Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Conservatives hate liberty

I'm in a bit of a mood, so when I read Carson Holloway's vapid ramblings at Public Discourse, I had to respond...

Libertarianism, Conservatism, and Egalitarianism

His basic assertion is that conservatism includes intrinsic constraints on the role of the state, whereas liberalism lacks those constraints (and may even positively seek increased intervention), therefore conservatives are the natural allies of libertarians.

His arguments are completely empty, as you will see.

1) He says that since conservatives base their legislative preferences in ideas of stasis (whether "tradition" or "natural law"), they cannot prefer an ever-increasing role for government. In contrast, he says, liberals seek progress so there is no limit on what they want.

I don't even know where to start with pointing out the nonsense of this statement. For one thing, society changes, and as it changes it comes into conflict with tradition. Therefore, it doesn't matter if "tradition" changes, the reach of conservative legislation will expand to include all aspects of life that deviate from the "traditional" ideal. Another problem is that even if conservatives convince themselves that their ideas are static, they are not. Notions of "tradition" change, as do ideas like "natural law" (or whatever ideology tomorrow's conservatives embrace). What's more, many supposedly "traditional" ideas are not. The self-proclaimed traditionalists ignore the diversity that has always existed in American society (and all societies) -- they claim precedence for their own way solely as an excuse to dismiss everyone else's lifestyle and belief. Their "tradition" is not my tradition.

2) He says: "For example, the conservative defense of traditional marriage does nothing to limit individual freedom, since it would merely deny governmental recognition to same-sex unions while leaving homosexuals free to live however they wish."

Not too long ago, the conservatives were trying to punish sodomy and miscegenation. Forget them. If liberals hadn't defeated them, these activities would still be illegal. I can concede that the absence of state recognition for homosexual marriage is far from the worst injustice in the world, but it is still a restriction of liberty for the state to give preference to one group or one lifestyle over another. If a conservative cannot recognize this, he is an idiot.

3) The  next issue he addresses is the contrasting ideas about human failings -- for conservatives it is original sin, for liberals it is faulty social institutions.

Well, here the his argument is backwards. If men are born as sinners, yet rescued by worshiping zombie-Jesus, then there is a clear basis for one group (Christians) to dominate another (e.g. heathens, atheists, heretics). However, if our institutions are faulty, then there is also a clear basis for eradicating the state.

Conservatives must hate liberty.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

We are always at war

Ol' B Psycho points us to another idiotic writer at an influential news organization who wants to use the "we're at war" excuse for a state crackdown on basic civil liberties.

Anytime I hear that argument, I have to ask, "If we are at war today, then when were we not at war?" The "if" clause is needed because there is currently no declaration of war by the US Congress, so the speaker is clearly not using the legal definition of "war". Instead, he's using his judgement based on the current level of military activity. The trouble is that the US military is always involved in some sort of activity. The extent of engagement fluctuates, but it is always there.

Off the top of my head, here are our current active wars...
1) The Taliban in Afghanistan
2) The Taliban (and associates) in Pakistan
3) Random terrorists in Yemen
4) Islamists in Somalia

On top of these, we have numerous places where the military is poised to get involved in case the President gets uncomfortable with local political developments (e.g. Libya, Syria, Iraq). We also have the wars of our allies -- Israel vs. her enemies, Taiwan vs China, Georgia vs Russia, South and North Korea, various Middle Eastern countries against their own people, and probably many more. Finally, we have our chronic conflicts with Cuba and Iran, which definitely included covert acts of war, and probably still involve covert actions. And then there's just the general policy of aiding coups in the various banana republics.

So we're involved in a lot of "wars" -- many of which stretch back decades. So when was the last time we weren't at war? More specifically, when was the last time that someone couldn't use "we're at war" for justifying some heavy-handed state action? By that criterion, the Cold War definitely counted as a war. This was immediately followed by first Gulf War, which continued with the siege, invasion, and occupation of Iraq. With just the Cold War and Iraq, we've been constantly at war since WWII. If the siege of Iraq doesn't cut it for you, we also have been targeted by Islamist terrorists since at least 1993 (the first WTC attack).

So if anyone uses this argument to claim that "today is different", all I can say is "STFU tyrant."

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Never talk to a cop?

Over at the Agitator blog, the comments are full of advice to think twice before calling the cops. The idea is that by doing so you are inviting trouble, as the cops are prone to over-reacting and may even turn against the person who summoned their help.

This sentiment is reinforced by an article in the WSJ, describing how many people found themselves being prosecuted for uttering small untruths to cops or other law-enforcement officials. Maybe it's best to just not talk to these people until Congress decides to limit the legal liabilities that can arise from doing so. As if...

Here's the WSJ article: For Feds, 'Lying' Is a Handy Charge

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Is it illegal to disobey your employer?

I am not a lawyer, but it sounds like there is serious legal disagreement over whether it is a federal crime for an employee to use his work computer in a way that violates the employer's policies. If this goes in the wrong direction, it could be a cornerstone for totalitarianism by employment contract.

I am absolutely fine with violation of policies being grounds for termination of employment and even liability for damages, but making it criminal is just creepy. These fraud laws are ripe for abuse, as illustrated by the prosecution of Ferrell and Kurtz. We cannot count on the restraint of prosecutors ensure that these laws are applied reasonably -- a prosecutor can hound a sick old man and and widower for years without cause, and the scumbag will still get promoted. The corporations already own Congress; they don't need to have prosecutors at their beck and call.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

The choice between two illusions (Obama v. Romney: The philosopher candidates)

At Salon.com, Linda Hirshman contrasts the ideologies of Obama and Romney, rejoicing in the fact that this election finally gives the American people a clear ideological choice. Unfortunately, this is a choice between two illusions.

On the Democratic side, there is the illusion that the state can act as a guarantor of an inclusive, caring political economy. Yet among all of our institutions, the state is among the most exclusive, hierarchical, and violent. If you want to see cut-throat competition driven by a winner-take-all outcome, look no further than our elections.

On the Republican side, there is the illusion that the American system allows space for anyone and everyone to thrive. Reality quickly casts doubt on this faith, and the arguments marshaled by conservatives are blatant bullshit.

Blinded by partisan rhetoric, Hirshman fails to identify the important aspects of a truly fair society where widespread prosperity and freedom are possible. By interperting "competition" as winner-take-all competition, she says that we either accept it (and the human wreckage of the losers) or we reject it in favor of an ever expansive welfare state. She ignores the mundane role of low-scale competition in aligning economic incentives across individuals and preventing monopolists from gaining outsized rewards for their efforts. This omission is bizarre, given the central role of this "perfect market" model in economics. It's time to drop our obsession with political illusions and power struggles, and get real about the day-to-day forces that drive our behavior.

p.s. The Salon comment system is a pain to use. I blew 20 minutes trying to leave a comment.