“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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Socialism Sucks, and Everyone Ought to Know It

Today my friends Bob Lawson and Ben Powell have released their new Socialism Sucks: Two Economists Drink Their Way Through the Unfree World.  Intellectually, EconLog readers will know the score, but Socialism Sucks embeds good economics and economic history within an irreverent travelogue.  Modern socialist rhetoric is so ahistorical and otherworldly that it’s great to hear reports about what North Korea, Venezuela, and Cuba are actually like.  Along the way, Lawson and Powell thoughtfully explore the whole “That’s not real socialism” slogan. Quick version: Contrary to First World socialists, it’s the hell-states that are real socialism, and the success stories of Scandinavia that are fake socialism.

I actually had the privilege of workshopping the draft of this book.  Some of the attendees urged Bob and Ben to rewrite the book to appeal to young progressives, but I insisted that this was a task for a completely different book.  Socialism Sucks speaks to people with common sense and a sense of humor who simply don’t know much about socialism.  That includes 95% of American conservatives, who normally have negative feelings about the socialist label but who couldn’t tell you about the Holodomor, the Gulag, the Great Leap Forward, or the Laogai, much less the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact or the Killing Fields.  Talk radio is going to try to angry up its listeners anyway, so it might as well angry them up against smug nostalgia for a totalitarian idea that murdered over a hundred million people and reduced dozens of nations to slavery while claiming to be the greatest of heroes and humanitarians.

Do Lawson and Powell really think that young self-styled American socialists are plotting mass murder?  Do I? My answer, at least, is, “I severely doubt it, but I shouldn’t have to wonder.”  When activists gush about the glories of socialism as if the Soviet Union never existed, all people of common decency should be horrified.  The right response to the slogan, “We want Sweden, not Venezuela” really is, “The Venezuelans didn’t want Venezuela either, but that’s what they got.”

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Morality is Based on Consent, Government is Not

At its core, morality is about consent. What is the difference between sex and rape, employment and slavery, or trade and theft? In each case, consent is what differentiates voluntary, peaceful interaction from coercion and violence.

Consent is also what is conspicuously absent from all forms of government throughout human history.

The great lie that is frequently embraced by conservatives, constitutionalists, and even some Libertarians is that the American “system” of government was once good and fair and legitimate, and that it only became problematic once it was corrupted. Nothing could be further from the truth. The U.S. federal government has, since the ratification of the constitution, been a criminal cabal, illegitimately claiming authority over the lives and property of individuals.

A simple review of the constitution will reveal this claim to be true.

Among other troubling claims, the constitution asserts that “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises…”; “To borrow Money…”; “To regulate Commerce…”; “To declare War…”

Did you consent to any of these things? Did you consent to have your property stolen, your trade regulated, money borrowed on your credit, and war declared in your name?

I certainly did not!

That the state continues to perpetrate these violative actions without your consent reveals the state to be every bit as criminal as the rapist, the slaver, and the thief.

Respect for individual consent is not only the defining component of morality, it is the key to peace and prosperity. This is equally true at every level of human existence from personal relationships to world affairs.

We understand at a fundamental and basic level that rape, slavery, and theft are wrong. These aren’t things that have to be outlawed before our consciences tell us there is a problem. Likewise, we can recognize that all violations of consent—even when they are perpetrated by the state and its enforcers—are equally problematic.

This is why a system of government can never be fixed or perfected. It is foundationally, fundamentally, and inescapably immoral for some people (even if they represent a majority or are elected by a majority) to impose their preferences on others without their consent.

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The Wheat and Tares Grow Up Together: Morality and Judging Historical Eras

Is the 21st century a time of great moral progress? Or is it a time of decadence? Ask different people and you’ll get different answers. In my view, the answer is “both.”

On one hand, humans are progressing. The internet and software are breaking down barriers between people and people groups. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and other great prejudices (at least in their traditional forms) are losing their entrenched hold on the human mind. Individual humans can be freer, more creative, and more generous than ever before.

On the other hand, humans are regressing. We’re putting more and more faith in centralized governments (contrary to the lessons of the 20th century) and giving up more freedom and responsibility. We’re abandoning our commitments to friends, family, and ideas of honor and the sacred. We’re allowing ourselves to be addicted by digital stimulants from porn and video games to news feeds and notifications.

We like to be able to put simple moral judgments on historical eras, and every era presents difficulties for the person who wants to put simple labels of “good” or “bad”, “progressive” or “regressive” on any time in human history.

Jesus once told a parable which amateur cultural and historical judges (like me) should consider:

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Matthew 13:24-30

Now Jesus wasn’t talking about historical eras, but the metaphor of the wheat and the tares (the King James version of weeds) is a good one.

In any and every time, no matter how much we idealize or condemn, there is always wheat, and there are always weeds. The 16th century had exploration and cultural renaissance, but it also had religious warfare and barbaric tortures. The 19th century had abolitionism and industrialism, but it also had colonialism and imperialism. The 1st century had Stoicism and Christianity, but it also had mad emperors and slavery.

For all of these eras and all times (including our own), it does us good to remember the command to “[Let] them (wheat and weeds) grow up until harvest.” I read this as a metaphor for the wisdom of reserving blanket judgment.

We may one day be able to say that the centuries in our rearview were “good” or “bad.” But the harvest of consequence has not yet happened for the 21st century, and it’s hard to say that the harvests of the 19th and 20th are fully ripe, either. It is too soon to judge. Let time do that. In the meantime, resist the urge either to burn the fields or to swallow the weeds.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Why is Immigration a “Contentious Issue in Classical Liberalism”?

“Contentious Issues in Classical Liberalism” was the theme of this year’s Mont Pelerin Society.  This gave me a chance to explore a major puzzle: Sociologically, immigration clearly deserves to be on the agenda.  After all, many people otherwise sympathetic to human freedom and free markets support even more immigration restrictions than we already have.  Intellectually, however, it’s hard to see why.

The plot thickens when you notice that pro-freedom immigration skeptics routinely use arguments that almost never use in any other context, starting with:

1. Collective ownership.  Yes, if countries are the collective property of their citizens, then they have a right to regulate immigration.  But this also implies nations’ right to regulate everything else, too!  You can’t live on my land without my consent, but neither can you open a store on my land without my consent, or even hire someone to work on my land for less than the minimum wage without my consent.

2. Collective guilt.  Yes, if e.g. foreign Muslims are collectively guilty for whatever wrongs foreign Muslims have done in the past, then immigration restrictions against Muslims would be justified.  But this also implies that other people can legitimately hold us collectively guilty for whatever wrongs “we’ve” done in the past.  So affirmative action, reparations for slavery and colonialism, returning land to American Indians, and much more are suddenly on the agenda.

3. Shocking anecdotes.  Yes, if we ought to take shocking anecdotes seriously, then any awful immigrant action on CNN justifies a major policy response.  But this also implies that shocking anecdotes about poverty, health care, worker safety, and the environment on CNN also justify major policy responses.

4. Popular support.  Yes, if “This is what citizens want, and they’re entitled to get their way,” then immigration restrictions easily pass muster.  But so do virtually all the policies classical liberals traditionally oppose, starting with protectionism and a bunch of price controls.

Unless you’re going to abandon the whole classical liberal framework, basic intellectual hygiene requires you to excise any argument along these lines.  What remains?  Only arguments claiming that the consequences of immigration are awful enough to overcome the standard classical liberal presumption against government action.

How does that approach fare?  See my full presentation to find out.  Bonus: A bunch of Zach Weinersmith cartoons!

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