Thursday, April 30, 2009

I fear this is fish/barrel territory

This is likely the first in a 1,738 part series on why I am not, and will never be, a Burkean conservative.

John Derbyshire has an lengthy post up on why secular right types should oppose gay marriage.

Regarding Derbyshire's third point about the slippery slope to polygamy, Dale Carpenter has responded persuasively to this claim elsewhere.

I find #4 just puzzling:

If you have a cognitively-challenged underclass, as every large nation has, you need some anchoring institutions for them to aspire to; and those institutions should have some continuity and stability. Heterosexual marriage is a key such institution. In a society in which nobody had an IQ below 120, homosexual marriage might be plausible. In the actual societies we have, other considerations kick in.

Some questions:

1)Why 120 as the magic number? Why not 110, or 105? Isn't it awfully paternalistic and central planner-ish to pick a number in this fashion?

2)Should gay marriage advocates place their hopes on the Flynn effect?

3)If a few I.Q. magnets continue to attract a disproportionate share of workers with I.Qs over 120, is Derbyshire okay with having gay marriages there? That is, if gay marriage is legal in Arlington or Silicon Valley, will the cognitive underclasses in, say, Arkansas still be safe from its pernicious effects? Can we legalize gay marriage in Dupont but leave Anacostia alone?

Onto #5:

Human nature exists, and has fixed characteristics. We are not infinitely malleable. Human society and human institutions need to ”fit” human nature, or at least not go too brazenly against the grain of it. Homophobia seems to be a rooted condition in us. It has been present always and everywhere, if only minimally (and unfairly — there has always been a double standard here) in disdain for “the man who plays the part of a woman.” There has never, anywhere, at any level of civilization, been a society that approved egalitarian (i.e. same age, same status) homosexual bonding. This tells us something about human nature — something it might be wisest (and would certainly be conservative-est) to leave alone.

Yes, human nature's infinitely malleable, but it's not infinitely non-malleable; I believe Derbyshire himself is on record elsewhere saying that evolution is still occurring. Yes, history tells us something, to use Derbyshire's terminology, about the desirability of gay marriage. But we don't quite know what. Maybe those centuries of tradition give us the right answer, but maybe they don't. It's just lazy to use tradition as an excuse not to engage our reason and our moral sympathies to come up with the best answers to these question that we can. This is why I cannot, and will never be, a true Burkean.

This points to one of my other sources of frustration with Burkean traditionalist types: as I understand them, they counsel that change should always come through slow, gradual social movements. If gay marriage is good, some kind of vast social movement will organically rise up in support of it; if it's not, than none will. They ignore the fact that social movements are not hurricanes or earthquakes; rather, social movements are comprised of individual human beings making individual decisions about whether to join a movement. The anti-slavery movement succeeded because thousands of humans thought about this institution and decided something was wrong with it. Harriet Beecher Stowe decided to write Uncle Tom's Cabin, instead of churning butter, flipping through the Godey Lady's Book, or doing whatever else it was people did for fun in the 1850s. So, too, the gay marriage movement will succeed or not because lots of individual humans decided that fighting for it was more or less worthwhile than playing X-box. I fear Burkeanism doesn't tell us much about whether it's worth it to put aside those fun activities in pursuit of revolutionary goals.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The problem of libertarianism and women

Though Peter Thiel's libertarian bildungsroman is interesting on its own terms, it's mostly attracted attention for a questionable remark about women. I confess I followed a neutral link from Tyler Cowen's Marginal Revolution that didn't mention the gender issue, and I didn't even notice the offending line until I came across Will Wilkinson post on the topic later today.

Jason Kuznicki's response up at the Cato blog -- in which he points out that Thiel meant to note only that women have traditionally supported non-libertarian policies, not that women are inherently incapable of making good decisions in the voting booth -- resolves the issue. And, like Thiel, I'm not entirely comfortable with democratic capitalism either. One of the central insight of public choice theory is that both men and women often have every incentive to behave irrationally in the voting booth. I tend to think that these problems can nonetheless be solved by powerful constraints on government power, such as a liberal constitution enforced by an appropriately active court system. I recognize I'm alienating plenty of my conservative brethren by saying so, which highlights just how difficult it is to design a system that does this well. Thus all the obnoxiously tentative language in this paragraph.

Finally, as a libertarian advocate, I don't know how to solve the problem of libertarianism and women. Heaven knows, I get asked this question frequently enough at both seminar-style discussions and cocktail parties. I am in some sense the wrong person to ask: Iibertarian ideas don't repulse me and never have, so how would I know why they repulse other women? Furthermore, I find most of the usual hypotheses to explain why more women aren't libertarian deeply off-putting. That is, I don't want to believe that women aren't libertarian because libertarianism is intellectual and rational and women are less rational than men, or some much. I have a vested personal interest in not believing that I became a token libertarian only because some profoundly unfeminine Vulcan streak mars my soul. Maybe that makes me and other women like me less effective at reaching out to the sisterhood than we could be, though, which is unfortunate. Suggestions on how it can be tackled are welcome.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Really good forum at Crooked Timber

on Steven Teles's book The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement.

Here is the introduction. Jack Balkin, Tyler Cowen, and Rick Perlstein all have posted submissions. More luminaries are also supposed to contribute by the end of the week. I'm not sure if I agree with all of the contributors, but there's lots of good analysis and writing going on there -- highly recommended.