Libertarians suck (part nth-mplth)

15 10 2011

Yes, I read Marginal Revolution, and no, I’m not able to restrain myself from reading the comments.

But this post—yeesh!

Por ejemplo:

8 October 14, 2011 at 7:28 am

Universal suffrage is a bad idea.

Reply

msgkings October 14, 2011 at 11:58 am

It’s incredibly elitist and non-pc to say so, but I agree.

And it doesn’t have to be as complex as evaluating for ‘bad’ voting behavior. Simply apply intelligence testing to voting rights. Not every dumdum is a ‘bad’ (disengaged, useless, etc) voter, but obviously the smarter your voting electorate, the better your outcomes.

I’ve come to believe that the democratic system set up here in the late 18th century worked so well for so long because suffrage was NOT universal. You had to be a landowning white male to vote in the early years. This didn’t guarantee that each voter was of a higher caliber, but it undoubtedly made the average or median voter of greater quality and intelligence. In this day and age of course you wouldn’t need to restrict based on race or gender, or wealth. But I think restricting voters AND candidates to IQs of 100+ (sorry Perry and Palin!) could only help outcomes.

It goes without saying that this will NEVER EVER happen.

Or how about the commenter who cites Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers approvingly:

Thoma Hawk October 14, 2011 at 11:58 am

This veteran agrees with you. As I state later in this post, I think suffrage should be given only to those with demonstrable responsibility, education, service, maturity, and loyalty.

Robert Heinlein’s vision in Starship Troopers was one where only discharged veterans had the right to vote and hold public office. It’s a move in the right direction.

Age is an arbitrary determinant. There are incredibly mature and intelligent 19 year olds. There are incredibly immature and uneducated 30 year olds. But age and maturity are strongly correlated. And certain experience are worth many times as much as a year of education.

So how about raising the voting age with a military service exception? I’m open to all suggestions for improvement, including persuasive arguments the franchise age should be lowered. I think lowering the voting age was a political ploy and not much thought went into it.

No, they’re not all nuts, but Dasher, Donner, and Blitzen, it makes me want to take away their rights to comment on blogs.

(Okay, okay, I know: I have to make the argument on why libertarianism-as-governing-theory is bad, and not just snark on libertarians, but it’s Saturday night and I’m drinking wine, so gimme a break. The argument will have to wait until coffee.)

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Talkin’ at the Texaco

2 10 2011

Kitty boy is not out of the woods.

He seems to get better, then, ohp, back the other way. He’s not in crisis, but that the improvement isn’t steady concerns me. I’m trying a variety of home remedies—yes, even after taking in the admonitions for a vet to check him out—which likely have a good shot at taking care of him. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that this problem will likely recur, such that prevention will have to be worked into his everyday diet. He needs to drink more water and I need to increase his acid intake.

Here’s hopin’ Jasper gets used to salt and cranberries.

~~~~~

Good weekend for sports in Wisconsin.

Badgers rolled over Nebraska, Brewers are up 2-0 in their 5-game series with the Diamondbacks, and the Packers remain undefeated.

I am deeply ambivalent about sports—brand loyalty is for suckers, blah blah—and in particular, about football, and the evident harm it inflicts on the players. Thus, the cheering isn’t as full-throated as it was in the past, but it’s still there.

Maybe someday I’ll be enlightened enough to let it all go, but in the meantime. . . .

~~~~~

Thanks to Brad DeLong, I was hipped to John Holbo and Belle Waring’s equine-eviseration of libertarianism:

Now, everyone close your eyes and try to imagine a private, profit-making rights-enforcement organization which does not resemble the mafia, a street gang, those pesky fire-fighters/arsonists/looters who used to provide such “services” in old New York and Tokyo, medieval tax-farmers, or a Lendu militia. (In general, if thoughts of the Eastern Congo intrude, I suggest waving them away with the invisible hand and repeating “that’s anarcho-capitalism” several times.) Nothing’s happening but a buzzing noise, right?

Now try it the wishful thinking way. Just wish that we might all live in a state of perfect liberty, free of taxation and intrusive government, and that we should all be wealthier as well as freer. Now wish that people should, despite that lack of any restraint on their actions such as might be formed by policemen, functioning law courts, the SEC, and so on, not spend all their time screwing each other in predictable ways ranging from ordinary rape, through the selling of fraudulent stocks in non-existent ventures, up to the wholesale dumping of mercury in the public water supplies. (I mean, the general stock of water from which people privately draw.) Awesome huh? But it gets better. Now wish that everyone had a pony. Don’t thank me, Thank John.

The and-a-pony bit is explained earlier in the piece; g’head and read the whole thing.

Once again: libertarianism is not a serious political theory; it is at best an adjunct to serious political theory.

~~~~~

I’ve noted in the past that an over-concentration on process to the neglect of substance bleeds politics dry of its very purpose. That said, some attention to process may fruitfully obstruct an over-concentration on ends.

See, for example, presidential freelancing in the so-called war on terror.

President Bush stepped up the use of extraordinary rendition and justified the imprisonment and torture of detainees (even as he denied that beatings, waterboarding, and sleep deprivation were torture) as necessary to securing the dominance security of the United States. He was hailed on the right, booed on the left, and denounced by libertarians of all stripes (n.b.: see, I can say nice things about libertarians!).

President Obama has allegedly stopped the torture and has tried, with varying amounts of effort, to close Guantanamo. He has also authorized far more drone strikes on militant leaders than President Bush ever did, and hailed the assassination of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki as “another significant milestone in the broader effort to defeat Al Qaeda and its affiliates.” (He presumably did not mourn the death of Samir Khan, another American citizen killed alongside al-Awlaki.) He has been (mutedly) hailed on the right, (mutedly) booed on the left, and denounced by libertarians of all stripes.

I’m not particularly a fan of either al-Awlaki or Khan—violent hatred of the world isn’t my thing—and I do think the citizenship status of al-Awlaki and Khan (and John Walker Lindh and Jose Padilla, for that matter) ought to give any American pause regarding their officially-sanctioned killing. (I leave aside the question of whether the Constitution covers noncitizens; my understanding is that this question is unsettled, juridically.)

But even if you don’t think the 5th Amendment applies in this case, nor that the citizenship of al-Awlaki or Khan matters, what of the matter of presidential power?

Obama apparently consulted with various staffers and legal experts on the legitimacy of such assassinations, but is a consult with one’s staff an apt substitute for legislative debate? Is it enough for the president to say “it’s okay because I say it’s okay”?

And because it was only bad guys who were killed, then, hey, that’s okay, too? Ends justifying the means, and all.

If pure proceduralism is deadly to politics, so too is pure consequentialism—especially in its democratic forms.

~~~~~

Whine whine whine about my life. What am I doing, here I am flailing, here I am failing, what if I moved. . . .

No.

I don’t know if I’ll be in New York forever, but I do know that this is where I need to make my stand. If I were to move anywhere else, it would be too easy to say “oh, if only I were in New York. . .”, and distract myself from the work I need to do.

I am so far past “enough” that I have lapped myself; still, if I’m ever to catch up, I have to stop jumping away from my life.





If I’m so wrong and you’re so right

5 09 2011

is this all about convincing other people to share our intuitions and if people don’t share such faith (religious or otherwise) convictions on what possible basis would they be convinced by anything we say that builds on them? Is there no obligation to try and have some researched basis for our public opinions?—dmf

No easy questions, eh, d?

I don’t know that there’s any one, good, way to deal both with clashing ontologies and the question of the quality of the opinion. Habermas attempts to do so, as do Guttmann and Thompson and deliberative theorists generally—attempts which tend toward the suppression of fundamental conflicts and an optimism regarding shared language. Focus on a respectful process and practical goals, G&T advise, and use reasons which can make sense across any epistemological or ontological divides. Aim for consensus rather than winning, or rather, see consensus as winning. The point is not just to solve problems, but to deepen democratic discourse generally.

I am, unsurprisingly, skeptical of the deliberative approach, of the willingness of different sides to agree to a shared approach, and of the desire for mutually-agreed-upon outcomes over a clear win. That said, I think it can work in specific instances, especially those in which participants really do want to solve a problem and where some version of splitting the difference (as in, allocation of funds) is possible.

It does not work on matters where an underlying principle is so closely related to the position that any disagreement on the principle makes impossible any agreement on outcome. The exemplar of this kind of conflict is that over abortion: female autonomy runs up against fetal personhood, such that the right to choose cancels the right to life, and vice versa. There is no splitting this difference, at least as it is currently configured; there are only winners and losers.

These sorts of polarized debates (which can arise for any number of reasons, including hyped-up partisanship) make it very difficult both for us to find a shared language (fetus/baby; undocumented immigrant/illegal alien; etc.) and to agree upon any standards of debate. If I am convinced I am right I won’t agree to any standards which might allow you to win the argument, and will dispute your starting point, reason, evidence, and conclusion.

The abortion debate, however frustrating and exhausting it may be, may nonetheless remain within the confines of democratic debate. We may not be able to resolve the conflict, but in the main (not, necessarily, on the margins), it can at least be contained by such debate.

That’s not always the case.

Consider the political debate over global warming. Most scientists agree that the planet is warming and that human activity has contributed to increased temperatures. If I think global warming is scam designed by extremist leftist-environmental types, I’m not going to listen to anything you have to offer which might prove me wrong. I’ll bring up the so-called climate-gate and take issue with any inexactness of your evidence, and will offer my own scientists and state that the reason they’re not published in scholarly journals is bias, plain and simple.

I am energized by fierce political argument, but this shit is disturbing. This isn’t simply about two sides disagreeing about the evidence, this is one side outright rejecting the relevance of evidence: it can’t be so it must not be. And if we can’t stand on the same ground on an issue for which there is clearly only one place to stand, then how the hell are we going to have any kind of conversation or debate about what to do about that issue?

In other words, what should be a good and vigorous political debate about what to do in response to a phenomenon (anthropocentric global warming) has been made impossible by one side of that debate declaring, in effect, that its politics don’t allow it to see the preponderance of evidence for that phenomenon. In short, the political commitments of one side has forced it to rule out the existence of the phenomenon itself.

There is no way to deal with this kind of reality-shifting except to defeat it. By any means necessary.

There are other kinds of less dire political debate wherein some notion of reason and evidence is accepted by the various participants. There may be scuffling over evidence or even the sources of evidence but not over the need for evidence itself. In these cases, your question of obligation for a researched basis is mooted insofar as it is beneficial for the participants to have done their homework ahead of time.

In other words, the best way to get people to meet an obligation to inform themselves before offering an opinion is both to reward such information and punish its lack.

Dealing with reality-shifters, I’m afraid, is largely a negative affair. You have to beat them (metaphorically, of course!) into submission, allowing them no quarter in any debates. You’ll never win them over, but you might be able to win nonetheless by so discrediting them to any larger audience. You trample over the shifters to speak directly to the audience, and smack ’em back down whenever they pop up with an objection. You rely, as ever, on reason and evidence, and offer zero respect for arguments which rely on neither.

However much such a strategy may be in service to a democratic politics, it is not democratic itself; it is, instead, brute, and brutal, politics. It is a ground war, one fought to establish whether the elements necessary to democracy will be encouraged to flourish, or not.

There will always be disagreements over the grounds, the standards, and the desired outcomes of debates; a democratic politics takes for granted the disagreement over desires, accommodates those over standards, but may shatter if it becomes too preoccupied with the grounds.

Whatever other commitments its citizens make, whether some have one foot nestled in heaven and some, dangling over the abyss, the other must be planted on common ground.





“While violence can destroy power, it can never become a substitute for it”

8 01 2011

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, D-AZ, was shot at point-blank range today.

She is in critical condition; according to press reports, 18 people were injured and as many as six were killed.

This is very bad news.

Every shooting is very bad news, of course, as is every murder. But political murder in a representative system carries another meaning, one which states that, in effect, the will of the people does not matter.

There’s a lot to criticize in the notion of “the will of the people”, and a lot to question in our version of representative democracy; nonetheless, it’s what we’ve got and it’s how we confer at least a bare legitimacy on our system of governance. We don’t have to like it, of course, and so we bitch and we organize and we try to sway our fellow citizens and our members of Congress to change.

This means we’re always failing: If Dems win, GOPers lose, and vice versa. Those who want change battle those content with the status quo. There may be some win-win or lose-lose situations, but in a pluralist democracy, you don’t always get your way.

To be political is to reconcile oneself to failure—without giving up.

Political assassins will not so reconcile themselves. Whatever their motivations, whatever their goals, they cannot accept that they lose, cannot accept that others may legitimately win. And so they seek to destroy the adversary’s victory, destroy that legitimacy, and, symbolically, to destroy not only those others, but everyone who allowed the victor to take power.

In so doing, the assassin acts against us all: as citizens, as participants in the political process, as those who, whatever our misgivings, in the end accept a flawed and frayed system of governance over the alternatives of purges and violence, who in the end accept the ballot over the bullet.

What we’ve got is not the best, but is what we’ve  got, it is ours—assassins be damned.





This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco

22 11 2009

I am not a Republican.

But, god help me, I agree with Republican Senator Lindsay Graham on at least one issue. In response to a question recently about Glenn Beck, he responded “Here’s what I worry about. How many people in my business are going to be controlled by what’s said on the radio or in a TV commercial?”

His business, of course, is the business of politics—or, more to the point, the business of governance.

It’s a key distinction, that between politics and governance, once which those who lack the responsibility for so governing find it convenient to overlook.

The NY Times notes that M. Beck, along with Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Mike Huckabee are all rallying the troops to do. . . something they want. It’s the usual boilerplate of a deracinated American conservative movement: low/flat/no taxes; low/flat/cut spending; stop illegal immigration/drug smuggling; energy independence—more drilling/mining/nuke-power production; responsible environmental stewardship; small government; victory in Iraq; keep Guantanamo open. . . are you noticing any problems here?

As in, complete incoherence? Close the borders but do so with less spending; win in Iraq and lower taxes; shrink the size of government and give it the power to torture and detain people indefinitely; no redistribution and give parents vouchers for education; tap your head and rub your tummy at the same time. . . oh, wait. . . .

There’s more, of course, and I could provide the links to their sites, but why give them the page views?

More to the point, why send you off to emptiness? There’s nothing at the Beck, Hannity, and Ingraham sites beyond a list of conflicting demands. At least Huckabee’s plans are tethered to reality, such as it is: he seeks to raise money for Republican candidates.

Then again, Huckabee is the only one of the Fab Four who has actually served in government, that is, who has actually had to take responsibility for his words and deeds.

This is what underlies Senator Graham’s lament: Beck can cry and Ingraham sneer and Hannity harrumpf and at the end of the day they leave the studio and let others clean up their kleenex and spittle. And if shit goes bad, well, it’s just fodder for tomorrow’s broadcast cannon.

I’m a big fan of the First Amendment, just as I’m a big fan of democracy, and I tend to think the fewer rules attached to either speech or participation, the better. And that goes for these bloviators and their followers, as well.

But I’m also a civic republican (note the ‘little r’), and think that politics works best as requires something more than tears and outrage from its participants; democratic politics in particular requires an engagement which goes beyond oneself.

A concept of citizenship, as it were.

This is an odd argument for someone as decidedly not-patriotic and anti-nationalist as I am, but I do recognize obligations to the those with whom I share a political space, i.e., my fellow citizens.

These obligations are basic, and don’t require much agreement with those fellows, and hardly demand one bow to to the government.

But it does require at the very least a recognition that one does share a political space, a space beyond one’s living room or therapist’s office or tavern booth, in which one might just have to set aside one’s personal concerns for a consideration of public matters.

I think most people in office get it, even the people who I’d rather not hold any office beyond that of dogcatcher (and some not even that—I’m lookin’ at you, Michelle Bachmann). They go through the hassles of campaigning because they actually want to accomplish something. Sure, they want to inflate their successes and evade their failures, but at least they put themselves through the process whereby they might in some way be held accountable for both.

But The Media Personality™? No, he or she mashes up resentment and principle and incoherence and general sky-pie-edness and then dances on by the difficulties of actual decision-making, policy-formation, and, oh, yes, governance.

This all-partying/no-hangover mentality is not, alas, confined to the right. But right now they’re the ones smashing open the kegs and spiking the kool-aid and inviting the  palin-drones and tea-baggers to Drink! Drink! Drink!

Designated drivers need not apply.





Why I sing the blues

22 10 2008

No, not another disquisition on depression—although the real topic, presidential politics, is depressing enough.

Multiple posts on toleration, respect, religion, agnosticism, but only a few quick hits on politics.

What the hell? Aren’t I a political theorist, after all? Aren’t I the one who, in 2004, moved from a city I loved in another country back to the US in order to participate in politics? Who dragged her ass out of bed on Saturday mornings to ride a bus to another state for the privilege of knocking on doors and asking those granite folk who they were likely to vote for? Who had her dad drive her to NOW meetings (until she got her license)? Who remembers raising her first-grade fingers in a ‘peace’ sign every time the school bus driver/town mayor halted at the railroad tracks?

Jesus Christ, politics has been in my conscious life as long almost as long as I’ve been conscious of life. And yet my response to this campaign has been: Eh.

Yeah, yeah, I’ll vote, and I really am looking forward to an African-American family in the White House, but, honestly, I simply think Obama will do less damage (to this country, the rest of the world) than would McCain.

I’m not a moderate (I’m a ‘hard-core leftist: run for your lives!’), and my vote for Obama is not reluctant. I just doubt it’s going to matter all that much.

Sigh. It will matter, on some crucial issues: judges, executive power, Guantanamo, torture, access to contraception, the Lily Ledbetter pay act, diplomacy. These are not small things, so in saying I doubt how much the presidential race matters, I’m not saying it doesn’t matter at all. It does. That’s why I’m voting.

And Iraq? I truly don’t know how much leeway the next president will have to do anything momentous. From what I’ve been reading, the Iraqis want the US out sooner rather than later (tho’, preferably, not right this instant), and while the surge has brought a kind of peace to many areas of the country, it’s pretty clear that the force levels required for the surge are unsustainable. I’m guessin’ that whoever the next president is, the next stage of Operation Iraqi Freedom is ‘Iraqi-zation’.

Afghanistan? Unclear that either has a workable plan. That said, Obama seems far more practical (i.e., willing to adapt to exigencies) than does McCain.

So the vote matters: who do you want as captain of the ship?

And this is where I sigh and say, Eh, and sigh again, a bit more angrily, and say I don’t want a fucking captain and I’m not a goddamned ship’s passenger. I’m a citizen in a democratic republic who’d like there to be at least some connection between the peoples’ representatives and the people, who’d like to be addressed as something other than ‘constituent’ or ‘taxpayer’ or ‘prospective voter’. I don’t want to be wooed or massaged or have my pain felt up by some suck-up in a suit who’s going to tottle off to Washington or Albany (or City Hall) and do all that he or she can to cut the citizenry out of politics.

No, I’m not talking about enacting or blocking favored social programs (tho’ I would dearly love universal health care), but about legislators doing what they can to deepen democracy, to involve us further in our own governance. I’m thinkin’: New Deal. Or, more recently, efforts by people in the gulf region post-Katrina to rebuild their cities, physically and politically (and getting at best little help and at worst obstruction from govt officials). This isn’t just about self-help, but about acting in concert with one’s fellows and fully conscious of the political implications of such solidarity.

There’s so much more to say, and I think this really does matter, deeply and broadly, to us as citizens. To presidents, senators, representatives, governors, mayors, and city council members: we’re not you’re goddamned pets. Quit throwing us bones.

And to the rest of us: quit begging for those bones. Stand up already.

*Update*

Here’s the link to the lyrics to BB King’s ‘Why I sing the blues’

Or better yet, get Aretha Franklin’s ‘Spirit in the Dark’ cd and listen to her version. Fantastic.