Friday, January 7, 2011
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?