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Find The Boots

Rantings from a few corporate types about life, technology, travel, guns, politics, and everything good in the world.

Don't Argue With a Pig

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

No, not a post about Hillary.

As the old saying goes, "Never argue with a pig. It just frustrates you and irritates the pig." It's the natural outcome of almost any political discussion these days.

Every once in a while I get suckered into an argument on a blog about something that seems so obvious, and yet I can't fathom where the other side is coming from. I did that yesterday on Captain's Quarters discussing the legalization of prostitution. Things were proceeding along merrily until it hit me that the other side just didn't get it. They were arguing policy and outcomes, and I was arguing philosophy:
I understand that having to support or oppose policies on an individual basis--and then having to do it again the next time they come up, and over and over again until some sort of consensus is reached--is much more difficult and time-consuming that simply trying to impose libertarian principles all at once. Well, tough. Until the Great Libertarian Revolution comes, that's the system you have to deal with.
He was making policy arguments about "what is" and I was talking about "what should be." Two ships passing in the night.

It's a common thread. If you scratch open enough liberal ideas, you get to the idea that "this feels right." They're trying to get to an outcome through policy, but they don't have an underlying set of principles to take them there. And there are plenty of conservative ideas that are the same way -- it feels right, but to a different set of people.

Maybe it's just the software engineer in me, but I see philosophy like a system design and policy as the code, with outcomes as the output. Trying to write code without any design work based upon outputs will get you into trouble very quickly. It's the same thing with trying to write policy without any underlying philosophy to guide you. That's why politicians that flip-flop are so distasteful -- you know they're saying what they say just to get the votes, they don't actually believe in anything and there's no way to predict how they'll act in the future.

For the record, I'm not interested in the "Great Libertarian Revolution" and whether or not the laws on prostitution change isn't of huge personal interest to me. And if you want to see what true anarcho-capitalism looks like, take a peek at Mogadishu. I think there's a conservative approach that's consistent with individual rights. But that's for a different post.

Before you start coding on your policy, you must first answer a few design questions. The most basic is what are you? Are we individuals with rights, or are we part of some huge collective that has more importance than the individual? How you answer this one is going to affect a lot of stuff downstream. My answer is we are individuals. You can't answer "both", because we're deciding which is more important. We're in the design stage, so the lines are still clear. Talking about shades of gray is for the implementation stage.

If you think the collective is more important, then there's no point in ever trying to discuss politics with you, because my algorithms are trying to optimize the individual, and you're trying to optimize the collective. We'll answer the question of gun control like two ships passing in the night. I'll say "I have a right to self defense and therefore the right to any tools to do so as long as I don't initiate force" and you'll say "But so many lives could be saved if there were no guns."

Next is the proper role of government. What is government? Government is the use of force. If that doesn't make sense, you need to go back to the research stage. Perhaps you could try breaking a serious law and seeing what happens.

So under what conditions do we allow the initiation of the use of force? To protect ourselves? Initiation of force -- never. Since we have individual rights, initiating force against an individual infringes those rights without justification. Clearly, a right of self defense to defend your safety, rights, or property exists. So the proper role of government is to protect individuals from the initiation of force against them.

That's because I answered the first question that we are individuals. If you came down on the side of the collective, then anything goes. It should be just fine in your framework for the collective to initiate force against and individual for the "common good". In fact, I'll argue that how you chose on the first question determines your answer on the second.

If your answer is that it's ok to initiate force, then we're never going to be able to have a policy discussion. You're a collectivist and I'm an individualist.

Can the government do more than make sure the rights of individuals are protected? How you answer that is going to determine everything else. If I say "Income redistribution through welfare is theft" and you say "So many poor people are hurting" we're not having an argument that can ever be resolved, because we're not discussing the same thing. You're coding to a different spec.

If you don't have ready, clear, and well understood answers to those basic questions, talking about policy is rather pointless. But I've found that few people have actually thought about these things, and the ones that have haven't then followed their designs in their code.

So the next time you get into a policy discussion and the other side seems like they have no clue, try to figure out which one of you is the pig.

   

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