Designer Reality

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Libertarians take great stock in the law of supply and demand. We understand that as long as something is in demand (as long as it isn’t a cure for cancer), there will generally be a supply of it. As it was with alcohol — the consumption of which only increased as a result of Prohibition — so, too, has it been with such drugs as marijuana, cocaine, and heroin.

Less obvious, perhaps even to us, is the driving force behind the seemingly unstoppable popularity of alternative reality. Why do so many people, in this increasingly dystopian century, appear to be disconnected from objective truth? I don’t believe it can simply be explained as dissatisfaction with dystopia. There appears to be a general notion that people can believe whatever they want, and that reality is so subjective that it is mere clay, to be molded into whatever shape they choose.

In childhood, this is called imagination. If it persists into adulthood, it can become a form of mental illness. And instead of the remedy for dystopia, it appears to be the cause of it. Even a great many of those who never resort to alcohol or other drugs are addicted to designer reality.

Why do so many people, in this increasingly dystopian century, appear to be disconnected from objective truth?

Nor are libertarians immune to the addiction. I recently made the mistake of involving myself in one of those pointless Facebook flame wars I keep resolving to stay out of. It was on a libertarian page, and some cocky young gun posted yet another of those dreary challenges to feminine patience: “Why aren’t there more libertarian women?”

Of those who jumped into this discussion on the commentary thread, at least half were women. Real live, flesh-and-blood women were saying that we did exist, explaining how we had come to be libertarians, and suggesting how more of us could be encouraged to follow. Not that this appeared to teach the young gun, or his buddies, anything of value.

The answer to every one of our comments was some variation of the same: “Libertarianism is a logical philosophy, and men are logical, but women are not. Women are emotional and cannot be logical.” It was basically only a slightly more mature version of “Girls are stinky and have cooties” or of that old playground taunt: “Girls go to Jupiter to get more stupider. Boys go to Mars to get more candy bars.” I suppose the goal was to get us to be more emotional, so they could prove their point.

The word “logic” kept being repeated, as if it were a magical incantation. I saw zero evidence that these guys were using much of it, but they seemed to think if they kept asserting that they possessed superior logic, they needed to do no more. They had their designer reality, it gave them a terrific high, and they could imagine nothing better. The possibility that if they stopped telling us how illogical we were, and actually made the effort to explain the libertarian philosophy to us, they might meet with more widespread results, apparently never occurred to them.

It differs little from telling children that Santa Claus doesn’t really come down the chimney and eat those cookies.

Taking the chance that since they talked so much about logic, they might actually recognize it when they saw it, I attempted to reason with them. I pointed out that libertarians believe in the value of the individual. That one of their sages, Ayn Rand (herself — ahem — a woman), proclaimed that the individual was “the smallest minority” and stalwartly championed individual rights. And that they were speaking of women in a strictly collective sense — lumping us all together in a most unlibertarian way. They responded by casting Rand, and presumably any other woman who actually used logic, as a freak of nature who was at worst a horribly deformed woman, or at best some sort of an honorary man.

I have had this experience with nearly all the designer reality addicts I have ever engaged in conversation, no matter what pretty world they’ve chosen to inhabit. The cherished belief is doggedly repeated. Regardless of how good my argument happens to be, or how much evidence I present to support my position, it has no effect except to make them less logical and more — well — emotional. It differs little from telling children that Santa Claus doesn’t really come down the chimney and eat those cookies. They seem not so much indifferent to the truth as afraid of it.

The problem does not begin with the seemingly endless variety of designer reality available to us. Its origin can be traced to an insatiable demand. And the lure is powerful. This is not because all designer reality is utter bunk, but because in almost every version, there is at least a grain of truth.

Women can be emotional. I know that after that online conversation with those male libertarians, I wanted to scream my head off. But the political powers-that-be can take a grain of truth, add a little yeast, and expand it into a monstrous blob of dough. Many women turn their frustrations with men into protest-marching, silly-hat-wearing, man-hating lunacy. Today’s feminists have managed to make burning bras look, by comparison, charmingly quaint.

The big-government power structure functions as a duopoly, neither side of which is totally right or wrong. Most people choose the portions of truth they prefer and ignore the fact that the rest of what they’ve chosen is falsehood. The powers-that-be are basically telling us that we can have no more than part of the truth. That we are not entitled to the full truth. That we must be content with whichever lies we find the most pleasant — or at any rate, the least painful.

Today’s feminists have managed to make burning bras look, by comparison, charmingly quaint.

A temptation to accept partial truth is, it seems to me, the contemporary equivalent of taking the apple from the Serpent. It is the fruit the State dangles before us. And when we get cast out of the Garden, we waste our time arguing over trivialities — such as whether to blame Adam or Eve. Or maybe Adam and Steve.

Liberty enables us to pursue the full truth. We certainly don’t all agree on what that is, but each of us who values freedom should never settle for anything less. When we waste our time bickering over whose designer reality is prettier, we sell our freedom short. And, so divided, we invite the potentates of big government to conquer us.




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Working-Class Libertarianism

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I would like to begin with a personal story about my encounters with what I call liberaltarianism, and then use logic to analyze the experience.

A number of years ago, I had a heated debate with a libertarian in the New York State Libertarian Party discussion group on Facebook. I argued that the public education system is unfair to children from working-class families because they are trapped in failing schools, and that privatizing K-12 education would lead to the development of private schools seeking customers among working class youth, schools that would free them for better career opportunities. My argument was clearly that government is bad for the poor, especially because it destroys opportunities for poor kids. The villain here is the government, and the victims are the poor.

But the person with whom I was debating believed my argument was that public schools are unfair to poor children because the rich can afford private schools and the poor can’t. He believed I was saying that the rich should not be allowed to have private schools, and that the rich are the perpetrators of the problems of poor children; in other words, that the rich are the villains and the poor are their victims. I was never able to make this person understand what my argument actually was, and he did not choose to understand it; so we did not address each other’s arguments, never having been able to agree on what proposition was actually being debated. He came away from the debate calling me a socialist. I replied that socialists do not advocate privatization of primary education; but even in the end, he seemed not to grasp what I was saying.

The villain here is the government, and the victims are the poor.

Now I would like to analyze this anecdotal evidence. I consider myself a libertarian. I am not a socialist. I am not even a liberal, or a leftist, or left of center. Yet when I make arguments in which I argue that capitalism is good for the poor and good for the working class, or equivalent arguments that government control helps the well-connected rich exploit the political system and that libertarianism would be bad for some rich people, I somehow give the impression that I am a socialist. I believe there is a missing concept, the concept of the liberaltarian, that would clear up this confusion. And I believe that logic is the correct tool for understanding this crucial missing concept.

What is a liberaltarian? Thinking back as far as Cato Institute scholar Brink Lindsey’s original efforts to create a liberaltarian movement, I cannot recall a great answer to that question. In respect to definitions, we are in uncharted territory. A liberaltarian is a type of libertarian, so we must first ask the question, what is a libertarian? There is also no one answer to this perplexing question, but let me suggest one: a “libertarian” is “someone who advocates extremely free capitalism.” Along these lines, I would extend the definition to say that a “liberaltarian” is “someone who advocates extremely free capitalism because it will be good for the poor and the working class.”

In math and logic, one often begins with a set of definitions and then uses mathematical or logical deduction to analyze them and see where they lead. Also, in logic, when one encounters an entity that meets all the necessary and sufficient conditions in a definition, one says that the thing meets the definition as a result of logical necessity. Phrased differently, logic says “if P then Q, P, therefore Q,” with P being the necessary and sufficient conditions and Q being the entity that is identified. In other words, if it walks like a duck, and it talks like a duck, it’s a duck. Let’s use that approach here.

I am not a libertarian for the sake of the rich. Most millionaires and billionaires are neither libertarians nor Objectivists.

Logically, we can see that, if these definitions are true, then a liberaltarian is a type of libertarian. A liberaltarian does advocate extreme capitalism, which puts him or her within the area covered by the definition of libertarian. However, on the flip side, we can see that not all libertarians are liberaltarians; some, perhaps most, libertarians will be opposed to liberaltarianism. For example, we could define a “right-wing libertarian” as “a libertarian who advocates extremely free capitalism because it will be good for the rich.” A right-wing libertarian, then, would have a completely different mindset than a liberaltarian, although, according to the logic of my definitions, they are obviously both legitimate varieties of the broader category “libertarian,” since they satisfy the necessary and sufficient condition to meet the definition, namely, they both advocate extremely free capitalism. In this sense, some Tea Partiers and self-described “conservatarians” would be types of libertarians, although libertarians with restrictive views on social issues that may be opposed to the “free” part of “extremely free capitalism.”

Let me clarify that I do not intend to imply that all members of the left really care about the poor, or that no members of the right care about the poor, or that all of them love the rich; I use the terms “left” and “right” here only to define differing attitudes towards the justification for capitalism.

Note something else about the definitions and what they imply. I have not said that a liberaltarian advocates capitalism “because it will be bad for the rich.” Instead, I have only said “because it will be good for the poor and the working class.” Here, I think, is where much of the confusion about liberaltarianism comes from. Are the interests of the poor opposed to the interests of the rich? Logically, one could be a liberaltarian, or a right-wing libertarian, and come out on either side of this debate.

For example, if I said that “I am a libertarian who advocates extremely free capitalism because it will be good for the poor but won’t generally be bad for the rich and won’t hurt anyone at all, other than those few rich people who unfairly exploit government favors from their politician friends,” I would fit the definitions of both liberaltarian and libertarian. But if I said “I am a libertarian who advocates extremely free capitalism because it will be good for the poor and will actually be very bad for most rich people, who have learned to thrive in our heavily regulated world and usually exploit the state and government funding to milk the taxpaying middle class and to oppress the general public,” I would also fit the definitions of both liberaltarian and (somewhat counterintuitively, but nonetheless logically) libertarian.

Thus, within liberaltarianism, there can be two further subcategories, the liberaltarians who don’t want to hurt anyone and want to help everyone, and the liberaltarians who hate the rich and want laissez faire capitalism in order to tear down privilege and power and hurt the rich. We might call the former pure liberaltarians and call the latter left-libertarians. Similarly, a right-wing libertarian might not want to hurt the poor, or he might favor extreme capitalism because he wants to hurt the poor (and yes, there really are some psychologically crazy people who could be like this).

it is unclear why we would identify with the wealthy, other than for delusions of grandeur.

Let’s do a clearer logical demonstration. Call the advocacy of extremely free capitalism P. Now call a motivating concern for the poor and the working class Q. And then call being OK with the rich A, and a hatred of the rich B. We can say that every libertarian has P, and every liberaltarian has P and Q, by definition. But the libertarian movement in general, and the right-wing libertarians, seem confused about A and B. They believe something that is incorrect as a matter of deductive logic, that a liberaltarian is, by definition, P and Q and B, thereby ruling out A. If this is true, then anyone who cares about the working class must necessarily hate the rich. But as I have shown, there is a logical analysis according to which a liberaltarian is merely P and Q, so that you can add A.

Let me be crystal clear. I do not hate the rich, nor am I opposed to the rich as such. But I am not a libertarian for the sake of the rich. Most millionaires and billionaires are neither libertarians nor Objectivists. Still more obviously, most libertarians and Objectivists are not millionaires or billionaires, and lack the productive moneymaking ability to become such. So it is unclear why we would identify with the wealthy, other than for delusions of grandeur. On the other hand, if we stop focusing on the people who are already rich, and instead focus on the freedom of the poor and the middle class to become rich — in other words, the freedom to make money — then we see precisely what I mean by the interests of the poor being served by capitalism.

According to deductive logic, one can be a liberaltarian and not hate the rich or oppose the interests of the rich (if there is such a thing as “the rich” or “the interests of the rich” in the sense of a cohesive group), so long as one’s primary concern is that capitalism is good for humanity as a whole, and will lift all kinds of people into prosperity. This seems to me a position that is worth not only defining but also adopting.

rdquo; A right-wing libertarian, then, would have a completely different mindset than a liberaltarian, although, according to the logic of my definitions, they are obviously both legitimate varieties of the broader category For example, if I said that




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Three Good Books

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I have an apology to make. I have been far behind in letting you know about books I’ve enjoyed, books that I think you will enjoy as well.

To me, one of the most interesting categories of literature is a work by a friend of liberty that is not the normal work by a friend of liberty. The typical libertarian book (A) concerns itself exclusively with public policy, (B) assumes that its readers know nothing about public policy, (C) assumes that its readers are either modern liberals or modern conservatives, who need to be argued out of their ignorance, or modern libertarians, who need to be congratulated on their wisdom. I find these books very dull. I suspect that when you’ve read one of them, you’ve read them all. But I have no intention of reading them all.

What I want is a book that has a libertarian perspective and actually tells me something new. One such book is Philosophic Thoughts, by Gary Jason. You know Gary; besides being a professor of philosophy, he is also one of Liberty’s senior editors. The book presents 42 essays, some on logic, some on ethical theory, some on metaphysics, some on applications of philosophy to contemporary issues. Libertarian perspectives are especially important in the discussions of ethical theory, where we have essays on such matters as tort reform, free trade, boycotts of industry, and unionization (issues that Jason follows intently). The attentive reader will, however, notice the spirit of individualism everywhere in the book.

What you see in the book is someone learning, as he moves from France to America and from mid-century to the present, that “American” is the best name for his own best qualities.

The essays are always provocative, and Jason knows how to keep them short and incisive, so that the reader isn’t just invited to think but is also given time to do so. Of course, you can skip around. I went for the section about logic first, because, as readers of Liberty know, I understand that topic least. I wasn’t disappointed. There is nothing dry about Jason’s approach to problems that are unfairly regarded as “abstract” or “merely theoretical.” He is always smart and challenging, but he makes sure to be accessible to non-philosophers. In these days of fanatical academic specialization, it’s satisfying to see real intellectual curiosity (42 essays!). And Jason doesn’t just display his curiosity — he is no dilettante. He contributes substantially to the understanding of every topic he considers.

Another book that I’ve enjoyed, and I don’t want other people to miss, is a work by Jacques Delacroix, who has contributed frequently to these pages. In this case, you can tell a book by its cover, because the cover of Delacroix’s book bears the title I Used to Be French. Here is the cultural biography — cultural in the broadest sense — of a man who became an American, and an American of the classic kind: ingenuous, daring, engaging, funny, and again, curious about everything in the world. Whether the author began with these characteristics, I don’t know, but he has them now; and what you see in the book is someone learning, as he moves from France to America and from mid-century to the present, that “American” is the best name for his own best qualities.

Arthurdale was the result of Mrs. Roosevelt’s commendable concern for the poor and of her utter inability to understand what to do about poverty.

It takes literary skill to project a many-sided personality; and the strange thing is that it takes even more skill to project the differences we all feel between American culture (bad or good) and French — or any other European — culture (bad or good). We feel those differences, but when we try to describe them we usually get ourselves lost in generalizations. Delacroix doesn’t. He has a taste for the pungent episode, the memorable anecdote. He also displays two of the best qualities of which a good author, American or French, can ever be possessed: an exact knowledge of formal language and an intimate and loving acquaintance with the colloquial tongue.

Sampling Delacroix’s topics, one finds authoritarianism, Catholicism, Catholic iconography, the Cold War, communism, diving, driving, the end of the Middle Ages, existentialism, food, French borrowings from English, the French navy (being in it), getting arrested, grunion, jazz, Levis, lovemaking, Muslims, the People’s Republic of Santa Cruz, political correctness, the Third World in its many forms. . . . Most (even grunion) are topics that a lesser author would inevitably get himself stuck to, but Delacroix romps through them all. If you want a loftier metaphor, you can say that they (even the grunion) are jewels strung on the book’s central story, as sketched in the summary on the back cover: “A boy grows up in the distant, half-imaginary continent of post-World War II France. Bad behavior and good luck will eventually carry him to California where he will find redemption.” And a lot of fun, for both the reader and himself.

Fun, also, in another way, is a book I’ve been perversely withholding from you for three years. It’s Back to the Land: Arthurdale, FDR’s New Deal, and the Costs of Economic Planning, by C.J. Maloney (also, be it noted, a contributor to Liberty). What does that title mean? Well, Arthurdale, West Virginia, was a settlement begun in 1933 by the United States government under the inspiration of Eleanor Roosevelt. It was the result of Mrs. Roosevelt’s commendable concern for the poor and of her utter inability to understand what to do about poverty. Her idea — which was shared by a multitude of college professors, pundits, quack economists, and the usual products of “good” Eastern schools — was that there was an “imbalance” between rural and urban America; that the latter was too big and the former too small; and that the government should “resettle” hordes of Americans “back on the land” (where, incidentally, most of them had never lived). Mrs. Roosevelt was especially concerned with converting out-of-work miners into “subsistence” farmers. She and her New Deal accomplices designed a turnkey community for 800 or so lucky recipients of government largesse — land, houses, furnishings, equipment, expert advice. What could go wrong?

The answer, as Maloney shows, is “virtually everything.” The planned community had no plans except bad ones. The farms didn’t support themselves, and the farmers didn’t really want to farm them. Everything cost more — lots more — than it should have. Attempts to supplement small farming by small industry repeatedly failed. When the “colonists” managed to produce a surplus of something, the government wouldn’t let them sell it. The democratic and communitarian ideals hailed by government bureaucrats — who included some of the nastiest specimens of the New Deal, such as Rexford Guy Tugwell, one of the smuggest and stupidest creatures who ever attracted national attention — were continuously negated by the power of the Planners themselves.

It’s a good story, amusing though sad; and I wish I could say it was amazing. Unfortunately, it was just one of the predictable results of those dominating impulses of big government: arrogance and wishful thinking. Maloney’s well-researched book places Arthurdale firmly in the context of 20th-century interventionism, with plenty of information about the broader movements it represented and the people involved in them. The book is lively and pointed. Like the other books mentioned here, it is both an education and an entertainment. Like those other books, it is one of a kind, and not to be missed.


Editor's Note: Review of "Philosophic Thoughts: Essays on Logic and Philosophy," by Gary Jason. New York: Peter Lang, 2014. 416 pages; "I Used to Be French: an Immature Autobiography," by Jacques Delacroix. Santa Cruz CA: By the Author (but you can get it on Amazon), 2014. 420 pages; and "Back to the Land: Arthurdale, FDR’s New Deal, and the Costs of Economic Planning," by C. J. Maloney. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2011. 292 pages.



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The Never-Ending Trek

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Wookiee vs. Trekkie: The friendly competition between Star Wars and Star Trek aficionados has raged for decades. Star Trek was more scientific and cool, emphasizing the technology of "Beam me up" rather than the intuition of "Feel the force." Even their goals were different: the cast of Star Trek was on a mission merely to observe the universe, while the cast of Star Wars was out to save it. But Star Trek's "Prime Directive" demonstrates democracy at its worst: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." No wonder I've never been a Trekkie.

The latest episode of Star Trek — Star Trek: Into Darkness — is a bit of a muddle between these two fan-chises: some characters early in the film look and talk like Ewoks, a la Return of the Jedi; they meet in a jazzy bar populated by strange rubber-bodied creatures a la Star Wars: and the film begins with our heroes fleeing alien creatures on an alien world without our knowing why, a la The Empire Strikes Back. James Kirk (Chris Pine) even looks a lot like Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in the second two Star Wars films, after Hamill's aquiline nose became pugged from a car accident he had between films.

The technique of beginning a film at the climax of a storyline that the audience hasn’t seen is recognized as Cubby Broccoli's trademark opening for the James Bond films, and it’s used in this movie too. It succeeds in giving the audience an early adrenaline rush. Just five minutes into the film we see Spock falling into a churning volcano. (Hmmm. Spock is a Vulcan. Vulcan is the god of volcanoes and the forge . . . shouldn't he have felt right at home there?) After his dramatic rescue (no spoiler alert here, since this happens ten minutes into the film), that storyline ends, and we settle into the central conflict for this film.

In this episode a former Starfleet commander (Benedict Cumberbatch) has turned rogue (a la Darth Vader . . . there they go again!), and the crew of the Enterprise is enlisted to go after him. That's about all you need to know. There's a lot of warp speed action, dodging of asteroids, climbing around on cool CGI-generated equipment, and fist-to-fist fighting — love how these Star Trek films come full circle and use brawn over brain or technology when people are fighting; Star Wars still goes in for those laser swords.

The Star Trek films were popular in the ’80s and ’90s, but they started to wear thin, as the original actors started to wax larger, both in age and in heft. The only way to continue the franchise was to turn from sequel to prequel. That worked extremely well in Star Trek (2009). It was fun to ooh and ahh over the excellent casting selections and see the back stories of the characters who have become a part of our cultural fabric for more than four decades. And director J.J. Abrams successfully repackaged Star Trek from a cerebral exercise in philosophy to an action-packed sci-fi adventure.

It was also cool in the 2009 movie to see the young Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) fall in love with the young Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana). For nearly 50 years the biggest challenge for the Star Trek crew has not been fighting Klingons but trying to get Mr. Spock to feel and express emotion. Spock is a Vulcan, and Vulcans don't have feelings (odd that the god of fire would be chosen as the name for the passionless planet, isn't it?). But Spock is also half human, and in every film there is the possibility that his human heart might kick in and overpower his logic. All of that has happened in previous episodes, however, so that too is starting to wear thin. We get it: with enough provocation, Mr. Spock can cry. He can kiss. He can bicker with his girlfriend. Enflamed by a desire for revenge, he can even beat an enemy to a pulp with his bare hands. He's becoming positively touchy-feely.

Star Trek fans love this movie. Reviewers seem to like it too. I thought it was pretty good, for what it is. But my patience for the whole Star Trek franchise is starting to wear thin. Or maybe I'm just waxing old. I'd rather just see a movie that boldly goes where no man has gone before.


Editor's Note: Review of "Star Trek: Into Darkness," directed by J.J. Abrams. Paramount Pictures, 2013, 129 minutes.



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