Sunday, March 17, 2013

On Libertarian Lifeguards

Most of this blog involves me rambling on my opinions. While that’s sometimes informative, other times it’s easier for people to evaluate those opinions when they’re also presented with the contrasting opinions, in the form of a dialogue as opposed to the form of a rant. That’s why I often post responses to articles or videos by people who disagree with me, as opposed to blocks and blocks of my own text.

What I’d like to begin doing is posting the verbatim, word-for-word transcripts of online debates I have with people through social media sites. Rather than my having to anticipate likely counterarguments and refute them preemptively, this allows the reader to see what an average, politically informed, intelligent person might say to refute my arguments – and then see how I’d respond to those refutations. Hopefully this will advance the discussion more productively than you all only hearing one side of things.

The first example I’d like to give on this involves a brief exchange I had with liberal political cartoonist Clay Bennett of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. This took place on the comment chain of a post on his wall, in which someone had criticized his recent cartoon. The cartoon is posted below, as are our comments. (Keep in mind that there were many other people also commenting on this post, but Clay and I were the only ones with posts longer than a few lines, such that I felt it was clear his second comment was directed to me.)

Clay Bennett: “Thanks for the feedback, Ademo. Oddly, the staunch Libertarian editor who works in the office next to mine, loved that cartoon…he (unlike far too many people these days) is able to laugh at himself.”

Andrew Doris: “I can laugh at myself and my beliefs, Clay. I've posted videos on You tube and blog posts making fun of certain libertarian tendencies. But such jokes are only funny if they carry some semblance of truth. For instance, joking about libertarians being overly cynical conspiracy theorists, or perhaps that they're potheads, makes sense. Obviously not all libertarians are either of those things, but a sizable enough portion are that we can laugh at the guys who think the moon landing was fake, 9-11 was an inside job, and the Illuminati control the entire world. But this cartoon is such an obvious false analogy that anyone who knows a thing about libertarianism knows you don't understand what it is you're making fun of. Libertarians aren't against helping people! They're not against self sacrifice or cooperation or lending others a helping hand. And they're certainly not against lifeguards heroically saving people's lives - I don't know a single libertarian who wouldn't try to help dying people if they could. It's not a question of whether we ought to help one another, it's a question of what is the most effective and just way of doing so - through government force, or through our own volition? Surely you're a smart enough guy to understand that distinction, which makes your latest cartoon beneath you. It may get you some cheap laughs from those who dislike libertarians anyway, but it does nothing to advance the debate. It just makes the people who understand the debate roll their eyes.”

Arthur Breitman: “I'm a libertarian and I thought the cartoon was pretty funny. The lifeguard is a staunch non interventionist. Of course the drowning people would want him to intervene, and therein is the joke.”

Andrew Doris: “But Arthur you gloss over two extremely different types of intervention as if they were interchangeable. Intervention for the lifeguard involves risking his own life, and using his own resources, and fulfilling his own contractual obligations. Intervention for the government means risking other people's lives, forcibly taking the necessary resources from other people, and breaching their own contract. A drowning person might not care which type of intervention he is saved by at the time, but everyone else should.”

Clay Bennett: “Editorial cartoons represent the truth as seen through the eyes of the cartoonist. So, obviously I think the cartoon in question sums up the basics of Libertarian principles pretty well. Of course, I'm one who thinks that the government can be a force for good, an agent of charity and a safeguard for a civil and just society.

Libertarians, on the other hand, see the government as inherently oppressive, totally unnecessary, and an impediment to productivity.

The Libertarian ideal would be a world without government regulations, a society without laws protecting workers from abuse, citizens from discrimination, or the environment from harm. While I would argue that we need the government to police our actions and regulate our behavior, Libertarians would see that as coercive authoritarianism and would insist that the 'invisible hand of the market place' could serve those same interests.

I have little faith in the market place being an effective arbiter of just or fair behavior, however. In fact, I would claim that history has proven unfettered capitalism to be quite the opposite.

That's what this cartoon speaks to. I see a society without laws and regulations as a pool without a lifeguard, or in this case, a pool that has hired a lifeguard with absolutely no interest in doing his job. The rationale being, "why would anyone ever learn to swim if someone is always there to save them?"

Andrew Doris: Thanks for replying Clay - you seem to value input from your critics enough to address it, and that's actually pretty cool. My response is directed solely to you. It may not represent the views of all the other people posting on here, and of course their posts may not represent my own ideas.

"I think the cartoon in question sums up the basics of Libertarian principles pretty well." - The most basic of all libertarian principles is he Non-Aggression Principle, or the idea that the most fundamentally immoral and intolerable act is the initiation of physical violence (or the threat thereof) on other people. Practically everybody agrees with this principle in the abstract, and libertarianism is merely the logical application of this principle to all situations evenly. Of course, you may feel the initiation of violent force is justified in some situations (as do I). You also may also feel it is justified in MORE situations that I or most libertarians do, which is fine and we can have a reasonable debate about that. But your cartoon does not illustrate the underlying principles in that debate, because it glosses over the distinction between assistance at ones own expense, and assistance at the expense of others. Unlike government, the lifeguard does not need to rely on the constant threat or use of force on other people to do his job. Unlike government, the help he can offer is strictly voluntary. Therefore, the situation is not analogous, and the cartoon distracts from the debate instead of adding to it.

"Libertarians, on the other hand, see the government as inherently oppressive, totally unnecessary, and an impediment to productivity." - Not strictly true. It's true all governance by definition involves some use of force, and therefore involves some oppression. But I do believe some government is nevertheless necessary and morally preferable - the trick is to isolate those parts which are, and ditch the rest. The official motto of the libertarian party in the US is "Minimum Government, Maximum Liberty." In other words, we are minarchists, not anarchists.

"I see a society without laws and regulations as a pool without a lifeguard, or in this case, a pool that has hired a lifeguard with absolutely no interest in doing his job." - I see this as where you go wrong, because you conflate the laws and regulations of a government with the laws and regulations of a pool. One is voluntary, and the other is coercive. Anyone who's purchased admission to a private pool has agreed to pay X dollars in exchange for the privileges and services that pool offers, which in this case include a lifeguard. When they did so, they were aware of the rules they would have to abide by for that privilege, and agreed to abide by them, knowing full well that the lifeguard would kick them out should they endanger the wellbeing of other swimmers. However, they also knew that they were purchasing the protection of that lifeguard should someone else endanger them, or should an accident happen such that they need emergency assistance. This is the definition of a private transaction - a strictly voluntary, mutually beneficial agreement between free individuals. The laws and regulations you propose are of a completely different sort. Your rules are imposed even on people who have not agreed to abide by them, or do not feel they are fair, just, or desirable. Your laws are not enforced using the money that people have voluntarily paid to fund the lifeguard's salary, but through the collection of mandatory taxes and the ever-present threat of imprisonment for one's failure to pay. The regulations you wish to create are not to govern conduct on your own private property, but on the property of others whom you have no authority to govern (except that which you've bestowed upon yourself). A libertarian is not a lifeguard with no interest in doing his job - he's a lifeguard who knows what his job is, and what it isn't. Telling other people how to peacefully live their lives, manage their property, or drink their soda is not your job, and it's not the government's either.

Andrew Doris: “And while we're speaking of lifeguards with no interest in doing their job:

That was it – Clay didn’t respond after that. Obviously this still wasn’t a fair fight – I got two responses in, and he only sent one. Those advocating equal airtime for campaigns would cry foul! But it was kind of cool that I got a few paragraphs in response from a famous political cartoonist. Keep an eye out for future posts with this sort of back and forth banter in the future.

1 comment:

  1. Be advised:

    Whenever you see anti-Libertarian stuff, it's a smear to distract from libertarian work.