Being that I am a pure voluntaryist and ardent objectivist, my moral code and sense of life is based on the conceptualization of man as a choosing agent advancing himself in a natural universe. As such, I hold it as objectively morally wrong, which is to say, anti-life, to forcibly control another individual for one’s own purposes. I further maintain that to a rational person there can be no pity for the guilty. This is to say, legitimate defense is not limited strictly to self-defense, but rather every righteous individual has the authority to forcibly intervene in defense of the innocent when a violation of rights is committed. It might, then, seem odd to suppose that defensive intervention is often not the best course of action for combating crime, but in fact I believe exactly that. Furthermore, I believe that intervention to combat the particular acts of violence and destruction which have become accepted to a certain degree as cultural norms is frequently harmful and wrong, and that those who combat social order with violent uprising often inflict collateral damage so as to incriminate themselves just like the demons they seek to eliminate.
There are many examples of violence and control which have been accepted in one culture or another throughout history. In many cultures, women are expected to be subservient to their husbands and can suffer beatings or worse if they behave as independents in public. Fear of such abuses of women has been used as a rationalization for a number of government policies, such as the recent burqa ban in France and the upcoming ban in Australia. Obviously, such a ban ignores the possibility that women wear burqas voluntarily, which is certainly the case for many Muslim women. Worse than that, though, is that it necessarily fails to accomplish the intended purpose of preventing men from beating their wives. After all, wife-beating is already illegal. Men who continue to do it are able to get away with it either because no one sees it happen, or because no one cares. Outlawing the burqa won’t stop that, and it won’t change the violent tendencies in anyone savage enough to beat an innocent person for religious reasons. What it will do, though, is convince leaders in local communities with high immigrant Muslim populations that Western governments represent a threat to their way of life. As such, they (especially the men) will feel an increased need to culturally distance themselves from Western natives and will enforce this on their wives and children. The burqa bans, like any other attempt to politicize behavior associated with race, culture, and religion, will have precisely one long-term effect: Incentivizing people to turn against one another violently, where before it was economical and rational to move towards tolerance. Donations to racist political demagogues will increase; the freedom of women will not.
So what makes women being forced to wear burqas in heavily Islamic communities in Western Europe different than, say, a grown man getting murdered on the street? In principle, these are both instances of aggression, and so they are both morally wrong. The difference comes into play in considering how effective various strategies for prevention can be. Murder of a grown man in a Western nation is extremely rare, and almost everyone recognizes that it is an egregious crime. As such, those who wish to foricbly intervene in defense of a murder victim can rely on the local community to support them and ensure justice. The opposite is often true of Islamic law. Suppose it is discovered that one particular woman in a Muslim community is wearing a burqa against her will on her husband’s orders. A squad of armed men come to her house to arrest her husband and give her a good lecture on her rights as an individual. Then what? The thirty other extremist Muslim households in the surrounding neighborhood ostracize her or potentially kill her. Now one might rightly say that not all or even most Muslims are so vicious and oppressive. This is surely so, yet in a community of moderate and tolerant Muslims, it is much less likely that there would be an oppressed woman in the first place. Violence is common in violent areas. In a community where aggression is accepted as normal, force to stop it is unsuccessful and provokes racial and cultural hatred and conflict.
What, then, can be done? The first step is always to depoliticize. Those who seek reform must accept the limitations of their abilities and not attempt to force a change for which society is not yet ready. Top-down government planning never achieves its desired goals and always causes collateral damage to innocents. After depoliticizing comes educating. The strongest weapon against bad ideas is and always will be good ideas. So to end oppression around the world, we must start by establishing a broad base of literature and other media promoting freedom, then spread that message in our daily lives. Anyone who wants to promote an idea needs to get onboard with the first-hand idea manufacturers – authors, philosophers, scientists. These intellectual leaders must be resolute in their commitment to both the theory of liberty and the specific goals such as ending oppression of women. Without a firm intellectual base, a movement cannot prosper. Attempts to skip the ideology and proceed straight to enforcing the results always fail for the reasons explained above.
After educating comes disincentivizing. Bad ideas will not be replaced by good ideas unless the latter are actually shown to be superior to the former. The second-hand dealers in ideas can make this happen. We can voluntarily put pressure on talk show hosts, newspaper columnists, bloggers, restaurant and store owners, and other important members of society to reject violence and oppression as a way of life. For example, a person who is passionate about ridding the world of burqas can openly refuse to watch any television show which depicts a burqa-clad character in a positive light. If this is demonstrated to be a good philosophy, the cultural free market will adapt. Moreover, due to the purely voluntary nature of the pressure applied, those who resist have no moral ground on which to stand. Remember when some bigoted Muslim extremists claimed that a comical and negative depiction of the prophet Muhammad was grounds for violent opposition? Yeah, they became the laughing stock of the whole world, triggering a voluntary reaction called Everybody Draw Muhammad Day. Had the artists who initially sketched Muhammad taken violent actions, and had the Muslim response been peaceful but firm, the results might have been quite different. By choosing to take the higher ground – to avoid engaging in threats of violence and instead protest peacefully – freedom-lovers and all of Western civilization won a huge victory.
Thousands of years of cultural custom cannot be overcome by a sudden decision on the part of the government, or you, or anyone, to punish a certain action, even if that action truly is a violent crime. Spontaneous decisions to attempt to effect social change quickly and forcefully usually trigger a backlash that is much larger, much more severe, and much longer-lasting than the proponents of change ever anticipate. Effective laws develop slowly out of long-observed traditions of peaceful behavior. Just as the United States suffered for its decision to invade the Confederacy and was ultimately powerless to prevent a century of violent oppression of blacks until the South’s very culture naturally changed, so the other Western nations will pay dearly if they attempt to push laws onto Muslim communities where they will not be respected. To fight for the betterment of society requires long-term thinking and peaceful methods. If you would like to see a world without burqas, my suggestion is to start by writing a book.
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Could a libertarian be the next president of the United States of America?
Well, not quite. But if former governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson has his way, libertarians could see their strongest – if admittedly still rather weak – ally in the White House since before the World Wars. Unlike all presidents in recent memory, Mr. Johnson has a real grasp of the damage that the military-industrial complex has done to America through corporate lobbyists working government contracts who provide incentives for leaders to instigate and prolong unnecessary wars. Equally anomalous is his real track record of actually reducing the size of government in his home state by cutting unnecessary bureaucracies and decreasing funding for programs that failed to live up to their promised potential. Gary Johnson supports the legalization of marijuana and a dramatic reduction in federal involvement in policing other drugs, believing that prohibition as a concept cannot succeed due to the inability of government to enforce it without adopting draconian policies and spending enormously on prisons and police. Along the same vein of thought, he opposes the Department of homeland Security’s ever-increasing border patrol operations and supports amnesty for illegal immigrants that would not confer upon them citizenship, but rather the right to work and move freely throughout the country coupled with the obligation to pay the same taxes as citizens. While governor, Mr. Johnson never raised taxes a penny and still managed to improve the financial situation of New Mexico. Add to all that his belief that education can and should be almost entirely privatized and a non-federal issue, and it’s clear he has a real and meaningful history of promoting freedom across a broad spectrum of issues, even in areas where the political climate is especially unfriendly to the libertarian cause.
So what’s in these videos?
Gary Johnson speaks about his political views, personal philosophy, and career as governor of New Mexico in videos 1, 2, and 3. He begins taking questions in video 4, where he takes a question paraphrased from Reddit Libertarians. Questions continue throughout videos 5, 6, and 7. I apologize for the fact that it’s hard to hear some of the questions. If it makes you feel any better, I couldn’t hear half of them when I was physically present. Try putting on headphones; they are usually louder than built-in speakers.
More than a dozen Republican candidates and several hundred supporters gathered last night at Broughton High School on Saint Marys Street to prepare for the height of campaign season. Most candidates, like B.J. Lawson (of the 4th Congressional district), Renee Ellmers (2nd), and Bill Randall (13th) were rallying voters in anticipation of the mid-term elections on November 2nd. However, one special guest who did not speak but conversed with many activists and concerned citizens is former governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson. Mr. Johnson is, in his own words, “laying down the groundwork for a presidential run” in 2012.
After enjoying free sweet tea and ice cream, Republicans settled down to listen to featured speakers. Renee Ellmers discussed her strong personal appreciation for the grassroots support she and other Republican candidates have been receiving throughout 2010. She expressed great confidence in her supporters’ ability to oust the 14-year Democratic incumbent Bob “Who are you?” Etheridge in November.
Ron Paul-endorsed candidate B.J. Lawson chose to focus his time on opposing 14-year Democratic incumbent David Price and his plan for amnesty for illegal immigrants. Lawson excoriated what he considered to be dishonesty on the part of Price and amnesty activists in downtown Durham, whom he accused of purporting to discuss citizenship for immigrants and in fact simply playing party politics. Lawson decried the activists for speaking Spanish at a Durham rally the previous night and mocked Price for saying “Yes” to the promises of immigrants whose speeches he could not even understand. At the immigration rally, Price had claimed that he was not advocating amnesty while simultaneously declaring his intent to give citizenship to illegal immigrants. This prompted Lawson to release a video discussing the issue. Some Lawson supporters criticized him for the speech and video, and there has been talk among the more libertarian wing of his base about whether he may be allowing racial prejudices to dictate policy views.
Finally, Tea Party enthusiast and Congressional candidate Bill Randall cautioned against the GOP becoming over-confident. He explained how many districts of North Carolina have been carefully gerrymandered to favor Democrats for over a century, with some districts having more registered Democrats than Republicans, Libertarians, and independents combined. The best strategy for the GOP, he said, is to focus on key issues where government itself has failed in recent years, such as the continuing economic collapse, and avoid making a big deal out of polarizing issues which are not critical to the election.
Afterward, I had an opportunity to speak in person with Governor Johnson about his views and his upcoming presidential campaign. He explained to me that he would like to see all drugs legalized at the federal level, though he expects that he will only be able to legalize marijuana and “do damage control” on other drugs. Drug use, he said, is a “health issue, not a criminal issue.”
By his own account, he tried very hard (and totally unsuccessfully) to implement a pure voucher system for schooling in New Mexico. As he explained, private schools cost less than public schools to run, so he suggested giving a voucher for three-fourths the current cost of public schooling to stave off the argument that vouchers take money away from public schools. Then, he said, if every single student chose to take the vouchers, public schools would still have 25% of their budget. Thus they could afford to pay bureaucrats to sit in empty buildings for years and do nothing productive whatsoever, “just like the federal department of education.”
The former governor and I encountered a point of substantial disagreement regarding legislation in New Mexico that would have prevented smoking in restaurants. According to his account, he was initially totally against the idea of such legislation on free market principles, believing that customers were fully capable of making their own decisions about whether they wanted to eat in a smoking environment or not. However, he explained that as he mulled the issue over more, he realized that the employees of the restaurant would also be exposed to the smoke, and it might be significantly more difficult for them to quit their jobs than for customers to simply not go out to eat. Ultimately, he said, he remained conflicted on the issue, and never actually had to make the decision to sign such legislation, but still cited workplace safety as an example of a case where he was not ideologically a libertarian.
I countered him by noting that workplace safety can be taken to arbitrary extremes, as there is always a function that describes the value returned by investing in increased safety compared to the value of the initial investment. We could mandate a zero percent risk of contracting health problems associated with work, and then of course it would simply be illegal to work. Somewhere along that infinite spectrum from immediate death to everlasting life is a totally arbitrary cut-off point which the government deems acceptable. I cited my own personal experience working with IBM. As I said to the former governor, “There’s a person whose job it is to take out my trash. I wish they didn’t do that. I wish I would take out my own trash and get a bigger paycheck.”
Mr. Johnson agreed with me that there is not a clear, objective reason for declaring a certain level of workplace safety appropriate, and furthermore displayed a real understanding of economics by agreeing that workplace safety regulations do, in fact, cut into workers’ paychecks. Nevertheless, he still said that he was divided on the issue of smoking bans.
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