Thursday, June 5, 2008

Barr Debate Afterthoughts

Two thoughts about Bob Barr, one of the figures discussed — and one of the audience members in attendance – at our historic Debate at Lolita Bar last night:

1. A recent Rasmussen poll puts him at 6% already — even though only about a third of the population have heard of him, which in a way makes the 6% even more impressive.

2. He looks vaguely like someone else in disguise — or like I’ve seen some movie with a German spy character or amiable country doctor that resembles him or something…or maybe an amiable country doctor who is actually a German spy. Can’t quite put my finger on it.

P.S. I’m told he was involved with the CIA in some capacity, so he may simply be one of those “grey men” Robert Ludlow writes about who seem to blend in too easily to be real — but I’ll probably be voting for him in November nonetheless, and he seems to me like a genuine convert to the cause, as we all were at some point, except for the rare few who were born this way. I won’t hold earlier DOMA-promotion and drug-warring against him, just as I wouldn’t have wanted anyone back in 1991 to doubt my libertarian credentials because I’d been pro-drug-war (out of a desire to combat reason-warping mental degeneration) four years earlier in high school.

P.P.S. I loaned him my copy of the July Reason to read on the plane back home — having brought it mainly as a prop to wave around while telling the audience that next time we’ll have a panel of women who’ve sold their eggs, including Reason editor Kerry Howley — so join us July 22.


Shawn Levasseur said...

Some have said he looks like J. Jonah Jameson.

Todd Seavey said...

I think Jameson seems more thuggish — and Jameson would probably agree with debater Ken Silber on another position that Ken defended at Lolita Bar once (brilliantly but again without commanding majority support from the crowd): that superheroes should have to register with the government:

I assume Barr is now against that idea, and I don’t think he was in the House when the Superhero Registration Act was being contemplated (not sure about the older Mutant Registration Act).

P.S. I had to see _Iron Man_ a second time before noticing that the terrorists are supposed to work for the Mandarin. I almost deserve to have my nerd credentials revoked. (But at least I stayed through the credits.)

Koli said...

Yes, drugs are reason-warping. But if that’s enough to overcome an objection to government intervention in individual freedoms, then how about this: childhood malnutrition, crushing poverty, and lack of access to healthcare are also reason-warping (in that they can make you crazy or stunt your intellectual growth) so by your logic government should intervene there as well.

Todd Seavey said...

Right. For first-time readers: I’m a libertarian now, unlike in high school, and do not support the drug war.

Koli said...

Meow! Sorry, I don’t know how to transliterate the meaner cat sound. Is it “rrnaarr”?

But seriously — even though I’m certainly not a “first-time” reader — I admit I’m not always clear on what you (or libertarians generally) do or don’t find acceptable from government. It seems many self-described libertarians do support drug wars, and interference with reproductive choice, meddling with marriage and sexuality, “regime change” in other countries using our tax dollars, warrantless wiretapping of our conversations, etc. I have had conversations with you about each of these topics and come away with the impression that while you may not share such views, you don’t find them particularly problematic as a libertarian.

I also admit I’m ignorant as to Barr’s current position on the drug war but it sounded to me like you were supplying a rationale for him. Sorry if I misunderstood.

David said...

You, Todd. The guy Bob Barr vaguely resembles is you.

Todd Seavey said...

Curses! It was me all along!! I’ve been duped by the Time Trapper!

And speaking of the passage of time, I may as well address some of the issues of political compromise that Koli raises in my Retro-Journal entry tomorrow, since it will be about early 2004, when libertarians had to ask themselves whether they could bear to see Bush re-elected (that’ll be Retro-Journal entry #34 out of 40, for those keeping track). Forgive me if I let that be the catch-basin for any outstanding political questions.

And I believe the most effective spelling is: mee-YOW!

In related news, here is a hovercat:

E5 said...

“I admit I’m not always clear on what you (or libertarians generally) do or don’t find acceptable from government.”

Everyone likes to pretend like libertarianism is some ultra complicated system of beliefs where unless you’re ‘one of us’ you just don’t see any rhyme or reason to being Democrat-leaning on drugs or marriage laws yet Republican-leaning on gun rights.

What libertarians find unacceptable and acceptable from government is soooooo simple to understand, it’s absurd, and I challenge anyone to even attempt to sum up the typical Dem or GOPs view of proper gov’t as succinctly:

Unacceptable: any gov’t action that infringes, or credibly threatens to infringe, on an individuals natural rights (in the Lockean sense).

Acceptable: whatever is left.

Todd Seavey said...

I’m mostly staying out of this until tomorrow’s entry, but that is the worst excuse for a self-explanatory description I have ever seen of anything.

E5 said...

I wasn’t trying to sum up the entirety of libertarianism.

Not that the NAP (which is basically all I typed above) is the be all and end all of libertarianism, but at least it’s a solid starting point for a consistent philosophy.

My point is merely that it’s easier to give someone a rough approximation of libertarianism much quicker than explaining the philosophy (if any) behind the 2 major parties.

In fact, is it even possible to give a priori rules for how Dems and GOPs think, or is it just a laundry list of specifics that one has to memorize with no correlation between the stances (guns good but drugs bad, private contracts good but privacy bad)?

Gerard said...

I don’t know. Explaining an abstract philosophy or ideology seems like a more complex task than delineating the party platforms of each of the two major parties. I’ll concede that your general point, i.e. a lot of the positions taken by Democrats or Republicans are more an attempt to appease specific constituencies, e.g. Democrats opposing school choice dovetails with their interest in pacifying unionized public school teachers, than the expression of a sincere philosophical viewpoint grounded in core, underlying principles, is by and large correct. However, I still think you could give a two or three-sentence description of what each party stands for rather easily.

Brian Doherty’s overview of the history of libertarianism in this country contained more than a hundred pages of footnotes. And it only covered 12-15 major figures in the libertarian movement, IIRC.

Koli said...

E5 — I am not at all puzzled by someone who is

“Democrat-leaning on drugs or marriage laws yet Republican-leaning on gun rights.” That seems to me to have plenty of rhyme and reason. If you look

at my statement, I was actually expressing confusion about libertarians who _do_ advocate government involvement in drugs or marriage, (the “Republican-leaning” position, if you will), positions which, at least on the face, seem to contradict what libertarians profess.

Your point about the major parties isn’t really germane. One: I was asking about libertarianism, not suggesting that the major parties have clearer positions. Two: there are libertarians who belong to a major party,

so there isn’t necessarily mutual exclusivity. Three: there’s nothing necessarily incoherent about having a “laundry list of specifics” in one’s public policy preferences, but if you claim (as libertarians do) to be motivated by an overall guiding principle, then _your_ specific list items should be consistent with that guiding principle; otherwise it’s not clear how much guiding that principle is doing. Four: saying that other people are less consistent in their views isn’t a very helpful explanation of your own.

Todd Seavey said...

Koli, there are _no_ libertarians who favor the drug war (not sure what sort of involvement in marriage you have in mind, most favoring treating it as a private contract, but there might be room for semantic confusion there).

If you’ve met people who call themselves libertarians but favor the drug war, etc., as you often assert, those are rare individuals who do not know what the term means and aren’t really relevant to discussion with me or E5.

I’m sure somewhere out there there are people who think “liberal” means “loving a good fistfight” or something, but they’re not really dominating the lexicon, and there’s not much we can do about a few lexicographical rogues.

If you can find a pro-drug-war or for that matter pro-random-beatings libertarian blog, argue with them.

Koli said...

Todd, I think my mistake was to use the word “advocate”. I meant to say “support policymakers who advocate” things like drug wars and restrictive definitions of marriage and a bunch of other things I already mentioned. If these are also “rogues” then you guys are very much overrun with rogues.

And I actually know a decent number of poeple who call themeselves “libertarian” but hold views that do not seem to comport with how you describe the dominant lexicon. For example, I had “libertarian” law school classmates who argued in favor of EVERY supreme court decision giving police broader and broader discretionary powers in searches, seizures, and dispersing of non-violent assemblies. I have heard some say it makes sense for the federal government to define marriage as “between a man and a woman” and many more who think we accept (if not advocate) that “we need to crack down on immigration” etc.

You can tell me “they are not libertarians” but –well, _they_ say they are! This is exactly the kind of denying away of problem areas in your own movement for which you complained at length about feminists. I was hoping you’d be tough on your own people the same way.

Very often these people don’t argue that such views are themselves “libertarian” views. I have NEVER claimed that they do. They just hold those views (or at least seem perfectly comfortable with policymakers who hold them) and don’t bother to mention it when professing to be libertarians. When questioned about it, they call it “compromising” — as you did yesterday, when you seemed to understand my comments the way I intended them.

As for E5, he/she quoted me and then proceeded to argue about something that I hadn’t suggested at all, so I think explaining what I did suggest is absolutely relevant to my discussion with him/her. But it’s your blog, so if that sort of response is not welcome, let me know and I’ll go away quietly.

Todd Seavey said...

Better yet, I’ll just ask everyone to read today’s entry, on precisely the topic of alliances and compromises, though it can never answer every question (or speak for every political maverick, compromiser, word-abuser, or principled strategist out there):

E5 said...

my only point was that it is really easy to be clear on what libertarians fins acceptable or unacceptable from government… even drug use.

Never mind that people who are are for drug laws yet *claim* to be libertarian.

There are also people who *claim* to be Christian while they blow up abortion clinics.

Wait a sec… let me back up.

I am running with the assumption that there are objective definitions for descriptive terms such as “libertarian”, “christian”, etc… One certainly has the right to *say* they are whatever they want, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true unless they fulfill some onjective criterion.

If you do not agree… and you feel that only an individual himself can decide that he is a “libertarian” despite my counterpoint that he doesn’t fulfill what I see as essential criterion, then let me ask you: where does this “self-definition-only” criterion apply?

Can I be a Christian, vegetarian, Mets fan, despite not having roast beef for lunch, not having been in a church in over 10 years, not believing in God, and not being able to name one current NY Met?

E5 said...

delete one of the “not”. I did have roast beef for lunch.

but I am, as of 12:35 a vegetarian. Nevermind that, I will cease being a vegetarian at like 6:00, because this will only be about an hour diversion – I will resume being a vegetarian at 7:00…

Todd Seavey said...

This technically makes you a chrono-vegetarian, by the way — or possibly a chronovore — or a Time Trapper!!

E5 said...

I’m sure this topic has been discussed previously on this blog… and if not, perhaps it would make a good topic for a debate (if it’s not too similar to your prior objective morality debate with Ken):

Are there objective criterion that individuals have to fulfill before defining themselves as: Jews, Mets Fans, vegetarians, etc.. or is it solely at the discretion of the individual?

People say they are vegetarians all the time who only eat fish. To me this sounds ludactious… they clearly don’t know what “animals” are. Nevermind that fish are less developed than land animals…. they’re still meat, no? What about only eating meat that dies of natural causes (I think the veal died of lonliness)? OR people who only eat roadkill that is dead regardless of their desire to eat it?

What about the other Jewish question: Who gets to decide if I am a Jew? My mother’s mother was raised Jewish, converted to atheism, raised my mother atheist who in turn raised me atheist. I was never bar mitzfa-ed, don’t know a thing about Judasim, and can’t remember the last time I was in a temple. Yet people often like to say: “According to Jewish law, you are a Jew because your mother’s mother was a Jew” But don’t you have to be Jewish to begin with in order for Jewish law to even apply to you? After all, according to E5ish religious law, you are a member of the E5 religion if you have ever had an online debate with E5 (that’s me!).

So if my being Jewish is objectively up to this Jewish Law, regardless of my personal choice, then am I allowed to induct people into my religion this way? If so, welcome aboard Todd and Koli, I require tithing of 50%, paypal accepted.

Koli said...

E5: Your point about self-definition is a fair one. There does need to be a reasonable alignment of one’s self-identification and the dominant lexicon. And I have no problem with your definition (except that you can’t seriously claim a definition is “simple” or “clear” as long as it includes an appeal to natural law – but we’ll leave that for another day!).

My point is only that while libertarianism may be “easy to define,” for a great many people it is not so easy to stick to, when they encounter issues when their preferred substantive outcomes can be reached by government intervention. Just to be clear, I am not accusing you or Todd of being closet anti-libertarians or “oppressionists” of some kind. I also understand your impulse to take only purists seriously, but I am really puzzled at your insistence that large numbers of non-purists in your movement simply don’t exist. My classmates from law school are not yahoos who misunderstand what “libertarian” means. They argue in brilliantly libertarian terms when it’s about deregulation and taxes and guns; I’m pretty sure some of them voted for Ron Paul. But for whatever laudable reason (maybe they want small children to be completely safe from potential thugs in their neighborhood) they argued equally brilliantly, in “practical” terms (possibly forgetting their own libertarian identities) for expansive police powers.

Let’s go back to my first comment that started all of this. I mistook Todd’s rationale for his erstwhile pro-drug-war stance as a rationale for forgiving Barr’s (I thought current) pro-drug-war stance. [what is his current stance, by the way?] The reason I misunderstood this is that I have had this experience way too many times. People who are libertarians, explaining away the inconsistent views of someone they support (or sometimes their own inconsistent views) with practical, “non-libertarian” social-utility-based arguments. And I have yet to hear a good reason why, if a non-libertarian social-utility argument can make you comfortable compromising on, say immigration, or drug policy, or DOMA (I love that example, because a so-called “liberal” president signed that, and I have never forgiven him for it), then why is it NEVER acceptable to take an antidiscrimination law as a compromise? I know you’re probably thinking – the antidiscrimination people NEVER offered us an otherwise small government. I grant you that. But hypothetically, if they did, would you consider that compromise? From my experience, most libertarians wouldn’t. This one is somehow so offensive to the core libertarian values that you can no longer call yourself libertarian if you take it. That seems to go for any compromise with a “liberal” stench. I’m more than willing – in fact I am hoping — to be proven wrong on this point.

Koli said...

Barr does look like an older Todd with a moustache. It’s uncanny!

Todd Seavey said...

Won’t presume to tell you what other people I have not encountered are thinking, but obviously there are many different ways one could weigh the severity of different wrongs, including the sheer number of people affected and the degree to which they’re inconvenienced, or simply how blatant the contradiction of favored principles is — but if we exit this thread, you’ll find your former debate opponent Gerard weighing in against McCain’s pro-immigration stance on my blog entry from today (also linked a bit earlier in this thread)…

P.S. Maybe I’ll try addressing gay marriage as an example in a new entry tomorrow. Haven’t pissed anybody off on _that_ topic yet, so I may as well.

Gerard said...

Apparently, he’s in favor of doing away with federal drug laws. Although, he did contradict himself when he said that drug-related crimes, e.g. murder, kidnapping, rape, etc., should still be prosecuted vigilantly. The way he set forth his argument it sounded like he was in favor of continuing to target terrorist organizations like FARC and the ELN, or paramilitaries and drug dealers who imperil the government of our allies and threaten U.S. citizens, e.g. Pablo Escobar and the paramilitaries, but not under the aegis of a “drug war” per se.

Todd Seavey said...

I’m not sure I see the contradiction there — wouldn’t most people who want to legalize drugs still want to see murder and so forth prosecuted? I assume he was just trying to make the familiar point that you can legalize crack without legalizing killing-while-on-crack (for that matter, you can repeal alcohol prohibition without legalizing drunk driving).

And I doubt there’d be much support for an amnesty for all drug gang members who’d committed violent crimes (as opposed to just use and sales crimes) — even the ones who had merely shot DEA agents, who truly hardcore anarcho-capitalists might argue were acting in self-defense.

Koli said...

Suppose you had to choose between the following:

Presidential candidate A: wants to eliminate the estate tax and all capital gains taxes; favors deregulating most industries. Is against US entering into any “green” treaty. Wants to ban affirmative action and all anti-discrimination laws; BUT will increase the defense budget; build a border fence; severely restrict immigration from any non-European country (there’s precedent for this one, I didn’t make it up); wants broad war powers in the executive, including a carte blanche on detentions; wiretapping by NSA; power to seize library records without subpoena. Wants a federal ban on same-sex marriage. As governor of his state, he appointed judges who vowed not to overturn old state laws making consensual homosexual sodomy punishable by imprisonment (let’s pretend Bowers v. Hardwick hasn’t been overturned yet). Is against abortion under any circumstances. Reads the first amendment to permit mandatory school prayer.

Candidate B: has the opposite views on EVERYTHING.

I would think, if libertarians believe what E5 describes, then the direction in which they are willing to compromise could go either way and you’d get about an equal number of libertarians (from among those who actually decided to vote in that awful year) for each candidate. But in reality, do you really think it would be about even? I don’t think so. But this is a real question. Not rhetorical. You guys know more libertarians than I do. I’ll accept your answer.

Koli said...

Todd, are very charming when you piss us off, so please continue to do so.

Todd Seavey said...

My impression is most of the libertarian elite break “anti-Bush,” so to speak, in the hypothetical dilemma while part of the rank and file breaks the other way, though I haven’t seen stats (I just know most of the Reason editors, Party activists, and Barr to boot have been very much in what you might call “anti-PATRIOT Act/pro-gay” mode for most of the past eight years). But the whole Bush dilemma is explored in greater detail over in today’s entry, so I declare _this_ thread _over_. It is so 6/5. (I believe in progress.)

E5 said...

“They argue in brilliantly libertarian terms when it’s about deregulation and taxes and guns; I’m pretty sure some of them voted for Ron Paul. But for whatever laudable reason (maybe they want small children to be completely safe from potential thugs in their neighborhood) they argued equally brilliantly, in “practical” terms (possibly forgetting their own libertarian identities) for expansive police powers.”

2 things here, one serious the other a joke and serious:

1) These kinds of people are all over the place… perhaps it is because people like to be unique. Saying you are a plain vanilla (technically an oxymoron) Republican may not get the cute chick in the law library to give a shit about you. But if you’re “libertarian on economic issues, and ‘pragmatic’ on social issues” you now sound different… unique… not just the typical dem or gop who hits on her all day.

From now on, my new way to describe myself is: “I transcend labels… I’m a republican on economic issues, a democratic on most social issues, yet back to being a republican on gun rights and affirmative action” Sounds much better than “a libertarian” for roughly saying the same thing, doesn’t it?

2) There’s a HUGE contradiction in how your friends think. In the same breath they are both for and against ‘armed thugs imposing their will, by force, applying rules based not on some objectively derived moral authority, with no reverence for my natural rights’. Just that they prefer such armed thugs to be wearing blue for some reason?

“And I have yet to hear a good reason why, if a non-libertarian social-utility argument can make you comfortable compromising on, say immigration, or drug policy, or DOMA (I love that example, because a so-called “liberal” president signed that, and I have never forgiven him for it), then why is it NEVER acceptable to take an antidiscrimination law as a compromise?”

You heard it here first. I would consider voting for a libertarian-ish person whose primary non-libertarianism stance is a favor for anti-discrimination laws. ie: pro gun, pro drug, anti redistribution of wealth, free market health care, no minimum wage, etc.

E5 said...

I have anecdotally found that MOST libertarians come from one side or another and most (very few are onirignally libertarian from when they first started voting), and while not in danger of “relapsing”, most say that if they HAD to pick one of the 2 main candidates in lieu of 3rd party or refraining, defer to the side they “came from”.

No scientific study here… just from talking to people.

For everyone like Barr, the ex GOPper who is gung ho gun rights and anti strong federal govt, but not so focused on drugs or gay marriage, you have a Rob Kampia, who is the gay director of the MPP.

I have settled happily in the middle:

What’s the point in having lower taxes if you’re not going to use that extra money to buy drugs?

And what’s the point in doing drugs if you’re not going to then play with guns?

Koli said...

“There’s a HUGE contradiction in how your friends think” Right. That’s what I was trying to point out.

“I have anecdotally found that MOST libertarians come from one side or another and most (very few are onirignally libertarian from when they first started voting), and while not in danger of “relapsing”, most say that if they HAD to pick one of the 2 main candidates in lieu of 3rd party or refraining, defer to the side they “came from””

Thank you. That’s kind of a real answer! I did hear it here first… but didn’t Todd ban us from this thread? Should we really be here? Isn’t that a violation of his property rights???