Pascal’s Insult


I’m not calling it “Pascal’s Wager” anymore.

It’s an insult.

It insults me, the person employing it, and their god.

It’s not a witty rhetorical gambit to suggest that my atheism is a callous gamble. It presumes to know the nature of my unbelief, how I came to it, how I came to accept it, and why I chose to publicly embrace it. It waves away many sleepless nights, restless days, careful study, deep meditation, nagging self-doubt, and (at least in the beginning) prayer. I reject the premise and implications. It’s reductive and dismissive.

It also makes light of the path the believer has chosen. Is salvation really so easy? The Apostle Paul talks about running in the race, and the discipline necessary to attain an eternal crown in heaven. Was he a chump? Is it really so easy to enter God’s good graces as Pascal suggests?

And what does that say about God? Pascal’s Insult supposes that hedging your bets would satisfy God. Hedging your bets doesn’t work at the craps table, what makes anyone think the Divine would fall for such a shallow ploy?

As a go-to apologetic, Pascal’s Insult is intellectually impotent. It proves nothing, other than a desire on the part of the believer to quickly cap any debate with bumper sticker logic, and move on to other, less frightening possibilities.



Shattering the World of Appearances

HavelA friend recently asked on Facebook, “Who are your favorite renowned or famous influential figures who are *not* musicians, actors or work in entertainment?”

My answer was a bit of a cheat, since he was a renowned poet and playwright. He was also a leader of the Velvet Revolution and the first president of the Czech Republic: Václav Havel.

I’ve revisited some of Havel’s writings recently, and wanted to share a quote from the essay that charted the course for the Czech and Slovakian people to cast off communism like a moldy old coat: “The Power of the Powerless.”

Havel is talking about a greengrocer who unthinkingly puts a “Workers of the World Unite!” sign in his window. He describes this as, in today’s parlance, virtue signaling. He then goes on to speculate as to what would happen to the greengrocer if he decided not to toe the line. To become a nonconformist:

Thus the power structure, through the agency of those who carry out the sanctions, those anonymous components of the system, will spew the greengrocer from its mouth. The system, through its alienating presence in people, will punish him for his rebellion. It must do so because the logic of its automatism and self-­defense dictate it. The greengrocer has not committed a simple, individual offense, isolated in its own uniqueness, but something incomparably more serious. By breaking the rules of the game, he has disrupted the game as such. He has exposed it as a mere game. He has shattered the world of appearances, the fundamental pillar of the system. He has upset the power structure by tearing apart what holds it together. He has demonstrated that living a lie is living a lie. He has broken through the exalted facade of the system and exposed the real, base foundations of power. He has said that the emperor is naked. And because the emperor is in fact naked, something extremely dangerous has happened: by his action, the greengrocer has addressed the world. He has enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain. He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth. Living within the lie can constitute the system only if it is universal. The principle must embrace and permeate everything. There are no terms whatsoever on which it can co­exist with living within the truth, and therefore everyone who steps out of line denies it in principle and threatens it in its entirety.

(Translation by John Keane)

There is a game going on presently, which I alluded to by referencing “virtue signalling” above. The social cost of breaking the rules is exorbitant.  A person isn’t “spewed” so much as churned and spurned. So much has been made of the evils of cyber bullying, and yet that’s the very cudgel used to bring down those who refuse to “stay in their lane” and play footsie with the postmodern social engineering that’s wending its way through our lives like creeping death.

(The pertinent part starts at about 4:18. Virtue signalling is the new lamb’s blood.)

The game is trading individuality for identity, and seeing to it that any expression of individuality that sticks out is cut down with harsh and unrelenting scorn. It doesn’t matter if the individuality is genuine and free of malice. Harmless expression is no different from a monstrous assault so long as the game is being violated. Trading nuance for vacuity.

For a person who highly values individuality and remains ever skeptical of any concentration of power, the present game gives me shivers. Perhaps because it is post-totalitarianism of the sort Havel describes above, rather than the egalitarianism it pretends to be.

Of Sarwark and Conch Shells

Libertarianism may have a Tragedy of the Commons Problem.

Lord of the FliesWhen the rules are, “there are no rules,” you’re pretty much asking for the worst in humanity to come out. I’m not saying that the party or the movement is one big “Lord of the Flies” orgy of nonconformists doing whatever the hell they want. I’m not saying that at all. The boys on that island at least had a conch shell.
Well, granted, we have a Sarwark. And he is eerily good at running a meeting according to Robert’s Rules. Like, “Was he created in a lab by Noonian Soong” eerie.
This is the price we pay for emphasizing freedom and equality over obedience and hierarchy. But if, as the oft misattributed quote goes, “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” it will serve us well to maintain constant vigilance against the sort of in-fighting and overt displays of selfishness that threaten our chances at the polls. I’m not saying we need to act like grown-ups. I’m saying that “acting like” is not going far enough. We need to grow-up in the way we comport ourselves as an ideological movement and party.
Robert A. Heinlein once wrote, “an armed society is a polite society.” We certainly believe in an armed society. I wonder if we can create, at least among our own ranks, a polite society?
I’m dialing in to Chairman Sarwark’s conference call next Monday night. Maybe I’ll ask him what he thinks.

“America Was Never Great”

The statement is made, “Don’t forget, America was never great.” The supporting evidence is compelling:


That slavery continued in the United States for as long as it did; that deprivation and dehumanization continued under Jim Crow; that the “self-evident truth” that all men are created equal was a lie for so many for so long is a testament to the fact that the lesser of two evils is still evil.

The Three-fifths Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, “Separate but Equal,” and etc. Every “reasonable” compromise was the lesser of two evils.

One of our philosophical forebears, the anarchist Lysander Spooner once wrote, “Slavery, if it can be legalized at all, can be legalized only by positive legislation. Natural law gives it no aid. Custom imparts to it no legal sanction.” Those who endorse the lesser of two evils don’t just allow evil to continue. They are the architects of continued evil.

Spooner was an American. Harriet Tubman was an American. Juries composed of Americans nullified the Fugitive Slave Act, and acquitted abolitionists. Rosa Parks was an American. King and X were Americans. Ruby Bridges is an American.

Was America never great? Maybe. There’s a strong argument to be made. But I know this: Individual Americans have been and continue to be great.

President’s Trump America

I think it’s fair to say most of my friends are hurting right now. Friends of color, LGBTQ friends, friends of middle eastern descent, female friends, friends who are allies, and friends with big hearts. I hurt with them. I pretty much assumed Hillary Clinton’s coronation was a fait accompli; an inevitability put in motion the day after Obama was elected to his second term. I wasn’t crazy about the prospect of a President Clinton, but I figured she was more or less an extension of the Obama presidency.

And here we are. President Donald J. Trump. And this is exactly why I’m a libertarian.

No president should inspire this much fear. No government should be so powerful that whole segments of the population are genuinely concerned over losing their civil rights. Our founders never intended for a “tyranny of the majority” to run roughshod over any minority — this is why the vestigial Electoral College is a thing — and our evolution as a country has been in the direction of actually ensuring that protection for all citizens, all minorities. Hundreds of thousands have died in pursuit of equality. It’s that important to us.

I believe it will continue to be that important to us, Trump’s election notwithstanding. Keep in mind, his was not a landslide victory. As of right now, Clinton is just squeaking out a popular vote win. This election is not a decisive win against equality or decency.

But it should be a wake up call: That Government Is Best Which Governs Least. If you fear what kind of executive power an unmitigated moron like Trump may wield, work to limit that power. And work to keep that power limited, even when someone you like is in the Oval Office. That’s the path forward.

Defang the beast, and never fear it again.

Why Gary Johnson Should Be In The Debates, In One Screengrab

I’ve seen this on Facebook recently. It’s a screengrab of Kevin Drum’s opinion piece on Mother Jones, “Why Are There Any Liberals Supporting Gary Johnson?” Drum makes the case for Johnson’s inclusion in the presidential debates:


Half of these points are either completely false or misrepresented through omission. In order for liberals — and conservatives, and centrists, and what-have-you — to know if Johnson is worth their vote, he really should be included in the presidential debates. The debates are the forum for talking about the foreign and domestic issues only hinted about in Drum’s scary little laundry list of unforgivables.

It’s kind of funny. Back when John Kerry was the Democratic standard-bearer, his flip-flops were spun as “nuance.” You would think they would appreciate a nuanced approach to policy positions. Let’s take a look at the nine points Drum gets wrong.

He supports TPP.” Gary Johnson supports free trade. He has signaled cautious support for TPP, and the more he has learned about what’s actually in it, the more skeptical he’s become. In an August interview on POLITICO’s Off Message with Glenn Thrush, Johnson said, “Would I have signed or implemented the Trans-Pacific Partnership? I’ve got to tell you, I think it’s laden with crony capitalism. Free market really is the answer. It’s the answer to unifying the whole planet, in my opinion.”

He supports fracking.” Johnson’s position on fracking is not so far removed from Clinton’s. Recently, he stressed a pragmatic approach, noting that fracking is currently only about 10% effective and comes at a cost to the environment. puts Johnson and Clinton both in the “Pro” column on this issue, but neither candidate seems than solid in their support.

He opposes any federal policies that would make college more affordable or reduce student debt. In fact, he wants to abolish student loans entirely.” He wants to abolish student loans in order to make college more affordable and to reduce student debt. By definition, he is in favor of federal policies to bring down the cost of higher education. In the same interview with Glenn Thrush referenced above, Johnson laments that students have been “sold a bill of goods”:

[T]here’s no excuse for you not to go to college because of guaranteed government student loans, and because of that, in my opinion, college tuition costs twice as much as it would have cost if there would have been no government guaranteed student loans.
This isn’t some fringe theory. The New York Federal Reserve published a study just last year that found a strong correlation between increases in student loans and increases tuition.The Wall Street Journal characterized the situation as such:

Imagine a scenario in which the federal government helps households pursue the American dream with ultra-loose credit, only to see prices skyrocket and families take on loads of debt they can’t repay.

Yes, it sounds like the housing market of a decade ago, but some say it is also the challenge of today’s higher-education system.

He thinks Citizens United is great.” Johnson takes the controversial position that free speech shouldn’t be censored by the government. The confusion around Citizens United is nothing short of epic. Former Washington State Committeeman (and yes, bass player for Nirvana) Krist Novoselic runs it down in a thoroughly researched and footnoted history of campaign finance laws:

The most notorious Supreme Court ruling of recent times is 2010’s Citizens United v. F.E.C. This ruling has captured many an imagination with the idea that the Court turned somehow turned “corporations into people” or that money was created into speech. This article is not about propagating these useless catchphrases, rather, it is about how independent campaign expenditure prohibitions bump into 1st Amendment protections. I look at the history of attempts to regulate independent campaign expenditures and how, in the process, a state censorship board was created.

(Emphasis his.) Most folks don’t think Citizens United = free speech, but rather Citizens United = corporations are people. Johnson has gone on record* elsewhere to say he doesn’t believe corporations are people, so let that be a bromide.

He favors a balanced-budget amendment and has previously suggested that he would slash federal spending 43 percent in order to balance the budget. This would require massive cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and social welfare programs of all kinds.” The wrong in this point makes my head hurt. The 43% thing is from Johnson’s 2012 run. What Johnson and Weld propose is a zero based budgeting approach — something Jimmy Carter brought to government back in the 1970s, for Pete’s sake. Let’s hear from Bill Weld on this one:

So, on the budget issues, you know, the tendency is almost inescapable to say, what are you going to cut? What are you going to cut? I think we proved that we know how to cut. It’s through what I call zero-based budgeting, which is you begin every year assuming each entry in the budget is zero. You don’t assume it’s the same as last year plus 5 percent, which used to be the approach in Washington. And that’s how you get your real savings. So you don’t slash 20 percent or 10 percent across the board. And you measure outcomes, not inputs. Inputs would be last year’s appropriation. So if the outcomes were very good in a health-care program, you might multiply that appropriation by five. And if there was another tired bureaucracy that just seemed to have been shuffling papers, and there were no outputs, you might abolish that altogether. But I think we’ve both showed that we can do that, because in the ‘90s, we were each rated the most fiscally conservative governor in the United States. In my case, by the Wall Street Journal and the Cato Institute, and I think Gary a couple years after that, by Cato as well. So that’s not an accident.

Johnson has been outspoken in his support of the social safety net — especially for a libertarian. (We make lousy lifeguards, don’t you know.) This point is fear mongering, plain and simple.

He opposes net neutrality.” To pretend net neutrality is anything other than a contentious issue with valid points on all sides is nonsense. The fact is, for better or worse, as of last year, we have it. What worries me is the inevitable vestigial nature of Title II classification. A group of Stanford University researches may have just rendered the issue moot with their invention of “Network Cookies,” but Title II classification will lumber along, an octogenarian law regulating a technology that changes by the minute.

Johnson’s stance is simple and consistent: “There is nothing wrong with the Internet that I want the government to fix.” That’s an opinion consistent with Clinton’s view on the matter. I’m talking about Bill, of course. The one who deregulated the internet in the first place.

He opposes any kind of paid maternity or medical leave.” I have yet to find anywhere where Johnson has spoken in favor of legislation that prevents paid maternity or medical leave.**

He supported the Keystone XL pipeline.True , so long as “it’s not an issue of the government implementing eminent domain to procure right of ways.” And of course, it would require eminent domain. I’ll let you do the math on that one.

Missing from this is his view on the EPA:

On the other hand in northern New Mexico, there was a Molycorp mine. There was metals contamination in the Red River. It had gone on for decades. And for decades politically it was being protected because of the jobs that were involved. I took office and I said, you’ve got to clean this up. You have to come to the table and you have to clean this up. They refused to come to the table. So my biggest club in the bag was, I am going to declare you a Superfund site. I’m going to hand you over to federal EPA unless you come to the table in 30 days and come up with a plan for fixing your metals contamination.

And they claimed that it was natural! It was ludicrous. It was a slap in the face. And they refused to come to the table. My phone is ringing off the hook, politically. It’s ringing off the hook. There were all these jobs. And my response was: “These people are bad actors and they have to be brought to the table.” Thirty days went by and they became a Superfund site. So there’s an example of the EPA and why the EPA should exist. And why government should exist to protect us against those who would do us harm.

He goes on to say that his support of the EPA is not exactly doctrinaire libertarianism. I would disagree. We’re minarchists, not anarchists. Government exists to protect us from force and fraud, and the EPA can be a worthwhile tool to that end.

He opposes any government action to address climate change.” There was quite a kerfluffle some weeks back when Johnson speculated on using a carbon fee to address climate change. It’s absolutely not true that Johnson opposes any government action to address climate change. The role of government in this particular issue is something he struggles with.

There’s a little more nuance on half of Drum’s points. More could certainly be said about the other nine points, but really, Johnson should be saying it himself. On the debate stage. With the other presidential candidates. The amount of misunderstanding (purposeful and otherwise) as demonstrated in this and other similar articles makes the case for inclusion. Obviously, people are interested in hearing what Johnson has to say. Let’s hear him say it.


*The author characterizes this as being against Citizens United. I can only assume the author has fallen prey to the “useless catchphrases,” as Novoselic puts it, and is conflating things.

**I am reminded of a quote by Frederic Bastiat, from his book The Law:

Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.

America the Potluck

… “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

This is engraved at the foot of the Statue of Liberty, and it is absolute truth. Donald Trump should hop a ferry and go read it.

You cannot be a proponent of American exceptionalism and disallow for people who would do anything to enjoy this country, and all that citizenship has to offer. I’m sorry, but that’s bullshit. You cannot claim that this is the greatest nation on God’s green earth and in the next breath say people shouldn’t be allowed to come here. That does not follow. It is a logical non-sequitur, and you should be ashamed, deeply ashamed if you feel that way.

There is nothing more American than breaking an unjust law that stands between you and your unalienable rights. There is nothing more American than that level of civil disobedience. The people who break our immigration laws so that they can enjoy the benefits of being an American — the privileges and rights that are natural to ALL humankind, regardless of where we are born, but only truly, expressively acknowledged and recognized in America* — there is nothing more American than pursuing the dream of being an American, damn all the stops.

Cole Porter might as well have written, “Don’t Fence Me OUT.”

As for the argument that, “Well, immigrants who come here don’t fully assimilate into our culture,” I’m sorry, but you don’t understand how a melting pot works. You don’t drop someone into the melting pot and they become homogenized to the melting pot as it already exists. The melting pot is an ongoing homogenization of all the ingredients thrown inside, not just the familiar, not just what you and your prejudices may find comforting.

There are things about Latino culture that we all universally enjoy as Americans. You can call it cultural appropriation, the fact that I enjoy drinking margaritas and eating tamales while listening to a mariachi band at El Cholo. You can call that cultural appropriation, and you know what? You’re absolutely right. It’s cultural appropriation of the best possible kind.

It is as culturally appropriating as Tejano music adopting the European accordion and absolutely shredding it. That’s what makes the New World (not just our country, although we excel at it) so amazing. It’s what people sometimes seem to forget: We are greater than the sum of our parts, and our parts are some of the best the whole wide world has to offer.

It’s not “multiculturalism” to point out that we all come from different places and have different traditions. We have, here, an expansive commingling. The next time you’re out somewhere eating Italian food followed by a French desert, take a moment to lift your German beer and toast the Latin-infused pop music playing overhead. That’s America, That’s what makes us so awesome. The people who join this party enrich our lives and our cultural heritage. Let. them. in.

America is a potluck. It’s not some well planned, strip-mall buffet. It’s a potluck. And if you don’t see that, if you don’t get that, then you just don’t get what makes this country so brilliant, and such a wonderful place to live in. You’re short-changing yourself while standing in the way of people who just want to enjoy the same sort of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness that we enjoy by virtue of the accident of our birth.

*Some may be quick to point out that America isn’t the only land of the free. I would stipulate that it is debatable, but point out that the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is unique to us, and sets the bar for freedom pretty damn high.