Incoherent Democracy, Again

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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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  1. Avatar Christopher Carr
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    says:

    Is California what happens when public incoherence is taken seriously?Report

  2. Avatar Dan
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    says:

    “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — democracy simply doesn’t work.”
    – Kent BrockmanReport

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Dan
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      says:

      Really what I’m working toward is that democracy’s ambitions should be modest.

      The prospect of democracy actually working, given the above preferences, is to surreal to contemplate.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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        says:

        I can really see the point of modesty in gov, especially in the proclamations by Pols of speaking for all Americans. But doesn’t the acceptance of modesty depend on how well the system is working for you. Would a modest application of Gov be, lets hold off on gay marriage, we’re moving to fast, give it another decade or two. Or how about lets not do anything about health care, its such a difficult subject and all, so if you have a PEC, well…oh well then.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to greginak
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          says:

          Of course I still want the things I want. Don’t you?

          But I’d say both you and I have more compossible goals for government than many Americans.

          By modesty, we must above all mean that the state isn’t going to satisfy the public’s wants in any fully convincing manner, ever, unless the public were to all get on board with one fairly coherent set of wants.

          Just trying to imagine what those might look like is gonna keep me up at night, too.Report

          • Avatar greginak in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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            says:

            Fair enough. I think one of the hardest things for many people to get about democracy is it is never going to going to give any one group everything it wants. Compromise and half a loaf are democracy at work.Report

          • Avatar well okay in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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            says:

            The problem IMO with this – to be clear I have a LOT of sympathy with your argument, so I’m coming from a somewhat similar place – is that, absent a sea change in human nature, or unlikely structural reforms, I worry that the result will be “modesty in satisfying the wants of most people, business as usual in satisfying the wants of the monied and powerful.” And the whole phenomenon of the Kochs – yes, I know you don’t agree on this – in my opinion supports this fear. Talk all you want about the money they spend on things like drug reform – their political influence, in practice, ends up supporting some of the worst people on the political scene. Note that I’m NOT one of the people who think that thats what libertarians (as a whole) “want” – but libertarians aren’t exactly the ones making the decisions, and I think that’s what we’ll get.

            I just see a dystopia where government, instead of at least occasionally trying with varied success to alleviate real problems of real people, ends up being a wholly owned (as opposed to partially owned) subsidiary of corporate America. And I’m sure that at THAT point many libertarians, such as yourself, will join in critiquing the unholy mess that’s left. But probably to no avail.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to well okay
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              says:

              I’m sort of resigned to having everything I say or do be attributed to the Kochs, at least until the left gets a new hobbyhorse. Man is it getting old though.

              I don’t really know what to say anymore. What am I supposed to do, stand up and cheer for the War on Drugs? (Is that the way to end it?)

              Like, really, if I believe we should end the WoD, bring the troops home, abolish the TSA, repeal the USA-PATRIOT Act, slash defense spending, fix eminent domain, and free Bradley Manning, I’m supposed to sit down and shut up?

              On what theory does that make sense? Qui bono, my friend?Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                says:

                > Like, really, if I believe we should end the
                > WoD, bring the troops home, abolish the
                > TSA, repeal the USA-PATRIOT Act, slash
                > defense spending, fix eminent domain,
                > and free Bradley Manning, I’m supposed
                > to sit down and shut up?

                No. Run for office, dude.

                Hell, I’d vote for you even if you could accomplish only a third of that. Hell, I’d vote for you even if the only thing you *did* was propose cutting the defense budget by a meaningful amount; that would do more for this country than anything else anyone has done since I’ve been old enough to vote.

                Even if I thought you would ruin economic policy, and I’m highly unconvinced that even the most rabid CATO member with whom I disagree the most strongly would impact the economy in any way that would offset the accomplishment of any of the above.

                I find the liberal/libertarian mix of the last month or so here (courtesy largely of the visiting Balloon Juice commenters, I suspect) to be hugely disappointing. Most of my disappointment in reserved for the left-leaning visitors, though. Even though I’m more sympathetic to their general principles than any one of them might think, they’ve really taken a dump all over the comment threads here.

                And that’s kind of throwing you off your game, for the record.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Pat Cahalan
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                Hell I’m liberal and I’m a little unhappy about some of the more egregarious newcomers. Part of the growth of the League though so it’s inevitable. The best that can be done is try to encourage them to inveigle and assert less and try and persuade and debate more.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to North
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                Dude, we’re neoliberals, I dont think we are part of the liberals Pat was referring to.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Pat Cahalan
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                And that’s kind of throwing you off your game, for the record.

                Have to say I agree. Maybe a moratorium on economics posts for a while. Civil liberties, press freedom, drug policy, and marriage get center stage for a good solid month. That might do it. I’ll see if I can hold myself to it, anyway.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                says:

                Mr. Kuznicki, you’re screwed either way. Bernstein@Volokh:

                “The ongoing twenty minutes of hate against the billionaire libertarian Koch brothers for being, well, billionaire libertarians is yet another nail in the already well-sealed coffin of “liberaltarianism”–the attempt of some libertarians to ally with the progressive left.

                The underlying premise of liberaltarianism was that libertarians could emphasize their policy positions that appeal to liberals but not conservatives–drug legalization, hostility to war and military spending, support for civil liberties and for gay marriage–while liberals, chastened by the Bush years, would tone down their support for big government in other areas.

                The Kochs would appear to be the perfect liberaltarians–they support gay marriage, drug legalization, opposed the Iraq War, want to substantially cut military spending, and gave $20 million to the ACLU to oppose the Patriot Act (compared to a relatively piddling $43,000 to Scott Walker’s election campaign).

                It’s not surprising that some demagogic “Progressives” would nevertheless choose to try to demonize the Kochs to defend the Democratic money machine that public employee unions represent (update: though note that the attack on the Kochs began last Summer). What is, if not surprising, at least a bit depressing, is how few prominent liberal commentators have spoken out against the ongoing attempted Emmanuel Goldsteinization of the Kochs.”

                Nice try, though.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to tom van dyke
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                I feel for Jason Kuznicki. The progressives hate his principled libertarianism, he’s embarrassed by any conservative approval.

                Wanting to be accepted by the cool guys, hating that the uncool guys [the GOPers] are OK with him on his libertarianism thing on gay marriage, drugs, and “civil liberties,” Gitmo and whatnot.

                No, Jason, you can’t buy your way out of progressive disdain with your handful of issues any more than the Koches can. The progressives hate you, and for good reason, because you stand in their way.

                You are their enemy, not for your rhetoric but for your principles: you can’t talk your way out of this.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to tom van dyke
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                hating that the uncool guys [the GOPers] are OK with him on his libertarianism thing on gay marriage, drugs, and “civil liberties,” Gitmo and whatnot.

                They are? It’s news to me.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                Because the GOP knows most libertarians will happily continue to vote for Republican’s on the basis of smaller government/taxes and can ignore all the issues of the above.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                Jason, Ron Paul could never get the nomination of the Democratic Party even for dogcatcher.

                Folks like the dreaded Glenn Beck are OK with gay marriage; Buckley was for the legalization of drugs. Neither were excommunicated.

                And yes, the Left will never give you peace—besides a handful of issues, you are an obstacle to all they stand for. You will never be OK in their eyes.Report

              • Avatar Heidegger in reply to tom van dyke
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                Good post, Tom. I think you’ve articulated Jason’s predicament quite well, and this tightrope rope walk of his will lead to ruin. On one side, he has the hardcore Left-wing piranhas who are just dying to eat him alive–it’s surprising he doesn’t see this and frankly, it’s even more surprising that he continually capitulates to these loathsome jackasses. Jason–Liberals and Lefties lie to stay alive. They’re congenitally incapable of behaving in any other way and will sell out anyone who gets in the way of their ideologically driven freak show sense of reality. Simply put: THEY’RE NUTS! It’s quite well known that Liberals/Lefties just relish eating their own and for the most part, don’t have a principled drop of blood in their bodies. They’ll gleefully run over their grandmothers if it helps their demented, “progressive” causes. You’re a good guy with a good heart and you shouldn’t allow these howling jackals to get into your head so much. Time to tell them to screw–you’ll feel much better for it and probably even feel a pleasant little schadenfreude in the process! And by the way, never forget–Hitler was worshipped by the Left. They even loved eugenics to the tune of sterilizing over 50,000 untermenschen! And to think they were so flipped out by Sarah Palin’s “death panels”. If only those 50,000 sad sacks had the good fortune of facing “death panels” instead of Left-wing eugenic slaughter. And Scopes monkeys were all registered Progressive Democrats!Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to tom van dyke
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                Heidegger, that comment was vile, and I’d like to formally disassociate myself from it.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to tom van dyke
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                says:

                Odd and largely unknown, since it doesn’t fit the narrative:

                “Scopes lost his case, and Bryan lost his reputation when he agreed to be cross-examined by Darrow on the literal meaning of the Bible. But the Scopes trial also made a moral point. Bryan reminded the court that two Chicago teenagers, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, had murdered a younger boy the year before to prove that they were Nietzschean supermen, capable of committing the perfect crime. Their attorney, Darrow, had saved them from the death penalty by arguing that Friedrich Nietzsche, and the universities that put him in their curriculums, bore the responsibility for the defendants’ actions. If the philosophy of the superman could lead to murder, Bryan argued, then the state had good reason to control what was taught in schools.”

                http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1647472,00.html#ixzz1Fm10lq1tReport

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to tom van dyke
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                says:

                Don’t play dumb. Here are the vile bits:

                [T]he hardcore Left-wing piranhas who are just dying to eat [Jason] alive–it’s surprising he doesn’t see this and frankly, it’s even more surprising that he continually capitulates to these loathsome jackasses. Jason–Liberals and Lefties lie to stay alive. They’re congenitally incapable of behaving in any other way and will sell out anyone who gets in the way of their ideologically driven freak show sense of reality. Simply put: THEY’RE NUTS! It’s quite well known that Liberals/Lefties just relish eating their own and for the most part, don’t have a principled drop of blood in their bodies. They’ll gleefully run over their grandmothers if it helps their demented, “progressive” causes. You’re a good guy with a good heart and you shouldn’t allow these howling jackals to get into your head so much…. [They worshipped Hitler.] They even loved eugenics to the tune of sterilizing over 50,000 untermenschen!
                Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to tom van dyke
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                liberaltarianism is more than that, see rawlsekianism by will wilkinson and brink lindsey

                http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/is-rawlsekianism-the-future/

                http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=6800Report

              • Avatar Will H. in reply to tom van dyke
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                As a recovering Democrat, I understand exactly what Heidegger was saying, and I don’t think he’s off-target at all.
                What I really like about Jason’s writing (and I’m saying it here because I’m unlikely to say it as the occasion arises) is that, on those occasions where we disagree, I see his point as perfectly valid, and I gain insight to a different view.
                The prime example is the amount of work he’s put into defending government intrusion through expanding equal protection to include gay marriage; succinctly, that the granting of freedoms is always rather broad, while prohibitions tend to be rather limited.
                Although I agree fully that it should be that way, I can see that it definitely is not that way. And I don’t see the expansion of governmental powers as being a legitimate means of limiting government. I would rather see the repeal of DOMA, but there’s a lot of crazy stuff that the states have done to make that way difficult. But still, I think that’s the right path.
                We simply disagree, and I’m ok with that.
                I just brought that up as an example, and I’m hoping this doesn’t turn into another SSM thread.
                But I do appreciate the fact that I gain in understanding through the reading of a well-written principled argument. Not Marcus Aurelius exactly, but I don’t think Marcus would care to blog were he here today. Stoics can be obstinate like that.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to tom van dyke
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                +1 in praise of Mr. Kuznicki for the same reasons.

                In true republican fashion as opposed to mere democracy [mobism], he has on the whole sought to persuade rather than condemn those who disagree; defended consensus over mere majoritarianism or manipulation of the political process as the most legitimate way to achieve his aims.

                And—again on the whole—allows that his opponents are neither stupid nor unprincipled. An oasis in the current rhetorical crisis, that of scorching the earth.Report

              • Avatar well okay in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                says:

                Jason,

                You are incredibly thin skinned, and have a real tendency to jump to negative conclusions about what your interlocutors “really” mean. Ironic given your own sometimes justified complaints about people leaping to conclusions about your beliefs. Of course, here you do both at once.

                Please re read my post carefully. What part of “I’m NOT one of the people who think that that’s what libertarians (as a whole) ‘want'” and “libertarians aren’t exactly the ones making the decisions” and “’m sure that at THAT point many libertarians, such as yourself, will join in critiquing the unholy mess that’s left” don’t you understand? Where do I attribute anything that you have said to the Kochs? I’m perfectly willing to accept the good faith of you, and even most libertarians. That won’t buy a cup of coffee in a system where the POLITICAL salience of the “modest government types, unfortunately, is to elect the worst “conservative” politicians, who don’t give a rats ass about libertarian values. I’m not accusing you of liking this, or even abetting it. I am merely suggesting that this is the most likely real world result.

                It’s not the libertarians, as a group, that I don’t trust, but the so called “conservatives” and the rent seekers that I don’t trust (with the Kochs very much in the latter category).

                I’m making – in shorthand, granted – an argument that many serious people have made – that, GOOD INTENTIONS ASIDE, given (a) the structures of or government, which de facto aren’t terribly libertarian, (b) the structures of our political system, where libertarian (mostly – not you, okay, I get it) end up aligned with a political party that, even for those who consider them the less of two evils, are a bunch of authoritarians who have no interest in liberty as properly defined, and who are among the biggest rent seekers in the history of the planet, and where (c) the rich and powerful, as any good libertarian could tell us, have an outsized influence on the body politic, the PRACTICAL result of the kind of “more modest” government is likely to NOT be very modest when it comes to protecting (and enhancing) the interests of the rich and powerful.

                The laugher here is that I’ve been defending you in a another thread. More the fool me. It’s sad, though, that an evidently smart guy can have the reading comprehension of a second grader.Report

              • Avatar well okay in reply to well okay
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                And really the Kochs are a perfect example of what I’m talking about. I buy that they are sincere libertarians who support – financially even – causes like drug law reform. But given the realities of the system – their own self interest, and the corruption of their political allies … their political salience is wholly negative. Again, I’m not accusing you of LIKING that. But, no offense, libertarians of your persuasion just aren’t going to have much influence over what happens in the real political world.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to well okay
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                says:

                Please re read my post carefully. What part of “I’m NOT one of the people who think that that’s what libertarians (as a whole) ‘want’” and “libertarians aren’t exactly the ones making the decisions” and “’m sure that at THAT point many libertarians, such as yourself, will join in critiquing the unholy mess that’s left” don’t you understand?

                Oh, I understood all that perfectly. I also understand what a “useful idiot” is, and I understand that that, while mincing many words, is what you’re calling me.

                Have I missed anything else? And could you answer my question? Assuming my political sincerity, what am I supposed to do?Report

              • Avatar well okay in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                says:

                Again, there you go, inferring things from what I wrote that weren’t there and weren’t intended.

                Jason, it isn’t always about you. My original comment wasn’t about you AT ALL, except to the limited extent that I was giving you my take on why I have my doubts about whether your particular prescription is entirely correct. I don’t think you are a useful idiot, I just think you’re wrong.

                As for “what you are supposed to do,” I ordinarily wouldn’t presume to tell you, but since you ask … maybe have a somewhat fuller realization that good intentions aren’t always enough, and maybe bring a slightly thicker skin to these debates. Especially when you’re dealing with someone (such as myself) who is broadly sympathetic to many of your arguments. And, perhaps, give a bit more attention not to civil liberties, but to issues of institutional design. That is, it’s one thing to come out on the right side when it comes to rent seeking corporations – you’re made it clear that you’re against them. But what can we do to stop that, given our current institutional structures? If you’ve taked much about this, I’ve missed it, and if you HAVE written on it, I’d be happy to read it.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                Again, many many words to say that I am a useful idiot.

                But hey, it’s not about me, and I shouldn’t take it personally.

                Sure.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                “…what am I supposed to do?”
                I dunno? Try seeking the truth of stuff!Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                Assuming my political sincerity, what am I supposed to do?

                Ignore it? Find another employer? Present a convincing argument that those accusations are unfounded? Laugh all the way to the bank? Complain about how unfair the world is?

                There’s a lesson here, I’m sure.Report

              • Avatar Will H. in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                I’m thinking that the whole Koch brothers thing would be a lot more interesting if only Jason could be persuaded to become a Freemason.
                You have to work with whatever tools you have on hand, and I wonder why it’s so hard for people to see that.

                Jason, if you don’t mind clearing this up:
                How many times have you received a delivery by courier of a large envelope stamped “Top Secret Memo” in big red letters, and you open it up to find a document titled “Marching Orders” which was signed by the Koch brothers?
                Because if you are, you need to write back and tell them to send you a bottle of Auchentoshan Three Wood next time, maybe even threaten to refuse to march if they don’t.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Will H.
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                I never get memo envelopes. When I started working at Cato, they put radio receivers in my teeth.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                I thought they’d be against employer-funded health plans.Report

              • Avatar Superluminar in reply to well okay
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                Yes, this. Listen, Jason, I’ve defended you on Balloon Juice before because I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect someone to denounce their own employers. But the left’s problem with the Kochs isn’t that they fund CATO or Reason, our problem is that they fund the Republicans and that they back regressive policies, regardless of their position on the war on drugs.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Superluminar
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                I can as little stop the Kochs from funding Republicans as you can.

                It’s not like I have them on speed dial. I’ve never met them and have no reason to suspect they are even aware of my existence.

                They say law is a blunt instrument. Well, funding is too. I do what I can for what I think is right. I have only a slight smidgen more influence than the average citizen. To tell the truth, the regulars at Balloon Juice probably have more influence than I do, even. I’d rather talk about issues than worry about what two complete strangers do with their billions. Because for them, there’s not a bit I can do.Report

              • Avatar Simon K in reply to Superluminar
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                The Koch brothers also fund PBS’s Nova. Are we supposed to avoid watching science TV to prevent contamination? If not, why should anyone care that they fund Cato?Report

              • Avatar well okay in reply to Superluminar
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                says:

                Jason, again, it’s not always about you. The fact is that many people find the Koch’s role in the polity problematic, not withstanding their support of some “liberaltarian” type policies. IMO, that’s NOT just true from a “liberal” perspective. As has been pointed out time and time again, the practical result of their policies is to elect extremly “conservative,” not very libertarian, politicians who happen to also support certain specific policies that benefit their own corporate interests. That some of those specific policies ALSO happen to be arguably libertarian (though w/r/t some of it – for example, the idea that the unconstrained ability to pollute the commons is some sort of fundemental property right that can’t be abridged for any reason – is, I would say, very much contested grounds WITHIN the libertarian ,movement), doesn’t negate the fact that for anybody who doesn’t sign onto the incoherent movement conservitive project in its entirely, and its idiot step child the tea party movement, their role is problematic.

                Now, the libertarian response is, well it’s a free country, they can support & fund the politicians they want to, and that is fair enough but incomplete. At least you should be able to understand that people on the left and center find their role problematic.

                And as I said elsewhere, it would be nice if the libertarian movement was more active in thinking about and advocating institutional restraints that would prevent or limit rent seeking by the wealthy & powerful. Not that there isn’t some of that … but its IMO not enough (and I don’t think you need to take it personally when some peeople suspect, on the margins, that the funding sources of the main movement institutions have something to do with the fact that libertarians IN THE PUBLIC sphere seem to spend more enegry on advocating the paring back of the welfare/regulatory state and not much time worring about rent seeking by big corproations*). It would be nice to have more libertarians acknowledge (some do) that the Kochs, in addition to legitimate libertarian advocacy and support, are highly successful rent seekers.

                And again Jason it isn’t always about you. Not every criticism of the Kochs is a personal attack on you.

                *Yes, they do that too to some extent, and of course arguably SOME regulatory reforms could help limit rent seeking. But it’s galling and annoying that many libertarians – and here I DO include you – seem to think that this fact is a complete defense against claims that the libertarian movement, AS A WHOLE, is more silent than they should be on the issue of rent seeking corporatism.Report

              • Avatar Will H. in reply to Superluminar
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                I’m doing some work for Conoco-Phillips right now.
                The only thing about them that I care to endorse is that weekly check.
                I didn’t even take a look at the board of directors before I signed on.Report

              • Avatar Koz in reply to well okay
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                says:

                “I’m perfectly willing to accept the good faith of you, and even most libertarians. That won’t buy a cup of coffee in a system where the POLITICAL salience of the “modest government types, unfortunately, is to elect the worst “conservative” politicians, who don’t give a rats ass about libertarian values. I’m not accusing you of liking this, or even abetting it. I am merely suggesting that this is the most likely real world result.”

                Let’s suppose this is true for the sake of argument. So what?

                In the abstract, you can defend rule by philosophers or rule by kings, but you can’t defend rule by one random dude who likes it better if things are done his way.Report

          • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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            says:

            Jason, if the comment about the Scopes trial is what you found vile, I’m at a loss for why. The trial has always been referred to as, “The Monkey Trial” and is this is not in any way, a racist remark. Monkey means monkey, literally. The trial was, after all, about evolution vs. fundamentalism and if you’re going to try and make this into a racial incident you’re just flat-out wrong. Try Googling, “The Monkey Trial”–I’m sure you’ll get about a trillion hits that refer to one event, and that is, the Scopes Monkey Trial. But then again, maybe you’re upset about the entire comment. So be it. Just trying to provide a few words of encouragement for you. Foolish me. Considering my reputation at this site, showing any sense of agreement with anything I write would be tantamount to suicide or ostracization, and we most certainly do NOT want that!Report

      • Avatar Bob in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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        says:

        Your goal, “…democracy’s ambitions should be modest,”is anything but modest. How does such a goal square with the right granted in the Constitution, First Amendment, of the people to speak freely and peaceably petition for the redress of grievances?

        “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Bob
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          Show me where I put in any good words for restrictions on speech or petition. After that, you’ll have a point.Report

          • Avatar Bob in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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            says:

            How would you make government ambition more modest? The right to petition potentially puts anything on the table, even things currently illegal, drugs, SSM. The discussion is wide open, ambitions limitless.Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Bob
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              How about bringing about a strong current in public discourse that encouraged people to not be utter asshats with their expectations?Report

              • Avatar Bob in reply to Pat Cahalan
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                I have a feeling that your asshat is not always my asshat.Report

              • Avatar Bob in reply to Pat Cahalan
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                For example, are those calling for the repeal of the 17th Amendment asshats or responsible citizens?Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Bob
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                Anyone who will express their political grievance through an attempt to amend the Constitution rather than wrangle bullshit through one state legislative nitpick at a time at least is being respectable in terms of their honest goals.

                They honestly believe that the 17th is broken, and that getting rid of it would be a plus. Okay, that’s a lot more respectable than fighting a gun-control or abortion-rights fight one state law at a time instead of standing up and trying to put a right to life amendment in the Constitution or repealing the 2nd.Report

              • Avatar Bob in reply to Pat Cahalan
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                says:

                I asked the question with regards to your criteria of “expectations.” I took it that asshats could be defined by how realistic, or unrealistic, their goals were. I don’t hold that view, but if I did I’d have to call those advocating repeal of direct election of senators asshats. I don’t think that is a realistic expectation. But since I don’t buy into your definition of asshatery I feel comfortable calling them responsible citizens. Bottom line, asshat is meaningless, like beauty, it is the eye of the beholder.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Bob
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                says:

                > But since I don’t buy into your
                > definition of asshatery I feel
                > comfortable calling them responsible
                > citizens.

                I’m not certain that you know what my definition of asshattery is, but that’s okay I haven’t offered one.

                On the flip side, I’m very uncomfortable calling most people responsible citizens. It implies that I know what it takes to be a responsible citizen.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                Please don’t take my guns!Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                How about bringing about a strong current in public discourse that encouraged people to not be utter asshats with their expectations?

                Those expectations come from people who feel their needs/desires aren’t met. And the people calling them ‘asshats’ are usually people who feel all their needs/desires are met. What’s the complaint here? That you’re comfortable and content and that you begrudge people the right to express that they aren’t?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Bob
          Ignored
          says:

          One of the things that I’m trying to hammer out in one of the other threads with EC Gach is the whole negative rights vs. positive rights thing.

          The point I made there is that I am respecting pretty much all of your negative rights RIGHT NOW.

          Your positive rights? Well… hammering out what your positive rights are and whether I am meeting my obligations to them is a stickier wicket.Report

          • Avatar greginak in reply to Jaybird
            Ignored
            says:

            You have an obligation to keep your public wicket non-sticky.Report

          • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Jaybird
            Ignored
            says:

            > Well… hammering out what your positive rights
            > are and whether I am meeting my obligations
            > to them is a stickier wicket.

            Let me know when you get that wicket cleaned off. Then you can move on to the, “Okay, now that we know what your positive rights are and whether or not I’m meeting my obligations to them, let’s discuss whether or not the law is the proper medium to enforce this…”Report

          • Avatar stillwater in reply to Jaybird
            Ignored
            says:

            Jaybird: Your positive rights? Well… hammering out what your positive rights are and whether I am meeting my obligations to them is a stickier wicket.

            I agree. I think this is an important thing to get clear on. Here’s my contribution.

            One way the wicket gets sticky is when you include normal morality in the calculus of rights (let’s just agree on some minimalist conception of normal morality). One example (discussed in the other thread) is a case where person A could save person B’s life at only a negligible cost (perhaps merely extending their hand). Now, letting that person die does not violate anyone’s rights, (consistently with a negative duty to not kill them) but normal morality would suggest that if the cost is so small as to be negligible, then you have an affirmative obligation to save that person’s life.

            Of course, people counter this by wondering what constitutes a ‘negligible cost’, and at what point that cost is too high. Those are, in my view, separate issues which only follow from accepting the moral obligation of helping someone in the scenario imagined. That is, the slippery slope here doesn’t justify rejecting the moral obligation to help someone when the cost is low, but instead requires us to determine what constitutes too high a cost for the obligation to go unmet.

            Another way there’s a sticky wicket is that sometimes protecting a right by merely ensuring the negative duty is honored is insufficient to guarantee that rights expression. In those cases, government is justified in (coercively) imposing a positive duty. As an example of this, the argument for affirmitive action was that the systematic rejection of minorities into the work place a) denied their basic rights to gainful employment, and b) required more than simply codifying the negative duty of whites (eg., non-discrimination policies) to merely permit blacks to work for them (since a whites could simply continue to not hire blacks). In order to permit the expression of the right to useful employment, government codified a positive duty on employers in certain sectors to hire blacks.

            Now, people could say (and of course they do) that this was an unjust use of governmental power. And maybe it is. The argument here is that even if the rights of blacks are being violated, government does not (or ought not, anyway) have the authority to impose a positive duty on all employers and infringe their freedom, since any particular employer hasn’t necessarily violated any rights, or alternatively, this action violates the rights of the employer. (Often, however, this view is simply asserted without argument, as if it were transparently true.)

            And this is where it gets sticky, of course, the use of government power to balance rights that appear to be in conflict. And of course, a lot of this comes down to how values are prioritized, and whether that value scheme can be defended via argument rather than stipulation. One other, obviously important, consideration here is whether restricting employers liberty by imposing a positive duty to hire blacks actually violates their rights. I don’t think it does, since (in my view) no employer has the basic right to systematically deny employment opportunities to individuals based on the color of their skin. (I’ll won’t address the obvious counter arguments here, since this comment is already too long.)

            But one thing I do think is unarguably clear about this, is that if blacks have a right to gainful employment, and if that right is systematically violated by white business owners (or whoever), then this is exactly the kind of thing government is not only justified in acting on, but ought to act on, by imposing a positive duty on employers to hire blacks (even tho this restricts employers liberty).

            So I would say that normal morality can entail positive duties that go beyond rights. But I also think that government is justified in imposing positive duties when institutional structures permit the systematic violation of basic rights. Lots more to be said here.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to stillwater
              Ignored
              says:

              So how can I know whether I’m meeting my obligations or not?

              Is it something as simple as singing the doxology after the offering (or otherwise repeating sentences by rote when called upon to do so)?Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                By thinking about it, reflecting on basic rights, normal morality, the social contract, extending familiar arguments to new situations, rejecting reflexive views based on habit, or custom, or self-interest, etc. I mean, maybe I don’t understand the question. It’s not like you’re incapable of making these determinations on your own.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                It’s not like you’re incapable of making these determinations on your own.

                From my perspective, I’m meeting every single obligation that I have. That’s the determination that I’ve made. There may be a handful of cans I’ve kicked down the road (vacuuming the basement, for example) and some more obligations I’ve amortized (my mortgage, for example) but it seems to me that I’ve met every single positive obligation that others have toward me at this particular moment.

                That’s my determination.

                How wrong am I?Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                How wrong am I?

                You could be wrong in the same way that any person with limited knowledge, or who limits the application of principles to a situation, or who generalizes from the own case, is wrong. Whether obligations exist or not is a metaphysical matter, independently of how, or even if, we know them. As to how we do know them (insofar as we do), limiting the search field to looking at your own case begs all sorts questions, not the least of which is that, generally, people don’t believe that their own actions are immoral, even if there’s a compelling case that they are (cognitive dissonance and all that).Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                It’s not just you. Democracy is a euphemism, a simplistic, all-encompassing wrapper for representative government. Pure democracy is mob rule and that’s the way it was understood from its inception. Wiser democracies made allowances for minorities, the wiser they were, the more allowances they made.

                The problem of Affirmative Action grates on the nerves of everyone involved. If Reconstruction had been handled more assertively, AA would never have been needed. The beneficiaries of AA were imbued with a sense of inferiority and defensiveness: were they allowed into good schools because they qualified or because they were minorities? When Liberals excoriate Clarence Thomas for attempting to burn the ladders he climbed, they don’t understand why, but the motivation is sound. Nobody wants to be judged on superficial characteristics.

                Yet AA was needed, and there’s no denying it. As state government had slyly condoned Jim Crow and the federal government had ignored the problem for all those years, the response to AA was entirely predictable. It wasn’t as simple as one wrong cancelling out another: AA was a step in the right direction, but by its very nature, was as inflexible as Jim Crow had been wrong.

                How much do we owe each other? I would invoke the Picket Fence Paradigm: we all understand at some level we are members of a society. The Conservative correctly asserts Individual Rights form up the corpus of liberty. If the Conservative has any sense, he acknowledges those rights must be limited where they harm other Individuals. Without these restraints, we must build high defensive walls to protect what is ours, not pretty little picket fences, to define our individual boundaries.Report

              • Avatar Heidegger in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                Blaise writes:

                “Now you can put down your bullhorn and quit acting like you’re the only person who has a dog in this fight: poor people go to jail and it’s a lasting disgrace to our society. It’s also hugely expensive. If I as a Liberal assert Society has failed these poor people, unjustly imprisoning them, you find these facts equally appalling, and we share a common view of what a solution might be.

                This comment is a joke, isn’t it Blaise? If it isn’t, it might just be the most profoundly idiotic, asinine, crazy, foolish thought I’ve ever read, regarding crime and punishment. It would take a long, long time to find anything that tops it. Why in the world is it a lasting disgrace to society to imprison a “poor” person? The only lasting disgrace to society is if he wasn’t imprisoned. Is anyone accountable for their actions in Blaise’s universe? Should murderers, rapists, child molesters be given some kind of special exemption because they’re poor? Ach du Lieber! You’ve gone seriously mad., my friend–better sit down, relax, and listen to some Bach 48.

                “If I as a Liberal assert Society has failed these poor people, unjustly imprisoning them”. Society has failed them?? WTF?? How has society “failed” them? Has the awful reality ever struck you that maybe, just maybe, these criminals deserve to be locked up? As in, G.U.I.L.T.Y. Have you ever been a victim of a violent crime? I have–as close to death as I’ve ever been, and the only thing I regret was that I didn’t have a loaded pistol in my possession–I think I would have actually enjoyed killing all three of these miscreants. These are the people Liberals love to defend because of their “victim hood” lot in life. (“Free Mumia”the Hollywood Liberals shriek) Most incongruously, they never see the slaughter of the unborn as real true victims of State sanctioned murder. Death Row—must be innocent. Human Embryo: Hand me the Manual Vacuum Aspiration, Uterine currette, Syringe Spinal Needle, Cervical Dilators.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                Es ist strengstens verboten, den Kobold zu Fressen.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                Preez to read what was written. Crooks belong in jail, all of them. But the prisons are full of black men, and they are expensive. Are too many people in prison? I’d say so. Doesn’t do them any good to be there, they aren’t learning anything.

                Now a condescending idiot might look at this and say “oh gosh, the Wicked Owd System is racist!” And I do hear this sentiment. A Lot. But it’s just not true: all those black gennemens was convicted of an actual crime and the system did what it was sposta do, put ’em in prison.

                Now a Libertarian and a Liberal have this much in common: we hate inefficiencies and stupid laws. Risk equals profit, poor people will take risks and if they go to jail, well, that’s an occupational hazard, they’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain, half their friends are already there and their gangs will protect ’em.

                Now me, as a Liberal, I say it would be better for everyone if those black gennemans had something to lose, so they would think twice about going back to jail.

                But a Libertarian, no idiot he, would say “Putting people in jail for selling drugs — didn’t we learn anything from Prohibition? Booze still kills people, wrecks lives, marriages and careers, but it’s legal. Get rid of these stupid laws.”

                Y’all should know I’m getting to the end of my patience. I thought I would give this another few days, just to see if I could fit it, but it’s pretty clear League has too many trolls for me to fit in here. So keep tap-dancing on my last little patient nerve, Heidegger. You’re acting like a troll. Don’t reduce me to believing you actually are a troll.Report

              • Avatar Heidegger in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                Well Blaise, glad that’s cleared up. And please banish any thoughts of “cutting and running”. Come on now, you have to admit you’re having great fun with this collective group of off the beaten pack characters. Okay, maybe not, but I would be very seriously disappointed if you pack up and ride the box cars of the Old West. By the way, for what it’s worth, I find you to be a great and very interesting character and thoroughly enjoy reading your posts. That we rarely agree with one another on just about everything is just the way it goes. Oh well, if the highway beckons, the highway beckons. And thanks for stopping in. Oh, I can assure you, I am not a troll and do not take delight in purposely agitating the folks here–I just can’t imagine anything that could be a waste of time.

                Probably not the best time to ask for a favor, but here goes–a few days ago you sent a link to me but it seems to have vanished. This was in regards to the ramifications of finding some kind of genetic “cure” for homosexuality. Any chance when you have a free moment that you could resend it? Thanks so much. H.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                Heidegger, you just need to lighten up a bit. That’s all I ask.

                As for “curing” homosexuality, they tried it on Alan Turing. He committed suicide as a result, one of the finest minds of his age, snuffed out because of homophobic idiocy.

                The text I’d recommend is Glenn Wilson and Qazi Rahman: Born Gay. I don’t think either of us would advocate a “cure” for homosexuality. There is the very real problem of the self-hating homosexual: our own gay constituency right here on League might have some insight into that problem, because it sure does need addressing.

                Puts me in mind of the old Ron White routine. Warning, NSFWReport

              • Avatar Heidegger in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                Thanks for the reply, Blaise, much obliged!
                Regarding the “cure” for homosexuality, let it be said it was nothing I was advocating for or promoting–just a thought exercise to see if this was anything a gay person would actually want.

                And thanks again for the links–the Turing situation was just an abomination, a terrible disgrace that this brilliant, brilliant man had to deal with such persecution throughout his life. He literally saved hundreds of thousands of lives. Ssort of reminds me of Mozart being dumped into a paupers grave.

                Hey, am having great fun learning German! Would you mind me sending a German e-mail to you once in a awhile? tI wouldn’t be pretty but as Confucius says, “a thousand mile journey starts with the first step.”! Danke.Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                This is an epistemic question, about how you know? Well, one way for sure is to simply recite a list of positive duties from a trusted authority. But really, these positive duties, insofar as they exist, are knowable (for anyone) only through reason: by thinking about a nexus of rights and moral principles and relevant thought experiments to tease out important distinctions and extensions, leading to a system of beliefs that’s (ideally) consistent and complete, and provides a rational grounding for moral behavior and actions. And that may sound unrealistically ideal, but really, it begins with just a casual analysis of the motivations behind any particular action), and whether those motives, and the consequences of that action, can be morally justified as opposed to merely pragmatically justified.

                Again, maybe I’m not understanding the question.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                If I do not know that I have an obligation to you to X, I do not know how it can be said that I have an obligation to you to X.

                Indeed, the phrase “you are obliged to me!” seems to be inaccurate for a lot of the positive obligations posited.

                Discussion of hypothetical children in hypothetical water notwithstanding.Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Your, or my, awareness/ignorance of an obligation has nothing to do with whether that obligation holds. It would be like saying that a person can’t be held accountable to the law unless they already know the law. Likewise, a person could correctly say ‘you’re obliged to me’, even tho you were completely ignorant of the obligation, since the truth of the obligation has nothing to do with anyone’s knowledge that it is the case.

                So, ignorance does not excuse you from honoring a moral obligation, it is still an obligation that went unmet. Of course, there isn’t a moral police to enforce moral law (in fact, that’s one obvious reason why we have police: to enforce the moral principles, ie., rights, of the social contract, etc.) Instead, there’s only reason, which acts as the arbiter of what constitutes a moral obligation, and when it is or isn’t met.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                So, ignorance does not excuse you from honoring a moral obligation, it is still an obligation that went unmet.

                This is why I’m trying to end my ignorance.

                What obligations am I leaving unmet?

                You telling me that I have reason and can figure this stuff out for myself is a help until I say “well, they’re all met!” and you point out that ignorance is no excuse for my failure to meet my obligations to Cecily Miller in Akron, Ohio.Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                What obligations am I leaving unmet?

                That ‘s not for me to say – I don’t know what you do, what values you accept, the extent of your resources, etc. Maybe you in fact already honor all your positive obligations. Do you believe that you have an obligation to help someone who’s dying by some small gesture on your part? If so, then do you see how that principle can generalize to other cases, cases in where you might be obligated since the gesture on your part is so small as to be negligible? (Charities, for example, or disaster relief funds, or etc.?)

                Do you conversely see any particular actions you take, which, if generalized, create a situation in which people’s right would be violated, or certain harms would result?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                Do you conversely see any particular actions you take, which, if generalized, create a situation in which people’s right would be violated, or certain harms would result?

                I’m sorry. I thought we already hammered out “negative rights” and how I know that I have obligations to not violate them.

                The problem is that I am under the impression that I am meeting all of my obligations to not violate your negative rights, right now.

                (Rights not limited to the examples I am about to give.)

                I am not limiting your freedom of speech, nor your freedom of peaceful assembly, nor your right to worship (or not worship) God(s) as you are inclined to, nor am I quartered in your house, nor am I violating your right to privacy.

                I’m pleased to say that, as far as I can tell, you’re respecting *MY* negative rights.

                Awesome.

                It’s when we get to my positive obligations to you that I start wondering exactly what they happen to be and how I can best meet them.

                From where I sit, it seems to be as simple as public declaration. (It’d kinda have to be, given that we’re two folk on the internet)Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                @Jaybird: there was a day when Conservatives feared the poor and especially the rabble-rousers who would incite them to violence. Bismarck, no Liberal he, staved off Communism by throwing sops to the inchoate Proletariat.

                If the social contract is strictly limited to enforcing the law, it is equally true we have filled our prisons with the poor. I do not condone any criminal activity, quite the opposite, criminals belong in prison where they cannot do further harm to the law-abiding citizen.

                But the prisons are filling up, hideously overcrowded. I believe one in four black males has been through the justice system. Their incarceration rates far exceed their representation in the general population. I don’t think even you would say blacks are genetically predisposed to criminal behaviour. Yet something is deeply skewed, down in the guts of the system. The fact is, the poor are more likely to get caught up in crimes of risk such as the sale of drugs. Poverty, not the color line, defines who goes to prison and who doesn’t. This may attributed to the simple fact the poor don’t have adequate legal representation at trial.

                I don’t propose to answer these questions or go very far into what constitutes a moral obligation. I would hope we are in agreement on the need to incarcerate criminals. But prisons are expensive, that’s beyond dispute. Assuming a posture of ultimate cynicism, doesn’t it make sense to address the question of why the poor end up in prison and let the chips fall where they may? In the long haul, I don’t want your tax money to fund the prison industry, either.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                I’m one of those folks who sees, for example, The War On Drugs as something that needs to end, like, not just yesterday but, like, 1973.

                It seems to me that this idea that it’s good the The Federal Government have the power to name certain drugs as “Schedule 1” (for, of course, The Children) has resulted in such things as full prisons.

                As such, I think I can safely say that the federal government is, itself, violating the negative rights of huge swaths of the country.

                As such, I push for such things as ending the WoD, sunsetting laws automatically (if they can’t get re-passed, they shouldn’t be on the books), taxation only of corporations, and other ideas that get dismissed out of hand as being pie-in-the-sky Libertopian bullcrap.

                So… fine. Let’s establish that the line between positive and negative rights is exceptionally blurry and I have obligations to you (and others) that I need to start meeting.

                I don’t know what they are.

                I’m trying to figure out what they are.

                So far, I’ve been told that I ought to be able to figure them out for myself… in response to me saying that I can’t figure out much of anything past “negative rights”.

                This is unsatisfying.

                And, of course, thanks for the “I don’t think even you would say blacks are genetically predisposed to criminal behaviour.”

                I’m sure that was difficult for you to write.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                No it wasn’t difficult to write, Jaybird, it’s trivial and I shouldn’t even have to write it out. I’m pointing to a genuinely nasty Negative where a good many Liberals go off the rails and I don’t. Never ascribe motive out here. Always assume your intellectual opponent has come to his conclusions via reasonable means.

                Would it be too much to expect for you to give me the same liberties and extend the same courtesies?

                I have laid out the case for and against Affirmative Action, even taking Justice Thomas’ viewpoint into consideration. I’ve pointed to the racial disparity in the prison system, trying to make the case for a Positive Externality we all ought to advocate. It comes as no surprise we agree about the WoD. Now you can put down your bullhorn and quit acting like you’re the only person who has a dog in this fight: poor people go to jail and it’s a lasting disgrace to our society. It’s also hugely expensive. If I as a Liberal assert Society has failed these poor people, unjustly imprisoning them, you find these facts equally appalling, and we share a common view of what a solution might be. Facts don’t take sides. Now you can quit treating me like an idiot, any day now.Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                Jaybird, since I’m still a little confused what your question is here, let’s go back over this part of my earlier comment:

                Do you conversely see any particular actions you take, which, if generalized, create a situation in which people’s right would be violated, or certain harms would result?

                You took that to mean an expression of negative duties – to refrain from violating someones rights. I understand the above comment to mean something more: that identifying instances when one’s behavior may violate another’s rights creates an affirmative obligation to not only not support those activities, but to seek out economic or social arrangements that promote the rights in question. As an example, a few weeks ago Jason made a pretty quick (and he thought snarky) remark about liberals supporting fair trade, as opposed to free trade (I think the example was coffee, but it doesn’t matter). I thought it too quick because there is a rational and very compelling reason liberals buy fair trade coffee: it supports the growers. Even tho the fair trade buyer perhaps pays more for a comparable product, the decision is rational, (although economically irrational!) and an expression of a positive duty to promote basic rights (or fairness, or whatever).

                The point here is that if you determine that among a set of consumer choices, option A supports institutional structures that violate peoples rights, while option B promotes the expression of peoples rights, you have a positive obligation to act on B. The reason (to spell it out I guess) is that according one view I’m rejecting here, the mere act of purchasing a good or service at prices determined by the market separates you from any obligations or responsibilities; that purchasing that object at the cheapest price (for a good of equal value) is, in fact, the only obligation you have. I disagree.

                So I would say that purchasing goods and services from firms (embedded in other institutional frameworks, of course) which promote (or at least better promote) the expression of basic rights, or environmental protections, or etc., constitutes an affirmative obligation on the consumer. That goes some ways to countering your claim that

                From where I sit, it seems to be as simple as public declaration.

                It isn’t merely about public declaration, it’s also – and primarily – about actions (and speech acts are actions after all). And determining those actions is something that requires thought and somewhat careful consideration. But there are obvious examples, which we’ve gone over, that could, as a matter of fact, change the way people view their behavior in the world.

                Again, I feel like we’re still talking past each other here, since the way I understanding this stuff seems so obvious (to me!) that I can’t quite figure out what you’re getting at here.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to stillwater
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                says:

                I don’t see how I’m treating you like an idiot, BlaiseP. Your examples, as great as they are, aren’t helping *ME* understand *MY* obligations. I suppose this deals with Stillwater’s issues as well.

                What do I need to do?

                Is it something like “well, you need to write a check to the following organizations”? Is it something like “you need to volunteer your time with kids?”

                Here is my fundamental issue: if I do not see you as owing me anything and if I see your obligations to me as being met (and, seriously, I do!) then it’s tough for me to come up with a situation where I am not meeting my obligations to you.

                So when it comes to the obligations I have for, say, Affirmative Action… what have you done that I am not doing?

                Please give me examples of stuff that you have done to address your obligations with regards to Affirmative Action that would be possible for me to do in the next few months or so.

                Because, again, it seems to me that my obligations are met.

                Does it come down to some squishy “we as a society have a responsibility to be more X” when it’s not really incumbent upon me to be more X? Should I spend more time yelling about how we need to be more X in the hopes that it will prod along those who are prodable?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                @Jaybird, I repeat myself in saying we all come to our conclusions via different routes. The Libertarians are honest people in the main: if they push back against government intrusion in our lives, they are a necessary force in the More Perfect Union. Bully for ’em, push harder, I say.

                I am not a Libertarian. I am an old-line Liberal Republican from a different era. Today’s GOP no longer represents me or my viewpoint: I now call myself a Liberal Democrat because they represent my views considerably better, though I do not agree with all their positions. The truth is, the USA has no place for the old-line Left: they’re still around in Europe but not here. When I read these horse’s asses carrying on about Commie Dems, I’d like to remind them I’ve shot and killed actual Communists. The Democrats are not Communists. Hell, they’re barely Democrats anymore.

                If you’re being asked to write a check to some Worthy Organization, go to the statistics compiled by the Journal of Philanthropy to find the most efficient charity, the ones with the lowest overhead. Do not contribute to the UN, ever. They’re easily the least efficient. Your problem isn’t charity, per se. Your problem is the inefficiency, I’ll bet my socks. And I’ll also bet my socks you have behaved charitably for most of your adult life.

                It may surprise you to realize government can be efficient. The US Marine Corps does more with less than any other branch of service. Why do they manage their money so well? Because their officer corps has a servant mentality. Their order of battle has always been the most inventive: USMC pioneered close air support and combined arms units, making their units autonomous, delegating authority to the guy up to his ass in the fight, not to some nest of political vipers in the Pentagon.

                Now this society has tolerated far too much inefficiency and the rise of political fiefdoms to date. I sincerely believe every Libertarian would support meaningful, data-driven solutions to poverty, if those solutions were proven to work efficiently and produce results.

                More USMC mentality. Less Department of Education thinking.Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                Jaybird, you wrote,

                Here is my fundamental issue: if I do not see you as owing me anything and if I see your obligations to me as being met (and, seriously, I do!) then it’s tough for me to come up with a situation where I am not meeting my obligations to you.

                This is true, perhaps, until you find yourself in the hypothetical water. Then, and perhaps only then, could you say that someone’s affirmative obligation to you has gone unmet.

                Now, of course, the point of the thought experiment was to suggest that lots of people, all over the world, are in the hypothetical water. Do you have an affirmative obligation to them? Well, insofar as you have one for the person in the lake (or pool), then <iarguably yes you do.

                Look, moral principles, and affrimative obligations can’t be gleaned from a list (which is what I take it your asking for). They only have any force when they are rationally (or emotionally, hat-tip utilitarians) accepted by the moral agent who may, or may not, honor them. In that sense, it’s incumbent on you, qua moral agent, to determine this stuff on your own. I mean, you have the tools to tease this stuff out. Do you have an affirmative obligation to help people – even though you require no help yourself?

                But really, I think there’s something else going on here: that you sorta want to reject that we even have these affirmative obligations, based on some comfortable and prior commitment to an alternative principle.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                As for what we may do as individuals to change our society, my hero Gandhi once said he never wanted to know the future. He wanted to know what to do in the present, the future was beyond his control.

                We are the change we want to see in the world. The Buddhists have this concept called Right Mindfulness: samma-sati. Interesting phrase, it means to remember correctly. We must look at the world, forever locked into the present, like tires rolling on the road. It’s a difficult skill to master. Don’t be deluded by falling into a rut, believing what you believed yesterday: that’s how you get stuck in the traffic jams of the conscience, oh this is the way I’ve always thought because way back when this happened to me or I heard that and that’s the everlasting truth and people who believe something else are automatically wrong.

                It’s when you can detach from your own opinions that you can see the torrent of truth flying past your nose. Injustice for one is injustice for all. Misery for one is misery for all. We do not live to ourselves or die to ourselves. The concept of the Individual is often nothing more than an excuse for selfishness: if it’s true the rights of the Individual is the root of liberty, be extremely wary of someone who tells you what you’re supposed to want.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to stillwater
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                says:

                So let’s put the shoe on the other foot.

                What obligations do all of those people out there have to me? Do they have any?

                For example, if they are in water, do I get to say that they should stay away from water in the future? Or purchase water wings for them to wear in the future? What if I find them in the water again without the water wings I purchased?

                If part of my paycheck goes toward paying people to be on lifeguard duty, do I have a right to set up obligations for those who swim?

                Do the obligations only go one way?

                Hypothetically, I mean.

                I know that *YOU* are meeting all of your obligations to me.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to stillwater
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                says:

                Put another way, it seems to me that very much of the reason that we are here today where we are is because of a tacit assumption that our web of interobligations includes a lot of things that are not, in actual fact, obligations.

                I am not obliged to have you not smoke pot in your free time, to use the War on Drugs as an example. I am certainly not obliged to your drug-free state to the point where it’s cool for cops to kick down your door.

                As a matter of fact, I think that the War on Drugs only kicked in in the high gear we see it in today after Johnson’s War on Poverty kicked in. Why? Well, because of this interconnected web of obligations we all share.

                We all agreed that “we” had a responsibility to “them” to make sure that all children were educated, had clean running water, decent nutrition, and whatnot. And… after that, suddenly stuff that was never considered “our business” before was now “our business”.

                You can’t smoke that! You’re getting a welfare check! You shouldn’t have a color television! You’re getting a welfare check! You shouldn’t have any pleasure in your life that isn’t Church-related! You’re getting a welfare check! And so on.

                This web of interconnected obligations has a lot, I mean a lot a lot, of unintended consequences. And I deeply suspect that the War on Drugs is one of them. I deeply suspect that the sheer stupifying number of people in prison is one of them.

                The person holding out their hand in the water is a great example of my obligation to help folks… and then, after I help them out, don’t *I* have the right to put restrictions on their lives?

                And, before you say “of course not!”, please look at what’s happened over the last 50 years.Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                So let’s put the shoe on the other foot.

                As far as I can tell, no shoes have yet been put on. Look, you can reject that affirmative obligations exist. But you can only rationally reject that they do via argument. As yet, you haven’t admitted that they do, and you haven’t argued that they don’t. Now you’re moving the goalposts to the ‘what have affirmative obligations done for me’ line, which is completely besides the point. It does reveal, however, that self-interest is the primary calculus you’re employing here, so it follows that affirmative obligations to others would of course need to be offset by obligations applying to yourself.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                No, I see positive obligations as analogous to God.

                Maybe they exist. Sure.

                But the burden of proof isn’t on me.

                And, if we assume that they exist, for the sake of argument, I get to start asking about the traits of the positive obligations and then you can start questioning my motives, my honesty, and my intelligence because of the stuff that everybody knows.Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to stillwater
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                says:

                Jaybird, I get the feeling your not arguing very honestly here. One compelling argument that affirmative obligations exists is Singer’s ‘help the drowning person’ thought experiment. (Do you agree that you have an affirmative obligation to help that person, or do you disagree?) Them Singer presents a list of other actions which he suggests are strictly analogous to the drowning person example (do you agree that those extensions are analogous, or do you disagree?)

                These cases alone take affirmative obligations out of the realm of the hypothetical: they are as concrete as any principle could possibly be. For you to continually insist on an enumeration of specific instances of affirmative obligations means that your not reading the comments I’ve written – where I’ve mentioned many – or even recalling the starting point of the discussion.

                Now, you may reject that the situations presented actually are instances of affirmative obligations, but that requires argument. You must either deny that you ought to help the drowning man if there is little cost to you, or you must argue that donating to charity (and other actions) is relevantly dis-analogous to the drowning man example and therefore doesn’t constitute an extension of affirmative obligations to other cases. So far, you haven’t done any of those things.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to stillwater
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                says:

                Sure. Let’s say that I can save the drowning person at little to no cost to me.

                Now.

                Can I put up a sign that says “swim at your own risk” after I do this? Or should I have more respect for the personal choices of other people?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                Er, I mean, let’s say that I agree with that.

                Let’s say that I am obliged to help the drowning man at little to no cost to me. Let’s say that that obligation absolutely exists.

                At what point am I allowed to start dictating terms with regards to swimming regulations?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                Let’s go to your lifeguard example to explicate the perversity of your argument, Jaybird. In Phoenix, there’s a requirement every pool be surrounded by a wall with a locked gate to keep out children. If a municipal pool wishes to avoid a lawsuit, they will not only hire a lifeguard but put up signs saying “No Swimming Without a Lifeguard Present, No Running and No Horseplay. Violators are subject ejection from the pool, arrest and fines by order of Municipal Ordinance QW:23-4.” The town’s lawyer made them put up the signs. There’s a public good to the pool, there’s exposure to risk and there’s law.

                As for the War on Drugs, it began long before LBJ and you know it. Reefer Madness was made in 1936.

                As for putting restrictions on anyone’s lives, be careful you’re not falling into the trap you laid for others. Society is you, too. If you don’t see yourself as part of society, well, neither do the criminals.Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to stillwater
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                says:

                At what point am I allowed to start dictating terms with regards to swimming regulations?

                As a power or ‘right’ conferred by acting on your affirmative obligation, the answer is clear: never. Saving that person doesn’t confer any authority to restrict future actions. But insofar as the lake presents a danger, you may have a separate affirmative obligation to warn others of the impending danger swimming alone, or drunk, or naked in winter-time presents.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to stillwater
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                says:

                Blaise, let me again point out that I am meeting all of my positive obligations to society.

                Additionally, I did not say that hysteria over substance abuse did not start until after the War on Poverty. (You could have also pointed out Prohibition!)

                What I said was, and I’m going to quote myself again here: “I think that the War on Drugs only kicked in in the high gear we see it in today after Johnson’s War on Poverty kicked in.”

                This is a completely different statement than “marijuana wasn’t even on the radar until 1974!”

                Now, you say: As for putting restrictions on anyone’s lives, be careful you’re not falling into the trap you laid for others.

                At this point I think that I can safely say that the trap was there when I showed up. As a matter of fact, I’m trying to demonstrate that it’s an unintended consequence of provision of public goods in the guise of positive obligations.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to stillwater
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                says:

                Saving that person doesn’t confer any authority to restrict future actions.

                What if you have to save this person a second time at little or no cost to you? A third? A sixth? What about this person’s kids who may have to be saved at little or no cost to me?

                Or is this hypothetical just toooo crazy to address?Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to stillwater
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                says:

                I don’t see how the frequency of exercising the obligation constitutes an argument that at some point the obligation has been fulfilled. Each time the situation presents itself, you are obligated to save that person. Proactive measures to minimize or eliminate the risk, and hence, reduce the frequency of having to save people, would seem totally appropriate.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to stillwater
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                says:

                Stop your wriggling. The War on Drugs began as an entirely reasonably effort under the Pure Food and Drug Act to get morphine and its analog laudanum out of all sorts of patent medicine.

                The British addressed this quite sensibly: the druggists regulated themselves, putting the label POISON on any drug capable of producing an overdose and required a prescription. When the Federal government tried to address the problem, they asked the snake oil companies to put “Contains Laudanum” on the label. Nothing doing. They’d print the label saying there was no laudanum when there was. It got so bad the snake oil salesmen were getting around the various laws by mailing the drugs to other states. Finally, the Feds simply criminalized the sale of morphine without a prescription and the precedent was established for how other drugs would be handled in law.

                Affirmative Action isn’t up to you. It never was. Your obligation is to obey the law. Stop this flibbering and gibbering about God. It’s up to the prosecutor to prove you violated a law, a jury to convict you and a judge to sentence you for violating a law.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to stillwater
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                says:

                Once again: I *AM* meeting my obligations. Other than the three felonies a day* we all are guilty of committing, I meet my obligations.

                At this point I’m boggling at how we agree that I’ve saved this hypothetical person’s life seven times and, after the eighth time, I ask a hypothetical question about hypothetically adding swimming restrictions to the lives of people who need to be rescued from drowning all the time and, instead of it being hypothetically acknowledged that I have hypothetically saved the hypothetical life of this hypothetical person eight times, it becomes a question of whether it’s remiss of me to ask about it.

                My saving the lives isn’t really that morally spectacular, of course. Hey, I did it at little to no cost to me. No skin off my nose or all that.

                But it seems to me that if we, as a society, continually find ourselves, at little or no cost to us, putting people in prison for putting themselves in situations that have resulted in others drowning?

                We may want to start asking how in the hell we got here.Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to stillwater
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                says:

                I don’t understand the ‘boggling’ going on in your mind. As I admitted, you may have an affirmative duty to put up warnings, and insofar as the lake is accessible through your property, put up restrictions. The point I was making was that having saved X number of people gives you no authority or right beyond what you’d have anyway to put up those notices.

                You’re being too clever by half here in trying to make a point on the DL, instead of just making the argument up front.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to stillwater
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                says:

                Ecch, Advocatus Diaboli, let me rephrase the argument along another line. Jaybird’s example is wretched. Here’s what I think he’s trying to say. Insofar as other people become an obligation to society, over and over, how much obligation does society have to re-save them? Is there a point beyond which the citizenry is within its right to say “You don’t get no mo’, brudder. You done been he’ped enough.”

                Even the food pantry won’t let one person walk out with more than their fair share.

                Unless the judiciary is held on a very short leash, it becomes tyrannical. James Madison demonstrates how each of the branches can become tyrannical, unchecked by the others. I assert, and I strongly suspect Jaybird will, too, that Congress has delegated the Tough Decisions to the courts and the rest to the Executive. They just want control of the money and its distribution. Meanwhile, these non-swimming jackasses keep jumping in the pool and hollering to be re-saved because that’s the only way they’ll ever get any help.Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                Well, I think you’re probably right about this Blaise. And it’s either the worst attempt at a ‘gotcha’ ever, or a last ditch effort to incoherently refute the obligation by pointing out that such a system might be exploited by the ‘undeserving’. But either way, there wasn’t much honest argument from Jaybird here.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                See, here’s where it gets tricksy. There’s a valid argument to be made but it’s hard to lay out plainly. I wish more people were taught rhetoric. They let their emotions get all tangled up in their arguments and it all becomes a botch, with poor word choices, as you point out “undeserving” and the whole argument collapses in shit and ruin.Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                Oh, I agree that there’s a valid argument to be made here. I also think that part of the reason for not making it explicit is that the vagueness of ‘undeserving’ people suckling at the governments teat is too powerful a view to want to get clear on. It does too much work for the folks who accept that view, even tho they admit (by default, if not expressly) to not thinking about things clearly.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                That is not what I am trying to say. I appreciate that you went straight for the “he must be racist” though. That’s awesome of ya.

                (It makes me suspect that there is a secret obligation that I am failing to meet by engaging in this argument)

                Here are my intuitions:

                It has been internalized that we have positive obligations to each other. Everybody is obliged to everybody.

                “Our” obligations to “them” include a lot of things in Maslow’s hierarchy. Food, shelter, etc.

                Their obligations to us include “gratitude” and “obedience”. If they include the latter but not the former, they are considered merely ungrateful. If they include neither, they will be incarcerated disproportionately.

                The attitude that all of us have positive obligations to each other is the foundation of the modern prison state given the nature of the majority of the imprisoned… it ain’t murder, or property crime, or assault that put them in prison, after all.

                Now, what I have noticed in this very conversation is a great deal of pissiness (for lack of a better term) in response to the questions of what I am obliged to do and what they are obliged to do.

                I think that it’s pretty freakin’ obvious that, according to society at large, that my obligations are not, in fact, limited to offering my hand to a drowning person (or to people in analogous situations). There are a hell of a lot more than that… but, for some reason, it makes folks uncomfortable to talk about them out loud. Doubly so to talk about the ones that they have.

                To look and say “there are a lot of people out there who think that food stamps only should be used on healthy food” gets, paraphrased, a response of “I can’t believe you’d say something so racist!” tells me that there are a lot of things bubbling under the surface.

                And, for some reason, nobody wants to talk about these things.

                Even someone like me can see that.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                I should clarify:

                Those intuitions are not *MY* feelings. They are what I suspect are the “feelings” of “society at large”.

                I’d appreciate counter-arguments of the form “of course society at large doesn’t think that” to “only a racist would think that society is imprisoning 1 out of 20 black men for insubordination!”

                But, hey. Whatever gets you through the night.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                @Jaybird: nobody has accused you of racism. You have failed to present a logical argument, entangled as you are in obloquy. It just won’t do. Saving stupid persons who hop back in the pool is not a working analogy for the principle of government assistance to the poor. Your analogy works rather better than you think, for the poor rise and sink: sometimes they’re working, sometimes they’re not. And yes, they do need re-rescuing and no, it’s not their fault and if they are not grateful in the measure you deem appropriate, a hungry man will go on starving before he will surrender his dignity. And no, he will not obey you. He, like you, will obey the law.

                You may be justly accused of despising the poor, given your rant at #100. Do not pretend otherwise or give me some antique hooey about how you know poverty. I do not believe you know enough about poverty to understand how helpless and demeaning it is to actually be poor, else you would not talk this way.Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                Their obligations to us include “gratitude” and “obedience”. If they include the latter but not the former, they are considered merely ungrateful.

                I think you’re still confused about this. Fulfilling an affirmative obligation is not an exchange: they need not express either obedience or gratitude for having received that action. It was done, on the suppositions built into the framework, because it was the right thing to do, because we care, even at a minimal level, about the welfare of others. End of story.

                If they include neither, they will be incarcerated disproportionately. The attitude that all of us have positive obligations to each other is the foundation of the modern prison state

                I don’t see this following at all from the simple premise of affirmative obligation. For you to derive this conclusion from that premise requires an extensive argument, one which you haven’t provided, and one which I don’t think can be made without the inclusion of contingent (and disputable) premises.

                And as for the claim that ‘we’re all obligated to each other’, that’s trivially true: it follows from accepting the social contract.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                Fulfilling an affirmative obligation is not an exchange: they need not express either obedience or gratitude for having received that action.

                I can appreciate that in theory.

                In practice you have people explaining that food stamps ought to be used for “healthy” food and not Doritos and Pepsi.

                It was done, on the suppositions built into the framework, because it was the right thing to do, because we care, even at a minimal level, about the welfare of others. End of story.

                I agree with this in theory.

                In practice, we have people who say “I thought that we agreed with this because we care, at a minimal level, about the welfare of others… and they’re using the money to buy Doritos and Pepsi instead of Milk and Oatmeal and I Can Read books for their children.”

                I don’t see this following at all from the simple premise of affirmative obligation. For you to derive this conclusion from that premise requires an extensive argument, one which you haven’t provided, and one which I don’t think can be made without the inclusion of contingent (and disputable) premises.

                It’s my best shot at explaining the data contained here:

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incarceration_in_the_United_States

                It seems to me that what used to be considered “none of my business” became “my business” with the creation of the Welfare State. At that point, people became intensely interested in who was eating Doritos and drinking Pepsi using fungible funds.Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                <i?I’d appreciate counter-arguments of the form “of course society at large doesn’t think that”

                Jaybird, I’d give you a counter argument to this. But I haven’t seen any argument for this view (at least from you) to counter, and if this is simply an assertion, I don’t even know what it means.Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                Jaybird,
                Maybe you can spell it out for me. I was under the impression that people were incarcerated for violating the law and that laws and their application tend to have a socio-economic, as well as a racial, bias.

                Now you’re telling me that the disproportionate number of poor people (is that right?) in jail is the result of mutual obligations. I hope you understand how I might not see the logical, or even practical, connection of these two things.

                Just give me the outlines of the argument, cuz – obviously – I can’t make the connection myself.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                I’ve followed this colloquy with interest, what one man might owe the next, or owe to society at large.

                I’m not sure the two are the same thing.

                Or what I might “owe” to a victim like in the Good Samaritan story [even in a Kantian sense] as opposed to what i might owe to the habitual self-victimizer, the drunk or addict lying in the street by his own will and his own means.

                Clarity is conspicuous by its absence here, that those who make distinctions between victims and self-victimizers [and victimizers!, criminals] are accused of being inhuman to their fellow man.

                This will not do, turning it all into an undifferentiated soup. Barney the Dinosaur is nice, but he isn’t wise. If he weren’t a costume, he’d be dead by now.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                Stillwater: do you agree that society in general contains the attitude that Food Stamps ought to be used for Healthy Food?

                This premise to my argument seems fairly evident to me in looking at society. If you do not see that this premise has any foundation, I suppose I can find articles or something.

                Do you agree that society in general has different attitudes toward drunkenness and/or drug use in the powerful/productive and those who are on the wrong side of the tracks?

                Again, this premise to my argument seems fairly evident to me in looking at society. If you do not see that this premise has any foundation, I suppose I can find articles or something.

                Do you see these as mere assertions, unfounded as likely as not?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                Now you’re telling me that the disproportionate number of poor people (is that right?) in jail is the result of mutual obligations.

                Not quite.
                The disproportionate number of poor people in jail is the result of “society” not seeing poor people as holding up their end of the mutual obligations.

                I’m not talking about murder, or property crime, or assault. I’m talking about the mind-bogglingly huge number of folks in prison for reasons related to the drug trade (and that’s without getting into the sheer number of murders, property crimes, and assaults related to the drug trade).Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                Tom,

                Clarity is conspicuous by its absence here, that those who make distinctions between victims and self-victimizers [and victimizers!, criminals] are accused of being inhuman to their fellow man.

                You’re very sensitive about this, and I understand that. I assume you’re referring here to something I (or perhaps BlaiseP) has said, and not what Jaybird has said. If so, I think you’re reading too much into what I’ve written. First, I’ve been very clear – I don’t think I could have been clearer – about the logic and evidence for affirmative obligations (within the limited scope of Singer’s drowning man example). Where have I blurred distinctions between victims and self-victimizers?

                But you do bring up a good point, ancillary to the acceptance of affirmative obligations, in the form of a question: insofar as one’s poverty (let’s say, real poverty, not merely ‘short on cash’) is the result of their own personal choices, to what extent are people obligated to help them?

                Let’s make an analogy here that gives the view you’re presenting the greatest strength: suppose that the man drowning in the lake is there because he intends to commit suicide by drowning himself. All the other stipulated conditions apply (ie., you just happen (accidentally, as it were) to be near the lake, you can save him at little cost to yourself, etc.).

                Even on this supposition, acting under the conditions stipulated in the thought experiment (for example, eliminating further conditions such as that the man has a terminal disease and has rationally chosen to end his life), I would say that letting him die is still an unacceptable answer, and that even if you knew he was trying to commit suicide, you still have an affirmative obligation to help him (the alternative, as in the original TE, is to merely let him die).

                Non-swimmers who repeatedly jump in the lake, given the original scenario as described, also require repeated saving.

                Now, insofar as this answer is unacceptable to you, the problem here (in my view) isn’t the burden imposed by the affirmative obligation to help, but rather that people feel the need to keep jumping in the lake. And a solution to that takes us back to politics and policy, and it’s a difficult problem, I admit.Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                Jaybird,
                You say that the distinction between theory and practice is such that affirmative obligations make sense in theory, but are corrupted into all sorts of monstrosities in practice. How does such a distinction refute the theory? If anything, it suggests we ought to do better on the ‘practice’ side of things. And that means politics and policy changes, and maybe even pretty serious revisions of some basic institutional structures.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                And that means politics and policy changes, and maybe even pretty serious revisions of some basic institutional structures.

                I agree in theory. Sure.

                What will it mean in practice?

                Here’s my suspicion: in any argument over who needs to change, the emphasis will be on the need for the needy to change and not on the need for the decent enough Samaritans who walk around saving the drowning at little to no cost to them.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to stillwater
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                says:

                Oh, I’m sorry. “You don’t get no mo’, brudder. You done been he’ped enough.” isn’t intended to invoke particular mental imagery?

                Uh-huh.

                Moving along, You may be justly accused of despising the poor, given your rant at #100.

                My rant at #100 (it’s #100 right now, anyway) is not my take on the poor it’s my take on society’s take.

                If you’d like to explain to me how, no, society actually really likes the poor and only someone who hates the poor would think otherwise, I’d enjoy reading the argument.

                Again: My saying “I think that society thinks X” is not the same as “I think X”.

                And, again, I’d prefer arguments of the form “society doesn’t think X” to “only bad people think that society would think X”.

                But, hey. That’s probably more difficult a point to wrestle with than having an opportunity to explain how, no, you once shared a pummelo with a Uighur in India who had married a Gurkha and so you’ll be god damned if you have to listen to anybody explain that they hate the poor.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Stop erecting Straw Men. Nobody has said anything of the sort. This is all a product of your own fevered imagination.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Dude, you came out and said “You may be justly accused of despising the poor, given your rant at #100.”

                You said that.

                My point is not that I feel X about the poor, but that it seems to me that society does.

                In response, you said “You may be justly accused of despising the poor, given your rant at #100.”

                And now you’re saying “Nobody has said anything of the sort. This is all a product of your own fevered imagination.”Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Nothing is served by continuing this conversation, or any other with you. I’ve leaned over backward to accommodate you, nothing doing.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Yeah, yeah. See you soon. Perhaps you can accuse me of hating Canadians or something next time.Report

        • Avatar Will H. in reply to Bob
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          says:

          Not that I’m any type of constitutional scholar or anything, but my understanding of that is better defined through its inverse:

          Congress shall make no law disrespecting an establishment of religion, or encouraging the limitation of exercise thereof; or consigning the repression of speech, or of the press.Report

  3. Avatar Mike Schilling
    Ignored
    says:

    This is exactly what’s wrong with government: it can’t provide everything that everyone wants all at the same time.Report

  4. Avatar Freddie
    Ignored
    says:

    Those optimistic about democracy say that democracy gives you the government you deserve. We pessimists say “you betcha.”Report

  5. Avatar Steve S.
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    says:

    “Given our stated preferences, there is literally nothing that could satisfy…
    Oh, and we wonder why politicians are dishonest, too.”

    Let’s not put the cart before the horse. If the political actors (include the news media in that) can’t address these issues in other than an obfuscatory manner then it’s unreasonable to expect coherent polling to emerge on issues that are framed incoherently to begin with. Poll questions usually reflect the predominant framing that politicians and the media are engaging in, do they not? My personal favorite example is Presidential “approval”; “do you approve of the job the President is doing?” My answer would be, “what the hell is he, six years old?” Polls never capture the opinions of people like me on this subject because I hang up the phone when asked something patently idiotic. You’re asking people to respond to complex issues that are interconnected to one another in discreet chunks of multiple-choice simple-mindedness. So expect incoherence.Report

    • Avatar Simon K in reply to Steve S.
      Ignored
      says:

      Unfortunately, giving people the facts does not make their views more coherent. Collectively, people confronted with information showing that their preferred course of action will not achieve their goals simply double down on the preferred course of action. For example, recent polls have asked people how to reduce the budget deficit and most people have said they’d like to cut foreign aid. When its pointed out to the interviewees that we could cut everything except Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and defense to zero and still have a budget deficit, the polling still shows that the only thing they agree on is that they want to cut foreign aid.Report

      • Avatar Steve S. in reply to Simon K
        Ignored
        says:

        “Unfortunately, giving people the facts does not make their views more coherent.”

        My point was not that we should be trying to tease coherence out of a population, but that we shouldn’t expect it given the fatuous nature of mainstream discourse coupled with the complexity of the question being asked.

        “Collectively, people…”

        …are what they are. If we are interested in what they collectively think let’s frame the questions intelligently, not in the terms that the buffoons in the public relations industry otherwise known as politics frame it. Do the hard work. Or keep doing the robocalls where you ask about the budget right after you ask how Bristol Palin is doing on “Dancing With the Stars”, but don’t be surprised if you get incoherent answers.Report

      • Avatar stillwater in reply to Simon K
        Ignored
        says:

        Collectively, people confronted with information showing that their preferred course of action will not achieve their goals simply double down on the preferred course of action.

        Is this all people, or is it restricted somewhat, to people who already hold incoherent views? Eg., do progressives ‘double down’ when confronted with countervailing evidence?Report

  6. Avatar kenB
    Ignored
    says:

    In defense of (most of) the citizenry, it’s worth pointing out that you need only a relatively small number of “P and not P” types to produce these results — you could have, e.g., 40% coherently for cuts, 40% coherently for no cuts, and 20% for both.Report

    • Avatar well okay in reply to kenB
      Ignored
      says:

      That’s a defense of 80% of the people. It is not, however, a defense of the system.Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to kenB
      Ignored
      says:

      This is a good point.

      You can also have 40% coherently (but non-dogmatically) against *some* cuts, but not for others, and the 40% can be distributed among the entire population.

      One problem with public polling is that it aggregates the will in the individual.

      I’d like a lot more of our political dialogue to be run by the idea of finding coalitions of the willing for *specific goals*, rather than focusing entirely on Right vs Left dogma. I don’t know how to get that in our current two-party system, though.Report

  7. Avatar DensityDuck
    Ignored
    says:

    “When it comes time to balance the budget, majorities want…To cut Social Security for the wealthy. But no cuts to Social Security.”

    Well, no, they don’t want to cut Social Security for the wealthy without cutting Social Security.

    They answer “yes” to the question “do you think that the wealthy should receive fewer benefits from the government?” And they answer “no” to the question “do you think Social Security should be cut?”

    What poll responders are saying, here, is that they do favor cuts to Social Security–for a certain group of people. They don’t favor across-the-board cuts in the entire thing; and the question, as presented, looks like that’s what it’s asking. (The asked question is “Do you think it will be necessary to cut spending on Social Security in order to significantly reduce the federal budget deficit?”)Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DensityDuck
      Ignored
      says:

      Hey, don’t cut it, stop sending checks to the rich, then redistribute those checks to the middle class on down!

      Quickly followed by “what do you mean that works out to 3 cents a year?”Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        True. But I’m not talking about whether the suggested reform will actually do anything–I’m responding to the “cut this but don’t cut it, LOL” snarking in the top post.Report

  8. Avatar Murali
    Ignored
    says:

    Dare I do it?

    Ok Here goes. Given the incoherence of democracy…. I give you Mencius Moldbug:

    http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2008/04/open-letter-to-open-minded-progressives.htmlReport

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Murali
      Ignored
      says:

      Moldbug was suffering from a Crisis of Comparison. A Progressive cannot be easily pushed into a mold: spend a few days around dKos and you’ll see the Progressives are mostly united around Pooties and Woozles.

      The Progressive is a Plankist: he brings his plank, his special brief to the rally and helps nail it to the scaffold. There, Moldbug’s Burning Man metaphor works quite well, for many of these Progressive construction teams produce wonderfully intricate works. Though they don’t last, those constructions inspire other folks to build their own. The Progressive teams are quite happy to build their own two story two-story flapping bird and drag it to the heart of the desert.

      And who says politics must be a monolith? The Conservatives are always in trouble there. Because there’s always a line to hew, litmus tests to pass, the requisite amount of groveling before the tomb of Reagan (though Reagan would never be considered Conservative enough these days), they form up Councils of the Faithful and everyone goes on pilgrimage together. Not a scrap of original thought among the entire lot of them. The Conservative suffers from defining himself by what he is Not. What he is remains a complete mystery, as we found out with Bush the Dumber, the creature of his handlers.Report

  9. Avatar Lyle
    Ignored
    says:

    Lets take the last point a bit. Assume all federal grants and aid to states were to be abolished. Then you posit that if the people in a state want a service they get to pay taxes to the states or localities to get the service. If a state is poorer it gives less services, so people move away. The interesting question if all state and local subsidies Highways education and the like were to be abolished including disguised subsidies like the ones for school internet from phone bills. If people think the services are needed let them pay for them locally.
    I am not endorsing this, but suggest it ought to be at least discussed, in essence we go back to the old view that states and local governments spend what they can tax.Report

  10. Avatar BSK
    Ignored
    says:

    I generally find it to be that people are FOR doing something to someone else and AGAINST having it done to them. Or FOR having something done for them and AGAINST having it done for others.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to BSK
      Ignored
      says:

      I agree a bit with the cynicism of your comment, but in general its wrong. Most people against abortion would not have one themselves if they were a woman or go along with it if they were a man. I’ve worked with a lot of men who didn’t believe in abortion and were completely against their mate having one even when the child was yet another burden. Most drug warrior types don’t use the drugs they are against. The liberals i know are fine with paying more taxes for the things we advocate for. It’s easy and fun and occasionally informative to point out others hypocrisy, but lots and lots of people do live out their beliefs.Report

  11. Avatar Robert Cheeks
    Ignored
    says:

    Well, I can’t figure out how to get in the thread above, so here:

    Dude: “When I read these horse’s asses carrying on about Commie Dems, I’d like to remind them I’ve shot and killed actual Communists.”

    The theme of “I’ve shot and killed..” is way to close to “…these horse’s asses carrying on about Commie Dems,” indicates to me that you’re thinking way too much about me (besides it’s hyphenated as in: commie-dem(s)).
    Hey, leave me alone, I’m an admitted sissy!
    I don’t wanna get in a gun battle, or be threatened by people who appear to need counselling. I don’t mind the insult(s) at all, it’s that speech thing, but, dude, the implied threat isn’t necessary, or helpful, or in any way inhances the dialectic.
    If this keeps up, Will or someone will give you a good talking to.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Robert Cheeks
      Ignored
      says:

      As you have learned by now, my bullshit tolerance setting is set to Mouse Fart. I just don’t tolerate it. Your ad-hom only inspires me to grin impassively, right down deep in my stomach. I have been given a curious gift: I say things about people they never forget. You trifle with me again, calling my sanity into question and you will find yourself at the receiving end of just such a jape, and it will be entirely within the rules of this place, for the most damning thing that may be said of a man is the plain truth. You have been warned. Keep a civil tongue in your head and we shall get along famously, you’ll see.Report

      • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to BlaiseP
        Ignored
        says:

        Threats diminish your weak arguments, that’s all I’m saying and they don’t impress.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Robert Cheeks
          Ignored
          says:

          Very true. As you’ve been reduced to ad-hom, we see where you stand, up to your armpits in a hole you won’t stop digging.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Robert Cheeks
          Ignored
          says:

          For your edification, here’s an enumeration of the logical fallacies. Read and be thereby instructed.Report

          • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to BlaiseP
            Ignored
            says:

            I can always use instruction, but it isn’t about me. It’s about you, my friend, and you my friend, need to review this thread and ask yourself, “Is this What the Christ would have written?” I will stand with you, I will not let you fall astray without a fight!Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Robert Cheeks
              Ignored
              says:

              Third Man Fallacy. I write, not Jesus. Quod scripsi scripsi.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                I will not give up on you, my brother in Christ! You may castigate me, attack me, do as you will. I will stnad with you before the Lord, God!Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Robert Cheeks
                Ignored
                says:

                A disturbed man was standing on the bridge, ready to jump off. A concerned bystander shouts at him “Don’t jump! God loves you! Don’t you believe in God?”

                “Yes” the man sobs, “I do believe in the faith of my fathers.”

                “What’s faith is that?” the bystander asks.

                “Baptist. Southern Baptist.”

                “Moderate or Conservative?” the bystander continued.

                “Conservative.”

                “I’m a Moderate!” shouted the bystander and pushed the man off the bridge. “Die, you heretic!”Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Robert Cheeks
              Ignored
              says:

              Is this What the Christ would have written?”

              Little or none of what is said in His name is something He would have written Himself. We know this because He didn’t have a goyisher kopf.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Mike Schilling
                Ignored
                says:

                So Jesus gets a robe made by a shnayder named Goldstein. “So what do I owe you?” asks Jesus. “Oh, it’s bekhinem if you’ll put me into one of your sermons, something about Goldstein the Shnayder. Advertising costs are shreklich these days.”

                So Jesus preaches this wonderful droshe and ends up with a rousing reference to Goldstein the Shnayder. Sales go through the roof, lines forming outside Goldstein’s, everyone must have malbesh like Jesus’ from the wonderful droshe. Jesus stops by, Goldstein comes out from behind his workbench, offers Jesus a full shutfes partnership. They’re trying to work out the new incorporation paperwork. Neither of them like the sound of Jesus and Goldstein or Goldstein and Jesus.

                So they settle for Lord and Taylor.Report

              • Avatar Will H. in reply to Mike Schilling
                Ignored
                says:

                Generally, when someone makes a statement (or in this case, raises a rhetorical question) regarding an aspect of character or state of being, it is rather foolish and ____* to pretend as if the statement were directed at unearthing a historical fact as if it were an archeological matter.
                The chronology is out of sync. “Here and now” is not to be mistaken (and especially purposefully) as “there and then.”
                That man is real on the other side of that screen.
                His thoughts and feelings are real. His faith is real.
                From what I can see, he is a good and decent man.
                He certainly doesn’t deserve mockery.
                It’s a bad time to be making wisecracks.

                Matters of spirit are never to be answered with archeology or geology.
                As I mentioned elsewhere, I tend to read a lot of Sufi literature.
                It might help lead you to understanding.

                * You can fill in the blank yourself, because you already know exactly what it is. I would prefer not to say such a thing.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Will H.
                Ignored
                says:

                Mr. “Commie-dem” doesn’t deserve mockery?Report

              • Avatar Will H. in reply to Mike Schilling
                Ignored
                says:

                Please forgive me, but I am incredibly slow; and so, I am unable to differentiate between arrogance and wisdom. Please help me.
                Many years ago, I knew several men from the Ministry of Agriculture of Kenya. I’m sorry, but I just can’t tell which ones among them are deserving of mockery due to the strangeness of their speech. I am still uncertain as to which ones should suffer mockery due to their vocabulary, or their use of that odd British idiom.
                Is this true, that a man and the words of a man are one and the same?
                As I said, I cannot tell arrogance from wisdom.
                Please assist.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Will H.
                Ignored
                says:

                Need I point out that one who deals largely in childish insults like “Commie-dem” and “Kenyan Marxist”:is not displaying wisdom?Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Will H.
                Ignored
                says:

                OMG, I do hope I’m not annoying anyone. Will, I once met the foreign minister of Uganda…long story. However, I’m not sure how identifying our pres as a “marginally documented, Kenyan-Marxists” mocks anyone, let alone Kenyan’s you used to know. I’m sure Barry’s quite proud of his Kenyan-Marxist roots, too.
                BTW, I’m thinking, for the sake of brevity, to use the initials CD for the ever popular identifier ‘commie-dem.’ Consider this a heads up.
                All my best, yous guys have a nice day!Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Will H.
                Ignored
                says:

                Annoying, Bob? You? God [1] forbid.

                1. Any of the three of them.Report

    • Avatar Will H. in reply to Robert Cheeks
      Ignored
      says:

      I really don’t understand what you two are bickering about.
      I went to take a look at the comment you referenced, and I find myself to be in agreement with Mr P; and frankly, a bit more than I would feel comfortable with someone that self-identifies as a ‘Liberal Democrat.’

      The Libertarians are honest people in the main: if they push back against government intrusion in our lives, they are a necessary force in the More Perfect Union. Bully for ‘em, push harder, I say.
      Couldn’t have said it better myself if I’d have tried.

      I am not a Libertarian. I am an old-line Liberal Republican from a different era.
      That’s the way I see myself. I came in from a different route though. I was a traditional blue-collar Democrat until I became horrified at what ‘progressivism’ had become. I idolize some of those older progressives from the early part of the 20th century, but I see a serious disconnect between them and the progressives of the latter 20th century. I come from the Mountain West, and I have that strong libertarian streak so common among them; and so, I found myself to be a moderate Republican: a RINO, as I like to say, but really something more along the lines of the Rockefeller Republicans.

      Today’s GOP no longer represents me or my viewpoint… The Democrats are not Communists. Hell, they’re barely Democrats anymore.
      That sounds just like me.

      Now this society has tolerated far too much inefficiency and the rise of political fiefdoms to date.
      That’s what I was referring to about the modern progressives earlier. Count the Chamber of Commerce (the worm in the apple of Republicanism) among them; and numerous others.

      More USMC mentality. Less Department of Education thinking.
      I really like that statement. I wish I would have thought of it first.

      I’m thinking you probably felt singled out by the use of the term “Commie Dems.” I can’t say one way or the other if that was a direct reference to you, but I really don’t think that Mr P would take such a cheap back-hand shot out of the blue. I’m thinking more along the lines of, if he really wanted to direct that comment at you, he would have done so more directly. Perhaps I am mistaken. I am at times.
      There will always be plenty of ways to take offense, but there’s no reason to seize upon any one of them as the first recourse. Better to be a bit understanding of each other. I don’t think anyone here is particularly subject to ill intent, and I don’t believe that such a thing would be tolerated.
      I’m glad I’m not on a boat trying to fish with you guys.
      Though I’d sure take the opportunity.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Will H.
        Ignored
        says:

        How very kind and decent of you to say such things. To quote Joe Walsh “Everybody’s so different / I haven’t changed.”

        I resent being lumped in with the Commies. Folks who think it’s cute to say such things, well, I can’t stop them. Orwell summed it up pretty well, neither a Catholic nor a Communist is capable of thinking his opponent both honest and intelligent. I’ve seen Communism at point blank range and it wasn’t a pretty picture. I’m not sure it’s possible to properly hate Communism until you’ve seen it at short range. BlaiseP’s Corollary to Godwin’s Law states Nazis or Hitler are not the only route to rhetorical inanity: Communism and Marx make perfect substitutes. The First Extension to BlaiseP’s Corollary states those who run afoul of Godwin’s Law have not read either Mein Kampf or Das Kapital.Report

        • Avatar Will H. in reply to BlaiseP
          Ignored
          says:

          Thank you for saying so. I don’t get a lot of that. In fact, on the whole, blogs have been a decidedly negative and unwholesome experience for me, and there are very few that I care to visit.
          I came to this one after Mike at The Big Stick linked here, and I kept coming back because of Rufus’ posts on the Greeks.

          But yes, I too feel as if I’m much the same while everything shifted around me.
          And it does disturb me to see Obama referred to as a socialist again and again. For one thing, it’s loaded language / appeal to emotion / excited hyperbole, or what-have-you. On the other hand, failing to see the target practically ensures missing the mark.

          I think that Rufus is the only one around here that self-identifies as a commie-dem.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Will H.
            Ignored
            says:

            I’ve been online since long before the Internet was invented. I think I’ve seen too much. As with any other endeavour, you get out of something what you put into it, and it is possible to see too much of the same people.

            I suppose I shouldn’t lump all the Communists together. In smallish populations, it can be made to work, but only to a very limited extent. Eventually, Orwell’s pigs gain the upper hand, their most potent weapon is always denouncing those who never meant them any harm at all and would willingly follow them. But that’s never quite enough for the pigs, is it?

            In a very real sense, I wish today’s GOP were confronted by a Lenin. Aesop’s fable of the Frogs and the Stork comes to mind: let those who clamour for a King be given one they can fear and respect, one who will periodically eat one of them.Report

          • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Will H.
            Ignored
            says:

            President Obama is a Euro-style socialist and a redistributionist.

            Fortunately, he was stopped. Any resemblance to centrism is because of the reversal of his political fortunes.Report

          • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Will H.
            Ignored
            says:

            Oh, wow, I just do that to get a laugh out of Bob. I’ve always been at odds with communists and not terribly enamored with Democrats. Besides, I live in Ontario, so I don’t vote for any of them.Report

            • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Rufus F.
              Ignored
              says:

              Actually Dr. R, I like your work. It’s always interesting and very much edumacational.
              Have you been following this thread?
              I have, and it’s been fascinating….what do you think of the conversation, assuming you’ve been following?Report

            • Avatar Will H. in reply to Rufus F.
              Ignored
              says:

              Every single teacher at the college level that I have ever known was a drunk and a whore. Without fail.
              Mind you, the word ‘known’ is used here in its Biblical sense.
              But you are suspect, Rufus.
              And what’s the ‘F’ supposed to mean? I’ve seen teachers do that before….
              Everyone knows that Ontario is full of commie-dems
              — knocking each others’ teeth out with hockey, then deadening the pain with Yukon Jack on their way to enjoy socialized medicine.

              Actually, commie-dems don’t sound so bad, except for the toothless part.Report

          • Avatar dexter in reply to Will H.
            Ignored
            says:

            I really wish that President Obama was a socialist and Rufus is not the only one that self-identifies as a commiedem. I expect howls of protest, but if it were up to me I would nationalize the oil companies and use the profits for green energy. It is far from a perfect idea, but I think it is better than giving 400 million retirement packages to people who deny global warming. If it was up to me the poor people’s lobby would be as powerful as the NRA. I could go on, but you get the point.Report

            • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to dexter
              Ignored
              says:

              Okay, seriously folks- somewhere around here is the most pessimistic post comment ever in which I tried to explain why I find every political philosophy limited and lacking and can’t commit to any of them with any vigor or faith. I went through conservatism, liberalism, libertarianism, anarchism- pretty much every one I could think of- pissed on them and poured myself a tall glass of Chimay. But, of course I can’t put stock in anything- I’ve been in college for too long.

              For communism, the problem was historical materialism- I don’t believe in that or any other meta-historical forces, especially when real humans can run afoul of them and get blamed for their own liquidation. As for socialism, it’s supposed to get rid of inequality and does, with the one big exception being the massive inequality between the state and the citizenry. If we could get the damn state to wither away, maybe. But then how do you maintain socialism? Marx said the state would be reduntant under socialsm, but that sure didn’t happen. Even without the class struggle, you need to state to prevent the class struggle. It’s enough to make you laugh, but you’d die trying.

              Ah, you know- I’m a cranky grad student. No fun at parties. What do I believe in? The usual- women, rollercoasters, rock’n’roll, horror movies, naps.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Rufus F.
                Ignored
                says:

                Naps are good.
                The problem is with the ‘fallen’ nature of man; e.g. his propensity to do evil and not follow/seek the ‘good’ all the time, or hardly ever, or once in a while.

                “A Hobbes replaces the summum Bonum with the summum malum as the ordering force ofman’s existence; a Hegel builds his state of alienation into a system and invites all men to become Hegelians; a Marx rejects the Aristotlian quest on the ground outright and invites you to join him, as as ‘socialist man’, in his state of alienation; a Freud diagnoses the openness toward the ground as an “illusion,” a “neurotic relict” and an “infantilism”, a Heidegger waits for a “parousia of Being” which does not come…, a Sarte feels “condemned to be free” and thrashes around in the creation of substitute meanings for the meaning he has missed; a Levi-Strauss assurs you that you cannot be a scientist unless you are an atheist; the symbol “structuralism” becomes the slogan of a fashionable movement of escape from the noetic structure of reality; and so forth.”
                “Reason,” Eric Voegelin, Vol. 12, CWReport

  12. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    Stillwater, down here.

    Here’s an essay that I’ve been rolling around in my head in one form or another (and allowed to leak out in comments from time to time). It has to do with our attitudes toward helping people at little or no cost to us and how they evolve/devolve based on how much the people we’re helping are considered to be like “us”… and, let’s face it, it’s hard to not make distinctions in the first place. Anyway, here it is.

    It seems to me that the problem, fundamentally, is one of an inconsistent triad.

    1. Robust Social Safety Net
    2. Open Immigration
    3. Multiculturalism

    I suspect that you can survive indefinitely with any two of these but add the third and everything will come crashing down.

    The Ellis Island days were days of 2 and 3, mostly, for the US. We can debate how open the country was to, say, Chinese immigration or Multiculturalism given all of the “that’s too hard to say, your new last name is now ‘Applebottom'” kinda things going on at the border… but if one compares the “open immigration” of the 1800s to the “open immigration” seen in, say, Denmark… I think it’s easy to say that it was easier to immigrate then.

    When it comes to Multiculturalism, allowing a Little Italy, a Little Poland, a Little Greece, and so on seems much more multiculti than language laws (yeah, I’m bringing up language laws again).
    Now, to be sure, there’s the multiculturalism that says “bring your funny festivals, your funny foods, your funny music, your funny religions, and your funny clothing but leave the cousin marriage and honor killings back in Ireland” vs. a multiculturalism that says “whatever, it’s your culture, so long as you stay in Boston when you do it”. A weak multiculturalism vs. a strong multiculturalism, if you will. Both of these can be compared to a “you will speak *THIS* language, you will wear *THESE* colors, and you will conform!” (Some will think of the WASPs when they read that, some will think of the Saudis, some will think of the Commies. Indeed, I think that that was the member of the triad that they tried hardest to stamp out… which, interestingly, had an effect upon 2).

    Anyway, all of the problems we’re seeing in Europe and in the US strike me as tensions growing between an embrace of 2 and 3 and the push toward a stronger and stronger social safety net.

    The pushback against immigration (and we all know that when we say “immigration”, we mean “Mexican immigration”) has resulted in it being a LOT tougher on legal immigrants than on just walking here… which means that we get all of the downsides of open immigration with only a portion of the upsides of open immigration.

    Any push against multiculturalism is likely to inspire comparisons like “what’s wrong with cousin marriage? The Irish nascar hillbillies I mock for marrying their cousins do it all the time! Listen to my impersonation of a Southern Accent! Half Virginia, Half Texas, Half Minnesota!” or, of course, “Irish people beat their wives all the time and I’ve never heard you complain about that!!!” which while excellent points don’t really address the issue of how cousin marriage is one of those “frowned upon” things while wife-beating is one of those things that was actually illegal in this country until Ronald Reagan ordered the Justice Department to discontinue prosecuting it.

    Which brings us back, again and again, to number one.

    There are a lot of things going on in Europe as a whole, right now. It’s difficult to resist the temptation to quote Maggie and point out that “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money”. And, sure, while it may be true that Denmark is doing pretty well for itself, it’s not exactly a counterpoint to the whole inconsistent triad thing we’ve got going on.

    It doesn’t seem to me to be sustainable in the long-run. To maintain a social safety net, you need to have a culture that holds social safety nets as something that is very important for oneself to pay for. Not for someone else to pay for: For oneself to pay for.

    Open immigration chips away at this if only because of sensationalized stories of Irish people sneaking over here and living on the dole. People inclined to be generous start saying “well, I pay into the system to take care of good people, not the Irish” and it doesn’t take for a whole lot of that to weaken the willpower of folks to pay into such a system. Eventually they say well, for citizens. For immigrants if they got here *LEGALLY*. That’s why I wanted a social safety net.

    The multiculturalism thing weakens with too much immigration as well. When there is yet another news story sensationalizing how yet another Irish man was found urinating in public, this starts a debate over cultural values and whether we want to be paying for people to pee on the side of a building. (Yes, I know. THere were hundreds of folks peeing outside at the time, the Irish guy doing so was the only one who made the evening news. I’m discussing the cultural dynamic.) People say I support the dole… but you should respect our cultural norms! Pee inside!

    And all of these things working together result in less and less will for a robust social safety net… which, unless you are willing to pay for it (as opposed to support the idea of it being paid for by others), ain’t sustainable.

    I’m not saying “should” or “ought” or “ideal” here, mind. I’m just describing the phenomenon as it appears.Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      > … which means that we get all of the downsides of
      > open immigration with only a portion of the
      > upsides of open immigration.

      This needs to be written.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Pat Cahalan
        Ignored
        says:

        Beg pard?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Pat Cahalan
        Ignored
        says:

        Thinking about this some more, this also applies to most forms of prohibition.

        Severe gun control (in America, anyway) means that we get all of the downsides of gun ownership (bad guys having guns) and none of the upsides (good guys having guns).

        Prohibition of alcohol meant that we got all of the downsides of alcohol consumption (drunken Irish people urinating publically) as well as a handful of new downsides (Al Capone) and none of the upsides of alcohol consumption.

        The War on Drugs means that we get all of the downsides of drug use and none of the upsides of drug use (Medicinal MJ, for example… but, in Colorado Springs anyway, we’ve got 8 pages of ads in the local weekly rag for medicinal weed so *THAT* is finally falling away too).

        Making X illegal tends to mean that you only get the downsides of X… which, of course, makes it easier to double down and make the downsides even more stark, which, of course makes it easier to double down…Report

        • Avatar stillwater in reply to Jaybird
          Ignored
          says:

          I’m not really sure what to say about all the views presented here. I’m confused about whether you are conflating description with prescription. Eg., racism is certainly a fact of life, but the fact that it exists doesn’t imply that accepting it, or creating policies that preserve – or in some sense institutionalize – it is the morally right thing to do. Or even the pragmatically right thing to do. Obviously, this is a tricky issue.

          And I agree that making stuff illegal can create adverse effects. But that view, it seems to me, can be argued exclusively on the merits of issue in question. Eg., The WOD: does it achieve it’s objectives (which assumes that the objective can, in fact, be clearly stated), does it unfairly punish classes or races of people, what is the cost and is it worth it, could government enforcement of appropriate drug restrictions be funded by taxes imposed on the legal sale of drugs, etc.?

          What I guess I reject, insofar as it’s a view you’re presenting, is that these regressive policies are based on the failure of poor people or outgroups to be sufficiently obedient or appreciative of the welfare state. I’m still not seeing that. The policies may be based on racism. Or the exercise of unjust governmental power. Or a desire to maintain socio-economic distinctions.

          Suggesting these policies result from a lack of appreciation or compliance by the poor, it seems to me, confuses the causal conditions which gave rise to the welfare state to begin with. If poor people had more choices (in a cultural as well a pragmatic sense), then they wouldn’t need to exhibit the anti-social behaviors (lack of obedience) you’re suggesting they are punished for. That’s not to say that some people will use the lack of obedience as a justification to cut off aid. It’s just that if the did say that, they’d be wrong.

          But maybe I’m still not understanding you.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to stillwater
            Ignored
            says:

            Hey Stillwater.

            I think that all I’m doing is describing things and people are getting upset that I’m saying that things ought to be this way.

            Nope. I’m just describing them.

            For example:
            There are people out there who are hungry.

            (We all agree on this.)

            We have a responsibility to provide food to the people out there, our citizens anyway, who are hungry. Certainly The Children.

            (We all agree on this with the exception of a crank here or there.)

            The majority of the people out there argue that our responsibility to provide food to the hungry people out there (especially The Children) entails making sure that they get the food we’re trying to give them.

            (I think we’re all still nodding at this point. Right?)

            The majority of the people out there think that food stamps and WIC ought to be used *ONLY* for nutritious and healthy food. Not for Doritos. Not for Pepsi. And *CERTAINLY* not for Alchohol!!!

            (Are we still nodding? I’m not saying “I think X” but that “the majority of people think X”. We still good?)

            Now here’s the premise that, when introduced, will get people all in a lather:

            Money is fungible.

            (My question: Are you still with me or would you like to say that any one of these premises strikes you as being untrue and I need to justify my take why I see any given one of them as being true? Because if you aren’t with me so far and if you think that my descriptions of reality aren’t accurate, this is where the disconnect may actually be.)Report

            • Avatar stillwater in reply to Jaybird
              Ignored
              says:

              I think I see some movement here in the way all these claims hang together. I’ll get into that below.

              There are people out there who are hungry.

              Agreed.

              We have a responsibility to provide food to the people out there, our citizens anyway, who are hungry. Certainly The Children.

              Agreed. But I’m not sure what ‘provide food to the hungry’ means here: is it literally the food itself, or the means to acquire food?

              The majority of the people out there argue that our responsibility to provide food to the hungry people out there (especially The Children) entails making sure that they get the food we’re trying to give them.

              Agreed (in some general sense). I don’t know what ‘get the food that we’re trying to give them’ (same ambiguity as above). If we’re just interested in giving them the means to acquire food, then we want to make sure the getting the money, or vouchers, or food stamps.

              The majority of the people out there think that food stamps and WIC ought to be used *ONLY* for nutritious and healthy food. Not for Doritos. Not for Pepsi. And *CERTAINLY* not for Alchohol!!!

              This I honestly have no formed opinion on. Certainly I hear liberals advocating for people eating healthier foods, and I hear conservatives criticizing the use of welfare to get drunk or whatever. But I don’t think liberals generally care all that much. Conservatives, it seems to me, use the purchasing of Doritos or booze as a justification for getting rid of welfare, rather than restricting the items one can buy, which means they aren’t accepting one of the earlier premises after all.

              Money is fungible

              Yes it is.

              Still a disconnect, I guess.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                I’m not sure what ‘provide food to the hungry’ means here: is it literally the food itself, or the means to acquire food?

                To see to it that they are properly fed. There are dozens of ways to do this, some involves the food itself, some with the means. It’s the agreement to the general principle.

                I don’t know what ‘get the food that we’re trying to give them’ (same ambiguity as above).

                As opposed to going toward overhead, or Tickle Me Elmos, or cigarettes for the parent/caretaker. When we say “we have a responsibility to see that children are being fed”, we’re talking about more than just giving a bag of wheat to a General who promises us that he will personally see that the wheat is ground into bread for children to eat and feed to baby ducks. We’re talking about making sure that the children actually get fed.

                This I honestly have no formed opinion on.

                It seems to me that the existence of food stamps in the first place is indicative of society’s opinion on the topic… otherwise why not just give money? Instead, we give a voucher that can not be used for alcohol or cigarettes or Tickle Me Elmos. It must be used for *FOOD*.

                But I don’t think liberals generally care all that much.

                In recent memory, I am aware of Happy Meal Toy bans in San Francisco. Perhaps this is not representative of “people in general” (let alone “liberals in general”) but imagine food stamps being allowed to be used at McDonald’s. Would you see a shrug in response to this new policy or would you expect to see people yelling about such things as “childhood obesity”, “food deserts”, “child food abuse”, and so on?Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Jaybird,

                Guess I still don’t see where you’re going with this. On the one hand, you’re saying that people are pissed off that not enough of the money they contribute (via taxes) goes to actual food. On the other hand, you’re saying that people are pissed cuz there’s too many restrictions on what people can purchase with their welfare ducats. On the third hand, you criticize liberals for being pro-active about food choices by trying to prhobit McD’s from targeting children by including toys with a purchase of their slop.

                I don’t see how all this hangs together except as an observation that lots of people disagree about lots of things.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                No, no, no, no. It’s not about where I’m going. I’m just trying to get us to agree to a handful of premises that I see as fairly evident.

                That’s it.

                If you find any one of those premises to be false on its face, please tell me.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                Well, not *YET* anyway.Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                If you find any one of those premises to be false on its face, please tell me.

                Well, I thought I did. But let’s try it this way: I can completely understand how someone else (other than me) might fully accept the truth of those claims.

                Can we move forward on that assumption?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                I can completely understand how someone else (other than me) might fully accept the truth of those claims.

                The claims I’m making are not “X” but “the general attitude in society is X”.

                Sort of like the difference between “There are 9 planets” and “most people in society think that there are 9 planets”.

                We know the former is false. I think that the latter is true.

                And the former can be false at the same time that the latter is true.

                Is that where our disconnect is?Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                No, I get that your saying other people belive X (or ‘most people’, or whatever). It’s just that I don’t see that. I see very vocal but small groups advancing certain positions, and they get lots of attention (see, eg, the teaparty). What I’m unsure of, and don’t have an opinion on, is ‘most people believe X’.

                As an example, if you only watch Fox News, you would be under the impression that most people believe that cutting taxes leads to more revenue, or leads to job creation. But in actuality, most people know that’s not true.Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Would you see a shrug in response to this new policy or would you expect to see people yelling about such things as “childhood obesity”, “food deserts”, “child food abuse”, and so on?

                I agree with you there. Lots of hollering about that. not the least of which would be from a health pov.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                So we agree that, foundationally, there is an attitude that says that food stamps ought to be used for healthy food?Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                I would say there is agreement that foodstamps ought not be used for unhealthy foods (and non-foods, eg. Mcdonalds), but I’ll grant the point to move things along.Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Actually, I’m not sure I can. The ‘ought’ in the way you’re using it isn’t normative, it’s hypothetical, as in, if you want your car to keep running, you ought to change the oil once in a while.

                Or do you understand it as having a moral meaning?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                I am not saying “foodstamps ought not be used for McDonalds”.

                I am saying “there is an underlying attitude among the general public that foodstamps ought (or should not) be used for McDonalds”… that is, it is a good thing that they *CAN’T* (yet, anyway) be used there.

                I’m not talking about whether the attitude exists, not about whether the attitude is a good or moral or ethical or even coherent attitude.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Gah. I *AM* talking about whether it exists, not about whether it’s (list).Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                But that seems to be the sticky problem here. I don’t know, nor do I ever really think about, what ‘everyone else’ is thinking or believing. I talk to individuals, and hear what they say, and have a dialogue with them.

                Christ, the whole idea that there is an ‘American view of X’ just seems like nonsense to me. Even if such a view could be discerned, people would hold that view for a multiplicity of reason that makes calling it an ‘American view’ propagandistically ridiculous.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Christ, the whole idea that there is an ‘American view of X’ just seems like nonsense to me. Even if such a view could be discerned, people would hold that view for a multiplicity of reason that makes calling it an ‘American view’ propagandistically ridiculous.

                Well, the reason I am hung up on this is because, at our foundation, we are talking about “culture”.

                If we cannot agree what our culture is, we will never be able to discuss problems that arise from various things that are entailed from our culture. Certain things entail other certain things and those things entail yet others. If we’re discussing why we have problems in this “yet others” category, it makes sense to look at “various things”.Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                If we cannot agree what our culture is, we will never be able to discuss problems that arise from various things that are entailed from our culture.

                But you are not the first to try to determine what that is. And as yet, there aren’t any good answers.

                But (personally) I don’t think understanding culture in some theoretical, or fully general way, is necessary to discussing culture or arriving at resolutions to cultural problems. Problems emerge in specific instances, and they get treated according to the available tools of resolution, eg, elections, or lobbying, or advocacy, or (last and definitely least) force.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                That we are not unanimous doesn’t mean we should abandon the normative, or at least the attempt to discern it. There are many American norms of which we can speak intelligibly.

                I’m enjoying Philip Hamburger’s essay “Liberality,” what that meant in the Founding era. Although there was not a unanimity, there was a discernible zeitgeist.

                http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2011/03/philip-hamburger-on-liberality-in.html

                As for the current crisis [via InstaP], putative libertarian Nick Gillespie:

                3 Essential Facts About the Current Moment: We’re Out of Money, The Public Sector is Overpaid, & We Can’t Tax Our Way Out of This.

                Not that we’re unanimous on this. 😉

                http://reason.com/archives/2011/03/11/3-essential-facts-about-the-cuReport

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                I’m not looking for unanimous. There are always folks who disagree with any given proposition.

                What I am looking for is general consensus.

                If we can’t even agree that there’s a general consensus that food stamps shouldn’t be used for cigarettes, I don’t see why we have the grounds to say that we, as a society, have a general consensus that we ought to feed The Children.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                You will never get General Consensus. He got killed at Bull Run.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird
              Ignored
              says:

              The problem remains because all you do is describe them. What you actually propose as a solution remains a dark mystery.

              1. A robust social safety net saved Bismarck’s Germany from becoming yet another franchise of the Soviet Union. A robust social safety net put America back on its feet after the Great Depression.

              2. There never was Open Immigration after 1924.

              3. Multiculturalism is so much hooey. Everyone has his own culture.

              There are two viewpoints to Social Safety Net problem. The first considers the very poor and uneducated as a net cost to society and gauges results on how well that safety net performs on that net cost basis: the goal is to create tax payers at the end of the day. The second is a whiny, stupid attitude wherein the poor deserve their poverty and the beatings shall continue until morale improves.

              As for what you think is healthy, summoning up the ghostly regiments of the Fallacious Horde of Agreement like Aragorn summoning the Dead of Dunharrow, here’s how it really works. There are places in the poor section of town without grocery stores called Food Deserts. There are no fresh vegetables, no fresh food at all. If it doesn’t come in a can or a bottle or plastic shrinkwrap, you can’t get it. Any ideas on how such things could be imported?Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                The problem remains because all you do is describe them. What you actually propose as a solution remains a dark mystery.

                For my part, I don’t understand the description, or even the relevance of the description.

                So the mysteries keep layering up.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                The problem remains because all you do is describe them. What you actually propose as a solution remains a dark mystery.

                Blaise, we can’t agree on whether the things I am describing actually exist.

                If we can’t agree that there is a general attitude in the US that food stamps shouldn’t be used to buy cigarettes, I don’t know that any particular solution I posit will be worth discussing.

                I mean we can’t even agree that folks don’t like the idea of food stamps being used for smokes. How in the hell do you think we’ll find agreement on *ANY* thing that I might propose as a solution if we can’t even agree on the culture that exists in the US?

                Hell, if we have such different views on the culture in the US, how in the hell is conversation beyond “hey, didja have a nice weekend?” possible?

                There are places in the poor section of town without grocery stores called Food Deserts.

                Scroll up. You are not the first person in this thread to mention “Food Deserts”.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Epistemological nihilism.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Come on now. You put “food deserts” in quotes. The food deserts exist. You don’t deny they exist.

                Both Stillwater and I remain mystified. What, exactly are you discussing here? Folks? This is called an Appeal to Popularity, or as I prefer to call it, the Phantom Army of Agreement. It doesn’t exist. Stop blowing on your horn, it won’t appear.

                Now, let me do your task for you. Cigarettes are not food. Liquor is not food. Food stamps may not be used for ciggies and booze. But folks abused the food stamp system all the time by illegally factoring their stamps for cash, often directly for drugs. So the state responded with an electronic card system to prevent this sort of thing going on. All through the grocery store, little yellow tags denote WIC items.

                So move along and get past this silly shibboleth. If they could, folks would also forge currency, issue bad checks and sell you the Brooklyn Bridge. That’s mens rea, just a-bubblin’ away in every human heart, not just this Murkan Society.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                > So the state responded with an
                > electronic card system to prevent
                > this sort of thing going on.

                $5 says it costs more, using this method, to prevent the misuse this way than there was actual misuse in the first place.

                See also, Real IDReport

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                No, I am not arguing an appeal to popularity.

                I am trying to establish that our very culture makes some things more possible and other things less possible.

                For example, the things that *I* think would be most helpful are not, I posit, possible because of the dreaded “but what ifs!!!” that follow.

                I bring up the public not because the public is right but because the public is powerful.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                How is this not an Appeal to Authority? All this talk about Our Culture is an appeal to authority. No such culture exists. Wave your arms around and appeal to Vox Pop all you want: it’s absurd to claim an entire country thinks. The only person who’s speaking is you.

                As for you, Pat, a plastic WIC card costs far less than unforgeable notes and provides feedback on what is actually purchased.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                No, Blaise. If I were saying “our culture says this, therefore we must do this”, then I would be appealing to authority.

                That is *NOT* what I am saying.

                Hell, at this point, I’m trying to get people to agree that there is a general consensus in society that cigarettes shouldn’t be purchasible with food stamps.

                Not that food stamps should not be purchasible with food stamps, but that society in general thinks that.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                Come over to the Dark Side, Jaybird. Over here, there is no Forest, only Trees. You think cigarettes are bad and don’t want your tax dollars to pay for them. Other people want their cigarettes and the government taxes the hell out of them.

                But your viewpoint arises only because you don’t want cigarettes and have some rum ideas about pushing your values system onto other people. Other people don’t give their kids Happy Meals so they don’t want anyone else’s kids getting Happy Meals from the same principles.

                And that’s it. All of it. There’s no clothing allowance for poor kids. There’s no subsidy for Mom to get a car so she can go to a job: the single most limiting obstacle for the poor to actually get a job. There’s loads of things we don’t do for poor people which might actually benefit them and transform them into productive, taxpaying members of society.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                You think cigarettes are bad and don’t want your tax dollars to pay for them. Other people want their cigarettes and the government taxes the hell out of them.

                See, I haven’t said that. You are assuming that I would say that.

                Would you say that it’s a safe assumption?

                Is it as safe as my statement that “society in general doesn’t want food stamps used to buy cigarettes”.

                But your viewpoint arises only because you don’t want cigarettes and have some rum ideas about pushing your values system onto other people.

                Snort.

                There’s no clothing allowance for poor kids. There’s no subsidy for Mom to get a car so she can go to a job: the single most limiting obstacle for the poor to actually get a job. There’s loads of things we don’t do for poor people which might actually benefit them and transform them into productive, taxpaying members of society.

                Sure there are.

                I’d like to discuss whether certain ones of those things are *FEASIBLE* given our political system.

                If we agree that society in general does not want food stamps used for cigarettes, that might establish some of the problems *KEEPING* us from real reform.

                But we can’t even agree that “society” doesn’t want food stamps used to buy smokes.

                How in the hell do you think we’ll reach consensus on any program more radical than food stamps or WIC?

                Hell, I can’t talk about society not liking that sort of thing without being accused of trying to impose my value system on others.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                > a plastic WIC card costs far less
                > than unforgeable notes and
                > provides feedback on what is
                > actually purchased.

                I’ll assume you meant “forgeable notes”.

                So the WIC card is not forgeable? Indeed, if it’s far cheaper than the notes, did we not just drastically lower the bar to make it economically feasible to forge them?

                It is a truism that if something is worth a non-negligible amount relative to its cost to produce, it takes about a microsecond for someone to start making them in competition with the original manufacturer. That *definitely* applies to those things made by the government.

                If feedback is desirable, is this the only way to achieve feedback? Is it the best way? I find first staggeringly hard to believe (okay, downright ridiculous, as I know something about POS systems). Vons and Safeway and Target track every purchase I make, a summary report to the Dept. of Caring Citizens would hardly be a difficult affair. It by nature *must* be cheaper, since the point of sale vendor is already collecting this data so there’s no need to replicate the data collection.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Stop wriggling. That’s exactly what you’re saying.

                If we can’t agree that there is a general attitude in the US that food stamps shouldn’t be used to buy cigarettes, I don’t know that any particular solution I posit will be worth discussing..Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                This exchange is painful, but illustrative.

                Don Quixote vs. The Windmill, except instead of a windmill, it’s a bottomless pit. To engage it is to fall into it.

                For the skeptic abolishes all dilemmas: the human condition is the wall he pushes against, and nothing is perfect where the word “human” is involved.

                Therefore, the skeptic [here we mean the hyperskeptic] always wins, because neither Proposition X or Proposition Y can ever be satisfactory. Hence, he bounces between the horns of the dilemma: he defends neither and attacks either, depending on whether his
                interlocutor advocates X or Y.

                Since neither Prop X or Prop Y is perfect [or can be], the hyperskeptic has rigged the game so his interlocutor must fall into his bottomless
                pit.

                The hyperskeptic has won, as he always does. The only way to win at his game is to refuse to play it, and call it out for what it is, just
                a game.

                It is you who wriggle, sir: your game is up. There is indeed an American consensus, and always has been: the one that has got us this far. Your method yields only a Tower of Babel, and that is not the history of your country.

                [Although it may be its future, if your method succeeds in becoming the consensus.]Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                Erm, no. Blaise, if I told you that the last half-dozen times you’ve assumed I held a particular position you have been very wrong, would you take that as evidence that, this time, you are once again wrong about my position?

                I mean, I’m even telling you “no, that’s not what I’m saying” and everything.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                Tom, you’re a veritable gumbo of mixed metaphors. There is no American consensus. We have laws, we vote on them, they become binding on us all.

                De Toqueville said something like this: equality is really an expression of envy because nobody wants anyone else to get something he hasn’t got, even at the price of good government.

                You say society doesn’t want to pay for cigarettes for poor people. Who speaks for this Society? People believe such things all on their own, more precisely, you believe it. So huddle up with your fellow believers on the pew of the church of your own belief structure, so you don’t feel quite so alone. But this Society business is a knife which cuts both ways: anyone can pull any assertion out of his ass and claim it’s what Society believes, with about as much proof and gravitas as some bearded prophet type on the corner saying God Hates Fags.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                Oh, “Blaise,” of course there is and has been an American consensus. If we seek to clarify the waters rather than muddy them, principled discussion is our tool. That would be the point of exchanging and engaging here—and esp here, this blog at its best—to seek clarity over agreement, as one fellow puts it.

                And Tocqueville is a fine place to start, where the rubber met the road in practice, although I meself prefer the Founding era, where they figgered out what was rubber and what was road in the first place, in theory.

                Buyer’s choice, as always. You have seized control of the comments section hereabouts by sheer weight of cyberink; the only question remaining is whether you wish to play Thrasymachus or Socrates.

                [I like Thrasymachus, BTW, Blaise, a fellow you have much in common with. I thought his argument held despite Socrates’ further gyrations trying to justify “justice.” I also liked that Thrasymachus yielded the floor to Socrates after having said his piece, and knowing that his “justice is in the interest of the stronger” is a triumph of skepticism, but so hollow. Empty.]Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                You say society doesn’t want to pay for cigarettes for poor people. Who speaks for this Society? People believe such things all on their own, more precisely, you believe it. So huddle up with your fellow believers on the pew of the church of your own belief structure, so you don’t feel quite so alone. But this Society business is a knife which cuts both ways: anyone can pull any assertion out of his ass and claim it’s what Society believes, with about as much proof and gravitas as some bearded prophet type on the corner saying God Hates Fags.

                My position is that the modern prison state as it exists here in America is an extension of the modern welfare state as it exists here in America… indeed, that they provide positive feedback to each other.

                I think that there are a lot of things that are intertwined and they include the super-Protestant history of much of the country, the social contract that has resulted in us, as a society, saying that we have a responsibility to feed, educate, and protect The Children, and that much of what we want is at odds with other things that we want and that government isn’t particularly skilled at providing us with either.

                But I can’t even get people to admit that society, in general, doesn’t like the idea of food stamps being used to buy cigarattes DESPITE the fact that food stamps were deliberately created to be food vouchers.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                I have not seen much clarification hereabouts. I see a lot of exceedingly weak rhetoric and tendentious fallacy running around trying to pass itself off as reasoned debate.

                I read the Republic, too, and you might find Thrasymachus’ line about the Law being what serves the powerful more in line with Jaybird’s thinking than mine, him and his cigarettes and this putative Society we must try to stuff into the witness box.

                I would say the law is the only force which can act in restraint of power: power is only what can be done with it. Money may rent obedience and force may compel it but neither can make a man believe anything. Generally the opposite is true. The only Social Contract is an enforceable contract.

                Furthermore, the powerful are not all-powerful and generally sow the seeds of their own demise on their way up, as Qadafy and Mubarak are finding out just now.Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                Jaybird,

                My position is that the modern prison state as it exists here in America is an extension of the modern welfare state as it exists here in America… indeed, that they provide positive feedback to each other.

                Well, then stop teasing us with details and trying to get us to believe premises along the way. Just say it and let the Dorito chips fall where they may.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                I was speaking of Thrasymachus’ temperament more than his content.

                As for rhetoric over content, bloviation over argument, what can I say? Quantity beats quality in some eyes, apparently.

                Had Thrasymachus not yielded the floor, Republic would have run just one chapter, as any sane person in attendance would have just gone home.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                Stillwater, I can’t get you to agree that society in general doesn’t like the idea of food stamps being used for cigarettes.

                I can’t get Blaise to agree that society exists.

                Part of my argument is to lay out my premises. P. R.

                Then I get to lay out P -> Q. Q -> R.

                This will allow me to explain not only that R is due to P but also argue that it is not the case that (~R -> ~Q) And (~Q -> ~P).

                But we can’t even agree that society exists, let alone that there is a general consensus that says that parents who receive food stamps for their children shouldn’t be able to buy cigarettes with them.

                (I must say that it’s particularly irritating that these arguments come from folks who make accusations against my character when I express skepticism as to the nature of positive rights. Positive rights exist but society doesn’t? Positive rights exist but we can’t know if society has an opinion on using food stamps to but smokes???)Report

              • Avatar stillwater in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                If we can’t agree that there is a general attitude in the US that food stamps shouldn’t be used to buy cigarettes, I don’t know that any particular solution I posit will be worth discussing.

                There’s a really big distinction between saying something is embraced as the law, and saying that it reflects the interests culture. Sometime the law is the right thing to do even when the majority of people think it isn’t; sometimes the opposite might hold. As a matter of the law, you can’t use food stamps to buy smokes. Is that right or wrong? Is it simply a matter of majority rules, or not? In the end, certain policies are either justified or not (by considering a whole slew of factors), independently of whether a majority of people think they ought to be.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                There’s a really big distinction between saying something is embraced as the law, and saying that it reflects the interests culture.

                Sure.

                But I’m just trying to establish the whole “food stamps/cigarettes” thing. That’s it. Sure, there are folks who would think that it’d be okay to use food stamps to buy cigarettes… mostly those inclined to use food stamps to buy cigarettes.

                If we can’t even get *THAT* far, I don’t know how we can establish much of anything when it comes to taking money from folks to buy vouchers for other folks with which to purchase corn syrup.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                This sort of thinking is fallacious, right to its core. One person can say something. Another person might agree. I’ve heard all this hectoring from the pulpit for all these years about how Society says this and Society says that…. guess what, it’s all so much fearful nonsense. Society is a myth, a confabulation, every forest is just its component trees.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                I’d be down to have the “there’s no such thing as society” conversation.

                The problem is that the foundation of the conversation is whether we, as a society, have something akin to a “social contract”.

                Hey, I’ve never signed anything… right?Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                > Society is a myth, a confabulation, every
                > forest is just its component trees.

                Blaise, I often disagree with your manner but find most of your content at least as credible as anyone’s. This is just ridiculous.

                If you think that a forest is just a collection of trees, you understanding *nothing* about ecological biology, for one thing. There are no bark beetles in the lone evergreen that sits in my front yard, nor are there ever likely to be, since there is no critical mass of evergreens anywhere near the lone evergreen that sits in my front yard. Drive up to the Lake Tahoe area and you’ll find millions of dead trees.

                If you think human society can be always deconstructed into individual parts, you are refuting piles upon piles of actual, as-close-to-positivist-as-you-can-get without being a an applied physicist neuropsychology studies.

                A collection of people does not act like the sum of its parts. People are not individually deterministic that way. Put them in groups, they manifestly do not act like they do as individuals. Indeed, a vast majority of them act differently based upon the construction of the group.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                The best text on mobs is by Gustave le Bon, The Crowd. I’ve put the link up here before. Unless your contention is that American Society is a form of mob, let’s dispense with all this pseudo-science. We are ultimately individuals. When we are not, we are mobs.

                I am not an idiot. Of course there’s such a thing as a forest and its ecosystem. Yet each of these components is individual. The logger who cuts down one tree does not think he is doing much harm. There’s no one thing you can point to and say “That is a forest”. And that’s the problem: nobody say “This is the American Society and these are its values”.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to BlaiseP
                Ignored
                says:

                > We are ultimately individuals.
                > When we are not, we are mobs.

                This is not a discrete switch. It’s a continuum. The slope changes, but it’s not like you’re either a fully actualized independent agent or a member of a howling mob, with nothing in-between. It doesn’t take a mob to change a person’s behavior. It doesn’t even take *that many* people to change a person’s behavior. Hell, put a guy in a white coat or a uniform and you can drastically change many people’s behavior. Give them this modifier long enough, and many of those will rationalize that that’s what they actually *think* is right, and they’ve *actually thought that all along.*

                > And that’s the problem: nobody
                > say “This is the American Society
                > and these are its values”.

                Wait; are you saying that this is a completely unknowable issue, or that it’s a very commonly misrepresented issue?

                The second I’m all on board, I’m in total agreement, you got me, yah, I agree. People *very* often claim to “know” American societal values, and often trot them out in defense for their political agenda, when the actual evidence that they have a reasonable understanding of societal values is highly debatable.

                But the first; well, if you’re talking about true understanding (knowing in the axiomatic sense), I’ll give you that as well. I don’t think that’s what we’re talking about here.

                I do think it’s possible to gain a reasonable degree of accuracy towards the things that people hold as values *right now*, today. You can also trend those measurements to see changes in society over time. Prediction is not included, here, but description can be.

                I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that the American public expects that food stamps be used to buy food, not cigarettes or booze. They might think this because they care about the people getting food, or they might think this because they don’t want to contribute to someone’s vice, but this seems to be a very odd battle to be fighting, on your part.

                > I am not an idiot.

                Never said that you were. I can think you’re wrong about one thing without thinking that you’re often wrong, or that you’re suffering from idiocy.Report

    • Avatar dexter in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      As a person who thinks he has seen absolutely no upside to the illegal immigrant flood, I would like to know why you think open borders is such a good idea. Before you start I think you might want to know that I am in construction where, the last time I checked, the unemployment was hovering around 27% and illegal immigrants hold about 17% of the jobs in construction.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to dexter
        Ignored
        says:

        I see people as a positive good.

        For me the choice is not one between “closed borders where nobody comes in, and there are no illegal immigrants” and “what we have now”.

        The choice is between “what we have now” and “what we have now *AND*, on top of that, people coming in from all over the world… like China, or England, or India, or Egypt, or Australia.”

        Most things have upsides and downsides. Let’s look at alcohol usage:

        I think we can agree that the Irish provide the example of all of the things that can go wrong with alcohol. Indeed, looking at them, you can easily come to the conclusion “We ought to prohibit alcohol!”

        But what happens when we do that? Well, look at what happened with the prohibition of alcohol. The wacky thing is this: THE IRISH DID NOT CHANGE. They went to speakeasies, they started Mafias, their drunkenness continued unabated.

        It was just the good things about alcohol that went away… you know, stuff like good friends sharing a bottle at the end of a rough week. A glass of good wine with a plate of food at the end of the day. A beer while mowing the lawn. A capful of peppermint schnapps in a hot chocolate on a cold day. The little, pleasant, *MODERATE* things didn’t happen anymore.

        Just the excessive.

        The removal of prohibition allowed for the little, pleasant, MODERATE things to happen again even though the prohibition was not intended to end those things (though that was the price the WCTU was willing to pay) but to end the depredations of the Irish… indeed, prohibition *MAGNIFIED* those things at the expense of the little, pleasant, moderate things.

        The same holds true for Immigration. My wife is an immigrant. She is the type of immigrant that would make pretty much anybody say “we need more of those!” She’s college educated, smart, funny, cute, literate, a good worker, and has a sense of humor. Oh, and she speaks English. AND IT WAS A HUGE PAIN IN THE BUTT TO GET HER HERE. I won’t rehash my immigration story for you but, lemme tell ya, it was a chore for two bright, educated, English-speaking folks to immigrate for the purpose of marriage… how much worse to immigrate for reasons unrelated to insanity?

        It results in the only people being willing to come here are the ones willing to shrug at the pile of paperwork and just walk here anyway.

        We’re going to get the people who just walk here anyway anyway.

        Without open borders, there are good, pleasant, MODERATE people who would show up but are not because it’s such a pain in the butt… and they would make our country better.

        That’s why I support open borders.Report

      • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to dexter
        Ignored
        says:

        Just an aside on this:

        Whether your job is impacted by immigrants (illegal or no)… or outsourcing to places where they live (so they don’t have to come here), it’s cold reality that almost all of our jobs are jobs that can be done by someone else who looks at $24,000/year far differently than we look at $24,000/year.

        You have two choices. They are: get used to the fact that your income, which has been stagnant for years, is going to stay that way for a very, very long time… (if it doesn’t just crater, which it actually ought but there are measures in place to prevent that) or figure out a way to make everybody else look at $24,000/year the same way we look at $24,000/year.

        That’s it. There is no third choice. Oh, you can bet your farm on red, or you can shoot for being a Celebrity Person, but those are escape clauses that are hard to leverage and certainly aren’t what I would call a viable strategy. But that’s just me.

        I am extremely pessimistic on this score.Report

        • Avatar dexter in reply to Pat Cahalan
          Ignored
          says:

          So, the people who actually make the things that produce the wealth have to lose house and hope so the waltons can make another 20 billion, and I bet you wonder why some think libertarians are cold. There is a third choice. The tea party realizes that melanin doesn’t matter and that it is not the government that is the problem, but the oligarchs that control the government and finally storm the winter palace. Rumor has it that the corps are sitting on two trillion dollars. They could pay more wages or the government could actually have a sane tax system instead of the one we have now. I hate to go all Vulcan on you, but sometimes the needs of the many outweigh the wants of the few.Report

          • Avatar Scott in reply to dexter
            Ignored
            says:

            dexter:

            “Rumor has it that the corps are sitting on two trillion dollars. They could pay more wages or the government could actually have a sane tax system instead of the one we have now. I hate to go all Vulcan on you, but sometimes the needs of the many outweigh the wants of the few.”

            Yes, corps have been sitting on cash as the economic outlook is so hard to gauge. Maybe if our dear leader actually did something about getting the economy going, (speeches and photo ops don’t count) they might be inclined to use some of that money to hire or invest in new capital equipment. Instead you want to punish corps by taxing them more so the gov’t can waste the money.Report

            • Avatar dexter in reply to Scott
              Ignored
              says:

              That may be the difference between you and I. While I firmly believe that the government waste tons of money, for example, paying K and B fifty dollars per meal for the troops, the war on drugs and farm subsidies that allows people who have never held a plow to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars(Bachman comes to mind, I don’t think the government always waste the money. . . the EPA, NIH, OSHA, new schools, infrastructure, hell, if it were up to me university tuition would be, adjusted for inflation, the same as 1969. If it were up to me the corps actual tax payments would not be the lowest ever, if it were up to me the Koch heads would not be able to buy a governor for a million that enables them access government property at no bids allowed sales. Also, I do not think it is in the best long term interest of America for there to be the division between the haves and the have nots as there is now.Report

          • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to dexter
            Ignored
            says:

            > The tea party realizes that melanin doesn’t matter
            > and that it is not the government that is the
            > problem, but the oligarchs that control the
            > government and finally storm the winter palace.

            Yes, dude. That’s called “violent civil war”. Let me know what you think about how often that turns out beneficial for the everyman. Personally, I’d rather people not shoot other people, that usually is the sort of opportunity that plays out well for jerks and not so much for nice people.

            > I bet you wonder why some think libertarians
            > are cold.

            Sigh. I’m not a libertarian. Also, this doesn’t have anything to do with my political inclinations.

            > The people who actually make the things
            > that produce the wealth have to lose house
            > and hope so the waltons can make
            > another 20 billion

            This also doesn’t have much to do with income inequality or class warfare. That’s a related but tangential issue.

            Right after the second world war, only America could mass-produce cars. All the other factories were bombed to crap. Now you’ve got China, India, Korea all as new players, not to mention the old “first” world. If the Middle East ruling cadre was smart, they would have spent all their oil money on building real factories and mass production and put everybody to work and they’d have all collectively emerged as a huge block of economic power (cue someone’s observation on Luddites in the M.E.)

            You know who makes the things that produce the wealth? Everybody. Everywhere. We could lock all immigrants out of our country and stop outsourcing, and those everybodies everywhere are going to keep on keepin’ on making stuff. The next new wireless technology is just as likely to come out of China or South Korea as it is to come out of a shop in Silicon Valley. You want to not use it? You want to reinvent the wheel? Following is an economic losing game.

            As “weak” as the dollar has become, it’s still a near-universal currency. And $24,000/year is crap-yourself-gold-bricks rich in many places in the world. We’ve been ignoring that since the end of the second World War and it’s only just now starting to poke its ugly, ugly head through the mist. The Monster is hungry, and we’re crunchy and taste good with milk.

            And in many of those many places, the general populace is just as well educated (if not better educated) than we are, and the entrepreneurs have access to nearly the same technology that we do, and they are one generation removed from working yourself to death for nothing, so working your butt off a 60+ hr/week job for $24,000/year is generational lottery WIN!

            Like I said, my outlook is very pessimistic here.Report

            • Avatar dexter in reply to Pat Cahalan
              Ignored
              says:

              I too am very pessimistic. I live in a country where the richest 400 people control more wealth than the botton 50% and I run into intelligent people who are okay with that.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to dexter
                Ignored
                says:

                That’s the loser mentality, Mr. Dexter. Knock yrself out with it, but what I hate is when it’s taught to our kids. The rich don’t make anyone poor; the loser mentality does.

                I don’t know if it’s Marx and class warfare/class envy, but wherever it comes from, it’s diseased.

                $24,000/year is crap-yourself-gold-bricks rich in many places in the world.

                Yes, Mr. Cahalan, and iirc, the American safety net gets even the “ain’t got shit and ain’t willing to work for it either” up to that mark if not higher.

                Dr. James Hanley PhD did a piece awhile back that argued the 2011 American isn’t so bad off afterall, indeed better off than his post-WWII generational counterpart.

                My parents grew up Depression-era poor; I grew up rather lower middle-class. If our family of 7 had had a 2nd bathroom, I’d be tempted by any historical standard to say I grew up quite well-off!

                There is genuine poverty and there is relative poverty, and in our nation, “the rich” only figure into the latter.

                I heard a factoid the other day that if we confiscate the wealth of America’s billionaires, we’ll get a little over a $trillion, i.e., less than this year’s deficit. Enough of the Marx—arithmetic literacy, somebody, please!Report

              • Avatar dexter in reply to tom van dyke
                Ignored
                says:

                If the best you can do is call me a loser and deseased I would appreciate it highly if you would take your ideas to some other blogger. Hanley’s little recap of an old Sowell essay did nothing to persuade me how well the middle class is doing in this country.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to dexter
                Ignored
                says:

                It a loser mentality, sir, and it is corrosive. The American consensus does not accept it, and hopefully never will, for it will be our doom. It is the end of excellence.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to tom van dyke
                Ignored
                says:

                > Dr. James Hanley PhD did a piece awhile
                > back that argued the 2011 American
                > isn’t so bad off afterall, indeed better off
                > than his post-WWII generational counterpart.

                Yes he did. What he neglected to mention in that piece is that there is currently finite capacity to produce energy in this world. It is fungible. We can increase it. However, we cannot do so linearly and at will.

                And the aforementioned China, India, and Korea (just to name three) are increasingly using more oil. The price of a barrel is going up. Even could we close our borders and stop our outsourcing, those countries are going to be taking energy out of the global market.

                It’s not a zero-sum game, but it’s close enough for government work. And that game has been massively stacked in our favor for years, and we’ve gotten very, very used to having cheap energy. We once held 6 of the 9 seats at the table, and we’ve been selling them off and enjoying the proceeds of that immensely without a thought as to what the long term consequence was going to be.Report

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