Archive for February, 2010

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Science Fiction Nerdry

I’m a sucker for a certain subset of science fiction; the sort that usually involves space faring humans living in an optimistic future. The kind that allows a small child to envision a world of endless possibilities–a future that ends kindly. A future that involves an awful lot of really cool theoretical science.

When I was a younger man it was always my dream to live in an era of intense space exploration; while I happen to live in one, it is merely in the earliest stages of exploration, one that will likely not see much in terms of human exploration of even our local system in my lifetime. That is, I won’t get a chance to witness very much of it. As I grew older this always gave me pause–sadness would creep in, tears would flow, friendships were forged. Or something. Anyway…

I admit my failing. I’ve been a sucker for this stuff since I was a small child.

It wasn’t the large naval style space battles that drew me in. Science fiction offered me an escape from the real world that kept me innocent (so to speak), interested in learning, and always feeling optimistic. I learned to question everything in order to gain a better understanding of the world around me; perhaps this is why I ask questions now–why I read in order to gain a better understanding of history, science, and everything around me. I’m curious, but mostly I just want to know, even if that knowledge isn’t extensive.

Well, when the new Star Trek came rolling out of theaters last year I was excited to say the least. My stomach felt as if it were free falling in anticipation. I get that feeling every time I participate in some nostalgic activity, though I’m generally disappointed in the end. Not this time. This time I was brought back to that sense of adventure and awe I had as a young man–for a few hours anyway.

Look this nerdry is indeed really stupid, but for one reason or another it shaped me and my interests for the last 18 years or so, and so I will never apologize for being a giant nerd/geek. Take that with a conformists grain of salt.

Giving Progressive Thought a Voice: Role of Government

I can’t claim an extensive understanding of progressive thought, but I am willing to give it a hearing; I’m mostly willing to do so in order to exemplify the ideals I’m always preaching about; namely that ideas need to be heard and debated, not cut down without analysis. So how do I determine what to address or discuss? I will have to use media sources, first, because I am not as intimately involved as I should be in reading and researching progressive thought; second, I won’t use this particular post to critque the ideology in question, merely to spell it out and gain an understanding. I’ll leave the commentary to the comment area (a bit of a confusing phrase?) if any will take place.

First, what role should government play in our lives? What I get from liberal friends and from a basic reading of the news is that many of these individuals are, in general, a passionate group and often place the well-being of others at the forefront of their philosophy; this is why they do what they do, for the less well-off. What can be done to ensure that these folks are taken care of, and how best to accomplish this goal?

In general, it is best to support a government that is vast and far reaching in order to help the most people; plus reform doesn’t move fast enough in society and provides a less reliable motivator; for social justice it is best to force change through legislative action; barring that, perhaps judicial activism. This philosophy “holds that the function of the liberal state is to supply individuals with the opportunity to provide for themselves by useful work. The right to work and the right to a living wage are considered as real as the right to person and property, while unemployment and low wages are considered to be a reproach to the justice of society.” 1 So in a sense, the right to work becomes a natural right, which is granted by government, a right which is to be protected at all costs, while inequality indicates how certain segments of society are served poorly by current institutions.

The focus is generally on the good of the community as a whole rather than what is good for individual actors, so that everyone can live an equally good life. “It conceives the rights of the individual as harmonious with those of the community, and defines the first in terms of a common good and the second in terms of the well-being of individuals. Social liberal policies include government intervention in the economy to provide full employment and social welfare, and protection of human rights.” 1

A small critique of this thought process. While I said I would not offer criticisms, it best to provide a little balance. The state has been described “as the entity that maintains a monopoly over the legitimate use of force in a given territory.” 2 Meaning, the state is the only entity that can manipulate actors in any meaningful, legitimate way. In order to accomplish progressive goals by attempting to provide work and reasonable wages means that the state must force it’s citizenry to comply with any edicts regarding work and wages in order to ensure compliance. 2 I would like to assume that the citizenry wouldn’t normally accept this kind of pressure to conform without a rational reason, though.

In my opinion, what makes progressivism so dangerous is the nobility of its causes. When taken in the abstract, for instance, there are few who would disparage the importance of progressive priorities such as health care and education. The difference between progressives and conservatives, however, is that progressives consider these issues to be matters of “social justice,” thereby necessitating government provision. Politically, we often see progressive policies gain more traction because it is easier to create massive deficit-financed entitlement programs than to ask people to make spending sacrifices in their own lives. This makes intuitive sense since whatever money the government borrows needs to be paid back by future generations. Therefore, we can almost think of the government as a hidden financing mechanism for American households. Yet, while progressive policies might seem attractive—since they allow Americans to collectively finance social programs via low interest government debt—they ultimately require people to pay a much higher cost: their own freedom. That is, every time we expand the government’s mandate, we effectively socialize private rights, especially those pertaining to property. 2

In short, this is why so many people align themselves with progressive/liberal policies. Because it is noble, and just to do so on it’s face. Thus, one could come to the conclusion that the converse was true of classical liberal thought; that it is merely heartless and self serving–well self serving perhaps is sort of accurate.

What are your thoughts on progressive ideology? What role should government play in society? Why do you subscribe to/not subscribe to progressive ideology? Could you see the opposing sides view in a positive light and would you be willing to try to understand it in order to better understand your own views?

I want to leave you with a thought from F.A. Hayek, brought to my attention by Mr. Hollander: “If we wish to preserve a free society, it is essential that we recognize that the desirability of a particular object is not sufficient justification for the use of coercion.” 2

  1. Social Liberalism. Wikipedia. Accessed at 2/15/2010. Don’t lambaste me on my source for this. It’s a brief overview of the philosophy and enough for my purposes here.
  2. Hollander, Jonathan. The Progressive Road to Serfdom. Columbia Spectator. Accessed at 2/15/2010.

But the larger point is that Ryan is trying to start a conversation on the desirable role and limits of government. He’s trying to make it possible to talk about sensitive issues — mainly Social Security and Medicare — without being vilified…If Democrats don’t like Ryan’s vision, the proper response is to design and defend their own plan. The fact that they don’t have one is a national embarrassment.

Robert J. Samuelson, Paul Ryan’s lonely challenge: controlling runaway deficits

The Hypocrisy Evident in Political Discourse

I’m going to rant for a little bit; I’m going to do this because I’ve had it with being considered a government hating, racist, ignoramus, low-life conservative minded person. My views are not extreme; my views are not heartless; and my views are far from racist. Each of these arguments against my beliefs lack legitimacy in that they do not address my thoughts in any way. My beliefs are completely ignored, but my character is attacked; I’m considered an idiot and heartless for bringing this up.

When I disagree with a set of opinions, my disagreement is misguided, dangerous–subversive even–yet when those with whom I disagree are in opposition to what I have said their protestations are of the highest order of patriotism–intelligent, and well guided. Really, they’re just fucking enlightened–while I am clearly not.

Disgust is displayed prominently on my face.

Where did these ideas come from? Obviously there are some legitimate arguments to be had on both sides of the governing philosophy coin, but the complete dismissal of one of those viewpoints is indeed subversive and antithetical to the ideals with which we are supposed to have been taught since birth; the real crime, though, is the manner in which they are dismissed rather than the disagreement itself. Character attacks do not advance political debate; they change the nature of the debate, while solving nothing.

It’s no wonder a lot of conservative minded folks are such conspiracy theorists when their beliefs are attacked in this way by the national media, politicians, and just about every Tom, Dick, and Harry in Hollywood; this is all they hear.

A list of my crazy, subversive, and supposed racist beliefs and thoughts:

  1. Governments are for securing and maintaining the natural rights and liberties of members of society; the social contract is legitimate under these circumstances. When a government no longer follows it’s rules and instead becomes a body that doles out rights and liberties its purpose is muddied and it begins to protect liberties less.
  2. Governments exist to maintain security in society and to protect from foreign actors; this is how liberties and rights are protected.
  3. While taxation is important to maintaining government services and security, the increased amounts of taxation required to maintain the modern welfare state begin to encroach on one’s right to property as the government increasingly sees those earnings as theirs first, and yours as a pittance for your time. Thus, taxation is not evil, it is that taxation for redistribution helps no one over time.
  4. We should help one another in society. People need a hand every once in a while, a leg up, something to get them moving; however, using taxation in order to force a helping hand is not charity. Governments are not for creating happiness.
  5. People are free to do as they wish, as long as it harms no one; so, people may marry who they wish, drive whatever car they wish, believe what they wish, and act in a manner conforming to the no harm principle.

Please, if any of these ideas are racist, crazy, anti-intellectual, ill informed, or heartless, let me know.

Political Thoughts of the Day

I spend a lot of time reading; so much so that my wife tells me I’m a bit of a moron for spending so much time doing something that is so inherently boring. Her paraphrased words, not mine. IF by some chance you didn’t guess by reading the title, or by knowing me, that the subject matter I happen to read most about is politics (and history, and science, and….), then I should let you in on a little secret: I am often immersed in politically oriented reading. For many months I’ve grown tired of it and the vitriol involved in political debate; however, I generally stay tuned in. The freak show can be amusing.

100 years of the Progressive movement is enough for me.

Something I’ve noticed, and not all by myself but in addition to the observations of others, is the way in which the left and right are often characterized by those in the know. Policies are not debated based on evidence and evaluated for what they are; cause and effect have no place in the debate, rather judgments are based on hyperbole and rhetoric. No one is innocent.

But people take these views to heart, and bring it to work, to school, to churches, and to the dinner table; all the while espousing a view that really doesn’t get to the heart of the matter at all; never addressing the lackluster policies brought forth by either group; doing a great disservice to the national character by involving themselves in something they hardly understand; honestly, democracy is not a good thing. Representative republics are. Democracy relies on rhetoric and vote buying, while republics presumably rely on rationality and vote buying…wait, what?

Look, the heart of the matter is both sides have it wrong; governments are for the protection of a given society’s members and their natural rights, not for the distribution of rights. The more this philosophy has shifted in the citizenry over the years, however, the more the government has taken steps to entrench itself; ultimately the social contract becomes null and void.

Cynicism:1, Me: 0. Semi-colon usage: 7(ish). Semi-colon wins.

This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.

Ronald Regan