Re: poly: polymath digest for 23 May 98

From: d.brin <>
Date: Sun May 24 1998 - 02:14:32 PDT

Carl's thumbnail sketch of relative freedom 1928 vs 1962 vs 1998 was
fascinating. A few quibbles:

>Freedom from accidents of birth:.. In 1962, Jews and Catholics were
>allowed, and Negroes
>were pounding on the doors.

Actually, Jews & Catholics still faced many obstacles in 62, and blacks
were still wiping their feet before knocking at the back door. But by 1969
the situation was as Carl described.

>Sexual freedom: ..1962 was better than 1928, and 1998 is immensely better
>than 1962.

Well, again, care to compare 1998 with 1969 instead of 62? ;-) Sexual
is a complex issue. We can today experiment with a wider range of
perversions & prudities. Men until recently had greater freedom than ever
to abandon families. That, though, has begun the change slightly. Due to
improved transparency-accountability.

>Freedom from petty regulation: This is the kind of thing Rich decries--
>having to get prescriptions to buy drugs, needing to file forms to start a
>business, not being allowed to tune your car in certain ways, not being
>able to drive a truck for 14 hours straight... There is clearly a lot more
>of this than there was in 1928, but I think most of the damage was done
>between 1928 and 1962.

Here is where I am a total heretic among paid-up members of the Libertarian
Party. Simply decrying regulations, without taking into account the
problems they were aimed to address, weights the discussion dishonestly. (I
sprak generally, not of Carl!)
         For instance, the FDA is officious and meddling... and has also
helped ensure orders-of-magnitude reductions in past rates of medicinal
poisonings, which were a gruesomely large contributor to death rates back
in 1928. 1962 saw thalidomide's horror qualled with far greater rapidity
than it would've under caveat emptor. It is an example of a 'left-handed'
(state-paternalistic) solution to a truly awful problem.

Now of course,my libertarian instincts are to sniff suspiciously at
left-handed solutions. I prefer right-handed ones, in which subtle yet
simple adjustments of the rules of free enterprise create markets and
customers for competitive activity that makes a problem simply go away.
See pp 252-254 of The Transparent Society where I discuss an example:
Public Feedback Regulation.

But there's the rub. Of the 3 credible parties in the US, only the
democrats take a problem-oriented attitude. Their JOB on the political
landscape is to offer left-handed solutions to human pain. The job of a
party on the right would be to offer right-handed ones. But alas! The
Republicans never do, because they are owned by vested interests. And the
Libertarians never do because they see only one problem worth solving --
the excessive intrusiveness of government in our lives.

That's nuts! Modern life is filled with a myriad problems! And people
have a right to demand that their society try to solve them. Reducing
government should not be a raison d'etre. It should be the STYLE by which a
true libertarian party seeks to come up with imaginative free market
ALTERNATIVES to the FDA and such, so that the hated agencies become
unneeded and wither away. Just plain bitching and complaining all the
time is quite rightfully seen as unhelpful by the electorate, who'd rather
hear fresh ideas to address their problems.

Ironically, this is starting to happen. As education levels rise, it
becomes possible for ever-greater portions of the social contract to be
explicit, rather than implicit. Public Feedback Regulation... transparency
that provides citizens with data to make informed choices, .. is leading
the way. Hence some recent loosening of the FDA's patronizing grip.
Caveat emptor starts to actually work, where product content labels are
compulsory and where educated&literate citizens have some confidence that
impartial labs out there are checking the labels' veracity.

My fellow libertarians, filled with utter contempt for their fellow
citizens, refuse to credit the social contract that has been negotiated and
ratified in election after election by millions of americans. Are those
millions all fools? Or perhaps do they see a myriad problems that they
want addressed NOW. And if state-centered solutions are the only ones on
the table, that's what they'll settle for.

The FDA will wither away, when we pass this phase. Libertarians could help
make it happen faster by admitting that there was a problem that the FDA
somewhat solved, and then offering a better mechanism for achieving the
same end.

Hal wrote:>>there>are still vast areas in the US and in the rest of the
world where things
>will go very hard on someone who openly admits to being gay.

There is a direct correlation between tolerance and the amount of
upward-aimed transparency, shining light on the moralists and bigshots and

See:One Nation, After All : How the Middle Class Really Think About God,
Country, and Family, by Alan Wolfe (Viking Press March 1998.) This book
supports my view that tolerance spreads in direct coherence with a
society's degree of openness. while secrecy engenders suspicion and
        Sociologist Wolfe and an assistant interviewed folks in eight U.S.
suburbs for their "Middle Class Morality Project." The sample, though too
small to be nationally accurate, was nevertheless an insightful window into
the American middle class. Wolfe found (in the words of Booklist) "...a
majority felt homosexuality is immoral, but most also supported equal civil
rights for gays. Many objected to affirmative action, but staunchly
advocated helping disadvantaged persons on the path to middle-class status.
They thought of women working not in terms of rights but in terms of
self-discovery. Their religious faith, though sometimes vehemently
affirmed, was lacking in zealotry. Notably tolerant and disinclined to
fight the culture war that partisan commentators say is raging in America,
they upheld what Wolfe calls "morality writ small"... a matter of
personal responsibility for obligations close to home." Wolfe finds that
America is experiencing a culture war, but "one that is being fought
primarily by intellectuals, not by most Americans themselves."

>Do you disagree that for homosexuals in those situations, their privacy
>is protecting them from bad consequences?

I have repeatedly said that secrecy can be an important defensive weapon,
under circumstances where reciprocal accountability has already failed, for
some individuals clever enough to use it right. I'd certainly use it under
those conditions.
         But secrecy is absolutely lousy at creating system-wide conditions
that facilitate general freedom. When you already have systemic mutual
accountability, secrecy is the quickest way to kill it.

>Suppose you discovered that someone was secretly homosexual. Say he
>was a high school teacher in a conservative school district, and he'd
>likely be fired if they found out about his sexual orientation.

If we never knew it till he was outed, then it means he was polite and
discreet... and decent people would today rally behind him. See the book I
cited avove. See also Kevin Kline's recent movie IN & OUT

"Richard Schroeppel writes to refute my contention that general secrecy
never promoted general freedom. He gave three extreme examples:
>The residents of the Western Hemisphere were better off prior to being
>"discovered" by Columbus. I have no information about their state of
>freedom prior to 1492, but their descendants were mostly dead by 1942.
>I claim that the Europeans' lack of information (Western Hemisphere
>"secrecy") was a liberty-related benefit to the West.

Imaginative and quirky! To conflate mass ignorance with systemic use of
secrecy is clever yet disingenuous.

>In December 1941, the US made use of race information from the 1940 census
>to round up the Japanese-Americans.

What's your point? Without the data it would've taken maybe a week more to
round em up. Tyranny happens. It's been softer here in direct proportion
to our ability to shine light on the mighty. Even back then, JE Hoover
could not get away with what Himmler did. And today Louis Freeh can't get
away whatJE Hoover did in 42. Again. What the govt knows about us is
irrelevant. What matters is what we know about govt.

>Recently, the reading habits of Ms. Lewinsky have come under Mr. Starr's
>microscope. I don't believe she has benefited thereby. Even if all our
>book purchases were public knowledge, her transactions would still harm her
>by being brought to public attention.

Your lack of understanding of my argument is evident. Starr is a schmuck.
My prescription is to shine light on his secrets (eg his backers and their
agenda) and to arm Ms Lewinsky with the power to force Starr & Tripp to
answer exactly the same kinds of questions before they ask her.

>Lifestyle freedom: ... You are free to use the most of the seven dirty
>character strings
>in polite speech, but you can't really swear because the words have lost
>their emotional impact.

Nice point. Nostalgic and curmugeonly, but tasty. I prefer to think
humans may someday grow up. If so, I'm afraid poopoo talk will lose a
certain amount of zest. You're right! Life would then be terrible! So
let's all just stay neurotic! ;-)
Received on Sun May 24 09:08:11 1998

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