Sunday, October 29, 2006

New article, and a welcome

I am proud to say that my first article at has been published. If you've come here for the first time from the link on my article, welcome to The Superfluous Man, my blog about libertarianism, science fiction, and anything else that catches my interest. Here's a few past posts of mine that I hope are of interest:

My introduction

My post on the nature of neoconservatism

Some thoughts on big business, big government, and the inconsistent means and ends of the statist left

A post on the Libertarian Reform Caucus, libertarian strategy, and my case for "purism"

For science fiction fans, my review of Neal Asher's Gridlinked

More good stuff coming up soon, so I hope you'll stick around.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

McBain to base, under attack by Commie-Nazis!

I ceased to think of myself as a rightist years ago, but for some time after becoming a libertarian I continued to sympathize much more strongly with the right than the left. I still do sometimes, but that feeling is rapidly waning. Why? Well, part of it is Bush and the many follies and evils of his administration. But a big part of it is the fact that so many right-wingers seem to have taken on many of the same traits that make me dislike most of the left (a few people excepted) so much.

For example: the leftist tendency to wildly fling the words "fascist" and "Nazi" around at anyone they don't like, a practice which conservatives have embraced. I thought Islamo-fascist" was a fairly silly term. I got annoyed by the constant comparison of anyone conservatives want to bomb this week to Hitler. But this is the best one yet: Michael Medved
has taken to calling Muslim terrorists "Islamo-Nazis." Yes, I thank God every day that my grandfather's generation stopped Hitler from imposing sharia law on all of Europe.

Honestly, do political terms mean
anything anymore? Can I start calling Mayor Richard Daley an "anarcho-Falangist" the next time he does something I don't like? At this point, we might as well drop the pretense that "Nazi" is even a word anymore: after all, words have definitions. "Nazi" has become more like grunting in pain or yelling, "Eww!"; it communicates raw emotion but little else.

With exceptions, liberals and the left shouldn't be too smug about this particular bit of stupidity; it was their relentless overuse of the word that set the precedent for this sort of nonsense, after all. Sadly, one of the harder things I've learned over the past six years is that most conservatives cannot be expected to be any better. I suppose I shouldn't allow myself to be disappointed by anything the right does these days, but old habits die hard.

Hat-tip to the hard-working Whig-distributists at Hit and Run.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Jay Leno, Public Menace

Some rather goofy news: Democratic congressman Xavier Becerra has filed a complaint against Jay Leno for having Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as a guest without having his Democratic rival Phil Angelides on as well, thus violating the federal "equal time" rule which requires TV stations to give equal amounts of time to rival candidates for public office. (Needless to say, this is a privilege exclusively enjoyed by the reigning duopoly.) Here's the quote from the article that I'd like to zero in on:

"Use of the broadcast spectrum is granted as a public trust," Becerra wrote in the complaint filed on Angelides' behalf. "It is not to be used to favor certain candidates."

The article also notes that the networks stopped airing Schwarzenegger's movies while he was running for governor to avoid falling afoul of the equal time clause. This highlights something important: The notion that the airwaves are or ought to be "public" (i.e. government) property is incompatible with freedom of speech. If the airwaves rightly belong to the government, what's so objectionable about government control of what is said or done on those airwaves? After all, virtually no one objects to the fact that various government bodies regulate activities on public roads, in government buildings, on military bases, etc. So why not thegovernment-owned broadcast frequencies?

Ironically, it usually seems to be liberals, who purport to be the country's great advocates of free expression, who seem to put the most stock in the idea of the "public airwaves." Of course, it's hardly the first time liberals in this country have undercut their own alleged ideals.

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

"You keep using that word..."

You may have noticed that, in this blog, I have spent very little space making authoritative-sounding statements about Cajun cooking, 18th-Century Belgian literature, or the grammar of sub-Saharan languages. There's a reason for that: I know absolutely nothing about these subjects. Sadly, not everyone shares my restraint.

In one of my periodic fits of self-loathing, I was reading Jonah Goldberg's syndicated column in the Chicago Tribune last week, in which he wrote about the idea of torturing alleged terrorists. (He's for it, not surprisingly.) A lot of it was just standard conservative warmonger stuff, but there was one thing that leapt out at me. He sharply criticized those who said that engaging in things like torture and imprisonment without trial would lower us to the level of some of history's less wholesome regimes. More specifically, he accused such people of "moral relativism." I'm not interested in Goldberg's arguments that torture is okay; I'm much more interested in Goldberg's odd choice of terminology.

Now, I don't claim to be especially bright, but I know what a few basic philosophical terms mean. Moral relativism claims that there is no moral standard that applies to all people and cultures; instead, morality is relative to the actor, and an act that is okay for Bob or an Englishman to do might be wrong for Bill or a Korean to do.

The problem with Goldberg's claim is thus obvious: the argument that torture would lower America to the level of evil regimes like Cuba is fundamentally anti-relativistic. The whole basis of the argument is the idea that morality is universal, and thus as binding on democratic America as it is on a communist, fascist, or Islamist regime. It is arguably Goldberg who is arguing that morality is relative to culture (or perhaps to form of government)- he claims that torturing people without trial is wrong when done by Arabs (or fascists, communists, etc.) but acceptable when done by Americans.

I don't know whether Goldberg's use of the word "relativism" is the result of honest ignorance or willful deception in order to push the reader's buttons. I've occasionally seen conservatives use the word "relativism" to mean "a moral opinion a I don't agree with," (or as a derisive term for tolerance) but this is the first time I've noticed it being used to mean the exact opposite of what it means. Mr. Goldberg should consider leaving the philosophy to others and focusing on things he has actual knowledge of, like The Simpsons and old Star Trek episodes.

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Monday, October 02, 2006

What makes a community

Nice article by Sheldon Richman about community and coercion at the Foundation for Economic Education. His article brings to mind something I've thought about before- the fact that many statists, mostly but not exclusively those on the left, and especially the so-called "communitarians," seem to regard a social/community organization as legitimate or valuable only if it is state-created or enforced, usually because of the high school civics notion that the state represents "all of us" in a way that voluntary groups don't. Social organizations actually created by voluntary society don't seem to count, because they don't have the state's sanctifying touch.

For these people, their ideas seem to imply, all of my town's families, churches, clubs, unions, fraternal organizations, and charity events are less authentic expressions of community than, say, Joliet Prison (Such an awful blow to community and solidarity when that place was shut down!) Which, considering what the "communitarian" types seem to want to turn society into, seems fitting.

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