Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Banned From Bleeding Heart Libertarians

Where to start?  Let's try and get the obvious out of the way first.  A while back I created a thread on the Ron Paul Forums asking for people's thoughts on whether another member (whose views I did not agree with) should have been banned...Should ProIndividual Have Been Banned?

One of the members had this to say on the subject...
Site owners can ban whomever they want for whatever reason they want. They have the right to do it. Nobody else has a right to be here. What are good reasons for banning people? I don't know, that's up to the site owners to decide based on what they're trying to accomplish. I'm in no position to second-guess it. - erowe1
The first three sentences should go without saying.  A website is a person's property and they can limit access to it for whatever arbitrary/legitimate reasons they want.  But should this fact restrict our freedom to challenge those in positions of authority?  Wouldn't it be strange if a forum dedicated to Ron Paul had an explicit rule about not challenging those in positions of authority?

Recently a member of the same forum shared this video of a fellow by the name of John Bush.  In this video he protests having been wrongfully banned from the Austin City Council....

Do you agree with what he is saying?  Should it matter?  Personally I do not agree with most of what he is saying...but I strongly support his right to question those in positions of authority.  To misquote Voltaire, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Again, I get that a city council is public property while a website is private property.  But how/why/when authority is exercised over others on private property can offer a unique and valuable opportunity to understand how/why/when authority is exercised over others on public property.

With that in mind...here are the goals of this post...
  1. Promote the BleedingHeartLibertarians.com website/concept
  2. Encourage people to make the effort to understand fundamental economic concepts
  3. Encourage people who do understand fundamental economic concepts to make the effort to meet people half way.  
  4. Promote tax choice
  5. Promote Vermin Supreme for president 
  6. Encourage people to question when somebody is banned
  7. Encourage a broader definition of censorship
It might seem like I'm trying to accomplish too much here...but it's all tightly tied together.  For example...I can't promote the Bleeding Heart Libertarians (BHL) website without warning you that chances are really good that you're not going to make heads or tails of most of their blog entries.  This isn't because you're stupid...it's simply because their blog entries are written by PhDs who generally only have to worry about communicating their ideas to other PhDs in the same field.

One of the guest contributors to the BHL website, Peter Boettke, recently wrote a blog entry on the relationship between economics and philosophy.  In one of my comments I stressed that all the contributors to the BHL website should really consider making an effort to meet people in other fields half way.  Unfortunately, you won't be able to read my comment because the owner of the BHL website, Matt Zwolinski, deleted every single one of my comments from his website (again, this is his prerogative).  But...you can still read a reply to my comment...
Dittos. This blog entry, and particularly the comments, has basically made my head hurt and left me bewildered.  Oh, well. I guess this one is just inside baseball and I should leave it to the pros. - Rod Engelsman
If Peter Boettke and Rod Engelsman don't make an honest and genuine effort to meet each other half way then they both lose.

If you do happen to understand all the concepts discussed on the BHL website then power to you.  If not, then look the concepts up on Wikipedia.  If that doesn't help then by all means please post a comment that lets the BHL contributors know exactly which aspects you're struggling with.  You can signal that you made an effort to meet them half way by encouraging them to improve the Wikipedia articles that failed to help clarify the concepts in question.  They really shouldn't have a problem doing so given that Wikipedia itself was inspired by Hayek's concept of partial knowledge.  If you're concerned with people judging you for asking a "stupid" question then just post your comment anonymously.

So why in the world am I promoting a website that I was just banned from?  The answer can be found in the name of the website...Bleeding Heart Libertarians.  The goal of the website is to address the common perception that libertarians do not have hearts.  Or perhaps the goal of the website is to help libertarians understand the value in having a heart?  Or perhaps the goal of the website is to help liberals understand the economic arguments for libertarianism?  Or perhaps the goal of the website is to combine moral and economic arguments into one powerful argument?

Whatever its true goal is...the BHL website is notable for recognizing that a problem does exist somewhere in this general area.  For example, here's what Vermin Supreme had to say about libertarians...
But I also believe that in order for that to happen we also have to take the responsibility for ourselves. We have to take responsibility for others. We have to offer mutual aid and support and care to our fellow citizens. It's those two things. The libertarians, you know, are just about abolishing the government and letting shit fall where it may. But I believe that's a mistake. I believe that we can dismantle the government gradually, if the citizens take up more of the slack. It's all a certain Republican idea you know...taking the government down. But they offer no alternative to helping people other than charity. I mean...civics, citizenship...Americans don't know what it means to be a citizen any more. 
If you haven't already done so then please vote for Vermin Supreme on Americans Elect.  Citizens taking up the slack is what tax choice (pragmatarianism) is all about.  If any citizens didn't want to take up the slack then they would still have the option to just give their taxes to congress.  The challenge is that to effectively evaluate the idea of tax choice you really need to have a decent grasp of a few basic economic concepts.

The problem is...trying to share these basic economic concepts is exactly what led to my banishment from the BHL website.  The last straw for Matt Zwolinski occurred on this blog entry of his...What We Can Learn From Drowning Children.  In this instance...not only did he delete my comments from the page but he also deleted his replies to my comments.  Fortunately, before he did so I managed to copy and paste our entire discussion over to my own blog...Fallibilism vs Fairness.

Again again...Zwolinski certainly has the right to delete whatever he wants from his website for whatever reasons...completely irrespective of whether his reasons are good, bad or ugly.  As I indicated in my Self-Ownership Survey...people should have the right to shoot themselves in the foot.

If I hadn't saved our discussion though...then none of you would have been able to read it.  So could Zwolinski's effort to delete our discussion count as censorship?  The way I see it...you are perfectly capable of choosing for yourself which comments you read and which comments you ignore.  The internet has made us all extremely proficient in filtering out trash.  But one person's trash is another person's treasure.  Do you really want somebody else deciding for you what counts as trash/treasure?  Personally, I'm leaning towards expanding the definition of censorship to include whenever somebody restricts your ability to decide for yourself whether something is trash/treasure.  This broader definition of censorship would allow us to argue that the government engages in censorship by blocking tax choice.

Hopefully I've made it clear that Zwolinski certainly had the right to delete my comments from his website.  Yet...hopefully it's also clear that it's my right to question his motivations for doing so.  Here's how I perceive his motivations...

On the Debate Politics Forum I created this thread...Why Is Your Partner Cheating On You?  My point wasn't to talk about cheating...yet a few people really felt the need to discuss my misunderstanding of how cheating really works.
Xerographica: SmokeAndMirrors, ok, here's the deal. I'll admit that I don't understand how cheating works and you'll admit that you don't understand how the invisible hand works. Deal?
SmokeAndMirrors: Nope. I understand the "invisible hand" concept perfectly well. I just have no reason to address it because your argument unraveled before I ever got there.  Like Goshin, I have now ceased to be interested.
A) SmokeAndMirrors was perfectly willing to discuss cheating.  B) She said she understood how the invisible hand works.  C) She "conveniently" ceased to be interested in further discussion when it came time to demonstrate her understanding of how the invisible hand works.

Zwolinski's behavior was nearly identical to that of SmokeAndMirrors...

A) Zwolinski was perfectly willing to discuss business discrimination and foreign intervention with me.  B)  He said he was "familiar" with the economic concepts that I had frequently mentioned.  C) He "conveniently" banned me from his BHL website rather than respond to any of my economic arguments.

Basically...we all failed.  They failed to acknowledge their perfectly reasonable ignorance and I failed to encourage them to meet me half way.  It wasn't a total loss though because these documented failures can provide others with the opportunity to learn from our mistakes.

That's the thing.  We all make mistakes...and we all only have limited resources...and we all have access to different information...and we all have different values.  Therefore, we shouldn't put all our eggs in one basket.  In other words... Scarcity + Fallibilism = Hedge Our Bets = Tax Choice.  This was the idea that I failed to convey to Zwolinski in our discussion on fallibilism vs fairness.

It just so happens though that I'm currently reading an excellent book on Reason and Persuasion.  This book, which makes Plato's ideas much more accessible, was written by John Holbo.  John Holbo is a contributor to the Crooked Timber Liberal website which is where he posted an entry on Selling Votes.  The comment that I shared on his entry led to the two of us having a long discussion on selling votes.  His willingness to discuss revealing preferences is partly what motivated me to purchase his book.  None of this would have occurred though if I had been banned from the Crooked Timber Liberal website.

The kicker is that I was technically banned from the Crooked Timber Liberal website.  Nearly two months prior to commenting on Holbo's entry, I had posted a comment on Chris Bertram's entry on Renouncing the facts in the name of method (Mankiw channels Lukacs).  Bertram replaced my comment with this message...
[Crooked Timber comments threads are an opportunity to engage in conversation, not the granting of a soapbox for you to promote your private obsessions. Please go away. CB]
You can read my original comment here...Crooked Timber Liberals - Monopolizing the Facts.  Recently I discovered that now I am both technically and actually banned from the Crooked Timber website.

Chris Bertram, who is a liberal, and Matt Zwolinski, who is a libertarian, both saw my comments as trash.  That's why they saw value in eliminating my perspective from their websites.  What they couldn't see though were all the possible future discussions that they had blocked.      

This ties into Bastiat's concept of the seen vs the unseen as well as Hayek's concept of conceit vs humility.  All our perspectives are valuable but extremely limited.  This means that it's easy to focus on what we can see but extremely difficult to focus on what we can't see.  It's easy for Zwolinski and Bertram to see the value of their own perspectives but it's extremely difficult for them to see the value of my perspective.  If it was easy for people to focus on what they couldn't see then they would have embraced tax choice a long time ago. As it is, political tolerance is blocked and/or ignored by men of the system...
The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. - Adam Smith
For the longest time we've debated what the government should do.  The solution is simply for the government to do what we pay it to do...no more and no less.  I may not agree with how you spend your taxes...but I will strongly support your right to do so.  If I do want you to spend your taxes on the things that I treasure...then I will rely solely on the persuasive power of the available evidence/facts.  As Milton Friedman strongly emphasized, "If we can't persuade the public that it's desirable to do these things, then we have no right to impose them even if we had the power to do it."


  1. I think they do that to you because they may feel you are trying to convince them of that they'd rather not consider.

    Thus, my debate style - I try not to convince people that their POV is in error; I try to show them the err by using their own reasoning.

    And, yet, even then most refuse to budge.

    It's only human.

    1. If I am successful, so what?
    2. If I am unsuccessful, so what?
    3. What's in it for my target to switch?
    4. What's in it for me to persuade him?

    Few people ever change sides.

    When they do, the switch is unpredictable.

    It rarely has anything to do with arguments.

    It has more to do with such things as a major crisis, a new job opportunity, a perceived slight, a major disappointment, and so forth.

    Lately, I've gotten more and more nods my direction - because the economy sucks, and the people are starting to question the status quo nonsense.

    Do you think they would have nodded my direction if the economic didn't suck? They'd ignore me like they did a decade ago when I was saying the same thing and warning them.

    1. Your ideas has to do with a government model - and should they consider it, it will confound people's lifestyle, or at least their dream of what constitutes a nice benefit via government "maybe, some day.

    2. If he switches his view, he will face reality: he spent his life trying to get into other people's wallets by the threat of violence.

    Heck, you can't even switch your viewpoint even knowing what you advocate is STILL trying to get into other people's wallets by the threat of violence!

    These guys are an order of magnitude further away from this reality than you and you think they will "get it" just because you thin you have an intellectual pit stop between total delusion and reality called "Pragmatarianism"?

    3. There is no immediate benefit for switching views, other than intellectual consistency.

    4. You cannot change just one thing/idea.

    5. He will have to re-think a lifetime of promoting government violence to extract wealth from other voters.

    6. He will have to give up promoting other benefits provided by the state.

    I ask: What's in it for him?

    Ideological consistency imposes a high price with few immediate benefits. This is why so few people pursue it. I know this cost and it is steep.

    My strategy: Target the undecided. Ignore the decided. It's cheaper. It's less frustrating.

  2. Why promote b he's site at all? I just read several reticles there and they are far from libertarian. It appeared to be promoting socialist concepts and ideals. Maybe I read a couple of bad articles, I do not know. Bit it is the same things we constantly hear our government tell us is the best for everyone. Not drinking the same Kool - aid under a different brand name. Thanks but no thanks.

    1. A libertarian says, "let's reduce the government by ______ %!"

      A. 1
      B. 10
      C. 25
      D. 50
      E. 100