Sunday, November 30, 2014

The War of All Against All

In the comments to my essay "Smoking Versus Sex -- Want and Need Take Two", I have been having a running debate with reader CW about the nature of law. And I suppose one about rights as well. My basic contention has been the same one I have made repeatedly since first writing it in "My Vision of Government" and "My Vision of Government Part II" (or more thoroughly in "The Case for Small Government"), that government exists solely to protect against force, theft and fraud, and any extension beyond that leads, eventually, to trouble1. In our debate, CW made the argument that this amounted to a sort of tyranny, and that the people should be left to dispute with one another what they see to be their rights. Which is, in various alternate forms, not too far from the position of many conservatives. And so, I feel it is worthwhile to look at this argument, and to examine why I think it demonstrates precisely why I feel so strongly the state must be -- under ideal circumstances2 -- limited to a very small range of functions.

The first problem with this approach is something I described in "Negative and Positive Rights" (as well as "Symmetry and Asymmetry in Government" and "Fictional 'Rights' Versus Real Rights"), and that is the problem with broad (especially individual or personalized) definitions of the term "rights". Rights, as properly defined (eg. Locke's definitions, or the Declaration of Independence3), are best characterized as negative, that one individual's right requires nothing of others except that they do not violate it. Or, to be more clear, an individual's right never demands positive actions of another, only that they refrain from taking certain actions, actions defined by their effect upon the original individual.

For example, my right to life, quite simply, demands of all others nothing except that they refrain from killing me. Likewise, my right to property requires nothing of them except that they fail to abscond with what I own. On the other hand, many of the expansive -- and I believe illegitimate -- rights created in various manifestos such as the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, make all manner of demands upon others in order to satisfy one individual's right. For instance, the "right to health care" means that those capable of providing such care must provide it free or at low cost, while simultaneously insisting those who posses the medicines, facilities and so on provide them for free or at low cost as well. The same for the "right to an education", which basically demands some form of servitude from those who teach, or the "right to a job" which places demands upon those who are hiring.

Nor is this creation of positive rights -- so named because they demand positive actions of others -- limited to the fabrications of the UN and other high minded theorists. Even our more mundane laws often create such laws. Sometimes is it nothing more than a piece of legislation being described in hyperbolic terms, such as our recently created "right to medical privacy", which makes -- at least in terminology, if not legally -- a right of something that should be a contractual understanding, or at most a piece of legislation4. However, that is not always the case, as we can see in the wide -- and ill defined -- reproductive rights that have emerged from various court decisions5. In some cases, as with many portions of reproductive rights, these nominal rights are largely harmless, as they simply restrict the state, basically limiting an out of control government slightly, preventing it from doing things it should not be doing anyway6. In other cases, when they demand actions of non-governmental entities, they are as I have described above.

For those who are now wondering why I am so concerned with positive rights, and why I insist upon rights being limited to the negative -- and government limited to protecting those negative rights -- allow me to offer a simple answer: conflict. Negative rights are essentially free of conflict. My rights can never conflict with yours. There may be arguments over facts, such as who owns a piece of property, but once facts are established, rights can never conflict. My right to life will not interfere with yours, or your right to liberty or property. Nor will any of your rights conflict with mine. Negative rights are self contained, and completely harmonious. That is not to say a society based solely on protecting such rights would be free of conflict, humans will always dispute over facts, but it would be free of chronic, long term conflicts brought about by competing interests, at least as far as law and government are concerned.

Positive rights are another matter, they enshrine conflict, make it perpetual, and turn the government into an instrument by which one group forces its interests to have precedence over those of another. Let us look, for example, at some "right to employment" laws. Such rights are often embodied in laws requiring lengthy processes to fire an employee, or guaranteeing a certain minimum wage, or providing other worker-friendly benefits7. And these will constantly be in conflict with the rights of the employers, be it their liberty to associate with whom they will, their property rights or others. And, as a consequence, employers will feel themselves continually at odds with the state, oppressed by its laws, and will seek, whenever possible, to find ways to force the state to enact laws in their favor, to deprive employees of their liberties, and so on.

It should be clear where this is going. Whether speaking of ill-conceived positive rights, laws which embody those rights, or simply laws which go beyond protecting negative rights8, the consequence is the same, the government becomes a tool of pressure group warfare and society degenerates into competing blocks, as to do otherwise is to allow some other group to usurp one's rights. Even if one wishes nothing more than to be left alone, he is simply unable to avoid the war of all against all. He may not wish to deprive another of his rights, but with the government providing everyone with the opportunity to enrich or empower himself at the expense of others, there are few, if any, who seek nothing but balance. Inevitably, the champions chosen by those seeking simply to protect their own rights will go beyond that goal and begin to encroach upon others, leaving their supports to choose whether to abandon them, and lose the protection their rights enjoyed, or continue to support them and destroy the rights of others lest they lose their own.

Even those who do not seek to enrich themselves, but simply to do good will find themselves in the same situation. As soon as their ambitions come into conflict with the desires of others, they will begin to use the law to strip away the rights of those with whom they disagree. Or, in the alternative, those with more modest ambitions may for a time avoid this fate, but will find, over time, their rights being eroded by those who hold contrary ideals, and will find they have no choice but to fight back by depriving others of those same rights.

A good example can be seen in campaign finance reform. Let us for the moment take the law at face value and assume it was enacted for the purposes claimed. One provision was to limit public political statements prior to elections, in order, ostensibly, to prevent political factions from "buying elections"9. One exception to this was made for news media. However, by giving this right to news media (however defined), it managed to strip from everyone else the same rights, forcing those who wished to make political statements either try to argue they came under the news media definition -- and thus making them allied to those supporting the legislation and its deprivation of rights to all non-media -- or else challenge the law, and come into conflict with the media who enjoyed the benefits their privileged position gave. Nor were those challenging the law simply upsetting the media. By challenging the government's right to create such laws, and grant such privileges, they also came into conflict with legislators, and those who supported their positions, who would be expected to strike back by refining their legislation, adding rights to some, removing them from others.

Similar in-fighting can be seen everywhere that government exercises power. Unions struggle to gain legal privileges and advantages over employers, companies seek government subsidies and protective tariffs, and so on and so on. The only areas which seem largely exempt from such legal wrangling are the boring old backwaters of criminal law, the traditional common law felonies. And it makes sense. These laws are based upon traditional negative rights, and as such, provide little benefit to anyone who seeks to change them10. There is not much advantage to be had by making the law favor theft or murder, and so, for the most part, these laws remain largely the same, with what change there is coming slowly, as part of a process of legal refinement and evolution11.

Some may ask why this is a matter of concern, why not simply be mature and accept that government will always be nothing but a constant struggle for power over others? What is the harm of the struggle of all against all? Is this not always the way, even in a minimal government? What about the competition of the free market, is that not a conflict as well? And why would we think a minimal government would be free of conflict?

As I explained earlier, there is a mistaken belief in such an argument, or rather two. First, as already stated, there will not be an end of disagreement with minimal government, disputes over factual matters will continue. What will be eliminated will be the chronic conflict embodied in laws which favor one group over another. Second, while there will remain the "competition" of the free market, it is a huge mistake to imagine it is a struggle akin to that of those fighting for legal advantage. While business competitors may at times have hard feelings toward one another, there is nothing inherent in the free market to make that inevitable, and even when it is there, their "struggle" is still nothing more than an effort to provide cheaper goods or better goods to customers, and thus the "conflict" produces nothing but benefit.(See "Competition" , "The Basics", "An End to War" and "The Sado-Masochist Society, or, Would Primitive Communism Work?".)

On the other hand, when government can grant advantage, or give benefit, then hard feelings become true conflict. When you rob me of my rights, it is a zero sum game. Unlike the free market, where every competition brings society benefit, in government struggles, there are clear winners and losers. And in that process, the stability of the government, the satisfaction of the people, and the culture as a whole loses. Government struggles for benefit tend to make the law fluid, which brings instability, that leads to less and less willingness to plan ahead, less willingness to take risks, and generally to the decay of the state. (See "Predictability", "The Consequences of Bad Laws", "Traffic Lights, Predictability and Conservatism", "Inflation and Uncertainty" and "Juvenile Culture and Totalitarianism".) And when I am on the losing end of that struggle, I lose my interest in maintaining that state. The more others take advantage of me, deprive me of my freedoms, prevent me from following my desires, the less I care about my state, and the more likely it is to collapse. In other words, by making the government nothing but a massive war between pressure groups, the whole purpose of collective society is undermined, and that state weakened and eventually destroyed.

Of course such problems can take a very long time to appear, and in the back and forth between struggling groups, for much of the time their disaffection can be hard to see. But it is always there. Similarly, the lack of stability and consistent laws may not bring about any immediately obvious consequences, but they are there. You may not immediately see the consequences of the investment not made, the invention not pursued, the planning left incomplete, but over time the consequences make themselves felt, and the society beings its slow decay.

And that, in short, is my objection to allowing the state a broad scope of action. The laws may seem common sense, they may enjoy broad, even universal, support12, but they are the first step of turning the state into an endless struggle and turning our society into a war of all against all13.


1. I am ignoring here the question of civil courts. As I have written elsewhere, 90% or more of civil court functions (at least before the liability explosion) could be handled privately through bonds, arbitration clauses and so on. Only the realm of torts truly seems to require some sort of government solution. Of course, in a proper civil court system, not one with our incredibly broad view of liability -- and disdain for contract (see "In Praise of Contracts" and "Contracts and Freedom") -- torts would be a very small part of the law (see "The Litigious Culture", "Oven Mitts and Safety Regulation", "Who Is Safer?", "Worker Safety", "A Possible Tort Reform, and the Costs", "The Perversion of Liability Law", "Still More on Liability Law", "A Misleading 'Right to Know'", "'Better Safe Than Sorry' Usually Leaves Us Even More Sorry, And Much Less Safe", "The 'Right To Sue' As Our Only Right", "Liability Law and Cost-Benefit Analysis", "Warnings and More Warnings - Another Look at Consumer Protection", "Consumer Protection", "Consumer Protection, Cartels and the Failure of Regulation", "The Harm of Class Action", "More Thoughts on Class Action Suits"), making government run civil courts a non-issue, a sleep backwater of the civil law. But, whether we have fully government civil courts, or a largely private system, or even some solution I have yet to imagine where all civil action is in private hands, that is still a small part of government, and the primary functions still remain the prevention (or punishment) of force, theft and fraud.

2. I am afraid when I say the state must be limited, or laws must follow certain rules, that I am often misinterpreted. When I speak that way, I am arguing for the ideal. As I wrote in "Why I Am Not a Libertarian", I do not believe in the libertarian ideal of forcing liberty from the top down. I find that approach quite contradictory. It is why I wrote in "Reforms, Ideal and Real" (and earlier in "The Benefits of Federalism"), that while I believe in the ideal of minimal government, I wish to see it implemented through the gradual understanding of the people. Ideally, I wish everyone would wake up tomorrow agreeing with my philosophy and change the state. Realistically, I would like to see us move to a true federalist system, devolve power to as local a basis as possible, prohibit a few of the most dangerous legal follies, and then allow the people to discover that my philosophy of minimal government is not without foundation, and -- as one area after another experiences some benefit from it -- have other areas follow suit. In short, to reap the long term benefit of true federalism. (See "Minimal Reforms".) Thus, though I speak in imperative terms, I am arguing about the ideal, or about the inevitable consequence of ignoring these rules, not trying to imply people must be made to obey them. Maybe the best analogy would be to a doctor. When he says "you must lose weight" he is not saying you will be forced to do so, but rather if you do not, there will be dire consequences. It is in that sense I speak as I do.

3. By substituting the nebulous "pursuit of happiness" for Locke's concrete "property", the Declaration introduces a tremendous opportunity for misunderstanding. But if we ignore that one gaffe, the definition of rights is otherwise sound.

4. I am not familiar enough with HIPAA cases to figure out if "medical right to privacy" is truly being treated as a legitimate right in the full legal sense, or if it is simply being used in the figurative sense of "something legislation protects", as in "I have a right to file for social security" and so on.

5. Reproductive rights are odd in that they limit the government more than individuals. Most positive rights impose upon private individuals as much as, or often more than, the state.

6. I am not debating here whether or not abortion should be legal. When I mention the government acting far beyond its proper role, I am thinking of all the many intrusions it makes into the realm of medicine, a few of which are limited by this supposed right to reproductive freedom.

7. As I have written before (cf "When Help Hurts", "When Help Hurts II", "Help and Harm", "Subsidizing Irresponsibility and Poor Planning", "Welfare For Malibu Residents", "To Correct Debra Saunders", "Debt", "Living Beyond Their Means", "Why Borrower Forgiveness is Both Wrong and Dangerous", "Perverse Incentives", "Perverting Self Interest", "Unintended Consequences", "Bad Economics Part 14", "Peanut Butter and Disability", "Another Look At Exploitation") such laws are not truly favorable to workers, even if seen as such. Since firing becomes so difficult, and employee pay is artificially elevated, such laws reduce the chance of any individual finding a job, and make employment completely impossible for those whose work simply is not worth minimum wage. But as they are seen as "pro-worker" I will describe them as such.

8. See "Government Funding and the Creation of Strife", "Missionary Zeal and Human Discord", "How the Government Corrupts Relationships", "Hard Cases Make Bad Law", "The Consequences of Bad Laws", "Why Freedom Is Essential" and "The Road to Violence".

9. I will say here I truly believe the law was nothing but a law to protect incumbents and provide some favors for established media, but to make this essay easier to read, after this sentence I will avoid scare quotes and words such as "ostensibly". My skepticism should be clear enough without them.

10. I am ignoring the brief fad for liberalizing criminal laws, and minimizing punishment int he 1960s and 1970s -- continuing longer in some places. This was a rather radical change in criminal law, but hardly comparable to the constant back and forth of commercial laws, labor laws, tariffs and the like. Nor was it in any way comparable, as, for the most part, those enacting the changes really believed they were a continuation of existing laws and simply represented a modern, humanizing improvement -- whatever the true consequences might have been.

11. I am not a pollyanna who does not recognize that even the boring parts of the criminal law are free of those who would make dramatic experimentation. Nor am I unaware of a few cases of radical change (eg. the change from common law burglary to housebreaking to statutory burglary, or the unification of conversion and larceny and robbery and embezzlement and the rest into a unified theft statute in many states.) But my point is, compared to the frenzied struggle for advantage seen in much of the commercial law arena, criminal law is placid by comparison.

12. I always wonder when someone says a law has universal support. If so, then why do we need a law? If everyone agrees we should not drink, say, then why do we need prohibition? Or, if everyone agrees we should invest for retirement, then why does the government need to make it mandatory? It seems the existence of a law proves a belief does not enjoy universal support.

13. Let us look at one example. Public schools would seem a poor choice to use as an example of the war of all against all, being largely seen as a good government program with broad support, but they can still show how conflict is inherent in overreaching government activity. Just think of all the arguments over education, and how much animosity has arisen over, say, sex ed, mainstreaming special ed students, creationism versus evolution, sharing funds between rich and poor districts versus keeping it local, busing, integration, vouchers, charter schools and so on. Some may argue that is inherent in education, but I do not recall once having seen such vehement disputes at a private school. Public education breeds angry disputes, not because it is inherent in education, but because, being part of the state, when one side wins, the other loses. Unlike privates schools where I can leave for a school I prefer, public schools still take my taxes and teach my children, regardless of whether I agree or not. That is the source of the conflict. (See "Reforming Education", "Never Ascribe To Evil, A Discussion of Education", "Why Vouchers are not the Answer" and "You Don't Drown in a Glass of Water - Vouchers Revisited".)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

I Knew I Was On To Something

NOTE: In a comment to my essay "Smoking Versus Sex -- Want and Need Take Two", I mentioned my reasoning about the famous argument against "crying 'fire' in a crowded theater". I cited my discussions in "Stupid Quote of the Day (December 30, 2011)", "The Problem of Pornography" and "My Vision of Government Part II", but I could not find this article. And so, I have gone back to my archive of old articles from the now defunct Random Notes blog and reproduced it. I hope my readers enjoy it.

I have often written that rights are absolute, that there is no case for making exceptions, and that every right is valid, at any time, under any circumstance. (See "My Vision of Government","My Vision of Government Part II", "A Right Is A Right", "The Danger Inherent in Banning "Bad Ideas"", "Negative and Positive Rights", "Symmetry and Asymmetry in Government ") The only case I allow is for the incorrigible criminal who, through his actions, has shown his unwillingness or inability to share social intercourse with his fellow man, and so may be treated like the beast he resembles and either imprisoned for the duration of his miserable life or killed. Likewise, I allow that lesser felons may, as a condition of being admitted once more to the society of their peers, have rights temporarily restricted, but this is just an extension of the principle above. We had every right to kill or imprison them, so when we choose to show clemency and allow them back into society instead, w can impose restrictions upon them. 

However, whenever I write about absolute rights, it is almost inevitable that someone will bring up Justice Holmes, and his aphorism about crying fire in a crowded theater. Now, I know this is quite a popular quote, and many take its literary merit as a sign of judicial merit, but to my mind it confuses two aspects of the law. One has every right to cry whatever he wants, but that does nto free him formt he consequences of his actions*. In the same way that I do not see laws agaisnt conspiracy as restricitons on free speech, I do not see crying fire as a restriction on speech. In fact, I even disagree with Holmes' premise. Were an actor to cry "Fire", he would not be charged, as he is not likely to cause a stampede, and thus the speech itself is not banned. It is only when consequences arise that one is liable for those consequences, and that liability is not in any sense a restriction upon the freedom of speech. Are laws against fraud a restraint of commerce? Are prohibitions of human sacrifice a restriction of religious freedom? Nor do I see this ebing a restriciton of free speech. One is free to say whatever he wants, but some statements carry consequences. Slander and libel do not restrain free pseech, and neither do the penalties for crying fire.

Which is why I was fascinated to find this article, arguing that legal thinkers are much less impressed with Holmes than laymen, precisely because Holmes often used literary devices to overcome weak arguments. The forced sterilization case they cites as an example is much more dramatic than the crowded theater example, but it does help convince me I was right all along in not listening to Holmes' honeyed words. As usual, just because something sounds nice is no guarantee that it is true. Truth may be beautiful, but we have to recall not all beauty is truth.


* I have a similar problem with laws attempting to prevent crimes. For instance, prohibition on drunk driving per se. The laws themselves recognize this and ban only negligent driving while drunk, but then cleverly declare that drunkenness creates a presumption of negligence. In my mind that is not proper. A law can only prohibit an action which violates the rights of another. Then again, such laws arise form the strange circumstances created when the government owns the roads. As I mentioned many places, when "public property" is involved, the law often takes strange turns and ends up going far beyond its intended purpose. Still, regardless of the involvement of public property, I have a problem with punishing people because of the presumption that their action is more likely to cause harm. Almost anyone could be jailed at some point if we allow an individual to be jailed anytime their decisions increases the risk others face. But that is a topic for another day. (Before I leave the topic let me say, I recognize that intoxication may increase the risk of accident, but there is a difference between a slight increase in risk and outright criminal negligence. In addition as we lower ever more the standard of intoxication we end up jailing people whose real risk is almost the same as a sober driver, and probably less than, say, most teenage boys. Which seems a bit much.)



I found this link on, which is a great site for those fascinated with the law and modern legal excesses.

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2009/11/03.

NOTE: It appears I reproduced this twice, once on 2014/11/27 and once on 2014/03/02. So as not to break any links, both will be retained.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Should I Laugh or Cry?

I was reading some comments on IMDB, as I do when I have little better to do, and among the comments on what sounds like an absurd series (DaVinci's Demons), I found a statement quite similar to claims I have heard repeated many times before. To wit:
(1) there appears to be a correlation with liberalism and creativity. A more conservative mind tends to think within a limited and narrow prism, which partially explains their proclivity to resist change, preferring orthodoxy. 
Now, I will grant that, in our modern age, there does seem to be a tendency toward liberalism among those of an artistic inclination, but, I would argue far from what is claimed here, it is not the case that liberalism encourages creativity, but rather that the arbiters of success for creative ventures, producers, art critics, literary critics, professors of fine arts and so on, are liberals and encourage orthodoxy. Thus, I would suggest that it is not that conservative thought stifles art, but rather that liberal artists stifle conservatives among their ranks*.

I suppose I could make my case by pointing to artists both past and present who held views moderns would consider conservative**, but let me instead take the premise of the argument above and demonstrate why it is such an absurd argument.

The argument usually goes as follows, "Liberals are open minded and free thinking, while conservatives are hidebound, and thus only liberals can create art."

Were someone to make this argument in the 18th century, or maybe part of the 19th, I might be tempted to give conditional agreement. In those eras "liberal" was associated with minimal government and generally favored freedom. However, today, when "liberal" is basically a code for quasi-socialist, including such concepts as political correctness, it is hard to argue liberals are free thinkers. Likewise, when the term "conservative" includes libertarians and others who hardly fit the caricature of Bible thumping neanderthals that the left maintains, it is absurd to paint all on the right as hidebound traditionalists***. Thus, the basic assumptions of this claim make little sense for the past 100, maybe 150, years. If they did, Russian art of the communist era would have been a flowering of creativity, while the US of the 1950's would have produced nothing but propaganda, that the precise opposite is true makes something of a mockery of these claims.

Then again, I already made my case in my post "A Question for Artists of the Left" (as well as in "Patronage" and "My Censorship is Your Discretion"), so rather than repeat myself I will refer readers to that work for more detail. Instead I will close with a simple observation that, if the left were truly the home of freedom and individuality, why is it so inclined to excluding those who deviate from a very narrow range of beliefs? Why are there so many more varieties of political belief calling themselves "conservative" than "liberal"? It does suggest that the thought police are more a creation of the left than the right.


* I am, as some know, a frustrated writer of fiction, and spent a large part of twenties in a Baltimore bar well known for being an artist hangout. I can attest from first hand experience that, among those I knew, almost anything was acceptable except expressing certain political views. When I dared to suggest I would not support Martin O'Malley, I was treated as if I had suggested recreational cannibalism. Actually cannibals probably would have been better received. It is amusing, but surrounded by addicts, lunatics and others far outside the mainstream, I was the one considered an oddity because I dared hold political views outside the acceptable range running from "left" to "very left".

** One which is a hard case to argue is Dostoyevsky. He was originally a Russian liberal, though at the time that involved belief in limited government that today would be called "conservative". he later adopted religious and royalist views that were called conservative at the time. So, was he a liberal turned conservative or, more accurately a conservative turned conservative? I suppose it just shows what I argued in "The Political Spectrum" (and later "Deceptive Spectra"), our definitions of liberal and conservative, especially when we try to apply them historically, are pretty useless.

*** Not that tradition is necessarily stifling or the enemy of creativity. Many of the greatest artists both trained in traditional disciplines and copied them. Excessive creativity and deviation from accepted conventions can, in rare cases, produce works of genius, but far more often it produces garbage. Thus, a footing in tradition is hardly harmful to one's creativity. (See "The Virute of Novelty and the Value of Tradition".)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Smoking Versus Sex -- Want and Need Take Two

I have recently been inundated with a new round of antismoking commercials on television, second in volume only to the heyday of "The Truth" videos funded by the mulitstate shakedown, er, settlement. (See "The Truth") In one of the more recent commercials, a young girls is shown reading some lengthy contract about giving up freedom and all the ill effects, only to have it roll into a cigarette. In another, a cigarette is compared to an abusive boyfriend. In short, all the usual anti-smoking hyperbole is out there for the world to see.

While watching these I had two thoughts. First, that the same people who nod knowingly during these commercials, probably even some who wrote them, were probably the same ones who laughed when the same hyperbole was used for anti-drug purposes. I know many liberals who support the modern health Nazi state who once laughed at the girl smashing her kitchen with a frying pan, or Nancy Reagan and Mr T telling us to "just say no". Amazing how the same over the top message is seen as good and justified when it supports their current crusade, but as excessive and preachy when it cuts against their beliefs.

However, the thought that seemed more significant to me was the second one. As I have said many times ("Twisted Priorities", "Socialism on the Installment Plan", "Practicality Versus Dogma", "Results Do Not Matter", "Something to Consider", "Addicts?", "If They Were Serious ", "A Quick Thought", "A Quick Question", "The Life Coach Culture", "The Great 'What If?' - Advertising, Gullibility, Education, Capitalism and Socialism", "She Won Me Over") smoking does entail risks, but so do many activities which some people find enjoyable. Just because I do not find skydiving fun does not mean I want to see it banned as "deadly", so why can't non-smokers do the same with my smoking? Why does our nation accept some recreational risks as valid and others as "senseless" or "stupid". For example, automobiles can perform every function (or almost every) performed by motorcycles,  and are statistically safer, so why do we not see motorcycle riding as needlessly dangerous?

But I have delved into that list many times, as the links should show, and sadly a few of my examples (such as dietary items increasing risk) have become crusades for some, so I worry about providing arguments for the safety and health nazis to latch onto. Instead, I have decided to provide a single example which shows with the most clear contrast the difference in how we handle risks, and the foolishness of our laws.

Or, to put it in words I thought to myself as I watched that commercial, "why is smoking a senseless risk, to be discouraged by the state, while sex is a right to be protected at all costs?"

Some may be shocked at this comparison, seeing the two as completely different, but hear me out. Sex, whether with one or multiple partners, inside or outside marriage is not necessary to survive, nor is there any negative consequence to avoiding it. It carries with it health risks, especially if promiscuous, risks which can be wholly eliminated by abstinence. In short, it is a voluntary choice which people indulge in but which can be eliminated safely thus completely removing a health risk. In other words, every argument offered against smoking applies here. Why, there is even an analogy to "second hand smoke" as your sexual promiscuity can put others at risk, as sexually transmitted diseases can often be spread by other means.

Now, I am hardly arguing that sex should be banned, nor even than promiscuity should be eliminated. What I am saying is that while smoking is seen as an evil to be stamped out by taxes and PSAs and laws forcing inconveniences upon smokers and preventing store owners from exercising their own discretion about smoking, sex is treated as an inalienable right, with laws written to protect "reproductive freedom", and others intended to keep confidential any and all information about one's sexual behavior. Why, if smoking were treated the way sex is, you would be banned form asking if anyone smoked and those who gave smokers dirty looks, much less prevented them from smoking anywhere, would be shunned by society.

Now some will argue there is a difference here, that sex is necessary to procreate and continue civilization, or that sex is sanctioned by society or the like. So, fine, for our purposes, let us limit it to promiscuous sex, though in reality any sex would still work. Even if we limit it thus, the point is still made, the fact is, smoking and promiscuous sex are not very different at all, yet are treated in incredibly different ways.

Which brings me to my point. In many such cases, the argument is made that one is a "want" while another is a "need", or that one is universally understood as good while the other is not, or something of the kind. All of which is clearly nonsense.

As I said in "One More Meaningless Word and Its Consequences", "The Most Misleading Word", "Luxury and Necessity", "Protean Terminology" and "Weasel Words and Hollow Words", "want" and "need" are meaningless words without a context. A "need" is only a need if you specify a goal. Such as "you need a five dollar bill to buy a fancy coffee". Without a specific context "want:" and "need" mean nothing. Or, rather, as commonly used in politics,  "need" is something of which I approve and "want" is something I do not. And that is clearly the case here. Smoking is met with large scale social disapproval, so it is dubbed a "want" while sexual activity is a "need" because most of our generation lack self control and have been taught sexual promiscuity is acceptable. However, viewed objectively, those are the only real differences.

Which brings me to my point. By what right does a state ban "wants"? If I cannot prove to you something is "necessary" by some measure, what gives the state the right to ban it? In a free society, if no one's rights are harmed, then what justification is there for banning an act simply because some do not see the value in it? Provided someone wants to do it, obviously they consider it of value, so why deny them their wishes if it does not violate the rights of another?

Nor is this entirely a left wing issue. The left may have been most prominent in the health nazi movement and in banning guns, but the right and left both fought the war on drugs, as well as a few social conservative movements which seek pretty far reaching restrictions on behavior. In fact, it is rather amusing to see nominal conservatives arguing for the right to bear arms, yet turn around and argue that drugs should be banned because of the potential to harm oneself or others. Don't they see they are using the same justification which the left uses (with greater applicability) to argue for gun bans? (See "Guns and Drugs") Then again, it does prove my point pretty well. To the right, guns matter and thus are "needs", while they see no purpose to drugs, and so they are "wants" and can be banned. Sadly, the right (and the left as well) fails to see how the same argument can so easily be used against those things they consider of value.


If you doubt my final argument, think of how many who fought against smoking are horrified at the restrictions being placed on foodstuffs. Yet they laid the foundation for laws they now find extreme and unthinkable. If one substance can be banned for our own good, to protect us from ourselves, then why not another? As I have argued many times ("Slippery Slopes", "Inescapable Logic", "Pyrrhic Victories") once a principle i accepted, it runs to its logical conclusion, and so, one ban justifies another, and those who argue for banning something they find worthless are likely to find the same argument later turned against something they treasure. Which is why, though it means accepting behavior with which we may not agree at times, freedom is the only viable choice, as any other path leads eventually to total slavery. (See "Why Freedom Is Essential" , "Another Look At Exploitation", "Hard Cases Make Bad Law", "Harming Society", "In Loco Parentis", "Government by Emotion", "Missionary Zeal and Human Discord", "Humility and Freedom".)

Monday, November 10, 2014


It is rare for one to find his political theories actually confirmed by the actors themselves. And yet, in this one case, it seems that a major player in the Obama adminstration, in a moment of uncharacteristic honesty, has confirmed what I have long said about the philosophy underlying not just liberalism, but all modern interventionist political theories. (See "Liberalism, Its Origins and Consequences" , "The Right Way", "The Essence of Liberalism", "In Loco Parentis", "Ordered Liberty and Our Modern Mindset", "The Inverse of Empathy", "Tolerance, Agnostic Prostelytizing and Liberal Activism".)

In a recent article on Townhall, Jonhathan Gruber, one of the architects of ObamaCare makes the following statement:
You can't do it political, you just literally cannot do it. Transparent financing and also transparent spending. I mean, this bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO scored the mandate as taxes the bill dies. Okay? So it’s written to do that. In terms of risk rated subsidies, if you had a law which said that healthy people are going to pay in, you made explicit healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed. Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really really critical to get for the thing to pass. Look, I wish Mark was right that we could make it all transparent, but I’d rather have this law than not.
What is interesting is that he confirms two points I have made repeatedly. First, that the essential feature of liberalism is an arrogant belief that they know better than the public what is good for everyone, and will do whatever is needed to ensure we do what is in our supposed interest regardless of our desires. Second, that this philosophy rests upon the belief that the average American is too stupid to know his own best interest. (See "Seeing People As Stupid", "Those Other People", "Our View of Our Fellow Citizens", "Appealing to Arrogance", "The Intellectual Elite", "Lying Politicians and 'Other People'", "The Citizen Dichotomy".)

As I said, it is rare, but every once in a while a politician will admit what he truly thinks. And in this case it provides a quite interesting confirmation of what I have been saying for some time.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Wait a Minute!

I recall during the Bush years, the CIA and State Department and others who didn't like Bush very much kept telling me Iran had absolutely no nuclear program, they were just pursuing peaceful energy. When I said there was not much difference between the two, those "in the know" laughed at me and told me Iran had no interest in weapons.

So, where did this weapons program Obama keeps talking about come from? How did it suddenly appear?

And, if those intelligence experts were either wrong, consistently wrong, when saying they were absolutely certain, or else delivering a highly politicized position, then why should we listen to them ever again?


My old posts from 2007 and 2008 (and a few later too) can be found here, and make for interesting reading given what came after: "I Don't Get It", "Heads I Win, Tails You Lose", "Another Thought on Iran", "Food for Thought", "Idiots or Geniuses?", "Our Friend Iran", "Not Unique", "Can Everyone See It Now?", "Iranian Weapons", "War As Last Resort", "Told You So", "A Reminder" and "Obama Gives Iran the Bomb". (NOTE: A few essays claim to have been published in 2001, I believe I inverted digits and they were instead published in 2010. I shall fix them shortly, but until then I wanted to make clear I am making no claims to precognition.)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Deceptive Spectra

I was reading today about the Nouvelle Droite movements in Europe, most specifically arguments whether they are or are not kindred spirits to the paleocons and social conservatives of the US. As the one main objection on the part of the Europeans seems to be that the US movements are Christian while they tend toward paganism of some sort, I am inclined toward seeing them as one and the same. But that is not my topic for today, instead it is a thought which arose from that reading, and from considering how many quite distinct and even opposed political views fall under the rubric of "right" not just in the US, but in Europe as well. (Though I think the US has a longer history of confusing multiple philosophies -- libertarians, protectionists/mercantilists, temperance/prohibitionist movements, social conservatives, paleocons, nationalists and more -- under the label of "right wing", while the Europeans tended to do the opposite and confound libertarians and communists under "left win" and "liberal", confusing only artistocratic/revanchist movements and nationalism under the term "right wing".) It is a topic I once discussed at some length in my older essay "The Political Spectrum". However, while I did discuss the  specifically American usage of the terms "right" and "left", their history, and the problems in trying to use these confused terms, I did not look at the specific usages in as much detail as I would have liked. And so, I have decided to take a look at the many ways in which people conceive the political spectrum, and how those confused and overlapping definitions lead us into confused or mistaken beliefs. (As well as how a dew specific confusions favor the agendas of certain groups.)

I suppose the most popular version of the political spectrum is the impressionistic attempt to synthesize all the other beliefs into one system, that being the "Communism to Liberalism to Conservatism to Fascism" spectrum we all learned somewhere in our academic history. If you were very lucky, some professor may have elaborated upon it in some way, trying to correct a few of the worst shortcomings by pointing out that, for example, the spectrum forms a sort of "horseshoe" with the middle containing the greatest freedom, and tends the least. Of course, there are problems with that addition as well, which we shall discuss shortly, but at least it is slightly better than the simplistic model I am about to describe.

This model essentially takes a bundle of traits and assumes they form the end points. The "left" is defined by favoring collectivism, internationalism, atheism, egalitarian, pacifism and favoring the workers and/or poor. The right is individualistic, nationalist, theistic, accepts hierarchies, militarist and favors the industrialists or capitalists. Some add other traits, often depending on their own political bias, such as assigning greater rationality of scientific belief to the left, or assigning amorality to the left. However, in general, these descriptions provide the broad outlines.

Not that they are not without problems. For example, the far right in this system is far form "individualist", nor were the nazis or fascists particularly religious (despite the efforts of several to argue otherwise). And on the other end, it is hard to argue seriously that pacifism is a trait of modern communism, or even egalitarianism in any meaningful sense. Nor is that the limit of factual objections one could raise. For example, there exist any number of socialists movements which are simultaneously nationalist, a combination theoretically impossible given the assumptions underlying this spectrum.

Which brings me to a number of the largest objections. For example, the fact that the Nazi movement, supposedly of the right, started as a labor movement of the left, and continued until its demise to have strong anti-religious and pro-labor elements, both of which contradict its right wing identity. Similarly, Mussolini was himself a one time communist and anarchist rabble rouser, and the stato corporativo which underlay fascist thinking grew out of the very left wing synidcalist movement. Thus, in the case of the two best known supposedly far right movements, there are a large number of left wing elements. Nor is the opposite any less true. Stalin, for all his internationalist rhetoric, was often ready to fall back upon nationalism to gain support. And the supposedly pacifist communists also had no problem dividing up unwilling nations first with Hitler then with the Allies, and using whatever force was needed to keep them subjugated.

However, by far the most objectionable aspect of the traditional political spectrum is the implication -- made explicit by the "horseshoe" argument -- that by and large most political movements tend toward totalitarianism, and freedom is just the accidental outcome of balancing left and right, likely to vanish as soon as the winds shift one way or the other. Not only does it suggest freedom is in some way not natural in politics, but it also endorses the weak and foolish belief that moderation is somehow the source of all virtue. In this case, that freedom exists only because of moderation between the two political extremes. Not only does such a belief give little enough political direction for those seeking freedom, but it also justifies a host of ill-advised compromises between the various flavors of totalitarianism which are far more likely to destroy freedom than preserve it.

But I wrote about the ills of this specific spectrum in my previous essay, so let us look at a number of other ways in which the political spectrum is interpreted, as, though this vague but broad form tends to be quite popular, people have come up with a number of other ways to conceptualize the political spectrum*.

One popular variant is to isolate the description to one specific element of the ore general spectrum, a particularly common one being the use of various socio-economic classes to define one's position. For example, it is not unusual to find it implicitly or explicitly stated that the right supports the upper class, while the left supports the poor or the workers. (The emphasis varies depending on context, with academic leftists tending to favor the poor, while labor leaders and most politicians tend to speak of workers, or maybe combine the two into "the working poor".) As a theory, it certainly has some advantages over the more common alternative, notably that it is quite simple, and it is internally consistent, but those advantages pale in comparison to the problems.

First, the theory simply leaves many large gaps. Even if we allow that the moderates support the middle class, there remains the question of how to conceptualize those who support more than one group. Or those who have an interest in supporting a given region, or industry, or have some other agenda, not easily described by class.

Which points out the largest flaw of this Karl-Marx-Meets-Snidely-Whiplash theory, and that is that such a concept does not map to political realities. For example, suppose I believe we must develop heavy manufacturing for our nation's interests to be best served. Yes, at times I will end up supporting the owners and investors, but at others, because of the need for labor, I may end up legislating in favor of labor, or, as we also need managers and customers, may enact laws favoring the middle class. In short, any real life goal is very hard to fit into the traditional three-box Marxist system that this approach embodies.

Another way of approaching the spectrum, one which was quite popular in the 1980's, was to view the spectrum in light of the prevailing belief that the left favored economic controls and social liberties, while the right favored the reverse. In short, the spectrum is made up of two lines, running in opposite directions, one measuring economic freedom and the other social freedoms. At each extreme we have total liberty of one and total control of the other. It was a view which enjoyed a brief popularity, and even fit fairly well the political realities of the US during the Reagan years. But with the rise of political correctness on the part of the left, and with the decline of the influence of social conservatives, it has become less and less popular. Still, as it was once considered a viable description, let us look at its flaws.

The problems with this approach should be obvious. First, and most obviously, there is little room for true freedom. At best, you can enjoy liberty in one aspect of life, or perhaps partial liberty of both, the possibility of enjoying greater freedom in both regards is impossible. More important, while it described the US political parties of the 1980's it fails to match well with the points farther out. As I have argued elsewhere ("Economic Versus Social", "A Question for Artists of the Left"), economic controls allow total social control, and as we saw under communism, social liberty is not that great under most far left systems. Similarly, a system of extreme social control is quite unlikely to allow any degree of true economic liberty. Commerce has an influence on society, and vice versa, and thus the two simply cannot be split apart. After all, if you ban alcohol, it may be just a social control, but every brewer will tell you it is an economic one as well. And thus, there is no realistic way to keep separate the two types of freedoms, which means this spectrum is founded on a falsehood.

A number of other models exist based loosely upon the most common variant, some focusing on a single aspect, say collectivism or internationalism, while others tend to exist more to express the biases of the speaker than anything else, such as emphasizing the rationality of the left, or the amorality, depending on one's bias. However, those all largely follow the same pattern, and have the same weaknesses and strengths. Only one spectrum comes to mind that is truly different, though, as we shall see, despite its apparent appeal to one holding my beliefs, it has a number of weaknesses all its own.

Many of a libertarian bent, either in order to establish a spectrum expressing their beliefs, or, in at least a few cases, to redefine "right" to make it synonymous with economic and social libertarianism, have redefined the spectrum as a measure of government intervention, running from totalitarianism to, presumably, anarchy, with the right being defined as the libertarian-anarchist end, and the left embracing the gamut of totalitarian beliefs, and traditional moderate governments still lying in the center.

Obviously, this spectrum has some appeal. First, it recognizes that liberty is a valid political position, not simply the byproduct of moderating between two totalitarian extremes, it also recognizes that socialism, communism, fascism and nazism all have more in common than any do with more moderate states. But there are also a number of shortcomings.

First, by combining together all the totalitarian states, be they communist -- what von Mises termed "socialism of the Russian type" -- or fascist/Nazi -- "socialism of the German type" -- and fails to recognize any distinctions. In one sense, this is valid, as they are closely related in many ways, but in other ways, it is a bad practice, as it does obscure the many very real differences between the approaches. And, as we approach the more central parts of the graph, this practice of aggregating together all manner of data makes things even more muddled. (cf "Shorthand and Confusion", "Overly Simplified Economics and Confused Interpretations", "The Nonsensical Nature of Some Statistical Analysis", "Problematic Arguments") The extremes tend to have only a few real embodiments. Granted, there are endless ways to dress up these governments, countless trappings one can add on, but for the most part, absolute governments fall into either the communist or fascist/Nazi camps. The few exceptions tend to be impracticable theories which, over time, will break down until they end up as one or the other. (Eg. True synidcalism cannot last and ends up becoming one or the other, depending upon the predispositions of the ruling group.) But in the center, there can exist countless variations, a multitude of steps intermediate between freedom and totalitarianism. And while it is true that this mixture tends to inexorably drift toward totalitarianism unless active measures are taken, that drift can be quite slow, making it useful to be able to distinguish between the many differing types of moderate states, something this spectrum obscures.

And then there is the biggest issue of all, the fact that the spectrum fails to recognize where the endpoints should lie. On the left, I think all can agree that the totalitarian states describe pretty well the extreme of control. Granted, they still leave some amount of freedom, even under the most extreme authoritarian state, but I think we must also confess that a state which denies its citizens every liberty is simply unworkable, some trivial amount of freedom must inevitably remain.

It is on the opposite end where the problem lies, on the right. While the left stops short of total lack of freedom, many allow the right to embrace a total lack of control, that is anarchy, as the extreme on the right, and that strikes me as problematic, for a few reasons. First, and most notably, because a political spectrum should, conceivably, include only political systems, and a lack of government is not a political system. It is only with some modest amount of restraint that a state can be said to exist, making anarchism not a government, but the absence of a government.

More important, the spectrum suggests that anarchism is not only a philosophy akin to, or allied with, libertarianism, but suggests it is the logical fruition of libertarian thought. As I have written many times ("The State of Nature and Man's Rights" , "The Benefit of Society", "A Beast's Life", "Learning From Crows", "Knights and Bandits", "The All or Nothing Mistake", "Of Ants and Men"), this is simply not true. The state exists because it brings benefits, which are most pronounced under a very minimal state (cf "The Case for Small Government", "Competition", The Basics", "Minimal Reforms"), but the state must exist for those benefits to be realized. Remove the state and all of those benefits are lost. Thus, anarchism and government minimalism are not complementary beliefs, they are polar opposites.

Which brings me to my final objections, which is little more than a repetition of one we heard earlier. Just as on the left the spectrum obscures the differences between fascists and communists, on the right it fails to distinguish between the doctrinaire "top down" libertarians and those like myself who would like to see a minimalist system arise organically from a truly distributed federalist state. (cf "The Benefits of Federalism", "Reforms, Ideal and Real", "Why I Am Not a Libertarian", "The Virute of Novelty and the Value of Tradition", "Why Freedom Is Essential", "An End to War", "The Road to Violence", "Common Sense,Philosopher Kings, Arbitrary Law and Dictatorship") As with the other end of the spectrum, to confuse those two dissimilar beliefs under the rubric "right" is just as bad as the confusion created presently by mixing together protectionists, paleocons, mercantilists, social conservatives, necons, libertarians, federalists, Rockefeller Republicans and others under the same name.

So, having denounced just about every approach taken to the political spectrum, what version would I embrace? What is my answer?

Sadly, I have no answer. I believe, when it comes to political analysis, in many ways, a linear spectrum is simply too great a reductionist approach, and makes it too easy to confound dissimilar philosophies simply because the spectrum says they are the same. Just as the present spectrum leads us to imagine paleocons and libertarians are alike because both are "right wing", every alternative leads to equally ludicrous results.

This is not to say that a spectrum cannot, in some contexts, be a useful shorthand. I confess to using "right" and "left" in the loose traditional sense all the time. But when doing so we must also bear in mind that the terms we are using, convenient and natural as they may seem, conceal a host of distinctions we would do well not to forget.


* If anyone needs evidence of how ineffective the spectrum is at describing political realities, the number of variations should provide proof. If something works, there tends to be but a single explanation, when we start sprouting multiple explanations, that is usually a sign that we are clinging to something that does not work. (See "Ritual Abuse, Backwards Logic and Conspiracy Theories", "Backwards Logic", "Sleight of Hand", "Mumia, the DaVinci Code, Full Body Scans, and Loose Change - How Conspiracy Theories Arise", "False Flag Theories and 9/11" and "Maybe Obama Was Born in Gulf Breeze, Florida".)



Those who enjoyed this may also enjoy a few essays which set forth the historical context in which the present spectrum arose. These include "A Passing Thought", "The Best Historical Example", "Mistaken Perceptions of the Industrial Age", "Child Labor and the Industrial Revolution", "Rethinking the Scopes Trial", "A Timeline Part One", "A Timeline Part Two", "A Timeline Part Three", "Modern Marius and Sulla", "New England Versus Virginia (And Venice, And England and Rome...)", "A New View of Liberalism" and "Ordered Liberty and Our Modern Mindset".


From time to time, people have asked why I write such long essays, why I cite so many precious works and so on. Some even suggest that were I to stick to a few lines of pithy comment I would have more readers. Perhaps that is true, but I think there is a strong counter argument.

A few pithy lines works well, but only if you are throwing them out to the faithful. Ann and Rush and others can toss out a few brief one liners about Obama and get cheers because they are preaching to the converted. When it comes time to talk to the opposition, those one liners are dismissed as oversimplification or juvenile slogans or the like. And since it is my ambition, if one currently not being met, to reach out to those who are as I once was, sincere individuals who have bought into the wrong philosophies, but are still open to argument, I feel the need to present them with enough details to persuade them, somethings soundbites are unlikely to do.

Second, and more important, on the internet one is never sure of one's audience, and many react in strange ways to certain arguments, or even certain words. People have unexpected emotional reactions to some subjects. Or perhaps they simply misunderstand. As I am not speaking directly to the audience, and get no cues telling me to clarify or adjust my arguments, I must plan in advance for those possible misinterpretations, and thus I end up writing much more than I would need to say in person.

Perhaps an argument I offered some time ago in response to a slew of rather confused criticism will help make this clear:
To answer one question, as it is the only one which is not an absolute absurdity, I write at such length because it is very easy for others (such as some of those writing comments) to distort my point and create strawman arguments. To avoid such confusion, and to make my point absolutely clear, it seems easiest to write at great length. Were I sure of a mature and sensible readership who would not make wild leaps and bizarre assumptions (not to be found on the internet) I could write much shorter essays. If my old blog were available you would notice, over time my essays went from two or three short paragraphs to a dozen, to several dozen with notes followed by several postscripts. It was not because of any great love of writing long essays, in fact I find the shorter essays are often better (though not always). Under ordinary circumstances I would allow the topic to determine the length. However, I discovered as I wrote that people read things on the internet, especially relating to politics, in a very odd way, making strange assumptions, reacting to single words in a very emotional way regardless of context, etc. And thus, in order to make myself understood, I found I needed to write at ever greater length. I wish things were different, but, alas, that is not the reality with which I am confronted. And thus, I write at length precisely because someone can read what I wrote and come up with something like your fifth comment, something so completely at odds with my topic that I can't even imagine where it originated. And that is after I wrote, as you say, "a novella". So, apparently, I must write a multivolume treatise simply to make the point that compromise is necessary and can be beneficial.
I am not sure that explains it well enough, but for one I will listen to the critics and cut myself short.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Those Other People

NOTE: These three essays were all cited in my essay "Apology as Arrogance". As they are presently unavailable, having been published in the now defunct Random Notes blog, I am reprinting them here.

How many bad political ideas rest upon the idea of "those other people"?

Think about taxes. Democrats promise to make you rich by taxing "the rich". In other words, "those other people" will be paying for your government benefits.

Or medical assistance. The premise is that, while you are certainly capable of planning for your needs, there are "those other people" who are not capable, and so we need to provide for these stupid, incompetent people.

Or social security. While they would never question that you are mature enough to put away money for the future, there are "those other people" who would never plan and end up starving in the streets.

Or gun control. While proponents admit you may be a quite responsible gun owner, "those other people" will use guns to commit crimes, or may just shoot someone when they get upset, or may leave them lying around loaded in their baby's crib.

Leaving the subject of laws for a moment, it has even been offered as a defense of Obama's gaffe. He was not insulting any specific voter, his comments only apply to "those other people" who really fit his description.

I suppose, with so many of our laws based on the presumption of incompetence, it was inevitable we would invent "those other people". First, because politicians can't very well tell voters they think the voters are incompetent boobs. So they have to say "we need this law, not because of people like you, but those morons over there..." Otherwise they would have no hope of getting any votes. Who would support a law based on the premise that they are incompetent?

On top of that there is a second problem with the presumed incompetence implicit in laws. As I wrote a long time ago, if we assume people are so incompetent the government has to step in, then how is it that a government made up of people drawn from the incompetent masses, elected by the incompetent masses, suddenly becomes competent? "Those other people" solve that quandary. The politicians, and those who elect them, are from the competent group, the incompetents they need to protect are just "those other people".

There is one problem with this whole theory. Politicians are addressing their message to the nation as a whole. They are assuring everyone that they don't mean them. So, who are these "other people" then? The standard political speech on the need to protect "those other people" from themselves seems to imply that every listener is presumed competent. If every individual American is competent, then how do we become incompetent in the aggregate?

Of course, the truth is, to those politicians, they are the competent ones and everyone else is part of "those other people", but they would never dare say it. But the laws they pass once in office make it abundantly clear, whatever they say, their faith in your competence is quite limited.

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/17.   

Lying Politicians and "Other People"

NOTE: These three essays were all cited in my essay "Apology as Arrogance". As they are presently unavailable, having been published in the now defunct Random Notes blog, I am reprinting them here.

It is interesting, how much the myth of "other people" deceives us. I wrote before about how Obama tried to use the myth to excuse himself, saying that his "bitter" comments didn't apply to any specific listener, just to those "other people". I also wrote about all those paternalistic laws which exist to force people to save for retirement or use guns responsibly, the justification being that, while the listener may be responsible, there are "other people" who aren't.

And now we get to the strangest use of all. Political lies.

When Phil Gramm finally said something honest, and told us we were a nation of whiners, it brought to my attention how much we have come to expect politicians to lie. But, what is odd, is that we know they are lying. But, rather than demanding they tell us the truth, we just accept their lies, looking for other clues to figure out their true intentions. And why do we let them lie? Because while we can see through their blatant lies, we imagine there are "other people" who need to hear those lies.

The problem is, as in all the other case, there just are no "other people", or very, very few. Almost everyone sees through the lies of politicians. Yet all think they are justified on strategic grounds. It is an absurd situation.

So, if everyone sees through the lies, why do politicians allow this story to continue? Because it is very useful to them. So  long as they can make us believe they are lying to win over those "other people", then they are not required to tell the truth. It is easier to send us vague signals, which we will interpret in the way we find most appealing than to take a firm stand. If they take a stand we might disagree, if they just send a signal, then we will fill in the blanks.

In a way, it is just a weaker version of the content-free Obama campaign. As he said nothing and let his followers imagine he believed whatever they wanted, by openly lying politicians are allowing us to imagine them to be what we want. And if they later prove to be otherwise? Well they never explicitly said anything, we just drew that conclusion.

Perhaps it is time we ended this myth of "other people", and just assume everyone is pretty much like us. We could then demand laws that assumed people were competent, and politicians that actually told the truth.

It sounds good to me, anyway. And I assume most people are more like me than like those "other people".


I actually addressed this topic, in various forms in several articles. Not only the two cited above, "Hilarious!" and "Those Other People", but also in "Our View of Our Fellow Citizens" and "Seeing People as Stupid".

Those last two essays show how this mythical "other people" theory combines with liberalism's innate arrogance. By postulating a cretinous, mythical "other people", the general public can feel superior and join in the delights of liberal arrogance as well, not realizing that they are ending up as the "other people" to those in charge.

More about the innate arrogance of liberalism can be found in the following:
The Essence of Liberalism
Arrogance and Gun Control
Liberal Tolerance
The Racism of the Left
Man's Nature and Government
It Is All In How You Say It
That final linked article contains links to a number of essays on similar topics, but I will omit them from this list. If you are interested, use the links in that essay.

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/07/16.