Thursday, November 25, 2004

Libertarian framing

I'm always amazed at how vulnerable we all are to simple framing tricks.

I greatly admire the writings of Cosma Shalizi in his weblog (and elsewhere), but a recent entry, Abuse of Power Comes as No Surprise, left me irritated. He starts a hypothetical discussion with a libertarian with the libertarian asking:

"Why on earth are you in favor of giving the state any more governmental power than is absolutely unavoidable? It'll just be abused."

Cosma then proceeds with a defensive attitude, which by accepting the frames, yields the discussion. (See the Rockridge Institute for how this framing works.)

There are at least seven significant framing tricks in this brief statement.

First, "absolutely unavoidable" translates into "whatever we approve of". It's a waffling expression, and if an anarchist looked at them and said "all government power is avoidable", they'd have to start making it explicit.

Second, this pretends to set up a bright-line rule for avoidable versus not avoidable, and pretends that such a line is significant. The reality is that, as the anarchist says, it is all avoidable, but what we really care about are the consequences of any particular power.

Third, unless you weigh the consequences with an absolutist ideology such as libertarianism, you will rationally choose to delegate powers where the consequences are (on balance) positive.

Fourth, abuse will occur with ANY power granted government. Even the ones libertarians want government to have.

Fifth, abuse is not something we need consider separately: it is just another consequence, and needs to be weighed against the benefits of giving government a power.

Sixth, political power is not created or destroyed by giving it to government: if it is not given to government, it remains in private hands WHERE IT IS ALSO SUBJECT TO ABUSE.

Seventh, the amount of actual abuse must be measured in real-world conditions to know whether it is tolerable or intolerable, and will vary wildly depending on the specifics of the situation. We cannot permit an implicit demand for perfection, because no system is perfect and we thus would automatically fail.

Given time I could probably identify a number of other tricks involved. Amazing what can be crammed into 24 words!

Monday, November 15, 2004

Critiques of the Cato Institute

I changed the title of the Cato Institute index to be specific that it consists of criticisms.

This action was prompted because of systematic stripping of criticisms of Cato from Wikipedia under color of a neutral point of view. That wouldn't be so bad except that the remaining puffery reeks so badly of public relations, a much more subtly
biased point of view. I don't have the time to battle that.

I've updated the title on my site, at Wikipedia, and at the estimable Disinfopedia.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Google likes me....

With only a brief hiatus, this "Critiques of Libertarianism" web site has always come out first in Google for the keywords "critiques" and (more surprisingly) "libertarianism".

Not quite as well for "libertarian": position 28 today.

Without any real advertising, a large number of people have linked to my site. Including many libertarian sites, who generally claim to see value in examining their beliefs. And also surprisingly, a number of college courses list my site in their readings.

Also interesting to note, Google prides itself on the simplicity of its uncluttered, undecorated presentation. It's too much to think they took a lesson from my About This Site page where I tout the merits of simple, plain text. (Near the end, the "Your site is boring and plain" part.) Functional design is no secret.

But a number of sites HAVE credited me with inspiration for the designs of some of their pages. The latest one I've found is at The Panda's Thumb, where my Libertarianism In One Lesson has inspired a beautiful and well documented takedown of Intelligent Design Theory.