Saturday, August 20, 2011

Why Penn Jillette is a Libertarian Nut instead of just a Nut, and other stuff

I'm reading magician/comedian Penn Jillette's "God, No".  The chapter "Why I'm A Libertarian Nut Instead Of Just A Nut" is so good, so spot-on, that I was going to pound it into the internet this morning. 

This guy beat me to it.  So all I have to do is copy and paste. 

I don’t speak for all Libertarians any more than Sean Penn speaks for all Democrats. I’m not even sure my LP membership card is up to date. I’ve voted Libertarian as long as I can remember but I don’t really remember much before the Clintons and the Bushes. Those clans made a lot of us bugnutty. When I go on Glenn’s show he calls me a Libertarian, I think that’s my only real credential.

There are historical reasons and pragmatic reasons to be a Libertarian, but there are historic and pragmatic reasons to be a Democrat, a Republican or a Socialist. I don’t know if everyone would be better off under a Libertarian government. I don’t know what would be best for anyone. I don’t even know what’s best for me. What makes me Libertarian is I don’t think anyone else really knows what’s best for anyone. My argument for Libertarianism is simple - personal morality.


I start with the Declaration of Independence: “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” So, essentially our government does what they do with my consent.

I know barely enough about Max Weber to type his name into Google, but it seems he’s credited with asserting the idea that the state has a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force. I put those two ideas together (my consent and use of physical force) and figure we all give our government the right to use force. So, the way I figure, it’s not okay for our government to use force in any situation where I personally wouldn’t use force.

For example, if I’m not willing to kill a cute cow, I shouldn’t eat steak. I don’t have to kill Bessy right now with my bare hands, but I have to be willing to snuff her if I want to chow down on a T-bone. If it’s not okay for me, it’s not okay for a slaughterhouse. Asking someone else to do something immoral is immoral. If it’s not okay for me to break David Blaine’s hands so my magic show has less competition, it’s not okay for me to ask someone else to beat him up. Someone else doing your dirty work is still your dirty work.

If I had a gun, and I knew a murder was happening, (we’re speaking hypothetically here, I’m not asking you to believe that I could accurately tell a murder from aggressive CPR), I would use that gun to stop that murder. I might be too much of a coward to use a gun myself to stop a murder or rape or robbery, but I think the use of a gun is justified. I’m even okay with using force to enforce voluntary contracts. If I were a hero, I would use a gun to protect the people who choose to live under this free system and to stop another country from attacking America. But I wouldn’t use a gun to force someone to love something like say…a library.

Look, I love libraries. I spent a lot of time in the Greenfield Public Library when I was a child. I would give money to build a library. I would ask you to give money to build a library. But, if for some reason you were crazy enough to think you had a better idea for your money than building my library, I wouldn’t pull a gun on you. I wouldn’t use a gun to build an art museum, look at the wonders of the universe through a big telescope, or even find a cure for cancer.

The fact that the majority wants something good does not give them the right to use force on the minority that don’t want to pay for it. If you have to use a gun, it’s not really a very good idea. Democracy without respect for individual rights sucks. It’s just ganging up on the weird kid, and I’m always the weird kid.

People try to argue that government isn’t really force. You believe that? Try not paying your taxes. (This is only a thought experiment though -- suggesting someone not pay their taxes is probably a federal offense, and while I may be a nut, I’m not crazy.) When they come to get you for not paying your taxes, try not going to court. Guns will be drawn. Government is force.

It’s amazing to me how many people think that voting to have the government give poor people money is compassion. Helping poor and suffering people yourself is compassion. Voting for our government to use guns to give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral self-righteous bullying laziness. People need to be fed, medicated, educated, clothed, and sheltered. If we’re compassionate, we’ll help them, but you get no moral credit for forcing other people to do what you think is right. There is great joy in helping people, but no joy in doing it at gunpoint.

I’m a Libertarian nut because I don’t want my government to do anything in my name that I wouldn’t do myself.

Here's another excerpt where Jillette explains the connection between his religious beliefs (none) and his Libertarianism.  He doesn't believe that he knows.  He has no freakin' clue what is best for you, sitting there in Clovis New Mexico, or Birmingham Alabama, or Birmingham England.  He doesn't know what you need !!  Neither does Barack Obama, or John Boehner, or Rick Perry, or David Cameron, or The Pope.  They are ALL ordinary people that some of you good folks want to put on pedestals.  Penn Jillette doesn't understand why. 

“What makes me libertarian is what makes me an atheist — I don’t know. If I don’t know, I don’t believe. I don’t know exactly how we got here, and I don’t think anyone else does, either. We have some of the pieces of the puzzle and we’ll get more, but I’m not going to use faith to fill in the gaps. I’m not going to believe things that TV hosts state without proof. I’ll wait for real evidence and then I’ll believe.

And I don’t think anyone really knows how to help everyone. I don’t even know what’s best for me. Take my uncertainty about what’s best for me and multiply that by every combination of the over 300 million people in the United States and I have no idea what the government should do.

President Obama sure looks and acts way smarter than me, but no one is 2 to the 300 millionth power times smarter than me. No one is even 2 to the 300 millionth times smarter than a squirrel. I sure don’t know what to do about an AA+ rating and if we should live beyond our means and about compromise and sacrifice. I have no idea. I’m scared to death of being in debt. I was a street juggler and carny trash — I couldn’t get my debt limit raised, I couldn’t even get a debt limit — my only choice was to live within my means. That’s all I understand from my experience, and that’s not much.

It’s amazing to me how many people think that voting to have the government give poor people money is compassion. Helping poor and suffering people is compassion. Voting for our government to use guns to give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral self-righteous bullying laziness.

People need to be fed, medicated, educated, clothed, and sheltered, and if we’re compassionate we’ll help them, but you get no moral credit for forcing other people to do what you think is right. There is great joy in helping people, but no joy in doing it at gunpoint.

Here's a random Penn Jillette video on the merits of Libertarianism as compared to the other choice.  If you are offended by F-bombs, don't hit "play".  The F-bombs are, however, appropriate. 











5 comments:

Nick said...

Penn makes a lot of good points. I like his analogies although analogies are always suspect. His statement is true that government - our government - rules by the consent of the governed and its powers are limited to those specifically granted to it.

His statement that our government shouldnt do what he wouldnt do falls a bit flat. There are many things that no inividual can or will do by themselves, yet they would desire to be done. And collectively, we can accomplish things that none of us would voluntarily do, even in concert with others, unless we are forced to do it. This is called the free rider problem. There are legitimate uses and functions of government. The problem is when government slips its leash and takes from many to benefit few to the net detriment of all.

Max Weber had a lot of good ideas, but he was still a product of a generally oppressive society. I dont think he fully understood liberty as well as Tocqueville.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

Nick,
yes, there are things that can't be done by individuals, but there are ways to take care of these things via the private sector.

CenTexTim said...

If you both don't mind, a couple of clarification questions.

Nick - Could you please provide an example of "collectively, we can accomplish things that none of us would voluntarily do, even in concert with others, unless we are forced to do it"? IMO the classic free rider examples like public roads and public safety don't fall into this category, because of the "none of us would voluntarily do" clause. Enough of us would voluntarily do or support those things to overcome the free riders.

Allen - I'm in general agreement with your position, but how could something like national defense be accomplished through the private sector?

Thanks.

Tim

Unknown said...

War.

Building a suspension bridge or tunnel.

Public goods, in general, are underprovided with voluntary contributions. It does not necessarily take government to solve the underallocation problem, but decentralized systems are hard to engage.

Helmets in hockey. Hockey players publicly opposed wearing helmets but when forced to wear them they revealed privately in surveys that they were glad to have them. If helmets were voluntary, people not wearing them would have a competitive advantage on the ice, but no one wanted the head injuries. So all the players were happy with equal impediment and equal safety. It took the NHL to accomplish this.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

I don't believe that National Defense could be accomplished through the private sector. Ditto for some roads and other infrastructure, courts, enforcement of contracts,most police activity and collection of taxes. But that's about all.