Ignorance of Libertarianism Is the Problem

CJ Werleman opined at AlterNet on “Why Atheist Libertarians Are Part of America’s 1 Percent Problem”:

In the days running up to Thanksgiving, Walmart urged its workers to donate food to their most in-need colleagues. You know, instead of Walmart having to pay said workers a livable wage. When people ask me what libertarianism looks like, I tell them that. By people I mean atheists, because for some stupid reason, far too many of my non-believer brethren have hitched their wagon to the daftest of all socio-economic theories.

Why is it that those least knowledgeable about libertarianism speak so authoritatively on what libertarianism entails?

The Walmart story does not inherently demonstrate that libertarianism is flawed or daft. It doesn’t even demonstrate that Walmart doesn’t pay its employees enough. It might mean that, but one photo can speak a thousand words of nonsense. It’s plausible that the donation point was established to help employees who’ve fallen on unexpected hard times. That is consistent with libertarianism, which can be defined as “the belief that each person has the right to live his life as he chooses so long as he respects the equal rights of others. … In the libertarian view, voluntary agreement is the gold standard of human relationships.” There is no reason to assume that excludes compassion.

Werleman continues:

Famed science author and editor of Skeptic magazine Michael Shermer says he became a libertarian after reading Ayn Rand’s tome Atlas Shrugged. Wait, what? That’s the book that continues to inspire college sophomores during the height of their masturbatory careers, typically young Republicans (nee fascists). But unless your name is Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), most people grow out of the, “Screw you, I have mine” economic principles bestowed by the Russian-born philosopher by the time they’re legally old enough to order their first beer.

Atlas Shrugged does not push the idea that “Screw you, I have mine” is an acceptable worldview. (Or “Fuck you, I’ve got mine”, as I described this theory in my response to author John Green’s similar misunderstanding.) The idea is better expressed as a rejection of “Screw you, I want yours.” An implicit tenet within libertarianism is that people are generally good, both able and willing to cooperate. Werleman demonstrates what appears to be a fear that people are generally awful without the force of government compelling them to be “good”.

Atheists like to joke that faith makes a virtue out of not thinking about things, but the belief in libertarianism is an act of faith given libertarianism has not only never been tried before anywhere, but most of the world’s leading economists denounce it as a folly that would exacerbate the central economic challenges we face today—most significantly, wealth disparity.

The assertion that libertarianism has never been tried before does not constitute proof that libertarianism is therefore wrong-headed. Anyway, libertarianism happens every day when two or more people engage in voluntary exchange. The difference is scale. That difference in scale is relevant, of course, and is not meant as proof that libertarianism would work. But to say that it’s never been tried is inaccurate.

Without a link, what “leading” economists believe strikes me as little more than an appeal to authority. I’ll pass.

When I hear an atheist say he is a libertarian, I know he’s given absolutely no thought to it other than the fact that he likes the sound of no foreign wars and no drug laws. The aphorism that libertarians are Republicans with bongs is just about spot-on. Thinking Ron Paul is a genius because he’s anti-war and anti-drug laws is like thinking a Big Mac is good for you because it has lettuce and a pickle.

This is the point at which I think Werleman is trolling. He can’t possibly be this ignorant of the topic. Also, Ron Paul is not a libertarian. (The Libertarian Joke Generator is at work.)

Werleman wanders through a few paragraphs about all of the horrible, awful economic consequences of the last 35 years, a time when libertarianism wasn’t tried, remember. We’re supposed to take it on faith that this is the result of Reagan because of privatization, deregulation, and free trade. These are Reagan’s “holy trinity”. Sure, I guess, but Werleman provides no evidence to support his assertion that these three resulted in the economic crisis we now face. It’s Reagan as bogeyman.

He explains what he thinks a libertarian world would be:

… With libertarianism, property is sacred; all governments are bad; capitalists are noble heroes; unions are evil; and the poor are pampered good-for-nothings.

In order: yes, no, maybe, maybe, and no. Property rights are at the core of a functioning society, starting with one’s own person. Libertarians believe that government has legitimate powers but also the opportunity to do evil, which is why its powers must be limited. (Libertarianism is not anarchism.) Capitalists in the pejorative sense Werleman intends are most likely better described as corporatists or crony capitalists. To the extent that unions are voluntary organizations, they need not be evil. Being a pampered good-for-nothing is bad, but it has nothing to do with wealth.

He prefaced that fantasy with this:

Atheists who embrace libertarianism often do so because they believe a governing body represents the same kind of constructed authority they’ve escaped from in regards to religion. This makes sense if one is talking about a totalitarian regime, but our Jeffersonian democracy, despite its quirky flaws, is government by the people for the people, and it was the federal government that essentially built the great American middle-class, the envy of the world. …

Our Jeffersonian democracy is built on the principles of the Declaration of Independence, including liberty. It is not built on naked majoritarianism or other offensive ideas that glorify the state at the expense of individuals.

He then quotes Robert Reich¹ (from… somewhere):

Robert Reich says that one of the most deceptive ideas embraced by the Ayn Rand-inspired Right is that the free market is natural, and exists outside and beyond government. He writes:

“In reality, the ‘free market’ is a bunch of rules about 1) what can be owned and traded (the genome? slaves? nuclear materials? babies? votes?); 2) on what terms (equal access to the Internet? the right to organize unions? corporate monopolies? the length of patent protections?); 3) under what conditions (poisonous drugs? unsafe foods? deceptive Ponzi schemes? uninsured derivatives? dangerous workplaces?); 4) what’s private and what’s public (police? roads? clean air and clean water? healthcare? good schools? parks and playgrounds?); 5) how to pay for what (taxes, user fees, individual pricing?). And so on. These rules don’t exist in nature; they are human creations. Governments don’t ‘intrude’ on free markets; governments organize and maintain them. Markets aren’t ‘free’ of rules; the rules define them.”

To say that these rules are human creations that don’t exist in nature is semantics for political purpose. These rules are human creations. They exist outside of government, as any cursory understanding of p
rohibition and black markets demonstrates.

They also exist within government, which libertarians do not dispute as a basic fact. And since libertarians believe that governments have just powers, the issue is about what constitutes a just power. Voluntary exchange does not include fraud, for example, so a rule against fraud can be appropriate. A court system that provides a means for peaceful resolution of disputes can be justifiable. Werleman incorrectly presents the political difference as one of whether or not rules should exist, which is informed by his far-too-common misunderstanding of libertarianism-as-anarchism (or libertarianism-as-fuck-you).

Link via Butterflies & Wheels. (“Never read the comments” definitely applies to that post.)

¹ For perspective I’m not fond of how Robert Reich lets politics creep into his economics in the form of “Screw you, I deserve yours.” Is he one of Werleman’s leading economists who denounce libertarianism?

“Now prosecutor, why you think he done it?”

Ronald Bailey has an interesting essay, Watched Cops Are Polite Cops.

Who will watch the watchers? What if all watchers were required to wear a video camera that would record their every interaction with citizens? In her ruling in a recent civil suit challenging the New York City police department’s notorious stop-and-frisk rousting of residents, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin of the Federal District Court in Manhattan imposed an experiment in which the police in the city’s precincts with the highest reported rates of stop-and-frisk activity would be required to wear video cameras for one year.

This is a really good idea. Earlier this year, a 12-month study by Cambridge University researchers revealed that when the city of Rialto, California, required its cops to wear cameras, the number of complaints filed against officers fell by 88 percent and the use of force by officers dropped by almost 60 percent. Watched cops are polite cops.

I agree with the premise (and the need for strict rules to protect the privacy of individual citizens, as discussed later in the piece).

However, I have no expectation that this would improve much if implemented. We already recognize how many people accept the government’s assertions in criminal cases. Charged is too often synonymous with guilty. More on point, we know how such video evidence will be treated.

Consider this case of a man arrested in Florida in 2010:

An 18-year-old man faces a number of charges today after West Melbourne police found him jogging naked wearing only swimming goggles next to a busy roadway.

“He was jogging butt-naked and didn’t even have on shoes. We suspect he was under the influence … he was a little incoherent,” said Cmdr. Steve Wilkinson, spokesman for the West Melbourne Police Department.

Okay, fine, we can’t have that. But is the bolded part here true?

The unidentified man, who officers had to subdue with a Taser, was seen sprinting at about 7 a.m. today near the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Eber Road, officials reported.


Cmdr. Steve Wilkinson said King could not have been caught without the Taser, adding that King was speaking incoherently but was also apologetic for inconveniencing police.

In this case, the officer’s Taser had a camera attached to film the incident. His dashboard cam captured the rest of the interaction. The video evidence does not support the bolded statements.

The video isn’t embedding correctly. It starts at 25:20.

In the video from World’s Wildest Police Videos, the script has John Bunnell focus on making sure we agree that the police officer doesn’t want to, and shouldn’t have to, deal with a naked man. Because, ick, right?

Law enforcement officials are taught how to handle all kinds of different criminals. But let’s face it. Some, they’d rather not handle at all.

This isn’t exactly the kind of perp the cop wants to get into a wrestling match with.

The video also received the Top 20 Most Shocking Moments treatment. The facts titillate and remind us that police video is entertainment for the masses, even when it involves the use of excessive, potentially-lethal force. The camera footage is used to mock the accused and to further entrench the idea that a police officer may use a taser if arresting a suspect would involve physical effort or put him in an uncomfortable situation. Even with video, we don’t reject the use of the taser here. It repeats the now-accepted belief that the taser is a substitute for police work rather than a substitute for the officer’s firearm.

Video can be helpful and should be used. Without a commitment to changing how we use them now, I’m skeptical that video will be used in a way that compensates for existing problems in our thinking or teaches us to respect rights more. Too often we adhere to:

  1. Cops are heroic
  2. The cop tasered a criminal
  3. Tasering a criminal is heroic

The video lets us continue that nonsense.

Today’s Duh: Anthony Weiner is not a libertarian

In the true spirit of Kip’s truth that all politicians are moral defectives, we have Anthony Weiner. When asked about the New York City health department’s (weak) effort to regulate metzitzah b’peh, a ritual that has led to herpes infections that have killed at least two infant males and left at least two more with brain damage, Weiner said:

“You know, I’ve been criticized a lot of places for my position on metzitzah b’peh, on the ritual bris,” he said last night. “My instinct as a liberal is the libertarian sense of that word, is that we have to be very, very careful when we in government decide to step in, even if we’re 100 percent sure. Remember, government always is about the rule of the majority. … You have to be extra careful to protect the rights of people that are in the smallest of minorities.”

Anthony Weiner doesn’t understand his instinct. He is not a libertarian. His position is not libertarian. Even the health department’s inch-high speed bump (i.e. a “consent” form) is not liberatarian on this issue. That is not because it has the government stepping in, but because it does almost nothing. As practiced today, metzitzah b’peh – and child circumcision, more generally – violates basic human rights. There are dead and brain-damaged children already. The same risk exists in every instance in which it’s performed, just as objective harm results from every circumcision.

Libertarianism recognizes the primary purpose of any legitimate government to protect the rights of its individual citizens. This includes the individual’s right to bodily integrity and autonomy. Hence, valid laws against all other forms of non-therapeutic, unwanted physical violence exist without contention. Since children are also people, an obvious fact that too many self-proclaimed libertarians miss, government may enact and enforce laws to protect their rights, too. This includes protecting children from objective physical harm inflicted for reasons unconnected to objective need. Without need, the individual must consent. Proxy consent forms for objective harm do not protect children. They are not an acceptable standard. The libertarian position on non-therapeutic child circumcision is prohibition, as any other form of unwanted, unnecessary objective harm is prohibited.

Weiner manages to provide some insight in his words. The smallest minority is the individual, and the most vulnerable smallest minority is a child who can’t defend himself. We have to be extra careful to protect them. That includes not being too cowardly to acknowledge something we’re 100 percent sure about. Oral suction of an open wound is unsanitary and should only be done with the individual’s consent. Ritual or “medical” circumcision of a healthy child removes normal, functioning tissue and should only be done with the individual’s consent. There is no parental right to this rite.

Link via Janet Heimlich.

Something About Stereotypical

Critiques of libertarian thought entertain me. I’m happy to think about issues from my perspective and from the perspectives of others. I’m willing and eager to learn and grow. More often than not in these critiques, though, I’m left with “hmmm, that isn’t libertarianism.” For example, this post from Ophelia Benson:

One question Greta gave us was “does affirmative action work?”

I don’t think I started by saying it depends what we mean by “work” but I think I did indicate that that’s what I meant. Maybe I started with “Yes in the sense that” and went on from there. I think it does work in the (familiar) sense that if you always see X job or vocation or career full of all or mostly men (or white people or rich people and so on) then if you are not a man (or white etc) you will conclude, without deciding to conclude it, that you’re not supposed to be there.

This thought irritates the bejesus out of a lot of people. That’s sad for them but that doesn’t make it not true.

Ok, they perhaps think, but you can’t do anything about it without a lot of Professional Victimhood and Social Engineering and paying attention and all kinds of shit we don’t want to do. The hell with that. Don’t do anything, because.

I don’t like to excerpt that much, but that was more complex than “Ophelia Benson thinks X” about affirmative action. I think there’s truth there. It’s a great basis for the discussion.

That’s called laissez faire, and it’s libertarian crap. The way things are right now isn’t just magically the best way they could be, so yes we do too so get to tinker with them. No we don’t want to draft everyone until all the numbers come out even, but we do want to get rid of obstacles, including subtle ones that take digging and research to discover. [emphasis in original]

That isn’t an accurate representation of libertarian thought. Libertarians (small-l) don’t think that the way things are right now is magically the best way they could be. Only a fool thinks we’ve reached something resembling a utopia. Problems exist. Many are significant and systemic. We need solutions to improve the world, premised for libertarians on the idea that solutions can and should aim for increased liberty and opportunity for all individuals. Sometimes, those solutions require government. The idea that libertarianism is about “anything goes” is a straw man. Libertarians (small-l) are not anarchists.

The challenge here isn’t in recognizing that something needs to be done, that “yes we do too so get to tinker with [the way things are right now]”. The challenge is that tinkering has consequences. Who tinkers? What goal do the tinkerers have? What is the scope of the tinkering? What powers will the tinkerers possess? What will the world look like during and after the tinkering? What are the standards of success for the tinkering? Does tinkering on issue X end if it meets those standards? What do we do if (i.e. when) the tinkering results in unexpected outcomes? And so on.

The danger with tinkering is that those questions are so rarely dealt with. When we use government to tinker, we most likely get permanent, unchangeable solutions to fluid problems that change or disappear. That is the libertarian concern with tinkering, not the idea that a free market would be perfect.

In the comments section to Ms. Benson’s post, this, from Giliell, professional cynic:

It’s this fucking libertarian mindset wherein, as long as it is done by private people via their own biases it’s just OK but as soon as somebody spells it out and administratively does something about it it is the end of the world, peace and democracy are coming to an end and it is a burning injustice. [emphasis in original]

My libertarian mindset is that there are different standards for how we should respond with government to what people should do and what they may do. It isn’t government’s role to make sure that no one is ever an asshole to another person. There is danger in doing something administratively.

This isn’t something simplistic like “libertarians think people are good and liberals think people are bad”. The libertarian view, as I understand it, is that we are all the same flawed, imperfect people who have the capacity to engage in problematic, damaging behavior. We each overcome these ignorant tendencies and biases to different degrees. But the reality is that government includes these same flawed, imperfect people that the private sphere contains. Because government has powers that private actors do not, there must be some standard greater than “we need a solution, this is a solution”.

Understand Before Dismissing (In Case You Shouldn’t Dismiss)

I’m always amused (and frustrated) when I see people dismiss something called “libertarianism” that is unrelated to libertarianism. Today’s example is Ryan Lambert’s Trending Topics at Puck Daddy on violence and player safety in the National Hockey League. (emphasis added)

The NHL has always been dangerous, and dangerously stupid in dealing with the issues related to player safety, and there’s a lot of reasons for it.

The first is that players would rather be “comfortable” than more safe, like if NASCAR drivers came out in opposition to roll bars because they slow the cars down. That’s why visors aren’t omnipresent in this league, and why they’ll never be mandated by the league until someone literally loses an eye on national TV (Staal was so close too!).

The percentage of players who wear visors is certainly up now from where it was even five years ago, but at some point you have to protect these dummies from themselves. This isn’t libertarianism. You can’t let the free market decide what constitutes a bad enough injury that it will scare NHLers into putting care ahead of comfort.

To the extent that it isn’t in cahoots with governments (e.g. subsidies, so every team ever), the NHL is a free market. It can decide to require visors for all players without needing to ignore or violate libertarian principles.

I’m a libertarian and I favor mandatory visor use in the league. Teams and players require lots of forced behavior from each other to agree to contracts. Here, players can be forced to wear visors as a condition of employment, just like a player can be restricted from engaging in certain recreational activities during the term of his (standard) contract with an NHL team. With visors, it can be valuing a player’s contribution to the team’s revenue stream without concern for his short- or long-term health. It could also be protecting players from themselves. Both fit within libertarianism.

Small-l libertarianism is about consent and force. Governments force individuals to behave – or not behave – in certain ways. Some of that can be legitimate. Much of what we have is not. This is none of that because it’s two private actors trying to reach mutually agreeable rules. The NHL can’t force a player to sign a contract he doesn’t like. (I’m ignoring antitrust issues like the draft because the point still stands.) It’s well within libertarianism for the NHL to require its players to wear visors while playing professional hockey for any of its teams.

MRAs Are Probably Wrong, Except When They’re Right

I understand why “men’s rights activists” give some people heartburn. In too many areas it’s warranted. I’ve written about examples before, and sided against arguments associated with the MRA argument. I prefer to have facts incorporated into my theories on how the world should be.

Male circumcision is one of the (possibly few) areas where the men’s rights movement has truth¹ nailed down on its side. Male circumcision, as it’s commonly practiced on healthy minors, violates the male’s rights. Where anyone, including an MRA, shoe-horns it into a discussion of female genital mutilation, rather than discussing it if it evolves in a discussion, I understand and agree with the criticism. That’s bad marketing, at least. I’ve probably done it, although I think I’ve learned where raising the comparison makes sense. I strive for better awareness. But the more common argument seems to be that the comparison is wrong, and men’s rights activists shouldn’t try to make it.

For example, Rational Alice started a series of posts on “the most common raisons d’être of the men’s rights movement”. The series starts with male circumcision:

This first topic should be quite an easy one. I’m taken to believe that it’s not even very popular with the men’s rights movement itself, though it is definitely present therein.

I’ll argue here that male circumcision is “quite an easy one”, but that Alice misunderstands the direction in which it is easy. My caveat is that I don’t consider myself a men’s rights activist. (Note: Links removed, unless necessary. Emphasis in original.)

Those MRAs who take circumcision as one of their issues of choice assert that “male” circumcision — that is, the removal of the foreskin of the penis — is on par with “female” circumcision, or “female” genital mutilation, and is not being adequately addressed as a problem by those who campaign against it. I.e., they decry the fact that male genital mutilation is not seen as a problem by the public, while female genital mutilation (or genital cutting, FGC) faces enormous opposition; i.e., society cares more for the treatment of women’s genitalia than men’s.

First, I’m going to acknowledge my ignorance. I have no idea why male and female are in quotes. I assume it involves cis- in some form. If so, it’s odd to debate this from identity when it’s better resolved through basic anatomy intersecting with human rights. The world is more complicated than “boys have a penis, girls have a vagina,” but the principle incorporates women who have a penis, men who have a vagina, or men and women who have both.

That principle is easy to state. Non-therapeutic genital cutting on a non-consenting individual is unethical. Or, to put it in narrower words for the comparison: removing the healthy prepuce of a non-consenting individual is unethical. There are more complex issues within this topic, but that gets to the direct anatomical comparison within a framework that views all people as possessing equal rights. Any view that veers from that to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable non-therapeutic genital cutting without consent is wrong.

As for the charge that opponents of female genital mutilation don’t adequately address male circumcision, I don’t expect anyone to expend energy on subsets of a topic that don’t interest them. Focus on female genital mutilation. All I expect is that a person not defend contradictions. If someone is an activist against female genital mutilation, that’s great. The world needs dedicated people to help end FGC/M. If that person also defends male circumcision as commonly practiced on minors, that person is a hypocrite. Don’t be a hypocrite. That’s my only demand.

After a paragraph on tradition:

The universal standard advocated by MRAs is not so different from what is advocated by a great number of progressives: that no infant’s genitalia should be altered without their consent, which they obviously cannot give, except for immediate medical concerns (and the topic of intersex genital assignment is one for another post). What makes it MRA-specific, then? Well, simply the fact that they believe the activism surrounding FGC demonstrates social discrimination against men, and not, as many would have you believe, the facts about the actual procedures of FGC compared to that of “male” circumcision.

I disagree with this assessment. Perhaps men’s rights activists perceive the problem as “the activism surrounding FGC demonstrates social discrimination against men”. I doubt it, and Alice provides no example. (The reason is in the post’s introduction.) I suspect men’s rights activists do not like having their valid concerns over male circumcision dismissed, not what that dismissal symbolizes. Reality demonstrates how society, through law, treats genital cutting unequally based in gender. Disregard for the obvious similarities between female and male genital cutting is the problem that helps allow inequality to continue.

A campaign against (forced) female genital mutilation is not unfair or discriminatory if it doesn’t address (forced) male circumcision (i.e. genital mutilation). A campaign against forced female genital mutilation is unfair and discriminatory where it addresses forced male circumcision and dismisses it or deems it acceptable, for whatever cultural, religious, or prophylactic reasons might be cited.

Again, the principle is universal. It isn’t male versus female, or “male” versus “female”. All human beings have the right to their own healthy, intact genitals, in whatever form that might take, until they may decide to alter them. If a basic human right does not apply to all humans equally from birth, then rights are a worthless concept that serve no purpose beyond being an ideological tool. No.

To that point, let’s talk about FGC. There are four types: Type I involves removal of the clitoral hood and the clitoris; Type II involves removal of the clitoris and the inner labia; Type III involves removal of the inner labia, the outer labia and the clitoris, followed by fusion of the wound — which is only opened for intercourse and childbirth; and Type IV covers various less-severe practices like widening the vagina and piercing the clitoris. Think about all that for a while. …

I agree with Alice’s summary here, although I’ll add that Type IV is generally considered to be “all other harmful procedures”. That’s broader and more useful. (The four types are described in the WHO fact sheet on female genital mutilation.)

The U.S. Female Genital Mutilation Act of 1996 (18 USCS § 116) criminalizes all non-therapeutic genital cutting on female minors without regard for parental justifications “as a matter of custom or ritual”. That includes any genital cutting equal to or less harmful than male circumcision. There is no defense to be made for genital cutting on male minors if equal human rights are to matter, barring one’s support for repealing 18 USCS § 116 and all similar laws. That would be inexcusable, but it would at least be consistent.

… What does the foreskin do for the penis? Homologous to the clitoral hood, the foreskin evolved to protect the end of the penis. Recent studies have revealed no significant difference in sexual sensation between circumcised and non-circumcised penises. …

That study is from January 2004. This study, which “confirms the importance of the foreskin for penile sensitivity, overall sexual satisfaction, and penile functioning”, is from February 2013. It’s illogical to assume that removing part of the penis would have no effect on sexual sensation. But, if only the study Alice presents is correct, so what? Sensitivity is an issue, and I’d argue that changing the functioning (e.g. removing the foreskin’s gliding motion) of the penis is enough to argue against forced circumcision. What does the individual want? The issue is self-ownership and bodily autonomy. Do we own our bodies (i.e. our genitals)? The accepted position here is that females too often don’t but always should, while males don’t and that isn’t an issue. That distinction is absurd. Calling it out for criticism and change is appropriate.

… (As a matter of fact, circumcision is recommended by the WHO as part of its program on preventing HIV infections, as risk of acquiring HIV through heterosexual intercourse goes down significantly after circumcision.)

The studies found a reduced risk of female-to-male HIV transmission in high-risk populations from voluntary, adult circumcision. None of that describes the United States or Europe, and the key in that specific scenario — voluntary, adult — doesn’t apply to infants in Africa. Male circumcision in the context of Alice’s post is a different ethical issue than what’s in the parenthetical. This is often the problem. Mixing it all into one simplistic idea leads to mistaken conclusions.

Removal of the foreskin is not so different from reduction or removal of the clitoral hood, which is a component of Type I FGC. But consider the homology of the labia majora and the scrotum, and of the clitoris and the penis. These are essential components of “male” sexual physiology. Not only is FGC exceptionally cruel, …

It’s inappropriate for one person to tell others what is an inessential component of their bodies in the context of what is – and isn’t, allegedly – cruel to permanently force on them without need or consent.

… “male” circumcision cannot even come close to the cruelty inflicted by removal of the clitoris and/or the labia. …

That’s the “heads I win, tails you lose” approach to the comparison. The homology of the female and male prepuce is the consideration, the “not so different” Alice used to start the paragraph. Removing the former by force is illegal. Removing the latter by force is encouraged. That’s the flawed disparity. Criticizing MRAs is often appropriate, but here the facts are on their side, if not always their methods.

In the larger argument, removal of the clitoris and/or the labia is worse than removal of the male prepuce. That isn’t much of an insight. It’s easy to acknowledge that FGM is evil, because it is. It’s possible to accept that FGC/M is almost always worse than male genital cutting (dare I say, mutilation) in outcome, as commonly practiced. Neither of those excuse forced male circumcision. A knife to the gut is worse than a punch to the face. Should we permit the latter because it’s less damaging? Are we indifferent to any assault worse than another? Will we establish a tournament to find the one form of assault that’s bad because it’s the worst? it’s a preposterous argument. Real differences exist in the practices. That should inform criminal punishment, for example, without providing legal or cultural cover for lesser forms of forced genital cutting.

… It is a blatantly misogynist — and also, quite plainly, wrong — argument to say that the two are even remotely comparable, or that the campaign against female genital mutilation is unfair and discriminatory because it doesn’t address male circumcision.

Comparing the two isn’t misogyny. There is no hatred of females or belief that women are less than males. Someone’s strategy could involve misogyny, or confuse silence with discrimination, but that’s not the comparison, which is rooted in principle and facts. Non-therapeutic genital cutting on non-consenting females must end where it occurs. At the same time, non-therapeutic genital cutting on non-consenting males must end where it occurs. The comparison exists without lessening females or what is done to them. Non-therapeutic genital cutting on a non-consenting individual is unethical. That’s the core.

¹ Consider something like conscription. Should women be forced into conscription to be equal with males, or is this an area where the rights of males are violated? (Or the requirement to register for possible conscription that also only applies to males?)

“… as long as they know that more choice is better.”

With the libertarian dust up over Julie Borowski’s video on why there aren’t more female libertarians, I think the question is important because it addresses a valid question on which good answers might help us spread liberty more among women (and girls and men and boys). Unfortunately Ms. Borowski’s video is a bad attempt at an answer. It might be useful to consider Cosmo in the discussion, for example, but it’s an odd generalization to consider this as a representation of women who are not libertarians.

I don’t know much about Ms. Borowski, but I can figure out that she is more socially conservative than most other libertarians. That’s fine. I’ve written before (somewhere in here) about my personal disapproval of abortion that influences but can’t overrule my understanding of both the philosophical foundation of competing rights and the practical implications of any hypothetical return to greater or complete prohibition. That type of conflict and resolving one’s personal preferences with society-wide policies is where we need to focus. Libertarianism is correct because all personal tastes and preferences are unique.

That’s the basic foundation that I think Ms. Borowski fails to explore for a better answer than declaring that women are more interested in shallow pop culture and are easily overwhelmed by liberal ideas within their sources for that fluff. Women aren’t liberal. Individual women are liberal. And individual women are conservative or libertarian. As long as we pretend that all members of a group share the same beliefs, we’ll miss the answers that might guide us to better education and marketing for our ideas to individual women (and girls and men and boys). We need to address how our set of principles and proposed rules provide room for individual preferences. That’s as important as demanding that people not infringe on the freedoms we want them to respect for ourselves.

From Ms. Borowski’s video, there is nothing wrong with a woman enjoying expensive makeup and handbags, or caring what happens to the latest celebrity obsession. My wife, for example, is interested in fashion and she enjoys the various Real Housewives shows. But why is this somehow related to her political leanings? She is capable of analyzing issues for herself through various political philosophies and drawing conclusions on what she believes. She generally arrives at libertarian answers. She’s not as interested in libertarian ideas or debates as I am as a hobby, but she’s no less libertarian because she spends some of her time on the televised antics of Reza.

For me the answer to the question of why there aren’t more female libertarians probably rests on marketing and personalization for individuals. I get there because, when I wonder what women think on this, I conclude that I don’t know. It’s absurd to lump individuals into one group based on general characteristics. I know that there are individual females who are libertarian, and I can guess that each arrived at libertarianism based on her own personal preferences. They share a common outcome rather than a common starting point. We need to understand individual starting points.

I’m interested in liberty. I believe its appeal is universal, or can be universal. The path to greater support for liberty – among, but not limited to, females – probably rests in clarity on the related-but-distinct aspects of process and goals for those who conflate the two. From a recent contentious example, opposition to ObamaCare doesn’t equate to a belief that poor people should suffer. Nor is opposition to government-mandated coverage for birth control support for limiting or prohibiting access to birth control. We need to separate “this is the goal” from “government force is the best/only way to achieve it”.

I like the way Lucy Steigerwald analyzed the debate surrounding the video, especially her conclusion and its last sentence:

Why can’t freedom be fuzzy and emotional? Why can’t it appeal to all these soft, caring females? The drug war, crony capitalism, two million people in jail in the U.S., war its self, small businesses being crushed by bigger or more favored ones who have government help; taxi cartels, laws against treehouses and gardens in your homes, the racism of the justice system, the death penalty, etc. There are scores of libertarian issues that are more accessible to the average person than the quantitative scribbling on the dismal science or “letting the poor starve.” All of them could get right to the heart of people who, bless them, often do care about fellow humans and about injustices. Libertarian men and women should simply work on countering this idea that government-mandated fairness is kinder or gentler than freedom.

Note: The title of this post comes from her great response in the comments section.

My 2012 Presidential Ballot

Reason posted Who’s Getting Our Votes: Reason Writers’ 2012 Presidential Picks. It’s worth a read. For fun, I’ve answered the questions here.


1. Which presidential candidate are you voting for and why?

Gary Johnson, because he is the only candidate offering anything resembling a defense for the liberty and rights of individuals. I disagree with his support for a national consumption tax, but overall, he’s interested in economics based on economics, not politics. Liberty has to start somewhere.

2a. Between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, who do you think would be worse regarding economic freedom, including things such as industrial policy, free trade, regulation, and taxes?

Romney, but only because I expect he would have a friendlier Congress to his political trading. Obama’s policies will probably be worse, if not by much, without consideration for what he might get passed. If I thought a Romney administration would do anything on fixing or repealing Obamacare, my answer would change to Obama.

2b. Between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, who do you think would be worse regarding social freedom issues such as gay marriage, free speech, school choice, and reproductive rights?

Romney, even though I’m not convinced he’d get too much accomplished there because of what he could push through the Congress.

2c. Between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, who do you think would be worse regarding foreign policy, military interventions, and the global war on terror (including domestic restrictions on civil liberties)?

Romney, because he’d see the extra powers Obama has taken after the newly-assumed powers of the Bush years and add his perspective. Obama would likely extend what he’s doing without the creativity of a fresh eye.

3. Who did you vote for in 2000, 2004, and 2008?

Gore (because I didn’t understand my politics), Kerry (because Bush needed to go), and Barr (because I was a trusting moron). If the choice was Barr instead of Gary Johnson this year, I’d vote for myself.

4. Apart from the presidency, what do you think is the most important race or ballot initiative being decided this fall?

The various marriage equality issues to cement cultural change before DOMA gets to the Supreme Court, although marijuana is critical to reveal popular support for this liberty issue. Perhaps further wins will force changes at the federal level, regardless of who wins the presidency. Since that is unlikely, I’m going with marriage equality.

5. Reason’s libertarian motto is “Free Minds and Free Markets.” In contemporary America, is that notion a real possibility or a pipe dream?

Pipe dream. The citizenry isn’t getting any dumber, but the public perception that it is creates more entrenched support for government control everywhere, including the economy, speech, and personal choices in general.

In The Top 1% of Artificial Narratives

I’ve seen a series of animated gifs about J.K. Rowling and taxes floating around for a few weeks. Here is a screenshot, because copying the gifs would make this post too clunky. The series is summarized this way, from Hank Green’s Tumblr:





Total respect.

I love her.

She donates so much she went from “billionaire” to “millionaire.”

MAD respect for that.

Listen to J.K. Rowling, and put your money where your mouth is, 1%.

I think there really needs to be a cultural shift among the wealthy. It’s very inspiring to hear Jo telling it like it is.

I get the message. I disagree because it endorses a specific solution to a problem. Even if we pretend that the solution is effective, it’s more concerned with enacting a specific solution. It’s an effort to bludgeon opponents with a silly, nonsensical political narrative.

As Forbes wrote:

New information about Rowlings’ estimated $160 million in charitable giving combined with Britain’s high tax rates bumped the Harry Potter scribe from our list this year.

Hank Green’s position above is a lot more subtle on this, although I think it fails to address whether the perceived necessity isn’t a red herring. J.K. Rowlings donated $160 million to charity. Other wealthy individuals also donate to charity. Should these charitable donations be sent as taxes to governments to distribute as politicians deem appropriate? Would the charities that received Rowlings’ $160 million donations receive donations from the government in the redistribution of taxes? And why should we assume that the government doesn’t have the necessary tax revenue to fund such necessary expenditures if unnecessary (or unjustified) expenditures ceased?

The 1% narrative works to fit problems into a solution rather than addressing the problems with whichever solutions are effective for each problem.

310 Million Individual Nations

Author John Green hates Atlas Shrugged with a White-Hot Passion. I don’t mind that he doesn’t like the novel. All tastes and preferences are unique to the individual, after all. But that’s also the flaw in his analysis.

He writes:

1. Atlas Shrugged is a novel of ideas. The plot exists only so that Ayn Rand can lay out her set of philosophical beliefs. So it’s the kind of book that makes you feel smart because you “get it,” but the story itself is paper-thin and is carefully constructed to explain and celebrate Rand’s objectivism. I have an inherent problem with novels of ideas, because I think they fail to do most of what is interesting and useful about fiction, but I particularly dislike them when the ideas are bad ideas.

I am not an Objectivist. I recognize common ground with it but am not particularly fascinated by the label. I also agree with his assessment of Atlas Shrugged, to a small degree. Rand was hardly a perfect novelist. And I don’t like novels of ideas that are about bad ideas. But Atlas Shrugged is not about the idea Mr. Green thinks it is.

2. The philosophy of objectivism is absolutely repugnant to me (and also does not hold up to scrutiny). The philosophy of selfishness is all built around the idea that the person ingesting the philosophy feels special (i.e., that we all identify with John Galt), and of course we do all identify with John Galt, because we all feel that the world is against us and we are secretly a unique flower that could bloom brilliantly if only we did not have to carry the weight of other, lesser people.

The “philosophy of selfishness” is accurate enough as a descriptive term, but not when we use the word selfish as the pejorative in common meaning. The novel doesn’t push the idea it’s so often accused of endorsing. It isn’t an ode to “Fuck you, I’ve got mine”. Selfishness in a Randian view is compatible with all sorts of actions associated with altruism. The difference is force. The unrequited correct form of altruism inspires force to achieve this correct form on the odd belief that humans would devolve to “Fuck you, I’ve got mine” if not for this push of force.

Or, as Timothy Sandefur explains more eloquently in his response to a straw-man attack on Ayn Rand in Slate:

Slate proclaims that evolutionary psychology shows that Objectivism is wrong because evolution favors “altruism,” which the article question-beggingly defines as “helping others.” Of course, Rand never claimed that helping others is wrong. What Rand said was that you do not live for the purpose of making other people happy. There is a big difference. Objectivism has always held that there are often perfectly good reasons to help others who are of value to you. And what evolutionary psychology actually shows is that Rand was on solid ground making that claim. What the evidence shows is that humans (and other animals) often help those who are close kin to them or are in a position to help them—so-called “reciprocal altruism.” The confusion arises because the term “reciprocal altruism” is a contradiction: if it’s reciprocal, it’s not altruism. I defy anyone to show me where Rand said that “lending a helping hand” is a bad thing.

(The rest of Mr. Sandefur’s post is worth reading.)

Personally, I donate money and a considerable amount of my time for a cause from which I will never personally achieve the benefit I advocate. My efforts can benefit others. I do it because it’s the right thing to do. But here’s the thing that separates this from the mistaken idea presented in Mr. Green’s analysis. I put my money and time into this specific cause because it’s what I care about. My efforts help people, but at the core, I am being selfish. Should I therefore stop?

I have also been told many times that there are “more important” issues to deal with. Perhaps. How effective do you think I’d be toiling away on a task that matters only in the abstract nature of altruistic sacrifice? I’d punch the clock for my obligation, and not for very long, rather than think and write at all hours and travel the country and stand in cold rain during protests. I value what I’m doing and why I’m doing it more than the costs.

I don’t feel the world is against me, either. Badly mistaken in critical ways, yes, but there is no conspiracy. We don’t live in a perfect world.

But the fact that when we read Atlas Shrugged we all identify with the elite is itself evidence of the book’s crappiness, because either A. only extraordinary people happen to read Ayn Rand, or B. we all feel extraordinary, because we are so busy being our multitudinous and complex and extraordinary selves that we do not imagine other people as being as complex or interesting or extraordinary as we are.

I suspect everyone who reads Atlas Shrugged identifies with the heroes. (Or misunderstands which characters are the heroes?) But this isn’t the fault of the book. The people who identify with the heroes who are like the villains are wrong in their self-awareness and understanding. This is not a critique of the book’s underlying idea. When Dustin Brown tried to drink from the wrong end of his water bottle, did that indicate a mistake in the design of the water bottle?

We all act selfishly. This is not bad. The world would not devolve into chaos if we recognized this. “Good” will still occur. It is human-nature, and should be celebrated.

If I could find my copy, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars contains this correct notion of selfishness in its characters’ actions. Regardless, I recommend the novel. It’s a fantastic story.