Libertarians and capitalists, natural … enemies?

March 23, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve been disappointed in Bleeding Heart Libertarians so far. It’s mostly arguments about whether so-and-so is a Left-Libertarian or a Gaussian Blur. (Yes, I’m confusing academic jargon with Photoshop terminology, but really, does it matter?)

But this post is intriguing, pointing out that a knee-jerk defense of our current economic system isn’t necessarily part of a good libertarian’s daily life.

Embracing Markets, Opposing “Capitalism” – Bleeding Heart Libertarians

Key quote: “The economic system we have now is one from which peaceful, voluntary exchange is absent.”



Hope for libertarians? Maybe?

March 4, 2011 Leave a comment

An intriguing new blog has popped up, and Andrew Sullivan kindly took notice.

It’s called Bleeding Heart Libertarians, a term I think I once used in casual conversation and should’ve copyrighted while I had the chance. One of its early posts hints at some common ground with utilitarians: “A commitment to social justice does not logically entail a commitment to having government pursue justice through a heavy-handed, direct strategy.”

In other words: We as a society should be working for the social good. But not necessarily through government.

Promising stuff. It’s a little too academic in some places, but the ideals behind it are promising.


The GOP’s love affair with gay folks; or, why libertarians fail

February 13, 2011 1 comment

While CPAC splintered over whether homosexuals and/or Dick Cheney should have a place to speak, “conservative gay group” GOProud hosted a fun party with pseudojournalist Andrew Breitbart and inebriated singer Sophie B. Hawkins. A really happy dude from Reason, the ostensibly libertarian but now GOP-leaning magazine, was there with a microphone to talk with Breitbart, Hawkins, former GOP honcho Michael Steele (sadly, not the Michael Steele from the Bangles) and a few others:

The message: “See! We’re just as cool and tolerant as liberals! People just have negative stereotypes of us!”

Some of the interviewees were sincere and obviously pleased that it’s easier to be gay and Republican these days. To go from being technically outlawed by ancient sodomy laws to being accepted by at least part of both major political parties is indeed remarkable.

But before libertarian-minded conservatives go overboard with the self-congratulation, they might want to ask a few questions:

1. Does this grand party of tolerance extend to Muslims? Looking your direction, Mr. Breitbart.

2. If gay workers face workplace discrimination, can the government step in and help, or would that be left for the free market to decide?

3. If everyone is so wrongly painting political groups with a broad brush, can someone explain why Sophie B. Hawkins and the interviewer are griping about some unnamed people who would want to take the guns out of the home of her neighbor, who is presumably law-abiding and sane? Are we not allowed, even under this great tent of tolerance, to discuss gun laws that might prevent a repeat of Virginia Tech or Tucson without yanking every lawfully registered gun out of everyone’s hands?

4. Do the Democrats get any credit for decades of unpopular arguments that helped the folks in the bar walk around and proclaim themselves to be gay without fear of recrimination?

5. Did the person trumpeting gay rights as the greatest civil rights crusade of our time ever walk in anyone else’s shoes?

And the last one really gets to the problem. What we’re seeing here is a gangplank mentality. Hey, the GOP let us in, at least at this nice social gathering in a Northeastern white-collar town, so we’re all good after years of being victimized. The fact that so many people in this room make their living by slandering scientists, independent economists and Europe … well, that’s not a problem.

What grates most in this video is the parade of people playing the victim card — not for being gay, but for being “conservative,” as if that’s the same thing. We’ve learned over the passing decades that homosexuality is simply reality for some people, same as having brown skin or big hands. Being “conservative,” parental and societal influences aside, is mostly a choice. At the very least, one’s political beliefs could be — should be — easily swayed by reason.

The people in this video are tone-deaf to the realities that (A) other people of many persuasions face discrimination and (B) being accepted at a GOProud party doesn’t mean everything is fine and dandy in the party to which they’ve pledged allegiance. They think they’re being oppressed by vague forces of anti-conservative prejudice while they party with a guy who’ll stop at nothing to smear “liberals” who fought for the freedoms they’re currently enjoying.

But to cite a more modern take on the “gangplank mentality,” these guys are in the “IGMFY” school. I got mine … you can guess the rest.

And this is why libertarians, even when they’re taking laudable stands for social liberty, fail to win over us utilitarians.

Reagan reconsidered: An illegal alien-coddling, tax-raising capitalist icon

February 7, 2011 1 comment

When Ronald Reagan died, nary an ill word was spoken. Perhaps that silence tells us the country was at least somewhat civil in its national dialogue in those days.

For his 100th birthday, the Reagan legacy is getting a thorough re-examination. And that’s a good thing, considering the new generation of politicians falsely claiming his mantle.

As various “myth” pieces tell us (see CBS, EsquireThe Washington Post), Reagan raised taxes, expanded government (even outside the Defense Department), gave amnesty to illegal aliens and did absolutely nothing on the “social conservative” front unless you count ignoring AIDS. That leads to a terrific question waiting to be asked of Reagan wannabes in an upcoming election: “You say you admire Reagan. Does this mean you’ll pass liberal abortion laws, grant amnesty to illegal aliens, raise taxes and still increase the deficit?”

Yes, Reagan had a Democratic Congress through much of his presidency, but these were the days of the Dixiecrats, Southern Democrats who had not yet cut their vestigial ties to the Old South’s political machine and become Republicans. Reagan in many senses was dealing with a three-party Congress.

Slate has re-run two Michael Kinsley pieces, one shifting much of the Cold War-ending credit from Reagan to Gorbachev. Indeed, it takes a bit more political courage to tear down a wall than it does to ask for it on behalf of a country unified in its desire to see it taken down.

The second tells us, though not explicitly, why right-wing elites revere Reagan. Yes, he was as much of a tax-and-spend-and-borrow president as anyone else, certainly moreso than Clinton. But he kept taxes down on the wealthy.

So what did Reagan do well?

Communication, of course. The Christian Science Monitor tells us he’s ranked poorly on administrative skills but highly on public persuasion.

And he was far more complex than either his revisionist acolytes or his fervent critics would have us believe. That’s the message of an upcoming HBO documentary and a book by his liberal son Ron, who had a lively interview with Stephen Colbert about Reagan mythology.

It’s another complex man, Christopher Hitchens, who points out many Reagan flaws and says with conviction that he should’ve been impeached over Iran-contra. And yet, says Hitchens, would you rather have had Walter Mondale presiding as the Cold War was coming to an end?

Reagan certainly made us feel better about ourselves, encouraging an economic expansion with the force of his sunny personality as much as his policies. On the flip side, his foreign policy kept us in awkward alliances with Very Bad People in the name of tightening the screws on the loose Communist empire, and you could argue that we’re still paying the price for those alliances in the Middle East and perhaps Central America.

All presidents, like all humans, are flawed. We should try to remember the good in people where we can, and Reagan was certainly amiable to his fellow American. Dishonesty over his legacy serves no one, least of all him, and so the thoughtful reconsideration of his presidency that we’re seeing today gives us some hope that we’re haven’t completely fallen into the abyss of propaganda.

Though it is, of course, great to dig back through the SNL archives and imagine a totally different Reagan.

Categories: mutual respect, philosophy

A brief response on accusations of socialism

January 26, 2011 1 comment

Last night, Rep. Paul Broun (Ga.) tweeted the following: “Mr. President, you don’t believe in the Constitution. You believe in socialism.”

The responses have been amusing. But I think Mandy Patinkin put it best in this scene:

Quick reminder: Name-calling, particularly inaccurate name-calling, is not a utilitarian value.

What’s our responsibility in confronting evil and ignorance?

January 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Jon Stewart has responded brilliantly to the Tucson shooting and its aftermath, warning us against finding an easy scapegoat but hoping we will stop treating political adversaries as enemies. If you’re not among the 500K plus who have seen the clip from the official site or the couple million more who have seen it elsewhere, take a look:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Arizona Shootings Reaction
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

The follow-up question: How can we react to clear ignorance and knee-jerk hostility with something other than hostility of our own?

It’s a question common to theology and philosophy. Jesus tells us to speak up, yet he tells us to remove the beam from our own eye before telling someone else about the speck in his.

In one of my church-going phases, I heard a sermon in which the priest started to talk about “witnessing.” I nearly rolled my eyes, associating “witnessing” with a gaggle of naive high school kids singing, “If you’re saved and you know it, clap your hands!” and thinking they’re going to win subway riders over to evangelical Christianity. But she changed my perception in a hurry. The sermon took place near Martin Luther King’s birthday, and she described MLK’s life as one of witnessing. That, I could accept. He chose to confront injustice with nonviolence. He succeeded so wildly that all manner of political ideologues look up to him. Irony aside, that’s rather impressive.

We’re confronted daily by willful ignorance. Some people have rationalized it as a means to an end, thinking it’s OK to use a few half-truths and distortions to stir up the masses for their great cause. Some can’t or won’t think outside of what they find comfortable.

Coincidentally, I’ve been collecting a few examples of reckless distortions in the hopes of eventually finding the time to post here. Pardon the link dump, and skip ahead if you like:

– The government may force you to eat your vegetables!

– As Republicans continue to dig in their heels against scientific consensus on evolution (see Delaware) and climate change (see everywhere), fewer and fewer scientists are identifying themselves as Republican. It’s one thing to go against academic trends in areas in which reasonable people can disagree; it’s another to go through an extraordinary divorce between a political party and the realm of objective research.

– Republican-leaning states continue to benefit from government largesse while denouncing it.

– In the wake of the shootings, Facebook was deluged with posts suggesting that Sarah Palin’s “RELOAD” Tweet had been posted immediately after the incident. In fact, it was posted in March.

– Do you rent your apartment or house? Sorry, you shouldn’t vote.

– Bumper stickers decrying “socialism” (sorry, not even close), suggesting we ban the burqa to “avenge 9/11” or imploring us to “Honk If I Paid Your Mortgage!”

Perhaps we lack the capacity to discuss things from a rational point of view. A buzzworthy topic in December was a study suggesting our political views may be “hard-wired into our brain.” “Liberals” may have more of a chemical that makes them more receptive to new ideas. “Conservatives” may have larger amygdalas, rendering them more anxious and fearful by nature. We may have ways to confront this hard-wiring, but I’d imagine those with the “new idea” chemical would be more likely to try it than those being led around by their amygdalas. Rush (not the radio guy but the band unfairly held up as Rand Paul spokespeople in Facebook ads) summed this up nicely: “Ignorance and prejudice and fear walk hand in hand.” (Witch Hunt)

Another Rush quote is more optimistic: “Folks are basically decent, conventional wisdom would say. But we read about the exceptions in the papers every day.” (Second Nature)

In his brilliant speech on Tucson, Jon Stewart asked us to look into the lives of the “basically decent” people killed or wounded in the shooting. It’s easy to forget that, beneath the shouting that preoccupies several million people, we have a society that functions through basic decency. Some may call it “a thousand points of light,” some may call it an “invisible hand,” some may call it “anticapitalist.” None of those fit perfectly, but if it makes an ideologue feel better about things, so be it.

And Americans have demonstrated that they’re not going to follow a rigid ideologue off the cliff of ignorance. Willfully ignorant candidates in Nevada and Delaware likely cost the GOP the Senate. Polls show American voters, particularly educated voters, have resolved not to elect Sarah Palin in 2012.

But the decent folks who aren’t screaming at each other aren’t being heard. The people who watch cable punditry and listen to shoutfest radio may be a distinct minority of the population, but they’re getting the attention. Congress is representing the noisiest people, not the will of the people as a whole.

Given that, the natural reaction is to fight fire with fire. That would explain the skeptical reactions across the political spectrum to Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” and similar calls for calm after Tucson. MSNBC, having searched in vain for an identity after shedding the friendly techster-news niche in which it started, is now content to have left-wing pundits who say they’re fighting back against the right but not quite using the same fear-mongering tools. Salon mocked Michael Bloomberg’s call for an “ideology-free” opinion section.

Two problems with this approach. First, the left simply doesn’t do vitriol with the same enthusiasm and intensity as the right, mostly because the left is motivated by compassion and openness. That’s why Air America was doomed from the start.

Second, this is not a battle of left vs. right. This is intellectualism vs. ignorance. Progress vs. prejudice.

And the good news is that it can be an asymmetrical battleground. This blog said before Election Day that utilitarianism can be dented by popular vote but not defeated by it. GOP politicians aren’t winning over scientists who persist in looking at facts rather than rhetoric. Compassion exists almost everywhere. As another preacher once told me in the wake of the devastating tsunami a few years ago, if you’re wondering where God could be when such a tragedy happens, you’ll find God in the response from the rest of the world.

By all means, we should speak up. Sometimes utilitarians will need to confront ignorance directly — often, sadly, at the school board level. But we win those arguments because the facts are on our side. Not because we yell louder.

Martin Luther King, like six people who were unlucky enough to be present at the Safeway in Tucson, died at the hands of a madman. The Freedom Riders were beaten, sometimes with the implicit support of local law enforcement. And yet they won. May we be just as patient and brave.


I believe I can fly (but these other people can’t)

November 25, 2010 Leave a comment

What’s worse than airport and airline staff? The passengers.

If you’re traveling over the holiday, be a good utilitarian. Smile at the TSA and gate agents. Have a happy Thanksgiving, and please don’t ruin anyone else’s.

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