Friday, November 05, 2004

Who doesn't want to be a liberal?

We live in a liberal democracy because human nature makes it impossible for us to reach anything but a broad consensus. Before we start throwing our freedoms in the trash, let's take time to ponder what we might lose if we surrender our liberal ideals.

If we don't watch people all the time, we won't know what they're getting up to. They could be plotting a terrorist attack. They could be printing counterfeit money. They could be having sex in illegal positions! We had better install cameras in every room of every home, just in case. Big Brother is watching!

Our liberal philosophy is what gives us the right to privacy. We accept responsibility to use our privacy wisely, and grant others the right to do the same. In certain locations (like airports), privacy may be curtailed due to the immediacy of the threat to public safety. Libraries are not such locations.

The United States has liberal gun ownership laws. Not conservative gun ownership laws, liberal ones. We allow people the freedom to have guns, and trust that they will use them responsibly. Yes, a gun owner might kill someone accidentally or on purpose, but we should not take rights away from people unless we can show that those rights would serve purely anti-social purposes. For example, assault weapons are designed to kill people in large numbers. The only reason to justify the availability of assault weapons is to enable the populace to resist tyranny. The government owns tanks and attack helicopters; should we allow individuals to own those, too? I don't think that the tyranny argument justifies private ownership of military class weapons.

You want to shoot a defenseless animal for sport. It's perfectly legal. Such courage, such guile. What a sense of power, what a thrill, what a man. Why don't you strangle your dog with your bare hands? That would be thrilling wouldn't it?

As you can tell, I don't think hunting for sport shows good character. If you hunt because you must, that's another thing entirely. Hey, I'm as happy as the next guy to eat burgers and chicken nuggets. I just don't think that the act of killing the weak and the innocent should be a source of pleasure. However, this is a liberal democracy, if you want to kill an animal for pleasure, you have the right to fire away! As long as hunters don't kill endangered species or turn their guns on people, I don't see an imperative to take away their rights.

When does human life (as we know it) begin? We all agree that a viable fetus is a human being with human rights. However, choosing the moment of conception as the start of life is ARBITRARY!! Where will this insanity lead? Is it better to treat women as chattel - mere breeding machines that we value less than an undeveloped fetus? Is it better to kill a sentient woman than to kill an embryo? Should we force women to salvage their unfertilized eggs during menstruation so we can fertilize the eggs and implant them in any available woman? Should all women of child-bearing age be pregnant to ensure that no potential human lives are lost?

This is a liberal democracy, and women have the right to privacy, the right to self-defense, and have responsibility for their own lives. What a woman does with a non-viable embryo is between her and her doctor. We already restrict abortion to non-viable fetuses (except when birth would cost the life of the mother), so there's no threat to society from the practice of abortion.

There's a whole bunch of people whose sexual advances I would rather not receive. Only a subset of these people are men!

In my opinion, those who want to deny human rights to gays and lesbians (the right to marry, the right to work, the right to healthcare, the right to exist, etc.) are simply bigots. How do I know? I used to irrationally fear gays, too. Twenty years ago, I used to rationalize all sorts of stupid reasons why gays were bad people, or at least, doing bad things. When I finally met some gay people and learned that they're no different than the rest of us, my rationalizations melted away.

Decades ago, non-whites were seen as less than human, and all sorts of rationalizations were given for infringement of their rights. In time, that too passed.

Hey, bigots have the right to be bigots, but they don't have the right to make homosexuals (or anyone else) second-class citizens. There's no public safety hazard posed by gays and lesbians.

I think organized religion is a form of mass delusion. For their part, superstitious people think my atheism is wicked. But as long as a man's delusion isn't a safety threat, let him be deluded. If you want to discriminate against me because I insist on seeing reality instead of fantasy, you had better be ready to be on the receiving end of the same discrimination. Once they've come after me, they'll come after you next. Yes, religion is yet another freedom guaranteed by liberal democracy.

Now, who doesn't want to be a liberal?


Nevin ":-)" said...


This is by far your best column ever.

It reminds me a lot of the final speech Michael Douglas makes in American President.

Or to paraphrase another Rob Reiner flick, The Princess Bride:

Conservative (to Mr. Left): "Liberal!"
Mr. Left: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

formerbackpacker said...

Good article.

I would add liberalism in economic policy. Liberalism in economics means imagining what it might be like to be born into any economic status. Those in the fraction of society in the lowest economic status require a certain amount of aid through social programs. These programs are paid for by taxing a bit more from the abundant wealth of the highest status people. Economic conservativism could more be summed up as "MY MONEY! GET OFF MY PROPERTY!" In the interest of bettering society, I'd go with liberalism any day.

Social conservativism: this is the philosophy that the ideal family model can be found in Leave It To Beaver, and any deviation from this family model should be shunned.

Doctor Logic said...


Thanks for the compliment! I love that scene from The American President.

My favorite line from the Princess Bride:
"Plato. Socrates. Morons!"


I was thinking of liberal in the sense of freedom, i.e., that liberals value personal freedoms. I now regard social safety nets as "progressive" rather than liberal (see my new post about this).

However, I think your description of liberalism in economic policy can be viewed as a natural consequence of freedom in a society where everything costs money. Those of lowest economic status deserve a certain measure of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.