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I’m continually amazed by how often this blog brings home to me the very different ways we all read things–so different that I wonder, really, if any two people are ever reading the “same thing.” 

Okay, that’s incoherent.

Let me tell you about yesterday, which actually hooks up to what it is I found “brilliant” about that essay I posted yesterday.

Yesterday, I got myself into trouble on Facebook.

Ack.  It was one of those things.

Somebody had posted a link to an article about how Facebook allows “hate speech” against fat people, with the comment that FB has a button up on every page that lets you declare the page “racist/hate speech” if you want.

People then responded to this by saying well, it’s amazing how much of that kind of thing goes on when it has nothing to do with free speech or the first amendment.

And, you know, I couldn’t help myself.  I posted responses–yes, this is free speech, freedom of speech is an individual right, it’s not just about the government, I don’t want corporations telling me what ideas I’m allowed to express any more than I want governments to, letting people decide who gets to say what endangers everybody and causes much more harm than “hate speech” ever could.

And, of course, I had nobody else defending my side of it.  I got snippy little comments about how the First Amendment only applies to the government so this isn’t a free speech thing, and what’s really immoral isn’t censorship or control of speech and ideas but “hate speech” itself, and then when I wouldn’t back down I got the message that “this is done now.”

In other words, agree with me or I stop talking.

And part of me is just annoyed at myself, because the idea of FB for me was just to have little light conversation, and that kind of thing.

But part of me went back to something I learned on the Internet–it’s not a matter of Left and Right, it’s not a matter of conservative and liberal, it’s a matter of libertarianism or the need for control.

And that division–libertarianism and the need for control–occurs inside the usual political divisions.

And that division seems to be visceral–it seems to be tendencies within personalities rather than a result of one kind of political thinking or another.

In other words, I know libertarian socialists as well as libertarian capitalists, and libertarian everything in between.  I know self proclaimed socialists who are just as much free speech absolutists as I am, and who are committed to Second Amendment rights to boot.

I know self-proclaimed conservatives who think it should be illegal to criticize people’s religion and who really want laws restricting all kinds of private behavior, from homosexuality to flag burning.

The real division is not what we think it is. 

Hayek, of course, is famous for saying that social welfare states will necessarily breed serfdom, in the sense of breeding need-for-control people dependent on their controllers. 

It seems to me that that is just sort-of true.  Lee’s “natural libertarians” seem to exist everywhere, and in some cases they actually develop out of the other thing.

The problem with arguing about things like “hate speech,” of course, is that people automatically assume that if you’re not for banning it, then you think it’s “all right” that some people should be insulting to other people.

But I don’t think it’s all right.  I think it’s inexcusable.

I just think it’s wrong to ban it, because banning it will, in the end, cause far more damage.

Part of the problem is that I’m not a feelings person.  I get mine hurt a lot–well, okay, less than I did when I was younger, but that’s mostly because I’ve developed a hide like a rhinocerso–but it seems to me that in issues of speech, feelings are irrelevant.

And that one drives people crazy.

As to John’s post:  Both Robert Nozick and Ayn Rand provided foundations for individual rights that do NOT rely on God and that do NOT rely on if it feels good or you like it.  That is, they both provided objective grounds for rights.

But Mill and Locke were relying less on God thanyou think–they were Deists, and the God of the Deists is more like what you and I would call “the laws of nature” than it is like the God of Christianity.

Mill and Locke assumed–correctly, I think–that just as you could establish the laws of physical motion, the way in which nature is constructed and how it works, you could do the same with human nature.

But more about that later.

It’s already getting too hot to sit in this office.

Written by janeh

July 8th, 2010 at 8:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized

7 Responses to 'Brilliant'

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  1. That was another thing that I didn’t like about that article – the idea that something based on the heart rather than the head was somehow more profound. I’m highly suspicious of conclusions based on emotion rather than reason – in my experience, they tend to be superficial and changeable. I don’t like at all any claim that something is good, right, or morally proper because it feels good or gives pleasure or is desperately desired.

    That doesn’t mean that I approve of hate laws, especially laws against hate speech. I’m no libertarian, but I’m with you on that. I don’t approve of rudeness, but I think a thick skin is a far better defense than a law, and such laws cause more problems than they solve, as can be seen by recent reports on cases in the UK and Australia. There’s a journalist in the Canadian news magazine Maclean’s who has been scathing about his run-ins with Canada’s equivalent rules as applied by the human rights commissions, and I think was convincing.


    8 Jul 10 at 8:54 am

  2. This will be the exchange on Keith’s wall? Your last post was good – long for Facebook, as you’ve noted, but a solid explanation of what you were talking about. I especially like the “God-given right” thing and your response.

    Facebook’s weird. I like it a lot – I’m in touch with cousins and old friends that I thought I’d lost years ago. But there are some people that I’m really close to just hiding from my newsfeed because their posts make me so nuts.

    I mean, I really, really didn’t need to know that two of my aunts are into this birther nutbaggery. Yeah, there’s a brown guy in the White House. Live with it.


    8 Jul 10 at 9:59 am

  3. “I know self proclaimed socialists who are just as much free speech absolutists as I am, and who are committed to Second Amendment rights to boot.”

    Woo-hoo! Well, OK, actually I’m probably not a socialist anymore–closer to Social Democrat without the nanny bullshit.

    And yes, I think we can, through observation, establish a basis for morality in human nature. I’m probably one of very few of my very left colleagues and friends who isn’t a moral relativist.

    And I do get the point about learned helplessness, but I still think it is worth thinking about both the costs and the benefits of having and not having various bits of safety net and trying for a mini-max solution.



    8 Jul 10 at 10:15 am

  4. Sorry, I would have been there with you on the free speech thing on Facebook, but I was without power for 12 hours yesterday. A “planned outage” that the electric company forgot to notify me about. Grrr.

    On the upside, I went to bed early and got a lot of sleep. More later.


    8 Jul 10 at 1:23 pm

  5. I’m not convinced that one can derive a unique set of moral laws from human nature. But comparison to the laws of physics is dangerous. Physical laws always hold no matter what the consequences. Drop a 3 month old baby over a 100 foot cliff and the baby will be killed. And there is no use complaining that its unfair or unjust.

    What if you have general moral laws but a particular application yields a result that people consider unfair or unjust?


    8 Jul 10 at 6:22 pm

  6. We already have a form of that. I tend to think that the legal system is more a system of keeping order than creating justice, but it clearly also tries to enforce certain moral codes as well. And it’s not that unusual for people to disagree strongly on the outcome of a court case. So we have laws enforcing a kind of general morality, the application of which sometimes have results people consider unfair. And we have ways around that – procedures to change the laws, judges who may have some degree of discretion in the penalty they give in iffy cases – and although we don’t have 100% agreement, the system sort of bumbles along doing its job, more or less.

    I may be just restating what you (John) meant above, but I think the social sciences are extremely distant from the physical sciences because they often don’t even agree on what the aspects of human society they’re measuring are, and when they come up with theories, they don’t have anything near the predictive power of a scientific theory. I don’t think it’s possible to deduce moral laws from any of the social sciences. The best you could do is say that ‘societies with charateristics X, Y and Z often also have A, B, and C, so since we’ve decided we want X, Y and Z, we’ll make it immoral to do away with A, B and C.’ But that’s not really a moral code, because there’s no reason to think X etc is right or closer to the truth or a better approximation of reality. It’s just what the person making up the rules prefers.

    And I don’t do Facebook. I spend too much time online as it is, and anyway from what I’ve heard of it, it doesn’t appeal to me. I think I set up an account when I really wanted to view something, and then deleted it again.


    8 Jul 10 at 6:51 pm

  7. Would someone like me to quote the Heinlein passage from TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE to the effect that THE fundamental political difference was between those who wished to run their neighbors’ lives–often for the noblest of reasons–and the surly curmudgeons who had no such impulse?

    But conservatism. Let’s review what it means to be a conservative. It’s not necessarily “libertarian lite.” It’s a conviction that societies are large compicated things, and that we do not understand how all the parts work together. Change should thus be careful and gradual. This means changing what a government can and cannot do carefully and gradually. In America, that generally puts a conservative on the limited government side of issues–but not necessarily when we’re talking about a government not being allowed to do something it has traditionally done. A Russian conservative would approach private ownership of farm land very carefully.

    Which is why I tend to call myself a conservative libertarian. I want us all to have as much liberty as is compatible with a safe, stable society–but I don’t know how much that is. Neither did Ayn Rand: she just thought she knew.

    But a libertarian socialist–depending on how far he or she takes either one–is pretty well a contradiction in terms, like being a strong-government pacifist. A pacifist denies the legitimate use of force, and that’s what government is–force claiming legitimacy. And every advance of socialism is an extension of the number of things I must or must not do–and a consequent reduction of my freedom. If you can be both, it’s only up to severely limited points.

    The relevant line it Trotsky’s: “If there is only one employer, there is only the choice of submission or starvation.”


    9 Jul 10 at 7:01 pm

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