Thursday, August 25, 2005

Quoting La Me

I apologize for quoting myself: from this Chronicles thread:
I agree that most people do not want liberty; that is why we do not have it. IMO those who think we can "win" the battle for liberty are just deluding themselves. Why libertarians, who denounce altruism etc., feel as if it's some moral duty to go around wasting large parts of their life in some campaign for liberty is beyond me--it's altruistic; it's futile; it's a waste of time, since one is at most barely increasing the odds, that we will temporarily and slightly increase liberty, the puny benefit of which falls primarily on those who do not deserve it.
I have spoken. So let it be written, so let it be done (affecting Yul Brenner Pharao pose)


In the wake of some emails, let me add a few clarifying commments. I am not saying that it is a waste of time to try to work for liberty. To the contrary. I am saying that one would have to view it as a waste of time, if one really believed the costs of fighting the battle must be justified by the gains achieved--because one must delude oneself into making the equation balance. I just reject the equation. I help fight for liberty because it is the right thing to do. If I strutted around like some libertarians who claim that in their devotion to the struggle for liberty they are "making a difference"--certainly "more of a difference" than people like me who don't write "influential books" or a daily op-ed column or give speeches to socialist legislators in Arabia--then if I were honest I would have to say, it's really not worth it. If the justification for spending time and effort and money etc. to fight for liberty is whether or not we are "winning," then the project is a failure, on those terms. As I noted above, the actions of most of us at most result in a slightly higher chance at barely, and temporarily, increasing liberty--or, more likely, slowing down the rate of increase in government growth--primarily for the benefit of the masses who at root are to blame for the problem in the first place. And honest analysis realizes this.

Freeing oneself from self-delusion is essential for self-honesty and integrity. It also frees one to take principled positions and to avoid making the dishonest and irritating mistake of judging the truth or value of a theory or view by its "strategical" significance.

I cannot count the number of times some irritating jerk libertarian says to me, in response to a theory or normative proposition, "but that is not going to persuade anyone." They immediately assume that everything is to be judged by strategy, rhetoric, persuasiveness. I see nothing wrong with using such standards when appropriate. For example if I am proposing a method or argument to persuade people, then it is relevant whether the proposed argument or technique is persuasive. But when I assert to a fellow libertarian that we have a right to such and such, or that there is no right to xyz, for such and such reasons--it is just a non sequitur, a category mistake--and usually smarmy disingenuity, IMO--to say BUT that is not "going to persuade people." Hey dumbass--I never said it was gonna persuade others. These type of libertarians are in my view basically moral skeptics, relativists, and/or utilitarians. They are incapable of discussing anything normative. Moral talk is simply not "useful." What good, after all, does it to do identify moral truths, if it does not persuade others?

By this logic, there are no rights violations; there is only power. After all, even if libertarian rights could be proved by the Word of God delivered in an engraved envelope--still, an aggressor could disregard it. "Telling" him that he is violating your rights will "do no good." Yes. So? And so? What is the point of this elementary school observation? This entire mindset is that of the self-proclaimed "pragmatist" who does not want to say there are no rights--after all, it might be "useful" if some people do believe in them--but he does not really believe in them. He, in engineer-like fashion, cares only about "practical" "results." And I have no problem with this. But I would prefer they be honest. If I say, "there should be no murder," don't say "that's not practical"; it's not "impractical"; it's a normative truth. To say the rule against murder is "impractical" is to fail to distinguish between ought and is.

Every 5-15 years you see some libertarians waxing about how we are winning the battle, or that we can win the battle, all we need to do is... As far back as the 1930s etc.... They have to delude themselves and engage in wishful thinking and rah-rah political rally self-delusion ("we can win! we can win the Presidency! This year we will get 100 million votes if we just get our message out there!!!"). They have to delude themselves because they have bought into the idea that the cost of the fight is a worthwhile "investment" in the struggle to "achieve" liberty. They must believe that worth it to fight for liberty, implying they think we have, or can, achieve suffiient "gains" to "outweigh" the "Costs". This is naive and wide-eyed gullibility, wishful thinking.

Me--I say, be a libertarian activist if you want (of whatever stripe: more academic, like some of us; a blogger; a writer; join a local discussion group; run for office; donate your time or money to something; help promote economic education and literacy; whatever). I am, myself, to a degree. It's okay to spend effort on a cause one is passionate about. I expend effort reading science fiction, and don't seek to justify it w/ some made-up phantom tangible gains. Fight for liberty for its own sake. If you fight for it based on the gains, you will soon give up.


Manuel Lora said...

So I see two things here. First, that when speaking of liebrty, once should do so at the normative level only, since going to results-oriented talk, positivism, moral relativism and utilitarianism is being dishonest.

Second, that liberty has not been advanced at all. Perhaps a few things here and there but overall, our efforts barely make difference in the advance of the state violence. Therefore, could activism, then, only be justified if we eliminate all "gains" aspect of it?

If I understand the post correctly, then whatever one does and says for liberty must be gone for liberty's sake and not becuase such action is popular or persuades people.

Yes? No?

Stephan Kinsella said...

I just think that fighting for the liberty of others is a bit altruistic. I wish we wuld just admit this.

Second, look, it's like when you try to tell a plebe that his vote does not matter--that the same candidate will win no matter whether he votes or not. They fight this obvious truth. They say things like, "But if everyone believed that..." but that does not contradict my assertion.

Likewise, libertarians want to believe they can "make a difference." But if on my deathbed I judge my life by whether my fight for liberty was efficacious--I will think I was a failure, b/c we will certainly still have large government then etc. I think that is blaming the victim. And foolish and silly.

Manuel Lora said...

I see your point but I think we're speaking at different levels. Could one honestly fight for the liberty of another for liberty's sake? The libertarian opposes force. The greatest force is the state. So to fight the state for liberty's sake also means to fight for everyone's freedom. No? We're all slaves to the governments.

I'm trying to get at this question: at what point does one become altruistic when trying to improve freedom? Surely if we oppose the state, then that improves everyone, even if they're state supporters. Is it possible to separate altruism from activism?

In other words, does one have to necessarily fall into altruism to fight egalitarianism by using popular support? (elections, etc.)

Vince Daliessio said...

Agree with your comments re: working for liberty for liberty's sake. I liken it to a singer who becomes popular or a trend that takes the country by storm - you have to work hard, you have to make the commitment, you have to get the message out, but for it to catch fire you also have to have a large part of the population that hungers for it (most don't have a clue) and it needs to be able to create its own momentum. You can work hard for liberty your whole life, and it may never happen. No matter, you will have made the world freer in some small way than it would have been without you.