I am occasionally called upon to answer for my political views. This post describes my views and their philosophical basis, and should serve as a reference for those who want to know what kind of sneetch I am.
In short, I am center-left with left-libertarian tendencies; see my results from iSideWith.com to see how I fit with the current US political parties. A lot of people associate “libertarian” with the right-wing version that has gained some popularity within the Republican party. It should be noticed, however, that I can manage to have a majority agreement with all the left-wing parties and the Libertarian Party, while still being 95% incompatible with the Republicans. This ought to indicate that there’s more to the story.
This post gets a little philosophical. I’ve encountered a surprising number of people who are expressly anti-philosophical, and some who say they are more interested in “action” than philosophy. I choose to be philosophical because I want to have good beliefs based on good reasons. There are few things more ridiculous than action without reason. My moral and political philosophy is heavily influenced by Kant and Rawls, sort of like the “neo-Rawlsian libertarian” view described in this post by Kevin Vallier at Bleeding Heart Libertarians.
In the United States, the term “libertarian” has been co-opted by a narrowly defined ultra-capitalist conservative philosophy embraced by the US Libertarian Party, and by some factions within the Republican Party. But the word has always had a much broader meaning, encompassing many distinct legal and philosophical views. Some libertarians claim to have devised complete philosophical foundations for ethics and government, but others adopt a situational approach to problems of applied ethics and law.
Yesterday, over at the Friendly Atheist site, blogger Terry Firma “came out” as a libertarian. What’s great about Terry’s post is that he highlights progressive aspects of his views. He believes in a progressive income tax and single payer health care — ideas that are not typically associated with Libertarian Party USA. I love Terry’s post because I consider myself to be the same kind of libertarian, and I’ve met plenty of like-minded progressive libertarians over the years, but we’re often lumped in with the Ayn-Rand-Tea-Partier-gun-lover-climate-change-denier cult that has been so loud in recent years.
I previously wrote some very critical remarks about the Ayn Rand variant of Libertarianism, which has become a dominant influence in the US Libertarian and Conservative political movements. There is no shortage of problems with Randian thinking. But “Libertarianism” refers to a diverse collection of philosophical approaches to ethics, politics and law, and the entire batch should not be dismissed because of a few bad eggs.
In this post I consider the definition of pseudo-scholarship as something more subtle than pseudo-science, and I examine an essay by Ayn Rand as an example. This post examines some poor aspects of libertarianism that, in my opinion, are “not even wrong.” In a future post I will return to libertarianism and explain aspects that I think are both scholarly and extremely good, and are supported by real evidence. Until then, let’s start with some of the negative items…
During a recent debate over libertarianism, I was drawn into a deeply layered argument that ranged from Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy and broader libertarian thinking, to Natural Rights theory and the scholarly value of meta-ethics. The discussion was also invaded by Holocaust revisionism, creating a very murky situation. Most effort in the skeptic community is directed toward pseudo-science, which is easily defined — e.g., theories that contradict observed evidence, or that make claims that are untestable or deceptive. But when it comes to the humanities and social or political sciences, the distinction is not so obvious. Continue reading →
Summary: PZ Myers has created a “rude” environment on his blog, where the emphasis on ridicule and insult can obscure the nuances that separate good scholarship from pseudo-scholarship.
[EDIT– It has been pointed out to me (see comments) that some of my generalizations in this post are unfair. I agree with the assessment. My comments below are motivated by a particularly bad experience in which I was heckled by a few participants, one of whom trotted out some literature from a holocaust denial publisher, which left me somewhat enraged. In this specific experience, constructive discussion was simply unable to gain a foothold amidst the cacophony. This does not change my critique of Pharyngula’s general style as a community, which echoes (and amplifies) the style of denunciation and ridicule that appears in PZ’s own writing. I don’t think this style is a good representation of science and it interferes with the mission of public understanding.] Continue reading →