Monday, October 01, 2012

Why "Reclaiming Libertarianism?"

Happy October!  "Reclaiming Libertarianism" month is upon us.  What's it all about?  Why libertarianism anyway?

Libertarianism is the only political philosophy that respects the rights of every individual, and it's also the only political philosophy consistent with the idea that these individual rights are co-equal across individuals, non-conflicting, and mutually compatible.  That's quite mouthful of jargon, but what it means is, "Freedom for the individual means freedom for everyone!"  In other words, libertarianism is that political philosophy that every individual is to be free to pursue truth, life, happiness, or whatever s/he chooses, so long as s/he respects (i.e. doesn't violate) the equal rights of others to the same.  It's a happy corollary that when individuals are free and their rights respected, the ensuing interactions create a positive-sum world.

This political ethic matters now, more than ever because we humans have a rapidly increasing mastery over our physical environment.  We have more ability, more wealth, and more power to act -- for good or ill --than ever before in history.  Consider, for example, information technology.  Individuals now have the ability to communicate almost instantaneously with others essentially anywhere in the world.  We can transmit news, art, ideas, instructions, financial capital, and cyber weapons simply by pecking away on a keyboard.  We can organize ourselves into clubs, government agencies, criminal syndicates, spontaneous 'organizations' like Anonymous, etc. to increase our power by working together.  The power of the individual, whether alone or contributed to a group effort, is greater than ever, and growing.  The same goes for other kinds of activity, other sorts of technology.

Great, our growing wealth and abilities are wonderful things.  But do we have a similarly growing ability to use these things wisely and decently, without doing great harm to ourselves?  In fact, I think there's more than a little evidence that we do (e.g. here and here).  But unfortunately, it's not really clear to most people what the institutional prerequisites for a peaceful, prosperous, successful social order are.  Instead, 21st century humans labor under primitive ethics coupled with confused economic and political doctrines, all of which enshrine, in one way or another, the principle that some people are properly prey for others.  The libertarian ethic sees society as an opportunity for of mutual gain, the alternatives devolve into zero-sum exchanges.  A zero-sum world in which humans are gaining increasing power is not a sustainable world, a world of mutually beneficial exchange is.  Or more bluntly, once humans reach a certain level of development, they'd better recognize each others' rights, because if they don't they'll destroy civilization.

So it's "our" contention that the world needs libertarianism like never before.  Furthermore, the world is ripe for it; I think it's fair to say that nearly everywhere in the world there's increasing dissatisfaction with the status quo, coupled with a desire for, well, what to call it but a "bourgeois" lifestyle (Deidre McCloskey's terminology).  And so, rising to the occasion, libertarian thinkers everywhere are preparing to stand up and explain these ideas and lead everyone to a better tomorrow and...

Uh, one problem.  Half of the libertarians seem to have gone entirely off the rails... a very vocal half.  Fiddle around reading "libertarian" websites and you'll find all sorts of bizarre things: neo-Confederate denunciations of Lincoln, 9-11 Trutherism, anti-vaccine nonsense, climate change denialism, idiosyncratic "theories" of mental illness, apologia for Putin, arguments for the moral equivalence of Nazi Germany-United States-Israel, and (especially) rabid, blind rage against anyone who dares offer a counterargument.  A sensible person, wondering what libertarianism is all about and trying to find whether it offers anything of value, would be so put off by this stuff that they'd forswear libertarianism as a kind of madness.  (This isn't hypothetical -- decent people occasionally ask me how I can be associated with such craziness.)  So right when the world most needs 'em, libertarians are going bonkers.

"We" at Unforeseen Contingencies have tried to expose some of this nonsense from time to time, and PL's excellent Post-libertarianism blog is now doing the same.  So for October, Unforeseen Contingencies will feature several pieces on where libertarians go wrong and why, as well as a few choice reviews of the crackpottier side of the libertarians.

Transcend the Madness! 

Pity you added 'climate change denialism' to that list or I'd have pretty much been with you all the way. But if you think that is a 'fringe' view you have really not been paying attention.
I wonder why social and peer pressure makes people not only forget what they learn at school but attack it like the author do.

By any ballpark of what we learn about Scientific Method in school it is impossible to say what cause climate change and or if indeed there are any clear trend happening and why, at least for 0.x degrees temperatures changes claimed.
We don't know cloud cover history, winds changes, temperature is measured with bad resolution even today to not talk 100 yrs ago.
Note that i am only talking about some descriptive information, not even going to reasons about something, or how many variables the system has, and what weights any of those variables should have.How the author can claim to know the motives of 0.x Cº from noise, he and anyone can't.

In certain sense the author is like the conspiracy theorists, it needs forcefully a reason to explain or it is just social pressure like i said in first paragraph.
There are many things we don't know and can't explain and all systems that have many/unknown variables are extremely difficult to humans understand.
Perry, climate change denialism is quite different from scientific skepticism about climate change. Scientific skepticism is always appropriate, about anything. Denialism, OTOH, is anti-scientific.

Here's an example of denialism that comes, sadly, from economist Walter Williams:

"The very idea that mankind can make significant parametric changes to the Earth has to be the height of arrogance. How about a few questions because temperature is just one characteristic of the Earth. The Earth's orbit is another. If all 6.5 billion of us, all at once, started jumping up and down for a little while, do you think we'd change the Earth's orbit or rotation?... it's also stupid to think that mankind's activities can make globalized changes in the Earth's temperature."

Williams' argument doesn't address any argument made and sounds like something an insane man would say.

BTW, I know many scientists in physics, geology, and biology. Every single one of them believes in AGW and has evidence from their own science in supporting of this. Denialism is fringe.

Anonymous -- I can't make any sense of your comment. What author are you talking about, who said anything about knowing "the motives of 0.xC from noise" whatever that might mean?

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