Archive for Political Philosophy

Denying Bias Is Bad Science

Dave Killion — November 9, 2014

Quick on the heels of my post concerning Partyism comes this New Yorker article: “Is the Field of Psychology Biased Against Conservatives?” From the article –

On January 27, 2011, from a stage in the middle of the San Antonio Convention Center, Jonathan Haidt addressed the participants of the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. The topic was an ambitious one: a vision for social psychology in the year 2020. Haidt began by reviewing the field that he is best known for, moral psychology. Then he threw a curveball. He would, he told the gathering of about a thousand social-psychology professors, students, and post-docs, like some audience participation. By a show of hands, how would those present describe their political orientation? First came the liberals: a “sea of hands,” comprising about eighty per cent of the room, Haidt later recalled. Next, the centrists or moderates. Twenty hands. Next, the libertarians. Twelve hands. And last, the conservatives. Three hands.

The article goes on to confirm what you and I already suspect it will, which is that of course psychology is biased against conservatives. The field is comprised of (largely progressive) human beings, human beings are biased, and when most of them are biased in the same direction, then one will see that bias compromise the field. This is as true of libertarians and conservatives as it is of progressives, and it explains the progressive bent in the media-academic-entertainment complex. Can such biases be overcome? Not if the biased won’t admit there’s a problem –

Anecdotal evidence, the Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert pointed out, proved nothing. Maybe it was the case that liberals simply wanted to become professors more often than conservatives. “Liberals may be more interested in new ideas, more willing to work for peanuts, or just more intelligent…

If we were dealing with any type of discrimination other than political ideology, how likely does it seem that Gilbert would have indulged in similar musings?  Would he have publicly proclaimed the possibility that caucasians, heterosexuals, or males dominate the field because they were “more interested in new ideas”? I think he would rather have a Brazilian (NSFW). If the field were dominated by Christian Conservatives, what chance is there that any progressive would suggest it was because Christian Conservatives were “just more intelligent”? None, I’ll wager. Happily, there are ways to conduct research that serve to minimize the effect of bias in research, and the article details some of them. But why would researchers adopt solutions to a problem they deny exists?

The Danger of Strategic Voting

Dave Killion — November 2, 2014

With U.S. federal midterm elections rapidly approaching, Reason magazine has been posting articles on its blog that make the arguments for why libertarians should vote for Libertariansvote for Democrats, and vote for Republicans. I don’t care to focus too much on U.S. politics, but given that libertarians face similar dilemmas during elections in their home countries, I think many of you will find these articles illuminating. Of them all, I found Grover Norquist’s defense of voting for Republicans the most compelling:

You only have one vote. How best to use it to advance liberty?…

….In 2006, Montana’s Republican Senator Conrad Burns lost to his Democrat opponent Tester by 3,562 votes. The Libertarian Candidate Stan Jones captured 10,377 votes. Tester’s win meant that Obama had 60 votes in December 2009 and could pass Obamacare. That one vote passed a bill designed to fail into single-payer over time. Did the “too cool for school” libertarians advance liberty when they voted that day?”

Well, maybe they did, Grover… just not in the short term. Because what you’re suggesting is that the ‘too cool for school” libertarians would have advanced liberty further by voting into power a party that had full control of government for six years of the George W. Bush administration, and had every opportunity to deregulate the health care field so thoroughly that Obamacare would have been no more than a dream within a dream for decades to come, but instead chose to increase federal involvement. So, in the long run, it just might be that libertarians advance liberty more by voting for someone that actually reflects their values, instead of endorsing the lesser-of-two evils.

Partyism: The New Stupidity

Dave Killion — October 29, 2014

According to polling data, one in twenty Republicans and Democrats polled in 1960 said they’d be “displeased” if their child married someone from the other party. By 2010, that spread had changed to 1 in 3 for Democrats, and 1 in 2 for Republicans. This phenomenon (known as ‘partyism’) is claimed to be even more influential than racism. For the New York Times, David Brooks argues this is bad

“The problem is that hyper-moralization destroys politics. Most of the time, politics is a battle between competing interests or an attempt to balance partial truths. But in this fervent state, it turns into a Manichaean struggle of light and darkness. To compromise is to betray your very identity. When schools, community groups and workplaces get defined by political membership, when speakers get disinvited from campus because they are beyond the pale, then every community gets dumber because they can’t reap the benefits of diverging viewpoints and competing thought.”

I think Brooks has it backwards; as people are increasingly able to discriminate and separate into communities built of others with similar values, we will not only be better able to discern which groups have superior values, we will also be better able to reap the benefits of diverging viewpoints and competing thoughts, as we could more readily discern which lead to peace and prosperity, and which lead to violence and poverty. This, however, is not to say that partyism is good!

No, the real trouble with partyism is that it is yet another form of collective discrimination. Sure, it might be that liberals and conservatives are, on the whole, close-minded and/or unintelligent. But it is also possible that any individual liberal or conservative is simply uninformed, and, therefore, a potential libertarian. To indulge in partyism would be to miss the opportunity to bring those individuals to the one true faith… and that’s a mistake libertarians just would not make.

Bad Advice Can Come From Trusted Sources

Dave Killion — April 16, 2013



For those who don’t know him, this is Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist. Dr. Tyson spends a lot of time presenting science-related material to laypersons; think Bill Nye the Science Guy, but more serious. As a result of his success and popularity in that pursuit, Dr. Tyson is often treated as an authority on non-science matters, such as government. The result, well, you see above; inane rhetoric treated as serious and profound. Obviously, no one studies science or engineering because they want to run for office, and when voters are evaluating a candidate’s background, I doubt they consider degrees in mathematics or technology to be assets. And from the nonsense I’ve heard from the mouths of scientists who comment on public policy, the less of their statist foolishness, the better.

That said, although those from STEM fields might not make good contenders for congress or parliament, I don’t doubt the political field could be much improved by some diversity. Replace some of those lawyers with historians or economists, and we might be all the better for it. Until then, though, I suggest one consider political advice given by celebrities carefully before embracing it, even when that celebrity is a scientist.

Libertarianism – The Plumb Line Of Political Philosophy

Dave Killion — April 9, 2013


At “The Bright Pink Libertarian”, Chris Murphy shares some of Stephan Kinsella’s opinion concerning ‘Left Libertarianism’

” They want libertarians to stop saying capitalism because they want us to adopt their substantive unlibertarian, Marxian agenda. Yet they pretend it’s just for strategical or lexical concerns–which it’s not. This is yet another reason I think we should dig our heels in and not give in: they will then count it as a substantive victory for unlibertarian, leftist ideas.”

At the risk of gilding the lily, let me add this: if you claim to be either a left libertarian or a right libertarian, and by that claim you mean that you support some level of coercive governance, then you are no libertarian at all. Progressives can lean libertarian. Conservatives can lean libertarian. But libertarians do not lean. We are upright.

Embrace Your Opponents’ Endorsements

Dave Killion — February 24, 2013

The Cato Institute’s Dan Mitchell shares this amusing information

“Every so often you get a “teaching moment” in Washington. We now have one excellent example, as President Obama’s nominee for treasury secretary has been caught with his hand in the “tax haven” cookie jar. Mr. Lew not only invested some of his own money in a Cayman-based fund, he also was in charge of a Citi Bank division that had over 100 Cayman-domiciled funds. “

Mitchell has pointed out plenty of this type of conduct before, and he notes that Republicans are tickled to mock left-wing hypocrisy (chiefly, I think, because it distracts from right-wing hypocrisy). But I think this sort of response misses an opportunity. Rather than mocking the opposition for being hypocrites, it might be better to point out that they have, through their actions, revealed that they actually approve of the practice/regulation/what-have-you that they have been speaking against. Afterwards, never miss an opportunity to defend your own position by citing the implicit endorsement of it by your opposition. If we demonstrate to left-wing and right-wing voters that the politicians they support are actually opposed to the values they hold, perhaps we can bring them that much closer to libertarian enlightenment.

The One True Path

Dave Killion — January 29, 2013


The Libertarian Duality Symbol

Several libertarian scholars (such as The Cato Institute’s James Dorn) have made the case that Taoism is a philosophy supportive of libertarian values. Having read the Tao Te Ching a few times, I have to agree. For example –

“Colors blind the eye.
Sounds deafen the ear.
Flavors numb the taste.
Thoughts weaken the mind.
Desires wither the heart.”

Hmmm. Well, maybe something got lost in translation, or perhaps this passage doesn’t make sense when taken out of context. But there are portions where the connection is decidedly clearer –

“The more prohibitions you have,
the less virtuous people will be.
The more weapons you have,
the less secure people will be.
The more subsidies you have,
the less self-reliant people will be.”

In all honesty, the Tao Te Ching has far more passages like the first example than the second. But the unmistakeable message of the second example suggest that there may be truth and wisdom to be gathered from the more obscure portions. If you are interested in studying The Way, you can begin your journey here.

What Is Said Is More Important Than Who Says It

Dave Killion — January 13, 2013

This video is a re-edit of one in which celebrities promote an anti-firearms agenda. It has been re-cut with TV and movie scenes in which those selfsame celebrities portray characters engaged in the most horrific gun violence imaginable. The aim is to reveal these celebrities as hypocrites, and in that respect it is entirely successful. To which I say; So what?

To my mind, this video is yet another attempt to say an argument is wrong because of who made it. It attempts to create a sort of guilt-by-association. But being hypocritical is not the same thing as being wrong. There are plenty of people who have encouraged good behaviour, yet appear to act against their own exhortations. Consider your parents, for example. Now, I’m not one to say we have to forgo the evil pleasure of mocking celebrities when they behave foolishly, but let’s be aware of when we are doing so, and of what over-indulging in such behaviour can cost.

Speak Of The Devil

Dave Killion — January 9, 2013

Having just yesterday admonished over-enthusiastic progressives against indulging their hatred of the right to the point of self-delusion, I was please to find this image all over the liberal blogosphere today –

This was allegedly left for restaurant waitstaff in lieu of a tip. In the hundreds of comments I’ve read, and in all the places I’ve seen this posted, there is a lot of outrage against ‘bitter one-percenters’ and ‘greedy Rethuglicans’, all  coupled with recommendations to sully the customer’s food with everything from various body fluids to deadly poison (should he ever return, that is). What I haven’t seen is an attribution, or a source, or any sort of indication that this is a true story. Worse yet, in all those comments, I have yet to find the slightest bit of skepticism. Heed me, progressives! Indulging your preference for stoking the narrative rather than recognizing the truth comes at great cost to your movement. Turn from the darkness!

Progressives Are Tilting At Windmills

Dave Killion — January 8, 2013

Recently, market research group Experian Simmons found that when Republicans watch TV, they prefer things like college football and The Antiques Road Show. The same research found that when Democrats watch TV, they prefer shows that mock Republicans. This is a demonstration of what I believe to be an unfortunate tendency of the left to exaggerate and distort the arguments of the right to to the point of absurdity. Unfortunate, because it causes much of the left to waste time and energy battling phantoms. Case in point

“… San Rafael resident Jonathan Frieman’s creative ticket appeal fell on unsympathetic ears Monday at Marin Traffic Court.

Frieman was contesting his $478 carpool lane violation on the grounds that while driving south through the two-passenger lane in Novato last October, a set of incorporating documents constituted a second person in the vehicle—if the U.S. Supreme Court grants corporations the same free speech rights as citizens, as it seemed to in the 2010 Citizens United ruling, argued Frieman, then he and his corporation papers count as two people in the carpool lane.”

Poor Mr. Frieman, like so many leftists, seems to have convinced himself that the U.S. Supreme Court has recently confirmed that ‘corporations are people‘. But this often-repeated fantasy has been clearly rebutted many times, by many libertarians (some examples). It appears Mr. Frieman has expended an awful lot of effort in attempt to mock a position no one is advocating.

So, progressives, a friendly observation: conservatives are probably not as ignorant, anti-science, racist, or greedy as it pleases you to imagine they are.  It’s true that they present a target-rich environment, but if you cannot bring yourselves to forgo the sweet satisfaction of indulging in stereotyping, you will not make the kind of progress you might otherwise.