Thursday, January 31, 2008

Annotated Quotes

Some "good" and "bad" quotes..

"Without censorship, things can get terribly confused in the public mind."
-- U.S. General William Westmoreland

Comments: Yes. Clarity is one virtue of a dictatorship.

"Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it." -- George Bernard Shaw

Comments: This quote is insightful in that it points to the fact that behind almost all rejections of political liberty is an underlining fear of it.

"I apprehend no danger to our country from a foreign foe ... Our destruction, should it come at all, will be from another quarter. From the inattention of the people to the concerns of their government, from their carelessness and negligence, I must confess that I do apprehend some danger." -- Daniel Webster, June 1, 1837

Comments: In other words, foreign foes are most often pointed to by leaders wishing to grip control, but the real threat is usually much closer to home.

"If the personal freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution inhibit the government's ability to govern the people, we should look to limit those guarantees."
-- President Bill Clinton, August 12, 1993

Comments: This is Bill openly sharing the contempt that he and most politicians have for individual liberties. It is sad, very sad. I'm sure Thomas Jefferson and others would be rolling in their grave.

"Give me Liberty or give me... well, whatever you thinks is best for society"
-- Slashdot .sig

Comments: This ought to be the rallying call of today's nanny state.

"People who are willing to rely on the government to keep them safe are pretty much standing on Darwin's mat, pounding on the door, screaming, 'Take me, take me!'"
-- Carl Jacobs, Alt.Sysadmin.Recovery

Comments: I'm no Darwinist, but there is some insight in this comment.

"When the President does it, that means that it's not illegal."
-- Richard M. Nixon in an interview with David Frost, 19th May, 1977

Comments: Unfortunately, this is the "above the law" attitude that many world leaders have. But it isn't even just the law they play fast and loose with, its actually peoples lives and their nations futures.

"Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual)" --Ayn Rand

Comments: This could be called the "tyranny of the majority". Two wolves and a lamb voting on the lambs fate will never fall in favor of the lamb. So, this would be why unrestrained democracy isn't a good thing. By "restraint", I mean something that prevents liberties from being voted away.

"We must ensure that new technology does not mean new and sophisticated criminal and terrorist activity which leaves law enforcement outmatched -- we can't allow that to happen"
-- Al Gore - Sept. 16, 1998

Comment: This statement wouldn't be so bad if Gore was proposing that law enforcement get going on technical development to keep pace. But sadly, he, along with most politicians, would rather take the opposite route of holding back technology (through legislation and general interference). A great example of this is cryptography. Rather than turning their attention to developing and working on great crytographical research for government purposes, many governments just harass people who develop the technology in hopes that they can keep it out of the hands of terrorists and criminals (when really all they do is annoy law-abiding citizens).



Blogger Nick Steffen said...

The GBS quotation is good (though I'd be interested to see the context he leaves it in).

Though I don't generally care for Ayn Rand, her quotation is also quite useful, though I'd probably say something more like " away nor buy away the rights of the individual..." The danger of big government is only matched by that of big business.

It's interesting to me that Daniel Webster's concern was the basis of GK Chesterton's concern in "Napoleon of Nottinghill" not 70 years later (not to mention the various dystopian novels throughout the rest of the 20th century).

9:25 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

I'm not too sure about the context of that GBS quote.

Regarding: "Though I don't generally care for Ayn Rand, her quotation is also quite useful, though I'd probably say something more like " away nor buy away the rights of the individual..." The danger of big government is only matched by that of big business."

Here's some thoughts:

I appreciate many things Ayn Rand wrote, though she could be quite nasty and there's some things I certainly don't like about her.

In my estimation the problem with big business buying away rights and what not usually ties back to the government's role. It seems to me that behind every nefarious corporate or big business problem is a legislator or other political figure. I don't think we would have a 1/4 of the problems we currently have if government played a proper, limited role and if they were actually doing what they were sworn in to do.

Business/Corporations are not sworn in to protect me. There is no question that they are going to act against my interests if it serves them. Politicians are normally sworn in as representatives of the people. If a corporation/business unjustly violates my rights, it is the job of the government to protect those rights. And yet, they go on doing 100 million things, but NOT that.

Now, if both government and corporations mutually destroy my liberties, I blame the government most vehemently. Why? Because they are the one who have a moral/civil/judicial obligation to act differently. If I set a guard over the sheep pen, and it gets raided by a coyote, as much as I may want to blame the coyote, the first "head that will roll" so to speak would be the guard. I don't like the coyote, but then again it isn't him that I have the agreement with.

Also, I'd suggest that if big businesses and corporations KNEW that their politicians were dealing fairly, poised toward protecting liberties, and acting only within their constitutional bounds. ..corporations/big business would suddenly start playing fairer, or at least be somewhat less ambitious in their escapades.

9:51 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Oh.. One more thing. Thanks for your comments. Always well-thought out and challenging!!! Thank you!

9:55 PM  
Blogger Nick Steffen said...

To be honest, Mark, your understanding of business seems rather naive. I'm thinking of late 19th, early 20th century businesses who really did "exploit" workers. There was little political involvement in business (regulatory or otherwise...discounting the graft given to the politicians to "protect" the businesses) at that point and was really a time when a business really could run (or own) a town.

There is some role for the government (though I tend to think that once it has intervened it should slowly back away like a parent teaching his kid how to ride a bike). There is some role for business (I tend to think it's to help people live out that freedom). But, at least as my thinking goes at the moment, I trust big government about as far as big business (which is not very far). Both are often so big they can't help but to trample things underneath.

And thanks for the comment. I'm afraid that economics still seems rather mysterious to me. I keep on twisting around in circles seeing distributism, libertarianism, agrarianism, John Milbank, Catholics, anabaptists... I just get dizzy. Is there such a thing as a libertarian localist?

10:45 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

I'm no scholar, and I'm probably naive on some of the things I talk about.

I detect that some of our difference may be due to our understanding of voluntary arrangements. For example, what constitutes exploited workers? Especially if they are in a voluntary arrangements?

No question about it, businesses have a lot of power. And they are often ethically and morally in the wrong. I suggest you look into why they have this power, though. I'd say two general sources are prevelant: 1. Big government protectionism, deal mongering, and what not. 2. They've been voluntarily granted it by the people who are complaining about it.

I'm not an anarchist, so I'd say government has a role. Even in anti-monopoly measures. I mean reasonable measures to eliminate violations of liberty in the name of squashing the competition. I think Milton Friedman has something to say about this in "Capitalism and Freedom", but I may be mistaken and it may have come from somewhere else.

People are quick to blame big businesses, as it sounds like a good working-man sort of jig. And you'll notice the politicians often encourage it, as soon as they can get leave out of the corporate version of the oval office, that is.

But consider this: It seems that the politicians have created the problems that both you and I are most concerned about this!

PHASE ONE: Create the beast. All sorts of methods in this, protectionism, pandering, special interests, etc. Liberties are violated by the politicians through the corporation.

PHASE TWO: Eliminate the beast, by popular demand by intervening against the corporations (sometimes all equally, sometimes excluding the ones that that have a "thing" going with the politician).

So.. Who is the playdough villian here? The corporations. Are they innocent? No. But they are using what is available to them (until they get knocked back by the hand that feeds them). Until we cut out what is available to them, we will never get them to be ethical. Our elected officials ought to be accountable, ought to be constitutional, etc. They are the ones who have commited the greatest breach of trust (just like the guard has breached trust in a way that the coyote hasn't).

So, if I've communicated clearly here, you should understand (though not necessarily agree with me) that big business is a player in the problems, but really the wrong target. We should watch them carefully, but at the same time remember that the business OUGHT to be looking out for its own interest--profit. And it is only the elected officials who is properly speaking a representative official, and properly responsible primarily to blame.

So, then, should they (government) intervene more or less? I'd say less. But less in every regard. Both in their positive actions and their negative actions. Just lessening regulation would not be enough, we need to lessen the governments' involvement across the board. Because its mainly the other forms of intervention that CAUSE the need for regulation in the first place.

Phew.. If you twist around and see anabaptist economics, I suggest you splash some cold water on your face :)

Libertarian localist? Perhaps:

11:48 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

I find the following to be a good maxim or whatever you call it:

Most of the time you find critiques of decreasing the size of government, they will be responding to what would happen if you decrease the governments involvement in one side of the problem but not the other.

However, what is often missed is that the one side of the problem is connected to the other, often caused by excessive government involvement of the other. Usually by reducing government intervention in both sides, you eliminate the bad side effects that would occur if you were to apply the reduction in only the one side.

I'm by no means an expert in the following areas, but I feel this principle generally holds true (from my studies) in: foreign policy, economics, etc.

12:02 AM  
Blogger Nick Steffen said...

I guess I think of "exploited" as there being no other reasonable choice. There have been people who were simply stuck where they are. They needed work to get money to get food and other necessities and there weren't any other options.

In terms of businesses that are ethically and morally sketchy I think of businesses in England during the parts of the industrial revolution. These were times of little to no government control, which could be guaranteed for a certain price. Often there were huge numbers of workers and few jobs available, which at times led to sub-human working conditions.

My point is not that free market conditions can't greatly help these situations, but the larger a business grows, the easier it becomes for them to ignore the permanent things, and it is thusly that life becomes less free.

I guess to my mind freedom points to the ability of a man to control his own life. And private property is how this happens. At the same time, private enterprise can inflict harm on private property (a pickpocket is a fan of the first, but certainly not of the second). Capitalism run amok can run the risk of praising the pickpocket. But,quoting Chesterton, "Communism... reforms the pickpocket by forbidding pockets".

You talk about (the stages of) the problem of special interests and whatnot. I do blame the politicians for taking bribes just as I blame the businesses for offering them. Neither group creates the problem, the problem creates the groups. The circumstances of a big government society or a big business society lead to situations where this dark collaboration easily takes place.

To be honest, I tend to think that a business ought to look after it's own interest as much as the politicians ought to look after their own. Looking after your own interest is important, and a quite natural thing to do. But to suggest that looking after one's own interest should be the primary priority of a person's life seems problematic, whether they're a businessman, a politician, or a child. This is what happens, but I think it's dangerous to jump ahead to say that that's how it should happen. A company that does something evil should stop worrying about it's own profits and start worrying about more important things.

The same issues plague both groups, but they're still different kinds of groups, and do different things.

As far as people complaining about big business too much, I think that depends on where a person lives. When I was in Bluffton (a conservative, small town) I constantly listened to people complain about how much damage the government was doing, but little to nothing about how one rather large business came into town, and several local businesses had to shut down. (The big business is much more efficient, but to my mind, efficiency is not in and of itself a worthy end) But when I moved to Madison (a bigger, liberal city) I hear constant railings against "big business" with little concern for the crushing bureaucracy of the government that has driven many valuable local businesses outside of the city limits.

I think private property is a good thing. I think it is so good, in fact, that we should get it into as many people's hands as possible. Big governments and big businesses can do a lot (because they're big). They can do a lot of good, they can do a lot of bad. They are both necessary institutions of a healthy society, but only if they act appropriately.

And please, don't let me turn your position into a crazed libertarian anarchist. I would prefer Milton Friedman's direction to Lew Rockwell's. At the same time, I think both of those men's eyes are too big. They easily see the global advances and growth, but often neglect local community development (which is easily sacrificed for global advancement). I do know of Bill Kauffmann and, though he overreacts (I think that there are times when we need to think bigger than our community... like times of war, regional national disasters, etc), he is probably fairly close to where I lean (though I'd prefer to say Chesterton and "subsidiarity" over and over again).

As far as anabaptist economics and all the rest of the stuff that I mentioned...I'm just confused. A splash of cold water might just be the appropriate remedy.

Thanks for the thoughts.

12:40 PM  

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