Monthly Archives: July 2017

Reductio Ad North Korea

For sometime now (much to the chagrin of some) I have been using North Korea as an example with which to compare the United States in order to demonstrate that some countries can indeed be “more free” than others. In my mind this comparison clearly makes the point that if one country can be more free than another, then prioritizing the freedom of citizens (i.e., liberalism) is a coherent aim for a government to pursue.

I would think most reasonable people would be in agreement as to this point but apparently a certain small population of people are not. One person (who goes by the name Zippy) sticks out in particular. Not only does he stubbornly reject the notion that North Korea is less free than the United States but he does so in an arrogant and condescending manner.

He often refers to my argument as reductio ad North Korea. Specifically he stated recently in a comment section:

Your reductio ad North Korea has been dealt with extensively and repeatedly in multiple venues. You’ve never demonstrated an adequate understanding, let alone mounted an actual argument against, the repeatedly demonstrated incoherence of liberalism. Any pretense to symmetry here is just that: mere pretense.

Notice the sneering tone he adopts. I have often wondered why he seems incapable of simply discussing the logic of the argument rather than resorting to ad hominem attacks. In my mind this calls into question his true motivation behind refusing to see what most people would consider obvious. It seems very clear that he has some other ax to grind.

He then attempted to refute my argument in greater detail:

The rhetorical method is obvious to
anyone not stuck to the tar baby:

1) Observe that two actual countries are different.

2) Observe that some of the features of one country are preferable to some of the features of the other.

3) Label those preferable features – and only the preferable ones – “freedom”.

4) Completely ignore the substantive reality of what liberalism actually is. Discount the fact that both countries profess liberalism. Etc, etc.

5) Completely ignore the substantive criticism of liberalism itself. Avoid at all costs actually addressing the argument.

6) Fog up the discussion with maximum virtue signaling and ad hominem.

If one can look past his sneering comments, his six point analysis is actually quite helpful for me in that it demonstrates the specific parts of my argument that he seems to be incapable of understanding. This allows me to provide him with the information and reasoning he seemingly lacks.

As to point 1 – We are in agreement that the United States and North Korea are different countries specifically as to the amount of freedom each country allows its citizens to enjoy.

As to point 2 – Yes, the first amendment of the United States constitution states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

To my knowledge, the citizens of North Korea (with the possible exception of the elite class) are not allowed the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press nor the right to peacefully assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Yes, I believe the situation in the United State is better and so does everyone else (I suspect including Zippy). Why else would people flock to the United States and not to North Korea?

As to point 3 – I agree that the situation in the United States is preferable, but not for some arbitrary reason as Zippy seems to imply. We are talking about the basic freedoms that all people aspire to. This is proven by the petitions made not only by the European and American revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries but also by Tienanmen Square and the Arab Spring movements. It is not as if one could equate the freedom of speech with the right to eat ice cream while walking on one’s hands. I suspect any reasonable person would agree as to this point.

As to point 4 – North Korea does not have the rule of law. It has the rule of Kim. Therefore it does not matter that it’s laws or official statements profess it to be a liberal regime. It’s laws are meaningful to the extent the Kim regime wishes to enforce them. For this reason we cannot look to its laws in order to determine whether it is liberal or otherwise. We must look to the way the state acts. For this reason it cannot be said that North Korea is a liberal regime even though it professes to be so because in action it clearly does not prioritize the freedom and equal rights of its citizens.

As to point 6 – Zippy was the first one to cross the ad hominem line. It seems that Zippy wants to present the fact that I have called him out on this to be a worse ad hominem than his original ad hominem which started all of this. To me this seems like the whining of an adolescent rather than a man taking full responsibility for his actions. I don’t doubt that his echo chamber will view it otherwise.

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Talk About Daddy Issues

The argument I made in my last post “The Legitimate Liberal Process” elicited a strong reaction from certain circles both in its comment section and on other blogs. One reason the counter argument to the liberal system of government seems flimsy to me is because it only (as far as I have observed) attempts to poke moral and logical holes in liberalism. It never provides an alternative system as a replacement. It is fine to say that government which prioritizes the freedom and equal rights of its citizens (i.e., liberalism) is a bad form of government for this or that reason but doing this alone merely boils down to at best intellectual masturbation and at worst nonproductive whining and complaining.

One important aspect of liberalism that is often overlooked or dismissed is the adherence to the rule of law. The rule of law is important because if we are to temper the direct and arbitrary rule of men with legal structures in which they can become rulers and according to which they can rule it is necessary that these legal structures are respected and adhered to. Of course it can be argued that there are always instances in which these structures are violated in various ways. But as long as the legal structures provide an authentic system for dealing with and rectifying these irregularities then the system will hold together and maintain its integrity.

One argument made against this legitimate liberal process was that rules and regulations cannot replace actual authority. Specifically it was argued:

Rules, procedures, and written law are not capable of becoming transubstantiated incarnations of authority itself.  The crafting of positive rules, the writing of text onto paper, is not a sacrament. Bureaucracy … and formal decision procedures cannot become a substitute for kings.

I find this argument unconvincing. I assume the person making this argument includes legislatures, courts and executives (e.g., Presidents, Prime Ministers etc.) to be sub sets of the “bureaucracy” category. If this assumption is correct, I do not understand why democratically elected people in authority (limited in power by laws) cannot be adequate substitutes for kings. Clearly there needs to be people in authority to enact, interpret and enforce law. What difference does it make whether this power is defused into different branches or that the person in authority received their authority from the ballot, inheritance or a strange lady lying in a pond distributing swords? Come to think of it, no monarchy in history (to which I am aware) existed without a bureaucracy to carry out its will. It was the king who invested the bureaucracy with the authority to carry out its will in the same way that a modern electorate invests its elected officials with their authority who in turn invest the bureaucracy under them with authority. As long as there remains faith in the legitimate authority of this bureaucracy I fail to see why one system is any more or less valid than the other.

But the argument continues:

[T]he modern mind … desperately wants to believe that a politics with minimized authority is not merely coherent, not merely possible, but is the only moral state of affairs.

The argument as to whether a government can coherently limit its own authority has been debated previously and there is no reason to revisit it in this blog post. To argue whether such a government is possible seems to reflect a confused perception of reality. Self limiting government has existed (at least) ever since the Magna Carta. Not only is limited government possible but it has out competed the older forms of government which I assume this person believes were established on a more coherent foundation. As for the morality of limited government I would not argue that it is the “only moral state of affairs”. It it simply the overwhelmingly preferred moral state of affairs in the modern west.

As appears to be the case with a great deal of anti-liberals they are seemingly incapable of making an argument without launching an ad hominem attack against their perceived enemies. For example the same person went on to say:

Ultimately though reality doesn’t really care about the daddy issues of modernity. Pervasive commitment to an incoherent conception of authority doesn’t make authority go away as a feature of reality: it merely makes authority sociopathic.

The implication here is that a person who prefers to live under a liberal system of government is somehow anti-authority in general which in turn reflects an unresolved and maladaptive psychological hang up related to the person’s father (i.e., the familial authority figure). This seems to be a bit of a stretch to me. First of all, a person who prefers to live under a liberal system of government is not anti-authority but rather pro-authority of a specific type. Liberal authority however limited is still essentially authority. Second of all, it seems to me that the person who cannot seem to make an argument without attempting to shame someone who might disagree or question him is the one with “daddy issues”. As when a person is shamed by their parent they tend to want to vent this shame on those he perceives to be weak or incapable of defending themselves as in blogs, comment sections and the like. To project his own daddy issue on to his opponent seems entirely psychologically consistent and is certainly no substitute for a civil and reasoned debate.

 

 

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