Thursday, January 12, 2012

In Favor Of

Holly Lisle is a writer whom I absolutely love.  In fact, you probably ought to add some of her books to your reading list right now, including The Secret Texts trilogy and Talyn.  I've been meaning to post a review of her work for ages:  it takes a stand, it is larger than life adventure, it is fascinating physics of magic and complicated choices and heroes fighting against pretty overwhelming odds.

On her website Lisle has on occasion made her political views very clear, and they differ quite vastly from my own--which I find extremely fascinating because the stories she creates come from her beliefs and values, and part of why and I really love her stories is that how they are shaped by values I can relate to.  It is interesting that sharing many similar values, we have come to very dissimilar ideas about how this world ought to be, which perhaps highlights that there is a very big difference between one's values and one's perception of how the world relates to them.  But sure, I can still respect someone with different opinions than my own, interacting with him or her usually makes my own thinking deeper and richer.

Lisle has also devoted a large part of her career to helping other writers, dissecting her process, presenting insights, motivating and inspiring.  I am on pretty much every one of her many themed email lists, and hers are the only email lists I'm on where I actually end up continuing to read each and every email, rather than eventually deleting them in annoyance.

So I was a little perplexed when she sent out an email with the title: "Do you support slavery?  Most people do," which was a link to this blog post.  In this post she makes a fairly classical libertarian argument.  I'm not going to attempt to reproduce it because she says it best herself and it's far too nuanced to accurately summarize, but it brings up the classical topics of the just role of government, with her belief being that the just role of government is a very, very limited role.

My view on this argument, indeed, my view on libertarianism in general, is that there are some good points but it is too simplistic and impractical and I'm not always with 'em on the basic premises.  I am more of a moral relativist than the libertarian viewpoint allows:  I think outcomes, results, benefits and harms, and weighing them, matters, because the challenges that we face are too important to just not do anything about. 

I find I am very disappointed by this post of hers, not because of the idea presented, but because Lisle went through all of the comments and deleted every single comment that tried to argue against what she was saying, pasting in the note that "I do not wish to have uncontested, unsupported arguments in favor of slavery on my weblog."  And sure it is her weblog and she can do what she wants and blogging is the fine art of preaching to the choir anyway, but that's part of my whole exasperation.  Is it really true that any argument against hers that fails to support itself (perhaps by virtue of just not agreeing? I have no doubt some arguments were unsupported or even mean-spirited, but I can't know, at this point) is automatically then an argument in favor of slavery?  In some sense that was indeed part of the thesis of her post: that if one stays within the bounds of her definitions there is no way to argue that the particular form of taxation she is describing is anything but slavery and all slavery is wrong regardless of degree.   

And that, again, is what I both love and hate about libertarianism.  A then B then C that's it, done, no subtlety, no argument, end of discussion--and often if you stay within the the narrow bounds of the definitions, everything really is self-consistent at the same time you have come to completely ignore or defy practical reality.  Still, once you've called a thing for what it is, then you can argue what best to do about it, which might in fact be better than comforting yourself about things that are in principle wrong but because their harm is not that great or their benefits outweigh their harms, they are acceptable to you.

I find I have a hard time keeping political convictions, because a value that matters to me and in a very uncompromising way is the importance of understanding where others are coming from, on the grounds that is is arrogant and self-centered to take your perspective on the world and project it onto everyone else.  When you do that, you often find it harder to keep your own beliefs unchanging, because most issues are based on layers of subtleties, and often many sides have a valid point when you look at it from their particular framework.  Which means I can see where libertarians are coming from but I can never be one, because a libertarian value is to drill something down to moral first principles and declare all other frameworks inferior and thus irrelevant. I can admire that, but I can't do that, myself. Or maybe the moral first principles I hold as sacred just aren't the same ones.

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