Thursday, May 22, 2014

Identity Politics - My General Objections

I find identity politics to be extremely poisonous for a number of reasons, but in this post I want to cover my most generally applicable objections, which can be applied to any identity politics.

My biggest objection to identity politics is very fundamental. An argument presented by a person is valid or invalid regardless of their identity. Identity can change experience, but it cannot change logic. If the logic of an argument is bad, it doesn't matter who is making it. If a debate excludes anecdotal data, then no argument should be prefaced with 'As a ___, I think ___.' If they are presenting their experience, then that is anecdotal data at best, and should be excluded, and their identity can only contribute context to their experience, which is not admissible anyway, as it is anecdotal.

One of the big dangers of anecdotal evidence is that it allows for a great deal of confirmation bias. Anecdotes are single cases, which can be cherry picked, and because of this, it is possible to discount the ones that clash with your worldview, while latching on to the ones that confirm it. This just makes it easier for people with opposing worldviews to talk past each other, and never make any progress, and never addressing the fundamental issues.

Confirmation bias is especially bad when paired with identity politics, because once a particular identity narrative becomes the established lens through which someone views their experience, it is very difficult to shake off. For example, if someone views their experiences through a victim narrative, their challenges are because they are persecuted or oppressed, while their successes are just luck. Changing the lens through which they view the experiences can drastically change the conclusion that they reach from their own experience.

Identity politics seems to me to revolve a lot about generalizing a particular group's experiences in to a single narrative. While it might not be intended this way, it seems to me to be a different means of stereotyping, as there is a sense of shared experience from sharing some particular identity. This is not the most troubling part to me. What really troubles me is when arguments are invalidated by the color of someone's skin, or their sexual orientation, or their genitals. And it is not just those outside of each group that is not allowed to comment. The people within the 'accepted' group who express opinions which are contrary to the established view of the rest of the group are branded as 'traitors' of some variety.

Currently, this is very one sided. Groups that are viewed as 'oppressed,' (nonwhite, nonmale, nonhetero), are allowed to speak against the norm of their group (but still run the risk of being called 'traitors' of various kinds). White hetero men are only taken seriously and only have their arguments addressed if they are in favor of the narrative that the 'oppressed' group presents, unless they do it by citing one of the aforementioned 'traitors.' Speaking against a point of view held by one of the victim groups can get one of the 'oppressors' labeled as a misogynist, racist, homophobe, transphobe, chauvinist, sexist, or any number of other slurs, even when those slurs are by no means warranted. Are there people who fit those descriptions? Yes. But random people should not be automatically labeled for challenging the established narrative from the outside.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Response to Jon Stewart's Questions for Libertarians

Because it's there. Although it is a few years old now, I think it is a decent starting point for addressing my views to some common misconceptions of Libertarianism. A lot of these topics require a more in depth response than I am willing to do in a single shot, but I've tried to give the basic idea and outline of the arguments here. The questions posed by Jon Stewart are in blue. 

1. Is government the antithesis of liberty?
In some sense, yes. Government, or rather the people acting as agents of the government, are allowed to initiate force or aggression, or threaten with force or aggression, in order to get the desired results. Taxes are taken from businesses, and if they refuse to pay, they are shut down. Do people pay taxes from the goodness in the bottom of their hearts? Or do they pay because of the negative consequences if they don't? Government is the only institution that we allow to do this. The worst that a company can legally do is deny you access to the services that they provide, which you are not entitled to anyway.

2. One of the things that enhances freedoms are roads. Infrastructure enhances freedom. A social safety net enhances freedom.
True, but for a government to be involved means that other peoples freedoms are being taken away. I say that government road would be one of the later parts of government that I would phase out. As it is now, roads are supposed to be paid for by gas taxes, which are at least somewhat related to usage. The more you drive, the more you have to pay for the roads. 

The problem with this is that the land for the government roads has to come from somewhere. This means that the government takes land from private owners, and gives them what the bureaucrats deem to be the fair value for the land through the power of eminent domain. This means that the bureaucrats are infringing on some peoples freedom with the claim that it will enhance the freedom of everyone else. So should the freedom of a minority be infringed upon to enable the freedom of the majority? And that is assuming that the power is not abused, as I think it was in the Kelo v City of New London case, where land was taken from one group of private citizens to give to a different group of private citizens.

Roads, infrastructure, and a social safety net may all enhance the freedom of the people receiving the benefits, but not for those who have to pay for them involuntarily. I'm all in favor of them, if they are paid for by willing donors and workers.

3. What should we do with the losers that are picked by the free market?
Do we need to do anything? They invested their time and money unproductively, and could not deliver a product that people wanted. Let them do something else, and let the resources they used be used for something more productive. 

4. Do we live in a society or don't we? Are we a collective? Everybody's success is predicated on the hard work of all of us; nobody gets there on their own. Why should it be that the people who lose are hung out to dry? For a group that doesn't believe in evolution, it's awfully Darwinian.
We live in a society, but we are not a collective, and it is important to recognize that society is not the same as government. The government is a part of society, but the society is not the government. When someone says that  'we as a society should...' they usually mean that there should be a government program for it. I think that they are going a bit too far. I usually agree with the 'society should,' but when government is involved, the phrase should really read 'I think my neighbors' money should...' which is a specific way that they think the society should do it.  

Each person's success is predicated on the hard work of people who exchange it with them for other products or services. You don't get there on your own, but you don't get it from taking stuff from other people either. You get there by exchanging with other people. The people that are being 'hung out to dry' are the ones that are not participating in the exchange. If they have nothing to bring to the table, then why should we be forced to support them? 

And since when do Libertarians not believe in evolution? I'll grant you that there are some that don't, but evolution is not really that important when talking about liberty. In fact, it doesn't matter economically at all. Someone else's belief or disbelief in evolution does not impinge on my freedom unless they try to force it on me.

5. In a representative democracy, we are the government. We have work to do, and we have a business to run, and we have children to raise.. We elect you as our representatives to look after our interests within a democratic system.
No, in a representative democracy, we choose some of our government officials through elections. We are not the government. If you think we are, try to fire the police officer that tries to give you a ticket. The electorate can kick out an elected official, if they can agree on a different candidate, but it won't necessarily remove the non-elected government employees that we find incompetent. The vast majority of government workers are not elected, and most are not replaced with each new elected official. 

Also, if you think of the government as the group of people that the society has allowed to initiate force, we can clearly see that we are not the government. We are not allowed to do what the government is allowed to do unless we are a part of it. Just look at the gun debate. Everyone in the mainstream says that the military is allowed to have automatic weapons, tanks, missile launchers, and other heavy weapons, while those should be banned from use by civilians. If we are the government, then why are we not allowed to have all the same toys as the government?

6. Is government inherently evil?
Depends on how you want to define evil, and that is a much deeper philosophical debate than I am willing to get in to right now, and one that I don't think anyone has resolved. But from a libertarian anarchist perspective, yes.

7. Sometimes to protect the greater liberty you have to do things like form an army, or gather a group together to build a wall or levy.
Perhaps, but there is a distinction in how that organization takes place. If you form an army, is it voluntary? Are the soldiers paid? If so, who pays them, and is that voluntary? Part of the reason for a militia is to have a volunteer defense force in the case of a foreign invasion. There is no formal military required. If weapons are widespread and available to the population, then any occupying force will have to face an armed populace much more capable of inflicting damage on them than the Iraqis were against the US military.

 In the case of building a wall or levy, there is nothing stopping local organizations from doing these things. These things certainly don't require federal involvement, and the federal government does not necessarily know the problems that face the local community, or the most effective response to those problems. 

8. As soon as you've built an army, you've now said government isn't always inherently evil because we need it to help us sometimes, so now.. it's that old joke: Would you sleep with me for a million dollars? How about a dollar? -Who do you think I am?- We already decided who you are, now we're just negotiating.
This is an important distinction between those who identify as anarchists and those who identify only as Libertarian. The most common Libertarian statement of value is the Non-Aggression Principle. Most Libertarians will hold that violating this is evil or wrong. The non-anachists will tend to take a 'necessary evil' stance of government, and say that government should be minimized in order to minimize the use of aggression, but that removing it altogether would increase the aggression, as everyone would try to use it. 

This logic can only apply to the anarchist libertarian position though, since it is an absolute prohibition on aggression. Any army must be voluntary, and supported by voluntary donation. Using this argument is dangerous though. If you are willing to impinge on the freedom of some people for the greater freedom of others (eminent domain to build roads, taxation to build infrastructure), what is that but slavery? A lesser form of slavery, sure, but now we're just negotiating. 

9. You say: government which governs least governments best. But that were the Articles of Confederation. We tried that for 8 years, it didn't work, and went to the Constitution.
Did not work in what sense? We got through the Revolutionary War with just the Articles of Confederation. Also, this is assuming that the nation of the United States is a Good Thing, and that if we were left as 13 independent states, it would have been a Bad Thing. History would have been very different if the Constitution was not ratified, and we had split into 13 separate nation. Perhaps the Civil War would not have happened. Perhaps slavery would have been undermined by the lack of authority of a Federal Government. Perhaps we would have been better off if we had not unified under the Constitution. 

10. You give money to the IRS because you think they're gonna hire a bunch of people, that if your house catches on fire, will come there with water.
No, I give money to the IRS because if I don't, they might make my life very unpleasant. Hell, even when I do give money to the IRS, it is unpleasant having to worry about all of the monetary transactions for the last year. 

11. Why is it that libertarians trust a corporation, in certain matters, more than they trust representatives that are accountable to voters? The idea that I would give up my liberty to an insurance company, as opposed to my representative, seems insane.
Because a company is accountable to me. My representative is accountable to me, and a bunch of other people who can overrule my opinion. The worst that a company can do is deny me access to their service and labor because I don't pay them. The worst that a representative can do is pass a law that makes something I do punishable by jail time. 

12. Why is it that with competition, we have such difficulty with our health care system? ..and there are choices within the educational system.
The problems with the healthcare system in its current form started during World War II, with price and salary controls. Employers got around this by offering more benefits, such as healthcare. This alone would have distorted the market with the third-payer problem, but it got worse. After the war ended, instead of simply raising the salary and wage caps, and allowing individuals to buy their own insurance, the government gave tax incentives for medical benefits paid by employers. This meant that it was cheaper for employers to pay for health care than for individuals. 

To use an analogy, it is like you and your employer are going to a restaurant. In the old system, before WWII, you would pay for your part of the bill with your salary. During WWII, your salary was capped, so instead of raising your wages, the company would offer to pay for some of your food. At this point, you are willing to spend more on the food than if you paid yourself, since if you don't buy the food, you don't get the left over money. So spending at the restaurant would increase. After the war, the employer is still paying for you food, but has lobbied the government to give tax breaks for the money spent at the restaurant. This means that the actual cost of the food is lower than the nominal price, as they can get some of the money back from taxes. So the employers end up willing to pay more. So the price of the food increases to match this demand. 

So who ends up paying for this? The uninsured, the self-insured, and the taxpayer. Eventually the healthcare system got to the point that the person making the cost-benefit analysis was the recipient of the benefits, but not the bearer of the costs, to the point that the costs are greatly inflated. Should it be a surprise that someone without the benefits of the employment system would be priced out of the market? 

And that is just on the insurance side. Another part of the problem is competition among different healthcare providers. In order to build new medical facilities, often government licensing is involved. This might not be a problem, but if the politicians are connected with the established medical community, then in can easily become a case of crony capitalism, which hurts patients and taxpayers. 

With regards to school choice, yes some people have school choice, but for many people it is determined either by where they live, or if they have enough money to go outside the system. They pay for it either way. The price of housing in good school districts is higher than those in bad districts, so buying a comparable house in a good district will be significantly more expensive. Another option is to pay for a private school, which costs money more directly. In both cases, you are in a sense paying twice, once in taxes, and once directly to the school or for the house.

13. Would you go back to 1890?
No, but I don't think that every single change since 1890 has been a Good Thing. Some of the changes have been good, like the technological advances which gave us the computer, or the internet. Some of the social changes were good, like the declines in racism and sexism. Others have been bad, like the rise of socialism and fascism, which led to some of the greatest armed conflicts in history. I think the two worst ones that come to mind for me are the Prohibitions, of alcohol with the Eighteenth Amendment, and of the War on Drugs starting in the '70s (though there is some legislation on hemp and narcotics in the '30s). We learned from Prohibition on alcohol that it doesn't actually work, but decided to make the same mistake and have the government ban other drugs. 

14. If we didn't have government, we'd all be in hovercrafts, and nobody would have cancer, and broccoli would be ice-cream?
I don't know that it would be like if we didn't have government. Is our society ready for anarchy? I don't think so. I think that it might take a giant cultural shift for that to happen. As for the specifics, it could be that hovercrafts are the more efficient form of travel if we hadn't already invested in road infrastructure. Or maybe everyone would own an off-road car. We don't know the solutions to all of the problems. No one does. To think that even experts know the most efficient mode of transportation. For example, many people keep pushing for mass transit, but the only mass transit that has made money has been privately run

15. Unregulated markets have been tried. The 80’s and the 90’s were the robber baron age. These regulations didn't come out of an interest in restricting liberty. What they did is came out of an interest in helping those that had been victimized by a system that they couldn't fight back against.
I'm pretty sure those were not really unregulated markets. They may have been slightly deregulated, but not unregulated. Regulations are a messy subject because they distort the market landscape, and increase the cost of doing business. This means that the businesses that are just getting by are going to leave the market. Regulations can also be used as a legal excuse, allowing the company to deny wrong doing because they followed the regulations. The regulations also don't eliminate actual damaging behavior, such as fraud, but rather increase the cost of that behavior.

Also, to talk about people being 'victimized' by a system, the best way to make sure that they can't fight back against it is to regulate it. This raises the barrier to entry artificially, making it harder to find competitors that actually provide the services that the people want. Often times, the reasons for the system being screwed up in the first place is because of a government intervention, as with the case of healthcare.

16. Why do you think workers that worked in the mines unionized?
Because they thought that unionizing was the best way to defend their interests. I have nothing against voluntary unions. I have issues with unions that use violence and intimidation against non-union workers to protect the interests of the union workers. I have issues with employers being denied the freedom to fire the workers that aren't working. 

17. Without the government there are no labor unions, because they would be smashed by Pinkerton agencies or people hired, or even sometimes the government.
Just as I am against unions using violence, I am also against companies using violence or threatening violence. You are not entitled to a job though, so if the company owner finds someone else who is willing to do the job you were doing, you don't have right to get your job back. Don't be surprised if you stop working to go on strike, and end up getting fired. 

18. Would the free market have desegregated restaurants in the South, or would the free market have done away with miscegenation, if it had been allowed to? Would Marten Luther King have been less effective than the free market? Those laws sprung up out of a majority sense of, in that time, that blacks should not.. The free market there would not have supported integrated lunch counters.
The free market cannot enforce segregation without the society as a whole accepting and enforcing segregation. An unlimited democratic government can legally enforce segregation if a simple majority thinks that segregation is acceptable. In the South, segregation was enforced by government by Jim Crow laws, not by the free market. That is an issue with the democratic process, and lack of limits on government interference, not the free market. 

19. Government is necessary but must be held accountable for its decisions.
Even if I grant that government may be necessary, how do we hold it accountable, when politicians create rules to prevent third parties, and shape districts to ensure incumbency? What about the bureaucrats who are not elected, but appointed? What about the agencies under them? How do we hold them accountable? More government agencies?