Thursday, March 31, 2011

It's Your Body

Issue 16 of The Voluntaryist has an article titled “ ‘Health’ Freedoms in the Libertarian Tradition” where Carl Watner describes the development of freedom in the first half of the 1800s within the context of health.

Sylvester Graham is probably the most well-known “health advocate” during this time and Carl also mentions Samuel Thomson, who was deeply involved in herbal medicine.

There was an increasing skepticism mounting against drugs and the medical profession in general and these men were among those proposing more natural means of taking care of oneself, as well as simply taking responsibility for one’s own body.

Carl writes:

“His (Samuel Thomson’s) New Guide To Health encouraged people to take care of themselves and his ideas were patronized by a widespread clientele. It was estimated that he had some three to four million adherents out of a total population of seventeen million people at that time. His philosophy had a Jacksonian flavor, reflecting the widespread distrust of elites and the conviction that Americans "should in medicine, as in religion and politics, think and act" for themselves. "It was high time." declared Thomson, "for the common man to throw off the oppressive yoke of priests, lawyers, and physicians . . . " The Thomsonians believed that self medication was safer than being doctored to death. "Being your own physician would not only save your life.... but save you money as well."

Carl points out how the ideas of these men appealed to those seeking greater liberty in general. Many of the same people who had radical political views were also radical in terms of personal health issues. For example, Carl reports that Thoreau was vegetarian for at least a few years of his life.

It makes sense that people interested in freedom would be attracted to ideas on how to best take care of one’s health. After all, it’s a logical extension for anyone who understands the concept of self-ownership.

In this article Carl also discusses the history of vaccines, particularly the idea of compulsory vaccination. He points out that whether or not one agrees with the effectiveness of a particular vaccine, it’s still important to remain on the side of health freedom and use voluntary persuasion, rather than compulsion.

“Those who argued on practical grounds also claimed a right to be heard on the moral side of the question. Even if the anti-vaccinationists were wrong with regard to their assertion that vaccination was not medically effective, they desired to be heard out on their argument that "compulsion is a wrong." The burden of proof, in their opinion, was on those who wished to resort to coercion. For example. John Morley in 1888 maintained that "liberty, or the absence of coercion, or the leaving people to think, speak, and act as they please, is in itself a good thing. It is the object of a favourable presumption. The burden of proving it inexpedient always lies, and wholly lies, on those who wish to abridge it by coercion, whether direct or indirect." John Bright, writing in 1876. disapproved of compulsory vaccination. "To me it is doubtful if persuasion and example would not have been more effective than compulsion:... to inflict incessant penalties upon parents and to imprison them for refusing to subject their children to an operation which is not infrequently injurious and sometimes fatal, seems to be a needless and monstrous violation of the freedom of our homes and of the right of parents."

Bright's reference to the possibility of accomplishing the same end (the eradication of smallpox) by voluntary persuasion and example illustrates the underlying voluntaryist theme in this historical overview of the "health" freedoms. One need not have been opposed to vaccination at all to have been an opponent of
compulsory vaccination. One could have been opposed to the compulsion without being opposed to the practice of vaccination…”

We are still seeing controversies in many of the same areas written about here (proper diet, vaccination, licensing and monopoly in medicine, etc.) I have always maintained a skepticism when it comes to health advice, even from those within the licensed medical profession. I have watched society catch up to ideas I learned about 25 years ago, like the dangers of just handing out antibiotics like candy and that a fever is not necessarily something you need to "get rid of" by taking a pill. I try my best to educate myself as much as I can before embarking on any sort of medical intervention. Ultimately that's all we can do, educate ourselves, find people in the medical field we can trust and act based on the combined knowledge of benefits and risks. It’s your body. Take care of it.

Oh, and when it comes to personal health decisions, there's only one body part that matters when it come to government involvement:

Butt out.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Enjoy Some Educational Anarchy

I want to take a break from talking about The Voluntaryist to let you know about a wonderful opportunity coming up this weekend. It’s a free, online “unconference” perfect for freedom-minded individuals.

From the site:
Agora I/O is a new un-conference where you’ll find the greatest people, ideas and tools for advancing liberty. Agora I/O happens online, so anyone can participate. Plus it’s free! Our first conference, “√Čtienne,” runs from March 25th to 27th, 2011.

There is so much I could say about this idea, but I won’t because I’m too busy, having gotten myself into trouble. See, I jumped in and offered to do a presentation. It will be broadcast Sunday March 27 at 3:00 and is titled “Unschooling: Educational Anarchy for the Whole Family.” I will talk about the philosophy of unschooling and relate stories and examples from my family’s life.

If you’ve read the page on this blog titled My Journey, where I posted the article I wrote for The Voluntaryist titled “A Self-Educated Chicken,” you know how much of a cheerleader I am for unschooling and lifelong learning. You also know that I think freedom to follow your interests is a vital aspect of learning.

This conference is all that! People deciding they have an interest and information to share and people attending who are interested in the topics offered. Matching up interests and people in this way means everyone is guaranteed to learn a lot.

If you check out the list of speakers, you will see names of people you’ve heard of before and some you haven’t. I have interacted online with some of them, like George Donnelly (presenting on "Open Source Peaceful Evolution for Fun and Profit" and more), who has been working hard to make this project happen.

And two others, Pete Eyre (presenting on “Effective Activism: Foundation to Impact”) and Jason Talley (presenting on “Being the Media in Your Community”), I have met in person through their previous projects, The Motorhome Diaries and Liberty on Tour.

Those two even came to visit me at my home out here in suburbia. Which means they can say they spent the night with The Suburban Voluntaryist. But I’m not sure they would.

This conference itself is Unschooling in Action. Check it out.

(The anarchy symbol in top pic is courtesy of wikimedia)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ideas and Candles

For me, understanding all the nuances behind the idea of copyright has been somewhat difficult and confusing. So the article in Issue 16 of The Voluntaryist, "Contra Copyright," written by Wendy McElroy (which was originally part of a debate), made me feel better because in the very first sentence she says it’s a complicated issue.

I found this article interesting in a historical context since this was written before the internet really started creating havoc with its ease of sharing information. The debate has not ended though and I suppose some would say it’s just getting started.

To understand the issue of copyright, we have to understand how copyright relates to the idea of property and ownership of property. Wendy tells us that Benjamin Tucker put forth a great analysis:
Tucker addressed this question in fundamental terms. He asked why the concept of property originated in the first place. If ideas are viewed as problem-solving devices, as answers to questions, then what about the nature of reality and the nature of man gave rise to the idea of property. In a brilliant analysis. Tucker concluded that property arose as a means of solving conflicts caused by scarcity. Since all goods are scarce, there is competition for their use. Since the same chair cannot be used in the same manner at the same time by two individuals: it was necessary to determine who should use the chair. Property resolved this problem. The owner of the chair determined its use. "If it were possible," wrote Tucker, "and if it had always been possible, for an unlimited number of individuals to use to an unlimited extent and in an unlimited number of places the same concrete things at the same time, there would never have been any such thing as the institution of property." Since the same idea or pattern can be used by an unlimited number to an unlimited extent in unlimited locations, he concluded that copyright ran counter to the very purpose of property itself — which was to ascertain the correct allocation of a scarce good.

So, ideas and information are different, you can’t completely hand over an idea or information to someone else - you can only share it. I like the example she gave that came from Thomas Jefferson. He compared an idea to lighting a candle. The light is an idea. If I have a lit candle and I light your candle with mine, you now have a lit candle but so do I. I’ve passed it along by sharing it with you but I haven’t given up any property.

Wendy is a proponent of free market copyright and one point she clarifies early on is that the market can and does create standards spontaneously. It appears that this is holding true, at least as far as the online world is concerned. If I understand it all correctly, one solution being developed is Creative Commons, where it looks to me like people freely share ideas and information contingent on a variety of chosen market-based copyright claims.

I have to say the biggest thing this article did for me was make me realize I really don’t have a good handle on this issue. If anyone has any resources they’d like to pass on, please do so in the comments section because my candle is completely melted.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Bill of Rights Merely Legitimizes Government


From nearly the beginning of this project, Carl has responded to various posts recommending that I read a particular article in a future issue that relates to the topic I’ve discussed.

Up to now I have not taken his advice. I had this idea that I wanted to read the issues in order, not only to learn more about the Voluntaryist viewpoint itself, but to also get a feel as to how this particular project moved forward, in and out of the historical context of recent decades.

Yet, just as Carl has tirelessly continued his work publishing The Voluntaryist, he continues to recommend upcoming articles. He’s been like that guy who knows what’s coming up in a movie, talking in my ear as I’m watching, “Oh Debbie, wait until you see this next part, it’s so cool!” (I’m sure you all visualize Carl as I do, jumping up and down in anticipation, wanting me to read on, right?)

"Thanks Carl," I say, "I’m sure it is, but I’ll see it when I get there."

Well, as anyone can see by the speed at which I am moving forward, it’s entirely possible I may not get there - unless I live to be about 124 according to my calculations.

So this time I decided to take him up on it and see how reading ahead works for me. I can still continue to read in order, but to not take advantage of Carl’s knowledge of what’s in future issues that could help us all get a clearer picture of a particular topic is kind of missing a main benefit to even doing this project. Besides, this project is called Debbie AND Carl.

In addition, Joe offered this comment on the same post (Is the Constitution Preventing Further Progress of Freedom?):

“Debbie, I think that the Constitution is first and foremost a political instrument. It's only the Bill of Rights that may be considered to be based on some philosophical truths, and even then it insists on maintaining statist doctrines such as eminent domain.”

So I went to the article in issue 101, published December 1999, and read “ ‘The Illusion is Liberty – The Reality is Leviathan’: A Voluntaryist Perspective on the Bill of Rights.”

Carl writes at the beginning of this article:
This article was sparked by an essay written by Forrest McDonald entitled "The Bill of Rights: Unnecessary and Pernicious," in which he presents the thesis (which he shares with some other historians) that the first ten amendments to the federal Constitution were essentially a legitimizing device used by those favoring a strong central government. In other words, many Americans who otherwise might not have supported the new central government were won over to it by the adoption of the Bill of Rights. Reading McDonald's article led me to review some of the history of the adoption of the Bill of Rights, of the conflict between the Federalists and their opponents, the Anti-Federalists, of the strategy adopted by the Federalists in urging the ratification of the Constitution, and to consider the ultimate significance of the Bill of Rights. Would we, as late 20th Century Americans, have been better or worse off' had the Bill of Rights never been adopted? What would American constitutional history look like if there had been no Bill of Rights? The purpose of this article is to examine these topics from a Voluntaryist perspective, and to decide what position the committed Voluntaryist would have taken during the struggle for the ratification of the Constitution and the adoption of the first ten amendments.

This article doesn’t give anything away about the publication that I just don't want to know yet and it is full of juicy tidbits for the brain to chew on. Here are just a few:

  • The Declaration of Independence was a statist document. (For an example, see page 1 of this article.)
  • Americans simply traded one state for another
  • The Federalists and Anti-Federalists were not arguing over whether there should be government to rule men, but only what form it should take.
  • There are several violations of individual rights contained in the Bill of Rights. (For examples, see page 5.)
  • The Bill of Rights has not protected American Citizens during some of the most critical times in our nation’s history. (For examples, see page 6.)
Now I’m going to be like that person who’s taking you to a movie I’ve seen before and encourage you to read ahead. Maybe you’ll reach a similar conclusion as Carl (I know I did.):

Constitutions and bills of rights are legitimizing tools of the ruling elite. Both are badges of slavery not liberty, and should be rejected. It is only when people awaken to these facts that they will become free.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Is the Constitution Preventing Further Progress of Freedom?

Issue 15 of The Voluntaryist is entirely devoted to a single article by George Smith, titled “Property Rights and Free Trade in Ideas.” George sets up his purpose here:

“In this paper I shall examine two arguments for freedom of conscience and religious toleration. There is, first, the moral argument based on property rights, specifically, the argument that every individual has "property in his own conscience." There is, second, the social argument that diversity of religious belief is desirable, and that from the conflict and competition of religious ideologies, truth will spontaneously emerge.”

One point that seems to run throughout this article is that although religion was historically a big impetus for the movement towards freedom in general, the arguments used to defend religious freedom from government control were not always applied consistently to other areas, education for example.

In other words, religious liberty is just one aspect of liberty of conscience, or self-ownership. The article goes into greater historical detail and I invite you to read it if interested.

The part I want to pull out here is George’s explanation of why he chose to focus his article on English writers:

“…The moral and social implications of liberty of conscience and religion are covered more elaborately, and with more attention to fundamentals, in nineteenth-century England than in nineteenth century America. The fact that English dissenters were struggling against an Established Church undoubtedly accounts for some of this.

But I suggest that another factor was operating, which makes England a more interesting field of study from a purely philosophic perspective. After ratification of the U.S. Constitution, church-state controversies in America typically revolved around Constitutional arguments, especially the Bill of Rights and its prohibition of a religious establishment. Consequently, arguments in nineteenth century America are often legalistic and resort to legal precedent and the intentions of the founding fathers.

… English libertarians had no Constitutional amendment to which they could appeal. And, to the extent that appeal could be made to the British Constitution, it clearly favored an established Church. An established Church enjoyed legal precedent of longstanding in England.

This forced English dissenters to develop moral and social arguments in favor of liberty of conscience and religion. Elaborate theoretical systems were required to combat an established church grounded in legal tradition. Legalistic arguments gave way to moral, social, and political arguments. This, I believe, is why we find a greater stress in England on moral principles and spontaneous order, and on theoretical considerations generally.

This is also why English thought is more interesting historically. If we wish to bypass constitutional interpretations peculiar to one country and focus instead on moral and social underpinnings, English thought provides an ideal case study.”

This brings up something I’ve been wondering about for some time now: is the Constitution getting in the way of real freedom?

So many, when asked to make reasoned arguments for their positions, simply say “It’s in the Constitution,” as if that in itself answers the question of any philosophical underpinning for their view and determines the truth.

But does it?

Of course I understand that the Constitution started from what were considered to be basic philosophical truths, but it’s also a political document. And as such, it went through the gauntlet of political compromise, which always waters down basic philosophical principles. This also opened it up to endless interpretation by a variety of biased viewpoints. (Ironically the exact problem humans have experienced with religious texts.)

Consider this in relation to the views of a man George discusses in this article, Henry Robinson:

“From the free competition of ideas, he (Robinson) argued, truth will emerge; suppress ideas, even wrong ideas, and truth will suffer. Competition, whether in commerce or ideas, produces vitality and life; imposed uniformity produces stagnation and death.”

So, looking at this from the perspective of Robinson, is the worship and legalistic reliance on the Constitution for answers keeping us from moving forward with the free competition of ideas which are necessary for the emergence of truth, and ultimately, complete liberty?