January 31, 2005 Leave a comment
This is a followup to the post, “what men can and can’t do” — only 4 months later!
The spokesmodel is Margot, age 5. She has her daddy’s eyes.
individualism for the masses
January 28, 2005 4 Comments
He can also be an eloquent defender of libertarian theory.
As to what fraction is Jekyll and how much Hyde, I can’t claim to know. His family might see the good doctor more often than not. With me, he’s about 70-80% Hyde.
* (Foul-mouthed he wouldn’t argue with, but just call him a hateful anything and see how angry it makes him! Go ahead, try it.)
January 27, 2005 Leave a comment
While I’m in angry-rant-mode, I’ll add a postscript:
Similar confusions abound concerning the word principle.
How can you know someone isn’t standing on principle unless you know what their principles are in the first place?
Whether or not they stand on your principles is thoroughly uninteresting.
It’s like minor rock stars talking about major rock stars “selling out”. You can’t know if I’ve sold out until you know what it is I have to sell. I can’t betray your values — only my own. I can violate your values, but of course that’s not the same thing. If I don’t object to my music being used in commercial jingles, then it’s not selling out for me to profit from licensing my songs to ad agencies.
And yet I almost exclusively hear the term ‘unprincipled’ used to mean unethical or immoral.
(Most people I know — and probably the vast majority of people I’ve ever encountered — are unprincipled, by which I do not necessarily mean that they act immorally, only that they do not have a consistently applied set of ethical values. (And to take the distinction one level deeper: having consistent values does not mean you consistently live up to them.))
Being unprincipled means only that (a) you have no ethical values, or (b) your ethics are situational rather than consistent.
I wish people wouldn’t try to deny important distinctions just because they’re too shallow to grasp them.
I will now try to calm down long enough to find my prescription …
January 27, 2005 4 Comments
I have no complaints against monogamy. It works for us. And those times in my youth that I’ve tried to do things differently, it didn’t work, sometimes anticlimactically but sometimes disastrously.
This post isn’t actually about monogamy. It’s about intelligent semantics. But my intelligent-semantics point seems to come up most often and most starkly when talking about monogamy. I’m not sure why.
I’ve had several friends struggle with the issue of monogamy over the years. Most of the struggles happen among men, but there have been a couple of women, too.
One guy was in therapy and the current topic was commitment. His therapist asked him what value he wanted to stand for. My friend answered, “Integrity.”
(I wasn’t there, obviously. I’m trusting his account.)
The therapist was excited and started talking about working toward monogamous commitment. My friend said, “No, I didn’t say monogamy. I didn’t even say honesty. I said integrity. I don’t want to be a hypocrite!”
I have several different problems with this response. The most minor problem is that if you look it up here, the word means precisely the opposite of hypocrisy, just as my friend indicated.
More serious is the logical mistake. Imagine you ask me which girl at the party I’m most attracted to. I point and say “Alison,” and you say, “No, her name is Judith. That one across the room is Alison.” It doesn’t matter which one of us is correct about the names, it would make absolutely no sense for you to conclude that what I want is to pursue the woman who you think is named Alison. Clearly I’d want to pursue the woman whose name I think is Alison.
If I were confronted that way by the therapist, I’d say “Fine, you want to think integrity means that someone sticks to your preferred moral code? Then I must not have meant integrity. I must have meant whatever word means the opposite of hypocrisy. That’s the value I want to stand for.”
Monogamy is not the opposite of hypocrisy. They’re on logically orthogonal axes.
The logical mistake is also a therapeutic mistake. If I’m your therapist, I want you to take ownership of your values and decisions, not feel trapped into them by silly word games. What you meant is what matters, not what I thought you meant, and certainly not what I want you to have meant.
So I object to the move the shrink made (a) definitionally, (b) logically, (c) therapeutically, and finally (d) semantically: semantic distinctions are important!
(I’ve even heard it claimed that an increase in intelligence means an increase in the useful distinctions one can perceive or deduce and apply.)
Distinctions increase it.
A dictionary is a reference on current usage, but current usage is not the be-all-and-end-all of meaning. Equally — no, more — important is that meaningful distinctions are maintained and communicated. It should surprise no one if current popular usage is full of confusions and conflations. Next time someone grabs a dictionary in the middle of an argument and acts like it’s the last word on the subject, you may now officially dismiss this person as an idiot.
Bad semantics is dumb.
No matter what the shrink’s dictionary might have said, good distinctions need words to represent them. Monogamy is a perfectly good word with a more-or-less clear meaning. We don’t need integrity to be a synonym. The opposite of monogamy is not cheating. The opposite of monogamy is polygamy, polyamory, promiscuity … take your pick. It’s only cheating if you violate the values you yourself hold or have agreed to.
If you’d like to get into the possibility that someone should hold certain values, that’s a completely separate argument.
January 21, 2005 Leave a comment
I’ve never understood the hang-up with getting old. Takes all the pressure off, doesn’t it?
I remember a fat, bearded, gray-haired guy who used to come help with the psychology department rat cages in college. My biopsych prof, who studied circadian rhythms asked him what his sleep cycles were like.
Guy says, “Sometimes I don’t get out of bed all day. And I count that a good day.”
January 20, 2005 Leave a comment
(Via Marc Brands Liberty)
I don’t vote. I used to. Religiously. But I’ve matured since then.
Ergo: I didn’t vote in the last presidential election.
Some of you will be shocked. Some of you will consider me derelict in some sort of sacred democratic duty.
All I have to say to that is this:
Go sell it to someone who hasn’t spent his adult life thinking this stuff through!
The last thing anyone could accuse me of is apathy.
Laziness I may be guilty of, but not politically.
I now consider conscientious objection to voting as one of the highest forms of patriotism — more: it’s a vigilant defense of universal principle.
I will neither initiate force nor delegate its initiation. Any of you who cast a ballot cannot say the same.
Still, I didn’t want Bush to win. I hate Kerry, but I figured anyone would be better than Bush. I’m sure that’s not literally true, but it was still a safe bet.
I slept in the morning after the election. I avoided the news.
When I heard young people laughing and cheering outside I figured it meant the Democrat had won. (I live in a small college town.) Guess the young’ens had better things to laugh and cheer about. I admit: I felt relief at the idea that he had won. And when I later learned that my interpretation was way off, I felt very disappointed.
Kerry would probably have continued the war. Maybe he would have escalated it. Recent history has the rhetorical hawks making peace and the rhetorical doves scaling up the carnage, so we can’t go by who says what.
But I can’t stand the idea that anyone is celebrating the renewed power of this blood-soaked tyrant.
January 19, 2005 6 Comments
Much as I’ve benefited from www.TheMemoryHole.org, this is not about that great and useful website.
Nor is it about George Orwell’s original concept, from which the MemoryHole.org website takes its name: the Establishment’s official policy of destroying all evidence that casts doubt on the Establishment version of history.
|“When one knew that any document was due for destruction, or even when one saw a scrap of waste paper lying about, it was an automatic action to lift the flap of the nearest memory hole and drop it in, whereupon it would be whirled away on a current of warm air to the enormous furnaces which were hidden somewhere in the recesses of the building.”|
This is about private individuals who try to remove themselves from the records — those who try to destroy the evidence that they were ever involved in such a dangerous, embarrassing, shameful, despicable thing as the advocacy of freedom.
I’ve known two people who have asked to have their articles removed from libertarian websites. I’m told there are more. My sense is that they are young — people who embraced the stage that Jung called … well, speaking of memory holes, I’m blanking on the name … the stage of late adolescence/early adulthood when one can experiment with different roles and a less-than-usual fear of reputation and condemnation. Anyway, I know that in my youth, I took on certain poses that I would never have attempted if I thought they’d “go on the permanent record” so to speak. So I guess it must be that way with anarchists who are half my age. I suppose I have a certain freedom that younger people don’t, since I’m not worried about job interviews, the (newly internet-savvy) dating scene, etc.
I try to understand, but it disturbs me to see people hiding the evidence of who they are or who they’ve been.
I remember in college when the Trotskyites came around to sell their papers, I subscribed. “How collegiate!” said a friend of mine about the idea of reading what the commies had to say. A year later, I’d cancelled my subscription, and when they returned for another round of recruiting, I told a “freshwoman” not to bother subscribing, that I could summarize what she’d read in their rag.
She said, “Oh, I’m curious, but I’d never subscribe. I might want a job with the government some day and this sort of thing could ruin a background check.”
I was speechless.
So here’s a farewell letter from a former wunderkindt of the market anarchist world — someone who once called BlackCrayon.com his favorite anarchist website.
Don’t bother trying to Google his writing. It’s all been removed from the official records.
Perhaps my last thoughts on the matter. It’s not particularly good, but I wasn’t meaning to producing a scholarly or well-written work. Call it a love-letter to libertarianism if you’d like, I was just bored and I felt that I had to tie a few loose ends together.
The Resigned Libertarian
It was with a heavy heart that I resigned from the libertarian movement, a movement that did more to shape my attitudes and opinions than anything else, save for the wisdom my father had given me over the years. It wasn’t a lack of interest or a philosophical upheaval that drove me away from libertarianism though, it was an exhaustion. It was frustration at the players within the movement and despair of the utter futility and irrelevancy of the entire thing. It would be best if libertarians never mentioned any purported gains in the pursuit of the ideal liberty, because it is just embarrassing at best.
I’m not going to name names and I’m not going to play Grand Inquisitor of the movement, I’m just recognizing that libertarianism has become more or less, a cold fish. Let’s be honest with ourselves here. The Libertarian Party is about as effective as the Socialist Party of the United States, and while we can quibble and argue over what would be the best way to win people over and convince them to vote Libertarian, the statistics just don’t signal any good times. The Libertarian Party will, more or less, languish in obscurity before being dismantled, splintered, or assimilated into another party, the fate of nearly every third party in the United States.
“Then, with a movement which was as nearly as possible unconscious, he crumpled up the original message and any notes that he himself had made, and dropped them into the memory hole to be devoured by the flames.”
It was among the small-l libertarians though that my enthusiasm was completely exhausted. As each day passed, I saw less and less intellectual output among my libertarian brethren and more and more hair-splitting and petty feuds. Who cares what so-and-so said? The tendency among libertarians was the desire to cut-down the “lesser” libertarians or the supposed “pseudo”-libertarians. I realized though that when everyone is involved in cutting down, there really isn’t much building, and so it is a cruel irony that a movement so dedicated to the free market and the idea that competition could yield better ideas became so obsessed with the thought patterns of other libertarians that libertarianism simply devoured itself. The intellectual stagnation is enormous thanks to those who are more interested in being a cult personality and those who are so self-involved in their own philosophy that a few minor disagreements in the methodology of libertarianism have happily isolated themselves into the fringe, just as they attack those stuck in the fringe as well.
My father told me that making progress all too often means having to work with those who have spurned us and those who we revile, and the more I think about it, the more I think that he’s right. Amassing a list of sins that someone you would normally agree with most of the time is not the best way to conduct yourself if you want to get anywhere. If you want to sit by yourself in the corner, cackling and giggling at your own private joke, be my guest, but don’t pretend you’re doing anything helpful, because you’re not.
I was chided in the past for essentially espousing a “come on libertarians, let’s all get along, it’ll be swell” message in my writings, but the reason why I urged libertarians to knock off the childish behavior was because it was childish behavior. Hurling insults like children on a playground and doing nothing to foster friendly intellectual debate is intellectual suicide. The fact of the matter is, the libertarian movement is nothing but individuals moving in the same direction to a goal that is somewhat mutual. Yes, there are fundamental differences in various degrees of libertarianism, but libertarianism doesn’t need a catharsis, it just really needs a lot of help and a lot of cooperation. I don’t expect to be listened to, judging by how well this same message went over last time, but at least saying it is better than doing nothing. The only real catharsis that libertarianism needs is to be rid of bad writers and bad education about libertarianism, because it is producing a lot of libertarians with a lot unsound principles. The idea of allies to libertarians also needs to be rethought, because the tendency to appeal to possible allies in the Republicans and Democrats, in the conservative and leftist movement, have largely backfired on us and resulted in sympathetic rhetoric but contrary actions. Sympathetic rhetoric from someone who has the power to help your cause is about as useful as a punch to the head, which is what it often feels like when I see the constant missteps that libertarians have made in picking and choosing allies.
I don’t mean to sound patronizing and pessimistic, but I am and so it’s going to come out that way. Why an eighteen year old should be writing this to a bunch of grown men is beyond me, maybe in the end I really am the fool. I just don’t see much hope for liberty anymore. I don’t see it in the Left and I don’t see it in the close-to-nonexistent Old Right. I don’t see it in the libertarians who have done those who oppose libertarianism a favor by finishing off the job of dismantling the movement and keeping it largely ineffectual. I don’t see it in the halls of Washington and I don’t see a large grass-roots movement forming that will make any large impact. Every day that I read the news, I just get depressed. More government regulation, more restrictions on personal freedom, more guilty-till-proven-innocent, more coercion and more despair.
I once thought that libertarianism had all the answers for me, and in some ways, it did. That’s all it had though. It had the answers, but it doesn’t have the means, the effort or even the enthusiasm. What it did succeed in was pushing me away, which made me understand why more of the people my age aren’t libertarians. In the end, Mencken was right. “No man ever quite believes in any other man. One may believe in an idea absolutely, but not in a man. In the highest confidence there is always a flavor of doubt — a feeling, half instinctive and half logical, that, after all, the scoundrel may have something up his sleeve.”
January 18, 2005 3 Comments
An email from a random reader and my reply:
Hi, you don’t know me but I thought I’d email you anywayz. I was scouring the internet for information for an english project and I came upon your site. I started to read some of your philosophies on anarchy and individualism, and I gotta ask the standard questions. First of all, how do you expect anarchy to actually work? That is to say how would a society function without a government? The answer is it wouldn’t. People are naturally power hungry and vicious, if you took out the current government it would just be replaced with a new, more ruthless one. Therein lies the flaw in you logic, because in overthrowing the government you would just make way for another ruler or rulers, thus defeating the purpose of overthrowing it in the first place. Individualism would also never work because you would be left with an Animal Farm (great book by the way) situation in which someone’s individual rights would have to be enhanced or changed somehow because of their importance to the survival of the other individuals, like the pigs in Animal Farm. Basically Individualism is just a simpler version of communism.
Ok, now here’s my philosophy. I think that groups are good, I think as long as they can co exist peacefully they should be allowed to do just that. I also think that all the governments of the world should eventually unite and become one super country which would consist of all of the world’s countries, no exceptions. The U.N. for example was a step in the right direction. Concepts like nationalism should be discouraged, but done so without violating anyone’s civil rights. All the world’s religions should either coexist, or if they are unwilling to do so, be disbanded. Civil rights are key in setting up a society like this, and such rights will be taken from the constitution, the english bill of rights, and should include some elements of eastern philosophies as well as concepts from different religious beliefs, concepts like “thou shalt not kill”. Any and all weapons capable of killing someone will cease to be publicly sold, and will not be present at all in society since the need for a military will have been removed entirely, the 2nd amendment to the constitution will also be cut from the new list of civil rights. surveillence tools will be used only as safety tools and will only cover public areas like parks and streets, and not homes or private property. Anyone will be able to access any camera from any computer or handheld device for any reason, for example if somebody were walking home from work late at night and they wanted to check the next street for muggers they just tap into the security camera there. Also, should the need arise the police force would be equipped with non lethal weapons only, deadly force would not be necessary since no criminal would have access to a gun. Along with guns, all tanks, missiles, and any other weapon of mass destruction would be searched out and destroyed by the government, a special group of overseers picked at random from the population would see that all the weapons are destroyed and none are kept by the government.
anyway I think that pretty much sums it up, if you have any comments just email me back.
peace, E[...] S[...]
Well, Mr. S[...], we could not possibly disagree more starkly. You sound like you have your vision for world government pretty well worked out for yourself and a full confidence that a united State would remain free from corruption and abuse of power. I won’t begin to try to talk you out of any of it. I’d suggest only that you look into some microeconomics and some game theory to bounce off your ideas. They’ll at least help you anticipate the arguments of well-informed opponents to your preferred system. Public Choice theory, for all its problems, would also be well worth your time.
Thanks for writing.
January 17, 2005 Leave a comment
When I was growing up, there was no more obvious candidate for hero-saint than the Reverend “Dr.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Gandhi was a close-second — at least in 1970s New York City — but Gandhi wasn’t black and he wasn’t American, and we desperately needed a black American hero, especially one who decried the use of violence.
Marcus Epstein writes, “The slightest criticism of him or even suggesting that he isn’t deserving of a national holiday leads to the usual accusations of racist, fascism, and the rest of the usual left-wing epithets…”
When I first moved to Virginia and learned that the Monday following January 15th was officially Lee-Jackson-King Day, I jerked my knee in the predictable fashion and chalked it up to redneck racist resistance. They just can’t move on! That sort of thing.
But even back then, I would have seen the truth in Epstein’s conservative-libertarian article, Myths of Martin Luther King, which I assume many of my friends would have dismissed as right-wing fabrication or worse. You see, other than the evidence of plagiarism, which is relatively new to me, or the long history of womanizing, which is what we just expected of such great men as JFK and MLK (although I suspect there was also a little bit of the guilty-liberal-unspoken “those people” sense in MLK’s case), all of the evidence for King’s outspoken opposition to free markets, his well-known Communist affiliations, his outspoken (well, quietly outspoken, but open nevertheless) advocacy of “democratic socialism” and even his very quiet self-labeled Marxism were all points of pride among the leftists who raised and educated me. These things were even a source of anger at the postmortem mainstreaming image-management that made King look like a gentle, soft and cuddly lover of universal freedom and equality.
There were two sides to the American civil rights movement, roughly aligning with two historical stages. There was what I call the libertarian side and the socialist side, or the rights agenda and the privilege agenda. To grasp the distinction and conflation it’s useful to look at the term “civil rights” — which means the rights of the citizen, an individual under the State. It does not mean individual liberty or natural rights, nor any of these “abstract freedoms” as MLK might have called them: “[The] Negro today is not struggling for some abstract, vague rights, but for concrete improvement in his way of life.” Not liberal freedoms: socialist “freedoms”. Not negative rights — the freedom from coercion — but artificial, positive so-called rights. Before the middle third of the 20th century, black Americans were fighting for the real-world consequences of abstract rights: an end to persecution by the State and the State-sanctioned (or ignored) private coercion perpetrated against them. I’ve known many people to confront my libertarianism with the history of blacks in America, which as far as I’m concerned reveals either their complete historical illiteracy or unpardonable intellectual laziness. There is nothing in the ugly history of race in America that isn’t the direct or indirect result of institutionalized coercion. The civil rights movement went directly from telling government “Leave us alone!” to “Take care of us!”
Who knows what’s behind this shift. One definite factor, as I see it, is the fact that while the labor-union Left fought for racial privilege for whites and against blacks, the Communists and Establishment Left reached out to blacks on civil-libertarian grounds, establishing a historical and emotional link between protection of blacks’ liberties with state centralization and economic interventionism.
Zora Neale Hurston is celebrated by the African-American Left for her literary works, but her individualist “Old Right” politics are treated as an embarrassment to avoid mentioning in public.
And of course, any contemporary free-market black writers are vilified as sell-out Uncle Tom race-traitors. This makes Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams personal heroes of mine, whatever conservatism of theirs I might disagree with.
But we won’t be seeing national holidays for any of these heroes.
Martin Luther King used civil disobedience and nonviolent protest to fight oppressive government. For this, I continue to consider him heroic. But there was much more to him than that, some of it quite ugly. His goals were far-reaching and very destructive: grow the State, kill off capitalism and erode freedom in the name of freedom.
His economic vision was childish, his positive political agenda was despicable, and, as Epstein notes, if we are really to judge a man “by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin” then it seems to me that any honest, decent person would have to give King the thumbs-down.