Words Poorly Used #143 — Nation

According to Reason’s online publication, Benjamin Franklin once said, “No nation was ever ruined by trade.”

Then a Facebook friend and I engaged in an amicable dispute about Franklin’s intent relative to the word “nation.”  My friend said it was a stand-in for “government.”

I responded

I am critical of BF for his lazy use of “nation.” I agree that he was probably using it as a metaphor for state. The most frustrating aspect of etymology is to learn that society frequently takes perfectly serviceable words, but through misuse and wordsmithing often changes them to perverted meanings.

I do believe, however, that the quote would be improved by a more precise word, such as “society” or “economy.”

I laud [another Facebook friend], nonetheless, for posting the sentiment.

We may recognize that a scant 300 years ago there was not much difference between “nation” and “state” — people were not highly mobile.  Then colonization and the religio-territorial wars of Europe began to reshape both words, moving them closer together for politicians and their bandwagons.  Concepts of “nation” were sacrificed on the altar of “nationalism” — the presumption that one sort has supremacy over another.

I will link the Facebook thread here.  If you choose not to or cannot access Facebook, I am copying the thread in the comment section.

— Kilgore Forelle

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Ethical Consistency, Does it Really Matter?

We see or hear it all the time. Whether we’re on social media or having a conversation with a friend or family member, you may hear or read something like this, your redneck coworker may say, “We just need to turn the middle east into a sheet of glass!” Meanwhile, your progressive, career college student cousin may say something like, “We need someone like Bernie in the white house so we can finally get universal health care!”

More often than not these examples are due to the lack of something I consider invaluable as a Voluntaryist… ethical consistently.

To the best of my understanding, the lack of ethical consistency in today’s culture has led, and continues to lead people toward further social, economic, and foreign policy disasters. For this reason, I wanted to go over the concept of ethical consistency as I see it, the definition of the term, and some examples of how it’s applied in real world scenarios.

Consistency—the absence of contradictions—has sometimes been called the hallmark of ethics. Ethics is supposed to provide us with a guide for moral living, and to do so it must be rational, and to be rational it must be free of contradictions. If a person said, “Open the window but don’t open the window,” we would be at a loss as to what to do; the command is contradictory and thus irrational. In the same way, if our ethical principles and practices lack consistency, we, as rational people, will find ourselves at a loss as to what we ought to do and divided about how we ought to live. Ethics require consistency in the sense that our moral standards, actions, and values should not be contradictory. Examining our lives to uncover inconsistencies and then modifying our moral standards and behaviors so that they are consistent is an important part of moral development.

Consistency and Ethics, from the center of applied ethics at Santa Clara University.

I’ve observed that, especially in the realm of political opinion, being ethically consistent seems to be a real challenge. And as I wrote earlier, this leads to a lot of confusion, controversy, and conflict.

In order to further explain, I’ve provided five scenarios along with an explanation of how ethical consistency applies.

Scenario #1
-Murder is considered illegal or unethical.
-Accidentally killing civilians with drone strikes is collateral damage and therefore justified.

In this example, it should be fairly obvious that killing is inherently unethical, whether intentionally or by accident, however some people believe there is an exception to this universally accepted rule when it comes to war…or so they’ve convinced themselves. In a way, I can’t blame them. They’ve spent a lifetime inundated with nationalism, from reciting the pledge of allegiance in public school every morning to social media and network news filling them with pride for country and military worship.

And that’s the problem. The programming has been incredibly successful, so successful some people have lost their ability to discern between murder and accidentally killing innocent people.

Scenario #2
-Robbing someone of the cash in their wallet is considered illegal or unethical.
-Taking money from someone through the act of taxation is justified.

Think back to when were a child, do you remember when one of your siblings or playmates took your favorite toy from you? I’m not sure I can remember that far back either, but if you have children, nieces or nephews, you’ve witnessed this drama firsthand.

The recognition of personal property is innate in human beings, we know what is ours.

As we mature, we begin to understand the benefits of sharing, whether it’s the desire to connect with others or more selfish reasons. For example, some may share their candy with classmates in order to be seen as likeable and some may do so in order to garner social status and the benefits involved with being popular.

Although we’ve come to find sharing as a virtuous thing to do, we choose so voluntarily. We choose to donate money, our time, or make charitable donations of items because we receive some type of psychological reward.

In the case of the mugger stealing the cash in your wallet, we know this is inherently unethical. In the case of taking someone’s money via taxes, we know that this act is also inherently unethical. Why? Because, unlike charitable donations, the money is being taken from you. Some may say that they’re happy to pay taxes and that’s great! You make your charitable donations to the state and I’ll spend my money supporting alternatives to such coercive systems.

Scenario #3
-A group of neighbors come to your house and forcefully abducted you for smoking a plant in your living room is considered illegal or unethical.
-The police come to your house and forcefully abducting you for smoking a plant in your living room is justified.

Do you own yourself? Is your body, your self considered personal property? Are you responsible for actions taken? Do you have a sense of personal agency?

I would answer ‘yes’ to each of those questions, therefore my body and my actions are mine. If I were to eat a fatty steak and wash it down with a double Old Fashioned, does that affect anyone else? Of course not, but if I were to get in my car intoxicated and hit someone else, that would be violating their person, their self.

Whether it’s eating a steak while drinking bourbon, smoking weed, or doing meth, it’s my body. As long as I do so without affecting anyone, it’s my decision alone.

The act of being abducted by your neighbors simply because they made a “No Weed” rule between them is inherently immoral. The same thing applies to being abducted by the police. In addition to your neighbors, strangers helped make the rules restricting the rights of others to do what they choose with their bodies. The police enforce these rules, although they call them laws instead. Whether rule or law, a person’s self ownership precedes both.

Scenario #4
-A group of people mandating your children attend church is considered unethical.
-The state mandating your children attend school is justified.

My explanation of scenario number three applies here as well. However, in this case it’s not your person, it’s your child’s person.

What separates adults from children is the adults sense of personal agency and responsibility. Since children lack this understanding, their parents, other immediate family members, or other types of surrogate caregivers have the responsibility of taking care of them.

Now this part is going to sound insensitive and simplistic, but hear me out. Your child is your possession. Until they also have a sense of personal agency and responsibility, you are as responsible for them as you are for yourself. Therefore, you have the final say when it comes to their person.

By mandate or law, forcing a child to attend anything without the consent of the parent is inherently unethical.

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Donald Trump, Socialist

“Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country,” US president Donald Trump announced in his State of the Union address in February.  His base, as he had hoped, cheered him on in setting himself up as foil to Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

In the three months since, though, Trump has doubled down on his own socialist policy proposals. On trade and immigration, he’s 21st-century America’s most strident — or most empowered, anyway — advocate of an indispensable tenet of state socialism: Central planning of the economy by the government.

Trump wants the government to control what you buy and who you buy it from. Thus, his “trade wars” with Canada, Mexico, the European Union, and China, powered by tariffs intended to advantage “Made in America” goods (and their politically connected makers) over others.

Now he’s announced a plan for “merit-based” government control of immigration under which bureaucrats in Washington decide how many, and which, immigrants the American economy “needs,” instead of leaving such decisions to markets and individuals.

In the past I’ve bemoaned the fact that “socialism” has come to mean such different things to so many different people. From its 19th century definition of  “worker ownership of the means of production,” it’s been continually re-defined to characterize everything from Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism to a more all-embracing “democratic socialist” welfare state powered by heavy taxation on “the rich.”

That’s a pretty broad net. But except among anarchist socialists, state control of the economy is the axis on which all versions of socialism turn, and Trump is clearly all-in on the idea.

He even lends a socialist cast to the  excuses he makes for his economic policies. He continually positions himself as protecting workers from the “dog-eat-dog” competition of capitalism (while avoiding using that word negatively). By adding an emphasis on political borders to those excuses, he changes the discussion from “labor versus capital” to “American labor versus foreign capital.”

That approach is nothing new. See Stalin’s “socialism in one country,” for example, or the marriage between central economic planning and nationalism characterizing the fascism of Mussolini and Hitler.

America’s Republican president campaigns against socialism while attempting to implement it. Meanwhile, America’s progressives  campaign for socialism while attempting to thwart actual worker ownership of the means of production (e.g. the “gig economy”). Talk about cognitive dissonance!

Notice what’s missing from the discussion on both major “sides”: Freedom.

Freedom to move within and across political borders.

Freedom to trade within and across political borders.

Freedom to plan our own lives and live them instead of turning that power, and that responsibility, over to the state.

Neither major political party even convincingly pretends to care about those fundamental human rights anymore.

The entire public discussion revolves around what the politicians should “allow” or “forbid” the rest of us to do next, based on an unquestioning assumption of their moral authority to make such decisions for us.

Unless we break that cycle, we’re on our way into the next Dark Age.

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One Institution at a Time

The institutions of America are crumbling, it says here, but none so time-honored and none so precipitously as the Fourth Estate.

I’m not sure when I stopped reading newspapers, but they fell out of my favor when I was a freshman in college.  My professor for Advanced Composition used the local papers in every class to present to us examples of horrendously poor writing.  Sometimes he would even use the eminences such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, or the Louisville Courier-Journal.  He implied that eventually we would become dolts, as a national population, because of the habitual trashing of the language.  And, no, he wasn’t a grammar zealot.  Rather, he was one who suggested that the media were pursuing false ideals.

For the next decade, I got my news from Rolling Stone and National Lampoon.  We did not own a television.   News was like tuning in to a soap opera every year or so — the plot lines were still the same, as were the lack of quality.

But my purpose here is not to write a history, but to examine where we are today.  To do this, I have decided to review a typical day’s throughput on popular WWW newsfeeds.

Here are the headlines, except for sports-related ones which could be written by reassembling confetti:

  • [A celebrity] pleads not guilty to multiple charges of criminal sexual abuse — Undeveloped Sex Drama (to be continued)
  • [An alleged disruptor] was carrying toy gun, police reveal after shooting him dead — Jackboot Drama (to be continued)
  • [National] police detain hundreds in [provincial] sweeps — Jackboot Drama (to be continued)
  • Pro-life movie ‘Unplanned’ gets unexpected R rating — Divisiveness Drama (to be continued)
  • A stern memo about [a convict to be sentenced] says he ‘brazenly violated’ law — Veiled Courtroom Drama (to be continued)
  • Every Angle of the 2019 [new product] — Untried Consumer Product Drama (to be continued)
  • [A country’s] [royal personage] becomes country’s first [female] ambassador with [another country] role — Veiled Foreign Relations Drama (likely to be continued)
  • The [nationality] do not have a moral compass in the way they do business — Abstractly Referenced International Commerce Drama (to be continued)
  • AOC: ‘Is It Still Okay to Have Children’ in the Age of Climate Change — AOC/Fear/Climate Drama (to be continued, incessantly)
  • ‘Unhinged madman’: Former U.S. budget director says [POTUS] is ‘conducting 4 wars on the economy’ — Opinion on Opinion (to be continued, incessantly)
  • Airlines admit having cameras installed on back of passengers’ seats — Anti-Corporate Drama (to be continued, incessantly)
  • [A national capital city] Postcard: Children hope to give [a leader] comradely welcome — Opinion on Sideshow / Foreign Relations Drama (likely to be continued)
  • Oscars 2019: The worst-dressed stars including [celebrities A, B, and C] — Opinion on Sideshow / Celebrity Drama (likely to be continued, incessantly)
  • Tunnels, civilians slow capture of [militant group]’s last [a nation] pocket — Pseudo-concrete Foreign Relations Drama (likely to be continued)
  • [A celebrity]’s alleged plan to manufacture outrage diminishes impact of real hate crime — Opinion 0n Hate Crime Drama (to be continued)
  • Tornado tears through [a locale] leads to first tornado death of 2019 — Weather / Fatality Drama (to be continued, forever)
  • Flood threat persists in [a region] while severe storms diminish in the [larger region] — Weather Futurism Drama (to be continued, forever)
  • Snow emergencies in [northern latitude] — Weather Persistence Drama (to be continued, forever)
  • [A military] officer, self-described white nationalist, planned terror attack to ‘kill almost every last person,’ feds say — Terror / White Nationalism / Fed Drama (to be continued, forever)
  • Harry and Meghan meet Moroccan girls during official tour — Royal Drama (never ending)
  • [A politician] attracts crowds in [a primary state], but leaves questions about what she believes — Unsupported Assertion / Unverified Supposition Political Drama (never ending)
  • [A country] breaks diplomatic relations with [another country] over aid, [a politician] says  — Pseudo-concrete Foreign Relations Drama (likely to be continued)
  • Iceberg twice the size of New York City about to break off Antarctica, says NASA — Help me!  I’m melting!  (Every earthly ice mass has an edge from which pieces break)

As Cliff Arquette might have said, “it goes on … ”

I once lived in Manhattan, NYC, for 3 months in 1985.  It was the apparent practice of every “news” outlet to have at least one story every day for both Donald Trump and Rudolph Giuliani.  I learned subsequently that each of those egomaniacs probably planted those stories.  Today’s news mavens, it seems, have taken pages from those books by making sure that certain genre of accounts appear in every release.

— Verbal Vol

 

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Nationalism, the Ideological Delusion at the Heart of Protectionism

Every economic entity, whether it be an individual, a family, or a firm, faces a constant choice with regard to how it will secure the goods and services it desires in order to carry out its economic plans: make or buy?

Most individuals and families give little conscious thought to their making this choice. Yet they make it all the same. Many individuals do many things for themselves, such as house cleaning, home maintenance, personal care of various sorts, meal preparation, and so forth. They do not pause often to consider whether they would be better off to purchase these things, although they might purchase them, and some individuals do. One can hire housekeepers, groundskeepers, meal providers, and many other services. In some cases, provision of these services amounts to a large industry catering to individuals and families who have decided that buying is better than making, that market transactions are better than self-sufficiency.

In contrast, business firms commonly give serious, explicit attention to how they should answer the make-or-buy question, and many specialize in a narrow range of activities, relying on market purchases to provide every item they can buy at a lower cost than that at which they could make it for themselves.

When someone decides to buy rather than make, it is normally the case that no one objects or attempts to impede the transaction. In some cases, local providers of certain goods and services have tried to shield themselves from the competition of providers in other states, but in many, if not all, cases the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that such state-level protectionism is contrary to the Constitution’s Interstate Commerce Clause. As a result, the United States of America has long been a vast free-trade area, and this condition explains in no small part how Americans have succeeded in lifting their level of living steadily over the past two centuries, notwithstanding the transitory inability of various suppliers to meet the “outside” competition successfully.

In regard to competitors located outside the national boundaries, however, the situation has often been seen as different and as warranting government action—tariffs, import quotas, prohibitions of trade in certain items, special regulatory, licensing, or documentation demands laid on imported goods or importers, and so forth—aimed at keeping American producers free of foreign competition.

Along with the demands for such government restriction and penalization of international purchases has grown up or been imported from elsewhere a doctrine—protectionism—aimed at making such selfish and predatory use of government power appear to be broadly beneficial to the nation as a whole, not simply to the domestic providers who cannot meet the foreign competition. Although protectionism has had a multitude of promoters through the ages, from the man in the street to the occupant of the White House, it has always been a bogus doctrine, making claims that cannot be upheld by solid economic theory or sound economic history. Analysts going back to Adam Smith, James Mill, and David Ricardo have debunked protectionism’s claims, as have many economists in the following centuries.

Yet it lives on, and even now it is thriving ideologically and politically in many quarters, and the question is, why? What accounts for the fact that a doctrine few people would invoke to justify government interference with competition from outside the neighborhood, the city, the state, or the region nevertheless seems to many people to make sense at the national level?

To ask the question is almost to answer it. People who would balk at city, state, or regional protectionism will not only tolerate national protectionism, but actually hail it as a godsend for overall national prosperity. The doctrine of nationalism, a dangerous brew in which Americans have long indulged to great excess is the cause of this bizarre public sentiment. If you told the people of Cleveland that the city must practice protectionism against all other cities, states, and regions, they would account you crazy. But if you tell them that the entire nation must put protectionism into practice, many of them will swallow the proposal with gusto.

What is this mystical magnetism that nationalism exerts on so many Americans? It is the wholly superstitious conviction that some special, deep, and overriding solidarity binds them to a particular group of almost 330 million strangers, people they have never met, never will meet, and with whom in many cases they have practically nothing in common. Indeed, in many cases, if any given American were to meet with a great many of his “fellow Americans,” he would find them altogether odious. On the other hand, he might find, should the occasion arise, that he has much in common with many Canadians, Guatemalans, and Kenyans. (I myself have done so in all these cases and an abundance of others, so my example is scarcely far-fetched.)

In history, nationalism has served as a powerful means whereby ambitious would-be national leaders have forged groups of unrelated and sometimes hostile people into a unitary political entity with the enlarged force that resides in sheer numbers. Nevertheless, the substantive moral irrelevance of nationalism arises from, if nothing else, the mere accident of one’s having been born within the boundaries that contentious rulers happen to have established in their struggles with the rulers of adjacent territories. Genuine, morally defensible loyalties cannot be justified on the basis of accidents beyond one’s choice or control.

Yet, however morally irrelevant nationalism ought to be, it is in practice often of life-and-death importance, and during recent centuries, hundreds of millions of persons have regarded it as so important that they would fight and die in loyalty to the political leaders of “their” nation-state or gladly send their sons to be slaughtered in the same cause. If it is potent enough to cause men to march in legions over the cliffs into oblivion, it is certainly powerful enough to prop up the economically and morally bankrupt practice known as protectionism, and it does so quite commonly throughout the world.

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Patents, Social Justice Warriors, Co-Sleeping, & Tribalism (35m) – Editor’s Break 130

Editor’s Break 130 has Skyler giving his commentary on the following topics: a bizarre occurrence in food delivery; the absurdity that is the stato-legal concept of “first-to-file” and patents; how social justice warriors infantilize their peers; the origin of putting kids in separate bedrooms; confusing nationalism with patriotism and tribalism; why he writes and podcasts, primarily, plus a look at possible podcasts he’d like to start; and more.

Listen to Editor’s Break 130 (35m, mp3, 64kbps)

Subscribe via RSS here, or in any podcast app by searching for “everything voluntary”. Support the podcast at Patreon.com/evc.

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