Monday, October 18, 2010
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Sign me up for the emerging Lindsey-Lee-Sanchez-Wilkinson School of Libertarianism!My vision for the future is a worldwide coalition of pragmatic, bottom-up focused epistemologically cautious liberals who understand that markets are a force for progress.
Will Wilkinson has it right that the liberaltarianism thing is best understood as a longer-term project- an effort to convince people with liberal impulses that a lot of libertarian insights are genuinely liberal, and to build a broader liberal coalition in years ahead. I think some progress has been made in this direction, insofar as people like Matt Yglesias seem to at least take libertarian arguments seriously. Remember, 40 years ago libertarians were MUCH MORE of a crazy fringe group.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
- We should face the difficult reality that there are no moral facts. The best we’re going to do is to reach consensus among a sufficient number of people. Luckily, there is a lot of room to achieve consensus.
- One reason for this opportunity is the growth in opportunities for positive-sum interactions. There are more chances for people to get what they want, in a way that can benefit everyone.
- Rising standards of living make people seek higher goals. This makes moral discourse- rather than rule of the strongest- possible.
- There’s a lot of truth to economic determinism- a lot of social changes are emergent. Moral discourse is tinkering at the margin.
- Taleb’s tinkering concept (as I understand it) suggests to me that we want differing moral viewpoints. They function to diversify social practices, making society more robust to unforeseen changes.
- So we don’t want one all-encompassing moral vision for everyone. We do need some basic principles, but they should be minimal (a case for negative rights at the state level?). This minimalism allows for a diversity of moral convictions, positions and actions.
- This does not rule out the possibility of irresolvable moral conflict, which may be inescapable under any circumstances. Some conflict is probably beneficial. We can hope to avoid the most destructive conflict (creative destruction, however, should be allowed to thrive).
- We should clearly acknowledge the limits of our understanding. Tinkering and diversification are ways to deal with the ever-present possibility of error, as well as unforeseen changes
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
I'm sure there are many reasonable small government types among them, but, as inquiring minds notes, nost of them seem to be driven by nationalism and other not very (classically) liberal sentiments.
I think Arnold wants to believe in the possibility of a populist libertarian movement, one that jives with his notion of the elites and progressives versus the common man, but I don't think that's really tenable. We have big government because that's what almost everyone wants. Many say they want small government but want to keep Soc Sec, medicare, and a massive military. Most probably favor the pork projects in their particular area, and one can see what that adds up to. Concentrated benefits, diffuse costs...
There won't be smaller government until the situation gets tangibly more dire or until the basic logic of politics changes, or more people become principled libertarians. I'm not holding my breath for the last two.
I don't understand Kling's attraction to the tea partiers. What are we going to get out of them? A Sarah Palin presidential nomination? Roll back Obama care but boost the military budget some more and spend billions on "securing the border"? I'm probably painting with too broad a brush here, but I do think that's more or less what we can expect.
The post is here. I commented:
I've said it before, and...
Arnold, I think you might be projecting your own hopes on the tea partiers bit. How many of them would seriously scale back the scale of government were they in control? Where were they during the Bush years? How many of them are motivated by the conviction that Obama is not an American?
Based on what I've been reading, I'd hardly feel more secure putting these people in charge. Send the Mexicans back to Mexico! Torture more people! Don't dare expand government involvement in health care, but don't dare touch Medicare and Soc Sec, and spend as much on the military as we "need"!
Ok, it's a bit of a caricature, but is it that much of one? I'm sympathetic to Arnold's distrust of elites, progs, etc, but are the TP's really the answer?
Yes I know they're a loose coalition, and I'd be happy to be proven wrong.
It's tempting to think that centralized power and its inevitable abuse can be curbed by these kind of populist movements, but I fear that such movements are often filled with internal contradictions, and they have no real alternatives to offer, so they just end of putting some other ass in power.
Sunday, May 2, 2010
Here’s a query I got recently and thought was worth responding to:
I responded in the comments, but I don't think that (mine) was a very good response, so I'll try it again here.
I’d like to make a suggestion: You have a lot of insightful and important things to say. Do you think it’s constructive to engage in as much snark as you do? It seems to me like it serves to rile up people who are on your ideological side, and I suppose I could see some constructive purpose in doing that. But I would suggest we’d all be better off if political discourse was based more on humane and rational conversation and a shared commitment to building consensus about justice and finding the truth. I see your point that the right often represents entrenched power, and it may be necessary to struggle against that. But what about people like me, basically of liberal sympathies but not allied to the left per se, who are turned off by this tone of discourse? What about thoughtful and humane conservatives that might actually be convinced to change their policy positions? I guess it seems to me like your considerable talents and moral decency might be better served in a more consensus building, persuading, and a less base-riling, partisan role. I’ll keep reading your blog, but the bitterness will often leave me a bit sad, and thinking you could be doing better.
For one thing, I think this message reflects a widespread confusion about what it is to be “partisan.” Find me someone who thinks Olympia Snowe is history’s greatest monster but Ben Nelson is a great man and I’ll show you a partisan. I’m just someone with political views that are more liberal than the views of most Americans.
As for the rest, I think humane and rational conversation is important and I like to think that plenty of the posts on this blog are dedicated to it. But there are also a lot of liars and idiots in the world and subjecting them toscorn and mockery is part of what you’ve got to do in life.
Yglesias is certainly right that he's not a partisan in the sense that he describes, and 'partisan' was probably the wrong word to use. He regularly criticizes other lefties and democratic politicians. Indeed, the only reason I sent him that message was because basically not a partisan, but a highly intelligent and morally decent person who seems to be concerned with the truth.
But he does often take a fairly harsh- one might even say smug- tone when speaking of many conservatives. It was this tone I was objecting to. I think it doesn't have a purpose other than fueling the sense of self-superiority of many of his reader.
In an earlier post I gave some arguments for snark, and ended up kind of agnostic. But, as is often the case with my writing, my point is not to argue for positions that I'm really confident in, but rather to bring up points that strike me as reasonable but overlooked. In this case, I think Yglesias is probably overvaluing snark because it serves his interests to do so. This may sound like a serious accusation, but everyone has such blind spots. Part of the reason dialogue with those of differing opinions is so valuable is that it makes us more likely to find our own blind spots.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Monday, April 26, 2010
Saturday, April 24, 2010
I'd like to make a suggestion: You have a lot of insightful and important things to say. Do you think it's constructive to engage in as much snark as you do? It seems to me like it serves to rile up people who are on your ideological side, and I suppose I could see some constructive purpose in doing that. But I would suggest we'd all be better off if political discourse was based more on humane and rational conversation and a shared commitment to building consensus about justice and finding the truth. I see your point that the right often represents entrenched power, and it may be necessary to struggle against that. But what about people like me, basically of liberal sympathies but not allied to the left per se, who are turned off by this tone of discourse? What about thoughtful and humane conservatives that might actually be convinced to change their policy positions? I guess it seems to me like your considerable talents and moral decency might be better served in a more consensus building, persuading, and a less base-riling, partisan role. I'll keep reading your blog, but the bitterness will often leave me a bit sad, and thinking you could be doing better.
I also attempted to submit a comment on a Connor Friedersdorf post at The American Scene, but I closed the tab before hitting "submit". I'm an idiot sometimes.
The tribalism, jingoism, and nastiness that so often characterizes political discourse makes me sad. More important, I think it serves little constructive purpose- though I understand there are coherent arguments that it does. Shall I try to summarize them? OK.
One argument for partisan tribalism is that, given human nature, it's a good way to organize people into coalitions, which allows them to collectively reach goals. If people where more inclined to individualism, questioning their assumptions, always looking for new evidence, etc. they would not form coalitions and better organized, perhaps more sinister factions would get their way.
I guess that's the only argument I can think of right now (gotta get more sleep!!!). That strikes me as a plausible argument, and I can't say that it's wrong. I'd only submit that there are obvious costs to partisanship (group think, mob mentality, etc) and that there may be a possibility for an alternative strategy for liberal-minded folks, one that, in fact, many smart people seem to follow: Make arguments in good faith, don't be nasty to people, but always try to persuade them. If you think someone is acting in bad faith, first, give them the benefit of the doubt, then, if that fails, state clearly that you believe they aren't arguing in good faith, and continue to make your arguments to receptive audiences. If your views are correct, you will persuade people, and, in a reasonably democratic system (I would count the U.S. here), people will vote according to that view.
A possible counterargument is that some people will only vote out of anger, so, in order to piece together the coalition you need to win, you need to fuel the anger of these people. Again, I can't say that's wrong. I'd reply that you can win new converts by convincing people, and you'd be contributing to a culture of more civil discourse, which would ultimately benefit us all.
I suppose ideological coalitions actually contain people engaging in both strategies. So there are lefties who are paragons of civility, and those who sling mud with relish (ditto on the right, of course). It's possible that a coalition should want to have both types. So those who want all civility and no nastiness have to make the case that our model really is better by most folks' standards. Alas, Robin Hanson is probably right that politics isn't about policy, the we may first have to get more people to actually care about policy, or convince those who don't to focus on other status-based activities, such as World or Warcraft.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
I see some merit to this argument, in so far as it's a response to the left, who, in the name of "freedom" encourage more and more government intervention, which often just benefits some at the expense of others, or worse. Still, though, I'd have to come down on the side that says that we should understand freedom broadly, and that, by such a conception, most people, certainly women, are more free than they were in 1880.
It's possible to make the case that freedom from oppressive social pressure is essential to a robust freedom, but that, in order to preserve other essential liberties, we're better off respecting freedom of speech and association in the law. At the same time, it's consistent with libertarian principles to act as a private citizen to influence the culture to make it more tolerant (indeed, my libertarian principles push me to do so). I suppose many libertarians won't go for this stance, but I also suspect, ala Will Wilkinson, that there are a lot of people with basically libertarian sensibilities who are turned off by the more conservative, rightish flavor of current "mainstream" libertarianism. As Caplan always says, truth comes first, but I'd suggest my take is closer to the truth.
P.S. I suppose Caplan could also agree with me on this- and I'm misunderstanding his point. He may just be talking about libertarian as a political agenda, and that a more limited negative rights conception of liberty is what fits into that agenda. I suppose that would make sense, though he seems to be talking about a broader, more philosophical libertarianism.
P.P.S. This makes me think about how we think about rights. I think it's only productive to think of rights in a narrow, institutional sense. That is, right are that which will maximize human flourishing if states recognize them as rights and act in the way that states normally do to protect rights (is that just obvious?). There are plenty of things that I consider essential to human flourishing, and I'd be pretty content to call them "rights" in a broad moral sense, but which we shouldn't try to enforce as institutionalized rights. In addition to freedom from certain kinds of social pressure, I'd also include a sense of one's life having meaning, and many others. Other things simply seem impossible to guarantee in a non-arbitrary way- health care comes to mind (How much health care are we entitled to? I haven't heard a satisfactory answer so far). Part of the problem is that people think of rights in terms of absolutes. But scarcity exists, so we have to think about how to allocate scarce resources at the margin to solve real problems. There is such a thing as devoting too many resources to protecting essential rights.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
My students come from a range of backgrounds. Some are professionals, some are university and high school students, and some are, as it were, full time students at Web who hope to find a job once they've improved their English. I have yet to meet one who has studied philosophy, and if I were to they would have mostly studied Marxist philosophy, taught as unquestionable truth. So this stuff, as far as I know, is completely new to all of them.
A few of the students have taken a particularly keen interest, and always have a lot to say. And what they say, while not as clever as what you'd hear in a philosophy class at Macalester, is often more insightful.
More and more I think philosophy in the west has gotten way off track. It ought to be a discussion of basic values and concepts that anyone can participate in. It's gotten so loaded with unnecessary jargon that one has to take hundreds of hours of courses and write hundred of pages before you are are seen as being able to converse in it intelligently. But a lot of this stuff is really not that hard, if you try to make it clear, rather than tossing in as many clauses and obscure references as possible.
In China the culture seems ready for honest, open discussion about social values. There's already a lot of it going on, especially online. This makes it an interesting place to be an amateur philosopher.