An Illusory Intertwingling of Reason and Response

Philosophy: I wax philosophical, and many times violently politico-philosophical. If you can stand the heat, here’s the kitchen: enjoy your stay . . .

Tafel :: philosophy :: political

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Abortion Non-Issue

If you plan to vote for a major-party presidential candidate in the upcoming election, abortion is a non-issue.

I'm a member, generally, of what the press condescendingly refers to as the "values voter republican base". It the (albeit few) years I've been able to vote, I've only once not voted Republican, and that was for a state office (I voted Libertarian, by the way, not Democrat, so don't start getting ideas).

I believe that public policy is "values", and thus values are the only reasonable basis for a vote. Some of the values I've voted on are educational freedom, civil liberties, the right to life, and respect for the Constitution. The right to life, particularly, has been a bellwether issue: I've never voted for a pro-abortion candidate.

There are currently two presidential nominees that have any chance whatsoever of taking office: Barack Obama and John McCain. Obama is very outspoken in his pro-abortion stance, which has led most of my fellow "values voters" to assume what the Republican party is desperately attempting to promulgate: that McCain is in some sense anti-abortion.

Don't you believe it.

1999 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle

But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations.

May 3, 2007 GOP Presidential Debate

I believe that we need to fund [embryonic stem cell research].

Those are just two of many public demonstrations of McCain's true stance on abortion: I'll not bore you with the litany, but you will find numerous examples in three or four pages of search engine hits.

Honestly, he and Obama probably agree quite a bit on most of the "values" questions: as demagogues, they probably don't hold a personal conviction either way, and simply take the public stance they feel will garner them the most votes. Anyone who can believe

If you're voting for a major-party ticket in the upcoming presidential election, you're in luck. Abortion is a non-issue. Neither candidate is pro-life, so you can scratch one more issue from your list of "important considerations".

Me? I have a candidate in mind who's on my side as far as the abortion issue goes, among agreeing with me on the vast majority of other issues.

Yes, I realize you think I'm throwing my vote away. You may even think I'm de facto supporting Obama by not supporting his ostensible rival. Don't you see, though, that, far from Republican and Democrat being the two votes available, "major-party" and "third-party" are really what's at issue.

If my vote for a third-party candidate can convince anyone else to vote by conscience rather than by some imagined expediency, it will have done more good for our country than thousands of votes for either major-party candidate. I'm young, yes. But even I've been able to catch on to the Washington tag-team game, each party playing paper tiger for the other while taking its turn in power, entirely solidifying support for major-party politics whatever happens.

I'm not convinced.

I know better.

I'm voting Barr.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

DC v. Heller

The Supreme Court, in the final day of its term, today announced the results of DC v. Heller. At issue was a Washington, D.C. ban on possession of handguns as a class of weapons.

From the majority opinion:

1. The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.
3. The handgun ban and the trigger-lock requirement (as applied to self-defense) violate the Second Amendment. The District’s total ban on handgun possession in the home amounts to a prohibition on an entire class of “arms” that Americans overwhelmingly choose for the lawful purpose of self-defense. Under any of the standards of scrutiny the Court has applied to enumerated constitutional rights, this prohibition — in the place where the importance of the lawful defense of self, family, and property is most acute — would fail constitutional muster.

Note that the first point affirms one interpretation of what has been the single most contentious point of debate among Second Amendment scholars: namely, whether the Second Amendment is — like the rest of the first ten Amendments — individual, or if it is collective in its scope: that is, whether it refers to the right of State governments to organize militias without Federal interference, or to the right of individuals to possess arms without governmental interference.

See also:

News on the Opinion

About the Case

Saturday, August 18, 2007

On the Tragedy of the Commons and Freedom to Choose

In or about the year of our Lord One thousand six hundred thirty and four the then present inhabitants of the Town of Boston . . . did treat and agree . . . for the purchase of . . . any Lands living within said neck of Land called Boston after which purchase the Town laid out a plan for a trayning field for which ever since and now is used for that purpose and for the feeding of cattell.

So states a bronze plaque positioned at the edge of the fifty acres known as Boston Common.

Boston Common was an experiment, and as far as anyone knew, it should have worked. Boston's population was yet small, the cattleholders devout, civic-minded men, and the utility of a common grazing-land evident. And yet, somehow the Common shortly became overrun, muddy, and grassless — overgrazed 1. The truth of the matter is that the experiment had no chance of success, insofar as man is both selfish and rational, and will seek his own self-interest above all else. (That self-interest may, on an individual basis, include many seemingly-altruistic components is a topic for another time.)

Given two farmers and a common piece of land, each will graze as many cattle as he can. If he decides to let the land rest, so as to not overgraze it, his compatriot will simply graze the land further, annulling the positive impact of any attempt at restraint. When users of the land are added, the problem worsens. The land is doomed from the start, and any individual has no incentive refrain from "getting his" as quickly as possible: if he shows self-restraint, gains nothing but loss for himself, leaving for his neighbor what he could have taken.

And so, in timeless example that communal property is never valued as highly as individual property, the Boston Common wasted: eventually it became the last-choice and poorest-quality grazing to be had. Whatever grass sprang up was quickly devoured by those few cattle it did support, and as quickly the Common became of no use to anyone. Two hundred years later, grazing was forbidden in final acknowledgment of the failure of the Common.

Unfortunately, while we share a planet, a state, a street, a waterway, commons are with us, and must be managed. I say unfortunately because, where no communal property exists, violation of the rights of others is much simpler to avoid. However, we have myriad governmental regulatory agencies that even I, as an avowed libertarian, must admit are, at least in concept, necessary: necessary due to the fact that certain common resources must be managed.

This need for management is, of course, proportional to population. The Boston Common would probably have been a rousing success for the first fifty or hundred years of its existence if, instead of being fifty acres, it had been fifteen thousand acres. The entire complement of cattle from the Town of Boston could have grazed there continuously with no overgrazing: the Common would have been in excess of the physically-possible demand.

This state would be comparable to the first days of radio communication. Early on, few people possessed radio receivers, and fewer transmitters. The airwaves (more precisely, radio-frequency bandwidth) — of necessity a commons — were available far in excess than the possible demand.

However, as mass communication grew in importance, with it grew demand for its medium. Without regulation, no one would have seen incentive to refrain from increasing transmission power and number of frequencies transmitted above that of his neighbours. The equal rights of individuals to transmit electromagnetic signals for communication purposes would have been lost in a blind fight for power and bandwidth. Indeed, a well-heeled investor could have his message broadcast on all stations receivable by consumer radios, with strength enough to smother any competing transmission. Freedom would have been lost, not gained, by a lack of regulation.

This is where regulation finds its valid use: while it is abominable to me that a government agency can, for my ostensible protection, regulate what substances (whether they be prescription drugs or foodstuffs) I can put into my body, it is equally abominable that the free market in ideas could be maliciously disrupted with no consequence by a popular broadcaster. Regulation serves the market when, rather than manipulating the market in turn, it preserves the freedom of the market from untoward manipulation.

An example would be regulation on predatory pricing: the "commons" in this scenario is the market for a good itself. A manipulation of the "meta-market" would result from a producer who knew he could outlast his competitors selling a good at a loss. Lack of competition in would then allow the final producer to take advantage of the no-longer-free market he had created.

Even — and it is a strain to say this, because most regulation on this front has been excessive and biased in the extreme — environmental and pollution regulation have their place. In the Classical Liberal (modern-day libertarian2) ideal, I have a right to act in any way I please, so long as those actions do not infringe upon the equal rights of other citizens. Polluting a common waterway in such a way as to make the water unsuitable for common uses is clearly a violation of this ideal. However, sans regulation, no incentive to refrain exists.

However, not all commons exist in se: governments have a long (and some might say inglorious) history in the creation of commons. We now might mention one of the talking points of Garrett Hardin's classic Science essay, "The Tragedy of the Commons": that creation of a commons by a government of necessity creates a right and obligation of that government to regulate it. This cause and effect is one more item that must be considered in granting a government an additional power: does it create a commons, and are we prepared to grant the government the necessary regulatory powers?

The heading of Hardin's essay which attracted the most ardent of criticism is "Freedom to Breed is Intolerable".

Of course, most readers would disagree with Hardin's allegation, as would I. However, his logic is a result of a single choice in governmental policy: welfare. Hardin grants that the government has the power to provide for all individuals under its auspices at some basal level. He then supports the moderate, liberal, and social-democratic idea that such capability produces an obligation in the form of social welfare. However, he also acknowledges what most moderates, liberals, and social democrats of our day do not: welfare creates a commons.

If each human family were dependent only on its own resources; if the children of improvident parents starved to death; if, thus, overbreeding brought its own "punishment" to the germ line — then there would be no public interest in controlling the breeding of families. But our society is deeply committed to the welfare state, and hence is confronted with another aspect of the tragedy of the commons.

Government handouts have become a commons. All one need do to have access to these handouts is be unable or unwilling to provide like benefits for oneself. There logically follow two options: on the one side, that freedom to breed is not a necessary right, and on the other, that subsistence is not a necessary right. Hardin rightly places these, not as two necessities (as most, especially those of collectivistic leanings, would), but as opposite and contradictory extremes, the Tragedy of the Commons being the only possible outcome of the two practiced simultaneously.

Hardin, as would be expected, accepts society's demand for a social welfare system, and offers it in return the only sustainable answer. If subsistence is a commons, then the only way to ensure it remains available — to ensure that greater demand than is permanently satisfiable never occurs — is to regulate how many individuals may call upon it.

To couple the concept of freedom to breed with the belief that everyone born has an equal right to the commons is to lock the world into a tragic course of action.

So he repudiates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, where it states:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights describes the family as the natural and fundamental unit of society. It follows that any choice and decision with regard to the size of the family must irrevocably rest with the family itself, and cannot be made by anyone else.

Refusing to admit that subsistence is a mistakenly-opened commons, Hardin chooses rather to grant to the state authority over reproduction, that most personal of choices.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Society as a Construct

I've been contributing to Everything2 recently, and was inspired to contribute to the "Society" node. Here is the article as published in Everything2. It pretty much stands on its own as an exposition of my philosophy of society; so without further ado:

Society is a construct deriving from the necessity of groups of individuals to live in proximity to, depend on, and interact with each other. A society may define both social mores and social institutions, which take their root in the combination of individual moral values and individual activities: and as such, they are tantamount to implicit contracts that govern individuals as members of that society.

Society is used as a definer of "common good" (and by extension, often "higher good"). From a utilitarian standpoint, social mores and institutions which produce greater beneficial (subject, of course, to definition) impact for the greatest number of individuals within that society are considered superior to competing values. The social relativism (used here unperjoratively, simply to indicate adjudication based on social, rather than individual, effect) thus resulting often results in the concrete concept of the individual being demoted to near-abstraction and being supplanted by the abstraction that is society.

Unfortunately, this has been linked, especially in modern Western culture, to psychological and other problems in individuals. Common examples of the individual being placed beneath society are peer pressure (especially among adolescents) and material decadence (or "spending pressure", which has in one form or another been a prime target of American social reformers for much of the last century).

As a side note, peer pressure and conformity are some of the highest-priority concerns for adolescents. So much so, in fact, that ostracism from a group and non-conformity with that group can be severe causes of depression.

Suggestions for easing related social ills range from the minimal to the radical, and span the gamut of the individual-society gradient; and indeed, many of the key political debates of the present revolve around resolving the individual-society dichotomy. Currently the extremes (with reference to individualism/social relativism) lie at one end with the extreme liberals and conservatives of many Western governments — which advocate subjugating various aspects of individuality completely to society — and at the other with anarchists of various forms — which demand subjugating society entirely to individual whim. (See also Conservatism, Liberalism, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green, Communism, Politics, and any other philosophy you can think of.)

And remember, even though:

This planet has, or had, a problem, which was this. Most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small, green pieces of paper, which is odd, because on the whole, it wasn't the small, green pieces of paper which were unhappy. — Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

. . . the only value small green pieces of paper have is in the context of a society that values them, where they can define and promote actions of individuals possessing them within that society. So at the root of it, solving problems regarding the distribution of small green pieces of paper will not happen until problems are solved with the underlying structure of society and the implicit contracts between individuals which make it up, and the rules of interaction between individuals within a society are improved to reflect that change.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Freedom of Commerce, Summer Style

Sure you did. Admit it. You had a lemonade stand when you were a kid, didn't you? Good for you. Not only was that one more nostalgic part of childhood, but you were exercising a fundamental freedom, unrestricted. But as Calvin says, "Another nostalgic part of childhood goes 'Pppbth'."

I'm sure you've heard several stories about the cops raiding such juvenile sole proprietorships, with results as varied as simple shutdowns to the parents being charged with sales tax evasion. I'm not going to dwell on such oversteppings, since as much has already been done, and I'll equate you with the Wicked Witch of the West if you think the government is in the right to react so to kids who actually display initiative.

That's right. That veiled reference was all the rant I'm going to put here. The reason I'm writing this is that yesterday I ran across some kids actually displaying initiative and running a lemonade cartel beside their driveway.

I was going too fast to stop when I saw it, so I turned around in a driveway a ways ahead and came back: as I pulled into their driveway, the kids (probably six and nine, but I'm bad with age-guessing) jumped to serve me.

"Do you want to buy some lemonade?" Nearly ecstatic.

"That I do!" I said, getting out of my truck and fumbling around for change. "How much is it?"

"Twenty-five cents a cup," he said proudly. I dropped fifty cents into their change bin ("And a quarter tip," I added, which the older of the two punctuated with a surprised thanks). I wish I'd had more cash on me: I'd have given them five bucks just because they weren't turning their brains into spaghetti with a TV or video game.

I take the proffered lemonade. "Thank you!" they say.

"Oh, thank you!" I reply. "You have a nice day!"

"You too, sir!"

Ahhh . . . of course! That explains why they have initiative. They've been raised right!

Cops Shut Down Little Girl's Lemonade Stand

NAPLES, June 18, 2003 — A six-year-old girl was heartbroken when her small lemonade stand was put out of business because she didn't have a temporary business permit. A neighbor called the police and her stand was shut down.

"Gotta get ready for the sale," said Avigayil.

Even though she's only 6 years old, Avigayil prepares for another day at work.

"We like making money at our lemonade stand. We want it to stay cold so they can have cold lemonade on hot days," she said.

A young entrepreneur who does the cleaning, even the advertising — and it is paying off.

"We are making lots of tips in our tip jar," said Avigayil.

But a few days ago, Avigayil and her friends were put out of business by a neighbor.

"We didn't have a permit so she called the cops," said Avigayil.

The police arrived and shut her down.

"We had to take down our lemonade stand," said Avigayil.

Abagail did not have a temporary business permit, which is technically a city violation.

"So we had to do something else to play," said Avigayil.

"I was kind of shocked because I didn't know we needed a permit for 6 year old girls to sell lemonade," said K.C. Shaw, Avigayil's mom.

According to the city, they have to act on a formal complaint.

"Normally we don't get involved in it but once we do get a formal request we must take action," said Al Hogrefe of the city of Naples.

So Avigayil's mom went to the city code enforcement office with wallet in hand, prepared to buy a permit.

"$35 every single time for a single use," said Shaw.

Not wanting to be sour, the city played Mr. Niceguy.

"No we did not charge her, no," said Hogrefe.

They did finally get the permit.

"Basically a blank check to have as many lemonade stands as we can stand," said Shaw.

So Abagail is back in business and learned laws can be tough, even for a six year old's lemonade stand.

Shaw said the police officers who shut down the stand felt terrible, but they had to do their job. One of the officers even bought a glass of lemonade from Avigayil.

NBC2 News Online (at Archive.org)

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Definitions of Libertarianism

According to Short Definitions of Libertarianism, the American Heritage Dictionary defines “libertarian” as an advocate of the maximization of individual rights and the minimization of the role of the state. By that definition, yes, I am a libertarian. “Self-government,” it’s also called. Well, I must say I agree with that as well. However, the underlying philosophy of most libertarians in the public eye is more libertine than libertarian, and I’m afraid I’m going to have to differ on that point.

Am I a libertarian? The World’s Smallest Political Quiz seems to think so, but I’m not sure (though I scored 100% libertarian on economic and 80% libertarian on personal issues). I think I’d rather have legalized drugs than soft-pedaled drug legislation, and we haven’t had a real conservative in the Republican Party for a long time.

Give it a few more years. I’m bound and determined to have liberty, and in five or ten more years, the Libertarian Party (whatever disagreements I may have with them) may be its sole guardian and advocate. Until then, well, there’s always breathing life into stiffened corpses, I suppose. I guess I’ll try that.

In Memoriam America

In memory of those whose dreams and schemes gave us this land, of those who died for the freedom that was America, of those whose blood watered the Tree of Liberty.

We have not kept your dream. We have abandoned your hopes. We have sold the freedom you died for us to have. We have failed you.

Forgive us.

In memory of that for which which once she stood,
In hope of that for which she yet may stand.


July Fourth, Two Thousand and Five, a mere two hundred and twenty-nine years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, found America in the later stages of giving up freedom for security and finding she had neither.

In Memoriam

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Meaning of 1984

Mood: Discovering

George Orwell’s 1984 has never struck me as a positive book at all. Not to say that I don’t like it — on the contrary, it’s one of my favorite politico-philosophical works — but I never quite understood what it advocated: I only saw that it deprecated collectivism and exposed the roots of collectivistic philosophies. Now I see it: the point of 1984 is that a productive and free society cannot help but be luxurious and self-governing.

. . . an all-round increase in wealth threatened the destruction — indeed, in some sense was the destruction — of a hierarchical society. In a world ini which everyone worked short hours, had enough to eat, lived in a house with a bathroom and a refrigerator, and possessed a motorcar or even an airplane, the most obvious and perhaps the most important form of inequality would already have disappeared. If it once became general, wealth would confer no distinction. It was possible, no doubt, to imagine a society in which wealth, in the sense of personal possessions and luxuries, should be evenly distributed, while power remained in the hands of a small privileged caste. But in practice such a society could not long remain stable. For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves: and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance.

— George Orwell, 1984, chapter IX

You see, it’s not collectivism which is going to eliminate Marx’s class warfare. In the end, collectivism of some sort (“Oligarchial Collectivism” was the name Orwell gave to Ingsoc, the collectivist society forming the basis of 1984.) is necessary to preserve that class warfare for the benefit of the ruling class.

While the Capitalist (“Das Kapital” of Marx fame) is usually set up by proponents of collectivism as the guilty ruling class (usually attempting to oppress the working class by some nefarious means, such as employing them), it is shortly discovered in any country which plunges too deeply into these waters that the instigators of the change are the very ones who set themselves up to benefit as the new ruling class.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

In Defense of Certainty

Time Magazine has done well. In fine form, they’ve challenged one of the most easily-assumed certainties of our time: that certainty is dangerous. The last page, ninety-six, of the June 6th, 2005 issue, is an essay by Charles Krauthammer, a regular Time columnist, entitled “In Defense of Certainty.” Krauthammer decrys the zeitgeist that “it’s trendy to be suspicious of people with ‘deeply held views.’ And it’s wrong.”

While more and more people are at odds with the beliefs of “evangelical Christians and traditional Catholics,” Krauthammer claims that to discount their opposition to popular secular views as theocratic is “nonsense.”

Now I am not much of a believer, but there is something deeply wrong — indeed, deeply un-American — about fearing people simply because they believe.

And it’s ironic that Americans are becoming more intolerant of what they view as deviant beliefs here on our own shores while preaching that Israelis should be tolerant of Islamic beliefs that demand their extinction.

But when someone takes the contrary view [to the secular view], all of a sudden he’s trying to impose his view on you. And if that contrary view happens to be rooted in Scripture or some kind of religious belief system, the very public advocacy of that view becomes a violation of the U.S. constitutional order.

What nonsense. The campaign against certainty is merely the philosophical veneer for an attempt to politically marginalize and intellectually disenfranchise believers. Instead of arguing the merits of any issue, secularists are trying to win the argument by default on the grounds that the other side displays unhealthy certainty . . .

The main thing that bothers me about folk of any political persuasion — liberal, conservative, or libertarian — is a predilection against rational thought. Whatever view is espoused, I much prefer it being backed up by evidence and reason than by liberal-bashing, religion-bashing, or other attempt to “win the argument by default.”

And if you&rsqo;re going to climb up on a soapbox and declare right and wrong, shouldn’t you be certain about it? It worries me when people recommend and even demand public policy without being sure themselves of its efficacy. However, certainty carries with it certain demands, the most onerous of which is consistency. If you are certain of something, you may be expected to produce convincing arguments for any change of opinion you may have. That “weariness with the responsibilities and the nightmares that come with clarity — and the demands that moral certainty make[s] on us” is the driving fear of certainty. The innate laziness and unwillingness to think of humankind in general (for isn’t it natural, for you as well as me, to want ease and comfort?) is our great enemy and the cause of our fear of certainty.

However, those who came before us were sure of their cause, and their legacy certainly behooves us to strive for the same certainty.

You want certainty? . . . How about a people who overthrow the political order of the ages, go to war and occasion thousands of deaths in the name of self-evident truths and unalienable rights endowed by the Creator? That was 1776. The universality, the sacredness and the divine origin of freedom are enshrined in our founding document. The Founders, believers all, signed it. Thomas Jefferson wrote it. And not even Jefferson, the most skeptical of the lot, had the slightest doubt about it.

Time Magazine: “In Defense of Certainty” (mirror - plain text)

Apathy Online, June 11th, 2005.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Beginning 1984

I’m just starting to read 1984 for the first time in four years. It, Brave New World, and Anthem are the three politico-philosophical classics of my library. I own quite a few others answering to the theme, but as far as political philosophy (and Objectivism) goes, there’s just no topping those three.

Anyway, I just broke into the first chapter — about twenty minutes of reading got me almost to the end of the first “Two Minutes Hate.” The scary thing about it is that, yes, just like Winston feared, others more weak-minded than yourself may be taken in by dangerous diatribes. Only, it’s not Emmanuel Goldstein I’m afraid of . . .

I’d like to write a short piece on 1984, in the manner of an apologist: there are many out there, especially in my generation (college-aged), who have never been given the chance to think about political philosophy for themselves. They’ve been steadily fed a diet of collectivism, and honestly are innocent of the concepts of true freedom and personal responsibility. In effect, all they know is “we,” and someone must teach them how to say “I.”

Now, might I commend these three books to you, my discriminating reader? None of them will take more than two hours of your time; unless, of course, you count time spent pondering — then they’ll take weeks.