This gets a little complicated — and let me preface it by saying that as far as I know no one is steamed — but as it happens, without coordinated effort by the four people involved, I find myself one half of a couple fighting a bit online with another couple, Will Wilkinson and Kerry Howley (with special guest star Julian Sanchez). But I should start by establishing the other half of the Todd couple (apologies to Neil Simon there), and I’ll keep the sentimental bits brief, at least today.
•My new girlfriend is Helen Rittelmeyer (see Figure 1: Hot Librarian Type, above), an obscenely young, wise-beyond-her-years, conservative, blogging, Catholic, New Wave-loving, monster-movie-viewing, Southern-extracted, Yale-educated, technically-libertarian person — who nonetheless hates the term “libertarian” because it gets used by so many culturally-left people nowadays who threaten to undermine the traditionalism Helen values.
To my delight (given the slogan of my site and my book proposal in the works), Helen wrote a blog entry about similarities between conservatism and punk even before meeting me (back on her old blog — and back when she was a smoker, I should add). She also, as alluded to in my two prior entries, once had a science museum job doing taxidermy and letting the (cute but vicious) flying squirrel out of his cage at night to glide a bit. (They need exercise, I guess, to prevent their skin folds from getting even flappier.)
Anyway, Helen, unlike me, rejects utilitarianism and basically thinks suffering builds character (she’s been Randian and Nietzschean, at least at some points, though when I told one friend that Helen thinks suffering is a good thing, he simply said, “Well, of course — she’s Catholic”).
•So naturally, when, around Halloween, Will Wilkinson announced (on the site where Helen now regularly blogs, Culture11) that he thinks we should not only attempt to quantify happiness but even quantify ostensibly more abstract qualities of life such as “meaningfulness,” Helen made a counterargument. Will was appalled by it — and got in some good jokes about not wanting to make Helen suffer, since she likes suffering.
Will also rightly asked whether a pro-suffering Helen objects to transhumanism — the philosophy of using technology to alleviate all human suffering and even achieve earthly (and thus not exactly Catholic) immortality. And transhumanists (and their Extropian kin), of whom I am in some sense one (at least in spirit, despite not owning a cell phone or having cable TV), should rejoice because this season sees the launch of the first-ever swanky transhumanist magazine, H Plus…
•…as noted by Will’s girlfriend Kerry Howley, who, as it happens, I’d been criticizing on this blog for completely unrelated reasons — namely for not seeing why feminism (in most forms) is fundamentally at odds with the diverse and inevitably inegalitarian (though not necessarily predictable) outcomes tolerated by libertarianism, which normally describes people as free so long as their property rights and bodily integrity are not violated. Kerry objected. I responded. Kerry objected again.
•Then, Will objected to my anti-feminist/anti-Kerry arguments (which is very chivalrous of him!), and, since he is undeniably clear-thinking, he at least had the decency to acknowledge that by insisting that freedom requires more than property rights-adherence, he may not technically be a libertarian. By contrast, I think Kerry is under the impression that we old-school libertarians — who insist on what Isaiah Berlin called the negative liberty/positive liberty distinction (and associated state action/private action distinction) — just made the whole thing up as a trivial, narrow-minded footnote to the movement’s history. In fact, though, none of us knew we would one day be contending with people who claimed to be libertarians but denied that such distinctions are pivotal. The Kerry view is news to me, and I’ve been a libertarian for about twenty years now.
(Hey, disagree with me philosophically if you must, but don’t waltz into this Randian-Rothbardian-Friedmanite philosophical movement I’ve known and loved for twenty years and tell me you know how it really works — not that such tribal concerns are more important than getting ethics and policy right.)
•While all this was going on, of course, I’d also written (without rendering judgment, I think it’s fair to say) about Will’s participation in a Princeton panel about liberal-libertarian collaboration (about which PajamasMedia will interview me tomorrow if all goes as planned). Will may not even realize that I’m dating Helen, by the way, so there’s no underlying soap opera or, uh, tit for tat here, I swear, just a tiny movement prone to certain recurring arguments.
(Actually, Kerry helped me get the gig covering the Princeton panel, and you see the thanks she gets for it.)
•Meanwhile, Helen adds interesting curves to some of these arguments by noting that she — despite being more traditionalist than me, Will, and Kerry put together — thinks queer theory would benefit from cross-pollination with social conservatism, since she likes her traditional female role — and wants her man to be a “lover and a leader” (so I’ll do what I can) — but has enough postmodern awareness of the performative aspect of womanhood to feel more “femme” than “feminine.” She’s also fond of drag queens, essentially making her one more in a series of “fag hags” to find me attractive, but I’m OK with that and have never, never claimed to be macho.
•And then, as it happens, Julian Sanchez (also of Reason), weighs in to call people with my anti-feminism position “by and large, really fucking dumb” (I think that phrase is from Kant). As Glen Whitman notes in Julian’s comments thread — otherwise I wouldn’t even mention it — Julian is also Kerry’s ex-boyfriend, so we take the incest thing up a notch.
But all the infighting’s futile, in the grand scheme of things, I suppose. We are all Obama’s bitches now.
EPILOGUE: And lest you think people associated with Reason spend more time fighting each other than fighting the government, check out Reason’s very sane and civil Katherine Mangu-Ward’s interview with my pal Dan Greenberg, about his opposition, as an Arkansas state rep, to government registration of interior designers.
And now that we’ve established all our characters, in the next few days, I’ll go into why I think the seemingly simple embrace of a feminist notion of freedom in fact unravels the whole libertarian ball of twine — but I will do so without making the political the personal to the degree I have here, I promise.
(And if Perry, who commented on yesterday’s entry, will try to remain calm, perhaps a truce is possible even there — and he can then trust me to sketch broad tactical objections to the left that explain my reluctance to dwell overmuch on some of his favorite issues.)