[FoRK] Misunderestimating "The" Tea Party

Jeff Bone jbone at place.org
Sat Mar 20 11:28:00 PDT 2010

More responses to Russell...

> Neither my argument nor examples were restricted to abortion.

That was your argument.  I was merely demonstrating that (a) the character of the argument rests on whether the national status quo is presently prohibitive (as w/ e.g. marijuana) or permissive (as with reproductive choice) --- for any given issue, and (b) that reducing the scale at which decisions are made increases, rather than decreases, the size of the choice matrix.  It *unquestionably* increases overall net liberty as the size of the social choice aggregation unit decreases.  (In the limit, if everyone decides everything for themselves, it increases individual ability-to-choose to its maximum --- but with potentially untenable consequences and costs.)

> Our time and place isn't "in general," but the current US, with its specific history and culture. Even
> if that is the case "in general," that just means the US is an exception in that regard.

The argument has to be made from general principles, as it is a hypothetical.  We aren't arguing history;  I agree with you.  But history is not the only mean of informing decisions about how to shape our future;  in fact, perhaps, that's a key point I've been trying to make.  We have better tools for understanding the potential consequences of our choices, and our meta-choice framework, now than we have before.  The lessons of history are valuable, but not always the best predictors.

I'm also not advocating, in the limit, that *states* are the appropriate level-of-scale for most issues of social choice.  And civil liberties are quite often not universal or absolute, but rather something for which popular opinion shifts over time.  Better, IMHO, to have a more direct means of representing local communities-of-opinion.  (This argument applies to e.g. such things for which debate and argument is possible.  Some human rights are far less debatable.  But all this is moot without a common theory of rights;  are we assuming "natural" rights, or moral / ethical ones e.g. Rawls, or a more utilitarian view of them, i.e. as an assumed mutual contract?  W/o this, controversy is inevitable;  we have even less agreement about this now than did the Founders, and even their "natural" rights perspective was insufficient to avoid controversies about e.g. slavery, suffrage, etc.)

You mention the US's "specific history in culture."  It appears to me to be a grave error to assume that the US as a whole has any *specific* culture, or that its history as reflected through the lens of present-day perceptions, norms, biases, etc. is in any way representative of the contemporary perception of historical events at the time they occur.  (Indeed, popular opinion about abortion is changing within the span of our lifetimes;  what was a civil liberty issue for women is now unfortunately increasingly being seen as a civil liberty issue for the unborn, who have heretofore been regarded as non-persons and therefore outside the scope of civil liberty considerations.)

Back to *your* specific example, reproductive rights:  surely it is not controversial to claim that there is a deep, bitter, and broad division on this in the US today.  Worse, as mentioned the trend in popular opinion seems to be moving *against* the permissive status quo we have today.  Either way, permissive or prohibitive, the social choice if made at a national level results in far more social dissatisfaction in absolute terms than if it were made at a *much* more local level.  In the latter case, you do at least end up with a situation where "don't like it here, go somewhere else" is a reasonable and meaningful argument.  In the monolithic reductio of social choice / preference aggregation, "go somewhere else" becomes meaningless.

But this is far off-topic.  The NYT article posted was pointing out that the TP constituent groups' leadership --- for some of the larger ones, at least --- *specifically wants to deprecate social policy as a plank of the GOP platform* and instead focus on economic issues and reducing the economic scope, scale, and cost of national government.  I can't see that as anything but an improvement, independent of *any* other effects.


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