Friday, October 29, 2010

Libertarian Absurdities

The following is a long Blog posting I made at another Blog.1

I'm beginning to understand why some leftists loathe libertarians despite the latter's supposed irrelevance: Libertarians can actually defend the morality of their position quite easily; leftists cannot despite their identity as the most moral and enlightened.

The mere existence of libertarians is a painful reminder that there are those who actually stick to moral principle. This causes some leftists much pain, hence the use of strawmen and distortions. Their unwillingness to confront libertarianism as it actually is reflects the bankruptcy of their arguments.
The idea that Libertarians stick to moral principle is shall we say debatable. As for the use of strawmen and distortions that of course is a very familiar Libertarian technique.

To get to strawmen and distortions first, go to any libertarian website say Mies or Cato and you will find them replent with strawmen and distortions. For example perhaps the most flea dog of all the distortions is the notion that government is generally evil, (and in some libertarian language all evil). This is pure agit-prop relying for its effect on pure polemic and also based on the tired and simple-minded binary notion of an absolute distinction between private and public. I.E., private production goods etc., are good public (i.e., Government) is bad. This is coupled with the notion that collective action is by definition bad and individuals must act as individuals as much as possible. Coupled with this is the notion that individuals should not be coerced. The assumption usually implicit but sometimes explicit is that the only "real" source of coercion is public or government power.

Now it is clear to me that many libertarians are not the slightest opposed to private power, utterly unaware about how that easily blends into public or governmental power. Thus many Libertarians are absolutely incapable of seeing Corporations as governmental like bureaucracies of power. They also seem to have a great deal trouble recognizing private power as in reality often coercive. Often they live in a dream world that the only real coercive power is governmental. They also live in the dream world of everyone being responsible for themselves and a desire to reduce the ability of individuals to act collectively on the grounds that it is coercive. Yet when large private authoritarian institutions act coercively they ignore these limits on individuals freedom by talking as if individuals are free to leave / choose.

A particularly hilarious piece about this nonsense is a series of articles about how great Somalia is without government, ignoring that Somalia may have no formal government, but it is run by a series of clan based bureaucratic like systems which regiment and control life in a very authoritarian way.

What is further amusing is the solution that Libertarians suggest to if private power screws you, (i.e., pollutes your water); well just sue!? Thats right litigate, litigate litigate! After gutting governmental power to an absolute minimum if a big holder of private power screws you just go to the courts and sue. No doubt the fact that one side as vastly greater power than you in terms of wealth etc., will make no difference in how long it takes or what sort of decision the courts make. Yeah right! Of course the courts will also receive the massive and huge funding that will be necessary to deal with the vast increase of cases they will have to deal with. And of course this won't represent a vast increase in judicial power and the influence of lawyers in our society.

Sarcasm aside it is also obvious to me that a Libertarian society will see the growth of corporations into the gap left by government in effect replacing government with something that in present day North America is even more authoritarian.

Of course one of the more interesting features of Libertarianism is its implicit and at times explicit contempt for democracy. Basically contempt for people acting collectively. Democracy is characterized as hopelessly corrupt and well "evil", because it could lead to a individuals rights being abridged in a fundamental way.

Now I realize that the above doesn't characterize all Libertarians but I've seen it in far too many.

As for the moral argument. You really think they can easily defend their position morally? Well since a certain species of Libertarianism seems to think that individuals are atomized and entirely separate from all others and should act in their own (hopefully) enlightened self interest. Ah but self interest might require collective action and even worst coercion! Of course frequently this atomized view of human relations leads to a celebration of the ideal Libertarian society as all against all. Of course since humans form groups this view of basic human nature is false. Of course the biggest moral problem with Libertarianism in this form is that all to many Libertarians have no problem and no awareness of private power and coercion, (aside from the fact that this Manichean duality is an illusion). It appears that the exercise of such private power to screw people over, so long as it doesn't involve the evil of government, raises no problems with many Libertarians. Thus a wealthy merchant during a famine using his private power to hoard grain during a famine in hopes that prices will go up raises no moral problem in this singularly blinkered view.

Further it is of interest that to many Libertarians the liberty that matters is the ability to make money, own property etc., and that restrictions on that ability, like unions, child labour laws pollution controls etc., are unacceptable restrictions on liberty. Translated their liberty to screw others for their advantage. Basically the right to manage, property and make money trump everything else. Thus we get many Libertarians voting for the Republicans because they lower taxes, sacrificing other liberties for that. Also given this tendency of so many Libertarians to vote Republican; so much for sticking to moral principles. Of course of the most embarrassing examples of Libertarian sellout is Penn Jillette's paling around with Glen Beck, wingnut for quite a while. Yep standing up for real moral principles there.

As for other moral principles we get the following nonsense from some Libertarians, i.e., that a starving mob looting a train load of someone else's grain during a famine is utterly morally reprehensible and they have no moral problems with the person in question not just hoarding and moving the grain but shipping it out of the famine area if he can get a higher price elsewhere. Doesn't that at least raise a moral issue? But of course the right to manage and control ones own property trumps everything else and if it screws you over just sue and wait years, if it come at all, for the settlement.

Thus we read in Libertarian screeds stuff about personal responsibility. Thus I have read how about during famines feeding the starving with free or cheap food, would destroy the price mechanism and interfere with the magic invisible hand and besides people must learn to prioritize and be rational and giving them food might just encourage them to continue to be lazy and irrational. Yes nothing like having a few of your nearest and dearest starve to death in front of you to encourage rational sensible behavior. Either that or rely on completely voluntary agencies which might or might not, depending on if your cause is fashionable at the time, have the resources to help you. But at all costs any sort of coercion to help others is to be avoided. Meanwhile coercion must be employed to enable people to enjoy to the full their property rights.

In the end much Libertarianism is simple selfishness. I have / want mine and to keep it all for myself without feeling any guilt about others.

Now of course the central hypocrisy of Libertarian hatred of coercion is their general lack of interest in private power or coercion as they separate that from public coercion i.e., government.

Now a consistent Libertarian position must at a minimum be against private power / institution of coercion that restrict peoples freedom. I would suggest that a consistent Libertarian position must be against the Corporation and must be against those private power institutions that inhibit peoples ability to choose. And if they really believe that suing as a solution to private power screwing you. I would like to see a comprehensive and detailed description of how such a system would work especially about how its decisions would be enforced. Of course a thoroughly consistent Libertarian position is not much different from Anarchism.

Finally I would like to see a lot less of the Manichean bullshit / lies Libertarians spout when they talk about government.

Some people might object that I'm creating a caricature of a Libertarian position above. Sorry to say but its all stuff I've read about or heard in the last year.

1. See Dispatches From the Culture Wars Here

Pierre Cloutier

Saturday, October 09, 2010

"Natural" and "Unnatural"

I really hate the use of the terms "natural" and "unnatural" being used to describe things / acts, actions that exist in the real world. It is in my opinion a semantic slight of hand to give a more "objective" feel to moral / judgemental beliefs / statements. To me if something is "unnatural" it simply cannot happen. If it can happen it is "natural". Thus wearing clothes is "natural", so is loving someone, or writing a essay or saving someone from drowning with a life preserver. Of course murder, rape etc., all acts we deem bad etc., are also "natural".

What people almost always mean when they describe something as "unnatural" is that they feel / think that the thing or act described is immoral and / or evil. However talking about something as "unnatural" avoids the objection that the statement is simply a subjective statement of moral belief and hence easily countered by other, different statements of moral belief. Instead it elevates the belief to a more objective "higher" plane of argument that is, superficially objective and hence no longer merely a subjective moral belief.

Of course this type of argument is merely pseudo-objective, but it often achieves its purpose of getting people to discuss whether or not something is "unnatural" rather than the morality or lack thereof of some thing or act. It in fact makes no difference to the morality of something whether or not it is "natural" or "unnatural", but it does create the illusion of objectivity to argue about that and it avoids overtly talking about morality when that is what your in fact talking about. In other words it is a semantic con.

Associated with this is the concept of "natural law". I do not mean things like Newton's first law, or Kepler's laws of planetary motion, which like a real "natural" law are virtually unbreakable but the philosophical notion of "unnatural law", which is nothing more than a semantic trick designed to shroud the discussion of morality and ethics in a pseudo-objective disguise and further import false notions of scientific rigor into the discussion of morality and ethics.

Discussions of whether or not something is "natural" or 'unnatural" are just semantic games to avoid a clear discussion of ethics and morality.

Pierre Cloutier