Monday, October 31, 2016

The Worst PC Name Yet

I am not a fan of politically correct terminology, as I have stated a few times*. First, because it basically changes nothing, people still think "black", they just do a last minute translation to "African-American" (or whatever the term of the moment might be). If you doubt me, explain people saying things like "British African-Americans", or "Native Americans born in other countries", both terms that torture logic quite badly. Secondly, because the terms continually change. And for obvious reasons, once a term enters general use, say "gay", those who tend to use such terms in derogatory ways will pick up the new term, forcing the word police to find yet another term, say "queer", which will, in its turn, also become an insult, and so on and so on. Finally, because such terms often become less precise, and less useful as they become more PC. "First nations" or "native American" tells me less than "Eskimo" or "Indian", and certainly less than "Cherokee" or "Lakota". But, because PC terms tend to be overly broad, they also tend to carry less information and white wash (no pun intended) any differences, to create the necessary big blocks of minorities**.

However, for all my dislike of politically correct terminology, I am generally willing to go along, at least to a degree. I admit I tend to use "black", mainly because I cannot recall what the current term is (and having grown up thinking "colored person" was rude, "person of color" sounds funny to me). I also worked with the mentally retarded when that was the clinical term, so I cannot remember to call them anything else. (What is the current term for the condition, anyway?) But in many other cases, I will go along with whatever the current fashion is in nomenclature, though I likely am a revision or two behind the cutting edge of PC terminology.

But there is one PC term I simply cannot use, and I cannot because it simply sounds rude to me. OK, "people of color" sounded a little too much like "colored people" for me to use, but this one is a hundred times worse.

What is this offensive PC term?

"Little people".

If I were a dwarf or midget, I would want be called "dwarf" or "midget", I would want to be called "shorty" or "dinky" or even "half pint" or "squirt" before I would let anyone call me a "little person". Have you ever heard a more condescending, twee name? "Little people"? What are they, leprechauns? Fairies? "Little people"? It is the most offensive term I could imagine to call someone. It is as if someone told me black people were now to be called "nappy heads" or Jews were properly called "hook noses", or fat people "lard asses". I cannot imagine what demented mind decided that "midget" is a term too rude for public use, yet "little people" was a term showing respect. It is absurd.

Worse still, of all the PC terminology, with its tendency to change on a monthly basis, this term seems to be the one that persists. For decades I have been hearing this term bandied about, by people who think using it is the height of enlightenment. And I cringe every time I hear it.

I know we have become used to viewing all PC terminology as nonsensical, and dismissing it all as sterile, pointless word play, but for a moment, ignore that, accept the PC mindset, and then answer this: Even if you accept the idea that we should change the language to remove any term that might offend, and replace them with terms preserving the dignity of everyone***, would you possibly imagine that the term "little people" could ever be seen as even acceptable, much less the term of choice?

I cannot understand it at all.

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* See "Badly Chosen PC Words", "Slurs", "Very Funny, If a Bit Pathetic", "The Trouble With Tough Talk" and "The Power of Words".

** Politically motivate changes to language almost always result in phrasing that is less precise, uglier and horribly awkward. For example, because "gender neutral" language became the cause du jour, the word "actress" disappeared. Unfortunately, acting is one of those areas where sex is actually a relevant characteristic, so now we need to advertise for the awkwardly phrased "female actor", rather than the simple "actress", in order to somehow avoid offending.. I'm not sure exactly who is offended by recognizing that females are females, but apparently someone is. (Cf "A Question About Language")

*** I have no problem with trying to use terms which are not offensive and insulting, the problem is that (1) there are people who are terribly sensitive [and emphasizing their sensitivity tends to exacerbate this] making it impossible to avoid all offense, (2) which means PC terms need to change pretty often, not to mention that (3) as I said before, whatever term you pick will be repurposed into an insults so (4) there is simply no way to create acceptance and tolerance by language manipulation alone. In the end, PC verbal games end up frustrating many, distracting us from real problems and making any sort of struggle for equality seem silly by association, and thus I cannot endorse it. I might agree in general with the overall goals (in a very broad sense), but the means are simply either futile or absurd or both.

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POSTSCRIPT

What is even more interesting to me is a realization I had as soon as I finished writing. Doubtless there are some out there who DO find "little people" less insulting, and would find my position offensive. But that just makes my point in a different way. If what is and is not insulting can vary so widely form person to person, is it not futile to try to come up with one "correct" set of verbiage? Won't some be well served and others forced to use terms they find offensive or uncomfortable? Is it not better to simply let things sort themselves out?

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Problem with Internet Revisionism

In the past, I wrote about the spread of the absurd myth that Roman legions played hopscotch, and a number of other internet myths (eg, the origins of "gallic")* that seem to have gained currency, spread far and wide thanks to the ubiquity of the internet and the obsession with posting "surprising revelations".

Well, I found another bit of information that seems to be making the rounds, and one which I am greeting again with skepticism. This is the rebuttal of the belief Napoleon was short.

Now, the theory is that Napoleon was "normal height for a French man of his age" and that the "myth" of his shortness was the result of British propaganda. Unfortunately, he was also described as short by French and others unlikely to be subject to British propaganda, so the other excuse is that his guards were tall, making him "look short" or that his nickname "the little corporal" misled people.

Pardon me, but this strikes me as a bit suspect.

Well, I put a little effort into looking for the source of this "conventional wisdom" that Napoleon was "not really short". And it turns out that the source is the testimony of his valet and personal doctor given on his death that he was 5 foot, 2 inches and 4 lines. According to those pushing this line, the pre-revolution foot and inch were larger than imperial measures (why they did not use revolutionary metric measures, I do not know...), so he was "really" 5 foot 6 inches.

Well, it is possible. But then again, why did EVERYONE imagine he was short until suddenly in the 21st century, some genius discovered he was not? It would seem, had he not been short, someone would have mentioned it in writing somewhere, as it is such a pervasive impression. Yet, until a few revisionist historians stumbled on this one quote, and the internet picked it up, everyone seemed content to imagine he was short.

So, let us try another thought. Maybe Napoleon was truly short. Maybe he was 5 foot in old measures. But, upon his death, rather than confirm this, his valet and doctor released a measurement with a few added inches, bringing him up to average. Perhaps, just perhaps, the reason there is no recorded objection to descriptions of him as short, is because he was short, and the single measure upon which this story rests was not entirely accurate.

It is not certain, but given the fact that no one noticed he was average height until two centuries later, it seems to fit historical records better.

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* See "The Power of Myth on the Internet", "Why People Don't Take Academics Seriously", "Grind Those Axes, Wiki Editors!", "Backwards Thinking and the Number of the Beast" and "Amusing 'Truths'".

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POSTSCRIPT

Portraits are not the best evidence, I grant, but since important figures are usually depicted larger than they truly were, it is interesting in at least two portraits I found depicting Napoleon with others, he seems to be shorter than those around him. Not tremendously so, but certainly enough to be noticeable.


UPDATE (2016/11/2): I have discovered there IS a lot of dispute of this conventional wisdom on the internet. Apparently, once again, a single position is being treated as true since it produces supposedly "surprising" outcomes. Even Wikipedia (hardly a good source for real unbiased information) only presents the alternate view in a note. The argument often used, and quite a sound one, is, since St Helena was under British control, the autopsy would have used imperial measures, so he was 5 foot 2 inches British, not French. But the counter argument is his physician despised the British and wold not have "polluted" his emperor using a British measure. But, I find that pretty implausible given (1) the incredible prevalence of the short image throughout history until now and (2) the fact the British had total control over both the body and doctor and could easily have insisted on imperial measures. So, apparently once more the internet is presenting a single view as if it were the only view. So much for "all the world's information in one place".

By the way, there is a simple solution. I discovered a number of Napoleon's uniforms are preserved in various museums. It would be relatively easy to measure them and determine if they were more consistent with a man 5 foot 2 inches of five foot six or seven inches. But all we hear is that there is "confusion" over units and British propaganda and this single autopsy. That makes me skeptical about this revisionism, as it would be a much stronger case to simply give sleeve length and anthropometric data and have done with it. I suspect doing so would tend to result in something much closer to the old conventional view. I am going to see if I can find some measurements for his existing uniforms and if so, will be presenting them here, whether for or against my conclusions.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Right Thinking and the All Encompassing State

I was thinking about skeptics recently, as I have just written a rather uncomplimentary article about CSICOP, and it struck me that they are a particularly interesting example of a phenomenon I have spent quite a bit of time pondering. In a number of posts*, I tried to figure out one of the aspects of liberalism I find most puzzling, that being the imperative so many liberals feel to force people to do what they think is best. Now, some would say this is nothing new, many political movements try to force others to behave in certain ways, and in a sense that is true, but in most cases, those behaviors are enforced because of some form of self interest. For example, the need to maintain order is behind many behavioral constraints, which is clearly beneficial to those enforcing the rules. Or, in the case of many religious rules, the people enforcing those rules believe that salvation depends upon universal observance. Or, in the case of many colonial powers, bringing good government and modernization to natives around the world, they also saw the action as beneficial in providing new sources of resources and labor, as well as a new market for goods**, and, in many cases, a boon to national prestige. In short, in every case I can imagine, there is a selfish motive to apparently benevolent actions.

Liberalism puzzles me in that regard. Oh, of course many people use liberal idealism as a mask for simple selfish power seeking, so that is explanation enough for some, but for those who truly believe, especially among the rank and file, the justification for liberalism simply makes little sense.

Allow me to explain. As I described it in many places***, liberalism is founded on three ideas. First, that there are right and wrong answers to all political problems. Second, that most are ignorant of those answers (and cannot learn from mistakes to eventually discover them). Finally, though it is rarely stated explicitly, that certain individuals do know those answers. From this, they conclude that those knowing the "right way" should use the power of government to protect the poor benighted masses from their own ignorance (or exploitation by others based on that ignorance), and force people to behave properly. What puzzles me is, unlike many more fully statist theories which see misbehavior as weakening the state, liberalism does not claim any justification other than preventing others from making mistaken decisions. And that is what puzzles me.

To be blunt, why does it matter if other people make mistakes? What is the reason for forcing others to do what we think is right, rather than what they want? For example, even if eating transfats is dangerous, what is the benefit form forcing others to avoid them? Or, if others knowingly fail to plan for retirement, what is the harm in letting them do so? In short, what is the justification for liberalism's missionary practices?

It is a hard question to ask, as having lived with it all our lives, many of think it natural we would want to "help" others by preventing them from making mistakes, but it becomes a little less clear when you think about it. After all, in many cases, "helping" others takes the form of forcibly preventing them from doing what they want, even imprisoning them if they persist (eg drug users), all in the name of making their lives better. Looked at in light of, say, preventing the religious from teaching creationism in school****, or stopping loans between willing lenders and borrowers because someone thinks the interest "too high", it becomes obvious that even the case for "helping" is a bit weak, and we are rather forcing one set of values upon everyone in the name of helping.

Which brings me back to my original subject, those who hold themselves forth as skeptics. They are of interest, in this context, because they are especially ardent about convincing people to hold only what they believe to be correct beliefs. And while they also repeat the more general, nominally altruistic arguments for forcing beliefs on others, they also sometimes make statements that reveal a second motive, one which I believe gives us insight into why the left is so strongly motivated to ensure everyone holds the right beliefs.

And what is this more revealing motive? We hear it when they say that if people hold unscientific views, they might force schools to teach them, or might force insurers to cover quack cures, or licensing bodies to license quack doctors, that they might oppose sound laws, or might force passage of laws that are harmful. In short, they want to force a single, uniform belief on everyone so everyone will support the right sort of government.

And that is the real purpose behind at least some, perhaps most, liberal dedication to uniformity of belief. Having dedicated themselves to big government, a government which touches every aspect of life (oddly, mostly justified by the fact so many hold the wrong ideas), they want to ensure everyone holds the "right" ideas, so that government they envision is not undermined.

Think about it. In a free market, with a minimal government, what does it matter what I think? I cannot force your children to attend a school matching my beliefs. I cannot force you to do anything. Granted, if I hold peculiar beliefs, it may inconvenience you slightly if I refuse you service, but no more than had I not been there at all. And there are countless others with many different beliefs offering their services.

It is only when government becomes all pervasive that majority beliefs, or even beliefs of a significant minority, can shape policy, creating conflict. (Cf "The War of All Against All", "Government Funding and the Creation of Strife", "Chaotic Government", "The Road to Violence", "Power and Disorder") And that is why so many who endorse big government are interested in ensuring others believe properly. Without proper beliefs, it is likely government will not take the form they intend.

In a way, it is a rather circular argument. They justify big government because people do not know what is best for them, and so, to ensure that big government takes the right form, they have to be certain people believe the right things. But, then again, these beliefs have been around a long time, so some take parts of the argument (eg the need for big government) as a given, and thus do not see how the argument seems to reference itself.

Of course, I am not naive enough to think this explains everything. Some may be motivated by the need to ensure proper government function, but not all. Some doubtless simply want others to believe the "right" things out of a strange benevolence, one that imagines it is best to prevent others from mistakes, even if that means jailing or fining them. And then there, as with any movement, a number of opportunists, who see this whole issue simply as a smoke screen to justify their lust for power. But, even taking all of those motives into account, I still find myself at a bit of a loss to explain this missionary desire. But, if I cannot explain it all, at least I have now helped explain a bit more of this desire.


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* See "The Life Coach Culture", "The Great 'What If?' - Advertising, Gullibility, Education, Capitalism and Socialism", "Missionary Zeal and Human Discord", "Some Thoughts on 'Summerhill'", "Selfishness as Reason - 'Wants', 'Needs', 'Fairness' and Other Guises for Arbitrary Decisions" , "Lawn Darts", "Social Issues and the Role of Government", "Hugging You to Death" and "The Right to Be Wrong -- An Uncomfortable Argument".

** This is largely a protectionist/mercantilist belief, but there were also a number of free market proponents who argued that closed markets were harmful to overall well being and thus needed to be forced open. The free market justification was different from the mercantilist in many particulars (and I believe it was a bit spurious), but in the end both led to the same outcome.

*** See "Liberalism, Its Origins and Consequences", for the best examples. Also"The Inherent Disappointment of Authoritarianism", "Man's Nature and Government", "Appealing to Arrogance", "The Intellectual Elite", "The Citizen Dichotomy", "The Essence of Liberalism","Liberalism, "Idealists" and Internal Contradictions", "Big Government, Arrogance and Part-Time Psychopathy", "For Your Own Good -- The Problem with Subjective Rights", "The Road to Violence", "The War of All Against All", "In Loco Parentis", Hard Cases Make Bad Law", "The Sexual Revolution and Prostitution", "Selfishness as Reason - 'Wants', 'Needs', 'Fairness' and Other Guises for Arbitrary Decisions" and "Arbitrary Choices" .

**** I am not e creationist myself, I have even written some critical essays on intelligent design ("Some Thoughts on Arguments for Intelligent Design"), but it does seem peculiar to insist you are helping parents by forcing them to send their children to schools which deny things they believe to be true. If we forcibly sent Jewish children to Catholic schools to convert them, liberals would be up in arms, but forcing the children of creationists to learn evolution is seen as beneficial. It seems a peculiar double standard. (The true problem is public education in general, as I shall soon discuss. See also "Reforming Education", "You Don't Drown in a Glass of Water - Vouchers Revisited", "Why Vouchers are not the Answer", "Never Ascribe To Evil, A Discussion of Education", "A Few Thoughts on Charter Schools", "Did Deregulation Fail?", "The Glory of Eisenhower?" and "Podiatrists, Dentists and Public Education".)


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Swapping Cause and Effect

It is interesting sometimes to read the websites of self-proclaimed skeptics, such as CSICOP. While they often have a host of apolitical, reasonable arguments, they also seem prone to dabbling in politics, and it seems inevitably when they do so, they veer hard to the left. From the assumption skeptics must be atheists, to the belief that anyone who does not accept every premise of the latest AGW theory is a "denier" and conspiracy theorist, they seem strangely prone to left wing beliefs. (I noted this before in "My Irritation with Supposed Skeptics", "A Thought on Intelligence" and "A Bit Disappointed in CSICOP - The Difference Between God and UFOs".) Perhaps it has something to do with the popular, yet mistaken, belief that "smart people are liberals" (cf "Intellect and Politics", "A Thought on Intelligence") or maybe the tendency for academics to lean left. (cf "Some Thoughts on the Media", "The Press Versus the Nation", "The Path of Least Resistance") Whatever the reason, it is a strange phenomenon, yet one that I think would be obvious to any but the most partisan readers, for some reason, skeptics tend to unquestioning acceptance of left wing premises, often failing to view them with the same skepticism they would other beliefs1,2.

I mention this because I sometimes forget how far left skeptics tend to skew. Yes, I know they are completely in the most extreme AGW camp, but other than that, I often forget their political bias. And thus I am sometimes surprised when, reading through skeptical sites, I come upon evidence of skeptics completely accepting at face value the most dubious partisan hogwash without a second thought. As, for example, CSICOP accepting an essay on guns and the risk of homicide, which completely fails to take into account a host of confounding factors3.

The study in question made two claims which, though superficially damning, can actually be explained quite simply by some common sense argument.

First, there is the statement that suicide is more common among household with firearms. The assumption behind this, I suppose, is that firearms, by making it so easy to kill oneself, make it more likely someone will successfully kill himself rather than give time for others to talk him out of it. But this seems somewhat implausible. After all, poisons are also commonly available in most homes, as are knives and other sharp objects. Granted, knife wounds and poisons can be treated more easily than gunshots, but they still require someone to find and identify the suicide as such, and get help in time. This seems unlikely, as most suicides do not commit the act while others are present.

Is it not far more likely this is confusing, at least in a number of cases, cause and effect. That those who are contemplating suicide are more likely to purchase a firearm, making the number of those committing suicide who also own firearms higher? After all, despite the claims of the article that suicide is a spontaneous and impulsive act, many who commit suicide have tried more than once, and a large number have planned the deed in advance. So is it that unlikely they would buy a gun so that they would be sure of a quick demise?

Well, whatever one thinks of that argument, the other one is even less plausible. That is the claim that somehow guns cause homicides. That is, the claim that households with guns are also more likely to suffer a murder.

Now, this one is obviously a case where cause and effect can easily been switched. First, and most obviously, people who own guns for nefarious reasons are also often those who get murdered with guns. So, ignoring anything else, criminals who own guns dying of homicide is hardly a surprise. Second, and only slightly less obvious, many people who feel threatened, either because someone is threatening them, or because they live in a dangerous area or travel to dangerous places or work in a risky field, would also be more likely to both buy guns and suffer a death by homicide. In short, is it not possible that guns do not increase the risk of homicide, but rather those at an elevated risk of being a victim of homicide are also more likely to purchase guns?

These are the sort of questions one would expect skeptics to ask. However, oddly enough, they seem to be the ones that are rarely if ever even considered by professional skeptics. Instead, they present a very partisan picture, accepting the study at face value, never asking questions that are terribly obvious.

So much for self proclaimed skeptics.

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1. You can see this in part by looking at the credentials of writers on skeptic sites. A surprising number come from openly partisan journals, such as Mother Jones.

2. A perfect example is their attachment to atheism. As I have argued in "Atheism's Circular Reasoning", "Is The Flying Spaghetti Monster From Canada?", "Materialist Arrogance" and "A Bit Disappointed in CSICOP - The Difference Between God and UFOs", there is not rational proof for or against religion, and thus, if one is being purely rational, religion is a non-issue. You can no more disprove God than prove him, and thus, strictly speaking, there should be no official skeptical position on religious belief as such. Yes, one can dispute doctrinal points, such as young earth beliefs, or creationism, but not the belief in God itself. However, despite that, skeptics tend, by and large, to assume every skeptic must be an atheist.

3. This is hardly unusual in politicized science. Many times I have seen a study on the latest health scare which either fails to take into account autocorrelation (eg the fact smokers also tend toward other behaviors which can exacerbate health effects) or which use sample groups which are not comparable (eg the US lifespan effect of trying to save premature children rather than writing them off as stillborn, giving a number of infantile deaths which are nothing but a statistical artifact). Other than exaggerating the significance of small statistical changes, this seems to be one of the most common ways to skew data.



Sunday, October 16, 2016

Usefully Vague - How Vague AGW Terminology is Abused

How many times have you heard the term "climate change deniers"? And how often have you really thought about what it means, and realized exactly how stupid that term truly is? No one I know denies "climate change". In temperate zones climate changes every year, and even in more tropical or arctic climes, climate still changes somewhat with seasons. Not to mention the even shorter term changes we see with the rising and setting of the sun. Of course, no one denies the climate changes.

Even the larger changes, over a longer term, are not denied by many. We all hear talk of La Nina and El Nino and the effect they have on climate. And history records any number of more dramatic climate events. Ice ages, tropical eras, and, within more recent times, the Medieval Warm Period -- when villages were built now found under glaciers, and the Norse colonized parts of Greenland no longer inhabitable -- as well as the more recent "Year without a Winter". Obviously the climate changes, whether in a cycle or via a series of discreet changes, there is clearly no set and fixed climate that persists immutable.

Of course, that is not what is meant by the term. Rather, when the term "climate change denier" is tossed about, what is meant is that one has challenged one of the many claims made about man-made global warming. The one calling names is upset, not that someone said climate does not change, but that someone doubted a specific thesis relating to -- usually catastrophic -- man-made global warming --most often anticipated to result in disaster in the short term.

However, those parts between the dashes actually highlight the problem with this accusation. Even ignoring the complete foolishness of calling objections about Anthropogenic Global Warming "denying climate change" (a bit of hyperbole if ever I heard one), it also can mislead those who believe in various theories relating to AGW, as there are a whole host of theories, running the gamut from "man is contributing somewhat to a natural warming cycle and may produce some unexpected results in a century or two" all the way to "it is all man's fault and the seas will boil next Labor Day!" And therein lies the problem. Theories of "global warming" cover a wide range of beliefs, resting on better and worse evidence, with a massive number of different predictions, and various claims about how reliable those predictions might be. And yet, when one challenges any one, from the most modest to the most extreme, it is likely he will be labelled a "climate change denier" and, since the term is so ill defined, many will assume the individual is denying everything, from the most extreme to the most modest.

Of course, this is a useful way to argue, especially for those making the most extreme allegations. After all, even those who are convinced that AGW will produce harmful results in a relatively short time frame often disagree with some of the most outrageous claims, and yet, when those claims are challenged, suddenly even those who are fully in agreement with many other AGW claims risk being called "deniers", and others will assume they have gone over to the the dark side. Thus, many of the most unfounded and outrageous claims find a way to safeguard themselves, and to blacken the names of critics, by using a deliberately vague term to confuse the issue.

Now, before we go on, I suppose I should put my cards on the table and give my own beliefs. I am probably, if I am honest, among the "deniers". I believe there are larger and smaller cycles, many solar related, that do seem to bring warning and cooling periods, and we do appear to be warming. Thus, I am not opposed to believing there is some generalized warming, I am just dubious of placing it all on man. It is likely carbon dioxide and water vapor are raising temperatures somewhat, but I do not believe in all the feedbacks and other amplifications many theorize to cause increased warming, above that normally called for by physics. I also have problems with many of the models, as they do not work well when run backward over historical data, making me dubious of their validity. And, finally, I am completely dumbfounded anyone accepts the "hockeystick" chart, since if tails to show many periods of warming and cooling we know happened historically, presenting an almost flat period from 800 to 1900, which does not correspond with historical data. (I also recall when global cooling was a certainty and discussed much the same way, though many now deny it ever happened, but I recall the worries, as a scientifically curious child, so I am not accepting that claim.)

On the other hand, I am neither a climate change denier in the sense of denying there is any climate change, nor that man has no role in it. I know enough to agree adding carbon dioxide and water vapor to the atmosphere can increase the retention of radiated heat. What I deny are the models which exaggerate the amount of heat it would trap, which do not recognize there is an upper limit to the effect in an atmosphere of our density, which postulate feedback and amplification which do not match historical data, and which ignore sinks for both heat and carbon, such as increased plant growth, oceanic solution, deposition in shells and so on. I just believe present models are designed in such a way as to maximize warming effects and as a result overstate those effects, which we can see if we try to run computer models backwards, as they deviate radically from historical values.

But, as I said above, saying this much is enough to make me a "denier", even though I do not disagree with a number of claims, only with a subset. However, since the term is used in such a nebulous way, it can be made to function as a means of effectively silencing debate. Since "everyone knows" "deniers" are conspiracy theorists, and crazies, denying any element is a sign that you are part of the vast, unenlightened mob of loons on the right.

Which is interesting, as, though I admit to disagreeing with a number of proposals, I am also open to proof that would contradict my positions. However, for my skepticism I am called a "denier". It seems a peculiar way to conduct science.


The Right to Be Wrong -- An Uncomfortable Argument

When I write about deregulating medicine, I alway feel a tiny bit uncomfortable, as the arguments I make -- that having central control can enshrine mistakes, that patients, not regulators, should evaluate what is worth the risk, and so on -- are also the same arguments made by those who promote quack cures. That does not mean they are wrong, I am still fully convinced there is no argument for medical regulation except the usual "we know better than you" which I find wrong in every other area of government, but it is not a good feeling to be repeating the same arguments as those claiming liver flukes are the cause of all cancers, or those pitching ozone cures or iridology. However, as I have thought about it a bit more, it struck me that this is really the litmus test of one's belief in freedom, belief in the rights of individuals, do we accept that an individual has the right to make mistakes? That one has the right not only to choose what we think is good and proper, but the absolute right to do what we, personally, consider to be absolutely wrong?

I ran into a similar problem when considering property rights. After all, one of the greatest infringements on individual property rights are the various laws against discrimination. As I have written in several places, I consider these laws an unjustified extension of government power. it is good and proper for the government to enact laws making the government blind to color, sex, religion and so on, but to try to force private individuals to adopt those beliefs, or even to force them to behave as if they do, is to violate their rights. Of course, this too is an uncomfortable argument, as basically I am arguing for the right of bigots to refuse to serve those they dislike. But, again, that is the point. If I believe an individual has the absolute right to use his property as he wishes, then I have to believe he has the right to use it in ways I find abhorrent. So long as he does no deprive another of his right to life, liberty or property, then he is free to behave as he wishes in using his property, regardless of what I think.

And the list goes on. Many times I have had people agree with every basic argument I made until I began to apply them to specific cases. Suddenly I would hear, "I agree with you in principle, but how can you allow prostitution?" or "we cannot make drugs legal" or some other variation. There are a number of such cases where small government conservatives, or even supposed libertarians, are unwilling to accept the implications of their beliefs, and start making special cases for those few things they simply find too detestable to allow. However, that is what I believe is the real test of one's convictions. If you can look at a behavior or belief you find objectionable, and still argue that others have the right to behave or believe in that way, then you have truly accepted all the implications of your beliefs.

It is not an easy thing to do, to argue for the right to be wrong. On a most superficial level, it is a public relations nightmare. Can you imagine running for office on a platform arguing for the right to be racist? The right to discriminate based on sex or religion? The right to be a prostitute? Drug legalization is finally becoming an acceptable position, so that one is not quite the political suicide it once was, but the history of that should be a lesson for us. Trying to promote an unpopular position, even when it is based on very sound premises, and is supported completely by one's political principles, can be political suicide. Even if you say you personally oppose the act, but believe it should not be a crime, you are still going to be seen as "the man who promoted racism". And thus, I have very little hope that any politician in my lifetime will argue for true property rights, or rights of association. Likewise, I doubt medical deregulation will ever take place. Of course, we already embrace quackery in the form of homeopathy, but most people ignore that, and think our system is perfect, and would view opposing it as embracing quack cures. Then again, there is a significant minority who are believers in quack remedies, so, in this one case, it may be possible at some time in the future, we may see some progress. (Though, despite my belief in the right to be wrong, it still just feels wrong to be cheering for the quack cures to win.)

In the end, though, we will eventually have to accept, despite the public relations nightmare, despite the fact that it means siding with some distasteful individuals, and though it means arguing for the right for individuals to behave in repellent, offensive and self-destructive ways, supporting freedom does mean fighting for the right for everyone to follow their own course, and that includes the right to be wrong. Liberalism, all modern authoritarianism, is, after all, based upon the exact opposite principle,  that is the need to protect those poor benighted "other people"* from making the wrong choice. We need social security because some can't plan for retirement. We need minimum wage because some people take jobs that pay too little. We need regulations because people choose badly and hurt themselves. Modern authoritarianism is all about the smart and enlightened "we" protecting the ignorant "them" from making mistakes. And so, though it may not be popular, in the long run, we have face that our fight is, for better or worse, the fight for the right to be wrong, to go against the conventional wisdom, to ignore the demands of the enlightened, and so what we want.

Perhaps that is the best approach. Not to argue for the right to be wrong, but for the right to oppose the buys bodies and meddlers, to set our own course rather than be forced to follow that set by those who are convinced they know better. Perhaps if we can show the arrogance of liberalism, the underlying belief that a few wise souls know better than the ignorant masses, we can even get some benefit out of our struggle to support the right to be wrong. But, whether we can or not, at least to ourselves, in our own hearts, even if we do not mention it often in public, we still must recognize, we are supporting the right for others to be wrong, to do what they will, even if we dislike it. If we do not make note of this, then we risk falling into the same error we have seen time and again, fighting for freedom "to a point", making exceptions to regulate things we dislike, allowing freedom "except" this or that, exempting what we find reprehensible from protection. And, if we do so, then we undermine our message, destroy our own beliefs, and hand the argument to the opposition**.

And so, though it may be uncomfortable, we need to recognize, freedom means just that, total freedom. So long as one respects the rights of others, he is free to do what he wants, whether we like it or not.


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* See "The Inherent Disappointment of Authoritarianism", "Missionary Zeal and Human Discord", "Liberalism, Its Origins and Consequences", "Man's Nature and Government", "Appealing to Arrogance", "The Intellectual Elite", "The Citizen Dichotomy", "The Essence of Liberalism","Liberalism, "Idealists" and Internal Contradictions", "Big Government, Arrogance and Part-Time Psychopathy", "For Your Own Good -- The Problem with Subjective Rights", "The Road to Violence", "The War of All Against All", "In Loco Parentis", Hard Cases Make Bad Law", "The Sexual Revolution and Prostitution", "Selfishness as Reason - 'Wants', 'Needs', 'Fairness' and Other Guises for Arbitrary Decisions" and "Arbitrary Choices".

** As I argued before, once you accept an argument that goes contrary to your philosophy, you have lost, as, in the long run, the more consistent case always wins. See "Inescapable Logic", "Recipe For Disaster", "The Endless Cycle of Intervention", "The Cycle of Compassion", "Justify Yourself, Defeat Yourself", "Denying Reality", "The Free Market Solution" and "The Rarity of 'Common Sense'".

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UPDATE (2016/10/20): I recalled a good example of this from my old blog. I presented my case for making marriage effectively outside of government ("Solving the Gay Marriage Debate", "Updating an Old Post", "Freedom of Conscience, Under Certain Conditions..."), reducing it to contractual agreements, with the rest a private matter between individuals and their religion. In effect, making marriage, gay, straight or otherwise, a non-issue because government would not recognize it at all. I admitted, it would require changes to taxes, to how insurance and other business is conducted, and would make probate for those dying intestate a bit different, but basically it would end up solving a lot of issues, and, as marriage is essentially religious, it would eliminate yet one more government intervention into religious issues. However, several times, I got comments that agreed in theory, but had a single objection. The objection? "But you would be approving of gay marriage." You see, though they agreed with small government, and with freeing faith from government intrusion, they still simply could not accept any plan which prevented them from forbidding gay marriage. I pointed out that I would be approving nothing, and my plan allowed every religion to do what they thought right, but still, because some people could enter into these contracts and call it gay marriage, the plan was unacceptable.