Wednesday, September 08, 2010

"Why are you protecting these evil people?"

In a respectful way, I was asked why I defend Statists. This question was in response to my thoughts on moralizing as a strategy for promoting libertarianism. And though it should be noted that I defend Statists from libertarians and not libertarianism, it’s a fair enough question and there are plenty of answers.

I don’t believe in “evil”

The most obvious answer is equivalent to me saying “I don’t. That would be impossible.” From an atheistic perspective, I don’t think “evil” makes any sense. In fact, I consider it to be a silly and irresponsible co-option of religious rhetoric. It’s a way of loading words with metaphysical implications which cannot be justified based on the premises on which other claims are made.

However, I’m not an atheist and I still find the concept to be implausible. Why would someone knowingly do something “evil?” Is it possible to benefit by being “evil?” If so, doesn’t that at the very least bring into question the “good,” especially if one is an egoist of some sort? At such a point there is a conflict among “good.” Should one choose “good” option A or B? The conflict appears to me to be a result of ignorance. If a person knows what is “good,” a person will seek it. The struggle is ultimately one between truth and nihilism (the absence of truth). Instead, I think of things in terms of optimality. Is this action/type of behavior optimal given the context in which it occurs? Will this action bring about “the good?” Ultimately, I adhere to a strong ethical subjectivism because “the good” is not obvious.

But even if it were the case that “evil” existed, I do not find it to be a useful concept. At the very least, “evil” would have to be as subjective as “good.” All the “evil” label does is prevent discovery. The quickest way to prevent knowledge is to call something “evil.” Science, medicine, technology, drugs, homosexuality, [every religion ever], and everything in between has been and is called “evil.” What’s the effect? A closing off of society from those things which need to be understood, not ignored. I’m of the opinion that everything has an optimum level, and “evil” distracts from that. The same could be said of “the good” as well, but if there is no “good,” there’s no reason to live. The same is not true of “evil.”

I was once (maybe still am) "evil"

I developed my philosophy in good part on my own. It is based on my prior, current, and expected experiences with various inputs here and there from philosophers and other thinkers. At various point in my life, including the present, it’s highly likely someone out there -- perhaps a large population of people in the world -- would consider me to be “evil.” That some libertarians think they’ve figured out “evil” isn’t very convincing to me for the reasons I’m not convinced that others have figured it out or that it has the ability to be a meaningful descriptor of any aspect of reality in the first. I think libertarians are in some ways closer, but I’m definitely not going to sing my unyielding praises to the creations and concepts of any human.

Preserving the self from the self

I’m perfectly happy at current with some of the decisions made by my parents to “aggress” against me. Perhaps there were better ways to accomplish their goals, but physically restraining me from running into the street as a youngster certainly was in my interests. Perhaps they did other things which were not in my interests -- sending me to state schools could possibly qualify -- but I recognize that they did what they thought was best.

And to this day, I could envision doing something stupid (possibly when in inebriated) where someone forcing me not to do it may wind up being to my advantage. I consider myself to be responsible and intelligent, but that doesn’t change the fact that I make mistakes. What libertarians call “aggression” can be manifested in care and actually to my benefit. The important consideration for me is that such actions be done by people who actually care about me rather than faceless bureaucrats I’ve never met and never will meet. A world without “force” would be a dead one. I want “force” to be beneficial and there’s no reason to believe that it can’t be if approached with reason and caution.

Preserving the self from others

Sometimes preemptive force is necessary. The example I most commonly use is the neighbor with a nuke. The neighbor may have absolutely no intention of harming or exploiting me or anyone else with his weapon, but it’s still dangerous in anyone’s hands. Does that mean the USA should start World War III with Iran over nukes? Of course not. It means things can’t be boiled down to simple platitudes regarding aggression.

For more on thoughts presented in the last two points, see Guns and Dogs and Externalities, Libertarianism, and Social Dilemmas.

Action does not occur in a vacuum

Actions and their consequences are the result of an infinite series of past actions colliding with each other. Trying to pin point single actions out of those infinitude of other actions as being "evil" relies on a lot of information that just isn’t available.

Let’s just take non-aggression for granted. Is a person who is starving "evil" for stealing a loaf of bread from you? The vanilla answer would be sure. Ok, let’s muddy up the waters. What if you stole from him first? What if your father stole from him, profited, and then gave the profit to you? What if an intermediary stole from him, then purchased a contract from your father resulting in a profit which was passed on to you?

I hope you can see where I'm coming from and going with this. Basically, in all this mishmash of different events, culpability is invisible. The presence of the state, violence, theft, and fraud presents a situation in which just title to everything is suspect. Now, there’s likely better solutions for the bread loaf thief than stealing, but if the theft is a response to past abrogations of liberty, I don’t see how anyone can paint that with the same broad brush.

The defense of the rich who live off the labor of the modest is surely a harder case to make. Yet, 1) I appeal to my previous statements that there are no motivations for “evil” and 2) that it’s very likely that these people have massive ego complexes or sociopathic tendencies. I wouldn’t be surprised at all that just about everyone involved in the bank bailout was at the same time ignorant of their impact on the rest of the world population while thinking that their actions were necessary to save the world. What this demonstrates is not “evil,” but rather that the people in control are idiots who should never have achieved their level of power and control. That power and control was achieved through an ideology and mindset that made it possible. They did not spring miraculously out of simple, observable actions.

For the benefit of liberty

The goal of my bringing these issues to the fore is never to say libertarianism is stupid or a waste of time. The goal is to make libertarians aware of what’s going on. You can’t be aware if you don’t listen and the first things labeling someone or something as “evil” does is make you stop listening. The second thing it does is make you regard everything said by the “evil” to be untrue. “Evil” is a bias. Ben Bernanke, Barack Obama, and your local sheriff say plenty of things worth listening to, but many turn a deaf ear to or automatically assume as false everything they say just because of their label or position. I do not consider this healthy. If I’m anything, I’m pro-truth, and “evil” distracts from that.

The simple message is that open-minded and aware libertarians are going to make more open-minded and aware non-libertarians. The kind of dogmatism present in libertarianism does not accomplish the same. The day I decided to adopt this approach was the day I wanted to stop being wrong, to stop saying things with the certainty and arrogance that I would later find out were unwarranted. And what it really comes down to is, how does one call himself a promoter and defender of liberty when his actions suggest that it’s not even worth arguing for because others disagree. I’m interested in a dialogue because, if libertarianism means sitting in a lonely room with a couple allies pontificating about how terrible everyone else is, it’s not going to result in anything remotely resembling liberty. So I ask, how will you spread liberty? By taping it up in a box and shipping it to New Hampshire? Or by opening it up and showing others -- even those who are skeptical at first.

In sum, why do I defend the “evil?” They aren’t, they may not be, and they may change. Until those things are proven otherwise, I’m sticking with my strategy.