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Monday, July 25, 2011

Is It OK to Say "I Told You So," When I Really Did Tell You So?

When I wrote this post, I was accused of being dishonest and uncharitable. While I may not have made my point a clearly as I wished, what I was trying to say was, "OK, I know Oliva does not want the head of the FTC assassinated, but by calling him a tyrant in the context of a blog post the title of which is about assassinating tyrants, he is encouraging those less temperate than he to act as if his words really mean something."

And, lo and behold, a week after I post that cautionary note, a Norwegian nutjob killed 93 people, while citing three articles from mises.org in his "manifesto" explaining his actions.

Look, I don't mean to condemn all libertarians as violent fanatics. My dear friend Bob Murphy is a pacifist, and would not, as I understand his position, even lift a finger against someone walking out of his house with his TV. My dear friend Sandy Ikeda is one of the most thoroughly decent human beings I have ever met, and I cannot imagine him advocating the sort of violence this Norwegian psycho perpetrated. I also consider Steve Horwitz my friend, and also a thoroughly decent fellow, although I am about to question his take on this incident below.

Steve writes, noting the libertarian references in the Norwegian Psycho's manifesto, "Just thought you should know because it will eventually be brought up by those with nasty agendas."

So, perhaps Steve thinks my effort to get libertarians to tone down their "sic simper tyrannis" rhetoric is a "nasty agenda"?

Look, I am not here trying to debate the value of libertarian political theory. The point of this post, which was the point of my post criticizing Oliva, is that rhetoric calling current political actors "evil tyrants" may be mere posturing on the part of writers like Oliva, but if someone actually takes their rhetoric seriously, then violent action against such "evil tyrants" is the logical outcome.

Just because you are too sensible to follow through on your inflammatory rhetoric, that doesn't excuse you from inspiring those who will take you at your word.

UPDATE: When I wrote, 'perhaps Steve thinks my effort to get libertarians to tone down their "sic simper tyrannis" rhetoric is a "nasty agenda"?', I certainly did not mean to imply that Steve wrote his post with me in mind. (Someone without any sense of context just wrote me and said that was what I meant!) I was raising a question: Would Steve think that my cautionary words, written before this incident, were part of a "nasty agenda" to discredit libertarians? Or is he able to separate the proposition "(some) libertarians should tone down their violent rhetoric" from some general attempt to smear libertarians as violent? (an attempt I have just taken pains to dismiss.)

26 comments:

  1. Of course Gene. I completely agree with your calls to turn down any violent rhetoric. That I wouldn't think otherwise seemed so obvious that I couldn't believe that was what you were talking about.

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  2. That's really terrible that he apparently did this all as a publicity stunt for his views. (That's what his lawyer's statement suggests, anyway.) I am not clicking on the pdf of his manifesto. That is the only thing I can do to thwart that guy's plan, at this point.

    (I'm deliberately not commenting on your actual issue here, Gene, because no matter what anybody says, I think it won't end well. The above though is the only thing I can say right now about this awful episode.)

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  3. Yes, Steve, that is why I called you my friend and a "thoroughly decent fellow"! And I meant it when I wrote it. But let us acknowledge that there exist libertarians whose rhetoric does imply that such violence is justified -- not you! and not many other thoroughly decent libertarians! -- and admit that it is not only a "nasty agenda" that might lead someone to link this nutjob's violent actions to the rhetoric used by SOME libertarians.

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  4. Steve, Bob and I were, for a time, involved with an anarchist web discussion group in which certain people began calling for a money pool to be put up for assassinating politicians. I immediately advised the administrator of the site to ban all such discussion, and when he wouldn't, I stopped visiting the site. I know Bob never approved of this either. And I know you would not have, if you had been there. The point of my post (and the previous one on this topic) is not to contend that libertarianism is inherently violent, or that decent libertarians like you and Bob would ever have approved of such tactics, but to note that this kind of rhetoric really does exist in some libertarian circles, and that it is not merely a "nasty agenda" that could lead someone to point out that such violent rhetoric may sometimes lead to violent actions!

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  5. None of the articles from Mises.org he cites are violent or support the use of violence. He did not reference S.M. Oliva's blog post.

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  6. Gene,

    Beyond the issue of aggressive rhetoric, I've been wondering what the response of sites like LRC would have been, had the perpetrator fitted the (expected) Islamic extremist bill. No doubts there would have been cries that this demonstrates the terrible backlash of NATO activity in Libya and elsewhere. Now, I'm certainly not universally supportive of aggressive foreign policy... But I think it's fair to ask why not use similar logic to argue that lax immigration policy and social integration should be avoided due to violent backlashes?

    We can evaluate outcomes just as inconsistently as we do motivations.

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  7. Gene, I'll say one last thing on this: I would just invite you to revisit your own support for violence. You have recently written posts trying to trap libertarians, to get them to see that "obviously" we all agree we would have to kill a traitor to our country who was going to tell the invading Germans how to evade our defenses, etc. etc. You have also said that restrictions on immigrations are tried and true rules that groups have adopted over thousands of years to protect themselves (or something like that).

    So I could just as well say, "Irresponsible people on the internet are pushing the idea that it's OK to kill people if doing so will protect the integrity of your culture or country."

    I'm obviously not saying your writings are consistent with what this guy did, just as you don't think Oliva's posts justified it.

    That's partly why I'm a pacifist. Once you concede that some things are worth killing for, it's just a matter of deciding which things are important before the blood starts flowing.

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  8. "Irresponsible people on the internet are pushing the idea that it's OK to kill people if doing so will protect the integrity of your culture or country."

    But, that IS OK! Of course, not OK for me to just go shoot some immigrant to "protect my culture." But is perfectly fine to have laws concerning treason and immigration, and to do what one needs to to enforce those laws.

    I believe that human society can exist without a state. But without laws? I don't see how it is possible, or how you think it would be possible. In this respect I am with Rothbard, Block, Hoppe, etc. and opposed to you and... Tolstoy, perhaps? Interesting, hey?

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  9. "Once you concede that some things are worth killing for, it's just a matter of deciding which things are important before the blood starts flowing."

    But surely that choice is not arbitrary and can be defended!

    Let's put this rather starkly: a lunatic, who is known to dismember children alive -- sorry to portray such a grim picture, but I really want to put your back to the wall here and see what you say -- is about to snatch your boy. You happen to have a gun right next to you. You can shoot him, or let him go with your son.

    I contend that it would be terribly wrong to do nothing in this situation. You not merely are morally permitted to shoot the fellow, I would say you are morally *required* to shoot him. And the choice to do so seems trivial to defend.

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  10. "None of the articles from Mises.org he cites are violent or support the use of violence. He did not reference S.M. Oliva's blog post."

    Are you being deliberately obtuse? I am claiming that the *sort* of rhetoric used in Oliva's article can and sometimes does inspire the *sort* of violence we just witnessed. I never said Oliva's article inspired Breivik!

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  11. Stickman,

    "I've been wondering what the response of sites like LRC would have been, had the perpetrator fitted the (expected) Islamic extremist bill. No doubts there would have been cries that this demonstrates the terrible backlash of NATO activity in Libya and elsewhere. Now, I'm certainly not universally supportive of aggressive foreign policy... But I think it's fair to ask why not use similar logic to argue that lax immigration policy and social integration should be avoided due to violent backlashes?"

    I think there's a slight misconception here. Libertarians don't argue that interventionist foreign policy should be avoided primarily BECAUSE of ("due to") the violent backlashes it provokes. In fact, we argue for noninterventionism on grounds entirely independent from terrorism: we think it's just, humane, wise, moral, and so on. In other words, even if there were no terrorism, and we had a fool-proof guarantee that no terrorist attack would ever succeed, we would STILL oppose interventionism because it's the right thing to do. Reducing terrorism just happens to be an incidental benefit of an otherwise just/moral policy.

    This is a purely normative issue. What makes it confusing is that libertarians sometimes also argue the positive/empirical claim that interventionism leads to terrorism, which dovetails with normative noninterventionism but is ultimately a separate question.

    So I don't really see the inconsistency, unless there are libertarians who actually argue that a given policy should be avoided "due to" the violent backlashes it provokes. But if there are any such libertarians, I'm unaware of them.

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  12. What about completely calm and intellectual rhetoric that kills people in the millions?

    You know like civilized presdients, formal strategic alliances and so on deciding it's a great idea to drop bombs on brown people for purely intellectual reasons debated in a calm and civilized manner, of course.

    I am almost completely certain that as an empircal fact that kind of rhetoric is more responsible for murder than the fiery kind.

    So will you call for that to be toned down as well? Should we all just take an oath of silence?

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  13. Avram, I have been a consistent critic of US foreign policy for a decade or so. I certainly do object to the Bush/Obama foreign policy.

    "What about completely calm and intellectual rhetoric that kills people in the millions?"

    But I would resist this characterization of that rhetoric. The declaration of a "war on evil" is not the product of calm reasoning!

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  14. I think you're the only person being obtuse. The title of your post is "I told you so", as if the example of Breivik reinforces your point. You've just conceded that it doesn't.

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  15. Er, yeah, right, Jonathan. Given my point was that this *kind* of rhetoric can produce this *kind* of reaction, just how have I "conceded that it doesn't"?

    But, I know, I know: you're not engaging in serious discussion. You're writing propaganda designed to defend an already hardened position.

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  16. You haven't made a real case for how this man was inspired by libertarian rhetoric. His inspiration stems from his own internal chemical imbalance. He interpreted what he read in a way that supported what he already believed in. He cites Mises and Hayek for f***sakes, who were not violent and never called for violence.

    You write, "I told you so." You told who what? This has nothing to do with what you told S.M. Oliva (which you concede).

    But, no problem, continue to support your position by calling what other people write "propaganda".

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  17. "His inspiration stems from his own internal chemical imbalance."

    If that is so, then he surely is blameless, for chemical imbalances are not a matter of moral censure.

    But perhaps Vonnegut was more correct when he said that chemical imbalances must be supplemented by bad ideas to get this kind of result?

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  18. MikeB,

    Thanks for the reply. I do not disagree about the normative versus positive distinction. Indeed, this duality underpins my point: If we are going to invoke (ancillary) evidence to support our normative views -- a wise move whenever possible IMO -- then we need need to be ready to do that consistently.

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  19. "This has nothing to do with what you told S.M. Oliva (which you concede)."

    Well, Jonathan, since what I was saying was, "Watch out, this *type* of rhetoric has the potential to inspire a certain *type* of madman," no I don't concede that at all. But I have now said that three times, while you keep acting as if I have not said it at all, so there is no reason to suppose you will listen this time.

    "He cites Mises and Hayek for f***sakes, who were not violent and never called for violence."

    Well, for f***sakes, Jonathan, he probably also read the Oslo Times or whatever they have there, which also doesn't call for violence. Why not bring that up as well?

    Jonathan, you seem to be in an odd position: When I imply that *ideas* may have influenced this fellow, you cry "It's all chemicals!" Then why are you bothering to promote libertarian ideas at all? Instead you should tinker with the drinking water.

    But if you admit that ideas do have effects, then how can you deny that Walter Block's call for people to be "punished" for the "crime" of "statism" might actually lead some people to go ahead and decide to punish people for that crime? Does Block mean what he writes? If he does, then isn't flying a plane into an IRS building a logical application of his ideas? What was that guy doing but punishing those workers for their "crime" in the only way he could, given who holds power in this country?

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  20. Do you think Walter Block, or other raging rhetoric libertarians, would go along with the notion of collective guilt, which is *also* required to regard slaughtering dozens of kids as a "logical application of his ideas"? Planes into IRS buildings is one application of "statists deserve punishment" mebbe (maybe if I agreed with *that* blanket principle, I'd have more personal stake in having a more fleshed-out assessment, there), but murdering kids only flies if you're also on board with the whole mafioso-mentality collective guilt thang.

    Why did I say that? Because:

    "What was that guy doing but punishing those workers for their "crime" in the only way he could, given who holds power in this country?"

    "those workers" != "those kids"

    What was he doing but...he was killing people who weren't "those workers"!

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  21. '"What was that guy doing but punishing those workers for their "crime" in the only way he could, given who holds power in this country?"'

    In English, a phrase like "that guy" should be read to refer to the guy last mentioned. Which was the guy who flew his plane into the IRS building.

    So, 'What was he doing but...he was killing people who weren't "those workers"!' is wrong.

    Now, I don't think Walter Block supports even flying a plane into an IRS building. I don't think he's even really serious about a "libertarian Nuremberg trial." But his rhetoric DOES support flying a plane into an IRS building. Or at least can very plausibly be read to support it.

    Could it be read to support the Norwegian shooter? I agree it's more of a stretch, but, these "kids" were "young members of the governing Labor Party"... statists! Encouraging statism, voting for statism, promoting Norway's welfare state. And Block calls all of those things "crimes," deserving "punishment." He'd probably say, even if punishment came at his trials, that death was too high for these young statists. But in the meantime, what then? Well, let's quote Block:

    "Would you have any moral reservations about breaking into this gang's [meaning the government's] warehouse in the middle of the night, assuming that you could get away with it for sure, and relieve them of their ill-gotten booty? No more so than with any other gang, criminal conspiracy, or group of pirates. These people are the lowest of the low, and pretty much anything you do to or against them will be more than fully deserved."

    Get that? "Pretty much anything you do to or against them will be more than fully deserved"! Pretty much anything.

    I rest my case.

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  22. 'which is *also* required to regard slaughtering dozens of kids as a "logical application of his ideas"'

    And just to clarify, Nathan, the *youngest* of those killed was 16, but most of those killed were older than that. It's really stretching things to call them "kids." They were certainly old enough to decide to actively support the "crime" of "statism"!

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  23. Yeah, I know "that" works. Breivik=that guy, by moral/motivational equivalence, according to your case. I went with it.

    The intent was to prompt an addressing of just *how alike* you think the running of planes into IRS building is to the shooting of the campers, granted the premise that all statist participators can be duly punished.

    I'm glad you say it's more of a stretch, there. Because guilt, of course, *must be* individual, case-by-case, or not at all.

    I've never read Walter Block. The quotes you give would seem to indicate his antistatist zeal* leads him to paint with a collectivist broad brush, if he wants to brand all statists as equally culpable regardless of the specific things specific statists actually do.

    I didn't have a dog in your case re:Walter Block, other Libertarians, so rest it as you will. I won't disagree, there. I just deny that that (planes into IRS buildings; shooting spree at a youth camp) are the same case.

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  24. Well, there are certainly different. Block does try to establish a scale of statists' crimes -- but someone caught up in his zeal, as you well put it, may not notice so much.

    And I knew you knew how that worked. :-) I was being a bit flippant because you seemed to be failing to apply your knowledge.

    Lastly, to repeat: My contention has never, ever been that all libertarians or all ideas of libertarians would support something like the plane flying into the IRS. Only that some rhetoric of some libertarians does.

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  25. Yeah, I figured flippancy was afoot, heh. I was using it myself in a fairly licentious manner, without notice.

    Yeah, I'm sure *some* libertarian rhetoric could be parsed into justifying *some* sort of action like flying planes into IRS buildings. I imagine that's true for pretty much any branch of rhetoric that isn't specifically pacifist.

    Of more note to me is the usage of the ubiquitous "sending a message" family as seen in this quote from http://content.usatoday.com/communities/ondeadline/post/2011/07/judge-orders-closed-hearing-for-suspect-in-norway-killings/1: "Breivik pleaded not guilty, saying he wanted to save Europe and send a strong signal, not to kill as many as possible, the judge says."

    Seems to me enough people have lost the metaphorical vs. literal distinction well enough now to give this guy his platform based on the premise of "sending a message", whereby "mass murder" is transubstantiated into "strong statement" and then judged on its merits *as a statement*. (And there are any number of rational and moral imbeciles on display across teh internets who do just that and go it one further, saying "Well...don't care much for how he said it, but the guy makes a good point..." -- !)

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  26. "Yeah, I'm sure *some* libertarian rhetoric could be parsed into justifying *some* sort of action like flying planes into IRS buildings. I imagine that's true for pretty much any branch of rhetoric that isn't specifically pacifist."

    Nathan, I've tried to be quite clear about the fact I'm not here writing against libertarianism, but against some of this rhetoric. You may note that I just made a similar post cautioning about anti-Muslim rhetoric.

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