Archive for the ‘Not So Crazy Libertarian Ideals’ tag
Pragmatism is my least favorite philosophy. Unfortunately, it seems to be the philosophy a majority of the human race as subscribed to.
The idea behind pragmatism is that policies should be implemented that provide the greatest good to the greatest number of people. On paper that doesn’t sound bad. In practice it has lead to a tremendous amount of death and destruction.
The very foundation of pragmatism is unsound because it never addresses what the greatest good. What qualifies as the greatest good to me may not necessarily qualify as the greatest good to you. Consider the Nazi Party (we’re brining Godwin into this conversation right at the start). The Nazi Party blamed much of the world’s problems on the Jews and decided that the world would be far better without them. This lead to the Holocaust. Now consider the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union believed that the greatest good for humanity was communism. It saw anybody who disagreed with communism as a threat to the future of humanity and, like the Nazi Party, chose to exterminate that perceived threat. Millions of people were slaughtered by those two regimes. Did they provide the greatest good to the greatest number of people? Most people today would say that they didn’t but the people who were running those regimes believed that they were.
Therein lies the biggest problem with pragmatism: anything goes so long as it can be justified as the greatest good for the greatest number of people. If a few million people have to die? Well, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few million eggs! That’s just the price we have to pay for progress!
Most environmentalists believe that the world’s worst polluter, the State, is the only way to save the environment. They scoff when you mention the environmentally friendly advances that have been made by market actors. Worse yet, they often disparage market advancements that have greatly improved the environment, such as the internal combustion engine:
The internal-combustion engine began improving the environment, however, long before global warming became a concern. Consider the fact that in 1900 a large percentage of the available horsepower really was horse power, or mule power, or ox power. As the power of the internal-combustion engine began to be substituted for animal power in the early 1900s, we began to substitute the emissions coming out of the tailpipes of cars and trucks for those coming out of the tailpipes of animals. The result was that the environment started becoming far cleaner and healthier.
Consider horse manure’s effect on the environment and health of New Yorkers in 1900. Robert Fogel, a Nobel Prize-winning economic historian, writes:
We complain a lot about air pollution today, but there were 200,000 horses in New York City, at the beginning of the 20th century defecating everywhere. And when you walked around in New York City, you were breathing pulverized horse manure—a much worse pollutant, than the exhausts of automobiles. Indeed in the United States, the automobile was considered the solution to the horse problem because pulverized horse manure carried a lot of deadly pathogens.
No serious person denies that photochemical smog from gas-powered vehicles is a health risk. It would be silly to do so. It would be even sillier, however, to deny Fogel’s observation that the air and water pollution from horse manure was a far greater health risk than the pollution from cars and trucks. Diseases such as cholera, typhoid, typhus, yellow fever, and diphtheria were responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans in the early twentieth century. As cars and trucks began replacing horses and other beasts of burden, these deaths began to decline dramatically. Medical improvements get some of the credit, but most of the credit during the early decades of the twentieth century goes to the reduced filth in the environment from animal waste.
People forget the past. Environmentalists, who often rant about how much more environmental damage humans are causing today than in the past, seem to have forgotten just how terrible living conditions were barely a century ago. Humanity’s agricultural knowledge was far more limited, which means farmers commonly practiced more damaging forms of agriculture. Horses were the primary mode of transportation, which introduced a great amount of biological contaminants to metropolitan areas. Trash was often discarded in place instead of collected and moved to a designated dump.
Our species has come a long ways in terms of environmentalism and not because of the State but because of rational self-interest. Having a cleaner environment benefits us so market forces have been hard at work reducing humanity’s environmental impact. This hard work continues today. Energy production continues to cause environmental damage. While the State has continued to hinder cleaner forms of energy production such as nuclear power plants, the market has been hard at work making more power efficient devices. Devices that use less energy reduce the load on power production facilities, which means less new facilities have to be built to meet demands. Mining is another activity that causes notable environmental damage and the market is once again responding. Apple has announced that it will rely on recycled materials instead of newly mined materials and other companies are likely to follow suit.
Environmentalists should be cheering the market, not condemning it.
Fascists have been trying to make inroads into libertarian circles. That has lead a lot of libertarians to state that libertarianism is anti-fascist. I’m beginning to think that fascism isn’t the real problem for libertarianism, pragmatism is.
As I touched on yesterday, pragmatism has been leading some libertarians to side with fascists because they’re offering a “lighter” alternative to communists “full” socialism. I’ve also seen a few libertarians passing around this article, which is basically saying that libertarians should support universal basic income because it’s better than the current system of welfare. And, of course, I’ve seen some libertarians passing around this article, which argues that supporting universal healthcare is fiscally responsible.
These are just a few cases where I’ve seen libertarians argue for pragmatism. And they make me understand how Ludwig von Mises felt when he was attending a meeting of classical liberals and called them all a bunch of socialists as he stormed after they started talking about pragmatism:
When I hear libertarians siding with fascists, supporting universal basic income, and supporting universal healthcare I can’t help but call them a bunch of socialists because they are expressing pragmatism, which is a socialist ideology.
The problem with pragmatism is that it always requires compromising principles. While some libertarians might think that compromising their principles, at least if it’s only a little bit, is fine so long as it moves some libertarian ideas ahead, doing so actually forwards the goals of socialists in two ways. First, the compromise means at least some of their agenda was also moved ahead. Second, the compromise means that they were able to get some libertarians to bend on one thing, which gives them the knowledge to get them to bend on other things. The first is obvious, the second is sinister.
Getting people to compromise on their principles requires finding the right button to push. Usually the button is fear. If you can find something that somebody is so afraid of that they’re willing to set aside their principles to make themselves feel safer, you’ve won. In fact, that was the whole point of the Room 101 scene in Nineteen Eighty-Four. If, for example, somebody fears communism so greatly that they’re willing to side with fascists, the communists know that they can manipulate the actions of that person by exploiting that fear.
If you’re willing to compromise your principles then you’re susceptible to manipulation. If you’re susceptible to manipulation then your opponents manipulate you.
Who will protect the people from murderers without a government, is a common question asked by statists. Who will protect the people from the State, is a common question asked by anarchists.
Of the two dangers, individual murders or the State, which is more concerning? The State because it is capable of mass murder:
Government use of force against ethnic groups is far more effective than private use of force against these same groups. I remember that when I first heard about Hitler at about age eight, and asked my mother who he was, I was told that 15 years earlier he had used tanks and other weapons to try to take over the world. I pictured a nut with some tanks he had bought coming down our highway and invading our small town in rural Canada. I didn’t understand at the time why Hitler was such a threat; I had been raised to believe that the police would protect us. Imagine the shock and sudden surge of overwhelming fear I had when, years later, I learned that Hitler employed the police and, indeed, ran a whole government. That was scary. Even as a child I knew that the government, any government, had more power than anyone who was not in the government, and that when the government passed and enforced a law, you couldn’t legally fight back. That’s when the true terror of Hitler dawned on me.
In the 20th century alone Democide, the act of a government murdering its own people, killed more people than war. A lot more people. But combat deaths should be included as well for the purpose of this post since almost every war in the 20th and 21st centuries has been started and fought by governments.
Nongovernmental murderers aren’t even a blip on the radar when compared to governments. If protection is something you’re truly concerned about then the elimination of government should be your primary mission.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend is a popular sentiment. Hell, a great deal of the United States’ foreign policy is built on that sentiment. But is it always true?
Here in the United States we’re in the midsts of a political class. Communists have been working, and have been greatly successful, at gaining control over academia. While their political opponents have been trying to push them back they have met with little success. So we now exist in a country where college campuses have a tendency to lean heavily to the left. Now, seemingly out of nowhere, a new group has promised to take care of this communist menace. This group, as you’ve probably guessed, is the alt-right.
While the alt-right is still pushing socialism, it’s pushing a “lighter” form of socialism. This has lead a lot of libertarians and conservatives to side with the alt-right on the grounds that the enemy of their enemy is their friend. Mind you, this is nothing new for libertarians and conservatives. A lot of them sided with the Republican Party for the same reason (just look at the political history of Lew Rockwell, Murray Rothbard, and company). This is also nothing new for history.
During the early 1900’s communists were making a lot of headway in Europe. Several European countries fell to communist revolutions and their neighbors were desperate to find a way to ensure the same thing didn’t happen to them. That solution came in the form of a “lighter” form of socialism; fascism. Fascists were able to gain power in several European countries by exploiting both the government and peoples’ fear of communism. While many disagreed ideologically with fascism they also believed that it was a preferable alternative to communism. The enemy of their enemy had to be their friend, right?
I think most of us are well enough versed in history to know how that turned out. While people were dying left and right in countries that fell to communism, people were also dying left in right in countries that fell to fascism. While the fascists were successful at defeating the communists they were no better.
As we watch the alt-right and communists “fight” (really live-action role-play) remember that the enemy of your enemy is not necessarily your friend. The alt-right is offering a solution to the communist problem and the antifa is offering a solution to the alt-right problem but is either actually better than the other? I think history has shown that “lighter” socialism ends up being just as destructive as “full” socialism, which shouldn’t be surprising since both fascism and communism are authoritarian and pragmatic in nature.
The argument over what is and isn’t a right used to primarily take place between governments and the people they claimed dominion over. Today, at least in the United States, the argument seems to be more and more taking place between government subjects and other government subjects. This shift seems most obvious on college campuses:
A coalition of marginalized students at Pomona College are demanding that the president of Pomona (one of the Claremont Colleges) take disciplinary action against student-journalists who write for The Claremont Independent, a conservative paper.
That’s not all. The students’ letter to the president also stridently rejects the very mission of a liberal arts college. The search for truth is little more than an attempt to silence marginalized people, in the view of these students. Accordingly, the campus administration must revise its commitment to free speech such that no one who espouses hateful views—as defined, in incredibly broad terms, by the offended parties themselves—is allowed to speak at Claremont.
“Free speech, a right many freedom movements have fought for, has recently become a tool appropriated by hegemonic institutions,” the students wrote in their letter. “It has not just empowered students from marginalized backgrounds to voice their qualms and criticize aspects of the institution, but it has given those who seek to perpetuate systems of domination a platform to project their bigotry.”
Let’s consider the claim that free speech has been appropriated. Why do so many people consider free speech a right? Is it so people can express popular opinions? No. Popular opinions usually aren’t the opinions that are being suppressed. The reason so many people consider free speech to be a right because it gives protection to people who are expressing unpopular ideas.
What constitutes an unpopular idea? Generally speaking, an unpopular idea is a minority idea within a particular sphere of influence. For example, expressing anti-war sentiments is an unpopular idea when it is being expressed at a pro-war rally. It is not an unpopular idea when expressed at an anti-war rally. Expressing anti-democratic ideas is an unpopular idea when it is being expressed pretty much anywhere in the United States. It is not an unpopular idea when expressed at an individualist anarchist meeting.
The beauty of the idea of the right to free speech is that it can turn a minority idea into a majority idea. Free speech is why same-sex marriage went from strongly opposed by the majority of people in this society heavily influenced by Judeo-Christian values to being generally accepted, at least within the realm of government marriage. Likewise, cannabis legalization efforts have been made possible because the right to free speech has allowed legalization advocates to inform the public that the government claims about cannabis are false. Within the sphere of United States society these two minority opinions were able to be expressed, which allowed same-sex marriage to be legalized throughout the country and has allowed cannabis legalization advocates to achieve victory in several states.
But free speech, as with any concept developed by humans, is a double-edged sword. It allows minority and majority opinions to be expressed. Free speech is not “appropriated” when people use it to express an opinion that is unpopular within your sphere of influence, it’s exactly what the concept of free speech was created to allow. If that aspect changes then the entire reason for free speech goes out the window because the majority opinion will become the only opinion that will legally expressible. Admittedly, this usually sounds acceptable to people who hold a majority opinion within a sphere of influence but that is only because they fail to realize that their sphere of influence isn’t the only sphere.
The people who submitted the complaint at Pomona College likely hold the majority opinion in the sphere of influence of that college campus. But they may or may not hold the majority opinion within the sphere of influence of California. They most likely don’t hold the majority opinion within the sphere of influence of the United States of America. If their advice were to be followed, if free speech was curtailed in such a way that only majority opinions could be expressed, these people may find themselves silenced within the State of California and almost certainly within the United States of America.
You will likely always hold a minority opinion in several spheres of influence. If you advocate for speech being limited in a sphere you hold a majority opinion in, it will be used as precedence to silence your opinion in spheres you hold a minority opinion in. Free speech can either be a double-edged sword that allows everybody to express their opinions or it can be a single-edged sword that only allows the majority to express their opinions.
“I believe in the freedom of speech but…” “I believe in gun ownership but…” “I believe warrants should be required to search homes but…” Whenever you hear somebody tack on a “but” to their claim that they support a supposed right you know that the next thing coming out of their mouth will invalidate their claim.
Freedom of speech may be the only right cited more often than the right to keep and bear arms. How many times have you heard somebody say a variation of, “You can’t censor me! I have a First Amendment right!” If I had a nickel for everybody I have I’d probably be the wealthiest man on Earth. But many of the people who cite the First Amendment as protection against censoring their speech are quick to add a bunch of exceptions for speech they dislike. In recent times a lot of people have started citing the “Nazi Exception.” They claim that anybody who is advocating for Nazism, which is often a euphemism for any political speech they don’t agree with, should be censored. Fortunately, Ken White wrote a thorough refutation of the “Nazi Exception”:
Isn’t it simple? Isn’t it principled? Isn’t it safe? They’re not trying to silence all speech. They just don’t want to allow speech that calls for their extermination, dangerous speech.
First, the argument relies on a false premise: that we don’t, or shouldn’t, extent rights to people who wouldn’t extend those rights to us. This is childish nonsense, and a common argument for tyranny. We criminal defense lawyers know it very well: why should this guy get a trial? He didn’t give his victim a trial. Why should she be shown any mercy? She didn’t show her victims mercy. Why does he get due process? He didn’t give his victims due process. The argument is particularly popular since 9/11. You hear it a lot whenever anyone suggests that maybe people accused of being terrorists — or of being someone who might plausibly grow up to be a terrorist, or might take up terrorism as soon as this wedding is over — perhaps should be treated as having some sort of right not to be killed or tortured or indefinitely detained. Nonsense, is the response. They wouldn’t give you any rights. The constitution isn’t a suicide pact! It’s also popular in matters of modern religious liberty. How can you argue that Muslims should have the freedom to worship here when Muslim countries deny Christians and Jews that right? In this manner, the student Left represented by the quotes below shares an ethos with the authoritarian and racist wings of the Right. A common taste for authoritarianism makes strange bedfellows.
Exceptions to declared rights are always a slippery slope. At first there are only a few put into place. But those few are used as justification for more. As time goes on more exceptions are added until everybody realizes that everything they want to say is pretty much illegal.
“But we can all agree that advocating Nazism is dangerous, right?” Sure. But so is advocating communism. Yet most of the people trying to establish a “Nazi Exception” would be opposed to a “Communist Exception” even though communists have killed even more people than nazis (but only because communism has lasted longer).
Another thing that is dangerous to advocate is democracy. Saying that pisses off a lot of people because they hold democracy up to be a perfect system of governance but let’s apply democracy to this problem. Let’s say the current party in power votes to establish a “Nazi Exception.” It gets passed and everybody cheers. Four years later an election leads to a change in power. The new power decides that there should also be a “Muslim Exception” and votes to pass it. Now the nation has the “Nazi Exception” that so many people wanted but it was used as justification by the new party in power to pass the “Muslim Exception” that they wanted. Democracy has just allowed a group that the “Nazi Exception” advocates hate to get their way. My point? What constitutes dangerous speech varies from person to person. You might believe that advocating Nazism is dangerous and I wouldn’t disagree with you. But you may flip your shit when I point out that democracy is dangerous. Where should the line be drawn?
As I’ve said before, if you hand power to the State you have to accept that that power may be wielded by people you hate. Handing that power over when the party you support is in power sounds like a jolly good idea. But the party you hate may only be a single election away from obtaining power and then it will inherit that power. After that your “Nazi Exception” may become a “Muslim Exception.”
Tax seasons has once again come and gone. Now that everybody has filed their papers that will hopefully appease the State enough that it won’t send men with guns to your doorstep, I think it’s time to reflect on just what the income tax means. Simply put, the existence of the income tax means that you’re property:
The great essayist Frank Chodorov once described the income tax as the root of all evil. His target was not the tax itself, but the principle behind it. Since its implementation in 1913, he wrote, “The government says to the citizen: ‘Your earnings are not exclusively your own; we have a claim on them, and our claim precedes yours; we will allow you to keep some of it, because we recognize your need, not your right; but whatever we grant you for yourself is for us to decide.”
The income tax, like so many other government evils, seemed innocent enough when it was first proposed. It wasn’t going to be used to soak the poor or middle class. Heck, it wasn’t even going to be used to soak the wealthy. It was only going to be used to take an infinitesimal percentage of the income of the wealthiest Americans. Fast forward 104 years and we’re all being soaked.
Precedence is something I like to point out periodically. The government likes to grant itself seemingly innocent powers. Often these grants of power are even celebrated by the masses. But as time goes on the seemingly innocent grants of power are used as justification for overtly sinister grants of power. The income tax is the perfect example. Although it started as a tax that only targeted the rich, it established the precedence that the State has first claim to income. That precedence was used to expand the income tax until it applied to everybody’s income. Now even the poor get a percentage of their income skimmed off of the top by Uncle Sam.
The income tax may have been one of the most egregious grants of power because it established the precedence that individuals, not just the products they make or trade, are government property.
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Likewise, socialism by any other name would smell just as awful.
The United States is in the midsts of a small cultural skirmish. International socialists, often going by the moniker “antifascists,” are locking horns with national socialists, who are going by the moniker “alt-right.” These fights have been mostly silly to outside observers since they more resemble skits from The Three Stooges than Ultimate Fighting Championship bouts. Both sides seem to believe that they’re the exact opposite of each other but in reality they’re mirror images of one another:
People often argue over whether Hitler and Mussolini were “right wing” or “left wing.” More to the point is that both men’s ideologies had roots in the Progressive movement of the turn of the 20th century.
The Progressive movement was closely tied to the philosophy of Pragmatism: the belief that thought is a tool for action and change. In contrast to the ancient and medieval philosophers, for whom philosophy was the contemplation of reality, the Progressives were animated by the desire to mold reality and to harness knowledge for social betterment. Many in the vanguard of progressive thought initially were enamored of Mussolini and even Hitler, considering their dictatorships a useful “social experiment.”
Complete state control of all aspects of life was seen as highly pragmatic and scientific by many. Nationalism and militarism – elements commonly associated with the Right – were actually key components of the Progressive Era, flourishing in particular under President Woodrow Wilson, as Goldberg documents.
I’m not an “ends justify the means” kind of guy specifically because following that philosophy leads to national or international socialism, which both lead to democide.
I have friends who have cheered and antifascist punching a fascist and other friends who have cheered a fascist punching an antifascist. These friends of mine have been sucked into a trap where they believe each side’s rhetoric about being the opposite of the other side. Personally, I like the idea of locking these two groups into an arena, throwing a few swords into the mix, and letting them fulfill their goal of wiping the other group out. But I digress.
The fight between national and international socialists is no different than the fight between statist libertarians and anarcho-capitalists, with the exception being that the latter hasn’t turned into a Three Stooges skit yet. It’s not a fight between two opposing groups but infighting amongst two factions of the same group that have very minor disagreements.
One of the reasons healthcare in the United States costs so much is because dealing with health insurance companies is a hassle. The cost of dealing with insurance companies gets pushed onto the consumer. Fortunately, some doctors are starting to see the light and moving towards doing business in cash:
In March, Business Insider reported on a new movement happening with primary care doctors. It’s called direct primary care, and it works like this: Instead of accepting insurance for routine visits and drugs, these practices charge a monthly membership fee that covers most of what the average patient needs, including visits and drugs at much lower prices.
It’s happening at a time when high-deductible health plans are on the rise — a survey in September found that 51% of workers had a plan that required them to pay up to $1,000 out of pocket for healthcare until insurance picks up most of the rest.
And it’s not just happening in primary care. A number of specialists — oncologists, physical therapists, and even some hospitals — are jumping on board as well.
As government entangles itself more in the health insurance market the costs will continue to increase. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, many people are already at the point where they can’t afford health insurance. I hope the continuously increasing cost of insurance will cause this slow trend of cash-only doctors to take off like a rocket. The more the medical industry divorces itself from the State the more healthcare quality will increase and costs will decrease.