Saturday, March 08, 2003

Bullshit Tactics (and How to Use Them) Part 2

Saturday, 8 March 2003

Today's bullshit tactic is:

2. Maintaining that, because major libertarian reform is at present politically impossible, it is nonsensical to explore and evaluate the desirability of such reform. Libertarianism is unrealistic.

In my view, this is an imprecise description which covers two distinct possible situations:

A: Your libertarian interlocutor is wittering on about how much better off everyone would be after a program of complete, radical libertarian reform.

B: An argument is being made for a significant, but specific reform in which libertarian principles are being invoked to justify the repeal of laws which "unnessarily" restrict personal liberty: perhaps a liberty which your interlocutor wants herself.

In the first case, the best bullshit tactic is to ask how your libertarian proposes to achieve the program of reform which will lead to the libertarian utopia. This is a significant challenge as she cannot, as a rule, appeal to the usual fantasy of devout Marxists, that it will happen as an historically inevitable and natural result of the collapse of capitalism. But, like a devout Marxist, she is living in cloud-cuckoo land. Point this out tactfully and courteously and don't forget to make the comparison with Marxist fantasies about life after the revolution.

In the second case, you face a more arduous task: you have to show, by careful application of the techniques you should have picked up from reading The Euthyphro and a little argument of your own, that the extension of her own personal liberty will result in a loss of liberty for a lot of other people. For example, if allowing more people to own guns results in more fatal shootings, the "right" of gun ownership is exercised at the expense of the total loss of liberty for everyone who gets shot as a result of easing restrictions on gun ownership (there is no liberty in the grave). You can't always sustain this line of attack successfully: there are going to be times when using it will put you on the wrong side of the argument. No one person or political philosophy can be right all the time. It's much more common to be persistently wrong through unrepentant pig-headedness.

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