Thursday, July 14, 2011

Things I find off-putting (II)

Romantic comedies, and libertarianism.


  1. Came here via your (deserved) savaging of Wilkinson's "smiling down the smoking barrel of our thanks" post.

    So, how would one characterize an an ideology which often provides useful practical guidance (beware of constraints on liberty, fear regulatory capture and baptist&bootlegger dynamics, etc., etc.) but which fails, often catastrophically, as an organizing philosophy? I suppose 'off-putting' is as good a descriptor as I can come up with.

    Romantic comedies, however, can be great.

  2. Well, I don't think Wilikinson's necessarily wrong to view armies or nations as he does, I think just it's a bit low to condescend to a dead guy like that -- I mean, doesn't he get to decide what his life is worth? Or does that kind of freedom not apply to folks we think we're smarter than?

    I think the examples you cite don't strengthen the case for "libertarianism." I mean, sure: mainstream liberals and conservatives and everyone else value civil liberties, just like most liberals like government to be efficient and most conservatives do in fact want to help the poor and unfortunate. Nobody likes needless constraints on liberty. There's a libertarian case against, say, the TSA, but it's a stupid case to make because it is rendered uninteresting because it doesn't seem like the TSA does a hel of a lot to advance liberal or conservative goals either, so? So if "libertarianism" means anything useful it's about putting individual civil liberties on a really high pedestal, above other social projects and values.

    And I think that's nuts. I mean, what's so special about individuals? A libertarian ant or bee would be a miserable creature; humans aren't that communal, but still. We have a biological nature and need for grand projects, for everyone to get on board. Thus you have a civil rights movement that says, look, it's not really "your" house, you can't up and decide you only want to rent it to white folks, because those civil liberties violate our social mission and values -- and elites dictated that back when it wasn't broadly popular, and they were right to. That's how people are, and everyone has to get on board with what we as a people decide. To the libertarian that seems to mean, "society" is going to march everyone off to the gas chambers, and I guess it can go there, and God knows it has. But I hope in the end we do better than that.

  3. I agree with you that the condescension is the objectionable part. For any cause 'X' that some people think is worth dying for, there will be those who think it isn't worth a single human life. That's understandable. What's not understandable, or admirable, is the lazy identification of disagreement with delusion. As you noted, service in Afghanistan might be motivated by any number of plausible reasons. But Wilkinson blows straight past those. (and that he does it with self-consciously 'pretty' writing makes it even more of a dick move, somehow).

    And I guess that evocation of something like false consciousness in the Marxist sense got me thinking about the problems with Libertarianism as an 'organizing philosophy.' Because it's a particular blindness -- the blindness induced by a totalizing doctrine -- that makes it hard for Wilkinson to recognize that people could be sincerely and intelligently motivated by say, patriotism, or even just the pragmatic assessment that US presence in Afghanistan is the least bad option for millions of Afghans.

    As to the merits of libertarianism, I wouldn't try to attempt a (limited) defense in a blog comments section. But the one I would give would be pragmatic -- it's a good default to hold state coercion to a very high standard of justification.