Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Have a Conservative Yet Punk New Year


As if it weren’t exciting enough that tonight’s scheduled to bring another appearance by me on PJTV (making predictions about 2009, along with Will Wilkinson, which should be viewable anytime after 7pm Eastern or so), I notice an ad has been running for the Jean-Paul Gaultier perfume Ma Dame, and the fashion transformation it depicts — combining high-fashion and punk sensibilities, wrapped in capitalism — leads inexorably to a dialectical synthesis akin to New Wave, and thus to a place close to this ostensibly conservative/punk blog’s heart.

Incidentally, the model in the ad has done spots for Burberry and numerous other products. Apparently, she lives in NYC, was voted the Most Annoying Person of 2008 in a BBC poll, and is engaged to a Stroke (is it proper to use the singular?). Despite her made-up name, Agyness Deyn, suggested to her by her family numerologist, she’s from Manchester, England.

Speaking of New Wave-like things and overly-skinny blonde women: while it crosses my mind, I notice a song by that Swedish band the Sounds, who I’ve repeatedly praised in the past couple years (especially for “Seven Days a Week”), can be heard, for good or ill, in that recent Geico cavemen ad in which the cavemen stride away from hot chicks in slow motion after getting off their motorcycles (“don’t want to hurt you…”). Ah, global culture!

I know a fabulous babe who likes her culture local, thick, and rich with tradition, though, so I’ll now wisely give the real last word in this Month of Feminism to my girlfriend, specifically to her obit for Bettie Page — but when next we meet, it’s on to January 2009, this blog’s “Month of Liberty (i.e., Property).”

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holiday Blogging Break


Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and I’ll be traveling to North Carolina and Connecticut over the next several days, so I’ll resume blogging on New Year’s (next week!) — the first day of my “Month of Liberty (i.e., Property).”

I resolve to blog in a civil and open-minded fashion, as if for well-meaning and innocent newcomers. I hope we all learned some things from the sometimes-contentious Month of Feminism, though, including a little something about Mary Marvel’s underwear. Happy 2009.

P.S. My leisure reading during my travels, by the way, will include the nifty volume Women Philosophers of the Early Modern Period edited by Margaret Atherton and including excerpts of seven thinkers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia’s correspondence with Descartes. Fascinating stuff.

And had our society not gone through a period such as the Enlightenment, perhaps its women would find themselves having to travel to know freedom, as suggested by this article on Middle Eastern flight attendants pointed out to me by Michel Evanchik. As five-word summaries of human history go, it’d be hard to beat “Life sucked until the Enlightenment,” though that admittedly leaves out some details. Perhaps you can fill them in below while I’m away (but first: tonight I party at an automat in honor of Festivus, which sounds as Enlightenmentish as admiring Crystal Palace blueprints from your panopticon).

Monday, December 22, 2008

Nerd Movies vs. Comic Books (and Mary Marvel's Underwear)


This month as been somewhat disappointing for me as a nerd, given that I’m inclined to skip three films aimed squarely at my demographic:

Punisher: War Zone (I’ve been burned before with this character’s mindless machine-gunnery, and this sounds like the third, yes, third, failed attempt to make him interesting on screen)

The Day the Earth Stood Still (it apparently replaces the ominous tone and Cold War metaphor of the original with lots of now-familiar CGI disaster effects and an environmental doomsday message — not to mention replacing Michael Rennie with the Gort-like stiffness of Keanu Reeves)

The Spirit (it may be good, but it just looks like too much Frank Miller and not enough Will Eisner, which makes me sad).

By contrast, there are interesting things afoot in comics next year — including, for good or ill (and here’s the Month of Feminism angle), the continuation of the depiction of Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel’s young sidekick, as a black-clad, libidinous (and I believe underage) vixen-villain, a reminder that many of my fellow male nerds ended up with some sort of “brat-tomboy” fetish (that I don’t quite share), perhaps because brat-tomboys seem at once to be (a) as dangerous as fear-inducing girls seemed back in high school and (b) as approachable and familiar as (male) gun or car enthusiasts. (Not that I’m knocking any of that, and I may have one ex who qualifies, now that I think about it.)

As fans have noted, Mary’s turn to the dark side has also been strongly correlated with an increase in the frequency with which we see glimpses of her underwear, a pattern apparently alluded to in a rather tasteful and witty fashion by an ever so small glimpse of said super-garments on the nicely-painted Alex Ross cover of an upcoming Justice Society of America issue, meaning Mary may be in imminent danger of being remembered for covert cheesecake artistry in much the same way that Power Girl is known partly for artist Wally Wood’s continual enhancement of her breast size.

In any case, though I’m only reading the first of the following comics things, as a long-delayed finale to my decades of comics-reading, I have to admit they all sound pretty exciting. DC Comics’ 2009 will bring:

•the climax of the “Final Crisis” (with the villain Time Trapper getting the final word, which pleases me even more than seeing the villain Darkseid done right)

•a series of one-shots depicting the world through other villains’ eyes

•an overdue controntation between the good and evil Marvel Families (you know, the ones who say “Shazam!” to gain their powers, like Mary above)

Batman’s allies and former sidekicks scrambling to deal with his sudden absence

Wonder Woman having to reassert her place in the divine order after being ousted by the Olympian (and by male gods)

Flash reborn

•a Titans/Teen Titans crossover

•a second Justice League launching, with a talking gorilla as a member

•the end of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman’s struggle against the villain Krona, the pivotal reality-altering menace I mentioned in one of the comics stories I wrote

Green Lantern facing war between multiple Lantern armies, including the zombie Lantern Corps prophecied as “the Blackest Night”

•Earth swarming with newfound Kryptonians as Superman heads into space…

•and retells his origin

•and helps found the Legion of Super-Heroes (not long after their current series’ end and in time for the new Adventure series to start).

That’s more than one major event per month by my count, so I predict a successful year for DC, much of it the doing of unapologetic nostalgia-geeks Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, and Kurt Busiek. The villains can do their worst — but the nerds have already won.

And amidst such plenty, I wouldn’t even mind if they said (once more) that nothing prior to this year should be regarded as canonical. The future is rich enough, with or without a multiverse. (See, nerds don’t always just grouse.)

Oh, and one consoling bit of movie news for 2010, noted on DarkHorizons: not only has Tim Robbins been cast to play Stark’s father in a flashback that ties together Iron Man and Captain America, but the Iron Man sequel (continuing the emphasis on relatively realistic superbeings and international intrigue) will reportedly feature Hawkeye and Black Widow — meaning that potential Avengers roster keeps growing, as in my six-year-old self’s dreams in the late 70s.

P.S. You know, Johnny Depp is supposed to play the Mad Hatter in Tim Burton’s Wonderland.

Think how confused people would be if he “reprised” the role by playing the villain Mad Hatter in a Batman sequel.

(Alternatively, of course, they could — and indeed, should — use Tom Petty as the Batman villain. And I think that’s one of DC Comics editor Scott Nybakken’s favorite videos, as it happens.)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Sermon on Manliness, from Clint Eastwood


If some assert that feminism is a libertarian virtue, it’s only right that we counter by asking: Is manliness an even more libertarian virtue?  Let’s consult this Esquire interview with libertarian former mayor of Carmel, CA, Clint Eastwood.  His thoughts on “Generation Pussy” alone may be worth your time (and my thanks to consummate gentleman Ali Kokmen for pointing the piece out).

Alternatively, there is the sensitivity evinced by this man weeping over the closing of a public library, not that I’m saying crying is always a sign of weakness.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Utility of Utilitarianism


My friend Katie Surrence made a bunch of clever science-themed foods for the holidays, including “string theory beans” and “primordial soup,” to be consumed on a “Night of Hypothesis-Testing.” Some might think it fitting that she also rejects utilitarianism as involving insufficiently quantifiable claims — much the same reason for rejecting it given by LB Deyo years ago in his public debate against me on the topic, and by Chuck Blake, who voted against me that night.

But few people are as satisfied as LB that mere Nietzschean assertion of our existing values and preferences will somehow maintain a stable ethical culture over time, and fewer still are willing to bite the bullet and, like Chuck, dismiss moral and political claims altogether as so much hot air, turning their attention exclusively to material measurement. More often, people substitute for utility (the effort to maximize happiness) some set of ostensibly intuited or metaphysical oughts, whether they call them rights, imperatives, egalitarian principles, or divine decrees that we should follow…just because. Is that less mystical? I believe that for Katie herself the intuited principles (admittedly subjective and voluntarily adhered to, she would say) would include some socialist and feminist rules (rather than, say, a resigned acceptance of tradition in the absence of quantifiable alternatives), though I don’t wish to oversimplify.

I would concur with the utility-doubters if the epistemological problem — how can we measure people’s happiness levels without telepathy? — were the end of the story. But the greater audacity of claiming metaphysical oughts is precisely why all ethical thinkers should be utilitarians — and the epistemological problem of there being no telepathy is precisely why utilitarians should all be…libertarians (of some sort, at least). By leaving individuals free to act on their own preferences, we at least create the possibility that they will continually act to increase their own happiness even if we can’t measure the results.

The alternative is to trust whoever is physically coercing people to gauge the victims’ happiness. That seems unlikely to work out well — and that gives you some idea why I’ll be defending property rights as essential to liberty and happiness next month on this blog. (Whether those arguments will even persuade my anti-utilitarian girlfriend Helen — or would impress her fellow paleocons, like the ones we saw at Taki Theodoracopulos’ paleo party pad last night — remains to be seen.)

Friday, December 19, 2008

St. Martin's Press, at War and Looking in Your Window


St. Martin’s Press has crossed my mind a few times lately, though I worked there only briefly, in the early 90s:

•Fellow former St. Martin’s editorial assistant Alex Kuczynski has been criticized for her supposedly cavalier writing about hiring a surrogate mom.

•Katherine Mangu-Ward wrote in this month’s Reason about the St. Martin’s sci-fi imprint Tor being friendly to libertarian tales (as William F. Buckley put it the only time I ever spoke to him: “Science fiction is rather conducive to conveying libertarian values”).

She also mentions an editor who left, named Baen, who started an explicitly libertarian/conservative/military-themed sci-fi book publishing company. I mentioned that company in one of my decade-ago New York Post sci-fi reviews, even though my editor thought it was weird to comment on a publishing company instead of a book. Alas, the Baen books I read were mostly awful and sounded like third-rate military thrillers with “Soviet” taken out and “Rigellian” put in, and I said so — so let no one claim I put politics before art. Perhaps they’ve improved over the years, though.

Mangu-Ward also forwarded this link to ad images from vintage chemistry sets for kids — with girls present as equals in the 1928, absent in mid-century, and on their own separate but equal chemistry set by the time the Sexual Revolution arrives, whatever we conclude from that.

•But the reason St. Martin’s warrants mention in this Month of Feminism is the following panopticon-like tale, fraught with sexual politics, if you’re into that sort of thing.

I recently met up with my novelist friend Katherine Taylor in her boyfriend’s apartment. I mentioned that the beautiful Flatiron Building across the street (one of the oldest skyscrapers) is home to St. Martin’s, which is also publishing Katherine’s novels. She said, I know that now but didn’t until I called to talk to my editors and mentioned I’d been wandering around my boyfriend’s eighteenth-floor-or-so apartment without clothes on all day…to which they said, Uh, we may have seen you…does he live across from the Flatiron Building…?

Does this mean Katherine has been exploited by her publishing company? Has she sexually harassed her editors? Perhaps everyone wins.

(As it happens, she also just got back from a trip to Switzerland, a country which in addition to being rather libertarian and a bit boring did not allow women to vote until 1971, a couple years after my birth and not too many years prior to Katherine’s. This raises an obvious question that, given the seriousness of the issues touched on in this Month of Feminism, may warrant thorough discussion: Might Switzerland’s freedom and prosperity be causally tied to disenfranchising women?)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Long-Johnson Radicalism and the Devil-Goddess


Back in college, my friend Chris and his (beautiful albeit leftist) friend Sasha both spotted a copy of a book by pro-censorship feminist Catharine MacKinnon lying around, and, spontaneously and simultaneously, he (being a libertarian) pointed at it and said “Devil!” just as Sasha said “Goddess!”

(If our Debates at Lolita Bar were that brief, no one would attend, despite the obvious drama — but I hope our longer, stickier debate on January 7 on the issue of intellectual property rights will be attended by plenty of people, especially by the debater who’s defending property rights, since I have not yet recruited him or her.)

Imagine my surprise years after the devil/goddess incident when MacKinnon, notorious for helping to write anti-porn statutes, was pointed to, in that essay by Long and Johnson noted earlier in this Month of Feminism, as a great example of the sort of feminist to whom libertarians should be reaching out, doing an end-run around more conventional, liberal-as-opposed-to-leftist feminists.

This strikes me as a case — very common back in the nineteenth century and undeniably sort of cute, harmonious, and fun, especially when one’s feeling marginalized anyway — of radicals simply thinking that all radicals are in some sense on the same side, since the bourgeoisie are boring, unreflective sticks in the mud. (It took about a century after the French Revolution for the anarchists and socialists and liberals and religious-communitarians and so forth to figure out they weren’t all on the same page philosophically and perhaps should even be trying to kill each other. As a fusionist myself, I can understand the desire to build bridges and reunite disparate factions — really, I swear.)

And, sure, when radicals stick to promoting negative liberty (rights that prevent any one person or faction from harming another), they actually can get along fairly well, but once they each start pushing a different positive-liberty agenda (that is, some morally and politically charged, often legally-enforced, robust vision of the good life), they inevitably clash — which is not the end of the world so long as these visions remain subordinated to, rather than vying for direct incorporation into, a simple libertarian legal framework that keeps them from using force against each other. Isaiah Berlin somehow had time to write about this negative/positive contrast and compose catchy songs like “Tea for Two” (just kidding — that’s Irving Berlin, who, it strikes me, was also probably a big influence on the Aerosmith song “Ragdoll”).


Anyway, in the twenty-first century, one place where various radical strains meet is the Mises Institute in Auburn, AL, from whom I’ve learned plenty about economics but from which, for example, Ron Paul’s congressional office also seems to have gotten some of its ethnically-troubling militia-man rhetoric a couple decades ago. Let’s forget all that, though, and assume everyone involved has grown since then — black president, new era, etc. (if things go badly enough in the near future amidst the ongoing financial crisis, maybe our first African-American president will also prove to be our final U.S. president, rendering a lot of these more hair-splitting philosophical disputes irrelevant and forcing people to focus on more basic issues like reloading the crossbow to fend off the wasteland mutants, etc., while effete movements belonging to a more cushy era, such as conservatism and libertarianism, are forgotten).

Now, I suppose if, as I occasionally suggest, I’d like to see libertarian ideas become as mainstream and bourgeois-palatable as a trip to the mall (or the agora, as a black-market anarchist might say), I should probably be troubled by the fact that the Mises Institute radicals are about the only organized folks pushing the particular philosophical package I’m (ultimately) touting — anarcho-capitalism, the idea of privatizing all government functions (eventually) so that government simply vanishes from the Earth altogether, about which I’ll write far more next month, during this blog’s “Month of Liberty (i.e., Property).”

But please at least note the irony that Rod Long, one of the writers suggested as an antidote to my stark, strongly property-based, ostensibly unpopular vision of libertarianism (due to his feminism and purportedly greater emphasis on social context), is also an associate of the Mises Institute. This should at least suggest the possibility that I am not the far-out right-winger with no hope of finding popular acceptance here (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing — and I value the intellectual contributions of everyone mentioned or even implied here, really). Indeed, not only is Long associated with one of the very few organizations in the country to be both anarchist and radically anti-immigration (I’m glossing over all sorts of internal diversity, of course), but he’s apparently considered part of the self-consciously radical Alliance of the Libertarian Left to boot.

Again, there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, but surely I’m not the (sole) outlier/fringe guy here. For a couple amusing — though not necessarily wrongheaded — examples of really obscure factionalism, you might examine:

1. the left-hand margin essay on that A.L.L. site about why they no longer call themselves part of the M.L.L., the Movement of the Libertarian Left, an umbrella movement that is apparently now claimed as the intellectual property of one dead anarchist’s estate, namely Samuel E. Konkin III’s (suggesting that those are the people I really need to recruit to defend intellectual property in next month’s debate, especially if I can’t find a Galambosian)

2. the essay linked on the A.L.L. page that denounces utilitarian anarcho-capitalists (like me) as in effect too right-wing compared to natural-rights anarcho-capitalists, an essay with the great — albeit to my mind non-coalition-enlarging — title “Market Anarchism as Stigmergic Socialism” (so I guess I can’t technically claim to be a stigmergic socialist, though if nanotech and biotech continue to advance, I would enjoy someday being a stegosaurus anarchist, primarily because of the spiky tail, obviously — as long as I retained my human-level intellect and could thus fight crime, which I would define as entailing only assault, theft, or fraud).


I’m really not out to make anyone sound too weird to be called “libertarian,” though (some would argue that a non-weird libertarian is practically a contradiction in terms). More broadly, I think I have a pretty good track record of avoiding semantic disputes over who does or doesn’t count as part of any given political “tribe.” I’d rather argue about the merits or demerits of policies than waste time policing the tribal boundaries.

At the same time, though — and precisely because of this tendency — I’d love it if others were as cautious about not trying to shoehorn their own narrow cultural agendas into the basic definition of libertarianism (or liberty, lest this seem irrelevant to those outside the movement).

Obviously, I’ve got certain right-wing sympathies or I wouldn’t call my own philosophy “conservatism for punks” (about which, more next month and much more thereafter) — but, crucially, you don’t hear me saying that this particular philosophical formulation (which is partly an ironic thought-experiment anyway) is coextensive with libertarianism, which I take to be more or less just the assertion that property rights should rarely if ever be violated. Beyond that, different libertarians have different cultural agendas, which I hope will always be compatible with liberty and libertarianism but should rarely be taken to be definitional requirements for liberty or libertarianism.

And my conservatism shouldn’t be exaggerated, by the way — there’s a reason the “punks” part of this blog’s slogan is in there, and it’s not because I actually think Republicans are the norm within punk rock. But I will say this for right-leaning libertarians: I think there is generally speaking far less danger of culturally-conservative or Wall Street Journal-style “fiscally conservative” libertarians sneaking their cultural preferences into the basic definitions of liberty and libertarianism, precisely because these right-leaning people have other places to put their cultural preferences: churches, rituals, family rules, traditions, art, etc.

I think the left-libertarian is more inclined to smuggle her views into libertarianism’s core definition — and thereby either corrode or narrow the whole concept of libertarianism — because, having to some degree rejected tradition and bourgeois society, the left-libertarian needs our formerly-humble (largely economic) philosophy to do a lot more work in her life. The philosophy now has to become a repository of aesthetic, psychological, artistic, etc. preferences and norms — in precisely the way it long avoided becoming, giving it an admirable “neutrality” of sorts.

If we start calling feminist behavior, to return to my dispute with Kerry Howley and Will Wilkinson, “more libertarian” than non-feminist behavior, we might as well start declaring (however subtly) what art, clothes, and music libertarians ought to prefer, as libertarians. This would not just be an error. This would be the death knell of a philosophy once made coherent precisely by the humility and minimalism of its claims. This is libertarianism stretched beyond its area of expertise in an effort to make it a (shoddy) totalizing worldview. It can never achieve that, not without lots of arbitrary add-ons.

And without some definitive left-libertarian announcement of which behaviors are to be preferred, who knows which aspects of the culture will be deemed to have fallen off the libertarian wagon while people like me went along naively thinking that “everything that’s peaceful” (in the sense of property-adhering) was by definition in accord with the philosophy (albeit not, we all agree, necessarily nice).

And with that, I’ll try to practice what I preach by avoiding claiming that anyone has ceased to be a libertarian who honestly claims to see himself as one, since excommunication is lame, and having Bill Maher or Camille Paglia ostensibly aboard certainly makes things interesting. But Catharine MacKinnon, for one, isn’t even trying, you have to admit.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bettie Page vs. Che Guevara (and the Hoff)

•So, feminists, should I like or dislike the recently-deceased Bettie Page (for whom my conservative girlfriend Helen had to write an obit)? I think this is one that may divide the Second Wave from Third Wave feminists. She’s a girlie-mag pin-up queen, for crying out loud — but the Third Wavers pride themselves on seeming to have more sex (and loving transgression even more) than us normal, non-feminist folk, plus Bettie’s sort of strong in some vague way, and has been rendered rather “meta” by the past couple decades of Tarantino-style pop-referential/reverential use of her image, as in Rocketeer comics, which (a shout-out to my fellow nerds here) I think played a huge role in turning her into a newly-relevant millennial icon (note that this means that Jennifer Connelly was, in a sense, playing Bettie Page, or at least the implied Bettie-analogue character, in the Rocketeer movie, despite its safe, glowy, Disney-like vibe).

Above all else, to my mind, Bettie was the model for all those straight-bangs tattooed bartender chicks who were mandatory in formulaic dive bars (with rockabilly and punk on the juke box) over the past decade or so — and I am not complaining.

•Far more troubling, of course, and also in the news recently (because of the release of Steven Soderbergh’s biopic about him) is the vastly more dark and evil — yet probably more widely revered — Che Guevara. And since Che was a mass-murdering totalitarian, I’m very proud to see my friends Ted Balaker and Kyle Smith taking him down a peg, in a short film and a review of the Soderbergh film, respectively. Ted takes on Mao in the same film for extra credit. Rotten, homicidal totalitarian bastards — and beloved from Berkeley to Paris.

•And speaking of Europe, TMZ noted Friday that David Hasselhoff, rather delusionally, has claimed that his song “Looking for Freedom” helped inspire the end of the Cold War and German opposition to the Berlin Wall. They also note that he has the words “Back Hoff” embroidered on the seat of his jeans. So you see, crazy or not, it seems I have to give the prize for most libertarian of these three icons to: the Hoff.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Chivalry vs. Masculinism

As I’ve suggested before, I think one simple reason we don’t already have a movement called “masculinism” that renders men’s complaints about women as pseudo-moral, pseudo-political grievances in the way that feminism turns perennial complaints about men into an ersatz philosophy is simply that this would entail a great deal of whining, which under the twin reign of chivalry and feminism is considered unseemly in males (by the standards of feminist academic discourse, surely whole books could be written about the pain inflicted on males by the use of the word “dick” as an insult, etc.). I take a great risk even in appearing to do it myself, as any fair-minded reader realizes.

Consider that to most males, demonstrating that some harm has been done to them would seem, almost instinctively, to require toting up some sort of demonstrable physical or financial damages (a wonderful basis for the sort of bean-counting, bourgeois thinking necessary to maintain a capitalist or even libertarian regime, incidentally).

By contrast, under most formulations of feminism that I have ever encountered (though I will no doubt be called an idiot or reductionist for having the audacity to think I’ve encountered anything like a representative sample), mere rhetoric can be deemed oppressive. I half-smile and half-wince when I recall seeing conservative Dinesh D’Souza speak at left-wing, feminist Brown University two decades ago and repeatedly use the phrase “the patriarchs of our culture” as praise in describing our most esteemed intellectual forebears. Can you imagine how oppressed — and thus delighted — the hissing, feminist-filled audience must have felt?

At the very least, we know the tiniest such slip can be taken by a leftist to discredit a whole argument. I can only wonder how many feminists have remained immune to economic reasoning due to the use of phrases such as “men engaged in trade” by a Milton Friedman or other advocate of laissez-faire. There’s always something to pounce on in your opponent’s rhetoric in any debate, if you’re the sort of person determined not to be a generous listener — and feminism, by routinely toying with the idea that speech itself is oppressive, or at least that many traditional linguistic constructions are, not only encourages a hyper-attentiveness to such slips but declares rhetorical “errors” real acts of injustice. What a marvelously self-insulating intellectual cocoon.

But if, as a few feminists have tried to convince me (in what I suspect was merely one of those subconsciously-tactical efforts to avoid making an enemy), feminism is primarily concerned with rights-violations in the classic, property-focused libertarian sense, I’d like to know whether most feminists think they are up against, say, a covert movement to make pickpocketing of women legal or something like that. If not, I suspect language-policing, thoughtcrime-spotting, and the occasional lawsuit is pretty much what their movement is now reduced to.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Prince's Purple Reign

Prince’s representatives claimed he was misquoted after the New Yorker said he described both anti-gay conservatives and pro-gay-marriage liberals as wrong — and many who see marriage as solely a legal institution rather than one perhaps defined by tradition and thus demanding some caution and deference were offended and disappointed by what he reportedly said.

But (while this is one of those culture-war issues I’m largely trying now to stay out of in favor of, for example, spending all of January blogging about property rights) I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought, “Ah, Prince is neither red nor blue but purple. That makes sense.”

Not only did others no doubt think that, I’m sure my headline above has been used before — and a quick Google search shows I’m also not the first person, faced with the Keanu (green-themed) remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, which came out last Friday, to think of the headline “Keanu Barada Nikto.” Ah, well. Something more original tomorrow, I hope.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

It's a Complex World vs. Simple Rules

A commenter responding to yesterday’s entry accused me of cloaking populism in intellectual rhetoric — but did not bother to explain why this is manifestly a bad thing to do. I mean, it depends on what sort of populism it is and what sort of intellectual rhetoric, right?

I’m not merely pigheadedly demanding that the world cough up simple rules for living but rather calculating that we would benefit from promulgating rules sufficiently tidy to prevent social disaster, elite manipulation, and legal confusion — simple rules for a complex world, to quote Richard Epstein, who, as it happens, addresses the Manhattan Institute at the Harvard Club this Tuesday at 6:30 about why even a decentralization-loving libertarian should prefer federal preemption of state-by-state lawsuits and regulations against medical products deemed safe at the federal level and made to conform to federal regulations (and pointing out that he’s not an anarcho-capitalist like me doesn’t invalidate the point about simple rules being desirable in a complex world — for current purposes I could have invoked a phrase from FDR if it’d been apt, I hope we all agree).

And (as a former philosophy major) I’m certainly not opposed to learning from complex, diverse philosophies — learn from everyone and anything you can, sure — but at the end of the day, the more complex the philosophies we treat as having legally-relevant moral content, the greater the risk of “smuggling” of moral or legal rules (known to the elite but possessed of implications not noticed by the commoners) into the “meta-narrative” that supposedly explains the entire society’s legal-moral regime.

I’m happy to abandon simple labels and political-tribal affiliations if, for instance, enough people who deny the importance of simple property rules clamor for the “libertarian” label — but amidst the resultant ideational agora/ruins there will be an idea, call it what you will, that disputes should be resolved by deference to property rights and that claims to have some say over the behavior of one’s fellow humans above and beyond property claims are politically illegitimate. That’s the thing, maximally social-coordination-enhancing, by my estimation, that I’m keen to both name and promote. I think it’s already called libertarianism and that not much else is, as far as I knew from 1989 to late 2008.


One small piece of evidence, by the way, from a reader who shall remain nameless, that feminism — this month’s candidate for smuggling into that moral meta-narrative — tends toward confusion, is this site showing us “normal breasts” as a supposed strike (at least in some readers’ minds) against unrealistic and patriarchal expectations of breast size and shape. I think you’ll find most males as baffled to hear that this is a supposed blow against the patriarchy as they are when students protest the patriarchy with nudity. And any feminist who claims not to see the tension there is probably (a) fun to be around but (b) not very bright.

A comedienne captures a similar idea in this short video, “Our Bodies, Myself,” pointed out to me by the same valued, but still nameless, reader.

I don’t want the site to be all smut, though, so here’s a clever mash-up of scenes from High Noon — an all-too-common narrative of a tough man rescuing women and others by killing other men — and android-invasion sci-fi imagery, pointed out to me by artist Brian Floca, who I promise is not the guy who pointed out the previous two items.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Anglo-American vs. Continental


So-called Continental philosophy is almost invariably inimical to the negative-liberty tradition of Anglo-American philosophy, from which libertarianism arose (utility, rights, constitutions, markets, etc.). Those Euro sophisticates pride themselves on looking more skeptically at social context, but once people decide that countless free actions by their fellow citizens aren’t necessarily conducive to the patterns the philosophers deem “real freedom,” social-democratic remedies (such as the government provision of goods deemed to enhance “positive” liberty) are only one faulty intuition (or referendum written by grievance-claiming parties) away.

Similarly, if left-libertarians contend that liberty (and libertarianism) can survive without the negative/positive distinction, they not only have an immense obligation to defend this novel (and seemingly heretical) view but an obligation to stop sounding so unbelievably smug and snotty about it. You’re the ones discarding most of the work your movement has done so far — show us what safeguards you’ve got to replace it with.

I know preferring a bare-bones property-rights approach may appear “simplistic” to some. But then, academia, which thrives on continual, hairsplitting philosophical dialogue, may be especially prone to produce people who are complacent about the dangers of rendering liberty too complex a philosophy for the ordinary citizen to grasp (and confidently use).

Intellectuals will probably fare all right if our liberties become the stuff of amorphous ongoing conversation (as in Jurgen Habermas’s social-democratic dreams), but it’s not so clear that the rest of society will do all that well — whereas armed with a simple philosophy like “If someone tries to take your house, it’s OK to shoot them,” the common people just might be all right.

And just as Continental Europe — for all the nice things said about it — is also the dangerous Petri dish of radicalism whence emerged communism and fascism, so too do my libertarian cohorts at the Mises Institute in Alabama, fascinating and useful though they usually are, seem to be folks among whom left-radicalism and right-radicalism sometimes meet in disturbing ways — ways that may detract from advancing the simpler, econ-focused, and in some sense more politically-centrist version of libertarianism. And that brings us to Mises Institute associate and feminist-libertarian Rod Long, about whom more next week.

In the meantime, lest I seem too parochial, I’m off to Lincoln Center with Helen and one of her friends to watch a 1929 Spanish surrealist film mocking silent-era movie tropes. In college, the professors sometimes told us that if we watched enough such things we would reject the bourgeoisie and Middle-American values. We’ll see.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Gay and the Dead (and a Flying Pig Dispatch)


•With the biopic Milk having been out for about a week now, it’s worth noting the interesting dichotomy between art that is thematically gay and art that is (arguably) aesthetically gay (see: Ugly Betty), which are not quite the same thing.

Witness, for instance, this earlier Gus Van Sant work, the video for Deee-Lite’s song “Runaway,” which is arguably gayer than anything Harvey Milk-related even though, on paper, it could be described as largely concerned with the hetero-pleasing gyrations of the superhumanly charismatic Lady Miss Kier (not that I’m claiming this video holds a candle to “Groove Is in the Heart,” which is one of the greatest videos of all time and arguably one of the pivotal handful of pieces of visual art, along with Do the Right Thing, that presaged the dawn of the 90s — and, by the way, praise resembling that, while well deserved, is so plentiful in Kier’s Wikipedia entry that I suspect she wrote most of it herself, not that there’s anything wrong with that).

•In other movie news, horror collector, fan, and editor Forrest Ackerman (creator of one of the first “fan culture” things I ever loved, Famous Monsters magazine) passed away recently — and he’ll be missed, though I’m pleased he lived almost exactly a full ten years after I, worried about how much longer he’d be with us, visited his “Ackermansion” L.A. home back in 1998 (accompanied by AmGen and McKinsey co-founder Bob Attiyeh, just before his daughter Jenny dumped me, but no hard feelings).

•For a movie analysis that will make you see a cartoon flying pig as a marvelous embodiment of libertarian philosophy, check out my friend Bretigne Shaffer’s review of Hayao Miyazaki’s classic Porco Rosso.

•And here, pointed out to me by Reid Mihalko, is another bit of animation explaining the libertarian philosophy…I mean, sort of, aside from the insanity and murder and stuff (Reid says it reminds him a bit of the comic strip that I wrote and he drew back in college, Bogus University, which may be an indicator that some of my stuff is hard to follow, or that I should write for Aqua Teen Hunger Force).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Nazis and Porn, Plus: In Defense of Alex Kuczynski


Sometimes, as my friend Dan Greenberg wisely said once, it seems as though the world only contains about thirty characters and you keep bumping into them — and familiar situations — in different combinations:

•I notice Kerry Howley quotes a comment left by Jacob Levy on my blog (defending feminism as un-fascistic) and headlines it “Reasons to Marry Jacob Levy.”  Well, good for Jacob (and his real wife, Shelley).  Again, though, and I will try to say this more diplomatically: I’m not saying the Jacob way of life is bad, just that it is merely one way among others and as such should not be treated as a morally-privileged outcome within libertarianism proper.  If I can’t even get libertarians themselves to agree on this point, though, maybe it’s time to just move on to other topics…

•…and a topic of interest to both me and Kerry, given our mutual interest in science-based reproductive alternatives, is the denunciation by leftist doofus Thomas Frank of Alex Kuczynski — who was one of my fellow St. Martin’s Press editorial assistants back when I worked there.  She has now caused female-type controversy of her own by marrying a billionaire, hiring a surrogate mom (since Alex’s womb wasn’t working, which you’d think would earn her some sympathy), and then making the mistake of enthusing, in her capacity as a New York Times writer, about how hiring the impoverished surrogate enabled Alex to stay thin and rich and enjoy her four homes (and when I say thin, crucially, I also mean the strong-shoulders, used-to-be-on-the-swim-team type thin, something I think we can all applaud).

It’s fine if people want to condemn Alex’s attitude as tacky, but Frank just hates commercial exchanges, always — and you’ll notice that feminism, by priming us to think of females everywhere as exploited and oppressed, especially when their privates are involved, has made his dirty work easier.  Seeing feminism and (anti-science, anti-reproductive-weirdness) social conservatism hand in hand is always enough to make me feel as if libertarianism should say good riddens to both — but I will try to be more nuanced for the rest of the month, despite everyone except me being a complete jerk.

•In other sexual weirdness, I see that my old hometown of Norwich, CT (hi, Mom and Dad!) — home of Benedict Arnold and novelist/Todd’s high school teacher Wally Lamb — is making another rare appearance in the media, due to a substitute teacher there who’s just a couple years older than me, Julie Amero, being arrested for accidentally opening porn on a school computer and causing kids to see it (I was alerted to this case by a mass-e-mail from the Sam Adams Alliance’s Paul Jacob, himself the recent target of legal lunacy for collecting ballot signatures despite not being a resident of the state where the initiative was being voted on, for which Oklahoma bureaucrats were keen to throw the book at him).

I say, assume the substitute teachers are just technically-unsavvy unless they somehow show naked pictures of themselves to students or actually have sex with the students — and even then, if the teacher is hot and female, you know darn well that the male victim is probably now considered the luckiest boy in school, whatever the law may say about it (not that this is necessarily reason to change the law).

•Speaking of feeling old and non-media-savvy, I was checking a list of ten nerd movies I want to see in 2009 — and I realized that I don’t even understand whether one of them actually has a release date.  I speak of the movie Iron Sky, a sci-fi comedy about a 1940s colony of Nazis on the Moon returning to Earth in 2018 (again with the Nazis).  It turns out Iron Sky is an “open source production” being worked on in pieces by volunteer computer animation contributors (you could be one!) who get assigned remaining unfinished pieces of the script, all controlled by a coordinating team in Finland.

When does it actually “come out”?  Does it?  I don’t know — I don’t know if I know anything anymore.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Book Selection(s) of the Month: Eight Religion-Related Items

atlas.jpg Book Selections of the Month (December 2008)

I’ve been talking in part about women, libertarians, and heretics this month, so, just in time for the holidays, it seems right to begin and end the list of eight religion-related texts below with items by libertarian women interested in heresy — specifically, historian Christine Caldwell Ames and novelist Ayn Rand, who shall form, as it were, our alpha and omega.

Consider giving one of the items below as a gift each day of Hanukkah — or possibly planning your Yale Divinity School curriculum around them! (Let the record show, though, that I’m listening to Kiss’s “Heaven’s on Fire” as I begin typing this, and I did not plan that. Kiss just happens sometimes.)

1. Righteous Persecution: Inquisition, Dominicans, and Christianity in the Middle Ages by Christine Caldwell Ames: As briefly sketched in a related article, Caldwell Ames thinks that an important lesson of the Inquisition, of which she provides a balanced, analytical overview, is that heresy is not such an easy thing to spot. Rarely do the people with convictions strong enough to result in their persecution, such as many of the Inquisition’s victims (who were given chances to repent), perceive themselves as the heretics who are deforming church doctrine. Rather, in their minds, perhaps correctly, they are the true believers beset by a fallen establishment. Along the way, though, Caldwell Ames also shows us that the Inquisition, far from being an extra-barbarous form of religion, was quite advanced in its legal standards for its day. In a world not far removed from trial by combat and blood feuds, the Inquisition was one of the first institutions in Europe to rely upon corroborating witnesses, cross examination, and the like. Its authority was also restricted to those claiming to be members of the Catholic Church (but in some cases harboring other, secret sympathies), so many of us in modern society, at least, would be safe.

2. The Tyranny of Liberalism: Understanding and Overcoming Administered Freedom, Inquisitorial Tolerance, and Equality by Command by James Kalb: For all the terrible things done in the name of the Inquisition, there is at least one articulate writer who thinks that it is the Enlightenment that will be looked back upon as a form of “insanity” from which it will take civilization centuries to recover. Jim Kalb, a Brooklyn-dwelling traditionalist, is in some sense the most conservative person I’ve ever known — which to some of our fellow New York residents probably conjures up an image of some loud, macho Sean Hannity type who shouts down opposing arguments with praise of the GOP. On the contrary, Kalb (a registered Democrat, for tactical reasons) is a thoughtful, soft-spoken self-doubter who admits that he would find it difficult to make decisions in the absence of tradition’s guidance — and who suspects the same is true of our culture as a whole. If you want to read a well-reasoned argument about why individual reason is a hopeless, terrible tool for making moral decisions and shaping society, start with Kalb. The whole modern world may end up seeming rather hollow and artificial by the time you’re done.

3. Heretics by G.K. Chesterton: Chesterton’s premise, as he wrote in 1903, was that people had by then become so indifferent to people’s underlying philosophical principles that being a heretic no longer even causes a stir — and he proceeds, one intellectual per chapter, to show how wrong and dangerous some of the great religious, political, and philosophical heretics of his day were. But for an arch-conservative, how contemporary (and still funny!) he seems, ironically — and virtually all the people he talks about sparring with are still very much parts of our culture today, which helps, including his friend George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells. In fact, I worry sometimes that their brains, like Chesterton’s, seem more familiar, less alien, to me than do those of some of my own contemporaries.

(But for giving me a century-old copy of this great book, I should thank contemporary Dawn Eden, whose book Thrill of the Chaste — featuring me as “Tom” in Chapter 18 — was of course one of this blog’s earliest Book Selections, for Christmas 2006, along with Kyle Smith’s A Christmas Caroline. As a blogger who likes puns, Dawn must be pleased to know Chesterton actually married a Blogg — Frances Blogg, that is.)

4. Lucifer: Devil in the Gateway by Mike Carey and various artists: I have to thank Jamie Foehl’s boyfriend for recommending this poetic yet Buffy-like little adventure of the world’s ultimate blase heretic — a spin off of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, here focusing on a cynical, witty Lucifer who has tired of Hell and decided to become a nightclub owner and occasional doer of God’s necessary but less than divine dirty work. There are a lot of comic books quietly and non-hostilely rewriting Christian cosmology in one or another novel way these days — and indeed, I’ll go see where the Hell-on-Earth miniseries Final Crisis, also from DC Comics, stands in the fifth of its seven issues shortly after I finish writing this blog entry — but Lucifer is one of the most mature and intelligent.

5. Thriller created by Robert Loren Fleming and Trevor von Eeden: I can’t help thinking that the comics-reading public missed the boat on this one (though not Dan Greenberg, who gave me my current copies): Thriller, the short-lived sci-fi comic book series, deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as other groundbreaking 80s work like that of Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and Neil Gaiman — and was as ahead of the curve in tapping into the rising cyberpunk aesthetic as was Miller’s Ronin. I’ve mentioned before that Thriller was startlingly prescient, depicting (back in 1983) a future world in which genetically-engineered heroes battle decapitation-loving Muslim terrorists for control of global computer networks, under the watchful eyes of twenty-four-hour cable news networks — and a thin, black, slightly aloof U.S. president (and, interestingly, though Blade Runner, which came out one year earlier, must have been some influence, writer Fleming mentions X-Men, pulp fiction, and film noir as major influences, which also makes sense).

But beyond the series’ prescience, its Catholic streak is also interesting — not only the even-more-relevant-today cloned priest wittily named Beaker Parish who worries whether he can truly be said to be alive, but the young couple who give the series its title, Edward and Angie Thriller, fused in an accident that has left him surviving as flesh alone and her as spirit, merged with his body but able to manipulate other matter — including the hands of her assassin brother, Salvo, who will not take a life, and Beaker’s not-fully-organic skin. I could go on and on, even though, sadly, it lasted less than a year.

6. One Punk Under God featuring Jay Bakker: I was recently given a free DVD of this short documentary series, about the punk preacher son of disgraced televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, depicting his decision to move from Atlanta to Brooklyn, where he starts a more gay-friendly congregation. One of his Brooklyn parishioners, Benjamin Doray, actually gave it to me during a farewell bar gathering for California-bound Marcia Baczynski, who’s a big fan of item #8, coming up in a moment. One of the documentary’s most revealing moments, given the tension throughout between punk Jay and father Jim, is Jim Bakker admitting he always feared his father’s disapproval and then breaking down while speaking at Pete’s Candy Store (that’s right, the Jim Bakker has been on the same stage that has hosted spelling bee hostess Jen Dziura, not to mention Lefty Leibowitz’s Ramblin’ Kings country band — I always said there was something David Lynch-like about that slightly-claustrophobic, intensely-red space that would work well on camera). As a man working on a book called Conservatism for Punks, I was morally obligated to watch this documentary, and I’m glad I did.

7. The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life by Austin Dacey: A head honcho of the Center for Inquiry and its influential magazine Skeptical Inquirer (which helped turn me into an atheist back in high school), Dacey now makes the brave argument that we should end the liberal trend toward treating religion as something relegated to the private sphere, taboo to argue about in public — because he thinks that only through frankly debating it in public can we put an end to irrational, superstitious ideas once and for all. Far from saying “Please keep your religion to yourself,” Dacey is in effect saying, as my conservative (and combat-loving) girlfriend Helen approvingly put it, “Bring it on!” And speaking of public debate, look for Dacey to be one of our likely Debates at Lolita Bar participants in April or May.

8. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand: Rand’s fictional band of self-interested, atheistic capitalists fleeing New York City for the West to live in their own secret valley will forevermore be linked in my mind with the person who gave me my first edition, first printing copy of the 1957 masterpiece: my kind-hearted organic-farmer friend Valerie Jackson, who fled the West for upstate New York. Prone to Eastern-mystical sympathies of the sort Rand depicted as a confrontation with “pure evil” in one memorable scene about a New Age-type female, Valerie does not exactly agree with the uncompromising pro-capitalist, pro-science, materialist philosophy depicted in the novel, so it was only right to altruistically bestow the copy upon me — and you can see me wield it (along with chunks of wood from the Kelo decision house) as a prop in my most recent PJTV appearance.

People often go through a high school phase of loving Atlas followed by a college phase of scorning it, seeing it as an overblown, cartoonish thing — but given that it’s a Russian-born novelist’s attempt to depict, through a vast cast, the decay into socialism and irrationality of an entire society, maybe the novel deserves to be seen as a complex exercise in dialectics, as Rand analyst Chris Sciabarra might put it: giving us not so much familiar psychological portraits as a great deal of dissected social context — which you just might find educational, if you haven’t tried it (and even if, like me, you disagree with some of the egoism and anti-altruism stuff that Rand would consider essential).

I think religious believers, despite all their talk of submission, shame, and humility, are almost invariably more arrogant than atheists, but there is no denying that Atlas, by design, is filled with unapologetic worship of humanity — at least, humanity when it’s heroic and productive instead of parasitic. And incidentally, as New Yorkers know, that giant Rockefeller Center Atlas seen in the photo atop this entry is directly across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which is as it should be.

Now that our own world, with its faltering economic system and cozy government-industry bailouts, begins to look more and more like Ayn Rand’s political alternate universe, I plan to turn in despair to reading and reviewing outright science fiction and fantasy for 2009, much in need of a little mental vacation. (And the odd thing is, the first three sci-fi Book Selections will also be works given to me by Dawn Eden, so stay tuned and see how it’s all connected.)

Next year also brings ten major nerd films, by my count, but we’ll save all that for later — for now, happy holidays. Back tomorrow with more on feminism.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Women, Animals, Cyborgs, and the Fixx


All right, since my discussion with Will Wilkinson and Katherine Mangu-Ward on PJTV last night went well, I’m feeling sort of big-tent, so, while I’ll just briefly say again that it’s not clear to me that feminism constitutes “consciousness-raising” (to use a term deployed earlier in this conversation) any more than does touting some brutal form of Nietzschean machismo, I will move on to note something that both expands my usual philosophical horizons and arguably makes my lady friends look good.

For some reason, women are far more likely to be vegetarians or vegans than men are (and I even know a few vegans, principled vegetarians, or animal-welfare-proponents who are libertarians), and I have some sympathy for these positions, albeit not enough to stop eating tasty, tasty flesh — and in any case, animals would just spend all day mass-murdering each other without our help if we left them alone, making the whole thing seem rather futile from a utilitarian perspective, even if you believe that brute animal pleasures are as morally relevant as the rich, highly conceptual pleasures known to the frontal-lobe-advantaged mind of humans.

But I can appreciate, for example, the genuine heroism of this spontaneous dog-on-dog highway rescue clip from YouTube, pointed out by my evolutionary-psychology-studying, vegan, utilitarian friend Diana Fleischman (note the ironic last name), which is amazing even if the dragged dog still passed away (and the bold rescuer dog reportedly ran off before numerous humans could make good on their desire to adopt or reward him).  Moments like the one in that clip make some anti-animal-cruelty laws seem all the more reasonable, somehow.


Ironically, though, it was not one of my vegan pals but my conservative girlfriend Helen who I found myself likening to a “green anarchist” the other day, since she tends, even if sometimes half-jokingly, to say that the old, tribal, and primitive is always preferable to modernity, which seems logically to lead to wanting to live like the Amish or perhaps cave people — or, even more radically, like green anarchists want us to, they being a small, almost maximally-radical political sect who believe not only that the invention of agriculture was a mistake (as do many other radical environmentalists) but that even the development of symbolic communication was a step too far and that we should go back to living in the woods and communicating through grunts and smells.

Conservatives normally think of themselves as the great guardians of civilization, but, ironically, might it be Helen who belongs down in the dirt on all fours, grunting like an animal?

In a related question that might well be going through your mind, though: is there a progressive rock/New Wave band that paradoxically fuses green anarchist-sounding songs (about, for example, the desire to exist with “less cities”) with high-tech synthesizers and electric guitars?  You know there is, my friend, and it’s high time you cranked up the volume on the Fixx’s song “Calm Animals” so you can really hear the politics.  Oh, how I love this pretentious, grandiose song — even with lines like “Given one chance to think social/ But we choke on greed and excess!”  (I said big tent, yet note you don’t hear me trying to declare them libertarian — just cool.)

In other animal news, my favorite comic book writer, Grant Morrison (whose Final Crisis issue #5 comes out tomorrow), is also a militant vegetarian but, in contrast to some of his hyper-complex plots, managed to create a simple, elegant little fable of animal liberation several years ago in the form of a comic book miniseries called We3, the poignant tale of cute, experimental animal cyborgs who innocently escape from their military creators but are hunted down as threats to national security — as indeed they are, being festooned with rocket launchers and the like — while they make their forlorn way into the surrounding wilderness.  And best of all, this story is now likely to hit the big screen, directed by none other than the man who gave us Kung Fu Panda.

If I were an animal rights activist, I would plan my whole life and philosophy around the release of this film, starting today.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Liberty, Through Thick and Thin


Again, my plan is to spend next month blogging (from square one, as it were) about property rights — their value and their central place in libertarian philosophy — whereas this month is devoted to feminism, but since the Pajamas Media site PJTV will probably post a video clip tonight [UPDATE 12/9/08: Here's our specific segment] of me discussing the future of libertarianism with Will Wilkinson and Katherine Mangu-Ward, this might be a good time to sum up what libertarianism is — and, though it may not come up at all tonight, why I think feminism (and plenty of other things) tend to be at odds with liberty.

First, since the world is full of boorish males, I might do well to point out, lest anyone misunderstand, that I have no objection to, say:

•female engineers

•female doctors

•female stunt doubles

•female CEOs

•female mercenaries

•females who beat me in arm wrestling


…not even female spouses-of-females, really (to touch briefly on a prior controversy). What I object to, just so we’re clear, is:

•female (or male) feminists, by which I mean (and I think this is non-controversial) people who consider it morally unsatisfactory (and usually, though admittedly not always, legally actionable) if voluntary human interactions produce outcomes that leave women in less significant roles than males in society.


Now, a few very bright, well-informed commenters over the past few weeks who consider themselves more or less libertarians have said they think libertarianism is as guilty of being amorphous as feminism (and, crucially, that’s not my biggest complaint about feminism), with one noting that even hardcore anarcho-capitalist David Friedman (son of Milton) points out tough cases such as whether the photons from someone’s flashlight falling upon you constitute trespass. But such examples were meant to address ambiguities in a property rights system, not ambiguity about whether property rights are central to his/our philosophy, as Will Wilkinson at least seems to think is debatable. I’m merging about three people’s arguments here for brevity, and thus can’t reasonably be too harsh on any of them without doing injustice, but it’s important to distinguish between saying property rights are 100% rigid and unambiguous (which I’m not really saying) and saying property rights and property rights violations are the central concerns of the philosophy and provide the traditional litmus test for what is or is not considered permissible under a libertarian regime (and this I certainly am saying, as are plenty of other people).

Discussions of ambiguous cases are not the same thing as examples of prominent libertarian intellectuals incorporating values that are not property-related (even Hayek’s complex ideas of social evolution ultimately are property-related in so far as it is crucial to his story that this evolutionary process is property-generating; likewise, the quirky exceptions that almost every libertarian intellectual makes here or there to the predominant property rule in the philosophy tend still to be property-related as opposed to simply the wholesale adoption of some other value — this is even true in some sense of philosophical add-ons like Rand’s psychological notions about how capitalists think and behave, though she would rightly acknowledge that she has a property rights element to her philosophy and then goes beyond it to address other issues and that it is precisely this going-beyond to address art, metaphysics, etc. [not necessarily in that order, I realize] that makes her more than a mere libertarian — and indeed, she hated being called one, though precisely because of the subset of her philosophy that is property-related, we can do so whether she would have liked it or not).

To make the case for there being some formulation of libertarianism (in the modern, English-speaking sense of the word as opposed to European or nineteenth-century sense of the word) that insisted there are basic political values that might trump property or be necessary adjuncts to it, you’d be on firmer ground invoking late-Robert-Nozick apostasy such as his “Zigzag of Politics” essay, in which he said that libertarian rights might just be one of several incommensurable goods to be pursued, along with democratic participation, equality, etc. But even he — despite speaking with much greater authority than we minor wonks — never had the audacity to insist that if you embrace one of those other goods, it now becomes part of libertarianism itself.

In other words, there might arguably be a situation in which, say, someone’s behavior, even without threatening any coercion, is so offensive it warrants a slap in the face, but even if Ludwig von Mises says so, that does not make face-slapping a new form of libertarian behavior or property-adherence. It just means one person (or several) decided to put our traditional conception of liberty aside for a moment and slap instead (not something I’m recommending, by the way).

Mario Rizzo — perhaps jokingly or inaccurately — told me long ago that Mises favored subsidies for opera. If we assume for the sake of argument that this is true, though, I think the overwhelming majority of libertarians would recognize that this merely means that Mises was not consistently (or rigidly, if you prefer) libertarian — but it does not mean that there is a rich alternative libertarian tradition based on a coherent philosophy of property rights adherence except for opera subsidies. Even the bigwigs can wander off the reservation, and pointing out when they do so does not for a moment mean I’m claiming to be smarter than they are.


All this hints at why I was reluctant in an earlier comments thread to embrace one side or the other of the “thick libertarian”/“thin libertarian” dichotomy: I’m happy to thicken the usual dry, barebones notion of property rights with ideas about how to shore up property rights, teach about them, protect them, politically enact them, etc. — but that’s a completely different thing from “thickening” by smuggling other (“optional,” if you will) cultural concerns — such as the proper roles, if any, of the sexes — into that properly property-rights-focused philosophy. Indeed, if what is smuggled in is a notion of “positive liberty” that waters down the usual, hard-won libertarian idea of coercion as assault, theft, and fraud (as opposed to other people merely behaving in ways that make your life less convenient), I would not call this “thickening” of libertarianism, I would call it a sort of thinning or muddying or weakening — the creation of an anorexic libertarianism, not a thick one.

And even if one insists that one is a strict property adherent — which I like — but that believing in strict property must be accompanied by a heap of other, properly cultural notions (whether feminism or traditionalism, love of high art or love of the crassest consumer culture), I would say you are then guilty (like Rand, I should say) of promoting a sort of fat and hostile libertarianism, needlessly alienating people with its over-specific cultural/psychological demands. Let’s focus on property rights, the case for which is far less arbitrary and divisive (as I’ll argue more all next month).


And while there are indeed different formulations of libertarianism — one might for instance insist on speaking of a “right of exit” rather than property per se — a moral-political claim to certain behavior from your fellows beyond their respect for your property rights should at least be seen as something risky, odd, novel, and potentially divisive in a way that even numerous competing conceptions of how exactly to describe property rights are not.

That’s the pivotal distinction — and even “thickly” claiming that that culture is best that reinforces property is not threatening to libertarianism in the same way that encouraging “thick” belief in some moral claim to certain forms of regard/respect/behavior by others above and beyond property-adherence does. You may well be more likely to be free in the long run (as opposed to “freer” in the present in some ill-defined subjective sense) if, say, people prefer cops to robbers (and businesspeople to politicians) in TV dramas, but freedom itself cannot require that those same viewers simply share your cultural attitudes on matters beyond property itself in order to maximize your ability to navigate the culture with maximum ease.


And in the more specific case of gender roles, surely the “thick” people are aware that one could mount just as complex and rich a defense of the importance of being richly enmeshed in tradition as a bulwark against crime, socialism, and other misbehavior as they can of being p.c. so others feel uninhibited or what have you. The feminists may win out in the culture wars with the traditionalists in the long run, but that’s not a verdict to be decided in advance by or for libertarians.

If you’re attempting to reduce questions about better and worse ways to live to libertarian criteria/concerns (which, crucially, I am not — I think there are infinite better/worse questions unrelated to the liberty/coercion issue, and I try to keep them separate from libertarian questions), you could just as plausibly argue that countless forms of engagement with tradition are “coercively” lost to a woman if her cruel, cruel social context foists go-go modernity upon her. Libertarians qua libertarians ought to be neutral on this stuff, unless they’re really, seriously prepared to argue, say, that a woman wearing pants is “freer” than a woman wearing a dress — or, only slightly less absurdly, that a woman told she ought to wear a dress (not forced, just urged) is less free than a woman told to wear a dress or pants without fear of cruel, cruel social opprobrium.

But once you start down that road, the highly precious libertarian conception of freedom obviously dissolves quickly into its opposite — the kind of leftist grousing that holds that freedom means, for instance, not having to listen to your boss even if you signed a contract with him and not having to wear clothes when you visit the neighbors’ house, since you consider nudism essential to liberated living.

In more practical, boringly conventional libertarian terms (and metrics), I might also ask: Where is the evidence that sexism is making the government larger? Where is the evidence feminism would shrink it? Is it not the case, based on past experience, that feminism tends to be allied to calls for increased government? Why is this real-world experience to be ignored in favor of the vague philosophical parallels that a tiny, tiny handful of libertarian women perceive between feminism and libertarianism? Is it not troubling — and perhaps telling — that at least one of the libertarian feminists heard from in this dispute explicitly rejects so-called individualist feminism, which is probably the only extant shred of anti-statism within feminism?


But then, perhaps simply being willing to crack these things open and analyze them is a bit lefty, I should concede. And if we accept the possibility of reaching conclusions that are not conventionally-libertarian, as we always should in some sense — if we fancy ourselves careful, unbiased thinkers — then maybe we’re already in the process of formulating a worldview that deserves to be called something less rigid than libertarianism, conservatism, or liberalism.

How about we reach for a philosophy that draws comfortably from right, left, middle, and libertarianism and call this half-formed, somewhat flexible new/old, made/borrowed thing…conservatism for punks? More on that next month, too.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Is Nature Morally Forbidden to Throw Us Curves?

Last night, after a Festivus party and a newborn-unveiling/tree-trimming party (to which I contributed a stuffed American eagle to sit in the branches), I went to Jen Dziura’s “Man-Pageant” thirtieth birthday celebration — and it just so happens she wrote a blog entry three years ago (called “I’m Going to End Up in Bar Fights”), when she was in the midst of donating eggs (as several of my acquaintances have done), and I think the entry hints, in some small, feeble, incipient way, at the world I wish we lived in: one where frank discussion of nature rather than politicized talk of “properly autonomous gender constructs yadda yadda yadda ein Volk” dominated (even though Jen thinks of herself as a feminist).

We’re supposed to think a cruel society and arbitrary accidents of history over the past few millennia have dictated the blinkered way we think of males vs. females, but Jen was low on estrogen at one point as a result of the egg donation process and found herself feeling an unusual, constant low-level hostility, then thinking:

I was startled. This, however, begs the question — if this is the result of a lack of estrogen…is this what guys feel like all the time? I think it might be. I have felt even-keeled, sort of laid-back but in control of everything, while prone to occasional outbursts of anger.

She’s a comedian — and a woman — and is allowed to voice such thoughts (of which I suspect there could be countless others, with significant but not necessarily sinister sociological implications), while the matriarchy frowns on males and scientists doing so. But in small ways, feminism’s tragic, distorting reign over discourse has eroded in the past couple decades, and I can’t help thinking there’s a wealth of knowledge — and happiness — to be gained if we get rid of it completely and can begin talking about the truth again, without political presuppositions, and certainly without turning feminism’s hasty conclusions about how things “ought” to be into bogus moral or legal rules.

That would be akin, I fear, to telling people that a decent, egalitarian person has to believe the Earth is flat.

(Note that I’m not recommending that some other static conception of the world be turned into a basic moral groundrule or fundamental part of a libertarian philosophy either — I am, though, suggesting how dangerous it is to import such a priori conceptions and how they can stifle the minimal rules/maximal dynamic discovery process combo that is libertarianism, or as Cromwell said: consider that you may be wrong.)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Feminism More Akin to Naziism Than to Libertarianism

I’m sure, given how vast the world is, that someone out there has formulated a non-coercive form of Naziism, paradoxical as it may sound, and perhaps somewhere there’s even a non-coercive form of Naziism that makes no false empirical claims. But we would rightly say we are not going to give such eccentrics much weight — or bend over backwards to speak open-mindedly of “diverse Naziisms” — before judging Naziism in general a bad thing.

Likewise, feminism in virtually all of its formulations considers many outcomes of voluntary and market activity “unjust.” Furthermore, feminism reaches such conclusions for reasons not so unlike those that Naziism does: because, despite the fact that we can bend over backwards finding something admirable in feminism, it is at base a partisan, bigoted, tribalist philosophy that is amorphous precisely because its real underlying motivation is “whatever seems to help our side, women.”

Just as one does not act surprised when “white power” skinheads embrace one policy rule today and a seemingly contradictory one tomorrow — all with the advancement of their own group, just or unjust, as their real political lodestar — no one is surprised that feminists lie in wait hoping for chances to use law, or mere guilt-tripping, or bad philosophy, or relativism as tactically required to advance their self-serving agenda (with the results routinely being anti-libertarian ones, whether it’s the explicit embrace of legislation or the mere assertion that voluntary, market-based interactions are unjust, with the listeners [most of whom are statists] left to draw their own inevitable conclusions, likely leading to laws, lawsuits, or simply more groundless guilt-tripping claims about what social patterns “ought” to have resulted despite market-expressed preferences of the participants).

Let’s please stop pretending feminists’ aims are noble or even morally-universalist in the bare-minimum sense that we normally expect from modern creeds (as opposed to anti-modern or ancient — and frankly particularist — ones). It’s a pseudo-philosophy for juvenile, self-serving savages, but, again, chivalry (the frequent partner of feminism) discourages saying so openly when the fairer sex might be offended, one of intellectual history’s great and tragic ironies.


And speaking of self-serving savages, might evolutionary psychology have far more to teach us about natural and thus possible and thus likely gender roles (not all the same thing, of course) than feminism with its artificially egalitarian premises? If one wanted to study fish and deer, one would not for a moment feel aided by a philosophy that warned, in a scolding voice, that one must begin by assuming — assuming! — that fish and deer are “equals” (In what sense? We don’t yet know — they just damn well better look “equal” when all is said and done, buster!).

Obviously, fish-deer equivalency theory would be a prima facie impediment to rational, empirical inquiry, and we should at the very least begin by setting it aside, if not necessarily condemning it outright, since it keeps leading otherwise well-meaning and open-minded investigators to conclude that if there are more fish than deer in the river and more deer than fish in the forest, it “must” be the result of some injustice — possibly to be rectified by law but, if not, then through massive fish-deer relocation efforts on the part of guilt-wracked volunteers. Well, to hell with all that, and with feminism.

If feminism is an a priori moral claim, it is fundamentally and quite radically at odds with libertarian, market-based thinking. If it is an empirical claim about the equivalency of the genders, well, the market will test that claim, won’t it? And if it is some incoherent hodgepodge of the two, its time on this Earth and its time distorting and damaging philosophical dialogue has already gone on quite long enough. Perhaps it has already impeded the creation of the far happier and smoother gender relations that would otherwise have been built on the foundations of (for example) evolutionary psychology and traditionalist insights about gender “complementarity.” It is not libertarians’ place to say qua libertarians.

A wide-open empirical question — such as whether tradition or avant-gardism produces greater happiness — should surely not be incorporated into the basic moral rules of a society, and certainly not into a philosophy such as libertarianism, which has as its greatest strength a willingness to keep groundrules minimal — while society (possibly over the course of centuries) works out the answer (or diverse answers) to most big social questions.

If you think you’ve already solved the gender-relations question, good for you, but that doesn’t rightly make it part of society’s legal groundrules or the basic premises of libertarian thinking any more than the latest results of psych studies aimed at seeing whether kids are made happier by Mozart or Britney Spears.

P.S. But if you disagree and must say so, you can always catch me tonight circa 10 at Jen Dziura’s “Man-Pageant” thirtieth birthday party at Madame X — which, as it happens, will be feminist Jen’s rather Weimar-like foray into male-model stage show-organizing.  I am not one of the models, I should make clear.

Friday, December 5, 2008

State vs. Patriarchy

By conventional libertarian standards, there is a crucial difference between the state and the patriarchy.  One is oppressive, while the other isn’t.

Indeed, the patriarchy is on the losing end of law these days, and might even arguably be a victim itself of oppression by the state, given that affirmative action laws exist in part to guarantee women jobs they might not have secured in the free market, anti-harassment laws exist in part to shield women from unpleasant male banter, set-asides exist for subsidizing female-owned businesses, etc.  Does it not matter, in the minds of left-libertarians who think regular libertarians “need” feminism, that the law already oppresses in feminism’s favor, as it were?  Does this alone not make feminism a menace?

And if not, we really have reached the point where some libertarians are more alarmed by “social pressure” than by law — which is precisely the kind of thinking the movement was created to combat.  After all, isn’t every social arrangement reached by free people one in which lots of people are annoyed by the outcome and feel hemmed in by it?  Isn’t libertarianism’s unique contribution the observation that if you respect others’ right to act freely in accordance with property rights, you cannot claim that the resulting social patterns are evil, unjust, and unfree simply because they (arguably) don’t work in your favor?

What could be more Hegelian than claiming that all free action by other people, because it changes the social context in which you act, is impinging on your freedom?  This is how totalitarians are led to claim that there is no such thing as freedom — only changed contexts — and thus (to take something disturbing and wrong Stanley Fish once said to a group I was in) that there’s no real sense in which a Stalinist society is “less free” than a laissez-faire capitalist society.  And I’m not saying that’s demonstrably false, since it’s partly a matter of semantics — I’m just saying libertarians should be the last people to want to talk and philosophize this way.

(An aside about actual, i.e., state/physical, coercion: right now in Vol. 4, Issue 2 of Serf City, NYC’s delightful Libertarian Party newspaper, available all around town, there’s a Jim Lesczynski article, “New Yorkers Sue to Stop Illegal Pork,” which describes libertarian lawyer James Ostrowksi and others wisely noticing that the state of New York routinely violates its own state-constitutional clause banning government loans to private corporations — something now so routine at all levels of government, as people have been noticing in the past couple months, that one engine of parasitism, Advanced Micro Systems, receives $300 million in NY’s current budget.)


But if we’re going to play Hegelian games and talk in terms of “positive” freedom that’s facilitated by those social contexts we happen to find pleasing (rather than the mere “negative” freedom of property rights — that is, the right to be free from assault, theft, and fraud and otherwise do as you will), perhaps males should simply argue (why on Earth not?) that they are oppressed by, say, women’s unwillingness to have constant sex with them at the drop of a hat.

I mean, what exactly is the “correct” default for our social context anyway, if some contexts are supposedly unfree — due, presumably, to the fact that other people’s desires impede your own (damn them!)?  Apparently, it’s OK in at least many feminists’ minds (traditionally) to say men should be repressing desires such as wanting to ogle women, etc. — but how do we know, exactly, that women shouldn’t instead be trying harder to enjoy leers and catcalls — and male indifference to their emotional needs?  The utility calculus is not so clear, and I have not seen the Objective Lawbook in the Metaphysical Heavens that dictates all this — though I’m pretty sure the feminists think they have a better idea what that Lawbook says than I do, and they don’t think it sounds like an essay from Playboy.

But since (as people who know me well would attest, I think), I am not in fact eager to make the world more boorish, let me put the context-vs.-coercion distinction in a less loaded and less sex-related way: Does everyone have to be generally “encouraging” toward you for you to be (in some left-libertarian sense) free?

I mean, gender relations are especially interesting to some people, I guess, but is it clear that the average person (even a female) is held back by sexists more than, say, by really mean negative assholes in general?  If sexism must decrease for us to be free, do all assholes have to go away before we’re free?  How much does society have to change before I’m truly unhampered in my…positive flourishing or whatever this thing is that we’re replacing the hard-won ideal of market freedom with?

Do the Wall Streeters have to stop being intense and scary to be around?  Do the athletes have to stop making me self-conscious about my inability to bench press 300 lbs.?  Where and when does this social-contextualizing-for-freedom end exactly?  Did Kerry Howley explain all this somewhere so I’ll know — or do I just have to read lots of feminist blogs to find out when I’m behaving in a liberating fashion?  And why exactly should I not be more concerned with (for the sake of argument) making feminists acquainted with the pain they cause me by not doing more stripteases?  Wait, I know: because chivalry discourages whining.  Would that feminists were as easily embarrassed.