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Friday, June 12, 2009

Libertarianism, and the Rise of Right Extremists

So, two New York Times Op-Eds, Paul Krugman and Judith Warner discuss the rise of rightwing extremism. They each cite the murder of the abortion doctor, and the murder of the guard at the Washington D.C. Holocaust Museum. Both have many nasty comments posted by readers suggesting that the articles themselves evince signs of extremism and are hypocritical. Based on the Glen Beck argument that good ol' Americans are getting branded as extremists and having their rights infringed upon. And this relates to yesterday's post: Being an asshole is not, nor should it be, a freedom guaranteed by law.

Those who argue for the freedom to bear arms cannot be separated rationally from those who want guns for no other reason than to hurt people. Regardless of whether or not they espouse the right to hunt, and seek protections for rifles, whether they want to protect their family, and seek protections for handguns, or whether as my libertarian college buddy thinks, think the people need their weapons to rise against facism--there is in all of these justifications an essential desire to commit injury or outright murder.

I can understand that, because after living in Harlem for several years, and had been the victim of violence and the threat of imminent violence, I too had briefly considered the purchase of a handgun. For a liberal, this was a major heresy on my part. And I am intensely grateful to my one-and-only for having the moral strength of character to call me on my moral lapse.

Fiction of all kinds uses violence as a dramatic tool. I am a fan of fantasy fiction, and fantasy without swords, is a complete waste of time. Likewise, horror or war movies without gore. But there is a separation between those who imagine and enjoy imagined acts of violence, and those who argue for it, or commit it. As a pacificist, I am totally opposed to the idea of committing violence on another human being. Even for the worst human beings, incarceration, I believe, is the only morally sound practice. And for those who argue the rationale of self-defense, I say this: Defending yourself is hardwired, and so excusable, in certain cases, by law. I grant that. However, parading that idea as a justification for gun control , or as a justification for keeping the power to take life in a tightly compacted metal object that could fit in a pocket or handbag is absolutely inexcusable. And if you killed a man in defense of yourself or your family. Even though you will have done what you had to do, you have still committed an immoral act, and you should beg forgiveness for it. Yes, even in cases of self-defense. And as Socrates explained in the Gorgias:

Polus: A man who is put to death wrongfully, is pitiable and miserable, I suppose.
Socrates: Less so than the man who kills him, Polus, or the man who is put to death because he deserves it.
Polus: How so, Socrates?
Socrates: Because the greatest of all misfortunes is to do wrong.
Polus: But, surely it is worse to suffer wrong?
Socrates: Certainly not.

So, while I can enjoy righteous vengeance as the hero brings his sword down upon the neck of the villain who slew his whole family, I do not believe that capital punishment is a morally acceptable equivalent. And that is not a contradiction, because what I enjoy in fantasy is a reward whose consequences are only reflected upon myself. And in point of fact--the best fantasy novels being written right now are often morally ambiguous, and make a point of showing that Evil isn't Evil, nor Good simply Good. Take Steven Erikson from Reaper's Gale:

“So the hero wins free. Then what?”
“The hero does nothing of the sort. Instead, the hero catches a chill down in those dank tunnels. Makes it out alive, however, and retreats to a nearby city, where the plague he carries spreads and kills everyone. And for thousand of years thereafter, that hero’s name is a curse to both people living above ground and those below.”

Those who argue, like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, and now my libertarian friend, that violence is justifiable are shocking to me. Do I think that my friend would "take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them?" I don't know. I think there is a disconnect there. I think that on some level, when you make that argument, you have forsaken the humanity of those whom you wish to conquer. They are no longer empathetic people, and become simple obstacles. And at that point, the dividing line between thought and action becomes one of fear of retribution, not moral repulsion at the idea of the violent act. Not acting for fear of retribution is not moral, in fact, in some circumstances it would be considered immoral. Take Electra, railing against her sister for not attacking the status quo in Sophocles "The Electra."

I envy you for your prudence; for your cowardice, I hate you!

She hates her sister for not acting against the injustice done to them. That is a central argument of the revolutionary isn't it? None action is complicit? If you're not with me, you're against me? Sure, and I get that argument for many reasons. But again, these simplified versions of events, indicate more about the mind of the the thinker than about the situation itself. Amongst almost all of the libertarians I've met, and those that I've read, and I include my own flesh and blood in this assessment, is a substancial vein of paranoia. There is a certain willingness to believe that the government is going to control you. When in fact, the government's biggest problem is that it doesn't really give a shit about you in the first place. Now the CIA does monitor extremists groups--and that I believe is a good thing. But the reports during the Bush years of infiltrations of peaceful groups of anti-war activists was just ridiculous. There was no threat of violence there, there was no categorical infringements of rights going on. It was a reactionary us against them, as Rick Perlstein would call it, Orthogonian movement.

All of this comes back to my central point. I think that there are people who want to commit violence against other people. I think that any rationalization for an act of violence, is an obfuscation of that desire. So logically, anyone who posits, suggests, hopes, jokes, writes, or encourages this type of extremism should be regarded warily, as marginally dangerous people. And above all, this behavior should be condemned and discouraged by every moral authority.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Holy (Batshit Crazy) Western Empire

So, the latest news pandemic is on the guy who shot the guard at the D.C. Holocaust Museum. His website is closed now with the investigation going, but it was called Holy Western Empire. We don't need to go into my feelings on this. My topic of discussion here is actually free speech. The link is to a video debate on the matter as it relates to recent events. Like most Americans I was born believing that freedom of speech was sacrosanct. However, like most liberals, I was indoctrinated in the idea that hate mongering is a dangerous and disgusting pastime. Now, we all remember Voltaire's famous phrase, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it," and it's celebrated as being one of the pillars of democracy, but I have a bone to pick with free speech.

Ok, first of all, the freedom to speak the way you want is just one of many freedoms, many rights. And there are rights that trump the freedom of speech. Such as the freedom to live free from fear. The right to live free from harm. This is the problem with hate speech: conflicting rights. If I'm a neo-nazi, I'm going to defend my right to free speech. And logically, I'd be right. But if I'm the guy who happens to be near that guy, and his invective is aimed at me, or someone I know, then suddenly, my freedom has been violated. So go somewhere else, the argument goes. Sure. That happens. But that infringes on yet another of my freedoms. The freedom to be/live where I want. I remember, a few years ago, a Jewish family was living down south, and after many members of their community made anti-semitic statements, they felt compelled to leave the community. That's not right.

In someways this blog could be considered hate speech. After all, I've been complaining for years about Republicans and other conservatives. But then again, my own invective, though tainted by "passion and party spirit" (another Voltairism) does not threaten anyone's rights. After all, no one reads this blog anyway. And though I think Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly are assholes, I've never threatened them. And even though I think they are both dickweeds. I've never said anything like "Neoconservatives should be dragged out into the street and shot." or "we should put all the neocons on an island together with one nuclear warhead and let them blow themselves up." In fact, I used to condemn people who spoke that way on DailyKos, back when I was a regular poster. That sort of stuff is really awful. And as much as I personally dislike these men--I've never met them. I can't really even comment on them personally. I saw O'Reilly on Jon Stewart once. He was great, smart as a whip and very funny. One of the reasons I dislike Rush, and this is shallow, is I think he looks like a pig. And that's an insult to pigs more than it is to Rush. But again, I want the guy off the radio, not dead.

So here's the rub: Free speech is not sacrosanct. Like everything else there are shades of grey in all measures. When free speech infringes on more integral freedoms, then it is fair game to be called into question, regulated, and in very specific circumstances, banned.

On another matter, I wrote this two years ago.

Things you can be called that are food:

1) I am a ham.
2) Attorney's who aren't lavish with their praise are cold fish.
3) During the Christmas holidays most of us will be on the lamb.
4) Never call your coworkers cows.
5) Or chickens.
6) No one is ever called a swordfish. Unless they are in B-Movies.
7) After hours of making binders, we all become vegetables.
8) But not carrots. No one will ever call you a carrot. And if they did, what would it mean? That you're long and orange. I guess some people can be called carrots afterall: models who have been in the sun too long.
9) Maybe yams. Popeye once said, I yam what yam.
10) Call me crazy, but has anyone else ever been called a lettuce head? Just checking.
11) You sometimes call your boss, the Big Cheese. You might be from Ohio, in which case you are a Cheese Head. You should never call someone a stinky cheese unless you are out of swinging range. I think I'll stop there.
12) I have often been called a turkey.
13) But not a pheasant.
14) If the guy in the teller line ahead of you is really skinny, you might whisper to your comrade, "Ahoy mate, look at yonder beanpole."
15) You might call your significant other, your honey.
17) Or your sweet pea
18) Or the apple of your eye.
19) Or if she's Scandinavian, your Danish.
20) Or your love muffin. I think I'll stop there.
21) When she brings you coffee in the morning, you might say, "You're a peach."
22) Do not call her a pumpkin. But you may someday address your children as pumpkins. But not if they have weight issues.
23) You and your buddies might talk about canteloups at the bar, but that would be rude.
24) Same goes for watermelons. Hello sensitivity training!
25) If you go to the circus you might see people who resemble pretzels. You may call them that. Pretzels are salty, and everyone loves old salts.
26) If you know a spice girl, you might call her Ginger.
27) If you're in China you may eat a four legged friend, if you eat it here, they'll call you a dog.
28) Or if you're a girl, a bi%&*.
29) And here's an iffy one, if you've sent out an irritating email such as this one, to your entire work group, someone might call you (and they would be right) a cad. Err. Cod.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Quick Bits at Econtalk, Plus a little Sotomayor action

So this post will relate to a couple of different podcasts at Econtalk.

1) The second installment of Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments discussion was pretty interesting. Smith made a point of suggesting that happy and successful individuals make a point of modulating what they expect from others. Specifically, expecting too much from others can limit and even hamper your relationship with others. I find that to be very true. One of the reasons I'm such a charming person is that I expect nothing from anyone!

2) As a compliment to that, there was another thought that I felt intriguing. Namely and I'm paraphrasing, "love yourself only so much as you love your neighbor." This is sort of a follow-up point to the earlier one. The point being that self-love comes in many forms. And a need/desire for attention can be such a form of self-love. And if you wouldn't take such attention/needs/desires from your neighbor, you damn well better not being demanding it yourself.

3) Ok this Econtalk post was from a news article interview that Russ Roberts did and posted with the reporter's permission. So I've discussed this before: Roberts, and his ilk, believe that "markets don't lie in the long run." Meaning that prices, as they inflate, or deflate, over time reflect true value. My comment to that is two fold. Fold the first. Who decides the barometer for time? We're human beings, with a typical lifespan of sixty-seventy odd years. So historical value is relative. And the New York Stock Exchange will only be 200 years old in 2015, so even that amount of time isn't that long. But then again. We measure generational time in decades right? And immediately after a decade has passed, it's over the hill. So my decade, the decade where I came of age, was the nineties. I'm an old man now!

I'm getting far afield. Here's the point: True value is a false certainty. Value only has meaning relative to a specific time period. So saying that the market reflects true value overtime really isn't saying much. So why do I have a problem with the statement? Because it was used to justify the fact that the government should do nothing in regards to the current economic crisis. Which leads to fold the second.

4) Time matters! Again, this assertion by economists that the market will balance itself out is fairly heartless. As a RavingLeftatic I must protest! How many lives and livelihoods will be ruined! Now, maybe I'm being alarmist. And that's a fair criticism, but news organizations are already beginning to report that people are beginning to stop looking for work. What about those who were fired from middle class jobs who have to take service jobs to make ends meet? You don't recover from that. Not easily. The stigma of taking a paycut lasts a long time and is very difficult to beat. What about war? Not us per se, but as unemployment in Europe, Russia and China begin to rise, violence will rise too. Lives are affected by economic downturns. And that is why it is not sufficient to simply say, hands off, let the magic market do its work. The government can't do that. No one, not even nobel laureate economists know for sure how the market works. It could take two decades to recover. You. Just. Can't. Wait.

5) Ok. What else. Something came up in the same podcast, but it's my own thought. I talked in my last post about how Don Beaudreaux mentioned "The giant" as an actor in economics, namely the governor. Well, I'd like to advance that notion a bit. The giant is not actually a giant, but a giant squid. Tentacles everywhere, oftentimes acting completely independent from one another. Moreover, state governments are lesser squids, with their own separate tentacles acting everywhere. So Boudreaux's analysis is a bit lopsided. It's so much a giant knocking a fragile mechanism around a football field. It's a giant squid interlaced with every gear and rod in the machine itself! See how economics is like fantasy?

6) Sotomayor. The Reverse Racist. First of all. What an idiotic term. Seriously. Second, she's not, and the evidence provided for this unbelievable allegation is completely specious. It's a total lameass Republican talking point, and Newt has lost his touch if this was the best he could come up with. Oh good, I really need to appeal to the white supremist base of my party. Sheesh. What's worse about it is that anytime that narcisist opens his mouth, it gets recorded. Hopefully this little idiocy will flame out long before the battle begins.