Category Archives: Reproductive Rights

TLP Round Table — The Abortion Issue

abortion-debate1

Here at The Liberty Papers, we don’t like to shy away from controversial issues. So we’re going to talk about abortion this week.

As you can expect, there are a wide variety of stances on this issue, just like the country at large. Some contributors refused to participate because they were personally uncomfortable with the topic.

Abortion related legislation is always in the news and it seems as if it’s on the ballot every year and this year was no exception. Colorado rejected an initiative to add “unborn human beings” to the criminal code. North Dakota rejected a “right to life” amendment that would’ve protected unborn children. However, Tennessee passed an amendment to the constitution that explicitly rejects the right to an abortion.

Chris Byrne:

I can write my position in five lines not three paragraphs… the problem is that to understand it in anything but the most simplistic way (which is to say, to have any meaningful understanding of it at all) you need to have a lot of background in morals and ethics.

There is a fairly sophisticated… unfortunately too sophisticated for most people… moral and ethical concept, of non-relativist conditional morality and ethics.

There’s actually a few thousand pages worth or moral and ethical philosophy that goes into understanding these concepts fully of course, but essentially it can be grossly oversimplified by the idea of “least bad” decision making.

Some problems or questions have no good answers or solutions, only more or less bad, more or less wrong, more or less optimal etc…

Or, there may be such answers, but the person making the decision does not have the ability, the information, the tools, or the time, to do so; or the circumstances are such that a “good” or “right” or optimal answer cannot be made in the time required.

When a person cannot make a good, or right decision; the only moral, or ethical choice, or the optimal choice; is to make the LEAST bad, or wrong, or suboptimal choice.

Most people are with you up to this point.

The problem spot, where you lose a lot of people, is this…

Making the least bad decision for the circumstances, STILL DOES NOT MAKE IT RIGHT.

You can “do the best you can”, or “do the best thing for everyone”, and still have committed a moral or ethical wrong.

This is where a lot of peoples brains short circuit. The concept that they “did the right thing given the circumstances”, but were still morally or ethically wrong. Many folks really cannot understand or accept this. Their hardwired moral and ethical understandings don’t allow for anything other than “right”, “wrong” or “somewhere in between”. The notion of being both wrong, and right-ish, doesn’t work.

So, given that, here is my very simple and easy to understand position on abortion

1. Abortion is always morally wrong, usually ethically wrong, and frequently of suboptimal utility

2. Sometimes, having an abortion is LESS wrong than not having an abortion

3. I do not have enough information, intelligence, knowledge, or wisdom to make such a decision for anyone else. Neither does anyone else.

4. I do not have the moral or ethical right to do so. Neither does anyone else.

5. Any person, group, or government attempting to make such decisions for anyone else, or make any laws regarding such decisions, will only and always make everything worse for everyone.

Matthew Souders:

This government was founded on the belief that all people were created equally – that they were endowed by their creator with inalienable right, and that among those rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The central question of Roe vs. Wade was not whether the right to life applied to all people, but whether an unborn child was considered human under the law. The science is settled on this question. The latest, according to all credible scientists, that life can possibly be said to begin is at implantation. I am not as far to the right o this issue as some, in that I don’t believe that the morning after pill is an “abortion causing” drug. But I am a scientist who believes in the core founding principles of both the scientific method and the American Founding.

The first job – and the most crucial – of any government is to defend lives (the national defense, the maintenance of civil law and order, and the prohibition of the taking of lives). Both my particular spiritual belief and the science agree that abortion ends a human life and denies that life of due process on top of its’ inalienable right to that life. As such, I do not believe government is taking a moral stand any more controversial than laws against murder – which no one finds controversial in the slightest.

But here’s a libertarian addition to that basic position: not only does abortion take away a person’s right to life, but it is a part of a larger cultural movement toward treating all lives as commodities – as entries on a balance sheet. The fundamental arguments in favor of abortion tend to center around the financial burdens of unwanted children both on the state and on the mother. Here’s the problem – the minute we allow government to take an active (and controversial, scientifically) moral stand on abortion by making it legal, and in so doing sanctify the government’s role in deciding which lives are worth protecting, we empower politicians to argue in favor of all other manner of life-ending government interventions, from “end of life” healthcare rationing to forced sterilization of the poor and the prison population (already happening in California for prisoners!) to outright eugenics (nearly happened during FDR’s presidency and abortion’s biggest advocates are mainly people who argue in favor of eugenics). The risks of government deciding which specific types of murder are OK are far, far too great to let them enter this arena. Which leaves us with the opening question. Is a pre-born child a human life? That’s not even a question to anyone who is remotely objective on the issue.

Brad Warbany:

“This is a hard topic. I’m personally uncomfortable with abortion. Had anyone I had “relations” with in my life fallen pregnant unexpectedly, I can’t even fathom the idea of doing anything other than raising the child. Luckily, it’s not a position I’ve ever had to be in. The one woman in my life who I know has had an abortion is a woman who I am terrified will one day reproduce. My wife and I have cut her out of our lives after we had kids because we think she’s a toxic personality and don’t want her around us or our children. So as uncomfortable as I am with abortion, I’m not upset that that woman had one.

I’ve already touched this third rail here. In short, there is some point at which a zygote progresses to become a fetus and eventually a baby, and I am conflicted at to which point in the chain that entity becomes a human deserving of rights. I don’t think I’d support legal punishments for anyone aborting a pregnancy in the first trimester. At that point I don’t think there’s a viable consciousness yet. I think I would support punishment in the third trimester, because at that point you’re talking about a baby that would be viable outside the womb. If you can’t make a decision to terminate a pregnancy by the third trimester, at the very least continue it and put the child up for adoption. The second trimester is a grey area, and I hate the idea of throwing people in jail for a grey area.

I say this as someone who experienced two early-term miscarriages with my wife before we successfully had kids. When you lose a baby at 10 weeks, although it’s very sad, it’s mentally the loss of a potential baby. Someone I know who miscarried at 7 months was a completely different situation. That was tragic. This difference informs me that there truly is a qualitative difference between a first-trimester fetus and a third-trimester baby.

I realize my answer is a highly unsatisfying middle ground that will probably make the pro-life and the pro-choice people both hate me. So be it.”

Stephen Littau:

The abortion issue seems to be an issue one is either 100% in favor or 100% opposed. The reality is though, that most people can probably come to some common ground on the issue. For most people, it comes down to where the line should be drawn for when a pregnancy ought to be terminated.

The politics of this issue, however; is being driven by the extremists on both sides (for a very cynical reason: politics). Anti-choice extremists wish to take certain forms of birth control off the market based primarily on religious and/or philosophical ideas (rather than medical science) about ‘when life begins’ (some go even further arguing that ‘every sperm is sacred;’ ejaculation should only occur if procreation is at least theoretically possible). Pro-choice extremists on the other hand believe that women should have the right to have an abortion up to the time the baby exits the birth canal (some even think it should be legal to kill a baby right after delivery).

There does seem to be at least some wiggle room among those on the anti-choice side as some will argue that abortion should be legal in cases of rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is in peril. The very idea that a woman should be forced to carry a baby to term that was a result of a rape is repugnant. That said, I don’t know how this would work as a practical matter. What is the burden of proof for a woman seeking an abortion who claims she was raped? The honor system? A criminal conviction for a crime that is very difficult to prove? (Men are already victims of being falsely accused of rape as much as 45% of the time; imagine if this incentive was added?)

I just want to caution my anti-choice friends that as with all legislation, there will be unintended consequences and women will still have abortions. If you really want fewer abortions (as all decent people should), you should be more tolerant of the use of birth control (this includes the morning after pill) and try to persuade women to keep their children or put them up for adoption instead of using the force of government against women in a difficult situation.

Sarah Baker:

The legal and philosophical framework of Roe v. Wade was sound. The woman’s right to autonomy must be balanced against the state’s legitimate interest in protecting life. Up until a certain point, the woman’s interests are overriding. Past a certain point, the state’s interests become overriding.

The difficulty is determining at what point that shift occurs.

As technology and scientific knowledge advance, we know more about the attributes of developing life. But only philosophy can answer what attributes entitle it to protection. A heartbeat? A brainstem? The capacity to feel pain? A preference for continued existence? The ability to fight for survival?

A decade ago, a colleague came back from her obstetrician’s appointment with a series of still shots of her 14-week old “fetus.” I believed then and continue to believe with my whole heart that what I saw that day had a soul. I therefore draw the line no later than, and possibly before, the end of the first trimester.

Kevin Boyd:

I’ve written on this topic before elsewhere and I generally stand by my latest previous writing on it. I’ve changed my views on this topic over the past few years based on experience.

While I oppose legalized second and third trimester abortions, I do believe that the best way to reduce the number of abortions (which should be the ultimate goal here) is to work through the culture. Christians and others who are pro-life need to support things such as crisis pregnancy centers, promoting adoption, and yes charities to help the families who are afraid they cannot afford to raise the children. We should also support increased access to birth control and more comprehensive sex education.

As for the first trimester, while I do believe that abortion for the sake of convenience is immoral and is murder, I have serious concerns about whether or not it is actually enforceable. Most natural miscarriages take place in this period and sometimes take place without the woman knowing she’s pregnant. So put me down as an undecided on this one.

What do you think? Please tell us in the comments below!

 

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Vote Cynically… The Politicians Certainly Do

So far, my co-contributors at The Liberty Papers have encouraged you to vote for Democrats, vote for Republicans, vote for Libertarians, not vote at all, and vote idealistically.

All are good arguments… or at least reasonable ones, with well argued rationales and logic behind them. I encourage you to take the time now to read all of them, and then come back here before continuing.

Done reading? Great…

Now, my position on how you should decide who to vote for is basically…

Screw all that… Vote Cynically

Presuming of course you’d prefer to optimize your voting pattern for reduction in the amount YOU… and most everyone else… gets screwed by the government that is.

I base this on one simple fact, that we all know (or at least should know) to be true:

Politicians are all liars

Of course, not all politicians lie about everything all the time, but generally assuming that all politicians are liars is a sensible optimization.

Though actually, there is a better… or at least more accurate and comprehensive…way of putting it.

Politicians, respond to their perceived incentives, to maximize their perceived advantages, and minimize their perceived disadvantages, for their own perceived benefit or interest (whether direct or indirect); often without regard for objective truth, facts, or “the greater good”; if these things are perceived to be in conflict with their interest.

Of course, so does everyone else.

Generally speaking, people respond to their perceived incentives and interests. Of course, they may misperceive or misunderstand what those are (very frequently), and they may respond in ways that are inefficient, ineffective, inappropriate, or counterproductive (in fact they most often do).

Even in the case of “pure altruism” (which yes, some deny the existence of), people do what they think is the “good thing”, or the “best thing” to do… which is still acting in according to a perceived interest or incentive, they just valued the “higher interest” greater than their own direct personal interest.

Most often, people do not intentionally act against against their own perceived interests

If you think politicians are better than everyone else, that somehow their motivations, intentions, or actions, are purer or more altruistic than those of any other person, you are wrong…

… and you know you are wrong… or at least you should.

If you think any politician is actually protecting your interests, or “standing up for you”, or “for the little guy”, or “the victim”, or  that they value or prioritize the principles, “values”, and issues, that they notionally “share” with you; over… or even equal to… their electoral calculation, you are wrong…

… and you know you’re wrong… or at least you should.

Sadly, most people seem to delude themselves into believing otherwise… or they wish it were, so strongly, that they simply choose act as if it was, against all evidence.

Some people just can’t, or won’t, let go of that hopeful, comfortable, delusion. Even when they know the truth, they keep voting for politicians thinking that somehow, “this one will be different”.

No… they won’t be different… 

Politicians are “different” , only in that they ACTIVELY seek direct personal power over others, and are willing to do what it takes to gain that power; including lying, cheating, stealing, and killing (even if it’s only at second hand).

This certainly does not make politicians better or more altruistic than anyone else, no matter how “good” or “beneficial” they, or you, or anyone else believes their ideas are, or how much “good” they claim to want to do (or you think they could do).

Yes, it’s possible that some politicians, at some point, will stick to their “values” or “principles”, or their honest position on issues, even if they know that doing so is against their own personal best interests.

It does happen… very rarely, but it does happen.

Most often though, no matter what they actually believe, or pretend to believe, or publicly claim to believe (sadly, often all three are different); what they actually DO, is vote cynically (or tactically, or strategically, or pragmatically, or corruptly, or with loyalty to their party and their financial supporters). They vote for what they believe to be optimal for advancing their true interests: perpetuating and increasing their own power, and enforcing their own preferences against others.

… After all… that’s why they become politicians (no matter what language they choose, or justification they claim, to pretty it up).

This is true of those who call themselves Democrats, and those who call themselves Republicans.

This is true of those who call themselves liberals, and those who call themselves conservatives.

What about Libertarian (or libertarian) politicians? 

There are so few who even CLAIM to be libertarians (or Libertarians), who are actually elected to national office (or  who in anything close to the real world, even stand a remote chance of ever being elected to a national office) that they are safe to ignore for the most part (and thus far almost all of them are actually Republicans).

Even if they were not however, libertarianism as a philosophy (and basic economics for that matter) would rather clearly show, that you shouldn’t trust “libertarian” politicians either.

You shouldn’t trust ANYONE who has, wants to have, or is trying to obtain, personal control over the coercive force of the state. Including those who claim to wish to reduce that control, use less of it, or to abolish it entirely.

It’s simply safer… and smarter, and more realistic… to assume that they are all lying; or that even if they are trying to be honest, once they have that power, they won’t want to reduce or release it (no matter what their justification may be).

… such an assumption has been proven by history, to nearly always be justified.

You have to understand, that most of the time what most politicians claim to believe, and their claimed goals and positions, are simply not what they actually believe… and very often even when they are, that’s a bad and dangerous thing.

The most dangerous thing in the world is a true believer, with the power, and the motive, to enforce their beliefs on others.

Most of what politicians claim to believe is actually about social signaling and fundraising

Allow me to repeat my frequent admonition, that many… perhaps most… of those who identify themselves as conservatives, are in fact no such thing; they are reactionary populists… or just cynical opportunists.

Many or most of those who claim to be liberals… or progressives… are ALSO reactionary populists, or cynical opportunists.

They claim what they claim, because it’s just about the easiest way for them to raise three things they need: Passion, Fear, and Money.

Politics runs on Passion, Fear, and Money

Importantly, any one, can be converted into any of the other two (with varying degrees of difficulty).

Real policy, is boring. It’s messy, and detailed, and complicated, and tedious, and most often unsatisfying.

“Doing nothing”, which frankly is most often what the government SHOULD do,  is even more boring.

Most people don’t have the time, the background, the information, or sufficient interest; in the complexities of the issues, the details of policies, of how real legislation actually ends up being written and passed into law… nevermind the infinitely more tedious and complex regulations that implement those laws.

Hell… even most politicians don’t… They staff it out, or just do and say what their party, their PR people, and their fundraisers, tell them.

I can only think of one president who was elected on a platform of doing as little as possible, and just trying not to screw up too much, Calvin Coolidge… and that was only because he was running for re-election on a successful record of having done so the previous two years, after being elevated to the presidency by accident (the death of Warren Harding). The only thing he ever actually actively did, was to increase tariffs dramatically… which as it happens, turned out very very badly.

Good government is boring. Bad government (or the idea of it) is what generates passion, fear, and money

Government is complicated and boring, and people for the most part don’t understand it… but they do understand narratives that conform to their sociocultural expectations, norms, and biases.

So that’s what politicians and the media give us (not because it’s a big conspiracy, simply in furtherance of their own interests).

We have shorthand. We have litmus tests, and shibboleths, and sacred cows, and “dog whistles”.

We have social signalling, and ingroup identification, and outgroup demonization.

We have “Barack Obama is a secret muslim socialist” and “The Republican war on women”, and “the Democrats will steal your 401k” and “the Republicans will ban abortion”.  Or to simplify “Democrats are evil and stupid” and “Republicans are stupid and evil”.

We have constructed narratives, that people can relate to, idealize, and project themselves into

There are a disconcerting number of people “on the right” who seem convinced that if we just wish hard enough, we can live forever in a magical time approximating 1957 through 1962 on continuous loop… But with iPhones.

For leftists, its the same kind of fantasy, except it’s 1962 through 1967, and Kennedy never dies (and is actually the “Progressive” fantasy they project onto him…).

So, these are the narrative preconceptions that “liberals” and “conservatives” attempt to pander to, and the narratives they attempt to construct.

Sociologists, psychologists, political scientists, PR people, political consultants, and the politicians themselves; figured something out a long time ago, which unfortunately many don’t understand, find disturbing, or simply refuse to believe…

For most people, most of the time, the facts, issues, positions, policies, and outcomes, don’t even really matter that much (though most don’t understand this about themselves, or believe it when it’s pointed out to them). Politics (or political issues) become a matter of social signaling;  ingroup selection, identification, and reinforcement; and outgroup exclusion and demonization.

Their sociopolitical identification becomes part of their identity, their self justification, and their ego.

It’s a team sport, and it’s about scoring points for “their side”, and avoiding having points scored on  “their side”. Their side has to be defended and error cannot be admitted, because the other side would score points, the “good guys” might lose the “bad guys” might win etc…

The way you “score points”, and raise passion, fear, and most importantly money; is to make people believe you’re like them (the good guy – ingroup identification), that the other guy isn’t like them (the bad guy – outgroup exclusion and “othering”), and that they are bad, and evil, and stupid, and wrong, and ruining everything in every way (outgroup demonization).

Once someones sociopolitical identification has become internalized as part of their sense of self, they generally cannot admit serious fault or error on the part of their sociopolitical ingroup, without causing themselves emotional and intellectual injury and pain, cognitive dissonance, even existential crises… most people try to avoid those things whenever possible (sometimes going to great or ridiculous extremes to do so).

There are two major parties, but one overriding interest is shared by both.

Some believe that there is effectively no difference between the major parties… that’s is JUST a team sport, or a horse race etc… That they’re the blue statist party and the red statist party, and the only difference is in the rhetoric.

This is false. There are plenty of very important differences. The devil is in the details, and there are so very many details… Particularly when you get into cabinet and subcabinet posts, executive appointments (and the impact on the executive agencies), and state and local government.

The great problem though (and the large element of truth in the concept), is that both major parties believe in using the coercive power of the state to “fix things” and “do good things” and “make things better”.

Both parties believe that to do so, they need to increase the power of the state in the areas that “need to be fixed” (…and between them, they believe EVERYTHING needs to be” fixed”).

Both parties believe that they (and the people who they agree with and identify with) are the “right people” to have that power, and make those changes, and “fix those problems”; and that in order to do so they need to stay in power, and in control of its mechanisms and institutions.

It’s just that the two major parties believe that different things are “wrong”, or “broken”, or need “improvement”… Or that they should be “corrected”, “fixed” or “improved”, in different ways, by different means.

That’s not “no difference at all”, or even a distinction without a difference… but it can certainly seem like that at times.

Let’s be clear about something though… 

If you believe that an appropriate response to someone doing something you do not like, but which is not otherwise violating someone else’s rights, is to use the government to force them to stop, YOU ARE NOT CONSERVATIVE.

If you believe that an appropriate response to someone doing something you do not like, but which is not otherwise violating someone else’s rights, is to use the government to force them to stop, YOU ARE NOT LIBERAL.

If you believe that an appropriate response to someone doing something you do not like, but which is not otherwise violating someone else’s rights, is to use the government to force them to stop, YOU ARE MOST CERTAINLY NOT LIBERTARIAN.

…Even if what they are doing is in fact, bad, and stupid, and wrong, and harmful.

Let me use the Republicans and “Conservatives” as my example for now…

One must draw the distinction between a political party (which must operate in the real world of electoral and legislative politics), and a political philosophy.

The Republican party is in no way “the” or even “a” conservative party, they are simply
generally more notionally and theoretically “conservative” in their rhetoric, than the Democratic party.

They officially profess to subscribe to some conservative principles and ideals, but they also have elements of their platform and policies which are in fact antithetical to truly conservative principles and ideals. That’s not even getting into what they actually DO… or sometimes more importantly, choose NOT to do.

There is no truly, explicitly, and consistently conservative political party in the United States… or at least none that have any national notice or significance. That includes the American Conservative party, and the Constitution Party; both of which are even more reactionary and populist than the Republican party.

This of course is how they attract and retain their adherents, and raise their money.

There is little money in true conservatism. There is often little passion as well, at least from the outside perspective. 

There is money (and power) in anger, and fear.

There is money (and power) in authoritarian reactionism.

There is money (and power) in authoritarian populism.

There is money (and power) in “there oughta be a law”.

These things are not conservative (nor are they liberal).

Actual  conservatives, are actually generally pretty “boring”… or at least they are more nuanced… subtle… or just muddled looking and feeling; than either media, or “the base” can get excited over, or even understand.

There is rarely any purely black and white, definitely good or unambiguously bad, in ACTUAL conservative policy; there is only “less bad” and “slightly better”, and balancing of interests, advantages, and disadvantages.

With truly conservative policies, without gross oversimplification, there is rarely a clear, compelling, and easily understood narrative for people to identify with, or for the media to  portray.

In an attempt to engage the public, sometimes conservatives or their supporters, attempt to use the techniques of narrative construction that reactionaries and populists use (beginning with the aforementioned gross oversimplification)… This generally results in less than positive outcomes. Often at best misunderstanding and misrepresentation (intentional or otherwise), at worst descending into parody and mockery, and buried under strawmen.

When there is a clear, factual, and truthful narrative, it is generally inconsistent with… or even explicitly contradicts, the activist, statist, idealist, or authoritarian narratives; that most people (both those who identify as “liberal” and those who identify as “conservative”) have internalized as their own map of “reality”, and as part of their own identities.

Rather than face this contradiction, most will ignore it,  oversimplify and distort the truth to sorta kinda almost fit an existing narrative they understand, or simply make one up that fits their preconceptions and biases.

Ironically, those who most loudly proclaim themselves to be conservative; who with great wailing and gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, decry the Republican party the loudest for being insufficiently so; are IN FACT  most often doing so, not for being insufficiently conservative, but in fact for being insufficiently reactionary, authoritarian, statist, or populist.

Of course… do a find and replace in this section on “conservative” and “Republican”, with “liberal” and “Democrat” , and it will also be accurate (… okay… you also have to replace “constitution” with “green”).

Most people want to be controlled… they simply want to believe they chose their own masters

It is sometimes said, there are three types of people:

  • Those who want to control others
  • Those who want to be controlled
  • Those who just want to be left alone

The core problem libertarians face, is that most people really do want “someone to be in charge of things”. Either themselves, or someone they agree with, or identify with, or think is “the right man”, or who will “do the right things”.

Even if they don’t want to be controlled themselves, they want “someone to be in charge” of  “the other people”… You know, the bad people… the ones they disagree with and don’t identify with. The ones who are “screwing everything up” or “getting in the way of things being improved”.

They see the many problems in the world, see the resources, reach, and power of government, and think “hey, we should SOLVE these problems… Fix these injustices. Right these wrongs… We can do it if we really try, we just have to really want to do it”.

Most people have internalized the idea, that if we just put people who are good enough, and smart enough, and “right” enough, in charge of everything, with the power to “make it right”, that everything will be better, or good, or right….

…or some other such fantasy.

Even if they know it’s a fantasy, most pretend it’s true anyway, because the alternative seems far worse… Far scarier.

The idea that no-one is in charge, and that no-one can “fix it”, is far more terrifying, than the notion that “the bad people are controlling everything and making it all bad”. At least then, there something you can do… some control you have.

Most people simply don’t want to face that there isn’t any such thing as “the right people”, and only very rarely is there a “right thing”.

Trying hard, and meaning well, don’t count.

“Ok… so what do you do then? Give up? Ignore politics? Don’t Vote? Does it really just encourage the bastards?”

Well… yes, voting DOES encourage the bastards, but that’s not ALL it does.

You may not like politics, but you can’t ignore it. To paraphrase… You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you.

You are a participant, whether you want to be or not… just like everyone else.

Then only question is, are you going to be a passive participant, or are you doing to at least try to do something?

Is voting actually doing something? 

Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t… It is if you do it right.

Of course, it’s not the only thing you can or should do… but that’s a discussion for later.

“I hate this politics crap… it doesn’t work, it’s all wrong, it’s messy, it’s inefficient, it’s nasty, it’s corrupt… ”

Yes… it is. That’s life. Deal with it.

I’m a libertarian, not an ideologue.

For me, libertarianism is a matter of ethics, and morals,  and process improvement. It’s not really a matter of politics… or at least not just politics.

“Politics” is not an identity, or a moral system, or a philosophy, or a social belief system.

… or at least it shouldn’t be, because man… it’s pretty awful at being any of those things, never mind all of them.

Politics, is how economics, sociology, anthropology, biology, and psychology; all battle against each other (and often, against reality itself), in an absurd and perverse attempt, to agree on some way of not killing each other… or taking or breaking each others stuff… at least not without permission, or damn good reason.

More concretely, “Politics” is a set of frameworks for making collective decisions. Governments are one of the systems we have for managing these frameworks. States are one of the structures by which we can enable and execute on these decisions (there are several other options in all three categories, but what we’ve got now isn’t likely to be replaced by anything better any time soon).

They are just part of the toolsets needed to execute the mission of  maximizing human liberty, and minimizing the coercive restraint thereof.

note: For those of you who are actually strict or pure anarchists, who believe that human liberty can only be maximised in the absence of governance, or of a state… unfortunately you are wrong. Without government, the strong who desire power over others, will  gather power to themselves, and use that power to force their will upon the weak and the unpopular. 

…Of course they do that with government as well… the tyranny of the majority is the worst tyranny… The trick is to limit government power, and ability to grant itself more, as much as possible… and to periodically shoot them all and start over.

As a minarchist, I understand and accept that the state exists, likely always will exist, and for some things it is the best realistic option (meaning likely to be close to achievable in the world we actually live in) to get certain things done which need to be done.

Note: Or which are of such great benefit to all, at so little detriment, that doing so is an objective good, and not doing so is an objective negative (basic sanitation, public health, common defense, disinterested courts etc…) Exactly what things are absolutely necessary, vs. what is just acceptable for the state to do, vs. what it is NOT acceptable for the state to do…  is a much bigger argument… actually a centuries long series of much bigger arguments. 

There’s lots of things we COULD do using the power and force of government. I just think that most of the time we shouldn’t, because no one and certainly no collective, knows how to run my life better than I do… And I don’t know how to run anyone else’s life better than they do.

…Even if that means that stupid or evil people do stupid and harmful things, or that we don’t make things as good as we could possibly make them. 

We can’t ever know what all the consequences and effects of our decisions and actions may be, nor can we truly know if we made a correct or optimal decision, nor can we eliminate our own biases and prejudices, nor can we ever have perfect information or perfect reason.

No matter what we do, we will always be wrong, in some way, at some time, for some one. We can only make what we believe to be the  least wrong decision for ourselves, at the time  we have to make it, with the information we have at the time, and under the conditions we made it.

Since we cannot know these things, and can’t be right, only less wrong; we should only force on others that which is absolutely necessary (or which is of significant, unambiguous and compelling benefit to all, with minimal or inconsequential cost or detriment… and even that much, and what constitutes that… is up for major debate). 

We don’t have the moral or ethical right,  to violate other peoples rights for their own good, or for the collective good; even if they are doing stupid and harmful things with those rights… so, long as they are not actually violating anyone elses rights (and again, what that constitutes is vigorously debated). 

I believe it is a moral imperative to use the force of the state as little as possible. I believe it is a practical optimization to help achieve this imperative,  to reduce the power the state has whenever possible, as well as reducing both the opportunities it has to use it, and the ease in which it does so. 

Unfortunately, this ethical philosophy generally won’t get you elected anywhere I know of…

Politicians get elected, because people still believe “there oughta be a law”

There are NO elected or electable politicians who agree with me… or at least those who

None.

Even those who claim to be libertarians… They still believe (or at least claim to believe) in using the coercive force of the state to enforce their preferences.

…Because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t have a purpose or a job.

Politicians don’t get elected on the promise of doing nothing, they get elected by promising to “right wrongs” and “fix problems”.  They get elected because most people, no matter what they claim to believe, still think “there ought to be a law” when they see something they dislike enough.

There are plenty who CLAIM to agree with me, or who agree with me in part, or who will at least generally vote in a way that would advance (or not undermine) what I believe in… at least on some issues. Particularly when it comes to local politicians and local issues.

… but that’s an awful lot of caveats.

The Perfect is The Enemy of The Good… or the “Good Enough For Now”… or the “Best We’re Gonna Get”… or the “Least Bad” 

Since no one who is ever going to be elected, ever agrees with me completely… or generally in more than a few particulars… I have to work on a “least bad” decision making basis.

That’s almost always true of any complicated issue by the way… there’s rarely ever such thing as an unambiguously good or right decision… Only the “least bad” or “least wrong” decision.

So, whenever possible, I vote in the way that I believe will reduce the power of the state, the legitimate use of that power, and the ease with which the state may do so; unless doing so would be cripplingly wasteful, inefficient, or hindering, of the critical and legitimate missions of the state.

When, as is so often the case, I am unable to vote “well”, I try to vote in the way that will be “least bad” for that goal.

If that’s impossible, I will attempt to vote in a way that blocks the formation of overwhelming power blocks, or restrains the use of such power; for example voting for split government, bloc spoilers, effective opponents to dominant power concentrations etc…

Purity tests are not useful. They are in fact harmful. Trusting them is stupid, and applying them makes you miss out on things which might usefully advance your interests (or at least usefully aid in defend them)

If you could trust them, then MAYBE purity tests would be worthwhile, but you can’t.

As a libertarian, how can you vote for “them”?

“As a libertarian, how can you vote for a Republican when the party is controlled by so called social conservatives, who are against drugs and gay marriage”

“As a libertarian, how can you vote for a democrat when the party is controlled by socialist nanny staters”

Because in the real world, politics and government are not about purity, or perfection, or ideals… They’re about calculation and optimization, of the possible. It’s simply a question of least bad decision making.

If I waited for a candidate who believed exactly what I did… Well, that’s never going to happen.

If I waited for a candidate I trusted completely…. Well, that’s never going to happen either.

So… if I want to have any impact or influence whatsoever, I need to act locally, and personally, and apply least bad decision making.

Why bother voting at all?

Because yes, least bad decision making actually works.

Is it great… no… but it’s better than nothing…

You CAN have an impact as an individual. You can influence local candidates, and local parties. Local parties write state level platform and legislative input, and select local candidates. Local candidates become state level candidates, and local party positions become state party positions. Then later, state candidates become national candidates, and state party positions become national party positions.

Hell… Robert Heinlein wrote a book about the process in 1949 called “Take Back Your Government”, and most of what he wrote then still applies today (at least in principle… obviously demographics, social issues, cultural tastes etc… have changed).

Decisions are made by those who show up

I go to local political events. I meet candidates and participate in conference calls, and round tables, and townhalls and debates. I have been active in my local political scene several places I have lived. Through county level involvement, I’ve helped write position papers  which became part of the state party platform, select candidates who were elected to statewide office, and even write legislation that was eventually passed on the state level (in north Idaho… we basically arranged a libertarian takeover of a county republican party).

… Perhaps more importantly, I’ve helped STOP legislation, and positions, and candidates, which would have been AWFUL for liberty.

If there is a competitive libertarian (no matter what party affiliation they claim), who isn’t a nutjob, or a 9/11 truther, or some form of involuntary collectivist, or authoritarian statist claiming to be a libertarian (Chomskyites… christ no… ) I’ll gladly vote for one. I have voted for libertarian local candidates in the past, a couple of whom even got elected.

If I live in a state or a county that’s going to go Democrat, or Republican, no matter who I vote, I’ll absolutely vote for a libertarian, because the higher the numbers libertarians get, the less they can be ignored,  the more negative press the major parties get, and the more people get exposed to libertarian ideas.

If both parties select absolutely awful candidates who I can’t see any advantage in voting for, or disadvantage in voting against, I will vote libertarian as well.

As I said above, I will vote to block concentration of power, or to counter existing concentrations or excesses, or to blunt their effectiveness.

Most often though, least bad decision making, means I vote Republican (and every once in a while, very rarely, and only on a local level, Democrat).

Why Republican? Why not Democrat?

There are a few “benchmark issues” that will GENERALLY give you a good idea about where a politician stands on rights, freedom, liberty as a whole, individualism and collectivism and the like.

  • Abortion
  • Gun control
  • Economic freedom
  • Drugs
  • Taxation
  • Wealth redistribution
  • Personal moral choices
  • Publicly funded and controlled education
  • Foreign policy
  • Freedom of speech

Sometimes an individual politicians positions on these issues will be inconsistent with each other, or with other members of their party, but they’re generally clustered into areas of agreement with their party which are generally roughly identified as “social issues’ and “economic issues”

I disagree with most major party candidates, about most of theses issues… “both” sides… in some fairly significant ways.

I disagree with both major parties, about social issues, and economic issues. I am not socially a Democrat and economically a Republican. That’s just pseudo-libertarian populism. My disagreements with the Republicans  are absolutely as strong, and as important to me, as my disagreements with democrats.

So why do I generally vote Republican (at least for national offices)?

Because I’m a cynic…

Well, that, and because I’m an engineer by both nature, and by education and training.

Engineers understand that the perfect is the enemy of the good, and that small incremental changes with testing, and iterative optimization over time (with evidence, data, and metrics); is the only way to actually be successful in complicated endeavors over the long term.

We got here by creeping incrementalism. We can roll SOME of it back through creeping decrementalism

Liberals, and conservatives, Democrats, and Republicans… All have stupid, harmful, and destructive notions about the use of the coercive force of the state. I would like to minimize the impact of these stupid, harmful, and destructive notions, to the extent I am able.

Very broadly, Democrats claim to believe (and generally vote for) one set of ideas in each category, and Republicans claim to believe pretty much the opposite set of ideas in each category.

As I said, I am not a Democrat on social issues, and a Republican on economic issues… HOWEVER, very broadly and generally speaking, Democrats claim to believe stupider and more harmful things in the “economic” category, and Republicans claim to believe stupider and more harmful things in the “social” category.

So, if both social and economic issues are equally important to me, why do I generally vote Republican?

I’m counting on incompetence, inefficiency, ineffectiveness, venality, malice, and deceit.

… and I’m rarely disappointed.

Now… the thing is… with liberals, or “progressives” or leftists of most stripes… most of them really sincerely believe in using the coercive force of the state to make changes in society.

Importantly, they often actually attempt to. and are depressingly successful in, passing legislation theoretically intended to implement and enforce their stupid, harmful, and destructive ideas (though generally speaking, not the changes they actually claimed they were trying to make, with the results they claimed to intend; since it seems liberals don’t believe in or understand the law of unintended consequences, or that results are more important than intent).

Critically for my optimization process (and most unfortunately) Democrats seem to be pretty good at passing stupid and harmful laws in both the social and the economic regimes.

Republicans for the most part, limit their efforts to… or at least focus the majority of their claimed efforts on… their harmful, stupid, and dangerous social ideas (yes, the majority of… not all, by a long shot).

In particular, with notionally socially conservative politicians… or at least the ones that actually manage to get elected… most of them don’t actually believe in the stupid ideas they claim to believe. They’re simply social signalling, or pandering to the less intelligent on “their side” (who unfortunately are also often the most motivated).

More importantly, they rarely make any kind of sincere or effective attempt to actually pass these idiotic and harmful laws (they’ll propose them, but they hardly ever actually even try to pass them). The few true social conservatives who actually manage to get elected, and who do sincerely believe their own idiocy, are mostly ineffective at passing legislation attempting to implement said idiocy

Basically I trust Republicans to generally be less competent and effective  at executing on their agenda than Democrats

Which, under this rationale, is exactly what I want.

So… it’s generally a cynical, but realistic, optimization to vote for Republicans, because the stupid and statist ideas from their side generally don’t actually get implemented or enforced (or they get overturned in court), while the Democrats stupid and statist ideas often do.

That’s what voting cynically really means.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Hobby Lobby

Now, before you all lose your collective shit, I want to remind everyone of one critical fact:

The Supreme Court doesn’t exist to make the morally right decision.

I’m going to repeat that, blockquote it, and bold the damn thing because it’s that important.

The Supreme Court doesn’t exist to make the morally right decision.

Now, I know that this may come as a shock to most of America. But then, Americans have never exactly had a good grasp of civics. In fact, some of the worst law comes from the Supreme Court trying to work a moral decision into the law. When you already know the outcome you want, and you start looking for any legal justification you can muster for that outcome, you’re bound to stretch in the wrong places.

No, the Supreme Court exists to make the legally right decision. And no matter your view on Obamacare, the mandate, religious liberty, and contraception, I think the Court in this case made an entirely justifiable decision that is consistent with the law.

Let’s break it down.

  1. Congress has declared in the ACA a compelling government interest in ensuring that women have insurance coverage for contraception.
  2. They have created a national health insurance mandate forcing employers (of a certain size, etc etc) to cover the cost of said contraception.
  3. In 1993, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires that laws which violate someone’s religious beliefs must pass two conditions:
    • The law must be furthering a compelling government interest.
    • The law must be the least intrusive method of accomplishing its goal.
  4. Congress has created an exemption to the contraception mandate. If the mandate violates the religious beliefs of certain types of organizations, they have passed the burden of cost to the insurance provider or to the government itself.

So what’s the takeaway? Nothing in Hobby Lobby decision will stop women from having access to birth control. In fact, the way the system is set up, they will still have insurance coverage for free birth control!

Congress’ exemption ensures that insurance will cover these costs, even for women working for Hobby Lobby. This cost will not come out of the worker’s pocket. In fact, the very alternative accommodation that Congress created was pretty much the only reason that the Supreme Court didn’t force Hobby Lobby to pay for the insurance (from Lyle Denniston’s analysis @ SCOTUSblog):

Is that enough of an accommodation of the owners’ religious objection? The two key opinions on Monday seemed, literally speaking, to say it was.

Justice Alito wrote: ”An approach of this type . . . does not impinge on the [companies’ or owners’] belief that providing insurance coverage for the contraceptives at issue here violates their religion, and it serves [the government’s] stated interests equally well.” (The government’s interest here is to assure that women have access to the birth-control services.)

Alito’s opinion for the Court went on, saying that the dissenters’ on Monday had identified “no reason why this accommodation would fail to protect the asserted needs of women as effectively as the contraceptive mandate, and there is none.”

Justice Kennedy, in his separate concurring opinion, made the same point. And, in fact, he was more emphatic. Taking note of the “existing accommodation the government has designed, identified, and used for circumstances closely parallel to those presented here,” Kennedy said flatly that “RFRA [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act] requires the government to use this less restrictive means.”

It is rather difficult to read those comments by those two Justices as anything other than a declaration that religiously oriented owners of closely held companies must be satisfied with letting the “middle man” take on, in their place, the obligation to provide the birth-control coverage. That, the comments seem to say, is good enough.

If there was no alternative accommodation in the law to cover the cost of insurance for contraceptives, the correct legal result would have been to force Hobby Lobby to pay for it. After all, I don’t think any justice disputed the idea that an insurance mandate for contraceptive coverage was NOT furthering a compelling government interest. The only question was whether the compelling government interest was satisfied in the least intrusive means consistent with the RFRA. The Court found that it was.

Now, back to the lede. Many of you out there think that it’s absurd that a corporation would be exempted from providing basic health insurance because God says contraception is abortion. And many of the rest of you think that it’s unconscionable that someone be forced to pay for something that goes against their most closely held religious beliefs; in essence funding murder. And the libertarians out there worry that if the government can make you pay for something that violates one of your First Amendment rights, there’s nothing they can’t make you pay for. These are all moral questions. These are not legal questions. The Supreme Court didn’t even try to answer these questions.

The Supreme Court found a legally consistent way to accommodate the compelling government interest declared in the ACA and the least restrictive means test demanded by the RFRA. And at the end of the day, lest I repeat it one more time, the net result is that Hobby Lobby employees will still have insurance coverage for all the free contraceptives they care to use.

Seems pretty cut and dried to me. This is much ado about nothing.

UPDATE: Now that I’ve actually read the ruling, I see an error in the above. The HHS accommodation for employers who have religious objection to these methods of contraception TODAY only applies to religious non-profits. It doesn’t apply today to for-profits. The argument of the court is that applying the accommodation to for-profit employers is a less-restrictive means to achieve the compelling government interest than the mandate, and for that reason the mandate violates RFRA. I would expect the HHS to quickly expand their accommodation in response to this ruling.

The Modern Republican Party is a Special Kind of Suck (Part 3 of 3)

Part 2

Did Voters Reject Capitalism?
Some on the Right have said that the 2012 election was a rejection of Capitalism. I’m not entirely sure I agree. Yes, there seems to be a large percentage of the electorate who want money to be taken away from the top 1 or 2% and redistributed to the remaining 99 or 98%. Yes, more people are reliant on some sort of government check than ever before. Is it possible that there was some other reason voters rejected the alternative Barack Obama in this election?

The answer to this question, I think, has more to do with where conservatives come down on certain divisive social issues. The rhetoric on issues like abortion and gay marriage for example have alienated certain people who agree with Republicans on taxes and spending may have otherwise voted for the Republican candidate. For voters who decide these issues are at least as important as economic issues, they either support Obama, support Gary Johnson,* or don’t vote at all.

Anti-choice Extremism of Suck
To be fair, abortion is an issue that even divides libertarians. Sadly, this is not an issue that is likely to disappear anytime soon.** But the way Republicans present the issue needs to change unless they want to continue to chase away the female vote. I don’t think it’s even necessarily about abortion per se but more the cavalier attitude some Republican politicians seem to have about anything concerning women’s reproductive cycles.

While it’s reasonable to say that the government should not force insurance companies to pay for contraception, when someone like Rush Limbaugh calls someone like Sandra Fluke a slut or a prostitute, for advocating the opposite view, this distracts from the argument. There has always been a double standard in our society concerning sex. Men are studs for putting notches on their bedposts while women are sluts for doing the same. Comments like these remind women of this double standard and make it seem that Republicans have not moved beyond this double standard.

They refer to the “morning after pill” (marketed as Plan B) as an “abortion pill” when in fact it is not. In fact, according to this article on WebMD the morning after pill doesn’t work for women who are already pregnant (that’s a different pill). The article further explains that the pill does one of two things depending on where a woman happens to be in her cycle when the pill is taken: 1. prevents or delays ovulation or 2. keeps the egg from being fertilized. Some may also recall that Ron Paul, who was arguably the most anti-abortion candidate in the race and someone who was an obstetrician by trade (i.e. he knows what he’s talking about) said as much in one of the debates when the morning after pill was brought up. Anyone who says the morning after pill is an abortion pill is either uninformed or lying.

You have Republican men like Todd Aiken talking about “legitimate rape,” basically saying to women who are real victims that if her body didn’t “shut that whole thing down,” they weren’t really raped to begin with, therefore; there shouldn’t be a legal exception for rape to allow for an abortion. Another senate candidate, Richard Mourdock, said that a pregnancy that is the result of rape is “a gift from God.” Seriously.

Whether they realize it or not, Republicans are basically saying that pregnant women are second class citizens. For nine months, her rights are second to the concern of the unborn child regardless of the circumstances of how the child was conceived and regardless of legitimate health concerns of the mother. It should come to no surprise that some women might object to these attitudes and vote accordingly.

The issues concerning reproductive rights are delicate but often not treated as such among Republicans. Maybe just maybe, the GOP should allow the women to be the spokespersons on these issues, even if they are staunchly anti-choice. Instead of a blanket one size fits all federal policy outlawing abortion; the GOP should say the issue should be decided state-by-state.

Anti-Gay Attitudes of Suck
Face it Republicans, gays are serving in the military and they will eventually have the ability to get married in all 50 states. The train has left the station a long, long time ago. You can concede that you have lost on this issue or you can continue to take a beating at the polls, and deservedly so.

So what’s a socially conservative person to do?

No one says you have to like the gay lifestyle. Go ahead and preach from your tax exempt pulpit about the immorality of homosexuality. Go ahead and write blogs or write on your Face Book wall about how much you disapprove. Whatever. It’s your right to be as intolerant as you want to be.

The problem for libertarians at least is when you want to use force via the government to get your way. Libertarians would also say that churches should not be forced by the government to marry gay couples (or any couple for any reason for that matter). Let the churches discriminate but also allow gay couples to have the same legal contract*** rights as heterosexual couples. And if a gay couple can find a church that will marry them, that should be the end of it. Who are you to infringe on their religious liberty?

Conclusion: Slaying the Suck
The days of appealing only to white Christian men over 50 are coming to an end as white Christian men over 50 are quickly becoming a minority. The Republican Party must learn to reach out to minorities, to women, and to younger voters.

Sure, Republicans had minorities speaking at their convention and I’m not accusing the GOP of tokenism (though I’m sure others, particularly on the Left will make that charge). But it simply is not enough to have Condoleezza Rice, Susannah Martinez, and Marco Rubio in the party to say that you are “inclusive.” Minorities need to be included in the conversation, heard as opposed to talked at. How are your policies better for them than the Democrats’?

Ask yourself: “If I were female, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Muslim, atheist, or gay, would I feel welcome in the Republican Party?” If the answer is “no,” the Republicans have some serious work to do if they want to win in the future. While none of these minorities in of themselves cost Romney the election, together they make up a significant voting bloc that would be foolish to ignore.

Some of the issues I have mentioned in this series are popular within the GOP but don’t necessarily play all that well outside the GOP (i.e. independent voters). This doesn’t mean surrendering their principles necessarily but it does mean re-thinking some of them, presenting their ideas better, and deciding which issues are worth fighting for and which (if any) need to be jettisoned.

While some people may have liked Mitt Romney’s economic proposals, they may have also disliked his social proposals. The problem with supporting a candidate for office is that the person you are voting for is a package deal. Some of us are simply unwilling to choose between economic liberties and civil liberties (and when the Republicans are only marginally better on economic liberty than the Democrats AND when Democrats are only marginally better than Republicans on civil liberties, some of us prefer the real deal and vote Libertarian).

In closing, I think Rep. Ron Paul had some very good thoughts in his farewell speech from the House that would serve as a guide on how the Republican Party can slay the special kind of suck that gave a terrible president a second term:

The problem we have faced over the years has been that economic interventionists are swayed by envy, whereas social interventionists are swayed by intolerance of habits and lifestyles. The misunderstanding that tolerance is an endorsement of certain activities, motivates many to legislate moral standards which should only be set by individuals making their own choices. Both sides use force to deal with these misplaced emotions. Both are authoritarians. Neither endorses voluntarism. Both views ought to be rejected.

Yes, these views ought to be rejected and the GOP should return to the strategy they used to win in 2010: economic issues front and center and social issues on the back burner.

*I am proud to say I was one of the 1% or roughly 1 million who supported Gary Johnson for president. Though in terms of the election is a small number but set a new record for the Libertarian Party.

**Call me cynical but I think both Republicans and Democrats want abortion to always be an issue for fundraising reasons. This is an issue that animates the bases of both parties.

***Don’t waste my time with the slippery slope arguments “that if gays can marry what’s next, people marrying their dogs?” or “marry children” or “marry their cars.” The key here is contract rights. Dogs, children, and cars all have one thing in common: none have the legal ability to enter into a contract.

Anti-Choice* Extremism in Conservative Movement Lends Credence to the Left’s “War on Women” Mantra

One of the ways the Obama campaign and Democrats in general have been deflecting attention away from the poor performance of the economy has been to change the subject to social issues. Democrats know that independent women are reluctant to support Republicans because of this perception that Republicans do not care about the concerns of women. Democrats are doing all they can to reinforce this perception asserting that Republicans have engaged in a “war on women.” Among their talking points are that Republicans are opposed to “equal pay for equal work” laws, contraception coverage mandates for health insurance, and abortion even in the cases of rape, incest, or life of the mother (I have already debunked the alleged gender pay gap here and explained why there is no “right” to free contraception here). Republicans tend to lend credence to being anti-woman when they say things like the following:

“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

That was Republican Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s response to a question concerning whether or not a woman should have the legal right to terminate a pregnancy that was a result of a rape. How might a pregnant woman who was raped conclude from this statement? Was Mr. Akin implying that she wasn’t “legitimately raped” otherwise, she wouldn’t be pregnant? Why, every woman in America who has become pregnant who thought she was raped must not have actually been raped! No, these women must have enjoyed the experience, or at the very least consented according to fertility expert Todd Akin.

One would hope that some of the Republican men, especially those who are running for office, would have moved on past the misogynistic attitudes revealed in comments like these. Unfortunately, it seems that some continue to hold on to a similar attitude as Clayton Williams who once joked about bad weather and rape “As long as it’s inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it.”

Beyond idiotic statements like these, anti-choice activists have been pushing so-called “personhood” laws in various states to give every fertilized egg full legal rights that all people have. Personhood goes beyond the abortion issue and has some very bad unintended consequences. The Dominican Republic has such laws already on the books; just a few days ago, a teenager died most likely because doctors were afraid of running afoul of the law.

CNN reports:

(CNN) — A pregnant leukemia patient who became a flashpoint in the abortion debate in the Dominican Republic died Friday morning, a hospital official told CNN.
The 16-year-old, who had been undergoing chemotherapy, died from complications of the disease, said Dr. Antonio Cabrera, the legal representative for the hospital.

Her case stirred debate in her country, as her life was potentially at risk because of anti-abortion laws in the Dominican Republic.

Doctors were hesitant to give her chemotherapy because such treatment could terminate the pregnancy — a violation of the Dominican Constitution, which bans abortion. Some 20 days after she was admitted to the hospital, she finally began receiving treatment.

The patient, whose identity has not been released because she’s a minor and because of the hospital’s privacy policy, was 13 weeks pregnant.

Oh, well that’s the Dominican Republic. That would never happen here in the U.S., right? Don’t be so sure. Back in April, the Tennessee House passed a bill that would make every woman who has a miscarriage a murder suspect. The Georgia legislature considered a similar bill that would have required women to prove that their miscarriages “occurred naturally.” Having a miscarriage, a very common occurrence, is traumatic enough without being interrogated by some asshole detective downtown!

While some of these “war on women” attacks on Republicans are unfair in my judgment, Republicans don’t do themselves any favors by some of their more extreme anti-choice proposals and comments. Good people can disagree about abortion but those who are opposed to abortion need to do a better job of making their case without making women second-class citizens with fewer rights than “the unborn” whenever they happen to be pregnant.

***UPDATE***
The Republicans have added a “human life” plank to the draft of their party platform.

CNN reports:

Tampa, Florida (CNN) – The Republican Party is once again set to enshrine into its official platform support for “a human life amendment” to the Constitution that would outlaw abortion without making explicit exemptions for rape or incest, according to draft language of the platform obtained exclusively by CNN late Monday.

“Faithful to the ‘self-evident’ truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed,” the draft platform declares. “We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”

Sigh.

My Republican friends: if you lose to Obama in November, don’t blame Libertarians. If you focus on these divisive social issues instead of the economy (and it IS the economy, stupid) you will lose and you will only have yourselves to blame.

» Read more

Katy Bar the Door: Social Conservatives Want in Your Bedroom Too

Last week, I wrote a post about how the Left wants in the bedrooms of the people by mandating health insurance coverage for contraceptives. On the other extreme, we have Rick “every sperm is sacred” Santorum talking about the “dangers of contraceptives” and how non-procreative sex is somehow bad for society (as if concerns about “society” should trump the rights of the individual). I intended to write a full post devoted to making the opposite point (Does anyone really think that millions more unplanned births would actually be good for society?) and referencing a very interesting conclusion Steven Levitt made in a chapter his book Freakonomics called “It’s not Always a Wonderful Life.”

But I’m not going to do that. Santorum and his supporters’ antipathy for individuals making their own value judgments about sex has been documented on other blogs and I don’t know that I can really add much that hasn’t already been written. Having said that, I think Rick Moran at PJ Media nearly perfectly captures my concerns about Santorum and Social Conservatives more generally in his post: “The GOP’s Problem with Sex Could Cost Them in November.”

[Social Conservatives’] outdated, even primitive, critique of human sexuality that denies both the science and the cultural importance of sex and the sex act. Their main target appears to be women, and women’s sex lives, although the act of love itself is also to be placed in a strait jacket. No doubt the right will argue that their criticisms are only meant to help women, and nurture “healthy” attitudes toward sex. Nonsense. First of all, women don’t need that kind of help. They are capable of making their own choices without a bunch of ignorant busybodies telling them how to govern the most intimate and personal aspects of their lives.

Secondly, there is inherent in this critique a 19th century — or earlier — view of sex that seeks to keep the act of love within the confines of the marriage bed, and believes that physical intimacy should be primarily for one reason, and one reason only: procreation. At the very least, sex outside of marriage should be severely proscribed and limited to those who plan a long term relationship or eventual matrimony. Having sex because it’s fun, or because you’re bored, or because you crave physical intimacy, or for any other reason beyond traditional notions of “love” is grounds for disapprobation.

Certainly religion has much to do with this assault on sex. And if the extent of their critique stayed in the pews and pulpits of conservative churches, there would be no problem whatsoever. Christian denominations can tell their adherents how to live their lives, citing chapter and verse from the Bible, and nobody would care.

But when Republican politicians, and others associated with conservatism or the Republican Party, start echoing the various criticisms of contraception, of casual sex, of sex outside of marriage, the perception cannot be dismissed that the imprimatur of the entire party — and consequently, the government if they ever came to power — has been granted and that somebody, somewhere, might want to do something about it. As a voter making a political calculus on how to mark one’s ballot, the GOP is kidding itself if they don’t think this affects the decisions of millions of citizens.

Where do these people get off? Apparently they don’t…unless it’s for the purpose of procreation. No wonder they are so uptight!

Either You Want Government Out of Your Bedroom or You Don’t

One way we libertarians often describe ourselves are individuals who don’t want the government in our bedroom or our boardrooms. Those on the Left typically agree with the former while disagreeing with the latter while those on the Right typically believe the reverse. Yet when it comes to the federal government mandating that all health insurance policies provide “free” contraception via Obamacare, suddenly the Left wants the government in the bedroom while the Right correctly wants no part of it.

President Obama seems to believe (or more likely, wants us to believe) that by decreeing that contraception be free that it will be. No, birth control devices cost no money to develop, test, produce, or distribute; somehow these products are immune from the notion that there is no such thing as a free lunch*. This is the kind of policy that causes health insurance to go up in price because now everyone pays just a little more on their premiums whether everyone wants or needs contraception or not.

Much of the debate on this mandate has centered around the idea that Catholic and other religious organizations should be forced to either directly or indirectly provide contraception in their healthcare plans. Like Brian Lehman writes at United Liberty, this is missing the point. As a pro-choice libertarian atheist, I too am offended by the notion that I must pay for coverage I don’t want or need**. Why don’t I have a right to choose the level of coverage that suits my family’s healthcare needs?

Some healthcare providers may determine that offering the coverage is more cost effective than covering unplanned pregnancies and all that entails. Others may come to a different conclusion. In a more perfect world, individuals would be able to shop around for the right coverage independent of employers or the government. This would take the politics out of the issue except for those who insist that contraception is a right. (Here’s a hint: it isn’t.)

Contraception is a good thing and we are very fortunate to live in a time when we can better plan if or when we want to have children but those who choose to be sexually active should take responsibility for providing it. Is it really too much to ask to buy your own condoms, pills, shots, or whatever? If for some reason you cannot afford contraception, there are organizations that offer these products and services at little or no cost. When did your orgasm become my responsibility?

I think it’s time for my friends particularly on the Left to make a decision: do you really want the government in your bedroom? I sure as hell don’t!

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Quote of the Day: Bill of Rights 220th Anniversary Edition

December 15, 2011 marks the 220th anniversary of the Bill of Rights – at least what is left of them. Anthony Gregory’s article at The Huffington Post runs through the list of violations of these precious rights from the Adams administration’s Alien and Sedition acts all the way to the present day violations of the Bush/Obama years via the war on terror. I encourage everyone to read the whole article and reflect on what these rights mean to you on this Bill of Rights Day. If you read nothing else from the article, at least read Gregory’s conclusion:

Clearly, we fall far short from having Bill of Rights that we adhere to and that was designed for our future posterity over 220 years ago. In the end, it is public opinion that most restrains political power — not words on paper, not judges, not politicians’ promises. A population that is not decidedly and passionately against violations of their liberties will see their rights stripped away. If we want to have a Bill of Rights Day worth celebrating, we must demand that officials at all levels respect our freedoms — and not let the government get away with abusing them.

Gregory is right: preserving the Bill of Rights ultimately rests with all of us.

Rick Santorum Revives The Lincoln-Douglas Debates; Unwittingly Takes Douglas’ Side

Wow… Just, wow. I’ve heard of people taking quotes out of context, but Rick Santorum is treading down a slippery slope that I think even he, as a hardcore social conservative, would find himself quickly uneasy with:

His spokesman Hogan Gidley emails me in response to Mark Miners comments: “Senator Santorum is certainly an advocate for states’ rights, but he believes as Abraham Lincoln – that states do not have the right to legalize moral wrongs. The Senator has been clear and consistent – and he believes that marriage is and can only be: between one man and one woman.”

Now, it’s easy to see where Santorum is coming from — the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Lincoln at the time was arguing, as so many libertarians argue, that there are some rights which are not to be voted on. Popular sovereignty can be good for making some decisions, but that in the case of slavery, it is used to uphold a moral wrong. Infringements upon rights granted by natural law cannot be justified by majority vote:

Lincoln’s strategy was to isolate Douglas’s doctrine of popular sovereignty from the national mainstream as a form of moral dereliction for its indifference to the corrupting effect of slavery in republican society. Douglas insisted that in his official capacity as a United States senator he did not care whether the people in a territory voted slavery up or down. Lincoln admonished: “Any man can say that who does not see anything wrong in slavery, but no man can logically say it who does see a wrong in it; because no man can logically say he don’t care whether a wrong is voted up or voted down.” Douglas argued that the people of a political community, like any individual, had a right to have slaves if they wanted them. Lincoln reasoned: “So they have if it is not a wrong. But if it is a wrong, he cannot say people have a right to do wrong.”

Lincoln and Douglas were coming from different first principles. In fact, the argument is not at all unlike modern arguments about abortion, a point I’ve made before. The question is not whether abortion should be allowed, the question is whether a fetus is inherently “person” enough to have natural rights. If it is, abortion is murder. If it is not, abortion is no different morally from removing a cancerous growth from one’s uterus. Yet both sides constantly talk past each other without acknowledging that they are working from wildly different first principles.

Abraham Lincoln, contrary to what Santorum suggests, is not suggesting that all men must be forcibly stopped by government from engaging in moral wrongs. He explicitly acknoledges the libertarian right of natural law — you can do what you wish with what is yours. You may self-govern; the nanny state is not there to stop you from acting within your personal domain. From his 1854 speech in Peoria, IL (same source link as above, italics original, bold added by me, and one sentence from the original speech inserted into the below passage for continuity):

The South claimed a right of equality with the North in opening national territory to the expansion of slavery. Rejecting the claim, Lincoln denounced slavery as a “monstrous injustice” and a direct contradiction of “the very principles of civil liberty” in the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln said that the right of republican self-government “lies at the foundation of the sense of justice,” both in political communities and in individuals. It meant that “each man should do precisely as he pleases with all that is exclusively his own.” Declared Lincoln: “The doctrine of self-government is right—absolutely and eternally right—but it has no just application” as attempted in the Nebraska Act. Spelling out the natural-law premises of his argument, Lincoln continued: “Or perhaps I should rather say that whether it has just application depends upon whether a negro is not or is a man. If he is not a man, why in that case, he who is a man may, as a matter of self-government, do just as he pleases with him. But if the negro is a man, is it not to that extent, a total destruction of self-government, to say that he too shall not govern himself? When the white man governs himself that is self-government; but when he governs himself, and also governs another man, that is more than self-government—that is despotism.” Recurring to the nation’s founding principles, Lincoln summarized: “If the negro is a man, why then my ancient faith teaches me that ‘all men are created equal'; and that there can be no more moral right in connection with one man’s making a slave of another.”

Note my bolded portion on self-government. It seems that Abraham Lincoln and Rick Santorum have some agreement that a state cannot legalize a moral wrong — they merely happen to have WILDLY different definitions of what constitutes a moral wrong.

Abraham Lincoln is following the traditions of natural law and natural rights. Each man is his own, and barring his attempts to coerce others to do his bidding, he should have freedom to operate as he sees fit. Slavery is an attempt to coerce others to do his bidding, and therefore it is an abhorrent moral wrong that has no place in a free society.

Rick Santorum is following a different tradition, one that states that man is NOT his own, and should forcibly be stopped from operating in his own domain if his actions violate no ones natural rights, but violate Santorum’s own sensibilities. If two members of the same sex, wholly consensually and within the bounds of their natural rights, want to engage in a right of contract such that they bound themselves together for all the legal purposes we generally associate with marriage, they must be barred from doing so. This consensual and voluntary action must not be permitted!

Abraham Lincoln says that the government must not condone the violation of one man’s natural rights by another, and that democracy is not an adequate justification for doing so. Rick Santorum says that government must be in the job of actively violating those natural rights, even if the people of a territory choose to vote to recognize those rights! Abraham Lincoln says that slavery is wrong because it takes away the right of self-government; Rick Santorum says that we must all be slaves of the state, because he doesn’t like what we choose to do with our freedom.

Abraham Lincoln decries a situation which denies the equality before the law of human beings; Rick Santorum claims the mantle of Abraham Lincoln while cheering laws that deny that equality! In doing so, Rick Santorum misses the irony: he’s replaying the Lincoln-Douglas debates in modern times, but he doesn’t realize that he’s taking Douglas’ side, not Lincoln’s.

Aren’t You Glad To Be A Gamma?

I had a really interesting philosophical discussion with Brad Warbiany, our curator at The Liberty Papers, over a Facebook status I wrote. I had just re-listened to the CBS Radio Workshop rendition of Brave New World and had commented that it seemed like a far more livable situation than 1984.

Warbiany added that California, if Prop. 19 passes and allows the modern equivalent of soma to be freely ingested, the state really will look like Brave New World. With the state already self-organized into a caste system (Listen to someone from Northern California talk about Southern California or someone from Berkeley talk about Sacramento some time), abortion and every sort of contraceptive widely available and the domination of a vapid mass culture (seen at San Diego Comic Con or Wonder Con in San Francisco) taking precedence over civic involvement for Californians, the Golden State really resembles Huxley’s “negative utopia.”

Warbiany also handed me this great cartoon:
Orwell v. Huxley

On Twitter, alot of progressive and libertarian leaning activists tend to advocate alot for issues of freedom and emancipation in countries like Iran or China. In a way, situations in so obviously repressive countries like those are much easier for the activist. They fit into the Orwell dynamic and the villains and heroes are very clear. In his opposition to the death penalty, our own Stephen Littau does take on the American equivalent to state repression. Along with questionable foreign policy and drug policy, however, those are really the only avenues for passionate American political activism.

Beyond such clear issues of state force, however, one runs into a brick wall when faced with the mass culture, dullness and vapidity of consumer society. It seems that in this society, the majority of more normal people (myself and most people reading this strongly excepted) do not become Jeffersonians but instead “turn on, tune in and cop out,” as Gil Scott Heron once said. How does one become an activist in a society in which people freely subjugate, segregate and limit themselves?

I have a funny story that relates to this, that I didn’t even remember until I read what Brad said. While living in Alameda, California, I lost my phone. A teenage girl, around college age most likely, found it and called my mom, who e-mailed me about it. When I got the phone back, I was really grateful but had no money on hand. The only possession I had literally was a copy of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. I offered it to her.

She literally responded, “No thanks. I don’t read.”

I know. Alameda is not a low income area where reading should be rare, either. There are several bookstores in the area, along with hip restaurants, record stores and everything else you expect in cosmopolitan society. It even has an incredible vintage movie theatre that I rank as the best in Northern California, next to Oakland’s Grand Lake Theatre. This girl was obviously more involved in other factors of modern life, all of which I can safely assume are of less consequence intellectually than the work of Huxley.

It’s especially ironic given that there is a passage in Brave New World in which infants are given books while bombarded with screeching, loud noises, in order to dissuade them from being too intellectual when they reach adulthood. With video games, television, the internet and iPhones, that seems unnecessary as modern people have been incentivized out of intellectualism.

That girl did go to extra trouble to give me my phone back, with no advantage to her, however. That means she had a decency and sense of altruism that her lack of reading hadn’t impeded. Having grown up around the hyper-educated and being on that road myself, I can also attest that we’re not the nicest group of people. Perhaps then we really are on the road to progress.

Why I Don’t Listen To Jenny McCarthy — Or the CDC

The journalist responsible for the original uproar about the MMR vaccine and autism has been shown to have produced very shoddy research, and widely discredited. He was even recently banned from the practice of medicine in the UK. This has, of course, not quieted the debate. In fact, it’s gotten even worse, with his vaccine supporters claiming the science is settled, and vaccine opponents acting as if this is all a big cover-up.

The problem with this debate, for most people, is that they don’t have the training to actually view the real research and make an informed decision. They’re trying to decide whether to listen to their usual source of information, an emotionally-charged celebrity (Jenny McCarthy) or to trust the authorities, who just naturally have that stink of “they must be hiding something” about them. Add a dash of humanity’s propensity to swallow conspiracy theories, and nobody knows what to believe.

As a parent, I decided it was my job to educate myself and make the decision for my kids, regardless of what the CDC said. Nothing is riskless. It is my job to weigh the risk of vaccinating against the risk of not vaccinating, both for specific vaccines, for the age of administration of those vaccines, even to the level of possibly discriminating against brands of vaccine based upon ingredient levels (you may laugh, but I have asked my pediatrician which brand they use).

Some anti-vaccine folks in my extended family supplied me with the crackpot books they’ve read (i.e. books where the author was denouncing the entire germ theory of disease as bogus), and it was clear reading these that the authors had an axe to grind. A book written from an ideological perspective is not necessarily a disqualification, but books where the ideology trumps the science are out of the question.

I ended up on a book published by my kid’s pediatrician. I chose it because it seemed to honestly and neutrally discuss the relative diseases guarded against, the ingredients of the vaccines in question, and the safety record of the vaccine. The author supports vaccination, but it was clear that he did his level best to offer the evidence without bias, separate from his own recommendations pro/con on each vaccine.

I ended up choosing the vaccine schedule that I put my kids through based on that information — i.e. a cost/benefit analysis of the likelihood my child might contract the disease in question, the severity of the disease if he did catch it, and the relative risks of the vaccine in relation to the above.

As an example, I chose that my children get the polio vaccine. While it’s a rare disease, it’s a particularly nasty disease, and the vaccine is one of the safest available. I also chose to get vaccines such as HiB and Rotavirus, because they’re relatively harmful diseases, particularly in infancy, and also diseases that my kids aren’t that unlikely to contract.

On the other hand, I chose against MMR. While measles, mumps, and rubella are common, they’re also typically mild diseases. The vaccine has a higher prevalence of adverse reactions than most, and there is a worry that some of the vaccines for “mild” diseases can lead to complications later in life, with a more virulent and dangerous form of a disease affecting the individual in adulthood. Thus I didn’t believe taking risks to protect my kids from diseases that seemed relatively innocuous in most kids made a lot of sense, especially since the long-term effect is unknown. I had the same rationale for the chickenpox vaccine.

I also opted for a more spread-out vaccine regimen (i.e. not necessarily later in life, but more visits and less shots per visit), because I think the likelihood of an adverse reaction may be increased when you subject a body to the stress of several vaccines at once.

This, of course, is done with the unique attributes of my family taken into account. It’s a low-risk household, with the kids breast-fed until 12 months, no day care, and not a huge amount of interaction with hordes of other youth. Further, they’re well-nourished and healthy kids, so I feel they’d be far better than “average” at weathering the storm of a disease like measles or chickenpox. This, of course, also makes them less likely to have an severe adverse reaction to a vaccine, so it affects the risk/benefit of vaccinating just as much as not vaccinating.

I know that this decision is my responsibility as a parent. I know that I am weighing some risks against others, and that there’s a chance that things could go wrong. It is because of that responsibility that I read 3 books cover-to-cover on the subject, discarding two of them as trash and settling on one that I thought trustworthy before making my decisions. At the end of the day, I feel like I made the best decision I could, given the evidence I had, and I and my family are going to be the ones who have to live with the consequences, right or wrong. That’s a heady weight, and one that most parents probably don’t want to bear. But that’s the responsibility that comes with raising a child.

The problem will come when the kids need to go to school. The schools typically demand that you’re current with all or most of the vaccines on the CDC schedule. Most public schools will allow you to let your unvaccinated child attend if you claim a philosophical objection to vaccinations. It’s a major hassle, but they do allow it. The problem for me is that I don’t have a philosophical objection to vaccination (especially as an atheist — no religious reasons for me). One of the pieces of evidence against a philosophical objection is to give your child any vaccines — i.e. my piecemeal approach is not philosophical.

I do have a philosophical objection to bureaucratic one-size fits all government mandates, though, and thus I don’t accept that the government should be the one demanding that I follow their cost-benefit analysis for “most” kids when it doesn’t fit my family’s particular situation. My philosophical objection is being forced to take risks with my children that the CDC wants me to take, when I’ve evaluated the research myself and I disagree. That objection, though, is less well accepted in California than Scientology.
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Abortion Is Not Libertarian — Or Conservative Or Liberal

In libertarian circles, the abortion issue is a thorny one, for the same reason as in the general political spectrum: it depends on a priori beliefs outside those of a political philosophy.

It comes down to two different potential mutually exclusive beliefs:

  1. The intrinsic “human-ness” of a fetus begins at conception, or viability, or wherever you define — but nonetheless prior to birth.
  2. “Human-ness” begins at birth.

It’s a near-universal belief, whether libertarian, conservative, or liberal, that humans have certain rights. Libertarians nearly always define these as “negative rights”, i.e. freedom from external restraint or infringement. Liberals typically extend this significantly to “positive rights” or the common good, i.e. everyone has a right to an education, a square meal, health care, etc, and individuals may have some liberties restrained (i.e. income taxes, etc) in order to ensure provision of those positive rights for others. Conservatives, as far as I can tell, more define such positive rights as the ability to live in a stable, moral, traditional society, and are willing to curtail liberties (such as drug use, prostitution, etc) that threaten the wider societal “stability”.

But either way, they all believe that individuals have rights and murder is wrong.

If you believe the first proposition — i.e. that a fetus prior to birth has innate “human-ness” and thus human rights, to allow for that innocent “child” to be killed is murder. While there may be needs from time to time to balance rights of one against rights of another (i.e. when health of the mother is threatened, perhaps), one might side with the mother, but that would be considered a justified moral tragedy, not a dispassionate and lightly-considered “choice”. To someone who believes proposition 1, Roe v. Wade is an abomination, as no amount of privacy justifies murder.

If you believe the second proposition — that a fetus prior to birth has no innate rights, then you have no issue with abortion. At that point the fetus can be considered an invasive and unwanted growth inside ones body, and the removal of such is entirely at the discretion of the mother, as it is her body and thus her choice. To infringe on her personal privacy is thus immoral and not the purview of government.

The belief in the first or second proposition is not covered by any moral theory of libertarianism that I’ve come across. Thus, if you define your view of abortion as a logical outgrowth of the rights the fetus does or does not have, you can impart that a priori belief into libertarianism.

As with all beliefs, there are a lot of people who have gut instincts but have never put in the hard thinking to really boil this down to proposition 1 or 2, and then accept the consequences thereof. Most tend to choose a pro-life or pro-choice position and then try to work backwards to justify it in arguments… But then that’s true of most political debates — the average layman incorporates a lot of subconscious values into his/her belief system, and then chooses the political party that “feels” right based on those subconscious values.

But I personally think that the entire debate over abortion boils down to whether one believes proposition 1 or proposition 2. That is fundamentally not a libertarian, conservative, or liberal belief — regardless of the fact that there’s significant overlap between religions who believe proposition 1 and conservatives, and many secular and liberal folks who believe proposition 2. Believing proposition 1 and allowing abortion is philosophically inconsistent, and believing proposition 2 and disallowing abortion is a violation of individual freedom of the mother.

It’s as simple as that.
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Happy Constitution Day

Constitutionalconvention

Two Hundred Twenty Two years ago in Philadelphia, the Constitution Convention in Philadelphia completed it’s work.

At the close of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on September 18, 1787, a Mrs. Powel anxiously awaited the results, and as Benjamin Franklin emerged from the long task now finished, asked him directly: “Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” “A republic if you can keep it” responded Franklin.

222 years later, Mrs. Powell’s question, and Franklin’s response, remain undecided.

Do yourself a favor — read The Constitution, and then ask whether we’re still following it the way the Founders intended, and whether we’re going to be able to keep the Republic that Franklin was talking about.

Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do

THIS BOOK IS BASED on a single idea: You should be allowed to do whatever you want with your own person and property, as long as you don’t physically harm the person or property of a nonconsenting other.

Thus begins a book that everyone interested in politics should read; Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Country by Peter McWilliams.  Published in 1998, it is a damning survey of how the United States had become a state composed of “clergymen with billy-clubs”.  It analyzes the consequences of punishing so-called victimless crimes from numerous viewpoints, demonstrating that regardless of what you think is the most important organizing principle or purpose of society the investigation, prosecution and punishment of these non-crimes is harmful to society.

This remarkable book is now posted online, and if one can bear to wade through the awful website design, one will find lots of thought-provoking worthwhile commentary, analysis, theory and history.

His final chapter, on how to change the system, while consisting mainly of pie-in-the-sky, ineffective suggestions of working within the system, starts of with an extremely good bit of advice that I urge all our readers to try:

The single most effective form of change is one-on-one interaction with the people you come into contact with day-by-day. The next time someone condemns a consensual activity in your presence, you can ask the simple question, “Well, isn’t that their own business?” Asking this, of course, may be like hitting a beehive with a baseball bat, and it may seem—after the commotion (and emotion) has died down—that attitudes have not changed. If, however, a beehive is hit often enough, the bees move somewhere else. Of course, you don’t have to hit the same hive every time. If all the people who agree that the laws against consensual crimes should be repealed post haste would go around whacking (or at least firmly tapping) every beehive that presented itself, the bees would buzz less often.

I highly recommend this book.  Even though I have some pretty fundamental disagreements with some of his proposals, I think that this book is a fine addition to the bookshelf of any advocate of freedom and civilization.

Hat Tip: J.D. Tuccille of Disloyal Opposition.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

Octomom: A Microcosm of Democrat and Republican Policies Realized

Much to my delight and surprise, the news of Nadya Suleman (a.k.a. Octomom) giving birth to 8 children in addition to her other 6 children she could ill afford to support has not been well received by a large portion of the American public. Octomom seemed to go into this undertaking with the idea that she wouldn’t actually have to support these children herself because giving birth to so many children would make her an instant celebrity complete with book deals, TV specials, movie offer and other such ways to cash in. With the popularity of the Duggar and Gosselin families with their fame and modest fortunes derived from reality shows and book deals, it’s not too difficult to see how Octomom might come to such a conclusion (and at the end of the day, with our celebrity worship culture, her calculation might pay off).

But something unique about Octomom didn’t quite have the same charm as the Duggars and the Goslins: the ability to support the children. For all of my personal objections (which I will not get into here) I have with a family such as the Duggars cranking out 18 babies in a span of 12 years, I certainly respect the dedication of the parents to support their family themselves. While Jon and Kate Gosselin had the help of fertility science which resulted in 8 children in 2 separate pregnancies, they went into each hoping for just one child and also support the family themselves. The Duggar and Gosselin children also benefit from a two parent household.

In contrast, Octomom, an unemployed single woman on welfare, intentionally impregnates herself with the help of in vitro fertilization resulting in 14 children without any concern of how she would support these children if her celebrity scheme wasn’t realized.

What’s not to like?

This Octomom attitude seems to be that she’s entitled to have as many children as she wants because it has always been “her dream” to have lots and lots of children. Where does she get this notion that because someone has “a dream” she is entitled to force others to help her realize this dream?

One doesn’t have to look far to realize that this entitlement mentality has been fostered by the Democratic Party at least since FDR’s New Deal. The Democrats constantly demand that the most productive members of society support the “less fortunate” less productive class to help realize their dreams. According to the 2008 Democratic Party Platform, everyone has a right to a job that pays a “living wage,” “affordable” healthcare, free daycare, free education, paid family leave, and an “affordable” home.

What the Left fails to realize is that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. There never has and there never will be. Every one of these policies to give “free” or “affordable” service to those who do not have the wherewithal to provide these “rights” for themselves have to come from someone because they are not without cost. Whether or not Octomom paid for the birth of her 8 children, there was still a significant cost to the medical staff that provided this service. But what does she care? If she doesn’t get the multi-million dollar TV show, she can always count on the taxpayer to bail her out. No longer a single mother, Octomom will be married to the State.

While I’m sure many on the Right would nod in agreement with much of what I have said so far, I would have to ask them: where have you been the last 8 years? The Republican President Bush with Republican majorities in the House and the Senate for the majority of that time presided over the greatest expansion of government since LBJ’s Great Society programs. Yes, it was the G.O.P. that gave us No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, and TARP just to name a few. This is the party of small government?

Yes, in the Chairmen’s Preamble of the 2008 Republican Party Platform there’s a very libertarian friendly line that the Republican Party has “Distrust of government’s interference in people’s lives” then the document proceeds to outline exactly how they plan to have the government interfere in people’s lives. As awful as the Democrat Platform is, at least I can say they are honest and consistent; more than what I can say about the Republicans.

When the going got tough, the Republicans abandoned free market principles and adopted the Democrat’s approach of bailing out businesses which were “too big to fail.” Now that the Democrats run the show, the Republicans hope we will forget* that they were the other party of big government.

With the Republicans failing to stand up for these principles, perhaps Octomom also believed she was “too big to fail” (both figuratively and literally).

Oh, wait…the Republicans have stayed true to one principle: the old “every sperm is sacred” (every sperm, egg, embryo) principle. When asked why she chose to implant every single one of the embryos Octomom explained that if she allowed them to expire, it would be like killing them. As she has learned from the Republicans, if ever a “life” is created existing even on a multi-cellular level, she has a duty to give these tiny clumps of cells a “chance to be born” or otherwise be accosted for “murdering the unborn.”

I can’t help but wonder whether or not the Octomom culture would exist at all if it were Libertarian policies in place over the last 70 or so years rather than Democrat and Republican policies. If such were the case, I am sure Suleman would have made certain she had the resources to take care of herself first and playing the odds of celebrity roulette would probably been too big of a risk. If the thought of the government bailing out financial institutions and the big three was considered politically unfeasible because government only stayed within its Constitutional limits, then there certainly wouldn’t be any political will to support “one woman’s dream.”

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Why Libertarians Should Vote: Threats to Liberty from the Left and the Right on the Colorado Ballot (Part 2 of 3)

Cont’d from Part 1

What motivates these very nice people to be such tyrants? Some will vote in ignorance of the issue* and others out of a sense of ‘social justice.’ Very few will intentionally vote to take liberty or property from a fellow citizen; most will vote to do so out of a well intentioned but misguided sense of right and wrong.

The Colorado ballot contains 18 ballot measures, most of which are proposed amendments to the state’s constitution. About half of these measures would restrict liberty, increase taxes, or otherwise punish individuals for activities which ought not to be a crime in a free state or country.

Threats to Liberty from the Left

Union backed amendments 53, 55, 56, and 57 are all very hostile to business. Amendment 53 targets business executives for criminal liability (as if business executives are not already criminally liable for committing crimes), 55 would change Colorado from a “right to work state” to a “just cause state,” 56 requires employers with 20 employees or more to provide health coverage for employees and their dependants, and 57 would put employers at greater liability than the existing workman’s comp laws.

All of these amendments would make Colorado a less attractive place to do business and would likely mean fewer decent paying jobs. Like most populist proposals, the people who the advocates of these measures are trying to help would be hurt the most.

Amendments 51, 58, and 59 concern taxation. Amendment 51 would increase the sales tax to fund programs for the developmentally disabled, 58 directly taxes the oil and gas industry (Coloradans who wish to pay more for gas should support this measure), and 59 redirects funds which under current law are rebated to taxpayers under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) to an education savings fund.

Given governments’ track record of mismanaging taxpayer money (especially given what’s going on in Washington), I am in no mood to pay additional taxes or allow the government at any level to keep more no matter what the reason.

Threats to Liberty from the Right

While many of the ballot measures are economically on the Left, at least one is socially conservative. Amendment 48, the so-called “personhood” amendment would amend the Colorado Constitution to define all fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses as people complete with all legal rights associated with being a person. Clearly, this amendment is an attempt to ban abortion in the state of Colorado. Inevitably, if 48 is passed, there will be legal challenges which 48’s proponents hope would ultimately lead to overturning Roe v. Wade.

Amendment 48 makes no exceptions for rape** or incest. While there is an exception for abortion in the event that the life of the mother is threatened, opponents of 48 believe that doctors would put women at unnecessary mortal risk out of fear of being prosecuted for murdering the unborn. Because a fertilized egg would have the same legal rights as a person, a woman and her doctor could face life imprisonment and even the death penalty (someone explain to me how this is “pro-life”!).

Opponents of 48 also fear that doctors would be compelled to violate doctor/patient confidentiality as they may be required to report miscarriages to the authorities if s/he has the slightest suspicion that the miscarriage was caused intentionally***.

Giving fertilized eggs a definition of personhood would also:

– Ban commonly used birth control such as the birth control pill and the morning after pill
– Ban embryonic stem cell research (both public and private)
– Raise additional legal reproductive rights questions on issues with regard to artificial insemination

Despite what both pro-lifers and pro-choicers say, the abortion issue is very complex and there is plenty of room for debate on the merits of this issue among libertarians. What I would hope abortion foes would realize is that this measure has implications far beyond a legal prohibition of abortion.

NEXT: Why Libertarians Should Vote: Restoring Liberty via the Ballot Box (Part 3 of 3)

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Help Reduce Child Abuse: Legalize Polygamy Now!

A great deal of attention is focused on the recent raids on the FLDS compound in Texas. The behavior of the state has rightly been condemned, most effectively by Les Jones who wrote:

Imagine that some parents in a school district were accused of child abuse. Now imagine that the authorities took every child from the elementary, junior high, and high school away from their parents and put them in foster care. That’s a rough analogy of what’s happening in Texas.

There is no question that that the people in charge of the FDLS abuse their members. The church leaders will evict dissidents, break up families, particualrly by ordering women to leave their husbands.

Why do church members allow the abuse to happen?

The interesting question in this matter is why do the members of the church tolerate the mistreatment? Why do fathers who presumably love their daughters permit them to be given to men as trophies? Why do mothers who love their sons permit them to be sent to slave away in coal mines at a young age? The members of the FLDS are human beings, with all the emotional attachment to their children that is inherent in humanity. Why are people making these horrible choices?

When people are stay in a hostile environment, it is generally for one of three reasons:

1) They are too lazy to leave/change.

2) They are afraid to leave, because leaving would be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

3) They are afraid to leave, because they will be forced to abandon something so precious that leaving is more unbearable than staying.

The Sources of Fear:

It is readily apparent that people are afraid to leave for both sets of reasons:

1) Children who leave find themselves cut off from family. Poorly educated, they lack the ability to support themselves and live a mean, impoverished lifestyle. They are literally ‘foreigners in their own country’.

2) The church owns most of the property. Thus a person who wishes to leave usually owns only the clothes on their back and little more. People are not paid; rather their salaries are held in common in a bank owned by the church leaders. They are not permitted to bank elsewhere or to withdraw their money without permission. Church leaders have been known to arbitrarily reduce the balances credited to dissidents.

3) The members of the church are afraid of the outside world. They fear that they face persecution by outsiders. they are terrified of law enforcement.

Predator Pressure and Feudalism:

But why is the church so powerful? Why can it make such demands of its members? The sad fact is, the people who are members of the church have little choice; their fears of persecution are well justified – Mormons have faced persecution throughout their history. Joseph Smith was murdered by a mob who was outraged by his advocacy of polygamy. In the mid 19th century, there were anti-Mormon pogroms. The Federal Government insisted that the Mormon leaders repudiate polygamy before permitting Utah to become a state. The raids in the 1950’s solidified hatred and distrust of the outside world. The fear of persecution exists because polygamists are persecuted in the U.S.

Furthermore, because of the persecution, devout church members faced a difficulty in finding business partners and naturally banded together and did business largely with other church members. This lack of trade allowed church leaders to gradually take over the community’s wealth. In effect the fear of persecution recreated feudalism. The church leaders became the noblemen, and the common church members became the peasants.

As the church gained a totalitarian control of their members’ economic activities, the church was able to isolate their members from being able to function in outside society. The church could exert a totalitarian control of how the young are educated. It could make or ruin men.

Furthermore, the members of the church are denied access to the court system; after all if a man is vulnerable to prison-time for bigamy he is hardly likely to sue the church for ripping him off.

Ending the Dark Ages

By criminalizing their deepest religious beliefs, the state in effect empowers church leaders to abuse the members of the church at will. If the malignant power or the church elders were an arch, the laws banning polygamy would be its keystone. Legalizing polygamy would doom the feudal system.

Parents who felt that telling a church elder to go to hell would not leave them poor would be far less likely to permit their children to be sexually abused or kicked out of their community. Church elders who were aware that their flock could leave at any time would have a great deal of incentive to treat their followers kindly rather than abusively.

There is nothing inherently evil in polygamy itself. Most people would not choose to be part of a polygamous marriage. Some though, for a variety of reasons, do. Absent the violence and fear that is caused by prohibition, there is no reason why their experiences should not match that of Janet Averett who writes:

I was raised in a polygamous home. My dad had two wives, and each wife had her own house and kids. As kids we wore blue jeans, listened to rock ‘n’ roll music and watched TV. We went to public school and many attended college. We fell in love and married whoever we wanted, at or above the legal age.

We now work and live all over the country. I am no longer in a polygamous group, and neither are most of my brothers and sisters.

The laws against polygamy are holdovers from a dark ages where homosexuality and interracial marriages were similarly outlawed. The proponents of outlawing homosexuality and interracial marriage could point to many problems associated with those practice when they were outlawed. However, upon close inspection, all of the violence, degradation, social harms, and psychological problems associated with these former illegal activities were in fact caused by their prohibition. The same is true of polygamy.

Legalization would go a long way to ending the culture of subjugation and child abuse that is alleged to exist within the FDLS community.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

That Sam Brownback Sure Can Draw a Crowd!

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This photo just warms my heart. Here we have the Christian Right’s dream candidate Sam Brownback drawing…let’s just say a less than impressive crowd in New Hampshire. Could it be that his vision of government imposed family values isn’t resonating even within the G.O.P.? Could this be a sign that maybe, just maybe the Christian Right is losing some if its control over the party? That would probably be too optimistic of an assessment but hope springs eternal.

Related:
Not Even to Save the Life of the Mother

Not Even to Save the Life of the Mother

Today on The Sean Hannity Show, Republican presidential hopeful Sam Brownback cleared up his position on the abortion issue. Normally this is not an issue which I like to discuss because I believe there are so many more important issues and I believe that this issue has taken up way too much of the political debate over the past several decades. But what Sam Brownback said in response to one of Hannity’s questions stunned me.

Toward the end of the interview, Hannity asked Brownback if he believed there should be any legal exceptions for abortion such as rape, incest, or the life of the mother. These seem like reasonable exceptions even to the most pro-life (or anti-choice) proponents but not to Sam Brownback. Even Sean Hannity who is very pro-life and very Catholic seemed to be a little taken back by his response.

Brownback clearly stated that there should be absolutely no legal exceptions for abortion. He admitted such a situation would be tragic but also said that “it’s not the baby’s fault.”

This attitude of Brownback’s is completely indefensible. While I do not believe any woman who is a rape victim should be legally required to bring a pregnancy to term, there is still some room to debate whether or not having an abortion is moral. But to say that the government must require a woman to potentially sacrifice her own life for the sake of her baby is absolute violation of her liberty. No person should ever be required by law or expected to sacrifice his or her life or limb for the sake of another for any reason (I similarly am opposed to military drafts for the same reason). If a person is to sacrifice his or her own life, it should only be done voluntarily.

My question to Senator Sam Brownback and his fellow travelers: What is so “pro-life” about taking a woman’s right to life away?

NOTE: I have not been able to locate the trascript of the interview at this time. If I should come across it, I will add the direct quote to the body of this post.