Archives for category: Personal Strategies

As a libertarian, why did you choose to be a libertarian over being a moderate or centrist?

…as answered on Quora….

I was a moderate “liberal” when I was in high school. Well, maybe. I was strong on civil rights and hated anything that smacked of imperialism, but had rather humdrum and unexceptional notions about economic policy. I sometimes thought of myself as moderate, like my mother, and, at other times, as more liberal than my Democrat father.

But I was not a reactionary. And I was never inclined to socialism — the extremist version, “Communist” socialism — which I knew enough about to regard with utter suspicion.

I was nevertheless very curious about utopian communal experiments. That may have been more a romantic curiosity than an eager political agenda. So, I was a seeker, and my quest led me to a book that was new at that time: Robert Nozick’s 1974 classicAnarchy, State and Utopia. I devoured it at age 17, but — though greatly impressed (and in complete agreement with the final third of the book) — for another three years I assumed that gun control was a grand idea and that minimum wage legislation was the very minimum we could do for the working poor. Nozick had not convinced me of libertarianism, and I was still pretty much in the centrist camp, between left and right — the former which I distrusted and the latter which I loathed.

What changed my mind?

Three things, at least:

  1. I came to see that many statist “solutions” to social problems (minimum wages being a great example) are in and of themselves (a) not what people typically think they are even on the face of it, and (b) do not show the uniformly good benefits claimed for them. Indeed, they often, even usually, produce widespread negative effects.
  2. Since grade school I had been deeply concerned with in-group/out-group dynamics. From observation and from reading I had learned that people become rather irrational in relationship to both their tribes and to outsiders. The sense of justice that so keenly moved me, but seemed fragile in so many others, was almost invariably perverted because of the playing out of this inevitable social orientation. I saw amity/enmity (inclusion/exclusion) in both standard and inverse forms as a huge problem, and I came to see the individualist conception of liberty as the best solution to it.
  3. Being, as I was, an odd duck, I recognized that my values and my developing understanding were largely at variance with common opinion. This landed me with a philosophical problem: value diversity. How could there be any justice if values were diverse? That is, if justice is giving people “what they deserve” but desert is largely dependent upon a specific, invariant value set, how can we determine the substance of justice? Isn’t it arbitrary? “Relative”? This was the question that unsettled me as I closed Anarchy, State and Utopia for the first time. How is justice even possible at all? I came to see liberty as a universally handy and usually easily identifiable social equilibrium boundaryone that could adjudicate competing values by not resting on strategies dependent and understood primarily in values terms. (Whew; sorry about that.) Freedom possesses a formalistic element that allows it to serve as a good balancing point among competing valued agendas.*

And there we get to the answer to our present question: freedom is a moderating principle.

It is not an extremist notion at all — I am with Brandon Ross on this. Both your desire to steal from me and my desire to steal from you must be thwarted. The compromise is no stealing. Grogh’s plan to enslave others, and others’ machinations to enslave Grogh? Both strategies must be given up. I leave you alone, you leave me alone . . . until we can find mutually advantageous opportunities for cooperation. And then we work together (or just trade) to achieve either shared or separate ends.

We respect each other’s separateness and individuality as a baseline, and hold each other accountable no matter what group we belong to. We can be as gregarious or as withdrawn as we want. But neither our “other-interests” nor our “self-interests” provide excuses to harm each other.

And the simple rule that prevents chaos and strife?

Do not to initiate force.

Freedom is the condition where no one is preyed upon by others. It is the condition where we support each other voluntarily. Or not.

Today’s political centrists try to moderate competing claims in amazingly inconsistent ways. On some occasions or contexts your group lives off my group; in others, mine lives off yours. On some occasions “we” sacrifice individuals for group benefit; in others, “we” sacrifice our wealth or attention for the benefit of a few individuals. How the “bargains” are made depends upon political pressure in either a democratic or behind-the-scenes corrupt fashion (there are differences, but the differences are not huge), and it is by historical happenstance that a centrist holds to one program one week, a competing program the next.

A centrist can be talked into just about anything.

Because what centrists moderate are competing expressed political demands, their principles are ad hoc and non-rigorous.

One epoch the blacks are ridden herd over; the next they are released from such oppression; a decade later they are given vast amounts of resources without anything in exchange, enticing them to become wards, “clients” of the State. One decade Asians are allowed in the country to do hard labor; a few later they are harassed and deported; in wartime Japanese are interred; much later some are compensated. There is no real principle discernible. Centrists move to and fro to the winds of doctrine.

They call it “being realistic.”

Libertarianism offers a way out of this appalling back-and-forth of in-group/out-group antagonism.

It is an eminently civilized way out. It is the basic “moral deal”: I sacrifice my options for gain through initiated force, and you do the same — and among all these freed people (freed from each others’ malignity and coercion and exploitation) we find opportunities for mutual advance.

Despite the apparently huge sacrifices for individual or particular group gain, the gains from civilization are vast, and for everybody.

I know, I know: the cost of liberty sure seems high: you can no longer gain a sense of pride — or revel in temporary triumph — in making your enemies pay for what you want. The desire to coerce and be coerced is very baboonish, and suppressing that desire is not always easy. Limiting our lust to dominate down to defense and restitution (and perhaps retaliation)? Easier for some than others. And to restrict the resolution of conflicts to public adjudication, according to public principles that are impartial as to specific persons or groups? Where is the fun in that?

Well, there is nothing much fun in relying upon the rule of law, rather than the rule of regulators, redistributionists, and rent-seekers.

But the rule of law does allow a lot of fun. Not for no reason is freedom commonly associated with fun. Yet that is not the whole story: there is a certain nobility in the responsibility required, in insisting upon an acute focus on actions.

And remember, it is honest.

Centrists, I came to see, were always getting sucked into little grafts and even extravagant boondoggles. And yet they are proud. Their pride can be seen in their over-confidence, their conceit in their discernment. They think they can conjure up wisdom to judge each new situation “according to its merits.”

That is hubristic. No one can do that on the macro social level. The world is too complex.

We need simple rules to live by, and to allow the prudential principle of “according to its merits” succeed or fail on voluntary terms. Failure must be accepted as such — and not merely shrugged off as in moderate statism, where every failure is an excuse to throw more money at it, sometimes also placing “better people” at the top.

Without freedom as a limiting principle, democracies become welfare states and welfare states become “churning states” — where there is so much redistribution of wealth and advantage that in most cases it proves impossible to know who really comes out ahead and who gets the short end of the stick.

I became a libertarian because I saw liberty as a solution to

  1. the craziness of the left’s “cult of the other” as well as
  2. the right’s “no kill like overkill” defense of in-group.
  3. But, perhaps most importantly, to the centrists’ pathetic attempts at moderating those two anti-freedom tendencies in politics in ad hoc and piecemeal fashion, according to the realpolitik of the moment.

I became a libertarian because I did not want to be suckered by incoherent or perverse strategies. I did not want to be a mark. And I did not want to encourage the grifters.


* My position before becoming a libertarian was, philosophically, summed up neatly in Walter Kaufmann’s 1973 treatise/self-help book From Decidophobia to Autonomy Without Guilt and Justice. I worked through his congenial non-cognitivism by seeing the Schelling Point aspect of the Non-Aggression Principle, and, later, by incorporating an evolutionary component to establish justice as an emergent property of distributed adjudications of disputes over long periods of social history. The book that helped me see freedom’s utility — a sort of anti-disutility — was Ludwig von Mises’ 1962 classicThe Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science. In that work I saw something even more challenging than value diversity: value subjectivity. And the social function of freedom became apparent . . . but that’s another story.

As Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s demise leads to the brain death and moral implosion of the left, I am reminded of a question I answered, two years ago, on the Net’s premiere Q&A site. Here is what I wrote on Friday when I heard the news: “RBG RIP — and sayonara to the last shred of sense in American politics. Not because she was that sense, but because her life held her admirers’ utter desperation in abeyance.”

Why aren’t Supreme Court justices assassinated often, given their political importance and their low number?

…as answered on Quora….

What inspires the anger, hatred, rage, or vendetta to nurture a hankering to kill a powerful person? I think it is the kind of authority that the powerful person represents.

The American Presidency focuses executive power, and is usually accompanied by charismatic and traditional modes of authority. Additionally, the single office-holder in the position has a lot of discretion in favoring or disfavoring a person or group, and is seen — not without reason — to hold a great deal of personal power. And this combination of modes of authority and efficacy for change makes presidents good targets for the aggrieved. A number of American presidents have been shot at, but have failed to succumb to the bullet — Andrew Jackson and Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan come quickly to mind — and the successful assassinations are infamous, numbering precisely four:

  • Abraham Lincoln
  • James Garfield
  • William McKinley
  • John Fitzgerald Kennedy

They were killed, historians tell us, by

  • an actor out for revenge (and perhaps working on a bizarre plot to help the South rise again);
  • a disgruntled job seeker (who felt personally and professionally betrayed);
  • a crazed anarchist; and
  • a Communist ex-Marine.

Can you imagine the kinds of men that these four were . . . actually setting their minds against a Supreme Court Justice, to see someone so “impersonal” as worth killing? The kind of authority wielded by the Nine is rational-legal. People tend to have a hard time wrapping their heads around that kind of authority, which is why they keep voting for charismatic men to fill the Presidency role. We understand charisma. Viscerally. And we grok traditional hierarchy, too. (Both are related to sexual selection, so these forms of authority get at us deep.) But rational-legal authority? That does not grab us either by the gut or the groin.

And to kill a man, especially at the likely cost of one’s own life, requires, surely, some deep appeal to the innards.


Well, that was what I wrote on Quora in August 2018. But times have changed. Now we see Democratic luminaries openly threatening insurrection and a deliberately destructive holocaust if the president goes ahead and . . . does his constitutional duty. Would these luminaries actually light the fires, set off the bombs and shoot the guns? Not likely. But their words sure look like incitements to riot. To me. What else would they be?

And they also go some way to feed my deep suspicion that the fires set throughout my state, and the two states directly south, were set, in numerous instances, by antifa/Black Bloc “protesters.”

If this becomes a shooting war, on the streets, between anarchists and antifa and Democrats manqué, on the one side, and those of us who prefer a rule of law to tyranny, on the other, then shouldn’t the breakdown of law and order be directed, in part, at the twits like Reza Aslan who tweet evil threats?

Or Twitter could apply its own rules against these maniacs and de-platform them. That would go some way to reëstablishing a moral order. And show that the apparently partisan microblogging site takes actual threats seriously.

But it is interesting how a Supreme Court position has become so vital to the left. Is this really all about keeping abortion and protecting that bizarre decision, Roe v. Wade?

Democrats sure do like their child sacrifice rights.

As someone who, when young, developed ideas that were not present in my family, church, or school environments, the idea that people are expected to conform to ideas merely associated with some in-group they cannot help but belong to (and as a kid, there were few opt-outs for me, practically, to family, church, or school) is bizarre. And possibly insulting.

Yet the woke folk insist that the African-American descendants of slaves are only authentic to their true selves when they adopt wokist race theory and some variant of socialism. When a white woke neighbor recently accused non-woke whites of being racist for their skepticism about Black Lives Matter, I mentioned that many blacks hated BLM. One lackwit retiree was incredulous, wanting proof. It is probably one of my many character faults that leads me rarely to provide such evidence. The examples are many and varied, so if you have not seen them, you know you have bubbled yourself in a tightly sealed ideologically secure media container, I typed back. When my white woke interlocutor restated his demand, I responded, Do your own homework.

It had apparently not crossed the mind of this white woke joke of a fool that his very expectation of black uniformity of opinion based merely on a name is the acme of condescension.

I like to joke that White Privilege consists in ONE THING ONLY: the expectation that no opinion inheres to us by reason of race.

But that is a problematic thing to joke about, seeing that we are told incessantly that white privilege does not include the privilege of not being racist.

twv

The photo, taken from Facebook, shows the red-head holding a baby goat in her arms, smiling. 

A big, lovely grin; cheerful, charming. 

She appears to have a great life ahead of her, backed up by wealthy New York City professional parents — her mother an architect, her father a child psychiatrist. You might think she has every reason to smile.

But no.

You see, she faces criminal charges. 

“Clara Kraebber, 20, is one of eight people arrested Friday night after a roiling, three-hour rampage that police say caused at least $100,000 in damage from Foley Square up to 24th Street,” reports the New York Post.*

Six years earlier she had been quoted in the New York Times explaining her participation in a Manhattan rally held in solidarity with the Ferguson, Missouri, protests. “We don’t have much political power right now, being youths, but this is something we can do.” The Post identifies the Ferguson cause célèbre as “police-brutality casualty Michael Brown,” not mentioning that the “hands up”/“don’t shoot” meme that spurred the protests was false witness by a bystander, that Mr. Brown had been recorded earlier in the day committing a crime, and that multiple official investigations had concluded Brown had attacked the officer who shot him.

Not police brutality at all. The protests which drew Ms. Kraebber into a life of woke criminality were based on untruths. 

So if you want to shift blame onto someone else for her wilding vandalism, shift the blame to all those who, to this day, repeat the lie about an innocent Michael Brown.

A good girl gone bad because adults prefer their ideological narrative to the truth.

She could actually go to jail. Is she paying for your sins?

twv

* “Every city, every town, burn the precinct to the ground!” the group [had] chanted as it moved up Lafayette Street while busting the plate glass facades of banks, Starbucks and Duane-Reades,” the Post tells us.

How can a Libertarian ever work for the government without compromising his/her beliefs?

…as answered on Quora….

The libertarian might hold to some variant of “relative ethics” as written about in Herbert Spencer’s Data of Ethics. Libertarianism is a formulation of Spencer’s conception of “absolute ethics.”

Spencer gave several cautionary principles when discussing ethics. One of them is this: “A great part of the perplexities in ethical speculation arise from neglect of this distinction between right and least wrong—between the absolutely right and the relatively right.”

The principles of liberty depend upon conditions wherein equal freedom is possible, where there is enough reciprocity regarding forbearance and tolerance that sticking to strict principles makes sense. When most of the people around you will not grant you your rightful freedom, then, well, all bets are off. Spencer writes that the “perfect conduct which is the subject-matter of Absolute Ethics” is not always possible, and must be distinguished from “that imperfect conduct which is the subject-matter of Relative Ethics.”

We live in a messy world, filled with coercion and conceptions of authority that run against the grain of libertarian ethics. Must we confine ourselves to living as if all this did not exist? Spencer wrote, early in his career, of a “right to ignore the State.” But just give that a try. The State will crush you, destroy you. So, as compensation for the impositions it places upon us, seemingly demanding to make martyrs of us, perhaps a few benefits from the system is more than allowable.

Most libertarian ideologues I know bristle at this penultimate chapter to the Data of Ethics. But it has long seemed to me that much of this objection to relative ethics is just denial of reality. Many libertarians prefer the fantasy. But facts don’t care about our preferences. It is simply the case that “a large part of human conduct is not absolutely right, but only relatively right,” and we have to deal with that.

And it is worse, “we have to recognize the further truth that in many cases where there is no absolutely right course, but only courses that are more or less wrong, it is not possible to say which is the least wrong.”

So, a libertarian who understands the actual nature of our lived experience would not pretend that ethics must serve only a straitjacket that we are obliged to tie ourselves into while those who would do us much harm are comparatively free.

The truth of the matter of liberty is that it all depends upon a general practice of reciprocal forbearance from initiating coercive interference. When that forbearance is not forthcoming, then the relevance of libertarian justice loses its traction.

This is something libertarians generally do not acknowledge. I think they are wrong not to.

And, I suspect, when they do acknowledge this feature of the moral universe, their consciences will be free to make quite a few compromises that rub up against their principles. It is inevitable. Indeed, it is almost required, as Spencer noted: “Among people who are treacherous and utterly without scruple, entire truthfulness and openness must bring ruin.

If all around recognize only the law of the strongest, one whose nature will not allow him to inflict pain on others, must go to the wall. There requires a certain congruity between the conduct of each member of a society and other’s conduct. A mode of action entirely alien to the prevailing modes of action, cannot be successfully persisted in—must eventuate in death of self, or posterity, or both.

Hence it is manifest that we must consider the ideal man as existing in the ideal social state.

And that the ideal social state — the free society — does not exist. And its strictures cannot fully apply.

That being said, I have found it difficult to even conceive working for some realms of government. Take policing, a job that usually entails the enforcement of evil laws — malign and harmful both. I would find working for that kind of government a disgusting business. Even activities like teaching in heavily subsidized colleges strikes me as too much compromise. But I rarely criticize those who compromise differently than I. If your only talent is for teaching, for example, and you lack an entrepreneurial bent, you will probably find yourself teaching somewhere in a government school or at least in a tax-subsidized, government-controlled institution.

Ugh, I shudder. But such is this messy world.

We are so far from a perfect society that we can just barely conceive of perfect conduct. Which is what Absolute Ethics is all about. In this creaky, state-ridden world, we must make do with Relative Ethics.

twv

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I remember being puzzled by the WIN buttons.

Even as a kid I saw the mid-70s “Whip Inflation Now” campaign as a form of boosterism . . . and caught a whiff of something stupid. Looking back, after all these decades, I realize it may have helped shape my political outlook.

Which, to place the tittle atop the jot, always sports some incredulity. I roll my eyes at each pointless demonstration of the need to feel one is “contributing” by engaging in magical thinking and by calling ritual observance (especially of the small and useless improvised pieties that litter political life) “a solution.”

Or, worse yet, “science.”

You know what would make sense? Put it all in context?

Putting the letters WIN on a mask.

On Not Being a “Tribal”

When I first heard that many/most economists argued the minimum wage law cannot help low-skilled workers, I was working 25¢ above the legal minimum wage rate.

I was intrigued. I had never heard of this notion before.

So I read quite a bit about it. I even started to read economic theory.

I tried to understand.

Here is something odd, though: when most people hear about this notion, they reject it as “stupid” or “obviously wrong” or “capitalist propaganda” or some such. I have encountered this reaction many times, in conversation on the Net and off.

Very rarely do people who say they are concerned about the working poor and the unemployed raise an eyebrow and honestly look into the matter. Mostly they look for some way to “debunk” the idea. They look for “studies” (Card?) that back up the program they favor.

Why?

My theory is that while I cared about a class of people to which I belonged, or nearly belonged, most people say they do but do not.

They care about their policy. They care about seeming to care. They care about using force through government.

But actually helping the poor? Not likely. If they did they would approach the subject differently. If they cared, they would earnestly seek to learn if the challenge were true.

I investigated these matters in 1980. It was one of two policies that weighed heavily on my mind at the time. I probably read a dozen relevant books on this subject, and a few on the other. I began to read economics and the old political economy, as well as continue my course of social philosophy and the social sciences.

And since then I have developed a deep suspicion: most people have very little interest in the things they say they have interests in. They have interest in belonging to this tribe or that — to the tribe that is associated with the causes they talk about. They are tribals. That was the term I used way back when: tribals. (Imagine my surprise when Crocodile Dundee used the term, later.)

I believe most people to be these “tribals.” And I have always striven to avoid thinking tribally. It is why I have often criticized my own kind.

For I do have my own kind.

But I am so uncomfortable with tribal thinking I adopted a moniker that that my fellow tribesmen and -women do not use: LocoFoco.

A little distance. I define. Let others scramble to understand. They could use the mental exercise.

So that’s my general perspective. I do not really think most people are earnest about their politics, not on a philosophical level. I think most are ooga-boogas.

twv

Once every week or so, on SoundCloud, Apple, Google, Pocket Casts, and Spotify.
Why are many libertarians not marching in the BLM protests?

…as answered on Quora….

Many?

Any?

I cannot speak for others. I know why I regard the movement with deep suspicion. 

And would not join their marches, sit-ins and riots.

I am very concerned about the police abuse of citizens. I made most of my family members deeply uncomfortable with my views on the subject for the past ten years. But I am against unlawful killings regardless of the races of the victims or the perpetrators. Black Lives Matter activists seem only interested when the victim is black. So, we are not simpatico.

But mainly I despise initiated violence, disruptions of the peace — whether done by the police or by mobs. These protests have turned to riot all over the United States. Burnings, looting, assaults — despicable actions, largely against innocents. I am against all this. “Categorically,” as we used to say, we who lived through the Nixon Era.

Now, for one thing, the evidence from social and political science is that rioting reduces support for the cause over the long haul. Rioting in the late Sixties led to Nixon’s two wins, which was surely not what the rioters wanted.

Or was it?

But it is more basic than that. Rioting is evil, and a protest is OK only if it is lawful and obeys the rule of law. In America, we make much of the right to PEACEABLY assemble, and rightly so. Well, rioting is not peaceable assembly, and the protesters’ commandeering of private and public property without permission (license) is not covered in the right we know and love. And think about it, earnest protestors: you may not throw a brick, a punch, or a Molotov cocktail, but if after nearly every one of your protests others horn in and wreak havoc, committing mayhem, then you are doing it wrong.

Libertarians are smart enough not to get caught up in this mess.

Why aren’t the protesters?

Well, they get caught up in a mania. And they follow cues: from the corporate media, from a few politicians, from race hustlers, and from the madness of crowds.

Libertarians have many faults. Sometimes I wonder how a group of people with the highest average IQs among all the major political cohorts can be so uniformly ineffective. How dumb can smart people be?

Well, not dumb enough to fall for the major media push for a race war.

twv

To be able to destroy with good conscience, to be able to behave badly and call your bad behavior ‘righteous indignation’ — this is the height of psychological luxury, the most delicious of moral treats.

Aldous Huxley, attributed — on the Web and in many books it is cited as from his first comic novel of ideas, Crome Yellow, but it is not in there.

Current leftism is a Cult of the Other. The outsiders must be “included” at the expense of in-group hierarchies — right up until they become insiders, then they can hate on the outsiders that don’t buy their dichotomies or rationale of hatred.

Matt Walsh refers to this as a “religion of self-loathing.” But is that on point? It seems to be, I grant him. His examples, beyond race, are anti-Americanism and opposition to western civilization and its norms (and therefore shame at being even a part of American or western history), hatred of the male sex, period, and the feminine sexual role.

These do exist. Indeed, recent attempts to cajole white folks to “bend the knee” for “the cause” of “#BlackLivesMatter” are examples of a huge power play in our culture. Submit, whitey!

The girl who lives in that ramshackle house sporting that weather damage is not “privileged” by any common-sense standard.

A sickening display.

What we have here, though, is not so much self-loathing as self-abnegation. It is a religious act. Cultic, if you must. But religious, and almost all religions foist it as part of the essential attitude. Bow down to the Archons, mortal!

If you have not encountered this strain in the asceticism of Christianity, or in the very worship services of Islam, then you have not been paying attention.

The proper response to a mere mortal commanding us to kneel is at the very least a “Fuck Off” . . . but this also applies to churches and temples and cults with strange abnegation agendas.

But the ideological spur of self-abnegation in Christianity is the doctrine of Original Sin. In woke racist anti-racism, it is collective racial guilt.

While I do not “believe” in Original Sin, it is at least plausible, and I can even find an evolutionary version of the doctrine that makes some sense.

But there is nothing even plausible about collective racial guilt.

One way to counter the “self-hating” aspect is to get people to stop “identifying” by their group affiliation. If you are you not because you are white, or male, or what-have-you, then when they tell you some allegedly white, or male, or what-have-you qualities are bad, even if you exhibit some, you can take a step back and roll your eyes at the cultists.

I’m not who I am because I’m “white.” “White” isn’t my “identity.” White is my COMMONALITY with other white people. But it is only one commonality.

The whole language of “identity” is idiotic.

If you “identify” primarily by your race or sex or “gender” or even politics (which, as is often noted, you can easily change), I am deeply suspicious. Our commonalities are great things. But they are only commonalities. And many of them are not the relevant ones. To cooperate with someone else, I don’t need to fret overmuch about their commonality or lack thereof on racial or sexual or other grounds. I need to attend to their ability to communicate, abstain from aggression, commit to agreement, and to follow through on agreements.

Which brings us out of the realm of the cults.

twv