I don't mean to offend. It's probably going to happen anyway.

Friday, September 6, 2013

A Proper Fisking

Gay Cynic sent me this fascinating little piece that kicked over my giggle-box enough to warrant sharing. I have never done a piece by piece fisking before, but I can hardly imagine a better place to start.

What better place to start than the title?
Libertarians Are the New Communists
Well, I'd say we're off to a wonderful start here. We have a claim that is completely illogical on its face, as the ideologies are rather opposed. Therefore, we must assume that they aren't saying "Communists" as in 'people ascribing to a political system of communal ownership of property after the fashion of Karl Marx' but are instead using it in the same manner as so many who can't properly refute their opponents arguments, being "Bogeyman!" with no relation to reality. While 'Nazi' is the typical, I am open to the possibility that they are aware of Godwin's Law and are attempting to head that off at the pass.

Let's see whether the article bears out the title, shall we?

Most people would consider radical libertarianism and communism polar opposites: The first glorifies personal freedom. The second would obliterate it. Yet the ideologies are simply mirror images. Both attempt to answer the same questions, and fail to do so in similar ways. Where communism was adopted, the result was misery, poverty and tyranny. If extremist libertarians ever translated their beliefs into policy, it would lead to the same kinds of catastrophe.
So far, initial assumptions seem valid. A piece of advice to the author. It's generally bad form to contradict yourself in the first paragraph. In terms of actual content (such as it is) I have to wonder, first off, what are these questions, and are these questions a different set of questions than every political ideology ever has attempted to answer?

Also, to be clear, you are suggesting that an ideology based entirely on the liberty and rights of the individual with a distinct animosity towards government is going to result in a tyrannical government, yes? Just making sure I understood here...

(Note, I am not going to bother commenting on the occasionally bizarre sentence structure and grammatical foibles. That speaks plenty loud for itself, and making fun of it seems too much like egging the short bus)
Let’s start with some definitions.
Let's please. Get some definitions before value judgments and broad claims get tossed around, that could get confusing.
By radical libertarianism, we mean the ideology that holds that individual liberty trumps all other values. By communism, we mean the ideology of extreme state domination of private and economic life.
Can we get a few more definitions here? Depending on how you define liberty after all, we could be discussing anything from straight anarchy to a Bloombergian (oh, huh, look at the source...) emphasis on making all the 'right' choices for the people too stupid to make them for themselves. As for communism... Last I checked totalitarianism did not strictly equate with communism. The two play very nicely with each other, but by that definition, Somalia in the '90s was a communist paradise.
Some of the radical libertarians are Ayn Rand fans who divide their fellow citizens into makers, in the mold of John Galt, and takers, in the mold of anyone not John Galt.
What's your point?
Some, such as the Koch brothers, are economic royalists who repackage trickle-down economics as “libertarian populism.” Some are followers of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, whose highest aspiration is to shut down government. Some resemble the anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, who has made a career out of trying to drown, stifle or strangle government.
Same question. So far you've said that this group you are attempting to define neatly can fit several different definitions. Add to that the bit where royalism is kinda sorta completely incompatible with that personal liberty thing and I have to wonder what you're trying to do here. So far you've managed to fail terribly at defining what you're talking about, and have contradicted yourself rather a lot. But perhaps I'm being too hasty. You have a good deal more article to redeem yourself.
Yes, liberty is a core American value, and an overweening state can be unhealthy. And there are plenty of self-described libertarians who have adopted the label mainly because they support same-sex marriage or decry government surveillance. These social libertarians aren’t the problem.
No disagreement, but the bit where you seem to be setting up a 'but' statement is intriguing.
It is the nihilist anti-state libertarians of the Koch-Cruz-Norquist-Paul (Ron and Rand alike) school who should worry us.
Hold on, I'm confused. One paragraph ago you were describing a bunch of different schools of thought, now they're all one? Also, nihilism... where'd you get that from? So far all you've commented on is anti-government feelings and certain oversimplified economic principles. Or is a love of liberty an inherently nihilistic thing?

I must say, I am impressed with how much weirdness you can get on the page with so few words. It's like taking a 30 piece jigsaw puzzle and creating a linear accelerator. Or perhaps taking a single sheet of paper and turning it into a gnarled, non-einsteinian origami work. Coated in poo.*
Human Nature
Oh goody, now we get this same level of clarity and insight into one of the thorniest and most irksome issues that has plagued the entire history of academic navel-gazing.
Like communism, this philosophy is defective in its misreading of human nature, misunderstanding of how societies work and utter failure to adapt to changing circumstances. Radical libertarianism assumes that humans are wired only to be selfish, when in fact cooperation is the height of human evolution. It assumes that societies are efficient mechanisms requiring no rules or enforcers, when, in fact, they are fragile ecosystems prone to collapse and easily overwhelmed by free-riders. And it is fanatically rigid in its insistence on a single solution to every problem: Roll back the state!
Oh, now we're back to communism. I wondered when that would turn up again.

Let me see if I understand you here. Radical libertarians are completely wrong because they think people are completely selfish, while in reality people are so highly evolved and special that we understand the value of cooperation. Clearly those selfish, government hating libertarians are just not quite as evolved as you, mr. author. Oh... but wait, now society doesn't work because there are so many selfish, uncooperative people involved.

Hmm... I seem to be out of bread. This is a problem. We must roll back the state! Those dang statists made me eat all my bread, and then made me stay here and play video games all day.

Make sense to you? That's apparently what our esteemed author is saying...
Communism failed in three strikingly similar ways. It believed that humans should be willing cogs serving the proletariat. It assumed that societies could be run top-down like machines. And it, too, was fanatically rigid in its insistence on an all-encompassing ideology, leading to totalitarianism.
OK, now we're getting into the title! So, communism failed because of the same problems as libertarianism has. So, libertarians think everyone is selfish and terrible. Clearly communism must have failed because they didn't take into account the wonderful altruism of its people... oh wait, it failed because they people were selfish and terrible. These libertarian anti-statists want societies to run completely free, so the communists.... wait, you mean they failed because they wanted society to have no freedom? Fanatic rigidity, here we go! Clearly they must be failing together that way... except the ideologies end up in completely different places.

So, as long as we accept that being polar opposite in three characteristics is strikingly similar, we can move along.
Radical libertarianism, if ever put into practice at the scale of something bigger than a tiny enclave, would also be a disaster.
Uh.... I think I missed a step here. You've said a lot about what you think libertarians ARE. I still haven't seen why they are a bad thing until now. What would make this a disaster again?
We say the conditional “would” because radical libertarianism has a fatal flaw: It can’t be applied across a functioning society. What might radical libertarians do if they actually had power? A President Paul would rule by tantrum, shutting down the government in order to repeal laws already passed by Congress. A Secretary Norquist would eliminate the Internal Revenue Service and progressive taxation, so that the already wealthy could exponentially compound their advantage, as the programs that sustain a prosperous middle class are gutted. A Koch domestic policy would obliterate environmental standards for clean air and water, so that polluters could externalize all their costs onto other people.
I am still utterly failing to see the connection between your claims (much less between your claims and reality). You say that the Pauls hate government, but speak of them ruling. News flash, we don't HAVE rulers here. That's sorta the point of the whole constitution thing. I'll buy exponential compounding of wealth (that's sorta the whole point of banks...) but I'm not seeing anything here that would 'gut the middle class.' Care to point out where I've missed something? Same goes for the Kochs.
Radical libertarians would be great at destroying. They would have little concept of creating or governing. It is in failed states such as Somalia that libertarianism finds its fullest actual expression.
Destroying what? Creating what? Even in the worldview you spout, neither creation nor destruction are inherently good or evil. Creation by what you've said is Good, unless it's creating, say, greenhouse gasses or exponentially rich people. Destruction is evil, unless it's destroying pollution causing industries or those silly lesser human libertarians.

As for Somalia, didn't we already decide that it was a Communist state by your definition? I'm confused again. How is it that liberty is at its peak when you have roving gangs of 'authority' raping and shooting people willy nilly and for no discernable reason? I'm sure this is just a case of me being a stupid, less evolved, selfish person, but I'm trying to understand your glorious vision!
Some libertarians will claim we are arguing against a straw man...
Yup, that's exactly what I'm doing. Saying I will do something and then giving me good reason to do that is meaningless unless you can prove you AREN'T using a straw man.
...and that no serious adherent to their philosophy advocates the extreme positions we describe. The public record of extreme statements by the likes of Cruz, Norquist and the Pauls speaks for itself. Reasonable people debate how best to regulate or how government can most effectively do its work -- not whether to regulate at all or whether government should even exist. 
Cite your sources please. What statements are these? Do these statements fill in the mysterious  gap in your logic between the libertarian limitations on government you have described and the anarchy you are arguing against? Also, whether or not to regulate is the first question in how best to regulate. The way I see it, the rest of you skipped a couple steps.
The alternative to this extremism is an evolving blend of freedom and cooperation. The relationship between social happiness and economic success can be plotted on a bell curve, and the sweet spot is away from the extremes of either pure liberty or pure communitarianism. That is where true citizenship and healthy capitalism are found.
What are the axes on these curves? Can you cite your source? What sort of bell curve are we talking? Single, bi, or multi-modal? Symmetrical or asymmetrical? Mean-median distribution? What percentages go into the histogram? Is the total social happiness of the nation "1"? Don't use math unless you're prepared to be rigorous. 'Falling on a bell curve' is meaningless. I can make a bell curve between percentage of popcorn kernels popped in a bag and meters to Led Zeppelin songs played during popping. Doesn't mean that it will have any utility whatsoever.**

As for where the 'sweet spot' falls, I think you have completely failed to see the coincidence of liberty and communitarian values. See, if a person thinks that personal liberty is paramount, they ALSO think the personal liberty of everyone else is just as valuable. If they don't, then guess what. They aren't libertarian. They are anarchists who want to be holding the big stick.
True citizenship enables a society to thrive for precisely the reasons that communism and radical libertarianism cannot. It is based on a realistic conception of human nature that recognizes we must cooperate to be able compete at higher levels. True citizenship means changing policy to adapt to changes in circumstance. Sometimes government isn’t the answer. Other times it is.
So you in your infinite wisdom have solved the human nature question. Care to explain? So far all you've managed to do is contradict yourself and make generalities against extremes.  Even now, as you attempt to reach the summit of this steaming pile of offal you are attempting to pass off as a legitimate analysis you contradict yourself yet again. Sometimes government isn't the answer, yet deciding whether to regulate at all is foolhardy and evil! Make up your bloody mind, or at the very least say what those times ARE.
If the U.S. is to continue to adapt and evolve, we have to see that freedom isn’t simply the removal of encumbrance, or the ability to ignore inconvenient rules or limitations. Freedom is responsibility. Communism failed because it kept citizens from taking responsibility for governing themselves. By preaching individualism above all else, so does radical libertarianism.
You are the only one who has said that freedom is the strict removal of encumbrance, apart from anarchists. Who is this 'we'? From what I've seen, nearly everyone, particularly libertarians, recognizes that. Do you need to convince yourself of this?

To say that libertarianism takes away the responsibility of self-governance is baffling. The entire point of libertarianism is that self-governance is generally better in many cases than institutional governance.
It is one thing to oppose intrusive government surveillance or the overreach of federal programs. It is another to call for the evisceration of government itself. Let’s put radical libertarianism into the dustbin of history, along with its cousin communism.
Evisceration of government is anarchism. If we have to use surgical metaphors, go with Liposuction, or perhaps appendectomy.

The only thing I want to see in the dustbin of history after reading this is the abhorrently arrogant mentality that goes into the self-congratulatory masturbation of discounting all opposition without the slightest interest in actually understanding it.

Mr.s Hanauer and Liu, you clearly have no understanding of what a libertarian is, nor do you seem to have any interest in correcting this deficit. Yet you feel entirely comfortable telling us what unevolved rabid idealists we are, completely ignoring the presence of our arguments, much less the nature of what those arguments are. You apparently assume all your readers are sycophantic drooling morons who will blindly mewl back whatever tripe you feed them without the slightest care towards critical thinking. To read the comments on your own site, this is rather thoroughly not a safe assumption.

You are the problem with the world today. Go take your elitist patronizing inanity and shove it where the sun don't shine.***

*Because I'm classy like that.
**Unless you want to be REALLY certain that you get exactly 87.254% popping, in which case, you should definitely seek professional help. There are lots of good OCD specialists these days. (Also, play D'yer Mak'er. Most consistent results by far.)
***Specifically in a garden or a farm somewhere. This is high grade fertilizer you know.****
****Don't be gross.

1 comment:

  1. An excellent initial fisking and my pleasure to provide you with a worthy target.


Please comment, but please be respectful. I reserve the right to delete any comment at any time for any reason, but I don't anticipate having to do that. Let's try to have real discussions?