Saturday, October 30, 2010

Whittle Boils It Down, Part Four: On Natural Law

At last, the fourth in Whittle's superb series on the core concepts of Tea Party-style Conservatism. As usual, Bill states his case in a cool, rational, amiably non-confrontational manner, articulating these eminently sensible ideas in a gently persuasive style which befits their profound reasonableness. As with previous entries, it clocks in just under ten minutes, and is well worth every second:

Now, as someone well-steeped in Post-Modern academic thought, with its hermeneutic approach to texts (broadly defined), I'm disposed to be wary of appeals to "Natural Law." This is not a skepticism which I am inclined to repudiate fully. As a non-theist, it would be bad faith for me to posit some transcendent ontological status for even the most "self-evident" of epistemological constructs. If there is no Divine Firewall behind our concepts, they are, in the final analysis, all relative.

That being said, however, there are legitimate areas in which it is sensible to behave --as mindfully and humbly and self-critically as possible-- as though there were bedrock under our feet. For example, yes I am free to abandon my family and take off across the country to Find Myself. For me to sit here and say that I cannot do this would be bad faith. However, my liberty, my personal freedom as a choice-making agent is but one of the variables that enters into this decision. Leaving aside for the moment the fact that I don't want to do this (because I am deliriously happy with my family, and far luckier than I have any right to expect that I have it), the simple fact is that such an exercise of my freedom bumps up against the needs and feelings of others, and thus would bring about consequences which I deem adverse out of proportion to the advantages I might glean from such a self-serving journey of discovery. So, I choose to act as though this choice were not on the menu. Indeed, the very notion of contemplating such a step feels absurd. Although, in the strictest sense, this position is a conclusion, it is sensible to behave as though it were a premise.

Similarly, when Whittle makes reference to those "Truths" which we "hold to be self-evident," there is a part of me which cannot help but respond with a hearty "Who says?" After all, I don't fall into the "endowed by their Creator" camp. But let's look at a couple of the truths he is talking about: The rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," are construed as emanating not from the State, but from the intrinsic nature of humanity. Further, it is the role of the State to protect these rights, and not within the power of the State to bestow (or abridge) them. The right is similarly posited as being self-evident to freely enter into contracts, within the bounds of laws which protect the liberty and property of others, and without the fear that those contracts will be abnegated by political fiat. It is eminently sensible to depict these rights as transcendent and true, even though history is replete with examples (many still extant!) of the freedom of humans to behave otherwise. The advantages which derive from treating these "truths [as] self-evident" far outstrip those of leaving them on the deconstruction block.

The concept espoused by the Tea Parties that individuals are free to pursue their interests within a free-market system, and that the State's power to intervene in this marketplace should be robustly curtailed is frequently mischaracterized as "greed" and "selfishness." This could not be further from the truth. Indeed, it is the converse view (i.e., that it is within the power of the State to declare something --like, say, health care-- a "Right," and to forcibly extract the energy of the marketplace to fulfill that right) which smacks more of vampirism than altruism, however high-minded the intent behind it.

Whittle makes reference to the fact that corporations are currently sitting on immense cash reserves, rather than investing them and using them to create jobs. This is an observation which is not-infrequently used by critics of free-market capitalism to indict that system, and to posit the need for the State to step in and create and enforce mechanisms for the "equitable" distribution of those resources (e.g., via taxation). It's a fair-ish argument, but too narrow a view. For it would be very much in the interests of businesses to plow their cash reserves back into the operations of their enterprises, and to grow and add value to them (and, in effect, to the economy as a whole)...if they could be confident that their efforts would not stand to be thwarted by the operations of a State which could, by the exercise of political (that is, force-backed) power, act to tap into that value for the sake of the "Right" du jour (and de jure).

The conclusion/premise of the Tea Parties is that the energy which is currently being held off-line is trapped by an all-too rational fear of the overreaching expansion of the public sphere --via political power-- into the arena in which that energy might be liberated...if only the "Natural Law" of individual liberty and the relatively unfettered operation of the marketplace were allowed to hold sway. It is the unpredictability of political processes which creates an environment in which the most rational choice is to hoard capital, rather than unleash it. By contrast, it is the predictability of contract law and a constrained and frugal State which creates incentives to take financial risks for the sake of potentially rich rewards. In the final analysis, it is within the power of private enterprise to throw such caution to the winds, and take its chances that its investments will not be deemed low-hanging fruit for the fulfillment of the State's hunger for energy. They are free to do so, and it would be bad faith to say otherwise. But then they would have to look their stockholders in the face when their balance sheets were raided by those who deem them public property.

As Bill would say, "That's why we have a Tea Party."


Mike said...

Hey, 'Cyte! It was great hanging last week, and as always, far too brief. As I keep repeating, you guys must get down here. There will be many animals slaughtered and eaten, much wine drunk, and a most excellent time had.

IAC, having returned home on Friday and more or less put my life back together, I finally had a chance to watch this video series. I had very much been looking forward to it and was not in the least disapponted. Really good stuff there. This guy has clearly read and understood Mises and crew, and does a very impressive job of presenting some of the most salient points to an uninitiated audience. If the Tea Party was truly united under the principles he describes (and you appear to espouse, if somewhat reluctantly), it would essentially be a re-branded (and more effective) Libertarian party and I'd be behind it 100%. Unfortunately, that really does not appear to be the case AFAICT (though as I keep saying, ICT very little).

My (predictably cynical) primary take-away from these clips is perhaps a better way to express my frustration with American polical culture: people who can discuss abstract economic principles rationally will unthinkingly freak out and abandon those principles when someone with a different skin color than them enters their country, when people have sex in different ways than they do, when the word "terrorism" is uttered, or when someone dares suggest that the Earth is more than 6000 years old. Conversely, people who understand that they own their own bodies can't seem to grasp the obvious corollary that they also own the fruits of their labor. It's a completely insane false dichotomy which goes almost unchallenged in the "developed" world and it drives me fucking nuts! Either Hegel was totally wrong, or there really is a grand conspiracy :|.

Somewhat relatedly, here are the URL's I mentioned to you last Saturday:

Seasteading - Not nearly as farfetched as it seems at first glance. I initially went to this page on a lark and expected to find nothing at all of value. I was utterly shocked to find a variety of truly brilliant ideas and almost every objection I could think of addressed to some exent. I ended up spending several hours there. Well worth a look.

The Tor Project - The last great hope for freedom of expression. No exaggeration. This project has been the sole beneficiary of my charitable contributions (anonymously, of course :D ) for the past few years and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.


And, lastly: tomorrow is a privotal day in U.S. history. Good luck to us all...

Noocyte said...

Yes indeed, it was quite excellent matching orbits for a spell last week! All the more excellent in that we actually had the chance That is, until the bar decided to amp the "music" to levels roughly commensurate with those found inside the average turbofan engine! A journey to BsAs sounds righteous, and must be arranged, and not just for the scrumptious vegan nightmare you describe!

Glad you liked the vids; I'd a feeling you would. Hope my humble commentaries added to the experience somewhat. Though I do wonder where in them I convey the idea that my support for the ideas therein is in any way "reluctant."

Alas, for your third paragraph! You were doing so well in the second! What you perceive to be the core of the TP idea is indeed what it represents, albeit heterogeneously in the details (and healthily so!). The prattle about bigotry and social chauvinism which you tack on has precisely squat to do with what TPers actually talk about (check out Tea Party Express and Freedom Works, and such...not to mention the Cato Institute, just for a few examples).

All that stuff is deliberate disinformation, promulgated by nervous foes (more often than not financed by the many tentacles of Doktor Soros). As I've mentioned before, the presence of social conservatives in the TP ranks is an artifact of the fact that TPers are, in fact, Conservatives. There is bound to be overlap, but the social issues are mere epiphenomena to the true quill of the TP ideals, which is very much what you saw in the vids.

The racism is --and I hope I put this as clearly and unequivocally as possible-- totally fracking absent from the TP playbook (such as there is one). It simply does not exist. At all. It is a meme woven from whole cloth, a fabrication, a Big Lie. The closest thing you will find to anything even remotely resembling racism is the belief (widely held, but not universal) that assimilation, not "multiculturalism" hold the greatest hope for the coherence of American (or any national) identity. The anti-illegal immigration threads have more to do with plugging leaks at the bottom of the labor market (not to mention National security and respect for the rule of law) than with any semblance of xenophobia.

I really don't know how much more clearly I can put this: if it is your belief that religious intolerance, or racial bigotry have any bearing on the central ideas of the Tea Parties, then you have been successfully misled. Since I know you are just the sort who will bristle at the idea that you could be the victim of such GIGO, I am confident that you will keep digging, now that you're safely back home.

Just try not to frighten the pooch with the bursts of profanity when you discover just how insidiously effective the propaganda against the Tea Parties has been, and how you have fallen prey to it.

Mike said...

Gah! I had a feeling I wasn't being clear enough in that paragraph. Perhaps what I meant to say is more clearly expressed thusly: Show me an American who can discuss economic principles rationally, and I'll you show a person who will automatically and unthinkingly abandon any and all such priniciples for one or more (not necessarily all or even more than one) of the following reasons:

- Immigration/globalization/loss of specific pork barrel in his/her region. Basically, this and not necessarily having anything to do with overt racism.
- Counter-religious sentiment (e.g. taxing churches like everybody else, acknowledging womens' ownership of their own bodies, or treating people with "alternative lifestyles" like "us normal people")
- Fear of "terrorism" (you and Mr. H are in this camp and none of the others I can think of)
- I imagine several others that I can't think of right now

I really have formed no solid opinions about the Tea Party. I am starting to suspect a couple of things, namely:

A. There is nothing about which to form an opinion yet. The movement is still in it's infancy and very amorphous even considering it's youth.
B. Best case scenario: it's way too little, way too late. The time for fiscal conservatism was 10 years ago (well, actually 100 years ago, but that's an almost completely different matter). By now, the country is completely bankrupt by even the most optimistic measures and even extreme austerity can't save it. However, there will be pieces to pick up after the coming default and/or hyperinflationary period. Perhaps the seeds of rational economic policy for that period are being planted here.

But even these suspicions are pretty weak at this point. Maybe there is enough juice in this thing to get some kind of constitutional convention going and make the necessary changes soon enough to manage the coming disaster effectively. I'm sure it comes as no surprise that I'm not overly optimistic about this possibility, but I'd be truly thrilled to be proven wrong.

Mr.Hengist said...

Fear of terrorism makes me automatically and unthinkingly abandoned any and all rational economic principles? OMG it's so true! Sometimes I'll go to pay for, like, a slice of pizza, and there's like no money there in my wallet, and I scratch my head for a spell until it hits me. That new story I read, about that terrorist attack on America - after I read it I got all sweaty and dizzy and it gets real blurry, but then I remember I went and set a stack of Benjamins on fire! Again! and I'll wonder, "What was I thinking?"

Gosh darn it, I've gone through more paychecks that way... I'm so ashamed.

Mike said...

Wow! I had no idea it was that bad...

And, damn, that really has to hurt. Especially since each of those checks will buy you less and less stuff as your government prints more and more money to pay for military campaigns and an alphabet soup of agencies designed to make you feel safe from.... well... um...