Category Archive 'Liberty'

21 Jun 2013

Civilization: Enemy of Liberty

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Christopher Taylor commenting on a long rap on Control by the late William Burroughs.

This has been a building concern and certainty for me, that liberty and civilization are incompatible. That the more comforts, ease, and safety you get from civilization, the more liberty you must surrender. That the first casualty of civilization are the virtues that enabled the civilization to build and prosper to begin with. That the social contract moves too far into the shared benefits and safety and too far away from the liberty all men are born to, as time goes on.

A hundred years ago you might have been shot for suggesting you couldn’t build a campfire on the beach. Now people are surprised you can even attempt it. A hundred years ago all you needed to start a business up was the ambition and cash to do so, now you can’t even begin to plan it without consulting the government for permission, licensing, and tribute paid to the proper authorities.

We’ve become so steeped in this life, we don’t even notice what would have caused John Adams to go berserk.

Via Vanderleun.

21 Feb 2013

The Next Big Leftist Book

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Sarah O. Conly kayaks when she isn’t busy planning to run your life.

Sarah Conly recently had a full-year sabbatical, which she spent vacationing at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and in Oaxaca, Mexico. When not engaged in tourism or dining out, Ms. Conly busied herself with writing the next big leftist book.

Her opus, titled Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism is intended to reject explicitly the famous thesis of John Stewart Mills’ On Liberty:

That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant . . . Over himself, over his body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

Sarah Conly went to Princeton, did her graduate work at Cornell, and teaches Philosophy at Bowdoin. Professor Conly consequently believes that she knows better than you do. She believes that your personal freedom, your right to make your own decisions in areas affecting only yourself is “overrated.” The notion that you are entitled to liberty and autonomy, you see, is based, according to Ms. Conly on grossly exaggerated estimates of your personal competence and rationality.

Ms. Conly can prove that you are an idiot using evidence from psychology and behavioral economics which she concludes demonstrates that most of you out there –the people who don’t get fellowships to St. Andrews or write books while vacationing in Oaxaca– are clueless dolts afflicted with “present bias” and unrealistic optimism. There you have it. Social science proves that you are unworthy and unfit, and that you need the guidance of superior and more enlightened beings, like Sarah O. Conly, to keep you from playing with matches or cutting yourself with sharp objects.

In the Conlyian state, application of coercive force by government is not only desirable, but obligatory, anytime it can be established by the sophistry, calculations, or economic analysis of people like herself that the benefits justify the costs.

How is coercive paternalistic intervention justified? Conly offers four supposed tests: (1) the personal liberty being banned must be genuinely destructive of people’s self-defined long-term ends. (2) The coercive measures must be successful. (3) Their benefits must exceed their costs. (4) The coercive measures under contemplation must be more effective than non-coercive alternatives.

I’m working from Cass Sunstein’s New York Review of Books review, and I do not have Professor Conly’s actual text on-hand. (I’m certainly not going to pay $95 for it either.) But, even without her complete argument in view, it seems obvious to me that her criteria are intrinsically open-ended.

In the case of Number 1, the proposed coercer will always have to usurp the privilege of reading the coercees’ minds and defining those long-term ends. In reality, long-term ends vary, some people would perversely reject long-term ends in favor of short-term ends, and long-term ends may, sometimes, conflict. I think I know that Professor Conly would be disposed, for example, to ban private gun ownership… for all our own good. But owning lots of guns is, in my view, very decidedly part of my long-term ends, and I would reject Professor Conly’s perspective that private ownership of guns is so dangerous that it must inevitably be inimical to my long-term goals of personal survival and public safety. She and I are bound to disagree on item one.

In the case of 2, libertarians like myself would argue that most forms of paternalistic coercion will inevitably prove unsuccessful. Look at Alcohol Prohibition. Look at Drug Prohibition. Look at Immigration Prohibition.

With regard to Number 3, we are bound again to disagree on costs, because it is perfectly obvious that some of us consider the violation of personal autonomy, the elimination of liberties, and coercion generally to represent prohibitive costs per se.

In the case of Number 4, coercion is inevitably always going to be more effective than persuasion. If the Gestapo practices a firm policy of taking anyone caught smoking out, standing him up against a wall, and shooting him, it will definitely do a more effective job of discouraging smoking than any number of public service advertisements about health hazards.

Frankly, philosophically speaking, I think Profesor Conly’s four criteria deserve to fall directly into the departmental waste container labeled: “meaningless, trivial, or simply false.”

I have an equally negative view of her use of “social science” studies, aka bullsh*t, to refute John Stuart Mill. Anybody can prove anything with social science studies.

Professor Conly’s philosophy features also the notable defect that behavioral economics and psychology apply to you and me, the intended victims of her paternalist regime, but not to her and the other Platonic Guardians drafting the regulations.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? If man in general is too incompetent and irrational to manage his own life, he is certainly also too incompentent and irrational, too biased and selfish in perspective, too vainglorious and self-important to dictate to others how to live.
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20 Feb 2012

Why Not?

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James Delingpole is not only sound on Anthropogenic Global Warming pseudo-scientific fraud, he is able to articulate the fundamental moral problem with drug prohibition quite succinctly.

    VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul decried the “war on drugs” Thursday night, telling supporters in Washington state that people should be able to make their own decisions on such matters.

    Voters in Washington are likely to decide this year whether to legalize the recreational use of marijuana

    “If we are allowed to deal with our eternity and all that we believe in spiritually, and if we’re allowed to read any book that we want under freedom of speech, why is it we can’t put into our body whatever we want?” Paul told more than 1,000 people at a rally in Vancouver, a suburb of Portland, Ore.

Yep. Go on… friends. Tell me: why not???

In a follow-up post, Peter Robinson quotes Milton Friedman in support of Delingpole.

06 Aug 2011

Economic Freedom and Quality of Life

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19 Apr 2010

“First They Came For The Hummers…”

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Comedian Penn Jillette neither understands nor appreciate cars generally. He especially cannot see the point of Hummers. But he is smart enough to recognize that the other fellow’s right to do things or own things we don’t see the point of is important.

Hummers are stupid and wasteful and if they go away because no one wants to buy one, that’ll be just a little sad. It’s always a little sad to lose some stupid. I love people doing stupid things that I’d never do—different stupid things than all the stupid things I do. It reminds me that although all over the world we humans have so much in common, so much love, and need, and desire, and compassion and loneliness, some of us still want to do things that the rest of us think are bug-nutty. Some of us want to drive a Hummer, some of us want to eat sheep’s heart, liver and lungs simmered in an animal’s stomach for three hours, some us want to play poker with professionals and some of us want a Broadway musical based on the music of ABBA. I love people doing things I can’t understand. It’s heartbreaking to me when people stop doing things that I can’t see any reason for them to be doing in the first place. I like people watching curling while eating pork rinds.

But if any part of the Hummer going belly-up are those government rules we’re putting in on miles per gallon, or us taking over of GM, then I’m not just sad, I’m also angry. Lack of freedom can be measured directly by lack of stupid. Freedom means freedom to be stupid. We never need freedom to do the smart thing. You don’t need any freedom to go with majority opinion. There was no freedom required to drive a Prius before the recall. We don’t need freedom to recycle, reuse and reduce. We don’t need freedom to listen to classic rock, classic classical, classic anything or Terry Gross. We exercise our freedom to its fullest when we are at our stupidest. …

Our government declaring that we need alternative energy sources, and betting our money on who might get a smart idea, is not going to give smart people smart ideas. It’s really easy to see stupid all around us, but I don’t think we want to be too quick to stop it. We need to protect other people’s stupid to save freedom for all of us.

Yeah, Adrien Brody and Carrot Top wasted gallons of gas driving their stupid cars. I can feel smug about my Mini Cooper’s sexy 37/28/32 MPG measurements. But I don’t think we should be too quick to feel happy about the stupid Hummers going away. We’re all making bad choices all the time, and most of mine are way stupider than driving a Hummer. I love my freedom of stupid. I bumped into Adrien one time and had a great talk with him, we got along great. I know Carrot Top well enough to call him “Scott.” I know that they’re both a lot thinner than me. They’re both in a lot better shape. They eat better than me, and they can do a lot more push-ups and sit-ups. They can run farther and faster than me. So, in the near future, with us all being involved in each other’s health care, Adrien and Scott might make up for their wasted gas mileage paying for my high-blood-pressure meds. If we’re all getting together to stop the stupidity of driving a Hummer, will we have to stop the stupidity of eating Krispy Kreme doughnuts and pie? Freedom is freedom to be stupid.

They came first for the Hummers.

Then they came for the pie.

27 Jan 2009

Not a Free Country Anymore

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Phillip K. Howard, in an excellent essay in the Wall Street Journal, describes the impact of limitless litigation and regulation on American life and the American character.

Here we stand, facing the worst economy since the Great Depression, and Americans no longer feel free to do anything about it. We have lost the idea, at every level of social life, that people can grab hold of a problem and fix it. Defensiveness has swept across the country like a cold wave. We have become a culture of rule followers, trained to frame every solution in terms of existing law or possible legal risk. The person of responsibility is replaced by the person of caution. When in doubt, don’t.

All this law, we’re told, is just the price of making sure society is in working order. But society is not working. Disorder disrupts learning all day long in many public schools — the result in part, studies by NYU Professor Richard Arum found, of the rise of student rights. Health care is like a nervous breakdown in slow motion. Costs are out of control, yet the incentive for doctors is to order whatever tests the insurance will pay for. Taking risks is no longer the badge of courage, but reason enough to get sued. There’s an epidemic of child obesity, but kids aren’t allowed to take the normal risks of childhood. Broward County, Fla., has even banned running at recess.

The flaw, and the cure, lie in our conception of freedom. We think of freedom as political freedom. We’re certainly free to live and work where we want, and to pull the lever in the ballot box. But freedom should also include the power of personal conviction and the authority to use your common sense. Analyzing the American character, Alexis de Tocqueville, considered “freedom less necessary in great things than in little ones. . . . Subjection in minor affairs does not drive men to resistance, but it crosses them at every turn, till they are led to sacrifice their own will. Thus their spirit is gradually broken and their character enervated.”

Read the whole thing.

12 Jul 2008

In My Own Case, Also Immoral and Fattening,

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Joel Salatin is one of those slow food, energy conserving, tree-hugging whackos, but even he finds that in today’s over-regulated world everything I want to do is illegal.

Hat tip to Bird Dog.

29 May 2008

Gun Control and the Erosion of Personal Liberty

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Britain’s Government has banned ownership of pistols, rifles, self defense, and hunting. Participants in the Countryside March against the Blair Government’s Hunt Ban wish Britons had defended their liberties before it was too late. Tony Martin, the Norfolk farmer jailed for defending his home, certainly wishes so even more.

9:07 video

Hat tip to Bird Dog.


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