Saturday, 22 March 2014

Political Campaigning - Answering Critics

I've considered myself an activist for as long as I can remember. As a child I was connected to issues far bigger than myself and things like starvation, suffering, and violence around the world were always on my mind. I grew up believing that I could make a difference in this world and I can remember as a child and a teenager standing up for things I believed in and taking action even though I was scared.

Sometimes the action I took, although well intended, caused harm. I remember being a camp counsellor at a children's camp and I knew the truth that some of these kids were going to burn in hell for eternity if I didn't do something to try and save them. I believe if you know that somebody is going to burn in hell and you do not do everything in your power to try and save them then you are a terrible person. If you are wrong and there is no hell, or no good reason to believe there is, then you are a terrible person for trying to scare and foist upon children the idea that they will burn and suffer eternal torment if they don't hold the right thoughts in their brains and the right attitude in their hearts.

I now know that despite my good intentions, or rather because of my good intentions coupled with poor self-knowledge, I harmed those kids and that thought haunts me. I wish I knew who they were so I could find them and apologize to them. The question that changed my life and that still weighs heavily on my mind everyday is, "Where do my beliefs come from?" It is a very difficult question to answer honestly and can take a lot of work, but I think it is essential if you want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

I have wrestled with the paralyzing idea that having imperfect philosophy, not knowing the ultimate "Truth" can result in unintended harms when acted upon. This is obviously an impossible standard to meet, and so then how is one to proceed? Do I just do nothing, paralyzed with fear for having a false belief?

Doing nothing is obviously not an option. Sitting still is dying. Humans don't live or survive by doing nothing and waiting for perfect philosophy. I've come to believe that the best way to proceed is by paying attention to the process of proceeding and being open to course correction as better reason and evidence present themselves. Philosopher Peter Boghossian calls this doxastic openness and contrasts it with doxastic closure which is essentially another name for dogma. To use a cliche it is about the journey not the destination.

So I am proceeding on a course of trying to create positive change in the world by advancing the message of liberty. I want to be open to reason and evidence. I remember about 10 years ago being introduced to the concept of liberty and I was immediately inspired. I thought I should run for office and try and get elected and start repealing laws. I thought being in a position of power would be the best course of action to advance the cause of liberty. I put myself out there in the liberty community in the spirit of doxastic openness and was presented with reason and evidence about why that wasn't the best path to liberty, at least not for myself at that time.

At that time I had nothing to offer other people in the realm of liberty because I hadn't fully embraced it in my own life. I wasn't offering liberty to my family, to my kids, to my spouse. I realized that if I'm getting up to communicate a message and reach others that I couldn't do it while being a walking contradiction of those principles. I wasn't practicing what I preached. By the way I think this is why many libertarians are completely ineffective at communicating the message of liberty. To be brutally honest they are shit shows in their personal lives and it comes out in the way they communicate and present themselves. I was a bit of a shit show at that time and I realized that until I could practice the principles I was espousing I was in no position to attract people to this philosophy.

A recent article  touched on what I'm talking about. This prominent liberty activist referred to two types of libertarians; humanists and brutalists. The way I interpret the article is that brutalists are essentially people who want government to leave them alone so they can engage in all their destructive habits; vice, drugs, bigotry, and hate. I've noticed that brutalists tend to view themselves from the frame of a victim, which isn't incorrect, it's just that victims have nothing to offer anybody until after they heal. Humanists want government to leave them alone so they can advance human flourishing. They don't view themselves as victims so much as they view voluntary relationships as extremely powerful and are constantly looking at ways of exploring and embodying this power in their own lives. There is nothing morally wrong with being an asshole as long as people around you are free to leave your toxicity, but its silly to think that you are going to be an effective purveyor of liberty. Humanists on the other hand see liberty as a way to be the best version of themselves possible and in doing so elevate those around them; these people exude personal power and mastery and empirically attract more people to the liberty movement.

So my goal is to be the best version of myself possible and have the most effective positive impact I can in the world. I have had incredible flourishing in my relationships with; my children, my wife, strangers, community members, my customers, and my co-workers since coming to understand that liberty is impossible without self-knowledge. So I am walking into this new area of activism in the world, running a political campaign, acutely attentive and open to the reason and evidence as to whether this is the best course of action for ME in my life right now given the context and the existing conditions.

When I hear criticism being levelled my way by fellow liberty activists I take it seriously. You are unlikely to come to the liberty movement in todays day and age through parental or institutional propaganda, in fact those are all the forces you must overcome. So liberty lovers are typically people who have reasoned their way into that position and I take what they have to say seriously. I could be on the wrong course and I need to be open to course correction.

A friend and fellow liberty lover has been the most vocal critic of my campaign. Here is something he posted the other day that he admits is directed at me:

"The state is as good a tool for preaching liberty as is the church for preaching atheism."

At first blush this seems to make some sense. Being the state while arguing against the state or being the church while arguing against the church seems to be self-defeating. It is certainly true that a politician who believes that initiating force is necessary for the greater good, and then acts on the belief, is by definition counterproductive to liberty. It's important to remember that the state doesn't exist as a material entity, it doesn't act, only people act, so what you are talking about when you use the words "the state" is a set of beliefs that reside in ones brain and inform ones actions. If someone is devoid of these beliefs and therefore devoid of actions that lead to more initiation of force then can that be called "the state?" It seems to me that is just a dude preaching non-aggression and trying to disabuse people of delusional beliefs, even if that dude participated in a popularity contest and most people think that gives him extra rights. His entering into the popularity contest did not create the delusion in others, but by getting in front of the delusional maybe he can influence them.

A pastor getting up at the front of the church on Sunday and explaining all the reasons why we know God doesn't exist is not bolstering supernaturalism he is undermining it. It seems to me the congregation would dwindle over time if they were constantly being told that the foundations underpinning their church were illegitimate, and the pastor would be out of a job. As an atheist I would jump at the chance to speak in front of a church congregation. The congregants are looking at the pulpit for answers and if the guy on the pulpit is telling them this is all nonsense then it seems to me that he is not bolstering that church but striking at the root.

I would in fact argue that an atheist that evangelizes church goers is doing good in this world, he's helping people that likely have a faulty epistemology. It may not be helpful approaching them from a brutalist perspective of criticizing silly beliefs and trying to make believers feel small, but from a humanist perspective of showing them a better way and explaining all the good, evidence based reasons for subscribing to a working epistemology, of achieving doxastic openness. Humanists don't break people down they build them up. By the way if any pastors are reading this I would be happy to speak with you and your congregants, I certainly don't want to be wrong and I don't think you do either. 

I have blogged at length, produced videos, talked with people in my personal life, produced podcasts and engaged in online debates to advance the message of liberty. I have never received a whole lot of response or feedback from people outside the liberty community itself.  I have been happy to contribute to thought within this community and have felt it to be gratifying.

Preaching to the choir has been relatively safe. Stepping out on this limb of political campaigning has been intensely scary. Imagine standing alone in front of a church of devout christians that you are about to try and disabuse of their faith...that is what this feels like. As I've been delivering this message to the faithful I have had an overwhelming response from many of the members and it is giving me hope and evidence that I am doing something that is far more effective than anything I've done. People who have been sleeping in their pews are waking up and noticing that the guy on the pulpit is calling out the very foundation that their faith is built upon. I have been flooded with responses from people saying they have never heard this message before, from people that didn't have a name for their philosophy until now, from people who always sensed their was something wrong with the system, from people that suddenly don't feel alone for feeling the way they do.

So in the spirit of doxastic openness here is the evidence that could be presented to me that would convince me that what I'm doing is harmful to the liberty movement:

1) Show me that preaching to the converted is more effective than reaching out to the "lost" in my particular circumstances.

2) Show me that the state exists as a material entity and not an abstraction, or
 explain to me how a person who is widely believed to have a monopoly of force actually has those rights as opposed to being perceived to have those rights. Then once you prove that when I win a popularity contest I will be magically transformed connect the idea that I am now magic with the idea that by being magic I can't undermine the magic that was imbued to me by said popularity contest. This is important because if politicians aren't magic then they are just regular people and it is the delusion that they are magic that is the problem not the politicians themselves. Therefore if a human who is good at disabusing people of delusions becomes the focal point of the delusional it seems to me that might be an effective place for him to be. If it turns out I am magic then explain why I can't use my magic powers to dissolve magic powers?

3) Provide me with evidence that I could be doing something more effective....ME, not you or someone else and not some Platonic version of me thats in your head.

4) Show me some evidence that what I am doing is creating delusion that didn't previously exist. 

5) Explain to me how someone who is committed to peace and non-aggression taking a spot that would otherwise be occupied by a politician interested in using the guns of government is not making the world safer?

Now I would ask you to consider the evidence it would take you to reconsider whether what you are doing is the best course of action for your mission in life. Is criticizing me a good use of your time fellow activists? I suppose it is if you have good reason to believe I'm going to harm your mission and if you don't have something more productive to be doing then please continue fighting the good fight, present a coherent argument that I'm causing harm. Is it possible that it is simply easier and safer to criticize me than to try and enter into hostile territory yourself? If evidence suggests that the amount of delusion in the hearts and minds of men is falling at a more rapid rate from the form of activism I'm taken than the form you are taking will you consider a course correction in your own activism?

Monday, 3 March 2014

Liberal Critic Comes to Town

Liberal northern development critic Yvonne Jones recently came to town to boost the liberal party. Here are some of my comments about what she had to say.

“You have to have respect among all the players to find proper solutions. One thing I’m discovering is they feel they are more neglected by government,” she said. “We believe part of the solution is dialogue with partners and adequate infrastructure investment.”

I agree with Yvonne here that you have to have respect among all the players. The first and foremost way we respect other people is by recognizing their right to life and liberty, by acknowledging their human rights, their property rights. If the governments is to have a role in development of the oil sands region is to first and foremost help resolve and arbitrate disputes that arise between property owners. To ensure respect we need to understand who owns what, and who the players actually are, otherwise we are creating an environment for disrespect.

The terms "the crown", "the government", "corporations", "the province" are all fictional abstractions the way we use them in common language. What is needed here is clarity. Which person or group of people own what, and how is it to be respected?

Governments fundamentally own nothing. You can’t justly own something simply by taking it through force. You may possess something but that thing you possess is not yours; it belongs to someone else. As far as I can tell the only group of people that have a just ownership claim over territory in this region are the group of people that have been hunting, trapping, and gathering food on it their whole life. Can you think of anybody else who would have a just claim?

Oil companies and governments ought to respect the property owners here and understand that they have the right to completely veto or attach any terms and conditions they want to sale or use of their land. If a requirement of development is that there shall be formed and paid for an independent neutral oversight committee that performs rigorous tests, even unreasonably rigorous tests, that ensure environmental health then that is the prerogative of the property owners. No sale if no compliance with the property owners rules.

I have been in and out of Fort Chipewyan several times this winter and have heard from people that they like the opportunity that Oil Sands development gives them but they are worried about their environment and their health. They are worried about their way of life being changed. My sense is that most of all they are concerned about being powerless to control their own destiny.

What would happen if the real property owners in this region had their property rights fully respected. What if they were allowed to make rules like any other property owner about the conduct of guests, partners or potential buyers that had an interest in their property. I suspect we would see a great deal more invested in communication, the environment, infrastructure and studying the effects human health. There would be a great deal more investment in responsible sustainable development.

Property owners are the best stewards of their own lands, this is how the problem of the commons is solved, and it is the only ethical way forward. Neither liberals, nor conservatives will consider giving property to its rightful owners. Liberals lean towards wanting all things to be commonly owned and everybody to have a say (aka socialism) and conservatives tend to favor corporate rights as if corporations are private property and not fictional entities designed to socialize risk and privatize reward (aka cronyism or even fascism). Libertarians demand real respect, respect of the life of each and every person on this planet equally, thou shalt not initiate force to solve problems, this is liberty and this leads to sustainability.

“You’ve got to ensure there’s good infrastructure and good hospitals and that responsibility lies with government,” she said. “Both federal and provincial governments have to work to ensure that those that are giving so much are getting something back.”

I wonder what a good amount of infrastructure and healthcare is? How do producers of goods and services know when the right amount of goods and services are being produced? The answer of course is that consumers stop giving them money when they are no longer useful or they are terrible at producing the goods and services the consumers want. The government takes our money, we have an involuntary relationship, we can’t withdraw our patronage and go to a competing vendor, so how on Earth will Yvonne know when she’s provided enough infrastructure for us?

According to a Fraser Institute study* families that make $234,000 per year pay over $32,000 into the healthcare system by way of taxation.  That sounds like a typical Fort McMurray family to me. How much healthcare do families up here enjoy for that extraordinary price we pay? Even in the fascistic and ridiculously regulated American system you can buy a lot of premium healthcare for $32,000. (Click here for a previous article I wrote on healthcare)

Yvonne’s language is instructive.  She says, “…ensure that those that are giving so much are getting something back.” Does she seriously see the government as a charity where people are donating money? Is it more accurate to say people GIVE muggers money as opposed to muggers TAKE peoples money? Do people have a choice here?

People in our region ought to be getting something back, namely the money that has been taken from us... with interest please! We don’t want you to give us back a polished turd you call infrastructure and healthcare, we just want our money back. We can look after our own infrastructure and healthcare, thanks.

Imagine what we could do with the $5 Billion per year siphoned out of this province to Quebec in the way of provincial transfer payments. How much of that money is generated by people in my region? How many seniors homes would that build? How many hospitals? How many physicians could be recruited? What on earth could the federal or provincial government offer people in this region other than to leave us alone and give us our money back.