Saturday, August 28, 2004

Republicans of New York, or, Militant Leftists vs Militant Pro-Lifers

There are some indications that local "progressive" organizations in New York are actively planning on being downright uncivil toward visiting Republicans. A few anarchists are even openly discussing violence. To lefties in NYC, might I offer a small suggestion? A rule of thumb, if you will? Your ediquette and strategy vs. the conventioneers should only will those maxims that fall under this principle:

"Treat Republicans in precisely the same way that you would have militant pro-life organizations treat patients at abortion clinics."

Coincidentally, it turns out that to help solidify my analogy, some leftists are having prayer vigils. Well, they're actually called "cloudbusters", but they seem to have the same social function as anti-abortion churches gathering to pray for the end of abortion, for the souls of the unborn, and all the like.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Billionaires and Communists finally have it out

It's easy to get annoyed at an outfit like Billionaires for Bush. It'd be one thing if they were right - that "everything" was being privatized, instead of (for example) even traditional Republican targets like the federal Department of Education ballooning to levels that even the Clintonistas never dreamed possible. It'd also be one thing if they were just ignorant about basic economics - lots of people are - but they have to point attention to it with lame, uncreative satire hardly worth the name. If you're going to be a satire group, however misguided you may be ideologically, at least be halfway funny instead of using tired anti-rich humor that had grown stale generations ago.

I suggest, however, that there's more reason to be amused than be annoyed. After all, if there can be Billionaires for Bush, why not play up the opposite stereotype with Communists for Kerry? The Communists, in this case, at least have grains of truth behind their satire. See also here. And if what I've read lately is any indication, the Billionaires don't even have that anymore, if they ever did. While there are Communists actively supporting Kerry, billionaires aren't that wild about Bush.

All in all, the Communists for Kerry website has now replaced as my favorite Kerry website. But my favorite slogan on either side this year still remains: "John Kerry: Why the long face?"

Friday, August 20, 2004

Libertarianism and Objectivism - the old saw

Also written (mostly) at work today:

I had a thought today regarding one of the oldest debates in Objectivism, being fought anew at Diana Hsieh's blog, amongst other places: the relationship with Libertarianism.

As I understand it, Rand's own intellectual development didn't start from grasping the axioms, going through metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, ironing those all out. If anything, she started with politics. And if you notice, that was how her novels progressed. We the Living was primarily political, though ethics were certainly there in the background. The Fountainhead was primarily ethical. It wasn't until Atlas Shrugged that she began to formulate her metaphysical and epistemological system, so arguably she didn't deal politics in the philosophically systematic method ARI partisans champion today.

So turning to Libertarians. Given Rand's own intellectual development, wouldn't it be more fair and accurate to view them at more or less the same stage as Rand herself in the late 30's? At that time, to the extent that she had a fleshed out system informing her politics, it was a thoroughly Nietzschean ethics.

Yes, there are Libertarians out there who either regard philosophy as unimportant or derive their libertarianism from whacked-out irrational foundations. But there are many who are where Rand was in the 30's, and even closer to what Objectivism ultimately became. Moreover, if there is a father to Libertarianism, it's not, as Peter Schwartz contends, Murray Rothbard. For every one Rothbardian Libertarian, there are easily ten or twenty times as many who perhaps just read Atlas Shrugged or other Rand novels, and never studied philosophy further. It seems to me that if Objectivists want to make headway as a cultural and political movement, they've got to start somewhere. And Libertarians are the logical place to start.

Two other brief observations.

1. It's been argued that the subjectivist, postmodernist, and religionist Libertarians are not really Libertarians. Objectivism, according to this argument, is Libertarianism, and it's the anti-Objectivist branches that fail to offer the rigorous defense of liberty that Objectivism alone offers.

2. Imagine if you will - something like a Rawlsian Veil of Ignorance. Yes, I know, dreadful example, but work with me. Imagine some differences from Rawls - you get a choice of where you want to be born, and you're already an Objectivist. So, in this Pre-Existence, where do you want to go? One could look at the USA, Switzerland and New Zealand - purportedly the freest countries on Earth - and point out all the deficiencies. Mixed economies, compromised civil liberties, and irrational tendencies in the cultures. So... where else do you go? Russia? France? China?

The point could probably be put more eloquently, but the idea here is that we have a set context. We have to work with what we have. It would be self-defeating, I contend, to drop out entirely like the Jehovah's Witnesses, shunning any political activism. The Libertarians offer a place to start. And it is a starting place, so it would be surprising if it wasn't going to be a gradual project. But Objectivists are up to challenge. And it should prove far simpler than trying to turn Republicans away from religion, or Democrats away from the equally narcotic statism.

Michelle Malkin: Fascist? Too Harsh a Term?

Written earlier today, while at work:

Michelle Malkin is a fascist. Well, at least in one regard. Her book, In Defense of Internment, is primarily based on the premise that the US is in peril if it prioritizes "political correctness" over national security and sovereignty. Malkin is utterly wrong on this point. First, there's a world of difference between PC and, oh, I don't know, liberty? And equality under the law? The inalienable rights of human rights aren't a matter of, as Malkin suggests, "hurt feelings."

Does this make her a fascist? Well, I don't know that she's necessarily a nationalist who favors an expansionist one-party dictatorship, but the values she says should be prioritized are in line with fascism, and in that regard, the term fits. Conservatives, at least, those who claim to champion the Constitution and to understand the primacy of liberty, associate with her writings at their intellectual peril.

I worry though - "fascist" as an epithet is horribly over- and misused, and here I go, using it here. The term is in danger of losing its meaning, and here I go, perpetuating it... but for the life of me, I know of no other way to classify someone who puts "safety" ahead of freedom, thereby ensuring we have neither (as Franklin famously said), and who argues that the internment of innocent Japanese-Americans in WWII was justified.

(Oh - and regarding her treatment by Chris Matthews. She has insane views, but it's only going to make her look good to act as boarish as Matthews a few nights ago. I heard the audio from her visit to the show, and it's pretty much as she recounts at her blog.)

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Why I haven't posted in a while, and when I will return

This will likely be my last posts for a while (well, until Monday), as I am currently trying to study up for the Metaphysics Comp Exam. This exam is, without a doubt, the most difficult test I've ever had to take, and I need to make up for lack of studying all summer. I also may never get another opportunity to take this exam, which will mean that I won't actually get my MA. I've got to do well. But circumstances won't be too bad this time around - I don't have other academic work competing for my attention, just my job, and my pool questions come on Friday, giving me the weekend before the big day on Monday.

So. I'm off to study. I should be back to speed, blogging to my heart's content, come next Monday.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Lengthy Response to Diana Hsieh

I wrote this reply to Diana Hsieh's posting about TOC's upcoming debate about objectivism vs subjectivism as it relates to libertarianism, and whether it's appropriate to associate with subjectivist libertarians for purposes of a debate. It's a bit too lengthy for a comment section, so I'm parking it here for people who might find the topic (or my pontification) of interest.



If I misunderstood your claims, I'm sorry, though I remain unclear on how I did so.

In your reply to my post, you wrote: “He said "I don't see why you take issue with the idea of debating with non-Objectivist libertarians." I never said that; my objection was to debating an explicit subjectivist skeptical libertarian, particularly under the banner of "we're all friends of liberty here." Nor did I say or imply that to debate someone is to make common cause with them, another view which Kraorh attributes to me; whether a debate constitutes sanction depends upon certain critical details.”

Here is what you said that led me to believe that your claim was that, in fact, such debate should be discouraged, in part because engaging in such debates is tantamount to making common cause with non-Objectivists: “Just remember folks, we're all "friends of liberty"! And we all "agree on the goals of individual liberty, free markets and limited governments in a society in which individuals deal with one another based on mutual consent rather than the initiation of force." We just want to know on what moral grounds we can defend liberty. Sheesh. What ever happened to the idea of not making common cause with the so-called "subjectivist wing" of the libertarian movement?!?”

Your sarcasm, above, perhaps obscured your real point. As I understand the terms, there are no differences in terms of actual political platform between the libertarian and the Objectivist. It all reads basically the same: pro-choice, pro-gun rights, pro-liberty all around. So in that sense, it is literally true that plain jane libertarians, even subjectivists, are all “friends of liberty,” in the same way that all socialists are friends of socialism.

But not all friends are alike, and many would-be friends are actually very bad, undesirable friends. In this context, that is because mere platform is not the same as ideology, which all of us – you, me, David Kelley, Will Thomas and (I assume) Ed Hudgins all agree. You claim here, in your reply, that a debate is not necessarily an instance of making “common cause.” You allow that the “critical details” could make a difference here whether it was “common cause” or not, but as a prima facie matter, I would assume that such a debate wouldn't even happen unless there was some very important difference of opinion that you sought to highlight contra your opponent. Such a debate could hold the potential not only to sway other minds with reason and well-articulated facts, but even on a more basic level to earn publicity for one's ideas.

Returning then to the substance of your clarification, you state that your objection is to debating an explicit subjectivist libertarian, particularly under the banner of “we're all friends here.” You don't state why it would be wrong for an Objectivist to debate such a libertarian, though why debating other libertarians may be alright. As for “we're all friends here,” I'm assuming, first, that as a general matter any formal debate should be held in a spirit of cordiality and friendliness. This is just good manners. It doesn't mean that we have to kiss anyone's ass, or feign chumminess a la Kerry & Edwards. But cordiality should be the order of the day unless you have some damn good evidence that the person is immoral, beyond hope of being redeemed, and that acting badly to them really is in your best interest, because it often isn't, even when those other conditions have been filled.

Finally, you also write, “And nor did I deny, either implicitly or explicitly, as Kraorh claims I did, "the possibility of winning converts to Objectivism from non-modernist cultural backgrounds"; my claim was that, contra Kelley, such people cannot be "allies or converts" to the *political* cause of liberty without a radical change of worldview.”

The claim that this is “contra” Kelley is false, unless you have something other than this quotation from the “Party of Modernity.” You had to read that position into a paragraph where he makes the opposite claim – that modernist values are the “natural” home of liberty. Allies and converts to Objectivism are, of course, most likely to be found amongst modernist thinkers. As for the hypothetical non-modernist libertarian, presumably one could not become a convert or ally to Objectivism from a non-modernist background without a “radical change” of worldview – the same thing I said before (and that I experienced personally on my gradual conversion to Objectivism). Presumably, one wouldn't even have such a debate unless the issue under consideration was a) important and b) divisive. But such a debate, in this context, is likely intended to lay the groundwork for the “radical change of worldview” you mention.

Will it be effective? I don't know, and I certainly have my reservations. Even if it isn't, it would hardly be a failure of morality, and certainly not a “new low” for TOC. There is a difference, after all, between the well-motivated attempt to persuade people about the importance of principle, and the blase indifference to principle that is the hallmark of most political movements, built as they are on arbitrary marriages of convience. Give TOC credit for at least taking a stab at making the libertarians exceptions to that rule.

I have the perception that we are largely talking past one another, which is a shame, because I'm not sure that you and I really disagree about the more fundamental issue of the necessary role of philosophical foundation in political discourse. But as I understand your position, you are wrong that a) TOC, Kelley or Hudgins have abandoned that position, or that b) debating a subjectivist libertarian is a compromise of that position. At the very least, you haven't supported that claim here.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

That's Not (my) Bush!

With apologies to SNL, I present, for your approval...

That's Not Bush

Husband ... Kevin Nealon
Wife ... Julia Sweeney
Announcer ... Phil Hartman

Husband: [eating a cup of yogurt, looking over the newspaper] Mmm. Honey, this is a great candidate.

Wife: That's Not Bush.

Husband: Not Bush? Come on, he sure takes most of Bush's positions.

Wife: That's Not Bush.

Husband: No. Come on, read this position paper on Iraq. Mmm ... Not Bush?

Wife: No, Honey, look ... [holds up campaign literature] That's Not Bush.

Husband: [puzzled] Hmm ... Then, who is he?

Announcer: I'll tell you one thing - That's Not Bush!

Husband: Well, if it isn't Bush, then what did I just vote for?

Announcer: Wouldn't you like to know!

Husband: Yeah. I would.

Announcer: Well ... That's Not Bush!

Husband: Look, I understand that. But what is he? Is he, like, some sort of liberal Democrat? Is he, like, a moderate? A Reagan Democrat?

Announcer: That's Not Bush!

Wife: No, seriously ... my husband has moral objections to certain political positions ... so he really sort of needs to know exactly for what he's voting.

Announcer: Sorry. But all we can tell you is - That's Not Bush!

Husband: Look, I have a right to know what I just voted for!

Announcer: It drives people crazy, trying to figure out the secret to the great That's Not Bush campaign. It's smooth, slick, vague, vitriolic, irrational and at times deceptive ... with a perfectly incoherent and obscure agenda, just like the real Bush. Only, That's Not Bush!

Husband: Alright, come on.. what is he?

Announcer: Actually ... it is Bush.

Husband: [joyful] Really.

Announcer: No. That's Not Bush! That's Not Bush! You'll swear you're voting for Bush, but you're not. He's something else.

Female Voiceover: From the makers of Those Aren't Principles, and That's Not A Constitution.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Liberals vs. Michael Moore

Read all about Michael Moore, the puppet, here.

As I had hoped, many liberals, not just Christopher Hitchens, are now seeing that Michael Moore does for liberalism what Ann Coulter and Michael Savage do for conservativism.


NPR's Scott Simon: "Michael Moore has won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and may win an Oscar for the kind of work that got Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair, and Jack Kelly fired."
- "When Punchline Trumps Honesty"
There's more McCarthy than Murrow in the work of Michael Moore.
Tuesday, July 27, 2004
Wall Street Journal

(There's a great remark about the Scott Simon piece here that also notes that while NPR is certainly leftist, they are nevertheless an invaluable and praiseworthy source of news. I agree.) Alas, as Scott Simon notes, even liberal lions such as the ever confused Paul Krugman are drinking Moore's kool-aide.

A new petition and blog, Democrats United Against Michael Moore: "We firmly believe that, should the Democratic leadership continue to embrace Michael Moore or fail to unequivocally condemn his tactics, it could very well be at the peril of John Kerry in the November election. We must not allow our vehement opposition to President Bush and his policies to blind us from truth. We must not abandon reason in favor of political expediency."
from Democrats United Against Michael Moore

Monday, August 02, 2004

My Mind on My Money, and My Money on My Mind

One of the oddest twists of this entire campaign has to do with Kerry and Edwards' attitude toward wealth. Neither of them ever earned a dime of their wealth through their own work legitimately, nor do either actually know how to earn such wealth even if they were so inclined. Kerry acquired his wealth (so much wealth that Bush looks middle class in comparison) through inheritance and by marrying an heiress. Legal and morally okay, but hardly by the sweat of his brow. Edwards acquired his through force - by skillfully manipulating a badly compromised tort system to extort his millions from real producers. Isn't it fitting, therefore, that a keystone of their campaign is that the people they despise the most are the actual producers who did create their wealth legitimately through their own work?

It wouldn't be such a big deal if the tax system went after static wealth rather than income. But as it is, the non-productive rich, like Kerry, the Kennedys, et al, pay relatively little in taxes (save what they earn on investments and savings), whereas the productive rich who dynamically create wealth and keep the economy afloat are those who are soaked the most. That, I think, is what I find most offensive about Kerry and Edwards. Their anti-rich "Two Americas" rhetoric makes more sense about themselves than the productive corporate tycoons they envy. And their policies indicate that they don't understand how their wealth was created in the first place, and what are sound policies to ensure that others may, by their own effort, earn wealth of their own.

It offends me deeply, to my core.

Near-Racism on Talk Radio

As someone who actually listens to right wing talk radio, who appreciates much of the humor even while I may disagree with the hosts occasionally, I'm usually one of the first people to defend talk radio from the litany of charges it frequently receives - it's racist, sexist, homophobic, part of a vast brain-washing conspiracy by Clear Channel to make you vote for Bush, etc. Depending on the show, it's no more, and no less, thought-provoking than what you hear on National Propaganda Radio (which I also listen to religiously), but the biases are acknowledged here, so you know what you're getting.

That said, there are some talk show hosts who actually do fit the standard litany of charges, such as Michael Savage and Jay Severin. Last week, I had the misfortunate of discovering more of the same. I listen, on earbud headphones, to radio over the internet while I do mindless data entry. I recently checked out 950 AM KPRC, a station out of Houston. I had heard of Glenn Beck, but never listened to him before, and aside from knowing that he was conservative, really didn't know what to expect. I don't know if this will apply to him personally, but the two people who sat in for him had to be some of the most bigotted assholes I've ever heard on the radio.

Their names are "John and Ken," and apparently they have a regular show that airs in the Los Angeles market. I listened for over an hour, and Jesus, I wish I had that hour back. All I got was a litany about how horrible it is for the Mexicans to be crossing the border, coming to America, and how easy it would be for Arab terrorists to blend in with them to cause us harm. ('Cause, you know, when it comes down to it, all brown people are alike...) They spoke highly of efforts of militia groups to stop Mexicans from coming, arresting CEO's of companies than hired "illegals," and basically took Mexican immigration to be the single biggest security issue we, as Americans, face. I wanted to hurl by the time I finally found something else to listen to. Someone pointed out that it would actually be much easier for terrorists to cross through Canada than through Mexico, and they laughed at that idea, again appealing to the idea that Arabs and Mexicans look so much alike, and that coyotes would easily assist any Arab who paid them to take them across.

Ugh... I don't even know if I should dignify their ignorance by refuting their claims. I'll just say that the strange thing about Mexicans is that they, like most people, just want to earn an honest living, and that the economic freedom America offers makes that possible here in a way that it will never be in Mexico, so long as their government remains corrupt and statist. They enrich our economy, like immmigrants always have since the country's founding, and most of them wouldn't come here if wasn't for the fact that they like the American way of life and the American dream, and wanted to pursue it.

The more I think about it, the more it strikes me that what they say about teeming Mexican hordes on the border, aiding and abetting al-Qaeda and other Middle Eastern terrorists, is virtually indistinguishable from what people used to say a century ago about the teeming hordes of Europe. Xenophobes then, too, feared terrorism - anarchist terrorism, which claimed the life of a US President and countless scores in riots and other outbreaks of violence. (Nothing quite on the level of 9/11, nor anything to compare with weapons of mass destruction, but between the assassination of a President and the cumulative total of dead from riots, I can't imagine the state of fear stoked native-born Americans was much different).

And they believed that the immigrating Europeans were bringing their anarchist and Marxist terrorism with them. I wonder how deep these parallels go, but I imagine that they are ominous enough. All we need now is a Mexican Sacco & Vanetti...