Hate Speech, Inheritance, Morality, & Anarchism (36m) – Episode 322

Episode 322 has Skyler giving his commentary on the following questions from Quora: “If we move to suppress ‘hate speech’, whom do we trust to define it?”; “Do you think rich kids deserve their wealth?”; “Why is there morally good and morally bad?”; and “What do you think about anarchism?”

Listen to Episode 322 (36m, mp3, 64kbps)

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The Deeper the Disagreement, the Higher the Stakes, the More Important the Honesty

Man, I thought the culture wars were bad when I was a kid. It’s cliche to say now that people are more divided along political lines than ever, so I’ll spare you. You know it. And that divide is particularly evident when people try to communicate with each other.

There’s the name-calling and expletive-flinging and straw-manning and worst-case-assuming, of course. But there also appear to be two sets of “acceptable” facts/statistics/anecdotes on any given issue. And there is a great deal of distrust between the warring parties (the right and the left) about the validity of those facts. This precludes any progress beyond a discussion of the facts of a case into the actual meat of what to do about something. Police brutality, racism, immigration, abortion, gender, climate change – these are all heavily politicized subjects with heavily politicized media on both sides supporting opposite viewpoints. It becomes hard to believe any facts which seem to be embraced by the other side, so both sides are left with not just different conclusions, but different premises.

This dynamic is worsened with each and every “fake news” story, doctored or selectively edited video, and false accusation promulgated by one side against the other. Targeted half-truths and falsehoods don’t just distort our ability to act – they destroy any of the trust needed for an actual conversation. As we lose and lose more agreements on the base reality of an issue (and we lose confidence that our opponent is trustworthy), talking becomes less and less worthwhile.

It’s ironic. The more passionately opposed we become to each other, the better we feel about “bending the truth” just a little. Yet this bending of the truth is the thing that ultimately defeats any chance of “winning” an argument or coming to a compromise. Telling the truth to your opponents – even when it’s hard – becomes all the more important as disagreement reaches a fever pitch.

You can be rude, loud, trenchant, critical, and the conversation can still happen. Some people even respect a passionate opponent more. But if you are deceitful, you and your “facts” will gain a reputation for deceit. No one will listen to you, and you will be doomed.

People often talk about the responsibility of news readers to reject fake news. This is good. But it is just as much our responsibility to reject lies and corruptions of truth in our own words and lives. We are now the media (if CNN hasn’t made a news story out of one of your tweets, it’s only a matter of time), and we do have some control in what happens next.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Stop Blaming Russia, China for US Disarmament Failures

On June 22 and 23, Russian and American diplomats met in Vienna to discuss New START, a nuclear arms reduction treaty which expires next year. The treaty provides for an optional five-year extension. Alternatively, the parties could negotiate a new agreement as has happened several times in the past.

A third possibility involves one or both parties playing silly games like insisting that China be brought into the negotiations despite Beijing’s complete lack of interest in participating. Which is exactly what happened.  US negotiator Marshall Billingslea tweeted a photo of empty seats with People’s Republic flag placeholders in Vienna, calling China a “no-show” and accusing it of a “crash nuclear build-up.”

It would take quite a build-up indeed for the Chinese nuclear arsenal to get competitive with that of the US or Russia. The latter two regimes boast thousands of bombs and warheads. Most estimates of China’s collection are in the hundreds.

And, given the US government’s record of treaty violations, why would Beijing’s diplomats be inclined to trust their Washington counterparts anyway?

Negotiations with other nuclear powers — not to mention its attempt to both withdraw from, AND remain recognized as party to, the  “Iran Nuclear Deal” —  aside, the US government continues to flout its obligation under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to “pursue nuclear disarmament aimed at the ultimate elimination of” its arsenal.

Instead of decommissioning and destroying nuclear weapons as should be happening, the Obama and Trump regimes have committed to spending a whopping $1.7 trillion over 30 years (a number anyone familiar with government spending knows will mysteriously multiply) on “modernizing” them.

The purpose of arms control talks is to reduce the likelihood that nuclear weapons will be used. The purpose of “modernizing” those weapons is to make those weapons easier to use. The US government needs to commit to the former goal and renounce the latter possibility.

Even accepting the exceedingly weak case for continuing to possess nuclear weapons as a deterrent to first strikes, the numbers needed for that use would be a fraction of, not a multiple of, China’s or Russia’s arsenals.

A serious approach to arms control would consist of the US government announcing a unilateral and verifiable reduction to an arsenal of, say, no more than 100 nuclear weapons, challenging the Russian and Chinese governments to match that reduction, and committing to complete elimination if, and as, other nuclear powers agree. Anything less is just potentially deadly politicking.

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Antagonism and Action

One of the most useful methods I’ve found to get closer to actionable truth is by creating (non-hostile) antagonism.

If I’m unsure about options, I will pick one and act as if it’s true. I’ll argue in favor of it as if it’s the only way. I’ll make the best, strongest arguments for it I can, and won’t hedge. This requires someone else to take up the opposite position, if nothing else just to get it a fair hearing. But I’m gonna come on strong, so they are going to have to bring the strongest arguments to match.

With two people fully going to bat for the two positions, the truth is more likely to reveal itself far faster than if we just dance around the weaker “on the one hand but on the other hand” stuff.

Not only does going all in on one position draw out useful arguments from others for the alternate position, but it lets me test drive being a devotee of my position and see if it resonates with my gut. The most important truths are those you just know with your knower, even if you can’t consciously articulate or understand why. Indecision is when that gut feeling isn’t strong enough either way to cut through the intellectual pros and cons. Examining positions objectively at a distance is an intellectual exercise that doesn’t always help discover the gut feeling.

But putting on a position like it’s true and going all in gives a taste of what it feels like to live in that reality. The gut gets a chance to scream “this feels off” or “Yes, this is right!”

The hard part about this approach is that it can feel shocking or disheartening or overwhelming to people if they aren’t used to it. I grew up in a loud, talkative, interrupting, arguing household. To me, disagreeing is not offensive. There’s nothing personal about attacking each others arguments within a trusted context. But I’ve learned over the years this is not normal and I often end up bowling over people and they just yield to my pigheaded arguments…even if I’m just test driving them myself.

I’ve tried to ease back some, but mostly to collaborate with people who can get down with strong argument as a form of truth discovery.

PS – I find this works really well for action items. I do not like this approach for discovering philosophical, moral, or abstract truth.

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5 Things I Learned Debating the Harvard Prof Who Called for a “Presumptive Ban” on Homeschooling

On Monday, I debated the Harvard professor who proposes a “presumptive ban” on homeschooling. Thousands of viewers tuned in to watch the live, online discussion hosted by the Cato Institute. With 1,000 submitted audience questions, the 90-minute webinar only scratched the surface of the issue about who is presumed to know what is best for children: parents or the state. Here is the replay link in case you missed it.

Last week, I outlined much of my argument against Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Bartholet that I incorporated into our debate, but here are five takeaways from Monday’s discussion:

1. There Are People Who Believe the State Should Be Your Co-Parent

While this event was framed as a discussion about homeschooling, including whether and how to regulate the practice, it is clear that homeschooling is just a strawman. The real issue focuses on the role of government in people’s lives, and in particular in the lives of families and children. In her 80-page Arizona Law Review article that sparked this controversy, Professor Bartholet makes it clear that she is seeking a reinterpretation of the US Constitution, which she calls “outdated and inadequate,” to move from its existing focus on negative rights, or individuals being free from state intervention, to positive rights where the state takes a much more active role in citizens’ lives.

During Monday’s discussion, Professor Bartholet explained that “some parents can’t be trusted to not abuse and neglect their children,” and that is why “kids are going to be way better off if both parent and state are involved.” She said her argument focuses on “the state having the right to assert the rights of the child to both education and protection.” Finally, Professor Bartholet said that it’s important to “have the state have some say in protecting children and in trying to raise them so that the children have a decent chance at a future and also are likely to participate in some positive, meaningful ways in the larger society.”

It’s true that the state has a role in protecting children from harm, but does it really have a role in “trying to raise them”? And if the state does have a role in raising children to be competent adults, then the fact that two-thirds of US schoolchildren are not reading proficiently, and more than three-quarters are not proficient in civics, should cause us to be skeptical about the state’s ability to ensure competence.

I made the point on Monday that we already have an established government system to protect children from abuse and neglect. The mission of Child Protective Services (CPS) is to investigate suspected child abuse and punish perpetrators. CPS is plagued with problems and must be dramatically reformed, but the key is to improve the current government system meant to protect children rather than singling out homeschoolers for additional regulation and government oversight. This is particularly true when there is no compelling evidence that homeschooling parents are more likely to abuse their children than non-homeschooling parents, and some research to suggest that homeschooling parents are actually less likely to abuse their children.

Additionally, and perhaps most disturbingly, this argument for more state involvement in the lives of homeschoolers ignores the fact that children are routinely abused in government schools by government educators, as well as by school peers. If the government can’t even protect children enrolled in its own heavily regulated and surveilled schools, then how can it possibly argue for the right to regulate and monitor those families who opt out?

2. Random Home Visits Will Be a Weapon of the State

Of all the recommendations included in the Harvard professor’s proposed presumptive ban on homeschooling, the one that caused the most uproar among both homeschoolers and libertarians was the call for regular home visits of homeschooling families, with no evidence of wrongdoing.

In my remarks during Monday’s debate, I included a quote from a Hispanic homeschooling mother in Connecticut who was particularly angry and concerned about imposing home visits on homeschooling families. (According to federal data, Hispanics make up about one-quarter of the overall US homeschooling population, mirroring their representation in the general US K-12 school-age population.) She made the important point that minority families are increasingly choosing homeschooling to escape discrimination and an inadequate academic environment in local schools. She also pointed out that, tragically, it is often minorities who are most seriously impacted by these seemingly well-meaning government regulations. Writing to me about Professor Bartholet’s recommendation, she said:

“To state that they want to have surveillance into our homes by having government officials visit, and have parents show proof of their qualified experience to be a parent to their own child is yet another way for local and federal government to do what they have done to native Americans, blacks, the Japanese, Hispanics, etc in the past. Her proposal would once again interfere and hinder a certain population from progressing forward.”

Anyone who cares about liberty and a restrained government should be deeply troubled by the idea of periodic home visits by government agents on law-abiding citizens.

3. Private Education Is in Danger

Despite the landmark 1925 US Supreme Court decision that ruled it unconstitutional to ban private schools, there remains lingering support for limiting or abolishing private education and forcing all children to attend government schools. Homeschooling is just one form of private education.

In her law review article, Professor Bartholet recommends “private school reform,” suggesting that private schools may have similar issues to homeschooling but saying that this topic is “beyond the scope” of her article. Still, she concludes her article by stating that “to the degree public schools are seriously deficient, our society should work on improving them, rather than simply allowing some parents to escape.”

The government should work to improve its own schools, where academic deficiencies and abuse are pervasive. But it should have no role in deciding whether or not parents are allowed to escape.

4. State Standardized Testing Begs the Question: Whose Standard?

Some advocates of homeschooling regulation suggest that requiring regular standardized testing of homeschoolers would be a reasonable compromise. In her law review article, Professor Bartholet recommends: “Testing of homeschoolers on a regular basis, at least annually, to assess educational progress, with tests selected and administered by public school authorities; permission to continue homeschooling conditioned on adequate performance, with low scores triggering an order to enroll in school.”

During Monday’s debate, I asked the question: By whose standard are we judging homeschoolers’ academic performance? Is it by the standard of the government schools, where so many children are failing to meet the very academic standards the government has created? I pointed out that many parents choose homeschooling because they disapprove of the standards set by government schools. For example, in recent years schools have pushed literacy expectations to younger and younger children, with kindergarteners now being required to read. If they fail to meet this arbitrary standard, many children are labeled with a reading deficiency when it could just be that they are not yet developmentally ready to read.

Indeed, as The New York Times reported in 2015: “Once mainly concentrated among religious families as well as parents who wanted to release their children from the strictures of traditional classrooms, home schooling is now attracting parents who want to escape the testing and curriculums that have come along with the Common Core, new academic standards that have been adopted by more than 40 states.”

A key benefit of homeschooling is avoiding standardization in learning and allowing for a much more individualized education. And it seems to be working. Most of the research on homeschooling families conducted over the past several decades, including a recent literature review by Dr. Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation, finds positive academic outcomes of homeschooling children.

5. Homeschoolers Will Win

There are very few movements today that bring together such a diverse group of people as homeschooling does. Families of all political persuasions, from all corners of the country, reflecting many different races, ethnicities, classes, cultures, values, and ideologies, and representing a multitude of different learning philosophies and approaches choose homeschooling for the educational freedom and flexibility it provides. Homeschoolers may not agree on much, but preserving the freedom to raise and educate their children as they choose is a unifying priority. In times of division, homeschoolers offer hope and optimism that liberty will prevail.

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Never Hurts to Make Preparations

As the panic over coronavirus loses steam, and everyone who isn’t a political power junkie gets back to normal, remember the lessons you learned over the past few months.

The virus wasn’t as dangerous as the fear-mongers wanted to scare you into believing, but it did kill some people. While it hasn’t gone away, it has lost much of its power to frighten people. This is bad news for most politicians.

The virus is likely to surge again this fall, if not sooner. This may trigger a new cascade of overreactions by politicians and more panic by their followers. Maybe people got smarter from experience and won’t fall for the hype this time, but don’t bet your life on it. Be ready, just in case.

Remember those supplies you couldn’t find in stores? Stock up now. Just a little here and there — even one extra item each time you shop will help. You may end up wishing you’d stocked up more, but anything will be better than missing the opportunity to get ready when you had the chance.

The preppers weren’t the ones to blame for the empty shelves. Those who weren’t prepared and went into “panic and hoard” mode caused the trouble.

You might not like the expense of buying extra things you don’t need today, yet as long as you only buy things you will eventually use anyway, you won’t waste money. In fact, buying in bulk could save you money in the long run. It’s worth checking out.

It won’t hurt you to be ready, even if the virus doesn’t come back.

That’s the philosophy behind “prepping.” Being prepared isn’t going to hurt you, and it could help you. If not during a pandemic, then during a blizzard, water shortage, or power outage. Wouldn’t you rather be ready than feel as helpless as you did last time?

Prepare your mind, too. Be ready to reject the fear mongers next time around. Don’t trust them to tell you the truth or to even know the truth. Don’t tolerate another round of shut-downs. Don’t allow them to make you feel helpless.

As I reminded you when this first began, you know best how to protect your own health. Do what you know you need to do. You have the power and the ability. Use it to your advantage.

Maybe we’ll be lucky and none of this will be needed, but wouldn’t you feel bad if you ignored the warning and got caught unprepared?

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