Monday, March 16, 2015

The Elephant Out In The Dark, Dank, Dung

Thank you Mr. Barnes for engaging in the dialog in a profound way.  You stimulated my thinking; actually opened up a whole new area or way to think about things.

Thinking and writing (and OMG talking!) about voluntary (a.k.a.personal) law as if it were a topic relevant to libertarians is a bit like four blind people feeling up an elephant on a moonless night out far from the  lights of human cities, somewhere on the wide savanna.  Not only is it pitch dark, there are piles of dank elephant dung strewn about, the poor sods are blindfolded and each has stumbled across a different part of the leviathan.  One, feeling the truck yells "Watch our for the constrictor!"  A second, brushing against the ear, reassures "It's just a banana leaf."  A third encounters the side and reports, "Hey guys I think I found a cave."  A fourth blinded wanderer is impaled by the tusk, and does not say anything that will be repeated here.  This retelling of the old Indian parable about the four blind man reporting on the different natures of the elephant was brought to you by the Element of Farce, with support from a Dash of Allusion.  And by, A Need To Make A Point, hopefully with art by inserting the only difference of logical significance: our wanderers did not expect to run into an elephant, and hadn't even figured out that they had run into the same animal before the parable ended.  The Indian blind men, at least as I remember hearing the tale, knew they were supposed to be inspecting an elephant.

Be patient, there is a point in here somewhere.  Voluntary and personal law can be thought of as a branch of social philosophy in the broader category of voluntaryism or social theories based on non-aggression, that intersects with the philosophy of law.  Voluntaryism is itself a minor school in the broader university of social philosophies dominated by schools that are much more popular these days, that make use of aggression as an organizing principle.  The point is, by discussing concepts like voluntary law we are pretty far out on the dark savanna of ideas, talking about concepts that are not widely discussed or well-defined.  The principles we are getting at are as old or timeless as creation, but the conceptual framework is unfamiliar.  It is to be expected that experiences will vary from different perspectives, and we may not even realize that we are just experiencing different aspects of the same leviathan.  And we are guided as much by intuition as by sight.

The point I have been tirelessly pushing is that the essence of every moral legal system is personal.  Law is at its highest essence is personal.  It is the laws that you uphold that are the ones you should be judged by.  And that it is possible to build communities and networks of communities based on this principle.

Voluntary law can and should be used by communities.  The critical point is how particular rules become enforceable laws within communities. There is absolutely no external difference between a community of persons who hold to the same law because they all unanimously agree that that the law is acceptable, and a community upon which the same law is imposed by some subset of the group, be it a majority, an elite, or whatever.  The differences are internal.  In the first, everybody agrees that the law is acceptable, there is a lack of tension, and much greater confidence that one's neighbors will follow the law.  In the second, there are bound to be some people who disagree with the law, so there will be greater tension, and less confidence.  The philosophy of non-aggression is about getting communities closer to the first state of harmony without using aggression.  Those who hold to non-aggression believe that aggression doesn't work, is morally wrong, or both, for building communities of harmonized laws.

And another thing.  One can be a member of communities that hold to different laws, and therefore any person can hold to distinct sets of law.  A person may adopt one set of laws for resolving disputes with members of a first community, and another set of laws for resolving disputes with members of a different community.  Tying this to the idea of contractual republics, voluntary law is not only personal, it is also a  form of covenant between members of the same community.  Where two or more people are transacting subject to same voluntarily accepted law, there is a sort of contractual republic formed, which may be transient in nature and be limited to the boundaries where the law of the two is in agreement.  One could even belong to different communities that hold to conflicting laws.  The only question in that situation is what law to apply when dealing with a third person.  Voluntary law suggests it would be a really good idea for everybody who rejects aggression to have a more general law defined that works with any other voluntaryist who accepts the same set of principles for resolving differences between voluntary laws.  For resolving such differences, voluntary law suggests using The Rule Of The Weakest Tool - TROTWET.

Identifying general principles and not just a set of specific rules is also fundamental to voluntary law.  Like natural property rights, moral laws arise from the person.  A neat thing about voluntary law is its worst limitation: it only works with other voluntaryists.  One cannot respect personal laws without rejecting aggression as a way of harmonizing laws.  Conversely, one cannot hold to non-aggression without recognizing that, if aggression cannot be used for harmonizing law, then every person must have the right to define their own law.  In a manner similar to how all reasonable people are libertarians, they just don't know it yet, all libertarians recognize the sanctity of personally defined law.  Some just don't know it yet.

Last point: It is the hierarchical logical structure of a well designed voluntary law system that enables its use with different communities.  At lower levels, there are more specific rules.  There are more general rules above those.  There is no lower limit to the number of levels, so long as each level is personally adopted by all on whom it is enforced, and its adoption is without coercion or fraud.  Each person's personal legal code can be simultaneously as simple as their most general principle, and as potentially complex as their DNA.  At the apex of this wonderful potential complexity is the most general principle, which is for voluntary law is essentially the Golden Rule or the non-aggression principle.  This general principle at the apex is what separates voluntary legal systems from all others.

So the first step in implementing voluntary law for people to just adopt a principle consistent with non-aggression as their most general principle of law, publish that fact and live as though it is an enforceable principle by which their own actions will be judged. To facilitate order in complex large societies of strangers, more detailed rules will be useful.  When large numbers of people recognize their personal right and responsibility to publish their own personal rules, so that others who also hold to non-aggression can make use of them, new orders will spontaneously emerge, without any bloody revolution or turmoil.  We have the power to build an orderly society, just by honoring the personal laws of those who reject aggression as a tool for organizing society.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Libertarian Brutalism and the Fuzzy Venn Diagram

Maybe the libertarian brutalism brouhaha blew over ages ago.  Or perhaps it festers still.  Either way, it might be used as an excuse to draw a fuzzy Venn diagram.  So I did.

Whatever Jeffrey Tucker originally intended or actually said in comparing a subset of libertarians to the movement in architecture known as brutalism, I perceived him as saying that a certain strand of libertarians are like architectural brutalists in wanting to emphasize just the essentials, and that such brutalism is less preferable than non-brutalist, humanist or "thick" libertarianism. Hopefully my perception is reasonably accurate.

Whatever Mr. Tucker actually wrote, within the small but growing community of people who identify as libertarians and comment on issues of the day, an ongoing storm of controversy intensified following Mr. Tucker's essay.  The controversy can be boiled down to a debate over the definition of "libertarian."  Over what it means to be a true Scotsman, so to speak, with opponents divided into two basic camps.  Forgive me for greatly oversimplifying things, but one camp argued that being a libertarian necessarily required that one renounce all bigotry, except perhaps for bigotry against bigots.  The other camp, the so-called brutalists, argued that, whatever the merits of bigotry, one's status as a bigot or non-bigot is irrelevant to whether or not one is a libertarian.  I reside in the second camp, not because I condone bigotry, but because I favor a more restricted definition of "libertarian."  Like all preferences concerning the meaning of symbols, it is by nature arbitrary and personal.  I can't control what meanings and arbitrary preferences other people adopt, but I can explain why I adopt my own, and why you should, too.

To service such explanation, I created the fuzzy Venn diagram depicted above.  It's fuzzy because boundaries of classification systems almost always have some degree of fuzziness around the edges.  But that's not the point.  The point is simply that the set of all moral principles (shown in pinkish-white) is larger than and entirely contains the subset of social moral principles, i.e., the moral principles that relate to social behavior (shown in yellow).  Further, that the subset of social moral principles is larger than and entirely contains the sub-subset of non-aggression principles (shown in green).  One might even go further and distinguish political non-aggression principles from more broadly social non-aggression principles.

To avoid going too far afield I'll neglect issues touching on what is, and is not, a properly stated non-aggression principle and underlying issues such as the definitions of "person," "property" or "aggression."  These issues are more fundamental and will inevitably cause divisions within the libertarian community.  For example disagreements over the rights of a fetus cannot be resolved by the non-aggression principle itself, because such disagreements rest on assumptions underlying it.  But such divisions are not the topic at hand.

Assuming that the Venn diagram above is valid, the brutalism controversy might be summarized as a debate over whether or not the term "libertarian" should be applied to everybody who adheres to moral principles in the green, non-aggression area, or only to some subset of such people who also adhere to other principles.  When summarized in this way, there are few who advocate for redefining the term "libertarian" based on acceptance of the N.A.P. plus some other principle. In fact, unaided by a search engine I can't think of anyone clearly arguing for such redefinition.  I can't say such people don't exist.  It is confusion over that point that is at the heart of the brutalism controversy.

Instead, those who eschew brutalism excoriate those who reject or fail to defend other moral principles, besides the N.A.P., whatever those other principles may be.   The "thickists" may point out that the failure to teach other moral principles hurts the cause of liberty, or is immoral.  Such arguments are healthy and unobjectionable. They might go as far as stating "I refuse to associate with brutalists." Fine.  If they exclaim "brutalists are not even libertarians!" then I object.  Or if they argue that one can (or should) be a libertarian while elevating some other moral principle above the N.A.P., this is also objectionable.  More than that, it's illogical.

Suppose, for example, that one values an ethic of multiculturalism.  If Jennifer values multiculturalism as superior to non-aggression, then she believes that it may sometimes be morally acceptable to use coercion to enforce multicultural values, however regrettable that aggression might be.  Conversely, if John values non-aggression over multiculturalism, then he believes that however regrettable bigotry and prejudice may be, it is never acceptable to oppose them with coercive force to any extent greater than justified by necessary defense.  Since Jennifer values multiculturalism over non-aggression, she cannot possibly be considered a "libertarian" because she rejects the non-aggression principle, which by definition forbids aggression for any purpose but necessary defense against the aggression of others.  Conversely, whether or not John is a bigot, he cannot be considered as anything other than a "libertarian" so long as he adheres to the non-aggression principle.  If you don't like bigotry, and John is a bigot, you may call him out as such.  But if you deny the possibility that bigoted libertarians can exist, or should be recognized as libertarians, you are depriving the word "libertarian" of its established meaning.  There is no other word in use to precisely identify people who hold to the non-aggression principle.  If "libertarian" is defined as somebody who takes exception to non-aggression in favor of some other set of moral principle even if only in limited circumstances, then some other word will have to be found to describe people who adhere to the non-aggression principle, which forbids such exceptions.

Why is it so hard to accept that "libertarian" can be used to describe people who hold to other beliefs that are abhorred?  The word is merely a general term, relevant to a narrow set of moral principles.  It must exclude other moral principles to be a useful term, and therefore it is inevitable that some libertarians will find other libertarians holding abhorrent beliefs, saying and doing abhorrent things.   Some atheists likewise may find other atheists abhorrent, yet we do not find any movement to redefine "atheism" as anything other than a belief that God does not exist.  Instead, people classify the genus of "atheists" into various species.  And it is considered perfectly normal to accept some species of atheism while abhorring others.

Whatever explains the desire to define "libertarianism" as something more than the a belief in the morality of the non-aggression principle, as if "libertarian" were a synonym for "good person," the desire is damnable.   "Libertarian" should not be thought of as a synonym for "good person."  There are good libertarians, who eschew all evil.  And there are bad libertarians, who do not eschew all evil, but who at least eschew the evil of non-defensive aggression.  What makes libertarianism such a powerful political ideology is its ban on using disagreements over principles in other areas of the moral Venn diagram as justification for aggression.  Take that away, and libertarianism becomes just another ideology justifying coercive rule by political elites, based on whatever principles or whims infuse their egos.

So is "brutalism" just a species of libertarianism?  It depends on how far one extends the concept of being a non-brutalist or humanist libertarian.  If the humanism is subservient to the non-aggression principle, such that aggression serving the cause of humanism is forbidden, then libertarians may be divided into separate non-humanist and humanist species.  However, if the humanism is not subservient to the non-aggression principle, the ideology is in no sense libertarian, as it justifies aggression for other than necessary defense.  A humanist who justifies aggression in the cause of humanism is not a libertarian, nor is one being "brutalist" by pointing that out.  But the confusing terminology of "brutalist libertarian" might lead some believe that one can be a libertarian of a non-brutalist sort, while rejecting the non-aggression principle.  Such confusion would be bad, if it became widespread.  Very bad.  It would divide those who hold to non-aggression, destroy all the utility of the word "libertarian" that has been building for the past 45 years or so, and require that a new word be adopted to replace it.  Some libertarians are also bigots or other scurrilous things, and there will always exist disagreements over moral principles. So let's just call out bad people for the evil they do, whether or not they are also libertarians.