Category Archives: Sexuality

Another Side to Eric Fleischmann: Soy! Live!

My friend Eric Fleischmann has published widely at the site of Center for a Stateless Society, including, recently, some very fine, original essays on the thought of individualist anarchist Laurence Labadie. I have previously written about his work on Notablog, here and here (where he critiqued my monograph, “Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation“). In addition to his developing scholarship, he’s a regular rabble-rousing activist anywhere he goes!

Not many people know of yet another side to Eric. His “secret” was safe with me—until now. Check him out tonight with the band Soy, which will run a live show, taped on January 2, 2022. He is a roaring lion on stage! It’s at 7 pm (ET) tonight! Don’t miss it!

Song of the Day #1902

Song of the Day: Paradise by the Dashboard Light, words and music by Jim Steinman, is a piece of musical theater that became a staple of classic rock radio when it was released in 1978 as the third single off the album, “Bat Out of Hell“, the 1977 debut album of singer and actor, Meat Loaf (Marvin Lee Aday). The Platinum 8+ minute track, featuring both Meat Loaf and Ellen Foley on vocals, was produced by Todd Rundgren, who plays guitar on the track. When the song came out—even as it was played endlessly in its full album glory—I had a certain sentimentality for it. Any song that features the rather ‘suggestive’ play-by-play of Hall of Fame Yankees shortstop and hilarious sports announcer, Phil Rizzuto, gets Major League Points in my book. Yesterday, Meat Loaf passed away at the age of 74. Check out one of his biggest hits [YouTube link].

Coronavirus (36): Denialism = Death

Back on March 14, 2020, I began a series on the Coronavirus, which continued through 35 installments (the most recent of which was posted on November 10, 2021).

This is not technically an installment of that series, but it addresses another kind of infection, which persists to this day among a certain brand of “libertarians”—who exhibited symptoms of it way back in the 1980s, when the HIV/AIDS crisis took hold in the United States. After seeing so many libertarians dismiss the COVID-19 “pandemic” (scare quotes intended) as non-lethal at best or an outright hoax at worst, I—a witness to hundreds of people in my hard-hit Brooklyn neighborhood being rushed to hospitals or off to funeral homes—was sickened, but not surprised by the denialism on display. On May 5, 2020, in the twenty-first installment of my Coronavirus series, “Lockdowns, Libertarians, and Liberation“, I wrote:

[T]here was something about the early response [of libertarians] to the coronavirus as a “hoax” or an “exaggeration” that was eerily familiar to me. Back in the 1980s, when HIV/AIDS was killing off a generation of gay men in the West (while ravaging a largely heterosexual population in Africa), some libertarians (including those influenced by Ayn Rand), ever fearful of those who proposed a growing governmental role in both medical research and in locking down bathhouses that were transmission belts for promiscuous, unsafe sex, grabbed onto the work of the molecular biologist Peter Duesberg, who played a major role in what became known as the AIDS denialism controversy. Duesberg was among those dissenting scientists who argued that there was no connection between HIV and AIDS, and that gay men were dying en masse because of recreational and pharmaceutical drug use, and then, later, by the use of AZT, an early antiviral treatment to combat those with symptoms of the disease.


If the scientific community had accepted Duesberg’s theories, hundreds of thousands of people would be dead today. The blood supply would never have been secured, since HIV screening of blood donors would never have become public policy, and countless thousands of people receiving blood transfusions would have been infected by HIV and would have subsequently died from opportunistic infections. …


So, while many libertarians have been at the forefront of rolling back the state’s interference in people’s personal lives, advocating the elimination of discriminatory anti-sodomy and marriage laws, there were some libertarians who, early on, in the AIDS epidemic, grabbed onto Duesberg’s theories as scientific proof that the whole HIV/AIDS thing was a pretext for the expansion of the state-science nexus.

While I do not dispute the dangers wrought by nearly a century of incestuous ties between government, science, and the medical, pharmaceutical, and health insurance industries, I do not believe that all the by-products of “state science” are “dangerous” to our health, as Edmond S. Bradley claimed back in 2006. Bradley, a doctor of music arts and composition, goes so far as to echo the Duesberg theory, which was dealt a serious blow by research developments in the late 1980s that bore fruit for effective treatments for HIV/AIDS by the mid-1990s.

Thinking that this 2006 Mises Institute article was an “outlier,” I was recently involved in a Facebook discussion where I was attacked by yet another “libertarian” for having proposed that there was something wrong with the Duesberg denialists. And then, on the site of the Property and Freedom Society, on January 5, 2022—only yesterday—a 2009 video of Duesberg was posted [YouTube link]. This resurrection of denialism is, of course, part of an overall pushback with regard to all things COVID. But it is not COVID that concerns me here.

The first cases of the “gay cancer” were reported in June 1981, but it was not until 1985, that HIV was first identified as “the causative agent of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and its complete genome was immediately available.” With nearly 48,000 people dead in the U.S. from AIDS by 1987, the formation of the group ACT UP (The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) was a turning point for bottom-up civil disobedience against the administrative bungling, political in-fighting and bureaucratic red-tape that made it virtually impossible for any drugs under development to be used in the fight against HIV/AIDS. AZT, the first drug approved for use in this fight, certainly had some of the horrific side effects that Duesberg highlighted, but back then, it was being administered in much higher doses, given the lack of alternative treatments.

The big breakthrough came with the discovery of HIV protease-inihibitors in the late 1980s. Protease inhibitors played a crucially important role in the creation of
highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). Proteases are

basically proteins that are used to break down other certain chemical structures of protein in your body—a process that can help with digestion or healing wounds. However, proteases are also necessary for certain conditions—including HIV—to thrive.  ‌Protease inhibitors, which figure among the key drugs used to treat HIV, work by binding to proteolytic enzymes (proteases). That blocks their ability to function. 

Protease inhibitors don’t cure HIV. But by blocking proteases, they can stop HIV from reproducing itself. As such, they lower the body’s viral load—a term that refers to the amount of HIV in the body—and slow the progression of HIV. 

It took about ten years for the first protease inhibitor to reach the market. Take a look at this table below—which will no doubt be dismissed by Duesberg denialists as CDC “fictions”:

The Duesberg denialists cannot explain what happened between 1993-1995 and 1996-2000. They cannot explain why the death rate from AIDS fell by nearly 50% in 1997 alone. I want an answer from these denialists as to why this happened. Did all those dirty, drug-addicted, gay men simply “straighten” up their act, and stop taking those recreational drugs that Duesberg saw as the cause of AIDS? Quite frankly, given that there were a reported 100,000 overdose deaths in 2021 alone—augmented by two years of a COVID crisis that has led to a significant rise in both mental health and substance abuse problems across the population regardless of sexual orientation or sexual practices—I’m wondering why, given Duesberg’s assumptions, we have not seen a corresponding rise in AIDS cases.

The Duesberg denialists have absolutely no explanation whatsoever for the remarkable turn of events from 1993-1995 to 1996-2000. It was with the introduction of “cocktail” drug therapies, which combined three or more antiretroviral drugs—chief among them those protease inhibitors that were able to prevent HIV from multiplying inside the body—that significantly reduced patients’ viral loads to undetectable levels, and that have curtailed the scourge of opportunistic infections that were killing people by the hundreds of thousands in the 1980s and early 1990s. Today, there are an estimated 1.2 million people living with AIDS in the United States—not dying from it.

This is personal. And I’ll even grant that it’s anecdoctal evidence. But in the 1980s, I was busy DJ’ing and dancing, though pharmaceuticals and unsafe sex were not part of the party. I knew scores of gay men, many of whom were very dear friends who died from AIDS. Only a handful of these friends could be characterized as recreational drug users.

One of my dearest friends in the world nearly died of AIDS in 1996, and if it were not for those miracle antiretroviral treatments, he would have been six feet under. Today, he is living and flourishing, without any detectable viral load, thanks to the medical breakthroughs from which he was able to benefit. Had he been diagnosed only two years before, I am convinced he would never have survived.

The Denialists have no answers. All they have is their stultifying ideological pseudoscience.

So I will declare this without an ounce of regret. To echo ACT-UP’s refrain that “Silence = Death“, I say “Denialism = Death.” And if you are among the denialists, then you have blood on your hands.

__
A H/T to my friend Ryan Neugebauer for some of the links in the above Notablog entry.

Postscript: Folks can check out the public discussion of this post on my Facebook Profile. For the benefit of readers, I reproduce several of my comments from that discussion here.

One commentator posted a link to this older 1996 piece, which was self-refuting, because it did not take into account the miraculous turnaround in AIDS-related deaths that occurred from 1997 to the present day. Then, the commentator posted a link to this dissenting voice to the scientific consensus, which focuses on the use of “poppers” (amyl nitrite) as a causal factor in HIV/AIDS. I wrote in reply:

It appears that Gary Stein (in the comments section of that link) had an effective response. I’ll reproduce it below for the benefit of readers. As the author himself notes, poppers are widely available over-the-counter and can be ordered online. Unless it can be demonstrated that there was a humongous decline in the use of amyl nitrite in 1996 leading to a 50% drop in AIDS deaths in 1997, I don’t see how any of this holds.

There are no drugs on the market that don’t come with potentially horrific side effects. Turn on TV or radio at any hour of the day or night, and all you will see are 50 disclaimers for every advertised drug imaginable: “This drug could cause anything from suicide to homicide, liver failure, heart failure, kidney failure” … and so forth. I have not said in my post that every drug is safe for every person in every context. I’ve simply asked a question: How can any of the Denialists explain the steep drop in AIDS deaths that occurred in the wake of the use of protease inhibitors? If there is no connection between HIV and AIDS as Duesberg claimed, then protease inhibitors should never have worked.

AIDS is not a pretty disease; even with the treatments available, it remains a brutal disease. The best thing is not to get it in the first place. But unlike the 1980s and the early 1990s, those who are HIV-infected today do not face an almost certain death sentence. I think the evidence is overwhelming that the drug cocktails have kept people alive. Here is how Gary Stein responded to the above author in the link you provided [I’ve edited the full reply for Notablog readers, but it is complete here]:

“There is no such evidence that poppers are in anyway associated with the development of AIDS. The study that the denialists like to claim as there own proof on this subject does not show any relationship between AIDS and Popper use. It does show a relationship to Popper use and KS [Karposi’s Sarcoma] but only if you read the report as carefully edited by the denialist so that they can make the claims they do about the reports results.

“Also relevant is the fact that immune problems haven’t been reported with the medical use of amyl nitrites or nitrates in nearly 150 years of use. There was also a huge exposure to people, tens of thousands of whom worked in industrial settings from the 1900’s to 1970’s, especially those working in the manufacture of nitroglycerin explosives and no immunity based problems were ever reported for those groups either. … [H]eavy drug-users were 1.56 times as likely to develop AIDS because they were 1.43 times as likely to be HIV-infected than light drug users. Further, it is of critical importance that HIV-positive individuals were equally likely to develop AIDS irrespective of their drug use pattern (51.4% AIDS among heavy-users versus 47.4% among non-users or light-users), which is hardly a robust affirmation of a drug-dose dependent hypothesis; this and the failure of even 1 of the 39 seronegative heavy drug users to get AIDS is inconsistent with Duesberg’s prediction that the incidence of AIDS should be drug-dose dependent and unrelated to serostatus.”

As my friend Ryan has pointed out, this link provides the most balanced discussion of the relationship of popper-use and HIV.

The same commentator then raised this article, which questions the HIV-AIDS relationship. I pointed out that the article had been formally retracted. I added:

Protease inhibitors target HIV specifically. They are not simply “antiviral” or “antibacterial”; they are commonly used as part of a cocktail of drugs that include antivirals. To cite a very clear explanation of how protease inhibitors work: “The main purpose of HIV is to copy itself as many times as it can. However, HIV lacks the machinery it needs to reproduce itself. Instead, it injects its genetic material into immune cells in the body called CD4 cells. It then uses these cells as a kind of HIV virus factory.”

“Protease is an enzyme in the body that’s important for HIV replication. Protease inhibitor drugs block the action of protease enzymes. This prevents protease enzymes from doing their part in allowing HIV to multiply, interrupting the HIV life cycle as a result. This can stop the virus from multiplying.”

Protease inhibitors are targeting HIV specifically, not the opportunistic infections. That was the game-changer. Not a cure. There are still major issues and drug side effects that require continued work in research and development. But stopping HIV replication in its tracks and reducing viral load to undetectable levels has been a key component to fighting AIDS. Since I do believe that there is a connection between HIV and AIDS, in contrast to the Duesberg Denialists, yes, I think that this is what drove death rates down dramatically.

The Duesberg Denialists have yet to explain what it was in 1996-97 that led to that dramatic drop—a drop that has continued till this day.

Another commentator remarked that Anthony Fauci was hated by gay activists, and I replied:

Ironically, Larry Kramer called Anthony Fauci a murderer and an incompetent idiot precisely because he saw him as part of an establishment that did not act to save the lives of people who were dying from AIDS. In 1988, he wrote:

“Your refusal to hear the screams of AIDS activists early in the crisis resulted in the deaths of thousands of Queers. Your present inaction is causing today’s increase in HIV infection outside of the Queer community.”

Their relationship changed dramatically overtime, however. See here.

There is a very fine documentary on the early years of the AIDS epidemic and the ACT UP response. It’s called “How to Survive a Plague“—and most of it highlights the kind of bottom-up pressure necessary to get “the FDA to approve drugs which could slow or even halt the AIDS virus, and demanded that drug trials (which would usually take 7–10 years) be shortened so potentially life-saving treatments could be made available. The film also documents the underground market for HIV drugs: many people relied on drugs imported from other countries, which were believed to potentially slow down the HIV virus despite not being FDA-approved.”

The film also highlights the strength of voluntary mutual aid among a community of marginalized people who were being told by the evangelical right that AIDS was God’s punishment for their sins and a government that indeed was a major obstacle to the development of life-saving treatments. But again, even these activists, staging “die-ins”, recognized that they had to deal with the conditions that existed, and in many instances, this meant dealing directly with Big Pharma companies to jump-start drug trials that the FDA was dragging its feet on.

Moreover, activists were attacking the government because of its inaction or obstacles to action. Reagan didn’t even mention AIDS until 1985. Some of this was, no doubt, politically motivated, since AIDS was seen as a “homosexual” disease—not something easily focused on by the administration’s evangelical supporters.

There is a bit of a debate about this, and it’s not inconsequential. But it has been said that Duesberg’s theories informed the policies of South African president Thabo Mbeki’s response to AIDS—which led to the deaths of 300,000 people in South Africa. See here and here.

Turning to the political and ideological issues underlying the problem of denialism, I made a number of comments that I bring together here:

In my experience with the libertarian movement for 40+ years, I’ve seen the pattern of deny or downplay over-and-over again when it concerns virtually any large-scale problems. The knee-jerk reaction seems to be to either deny that the problem exists or downplay its seriousness. And if anyone contradicts them, they dismiss the “evidence” (in scare quotes) with ridicule or an endless parade of “alternative facts” that don’t add up.The sad, but implicit premise behind this knee-jerk response is that they seem to be conceding that to merely address such problems, if they do, in fact, exist, one must also embrace full-scale “big government” solutions. That does not automatically follow, however. If the work of Elinor Ostrom has taught us anything, it’s that in the case of say, the ‘tragedy of the commons’, it is possible for communities, cooperatives, trusts, etc. to prevent resource depletion without widescale government intervention. But this still does not address the issue of how to handle large-scale catastrophes, be they pandemics, tsunamis, earthquakes, etc. Even Ayn Rand had more to say about the “ethics of emergencies” than most fundamentalist libertarians.

The problem here is that ideologues of any stripe often deal with the world as they wish it could be rather than the way it actually is. This is, dare I say it, a very undialectical way of handling real-world problems.

The only route to genuinely radical social change is to deal with the conditions that exist. We begin with the cultural and structural institutions that exist and respond with the tools at our disposal. If you’re a lover of liberty, you do your best to raise the flag of vigilance. You can scream, you can holler. But if you’re unwilling to even acknowledge that a problem exists because you think that the mere acknowledgment of the problem is a threat to your ideology—then it’s time to rethink the premises and implications of your ideology.

It is true that governments never met a crisis they didn’t like. This is the basis for everything from War Collectivism to erecting a Corporate State in response to a Great Depression. But there are certain “externalities” that have not been dealt with sufficiently in libertarian circles. I opened this post by freely admitting that the whole state science-medical-Big Pharma nexus is noxious. But this is what exists; we can hack at it by attacking oppressive licensure laws, IP regulations, health insurance oligopolies, and so forth.

But as someone whose policies disgusted me (D. Rumsfeld) once said: You go to war with the army you have, not with army you wish you had. If a “war” comes—a major public health emergency, a tsunami, a massive earthquake… what do you do? Not enough work has been done in libertarian circles on the response to catastrophes. I’ll note just two here (this and this), but they are woefully inadequate (even if they make legitimate points).

When people are so wedded to a limited perspective, it’s not necessarily the case that they are being intellectually dishonest. They just can’t entertain certain facts that don’t coalesce with their worldview. There may be very deep psychological reasons for this (and it must vary from person to person), but I suspect that the worldview somehow informs their sense of self, and if something threatens the worldview, it becomes a threat to that self. That skewed way of looking at the world, sadly, can become lethal—not only to those who hold onto it for dear life, but to everyone around them trying to survive a catastrophe and the catastrophe after that.

So when you engage such people in a critical discussion, they just keep throwing one ‘alternative fact’ after another at the wall, hoping one of them will ‘stick.’ And no matter what you say to people with those skewed perspectives, they’ll keep serving up another ‘fact’. And then, they hang out with people whose function is to serve as an echo chamber of the views they espouse, no matter how discredited those views are. And this is not just a problem within libertarianism; it’s a problem for any person involved in movements, left or right, or even religions, which provide “canned” answers to every issue they encounter.

The tragedy is that people who get caught up in this dynamic can’t allow themselves to think outside the square they’re imprisoned within. And yet, for people so imprisoned, being part of a group that is inside that same square with you also provides a sense of ‘community’… especially when you and those you associate with are the only ones with access to The Truth. It’s no wonder that folks like that more often than not find it difficult to have civil discussions with people outside their square. “Can’t you see The Truth!” they scream! And they’ll beat you over the head with their Truth no matter what you say to challenge them.

Of course, I didn’t pull any punches in this Notablog entry, which is why I said that folks who continue to engage in denialism (on the HIV-AIDS connection) have “blood on their hands”… quite literally, since governments, like that of South Africa, adopted the Duesberg thesis, and it’s estimated that 300,000+ people died without access to any of the effective treatments then available. Hence, the title: Denialism = Death.

I have no idea how to penetrate folks who are caught up in these kinds of mind-sets. Let it be known that I don’t have access to The Truth, myself, but I’m consciously wedded to—and practice—the very dialectical method I preach, which, in its origins, is founded on engagement, requiring one to keep shifting perspectives, vantage points, levels of generality, so as to get a better picture of the wider context. The method has, over the years, become a check against the entrenchment of self-imprisoning ideology in my own consciousness. It opens you up to intellectual and psychological evolution in a healthy way, which challenges you to “check your premises” (as Rand would say)—over and over again. Yes, I know, ironic coming from a woman whose acolytes created a cult of Truth Tellers. But the best of Rand is, as I’ve argued, highly dialectical. If only some of her followers had understood what they actually read. I suspect that ‘deprogramming’ oneself will vary from one person to the next, but clearly, engaging with the wider world is one step in the right direction.

I often joke about my half-Greek, half-Sicilian ancestry: the Greek side is ever-reasonable, seeking empathetic and compassionate engagement; the Sicilian side is more akin to the “Blood Bat” scene [YouTube link] from “The Untouchables.” I guess we all need some “Base-ball” to shake things up every so often.

For those of us who have had it “Up To Here” (using Sicilian hand gestures) with some people, the baseball bat is very useful! But the libertarian in me holds me back from using it against the folks I disagree with. Find a hard service and make sure to wear goggles so that no flecks blind you as you bang out your frustrations. This, accompanied by Sicilian curse-words tinged with a heavy Brooklyn accent, can be helpful, in a primal way. 🙂

Finally, in response to somebody who asked me what I thought of the “death” of New York City, I responded:

I don’t believe NYC is dead. Not by a long shot. This city has survived 9/11, Superstorm Sandy, and will survive all that has surrounded the COVID crisis. I’m a native New Yorker, have lived here all my life, and I remain a proud current resident of Brooklyn, New York. Don’t ever count this city out. But you know me well enough to know that I’d never feel any differently about this place—still the greatest city in the world.

Joel Schlosberg cites my thoughts about NYC in his essay, “A New Year One for Gotham.”

Postscript II: (18 January 2022): In light of the above, check out “COVID, AIDS, and Trying to Save Ourselves,” a poignant article by Jennifer Boulanger.

Facebook: Philosophers as Profile Month 2021 (II)

As readers know, I chose Don Lavoie (1951-2001) as my first profile pic for the event, “Philosophers as Profile Pictures Month.” In keeping with the holiday season, however, I’m straying from the rules a bit, and staying with my current goofy profile pic on Facebook. But with a H/T to my friend Cory Massimino, who sponsored this year’s event, I wanted to highlight yet another philosopher, posting a passage that I initially discovered in an essay written by Cory, which is featured in the Routledge Handbook of Anarchy and Anarchist Thought, a worthwhile collection edited by my friend Gary Chartier and Chad Van Schoelandt.* The passage below is from a writer with whom I have some differences, but whose work, The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory (Crossing Press, 1983), contains so many thought-provoking pieces.

The author is philosopher Marilyn Frye and the passage contains one of the most dialectical formulations of the notion of “Oppression”—the name of the essay from which it is taken—that I’ve ever read. Frye begins by asking us to “Consider a birdcage” …

If you look very closely at just one wire in the cage, you cannot see the other wires. If your conception of what is before you is determined by this myopic focus, you could look at that one wire, up and down the length of it, and be unable to see why a bird would not just fly around the wire any time it wanted to go somewhere. Furthermore, even if, one day at a time, you myopically inspected each wire, you still could not see why a bird would have trouble going past the wires to get anywhere. There is no physical property of any one wire, nothing that the closest scrutiny could discover, that will reveal how a bird could be inhibited or harmed by it except in the most accidental way. It is only when you step back, stop looking at the wires one by one, microscopically, and take a macroscopic view of the whole cage, that you can see why the bird does not go anywhere; and then you will see it in the moment. It will require no great subtlety of mental powers. It is perfectly obvious that the bird is surrounded by a network of systematically related barriers, no one of which would be the least hindrance to its flight, but which, by their relations to each other, are as confining as the solid walls of a dungeon. (pp. 4-5)


I have to say that I can think of no clearer exposition of what it means to think dialectically about the interlocking social conditions that are inimical to the struggle for human freedom and human flourishing. Personally, I have authored a trilogy of works devoted to understanding the importance to libertarian social theory of grasping the full context of social relations and institutions—from the personal to the cultural to the political and economic dynamics—that constitute the given structural conditions of our world. Oppression is not strictly a personal or a cultural or a structural phenomenon. It is a condition that must be analyzed systemically and dynamically in its full context if it is to be changed radically.

In light of my recent series highlighting a new article, coauthored by Pavel Solovyev and me, on another woman philosopher, Ayn Rand, and her Soviet education during the Russian Silver Age, I wish to emphasize that Rand herself would have agreed both methodologically and substantively with this powerful description of the nature of oppression, even if she would have parted company with Frye’s “radical feminism.”

I should point out, however, that in coediting, with Mimi Reisel Gladstein, Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, a 1999 anthology in the Penn State Press “Re-reading the Canon Series,” I am acutely aware of the tension between—and congruence of—Rand’s work with the many stripes of contemporary feminism.

In any event, as a concluding post for “Philosophers as Profile Pictures Month” (even if I’ve not changed my pic), I offer this portrait of Marilyn Frye. The eloquent passage I’ve highlighted is a stern warning of the dangers of reifying a single wire—a single part—as if it were the whole. To shift our vantage points, our perspectives, our levels of generality so that we can truly apprehend the larger cages that inhibit our ability to be free and to flourish is a monumental undertaking. Here’s to the day when our social life encourages, nourishes, and challenges each precious, individual human being to dismantle the cages and take flight, free as a bird.

Marilyn Frye (born 1941)

___
* Ah! I knew I’d seen this passage even before Cory introduced me to it! Yikes! It actually appears in a book I coedited, with Roger Bissell and Ed Younkins: The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom. The essay, “Why Libertarians Should Be Social Justice Warriors”, is written by my friend Roderick Tracy Long. Check it out here. As I stated on Facebook:

I honestly did forget the Frye reference in Roderick’s chapter, which preceded my having seen Cory’s chapter in the Routledge anthology. And as coeditor of The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom, that’s my bad! Granted, I edited and proofed that chapter back in 2018-19, and the book was published in June 2019, and I coordinated our online Facebook seminar on the book, which ran for the first few months of 2020, in the middle of a pandemic. (And in truth, I’ve been juggling a few personal challenges and professional projects for over a year now… but that’s another story!)

Still, as one who cherishes charitable attribution, I apologize for having forgotten the Frye reference in Roderick’s wonderful chapter. But also, in truth, it was Cory’s terrific paper in the Routledge anthology, which highlighted that passage, and which sparked my interest to actually go out and get the Frye book and read it! And I’m glad I did. Hence, this post.

So my thanks to both Roderick and Cory for alerting me to this writer, and especially, this particularly eloquent passage from a 1983 book of which I was not aware—and yet, which encapsulates the kind of dialectical insights that I’ve been championing for the bulk of my professional life, stretching back more than four decades.

Hayek as Democratic Socialist?

Les Leopold has a Common Dreams essay entitled “Was Frederick [sic] Hayek a Bernie Sanders Socialist?” that checks off the many areas in which Friedrich A. Hayek favored social welfare “safety net” protections that are on a par with the policies advocated by many “progressives” today.

My friend Ryan Neugebauer shared the article on his Facebook Timeline (so a H/T to him!). And it prompted a productive exchange between us.

Ryan observes correctly that Hayek was “a strong proponent of governmental countervailing power within a capitalist economy,” much “closer in line with [Bernie] Sanders than … with Ayn Rand or [Ludwig von] Mises.” For Ryan, “as long as Statist Capitalism exists (the only form that has ever existed), some form of Social Democratic project is in order.” He therefore favors “a synthesis of libertarian and social democratic thought, … promoting bottom-up dual-power/mutual aid projects [that depend] on the state less and [that build] ‘an alternative society in the shell of the old.'” He argues, correctly in my view, that “it makes no sense to take away the crutches before you strengthen and heal the broken leg.”

Ryan points out further that it was the reactionary conservative “Otto von Bismarck who erected the modern welfare-regulatory state in response to Socialist revolutionaries agitating for change in Germany during 19th century Industrial Capitalism. When people are distressed by poor working conditions, poor pay, and see no end in sight, they agitate for radical change.” Though he embraces long-term anarchist goals, he argues that as long as you have “a situation where a nation state is … affected by crony interests and a distorted banking sector, having a form of social democracy is the preferable option in my eyes. … In contrast to many Progressives and State Socialists, I prefer polycentric systems and multiple option arrangements/escape potential.” He provides a key example:

I would prefer a situation where Trans individuals wouldn’t be dependent simply on the public system, which could restrict their options due to political control, and instead be able to access alternative private options if they should choose or are able to get support to access. I would prefer people being able to access different forms of schooling and not be forced to attend a public school system. Given that the political mechanism is often captured by right-wing interests, it does not make sense to crowd out alternatives, require “public only” arrangements, and simply count on always having “the right people in”, as many Progressives and State Socialists do. I gave a few examples, but I typically prefer having more options than less and power distributed as much as possible.

One can achieve that while maintaining a robust social insurance system. It just will likely always be up for grabs such as long as it is attached to a political system that is easily captured by nefarious interests.

In the Facebook discussion that followed, I wrote:

This is a very nice discussion about the kinds of alternatives that people—who favor freedom and flourishing—must face given the conditions that exist. While Hayek most assuredly was not a strict libertarian on matters of government “intervention”—and I put this in scare quotes because the state has always been intimately involved with all things economic—I think there are two important takeaways from The Road to Serfdom that advocates of more benign social-democratic measures forget at their peril.

The first is this: Politics in general and the state in particular have always been central to the constitution of class structures in society. The more political power comes to dominate social life, the more it becomes the only power worth having (which is why I applaud your support of bottom-up, polycentric, decentralized models of social decision-making). In Hayek’s view, however, the growth of political economy engenders a process in which “the worst get on top” necessarily. And “the worst” are, for Hayek, almost always those drawn from those predatory business-class interests within capitalism that had the most to gain from the regulatory, welfare-warfare state.


Given this reality, even the most benign of social-democratic “safety net” measures that Hayek favored could not escape a class character. Historically, as you suggest, “safety net” measures have often been enacted to not only benefit certain elements of the “ruling class”, but to undercut working class revolts (a la Bismark). (As an aside: I’d go so far as to say that historically, confrontational labor strikes and unrest have been intimately tied up with the depressionary phase of the boom-bust cycle, which both Marxists and Austrians root in the state-banking nexus. Pardon the plug, but on this, see my own undergraduate history honors thesis.


The second takeaway is Hayek’s view that extensive government control produces a socio-psychological alteration in the character of individuals within the larger culture. This social-psychological corruption is both a reciprocally related cause and effect of advancing political economy, a process of mutual reinforcement that undermines accountability, personal responsibility, and the autonomy of the individual’s moral conscience.

As a long-term alternative, Hayek advocated social change for sure, but with a dialectical sensibility; he believed that it could only occur through a slow and gradual change in cultural mores, traditions, and habits, which are often tacit. Like you, he argued that trying to impose such change “top-down,” without the requisite cultural foundations, is doomed to fail. And yet despite this almost Burkean emphasis on slow and gradual change, Hayek adamantly declared he was not a conservative. He embraced the essence of a radical approach. “We are bound all the time to question fundamentals,” he said; “it must be our privilege to be radical.”

I think this was a worthwhile discussion … and wanted to preserve it on my Notablog.

“Kill the Mothers, That’ll Stop Them!”

This week, the United States Supreme Court refused to block a Texas law (Senate Bill 8) that went into effect on 1 September 2021, which effectively criminalized any abortions that take place six weeks into a pregnancy. But the bill goes a lot further. As Newsweek reported: “The law does not contain criminal penalties for illegal abortions but it empowers private individuals to enforce the regulations through lawsuits against doctors and anyone who ‘aids or abets’ in procuring a ‘criminal abortion.'”

This law allows any private individual in Texas to sue those who “aid or abet” the “murder” of the unborn, rewarding successful litigants “at least $10,000 in statutory damages for each illegal abortion aided by the defendant. … One potential target of lawsuits could be the person who gives a woman a ride to an abortion clinic. … ‘It even means you can sue an Uber driver who drives someone to an abortion clinic’.” That’s one way to get the state’s tentacles deeper into our lives: deputize the citizenry to carry out the moral law!

It occurs to me, however, that if folks in Texas really believe that the abortion of a fetus is akin to murder, why aren’t they taking care of this the ol’ fashioned Texas way? I mean, Texas has long led the United States in executions (since 1976, the state has executed well over 550 people). Granted, the rate of execution has slowed the last couple of years, but the state still far outstrips any other state in the country. So go ahead and criminalize the whole process!

It reminded me of a classic exchange of dialogue from the hilarious 1996 comedy, “The Birdcage“, between “Mother” Goldman (played by Nathan Lane) and conservative Senator Keeley (played by Gene Hackman):

Senator Keeley: Of course, it’s very wrong to kill an abortion doctor. Many pro-lifers feel … I don’t agree with them, but many of them sincerely feel that if you stop the doctors, you’ll stop the abortions.

Mother Goldman: Well, that’s ridiculous. The doctors are only doing their jobs. If you’re going to kill someone, kill the mothers, that’ll stop them! Oh, I know what you’re going to say: If you kill the mother, the fetus dies too. But the fetus is going to be aborted anyway, so why not let it go down with the ship?

Seems to me that the legislators in Texas ought to go all in on this and stop these half-hearted measures. Take a leaf out of Mother Goldman’s playbook and get this done!

Coronavirus (34): “Virtue Signaling” vs. Doing the Right Thing

On Facebook, I adopted a frame that put forth a very specific message:

I will state it for the record why I posted this because it is not the equivalent of “virtue signaling”. Given that I’m a self-described “dialectical libertarian” and that there has been an epidemic of COVID-denialism among too many libertarians, I thought it was important to make a public statement, beyond the 33 Coronavirus installments I’ve already written since the winter of 2020.

Let it be known far and wide that I am a libertarian who believes that it is indeed possible to be against the state and against coercion, and still voluntarily get myself vaccinated, despite the fact that the vaccine was developed by Big Pharma in league with Big Government. I believe in looking at the facts of reality as they are and making rational judgments based on the context of my own knowledge and experience. I’ve lived in a city that was, at one time, the epicenter of death and despair from this nightmarish virus. I’ve seen enough mass death for a lifetime and then some. I’ve lost family, friends, neighbors, and beloved neighborhood proprietors. And given my own medical preconditions and the health problems of my sister, for whom I am a primary caregiver, I made a reasonable decision to get vaccinated. My whole family is vaccinated. And my declaration of this is not an exercise in Virtue Signaling. We took the path of least risk, given that COVID could very well spell the difference between life and death for us.

And it needed to be said. I do not consider the posting of my own vaccination status to be the equivalent of posting about dental fillings, haircuts, STD tests, or prostate exams. Indeed, I’ve done all those things and not posted on them. If folks don’t see a qualitative difference between COVID and haircuts, and if folks don’t grasp the political and extra-political significance of this, all I can say is: We must be living on different planets.

So yep: I have a healthy distrust of authority and I’m vaccinated. I am a libertarian and I’m vaccinated.

In the discussion that followed my Facebook posting, I added:

I’m not going to “die” on this hill—I’ve been vaccinated, but I’m not indestructible, after all. That said, I’ve written thousands upon thousands of words on the COVID pandemic going back to March 2020. People can check it out on my blog and in my Notablog archives.

But I will say that one of the reasons I’ve been so disappointed with many of the typical libertarian responses to this is that it all was eerily familiar to what I saw in the HIV/AIDS debate back in the 1980s. The pattern seems to be, if a large-scale public health problem emerges, one that might suggest to some public policy wonks a greater role for government involvement, the immediate libertarian knee-jerk reaction has been to first, deny that the problem exists or call it a hoax, or second, to admit that if it exists, it’s affecting a very limited number of people and should have no public policy implications. In my blog post, “Coronavirus (21): Lockdowns, Libertarians, and Liberation“, I wrote:

Back in the 1980s, when HIV/AIDS was killing off a generation of gay men in the West (while ravaging a largely heterosexual population in Africa), some libertarians (including those influenced by Ayn Rand), ever fearful of those who proposed a growing governmental role in both medical research and in locking down bathhouses that were transmission belts for promiscuous, unsafe sex, grabbed onto the work of the molecular biologist Peter Duesberg, who played a major role in what became known as the AIDS denialism controversy. Duesberg was among those dissenting scientists who argued that there was no connection between HIV and AIDS, and that gay men were dying en masse because of recreational and pharmaceutical drug use, and then, later, by the use of AZT, an early antiviral treatment to combat those with symptoms of the disease.


If the scientific community had accepted Duesberg’s theories, hundreds of thousands of people would be dead today. The blood supply would never have been secured, since HIV screening of blood donors would never have become public policy, and countless thousands of people receiving blood transfusions would have been infected by HIV and would have subsequently died from opportunistic infections. A whole array of “cocktail” drugs were developed that have targeted HIV, the virus that causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, and they have been effective in keeping people alive, reducing their viral load down to undetectable levels, boosting their T-cell counts, and allowing them to go on to live normal, productive, and creative lives. Still, safe sex remains the mantra of the day.

So, while many libertarians have been at the forefront of rolling back the state’s interference in people’s personal lives, advocating the elimination of discriminatory anti-sodomy and marriage laws, there were some libertarians who, early on, in the AIDS epidemic, grabbed onto Duesberg’s theories as scientific proof that the whole HIV/AIDS thing was a pretext for the expansion of the state-science nexus. Confirmation bias is an especially strong urge for anyone with strong convictions. All the more reason to constantly check one’s premises, as Rand once urged.

The most recent public health problem certainly has had broader public policy implications than the HIV/AIDS crisis but the pattern remained the same among too many self-described libertarians that I’ve known. So now, despite the development of what certainly appear to be several relatively safe vaccines, the statistics show that the overwhelming majority of people getting infected and dying of COVID are among the unvaccinated. A very small percentage of current cases are breakthrough (among those who have already been vaccinated).

I don’t and won’t control what choices others might make. I’ve made my choice and have taken my chances. I’m not an epidemiologist, but I did what I believed I needed to do. And I stand by that choice and by the profile frame I’ve also chosen to represent it—to separate myself from too many people for whom a healthy distrust of authority has become a barrier to getting vaccinated, if not for themselves, than for the benefit of those loved ones who might be prone to getting infected or becoming seriously ill should you become an asymptomatic carrier of the virus.

Make your own choice. Choose your own frame. And if you don’t like what I’ve had to say, unfriend me and get on your way. That is one thing which is not up for debate.

John Dewey H.S.: A Love Letter …

On Facebook, my friend Stephen Boydstun, made the following query:


You attended the John Dewey high school in Brooklyn, and I was wondering if there were differences in that school compared to other high schools that were advertised and how did its specialness stack up in your experience of it. Your 1977 yearbook is online, though not with very clear images. It indicates you were awarded a Regents scholarship. Does that mean a scholarship to go to college? The high school was free, right? Do you have a clear senior picture you could show us? Perhaps you have already written about some of this and could direct me to that spot.

I’ve only written in passing about my experiences at John Dewey High School (50 Avenue X, in Brooklyn, New York). But there’s so much to say.

As background, folks can indeed check out the John Dewey High School Archives here. Available on that site are my 1977 senior yearbook (my own yearbook is somewhere in my apartment, but my high school photo [ugh!] can be found on page 88), Graduation Program, and Senior Recogntion Night Program. I was indeed the recipient of a small Regents scholarship, though, more importantly, I received a Regents-endorsed diploma, because I successfully completed the necessary Regents exams to qualify (in Biology, English, Geometry, Social Studies, and so forth).

John Dewey was an extraordinary “free” public high school. I don’t know how my experiences in high school compare to those of others in standard high school curricula throughout the New York city public school system. But I can say that my high school years were among the most remarkable educational experiences of my life. The school stressed individual responsibility within a nourishing social environment, with gifted teachers who cared, and who offered challenging courses and extracurricular activities on a sprawling college-like campus. Check out “The John Dewey High School Adventure” (October 1971, volume 53, no. 2, Phi Delta Kappan International) by Sol Levine, who was the principal of the school when I was in attendance. A 1977 New York Times article also highlighted the school’s unique character.

In 1974, I entered the school as a sophomore (a tenth-grader), having graduated from a 2-year SP (“special progress“) program at David A. Boody Junior High School, which consolidated the 7th, 8th, and 9th grades into a two-year timeframe. Instead of the traditional fall and spring semesters, John Dewey High School provided students with five 6-week cycles throughout the academic year. Courses were graded on a pass-fail system, which placed less stress on grade-consciousness and more on augmented learning—though teachers could give students an “ME” (Mastery with Excellence) certificate. The school day was longer (8 am to 4 pm) than the standard NYC high school, which allowed for “free periods” in which we were expected to meet in study groups, clubs (both traditional and nontraditional), and on-campus activities. The school didn’t participate in interscholastic sports team competitions, but encouraged intramural play on its wonderful athletic field.

Sophomore Year

In my sophomore year, in addition to full-year studies of French, Advanced Geometry, Biology, and Business Education (Typewriting), I took courses in the following areas:

English

  • Introduction to Dramatic Literature
  • Introduction to Creative Writing (with Brian McCarthy, who also stoked my interest in science fiction, with the Science Fiction Club and the Palingenesis publication it spawned)
  • Introduction to Journalism
  • Introduction to the Short Story

Social Studies:

  • War and Peace (Twentieth Century)
  • Struggle for Democracy (Up to the French Revolution)
  • American Foreign Policy
  • Consumer Economics
  • Urban Economics

I was medically excused from gym, but took associated courses in “Human Sexuality” and “Psychology of Human Relations”.

Junior Year

I engaged in full-year studies (all five cycles) in French, Chemistry, Trigonometry, and Music (The History of Jazz, 3 cycles of which were attended in my junior year, 2 cycles of which were completed in my senior year—during which I actually taught several weeks on the history of jazz guitar and the history of jazz violin). I also took these courses in the following disciplines:

English

  • Psychological Approach to Literature (2 cycles)
  • Shakespeare (2 cycles)

Social Studies

  • The Kennedy Years & After
  • American People
  • The Holocaust (the first such course ever offered on a high-school level, taught by Ira Zornberg, under whom I came to edit the social studies periodical, Gadfly)
  • Futuristics

I began my studies with the Law Institute, led by two wonderful teachers, Mr. Nelson and Mr. Wolfson:

  • Justice, Judges, and Jury
  • Supreme Court & Civil Liberties
  • Crime and Punishment
  • Business Law

I also took one elective course in “Photography”—where I learned to take and develop photographs, as well as various “DISKS” (“Dewey Independent Study Kits”) in such areas as Medieval History and the Renaissance.

Senior Year

In my final year at John Dewey High School, I undertook full-year studies of Advanced French, Anthropology, three cycles of Calculus, and Advanced Placement American History (taught by Larry Pero, Chair of the History Department, for which I earned college credit with St. John’s University). I also studied the following courses in English:

  • Man, Nature, and Survival
  • Individualism in American Literature
  • Introduction to Film
  • Public Speaking

And I completed my studies in the Law Institute with the following courses:

  • Law in an Urban Society
  • Fieldwork and Legal Research

Never giving a second thought to the issue of “Grade-Point Average,” I fully embraced the enriched atmosphere of learning that John Dewey High School provided for its students. I graduated with honors for growth, personal achievement, and personal contributions in English, French, Music, and Social Studies, and received recognition for my extra-curricular activities.

I also received the English Achievement Award for Excellence in the Communication Arts, the James K. Hackett Medal for Demonstrated Proficiency in Oratory, the Publications Award for Demonstrated Excellence in the Field of Journalism, the John Dewey Science Fiction Club Award, the Chemistry Teachers Club of New York Award for scholarship in chemistry, a certificate of merit from the Association of Teachers of Social Studies of NYC, and the Honorable Samuel A. Welcome Award for Excellence in Legal Studies.

Most importantly, the teachers at John Dewey High School, unafraid to show their own political predilections, encouraged me to develop my own political and intellectual interests, whether or not they agreed with the directions I was taking. Indeed, once I had discovered Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal by Ayn Rand, while enrolled in my Advanced Placement American History course, the libertarian trajectory of my politics was seeded, nourished, and challenged by my teachers. A greater gift from American educators I could never have received.

From what I understand, the school is more traditional today than it was in its inception, but I’ve retained friends among my former peers and faculty and will always have a depth of love for the high school that more than prepared me for a rigorous and rewarding undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral education at New York University.

Homonograph Reviewed @ C4SS

Eric Fleischmann—who is not just a student of my work and a very dear friend, but a very fine young scholar in his own right—offers a critical and provocative review of my monograph Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation on the site of Center for a Stateless Society, which, not coincidentally, is offering the “Homonograph” for sale at its C4SS Store here.

Eric interviewed me for the piece, which places the monograph in its proper context—a nearly two-decade old discussion of the relationship between Objectivism and those in the LGBTQ+ community who were drawn, “like moths to a flame,” to Rand’s uplifting celebration of individual freedom and authenticity “only to be burned in the process.”

Despite some many on-point criticisms of the work, of Rand and her acolytes, and of reactionary elements within the libertarian movement, Eric argues that the “monograph serves as one of the centerpieces in the establishment of thick libertarian ideas. It especially forwards the point that it is not enough that people refrain from trying to use the state against the LGBTQIA+ community. We must go further and combat a culture that breeds both physical and nonphysical violence.”

Check out the review here and other reviews of the work here. And thanks, Eric, for your challenging and wide-ranging examination of the monograph!

The “Homonograph” (Leap Publishing, 2003)

Song of the Day #1870

Song of the Day: Stevie Wonder “Stars on 45” Medley [YouTube link] includes “My Cherie Amour” [YouTube link to the original], a song featured on the jukebox on the night that police raided the Stonewall Inn in the wee hours of this date in 1969. The patrons fought back against brutality, in a cry of liberation for the right to live their own lives and pursue their own happiness. That Stonewall storm left a Rainbow of Pride in its wake that illuminates the dancefloor for all those who lovingly embrace the singular authenticity of the music inside them.