We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
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Friday, August 2. 2013
When I was first asked to write for Maggie's, I promised Doc Mercury I would outline my thoughts on Libertarianism and why I switched from the Republican Party. He was curious why I thought it was a preferred political stance. In light of the current Rand Paul/Chris Christie 'debate', and my own procrastination, now is as good a time as any to post my opinion.
We choose political views based on our perception of human nature. If you believe humans act primarily in their own self-interest, Libertarianism might be for you. You shouldn’t consider it if you feel you can tell others what to do, or if you think the state knows better and should tell them how to live. For me, it was a question of consistency and honesty with myself. All political views have limited degrees of consistency, and we often rationalize specific situations which seem to compromise our essential principles. This even happens with Libertarians, though I believe it occurs to a lesser degree than most political parties.
Before I delve into my position, I’d like to comment on absolutes. Very few things in life are absolutes. Different political views exist because people have ranges of beliefs about human nature. If I say “Democrats are always and everywhere wrong”, that undermines my discussion point. I would no sooner say that than to say “Libertarians are always and everywhere right.” We’re not, but I happen to think we have a better handle on human nature and our framework tends to be logically consistent and tends to be free of emotion. Emotions, I believe, are useful in our personal lives and how we live them, not in how we frame policy. Legislating kindness, generosity and morality, because you feel people need to be this way, does not make people kind, generous or moral. Aristotle once wrote “The law is reason unaffected by desire.” What I want or desire for myself should not be codified, I should not let my emotions enter governance. But the nice thing about Libertarian thought is that it doesn’t limit what you want to believe at a personal level, it just limits your ability to intrude on others’ lives.
There is a politically correct movement in which intolerance is unacceptable, unless you’re intolerant of intolerance. This is logically inconsistent if you believe people have a right to opinions and viewpoints. I prefer to think that freedom of speech and thought means you have every right to be offended occasionally, rather than looking to ban viewpoints you disagree with. Of course, I remind my boys that even though this is true, it’s best to avoid offending people whenever possible. You don’t have to be judgmental to exercise good judgment, and this channels the essential core of Libertarian thought.
How did I arrive here? After all, I was a Republican from the day I first registered to vote until 2004. What made me reassess my politics?
George W. Bush. I don’t think he was a bad man or even necessarily a bad president. But he certainly was a bad manager of policy. Many people believe government functionaries and politicians work for the general well-being. These functionaries and politicians are individuals. So, by default, they will generally be acting in their own self-interest and rarely in favor of the general well-being (whatever that is, since this is not a well-defined concept to begin with and isn’t an “I know it when I see it” item). It’s no surprise to see corruption in government, or see laws with good intentions yield poor results. Friedrich Hayek said,
So when George W. Bush began spending outlandish sums and driving up deficits, my support for him waned. I discussed my departure from the Republican Party with my father saying “If Bush thinks this behavior is smart, he’s going to come to a bad end. In addition, Democrats will use Bush’s policies to justify their own when they have a president.” I don’t think this was particularly prescient. It seemed obvious when I said it in 2004. This is precisely what has happened.
Leaving the Republican Party was difficult, but I could not join the Democrats. While I agree with Democrats on a variety of social issues, I don’t share their economic ‘solutions’ for those same issues. You can’t fix a problem by throwing money at it and George Bush proved this.
Choosing what I’d do came down to a simple line of questioning. Recently, I used it with a British client who grew up Socialist and is still mildly left of center. He asked about my political views so I replied:
Me: “Do you have the right to tell me what to do or how to live or spend my money?”
Client: “No, of course not.”
Me: “Do you gain that right when you and 99,000 of your closest friends join you and try to make me do what you want?”
Client (after some thought): “No, even as a group we can’t tell you how to live.”
Me: “Then why can you pass a law which takes my income and gives it to someone else I don’t know or necessarily care about, and tell me it’s for the betterment of all, when it clearly leaves me worse off? At what point are my principles given a hearing?”
He tried to follow up by asking if I didn’t care about the poor, mentioning that I still benefitted from laws like Universal Healthcare. I replied I did care and I might benefit, but who and what I care about is my business, not his or the government’s. My choice to give to charity, and my choice of which charity to give to, is mine alone.
The Constitution is not a document which tells government what it should do with respect to making citizens engage desired behaviors. It is instead a document which recognizes that the smallest minority is the individual, and seeks to protect the individual from tyranny of the majority. The assumption that society is better off simply because government enforces a law or tax for the ‘betterment of society’ or regulates a business because it is seeking to impose ‘fairness’ or ‘economic justice’, presupposes that society (here represented by elected political figures) knows better than one single individual what is best for him/her, simply because “society” (really government) knows what’s best for it as a whole. These kind of collective decisions have few positive outcomes, and many unfortunate ones.
It takes an incredible leap of faith on the part of anyone to believe the innate goodness of government, let alone its ability to be efficient. We know individuals act in their own self-interest, at all times. Supposedly altruistic activities, like giving to charity, are self-interested behaviors. I feel good about myself when I give money to charity or work at a soup kitchen. Yes, I do it to help others, but I do it for myself, too. This is based on the concept that helping others allows you to help yourself and potentially yields benefits which multiply in the wake of your good works. If you choose to not give to any charities, that’s your choice not mine. I shouldn’t force you to give.
Which is why I like the Libertarian Party. Sure, we are classified as fringe whackos at times, and we do have our fair share, just like Republicans and Democrats. But there’s a level of respect for the different views which exist under our vast tent. I don’t engage in UFO watching, but some people think that’s fun and somehow they’ve tied it into their political views. I also don’t believe anarchy is a viable option, though some Libertarians do. Libertarians seek to minimize government, allowing people to live for themselves rather than relying entirely on assistance. The philosophical basis for my views is supported by many well respected institutions. There are noted economists and philosophers who also espouse this view.
Ayn Rand is sometimes used to give a face to Libertarianism. We agree with some of her work, but she did not like us since she rejected the political process. She also did very little to show a streak of kindness or caring, focusing upon herself. There is a difference between self-interest and self-absorption. There are other commentators, such as Neal Boortz, Glenn Beck and Bill Maher, who may profess some basic tenets, but are more interested in using the state to make you behave the way they prefer.
But the goal of Libertarianism is to let people manage their own lives, have greater choice and make their own decisions. Allowing them to live free from the intrusion of government. To that end, I quote Johan Norberg:
People sometimes stress over ‘too much freedom, too much choice’. That too much choice is as bad as no choice seems to bear the tinges of truth. However, if confronted with no choice or too many choices, which is preferable? We can let government limit our choices through the use of regulation, laws, and taxes or we can define our own limits independently. If ‘society’ chooses to allow government limitations, it infringes on the rights of individuals.
For me, the basic tenets of liberty and freedom are more important than anything else, even the presumption of safety which government often pretends to supply. I’ll take choice, opportunity and chance over a forced agenda limiting choice, promising a cocoon of safety that can never be provided, fairness which is ill-defined and a belief in the assuredness that the state can solve problems of ‘economic injustice’. Chris Christie would do well to acknowledge the Libertarian strain as a valuable philosophical donor to the overall well-being of the US political and economic system. Particularly since he’s invoked portions of our philosophy when it suits him, such as when he told a teacher she chose teaching even when she knew what the pay scale was:
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Well, Bulldog. I hope you've opened up a dialogue on MF that helps people reconsider the political process and how well it's working for us, our children and grandchildren.
I agree with all. I registered to vote in 1988 and was thrilled to cast my vote for Reagan.
Since then, the Bush's and their allies undid everything Reagan accomplished. I drifted towards great civil and economic freedom while the GOP drifted the other way.
I'm still registered as a Republican although I feel no obligation to vote for Republicans I disagree with. The next 3 years will determine if I stay or not. I'm more excited about Rand Paul than any politician since Reagan. If the establishment sabotages his run, I'm gone for good.
Rush hap some very apt comments about the GOP recently.
"Sixty plus. "More than 60 Republicans have signed a letter urging Speaker John Boehner to defund Obamacare," according to The Politico. Why only 60? Sounds like the Tea Party caucus to me. Sounds like that's about it. The House isn't... I don't understand it. There's no push-back on Benghazi. There's no investigation on the IRS scandals. There's no attempt here to defund Obamacare. Not much in the Senate, either. You know, folks, two things. You can make the point, okay, there aren't that many conservatives in the Republican Party. Okay, fine, but the Republican Party's still the Republican Party. It's still an opposition party.
Where's the push-back? What, are they all Democrats now? Okay, even if the Republican Party wants a new base -- and I don't doubt that that's what's going on -- people ask me all the time, "Why is the House Republican leadership doing X, Y, or Z," same thing in the Senate. I don't think they like the base. I think they want to cast it aside, traditional base. They never have really liked it. Conservative base. They don't want it. Get rid of it and then come back, live and fight another day, put together a new coalition. Well, fine and dandy. Even if you want to do that, you're still the opposition party; there still isn't any push-back. Forget conservative push-back against liberalism. What about the Republican Party opposing the Democrat Party, or is that out the window, too? "
There are many of us that no longer have a political party to support.
I am perhaps 90% Libertarian myself but that last 10% is really tough and important stuff. I cannot bring myself to legalize drugs or emasculate our defense. Oh sure the arguement won't be posed "exactly" that way but as one great politician once opined "what difference does it make now" once drugs are legal and my 13 year old grandson is hooked on crack or the free world is taken over by a strong Russia that faces no political or military opposition. I really like many of the things Rand Paul says and then he says something absolutely stupid and dangerous and what do you do then? Much like Liberalism full fledged Libertarianism seems to attrack the mentally incompetent. Some will seem normal but have this huge blind side or ignorance of facts that most of us would think are common knowledge. I like Rand Paul and want him to stay in the congress but I could not and would not vote for him for president. Admitedly he would be better then the present holder of that office but that is hardly an indorsement.
That were I was about a decade ago.
I hope your kids and mine never touch recreation drugs - but I seriously doubt their legality will have anything to do with it. On the other hand, the cost of the drug war is paid by all of us. No prohibition is worth the militarized police and the trampled liberties required to make it stick.
Didn't work when we banned booze and it hasn't worked with drugs.
I don't think Ron Paul is as anti-military as you think. He has spoken against some of bigger boondoggles - like Afghanistan and the F-35. He wants to pull out of most of our European bases which I agree with. Why are we paying for the defense of Germany and Italy instead of Germans and Italians?
GWTW, I'll more or less reiterate what NJ Soldier wrote.
Both my boys have tried pot, despite my best efforts discouraging them from doing so, and despite the law. But I felt it was better to have an open dialogue, truthfully, than trying to scare them the way my parents did when I was using it.
I regularly point out to them I gave it up when I realized how pointless it was, and how it diminished my desire to actually do things which were fun or exciting. Living in London, getting stoned in a room with 5 friends one night, it dawned on me. I'm in freaking London and I'm doing this! How stupid am I?
That said, I don't see that legalizing drugs will act to encourage anyone to use something which is dangerous, because being illegal sure hasn't prevented them.
Not to mention, for a vast majority of this country's existence most drugs were legal and our drug problems really began only after about 1920.
With regard to the military, I agree with you. Most Libertarians do, actually. It's not a question of emasculating the military, though. It's a question of re-ordering our foreign policy needs and desires so they are more closely aligned with the value that military provides. We should not seek to be aggressors, as we are currently (though we often mask it with the theme of being a victim, due to 9/11).
I'm not diminishing the threat terrorism represents, just suggesting there are more and better ways to deal with it than drone strikes, armed invasions, and NSA wiretapping.
No prohibition? Would you apply that to all drugs? I no longer need to see a doctor just go buy some antibiotics when I feel sick. Or are you very selective and mean pot and narcotics that are now illegal. Fine I could actually live with no prohibition but on everything. AND since you are a true libertarian if you (I mean the generic "you") sell/give my 13 year old grandson any drugs I can shoot you in self defense (well defense of my grandson). Can't get much more libertarian then that, i.e. you are responsible for your own acts and the repercussions. So along with legaliziing drugs legalize the right of parents, grandparents and loved ones to protect those thety love.
Protecting Germany! Really! Germany pays us war reperations to stay in Germany. But even if they didn't that is the best deal we could ever hope for. Cheap billeting of trrops near trouble spots not to mention a first class army hospital near where our soldiers are injured. Closing bases in Europe and Japan is part of the absolute idiocy that I lay at Rand Paul's feet (and other Libertarians too). What next a suicide pact. Germany and Japan are essential to protect the mainland U.S.
I see nothing wrong with drone strikes. Cheaper and more effective in most cases then an expensive manned fighter jet. Armed invasions??? Absolutely agree. I would not have gone to Korea or Vietnam and I wouldn't have gone into Iraq. Perhaps bomb the shit out of them from 30,000 feet but no boots on the ground. I do not favor armed invasions or being the national police force. But if you truely believe that Then you agree that Clinton was correct to not try to stop the Rawandan genocide and you wouldn't favor saving or protecting Israel if a similar thing happened there. Perhaps you just disagree with specific armed invasions.
We will absolutely see a nuclear weapon detonated over/in a major U.S. city by the terrorists in your/my lifetime. 10's perhaps 100's of thousands killed and manhy more injured. What would you say then if NSA wiretapping could have prevented it? Not that I favor NSA. Personally I say lets abide by the constitution right to the very letter of the original intent. But my question is can you accept the consequences? We didn't get NSA because of Obama or evil politicians. We got it because of good and sincere people who know things that would scare the shit out of you and me. People who intended to protect us from many in the world who want us all dead. What the NSA has done is arguably legal and when compared with Obama using the IRS to win the 2012 election there is no comparison. So for my money first Obama impeached and perp walked on national TV then I'm ok with ending NSA and going blind in a dangerous world.
One last point: WW II didn't happen "just" because of Hitler or Hirohito. It happened because Libertarians "emasculated" our military under the guise of "re-ordering our foriegn policy". All those deaths and destruction in WW II was because the only Democratic super power emasculated their military making it look like the bad guys could win. Should we give it another try?
I would argue that a great deal of the resistance towards WWII was based on Wilson's lies that got us into WWI which was meaningless to American interests.
I'm not sure what libertarians you refer to as emasculating the U.S. military. FDR and the Democrats controlled Congress and the Presidency for a solid decade before WWII. The fact that they preferred shoveling money at make-work social programs rather than the military despite obvious rising threats around the globe is hardly anyone's fault but their own.
Yes, I'd apply it to all drugs, though I do believe (much like driving a car or drinking alcohol), there can be age limits. These limits won't stop people from breaking the law (how many of us drank prior to 18 or 21, depending on where you live?), but it will reduce substantially the costs of 'the war on drugs', while raising revenues.
Unfortunately, whether there's an age limit or not, you can't shoot anyone in self-defense, particularly while protecting your grandson. What are you protecting yourself, or him, from? Making a bad choice? Bad choices are made not because something is legal or illegal, but because they are, at their root, bad choices.
I never tried pot or alcohol because they were legal, in fact their illegality was part of the attraction. Plenty of guys want to cultivate even just a little of the 'bad boy' image.
I didn't say anything about closing bases, though I do believe we should close some. I wouldn't specify Germany or Japan, in particular, but I'm sure there are plenty which are redundant. As far as I know, we are not paid war 'reparations' at all. In fact, that was part of the deal after WWII, since reparations are part of what set Germany into decline and led to the rise of Fascism.
I do, however, believe our foreign policy is a mess and completely out of touch with any form of reality or sense, and has been long before Obama (though he has made it worse). Your view that WWII happened because our military was emasculated by Libertarians is misguided. For one, there were none in power. Furthermore, whether we had a powerful military or not would have mattered little to either Germany or Japan, since we were not their initial targets. We were sucked in by a confluence of events, some of which were stage-managed by politicians, to pull us into the war. I'm not saying we shouldn't have been pulled in, but thinking that Pearl Harbor was completely accidental, or the result of perceived weakness is incorrect. Even Admiral Yamamoto was aware of the problem that attack presented in the long run, and had counseled against attacking the US.
I disagree that we're likely to see a nuclear weapon detonated in the US, but if we do, the bigger question is probably why us? You forget that drone strikes, while cheap and efficient, also have massive collateral damage. We create just as many enemies as we eliminate almost every time we do one.
I don't think we should eliminate them entirely, but I do think they are used injudiciously.
As for the NSA - not one single crime was prevented with the program. Not one. The examples provided were all thwarted by standard police work. There is much more afoot than just 'looking for terrorists'. And proof of the program's uselessness lie in two areas. First, Boston, which was tailor made to be thwarted by the program but wasn't, and secondly this:
While not specifically related to the NSA program, it shows the problems related to trying to link metadata with intent, and it also shows the extremist response currently engaged by our government to perceived threats.
I disagree with all armed invasions. We didn't belong in Rwanda, the Balkans, and while I initially supported Iraq (being prior to 2004), I came to realize why I was wrong about that. I did not, and do not, oppose the Afghanistan venture, as that was directly related to an attack on the US.
I actually don't fear terrorists at all. My wife was concerned when I went to Israel, but I came back fine. Being overly concerned about terrorism means you respect and fear their capabilities. I don't. Most terrorists fail miserably, and it's not because of NSA snooping, it's because they are generally screw-ups who have nothing better to do.
I still belive 9/11 was more luck than skill on the part of the terrorists. I don't think we've avoided more 9/11's because of the NSA or the government limiting our freedoms. I think we've avoided it because we're much more aware.
Really! All drugs legal! So I could buy cancer chemo drugs or antibiotics over the counter. Would the doctors agree with that? Or would we still have Prohibition but only on useful drugs and the drugs that kill and destroy lives would be available? Could I protect my grandson from someone who was about to shoot him? Obviously and in my opinion it would be just as appropriate if I shot the little sucker trying to sell him crack. In my opinion a bad choice is buying a car or house you can't afford or shaving your head. Buying and using crack or any of the serious drugs is way past "a bad choice".
Perhaps I'm guilty of being a little unclear so let me restate my point. Prior to WW II we did exactly what the Libertarians want to do today to our military. While I agree it was done by the Socialist/communist FDR it was the same policy. That is the point. Clearly Germany would not have attacked England or Western Europe if we were a full strength super power. It was because we disarmed that they felt they could get away with it. Ditto for Japan. Would they have attacked us knowing we would not only counter attack immediately and brought the war to their own shores? Of course not. They attacked because they actually believed they could secure the South and West Pacific and that we would not be able to recover from the Pearl Harbor attack to stop them or take it back. Clearly it was our weak military position that encouraged them.
A nuclear weapon for the terrorists is the holy grail. They want one, they will eventually get one. Where they use it will depend on which group gets it. If I had to bet I would say Israel tops the list but Israel chooses to protect themselves so smuggling it in or acquiring the ability to send it by rocket may be too difficult. Europe would be the second choice of a lot of terrorists. While they might politically prefer the U.S. we are further away and they tend to have better connections in Europe. But the U.S. is certainly a runner up target for a nuke. It's just a matter of time.
I believe there were a number of crimes/terrorist attacks prevented by the NSA and suprisingly I believe that it was done constitutionally. The Meta-data was a factor in some of these cases but many were broken by foriegn phone calls that were monitored.
I was not in favor of the Iraq war or Afghanistan either. I have no objection to taking out terrorists where ever we find them be it by seal teams or drones. I don't disagree that drones have collateral damage so doesn't every other method. But be aware that most of the so-called collateral damage is BS and a lot of it is because the U.S. government will pay the family. So a terrorist is killed while meeting with the real target and the family claims he wasn't a terrorist and the U.S. pay thousands. Like winning the lottery.
I fear everything and anything that can kill me if I'm not paying attention. The fact that I'm still here is not proof that I am smarter then terrorists or invincible. I will continue to take necessary precautions and be aware of my surroundings.
Today, a 9/11 would be luck. But in 2001 I could have done it. You could have done it. The black panthers could have done it. Anyone could have done it. What we do not know is what our current risks and loopholes in our defenses are. We are aware of some of them and are taking steps to make it more difficult but where are we still vulnerable. If you are arguing that the government is too heavy handed and are exceeding their authority I agree. As I said I am a constitutionalist and I think the federal government has exceeded it's authority on almost everything. So I would be happy to reign the government in everywhere including NSA.
The short answer is yes, and I'm not sure how or why doctors factor into this equation? My father is a doctor. He and I have discussed this at length. He's skeptical, but admits even William F Buckley shared my view, and he was a fan of Buckley.
As for shooting people, of course you have every right to defend yourself. But you can't make an assumption that the seller is harming another if a specific choice to harm oneself is made on the part of your grandson. He's chosen to make a purchase. As I pointed out, perhaps an age limit is reasonable. If your grandson were under the age limit, and drugs were being forced on him, you'd have a case. But other than that I'm hard pressed to see what you're defending.
The inter-war moves by the US and other nations were not Libertarian in nature. That's you're analysis and comparison, though most of us disagree with that assessment. The need and right of the US to defend itself is a paramount role of government.
However, I'd argue that this can be accomplished much more effectively in many other ways than the US has engaged in the past. Which isn't to say that means a diminished role for the military, just a different role.
I doubt terrorists will ever get a nuclear weapon, though it's not outside the realm of possibility (I understand the nature of Black Swans, and I don't think anything is impossible or so unlikely it's not worth considering). But while getting one may be difficult, smuggling it into the US is very easy, even today. Even with increased security. A very good friend of mine works in the shipping business. After 9/11 I was down on the docks with him, reviewing some containers which had just arrived, and I asked him how easy it was for someone to sneak something in on these containers. He replied "ridiculously easy".
I'm not sure how you expect to stop this, though. Maybe, just maybe, you could stop the first one or the second. But the law of averages stipulates (as Boston proved) you can't protect against everything. And you shouldn't protect against everything.
At some point, the madmen will gain an advantage, because there's a tendency for all things toward entropy. You might find that by embracing some level of entropy, you gain the capability of managing some things you didn't think you could.
However, by trying to control things, you find you're incapable of controlling anything at all.
I use this philosophy at my office, and it works successfully until some nitwit arrives with more power and the desire to control every little thing, and turns the entire process to crap. The only thing you can control is yourself. Beyond that, you have to rely on managing and influencing things.
The doctors got into this because I am explicitly saying if you make narcotic recreational drugs legal and available to all then would you make prescription drugs legal and available to all? A simple concept. If harmful drugs should be available because we are all free thinkers why not all drugs? It would seem to me that at some point anyone would realize that unlimited personal freedom to do anything would be counter-productive to everyone else. That is my point. Illegal drugs aren't illegal because some police and politicians are just tight ass fun hating people. It is because these drugs destroy lives and are responsible for about 80% of all murders and 90% of all sex and property crimes in this country. I would prefer we followed Singapore's model, i.e. sentenced any major drug dealer to death to be carried out within 24 hours. That might dry up the supply.
I don't think we can stop all terrorist acts. I do think we could stop most of them. Yes I do think sooner or later a nuke will be used by terrorists. That was the inevitable fate from the day nuclear weapons were created. Oddly as sad and angry as I will be I am more afraid of what happens next. If al qaeda nukes NY City and kills a million people what do you think the remaining 310 million Americans will demand? A nuclear response would be inevitable. Talk about collateral damage. This is what terrorists want, armegeddon, the twelfth imam. So we determine where the nuke came from and who engineered the plot etc and bomb the shit out of them in retalliation. So the simple question is which is better; nuclear war or an active defense against terrorism by our government? After Pearl Harbor the nation was unified and wanted to go after those who committed this heinous act, how will they respond to something a hundred or a thousand times worse?
An active defense is not the same thing as an effective defense. That’s probably where the real RP-minarchist position differs from the caricature of it.
Nationbuilding in Crapistan is not an effective defense. A substantial Navy and well-equipped Marines who can eradicate an identified threat anywhere it arises is an effective defense. What worked against the Barbary Pirates will work again.
And before we send the Marines, let’s actually have Congress vote on an explicit declaration of war, as the plain text of the Constitution requires. Leaving it up to Executive discretion has proven tragic and ineffective.