“Nuance” in Politics and Public Policy? No, Thanks

In 2004, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry called his ever-shifting position on the war in Iraq “nuanced” as a way of explaining why he was for it before he was against it and why his prescriptions for its future kept changing.

“Nuance” pops up frequently in debates on politics and public policy, almost always as an excuse for either non-specificity on a current position or flip-flopping from a past position.

Of all the words in the political lexicon, none makes for a brighter neon DO NOT TRUST sign than “nuance.”

According to WordNet, “nuance” is “a subtle difference in meaning or opinion or attitude.”

Nuance is a wonderful characteristic in painting, literature, music, and the other arts.

In political philosophy and public policy, it’s  a cheat mechanism used for the purpose of creating unwarranted wiggle room.

“Define your terms, you will permit me again to say,” wrote Voltaire, “or we shall never understand one another.”

That’s the whole point of resort to “nuance” in political and policy discussions. The “nuanced” advocate or candidate doesn’t want to be understood, or at least doesn’t want to be understood clearly. He’s trying to create a loophole through which he can escape his position when that position becomes inconvenient.

“Nuance” is the excuse of the civil libertarian who’s all for free speech until someone says something she doesn’t like, at which point we learn that “hate speech isn’t free speech.”

It’s the talking point of the pro-gun-rights politician who announces that a 30-round magazine is too large and must be banned — but that his views on guns haven’t changed.

And yes,  it’s the plea from the formerly anti-war politician who votes to invade Iraq and then wants to be treated as the anti-war candidate.

What it’s not is a desirable quality in politics and public policy.

From our political candidates, we deserve clear statements of principle and position, not “nuanced” attempts to avoid declaring any principles or positions at all which they might later be held to. If a politician changes her mind, we deserve to know — and to know why — rather than just being told she hasn’t and that we just don’t get the “nuance.”

From our laws and proposals for laws, we deserve specificity. We’re expected to abide by those laws. Letting the cops, prosecutors, judges, and bureaucrats who implement and enforce them write post-passage “nuance” into them is letting them make the law up as they go and leaving ourselves at their “nuanced” mercy.

Regardless of one’s position on any given issue, it’s important to define our terms  and then either stick to them or admit that we’ve abandoned them.

In politics and public policy, “nuance” is where truth goes to die.

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“Productive Conversation” on Reinstituting Slavery?

The anti-gun bigots out there are really upset that you and I aren’t willing to discuss “gun control” [sic] with them. I mean, why can’t we just sit down for a “productive conversation”?

There’s a very good reason: some topics are simply not worth discussing.

Why can’t “we” have a productive conversation on how to work out a compromise on slavery?

Because slavery is WRONG. There’s no possible compromise between slavery and the absence of slavery. There’s no reason to keep rehashing the topic. Nothing can ever change to make slavery OK. Not your feelings and not the behavior of bad people. It doesn’t matter how many people honestly believe slavery is necessary or will save lives.

That’s the same reason “we” can’t have a conversation on “gun control” [sic]. It’s wrong. It’s unethical. It’s illegal– of course, “laws” can be changed and the Constitution can be ignored. There’s no reason to keep rehashing the topic until you come up with the results you want. Nothing can ever make anti-gun “laws” OK. Not your feelings or the acts of bad people. It doesn’t matter how many people honestly believe slavery– in the form of anti-gun “laws”– is necessary or will save lives.

I’m not willing to “discuss” anti-gun ideas with anyone for the same reason I’m not willing to discuss re-instituting chattel slavery.

Their idea of “productive” is that they get to violate your natural human rights more than they already do. So, no, I’m not going to give you the time of day for that “conversation”.

Only anti-gun bigots find this unreasonable. Ethical people with worthwhile principles understand the trap and aren’t willing to participate in their own enslavement.

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Understand What You Ridicule

I’m beginning to wonder if the person more dangerous than the overt anti-liberty bigot is the person who doesn’t even understand what liberty or natural human rights are to begin with. Ignorance may be even more dangerous than openly advocating evil. Of course, ignorance can lead one to openly advocate evil, too.

I saw a lot of ignorance after the evil losers’ recent shootings.

Scott Adams is a prime example.

He advocated (while denying he was advocating anything) a lot of anti-liberty ideas founded on his utter lack of understanding of liberty and rights, and of guns and human nature (which surprised me*)– and on his rejection of the concept of ethical principles. Of course, he claimed anyone who stood firm for human rights is “dumb” and hinted they are not part of “the adult conversation”– his go-to for shutting down people who disagree on principle because they actually have principles. (Although many of his listeners seem to be as unprincipled and ignorant as he is, judging by the comments he mentions.)

He’s dead wrong again.

He’s not the only one.

If you don’t understand brain surgery, should you be making fun of the opinions about brain surgery held by those who do understand it? Only if you are arrogant and foolish.

Well, if you don’t understand what liberty is and why it matters you have no business preaching at others against it. If you don’t understand guns or the natural human right to own and to carry them, your opinions on the topic are invalid. Of course, this probably won’t matter to you if you laugh at the notion of ethical principles, and only want to have things your way.

Principles are scary to those without them. Principles take some options off the table. You can’t excuse slavery and democide without ignoring principles or making up fake “principles” which leave room for such things. They don’t even know how to talk about things and events without relying on utilitarianism and pragmatism. So they try to trivialize or ridicule principles.

Adults have principles.

The childish person just excuses whatever they feel like doing by finding ways to justify it after they’ve decided to do it. If you can’t grasp the fundamentals of the topic of conversation– be it brain surgery, liberty, or guns– this is even easier for you to do.


*He suggested that in a hypothetical world where all AR15s are pink, losers wouldn’t feel “cool” using them to murder people. He’s wrong about that. In a world where all AR15s are pink, pink guns are “cool”. Just like black guns are “cool” in our world. It’s not the color which makes the gun “cool”, it’s the gun that makes the color “cool”. I’m almost shocked someone who claims to understand human nature so well could miss that so badly.

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Politics Makes People Stupid

I’ll say it again: Politics makes people STUPID!

I listened to someone defending and supporting Trump where they had to discard their life-long touted principles to do so. Just because they want to keep out “those people” and are grateful there’s no “President Hillary”. And perhaps because they like ritual human sacrifice. Disgusting and stupid.

Then I overheard some other people complaining about higher property “taxes” (ransom) and blaming Trump. What I didn’t hear was a reason beyond that they hate Trump so it must obviously be his fault rather than the fault of those who actually impose and collect the ransom, “or else”. Just so stupid.

Then you have other people begging government to violate their right to own and to carry weapons with “laws” because some evil losers who ignored “laws” murdered a bunch of people in places where the right to carry weapons was already thoroughly violated. Stupid, self-destructive, and evil.

Over and over, whenever politics becomes the topic of conversation, I see otherwise sensible people lose all their sense.

People believe politics is their Savior or their Satan– depending on their momentary focus. They even manage to hold both of these contradictory beliefs simultaneously. Crazy!

Politics is antisocial. It is the use of theft and aggression instead of cooperation and trade. Politics makes people stupid.

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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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Andrew Napolitano: How the Courts Killed Natural Law (37m)

This episode features a rousing talk by former Federal judge and libertarian Andrew Napolitano from 2018. He looks at the Declaration of Independence’s natural law tradition–and how federal courts relentlessly and successfully attacked the principles it represented. Purchase books by Andrew Napolitano on Amazon here.

Listen To This Episode (37m, mp3, 64kbps)

Subscribe via RSS here, or in any podcast app by searching for “voluntaryist voices”. Support the podcast at Patreon.com/evc or PayPal.me/everythingvoluntary.

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