Book Review: Level Up Your Life

Level Up Your Life is a book about self-improvement and adventure by American entrepreneur, fitness instructor, publisher, and writer Steve Kamb. The book shows people how to define goals and use a game setup of experience points and levels to accomplish those goals while avoiding various pitfalls along the way. The book is divided into six sections, each of which contains three to five chapters.

Kamb begins with a brief introduction, describing several of his most interesting adventures as well as the life he led before deciding to change his life. He talks about the online community he founded about changing one’s life to be more active and adventurous, then invites the reader to join.

The first section begins by going into greater detail about Kamb’s own experiences and backstory than did the introduction. The middle is a warning about getting stuck in the research and planning stages of an adventure without ever actually going on the adventure. The final chapter of this section is an exhortation to stop waiting and thinking you cannot live the life you want to live.

Getting started on a hero’s journey is the subject of the second section. Kamb begins by laying out the basic story arc that almost all heroic characters follow. Next, he asks the reader to describe one’s normal life and then create the superhero alter-ego that one wishes to become. The following chapter presents several common excuses that people use to justify not living a more interesting life and rebuts each of them. The sixth chapter contains advice on dealing with people who offer discouragement and resistance to one’s ambitions. Kamb ends this section by explaining how game mechanics such as experience points and leveling can be used in real life to help one learn skills and achieve goals.

In the third section, Kamb discusses how to set up one’s Game of Life. He lays out the rules that his group uses, but one can create one’s own list. The ninth chapter gives examples of character classes from role-playing games and how they might translate into real-world skill sets. The point of the chapter is to describe one’s ideal leveled-up character. The next chapter explores various quests that one could pursue in order to get from one’s current state to one’s ideal state. Kamb ends this section by sharing how he used the methods from the previous two chapters in his own quest.

The fourth section begins with more discussion of experience points and levels, then proceeds to discuss the need to self-impose both positive and negative reinforcement in order to cultivate discipline. An excellent bit of advice is given here: rewarding yourself should take the form of something that will aid in one’s quest, not something immediately pleasurable that will hinder one’s efforts going forward. In the fourteenth chapter, Kamb explains the importance of willpower. He suggests altering one’s environment to make pursuing one’s goals require less willpower and working against those goals require more. Following this, the need to create flow and momentum in one’s life is explained. The section concludes with a chapter about team-building that describes the roles of mentor, peer, trainee, and wildcard. Finding people to fill each of these roles helps make a quest more productive and interesting.

The fifth section uses the examples of four well-known fictional characters and how they overcame adversity in their stories to discuss how to prepare the body and mind for any adventure, nurture an adventurous spirit, and make necessary sacrifices in pursuit of success. The stories of Bruce Wayne, Jason Bourne, Indiana Jones, and Katniss Everdeen contain a multitude of lessons, making this the longest section of the book.

In the last section, Kamb reminds the reader that tomorrow is not guaranteed and whatever is worth doing should be started now. He encourages those who have completed their personal quests to share their stories and knowledge so that less experienced people can learn from them. The final chapter encourages those who have done great deeds to avoid resting on their laurels and move on to another adventure. The book concludes with a list of resources, acknowledgments, and a repetition of the offer to join Kamb’s online community.

Level Up Your Life is one of the better self-help books out there, and the online community is an added bonus. The greatest criticisms of the book would be that it is too much of an advertisement for the online community, and that while it is excellent for someone who is enduring life but not enjoying it, it is far less useful for someone who already uses similar methods with great success in some areas of life but is held back by failures in other areas. Even so, Kamb has created a book that is worth reading (and a website worth visiting).

Rating: 4/5

On Sharp Argumentation

In chess, the term ‘sharp’ is used to denote a move, position, game, or style of play that involves highly tactical positions in which there is the potential for great reward and little or no room for error. The term may also refer to a player who regularly plays in such a manner. A sharp position frequently contains a significant amount of asymmetry, meaning that the position has differing goals for each player. Players may use sharp moves in order to take an opponent out of his or her comfort zone and see if this can produce a mistake that one can use to win the game. But this can also backfire; a mistake on one’s own part can lose the game in such positions. The essence of sharp play is to play aggressively, making threats and responding to threats with counter-threats rather than with passive or retreating moves. Common advice to novice players is to practice playing sharp lines, but doing this in tournaments or against stronger players is likely to produce defeats, as one is likely to make a mistake. It is more effective to be a sharp player than to try to find sharp moves here and there.

An analogy may be drawn with a particular style of argumentation. Sharp argumentation aims to step outside the Overton window in order to take an arguer out of their comfort zone and make them defend ideas that they assumed were universally accepted. The goals are different for each participant in sharp argumentation, in that the mainstream commentator is trying to defend the range of allowable opinion while the sharp arguer is trying to challenge and move it in their direction. This tactic has the high risk of making one look foolish if one cannot defend such a position with great skill, and it has the high reward of making an opponent look foolish if they cannot attack the position well. The goal of a debater should not be to seek out particular sharp positions just to troll and trifle with one’s opponents, but to become sharper in a more general sense.

Accepting Absurdity

With the nature of sharp argumentation established, let us now consider a situation in which one might use this tactic. Consider a libertarian who supports the right to keep and bear arms and is going to debate with a progressive who supports greater gun control measures. The progressive says, “The right to keep and bear arms is not absolute. For example, no one thinks private citizens should have nuclear weapons. There are reasonable restrictions that we can all agree upon.” The goal of the progressive here is to define a certain position as out of bounds while stealthily taking ground.

How might the libertarian respond? One could agree that there should be some restrictions, but believe that the state is not the best way to accomplish this. While this is not anathema to libertarian theory, in the sense that the rules of membership in a stateless community may require that one not be in possession of certain weapons if one wishes to remain in that community, it is a dull response because it both accepts the opponent’s framing of the issue and makes a concession where none need be made. Another possible response is to accuse the progressive of throwing out a red herring because the discussion is about guns that are commonly used by individuals, not weapons of mass destruction. This is not as dull of a response because it calls out the tactic that the opponent is using, but it is not sharp because it does not answer the claim in a robust manner.

Now let us consider a sharp response. The libertarian says, “Speak for yourself. I support private ownership of nuclear weapons,” and offers a detailed explanation of why nuclear weapons are better in private hands than under state control. This line is sharp because it rejects the opponent’s framing of the debate, robustly accepts an idea that the opponent regards as absurd, and strongly challenges all mainstream views about nuclear weapon ownership. The progressive may become so flustered as to regard the libertarian as beyond reason, responding with insults, dismissals, and other such non-arguments. Getting an opponent to react in this way does not necessarily mean that one’s reasoning is correct, but it does make one the winner of the argument as long as one remains calm and reasonable while the opponent loses composure. Short of this, the progressive may attempt to pick apart various aspects of the case for private nuclear weapons. In this case, the libertarian must be able to defend against such attempts because a false move can easily lose the battle for public opinion, while a solid defense against every objection will make the progressive look poorly versed in the subject matter.

Discomfort Zone

Some lines of sharp argumentation require an arguer to leave one’s own comfort zone in order to battle the opponent on unfamiliar ground. Consider a Republican who is debating a Democrat concerning the 2016 election. The Democrat says, “The 2016 election result, and thus the presidency of Donald Trump, is illegitimate because of Russian interference during the general election.” Here, the Democrat is making a strong claim backed by what is an unproven accusation at the time of this writing.

How might the Republican respond? One could say that there needs to be a full investigation into connections between the Donald Trump campaign and the Russian government to find out the extent of any collusion between the two, but stop short of agreeing with the Democrat. While a Republican may have legitimate concerns over foreign meddling in the democratic process, this is a dull response because it accepts the Democrat’s framing of the situation and concedes that the Democrat may be correct. Another possible response is to point out that there is no evidence of tampering with the election process itself, other than the usual questions about turnouts exceeding 100 percent in a few heavily Democratic districts. This response is not dull because it reframes the issue in terms of hacking of email servers belonging to Democrats, as well as in terms of election tampering done by Democrats. But it is not sharp because it fails to challenge the Democrat’s claim that Russia was involved and that this would delegitimize Trump.

In this case, going sharp requires one to depart from Republican orthodoxy and take a libertarian-leaning position that is too extreme for most Republicans to entertain. The Republican says, “There is no evidence that the Russians altered the outcome of the election to hand Trump the Presidency, but if they did, they were justified in doing it,” followed by a case for why they would be justified. This line of argumentation departs quite far from Republican orthodoxy about national security and foreign policy, but is very capable of throwing the Democrat for a loop. As before, the leftist may forfeit the argument by losing composure, hurling insults and dismissals. Otherwise, the Republican would need to defend the positions that Hillary Clinton was more likely to cause a war with Russia, that the Russian people have a right to influence the US election because they are affected by its result, and that the US has no room to talk given its track record of overthrowing governments when its leaders dislike election results. The latter two are certainly not conventional Republican arguments, but they are defensible. Again, failure to defend such bold positions effectively would make the Republican look crazy, but a skilled defense may leave the Democrat speechless.

Enough Versus Too Much

Just as there are problems with being too dull, one can also argue too sharply. Consider a conservative who is debating a social justice warrior on almost any topic that one cares to imagine. At some point, the social justice warrior is likely to resort to calling the conservative and/or the case the conservative is making racist, misogynist, or another such epithet. The SJW is doing this in an effort to cow the conservative into backing down from the case being made.

How might the conservative respond? All too frequently, the conservative will say, “I am not a misogynist/racist/etc.,” or “No, it isn’t,” followed by an apology or rationalization. This is dull because it plays into the SJW’s narrative. When a SJW resorts to name-calling, they are no longer engaged in rational discussion, and attempting to bring the discussion back to rationality once one of the participants has renounced reasoned debate is like administering medicine to the dead. An apology is even worse, as this concedes the point to the opponent and emboldens other SJWs to shut down debate by similar means. A better response is to inform the SJW that name-calling is not an argument and leave it at that, though this lacks the necessary boldness to be a sharp response. It also fails to challenge the frame set by the SJW.

A sharp response by the conservative would look something like this: “Fine, it is misogynist/racist/etc. It also happens to agree with the available facts. Now, make a valid counter-argument.” This response is sharp because it refuses to back down while challenging both the SJW’s framing of the issue and definitions of terms. Many SJWs have no argument beyond calling a person or idea bigoted, so this response is likely to make a SJW lose any sense of composure and fail to say anything else of substance. In the rare instance that one must continue, one must be able to make the case, as failing to do so can get one labeled a misogynist/racist/etc., which can have many adverse consequences.

A response that would be too sharp would be to reply to an accusation of racism or sexism by displaying clearly hateful bigotry toward the SJW. A response along the lines of “Shut up, (insert misogynist/racist/etc. slur here)” may be satisfying in the moment, but this is a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. An impartial observer will view the SJW as the victor for getting the conservative to respond in such a vulgar fashion. Meanwhile, the media career of someone who does this will take a major hit, which is exactly what the SJW wants.

Conclusion

Used properly, sharp arguments can explore new avenues of thought while making inferior debaters look foolish. However, improper usage can be disastrous not only for one’s argument, but for one’s reputation. As always, research and practice are necessary in order to perform properly in an intellectual setting. Sharp argumentation is not for everyone, but it is a useful tactic to know even for someone who is not naturally inclined to argue in such a manner.

Fake Libertarianism Revisited

A significant portion of my work consists of critiquing arguments, decisions, and statements made by other people. But sometimes, the lens of examination is best turned inward to correct one’s own missteps. Such is the case for an article I wrote three years ago about the nature of fake libertarianism. In retrospect, I failed to accurately present the structure of libertarian philosophy, and thus erroneously defined what it means to be a fake libertarian. Let us see what is wrong with my former case and make the necessary corrections.

Just as before, we must first have proper definitions for “libertarianism” and “fake” in order to consider the issue of fake libertarianism. Libertarianism is the philosophical position that the proper use of force is always defensive in nature. Initiating the use of force is never justifiable, while using force to defend against someone who initiates the use of force is always justifiable. A fake adherent of a position is either a person who claims to believe in that position while explicitly rejecting the premises of that position or their logical conclusions, or a person who misrepresents the premises of that position. Note that this does not compel action; a person is free to choose not to respond to initiated force with defensive force. Nor does this constrain one’s entire ideology to a single position; one may believe in additional premises beyond a certain position which are not in contradiction with that position without being a fake adherent, but to falsely represent such premises as being contained within that position does make one a fake adherent.

In my previous attempt, I argued that a fake libertarian is a person who claims to be a libertarian but does one or more of the following:

  1. Supports initiating the use of force for any reason;
  2. Rejects a logical conclusion of the non-aggression principle;
  3. Claims that another principle can trump the non-aggression principle;
  4. Claims that libertarianism contains something that it does not contain, or vice versa.

Points (1) and (4) are sound, but points (2) and (3) require some revision. The non-aggression principle is neither an axiom nor the basis of libertarian theory, as my previous attempt would suggest. The starting point for all of libertarian ethics is self-ownership; that each person has a right to exclusive control of one’s physical body and full responsibility for actions committed with said control. Note that in order to argue against self-ownership, one must exercise exclusive control of one’s physical body for the purpose of communication. This results in a performative contradiction because the content of the argument is at odds with the act of making the argument. By the laws of excluded middle and non-contradiction, self-ownership must be true because it must be either true or false, and any argument that self-ownership is false is false by contradiction.

Because each person has a right to exclusive control over one’s own body, it is wrong for one person to initiate interference with another person’s exclusive control over their body without that person’s consent. It is clear that self-ownership trumps the non-aggression principle on the grounds that the independent principle overrules the dependent principle. One may also reject a logical conclusion of the non-aggression principle if doing so is necessary in order to accept a logical conclusion of self-ownership.

The above would be true but trivial if there were no cases in which the non-aggression principle came into conflict with principles of higher rank, so let us consider three such cases.

Innocent Shields

Strict adherence to the non-aggression principle would suggest that innocent shields held captive by an aggressor are non-aggressors and that harming them is immoral. But if this is true, then anyone who is being more harmfully victimized by the aggressor is doomed. Additionally, considering an aggressor who hides behind innocent shields to be an illegitimate target would provide a means for an aggressor to escape punishment and restitution. Another means of dealing with such a situation is provided by Walter Block’s concept of negative homesteading. To quote Block,

“A grabs B to use as a shield; A forces B to stand in front of him, and compels him to walk wherever A wishes. A then hunts C in order to murder the latter by shooting him. C also has a gun. Is it legally permissible for C to shoot at A in self defense under libertarian law?

[…]

In ordinary homesteading, or what we must now call positive homesteading to distinguish it from this newly introduced variety, it is the first person upon the scene who mixes his labor with the land or natural resource who comes away with the property rights in question. It is the first man who farms a plot of land, who becomes the rightful owner. A similar procedure applies to negative homesteading, only here what gets to be ‘owned’ is a negative, not a positive. This concept refers to some sort of unhappiness, not a benefit such as owning land. The ownership of misery, as it were, must stay with its first victim, according to this principle. He cannot legitimately pass it onto anyone else without the latter’s permission.”

The homesteading principle is a direct corollary of self-ownership, just like the non-aggression principle. This gives them equal standing in libertarian philosophy, meaning that a conflict between the two must not give the non-aggression principle supremacy over the homesteading principle or vice versa.

To use the theory of negative homesteading, we must identify the first homesteader of the misery. In Block’s example, this is B. It is impermissible for B to transfer this misery to C. Thus, the theory of negative homesteading permits C to shoot A and risk hitting B even though a strict view of the non-aggression principle would not. None of this is to say that concern for the innocent shield should be disregarded; only that if an aggressor is too dangerous to ignore and it is impossible to subdue the aggressor without harming innocent shields, then the innocent shields are expendable in order to reduce the overall amount of aggression committed.

Reecean Proviso

The theoretical basis for private property rights in libertarian theory also starts with self-ownership. Because one is responsible for one’s actions, one gains an ownership claim over one’s improvements upon natural resources. It is impossible to own the improvements without owning the resources themselves, so property rights over external objects in a state of nature are established through mixing one’s labor with them. As property rights are established and maintained by exercising self-ownership, they are dependent upon self-ownership. As with non-aggression, self-ownership overrules private property in external objects because that which is dependent is subordinate to that upon which it is dependent.

Next, let us note that all sentient beings are equal in their self-ownership, in that all sentient beings have property in their own physical bodies through exclusive direct control over them. Although the nature of their bodies and minds will almost certainly result in different beings appropriating different quantities of external resources and in different beings having more or less capability to defend those resources from challengers in practice, the theoretical strength of a particular property right over an external object by one sentient being is equivalent to the strength of another particular property right over another external object by another sentient being. Applying this to the fact that self-ownership stands above private property in external objects, we get the result that the self-ownership of one sentient being stands above the private property rights in external objects of another sentient being.

A strict view of the non-aggression principle would not allow any appropriation of another person’s private property without their permission, but a case in which self-ownership is in conflict with private property could allow for this. Although this is subject to so many caveats in practice that the appropriate lifeboat scenario may never arise, the theoretical possibility for a situation in which a person is justified to appropriate a small amount of resources from someone else’s property in order to stay alive does exist.

Unrepentant Aggressors and Agency

Because libertarian theory is a logical construct, it is subject to logic in the form of rationality and consistency. For private property rights, the non-aggression principle, or indeed even self-ownership, to apply to a person who has violated another person’s rights of the same kind is inconsistent. As such, a thief has no standing to claim property rights, an aggressor has no standing to claim non-aggression, and a murderer has no standing to claim self-ownership until restitution is made for their crimes. In the latter case, restitution is impossible because a murder victim cannot be made whole. An unrepentant aggressor may be attacked in ways which would violate the non-aggression principle if done to a non-aggressor because the aggressor’s actions demonstrate a rejection of the non-aggression principle.

One might protest that a bystander lacks agency in a matter between an aggressor and a victim, but the concept of agency has been shaped in a world dominated by states. Thus, private citizens are discouraged (and sometimes prohibited) not to interfere in certain matters between other people because the state claims sole authority to resolve such matters. In a society organized in accordance with libertarian theory, there is no such monopoly on the creation and enforcement of laws, or on the final arbitration of disputes. The concept of agency in a libertarian social order would likely impose fewer limits on an individual’s conduct, thus leaving one free to use force against unrepentant aggressors even if not in an immediate self-defense situation. The possibility of becoming an outlaw subject to the every whim of anyone who cares to attack an unrepentant aggressor presents a strong deterrent against committing acts of aggression.

Strategic Thinking

A separate but related problem is that of libertarian purists denying the context of a situation and refusing to consider less than perfect alternatives. There are situations in which an option which adheres to libertarian principles is not politically viable and libertarians are not willing to do what would be necessary to make such an option viable. In such cases, there will be several options and all of them will involve acts of aggression. Navigating these situations requires us to figure out either which option is most likely to result in the least amount of aggression or which option is most likely to move society closer to a libertarian social order. Advocating for one such option over the others, or ranking them from best to worst, does not constitute an endorsement of aggression because one is not choosing an aggressive option as an ideal or because one wants to, but as a least evil and because there is no good option.

Parts Unchanged

The definition of what constitutes a fake libertarian was in need of correction, but the when, where, and why remain as they were. Fake libertarianism is still a widespread and growing problem. As before, the reasons for being a fake libertarian are to gain recognition in a smaller field of competitors instead of trying to compete directly with more powerful establishment commentators, to destroy the libertarian movement from within by being an entryist, and to gain capital through false representation of something valuable.

Taking a slightly softer tone with some of those identified instead of calling them fakes and running them off may be sound strategical advice in some cases, especially with respect to the anarchist-minarchist debate. But any movement that wishes to take political power for any purpose, including the destruction of said power, must beware of holiness spirals. Libertarian groups have a twofold problem in this regard; that of strictest adherence to libertarian principles and that of leftist infiltration. Those who reduce their circle of allies to only the most ardent libertarians will lack the numbers to accomplish anything. Meanwhile, leftists who infiltrate libertarian circles and fill them with progressive nonsense can manage to run off real libertarians, which helps to explain the growth of the alt-right movement. Both of these problems are dangerous to the goal of liberty and must be countered whenever they present themselves.

Conclusion

There is no better way to conclude than by restating the closing paragraph from the original piece:

“Just as counterfeiters do not make copies of worthless banknotes and forgers do not falsify meaningless signatures, political charlatans do not pretend to hold a position if doing so has no potential benefit. Thus, true libertarians should take heart. The very fact that there are fake libertarians means that true libertarianism is worth something, and that defending it against those who would falsely assume it and attempt to destroy it is worth doing.”

Book Review: Come And Take It

Come And Take It is a book about 3D printing of firearms and the implications thereof by American entrepreneur Cody Wilson. The book details Wilson’s experiences over nine months in 2012-13 when he decided to leave law school and figure out how to use a 3D printer to make a functional plastic handgun. It also conveys his thoughts on political events of the time, such as the re-election of President Barack Obama and the Sandy Hook school shooting.

The story of Wilson’s entrepreneurship is not so different from many others; he must decide whether to make his venture be for-profit or non-profit, decide whether to work for the state or the people, figure out how and where to get funding for his operations, find the right people to work with, wrestle with the impulse to continue his schooling versus working on his entrepreneurial idea, and deal with legal challenges and roadblocks thrown his way by established interests. What sets it apart is the unique nature of his work.

Wilson’s story takes some interesting turns, such as trips to Europe and California where he meets with everyone from left-wing anarchists in the Occupy movement to a club of neoreactionaries led by Mencius Moldbug. This shows that the project to allow everyone to be armed regardless of government laws on the matter changes the political calculus across the entire spectrum, thus making him a person of interest to people of a wide range of political views.

The book is a valiant effort in creative writing and storytelling, but its subtitle of “The Gun Printer’s Guide to Thinking Free” is rather misplaced. It is not so much a guide for someone else to follow as an example which future entrepreneurs may study in order to adapt proper elements thereof for their own projects. The technical details that one might hope for in such a book are only partially present, though we may fault the US Department of State for that, as Wilson tried to include details of the production procedure for his plastic handgun but was forced to redact the material with large black blocks in the final chapter.

In a strange way, the book feels both long and short. Though it is just over 300 pages, it takes much less time to read than most books of that size. Come And Take It offers an interesting look into the mind and experiences of a true game-changer in the world of technology and self-defense, though the reader who is looking for thorough details on 3D printed weapons or a general manifesto on liberty must look elsewhere.

Rating: 3.5/5

Book Review: The Age of Jihad

The Age of Jihad is a book about political unrest in the Middle East by Irish journalist Patrick Cockburn. The book is a compilation of his notes and articles over a 20-year period (1996-2016) while traveling throughout the Middle East. Cockburn did direct reporting where possible, and relied upon first-hand accounts when venturing into certain places was too dangerous.

Cockburn begins with his reporting from Afghanistan in late 2001 as the United States began its intervention to remove the Taliban from power. Next, he shares his experiences of Iraq under sanctions from 1996, 1998, and 2001, followed by his experiences there during the American occupation from 2003 to 2010. This is followed by his next forays into Afghanistan from 2009 to 2012.

The next part of the book focuses on the Arab Spring and the events that followed, with particular emphasis on countries in which the rulers were not quickly deposed. Cockburn begins with the Libyan Civil War of 2011 that removed Muammar Gaddafi from power, along with the difficulties that followed. Sectarian violence in Yemen from 2009 to 2015 and the failed uprising in Bahrain in 2011 each get a chapter.

The last part of the book covers recent developments in Syria and Iraq. First, the Arab Spring in Syria and its development into the Syrian Civil War from 2011 to 2014 is discussed in two chapters. Another two chapters are devoted to the contemporaneous destabilization of Iraq. This culminates in the rise of ISIS and the establishment of the Caliphate, in and near which the final four chapters take place.

The book gives important insight into just how terrible daily life is for people in war-torn lands, including the near-absence of basic utilities, shortages of essential items, rampant unemployment, and fear of mistreatment both from rebel groups and one’s own government. The book is filled with anecdotes of behavior which have not been seen since the Renaissance in the West, and knowledge of this behavior helps to explain animosity toward migrants from that region. The reader may be familiar with some of the events described, but almost anyone would find new information somewhere in the book.

One comes away from the book with a sense that both Western and regional powers had to be trying to perform so poorly. Western powers sought to punish Saddam Hussein without regard for the Iraqi people who bore the brunt of sanctions. They ignored cultural attitudes and sectarian divisions while turning a blind eye to mass corruption that greatly weakened the nation-building projects in Afghanistan and Iraq. They removed dictators who were stabilizing forces, thus creating power vacuums which were filled by al-Qa’ida and its affiliates. It is difficult to be so maliciously incompetent without intending to do so.

Overall, Cockburn does an excellent job of conveying the reality on the ground in most of the conflicts in the War on Terrorism and the Arab Spring. The only real improvement would be to add sections on recent events in Egypt and Tunisia, which only get passing mentions as sources for jihadists in other places. The Age of Jihad belongs on the bookshelf of any serious student of recent history, the Middle East, revolutions, war, and/or the effects of foreign intervention.

Rating: 5/5

The Not-So-Current Year: 2016 In Review

Though the specific demarcation of the passage from one year into another is a rather arbitrary social construct, it does provide a useful annual period for self-examination and remembrance. Now that 2016 has entered the history books, let us take a look back at a year’s worth of essays and review the not-so-current year.

We begin, of course, with last year’s article of the same kind. Some articles in this list are sequels to articles in that list. Aside from that, we may move on.

My first article proper of 2016 was A Case Against the Nineteenth Amendment. It was intended to come out before the New Year, but I was not satisfied with it until January 3. If I were to rewrite this article, I would say more about biological differences between the sexes and why these make the entrance of women into democratic politics a danger to the stability and sustainability of a society. I took down the First Amendment later in the year.

The Bundy standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Preserve began. I made nine observations on the event. Their later acquittal on several felony charges after the standoff ended in what was essentially an instance of jury nullification was cause for celebration.

As usual, leftists called for more gun restrictions and an end to gun violence without seeing that the former would both cause and be enforced by gun violence or the threat thereof. Rather than take the usual path of reductio ad absurdum, I argued the sharper point that gun deaths can be a good thing. This did not sit well with the editors at Examiner.com, who pulled the article. Given a long and contentious history with the site, I decided to part ways with them and start my own site. This proved to be a wise choice, as Examiner gave up the ghost less than six months later, with all content disappearing into the aether. My next task was to choose a name for the site and explain its meaning.

Christopher Cantwell argued the libertarian case for Donald Trump, and I gave him some pushback. Shortly afterward, Rand Paul suspended his campaign, and I wrote a list of observations on the event.

‘No victim means no crime’ is a common saying among libertarians, but an altogether too reductionist one. I explained why.

A Russian film crew flew a drone over the city of Homs and recorded the aftermath of Assad’s forces besieging the city. I rarely get emotional, but seeing the wanton destruction was quite triggering for me. Aleppo was conquered later in the year, and I wrote a list of observations on the event.

I decided to take an educated guess at whether Ron Paul could have defeated Barack Obama if he had been the Republican nominee in 2012. I believe he would have done so easily.

Twitter decided to give in to government and social justice warrior requests to censor their enemies. Unsurprisingly, this tanked their stock prices. I proposed several remedies for the situation, and Twitter has of course used none of them.

Jason Brennan published an article arguing that arguments made by libertarians against open borders have disturbing implications that said libertarians almost never address, so I addressed them and showed on a point-by-point basis that some such implications are not only not so scary, but are actually vitally important to the maintenance of a libertarian social order.

Charlotte City Council approved an expansion of its anti-discrimination ordinance to include transgender people, which I denounced as a violation of private property, freedom of association, public safety, and freedom of religion. Governor Pat McCrory and the state legislature responded with House Bill 2, and the controversy has brewed for almost a year.

An author known as Mr. Underhill published an article arguing that violent revolution is not the appropriate method for achieving liberty. I took the opposite view, which led to a lengthy exchange of four more articles on my part and four more on his part. Following this exchange, I decided to write about how I choose who to debate and for how long, which made me realize that I had entertained Mr. Underhill for far too long. Later in the year, I covered political violence more generally to argue that we need more of it as well.

When examining the intellectual foundation for private property rights, I noticed an unexplored quirk which turned into an original proviso. A critique in the comments section led to another article defending the proviso.

Islamic terrorists attacked the airport and a subway station in Brussels, killing 31 people and injuring 300 others. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Social justice warriors seem to have their own language which is distinct from both the dictionary definitions and the common understanding of words by most of the general population. I created a glossary to help normal people better understand SJW rhetoric.

Donald Trump suggested that women could be punished for getting an abortion, which outraged both sides of the mainstream abortion debate. I weighed in with a view which did the same.

Having addressed water ownership and pollution in two articles in 2015, I decided to lay out a libertarian theory on air ownership and pollution.

Puerto Rico reached new lows of fiscal irresponsibility, and I explained why it is best to cut them loose from the United States to become an independent country.

The rise of neoreaction and the alt-right has brought reactionary thought back to the forefront. I deemed my first attempt at examining its relationship to libertarianism to be inadequate, so I took a second stab at it. A Jeffrey Tucker article prompted a third effort, and I made a fourth effort later in the year in response to a pro-Trump neoreactionary article by Michael Perilloux.

Peter Weber published an opinion piece arguing that the institution of the American Presidency is being delegitimized, and that this is a dangerous direction. I argued that this is actually a welcome and even glorious development.

Having already explained my decisions about debating other authors, I wrote two more articles explaining my lack of profanity and lack of satirical content.

Many incorrect arguments concerning libertarianism and punishment began to appear, so I laid out a theory of libertarianism and punishment which utilized heavy doses of Rothbard.

The Libertarian Party held its nominating convention, and it was a disaster from beginning to end. The Republican convention was not much better in terms of substance.

Many people have noticed a correlation between weightlifting and libertarianism. I explored this correlation and found many reasons for it.

A terrorist who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State attacked a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., killing 49 people and injuring 53 others. I wrote a list of observations on the event, but missed a major point in doing so. Democracy is partly responsible for terrorism because it gives the common person a political voice, which makes them viable targets in a way that absolute monarchies or stateless societies would not.

When the Supreme Court ruled against Abigail Fisher in her anti-white racism case, the Internet cheered. I did not, realizing that the decision was a rejection of pure meritocracy.

Against all predictions, the vote to remove the United Kingdom from the European Union succeeded. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

In my most controversial article to date, I argued the most extreme position in the gun control debate: a private individual has a right to own nuclear weapons, and this would be beneficial for liberty. The troll brigades were out in force making typical leftist non-arguments, and I thank them for granting me a then-record in daily page views (and thus advertising money). A few did raise legitimate criticisms which will require an addendum to be written in the future.

As the major-party presidential nominations were secured, the establishment media wasted an inordinate amount of time engaging in speculation about who would be the running mate of each candidate. When discussing the potential benefits that each potential vice presidential pick could have, they neglected the aspect of assassination insurance.

Several recent problems with the criminal justice system demonstrated that government will not hold government accountable, and that a market alternative is required.

Five police officers were killed by a sniper in Dallas. I used the event to argue that those who kill government agents now are not cowardly murderers perpetrating senseless violence, but neither are they heroic or helpful to the cause of liberty.

A certain type of policy analysis exhibits many symptoms which are also found in high-functioning autistic people. This is more common among libertarians than among people of other political persuasions, so I decided to address the phenomenon.

A significant portion of the media coverage leading up to the Republican convention focused on the possibility of violence on the streets involving leftist protesters and rightist counter-protesters. This possibility went unrealized for reasons which were covered up by the establishment media.

Hillary Clinton said that she was “adamantly opposed to anyone bringing religion into our political process” and that it is “just absolutely wrong and unacceptable.” I argued the opposite case.

Gardening is an enjoyable hobby and a useful metaphor for many things, a libertarian social order included.

Trump hinted at the assassination of Clinton should she win and threaten gun rights. Predictably, every element of the establishment went apoplectic. I argued that political assassinations are ethically acceptable, though not usually the wisest practical move.

Since the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, libertarians have had strong differences concerning how to engage with it. I explained the differences between their intentions and libertarian goals.

The 2016 Summer Olympics took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Whenever disasters impact an area in modern times, governments play a large role in the cleanup and recovery efforts. But this causes a behavioral problem in the population, not unlike that caused by the Pax Romana.

The Commission on Presidential Debates decided to exclude third-party candidates yet again. I made cases for peaceful and violent protest of this policy, and longed for a future candidate who might actually motivate people to engage in meaningful resistance.

Liberty Mutual created more advertisements that contain economic fallacies, so I did another round of debunking.

The establishment media tells us that every election is the most important of our lifetime. I proved that this cannot be the case, then psychoanalyzed the establishment media to explain why they keep repeating this, as if to convince themselves.

Argumentation ethics has been controversial since its introduction, but Roderick Long’s criticisms of it had gone unanswered. I remedied this state of affairs.

Rioters plagued Charlotte for three nights in response to a police shooting, which happened to involve a black officer and a black suspect. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Congress voted to override President Obama’s veto of a bill that allows relatives of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for any role in the plot. Though some libertarians argued against the bill, I celebrated it for chipping away at the anti-libertarian idea of sovereign immunity, giving victims of American foreign policy a peaceful means of addressing their grievances, and possibly revealing clandestine activities to the American people about which they have a need to know.

Having heard libertarians argue in favor of every presidential candidate except Hillary Clinton, I decided to give it a shot. Only a bootlegger’s case was possible, and it was rather grim.

The idea of market failure is a widely believed misconception which has found widespread use in statist propaganda for the purpose of justifying government intervention in the private sector. I gave the idea perhaps its most thorough debunking to date.

In the last quarter of the year, I began reading more books, which resulted in several book reviews. I can strongly recommend The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing and Our Sister Republics; The West Point History of the Civil War somewhat less so. Good Guys With Guns, on the other hand, is a disaster.

The month before the election presented several opportunities for rebuttals. Milo Yiannopoulos demonstrated both a misunderstanding of and an enmity toward libertarianism, and I rebutted his assertions, which gained a surprising amount of attention. Jeffrey Tucker tried to defend democracy as a superior alternative to monarchy or political violence, and I showed why this is misguided. Penn Jillette argued in favor of vote swapping, and I argued against it.

Finally, the 2016 election came and went, which presented many observations to be made.

Black Friday is revered by most libertarians as a celebration of free-market capitalism. I updated my explanation of why this reverence is somewhat misplaced.

Finally, Otto Warmbier spent all of 2016 detained in North Korea. I made the unpopular case that he should be left there.

All in all, it was an interesting year full of occasions to make sharp libertarian arguments. May 2017 bring more of the same. Happy New Year!

Defending the Hoppriori Argument

The development of argumentation ethics as a justification for libertarian theory was a milestone in the philosophy of liberty. First presented in 1988 by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, it demonstrates the validity of self-ownership, private property rights, non-aggression, and so forth by showing that the act of arguing against them is at odds with the content of such an argument. Such a case is called a performative contradiction (perfomativer Widerspruch in the original German), and these cannot be rationally advanced in argument. Hoppe’s proposal was controversial at the time, and remains so. Murray Rothbard said of Hoppe’s work,

“In a dazzling breakthrough for political philosophy in general and for libertarianism in particular, he has managed to transcend the famous is/ought, fact/value dichotomy that has plagued philosophy since the days of the scholastics, and that had brought modern libertarianism into a tiresome deadlock. Not only that: Hans Hoppe has managed to establish the case for anarcho-capitalist-Lockean rights in an unprecedentedly hard-core manner, one that makes my own natural law/natural rights position seem almost wimpy in comparison.”

But many other libertarian theorists disagreed. Hoppe and his supporters have adequately rebutted most of their objections, but one critical review has not been countered to this author’s knowledge. In an article published on May 15, 2004, Auburn University philosophy professor Roderick Long offers a non-dismissive criticism of argumentation ethics which does not accept Hoppe’s formulation but leaves room for some future effort to show a connection between libertarian theory and the requirements of rational discourse. Let us respond to Long’s criticism on a point-by-point basis.

Long begins by reconstructing Hoppe’s argument as he understands it:

1. No position is rationally defensible unless it can be justified by argument.
2. No position can be justified by argument if it denies one or more of the preconditions of interpersonal argumentative exchange.
3. Interpersonal argumentative exchange requires that each participant in the exchange enjoy exclusive control over her own body.
4. To deny the right of self-ownership is to deny exclusive control over one’s own body.
5. Therefore, the denial of the right of self-ownership is rationally indefensible.

(1) and (2) are accurate reconstructions, as are (4) and (5). (3) is inaccurate; as Long correctly notes, one could shackle another person’s body but leave their mouth free to speak. But interpersonal argumentative exchange does require that each participant in the exchange enjoy exclusive control over some part of one’s own body, as one cannot communicate without exercising exclusive control over some part of one’s body. It is important to remember that is/ought is something of a false dilemma, in that there is a third matter which bears consideration; could. In sum, there are the way things currently are, the way they should be, and all of the ways they could be. When considering a theory of ethics and rights, it is insufficient to account only for a particular case; one must account for all possible cases. Any part of one’s body which may move could be used for communication (e.g. sign language), and the entirety of a person’s body either moves, is moved by parts which move, or is surrounded by parts which move. As such, one should own the entirety of one’s body because all of it has the potential to be part of an act of argumentation.

Long correctly notes that the conclusion (5) follows from the premises (1-4), and (5) also follows with the necessary modifications to (3) discussed in the previous paragraph. Long disputes Hoppe’s argument by disputing the truth of (1), (2), and (4). Thus, our task is to defend these three premises.

Long begins his critique of (1) by considering the nature of an argument, wondering whether Aristotelian negative demonstration or coherence among propositions count as arguments. Negative demonstration does count as an argument, although it is a more complicated form than affirmative demonstration. Coherence among propositions is necessary but not sufficient to count as an argument; one may make several propositions which do not contradict each other but which cannot be used together to make any conclusion. But both of these are consistent with deriving a conclusion from premises. Long combines the definition of an argument as a derivation of a conclusion from premises with (1) to contend that an infinite regress occurs:

“But presumably the premises themselves must be rationally defensible too; deriving a conclusion from premises that are not rationally defensible is hardly going to confer rational defensibility on the conclusion. So those premises, too, must be justified by argument – and so on for the premises of that argument. Thus we are launched on an infinite regress, with the apparent upshot that no position can be rationally justified – a performatively contradictory assertion if there ever was one.”

Long’s error in this critique is to neglect the fact that the premises of an argument may be first principles, which cannot be and do not need to be demonstrated, as they are self-evident. This saves Hoppe’s argument from the sort of infinite regress that Long describes.

For (2), Long attempts to show a counterexample:

“Consider the statement ‘I am the only person left alive.’ One can certainly imagine circumstances in which one would be warranted in endorsing this statement on the basis of the available evidence. (The last astronaut left on the space station watches the Earth explode ….) Hence the statement could in principle be justified by argument. Yet it certainly denies one of the preconditions of interpersonal argumentative exchange – namely, the existence of other arguers.”

That the statement could in principle be justified by argument is all that matters. As discussed earlier, a rigorous theory of ethics and rights must account for all possible cases. Just because a sentient being is the only one at the moment does not mean that this will always be the case. In Long’s example, perhaps other people were in another spacecraft which also survived, but were on the other side of Earth and will not come into view for some time. Perhaps intelligent extraterrestrials will arrive in a few hours. Perhaps the whole thing was a hoax set up to prank the astronaut.

Note that even if there were a valid concern here, it would be irrelevant because self-ownership is only a useful concept if other arguers exist. If one is the only sentient being in existence, then self-ownership is factually true simply because there exists no one who can challenge one’s self-ownership. Such a solitary sentient being need take no thought of legitimacy or rights, for who shall judge him to be in error?

Long criticizes (4) by asking whether it refers to fact, legitimacy, or right. That is, does denial of exclusive control over another person’s body indicate an acknowledgment of the nature of a current situation, a belief that one violates a moral duty by exercising exclusive control over one’s own body, a belief that one has a moral duty to interfere with another person’s control over their body? One could commit an act of aggression, which could deny the fact of another person’s self-ownership but not the legitimacy or the right. Long does not produce an example in which the legitimacy of self-ownership is accepted but the right of self-ownership is denied, though he contends that such a situation may exist. In the case of self-ownership, such an example requires that a person be using their self-ownership in a way that violates moral duties to other people, as nothing other than estoppel would be a sufficiently strong cause for denying a person’s self-ownership.

Long correctly notes that (4) is only true if it is taken to refer to right rather than fact or legitimacy, as using fact would mean that “might makes right” and using legitimacy would result in a performative contradiction (to argue that exclusive control of one’s body is illegitimate, one must exercise such control). Long uses this result to say of (3),

“But then, if the argument is to remain valid, premise (3) must likewise be reinterpreted to mean ‘Interpersonal argumentative exchange requires that each participant in the exchange enjoy a right to exclusive control over her own body.’ But why should we grant the truth of (3), under that interpretation? Whatever plausibility (3) had came from interpreting it as talking either about the fact or the legitimacy, not the right. When (3) is interpreted as talking about the right, it starts looking less like a premise and more like the intended conclusion.”

Now we see not only why Long’s formulation of (3) was inaccurate, but why it was necessary to correct. Had (3) been left unmodified, there would have been a serious error. But with (3) corrected and shown to have plausibility as a right, Hoppe’s argument holds.

Long concludes with two broader worries about Hoppe’s argument. Defending libertarian rights amounts to defending a view about the content of justice, which is at odds with Long’s Aristotelian position. Also, Hoppe’s argument commits us to recognize and respect a libertarian theory of rights regardless of our goals, which appears to say that there is a practical requirement without a means-end structure. We may dispense with these criticisms by rejecting the Aristotelian position in favor of a strict deontological framework. But as Long writes elsewhere of the deontological position,

“What sort of value does justice have? Is justice to be valued as a means, as an ultimate end, or neither?

Some deontologists might plump for the latter option: neither. Rights are not goals to be pursued, either as ends in themselves or as means to further ends; rather, they are side-constraints on our pursuit of goals. But it’s difficult to make sense of this idea praxeologically. If justice is neither one of our ultimate ends, nor a means to one of our ultimate ends, what reason could we have to care about it?

Suppose, then, that justice is an ultimate end — one that serves no further value beyond itself. Then either it is our sole ultimate end, or it is one among others. But it would be very odd to have justice as one’s sole ultimate end, as though respecting people’s rights were the one and only goal worth pursuing. Such an end would radically under-determine the shape of one’s life.

If justice is an ultimate end, then, it must be one among others. But in that case, how is it to be integrated with our other ultimate ends? Do we make trade-offs when ultimate ends conflict? Or do we look for some way of conceiving of our ultimate ends so that conflicts are impossible? In either case, we seem to be asking how to fit justice into the broader goal of an integrated life-plan – what the Greeks called eudaimonia. But then we are no longer treating justice as an ultimate end; justice now serves the more inclusive end of eudaimonia.”

These concerns merit an answer, and the answer is that rights are not side-constraints, but are hard limits which should be considered binding upon all people at all times. While this may not be accomplished in fact (might does not make right but it does make outcomes), it is an end worthy of pursuit. While justice is an ultimate end, this does not mean that it serves no further value beyond itself. The practical purpose of justice is to reduce unnecessary conflicts, which in turn reduces unnecessary destruction of property and loss of life. The end result of justice is a maximization of liberty. It is for this reason that a proper sense of justice, as illuminated by the Hoppean argument for libertarian rights, should stand above any other ultimate ends that one may have.

To conclude, a Hoppean argument for libertarian rights does work if formulated correctly, and there is no need to embed it within a eudaimonist framework. Long’s criticisms are better informed than most, but they ultimately fall short of toppling argumentation ethics.

Fifteen Life Lessons from Lifting

Libertarians who have experience with weightlifting will know that there appears to be a correlation between having libertarian political views and being an active lifter. This is because the process of pumping iron and increasing one’s physical abilities has an effect on the mind as well. There are lessons that the iron has for those who are willing to listen, and these lessons provide a significant push in a libertarian direction. Let us examine some of these lessons.

1. You are responsible for your own advancement. While other people can give you advice on which exercises to perform, how many repetitions and sets to do, how much weight to use, how much of each food to consume, how much rest to get, and so on, no one can do the work but you. You must figure out how to sift through the available information, motivate yourself, and do the work to get the results you want. This is no different from any other aspect of life.

2. You must put something in to get something out. In the words of Ronnie Coleman, “Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder. Nobody wants to lift this heavy-ass weight!” Without proper effort, strength and endurance will not develop, fat will not be burned, and your health will not improve. Elsewhere in life, you cannot learn without listening, reading, watching, or thinking. You cannot start or improve relationships without spending time with people and treating them properly. You cannot maintain skills without practicing them. Results out requires effort in.

3. You cannot compensate for bad (or no) preparation. If you go into the gym after eating junk food (or nothing at all), or after laboring hard the previous day with inadequate rest, you will not lift as much as you could with proper preparation. In other aspects of life, a lack of studying will negatively impact your test scores and a lack of rest will lower your productivity at work. If you want success, prepare for it.

4. Targeting your weaknesses makes other aspects of your performance improve. When you reach your maximum weight for a particular lift, there is usually a particular muscle or group of muscles that is too weak to allow you to lift more. Exercises which isolate those muscles can not only help with that lift, but with other tasks as well. The same reasoning applies to other disciplines; fixing one bad technique while playing an instrument will make other techniques work better, eliminating one bad habit of studying will improve one’s overall learning ability, and so on.

5. Those who focus on appearance will have inferior performance. There are those who lift to look strong, and those who lift to be strong. Training for size involves more repetitions with less weight than training for strength. If one never ventures into one-rep-max loads, then it is possible to build a physique which looks impressive but does not perform as well as that of a smaller person. Outside of the gym, this lesson applies to people whose beauty is skin-deep and whose personality is superficial. They may appear to be attractive and polite, but underneath the surface they are inferior, if not rotten to the core. Which brings us to…

6. Appearances can be deceiving. Most people would look at a skinny person and believe that person to be in better shape than an overweight person. But there is a condition which trainers refer to as “skinny-fat,” which means that a person is thin but weak and deconditioned. Meanwhile, an overweight person may have a large amount of muscle mass in addition to a large amount of fat mass, which can allow them to perform well despite their extra baggage. In every other aspect of life, it is equally important to not judge a book by its cover, so to speak.

7. A positive attitude makes a real difference. In the words of Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t you’re right.” This is not entirely true, of course; lifting a weight which is far beyond one’s capabilities will not happen regardless of one’s attitude. But at the edge of what is possible, toughness and endurance are partly mental. A positive attitude can make the difference between making a new personal best lift and having to wait until the next time you perform that movement. This is true of any other activity; believing that you can do something makes it more likely that you will, whether in the moment or long-term.

8. All can boast; few can beast. Anyone can claim to be able to do anything, but extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Regardless of whether you tell yourself that you can move mountains or nothing at all, the iron is an arbiter of truth. Everyone has their own opinion, but 150 kilograms is 150 kilograms, and it cares not for anyone’s opinion. Elsewhere in life, you will encounter people who make dubious claims. Require evidence for them, and watch the wheat separate from the chaff.

9. There are different kinds of pain, each with a different meaning. The body is capable of experiencing several kinds of pain. Pain can be acute or chronic, caused by tissue damage or nerve damage. Most importantly for the lifter, there is a type of pain that represents weakness leaving the body, and a type of pain that warns you to stop. Failure to decipher which is which can lead to serious injury. This is true of all physical activities, regardless of whether they involve lifting.

10. Those who focus on one aspect of fitness while ignoring others will miss out. Moderation is important for achieving a healthy, well-balanced life. Those who lift heavy but ignore their cardiovascular health will have health problems later in life and a shorter lifespan. Those who never lift heavy will be physically weaker, less capable of dealing with stress, and be at greater risk for osteoporosis and falling as seniors. This is true in mental endeavors as well. Focusing only on mathematics while ignoring language studies will leave one ill-equipped to communicate one’s proofs. Focusing only on history while ignoring science will leave one ill-equipped to understand why certain events happened as they did. Whether physical or mental, do not be a specialist to the exclusion of other disciplines.

11. Actions have equal and opposite reactions. That which you work against will work against you. If you work against heavy weights, they will make you more like them. You will become heavier, larger, and harder to push around. If you work against light weights, these positive changes will happen slower, if at all. In life, this applies to the kind of associates one keeps as well as the larger tides of political change.

12. There are no shortcuts to any place worth going to. Every lifter knows that this one is about steroids. People use steroids because they work; they reduce the amount of recovery time needed before lifting again. But strength can be gained through a proper barbell program without resorting to substances which can cause long-term health problems, as well as land one in jail (although jail for steroid use would not happen in a libertarian society). Outside of the gym, cutting corners is a way to avoid learning needed skills while increasing the risk of an accident, which will eventually come back to haunt you. Shortcuts may seem like a benefit in the moment, but they always cause more trouble than they are worth in the long-term.

13. There are hard limits which cannot be surpassed. Even with the best training, diet, supplements, and rest, you can only do so much. You will not squat, bench, or deadlift 1000 kilograms. The human body is simply not capable of structurally supporting that kind of load. In other aspects of life, there are also hard limits, whether imposed by the laws of physics or the limitations of biology. It is important to recognize such limits and know that that which cannot be done should not be attempted.

14. There is no equality of outcome or opportunity; there can only be equality of freedom. Everyone has equal freedom to lift, in that unless someone has committed a crime and is being punished for it, no one has the right to deprive anyone else of access to gym equipment. But this is no guarantee of opportunity, let alone results. Some people have more opportunity because they have more access to resources which will help them recover from a tough workout. Some people will have better results because they work harder, work smarter, or are naturally inclined to be stronger. In all aspects of life, people have different amounts of potential and various levels of motivation, and will therefore achieve different amounts of success. This is because…

15. All people are not created equal. Each person has the same fundamental rights, but we are not all interchangeable cogs in a machine. There are measurable differences in performance not only between individuals, but between genders and ethnic groups. On average, a woman will lift about 30 percent less than a man of the same size, build, and experience level. Also note that most weightlifting world records are held by people from Asia or eastern Europe. Such differences occur not only with physical strength, but with intelligence and temperament as well. Whether such differences come from nature or nurture, they do exist and are measurable.

Interview with Barbara Howe

On Wednesday, August 22, 2012, Libertarian North Carolina gubernatorial nominee Barbara Howe held campaign events in Gaston and Lincoln Counties, NC. There was 5K run in Gastonia, NC at in the morning and a 5K run in Lincolnton, NC in the afternoon. I ran in the afternoon 5K in Lincolnton, NC, and caught up with Mrs. Howe for an interview at 6:00 p.m. Videos of the interview may be found here and here.

MATTHEW REECE: My name is Matthew Reece, and I am here in Lincolnton, North Carolina with the 2012 Libertarian nominee for Governor of North Carolina, Barbara Howe. Mrs. Howe, thank you for joining me.

BARBARA HOWE: Glad to be here.

MR: For those who don’t know about you, tell me a bit about your background.

BH: Well, first let me say the reason I look all hot and sweaty is because I just finished a 5K run, so please forgive me. My background is…I grew up in North Carolina, a lifelong resident. I spent about five years away when my husband was in school early in my married life, but other than that, I have lived in North Carolina all my life. I was born in Wingate, NC, just south of Charlotte. I grew up there. I went to Pfeiffer College and graduated with a degree in English and Psychology. I married a man named Tom Howe in 1976. We have three children. Since my marriage, I have been a full-time stay-at-home mom. We home schooled…the whole nine yards. The children are all adults now, young adults. I have two sons and a daughter. We built our own house in Granville County. I mean, literally built our own house with our own two hands. So, that’s me in a nutshell. I have been involved in Libertarian politics since about 1976.

MR: For most voters, the economy is first and foremost in this election. North Carolina’s unemployment rate is higher than the national average. What policies do you propose to bring jobs to North Carolina?

BH: Well, a common myth…you’ll hear a lot of politicians say, “I’m gonna create jobs!” Government doesn’t create jobs. Government gets in the way of job creation, but it doesn’t create any jobs. My proposal would be: reduce taxes, reduce regulation, create more certainty for small business owners so they all know what the rules are from one day to the next and don’t have to guess so they can actually offer products that consumers want. The notion that government creates jobs is just ludicrous, and in North Carolina, we even are worse than that, because we offer massive tax incentives to lure large businesses here in hopes of job creation. As my friend Mike Munger who ran for governor [of North Carolina as a Libertarian] in 2008 said, “They’ll come for money, they’ll leave for money,” so the best way to lure jobs here is to have low taxes, low regulation, a solid infrastructure, and good education, and if we put those in place, job creators will flock here.

MR: You mentioned cutting taxes. By how much?

BH: Well, I can’t imagine any of us thinks we’re paying too little in taxes. I’m not going to give you a firm number right now, because we would have to examine exactly…once I get in office, we’d have to examine the budget inch-by-inch and determine what’s duplicative, what’s not necessary, what can be provided by the private sector, and start eliminating things right away. So, I can’t give you a number. It will be massive though.

MR: Your platform mentions eliminating “burdensome regulations.” Give me some examples.

BH: The mounds of paperwork people have to do. You have to get a privilege license in order to do business in North Carolina. The privilege you’re getting is to collect sales tax for the state of North Carolina. That kind of paperwork, that kind of burdensome regulation, is just something that business owners don’t need to deal with. The list is probably too long to count, and I can’t…beyond that one I can’t pinpoint one right away. My son and I ran a small business briefly in the early 2000s and just filling out that kind of paperwork was a nightmare, so I can imagine what people who have big businesses have to do.

MR: North Carolina currently receives 31% of its budget revenue from the federal government. Do you believe that this is a problem?

BH: Absolutely, because one of the reasons we’re in the budget crises we’re in now is that we got all this TARP money and stimulus money and now, that money is disappearing because the federal government is in a bind too. So, we put into place programs that we only had temporary funding for, and so now we’re kind of stuck with them, and no way to pay for them. I would do everything I could as governor to decrease our dependence on the federal government. That might not make me very popular because North Carolina taxpayers do pay a lot of tax money to the feds, but every dollar they send, they attach strings to it, and it costs us money just to get some of those dollars.

MR: Let’s talk about energy policy. There is a push to bring hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” to North Carolina. What is your position on this?

BH: My position on that is about the same as it is on every environmental issue. We have to protect property rights. I am all in favor of energy exploration and people doing business here in North Carolina. If a company wants to come and explore the possibility of fracking in North Carolina and they think its worthwhile, they have to come here without tax incentives from North Carolina, they have to pay their own bill, they have to have bonds enough to protect the people they might harm if there is environmental damage, and under those circumstances I would be…I would sign off on fracking. But under those circumstances, unless it is really worth their while, they’re not going to come to North Carolina anyway. From [what] I understand, the resources in North Carolina are not that great, and if the cost is too much, they won’t explore it.

MR: Duke Energy is being accused of being too cozy with the Obama administration because of its financial support of the Democratic National Convention. The Charlotte-based utility has solicited donations, donated office space, and guaranteed a loan to the convention committee. As governor, would you seek to stop a public monopoly governed by regulation, such as Duke Energy, from taking such actions?

BH: That’s a good question. I haven’t given that particular issue a lot of thought. I’m not familiar enough with this issue to really give you a thoughtful answer.

MR: Give me an overview of your education policy.

BH: Well, what we have now in North Carolina, and probably every state in the Union, is a monopoly, one-size-fits-all education program, government-provided education, and the government decides the curriculum. And parents are pretty much stuck unless they can afford to pay twice, either going to private school or home schooling. What I would like to see is much more competition available to parents to be able to send their kids where they feel [their children] will get a good education. Since we are constitutionally mandated by the North Carolina Constitution to provide education, we have to work within those parameters. What I would advocate for at this time is tuition tax credits, so that any taxpayer, whether it is the parent, the grandparent, members of your church, [or] your boss at work, could provide tax credit scholarships to send any kid to any school. And how this would work is that the business would set up a scholarship fund, parents could use their tax liability toward tuition at a private school, and what would happen in the market is that there would be all kinds of small schools popping up all over the place trying to meet the needs of this market. Some kids would go to schools that focused on mechanical things. Some kids would go to schools that focused on art. Some kids would go to schools that focused on math. So we would be able to meet the needs of every child in North Carolina. I have three children. They’re all very different, and they don’t learn the same way, and our expectation that we can throw 30 kids into a classroom and teach them all the same thing at the same time and expect them to learn at the same rate is ridiculous. So we need a market-based, market-driven education system that would help parents get the education their kids need.

MR: Would it be a good idea to amend the Constitution to remove the public education requirement?

BH: Well, you’re calling for a constitutional convention there. While I think it would be, that would be a hard sell at this time, I’m pretty sure. But eventually, if we just get into a more market-based education system, I think we can solve a lot of the problems, but ideally we would get government out of the business of education altogether.

MR: Let’s move on to social issues. You opposed Amendment One. Some libertarians come at this from the position of marriage equality as a constitutional right, while others take the position of separation of marriage and state. What is your position?

BH: My basic position is that government really has no business in marriage, other than enforcing the contract that two adults make. And so, the notion that we grant the right to marry seems anathema to me, and I would like to see government out of the business of marriage, and the only role they would have is enforcing the contract.

MR: You are an opponent of capital punishment. If one person has taken the life of another without due process of law, has that person not forfeited the right to his or her own life?

BH: My opposition to capital punishment is that I don’t advocate killing prisoners. I am a big proponent of people using all the self-defense within their power. If somebody is bothering you, and you’re at liberty to stop them any way you can, that’s fine. But once you’ve caught the person and rendered him helpless and harmless, I don’t think you have the right to kill him. So what we do in government is we catch the criminal, we put them in jail, we try them and they’re found guilty, and then they’re pretty much harmless to us. We’ve put them away and they can’t harm other people. So I am opposed to the state killing prisoners, because there is a chance that they’re wrong, and if you have created the ultimate penalty of death, you can’t rectify that if you’ve made a mistake.

MR: One issue that divides libertarians is abortion. Where do you stand on abortion?

BH: Well, I have to describe myself as pro-choice. I don’t like the division of pro-life and pro-choice because, of course, I want every baby to be conceived and loved and born into a happy, healthy home, but the reality is that’s not going to happen. Where I do come down with the right-to-life crowd is that I think government should stay out of it. That means your tax dollars shouldn’t go to fund abortions. So I am a strong advocate of getting government out of the abortion business. I don’t think government should be making healthcare decisions for women, and frequently it is a health decision, and the decision has to be made between the woman, her partner, and her doctor, and government should stay out of it.

MR: The Obama administration is clashing with some states that have legalized medical marijuana. Would you seek to repeal drug laws in North Carolina?

BH: Absolutely. The drug war is a terrific failure. It has created more problems than it has solved. It has made our streets unsafe. It has corrupted politicians. It has corrupted policemen, and drug dealers are running rampant and making a killing. If the drug war were to end, drug use probably would stay about the same. Ever since we implemented the drug war, drug use has remained pretty much constant. We need to focus on the issue of the medical needs of individuals who get involved in drugs and not make this a legal problem. We have our prisons full of simple drug users. They’re not hurting anybody but themselves, which is unfortunate, but we don’t need to bankrupt our country and ruin lives over the drug war. I would advocate, especially for medical marijuana, it seems like a no-brainer. Its a proven fact that marijuana has certain medical benefits, and the fact that we continue to make this illegal and prosecute people for it is horrendous in my opinion.

MR: What is your position on voter identification laws?

BH: That’s a good question too, because I have mixed emotions. I have no problem with us knowing who is voting, but I also think, I think other people have said this, its a solution in search of a problem. I’ve heard that the amount of voter fraud is just infinitesimal. It has never been enough to sway an election. So I think we have bigger issues, and I know the opponents of the voter ID are concerned about the disenfranchisement of older voters or people who don’t have driver’s licenses, and the implementation is going to cost the state something too. And as I say, it seems to be a solution in search of a problem.

MR: You have said that governments are instituted to defend our rights, not to limit them. But when we look at history, governments have a terrible track record when it comes to actually fulfilling this responsibility. Might we conclude that government is incapable of fulfilling this duty?

BH: Well, what did the founders say? You have to remain ever vigilant, and the tendency is for government to grow and liberty to yield…I don’t have the quotes down right, but that’s why as a Libertarian, even as a Libertarian, I have a very hard time running for office because the last thing I want to do is tell you how to run your life, but I realize that in order to get that kind of government that is limited strictly to just protecting individual rights, I have to be involved in the process. And you’re right, it just continues to get bigger and bigger and its going to be hard to rein in, but we have to start somewhere.

MR: As a third party candidate, you face challenges that Republicans and Democrats do not. Tell me about your experiences with this.

BH: Well, I have been involved in the Libertarian Party in North Carolina for many years, since the late 1970s. North Carolina is a particularly difficult state in which to get…to get on the ballot. I can’t compose that sentence very well grammatically. Our last petition drive in 2008 when we got Dr. Munger on the ballot took us 3.5 years and cost us over $150,000. Our resources were drained, our energy was drained, and it shouldn’t be that way. Any group of committed individuals who want to form around a political idea and create a political party ought to be able, through volunteer efforts, to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot so they can let their voice be heard in the political arena. North Carolina makes it extremely difficult; that’s why we only have three recognized parties right now, and as in North Carolina that bar to get on the ballot is based on voter turnout and election results, and it is a constantly rising bar, and as the elections go forward, the hurdle is going to be so high [that] no other party will ever qualify for North Carolina’s ballot unless they’ve got millions of dollars like Americans Elect had. We still don’t know how much Americans Elect paid to get on the ballot in North Carolina, but we speculate it was a couple million dollars.

MR: Those who are sponsoring the gubernatorial debates seem to want to exclude you. What, if anything, will you do to fight for inclusion in the debates?

BH: Well, I have contacted the debate sponsors. Beyond that, there is not a whole lot I can do. They are private organizations. I’m not taking them to court. I’m disappointed that my two opponents would even agree to debate without me on the stage. I think its a disservice to the voters of North Carolina not to let them hear from all their options. They may listen to me and decide not to vote for me. That’s fine. But I really ought to be able to participate in the process like the other two.

MR: Last question. What do you say to voters who are leaning toward Pat McCrory or Walter Dalton, but have not made up their minds?

BH: One of the arguments we get as Libertarians is “Well, if I vote for you, I’m going to waste my vote because one of those other guys is going to win. So I’ve got to keep Walter Dalton from winning so I’ve got to vote for Pat McCrory, or I’ve got to keep Pat McCrory from winning so I’ve got to vote for Walter Dalton.” You’ve only got one vote. One vote. And no gubernatorial election has ever been decided by one vote. You have to cast your vote for the person you really want to win. If you’re voting for Dalton or McCrory because you don’t want the other guy to win, they’re not going to know that’s why you cast [your] vote. They’re going to think its an endorsement of what they believe. So cast your vote for the person you really want to win. I hope its me. If its not me, I’ll accept that. But don’t cast your vote because you’re afraid of a wasted vote.

MR: Mrs. Howe, it has been a pleasure.

BH: Thanks a lot. I enjoyed it.