This week in ‘libertarian straw man fallacies’

It’s a goodie. It comes from William Falk, the editor-in-chief of the right-of-center The Week magazine. After castigating Senator Rand Paul and libertarian parents for their responsibility in the measles outbreak in California (with its epicenters in Left-wing Marin county and Left-wing City of Santa Monica; how libertarians came to be blamed for the outbreak I’ll never know), Falk writes:

Libertarians are absolutely right that personal freedom is important — and easily eroded. Left unchecked, government does indeed presume too much control over our decisions, our money, and our privacy. But in a country of 320 million souls, what we do affects each other — sometimes profoundly. In a libertarian paradise, Americans would still be free to smoke in enclosed offices and restaurants, and 50 percent of the population would still be lighting up — sticking society with their health-care costs. No one would be required to wear a seat belt in the car. And yes, vaccinations would be strictly optional, and the nation’s “herd immunity” would disappear. As an old adage points out, your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of another person’s nose. So go ahead, swing your fist — but good luck finding a space that doesn’t have a nose in it.

Ouch! Falk is such a good daddy. He gives libertarians the spanking they deserve: not too hard, not too soft, but juuuust right. Imma break this one down point-by-point.

Libertarians are absolutely right that personal freedom is important — and easily eroded. Left unchecked, government does indeed presume too much control over our decisions, our money, and our privacy.

Notice Falk’s all-too-reasonable lead-in. He gives off the vibe that he is the moderate one here, because he understands the libertarian argument and that, therefore, he is in control.

But

Ah yes. While Falk is in control, libertarians themselves are not in control. They have no idea what they are doing. Falk understands this about libertarianism. Libertarians do not.

in a country of 320 million souls, what we do affects each other — sometimes profoundly.

Again, Falk is kindly explaining a concept to libertarians that they don’t understand. Falk knows libertarians don’t understand this because he understands libertarianism better than libertarians do. Falk, a moderate conservative, or perhaps a moderate Leftist, knows that libertarians cannot possibly grasp this concept. I do wonder though – even with all of Falk’s superior knowledge of how societies work – if he realizes that government actors are just people, and that they are beholden to the same laws and institutions as the rest of us. Or is Falk’s omnipotent point about 320 million souls one that only applies to those he disagrees with?

Does he include support for bad laws in this maxim?

In a libertarian paradise, Americans would still be free to smoke in enclosed offices and restaurants, and 50 percent of the population would still be lighting up

Lol! In a libertarian paradise, the owners of the offices and restaurants would decide who gets to smoke what where. I can’t add much more to the 50 percent claim, except to laugh out loud again.

sticking society with their health-care costs.

Wait. In a libertarian paradise, wouldn’t each and every atomized individual be stuck paying their own bills in a Darwinian fashion? Even Falk’s straw man is knocking down straw men.

No one would be required to wear a seat belt in the car.

True, and not a day too soon, either. Ralph Nader is a mommy’s boy.

And yes, vaccinations would be strictly optional, and the nation’s “herd immunity” would disappear.

Why would people stop getting vaccines? And here, at last, with this question, we come to the root of all fallacies. The implicit assumption in Falk’s entire argument is, of course, that without government coercion people would be too stupid to get vaccines. People would be too stupid to do a lot of things Falk deems necessary for a good life. Therefore Falk is forced to rely on government, on law, and on society to justify his blatant authoritarian impulses, and if these fallacies are challenged, as they have been for the past twenty five years or so, then Falk and other authoritarians turn to more base fallacies.

The Week‘s alexa ranking is 4,024. Notes On Liberty‘s is 811,551. The lower the number, the higher the rank.

This is what we’re up against.

From the Comments: An embarrassment of riches, a stable full of straw

Below are some more thoughts on “total liberty” and bad faith.

My argument in the threads with Marvin has intended to be one that displays two points of view, rather than to be one of persuasion. Due to his responses to Dr Foldvary’s argument, I realized that he was uninterested in having an honest debate. I also realized that persuading him would be futile. So I instead have tried to illustrate – to readers and curious passersby – how Marvin’s arguments are fallacious (dishonest) and what to do about them by exploiting Marvin’s position. In order to do this I have kept it simple and tried to argue on Marvin’s terms (“speaking past one another”). Rick has an insightful, must-read summary of our arguments, and he also furthers our understanding of freedom in the process.

I am not quite done, though. I am still unsure if I have accomplished my task of exposing Marvin’s arguments as fallacious. I want to be sure that readers don’t take him seriously in the future should he decide to continue trolling the ‘comments’ section. Marvin states matter-of-factly that:

The problem is that I have a better handle on the truth than you do.

Now, in the interest of honest debate, I hope that everyone can see how Marvin’s assertion shows how he is being dishonest. I have pointed out his straw man fallacies for a while now, and I want to get the point across that Marvin’s characterizations of libertarian ethics are based upon the above-quoted viewpoint.

Given that Marvin believes he has a better handle on truth than I, how can I (or you as a reader) expect to get an even-handed argument from him? If you believe that I have mischaracterized Marvin’s arguments (as he has done to mine and Dr Foldvary’s and soon-to-be [?] Dr Weber’s), please point out where in the ‘comments’ thread.

Again, my task is much more simple than Rick’s. I wish to merely show how Marvin’s argument is based on falsehoods. I think his comments elsewhere suggest my hunch is right. (Rick, by the way, has been much more generous to Marvin than I, a position for which he has been rewarded by being called a homosexual with an unhealthy obsession for Marvin (“My name can’t stay off of Rick’s lips,” according to Marvin the Truthspeaker).)

Marvin’s main error in reasoning, in my judgement, is that he creates positions that nobody has made and then draws conclusions from those created positions. Sometimes he restates arguments that nobody has contested as if they were contested and then proceeds to explain why libertarians should not (or do) contest such an argument. This is sophistry at its most vulgar.

Does everybody follow? Dr Amburgey?

His last response to me in the ‘comments’ is a good example of what I mean. Marvin writes:

Brandon [quoting me]: “Society A (the one with no rules prohibiting murder) does not have total liberty because its members do not have freedom from unwarranted aggression.”

[Marvin:] If a society has a consensus that murder should be punished then it effectively has a rule prohibiting murder whether the rule is explicitly written down or not.

Yes, and what exactly does this have to do with my argument? With Fred’s? With Rick’s? With Hank’s? Marvin continues:

If a society has no agreement that murder is wrong then its sense of justice either presumes any murder is justified or is indifferent to it until it affects them personally.

Again, this may be true, but what exactly does this have to do with my argument that “Society A (the one with no rules prohibiting murder) does not have total liberty because its members do not have freedom from unwarranted aggression”? Where does it follow from this statement that rules prohibit total liberty? It’s almost as if Marvin is talking to himself rather than to a group of people. There is nothing wrong with thinking out loud, but it seems to me – based on this response and on past responses – that Marvin thinks he is replying to an argument somebody else has made rather than thinking out loud.

Marvin continues to pummel me:

(b) The meaning of “liberty” is “freedom to”, not “freedom from”. “Freedom to” means you can pursue your happiness with minimal restrictions (“total freedom” would imply no restrictions at all, a liberty to do what you please without fear of punishment).

Marvin goes on and on (and on) from there. However, this is simply wrong. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a good summary of the ‘freedom to’ versus ‘freedom from’ distinction. Basically, the ‘freedom from’ folks look at external factors (such as government) that inhibit liberty, whereas the ‘freedom to’ folks look at factors that are internal to individuals (such as class). I don’t want to get into the details here, but suffice it to say this is not Marvin’s understanding of the distinction. Normally I wouldn’t have a problem explaining this misunderstanding, but given Marvin’s track record I’m going to skip out on doing so (unless somebody wants me to).

I’ve got one more example I’d like to use to hammer home my point that Marvin is not interested in having an honest debate. He writes:

Brandon [quoting me]: “Your attempt at distinguishing “private punishments” within Society A from “punishments of society” is also fallacious. Is society composed of numerous factions – most of them private – or is it a monolithic, dissent-free, homogeneous unit.”

[Marvin:] A consensus is not monolithic. If everyone had to agree to everything then nothing would be possible. To make cooperation possible, we created a democratically elected government with many checks and balances. And we agreed to respect the authority of the laws it creates, even laws we may disagree with, because we would expect others to respect the laws that we do agree with that they don’t. And the democratic process may correct or remove an unsuccessful law in the future. I may win the case today and you may win the case tomorrow.

My argument is that Marvin’s assumption about society is monolithic, not society itself. If you read my argument with an eye for understanding it you can easily see that. If you read my argument from a position of Truthspeaker it may be harder to do so.

One last point I’d like to mention is that Marvin also has a habit of changing definitions to suit his argument. Often he simply provides his own. This, of course, helps him to have that “better handle on truth” that nobody else at NOL seems to have.

Has this cleared anything up? Muddled it further? Am I coming off as an ideologue or somebody who is trying to weed out falsehoods?

There are plenty of rules in a libertarian society. The fact that there are rules does not mean that ‘total liberty’ is lost because of it. Such a characterization is the epitome of a straw man. Rick takes the idea of total freedom to the next level (so read up!), so all I’m trying to do here is make sure that everybody understands Marvin’s sophistry. I think understanding sophistry is important because it tends to mellow people out: If you can understand the falsehoods in an argument you can craft up a cooler response.

Libertarian Foreign Policy: A Dialogue on Imperialism

I can’t afford ganja.

I am not sloppy. The problem is that you and I are bumping against basic value preferences. I think you and yours love peace too much, at any cost.

I have finally vanquished you. Your argument for military intervention around the world has been reduced, it would seem, to one of stubborn resistance to reality.

Here is what an old fart once wrote on the topic of faith and facts:

I think facts matter and the people whose influence I fight every hour of the day […] think only beliefs and intentions matter. They are further sure that beautiful beliefs are more real than facts and that they trump facts (if any).

Keep this in mind and I take you and your readers on a little trip down memory lane. In your introductory volley against a libertarian foreign policy based on constitutional adherence and national interests – Peace At All Costs: Growing Isolationism Among Libertarians – you painted a crude picture of libertarian foreign policy as one that placed too much faith in clandestine operations and technology to do the job of eliminating terrorism. This was prior to the killing of Osama bin Laden by our clandestine and special forces operatives, of course. Also prevalent was the argument that Islam is by and large an oppressive and intolerant force for evil in the world. You also failed to address the argument that terrorist actions largely occur against governments because of an unwanted occupation.

Your second volley, Unconditional Peace: A Continuing Debate Part 4, is a largely failed attempt to break down the argument that military occupation plays no role in Jihadism and an attempt to link libertarianism with pacifism. Both were flatly rebutted. Yet that did not deter you or change your mind in the least. It is not enough for you to have an adequate defense force that protects the territory and integrity of the Republic. We must bomb, maim, and bully other peoples in the name of peace as well.

Your pleas for peace throughout the globe were well on display in your next tract – Tripoli, Libya: What’s Not Discussed in the Media; Augmented: Looting – where you celebrated the removal of a petty dictator by the U.S. and its allies on the borders of Europe. You seemed to be saying that what you wanted more than anything else was a Republic that was dedicated to keeping the peace in other societies by removing dictators from power. That seems, to me anyway, like a way of using government to bring about peaceful means. Notice how national security has become a non-issue for Dr Delacroix. You also seemed to be saying that Libyans were looking towards Iraq as an example of what their societies could like in the future. 700,000 dead, mostly from sectarian violence, and neoconservatives continue to laud the efforts of Washington there and compare them to some mass murdering sprees perpetrated by the very individuals that Washington installed in the first place. Incredible!

You saved your most venomous assaults on the foreign policy doctrines of most libertarians for last, though. In your essay entitled Libertarian Military Isolationism: Forward All, With Eyes Tightly Shut you direct your attention to the achievements of the American military over the course of the 20th century. At this point in time it would be pertinent to remind readers that Delacroix’s arguments no longer center around the dangers of Jihadism or Islam in general, as he did in his first volley. No longer is he talking about the role of military occupation in terrorist activities, as he did in the second volley. No longer is he pleading a moral case for bombing another state, as he did in his third volley. No, Delacroix is, in this essay, content to compare libertarian society to that of Somalia – as so many Leftists do – and list a number of achievements that the U.S. had purportedly accomplished in the past century. He calls for a Republic to be armed to the teeth, and appeals to the fear of some conservatives (mostly those who reside in all-white states in the middle of the Republic) that small, despotic and irrelevant states are watching our every move, and waiting to strike at the first chance they get. Never mind that these despotic states only have to look to their neighbors – whom are occupied by the U.S. military – to see what mistakes Washington is committing.

In his final volley before this one, Delacroix, in The Libertarian Project and Military Power, continues to hover on the moral. It is our burden, he asserts, to bring the world peace through military power. If the Republic does not step in and “do something”, then all hell will break loose. He again appeals to our successes in the 20th century against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan as proof that the American people can bring democracy to anywhere in the world.

In the ‘comments’ section of  these essays you will find my rebuttals to each of the myths that Delacroix has continued to build his foundation of an interventionist foreign policy upon. I hope that his readers will now see just which doctrine is clear-eyed and sober and which is based upon ignorance and fear.

Delacroix asserts at the end of the ‘comments’ section here that libertarians love peace at all costs, but given the arguments that we have both presented, I would urge his readers to ponder which of us has faith in an unknown power to mold a peaceful world through guns and bombs, and which of us sees reality as it is: based upon facts, sometimes ugly, nasty, smelly, disgusting facts, but facts nonetheless

I think facts matter and the people whose influence I fight every hour of the day […] think only beliefs and intentions matter. They are further sure that beautiful beliefs are more real than facts and that they trump facts (if any).