Thursday, August 30, 2012

Slightly more cogent thoughts on libertarianism, feminism, and Atheism+

Atheism+ (including skepticism, and feminism) and its possible intersection with libertarian thought:

This is obviously a post in response to another blog, the link is below.  These are my thoughts after sitting down having come home from work and re-reading the post by Stephanie Zvan on Free Thought Blogs.  The thoughts and opinions (unless otherwise indicated) are mine, and probably mine alone.

I am, I think obviously, not the exact intended audience of Stephanie Zvan's post about "Legitimate Differences of Opinion," though I do consider myself to have a legitimate difference of opinion with her (and many other people in and out of the skeptic/atheist/and skeptical-atheists communities) with regards to social justice.  This is similar to my last 3+1 part series of posts in a way, and honestly I do not expect the end to be different (though I hope it is).

As the post was motivated on Almost Diamonds, 'what happens when we disagree?'  The suggestion is that skeptical inquiry can solve the disagreement.  I certainly agree that this could work in regard to truth claims.  I am not sure I agree with skepticism being capable of resolving value judgements.  Stephanie Zvan herself points this out here, saying this:
"So, if you start to insist that everyone should be treated exactly equally, you either get to make that a value statement or – which can be basically dismissed as “well, I disagree with you, I have different values” – or you're making a truth claim, in which case you need to be. . . if you're going to be the skeptical part of Atheism+ – and this actually goes for the humanism too, because that's one of their values – you need to not be resistant to the heaps of data that we can then put in front of you to demonstrate that treating people equally is not actually treating people equally, and it's not getting equal outcomes." Stephanie Zvan in response to Debbie Goddard
I understand that she was saying that deciding to make something a value statement means it can be dismissed by simple disagreement.  That does not make the disagreement illegitimate.  The other option, of comparing to the 'heaps of data' about outcomes is also something of a false comparison.  There has never been a libertarian society in the classical libertarian sense (though we could argue that places like Texas or Luisiana are something like a Libertarian society in the political party sense, though again only imperfectly), and so it is impossible to have sampled one.  I would imagine (though I am no social scientist, of any stripe) that this also makes it challenging to control for a society which for all intents and purposes does not exist in a study of outcomes of different methods used in different cultures.

I have yet to complain about Atheist+, nor have I ever claimed the label 'equity feminist' before, but I do think of my self as a feminist whose philosophy is based on negative liberties of individuals within a society (as opposed to positive liberties and/or group liberties positive or negative), and I fail to see a reason to treat men and women differently as these rights apply to them.  This is, in essence, the difference between a libertarian view of rights and a liberal view of rights (as the terms are understood in colloquial use in the USA).  In that sense, which I suspect is what is meant by 'equity feminist' when it says that the rights are due to self-ownership (which is a core of voluntarist thought) then I am one I suppose, though I do not think the label is particularly useful or informative.  For instance, I agree entirely with this section regarding women's rights and self-ownership from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  This last paragraph of the section is where I think the major disagreement between libertarian-leaning people and progressive liberal-leaning people in the atheist movement comes in:
"Same treatment under the law does not guarantee same outcomes. Classical liberal or libertarian feminists hold that women's rights are not violated when citizens exercise their rights in ways that create unequal outcomes (Epstein 2002, 30). A woman's rights are violated only when she is interfered with coercively, that is, when there is, or is a threat of, forced loss of freedom, property or life (which does not serve as just restraint or compensation)."--Amy R. Baehr, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
This is not to say, that I think I disagree with anything in that statement, or that I think you (Stephanie Zvan, or any other reader of this) thinks I disagree with this statement.  I believe the disagreement here is now a question of a value judgement.  I agree that equal treatment does not guarantee equal outcomes and I think that this is acceptable.  It is not a level playing field and never will be, and I think that this is acceptable.  Those two things are not truth claims except in the most trivial sense.  In that way, this is obviously open to the same attack that this is a 'dogmatic position' in the same way people accuse you (and others) of holding dogmatic positions.  It is a position arrived at based upon ones values, which are within that value system are tautologies.

As to an evidenced based defense of libertarian thought on feminism, which is the closest part of this related to the blog post that spawned this wall of text:
Libertarians have historically been (and still are) pro gay marriage equality , pro women's rights to make medical decisions regarding reproductive health (though there is a 'pro-life/anti-choice' wing of the Libertarian party spawning from the same religious thought that it usually comes from), for the legalization of prostitution (as an example, though searching for news coverage of libertarian politicians frequently brings up the political parties support for legalizing prostitution since its formation in the early 1970s and the problems it has caused them), and other sex work, including the production and distribution of pornography. Libertarians support these ideas with the express aim of making the prostitutes lives better (and less dangerous) while simultaneously preserving freedom of expression.  As I suspected, it is difficult to find (at least in a reasonable amount of time) studies which show the distinct effect of liberalizing obscenity laws, or the effect libertarians have had on the public debate over GLBT rights or abortion rights.  The reason is probably because the effect is proportional to the size of the source, and libertarians are not a large minority, nor are they geographically homogeneous (or in the case of the US political party, ideologically homogeneous). 

What libertarianism does not do is take away the freedom of association, this is the basic freedom which allows people to be bigots.  When bigots commit fraud or assault or any other other crimes motivated by bigotry, the crime and not the motive for it is what a libertarian philosophy demands be punished.  The only effective voluntarist punishment for persons holding bigoted views (but not otherwise 'breaking a law') is to not associate with the person (or people).  This is commonly held by non-libertarians to be an insufficient response.  You are certainly free to not include libertarians in your group as a result of this (if the libertarian understands their own worldview, they will not try and make you aside from talking to you about why they think you are wrong to do so).

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