TGIF: Easy Cases May Make Bad Rules

Hard cases make bad law, an adage apparently coined before 1837 tells us. In other words, “an extreme case is a poor basis for a general law that would cover a wider range of less extreme cases.” Not everyone has agreed that this is the case, but we’ll let that go. I just want to point out that easy cases also may make bad law, or at least bad rules.

Take the question of whether social networks should kick people off for saying things that other people find discomfiting, offensive, or “threatening” (with that word being used extremely loosely, having nothing to do with a physical threat). Leave aside that the networks are privately owned, however ominously close they may be to certain powerful politicians. I’m not talking about property rights here. That you have a right to do something does not mean that you ought to do it.

Is it generally desirable that Facebook, Twitter, and the rest don’t operate on a complete “come one, come all” basis?  Many people say yes; they want to be assured that no one will enter their range of vision who will make them uncomfortable in one way or another. True, social-networking participants already can exclude participants they don’t wish to see from their range of vision. But some want more than that: they want to keep everyone else from seeing the “offensive” participants.

But others think that having a very low bar, if any at all, for excluding participants undercuts the very point of social networking, the value of which lies in the easy availability of the widest range of opinions, analyses, and reporting of events. They relish free-wheeling conversation about anything while accepting the trade-off that some real jerks will make their unpleasant presence known. Those who favor a liberal admittance policy are satisfied with being able to block or ignore participants whom they find annoying or worse.

Considering the powerful practical case for free speech that John Stuart Mill put forth in On Liberty, it seems that erring on the side of liberal criteria in the social networks is the best way to go. Even jerks who are wrong about a matter can have something of value to say. A flawed criticism or an overlooked fact may prompt a worthwhile refinement of an already basically sound position.

Mill summed up his views when he wrote, “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.” He went on:

His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side; if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion. The rational position for him would be suspension of judgment, and unless he contents himself with that, he is either led by authority, or adopts, like the generality of the world, the side to which he feels most inclination. Nor is it enough that he should hear the arguments of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. That is not the way to do justice to the arguments, or bring them into real contact with his own mind. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them; who defend them in earnest, and do their very utmost for them. He must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form; he must feel the whole force of the difficulty which the true view of the subject has to encounter and dispose of; else he will never really possess himself of the portion of truth which meets and removes that difficulty. [Emphasis added.]

I find that an unanswerable argument, though obviously I am committed to hearing the best arguments against it. Notice that Mill endorsed the principle of charity in writing that we should hear the strongest case from its own advocates and not from critics. That’s called “steel-manning” these days in opposition to “straw-manning.”

Now an obvious problem arises that relates to scarcity. No one has enough time to seek out and consume every bit of criticism of every position they hold. So we each have to pick and choose according to our priorities, doing the best we can with what we have.

However, none of that justifies restrictions on what a free-wheeling forum promises to be. Someone might challenge this view by asking what’s wrong with excluding someone who does little more than threaten people with violence or ladle out disgusting slurs of one kind or another. To which I would respond that I wouldn’t be upset if a person who presents such an easy case were excluded. (The criminal law already addresses specific threats to identifiable persons.) But caution is in order. The slippery slope is real, so it’s not only easy-case people who are at risk. It’s also purveyors of alleged misinformation. Of course some stuff posted deserves that label, but it has also been applied to maverick opinions and factual accounts voiced by qualified people merely because their views clash with the position of government-anointed experts (who have their own agendas). Whether the social-network bigwigs believe in what they are doing or they just want to curry favor with the powerful, who needs that? Easy cases can indeed make bad rules.

At any rate, why should we have confidence that the people in charge of the social networks or their algorithms will confine their expulsions to only the most egregious cases? We already know better. What did Lord Acton say about power again? It goes for private power too.

What we must do is oppose government intervention because the politicians and regulators will likely defer to the corporate incumbents, and that means market entry will become even more difficult than it already is for innovative upstart competitors. The ideal is a wide range of choices so people who want no-holds-barred social networking can find it and those who want tamer environments can also have their way. Since people have different tastes, the market can have many winners.

TGIF: Utopianism May Be Hazardous to Your Health

Beware those who claim to have a detailed blueprint for the ideal society. If such a person thinks you stand in the way, you may get run over. That’s how it is with utopians. They want everything just so, and woe betide those who disagree.

The repeated attempts at creating ideal societies haven’t gone so well. To name just a few, see France 1789, Russia 1917, Italy 1922, Germany 1933, Eastern Europe 1945, China 1949, Cambodia 1976, Venezuela 1999.

The problem is that the architects of utopia have little tolerance for those who aren’t wholeheartedly with the program. Any departure from the plan is a move away from the ideal. Dissenters must be dealt with.

In The Road to Serfdom, which still belongs on everyone’s reading list, F. A. Hayek pointed out that a big problem with socialist or fascist central planning — which is another way of saying utopianism — is that regular people will assuredly upset the plan just by attending to their own lives — so they cannot be left free to do so.

Hayek also noted that even if everyone agreed in principle that some kind of top-down social plan was desirable, they certainly would not agree on its details. In a world of scarcity, that would be a problem because everyone’s preferences couldn’t be accommodated. Moreover, Hayek went on, the endless debates over the plan could well give rise to a dictator who promised to stop the idle chatter and act decisively. So much for the promise of democratic planning.

Not everyone aspires to design their whole society. But some want to do something similar on a smaller scale. They seek to shape their local social environment (including their social-media environment) by expecting and insisting that everyone with whom they come into contact affirm their view of themselves and of how the world should be. One way to do this is to demonize and marginalize dissenters. While such micro-planning may seem largely harmless, it could have its risks as it gains momentum. Politics professor Eric Kaufmann, the author of Whiteshiftwrites that the “principal threat to liberalism today is an emergent authoritarianism, not a top-down form of the kind we find in China or Turkey.”

Intolerance toward dissenters can manifest itself in demands that we use language in novel and loaded ways favored by an interest group. This is often part of a utopian strategy to change government policy in oppressive ways. These days people can lose their jobs or access to online communities for using words (or having done so years before) in a newly forbidden manner.

But controlling language, which really means language users, is like herding cats. Language is a decentralized institution under no one’s control. The meanings of words can change in their own time, but meanings are not determined by diktat. Most people will continue to speak as they are accustomed to speaking regardless of the activists’ strident demands that we not only say, to use Orwell’s example in Nineteen Eighty-Four, that 2+2=5 but also believe it.

Today’s equivalents of 2+2=5 include: “The signs of a climate disaster are all around us and beyond debate”; “Sex is changeable or nonbinary or a social construct”; “Straight-white-cis-male supremacy explains all you’ll ever need to know about Western civilization and contemporary American society”; and “Those who disagree with [name a group] are deplorable.”

People should be free to believe those things if they want to, but they should also be free to disbelieve them and say so without fear of harassment, physical threats, or legal penalties. Those who know that 2+2=4 should inform the utopians that they have the burden of proving why anyone should pretend otherwise. “Gaslighting” needs cooperative victims.

A society, like a language, can’t really be centrally planned, although the attempt will be lethal. The contrary idea gets encouragement from a misapplication of enlightenment principles. That the hard sciences can furnish the means to control natural forces, i.e., inanimate things, for the betterment of all is no reason for thinking that the social sciences can or should furnish the means to control social forces, i.e., people. Hayek called this misguided conviction scientism. No one has put the point better than Adam Smith in his other book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments:

The man of system [i.e., the central planner] … is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests, or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it. He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess–board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess–board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess–board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might chuse to impress upon it.

The alternative to utopianism, then, is Smith’s “system of natural liberty” with its emergent, undesigned, and bottom-up order. Or in other words: individual sovereignty, free association, cooperation, competition, and contract.

So, people, believe what you want and recognize everyone else’s right to the same freedom. Replace your divots! Don’t be fragile — be antifragile; in order for someone to give offense it is necessary that someone else take it. Don’t be that someone. Don’t look for your identity or life’s meaning in what you take offense at.

Finally, let’s each of us agree not to turn to the state to support “my tribe.”

A Porcupine Peace Plan: How An Independent New Hampshire Could Increase U.S. Security

“To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”– Sun Tzu

On March 12, 2006 five U.S. soldiers violated, then murdered, 14-year-old Abeer Hamza in her home at Yusufiyah, Iraq. Then they covered up the killing by wiping out most of her family at taxpayer expense.1https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahmudiyah_rape_and_killings

Fifteen years and four days later, several dozen U.S. policy enforcement officers stormed a quiet neighborhood in America’s Pleasantville: Keene, New Hampshire. After using a battering ram connected to an armored vehicle, they flew a drone through the window of a home studio housing the state’s top radio discussion show, Free Talk Live. Washington claimed that some of its libertarian hosts had been selling significant amounts of Bitcoin without government permission and filed charges of “unlicensed money transmission.” The imperial capitol is seeking life imprisonment for at least one of the arrestees, with no credible claim that he even victimized anyone.2https://www.unionleader.com/news/crime/claiming-flight-risk-judge-orders-free-keene-activist-held-until-bitcoin-money-laundering-trial/article_04baa708-5613-5bc2-9f58-ac97b76616d6.html

Though different in a hundred ways, each of these federal excesses exemplified the numberless grievances which have sparked a growing pushback against D.C. in the “Live Free or Die” state. Local activists and legislators reacted with the New Hampshire Independence Amendment, also known as CACR 32. This constitutional revision would allow all NH residents to vote in a 2022 referendum on whether the state will continue being governed by Washington.

New Hampshire already has a long history of example-setting. But by striving for independence—and a more humane world security protocol—its citizens may be able to do something better. With your help, and the careful placement of a new idea on the geopolitical board, maybe our tiny new nation could even stop a world war.

NH independence proponents make a simple case. The FedGov, they say, has bloated beyond the point where normal individuals can meaningfully oppose its atrocities with conventional civics. They point to the successes of Estonian and British independence movements as well as the global trend toward “smaller nations.” In 1900 there were roughly 60 countries in the world. Now there are about 200. Meanwhile, thanks to these and other national divorces, the harm-inflicting capacity of various empires is less than it would be if they were still full-sized. Successful independence drives in America, too, should have a limiting effect on U.S. warmongering in faraway places.

But what of, say, Chinese government warmongering outside its​ borders? Whatever cruelties the U.S. government may have imposed, the nations bordering China do seem to generally prefer alliance with Washington over alliance with Beijing; some rely on D.C. for their security more than they should.

One of the main criticisms of NH independence is that it could undermine U.S. defense capability or, more accurately, American capacity for carrying out the existing commitments to NATO and Taiwan. The latter is of special significance, and we’ll use it as the focus of this discussion. But the arguments here apply to every U.S. ally.

Critics argue that America is overextended, much as Britain was overextended in the 1939 era when it guaranteed Poland against the Nazis. In those days the perception was that London had only two available courses of action: Wage war on Germany or appease Hitler by abandoning Poland. Today people imagine that we face a similar unthinkable choice as China flexes its new powers against Taiwan. An invasion of the island could trigger these same two ruinous impulses against a great resurgent Power, this time with the likelihood it would escalate into nuclear war. Taiwan’s friends, the thinking goes, would either have to commit another Munich…or defend the quasi-nation by risking civilization. Wouldn’t a New Hampshire independence drive damage America’s ability to follow the second option to victory?

Actually, there is a third option which could prevent both the evils of “big war” and the abandonment of overseas promises. An independent New Hampshire, or prospect thereof, is one way to put that path on the table. Let’s call this option the “Porcupine Peace Plan” for now…in honor of a less-threatening but better-defended posture some of us envision for America’s alliances.

This plan rests upon the barely-discussed idea that there is a great, untapped defense capacity among all reasonably-prosperous peoples, especially in Taiwan. Unlike military buildup it is a power which, when exercised, saves tax dollars rather than spending them…increases freedoms rather than reducing them. It possesses little potential for starting wars of aggression but has a proven history of discouraging them. Nevertheless, this power is often suppressed by the rulers of vulnerable nations…even as some of them face invasion or treat nuclear first-strikes as a legitimate method of self-protection.3https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/22/us/politics/nuclear-war-risk-1958-us-china.html

This seemingly magical ability…is the power of armed, individual self-defense…weapons freedom for the private citizen. And it is a power that the government of Taiwan has systematically denied to its people, at grave risk to a nervous world. The island’s gun control laws are so strict that WorldPopulationReview.com lists the number of civilian firearms there at literally zero per 100 persons (the U.S. has 120). Historically, the relative gun freedom of America helped it win the Revolutionary War and limited its risk of invasion over the following centuries.4https://davekopel.org/2A/LawRev/american-revolution-against-british-gun-control.html

We must respect the wishes of Taiwanese regarding their internal laws. But Taipei should respect our wishes when it comes to whether we risk our lives for them over their willful self-emasculation. We currently are doing exactly that at their government’s request; every last American is potentially on Beijing’s target list.5https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_first_use And Taipei has unnecessarily increased the chances for war with Beijing…by keeping its civilians disarmed.

This policy cannot help but cause Taiwan to be a far more attractive target for invasion than it would be if it had weapons freedom for the average citizen. The island’s well-meaning government has formidable armed forces, but there is no substitute for the “defense dispersal” and individual initiative which comes from civilian weaponry. Gun freedom, in 1940, made fascist-surrounded Switzerland impractical for Germany to invade.6https://davekopel.org/2A/Foreign/swiss-and-their-guns.html Norway, by contrast, was heavily defended by the British Empire and nowhere near surrounded…but fell quickly when Hitler’s forces mounted an attack on “central points of failure.”7https://www.britannica.com/event/World-War-II/The-invasion-of-Norway

Gun availability for the average person can solve only so many problems, but nations which acquire this freedom also acquire a ready-made, widely-dispersed guerilla arsenal ready for use against any occupier. It lets a tiny nation do what Sun Tzu suggested, and “be like water.” When added to Taiwan’s existing military deterrent…this “scary freedom” should be enough to prevent invasion indefinitely.

Skeptical? Then you tell us: How well has the U.S. “nuclear government” fared against Afghan riflemen? Why is Beijing so terrified of guns that it has enacted some of the world’s strictest prohibitions against civilian-owned weaponry?8https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_control_in_China

Thanks to Taipei, the mainland communists don’t have much of that to be terrified of in Taiwan. They don’t have to factor civie-guns much into their “invasion equation” as Hitler did when he abandoned his plan to attack Switzerland. Ending this citizen-disempowerment could be just enough to prevent the expected attack on Taiwan. And New Hampshire can gently make the case…either through government policy or constructive private action. Here are the suggested steps to get us there:

  1. The New Hampshire Independence Amendment must get a full and fair hearing by our State and Federal Relations committee and face the full legislature without substantial alteration. This will give NHexiters new clout to advance the Porcupine Peace Plan. In the unlikely event Independence obtains legislative super-majorities on this first try, it would then go before the people. If they vote “yes” then…​
  2. Neutral by default, the newly independent nation could begin negotiations on whether it will re-join the alliances it has just departed.
  3. The negotiators should request, as a minimal precondition for re-joining, that Taiwan and other countries take steps of their own choosing to undo the invasion-friendly types of laws we’ve outlined above. It would be on the Taiwanese themselves to figure out how they want to handle this…and on us to decide whether their reforms, if any, are sufficient to win us over as renewed allies. The more weapon freedom they can offer their people, the more we’d want to join.
  4. If Taipei can’t accept this suggestion, loyally and responsibly given, New Hampshire could simply remain neutral and is probably better off that way anyhow. As Switzerland and Costa Rica have proven, neutrality can be much safer than joining an alliance. But we will have kept faith with the beleaguered island.

Even if New Hampshire doesn’t get past step one in 2022, we should at least be able to put the gun-control-helps-invaders issue on the table. And the same weapon freedom concerns which apply to Taiwan…should apply toward any potential ally, even as new personal defenses begin to replace firearms. A cheaper and more humane way of looking at security…may start to set in.


A) Crime concerns. Taipei presumably keeps its people disarmed in an honest attempt to reduce violent crime and/or uprising. Probably there is a fear that relaxation of gun laws would cause these to increase. There are not many test cases of real gun freedom in first-world Asia; we Westerners can only tell our own tale. We know that the U.S. states with the least gun control also have the least crime. New Hampshire, for example, has virtually no gun laws of its own and the second-highest level of gun freedom in America. Perhaps because of this it also has the second-lowest crime rate, and there was no violent uprising here during the 2020 unrest. Meanwhile the District of Columbia has gun restrictions comparable to Taiwan’s, “some of the strongest gun violence prevention legislation in the nation.”9https://giffords.org/lawcenter/gun-laws/washington-dc/ Perhaps because of this…it also has America’s highest rate of violent crime and two semi-violent protests since 2020 which partially penetrated White House and Capitol Building defenses respectively.10https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_and_territories_by_violent_crime_rate

The statistics are not always so clear-cut in favor of gun freedom as a crime reducer…but they do not take into account the potential—much greater—violence of the wars which gun control enables.

B ) Gun incidents—More weapons could mean more accidents and suicides; people would need to get up to speed on firearm safety. For the sake of argument let’s assume it would also mean more crime. But let’s keep these challenges in context. Taipei’s gun control has helped create a situation where the U.S. Navy is prepping for a possibly civilization-ending fleet battle over Taiwan, projected to cost it more than 10,000 lives on the first day of full engagement.11https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_keFhXPclns

C) Disruption. The Porcupine Peace Plan could trigger more independence legislation or otherwise distract Beijing’s target governments at a time when they arguably need to focus on preventing/winning the hot/cold war. If we’re an unwelcome disruption, perhaps we can make up for it. Maybe we could trigger a larger volunteer effort to help Taiwan deter invasion, with her consent. The goal should be lawful, private weapon and ammo shipments to Taiwanese civilians. But perhaps medicines or other pre-positioned supplies are doable now on an individual basis.

Meanwhile, it should not be hard for New Hampshirites, thinking, acting, maybe even being​ outside the box, to do better for Taiwan than we have in the past. Last year we were just another tiny assimilated unit in the Pacific alliance…paying taxes to the fumbling U.S. torture state but giving little thought to our sister democracy on Formosa. There is plenty of room for improvement.

D) The next objection should come from you.​ Visit to the link above if you’d like to raise concerns publicly. You can also contact me there, or volunteer to help. This idea is potentially world-changing, but I’m just another de-platformed videographer; what I can do alone is very limited without you.

Ultimately, this idea is not competing with perfect. It’s competing with the existing, terrifying options which unimaginative bureaucracies have handed us: Appeasement and nuclear war. You don’t need much speed to win a race with turtles, but urgency is indicated. For Taiwan and an honorable world peace…time is probably running out.

This article was originally featured at the Shire Forum and is republished with permission.

TGIF: Safety in Freedom

With the emergence of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, renewed restrictions on liberty or calls for their reinstatement have broken out around the world. The new wave is probably only beginning, and with it will surely come sermons on how we must face trade-offs between liberty and safety. This seems to be the new normal.

The usual justifications for this purported necessity always feel inadequate, with gaping holes in the case for expanding government power to extraordinary lengths. Since we all now have a good deal of experience with COVID under our belts, let’s hope that the public’s doubts about any new power grab will be strong and loudly expressed.

What brought this subject to mind was a recent Oxford Union debate, which I ran across on YouTube. While I’ve watched only a little, it quickly occurred to me that the case for a necessary trade-off between liberty and safety runs aground with the realization that liberty is a necessary condition for safety. After all, it’s not always clear how one can best stay safe in a situation: that requires thought, discourse, action, and therefore liberty.

Moreover, that matter is separate from the question of how safe any particular person may wish to be. Indeed, people have different preferences with respect to risk and safety in part because life is complicated and trade-offs are ubiquitous. Increasing one’s safety in some measure by abstaining from some desirable activity will likely require too big a sacrifice for some people, although for others the benefit will be well worth the cost. (A person cannot violate his own freedom.) So who’s to decide? Why should a faceless bureaucrat or a charismatic politician make the call?

Few people understand that there’s safety in liberty, specifically, the freedom to think, improvise, and innovate. This is true for individuals, but when the potential danger is social or global, the case for liberty is equally clear. That’s precisely when we all need many minds searching for solutions without central direction. Knowledge is dispersed, and no one can say who will have a key insight. Competition is the universal solvent. And to be effective, thinking requires freedom of action.

Matt Ridley and Julian Simon before him elaborated how we all benefit from the often unintentional combination of ideas generated in different and unlikely places. By now, the serendipity that freedom produces ought to be expected. The results often are imaginative approaches to vexing problems that few would have dreamed possible.

The case for giving up freedom to acquire a measure of safety is actually an appeal to trust in an anointed central authority. And that means a threat of force is at least implied.

But where is the actual safety in that arrangement? Why should anyone believe that the anointed know what they are doing? They operate in a centralized, bureaucratic environment. The rulers expect the ruled to behave like children who have been told that all will be fine if they obey. Unfortunately, the ruled often think of themselves as children when it comes to the latest risk proclaimed by their rulers.

So are people really safer than they would have been in a free, decentralized, and competitive environment? We find no evidence for this in places that imposed harsh restrictions on liberty in response to COVID-19. Lockdowns, vaccine and mask mandates, and travel bans show no signs of delivering on the politicians’ promises. There just is no good substitute for freedom at every level because no central authority is knowledgeable enough.

Finally, what about the risks that individuals might present to others and not just to themselves? There are big differences between 1) the potential risks to others that anyone may pose in simply going about the normal business of life and 2) the dangers produced by aggression, gross negligence, and inadvertent toxic pollution, where identifiable individuals entitled to due process can be shown to present demonstrable peril to others. For one thing, in the first case, people are not passive victims-in-waiting but generally informed agents capable of taking precautions against infection. Imagine the nightmare that would come from the principle that everyone in society may be viewed as a threat to everyone else merely by breathing. We don’t have to imagine it, do we? That’s how most governments throughout the world — blunt instruments that they are — responded to the pandemic. As a result, our livelihoods — our lives– are now subject to cancellation without notice.

(Photo credit: Dev Asangbam, Unsplash License)

TGIF: Racial Polarization Is Poison

Be they “left” or “right,” those who agitate for racial polarization seem to have no sense of the harm they could do to everyone in our society. As the wise Glenn Loury would say, they are playing with fire. By polarization, of any kind, I mean more than merely a vigorous disagreement over issues or even basic principles. That’s fine. Rather, I mean something dogmatic, obsessive, and fanatical, in which virtually everything in the world is seen through a single lens and everyone is expected to act and speak in a certain way, with stern consequences for the noncompliant.

It can happen in politics, but it is becoming especially common with race, where some would have us interpret virtually everything through a racial prism. This is more than simply unfortunate; it threatens what the ancient Greek philosophers and later philosophers such as Spinoza — whose 389th birthday (Nov. 24, 1632) we marked this week — held to be the good life for human beings; it’s the conception of life in which being virtuous is seen as constitutive of happiness, or better: eudaimonia, and not separate from happiness or merely means to it.

Racial polarization threatens this not just in the obvious way, namely, with the potential holds for violence. I’m thinking of the more subtle way: through the narrowing and undermining of all sorts of social cooperation.

Formulators of the original (classical) liberalism, which has been refined into the libertarian political philosophy, took to heart what the Greeks and their intellectual descendants emphasized, namely, that we human beings are inherently social animals. Some went even further to note that, as reason- and language-bearing creatures, we thrive best when surrounded by people who exhibit their rationality in the fullest sense, not only as a tool to judge means but ends as well. Only in such a milieu can we live in ways most proper to rational animals, that is, with reason always in the driver’s seat. This entails, among other things, dealing with people through argument, persuasion, and consent rather than command, manipulation, and force.

A key way that social existence promotes individual flourishing is cooperation, which augments our otherwise weak individual capacities. While no collective brain exists, liberal society creates something analogous to it. As a result, we each gain access to an incredible volume of knowledge — moral and otherwise — any morsel of which we might never have thought up or encountered while living alone or in small groups during our limited lifespans. The marketplace of ideas is an example of this process that benefits us all beyond measure. In this day when free speech and free inquiry are increasingly under assault from reckless elements left and right, this would be good to remember.

The benefits of the broadest possible social cooperation are also abundant in the material realm. The early liberal political-economic thought demonstrated that living in isolation was to live in abject poverty. No one was better at pointing this out than Frédéric Bastiat, the 19th-century French liberal. In the opening chapter of his unfinished magnum opus, Economic Harmonies, he wrote:

It is impossible not to be struck by the disproportion, truly incommensurable, that exists between the satisfactions [any] man derives from society and the satisfactions that he could provide for himself if he were reduced to his own resources. I make bold to say that in one day he consumes more things than he could produce himself in ten centuries.

What makes the phenomenon stranger still is that the same thing holds true for all other men. Every one of the members of society has consumed a million times more than he could have produced; yet no one has robbed anyone else….

We should be shutting our eyes to the facts if we refused to recognize that society cannot present such complicated combinations in which civil and criminal law play so little part without being subject to a prodigiously ingenious mechanism. This mechanism is the object of study of political economy.

If this was true in 1850, what would Bastiat say about our time? Think of all the things we have access to in the developed world, even those of modest means. (The people of the developing world want the same, which shows the cruelty of so-called climate policy, which would raise the price and reliability of energy.) The point which shouts from Bastiat’s passages is that we have much to lose if social cooperation were to break down or even narrowed. Society is exchange, as the liberals hammered home on many occasions. “Society is concerted action, cooperation,” Ludwig von Mises wrote in his grand treatise, Human Action, which he was tempted to call Social Cooperation, another name for specialization through the division of labor and knowledge.

Need more be said about the threat from racial and other deep polarization? To invoke another original liberal, Adam Smith famously wrote that the division of labor is limited by the extent of the market. The fewer the people with whom to cooperate, the more primitive the division of labor. And the more primitive the division of labor, the poorer we are. That should require no elaboration.

When social distrust is sown among groups, particularly on the basis of spurious identity considerations, a great deal of what we value but take for granted is put at risk. This doesn’t mean that America’s history of slavery, Jim Crow, and less formal forms of racism can’t be taught and discussed frankly. They must be. But the cost will be unspeakably severe if frank conversation about the past and even aspects of the present transmogrify into polarization, hatred, and distrust.

Good people everywhere should speak out against polarization. Think about what we all have to lose. And once it’s lost, there may be no getting it back.

The Meaning of ‘Let’s Go Brandon’

By now everyone is aware that “Let’s Go Brandon!” is code for “F*ck Joe Biden!” This linguistic innovation came about when a hapless NBC reporter told her audience that the members of a crowd shouting in unison were exuberantly expressing their enthusiasm for Brandon Brown upon his first career NASCAR Xfinity series victory at Talladega Superspeedway on October 2, 2021. In fact, the crowd was yelling “F*ck Joe Biden!” just as other crowds, at other sporting events, had been doing regularly over the summer of 2021. From the clip it is unclear whether the reporter is actually mishearing the fans in the stands, or is attempting (perhaps at the behest of her handlers via an earbud?) to convince the television audience that they should hear what the network wants them to hear. Either way, in no time at all, “Let’s Go Brandon!” became a full-fledged pop cultural phenomenon, even more surprising than the very fact that entire groups assembled at mass gatherings have felt compelled overtly to express their dissatisfaction with the U.S. president by chanting the original locution, “F*ck Joe Biden!”

Because the hilarious episode took place in a live-broadcast news report, it was impossible to erase and naturally went viral, culminating in a frenzy of “Let’s Go Brandon!” chants and memes, hats and signs, t-shirts and iTunes hits, reaching much farther than the original chant, with no sign of letting up anytime soon. Even in places as far flung as Australia and Germany, the craze has gained traction among crowds of people who jubilantly echo back “Let’s Go Brandon!” when prompted by speakers at protest events, emboldened by the sudden ability to express profanities without being profane.

Not long after the original NBC fiasco, rumors abounded on social media that Facebook had decided to prohibit users from sharing in the “Let’s Go Brandon!” fun, by labeling the phrase an instance of hate speech, which is explicitly forbidden by the social media platform’s terms of agreement. That turned out not to be the case, though believing that it was true was not the most ridiculous of mistakes, given that people are regularly banned from the platform for expressing opinions at odds with “the official story” as pronounced by the government. Most notably, throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have regularly called out as purveyors of “disinformation” or “misinformation” anyone who happens to disagree with Anthony Fauci’s opinion du jour. The label conspiracy theory continues to this day to be applied to everything from the claim that COVID-19 was manmade and funded by the U.S. government, to the fact that Fauci-run research institutes supported experiments in which beagle puppies were tortured. Perhaps the only thing that saved “Let’s Go Brandon!” from deletion at Facebook was the undeniable fact that Joe Biden is a privileged white male, a member of a class deemed altogether exempt from the possibility of hate speech, as we learned throughout the Trump years, when the expression of hatred was not only not prohibited, but in fact encouraged and indeed taken to be clear evidence of moral righteousness among all good people—at least according to themselves.

Correlatively, fear of being called out as a hateful racist may best explain the fact that many on the left overlooked not only President Barack Obama’s many disappointing compromises and his utter abandonment of the “Hope and Change” platform on which he was elected, but also his normalization of assassination and his summary execution without indictment (much less trial) of brown-skinned U.S. citizens through the use of lethal drones. Who were the citizens who spoke out against such atrocities? Primarily libertarians and other defenders of civil liberties. Meanwhile, with the exception of a few “extremist” progressives, the left continued to laud the first black president, no matter what he did. My point here is that the phenomenon of  “Let’s Go Brandon!” could never have happened under Obama, because people were afraid to criticize even the most despicable of his undertakings. No one could chant “F*ck Barack Obama!” without being immediately labeled a racist, even when his policies were objectively disgraceful.

Promotion of the concept of hate speech has always struck me as a thinly disguised effort to outlaw whatever some people do not wish to hear, in other words, a wedge to crack open the door to censorship. Closely related to hate speech are alleged hate crimes which are dubiously identifiable, relying as they do on knowledge of the perpetrator’s intentions, and presupposing that some acts of, say, murder, are somehow worse than others. Somewhat ironically, censoring hate speech might actually make it more difficult to identify so-called hate crimes. In any case, both concepts are grounded in confusion.

First, there are compelling practical reasons for not prohibiting the verbal expression of hatred, above all, that one needs to know who one’s enemies are in order to have any chance of protecting oneself from them. Second, there is no reason for believing that anyone’s use of speech directly causes any other person to do anything. Free people choose to do what they do, and it is decidedly paternalistic to pretend that one person’s expression of odium somehow causally determines other people’s actions. Third, if a person intentionally and premeditatedly ends the life of another human being, then he has committed a capital crime. Why should anyone care whether he hated his victim or, as in the case of some domestic murderers of former partners, loved her so much that he could not allow her to continue living on without him?

There have been misogynistic serial killers, who for whatever reason hate all women (or brunettes with middle parts, or…), but usually when people talk about hate crimes, they mean crimes committed out of racial or religious animus. Thus many of the murders committed throughout the Holocaust were “hate crimes” in the sense that the victims were selected for elimination on the basis of their race and religion. But, again, murder is murder, and from the perspective of the victims, it does not matter in the least what the reason was for their having been erased from the face of the planet.

The U.S. government regularly terminates people’s lives under cover of “national self-defense,” and the vast majority of the victims have been brown-skinned and poor. The racial and economic conditions of the victims of U.S. interventions abroad has always been treated by political and military elites as though it were entirely coincidental—as the first black president’s eight-year stint as commander-in-chief clearly demonstrated! But no one is using missiles launched from lethal drones to execute suspects without indictment (much less trial) in First World countries, where such action would risk the collateral damage deaths of the privileged persons who pay for their government’s crimes. When pasty white U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron decided to execute brown-skinned British citizens suspected of terrorist alliances, he waited for them to travel to Syria before sending out the drones. Cameron obviously felt empowered to do so by the precedent set by President Obama, who had executed brown-skinned U.S. citizens in Yemen, also using lethal drones.

In such cases, the killers themselves invariably claim to mean to do well, but from the perspective of the victims and those left bereft, the professedly good intentions of the killers are utterly irrelevant. Drawing a distinction between the crimes of the Nazis and the crimes of the occupiers of Afghanistan and Iraq, or the thousands of acts of homicide committed in other countries of the Middle East and Africa, or the nonstop terror campaign throughout the first two decades of this century against all of the people living in any of those places, may make it easier for U.S. taxpayers to sleep better at night. They are nonetheless funding mass murder: the intentional, premeditated homicide of thousands of human beings, most of whom are entirely innocent of any wrongdoing. Bombs are specifically designed, developed and produced for the sole purpose of dropping on other people’s property. Unlike guns, bombs are intrinsically offensive weapons.

Joe Biden, in contrast to Barack Obama, is a white male. Presumably no one hates Biden for those features. Indeed, in the worldview of those who wish to distinguish “hate crimes” from other types of crime, Biden’s race and gender are supposed to be characteristics which make him the very antithesis of the members of a targeted, marginal group. He has the good fortune of being situated on the baseline against which all others are measured, to their detriment, according to those who insist that the United States remains deeply mired in racism and sexism. Rather than hating Joe Biden for being a white male (which among the “hate speech” crowd is supposed to be impossible), those who chant “Let’s Go Brandon!” may disdain the president for his policies, or deride him for his ineptitude. They may despise Joe “Our patience is wearing thin” Biden for attempting to strip people of their bodily autonomy by coercing them to undergo experimental injections which they do not even need as a condition on their continued or future gainful employment. I suppose that one way in which “Let’s Go Brandon!” could be construed as an instance of hate speech would be if it were an expression of hostility toward dementia victims. But of course the Democratic Party is quick to dismiss any suggestion to the effect that Biden falls into that marginalized group.

As crowds of people have found common cause in telling Joe Biden what they really think of him, there are many others who wish for this not to happen. They find what has been going on hateful or childish or stupid or whatever—just more typical behavior on the part of MAGA deplorables. What those who are exasperated by “Let’s Go Brandon!” fail to recognize is that “F*ck Joe Biden!” is itself code for “Impeach Joe Biden!” or “Joe Biden is wrong!” or “Biden is a failure!” or “Biden is a joke!” or whatever the emoter’s personal interpretation and grievances happen to be. That’s the beauty of language: it is infinitely interpretable. When people chant “F*ck Joe Biden!” none of them literally means “F*ck Joe Biden!” (After all, who would want to do that?)

Oh, was that hateful? The ultimate problem with censoring speech is that the meaning of each and every phrase lies not with the speaker, but with the reader. Censorship is a tool of tyranny, wielded by those incapable of convincing their rivals through the use of language that their interpretations are wrong. If the “Let’s Go Brandon!” crowd is mistaken about Joe Biden, then by all means show them the error in their ways. If the disagreements are too fundamentally anchored in values, then it may be impossible to change their view.

The solution to disagreements about values is not, however, to redefine lies as truth and offense as defense and war as peace and health as sickness and prudence as selfishness and assassination as targeted killing and torture as enhanced interrogation techniques and dissent as disinformation. The meanings we attach to language evolve over time, but unilaterally redefining words to suit one’s purposes is nothing more and nothing less than linguistic legerdemain. Proclaiming from a pedestal that 2 + 2 = 5 does not make it so. Preventing people from expressing their views through the use of language demonstrates not the righteousness of the censors, but the weakness of their arguments.

I Told Local Conservatives to Fight COVID Mandates with Radical Liberty Ep. 189

For this episode, I wanted to share the audio of the speech I gave to a group of local conservatives concerned about COVID19 tyranny and medical martial law. At the end of the episode, I share a few thoughts on libertarian strategy.

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How I Ignited Local Resistance to COVID Mandates Ep. 184

In this episode, I share with the listeners how I started a local resistance movement to COVID-19 mandates in my county. I hope you’ll try the same in yours.

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Show Notes:

Wisconsin Department of Health Services: Covid-19 Guidelines for K-12 Schools

Wisconsin DHS Releases New and Updated Resources for Schools to Keep Kids Safe

Wisconsin DHS Guidelines for the Prevention Investigation, and Control of COVID-19 Outbreaks in K-12 Schools in Wisconsin

Wisconsin DHS: COVID-19 County Data

Vaccine Tracker: Clark and Taylor counties at lowest vaccination rate in Wisconsin

PBS Wisconsin: Where is Wisconsin’s COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery Lagging–and Why?

Leader Telegram: Clark County Battling Vaccine Hesitancy

Wisconsin DHS: COVID County Data

Biden Pushes ‘Door-to-Door’ Campaign Targeting Unvaccinated People

Schools May Get Sued Over COVID-19. 7 Things to Know About Managing that Risk

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