Category Archives: Politics (theory, History, Now)

#GoFundSki

On behalf of my sister, I am sharing this publicly—and sending our appreciation to those who have continued to show their love and support. This is a GoFundMe for my sister. #GoFundSki to donate!

***

This is the kind of appeal that the family of Elizabeth Sciabarra (Ms. Ski to her students) never wanted to post. But we are facing some very difficult realities. My sister became seriously ill and nearly died in November 2020, which was followed by extensive spinal surgery in mid-March 2021. We nearly lost her again in mid-October 2021. Since that time, she has been receiving in-home hospice. As her devoted brother, I have been her primary caregiver—despite dealing with my own lifelong medical issues. As my own health has been compromised over these many months, we have been compelled to turn to health aides to assist with my sister’s in-home care.

My sister brings in a pension from her many years of service as an educator in the New York City public school system. She also brings in a Social Security retirement check. Given the state of American healthcare, she is in the unenviable position of being in that great “middle” ground where so many others find themselves—not “wealthy” enough to cover all her medical expenses; too “wealthy” to qualify for Medicaid. As a woman who has worked for over fifty years, and paid millions of dollars in taxes to local, state, and federal governments, she qualifies for a single Medicare home health aide, 4 hours a day, 5 days a week, though she needs 24/7 care.

Having maxed-out some assistance from the Council of Supervisors and Administrators for both the 2021 and 2022 calendar years, she is spending, on average, approximately $15,000 a month on aides and other non-insured medical supplies—more than she earns with her pension and Social Security combined. She has sold her car, exhausted her savings, and cashed-in retirement accounts—paying taxes on that too. Complete financial collapse can be avoided if my sister is placed in a Medicare-insured inpatient hospice, which would constitute a dramatic change to her quality of life. She wanted to remain at home, but without the financial capacity to do so, she will be compelled to make a decision that will break all our hearts. And hers most of all. Out of personal embarrassment and a sense of pride, she never wanted to make an appeal such as this. But after being in-and-out of hospitals and medical facilities for 17 months, even she realizes that this situation is financially unsustainable, threatening her ability to pay for even the basic necessities of life … food, clothing, and shelter.

We appreciate anything anyone can offer; we have no hope of paying anyone back. We only hope that a woman who, as an educator, devoted her life to helping thousands upon thousands of children and young adults, can raise enough funds that would allow her a level of dignity moving forward—despite the serious health challenges she continues to face every hour of every day.

Sincerely,
Chris Matthew Sciabarra (on behalf of my sister)

My dear sister, Elizabeth Sciabarra

Also see Facebook post here.

Coronavirus (37): An Indexical Reflection

This is the thirty-seventh and final installment to my Coronavirus series, which began two years ago on this date. This installment serves as an index to the entire series.

I use the word “indexical” not only to suggest the index herein, but as a reflection of the word’s actual meaning: a linguistic expression whose reference can shift from context to context. That is what this series has done over time; as the context has continued to evolve, not a single installment has ever been written in stone, and all of them should be subject to evaluation based on the contexts in which they were first composed. What could be more dialectical than that?

As a kind of personal “journal,” this series has been as much a therapeutic exercise in dealing with an unfathomable number of deaths in my beloved city of New York as it was an attempt to come to grips with the many issues raised by COVID-19 and the policies adopted in response to it. Ultimately, it asked more questions than it answered.

As dates go, this one has an additional degree of irony. Fifty years ago today, “The Godfather” premiered at the Loew’s State Theatre in New York City to much fanfare. The film, and its later re-edited incarnation (with its two sequels) as a chronological epic, remains one of my all-time favorites. Not for its famous tropes or its classic quotes, but for its illustration, in painstaking detail, of how the inversion of values destroys the human soul. The characters therein ostensibly try to preserve that which they value through nefarious means that lead to the loss of those values—and of life itself.

While that 1972 film drives home this point in the context of warfare among mob ‘families’, their legions of hitmen pale in comparison to the warfare perpetuated by states across the world, which have perfected the art of mass murder in a way that would make even the most ruthless of Mafia Dons blush.

In war, even in those wars fought against horrific forces of oppression, there are always consequences, both intended and unintended, that forever become a part of the political landscape. For example, the defeat of the Axis powers in World War II left in its wake the consolidation of a U.S. military-industrial complex and a national security state and ongoing policies of “perpetual war for perpetual peace”—whether it was called the Cold War, the War on Terror, or the War on Drugs. But states and their ruling classes, ever responsible for wars, have also exploited disasters—natural or man-made—to expand their powers, suppress civil liberties, and destroy the fabric of social and economic life.

That is why libertarians have been gallant opponents of state expansion, knowing full well that state actors rarely act in good faith and that governmental overreach especially during emergencies is not easily rolled back. Such emergencies have been exploited throughout history in ways that tap into people’s anxieties and fears while augmenting their obedience to a class of politically connected “experts.”

I am a libertarian—a dialectical one at that. Which means that while I retain my libertarian distrust of political and economic elites, I fully understand that we live under a certain set of institutional constraints and that the real conditions that exist give human beings highly limited and imperfect tools to deal with emergencies as they arise.

I am also a native New Yorker. I have experienced much heartache in this city, from 9/11 to Superstorm Sandy. And I have witnessed, with my own eyes, the deaths of countless fellow New Yorkers at the height of the COVID pandemic. I was utterly aghast when many of my libertarian friends were branding the pandemic an “exaggeration” or worse, a “hoax”. There has always been room to debate the effectiveness of this or that policy in response to COVID. But the epidemic of denialism that swept across libertarian circles—while neighbors to the right of me and neighbors to the left of me were literally dropping dead—only compounded my sadness. Denialism is not a strategy. It is an admission of defeat—that one has no proposals to deal with an externality, whatever its scope or fatality rate.

***

I was recently asked a very interesting and relevant question by my friend, Alexander Wade Craig: “What context have we lost in the changes COVID brought to our social lives that you think we are 1) better off for having lost, and 2) worse off for having lost?”

I acknowledged that this was a very difficult question to answer. Even though I’ve written 36 previous installments covering the pandemic and its implications, it is going to take many years to truly understand COVID-19 and the response to it—and the costs that each brought to both life and liberty. Still, this event helped to illuminate notions that we are better off for having lost, as well as notions that we are worse off for having lost—and these notions are essentially two sides of the same coin:

1) The spread of COVID-19 made it clearer than ever that the world is a global community, interconnected in ways that cannot be altered by artificially created borders. Given the ebb and flow of peoples across artificial boundaries imposed by nation-states, we learned swiftly that a virus, like the people it infects, knows no borders. What first shows up in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, in China, spreads to the Korean peninsula, Australia, Canada, France, Italy, the United States, Russia, Africa, and throughout the world. This is not a call to close borders; it is simply an acknowledgment of the unavoidable interconnections between peoples across the Earth. So, we’re better off for having lost the idea that somehow people can be isolated from one another—a rather sobering lesson, considering that the response to an infectious disease has typically been lockdowns, quarantines, and other policies of separation.

2) So, the other side of that coin introduces us to a whole litany of ‘separateness’: distancing, mask-wearing, quarantining, and so forth. Hence, just as a global pandemic illustrates that people cannot be hermetically sealed from one another (a good thing), it simultaneously leads to efforts to do precisely that: hermetically seal ourselves off from others. The effect of isolation (whether it was chosen or coercively imposed) has been increased social alienation, a rise in mental health problems, substance abuse, and overdose deaths. People of all ages, from the very young to the very old, were deleteriously affected by this isolation. I suspect that these effects will lessen over time, as the COVID ‘crisis phase’ dissipates, but we are still worse off for having lost that social connectedness for such a long period of time, no matter how necessary it may have been for various people in various contexts.

Nathaniel Branden once wrote: “We stand within an endless network of relationships. Separation and connectedness are polarities, with each entailing the other.” It’s very sad that so many people have learned the truth of this principle in such a tragic way.

Here is a chronological index to all the installments in my Coronavirus series; unless there is some huge issue that needs to be addressed in some dramatically different way, I suspect that this installment, like the last one I wrote on 9/11 (for the twentieth anniversary of that day), will be the final installment in this series. And it’s fully in keeping with my friend Tom Knapp‘s “Prime Number Obsession”—that “all sets should consist of a prime number of items.” 37 is a Prime Number! (Tom also reminds me that it’s Pi Day too!)

Coronavirus (1): School Closures (March 14, 2020)

Coronavirus (2): Disease and Dictatorship (March 18, 2020)

Coronavirus (3): Love, Pets, and Booze to the Rescue! (March 22, 2020)

Coronavirus (4): In New York State … and Beyond (March 23, 2020)

Coronavirus (5): C’mon Ol’ Folks – Do Your Part for the Sake of the Country and Die! (March 25, 2020)

Coronavirus (6): Corona-Comedy – A Little Gallows Humor To Get Us Through (March 27, 2020)

Coronavirus (7): Corona-Chaos – A Pandemic from the Political to the Personal (March 28, 2020)

Coronavirus (8): A Message from Italy (March 29, 2020)

Coronavirus (9): A Message from New York City (March 29, 2020)

Coronavirus (10): “Standing Man” as Metaphor … or Blessed are the Healers! (March 30, 2020)

Coronavirus (11): “Opening Day” and Pitching In … (March 31, 2020)

Coronavirus (12): The Trials and Tribulations of Grocery Shopping … and Living in New York City (April 3, 2020)

Coronavirus (13): New York State of Mind (April 6, 2020)

Coronavirus (14): Numbers and Narratives (April 8, 2020)

Coronavirus (15): What’s in a Number? (April 13, 2020)

Coronavirus (16): Pearls Before Swine – Comic Gems In These Times (April 16, 2020)

Coronavirus (17): Ilana Mercer on Covidiots! (April 17, 2020)

Coronavirus (18): Gallows Comics (April 23, 2020)

Coronavirus (19): Reality Check (April 23, 2020)

Coronavirus (20): A Light-Hearted Moment in the Post Office (April 25, 2020)

Coronavirus (21): Lockdowns, Libertarians, and Liberation (May 5, 2020)

Coronavirus (22): Spring Cleaning (Or Three Cheers for Sanitation Workers!) (May 8, 2020)

Coronavirus (23): Mutual Aid During a Pandemic (or Three Cheers for the Volunteers!) (May 11, 2020)

Coronavirus (24): Three Cheers for the Ol’ Folks (May 12, 2020)

Coronavirus (25): Joseph “Joe Pisa” Sanfratello, RIP (May 15, 2020)

Coronavirus (26): Gallows Humor In These Times (May 28, 2020)

Coronavirus (27): Majority Rules NY (June 25, 2020)

Coronavirus (28): Sweden is Not New York (July 16, 2020)

Coronavirus (29): Medical Procedures in the Age of COVID … And I’m Still Alive! (October 6, 2020)

Coronavirus (30): “Cuomogate” and Systemic Crisis (February 19, 2021)

Coronavirus (31): Dose #1 for a “Fake” Virus (March 18, 2021)

Coronavirus (32): Junior’s Cheesecake (or Bring On Dose #2!) (March 27, 2021)

Coronavirus (33): Dose #2 and Done—Or Not! (April 15, 2021)

Coronavirus (34): “Virtue Signaling” vs. Doing the Right Thing (August 21, 2021)

Coronavirus (35): The ABCs – Authority, Boosters, and Caregiving (November 10, 2021)

Coronavirus (36): Denialism = Death (January 5, 2022)

Coronavirus (37): An Indexical Reflection (March 14, 2022)

I will end this series with one final dose of gallows humor, something that has marked many of the installments I posted over the past two years. And let’s face it, we have needed some laughter to get us through [YouTube link].

In one of my favorite comic strips, “Pearls Before Swine” by Stephan Pastis, “The Game of COVID Life” reminds us of how crazy our lives have been upended since the beginnings of this pandemic. Here’s hoping that the Finish Line is not one of closeted isolation, but a new commitment to social life, human freedom, and personal flourishing.

Memories of Dad

As ballroom dancers, Mom and Dad met on the dance floor. Nobody could cut a rug doing a swift Peabody or a Lindy-Hop better! Dad always said if he had to die, he wanted to go out dancing.

And that is exactly what he was doing when he died on this date, fifty years ago.

On March 4, 1972, my father, Salvatore Charles Sciabarra (“Sal” to his family and friends), died of a massive coronary at the age of 55. He would have turned 56 on June 11, 1972. At the time, I was 12 years old, suffering from serious life-threatening medical problems, and the news of his passing shattered me. It was my first experience with death as a fact of life. It was so very hard. But the cherished memories I have of him are still very much alive.

Mom was born in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1919; Dad was born in Manhattan in 1916. As young children, they both moved to Brooklyn, New York and met as teenagers because of their mutual love of dancing. In 1935, she was 16 and he was 19. They had attended a wedding together and Mom missed curfew and didn’t want to go home to the wrath of her father, my Papouli, the first pastor of the Three Hierarchs Church. They decided to elope. Times were very different back then; intermarriage between faiths and ethnicities was frowned upon. Mom was an American-born Greek Orthodox woman whose parents had emigrated from Olympia, Greece. Dad was an American-born Roman Catholic man whose parents had emigrated from Porto Empedocle, not far from Sciacca (hence the last name), in the province of Agrigento, Sicily. Or as I put it, tongue-in-cheek: My maternal grandparents came from the home of the gods and goddesses and my paternal grandparents came from the home of the godfathers; clearly, this Brooklyn-born boy came from tough stock!

My parents were not gods, goddesses, or ‘godparents’. But they were very human renegades for their time. And, in many ways, they raised three renegade children, each of whom danced to their own music. My brother Carl—exposed to my father’s mandolin, guitar, and drum-playing, would go on to become a virtuoso jazz guitarist. My sister Elizabeth—exposed to my mother’s love of education (Mom was the first in her family to graduate from high school, James Madison High School in Brooklyn)—would go on to become a lifelong educator. And both my parents encouraged me to follow my own dreams; I would not have become what I am today without them.

Mom and Dad separated when I was 5 years old. Though my sister and I lived with my Mom, my Dad remained a very strong presence in my life. In fact, in the wake of that separation, his presence in my life only grew. There were difficult times for sure, but these were far outweighed by fun times. Trips to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, its hills like huge mountains to me, its zoo full of wonder, nourished my love of nature. Coney Island, Manhattan Beach, car rides, music, and movies delighted me.

One of those movies was “The Love Bug,” whose action centered around Herbie, a Volkswagen Beetle. Dad had proposed taking my sister and me to see the film, which was playing at the Cinema Theatre on East Kings Highway (previously known as the Jewel Theatre). Mom was flustered by both the title and the theater. “You’re taking them to see a film called ‘The Love Bug’ at the Cinema!”—knowing all too well that the theater was an infamous headquarters for first-run racy porn flicks. Dad explained that it was a Disney film.

Like Mom, who worked in the garment industry for most of her life, Dad too was a factory worker. Initially, he was an eye-setter in a doll factory. We still have some of those dolls, with their life-like eyes, which my Dad brought home for my sister Elizabeth. Eventually, he would become a cargo worker for Trans World Airlines at JFK International Airport. I still have plenty of TWA memorabilia, including TWA soaps and TWA Flying Magic Boards, given to kids of all ages on flights (see the collage below). Today, you’re lucky if you can get complementary snacks! I hadn’t flown on a plane in my Dad’s lifetime, but I got to see planes up close at the airport as a kid. It fueled my awe of the heavens and sparked my lifelong fascination with the human journey into air and space.

Despite losing my Dad in 1972, I continued to be nourished by a very loving and supportive family throughout my entire life. And it was to these family members that I dedicated each of my books. I told Mom that I would dedicate my first book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, to her. Alas, she died in April 1995, before that book was published. I told my Uncle Sam—my Dad’s first cousin, who married my mother’s sister (my Aunt Georgia) and who was like a second father to me—that I would dedicate my second book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, to him. But he died in 1994. It got so that I was very concerned about who would have been “sentenced” to death-by-dedication, for my third book, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. So I opted for strength in numbers, a group dedication—to my brother, sister, sister-in-law, friend Matthew, and dog Blondie, and all, except for Blondie, are still kicking till this day!

I never had a chance to honor my father. I was his “Chrissy Bear”; he was my Daddy. This post acknowledges his joyous impact on my life.

That’s me with Mom and Dad in September 1969, along with that TWA memorabilia …








C4SS: Enough with The Isms!

I enjoyed an Alex Aragona article published on the site of Center for a Stateless Society: “No One is Talking About Capitalism — In Your Sense“. Alex points to many of the problems that I, myself, have noted with using the word “capitalism” in so many different ways that it has become virtually impossible to have any meaningful conversation about it without people talking over each other’s heads. Like so many other writers—including Kevin Carson whose critique of historically real, existing “capitalism” I highly recommend—I have railed against use of that word for seventeen years now, from 2005’s “Capitalism: The Known Reality” to 2021 Notablog posts, “Thinking Outside the Box: You Have Nothing to Lose but Your Chains“, “Thinking Outside the Box (II): The World You Desired Can Be Won“, and “Thinking Outside the Box (III): H/T Roderick Tracy Long!“.

What should be said, however, is that if one takes the lead sentence in Alex Aragona’s essay, and simply substitutes the word “socialism” for “capitalism”, it would be no less true: “If one’s goal is to have productive exchanges when the word socialism is thrown into play, they must stop doing two things: naively assuming people are more or less on the same page when the term is used; and suggesting that one or another meaning of the word is completely wrong.”

In a culture where “socialism” can mean everything from mutualism to tankie political economy, I fear we are all being flushed down a linguistic hole with all these ‘isms’ (“capitalism” at the top of this list, as Alex rightly notes in this essay). It’s become impossible to discuss any of these terms and their meanings in a world where they mean so many things to so many people, regardless of their historical lineage (for better or for worse).

The only ‘ism’ I subscribe to is dialectical libertarianism, not because it is so flexible as to have no meaning, but because it seeks to transcend the old ‘isms’ in favor of a vibrant, evolving project of human freedom and personal flourishing. It is not based on the unknown “ideal” Weberian types of “capitalism” and “socialism”. It gives new meaning to the what the New Left once called prefigurative politics: a project that seeks to build a new society out of the shell of the old—an adage that my friend Ryan Neugebauer always drives home.

No society can be built as if from an Archimedean standpoint; it is built from within, not from without. It can emerge only from the real conditions that exist, whether this means milking the inner contradictions of the current system or creating parallel institutions that supplant the status quo. Or both.

It’s time to get real about what it means to be radical.

Paul Cantor, RIP

I was shocked to learn today (H/T to FB friend Shal Marriott) of the death (on February 26, 2022) of Paul Cantor, the American literary critic who was the Clifton Waller Barrett Professor in the English Department at the University of Virginia. Paul was 76.

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1945, he would go on to write extensively on a wide range of topics, from Shakespeare and English Romanticism to pop culture. I was introduced to his work through our mutual friend Stephen Cox, with whom he edited a fine 2010 anthology, Literature and the Economics of Liberty: Spontaneous Order in Culture.

I contacted Paul for the first time in December 2021 to invite him to submit a review essay to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, an invitation which he enthusiastically accepted. I found him to be an amicable and hilarious guy. He admitted to being a “frustrated stand-up comedian,” who was looking into “booking a lounge in Vegas.” His sense of humor was clearly fueled by his Brooklyn roots. As a native of the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn, he would have had plenty of material to work with. He attended P.S. 208, Meyer Levin Junior High School, and Samuel J. Tilden High School, where he became co-captain of the Math Team before going on to earn an A.B. and Ph.D. at Harvard University in English literature.

He took long subway rides to see Ayn Rand lecture at Hunter College in the 1950s. He said that it “was very exciting to see Rand speak. She had a real flare for the dramatic.” He also attended the NYC seminars of Ludwig von Mises.

In his work on pop culture, Paul had examined TV series as varied as “Gilligan’s Island” and “The X-Files.” He told me that he was already working on essays dealing with “Shark Tank”, “Pawn Stars”, and “The Profit”. I would have been honored to have had his work appear in JARS.

My very deepest condolences to his family and friends.

Paul Cantor (1945-2022)

Classic Insult Humor

After a recent discussion on Notablog that examined cancel culture and comedy, I was watching the film “Touch of Evil” (1958), starring Orson Welles, and I got a kick out of the fact that Welles—who also directed and wrote the screenplay for the film—incorporated a jab at his own weight gain, by way of dialogue with Marlene Dietrich:

Hank Quinlan (Welles): “I’m Hank Quinlan.”

Tanya (Dietrich): “I didn’t recognize you. You should lay off those candy bars.”

Check out this exchange here [YouTube link].

Twenty years later, in 1978, “The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast: Frank Sinatra“, “Mr. Warmth” himself, Don Rickles, took it one step further [YouTube link].

Looking at Welles on the dais, Rickles says:

“And Orson Welles, thirty years ago you were handsome and now we’re gonna put Goodyear on your face and fly you over the beach for a half hour.”

Welles laughed out loud … but Welles clearly had had the first laugh, and the last laugh. For Welles, as for another star in another film: “It was my joke, you see? They were laughing with me, not at me.”

At a time when laughs are hard to come by, this gave me a much-needed chuckle today.

Ukraine & Moral Outrage

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I have read quite a few articles by libertarians and fellow travelers who are understandably concerned about US intervention overseas. An article at antiwar.com highlights US hypocrisy in its stance toward the Putin regime, while other writers express the hope that President Biden will show the same restraint that JFK showed during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I am fully on board with those who point to the hypocrisy of the US government when it comes to the actions of other governments across the world.

But something more needs to be said.

In the wake of 9/11, as a New Yorker and a libertarian, I felt like a man without a home: I understood fully that US foreign policy had created a boomerang effect, which led to the deaths of 3000 people in this country. Among those were family, friends, colleagues, neighbors. (Ironically, the first attack on the World Trade Center took place 29 years ago on this date.) I was utterly horrified that some libertarian friends of mine could not understand my outrage at Al Qaeda and Bin Laden, whom I held responsible for that attack. I wanted justice, but I didn’t have a blood lust against an entire group of people—like, say, the Randians, who wanted to atomize the entire Islamic Middle East. I was against the Iraq War and the PATRIOT Act, advocated the withdrawal of the US presence in the Middle East, an end to US foreign aid and the US propping-up of regimes in that region, while simultaneously seeking justice for those who lost their lives on that horrific day.

It’s always important to keep context, but if you can’t see that the United States government is not the only entity on the planet with a record of human rights abuses and horrific policies abroad, then, well, you’re blind to the global context in which we live. This doesn’t imply anything about what the United States should or should not do with regard to Russia and Ukraine. But it does mean that those of us who are concerned about human rights should speak up—whoever violates those rights across the world. And my heart breaks for those in both Russia and Ukraine whose rights and lives are being trampeled as other global actors (Putin and company) act like the thugs they are. (And my heart breaks as well for all my Russian American and Ukranian American neighbors, who are deeply concerned over the current state of affairs; indeed, the New York metropolitan area has the greatest concentration of Ukranian Americans and Russian Americans in the United States.)

Indeed, in Russia, Putin continues to clamp down on dissent, with further restrictions placed on social media—something that I was warned about by Russian colleagues days ago—further proof, regardless of country, that intervention without leads necessarily to an erosion of human freedoms within.

Is there a wider context with regard to those actions by Russia, which reflect a history of bungled US and Western diplomacy? Of course. But that context does not change the moral outrage that so many of us rightly express, with regard to the actions of Russia in Ukraine.

Postscript (28 February 2022): Folks should take a look at Thomas Knapp’s take on this crisis as well. He is absolutely correct in expressing his sympathy for the noncombatants who get caught in the crossfire of this dispute between nation-states. Check out: “Don’t Look to Politicians for Peace.”

Postscript (7 March 2022): Also check out Doug Bandow’s discussion of “Whataboutism and Russia’s Attack on Ukraine” on antiwar.com.

DWR (5): On Cancel Culture, Comedy, and Compassion

The other day, in the New York Daily News, one of my favorite comic strips, “Pearls Before Swine”, by Stephan Pastis, featured this commentary on our age:

“The Judgment Age”… or maybe, the “Snap-Judgment Age”… either way, Pastis is just touching upon a very touchy subject.

In my ongoing Facebook engagement with my very dear friend Ryan Neugebauer, the discussion turned to these touchy subjects—to issues of social justice, cancel culture, the limits of comedy, and the effects of the 2020 riots in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

As Notablog readers know, I’ve addressed many of these issues before in my own Notablog posts. See, for example, my discussion of the Floyd murder—and it’s aftermath (“America: On Wounded Knee”), my examination of the attack on statues and monuments (“On Statues, Sledgehammers, and Scalpels”), and my exploration of the commonality between Rand’s view of racism and Critical Race Theory (“Ravitch, Rand, and CRT: The Ominous Parallels?”).

A professional psychotherapist, Ryan comes from a dialectical left-libertarian perspective. In a very personal, wide-ranging Facebook post, Ryan grappled with many of the issues mentioned above. That post is not public, but is worthy of a larger audience, in my view, for the thoughtful compassion it exhibits and advocates. Here’s what Ryan had to say:

***

This should be prefaced by the fact that all of my positions are constantly evolving, so what I am going to write is not the final word on anything (nor should it be). I welcome all helpful, critical feedback.

Where to start? It’s difficult because there’s so much in all of this and so many people feel very strongly about where they stand on these issues. So, I think it might be helpful to start elementary by discussing a foundation for handling any issue, social justice or not.

My foundation is a “Dialectical Left-Libertarian” one. The dialectical part is based in Chris Matthew Sciabarra‘s “dialectical libertarianism”, where he conceptualizes dialectics as “the art of context keeping”. In a 2005 article of his for the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), he states: “If one’s aim is to resolve a specific social problem, one must look to the larger context within which that problem is manifested, and without which it would not exist.” Kevin Carson, in further describing Sciabarra’s approach, states that: “Individual parts receive their character from the whole of which they are a part, and from their function within that whole.”

Despite my differences with him—I’m not as much of a free-market propertarian and not big on the “nonaggression” principle—I love Gary Chartier‘s description of the “Left-Libertarian” here. Wikipedia describes it as “a political philosophy and type of libertarianism that stresses both individual freedom and social equality.” That Wikipedia article mentions Anthony Gregory and says that: “Gregory describes left-libertarianism as maintaining interest in personal freedom, having sympathy for egalitarianism and opposing social hierarchy, preferring a liberal lifestyle, opposing big business and having a New Left opposition to imperialism and war.” Ultimately, the Left-Libertarian framework has a concern with social authoritarianism, whether from government or culture or both, and a concern with economic injustice and dependence on wage labor relations. The core concern is with individual freedom & flourishing.

Now that I have sketched out that foundation, I would like to talk about an important communication concern. Whenever you are discussing issues with someone who disagrees or who holds a very different framework than you do, you have to “know your audience”. You have to get in touch with their concerns and learn how to frame your responses in a way that speaks to those concerns. You don’t want to be dismissive and you don’t want to get them wrong. Otherwise, you will probably do a lot of talking past each other or find yourself in tense and hostile space. Therefore, if you are a Leftist talking to a typical American Conservative, you have to address their concerns with societal stability, government overreach, and family values. If you are a Conservative talking with a typical present-day Leftist, you have to address their concerns with social equality, economic justice, and environmental protection. If you are instead interested in beating these people over the head with how right you are and how trivial their concerns are, you will have ended any hope for reaching them.

Let’s get started on “social justice” (I have to make headway at some point!). The John Lewis Institute for Social Justice describes it as follows:

“Social justice is a communal effort dedicated to creating and sustaining a fair and equal society in which each person and all groups are valued and affirmed. It encompasses efforts to end systemic violence and racism and all systems that devalue the dignity and humanity of any person. It recognizes that the legacy of past injustices remains all around us, so therefore promotes efforts to empower individual and communal action in support of restorative justice and the full implementation of human and civil rights”.

I feel like that’s a difficult thing to oppose for most people. You may see differences on the specifics, but at least the spirit of it is hard to oppose for most. Personally, I am absolutely committed to this conception of social justice.

In contrast, there are people called “social justice warriors” (SJWs) or “woke” individuals, more often used in a pejorative sense these days (though some own one or both of these terms in a positive sense). A Wikipedia entry on the matter describes social justice warrior as “a pejorative term and internet meme used for an individual who promotes socially progressive, left-wing and liberal views, including feminism, civil rights, gay and transgender rights, identity politics, political correctness and multiculturalism”. That’s a mouthful and not very helpful. On that description alone, I would count for a significant chunk of it (I take issue with the varying ways “identity politics” and “political correctness” get used though). In regard to “woke”, one article states: “The dictionary defines it as ‘originally: well-informed, up-to-date. Now chiefly: alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice’.” That article goes on to say: “It has become a common term of derision among some who oppose the movements it is associated with, or believe the issues are exaggerated. It is sometimes used to mock or infantilise supporters of those movements”. This gets at the key point of all of this: application.

Two people could both advocate strongly for social justice but take very different approaches to it. When people are derided as “SJWs” or “woke”, it is sometimes used to indicate the degree of aggressiveness or rigidity surrounding their advocacy for social justice. And to be fair, there is no shortage of examples of people who advocate for social justice in the lousiest of ways. You have people (taken from my own personal interactions) who say ridiculous things like “science is white male supremacy” or “the only legitimate pronouns are they/them” or “all Trump supporters are fascists”, etc. They often make very extreme or harsh claims that don’t stand up to the slightest of scrutiny. When they get pushback, they often get even more aggressive and dogmatic. Much like very dogmatic religious individuals. I will say without hesitation that I don’t defend these approaches and find them counterproductive to social justice efforts. Putting aside their inaccuracies or foolishness, they push people away from seriously important causes. Therefore, a Dialectical Left-Libertarian approach would want to find ways to communicate effectively with others and ensure that any actions are not harming the push towards greater freedom and flourishing for all.

And here we get to “cancel culture”. First, we must point out that “cancel culture” to the degree that it exists, happens on both the right-wing and left-wing. McCarthyism was institutional cancel culture from the Right in a very extreme way that present-day cancel culture accusations can’t put a candle to, especially with the “wild west” of the World Wide Web at our fingertips. Just watch the movie “Trumbo” (2015) to see how bad it got in one area: cinema. That said, it is more often discussed in association with the Progressive Left these days, so we will focus on its widespread association today. Dictionary.com describes it as “the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming”. It has more broadly been associated with shouting down speakers, physically shutting down events, getting speakers cancelled from universities, and preventing certain media or materials from being consumed. This topic overlaps with the topic of “comedy” mentioned above.

From a Dialectical Left-Libertarian perspective, one should be concerned with how the things associated with “cancel culture” aid or curtail the project of increasing freedom & flourishing for all. Some actions are perfectly legitimate, such as boycotting when harmful actions are done. That signals that we want the boycotted to do better and potentially to do restitution before we are to support them in any sense again (if at all). However, shutting down speakers and banning books I am much less comfortable with. This more often than not leads to negative pushback and people seeking out or defending the shutdown or banned entities more. In my opinion, this happened with the awful Milo Yiannopoulos. The aggressive demonstrations against him drew more attention than his talks could on their own. It was the highlighting of his comments on adult sexual relationships with 13-year-olds that led to everyone distancing from him and him losing his limelight. You rarely hear from him today (please let’s keep it that way!). Nonetheless, most people I have spoken with across the political spectrum have been uncomfortable with a lot of these previously mentioned “cancel culture” tactics. They may support the underlying causes and some specific implementations of the various tactics, but they don’t like the normalization of the tactics against everything perceived as wrong or offensive. Maybe there are times when stopping someone’s speech is necessary, especially without question when it treads into dangerous territory of inciting violence. However, it’s hardly clear that it should be something we are comfortable with normalizing.

When it comes to comedy, I can’t help but think about this George Carlin interview [YouTube link]. He talks about the importance of comedy targeting people in power and those that abuse others. He appears to have a concern with those who target the marginalized in society, even if he wouldn’t want to ban any comic’s ability to make such jokes. However, there is an ethical question regarding when comedy can “go too far”. On this question, I mentioned in a recent Facebook livestream that I laughed very hard at Lisa Lampanelli’s comedy routines [YouTube link]. They were very offensive without question. And her packed, very diverse audiences were always laughing very hard.

However, in the chat section of the livestream, I responded to a dear friend by saying: “On the one hand, few of us can deny that we find her comedy hilarious. People of all backgrounds in her very diverse audiences were on the floor. On the other hand, there does seem to be a limit of ‘going too far’, but that’s going to vary with each person and their values. So, what’s the way forward? A messy, difficult one that probably has no absolute standards.”

So, in short, I don’t know what the reasonable limits of comedy are. I imagine the answer isn’t “everything is permitted” or “nothing offensive can be permitted”. If that’s the case, and we can’t fall back on simple standards of condoning everything or condemning anything offensive, then we have to make the tough calls, risk being inconsistent or wrong, or, in dialectical fashion, look at the context and see that something may not be right under one context rather than another. But I won’t claim to know where to come down on everything. I just know that I reject the rigid extremes here. Check out one approach to this subject by George Carlin [YouTube link; especially 9:42 to 11:50). I have issues with it, but I still like hearing his perspective as a comedian who was sensitive to these issues. Just like me, he doesn’t get the final word.

You might ask: What should we do about all of this? Well, that’s easier said than done. And I am not going to claim to have all the answers here. However, I think we have an obligation to stand up for those who are oppressed and should not remain silent just because it is easier or more comfortable. I think we should organize and seek to increase inclusivity and justice in our culture and governance institutions. We should have more than deconstruction and disruption. We need a positive way forward. We need an opening of society. No such opening will come without significant changes to our society, including, importantly, to the economy. Supporting gay marriage and transgender inclusivity in schools isn’t going to help the homeless gay or transgender individual. Those things matter but they are not the only things that matter. At the end of the day, unless we start having more open and honest conversations about these matters, rather than avoiding discussing them (common with the right-wing) or shutting down anyone who doesn’t measure up to peak SJW performance (common with the Progressive Left), we will not make the progress we want on these various important issues.

What about the 2020 demonstrations and riots following the killing of George Floyd by police? First, let us point out that the killing of George Floyd took place in May, just two months after the COVID pandemic took off in the United States. So much of society shut down, many had died or were dying with COVID, people were out-of-work with little to do, finances were rough, tensions were high, we were in a heavily divided election year, and had a president who played on the discord for his own gain. Whew! That’s a lot! This was far from the first wrongful killing of an African American man by US police. But it was the first one that gained major attention post-pandemic. Once it happened, the long history of anger and frustration surrounding this ongoing problem with police erupted into mass protests and riots across the country. My knee-jerk reaction was to come out in full support of anything fighting against this despicable institution. However, I dialogued with a lot of people who disagreed, including African Americans themselves. Several pointed out the harm it caused to so many minority neighborhoods. It’s one thing to protest, demonstrate, and disrupt powerful institutions (like Wall Street and the police). It’s another to burn down and destroy small businesses, the local pharmacy, and homes.

Some may say this is the price of activism and standing up for what is right. I’m not so sure that’s the case. I wouldn’t disagree that it is the price of a very immoral and bankrupt system. But it’s true that once people take to the streets en masse, you often get people who take advantage of the disruption to cause reckless damage with little concern for the lives and well-being of others. Most protesters and most people were not in support of such destruction. An important point is that we should be more angry with the cause of the discord than the discord itself. In contrast, the reactionary who is fine with things being as they are gets more upset with the discord. The reactionary would just love for everyone to go home or protest in ineffective ways that don’t stress the system and incentivize it to change for the better. I certainly don’t want to come across as defending that. However, I think we need to do better than raising our fists and getting excited over watching the local pharmacy burning to the ground. I reject the idea that we must defend every action that happened during the summer of 2020. I also reject the idea that that was the most effective way to address these matters. Regardless, I also know that such social upheavel is difficult to manage or plan ahead for, so we should put more of our resources and thinking towards making our society better so that we don’t warrant such upheaval in the first place. My Dialectical Left-Libertarian approach applied to the 2020 George Floyd protests/riots would want to ensure that any actions were in line with increasing freedom & flourishing for all, especially those most marginalized. If a given tactic or action leads to the destruction of the very lives and neighborhoods that we seek to strengthen and empower, then something is very wrong.

My last point applies to all these topics. There is a real problem with forgiveness, compassion, and flexible thinking in many social justice circles. Though I have hit on the dogmatism and rigidity already before, it is necessary to bring it up again because it is linked with an increased difficulty with forgiveness and compassion. Many people in these circles become so charged, rigid, and intense, that they start to treat others who fall short of their views with callousness, indifference, and aggression. You could be largely in line with them on most things—but fall short anywhere (how dare you, imperfect human!) and get prepared to be cancelled, attacked, smeared, and thrown away without a moment’s thought! We need to distance ourselves from some people or get them out of our lives—especially when they are actively hostile and don’t care. It’s not our responsibility to engage and try to “reform” everyone. But people like the ones being addressed here go to such extremes. They tend to lack compassion for others and look for things to condemn them for with no forgiveness on the horizon. That’s a toxic phenomenon that has no potential for building a just world. If we can’t forgive and show compassion, we fall into permanent war with nearly everyone. Permanent war is not preferable or sustainable, and it doesn’t have seeds for building a free and flourishing society for all. So, if we are to advocate for social justice, we are going to need to get in touch with compassion and forgiveness. If we don’t, we won’t get social justice. Instead, we will get social isolation and decline.

Like I have said many times at this point, this is not my final word or the final word on any of these matters. However, I wanted to cover these various contentious issues and find a way to apply my Dialectical Left-Libertarian approach to them. Let’s continue the project of “context-keeping” for freedom & flourishing together by continuing to dialogue and finding out better ways to approach very difficult issues and topics.

And don’t forget! You (which includes me) most likely didn’t always hold the views you do now. You most likely didn’t always advocate for social justice for all. You most likely suffered (and maybe continue to suffer) from serious ideological blindspots. Before you beat people down with the social justice stick, think instead about the compassion and support you would have liked to have had during a previous stage of your life. Then attempt to give that to the person in need. If they reject it and get hostile, move along. At least you tried rather than writing them off. And who knows, maybe a social justice seed was still planted and will sprout down the road.

***

In the Facebook thread that followed, I stated:

I am so very impressed with the careful way in which you laid out your case, and even more impressed with the ways in which you have applied the whole notion of context-keeping, so essential to dialectical thinking, to the process of exposition. If people cannot articulate their views in ways that even attempt to “reach across the divide”, they will forever be speaking in an echo chamber. And if they surround themselves with nobody but people who think likewise, they will find themselves caught up in the righteousness of their ideas without any concern for how those ideas are to be implemented in a pluralistic society. In other words, people need to exhibit the very charitable and compassionate ideals they claim to extol in the communicative process. If folks can’t even do that, then they are likely never to achieve those charitable, compassionate, or just ideals. To “know your audience”, as you put it, is essential, therefore, not only to the ability to communicate, but also essential to effectively making your point.

I also think that it is important to note, as you do so clearly, how we all need to have active minds that are open to our own self-acknowledgement of an evolution in our thinking—intellectually, psychologically, and emotionally.

I cannot take issue with anything you’ve said above. A job so very well done. It does not solve every problem—nor is it intended to—and if it leads to “pushback”, so be it. And if that “pushback” only goes to prove the points you have made (something that I’ve seen in threads on my own Timeline), so be it. It is just refreshing to see honesty, self-awareness, and compassion shedding light on topics that too often generate heat. …

Since this is a very touchy subject, there are many people who are literally afraid to discuss this issue; hence, they engage in the self-censorship of silence. And that, perhaps, is the greatest casualty of the phenomena that you so bravely address.

Since I’ve devoted so much space to Ryan’s post, I’ll let him have the last word here:

That’s a very fair point. To speak positively about social justice in most right-wing spaces gets you hit with nasty comments, accusations, and demands that you answer for every extreme taken by someone in the name of social justice. To speak critically about social justice in most left-wing spaces gets you cancelled, accused of being a fascist or racist, told you are simply speaking from a place of privilege, or some other dismissive or harsh response. Very unfortunate. Maybe we can work towards undoing that with more of these type discussions. ❤  

DWR (4): Navigating the False Alternatives

This is part four of my ongoing dialogues with my friend Ryan Neugebauer (my DWR series, as I call it). In today’s Facebook posting, Ryan stated:

There are two significant perspectives that compete with each other and are in contrast with the dominant Liberal Democrat and Conservative Republican visions: Free-Market Right-Libertarian and State Socialist.

The former wants to reduce everything to market competition to the greatest extent possible (including in its purest form with police, courts/law, and national defense being provided by competing market entities). The other (State Socialist) wants to shrink market competition to the greatest extent possible and sees “public control” (read nationalization) as preferable in all cases but will simply cede to the market if it doesn’t look likely to go well to them.


I reject both of these positions, never having defended the second but having defended the former for a solid 5 months and having some affinity towards it (though not all out acceptance) for several years.


I accept F. A. Hayek’s defense of markets in “The Use of Knowledge in Society” (1945) and am not convinced you could completely replace them if you want a modern, technologically advanced society (and I do). I could be wrong but that would take a change in humans and technology that no Socialist/Communist has successfully argued or demonstrated at this point. I’m just not ideologically committed to markets. If they could be replaced in an anti-authoritarian way, you’d get no tears or fuss from me.


Similar to Hayek, I don’t think all societal mechanisms or norms should or could be market-based. I’m also not hostile to all welfare and regulations, just as he wasn’t in The Road to Serfdom (1944). If we could produce a society without the state or with the state greatly more constrained that achieves the goals I have in the human welfare and environmental preservation dimensions, then I would be very fine with that. I’m an Anarchist at heart and a philosophical Anarchist at an absolute minimum. But, I admit the pragmatic difficulties with bringing an actual Anarchist society (whatever that would look like) about and believe instead in a never-ending evolving process towards increasing freedom and flourishing with no end point.

My framework is what I call “Dialectical Left-Libertarian”, though I’m not big on terms and always see them as unnecessarily limiting. The dialectical portion comes from my dear friend Chris Matthew Sciabarra who states that “dialectical” is about context keeping and whose “dialectical libertarianism” seeks to bring about freedom and flourishing through the utilization of this process of context keeping. This process involves examining the world from different vantage points and modes of analysis. I state similarly in my Facebook political beliefs section: my perspective subjects all facets of society to critique (state/governance, business/economy, school, social norms, etc.) and seeks to reduce hierarchy and increase autonomy wherever possible. This latter portion speaks to my Left-Libertarian dimension that wants to increase freedom & well-being in a comprehensive manner that doesn’t just reduce things down to state vs market like the Right-Libertarians do.


I’m not convinced that the State Socialist framework, even in its more benign Social Democratic forms, is the way to go long-term. Firstly, normalizing a relation of dominance and subservience, ruler and ruled, is always problematic. It allows massive war crimes and levels of abuse to occur that couldn’t as easily without them. But as Frederic Bastiat shows with “the seen and unseen”, governments and their supporters tend to miss all the ways in which their policies lead to bad outcomes and turn out to be very problematic. They simply deal with their immediate expectations and not unintended consequences. Then there is the problem of cronyism and regulatory capture that a state with a class structure will always be prone to, as Marx himself would note. There are also forms of governance that are not nearly as unaccountable and bad like ours like Libertarian Municipalism. So even if some form of government turns out to be necessary, we can do much better than the current modern nation state model.

So there you have it. I could say so much more, but this speaks to my (in my view) balanced approach to libertarian and left-wing thinking.


This article by Jason Lee Byas helps highlight the significance of markets from a Left-Libertarian perspective, even if I don’t hold a commitment to the larger specific framework that he holds to. A nice complement to this in a similar but different spirit is this article by Nathan Goodman.

In response I stated:

As always, I applaud the ways in which you articulate your position—trying to work through all the limiting conventional ‘isms’ of our era. I find myself in agreement with so much of what you say (especially the stuff about that Sciabarra fellow). At the core of your perspective is your rejection of what I think has become a false alternative between a certain form of anarchism that embraces a reductionist “market” resolution of the perceived duality between state and markets, and a certain form of statism that embraces a reductionist “state” resolution to that same duality. What neither side is addressing is the larger context of authoritarian social relations that can stretch across the state-market divide; what neither side is addressing is how culture contributes to hierarchical and oppressive social relations, serving as both the foundation for and reflection of political domination.

I do think that your own affinity with Hayek’s path-breaking essay (“The Use of Knowledge in Society”) is key to whatever social change eventuates. Which is why I think that societies will likely never dispense with markets. Hayek made a “semiotic” case for prices as a reflection of the division and specialization of labor and knowledge. Prices are ‘signals’ as interpreted in an agent-relative manner; that is, they mean different things to different people, given their own context of knowledge (and knowledge here applies not merely to quantifiable data, but to tacit ‘know-how’).

I’m not reifying ‘markets’ or ‘prices’ here; I’m not saying they are categories that have always existed and therefore must always exist. But I take “markets” to be part of a broader category of social relations of exchange, whatever shape they have taken in the past or in the present. Such social relations will exist as long as our infinitely complex world becomes more globally interconnected. Whether we are talking about prices or some as-yet-to-be-manifested system of “non-monetary” signals, Hayek’s argument stands, and is a bulwark against the social relations of dominance and subservience, ruler and ruled that we both oppose.