Sunday, February 19, 2012

Don’s Debates – when the Straw Man ariseth

It’s been a few months since I enjoyed a good argumentation rodeo. One presented itself on a friend’s discussion thread in social media recently. I had been resisting the urge to throw-in my two-cents’ worth (or five bucks, depending on perspective).

By the way, as a matter of pure happenstance that friend is a fellow Libertarian.

In this latest installment of Don’s Debates, a video spoofing stereotypical comments made to libertarians by three pro-big-government characters was posted.

It appeared as though it was going to turn into a run-of-the-mill libertarian-love-fest in the comments section. Right after I posted a quote by Frédéric Bastiat there came a pair of replies by someone less libertarian-leaning. Another individual followed those two comments with his own selection of a Bastiat quote: “It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.”

Then the straw men were erected by the less-libertarian participant. He contributed the following observation: “State raised grain is inferior in some way to privately raised grain? Less iron or protein, or you just don't like anything any government might do? Will it feed fewer people?”

The banter continued after I had logged-out to start getting ready for work. It became a tad circular in nature while I was away. It had been my intention to not embroil myself in an elongated point-counterpoint session. But, I allowed Mr. Statist to suck me into the conversation when he opted to proclaim those who disagreed with him weren’t adequately making their point.

So, I gave-in and replied with the following:

The problem, [name omitted], is when government (be it here or anywhere else in the world) decides to participate in any industry – in the case you're attempting to make, agriculture – virtually all actions must be run through its internal bureaucracy which makes the production and delivery of the grain inferior: not the grain itself.

When the production and delivery are inferior, less of it gets to its recipients in a timely manner. The delays and inevitable loss to spoilage leads to increased hunger.

You're engaging in a complete straw man argument.

You're deliberately omitting the fact when government is thrust into a sector of the economy it soon disapproves of competition. This leads to laws and regulations that squeeze-out private-sector competitors and leave people few-to-no choices of alternate sources for that grain.

Adding to the potential for rampant hunger is the unavoidable political component when those elected (or appointed) insist distribution be fair, which then requires a massive regulatory establishment to oversee said fairness.

That doesn't factor [further] increased hunger in certain segments of the population where the political connections aren't as vibrant – thus the component of fairness becomes flexible in its definition as a result of cronyism.

Does cronyism exist in the free market?

Of course.

But, in a free market we are all consequently free to pursue our desired goods (such as grain) from other sources when that situation becomes intolerable. Or, depending on the circumstances of one's situation, some among us are then free to take it upon ourselves to engage in that industry and produce that good.

Mr. Statist responded later that morning with this end-all-be-all post:

“We don't have anything even approaching a free market. Talk about straw men!”


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Right-wing collective salvation no less destructive than the Left’s

“One of the criticisms I make is to what I refer to as more of a libertarianish right. They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do, government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulations low, and that we shouldn’t get involved with the bedroom, we shouldn’t get involved with cultural issues – that is not how traditional conservatives view the world... There is no such society – that I’m aware of – where we’ve had radical individualism and that it succeeds as a culture.”
Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), interview on NPR, August 4, 2005

In political analysis, temptations are everywhere. They lie-about like a minefield – designed to snap-up and bite you at the first careless step taken.

I’ve stepped on a couple of mines already in my own still-short and obscure foray into politics. As Santorum’s comments quoted above continue to make the rounds in social media, the minefield-like temptation is to engage early and often in ad hominem commentary.

But, such an approach inevitably would steer the overall discussion away from the real issue. The man is not where our focus should be: we must dismantle the premises he has promoted with such comments. Senator Santorum and others who share his views will come and go. But, failing to adequately and accurately refute the ideology and philosophy behind such views – at a time such as this in our society – is to miss an opportunity to expand the greater understanding of what liberty truly means.

So, suffice it to say I wholeheartedly disagree with Santorum. Now, here is why...

The logic flaw behind comments such as Santorum’s is he encourages a path toward public virtue of a right-wing nature that runs in parallel to the left’s.

The growing outlook among the left in America has become the quest for “collective salvation” via redistribution of income. President Barack Obama has discussed this concept on more than one occasion over the years.

The central premise with their argument is the establishment and its crowd of elites must be entrusted with saving us all from ourselves and our uncontrollable propensity – as mere, weak mortals – for the sins of greed and material avarice.

They – and they alone – know what is best for leading society into that public virtue.

As the concept of self-reliance continues to decay in America, one need only to look at the condition and plight of our larger cities to recognize how inevitably dehumanizing Progressive governance is.

With the sociological outlook being advanced by Santorum, we can see there is an effort underway to recharge the batteries for furthering what is the undeniable right-wing equivalent to Obama’s social agenda.

The central concept is the same: government must be granted the power and authority to save us from ourselves. The left wants to social-engineer us toward charitable virtue. The right seeks to social-engineer us toward moral virtue.

The left would have us believe that prosperity for all – fair and equal in their eyes – only can be achieved through government intervention. The right would have us believe that morality for all only can be achieved in the same manner.

Redistribution of income has had an irrefutable destructive effect on the American work ethic and dedication to self-reliance. As we have reached the point where 47% of the population is receiving some form of public assistance, this trend only will continue toward total dependence on the state. As long as availability continues to expand, so will not just the demand for it but the expectation.

The result is simple: the consequence of reliance on the state is our society is eating itself from the inside out.

The combination of welfare, tighter economic controls, and regulation of business has created an environment that is best described as “the race to the bottom” where people do what has been predicted by free-market economists for roughly one-and-a-half centuries: many seek to do the minimum in order to get by in life while others aggressively seek-out every possible loophole in the laws to exploit the opportunities for ill-conceived gain.

The same principle will apply to state-sponsored morality.

As the government attempts to nudge, push, and then steamroll citizens into behavior control as well as limitations on individual personal choices, the outcome as a result of securing America’s moral fabric is bound to be the exact opposite of the promise of easier access to salvation.

It will happen because we will be conditioned to rely on government and its body of laws to guide our consciences as opposed to scripture, prayer, and God.

Human nature will inevitably kick into overdrive as people become eager to settle for the legally acceptable minimum standards in moral conduct while others look for the aforementioned loopholes. With rebellion being humanity’s natural social state, the results can only descend from there as others engage in outright defiance of the law.

And, just as we have witnessed with the Left continually arguing for more and more economic and financial control by the government each time it becomes apparent the present body of laws is not “doing the trick” for society, the right will engage in the same pattern if allowed the opportunity (just examine the history of the war on drugs).

Those on the right – such as Santorum – who expound the notion it is possible to codify God’s law into man’s law unfailingly omit one vitally important fact: the process of codification ultimately is left in the hands of politicians.

What could possibly go wrong there?

It is apparent that Senator Santorum and those who agree with him either have forgotten or chosen to disregard a critical axiom in Christian society just as his counterparts on the Progressive Left have chosen to spurn it: Virtue cannot exist in the absence of free choice.

It is our free will, given to us by God, that makes us uniquely human. It is only through our individual free will that any of us can reach the glory of salvation.