Links and random thoughts

A few posts I’ve read recently, liked a lot, and am sharing here:

Libertarian Social Justice Warrior: A Surprisingly Coherent Position. Nicely lays out the case for people interested in social justice to appropriate, if not the label ‘libertarian’, at least a lot of the themes, tone, and ideas of libertarianism (a word only fairly recently claimed by the right). I tend to think of myself as ‘libertarian-with-a-lower-case-l’, meaning roughly that:

  • For a surprising number of social problems, the quickest and easiest way to improve matters is to interfere less and give people more choice about things;
  • People are, as a rule, less willing to accept that than they ought to be;
  • When we’re not sure what policy would have the best results, there should be a strong presumption in favour of letting people do what they want (stronger in proportion as the choice in question is a personal one about their own lives, weaker in proportion as it’s an institutional one about how to administer some big organisation).

Two Kinds of Caution. An interesting primer on reasons to worry about the risks posed by superintelligent robots before, rather than after, they’re invented. I don’t have a settled view on AI-risk stuff, but I found the post stimulating.

On the Lack of Public Intellectuals Among Academics. Some reasons why writing as a ‘public intellectual’ is hard, and subject to very different incentives from writing interesting and stimulating stuff. It resonated with me – obviously I’m not a public intellectual, or really trying to be (I don’t even blog that often!) but I recognised the feeling described in the post, of trying to work out how to fit a long, uncertain, and relatively involved thought into the format of something short, topical, and ‘urgent’.

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One Response to Links and random thoughts

  1. Allan Olley says:

    On the Libertarian Social Justice Warrior. Recent is a relative term, I’ve been reading libertarian socialists complaining about use of “libertarian” by right wingers since I was a teenager, which means its probably not recent compared to say the fall of the iron curtain (on the other hand in geological terms all of human history is recent and so on), some greater context in interpreting the word recent would help.

    In terms of the general argument. It seems to me that we can point to any number of cases where power and oppression were achieved not by legal institutions but by less formal social forces (pay inequities between men and women, against visible minorities and so on are usually not mandated by law for example) and institutions and we can point to cases where formal institutions have served to combat those social hierarchies, practices etc. (pay equity mandated by laws, court rulings forcing action etc.)

    It seems to me a reason that social conservatives and the right wing libertarians find common cause is that the main threats to traditional social institutions (which are often oppressive) are often novel government programs and institutions that threaten to displace the traditional (non-state) practices of power. So the tools of the oppressor are as much subtle and gross social power, as explicit state power (although they often mutually reinforce). To embrace too much the doctrine of cutting back the state is just as much to embrace the tools of the master as to use the formal levers of power. To give up on collective state action is to give up what may be the only alternative to non-state oppression.

    So I find it more plausible that we have to consider on a case by case basis what action or inaction of what form (state or non-state) is most productive of actually making life better, rather than simply moving to one rule of thumb or another. Still I would happily admit I see lots of times and places where less formal state intervention will help, I just recognize some serious countervailing considerations. This seems consistent with what you say but it might not be and it bears emphasis.

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