Saturday, July 30, 2005

Morality and the Mind

Many moons ago, in one of my very first blogospheric attempts to convey my thoughts on morality, I wrote the following:

As an individualist, I support the freedom of another to self destruct, as long as there are no other victims. Again, different moral codes can coexist as long as individual freedom and consent predominate.

I will say, that the concept of morality in general is an objective verity, but I reject the notion that any particular moral code is objectively superior, because reasonable, intelligent people can disagree on the fine points of subjective ideology.
Since then I’ve dealt with the topic of morality in different ways, both directly and indirectly. In so doing, I have expressed my displeasure with religious moralists as well as secular moralists. And although the two differ substantially, a well publicized commonality is found in the political realm and has to do with Federal, State and Local legislation. And though their goals may be, at times, mutually exclusive, they invariably use morality to justify laws that are designed to regulate non-violent behavior, whether mandatory or prohibitive (e.g. confiscatory taxation for social programs and arcane marriage and drug laws respectively).

As I intimated above, by way of quoting myself, I’m of the opinion that morality is universal and intuitive, but only in the most basic sense (i.e. morality is limited to respecting another’s life, liberty and property by not violating those rights). Well, my assumption about morality might just be within the ballpark. Chris of Mixing Memory has posted the first installment of what promises to be an excellent series on Moral Psychology.

Hopefully, by the time I'm done, you will have some idea of what the intuitionist view of moral judgment is, in what ways moral psychology and moral philosophy should interact, and who, if anyone, might be a moral expert. There are a bunch of other issues that I'll try to touch on as well. Is morality a natural kind in the brain, or to use a stranger label, a cognitive kind? How much influence does conscious reasoning have on our moral judgments and behavior? How does communication affect moral judgment? These and other difficult questions will be answered definitively in these posts. OK, so maybe not definitively, or at all, but I'm at least going to touch on them.
I thoroughly enjoyed the initial entry, as it is equally informative and interesting. So, by way of a tease, I’ll try to briefly summarize it. Alright, essentially Chris points to a variety of studies that reveal the correlation of brain-damaged individuals and impaired moral judgment. According to those data, morality is the product of both nature and nurture. Nature is involved because the brain is naturally geared to generate moral responses to various social stimuli. Nurture comes into play by virtue of the normal development of the brain. Further, the data show that those who suffer brain damage in adulthood maintain the moral judgment that developed in early childhood, whereas brain damage in small children yields different results.

[neuroscientists] studied two patients whose prefrontal cortex damage had occurred prior to 16 months of age. These patients showed many of the decision-making deficits that characterize prefrontal damage in adults, but they also showed much, much more. They were unable to learn social conventions and moral rules, and showed poor moral reasoning, and were just all around bad people. They lied, cheated, stole, were terrible parents, and for all of this, they showed no guilt or regret. They were so bad that Anderson et al. put it in these strong terms: “Thus early-onset prefrontal damage resulted in a syndrome resembling psychopathy.”


So, there is good evidence from lesion/brain damage studies that the prefrontal cortex, and the right ventromedial prefrontal cortex specifically, is involved in the emotional and empathic responses that are associated with moral judgment.
Beyond that, there is clinical evidence that the brain activity of "normal" people differs in response to moral stimuli. Participants of one such study were asked to respond to various thorny moral dilemmas. An example given in the post is the so-called Trolly Problem, which goes like this:

A trolley is running out of control down a track. In its path are 5 people who have been tied to the track by a mad philosopher. Fortunately, you can flip a switch which will lead the trolley down a different track. Unfortunately, there is a single person tied to that track. Should you flip the switch?

In light of the latest neuroscience, it is quite obvious that morality, in general, is innate, rather than learned, although learning (e.g. brain development) is definitely a major part of normative moral judgment. Chief among the reasons for this seems to be that moral reasoning is necessary, generically speaking, given the social nature of human beings.

Now, even though I consider myself to be an individualist, I’m cognizant of the fact that no one is an island. Furthermore, although I often criticize the moralism of others, I realize that morality is intrinsic to every mentally healthy person on earth.

How then do I reconcile these apparent inconsistencies? Quite simply. In my view, the specifics of both moral intuition and social philosophy are extremely personal. Moreover, moral and social considerations are only uniform at the most basic level. That is, since we share a common geography, it is incumbent upon us to refrain from intentionally impinging the rights of others. Similarly, it is the province of each individual to determine the level of social interaction that suits them personally.

For example: I do not equate a citizen (free and equal member of society) with a subject (one that is under the control of another), or pluralism with collectivism. In other words, one can be an individualist citizen in a pluralistic society, just as one can behave morally without being a moralist (one who seeks to impose ones moral code on others). Unfortunately, it seems to me that this is often confused, in that there are some who think that society ought to be monolithic, or at least as close as possible. As I said earlier, those that engage in excessive moralizing—those for whom the state is a means to that end—are religious and secular alike.

hat tip: Will Wilkinson

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Religious Left

At the risk of being seen as completely self-serving, I’ll refer to a couple of my previous posts. Specifically, ones that deal with individualism and personal responsibility, as they relate to society. Primarily, the links serve as a backdrop for my take on the latest offering by Probligo, who highlights a political position piece by the New Zealand Anglican Church (along with other major sects).

Much has been made lately, in American politics at least, of the Religious Right. But in other Western countries, the Religious Left is quite prominent. Now it’s not that left-leaning Christians are non-existent in the US. One of its prominent spokesmen is the Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong, who has a rather interesting, albeit unorthodox theology. But anyway, here’s a bit from the NZ church(s):

In addition to [society’s] commitment to a relational view of the human person the Christian tradition maintains that human activity is characterised by an interplay between freedom and restraint. The freedom we aspire to is not the unrestrained freedom of the autonomous individual; it is freedom that learns to identify and respect certain parameters and responsibilities, including a commitment to the integrity and health of the natural world, and is utterly bound up with the wellbeing and freedom of one’s neighbour.

Moreover, as the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan suggests, we are obliged to take a broad view of who our neighbour is. This view will include the most vulnerable in our society, including the unborn; it will include those who are most different from us, including refugees and migrants; it will include the stigmatised, including welfare and sickness beneficiaries. One of the marks of a mature society is the extent to which it cares for, and upholds the dignity and worth of its most vulnerable members and refrains from indulging in politics of exclusion, which most often take the form of scapegoating certain groups for society’s ills.

A broad view of who our neighbour is will also encompass obligations to the international community. National interests will be worked out in the context of global responsibilities towards the poor and suffering in other countries, and towards environmental and climate issues that impact upon us all.
How does that differ from the typical, standard issue progressive collectivist types? Well, that philosophy is buttressed by an established “name-brand”, which is none other than Christianity. I must object. As an amateur student of theology, I'm inclined to rebut the notion that individualism is anathema to an accurate Biblical world-view.

The concept of faith is a quintessentially individual matter. To be sure, all spiritual regenerates comprise a family of sorts, but such is altogether distinct from the “brotherhood of man”. For the associative nature of those that share a common belief is completely voluntary, not unlike that of the LLP. Furthermore, the anecdote (or parable) about the “Good Samaritan” exemplifies an act of individual compassion, rather than a template for compulsory assistance.

The harsh reality is that one is not entitled to the fruits of another’s labor. Does that mean that some will fare better than others? Of course, but that simply reflects the diversity of talent, motivation, ambition, etc. of any given human population on earth. Such is true of the panoply of human history.

What I reject, out of hand, is the notion that the state ought to assume the paternalistic role, in the interest of equalizing society at the expense of Peter’s economic prudence, to compensate for Paul’s incompetence. Liberty and its consequences are two essential components of justice, which is nothing less than: “one getting what one deserves”.

Diminution of Personal Responsibility

After reading an article by Doug Monroe, a senior editor at Creative Loafing (a lefty rag in Atlanta), I was reminded of the old Southern populism and classism that has recently been obscured by the current “redness” that accompanied the election of G.W. Bush.

For well over a century, the South was dominated by the Democrat Party. Remember? You know…there was that whole secession thing, which resulted in war, followed by decades of legalized racial discrimination. Now, it might be a stretch, but one could argue that an impetus for the aforementioned mistreatment of the “non-white” population was, in part, to reduce competition by immorally using "free labor" and denigrating potential competitors. For just as slavery enriched the plantation owners (and their heirs) by eliminating labor costs, segregation during the Industrial Revolution prohibited Blacks (by and large) from accessing education and employment opportunities.

At this point, however, Blacks thrive in the South and in Atlanta in particular. The institutionalized racism has been virtually eradicated. That said though, the class-envy of Southern Democrats is alive and well, as Doug Monroe demagogically illustrates:
In other communities, the company might not have it so easy, because a lot of ordinary Americans have awakened to the locust-like nature of Wal-Mart. The stores swoop in, kill off mom-and-pop businesses, and empty small town centers.


The formula works like a charm. Wal-Mart now rakes in nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars annually in sales and plans to triple in size.
Can you believe the gall of those crass profit chasers? But seriously, I’m no Wal-Mart apologist, but rigorous competition is part and parcel of capitalism. Absent any force or fraud (e.g. Eminent Domain), I say let the market work.
What really makes me sick is the way Wal-Mart preys on governments here at home. The flag-waving company, based in Arkansas, has become the welfare queen of Georgia. There are 51,821 Wal-Mart employees -- or "associates" -- in the state, or 1.15 percent of the total civilian work force of about 4.5 million.

The funny thing is that, while Wal-Mart has 1.15 percent of Georgia's work force, in 2002, children of its employees made up more than 6 percent of all the kids covered by PeachCare, the state program that provides health care coverage to the children of the working poor.

Of a total of 166,000 children covered by PeachCare, 10,261 had a parent working for Wal-Mart in 2002. And Wal-Mart's numbers are way out of line when you bring other companies into the picture. The No. 2 company on the list, Publix, had only 734 children of employees on PeachCare. The average PeachCare recipient costs $1,274 a year. If you multiply that by Wal-Mart's 10,261, you get a total of more than $13 million in health care costs borne by Georgia taxpayers.
First of all, notice that Mr. Monroe failed to include the total number of Publix employees in Georgia. Instead, he simply mentioned the number children benefiting from PeachCare. I suppose the actual ratio, as compared to that of Wal-Mart, was unimportant. Beyond that, the implication that Wal-Mart is obligated to insure its employees, and thereby forcing the state to use public funds for private medical care, is, in a word, ridiculous.
"That is a type of reverse welfare or corporate welfare," says former Gov. Roy Barnes, now an attorney in Marietta. "I provide insurance for my employees. Why shouldn't [Wal-Mart] be providing it?"
Huh? With a statement like that, is there any wonder why Barnes was the first Democrat Governor to be defeated since Reconstruction?
A union that represents retail workers recently blasted Wal-Mart's deadbeat approach to employee health care at a state Capitol news conference. The United Food and Commercial Workers International is among the many unions whose organizing efforts have been swatted aside by the retail giant.

"The Wal-Mart model is to save as much money as it possibly can for the consumer, but it's saving money on the one hand and taking it out of their pockets on the other by forcing folks onto state-funded programs," says Steve Lomax, president of UFCW Local 1996. "They're asking taxpayers to pay for what employers normally pay."
Perhaps it’s just me, but aren’t we individuals responsible for at least one of the following:

(a) negotiating with the employer for health coverage as a part of the compensation package

(b) provide for our own healthcare

(c) reliance upon our family or private charity

Silly me. What could I possibly be thinking? Everyone knows that “personal responsibility” is an antiquated idea. Surely, if one’s employer fails to fulfill its parental obligations, the benevolent government will happily supply the teat.
State Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, D-Decatur, introduced a bill earlier this year to make the state keep records of the employers of people whose kids use PeachCare. That would help track the extent to which companies are using the taxpayer-funded program for their own corporate welfare.
Yeah…you read that right. Those that avail themselves of Medicaid-light are blameless; it’s those dastardly capitalists that are running amuck. And of course, the thought of eliminating such pier-to-pier cash transfers is beyond the pale.
"Wal-Mart and its imitators will not survive the oil market disruptions to come," says James Howard Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century. "It will only take mild-to-moderate disruptions in the supply and price of gas to put Wal-Mart and all operations like it out of business. And it will happen."


The irony is that, if Kunstler's right, we may return to the small-town life that we allowed Wal-Mart to destroy in our mad dash to save money on cheap junk from China -- junk we didn't need in the first place.
Priceless…lefties salivating at the imagined possibility of the demise of a corporation that employs tens of thousands of “low skilled workers”, so that we can return to the bad-old-days of yesteryear, when healthcare was not even on the radar, unlike say, survival. Furthermore, small-town Southern life was fraught with wide-spread poverty and the subjugation of those not lucky enough to be born white and male. But even though I happen to be both white and male, I advocate progress and personal responsibility, despite my Southern heritage.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Carnival of Liberty #4

The fourth Carnival of Liberty has been published! CoL-IV can be viewed @ Eric’s Grumbles, as well as the illustrious Life, Liberty and Property Group Blog…enjoy.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

The Individual and Society

A recurring theme of the posts here at Libertopia is that of individualism and individual liberty. While it may, at times, sound like a broken record (or a scratched CD), the concept of individuality is among my core principles. Beyond that, it appears to be a perennial “bee in the bonnet” for social ideologs of every flavor (excepting, of course, individualists).

As it happens, coincidentally, two of my fellow LLP members are engaged in a gentlemen’s disagreement, as well as my discussion with someone at another blog. I’ll deal with the latter first, which concerns Old Whig’s Brain Dump.

Al concludedthis post with the following question: What, though, is the goal of political theory? As one might expect, my answer was: “As far as I’m concerned, the highest goal of political philosophy is the preservation and maximization of individual liberty.” Additionally, I rejected the desire of society to impose a narrow, subjective moral code on others. But Ron, a commenter, took issue with my response. The money quote comes from the comment exchange of the aforementioned post, in which Ron wrote:
With 6 billion people on earth it is very hard to find a place by yourself where you can be alone enough to really be an individual.

As far as majority ruling it is probably the best form of Government ever created. Unfortunately I think that anywhere you have people collecting together for safety or economic reasons there are going to be some choices made that one group or the other do not like. In other words people are going to feel forced into obeying laws they don't believe are right.
First of all, my view of ‘individualism’ is not synonymous with ‘isolationism’. Rather, my individualistic leanings refer to the unfettered ability to direct the affairs of my life, without being granted permission to do so by ‘the group’. Now, it’s important to appreciate the distinction between the subjective and the objective, in terms of self regulation. That is: objective prohibitions of personal conduct are limited to actions that impinge the liberty of another; whereas, all other conduct is the purview of the individual. To me, this is straight forward, but unfortunately, such is not the case for everyone. In that regard, I spoke to the decline of individualism a while back.

With respect to the second part of Ron’s comment, and specifically: "As far as majority ruling it is probably the best form of Government ever created.", I could not disagree more. Rather than rehash my opposition to ‘majority rule’, I'll mention one of my first posts, in which I demonstrated the dangers of democracy. Now, to Ron’s other assertion: "In other words people are going to feel forced into obeying laws they don't believe are right.", I would say that “how one feels” about a certain law is irrelevant. What is truly important, in terms of drafting legislation, is that individual liberty is respected and that deference is given to the subjective choices of each individual adult. In other words, strict adherence to the original meaning and intent of the Constitution, a document designed to protect a "minority of one".

In the same vein, my fellow LLP members, Brad and T.F. Stern, are examining the tension between the concerns of society and those of individuals. Brad’s view is not unlike mine. He sees it this way:
This, of course, is going to ruffle a lot of feathers. Some people are intolerant of any change, and to some people, tolerance is a code-word for “acceptance” or “celebration”. As with most things, my view on this is live-and-let-live. The people that talk about divorce destroying the “sanctity” of marriage don’t understand that other people getting divorced doesn’t mean you are required to at some point. Riled up about some female celebrity flouting tradition to become a “single mother”? That doesn’t mean you can’t raise your kids in a nuclear family. You think homosexuality is wrong? Don’t partake. You think your way is the “right” way and the “moral” way? Follow it, but don’t be shocked when others take a different route.
Conversely, T.F. is convinced that individuals ought not to be “permitted” the liberty and freedom to be secular. He draws a line in the sand where tolerance is concerned.
When I hear that we must be tolerant of the deviant carnal members of our society, that is not the same as permitting these degenerates the ability to remove the foundation upon which our society depends by altering our concepts of liberty and freedom to mean disobedience and rebellion to God’s commandments and the eternal laws which have always been in place, regardless of man’s acceptance of them.
While I certainly recognize the freedom of others to think and say whatever they like, I reserve the right to think and speak in opposition to any and every idea that is ultimately aimed at limiting my liberties and the liberties of similar dissenting views. In effect, various moralists and culturalists set themselves up as a mob of social dictators, who insist upon conformity to standards of their choosing, while rejecting the same treatment in reverse. The classic American example is illustrated in the form of partisan politics. Both the Left and the Right spend inordinate amounts of cash to seat their candidates, with the express purpose of imposing their ideological will upon everyone. All the while, they rather hypocritically decry the Islamists for having the selfsame goals. But to be fair, where the latter ignores the right to Life (suicide murderers), the former ignores the right to Liberty and Property (The New Deal, The Great Society, Reich, Kelo, prayer in public schools, "blue laws", McCain-Feingold, the FCC, etc., etc., etc.).

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Pragmatic Politics

A couple of days ago, Carl Milsted left a comment on the thread of this post. In so doing, he recommended his website called Holistic Politics. From what I gather, Mr. Milsted is interested in building a deep and wide political coalition that favors pragmatism over ideology, progress over gridlock. The opening statement of the site reads as follows:
Over the next few months I intend to populate this site with essays and presentations on a new political paradigm: Holistic Politics. For far too long, political factions argued the relative merit of various values: freedom vs. equality, prosperity vs. a clean environment, and so on. Such emphasis on trade-offs has resulted in unnecessary strife and incomplete solutions to political problems. In the communist world, freedom was extinguished in the goal of equality. In the U.S. poverty reigns in the midst of plenty as we try to preserve freedom vs. creating a European style "welfare state".
Although I’ve not familiarized myself with the entirely of the content, it’s clear that I agree with some of his ideas, but very much disagree with others. Given the nature of the concepts, my view is not anomalous. To illustrate the point, here's an excerpt from the sub-category entitled Welfare That Works.
This is a touchy subject. In order to tackle the problem, I am going to have to say something to offend everyone. Please grit your teeth and keep reading when an alarm bell goes off in your mind. By the time you get to the end of this chapter, you will find much that you like.

Liberals: Yes, I will sound like Rush Limbaugh in a few spots. The Right has made some valid critiques of the current system, and I will address them. But keep reading, and you find some rather different solutions from the ones heard on most conservative talk radio programs.

Conservatives and Libertarians: No, I am not going to call for an end to all transfer programs, and you will find my solutions imperfect at best. But I will call for immediately getting the middle and upper classes off the dole – no more robbing Peter to pay Peter. I will also show how to end the “welfare trap” that increases poverty. What will follow is not the ultimate solution, but the next steps to reducing poverty and excess government. Maybe after these reforms are implemented, privatization will look more feasible. Only time will tell.
See…there’s something there for everyone. Regardless of one’s political philosophy, Holistic Politics is, in my view, an interesting and thoughtful approach to tough problems.

Additionally, Mr. Milsted links to Libertarian Reform Caucus, which is aimed at reforming the Libertarian Party.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Free Cash?

According to Uncle Sam, “Beginning in 2001, congress made child credits available to all Americans, even those of us who live outside of the United States. These credits are distributed in the form of "tax refunds", even if you pay no taxes”. But wait…there’s more: “Many U.S. citizens living and working abroad are eligible to benefit by this largess…”

That’s right folks, your friendly neighborhood Federal Government dutifully seizes hard-earned cash from productive citizens all year long. In so doing, they have discovered, mysteriously enough, that a surplus has been accumulated. So, it stands to reason that said plunder…er…bounty ought to be redistributed to other parties, rather than refunding it to those that actually earned the money in question.
The basic idea is very simple. The IRS grants a child tax credit of $600 for each dependent child under 17 as of December 31. If the total amount of the child tax credit exceeds the tax liability and you have sufficient earned income, then the excess amount turns into the "additional child tax credit". This is considered to be a payment by the IRS and is "refundable" despite the fact that you never paid any taxes.

U.S. citizens living overseas are obligated by law to file a tax return with the IRS if they earn income above a certain amount. Married couples in 2002, for example, are required to file if they earn more than $13,850. This is true even if the couple will not owe any American taxes.

Hat Tip: Liberty Belles

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Competing Theories of Value

Eugene Plawiuk, of LE REVUE GAUCHE - Libertarian Communist Analysis And Comment, recently commented on one of my posts, which led me to his blog.

One of Mr. Plawiuk’s pieces (a rather lengthy one) is a critique of capitalism, which is not surprising, since he refers to himself as a “Libertarian Communist”. In the aforementioned post, he extols the virtue of the Labor Theory of Value (LTV). This theory, more or less, links the value of a commodity to the amount of labor involved in its production. One of its most notable adherents is none other than Karl Marx.

Now I’m certainly not an economist, nor am I an economic theorist, but despite my ignorance, it seems rather obvious that Marx’s economic philosophy has failed miserably each time it has been tried (relative to market capitalism). To grossly over-simplify the issue, I’ll say that, in my view, LTV all but discounts basic supply and demand. In other words, LTV assigns undue import to labor, as though human exertion, the sweat of one’s brow, were objectively valuable to another party.

For example: John Doe toils in the elements, as a member of a ‘foundation crew’, manually digging the footings (ditches filled with concrete) that support poured-in-place concrete foundations (basements) for single-family residences. Then, there is Joe Smith, who, in the comfort of a climate controlled office, generates the architectural plans that describe the particulars of the very foundations that John digs. Now, according to LTV, John Doe’s manual labor is more valuable than Joe Smith’s intellectual efforts. The fatal flaw of LTV becomes apparent when both John and Joe decide to resign and must be replaced. Which position is more easily filled, given the skill-sets of the general population? The fact is that the value (price) of a given service is directly related to the supply-demand ratio for that servive (the same is true of goods). Think of the difference between a successful baseball pitcher and a ‘ticket taker’, a diamond cutter and a diamond miner, a CEO and a janitor, etc…

Again, I’m not an economist (it's self-evident, I know), but I would say that the Austrian School of economics is that to which I subscribe. For unlike the LTV, the Austrian School considers the consumer choices of individuals, rather than collective decision making. Furthermore, it emphasizes laissez-faire and the non-expendability of property rights. Need I say more?

Monday, July 18, 2005

Carnival of Liberty #3

The third Carnival of Liberty has been published! CoL-III can be viewed @ the blog that started this Carnival, Eric’s Grumbles, as well as the renowned Life, Liberty and Property Group Blog…enjoy.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Note to Government: Butt Out!

In the July 15, 2005 edition of Best of the Web Today, James Taranto took umbrage with one of Andrew Sullivan’s blog entries entitled Sodomy Watch: An obviously non-procreative couple gets married in Britain. Worse: "Simon is gifted with the organ." I anticipate condemnation from Maggie Gallagher, Stanley Kurtz, and Pope Benedict XVI..

Taranto’s reasoning goes like this:
For the sake of argument, let's suppose someone actually were arguing for a policy that would bar the Simon-Townsend nuptials--that is, for a law preventing couples whose age difference exceeds some limit from marrying, or prohibiting men under a certain age from marrying postmenopausal women.

This would be an argument about the regulation of marriage. And make no mistake, marriage is subject to a lot of regulations. Current law everywhere in America prohibits, for example, marriage between a parent and child or brother and sister; a couple in which one partner is below the age of consent (with some exceptions); a couple whose "marriage" is a sham for immigration purposes; or a couple in which one partner already is married to someone else, even if separated. There are solid public-policy grounds for all these limitations on marriage. Other restrictions are invidious, such as the bans on interracial marriage that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in 1967.
So far, so good. The case has been made that the state ought to regulate marriage in the interest of preventing measurable harm to innocent parties, such as protecting minor children from predatory adults and safeguarding against birth defects that can result from incest. Additionally, Taranto rightly criticizes the immoral “bans on interracial marriage” of the past.
In evaluating a proposal to ban marriages à la Simon and Townsend, one would weigh its effect on the couples involved against the purported public benefit of such a law. The reason no one has actually advocated such a ban is because it so obviously doesn't pass the test. Even if we disapprove of the Simon-Towsend union--and to be candid, this columnist finds it pretty creepy--it would be cruel to outlaw it; and because very few 31-year-old men have any interest in marrying septuagenarian women, the public benefit of such a law (i.e., encouraging fertility) would be vanishingly small.
Can he be serious? Sadly, it’s very likely. This is yet another example of minority rights being trampled under foot by any given majority. It's Democracy in action folks. Notice that, in the second excerpt, “the purported public benefit” is determinative, whereas in the first excerpt, state regulation is limited to protecting individuals, particularly minors. But now, “encouraging fertility” is a supposed proper role of government? What happened to the idea that ‘state recognized marriage’ is simply to provide a legally enforceable contract between consenting adults?
The debate over same-sex marriage is entirely different. It is about the definition, not the regulation, of marriage. Merriam-Webster's entry on marriage confirms the point:

(1) : the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law (2) : the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage

For the entire history of mankind except the past few years, the first definition was the only one. That definition is broad enough to include forms of marriage that were once outlawed (exogamy) and others that are now outlawed (polygamy). But same-sex marriage requires a new definition…
This line of argumentation exemplifies one of the reasons that I’m an iconoclast. The irrational reliance upon tradition and culture can—and often does—relegate individuals to mere units of the group, the society. Furthermore, placing ‘same-sex’ marriage in a completely different category than ‘interracial’ marriage amounts to a distinction without a difference, for the similarities far outweigh the dissimilarities. Let’s look at a few of them shall we?

Similarities: involves consenting adults, has experienced ‘social disapproval’, has been unlawful, constitutes a minute percentage of the population, critics have used the Bible to argue against it, no appreciable harm is caused to third parties, etc.

Dissimilarities: homo vs. hetero relationship and homosexuals cannot reproduce (but that’s a non-issue which has already been dealt with).
Legalizing same-sex marriage, then, represents a radical change in a bedrock social institution and thus is not comparable to any other reform of marriage law. This is why it generates such wide opposition even among people who harbor no antipathy toward homosexuals, and why it is much harder to stomach than any other gay-rights measure.
Marriage is not the only, or even the most important “bedrock social institution”. It ought to be rather obvious that the rule of law is the preeminent 'social institution', with its justification being the promotion of individual liberty. Whether or not consenting adults wish to enter into a contract of matrimony is the concern of the parties involved, not society at large. Now, I'm not a homosexual, and no, I’m not married either…at this time. It's quite posible that I will never be again. Regardless, that decision lies with me and an as yet unidentified individual. It is none of the public’s business, so the government needs to butt the hell out!

Defending Property Rights

In a much needed defense of Property Rights, California State Senator Tom McClintok is putting his money where his mouth is.
Senator McClintock will officially present his Constitutional Amendment to protect property owners from abuses of eminent domain. The Homeowner & Property Protection Act prevents the government from seizing property from one person for the private use and benefit of another, as is currently permitted under the recent Kelo decision by the United States Supreme Court.
The Homeowner & Property Protection Act

A resolution to propose to the people of the State of California an amendment to the Constitution of the State, by amending Section 19 of Article I thereof, relating to eminent domain.

WHEREAS, This measure shall be known and may be cited as “The Homeowner and Property Protection Act”; and

WHEREAS, Eminent domain has been subject to widespread abuse in California, whereby local governmental entities have condemned property and transferred it, by sale, lease, or otherwise, to the control, management, or exploitation of private entities for private use and profit on the theory that generalized public benefits will flow there from; and

WHEREAS, The United States Supreme Court, in Kelo v. City of New London, ___ U.S. ___ (2005), has held that the United States Constitution does not prevent the transfer of property, seized through eminent domain, to private entities for private profit; and

WHEREAS, The rights guaranteed in the California Constitution are not dependent on rights guaranteed under the United States Constitution (Section 24 of Article I of the California Constitution), and the California Constitution should protect the property rights of Californians to a greater degree than does the United States Constitution; nor should the term "public use" in the California Constitution be construed as identical to that phrase as employed in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution; and

WHEREAS, It is the intent of the Legislature that private property shall not be taken or damaged for the use, exploitation, or management of any private party, including, but not limited to, the use, exploitation, or management of property taken or damaged by a corporation or other business entity for private profit, as is currently permitted under the United States Constitution under Kelo v. City of New London, __ U.S. __ (2005); and

WHEREAS, It is not the intent of this amendment to prevent the rental of space in a government building or any other government-owned property, for incidental commercial enterprises, including, but not limited to, gift shops, newsstands, or shoeshine stands; and

Resolved by the Senate, the Assembly concurring, That the Legislature of the State of California at its 2005-06 Regular Session commencing on the sixth day of December 2004, two-thirds of the membership of each house concurring, hereby proposes to the people of the State of California, that the Constitution of the State be amended as follows:

That Section 19 of Article I thereof is amended to read:
SEC. 19. (a) Private property may be taken or damaged for a stated public use only when just compensation, ascertained by a jury unless waived, has first been paid to, or into court for, the owner. The Private property may not be taken or damaged for private use.

(b) Private property may be taken by eminent domain only for a stated public use and only upon an independent judicial determination on the evidence that the condemnor has proven that no reasonable alternative exists. Property taken by eminent domain shall be owned and occupied by the condemnor or may be leased only to entities that are regulated by the Public Utilities Commission. All property that is taken by eminent domain shall be used only for the stated public use.

(c) If any property taken through eminent domain after the effective date of this subdivision ceases to be used for the stated public use, the former owner of the property or a beneficiary or an heir, if a beneficiary or heir has been designated for this purpose, shall have the right to reacquire the property for the compensated amount or the fair market value of the property, whichever is less, before the property may be sold or transferred.

(d) The Legislature may provide for possession by the condemnor following commencement of eminent domain proceedings upon deposit in court and prompt release to the owner of money determined by the court to be the probable amount of just compensation.


Lest I forget, this post is dedicated to the atrocious law known as the McCain-Feingold Free Speech Reduction Act.

Hat Tip: Alice (do check out her site…she’s an excellent craftsman)

Saturday, July 16, 2005

An Australian Ally

The following is a portion of a television programme transcript from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:
MAXINE McKEW: Prime Minister, if as you say you can't rule out that possibility that we could have potential bombers right here in Australia, what if today's announcement, this redeployment to Afghanistan and our continued presence in Iraq is all the provocation they need?

JOHN HOWARD: Maxine, these people are opposed to what we believe in and what we stand for, far more than what we do. If you imagine that you can buy immunity from fanatics by curling yourself in a ball, apologizing for the world - to the world - for who you are and what you stand for and what you believe in, not only is that morally bankrupt, but it's also ineffective. Because fanatics despise a lot of things and the things they despise most is weakness and timidity. There has been plenty of evidence through history that fanatics attack weakness and retreating people even more savagely than they do defiant people.
Despite all of the rancorous debate about the War on Terror, one thing is certain: Muslim mental cases are hell-bent on the destruction of Western Culture, and indeed the death of those of us that reject their wildly misguided ideology. Just to reiterate in plain language: THEY WANT TO KILL US!

The notion that catering to their demands and essentially appeasing them is delusional at best. Perhaps full and unequivocal conversion to Islam would suffice, but I doubt it. And as though it weren’t obvious, authoritarian medieval religion is not my forte.

Other than the stated ‘excuses’—US support of Israel, Operation Desert Storm, US troops in Saudi Arabia, Israel—offered up by those mystical psychopaths, it ought to be obvious that the real reason for bin Ladin’s fatwah is the fact that Christians, Jews and all other non-Muslims are, well, not Muslim. You see, it’s all perfectly logical…if you buy into the ultra-violent Wahabi strain of Islam.

With all due respect to Maxine McKew, “all the provocation they need” is found in an incredibly irrational religious construct (doubtless, one of many). This is compounded exponentially by their suicidal tendencies (not the punk band). So, it seems to me that killing the fanatical Islamist evangelicals, those that recruit more zealous human bombs, is the only reasonable response to their aggression. Acquiescence to those murderous thugs would simply encourage them, rather than assuage their blood lust.

hat tip: Stephen Pollard

Update: as I was saying…

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Why I’m an Iconoclast

Conformity for its own sake, in my view, has always been somewhat problematic. In that light, the concept of culture is a sort of a ‘necessary evil’.

For most (functional) societies, cultural norms seem to be a prerequisite. In some ways, our species responds very well to ‘sameness’. This need to be ‘apart of the group’, to identify with others, is perfectly normal. It transcends ethnic and geographic distinctions. Indeed, this is nothing new.

Now, there are those among us for whom culture is preeminent. Moreover, these are active participants in the so called Culture War, which essentially denotes a desire to shape and define what is and is not ‘acceptable behavior’. Inasmuch as such behavior extends beyond violating the rights of another, I will not be a part of it.

In the context of seeking to control the subjective, non-violent and non-coercive actions of others, Bernard Goldberg’s new book entitled 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America purports to contrast the ‘offending 100’ with ‘traditional American values’.

Tradition, as such, is fine for those that wish to participate, but certainly it is not on par with more rigid concepts like morality, ethics and individual rights. For what is tradition, if not antiquated rituals and beliefs agreed upon by previous generations? As for me, I think rational thought is a far better gage of ‘proper conduct’, as opposed to relying upon the received wisdom of self-styled Culture Warriors.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Carnival of Liberty #2

The second Carnival of Liberty has been published! CoL-II can be viewed @ Searchlight Crusade, as well as the illustrious Life, Liberty and Property Group Blog…enjoy.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

A Political Fable

Once upon a time, there was a political movement afoot—one in which do-gooder Lefties sought to use state coercion to compel employers to pay ‘unskilled’ workers far more than the market will bear. The stated goal was to replace the ‘minimum wage’ with a more robust ‘living wage’.
The living wage movement has been around for about 30 years, and has generally been led by union interests. But City Journal credits another organization - the Association for Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) - for the recent spate of successful city ordnance campaigns across the country. Left-leaning weekly The Nation describes ACORN as one of "two national organizations outside the union movement that have been particularly active in promoting the living wage movement."
Things seemed to be going along swimmingly for ACORN, until practical economic realities interrupted their ideological bliss.
In 1996, ACORN's California offices actually filed suit to exempt the organization from the state’s minimum wage laws- at the time, just $4.25/hour.

In its ‘Activist Guide’, written by Wayne State Professor David Reynolds, ACORN dismisses claims that higher minimum wages force business to cut jobs for its lowest-paid workers. That's "low road" thinking, Reynolds scolds, the kind of philosophy that "seeks short-term increases in the bottom-line by directly lowering costs and casts high wages, benefits, and other worker protections as obstacles to competition."

Now read what ACORN wrote in its brief to exempt itself from California's minimum-wage law:

"California's minimum-wage laws…affect the quality and quantity of staff which Plaintiff can retain….the more that ACORN must pay each individual outreach worker…the fewer outreach workers it will be able to hire."
You see, boys and girls, sometimes hypocrisy is necessary, as practicing what one preaches, at times, can frustrate one’s political goals. After all, it’s in the interest of welfare. And besides, those greedy profit chasers can afford’s the least they can do. Don’t take my word for it, just drink in the wisdom of the smartest man and woman alive, respectively:

"We can't be so fixated on our desire to preserve the rights of ordinary Americans ..." [President Bill Clinton, 'USA Today' March 11, 1993: Page 2A]

"We must stop thinking of the individual and start thinking about what is best for society." [Hillary Clinton, 1993]
According to the Employment Policies Institute, ACORN's argument on appeal got even more bizarre:

"A person paid limited sums of money will be in a better position to empathize with and relate to the low and moderate membership and constituency of ACORN," they said.

The judge dismissed the argument, calling it "absurd."
…and ACORN carried on, hypocritically ever after.

The moral of the fable:

Don’t bother evaluating results, because they are eminently unreliable. Rather, one ought to base judgment on the intentions of the actor(s), as good intensions make excellent pavement.

-TCS article

Hat Tip: Scott Scheule

Friday, July 08, 2005

A few thoughts on ‘l’ibertarian(ism)

From my perspective, political philosophy is a leading indicator of individual identity. This seems to be true for all strata of ideologies, as no one exists beyond the scope of political power. The only variable is how one views and responds to the political dynamic, as it affects and effects them personally.

Even the politically oblivious cannot escape political pull. Actually, the “unaware” are the most vulnerable among us, as they are the easiest prey for duly elected predators. Beyond the Young and the Clueless, there are partisans. Partisans are a particular breed of herd animal that, blindly or otherwise, tend to dutifully follow the leader(s) du jure.

Another political philosophy, the one that most closely aligns with my view, is ‘l’ibertarian(ism). Although, libertarianism is, paradoxically, a rather diffuse distinction. At its core is the philosophy known as Classical Liberalism, which both overlaps, and militates against, both the Left and the Right. In short, Classical Liberalism emphasizes the hierarchy of economic, political and civil Liberty for the individual. The inherent rights of the individual trumps the group…society and state alike.

Moving from the thumbnail sketch, it should be noted again that libertarian philosophy is not monolithic. On one hand, there are mainstream Libertarians and on another there are Individualist Anarchists. Then again, there are Minarchists like me, Rational Anarchists like Eric and many more. Regardless of our differences, all manner of libertarians share one thing in common…unfounded criticism by ‘non-libertarians’. On a blog that is gathering support for the Lost Liberty Hotel, a commenter called Emma B. expressed her displeasure.
[capitalist greed] is what i cannot support about the Libertarian Party- or any party that currently exists- it's all about self- rather than 'others'- and until we care as much about others as we do 'ourselves' we will live in chaos, fear, continual war- and never ending discontent.
First of all, an accurate definition of greed would be nice, but I doubt such a definition exists. Also, the irrational and emotional hyperbole is sadly not atypical of the criticism I alluded to above. In any event, Al, the Old Whig, dispassionately responded to Emma B. in this way:
Libertarianism is based on the non-Aggression principle, which I'll define with the clause from the Fourth Amendment, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated..." We would like to see this clause raised to a higher status in American jurisprudence.
I’ll second that! But while Emma is decidedly “on the Left”, how do ‘conservatives’, whether pragmatic moderates or Theo-Cons, view libertarians in general? Liberteaser has a few ideas:
One criticism libertarians often face is that we are not sophisticated. Some charge that we "see the world in black and white," and fail to understand the nuances of the real world. Others say that while our theories are good, in practice they wouldn't work. Even others say we're crackpots.
What’s my point in all of this? Well, primarily I’m concerned with enjoying the greatest degree of Liberty that is possible in a pluralistic society. To achieve that end, I must engage in political discourse, as the game will be played whether I participate or not. Furthermore, the ‘l’ibertarian ideal ultimately benefits everyone, without choosing sides or arbitrarily picking winners and losers in society. In fact, in a free market economy, there are winners and winners…except, of course, for those who fail to be self-responsible.

Thursday, July 07, 2005


Courtesy of Cato Institute policy analyst Will Wilkinson, I’d like to direct your attention to Morgan Spurlock Watch. Morgan Spurlock is the guy who’s 15 minutes of fame can be attributed to a movie called Super Size Me, in which he ate nothing but McDonald’s ‘cuisine’ (exclusively, no less) for 30 days straight. Spurlock has since become published and his 'tome' is entitled: ”Don’t Eat This Book.

The blog’s tag line is: "The only cure for contempt is counter-contempt."
--H.L. Mencken

The proprietor of the blog self-describes as follows:
The general purpose of this site is to counter the silly hysteria perpetuated by Morgan Spurlock.

Join us as we deconstruct Spurlock's book (called Don't Eat This Book), line by factually-challenged line.

The site is maintained by me, Radley Balko, a writer, editor, and policy wonk living in the Washington, D.C. area. I study obesity, vice, and Nanny State issues for a living.

A Tale of Two Lefties

Today, people the world over are in mourning in the wake of the now infamous London bombings. If there is any lesson to be learned from this unspeakable act of violence against innocent civilians, it is undoubtedly the need for inordinate vigilance. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, the only appropriate response to these cowardly terrorists is a steadfast resolve to see their unequivocal defeat.

As it happens, the current phase of the war, namely Iraq, has divided the American public along Party lines. It goes without saying, by and large, that the Right is fer it, while the Left is agin it. Actually, many on the Left quite vociferously oppose Bush’s policies, and the US invasion of Iraq in specific. With that in mind, one might expect ‘progressive’ blogs to be highly and continually critical of the developments in Iraq…post Saddam. No surprise there, but how might lefties react to the murder of dozens of Brits in cold blood? To gauge their reaction, let’s look at two of the most popular ‘progressive’ blogs. First up, Kos:
Bush's latest rationale for maintaining the course in Iraq adventure has been the "flypaper strategy" -- it's better to fight the terrorists over there than at home. Nevermind that the Iraqis never asked to have their country turned into a dangerous den of terrorism, insurgency, violence and death. For war supporters looking for an excuse, any excuse, to justify the continued disastrous American presence in Iraq, the flypaper rationale was as good as any.
Are we to believe that Saddam’s Iraq was free from “violence and death”? Further, are we to ignore the masses of Iraqis that braved dangerous streets to exercise a voting franchise that had long been denied them? Imagine, for a moment, if the protestors of the Revolutionary War, or even the Civil War, had succeeded in sufficiently demoralizing those valorous soldiers and pressuring politicians to end the struggle prematurely. Not unlike the way in which the Viet Nam Conflict played out.
Except that it's not working. The war isn't making the West any safer. In fact, it's creating a whole new class of terrorists. Today it was London. Next time it could easily be the United States. And waging the war in Iraq, rather than make us safer, is further motivating Islamic terrorists to strike at the West.
Um…who initially declared war on whom? Was it not Osama bin Ladin, motivated by his crazed, blood-thirsty religious ideology? And in reality, those that comprise the ‘insurgency’ in Iraq are former Saddam loyalists and foreign fighters who are sympathetic with al Qaeda, rather than 'ordinary' Iraqis. Furthermore, what distinguishes the Iraqi theater from other potential targets of terrorism (western cities) is that the enemy has engaged soldiers, instead of civilians (that is, beyond Iraqi civilians that become targets of convenience).
[E]very one of those deaths today sickens me. Those committing these attacks, like those committing any terrorist attack, need to be brought down.

But Bush (and Blair) took their eyes off the prize -- neglected to finish the job in Afghanistan, let Al Qaida off the hook to rebuild and reorganize, and helped swell its ranks with an unecessary and inept campaign in Iraq.

There are consequences to the mess in Iraq. And today, we're seeing one of them. Unfortunately, it won't be the last.
How very crass! With the bodies of the victims of today's atrocity not yet cold, Kos couldn't pass up an opportunity to politicize this event by placing it at the feet of Bush and Blair. Sure, he says that those responsible “need to be brought down”…BUT…Bush (and Blair) took their eyes off the prize”. Those that planned and carried out the deed are to blame…period!

Apparently Kos (among others) is under the impression that the scope of al Qaeda was confined to Afghanistan alone and bin Ladin patiently awaited the arrival of Coalition Forces to his cozy cave. So, perhaps Bush ought to have simply arrested bin Ladin and his associates, while leaving Saddam to plot, scheme and bribe United Nations officials with oil, unmolested and in ‘peace’.

There is however, another Lefty blogger: Matthew Yglesias, one with a large readership, who also weighed in on the current tragedy. Note how his sentiments contrast with those of Kos:
It's probably best to refrain from offering much commentary beyond condolences to the victims and their families at this point, but "flypaper" theories of the war on terrorism aren't looking so hot this morning.
The poke at Iraq policy notwithstanding, the post was appropriately reverential and restrained. What's more, in a subsequent post, Yglesias came dangerously close to defending Bush, in terms of his leadership in the aftermath of 9/11.
[m]uch of the grief President Bush took for his post-9/11 exhortation to the American people to "go shopping" was quite wrongheaded. The main purpose of these sorts of attacks (nuclear terrorism is another matter) is precisely to provoke panic, and trying to get people to stay relatively calm and continue to lead normal lives is an crucial part of sound leadership.
I have very little in common with ‘progressive’ political philosophy, and rarely agree with the positions that Yglesias takes. Regardless, I’m able to give credit where it’s due.

Update: Regrettably, but sadly not astonishingly, Dada Head follows Kos’ lead, in that he’s analyzing the possible political benefits of the tragedy in London, while blasting the Right for doing the same.
Is it inappropriate to bring up 'politics'? Maybe, but it also might be necessary. We are still suffering from the reluctance of Democrats (and the media) to ask hard questions in the wake of 9/11, thus allowing the Right to 'frame' the event - and the response to it - for all time. Basically, Dems foolishly assumed that their goodwill would be matched from the other side of the aisle, that the GOP wouldn't politicize 9/11 if they didn't. Wrong.

Of course, the impact of the London bombings won't be as severe as that of the attack on the WTC. So we don't need to go crazy worrying about the political fallout. But unfortunately, the Right has created an atmosphere where we cannot simply put politics aside.
And similarly in another post:
'Politics' is, for most of, simply the practice of critically analyzing the most important issues of our time. Asking us to put aside politics for the day is tantamount to calling for a moratorium on rational thought.

Which, of course, is precisely what the Right would like, and precisely what they got in the aftermath of 9/11.

Have they no sense of decency?

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Morality: who’s right, who’s wrong?

In the marketplace of ideas, political and religious discourse in particular, morality is a perennial topic of discussion, if not an elusive ideal. Nowhere is this more so than in American partisan politics. With the prize being inordinate power over the lives (and wallets) of “ordinary” citizens, it’s all the more imperative to persuade the populace that your side is morally superior, while the other side is morally bankrupt…and so it goes.

Even for those that only follow politics casually, it’s evident that the “conservative” side of the aisle has put morality front and center. From the “moral majority” of the 80s to the “save Terri” campaign of last Spring, a large contingent of Republicans has worked tirelessly to link “traditional values” to morality. But what about the Left? Well, leading lefty: Kos, has sought to turn the tables here and here. The money quote:
The reasons we hate the American Taliban are the same reasons we hate fundamentalists of all stripes -- they seek to impose their own moral code on the rest of society, and do so with the zeal and moral absolutism possible only from those who believe they are doing "God's work".
While “hate” is a few shades too extreme, I’m more than a little uneasy about religious zealotry. Not all religious zeal mind you, just that which moves beyond the place of worship and into the affairs of my life. Conversely, however, Dada Head thinks that it’s perfectly justifiable to insist upon moral conformity, as long as the “norm” is of a “progressive” nature.
Indeed, imposing our moral code on others is precisely what progressives want to do. It is the motivation behind things like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Universality has been a fundamental feature of moral reasoning for centuries, and was codified perhaps most convincingly by Kant, who correctly argued that any moral imperative necessarily commands universally (categorically). Non-universal norms are not moral norms.

Of course, it is not always okay to impose one's moral code on others. For instance: I might believe that everyone has a moral duty to take care of their health, but that doesn't mean I should try to pass a law against smoking or eating Twinkies.
Is this not the same as the one-size-fits-all moral code that is propagated by the “religious right”, only in reverse? Are the two political poles not merely interested in subjugating their philosophical foe for the purpose of societal homogeneity? Dada Head rationalizes this way:
The reason that fundamentalism is reprehensible is not that it tries to impose its moral code on the rest of the society; it is reprehensible because the moral code itself is reprehensible. The 'moral' principles of Osama bin Laden - and of James Dobson - are irrational, misogynistic, backwards, and cruel, and so we rightfully resist their attempts to impose them on the rest of us - not because of the fact that they are trying to impose them, but because the principles themselves are evil and idiotic.
OK, all of this begs the question: what does one mean by “morality”? Now, it ought to be quite obvious that many meanings are poured into the concept of “morality”. So, a few definitions are in order:

Moral Equivalence: the position that, in a conflict, there can be no “hierarchy” with respect to the ethical nature of the actions of the parties involved.
Moral Relativism: the position that there are “no absolutes” with respect to moral propositions and that all moral codes are “relative” to specific cultures and customs.
Moral Absolutism: the position that there are, in fact, “absolute standards against which moral questions can be judged”.
Moral Objectivism: “the position that certain acts are objectively right or wrong, independent of human opinion.” (ala Ayn Rand)
Rational Morality: the position that “it is possible to rationally conceive of our view of right and wrong, and that this is extremely necessary because our choices and actions have larger consequences than we often imagine.” (ala Chris Wilson, the Enlightened Caveman)

The moral concepts above are only a few examples of the ways in which concept of morality diverge. So how does one divine the correct position, if indeed one is correct? To find out, a bit of deduction is in order. Considering that, at the root of morality, there lay two very specific and mutually exclusive ideas: right and wrong, it's only reasonable that they should have a concrete and discernable meaning. If so, then it follows that Moral Equivalence and Moral Relativism are empty and meaningless concepts, in that they are both open-ended and ultimately subjective. Therefore “right and wrong”, if they are to be defined, would fall outside the scope of “morality” as such.

On the other hand, if “right and wrong” does exist (e.g. an absolute, objective standard), then the remaining propositions apply, but another question arises: what is the standard? It seems to me that, for a standard to be truly objective, it must necessarily by universally applicable. Without question, such a standard cannot be specific to this faction or that. Therefore, political parties, religious sects and all manner of “interest groups” are precluded from tailoring the standard to their tastes.

If the aforementioned premises hold, the only conclusion to be drawn is one that my fellow Classical Liberals and I subscribe to. Specifically, the proposition that a right to life, liberty and property is inherent, natural and unalienable, and as such are not granted or sanctioned by another, nor do they need to be recognized by others in order to be realized. Therefore, since everyone, regardless of status, possesses these rights by virtue of existence, the only reasonable measure of morality is found in a supreme respect for the sanctity of individual rights. All other concerns (partisan politics, religious beliefs, ideological particulars, etc.) are altogether distinct from authentic morality, inasmuch as there are innumerable possibilities of sets and subsets of each.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Carnival of Liberty #1

This particular Carnival was designed to highlight the importance of Liberty and to draw attention to the rapid erosion of individual liberties by more and more asinine laws. Laws that not only come by way of the Congress, but also from inappropriate “legislation from the bench” by the Supremes, as well as the lower courts.

For your convenience, there are not one, but two places to view the spectacle. First there is Brad “Warbs” Warbiany’s blog, The Unrepentant Individual (the Carnival’s host). The other fine site is the Life, Liberty and Property Group Blog. So, without delay, go check it out! Also, be sure to peruse the other blogs that are mentioned and if you’re so inclined, leave a comment.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Supreme Justice

The latest round of Supreme Court rulings has given people of all stripes something to worry about. Namely: individual liberties are being profoundly affected by nine aging lawyers. Any five of whom determine the current status of the law of the land. To be sure, this is nothing new, but the progression of precedents and legal justifications for the latest majority opinions are rather unsettling, to vastly understate the case.

In an article that recounts the recent history of modern jurisprudence, Julian Sanchez alluded to the Sorites Paradox, which essentially deals with the problem of vagueness. The common example is the difficulty of determining exactly what is and is not a “heap”, as in: just how many grains of wheat (or sand) constitute a heap.

The real issue though, one that I’ve addressed before, is that the Supremes are tasked with the strict interpretation of the constitution and the law, rather than stretching the plain meaning of words beyond the breaking point. Moreover, the High Court ought to be able to determine whether or not a particular precedent is reasonable and just. Again, Sanchez wrote the following:
[The] problem is, concepts like "interstate commerce," "public use," "unreasonable search," and "cruel and unusual" are similarly fuzzy. And Stare Decisis, the principle that cases are to be decided by reference to previous rulings, means that the Court's interpretation of those rulings looks an awful lot like a process of adding one grain at a time without ever arriving at an unconstitutional heap…
Likewise, Hammer weighed in on the current SCOTUS blunders: So there you have it. One block of the court seeks to increase the power of the government using expansions of previous case law, the other tends to restrict the power of the government using the (horrors!) Constitution.

On a positive note, Nick Gillespie (Editor-in-Chief, Reason) interviewed Mark Tushnet of Georgetown University Law Center, who suggests that:
the High Court’s influence on American life is generally overstated. He also sketches the legacy of William Rehnquist as chief justice, declares that Antonin Scalia “isn’t as smart as he thinks he is,” and argues that the often dismissed Clarence Thomas is philosophically the most interesting sitting justice.
Reason: In A Court Divided, you write that Rehnquist and Justice Clarence Thomas in particular have laid the groundwork for a revolution that would truly reconstruct constitutional law. What would the revolution look like?

Tushnet: The easiest way to describe it would be to say that privatization of Social Security was constitutionally required, not just permitted. [A full-blown Rehnquist-Thomas revolution] would develop restrictions on the scope of Congress’ power to tax for redistributive purposes and limit what could be done under the rubric of “general welfare.” That kind of thing.

Lastly, in the wake of Justice O’Connor’s retirement, speculation abounds. My personal favorite for the empty chair is, obviously, Janice Rogers Brown. I’m in good company, as Scott Scheule insists: ”My libertarian friends, there can be no other choice!”. In addition, fellow Life, Liberty, Property community member T.F. Stern reasons thusly:
The logic of nominating Janice Rogers Brown is nearly too good to pass up. To begin with, the Democratic Senators have already passed off on her ability to serve in the capacity of an appellate court. They have passed off on her credentials to the point of making themselves obviously partisan for their previous efforts to deny her the requested position. Having already approved her on such merits it would logically fit that were her name to be offered as a replacement any attempt to block that nomination would be futile.

Friday, July 01, 2005

WTF happened to the GOP of WFB?

It might appear to some that I’m an incorrigible contrarian, in light of my dim view of Dems (generally speaking) or my critique of the Libertarian Party’s pacifist platform. The reality is, quite simply, that I'm a strong advocate of inherent individual rights, which is to say maximum liberty and its preservation, respectively. All facets of Liberty. I consider such advocacy to be a duty and one that I take very seriously, irrespective of the offending Party. Speaking of which, it seems that the GOP, or at least their leader in the US Senate, has recently proposed an assault on economic liberty. What’s more, the problem that Frist presumes to solve is an “artificial” one.
"Drug advertisements are fuel to America's skyrocketing prescription-drug costs," Frist says in remarks prepared for delivery in the Senate. "They create an artificial demand. And they drive up our nation's overall health care costs."
Didn’t the Republican Party, once upon a time, boast that they were the go-to party for free market capitalism? Well...we are nearly twenty years removed from Reaganomics. Additionally, Mr. Bush signed the Medicare Monstrosity into law and has vetoed exactly ZERO "spending bills" thus far…fiscal responsibility my ass.

Leaving behind, for the moment, any hopes in the near term for any measurable spending restraint by the GOP majority (all three branches of government no less), one might still expect Republicans to fulfill the promises of “smaller government”, enumerated in the 1994 Contract with America. Alas, the pull of populism seems to have insidiously crept in as a means of retaining control of Congress for decades, like the Democrats did after FDR. Besides, what good is an inordinate amount of power if it’s not exercised to “help” people?
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association, an industry trade group, has promised to come up with an advertising code of conduct. Former representative Billy Tauzin, R-La., head of the industry group, said drug advertising "is a free-speech issue" but acknowledged that these ads are due for some change.

Frist believes the code should include a moratorium on ads for drugs that have been on the market less than two years. The Government Accountability Office study that Frist is requesting could be used as the basis for legislation to impose federal restrictions if Frist is not satisfied with the industry's voluntary measures.
What?! Frist’s plan would be laughable if its implications were not so serious. Where has the Republican Party of William F. Buckley Jr. gone? You know, the one that actually opposed onerous regulation and was the friend of libertarians. Even worse, adding insult to injury is the stated motivation for the proposed “federal restrictions”: supposed excessive demand for prescription drugs, which in English means: “too many choices for mere individuals”. Senator Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) apparently believes that “ordinary” people ought not to be at liberty to “ask their doctor if X pill is right for them”. This flies in the face of the unencumbered economic freedom that has enabled the Western World, and America particularly, to have a standard of living that was unthinkable before capitalism became normative.

Who knows, maybe Clara of Liberty Belles (the sister blog [shameless pun] of Catallarchy) is correct in her assumption about Frist’s true motivation: “How will Dr. Frist address the problem of ‘artificial demand’ for his presidency when he runs for office in 2008, buying TV time and traveling the country?” How indeed, Dr. Frist…