Friday, January 7, 2011

Easy Libertarianism

Baruch Pelta has agreed to resume our discussion about libertarianism. Beyond the issue of libertarianism there is the issue of activist academics. Baruch takes offense that I would compare him and activist academics to Haredim. He also implies that I question the sanity of my opponents. Perhaps because I am a libertarian I am very sensitive to any form of physical coercion. In a world in which the government did not fund academia, academics would certainly be free to do as they pleased. But as long as academics do receive money from the government and hence from every tax payer, liberal, conservative, communist and white supremacist, academics have the obligation to not use their government sponsored position to advance any particular partisan cause. To do so would be to force the government to take sides in the ideological conflicts of society and choose one side over the other, delegitimizing them and coercing them to pay for the advancement of those same ideas they oppose.

Are activist academics the moral equivalent of Haredim who blatantly distort historical facts in order to better advance their own personal beliefs? To be clear, I have run into Haredim who openly admitted to me that they did not believe in any independent concept of truth and that truth therefore was simply their personal Jewish beliefs. I do not see academics, even activist academics, as being that blatantly hostile to truth. That being said, if we break things down to their mental building blocks we will find that our activist academics and Haredim operate from identical premises. Both sides believe that the great masses of humanity are mentally flawed and in need of guidance by a "higher intelligence." If there is a difference it is that Haredim are more honest in their beliefs and utterly ruthless in pursuing the inevitable conclusions.

In this, I am following Friedrich Hayek's diagnosis of modern liberals. According to Hayek both left wing socialists and right wing fascists were really identical in that they accepted as their fundamental premise that government had the right to interfere in the economy in the name of some "public good," which the people are unable of accomplishing on their own. Fascists were simply those who had jumped ahead of their socialist forbearers in ruthlessly pursuing this ideology to its inevitable tyrannical conclusion.

Does this mean that I believe that my opponents are insane and should be place on the next edition of the DSM? No more than Hayek did. Keep in mind that libertarianism would force the government into far narrower understandings of mental illness. Since the government would only deal with physical harm, it could only rule mentally unfit those incapable of understanding the social contract of not causing physical harm to others and are thus presumably at risk of causing such physical harm. By such standards Baruch and the vast majority of liberals must be accepted as mentally fit. This does not mean that they lack for mental blind spots. As evolutionary psychology has taught us, human beings are hardly the invulnerable fortresses of rationalism. For example, like our primate relatives, we have difficulty quantifying risk.

This is relevant to libertarianism in that it explains why people are so easily scammed by government into only seeing how government helps their particular special interest in fleecing everyone else, ignoring how government is doing the same thing for every other special interest as well.

I am just as "mentally ill" as Baruch. I recognize that my mind is flawed, but it is because I recognize that my mind is so flawed that I accept the fact that I cannot get by through my own intelligence and need it bound by various methods of thinking (like the scientific and historical methods) and should not take it upon myself to try enforcing the "truths" of this very flawed mind on other people.

It is telling that Baruch would juxtapose a quote of mine with H.L. Mencken saying that no one "has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people." Apparently Baruch seems to agree with Mencken. In truth the masses of plain people are very intelligent, though, admittedly, only when they make decisions by themselves, without knowing what anyone else is thinking. Regardless of that, I ask you to consider the fundamental mental building blocks supporting the notion that regular people are not very intelligent. In the conservative worldview people are not assumed to be very intelligent. Because of this there is little hope in simply allowing people to negotiate through their differences and so solutions must be forcefully imposed from above by some "higher intelligence." Then there is the liberal worldview which holds that people are capable of negotiating through their differences if left to their own devices without some solution being forcefully imposed from above. I believe that human beings are mentally flawed, but that the free market has a way of compensating for this allowing human beings to interact with each other in a way that approximates reason. I am fundamentally a liberal in how I conceive the world. Haredim clearly operate out of a conservative world view. Mencken, despite his supposed liberalism, was also really cut from the same cloth. I would say the same about any activist academic, using a government funded post to push his values on the masses below him. What about Baruch? Where are his values rooted?


Clarissa said...

"academics have the obligation to not use their government sponsored position to advance any particular partisan cause. "

-How can this be avoided on a practical level? The very fact of me walking into the classroom, a woman, an immigrant, a Ukrainian Jew, is already an ideological statement. I don't even have to open my mouth to present a very powerful argument in favor of feminism.

I believe that anybody who says they don't bring their ideology to their classroom are kidding themselves. Our ideology accompanies us everywhere: to the table, to bed, to the bathroom. How can we possibly hope to leave it behind the classroom doors?

Also, a typo: "people are not assumed to be very intelligence."

Izgad said...

The libertarian distinction between physical and non-physical becomes important here. The fact when you walk into a classroom you make an implicit argument for a certain political worldview and may lead to many of your students taking up such a political worldview. That is different from the government demanding that conservative parents pay your salary as you try to convince their children that your politics are correct. In practice this would mean that the government would have to close down or radically reform women’s studies departments since they are specifically devoted to deconstructing and attacking present day “patriarchal” positions.

Take our anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic student, who believes that women should be left in the kitchen and denied abortions. He was free to engage in the political process and try to keep Ukrainian Jewish women from entering the social contract and becoming full citizens with equal rights, including being hired by the government to teach. When the government allows you to enter his classroom as his teacher, the government is not telling him that he is wrong or that he is a bigot and a misogynist. All he is being told is that he lost the last election and attempt to amend the Constitution. He is free to try next time and if he can convince enough people of his views he might succeed. At that point he will be able to chase you out of the classroom. In the meantime we are only demanding that he fund policies that he might not support, (in return of course we are agreeing to fund his policies if he ever were to win, say “alternative pregnancy counseling”) not the active funding of any ideologies.

As with all deals, it is a compromise and one that you might not like. But it should keep this student from bringing a gun to class and shooting you. Perhaps he will be too busy setting up a tea party rally. (And you thought that the tea party was good for nothing.) :)

Bartley Kulp said...

You know, there is a technical problem with you painting a broad brush term such as activist academic. For instance you are a libertarian. That in itself is a position.

Where does one draw the line. What position could an academic take, especially if he/she is a professor of civics, public policy, medicine, political science or economics that would be objectively neutral?

Izgad said...

I do not have a problem with academics having political beliefs. I assume that all intelligent people have them. What I object to is when an academic post is used to advance that political agenda. The worst is when an academic post or even an entire department is created in order to advance a political position.

I am teaching medieval European history right now. I do not teach a liberty studies class where I deconstruct the power structure of government. My students, unless they have actually read this blog, have no idea what my politics are. This past week I spoke about the Black Death. I did not lecture about how the Black Death shows that government health care does not work.