If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
Sunday, December 3, 2017
|Not a dime. The only financial gift I've ever made to UCF, which the alumni association found "unacceptable."|
Friday, October 13, 2017
I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts. These are false hopes, believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it . . . While it lies there it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it.
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Imagine this: you've worked hard the last two weeks and finally the moment arrives when you get paid for your efforts. You start to think about the things you'll do with your earnings. Sure, you have some bills to pay, but you worked a few extra hours, so maybe you'll make an extra payment on your mortgage, or maybe you'll treat yourself to a nice dinner or save some for that camping trip your friends are planning.
Before you can barely walk out of the bank with your cashed earnings, someone approaches with a gun, demanding you give him money. "Don't worry," he assures you. After all, he's only asking for about a sixth of your paycheck, and better yet, he's going to do great things with it.
First, he tells you, he's going to give about a third of the money he takes from you directly to your neighbor Paul, but not before funneling it through a convoluted system so that Paul actually receives less than the amount taken from you. You start to wonder why you can't just pay Paul directly, but your assailant tells you that Paul had to do the same thing when he was working, so it's only fair that he takes your money now.
Next, he tells you that he's going to use a few dollars of what he takes to support local artists, television shows and businesses. Before you can object--because you already support these people on a semi-regular basis--the man holding you at gunpoint tells you that the support must come from him because these particular artists, television shows and businesses are critical to your very existence. He informs you that without his generosity, these artists, television shows and businesses may cease to exist.
You open your mouth to try to argue against his circular logic, when the man tells you that he's going to take the remaining money and attack some people you know in the next city over, Jordan and Georgia. He's going to hurl large bombs and send a bunch of his lackeys over to shoot at them. You ask why he is attacking them and the man says "they are a threat to your safety."
You find it hard to believe Jordan and Georgia want to harm you. Just last month you had them both over for dinner and everything was fine. The man has pulled out a small calculator and is punching in numbers. He finishes his calculations and shows you the total, demanding you pay him that amount immediately. You want to respond, object, do anything to stop him, but ultimately you hand over a sixth of your paycheck; after all, he's the one with the gun.
You ask the man what you did to deserve this, but he just laughs and says, "That's the cost of living in a civilized society."
Friday, January 27, 2017
In the news this week arose three topics in particular that both sides speak about as if there only is one side to the argument. My goal is to address each as succinctly as possible and hopefully show why each topic is not as cut-and-dry as many assume. I admit that I am not immune from speaking in absolutes about these topics, but if we acknowledge the nuances that define the arguments, we can work towards greater liberty for all.
Some people may argue that I have simplified these topics too much. But if an argument cannot be boiled down to a core axiom, then the entire argument falls apart by relying on a faulty premise. If I have misstated the central tenet of any argument, however, please feel free to correct me so that the discussion can be advanced.
This topic is one ripe for ideological differences, and it all comes down to a philosophical question: when does life begin, or better yet, when is a person a person?
The "pro-life" side provides a spectrum for when life begins, but it's all centered around protection of the unborn fetus. Whether "life begins at conception," life begins when there's a beating heart and other recognizable organs, or using some measure of viability--that is, the point at which a fetus could survive outside the mother--the pro-life side defends the right to life of this thing that cannot speak for itself.
The "pro-choice" side argues on behalf of the woman carrying this fetus to term. They, too, can fall along a spectrum--anywhere from saying the fetus is a part of the woman until birth, to the more extreme view that a fetus is a parasite living off the woman for nine months--but they come together to defend a woman's right to choose what she can do with her own body.
Because there is no empirical way to determine when a human being, fetus or no, obtains personhood--and thus, the rights to life and liberty that come with it--the debate often ends in a stalemate. Neither side is necessarily wrong; it just seems that they are talking past each other.
SECOND: Climate Change
The debate on climate change is a bit more difficult to nail down, mostly because it seems the boundaries of the debate continue to shift. The two sides to this, as I see them, are those who believe that humans have a direct effect on the earth's climate and action must be taken to reduce that effect, and those who think action is unnecessary. The latter includes people who outright deny the existence of humanity's effect on the environment.
But make no mistake: this is a debate about action, and typically, government action. Excluding for the purposes of this discussion those who outright deny climate change--because I'd rather not get into Newton's Third Law--the debate appears to center around a question of degree. (No pun intended!) The earth's climate is changing, but is it changing at a rate or pace that requires drastic action?
The proponents of government intervention argue that it is, and if we want to preserve this earth for future generations we must take steps beyond simple precautions now. They point to changes in temperature, global weather phenomena, increased wildfires and flooding, among other measurable data points as evidence that the situation is getting worse.
Opponents argue that the temperature fluctuations and other phenomena are natural and outside the statistical margin of error, or observational error. In other words, if the earth has been around for millions or billions of years but we've only been taking accurate temperature readings for the last two hundred or so, the sample size is very small and the margin of error is higher.
Complicating this debate is an insistence by proponents that "the science is settled," an interesting way of concluding an argument when science is supposed to be a never-ending search for answers. Because a vast majority of climate scientists (somewhere around 97%) fall on the side of calling for immediate action, many believe the debate should be over. But the debate roars on in other forums--along with the remaining ~3% of scientists--over precisely how much action is needed and how to implement such actions.
This is by far the area that interests me the most, so I will try my best to remain neutral in describing this debate. Two separate instances this week of a white nationalist, Richard Spencer, being punched by someone because of the message he promotes catapulted this topic into the news.
Free speech proponents argue that no matter Spencer's rhetoric, he should not be subjected to violent reactions. They take to heart Voltaire's directive: "I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it." The principles of free speech embodied in the First Amendment apply to popular and unpopular speech alike.
In contrast, Spencer's opponents say that his ideas are violent and he is the initial aggressor because of his views on white supremacy and nationalism. Because Spencer advocates for the elimination of certain people from American society, he is inciting violence and poses a direct threat to people who belong to those threatened groups. Many point to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany to justify the preemptive strike: if people fought back against Hitler's rhetoric sooner things might not have gone as far as they did.
This debate about incitement--and it's not just the one surrounding Spencer--is particularly interesting because the proponents and opponents can often switch sides depending on the identity of the speaker and his or her message. In 2015 and 2016, the Black Lives Matter movement marched and protested throughout the country. While most of the demonstrations were peaceful, a few erupted into riots. BLM opponents blamed the movement's rhetoric and anti-police sentiments for inciting violence.
As a society we face many issues that will divide us morally, ideologically, and politically. When we are absolutely certain there is only one answer to our problems, we must be able to remove the blinders we put on and see things from the other side's perspective. Only after we explore the premises of both our own arguments and our opponents' can we understand how deep the problem runs. At that point, we can work towards a solution that expands everyone's liberty.
Saturday, July 20, 2013
But growing up, I have often wondered why the word nigger is so taboo. It is, after all, just a word. While other words (e.g., fuck, kike, cunt, Jap) are considered--shall we say--less than ideal in the public forum, they are never met with the same amount of vitriol as when someone utters the word nigger.
The word is not off limits to everyone; those within a group tend use it freely, or it's derivation nigga, as a term of endearment, while those without are immediately condemned for using said word, often regardless of the context. That's not to say that every time the word is used by a non-group member it is completely neutral, as Michael Richards and countless others have proven in the past. Still, we do not see a mass movement by all Buddhists to prevent non-Buddhists from saying nirvana. Perhaps an odd example, but it does illustrate that there is a group of insiders who have a better understanding of a word than those on the outside.
There is a history of oppression with the word nigger, so it does make sense that there will be some who remain sensitive to hearing it said. But the outrage generated by the use of this one word has grown so great over the last 15 or 20 years that even similar sounding words with long-standing usage are becoming more or less taboo. In 1999, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was offended by her professor's use of the word niggardly (meaning extremely stingy or reluctant to give or spend) while discussing Chaucer. Chaucer, as in the author of The Canterbury Tales, who lived in the 14th century and used that and other words in their original meaning (I recall at least one classmate in English class who would involuntarily gag when reading across the word cunt) regularly.
We are told that it is racist for a white person to say nigger. And yet it seems far more racist to automatically assume an entire group of people will be offended by a word's usage (and thereby banning it, censoring it, or casting out all who use it), then to actually just say or write nigger. In the former example, you are treating hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of individuals as a uniform block who can only feel one way when they hear a word, and in the latter you--an individual--are interacting with other individuals and do not know how they will react. Much like a declaration that someone is renouncing their religion, or coming out of the closet, or starting a new career, there will be those who are shocked or bewildered by such news, those who are indifferent, and those who are pleased, among any number of additional reactions.
Ultimately, the use of the word nigger boils down to whether one's right to free speech (highly valued in this country) overpowers one's perceived right to not be offended. The latter simply does not exist; for if it did, there would be no shortage of harassment lawsuits claiming so-and-so had offended such-and-such. Unfortunately, while the lawsuits are kept more or less in check, that does not mean that people are completely free to say what they would like. Some people still like to believe that their feelings are more important than open discussion or freedom of speech. Going back to the example of the use of the word niggardly at UW-Madison, that was the brunt of the argument made by the Amelia Rideau, the offended student. From Reason Magazine:
"I was in tears, shaking," [Rideau] told the faculty. "It's not up to the rest of the class to decide whether my feelings are valid." Rideau's plea was a reality check. If the proper use of a Chaucerian term while teaching The Canterbury Tales could be construed as harassment of a student who did not know the word's spelling or meaning, then the code was teaching some interesting expectations indeed. Many "abolitionists," as they now were called, believe that Rideau's speech, widely reported, was the turning point, setting the stage both for greater attendance at the March meeting and for the final vote. John Sharpless, a history professor, asked, "What other words are to be purged from our language? Thespian?"Free speech is one of the foundations of liberty. This does not mean one is totally free from judgment, but it should mean that if we truly value free speech then we will not allow someone's thoughts or ideas to be suppressed just because they contain offensive language or words. Punishing someone for something they said is no different than punishing someone for the way they look, and isn't that the mentality that we have been trying to break away from as a country for the last 50 years?
Sunday, November 11, 2012
It's more than fair to say that Republicans care about reducing the size and scope of government about as much as a hoarder cares about a single dirty sock on the floor. So why do people who claim they want government to be smaller continue to vote for candidates that show no loyalty to those same ends? A case of battered wife syndrome? or simply a fear that the "other party" is that much worse? As I have said before, a vote for the "lesser of two evils" is still a vote for evil.
The major source of the problem as I see it stems from the belief that the GOP is the party for Christians. And it's easy to see why that is the perception. When your biggest social issue is abortion you kind of paint yourself into a corner. Now, abortion is a difficult issue to tackle (as a libertarian I find myself constantly falling on either side of the aisle due to the question of when life begins) that unfortunately tries to devolve into a simple black-and-white argument. But by no means should it come to define a political party's entire platform.
Another huge pet cause of the modern GOP is American imperialism. While officially called "nation building" and "spreading democracy", America's current foreign policy amounts to nothing more than the Philippine-American War circa the age of aircraft carriers and drones.
So we have the Christian moralists and the hawkish neo-conservatives trying to find common ground in a candidate. Unfortunately, neither of those things fit with a small-government mentality. It is impossible to force morality on people through legislation, and it is even more impossible to run a global war machine and keep a small budget.
Over the coming years, so-called conservatives need to make a choice: will they be sincere in their pledge of wanting smaller government, will they continue to make decisions in the lives of others, or will they perpetuate a culture of war-making? I know what I will choose, and I have a few reasons why a lot more people should embrace the same.
A lot of people like to say they have no interest in politics or government. (That's too bad, since the government takes a lot of interest in us.) Even so, interests seem to be piqued during election cycles. Going back the last few presidential elections, though, there hasn't been a lot of difference between the winning candidate and the other major party's platform. George Bush was the Republican candidate in 2000 and 2004, but he also brought us an education boondoggle and the biggest healthcare spending increase since the 1960's. Barack Obama wanted to end the War in Iraq but began conflicts in numerous other countries. He also has continued a policy of spying on American citizens. Neither had a record that is worthy of defending, which is why our election cycles of late have focused on negative campaigning against the opposing candidates.
It has always struck me as strange that people who proclaim the love of Christ would follow it up with bombing runs against foreigners and campaigns to make everyone righteous via government fiat. In my mind, Jesus would prefer people to follow him willingly. So it makes as little sense for the religious right to force people to live a certain way as it makes for progressives to force people to live a certain way.*
The other thing about the GOP attempting to have a large social agenda is that it grows the size of government. If you try to make abortion illegal, every time someone would try to have one there would be a circus of bureaucracy trying to implement it. Was she raped? Fill out this form and take a test. Oh, she wasn't raped? You're under arrest and we're going to trial. Every step in the process amounts to more paperwork and more tax dollars being spent than are already in Planned Parenthood's coffers.
If the religious right wants to make an impact in people's lives, they should lead by example. Preach smaller government while practicing private charity. Change people's lives through individual action, not threat of punishment. As the saying goes, you can catch more flies with honey than with governor (*or vinegar, even). We need to show that greater individual liberty is the way to bring about more positive changes in American lives.
Many of the religious right like to say that this country was founded on Christian morals. I used to count myself among the group that believed that. But Christian morals no more belong to America than to England. One of the founding principles of this country is, however, freedom of religion. It is beneficial to society for people to live a moralistic life. But the highest moral we, as a country of dozens if not hundreds of religions, can live by is respecting everyone's God-given rights to life, liberty, and property.
This same idea goes for our country abroad. Do we really think we are going to convert Muslims to democracy or even Christianity by bombing them, their parents, their children, their cousins at a wedding? Our mission abroad, if anything, should be to protect only those American interests that are directly in danger. And long, drawn-out wars do nothing to protect American interests; in fact, they make us more vulnerable over the long term by spreading our forces thin. The United States are supposed to be the greatest military might in the world, but we sure don't act like it when we can't even "win" a war after ten years.
Where does this entire post take us then? Only by pushing for candidates who truly believe in small government will we be able to roll back the government interventions into everyone's lives and start to make differences in individual lives. We cannot succumb to desires to control or manipulate the lives of others, for that is neither what Christ taught nor is it the foundation of this great nation.
Before you move on from the 2012 presidential election and go the next three and a half to four years largely ignoring politics, let me leave you with two quotes:
"Conquest is not in our principles. It is inconsistent with our government."Christians and small government conservatives have a decision to make moving forward. They can continue policies that limit the freedom of others, or they can practice what they preach. I choose the latter.
- Thomas Jefferson
"Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master."
- George Washington
*updated on 11/12/12.