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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 Off

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 Off

“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 Off

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 Off

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 Off