caper_est: The Liberty Bell strikes! (liberty)
Tired of reading liberals' lazy anti-libertarian caricatures on the Internet, I thought it was time I created a properly researched one of my own. All of the wisdoms below the cut have been encountered in speech, text, or action, up and including Number 30, from persons professing some sort of libertarian affiliation or other. Whilst I could certainly come up with a selection just as bad from other political stances, it is not my job to suggest to anybody how to be a piss-poor progressive or a crappy conservative, so I shall leave those tasks to others more closely concerned with them.

Thirty-six ways to fox your freedom )
caper_est: The Liberty Bell strikes! (liberty)

A proposed rule for political radicals, drawn from various experiences in Green, libertarian, and left-liberal politics:

If you can't even recruit the people who are getting it hardest in the neck from the existing system, you're not ready to change it.

This doesn't say what is wrong with your strategy. Maybe your policies are at fault, maybe your priorities, maybe your ambitions just vastly outrun your skills at this time. Maybe the system is so badly stacked that it needs some gradualist subversion-from-within before it allows any room for movement at all. The one thing you can't safely blame it on is the stupidity or viciousness of all those naughty disprivileged people who are inexplicably failing to rally behind you. Like turning into a snake, this never works. Actually, 'turning into a snake' is a pretty good functional description of what this tactic does to the doer.

A libertarian whose freedom the most constrained and bossed-at people in the country do not think is freedom, is not working towards liberty.

A Green movement whose sustainability sounds to people on shitty urban Council estates like the straw that will break their back, is not going anywhere sustainable.

An egalitarian whose equality feels like being ordered around in menacing high-priestly gobbledegook to 99% of the population, is not striking the blow against 1%-ocracy that they may, perhaps, suppose. And so forth.

Unfortunately, the people doing worst out of any social injustice really will be wrong about a lot. For one thing, a lot of very serious injusticiars will be working diligently to keep them that way. There is an even more practical side. All other things being equal, somebody who spends all day dodging kicks to the head is not likely to be the clearest thinker on most subjects. They will probably be unusually expert on such subjects as Whether Jackboots Are A Myth, How To Avoid Getting Kicked, Where Kicks Are Likely To Come From, and How To Sustain A Precarious Livelihood In A World Full Of Hard-Driven Jackboots. They may well show uncommon ingenuity in related skills, such as How To Regenerate Some Spoons In Moments Of Precious Leisure Despite The Worst Efforts of Jackbooted Jackasses. But jobs such as Carefully Sifting All Reports To Determine Whether Jackboots Are Ultimately Sent By Good King Richard Or Against His Will By His Evil Advisors may be better executed when possessed of more money, more leisure, and fewer daily kicks to the head. All this is true - as far as it goes.

It is also true that the radical is likely to be wrong about a hell of a lot. But this is unpleasant and potentially undermining to the cause, and it will be far more agreeable to return at once to ranting about the ignorance, bigotry, and ingratitude of the sheeple. This has the additional advantage of ensuring that the radical's favoured reforms will never come so close to reality as to demonstrate their defects. Thus we get libertarians who despise the poor (whilst ironically working in their realio trulio best interests, oww my martyr's crown hurts!);Green activists who pretty much despise the general population (WIWITRTBI, OMMCH!); progressive egalitarians who warn anybody without an appropriately expensive credential to cease their ignorant and objectively harmful challenges to the informed socio-political judgement of the expert 0.01%, such as themselves (WIWITRTBI, OMMCH!) - and generally the whole familiar bed of political narcissi.

I was such a misunderstood narcissus as a teenager.  I was better at spotting and opposing the tendency by the time I got into the Green movement.  Most of my accelerating leftwards progress through libertarianism has been about repeatedly realizing how many miles I had still to go. Radical narcissi are not mostly bad people - at least, I hope for my own sake that they aren't, since I doubt that my fannish slannish soul will ever be wholly cured of the fault - but they are bad for people, and they had better get down of their soapboxes and start talking on the level, if they expect to do their neighbours any good instead.

Full-spectrum egalitarians are not generally that great at rallying the disadvantaged, these days. Greens are noticeably worse. Libertarians are shit at it on burnt toast. As a left-libertarian heavily influenced by eco-politics, this probably makes me the poo of Pluto on scorched cycad starch. As J Random Petty-Bourgeois living in excessively interesting times, this definitely makes me worried.

If you can't even recruit the people who are getting it hardest in the neck from the existing system, you're not ready to change it.

We have got to get less shit at this, and toot sweet.  All thoughts gratefully received.

caper_est: The Liberty Bell strikes! (liberty)
Because I'm in the preliminary stages of revising my fantasy novel, I've found myself dwelling on the ways in which its chief hero's methods do and don't work. This, not from the point of view of learning to be a better politician than she is - I almost certainly never shall be, either morally or pragmatically - but from the perspective that some of the things we each want to achieve aren't obviously compatible with some of the others.

Today's episode of Things People Inside My Head Told Me:

Good lordship is helping persons weaker than oneself, and acquiring a cut of power and status from every such deal. The good side of this path is that one becomes powerful in direct proportion to one's beneficence. The bad side of it is that after one has acquired a certain amount of power, one isn't so dependent upon the good opinion of the sort of people one is mostly helping, and has an obvious incentive to in ways which don't eliminate the need for one's lordship and assistance. This approach is also pretty much designed, by definition, to concentrate agency in oneself and leech it from humbler folk - indeed, to humble them further with every interaction. In a kindly way, to be sure, but not necessarily a less poisonous way for that.

There again, one thing a relatively good lord can be very good at, is the concentrated effort of fighting a worse one.

Good comradeship is also helping persons weaker than oneself, but sharing any net gain of power and status as far as possible. The good side of this path is that one deliberately diffuses power and agency amongst peers, eliminating the temptation to become a boss who can dole out good or ill with equal facility. The bad side of it is that strength won by good and frank action is thus diffused away from those most likely to repeat it, whereas well-meaning or downright malicious lords who do want to become bosses concentrate the power they win much more rapidly, and may therefore end up becoming the boss of the would-be good comrades in pretty short order. The personally egalitarian approach fosters independence and respect, but can't compel - and certainly may not receive - either.

One thing about a good comrade is that you don't necessarily notice one until you need them.

Another way to look at this is in terms of heroism.  A hero is a sort of good lord, at least in reputation; a villain is a sort of bad one.  A good comrade is just a mate, a good neighbour, the sort you want beside you in a pinch.  A bad comrade is, I suppose, a lowlife, a mook, a no-count bum.  They'll do you a bad turn as soon as look at you, but they haven't the mind to make any real gain from their dirty tricks in the long run.  That would mean taking on responsibility, if only to themselves, which they would enjoy about as much as a shit sundae.

Three Katherines of Allingdale is partly about the desperate need for, and desperate vulnerabilities of, the 'comradeship' mode of doing good stuff.  As a left-libertarian, that appeals to me both intellectually and by instinct - or perhaps I ought to say that this dual appeal is why my politics are like that in the first place.  But the lordly/heroic/villainous approach is strong in places where comradeship is weak, and sometimes it defends places where weakness can't be afforded.  Then the problem is how to get off the @$&!ing tiger afterwards!

I don't have much more of an answer to that, than I did before I thought of the story, or imagined this dichotomy explicitly.  Better questions, though.

Interested to know how far this makes sense to anybody else, or what other takes people have on it, and on how to handle it fictionally or in reality.  The heroic narrative is mighty dominant in fantastic literature especially, where its intuitive opposite seems to be not so much the comradely as the - well, anti-heroic! - mook-o-rama.  But an anti-hero doesn't look to me like the other positive pole from the Exceptional Levelling-Up Hero, at all, at all...

caper_est: The Liberty Bell strikes! (liberty)
Overheard by financial journalist Nick Goodaway of the London Evening Standard, from a group of youths travelling home on the Jubilee Line (the silver one on the Underground, and one of the two that serve my own district) - this change rung on an old seasonal song of my childhood:

Christmas is coming, the bankers are getting sacked.
Please put a billion in their fucking pay-off pack!
If you haven't got a billion, a million will do.
If you haven't got a million, then SOD YOU!

Vox populi, vox dei.

ETA: For those happening upon this post at random, and not already familiar with my opinions, note that I haven't got a million or an appreciable fraction thereof, yet notwithstanding I have been obliged with the rest of us to put money into rich chancers' fucking pay-off packs.  Please interpret my sentiments accordingly.

caper_est: The Liberty Bell strikes! (liberty)

Charlie Stross, whose opinion of libertarianism is not famously high, has a good rant inspired by attempts to suppress the Occupy... movement, and solicits political responses from his readers.  Lively discussion follows in the comment section.  In the course of it, I finally got around to spelling out exactly why I no longer buy the idea that liberty and vast economic inequality can long live together:

>So what harm can it possibly do me that they're richer than I am?

None - in a society where rent-seeking has become a marginal dumb criminal activity, rather than the major basis of power and authority. First, catch your rabbit!

My extended argument here - the heading also links back to the full comment that elicited it. 

Shorter me: even in terms of purely negative liberty, relative poverty lacks the power to defend its rights, and freedoms that can't be defended are only aspirations at best.  Therefore, lovers of liberty must find ways to spread wealth too evenly for anybody to forge crowns from it, or else resign themselves to howling for the Moon through all the age-long night.

caper_est: caper_est, the billy goat (Default)
Ere we sink to slavery,
Rise in war and strike us free!
Ere we fall to love of war,
Lay we down, to rise no more.

It would be a happier world if the human condition didn't extend to the ability to fail on both counts at once!  For the record, I think that love of war is by far our most intractable present problem of the two, especially - and here is the part that touches today - belligerence by conceited or cowardly persons who consider themselves only as legitimate authors of war, never as its participants or legitimate targets.

I do not want to hear a howl for war from anybody who has not just about broken their back and heart trying the alternatives.  Yes, sometimes the tree of liberty may well need watering with the blood of tyrants - but one of the best tests for a tyrant is whether all milder means of irrigation, such as taking the piss out of them, have ceased to be practical. 

And I fancy some extension of that rule might often apply across borders.

caper_est: The Liberty Bell strikes! (liberty)
To recap once again on this month's challenge, it is:

Paying My Moral Debts
I'm going through the list of all the free stuff I, personally, am currently getting only because other people are enthusiastic and generous. Then I'm seeing how much I can commit by way of fair return, and how much of that should or can be financial. The coming month is for sorting out the financial side.

But this is where I ask: is the idea of financial moral debt a trap in itself?

On one level, clearly not. If I promise to give somebody some money, then even if there is no legal evidence of the debt, or the law allows me some way to weasel out of it, I'm obviously bound by my word. Moving out a bit, if somebody helps me out when I need a gift or a loan, and then further down the line they need some help from me, I think I owe them morally whether I've promised anything or not. And if Croesus helps me out and won't take anything back, even this confers on me a kind of soft obligation to pay the favour forward to somebody else at least once. All these kinds of moral debt, I'm quite happy with.

But taking the notion of 'debt' too literally, risks damaging the very gift economy I'm trying to do my part in.

There is nothing mean, and often something quite charming, about the ideal of always paying one's way and not owing nuttin' to nobody. That is a strong strain in the way I was brought up. Its danger, though - and hence the danger of projects like this - is that it may instil a kind of Janus-faced and flinty righteousness. On the one face, a pride in having paid all one owes (unlike, perhaps, some of those other people). On the other, a stubborn unwillingness to take stuff one can't pay for (ditto).

The proud face is almost certainly wrong. Here I've reckoned up a few moral debts that are too obvious to overlook. But were I to look harder, I should certainly find some more. And some of the best free stuff I'm probably benefiting from may be so transparent, and work so well, that I scarcely notice it, and have no hope of quantifying it. If I could quantify monetarily all the labour I benefit from without charge, it's not at all obvious that I could pay it. Nor would everybody even want me to pay it - assuming they were set up to receive payment in the first place. Payment in kind or in labour doesn't necessarily help either - same deal. The gift economy is not, on first blush, very much like the market economy at all.

The stubborn face may now incline to say, "Okay - I won't take any more free benefits than I can help." This is wrong in another sense. If Mr Stubborn refuses to take advantage of a benefit, it doesn't follow that the benefactor gets back any of what they spent to provide it. All that happens is that a little grace is lost from the world, and a little utility dropped into the entropy bin. It's surely wrong to be an ungrateful freeloader. But it's no better to be a surly curmudgeon. I've mentioned before that I believe mutual bounty to be an essential element of a working libertarian society, just as surely as legalistic gaming is a poison to it. But if there is to be bounty in giving, there must logically be no less grace in receiving. The temptation to maintain the moral 'credit' of a Lady Bountiful is ultimately as selfish and status-seeking, as the temptation to live the lush life on somebody else's tab is selfish and greedy.

So how much should I pay, and what should I take advantage of?

In the market economy, we know where we stand. A known value is offered by a particular person, and a known value is given in return by another. Plain dealing and precise reckoning are the market's breath and bones.

In the gift economy, value must still be given and returned. But even with the help of guide prices and suggested donations, the aims, rules, and consequences are very different. The same fundamental economic principles must apply, but in very distinct ways. I have a hazy idea of how to take some of the simplest issues forward, and shall attempt to do so in subsequent posts in this series. Taking the case where payment must be financial - this month's narrow target - I want to show how that quality I call gaiety, a sort of genial flexibility about various specifics of how good things are paid for and provided, can improve on either the legalistic market approach (take all you want, as cheaply or freely as you can get away with) or the moralistic market approach (don't take anything unless you can afford to pay the least you think it's worth) when dealing with goods freely offered. And I want, too, to examine its limits, and the places where market-like punctilio about specific obligations is required to keep the good shows on the road.

It's proving no simpler a project than I expected, and as always, I welcome any insights anybody has to offer.
caper_est: caper_est, the billy goat (Default)

Not the post I'd expected to make next, but an important one.

Contributing towards free resources with cash has one inarguable side-effect - one has less cash afterwards.  This isn't an acceptable net result for me, for several reasons.  Firstly, I don't earn a lot of money, and I'd rather not look for a less congenial job in order to achieve some modest improvement.  I'm not saving enough for my liking now.  Moreover, I see hard times ahead and more need to scrimp and save than before.  Finally, there are straight questions of both goodwill and freedom involved - the more financially secure I am, the less likely I am to need to touch other people for their hard-earned, and the more able I am to tell the government/my employer/whoever to go to blazes, if they start behaving as if they belonged there.  Since relative self-reliance is presently an option for me, it would be a really bad idea to do anything to undermine it.

There are limits to this sort of thing, and very stringent ones, because financial narcissism is a disease illimitably creepy and always morally fatal, and it is one to which some perfectly decent traits in libertarians' worldview render us dangerously liable.  But that is another discussion, or several discussions, for other occasions.  For the moment I want to focus on one modest and essential part of the project: funding every commitment I make as I go along.  In other words, every part of this challenge has to leave the resulting lifestyle at least as sustainable for me as the one I went in with.

A sad story of an unsustainably charitable friend )

So, coming firmly down to earth, how am I going to pay for all my new commitments to pay for that lovely free stuff I've been lapping up?

One simple economy will pay for more charges than I've yet managed to identify.  Except to sound out a new place for some social gathering, in future I shall only dine in Indian restaurants when in company.  My own inordinate curry-cravings must otherwise be satisfied either at the work refectory, or by my own hands.  This will have the happy side-effect of forcing me to learn many more curry recipes than those few I've already mastered.  I estimate this will save a good £150 a year.

So with a last ceremonial butter chicken and saag aloo at the admirable Punjab restaurant in Covent Garden, the resolution is sealed, and my formerly-free subscriptions are now funded!

caper_est: caper_est, the billy goat (Default)
Having set myself a not very demanding challenge for the next month:
Paying My Moral Debts
I'm going through the list of all the free stuff I, personally, am currently getting only because other people are enthusiastic and generous. Then I'm seeing how much I can commit by way of fair return, and how much of that should or can be financial. The coming month is for sorting out the financial side.
I've now ponied up for all the things I said I would. Somehow I expected this to involve a lot more time and hassle than it did. If this were just a question of settling moral accounts for the year, the matter would end there.  It would then have been needless for me to have posted about it at all, except possibly - as with my writing wordcount posts - to use the fact of public commitment as an encouragement to Get On With It. Which it probably has been. But that is not the main point of this extended challenge, at all.
Firstly, I want seriously to look at reasons for paying or not paying for goods, where one has the choice - and get to grips with the issues I haven't satisfactorily figured out.

Secondly, by the end of the month I should like to have started on regular habits in these matters that make better sense in terms of the code I believe in, and the budget I have to work with.

Thirdly, I want to see how far some of my fine-sounding ideas survive concentrated application to reality, and report on the results. This is one very low-stakes and easily controlled practice arena.
Fourthly, I want to look at structural and technical obstacles to useful voluntary payment practices, and swap actual and potential workarounds for them.

Fifthly, I want to make a case for the necessary link between libertarianism and liberality, which I think is systematically underestimated from both perspectives. It would be nice to convince some other people of it. It would be quite enough of a victory to convince myself, to my own practically expressed satisfaction. Worst of the acceptable possibilities is that events, or other people reading these sketches, defeat my argument because it is wrong. I question whether I could be persuaded that either free agency or free-handedness is overrated in itself. I am, though, open to being convinced that they are independent or even conflicting virtues, or that the same social institutions are unlikely to embody both. Either way, I wish to begin this argument via some simple bread-and-butter issues here.

My next post in this series will examine the boundaries and dangers of my starting notion of 'moral debt', and cast about for promising alternatives.

caper_est: caper_est, the billy goat (Default)
In which I begin to put my beliefs systematically to the test.

An easy and fairly painless one, first.   I'm going through the list of all the free stuff I, personally, am currently getting only because other people are enthusiastic and generous.  Then I'm seeing how much I can commit by way of fair return, and how much of that should or can be financial.  The coming month is for sorting out the financial side.

The question turns out not to be an easy or a simple one at all, which is one of the reasons (or excuses) for my not having answered it very well previously.  The easy and simple question I'm trying to answer in this challenge is: what am I going to do about it, right now?

For each problem I solve, I will allow myself one short post about one of the many issues behind this phase of the challenge, and the various questions, answers, and bewilderments in which it involves me.  All feedback, as ever, will be gratefully received.  Likewise, if any of my researches or mis-steps should later prove useful to anybody else, this challenge log will have served at least one of its principal purposes.

My immediate list of projects I believe I ought to be funding, but am not:
  • Dreamwidth, via paid membership.  (I believe the LiveJournal community deserves my support in other ways: I don't feel any urge to support its administrators financially.)  All I need to do here is sort out a technical issue with my card payment - hopefully possible this evening.
  • Wikipedia.  Yes, I have problems with it.  No, that hasn't stopped me making extensive use of it.  So...
  • Project Gutenberg.
  • The Center for a Stateless Society at the Molinari Institute - a political resource, here considered purely as a spring of much freely-given education and mental profit.
  • Diane Duane, for the freely webbed version of her The Big Meow.
  • Spybot Search and Destroy, that  most excellent labour of love against the evil malware.

Several other things from which I benefit, and for which I am grateful, but which I presently expect not to be funding, will also come up for consideration.

'Ere we go...

Hog Wild

Mar. 22nd, 2011 08:01 am
caper_est: caper_est, the billy goat (Default)
Back on Sunday from a big family gathering in Gosport, for the seventieth birthday of my eldest aunt - a witty fellow-scribbler who shares something of my penchant for fantasy.  Hampshire is nearly on my doorstep, but it isn't a county I know at all well. What I've seen makes me wish to amend that in the near future... It was a merry meeting, as they say. My mother and I stayed with a cousin who lives on what used to be a small farm, and has made a very fine place of it by the woody banks of a swift shallow river. High-tech comfort within, amiable shaggy wildness without, and dogs of the biggest and friendliest. My cousin, an ebulliently energetic businesswoman of many enthusiasms and a great affection for beasts and trees, is talking about bringing in a couple of pigs in the near future. That would be Hantsome of her!

Continuing with what is going to be a bigly piggy theme, I don't think I've eaten or - especially - drunk so lavishly since the cast-iron digestion of my first youth gave out on me - or had such a liking to do it. It was that sort of gathering. Possibly just because it was that sort of beano, I appear to have escaped any consequences, even a significant hangover. I've noticed such effects before. The eupeptic effects of good company and jolly mood are nearly as underrated as the dyspeptic effects of the reverse are notorious. In the mood for a quiet week now, though.

In that quiet week, my next job is to finish my festively-delayed chapter, with Kate's rallying of the Blancmange Army against the Bad Baron.  Whose much-despised token is... the blue boar.  The next chapter's events will be remembered in many folksongs, of which I wrote one of the more locally popular - The Hunting of the Boar - late last week.

Finally, with the turning of the year, it's time to begin a personal challenge that I've been working up of late.  I have a political and social theory that liberty can only increase in communities whose members are increasingly practising bounty rather than hoggishness.  In accordance with my related theories that advocates of freedom have less right to preach what they don't practise than advocates of authority, and that libertarians who don't willingly take on more responsibility than statists for general goods are witnesses against their own cause, I've been looking afresh at my own contributions to the common weal - and I am not satisfied with the tale.  I shall be blogging about the nontrivial parts of my solution, and no doubt exhibiting various pratfalls in the process, over the coming months.  More anon!

caper_est: caper_est, the billy goat (Default)

I've long delighted in baiting socialism with its unhappy tendency to attract the sort of people who wish to be The People.

It's taken me rather longer to note explicitly that libertarianism has a similarly unsavoury attraction, for such individuals as each want to be The Individual.  Mea culpa!

If convivial libertarians allow the good name of self-rule and enlightened self-interest to be carried away, to cloak the mangy bodies of mere self-conceit and calculating selfishness, we shall have no-one but ourselves to blame.  Could just a tiny bit of this already be occurring?

Perhaps the likes of me have something to learn from the liberal Christian Bearing Witness project hereabouts - an attempt to take a very different, or at least differently-oriented, message of kindness and humility and courage, and brush off the hatefully visible inversions it seems to attract as black suits attract white lint.  I'm not saying the same approach is appropriate - politics and religion are and should be monster different things, and all - but I'm surely saying the same de-linting needs attention.

Otherwise, one of these days I might go along to a perfectly splendid ball, only to discover that everybody is looking at me and wondering what the hell I'm doing there in a fluffy dirty-white suit!

(No feet were stepped on in the manufacture of this metaphor.  May contain daydream.)


caper_est: caper_est, the billy goat (Default)

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