I Aten’t Dead

Just a quick note to let people know that I just got back to the UK after spending most of the last day travelling, hence the lack of response to comments to my most recent posts – I appreciate the way that the libertarian side have been very reasonable and friendly, given the rather nasty way I spoke about them. I’m also very glad that my friend Hexar has been posting responses that are substantially the same as I would have posted (I’ll *HAVE* to come and visit you and Leighann some time next year, if (as seems likely) you can’t get over here, Hexar).

For those who are interested, it’s been reposted over at Liberal Conspiracy (albeit with a couple of edits) and there’s some more discussion going on over there.

I go sleep now.

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3 Responses to I Aten’t Dead

  1. pillock says:

    You know, Andrew, after looking that thread over a couple of times, and the links it contains…

    Wouldn’t you say a lot of those people seem to have a troubling faith in the ability of science to find usefully authoritative descriptions of how the world works?

    I was searching for a way to sum it up, and finally figured out what it is: it’s certainty. But not the ideological kind of certainty (though there’s enough of that in evidence too), rather what bugs me is the sweeping assumption that the only debates left are political ones! As though everything there is to know were already known, and the only thing left to disagree about was what to do with the knowledge.

    And might that belief not also be one of the headwaters of totalitarianism? Not that I’m one bit a technocrat, but rather I think I detect the technocratic urge simmering away under that discussion…and I couldn’t help thinking “haven’t we all played this scene before? Did the last ten, twenty, eighty, hundred and fifty years just never happen, or something?” Well, you know my opinion, of course: that the half-life of theoretical plausibility is shortening up. So naturally I find myself shuddering at the prospect of anybody saying “if I were in charge, here’s how I’d act based on the best information”, because I don’t see how you could ever trust anyone who believed there was “best information” that could mitigate their responsibility for making bad decisions in any way, even if only in a stoical way — that is, I don’t see how you can tolerate receiving hypotheticals from people who don’t know how to gauge whether a theory is likely to prove solid or unsolid…or how to gauge their own ability to tell, and the trustworthiness of their own opinions about relative theoretical plausibility. I mean, in that context — in the context of a world in which from year to year we can’t be sure whether or not butter really is bad for you, or if smaller earthquakes today really do reduce the severity of bigger earthquakes tomorrow — or, you know, any topic of this general stripe which is genuinely politically hot — then isn’t even the standard argument for “smaller” government rather woefully cart-before-horse-putting? When the real issue’s the same as it’s always been: how to deal with uncertainty about the future at a collective level, full stop. Not how to deal with the tension of collective vs. individual, I take that to be a secondary effect — as far as I’m concerned, once you’ve wondered how to deal with uncertainty on a collective level, you’ve said the primary thing, framed the issue nice and square. But, of course I’m just an average Canadian liberal — I look at “small government” and conclude that’s just code for “government doomed to suffer a catastrophic collapse exactly when I need it”, I look at private or P3 models for healthcare and consider them something akin to building dams out of sugar. I look at people mixing up the concepts of personal freedom and democratic freedom willy-nilly and think it’s like they’re arguing about whether it makes any practical difference to know if the Earth goes around the Sun, when the fact is the Earth either does go around the Sun, or it doesn’t…I don’t think the argument is one of science and empiricism, in other words, I think it’s one of observation and failure to observe. Of perspicuous representation, if you like.

    I don’t know…I could be talking out of my hat, I suppose…still what got me thinking about it was your friend Hexar allowing as how he considered government a necessary evil…and, you know, I don’t actually agree with that formulation! Where I live, freedom is exceedingly easy to get hold of and keep: if I march fifty miles north into the mountains I can find all the freedom I could possibly desire. No government whatsoever; lots of rocks and trees to hide behind. Plenty of food, plenty of fuel, plenty of quiet. So what’s necessary about the evil of government? It actually isn’t necessary or evil, so long as you can escape it pretty much any time you want. Okay, so Canada’s a big and sparsely-populated country, but what I’m saying is, that “necessary evil” stuff isn’t generalizable, it’s actually quite site-specific, and of course in the States it is also part of a national mystique, a social/historical/political narrative that most Americans have impressed upon them very powerfully, and from a very early age. But now, what I like is the concept of political liberty, as a rights-based condition that only exists in political society, because it acts as a countervailing force on the personal freedom of the powerful in such a society, i.e. the people who fall on the good side of the ledger of economic equality. Out on a camping trip, this power relation of course doesn’t obtain, as we all know: you can leave your Locke at home, it won’t fit in the canoe…but back in the world of traffic lights and money supplies, it re-emerges, because where political society doesn’t exist, it doesn’t exist…you can only ever get it where that “necessary evil” holds sway. So, I don’t see it as evil at all, because I love my political equality, my democratic freedom, that the powerful cannot take away!

    Does that make sense?

    So…I just think most libertarians are full of it, you know, and very hidebound and impractical…although like you I’m impressed with the politeness of that bunch. But it’s not just Woobegone on that thread, it’s also many of his interlocutors, who seem reasonably comfortable speaking as though the well of history has been capped…intelligent and educated people, of course, but I found myself mistrusting their easiness with summary, the startling convenience of their facts.

    Gee, now that I’ve gone so far as this, I think I would put all this in an email instead of a comment, but I can’t seem to find your email address around here anywhere…

    Anyway, I’m a little surprised at your LibDems, I had not expected to find the American meaning of “libertarian” current anywhere outside America! Down south it’s a sort of political default, it’s the basic American “moderate” — less government’s generally better, whatever “less” means. By contrast, when I hear someone say they’re a libertarian in Canada, I don’t think they’re moderate at all, and I don’t think “liberty” is their interest…I think their interest is personal freedom in political society, not the thing that restrains it, and in my opinion is actually reduced by it. It’s sort of like the thing about cholesterol (which, so I don’t sound mean, somebody on the LC thread did in fact bring up in an extremely timely way, and the other folks there didn’t just go “whuh-huh?”, they grokked that bizness), which is that having a lot of the good stuff (so they say — and by “they” I do not mean cardiologists, but public health spokespeople — different critter, there) is more important than having less of the bad stuff. For me what seems most beneficial is for the sheath of liberty, of political freedom, around each person to be as thick as possible, positively fat. And “small” government is not good at supplying that fatness. Of course “big” government that is also poor government isn’t any good at supplying it either, and is even better at taking it away…but even good “small” government won’t get the HDL (do I have that right? is that the “good” cholesterol?) up to levels your doctor would be happy with…

    And the irony here is that for twenty-five years it was known that there was this good/bad thing with cholesterol, but public health spokespeople told us there was just a “cholesterol number” that you needed to get down…because they were concerned if people were given the whole truth it would only confuse them, they had to create a cholesterol “culture” before they could start handing out the straight dope about how many kinds of the stuff there are. Know what I mean?

    So I guess when I click through that link, I flash on “cholesterol culture”. I think that’s what those debates are like.

    Jeez, I guess this should’ve been a post. Whoops. Feel free to delete it if you like, Andrew, it’s kinda long and rattling, and I’m beginning to think I’ve been a bit presumpuous…at least: careless.

    Cripes, “Cholesterol Culture”, that’s a title, ain’t it…

  2. No, I definitely won’t be deleting this (incidentally, my email is andrew @ thenationalpep.co.uk ) and a lot of what you’re saying makes a lot of sense. I’ll give you a proper reply some time when I can think, but for now, I just want to clear up one thing – the Liberal Democrats are definitely *not* just USian libertarians, otherwise I wouldn’t be a member. They’re a party that’s formed out of several splits and mergers over the years, and they’re essentially a coalition. The majority forces in the party are pretty much split between classical (John Stuart Mill) liberals and European-style Social Democrats, but there are substantial minorities of environmentalists, moderate democratic socialists and other groups. For convenience’s sake, you can imagine us as an alliance between the US Green and Libertarian parties, if you can imagine such a thing. The party’s single big issue is proportional representation, and if we ever get that I strongly suspect the party itself will break up into several smaller ones, but also that the party’s ideas will become a lot more prominent…

    The cholesterol metaphor is a damn good one, and I don’t know why (given all the papers I’ve written on nutritional biochemistry) it didn’t occur to me.

    Of course, where I am, in the UK, everyone’s packed so close together that government *is* absolutely necessary whereever you go – we don’t have any wilderness left except a few patches in the Highlands of Scotland, and my experience of government in my lifetime has been pretty much uniformly evil. But government as a guarantor of liberties, as you’re discussing, is of course not an evil in any sense. However, no British government in more than thirty years has actually done that…

    More if/when I become coherent again…

  3. pillock says:

    I’m doing the post! Holly has been kind enough to pop over and say nice things about me lately, so I thought I’d toss together something that might make her change her opinion! So look for it in a few minutes, maybe twenty.

    Of course I’m conversant with your system, as it’s my system too…but your Labour is nominally identical with our NDP, however it takes the place of our Liberal party in your system: the second governing party that plays games with the centre that it’s not required to and would probably be well-advised not to. And the NDP is our perpetual third party. Quite comprehensible so far, and of course Tories are Tories the world ’round (um, except for ours for the next five years or so, who are worse than Tories). But our Liberals don’t look like your LibDems at all, and that’s where my understanding breaks down somewhat…though I understand a lot of the aims, I don’t understand the political positioning: here the Liberals are considered (at least by themselves) “the natural governing party of Canada”, in other words roughly they’re Whigs, or as we call ’em “Grits”. And they intend to swallow up the Green Party of Canada one of these days, as the Tories have swallowed the last couple populist parties, this last one little better than a Christian Separatist party, yikes…even Big Blue money will have to take a little time to digest that one and shit it out. Jesus Christ, for some good old-fashioned Tories again! I mean I hate ’em, but at least they’re from my part of the universe! You don’t know the crazy brinksmanship that’s been going on over here, it’s WAR in Parliament! The Government wants to DESTROY the Opposition! It’s American-style politics cut loose into a Westminster system, all the Prime Minister does is blatantly lie through his teeth, and he can’t even be bothered to lie about how he’s lying, there’s no shame whatsoever, it’s AWFUL. I’d vote for THATCHER over Harper. At least she was a freakin’ SNOB, you know?

    Our systems are interesting: the American Consitution is so damned mathematically elegant, it’s like the world’s most perfect national DNA, like Albert Schweitzer had a kid with Florence Nightingale…and yet the kid’s grown up to be Charles Manson. Meanwhil Jean Chretien wielded power in Canada like no one anywhere since Augustus, and pretty much by the same mechanism…and we’ve survived intact as ourselves. Well, I guess Rome survived too…

    Anyway I think it’s the elitism that does it. Deep down, we want elitist bastards as PMs. It’s the ghost of aristocracy. It’s bad! But in practical terms it’s better than what happens when “aw shucks” people get into power. Because elitists are always invested in the status quo: I’m fond of saying that the difference between liberals and conservatives is that the liberals promise a better world but don’t have the guts to stick to their guns, which is bad…meanwhile conservatives promise the same thing but they do have the guts to stick to their guns, which is worse

    Anyway must try to get that thing knocked off before it’s full daylight here. Hope you enjoy it, Andrew. And more later here, of course.

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