What Does the United States Stand For?

I have been disgusted with my country for a long time about certain things.  I can’t remember a time in my life where I didn’t notice the palpable government intrusion in my life.  I remember the first time I truly examined what freedom truly means while I was in high school, and understanding that the United States is not the home of the free that every school tries to indoctrinate its students to believe.  This bothered me, but I believed that there is nothing one person could do, and let my frustration wane.

There is one thing that I have never been able to stomach though, and our government is doing it today more than it ever has, and we sit here fat and happy, ignoring or totally ignorant of the fact that our government is doing things to other people that it should never do, because it is unconstitutional, and the people that should be concerned are the very ones fighting to protect the practice.

We have a government that is supposedly based on the idea that all men are created equal, and among other things, that they all have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  That simple phrase in The Declaration of Independence is one that helped spark a revolution, yet today our government totally and blatantly ignores it, our politicians fight against it, and most people are supportive of ignoring it.

I have to ask, since when is a human being in another country less deserving of his life, liberty, and/or happiness than a human being that happens to live on a section of dirt we call The United States?  Is it okay that our government executes people without a trial, simply because they aren’t a US citizen and we don’t like them, or because they happen to be a US citizen on foreign soil and we don’t like them?  Should we be able to detain people indefinitely without a trial simply because we don’t bring them to the United States?

I recently learned that the United States has taken to hauling around prisoners on ships in international waters in order to prevent them from getting to US soil and being afforded the rights we claim everyone has innately.  It demonstrates that they know what they are doing is wrong, and that they are taking steps to keep from being held accountable.  It sickens me.  I feel it puts a stain on my name that the government that is supposed to work for me is doing these things, and it should sicken everyone else that has a decent bone in their body.

You and I are employers.  We employ the government to act on our behalf.  If your employee, while acting as an agent of your business, murdered someone and you knew about it, yet did nothing, should you not be charged with murder?  If they went around, as your agent, and tortured your competitors, and you said nothing, are you not just as guilty?

Everyone that is silent about these abuses is guilty.  Everyone that sits back and ignores it is guilty.  Even those that are ignorant are somewhat guilty, as they should be interested and involved in what their employees are doing on their behalf.

If you have supported detaining people indefinitely, or said nothing when you found your government mistreated anyone, and especially if you argued that the government should be able to do those things, you are guilty of the very crimes that you would scream from the roof tops about if they were committed against you.

You are not neutral.  You can’t be neutral.  You have no choice.  You better pick your side, and hope it is a principled one, because the may come where all those that stood by and did nothing will be held accountable right along side those that took an active part.

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Libertarians Hate Poor People

When you speak to people about libertarian ideas, especially liberals, you will hear the common refrain, “Libertarians don’t care about the poor!”  The frequency that this comes up is rather disheartening, as if anyone were to truly investigate libertarianism, and especially if they speak to libertarians, they would realize this simply isn’t the case.

Typically, this notion comes from the fact that libertarians generally believe that nobody should be forced to spend their money in a way they do not choose for themselves, including helping the poor.  To someone that thinks that helping poor people is an altruistic act worthy of elevating, they may find themselves at odds with this point of view.

Often, the problem lies in the fact that the person read Atlas Shrugged, and got the totally wrong idea about libertarians.  They may have assumed that the entirety of libertarian philosophy circles around Ayn Rand, and that her general surliness was somehow indicative of how libertarians are as a whole, or even in large part.  This isn’t to say that Ayn Rand didn’t think that people should help other people.  It is to say that it is possible to misinterpret her to have suggested that.

In regard to Rand, I don’t need to defend her.  She has many people that defend her, and I have to admit I am not an expert on how she thought in particular.  All I can say is that whatever her philosophy about poor people, whether she suggested allowing poor people to die in the streets or not, that is not how any libertarians I know think, and I doubt that Rand would have as big of a following as she does if that were part of her message.

The real issue at hand is that people don’t realize what libertarians generally aspire to.  They believe in a world without aggression.  This takes different forms with different libertarians.  I personally am more a minarchist like Robert Nozik, or Ludwig von Mises.  Other libertarians are more anarchists of various forms.  Whatever way you look at it though, the philosophy of libertarianism can mostly be said to believe in this principle, and what is derived from that.

I happen to believe that people are mostly altruistic.  They will help people they think are in need if they can help them.  They will protect those that are being harmed if they feel they are able.  I believe this because I am this way, and I suspect that most people have much more in common than they have differences.  This is evidenced by the fact that most people want some sort of welfare programs.  Most people want some sort of health care for those that can’t afford it.

Here is where one needs to ask the question, “How does belief in the non-aggression principle prevent people from helping poor people?”  It’s that simple.  Whatever your answer to that question is, if it logically follows from the idea that people should not use force or coercion against others, will be exactly the answer you need.  I’ll give you a hint.  There is only one answer – it doesn’t.

Libertarians are not opposed to people finding ways that don’t use force against people in order to help other people.  You would not be prevented from working in a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter.  You would not be prevented from giving money to charities or churches.  You would not be prevented from donating food to food banks.  In fact, you would no longer have the ability to pull off the “I gave at the office” argument to yourselves by thinking that your tax dollars are doing the job you should be doing yourself.

Libertarians are just as caring about poor people as anyone else.  In fact, libertarians are actually quite generous.  You will find that people that ascribe to an ideology are quite willing to support that ideology in action.  For instance, Linux users will donate more money on average to people that release software for their platform than Windows users will.  They are also willing to spend more money on closed source software like games for Linux than people using Windows will.  This is because they believe in the idea of Linux as a desktop software, not because they are forced to pay in order to use their operating system.

Libertarianism doesn’t require altruism, but if you look at the example of New Hampshire, and the “Free State Project”, you will see altruism in action in spades.  This is due to the shared belief in an ideology.  It is not forced upon them.

If you think that libertarianism is an ideology that promotes selfishness, you have totally missed the point.  It is an ideology that promotes selflessness.  While it may benefit me to force you to spend your money on something I want, that is selfish.  You aren’t making that person selfless by forcing them to do so.  You are assuming that you know better how to spend someone else’s money than they do.  You are assuming that your method of doing things is better than the method other people would choose to do given a system that doesn’t do things for them.

The hight of selflessness is not to force other people to be how you would have them be.  It is to allow them to be how they would naturally be, and assume the responsibility of helping others yourself, and have enough faith in your fellow man that they will do so as well.

Don’t assume that you are the only generous person on the planet.

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Is There Truly a Social Contract?

As a Libertarian, I have been drawn into many political discussions.  People drag me kicking and screaming into political groups on Facebook.  It is rough though, as there aren’t very many libertarians, and everyone wants to debate them.  It makes it so there is a virtual gangbang whenever I go to these groups.  Liberals hate that I can be against corporations controlling government, but be against government intrusion in business.  Conservatives hate that I can be against capital punishment and wars, but for austerity.  Liberals love that I am so articulate in arguing for allowing gay marriage.  Conservatives love that I can argue so effectively against liberals against wealth redistribution and government run health care.  Overall though, it seems that I am mostly a thorn in everyone’s side.

The majority of the discussions I have been getting into lately seem to hinge on something that people like to call a “Social Contract”.  Since I don’t remember signing the contract, I have to keep asking what it is.  Where do I get a copy?  What can one do or not do if they don’t ever sign this contract.  What does the contract cover if I do sign it?

What People Think the Social Contract Is

The reason these arguments come up is varied.  Usually it has to do with how I view taxation as an imposition on my property rights.  Sometimes it has to do with health care.  Sometimes welfare.  Often, it comes up simply because I don’t see how the government ever gets their right to control other people in the first place.

Invariably, people think the social contract is this ethereal unwritten document that we are party to for various reasons, and imply consent by various acts.  The contract says that you will be governed by the state and pay taxes in exchange for various government services.  Some people even claim that your living on the land itself is enough to bind you to this agreement.  It is the price you pay for the protection and care of the society.

I have one huge problem with all of this though, and nobody has been able to explain things to me in a way that makes sense.  What act does a person do that suggests they agree to be a party to this contract?

How the Contract is Signed

I’ve had a few different answers to this question.  I’ll deal with them one at a time.

  • Have you voted?

This is the starting point for what has to be the most terrible argument there is about this.  If voting makes you party to the contract, why does the government have any say over people that haven’t ever voted, or people that are unable to vote for any reason whatsoever?  Certainly that can’t be the way someone shows their intent to enter into this contract.

Now, one may say, it is not the fact that you vote, it is the fact that you have the ability to vote.  Does this mean aliens, legal or illegal, are not able to be held to this social contract?

Since these apparent loopholes exist, yet we don’t find them to be loopholes, this alone can’t be the reason we use to determine if someone has signed a social contract.

  • Your parents sign it for you.

How do you figure that?  Sure, while you are a minor, your parents can sign as your agent, but signing as your agent doesn’t obligate you after you reach the age of majority.  Where does this contract get signed after you turn 18?

We don’t have other contracts that parents sign for children that persist after the child turns 18.  If the child turns 18 years old, they can call all contracts made without their signature void, which is why people don’t contract with the children, they contract with the children and the parents.

  • You agree by not leaving the country.

This one seems to be the most pervasive.  It is tantamount to “‘murika, luv it ur leave it.”  It suggests that because you don’t leave the country once you turn 18, you have agreed to this contract.  This has a few terrible flaws.

For this first examination, imagine there is no government, and think of it purely as a moral issue.  Imagine that you are a woman with an abusive boyfriend or husband.  You have the ability to leave the boyfriend, but you stay with him anyway.  If simply staying in a situation that you are allowed to leave is what constitutes agreement, one could say that the woman in this situation agrees to being beaten by her boyfriend/husband.  If that is the case, the man is simply doing nothing more than having a mutually agreed upon S&M session.

The reason I had you imagine there was no government in the scenario is because government can come in and say, “It is illegal no matter what”, and that would be true based on contract law, but it doesn’t deal with the moral issue.  Something in our minds understands that it is not appropriate to treat women as chattel, but still too many people think it is okay for the government to do it.

Now, there is the case of people that can’t leave.  Let’s say someone is too poor to leave.  Are they here by agreement any more than someone that leaves the country?  It is hardly an excuse to bind someone to a contract simply because they don’t have the ability to leave.  A person without the money to travel is bound to the place they are at just as much as if they were to be put in jail.

What about the people that are disabled to the point they can’t travel?  Are they agreeing because their health prevents them from leaving?  I would say this is similarly not a choice these people can make.

What about people that commit crimes as a minor, and are held past their 18th birthday in jail?  All other contracts that your parents sign for you as a minor become unenforceable at this point, why not the social contract?  Why is it that the state can continue to hold you, and how are you signing this contract when you are being forced to stay in the country?

So, because we have situations where the government can and does claim that the exact same logic that people use for the idea of this social contract is invalid, and we have situations where people don’t truly have a choice in the matter, and can’t be seriously considered to have agreed with this contract, it can’t be that you remain in the country.  It would seem that is a canard.

  • You agree by working.

What if you don’t work?  Are you then not liable to pay taxes or abide by laws?  What if people simply give you the money you need to live?  In those cases, you are still required to pay taxes.  Even if they don’t give you money, technically you still owe the government taxes in the form of money on the things you have been given.

So, you can’t simply not work

If Signed, is the Contract Valid?

In order for a contract to be valid, it must follow certain criteria.

  1. All parties must have capacity to enter the contract.
  2. An offer must be made.
  3. Consideration must be exchanged.
  4. The parties must be in mutual agreement.
  5. The contract’s object and purpose must be legal.
  6. The form of the contract must meet the legal requirements.

1.  Does this mean that mentally handicapped people can’t be held to account?  What about children?  They don’t technically have the capacity to enter into this contract.

2.  What is the offer being made?  If the offer is goods and services being offered by the state, where did the state get the original goods and services it provides that it is offering to exchange?  It would seem that at the point that the first dollar was taxed, the state had no goods or services to exchange, so it was an illegitimate contract to begin with.  How can something based on an illegitimate system become legitimate based on fruit of the poisoned tree, so to speak?

3.  This fails for the same reasons 2 fails.  If I steal something from something else, and exchange it with you for something, that is an illegitimate contract, because the property was stolen to begin with.  The original owner still owns the property.

4.  The mutual agreement can’t legitimately be said to exist based on any of the above mentioned criteria, since there is no way to say someone has signed any contract either explicitly or tacitly.

5.  This one could be true, but since the law says nothing about a social contract, it is hard to say whether it is legal or not.

6.  This could also be true for the same reasons as 5, but similarly has the same questionable quality.

So, it seems as though this social contract is not a valid contract, even if someone were to agree to it.

Why Does it Matter?

This “Social Contract” is used to justify countless injustices.  It is used to take one person’s money and give it to another person.  It is used to pay for things that the person may not like being paid for, such as abortifactants, roads to nowhere, vacations for the president, etc.  Pretty much anything the majority of people want can be justified in this way.  Well, at least the people that propose this contract exists claim it justifies it.

I believe as Milton Friedman did, that I have no right to coerce someone else, because I cannot be sure that I am right and he is wrong.  I think that is as fair a starting point as possible, and it extends to groups too.  No group can know they are right and any individual is wrong either.  Since that’s the case, unless I agree to some control over myself from the group, no person or organization, no matter how large, should be taking my property, my liberty, or my life.  This social contract is the instrument that people think would justify such an imposition.

The social contract is a fiction.  It doesn’t exist in any manner whatsoever.  It is simply a way that some people use to justify to themselves that it’s okay to harm other people as long as some number of people in their society are okay with it.  I don’t buy any of it.

What Obligations do we Have?

When we are born, the only way we can consider ourselves is equal to each other.  No one person can claim any right the other person doesn’t have.  If people were flawless, they would simply do what they desired to do, and not infringe on other people’s right to do the same.  They would not cause harm to other people or force them to do or not do anything against their will.  This would truly be a free society, and these ideas would be the only obligation we would have to each other.

In absence of any mitigating force though, people will find a way to impose their will on others around them.  As humans are virtually unable to live on their own, they must find ways to mitigate this propensity, which requires some rule of law.  We need arbitrators to decide disputes, we need rules that prevent one person from harming another.  We need some form of government to serve us in this purpose.  This is where we run into trouble.

Who is governed by any government?  What is society?  What level of society gets the most power?  Why should anyone abide by any government?  Is government to serve the people, or are the people to serve the government?

Because of this, we have made a useful fiction, the “social contract”.  There really is no contract in the traditional sense, since we don’t allow anyone to refuse to be controlled by it.  There is no consent either implied or expressed.  No signatures, no consideration, nothing that would make it a valid contract in any court I can think of.  Yet, we all have grown up being fed this idea that we are obligated in some way to obey, no matter how much it infringes on our freedoms.

Because we need this rule of law to be more powerful than an individual, or even any group of individuals, in order to make sure that individuals don’t just decide to ignore it, we tend to give it almost godlike status.  Nobody is to question whether it has the right, or why it has the right.  All we know is that we must obey.  This comes with its own set of problems though.

Wherever there is power, people will attempt to manipulate it to suit their purposes.  No matter what form a government takes, it will always attract people with some agenda, and those people closest to the greatest power benefit from this, as lobbyists have always found ways to bribe officials to do their bidding.  On top of that, people tend to like the power they have, which makes them look for ways to bribe others to keep them in power.

This is a real problem, because we have somewhere decided that the government has the power to require our services to keep it running.  Not merely a request.  This means that government can decide arbitrarily that we are not the sole owners of our own property.  We don’t own our own labor.  We are mere servants to the government, instead of the other way around, as it started out.

This myth gets exacerbated in republics.  People are lulled into believing that they have more power than they actually do over the government, but when it comes down to it, this government we serve is run by people that buy its favor.  Politicians learn that it doesn’t matter so much what they do in office as much as it matters how much they can raise for campaigning, and how much they can take from one group to give to another to buy their votes.

Nobody thinks of justification any more.  People just take for granted that government is legitimate.  We are taught to pledge allegiance from the time we start kindergarten.  We are taught to sing the national anthem.  We are taught that flag waving, and nationalism are virtues, and although people say that you should question government, the reality is that they only teach you to question government within the scope of government.  You should never question whether government is legitimate in its power in the first place.

Social contract or not, the fact is that not near enough people question government.  Not near enough people examine what valid reasons for government would possibly be.  This is the true evil that has been brought upon us by our government, and it should stop.

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What is an Atheist?

I have some trouble with the commonly held belief that being an atheist is simply the lack of belief in a god.  I have waffled on this for a while, and I may have even made a blog post about this already that contradicts what I am about to say, but I have become more secure in my position and have decided I need to say something about it.

What is Belief?

We have many things we believe in.  Some of the things we believe, we say we know, and some of them we don’t, but for almost everything we think we understand, there is some level of simply believing.

You believe you are reading the words of some other person in some other part of the world than you are in right now.  You may think you know it, but do you really?  Can you be absolutely sure that the words you are reading aren’t simply an active part of your mind deluding you into believing these words aren’t your own?  The truth is, you can’t.

Belief and knowledge can be the same thing, but almost always it is simply when your beliefs happen to coincide with reality that you actually have knowledge, not that you can prove things to be 100% true.

I think that our level of knowledge can be broken down to some of what Descartes said, and not much more.  I can know I exist because I am thinking about it.  I can know I am a thinking thing because I am thinking about it.  Beyond that, I can only know that I think the things I think and I experience what I think to be things outside my mind through my senses.

What is a Theist?

We atheists think it’s simple to explain what a theist is.  I haven’t really talked to many atheists that have ever really thought about it much.

We tend to say it’s someone that believes in a personal god, but is that really the extent of it?  Do theists believe 100% that there is a god, or is it some fraction of that?  Is someone that believes that the chances of a god existing are greater than 50% a theist?  What about if they only give it 50%?  Is there a level of belief where someone is agnostic, or does that only speak to whether or not someone feels it can be “known” whether or not a god exists?

I tend to not like the word agnostic.  I think the word is relatively meaningless, since nobody can really know 100% either way.  I think it should be relegated to use only in cases where a person has not ever given the subject any serious thought, so doesn’t really care one way or the other.

Having said this, I think someone is a theist if they believe that it’s more than 50% probable that a god exists.

What is an Atheist?

Now that I have explained what a theist is, I think that it is only appropriate that an atheist would be someone that believes the chances of a god existing are less than 50%.  Saying you lack belief says one of two things.  Either you have never considered the matter, or you believe the chances are 0% that a god exists.

If you had no opinion on the matter, that means you haven’t really given it any thought whatsoever.  That can’t be true of those that call themselves atheists though.  We hear arguments for the existence of god, and we give them a probability assessment.  I would say that I almost always find the probability to be 0%, but never find the probability to be any appreciable amount greater than 0%.

Whenever we determine whether an argument or evidence holds water, we are making an assessment about the existence of a deity.  It can’t be helped.

I know that people really get scared to admit that they believe things, but nobody can get away from it.

I would never consider you an atheist unless you held some belief on the matter, and that belief was that the probability of a god existing was less than 50%.

This especially goes for theists.  They often talk about how they were atheists, but when you probe them, the truth is, they had never thought of it in the first place.  When they finally did, their probability assessment almost always went from no assessment made to somewhere over 50% instantaneously.  That is not an atheist.

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The Ontological Argument Revisited

I thought I had put this to rest in my other article on this subject.  The hundreds of comments, and the hundreds of replies I thought would be enough, but I recently got into this argument on facebook where the person didn’t seem to grasp some concepts that I thought were rather simple.

[click to continue…]

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Well, it finally happened.

I had some issues with my hosting provider, and because of that, all of my sites were taken down and completely removed.  Me being silly, I never backed up the actual wordpress installation, only the database, but things could have been much worse.

I have lost all my images and my site layout, but that’s certainly not the end of the world.  I have all my blog posts, and that is more important.

Anyway, my time is still rather slim at the moment, so it may be a bit before I get this site back in order, but it is now hosted here at my house, so I won’t be worrying about it getting lost again.

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Reddit Announces End to r/atheism

For the longest time on the internet, atheists have been given fairly free reign when it comes to social networks of all different types.  Atheists have dominated in every place where free speech has been allowed to flourish.  It’s as though the only way to keep religious thinking is to stifle free speech.

While that can be done much easier when the religious are in charge, the internet has proven to be an area where ideas have an equal footing…until now.

For those that don’t know about it, reddit is a place where people can share ideas and where atheists have been dominant, regardless of how many religious people participate in the section of their site known as r/atheism.  This may be a thing of the past though as the CEO of Reddit announced today that they have way too many complaints about atheists domination, and in order to conserve their resources, they have decided that this month will be the last for r/atheism.  Instead, Yishan Wong, reddit’s new CEO suggests that atheists use other social media, such as facebook and twitter to harass believers.

Yishan Wong said:

Atheists have gotten free reign for far too long here at reddit. It is time they spread their evil somewhere else, like at facebook.

Looks like the fun is over guys.

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Fallacy of the Day – #1: Ad Hominem

I have decided that too many people make mistakes when they claim a fallacy has been committed.  This will be the first installment of what will necessarily become a long list of explanations of what fallacies are what.

You have probably been sent here because you have called out a fallacy and were wrong about it.

What is an Ad Hominem Fallacy?

An ad hominem fallacy is when a person makes a negative statement about the person making a claim and suggests that because of that statement, the claim is invalid.

Example:

Frank is an asshole, therefore his argument is invalid.

This is to be distinguished from the following:

Frank is an asshole

If someone calls you an asshole, but does not suggest that your argument is invalid, they have merely called you an asshole.  This is not an ad hominem fallacy.  Calling it an ad hominem fallacy will prove that you are indeed an asshole, since you are pointing out a fallacy that has not happened.

Don’t be an asshole!

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Can God be good if he can’t choose to do evil?

People like to say that God is “the good”, but that means that everything God does is good. Nothing he does could possibly be bad, as it is God’s nature to be good.

Beyond the question of whether the things God does are good because God does them, or if God is good because he does good things, there is one other question. If God can’t do evil, how can he truly be called good?

Human beings can choose to do good or choose to do evil. Because of that, a person that has the ability to do evil, but does good in spite of that, is truly a good person. If a person had no choice but to do good, could they be considered good? If a person had no choice but to do evil, could they be considered evil?

Now let’s say that you consider a thing that does only good to be a good thing. Would a thing that must choose to do good not be a more good thing than a thing that has no choice but to do good?

If a thing is more good that chooses to be good than a thing that has no choice, would that not make that thing more good than God?

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Facebook Christians Need Reminding

I am an atheist facebook imageI’ve been seeing Christian propaganda lately on facebook.  Normally I ignore it, but today I decided to comment on one of them.  The original post had an image that said, “I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  I am a Christian. I invite you to learn more about my beliefs.”  It then had a link to mormon.org. [click to continue…]

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