Tolerance: It isn’t always the moral high ground

I must confess, I hate buzzwords. Take “awareness” for example. Every October, we have “Breast Cancer Awareness” month. Is there really anyone in the developed world who isn’t aware of breast cancer? We don’t need awareness, we need money to fund research for a cure.

Awareness is a word that would be appropriate for things like the current Ebola scare where money isn’t necessarily what’s needed; people also need to be aware of how it is contracted, aware of how at risk they are, aware of what it actually is, etc.

Ebola Virus
Ebola Virus

As with many buzz words, “awareness” started off being used appropriately, then turned into a bastardized version of itself as people started applying it to every cause of the week. It’s not unlike the word “liberal,” which has a meaning quite the opposite of the ideology that drives most people today who describe themselves as such.

The buzzword I want to discuss however, which seems to be common in the current lexicon, is “tolerance.” The concept being that to each their own, live and let live, etc. This ideology is the core of libertarianism.

Democrats may claim to be the ones who are most tolerant of gays wanting to marry for example, but even our president was against it at the time of his election; libertarians were for it all along.  The Libertarian Party is the true party of tolerance, and always has been. It is refreshing to see that sentiment is permeating through to the other two parties though, liberty is a principle that is near and dear to us all, thankfully. Some just take longer than others to champion it for those who are different from them.Don't Tread On Me

I’ve outlined many times that issues are generally broken up into two categories: subjective and factual. The problem with “tolerance” is that much like “awareness” people often want to apply it in places where it doesn’t belong.

Would you tolerate someone who argues that two plus two is five or that the sun revolves around the Earth? We all have a right to our opinions, but no one has a right to their own “facts.” Facts stand on their own, despite whatever opinion someone may have; this is important to understand when dealing with the idea of being tolerant.

Whether it be gay rights, music preferences, or taste in cuisine, it is not uncommon to see people who are wrongfully intolerant of those choices by insulting them or demeaning them for such choices. Disrespecting someone or infringing on their rights because they disagree with you on such matters is always going to be an immoral practice.

The problem arises when people expect you to be tolerant on matters of fact. Since I’m quite opinionated, it’s not uncommon for me to lash out at people who I deem to be misrepresenting the truth. The difference between myself and someone who is intolerant, is I do so with people who make claims which aren’t supported by the evidence. Especially when they feel the need to disrespect me for not agreeing with them.

When I rightfully tell these people they are wrong, such as my last post about people who promote alternative medicine, I was not being intolerant, I’m protecting others from their lies (or non-facts if I give them credit for just being ignorant versus malicious). But I’m also making it clear I am not one to accept false information as fact. This distinction has a very fine line though.539838_10150934532972695_942140407_n-560x700[1]

Veganism and vegetarianism are perfect examples. There are two reasons to choose this dietary lifestyle. Some do so because they don’t want to be part of a group who exploits animals. This is a matter of opinion, and no one should rightfully disrespect them for taking that position. It’s a perfect example of when you should be tolerant.

But, if a vegan/vegetarian makes a claim that they have done so for health reasons, that is a claim of biological fact and should be scrutinized. Many studies have been done on the health effects of veganism, and it consistently has the opposite effect, depending on which aspect of health you’re focusing on. ScienceBasedMedicine.org has done a good job of gathering much of this information here. So choosing this lifestyle for that reason is not a call for tolerance, but for skepticism instead.

I’m not promoting the idea of taking that lifestyle away from a vegan/vegetarian, they have the right to choose so for whatever reason they’ve decided. But I won’t tolerate them encouraging others to choose that lifestyle for health reasons with no evidence to support that claim. They are essentially giving medical advice without a medical degree or any scientific evidence supporting them. Since the facts often don’t support their argument, it would be immoral for me to let such falsehoods go unchallenged.

The purpose of promoting tolerance is about the morality of judging someone based on their beliefs, not tolerating them spreading potentially harmful lies and/or misinformation. As P.C. Hodgell wrote in Seeker’s Mask, “That which can be destroyed by the truth, should be.”

This brings me to my “friends” on the left, because this principle applies to politics just the same. I strive to be tolerant of someone who prefers socialism, acknowledging that it’s OK for them to want a system where we collectively work towards a common good and pool our resources accordingly; all being managed by a benevolent governing body.Statism-c-c[1]

But they rarely give us liberty-minded folks the same deference. They argue socialism works, blatantly disregarding the historical evidence of socialism. But more importantly, they vote in people who force socialism onto me.

If I force liberty onto them, they would have the freedom to enter into their own oppressive sanctuary if they chose to. But if they force socialism onto me, I don’t have the option to be free. Clearly, I am not the intolerant one.

 

 

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How The Constitution Could Have Been Better At Limiting Government

In America, our legislation process is laid out in the Constitution and for the most part, is fairly simple on the face of it.

I’m not going to go into the procedural issues. I know that legislation has passed the House of Representatives, only to sit on the Senate majority leader’s desk without a vote, and vice versa. I don’t think anyone outside of congress understands all that underlying and overcomplicated nonsense. There’s a good chance most of them prefer that lack of transparency—a problem in its own right.

But once a law does get to a vote, a simple majority of congress people and senators vote, and the majority wins. The exceptions of course being articles of impeachment, amending the Constitution, overriding a veto, suspending congressional rules, or ending a filibuster, which require a supermajority.

The 1st Amendment
The 1st Amendment

On occasion, after a law is passed, it gets constitutionally challenged and ends up in the Supreme Court. Again, a simple majority of the justices determine if the Constitution was violated, then either uphold or strike it accordingly.

While this process seems to make sense at first; being a person who loves thought exercises as I do, I think our Constitution could be better.

We all should understand that the Constitution was intended as a guarantor of our rights, so with the intention of keeping government limited, I feel the founding fathers could have done it better.

My blue sky thinking premise is pretty simple.

Instead of allowing a simple majority to draft laws which grow government, I would require that a two-thirds majority be needed for passage of all laws where a restriction on the people is proposed. Tax increases, regulations on commerce, but a few examples. Only laws which are restrictions on government, such as in the Bill Of Rights, or efforts to strike laws already on the register could be passed with a simple majority.

My reason for this is to make expansion of government incredibly difficult for legislators, by ensuring that the laws they do pass will likely transcend political agendas and are legislation most rational people on the left and the right would agree on. Yet at the same time, it would make it easy for any legislator wearing a their libertarian hat that day to reduce the size and scope of government by simple majority.

But we can take this a step further by foisting this principle on the Supreme Court as well. If SCOTUS agrees to hear a case, before arguments even start, they would have to establish whether the law is a restriction on government or the people. Any law deemed a restriction on the people would be struck down unless a 2/3 majority choose to uphold it. I don’t know that a restriction-on-government law has ever been challenged, but only a simple majority would be needed for such a law to stand.

The Supreme Court Of The United States
The Supreme Court Of The United States

While I know I write about the Constitution often and hold it in incredibly high regard, I think it’s quite important to understand it was a document written by imperfect men, and more importantly, had little historical evidence to go off of for guidance. As such, our founders had to write it to the best of their abilities, and hope the amendments process would fix any misgivings they may have omitted.

The fact that the 18th amendment was allowed to pass (Alcohol prohibition) is clear proof that a little trial and error was always in play. So while I understand some might think me politically sacrilegious for suggesting a modification to our beloved Constitution, I am not painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa here.

There is a great divide between libertarians like me who propose constitutional amendments from others who would either dismiss the Constitution altogether, or who want to add more restrictions like the reprehensible Defense of Marriage Act, which has no place in a document designed to protect rights. I’m looking to add more teeth to the document, whereas, many Democrats and some Republicans are looking to defang it so that it’s bite no longer restricts their social engineering agenda. cropped-cropped-conssign1.jpg

It’s been untouched since 1992, but thanks to a Congress, Senate, and sadly a Supreme Court, who don’t seem too concerned about liberty this days, our Constitution could use a little dose of adrenaline. Our rights are supremely important, and while we would never stand for an elimination of them altogether, the constant erosion of them has been in place for centuries. “We the people” have the power, not government. Let’s help those in Washington who were elected to serve us help them remember that.

Why Do We Only Complain About 2/3 Of Government

We libertarian-minded people often complain that presidents are ruining our nation or that congress are passing unconstitutional laws infringing on our rights. But oddly, you rarely hear complaints about the Supreme Court.

They work just as much as congress does, and with Obama’s golf game in high gear, it seems like they likely work more than him. So why is it that people complain ad nauseam about congress  and the president, yet give SCOTUS a pass?

Golfer-In-Chief: President Obama
Golfer-In-Chief: President Obama

We all know about National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, where Chief Justice John Roberts famously provided the majority decision to treat the Affordable Care Act’s penalty as a tax, therefore accepting the legislation as constitutional, despite the fact that Sebelius’ side specifically argued it was to be a penalty and not a tax.

The administrations reason for calling it a penalty was largely political so that Obama would not be deemed as a willing participant in raising taxes on all Americans, including the poor.

So why would SCOTUS rule in such a way as to effectively rewrite law?

Supreme Court of the United States Chief Justice John Roberts
Supreme Court of the United States Chief Justice John Roberts

Sadly they shouldn’t have—the Constitution is quite clear. I accept that the idea of questioning SCOTUS from my layman’s Constitutional perspective seems mighty ambitious, but the Constitution enumerates quite clearly that the Supreme Court’s duty is to adjudicate laws on the basis of their constitutionality, in so doing, setting precedent for lower courts to follow.

Writing law is strictly the job of Congress, and therefore Roberts and the majority. were out of line. They should have just rejected it as it was, and let congress rewrite and repass it in a more Constitution-friendly form.

A million other op-ed writers have elaborated on this case well enough that I feel any opinion I would write would be redundant, so I am instead going to focus on the idea that much of our ire at government in general should be directed at SCOTUS.

First things first, let’s look at their oaths of office. (Yes, there are two.)

The Constitutional Oath

“I, _________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.  So help me God.”

The Judicial Oath

“I, _________, do solemnly swear or affirm that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as _________, according to the best of my abilities and understanding, agreeably to the constitution and laws of the United States.  So help me God.”

If we break this down, it is clear that their personal opinions shall be suppressed, and rulings should be given solely based on what is contained in the Constitution and U.S. law.

Chief Justice Roberts Being Sworn In
Chief Justice Roberts Being Sworn In

There are two potential views on this. There are absolutists who feel the Constitution must be adjudicated as written. That rulings should be based solely on the verbiage of the Constitution, not what SCOTUS justices believed the legislature meant when writing it.

Others believe that the Constitution is a living document where justices are free to rule with the Constitution as their guide, but have license to issue judgments based on what they feel the framers of our Constitution may have meant. But this interpretation essentially allows for SCOTUS justices to rule however they want, so long as they can fabricate some story, no matter how ridiculous it may seem, to align their opinion with the framers’ intentions.

But clearly this makes the Constitution virtually irrelevant if we think this way, as it essentially means that SCOTUS is only limited by individual justice’s imaginations.

For example, in McGowan v Maryland, Sunday closing laws (blue laws, as they’re known) were challenged as a violation of the 1st amendment; the argument being that they were clearly a law establishing religion.alcohol1[1]

However, the courts ruled that the law was secular in nature and these communities were simply enforcing a day of rest. They ignored that the chosen day was Sunday, which aligns with Christian dogma, and contradicts Jewish dogma, infringing on the Jewish people’s own rights to work on Sunday.

If the justices had been absolutists, the law would have unquestionably been struck down with its clear religious underpinnings. But those who held this decision instead opted to find a way to allow it, despite the Constitution’s concise forbidding of laws establishing religion, because at the time, Christian opposition to overturning such longs would have been quite great. All people want to be loved, including Supreme Court justices I guess, their oath-of-office be damned.

Since the Constitution doesn’t address absolutism versus interpretationism specifically, sadly SCOTUS justices may take either tact at any time.

I find this notion troubling as it seems clear to me that the Constitution’s framers did not intend for this by virtue of the way the Supreme Court is set up.

The 1st Amendment
The 1st Amendment

Firstly, the Justices are appointed, not elected. Then once appointed, they are never reelected or reappointed; they’re a Supreme Court Justice until they retire, do something criminal, or death does them part.

The purpose of this is to ensure that they never make a decision based on popular opinion, nor make a decision based on what the legislature or the president who may have appointed them might want.

If Justice Sotomayor for instance, were to rule against Obama in every constitutional challenge he were to be involved in, despite the fact he appointed her, there is no recourse he has. Once she’s confirmed, her decision shall not affect her job status whatsoever. It’s the only true way that she makes her decisions, no matter how unpopular that decision may be, with sole regard to the constitutionality of it—assuming they adhere to their oaths.

This is the very point of the Constitution in general. Many forget we are not a democracy, but a republic. We have our Constitution, and thus SCOTUS, to protect the rights of the minority from the majority. By definition, there is no point in SCOTUS’ nor the Constitution’s existence, if government is simply to side with popular opinion.

The Supreme Court Of The United States
The Supreme Court Of The United States

So the very act of considering congress’ or the people’s opinions when ruling on the constitutionality of something is a violation of the Constitution’s core principles. So in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, it was not the majority opinion’s right to essentially work with congress and the people to find away to allow an unconstitutional law.

While this was a landmark case, the fact is, this reasoning should apply to a majority of laws in the United States. The Tenth Amendment alone should be grounds for striking much of federal legislation. It states as follows:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

This essentially states that unless the law in question is of a subject matter that the Constitution defines as a federal issue, or forbids the states from legislating on, the law must be a state issue, or a matter between the people.

NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), and the DOE (Department of Education) are all effectively precluded via the Tenth Amendment. Where does the Constitution mention traffic, the environment, or education? (Hint: It doesn’t).

So while we lambaste congress and the president for violating our rights, let’s not forget that SCOTUS has the ability, and more importantly, the duty under the Constitution, to be the last line of defense of our rights—something they don’t seem to take too seriously these days. If anyone should know better, it’s them. Their forbidding of cameras in the courtroom, and rare amount of interviews given have kept them out of the limelight, likely by design. But I say let’s make sure we’re pissed at them too.

Alternative Medicine: The Grand, Ignorant And Immoral Oxymoron

There can be no doubt, many people suffer from iatrophobia ​—a fear of doctors. Being poked with needles, recommended for surgeries, or placed on never-ending drug regiments can make people want to curl up in a ball somewhere and hide forever.

As a result of this somewhat understandable fear, people often look to alternative medicine for the answers to their problems. Whether it be practices like chiropractic, homeopathic, holistic, acupuncture—the list is mind numbing.doctor_needle2[1]

So first, let’s look at the definition of the word medicine.

med·i·cine
ˈmedəsən/
noun
noun: medicine; plural noun: medicines
  1. the science or practice of the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease (in technical use often taken to exclude surgery).
  2. a compound or preparation used for the treatment or prevention of disease, especially a drug or drugs taken by mouth.

When discussing the idea of alternative medicine, it should first be understood that there is essentially no such thing as alternative medicine.

  • There is medicine: practices or compounds that treat a medical condition or disease.
  • There is non-medicine: practices or compounds that  do not treat a disease or medical condition.

There is no middle ground here, the item in question either works, or it doesn’t work. The level of effectiveness may very, but there has to be a noted effect, above the margin of error or the placebo effect, or it cannot be considered medicine.medicine[1]

For hundreds of years, scientists have laid out the path to determine which is which. It’s called a clinical trial, an extension of the scientific method. While the concept goes back thousands of years, in the last century, the process is now pretty consistent and highly effective.

In a fictional example, I will create a drug called Libertol (I had to throw a little politics in this thing), and I will have invented it to treat a disease called oppressionitis.

Assuming I’m a drug company, I’m going to be biased to confirm that the millions of dollars I spent developing Libertol actually yielded a functional, and thus marketable product. Since that bias could either unintentionally skew my results, or raise concerns I might purposefully have skewed the results, I would find an independent party to test Libertol in order to rule out any actual or perceived biases I might have.

The independent testing facility would start by looking for a number of people with oppresionitis, and ask them if they’d be willing to submit to a study on a new drug to treat this horrible disease. For the sake of argument, let’s say we get 500 people to be our guinea pigs.

Clinical Study Map. Click for more info
Clinical Study Map. Click for more info

Why 500? Because “anecdotal evidence isn’t evidence.” (Great science maxim #1, there will be more) But what do scientists mean by that?

Imagine you flip a coin once, and it lands heads up. Would you then assume that every time you flip a coin, it will land heads up because of that one flip? Of course you wouldn’t. That is essentially anecdotal evidence. One, or barely more than one, instance is almost never to be treated as if its results are indicative of what should be expected on a consistent basis. This is also why you are wise to often get a 2nd or even 3rd opinion when seeing doctors.

So maybe you flip the coin ten times? It lands heads seven out of ten due to random chance, which is not implausible. If I’ve done my math right, is likely to happen about 1 out of 8 times (15:125 to be exact). So does that mean a coin is prone to land heads up 70% of the time? Again, of course not. The more times you flip it, the closer it will get to its actual probability of 50:50 as the odds start to balance out.Coin[1]

So when doing a clinical trial, the more people you can test, the more accurate your results will be, and this is why we want 500 people in our above fictional example.

These trials are actually done in phases, with only about 20-80 people at first, if the drug ends up having detrimental side effects, you don’t want it to affect a large number of people, after all. But by the time the study hits phase 3, there will likely be thousands of participants being evaluated. But I’m simplifying the three phases down to one, and the process in general, for the purposes of this article.

Once volunteers are gathered up, half of them will be given the actual drug, the other half will be given a placebo (a non-drug). This placebo is designed to control for the placebo effect, a condition whereby a person will convince themselves a drug works, even if it doesn’t.

The placebo effect will generally not alter things that are purely quantitative, like blood pressure, heart rate, or other measurable conditions, but it can have quite the profound effect on subjective data, such as pain level and other issues the user merely reports on versus being tested with equipment.

The results of the group who took Libertol would then be tested against the people who took the placebo they thought was Libertol, and Bob’s your uncle—you have a result.

If Libertol actually worked, it would show as such by being more effective than the placebo was at treating oppressionitis. Otherwise, the results will come back as “no more effective than a placebo,” and Libertol would be sent to the ineffective drug graveyard in the sky, barring any noted side effects that may be beneficial elsewhere.

Viagra being one of the best examples of this phenomena, was originally designed for blood pressure issues, which it was horrible for, but turned out to be quite the rock star at “pitching tents.”viagra[1]

So the moral here, is that you shouldn’t take medical advice from someone who tried something once and it worked. There are infinite other possibilities to explain why it seemed effective, rather than it actually being effective. Instead, ask your doctor and if you’re a true skeptic, research yourself for clinical trial results.

I was recommended acupuncture by my neurologist for headaches, only to do my research using sites like sciencebasedmedicine.org. Much as I expected, I found that clinical trials showed acupuncture is “no more effective than a placebo.”

People who had actual acupuncture reported similar results, within the margin of error, to people who were treated with fake acupuncture where the needles were purposely misplaced. It has never been shown to be more effective despite its hundreds of years of history. The only “ancient Chinese secret” here, is that it doesn’t work.

Acupuncture
Acupuncture

While we place a lot of trust in doctors, not all of them adhere to the scientific method exclusively, some are flat-out quacks. But if you want medicine versus non-medicine, you should demand as such. So lesson learned, I won’t be seeing that neurologist again.

There are two types of alternative medicine practitioners:
Fraudsters who know they’re taking advantage of you, or
ignorant people who simply don’t know better. But why give your money to either one?

If someone is purposefully deceiving you for a fee, that is a horribly immoral practice where you take someone’s hard-earned money that could be used for something that would help them, and instead sell them something that won’t. If I lived in an anarchistic country, I would want to destroy every one of these sociopaths. They are valueless human beings, in my opinion.

But even if they’re just ignorant and think these practices actually work, they’re still taking your hard-earned money for something that doesn’t. Assuming you don’t have money to burn, why do exactly that?burning-money-e1340332352315[1]

It is true, an argument can be made that if the placebo effect does work for things like pain, giving someone a placebo might make them feel better without introducing foreign chemicals into their body. But it’s still inherently dishonest, and I would hope none of you would willingly pay someone to lie to you.

All health claims are scientific in nature, meaning there are biological processes that are either going to get better, stay the same, or get worse in your body after treatment. So trust in things that have passed the test of the scientific method, and understand that “that which can be destroyed by the evidence, should be.” (Great science maxim #2)

“Extraordinary claims, require extraordinary evidence.” (Great science maxim #3) This is what clinical trials provide beyond any reasonable doubt.

People like Harry Houdini spent their lives trying to debunk such fraudsters. Penn & Teller had a show called Bullshit on Showtime which aired for eight seasons debunking them as well. See an excerpt demonstrating the placebo effect here.

James Randi is famous for purposefully overdosing on homeopathy, taking a “lethal” dose, to show that if such a dose had zero effect, the prescribed amount surely must do nothing.

So if I am a libertarian, why do I care? Shouldn’t people be free to put into their body whatever they want? Absolutely!

While I would never prosecute a non-medicine consumer (I refuse to call it alternative medicine), fraud is a violation of your right to property, specifically, your money, and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

These people get away with fraud by making non-scientific claims such as saying these things increase your energy or boost your immune system. An actual boosting of your immune system would essentially be an autoimmune disease where you body attacks its own cells. Something you really, REALLY don’t want. But it is effectively immeasurable since there is no number by which your immune system can be rated with, in a manner such as blood pressure or cell count.

I’d like to quickly dispel a couple of these myths by showing you the purpose, methodology and power of skepticism, or critical though, hopefully encouraging you to do your own.

Things like acupuncture, for instance, are said to be practices that are hundreds of years old (as if that is somehow evidence), and that doctors won’t often recommend them because there’s no money to be made. Might I point out that acupuncturists do in fact work for money? Therefore there is actually money to be made—they’re making it. In order to believe this argument, you must do no critical thinking whatsoever. I just dispelled it in one sentence.

People argue we have a cure for cancer, but drug companies are suppressing it to make more money on drugs that only treat cancer, not cure it. This one requires a little more skepticism, but let’s bring up some valuable points to debunk this.

  • Drug companies do make drugs that cure cancer. Chemotherapy and radioactive seeds are but a couple. We simply don’t have one drug that cures all cancer all the time, nor one drug that doesn’t have harmful and potentially fatal side effects as chemotherapy does.
  • This assumption also means that a drug company would have to invest the typically millions of dollars required to develop a drug that works, then shelve it without recouping any of that money as a return on their investment. Why would they develop it in the first place if they don’t want such a return? These conspiracy theorists are arguing how greedy drug companies are, then asserting a claim that they are purposefully throwing money away—an overwhelming contradiction.
  • Then we must also assume that the scientists who went to medical school, usually with the intent of saving lives, many of them specifically dreaming of being “the one” who cures cancer, spent years developing a drug that works. However, once realizing their dream of curing cancer, completely eschewed their ideals and agreed to suppress the drug for money. A theory that’s insulting to every moral medical student who ever slaved away for eight years in college to save your life.
  • Lastly, the above two bullets would both involve more than one person. The drug company has a board of directors, and the labs often have tens or hundreds of people on staff, yet not one of them headed over to CNN or Fox News to blow the whistle?

I could go on and on pointing out the logical fallacies and ignorance of thinking these ways. But hopefully my two examples of how to be a proper skeptic will inspire you to do more critical thinking of your own, instead of buying into these radical conspiracies. The life and the pocketbook you save could be your own.

P.S. I linked to an article debunking acupuncture above. Here is another debunking homeopathy with what is effectively simple, yet astounding math. I promise, it is worth the read. (Click the picture)

539838_10150934532972695_942140407_n-560x700[1]

Also, here’s a great video demo from Twitter’s @ScienceBabe

The Left vs The Right: Who Has The Moral High Ground?

Democrats often wish to portray Republicans and libertarians as immoral beings who are greedy and don’t want to help the little guy.

So far, it has been an effective tactic for getting votes. We’ve got plenty of historical evidence to show that statism doesn’t actually work, yet people who know very little about the historical effects of statism keep voting for more government on the principle of morality. But is it the more morally sound method?

Morality is a man-made concept where we behave in such a way as to either not do harm to others, or to help those who are in need. Even if you’re not religious, morality is an evolutionary trait social beings like humans use to advance our species—a subject Michael Shermer elaborates on quite well in this article.

Michael Shermer
Michael Shermer

So then the question begs, does capitalism or statism jive better with the concept of morality?

I’ve mentioned on several previous posts that there are four officially socialist nations in this world. North Korea, China, Cuba, and Laos. Two other former socialist nations worth mentioning—the USSR, and Nazi Germany. Is there anyone who honestly wishes to argue that those nations were either:

A) More moral than the United States

or

B) Had a citizenry whose poor had a better quality of life than the poor of the United States.

I don’t believe any honest debate can say that America is the less moral nation, but what about the idea of a happy medium? Is some socialism good?

I would argue socialism is like smoking, there’s a decent amount you may get away with without killing the user, but the safest amount is the least amount. That’s the libertarian opinion, but do the facts support it?Statism-c-c[1]

We know that all animals instinctively work to advance their species, it’s the underpinnings of evolution. Organisms on this planet have been innately competing with one another to become the dominant species since the day single-celled organisms first sprung into life.

You’ll notice I said competing—competition is the foundation for capitalism, not socialism. Therefore, I feel I can logically conclude that capitalism is congruent with the natural behavior of all living organisms. But that doesn’t necessarily make it more moral, does it?

All life competes with other life for food and resources. In doing so, through the process of natural selection, life as a whole is advanced. Without this, we would still be just single-celled organisms floating around in a primordial soup. Forcing inferior organisms to either improve, or die trying, advances life far greater than nursing a losing battle. While I don’t believe asking for help is immoral, demanding help at the point of a gun sure is.

If we look at communist era Russian cars, have you noticed there is no real collector’s market for them? There are plenty of 100-year-old model T’s puttering around the globe, the market for them is still quite strong. But look around for a communist era Russian car, and you’ll be hard pressed to find one. They were horrid and hateful machines that no one wants.

Even when America allowed the socialist made Yugo to invade our shores, it was clear that these things were racking up more miles on the back of a tow-truck than they were under their own power.9780809098910_custom-815d71859a4a1992cb9174e6290928df7b86bac7-s99-c85[1]

If we were under socialist rule, we’d still be driving them, or something similar, but free markets and competition brought us better cars at a lower price, and the Yugo, along with communist Yugoslavia took their rightful place in the annals of history as failed experiments.

Many Democrats accept this, and claim they are pro-capitalism, but still believe we should have more government regulation and assistance for the underprivileged. They argue that social programs help the poor and needy, something they feel rich people wouldn’t do voluntarily.

Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are two of the richest men in America, and they voluntarily give billions away to charitable causes every year. Even old stalwarts like Andrew Carnegie, someone famous for being a monopolous and ruthless businessman, gave away most of his money in the end.

Andrew Carnegie
Andrew Carnegie

There is plenty of evidence to show that people will give to charities, rich and poor alike, so long as they feel the money will go to a good cause, will be appreciated, or will benefit mankind in general. It’s effectively a capitalist charity system where the best and most worthwhile charities garner the greatest contributions, and the ones that are not so deserving rightfully lose out.

The part where Democrats go wrong is that they fail to understand that government is not a charitable organization, it is an agent of force. You cannot argue that putting a gun to someone’s head, and forcing them to give to a cause they do not support is moral. If the cause needs support, and is worthy of the assistance it asks for, it will gain support on its merits, not because glad-handing politicians decided it was worthy.

What Democrats are pushing for when asking for more government isn’t moral, it’s lazy and selfish. They have their causes that they wish to support, but instead of making a case in the marketplace of ideas as to why the rest of us should support it, they try to pass laws to force us to do so whether we like it or not. Does that really sound moral to you?

Penn Jillette
Penn Jillette

The argument that if they don’t, people won’t help has a lesson in there that they routinely fail to see. People don’t support it, because it’s often not a good idea. Just because someone’s intentions are well-meaning, doesn’t mean they are right.

I might want to help the doctor saving the life of a loved one, but any help I attempt to provide in an operating room would likely be less than helpful at best. I don’t know what I’m doing, and can help the most by staying out of the way, something government officials should understand, but the desire to do something always seems to overwhelm them.

Famous examples like Solyndra, where we invested $500 million taxpayer dollars with little knowledge of the solar industry, and lost it all. Or with General Motors, where we invested $49.5 billion that GM didn’t even want, only to lose $10.5 billion when all General Motors needed to do, according to ousted CEO Rick Wagoner, was to file bankruptcy, which they ended up doing anyway.

Rick Wagoner
Rick Wagoner

Both instances, Obama and his administration meant well, just as I would in the aforementioned operating room, but good intentions still yielded bad results.

The problem for many Republicans is that they are quick to paint Democrats as evil, or immoral in response to the Democratic attacks. Ultimately, they’re often just wrong, and we’d be smart to focus our message on the factual inaccuracies Democrats use to justify their agenda.

Name calling has never advanced society, and it never gives you the moral high-ground. Republicans and Libertarians alike, should acknowledge the altruistic intent of every Democrat-proposed item on their agenda, but then break down why they are bad ideas with logic and reason. People will respond to this better than bickering and insults.

Our government is designed to be a guarantor of rights, which it must do at the point of a gun. That is a morally sound thing to do when using an agent of force.

But deploying the might of government into free markets, free will, and the individual pursuit of happiness, is oppression. It isn’t oppression like we saw in the 1700’s under monarchies, or into the 1800’s with slavery, but it’s still forcing people to be subservient against their will. Much like government, oppression of any kind, should be minimized as much as reasonably possible and should never be portrayed as moral.

The fact is, both parties mean well, and should be portrayed as moral. We simply disagree on the methodology and implementation of how to best advance our nation. We on the right feel freedom accomplishes this best, Democrats believe government regulation does. Since the historical evidence is on the libertarian side of the argument, I will always contend we are effectively the most moral.

Dream Theater Better The Beatles? A Lesson In Art vs. Science.

I have a confession to make. I cannot endure country, Top 40, or hip-hop music for any lengthy period of time. You might as well waterboard me before subjecting me to their overly repetitive and simple riffs.

When I was younger, I would rail against these genres mercilessly, ridiculing the artists and their fans alike for being musically ignorant amoebas who can hardly count to four, nevertheless keep a 4/4 beat.

But as I got older, became a skeptic, and embraced the idea of critical thought, it dawned on me that I was wrong for doing this.

Aside from the fact I was just being a jerk, one must first understand that claims are generally broken in to two groups: quantifiable or subjective, and I believe they are essentially, mutually exclusive.

Quantifiable claims are things that can be proven to be true—a scientific claim of fact. But subjective claims have no right or wrong answer, they are merely opinion.

The reason I was such a music snob, is largely due to the influence of my former high school band director. A charismatic man who taught us the value of striving to be greater tomorrow than you are today, no matter how good you may already be.  Think of Dr. Lee played by Orlando Jones in Drumline, and you’re really close.

Orlando Jones as Dr. Lee from the movie Drumline (left)
Orlando Jones as Dr. Lee from the movie Drumline (left)

It’s not that he taught us to be music snobs, it’s that he taught us the incredibly complex challenges advanced music can offer, the science of music—or what’s known as music theory.

Along the way, I learned about great musicians like Steve Morse, a guitarist and jazz major from Texas A&M, so talented, that from 1988-1993, he was voted Guitar Player Magazine’s Best Overall Guitarist. After winning it five straight years, including 1993, a year  he didn’t even release an album, he was removed from the competition.

Let’s be clear, that was not best rock, jazz, classical, or country guitarist, that was “overall” guitarist. The things he can do with six strings and a block of wood are scary. See just a smidgen of his prowess in this video.

The more I learned about great musicians like this, the more it upset me that people like Eddie Van Halen were hailed as the best guitarist ever. He’s good, but not “Steve Morse” good, and I believe Eddie himself would agree. But where Van Halen sold millions of albums, someone like Steve Morse was hardly known outside the music community. The idea that the most technically proficient musicians are rarely the most famous is a travesty of justice to me, so how could this be?

larry-bird-dribble300400[1]
Larry Bird
For instance, if we look at sports, Larry Bird was one of the greatest NBA shooters of all time. He was also one of the most popular. His raw talent, just like Michael Jordan after him, garnered him the recognition he deserved. So why is this often not true of musicians?

It boils down to understanding the difference between quantitative versus subjective claims.

For instance, here’s a claim I would happily make that would garner a lot of opposition. Dream Theater, a band who met and studied at the Berklee School of Music, who now employ a keyboardist (Jordan Rudess) who was accepted and studied at Julliard at the tender age of 9, and who have won several Guitar Player Magazine, Modern Drummer Magazine, etc., awards are a better band than the Beatles will ever be, and I can essentially prove it.

Dream Theater
Dream Theater

First things first though, if we’re making a quantitative claim, the word “better” has to be defined—the word is quite ambiguous. In my claim, it refers to more technically proficient.

We would quantify that Larry Bird was better than other NBA stars by using his career statistics. But how can we quantify one musician as more technically proficient than another?

It’s simple. I could choose any Beatles song (and I do mean any), and challenge Dream Theater to play it. Knowing both band’s works as I do, I can all but guarantee that Dream Theater could easily perform the chosen piece within an hour or two, playing it note for note at the same tempo or faster than the Beatles recorded it at, without breaking a sweat.

Now if we flip the tables and ask the Beatles to replicate a Dream Theater song, the Fab Four would be hard pressed to replicate more than 1-2% of them, even if they were given months or even years to achieve said goal. This song should illustrate my point.

I’m not being overly mean to the Beatles, nor overly generous to Dream Theater. Any knowledgeable musician, if familiar with both bands, knows I’m being very fair and accurate here. It’s not that Dream Theater are superhuman (although it seems like it at times), or that the Beatles are incompetent, it has everything to do with the amount of hours both bands put in to mastering their instruments.

The Beatles, like many other famous bands, made catchy songs, sold a lot of albums, and did all they needed to do to make a damn good living as musicians. They likely never felt the need to go further.

Aside from Dream Theater’s Julliard and Berklee educations, something the Beatles did not do, having met Dream Theater on a couple of occasions, I can tell you that they are driven to challenge themselves technically and musically; there is clearly less focus on just selling records.

So why was I wrong for calling Dream Theater “better,” and behaving like such a music snob? While I defined “better” as more talented, I could just as easily have defined it as most record sales—then the Beatles obviously win in a landslide. I began to understand that the whole concept of “better” in relation to art, is innately flawed. If you’re going to use that word, you cannot use it for subjective things.

This was the impetus for my understanding of the difference between art and science.

While sports statistics are quantitative, music is an art form, and therefore largely subjective. It can be quantified to some extent as I did above, but unlike sports, technical prowess is no guarantor of success in music because art as a whole is not about achieving a measurable goal, but merely satisfying the artistic thirst of the user. This is something the Beatles must assuredly be declared the winners of, much to my dismay.

The Beatles
The Beatles

This knowledge began the transition of my love for music into my love for science, as the latter began to seem infinitely more attractive and important.

Art is like science without the burden of having to be correct and accurate. So in my mind, unlike science, art can never truly be important.

When lives are at stake and problems need solved, we don’t call painters, musicians, poets, or philosophers, we call doctors, engineers, and physicists. A 911 call will never yield the work of an artist.

So then I asked myself if science is “better” than art. Are art and science at odds with one another?

Actually, many scientific endeavors started with arts like philosophy or movies. A person simply dreamed without limits, and those dreams posed challenges that science brought to reality. Many scientists were inspired by the arts as children, such as scientists inventing things they saw in sci-fi movies as a child.

So how does this all affect me? My love for complex music is still great, but I no longer insult those who love the simpler stuff. My preference for the conservative-biased Fox News doesn’t prompt me to insult MSNBC watchers. My passion for Ferraris and Corvettes no longer prompts me to insult people who drive Porsches and Lamborghinis.

Corvette ZR1
Corvette ZR1

While I still maintain my preferences, I understand the difference between what I can quantify, and what is truly subjective. Not only am I more accurate in my perception, I’m no longer compelled to insult people for their varied tastes, but instead, often ask them why they appreciate something I do not.

Their answer may not sway me, but many times, it opens my mind to new and interesting things, some of which, allow me to grow my own creative mind by pointing me in a direction I would have never discovered on my own. If there’s anything a scientifically oriented person likes most, it’s learning new things.

So if you find yourself being a snob, calling one artistic endeavor better than another—stop! More often than not, claiming something is “better” is an inherently flawed thing to do. It is an ambiguous word, that without being clearly defined, and applying only to a quantitative bit of data, should never be used to compare one thing to another.

Coke isn’t better than Pepsi, but Coke’s sales are. Know the difference.

You are probably a libertarian if…

One of the struggles I believe libertarians face is convincing people who largely embrace libertarian principles to know and/or admit they are actually libertarians.

A good number of people I interact with state they are socially liberal, but fiscally conservative. I’m sure you’ve probably heard this. If you’ve ever said this yourself, you’re essentially a libertarian.

Yet many of these people are either not aware of what libertarianism really is, or just refuse to admit they’re a libertarian because of the unfair and inaccurate stereotype that libertarians are anarchistic drug addicts.

Einstein is quoted as saying, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Whether he actually said it or not, is questionable, but this is essentially the philosophy of libertarians regarding government. Most of us are not anarchists, we simply believe that government should be as simple as possible without resorting to anarchy.Don't Tread On Me

So with that in mind, I decided to put together a list of signs that might help you to understand whether or not you are indeed a Libertarian.

You’re probably a libertarian…

  • If you’ve ever driven without your seatbelt on, or ridden a motorcycle without a helmet, even though the law says you must, because, “dammit, it’s my head, and I’ll do what I damn well want with it.”
  • If you’ve ever noticed your neighbor who is on disability throwing his golf clubs in the car as you’re headed to work and thought to yourself, “Hey, something isn’t right here.”
  • If you think straight people trying to ban gay marriage makes about as much sense as you banning someone else from having a doughnut because you’re on a diet.
  • If you have ever questioned the logic of why a carmaker is required to put airbags on your car by law, which you are then allowed to turn legally turn off and never use.
  • If you’ve ever wondering how it’s legal to give sex away, but not OK to be compensated for sex.
  • If you’ve ever stated that Democrats and Republicans are both corrupt.
  • If you’ve ever gotten a ticket from a police officer in a situation where you were no danger to other motorists whatsoever and been mad about it.
  • If you’ve ever been upset because you went to buy liquor on Sundays and were restricted from doing so because of obvious religious underpinnings that should be clear violations of the 1st amendment, yet are allowed anyway.
  • If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “No victim—no crime” and thought, “Yeah, I’m down with that.”
  • If you’ve ever thought about opening your own business and were scared away due to the burden of regulations you were faced with and thought, “This shouldn’t be this complicated.”
  • If you’re a smoker and have been upset that an establishment wants to have a designated smoking area for people like you, but were advised they could not by law.
  • If you’re young, reasonably healthy, somewhat poor, and don’t really want to have to buy health care, but upset you are no longer given that choice.
  • If you have friends who smoke marijuana safely and without harming anyone and thought it’s basically nonsensical to throw someone like this in jail.
  • If you’ve ever heard your child’s school fired their favorite teacher in favor of the more tenured teacher and thought, “How dare they choose an older teacher over a better one when we’re talking about the future of my child.”
  • If you’ve ever received a traffic violation citation from a machine that took a picture of you and didn’t smile because you were on Candid Camera.
  • If you’ve ever witnessed a terminally ill person want to engage in assisted suicide, and were upset that government officials were intervening as if it’s any of their business.

These are but a few of my favorites I can come up with the top of my head, can you think of more? Tweet me at @LgclLibertarian, #MightBeLibertarian