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Are objectivists a type of anarchist?

December 17, 2013 2 comments

There is an apparent contradiction at the heart of objectivism. Ayn Rand said that she opposed the initiation of coercion/violence, but she also rejected anarchism and insisted on having a government… which is defined as an institution that has a geographical monopoly over the initiation of violence/coercion.

That doesn’t add up. Either objectivists accept a government, and then they accept the initiation of some violence/coercion in some circumstances. Or they don’t want a government, which makes them anarchists. Those options are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive; there is no other option.

Given the vehemence of Rand’s opposition to anarchy, I had previously thought that objectivists accepted government and that they were confused about the whole coercion thing. But in a debate this evening it seemed that my objectivist sparing partner was inadvertently advocating for no government (anarchy)… but with the assumption that people would voluntarily give money to a security provider that would protect everybody. The idea is that this benevolent non-profit donor-funded security provider would be called “government”, despite not initiating violence or coercion.

If this is accurate, then there are two consequences. First, semantics notwithstanding, a benevolent non-profit donor-funded security provider is not actually a government and it is totally consistent with anarchy — so such a position is really just another type of hyphenated-anarchy with a particular vision of how a free society might function. Second, it seems to me that the above approach to security provision is very reliant on the benevolence of one organisation and the people who will donate to that organisation, which means it is actually less stable than the system suggested by other market anarchists.

What do you say objectivists… are you secret anarchists living in denial, or are you people who oppose coercion all the time except for when you don’t? 

No need for a hyphen in anarchy

December 17, 2013 1 comment

Anarchy is a political philosophy, which answers the question of “what is the role of government” with the answer “nothing”. If you have no government, there is no scope for disagreeing about what the non-existent government should do.

There will still be plenty of disagreement about what should happen in society. Some people might choose to join socialist communes, or religious communities, or trading towns, or live as hermits, or whatever other options you can imagine. We can pontificate about what trends might be popular and we can argue about which community will be best… but these are not discussions of political philosophy. They are the equivalent of arguing about the best way a baker should bake bread. The beauty of anarchy is if we disagree about how to live, we can simply go our separate ways and voluntarily join different communities (or bakeries).

Therefore, hyphenated-anarchy is unnecessary. Whether a person self-describes as anarcho-communist, anarcho-syndicalist, anarcho-capitalist, anarcho-monarchist, etc… as long as the person actually is an anarchist, then these are not differences of political philosophy. They might describe personal preferences or predictions about the future, but they do not describe a disagreement about the role of government.

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Is Zimbabwe a police state?

October 30, 2013 5 comments

In Zimbabwe, the police have the power to detain somebody without charge or questioning, the government is able to overrule the judiciary, small crimes like drug possession or dangerous driving are punishable with over 20 years in jail, freedom of assembly and association are restricted, free speech is stifled as outspoken people can be taken to court for saying peaceful but “wrong” comments, subsections of society are banned from certain jobs, the internet is censored, the right to silence has been removed, and the government is involved in surveillance programs against their own citizens that sound like they come directly from 1984.

The system in Zimbabwe is still democratic, with regular elections and an active opposition. But the steady growth in government/police powers and the erosion of civil liberties have led some observers to describe Zimbabwe as a “police state”.

Not everybody agrees.

Some people in Zimbabwe have dismissed the idea of a police state as silly fear-mongering from the radical fringe. They argue that the expanded police and government powers are necessary to keep ordinary people safe. These loyalists point out that the government and police do not intend to abuse their powers, innocent people have nothing to fear, and that people complaining are simply defending criminals. Most Zimbabweans seem to agree with the loyalists and support the “tough on crime” policies.

From an outsiders perspective it is hard to know what conclusions to draw. It seems clear enough that Zimbabwe has abandoned the traditional checks and balances of liberal democracy, and have placed their faith in arbitrary power and super-strict sentencing. But is this a bad thing? Just because the government and police have suspended privacy and civil liberties, does that necessarily mean that Zimbabwe is a police state? From the outside it is easy to judge and criticise Zimbabwe for their strict policies… but perhaps they have found the right balance?

Before we judge countries like Zimbabwe for having authoritarian policies, perhaps we should try some of them in Australia to see if they work. What could go wrong?

Libertarian heading for the Senate

September 14, 2013 2 comments

In the 2012 American Presidential election, one of the side stories was the unlikely campaign of the libertarian-Republican Ron Paul, who brought a new brand of politics to the country by advocating significantly smaller government, personal freedoms, and peace. He was ultimately unsuccessful, but his brand of politics is having an ongoing impact on political debate. In America, his son is now a leading Senator and contender for 2016 President. And in Australia on the weekend the people of NSW elected a libertarian to the Australian Senate in the form of David Leyonhjelm from the Liberal Democrats.

A lot has been written and said about this unlikely outcome, and one or two things were even true. Pretty good for the mainstream media.

The discussion about the Liberal Democrats on ABC’s “the drum” TV show was particularly hilarious. Beyond the words “hello” it was hard to find any comment that wasn’t laughably, embarrassingly wrong. One commentator said that Leyonhjelm chose the name of the party because it sounded serious, but the party was started in 2001 and Leyonhjelm  joined in 2006. The reason for the name has been repeatedly explained — the Liberal Democrats believe in liberal democracy and wanted to portray that in the name. The AEC and all reasonable people don’t think that the Liberals should be able to claim a monopoly on a generic political word, especially when it isn’t even true in their case. If somebody wants to vote for liberalism, then the Liberal Democrats offers them that choice.

Another witless commentator said that Glenn Druery arranged front parties to funnel preferences to the Liberal Democrats in 1999… two years before the Liberal Democrats was even started. Fail. In fact, the Liberal Democrats were one of the only small parties that were excluded from the Druery coalition this year. Are facts even vaguely relevant for the ABC chatterati?

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Good news in the “war on drugs”

October 25, 2012 Comments off

There has been some good news in the “war on drugs” in Queensland recently. The government has been working hard to achieve their goals, and they are proud of their success. In the Australian Crime Commission Illicit Drug Data Report 2010-11 we are told that the Queensland police managed over 17,000 seizures of marijuana. Well done to the boys (and girls) in blue.

Now, some of you may be thinking that this is all a horrible waste of time & money. People have argued that the “war on drugs” is too expensive and draconian, and does more harm than good. But those people would be missing the point.

It’s true that prohibition does cost hundreds of millions, harass many peaceful people for their lifestyle choices, help organised crime and leads to more violent crime, leads to worse health outcomes and more deaths, and it doesn’t prevent drug use to any noticeable degree. But there is another effect that is often ignored — it helps switch drug-users from marijuana to other “harder” drugs.

And this is the good news.

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Jon Stewart’s questions to libertarians

May 3, 2012 Comments off

Last year, American funny-man Jon Stewart asked a series of questions to libertarians. Since then, plenty of people have responded, giving fairly comprehensive answers. I agree with some of those answers, but I thought I’d put together my own “short answers” anyway… only six months late.

1. Is government the antithesis of liberty?

We need definitions. If “liberty” means people being allowed to act voluntarily with each other (as I define it) then the antithesis is involuntary behaviour — e.g. violence, coercion, theft, murder. The government certainly does all of that, but they are not the only example (eg mafia, rapists). Further, some libertarians will suggest that if a limited government is able to decrease “private” violence & coercion, then they might even be a force for good. (This idea is known as the “night-watchman government” or “minarchism”.)

It’s worth quickly noting that government does not mean “governance”. You would still have much governance in a libertarian society (for example, cricket rules).

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Defending death threats

December 14, 2011 8 comments

I believe in free speech. I mean — I really believe in free speech.

That doesn’t just mean that I support Andrew Bolt’s right to say whatever he likes about aboriginals, irrespective of who gets offended. And it doesn’t just mean that I oppose all censorship, such as the banning of Mein Kampf in some European countries. It also means I oppose defamation laws, and I believe you should be allowed to say anything about anybody, whether true or false, for whatever reason. It even means I believe that tobacco companies should be free to advertise.

I believe attempts to limit speech “for the public good” will mostly do more harm than good, and that messy and imperfect freedom is better than neat and tidy (but even more imperfect) government control.

Today I was discussing another of the controversial areas of free speech. Yesterday, that crazy old kook of the blogosphere grumpy-Graeme Bird wrote an eloquent rant aimed at me, where he said:

“He must die. John Humphreys must die so that this country can live.  He has betrayed this country too many times and he must no longer live … This is too important a subject to let John Humphreys live. Where does the lying end. I’m convinced that it only ends when John Humphreys is cold and stiff … HE MUST DIE, FOR THE LYING TO END. AND THIS IS A LIFE OR DEATH MATTER … I am accusing Humphreys of being a knowing traitor … SO MY NEW CLAIM IS THAT HUMPHREYS WILL NEVER STOP LYING. THAT HE WILL NEVER BE A SAFE PAIR OF HANDS. THAT HE WILL ALWAYS BE A TRAITOR. WHILE HE YET LIVES.”

My first death threat. Now I know that I’m important. A few friends have suggested I take it seriously, and one kindly offered to call his federal police friend who would call Graeme… but I nixed that idea. For his part, Graeme says that it is not a death threat because he doesn’t plan on doing any killing himself. That’s good to hear. But another friend pointed out that the above sentiments might still be considered incitement to violence… which got me thinking about free speech.

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Walking down the road to serfdom

December 13, 2011 1 comment

Over 60 years ago Hayek wrote “The Road to Serfdom“, which attempted to glimpse into the future of the western world. He predicted that if a country gave over significant control of it’s economy to central planners, then eventually the country would start to drift away from democracy. In the decades that followed, the UK and the rest of the west steadily gave more economic power to government but remained democratic, and so some concluded that Hayek’s predictions of doom were wrong.

Perhaps they were just premature.

Hayek argued that democracy can be slow and messy, but that economic decisions often need to be made quickly and decisively. If the government controls the economy, then the people have a choice between slow and messy economic decisions, or making the government less democratic so that leaders could “get things done”. As we look at the economic problems in Europe and America today, the lessons of Hayek seem very appropriate.

From American towns to the European countries of Greece and Italy, elected leaders are being replaced by technocrats. With growing debt problems, the idea that some Europeans may start to look for a “strong leader” to make “tough decisions” without having to deal with those “meddling and bumbling politicians” doesn’t sound too outlandish. Even in Australia, we have seen one commentator hint at the idea of suspending democracy so that leaders can take strong action.

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Who is Ron Paul?

December 9, 2011 12 comments

In November next year, Barack Obama will go up against a Republican candidate for the Presidency of the United States, and defacto leader of planet earth. But before then, the Grand Old Party (GOP) of the Republicans will need to pick their candidate, which involves an eight month marathon of rolling mini-elections in 55 States and territories (including Guam and American Samoa) starting in Iowa on 3 January 2012.

While sane people have been ignoring the political circus, election junkies have been closely watching the long campaign as various candidates have come and gone. At the beginning of the year the pundits pontificated as a string of potential candidates — Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan, Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, and Mike Huckabee — all opted out of the race. Tim Pawlenty said “yes” then “no”. Tease.

And so when debate season rolled around, the field had been narrowed to a rag-tag bunch of about a dozen, with the most prominent being the millionaire Mormon ex-Governor of Massachusetts — Mitt Romney. From the start, Romney has consistently been 1st or 2nd in national polls among GOP voters with about 20-30% support, and he has been seen as the frontrunner due to his decent polling, wealthy friends, establishment support, and high media profile. The race has then been seen as a contest between Romney and “anti-Romney”, a mythical creature who has so far taken four human forms — Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and now Newt Gingrich. Cain has since dropped out of the race.

(Sadly, the self-described vampire Jonathon Sharkey has also dropped out… and the “rent-is-too-damn-high” candidate Jimmy McMillan has failed to get into the early primaries.)

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Animal rights & wrongs

June 3, 2011 5 comments

The recent report by Four Corners about the live cattle trade to Indonesia has got people talking. The report showed that some Indonesian abattoirs are acting “inhumanely” towards the cattle, where some cows take over three minutes to die (instead of the industry standard 30 seconds) and other cows are beaten and abused. Many scenes from the report were gruesome to watch, and it has stirred a popular backlash against the live animal trade. In response, GetUp started a campaign against live animal exports, and the government has responded.

This debate is framed as being about “animal rights”. But it isn’t. If anybody was honestly determining the rights of animals, surely the first right would be the right not to be killed just so that people could eat their flesh. No honest person would say that “the right to not be punched in the face” comes before “the right to live”. If I told you that there was a guy called Brian… and that one person wanted to beat him up, and another person wanted to kill him and eat him, are you honestly going to say that you think the first guy is doing the greater crime?

What if I told you there was a cow called Brian? This is from the GetUp campaign:

Brian (a cow) did nothing to deserve being hit in the face, whipped, or kicked. Each time this occurred he called out in a way which was heart-wrenching. I swear I could hear him call out ‘why’

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