Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Reasoned discussion through slander, insults and ridicule

A couple of days ago I came across a rather odd attack on libertarians. I’m used to such attacks myself. After so many years actively involved in libertarian circles I’ve seen them all. But this one struck me as particularly bizarre, though typically inaccurate. Two things were odd to me. One was that the article, by Jim Taylor, was posted at the website for Psychology Today, and secondly, the author claimed his “intentions” were “curiosity and understanding rather than judgment and criticism.”

That struck me as odd because his focus was not on libertarian thinking at all but entirely on attacking, or insulting libertarians. How much understanding is someone seeking who, in the very same sentence, refers to “a rapid pack of Americaus Libertarius,” the latter phrase being his cute term for calling libertarians a “species.”

I penned a short reply and made notes for a more in-depth response to be posted here. But, for no explained reason, the article vanished from the website. It also had apparently been posted at the website for the San Francisco Chronicle, but it vanished from that site as well. I can only hope it was because the author realized how unfair he was in his depiction and how insincere his talk about “understanding” appeared.

Notice: The article has since reappeared in a heavily edited format. You can find it here. Taylor removed most of the insults from the revised version. He removed the "four types" of libertarians he discussed. He added qualifiers that previously had not existed. Most of the points I made in this reply were made moot by his newly edited version. However, the accusations he made are not uncommon from some on the Left so the reply is valid in general even if no longer an accurate portrayal of his new, edited version of his article. He still doesn't know the difference between a principle and a policy. His general view is still as negative as before but he removed most the particularly egregious comments that I mention below.

One thing he said was true. He did refer to libertarians, as people who know that the world they live in will “never, ever even remotely resemble the world in which you want to live.” I can live with that. I know that there will always be bigotry and prejudice, but I yearn to live in a world where that won’t happen. I know that there will always be people who act violently upon others, but I yearn for a world where that would not happen. I would love to live in a world where disease, poverty, hatred and war are vague memories from a distant past.

All I can ask Mr. Taylor is: What decent person doesn’t yearn for a world that they know they will “never, ever” find? Considering how many awful things exist, that we all wish were abolished, I would argue that any individual, with even a smidgen of decency, yearns for exactly that. If that motivation is so entirely and almost universally human, then what is his point? Personally I would be more worried about those without such yearnings. In conclusion to this matter, allow me to quote John Lennon first, and then Mark Twain:
You may say that I'm a dreamer But I'm not the only one I hope someday you'll join us And the world will be as one

"Don't part with your illusions. When they are gone, you may still exist, but you have ceased to live. "
Taylor calls us libertarians a “strange and wonderful species,” but not a species he belongs to. He, by his own admission, is a Leftist of some sort. What kind, I know not. But I can live with lefties, even San Francisco lefties. After all I spent time in San Francisco and have some rather left-wing friends from San Francisco. And I consider them all decent people. We disagree, of course. They think I am wrong on things. I think they are wrong on things. And we still get along. I don’t think them evil and they don’t think me evil.

Taylor tries to argue that, on the basis of comments left on his blog, he has come to understand “this unusual creature” known as the modern libertarian. That should be a clue immediately, that something will go wrong. The Internet, especially comments left on blogs, is a notoriously bad way of discerning reality. This is especially true of anonymous comments. First, you have no way of knowing if the person leaving the comment is who they say they are. Second, the nature of the Internet is such that it encourages uncivil comments and behaviour. In real life, if you insult someone, the response is usually instant. You are chastised almost instantly by that person, or by others. But the net allows insults to flow freely without responsibility.

The Internet is a very bad place to figure out what makes people tick. The lack of responsibility that comes with anonymous surfing distorts and perverts how people normally act. Thus it is a pathetically weak means of determining what any group of people are like. Not that this stopped Mr. Taylor. His web surfing told him what “core principles” libertarians have, principles “that make them sound like a traditional conservative.”

What are those core principles? “Smaller government, lower taxes, free-market economy, a balanced budget and more freedom and responsibility.” Mr. Taylor says he agrees with those principles but with “different priorities.” Here we are off to bad start instantly.

Mr. Taylor has not really discussed libertarian principles at all, but libertarian policies that are derived from principles. Lower taxes are not a libertarian principle but a conclusion. Principles are premises upon which conclusion, or in politics, policies, are based. What are real libertarian principles? Here are a few:
That each individual has the right to control their own life as they see fit. That no individual has the right to use violence, coercion or fraud against another peaceful individual. All individuals stand before the law with the same rights as all other individuals. The only proper means of social interactions are those that are voluntary. Cooperation that is coerced is not cooperation but violence. The best structures for solving problems are those closest to the individuals concerned. Transactions between people should be free of force, free of fraud, and based on voluntary exchange based on love in some cases, or on the exchange of value for value for most. That the voluntary interactions between people are their own business and that others should not be allowed to coercively interfere with them.

Those are just some libertarian principles. These are premises. The rest of libertarianism follows from the principles.

Mr. Taylor then says that libertarianism is “full of contradictions” because they also “appear rather liberal on social issues, such as gay marriage, abortion, the environment and drug use.” Based on the principles I’ve mentioned there is no contradiction. But Mr. Taylor never set out libertarian principles at all. He ignored them. Instead he set out some policies. That some libertarian polices are accepted by the Right, and others are accepted by the Left does not mean the libertarian is being contradictory. It may mean that Left and Right are contradictory. All of the positions he mentions come directly from principles I mentioned, there is no contradiction.

Libertarians want respect for individual choices to cover their economic choices as well as their non-economic choices. You have the same right to make your own decision about what job you will take, as you have over whom you will marry. You right to ingest mind-altering substances is the same as imbibing mind-altering religion. I don’t see respect for voluntary choices as contradictory. It is when one accepts free choice in some areas of life, while banishing it from other areas, that one is contradictory. And I would argue that it is those on both the Left and the Right who are most guilty of that contradiction.

Mr. Taylor then repeats the mantra that the Tea Party movement is one of the places where libertarianism flourishes. I have reported on my visit to a Tea Party meeting and how unlibertarian it was. Libertarian author James Bovard, wrote a similar piece about the non-libertarian nature of the Tea Party events he attended. And one author at the REASON website did the same thing. Apparently we don’t know as much as Mr. Taylor was able to gather by Internet surfing.

While Taylor only mentioned Internet interactions with alleged libertarians, he says he has “examined the species” and “identified a pattern in the upbringings and lives of some of its species.” Really? This would prove interesting, albeit not very enlightening. He says libertarians tend to follow “one of four evolutionary paths.” To be quite honest few libertarians I know actually fit any of the four paths that Taylor, with his exhaustive research, has identified. I shall list the four types that Taylor claims exists and comment on them.
1. “The first I call the Libertarius Cluelessius in which they grew up privileged and are so out of touch with real people and the real world that they can't possibly imagine why getting ahead in life is so difficult (for others).”
I admittedly only know a few hundred libertarians. And many tend to be involved in writing libertarian books, lecturing, teaching courses, writing magazine articles, policy research and the like. They don’t tend to be people who surf blogs to leave nasty comments. They are libertarian trendsetters, the sort of people who explain libertarianism to others. So perhaps they don’t know as much about the subject as the anonymous commentators who have interacted with Mr Taylor.

But the people I know rarely were born into a life of privilege. I’ve known hundreds of libertarians but only a small number of millionaires. The richest man I’ve met was probably Steve Forbes. He’s a nice man but no libertarian. Very, very few libertarians are born into privilege, unless you mean on a global scale. Then we are all privileged, compared to the poverty that I saw while living in Africa. But I don’t think Mr. Taylor meant that. Nor do I think he has any real reason for assuming that this “evolutionary track” is a common one. It is one the Left has used to stereotype, and thus dismiss, libertarians. Much the way bigots stereotype blacks, Jews or gays. The difference is, that some on the Left have convinced themselves it is alright to distort the facts about libertarians. But again that differs very little from what bigots do to justify their prejudice against other minority groups.
2. “The second is the Libertarius Selfishius who are wealthy and don't want to give any of their hard-earned money to the government (not realizing that it is our entire system that has enabled them to accumulate that wealth)”
Philosophically most libertarians would say that taxation of anyone, not just themselves, amounts to coercive confiscation of private property and that is a bad way of funding government. But equally most libertarians really wouldn’t mind paying some taxes. The libertarian tends to be most offended at what is done with taxes and how many taxes are unnecessary. The limited government libertarian, who represents the libertarian mainstream, doesn’t mind funding the necessary structure of government.

But when we fund the war on drugs, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, NATO, bank bailouts, Wall Street bailouts, the Department of Homeland Security and such measures, we do tend to get peeved. I honestly suspect that most libertarians would be a lot less noisy about taxes if their money wasn’t being used so badly, or to do some very bad things. I would agree and disagree that “our entire system “ “has enabled” us to accumulate wealth. That is just a gross overstatement of the facts.

Government protection of property rights, enforcement of contracts, basic policing, and such do help accumulate wealth. Most prominent libertarian scholars have discussed that and acknowledged that. A minority of anarchists would disagree and they can marshal some good and interesting arguments, which in the end leave me unpersuaded.

Some government structure does help accumulate wealth but it is simply wrong and exaggerated to claim the “entire structure” of government has done so. After all, wealth accumulation took place before much of the “entire structure” as we know it, was built. That alone disproves the claim. It is usually a sign of dogmatism to say “all” or “none” about something. It would be as wrong to say “all” government helped in wealth creation as it would be in saying that “none” of government helped in wealth creation. The facts are found between the dogmatic extremes. And Mr. Taylor’s claim is just as extreme and dogmatic as the claim of those he dismisses.
3. The third is the Libertarius Bootstrapius who worked their way up from humble beginnings without help from anyone else (that they noticed anyway) and expect the same of others without consideration of their individual circumstances.
I had to give this one some thought. The problem is that very few of the libertarians came from “humble beginnings” and worked their way up to being wealthy. In fact, most libertarians, like most people in America, came from rather middle-class beginnings and are today quite middle class. My father was a fire fighter, my mother a nurse. My grandfather was a steel worker and my grandmother a clerk in a department store. I always considered them fairly middle class for their time and I don’t see myself much differently.

Almost every libertarian I know is typically middle class and few thought their beginnings so humble that they had to tug on their bootstraps. They worked hard, just as our parents and grandparents did. And certainly our lives have improved, but that is true for most people in the country, not just for libertarians.

After going through the inventory of libertarians I’ve met, there is one who I can say started with humble beginnings, at least humble in comparison to his current wealth. That would be John Mackey, the founder of Whole Foods. He is a lot wealthier than he started. But he is also one of those libertarians who least fits the description given by Mr. Taylor. His speeches and writings indicate quite clearly that he has noticed people who have not done well and he emphasizes using wealth to help others because individual circumstance do impact on the lives of these people. Mackey promotes charity and compassion. So the only “bootstrap” libertarian I’ve met, that I can think of, is as far from Taylor’s stereotype as one can get. That is the problem with stereotyping people and I suspect that Taylor knows this about most groups, but is willing to make an exception for libertarians.
4. The fourth is Libertarius Hatius Governmentius who see all of the problems of government and none of its benefits (even though they take full advantage of those benefits) and, as a result, have a deep antipathy toward its role in their lives.
In some ways this is just a rewrite of type #2. Days before Taylor made this claim I wrote an entire essay on the topic of hating government. I wrote: “Hating government doesn’t say anything about what a person believes. Many people seem to equate hating the state with being libertarian. But that is not the case by any means.” I wrote: “Libertarianism is not defined by what it opposes, but by what it supports.” The main point of my essay was this:
More than announcing what we oppose we libertarians need to be vocal about what we support. Our agenda is not primarily a negative one, but a positive one. I am a libertarian because I believe in peaceful, voluntary cooperation. I believe in the sanctity of the thinking individual and their right to grasp reality as best they can, and their right to express their views without anyone having the right to sew their lips shut. I believe in a tolerant society where all are equal before the law. I believe in a world where individuals are free to travel and trade as they wish, where people are allowed to keep what they produce, and where no man may use violence against another except in self defense. I believe that individuals have clear, distinct rights and that no other individual, or collective of individuals, should have the power to violate those rights.

Such principles, of necessity, would require opposition to certain measures or policies. But the motivation for this is a positive one, not a negative one. I opposed the government’s war on drugs but not because the government is doing it. If a private group acted in precisely the same manner I would oppose their efforts. I hold my position because the war on drugs violates life, liberty and property. It is fundamentally an anti-rights movement of the worst kind. It is my passion for a peaceful, cooperative community that requires me to oppose the war on drugs.
I think hate a negative emotion. I love liberty. I love free, peaceful, people. I love voluntary community. For those reasons I am a libertarian. Given the right circumstances even people like Mr. Taylor would hate government—I hope. The US government used to arrest runaway slaves and return them to their owners. Would Mr. Taylor love, or hate, a government that did that? A government, legitimately elected by popular vote, assumed total power and then rounded up Jews for the camps? Would Mr. Taylor hate that government? In Cambodia, the government exterminated millions of people under Pol Pot’s regime. Is this a government that Mr. Taylor hated?

In apartheid South Africa I saw policemen harass and attack people for being black. I hated that enough to personally intervene and have my own life threatened by a police officer for doing so. Yes, I hated that government, which is why I was glad to see it go. I don’t “hate” the new South African government, though I do wish it were better run and more just. I don’t even hate the US government—not the whole thing. I can’t even intellectually grasp the whole thing, let alone hate it. Something that huge and complex has to be comprehended before it can be hated, at least for me. I do hate much of what it does. I will be happy to outline what I hate. Mr. Taylor is free to disagree.
I hate the war on drugs.
I hate the foreign policy of international interventionism.
I hate the military assaults and the bombings of civilians.
I hate that our government uses torture on people.
I hate Guantanamo.

I hate censorship.
I hate the anti-equality laws that keep gay people as second class citizens.
I hate the flagrantly racist, and stupid measures used to punish illegal aliens.
I hate that we have criminalized sex to such a degree that we are turning teens into sex offenders by fiat.
I hate victimless crime laws.
I hate out-of-control police officers who think they are gods.
I hate the politicians and judges who cover up for those police officers.
I hate the petty principals and teachers who allow bullying to go on in the schools against kids who are different.

I hate teachers and principals who put their own financial greed ahead of the interests of their students.

I can go on and list a lot of hates I have about specific aspects of government. Each one, however, is based on one of the things I love. My hatred exists when government harms people needlessly, and that is too often. But those are very targeted hatreds, and hatreds I would hope that Mr. Taylor shares.

Mr. Taylor did say some nice things, in-between misinterpreting libertarianism. He wrote: “My forays into the habitats of this intriguing and elusive species have revealed them to be intelligent, well informed, engaged, and persuasive in their anti-government arguments. Americus Libertarius also perceive themselves to be strong, independent, and self-determining people who are the direct philosophical descendents as our founding fathers. And I can see all of these qualities in them.” But I fear that was just an attempt to soften the insults that flowed fast and furious from that point on.

He said libertarians are selfish and “always reference their views in terms of how government impacts them as individuals.” I am a libertarian. He says libertarians “always reference their views” in personal terms, not caring about others at all. Read my hates again. Of that list one, or maybe two, can be stretched sufficiently to refer to myself. Clearly most are not. I’ve written essays on why libertarianism must be seen as entirely “outward directed” and about respecting others. I have said the real motto of libertarians is “Don’t tread on others.” Yet Mr. Taylor says libertarians “always” reference their views only in relation to themselves. The fact that I don’t, automatically do this disproves his assertions that this “always” happens. The one thing about always-statements is that it only takes one counter example to prove it wrong.

The very fact that libertarians take the positions they do disproves Mr Taylor's claim they only care about issues that affect themselves. Most libertarians are not drug users but support legalization. Most libertarians are not Christian fundamentalists but support the rights of fundamentalists. Most libertarians would legalize prostitution and are not prostitutes or customers. Most libertarians are not gay yet support the equal rights of gay people. Most libertarians are not criminals but are upset by out-of-control cops and dishonest judges. Most of the positions libertarians take do not affect their own lives directly, but affect the lives of others. And most of the others so affected are not libertarians. Mr. Taylor's litany of libertarian "principles" disproves his later claim

There are many other accusations flung at libertarians by Mr. Taylor. He says we are out of touch with reality, what he means is that we disagree with him. He says we don’t understand the “rather messy world “ we live and prefer a “tidy utopian world.” That is so far off the truth about libertarianism I almost laughed. Libertarians spend countless hours discussing exactly how to deal with messy reality. To a large degree the Hayekian case for freedom is built on the premise that reality is so messy that it is not easily manipulated by politicians, bureaucrats and other central planners. Given that there are entire libertarian books discussing how messy reality is, it is very wrong to assume that libertarians don't understand the "rather messy world." But then this sort of analysis won't be found in comments left at blogs. Perhaps Mr. Taylor would have been better off reading some real libertarian works rather than judging a philosophy based on some cursory Internet browsing.

One of the strongest arguments in favor of a libertarian viewpoint is that a case can be made that libertarian presumptions deal with the mess better. Certainly one of the messes is that the rich and powerful grab government power. Yet lefties want to pretend it can be used to benefit the poor and powerless. And when they note that it doesn’t work out that way, they have lots of excuses for it, but they never deal with the messy reality that in politics the poor and powerless are pushed aside on behalf of the rich and powerful. What is more utopian than the fantasy that state power can be used to benefit the powerless?

He says we lack “empathy for those less fortunate than” ourselves. And believe that those in bad straits should just “pull themselves up by their own boot straps.” Fuck! What a terrible distortion of libertarians. On several occasions I’ve given a room in my home to people who had nowhere to live and given them paying jobs when I could, or found them one. I looked a rabid apartheid policemen in the eye when he was attacking a young black man and tried to stop him. In one case I literally jumped such an officer when he started punching a woman. Yep, it was all about me, the white, blue-eyed guy who could have safely stood on the sidelines and watched.

I will be honest, this sort of portrayal is similar to those where people say Jews are just greedy, blacks are just lazy, or gays are a bunch of sex-crazed, effeminate child molesters. This sort of crude generalization is just as prejudicial as the others and meant to achieve the same sort of ends—it is meant to discredit, and defame, people whom you don’t like. It takes a large group of millions of people and defines them down to a few alleged common characteristics that you hope people find unpleasant.

Taylor says libertarians are rigid thinkers. Hell, and to think I wrote an entire essay on why I’ve changed my mind on various issues. I didn’t know that I had to be a rigid thinker. No one told me! I was told to think for myself. I was told to consider the facts. I did those things, still do, and still change my mind. All that time I was supposed to be rigid and not even the good kind of rigid that comes with the little blue pill. No one told me.

Libertarians also supposedly think they are the only “free thinkers” around. Yep, rigid, free thinkers. That’s us. And we are angry, he says.

His proof is that he can’t have a “reasoned conversation with this species.” Okay, lets see, he calls us “this species,” calls us a “rabid pack,” prints accusations that are we are rigid, selfish, uncaring, hateful people. And then he wonders why he has problems having a “reasoned conversations” with us. Who is he kidding?

Perhaps if he left the accusations, insults and references to “rabid packs” behind he might find that it was possible to talk to us all along. When his fellow “San Francisco liberal,” Carol Ruth Silver, was speaking at a libertarian event she said one thing she liked “was that libertarians take ideas seriously” and that no one mistreated her or insulted her. (If they had they would have had to deal with me.) But they didn’t. The conversations were respectful and tolerant. But then Carol Ruth didn’t start her discussion with libertarians by hurling insults.

Mr. Taylor said: “I hope members of the species will offer substantive answers to my questions (and keep the attacks on my species to a minimum) so I and others can better appreciate the ideas and passions that Americus Libertarius bring to our political system.” I have tried to do that here. Unfortunately much of Taylor's article was not comprised of questions seeking to be answered. Too much of it was insults meant to sting. Mr. Taylor: If you want respect you must give it. If you want dialogue you must appear open to dialogue and not merely wanting to score points by ridicule.

Note: I apologize for being unable to link to the original article at Psychology Today. As I said, it was removed after I began my response to it. I really do hope it was removed because Mr. Taylor realized how unfair he was, and how he was intentionally “poking the bear” in order to get a growl to prove himself right. However, another web site caught the full text of the article before it vanished and reprinted. Since Mr. Taylor has heavily edited his original to remove much of the claims which I addressed here, his new version of the article no longer matches his original version. The link to the new version is above in the first note. The link to the original version is in this note. Those who wish to do so may compare the two.

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The arbitrary nature of prejudice.

M.I.A, Born Free from ROMAIN-GAVRAS on Vimeo.

Some people are upset about this short film. But I like it, in a very disturbing way. Like many films you have to look for meaning and perhaps we always interpret that meaning through our own personal filters. What I can tell you that I saw is how arbitrary is human prejudice.

At first the viewer is trying to make some sense of what is happening. But soon it becomes clear that what we we are witnessing doesn't make sense to us. After all—who would do a thing like that?

But what I thought of was precisely how all prejudice, which is the foundation for the sorts of scenes we see in this video, is arbitrary. People have to convince themselves that the other is "different" in some significant and dangerous way. Few such people really exist, so we make up stories about the "different" people in order to demonize them.

When I think of the people who are routinely targeted by bigots the reasons for their targeting seems as inconsequential as what we see in this film.

UPDATE: You Tube has banned this video from their site. How stupid of them.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

The evolution of toleration in the West.

Have you ever considered why separation of church and state evolved, why we are more religiously tolerant today than in the past?

At one time, church and state intertwined and tolerance was a minority opinion. Even prior to establishment of a Constitutional Republic in the United States, there was quite a bit of church-state entanglement. The results were often bloody and always nasty. Even when only Protestant Christians had their rights respected, these Protestants frequently and repeatedly turned on one another. I have previously written here about how colonial America routinely attacked minority Christian sects, even to the point of killing people for being the wrong kind of Protestant Christian. There was never a Judeo-Christian heritage, because the colonies routinely excluded Jews and Catholics from having legal rights and some colonies refused to allow either to settle there.

Bloody persecution of Christians by Christians in the colonies was mild in comparison to the centuries of bloodshed in Europe over which form of Christianity should be imposed on everyone. Martin Luther explained: “In a country there must be one preaching only allowed.” Other forms of preaching were considered rebellion and Luther spoke of how to deal with such matters: “Let everyone who can, smite, slay, and stab, secretly and openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful or devilish than a rebel.” While the bloody history of Catholicism is well known, mainly due to publishing efforts of Protestants, the genocidal impulse in Protestantism has not been so duly noted.

Luther is a good example of Protestant intolerance. In 1525 he said Catholic mass should be forcibly suppressed as blasphemy. In 1530, he said Anabaptists should be put to death. In 1536, he said Jews should be forced out of the country. His view was that the State should enforce Christian teaching, more particularly Luther’s teachings, by force. “The public authority is bound to repress blasphemy, false doctrine and heresy, and to inflict corporal punishment on those that support such things.”

Most people today have no idea that Europe was plunged into a series of wars, over a period of about 150 years, all between competing sects of Christians intent on wiping out other forms of Christianity. The last such major war was the Thirty Years’ War, from 1618-1648. Direct and indirect casualties in the war amounted to between 15% and 30% of all Germans. In Czech areas, population declined by about one-third as a result of the war and as a result of diseases spread because of the conflict. It is thought that Swedish armies destroyed as many as one-third of all towns in Germany. Estimates are that this period of Christian conflict resulted in the deaths of 7 million people. R.J. Rummel estimates the death toll higher, at 11.5 million. An objective look at the history of Christian conflicts caused Prof. Perez Zagorin to conclude: “Of all the great world religions past and present, Christianity has been by far the most intolerant.” Even Aquinas, held up as an advocate of reason, said that if the state executed forgers it could “with much more justice” take heretics and “immediately upon conviction, be not only excommunicate but also put to death.” Zagorin says: “None of the Protestant churches—neither the Lutheran Evangelical, The Zwinglian, the Calvinist Reformed nor the Anglican—were tolerant or acknowledged any freedom to dissent.” [How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West, Princeton University Press, 2003.]

Just during the short reign of England’s Catholic Queen Mary I (1554-1558) some 300 Protestants were burned at the stake for heresy. And in 1572 Catholics in France went on the rampage over a period of several weeks, rounding up and massacring Protestants. Death tolls are uncertain, but believed to range from 5,000 to 30,000. Of course, in the name of Jesus, neither women nor children were spared the sword.

So what were some reasons that traditional intolerance and violence amongst Christians ended? There are several. One is that bloodshed had become intolerable and Christians grew weary of constantly slaughtering one another. While that played a role in the matter, it was not the prime reason.

Other explanations exist as well and each played a role. One is that the Enlightenment took place and there was a burst of rationality on the continent. This rationality not only lead to a rise in scientific progress, but it also meant that more and more Europeans had become sceptical of Christianity. Orthodox Christianity was being undermined from the inside, leading to a diminution of its influence. Within Catholicism, the Scholastic revolution of Aquinas had already revived an interest in reason.

Protestantism, however, was a very different thing. Much of the impetus of the Reformation was to attack these worrisome influences of human reasoning. Luther and Calvin both opposed the use of reason to draw conclusions about truth. Contrary to imaginations of Protestant apologists, the Reformation was the enemy of reason, not an ally. Prof. Frederick Beisner, in his important history, The Sovereignty of Reason [Princeton University Press, 1996], writes:
…The early theology of the Reformation cannot be regarded as the forerunner, still less as the foundation, of modern rationalism. Rather, it is its antithesis, indeed its nemesis, an attempt to revive the spirit and outlook of medieval Augustinianism. Luther’s and Calvin’s aim was to restore this Augustinian tradition—its teachings concerning faith, grace, sin, and predestination—by purging it of all its pagan and scholastic [Thomistic] accretions.
Beisner’s important book shows how the Reformation religions of the Protestants were themselves later reformed. Thomas Hooker, in his work Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie [1593], revived an interest in reason among Protestants. His defense of reason was the “revival of the scholastic, natural law tradition, and in particular that of Aquinas and Suarez, which had been cast overboard by Luther and Calvin.” Hooker influenced one of the great liberals of the Enlightenment, John Locke.

Later the circle of scholars and theologians who had gathered together, under the sponsorship of Lord Falkland, known as the Tew Circle, emphasized reason as well. While orthodox Protestants, they held reason as the only means of understanding religion. In fact, reason was allowed to judge religion and draw conclusions. These men became an influence on the more radical skeptics in the free thought movement later. They argued that faith could only come through reason, not from grace. They opposed the predestination theory of Calvin and Luther, believing salvation was obtained by good works, not by grace, and they believed in toleration of others.

They were followed by the Cambridge Platonists, a group of scholars at Cambridge, who “went several strides beyond Hook and Great Tew in the direction of a greater rationalism. To begin with, they were the first thinkers in the English Protestant tradition to develop a systematic natural theology.” Beisner writes that they “affirmed the principle of the sovereignty of reason. They saw reason as the final rule of faith, a standard higher than Scripture, inspiration, or tradition.” In other words, while the original Reformation was actually a step-backwards for modernity, the Reformation was later reformed by a series of thinkers who reintroduced the hated Aristotelian forms of thinking.

The forefathers of modern libertarianism, the classical liberals, first campaigned for freedom of conscience. They wanted to limit the power of the state because the state was the instrument by which intolerant church policies were imposed on the public. The church, preferring to not have blood on its hands directly, left the killing to the state. So the state imposed theological order at the point of the gun—or more accurately at the time, at the point of the sword. Transgressors would be identified and executed, often at the stake. But what the state was doing was entirely at the behest of the church. The church is pretty much a toothless dog when it doesn’t have access to state power. It can bark but it can’t bite.

As liberalism reduced state power, it directly reduced the ability of the church to impose theological conformity. What we saw, with the unleashing of human reason, was growth in skepticism, a desire for natural, scientific explanations for reality, limitation of the state, and the rise of a depoliticized, or capitalist, market system. As Sir Samuel Brittan put it: "The breakdown of theological authority, the rise of scientific spirit and the growth of capitalism were inter-related phenomena."

More and more, individuals began to think for themselves regarding religion. And the result was a splintering of the church. Instead of one “holy mother church” sitting astride Europe, numerous sects began to evolve. At first this splintering meant a bloodbath, as each sect tried to jockey for monopoly privileges and access to the swords of the state. This is precisely why the series of religious wars were fought, as an attempt to destroy diversity of thought and impose conformity.

This splintering reduced the power of the church as a whole by spreading it among various sects. No one sect was guaranteed enough power to successful grab control of the state. If it tried, it would face opposition from the other sects, not because they favored freedom of thought, but because they feared repression for themselves. Voltaire [Lettres philosophiques, 1734] noted: “If one religion only were allowed in England, the Government would very possibly become arbitrary; if there were but two, the people would cut one another’s throats; but as there are such a multitude, they all live happy and in peace.”

We found that in the history of the United States. Prior to the formation of the constitutional union, each state was independent and free. And the states tended to be dominated by one sect or another. Using that dominance, the church would then use state power to oppress other, minority sects. Jews, Catholics, Quakers and Baptists were favored targets of the state sanctioned church.

Yet when the Constitution was written the First Amendment explicitly rejected a church-state alliance. This was not because the majority of founders had seen the light about the evils of a church dominating a state, but rather because none could be sure that their church would be the one that would dominate. No one sect dominated the nation as a whole. While Anglicans dominated Virginia they had no power in Massachusetts. The Congregationalists, who controlled Massachusetts, had no influence in Pennsylvania.

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison worked to end state sanctioned religion in Virginia, but only succeeded when other faiths had immigrated to the state in sufficient numbers to undermine Anglican dominance. Freedom of religion came about, not because the various sects had adopted liberal values, but because each of them was unsure they could control the state when it came time to name the sanctioned church.

Capitalism is not just the result of more freedom; it is also the cause of new freedoms. Capitalism undermines the ability of the state to impose conformity. Technology encourages diversity of thought, which challenges any theological claim to monopolize what is true, or good for man.

There is a marvelous section in Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris [1831], where he depicts a printing press. Through the window we see the cathedral. Inside a man is standing. He points first at the press, and then to the cathedral, saying: “this will destroy that. The Book will destroy the Edifice.” Hugo wrote further:
To our mind, this thought has two aspects. In the first place it was a view pertaining to the priest—it was the terror of the ecclesiastic before a new force—printing. It was the servant of the dim sanctuary scared and dazzled by the light that streamed from Gutenberg’s press.
Free speech encourages diversity of opinion and directly leads to the splintering of sects and creeds. Capitalism encourages this process. Prof. Nicholas Wolfson noticed this:
It is no accident that capitalism and free speech are so frequently present together. The free flow of information, ideas and technology is essential in the modern age. We live in an age of information. The computer, the microchip, the fax, television, and cinema have created a universe in which the barriers to information and new ideas fail everywhere. Efforts to restrain free speech limit not only intellectual freedom, but result in a stultified and failed economic system. It is no accident that communism collapsed as this age came to fruition. Communist systems were unable to compete in the new technology and the new economies based upon the computer. The explosive mix of free speech, fax machines, and computers has created a universal knowledge and appreciation of the achievement of democracy and capitalism.
Capitalism also rewarded tolerance. This is important. Merchants found that the most beneficial trade they could make was often with someone of a different faith or creed. Refusal to trade with them meant lost opportunities and foregone profits. Again, Voltaire noticed this:
Take a view of the Royal Exchange in London, a place more venerable than many courts of justice, where the representatives of all nations meet for the benefit of mankind. There the Jew, the Mahometan [Muslim], and the Christian transact together, as though they all professed the same religion, and give the name of infidel to none but bankrupts. There the Presbyterian confides in the Anabaptist, and the Churchman depends on the Quaker's word. At the breaking up of this pacific and free assembly, some withdraw to the synagogue, and others to take a glass. This man goes and is baptized in a great tub, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: that man has his son's foreskin cut off, whilst a set of Hebrew words (quite unintelligible to him) are mumbled over his child. Others retire to their churches, and there wait for the inspiration of heaven with their hats on, and all are satisfied.
Commerce rewards tolerance by increasing the number of trading possibilities. Trade undermines prejudice in all areas: be it religious, ethnic, racial or sexual. Bigotry flourishes when the bigot can pass that cost on to the entire society, but when he must bear the direct costs of his own prejudice he is more reluctant to do so. Some may still prefer to engage in traditional, prejudicial practices, but they are at a competitive disadvantage to competitors who fail to do so. Brittan said: Capitalist civilization is above all rationalist.’ The entrepreneur, as a profit maximizer is forced to ignore the “traditional, mystical or ceremonial justification of existing practices.” This rejection of the traditional, means depoliticized markets are inherently anti-conservative. The gay marriage debate is a good example. Private businesses have largely adopted measures to recognize gay relationships among their employees. It is the political sphere that is behind the times. The state rarely forces change. Most of the time it is an impediment to social changes and only plays catch-up once the cultural revolution is over.

Businessmen, who rely on voluntary exchange, have long been leaders of movements that undermine traditional prejudices. People who trade want more trading options, not fewer. And prejudicial policies limit the number of options available. Henry Kamen, in The Rise of Toleration [McGraw Hill, 1967], wrote:
The expansion of commercial capitalism, particularly in Europe’s two principal maritime powers, Holland and England, was a powerful factor in the destruction of religious restrictions. Trade was usually a stronger argument than religion. Catholic Venice in the sixteenth century was reluctant to close its ports to the ships of the Lutheran Hanseatic traders. The English wool interest spent the first half of the seventeenth century in energetic opposition to the anti-Spanish policy of the government. By the Restoration in 1660 it was widely held that trade knows no religious barriers; the important corollary that followed from this was that the abolition of religious barriers would promote trade.
In his Political Arithmetic, written in 1670 but only published twenty years later, Sir William Petty said “for the advancement of trade… indulgence must be granted in matters of opinion.” Even opponents of trade recognized this true, and said it was one reason to oppose trade. Samuel Parker’s A Discourse on Ecclesiastical Politie [1669], said “tis notorious that there is not any sort of people so inclinable to seditious practices as the trading part of a nation.” The chaplain to the Earl of Berkeley warned, “that the great outcry for liberty of trade is near of kin to that of liberty of conscience.”

Illustrations: 1) Quaker Mary Dyer being sent to her death in colonial America. 2) Painting of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre by Huegenot painter Francois Dubois [ca 1572-84]. 3) Voltaire. 4) Medieval marketplace.

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Stephen Baldwin's bankruptcy can prove God exists

Hollywood’s Baldwin brothers seem predestined for the political fringe. The youngest, Stephen, responded to the 9/11 terror attacks religious fundamentalists by becoming a religious fundamentalist—just a different kind of fanatic. While he now dabbles in far Right politics his brothers are found on the extreme Left. Stephen was not a particularly sought after actor, ever. The high point of his career was playing Barney Rubble in The Flintstones, otherwise you would find him in such memorable films as Fred Claus, Greenmail, Deadrockstar, The Sex Monster, Threesome, The Beast and Bio-Dome. Gee, I can hardly wait until they do a retrospective.

His career was never booming, but things did get harder for him when he started rejecting the few roles offered to him because they violated the moral strictures of fundamentalism. Even then he was compromising as the fundamentalists I knew believed that all Hollywood films were sinful.

After his "born again" conversion Baldwin turned into the typical moralistic Nanny Stater. He found Jesus, George Bush and the Republican Party at the same time. Not only did he endorse Mike Hucklebee, the worst of a bad lot of Republicans, but he also went on a personal campaign to try to get the city of Nyack, where he lives, to close an adult shop.

Townsfolk in Nyack ignored Baldwin so thoroughly they were mistaken as casting agents. Baldwin was desperate for attention, from his neighbors and from Hollywood. With Hollywood he began trawling the shows for failed actors, shows like "Celebrity Big Brother" and "Celebrity Apprentice." One sign of desperation was when he met a very young Miley Cyrus who was doing the Hannah Montana show for Disney. Miley told Baldwin if got the initials of her show tattooed on his arm she would invite him to be on the show. He did it and then asked Miley for a walk-on part in exchange. After never getting the bit part Baldwin says he "regrets" his decision. Apparently Cyrus, the more mature of the two, didn't think Baldwin would take the offer seriously. She should have known better, this is a man who takes Mike Huckabee seriously.

Falling to attract the attention of Hollywood, Baldwin turned to his neighbors. He started putting large signs in his yard with Bible verses for everyone to read. Then when the adult shop was set to open, Baldwin showed up with a camera and started filming the construction workers. He announced he would stand there and photograph anyone entering the adult shop and post their pictures on the web. He said, "It's the only way to protect us against these pigs."

Baldwin complained to Der Spiegel: We stare at our constitution, which is so full of rights that everyone gets mixed up and there are no more limits." Yep, that's the problem, too many rights and not enough Big Brother. Then like every new born Christian he turned his attention to Satan incarnate—gay people. "If one state after another allows gay marriage, maybe it'll be legal for a father to marry his daughter in ten years. What'll happen next? Can a woman marry her German Shepherd dog?" I suspect Mrs. Baldwin might find that more tempting today than a similar offer a few years ago. "Twenty years ago, the US mainstream considered gay marriage just as wrong and misguided as a woman marrying her dog." Wow, he really did become a fundamentalist, right down to the mandatory frontal lobotomy. A gay couple marrying is the moral equivalent, to Baldwin, to marrying a dog.

Taking clues from his brother's politics Baldwin showed up at a city meeting to oppose the adult shop. He said that such a business violated "environmental protection of the mind" and claimed that if adult books were allowed people would start taking drugs. Local Christians campaigned that the shop was bad for the "emotional environment." In a similar logic Baldwin said that if Obama won the election he'd be moving to Canada because Obama is “a cultural terrorist."

Failing at acting, Baldwin resorted to starting a "ministry" to get attention. Baldwin did manage to get some attention from the media, but that was because the bank foreclosed on his home. He defaulted on a $824,000 loan. Baldwin filed for bankruptcy saying he was millions in debt. As I understand it, Baldwin does not deny he owes people money. He just wants state permission to not pay his debts, because he was stupid with his finances. Now, what does the Bible say about not paying your debts? Isn't that the same thing as stealing? It's tough be a moralistic busybody, people expect you to live by the same sort of standards you apply to others. Actually, the porn shop, wasn't violating any one's rights. But, not paying people money you owe them, does violate the rights of those who lent money to you. By my standards Baldwin is far more immoral than the porn shop he was targeting. They didn't hurt anyone else, Baldwin did.

Once Baldwin went into bankruptcy to escape the debts he racked up, some people commented about the situation. At this point fundamentalists kicked into gear. According to them saying anything about Baldwin that he, or they, didn't like, is "persecution." I kid you not. Fundamentalists these day have a very low threshold when it comes to defining "persecution." If they can't preach in public schools, to other people's children, that is persecution. If they aren't given tax money to promote their faith, that is persecution. If you look at the cross-eyed, that is persecution. And you are most certainly "persecuting" them is you chuckle at their ridiculous antics. For Christ's sake, that's just as bad as burning them at the stake. Of course, historically most persecution of Christians was conducted by other Christians.

Here are examples of what these fundamentalists define as "The Persecution" of Stephen Baldwin. I will list all the ones on a Christian web site that is trying to raise money for Baldwin. Please note that no one tried to use the law to put him out business, not like he did to the adult shop. No one tried to harass him, as he promised to do to customers of the adult shop, and as he did to construction workers on site. All the persecution amounted to saying things. Here are all the examples they list.
It seems like God isn't watching over him.

This sucks for him.

Why can't he just pray to Jesus, the conservative.

Why doesn't God just pay his mortgage payments?

He's such a loser and it's sad.
Good god, how did the man endure such torment. The man who called the patrons of an adult business "pigs" is being persecuted because someone said he was "a loser." Apparently the new Golden Rule of the Christian fundamentalist is: "Don't do unto us what we routinely do unto others."

According to the Christian website that is raising funds for Baldwin, he went bankrupt because he is a Christian.

In 2003, he had an experience that changed his life forever. He became (sic) Born Again Christian, giving his life to Jesus Christ. Over the next few years, he became very vocal about his faith, using his spotlight to boldly preach the gospel. However, because of this (sic) convictions it has caused him the loss of many jobs and the most recently, a highly publicized bankruptcy (sic).
Being an incomplete sentence it is hard to figure out what they mean, but it seems they are saying that Baldwin's "convictions" are the reasons he is reneging on debts he racked up. And they are saying he was discriminated against because of his religion. The one problem with that claim is that Baldwin's agent had denied that happened, but that was before Baldwin had to declare bankruptcy and needed pity.

Is this fund raising effort from Baldwin, who says he has only $1 million in assets, out of some charitable impulse? Not really. It is to prove fundamentalist Christianity is true. This website says that due to the welching on debts Baldwin has been "ridiculed and insulted by people who think that he has been abandoned by God." According to them, "people not only mock Stephen, but mock God."

So this fund raising effort will prove that God is real and that he really does like fundamentalists. "Our vision is to see Stephen Baldwin publicly restored in front of millions. Stephen's platform will increase allowing him to reach even more people with the Gospel and God will get all of the glory. Publicly."

Now that surprises me. Exactly how would God be responsible if a bunch of fundamentalists donate money to a millionaire who racked up too many debts? God wouldn’t rescue Baldwin, these people would. In the Old Testament, when the Jews allegedly wandered around the wilderness lost for 40 years (so much for divine guidance), God dropped "manna" from heaven so they can eat. No one organized people to send corn to the very lost Hebrews, it was supposedly a real miracle. But like their persecution threshold level, the level for miracles has cheapened substantially for fundies.

If these god-botherers dig into their pockets to help Baldwin that doesn't prove there is a God, and it certainly doesn't prove that any deity smiles on them. If they fail, they wouldn't say that proves god is a fraud, or that god doesn't like them. Then it would be the selfish individuals who didn't donate who are to bear the blame. It their appeal works out it is God who did it, if it fails he is not responsible.

Let us consider what is going on here, really going on here.

Fundamentalists, as much as they ridicule "fame" and "fortune" are acutely aware that they really are near the bottom of the social ladder, just about everywhere they live. They yearn for celebrities to embrace them, even if the celebrities are d-list Hollywood has-beens. Your typical fundamentalist is less educated than average, less wealthy than average, and most clearly less intelligent than average. Every poll of religious beliefs show that as you move down the intelligence ladder, fundamentalism increases, as does poverty, crime rates, illiteracy, divorce rates, etc.

People in that position tend to respond in two ways. One is by attacking the very things they envy. I remember riding in a church bus of one of the largest fundamentalist churches in America as it road past the Gold Coast apartments on Chicago's ritzy North Shore. Even as they wished they could live there they announced how they really pitied those "poor people in the penthouses" who "don't know Jesus" like they do. See, they "had riches here on earth, but we have mansions waiting for us in heaven." Sure, keep telling yourself that.

But while obviously putting down wealth, because they didn't have any, they also were fascinated by it. This is why they embraced such minor celebrities as Colonel Sanders of chicken fame, or the very mediocre singer, Anita Bryant. More recently we saw this desperation for celebrity fame when the Christians rushed to embrace Carrie Prejean, before her amateur porn films became public knowledge. Carrie was a runner-up in a beauty contest who hated gays, and that was all they needed. After all, she was on television! We see the same fame worship in the blog raising funds for Baldwin. There are many Christians in financial trouble, but who is raising funds for them. Instead of raising funds for them they pick Baldwin for charity because he "is no stranger to the Hollywood life of glitz, glamour and the public eye." And that really is why they are taking up a collection to help him.

This has-been actor gives them the ability to pretend that they really are as important as they like to think they are. This is their shot at fame, by clutching the pathetic shirt tails of one of Hollywood's least important has-beens. And, as an added benefit, they can pretend that success (which is unlikely to come here) will prove that God exists—but as I noted, proof in the fundamentalist mind can go in only one direction, so failure will not be taken as a reason to abandon their faith.

Photos: To illustrate this article I have chosen some photos of the "illustrious" roles that Stephen Baldwin scored—take that scummy Scientologists. Now, aren't you impressed?

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Lunatics to the Left of us, crazies to the right of us.

When service members who are gay protested Obama's feet-dragging on repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the indecent policy of throwing gay people out of the military merely for being gay, Fox News claimed these were people "dressed up" as military members, even though they actually are members of the military. That's pretty wacko and dishonest of Fox, but pretty much what I'd expect from them.

But the real crazies this week were decidedly from the Far Left of the spectrum. Tree huggers, Gaia worshippers and general technophobes gathered to have a hate-in for capitalism and technology at what they laughingly called The First WorldWide People's Conference on Climate Change and Mother Earth. The leader cheerleader for repressive regimes was none other than the Castro-loving, loon, Evo Morales, the Marxist president of Bolivia.

Morales gave the usual line of the eco-socialists: "Mankind is facing the choice of either continuing along the path of capitalism and death or take the path of harmony with nature and respect for live so as to save mankind." Odd thing is that the socialist regimes were the worst polluters in history and living in "harmony with nature" emits a lot of deadly smoke. I've seen life in rural, primitive cultures where the only heat is the fire. The nearby woods are denuded and filthy smoke hovers over the village as people vainly seek to keep warm. Of course, when the wood is gone they can burn dung—that's great for the lungs of the children but man, it's in harmony with nature.

Morales also advocated a "Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth." No surprise there, like most Marxists his real problem is when people want rights. Like most primitivists he pushed "herbal" cures over science and hates genetic engineering. But he gets really absurd when he discusses baldness and gays.

"Baldness that appears to be normal is a disease in Europe, almost all of them are bald [odd that I missed that when I lived in Europe], and that is because of the things they eat; while among the indigenous people there are no bald people, because we eat other things."

His comment on gays was even more ridiculous: "The chicken that we eat is chock-full of feminine hormones. So, when men eat these chickens, they deviate from themselves as men." The worshipful Lefties int he audience were said to found that funny.

So how does this explain lesbians? Are they eating food with testosterone in it? And how do the evil capitalists make sure that only men eat the feminizing chicken and only women eat the testosterone infected foods?

This reminds of an interaction I had with a crazy member of the John Birch Society, a redundancy I know, some years back. This woman insisted that homosexuality was caused by a vitamin deficiency. At the same time she insisted gay teachers would "infect" the children. I always wondered why parents couldn't just pop a multivitamin into the kids before sending them off to Sodom High.

Sadly there are crazies to the Right and crazies to the Left. And I'm not forgetting the fringe lunatics who hang around libertarian camps either, spouting their nuttiness about the "North American Union," international bankers, 9/11 Truth, etc. So none of us are exempt from the insane fringes in politics.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hating a government doesn't mean loving liberty.

Hating government doesn’t say anything about what a person believes. Many people seem to equate hating the state with being libertarian. But that is not the case by any means. Consider some historical examples.

When Lenin and his Bolsheviks began to impose their bloody rule on the poor Russian people—in the name of the poor Russian people—they were opposed by the “White Russian” forces. From 1917 to 1923 the "Whites" fought the new government of the Soviets. But what did they support? Few seemed to be defenders of individual rights or individual liberty. What they tended to advocate was monarchy. Instead of the Soviet whip they preferred to be lashed by the Czar.

During the Second World War numerous underground movements arose to fight the genocidal National Socialists of Adolph Hitler. In Poland the Armia Ludowa fought the Nazi occupiers. But this movement, controlled by the communist Polish Workers’ Party, was later incorporated into the Soviet organized 1st Polish Army. These “liberators” then worked to impose a dictatorial system worse then the one they overthrew. Many of these underground fighters joined the Ministry of Public Security and worked to snuff out any vestiges of individual freedom.

During the American Civil War leaders of the Confederacy condemned Lincoln as a usurper of rights and as a man wishing to trample sacred rights under foot. Some neo-confederates try to pretend that the Confederacy had some allegiance to Constitutional principles of limited government. Nothing could be further from the truth. Fighting for the Confederacy didn’t just mean fighting to keep millions of human beings in slavery, it also meant fighting for a government that was as dictatorial and oppressive as anything Lincoln had done (See Southern Rights, Political Prisoners and the Myth of Confederate Constitutionalism by Mark Neely, Jr.)

You would be hard pressed to find groups more anti-government than the League of the South, the Ku Klux Klan, or the Aryan Nation. They will rail about the evils of the federal government but not because they have libertarian sentiments. These advocates of hate want power for themselves and wish to use it to destroy individual liberty and rights.

While various Communist groups were attempting to overthrow Hitler, in order to set up a dictatorship of their own making, others fought the Nazis in the hopes of securing rights and freedom. Consider the heroic students who formed the White Rose, a non-violent, resistance group centered in Munich. They were opposed to militarism and supported the principles of justice and social tolerance. Hans Scholl and his sister, Sophie, were leaders of the group. Hans was perhaps inspired to oppose Nazism because, when he was 16, he was accused of violating Paragraph 175 of the penal code—the section banning homosexuality. The Scholl’s and their compatriots distributed leaflets condemning the government they were forced to live under. And they paid with their lives—they were caught and beheaded by the Nazis regime in 1943. They opposed the Nazi government just as much as the Armia Ludowa, but for very different reasons.

One major error made by some “libertarians” is that they assume anyone who opposes Obama or the federal government is pro-liberty. Clearly this is not the case. At the recent Tea Party rally that I dropped in on, the theocratic Constitution Party was there with a literature booth. You will remember they were the Party that Ron Paul endorsed. Yet this party explicitly calls for imposing “God’s law” on the country. They are theocrats, not libertarians.

Gary North, a former staffer for Paul, who hangs around with so-called paleo-libertarians, has openly called for theocracy in America. He wants a nation where people would be stoned to death for sinning against the “laws of God.” Yet he pretends to be a libertarian.

Libertarianism is not defined by what it opposes, but by what it supports. Just because someone is against the Fed, wants to reduce the power of the Federal government, and thinks taxes are too high, doesn’t make him a libertarian. Some of the biggest opponents of the Fed have been neo-Nazi, anti Semites like Willis Carto and Eustace Mullins. Yet these men were not libertarians, no matter how loosely one defines the term.

One of the problems of politically defining yourself by what you oppose, is that it may make you appear allied with some pretty odious individuals. It may be easier to find “allies” that way but it is likely to easily backfire. The Tea Party movement was formed primarily in opposition to Obama and some of his policies. But what unites these people besides a common hatred? Not much. Many of the protesters are big government conservatives who would love nothing more than reducing individual freedom in numerous areas.

More than announcing what we oppose we libertarians need to be vocal about what we support. Our agenda is not primarily a negative one, but a positive one. I am a libertarian because I believe in peaceful, voluntary cooperation. I believe in the sanctity of the thinking individual and their right to grasp reality as best they can, and their right to express their views without anyone having the right to sew their lips shut. I believe in a tolerant society where all are equal before the law. I believe in a world where individuals are free to travel and trade as they wish, where people are allowed to keep what they produce, and where no man may use violence against another except in self defense. I believe that individuals have clear, distinct rights and that no other individual, or collective of individuals, should have the power to violate those rights.

Such principles, of necessity, would require opposition to certain measures or policies. But the motivation for this is a positive one, not a negative one. I opposed the government’s war on drugs but not because the government is doing it. If a private group acted in precisely the same manner I would oppose their efforts. I hold my position because the war on drugs violates life, liberty and property. It is fundamentally an anti-rights movement of the worst kind. It is my passion for a peaceful, cooperative community that requires me to oppose the war on drugs.

Another reason I think libertarians ought to be fundamentally positive, and concentrate on what they support, is that I believe negative opposition is inherently destructive. People who are inspired by hatred have a tendency to end up hateful. I’ve seen some libertarians who want to “smash the state” but who, in failing to do that, have no problem smashing other libertarians. Their desire to hate, and to smash, becomes so consuming that they end up hating indiscriminately. I’ve seen that in some of the left anarchist groups and in some “radical” libertarians as well.

Hatred is an imperialistic motive, it always seeks to conquer new territory, and it seeks to expand in a person’s life. There is a reason that you find bigotry against one group often accompanied by bigotry against multiple groups. The typical Jew-hater I’ve met also hates black people and gay people. The fundamentalist who despises gay rights is often equally opposed to Mormons, Jews, Catholics, and others.

People inspired by hatred easily become violent. And violence is inherently destructive. That is precisely why a libertarian opposes institutional violence or coercion. Violence breeds more violence, it takes a society on a downward spiral. Martin Luther King wisely said: “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.” Action inspired by hatred teeters constantly on the edge of violence.

And that is contrary to the basic principles of peaceful cooperation that is at the heart of libertarianism. Hatred fuels hatred and evils multiply. Our first priority as libertarians is the defense of the rights of the individual, not opposition to some policy or government. Policies change, governments change, but individual rights are a constant.

What distinguishes libertarians from the anti-government crowd is not that we oppose many government policies but that we support the rights of the individual. Ours is an agenda inspired by positive values, by the love of human freedom, by our belief in the sanctity of the thinking mind, not by hatred for a president, or an administration, or any government.



In regards to my search, mentioned previously, I heard back. The answer was disappointing. While this person has the same name as my friend, and really does look like him, he says he is not the same person. And I have to assume that he would know.

The similarity in looks, when I take into account aging, is really amazing. While not the right individual he was a nice one writing: "Hey it's really nice to hear from you though. You sound real, and that is so different on the net. I do know that feels. I have been trying to find a couple of friends for a long time, good luck in your search, feel free to gab anytime." A nice man, just the wrong man.

So, if anyone out there might know Keith or Ken Drapeau please drop a note in the comments section. They would be in their late 40s now. Here is the only photo I have, it is from a news clipping when they were contestants in Mr. Teenage America. They had graduated from Highland High School in Highland, Indiana and were taking classes at Purdue at one point. They had no other siblings, at least none living at home, and lived with their mother at the time. If anyone knows them let me know. Thanks.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

On pins and needles

I value friendships. One of my great regrets in life is the people I've known who I can no longer find.

I continually use the internet to find people who once meant something to me.

Two of my closest friends were brothers, twins. I must have spent several hours a day with them.

I worked at a 24 hour athletic center. It had tennis courts, pools, racquetball, an ice rink, pretty much everything you could ask for. I worked the late night shift, from 11 pm to 7 am. Other than a janitor who came in during part of the evening I was the entire staffing.

The twins came in and worked out every night. They were contestants in Mr. Teenage America, the bodybuilding contest. We became friends from chatting when they would check in to the club.

I was transitioning from fundamentalist Christian to rationalist at the time. I had just left the Bible school I was attending. And I was moving on to a more secular university at that time. I started to take part-time classes at Purdue. The twins also were taking classes there.

I would see them either in the evening, or they came to the gym in the early morning. At 7 am I'd head home to get about 3 or 4 hours sleep. I'd get up, head to university for some classes, meet up with the boys there and then go to their home for lunch and then back home for a few hours more of sleep before heading back to work.

This sort of schedule went on for some time. If you found one of us, you found all three of us. The boys were identical twins and, other than their mother, I was probably the only one who could tell them apart immediately.

I moved to another state and continued college there. I lost track of them. The obviously left home and moved on with their lives. I lived in various parts of the U.S. and eventually the world. I didn't have internet access until after I had lost track of them.

Now I am fairly confident that I found one via the internet. There was a photo, and while he looks older, it appears to be him. I hesitated, but I did send him a note to see if I'm right.

But I am worried. Having looked for them online for years, I've seen traces of this brother several times, but without enough information for me to contact him. But the other has seemed to completely disappeared, and he was the one who my closest friend. And that has given me a foreboding feeling. Perhaps it is nothing, but I've thought that I should have found some shreds that he existed. Yet there are none.

I was able to view a page set up by the one brother on a social networking site, but there is no link to his twin. Ever since I've been searching for them I have had this unsettling feeling that I'll learn some bad news. I hope not.

Perhaps he won't respond, though I don't know why that would be. I compared an old photo of him from a newspaper article I had kept. Funny thing is the paper had their names reversed, and I can still tell from that photo who was who.

I look at that photo and realize that so many years have gone by and that there are entire lives that they lived that I know nothing about. I just don't know if I really am ready to find out.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Good for Derrick and Richard

I first apologize for not blogging much in the last day or so, it has been an exhausting time with lots of things to do, and tomorrow will be as well. I'll warn you now, it will be much worse in July, with lots of traveling and the very distinct possibility of not having Internet access due to the remote nature of location and the rather repressive government in that area of the world.

One thing that has been on mind was the fate of Derrick Martin and Richard Goodman, in Cochran, Georgia. You will remember that I reported that Derrick had asked his local high school if he could bring Richard (and don't just call him "the boyfriend") as his date to his senior prom. The school went into a tizzy trying to figure things out and decided the best option was to say yes. But Derrick paid a heavy price for wanting to go to his own prom with Richard. Derrick was thrown out of his home by his parents, he received death threats, and had local fundamentalists organize protests.

Tonight was the night. Just before 8 p.m. Derrick and Richard arrived at the prom. According to the Macon Telegraph, "their names were announced, a few parents whispered but many in the crowd gave him [them] a loud cheer. No one yelled in protest." Perhaps one reason it went so well: "Security was tight with at least 15 officers stationed at the high school, and no one could enter the parking lot without a ticket."

After Derrick was thrown out of home word spread and individuals have donated $5000 to him to help with his living expenses and college tuition.

Derrick said he was simply tired "of being sneaky and hiding things" referring to his dating Richard. "You have to do what you think is right." Richard sprung a surprise on Derrick telling him that his high school prom is coming up and that he was inviting Derrick to join him as his date, at Tifton High School, in another small town in rural Georgia. Derrick responded: "That's your fight."

You know, after all that unpleasant hatred toward immigrants that I saw at the Tea Party recently, I'm so glad to see tolerance win out here. Derrick and Richard head off to university together in the Fall, I wish them the best. Cling to love when you find it, it is often stolen from you when you least expect it.

Photo: Derrick and Richard before the prom. And yes, Derrick is actually quite tall.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Tea Party, neither tea nor a party.

I did something unusual today. Since it was tax day I went to the big metro-wide Tea Party rally. I was there from 2 pm until 10 pm. I talked to dozens of people, listened in on dozens of conversations and heard many speakers. They also had a booth area for organizations, and I checked out every single booth at the event, probably around 50 or 60 of them in total.

First, the big news: the Tea Party is not libertarian oriented. Not in any way, any shape, or any form. What I saw was the worst of the conservative movement, which these days is pretty bad since even main stream conservatives have become repulsive to all decent people.

First, even though today was tax day, taxes weren't the issue that motivated this crowd. I saw few signs protesting high taxes, few protesting Obamacare and none referring to the bailouts of Wall Street and corporate America. Two things drove these people to frenzied disgust: Obama and immigrants.

The Obama hatred was pervasive. I'm no fan of Obama, but I dislike the man because I dislike the policies he promotes. I consider him another George Bush, just one who can finish a complete sentence. But the worst Bush policies are pretty much the same as the worst Obama policies. I see Bush and Obama much like I see Hoover and FDR. The one started the bad policies that the other completed, but they aren't opposites just horrifyingly similar.

That the Tea Party movement didn't protest the big government policies of Bush, but are rabid about Obama, tells me that there is more here than a love for liberty. Actually I saw little indication for a love for liberty among these people.

What they wanted was Big Brother government using all its power to root out and find illegal immigrants looking for jobs. These were people who would applaud government monitoring work places, setting up ID check points, having the police randomly stop people in the streets to check their "papers" to make sure they are "legal" residents. These are the type of people who as children, thought the hall monitors were good guys making sure everyone had a "pass" from teacher. I would call them closet authoritarians except I don't think they're in the closet.

One woman was lecturing a camera about "my country is like my house." She thought that silly analogy valid."And I have the right to say who comes into my house." I couldn't stand it any more and from where I was seated yelled to her: "It's my house too." Not being too bright she smiled, pointed at me and yelled, "EXACTLY!" To that I replied: "And I don't care who comes in." She was not thrilled with that reply.

My point was that this is as much my country as it is her own. The idea that the country is a big version of her house is absurd unless she thinks that my house is somehow just a room in her house and that I have to live under her thumb. There are plenty of people who welcome anyone who wants to work, and are willing to hire them, willing to rent to them, and willing to be friends with them. The country as "private property" scenario is absurd, mainly because everyone I know who makes that assumption also assumes that all of us are as xenophobic as they are. Actually some of them aren't xenophobic in general, at least not if the immigrants are white.

One t-shirt that was being sold had Uncle Sam pointing his figure at the reader, in the old "I want you" motif. But this time the slogan was: "I want YOU to speak English." Think about that for a second. Uncle Sam is supposed to be a benevolent stand-in for the government. When Uncle Sam says something, it is the federal government saying it. So these "small government" conservatives were hawking t-shirts that make what language people are speaking a matter of federal concern. I am not saying the t-shirt is the equivalent to policy but that they thought it worth hawking indicated their mentality.

My view is libertarian, of course. The government doesn't have any business telling any private citizen what language they should speak. Talk in ancient Aramaic for all I care. One thing studies show is that the fastest way for new residents of a country to learn the local language is for them to get a job—something these people are trying to prevent for Mexicans, while still demanding they learn English. I know how hard it is to not speak the main language of a country—I've been there. I've also lived in multi-lingual countries and spent 10 years listening to my other half chatting in Afrikaans on the phone. It's no big deal except to xenophobes.

I did not think that the Tea Party movement was inspired by racism. And I don't think the racism is overt. But what I saw today did cause me to believe that a large percentage of the protest is racist inspired. The focus on Obama the man, with some rather crude caricatures, and not on the policies, only fed into that. And you know when these people talk about "illegal aliens" they don't mean Canadians.

The politicians who showed up, with on exception, were the worst sort from the Republican Party. I won't go into names since most are only locally known. But we are talking hard-core, law and order authoritarians. These are the kind of politicians who want stricter state control of people's sex lives, want the police to have few restraints because of the pesky Bill of Rights, who think the 2nd amendment is important but the 1st amendment is a myth. These are the politicians who think the number one issue in America is not runaway government but Mexicans wanting to bus tables and clean yards.

One person told me Ayn Rand was a genius. I am not one to disagree with that since I have some idea what her IQ was, and it was impressive. And I'm generally sympathetic to Rand with some areas of disagreement. But another was equally as quick to tell me she was evil because she was an atheist. He was unhappy when I responded, "So was Milton Friedman, F.A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises." He clearly had no idea who Hayek and Mises were but said, "Oh, well Friedman was good." The only thing he knew about Rand was she was a non-theist but that was all he needed to know.

But isn't that the conservative creature in a nutshell? An atheist must be bad because he or she is an atheist. Nothing else need be known. A homosexual is bad because he/she is a homosexual. A "illegal" immigrant is bad because they don't a permission slip from a politician to be here .

I have a tendency to find libertarians where I go and I found very few today. A few spotted me and came over to speak. But out of the thousands of people there today I got a sense that less than 10% could be remotely described as libertarians. Even one alleged libertarian group was handing out flyers headlined: "Stop Illegal Immigration. Yes!"

When I attended the American Humanist Association convention, with a much smaller audience, I found far more libertarians than I expected. I was surprised and would have estimated that 20% of the audience was libertarian. At the Atheist International conference with Richard Dawkins I again got the sense that around a quarter of the audience was libertarian oriented. Michael Shermer and I were discussing the matter and he said his sense of such events were that one-quarter to one-third were libertarian.

When I last saw Carol Ruth Silver, Harvey Milk's good friend and ally on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, I felt nothing but respect from her for libertarians. And she really did seem to understand where libertarians were coming from and while she disagreed on some important matters she was respectful and sympathetic. But when I talk to conservative leaders I don't feel the same respect, but a dislike. To them a libertarian is merely a conservative who wants to take drugs, or is gay.

Carol Ruth told me that libertarians interest her because they take ideas seriously. Conservatives, don't take ideas seriously and dislike libertarians because they do. But more than anything the conservative has this haunting suspicion that a libertarian is merely an immoral conservative. They don't get us. Sure, some on the Left don't get us either. But many do.

I can talk to friends on the Left. They are willing to debate based on evidence, facts, information, etc. They have some sense of being reality-based. But what I get from the Right today is a disdain for the facts and reality. They don't need such pesky things since they speak for God, and they know what God wants—God, to their great fortune, happens to agree completely with them. And since God said it, that settles it, and evidence is immaterial.

Look at the Right-wing debate on marriage equality. They are against it because God is against it. Because their God is the only God, and their God thinks they are 100% correct. Anyone who says God disagrees has a false God since God hates fags. Hey, they won't be as honest as the Westboro Baptist crowd but in their hearts that is what they believe.

One old libertarian friend of mine was there. When I saw him I said: "I'm so glad to see you. You are an island of sanity is a sea of crazy." He found it amusing, saying he thought I always saw him as touched himself. But he had the same reaction I did. He was really disgusted by the tone and tenor of the participants. He was sick of the Godly preaching at him, pushing religion on him, and claiming that everything is based on the Bible. He couldn't stomach the event as long as I did and left with his wife, telling me he was looking forward to the upcoming gay festival instead. If anything his few hours among the tea party crowd made him more anxious to attend the festival.

There is a great line in the remake of Hairspray (2007). One actress I've always enjoyed, Queen Latiffah, plays Motormouth Maybelle. Her son is dating a white girl, this in the late 50s, or early 60s. When Maybelle realizes it she tells the couple: "Well, love is a gift. A lot of people don't remember that, so you two better brace yourselves for a whole lot of ugly comin' at you from a never ending parade of stupid." Listening to the Tea Party crowd here today I thought of that quote repeatedly. What I saw was a " whole lot of ugly coming from a never ending parade of stupid."

I certainly hope the mood wasn't the same at other Tea Party events. But I know the other major local rally, held earlier in the day, which I didn't attend, was similarly ugly—with a lot of immigrant bashing going on there as well, and the two thousand attendees applauded a well known law enforcement figure who likes to find excuses to stop anyone who looks Hispanic as an pretense to search them for a green card. He was considered a hero at that rally.

What I got out of this rally, other than some nasty sun burn, is a sense of despair, not on the part of these people, but on my part. What was made clear to me is that the Tea Party people are not the great hope for America that they think they are. They are no more freed0m-oriented than President Obama. These activists struck me as angry people, looking for scapegoats. These were the people who see anyone who disagrees with them as purely evil in nature. I got no sense that there were libertarian sentiments amongst these people. They are NOT libertarians but conservative authoritarians. They are driven by a law & order mentality and a fear of the different. They are more likely to see people as evil than wrong and less accepting of the choice of others. For them, to choice other than they do, threatens them. They want a world where they are surrounded by pale versions of themselves.

They are not my kind of people. This Tea Party reminded me more of the one thrown by the Mad Hatter and not the one thrown by the Founders at Boston harbor.

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