Thursday, December 19, 2013

Quick and dirty thoughts on slut shaming and libertarianism.

Here's the latest appeal to libertarians to oppose slut shaming, which claims that because libertarians are generally on board with something like the non-aggression principle (NAP, in liber-talk), they ought to oppose slut shaming because it is aggressive in nature. Here's the thing about aggression - it's not one thing. There's a difference between aggressive language, which, unprovoked, might make you a jerk, and the type of aggression that we believe legitimizes preventative, coercive action.

Some libertarians worry that if we identify too many things as aggression/coercion, we create justifications for all sorts of state action. On the other end of the spectrum, there's the trap of believing that everything that's bad or harmful is coercion of the sort that libertarians are concerned by, and take a stand against all aggression. Instead, let's distinguish types of aggression from one another. A presumption against all aggression seems smart, but a blanket condemnation of aggression in all its forms takes many avenues for social change (criticism, argument) off the table for libertarians. 

Look. I'm on board with changing the culture we have around sex. Even if it weren't responsible for rape victims choosing more abuse over facing the shame this culture encourages, the norms we've built around sex and love lead to preventable unhappiness. That's bad.

I also believe that a culture of tolerance is important for a sustainably free world - FEE's work on character is compelling for this reason. But that's true or not is an empirical question - it could be that a free society has lots of room for even costly judgement. That's why it isn't necessarily libertarian (or not) to oppose slut shaming, even if we ought to. Not everything that's bad for human dignity and flourishing is un-libertarian. 

There's a lot of common ground in the reasons that many of us would like to end racism, sexism, slut shaming, etc. and the reasons we support libertarianism. But if we try to explain both for everyone through a single political philosophy, we're going to have a hard time. 

There is much more to the world than libertarianism. And thank goodness. We're richer for it. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Why do women hate freedom? They don't.

I've been turning over the latest controversial article from Thoughts on Liberty, trying to figure out what bothers me about it.

The essay is rooted in truth. As a few people have pointed out (or, sigh, demonstrated) being told that we're over-sensitive or biologically predisposed to oppose liberty is something that really happens to women exploring and advocating the ideas of liberty. If you don't think that has an effect on the margins then I really don't know what to say. Being flippant or dismissive of anyone's concerns is not a recipe for bringing them into the discussion.

But something about the essay is off.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A question for libertarians opposing same-sex marriage

Many libertarians are supportive extending marriage rights to same-sex couples, but not all of us are. Some libertarians see the legalization of same-sex marriage as detrimental to the quest for liberty because extending the institution of state marriage to more couples enfranchises them, making them less likely to oppose state intervention in marriage and to see the state as an opponent.

The libertarian position is almost universally that marriage is not the business of the state. It is the business of couples, their families, and, where applicable, their churches - but not of the government. If the state gets involved at all it should be through providing marriage contract enforcement.

But the world isn't binary - there are many different positions that can be taken by the state in marriage - some are better and some are worst. Anyone who expects government to abide by the rule of law ought to see same-sex marriage as an improvement, even though it does not represent the best possible outcome.

I had the privilege of discussing this with Jeffrey Tucker this summer and he raised an interesting question - if the problem with same-sex marriage is that it enfranchises more people and gives them a vested interest in the state, what makes it different than, say, legalizing (and taxing) drugs? Ending the war on drugs would certainly make a lot of people less likely to oppose the state.

Ending the war on drugs would let innocent people out of cages. It would reduce infringements on privacy and property by the government. It would drastically curb violence and crime. And it would, very likely, stabilize the government in a more restrained role. This could make progression towards the elimination and/or drastic reduction of the state more difficult. If the government taxes drugs (which it almost certainly will as they become legal) then it is unlikely that it will ever stop. We can expect rent-seeking and other outcomes of government involvement. Should the alternative, in the interest of achieving a stateless or minarchist world, be to carry on the war on drugs to keep skepticism toward and opposition to the state high? I consulted a friend who opposes same-sex marriage and he conceded that it might be the case.

Libertarians are justifiably skeptical of claims that anyone ought to give up their well-being, money, labour, or liberty for the "good of society." How can opposition to same-sex marriage or (in the more extreme case) to ending the drug war - that is, requiring that some continue to suffer so that all can be better off in the long run - be substantively different than the many demands and legal obligations that people put on one another through the state?  What makes libertarians better judges of who ought to suffer for the greater good than the state?

Opposing equal treatment under the law treats people as means, not as ends. Refusing to allow suffering might not be the fastest way to a libertarian society, but it ought to be the position of any individual-centric ideology.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

An individualist case for considering privilege

Julie Borowski has jumped into the fray with her post "The Problem with "Check your Privilege,"" that seems representative of how many libertarians think of the phrase - not as a plea for humility but as a tool "used to stop meaningful discussion and silence the alleged privileged person." The result is they've dismissed privilege as a legitimate concern. Perhaps "check your privilege" has been misused too often to save it - that's a conversation we can have - but she overstates the libertarian problem with privilege generally. From the post:
"The worst part about the concept of privilege is that it creates preconceived judgments about strangers. You cannot know someone’s full story by simply looking at their physical characteristics. As a woman, it would be presumptuous to conclude that a straight white male acquaintance has it easier than me, or is inherently privileged. Perhaps I should check my prejudice and acknowledge that I do not have enough personal information about this individual to make that claim. Perhaps he grew up poor? He has a learning disability? He is physically unattractive? He is battling a life threatening disease?

We probably all know the old phrase about what happens when you assume, and what it makes out of you and me."
Ms. Borowski approaches this with the best intentions, but she gets the nuances of privilege wrong when she opposes its use in our conversations about government and society. The context-specific nature of privilege is important to remember. In fact she talks about it here:
"A woman in the United States has likely never experienced discrimination like a woman in Saudi Arabia. An American woman may find cat-calling on the street to be sexist, but a Saudi woman cannot legally drive a car or leave her house without a male guardian." 
but falls short of grasping the implications when she continues:
"The concept of privilege is Eurocentric and becomes inconsistent when applied to different locations."
There are degrees of disadvantage. People who have experienced the worst forms of discrimination are not the only ones subject to it. This is the same trap that those who use "Check your privilege" to shut down a conversation fall into. There are situations in which being a white male puts one at a disadvantage, and refusing to discuss them because generally being a white male is "thoroughly good" [nsfw] requires ignoring the importance of context and consequently a poor understanding of privilege. And ignoring all privilege because others ignore some privilege doesn't help anyone.

In The Facts of the Social Sciences, Hayek`s observations offer insight into how limited experiences will tend to contribute to the knowledge problem of privilege:
"We thus always supplement what we actually see of another person's action by projecting into that person a system of classification of objects which we know, not from observing other people, but because it is in terms of these classes that we think ourselves. If, for example, we watch a person cross a square full of traffic, dodging some cars and pausing to let others pass, we know (or we believe we know) much more than we actually perceive with our eyes. This would be equally true if we saw a man behave in a physical environment quite unlike anything we have ever seen before. If I see for the first time a big boulder or an avalanche coming down the side of a mountain toward a man and see him run for his life, I know the meaning of his action because I know what I would or might have done in similar circumstances."
(p. 63-64 Individualism and Economic Order.)
Failure to recognize privilege may be rooted in a natural but mistaken assumption that our experiences are generalizable given the facts we're presented. After all, it's how we understand the world. Properly understood, privilege does not treat us as members of a group with pre-defined strengths and weaknesses. Acknowledging privilege is fundamentally respectful of individuals. To overlook the possibility of privilege is to overlook the possibility that we don't fully understand others' experiences. The knowledge problem we face in the economy is insurmountable and acknowledging that should help to keep us humble, but when the range of experiences we aren't party to is taken into account it becomes simply staggering. Borowski gets that!
We can and should show empathy for others, while understanding that we do not truly know what other people go through on a daily basis. I do not know what it is like to live as a gay man or a black woman. But here’s the thing: I will never know what it is like to be another individual. Period. No one on the face of the earth has lived a life identical to mine... It’s important to take into consideration that your background differs from others, but keep an open mind and recognize that communication is a two way street. And remember to always keep your prejudice in check.
If you lack experience in discrimination but make strong statements about how and if it's a problem, odds are you'll reveal that you face an "experience gap" in your understanding. This doesn't make you racist, sexist, or anything-else-ist, but it's going to be obvious to those with intimate knowledge of the problem that you don't really understand it, and it's going to be harder to take your input seriously, to assume goodwill, and to keep a level head - in other words, to have a productive conversation.

None of this implies that someone without first-hand experience can't make valuable contributions. It implies only that in the absence of experience the conversation ought to be approached with, as Borowski suggests, curiosity and an open mind. And, to get Smithy, there's an important role for impartial spectators. Experiences are often emotional, and this type of input can help those who carry them to keep a level head.

If Borowski's post is representative of libertarian opposition to privilege then "The Problem with "Check your Privilege"" is a rhetorical one. We need only to remember that our knowledge is incomplete to consider the role of privilege and engage more people in respectful and productive conversations about liberty.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Hayek and privilege.

In response to my last post on the topic, a Facebook friend offered the following;
Following Hayek... I take "privilege" to mean legal discrimination in some form - deliberately advantaging some at the expense of others - and don't think of it in (the normative) terms of "desirable" or "successful" at all. But aside from this, I still have trouble getting what you're saying.

Obviously, we should be wary of arguments for rent-seeking whatever form they may take. But beyond that, are you saying that we should be sensitive to social differences that may be privileged (in Hayek's sense) by laws that, say, protect or establish private-property rights? If so, what can be done about that? Even laws that follow the Rule of Law will advantage some and disadvantage others - but ideally no one should be able to predict who they might be.
I've been turning this over in my head and think that it deserves a two-part response. So first: he's quite right that Hayek uses a narrow definition of privilege. However, my intention was to include in the broader concept of "privilege" something that is (I've learned) referred to as "silent" privilege, and also Hayekian in nature.

To expand upon what started here as the concept of "privilege as a knowledge problem" here is a rather lengthy excerpt from The Constitution of Liberty:
It may be an exaggeration to assert, as a modern anthropologist has done, that "it is not man who controls culture but the other way around"; but it is useful to be reminded by him that "it is only our profound and comprehensive ignorance of the nature of culture that makes it possible for us to believe that we direct and control it." He suggests at least an important corrective to the intellectualist conception. His reminder will help us to achieve a truer image of the incessant interaction between our conscious striving for what our intellect pictures as achievable and the operations of the institutions, traditions, and habits which jointly often produce something very different from what we have aimed at.

There are two important respects in which the conscious knowledge which guides the individual's actions constitutes only part of the conditions which enable him to achieve his ends. There is the fact that man's mind itself is a product of the civilization in which he has grown up and that it is unaware of much of the experience which has shaped it - experience that assists it by being embodied in the habits, conventions, language, and moral beliefs which are part of that makeup. There is the further consideration that the knowledge which any individual mind consciously manipulates is only a small part of the knowledge which at any one time contributes to the success of his action. When we reflect on how much knowledge possessed by other people is an essential condition for the successful pursuit of our individual aims, the magnitude of our ignorance of the circumstances on which the results of our action depend appears simply staggering. Knowledge exists only as the knowledge of individuals. It is not much better than a metaphor to speak of the knowledge of society as a whole. The sum of the knowledge of all the individuals exists nowhere as an integrated whole. The great problem is how we can all profit from this knowledge, which exists only dispersed as the separate, partial, and sometimes conflicting beliefs of all men.

In other words, it is largely because civilization enables us constantly to profit from knowledge which we individually do not possess and because each individual's use of his particular knowledge may serve to assist others unknown to him in achieving their ends that men as members of civilized society can pursue their individual ends so much more successfully than they could alone. We know little of the particular facts to which the whole of social activity continuously adjusts itself in order to provide what we have learned to expect. We know even less of the forces which bring about this adjustment by appropriately co-ordinating individual activity. And our attitude, when we discover how little we know of what makes us co-operate, is, on the whole, one of resentment rather than of wonder or curiosity. Much of our occasional impetuous desire to smash the whole entangling machinery of civilization is due to this inability of man to understand what he is doing.

(End of section 1 of chapter 2.)
The concept of silent privilege is grounded in our inability to understand all of the ways in which the attitudes and norms in our society affect not just concrete outcomes, but how we interpret (and shape) the world.* We can be advantaged in ways beyond those granted to us explicitly by the state, but it's hard to see them unless we experience the uglier consequences of our institutions. We ought to be troubled not only by privilege awarded by the state, but also by that which is unintended and undesigned.

Deliberately granted privilege is low-hanging fruit, but it's not the only way that we hold back one another's potential.  Humility when it comes to understanding how different individuals experience and are impacted by the complex web of institutions we've built (legal and otherwise) is key if we want to avoid overstepping our bounds when creating a society where our sense of justice doesn't stir within us a willingness to allow the state to intervene.

Which brings me to the second part of my response: If this form of privilege might be partly to blame for allowing the expansion of the predatory state, what can we do about it? Designing a solution, after all, is not very Hayekian. More importantly, a wholesale redesign of our interactions with one another is doomed to fail. But that doesn't mean there's nothing we can do.

How the world changes is important. Established morals and norms evolve slowly in a process we can't understand or predict the outcomes of by competing with new ideas. Contradictory as it seems, pushing for the changes we believe to be beneficial is part of that unplanned evolution.

The most important thing we can do to achieve a freer world is to build institutions grounded in civil society rather than the government and let them out-compete antisocial and cynical planned government "solutions." Maybe those of us who believe this is important have pushed too far where we've suggested silent privilege might have implications for libertarianism. But that doesn't mean it's not important for liberty.

We don't have to wait for someone to start building this, we just have to start living it. "Checking our privileges" is another way of saying "Remembering that our knowledge is incomplete." We can do it, and if we do it's a step in the right direction.

*I wonder: How much is the anger felt by so many libertarians when it's suggested they consider their privilege part of our natural tendency to push back against that lack of understanding that Hayek references?

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Privilege, tolerance and a free society

If you spend all your time trying to reform the state, what will you have built to replace it with when it collapses?
Isaac Morehouse posted this on his Facebook wall this morning, which on my newsfeed put it in middle of various reactions to a recent article about privilege as a knowledge problem. The article suggests that because our experiences are limited - like our knowledge - we should be aware that they may leave us prone to lack empathy and understanding for people in circumstances different than our own.

This got me thinking.

Privilege, in this sense, is not a synonym for "desirable" or "successful," but acknowledges that in a given societal context, some people are more likely to succeed. Privilege emerges in a given society in the same way that certain companies become dominant in the market given a certain set of rules. No one ought to feel guilt because they occupy a position of privilege any more than they ought to feel guilt about being lucky or wealthy, so long as they have not rigged the game - something accomplished most easily through force.

Privilege is not only context-specific but also pervasive. Consider the following:
A prison in which all of the cell doors are locked, but the outside doors are open. It is normally staffed and filled with normal inmates.
Without warning, the outside doors lock and the cell doors open.*

Chaos and violence won't necessarily ensue but things are definitely going to change. Power relationships and perceived freedom will shift with the reversal of privilege and transform the range of possible actions for any given person. It's likely to affect a lot of things in a lot of little ways and to make everyone aware of (dis)advantages they'd never consciously acknowledged. Most importantly, it's going to change who makes the rules and how those rules are made.

Power relationships and social stigmas are ripe for exploitation by the coercive machinery of the state. When they're ignored we miss opportunities to call out vested interests seeking to entrench their advantages and opportunities to protect the most vulnerable from coercion. When privilege skews the results enough, or runs unchecked/unacknowledged, it creates an excuse for the state to intervene and entrench power relationships in an attempt to correct them.

I went to bed thinking about this last night and woke up to find that two people had posted an article on "White Liberal Dude Privilege Syndrome" with two wildly different reactions - one thought it was a cool example of introspective thinking, while the other thought it was so pathetic it was representative of why the Left can't be taken seriously. Articles like this act as a litmus test of our ability to separate positive claims about power relationships from normative claims about what they imply - something we must learn to do if we want to engage in meaningful discussion about how many oppressive regulations become so widely acceptable.

As individuals, libertarians who practice the inward-looking exercise of acknowledging privilege ought only to concern themselves with fostering understanding (and through that, respect and tolerance) for individuals' choices given the societal pressures and challenges they face.

But by encouraging a culture that acknowledges privilege, we can promote the same humility that ought to stop us from trying to plan one another's lives in the market in order to help discourage the idea that we can understand our social environment well enough to successfully manipulate it. In doing so, we take one more tool away from planners and lay an important part of the foundation for a tolerant and free society. We build something more lasting than any state.

[*The prison scenario is at least a play on Sarah Skwire's example of "a businessman walking through a bad neighbourhood alone at night" reversing privilege, and possibly wholly her idea. Either way, I think it's neat.]

Friday, July 12, 2013

David Suzuki: A privileged head in the sand.

David Suzuki's latest (and maybe most pig-headed) claim: Canada is "full," and to continue allowing more people in is "crazy."

A quick look at population densities around the world shows that they go as high as 20,000 people per square kilometer, with an average world population density of 53 people per square kilometer. Canada is the 228th densest country on the list with a population density of four people per square kilometer. That's a funny definition of "full."

Suzuki's concerns about eliminating usable space and using up arable land for housing, which would render us dependent on trade with the world are a combination of problems we shouldn't spend our time worrying about and perceived problems based on outdated assumptions about how we use land and on the assumption that how we use land will never change. Even though it already has.

We are doing the things that we do in far less space than we used to do them. The globalised food supply and modern farming techniques mean we use less land to grow more food (our problems with sourcing, trading and distributing it freely notwithstanding), and we could fit the population of the whole world in Texas with density levels that have been achieved in Manhattan. The developed world's forest cover is increasing, not decreasing, which is why forests are making a comeback.

It's been obvious for a long time that Suzuki lacks not only imagination and faith in human ingenuity, but the willingness to acknowledge what we've already achieved. These concerns aren't new, and we're already addressing them with technology and trade.

But important as tree cover and wetlands and food are, more important - and what makes Suzuki's comments inexcusable - is the human misery that would be caused by the developed world declaring itself full and self-sufficient and closing its borders. More children would be born doomed to go blind without access to nutritious food, or to a life of oppression because they are (for instance) a woman born in the wrong place, or to a life of poverty and the terrible uncertainty that comes with it because there are no opportunities to interact with and move about the world. There would be no hope of escape. No hope of a life like the one Suzuki lives.

That's the main problem with what Suzuki said. It's factually wrong, certainly, but more importantly it ignores problems he's only able to ignore because of the successes the system he purports to hate have granted him. He should be ashamed for closing his eyes, plugging his ears, stomping his feet and insisting that we block those opportunities for others.

Adapted from and inspired by Facebook comments here

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Rejoice, thy soul is free.

This excellent, moving post from A Veil and a Dark Place on what freedom means to Muslim women who come to America reminds me of one of my favourite parts of Uncle Tom's Cabin. The similarity of the cognisance of our most basic freedoms by freed slaves more than two hundred years ago and freed women today is unsettling to me, beautiful as both may be.
  It was a superb day. The blue waves of Lake Erie danced, rippling and sparkling, in the sun-light. A fresh breeze blew from the shore, and the lordly boat ploughed her way right gallantly onward.
  O, what an untold world there is in one human heart! Who thought, as George walked calmly up and down the deck of the steamer, with his shy companion at his side, of all that was burning in his bosom? The mighty good that seemed approaching seemed too good, too fair, even to be a reality; and he felt a jealous dread, every moment of the day, that something would rise to snatch it from him.
  But the boat swept on. Hours fleeted, and, at last, clear and full rose the blessed English shores; shores charmed by a mighty spell,—with one touch to dissolve every incantation of slavery, no matter in what language pronounced, or by what national power confirmed.
  George and his wife stood arm in arm, as the boat neared the small town of Amherstberg, in Canada. His breath grew thick and short; a mist gathered before his eyes; he silently pressed the little hand that lay trembling on his arm. The bell rang; the boat stopped. Scarcely seeing what he did, he looked out his baggage, and gathered his little party. The little company were landed on the shore. They stood still till the boat had cleared; and then, with tears and embracings, the husband and wife, with their wondering child in their arms, knelt down and lifted up their hearts to God!
'Twas something like the burst from death to life;
From the grave's cerements to the robes of heaven;
From sin's dominion, and from passion's strife,
To the pure freedom of a soul forgiven;
Where all the bonds of death and hell are riven,
And mortal puts on immortality,
When Mercy's hand hath turned the golden key,
And Mercy's voice hath said, Rejoice, thy soul is free ."
  The little party were soon guided, by Mrs. Smyth, to the hospitable abode of a good missionary, whom Christian charity has placed here as a shepherd to the out-cast and wandering, who are constantly finding an asylum on this shore.
  Who can speak the blessedness of that first day of freedom? Is not the sense of liberty a higher and a finer one than any of the five? To move, speak and breathe,—go out and come in unwatched, and free from danger! Who can speak the blessings of that rest which comes down on the free man's pillow, under laws which insure to him the rights that God has given to man? How fair and precious to that mother was that sleeping child's face, endeared by the memory of a thousand dangers! How impossible was it to sleep, in the exuberant possession of such blessedness! And yet, these two had not one acre of ground,—not a roof that they could call their own,—they had spent their all, to the last dollar. They had nothing more than the birds of the air, or the flowers of the field,—yet they could not sleep for joy. "O, ye who take freedom from man, with what words shall ye answer it to God?"
 Harriet Beecher Stowe, from Uncle Tom's Cabin, Chapter 37: Liberty

(Bolded emphasis in the quote is mine.)

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Starlets, mental illness, and autonomy

Cathy Reisenwitz at Sex and the State has a post on the call for a conservatorship for Amanda Bynes (who appears to be the latest controversial starlet). Conservatorship is normally used to take control from patients suffering from severe dementia or Alzheimer's, but is better known for giving control of Britney Spears' money and life to her father.

I'm not sure this special treatment is being suggested for Bynes because she is a woman acting without propriety as Reisenwitz suggests, but if that's why it's being suggested, it's been made possible by growing acceptance of the ideas that people who act differently should be explained through diagnosis of mental illness, and that anyone who is mentally ill is unfit to make their own decisions.

Thomas Szasz was a controversial figure because of his belief that all mental illness is manufactured. That's too strong an assertion,* but cases like Bynes' make it more understandable. This young woman may benefit from counseling if she's serious about changing her life. She may find that she prefers to be on some sort of medication. But these are choices she should make - there is no evidence that she needs to have her decision-making ability taken away on what may become a long-term basis. If she's breaking the law then punish her, but it should end there. It's unfortunate that Szasz pushed his assertions about mental illness as far as he did, because his arguments for patient autonomy should be taken very seriously.

Those concerned with individual liberty in particular would do well to call forward Szasz's main concern - that unusual or inconvenient behaviour diagnosed as mental illness (justly or not) is used to strip people of autonomy, dignity, and responsibility. It's a mistake to treat someone acting irresponsibly as an invalid - a mistake rooted in unwillingness to accept decisions that we don't agree with.

This is dangerous to autonomy. It trivializes the plight of those who are truly debilitated by mental illness. It may be becoming dangerous to women's rights. It deserves our attention and discussion.

*Before this devolves into a fight about me denying the existence of mental illness, I want to make it clear that I do believe that mental illness exists, but that we would do better starting with the assumption that patients can help themselves with assistance through highly personalized treatment than we do with the blanket assumption attached to many diagnoses of an inability to improve or manage one's life at all or without mandatory prescription of (often debilitating) medication as first-round, permanent treatment.

These are assertions I make based on close personal relationships with people struggling through the mental health system and not as a trained psychological or psychiatric professional. 

Friday, May 03, 2013

The unknowable future and Girls

Like the author of One Good Thing, whose blog post inspired this one, I like Girls. For those not familiar with the show, it is:
created, written, and directed by New Yorks’s current wunderkind, Lena Dunham [...] Touted on release as the new Sex and the City, Girls observes the lives of four tightly-involved 20-something-year-old women carving out their existences post-college in Brooklyn, New York. I should point out that any similarities drawn between SATC and Girls were obviously made by reviewers who had either not seen the former or the latter show, because they are nothing alike whatsoever. Both shows include four female friends in New York City. Same same different. The end.
One of the most interesting things about Girls is that it demonstrates the polarizing nature of the shift into the world the show's characters are fumbling through, learning to live in. When I say that I love Girls I've received exasperated looks accompanied by demands for an explanation of my tastes and I've received expressions of affinity so enthusiastic they seem cathartic.

A lot of the show's appeal lies in the viewer's ability to relate viscerally to its characters, but the concerns it raises are more broadly based. It's aimed at a generation for whom the world has changed so dramatically that we can't look to our parents to see what to do next. This has made our parents (and a lot of us) apprehensive about the future: 
As Dunham explains in Yen magazine (Issue 61): ‘We are the first generation that has been totally raised on the internet and social media, IM-ing and Twitter and communication like that — trying to learn email manners, that kind of communication, plus the torture of waiting for a text message, and I think that also my generation all graduated from college — or not — during a recession, so, as my dad once said, which made me sad but felt true, “This is the first time in America that you can see that my kids are not going to do as well as I did.”‘
Unlike Dunham, I don't think we're going to be worse off than our parents, but we will have to build and discover a future that we don't totally understand yet. It's new and it's different and it's scary to people who grew up believing (and raising us to believe) that you go to school, you graduate from university, you get a job (with a pension!) and then you're basically set. Many of us are so nostalgic for the knowable past that we ignore its flaws, hoping for a future we feel we can foresee. And it's no wonder when we're so often told that the absence of the opportunities of the past is the same as the absence of opportunity.

There are plenty of opportunities, but they are new, less planned and many of them are still unknown. To conclude that because our generation faces such a rapidly changing future we will be worse off than our parents requires forgetting to see that the processes and outcomes of human interaction are astonishing. There's destruction of old ways because room is being made for creation. Perhaps this is why second-wave libertarianism is such an overwhelmingly optimistic movement: we haven't forgotten to wonder at the potential of human interaction. In the uncertainty around us we see not danger, but opportunity. In certainty we see stagnation.

We cannot look to previous generations - and especially not to politicians, who are incentivised to enforce the status-quo - to make our futures all they can be. Our changing world is sometimes scary, but it's an amazing, amazing time to be alive. That's worth the rest of it.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

No more second chances in immigration?

Sandra Sanchez has a touching post at Thoughts on Liberty about her parents' immigration from Nicaragua to the United States in 1983; a plea to not let the Boston Marathon bombing turn Americans against immigration because of the terrible acts of two young immigrants. She writes:
My mother and father were newly married because my father needed to flee Nicaragua. He was a soldier for the Sandinistas. After realizing that the ideals that the Sandinistas were preaching did not match reality, he wanted out. Fearing persecution due to his political opposition, he felt there was no way to live but to leave.
They came to the United States and were granted asylum. My parents were immigrants to this country and they’ve been here for 30 years. In those 30 years they moved to the Northern Virginia area, got jobs, ended up having three lovely children, built their own American dream, and never asked for government assistance. This story is not odd or rare, but simply ignored.
The final sentiment (emphasis mine) is beautifully put and more true than it ought to be. People notice the immigrants who reinforce their beliefs, whatever those may be, while immigrants who don't get filed in with "everyone else." A more complete picture of immigration could help Americans to make less emotionally charged decisions about policy.

But there's something more telling in their story: When her father became disillusioned with the Sandinistas, a brutal political movement in Nicaragua, he was able to leave them by coming to the United States to start again, and, as his story shows, he was successful in many ways.

It breaks my heart that I'm almost certain no such second chance exists today for people from the Middle East who have been caught up with Al-Qaeda or similar groups but want to start a new life in the West. Immigration policy is in danger of negative changes as a result of the Boston bombing in part because the idea of immigration as a second chance has been eroded by the American security state. It's not a new phenomena, but it's becoming more pronounced. One way to push back is to make sure that stories like the Sanchez family's are not ignored.

Monday, April 15, 2013


We are not less safe than we were yesterday, but it's been shown, again, that there are thousands and thousands of us ready and willing to help and to care for one another when we're needed.

Remember that and always be grateful for your friends and family and you won't give whoever has terrorized Boston today what they're looking for.

Update: Stories of kindness after the bombing from The Atlantic.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Link grab bag

I'm swamped in paper writing, but here are some things I would blog about at length if I had time, but will not have time to blog about at length until they're not timely. That's a mouthful.

Matt Zwolinski has presented six reasons for libertarians to abandon the absolute application of the Non-Aggression Principle as the single fundamental tenant of libertarianism. My personal favourite is number five: the NAP is parasitic on a theory of property - I just don't think the NAP is capable of standing on its own. Once you accept that, it's time to start wondering what else matters.

The best response I've seen so far is from Isaac Morehouse, though I'm not sure I'm convinced - it merits more thought. Taken from a Facebook comment:
"Another entirely tenable position is that the NAP is a sound and true moral principle, but that determining what counts as a violation of it is, on the moral level, a subjective and nuanced thing, and on the social level - in terms of justice - also difficult to determine. Therefore, the process by which violations are defined, determined, and dealt with must be an open and evolving process (i.e. market-based, common-law, open to competition and evolution, etc.) , even though the belief that a violation is always wrong is maintained. It is always wrong to murder, but we need flexible institutions that help us to discover what is an is not murder in each particular case.

There is no need to abandon the NAP as a sound basic principle, or even as precisely the reason that we need flexible and nuanced institutions. NAP does not, on it's own, lead to black and white all or nothing across the board definitions of what constitutes aggression in every case."
Speaking of Isaac, he's posted an interview with his eight-year old son. Give it a read, it's delightful. 

Andrew Coyne presents a case for a minimum income over a minimum wage that captures most of the problems with legislating wages.

And here is a photo of the bassist and drummer of the Avett Brothers rocking a Bleeding Heart Libertarians guitar strap. And yes, that's what it is.

UPDATE: Gina Luttrell at Libertarian Republic a great blog on defining rape culture as something that shouldn't be scary to libertarians and defending slut walks that I also do not have time to write about. 

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Markets can mean survival.

"Ohai, fellas!" - Elinor
This is Elinor Ostrom. She is my pet gecko, named (in case you don't know) for the first female recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics. She's a delightful and low-maintenance critter.

Elinor is a crested gecko - one of the most widely owned geckos in the world, but thought to be extinct in the wild until they were rediscovered in 1994. Their natural habitat has been reduced and changed by the introduction of a fire ant, and they're less likely to survive in the wild than they once were. But so long as they are legal to own as pets it is unlikely that the crested gecko will be in danger of extinction.

So when I read an article answering the (incredibly important) question, "Can I have a pet fox?" I had to shake my head at lines like these:
"When the internet sees a video of a red panda, the internet wants a red panda. Even though a red panda is endangered and a wild animal.*"
 "Even more insane is that Indiana provides no law preventing you from owning an endangered species."
This is the common attitude towards owning or otherwise commodifying endangered species. China floated the idea years ago of farming tigers for fur, traditional medicine and trophy hunting to move the supply away from isolated wild populations currently subject to poaching. The pushback was predictable and called for more of the same failing policy. More recently, South Africa has talked about legalizing the trade of ivory from white rhinos to try to bring it under control and save the species, again, to the protestations of preservationists.

There is one endangered species - perhaps the most symbolic one - which has successfully been commodified: Giant pandas.

Captive giant pandas do not live natural lives. They're outrageously expensive side-shows at zoos around the world. And everyone who has them (Sigh.) pays an enormous price for the privilege.
"By 1984, however, pandas were no longer given as gifts. Instead, the PRC began to offer pandas to other nations only on 10-year loans, under terms including a fee of up to US$1,000,000 per year and a provision that any cubs born during the loan are the property of the PRC"
Giant pandas are silly creatures that seem to be incapable of replacing themselves in the wild. But due to their role first as diplomatic tools and now as revenue sources (and also because they are fluffy), they are going to be around pretty much forever.

Nothing that looks like this will be allowed to go extinct.
This is based on a simple idea that most people understand when it's applied to policies they're more receptive toward: The best way to control trade in anything is not to ban it, but to bring it into the formal market and, if needed, regulate it. It seems we're too squeamish to do this with endangered species - even though the price they pay for our moral indignation may be extinction.

It's a damn shame.

The slow loris is a threatened species because of deforestation and habitat destruction. Their eyes are also an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine. Unfortunately, wildlife trade is seen as part of the problem rather than part of the solution - and because it's trapped in the black market, that may be true
Tell me you couldn't sell millions of these in the West at almost any price.

*The "wild animal" thing is a separate problem - domestication for pet animals is important, but not an insurmountable challenge.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Principles in a tote bag

"I think breaking from ideology to face reality and make decisions outside of any familiar framework is hugely difficult and risky and admirable."
This quote by my friend Meredith was in response to a question I asked after reading Matt Zwoklinski's post on whether the fact that there are exceptions for the rule "lying is wrong" in the real world could be transferable to to the rule "coercion is wrong": What would the implications be for libertarians?*

It got me thinking.

Breaking away from what seemed to be foregone conclusions of my beliefs is something I've been struggling through/playing with. When I was first considering whether a guaranteed minimum income might be "just," or at least OK, I would sort of punt the issue when it came up, suggesting that we deal first with problems that are obviously harmful and then argue about things that might be OK. But I think that discomfort with dismissing an idea outright is indicative of a certain level of comfort with that idea.

I bring up guaranteed minimum incomes as an example because when it is suggested that they are libertarian-compatible policy I see responses like “The author has forgotten her first principles. A guaranteed minimum income requires coercion!” That's a bit silly. We mustn't forget or discard the tenets of our philosophies to consider different conclusions. Far from it! I think you need to have a great deal of faith in your "first principles" to start testing them in earnest to see where they hold up.

It's not that I want to throw away my beliefs. It's just that I'd rather sling them over my shoulder than clutch them, white-knuckled, close to my heart. Even if it aches a bit sometimes, I want my hands free to play with other ideas. I don't think it would be such a bad thing if more of us gave that a shot.

*For the record, I think the implication is that there might be something other than coercion that we ought to weigh when determining what's OK, but that doesn't automatically lead to any particular conclusion.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Rape, Autonomy, Respect, and Liberty

Sarah Skwire has a great post on rape culture over at Bleeding Heart Libertarians that has triggered the latest round of Internet libertarian backlash against the suggestion that we consider paying particular attention to rape and rape culture in the way that we call attention to things like drone strikes or drug war raids.

Libertarianism deals strictly with the role of government and does not prescribe which moral stands we ought to take individually.

In spite of this I'll join Sarah and argue that rape culture, though there is not a libertarian position, is an issue that ought to become a more common concern for libertarians (and anarchists, objectivists, classical liberals, etc.).

There is a reason that Adam Smith devoted a book to morality, and that Larry Reed speaks about the importance of character. Respect for one another's autonomy and dignity is crucial to the flourishing of a free society. Taken to the extreme, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary."

We can't be angels. That doesn't mean we shouldn't push for a freer society, but the further we drift from ideals like respect for one another the more government becomes not just necessary, but expansive. We make possible laws like those that allow people who "know better" to lock us in a cage for choosing to put a substance they disagree with into our body. If we want smaller government, we need to push for values like respect. We ought to strive for the good.

Rape culture gets called "anti-woman." The use of the term leads to accusations of being "anti-man." Rape culture, though, is neither. It is anti-victim. It is anti-autonomy. It is anti-dignity. It is a dark, ugly pattern. It is the recurrence of a failure to show mutual respect. That it is not only perpetuated by government does not mean libertarians shouldn't see that there's work to do building the respect for autonomy generally that's needed to maintain a free enough society to allow for autonomy in other ways we believe are important. 

"Rape culture" is, some have argued, too loaded a term - a claim also made about "feminism." (I'll suggest making a distinction: these words have been abused, but are not (yet) loaded.) But the labels are beside the point - libertarians cling to loaded words like "capitalism" and "selfishness" and tolerate abused words like "liberal," "discrimination," and "rights" all the time. We have the capacity to determine when they are misused. Tossing an idea because of its label is a mistake.

There are horrifying examples of  government and government funded institutions that protect rapists and cause more rape. These abuses of government power ought to be a concern for libertarians, who care about the consequences of broken, incompetent, and abusive government, as well as for anyone who cares about civil liberties and human dignity. This is an issue on which libertarians were not first movers and don't stand alone. That doesn't mean it's not important - it may even mean it's more important.

The issue of rape culture goes beyond the scope of government and as such it is not, strictly speaking, a libertarian issue. But libertarians sure ought to care about its causes. Rape culture doesn't have to replace our other issues, it's just a new one. To echo Sarah, each libertarian need not make this their issue, but it's time to accept it as a valid concern for libertarians. Why has the response seemed so much like reflexive pushback against something that's grounded in respect for the autonomy and dignity of the individual?

Sarah's asked it before. I'll ask now: Why aren't we angrier?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Politics and Civility

Further to my earlier post, as Leonard Read wrote in his beautiful book, Anything That's Peaceful (pages 69-70):
... observe two persons, with somewhat
different views, rationally discussing some subject of common
interest. Each offers the other his most intelligent
ideas, thus encouraging friendship and mutual confidence.
This setting, plus the privacy of the occasion, combine to
elicit from each the best that he has to offer. The exchange
of intellectual energies is mutually beneficial, and the
awareness of this fact encourages thinking and understanding.

Now, place these same two individuals on a stage before
a multitude, or place a microphone between them and announce
that 50 million people are listening in. Instantly,
their mental processes will change. Thoughtfulness and the
desire to understand each other will all but cease. No
longer will they function as receiving sets, drawing on the
expansible capacities of their own and each other's intellects.
They will become only sending stations; outgoing will
take the place of intaking. And what they say will be influenced
by how they think they sound to their audience
and by their competition for applause. In short, they will
become different persons because their psychological directives
have changed. Those who forego self-improvement
for the sake of directing the lives of others experience
changes in their drives no less profound than the above illustration.
The authoritarian act is always directed outward
at other persons.

This is what politics does to people.

This past weekend I attended the Manning Networking Conference in Ottawa. It is a meeting of conservatives, not libertarians, but Institute for Liberal Studies executive director (disclosure: the boyfriend) Matt Bufton was invited to debate whether the government ought to get involved in "supporting the family," the ILS held three ideas-based talks, and I share Alexander McCobin's optimism that libertarians can work alongside the conservative movement on many issues (and social democrats/progressives on many others). So there we were, with bells on.

On Sunday morning after the conference had wrapped up, I noticed I'd been tagged in the following tweet:

How was Dr Rape Ron Paul? Great conservative gun toting crazy values
Note: Perhaps because it was early on the first day of daylight savings time but I did NOT see the use of "Rape" in the initial tweet or I would not have responded at all. 

After a weekend of outreach to people I typically find myself disagreeing with (and having missed the "rape" comment), I tried extending an olive branch by offering that while Ron Paul's speech was fairly standard, I had been happy to see an anti-war message presented at all at a conservative conference.

Obviously I hadn't read anything else by him - this guy is obviously just trying to troll conservatives, as evidenced herehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here so maybe I shouldn't have responded to him at all, but I did a few times (you can see my responses in the conversations). I purposely did not look at the replies after I stopped responding.

That is, until today. When someone else tagged me I accidentally saw his last tweet. It was:

← Gun Supporting Crazy Conservaitive who does not mind getting raped By Ron Paul

Clicking on the image will take you to a link to the conversation.

This time I did not miss the much more direct rape reference. As many readers of this blog know, I have very strong feelings about contribution to rape culture. Rape is not a joke. I don't care that he doesn't like Ron Paul. I don't like Ron Paul. I don't care that he said this to me. But I do care that he think it's OK to have said something like this at all.

And I care that politics drives people to this point.

I don't know anything about "TheRealDamany," but I assume that in real life he's more or less a well-meaning guy. He seems to care about important issues that need caring about. He shares my displeasure with the Harper government. Glenn Greenwald as a mutual follow suggests we are both worried about issues like the drug war, torture, and the war on terror's effects on civil liberties. We're both concerned about institutionalized discrimination and poverty. I'll even bet in spite of it all we're both anti-war.

Sure, we disagree on some things, too, but I'd be willing to bet we agree on almost all the ends we're after. We only differ on the means.

But the tribal nature of politics makes us forget what's important. Politics allows and encourages us to dehumanize our opponents, or find other ways to excuse treating them as less than ourselves. Politics leads someone who claims to (and probably does) care about womens' rights to toss around the word "rape" and suggest his (female) opponents are asking for it.

Politics makes everything worse.

PS - Follow me on twitter! I'm unreasonably civil. ;)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Three Democratic myths used to demean the Paul filibuster

You may not know this, but I am merely weeks from completing the coursework for an MA, and as such I am drowning in work and have little time to write.

Have no fear, though, because Glenn Greenwald has written an excellent piece for you to read on the backlash by progressives and Democrats against Rand Paul's nearly thirteen hour long filibuster last week. He claims there are three main reasons progressives are failing to hold Obama to account for the massive expansion of executive power at the cost of American civil liberties and the lives of thousands of people abroad:
  1. An "empathy gap" by largely white, middle-class American voters for those who are least likely to be impacted by these policies at this time,
  2. A focus on the nonexistent claim that the reason to be worried is that an attack is imminent, and
  3. A false belief that the letter from Attorney General Eric Holder has put to bed the notion that assassination orders could be used on American citizens in a troubling way.
Read the whole thing here

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

I, Coke

Everyone ought to be familiar with Leonard Read's I, Pencil, the story of the incredibly complex web of human interaction and knowledge that goes into something as mundane as an ordinary #2 pencil.

I say everybody ought to read it because the world is more beautiful and people are more awe-inspiring when we recognize the everyday objects and occurrences that are, frankly, miracles (or as Steve Horwitz would put it, "marvels") given how many ideas and goals of people all over the world have gone into them. has published a similar story for a can of Coca-Cola that beautifully captures once again the global interconnectedness that we experience every day through the use and consumption of everyday objects. From the piece:
The number of individuals who know how to make a can of Coke is zero. The number of individual nations that could produce a can of Coke is zero. This famously American product is not American at all. Invention and creation is something we are all in together. Modern tool chains are so long and complex that they bind us into one people and one planet. They are not only chains of tools, they are also chains of minds: local and foreign, ancient and modern, living and dead — the result of disparate invention and intelligence distributed over time and space. Coca-Cola did not teach the world to sing, no matter what its commercials suggest, yet every can of Coke contains humanity’s choir.
Even if you choose to shut your eyes and see nothing of the magic of market coordination in it, the story of how a can of Coke gets to a grocery store is pretty cool. (Though in Canada we don't suffer from protectionism in our sugar industry and our pop would not generally contain high-fructose corn syrup.)

Thursday, February 28, 2013

I was part of the problem: Why I am a proud and passionate bleeding heart libertarian and libertarian feminist

I think we all go through stages of political identity, and that our friends and experiences make all the difference in how we see the world.

I started out political and conservative. I was what I now recognize to be a pretty standard partisan. And I was angry. When you are a political person, the world is zero-sum. For you to win someone must lose. If you are heavily involved enough the adversarial nature of politics can pervade everything in your life – down to your dearest friendships. I remember lashing out at my best friend because she wouldn’t help me on a campaign. My brain just couldn’t square the circle of her being someone I like and respect and also being someone with whom I disagreed. She wasn’t against me, but she wasn’t with me. In my black and white world, it didn’t compute. I should never have lashed out at her for something so trivial. We were - and are - so close.  But it wasn't enough to protect her from partisanship.

The one good thing about politics is that it is where I met the love of my life. We both had this crazy preoccupation with policy, and he was something called a libertarian. He gave me Ain’t Nobody’s Business if You Do to read. I devoured it. He started reading Atlas Shrugged. I read his copy when he put it down. I read Anthem, The Fountainhead, We the Living. He attended an IHS seminar. We attended a Fraser Institute student seminar. We attended our very first Liberty Summer Seminar. We were addicted to ideas.

Meanwhile, that same friend was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and told by a doctor that she would never be able to take care of herself. She had to go on social assistance. I am deeply, deeply ashamed to admit it, but I accused her of leeching off of the system. I think I told her she was part of the problem. In those words. I made her ashamed of herself for needing help – and she really did need help. I had become one of those libertarians. I was part of the problem.

I wasn’t done with politics yet, but it was coming. First, we won! We took a man who had quit politics out of principle to head up a small-government pressure group and who wrote his Masters’ thesis against Keynesian stimulus spending, and we made him Prime Minister. But things didn’t get better, and the longer they stayed the same the more I saw the rottenness and futility of politics. So I quit.

I don’t know if it’s because I’d read so much Rand, because I was trapped in the adversarial mindset of politics, or if I was just young with a hefty dose of Type-A personality, but after I was an angry young politico I was an angry young libertarian. People who disagreed with me hated freedom. They were "commies!" They were everywhere I looked!

But I was beginning to soften. I apologized to my friend, who I think had forgiven me already, for treating her like a villain. I told her that if she needed help, she should take it. After all, there was nowhere else to get it. Private charity in mental health has been all but crowded out by government programs.

I have written elsewhere about breaking free from angry-libertarianism, for which I credit Dr. James Buchanan and public choice theory. When this happened, it happened all at once. I felt as though someone had been pressing on my chest, crushing the air out of me, and that their hands had been pulled away and I could finally breathe. Anger is a terrible, debilitating thing to carry and I am grateful every day that I was able to overcome it.

I became understanding of alternative points of view. People weren’t mystifying any more. I didn’t have to square the circles. I took this new perspective on the world and I threw myself into it. I attended seminars and I refined my ideas through blogging. I helped to found The Institute for Liberal Studies, an educational charity that holds seminars on university campuses in Canada to bring a classically liberal perspective to campus, and through this organization I have met brilliant, inspiring people.  

But I overdid it. I got liberty fatigue. I had to take a step back. You see, there was something missing from the liberty movement: its heart. To find it, I had to step away from the books and the blogs and look at real life.  

All this time my friend and I supported one another the way that friends do. She is an inspiring person who has worked harder for what she has than most of us ever will. But in spite of being heavily medicated she would periodically suffer breakdowns or bouts of depression that the medication didn’t seem to help. Being there for her while she worked so hard further softened my outlook on the world.

Like it or not, libertarians, it’s not as simple as “Poor people just need to get a job, they're not my problem.” I found I was in favour of a social safety net in the form of a guaranteed minimum income – taboo for many libertarians. The more I looked at the real world, the more I gravitated toward issues on which the arguments for liberty were grounded in sympathy and dignity, such as the drug war, and away from harder economic topics on which I found the standard libertarian line too abrasive or simply less relevant.

I can’t remember if I stumbled upon it or if someone gave me a heads up that there was this new thing, “bleeding heart libertarianism.”

I looked into it, and I felt a way I hadn’t felt since I first picked up Atlas Shrugged. They were right. They were so right!

They were writing what I already knew: we ought to judge the systems in society on how they take care of the very worst off. The strongest always find a way, but those who need support can be ground down by a bad system. And they are. I’ve seen it. In being sympathetic, in being helpful, in preserving the dignity of the very worst off, government has failed miserably.  But there’s another way, and it’s taking problems away from government and giving them back to people to solve.

Heck, some of them were even on board with the minimum income thing.

Yes, yes, yes. This was it. This was what had been missing.

But there was more.

In January of 2012, my friend mentioned something she had told me years before but just hadn’t sunk in – a story that’s not mine to tell.  She was just rambling, letting thoughts out, but I stopped her. I made her explain again, to be sure I understood.

“Oh my god. You realize that that’s rape, right?”

She actually argued with me, said that couldn’t have been what it was. But I could tell it was sinking in. She started hyperventilating. She started crying. She went to sleep because she didn’t know what else to do. I told her I would learn what kind of help she could get in the meantime. I had to do something. When I started asking around, that same night, another friend confessed to me that she, too, had been raped.

If realizing the world wasn’t filled with evil people was a weight pulled from my chest, this was a bucket of ice water in the face. I didn’t know what to think, only that something was deeply wrong with the way I had been looking at the world. To be honest, I sort of panicked - or maybe I was just angry. My heart was racing. I was shaking.

I admit that I used to be one of those libertarians, the ones who say things like “Well obviously I believe in the OLD kind of feminism, from when women weren’t equal. But we pretty much have equal rights now and the movement has just been taken over by socialists.” Again, I was part of the problem.

My friend had spent ten years not realizing that her rights had been severely violated. On some level she blamed herself. She thought she was just “easy,” that she had put herself into a bad situation and that’s just what happens sometimes. But no. No! There is absolutely no excuse for sexual assault. It is never the fault of someone who has had their rights violated.  Not even partly. Not even on some level. Never.

Her life has changed dramatically since this realization. The debilitating, stigmatizing bipolar diagnosis was made in error – she has had post-traumatic stress syndrome since her rape a decade ago. PTSD, though sometimes so severe it can be mistaken for bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, is something from which a person can recover, and I know she’ll pull through. But the fact remains that she lost almost a third of her life so far to a social environment that supports the idea that rape can be anything other than what it is.

Ten years lost to a societal preconception of women, of how we ought to behave and why we deviate from it, that is not benign.

The fact that “No means no” campaigns seem cheesy instead of intensely  serious, that a woman can spend a decade not realizing that she’s been raped, that you probably know someone who has been the victim of sexual assault even if you don’t realize it. That that people laugh at rape jokes when it’s happened to their friends. These are signs that something is terribly wrong.

Once you realize this, you see it everywhere. It’s amazing and scary that it’s not obvious to everyone. The only reason I can think of to explain why more people don’t, and I didn’t, see it is that we assume that somehow changing the laws has fixed this. But like so many important problems, government can’t solve this, and yet it seemed even libertarians hadn’t seen it! Somebody has to speak up.

But some already were. Through my new bleeding heart connections I found the Association of Libertarian Feminists, and I found that it is growing. It is growing not just because there are more women in the movement, but because so many libertarians are concerned about real-world problems, not just economics and philosophy – important though they may be.

There is real-world discrimination - against women, the LGBQT community, against minorities, against the chronically poor, the mentally ill. Against so many marginalized groups. The fact that government action has been the primary tool for confronting this discrimination has made libertarians hesitant to acknowledge there's a problem at all. But there is. There is. "Corrective" government action has created the mindset that's told us we've already done all we can do to help these people and the remaining failings are their own. Because the government has acted, employing force, libertarians think we've done too much for them. 

Are you a libertarian, and do you believe this? Think about what you're saying. If government has done too much, it implies that it's succeeded in fixing the problem, then gone to far. But the problem was never fixed! Government has failed, again, as it always has and always will, to provide meaningful, compassionate, human solutions to problems that have to come from all of us. The government's "solutions" have dehumanized and institutionalized intensely human problems. This is not acceptable.  

We don't have to agree on the solutions, but we absolutely must acknowledge that there is a problem.

Poverty. Discrimination. War. These real, human problems are, as Magatte Wade said in her keynote address to the International Students for Liberty Conference this month, the low-hanging fruit for people who understand why liberty is so important.

I believe that a presumption of liberty acts as a starting point for solving these and so many problems. I am filled with optimism because I am part of a movement that cares about not just prosperity, but dignity. We have become a more human movement. We are waking up.

I am grateful for all of the experiences and people who helped me find this branch in the fight for freedom. I am fiercely proud to be a part of it.

Bernier's bad bet

Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press Maxime Bernier is taking a gamble. He believes that there is a large, disenfranchised voting bloc in Canada...