Monday, January 31, 2011

My Big Sister Can Beat Up Your Big Brother Any Day

The Baltimore Sun magazine has an article on Masada Tactical and their self defense courses. The person being strangled in the picture is my sister. I missed out on the chance to do that as a kid and now trying might not be good for my health.   

Feminists in Burqas: A Response to Clarissa

Clarissa has a post up about a Gender Studies series of lectures on "Liberating Potential of the Burqa." Clarissa laments the fact that this is not a sign of the feminist movement gaining a sense of humor, but is meant in full earnestness as a study of how the burqa might be used to "liberate women from being constantly victimized by the desire implicit in a male gaze." As to this notion of the male gaze, Clarissa notes:

I never got this whole drama about people being demeaned or "objectified" (what a silly word!) by another person's gaze. If somebody looks at you and finds you attractive, it isn't something they can control. Whether they act on their desire for you can be controlled, of course. But the feeling of desire cannot. Only a very puritanical world-view believes that desire is inherently evil and has to be feared. As for objectification, other people are always objects of our actions. That's implicit in the rules of grammar. "I see you, I like you, I help you, I respect you, I support you" - in all of these sentences "I" is the only subject, while "you" is always an object. Other people are always objects of our feelings, actions, thoughts, etc. Being an object of somebody else's actions can be both good and bad, depending on the content of the action.

Every day, as I walk around, people see me and form attitudes towards me on the basis of what they see. Even if these attitudes are negative, why should I care? Why should I hide myself behind a bulky piece of covering? Why should I grant others such a huge power over my life? Instead of spending our lives fearing the judgment we believe is present in the gaze of other people, shouldn't we concentrate on our own desires, thoughts, and experiences? Who cares what some unknown man who sees me on the bus thinks of me? If he thinks I'm attractive, that's his right. If he sits there thinking, "Oh, Jeez, what an ugly woman," that's his right too.

I suspect that I differ from Clarissa in that I have no deep-seated objection to the burqa, seeing it as something, in of itself, neutral in terms of women's empowerment. A burqa could mean a mean trying to gain control over a woman by making her ashamed of her body and to feel guilty for "leading men astray." A burqa could equally be a woman's way of empowering herself and engaging in a critic of a male-dominated culture which objectifies women. The fact that historically the burqa has tended to more often serve the former function does not mean it cannot be made to serve the latter. I would even argue that our best hope in defeating the patriarchal implications of the burqa is not by head-on eliminating the burqa, but in embracing the burqa while subverting it.

Ultimately my willingness to not oppose the burqa is rooted in my willingness to only recognize the validity of physical harm. Like Clarissa, I see nothing intrinsically wrong with the male gaze, but again only because it does not cause physical harm. A man might have all the patriarchal intentions in the world, but that has no effect on the person being observed, who is free to interpret the gaze and feel about as desired. Since the observed person is as such free it carries the full responsibility for how it reacts to being observed, an objectively neutral action.

If there is one thing that Clarissa and I agree on here, it is, I believe, a concern that the self-proclaimed liberal activism of those in Gender Studies departments might become an exercise in going far enough to the left and ending up on the right. Who is going to inherit the benefits of feminist attempts to liberate women from patriarchy? The historical law of unintended consequences leads one to wonder if it might not be patriarchal men armed with new academic jargon to back their biblical truths. As long as individuals can be subjected to the non-physical concerns of others there can be no secure rights for women or any men.   

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Separate Schools for Autistics

Ari Ne’eman has an article responding to the recent proposal by Gov. Chris Christie to fund an autism school in every county in New Jersey. In what might strike some people as being counter intuitive for an autism advocate, Ari opposes this proposal and for good reason, considering his own childhood experience. As Ari points out:

As an autistic adult who went through New Jersey's special education system as a child, I experience firsthand the low expectations that are all too common in segregated settings for students with disabilities.

For several years of my childhood, instead of walking to the neighborhood public school a few minutes away from my home, a van took me an hour and a half away to a school for students with disabilities. There, academics took a back seat to social skills classes. A culture of low expectations dominated the educational environment.

I cannot say that I support separate government schools for autistics mainly because I do not support government schools in the first place for anyone. That being said, I worry that by advocating integration we are missing an opportunity. Could not we, in the autistic community, take over such a school and give the children the sort of autistic education they can actually succeed with? If we believe that autism is a difference of mind not a disability then it follows that autistic children would benefit from a learning program designed specifically for them. To grow through the regular public school system, means starting out with special education, guaranteed, by definition, to treat us as inferiors, in the hope of eventually being able to integrate into a wider school, which might not really be a victory either.

The weakness of any integrationist policy is that it, by definition, enshrines the majority culture as the “superior” one to be integrated into. As long as we are trying to be like neurotypicals, we can shout at the top of our lungs that we are their equals, but we will not and they will have every reason to continue to treat us with contempt as their inferiors. This can be seen already in Ari’s own school experience. I am sure his teachers meant well and desired to give him the skills to eventually be able to integrate. That being said they were forcing him to spend time developing skills that he might not have had any particular aptitude with; time that could have been better spent developing those skills he could make best use of. At a more fundamental level the very valuing of neurotypical social skills holds up neurotypicals as the superior thing to which us autistics should try to emulate. If this was going on at an autistic school, how much worse would it be at a regular public school, a system designed around the valuation of socialization at the expense of the simple transfer of knowledge?

I am not saying that autistics have no need to be taught to socialize with neurotypicals, just that socializing, beyond being able to communicate a rational case as to why someone should do what you want, has no intrinsic value. That still leaves the attempt to play on the emotions of others to get them to conform to one’s desires. We generally call such activity manipulation and I have serious qualms about the morality of teaching such skills in school.

What might a real neurodiversity based autistic school look like? For starters we would have to take control away from people whose primary training is special education. As long as we are beholden to that model we will forever be trapped in the cycle of trying to catch up and by like neurotypicals. We need the school to be in the hands of people whose experience is not in treating autism, but in living it. The very concept of a classroom is based on a model of education as socialization and therefore needs to be scraped. In its place we offer a “school” as a building in which children are supervised and restrained from causing harm to others and to themselves; within such a framework children should be left to pursue their own interests. For teachers we should not be searching for education specialists at all, but experts in specific fields. Their purpose is to identify what specific fields of knowledge any given child possesses a predilection for and to work with that child to create specific assignments through which the child can pursue an area of interest. This could be something as simple as agreeing to read a book by a given date, write a report on it or be prepared to talk about it.

The success of the neurodiversity movement is going to depend on our ability to not just claim that we are different though still equal, but on our ability to put that into practice. We need to show that we can produce experts in specific fields of value. Do that and society will readily grant us the accommodations we need. To do this we are going to have to start with the education system and we are going to need to take control of it.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Now that is Integrity

A while back I posted on the need to be repulsed by the mere idea of improperly taking government money and my horror at a young man who claimed not to see anything wrong in stealing from the government. At its roots integrity is about the recognition of what you deserve and a loathing to receive anything other than that. The moment someone loses that moral compass of “I should not have it therefore I do not want it” it becomes possible, and even perhaps inevitable, to accept playing outside the rules

One can see baseball’s malady this past decade of star baseball players using steroids as based in this lack of integrity. Millions of dollars are at stake and players desire to extend their careers. If it means violating some rules well then it is not like they are actually hurting anyone and besides “everyone else is doing it.” This is the logic of someone who wants millions of dollars as opposed to someone who wishes to earn millions of dollars and do it in complete honesty.

So what are we to make of Royals pitcher Gil Meche who declined the $12 million of the last year of his contract because he did not feel he was playing well enough to deserve that kind of money? Legally he had every right to this money and no one would have questioned him for taking it. How many people here (me included) have that kind of integrity to not be able to bring oneself to accept millions of dollars that was not completely deserved.

As a libertarian I would add that there is a lesson here in the how and why statist regimes come to power. Contrary to what some of you might think, libertarianism is not about greed. Quite the contrary it is rooted in the moral integrity to only want what one honestly deserves. It is the statist that suffers from greed and that is how the government ensnares them. People look around and see others with more than they have. They are not criminals and would never dream of actually stealing, but still they are consumed with the desire to have that which by law they have no right to. Even worse than simple materialist greed is the jealously of wanting something not for its own sake, but precisely because someone else has it. Keep this up long enough and a person will believe that they “deserve” what the other person has regardless of any law and if the law does not come to this “correct” solution it needs to be made more “practical” to fit the “reality” of day to day life. It is at this point that the statist politician enters the picture and offers to use government to give you what belongs to someone else (this includes anything paid for with someone else’s tax dollars) in the interest of “fairness.”

The vast majority of Americans lack the integrity to not desire what they have not honestly earned and politicians from both parties eagerly cater to this moral weakness. What most people do not realize that there is a hidden price to pay. Allowing the government to take money in the interest of fairness means the government now has the right to take your money in the interest of someone else’s “fairness.” You agree to let the government give you a single penny of someone else’s money you are really signing over to the government everything you own. Every election cycle the American population happily sells itself into slavery and thanks the government for being so kind as to slap on the chains of bondage. So who here can resist the temptation to accept from the government something they have not worked for and earned? Who has the integrity to be a free man?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

G. K. Chesterton and Jewish Hats

I think it would make a wonderful discussion exercise to hand out a sample of G. K. Chesterton's writing about Jews to be read by a group and ask them to judge whether or not Chesterton was an anti-Semite. I suspect that a more Haredi audience would actually find that they relate very well to Chesterton and accept where he is coming from. A group of more liberal Jews would find Chesterton utterly offensive.

In my mind at least, Chesterton wrote one of the most eloquent pieces on the importance of Jews maintaining a separate mode of dress. Chesterton states:

Thus we cannot help feeling, for instance, that there is something a little grotesque about the Hebrew habit of putting on a top-hat as an act of worship.

Nobody can say that a top-hat was among the strange utensils dedicated to the obscure service of the Ark; nobody can suppose that a top-hat descended from heaven among the wings and wheels of the flying visions of the Prophets.

It is solely the special type and shape of hat that makes the Hebrew ritual seem ridiculous. Performed in the old original Hebrew fashion it is not ridiculous, but rather if anything sublime.

For the original fashion was an oriental fashion; and the Jews are orientals; and the mark of such orientals is the wearing of long and loose draperies. To throw those loose draperies over the head is decidedly a dignified and even poetic gesture.

It may be true, and personally I think it is true, that the Hebrew covering of the head signifies a certain stress on the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom, while the Christian uncovering of the head suggests rather the love of God that is the end of wisdom.

But this has nothing to do with the taste and dignity of the ceremony; and to do justice to these we must treat the Jews as an oriental; we must even dress him as an oriental.

I have felt disposed to say: let all liberal legislation stand, let all literal and legal civic equality stand; let a Jew occupy any political or social position which he can gain in open competition; let us not listen for a moment to any suggestions of reactionary restrictions or racial privilege. Let a Jew be Lord Chief justice, if his exceptional veracity and reliability have clearly marked him out for that post. Let a Jew be Archbishop of Canterbury, if our national religion has attained to that receptive breadth that would render such a transition unobjectionable and even unconscious. But let there be one single-clause bill; one simple and sweeping law about Jews, and no other.

Be it enacted, by the King's Most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and the Commons in Parliament assembled, that every Jew must be dressed like an Arab.

(New Jerusalem kindle 3078-3114.)

I can only imagine what Chesterton might think if he had lived to see black fedora hats go out of fashion among non-Jews and be embraced by Haredim as the national Jewish hat.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Peter Cunaeus’ Biblical Turn to the Redistribution of Wealth

Eric Nelson's The Hebrew Republic: Jewish Sources and the Transformation of European Political Thought is an analysis of the origins of Enlightenment political liberalism. Nelson makes the case, that contrary to popular belief, Enlightenment political liberalism came out of not secularism, but early modern Christian Hebraism and its turn toward the Old Testament as a political constitution, particularly at the expense of classical sources. Aristotelian political thought could recognize monarchy, aristocracy and democracy as all being legitimate forms of political authority. For early modern Christian Hebraists, the Old Testament recognized one form of government as being legitimate, the republic.

One of the issues that Nelson discusses that caught my attention is the redistribution of wealth. He argues that before the sixteenth century all discussions about the redistribution of wealth took as their starting point Cicero's vehement rejection of Roman agrarian reform laws, whether that of the Gracchi brothers or that of Julius Caesar, which attempted to give land to Rome's poor. Even opponents of private property like Machiavelli and Thomas More based their opposition solely on civic morality and not out of a desire to create a more equitable society. According to Nelson:

When [Peter] Cunaeus, professor of jurisprudence at the University of Leiden, came to reflect on the equal division of land mandated by God among Israelite families and tribes – it seemed immediately obvious to him that this should be called an "agrarian law" (lex agraria), just like the one proposed by Licinius Stolo among the Romans. With one small gesture of analogy, Cunaeus rendered the agrarian laws not only respectable but also divinely sanctioned. If God had ordained agrarian laws in his own commonwealth, then Cicero had to be wrong. (pg. 64.)

Cicero's opposition to agrarian laws made him a hero for libertarians such as Hayek, who saw in Cicero the foundational figure of the principled defense of private property as the very basis of any law and order society. History vindicated Cicero as the agrarian laws turned out to be cover for Caesar's takeover of power and the destruction of the Roman republic. So who do we blame for the West's turn away from path of Cicero, the Bible or Christians trying to interpret the Bible and making a mess out of it (as usual)?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

G. K. Chesterton in Defense of Greek

There is something highly maddening in the circumstance that when modern people attack an institution that really does demand reform, they always attack it for the wrong reasons. Thus many opponents of our public schools, imagining themselves to be very democratic, have exhausted themselves in an unmeaning attack upon the study of Greek. I can understand how Greek may be regarded as useless, especially by those thirsting to throw themselves into the cut throat commerce which is the negation of citizenship; but I do not understand how it can be considered undemocratic.
I quite understand why Mr. [Andrew] Carnegie has a hatred of Greek. It is obscurely funded on the firm and sound impression that in any self-governing Greek city he would have been killed. But I cannot comprehend why any chance democrat, say Mr. Quelch, or Mr. Will Crooks, I or Mr. John M. Robertson, should be opposed to people learning the Greek alphabet, which was the alphabet of liberty. Why should Radicals dislike Greek? In that language is written all the earliest and, Heaven knows, the most heroic history of the Radical party. Why should Greek disgust a democrat, when the very word democrat is Greek? (What's Wrong with the World kindle 1954-61.)

To my readers: what course of study would you propose to spread through our general education system to revive our flagging public civic democratic spirit?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

My Relationship Status

Well, I am back to being gloriously single and struggling to make progress on my dissertation. So why am I still so gloriously single?

Is it:

A) I am married to writing my dissertation and incapable of forming another meaningful relationship.

B) I am a natural sucker for women who will use me as it suits their purpose and then cast me out when I am no longer convenient.

C) I am an obsessive neurotic control freak who frightens people away.

D) I am an Asperger who only thinks of myself and incapable of understanding the mind of another person, let alone a woman.

E) I have just yet to meet the right person for me.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Point in Favor of Anarcho-Libertarianism

A few months ago I debated David Friedman about the plausibility of his system anarcho-libertarian private companies providing all functions of government including law enforcement and courts. My argument against him then was that a necessary element of government is that it is unchallengeable in its basic legitimacy. I may dislike a specific result, but I do not have the option of simply exchanging my government like I would an insurance company, which is precisely what Friedman's system would do. Another of the major issues I have been discussing is that of the necessity of "de-citizenship" trials. Since citizenship is based on a social contract, it is necessary that everyone accept the social contract. The burden of proof should on every person to make the case that they accept the social contract. If there is any doubt about a person's acceptance then that person can and should be stripped of citizenship and placed outside the social contract. This could even apply to entire groups such as Jews. It recently occurred to me that, while a formal government, and particularly one operating on the principles of modern liberalism, might have some difficulty putting these principles into practice, a private insurance style government, like the one advocated for by Friedman, would be able to handle this quite effectively.

As I mentioned previously, one of the weaknesses of modern political thought is that it approaches the social contract as something given and not as something earned. In the extreme, this leads to modern liberal notions of an ever-expanding field of rights in which every desire is transformed into a right. The reason for this is that if one does not have a sense that every right in the social contract given must be paid for in kind then one has no reason to not think of everything as a right and demand it, particularly when you take into account the assumption that every other faction in society is doing the same. For example, a gay rights advocate might hesitate to demand the right of homosexuals to blackmail the rest of society into not doing anything that might hurt their feelings if they knew that the price for this was that Evangelical Christians were to be given those same "rights" to ban gay speech "hurtful" to them. Yes everyone might have the right to life, liberty, and property in some sort of theoretical moral sense, but the only way they could ever actualize those rights is if they were under the jurisdiction of some sort of government with a social contract, demanding that the government protect those rights. The price that must be paid for these rights is staggering. It means giving the government the right to kill you, imprison you and confiscate your property as long as it can claim that it is acting to protect the rights of the members of society at large.

There is a clear advantage in making every person earn their way into the social contract, mainly that it keeps everyone honest. It would make it that cheating the social contract would actually require some effort. One would actually have to watch one's thoughts and actions to make sure they complied with the spirit of the social contract. Also, formalizing the social contract would stop it from turning into a magic goodie bag with which to demand anything. Modern liberal thought, by definition, is incapable of this and even libertarian thought would require some arguing for.

Abolish all traditional public government and leave everyone to sign up for a private insurance style government and the problem is instantly solved. Every person would have to convince their prospective company that they are not a liability and can be trusted to live by the agreed upon social contract. Since the bureaucrats would also be members of the same company they would be conscious of the need to not let just anyone in, but only one who would actually benefit the other members. Keep in mind that any downgrade in the company will cause members to defect in mass to another company waiting to offer a better deal. The established companies could easily come to a recognition of each other, limiting the need for warfare. What we would be left with is a two-tiered system. On the top would be those with memberships in one of the companies and then there would be everyone else, who can be shot, enslaved or imprisoned at will. The fact that these people are unable to negotiate a deal with anyone would suggest that they are either too irrational or too dangerous to be trusted and best eliminated for the benefit of those with company membership.

Not that I support anarcho-libertarianism, but this seems to be a strong point in its favor worth taking into consideration.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Amy Chua: Possibly a Better Mother than Historian

Yale Law professor Amy Chua has recently been making headlines with her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a misleading excerpt of which was published in the Wall Street Journal, about the "superiority" of Asian mothers, who do not let their children attend sleepovers, insult their children for failing to achieve academic excellence and make them practice music for hours on end. I found the whole thing amusing as this was not the first time Amy Chua has crossed my radar. Several years ago I had a lot of fun posting on her book Day of Empire and her utter incompetency as a historian. I think it is worthwhile to note that, from what I can tell, Chua does not appear to force her daughters to spend hours on end attempting to critically analyze primary and secondary sources, something that Chua is clearly unable to do and has written a book proving it.

Unlike her many critics, I will not question Chua's abilities as a mother and keep my knocking of her to the realm of history. Actually I think there is a lot to be said for Chua's style of parenting. While not nearly as intense as what Chua describes, my parents were much stricter with me than most of my peer's parents were with them and I benefited from that. The point that Chua makes that struck the strongest chord with me was:

What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it's math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.

This is a key argument used by educational theorist Daniel Willingham in his book Why Don't Students Like School. Willingham argues for the value of homework and repetitive drilling particularly in the early grades. The idea is that learning in any given field requires a certain baseline of knowledge and set skills. You either have it or you do not and there is no fun easy way to get it. The only option is to just drill it in. Once a child has gained the necessary skills then the real education can begin and yes it can be fun.

I am good with history and enjoy it because I made myself memorize loads of historical facts as a kid and therefore have a baseline knowledge and skills now to read even really difficult works of history. In contrast I never really developed the necessary skills in reading Talmud. My high school yeshiva education was therefore hell as I floated along accomplishing nothing. Today I have a mental block when it comes to the topic and avoid it. Perhaps I needed a Tiger Mother to drill me into a Talmudic scholar.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Local Versus Federal Government and Thomas Jefferson

Michael Makovi responded to my previous post, arguing in favor of localized government, such as school boards, saying:

I am more comfortable with a town or some such having a government that engages in coercion and social engineering, because I figure two things:

(1) It is VERY easy to move from one town to another, and
(2) With people you actually KNOW personally, it is very easy to have an implicit social contract. If you live in Meah Shearim, it is easy to argue that you accepted the Haredism of that place, more than one can argue that you accept Washington because you live in the US. A contract can be either implicit or explicit. In fact, I think minhag ha-maqom is nothing other than an implicit contract. But notice that in Jewish history, it was only ever applied to a town; every town had its own.

Now, that doesn't mean a town SHOULD impose coercion. It just means that if it does, it is easier to justify that coercion, all other things being equal. All the other ways we evaluate government actions will apply the same, but the element of coercion will be easier to answer. So it would probably be a bad idea for a small town to burn witches, but it would be better than a Washington directing the same.

Interestingly enough, another friend of mine with strong libertarian inclinations responded in opposition of local government.

You appear to reject the idea that the government has any right to require any education, but you mention that school boards are the least coercive type of entity because they are accountable to voters. That is simply wrong. Yes, voters can vote out school boards. However, since the stakes for most voters are so small, most people don't go to the trouble of voting. Because of that established interests such as teachers unions or religious groups are easily able to take control of those entities. That was the case in NYC until recently.

Once you start talking about a governmental body involved in education, you are talking about something that you view as "second best," rather than a true libertarian state. I would argue that by your lights an education department that established a curriculum (as I described in my previous post) that could be taught by any school without regard to what they teach otherwise (Torah, Koran, etc. ) is likely to be better than a school board that is elected. I would also argue that fundamentalist would be able to live with this curriculum. They can teach evolution as a theory, even if they don't accept it.  

As with most libertarians, I am inclined to see local government as the lesser of government evil because it involves the minimal use of coercion. One way to think of my libertarianism is as a two track system, federal and local. My libertarianism extends only to the federal level. As we move down the system my libertarianism fades away and I am willing to grant government a wider range of authority. Since local governments have little coercive power they become almost like non-government entities in practice and I am willing to accept them as a pragmatic compromise. My ideal solution would be to officially declare all local governments to not be governments at all but privately owned corporate entities. For example I am a big admirer of Disney in how well it runs it theme parks. I would have no problem with moving to a Disney owned city and agree to live by the rules it might choose to make such as no drinking, swearing or wearing gang related symbols.

This preference for local government has a lot to do with the influence of Thomas Jefferson and his fears of a powerful federal government. I feel no need to disown Jefferson over the issue of slavery for I do not see Jefferson's acceptance of slavery as being rooted either in racism or contrary to libertarianism. In the eighteenth century, blacks were outside the social contract and were not citizens and as such were outside any claim to equality before the law. (The authors of the Dred Scott decision had it right.) The tragedy of early American history was less that that the founding fathers failed to immediately get rid of slavery and bring blacks into the system, but that they failed to create a clear path for making sure this eventually happened. If I were there my bargain with Southerners would have been that you could have slavery as long as every person currently enslaved had a way out for themselves or at least their children; say if slavery could no longer be hereditary and any former slave or descendent of slaves were granted the ability to earn citizenship like any immigrant. I would make this same argument today in regards to illegal immigration. Everyone currently in this country needs to be granted a path to citizenship. Having people inside the country, but outside the system is simply too dangerous for society at large.

Despite Jefferson's failure to consider the long term implications of having a significant percentage of the population outside the social contract, there is an important lesson in this ethos, the necessity of viewing the social contract as something one earns one's way into and not something to be automatically granted as a right. If there is nothing to be earned then there is no social contract.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Easy Libertarianism (Part II)

(Part I)

Baruch Pelta has posted his final thoughts on our discussion about libertarianism. He attempts to turn the tables on me in terms of authoritarianism, arguing that I desire to force my views on government on others despite the fact that the vast majority of people disagree with me about limiting government to only protecting against direct physical harm. He asks what I would do if I ever got my way and libertarian policies failed to work. How do I intend to protect American workers from being "crushed" by corporations? What would I do about radical Islamic schools teaching children how to be terrorists? In the end Baruch sees my "hard libertarianism" as no different from a Marxist or an anarchist. "All three of these belief systems require their adherents to accept on faith their economic theories, views of human potential, and philosophical constructs."

To start with that last point, libertarianism is not just another political ideology, but an attempt to transcend all political ideologies. Being a libertarian does not mean you reject other political ideologies, one could be a libertarian Marxist or a religious theocrat, just that you reject the use of government force in pursuit of those ideological goals.

What would a libertarian country look like? It would be thousands of experiments simultaneously conducted to discover the best ways to live and organize society. Every town and neighborhood could organize itself around any ideology it chooses. You could have a liberal town that kept corporations in check and offered free education and health care. Down the highway there could be a Haredi town that bans television and does not allow women to drive. Travel further down and you could find a socialist kibbutz where everything is held in common. Despite my libertarianism, I have no desire to live in a "libertarian" town. I may believe that drugs and prostitution should be legal, but I have no desire to live near a brothel, a crack den or the people who frequent either. My freedom of association allows me to pay to live in a place without these things and, to protect my investment, make a contract banning the town from ever bringing such things in. (The white supremacist in pursuit of his own happiness could make the same bargain to ban blacks and Jews.) Libertarian America would like a lot like the present day America just without people in Washington trying to force one size fits all solutions to this country's problems.

With this in mind the other issues fall into place. If liberal policies really proved to work better in practice than the alternatives and it is very possible that they might then I would be free to accept them. This would in no way be a pragmatic rejection of my libertarian beliefs. If liberal policies worked than the liberal towns in libertarian America would be more prosperous. Seeing that, people would rush to move into liberal towns or turn their towns to liberalism. Before you know it most of libertarian America could be liberal. This would not change the government in Washington, which would continue to concern itself solely with protecting people, no matter their political ideology, from physical harm. This means foreigners trying to attack libertarian America, and Americans trying to destroy libertarian America from within by forcing their values on others.

Would libertarian America be trapped into tolerating radical Islamic schools that endorsed terrorism, without actually carrying it out? Would libertarian America have to wait until hordes of jihadist children poured out of these schools? Not necessarily. Nothing against Islam here; the same would apply to any group that turned to violence. Keep in mind that libertarianism is not rooted in an absolutist ideology, but a pragmatic social contract, a plausible agreement that a society with many factions might come to in order to stave off massive violence. I tolerate liberals, Haredim, Marxists and even Muslims for the simple reason that it is the only alternative to shooting them and having them shoot at me. If the libertarian social contract failed to protect me then the contract serves no purpose. I only refrain from pulling a Baruch Goldstein on my local Islamic school, because I believe that my government will protect me from any potential terrorists. The moment I stop believing that then I am off to kill every last person in that school.

A social contract is not a moral absolute made with the entire world. I have no social contract with people in Mexico or Canada. They may be very nice people and I wish them the best, but they are outside my social contract. For that matter not everyone living in the United States has to be a citizen and come under the social contract either. It is for this reason that the slavery tolerated by the Constitution would not necessarily contradict libertarianism. Slaves were not citizens and therefore outside the social contract. Muslims do not have an intrinsic right to be citizens and be part of the social contract. Muslims in foreign countries are certainly not. Muslims who are American citizens are part of the social contract to the extent that I believe them when they claim to not be plotting to wage war against me. Even in libertarian America, if I hear a Muslim saying that Jews are pigs and should be killed, I am going to call my representative and tell him that I no longer feel physically safe and demand that he choose between that Muslim and me. Unless they strip that Muslim of his citizenship and make sure he is no longer a threat, I will reject the social contract and turn to war. (See Crimes of De-Citizenship.)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Did Print Create a Counter Revolution in Judaism?

Robert Bonfil, in "Jewish Attitudes toward History and Historical Writing in Pre-Modern Times," argues for the field of history as having an important role in Judaism, contrary to the position of Yosef Yerushalmi. Bonfil focuses on the case of R. Joseph Caro in the sixteenth century, who banned the reading of "profane bellettristic and erotic literature, such as the book of Immanuel as well as books of wars" on the Sabbath as well as on weekdays. Bonfil sees this position as an innovation. It is far more stringent than even that of Maimonides, who may have philosophically objected to history but never stepped in with a legal ban. For Bonfil this marks a shift in the rabbinic response both to history specifically and secular literature in general due to the rise of print.

As is well known, the authoritarian control over knowledge characteristic of the Middle Ages and particularly of frames of mind such as Maimonides', made possible a wide range of medieval production of profane Hebrew literature, including of course historical writing. I suggest that such a cohabitation of sacred and profane, licit and illicit, was no longer possible now that, in the wake of the printing revolution, effective control over reading material had been lost. A careful definition of boundaries now became necessary. The learned arbiters of Jewish culture, who defined borders according to criteria "known" only to themselves, lost much of their former control over the intellectual activities of the masses. Decisions could no longer be made exclusively by the learned elites. The lost control had therefore to be restored by codifying the elimination of arbitrarity, i.e., by establishing very strict definitions. In so doing, without at the same time radically reforming ancient and medieval basic assumptions, codification was almost inevitably forced into further strictures. (pg. 16)

This certainly goes against the popular conception of print as a liberalizing force, but it fits with the trend we see in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church did not create an Index or wage any organized campaigns to ban books until the sixteenth century, when printing became a major force.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Helpful Message to Finish My Dissertation

Today I was reading up on John of Rupescissa. He was a fourteenth century Franciscan apocalyptic visionary. He believed that the Jews would convert and be saved in the end. He also, like seemingly every self respecting Franciscan of the period, got into trouble with the Church and spent the last years of his life in prison, (something to do with having very "un-Christian" ideas about Church poverty) from where he did most of his writings, ranging from the end of the world to alchemy. Tommaso Campanella, another Christian apocalyptic visionary I am studying, also spent over twenty years in prison for his part in a failed political revolution in Naples. (This was after he managed to convince the Inquisition he was insane by being tortured for two days straight.) He also used his time in prison to write productively and was released to spend the last few years of his life as a European court celebrity. Then there is the example of St. John of the Cross; my spiritual guide through depression. His inspiring poetry on life in a spiritual abyss, The Dark Night of the Soul, benefited from a year spent locked away against his will. (I could, of course, also mention Adolf Hitler, who managed to produce Mein Kempf during a year spent in prison, but he does not fit under medieval and early modern Christian thinkers.)  

I cannot help but feel that I am being sent a message, one that I would rather not hear. That the best place to write is not the office, the library or even on a couch with the TV on, but in prison doing hard time for treason and heresy. So I need to go to federal prison as a violent religious apocalyptic revolutionary. To do that I am going to need to start a violent religious apocalyptic movement. (All violent religious apocalyptic actions will of course be carried out by erring disciples who have distorted my teachings.) In order to learn how to start such a movement I will need to finish writing my dissertation. But of course, I cannot hope to finish my dissertation unless I go to prison.       

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Alice Cullen Eclipsed

So last night I finally got around to seeing Eclipse, the third Twilight film. Despite the fact that Eclipse was my favorite of the novels, I did not see it while it was in theaters this past summer. I was seriously dating a non-Twilight fan and trying to spend every moment I could with her. (I bring an Edward like intensity to relationships, which is probably why I am still gloriously single.) Under such circumstances I was not about to take the time to go by myself to a movie and if she showed no apparent interest in going then that was the end of that. To be honest, though, I had dropped out of my previous interest in the Twilight series as it has become too popular for all the wrong reasons, too much about the "sexy stars of Twilight," and I dreaded to see how this trend might affect even the best of the series. I am a proud member of team Alice. This means that I could care less about Bella having to choose between Edward and Jacob and would have much rather seen her develop a friendship with Alice. (See More on My Favorite Friendly Neighborhood Vampires.)

Seeing the film has confirmed my fears, even if the film was not completely without merit. The main addition from the novel was that the film actually included a series of brief scenes with the newborn vampires and actually develops Riley, their supposed leader, as a character. In this the filmmakers were taking their cues from Stephenie Meyer, who actually wrote a novelette, The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner. That novel, though, did not actually focus on Riley, but rather on the newborn Bree. This was actually the sort of move that would have greatly benefited the early Harry Potter films. Those films needed their villains, the present Lord Voldemort, his younger self in the form of Tom Riddle and Sirius Black (a supposed villain) to have major screen time. This could have easily been done by writing new scenes with material hinted at in the books. For example Voldemort breaking into Gringotts, Riddle killing Moaning Myrtle or Sirius' fight with Wormtail. These characters worked in the books as specters in the backdrop. This is not something that works on film. Also the actors playing Harry, Ron and Hermione were not ready to carry the films so any attempt to place the focus on other actors would have been welcome. If the three child actor leads of Harry Potter were not up to the task, the three adult leads in Eclipse, were not much better and could have used having the film taken out from under them.

In a two hour film, everything that stays in let alone anything added is going to come at the expense of something else. The cut part that most caught my attention was Alice "kidnapping" Bella and forcing her into a slumber party. This was not a major plot point in the book and hardly necessary to incorporate into the movie. That being said this was my favorite part of the entire series and the decision to cut it says something about the values of the filmmakers, as opposed to say my values. I love eccentric characters and relationships that offer unusual dynamics and lot of witty back and forths. Alice trying to be human and practicing on Bella is interesting as is Bella monologuing and taking her vampire/werewolf world perfectly in stride. Edward going back and forth about killing Bella is interesting. Bella having a platonic relationship with Jacob, fooling around with motorcycle is interesting. What I have no interest in is a romantic triangle between Bella, Edward and Jacob with Edward going emo, Jacob ranging from sulking to being an SOB (literally) and Bella being a ditz head. What should the filmmakers have found so valuable in the books to be reproduced on screen, but this annoying romantic triangle.

What made the romantic triangle bearable in the book was that, for the most part it was presented through Bella's monologuing. The Twilight movies, for the most part scraped the monologuing, leaving nothing but corny dialogue to be recited with a serious dramatic romance face. They could not have left the story to Bella' monologuing. That might have taken away some of the serious sexiness of the story and left it as a joke. For this same reason, they could not give the time for Alice and Bella's friendship or to develop Riley into a worthwhile character. It might have taken away from the romantic triangle of the sexy stars of Twilight.

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 taxpayer, 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 placed 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 the 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 that 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 worldview. 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?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Ross Douthat on Libertarianism

Ross Douthat has a very good response to the Chris Beam article on libertarianism, which I posted on earlier. While Douthat accepts that many libertarian policies might not be practical, for that is beside the point.

But Beam's "of course, we'll never get there" kicker substantially undercuts the power and relevance of this critique. It's precisely because we're so far from minarchy, with no prospects for getting even remotely close, that libertarian arguments deserve a bit more respect and consideration than Beam's dismissive attitude affords them. If Congress was stocked with a few hundred members of the Paul family, if Penn Jillette ran the T.S.A., if the Cato Institute held veto power over every entitlement expansion and overseas military operation, it would make sense to use a long magazine article to fret, in detail, about the perils associated with the minimal state. But as it stands, Beam's lengthy critique of minarchy seems better suited to a college bull-session argument than to an article about American political economy as it actually exists, in all its bloated and not-at-all minimalist glory.
In this real world, the crucial question for non-libertarians pondering the movement's (modestly) growing influence isn't whether a libertarian minarchy would be the utopia that some enthusiasts imagine or a dog-eat-dog nightmare instead. Rather, it's whether a more-empowered libertarianism could have a salutary impact on debates over, say, the future of the entitlement system … or the reform of our incarceration policies … or the growth of the national-security state (to pick just a few rather pressing-seeming issues).

Douthat has hit on what may be the biggest practical strength; that we offer an opportunity to transcend the traditional partisan debate and can offer compromise solutions that both sides might be willing to accept. I admit that I often frame discussions about libertarianism in their most extreme forms, such as arguing for the legalization of child prostitution, in order to make the point that I am actually consistent in my beliefs and am willing to follow them through on their downside in order to enjoy the positives. That is the theoretical strength of libertarianism. So to reemphasize the practical, I recognize that this country was not founded on strictly libertarian principles and that over the past century, in many respects, we have moved even further away from libertarian government. That being said, I still do see a libertarian government as the goal which I set before myself as my compass even if I know that we will never got there. In the meantime I am willing to work with liberals or conservatives at any given time to bring about policies that go in this direction. To all my liberal readers, yes public schools are here to stay for the near future. Now we may not want creationism taught in them, but do we really want the courts to be the ones to stop it. Keep in mind that conservatives are going to respond by trying to place their people on the bench to push a conservative agenda that goes way beyond education. For your own safety does it not make sense to simply get the federal government and the courts out of education and simply leave it as a local affair? Otherwise do not come crying to me when conservatives get politically energized, gain control of the government and try pushing their vision of America on you.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The King’s Speech and I

This past Shabbat the rabbi at my synagogue talked about the movie The King's Speech as part of his sermon. He used the movie as a way of relating to Moses' speech impediment. The King's Speech chronicles the struggles of King George VI with his stammer. As the younger son, it might not have been of critical importance, but then his older brother Edward VIII had his "women problem" (funny how the rabbi had to talk around the fact that Edward VIII was forced to abdicate his thrown after less than a year due to his marriage to his mistress, a twice divorced American divorcee). George VI eventually sought the help of a radically eccentric speech therapist and went on to deliver some of the most inspiring speeches of the Second World War. Soon afterwards I saw that Orson Scott Card also had given the movie high marks. With endorsements like these I figured I had to go see it.

This was hardly an exciting movie and at two hours does drag a bit. The film covers an interesting political story, with sex and romance, but it is not a political or a romantic film. The movie deals with World War II, but it is not a World War II movie. The movie could have been a comedy, but it has way too much respect for its lead character to make this a comedy. What you do have is a very human story with Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush giving some of the best back and forth acting I have seen in a long time. Rush certainly steals the movie as its sole source of comedy, but Colin Firth gives the best portrayal I have ever seen of living with stammering. That probably owes something to the fact that I cannot think of any other serious film explorations of the topic. I say this as someone who struggles with a stammer. What particularly struck me is that the stammer is one that is similar to mine. Like George VI, the real problem for me is less repeating syllables even if that sometimes is the result, but in finding one's voice getting caught and being unable to get out the words that are in one's head.

In the movie George VI is able to overcome his stammer by a combination of singing and letting out strings of curse words. These are both useful in that they allow a person to get around inhibitions, which is usually the true cause of any stammer. For George VI these inhibitions were growing up as the younger prince, in the shadow of a far more glamorous older brother and an often abusive father. I am not much into swearing, even if I take a certain pleasure in spouting out things that other people find bizarre and even offensive. This has the benefit of allowing me to take control of a situation and make it my own instead of having to constantly fashion myself to suit others. What has really worked for me is singing. I have a good head for lyrics, even if I cannot actually sing on key. Knowing that my singing is something that only I will ever enjoy and that it is something just for me, operating on my terms, in a way, makes it all the more helpful. Obviously I cannot sing every time I talk, but I can usually maintain some sort of rhythm. As long as I have that rhythm I can avoid the worst of my stammering.

I doubt that I will ever be able to truly overcome my stammer and I liked the fact that the movie did not have George VI overcome his either. But I do believe I have managed to become a relatively decent public speaker, though certainly one with an odd sounding voice. A side effect of my rhythm speaking is that I go up at the end of syllables. Hopefully I will never have to lead a nation though a world war; being able to stand in front of a classroom full of students will suit me just fine.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New York Magazine Does Libertarianism

Christopher Beam of New York magazine has a long article on Libertarianism, "The Trouble with Liberty." The article does a good job at placing Libertarianism within the context of modern political debate, starting with Ron and Rand Paul, the most prominent libertarians holding political office down through the variety of libertarian movements in existence. There is also a summary of the intellectual roots of Libertarianism, mentioning not just Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Ayn Rand, but Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard as well.

The problem, though, is that Beam seems unable to resist his journalist condensation, throwing in jabs like calling Libertarianism "the crazy uncle of American politics: loud and cocky and occasionally profound but always a bit unhinged" and "the weird, Magic-card-collecting, twelve-sided-die-wielding outcast of American political philosophy." This carries over into a condescending lecture as to how libertarians lack the practical sense as to how to go about realizing their ideals and that no one would really want to live under a libertarian government anyway. According to Beam:

Libertarian minarchy is an elegant idea in the abstract. But the moment you get specific, the foundation starts to crumble. Say we started from scratch and created a society in which government covered only the bare essentials of an army, police, and a courts system. I'm a farmer, and I want to sell my crops. In Libertopia, I can sell them in exchange for money. Where does the money come from? Easy, a private bank. Who prints the money? Well, for that we'd need a central bank—otherwise you'd have a thousand banks with a thousand different types of currency. (Some libertarians advocate this.) Okay, fine, we'll create a central bank.


We would not have to start from scratch, we would just have to accept that most of the major laws created since the New Deal and Supreme Court rulings since the Warren era were unconstitutional and toss them over the side. Creating a central bank to print most of the money for a county would be quite simple. You start with local banks owning precious metals or land and offering currency to shareholders. These currency shares could then be bought out by larger banks in exchange for currency of their own until one bank comes to dominate the printing of currency. None of this would require government to do anything more than prosecuting banks if they ever tried to defraud their customers and enforce all contracts.


Some people don't have jobs. So we create charities to feed and clothe them. What if there isn't enough charity money to help them? Well, we don't want them to start stealing, so we'd better create a welfare system to cover their basic necessities.


There is plenty of poverty around the world. Often this leads to people turning to terrorism. Yet somehow I can sleep at night despite the fact that my government has not taken upon itself the responsibility of ending global poverty by itself. Taking care of the have nots is the responsibility of those who have (and this includes people living on graduate student salaries). I see no reason to treat the far less extreme poverty in this country any differently. It would be a moral blight on society, as a whole, if someone were to starve to death, but that does not justify endangering the liberties of every single man, woman, and child by authorizing the government to redistribute wealth as it sees fit.


We'd need education, of course, so a few entrepreneurs would start private schools. Some would be excellent. Others would be mediocre. The poorest students would receive vouchers that allowed them to attend school. Where would those vouchers come from? Charity. Again, what if that doesn't suffice? Perhaps the government would have to set up a school or two after all.


If charity did not suffice perhaps a private business could offer a loan or parents could turn their children into stock companies and sell shares in the child's future earnings. If that does not work, perhaps we need to consider whether this child will actually benefit from a formal education in the first place and would not simply be better off shining shoes or picking cotton. Last I checked there is no such thing as a right to an education; that is simply one more scam invented by politicians in order to demand more power over private individuals.


There are reasons our current society evolved out of a libertarian document like the Constitution. The Federal Reserve was created after the panic of 1907 to help the government reduce economic uncertainty. The Civil Rights Act was necessary because "states' rights" had become a cover for unconstitutional practices. The welfare system evolved because private charity didn't suffice.


The Federal Reserve caused the Great Depression. Yes, there is a reason why our society has moved in a direction of greater government control. Every special interest group desires that government step in for their benefit. On top of that, there is the greatest special interest group of all, government bureaucrats. No matter what happens, government bureaucrats will insist that the solution is more government. You have a population brought up on politicians speeches and government public schools to believe this nonsense. Thus we have a society in which everyone tries to rob everyone else and politicians stand on the side taking the biggest cut of all.


Putting a libertarian government into power is simple in theory. We need a society that accepts libertarian principles and for everyone to agree to stop trying to use government for their own special interests. The fact that we do not have this cannot be blamed on libertarians but on those still under the sway of the scam of modern liberal big government. Libertarians unlike everyone else actually are consistent in their beliefs and have meaningful solutions to the problems of today that do not involve one group trying to trick or coerce any other. Our solutions may not make you comfortable; you might think that we are strange, but until you can offer something better you have no grounds to talk down to us or even debate us in the first place.


The Straight Dope on Libertarianism

Baruch Pelta put the issue of the legitimacy of government-funded public before the messaging board of Straight Dope. To my delight, Baruch's post received quite a number of comments, far more so than either of our blogs normally receives. These comments provide an excellent window into the sort of objections one usually finds from modern liberals. I would like, therefore, to respond in turn. More and more I am convinced that modern liberals simply have a mental block when it comes to Libertarianism that makes them unable to even contemplate the issues at hand. One, all government action is, by definition, coercive. Two, a government with the power to deal with non-physical harm, by definition, has the power to do anything since all human actions cause some form of non-physical harm. Three, government action, by definition, favors those with access to the government, the wealthy and well connected. Considering this, how can modern liberal political theory, built around the assumption that government needs to step in, in essence, use physical force, and protect people from non-physical harm, be considered anything but authoritarian, randomly creating privileged groups, likely those already well-positioned influence wise, and giving them special rights? It is not just that liberals have different solutions to these problems; they frustratingly refuse to even acknowledge that these problems exist.

Last I checked school boards still had to answer to the voters. So if he has a problem with what schools teach then he needs to take it up their boss, the voters.

Certainly, I could accept it if local school boards were actually the last word in education. Except that liberals have spent the past few decades having courts interfere whenever schools do something that they personally disagree with, whether prayer or the teaching of creationism. Of all forms of government, local school boards are the least coercive, being the most answerable to the public and having the least ability to use coercive power against opponents. The courts are the most coercive as they are outside of the democratic process and are hierarchly positioned to order the other branches of government to use force in support of its wishes. This is particularly the case when the court operates according to a "living Constitution." When a court makes a decision that is not based upon previously agreed upon laws, but upon personal moral principles, and, on top of that personal, moral principles that the opposition may not even accept, the court declares that their opponents are outside the social contract at the heart of any free society. (See Doing What is Right in One's Own Eyes.)

First, the alternative to public schools is massive public ignorance; they were created in the first place because before the government stepped in most of the population had no formal education at all.

This demonstrates an unfortunate misunderstanding of history. Obviously, in pre-modern agricultural societies, mass education was impractical and had to wait until the urbanization brought about by the Industrial Revolution. Particularly in the case of Europe, government public schools were not put into place out of humanitarian concern, but as an authoritarian power grab against the Church, which until then had dominated the field of education. One of the virtues of the early United States was, as Alexis de Tocqueville noted, that it managed to avoid a head-on conflict with established religions. This changed in the last few decades when our courts stepped in and ripped up the social contract which, for all of its imperfections, kept this country free of religious conflict. And liberals act surprised that they are now faced with aggressive evangelical and tea-party movements of people who believe that the government does not represent them and therefore feel that they are not bound to play by its rules. Why should someone respect the democratic process and accept losing when one knows that even when they win their victory will be overturned?

Second, evolution and the falsehood of creation is a fact, not just an opinion.

This may be true in your mind and even in reality, but that does not mean it can be accepted as fact by the government. Keep in mind that Christians believe that Jesus rising from the dead is a fact. There is nothing you can say that will convince them otherwise. Considering this, what deal can you offer such Christians to stop them from trying to have the government acknowledge this "fact?" The only thing I can think of is to have everyone agree that the government will endorse no "facts."

Third, children are not the toys of parents to exploit as they will, they have rights too; including the right not to be rendered hopelessly ignorant because their parents prefer lies over truth.

True, but again keep in mind all those Christians who believe that every child deserves to be raised with the knowledge of Jesus as their personal savior. Can you offer them a coherent reason as to why the government should not step in to "educate" such children that does not involve puffing up your chest and insisting that these Christians are wrong about Jesus? As a libertarian, I can offer Christians a government that only deals with whether children are being physically harmed and does not concern itself with whether or not children are being raised in "ignorance" or are being "lied" to.

And fourth, his position is the authoritarian one; as libertarians typically do he is pretending that government action is the only possible source of oppression. Saying that the government should only take action to defend "people from direct physical harm caused by other people without their consent" is a demand that the primary function of government should be as a tool of oppression for the wealthy and powerful organizations. Because the rich and large organizations like corporations, political parties and religious organizations and so on don't need to use violence to get their way, to oppress and exploit the common people. The common people however need the government to protect them from just that. And if the government refuses to protect them, then all the common people have left is force - and then and only then is when the libertarians like your friend want the government to step in, on the side of the wealthy and powerful. Under the system your friend wants the only real function of the government is to serve as a giant boot to stomp on any of the lower classes who get uppity. not to help people, not to educate or defend them from being exploited; just to crush them when they get tired of being treated as slaves.

I certainly do not believe that the government is the only source of oppression. If I did I would insist on no government and be an anarchist. Yes, I believe in government precisely because I am afraid of being oppressed by my neighbor. Of course, government has the potential to be far more oppressive than any individual. Which is why, before we agree to submit ourselves to the authority of government, we need specific limits to its power. (See My Bargan with Fearless Leader.) 

One has to wonder where this person goes every time there is a complaint that the government seems to act on behalf of the wealthy and powerful and that such people have too much influence. It is not possible to create a law that actually benefits those at the bottom for the simple reason that those at the top are the ones in the best position to understand the laws work them to their advantage. Take the example of poor inner-city youth. Liberals claim that they understand are looking out for his best interest so they offer him free public education. The problem is that his family lacks the money to support him while he goes to school. So he has to drop out of school, and therefore receives no benefit from it even though he will still have to pay for it with his tax dollars. He wants to earn an honest living to help his family, but liberals have placed child labor laws that limit his ability to work. Furthermore, no company will be willing to hire him at minimum wage and, of course, liberals have made it illegal for any company to have him at less than a minimum wage. Notice though that the free schools, the child labor, and minimum wage laws do benefit people higher up on the economic latter; people who can support their children while they take advantage of free education at society's expense. These adults are helped by the fact that they are protected from any competition from poor children willing to undercut them by working for less than the minimum wage. Of course, liberals are not conspiring, with say the skilled working class, against the desperately poor unskilled workers, whatever the evidence that stands before our eyes. We, as a society, are engaged in a massive act of inter-generational robbery of those too young at present to vote, with our national debt and social security entitlements, which they will have to pay for. But we can trust politicians to look after the needs of children.

Libertarians know how to end poverty. It is a multi-generational approach that allows unskilled workers the chance to work for whatever someone is willing to pay them and earn the money to give their children the education needed to become skilled laborers and small business owners and their grandchildren a chance to go to college and enter the middle class. It is a hard and slow road, but it worked for generations of immigrants and there is no reason why it cannot work for poor people today, no matter their race. We libertarians are not going to lie to poor people and rob them by creating programs that we pretend are going to help them when in fact they are designed to help those with more money and influence and keep them in poverty.