Book Review: Against Empathy

Against Empathy is a book about the negative effects of trying to feel what other people feel by Canadian American psychology professor Paul Bloom. The book makes the case that concern and compassion function better in the absence of empathy. It also makes the case that empathy is a driving force behind much of the cruelty and irrationality in the world. The book is divided into six chapters and two shorter interludes, each of which explores a different aspect of empathy.

Bloom begins by defining his terms and laying out the case he intends to make over the whole book and in each chapter, as any good academic would. Adherence to definitions for the purpose of avoiding confusion is done well throughout the book, and is especially necessary when a word as widely defined and misused as empathy is in play. Rather than arguing in favor of psychopathy, Bloom advocates thinking with our heads rather than our hearts so as to reach a more consistent and helpful morality. Nor does he argue that empathy is completely bad; only that it does more harm than good.

The first chapter makes the distinction between cognitive empathy (recognizing another person’s feelings without feeling them oneself) and emotional empathy (experiencing the world as one thinks that someone else does). The shortcomings of the latter are the primary focus of the book, namely that empathy can lead to ignoring unidentifiable victims, denigrating logical choices that have superior results, letting our biases lead us astray, overrating present costs versus future costs, and sending unnecessary aid. The chapter ends with responses to objections raised by Bloom’s colleagues during the writing of the book.

In the second chapter, Bloom explores the neuroscientific aspects of empathy, including mirror neurons, the role of preconceptions of other people, and the difference between understanding and feeling. The difference between cognitive empathy and emotional empathy is important here, and it can be detected in fMRI scans. Bloom then discusses how empathy is currently measured, as well as the shortfalls of such methods.

The failures of empathy in the pursuit of virtue are the primary subject of the third chapter. These failures occur because empathy works as a spotlight, illuminating some problems and leaving the rest in the dark. This causes people to choose to help suffering individuals instead of suffering masses, to care less about the problems of a perceived out-group, or to engage in high-time-preference thinking. There is also the matter that one person can never truly feel what another person feels because one person does not have another person’s aggregate experience. In short, empathy interferes with a rational assessment of how to make the world better. Bloom concludes the chapter by praising economists for avoiding empathy in their analyses.

Next comes a half-chapter-length interlude about empathy and politics, which deserves more attention than it gets here. Bloom correctly states that empathy is not a useful measure of where one falls on a map of political views, but says little about libertarianism and nothing about anarchist or reactionary thought. The shortsightedness discussed earlier leads to incorrect long-term policy decisions, and empathy can lead judges to take decisions contrary to the letter of the law.

The fourth chapter is about the relationship between empathy and intimacy. Bloom argues that empathy runs counter to the special nature of a close interpersonal relationship, instead leading one to treat one’s family no better than strangers. He mentions an interesting hypothetical case of a pathologically empathetic person and shows how psychologically harmful this condition can be. It is interesting that there is no clinical name for this condition. Next, Bloom explores the difference between cognitive empathy and emotional empathy in Buddhist philosophy, which contains a similar distinction and a similar recommendation about embracing cognitive empathy while rejecting emotional empathy. After this, the difficulties that doctors may encounter if they are distracted by emotional empathy are discussed, as well as the negative effects that receiving emotional empathy can have on patients. Then, Bloom makes important distinctions between having useful past experiences, caring about people without using empathy, and having emotional empathy in the present. The positive role of empathy in apologizing for misdeeds is examined, and Bloom has no counterargument on this point.

The second interlude considers empathy’s ability to serve as a foundation for morality, especially from the beginning of life. Bloom considers that empathy may be foundational for young children but harmful for adults, much like human breast milk. He considers that selfishness may motivate kind acts, but finds the explanation wanting on the grounds of misunderstanding both natural selection and psychology. The topic is left as an open question, but the evidence discussed suggests that even young children are capable of caring without internalizing another person’s feelings.

In the fifth chapter, Bloom explores how violence and cruelty are linked to empathy. In particular, he discusses how empathy can lead people to commit cruel and violent acts, especially toward people who have themselves committed atrocities. Bloom correctly posits that violence will always be with us, as some problems are insoluble without it. Here, the spotlight nature of empathy is seen to maximize the impact of victimhood while minimizing the impact of perpetration, which leads to escalations of hostilities between nations and blood feuds between families. Empathy can lead people to falsely believe that they are doing good deeds when they are being cruel and violent. It can also lead wartime leaders to fail to recognize sacrifices that must be made to win the war. Next, Bloom looks at the nature of psychopaths and the role that dehumanization plays in atrocities. He shows that these are concerns are different from concerns about empathy. He ends the chapter by comparing empathy to anger, and finding both to be unworthy of removal from a person’s psyche, but in need of subordination to rational deliberation.

The final chapter addresses the role of reason and defends it against several attacks. After all, an argument that presupposes rationality can be undermined by a case that people are fundamentally irrational. This chapter could have been improved by including the discourse ethics of Jürgen Habermas or Hans-Hermann Hoppe, as it would have added a strong defense of objective morality. Like so many controversial academics who encounter social justice warriors, Bloom was told to check his privilege, which he rightly dismisses as nonsensical, though “SJWs are the real bigots” is not a sufficiently sharp response. He addresses the concern that regardless of the virtues of reason, humans are incompetent at it. But this can be shrugged off by noting that reason is objective and thus not subject to individual competency. The arguments in favor of determinism lead to performative contradictions if taken to their logical conclusions, but Bloom does not attack them in this fashion. A second attack on reason comes from psychological studies that show how people can be subconsciously influenced, but to know this is to know to take corrective steps to eliminate the problem. Finally, Bloom makes the case for rationality by discussing the strong correlation between high IQ and success, as well as the correlation between self-control and success. He briefly returns to politics to note the irrationality there, but concludes that this is due to the political systems rather than the participants themselves. Bloom ends the book by conceding that empathy can have good results, but that this is the exception and not the rule.

In a sense, Bloom does not go far enough. The concept of conspicuous compassion is barely mentioned, and there are some cases in which psychopathy can be used for beneficial results. The final chapter is in need of stronger logical cases against Bloom’s critics. Even so, Against Empathy is thought-provoking and much-needed to stem a tide of books that take too bright a view of empathy.

Rating: 4.5/5

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.

Tucker, Spencer, Libertarianism, and Fascism

On February 18, white nationalist and alt-right leader Richard Spencer was present in the bar of the Marriott hotel that hosted the International Students For Liberty conference. He was invited by the Hans-Hermann Hoppe Caucus, a group of right-libertarians with no official affiliation with SFL. A sign and the claims of several Hoppe Caucus members made it seem as though Spencer was an official part of the event, although he was not.

“We started the Hoppe Caucus with just a small group of people to spread diversity of conversation into the libertarian movement,” said Mitchell Steffen, founding member of the Hoppe Caucus. “We don’t agree with what Spencer believes in a lot of ways, but we still wanted to hear his point of view.”

For the better part of an hour, he and a small gathering of supporters, other listeners, and some SFL attendees engaged in political conversation in a peaceful and mostly quiet manner. Things got more raucous over time, then Jeffrey Tucker and others arrived to loudly denounce Spencer. Tucker left the scene, but those who came with him kept yelling, prompting hotel security to ask the entire crowd at the bar to leave. Spencer requested an escort out by hotel security, which they provided.

“It was really unfortunate how it turned out,” Steffen said. “I think the Hoppe Caucus did a good job of pushing the envelope and exposing hypocrisy though. Spencer’s ideas should be challenged with better libertarian ideas. He should not be bullied.”

The Exchange

First, let us analyze the exchange between Tucker and Spencer, transcribed below from the source video:

“JEFFREY TUCKER: I think fascists are not welcome at an anti-fascist conference! Not welcome! Students For Liberty is about human dignity, about liberty for all and not about fascism and that is what that man represents! You know the only reason you’re here is because of public accommodation laws; otherwise you’d be thrown out immediately, buddy.
RICHARD SPENCER: Oh, its Jeffrey Tucker! (unintelligible)
JT: (unintelligible) Yeah, this hotel, because you’re devaluing this property, my friend.
RS: Oh, really? By you, Jeffrey? I’m not sure you could throw out a fly, little Jeffrey. Hey Jeffrey, I used to read those articles by you, Jeffrey.
JT: Look, you don’t belong here. You absolutely don’t belong.
RS: Oh, I don’t belong here? What?
JT: You know why? Because we stand for liberty.
RS: Do you support the deep state, dude? That’s awesome.
JT: You stand for fascism, and you don’t belong here. Students For Liberty opposes everything that you stand for, buddy.
RS: You tweeted that you support the deep state over Trump. I think you might be a little fascist there, little Jeffrey.
JT: You are a troll. You can’t organize your own conference, so you come to our conference.
RS: That’s not an argument.
JT: You know the last time you tried, you had a bunch of losers in a room making Nazi salutes. That’s what happened at yours.
RS: That’s not an argument.
JT: So you come to our conference and troll us. If you were on Twitter right now, we’d all block you.
RS: I was invited by people here to come speak to them, Jeffrey.
JT: You are a liar! You are a liar! Fascists are liars! (exits)”

Inaccuracies

First, despite potentially misleading statements and signage made by the Hoppe Caucus, Spencer was not technically at the conference. He never went inside the part of the building reserved for the conference that required paid admission, but rather remained in a bar outside which was not reserved for ISFLC participants. Nor did Spencer himself claim to be part of the conference. Tucker is free to voice his opinion that fascists are not welcome at an anti-fascist conference, and although he does not officially speak for SFL, SFL released a statement in support of Tucker’s actions. However, the wisdom of such a position is questionable. The reaction of Tucker and his ilk is precisely why the alt-right is growing. Neutral observers see a fascist engaged in rational discussion while leftists angrily shout him down and cause a disturbance that gets the venue’s security involved, thus making the fascist seem reasonable by comparison.

Tucker then said that SFL is about human dignity, whatever that may mean, which means that it is not really about libertarianism. Libertarianism is a philosophical position on what constitutes the acceptable use of force. It says that initiating the use of force is never moral, but responding to an initiation of force with defensive force is always moral. Libertarianism says nothing about human dignity one way or another. In a libertarian social order, those who overindulge in vices, engage in criminal behaviors, and/or refuse to be productive people could very well find themselves living a life without dignity, especially if their particular community has a more socially Darwinian ethos. To be fair, Spencer is in the wrong here as well; while peaceful methods could partially achieve his stated goals, many of his goals could only be fully achieved by initiating the use of force.

Tucker claimed that Spencer would be thrown out if not for public accommodation laws and was devaluing the hotel’s property. It is impossible to know whether this is so because it is a counterfactual, but the fact that Spencer has been there several times beforehand without incident suggests otherwise. Ironically, Tucker used the pragmatic libertarian case against open borders to justify his outburst. Open state borders are a form of public accommodation, in that they require the force of government to prevent people from using their freedom of association and private property rights to exclude other people. He cannot be unaware of this inconsistency at this point, so we may reasonably conclude that Tucker is being malicious rather than simply ignorant. What is known is that chanting obscenities, as people accompanying Tucker did, diminishes the quality of experience for bystanders, thus devaluing the hotel’s property.

As an aside, one must wonder if Tucker would be so quick to denounce a similar figure who is of a protected class, such as a member of the Hotep movement, which is in many ways the black counterpart of the white nationalist alt-right. Perhaps inviting someone like Ali Shakur would be a more effective move at ISFLC 2018 than inviting Spencer. Then we could see whether Tucker would be consistent or would fear the social justice warriors around him calling him racist.

Spencer asked if Tucker supports the deep state over Trump, and suggested Tucker might be a bit fascist for doing so. This referred to a February 15 article by Tucker, arguing that however bad the establishment may be, Trump could be worse. While his analysis in that article is suspect, the only hint of fascism from Tucker is in his reaction to Spencer’s presence.

Libertarianism and Fascism

Tucker claimed that SFL stands for liberty while Spencer stands for fascism, and thus Spencer did not belong there. Let us examine the relationship between libertarianism and fascism, for there has long been a link between the two. Ludwig von Mises wrote favorably of fascism in 1927, saying,

“It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history. But though its policy has brought salvation for the moment, it is not of the kind which could promise continued success. Fascism was an emergency makeshift. To view it as something more would be a fatal error.”

Mises was prescient on the matter of how fascism in particular and reaction in general arises. There is no need to fix that which is unbroken, so a healthy social order will contain nothing to the right of conservatism, meaning the desire to maintain the status quo. Reactionary thought arises when a society makes a mistake and the social order becomes unhealthy, and fascism in particular arises as a response either to the threat of a communist takeover or to the suffering caused by socialism. Libertarianism and reaction are pieces of a whole, and libertarianism and fascism can work together in some circumstances because they share the common enemies of democracy, socialism, and communism. There is a danger here, as Mises would learn the hard way when fascists forced him out of his academic position in Vienna and away to America, but history clearly demonstrates that as bad as fascism can be, communism and socialism wreak more havoc.

The 1973 Chilean coup d’état led to another confluence between libertarianism and fascism. Before Augusto Pinochet took power, Chile was suffering from 140 percent annual inflation and contracting GDP under Marxist leadership. Pinochet was willing to listen to Milton Friedman’s students, and although the Chicago School of Economics is not as libertarian in disposition as the Austrian School, this led to an important series of market reforms and improvements in the mid-1970s and the 1980s known as the Miracle of Chile. These policies were continued after Pinochet’s rule ended in 1990, and the percentage of people living in poverty was reduced from 48 percent to 20 percent from 1988 to 2000. In 2010, Chile was the first South American nation to win membership in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, an organization restricted to the world’s richest countries.

In more theoretical terms, if a private property owner under libertarian standards wishes to administer his estate after the form of a fascist dictatorship, it is his right to do so. Being the owner of the property means that he has a right to exclusive control over it, including its governance structure. However, he cannot force people to stay, so a libertarian fascist will have to be far less oppressive than statist fascists in order to keep his regime populated. This kind of governance, which offers people no voice and free exit, has proven best at limiting state power throughout history. It would also be best for limiting the tyranny of the private property owner that so concerns critics of libertarianism. This sort of libertarian fascism is not what Spencer advocates, but Tucker’s claim that fascism is necessarily opposed to libertarianism is both logically false and contradicted by the historical case of Pinochet’s Chile.

Trolling, Heiling, Blocking, Lying

Tucker claimed that Spencer came to ISFLC because he could not organize his own conference, then contradicted himself by referencing Spencer’s National Policy Institute Conference in November 2016 at which Spencer said, “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!,” and several people in the audience responded with Nazi-style salutes. Though Spencer’s conference was much smaller (275 attendees versus 1,500+ attendees), Tucker’s claim is clearly false.

Tucker accused Spencer of being a troll and of lying about being invited to the venue. Spencer was not lying about being invited, as the Hoppe Caucus invited him and Spencer never went into the part of the building reserved for ISFLC where he was not invited. Whether Spencer is a troll or not is mostly a matter of opinion. He is not the most informed person, having been caught in numerous errors of fact throughout the years, but he was engaging in a peaceful discourse. Being offended was a choice made by Tucker and his ilk because Spencer was attracting enough attention to make the SFL establishment uncomfortable. It is telling that Tucker and company would resort to causing a disturbance and involving security forces because his side appeared to be losing in the marketplace of ideas that night.

Tucker said that if the confrontation had occurred on social media rather than in the physical world, then all ISFLC attendees would block him. This is another untestable counterfactual, but judging by the amount of people engaging with Spencer, Tucker’s claim stretches credibility.

Aftermath

The Hoppe Caucus released a statement on their Facebook page, saying,

“The Hoppe Caucus hosted Richard Spencer at ISFLC not because we were trying to start some kind of commotion, but rather an important dialogue. Hans-Hermann Hoppe invited him to his own Property and Freedom Society Conference several years ago for that very reason. After all, event organizers thought it would be a good idea to have leftists and even full-blown communists at the event as apart of the ‘big tent.’ So why not discuss the alternative right? Why not enlarge the tent a little bit further? Furthermore, who gets to define the tent? Is it the big money funders? Is it the oligarchs? Is it is the intellectual elite? Or is it the rank-and-file libertarians? These are all questions we should be pondering considering what happened this weekend.”

SFL has declared that “[t]hose responsible for the disruption have been identified, and are no longer welcome at Students For Liberty events.” Again, this is their right, but Spencer was not inside the event proper and attempting to silence Spencer and the Hoppe Caucus only makes them look like winners of the debate to a neutral observer.

Robby Soave demonstrated an ignorance of the facts of the case and libertarian principles, as well as political autism concerning group dynamics in his write-up of the matter. This would not be so notable, except that media outlets from Salon to The Blaze ran with his deeply flawed narrative. But this is to be expected, as accepting a narrative from someone else is easier than researching and thinking for oneself.

Overall, this incident illustrates why the libertarian moment seems to have passed and the alt-right movement continues to grow. Regardless of what one may think of Tucker, Spencer, fascism, or libertarianism, the tactics employed by Tucker and his ilk ensured that Spencer and fascism emerged victorious while the flawed application of libertarian ideas by those who either do not understand them or intentionally misuse them harmed the cause of liberty.

20 Reasons Why Gary Johnson Will Not Be Inaugurated

On January 20, barring any extraordinary circumstances, 2016 Republican candidate Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. Needless to say, this means that Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson will not be inaugurated. There are a multitude of reasons for this, some of which are common to all third-party candidates, some of which affect the Libertarian Party in particular, and some of which are specific to the Johnson himself. Let us examine all of them in that order and see why Johnson not only lost, but failed to earn 5 percent of the vote against two of the least popular major-party candidates ever to seek the Presidency.

I. All Third Parties

a. Duverger’s Law

Duverger’s Law holds that plurality-rule elections (such as first past the post) structured within single-member districts tend to favor a two-party system. Duverger suggests two reasons for this; some smaller parties ally together to make a stronger party, and other smaller parties fail because voters abandon them. A purely statistical restrictive feature is that because the system rewards only the winner in each district with political power, a party which consistently loses will never gain political power, even if it receives a sizable minority of votes. There is also the matter of polarization; if a large group of voters support a candidate who is strongly opposed by another large group of voters, defeating that candidate is easier if they do not split their votes among multiple candidates. Furthermore, evolutionary psychology suggests a possible genetic basis for a left-right two-party political system.

b. Electoral College

The American system for electing presidents contains an additional barrier to third parties: the Electoral College. Rather than a direct popular vote, the winner of the popular vote in each state gains a number of electors which depends on the population of that state. This amplifies the effect of Duverger’s Law by making all losing votes in each state worthless for gaining the Presidency. This effect was seen in the 1992 election, when Ross Perot earned 18.9 percent of the national popular vote but failed to earn any electoral votes, as he did not come in first place in any state. This result has made people in recent elections more likely to view third-party campaigns as a wasted effort. Another historical example is the 1912 election, in which Theodore Roosevelt’s candidacy caused Woodrow Wilson to win far more electoral votes than his popular vote percentage would suggest.

c. Media Coverage

If a candidate is unlikely to achieve political power, then it makes little sense for the media to devote significant airtime to covering that candidate’s campaign, activities, and policy positions. Diverting media to a third-party campaign might also incur the wrath of the major parties, who could view such a move as a conspiracy between the media and the third party to upset the established order and respond with censorship measures. With the advent of the Internet and social media, this barrier is breaking down, but it is not yet gone.

d. Funding

Part of the purpose of funding a political campaign is quid pro quo; in other words, wealthy donors expect something in return for their patronage. In fact, studies show that there is no better return on investment for a corporation’s capital resources than to bribe politicians, which can generally only be done legally by funding their campaigns or their SuperPACs. If a candidate and/or party is unlikely to achieve political power, then funding them is a waste of capital. Furthermore, funding them may invite a backlash from one’s fellow oligarchs, who do not wish to see the system that benefits them be upended by a new political force.

e. Ballot Access

Like most groups which manage to consolidate power, the Republicans and Democrats abuse it. Regardless of whatever disagreements they have, they routinely agree that no other party should gain a foothold in the institutions of power and act in concert accordingly. The most common way of doing this is to pass ballot access laws which greatly favor the two major parties. This is done to burden third parties with expensive and time-consuming efforts to gain thousands of petition signatures in order to gain or keep ballot access. The third parties which cannot succeed in this are eliminated from the ballot and thus eliminated from political contention. Those which do succeed are greatly weakened by the loss of effort, money, and time which could have been spent campaigning for office if there were not such onerous requirements for ballot access.

f. Debate Access

Just as the establishment media is loathe to devote coverage to alternative parties for the reasons discussed above, they also collude with the major parties to deny access to televised general election debates. Since the 1988 election, the Republicans and Democrats have used the Commission on Presidential Debates that they created to effectively silence third-party candidates in general election debates (with the exception of Perot in 1992, but this was only because both major-party candidates believed that Perot’s presence was in their self-interest). This creates the appearance in the minds of voters that the two major-party candidates are the only legitimate choices.

II. The Libertarian Party

a. Inherent Contradiction

Libertarianism is a philosophical position on what constitutes the acceptable use of force. It says that initiating the use of force is never acceptable but using force to defend against an initiator of force is always acceptable. Taken to its logical conclusion, libertarianism requires anarchy and views the state as an institution of violent criminality. This is because the state is a group of people who claim and exercise a monopoly on initiatory force within a geographical area.

With this in mind, the Libertarian Party contains an inherent contradiction, in that it is a political party devoted to anti-politics, an attempt to use the current system in order to destroy it. In the words of Christopher Cantwell,

“Any libertarian who tells you he is trying to win an election is either lying to you about trying to win the election, lying to us about being a libertarian, or terribly misinformed. As far as we’re concerned, elections are a bad thing. We’re trying to end them, not win them.

The nature of the State is to make false promises to bait support from the people it victimizes. They promise to protect you from boogeymen; they promise to solve your economic problems; they promise to carry out the will of your deity. We see this as completely ridiculous; we know it will fail, and we know that most people are stupid enough to swallow it hook, line, and sinker, so we cannot compete with it in a popular vote.

Libertarians are anarchists, whether they realize it or not. Even the ones who are delusional enough to think that they are going to get elected and restore the bloody republic are little more than useful idiots who are repeating anarchist propaganda for us through channels normally reserved for government. The goal is not to win your elections; the goal is to turn a large enough minority against the legitimacy of the State as to make its continued function impossible.”

Though the Libertarian Party has other purposes, such as social networking and educating people about libertarian philosophy, it is hampered in a way that other, non-libertarian third parties are not by its contradictory nature.

b. Principles Over Party

The Libertarian Party brands itself as the Party of Principle, though this is questionable when one considers the candidates who run under its banner. To the extent that this is true, however, it can harm the party’s election results. A principled libertarian will reject the political quid pro quo bribery that allows the major parties to fund their campaigns and maintain their power, and this puts one at a structural disadvantage to the political establishment. As Nick Land explains,

“Since winning elections is overwhelmingly a matter of vote buying, and society’s informational organs (education and media) are no more resistant to bribery than the electorate, a thrifty politician is simply an incompetent politician, and the democratic variant of Darwinism quickly eliminates such misfits from the gene pool. …It is a structural inevitability that the libertarian voice is drowned out in democracy.”

c. Lack of Unity

If an insufficiently libertarian candidate wins the party’s nomination, LP voters are more likely than voters of other party affiliations to support another party’s candidate. In 2016, this manifested in the defection of many libertarians to the Trump campaign (and a small handful to the other campaigns), as well as the quixotic write-in campaign of failed Libertarian candidate Darryl Perry. This results in the LP having less of an impact than it would if its voters came home after a bitter primary to the same extent that voters for the two major parties do. A lack of unity in an already small party is a death sentence for its political influence.

d. Bad Presentation

From the standpoint of a philosophical libertarian, the 2016 Libertarian National Convention was a raging dumpster fire. Candidates voiced support for all sorts of anti-libertarian ideas, the least libertarian candidates for President and Vice President were nominated, a candidate for party chair performed a striptease at the convention podium, and failed presidential candidate John McAfee thought it wise to attack the core demographic of libertarianism. At a time when the Libertarian Party most needed itself to be taken seriously by the American people, the convention did nothing to help the image of libertarianism while doing much to pollute its message and tarnish its image in the minds of voters.

After the convention, the LP spread misinformation concerning what a vote for Johnson could actually accomplish. It turns out that contrary to LP propaganda, 5 percent of the national popular vote does next to nothing for ballot access because ballot access is a state-level issue. The only such law is found in Georgia, but it requires 20 percent of the national popular vote for automatic ballot access in the next election. Lying to potential voters about the impact that they will have for one’s cause is not a recipe for success.

III. Johnson/Weld 2016

a. Lack of Libertarianism

As mentioned above, Gary Johnson was the least libertarian of the five candidates featured in the debate at the convention. Johnson repeated the tired falsehood that libertarianism is social liberalism combined with economic conservatism, supported fixing Social Security rather than phasing it out, claimed that market forces had bankrupted coal companies rather than government regulations, supported for a consumption tax (which drew a round of boos from the audience), advocated regional banks rather than a free market in currency, declined to condemn the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, had no answer as to whether American involvement in the World Wars was justified, supported government involvement in marriage, favored the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which drew a round of boos from the audience due to parts which violate private property rights and freedom of association), and supported government-issued driver’s licenses (which drew several rounds of boos from the audience). Johnson also has a history of supporting military intervention against Joseph Kony, saying that Jews should be forced to do business with Nazis, wanting to ban Muslim women from wearing burqas, and growing state government spending as governor. William Weld, Johnson’s running mate, was even worse; he was the least libertarian of the four vice presidential contenders by a mile. Weld has a history of supporting affirmative action, eminent domain, environmental regulations, gun control, the Iraq War, the Patriot Act, the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama, and the presidential candidacy of John Kasich. There was nothing to attract anyone who was looking for a principled libertarian message, and much to repel them.

b. Lack of Knowledge

In a September 8 interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Mike Barnicle asked Johnson about Aleppo. Johnson completely blanked out on the issue. At the time, he was hovering around 9 percent in the polls and needed to reach 15 percent to gain access to the debates. This gaffe marked the beginning of his gradual decline from 8.8 percent on September 7 to the 3.3 percent of the vote he received on November 8. Attempts were made to defend his gaffe by claiming that Johnson could not bomb other countries like major-party presidents do if he did not know about them, but these rightly rang hollow. A few weeks later, Johnson was asked to name a foreign leader that he admires and was unable to name anyone. While a philosophical libertarian could say that all heads of state are presiding over criminal organizations and are thus unworthy of admiration, Johnson did not do this and attempts by his supporters to spin his gaffe in that fashion were risible at best. It is one thing to withdraw from foreign entanglements, but quite another to have no idea what is happening in the world.

c. Lack of Personal Growth

Johnson first ran for President in 2012 as a Republican, then switched parties to gain the Libertarian nomination. As the 2012 campaign season wore on, Johnson improved in his ability to speak publicly and articulate libertarian ideas, though he still made some significant errors. Unfortunately, this trajectory did not continue. Four years is a long time in which to gain knowledge and grow as a person, but Johnson did not noticeably do either during this time. If anything, his mental faculties appear to have regressed between his 2012 campaign and his 2016 campaign.

d. Bad Presentation

Not only did Johnson gaffe badly on multiple occasions, but his presentation was downright weird at times. In an interview with NBC’s Kasie Hunt, Johnson stuck out his tongue and spoke almost incoherently. His intention was to make a point about debate access and how bad the major-party candidates were, but it looked desperate, forced, and strange. He appeared to be stoned in other media appearances, despite claiming that he had stopped using marijuana for the campaign.

e. Lack of Preparation and Study

A lack of knowledge and personal growth can only be properly addressed by preparation and study. Johnson and those around him needed to make sure that he was learning everything that he would need to know in order to be an effective presidential candidate on par with the major-party candidates. Clearly, this did not happen.

f. Inactivity Between Elections

A person who intends to run as a third-party candidate in multiple election cycles needs to be involved with the party’s activities in the intervening years. As the most public face of the organization, no one else has more power to bring in donors, encourage activists, and invite new people to the party than the party’s presidential candidate. But Johnson was nowhere to be found between the end of his 2012 campaign and the beginning of his 2016 campaign, having retreated into the private sector to run a marijuana company (which may help to explain the previous points in more ways than one). Johnson has similarly fallen off the face of the political landscape now that the 2016 campaign is over, which may harm the party’s outreach efforts leading up to the 2020 campaign.

g. Lack of Charisma

Johnson seems to lack the ability to take over a room in the way that successful presidential candidates do. Instead, he is usually soft-spoken and nervous, which causes his statements to lose some of their gravitas and his barbs to lose some of their sting. When he does raise his voice, it comes across not as righteous indignation but as a simple loss of temperament. While this might be good for countering the imperial Presidency after taking office, it is counterproductive for getting there.

h. Lack of Political Awareness

Much like Rand Paul during his campaign, Johnson seemed completely oblivious to what was happening in middle America. Whether by the statism indoctrinated into the voting public or by the political autism and cuckoldry that commonly manifest in mainstream libertarians, the libertarian moment passed and the right-wing populist moment came. The Libertarian Party found itself just as unprepared for this as did the Democrats and the establishment Republicans. For this reason (and the previous reason), Johnson was incapable of effectively countering Trump.

i. Unscrupulous Spending/Ron Neilson

The Libertarian Party and its candidates never have the resources of a major-party campaign. It is therefore of the utmost importance to wisely use the limited amount of funds available. The Johnson campaign failed to do this, spending an inordinate amount on campaign consulting services while still owing nearly $2 million from his 2012 campaign. If the campaign had received a good return on its investment into Ron Neilson’s consulting firm, then this might not be so bad. But given all of the above issues which a consulting firm might be expected to notice, bring to a candidate’s attention, and attempt to resolve, this was clearly not the case.

j. Lack of Loyalty

Even if all of the above issues did not exist, it is difficult to mount a successful presidential campaign when it is being torpedoed by no less than the bottom half of the ticket. Bill Weld proved that he is not only anti-libertarian on the issues, but a traitor to the Libertarian Party. In an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on November 1, Weld said,

“Well I’m here vouching for Mrs. Clinton and I think it’s high time somebody did, and I’m doing it based on my personal experience with her and I think she deserves to have people vouch for her other than members of the Democratic National Committee, so I’m here to do that.”

At a press conference on November 7, the following exchange occurred:

Press: Between Clinton and Trump would you say ‘vote for Hillary Clinton?’

Weld: “Absolutely! I’ve sort of said that from day 1… But I’m saying, you know, if you can see your way clear to vote the party in the middle, that would be the Libertarians, that’s our first choice.”

Weld then said,

“We want people to vote Libertarian, but I understand in very close swing states there may be different dynamics at play, but in places like Massachusetts, where Mrs. Clinton is way, way, ahead, I would encourage everybody to vote Libertarian.”

Given the history of third-party candidacies, this is exactly the wrong approach. Third parties advance their causes by playing spoiler, thus forcing the major parties to either adopt their platforms or face the threat of being replaced in the way that the Republicans replaced the Whigs.

Conclusion

Gary Johnson is not going to be President, and the 20 reasons discussed above show that there was never any doubt of this by any competent observer. In future elections, this should be a thorough guide for the Libertarian Party concerning what not to do. But because Johnson gained a record vote total and vote percentage for the LP and libertarians tend to be no better than other people at recognizing the need to contemplate counterfactuals rather than to look only at what happened in this timeline, these lessons will likely remain unlearned and the LP will continue to wander in the wilderness.

25 More Statist Propaganda Phrases

In the discourse of statists, there is a group of phrases of which one or more tend to be present in nearly every argument. The previous listing of twenty-five such phrases was a major hit, so here are twenty-five more of the most common phrases that statists use in their arguments. As propaganda has a tendency to be repetitive, some of these phrases contain the same logical fallacies, and will therefore have similar refutations. As such, the phrases are ordered so that earlier rebuttals also apply to some later phrases.

  1. Give back to the community”

This phrase is used by people who want business owners to support local charities or help the needy directly. There is nothing wrong with this sentiment. In fact, it is more likely to be efficient and effective than a government welfare program, and it is certainly morally superior. Private charity operations must compete for donations, which incentivizes them to be more efficient and effective in their efforts. They also have a better sense of who can be helped out of poverty versus who will only exist parasitically upon the good will of others. But the phrase ‘giving back to the community’ is misguided and dangerous.

That one is giving back something to people implies that one has taken away something from those people. This can lead to a perception of legitimate business owners as thieves who do not rightfully own what they have, when the truth is quite the opposite. To the extent that businesses in a free market thrive, they do so by voluntary trade. They give customers what they want at prices they deem reasonable. The customer wants the business owner’s products more than he wants his money, while the business owner wants the customer’s money more than he wants his products. They trade assets and both are improved from their subjective points of view. As such, a business is always giving to the community, and its profits are evidence of the value that its customers have received from the business.

If the charitable nature of business ended there, it would be good enough, but there is more. A successful business will be able to employ people. This allows people to accept a constant rate of payment for work done without having to take on the capital risks of starting and running a business oneself. Additionally, this gives the poor and the mentally deficient, who cannot start their own businesses, a path to prosperity and a sense of dignity.

The idea that such benevolent activity to improve one’s community is somehow exploitative of that community is nothing short of communist propaganda and should be rejected as such. Businesses that donate to charities are not ‘giving back to the community’; they are giving the community even more.

  1. Pay your fair share”

Phrases 2-7 are used by progressives who want to intervene in the market economy and make the wealthy pay more taxes. This is wrong on two counts. First, taxation would be considered robbery, slavery, trespassing, communicating threats, receipt of stolen money, transport of stolen money, extortion, racketeering, and conspiracy if anyone other than government agents behaved identically. An objective moral theory must be consistent, so it can be no respecter of badges, costumes, or affiliations. What is immoral for you and I to do must also be immoral for government revenuers to do. Second, the rich already pay the vast majority of the tax revenue collected, while many poor people pay nothing. If “pay your fair share” is to be logically consistent, then all of the poor should be taxed at least to some extent.

  1. Income inequality”

The income inequality generated by a free market is a feature, not a bug. People have different degrees of expertise, intelligence, and motivation, which results in different ability to earn income. This results in the people with the most resources being the people who are best at acquiring, defending, and properly investing those resources. This ultimately benefits everyone because it allows innovations to move past the initial stage, at which only the rich can afford them, and become inexpensive enough for mass adoption. To the extent that income inequality is a problem, it is due to state interference in the form of currency debasement and regulatory capture.

  1. Society’s lottery winners”

This is an open insult to the hard work that business owners have put into their firms to make them successful. A lottery winner invests money in a manner which one may expect to be wasteful and happens to get unearned wealth. A business owner invests both money and labor in a manner which one may expect to be productive, and some earn wealth.

  1. You didn’t build that”

The idea behind this phrase is that someone else built the infrastructure upon which a business relies in order to interact with its customers and make profits. But those who use this phrase make an unjustifiable logical leap from there to assert that a business owner should pay taxes to the state in return for that infrastructure. The problem is that the state monopolizes the infrastructure and forces people to pay for it, in many cases without regard for how much they use it, if at all. People should pay for what they use, but it is immoral to force people to pay for what they are forced to use. In a free society, the infrastructure would be privately owned and voluntarily funded. Those who say that the state must provide infrastructure, and in turn that people must pay taxes for it, have an unfulfilled burden of proof that they frequently shift, committing a logical fallacy.

  1. Gender pay gap”

Those who obsess over this issue point to an overall disparity in pay between men and women and conclude that some kind of unjustifiable gender discrimination must be occurring. But to some extent, a gender pay gap results from the natural differences between the genders. Intelligence testing shows that while the average intelligence level is almost the same for both genders, the standard deviation is much higher for males. This means that geniuses and dunces are both disproportionately male, which females are more likely to be of average intelligence. This makes sense from an historical perspective; in traditional societies, some men were planners and inventors, other men were manual laborers, and women were the support staff for both groups. (There were occasional deviations from this, but they were the exception and not the rule. The NAXALT objection is a sign of political autism and should be denounced as such.) As the highest-paying jobs tend to require great intelligence, and people with great intelligence tend to be male, it follows that a gender pay gap would result. Males tend to have more strength and toughness than females, and the nature of human procreation makes males more disposable. This grants males an advantage in taking high-risk jobs which have hazard pay bonuses, resulting in a gender pay gap. Behavioral differences between the genders, which are also partly genetic in origin, produce a difference in the ability to negotiate for higher salaries.

Another problem with the progressive narrative on gender and pay is that they look only at the aggregate and do not compare like cases. When two workers in the same profession who are equal in every measurable way except for their genders are compared, such disparities do not appear. In some cases, women even earn a few percent more than men when this is taken into account. Part of the reason for the aggregate pay gap is that women choose to work in different fields from men, and these fields do not pay as much.

Although baseless misogyny (and misandry) do occur, its elimination would only reduce the gender pay gap; it would not result in equal pay.

  1. Social justice”

The idea of social justice is that the state should ensure fair distribution of wealth and social privileges, equal opportunity, and equality of outcome. The implication is always that the current conditions are socially unjust. This idea has several major problems. Who defines what is fair, and why should they be allowed to define it? If opportunities and outcomes should be equal, who must make them equal? If an injustice is present, who is the subject of the injustice?

Fairness is a subjective concern, and should therefore be determined by those who are closest to an interaction, i.e. those who are directly involved or affected. As long as all parties to a interaction participate voluntarily and no external party is aggressed against, all involved may deem the interaction fair and the matter of its fairness should be considered resolved. But in social justice rhetoric, the idea of fairness is an excuse to stick one’s nose in where it does not belong and interfere in matters which are none of one’s business. Because doing this successfully involves initiating the use of force against peaceful people and all wealth and privilege can be traced back to a series of interactions, social justice perverts the idea of fairness into something intrusive and unfair.

Equal opportunity and equal outcome are advocated by right-wing and left-wing ideologues, respectively, but both of these are erroneous. Neither can exist without not only a redistribution of wealth, but a leveling of cultural norms and a medical erasure of genetic differences between people, for all of these give some people advantages over others. The resulting inequality of opportunity will necessarily cause an inequality of outcome. All of these measures require initiating the use of force against people who do not wish to be made equal in these senses. Thus, social justice twists the idea of equality into something which must be imposed by unequal means, as the state and its agents are legally allowed to do that which is disallowed for other people and organizations to do.

Ultimately, social justice is not a form of justice at all because there is no subject by which an injustice can be committed. Proponents of social justice will say that a collective is the victim, but this is impossible because collectives do not exist. To exist is to have a concrete, particular form in physical reality. To say that collectives exist is beg the question of what physical form they take, as all available physical forms are occupied by the individuals which are said to comprise the collective. Thus there is no collective existence apart from the existence of each individual said to comprise the collective. Those who advocate social justice cannot point to an individual victim of social injustice, but they seek to create a multitude of victims of real injustice.

  1. Level playing field”

This phrase is used by regulatory busybodies who see an innovation and decide to stand athwart history yelling “Stop!” In any sort of activity, some people will always have an advantage over others, whether it is a first mover advantage, a better idea, better marketing, greater intelligence, etc. The truth is that there can be no such thing as a level playing field, and that which cannot be done should not be attempted.

  1. Our Constitution”

Phrases 9-14 are used to foster a sense of collective identity. The idea that a constitution is “ours” assumes that a collective exists and has ownership of the constitution. As explained earlier, collectives do not exist apart from the existence of each individual said to comprise the collective. Additionally, to own something is to have a right of exclusive control over it. Part and parcel of this right is the right to physically destroy that which one owns. As governments would use force to stop anyone from attempting to destroy the constitution either literally or figuratively, the citizens are not the de facto owners of a constitution.

  1. Our shared values”

Although any recognizable social group will come together to further a certain set of shared values, this phrase is frequently abused by statist propagandists to create a sense of nationalism. In modern nation-states, there tend to be few (if any) shared values across the entire population. To the contrary, it is usually the case that large subcultures within the nation hold values which are diametrically opposed to each other, as well as to the values which are espoused by the ruling classes. To make matters worse, whatever constitution or other founding documents may be in use are frequently cited by all sides in the cultural conflict as a means to justify their own views and attack their opponents.

  1. Our fellow (insert national identity)”

Much like the previous phrase, this is used to lump together people who may or may not fit together by constructing a common identity around them which may or may not have any basis in reality. The implication is that even if people within a nation have disagreements, they are still part of the same collective. This is not necessarily the case because disagreements between subcultures within a nation can grow to a point at which they are no longer able to peacefully share a system of governance. This necessitates a peaceful parting of ways, and the unwillingness of political leaders to allow this to happen results in political violence and civil wars.

  1. That is un-(insert national identity)”

As sociologists are so fond of telling us, an in-group will attempt to clarify its boundaries by othering some people, i.e. defining them as part of the out-group. This is done for purposes of ideological purity as much as for any other reason. Politicians and pundits use this phrase in an attempt to define certain ideas as being out of bounds of the allowable range of opinions. But just as a nation has no existence apart from the individuals comprising the nation, a nation has no ideals apart from the ideals of the individuals comprising the nation. Thus, to tell a person of national identity X that they hold un-X ideas is a contradiction of terms.

  1. National interest”

There is no such thing as a national interest apart from each individual person’s interests because there is no such thing as a nation apart from each individual person. Because a nation will invariably contain individuals whose interests contradict each other, the idea of a national interest is false by contradiction unless everyone in a nation can agree upon a certain set of core interests.

  1. Shared sacrifice”

When government and central bankers interfere with the economy and cause a recession, both typically intervene with fiscal and monetary stimulus programs. As Keynesians, they do not understand that they are only sowing the seeds for another boom and bust cycle. When this happens, politicians and their minions will call for “shared sacrifice.” This phrase really means that they wish to pass off the costs for the mistakes of the ruling classes and the politically-connected wealthy onto the entire population rather than let natural selection eliminate the incompetent from the ranks of politicians, central bankers, and speculators. Of course, the people never get a proper return on their forced investment; rather, it is heads they win, tails you lose.

  1. Rights come from the government”

This phrase is used by progressives who wish to justify their view of the role of government, but it is contradictory. If rights are given by the state, then they can also be taken away by the state. But a right is not something which can be taken away by someone else; it can only be forfeited by the right-holder by violating the equivalent right of another person. This contradiction necessitates a different source for rights, such as argumentation ethics.

With the theoretical argument refuted, let us turn to practical concerns. Progressives claim that government is necessary as a defender of our rights, for the most brutish person or gang may rule and violate our rights otherwise. But a government is a group of people who exercise a monopoly on initiatory force within a geographical area. A government is funded through taxation, which violates private property rights. Its laws are enforced by the threat of arrest, fines, imprisonment, and possibly execution, which violates liberty, property, and possibly life rights. A rights-protecting rights-violator is a contradiction of terms, and the state is just such a brutish person or gang that the progressives say we need safeguards against. Note that although they have a burden to prove that this territorial monopoly is required in order to protect rights, they never do so. At best, they will ask for counterexamples, but this reliance upon historical determinism only shows their lack of courage and imagination to think beyond what has been to see what can be.

  1. We get the government we deserve”

This phrase commonly appears in the media immediately following an election, particularly after a result which entrenches the current system and fails to produce the changes which are invariably promised (which is to say, nearly always). The way that this phrase is used by the media is an example of victim blaming, as the people are going to continue to be violently victimized by agents of the state and the media is saying they deserve to be.

However, one could also interpret this as a call for revolution; in the words of Frederick Douglass, “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” There is a case to be made that if people are unwilling to abolish the state by force even though they could, then they deserve to suffer the consequences of their inaction.

  1. Pay your debt to society”

This phrase is used by commentators on criminal justice issues as a euphemism for serving time in prison. The problem with this phrase is that society cannot be a victim because it does not really exist; each individual person exists. A crime must have a definite victim; an individual and/or their property must have been aggressed against. Any debt incurred by a criminal should be payable to that victim, not to all people living within a geographical area.

  1. Rule of law”

This phrase is used by people who try to justify the state by fear-mongering about what could happen without it. But the truth is that rule of law is fundamentally incompatible with a state apparatus. Rule of law is the idea that people should be governed by laws rather than by the arbitrary decisions of rulers. A state is a group of people who exercise a monopoly on initiatory force in a certain geographical area. People who have a monopoly on initiatory force necessarily have a monopoly on the enforcement of laws. This means that they can choose the nature of the law and the enforcement thereof. Thus, in the presence of a state, those who wield state power rule the law. The law does not rule them. Therefore, the only possibility for rule of law is to have no state.

  1. Law-abiding citizen”

This phrase is frequently uttered by the common person as a sort of virtue signal that one is a good person. But whether abiding the law makes one a good person is dependent upon the nature of the law. In a statist society, the law is a collection of opinions written down by sociopaths who have managed to either win popularity contests or murder their competitors and enforced at gunpoint by thugs in costumes. When most people commit several felonies every day because the laws criminalize a vast array of activities which do not threaten or victimize anyone and purport to legitimize the victimization of the citizen at the hands of the state, a law abiding citizen is not a goal to which people should aspire.

  1. Common sense regulations”

This phrase is used by people who wish to restrict economic and/or personal freedoms on the grounds of some public good. But their proposed regulations often defy common sense, not that common sense provides an accurate understanding of reality. The purpose of this phrase is to demonize opponents of a proposal as lacking good sense without having to make a logical case for the proposal.

  1. Corporate citizen”

This phrase is used by people who wish to hold businesses accountable to various laws and regulations. It has its roots in the idea of corporate personhood, the idea that a corporation has rights and responsibilities similar to those of a person. This is wrong because a corporation is a legal fiction created by the state to shield business executives from liability. It is not an extant being with moral agency, as a real citizen is. If the object is to hold people fully accountable for their actions, then corporations must be abolished and full liability for one’s crimes must be restored.

  1. Don’t waste your vote”

This phrase is used by supporters of major-party candidates who wish to suppress votes for minor parties. However, the definition of a wasted vote is a vote which does not help elect a candidate. In an indirect election, such as the United States presidential election, only electoral votes matter. Therefore, all popular votes in such a contest are wasted unless there is a law which prevents faithless electors. In elections in which popular votes directly determine the outcome, all votes for losing candidates are wasted, as well as all votes for winning candidates which went above the amount necessary to win. Thus, the percentage of wasted votes in a race may be given as

W = 100% − (Second highest vote percentage)% − 1 vote,

which will be at least 50 percent unless only two candidates receive votes and the winner wins by only one vote.

  1. This is the most important election of our lifetime”

This phrase is used by the establishment media in the hopes of increasing voter turnout. It is a combination of pleading, manipulation, and crying wolf that is completely nonsensical. It assumes that elections matter, requires impossible knowledge, and contradicts physics.

For the ruling class in a democratic state, elections are just tools of social control that provide the populace with meaningless participation in a process in order to convince them that criminal conduct performed under color of law is legitimate because “they voted for it.”

In order for the upcoming election to be the most important of our lifetime, it must be more important than every future election in which current voters will vote. But the future is unknown and unknowable until we arrive at it.

It is known that altering a system at an earlier time gives it more time to develop differently, resulting in greater changes. As such, at least in terms of how different a counter-factual world in which a different candidate took office might be, the most important election of any person’s lifetime should be their first one.

  1. Freedom isn’t free”

This phrase is used by supporters of government militaries and their military-industrial complexes to stir up emotional support for soldiers, defense spending, and the occasional foreign invasion. But the fact that freedom must be defended at a cost does not mean that a government monopoly military is necessary or proper for that task. There is a logical gulf between the two that most people cannot even see because governments have monopolized military defense for millennia, but it is there. To simply jump across it without attempting to explain why a private, voluntarily funded, non-monopolized form of military defense would be insufficient is philosophically invalid.

  1. We need to have an honest conversation”

This phrase is used by politicians and their propagandists when dealing with controversial political issues which tend to go unaddressed for long periods of time due to their third rail nature. But politicians have a tendency to either do nothing about such issues or to uniformly disregard the will of the people. The real purpose of this phrase is to set a trap for both the mainstream opposition and political dissidents. Either can be tricked into believing it acceptable to venture opinions which are outside of the Overton window, for which the establishment can then attack them as unreasonable extremists. In some cases, it is a way for authoritarian regimes to find out who to violently suppress. As such, it is best to rebuke those who make such a claim.

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!

Book Review: Our Sister Republics

Our Sister Republics is a book about the history of the United States and its relations with Central and South America in the early 19th century by history professor Caitlin Fitz. The book discusses the popular sentiment in favor of revolutions against Spanish and Portuguese control in Latin America following the War of 1812, which turned sour after 1826 as the new republics suffered civil unrest and incompetent governance while the United States turned toward racialist nationalism.

Fitz first presents a map of the Americas as they were in 1825, to which the reader should continually refer while reading through the book in order to have a better sense of the involved geography. In the introduction, she explains her terminology, briefly covers American history from the Revolutionary War to the War of 1812, and gives a short overview of what she covers at length in the rest of the book.

The opening chapter explains the context in which Americans first came to look fondly upon South America. Early references to Christopher Columbus would lead to the concept of a liberty-loving Columbia. Spain’s distractions with European wars resulted in less trade restrictions between the US and Spanish America. These factors led to affinities for Spanish America once they began to revolt against their colonial masters. Even then, there were some reservations about the ability of South Americans to form republican governments. From 1810 until the mid-1820s, these reservations came to be expressed only when revolutionaries faltered. It helped that the US fought a second war for independence while the South Americans were fighting their first.

The second chapter discusses the agents of revolution who came to the US to foster support for South American rebels. Occasionally exceeding neutrality laws and frequently using American presses for propaganda purposes, they helped provide revolutionaries with the materiel they needed to secure independence. Fitz shows that this was a colorful cast of characters in more ways than one, and illustrates the undercurrent of race which would eventually come to the forefront.

The third chapter gives an overview of the activities of the press in the 1810s, showing how they affected (and sometimes manipulated) public opinion in favor of the revolutionaries. There were occasional dissenters, but they would be marginalized and rebutted until some years into the 1820s. Fitz demonstrates that then as now, there is no such thing as objective journalism because editors are more likely to publish and treat favorably that which they support.

The fourth chapter is about Simon Bolivar and the perception of him in the US. Fitz shows through toasts and baby names that Bolivar gained much admiration in the US, even as Bolivar did not respond in kind. Both whites and blacks found something to like in Bolivar, even though these aspects were quite different. Whites saw republican unity; blacks saw an abolitionist leader.

In the fifth chapter, Fitz discusses the US government’s actions toward South America at the time. Some black and white pictures augment the chapter, and would have improved the book elsewhere had they been included in other chapters. The role of merchants in financing and supplying revolutionaries is examined, along with the activities of privateers and filibusterers. Many Americans today would be surprised to know how many in those days volunteered to serve in foreign militaries. The second half of the chapter focuses on the important American political personalities of the time: Henry Clay, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams, but finally the rise of William Smith and those like him who eagerly defended racism and slavery.

The sixth chapter begins with the election of 1824 and the “corrupt bargain” that awarded the Presidency to John Quincy Adams instead of electoral vote leader Andrew Jackson. This event set the stage not only for the Whig versus Democrat party system, but for the turning of the tide in relations with South America. Fitz explains how the passivity of the egalitarian sentiments of the time left them vulnerable to growing slavery in the southern US and the arguments in favor of it. The controversy over the Panama Congress of 1826 furthered the shift in American views toward their southern neighbors. Though Clay, Adams, and Bolivar had high hopes, the congress was a disaster. It is interesting to note that some themes have been constant throughout American history; the Democrats’ antebellum platform of limited government, nationalism, racism, opposition to social reform, and economic populism has much in common with the views of the alt-right. And as always, when rhetoric and reality depart from one another, reality always wins in the long run.

The conclusion looks forward to the 1830s and beyond, showing how the sentiment of the 1810s and its reversal in the 1820s manifested going forward. Fitz ends the book by wondering how America could have turned out differently and for the better had the sentiments of the 1810s not been overthrown. The second half of the book shows how American exceptionalism originated as a pro-slavery, white supremacist idea, and how the US came to be a foe of anti-colonial movements in the 20th century.

Fitz’s appendix and notes demonstrate that she certainly did an appropriate amount of research for the project. Overall, this is an excellent book that covers an oft-neglected aspect of early US history in a manner which engages the reader much better than the average history book.

Rating: 5/5

Book Review: Good Guys With Guns

Good Guys With Guns is a book about concealed firearms and their effects by sociologist Angela Stroud. The book discusses the rise in concealed carry permits, the way armed citizens interpret their environments, and the role of gender, race, class, and culture in firearm ownership through a series of interviews conducted by Stroud.

The interviews illuminate many interesting aspects of firearm ownership which are not adequately discussed elsewhere, and Stroud makes a genuine effort to understand people who disagree with her. But she commits a multitude of errors which are common among leftists and sociologists, and seems to be unable to keep herself from doing so. A survey of these errors will be more edifying than a more typical book review, so let us explore where and how Stroud goes wrong.

In the opening chapter, Stroud claims that gun advocates ignore empirical data which show that women might be more harmed than guns than protected by them, but there is good reason to ignore such data.1 She describes security, family values, individual freedom, and the defense of vulnerable people from criminals as being inherently masculine values rather than healthy values for any person regardless of gender. Later in the chapter, she describes her research methods, detailing the number of interviews, the types of people interviewed, the length and location of the interviews. She concludes the chapter by describing her own views and how they were changed by her research activities.

The second chapter opens with Stroud describing her concealed handgun license (CHL) test experience and criticizing her instructor for calling out incompetence and foolishness in other people during the shooting part of the test. She then argues that gender roles are social constructs while showing little recognition of the biological and environmental realities upon which such constructs are built. This is a recurring error that she makes toward a variety of subjects throughout the book. On the subject of good guys and bad guys, she neglects to mention a third type of character (who might be called an antihero guy) who breaks the rules not to take pleasure in violence for violence’s sake, but due to desperation and/or rules which promote injustice. Like most of her supposed binaries, this is actually a sliding scale between two pure extremes. Her interviews with men reveal some expected results: firearm ownership and use provides a bonding experience for males; men who are vulnerable due to aging or lack of size feel more secure when armed; and men carry guns as part of their traditional role as family protector. But she dismisses the concerns of the men who feel vulnerable as “elaborate fantasies,” seems to have no concept of peace through mutually assured destruction, and presents the vulnerability of women without guns against men as a social construct rather than a frequent empirical fact. She claims that men who want guns to defend their families but are frequently away from home and men who believe it is their job to defend their families because they are physically stronger but want women to have guns as equalizers are in contradiction, but there is nothing contradictory about these positions. Later, she suggests that a response to being robbed is to let the robbers get away with what they want, which shows no understanding of how incentives work.

The third chapter is about Stroud’s interviews with women who carry guns. Again, the interviews reveal what we might expect: women are usually introduced to guns by men instead of other women or their own initiative; many women who carry firearms do so to reject the need for men to protect them; women do not have access to as many institutionalized opportunities to learn about guns as men do; carrying firearms can restore a sense of strength and confidence in women who have been victimized; women can gain a sense of pride from mastering what is thought of as a predominantly male activity; and women with children typically value their children’s lives above their own. Stroud claims that it is paradoxical for women to fear men and rely on them for protection, but this is only true if it is the same men in both cases. Her analysis of women’s vulnerability as a social construction is flawed because it relies too strongly on empiricism; while it is true that men are more likely to be the victims of violent crime, the average woman is more victimizable than the average man due to the difference in size and physical ability. Her claim that arguing against common female perceptions about guns amounts to reinforcing the patriarchal nature of gun culture is an example of kafkatrapping. She continually attributes to patriarchy what is actually the result of male disposability.

The fourth chapter discusses perceptions of good versus evil, and how race and class shape those perceptions. Stroud claims that crime is a social construction, but because crime is defined as violating the law, it follows that the law is also a social construction. This makes the idea of determining good guys versus bad guys with respect to their obedience of the law or lack thereof entirely subjective, making her analysis of people who carry firearms illegally highly questionable. Her discussion of the perception that young black men are viewed as criminals neglects to mention crime statistics which show that they are responsible for a disproportionate amount of violent crime. This is especially interesting given her claim in the next chapter that there is a lack of awareness of data on criminal victimization. Stroud contrasts those who respect a business owner’s right to refuse service to anyone with those who will not support a business that prohibits firearms on its premises, but these positions are mutually consistent as long as one does not violate a property owner’s wishes. She glosses over an instance in which a female demonstrates privilege vis-a-vis males. She speculates about what might have happened to a man who caused an incident if he had been black instead of white as though it were a foregone conclusion that the police would have fired on him rather than restrain themselves and assess the situation. As mentioned earlier, good versus evil is not a binary construct, but a sliding scale with various shades of gray. That said, the reason that women are almost never mentioned as bad guys is partly because men are responsible for a disproportionate amount of violent crime and partly due to the relative disposability of males.

The fifth chapter covers self-defense and personal responsibility, from protection against criminals all the way to doomsday prepping. Again, Stroud seems to have no sense of objective reality, instead referring to threat perception solely as a social construct. The belief that the outcasts of society are necessary to define its boundaries demonstrates an inability to step outside of binary thinking and look at how a society can define itself in terms of what it is for rather than only what it is against. Stroud discusses free markets as though they have existed, and is critical of the supposed result of them, in effect blaming capitalism instead of cronyism or communo-fascism. She claims that white perceptions of the high rate of homicides among blacks can only be viewed as a case of white racial apathy, but it may also be a case of whites expecting blacks to take responsibility for solving their own problems and fixing their own communities instead of expecting the state to do it for them, especially because the state has caused most of their problems. She seems incapable of understanding privilege as something that is earned and inequality as something that is both extant and just, though perhaps not at its current extent. Ultimately, she regards individualism not as an empirically observable fact, but as a fiction of whiteness. That those who have enough wherewithal and firepower to survive would be the only survivors in a complete breakdown of civilization is the result of any logically sound consideration of disasters, with the exact nature of who survives a particular scenario providing the definition of “enough” for that scenario.

The final chapter discusses the social implications of an armed citizenry. Stroud repeats the mistake of viewing the idea of a threatening other as a social construct rather than an empirical reality. She asks how it can be that gun violence is both so common that good people need guns for defense but so uncommon that restrictions on gun purchases are unjustified, without considering that the answer is that the restrictions which do exist have a terrible track record of stopping criminals. For some reason, she believes that criminals will obey gun control laws even though they disobey laws by definition.2 The idea that gun restrictions represent a slippery slope toward confiscation is not a baseless conspiracy theory; it is demonstrated by a multitude of cases. She speaks of the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman incident as though it was black versus white, but it was really black versus Latino. She confuses social responses with state responses, which need not be equivalent. We know how Adam Lanza gained access to guns; he killed his mother and took her guns, meaning that no gun control law that forbade him from owning guns would have worked against him. That government must play a role in creating stronger communities and keeping guns away from violent criminals is asserted without evidence and may therefore be dismissed without evidence. To say that we must refuse to become victims in a democratic society is to ignore the fact that democracy necessarily victimizes people. Finally, she speaks of structural social inequality that perpetuates injustice while seeking more government involvement without realizing that government is inherently a structure that causes social inequality between its agents and the citizenry and perpetuates injustice in favor of its agents against the citizenry.

While there are many insightful points made in the book, Stroud commits far too many fallacies along the way for the book to be enjoyable or read smoothly. What could have been an excellent work on an important topic is instead bogged down by postmodern discourse, social justice rhetoric, and shoddy reasoning.

Rating: 2/5

Footnotes:

  1. Empiricism cannot provide a sufficient explanation of a situation in which counterfactuals are important. This is because empirical methods only allow us to look at the choices which were made and the consequences thereof. Examining what would have happened had a different choice been made requires one to use rationalism instead. With regard to gun issues, this means that studies which suggest that being armed could make one more likely to be harmed must be taken with a grain of salt, as there is no way to know what would have happened to armed people in a counterfactual in which they were unarmed, and vice versa.
  2. Also note that the Supreme Court has ruled in Haynes v. United States (1968) that some gun control laws which are supposed to apply to criminals do not because this would violate their Fifth Amendment right not to self-incriminate.

Book Review: The West Point History of the Civil War

The West Point History of the Civil War is a book derived from course material used at West Point to teach students about military history, strategy, and tactics. The book offers analysis of the political context of the events during the Civil War, as well as the events immediately preceding and following.

The book begins with an introduction that focuses on the role that West Point played in the lead-up to the Civil War, as well as the effect that the war had on the military academy. The main part is divided into six sections, each written by a different expert historian on the particular subject being discussed. An extensive bibliography ends the book, featuring a multitude of references and image credits.

The first chapter covers the events leading up to the Civil War, beginning with the end of the Mexican War and going through the Compromise of 1850, the battles over slavery in Kansas and Nebraska, the Caning in Congress, John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry, the election of 1860, the secessions resulting from Abraham Lincoln’s election, and the battles of First Bull Run and Shiloh. The second and third chapters are devoted to the war in the east in 1861-1863, which at the time meant the territory from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. The fourth chapter covers the western theater in 1862-1863, which was the territory from the Appalachian Mountains westward, although relatively little warfare occurred west of the Mississippi River. The fifth chapter discusses the coordination of Union forces and their strategy of hard war during 1864-1865 that led to the Confederacy’s defeat. The final chapter begins with a strategic discussion of the entire war, and finishes with a brief account of the Reconstruction Era that followed.

Throughout the book, many pictures, posters, and political cartoons from the period provide important evidence of the conditions and popular sentiments at the time. Accounts by troops of battlefield events help to show the harsh reality of war. Maps that show the locations and troop movements involved in each major battle help the reader to get a sense of what happened when, and the historians do a decent job of explaining why most of the commanders made the decisions they made. The greatest fault of the book is its incompleteness; important campaigns along the Atlantic coast get only brief mentions, and the Battle of Pea Ridge is completely omitted. In short, this is no West Point Atlas of American Wars, but it is one of the better new books on the Civil War.

Rating: 4/5

The Strategic Libertarian Case For Supporting Hillary Clinton

The 2016 election season has been a contentious and divisive time for libertarians. Some have decided to side with Republican candidate Donald Trump as the lesser of two evils. Others are supporting Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson despite his long odds and shortcomings as a candidate. A few are turning to Constitution Party candidate Darrell Castle, despite his lack of sufficient ballot access to obtain victory. Some who do not understand or care about economic liberty have even suggested Green Party candidate Jill Stein as an option for libertarians. A significant number are disgusted with all of their options and plan to stay home on Election Day. What no one seems to have contemplated is the case for a libertarian to support Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, so let us explore that case.

Clearly, there is no straightforward, face-value libertarian case for supporting someone with the track record of warmongering, corruption, thievery, and deception that Clinton has in their quest to preside over the most powerful and dangerous state apparatus in human history. But almost all libertarians have decided to stop there in their consideration of Clinton and look to the other candidates. What can be argued that has not been argued thus far is a bootlegger’s case for Clinton, in which she is supported not for the ostensible purposes of granting her the Presidency, but because her administration will cause effects that libertarians can exploit for their purposes. The overarching theme is that the leftward drive of statism in general and democracy in particular cannot be forestalled by the means at hand, so the alternative is to push leftism even faster and farther than leftists had planned in order to hasten its collapse. It is this sort of case which will be made here.

The Goal of Libertarians

It may seem odd at first glance to speak of a unifying goal for all libertarians, as libertarians have all sorts of goals, some of which are at cross purposes with each other. However, the root of the word ‘libertarian’ is ‘liberty’, so it is reasonable to conclude that a libertarian has the practical goal of maximizing the amount of liberty present in one’s environment. Liberty is generally defined as the freedom to do as one wishes as long as one respects the right of other people to do likewise and commits no aggression against them. But liberty is meaningless without private property in which to enjoy it, insecure without rule of law to defend it, precarious without peace and justice to preserve it, and absent without freedom of association. If a state is present, it will fund its activities through taxation and civil asset forfeiture, take private property through eminent domain, and restrict the use of property through intellectual monopoly, zoning, and environmental regulations. Its officials and agents will choose the nature of the law and the enforcement thereof, meaning that they rule the law and not vice versa. Its enforcers will initiate the use of violence against people who are known to disagree with government statutes and acts upon their disagreements, thus presenting a constant threat to peace. Its agents are allowed to do that which is considered criminal for anyone else to do, and the system is set up to keep them from being held to account. It will force people to associate with it regardless of whether they want to use or pay for its services. For these reasons (and many others), the maximization of liberty requires abolition of the state.

Abolition Requires Revolution

Unfortunately, the state will not abolish itself; the control and maintenance of the state apparatus is too valuable to give up for those who benefit from it. Those who bankroll political campaigns receive a far better return on investment than they would receive from any free market use of capital, and if they did not make such donations, their business rivals would. Wielding political power causes the same biochemical responses as drug abuse. There are people who carry weapons in the name of the state for the purpose of enforcing the edicts of politicians because they lack the skills and temperament to be productive members of society. There is a dependent class of people who have become accustomed to existing parasitically upon the productive members of society. All of these people are used to their way of life, and they will not give it up without a fight. Any strategy that does not deal with this fact, as well as the fact that an institution based upon initiatory force will resort to force to counter attempts to remove and/or dismantle it is doomed to failure. There are many other methods that libertarians have proposed and tried to increase the amount of liberty in society, and some have achieved some limited success. But electoral methods, agorism, cryptography, seasteading, civil disobedience, education, and peaceful parenting all fail to address the fundamental problem. Thus, they will fail to defeat the state by themselves at best. At worst, they will ease some of the pain of oppression, which allows people to tolerate more evil before they must take action to end it. Their usefulness, if any, is to push the state toward collapse while growing the population and resources of libertarians to such an extent that revolution becomes feasible.

A Successful Revolution

A revolution to end the state can only be successful if enough people participate. Moving too soon plays into the state’s hands, as it will only give the state more cause to grow and sour the reputation of libertarianism. The personnel and resources necessary to carry out a revolution are not yet assembled, so the task of the libertarian is to figure out how to assemble them. Let us begin by noting what the Declaration of Independence says about the matter:

“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

This is indeed what history shows us; people tend to overthrow governments only if they believe themselves to lack better options. Regardless of whether war, famine, or pestilence visits a population because of their government or in spite of it, a failure of a state to meet the needs of its people in a crisis has precipitated more revolutions than anything else. Although the tyrannies inflicted upon the American people by the federal government are far greater than those which inspired our forefathers to take up arms, the comforts of modernity and the civic religion of democratic statism have made evils more easily sufferable. That which would once have led people to revolt is now merely a minor inconvenience, to be brushed aside and endured because the next sports game is on. Clearly, conditions must get worse in order to make enough people believe that they must rise up against the system rather than keep trying to play the fool’s game of working within it.

Use It to Destroy It

Given that liberty requires anarchy, anarchy requires abolition of the state, abolition of the state requires revolution, revolution requires a sufficient number of participants, the number of potential participants is lacking, people revolt when they believe themselves to be out of other options, and more people will believe themselves to be out of other options if conditions get worse, the next order of business is to see what can be done to make conditions get worse. In a democratic state, the ballot box is the primary means by which decisions are made. Conditions sometimes change slowly in a nation with a deep state of unelected bureaucrats that is largely impervious to the winds of politics, but conditions do deteriorate when bad rulers are elected. While this is always the case, some candidates for office are clearly worse than others. The obvious strategy, then, is to intentionally vote for the worst candidates in an effort to push the current system toward ruin.

Who Is Worst?

With a strategy discovered, the next question concerns application. Which candidate in the 2016 presidential election would do the most to push the current system toward ruin? In other words, who has no intention or motive to make any significant changes to current policy? Who would amplify and accelerate the current course of the federal government?

We may begin by considering only the candidates who have a chance of winning, as a candidate who cannot get into office in the first place will fail a fortiori at making conditions worse while in office. This reduces our options to Clinton, Johnson, Stein, and Trump. All of the other minor-party candidates lack the ballot access to gain the Presidency, even if everyone voted for a particular one of them. Stein may also be dismissed, as polling has shown her to be in fourth place in nearly every national and state poll that has been conducted. (Though if Stein had a chance, this would be a case for supporting her instead of Clinton, as the implementation of her platform would accelerate the national debt, grow the size and scope of government, and push the nation toward economic ruin faster than the platforms of the other candidates.)

Johnson and Trump offer respites from many of the failed policies of recent administrations, though to varying degrees and for different reasons. While both focus on economic matters, Johnson takes a more libertarian approach while Trump is more nationalist. The practical upshot is that a Johnson presidency would be likely to offer much more relief over the short-term but ignore important demographic concerns, while a Trump presidency would offer much less immediate relief but address concerns over demographic shifts which are hostile to liberty. But the strategy being discussed is to vote for the worst, not the best.

A look at Clinton’s platform reveals that she favors higher taxes, more programs for minorities, more taxpayer funding for college tuition, strengthening of entitlement programs, stricter gun control measures, universal healthcare, ending the sequester for both defense and non-defense spending, amnesty for illegal immigrants, more funding for clean energy, a continuation of unproductive anti-terrorism policies, curtailment of civil liberties, and more government intervention in the workplace. She is also far more likely to start new wars than the other candidates, and this would speed along the decline more than any other policy. In other words, she will amplify and accelerate the current course of the federal government much more than Johnson and somewhat more than Trump.

Resolution in Defeat

It is also necessary to consider the impact that the election is likely to have on the supporters of the losing candidates. If Johnson loses, his supporters will likely get the result that they expect, as third-party candidates have almost no chance in a system rigged to produce a two-party system. Although a Johnson victory is technically possible if everything plays out just right, the more realistic question is whether he can get 5 percent of the vote, which would make the Libertarian Party a more significant election machine going forward. As such, voting for Johnson is more of a punt on 2016 with hopes set on 2020. That said, a disastrous result for Johnson will affirm the need for the LP to stop running the milquetoast candidates they have fielded since 2008 and put forward openly radical, even anarchist, voices.

A Clinton loss will have the effect of opening a pressure valve on populist and nationalist resentment, just as the Brexit victory did in the United Kingdom. If liberty is the goal, then a pressure valve to release steam that is needed for a revolutionary explosion is counterproductive. For as long as Trump remains in office, the right would rally behind him, turn a blind eye to many of his negative tendencies, and forget their anti-state sentiments because their man is in charge. While Trump could cause some disillusionment when many of his lofty campaign promises do not come true, many on the right have some understanding that this will be the case and that he must speak bombastically to keep his base energized and motivated. Trump could also do some good in the form of neutralizing the tactics of social justice warriors, but he has already done this and could likely not do much more in this regard. Of course, the political pendulum will swing again, for Trump is not Pinochet and never will be. Trump has given no indication that he would do anything meaningful to abolish democracy or eliminate the programs which create left-wing moral degeneracy. The left would return to its excesses as soon as it regains the Presidency, using state power to press its thumb on the scale even harder to try to ensure that nothing of the sort can happen again.

With the exception of cuckservative neocons who would count Clinton as one of their own, a Trump loss would further inflame the right and grow the reactionary movement. The right would increasingly come to realize that the democratic process as it currently operates is no longer in their interests, just as many Southerners did after the election of 1860. Due to demographic shifts, a Trumpian candidate will likely never have an easier path than in 2016, and the path is quite difficult now. While a Clinton victory is unlikely to result in a revolt before the 2020 election, it could produce other interesting results, such as renewed interest in the idea of nullification, an Article V convention, or even a serious effort by a state to secede.

Objections

Naturally, a plan to deliberately worsen conditions in one’s own nation will invite sharp criticism. Let us consider some of the most likely objections to such a plan. First, there is the objection that this will harm innocent people. This is not necessarily the case, depending upon how one defines innocence. To return to the Declaration of Independence,

“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

In this sense, the American people are in dereliction of their duty to throw off oppressors. While those who say that we get the government we deserve are victim blaming to some extent, they have a point in the sense that revolution is far more practical than most people think, yet the American people have not revolted against the state in a meaningful way since 1794. (The Civil War was a meaningful revolt, but it was not anti-state in nature; the Confederates sought to replace one government with another.) But even if we grant that this will harm innocents, it is not as though innocents will go unharmed otherwise. The state violently victimizes the innocent by its very nature, and other plans for ending the state will not prevent such victimization before the state is abolished. It is thus a question of degree and duration, much like that of ripping off a bandage rather than pulling at it slowly.

Second, there is the possibility that this plan will backfire. We may make conditions worse, but perhaps a sufficient number of people will never decide that they have had enough. This may occur because they blame those who voted us into a crisis and do not wish to fight alongside them, or because they simply lack the fortitude to revolt. This is a legitimate concern, but the possibility that people no longer have the fortitude to forcefully resist the state will be a concern regardless of the method used by libertarians.

Third, Clinton may also make leftists look for more radical methods, as she is likely to further upset the people who supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. This is actually a feature in a plan to overload and collapse the system, as it pushes the establishment toward ruin even faster. And if the far-left and the far-right come to blows in America, the rightists have a clear advantage in manpower, firepower, and the concern to target one’s enemies without harming bystanders (although neither side is perfect in the latter regard).

Fourth, there is no guarantee that Clinton will be worse than Trump. But there is no guarantee of anything promised by politicians to voters; this is the very design of democratic statism, and one of its intractable problems. Both major-party candidates are known to be serial liars, but based on their track records both inside and outside of politics, it is reasonable to conclude that they will at least attempt to advance the agendas in their platforms.

Conclusion

If one understands that the problems with which the democratic state presents us are intractable in its presence, and that the best use of the ballot box is to vote for the worst candidate in order to hasten the demise of this broken system, then supporting Hillary Clinton for liberty makes a great deal of sense. The common objections to such a plan do not withstand scrutiny, as other methods of action or inaction have the same or worse potential shortcomings. The effects of her defeat would only slow the decline rather than reverse it, and the effects of her victory would galvanize the anti-state movement like no other result that can be achieved in 2016.