Jon Stewart’s questions to libertarians

Last year, American funny-man Jon Stewart asked a series of questions to libertarians. Since then, plenty of people have responded, giving fairly comprehensive answers. I agree with some of those answers, but I thought I’d put together my own “short answers” anyway… only six months late.

1. Is government the antithesis of liberty?

We need definitions. If “liberty” means people being allowed to act voluntarily with each other (as I define it) then the antithesis is involuntary behaviour — e.g. violence, coercion, theft, murder. The government certainly does all of that, but they are not the only example (eg mafia, rapists). Further, some libertarians will suggest that if a limited government is able to decrease “private” violence & coercion, then they might even be a force for good. (This idea is known as the “night-watchman government” or “minarchism”.)

It’s worth quickly noting that government does not mean “governance”. You would still have much governance in a libertarian society (for example, cricket rules).

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The unforgivable stupidity of the anti-banking “libertarians”

At the recent Mises Seminar in Sydney there was a speech by Chris Leithner that explicitly called for the banning of fractional reserve (FR) banking. Leithner and other Australian libertarians (including Michael Conaghan & Benjamin Marks from Liberty Australia) follow the lead of some American libertarians (Walter Block, HH Hoppe, JG Hulsmann — BHH) and argue that FR-banking is fraud and should be banned, and further that it is economically damaging and causes inflation.

These two issues need to be addressed separately. The first is a deontological issue about whether FR-banking is consistent with a free world. The second is a consequentialist issue about whether FR-banking leads to bad outcomes. It is possible that FR-banking is consistent with freedom and yet leads to bad outcomes, and then those libertarians who accept the “non-aggression principle” would have to tolerate FR-banking even if they don’t like those outcomes. But before delving into that debate, it is worthwhile quickly explaining what we are actually talking about with FR-banking.

Vaults, loans & banks

Anything can be money. In jail (and POW camps) cigarettes have been used as money. In the early years of Australian settlement, rum was used as money. In some small island nations, shells have been used as money. Through much of history, precious metals (especially gold and silver) have been used as money. And today, the most common sort of money is “fiat” paper money that is created by government but is intrinsically worthless (ie it has no value except as money). This is not the place to go into a debate about what should be money or who should decide, but the important point is simply that there is some original supply of money that then becomes the standard “unit of account” and “store of value” and “medium of exchange” in an economy. For the sake of this discussion, this original supply will be called “base money” and in Australia it is created by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA).

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Andrew Bolt, Race and Identity Politics

WARNING: VERY LONG POST

In a recent court decision, conservative commentator Andrew Bolt was found guilty of breaching the Racial Vilification Act (Eatock vs. Bolt, see http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/FCA/2011/1103.html ).

From the classical liberal perspective, the good intentions behind the Racial Vilification Act do not justify the existence of the Act; Free Speech is an absolute right which is only bounded by fraud (for example, in the case of actual defamation) and coercion (i.e. making threats of violence or similar forms of extortion).

I am not a viewer of Andrew Bolt, although in full disclosure I did once send him an email which corrected a philosophical mistake of his; he accused Postmodernism of being Metaphysically Subjectivist (i.e. people’s minds literally remake reality). I believe that to be mistaken since Postmodernism is Epistemologically Subjectivist, typically on philosophical grounds derived from German Idealist thought. This has been my only interaction with his work in the past, and I know little about him. Although I was pleasantly surprised when reading his Wikipedia page that he’s an Agnostic rather than a religionist.

But the reason for this post is that I found a specific comment about the Bolt case interesting from the perspective of political philosophy.

Commentator Brian F. McCoy argued that the ultimate issue in the Bolt case wasn’t freedom of speech. He identified the core issue as “freedom of identity” (see http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=28512).

What a fascinating concept.

“Identity” in the context of the case was referring to social identity or the groups with which one identifies.

The following article is not so much a deliberate argumentative essay per se. Rather, it is a set of commentary on a series of interconnected issues raised by the Bolt affair. In it, I will cover epistemological and philosophical considerations relating to the concept of “social identity” and I will also discuss the various analytical frameworks and assumptions that are used when dealing with the concept. Ultimately I will launch into a discussion of Brian McCoy’s “freedom of identity.”
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Three Kinds of Libertarian

A common practice amongst libertarians is categorization of ourselves into various little factions. Attempts to draw up classification schema of “types of libertarian” are a popular pasttime, and although one may argue this only serves to encourage infighting, it can also be useful for illustrative purposes.

I wish to make my own proposal. At risk of Yet Another Objectivist Cliche, I’m going to indulge in some trichotomic analysis and suggest that libertarians can be divided into three basic kinds.

I am dividing libertarians on the basis of three different broad lines in libertarian argumentation. All three kinds of argument have overlap with each other, so by no means is this system perfect, but I believe it has some use.

In essence, my scheme divides libertarians on the basis of which argument for liberty they most strongly emphasize. Whilst libertarian thought is very diverse and rife with internal disagreements, I think it would be fair to describe it as having three underlying “currents” that dominate the discourse.
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Video Game Review – Deus Ex: Human Revolution

I recently wrote a long philosophical review of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Libertarians may want to read the review because the game actually is remarkably sophisticated (and very libertarian-compatible) in its critique of Corporatism and regulation. Also, it clearly distinguishes these from an actual free market. Honestly, I’ve never seen such a sophisticated analysis of Corporatism in a video game before.

I didn’t post the full review here because it is both rather lengthy and analyzes/discusses a lot of philosophical issues raised by the plot. Since most readers here are not Objectivists, my philosophical commentary is probably less interesting in aggregate to this blog’s general readership than the political-economic commentary I made.

Full review can be found at Objectivist Living, here: http://www.objectivistliving.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=11126

All comments welcomed!

Another One For The Horror File, or, Ha Ha Ha You Have No Friends

Another One For The Horror File, or, Ha Ha Ha You Have No Friends

By Andrew Russell

Today’s installment of my long-running series can owe itself to a caustically-written, snark-slathered piece of character assassination entitled “Beware The Geeks Defending WikiLeaks.” This attempt at journalism was written by Tom Whipple of the London Times (and published in The Weekend Australian, December 11-12 2010, Page 21 in the “World” section) and is indicative of little more than an Establishment journalist having a temper tantrum that his precious position as “official tribune of the people” has been usurped by people that are more anti-social than him!

I am not making this up.

The article itself deals with Anonymous; a hacker organization fermented in the depraved bowels of 4Chan. For those unaware, 4Chan is a place where people look at pictures of… well… I won’t be going into detail about that. Needless to say, “Rule 34 Of The Internet” is absolute gospel at said site.

Irrespectively, Whipple basically argues that members of Anonymous are, his words, “the odd, slightly greasy outcast at school – the misfit with the Games Workshop fetish, the Dungeons & Dragons fan.”

This, according to Whipple, suddenly renders the concerns of Anonymous worthless. Why? Because (his words) “this is a middle-class youth rebellion” and (again, his words) “the cool kids are marching against student fees.”

In other words, Whipple’s excuse for an argument is that “Anonymous members are not the cool kids.”

This is the kind of journalism supported by the Times.

Whipple then engages in psychologizing Anonymous members, specifically by arguing that members of Anonymous don’t care about free speech or freedom of the press. Rather, they only want friends and to be loved and accepted by others, and this is why they are defending Assange.

Does Tom Whipple even have the slightest clue about how demeaning, patronizing, offensive, ridiculous and patently childish this argument is? It is also an example of the logical fallacy of Poisoning The Well, and a situation where Whipple is basically saying that Anonymous members are insincere about their concerns.

Because honestly, we all know that the mainstream press like the Times of London is doing a perfect and completely objective job of reporting the facts, and thus anyone claiming to defend freedom of the media who isn’t a member of the established mainstream media institutions cannot truly be serious [/sarcasm].

There are two possible interpretations of why Whipple wrote this so-called article. One is more charitable than the other. I will start with the chartiable one.

Case one is that Whipple is a member of the establishment media; the same media which has been running stories about how new media forms are destroying our children and how said media will never be able to replicate the high quality journalism of the Times [/sarcasm]. Whipple, like the rest of the media establishment, knows that the internet’s decentralization of media poses the greatest threat to the establishment MSM (which is precisely why said MSM in the United States has been arguing for government subsidies to stop it from going out of business). And the WikiLeaks saga shows that major investigative journalism that uncovers conspiracies no longer requires the monumental media conglomerates of today. In other words, WikiLeaks has proven that the establishment MSM is quickly becoming obsolete and is proving this to the average person. In other words, the WikiLeaks saga is demonstrating, to the consumer base of the MSM, that they don’t need the MSM any more.

Thus, read charitably, Whipple’s argument boils down to Julian Assange is likely to TAKE OUR JOBS! It is ultimately the reflexive response of a dying institution attempting to become a rent-seeker and salvage its own quickly-diminishing popular legitimacy. The long-overdue death of the mythical “intrepid reporter desperate to expose only the truth” is naturally causing anxiety to Whipple.

But charitable readings aren’t fun, so lets go to the uncharitable reading!

Uncharitably, Whipple seems to be the antipode to the high school nerd that he accuses members of Anonymous of being. Specifically, he seems to relish the position of being the high school bully. Indeed, the string of assertions made in his article each seem to be anchored down by one of the primary premises of the bully mentality.

First, the long list of hobbies that members of Anonymous have; “Games Workshop, Dungeons and Dragons.” Because apparently, having these hobbies automatically makes you a lesser person who’s concerns about free speech and centralization of power can be disregarded. Whipple relishes pointing out that these people have hobbies and these hobbies are different… they don’t do normal things like listen to Top 40 pop hits, they don’t restrict their played video games to “Call Of Duty” or “Halo,” they don’t like the same TV shows you like (even worse; they might like TV shows from non-English-speaking countries!). Whipple seems to mention this over and over again; they are different!

Unspoken premise; being different is bad, and if you are unlike other people in terms of your cultural likes and dislikes, you are a threat!

This unspoken premise is, unfortunately, the primary regulator of social life in most high school playgrounds. But I had hoped this premise would remain in the high school playground, rather than being transported onto the pages of the Times.

Second; members of Anonymous are “slightly awkward,” “tubby,” “odd, slightly greasy” and “in their bedrooms – laughing at pictures of cats that look like Hitler.” In other words, insufficiently social. This criticism of Anonymous should be of interest to Libertarians/Classical Liberals, since it is one of the biggest accusations thrown at us. We aren’t social enough, we don’t care for others enough, our symbols are loners like Howard Roark, and as we all know [/sarcasm], loners are freaks!!!

Unspoken premise; the greatest value in life is friends, people’s worth can be measured by the number of friends they have, and if you don’t have many friends then any concerns you raise over abstract philosophical issues are utterly meaningless, because YOU DON’T HAVE ANY FRIENDS, NYAH-NYAH-NYAH!!!!

Again, this is an attitde commonly expressed by high school bullies. It is now to be found on the pages of the Times!

Third; members of Anonymous are “uncool.” Because, as Whipple says, their rebellion is “middle-class” (perhaps Whipple believes a rebellion must be Proletarian to be genuine?), and that the really “cool kids” are “marching against student fees.”

Unspoken premise; what matters is being cool and doing what the cool kids are doing. Uncool is bad.

Again, the attitude of the high school bully. A particularly virulent appeal to popularity, even! “Don’t back Assange; he and his supporters are unpopular geeks! Protest against the tripling of student fees, like all the cool kids are doing!!!” So, according to this logic, if all the cool kids were to jump off a bridge, we should all jump off a bridge! I wonder what Whipple would think if all the cool kids started voting Tory.

Fourth; that there is something wrong with people that don’t want to habitually use violence. Whipple goes on about members of Anonymous hosting their earlier protests against the Church of Scientology; their protest “distributing free cake” and being armed with “Guy Fawkes masks and pirate hats.” He even brought up the fact that one of the police officers said about the protest “these are the nicest protestors I have ever had the privelige of policing.” Additionally, “a few mintes later, someone handed him a card, signed by everyone, congratulating the police on their work.”

Tom Whipple apparently thinks that this is a bad thing. Why? Is a real protest, like a real man, meant to be willing to solve all political issues with their fists, beat up riot police, tear apart barricades, smash glass, and make loud yells of “GAAAAAR” in order to be considered a legitimate one?

Yet again, Whipple’s attitude is that of the school bully; a belief that might makes right and one lacks a Y-Chromosome until one has sufficiently intimidated others with displays of physical violence. This attitude used to be seen as definitive of tribal societies that lacked the rule of law (including but not limited to high school playgrounds). Now, this attitude draws a salary from the Times.

When the Mainstream Media is constantly claiming that video games and internet porn will create the next Super-Predator, one would think they’d welcome evidence showing that the ‘social misfits’ aren’t planning on killing everyone. But no, apparently they are too violent to be trusted with video games, and not violent enough to be making a legitimate protest.

In conclusion, Tom Whipple’s “Beware The Geeks Defending WikiLeaks” is a monumental temper tantrum; a lashing out against geeks and “the antisocial” and the internet, a reification of the insecurity that Stasisists feel about the Creative Destruction of the marketplace, and evidence of a person who’s attitudes still remain stuck in the high school playground.

In the battle between the Geeks and the Bullies, between the Misfits and the Enforcers of Conformity, between the Loners and the Pack Animals, it is clear where Tom Whipple stands. In Whipple’s world, WikiLeaks is bad because it is nerdy.

Where should libertarians stand on this battle? I think it is obvious where I do. I, too, am ‘socially maladjusted’ and listen to ‘socially unacceptable’ music and don’t have ‘enough’ friends (by Whipple’s irrational standards, at least). I am Gothic and hence several years ago (when Goth was the object of Moral Panic) I was Public Enemy Number 1 and (according to the media) on the verge of committing school shootings.

I call on all libertarians to reject the implicit worldview of Whipple’s article; a conformist pack-mentality that constitutes what Ayn Rand quite correctly described as “collectivism of the soul.”

If it isn’t merely the vestigal remnants of the high school bully mentality, then it is merely a naked fear of competition manifested in a hatred of those “geeks” like those that invented the technology enabling such competition in the first place.

And so (to borrow a phrase) I must intone in a shrill voice, calling from painful necessity, “to a High School playground, Tom Whipple; Go!”