Sunday, December 15, 2019

Principled better than wishy-washy

(My Eastern New Mexico News column for November 13, 2019)

A common criticism of libertarians is that we are wrapped up in principles; in absolutes. We are called "purists" as if this is a bad thing, yet the opposite of "pure" is "contaminated".

Ethical principles function like a conscience. You won't always do what your conscience tells you, but without it, you can't know you've done wrong.

Another word for "principled" is "consistent". People balk at principles and consistency when they want to do something they know isn't right. Consistency doesn't mean you're automatically right-- it's entirely possible to be consistently wrong-- but inconsistency is a sure sign a person is off-course.

This may explain why most people seem to prefer utilitarianism-- using whatever approach seems useful and effective in the situation. They believe they can't be principled because the real world isn't perfect. Reality may not be perfect, but it is absolute.

By contrast, politics avoids principles like the plague. It's said to be "nuanced" as if right and wrong don't apply. Politics is utilitarian.

Politics can't be absolute because it needs useful and effective flexibility so as to provide excuses to do wrong without being seen by the majority of its victims as the bad guys. Reality is what it is; politics is whatever you can get away with.

In the real world, you don't have the option to use magic when you don't like the way things are. In politics, you can say some special words and permit yourself to violate life, liberty, and property-- usually without consequence.

If you want a car but can't afford one, the political utilitarian might encourage you to steal one or steal the money with which to buy one-- through taxation, perhaps. Theft can be both useful and effective. It can get you what you believe you can't get otherwise. However, if you insist it's wrong for someone to steal from you, how can you pretend the rules don't apply when you're the thief?

If you want to find a way to do wrong you can use the excuse that it's a nuanced "gray area"; it's useful and effective to violate others who stand in your way. Politics "works".

Since principles and politics-- opposite approaches-- can each have utility, utilitarianism is meaningless.

Is being principled better than being conveniently wishy-washy? I believe it is, as long as your principles are worthwhile, but it all depends on how you define "better" and what you want to get away with.

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  1. tens of thousands of years of human history and thousands of cultures- please name one long lasting "Absolute Libertarian" society. ......

    What works as reasonable guiding principles for individuals, has not EVER worked for any group of even moderate size. That always amazed me.

    1. what principle(s) is/are "missing", that would enable such a sustainable societal level libertarianism? Constructing a more complete philosophical framework would be a good project for me for a few years, and for other folks so inclined.

    2. If a society allows government/the state to exist in it, it is no longer a society. So comparing such a non-society to a society which hasn't been allowed to exist seems a flawed exercise.

      Things don't exist... until they do. I won't support violating you just because it's the way it is always done (so far).

      works. At all scales. Government never does, but it has a good PR Team convincing people it does. They lie. Or at least they redefine "works".

    3. agree that "government=compulsion at gunpoint" always fails.

      also, agree that Libertarianism works at individual and small community level.
      But at larger groupings- the sociopaths ALWAYS take over (even within the libertarian party usa!). So what is needed at those levels is robust multi-level checks and balances. Those that govern least, govern best.

      But something is needed at that level. It always pops up, and is repugnant.
      Something is needed for larger groupings, something missing in current attempts at libertarianism. Somehow, a harsh negative feedback loop is needed, to prevent abuses.

    4. What would you propose?

      Maybe big groups simply can't work for humans and "we" need to stop trying to force them to. You can't keep a solitary bee alive, healthy, and functioning. Perhaps you can't have a healthy, functioning hive of humans-- the level where The State always arises.

  2. No centrally directed large collective has ever been instituted or authorized that did not eventually if not immediately become contrary and hostile to the stated ‘fictions’ of its supposed ‘necessary’ purposes of creation. This is not, has not and never will be a solution to the need for protection, order or justice. My recommendation is that people stop pretending that it can be; stop creating such entities and stop tolerating the existence of the ones already present. To do otherwise is just to perpetuate the error and continue to tolerate the failure.