Individual Sovereignty, Humanism, and Libertarianism

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AUTHOR’S NOTE: I intend to update and add to this at a later date. I consider it to be somewhat incomplete at the moment.

I apologize for this post; it’s a bit spread out because of the way I got to the topic in question.

Over the weekend, NYPD officers attempted to subdue an apparently crazy person in Times Square. I say attempted, because all they really did was bulletspray and hit two completely innocent bystanders–one an elderly lady in a walker. This, after the bulletspray fest last year outside the Empire State Building, and also earlier this year when the LAPD, during the Dorner manhunt, bulletsprayed a completely random car that didn’t look anything like the vehicle that was on their APB.

Naturally, I spoke out against this. I think police brutality and police incompetence are serious issues that deserve more of a national discussion. Unlike talk about the deficit and the debt ceiling, or foreign policy, or the minutiae of economic regulation, police reform and criminal justice reform touches on Americans directly. It affects citizens in a very immediate sense–usually by killing them. Yet for some reason, despite all the deaths logged by the Cato Institute’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project, or the other horrendous activities reported by CopBlock, or the crazy stories of civil asset forfeiture run amok, or even Third Amendment violations, it seems to me that nobody is really talking about this in a meaningful way. Politicians sweep it under the rug and go on to start another shouting match about the debt ceiling or them brown people coming over the border.

I also noted that one of the scariest things that is happening is the militarization of police around the country, something I noted last year for United Liberty, and which is the subject of a recent book by Radley Balko. This led to a gun control activist to start yelling about how the police were arming themselves with military hardware because the NRA had weakened gun laws and led to rampant armament of the populace. Naturally, I disagreed. We had a bit of a back and forth about it, and then somehow suicide entered into the equation. I’ll let my Storify speak for itself:

I went off on a rant about humanism and individual sovereignty.

This leads me to the real meat and potatoes of this blog post, which is atheism, libertarianism, and what it really means to be a humanist.

A long time ago, I blogged about the silliness that is Atheism+, a new “movement” that tried to merge atheism with third-wave feminism and far-left progressivism by basically being assholes to everybody. One of the most important points is that atheism does not lead to anything directly. Atheism, being merely the rejection of belief in a supernatural entity or entities, doesn’t really entail anything beyond that. Even though I would really like to agree with this blog post that says atheism leads to libertarianism, even that is really not true. How, exactly, does lack of a belief in a supernatural entity lead to a libertarian leap? It doesn’t. There is no underlying philosophical foundation there. The previous author talks about controlling your own life and thinking for yourself, but that is not ipso facto atheism.

There is a difference, though, between atheism and humanism. Atheism is a philosophical position. Humanism is to atheism what Christianity is to theism (sort of). While there is a long running argument over whether or not humanism is a religion (other terms include “life stance,” a “replacement for religion,” which I think both works and yet doesn’t), it sort of fits the bill. Just barely.

What is humanism, though? Let’ see a couple of definitions:

  1. (Philosophy) the denial of any power or moral value superior to that of humanity; the rejection of religion in favour of a belief in the advancement of humanity by its own efforts
  2. (Philosophy) a philosophical position that stresses the autonomy of human reason in contradistinction to the authority of the Church

Note that: human reason. Human autonomy. Exactly the things that I mentioned above in my Twitter rant.

Yes, said autonomy sometimes includes suicide. This is a tragic thing, but yet if we’re going to respect autonomy then we must respect that too. But for the most part, that doesn’t happen, that doesn’t come up. What does come up all the time are small things, small decisions. Like the size of soda cup you’re buying, or your sexual orientation, or what sort of clothes you like to wear.

These decisions stem from our sapience, and come from our rationality. And if you’re going to be a human being, and not reject humanity, then you must embrace this sapience, and moreover, individual human sovereignty. Anything else is inhuman, full stop.

That’s why I think libertarianism and humanism naturally go together. If you’re a libertarian, that leads to humanism because you’re focused on freeing individuals from the power of a large government, and letting them control their lives; and humanism is all about human lives being front and center. If you’re a humanist, focusing on human lives and humanity, then you should naturally be a libertarian, because libertarianism embraces and encourages the natural essence of humanity, sapience.

I’ve been thinking about this topic for a long time now ever since I heard about “thick libertarianism.” This is the idea that libertarianism entails other ideas that are not necessarily political, that there are consequences to being a libertarian. The idea, as far as I can determine, was formed by Charles Johnson, also known as RadGeek, a left-libertarian blogger. Here is a good reading list to start on if you want to know more about thick libertarianism and libertarian morality:

  1. The post where it all (sorta) began, “Libertarianism Through Thick & Thin” by Charles Johnson
  2. Libertarianism: Thick and Thin“, by Matt Zwolinski
  3. Libertarianism and Morality” by Fernando Teson
  4. Libertarian Social Morality: Progressive, Conservative, or Liberal?” by Kevin Vallier
  5. BONUS: “The Libertarian Middle Way“, by Randy Barnett

Johnson explores several different forms of thick libertarianism, or shades of thickness, really. Two of these are “strategic thickness–causes of liberty,” and “thickness from consequences–the effects of liberty.” I think both of these lead toward humanism. The first because, as Johnson himself notes:

Or, to take a less controversial example, many if not most libertarians, throughout the history of the movement, have argued that there are good reasons for libertarians to promote a culture in which reason and independent thinking are highly valued, and blind conformism is treated with contempt. But if this is a good thing for liberty, it must be for reasons other than some kind of entailment of the non-aggression principle. Certainly everyone has a right to believe things simply because everybody believes it, or to do things simply because everybody does it, as long as their conformism respects the equal rights of independent thinkers to think independently and act independently with their own person and property. It is logically conceivable that a society could be rigidly conformist while remaining entirely free; it would just have to be the case that the individual people within that society were, by and large, psychologically and culturally inclined to be so docile, and so sensitive to social disapproval, ostracism, and verbal peer pressure, that they all voluntarily chose to go along with the crowd.

Technically, reason itself doesn’t require libertarianism, but if we’re going to promote a society where there is limited government and people have individual responsibility for their own actions, then you’re going to promote reason. And when you do that, you find yourself heading towards freethought, which heads towards humanism…

The other, “effects of liberty,” is simply the same thing but in reverse. A society of free people is going to lead towards humanism in one way or another. If we’re going to give people power over their own lives, there is going to be less power from the Church.

I’m not saying that one cannot be a Christian and a libertarian at the same time, but there is a tension there between the Christian and libertarian elements that I don’t think you get from being an atheist libertarian or a humanist one. For centuries, the Christian Church has been a state unto itself, passing edicts and laws and being very forceful in demanding people to bow to its will, or at least the will of whomever at the time was wearing the most outrageous hat. God is described as a king, with ultimate power, and everyone is to bow down and obey him. Indeed, for a long time, free will was ignored, and the Church was extremely authoritative. Although various Christian denominations have undergone rebranding efforts over the past couple of centuries, dealing with the rise of (classical) liberalism, Christianity is still very much a top-down, hierarchical, authoritative institution. “Follow our commands or burn in hell forever.” Not exactly a lot of leeway there.

I should also point out that I don’t exactly agree with many of the various “Humanist Manifestos” either. A lot of what I’ve seen published suggests that many want to make humanism lean towards some variety of socialism or social democracy–but then, I see these people as not being fully humanist either. If they’re going to take so many decisions away from individuals and put it in the hands of a nebulous, all-powerful state, then they’re not embracing the very essence of humanity either. Just because I use the term “humanist” doesn’t mean I’m talking about the party line of the American Humanist Association, the Council for Secular Humanism, or the IHEU. I’m talking solely about a human-centered philosophy that lacks supernatural elements.

That, by itself, I think goes hand in hand with libertarianism. Sort of an odd topic to come to via police brutality and suicide, but that’s what happens when something has been bubbling under the surface for awhile and gets hit with a random act of tragedy.

I’m a horrible bastard, probably

Tim Carney: An awful loss, a beautiful life, a daunting task | WashingtonExaminer.com.

I’m sure, after you read the linked story above, and read what I’m about to say, you are going to think what the headline says (except I’m the bastard, not you. Probably.)

The above story is from Tim Carney, a columnist at the Washington Examiner, who is understandably conservative. The story is about his nephew, who lived for only 442 days before dying, and suffering every one of those days with spinal muscular atrophy, being just about paralyzed at birth and getting worse as the days went on.

Carney writes about the love that the boy’s Catholic parents had for him, and how he spread love by being an object of attention:

Pat and Elena are devout Catholics from strong families, but their answer to this question can’t be set aside as some teaching in the Catechism. It’s a truth written on the human heart.

Jesus said that the two greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbor. This is our purpose. This view is not uniquely Christian. It’s understood in other religions and in secular worldviews.

In this regard, John Paul lived a superior life. He exuded love. Before he lost control of his facial muscles, he beamed smiles that made grown men sob. Babies can love those around him with the pure, unconditional love we all should show.

Also, JP drew love from others. Neighbors, relatives and strangers cooked meals and gave time, equipment and money to help the Kilners. JP’s brothers and sisters showered him with affection. And Pat and Elena sacrificed immensely to care for him.

Before the wake at St. Patrick’s in Rockville, during an observance called Stations of the Cross, we read a Gospel passage in which Christ explains our duty to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the sick.

“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine,” the Lord says in this passage, “you did for me.”

Clearly a call to charity, this is also an exaltation of parenthood. Even moreso, this exalts the work of caring for helpless JP.

Tribulations both reveal character and form it. JP’s struggles revealed his parents’ heroic virtue and fostered virtue in others.

Pat and Elena saw John Paul as a blessing, and they generously shared that blessing with the world. They took him wherever they could, in a chair rigged with a ventilator and an IV. Elena shared wider, by penning hopeful, contemplative letters to John Paul every few weeks, which she posted on a blog.

One friend of mine, who never met the Kilners, read the “Letters to John Paul” blog. She wrote me, “John Paul’s story made me want to be a better person.”

John Paul continued shaping souls even in dying. A priest at St. Patrick’s took confessions during and after the wake. He commented afterwards that he heard some of the more honest, searching and contrite confessions he’s ever heard.

More than 500 people attended the beautiful funeral. One non-Catholic mourner was moved so much by the Mass she told Pat, “Now I understand why you’re Catholic.”

John Paul, who never spoke a word in his life, was the greatest evangelist of love, faith, virtue and hope I have ever met.

I look at this and shake my head. I don’t necessarily see love here. Yes, John Paul’s parents loved him, as any parent would, and they sacrified for him, as any parent would. But I look at this and think, “Why didn’t they just abort?”

Ayn Rand said it best when it came to abortion:

An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn).

Abortion is a moral right—which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered. Who can conceivably have the right to dictate to her what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body?

–“Of Living Death”, The Voice of Reason, pgs 58-59

Never mind the vicious nonsense of claiming that an embryo has a “right to life.” A piece of protoplasm has no rights—and no life in the human sense of the term. One may argue about the later stages of a pregnancy, but the essential issue concerns only the first three months. To equate a potential with an actual, is vicious; to advocate the sacrifice of the latter to the former, is unspeakable. . . . Observe that by ascribing rights to the unborn, i.e., the nonliving, the anti-abortionists obliterate the rights of the living: the right of young people to set the course of their own lives.

–“A Last Survey”, The Ayn Rand Letter, IV, 2, 3

Because of this stance, which I agree with, I don’t consider an embryo or a fetus to be a person like a born human, and thus am not a “pro-lifer.” (I’m willing to accept that personhood would emerge when the fetus displays cognition, or “neonatal perception,” but that’s very late in the pregnancy, and virtually nobody gets abortions at that stage.)

That’s also why, when I look at this, I think that the parents should have aborted. If they had known that the fetus was going to have spinal muscular atrophy, and therefore was going to have a short life full of suffering, why bring the fetus to term? Why increase suffering in the world?

Shouldn’t we, you know, work at reducing suffering? And if we should be doing that, then why bring to term a fetus that has congential problems and is going to have a life full of suffering? It doesn’t make any sense, and to me, it seems pretty sick to do so. Of course, I know some will retort that he wasn’t suffering, and the love he was receiving from his family was proof he wasn’t. But that’s crap. He was clearly in pain for 442 days, he was clearly suffering, there is no way around that.

UPDATE: In this case, the parents didn’t know…which means a great part of this is moot, for this case. In this case, continuing with the pregnancy is completely logical and understandable, and thus giving all you can for the child is similarly logical and understandable. Thus, a huge chunk of my blog post is irrelevant, and so I’ve deleted it. But I still stand by the idea that if a fetus has mental and physical problems, you should still head off at the pass a life full of suffering. That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it. Thus I won’t take down the rest of the post.

Even some pro-life people think it is okay to have an abortion if the baby is going to be born with severe complications:

Over one-quarter of pro-life individuals think that abortion should be legal if the baby may be metnally or physically impaired. And for good reason: they don’t want to increase suffering.

Let’s actually try and reduce suffering as much as possible in this world. Stop with the displays of “care,” “compassion,” and “love,” the ones meant to make yourself look good, and actually do something. I’m not perfect–I myself need to take this up–but we can all start. And maybe one of those places is not bringing in infants into the world who are very clearly going to live only in pain and suffering.

Yes, that probably makes me a bastard in many people’s eyes. But so be it.

A Matter of Faith…and Reason: Part 1

In life, it is always important to reevaluate and question one’s beliefs. Without questioning, one does not change, and how awful would life be if one always stayed the same, stuck in stasis, never evolving? Why, if that happened on a more macro scale, we would still be speaking in grunts!

The other day, my colleagues questioned me on why I held certain political and spiritual beliefs. They aren’t unreasonable questions, although generally I prefer to hash out discussions such as these over blogs and the written word, as I’m not very good as an orator. So, in order to help new readers learn more about me and what they can expect, I’m going to embark on a brief journey on why I hold the theological tenets I do today, so you can learn a bit more about me and so we’re all on the same page.

I mean blog post.

Continue reading A Matter of Faith…and Reason: Part 1