Category Archives: Constitution

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

Why Legislating Morality Is A Good Thing

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One of the phrases that irritates me about politics is when the phrase “we shouldn’t legislate morality” is uttered. Usually, that person does mean well (ie. supporting a separation of church and state), but it doesn’t diminish the fact that the phrase itself is ignorant. I would argue that a free liberal society must legislate morality if it is remain both a liberal society and a free society. All laws are is the morality of a society that is written down, therefore you cannot make laws if you’re not legislating morality.

I’m a classical liberal, which means I believe that the only moral purpose of government is to defend life, liberty, and property. I also believe in things such as pluralism, tolerance, the advancement of science and technology, realism, and reason. I want the morality of society to recognize these things in the laws that are made by the government that is supposed to represent us all. In fact, I would go even further to argue that moral relativism and liberty cannot coexist.

What I don’t advocate

When many people read this title and the first paragraph they’re probably thinking, “Kevin is about to argue for some sort of a theocracy.” Well, once you’ve read the second paragraph you probably realize that I’m no theocrat. Yes, I am a Christian, but I don’t need to law of Ceasar to guide my walk with Jesus Christ. While it is unreasonable to ask people check their religious and cultural beliefs at the door when discussing politics, in a pluralistic society such as the United States there is no place for legislating based on religion. 

The morality of a free, liberal society

The government must legislate based upon the morality of a liberal society. Since we classical liberals believe that the only moral purpose of government is to defend life, liberty, and property; we must keep government restrained except for those core functions. We know that as government grows, freedom contracts.

To promote a pluralistic society, we adopt an approach of “live and let live.” As long as your actions do not harm others lives, cause physical injury, or threaten their property; the government should not ban it. However, those who violate the life, physically harm others, and threaten property are punished severly. Government should stay out of bedrooms, computers, wallets, and everything else that is private.

Nor should government force people to love one another. All that a person has the right to ask from the government is to protect their life, liberty, and property; not to protect their feelings from being hurt. Trying to eliminate prejudice and bigotry through social engineering is a fool’s errand. Tolerance on the other hand must be practiced by the state and the state must treat all equally regardless of gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. Equal justice under the law is a hallmark of a liberal society.

This does not mean we have to agree on everything

As a classical liberal, I do not require you to agree with me on everything in order to believe in and promote liberty. For example, I can see pro-liberty arguments for opposition to legalized abortion, assisted suicide, and euthanasia. I can also see both sides of the issue on the death penalty. I can also see an argument for some sort of social safety net in order to protect property rights from looters. There are also many other issues where good, liberty minded people can hold both sides.

As for the culture, persuasion not force

As my friend and fellow Louisiana blogger Scott McKay always likes to say, “politics flows downstream from the culture.” What he means is that politics and laws are a reflection upon the culture. We as classical liberals need to start paying attention to changing the culture. 

We need to build a culture that respects life, believes in individual freedom and responsibility (ie. liberty), believes in pluralism and “live and let live”, believes in the advancement of science and technology and rejects quacks like Food Babe, looks at the world as it is and not the way we want to see it, and strives for knowledge and make ourselves better than what we are. We need a culture that is truly diverse, not just in appearance but also in thought as well.

We do this by promoting these values in our writings and activism. We do this by promoting these values in how we live our lives, contribute to our communities, and educate our children. Finally, we do this buy how we spend our money and our resources.

Ultimately, all laws are simply the reflection of the values and morality of a society. The sooner we’re honest with ourselves on that, the sooner we can focus on the things that really matter.

 

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.

“No Refusal” Laws: A Perversion of Well Intended Law And A Violation of Personal Liberty

Delaware-lawyer-fights-DUI-Checkpoint-arrests

I received a tip from a friend of mine who does a lot more Reddit browsing than I do that in Texas, this weekend is what’s called a “No Refusal” weekend in Tarrant County, Texas.

What is a “No Refusal” weekend? The tipped-off post, from Reddit user Korietsu (emphasis mine):

Just a warning to those traveling via I-35, 290, and 45. TxDPS and local LE are out in large numbers for No Refusal Weekend and using all of their tools at their disposal. TxDPS will be monitoring via Radar, Helicopter and Laser for all speeding infractions.

There are also sobriety checkpoints, and it is No Refusal Weekend. This means that you can have your blood drawn at mobile testing stations, as judges will be on hand to sign warrants 24/7 this weekend. Don’t drink and drive, and please, if you have been drinking, call a cab.

In short: if, at a sobriety checkpoint, officers feel that a driver is driving under the influence, they can order the suspect to submit to a breathalyzer or blood test. If the driver refuses the blood test, then the police may use a warrant to forcibly seize the blood. On-call judges expedite that process, ostensibly before the suspect can sober up. In addition, refusing the test subjects the suspect to additional penalties under implied consent laws.

The first reaction anyone would have is “come on, that can’t be legal, right?”, but the right to take blood is authorized in Texas law.

1. Texas Transportation Code Section 724.012. TAKING OF SPECIMEN. (a) One or more specimens of a person’s breath or blood may be taken if the person is arrested and at the request of a peace officer having reasonable grounds to believe the person: (1) while intoxicated was operating a motor vehicle in a public place, or a watercraft; or (2) was in violation of Section 106.041, Alcoholic Beverage Code. (b) A peace officer shall require the taking of a specimen of the person’s breath or blood under any of the following circumstances if the officer arrests the person for an offense under Chapter 49, Penal Code, involving the operation of a motor vehicle or a watercraft and the person refuses the officer’s request to submit to the taking of a specimen voluntarily: (1) the person was the operator of a motor vehicle or a watercraft involved in an accident that the officer reasonably believes occurred as a result of the offense and, at the time of the arrest, the officer reasonably believes that as a direct result of the accident: (A) any individual has died or will die; (B) an individual other than the person has suffered serious bodily injury; or (C) an individual other than the person has suffered bodily injury and been transported to a hospital or other medical facility for medical treatment; (2) the offense for which the officer arrests the person is an offense under Section 49.045, Penal Code; or (3) at the time of the arrest, the officer possesses or receives reliable information from a credible source that the person: (A) has been previously convicted of or placed on community supervision for an offense under Section 49.045, 49.07, or 49.08, Penal Code, or an offense under the laws of another state containing elements substantially similar to the elements of an offense under those sections; or (B) on two or more occasions, has been previously convicted of or placed on community supervision for an offense under Section 49.04, 49.05, 49.06, or 49.065, Penal Code, or an offense under the laws of another state containing elements substantially similar to the elements of an offense under those sections. (c) The peace officer shall designate the type of specimen to be taken.

In Tarrant County, Texas – which covers Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington – nine no-refusal weekends are funded by various grants by the federal government, which Texas allows to be conducted county-wide. Normally, DUI checkpoints are illegal in Texas. DUI checkpoints themselves have been codified by the Supreme Court of the United States as being legal, per Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz in 1990. Typically speaking, major holidays and major concerts are designated “No Refusal” weekends due to the higher rate of alcohol-related accidents.

I do not dispute the legality or the cause for DUI checkpoints. When motorists take to taxpayer-funded roadways, they acquiesce to the rules of the road, which include laws designated around an acceptable level of blood-alcohol content (BAC). I also am behind additional scrutiny on holiday weekends where drinking – and resulting accidents and fatalities – are increased. This is smart policing, it saves lives, and it’s not a violation of liberty due to the fact that they’re publicly owned roads. I’m not nearly as big of a fan of implied consent laws – which punish a person for simply exerting their Fourth Amendment rights against illegal search and seizure – but I believe that battle has been lost.

But the idea that the police can – on mere suspicion – force a person to be tied down, stick a needle in them, and take their blood, against their will is stomach churning. If we don’t have liberty to our own bodies from invasion by the state, unless we have been legally convicted of a crime, what liberty do we, as citizens, have? It is important to note that in this case, no crime has yet been even charged; the blood test is used to prove the crime, it is not taken after the fact. That is a gross violation of the Fourth Amendment, which starts to look shambolic when one considers the hits it’s taken over the years due to judicial overreach and milquetoast courts.

Typically, the probate judge’s role would be to supervise this process and ensure that the police have reasonable suspicion of a suspect. However, that process has been made ruthlessly efficient, with many warrants being granted over the phone within a matter of minutes, rendering the whole process meaningless. I would love to see how many warrant requests actually get turned down; I’m willing to bet the number is single digits at best. Who says the government doesn’t move quickly?

Of course, Texas – a state marked by a conservative, independent mindset that so hates government overreach that they frequently threaten to secede from the United States – is perfectly fine with invasions of a person’s individual liberty, even their bodies, when it suits the state’s desires. Texas calls for mandatory transvaginal sonograms for anyone seeking an abortion, despite other, less invasive methods of sonogram being available. They also lead the nation in state sponsored executions by an almost five to one margin. People in Texas seem to be perfectly fine with penetrating citizens with foreign objects when it suits something popular.

That is unacceptable. The American Civil Liberties Union has been fighting this for some time, as should anyone, even those who feel that anything that reduces the number of people driving drunk on the roads is a good thing. We can’t shread the Constitution because it’s popular.

Christopher Bowen covered the video games industry for eight years before moving onto politics and general interest. He is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus, and has worked for Diehard GameFan, Daily Games News, TalkingAboutGames.com and has freelanced elsewhere. He is a “liberaltarian” – a liberal libertarian. A network engineer by trade, he lives in Derby CT.

Can Florida Ban Beer Growlers?

Damon Root, at Reason, on Florida’s ban on 64-oz beer growlers. The law is being challenged by a retail company called The Crafted Keg, which is a “growler bar*”.

To survive judicial review under existing Supreme Court precedent, economic regulations such as Florida’s growler ban must pass what’s known as the rational-basis test. In effect, this test tells the courts that they may strike down a contested law only if it lacks any conceivable connection to a legitimate government interest.
Green Flash Growler of 30th St. Pale Ale
To be sure, that is a highly deferential approach to government regulation. But the Florida growler ban is so moronic it fails to satisfy even the generous terms of the rational-basis test.

After all, what possible legitimate state interest could this ban serve? It certainly cannot be part of some regulatory scheme designed to limit beer consumption and thereby curb public intoxication or drunk driving. That sort of scheme would only be rational if the state also banned six packs, kegs, and other large-size offerings. The fact that customers may purchase 72-ounces of beer via six pack but not a 64-ounce growler of the same beer highlights the fundamental irrationality of this preposterous regulation.

When I was at Purdue, there was a ban on kegs in fraternity houses out of concern that the end of the night might result in a “finish off the keg” mentality and lead to excessive drinking. This is due to the typical hand-pump tap used to maintain pressure, which severely oxidizes the beer and causes it to go stale extremely quickly. Often a beer would taste terrible by the next night when using a hand pump. (This is not an issue on keg systems dispensed with CO2 or “beer gas”.) Instead, without kegs, we were forced to drink excessively via other means.

One can make an argument that a growler suffers the same issue. Growlers are really meant to be single-serving containers, or at most maybe split over two nights. The beer will go stale quickly if allowed to sit. Growlers aren’t filled with the same care to minimize oxidation as bottles or cans, and many growlers have trouble maintaining CO2 over more than a few days due to poor seals. Thus, you often drink a growler as quickly after purchasing it as you can to avoid it going stale or flat.

In addition, many growlers are “special release” beers, often higher in alcohol than typical. I often don’t like growlers for this exact reason. My wife doesn’t drink beer, and I tend to have trouble putting away 64 ounces of 8%+ double IPA in an evening on my own and getting up at the crack of dawn to feed children the next morning. For that reason, I actually love the 32-ounce growler as a format. It’s quite uncommon in the industry, however.

Six packs don’t have these issues. 22-oz bombers don’t have these issues. And kegs are clearly not intended for a single-serving. They’re either purchased for groups (using a hand pump tap) or for personal kegerators using CO2.

One 12-oz bottle from a 72-oz six pack won’t get you drunk, and the other 5 bottles can be easily stored for weeks or months. Drinking an entire 64 oz growler will get you drunk. And with the difficulty in storing a growler at all — much less a growler that’s already had a pint or two poured out of it, make it highly likely that it will be consumed in a single sitting.

Thus, while I don’t agree with the growler ban, I can see it passing a rational basis test.

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