My Own Pie

Libertarian Thoughts from Renaissance Guy

Watch your Mouth

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     This post is an entry in the blog contest responding to the new book, New Threats to Freedom edited by Adam Bellow. The contest is open to all and further information can be found here.

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     Speech codes on college campuses are one of the biggest threats to freedom in the United States today.  They are, on their face, contrary to the right to free speech.

     The University of Wisconsin has a speech code, but it is not alone.  The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education discovered 270 institutions of higher learning that have speech codes in 2010. 

     Isn’t it sad that there even has to be a foundation tracking these First Amendment violations?

      Before you tell me that free speech is not absolute, let me grant that point.  I agree with court rulings that some kinds of speech should not be permitted.  These things have been hashed out already–no yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, no slander, no libel, no harassment, and no fighting words. 

     Speech codes do not prohibit only those excepted categories of speech.  Bryn Mawr’s speech code, for instance, prohibits “offensive or degrading remarks.”  In direct contradiction, the same policy document states that “[t]he College is firmly committed to academic and professional excellence and to freedom of inquiry and expression for all members of the College community.”

     Don’t get me wrong.  I am not defending or excusing offensive or degrading remarks.  I am defending the right to make such remarks without fear of official reprisal.  I am sure that the Founding Fathers of the United States had some choice names for King George III that were offensive and degrading, and that is exactly the right that they codified in the First Amendment–the right to say things that somebody else, especially somebody in power, finds offensive.

     Since speech codes offend me, shouldn’t somebody be punished for instituting them?

     One problem with speech codes is that they give power to the “offended” party.  If somebody were to say that musicians are stupid, I would find it offensive, as I am an amateur musician.  A speech code would allow me to use the power of the college administrators to get back at the person who offended me.  Honestly, it’s a lot like childhood tattling.  Honestly, it does not harm me in the least to hear somebody say that musicians are stupid.  I learned long ago that comments like that say more about the speaker than about their target.  College students are certainly old enough to learn that lesson.

     In my example, the remark was clearly derogatory; however, speech codes, by their vagueness, could result in worse violations of rights.  I could be offended because somebody says that they admire Che Guevara.   Shouldn’t that person have the right to admire him and to express that admiration?  Then what right do I have to use the power of the university leaders to punish that person because I am offended?  The Constitution does not guarantee that people will never be offended.

     Many people believe that professors, who are employees of universities, should have intellectual  and academic freedom.  How much more so should the students, who are essentially the customers? 

     For the sake of freedom, speech codes should be abolished.

Written by ambrosianideas

July 23, 2010 at 4:06 am

Posted in Miscellaneous

To Be Fair

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     I’m sure that all parents have been through it.  My parents certainly have.  I have been through it as a parent.  I assume that either you put your own parents through it or your children put you through it or both.

     It usually comes in a nasally, high-pitched voice and is accompanied by folded arms and pouty lips.  “It’s not fair!” the “wounded” child exclaims.

     Taking my cue from a couple of parents whom I greatly admire, I decided to deal with the claim of unfairness by teaching my children the true meaning of the word fair.  I made a poster with the word and its definition to put on the wall and referred to it whenever the whiny accusation was thrown at their mother or me.

     FAIR:  when each person gets exactly what he or she deserves by his or her own merit or as a result of his or her own effort.

     We had numerous discussions about the implications and applications of that definition.  Because we recognize that children are self-centered, we usually couched it in terms of themselves:

     What should happen if somebody hits you?  (Answer:  They should apologize and be punished.)  In that case, you shoud accept that if you lose your temper and hit somebody, you must apologize and take your punishment.

     What should happen if somebody was willing to help you clean up your room?  (Answer:  I should give them something as a reward for helping me.)  Then do not get upset if one of your siblings gets paid for a chore that they did.  If you do extra chores, you will also get paid. 

     We told them that if Mom of Dad really do something unfair, we are willing to hear them out, and if they are right, to apologize and make amends.  However, Mom and I were not willing to hear them whine or see them pout.  We would evaluate each case as it arose, according to the definition of fairness that we posted.

     If G said, “It’s not fair that V got to watch that video and I didn’t,” then we said, “Wait a minute.  We promised the video as a reward for cleaning your room.  V cleaned her room, but you did not.  Therefore, you are each getting what you deserve.  Therefore, it is fair.”

     If E said, “It’s not fair that you promised me some ice cream but didn’t give me any.”  We said, “Oops!  You’re right.  If you were promised ice cream, then it’s fair for us to give it to you.  We messed up.  We’ll go and get you some right now.”

     I’m afraid that a lot of adults still have an inaccurate view of fairness.  They think it means having things turn out to their advantage, rather than having each person what he or she deserves by his or her own merits or effort.  I have been told that it is unfair for some people to be poor while other people are rich.  Well, yes and no.

     It is unfair for a person to be poor because somebody else tricked them out of their money or failed to compensate them for labor that they performed.  It is not unfair for a person to be poor because that person has chosen not to work or has chosen to waste his or her money on drugs or gambling.  It is unfair, in a vast, cosmic sense, for a person to be poor because that person was born with a disability or because that person tried really hard but outside forces caused them to fail.  In that case, such a person should receive our compassion and help.  It is not unfair for a person to be poor if that person tries one harebrained scheme after another or loses one job after another due to a bad attitude.  (I know people like that; in fact, I am related to some people like that.)

     It is unfair for a person to become rich by scamming other people or by simple stealing.  It is not unfair for a person to become rich by inventing something useful and charging people money to purchase it.  It is unfair for a person to become rich by exploiting or oppressing other people or by taking bribes or by extortion or by embezzlement.  It is not unfair for a person to become rich by impressing his employers so much that they give him or her promotions and bonuses.  It is unfair, in a cosmic sense, for a person to become rich simply by inheriting wealth from his or her ancestors.  Then again, it is perfectly fair for wealthy people to pass on their wealth to their children, if they wish to do so.  It is not unfair for a person to open a business and impress his or her customers so much that the business makes huge profits.

     Before we throw around loaded words like fair and unfair, we should think really carefully about what they mean.  Actually, we should think about the concepts behind the words, and what they actually are.  We should not just act childishly and whine, if things don’t go our way, “It’s not fair.”

Written by ambrosianideas

July 21, 2010 at 12:35 am

Posted in Miscellaneous

A Big Shift

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     Something very important has happened, and as near as I can tell it has happened gradually over the last ten years.  I think you could trace its roots much farther back, but the culmination has been very recent.

     The something I am referring to is a shift in the way right-leaning and left-leaning individuals discuss the role of government, particularly the role of the executive branch of government.  Have you noticed the same thing?

     During the 1980’s and 1990’s it was common for conservatives in politics and in the media to argue that government should be limited.  The less government, the better was the approach.  Because liberals, naturally, argued that government was needed to solve all societal and even individual problems. 

     Now, however, it is very common to hear so-called conservatives arguing with liberals about what the government should do, instead of arguing about whether the government should do anything at all. 

     Take the debate about health care.  Many prominent politicians and pundits on the right admitted that the American health care “system” had problems.  They suggested ways that the government could fix those problems–ways that differed from the ways proposed by those on the left.  They simply assumed that the government had some role to play in the matter.

     The assuming is what bothers me the most.  It seems that most people in America assume that the government should do something about societal problems.  Many people now even assume that the government should do something about individual problems, as well.  It seems not to occur to most people that there is another option, which is for the government to do nothing.

     That is why, I believe, we need a third way more than ever.  Members of the general public need to be exposed to another option besides the government’s either doing what the rightists propose or doing what the leftists propose.  People need to hear that it’s possible for the government to simply butt out and to allow people to be free.

     Some of the details of this shift are that people. . .

  1. . . .mistakenly regard the  presidency as a sort of monarchy.  They expect the president to unilaterally solve problems.  They do not see him as the head of a branch of government that is limited by checks and balances imposed by the other two branches.
  2. . . .mistakenly believe that rights are granted by “the government.”  The founders of the United States believed that people naturally had rights and that government leaders must recognize and respect those rights.  In fact, they saw individual rights as imposing limits on the government, not the other way around.
  3. . . .mistakenly ascribe almost total power to the national level of government.  The Tenth Amendment indicates that all powers not already granted to the national government still belong to the states or to the people themselves.  After decades of having the national government dictate state and local policy, because they hold the purse strings, people seem to have accepted this arrangement as normal and even necessary.

     I see this shift most alarmingly in the knee-jerk reaction of people on the street and on television whenever a problem arises.  A natural disaster strikes?  They ask, “What is the government going to do about it?”  Unemployment rises?  They say, “The president had better create more jobs.” 

     I have seen it, sad to say, in individuals I know who used to be suspicious of big government.  It’s a shame and a pity.

Written by ambrosianideas

July 11, 2010 at 5:43 am

The Tea Party and Me

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     I’m a little annoyed with the Tea Party movement.  I want to know where these people have been?  I have been in the mood that they are in for 20 years and feeling like a lone voice.  Do they think that the downfall of our country started when President Obama was elected?  If so, they were either ignorant or self-deluded.

     I’m glad that they have awoken.  I am glad that they are challenging the status quo.  However, I think that they are going about it all wrong.

     If their convention, which was not accepted by all Tea Party folks, is any indication, they plan to simply endorse Republican candidates.  They hope to reform the Republican Party, apparently.  That’s absurd.  The Republican Party has been in a moral decline since the beginning of Ronald Reagan’s second term.  Gradually, steadily, they have devolved to a slightly more restrained verions of the Democratic Party.  If the Democratic Party is socialist, and it is, the Republican Party is socialist-lite. 

     The GOP has had plenty of time to shape up.  There was a glimmer of hope in 1994 when the voters sent a clear message to President Clinton and the Democrats in the mid-term elections.  But that is the problem.  The Contract With America came to nothing.  Each little glimmer of hope is extinguished by the Republican wheelers and dealers who are all about money and power rather than conservative ideals.

     There is already a political party that espouses most of the views of the Tea Parties I have heard and read about–the Libertatian Party.  Rather than continuing to endorse the lighter branch of the Democratic Party, the Tea Partiers should switch to the party of true  freedom and human rights.  Why take the hard and frustrating path of reforming a party that will only give lipservice to being reformed, when you can take the easier path of joining an existing party that you can heartily endorse?

     We don’t need one more tiny party with no power and no real voice, especially not one as splintered as the Tea Party.  We definietly don’t need cheerleaders for the Republican Party to hold pep rallies and get people to vote for candidates with an elephant rather than a donkey on their campaign borchures.  What we need is to say “Enough” to both the R’s and the D’s and hit them where it hurts.  Take away their power, take away their money.  Then, and only then, might they listen.

Written by ambrosianideas

February 16, 2010 at 8:11 am

Libertarian Platform #2

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This is part of a series on the platform of the Libertarian Party. I plan to post quotations from the platform and comment on them. I will explain where I agree, where I disagree, and perhaps share my personal thoughts on each item. The statements are from the platform adopted in May of 2008.

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We support full freedom of expression and oppose government censorship, regulation or control of communications media and technology. We favor the freedom to engage in or abstain from any religious activities that do not violate the rights of others. We oppose government actions which either aid or attack any religion.

     This plank is fundamentally a restating of the First Amendment.  Most Americans agree with it in principle.  However, most Americans are willing to put up with a few violations of it for reasons that happen to be convenient or advantageous to them.

     For me it would require the abolition of the FCC.  Whoever decided that the government owns the airwaves or the electronic signals that travel through the air?  It would include the prohibition of speech codes in any public institution.  It would require a continuation of a free, unregulated, untaxed Internet.   It would prohibit all campaign finance regulation that says how much money people can spend on campaigns, when and where their ads can run, and whom money can be donated to (political campaigns versus political parties).  It would also mean an end to the “equal time” doctrine.  Media outlets could run any ads they want without being forced to run certain ones for the sake of being fair and balanced.  They could also report on issues in any way they choose and could broadcast or publish political speeches without having to present the opposing view.

     This part of the platform would also preclude the concept of “hate speech” as a crime, although it would not, in and of itself, do away with the category “hate crimes,” which I also oppose.

     As I understand this statement, the Libertarian Party is for restoring the Free Exercise Clause.  If a student wants to pray at a graduation ceremony, that person is free to do so, and if another student wants to give a speech denying the existence of a god, then that person is also free to do so.  It doesn’t mean that the school, or the Congress, have set up an established state religion.  For the school to ban the expression of students’ religious beliefs not only violates the clear meaning of the First Amendment, but it establishes a kind of “anti-church” as the official church.

     I’m sure that some Libertarians interpret the words of this plank differently than I have here.  These are my views, and I would choose to interpret them myself.

Written by ambrosianideas

January 26, 2010 at 7:48 am

Posted in Libertarian Party

The Value of People

with 4 comments

     I heard Ayn Rand, the forumlator of Objectivism, talk about the concept of sacrifice soon after her husband died.  Someone mentioned that she had “sacrificed” for him during his illness.  “Not at all,” she replied.  “If you love somebody, then it is not a sacrifice to support and assist them.”

     Many people misunderstand Rand’s views on sacrifice.  She made it clear many times that she was against both altruism and the sacrfices that stem from it, but it is important that people understand how she used those terms.  Rand was, after all, a human being.  She had the capacity to love others, and felt the need to be loved.  When she eschewed altruism and praised selfishness, it was not in the context of loving family and friends, it was in the context of totalitarian governments taking people’s property and freedom and even their lives for “the good of the state.”

     A necessary component for Rand in her disdain for and rejection of sacrifice was the component of compulsion.  Rand thought of altruism as the requirement that one give to other people or to one’s country against one’s will.  She thought of sacrifice as giving up something of greater value for something of lesser value, especially because you are told that it is your duty.   On the other hand, Rand explained, when she took care of her husband, she traded something of lesser value (her own comfort and convenience) for something of greater value (the husband whom she loved).  To Rand, such a trade was not a sacrifice.

     Suppose for instance that you had a colleague at work who was in need, and you decided to give him your entire paycheck to help him out.  Then suppose you had nothing left to buy groceries for your own children or to pay the rent on your family’s apartment or to put gas in the car to continue going to work.  In that case you sacrificed something of lesser value (your loyalty to your colleague) for something of greater value (the welfare of your family for whom you are immediately responsible).  You did it out of altruism, as Rand defined it; that is, you did it because somebody had convinced you that to be a good person you had to help your colleague, even if it cost your own family food to eat and a home to live in and future financial security.

     People have told me that Christianity is incompatible with Objectivism, because Christianity extols love for other people and self-sacrifice.  I disagree.  For one thing, Chrisitianity encourages people to love and help others as a voluntary choice.  Nobody is forced to give up anything, unless they themselves see it as the right thing to do–and something that they sincerely want to do.

     Jesus taught that we should value other people.  We should value them at least as much as we value ourselves.  Once we place a high value on people, then it is not a sacrifice to give something up for them.  Once we see greater value in giving than in withholding, it is easy to give.  However, the New Testament strongly enjoins people to provide for their families; therefore, a Christian should never feel compelled to give to others to the detriment of his own children, spouse, parents, or other family members. 

     If my colleague at work has a financial need, and I have money in savings that I was going use on a fishing boat, then it is no sacrifice for me to give him some of that money.  It will not cause my children to go hungry or to get evicted from their home.  If I sincerely value my colleague as a fellow human being in need, then I am exchanging something of lesser value (getting my fishing boat soon) for something of greater value (my colleague for whom I feel compassion).  Rand would not have called it a sacrifice, as long as I were truly happy doing it and felt no compulsion to do it.

     Jesus gave us reasons to give to others.  He promised that if we give, God will give to us.  He also talked about the joy we experience when we give to others.  Even the knowledge that we are pleasing God is a benefit that we gain from giving to those in need.  You might even say that from a Christian perspective it is selfish to be generous, since we gain by giving.  (A higher virtue is to give without expectation of getting anything back, but the promise of a return is still there, and the joy of giving is still inevitable.)

     Jesus gained by giving.  When He died on the cross, it was because he loved us and wanted to redeem us.  The Bible says that Jesus endured the agony of the cross because of the joy that was set before Him in providing salvation for us.  He gave up a lesser value (his own ease and comfort) for what was to Him a greater value (restoring fallen humanity).  In the Randian sense, it was no sacrifice.  But as the Bible defines sacrifice, giving something we would usually want for something that we have grown to want even more, it was.

Written by ambrosianideas

January 16, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Out of Town

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     Some people say that I am out to lunch.  The fact is that I have been out to breakfast, lunch, and supper.  I have been on vacation.  I hope to post something new here in a day or two.

Written by ambrosianideas

January 10, 2010 at 6:24 am

Posted in Miscellaneous