Quotulatiousness

July 21, 2014

The retreat of civil society and the advance of the nanny state

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:27

In The Week, Michael Brendan Dougherty wonders why so many parents are being arrested these days for letting their children do things that used to be utterly normal:

Last month, when the first wave of these stories came out, I suggested it was a problem of helicopter parents enforcing their notions of parenthood on others. But the number and variety of such incidents suggest that something more is at work. The communities that are happy to watch the kids in the neighborhood, and help parents with an extra set of eyes and a few caramels, are just gone. We’re arresting parents because civil society is retreating from children altogether.

Timothy Carney, a columnist for The Washington Examiner and a father of five, attributes it to a decline of “neighborliness.” And that’s certainly true. People see a kid, imagine a bad thing could happen to them, and then think they should call the cops. Whereas “neighborly adults look after other adults’ kids when the parents are unavailable.”

Gracy Olmstead, in a very smart article for The American Conservative, says that all of this waning of society and waxing of the state was predicted by communitarian libertarian Robert Nisbet:

    Nisbet predicted that, in a society without strong private associations, the State would take their place — assuming the role of the church, the schoolroom, and the family, asserting a “primacy of claim” upon our children. “It is hard to overlook the fact,” he wrote, “that the State and politics have become suffused by qualities formerly inherent only in the family or the church.” In this world, the term “nanny state” takes on a very literal meaning.

[...]

But today those communities seem rarer, and so, too, those shared premises about how kids should behave. More than that, there’s a fear of taking responsibility for kids in the neighborhood. Deliver a short report on a child’s behavior and his parents may snap back, “Don’t tell me how to parent my child.” A neighbor’s interest may seem invasive or even creepy. Lacking church or community, bystanders in a neighborhood refer their concern about a suboptimal parental situation (one they usually know little about because they are not very neighborly) to the only other institution empowered to look out for the welfare of children: the state.

Update: Scott Greenfield on the whole “see something, say something (to the authorities)” situation with parents and children.

[...] the most fundamental cause for some people to feel empowered to rat out a parent [is] because they just aren’t managing their children the way I think they should!!!

Everything that fails to comport with the way the most sensitive soul in the neighborhood feels it should must now be a crime. Do it for the children. Do it for the women. Do it for … just do it.

Parents always question other parents’ parenting skills and choices. We naturally believe with all our heart and soul that whatever choices we made were better than theirs, whoever they may be. This is human nature, given our own belief that we are right and anyone who disagrees with us is wrong. Conversely, everyone who agrees is brilliant, confirming that we, too, are both right and brilliant. These thoughts are nothing new.

But the problem in Douthat’s parade of bad parenting isn’t merely some prissy busybody’s decision that some parent has inadequately bubble-wrapped their kid. The problem is that they conflate their parenting choices with righteousness, such that anyone who doesn’t share their sensibilities has committed a crime. It’s a crime to neglect your child, with neglect defined as doing anything less than providing absolute safety and comfort to children as the most delicate flower perceives it.

[...]

Years ago, there was a saying in the parent’s handbook, “spare the rod and spoil the child.” Today, that’s Endangering the Welfare of a Child in the First Degree. This isn’t to suggest that beating kids is a great method of child rearing, but to remind all the self-righteous that their beloved nanny used to beat their mother to a pulp when she misbehaved. Are you ready to lock granny up? If not, what moral authority do you have to call the cops on someone else, whose crime is not meeting your expectations of safe enough?

The criminal law is not a child-rearing tool. If you spent a few seconds thinking beyond your overly passionate feelings, you might consider whether a child would do better to be reared by a loving parent who isn’t inclined to keep them locked in protective custody throughout the formative years, than as a ward of the state. How does turning a parent into a criminal, losing a job, perhaps even a home, make a child’s life better?

July 18, 2014

QotD: The duty of the soldier

Filed under: History, Liberty, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Every young American today is subject to military service; most of them, as shown by the Mayer Report, et al., are not prepared for it, either emotionally or by formal schooling…

He doesn’t see why he should expose himself to death; nothing in his experience justifies it. The whole thing is wildly implausible and quite unfair — like going to sleep in your own bed and waking up in a locked ward of an insane asylum. It strikes him as rank injustice.

And it is … [sic] the rankest sort of injustice.

My basic purpose, then, was to promote in that prototype youth-in-a-foxhole a better understanding of the nature, purpose and function of the ridiculous and dangerous predicament he found himself in.

There were various ancillary purposes but this was the main one … I was forced to limit my scope to: “Why in hell should a young man in good health be willing to fight and perhaps die for his country?” …

I do not expect you to like the book, nor to speak approvingly of it, since you quite clearly do not like it and do not approve of it. But, in fairness, I ask that you, in published criticism of it, (a) read more carefully what I did say and not impute to it things which I did not say, and (b) judge it within its obvious limitations as a short first-person commercial novel and not expect it to unscrew the inscrutable with respect to every possible facet of an extremely complex philosophical question (i.e., don’t expect of me more than you require of yourself).

Robert A. Heinlein, letter to Theodore Cogswell 1959-12-04, quoted in William H. Patterson Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).

July 16, 2014

New Zealand is considering breaking new legal ground in rape cases

Filed under: Law, Liberty — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:36

And by “breaking new legal ground” I mean “beginning with a presumption of guilt” in all rape cases:

Fundamental pillars of the criminal justice system may be eroded whichever party wins the election this year, as both National’s and Labour’s proposals would look into changing the right to silence or the presumption of innocence in rape cases.

Both major parties claim the current system is not upholding justice for victims, and are looking at changes that would effectively make it easier for prosecutors to obtain convictions.

National wants to explore allowing a judge or jury to see an accused’s refusal to give evidence in a negative light, while Labour wants to shift the burden of proof of consent from the alleged victim to the accused.

Auckland University law professor Warren Brookbanks said both policies challenged two fundamental principles: the right to silence, and the presumption of innocence, which are both protected in the Bill of Rights Act.

New Zealand needs a third political alternative, as both of these parties are proposing to take away fundamental rights in pursuit of a higher conviction rate. Taking away the right to silence is bad, but getting rid of the presumption of innocence is equally bad:

Labour’s justice spokesman Andrew Little did not think the party’s proposal would lead to more innocent people being convicted.

“I don’t see why. You’re assuming that there is a propensity to lay false complaints. There is no evidence pointing to that.”

He said eroding the right to silence went too far, but Justice Minister Judith Collins said the same of Labour’s proposal.

“The presumption of innocence is fundamental to our justice system and our society. Requiring an accused person to prove their innocence would undoubtedly result in many injustices and wrongful convictions.”

A quick Google search for “false accusations in rape cases” turned up 4.3 million hits. Even the Wikipedia page on the subject (and Wikipedia editors tend to be pro-victim rather than pro-police) say that between 2% and 8% of all rape accusations are false. New Zealand’s “initiatives” in this area seem bound to create more injustice for the accused than improved justice for victims.

Free speech is so valuable that we need to designate special zones to contain it

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:34

Virginia Postrel on the (insane) view that colleges and universities need to create special free speech zones — and to actively censor students and teachers outside those boundaries:

The vague bans on “offensive” language and other “politically correct” measures that most people think of when they imagine college speech codes are increasingly being joined by quarantine policies that restrict all student speech, regardless of its content.

Speech-zone rules require students to ask permission to do such things as hand out leaflets, collect petition signatures, or give speeches; demand that students apply days or weeks in advance; and corral their activities in tiny areas of the campus, often away from the main pathways and quads. The rules aren’t about noise or crowds. They aren’t about disrupting classes. They’re about what you can do in public outdoor areas, and they apply even to just one or two people engaged in unobtrusive activities. They significantly infringe on students’ constitutionally protected speech.

But judging from some of the public response to the Citrus College case, a lot of people think that’s just fine. Debating national security issues, they seem to think, has no place at state colleges.

“The creation of the free-speech zones, and the enforcement of sound-level ordinances, was not to prevent free speech, but give religious or political speech a time, place, and manner that would allow speakers to address their messages to audiences on campuses without disrupting the other fundamental functions of the institutions,” wrote a retired physics professor commenting on a Chronicle of Higher Education report.

“Isn’t an institution of higher education’s primary function … the education/learning and safety of its students? Anything that is considered distracting or obstructive of the primary goals has to be managed. If some students disagree, they are welcome to attend a different college,” wrote a commenter on a public-radio discussion of the case. Another declared: “I welcome the free speech zones. On some campuses in California, you cannot walk from a classroom to the library without being bombarded by propaganda.”

A campus, in this view, should be like a shopping mall. If you’re going about your business, you shouldn’t be bothered by pamphleteers and petitioners. You should be protected against sermons and political rants. Confining controversial speech to a small area is no different from telling the guy selling sunglasses that he’s got to rent a kiosk.

July 15, 2014

Reason.tv – Maggie McNeill on Why We Should Decriminalize Prostitution

Filed under: Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:43

Published on 14 Jul 2014

“There is a very common form of rhetoric that’s used against us … that sex work isn’t work. That it’s a dodge. That it’s a scam. That it’s a form of exploitation,” says Maggie McNeill, a former sex worker turned activist who blogs at The Honest Courtesan.

“We still pretend that there’s a magical mumbo jumbo taboo energy about sex that makes it different from all other human activities.”

McNeill sat down with Reason TV‘s Thaddeus Russell for a wide-ranging interview where she responds to the feminist critique of sex work, explains why research on trafficking may not be reliable, and says why prostitution should be decriminalized.

“The problem is that there are already laws for these things,” states McNeill. “We have a name for sex being inflicted on a woman against her will. We call it rape. We have a name for taking someone and holding them prisoner somewhere. We call that abduction. … Why do we need [prostitution] to be laid on top of all these other things that already are crimes?”

The sheer difficulty of obtaining a warrant

Filed under: Government, Law, Liberty, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:21

Tim Cushing wonders why we don’t seem to sympathize with the plight of poor, overworked law enforcement officials who find the crushing burden of getting a warrant for accessing your cell phone data to be too hard:

You’d think approved warrants must be like albino unicorns for all the arguing the government does to avoid having to run one by a judge. It continually acts as though there aren’t statistics out there that show obtaining a warrant is about as difficult as obeying the laws of thermodynamics. Wiretap warrants have been approved 99.969% of the time over the last decade. And that’s for something far more intrusive than cell site location data.

But still, the government continues to argue that location data, while possibly intrusive, is simply Just Another Business Record — records it is entitled to have thanks to the Third Party Doctrine. Any legal decision that suggests even the slightest expectation of privacy might have arisen over the past several years as the public’s relationship with cell phones has shifted from “luxury item/business tool” to “even grandma has a smartphone” is greeted with reams of paper from the government, all of it metaphorically pounding on the table and shouting “BUSINESS RECORDS!”

When that fails, it pushes for the lower bar of the Stored Communications Act [PDF] to be applied to its request, dropping it from “probable cause” to “specific and articulable facts.” The Stored Communications Act is the lowest bar, seeing as it allows government agencies and law enforcement to access electronic communications older than 180 days without a warrant. It’s interesting that the government would invoke this to defend the warrantless access to location metadata, seeing as the term “communications” is part of the law’s title. This would seem to imply what’s being sought is actual content — something that normally requires a higher bar to obtain.

Update: Ken White at Popehat says warrants are not particularly strong devices to protect your liberty and lists a few distressing cases where warrants have been issued recently.

We’re faced all the time with the ridiculous warrants judges will sign if they’re asked. Judges will sign a warrant to give a teenager an injection to induce an erection so that the police can photograph it to fight sexting. Judges will, based on flimsy evidence, sign a warrant allowing doctors to medicate and anally penetrate a man because he might have a small amount of drugs concealed in his rectum. Judges will sign a warrant to dig up a yard based on a tip from a psychic. Judges will kowtow to an oversensitive politician by signing a warrant to search the home of the author of a patently satirical Twitter account. Judges will give police a warrant to search your home based on a criminal libel statute if your satirical newspaper offended a delicate professor. And you’d better believe judges will oblige cops by giving them a search warrant when someone makes satirical cartoons about them.

I’m not saying that warrants are completely useless. Warrants create a written record of the government’s asserted basis for an action, limiting cops’ ability to make up post-hoc justifications. Occasionally some prosecutors turn down weak warrant applications. The mere process of seeking a warrant may regulate law enforcement behavior soomewhat.

Rather, I’m saying that requiring the government to get a warrant isn’t the victory you might hope. The numbers — and the experience of criminal justice practitioners — suggests that judges in the United States provide only marginal oversight over what is requested of them. Calling it a rubber stamp is unfair; sometimes actual rubber stamps run out of ink. The problem is deeper than court decisions that excuse the government from seeking warrants because of the War on Drugs or OMG 9/11 or the like. The problem is one of the culture of the criminal justice system and the judiciary, a culture steeped in the notion that “law and order” and “tough on crime” are principled legal positions rather than political ones. The problem is that even if we’d like to see the warrant requirement as interposing neutral judges between our rights and law enforcement, there’s no indication that the judges see it that way.

July 13, 2014

Security theatre still running at peak farcicality – no end in sight

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Government, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:59

In the Daily Mail, Peter Hitchins sums up all the individual losses to personal liberty, actual security, and civil discourse bound up in the never-ending security theatre performances at airports and other travel centres:

We have become a nation of suspects. The last wisps of British liberty are being stripped away and, as usual, this is happening with the keen support of millions.

[...]

Then there are the comical new ordeals travellers must face if they are foolish enough to want to go anywhere by plane.

At least they would be comical if we were allowed to laugh at them, but even to joke about ‘security’ in the hearing of some grim-jawed official is to risk detention and a flight ban.

There’s an odd thing about this. We are constantly told that our vast, sour-faced and costly ‘security’ services, and various ‘British FBIs’ and ‘British KGBs’ are fully on top of the terror threat, and ceaselessly halting plots.

How is it then that they claim not to know if harmless aunties from Cleethorpes or Worthing are planning to manufacture an airborne bomb with the ingredients of a make-up bag?

Just in case such a person is a jihadi sleeper agent, she, and thousands of other innocents, must be treated as criminal suspects.

Like newly registered convicts, they must stand in humble queues, meek before arbitrary power.

They must remove clothing, allow strangers to peer at their nakedness in scanning machines, permit inspections of their private possessions and answer stupid questions with a straight face.

They must be compelled to accept this treatment without protest or complaint.

In fact, when we enter an airport these days, we enter a prototype totalitarian state, a glimpse of how it will eventually be everywhere if we do not find a way of resisting this horrible change.

July 11, 2014

The lawless hellhole that is post-legalization Colorado

Filed under: Business, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:24

Just as sensible people were predicting, the once peaceful and scenic state of Colorado is now a smoking hole in the ground, infested with twitchy-eyed, machete-wielding savages. (Oh, wait, no … that’s Edmonton):

[Colorado Governor John] Hickenlooper sounds cautiously optimistic, and there are good reasons for that. Possession and consumption of cannabis have been legal in Colorado and Washington since the end of 2012. In Colorado, so has home cultivation of up to six plants and noncommercial transfers of up to an ounce at a time. Since the beginning of this year, anyone 21 or older has been able to walk into a store in Colorado and walk out with a bag of buds, a vape pen loaded with cannabis oil, or a marijuana-infused snack. And for years in Washington as well as Colorado, such products have been readily available to anyone with a doctor’s recommendation, which critics say is so easy to get that the system amounts to legalization in disguise. Despite all this pot tolerance, the sky has not fallen.

A study released yesterday by Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division supports Hickenlooper’s impression that legalization has not had much of an effect on the prevalence of cannabis consumption. The authors, Miles Light and three other analysts at the Marijuana Policy Group, note that the percentages of Coloradans reporting past-month and past-year consumption of marijuana in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) rose between 2002 and 2010, mirroring a national trend. But consumption fell a bit in Colorado after 2010 while continuing to rise in the rest of the country. That is striking because Colorado’s medical marijuana industry began to take off in the second half of 2009 after the legal standing of dispensaries became more secure.

Another surprising finding is that marijuana use during this period was less common in Colorado than in the country as a whole. Based on NSDUH data from 2010 and 2011, 12 percent of Coloradans 21 or older were past-year users, compared to a national figure of 16 percent. But among those past-year users, daily use was more common in Colorado: 23 percent of them reported consuming marijuana 26 to 31 times a month, compared to a national rate of 17 percent. It’s not clear to what extent Colorado’s medical marijuana system is responsible for this difference in patterns of use.

[...]

Hickenlooper did not mention crime rates, but some opponents of legalization warned that cash-heavy cannabusinesses would invite robberies, leading to an increase in violence. Instead the frequency of burglaries and robberies at dispensaries has declined since they began serving recreational consumers in January. FBI data indicate that the overall crime rate in Denver, the center of Colorado’s marijuana industry, was 10 percent lower in the first five months of this year than in the same period of 2013.

Although the prospect of more money for the government to spend has always struck me as a pretty weak argument for legalization, Hickenlooper is happy to have tax revenue from the newly legal marijuana industry. So far there has not been much: just $15.3 million from the recreational sector in the first five months of 2014 ($23.6 million if you include medical sales), although monthly revenue rose steadily during that period. The economic activity associated with the new industry, including not just marijuana sales but various ancillary goods and services, is bound to be much more significant than the tax revenue. And although Hickenlooper says he does not want Colorado to be known for its cannabis, legalization (along with abundant snow) may have something to do with the record numbers of tourists the state is seeing. It seems clear, in any case, that legalization has not hurt Colorado’s economy, which Hickenlooper accurately describes as “thriving.”

Another benefit of legalization that can be measured in money is law enforcement savings, which various sources put somewhere between $12 million and $60 million a year in Colorado. Those estimates do not include the human costs associated with treating people like criminals for growing, selling, and consuming an arbitrarily proscribed plant. Prior to legalization police in Colorado were arresting 10,000 pot smokers a year. Today those criminals are customers of legitimate businesses, which are replacing the “corrupt system of gangsters” decried by Hickenlooper.

July 6, 2014

Even if you’re “doing nothing wrong”, the NSA is probably tracking you already

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Media, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:17

The argument that you’ve got nothing to worry about because you’re not doing anything wrong has long since passed its best-before date. As Nick Gillespie points out, you don’t need to be a member of Al Qaeda, a black-hat hacker, or a registered Republican to be of interest to the NSA’s information gathering team:

If You’re Reading Reason.com, The NSA is Probably Already Following You

Two things to contemplate on early Sunday morning, before church or political talk shows get underway:

Remember all those times we were told that the government, especially the National Security Agency (NSA), only tracks folks who either guilty of something or involved in suspicious-seeming activity? Well, we’re going to have amend that a bit. Using documents from Edward Snowden, the Washington Post‘s Barton Gellman, Julie Tate, and Ashkan Soltani report

    Ordinary Internet users, American and non-American alike, far outnumber legally targeted foreigners in the communications intercepted by the National Security Agency from U.S. digital networks, according to a four-month investigation by The Washington Post.

    Nine of 10 account holders found in a large cache of intercepted conversations, which former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided in full to The Post, were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else.

    Many of them were Americans. Nearly half of the surveillance files, a strikingly high proportion, contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents. NSA analysts masked, or “minimized,” more than 65,000 such references to protect Americans’ privacy, but The Post found nearly 900 additional e-mail addresses, unmasked in the files, that could be strongly linked to U.S. citizens or U.S.residents.

The cache of documents in question date from 2009 through 2012 and comprise 160,000 documents collected up the PRISM and Upstream, which collect data from different sources. “Most of the people caught up in those programs are not the targets and would not lawfully qualify as such,” write Gellman, Julie Tate, and Ashkan Soltani, who also underscore that NSA surveillance has produced some very meaningful and good intelligence. The real question is whether the government can do that in a way that doesn’t result in massive dragnet programs that create far more problems ultimately than they solve (remember the Church Committee?).

Read the whole thing. And before anyone raises the old “if you’re innocent, you’ve got nothing to hide shtick,” read Scott Shackford’s “3 Reasons the ‘Nothing to Hide’ Crowd Should be worried about Government Surveillance.”

July 5, 2014

So how would they react to a strong pro-liberty Supreme Court decision?

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:43

Shikha Dalmia says that the relatively mild pro-liberty decisions from the US Supreme Court in this session have driven progressives wild. It’s hard to justify going to DEFCON-5 over Hobby Lobby or Harris … isn’t it?

This week, the United States Supreme Court handed down two rulings that are a victory for the liberties of religion, speech, and association enshrined in the First Amendment. That ought to be cause for a double celebration on July 4. But instead, the rulings, issued on the narrowest possible grounds, constitute a victory so modest — and have elicited a response from the left so hysterical — that anyone serious about liberty can’t help but be a little depressed right now.

The case that has attracted disproportionate attention is informally known as Hobby Lobby, and it challenged ObamaCare’s contraceptive mandate. This mandate requires all for-profit companies to provide all 20 forms of birth control approved by the FDA, including pills and “abortifacients,” even though they violate the Christian (Assembly of God, to be precise) convictions of the owners of Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts chain in Texas, who were willing to cover “only” 16.

[...]

None of this, however, prevented the left from throwing a collective hissy-fit. Social media erupted into tiresome taunts of fascism. Ann Friedman called the ruling a “blow to reproductive rights” that made her want to issue “an outraged scream, sort of a combination groan-wail…while beating my fists against the desk on either side of my laptop.” (Hey Ann, be careful: A new laptop will cost you several years’ of contraceptive pills. Generic versions sell at Costco for $25 a month.)

Such moral huffing and puffing was also on display in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Harris vs. Quinn. That case involved the right of family members of disabled loved ones to offer care without having their state aid garnished by public unions. Harris, a mom who was providing home care to her 25-year-old disabled son, had sued the state of Illinois for forcing her to pay dues to a government union.

But what in the name of Jimmy Hoffa does looking after her son have to do with the union?

Apparently, because she receives state subsidies for caring for her son, Illinois, along with a dozen other states, considers her a “home health care worker.” This means she must submit to the exclusive representation of a government union in collective bargaining negotiations — even though she supports neither the union nor its goals.

July 4, 2014

Reason.tv – Presidential Power and the Rise of American Monarchy

Filed under: Government, History, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:37

Published on 3 Jul 2014

“America is dropping like a stone in rankings of freedom. As power accumulates in one person, expect that to continue,” says Frank Buckley, George Mason University law professor and author of the new book, The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America.

Buckley sat down with Reason TV‘s Tracy Oppenheimer to discuss how the U.S. presidency has evolved into what he calls “something like an elective monarch.” He says that this is not what the framers of the Constitution had intended, nor did they conceive of the modern version of the separation of powers.

“A parliamentary regime was more or less what the framers wanted…as far as the separation of powers is concerned,” says Buckley “instead of a device to constrain a president, it’s one which immunizes him from criticism by Congress.”

July 3, 2014

Jeremy Bentham’s “secret” writings

Filed under: Britain, History, Liberty, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:43

In the Guardian, Faramerz Dabhoiwala reviews a recent “discovery” that Jeremy Bentham, far from being an innocent about sexual matters (as portrayed by his disciple John Stuart Mill among others), had thought deeply on the topic and had written much. After his death, these writings were ignored for fear that they would discredit his wider body of work.

Bodily passion was not just a part of Bentham’s life: it was fundamental to his thought. After all, the maximisation of pleasure was the central aim of utilitarian ethics. In place of the traditional Christian stress on bodily restraint and discipline, Bentham sought, like many other 18th-century philosophers, to promote the benefits of economic consumption, the enjoyment of worldly appetites and the liberty of natural passions. This modern, enlightened view of the purpose of life spawned a revolution in sexual attitudes, and no European scholar of the time pursued its implications as thoroughly as Bentham. To think about sex, he noted in 1785, was to consider “the greatest, and perhaps the only real pleasures of mankind”: it must therefore be “the subject of greatest interest to mortal men”. Throughout his adult life, from the 1770s to the 1820s, he returned again and again to the topic. Over many hundreds of pages of private notes and treatises, he tried to strip away all the irrational and religious prohibitions that surrounded sexual activity.

Of all enjoyments, Bentham reasoned, sex was the most universal, the most easily accessible, the most intense, and the most copious — nothing was more conducive to happiness. An “all-comprehensive liberty for all modes of sexual gratification” would therefore be a huge, permanent benefit to humankind: if consenting adults were freed to do whatever they liked with their own bodies, “what calculation shall compute the aggregate mass of pleasure that may be brought into existence?”

The main impetus for Bentham’s obsession with sexual freedom was his society’s harsh persecution of homosexual men. Since about 1700, the increasing permissiveness towards what was seen as “natural” sex had led to a sharpened abhorrence across the western world of supposedly “unnatural” acts. Throughout Bentham’s lifetime, homosexuals were regularly executed in England, or had their lives ruined by the pillory, exile or public disgrace. He was appalled at this horrible prejudice. Sodomy, he argued, was not just harmless but evidently pleasurable to its participants. The mere fact that the custom was abhorrent to the majority of the community no more justified the persecution of sodomites than it did the killing of Jews, heretics, smokers, or people who ate oysters — “to destroy a man there should certainly be some better reason than mere dislike to his Taste, let that dislike be ever so strong”.

Though ultimately he never published his detailed arguments for sexual liberty for fear of the odium they would bring on his general philosophy, Bentham felt compelled to think them through in detail, to write about them repeatedly and to discuss them with his acquaintances. In one surviving letter to a friend, he joked that his rereading of the Bible had finally revealed that the sin for which God had punished the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah was not in fact buggery, but the taking of snuff. He and his secretary had consequently taken a solemn oath to hide their snuff-pouches and nevermore to indulge “that anti-Christian and really unnatural practice” in front of one another. Meanwhile, they were now both happily free to enjoy “the liberty of taking in the churchyard or in the market place, or in any more or less public or retired spot with Man, Woman or Beast, the amusement till now supposed to be so unrighteous, but now discovered to be a matter of indifference”. Among those with whom Bentham discussed his arguments for sexual toleration were such influential thinkers and activists as William Godwin, Francis Place and James Mill (John Stuart Mill’s father). Bentham’s ultimate hope, “for the sake of the interests of humanity”, was that his private elaboration and advocacy of these views might contribute to their eventual free discussion and general acceptance. “At any rate,” he once explained, even if his writings could not be published in his own lifetime, “when I am dead mankind will be the better for it”.

LGBT? LGBTQQI? LGBTQQIAP? Or even LGBTTIQQ2SA?

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:32

The coalition of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and trans* people has a problem: the big tent approach requires that they acknowledge the members of their coalition more directly, leading to a situation where they’ve “had to start using Sanskrit because we’ve run out of letters.”

“We have absolutely nothing in common with gay men,” says Eda, a young lesbian, “so I have no idea why we are lumped in together.”

Not everyone agrees. Since the late 1980s, lesbians and gay men have been treated almost as one generic group. In recent years, other sexual minorities and preferences have joined them.

The term LGBT, representing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, has been in widespread use since the early 1990s. Recent additions — queer, “questioning” and intersex — have seen the term expand to LGBTQQI in many places. But do lesbians and gay men, let alone the others on the list, share the same issues, values and goals?

Anthony Lorenzo, a young gay journalist, says the list has become so long, “We’ve had to start using Sanskrit because we’ve run out of letters.”

Bisexuals have argued that they are disliked and mistrusted by both straight and gay people. Trans people say they should be included because they experience hatred and discrimination, and thereby are campaigning along similar lines as the gay community for equality.

But what about those who wish to add asexual to the pot? Are asexual people facing the same category of discrimination. And “polyamorous”? Would it end at LGBTQQIAP?

There is scepticism from some activists. Paul Burston, long-time gay rights campaigner, suggests that one could even take a longer formulation and add NQBHTHOWTB (Not Queer But Happy To Help Out When They’re Busy). Or it could be shortened to GLW (Gay, Lesbian or Whatever).

An event in Canada is currently advertising itself as an “annual festival of LGBTTIQQ2SA culture and human rights”, with LGBTTIQQ2SA representing “a broad array of identities such as, but not limited to, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, intersex, queer, questioning, two-spirited, and allies”. Two-spirited is a term used by Native Americans to describe more than one gender identity.

Note that once you go down the rabbit hole of ever-expanding naming practices for ever-more-finely-divided groups you end up with the 58 gender choices of Facebook and instant demands to add a 59th, 60th, and 61st choice or else you’re being offensively exclusive to those who can’t identify with the first 58 choices. I’d bet that one of the criticisms Julie Bindel will face for this article is that she uses the hateful, out-dated, and offensive terms “transsexual” and “transgender” when everyone knows the “correct” term is now “Trans*” (perhaps deliberately chosen to ensure that you can’t successfully Google it).

July 2, 2014

QotD: The myths about libertarianism

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:05

Whenever I talk to people about libertarianism, they usually dismiss it right off because of all the misconceptions that are floating about. They seem to have no understanding of what libertarianism is actually. This is largely thanks to all the years of government schooling, as well as the falsehoods perpetrated by the lamestream media. Usually their objections are based on falsehoods that are repeated often in government school textbooks and by talking heads who don’t know Jack about libertarianism.

They seem to believe the myth that the free market was a gigantic cesspool that was letter cleansed by the purity of government. This is largely based on a work of fiction created by Upton Sinclair, even though it was largely debunked by two different investigations performed under two different branches of government. They also seem to have the cartoon image of the greedy “Robber Barons” who supposedly created monopolies so they could line their wallets, while the poor became poorer. Never mind that they actually found ways to produce cheaper goods, which gave the poor greater access to them.

That is why there are so many people who believe that the government is the end all solution to everything. They have become so accustomed to having the government interfere in their daily lives that they can’t imagine life without it. That is why people make straw man arguments against libertarianism. Well, that and intellectual laziness also plays a strong part in it. The same intellectual laziness that I have seen in many creationists who constantly attack evolution without even bothering to open a science book to find out what they are arguing against.

Sean Gangol, “Misconceptions”, Libertarian Enterprise, 2013-12-08

June 29, 2014

Gay journalist decries same-sex marriage

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:19

Okay, I over-state in the headline (does that make it “clickbait”?). But in the Guardian, Hugh Ryan recognizes that the fight for same sex marriage has not gone quite the way many activists thought it would:

We didn’t queer the institution of marriage. It straightened us

Wisconsin. Indiana. Utah. Hardly a week goes by that the courts don’t rule same-sex marriage street legal in another state in America (the last twenty-two consecutive cases have all come down on the side of marriage equality), making what once seemed impossible now seems unstoppable. Wedding white is the new black — and all the gays are wearing it.

So on this anniversary weekend of the Stonewall Riots, let me be the shrill voice in the back of the church, speaking now instead of forever holding my peace. I think we’re losing something. I have no desire to turn back the clock on marriage equality: it provides both real and symbolic benefits to queer communities, families and our country as a whole. But I cannot ignore the coercive (and corrosive) power that marriage holds. In this country, it is not just an option: it is the option. It is the relationship against which all others are defined, both an institution and an expectation — and you cannot have one without the other.

Before marriage was an option of first resort, queer people had been making our own ceremonies and families for (at least) a century. This will never stop, but the new expectations of marriage will curtail this kind of life-building (just ask any single straight woman over thirty how people treat her relationship choices). We will have to justify our reasons for not marrying, and any relationship that survives past a certain sell-by date will be looked at as pre-marriage.

[...]

Somewhere along the line, the gay rights movement — and maybe the gay community writ large — separated its short-term goals and some people’s immediate needs from the larger ideals of justice and societal change that initially stirred our community to action. This diminution happened by degrees, making it almost impossible to locate the moment when we could have turned around. But I suspect we will one day look back on the contentious 1999 Millennium March on Washington as the point of no return.

Maybe the same-sex marriage wave will begin a broader reconsideration of why our government is in the business of giving benefits to sexual relationships at all — gay or straight. Perhaps we will some day expand these privileges, for which we have fought so hard, to any group of people in a long-lasting relationship of care that keeps them safe, happy, and less dependent on government services — the way France tried (and largely failed) to do with their pacte civil de solidarité. Maybe we can queer the institution.

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