Sunday Drive

Eric Cowperthwaite has a long post at The Liberty Papers about big tent libertarianism. While I agree with Eric that ideological purity is a detriment, I'll only add that political incentives are severely biased against libertarian policies.

Adrienne notes a couple of health care related items at Liberty Belles. She makes an important point in the comments: nationalized health care is not "insurance" but merely centralized rationing of a scarce good. True insurance is fundamentally about pooling risk against catastrophic events.

An older post at The Lippard Blog by Einzige on Max Stirner makes an argument that I sympathize with but many libertarians probably disagree with:

And those are just the millennialists and chicken littles (and only a sample, at that)! Other "secular" beliefs that I think fall under the "religious" umbrella include SETI, Communism, Objectivism, natural rights theory...

There must be something deep in the human psyche that compels us to believe that we - meaning "we" as a species, or "we" as people living here, now - are somehow special, somehow chosen; that we have meaning; that we have import or intrinsic value, for those would appear to be some of the characteristics of the beliefs I mentioned. Another - perhaps more important - characteristic is that these beliefs are (generally) couched in terms that are not falsifiable, and hence rest ultimately on the basis of faith.

Radley Balko highlights some nastiness from self-proclaimed progressives. (And kudos to both Kevin Drum and Matt Yglesias for venturing outside the ideological ghetto on the topic of Wal-Mart.)

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Jonathon, I enjoyed your

Jonathon, I enjoyed your earlier essay on the direction of a government, even if it has a strong libertarian minority, or even majority. The folks who wrote our Constitution tried to offset that tendency of special interests to gain power at the expense of society. But, there is a reason that Jefferson believed that revolutions were necessary. By the 1820's he already saw the signs of what ultimately happened to our Republic. De Tocqueville had it right when he said "The American Republic will endure, until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money." You might say that your post is the corollary to this.

My hope would be that we could force more federalism, which would tend to make it more difficult for special interests to exert political power. Ideally, the United States would balkanize into several nations. Concentrated power is, and always will be, the enemy of liberty. The more power is concentrated, the easier it is for small groups of people to exert influence on those wielding the power.

Thanks for the link, by the way.

Other “secular” beliefs

Other “secular” beliefs that I think fall under the “religious” umbrella include SETI, Communism, Objectivism, natural rights theory…

On the other hand calling something "religious" is a cheap shot. In fact natural law comes in many flavors, some not religious at all. I've argued with people for years on the matter, including a Stirnerite, and - I'll say this only in the context of someone else already throwing around the charge - their incorrigibility on the matter has the markings of a religious belief. Stirnerites are in their own way as annoyingly doctrinaire as Objectivists.

I'm not sure how SETI fits

I'm not sure how SETI fits in with the other groups mentioned. It doesn't assert that there are in fact alien civilizations, only that there may be and is attempting to gather evidence that would permit a more conclusive view on the matter.

It seems particularly strange to claim it the result of a supernatural belief in our own intrinsic uniqueness since it's largely attempting to show that we aren't unique in the universe.

I've pointed Einzige this

I've pointed Einzige this direction and perhaps he'll respond to you, Constant. Stormy Dragon, your comment is one that others have made, and Einzige wrote his response here: http://lippard.blogspot.com/2005/11/can-seti-be-called-religion.html

By his logic, then, modern

By his logic, then, modern physics is a religion. The Standard Model assumes mass is the result of a particle (the Higg's Boson) that no one has ever successfully detected, despite the fact we've been searching for it far longer than we've been looking for artificial signals with radio telescopes.

The argument here does not

The argument here does not establish that SETI is not science. The argument amounts to a straw man layered on top of a bait-and-switch. He spends the argument trying to establish that SETI is not science, but he's defending the assertion that SETI is religion. Two different things. If something is not science, does it follow that it is religion? My toothbrush is not itself science. It is a toothbrush. Is it therefore religion? I have just exhaled. That exhalation was not science. Was it religion? So, that's what I'm calling the bait and switch. He announces that he's going to argue that SETI is religion, and then goes and argues that it is not science.

The straw man is to confuse SETI with some ideas associated with SETI in one way or another. He mentions the Drake Equation. I wouldn't call it scientific - it's an attempt to guess, as well as we can, the density of intelligence in the universe. It's the sort of thing I might try on a paper napkin. There have been many such attempts to intelligently guesstimate the probabile density of life in the universe. There's nothing wrong with trying to guess. But in any case SETI is not the Drake Equation. SETI is a search for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence. You don't need to know anything about the Drake equation to have a desire to look for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence.

The page linked to also mentions Drake's falsified predictions that we will discover intelligence within a certain time period. Needless to say, that does not argue that SETI is religious or even that SETI is not science. It argues only that Drake was wrong about some particular thing. He writes, "Here it is, 2005, and SETI, much like the doomsday religions that predicted the end of the world back in 2000, is still going," - again confusing SETI with a particular claim. He's forcing a round peg into a square hole by treating Drake's comment, which by the way I never heard before, as if it were a religious prophecy upon which SETI is predicated, which is surely is not. He's assuming his conclusion.

All that's left of the argument linked to is the claim that after 45 years we still have not discovered ET, and we're still looking. Well, so what? Is there some sort of time limit that defines the difference between rationality and mysticism? I don't think so.

"Is there some sort of time

"Is there some sort of time limit that defines the difference between rationality and mysticism? I don’t think so."

When you defend reallocating capital that could be invested in much more highly valued uses and devoting it instead to the search for something whose existence must be construed largely as an article of faith...that seems fairly religious to me.

When you defend reallocating

When you defend reallocating capital that could be invested in much more highly valued uses and devoting it instead to the search for something whose existence must be construed largely as an article of faith…that seems fairly religious to me.

Read up on the subjectivist theory of value. The idea is that you value what you value and not what some omniscient socialist planner says you value. If you value searching for extraterrestrial intelligence, then that's what you value. It's not up to the planner to say what is or is not a "much more highly valued use" than that. That applies by the way to voluntary donations to Churches - these are indeed religious, and they are also people giving money to a recipient of their choice, which donation therefore represents their values. So not only have you not shown SETI is religious, religion in fact obeys the rule that money goes to the most valued use.

Now if your argument is that SETI is itself socialist reallocation of money (it need not be in principle, so you need to specify that that's what you're criticizing it for), that's an argument that SETI is socialist, not an argument that SETI is religious.

something whose existence must be construed largely as an article of faith

You're assuming your conclusion. Your argument is that SETI is religious because SETI is religious.

We do not know there is intelligence out there. It is not religious to be of the opinion that it probably is out there, any more than it is religious to be of the opinion that it probably is not out there. Conceivably someone might base one or the other opinion on religion, but that is not necessary.

There are many things that we think are the case but cannot (yet) prove to be the case. Various famous mathematical conjectures have compelled generations of mathematicians, persuaded of the likelihood of their truth, to devote a large part of their careers and their lives to the attempt to prove them. That is not religion, that is what mathematicians often do as mathematicians: i.e., conjecture that something is the case, and become sufficiently persuaded of the likelihood that they endeavor to find a proof. Until their conjecture is proven, is it "an article of faith"? Only if you insist on drawing questionable analogies between mathematics and religion. There is no religious text claimed to be the work of God that proclaims suchandsuch conjecture to be true; similarly, there is not religious text claimed to be the work of God that proclaims there to be extraterrestrials.