Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Survival Manual

Today I draw your attention to Richard Fernandez, Belmont Club at PJ Media, The First Horseman

From the article:

We often forget that the sacred texts of mankind began as practical documents.  They were checklists. And we may well rediscover this fact before the end. One can imagine the last two postmoderns crawling towards each other in the ruins of a once great city to die, and while waiting to expire engage in conversation to pass the time.
“Waldo,” the first said, “do you remember that tablet displayed in front of the Texas Statehouse. You know, back when there was a Texas?”
“Yeah, didn’t it have a whole bunch of stuff scrawled on it? Tell me again what it said,” replied the other.
“Waldo, it said, ‘thou shalt not kill.’ And ‘thou shalt not lie’.”
“Anything else?”
“Yes it also said, ‘thou shalt not steal’. Plus somewhere in the middle said, ‘thou shalt not have sex with people you weren’t married to.’”
“Yeah, I remember it now,” the second post-modern said. “What a bunch of hooey. It’s a right wing, nutjob, racist document called the Ten Commandments.  It’s a religious document.”
“No Waldo,” the first replied. “That’s where you’re wrong. It ain’t no religious document. I just figured out it was a survival manual.”

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Parking Lot

Hamas strikes at Israeli Nuclear Reactor

"Now what might a “reasonable” response look like?"

It would look like a parking lot where Gaza used to be.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Gay Marriage And The Nature Of Rights

 My reponse to this article at Reason: The Texas GOP Stands on a Platform of Ignorance

The sleight-of-hand in the gay marriage debate is the nature of the "rights" in question. The Bill of Rights is predominantly a charter of negative rights. All the rights enumerated in the bill of rights of this nature: the government protects whatever right in question by simply *not* doing stuff to you.

There are no positive rights listed. Positive rights are "rights" where others are required to grant you something. They are popular in modern progressive Constitutions and U.N. charters: the "right" to health care (implies that someone has an obligation to provide you with health care whether they want to or not); the "right" to housing (implies that someone has the obligation to fork up the expense of housing you, whether they want to or not).

Libertarians are usually opposed to positive rights, because they require compelling the labor of others in order to provide you the "right."

Homosexuals already have the negative right of gay marriage. Just say "we're married." Nobody's stopping you.

The problem is that in the U.S., being married comes with a whole lot of "gimmes" that the government is obligated to provide: tax status, social security benefits, inheritance benefits, health care benefits, property rights.

All these are, if anything, positive rights, and can not be construed as the type of negative rights included among enumerated and unenumerated rights in the Bill of Rights.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Boy Scouts Rescue Ann Curry

“I feel enormously lucky you came along at just the right moment, and were so willing to help a stranger in need,” Curry wrote. “You are a credit to the Boy Scouts and to your families, and I want you to know I am deeply grateful for your kindness and skill.” -- Ann Curry

These young men are the product of an institution that has been hounded by progressive activists and media for decades.

I think you can tell the worth of an institution by its fruits. By that measure, would you rather have the Boy Scouts or gay bath houses?

Heinlein on Freedom of Thought and Freedom of Expression

When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, “This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know,” the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, not anything — you can’t conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him – Robert A. Heinlein

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Recent Thoughts On Same-Sex Marriage

Over the years that same sex marriage has been in the public spotlight, my personal leanings have been all over the place. I've found myself "against" on grounds ranging from traditionalist to moral to rather pragmatic concerns about the building blocks of a good society. I've also found myself leaning "for" on libertarian grounds. I've found myself, again on libertarian grounds wanting to cut the Gordian Knot by simply getting government out of the marriage business entirely.

I've found flaws with each of my stances: against the traditionalist, I think that while we owe a good deal of deference to the wisdom of generations, our ancestors aren't always right -- slavery being the obvious example. On moral grounds, I waver because I'm not of an evangelical bent. If it's immoral, then it's between them and God and as long as I can be left out of it, I don't really care much. And, when I think of the building block of a good society, I'm minded to have a little humility: I'm no more likely than anyone else to have such a good idea of what the building blocks are of a good society, and, in a more bitter vein, it's not my responsibility to build a good society. People generally get the society they deserve.

My "for" impulses have been similarly unreliable. While in theory the libertarian argument is sound, in fact, the issue is more complicated. I'm not an anarchist. I believe government has a role in society. Reasonable people disagree on the proper boundaries of government and I'd be willing to wager I prefer a much more limited government than the vast majority of people. If one could rebuild a society from scratch, then I might say that government should have no role in marriage or the raising of children.

But, the fact is, I live in the present-day United States, a society in which government fingers are deeply entwined in marriage, child-raising, education and other related endeavors, and that isn't going to change in my lifetime. Taking a radical libertarian stance on one narrow aspect of society without considering how this will rebound into areas of society that aren't governed by libertarian principles is the same mistake that I accuse open borders libertarians of making.

Recently, I've come to consider a very fundamental motivation with regard to same-sex marriage. The tribal motivation: how does this affect me and my tribe? By "my tribe," I mean "me, my family, and people like us." The tribal motivation is surely a primitive one. But all the more reason to think deeply on it, because many (most?) people are motivated by tribal concerns even if they insist they are not. You can't make a motivation go away by refusing to think about it.

Gay people certainly behave in a tribal fashion when promoting their interests. Rather self-evidently, gays support same-sex marriage because same-sex marriage is a benefit for gays.

But what's in it for me and my tribe of straight, conservative upper-middle-class American Christians (sadly, for their fate, one of the least tribally conscious groups in the world)?

If we give you gay marriage, what do we get? Not much, as far as I can tell. We get a public education system that will indoctrinate our children to believe that gay marriage is a societal good. We get bakers, wedding photographers, executives, beauty queens and Christians persecuted for publicly espousing  the belief that gay marriage -- and homosexuality in general -- are not a societal good.

My tribe tends to be a pretty "do unto others as you'd have them do unto you" tribe, so as a group, we're naturally inclined to want to let gays marry, because it's the same sort of consideration we'd want if we were in their shoes. I'm sympathetic to that. But then, do they really then turn around and "do unto us" in the same way? Is there quid pro quo? Doesn't seem like it. It's not enough if we just say, "Yeah, go ahead and be married, just please leave us alone." We have to fully participate. We have to photograph your weddings and bake your cakes whether we like it or not. We have to adjust our political contributions to align with your orthodoxy or endure public attack. We can't answer a question about marriage or homosexuality honestly, or we are vilified in the public eye. Frankly, I just don't see that we're getting a good deal here.

And then the next thing I've been thinking: what, exactly is the deal?

When it comes down to it, it's not about love and marriage. It's about money. And the children.

Without government-recognized marriage, Fred and Charlie can call themselves married and spend the rest of their lives together in blissful matrimony. They can have a church wedding at a Unitarian Church. They can have all the trappings of marriage except two things. 1) The economic benefits. 2) Official recognition of their marriage for purposes of adoption.

And whenever things are about money, or about the children, I start to get suspicious.

Now, lots of gay marriages are going to be childless, so lets start with the money. Exactly why, again, do we want to economically reward people for getting married, if children are not a consideration? That's a good question. In my opinion, ideally we don't. But the fact is that we do. Married people get special tax treatment (not always favorable!), and they get Social Security survivor benefits -- one of the few things that cannot be simulated through private contracts.

Now, it seems to be that it would be simple enough to allow any person to designate any one other person as their mutual social security survivor. That solves a big problem, and would probably provide a measure of relief to people in such familiar relationships as a single child who cohabits with and cares for an elderly parent -- these parent-child relationships can span decades and the death of either can be a financial blow just as much as the death of a spouse, so why not?

As for special tax treatment, I'd roll whatever special tax treatment exists into dependent deductions and rules. An urban DINK (Dual Income No Kids) couple would get essentially no benefits, straight, gay, or whatever. But once you had kids and started getting dependent deductions and/or possibly different tax rates, then you'd benefit.

The interesting  situation would be a couple where one was the breadwinner and the other didn't work. Currently there's special tax treatment for that. Is it a good thing? I don't know. Let's assume, from the evidence of our eyes, that we as a society think it's a good thing. Is there a compelling reason to limit who the breadwinner lists as the stay-at-home dependent? Not really -- I can't see the harm in allowing someone to declare one unrelated adult dependent (or more). This isn't something that to me harms the fabric of society. It seems like it's something that encourages cooperation. You'd have to set some minimal level of income the dependent can have above which they'd not be considered a dependent. There are tax rules for that with children already.

I'm sure I haven't covered all the bases. I'm not a tax lawyer. But the general flavor and sense that I get is that the economic issues are surmountable without draconian government proclamations regarding what is and what isn't a marriage.

Until you get to the children.

It's indisputable that it's good for children to be raised in a home with a stable mother and father. People who argue against this are arguing anecdotally, not statistically. I'd be happy to entertain any actual evidence to the contrary. Same sex marriage starts to mess with that. A fundamental component of same-sex marriage is that same-sex couples have just as much of a "right" to adopt as heterosexual couples. However, a fundamental precept in family courts is that the parents rights are not paramount in custody situations, the "best interests of the child" are. It's my assertion that, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, same sex households are not in the best interests of the child.

They may not be terrible -- certainly not enough to take a child away from a biological mother or father who comes out as gay, but they're not ideal. Which means that in a situation where there are no biological parental rights at play -- adoption -- there is no compelling reason to give state sanction to the practice.

Now, same sex households are rare enough that what I speak of, "evidence to the contrary," is difficult to come by. It's unfortunate that you cannot get mass amounts of data for a social phenomenon without conducting a mass social experiment. This leads me to a tribal/traditionalist perspective: exactly what do I get out of letting same-sex marraige supporters conduct a massive social experiment on my country? Near as I can tel, not much.

Same-sex marriage supporters talk about this as a "civil right" and liken it to slavery or racially mixed marriages, but I don't think this is an apt comparison. As I've said leading up to this, same sex marriage is about two things: economic benefits and adoption. Neither of those is a civil right. Gays already have a civil right to get married and have a church wedding. Nobody's stopping them. We can handle the administrative parts without touching the state definition of marriage.

You don't have a civil right to adopt a child. And you don't have a civil right to have the government bestow favorable tax benefits on you and your partner because you're so much in love. If a particular tax rate is a civil right, why don't we give it to single people? Are single people second class citizens? Rich people pay higher tax rates; are they second class citizens? If it's unfair for Fred and Steve to have to pay a different tax rate than John and Mary, then it's also unfair for Phil, the lifelong bachelor to pay that rate. What's so special about John, Mary, Fred and Steve that they all get benefits that Phil doesn't?

The only reasons the government has to care is to make sure that children get proper care, that we support the institution of child-raising, and that non-working adult dependents don't suddenly find themselves in dire straits due to the death of their partner/provider.

None of that requires same-sex marriage.

All that said and done, I'd still be pretty wishy-washy on the matter if it weren't for the aforementioned tribal concerns. It's pretty clear that should same-sex marriage recognition become the law of the land, that my religious, moral and even scientific objections to the normalization of homosexuality will become unwelcome in the public spotlight (realistically, they already are in many circles) and subject me to potential persecution in a number of venues. So, I really just don't see the down side of opposing same sex marriage in any way that I can until it becomes a done deal and I'm forced to shut up out of fear and persecution. That attitude may not be good for your tribe, but it's good for mine.