Harbin, China: A libertarian dream

From time to time a meme will pop up on Facebook that talks about Somalia being a libertarian utopia. There’s no regulation, everyone has to more or less go it alone, and the government is virtually non-existent. Of course, this claim falls flat when one realizes that libertarians are not anti-police or anti-military. The minimal necessary governmental organization necessary to prevent anarchy is well within the philosophy of libertarians. So, fair enough, Somalia is not a libertarian utopia. However, the regulatory conditions that have led to smog problems in Harbin, China are exactly a libertarian dream:

Choked with smog that shut down roads, schools, and its main airport, the city of Harbin (map) this week offered a striking reminder that China has a long way to go in addressing the hazards caused by its dependence on coal.

Visibility in the northeastern city of more than 10 million people reportedly was reduced in places to less than 65 feet (20 meters) as coal-fired heating systems ramped up for the winter months. Officials also pointed to farmers burning crop stubble and low winds as additional causes for the pollution crisis.

Roads have been shut down due to the intensity of the smog. People in this area of the country die much sooner than those in cleaner areas. It’s a serious problem that has been fueled, in part, by a desire to grow, grow, grow.

Now, to be fair, it was actually the government that encouraged the use of coal in the first place. That, of course, is not a libertarian dream. Libertarians would rather the magical hand of the free market guide the energy markets. But let’s be reasonable. The use of coal in China is going to be significant with or without the government. It’s a cheap, easy energy source. Moreover, one cannot ignore the fact that it is a complete lack of government regulation that has allowed carbon emissions and other pollution to get so out of hand. Forget that the government shares blame in this: This is the difference between handing a child a loaded gun with the safety off versus handing a child a loaded gun with a child safety lock in place. The kid shouldn’t have the loaded gun in the first place, but if he’s given a Glock anyway, he shouldn’t be able to so easily shoot himself in the head. But under libertarianism? Who cares if he’s dead? What’s important is that he had the FREEDOM!!! to kill himself in the first place.

Libertarianism for the mentally retarded

I have recently taken up a job where I work with the mentally retarded and mentally ill. It isn’t my goal in life to work my way through this field for any significant length of time, but I feel it will be a good experience for me as far as it goes. In fact, I’ve only just started and I’m already encountering a whole number of surprises. This is all probably especially emphasized at the house where I have been working due to the severity of the mental retardation in all the ‘clients’, but I have little doubt I would find my eyes opening a fair bit regardless of the exact situation. Specifically, two thoughts are constantly being churned in my mind:

  • How happy are any of these people?
  • Who, if not the government, would pay for their care?

I will leave the first question to the experts or mystery, but the second one is much more pragmatic. Under our current, humane form of government, the funding for much of the services these people need is obtained through the state. Some of it comes from charity and good will – I think the land on which my recent house sits was donated – and for people outside non-profit and other mental health programs, they may be fortunate enough to have private care independent of the government. In fact, one of the residents grew up a town or two over, having been taken in by a nice farm family for quite some time. I don’t know to what extent the state involved itself funding-wise, if at all, but surely there are plenty of example of people getting help from private individuals. However, those examples represent a small minority of the cases. Most people cannot afford the sort of care some of these ‘clients’ require.

So this all makes me wonder, if we had a wholly libertarian government, who would care for these people? Who would ensure that those who cannot help themselves not only are able to live, but are able to live healthy lives?

Thought of the day

I think what I find most disturbing about libertarianism is just how often its adherents lack a social conscience. We should always make our moral and societal decisions on a rational basis, but I think there’s something wrong with a person who can’t be persuaded to even think about certain issues on an emotional basis.

Rand Paul used to understand libertarianism

Last year Rand Paul made some politically stupid, but perfectly libertarian comments:

INTERVIEWER: Would you have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

PAUL: I like the Civil Rights Act in the sense that it ended discrimination in all public domains, and I’m all in favor of that.


PAUL: You had to ask me the “but.” I don’t like the idea of telling private business owners—I abhor racism. I think it’s a bad business decision to exclude anybody from your restaurant—but, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership. But I absolutely think there should be no discrimination in anything that gets any public funding, and that’s most of what I think the Civil Rights Act was about in my mind.

Shortly after that comment, however, Teabaggers and other like-minded individuals (i.e., the Republican party…because, come on, they’re the same thing) distanced themselves from Paul. Unbeknownst to all the pseudo-libertarians out there, Paul was perfectly in line with their (espoused) ideology. He didn’t say he favored racism. He said he favored allowing it. One can maintain a position within the ethics of libertarianism whilst at the same time believing the follow-through to that position to be immoral. Not that I think allowing for racism in that context is acceptable, but I want to present a pretty straight-forward analysis of what libertarianism entails; Paul was being consistent.

Unfortunately, that consistency appears to have worn off:

I’m not for profiling people on the color of their skin, or on their religion, but I would take into account where they’ve been traveling and perhaps, you might have to indirectly take into account whether or not they’ve been going to radical political speeches by religious leaders. It wouldn’t be that they are Islamic. But if someone is attending speeches from someone who is promoting the violent overthrow of our government, that’s really an offense that we should be going after — they should be deported or put in prison.

This has zero connection with libertarianism. Free speech composes a cornerstone of not only the U.S. constitution, but also much of libertarianism (especially as the ethical theory pertains to politics). That Paul would go and say something so stupidly inconsistent makes it quite clear that he really could only ever be elected in the South.

Now just wait and see how many of his pseudo-libertarian brethren don’t distance themselves from him.

Greed and libertarianism

Charles and David Koch are two of the wealthiest men in the world. They’ve funded a vast number of projects, especially in New York, and it would be hard to say boo to a lot of what they’ve done: they’ve restored theaters, supported museums, and even funded cancer centers. This has all been at whopping costs, ranging into the hundreds of millions of dollars. But this is just the stuff that’s going to be mentioned in their eulogies.

The Koch brothers have also channeled millions and millions of dollars into efforts to deny reality. They’ve fought many Democratic policies tooth and nail, giving sly support (i.e., funding) to the Tea Party movement, and it’s all been done in the guise of libertarianism. The reality is much different.

In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. And Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a “kingpin of climate science denial.” The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.

They have even gone so far as to fund an exhibit on evolution (good) in an effort to deny the significance of global warming (bad).

Underlying the libertarian ideology of the Koch brothers is greed. Given the massive revenues of Koch Industries ($100 billion annually), it ought to be surprising, but it really isn’t. Libertarianism has its root in the positive ideals of liberty and freedom, but it almost always is taken too far, taken to a point where it causes obvious harm. In this case, the Koch brothers are using their ideology to motivate a sizable portion of the country to do their biding, including: reducing government help for the needy, polluting the planet, and harming our infrastructure. No one wants these things. No one wants people to be needy, no one wants pollution, no one wants bad roads and bridges. The pragmatic (i.e., reasonable) position is to find a middle ground which allows us to afford all these good things while making sure we aren’t harming jobs and other necessities. Given the $100 billion in annual revenue, I would say Koch Industries doesn’t particularly need any more “liberty”; it has been thriving just fine within our current system. (And I suspect it would continue to thrive even if it didn’t skirt laws and undermine reality.) Pragmatism, in this case, tells us there is no need to further enrich the Koch brothers; if anything, they ought to be taxed more.

Of course, this all is somewhat a misrepresentation of libertarianism. The reality is that very few people actually adhere to such an abhorrent ideology because, like with all ideologies, it quickly reaches a point of ridiculousness and harm. Who can name an actual libertarian politician in America, after all? Rand Paul is the closest, but when he maintained his ideology and said people ought to be able to deny black people service, there was an uproar – even among Teabaggers. Unfortunately for all the so-called libertarians, Paul was perfectly in line with the ideology. It wasn’t that he said black people ought to be denied service. In fact, it’s unfathomable that he believes that. What he said was that people ought to have the right to deny others service. That is libertarianism. Sorry if facts rub you the wrong way, Teabaggers.

Besides that, most so-called libertarian Teabaggers are really just far right-wing conservatives who only favor economic libertarianism. Don’t believe me? Go to the nearest rally on April 15th and start asking how many Teabaggers think gay marriage ought to be legal. Or go far enough south and see how many still favor anti-sodomy laws. I doubt the spirit of libertarianism will be so buoyant at that point. And the reason is simple: libertarianism is a convenient excuse for greed. That is why it is so selectively applied to economic issues. People aren’t adhering to a bad ideology because they think it’s good. They’re adhering to a bad ideology because they think it’s good for their wallets.

There isn’t anything inherently bad about wanting personal wealth and success. You want it? You can get it? Go nuts. But if it’s done at the expense of the poor, of the middle class, even of other wealthy people (that last one is a stretch), then tough. Too bad. Back off. There is something inherently bad about wanting personal wealth and success when it makes the poor poorer, when it increases the income gap, when it makes workers weaker, when it harms the overall economy, when it’s done in an unfair way. We all want to see poor people rise up, we all want to see the middle class increase, we all want to see workers have control over their well being, we all want to see a strong economy, we all want to see a fundamental fairness in our system. Following a sloppy, or even worse, a stringent, libertarian ideology gets us further and further away from all that.

Society and the individual

I’ve pissed off feminists in my day. The reasons they give are going to revolve around me not understanding this or that, not automatically agreeing with them in the details, etc. (‘You don’t agree with me on this issue! Sexist!’ … ‘Why?’ … ‘Because!’) Basically, nothing specific.

But the problem isn’t some deep misogyny on my part. (Disagreement about what a picture of fat people means does not somehow magically equal hating women.) The problem, instead, is one of philosophical structure.

Feminism, as I’ve argued in the past, is a philosophy of consequence. It largely ignores intention, instead focusing upon the result of an action. It’s about as advanced as libertarianism. Of course, both philosophies have value, but when they’re promoted at the expense of everything else, they’re mere ideologies which inevitably lead to absurd conclusions. The same is true of all ethical and moral systems, including the ever-so-popular utilitarianism and egalitarianism (both of which I tend towards).

I got thinking about this because of a post by PZ on the lack of women in atheist and skeptic groups.

So I’m going to try something a little different. Instead of telling you my opinion, I’m going to forgo the essential principle of blogging (which is “Me! Me!”) and just ask people, especially women, to leave links to their godless/skeptical feminist blog or make suggestions or gripe or tell me what these stupid male-dominated conventions have to do to correct the imbalance…I shall be a passive receptacle for your ideas.

I do have to make one suggestion (the testosterone compels me) for something I’d really like to see happen…

Don’t mind his suggestion here (but at his site, he says a female-run conference on atheism/skepticism would be good). Take a look at the emphasis I’ve added. He says he is compelled, inherently, by the fact of being male. This is in line with a good bit of feminism, including the caricatures that haunt the Internet, but it’s a load of bull.

This idea that someone is compelled to do this or that may have a basis in sex, but philosophy is not the way to determine that. I want hard evidence. And, depending on just what is being discussed, there is plenty of evidence that men and women will tend towards certain behaviors because of their sex. Of course, that data often comes with the compounding factor of just what influence nurture has had, and the sociologists have a say there. But philosophy is not data. Logic can tell us nothing new; logic can only interpret the data we have.

What PZ does when he says it’s his maleness that makes him act one way or another is he devalues himself. (Hell, he even goes counter to all the feminist arguments that say the individual is responsible for rape/sexual abuse and ought not blame society – something with which I agree.) It’s a devaluing of the individual to place blame on some external source – especially without evidence. We may be able to blame an act of violence by a mentally ill person on his mental illness, but that principle does not extend to most people and most actions. It isn’t some external source that is to blame for individual actions among competent people 95% of the time. It’s the individual.

That said, there certainly is value to the arguments that say society is dominated by men and that that is an impediment to true equality between the sexes. Again, that doesn’t somehow magically mean a picture of two fat women is sexual objectification, but there are plenty of incidents where that domination is a serious problem, ones we gloss over on a daily basis. Watch just about any TV show. Women will be objectified and our culture allows it. That’s not a problem with the individual, but society. But it’s ridiculous, devaluing, and plainly wrong to claim that society is the whole problem.

The individual bears responsibility.

American libertarianism

Libertarianism is an ethical theory which has value. Most of us want and enjoy our personal liberty; it sounds appealing to declare that the good is maximized liberty. And, in fact, the constitution has a strong libertarian basis, as was common with the founding fathers, especially Jefferson. The only point where libertarians draw the line is when harm is done to others. Sometimes this gets tricky – defining “harm” is very value-laden thing, one that tries to make the world a bit black and white. But it’s easy to at least identify the extreme situations which constitute harm – murder, theft, rape, etc.

And this is where libertarianism can take on a distinctively American flavor.

When applied to not getting physically injured, sure, that’s harm and a violation of maximized liberty. Or when applied to economic well-being, theft is another violation. But many libertarians are unwilling to go beyond this point. Take what happened to Rand Paul last month.

INTERVIEWER: Would you have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

PAUL: I like the Civil Rights Act in the sense that it ended discrimination in all public domains, and I’m all in favor of that.


PAUL: You had to ask me the “but.” I don’t like the idea of telling private business owners—I abhor racism. I think it’s a bad business decision to exclude anybody from your restaurant—but, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership. But I absolutely think there should be no discrimination in anything that gets any public funding, and that’s most of what I think the Civil Rights Act was about in my mind.

This is entirely consistent with libertarianism. Again, it is an ethical theory – it is not a moral one. It is possible to favor something out of principle because it maximizes liberty while at the same time finding it immoral. Paul does precisely that. It’s immature – there’s no need to force one’s self to be so ideological (both consequences and intentions matter, contrary to the one-or-the-other principles of most ethical theories) – but it’s still in line with libertarianism. Soon after this, the Libertarian party in Kentucky distanced itself from Paul. More recently, Paul has returned the favor.

The original reason for the distancing was specifically Paul’s philosophical stance on private ownership.

Party Vice Chairman Joshua Koch said Wednesday that Paul has been a black eye for Libertarians because of stands he’s taken on issues, including his criticism of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

This was an unofficial position, but it’s the basic reason for the distancing.

Paul’s other positions fall from necessarily being libertarian-derived, but they should still be labeled libertarian – with the qualifier American. It isn’t that the good is maximized liberty, it’s that the good is my maximized liberty.

The Teabagging Party is the epitome of American Libertarianism. The physical liberty of people remains universal – no one should be harmed – but it becomes a my liberty mentality when it comes to economic and social circumstances. Businesses not allowing blacks? Sure, because it’s forcing someone to help someone else. That isn’t complete liberty for the person being forced to do the helping – and just screw the liberty of those darkies. Same-sex marriage? Philosophical consistent libertarian parties favor it, but American Libertarianism is against it. How does that help my liberty, after all?

Give it some thought. Stop a business from having no restrictions, that might help me get something cheaper, help me get paid slightly more, or help me pay my workers (or taxes) less if I open my own place. But allow two consenting adults to have insurance and easy joint custody of their children? How does that help me?

The funny thing about it all is that rights are rights are rights. Currently, marriage is not a right. It’s an arbitrary privilege which can be taken away from any group at any time, should we apply socially conservative ‘principles’ to it all the way to the end. The reason so many are blind to this has a number of reasons: majorities are almost always privileged and that isn’t always easy to see, people are ignorant and thus plainly homophobic, religion is a virus of the mind.

And this applies beyond same-sex marriage. Thirty states allow for faith healing, something which minimizes the liberty of children. American Libertarianism favors this; philosophical libertarianism does not. Or the war on drugs. Again, American Libertarianism, for. Philosophical libertarianism, against. Or restricting abortion. Or the death penalty. Or the immigration law in Arizona.

The list goes on and on.

PZ is wrong again

It was advertised earlier this week that South Park was going to feature an image of Mohammed. They, of course, never did because they prefer to entice their audience with lies, but I don’t think anyone familiar with the show really thought it was going to happen anyway. But it seems that PZ Myers might only be somewhat familiar with the series and so thought it would happen.

Are you ready for civilization to end? I guess the television show South Park is going to show a cartoon rendition of Mohammed tonight. I think the show has been steadily declining in quality, but I’ll tune it in one more time just to support the public desecration of the sacred.

Have they ever done a show where they lampoon juvenile libertarianism? I’d also tune in for that, but that probably hits a little too close to home for the creators.

Does anyone else see the glaring problem here? Does anyone recognize just how little sense this makes?! PZ called the vague ideology of the South Park creators “juvenile libertarianism”. That is completely inaccurate. Come on. Everyone knows libertarianism is infantile at best.

And even then, that’s being redundant.

I declare I am right!

There are a lot of bad arguments that come from Suzanne Franks and friends. These are caricature feminists who seem to almost revel in the notion of ignoring every philosophy that isn’t feminism. They see to despise the notion that intention matters (a la Kant et al). One user even said this.

Before you bring up Kant on a feminist blog, you need to read and contemplate Jane Flax’s chapter on Kant and Enlightenment thinking in “Disputed Subjects.”

The point I was raising with Kant (and others, but Kant is the most influential) is that intention matters. Feminism is largely a philosophy of consequence, but unlike, say, utilitarianism or humanism, it does not deal well with philosophies which place an emphasis on will (or, specific to Kant, Good Will).

I am unable to locate the article cited by that user, Comrade Svilova, but this piece by Ruth Dawson summarizes Flax by saying,

Jane Flax…argues that Enlightenment depends on the unspoken occlusion of women…

Again, we see an argument premised in consequence. The issues raised by Flax have little to do with the value of intention; she cares about the context of the writings and what they meant for women at that time. This line of argument is irrelevant because no one today is arguing from an 18th century perspective. The invocation of Kant (and more specifically, will/intention) has nothing to do with how past philosophers and others may have implemented particular ideas. Instead, the focus is on how we can and ought to apply these ideas in the cultural context of today. Take this article on the founding fathers and rights. While same-sex marriage was not directly discussed, I specifically had it in mind while writing the piece. The ideas of those men resonate today because they espouse a strive towards equality that many people want. That doesn’t mean any of those men would have favored same-sex marriage. The point is the ideas, not the people who wrote them.

And there are more times where some of the more prolific feminist sites will ignore intention, going so far as to set up blatant and offensive strawmen.

FAQ: What’s wrong with suggesting that women take precautions to prevent being raped?

Short answer: Because it puts the onus on women not to get themselves raped, rather than on men not to do the raping; in short, it blames the victim.

What I think this is trying to articulate is that it is wrong for people to say “She had it coming”. The article does not actually address prevention, as seen here.

Left to my own devices, I never would have been raped. The rapist was really the key component to the whole thing. I was sober; hardly scantily clad (another phrase appearing once in the article), I was wearing sweatpants and an oversized t-shirt; I was at home; my sexual history was, literally, nonexistent—I was a virgin; I struggled; I said no. There have been times since when I have been walking home, alone, after a few drinks, wearing something that might have shown a bit of leg or cleavage, and I wasn’t raped. The difference was not in what I was doing. The difference was the presence of a rapist.

This points out that the author did not have it coming and that rape is not dependent upon how a woman dresses. (While rape is generally about power, it shouldn’t be ignored that many rapists do not arbitrarily choose their victims, often instead opting for particular characteristics or traits – and that is still the fault of the rapist.) This point is not about prevention.

What is being implied here is that there are actually a significant number of people who really do think it is a woman’s fault for getting raped. Instead, the only close argument that actually gets made is that it is a good idea for women to not walk alone at night in dangerous places or that women should carry rape whistles and/or cell phones. This is not a philosophical claim that has implications of blaming anyone for anything. It’s practical advice that acknowledges there is danger out there. This would be like someone saying, “Hey, you should do X, Y, and Z if you come across a bear while hiking”, only to get the response, “What, are you saying it’s my fault if I don’t do those things?”. No, the bear is still the root of the problem and we ought to do what we can to control the population, but you shouldn’t start trekking the Appalachian Trail without knowing the dangers.

The warnings women get are misleading. They leave out the acts of the rapist himself. They focus on the situation. They also may focus on the “kind of man” the potential rapist is. If he’s a friend of a friend, or your uncle, he’s “safe.” It’s the stranger who’s the threat.

Who is disagreeing with this conclusion? Yes, non-strangers are threats, but so are strangers. Control the bear population. That doesn’t mean you should walk into a dark alley because you aren’t the one to blame.

On another FAQ, the question “What’s wrong with saying that things happen to men, too?” is asked.

Nothing in and of itself. The problem occurs when conversations about women can’t happen on unmoderated blogs without someone showing up and saying, “but [x] happens to men, too!” (also known as a “Patriarchy Hurts Men, Too” or PHMT argument, or a “What About The Mens?” or WATM argument). When this happens, it becomes disruptive of the discussion that’s trying to happen, and has the effect (intended or otherwise) of silencing women’s voices on important issues such as rape and reproductive rights.

This undoubtedly happens. In fact, it happens over and over within scientific discussions that get derailed by creationists. The difference, however, is that “derailed” means that the original topic had nothing to do with creationism. On Suzanne Franks’ blog, she specifically ‘addresses’ those who dissent. (Here, here, and here.) Once that happens, the doors are open – especially if she is pointing to specific individuals. It is fundamentally unfair to say, “Here’s why you’re wrong about X…but you can’t respond because I don’t want a discussion. I just want to tell you things.” (It also seems to fit the piss-poor definition of “mansplaining”.)

To what this point really boils is that if someone does not want a particular point of view expressed in a particular place, then that person needs to start banning people. Franks has threatened to do that to me (despite the attention she is giving to specific people on specific topics – it isn’t logically tenable to claim to not want to discuss particular issues in particular ways only to then create posts which specifically do that), and that’s fine. I expect she’ll do it in short enough order and that’s her discretion, as logically inconsistent as it may be. (On the other hand, I consistently edited Comrade Physioprof’s posts because I was attempting to discuss a particular issue whereas he was spamming and trolling. Had my post been a trolling post or spam, then it might make sense for me to allow that guy’s garbage.)

What really bites my goiter about these caricatures and the more well-articulated Fem 101 site is that actual arguments are few and far between. More often there are declarations. Ask why something is so and the result is either a “You don’t get it” sort of response or a referral to a website which is more verbose in how it declares “You don’t get it”. This sort of stuff is okay for high school and lower-level undergrad philosophy courses because it does back up certain claims with further, deeper premises, but that’s where it stops. ‘Arguments’ like these don’t make it into philosophy anthologies, however, because they fail to reach more fundamental issues. How does feminism answer the importance of intention? How does it address the arguments of libertarianism? Utilitarianism? It is not a philosophy of fundamentals but rather one of contextual consequence; it therefore must either rely on or refute the philosophies which penetrate more deeply, more universally (i.e., it could attempt to rely on utilitarianism by arguing that equality maximizes pleasure, or it could refute libertarianism by arguing that too much liberty leads to inequality and inequality undermines liberty).

What I think most reasonable people want is not to be told “You don’t get it, so go to this site”, but rather “These arguments are premised on these more fundamental ideas.” If feminist sites and supporters actually addressed substantial philosophical values (where appropriate, such as in the examples I have given), then progress could be more reasonably and effectively made for all involved.