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« U.S. Government Does Not Assassinate People (Joe) | Main | Return; Reinstate; Refund »

October 23, 2009


I agree with your take. The "libertarians" I encounter are mostly all cultural conservatives who show their greatest impatience with government actions. The territory where they are culturally liberal has often to do with liberalization of drug enforcement laws. And boy, are they ruthless when it comes to property rights! I have been involved with the Homeowners Association of my neighborhood in the last few years. I have seen the authoritarianism that is practised under the aegis of "deed restrictions." People who don't like anything that the government does to improve education, health care or mass transit, go totally bonkers regarding unmowed lawns, overhanging trees and architectural non-conformity of their neighbors.

The irony is that whether liberal, conservative, libertarian or religious, when people protest existing laws as restrictive, they more often than not, want you to live by another set of laws which they themselves feel are more suitable to making the world a better place. I found these lines in Howley's article telling:

Ayn Rand’s ethical philosophy did look beyond the state, to the forces of conformity and altruistic moral suasion. But her vision of rationality was so demanding that readers could be forgiven for thinking that life in a welfare state might be less restrictive than life lived as a model Randian.

All this logorrhea only serves to educate or titillate the already educated. Is there a trickle-down theory about intellectual jargon? Does political philosophy have a half-life short enough to serve a practical purpose? With no middle ground in its language, it is no wonder that so many people are susceptible to propaganda about death panels, socialism and whatnot.

Theory aside, the libertarians I know, and those I come across, strike me as having consistently racist tendencies (among other less abhorrent views).

I use the term "jargon" when referring to word usage that's meaningless or unintelligible. As an attorney with a background in public benefits law, married to a lapsed English academic, I know from jargon, but see none of it in Dean's post or the article he references, so am confused by your comment on that score, Narayan.

The more provocative comment about racism (anecdotal) among libertarians is interesting. I would not say this is particularly true among the libertarians I've known. But as Howley points out in her reference to civil rights, this is an area of major weakness for libertarians. Racism and other forms of discrimination can be institutionalized in government bodies, but are frankly more often institutionalized outside them-- in ethnic groups, the corporate culture of certain big companies, etc. Those who don't believe in a role for government in enforcing justice in such settings (or don't believe that combating racism is justice, because they don't believe one individual has a right to tell another how to think or act) become complicit with that racism, even if they don't share it.

Now, how effective the government actually is at changing hearts and minds-- witness education in the American South post Brown v. Board of Education-- is a separate debate. But someone trying to have a discussion with a self-described libertarian who believes that any effort by a democratically elected government to change hearts and minds through civil rights laws enforced by the judiciary, public education, etc. is morally wrong could be forgiven for thinking the libertarian racist for accepting racism as the greater good/lesser evil. Particularly because that aspect of libertarianism makes it an attractive refuge for those with racist or other views that are politically unpalatable to the majority, as Dean's point about the Reasons commentators hints.

That said, the 50s-70s version of liberal-libertarianism-- paranoia about government and other coercion along the lines of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Catch-22, Crying of Lot 49, et al.-- remains attractive to me, with as many qualifications as any other political philosophy. It has a point.

Anna, the author here is plain "D" and not Dean.

Maybe we should create a new pseudonym for D. One with more letters. Someone could make a post opening the floor to suggestions from all of our readers.

The confusion has happened for the second time.

How about Dr. D? He is a physicist after all. Or D (Not Dean)? What sez you, D?

I wonder if all this makes D feel like Kafka's K (The Castle), who also had to put up with misunderstandings and surreal commentaries in his accidental community. Unlike K, however, it seems to be in D's power to improve his plight.

D, would you prefer D-brane, rather than any of the above suggestions? I have a suspicion that it might have been that which led you to select the pseudonym.
Or a slangy version "Da Brain";)

Ach, again the name confusion! I think I'll just post as prasad, though D-brane is a delightful alternative. prasaD perhaps, for a sense of continuity

Mark Sanford on Ayn Rand: (via Brian Leiter)

Does this lend itself to some fun with pun? I mean isn't Sanford's claim to fame more to do with being "randy" than "Randian?"

One wonders why Sanford is trying to rehabilitate himself by purveying Randian theology, instead of the variety he was more used to indulge in.

I like Dr. D.

Nuts. I was just about to assume the moniker prasaDean.

I think I understand Narayan's distress with the language. Libertarianism often seems like code for something insidious, such as a personal (and not exclusively institutional) agenda served by the consequences of racism. A related confusion has to do with the simultaneous use of political science terminology by, on the one hand, academics and trained commentators, and on the other hand, individuals who self-identify as libertarians, liberals, conservatives, anarcho-communists, and so forth. In the literature of the former, we expect a modicum of definition of terms; in the latter, less. The use of a term imports the legitimacy of the former (for the purposes it serves) into its use by the latter (for perhaps distinct purposes): "I not only want you off my lawn. I'm a libertarian."

But constraint and freedom are, like a horse and carriage, two sides of the same dialectical coin: you can't have one without the other. (Let's see, there's Sinatra, Marcuse, Married With Children... What else can I cram into this mess?)

Apologies to both PrasaD and Dean!

The day before I wrote my comment a man called in to C-SPAN expressing his convictions about death panels - his father, who re-married at 81 and lived in bliss till 97, would have been dispatched long since by the government under the new health care proposals. Instead of the sit-down-and-shut-up reply that Barney Frank rightly used in a similar encounter on TV, the guest, a Medicare administrator, gave a long-winded answer that could not possibly have made a difference to the caller - yet another lost opportunity to suppress humbug.

Anecdotal as this example may be, I believe the time has passed for academic political philosophy. Not a patient reader, I was disaffected by the discourse in Reason for its verbosity, repetitions and abstractions. When I am forced to re-read whole swaths of text to figure out what the writer means, intends to convey, or is trying hard not to say in plain words, the exercise in communication becomes meaningless (academic, dare I say).

Jargon has several meanings besides that which Anna prefers. My criticism was of the text in Reason, not D's added remarks.

I would like to bell the cat by asking why D wishes to remain anonymous.

So I had it backwards. Narayan disdains academic discourse. Well, just as there are various meanings of "jargon," there are various approaches to academic writing, not all verbose, repetitive, and abstract, although some writing shines precisely because it is verbose, repetitive, and abstract. Joyce, Faulkner, Woolf, among literary artists, fit that bill, and--stop reading, Ruchira--some of Derrida's most stimulating work does, too.

But I don't get the anecdote's point. Where's the academic in C-SPAN? Are you saying the guest should have replied to the caller, "Look, buddy, you're being way too verbose, repetitive, and abstract."?

I too have little patience with verbosity. But then that may be the bane of an overly compartmentalized Indian science education. During the monthly book club meetings with my wonderful friends, many of them more tolerant of verbose prose than I, I am often heard saying how the author of a 350 page book could have conveyed the same idea better in 250.

Unlike Narayan, I did not find the Reason article all that repetitive. I think in the C-SPAN anecdote, Narayan found not the caller, but the Medicare administrator indulging in verbosity. I suspect that the reply Narayan would have liked to hear was, "Look buddy, there is no death panel. Don't clog up the phone lines and pollute the airways with B.S."

And Narayan, Anna's confusion with D and Dean has already belled the cat. D is now PrasaD. Happens to be his true name, take it from me.

One day I shall be Dr. D...

Ruchira, it's interesting your science background makes you appreciate brevity because it's having the opposite effect on me. Maybe it's because too many physicists enjoy playing the cryptic oracle game - being deliberately terse as if the reader's inability to understand makes them smarter - but I rather like those who're willing to hold your hand a bit, spelling details and nuances out in detail. The dreaded "The reader may readily verify for himself that X" is typically prelude to needless hours of frustration, especially late at night. The least self-absorbed (and often best) are kinder than this. I'm told Shimura in one of his papers explicitly mentioned the high-school level tricks he used to quickly multiply two matrices he was working with. This pleases me; after all, where the treatment is too detailed I can always skim past the bits I understand or don't need to.

Here's Adam Smith's view (and damn was he long-winded):
"I shall endeavour to explain, as fully and distinctly as I can, those three subjects in the three following chapters, for which I must very earnestly entreat both the patience and attention of the reader: his patience, in order to examine a detail which may, perhaps, in some places, appear unnecessarily tedious; and his attention, in order to understand what may perhaps, after the fullest explication which I am capable of giving it, appear still in some degree obscure. I am always willing to run some hazard of being tedious, in order to be sure that I am perspicuous; and, after taking the utmost pains that I can to be perspicuous, some obscurity may still appear to remain upon a subject, in its own nature extremely abstracted."

In my book, verbosity counts not so much as the number of words but repetition of ideas. I can read, listen and enjoy a detailed piece of writing as long as there is a linear progression in the idea being expounded. I have very little patience with spinning one's wheels with flowery synonyms, making the same point using new verbiage, revelling in ones' own vocabulary and saying very little at the end of the ordeal. I can read the Mahabharata day after day but some celebrated Victorian novelists bring me to tears.

So a detailed piece of scientific (or any other) writing that helps the uninitiated digest the central idea is better than a cryptic communication meant only for the anointed. That is not unnecessary verbosity but essential clarification.

That Adam Smith rocks! (as long as one doesn't have to read him at length)

Way to go, Ruchira!
You've got prasad (offering to god), narayan (god), and sujatha (the high born). All you need now is a pooja (worship), and then AB will feel hallowed in more ways than one.

Holy cow, Namit! That does make A.B. hallowed ground! Do you know a Pooja with liberal views?

Anyway, the non-ecclesiastical Ruchira (pleasing to the senses), Anna, Dean, Andrew and of course, Joe will keep things firmly tethered in secular territory.

Dean : You may justly infer that I dislike libertarians, but what have I written here that makes you conclude, with no further qualification, that I disdain academic discourse?

From what I have written here you may surmise that I dislike libertarians, but how can you conclude, without qualification, that I disdain academic discourse?

Narayan: This paragraph--

Anecdotal as this example may be, I believe the time has passed for academic political philosophy. Not a patient reader, I was disaffected by the discourse in Reason for its verbosity, repetitions and abstractions. When I am forced to re-read whole swaths of text to figure out what the writer means, intends to convey, or is trying hard not to say in plain words, the exercise in communication becomes meaningless (academic, dare I say).

--and the parenthetical in particular.

By the way, Dean (chief).

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