False Consciousness, Psychological Freedom, and Pluralism

Some thoughts relevant to general issues about kids raised on isolated compounds by religious fanatics…

There’s nothing wrong with false consciousness explanations, as long as they are actually explanatory. You’ve just got to specify actual mechanisms. Political freedom loses much of its point in the absence of psychological freedom. Rationality and the capacity for moral agency develop. That’s why we do not think children have the same rights and responsibilities as adults: they haven’t developed the requisite capacities. But this development can be retarded, creating adults with little more than a child’s capacities, reinforcing childlike dependency. If you don’t worry about this, then I wonder in what sense you care about human freedom.

It is tyrannical for parents to attempt to reproduce their ideologies and prejudices in their children, especially when this requires social isolation and emotional coercion. Liberals who worry about religious home schooling are not wrong to worry. I defend home schooling not because parents have a moral right to indoctrinate their children. Indeed, parents have a moral obligation not to. They just have a political right to not be stopped, within bounds. Many parents, though they intend the opposite, are in fact guilty of wrongful disregard for the development of their children’s psychological freedom. They deserve condemnation and ostracism, not interference from the state. I defend their political right to potentially behave immorally — to harm their children’s capacity for the full exercise of their rightful freedom — in part because I appreciate how accommodating pluralism reduces social conflict. But, perhaps more importantly, because I think that full-fledged competitive diversity in education will help erode superstitious thick identities, that it will help fosters a sense of contingency in inherited identities that make it easier to slough them off, or at least easier to wear lightly. But, even then, the scope of liberal pluralism has its limits, and it is neither right nor desirable to avoid the conflict inherent in debating and enforcing those limits.

Down on the Compound

I agree with Kerry in being a bit perplexed by what seems to me unreflective anti-gubmint reactions of libertarians to the FLDS imbroglio. It seems clear enough to me that these kids are basically brainwashed, isolated, and made dependent in a way that makes it all-but-impossible for them to freely choose this way of life or ever to have the capacity to exercise their liberty in a meaningful way. Individuation and the minimal conditions for self-government don’t develop all by themselves, but we each have legitimate moral and political claims against our parents for their development. The state should step in if parents violate their kids’ basic rights, because protecting rights are what states are for.

I understand the slippery slope argument here. But this is child abuse and evangelical homeschooling isn’t, and it’s important to be able articulate the difference. If you can’t figure out how to articulate the difference, then you don’t infer that child abuse is OK. You infer that evangelical home-schooling is child abuse, too — so you’d better be able to articulate the difference. If the government has overstepped its legal powers in this particular case, then they’ve overstepped their legal powers. But that might just mean that it needs to be easier for the state to protect children against brainwashing and rape. Apologizing for it doesn’t seem to me a coherently libertarian position.

The libertarian point is that the illegality and attendant marginalization of polygamy pushes it into isolated, authoritarian, quasi-state cult compounds where these kinds of crimes are most likely to take place.

Tales of the Morally Backward

Although I know some people really do think there is no moral distinction between central banking and chattel slavery, or that John C. Calhoun was superior to Milton Friedman as an advocate for human liberation, I cannot help feeling flabbergasted when they emerge in the light of day and actually unleash these opinions without a hint of shame. From my comments:

… slavery was eventually abolished, but the central bank is still arouond and it has made slaves of us all. There is no difference, in fact, the bank is worse because it is slowly bleeding the country to death and no one is seriously talking about getting rid of it.

I prefer to believe this kind of thing is malicious trolling, but I’ve seen enough of this to not suspect the worst. It shouldn’t need saying, but here’s 2000 words:

A Victim of Inflation?

I suppose the gold standard was a real consolation.

Wishing Daughters Ill

I’m not sure Bryan’s adding much to his initial posts. Most importantly, he still seems to avoid my main point: children are costly to women in terms of education, career, income, status, and happiness, and most likely devastating to a teenager. I simply don’t see that these points have been addressed. Bryan basically keeps insisting on asking whether you, the parent, would rather your daughter produce a grandchild as a teen or produce none at all. Given everything we know about how teen motherhood tends to limit girls’ life prospects, and how ceterus paribus childlessness will leave her as well off or better, Bryan’s insistence that he’d rather risk the ruin of his daughter’s potential than have her go childless strikes me as perverse. I simply can’t make any sense of it.

Bryan says, “I think that a lot of parents would share my preference if they calmed down and weighed the alternatives.” Maybe. But why? AGAIN the evidence I cited, which Bryan ignores, is that she will be less well educated, poorer, lower status, and less happy. What kind of person wants this for his or her daughter? The only way I can make sense of this is to imagine Bryan thinking that a woman’s life is in some sense deeply incomplete without having reproduced, so just about any cost must be worth it. Bryan, please tell me that’s not it!

One might think powerful, gifted women like Ayn Rand, Camille Paglia, Simone de Beauvoir, Jessye Norman, Frida Kahlo, Harriet Tubman, Oprah Winfrey, Katherine Hepburn, Dorothy Parker, Condoleeza Rice, etc., etc. might, in some respect or other, be good role models for girls. But since nothing could be worse than not ever having a baby, I suppose Britney Spears’ idiot little sister outshines them all!

If You Own It, You Can Sell It

Kerry’s brilliant take on the post-Client 9 discussion of prostitution is spot on. Apparently a number of people think the basic libertarian view of prostitution is facile. Well, the view that the basic libertarian view is facile is facile. The idea of self-ownership is profound. Every form of labor involves “selling your body,” one way or another. I see no interesting intrinsic moral distinction between brick- and other forms of laying. There is simply nothing wrong with selling or buying sexual services. There is no bright moral line between a good massage and a really good massage. The entire issue is generated by backward prudishness, a precious, misogynistic attitude toward female sexuality, and run-of-the-mill patriarchal paternalism. (Do we ever see handwringing about the degradation of male prostitution? Why not?)

Yes, some women turn to the sale of sexual services out of a lack of better alternatives. Indeed, some women turn to the sale of lettuce-picking services out of a lack of better alternatives. And bricklayers shouldn’t be permitted to individually negotiate labor contracts because they will be exploited by capital. Show me the difference. Whether orgasm delivery, lettuce picking, or bricklaying is degrading depends on the attitude of the worker toward that kind of work and her ability to sell her services with dignity on her own terms. More importantly, it depends on the attitude of people at large toward that kind of work. Honest work that we legally and culturally marginalize is degrading. But that’s because we marginalize it. Time was that champions of the moral order claimed that money smelled like shit and you could smell it on loanshark Shylocks. Very degrading. But now everybody charges interest all the time, and look what happened to us!

Make that Two Cheers for PC

I recommend to you Steve Horwitz’s lucid post on anti-racism and libertarianism. A choice excerpt:

What I am interested in is the claim that those who stand in opposition to racism are being accused of being susceptible to using the state to somehow enforce that set of beliefs. First, as Roderick Long argued a few years ago in his “One Cheer for Political Correctness” essay, there’s nothing inherently unlibertarian about recognizing the existence of structural racism/sexism etc. nor about standing up and loudly opposing it through non-coercive means. Will Wilkinson offers a different version of a similar theme in the context of the Paul newsletters. Second, throughout the long history of the West and the rest of the world, those who believe in the fundamental inequality of the races and/or believe that “like should stay with like” have been far more willing to use the state to enforce those views than those who have opposed them have.

Yes, legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 involved some interference with private property and the right of association, but it also did away with a great deal of state-sponsored discrimination and was, in my view, a net gain for liberty. In the longer run, it seems quite clear that classical liberalism/libertarianism has sided with the opponents of racism and that those who viewed the races as unequal were much more likely to use the state to enforce that view than were those who saw the races as equal. To suggest that anti-racism libertarians are somehow secret statists because opposition to racism must necessarily lead to state enforcement of those views is both a distortion of the actual arguments people like me have made and flies in the face of a long history of libertarians being both anti-racist and anti-state.

This is our heritage as classical liberals, and it long predates the Old Right of the early/mid 20th century, with its very mixed record on race/ethnicity issues, as a source of inspiration for not just the overall spirit of libertarianism, but its perspective on race in particular.

Right on.  If you haven’t, please do read Roderick Long’s smart essay on political correctness. In my long experience among conservatives and libertarians, one very often encounters a kind of smug, thoughtless anti-PC or counter-PC of the kind Long ably describes. The thing to keep in mind here is that most PC episodes mocked and derided by the right are not state impositions. They are generally episodes of the voluntary social enforcement of relatively newly established moral/cultural norms. Sometimes this process squelches or chills honest discussion and inquiry. I feel that way about the Larry Summers flap. But such mechanisms of indignation and shaming are precisely how societies coordinate on and defend norms of civilization without resorting to force.

Counter-PC attitudes often seem to me to be really expressions of resentment that a new more egalitarian norm has displaced the old racist or sexist norm, which is why devil-may-care un-PC pronouncements about race and  gender often really are just thinly veiled expressions of racism and sexism.  Anti-PC types folks often cast themselves as especially “brave” for being willing to speak the truth as they see it. But this is often nothing more than the imagined boldness of behaving indecently among decent people. If you really do believe in the equal freedom and dignity of people, you tend to act like it, and if not, not.

I think the really ironic thing is that it is only when it comes to concerted opprobrium aimed against racism, sexism, etc. do many anti-PC types seem to recognize the possibility that non-coercive collective attitudes can be stifling to a sense of independence and the exercise of autonomy.