Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Note: this post grew especially long and rambling. I do not appologize; warn, yes, appologize, no. Actually, Ben makes a lot of good points, especially on the "practicality" front, but a few I think are not quite right. I'll start with those and then go on to the good points (and my debuttal). It is a bit of an oversimplification to group everybody as pro- or anti- freedom. I don't think that anybody, if asked, is anti-freedom. They just have different beliefs about how the world works, what they want out of life, and what freedom means. Some are constructive and accurate beliefs, some don't matter, some simply annoy they heck out of others, some are wrong and stupid, and some are downright dangerous. In any event, they can't possibly all be compatible, and human patience has its limits. I'm a libertarian, but that doesn't mean I believe in liberation from the laws of the universe. Some things just don't work. Period. Maybe its the scientist in me, but in my opinion, the more accurate your beliefs are about the universe, the more likely you are to act in a constructive way and achieve successful outcomes. The more ignorant or misled you are, the less likely it is that your actions will achieve the ends that you intend for them. "The truth shall set you free," that kind of thing. That just seems like common sense to me. A flood of non-assimilating people from a culture that largely "doesn't work" is not likely to improve your society. Sorry. That's just the way I see it. And they don't have to outnumber you. The influence is felt. The environment changes. Their kids grow up with your kids. They go to school together. Adults work with other adults. They hack eachother off. Ideas get passed around like a cold or the flu. People bicker and argue. Tensions flare. People resort to base tactics to "get their way." Eventually, laws get passed because people just can't handle it anymore. It just happens. That's the way people are. It doesn't do any good to say they shouldn't do so. They do. As for "the rest of the world going to hell," I think I can speak for us "pragmatic libertarians" in saying: look, that's just the way it is. If it is none of our business to tell eachother what to do, it is none of our business to tell eachother what to do. I would like folks all over the world to "choose freedom." I would love it if they did. But if they don't, well, what are you gonna do? Invade? Put a gun to their collective head and say "Be Free, dammit!"? That doesn't make sense, theoretically or practically or any which way. If they don't want it, or, more likely, aren't civilized enough to achieve it or handle it, what are you going to do about it? Change them? Can you? By what means? And is it any of your business to do so? I'm all for supporting liberty by acceptable means, but if the world chooses to go to hell, that's its choice. I recognize that I can't do anything about it, anyway. It's only my job to do the best I can, nothing more. And who ever said it was impractical to abolish the Fed? Politically, maybe, but functionally, it'd be a piece of cake! America functioned without a central bank for over a century! Better than it does today! But the pure argument against compromise due to practical considerations, apart from the bad examples, is actually quite a good argument. I am actually quite sympathetic to it. It is a pretty common failing to compromise one's principles on the basis of "practicality." I can just hear the little demon on my shoulder saying, "Oh come on, that can't work! You've gotta be practical," by which said devil means "Just go ahead and do the wrong thing. You've got a good excuse this time. Nobody will blame you." I think this must be one of the best arguments at a tempter's disposal. It's a pretty good point. I would have to place it at the top of the arguments Ben makes against my position. Fortunately for me, internal consistency is no longer all that high on my priority list. I can just feel the reader's teeth grinding. "Hypocrite, hypocrite!" has got to be the last argument our postmodern brainwashed world knows how to make. We've abandoned "right" and "wrong;" now all we can say is "logically inconsistent." But the charge doesn't bother me that much. I'm no sucker for postmodernism. I'm never gonna be perfect, and neither is anybody else, whether they know it or not. I'd rather be right as much as I can, and do the right thing as often as possible. I'm pretty sure I'll cross myself up sometimes, but hey, its better than never crossing myself up and being wrong every friggin' time, or sitting around doing and thinking nothing at all. Getting everything right all the time is just not an option. I hope everybody's mature enough to understand that. One more reason that you too should consider a little hypocrisy every now and again, and then I'll get on to my actual debuttal (and yes, I made that word up). Consistency is often a major play on vanity. Case in point: I once heard the argument made that so-and-so couldn't possibly counsel her daughter not to smoke, since she had smoked when she was her age. To try to convince her to stop would make her a hypocrite. Now, I don't care much one way or another on smoking; hey, they're your lungs. But I think it is very sad that someone who was concerned about her daughter getting cancer couldn't make the argument against her because it would ruin her perfect consistency on the subject. So, the implicit priority is: not contradicting myself first, daughter's life second. Not my priorities. So anyway, my debuttal for this argument would have to be "Who you gonna believe? Me or your lying eyes?" The open borders libertarian crowd may have all their perfectly polished, sterling silver ducks in a row as far as their theory is concerned, but I have one word for them: California. Actually, I could name quite a few others, but I won't. So for me it boils down to theory vs. empiricism. I tend to incline towards empiricism in my understanding of the world. Usually. In this case (and most others), empiricism wins. No, California wasn't all that inclined towards libertarianism in the first place, but this is like the communists arguing that communism has never failed because it has never been properly implemented. My argument against this usually goes something along the lines of: IT CAN'T BE YOU COMMIE NUMBSKULL! YOU SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO REPRODUCE! And then I remember I'm not supposed to say things like that. It sometimes surprises me that folks like this don't somehow get sucked back into the parallel/inverted universe that spawned them, or nullify a real human out of existence when they shake hands with them, like wave functions of opposed sign bumping into one another or something. The USSR, China, etc. are as close as you're gonna get here in the real world, on planet earth, with the everday humans that are the only ones that exist (as far as I know). Capitalism has never been properly implemented, either. But actual human attempts have sure turned out better than actual human attempts at anything else. In any event, it would be difficult to argue on the basis of the Californication experience that it is feasible to keep one's culture largely intact in the face of mass immigration. So my hope is not high for maintaining libertarianism in the face of mass migration from a decidedly unlibertarian state. (Side note: what might such an argument say about so-called free-trade? Maybe we should call it real-trade instead.) As for the rest of Ben's post: all of that is perfectly true. But I would ask/dare Ben: try packing a little heat in any of the countries named. See how far down the street you get. Meanwhile, Texas allows concealed weapons to be carried (sadly, only with a license) and is now pushing for open carry. Several other states already permit this. In Singapore, prostitution is legal, but until recently, oral sex was illegal. (Tell me, just how does one enforce such a law, anyway?) There are also many very onerous laws with respect to a wide range of public conduct. Such pettiness seems to me to belie the image of Singaporean commitment to liberty. I could say the same of most of the other places, and of America as well. As a matter of fact, last time I think I did. Most places have their petty, meddlesome rules. To me, this is a reflection of the abandonment of the old liberal ideal and the embrace of neo-liberalism: an attempt to get the positive effects of liberty (especially wealth) without that whole repulsive liberty thing. People want to be wealthy, and free to do the specific things they enjoy, and control everything else, too. Most people know that; I don't think it's a particularly insightful observation. But it does put the lie to the idea that there are all these freedom lovers out there. Another couple of observations: most of those places (except Australia) are relatively small with fairly homogeneous cultures. There aren't too many geographically large, culturally diverse, free places. They are also all (except Estonia) former British territories. Which again says to me that there isn't all that much liberty-lovingness out there; most of it is cultural inertia inherited from a very unusual and uniquely liberty oriented civilization which is itself in decline. I don't see any replacements on the horizon. At the end of the day, I would still have to say that for all her warts, America is still the most committed to liberty, and the most unique in being able to maintain it in the face of such large social divisions for as long as she has. And it is being eroded, it seems to me, by ever deepening social fissures coupled with ever diminishing levels of tolerance for the differences that divide us, as well as a slow erosion of common sense with respect to how government and society can stably function. I can see a few ways that liberty might be maintained in the face of mass migration by third-worlders: primarily, abolishing the socialism that threatens us with bankruptcy, and, I'll just come out and say it, limiting the franchise. But both are anathema to the modern American conscience, and it simply won't happen. So I see no other way to handle the situation but to stop it in its tracks, and, as horrible as it sounds, reverse it. Barring that, its over for America. The so-called "grand experiment" will end in failure. In my opinion. But some very good arguments and links from Ben on the subject. And since we're all libertarians here, I still love him, and invite him to do his worst against my empirical anti-immigration onslaught.