Israel’s War on Interracial Marriage

Ugh:

The Israeli government has launched a television and Internet advertising campaign urging Israelis to inform on Jewish friends and relatives abroad who may be in danger of marrying non-Jews.

The advertisements, employing what the Israeli media described as “scare tactics,” are designed to stop assimilation through intermarriage among young Diaspora Jews by encouraging their move to Israel.

The campaign, which cost $800,000, was created in response to reports that half of all Jews outside Israel marry non-Jews. It is just one of several initiatives by the Israeli state and private organizations to try to increase the size of Israel’s Jewish population.

According to one ad, voiced over by one of the country’s leading news anchors, assimilation is “a strategic national threat,” warning: “More than 50 percent of Diaspora youth assimilate and are lost to us.” (…)

According to the campaign’s organizers, more than 200 Israelis rang a hot line to report names of Jews living abroad after the first TV advertisement was run on Wednesday. Callers left details of e-mail addresses and Facebook and Twitter accounts.

The 30-second clip featured a series of missing-persons posters on street corners, in subways and on telephone boxes showing images of Jewish youths above the word “Lost” in different languages. A voiceover asks anyone who “knows a young Jew living abroad” to call the hot line: “Together, we will strengthen their connection to Israel, so that we don’t lose them.”

Here’s the ad (in Hebrew, without subtitles):

If I didn’t already know what the ad was about, I’d assume something pretty nasty was happening to these “missing” young people. Instead, they’re choosing to live their lives as they see fit, unconstrained by stupid and bigoted notions of racial purity and national loyalty.

Sinead’s Hand

Democracy, you’ve got some splaining to do!

Individual Rights: Minority Imposing its Views on Majority

This from Jesse Reynolds at Biopolitical Times (repsonding to this from Ron Bailey) is one of the more stupid democratic totalitarian arguments I’ve heard (and yes, it does mention the Peter “The Root of All Evil” Thiel):

Public opinion surveys show that an overwhelming 85 to 90 percent of Americans are opposed to human reproductive cloning and would like to see it banned, whereas only a tiny percentage would like to engage in the activity. This opposition is certainly not a radical ideology.

Furthermore, the US’s lack of any governance of powerful reproductive and genetic technologies–a remarkable exception among industrialized nations–is praised by Bailey as

a good thing too, since lack of government intrusion allows for the expression of moral pluralism. So far, at least, with regard to many biotechnical advances, the majority in the U.S. doesn’t get to impose its values on the minority, as has happened in many other countries.

In other words: Fortunately, with regard to many biotechnical advances, the minority in the US has so far been able to impose its values on the majority, unlike what has happened in many other countries.

Such opposition to democracy is not surprising, given Bailey’s transhumanist agenda. He knows that his vision is not popular. In order to implement it, experts such as himself and fellow anti-democratic libertarian Peter Thiel must be trusted and given authority, lest the wishes of the unreliable and ideological masses actually be enacted.

If I’m reading this correctly, Reynolds sees the maintenance of a private sphere beyond the reach of majoritarian interference as repression of the majority by the minority. That seems to be a pretty common, and utterly insane, view among democraphiles.

Do these people really not see the difference between denying a person the right to live her own life and denying the majority, acting through the state, the right to control the lives of others? Bailey and Thiel don’t want “authority” over anything except their own lives.

Quote of the Day: Liberal Archipelago Edition

The metaphor offered here to supplant those already described [i.e. the 'body politic' and 'ship of state'] is one which pictures political society as an archipelago: an area of sea containing many small islands. The islands in question, here, are different communities or. better still, jurisdictions, operating in a sea of mutual toleration. Political society — and in particular, the good political society — is best understood not as a single body, or an ideal realm of the just, or a ship piloted by a skilful seaman, or even as a single island rightly ordered. It should be understood, instead, as something altogether less clearly bounded, marked by movement within those bounds, and movement across fuzzy boundaries.

The good society, it is argued in this book, is best understood as an archipelago of societies; and because the principles which best describe such a form of human community are the principles of liberalism, the good society is properly described as a liberal archipelago.

The liberal archipelago is a society of societies which is neither the creation nor the object of control of any single authority. It is a society in which authorities function under laws which are themselves beyond the reach of any singular power.

Chandran Kukathas, The Liberal Archipelago, p. 22. Of course, there are those who see this as more than metaphor.

Quote of the Day: Bigotry and Utilitarianism Edition

There are many who consider as an injury to themselves any conduct which they have a distaste for, and resent it as an outrage to their feelings; as a religious bigot when charged with disregarding the religious feelings of others, has been known to retort that they disregard his feelings, by persisting in their abominable worship or creed. But there is no parity between the feeling of a person for his own opinion, and the feeling of another who is offended at his holding it; no more than between the desire of a thief to take a purse, and the desire of the right owner to keep it. And a person’s taste is as much his own peculiar concern as his opinion or his purse.

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, Ch. 4, paragraph 12.

Liberals and libertarians need to think very carefully about the kinds of preferences/harms should be considered valid policy concerns. The are obvious cases: I wrong you when kick you in the shin, but not when I wear clothes you find distasteful. It seems that this is so even when you have a very high tolerance for shin pain and a low tolerance for fashion crimes, and the harm/disutility is equal in each case. Most people find it reasonable that people have a presumptive right not to be physically attacked, but no such right not to be visually offended by poor taste. There is a large grey area in between these two cases.  Utilitarianism as a moral theory is incapable of considering this question, or even admitting that it is a problem. This, more than anything else, is why I am not a utilitarian. The Mill of On Liberty was not a utilitarian in this respect either. On some readings, not even the Mill of Utilitarianism was really a utilitarian.

Update: Eric disagrees. Update 2: Not really. See the comments on Eric’s post.

Quote of the Day: Liberal Tolerance Edition

This type of tolerance does not mean wishy-washiness or the propensity to doubt one’s own position, the sort of thing Robert Frost had in mind when he defined a liberal as someone who cannot take his own side in an argument. It does not imply, or require, an easy relativism about the human good; indeed, it is compatible with engaged moral criticism of those with whom one differs. Toleration rightly understood means the principled refusal to use coercive state power to impose one’s views on others, and therefore a commitment to moral competition through recruitment and persuasion alone.

William Galston, The Practice of Liberal Pluralism, p. 4.

Mastery and Spontaneous Order

On this week’s Econtalk Russ Roberts talks to Political Scientist/Theorist Alan Wolfe about liberalism (of the modern American variety, including its relationship to libertarianism). The conversation is interesting throughout. Wolfe is very concerned with the individual’s mastery of their own life: the positive liberty to act on the world and to determine their own destiny. I broadly agree that positive freedom is the paramount value liberals should wish to promote (but unlike Wolfe, I think the best way to do so is to expand the scope of negative liberty).

This concern with mastery leads Wolfe to a peculiar reaction to the invisible hand and spontaneous order-type explanations of Hayek, et al. He is worried that because society is the product of human action but not of human design, results are emerging somehow ‘behind our backs’ in a way which gives us no control or mastery over our destiny. Wolfe sees government as capable of stepping in to make the social world more transparent and controllable and thereby enhancing people’s mastery over their own lives.

I’d never heard this argument before, and I think there two major things wrong with it. First, government is itself a spontaneous order. The State is not a unitary actor, but a complex system through which action emerges from the interaction of various agents (politicians, bureaucrats, voters, interest groups, etc). In all but the most tyrannical states, no person has the capacity to determine political outcomes singlehandedly.

Second, and more importantly, while decentralized voluntary action does not give any person or group mastery over the social system as a whole, it does give individuals a high degree of mastery over their immediate surroundings and their own life-course. The market precludes conscious human action at the level of aggregate outcomes, which are determined by the impersonal forces of supply and demand. At an individual level, however, choice and action remain intact. The fact that the aggregate outcome is unplanned does nothing to alter the fact that in our everyday lives we make numerous free and conscious decisions, foreseeing the consequences those decisions will have on our own lives.

Giving all individuals mastery over society-as-a-whole is entirely nonsensical. The environment with which we interact is populated by other humans. Since we each have different goals and preferences, any attempt to control the social world must place others in a position of domination. We all have to share the same aggregate outcomes and there’s simply no way, even in principle, to give more than one person control over the entirety of the social world. Unless you believe in a Rousseauvian collective will, which Wolfe doesn’t, you should prefer macrobehaviour be largely determined by the complex interactions of micromotives. That’s as much mastery as we’re ever going to get.

Libertarianism and Democracy

Will Wilkinson has a fantastic post on the anti-democratic tendencies of libertarians. Will says many things I agree with, and some I disagree with.

Which brings us to Theil’s boneheaded quip about women’s suffrage. Extending the franchise to women is, in my estimation, one of the great triumphs of the American classical liberal tradition. Like the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage was rooted in the rejection a shameful tradition of paternalism that held that some classes of people are less than fully able to govern themselves. I cannot see how anyone who accepts basic liberal assumptions about freedom and equality can see the establishment of equal political rights as anything but an unequivocal good… unless he rejects the legitimacy of politics in principle. I think this is were Theil was coming from.

But if politics is in-principle illegitimate, it was illegitimate before women got the vote, so why bring it up?

I certainly agree that women’s suffrage was a great victory for libertarian ideals: political equality is a core liberal value and any political system which denies some people a voice in political decision-making based on anything as superficial as genitalia is indeed shamefully illiberal. As I’ve said, I do think Thiel’s words were poorly chosen, but I don’t see anything illiberal about him pointing out that female suffrage did in fact lead to policies libertarians disagree with. I’m not sure why he brought it up (it was a throwaway remark, and wasn’t at all central to his argument), but I don’t think he deserves the large helping of scorn he has received from those who incorrectly inferred he wished to return to the good old days of male-only suffrage. To point out a negative consequence of something is not to condemn it in its entirety. I see Will’s point, but I think he’s being too harsh.

Will continues:

By bringing it up as a reason why democratic progress is hopeless, Theil does make it sound like he the problem’s not democratic politics per se, but democratic politics without good prospect of producing the right answer. But liberalism starts from the recognition that free and equal people don’t agree about the right answer but need to find a way to live together anyway. The secessionist instinct does seem illiberal insofar as it’s based in the frustration that resonable pluralism fails to generate consensus on the right answer — even when the content of the right answer is a radical version of liberalism. And Theil’s comment seemed to imply that political recognition of the fundamental equality of persons is not only tangential to the right answer, but might even get in the way at arriving at it, which is just screwed up.

Liberalism does start from the recognition of reasonable disagreement and the need to avoid the conflict this could potentially cause. If you’re not an anarchist (which I’m not), you think that some collective decisions are required. The results of these decisions can be better or worse from a libertarian perspective, but we need to be mindful of the procedural justice of the decision-making rule. Male-only suffrage is horribly unjust, even if it produces our desired result on other issues.

Any reasonable conception of liberalism, though, should also aim to ensure that when reasonable disagreement is allowed to persist without being the object of collective decision whenever possible. Nobody thinks we should vote on what type of shirt we should wear and all be bound by the result of the collective decision. Libertarians don’t think we should vote, for example, on how we should educate our kids or what substances we ingest for recreational reasons. The question is not how collective decisions should be made – I certainly want them made by some sort of democratic procedure – but what decisions should be made collectively.

One problem with democracy is that is that the scope of collective choice is endogenous. New issues can be brought to the agenda and voted upon. This is a big problem if, like me, you think that political behaviour is more about signalling what values you hold and what sort of person you are than it is about rationally and impartially deciding on what things should be subject to government intervention. Skilled political entrepreneurs can win votes by politicizing issues people care about. Don’t want your kids taking drugs? Let’s ban them altogether! What better way to show your disapproval?

I tend to say a lot of nasty things about democracy. In my own case, this is partly because most people say so many moronically nice things it. It may be the best system we’ve ever tried. It may even be the best system we’re ever going to have. This does nothing to alter the fact that an immoral act does not become moral just because 50% + 1 of voters are in favour of it. The tyranny of the majority can, and frequently does, severely fuck over minorities.  The fact that a decision was democratically reached is not a trump which puts it beyond moral questioning.

A democratic system constrained by proper constitutional limits could potentially solve these problems. Unfortunately, it’s not clear whether government can be prevented from performing acts which a majority of people demand in the voting booth. This is why people like Thiel want to escape politics altogether: democracy may be the best government we can hope for, but it is still pretty bad. I completely understand this desire.

Ronald Bailey on Transhumanism and the Limits of Democracy

Reason reproduces the paper Bailey presented at Arizona State University’s Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict Workshop on Transhumanism and the Future of Democracy. The paper is too good to extract, and I would urge anyone at all interested in this stuff to read the whole thing, but here’s one part which makes the point I’ve been trying to get at recently:

This ideal of political equality arose from the Enlightenment’s insistence that since no one has access to absolute truth, no one has a moral right to impose his or her values and beliefs on others. Or to put it another way, I may or may not have access to some absolute transcendent truth, but I’m pretty damned sure that you don’t.

Very true and very succinct. I think Bailey and Virginia Postrel are going to be two of the most important public intellectuals on the side of freedom in coming years. Bailey’s Liberation Biology and Postrel’s The Future and its Enemies are both required reading for anyone interested in the social and political effects of emerging technologies. Postrel’s book is a lot more fun to read, but Bailey’s gives a very good overview of enhancement technologies and their likely effects.

Group Rights = Elite Privileges

The Western Standard quotes an article on Michael Ignatieff’s new book True Patriot Love:

“America and Canada are both free nations,” Ignatieff writes. “But our freedom is different: There is no right to bear arms north of the 49th parallel and no capital punishment either; we believe in collective rights to language and land, and, in our rights culture, these can trump individual rights. Not so south of the border. Rights that are still being fought for south of the border — public health care, for example — have been ours for a generation. These differences are major and George Grant’s conclusion that they were minor misunderstood Canadian history and our enduringly different political tradition.”

The notion of ‘collective rights‘ is utter nonsense, but very popular with certain segments of both left and right. I just don’t see how any reasonable person could possibly think that groups have moral value in and of themselves. Individuals care about the groups they belong to, so groups have instrumental value. People also value cars and chairs, but we don’t feel compelled to grant these things rights. Sentience and agency surely have to be necessary conditions of rights-bearing. Collectives have neither.

Any group (linguistic, cultural, whatever) which can’t be sustained through the voluntary cooperation of individuals is a group which isn’t highly valued by individuals and not worth preserving. In any case, it just doesn’t make sense to grant rights to groups, since they don’t have the capacity to act in any meaningful way. Instead, special privileges are generally granted to those who claim to represent a group, sometimes giving them the power to coerce other members of the group.

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