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Posts tagged Harry Browne

Contrarium sequitur

In logic, a non sequitur is the fallacy of asserting a conclusion which does not logically follow from the premises.

Usually when somebody commits a non sequitur, it happens because the conclusion somehow seemed to follow from the premises even though it does not — for example, if it follows only when some controversial but not-yet-mentioned auxiliary premises are added to the premises already on the table, or if the conclusion follows from a distinct claim which has been confused with the claims that the premises actually made.

But life and politics being what they are, sometimes a label like non sequitur just isn’t enough. For example, there’s an extremely common argument, supposedly a refutation of anarchism, which holds that anarchism may be ideal for a society of angels, but that, in the real world, people are nasty and untrustworthy and will relentlessly exploit and violate each other given half the chance. The conclusion the statist then expects us to draw from these premises is that we should all agree to give a small handful of these admittedly nasty and untrustworthy creeps monopoly power to force their will on other people without any significant outside constraints from the rest of the populace (!). Or consider Naomi Klein’s repeated recent efforts to point to the failures and massive government violence against free association and peaceable assembly that attend government outsourcing, government transfers of forcibly expropriated resources to legally-privileged monopolists, and other forms of government-backed privateering — and then to use these as evidence for an indictment of those who argue that the government should keep out of people’s peaceful economic arrangements (!).

In cases like these, just pointing out that the conclusion fails to follow from the premises is not really enough here. I’d like to suggest a new name for a certain sub-set: the contrarium sequitur, or perhaps contra-sequitur for short. It’s the fallacy of asserting a conclusion which is exactly the opposite of the conclusion you ought to draw from the given premises.

Examples aren’t hard to find in this modern world. Consider, for another example, the recent miserable failure of the Barr/W.A.R. ticket.

The Libertarian Party leadership hamhandedly foisted Bob Barr and his crew on the party because, as they saw it, the things holding the Libertarian Party back are the fact that many libertarians don’t have much practical experience in electoral politics, and the common perception that libertarians are weird, kooky, or extremist in their positions. So instead they decided to try a new tack of nominating non-libertarians. Their favorite, ex-Congressman Bob Barr, promised that, what with the benefit of his political experience, and with his attempt to repackage watered-down libertarian and smaller-government conservative views as mainstream, he’d be able to deliver millions of votes and tens of millions of dollars in fundraising. Of course, even if he had gotten that, his Presidential campaign still would have been a miserable failure, but a bit less miserable than the past several miserable failures by LP Presidential candidates, which in the world of LP internal politics counts as something like success. But, be that as it may, when it came down to it, Barr made no significant fundraising inroads and picked up just over 500,000 votes out of about 126,000,000 votes cast, coming in at 0.40% of the popular vote. That makes his miserable failure even more miserable than the miserable failures of Ed Clark in 1980 (1.06%), Ron Paul in 1988 (0.47%), and Harry Browne in 1996 (0.51%).

Thus, Barr, the mainstream libertarian and professional conservative politician, failed even more miserably than a gold-bug politician who ran on abolishing the Federal Reserve and unilaterally withdrawing the U.S. from the Cold War, and who took time out of his campaign to give long interviews about the Trilateral Commission and the secret manipulations of the international bankers. And both of them failed even more miserably than an investment consultant whose main campaign planks were to completely abolish the IRS and to use the presidential pardon to immediately release nonviolent heroin and crack users from prison, and who spent the 1970s publishing self-help books about tax evasion, his unconventional sex life, and defending against invasion under libertarian anarchism.

When this miserable failure is pointed out, the response from the political realists and the Barrbarians has been to insist that libertarians need to do even more to sacrifice radical appeals in favor of making mainstream pitches and attracting professional politicians:

We can (and will, undoubtedly) yammer endlessly on about how and why Barr failed, but what did (and always will) infuriate me was that a pragmatic approach was asked for one friggin’ time, once!, and we couldn’t get the Church Members to stop howling long enough to give it a shot.

The Angry Optimist, comment on Where the Libertarian Party Went Wrong, 17 November 2008, 3:40pm

The LP needs to start marketing and building the party. Part of this means they have to stop with their purity litmus tests. Stop scaring off voters by insisting on the right to own nukes. Sheesh. While I myself may be a radical minarchist, I am not so naive as to believe that anarchists/minarchists will ever be a sizable minority. But we can get significant buy-in on smaller less intrusive government. Let’s aim for that goalpost for a while…

Brandybuck, comment on Where the Libertarian Party Went Wrong, 17 November 2008, 3:57pm

The Libertarian Party is a joke, and libertines are its jesters. It’s fun to navel gaze from the comfort of the parents basement, but out in the real world politics are the art of compromise.

ellipsis, comment on Where the Libertarian Party Went Wrong, 17 November 2008, 3:58pm

The Libertarian Party insists on doctrinal purity and has no plans to open its tent. Given that reality, people who are fiscally conservative and socially liberal will continue to stick with the major parties. The LP doesn’t really represent them anyway. Until the LP becomes practical and realistic, it will remain a protest party. Having seen the last convention, it looks like a reasonable LP ticket is impossible, and as such, a strategy focusing on a few Congressional seats also seems unlikely.

— Lamar,Where the Libertarian Party Went Wrong, 17 November 2008, 4:26pm

Or, for another example of the contra-sequitur, consider this recent exchange at The Distributed Republic, where Kyle Eliason objects to some common feminist claims about male dominance in conventional heterosexual relationships, and insists that forcable [sic] rape is the only time women don’t control sex. When challenged, the evidence he uses to defend his claim that women, not men, control sex is that in his experience lots more women than men complain that they’ve been pressured into having sex when they don’t want to:

[How Many Men] Have you heard complain that a woman was pressuring them into having sex too soon or that a woman was just using them for sex?

— Kyle Eliason, comment on Where Do I Join the Women Approach Men At Bars Feminist Coalition?, 29 October 2008, 9:24

What does it say about the state of our society, and public debate, that you really need a name with which to pick out contra-sequiturs? Well. I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

See also:

Over My Shoulder #34: on parenting a free and autonomous child, from Harry Browne, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World

Here’s the rules:

  1. Pick a quote of one or more paragraphs from something you’ve read, in print, over the course of the past week. (It should be something you’ve actually read, and not something that you’ve read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, more as context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than as a discussion.

  3. Quoting a passage doesn’t entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the quote. This is from chapter 21 of Harry Browne’s How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World (1973).

Raising the Child

As early as possible, it’s valuable to establish relationships with your child that are similar to the relationship you have with your lover.

The child should have his own world where he is clearly the sovereign. That means a room of his own that is subject to his control alone. If he doesn’t take care of it, he’ll learn the consequences of that sooner or later. But if he’s forced to keep it as his parents wish, he’ll never discover for himself the consequences of alternative courses of action.

He should also have other property to use in whatever way he chooses. Property isn’t owned if it can be used only in approved ways.

You’ll have to decide how he’ll obtain his property. He can earn it, receive an allowance, get outright gifts, or he can receive property in any combination of these ways.

But once he receives something, it’s important that he learn to understand what it means to own something and be responsible for its preservation. He shouldn’t be taught to expect automatic replacement of any of his property that he might destroy.

The importance of his sense of ownership can be seen by observing the difficulties many adults have in dealing with the world. For close to two decades, most people are led to believe that they aren’t sovereign.

Then, suddenly, they’re thrust out into the world, and expected to make far-reaching decisions concerning their lives. It’s no wonder that they have difficulty foreseeing the consequences of their actions and fall back on any authority that appears to be competent to make decisions for them.

I believe the child will be far better equipped to face the world if he understands how the world operates right from the beginning. He can easily learn what it means to make decisions and to experience the consequences of his decisions.

This means, too, that he should be helped to understand that you have your property, also. Show him which areas are off limits to him or require permission before he can use them. Even the dining table he eats on will belong to someone; part of his arrangement with the owner can include table privileges.

Obviously, a two-year-old child won’t have an explicit understanding of these matters. But there are two ways that he can understand them at the earliest possible age. One is that he can learn by example if the entire family operates in this way.

The second way is by never being taught otherwise. For some reason, many parents seem to think it important to change systems at some point in a child’s age. They first teach him he has no authority over his life, and then try later to instill a sense of responsibility in him. In the same way, they first want him to believe that Santa Claus loves and rewards him and then later want him to understand that it’s the parents who love him. I think it would make a considerable difference if the child were never taught anything that you intend to reverse later.

It’s important that each of the three of you be a separate human being with his own life, his own interests, and his own property. None of you is living for the benefit of the others; rather, each should be there because he wants to be. And each will want to be there if it’s a setting where he can live a meaningful life of his own choosing.

It obviously isn’t necessary that each member of the family own his own washing machine, stove, and living-room furniture; nor is it necessary for permission to be requested every time a non-owner wants to use something. Various things can be made available to other members of the household on a till further notice basis. But the ultimate ownership should never be in doubt.

If these principles don’t seem attractive to you, it may be because you’ve never been married. You may never have seen the hundreds of insignificant joint decisions that preoccupy most married people.

I’ve never known a family who used these principles who didn’t find them a great relief and advantage over normal ways of handling such matters.

A Sovereign Child

If you want your child to understand that he lives in a world in which his future will be of his own making, encourage that by letting him deal directly with the world as much as possible. Let him experience the consequences of his own actions.

Naturally, you don’t intend to let him discover first hand a very dangerous consequence of something he wants to do. But it’s important to deciade in advance where you will draw the line. How far will you let him go in making his own decisions? Don’t leave it to decide each time the matter arises. Have a clearly defined policy in advance that will prevent inconsistencies.

Be available to let him know your opinions–without implying that your opinions are binding on him. Let him think of you as a wiser, more experienced person–but not as a moral authority who stands in the way of his living his own life.

Be a source of information and opinion concerning the consequences of acts. Let him learn that the nature of the world he lives in (not the attitudes of people bigger and smarter than he is) sets the limits on what he can and cannot do in the world.

If you recognize him as an individual who is allowed to learn for himself, a genuine friendship can develop between you. He’ll be willing to talk to you about his ideas, plans, and problems–because he won’t have to fear the moral retribution that most parents inflict when they disagree with their children’s ideas and actions.

Parents who fear letting their children make decisions fail to realize that their children do make decisions on their own. You can’t possibly control all your child’s actions. So the best security you can have comes from two conditions: (1) allowing the child to learn as early as possible that his actions have consequences to him; and (2) developing a friendship that will make it possible for him to come to you when he needs help.

If either of these conditions is missing, you shouldn’t be surprised if you find out about crises only after they’ve happened. A child who knows that acts have consequences and who knows that he has a wise friend will be more likely to consult his friend before risking something dangerous.

Love and understanding are important to a child. And you’ll show your love more by respecting his individuality and appreciating him for what he is, not for what you force him to be.

–Harry Browne (1973), How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, pp. 240–243

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