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An Open Letter to Osama bin Laden

Dear Mr. bin Laden:

I read with interest your remarks broadcast on al-Jazeera on 12 November 2002. I wish to point out, however, that your argument rests on a logical fallacy.

You point out, quite correctly, that the government of the United States is a "criminal gang" that has committed, and abetted, oppression and mass murder. You then go on to infer that Islamic terrorist attacks against the civilian populations of the U.S. and its allies are justified in retaliation. In particular, you write:

The road to safety begins by ending the aggression. Reciprocal treatment is part of justice. The incidents that have taken place ... are only reactions and reciprocal actions. ...

Why should fear, killing, destruction, displacement, orphaning and widowing continue to be our lot, while security, stability and happiness be your lot? This is unfair. It is time that we get even. You will be killed just as you kill, and will be bombed just as you bomb.
Here is where the fallacy lies. Yes, reciprocal treatment is part of justice. If X attacks Y, justice authorises Y to strike back at X. But justice does not authorise Y to strike instead at an innocent third party, Z. When you strike Z, despite Z's having done nothing to you, that is not "reciprocal treatment."

Your quarrel is with the government of the United States, and with the governments of its allies. It is not with the civilian population of those countries. It is not with the innocent civilian occupants of American passenger jets or New York skyscrapers or Moscow opera houses or Bali nightclubs. When you attack them, they are not "killed as they have killed," or "bombed as they have bombed." They have killed nobody, bombed nobody.

In targeting these innocent lives, you forfeit your claim to be a mere retaliator against aggression. Instead, you become an aggressor yourself. You become the imitator of those you condemn.

You may say: "These civilian populations are not so innocent. They support their governments. They're guilty too."

Remember, this is the same argument your enemies used when they bombed civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Do you really want to endorse it?

Here is what's wrong with the argument. The governments of the United States and its allies are, as you rightly observe, "criminal gangs." (For that matter, so, as you would probably agree, is the government of Iraq; and so, as you might not agree, was the Taliban government of Afghanistan.) Each of these criminal gangs occupies a certain geographical territory and subjects its inhabitants to various forms of oppression and extortion. In particular, such gangs exercise control, partial or total, over their territory's educational systems. The people in these territories end up "supporting" their governments because they have been subjected to a lifelong barrage of propaganda and disinformation.

Hence the civilians in these countries are not your enemies. They are the victims of your enemies. When you strike at these civilians, you are, in effect, joining forces with your enemies.

As a result of the September 11 attacks, Americans are less free today than they were at the end of the century. In carrying out those attacks, you gave our rulers the excuse to increase the extent of their power over us -- just as you gave them the excuse to bomb the civilian populations of Afghanistan and Iraq.

You call the U.S. government "White House gangsters" and "the biggest butchers of this age." But you have become their ally -- not in intention, but in practical effect. You are strengthening your enemies, and attacking their victims.

You have become George Bush.

I could write a letter very like this one to President Bush. It would end: "You have become Osama bin Laden."

Sincerely yours,

Roderick T. Long
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Auburn University

Posted January 26th, 2003



Why Fur Is Not Murder

I've been beating up a lot on the errors of right-wing deviationists these last few days, so I figure it's time I gave some attention to the errors of left-wing deviationists as well.

My target this time is animal-rights activists, the folks who commit acts of aggression in the name of concern for our furry, finny, and feathered kindred: throwing blood on women in fur coats (apparently some elements on the Left have made their peace with violence against women?), or knocking down fences to free cows from the farmers who "enslave" them (the liberated cows usually end up succumbing to starvation or predators).

I shall argue that animals do not have rights -- indeed, that the very notion of animal rights is conceptually incoherent.

This is not to say that we have no moral obligations toward animals. I think we have quite a few -- probably more than most libertarians would agree to. (For example, I think killing mammals for food is problematic. Lucky for me, I don't think eating mammals that somebody else has already killed is nearly as problematic.) What I claim is that any obligations we may have toward animals are not legitimately enforceable.

What would it mean to say that animals have rights? Roughly, a right -- say, X's right against Y -- has two components:

a) Y's moral obligation to treat X in a certain way

b) The moral legitimacy of X's, or X's agent's, using force to ensure that Y treats X in that way
We can grant that animals have some moral claims against us -- the (a) component -- without granting that they have rights -- the (a) and (b) components together. (Rights theory per se has nothing to say about what moral claims other than rights animals might have against us.)

Component (a) applies to animals as moral patients -- as recipients or beneficiaries of obligations possessed by human beings. There's no conceptual problem there. But component (b) is supposed to apply to animals as moral agents -- and that does pose a problem.

The claim that it is morally legitimate for an animal to use force to secure its rights presupposes that the categories of obligation and permission can intelligibly be applied to animals. But such categories can be applied only to moral agents. (Moral permission is not merely the absence of moral prohibition. It makes as little sense to say that a rock is morally permitted to roll downhill as it does to say that it is morally required or forbidden to.) But moral agency involves the capacity to grasp moral principles and act on them. This capacity depends in turn on the capacity for abstract thought, through which it linked to the capacities for language, exchange, and peaceful cooperation. Since most nonhuman animals lack the capacity for abstract thought (there may be exceptions: advanced primates? dolphins?), most nonhuman animals lack moral agency. (From now on I'll keep saying "animals," meaning "most nonhuman animals.")

Hence the question of the legitimacy of an animal's using force doesn’t arise; the concept simply doesn't apply. It follows that what is at issue, with regard to animal rights, is not what it's legitimate for animals to do but what it's legitimate for humans, acting as agents on behalf of animals, to do.

Now there are plenty of cases where it is arguably appropriate for beings temporarily or permanently without (or with diminished) moral agency to have their rights represented by those with moral agency: infants and children; the unconscious or comatose; the mentally ill or severely retarded; the delirious; even the deceased. (What about fetuses? A complicated story, for another time.)

But there is a difference between a creature whose rational capacities are disabled or impaired, and a creature that does not naturally possess rational capacities in the first place. (Analogously, think of the difference between a lame person's inability to walk and a trout's inability to walk.) If it is part of a creature's nature to possess moral agency, then when the creature lacks such agency it makes sense to talk of an agent stepping in for it; but otherwise not.

Animals cannot satisfy component (b) in virtue of their own moral agency, for they have none. Nor can they satisfy component (b) in virtue of their agents' moral agency, because no being that lacks moral agency by nature rather than by accident can count as having an agent.

That is why a cow has no rights, though a human being reduced to the mental level of a cow does have them. There's something wrong with the human; there's nothing wrong with the cow. One might say that in the case of the cow-minded human, there's a blank spot where her moral agency is supposed to be, and someone else can step into that blank spot and act as an agent on her behalf. But in the cow there's no blank spot. We cannot think of the cow as exercising moral agency vicariously through its human agent. When X acts as an agent for a Y who lacks moral agency, X substitutes her own agency for the moral agency that Y would naturally have; but when Y would not naturally have any such agency, it makes no sense to regard X's agency as substituting for anything.

If it were possible for animals to have human agents, then when PETA activists committed violent acts in defense of animals, they could legitimately claim -- at least in some cases -- to be engaging in retaliatory rather than initiatory violence, and so to be acting permissibly by libertarian standards. But although they may think of themselves as acting as agents on animals' behalf, strictly speaking there is no such behalf for them to act on. Hence such activists are acting, malgré eux, on their own behalf only, and so their acts of violence count as initiatory rather than retaliatory.

Now the notion of animal rights would indeed make perfect sense on the hypothesis that animals are reincarnated humans; for then their lack of moral agency would count as a disabled capacity rather than a naturally absent one. But until the reincarnationist hypothesis is substantiated, we have no reason to accept the idea that animals have rights.

Sorry, Fluffy.

Posted January 26th, 2003




There's a great line in the movie Tucker:

When I was a little kid, maybe five years old, in the old country, my mother used to say to me -- she'd warn me, she'd say: "Don't get too close to people, you'll catch their dreams." Years later, I realized I misunderstood her. "Germs," she said, not "dreams": "you'll catch their germs."
Some people do seem to think of dreams and memes in just this way -- as germlike invaders warranting quarantine procedures.

Continuing the debate begun in "Culture and Anarchy" (January 19, below) and "Let A Thousand Cultures Bloom" (January 21, below), Mike Tuggle responds to my defense of multiculturalism:

Dear me, I'll try it one more time.

Yes, we definitely have a problem to communicate here, and I think it comes from inability to define our terms.

Multi-culturalism. As practised by the increasingly autocratic regime in Washington, DC, the imposition of alien cultures into the US. The fact that 80% of the people want a limitation on immigration, and the fact that the 1965 Immigration Bill was misrepresented to the American people prove that cultural and ethnic transformation has never been willingly accepted by the American people. It is being forced upon them.
Well, you're certainly free to invent a new meaning for the term "multiculturalism" if you want to. But you should be aware that that's what you're doing.

In any case, I'm not sure I understand this definition. If you, the sovereign owner of your property, want to invite your Ruritanian cousin to visit your home, and 80% of the American people disapprove of your decision, in what sense are you, or he, forcing anything on them?

Now if you were an adherent of the communist principle that your land belongs to the social collective as a whole, not to you, then I can see why you would call it "force” to invite someone onto that land without permission from all the millions of co-owners. But otherwise, it's surely none of the American people's business who you invite onto your property. (Admittedly, the existence of governmentally administered public property complicates matters, but you don't seem to be basing your argument on that fact.)

And if while your Ruritanian cousin is visiting, he engages in mutually consensual communication of ideas with other Americans, thus contributing to a change in the culture, once again no "force" is involved. A "culture" has its existence in the mutual interactions of the various people who sustain and affect it. A right not to have one's culture changed can only mean, then, a right to interfere with the peaceful, mutually consensual interactions of other people. To restrict peaceful migration because it might influence what ideas people hold is Orwellian thought control, plain and simple. And to give our "increasingly autocratic" government the power to restrict the movement of people and ideas seems frankly suicidal.

Protecting the borders is what governments are supposed to do.
I don't recognise government as a legitimate institution; but if I did, I'd want to distinguish between protecting the borders as a means of protecting (from military invasion, say) the property rights of the people within those borders, and "protecting the borders" as a means of overriding the choices of those owners.

Yes, it's an "us" versus "them" thing. All of life is organized that way, and if you do not believe it, try telling your immune system to welcome whatever tries to set up shop in your body.
In some sense, sure, but the question then becomes: at what level does this right of exclusion get exercised? If the "community" (i.e., some group of people claiming to act on behalf of the community) claim the right to decide who gets in and who doesn't, then individual owners of property within that community lose the right to decide who gets past their borders and who doesn't. Of course you need to be able to control what enters your body; but suppose your neighbours decided to prevent oxygen from entering your body, on the grounds that your body was within their community and they had the right to stop oxygen at the city limits?

The fundamental question, then, is: what is the fundamental unit of social decision-making? Is it the individual, or is it the collective? As far as I can see, restricting immigration can be justified only if you answer "the collective." The trouble is, it's that answer that has done the most to undermine the very culture you're trying to protect.

There is also the question: which collective, and so which borders? Alabama has a rather different culture from New York. To protect these respective cultures from alien influences, why shouldn't we place limits on how many New Yorkers can remove to Alabama, or Alabamians to New York? Why not turn the entire United States into a network of Gulags and barbed wire?

Identity is basic to all living things, be they individuals or societies. On the social level, it provides the stability that freedom requires to exist. Multi-culturalism, on the other hand, is the destruction of cultural and ethnic identity. A random collection of peoples cannot cohere. If you have failed to notice that Washington is taking more of our traditional Western freedoms from us, you're probably not paying attention. Such an erosion is inevitable when cultural stability is weakened. Look at Beirut.
Certainly Washington is a threat to our freedom. But I see restrictions on immigration as an instance of that threat, not as a cure for it. One of the central Western values is the sanctity of private property. Immigration restrictions, as we've seen, are incompatible with that value. Privacy, freedom of movement, and freedom of association are central Western values too -- values that cannot coexist with the intrusive police powers ("Papers, please!") needed to enforce immigration restrictions.

As for the claim that social order requires cultural uniformity (which seems to be what you mean by "identity"), this does not seem to be borne out by history. Didn't Greece become a freer place as a result of outside cultural influence? Didn't the parts of Greece that resisted such incursions the most become the least free?

About Beirut: the reason that religious differences lead to conflict there, and no longer lead to conflict in the West, is that around the 17th century the West began to embrace the multiculturalist idea that differences of religion need not mean a difference of borders, while the Middle East is still in the grip of the anti-multiculturalist "one country, one religion" principle. (It should also be noted that religious conflicts in Beirut were, and still are, exacerbated by the meddling of various interested governments.)

Yes, let a thousand cultures bloom. But they cannot bloom without territorial integrity, without a place where its members can express their unique means of communicating. Do you really think there would be a Jewish Israel if it were taken over by Arabs?
As long as the members of that culture have "territorial integrity" (i.e., reasonably secure private property) and are free to communicate with one another, I do not see why the culture as a whole needs territorial integrity. The world is full of geographically scattered but flourishing cultures criss-crossing one another. (In light of the medium in which we're currently communicating, this hardly needs saying.)

As for Israel, for the last two thousand years Jewish culture has bloomed despite having no "territorial integrity," no "place where its members [could] express their unique means of communicating."

Finally, cosmopolitanism is not a foundation for a real society. The Western rights you enjoy did not come out of the heads of tenured professors, but out of the experience of real people in a real society.
As a recently tenured professor myself, I can hardly be expected to agree with the rather insulting suggestion that tenured professors are not "real people in a real society." But in any case, the Western rights we enjoy emerged in this particular culture precisely because this culture has traditionally embraced cosmopolitan values while most other cultures have, to their cost, spurned them.

If you really believe we can continue to enjoy the fruits of Western culture when we're dominated by people who practise voodoo and santeria, you -- or your grandchildren -- are in for a nasty shock.
I'm curious to know in what way santeria and voodoo pose more of a threat to our values than do the more traditional Western religions. As I see it, the ideas that are dragging our culture deeper into the morass of statism are ideas that were hatched right here in the West. The injunction "let every soul be subject unto the higher powers" was not coined by a voodoo priest.


Mike Tuggle responds once more. (His contributions are indented; his quotations from me are double-indented and italicised.)

I can hardly be expected to agree with the rather insulting suggestion that tenured professors are not "real people in a real society."
Most of them make Shirley Maclaine seem quite reasonable. At this point, I'm not even sure they're carbon-based life forms. They seem to think that the good things in life just magically appear uncaused. They think "multi-cultural" means more ethnic restaurants while the things they take for granted -- freedom of association, freedom of expression, right of private property, etc. -- are the givens of life, unaware that in such multi-cultural paradises as Zimbabwe, lives and lands are subject to the whims of savages.
Have you actually met any professors? How many? Is your evaluation drawn from having met a realistic sample of us, or are you simply making inferences from the small group of loudmouthed academics with political influence who get airtime on tv? Would you want us to make inferences about non-academics based on the loudmouthed non-academics with political influence who get airtime on tv?

When I find you to have such a skewed vision of my (sub)culture, it doesn't inspire confidence in your evaluations of other cultures.

The fundamental question, then, is: what is the fundamental unit of social decision-making? Is it the individual, or is it the collective?
Wow -- I do have my work cut out for me.

The rights that are an inherent part of Western civilization refer to the accepted rules of interaction between the self-organized society and the individual. Thanks to the prosperity and security our culture has created, it is easy to succumb to the notion that the individual rights created by this interaction are self-perpetuating. They are not. What you dismiss as a "collective" (Randian hate word!) is society, which men naturally form. We are political animals, not laminated monads lacking any relation to others.
Fine; I agree with all of that. (You might want to take a look at my piece on Confucianism before leaping to the conclusion that I'm some sort of atomistic antitraditionalist.) But it evades the question I was asking. One of the rights you say you want to protect from cultural contamination is private property. Another is freedom of association. I pointed out that immigration restrictions necessarily violate those rights. So, in protecting the "right" of society to control its borders, you sacrifice the right of individual property-holders to control their borders. It seems like destroying Western values in order to save them. Giving me a lecture about monads doesn't answer the charge.
Hobbes and Rand (thanks to their materialistic worldviews) saw only the atomized individual as real, and intercourse with others as nothing more than a means to gratify individual appetites.
That description is accurate as applied to Hobbes. It is grotesquely inaccurate when applied to Rand, a neo-Aristotelean who rejected both materialism in metaphysics and appetite-gratification in ethics. (The idea that freedom cannot survive without the right kind of cultural context was also insisted on by Rand, though not of course by Hobbes.)

In fact, people all over the world spontaneously organize themselves into social units. It is our God-given nature. An organic community is not the Borgian "collective" that the Randians dismiss; it is an active interplay between distinct individuals within distinct, mutually beneficial relationships. As Aquinas would tell us, both the particular and universal are real. Without those relationships, we are less than real, and less than human. It is out of those many relationships that society emerges as a real thing, which both shapes, and is shaped by, its individual members.
Once again, I agree with all of that. But one can agree with all of that, and yet not agree that the larger society has a right to violate the liberty and property of its constituent members. So all of that is a distraction from the question at issue.

A "collective," on the other hand, would be an undifferentiated mass of people, which is an impossibility.
I used the term "collective" because that seems the right term for a society when that society is understood as having a right to violate the liberty and property of its members. I was applying it to your conception of society, not to mine. The notion that societies have such a right is collectivism, and your proposal to restrict immigration is thus a collectivistic one. Since I take collectivism to be one of the chief threats to the "Western values" you claim to cherish, the notion of offering this poisonous prescription as a cure strikes me as malpractice in the extreme.

As I see it, the ideas that are dragging our culture deeper into the morass of statism are ideas that were hatched right here in the West.
Ah, a minor breakthrough -- you do see that freedom is not a given in life, and must be constantly defended. And I'd almost given up on you. Yes, a healthy society must ensure that government does not exceed its delegated authority. Our Founding Fathers, for example, set up a decentralized system of government where the sovereign States retain the powers not specifically delegated.
No doubt they thought they were doing that. But what they actually set up was a system that shifted the balance of power so far in favour of the central government, right from the start, that further centralisation was virtually inevitable. They created a baby leviathan and gave it both the incentive and the power to grow. And then they built a paper fence called the Bill of Rights around it. Abandoning the Articles of Confederation in favour of the Constitution was a deathblow to decentralisation in America.

The ongoing erosion of our right to keep our earnings, and to conduct our lives as we see fit are the result of the loss of State sovereignty and the usurpation of the central government. But that's another topic for another blog.
True in part. But the individual states themselves are the size of European countries, and the growth of centralisation within each state has been corrosive as well. If tomorrow morning all the states became independent countries, all the people who've been yammering for new federal laws would be yammering instead for new state laws, and intrastate centralisation would proceed even faster. The solution is not big states or little states, but freedom.

I do agree that, ceteris paribus, liberty fares better under a system of many small states rather than one big one. But the main reason for that is competition; if little state X is becoming oppressive, its inhabitants have the option of removing to little state Y, and the threat of their doing so imposes some constraint on the government of X. (Socialists in high-tax Massachusetts often complain about the constraint that low-tax New Hampshire imposes on their ability to raise taxes even higher.) By contrast, a giant superstate imposes a single policy on all the little states under its control, it's a lot harder to vote with one's feet.

But this advantage of decentralisation depends on free migration. If state X won't let its citizens out, or if state Y won't let them in, then competition yields to monopoly, and decentralisation ceases to be clearly preferable to centralisation.

I'm curious to know in what way santeria and voodoo pose more of a threat to our values than do the more traditional Western religions.
Oh, joy! You recognize "OUR VALUES" as opposed to their values! Another glimmer of hope.

It's not just one way, but two ways they threaten our values. Because the Feds have betrayed its people with the 1965 Immigration Bill, which directly attacks our traditional ethnic identity, we are being swamped with cultures who do not respect the rule of reason, the rule of law, or private property.
First: thanks in large part to public education, these values have been waning for a long time among all Americans. Sadly, I see little evidence that this country's established inhabitants are more committed to "the rule of reason, the rule of law, or private property" than are immigrants. Indeed, the willingness to work hard rather than rely on handouts may now be growing more prevalent among immigrants than among the "established" American population.

Second: how can a commitment to private property be maintained if the right to control access to one's property is shifted, as you recommend, from the property owner to the state? and how can a commitment to the rule of law be maintained under the kind of intrusive police state that would be required to restrict immigration as you propose? I've been asking those questions in post after post and still haven't gotten an answer.

When these people become a majority, do you really believe they will sustain Western modes of interacting with others? Or will they vote to take your nice townhouse and Lexus?
You have a rosy vision of academic salaries in Alabama. I rent a small apartment, and I look forward to some day owning a car.

You may protest that you "earned" those things, but they really know that men acquire nice things by luck or exploitation, so it wouldn't be fair to let you keep them.
Once again, I see no evidence that immigrants are more likely to do this than are nativeborn Americans; you strike me as both too pessimistic about immigrants' values (Do you know any third-world immigrants? Have you talked with them?) and too optimistic about present-day Americans' values. Case in point: you're an American, presumably uncorrupted by third-world cultural influences, yet you're prepared to stop people from inviting whom they please into their nice townhouses and driving where they please in their Lexuses. (Lexi?)

The other way they threaten our values is that the inherent stability of a self-organized community will be disrupted by an influx of alien cultures with disparate sets of mutual expectations.
You seem to see self-organised social order as a fragile blossom, easily blighted by a slight change in soil or temperature. I think it has proven itself historically to be a hardy and adaptable dandelion. Social orders are not blighted by contact with other social orders -- they thrive on such cross-fertilisation -- but rather by subjection to the state. The fist of coercion is what bruises the invisible hand of spontaneous order.

Once organic order is disrupted, the government will have to re-establish the peace that it destroyed by importing these peoples to begin with. That means increasingly powerful government. Look at the history of multi-cultural empires, such as Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, as opposed to small republics and see for yourself where traditional rights flourish and where they are snuffed out. Why would anyone willingly consent to having his nation transformed into a mess like Yugoslavia?

Oh, right. Free exchange of ideas -- the REAL definition of multi-culturalism. I forgot.
The problem with Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union is not that they were multicultural. Switzerland comprises four different nationalities with four different languages, and there's actually a fair bit of hostility among the different groups. And all the groups are armed with assault weapons! Yet it's a pretty peaceful place. So why does Yugoslavia turn out one way and Switzerland another? Hint: it has something to do with the kind of governments they have.

Put two mutually suspicious people in a room with one gun. What happens? Now put two mutually suspicious people in a room with either two guns or no gun. What happens? Centralised power is like a room with one gun.

Alabama has a rather different culture from New York.
Ain't that the truth?
Sure is. Whatever they want to prohibit up there they want to make mandatory down here, and vice versa.

To protect these respective cultures from alien influences, why shouldn't we place limits on how many New Yorkers can remove to Alabama, or Alabamians to New York?
Bless you. The thought makes this ol' Southern boy all teary-eyed.
So your answer to my question whether you want to "turn the entire United States into a network of Gulags and barbed wire" is yes?

Posted January 25th, 2003



State of Denial?

The following letter appeared in this morning's Opelika-Auburn News:

Tuesday's editorial calls libertarians "romantic" and "in a state of denial" for failing to see that we need government to "teach and protect our children, build and repair our highways and tend to those things which make for a civilized society."

We libertarians have spent many decades (centuries, really), and many thousands of pages, arguing that private enterprise can provide these sorts of services more efficiently, more cheaply, more safely, and more justly than government can.

Now perhaps our arguments are wrong. Still, until someone examines our arguments and refutes them, I can't see that we have any reason to change our minds. Just asserting that we are in a state of denial is not a refutation.

For those who are interested in learning what the arguments for libertarianism actually are, a good place to start is Murray Rothbard's For A New Liberty, the complete text of which is easily available for free online.

Roderick T. Long
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Auburn University
The online version of Rothbard's book is available here. To purchase a hard copy, click here.

Posted January 23rd, 2003



A Wind in the Door

This morning at 5:54 a.m. I was awakened by what sounded and felt like an explosion, with debris slamming against my bedroom window. Apparently a small tornado, or something tornado-like, had touched down, directly in front of my apartment! No damage to me or mine -- but a look outside revealed trees thrown around, power lines torn down, etc. (The alert reader will discern the connection between the power lines' being torn down and my knowing the time of occurrence.) The tornado seems to have ripped along my street briefly, and then leapfrogged somewhere else; similar events were reported all over town, along with giant hailstones.

It's funny -- back when I lived in upstate New York, whenever I heard about a tornado occurring anywhere in the South, I was alarmed for the well-being of friends in Rutherfordton, NC. Now that I've lived in the South for over a decade, even a tornado on my doorstep doesn't seem all that exciting. I guess familiarity does breed, if not contempt exactly, then at least a certain sangfroid.

Posted January 22nd, 2003



Blinded by Complexity

Founders' America -- which I begin to suspect is a person, not an organisation -- has responded once again to my January 20 post "Eternal Hostility." (He is now signing himself "Heydrich," by the way -- a fact that does not inspire optimism.)

Herr Heydrich's responses appear to follow a pattern. He sends me a long screed on topic X. I pen a lengthy response. He responds to none of my arguments about X, but instead sends me a long screed on topic Y. And so on. The likelihood that further debate will prove fruitful continues to dwindle. (Well, I said in my original post that I wasn't going to engage him in debate, so I suppose I have only myself to blame.)

True to pattern, my correspondent now shifts the ground of argument to the question of childrearing:

Where to begin? Let's begin with family dynamics. How do your raise your children? Apply your libertarian views to the task of rearing children to healthy physical and mental maturity. ...

Various operations of the family household are the models for every form of government, or lack thereof: Either your children are family members -- citizens, so to speak -- or merely consumers residing in your household. Do your children hold a particular status in relation to your and your wife's authority? Do your children view you as a tyrant by your authority or as a democratic arbiter, or some combination? Such must be the nature of any State -- an expression of some particular form of family dynamic within the household, as someone must be in charge -- either autocratically or democratically -- because there exist inherently bright adults and dumb adults, inherently bright children and dumb children. Ergo, some kind of organization -- some degree of combination of cooperation and authoritarian control -- is necessary for people to live in peace in family, community or nation-state, as nature has dealt unequal abilities to adults and children alike. Or do you decide who is in charge in your family by the one with the most money? Does the money flow in an elitist sort of way, with you as provider and taxpayer and, ergo, decision-maker? Or does it flow willy-nilly for purposes of maximum consumption? Is your family a dictatorship, kingship, democracy, oligarchy of two, or libertarian commune? All political affiliations are understood by examining family dynamics -- by examining the various psychological dynamics of how members within the nuclear family may relate to one another, according to the abilities nature has dealt to you and yours.
What should libertarians say about childrearing? I've discussed this extensively elsewhere and so won't rehash it here. (See my article Beyond Patriarchy: A Libertarian Model of the Family.) But the inference that because children must be subject to authoritarian paternalistic control, so must adults, is a non sequitur. The justification for so treating children is that their rational capacities are not yet fully formed, so those whose capacities are fully formed must act as agents on their behalf. The justification does not apply to normal human adults. (And if it did, where are the Übermenschen who would then be entitled to govern them?) Normal variations in intelligence among mature members of homo sapiens are not comparable to the competence gap between children and adults, and so do not call for a comparable remedy. That disposes of the notion that "political affiliations are understood by examining family dynamics" -- an idea in any case long since discredited in the 1680s by Locke and Tyrrell (two authors favoured by this country's founders -- folks with whose judgments my correspondent professes sympathy).

Herr Heydrich adds a postscript:

The complexity with which you keep your positions is blinding you to the simple truth: There must be authoritarian controls at some level, whether a god from within or government from without ((or both)), in order to keep savagery at bay.
Again, try raising children with your libertarian principles.
I reply:


Founders' America responds:

Re: shifting the debate to arrive at the CRUX OF THE MATTER of libertarianism.

Yeah, I too don't see any reason to continue, as we are working against each other from opposing systems: yours being the rebellious teen-aged son and mine the authoritarian father-figure.
Dear Mr. Heydrich, or whoever you really are:

No, you are wrong about why this debate is going nowhere. The idea of opposing systems (or conceptual schemes, or paradigms) across which no communication is possible is a postmodernist's fantasy. Any two minds possessing the basic human capacity for reason can communicate fruitfully with one another, if they are both willing to do so.

The problem, rather, is that while I reply in detail to your arguments, you do not reply to mine. You simply send me a new diatribe, on a different topic, cut-and-pasted from something you've written elsewhere. Our progress is blocked, not because we are imprisoned within opposing systems of thought, but because you continue in your Calliclean refusal to engage in genuine reasoned dialogue.

As for your characterization of libertarian attitudes, your view seems to commit its holders to regarding either themselves or others as children, in need of parental control. Libertarians, by contrast, regard themselves as adults dealing on an equal basis with other adults. Which view is the mature one and which the infantile I leave as an exercise for the reader.

Please keep in mind that there are few humans who reach adulthood, in the mental/emotional sense; ergo, authoritarian controls are required at some level, to some degree, IN ALL HUMAN SOCIAL SYSTEMS.
Adults are not those who behave rationally, but those who are in possession of the capacity to behave rationally. That is why adults, but not children, have the right to govern their own lives.

Of course those who refuse to employ their rational capacities pose problems for others and must be dealt with. Troublemakers of the violent variety must be restrained by force of law. Troublemakers of the nonviolent variety must be restrained by peaceful means, but when rational persuasion fails there are plenty of other peaceful means available to induce cooperative and civilised behaviour, ranging from the economic incentives provided by the market to the sociocultural incentives provided by customs and mores. The dichotomy authoritarian-control-or-no-control is a false one.

That's why I shifted the debate from challenging your arguments ((posed against my "Dear Libertarians" essay)) toward getting to the CRUX OF THE MATTER:

Mankind needs and SEARCHES for AUTHORITY, which was the point of that letter to Gary North, about family dynamics.
Well, it depends what you mean by "authority." Certainly some people are wiser than others, either in general or on a particular subject matter, and it is often rational to defer to their judgment. In that sense, we do need authority -- and we can get it easily enough without recourse to the State. But if by authority you mean political government -- what Mises described as, in the final analysis, "the employment of armed men, of policemen, gendarmes, soldiers, prison guards, and hangmen," and "the enforcement of its decrees by beating, killing, and imprisoning" -- I certainly cannot see that human beings need that. It is certainly true that many search for it, despite not needing it. (I've discussed the reasons for this elsewhere.) This is a form of uncivilised and socially disruptive behaviour, to be combated with economic incentives and social sanctions while it is peaceful, and with force when it turns violent.

Libertarians are always, or nearly so, confronting a father figure they've rejected and hated during childhood. ...

The root cause of libertarianism in men is found in the family dynamic (genetics notwithstanding), where a son develops a deep dislike for father's authoritarian control (father may have been too strict and uncompromising) -- but without rejecting father's rationalism altogether.
No evidence is offered for this bizarre foray into psycho-sociological speculation. (For what it's worth, my father died when I was a baby.) At any rate, even if this claim could be empirically supported, it would be irrelevant as a criticism of libertarianism, since it focuses on causes when what is called for is an analysis of reasons. If I offer an argument for a certain conclusion, it won't do to respond, "well, you only believe that because you were dropped on your head as a baby." Even if that explanation should prove true, you would still be left with an argument that must be evaluated for validity and soundness in its own right, regardless of who uttered it.

Incidentally, since you use the phrase "Founders' America" as a name for yourself, or your group, I suppose the American Revolution must meet with your approval. But I wonder why. To be consistent, shouldn't you dismiss the Founders as a bunch of rebellious teenage boys whining about a two percent tax on tea?

A libertarian can think logically but he gets hostile when anyone tries telling him how to run his life.
Indeed. Hostility toward those who presume to tell one how to run one's life is the proper and healthy response of a mature and rational human adult.

It is also worth remembering that libertarians are committed not just to resisting such interference from others, but also to refraining from engaging in such interference themselves. This attitude surely better deserves the title of maturity than the tantrumlike "if-you-don't-do-as-I-say-I'll-make-you" attitude that you commend.

Regarding the rearing of children, libertarian "adults" instill anger and resentment for authority in their children, which causes parents to lose control of them to any number of bad influences, such as recreational drug use.
Again, no evidence is offered for this claim, and it certainly isn't borne out by the experience of any libertarian families I know of. I wonder how the process is supposed to go? If the children of libertarians are so resentful of authority, one would expect them to rebel against the ideas of their parents -- but the only way to do that would be to stop being resentful of authority, in which case .... You take it from there.

I thank you for the exchange of ideas.

You may have the last word if you wish, to which I'll not respond. ...

P.S. Attack the argument not the man, regarding "Heydrich."
An interesting suggestion, coming from someone who chooses to psychoanalyse libertarians for Oedipal neuroses rather than responding to their arguments.

Posted January 22nd, 2003



Let A Thousand Cultures Bloom

Mike Tuggle responds once again to my January 19 post on "Culture and Anarchy" (see below). Mr. Tuggle writes:

Hmm. I fear the hermetic world of academia has done irreparable damage here. Calling Dr. Occam!
Alas, Mr. Tuggle's wit is too subtle for me here. Perhaps he will explain.

Now really. In response to my comment:

Contrary to the multi-cultural dogma of our day, cultural ties do not cause ethnic conflict. Imperial conquest of one group over another causes conflict.
You replied:

But what makes one group willing to participate in the imperial conquest of another, if not cultural ties (of the wrong sort)? It's easier to slaughter and enslave people you're accustomed to thinking of consistently as "the others" and never as "our people."
Huh? The most egregious tyrants and conquerors were the universalists out to force the world to accept a "better" way than the traditional cultures of their victims. Alexander, Charlemagne, Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin -- all were internationalists out to forcibly reconstruct the world around a magic formula (yes, one ring to rule them all).
I had offered several examples of cases where multiculturalism led to freedom and anti-multiculturalism led to tyranny. I guess Mr. Tuggle doesn't like my examples; at any rate, he offers no reply to them. Instead he switches to some different examples. But I fail to see how his examples prove his point. The dictators he mentions were trying to stamp out cultural diversity and replace it with a single set of cultural values imperialistically imposed. That is surely the opposite of multiculturalism. Indeed, Mr. Tuggle's examples prove my point. Alexander's Greek soldiers were willing to participate in his campaigns of mass slaughter precisely because they regarded the Persians as "other" and "inferior." (Indeed, it was only when Alexander instead started adopting Persian customs that his troops began to lose their enthusiasm.) Certainly Hitler depended for his support precisely on the tendency to see non-Germans and non-Aryans as "other."

And we have a real problem with defining multi-culturalism.
By all means, let's get clear about the term. In his essay What is Multiculturalism?, Bhikhu Parekh gives a pretty good account of what I take to be the defining features of multiculturalism, as that term is generally used. Dr. Parekh's account emphasizes three features:

First, human beings are culturally embedded in the sense that they grow up and live within a culturally structured world and organize their lives and social relations in terms of a culturally derived system of meaning and significance.

This does not mean that they are determined by their culture in the sense of being unable to rise above its categories of thought and critically evaluate its values and system of meaning, but rather that they are deeply shaped by it, can overcome some but not all of its influences, and necessarily view the world from within a culture, be it the one they have inherited and uncritically accepted or reflectively revised or, in rare cases, one they have consciously adopted.

Second, different cultures represent different systems of meaning and visions of the good life. Since each realises a limited range of human capacities and emotions and grasps only a part of the totality of human existence, it needs other cultures to help it understand itself better, expand its intellectual and moral horizon, stretch its imagination, save it from narcissism to guard it against the obvious temptation to absolutise itself, and so on. This does not mean that one cannot lead a good life within one's own culture, but rather that, other things being equal, one's way of life is likely to be richer if one also enjoys access to others, and that a culturally self-contained life is virtually impossible for most human beings in the modern, mobile and interdependent world.

Nor does it mean that all cultures are equally rich and deserve equal respect, that each of them is good for its members, or that they cannot be compared and critically assessed. All it means is that no culture is wholly worthless, that it deserves at least some respect because of what it means to its members and the creative energy it displays, that no culture is perfect and has a right to impose itself on others, and that cultures are best changed from within.

Third, every culture is internally plural and reflects a continuing conversation between its different traditions and strands of thought. This does not mean that it is devoid of coherence and identity, but that its identity is plural, fluid and open. Cultures grow out of conscious and unconscious interactions with each other, define their identity in terms of what they take to be their significant other, and are at least partially multicultural in their origins and constitution. Each carries bits of the other within itself and is never wholly sui generis. This does not mean that it has no powers of self-determination and inner impulses, but rather that it is porous and subject to external influences which it assimilates in its now autonomous ways.

A culture’s relation to itself shapes and is in turn shaped by its relation to others, and their internal and external pluralities presuppose and reinforce each other. A culture cannot appreciate the value of others unless it appreciates the plurality within it; the converse is just as true. Closed cultures cannot and do not wish or need to talk to each other. Since each defines its identity in terms of its differences from others or what it is not, it feels threatened by them and seeks to safeguard its integrity by resisting their influences and even avoiding all contacts with them. A culture cannot be at ease with differences outside it unless it is at ease with its own internal differences. A dialogue between cultures requires that each should be willing to open itself up to the influence of and learn from others, and this presupposes that it is self-critical and willing and able to engage in a dialogue with itself.

What I might call a multiculturalist perspective is composed of the creative interplay of these three important and complementary insights -- namely the cultural embeddedness of human beings, the inescapability and desirability of cultural plurality, and the plural and multicultural constitution of each culture. ...

We instinctively suspect attempts to homogenize a culture and impose a single identity on it, for we are acutely aware that every culture is internally plural and differentiated. And we remain equally sceptical of all attempts to present it as one whose origins lie within itself, as self-generating and sui generis, for we feel persuaded that all cultures are born out of interaction with and absorb the influences of others and are shaped by wider economic, political and other forces.
That is, roughly, what I mean, and what I take most people to mean, by the term "multiculturalism." So understood, multiculturalism seems to me to be a good thing. (I don't by any means agree with everything Dr. Parekh says in his essay -- he's no fan of libertarianism or natural rights, and he steers closer to the shoals of relativism than he ought -- but what he says in the passages I've quoted seems pretty unobjectionable.) Do you think multiculturalism, as Dr. Parekh describes it, is a bad thing? Or do you mean something different by "multiculturalism"? If so, what?

Mr. Tuggle continues:

When a person or a society is secure in its cultural moorings, it is able to assimilate new ideas and incorporate them into their existing worldview. That's the ultimate sign of a healthy sense of identity, without which we have no means of dealing with the world. Identity comes from a sense of relatedness with the past, and with others with whom you share common values, and yes, history.
I have no disagreement with any of that (so long as we're talking about open rather than closed cultures). But I don't think it's at all inconsistent with multiculturalism or cosmopolitanism.

Contrast that with the malignancy of what Washington DC is doing to us. Without a shared culture to unite us, Big Government will have to impose order. Yes, it is unnatural to impose disparate groups together. When the 1965 Immigration Bill was passed, Ted Kennedy assured the American people the country's ethnic composition would not be changed.
Immigration policy is a difficult issue. In an ideal libertarian polity, each property owner would set her own immigration policy: if you want to invite immigrants onto your property, I can't stop you; if you don't want to let them in, I can't make you. Within a statist context, by contrast, any immigration policy is going to run afoul of libertarian principles. With open borders, you're giving newcomers access to tax funds from, and possibly political power over, current residents. With closed or semi-closed borders, you're preventing immigrants and newcomers from entering into legitimate contractual relationships (guest/host, employee/employer, tenant/landlord, homebuyer/homeseller) with one another. Hence both closed and open borders violate libertarian rights.

If each option is objectionable by libertarian lights, the question is: which is least bad? This is a question on which libertarians can reasonably disagree. For a libertarian case against open borders, see a number of articles on Hans-Hermann Hoppe's website. For my part, I think an open border policy is least bad. Here are a couple of reasons why:

a) The rights violations involved in open borders are simply an expansion of the rights violations involved anyway in the existence of the state; the degree is worsened, but not the kind. But the rights violations involved in closed borders ruin people's lives. Until we can achieve a truly free society, we should at least prefer those rights violations that do less harm.

b) Enforcing a closed border policy effectively requires a police state. If only approved persons are allowed to live, work, or travel in a country, then all persons within that country must carry papers proving that they are approved, requiring constant inspections, internal passports, etc. A War on Immigration -- like its cousins the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, and the War on Terror -- is a dandy excuse for increased state power.

Today, 80% of voters favor a reduction or elimination of Third-World immigration.
80% of voters favour all sorts of things that I'm sure Mr. Tuggle and I would both reject vigorously. The appeal to numbers resolves nothing.

Can we have a free, rational society when we've destroyed the stable expectations as to the behavior of other people under specified conditions? That's a large component of what culture is. This is destroyed when Third-World cultures supplant our own -- courtesy of an immoral Federal government seeking to elect a new, more pliable citizenry.
The cultural ideas that are destroying American society have their origin not in the Third World, but squarely in the First. And it's hard to imagine a more pliable, sheeplike citizenry than white Christian middle-class Americans as they are today. I don't see how importing immigrants could add that much to the damage that America's nativeborn population has already inflicted on itself. If we have an "immoral Federal government" -- and we do -- where did it come from? Who acquiesced in its creation and expansion?

As for "stable expectations," the main force undermining those is government's power to rewrite the rules every minute. Third World immigration is a piker in comparison.

And finally, far from "an automatic, unearned self-esteem" or "fostering cultural prejudices," ethnic and cultural heritage is a challenge upon which one grows. It is a task of self-discovery and outreach. As Goethe said, "What you have as heritage/Take now as task;/For thus you will make it your own."
I agree. Remember, I did not lay these sins to the charge of "ethnic and cultural heritage" per se. What I described as dangerous was "a single all-encompassing identification whose boundaries do not shift across contexts, particularly when that identification is based primarily on concrete, unchosen characteristics." In other words, my worry is about cultures that are closed (in Parekh's sense) and anti-conceptual (in Rand's sense). Cultures that are neither have my blessing. Let them bloom.

Posted January 21st, 2003



Eternal Hostility

One of the responses I received to my article My Libertarian Life was a lengthy, anonymously authored screed titled "Dear Libertarians: You Have No Right to an Immoral Life or an Immoral Liberty or an Immoral Pursuit of Happiness. What Thomas Jefferson Meant by 'Liberty'." This edifying document came my way from an outfit called Founders' America. A quick glance at their website reveals a penchant for the following sort of sociopolitical analysis:

Hitler's "Jewish Question" was no unwarranted anti-Semitism. The question of how to extricate white Anglo-Saxon Europe from the clutches of Jews' heritable, familial in-fighting was a critical question, because: wherever Jews go they bring with them ... in-born drives ... to seize control of the host culture; a genetic- and religious-based proclivity ....
And so on. You get the idea. Oy vey.

I don't consider these sorts of folks worth engaging in debate; but their open letter contains some confusions about libertarianism that are all too common in conservative circles generally, and a few of these are worth addressing here. (For ease of reference I will call the anonymous author "Heydrich.")

Mr. Heydrich (I think I am safe in taking my epistolator to be a Mr. rather than a Ms.) begins by informing us that the terms life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness "have been misconstrued for decades to mean 'libertine.'" He goes on to list a variety of expressions that purportedly evince this misconstrual:

do your own thing
it's just another lifestyle
don't be a bigot
don't discriminate
don't be judgmental
live and let live
don't be a prude
don't knock it if you haven't tried it
if it feels good, do it
they're just like you and me
people everywhere are the same
who's to say what's right or wrong?
it's a victimless crime
it's none of your business
Anyone who considers these sayings to be interchangeable expressions of one and the same "libertine" attitude has conflated three importantly different positions:

1. the position that nothing (or at least nothing noncoercive) is objectively right or wrong

2. the position that some things considered by Founders' America to be objectively wrong are not so in fact.

3. the position that some things should not be legally prohibited even if they are objectively wrong.

Don't be judgmental and Who's to say what's right or wrong? are plausibly interpreted as expressions of (1); but don't be a bigot and don't be a prude could just as easily be an expression of (2), and it's a victimless crime and it's none of your business are likely to express (3).

The failure to recognise the distinctness of these three positions is the pons asinorum of social conservatives. Such conflation is particularly embarrassing in a letter purporting to instruct libertarians; for, while most libertarians accept (2), and all accept (3), very few libertarians accept (1). Hence waving one's arms about the importance of rejecting (1) cuts no ice as a critique of libertarianism.

For example: Mr. Heydrich thinks "violent movies" are immoral and should be banned. I disagree with him. This is not, however, because I think nothing is objectively immoral. I do not regard violent movies per se as immoral. (Movies can be immoral, but merely being violent is not enough to make one so.) But I think advocating censorship, as Mr. Heydrich does, is objectively immoral. I am not personally tolerant of such advocacy. However, such advocacy falls under (3), as an immorality deserving of protection. I am legally tolerant of such advocacy.

Mr. Heydrich emphasises that the Founders of the United States intended to protect not all liberty, but only the liberty to do what is morally right. This claim is demonstrably false, as even a passing acquaintance with the Founders' writings will demonstrate. (And even if it were true, how would that show that (3) is mistaken?)

Mr. Heydrich is quick to insist that when Thomas Jefferson proclaimed that "all men are created equal," this had

nothing to do with differences in heritable talents exhibited between men and women, between child and adult, between ethnic or racial groups, or between any two individuals, but relates an idea of equality of spiritual being among humans, as bestowed by God, which idea was meant by Jefferson to answer the question of whether some humans may lack a soul, and which essence of the idea is found in equal justice -- not outcomes -- under the rule of law.
Mr. Heydrich is quite right about what Jefferson didn't mean, but he has carefully tried to defang what Jefferson did mean. Jefferson's conception of equality derives from John Locke's Two Treatises of Government, and refers to equality in authority, i.e., a situation in which "all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another," thus rendering all human beings "equal and independent," with no "subordination or subjection" between one person and another. (See my lecture Equality: The Unknown Ideal.) If human beings do enjoy such equality, it follows at once that, however correct my ideas about morality may be, I have, pace Mr. Heydrich, no authority to impose them on others or to substitute my judgment for theirs in the governance of their lives.

Locke of course also held -- mistakenly, in my view -- that it was both possible and advisable for human beings to relinquish some of this authority voluntarily in order to set up a coercive state. But even so, he insisted that such authority can be ceded only by consent; and Jefferson followed him in this, insisting that governments depend for their legitimacy on "the consent of the governed." Mr. Heydrich's proposal to impose his notions of morality on the unconsenting can derive no support from the Declaration of Independence.

Mr. Heydrich's wisdom continues:

Too many economic conservatives are libertarian in their "thinking," which philosophy really is infantile and wrong. One need only trace the idea of social man being hatched from "individualistic" and savage beginnings to uncover libertarians' fatal flaw: that any individual man was ever able to be born and survive physically and emotionally by his own devices. Adam was a social being in his relationship with his Creator. No man has ever been a rugged individualist. Individual initiative has been extremely important to Man's progress but initiative has never been done outside the context of social intercourse -- at some vital level.
Since no libertarian has ever denied this obvious point, its relevance as a criticism of libertarianism is unclear.

Mr. Heydrich's next argument is a delight:

Libertarians' dumbest idea is this:

"What you do is okay with me, so long as it doesn't injure me or anyone else."

How is it possible to do anything without affecting someone? Even a micro event like, say, an ant pissing in the woods may, according to quantum mechanics, affect macro events.

For example, a libertarian might argue that he won't hurt me by practicing, say, autoerotic asphyxiation in his home. But he does risk harming me and others by his private risk-taking.

If he gets careless, the stench from his rotting body may get my attention and ruin a good meal, or I might look through his window to see why his mail is stacking up and be forever troubled by the gruesome sight. ...

Libertarians refuse to see that there's virtually nothing we do in private that doesn't ripple out to affect all of society -- if not directly, then by spreading immorality ....
It's worth noting, in passing, that Mr. Heydrich can claim no support from Jefferson on this point. It was, after all, Jefferson who wrote: "The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." Still, perhaps Mr. Heydrich has had an insight here that Jefferson missed, so his view needs to be considered on its own merits.

It must first be pointed out that the term "injure" is ambiguous. In a broad and popular sense, it means something like "hurt" or "harm." Some thinkers -- e.g., John Stuart Mill in On Liberty -- have indeed made harm the test of what behaviour should or should not be permitted. So Mr. Heydrich's fuzzy-boundaries argument might be of some relevance in attacking Mill (though I think Mill could fairly reply that terms are used to make distinctions, and lose their usefulness if their meaning is stretched to cover everything). But libertarians do not make "harm" the test of what should be prohibited. When libertarians say that only what "injures" another should be prohibited, they use the term "injure" in its strict legal sense: an injury is not just any harm, but a harm that violates your rights. What libertarianism forbids is not harm but aggression. If your business outcompetes mine and I have to close down, you may have harmed me, but you have not injured me (because you have not aggressed against me). Spreading immorality is not aggression, since it depends on your free will.

There's good reason, however, to doubt that Mr. Heydrich recognises the significance of free will:

Libertarians will tout legalization of drugs until their libertine neighbors get stoned and apply libertarianism in, say, molesting their child or slashing a relative to pieces in an hallucinatory fit of anger or running down grandma walking in the neighborhood.
As usual, Mr. Heydrich has a hard time with tricky distinctions. Here's an important one: Taking drugs is one thing. Committing acts of aggression is another. People often do the first without the second; people often do the second without the first. Committing acts of aggression -- with or without the influence of drugs -- is banned under libertarianism (and so is not a way of "applying libertarianism"). Those who favour legalising the first are perfectly happy with continuing to ban the second. (And since the second concerns the exercise of free will, it makes no sense to talk of its being "caused" by the first.)

There's more, including an interminable rant on the evils of homosexuality, but I grow weary.

I do agree with Mr. Heydrich on one point: the advice don't be judgmental is mistaken. Some points of view are evil, and deserved to be labeled as such. Mr. Heydrich's is one of them. And his attempt to appropriate Thomas Jefferson on behalf of his cause is particularly offensive. It was, after all, Jefferson who swore "eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." It's a far cry from Jefferson's vow to the mindset that seeks to impose moral blinders on everybody because their private decisions might have an ant's-piss-worth of effect on the glorious Collective.


Founders' America responds by sending me another (anonymously authored) email. This one informs me that I am "woefully ignorant about Jews," and directs me to a URL where I can "begin [my] education." Following up the URL takes me to a webpage devoted to a "sociobiological" study of Judaism. Since I regard sociobiology as conceptually incoherent (see, e.g., my September 25 post Slip Out of Those Genes), I'll waste no further time on that issue.

The email also invites me to "rethink [my] position on censorship," and encloses an article (also anonymous) titled "Censorship: Everybody Does It All the Time." I'll proceed on the assumption that this article is also authored by "Heydrich." Just as Mr. Heydrich's previous article betrays an inability to grasp the difference between aggressive and non-aggressive forms of harm, so this time he seems unable to wrap his mind around the difference between aggressive and non-aggressive ways of imposing sanctions on unwelcome speech. He writes, inter alia:

We all practice censorship -- all of us. We censor ourselves regarding certain modes of dress, speech and social etiquette, and we -- we the people -- often petition our representatives to pass laws for censoring those who refuse to comply with social convention or who exceed the bounds of good taste and propriety.
"Censoring" oneself does not involve aggression. (One cannot commit aggression against oneself: volenti non fit injuria.) "Censoring" others through social sanctions (ostracism and the like) is likewise nonaggressive. This sort of peaceful "censorship" is perfectly compatible with libertarianism. (I engaged in some peaceful "censorship" just now when I chose not to reproduce the URL he sent me.) Passing laws, to be imposed by governmental violence, is another matter entirely -- and this is what is at issue in discussions of censorship.

Mr. Heydrich's talk of "we the people" petitioning "our representatives" seems astonishingly naïve. Censorship is always the choice of some people imposed on other people; if censorship really represented the preferences of the community as a whole, it would be, eo ipso, unnecessary. The notion that the thugs who govern us from DC or the various state capitals are in any meaningful sense our "representatives" is also one I would challenge. Certainly none of them is my representative. There's not a single officeholder in this country whose election can be blamed to any degree on my vote.

Incidentally, Mr. Heydrich should thank Odin that he lives in a country that, by and large, does not censor "those who refuse to comply with social convention or who exceed the bounds of good taste and propriety." Otherwise his freedom to peddle his sociobiological fantasies about Jews would get shut down in short order.

Two more examples illustrate Mr. Heydrich's inability to distinguish between peaceful and coercive interaction. First:

There are two ways to sexually molest a child, PHYSICALLY and PSYCHOLOGICALLY; the former being too risky to attempt while the latter is easily accomplished by providing children access to pornography.

I once had asked a head librarian in Henrico county, Virginia, why she didn't carry The Washington Times:

"Oh, the Washington Times could never replace the Washington Post, and we have a limited budget," she replied.

Everyone practices censorship, and all the time.
Here Mr. Heydrich is treating the decisions to make, or not make, certain materials available as though such decisions were comparable to acts of aggression. He trivializes the distinction between violent and nonviolent interaction by treating the provision of pornography as though it were a way of doing what child molesters do, and by treating the failure to provide the Washington Times as though it were a way of doing what government censors do. This conflation of speech with violence evinces what I have elsewhere described as a form of spiritual blindness.

Those who fight against censorship are whining hypocrites for denying their own threshold for triggering censorship. How many of them would shelve in public libraries the available underground books on how to have sex with animals or how to molest children?
If by "public libraries" Mr. Heydrich means governmental, tax-supported libraries, then my answer is that such libraries should not exist. To quote Thomas Jefferson, a thinker Mr. Heydrich claims to admire (again, assuming our two Heydrichs are one person), "to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical." Hence those who are against child molestation should not be taxed to fund the provision of books advocating child molestation; but by the same token, those who are against, say, Julius Caesar should not be taxed to fund the provision of books presenting Caesar in a favourable light. On the other hand, if by "public libraries" Mr. Heydrich means privately owned collections made available to the public by consent of the owners, then the books in question are the library's private property, and be made available to whomever the owners please.

Where does the tolerance end? When social chaos reigns?
And they're weak-minded in their ignorance of the absolute necessity for the majority of community members to control both the place and time for allowing expression of certain kinds of behavior and materials (a process called "democratic government") -- materials such as certain books and movies and music which undermine the general welfare and domestic tranquility of the community (read the purpose for which the Constitution was established, as set out in the Preamble).
And social chaos is the inevitable result of tolerance because --?

Either the majority are the sort who can be trusted with uncensored information, or they are not. If they are, then social chaos will not result. If they are not, they can hardly be trsuted with the sweeping political powers that Mr. Heydrich proposes to hand them.

Mr. Heydrich needs to make up his mind: is it the welfare of the majority, or the preferences of the majority, that he wishes to enshrine as law? Since the majority of Americans seem to want less censorship than he wants, he can't have it both ways. And what if libertarians became a majority. (Don't worry, it doesn't seem imminent -- but what if?) Would Mr. Heydrich still argue for censorship, on the grounds that the expression of certain ideas causes "social chaos"? Or would he then argue against censorship, on the grounds that the libertarian majority has a right to enact its will? (For a libertarian, the true standard is of course neither majority welfare nor majority will, but rather individual rights.)

Mr. Heydrich's enthusiasm for majority rule sits oddly with his supposed admiration for the Founders. In Federalist 10, James Madison defined a "faction" -- what we would now call a "special interest" – as "a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community." In other words, when the will of the majority is wrong -- when it aims to contravene the rights of some minority -- it is no sovereign popular will, but just one more special interest, to be constrained by constitutional checks and balances.

As for "general welfare" and "domestic tranquility," does Mr. Heydrich suppose that in listing these among the purposes of the Constitution, the Framers took themselves to be granting the Federal government an undefined power to promote these purposes as it saw fit? On the contrary, the 10th Amendment mandates: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the People." The framers saw a government of narrowly constrained and enumerated powers to be the best means of securing domestic tranquility, the general welfare, and that other goal mentioned in the Preamble (but not quoted by Mr. Heydrich): the "blessings of liberty."

Mr. Heydrich concludes:

The majority must wrest control of their libraries and schools and government from minority interests, by force if necessary, or abandon the idea of democracy in America altogether.
If by "democracy" Mr. Heydrich meant the system that is in practice the most successful at satisfying the preferences of the vast majority -- i.e., the free market, described by Mises as the only true "economic democracy" -- he would have to recognise that the censorship he favours is simply a socialistic interference with private property, and thus sits oddly with his supposed reverence for such traditional American institutions as market capitalism and limited government. Instead, however, by "democracy" Mr. Heydrich appears to mean rule by the brute force of superior numbers -- a notion as alien to America’s founders as any that can be named. If that is what he means, then we would indeed be well-advised to "abandon the idea of democracy in America altogether."

Posted January 20th, 2003



Culture and Anarchy

In response to my autobiographical article My Libertarian Life, Mike Tuggle writes:

I enjoyed your piece describing your political evolution. I can confess to a similar path myself, having been a patriotic American who supported the Vietnam and Iraq I wars. Rand made perfect sense to me at the time. However, I also began to notice the contradictions within Rand's philosophy, and started moving toward the "libertarian" direction. I have come to believe that Rand's philosophy is essentially no difference from what Hobbes offered the apologists of Big Government mercantilism: men have no connection other than common appetites, so government must forcibly bind them together to facilitate culture and commerce. Anything that gets in the way of commercial success should be blown up -- I cannot think of a better summary of the obscene statements of Peikoff on the desirability of invading Iraq.
I agree that Peikoff's position is horrific -- and that Rand, were she alive, might well take the same position. But it's not the position of all Randians, and more importantly, it's not a position that logically follows from Rand's philosophy. Rand is an egoist, but her egoism is more in the tradition of Aristotle than of Hobbes: given Rand's conception of self-interest, it's just not the case that "men have no connection other than common appetites, so government must forcibly bind them together." Admittedly, as I've argued in my book Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand, in trying to articulate the philosophical underpinnings of her ethical vision, Rand made the mistake of falling back on Hobbesian-style considerations. But that ethical vision itself is as un-Hobbesian as anything could be: the heroic individual deals follows not his appetites but his reason, and deals cooperativaely with others not as a pragmatic strategy but because to behave in a predatory or parasitic fashion would be ignoble and beneath his dignity.

Although I agree with many Libertarian positions, I have settled (for now!) among the paleoconservatives of the Southern movement. Individual rights are indeed a good thing, but are the outgrowth of a particular culture, not someone's brilliant manifesto. If the culture is obliterated, the shared interactions of its members, and the related set of expected behaviors toward one another we refer to as rights, will disappear as well.
It's one thing to say that respect for rights depends on a cultural context. I certainly agree with that. (So, of course, did Rand -- though the cultural values she thought requisite to that end were rather different from those of Southern paleoconservatism, and those I would regard as requisite are different from both.) But do rights themselves depend on a cultural context? That sounds like relativism, a position with which a commitment to rights cannot, I suspect, long coexist.

So, as the US transforms itself into a multi-cultural (that is, anti-cultural) regime, our traditional rights are also being eliminated.
I tend to think that liberty is the product of multiculturalism and cannot long survive without it. Multiculturalism is to the market for ideas what competition is to the market for goods.

Comments welcome!

I will certainly be paying your website regular visits. Keep up the good work.
Oh, compliments welcome too!


Swifter than eagles, Mr. Tuggle responds:

Your blog on individual rights ignores some basic lessons on human nature and the need for a sustaining culture as a foundation for individual development.

Culture does not refer to only the momentary mix of ideas floating among a random grouping of consumers. Culture describes both the heritage of the past and the awakening of individuals within that cultural context, and is a vital part of self-identification.
No disagreement so far.

As social beings, people will always identify "our people" versus "the others." This is perfectly normal and healthy.
Here is where I begin to grow more cautious. Certainly there's nothing wrong with identifying oneself with various groups. I identify, for example, with both philosophers and libertarians -- two overlapping but nonidentical groups. People I'll regard as belonging to "our people" in one context will become "others" in another context.

What does worry me, however, is the idea of a single all-encompassing identification whose boundaries do not shift across contexts, particularly when that identification is based primarily on concrete, unchosen characteristics. That sort of identification I do regard as dangerous. And while the temptation to such identification is ineliminable, cultural factors can help to make it stronger or weaker.

Ayn Rand identified three main causes of this sort of identification: one psycho-epistemological, one ethical, and one political. Psycho-epistemologically, identifying with a group on the basis of concrete characteristics is a relief from the effort of intellectual abstraction; ethically, identifying with such a group allows one to claim an automatic, unearned self-esteem; politically, fostering cultural prejudices is one of the ways that governments mobilise support and silence opposition. The first two causes represent vices to which human nature will always be liable, but education and cultural milieu can play a role in encouraging or discouraging them; the third cause is enabled by our present, highly unnecessary form of legal structure.

Contrary to the multi-cultural dogma of our day, cultural ties do not cause ethnic conflict. Imperial conquest of one group over another causes conflict.
But what makes one group willing to participate in the imperial conquest of another, if not cultural ties (of the wrong sort)? It's easier to slaughter and enslave people you're accustomed to thinking of consistently as "the others" and never as "our people."

Human creativity and imagination depend on the security offered by society, and, more important, on the opportunity to exchange thoughts, new ideas, and expressions of sympathy with compatible individuals. Culture refers to the sum of learned behavior patterns, attitudes, and beliefs of a distinct people. These behaviors and beliefs arise early in one's development in the course of those crucial early days of caregiving. Children absorb much more in their first years than can ever be recorded. Body language, emotions, taboos, fears, as well as personal and group associations and interactions all communicate a wealth of information to young children. From their earliest moments, children receive their culture's accumulated storehouse of behavior patterns. As they grow older, they accept their culture's stated and implied ideas, including how one communicates and receives information. Not only do the various cultures transmit different norms and ideas to their young, they also instill different ways of learning and behaving.
I can happily accept all of that -- indeed, elsewhere I've insisted on it (see my Reason and Value and Rituals of Freedom) -- but with one caveat: in a healthy culture, one of the ideas one learns to accept is precisely the criticisability of the culture's ideas. A culture in which people are not taught to subject common assumptions to intelligent scrutiny must quickly become sclerotic. As J. S. Mill showed long ago in On Liberty, "human creativity and imagination" depend on the possibility of running into dissenting views.

As to "liberty being the product of multi-culturalism," nothing could be further from the truth. The Western value of individual liberty emerged from a distinct civilization, and has emerged nowhere else in the world. Like all other cultural values, it is intrinsic to the particular experiences of a particular people. Limited government has always emerged in distinct cultures.
History seems to me to teach a rather different lesson. Multiculturalism has always been the Western value par excellence, and the key to the West's success. No other culture in world history has assimilated outside influences as eagerly or as successfully. It's no coincidence that Western civilisation began in the Mediterranean basin, where a number of diverse cultures -- Greek, Italian, Hebrew, Egyptian, Phoenician, Persian, Babylonian -- faced one another around an inland sea. The ease of navigation facilitated both commercial and cultural exchange.

As Karl Popper has argued, "our Western civilization is the result of the clash, or confrontation, of different cultures." (The Myth of the Framework (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 38) When no one challenges the dominant ways of thinking, they become dogmas; it is confrontation with opposing views that inspires critical thought. It is to this multicultural heritage, Popper maintains, that we in the West owe "our ideas of freedom, of democracy, of toleration, and also the ideas of knowledge, of science, of rationality." (p. 40)

Not all Greek communities welcomed this multicultural influence. Sparta, initially a prosperous trading center, reacted by banning all foreign imports, both material and intellectual. As a result, Sparta degenerated from a vibrant cultural center to a grim, stagnant totalitarian gulag. Athens, by contrast, embraced these Mediterranean contacts, and thereby achieved both economic and cultural preeminence. Athens also became, not coincidentally, the closest thing the ancient world came to a libertarian society. (For the libertarian -- indeed, virtually anarcho-capitalist -- character of ancient Athens, see my articles Civil Society in Ancient Greece and The Athenian Constitution.)

The Middle Ages began with the Latin West in large part turning its back on multicultural values, at the same time that the Islamic world was enthusiastically accepting them. Unsurprisingly, the Islamic world during this period enjoyed more freedom and prosperity than the West. Then, at the end of the Middle Ages, the Islamic world turned its back on the pagan Greek elements of its heritage, just as the West began accepting them more wholeheartedly. When a culture closes itself off from "alien" influences, the result is comparable to the replacement of competition by monopoly: as was to be expected, freedom and prosperity plummeted in the East and rose in the West.

So, yes: Western-style liberty "emerged from a distinct civilization." But multiculturalism is a large part of what made Western civilisation distinct.

In the history of the world, no random grouping of people has come together to create democratic institutions.
Well, in a certain sense this is true by definition: if a group is coming together to create something, there must be some explanation as to why it's these folks and not some others. But certainly there have been cases of viable cooperative arrangements emerging among people who had no very strong cultural ties: the Law Merchant, for example.

In fact, the opposite has occurred: as tyrants extend their power and corrode self-organizing societies by conquest, the unnatural mix of peoples has consistently been destabilizing, resulting in increased autocratic measures to restore order -- a prime example of centralized government being good for nothing but addressing the problems it causes. Odd, though, the problems are never solved -- as that great multi-culturalist Dick Nixon would say, "solutions are not the answer." Autocracy feeds itself on society, and as autocracy flourishes, freedom dies.
The "mix of peoples" can never be "unnatural" in and of itself. Such mixing is indeed supremely natural, in that it is both the cause and the effect of freedom and progress, and its absence always spells stagnation and, ultimately, cultural death. If other cultures did not exist, it would be necessary to invent them.

I agree, however, that cultural mixing becomes problematic under powerful governments. But here the problem is not cultural mixing per se, but the introduction of political force into the situation. When terms of cooperation between different groups are imposed suddenly by imperial fiat, rather than being allowed to emerge gradually and through mutual consent, resentment is inevitable. Moreover, as both Rand and Mises have observed, the existence of a powerful centralised government introduces the possibility of one group's being able to achieve a decisive influence on the central authority and thus dictate to other groups its own favoured terms of cooperation. Hence different cultural groups become threats to one another under powerful government, when they would not be such under conditions of minimal or no government. It is precisely one of the evils of statism that it transforms the preconditions of freedom into impediments to it.

I stand, then, by my original statement: liberty is the product of multiculturalism and cannot long survive without it.

Posted January 19th, 2003



One Cheer for Political Correctness

There are two ways of letting political correctness control your mind.

One is to reject viewpoints, not because they're false, but because they're politically incorrect.

The other is to embrace viewpoints, not because they're true, but because they're politically incorrect.

We libertarians are seldom guilty of the first mistake. But we are often guilty of the second. Those who commit the second mistake are as much slaves of political correctness as those who commit the first.

At an academic reception I once saw a libertarian introduce himself to a female professor with the winning line: "Are you a feminist? I hate feminists." Libertarians describe the PC crowd as hypersensitive and too easily offended. The charge is often valid. But being hyperinsensitive, and too easily offensive, is no improvement.

T-shirts that read "Politically Incorrect!" are popular within our movement. But why, exactly, is political incorrectness something to brag about? The idea, presumably, is that we are independent-minded folk who hew to no party line. And it's certainly true that a great deal of silliness and even downright evil has been perpetrated in the name of political correctness (as well as in the name of just about anything else, it should be noted). And the tendency for concerns about hegemony and domination to melt away when the hegemony and domination are being exercised by the state for politically correct purposes can be breathtakingly hypocritical. But just how independent-minded is it to assume that the PC crowd is right about nothing?

For example, because it's politically correct to attribute gender differences primarily to cultural rather than to genetic factors, many of us seem to revel in embracing the opposite position. That this rush to sociobiology is often motivated more by emotional than by intellectual factors is suggested by the fact that in arguing for such positions, libertarians will often permit themselves the kind of sloppiness they would rightly excoriate in, say, economic discussions. For example, I've heard libertarians argue: "Psychological differences between men and women have neurophysiological correlates, so such differences must be genetically rather than culturally based." Does this mean that acquired psychological traits, unlike innate ones, don't have neurophysiological correlates?

Here's another: "If full sexual equality is possible, desirable, and consistent with human nature, how come no society in human history has ever achieved it?" Try substituting "libertarian freedom" for "sexual equality" in that sentence to see why it's an awkward argument for our camp to be espousing.

Libertarians -- including, sadly, many so-called libertarian or individualist feminists -- have been quick to embrace Christina Hoff Sommers' distinction between innocuous "liberal feminism" and scary "gender feminism." Liberal feminism accepts the institutions and practices of our society more or less as they are, and argues only for a more equal role for women within those institutions and practices. For gender feminism, by contrast, the institutions and practices of our society are deeply shaped by a socially constructed patriarchal order that systematically reinforces the disempowerment of women; hence such institutions and practices must be reformed in radical ways before equality can be achieved.

Well, gee. If those are my choices then hell yes, I'm a gender feminist!

It is of course quite true, as libertarians charge, that a) many gender feminists have taken this idea to absurd extremes, and likewise that b) the solutions for which gender feminists call typically involve an increase in state violence. But with regard to (a), there's no position so reasonable that it hasn't had proponents who've defended it in absurd or extreme forms. (Some libertarians, e.g., profess to find the constraints of deductive logic "coercive.") And as for (b), outside libertarian circles nearly everyone tends to appeal to state violence as the solution to any given problem. That gender feminists' proposed solutions are unacceptable to us does not show that they have not identified any important problems.

Many libertarians labour under the illusion that so-called "gender feminists" are one and all consumed with hatred toward men. I suggest they try meeting some. Reality check, comrades.

Another issue that inflames many libertarians against political correctness is the issue of speech codes on campuses. Yes, many speech codes are daft. But should people really enjoy exactly the same freedom of speech on university property that they would rightfully enjoy on their own property? Why, exactly?

If the answer is that the purposes of a university are best served by an atmosphere of free exchange of ideas -- is there no validity to the claim that certain kinds of speech might tend, through an intimidating effect, to undermine just such an atmosphere?

Or if the answer is that universities, as recipients of tax-supported funds, are representing the public and must therefore administer those funds in a nondiscriminatory manner -- does that mean that welfare recipients, too, must be prevented from spending their relief checks in a discriminatory manner? If taxation is theft, as we claim to believe, it's hard to see how tax funds for universities with speech codes are a worse violation of rights than tax funds for universities without speech codes. The real problem is that universities are being funded by extortion at all.

At my university, several white fraternity members were recently disciplined for dressing up, some in Klan costumes and others in blackface, and enacting a mock lynching. Is the university guilty of violating their freedom of expression? I can't see that it is. Certainly those students have a natural right to dress up as they please and engage in whatever playacting they like, so long as they conduct themselves peacefully. But there is no natural right to be a student at Auburn University.

One sometimes hears the argument: "if they're against such-and-such idea, there must be something to it." This attitude of quodcumque ostendis mihi sic incredulus odi is an unreliable guide to truth, however. Does it speak in Hitler's favour that Stalin was against him? Does it speak in Stalin's favour that Hitler was against him?

Is it not true that the contributions of women, minorities, and nonwestern cultures have traditionally been marginalised and excluded? One needn't want to give George Washington Carver more pages in the history textbooks than George Washington to agree that the PC folks are on to something here. And look at the anti-Muslim, pro-war hysteria that's sweeping the country these days. The PC crowd, bless 'em, are certainly on the right side of that one. Libertarians should regard the PC crowd the way we regard conservatives: as potential allies. Often infuriating and wrongheaded potential allies -- but nonetheless people to cultivate, not to insult.

Posted January 18th, 2003



Report from the Empire

Posted January 17th, 2003



The Coming of Shadows

Fans of J. Michael Straczynski's work (see my November 1st posting, "Signs and Portents") have reason to rejoice. The first season of Babylon 5 on DVD has been such a success that the release of subsequent seasons is virtually assured; in fact Season 2 is already available for pre-order on The Shadows are returning to their places of power.

(No word so far on the B5 tv-movies or the spinoff series Crusade, but I'm keeping my fingers and eyes crossed.)

Also now available for pre-order is Straczynski's Midnight Nation -- the twelve-issue comic series released as a graphic novel. This eerie tale of the invisible and abandoned among us represents some of Straczynski's best work for comics. (It's unclear whether the volume will also include Issue ½. It would be stupid to leave it out. But stupidity happens.)

At the date of this posting, actually says of Midnight Nation: "This title will be released on December 31, 1969." Let's all hope really hard that this is a typo.

In other welcome news, Showtime has picked up Straczynski's quirky postapocalyptic saga Jeremiah for a second season, and Sean Astin (Samwise in Lord of the Rings) will be joining the cast.

Some of Straczynski's Usenet posts on the War on Terror are worth a look too. (See here, here, and here). I'm pretty sure that Straczynski and I aren't in the same quadrant of the Nolan Chart, but he's certainly got my vote on this issue.

For more info about upcoming Straczynski projects, check out

Posted January 10th, 2003



Save has announced that they're closing down and need financial help to salvage their operations. Governmental regulations also require them to find a nonprofit organisation to which to transfer some of their assets. Anyone interested in helping can get more information from their website.

Posted January 5th, 2003



The Road from Serfdom (and a queue back)

Walter Block is putting together an online collection of how-I-became-a-libertarian stories; mine is posted here.

Vin Rosa read my contribution and wrote in:

I'm more than ten years your senior (though I'm not quite sure that's relevant), and I, too, at a young and apolitical age was outraged into awareness of governmental arrogance by my family's humble mailbox.

Wonder how many others share our epiphany? Could qualify us for minority status. Perhaps we should demand reparations for years of emotional anguish and use the plunder to buy our very own politicians.
In other news:
I spent last weekend in Philadelphia, interviewing job candidates at the American Philosophical Association. (By the way, I highly recommend the following Philadelphia restaurants: Maggiano's, Brasserie Perrier, Susanna Foo, and Alma de Cuba.)

On our last day there, a colleague and I decided to visit Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Yikes! Independence Hall post-9/11 is a very different experience from my previous visit there in '94. The birthplace of both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution is now surrounded with barricades, and the security hassles you have to go through to get in are worse than the airport. I have a hard time imagining the original signers of those documents obediently queuing up to be searched. I wonder how many visitors are struck by the irony.

Incidentally, the docent who explains the Liberty Bell is an Annoying Idiot. He is not the chief Annoying Idiot among docents -- that distinction belongs to a certain guide at Montana's Lewis & Clark caverns -- but he's a close runner-up.

Posted January 4th, 2003



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