Sunday, October 24, 2010

R.I.P. Daniel Heller

It appears that Phoenix Libertarian Examiner Dan Heller, or at least the Heller who was an intelligent commentator and a joy to read, died recently of circle-jerk related injuries.

The strongest evidence to date: an article entitled "Don’t be a jerk: Vote Libertarian or Don’t Vote at All"

I'll let it speak for itself first:
If you vote for increased taxes (or for the existence of taxes at all), you’re voting for strong, scary-looking men with badges and guns (who take their jobs way too seriously) to collect private property—through violent means—from your neighbor. That’s not cool, even if it’s for a “good cause” (i.e.; for whatever righteous redistributionist cause—probably involving children— you support).

If you vote to ban or prohibit a substance you don’t like (such as tobacco or alcohol or any other narcotic), you’re supporting the use of violence against other people because you think you know what’s best for them. Come on. Don’t be an jerk. Don’t use or endorse the use of violence because you think you know what’s best for other people. Instead, if you’re going to take a risk by voting, without being a jerk, vote with the Golden Rule in mind—vote unto others as you would have them vote unto you.

Would you walk to your next door neighbor’s house, point a gun at him and demand that he gives you some money because you don’t like his “immoral” habits, like smoking? Would you point a gun at your neighbor and demand that he pays you money so you can give it to some homeless children you think deserve it more than he does? Would you say, “Pay up, buddy! I need to buy your health insurance and create a retirement savings account for you. Do it now, or I pull the trigger!”

More than likely, no, you wouldn’t, because that’s sociopathic behavior. But why vote like a sociopath then? There’s no reason to. Just stay home. Open a bottle of wine. Relax.

Taxation is or sometimes can be similar to a shakedown. And a sink is or sometimes can be similar to a toilet. Nevertheless, if you really cannot tell the difference you are not welcome in most homes, including mine. And similarly the popularity of Heller's viewpoint--none of the ideas are new, and they were indeed quite old by the time I believed them as an 18-year-old punk--among the soi-disant "hard core" of the Libertarian Party explains why libertarians are in general unwelcome. It isn't quite shitting in the sink, but the sort of false moral clarity that has one telling people not to vote their conscience, and condemning all candidates and by extension the people who vote for them as engaging in sociopathic behavior is rude and antisocial--if not a signal of some kind of sociopathy!

Rather than tackle this ab initio I turn to one of the best respected libertarian philosophers of our time, Loren Lomasky, best known as the author of Persons, Rights, and the Moral Community. In "Libertarianism as if (the other 99% of) people mattered", an essay appearing in Social Philosophy and Policy 15 (e-mail me if you cannot find a copy--an essay containing the phrase "Libertarians ought not be required by their principles to lead geyserless lives" is almost certain to be fun):
If I have adopted the cooperationist rather than the rejectionist attitude toward the society in which I live, then I am thereby committed to acknowledging that although my fellow citizens' views concerning the ethics of taxation are, as I see it, mistaken, the perspective from which they adopt those views is not so unreasonable or so uncivil as to disqualify them from moral respect. ... It is, therefore, not only misleading but also an exercise in borderline incivility to equate taxation with theft, for if it is taken in its straightforward sense, that pronouncement denies the legitimacy of the social order and announces that I regard myself as authorized unilaterally to override its dictates as I would the depredations of the thief. It says to my neighbors that I regard them as, if not themselves thieves, then confederates or willing accomplices in thievery.

One is left to wonder why Heller neither drops out of society nor engages in war on his neighbors and colleagues. Moreover the equation of taxation with theft is a circular argument and a patently obvious one at that.

This isn't to say that there is no ethical component to voting. One is probably compelled by common decency to vote out of office recidivist violators of guaranteed liberties, such as Joe Arpaio, and we shun from polite company at least outright Sheriff Joe supporters. It is likewise for global warming denialists--all other things being equal, candidates who support policies that prevent us from fouling our shared nest receive the vote of moral people, and those who deliberately or negligently spread falsehoods--especially scientists who make silly arguments for ideological reasons--to enhance the short-term profits of the Koch brothers or merely because they think they are spiting Al Gore are shunned. "Not our kind, dear." It isn't war, but we don't simultaneously accuse people of being thieves and sociopaths or in league with thieves and sociopaths yet treat them as friends or welcome neighbors.

What makes this all the more amusing is the total falsehood of Heller's newfound moral clarity. Every serious libertarian thinker recognized far more subtlety to these questions--to choose two "accessible" examples, Friedman and Hayek both supported guaranteed minimum incomes for very solidly classical-liberal reasons. If it wasn't done before, Nozick in Anarchy, State, and Utopia made the equation of liberty with a lack of coercion intellectually off-limits: the arguments against it substitute for true rebuttal a merely more strident repetition of the old Spooner/Rand/Rothbard position.

By now I'm boring my readers. Let me just finish up by saying that to date I have been able to find force (Oh no, force!!!!!!) in the positions held by every "libertarian" who like Heller categorically condemns force and condemns all who do not vote as he would like for being supporters of force. So yes, your moral clarity is fake. And yours too. And, when I'm guilty of it, mine.

For reasons I might get to, at least a few third-party candidates receive my personal endorsement this season, at the very least: Libertarians Joe Cobb and Thane Eichenauer, independent Ted Downing, and, with reservations, Libertarians Nick Coons and Steve Stoltz. Rick Fowlkes would get my endorsement, too, but he's not on the ballot. And for now the link to Heller will remain. His back-catalog--before what must have been a blow to the head (perhaps from a Rothbard book?) had him repeating 1970s cliches in his columns and, we see, unable to distinguish the sink and the toilet--is interesting and his recent output cannot detract from it. Moreover we can expect false moral clarity to be a mere phase he's going through. It happens to most self-identifying "libertarians" and the more intelligent ones get over it eventually.

No comments: