Sunday, January 24th, 2010
As many readers know, I'm a libertarian. In fact, it's probably worse. I've gone from minarchist libertarianism to anarchy as my political ideal. I don't often label myself an anarchist as this leads people to believe that what I love is a good mob or random violence, or imagine people are angels needing no restraint of any sort. For me at base what drives my ideal is the idea that the state is force, and that force should have as little scope as possible in human relations. I accept its necessity for retaliation. But how we band together to do such things should, wherever possible be voluntary. I don't consider my views destabilizing, as I would not initiate force to see them prosper. I believe in persuasion.
So if this is merely an ideal, what do we do in the real world? We find areas where we can promote the ideal, and there are always areas where the ideal has some chance of taking root. The end of the military draft in 1973 is a great example. A libertarian spoke to Richard Nixon about the idea on an airplane before he took office, and when he became President he put together a blue ribbon panel to look into it. An essay by Ayn Rand called "The Wreckage of the Consensus" proved to be very persuasive to people as to why we should not draft soldiers. The draft was ended. This yielded very practical results for me. When I was 18, I got to spend the year as I wished rather than as the state chose. (Thank you, Ayn. That time was mine.)
Many people are involved in causes where their overall goal is liberty, but the means are mixed and involve coercion. Are they terrible? No. But this is another place where my ideals are practical. I can see that the goals are limited in long term stability. I may not condemn the actions. But I won't wish to invest my time in them. So there is a very practical shaping function to the ideal.
I was thinking about one of the questions that comes up when the ideal is not held to tenaciously. I have read more than one blog post recently where free speech came up, in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling on campaing finance, and the arguments for free speech were narrow and pragmatic. What bothered me was that any broad view of liberty was absent. It seemed that the default position was that the state probably should limit people in all sorts of ways, but you might carve out an exception for the sake of society as a whole. I think rather that each intrusion upon liberty must be justified. Liberty is good in itself apart from any other benefit it might confer.
But I think there is a middle kind of philosophical argument I might make for why liberty ought to be preferred to state control whenever there is a doubt. It has to do with the "state of nature" versus control. First off, what is a state of nature? Some imagine that this is some forgotten time in prehistory before there was any social contract. No. At least in the kinds of discussions in question, the "state of nature" is the state that you have minus the control in question. So to ask what the telephone system would be like in a "state of nature" doesn't involve picturing telephones being used by cavemen. It involves picturing how the system would work without government control of that system. Police may still interfere in other issues, but not the phone system.
When there is a question between leaving something in the state of nature versus regulating it, some imagine this is a cost benefit analysis where you just picture outcomes. The one with the more pleasing outcome is to be preferred. Worse yet, perhaps state control is preferred out of an innate preference of order to chaos.
The fact is, the state control has a cost. It costs the liberty of those who are controlled, and the taxes of those who support the state. And if the outcomes are bad, you have controlled people and taxed people in order to make things worse than if you had left things alone. To force participation in something destructive is evil. That should always be remembered when decisions are made. To stand back and not participate when you are not sure whether an act is helpful or not is prudence, which is a virtue.
I think a broader case can be made for liberty. But this one is easier to argue, and I would like to have it in place before arguing further.
6:56 am Pacific Standard Time
Saturday, January 16th, 2010
Months ago when it came up for discussion, I thought I would have little interest in owning a Kindle. Then I got to see one in person. My mind changed instantly. I decided to put it on my Christmas list. I've had the thing now for a couple of weeks. (I was given the money to order it with, so I didn't open it on Christmas.) I love it.
The main thing I find is that I like the font. Whatever font I'm reading seems nicer than the font in most books. I also like the ability to resize it. Being nearsighted, I can see small print. Corrected, I can almost read some things on dollar bills that most people don't know is there. When my contact lenses have given me trouble, I found that some had small words printed on the side of the lens, and I could hold them up to the light to make sure they weren't inside out. So my near vision is good. But I think I tire when it isn't crisp. I don't get headaches. I don't even feel pain in my eyes. I just find that I stop wanting to read for unconscious reasons. I'm finding this is not happening so much with the Kindle. I can read in bed with my glasses off and keep going.
I finished the first book I purchased, The Philosopher and the Wolf by Mark Rowlands, who lived for eleven years with a wolf named Brenin. Great read. I love dogs, and while I could not go through life living the almost hermit-like existence Rowlands described, for a time it would be quite pleasant. I felt some temperamental affinity with him. I also appreciated his philosophical musings. Even where I didn't agree with his conclusions, I found the writing agreeable because of temperament.
Now I'm working my way through Salem's Lot by Stephen King. I've found I love vampire books. I loved Dracula movies and a Dracula comic book series when I was a kid. More recently I read Dracula by Bram Stoker and The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. I'll likely continue with the best of the genre.
Free material has also been promising. I downloaded The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes much of which I read—and enjoyed—back in junior high. I re-read "A Scandal in Bohemia," and it was better than I remembered. Just delightful.
2:10 pm Pacific Standard Time