Saturday, June 04, 2016

On Being Libertarian

For me, it probably started with

Now, let me start with recognizing that I'm a right bastard when it comes to argument, particularly online. You could find an example of that here, or especially here. I don't "fight fair". I rhetoric. I use emotionally charged words. I'm vastly more inclined to do this in print than in person because I don't have the kind of time to explain things the same way in print that I would in a face-to-face conversation. In a personal conversation you can see my face; you can hear my voice; I can put body language and expression to good use, and I can respond to your questions, even when they're unvoiced (I can see you too, y'know). In print I can't do any of that. So if I want to communicate in print that something is horrific, or stupid, then I often just have to say it. Sadly, too many people are unused to hearing people say what they mean.

But on the flip-side; in print, I do have the luxury of taking my time... so the vast majority of the time, as Humpty Dumpty said, "When I use a word it means exactly what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less." (Of course, the message I send with those words is very different from Humpty Dumpty's)

What you don't know from looking at print is that every argument that I have ever had on-line is an argument that I have already had with myself. I therefore have the luxury of actually listening to your side and paying attention to what you're saying, and responding to that instead of selected "sound bites". I argue with myself a lot, and I argue both sides equally strenuously. And when there's more than one possible response, I go back and explore every one I can think of. And if you think I'm unfair in print, you should know that I am absolutely brutal with myself. I am far harder on myself than I have ever been with any other human being. Even when I tore Euqid to shreds I did so in a way that was without malice and employed humor. I don't have to bother with that when dealing with myself.

I don't care who you are. If you are brave enough be brutally honest with yourself, one of the first things you realize is that you are a fucking hypocrite. Republican, Democrat, Emocrat, or Libertarian, you're a hypocrite. And I'm talking to you reading this. If you call me on the phone or visit me in person, I'll look you in the eye and say it again. You have to cultivate honesty, and practice it uncompromisingly on yourself so as to minimize its effect on your behavior.
Note that if I quote you in an example of hypocrisy or if I look you in the face and point out your hypocrisy, it's not in a pejorative sense. Rather, it's a statement, like "Boy, you sure are tall!", or "Your hair is brown." Hell, I'm a hypocrite. The difference is, I not only admit it, but I know what I'm hypocritical about.
The big question is, "How can I minimize the hypocrisy?"

Now, I think that Penn Jillette has a pretty good handle on that. In the linked article below, he explains his reasoning for being Libertarian:


Penn says that if he personally would not use force to make something happen, then he has no business instructing his representatives in Congress to do it for him.
"Will I use a gun to build a library? No."
I personally think that's a pretty concise way of getting to the point of a free society. And keep in mind, please... this is America. We're not just "a society". We're a free society, or at least that's what we've been telling ourselves for 240 years.

How do you stay free if your behavior is governed by force?

That's a rhetorical question. The answer is, "you don't."

And though Penn may describe himself as a bleeding heart Liberal, and I myself am solidly Conservative, we can completely agree... to many decimal points... that there are many, many virtuous things that are worth doing voluntarily that lose their virtue when forced upon another person. I can just about guarantee that you'll lose sight of the first part of this statement should you choose to argue the subject: there are things that should be done by the Public that should not be done by Government.

I happen to think should be read and understood more deeply than just the headline or the teaser quote. And so I shared Penn's essay on social media.


Sadly, all too often, people don't go beyond the headline or teaser quote. They have very little interest in discussing what someone says (or perhaps they imagine that they don't have the time). So instead they argue some representation of it that was condensed from a condensed version passed on to them leading back to some professor or pundit who was talking about something completely different. By the time the thought reaches the person who's drawing conclusions from headlines and party labels, it's often changed from its original context... never mind the fact that it doesn't address what's actually being said today. It resembles a game of "Post Office", so I call it "Post Office Politics".

I'm going to give you an example, quoted in full, just to illustrate:
I appreciate the candor behind this explanation, but it still comes across like an 18 year old who wants to live in his parents' house, but not be forced to contribute to rent or bills.
Re: “Can’t you see that you can’t reward without punishing?" This is so often used to argue against social welfare, but it could just as easily apply to supporting those in need. Yes, some people will benefit who don't deserve it, but many others can and do use government help while busting ass to find work. The fact that we pay taxes to help others in need is not a bad thing; it's honorable, even when some are freeloaders, and especially when it does not diminish the overall quality of our lives.
Is our government perfect? Far from it.
However, too many people are focused on what other people are "getting" and not enough on their own quality of life. As soon as people stop thinking of society as a competition instead of as a community, taxes will feel less like punishment and more like philanthropy.
Just a long-winded thought...
Now... if you read Penn's essay, I don't think it's possible to conclude that he's concerned about what other people are getting. He's not concerned with the fact that they're getting anything at all. He's not decrying the idea of charity or public assistance; he's not shouting down "welfare queens". He's not bitching about anybody else's belongings or income or whether they "deserved" it.

In short, he's not thinking selfishly in the slightest.

What he IS saying is that there are things worth doing that people should not be forced to do. He's concerned not only with the welfare of one group, but the freedom of another. And if you're keeping score, this is indisputably less selfish than thinking only of the first group.

Many people like to think of "the social contract", rather than recognizing that there are in fact many social contracts. Here's one that interests me greatly. Ask almost anyone if they would like to be able to live their life however they choose so long as it doesn't harm anyone, and the answer will be a resounding "yes".

Well, there's a price for that, and it's allowing others the same privilege. In a land where people are legitimately free to disagree, it comes down to exactly two choices: you can force others to give you what you want, or you can pursue your desires without the use of force. If one of these sounds decidedly unfair, it's because it is. Personally, I'd rather contribute than play Robin Hood, because the one thing that feels exactly like philanthropy IS philanthropy. Frankly, if you think that being a philanthropist is such a good thing that you should make your taxation "feel like" that, then you should be promoting genuine philanthropy.  Stop being a hypocrite.


My correspondent had a problem with the framing of that.
  • He felt that it presents a false dichotomy.
  • He didn't like the word "force" because it "implies that there is no inherent good in the act of paying taxes". Note that this means he thinks that paying taxes IS "inherently good".
  • He argues that not everybody is willing to contribute, and that my argument is therefore built on a weak foundation.
  • He feels that the "greed is good" mentality still thrives in our society, and "I don't have to if I don't want to" is a prevalent mantra, and applies this specifically to the paying of what I'll call "social dues", since these may or may not include taxes.  
  • He feels that just because someone doesn't want to help the needy doesn't make it any less philanthropic if they are "forced" to do so. In the end, the good deed is done.
  • He thinks I'm advocating a "Randian declaration of 'Mine!'"
He's wrong on all counts. 

Let's pick some "low-hanging fruit" and start with some definitions. Just pure language.

First, "philanthropist" literally means "lover of Mankind". It's inappropriate to apply the term to someone who does not voluntarily contribute, so yes, it is absolutely less philanthropic to be forced, by definition.

There's nothing "false" about a dichotomy that consists of "forced" and "not forced". 

As for, "In the end, the good deed is done," that's only true if we agree that it IS a good deed. Otherwise it's just force. Sometimes, force is justified, but not always. And that justification never hinges on your desire or how casually you would use that force.


In fact, I knew when I used it that he wasn't going to like the word "force". Liberals never do. But that's exactly what it is. If you don't pay taxes, then the government will send representatives to confiscate that value from you. They won't ask, they will demand. And if you continue to resist or are simply unable to pay, then they will send people with guns to collect you. If you continue to resist, they will use any amount of necessary force, including guns. At no point is this voluntary, nor at any point can it be mistaken for anything other than "force", despite the fact that you don't actually like calling it what it is.

The use of force is real and has no bearing whatsoever on the goodness or the badness of the taxes. We don't predicate the enforcement of our tax laws based on the virtue of the programs for which the tax is collected. If you don't pay your taxes, you'll be prosecuted the same no matter the reason for your refusal. The act of paying taxes is merely what it is, without virtue of its own.

As an example, imagine you live under an evil despot, and 100% of your taxes goes to pay the despot to fund his own hedonism. So... is there an "inherent good in the act of paying taxes"? OF COURSE NOT. In this situation, it could be inherently evil to enable a wicked despot. Taxes are "good" or "bad" only in accordance with their utility balanced against their burden. You must consider this balance. After all, if paying taxes is inherently good, then the most good would be 100% taxation. I'm going to assume that you see for yourself that this is obviously wrong.

The only real point of dissension is where to draw the line. Keep in mind that this particular discussion says nothing whatsoever about where that line would be. There are an awful lot of government activities that I support. I'm not an anarchist.

Again, Penn's got a pretty good handle on it. If you would not personally use force to do something, then you shouldn't be directing your representatives in government to do that for you. It just means that some good things won't get funded by the Government, not that they won't get funded at all,

If they are worth doing, "like-minded individuals" (and this necessarily includes you if you really want those things) will make them happen. If you don't help make them happen, then you didn't really want them. Rather, it was just convenient for you to bully someone else into it. And if you would use force, there's no problem there. Just man up and tell yourself, "YES. I would put a gun to someone and tell them, 'feed that family' or 'supply that medicine'." Be honest with whether you really support it or not. Stop being a hypocrite.

You should keep in mind that "The things I want" neither implies nor requires "for myself", and greed is a separate concern. My correspondent's conclusion that Randian self-interest is a driving force behind Libertarianism is due to misinformation. The same goes for applying that thinking to Penn, who arrives at the same destination I do from a completely different origin.

Certainly there are cruel people motivated only by self-interest who are Libertarians, but there are also people whose motivations are completely different. It is a testament to Libertarianism that such totally dissimilar people can agree on their form of government. And more on that later.


My correspondent thinks that there aren't enough people "like me" to do what needs to be done in society. I vociferously disagree. To a large extent, much of what is getting done doesn't really need to be done. But anything worth doing is accomplished by "like-minded individuals". Get used to that phrase.

A practical example: I want there to be free public television. I personally watch very little PBS because frankly, everything PBS does is now done on the cable channels to which I purchase access. But I want there to be educational and cultural programming that is accessible free of charge to people who cannot afford a cable subscription, having once been one of those people myself. So every year I personally cut a check and send it to SCETV to fund PBS. Most of PBS's funding comes from similar like-minded individuals. That doesn't mean everybody, and it doesn't mean that all of the donors are doing it for selfish reasons. In this country, "public television" is funded with private money. So much so that only about 15% of PBS's funding is Federal. PBS would easily survive without it, and would make up for it, too, if it were to disappear. I therefore see no reason whatsoever to fund it even in part with money taken from even a single taxpayer who does not voluntarily contribute to it. I'm 100% against Federal funding of PBS, and 100% FOR PBS, and suggest that anybody else who says they're for PBS should be doing exactly what I'm doing. Their own advocacy of government funding is not what put PBS on the air, and it's not what keeps it there. It's kept on the air by the capitalists they love to hate.

Likewise, the first "public" library in the United States is privately funded and still going strong, having been started by Ben Franklin and other like-minded individuals. They felt (and feel) that having a library is a good thing, so they didn't strong-arm others into paying for it. They did it. And to this day it's supported by shareholders. Voluntarily. So if you want a public library, visit the damned thing, and contribute to it.

As a Libertarian, when I say, "the things I want" it has nothing to do with greed. It encompasses both the things I want for me and the things I want for others. It never, never, ever includes the things I demand that others do.

I purchase for me, I donate for the sake of others. And when I purchase from anyone, be they indie artists, authors, and friends; or donate, for instance to Open Source projects, or Kickstarter campaigns, or through GoFundMe, or Patreon, or Pitchinbox, or through PBS, or through Rite Care or the Shriner's Hospitals for Children or through the Cancer Society or, or by tossing change in a jar; when I volunteer to assist with the Special Olympics or in community events; when I open my home for people to stay with me who would otherwise be temporarily homeless; then I do it full well knowing that my donations will be used on behalf of people who do not themselves contribute, either because they cannot, or just won't. And that's 100% OK because it's a donation. Neither I nor anyone else who contributes is suckered into this. Not one contributor is forced. And things get done anyway, despite the hordes of people who say, as you just did, that it can't work because there are not enough "people like me". The truth is that not everybody has to contribute.
Side Note: I didn't list these things to say "look at me, how wonderful!" It's to get you to look at all the little things that you may be doing that add up in aggregate with the tens and thousands and millions of others who also contribute a little, and to get you to think of things you could do that really don't put you out. 
You must remember that the origin of the word "charity" is "caritas", the Latin word for "love". It's not about the stuff... it never has been. And this is why nothing feels like philanthropy but philanthropy itself. Advocating sucking tax money out of somebody else to pay for the things you want isn't even a poor substitute. It's a dim shadow on the wall, hailed as "real" by those living in Plato's Cave.

I don't expect everyone to be charitable. I expect some people to be greedy, or lazy, or antisocial, or miserly. But I know that fewer of those people will indulge themselves in those vices if they have to lean a bit more heavily on charity than on government-sanctioned armed robbery. I know that their anger and entitlement would give way to gratitude and productivity, and an increased sense of legitimate self-worth.


There's very little worth doing that we need the government to do. We would have world-class hospitals without the government. I know because our world-class hospitals were built without the government. Shriner's hospitals don't even charge their patients and never have... Rite Care provides language therapy and has never so much as billed an insurance company. So how do you think they're funded, hmm? With love, because it's a charity. People give more freely to charity than they give to the government because both activities feel exactly like what they are. Charity feels like love, and it's freely given. Taxation feels like theft, and it's avoided. It's that simple.

The government should be defending our borders and resolving inter-state disputes. It should be policing itself to ensure that the Constitution is followed and that our rights are respected. It should be spending as much time reviewing and repealing obsolete laws and regulations as it does dreaming up new ones.

Speaking of the Constitution; if you read it -- and by that I mean opening your eyes and your mind and actually reading what's there and not what you imagine -- then you'll see that it's not telling you how to behave. It's telling CONGRESS how to behave. For instance, when it says "Congress shall make no law", about something how many laws does that allow Congress to make?

The answer is ZERO, you hypocrite. No matter how much you really want it, it's ZERO.

And of those things that are not delegated to the Congress, Congress properly has zero authority. That's reserved to the States. And of the things that a State or municipality doesn't legislate, that's left up to you, the individual. The Constitution does not and never has been there to tell who they can associate with, or buy from, or sell to. The market does that, and if somebody is a jerk, he creates an opportunity for someone who's not a jerk to open shop and lure away his customers. The jerk will either change his ways or become much poorer for it. At least, that's the way it's supposed to work, and the way it would work if you Republicans and Democrats weren't hypocrites.

Here's where I'm a hypocrite: 

Normally I'd say "free market, free market, free market!" But there are some things that just don't really lend themselves easily to the free market. Some things are "natural monopolies", and as such there's no real market pressure that can be brought to bear on them. Roads are a pretty good example.

A lot of Libertarians argue for full privatization of the roads, pointing out toll roads to say that yup, the roads would be built regardless. And they're right; roads would be built. But it's bloody inconvenient to stop at toll booths and pay tolls; not to mention inefficient. Here, road maintenance is paid for with a tax on gasoline. People use more gas because they use the road more often, or because they have a bigger, heavier vehicle that puts more wear on the highway. Either way, a gas tax makes sense. So even though the government isn't required for roads, I'm a hypocrite on the subject and am for the collection of taxes for road maintenance. But here in South Carolina, recent events have underscored the need for citizen oversight of those funds and their use.

Your power company is another good example. You've got generators, wire, huge expense, and it's really not the sort of thing where you can have more than one company effectively service a region. So I'm OK with government regulation of power. Where I live the power company is actually owned by the City, and the profits serve to lower our property taxes. I'm 100% on board with that, as a service usage fee is vastly preferable to me than taking money from you every year just because you have a thing. To my mind, property taxes are little different from paying protection money to keep a gang from taking the shit you own. Usage fees, on the other hand, are money for value.

For the most part, I'm for the idea of divvying up the actual cost of your city, county, and state government that's not directly covered by usage fees and sending a bill to the citizens. I have no problem paying for my government, and I feel that more people would pay more attention to their government if it were transparent what the money was for. Seriously, send me an itemized bill that lists, "County council salaries; police department; fire department; road maintenance..." etc. Show me how much I personally am paying for each. It's not only perfectly do-able, it's perfectly reasonable. But telling someone it's a "property tax" is just sneaky. It invites people to believe that they're paying for their property, when in fact it's for completely different purposes. And those purposes are hidden in the lump sum.

Here's where I'm not a hypocrite: 

I would put a gun to someone's head to save a child's life. Though I have in the past had an "ain't my business" approach to abortion laws, I recognize that it was hypocritical. There's a large religious component to most abortion opposition (I oppose it on equally secular and religious grounds) and due to the First Amendment I think that it's not Constitutional to pass Federal laws, but I do support a ban on abortion at the State level. I know that if such a ban is in place at a more local level, then people will cross State lines and go where it's legal, but that's the benefit, not the weakness, of local control. If you're in the minority then as a last resort you can always vote with your feet and join a community of like-minded individuals. That's never the case when the Federal government oversteps its authority.

I don't think the government at any level has any business being involved in marriages between consenting adults. No exceptions. I am a proponent of traditional marriage, on religious grounds, and quite frankly I don't see the benefit of marriage at all were it not for those religious grounds. But because my grounds are religious, I recognize that the Federal government is empowered to "make no law" in that area. And because it has no effect on me or my life if others say they have married for other than "my" religious grounds, I don't advocate laws at any level of government whatsoever. To do so would be hypocritical, because I have never objected when men and women of other religions get married, including atheists. No Christian has ever objected to that, so to start doing it selectively is hypocrisy.

I think it's none of your business what I do in the bedroom; therefore it's none of my business what you do. But as I don't run around proclaiming my sexual preferences and exploits, I expect that you shouldn't either. My tolerance of your sexuality is infinite, but my tolerance of your yapping about it is not. You still have the right to yap, of course; but I reserve the right to point out that you're a bloody annoying nuisance. And if you tell me how to act in light of your vocal declarations, then you should really STFU, not because you have to, but because you're not representing yourself well. In fact, the healthiest approach to gender identity I've ever seen comes from Dan Shive, cartoonist of "El Goonish Shive", who responds as follows:
Gender identity: Non-committal shrug 
Sexual orientation: Non-committal shrug 
Hot wing sauce preference: Mild
That's really useful info, because if I ever take Dan out for hot wings, I know not to order the five-alarm sauce. Since I don't give a shit about the first two questions, knowing the answers wouldn't change our personal interaction in the slightest.


Ask if "Do what you want so long as you don't hurt anybody," is a pretty fair description of Freedom, and most people would say, "Yeah." That's pretty much Libertarianism. Within that rule, people are... well... free.

There are bounds. You can't kill, maim, steal, defraud, endanger children, etc. But all human rights begin with the concept of self-ownership, and if you can't kill yourself, you don't own yourself. So you're free to do your thing, even if you're endangering yourself. You can smoke dope or tobacco, drink alcohol, do drugs, pray, don't pray, pray to Satan, or to the forest, be stingy, be generous, start a business, run your car on cooking oil, pimp yourself out for whatever the market will bear, and so on... Under Libertarianism you would be free to do dangerous things so long as they're dangerous only to you. In return, you accept that responsibility for what you do to yourself. And if you did something to somebody else, you accept responsibility for that, too.

I'm not terribly concerned about the consequences of this freedom, because like-minded individuals would come along and educate people about the dangers of "running with scissors". You and I both know this would happen because it already does. The only difference is that today, they do so with the aim of forcing your actions by making it illegal. And this is so effective that people still smoke dope and do drugs and do self-destructive things that harm no one else. So many do it that we've built up a rather sweet little slave industry disguised as a prison system. The largest one in the world. In the Land of the Free.

You currently live in a society that is fearful of paying for your stupid mistakes, and would wrap you in plastic like the furniture in your grandma's living room that's designed to be sat on but never will because it might "mess it up". Freedom is intended to be used. If you can't use it, you don't really have it.

Nevertheless, one of my correspondents offered in "rebuttal" that "Society is built on people thinking about each other. It's not built on people thinking of themselves and refusing to compromise."

Of course it's the most hypocritical response possible. Libertarianism is the ultimate compromise; "do what you want, without causing harm to others."

Contrast this with the Republican and Democratic Statists who both tell you, "Do what we want, or we will harm you."

At the end of the the day the Statists don't put the State first; they put themselves first. They simply believe that the state will operate in their benefit at the expense of someone else. They have no illusions that someone will get screwed... they just don't care so long as it's not them.

The ones who decry "greed" are the ones who want free stuff. The ones who want religious freedom want it for their religion and would ban others. Those who defend the flag against desecration would pass laws to desecrate the freedom that the flag represents. Those who say they want equality would pass laws to make others subservient. They don't understand charity because they think it starts with theft. They're hypocrites, almost all of them, and though I can't stomach them, I stand them anyway, because that's what being tolerant means.
"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." 
-- Evelyn Beatrice Hall, of Voltaire

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