Friday, November 09, 2012

Libertarianism & Coercion

Without any agreement on the issues with “objectively determinable” and “subjectively determinable” I’d like to move forward and say a few things about the main purpose for making the distinction in the first place. To the point, the purpose of the distinction was to be able to say something about the failed premise (or one of the failed arguments) of Libertarianism. Naturally then, I’d like to take a look at how Larry uses those ideas to that purpose, and see if we can flesh out why it fails. For Larry’s argument in full, see HERE, "The Libertarian Argument".
For additional reference see the proceeding argument below, "possession vs. Ownership...".

First off, let me just a moment to restate what Larry looks to mean by these terms. On the one hand there’s “objectively determinable”, which again is something we can determine objectively without any knowledge of peoples minds, thus at the same time no knowledge of social contexts. On the other hand theres “subjectively determinable”, which in this case is something we determine which does require some knowledge of peoples minds and some knowledge of social context.

Before getting into the argument lets also look at the way Larry (according to his understand) has defined Libertarianism with respect to coercion: “Libertarianism fundamentally consists of the objective moral value that the initiation of coercion is absolutely wrong”.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this understanding and in fact there may be some Libertarians who actually espouse this sort of definition. For me, given the inclusion of “objective moral value” and “absolutely wrong”, I’d reject it from the start. In any case I’d like to point this out and state that from my perspective, I would have went with the language that Libertarianism simply aims at the “mitigation of coercion”, and left it at that. But, perhaps for our current purposes I’m picking at nits, but, maybe not. In any case I think it’s important to bring this front and center because the main purpose of this attack is on the initiation of coercion in general.

With this groundwork laid let’s forge forward. To begin with Larry points out an example of what may be entailed within the general premise of Libertarian ideas on coercion, which is to imagine “…if someone comes up to you, points a gun at your head, and takes your stuff (wallet, watch, car, or suchlike), you have been the victim of injustice.” So of course it naturally follows that this was injustice because you were, “deprived of your property by force without your consent.” What’s most interesting though is the next step he makes which really starts to make a mess out this idea of “objective determinability” he so wants to use. Larry says thusly, “This step establishes a moral intuition (seemingly) about nothing but a set of objectively determinable facts about the world.” What’s interesting about this is, what he’s said about an individual losing his wallet isn’t objectively determinable at all. Notice he uses the words, “your stuff”, and “your property”, which of course cannot be determined objectively at all unless you A.) know something about peoples minds, and B.) understand something about social construction. The best we can say is that the person who lost a wallet “possessed” it, but that says nothing about ownership at all. With this I hope we're at least suspicious of the point Larry wants to make about “objectively determinable”, that it isn't clear, or at least not justified, that such is the case. All of this makes the rest of what Larry wants to argue extremely problematic.

The next step in the charge against Libertarianism is to say that Libertarians make the same “objective” comparison between the scenario above and taxation. Now I’d agree that they do in fact make the comparison, but not at all on the grounds that they are both “objectively determinable” as Larry would like to believe. (I suppose I should grant here that there are perhaps some Libertarians that argue this way, and if that’s the case, I’d have to side with Larry that if they’re playing that game, he’s got em’ in knots). At any rate, I don’t argue that way, so I’m in the clear. Continuing on Larry makes his next charge that, “It's noteworthy that, unlike random robbery, the counter-argument that taxation is legitimate by social construction can be rebutted only by saying that the fact of social construction is irrelevant; “ Now of course we know this fails because in order to legitimate a robbery you need a social construction to determine ownership of the possessions that were reportedly taken. So Larry is trying to make a distinction here that just doesn’t exist, or so far he hasn’t justified that it exists. 

The next link in the chain moves us on to “absentee ownership”, which according to Larry rightly requires a social construct in order to define (and of course I’d make the argument that everything we’ve discussed so far is a social construct). The essential idea is that Libertarians (perhaps just some) support absentee ownership, and therefore accept the use of coercion in order to protect those absentee property rights. Of course, I don’t find absentee ownership or direct ownership at all problematic, and both indeed relay upon social constructs, i.e. in order to establish ownership you need a receipt, a title, a deed, etc.. But because Larry makes a philosophical incoherent split between objective and subjective determination, it makes him think that it then makes sense to say, “if social construction can legitimatize coercion to maintain absentee ownership, then social construction can legitimatize coercion to collect taxes.” However there are more problems with this then the fact that there’s no logical split between the two concepts he’s drawn out. Simply put, it’s a false analogy, a category error. In other words Larry wants to make a comparison between taxes and ownership, and while they are both social constructs (which all ownership is), they are not both representative of the initiation of coercion against ownership. If I own property, whether directly (in that I, e.g., live there personally) or as an absentee owner, then what I do with that property is to a certain degree my business. If I’m an absentee owner renting space to an individual who fails to pay his rent (and we have some sort of rental agreement), then through coercion I’m going to kick him out. Now to make the analogy work with taxes it would have to presuppose that the government “owned” the money it was taking, but in fact it doesn’t. That we socially agree (to one extent or the other) to pay taxes does not entail ownership over that money and therefore the analogy fails.

In conclusion I've aimed to say two main things:
A.) There is nothing meaningful to be said about “objectively determinable” that gives any force to Larry’s argument.
B.) Everything discussed thus far as it relates to possession (as ownership), ownership, absentee ownership, “your stuff”, “your property”, are all social constructs. ***

Because all of these things are social constructs, and because Larry confuses his ideas about “objectively determinable” he then confuses an analogy between taxes and ownership simply because they’re both social constructs, but so what…? From here I’m not so sure it make a lot of sense to continue on because the rest of the charge is just more misuse of the distinctions he wants to use.

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