it (I’m not apologizing for that pun, it’s a damn good pun). The only way we’ll move society towards libertarianism is by making libertarianism appealing (it’s that damn market rearing its head again). This is where socialists tend to succeed over libertarians. A socialist can tell somebody facing oppression that their oppression will be a thing of the past because the socialist government will come down on their oppressors like a bag of hammers… and sickles (seriously, these are good puns, don’t try to tell me otherwise). Libertarians needs to explain how the State, by legislating oppression, is the biggest enabler of oppression. That requires actually listening to people’s stories and working with them to figure out a way libertarian principles can solve or at least reduce their problems.
I, like many libertarians, am a contrarian by nature so I understand that telling a group of feminists discussing rape culture that rape culture isn’t a real thing can sound amusing. But it’s also counterproductive (and a really shitty thing to do). What is far more productive, and I know this because it’s what I’ve done, is to listen to them and try to work with them to achieve mutual goals (which is why I invest so much time in advocating self-defense, because rape is a real problem and everybody should be able to defend themselves against rapists).
Politics is a necessarily collectivist activity. This is why I find the Libertarian Party amusing. Admittedly, of all the political parties out there — with the exception of the Guns and Dope Party — I hate the Libertarian Party the least. But the fact that it must constantly be at odds with itself makes for some top tier comedy.
I was at the Minnesota Libertarian Party Convention this weekend, helping run the Agorist Suite (I wasn’t part of the convention itself outside of giving a security talk), and the topic of John McAfee stating he would not vote for Gary Johnson came up a few times. What I found most interesting is that a lot of libertarians were very upside by McAfee’s statement. Apparently the most important aspect of being a Libertarian Party candidate is loyalty to the party.
These are the kinds of collectivist traps one finds themselves in when claiming to be an individualist but participating in the political process. McAfee’s personal choice to not support Gary Johnson shouldn’t be an issue. He shouldn’t be expected to provide active support to a party that nominates a candidate he doesn’t approve of. Yet his announcement is being treated like high treason by some. Many have even said his statement has convinced them not to support him any longer.
One of the reasons I don’t involve myself in the political process is because I’m not willing to set aside my individualist principles. If somebody says they won’t support a party because of personal objections I’m not willing to harangue them over it. In fact such an action would demonstrate to me that the person is more of an individualist than the people criticizing them.
I can’t help but doubt the feasibility of any means the requires compromising expressed philosophical beliefs.
Property taxes are often used by municipal governments to raise funds for the services they’ve monopolized. These services include paychecks for municipal employees, which often includes the very people who voted to implement the current property tax rates.
Because property taxes are used to fund municipal services they’re also a popular topic for political do-gooders. Whenever a perceived blight on the city arises; whether it be homelessness, crime, or environmental issues; the do-gooders demand the property taxes be raised to fund programs to alleviate the blight. Oftentimes these do-gooders are also the same people who complain about gentrification. As politics tends to do, this creates a vicious cycle that leads people to be at odds with themselves.
The very property taxes that fund municipal services are also an incentive for municipal governments to gentrify entire neighborhoods. Gentrification, after all, leads to an increase in property taxes since older, lower-valued properties are replaced with newer, higher-valued properties. Together a few home built in the 1940s tend to have a much lower property value than a single high-density apartment complex. Since property taxes are almost always tied to the value of a property a municipal government can make more money off of the high-density apartment complex than the old homes.
As the number of municipal services increases the number of city employees also increases. That means a larger and larger block of municipal voters are dependent on the rate of property taxes. Furthermore, municipal employees, like every other kind of employee, want to see their pay increase over time. Since politicians tend to want to stay in office instead of finding meaningful employment they have a vested interest in pandering to the majority of voters. How can members of a city council promise municipal employees that their jobs won’t go away and that they’ll get their desired raises? By raising property taxes, of course. As an added benefit the increase in property taxes allows the members of the city council to increase their pay as well.
I’m sure you can see the vicious cycle that forms from this. Wanting to increase the amount of money brought in by property taxes, the municipal governments continue to implement programs that encourage lower-valued property be replaced by higher-valued properties. As these programs fulfill their intended goal the number of properties affordable by poorer individuals continues to decrease. In effect property taxes, instead of being a form of relief for the poor, create a cycle that incentivizes municipal governments to push the poor out of the city.
Gods help me, we’re in an election year. That means every uneducated wanker in the country is spewing endless streams of bullshit and calling them facts. Worse yet, they want to use their bullshit to inflict their will upon everybody else through the political process. Even libertarians get caught up in this frenzy. And to make matters even worse (and it’s rather impressive that we can make it worse) libertarians involving themselves in the political process have a delusion even greater than most politicos because they believe they can actually destroy the State by becoming the State. The problem with that idea is that the State has contingencies built in to guard against such lofty people of principle:
Getting yourself into one of the branches of government is a process that you don’t just wake up one day and decide to do. Actually, you could wake up one day and decide to do it, but it has the same effect as deciding to be a banana. The process that you go through to get elected will destroy your anarchist/libertarian credibility (*cough*Rand*cough*). Even more if you are going to get appointed to your position. You will have to make promises (lie), fight politically (cheat) and get funded (steal) to get into that that office.
And once there?
Now you have promises to fulfill.
Now you have enemies to ward off.
Now you have debts to repay.
“But wait!” you say. “I am a principled anarchist/libertarian! I won’t play those political games! I won’t fulfill those promises (that would make government bigger). I won’t repay those debts (with government contracts) Now I’ve achieved my goal of bringing down the state from within! Now I’m going to launch my state-ending policy agenda! Muahahahaha!”
At least I have no cape1Good for you, Super Anarchist Politician (SAP). How are you planning to get your government limiting bills to the Floor for a vote? Might be that you need a co-sponsor or some other champion to help you out. Who have you got? The senior members from your State want nothing to do with you. In fact, nobody does after they found out you lied, cheated and stole your way to get in. And you didn’t even have the common courtesy to pay back your campaign contributors (tsk! tsk!). Do you really think anyone is going to jump on your bandwagon?
Getting into office requires mortgaging your soul. Once your in office getting anything done requires refinancing your soul. Ron Paul is living proof of this. He held office for quite some time and during that time the State didn’t shrink one iota. That’s because he mostly kept to his principles, which meant he was unable to broker deals with his fellow politicians. They wanted more power so they weren’t going to cooperate with a man who wanted less.
The article goes on to make other important points. If you believe the system can be changed, or even slowed down, from within then I recommend you read the entire article. But the conclusion explains the actual root of the problem:
The State exists and has power because people believe it does. People believe that the government should rule over them and society. People believe we need a group of rulers to keep us safe. People believe that voting grants special rights, powers and privileges to the elected that don’t exist for everyone else. People believe lies.
Democracies favor the majority and the majority believe in the State. The people themselves will push back against your attempts to free them because they want to be serfs. They believe their lord is the only thing that protects them from the barbarian hordes. By extent they believe anybody attempting to slay their lord is a barbarian trying to kill them.
What you can do is get together with other anarchists and try to create a community of likeminded (but not too likeminded) individuals. Much like the Christians under Roman persecution, anarchists need to keep as much of their business amongst each other as possible. By bolstering one another we can at least create a community of people we can rely on when the State inevitably collapses under the weight of everybody’s good intentions.
Those wanting to change the world for the better should focus on education. If the people you’re talking to decided what you’re selling sounds pretty good they’ll come into the community and help it thrive. Everybody else can continue living as they have been. It’s about as close to a win-win situation as we’ll likely get.
Nationalism seems to be running strong in the veins of many pretend libertarians. I keep seeing people who call themselves libertarians arguing for stronger borders. Their argument usually goes something like, “In order to create a libertarian society we need a strong federal government to keep out the antilibertarians!”
Not surprisingly this attitude is more prevalent amongst politically active libertarians. There must be some kind of connection between the delusion that one can vote their way to libertarianism and believing giving the government more power will better enable voting their way to libertarianism.
But how can one create a libertarian society, that is to say a stateless society, by expanding the State’s power? I guess one could hope to expand the State’s power until it reaches that inevitable point of becoming so massive it collapses in on itself but that’s a pretty bloody road, especially for political libertarians. As a general rule the more totalitarian a state becomes the less tolerant of dissidents it becomes. Political opponents are usually the first against the wall since they made themselves very obvious to the State.
Have you heard? There’s a culture war being waged! Our very way of life is threatened! Nowhere is this more apparently than on college campuses! Evil liberal college students are trying to suppress our right to free speech:
If Emory University students got their way, end-of-semester course evaluations would ask them to indicate whether their professors had committed “microaggressions” against them.
The explicit goal of such a question on evaluations would be to punish professors who engaged in speech that offended students. According to student-protesters, as reported by The Emory Wheel:
We demand that the faculty evaluations that each student is required to complete for each of their professors include at least two open-ended questions such as: “Has this professor made any microaggressions towards you on account of your race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, language, and/or other identity?” and “Do you think that this professor fits into the vision of Emory University being a community of care for individuals of all racial, gender, ability, and class identities?” These questions on the faculty evaluations would help to ensure that there are repercussions or sanctions for racist actions performed by professors. We demand that these questions be added to the faculty evaluations by the end of this semester, Fall 2015.
I’ve tried to stay out of this “culture war” nonsense because I made the mistake of assuming most libertarians understood what the root problems were. But as I see more and more libertarians latching onto the culture aspect I realize my assumption made an ass out of me. So let’s take a step back and look at the big picture.
Free speech isn’t the issue here, contrary to what many libertarians claim. Truth be told libertarianism doesn’t acknowledge free speech. Libertarianism acknowledges property rights. So long as you’re on your own property you can say whatever you want but the second you step foot on somebody else’s property they can boot you for saying something they don’t approve of. From a libertarian perspective the first problem isn’t free speech, it’s the lack of clear property rights. Public universities fall into the same murky category as all government property. Ownership is unclear therefore who gets to make the rules is unclear. But there’s another fundamental problem here. Even unclear property rights tend to be a trivial problem so long as the interests of everybody involved are mostly aligned.
These campus disputes are exacerbated by the fact a lot of people with vastly different beliefs are trying to control organizations that have no clear membership criteria. Most high school students have it drilled into their heads that their highest mission in life is to get a diploma so they can work for somebody. Therefore a high school student’s senior year usually consists of sending applications to universities. Although some students have specific schools in mind most just want to get accepted somewhere so they can get that piece of paper that fulfills their mission objective. On the flip side of this equation are the universities. They base who they accept primarily on academic criteria. In the end you have a bunch of students with no expressed purpose other than obtaining a diploma joining an organization that has no expressed membership criteria other than academic scores. Basically we’ve got a bunch of people who don’t necessarily agree with one another joining the same organization.
Let’s compare this with a pirate ship. Pirate ships are interesting because they necessarily require a crew cooperating with one another to function. Ownership of a pirate ship was much clearer than the ownership of a public university but it wasn’t what many libertarians would consider ideal. No single person who owned the ship. Instead each crew member effectively owned a share of the ship. Pirate ships also usually had a constitution. People wanting to join a pirate ship had to agree to the clauses of the ship’s constitution, which outlined everything from the chain of command to punishments to the division of plunder, before being accepted. The reason for this is obvious: a ship only functions if the entire crew is working together. To avoid having everything fall apart pirate ships told potential crew members what was expected of them before they signed up. Pirates chose their ship based on what they wanted. If a pirate didn’t want to, say, attack British ships (believe it or not many pirates were ideological and wouldn’t attack just anybody) they signed up with a ship that had a stated prohibition against attacking British ships. Furthermore any changes to the rules had to be approved by all members of the ship since each member was effectively a partial owner of the ship.
How does a pirate ship relate to a university? It’s an organization that’s a far more interesting example than, say, a hippie cooperative that specialized in gluten free, organic, free trade, all natural food and doesn’t suffer from the same pitfalls as most public universities.
Some university students want a tightly controlled environment where things like offensive speech are prohibited. Other students want a very loosely controlled environment where people can say almost anything without consequence. Neither of these desires are right or wrong, it’s just a difference in preference. Problems arise because ownership of most universities are unclear and they don’t outline membership criteria up front. Free speech isn’t the issue. Students becoming members of organizations with unclear processes for establishing and changing rules that also don’t align with their preferences is the problem.