Friday, July 26, 2013

Universally Arguable Behavior

There are plenty of bad arguments which have the habit of being quite common. I would imagine that almost all of us feel this way about one argument or another. And I'm sure that quite a few of us would be astonished at the arguments that the others among us find silly. But there is one argument, for me, that sits like a shining emerald centered on the crown of human conceit; the argument that one should not be permitted to argue.

There is a particular and specific instance of this argument that, for me, really concretes how terribly silly this line of thinking is. And what proved surprising for me is that I first heard it from a man, when I was a young adult, whom I might have to regard as the most intelligent person I know. So, at the highest risk of sticking my foot in my own mouth, this is the maligned argument:

"We're men. I don't understand why we have any say at all in regards to abortion and women's bodies."

Ugh. Even typing that out made me cringe.

Let me say first that, as a libertarian, I think I'd have to ultimately come down to the conclusion that abortion should not be illegal - although I have some moral qualms about it. The arguments on both sides have not been completely fleshed out for me in a satisfactory manner. Having said that, this argument really misses the mark for me.

One problem is this; the argument seems to be rooted in the idea that women own their bodies and therefore they should be able to do whatever they want with it - including ending a life growing inside it. Of course, such an argument usually relies on a presumption that underscores the major contention about abortion in the first place. Those who are "pro-life" believe that humans in any stage of development are still humans - with all accompanying rights.

So, to those who believe in human-life at conception, that argument falls apart quickly. We could not make such arguments in favor of a woman who randomly kills a man on a street corner. "Why should we have any say in this? It's her body. It's her hand. If she wants to hold a knife with it and stab someone, why should we have any say in it?" This would not be a particularly convincing argument to most people. And to those who are pro-life, this is exactly the argument being made to them.

At this point the argument devolves into conversations about where human-life begins and the content of our moral obligations as guardians. Of course, those who are pro-choice could still make the more Rothbardian argument about abortion/abandonment and still salvage their self-ownership rhetoric (even if they conceded the "life at conception" point), but they very rarely do.

However, the way in which general arguments regarding abortion play out isn't really my focus at the moment. Rather, my real problem is with the idea that there would be some ethereal partition in a conversation of what constitutes (what I presume to be) universally human rights; on which one side women may offer their view(s), and on which the other side men may not. Now, obviously, men are not (currently) ever put in the position of such a personal moral dilemma. But that says absolutely nothing of their ability to contribute to a discussion regarding the contents of justice.

And we see variant forms of this argument all the time:

- Dismissals of arguments against war because one has not gone to war
- Dismissals of arguments against farm subsidies because one is not a farmer
- Dismissals of arguments against scientific theories because one is not a professional scientist
- Dismissals of arguments against anything because, well, how old are you? You haven't been alive long           enough

All of these are equally fallacious and abysmal; a mistake in criticizing the theorist as opposed to the content of his theories. We could surmise that someone without particularly intimate knowledge or experience is unlikely to have all the proper considerations and justifications ironed out. But that alone does not a bad argument make - even if some very intelligent people get in the habit of calling it as such.

Provocation: the Flight for Asylum

It's hard to say what will become of Edward Snowden. But, like many matters of political intrigue, public focus has drifted almost wholly onto the provocateur himself. In a more perfect world, our attention would stand at the doorstep of the largest secret espionage program ever uncovered. Instead we find it lounging at an airport in Moscow. Where will he go? What will he do? What should we do? These seem to be the most harrowing questions we can conjure. But like any moment where one might be baffled by public opinion, we're afforded an opportunity to learn something about ourselves and others.

I think the most interesting reactions have come from the "national security" wing of the Republican party. Since Obama's first election, the Right has been put in the rhetorical position of fending off the expansion of federal power. This, of course, is already a precarious position for them given their track record. At the very least, it gives a lot of Democrats plenty of ammunition to publicly gut various politicians at will.

The Snowden situation seems to be giving them enough rope to hang themselves from an even higher ledge. Now many of these same people are put in a position where they they must excoriate Obama and the federal government for this reach of power, or demonize Snowden's character (as he stands as a perceived threat to the security-state). And while there are plenty of people who simply fall on one side or the other, I have seen plenty of prominent individuals who have somehow managed to hold and defend both views, strongly, and simultaneously. It's a testament, I think, to our tendency to rationalize our views as opposed to actually changing them.

I won't speak to the arguments regarding espionage and federal power. But I do find something peculiar about the way Snowden's character is being demonized. Those who are critical of Snowden have mostly rationalized their opinions on the basis of where he has run to in order to seek asylum. They seem surprised, and often infuriated, that he might flee to China or Russia. This is no surprise, of course. A large part of the Right's "national security" wing was, and continues to be, fixed on China and Russia - the two great bastions of Cold War communism. But there are a couple of things worth noting.

Firstly, generally speaking, the Cold War is over. And while I have concerns about China, and have nothing particularly flattering to say about either country, I think, even without any other considerations, that it's a bit foolish to act as if he had gone to these places in the height of the Cold War. When the intonation of the accusation is that he is essentially working for or with the government of another country, it's important to keep historical context. If he had fled to Britain, no one would be concerned that he was a key part in a plan to re-colonize the Americas.

Secondly, if he really was part of some cooperative effort with such foreign governments, why would he go there in such a public manner? It would seem to be a pretty obvious and critical draw of suspicion regarding said countries. Indeed, why would he even step foot on their soil at all? We're a little too far into the digital age to not be able to understand that money and information can exchange hands from quite a distance. The idea that he would so publicly walk back into the open clutch of his political cohorts reads too much like a bad movie where the villain provides a detailed explanation of what he did and how he did it right before the hero makes his escape.

Thirdly, the first city he fled to (Hong Kong) is arguably the freest place on planet Earth right now. There are plenty of criticisms one can generally lob at China. Judging by many of the criticisms, though, you'd think Snowden left to go spill national secrets to communists under a statue of Mao. Meanwhile, he fled to a particular city that's far freer than any of the cities those criticisms are being lobbed from.

And, lastly, where exactly is it that one would expect someone fleeing the United States to go? They argue, "And look where he went. Of course. Right to countries that hate us. What more proof of his intentions do you need?" And I'll have to answer, "Quite a bit." The reciprocal claim seems to be that Snowden should have fled to a country with closer ties to the United States. And the problem with that, which I hope all of us could arrive at on our own, is that countries with closer ties would obviously extradite him back into the hands of our government. This, by far, would be the most logical reason why you would want to seek asylum in a country that may not particularly share the interests of the United States or its allies. For some, however, these dots don't seem to connect quite as easily.

As with anything else of this nature, I could be completely wrong here. He could really be a modern communist sympathizer, spilling tar into America's political thresher, and pounding shots of vodka with his comrades at a Moscow airport. Of course, given that he made contributions to Ron Paul's presidential campaign, I find that unlikely. Then again, Ron Paul very badly wants to stop that thresher too. Maybe there's an open stool sitting there for him at the end of that airport bar.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

An American Civics Lesson

Over the years, I've had a healthy-growing distaste for our effervescent love affair with democracy. Each stripe on the colorful flag of populism seems like a strike against it. Creed, race, nation; football teams in a seemingly inevitable clash of culture, vying for our allegiance and merchandising dollars. From U.S. president to local pastor, majoratarian politics has just not been my bag.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm mistaken on that. Maybe there's a piece of information I just haven't processed yet, and all my opposition and frustration is just some unfortunate mistake, like an IRS accounting error. But then something grabs the attention of the American public, and the subsequent discourse kicks me right in the teeth. How silly of me. Some people really just are stupid. And, boy, the idiocy can really reach a majestic height. And, lest you believe I'm dipping too much into hyperbole, I'd like to turn your attention to the Trayvon Martin case.

As a formal disclaimer, I'd like to say that I (and the vast majority of us for that matter) do not know what happened in actuality. So none of my criticisms are on the basis of what did or did not happen. What I would like to draw attention to are some of the claims of many others (particularly regarding certain hypotheticals). And I won't even go into the nuances of positive law here (because God knows the people making the claims have made no attempt to grasp them anyways).

So, if I were to look at much of the discourse on this subject and view it as an American Civics class, here are ten things I would have learned:

1. Breaking the codes of conduct for your local neighborhood watch is illegal.

2. You're legally bound to said codes even if you're not on "watch".

3. 911 operators have executive authority (on par with police officers no less).

4. Investigating or stopping a potential crime is something that only police officers have the authority to do.

5. Following someone qualifies as assault and may be physically defended against.

6. Confronting someone verbally as to their intentions qualifies as assault and may be physically defended against.

8. Your life cannot be legitimately threatened unless you have already sustained serious bodily injuries.

9. One may not use a lethal (external) weapon unless being attacked by someone with another lethal (external) weapon.

10. Once it has been ascertained that use of a lethal weapon is necessary, one must use it in a non-lethal fashion.

Class dismissed.