Toronto: The rising city

It has now come to pass that Toronto can lay claim to being the fourth largest city in North America, passing Chicago, with its city proper population now ringing in at an estimated 2,791,140. This is a significant climb in population for Toronto, rising about one-quarter of a million people in a decade.

Both for Canada’s largest city and most hated city, the statistical milestone is nothing more than that. And as a datapoint on its own, it really is nothing more than that.

I’ve been lucky enough in my life to have lived outside of Canada, and been lucky enough to have stamps in my passport from almost every continent in the world. And truth be told, there’s a lot of places I’ve been which I wouldn’t mind spending a great deal more time in.

That said, Toronto is “special” in the world today. It’s perhaps, in the developed world, the city most defined by immigration. A fact lamented by conservatives and embraced by liberals. In the year 2013, a majority of the people living in the City of Toronto, North America’s fourth largest city, were not even born on this continent. I think the liberals are on the right side of history, here.

Cities like New York and Chicago could once claim a similar statistic, in their heydays as destinations for masses of immigrants from Europe. But America has fallen out of love with the idea of immigration being a good thing. While immigrants still contribute to America in a big way, culturally America has grown distrustful of immigration and a majority of Americans would like to see the gates into America churning ever more slowly — and more discerningly.

Toronto stands out in the world, because its a place where hints of xenophobia are noticeably rare.  And people do notice.

A colleague of mine on a trip from Germany was sitting in Jack Astor’s restaurant on John Street in downtown Toronto a couple of years ago sipping beers and having a quick bite to eat when he suddenly changed the topic from work to an observation of the restaurant; looking around the restaurant he observed that at almost every table, sat persons of mixed ethnicities. Almost no all-white tables. No all-black tables. No all-Asian tables.

This stuck out to me. And I think back to that moment a lot when I’m abroad, or even in the United States. My German colleague’s observation really contrasts Toronto quite starkly when you pay attention.

It really begs the question: is Toronto the least racist city in the world? And if it is, why?

The standard conservative refrain in Canada, and even from within Toronto is that multiculturalism has failed. It has led to ethnic ghettos and inter-racial tension. But in Canada’s showcase metropolis, with a city dominated by a non-white, multi-ethnic majority, these supposed racial tensions are noticeably absent. They’re not gone. Toronto is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a city free of the repugnance that is racism. But is it the city which has come closest to extinguishing it? Perhaps.

Against this backdrop of Toronto’s rapidly shifting demographics, is also the very real sense that the city is growing. For Toronto, the city is faced not with what so many other North American cities are faced with — attracting people and businesses — but is faced with the challenges of figuring out with how to cope with the city’s attractiveness and the attendant population inflows.

It’s a problem a lot of cities would like to have.

Ironically, Toronto is despised for its growth by many. Growth is seen as an inconvenience. An unpleasant change.

Toronto’s condo market may be a bubble, riding on cheap money and over-extended credit. But one must also take heed of the fact that people are, in droves, eschewing suburban living and moving downtown.

The city has been called “boring” by many of its detractors for lacking the majesty of San Francisco’s Bay Bridge, a music venue with the prestige of New York’s Radio City Music Hall, or a waterfront as beautiful as Chicago’s.

But Toronto is a young city. It does not have the history, and thus, venues and places with the history of Empire State Building, or Chicago’s Board of Trade Building. Lacking these sorts of tick boxes in a tourist guide does not make Toronto boring. It actually, when put in perspective, makes Toronto all the more fascinating.

Half a century ago, Toronto was nothing more than a small provincial town. At that time, Chicago was the second biggest city in North America. Today, a half century later, Toronto is larger than Chicago. It has more skyscrapers under construction than any city outside of China. It has more office space under construction than Chicago, New York City and San Francisco combined.

No, Toronto is not a city of historical depth like Chicago or New York City. It’s a city where significant history is being written, by perhaps the most cosmopolitan population the world has ever seen — and that makes Toronto today, anything but boring. 

By admin March 15, 2013 0

On hypocritical politicians

This column by Andrew Coyne is very good. You should read it.

Coyne’s thesis, I think, is this: Canadian conservatism is really a mixture of different groups, including libertarians, fiscal conservatives, and social conservatives. These groups don’t have a lot in common, but they can, under the right circumstances, put aside their differences to support a political party. Right now, that party is the Conservative Party of Canada. That party, however, isn’t giving the different groups in the coalition anything in exchange for their support. Eventually, this will destabilize the coalition of different groups that makes up the conservative movement. Or at least, it should.

Social conservatives aren’t getting any new restrictions on abortion.

Libertarians aren’t getting fewer regulations or a smaller government.

Fiscal conservatives aren’t getting a balanced budget.

In fact, if one had to pick the one salient idea still holding the different conservative groups together, it would be this: the alternatives — including the dreaded Coalition of Opposition Parties — would be worse.

There is that, and then there is Stephen Harper himself.

Because my guess is that many conservatives still believe that, deep down, Stephen Harper is still one of them. They believe that he believes in their ideas, and will implement them when the time is right.

When the time is right. When he can. When the Conservative majority is big enough. When the opposition is even more divided than it is now.

Then, and only then — the budget will be balanced, economic regulations will be eased, and abortion will be restricted. Maybe we’ll even get some privatization in health care!

I think I know why social conservatives persist in trusting Stephen Harper, while forgiving his mistakes. All social conservatives believe two things about morality: that it is objective, and that it is difficult. The world makes it hard to do the right thing. Because of this, hypocrisy is easier to forgive and more challenging to identify. What looks like hypocrisy on the surface may just be weakness of will, a failing we all experience at one time or another. And it can be overcome, especially with the support of one’s community.

Thus, the Prime Minister, or any politician, should receive the benefit of the doubt. He will get it right eventually. When the time is right.

What I do not understand is why mature libertarians would grant the Conservatives this kind of leeway.

Let me describe the mature libertarian. The mature libertarian does not think of his government as one big, unitary thing that can easily be opposed. He does see a difference between the government of a liberal democracy and, say, the Nazis. If he were going to pick a label for his government, the first word on his lips would be “incompetent” and not “evil.”

He recognizes that the government is made up of different kinds of individuals, just like any other organization. Some of them are crusaders, trying to “make the world a better place,” according to their own ideologies. Some are schemers looking to line their own pockets. Some are addicted to the status boost that comes from being a politician. Some have been in politics so long they wouldn’t be good at anything else.

Some are just morons.

What the mature libertarian also knows is that this diversity doesn’t really matter. Not in a liberal democracy.

It doesn’t matter because any politician — crusader, schemer, status-seeker, seat-filler, or moron — has to play by the same set of rules in order to be politically successful. And the rules aren’t that complicated. Even a moron can realize that he’ll have to buy off certain interest groups to gain their support. Even a crusader must eventually recognize that compromising with the enemy is an essential political skill. A seat-filler from a rural riding won’t be filling his seat for long if he doesn’t invite the dairy farmers to join him at the table.

Politicians understand this. They may even understand it better than libertarians.

Stephen Harper grasps it better than almost anyone. I don’t know if he’s a crusader, bent on turning Canada into a libertarian paradise (or, as the left seems to believe, the Republic of Gilead) or a status seeker who loves the prestige of his position. But I don’t need to know. Because whatever his other motivations, what he really wants is to win the next election.

In this sense, mature libertarians and social conservatives should agree on the inevitability of political hypocrisy. It will happen. Only the left seems to believe otherwise.

But unlike social conservatives, I do not believe libertarians have any room to forgive politicians for their sins. So-cons have the hope that, one day, Stephen Harper will be able to rise above his circumstances and bring about the policies they desire. They believe this because, while they believe in weakness of will, they also believe that weakness can be overcome. Forgiveness is motivation to try again, to be better, to finally do what is right.

For libertarians, political hypocrisy is not just inevitable, but insurmountable. We are, or should be, like atheists who have finally come to grips with the fact that evil will often triumph and never be punished. There is no possibility of grace in our view, no divine intervention that can prod the conscience of a politician until he does what is right, instead of what is merely expedient. There is nothing outside the system to do any prodding.

Only the voters. And if enough of them were libertarian, we wouldn’t need to hope for libertarian politicians. If people were libertarian, libertarian politicians would not be necessary; because they are not, no libertarian politician is possible.

Thus, forgiveness and continued community support is pointless, because it will not produce the change we seek. The hypocritical politician is simply an excellent example of his kind, in the way that ebola is an excellent example of a deadly disease.

What, then, can we say about Stephen Harper? He is very good at failing to live up to the standards he at one time avowed. He is an excellent politician. And for precisely that reason, he cannot be forgiven. 

By admin March 12, 2013 0

Ann Coulter is right: libertarians are (mostly) wimps

“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”

“In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”

“All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”

“Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen to-morrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.” There was a long silence.

“I claim them all,” said the Savage at last.

– Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Here is a list of beliefs I think most orthodox libertarians hold:

  1. White business owners should be permitted to refuse service to black customers. Even if the result is that black people are unable to obtain groceries or other necessities, or even hotel rooms while traveling.
  2. White employers should be allowed to hang a “Help Wanted — whites only” signs on their doors. Even if the result is that black people are unable to find employment.
  3. Property owners should be permitted to refuse to rent to gay people. Even if the result is that gay people end up homeless.
  4. Neo-Nazis should be permitted to publish whatever they want. Even if the result is that Jews and other minorities are attacked in the streets.
  5. People should be permitted to sell and consume marijuana. Even if the result is that more people smoke pot.
  6. People should be allowed to purchase and inject heroin in the privacy of their homes. Even if the result is a greater number of fatal overdoses per year.
  7. Wealthy people should not be taxed to provide food for the poor or anyone else. Even if the result is that a certain number of children starve each year.
  8. All laws restricting immigration ought to be abolished. Even if the result is higher unemployment.
  9. Public education should be abolished. Even if the result is that many of the children of poor people will be illiterate.
  10. People should be allowed to own any kind of firearm, including machine guns currently restricted under U.S. law. Even if the result is more school shootings.

I could go on. But let us be clear about what I am doing. Each belief has two parts: first, a policy prescription (X should be permitted, or X should not be done.) The second part is a logically possible consequence of enacting that prescription.

Libertarians have many ingenious and empirically supported arguments for why the consequence for each policy is unlikely to arise. I can even see an orthodox reading my list rolling his eyes: “Any business owner stupid enough not to hire qualified black people would quickly be out of business.”

Okay. But most people, I would argue, do not adopt a position because of the consequences that are likely to result but also because of the consequences that could result. They should not necessarily be criticized for doing so.

Most every road-to-serfdom argument I’ve heard from libertarians and conservatives has a similar form:  if we let the state do X, which looks mostly harmless, then that may lead to it doing Y, which is not harmless at all. Few see a need to ask for the data showing how likely it is that X will lead to Y. Oftentimes, we’re just asked to believe that higher taxes will lead to concentration camps, which is why I am waiting for Denmark to open its version of Guantanamo Bay.

The point, however, is that we all agree that the negative consequences that could flow from some policy are, for most people, a reason against that policy. This is not to say that everyone is a consequentialist; it is just to say that consequences matter.

All I have done is connect a smattering of libertarian beliefs to some of their worst possible consequences. Indeed, these consequences are more than possible. In a few cases, history and a rudimentary understanding of human nature suggest they are almost plausible (which is why I don’t want to hear about potential alien invasions in anyone’s rebuttal; alien invasions are possible, but before we had civil rights laws, ‘whites only’ signs actually happened. It is not crazy to think they might happen again if those laws were abolished.)

We should do this/not do this — even if –. That is the formula. And it is the “even if” part that is an obstacle, I think, to selling libertarianism to a wider audience. Many will nod along to the policy prescriptions — more freedom! less government! — and then shrink back in horror when they hear the “… even if” part, or figure it out for themselves.

What do we do then?

First, we don’t talk about the “even if.” One might even say that the first rule of the libertarian club is that you don’t ever mention the “even if.” We don’t mention that we want freedom even if the result is “whites only” signs and starving, illiterate children. Because if we said that, no one would listen to us. If pressed, present the empirical case. Argue that the negative consequence is unlikely to occur. But for God’s sake, don’t say that we would support the policy even if the facts were otherwise. Just be glad they’re not.

Second, we prioritize. Marijuana decriminalization has a great deal of public support. The people who oppose it tend to be unlikable fascists. Of all the items in my list, its “even if” is the least objectionable. We push that issue and talk about the others only among ourselves. We don’t mention that marijuana is only one drug among many, and that we want all of them legal.

We don’t say, “Anti-discrimination law is bullocks. Racists shouldn’t have to hire blacks and forcing them to do so is more objectionable than racism is!”

And make sure never to admit to the belief that it would be entirely wrong for the state to take a penny from Bill Gates to prevent children from starving. Never say that if a law did exist, requiring billionaires to contribute a small amount of money to keep orphans alive, that we — libertarians — would be the first to argue for its abolition. Even if.

Well, some of us will say these things. So I am not saying all libertarians are wimps.

What I am saying is that there is a wimpish tendency in libertarianism. A tendency to eschew certain issues and prioritize others, in a way that the position itself doesn’t require (or even necessarily support.) Libertarianism, as far as I can tell, does not require soft-peddling the consequences. It does not mandate emphasizing the popular over unpopular. Only politics, or maybe rhetoric, requires these things. But these are the wrong kinds of reasons.

First, they are the wrong kinds of reasons because they are not even politically astute. People are not so stupid that they are completely unable to understand the relationship between cause and effect. If they don’t immediately realize that illiterate, starving children are a possible consequence of your policies, they will figure it out eventually. And they will turn from you. They may even feel betrayed that you were too cowardly to point out the consequences from the beginning.

Second, setting priorities based purely on political considerations is grossly hypocritical. The worst infractions of liberty may not map perfectly onto the ones that can be sold most easily to the public. Injustice should not be allowed to slide just because it is politically expedient. Nor should it be allowed to slide because correcting it might result in starving children. If you’re an orthodox libertarian, you want public education gone, and if you are a thoughtful orthodox libertarian, you should have already considered the possibility that it might lead to a generation of illiterates.

Hiding the real reason you support some policy and allowing others to believe you support it for some other reasons is so close to hypocrisy as to be indistinguishable.

To let politics drive your priorities is to necessarily become more like a politician. And it is exceedingly difficult to object to politicians who do what is popular over what is right when you are, in your own way, doing the same thing. If you are an orthodox libertarian who wants to abolish all anti-discrimination law — even if the result will be a proliferation of “whites only” signs and a culture awash in hate literature – then you should say so.

Yes, it’s an unpopular position. Yes, the people on the other side who support anti-discrimination law are more likable than the fascists who tend to support U.S. drug policy. But you are just as much against them as you are against the would-be Javerts who work for the Drug Enforcement Agency. 

By admin March 1, 2013 0

Two puzzles about hate speech

With regard to today’s Supreme Court decision upholding Taylor and Canada’s anti-hate speech laws:

Obviously, libertarians will hate the decision, but hopefully they weren’t disappointed. Did anyone really think the Court would strike down the censorship provisions in every human rights act across Canada?

But I see a puzzle. To quote the decision,

the term “hatred” contained in a legislative hate speech prohibition should be applied objectively to determine whether a reasonable person, aware of the context and circumstances, would view the expression as likely to expose a person or persons to detestation and vilification on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.

The Court’s opinion repeatedly emphasizes the objective elements of hate speech. It is reasonable to prohibit such speech because of its objective effects on targeted groups. This is why the Court rejects considerations of speaker’s intent; if an utterance is harmful, the intent of the speaker does not mitigate that harm. Similarly, the truth of an utterance is also irrelevant to its effects. As the Court argues,

Truthful statements can be presented in a manner that would meet the definition of hate speech, and not all truthful statements must be free from restriction.  Allowing the dissemination of hate speech to be excused by a sincerely held belief would provide an absolute defence and would gut the prohibition of effectiveness.

This actually sounds correct, as far as it goes. If what you’re worried about is limiting the effects of speech, then truth and speaker’s intent are both irrelevant. What matters is how the speech will affect other people. With regard to hate speech, those effects can be broken into two categories:

  1. The effect of the utterance on its target (e.g. gays, the Roma, etc.)
  2. The effect of the utterance on its audience (e.g. Christians, neo-Nazis, etc.)

The total impact of a hateful utterance will be a combination of these two effects. If Bill Whatcott’s anti-gay flyers lead more people to hate gays, then they are effective in sense (2). If they lead gays to feel badly about themselves, then they are effective in sense (1). Perhaps they did both.

While I haven’t had time to dig into today’s decision, it appears that the Court found hate speech laws a reasonable infringement on freedom of expression because of effects of type (1). That is, the audience’s reaction matters (here I use audience in a broad way, to refer to anyone who hears the hateful utterance. An anti-gay utterance could have a negative effect on gays without any gay person ever hearing it, if the people who do hear respond in the wrong way.)

One of the puzzles this sort of reasoning raises in my view is this. In its decision, the Court made sure to reiterate that hate speech laws do not extend to private speech acts. If Whatcott had invited a person to his house and shown that person his flyer, that would not have been prohibited (and if it had been prohibited, the relevant law would then have been in constitutional peril for being overbroad.)

The question, however, is why not? Why not prohibit any expression of hatred, whether private or not? The fact that a hateful utterance is made privately has, as far as I can tell, little to do with its effects, and any connection between the effects of an utterance and whether it is made in (say) a church or my house would be tentative and contingent.

Clearly, private speech can have the kind of effects that worry the Court. For example, suppose Bill Whatcott were much more intelligent, but just as hateful. Being much more intelligent, suppose he came up with the one true argument proving that gays are terrible people who should be mistreated. I do not believe there is such an argument, but that’s not the point. The point, let us suppose, is that he has such an argument at his disposal — an argument that is sound, and convincing to any reasonable person.

Rather than printing the argument on flyers, he simply invites one person to his house at a time and presents the argument to them. Each person is convinced, and goes on to present the argument to two other people.

If a restriction on speech can be justified purely on the effects of that speech, then Whatcott must be prevented from presenting his argument. This is so even if he is careful to only raise the argument with one person at a time, within the privacy of his home. This is so even if the argument really is sound. I will also add that none of the premises in the argument amount to hate speech themselves; it is only in the aggregate, when the premises are combined, that they have their effect.

(My example requires us to reject Professor Richard Moon’s claim, that hate speech is necessarilyfalse. If Moon is correct, then my scenario  cannot arise, because a sound argument cannot be hate speech.)

Thus, the same reasoning the Court used to uphold existing hate speech laws could be used to uphold laws restricting the private presentation of a sound argument. If audience effect is sufficient to restrict speech, then an audience of one person should also be sufficient to trigger a restriction. But that means any speech act can be restricted.

A further puzzle. Consider alternative universe version of Bill Whatcott, who presents an equally sound argument proving that gays should not be harmed, and, indeed, that they should always be treated with respect. However, Whatcott lives in a perverse community, full of unreasonable people, and rather than changing the views of his audience, alternative Whatcott inadvertently inspires them to acts of violence against gays.

Since effect is what matters, and any reasonable person would have foreseen that the people in Whatcott’s community would react the way they did to his argument, his pro-gay argument could also be restricted.

Thus, finally, what I really find puzzling is this. By the Court’s reasoning, two different, equally sound arguments with opposing conclusions, could both be restricted, and could both be restricted simultaneously. I find this very odd. It also makes it difficult for a person who makes arguments for a living to know just what kinds of arguments he can make, and when he can make them. 

By admin February 27, 2013 0

The neocon gambit

I’ve addressed this issue many times, with great expatiation in the past. But now I will give it a name. It is the neocon gambit, and it goes like this: if you care about a fiscally responsible government then the choice is between conservatives and everyone else.

The neocon gambit asks that, say libertarians and free market types suspend their other political convictions on gay rights, foreign policy, the war on drugs, abortion rights, and so on. In exchange, we get lower taxes and a “smaller government” with a much bigger military, more prisons, more police, and harsher sentencing for all crimes.

The neocon gambit is advanced by various people in various ways.

Stephen Taylor of the National Citizens Coalition advances it as a matter of practicality — the art of the possible, as he fondly puts it.

Then there is Lance over at Small Dead Animals. He takes issue with what he sees as the left demonizing the right over racism and other bigotries, when as he puts it, the real issue is “Fiscal Responsibility”. 

Nobody needs to convince me about the problems America faces. I’ve blogged, written and tweeted a lot about the coming American fiscal crisis. Anybody with a grade school understanding of math and the ability to work a spreadsheet can see the fiscal problem in the US — and indeed, much of the Western world. But my question to Lance is simply this: if the real issue is fiscal responsibilityand not the social and foreign policy issues I enumerated above, why don’t conservatives compromise on them, instead of asking socially progressive small government types to be the ones who do the compromising?

This is the nature of the neocon gambit; neocons own fiscal conservatism and everyone else, wherever they are on other issues should swallow their pride and embrace the criminalization of abortion, war with Iran, and a double-down on the war on drugs.

People learned in the art of argumentation have heard this one before.

Conservatives perhaps, instead of begrudging the fact that minority groups more and more do not want to vote for you, you should — oh, I don’t know — compromise with them instead of ask them to compromise with you. Spouting anti-immigrant rhetoric isn’t exactly doing wonders with this constituency.

After the Ron Paul “Revolution” such as it was called, many conservatives have come to the conclusion that libertarians should be excommunicated from the conservative movement. While they paradoxically hold that libertarians should vote conservative, for no other reason than, as Lance says, that they’re the fiscally responsible option.

The problem with the neocon gambit, of course, as Obama’s re-election demonstrated, is that its developed a bit of problem of late: it’s not working very well.

I have several American friends who voted Democrat. And quite frankly, they didn’t do it because they’re socialist. In particular, one of them lamented openly to me about having to choose between socially progressive policies and fiscal conservatism. He is, what you might call: a swing voter.

It may be impossible for people like Lance to imagine, but there are people who will vote for LGBT rights and/or against war, even it means their taxes will go up. I’m one of them. And I certainly don’t support my taxes going up. But if it’s between me parting with another $5000 a year, and having a guided bomb that my tax dollars paid for leave some kid in Iran lying on the ground with his intestines spilled out while his parents try to comfort him as he dies — an innocent casualty of war on my dime — you know what? I’m much happier giving that $5000 to some “moocher” or government-dependent.

That is in fact the nature of the neocon gambit. I am to make a selfish choice, based on completely financial grounds, regardless of the impact that choice will have on the rights and lives of others.

Moreover, the neocon gambit is entirely dishonest. If, like Lance says, the principle issue is fiscal responsibility, then how about shelving your support for the drug war, drone attacks overseas, and for “traditional marriage” codified in law? That will prove to me that fiscal responsibility is the most important issue to you. And maybe, just maybe I’ll consider voting for you.

But, for the record: I don’t vote. 

By admin November 11, 2012 0

Portrait of a libertarian Republican

I’m posting this strictly for the lulz. Eric Dondero, a self-described libertarian Republican who once worked for Ron Paul, is spitting mad about President Obama’s victory.

And when I say spitting mad, I mean that literally.

If I meet a Democrat in my life from here on out, I will shun them immediately. I will spit on the ground in front of them, being careful not to spit in their general direction so that they can’t charge me with some stupid little nuisance law. Then I’ll tell them in no un-certain terms: “I do not associate with Democrats. You all are communist pigs, and I have nothing but utter disgust for you. Sir/Madam, you are scum of the earth.” Then I’ll turn and walk the other way.

This is even funnier if you imagine Daffy Duck saying it. Which you probably are, now that I’ve mentioned it.

Daffy Dondero’s “personal boycott” gets even funnier (and pettier, if you can believe it.)

Have a neighbor who votes for Obama? You could take a crap on their lawn. Then again, probably not a good idea since it would be technically illegal to do this. But you could have your dog take care of business. Not your fault if he just happens to choose that particular spot.

Yes, well. I believe some jurisdictions may also frown on pet owners letting their dogs shit on other people’s lawns. Then there’s that whole respect-for-private-property thing.

When not befouling his neighbor’s yard, Dondero is doing his part to dismantle the “libertarians are all assholes” stereotype.

When I’m at the Wal-mart or grocery story I typically pay with my debit card. On the pad it comes up, “EBT, Debit, Credit, Cash.” I make it a point to say loudly to the check-out clerk, “EBT, what is that for?” She inevitably says, “it’s government assistance.” I respond, “Oh, you mean welfare? Great. I work for a living. I’m paying for my food with my own hard-earned dollars. And other people get their food for free.” And I look around with disgust, making sure others in line have heard me.

Keep in mind: this isn’t something he’s planning on doing; it’s something he’s already doing. Imagine how many converts he’s made.

No, not to libertarianism. To the libertarians-are-all-assholes point of view. Well done, sir! Well done!

If all libertarians were like Dondero, Gary Johnson would have received at least five percent of the popular vote. You know it’s true.

Dig into the comments for even more fun.

Hint: when Dondero’s not glowering in disgust at people in the line at Walmart, he’s predicting “Nazi-style concentration camps” in two or three years. What a guy! We need more like him! 

By admin November 8, 2012 0

Obama victory reaction roundup

UPDATED, see below for Rush Limbaugh’s post-election reaction.

Exclusive to The Volunteer, Dissociated Press provided the following roundup of reactions to the reelection of President Barack Obama.

What is left to hope for? That the American people will soon regret their choice? That another four years of economic stagnation and escalating debt will cure them of their insane appetite for charismatic liberals? If four years of endless failure have not rid them of this madness, the disease may well be terminal. Perhaps others will still see some cause for hope, and in another few weeks my friends may persuade me to see it, too. But today I will hear no such talk, and I doubt I’ll be in a better mood tomorrow. At the moment, I am convinced America is doomed beyond all hope of redemption, and any talk of the future fills me with dread and horror.

– Robert Stacy McCain, American Spectator. Reportedly said while he was drying his eyes in a Confederate flag, earlier soiled when he vomited into it after seeing a black man kissing a white woman.

The white establishment is now the minority…And the voters, many of them, feel that the economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff. You are going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama. Overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama’s way. People feel that they are entitled to things and which candidate, between the two, is going to give them things? … The demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore.

– Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly, shortly before he was fired for being Irish.

It’s true, it’s true we were beaten, yes, but by what? By money and ethnic votes, essentially.

– Former Quebec premier Jacques Parizeau, lamenting Romney’s loss from a hidden fortress in Quebec City. To be fair, he may have been talking about some other beating he’d received.

Why, putting it coarsely, doesn’t the Republican Party get credit for Condoleeza Rice? Why doesn’t the Republican Party get credit for Marco Rubio? Why doesn’t the Republican Party get credit for Suzanne Martinez…

Are we going to get the votes Obama got last night. We’re not? Really, we’re not?

We won’t. But we’re not getting the votes that Obama got last night because we have Condoleeza Rice – and she is a pinnacle of achievement, and intelligent, and well-spoken . . . You can’t find a more accomplished person. Marco Rubio. And really, speaking in street lingo, we’re not getting credit for it.

And the white Republican establishment is putting these people out front, but they really don’t believe that Marco Rubio is that good of a deal. Window dressing! If that’s the perception of Obama voters, than how do we change that?

– Rush Limbaugh, shortly before the pharmacy refused his attempt to trade a black person in for some Oxycontin. 

By admin November 8, 2012 0

“Wasted vote” talk is a great big joke

Suppose there were three options, A, B and C. Suppose you rank them as follows C > B > A. Suppose that if you choose C, there’s no chance of C obtaining. Suppose choosing B, instead, meant there was a one-in-60-million chance of B’s obtaining because you chose it. If someone were to tell me that I should choose B in order to be “effective,” I’d think it were some kind of great joke.

Whatever “effectiveness” means, one-in-60-million is way, way outside of the criteria for “effectiveness.” Choosing any option, once it’s beyond what can reasonably be described as “effective” for reasons of “being effective” is like arguing that you should throw food in the air, rather than on the ground, in order for it to reach a starving infant on the other side of the world. Sure, there’s a one-in-60-million chance that a gust of wind will take the food will turn into a hurricane will travel over the oceans and land before a starving infant, and there’s about a one-in-a-trillion chance that the earth will open up and quantomly transport the food to the other side of the world if you throw it on the ground, but if you’re going to throw your food to alleviate starvation on the other side of the world, “effectiveness” has exactly nothing to do with why you ought to pick tossing it up or throwing it down.

And so it is with this, and all other, elections. Pick a candidate for whatever reason, but don’t get suckered into “effectiveness” talk. Treat that kind of talk as it should be treated — as a great joke. And laugh with me.

If I were voting in the U.S., I’d be voting for Gary Johnson. I like Gary Johnson. I like him a lot. When it comes to determining the outcome, casting a ballot would be just as good as not casting a ballot at all — the difference between 0 and 0.00000006 is not a difference worth talking about. I wouldn’t be voting to change the outcome of the election, because I’m no fool. I’ve never voted to change any outcome of any collective decision when there are more than, say, 40 or so participants. Once my vote is beyond the one-in-40 threshold, I’m just noise, no signal.

So when I hear people tell libertarians to vote for some mainstream Republican or other, I just laugh and laugh. And when I hear progressives urging other progressives to abandon voting for Johnson or Jill Stein in favour of Obama, because that way their vote matters, I have just as hearty of a chuckle. You might as well stay at home and throw food in the air for all the good it’ll do anyone. 

By admin November 6, 2012 0

It’s morally wrong to vote if you’re ignorant

Tomorrow, lots and lots of Americans are going to vote. Many of them (most?) are ignorant voters. Over time, the worse the electorate, the worse the policies, the worse the political outcome. Having some kind of competence test for voting is a complete non-starter. Even if it were possible to construct a sound test of general competence, it would never pass political muster. Disenfranchisement, for whatever reason, is anathema. It is worse than a third rail.

Luckily, many people in the U.S. are aware of their ignorance. Luckily, many people volunteer not to vote. Not because it’s futile, not because they don’t like the options, but precisely because they feel it would be morally wrong for them to try to impose their ill-informed preferences on others.

It would be morally wrong to vote when you are ignorant. That is Jason Brennan’s, a colleague and friend, argument in his second-to-latest book, The Ethics of Voting. Another way of putting his thesis is that if you’re going to vote, you have an obligation to cast an informed ballot. He recently (as in two hours ago) participated in a Huffington Post live segment to provide the view. It was an irritating segment, mostly because Erol, a different participant, made no contact with Jason’s actual views when trying in vain to object to it. I think it is bad form to pretend to know what someone else is arguing, and then objecting to that. It is better form to admit that you need more information, or clarification. A lot of philosophy would be better if people asked more questions before attempting to “debunk” a view that no one has presented. Here’s the video:

Jason’s is a provocative thesis. I think I’m persuaded that it is true. The truth of the thesis can be seen when you reflect on his thesis in the following way:

Suppose you were the only elector. You get to decide who will be the president of the United States, or the prime minister of Canada. Your choice imposes a president or prime minister on all Americans or all Canadians. I think it is fairly obvious that if you had this power, you would have the obligation to become very well-informed before choosing for others. Politics is high stakes, after all. The consequences of your choice are significant, and your decision impacts other people, people who do not consent to having this leader.

Something (sufficiently) similar happens in actual elections, with very many people voting. Each of the people who vote are choosing not just for themselves, but for everyone. Whenever you’re making a choice for other people, you have an obligation to become sufficiently informed. So, if you’re ignorant, you shouldn’t vote.

That’s Brennan’s argument. I think I am now comfortable joining the Brennan camp on this issue. I had two objections to the view, and Jason has good responses to both.

The first is the wash-out argument. I read somewhere that ignorant voters effectively vote randomly. As the numbers increase, the ignorant vote gets washed out (it’s basically like a million people flipping a coin, and the probability is that 50% will get heads, 50% will get tails, and it’s as though they never bothered to vote in the first place), but the informed vote is not random, and so determines the outcome (their choice is not based on arbitrary criteria, like who they’d like to have a beer with, or who looks better holding a baby). It turns out that, empirically, ignorant voters are worse than random. It would be better if ignorant voters flipped coins to determine who they will vote for (if you’d like, I can look up the studies).

The second objection was the drop-in-the-ocean argument. Sure, whenever I’m choosing for other people, I have an obligation to be informed about what I’m choosing for them. But my obligation decreases proportionately with my effectiveness. If I’m one of ten people choosing for others, I have a strong obligation. What does my obligation look like when I’m not one of ten, but one of millions? It would be like adding a thimble-full of water to a mega-flood covering New York City. I may be “contributing” to the flood, in some way, and the flood is bad, but what difference does my thimble-full make? Whether I spill it or not makes no noticeable difference… not even to an ant!

I offered a similar sort of thought to Jason, to which he gave the following reply: We, each of us, have an obligation to avoid participating in a collectively harmful activity, even if no individual one of us can bring about the harmful outcome. By way of example, he asked me to imagine an innocent six-year-old tied to a steak on Healy Lawn. There are 100 Georgetown students with a rifle. Each bullet is sufficient to kill the six-year-old, and each of the 100 students is dedicated to firing a fatal shot (and none of them will miss). I cannot stop them. Now someone hands me a rifle, and says that I can join in the shooting, if I’d like. Suppose further that I always wanted to know what it was like to fire this particular rifle. My joining or not joining this firing squad makes no difference to the outcome. The six-year-old’s days are numbered. Does that mean nothing counts against my participating in the firing squad? Most of us, myself included, are going to think that something does count against my participating, even if my participation or non-participation makes absolutely no difference to the outcome. Being part of a collectively harmful activity is bad, and we all have reason not to participate. Jason calls this the ‘clean hands’ principle. I endorse the clean-hands principle.

With those objections out of the way, we have our conclusion: If you’re going to vote, you have an obligation to vote well. If you’re ignorant, and don’t know enough about economics, political science, or theories of justice, you have a moral obligation to abstain from voting. Voting ignorantly is a shitty thing to do to the rest of us. Those ignorant voters that stay at home on election day should be applauded, Jason argues. They have voluntarily disenfranchised themselves, and thereby eliminated their (most probably) negative externalities. 

By admin November 5, 2012 0

Why voting for Gary Johnson is better, even if he has no chance of winning

Terrence posted the following video on his facebook wall. His comment (and I hope he doesn’t mind my repeating it) was:

“Irony: Whittle’s argument is garbage, and he probably knows it, but as a partisan it is rational for him to make it.” I wanted to address myself to the arguments as well, and explain why, if I could, I would be voting for Gary Johnson. But first, the promised video:

The argument is this:

1. Only two people have a realistic chance of winning. Candidate A and Candidate B.
2. There are better candidates, C and D, but no one thinks they have a chance.
3. If you vote for C or D, your vote will have no impact on who ultimately comes out the victor. It will be as though you never voted at all.
4. If you vote for A or B, however, your vote will matter to who ultimately comes out the victor.
5. A is, by your lights, a really bad candidate while B is, by your lights, also a really bad candidate, but slightly better.
6. You have an obligation to bring about the best outcome from within the feasible set.
7. The best feasible outcome is B winning.
8. Therefore, you ought to vote for B.

I have a few objections to this argument.

Consider premises 3 and 4. 4 appears to me to be false. The reason is this: Even if only A or B have a realistic chance of winning, your voting for either one of them has about as much impact on the outcome as your not voting at all. The difference is that between one in, say, 1 billion, and 1 in 10 to 60 million. At those odds, it is just as true to say that your vote does not make a difference in either case. One in 10 million (to pick the most generous option) odds does not reach the necessary bar to count as “making a difference.” Both are, effectively, as good as not voting at all. Whether you pick B or C, it would be as though you didn’t vote at all.

But look at premise 3 again. The truth is that your casting a ballot for C or D will not make a difference in this election (but neither will your choosing A or B), although it may have an impact on the next election. If C or D reach just 5% of the national vote, they will automatically be on the ballot in all 50 states come 2016. That alone is enormously significant. It is also much, much more likely that C or D will reach the needed 5% threshold with your voting for either one of them, than that your vote will tip the balance in favour of either A or B. So if getting on all of the ballots in the next election is important enough for you, you have a much easier time of being “effective” in this election by voting for either C or D, then bothering with A or B.

Let’s now take a look at premise 5 and 6. Those of us who would rather pick C over either A or B typically think the difference between A or B are orders of magnitude less than the difference between (A or B) or C to the well-being of our fellows. If I have a one in 10 million chance of being effective in the battle between A or B, and value the difference at 10 utils, then my expected utility is 10/10,000,000, or 0.0000001. But if I have a one in a billion chance of being effective in the battle between (A or B) or C, and value the difference at 10,000 utils or more, then my expected utility is 10,000/1,000,000,000 or 0.000001 (or more!). So I should pick C.

So that’s what I think of the argument, and part of the reason for why I think it’s bad.

But then there’s that bit at the very end of the video, where this guy is busy trying to tell you that your rain drop of a vote matters. It’s like he forgot what he said at the beginning about preferring Ron Paul or Gary Johnson over Mitt Romney. He basically told the people that prefer those candidates to Romney that their vote is a rain drop. If it’s not just a rain drop, then you should vote for your most preferred candidate. That would be Ron Paul or Gary Johnson. Oh, wait, it’s merely a rain drop if you vote for either one of those two? But it’s not a rain drop if you vote for Romney? I’m confused about the rain drop analogy and how it’s supposed to count in favour of voting for Romney, while not counting in favour of voting for Johnson.

Well either it is or it isn’t a rain drop. If it is, then who cares whether you vote Johnson, Paul, Romney or write in Cthulu? But if it isn’t, why would you pick anything other than your most preferred candidate?

Also, for very many of us, foreign policy is a deal breaker. For my own part, I would never vote for anyone who participates in drone striking Pakistani innocents. Or being bellicose with Iran. If a candidate is on the ballot who is busy saying things like, “peace be with you, and also with you,” that seals it for me.

Hello, Gary Johnson. Good bye, Mitt Romney.

By admin November 5, 2012 0

Bylaw bullies in the news

Over the last little while, I’ve been doing my best to let people know that municipal law enforcement can walk onto your private property without giving you notice, and without a warrant.

I think these sorts of no-notice, no-warrant power of entry provisions are an outrage. More people should be aware of it, and more people should be outraged by it.

Here’s a few links to my latest pieces about the topic:

1. Should bylaw officers have all that power? (Huffington Post)

2. Hey officer — get out of my backyard! (Huffington Post)

3. Fight property bylaw bullies (Ottawa Sun)

4. Toilet police unconstitutional (Ottawa Sun)

Writing about this topic got me the nod for the inaugural “Freedom Fighter of The Week” on Ezra Levant’s show “The Source” on the Sun News Network. You can watch that below: 

By admin September 2, 2012 0

Should By-Law Officers have all that Power?

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been railing against a specific provision in the Ontario Municipal Act. That provision permits municipalities to pass bylaws that allow bylaw officers to walk onto your private property without having to give the landowner notice, and without the need for a warrant.

It lets strangers come onto your property, while you’re away at work, and maybe your kids are home alone. It allows them to do this with no oversight, and without a confidential complaint system to ensure that bylaw officers don’t become nothing more than bylaw bullies.

Section 436(1) of the Ontario Municipal Act gives bylaw this extraordinary and unreasonable power. It needs to be repealed. That’s what I argue in this Huffington Post piece. And what I’ll be talking about at the Canadian Property Rights Conference in Ottawa.

If you think that this Power of Entry (or Right of Entry, as it’s sometimes called) is necessary for effective enforcement, you should have a conversation with Alberta. Or Manitoba. Or Saskatchewan. Or any of the three Territories. All of these jurisdictions require that “reasonable notice” be given to the landowner prior to an investigation or inspection. If the landowner gives them the middle finger, as probably she should, the bylaw officers can try and get a warrant to enter the private property.

At no point can they just hop over your fence and maybe peek in your windows if a neighbour complained, or if the officer has a hunch (or just wants to see your backyard. He can always claim, afterwards, that he thought he saw something contrary to bylaw somewhere on your property. Since there is no arms-length body overseeing these officers, nor accepting complaints about their behaviour, these officers are basically free to check out your yard for any reason whatsoever).

Isn’t this, dear reader, just about the best way to harass your neighbour if you’ve got a beef with her? Phone in a phony complaint to bylaw. Your complaint is totally anonymous. Can they do anything to you if you’re obviously just stirring up shit? No, they can’t.

What a brilliant system we have in Ontario!

It’s a recipe for abuse. And it really has got to go. 

By admin August 14, 2012 0

Neil Peart, bleeding heart libertarian

This should interest co-blogger Terrence Watson:

Neil Peart, like many of us, was an Ayn Rand fan in his twenties. Neil Peart, of course, is the drummer for Canadian rockers Rush, who are slowly getting the kind of respect that they deserve (I’m not really a fan, but it doesn’t matter. They are amongst the best in that genre, which I don’t like all that much). As Peart got older, he lost his love for Rand and turned into a “bleeding heart libertarian.”

Here’s a nice excerpt from a Rolling Stone interview with him from June 12:

This is somewhat random, but you were interested in the writings of Ayn Rand decades ago. Do her words still speak to you?

Oh, no. That was 40 years ago. But it was important to me at the time in a transition of finding myself and having faith that what I believed was worthwhile. I had come up with that moral attitude about music, and then in my late teens I moved to England to seek fame and fortune and all that, and I was kind of stunned by the cynicism and the factory-like atmosphere of the music world over there, and it shook me. I’m thinking, “Am I wrong? Am I stupid and naïve? This is the way that everybody does everything and, had I better get with the program?”

For me, it was an affirmation that it’s all right to totally believe in something and live for it and not compromise. It was a simple as that. On that 2112 album, again, I was in my early twenties. I was a kid. Now I call myself a bleeding heart libertarian. Because I do believe in the principles of Libertarianism as an ideal – because I’m an idealist. Paul Theroux’s definition of a cynic is a disappointed idealist. So as you go through past your twenties, your idealism is going to be disappointed many many times. And so, I’ve brought my view and also – I’ve just realized this – Libertarianism as I understood it was very good and pure and we’re all going to be successful and generous to the less fortunate and it was, to me, not dark or cynical. But then I soon saw, of course, the way that it gets twisted by the flaws of humanity. And that’s when I evolve now into… a bleeding heart Libertarian. That’ll do.

(N.B. “Libertarian” with a capital-L refers to the political party. “libertarian” with a lower-case-l refers to the political philosophy. It makes me a bit grumpy when people get it wrong, and I sort of expect Rolling Stone to get it right…)

H/t: Paul McKeever 

By admin June 18, 2012 0

Too many laws

The National Post has an interesting series of articles (1, 2, 3) exploring Ontario’s court system, and just how long you have to wait to see your case all the way through to a verdict. In Ontario, the wait is too long.

(There’s a joke in here about how long you have to wait for any government-provided service, but I’m just going to let it slide).

Meanwhile, of the cases that make it all the way through, Ontario’s prosecutors have the lowest “guilty” verdict rating of all provinces — at 55.6 per cent.

The article goes on to mention several possibilities for bringing that wait list down. More money (surprise!), more judges (shocking!), pre-trial screening, moving to some sort of electronic method of scheduling and re-scheduling court appearances (it’s still the 18th century for Ontario’s courts… I could be wrong, but I think they said Ontario’s system still uses carrier pigeons for client-lawyer communication), and so on.

Here’s a suggestion they didn’t canvass: Make fewer laws. Get rid of a bunch of them. There, I’ve solved your problem. 

By admin June 18, 2012 0

On neoconservatives and conspiracy theories

Ron Paul is driving the neoconservative right crazy. For them, a Ron Paul presidency signals the end of America. His foreign policy will be the final nail in the coffin of the United States.

They often lament that many of Ron Paul’s views are driven by wacky conspiracy theories. In particular, they focus on a one-time event in which Ron Paul refused to dismiss 9/11 “truthers” out of hand, saying that he just didn’t have time to follow the issue.

In the minds of neoconservatives, this is tantamount to Ron Paul being a truther himself. Which is unsurprising, since that’s simply how neoconservatives work. There is right and wrong. And no in between. If you’re not solidly on their side, then it goes without saying that you’re solidly on the other side.

That said, one should dig a little deeper into what exactly is behind the neoconservative thought process that leads them to the inescapable conclusion that a Ron Paul foreign policy would be the end of the United State.

Well, to understand that, you must consider that the right versus wrong dichotomous thinking that neoconservatives are so comfortable with. And then you must consider their worldview which is, to say the least, highly conspiratorial.

Pamela Gellar, a neoconservative anti-Islam blogger, and a stalwart of “protecting liberty” — at least in the minds of other neoconservatives — advances the conspiracy theory that Muslims all around the world are engaged in a highly organized and insidious plan to bring down Western civilization from within and replace it with a global Islamic Caliphate. And worse, even so-called moderate Muslims might be involved and are merely practicing Islamic lying to decieve us all.

Let us not forget the atheist and homosexual conspiracies to take away your right to practice religion and destroy your family.

Now, it turns out that I think 9/11 truthers are pretty crazy. But it’s pretty rich for your average neoconservative, I think, to dismiss these people purely on the basis of being conspiracy nuts since it’s pretty clear to anyone paying attention that much of what defines the current neoconservative worldview is itself, pretty damned conspiratorial in nature. That is, the belief that there’s all these ideological opponents of conservatives that are, in cloak and dagger fashion, plotting the downfall of our cherished Western way of life.

On Iran, the conspiracy theories fly unmolested by neoconservatives as well. For these right-wing hawks, it goes without saying that the first thing Iran will do if and when they develop a nuclear weapon and make it deliverable through a missile system is launch it at Israel. It’s clear as day. That’s what will happen. These neoconservatives know the minds of these Mullahs. And what they know is their primary motivation in developing a nuclear weapon is to reduce Tel Aviv to nuclear ashes as soon as possible.

Neoconservatives are also relatively sure that Tehran is so unshakably committed to this course of action, that the  Iranian government is not even cognizant of the consequences. Because their Muslims. So they’re all suicidal, you see.

Thus, it stands to reason, in the warped mind of neoconservatives, that what really needs to happen is to bomb Iran and bomb them right now. Before it’s too late. Every day that goes by brings us inextricably closer to the second Jewish holocaust.

Now, once again, it is Ron Paul who is the conspiracy nutcase. Because all of these neoconservative worldviews are apparently self-evident and reasonable.

But don’t take my word for it that this worldview might be a little detached from reality — what does Israel’s own Mossad have to say on the matter?

According to three ambassadors present at the briefing, the intelligence chief said that Israel was using various means to foil Iran’s nuclear program and would continue to do so, but if Iran actually obtained nuclear weapons, it would not mean the destruction of the State of Israel.

Wait a second. The non-naive neoconservatives in North America just finished explaining that the very opposite is true, giving us no choice but to go to war.

In fact, if I’m not mistaken from what I understand about neoconservative foreign policy doctrine, by the very virtue of being against war with Iran, it necessarily implies you’re for the destruction of Israel. This is how neocons like Newt Gingrich know that Ron Paul is an anti-Zionist extremist who counts down the days until he can celebrate the nuclear annihilation of five-million-plus Jews.

Remember, the number one thing you should always do as a neoconservative is take one position, and then pigeon hole every other position as manifestly the same as the extreme opposite position. This will provide you a reliable guide to taking various opinions on just about anything.

Practical example: Same-sex couples want to get married.

Same sex couples want to get married? Well, since you’re against that, and believe only in opposite sexed marriage, what it really tells you about these homosexuals is: they not only want to get married, but they want to destroy your opposite sex marriage. And not only that, they want to brainwash your kids into becoming homosexuals.

See? Pretty simple. Because they don’t agree with you. It stands to reason that they’re actually against you and have malicious intent against you.

Practical example #2: Atheists don’t want Christian symbols on public property.

Well, this is easy. Since atheists don’t want Christian symbols on taxpayer-funded property, it stands to reason that their intention is to wipe out Christianity. In fact, they will soon seek to make it illegal for you to go to church. The attribution of this extreme view to the atheists who seek to keep religious symbols of public property is pretty simple; you’re a Christian, and you’d like those symbols there. The fact these atheists don’t want them there proves — without question — that these atheists hate you, your religion and your way of life. They also hate freedom. And probably have a sweet spot in their heart for Stalin and Hitler.

Conclusion: There is no in between. Either America military engages it’s perceived villainous enemies now, or it is the end of America. As Newt Gingrich has said, “as goes Israel, so goes the United States”. That is to say, the rabid defense of these threats against Israel — ignore that Mossad guy — is the last line of defense against Iranian global domination. Or gays. Or liberals. Or gay atheist liberal Iranians. 

By admin January 8, 2012 0