Apr 13, 2011

Debating politics with libertarians is boring

It's gotta be frustrating as hell to debate politics with libertarians. Not just because we're nutso and constantly at odds with both major political parties, but because it's the same damn answer from us most of the time: "Not the gub'mint's job!"

Why are our answers so often boilerplate? Sure, libertarians still debate over those few "essential" functions. Some (anarcho-capitalists) advocate none. Most seem to agree courts and a small military are okay. But for most of what the feds do (and more importantly, most of what the budget goes toward) our answer is always the same.

As a result of rejecting so many functions of government, we seem to come off as needlessly cruel, cold, and uncaring to the wellbeing of others. However, this mistaken assumption stems from the same reason why we parrot the same answer so often. It is the age-old oft overlooked distinction between legality and morality.

Let's take an easy hot-button issue: abortion. You've got your reds versus blues, pro-life versus pro-choice, anti-choice versus anti-life. The problem I have with most debates on abortion is that they fail to make the distinction I mentioned above.

Abortion is problematic because it involves the killing of something living, an act we normally (under murder/manslaughter) abhor and penalize others for doing. It's debatable whether it's comparable to killing a human (in which case we should also abhor it as murder) or killing a plant (also a living thing, but one without sentience or feelings, in which case it's okay). Some might even try to compare it to killing cattle as we do all the time, in which a middle ground is sought (not abhorred necessarily, but "humane" killing is preferred).

For libertarians, though, the distinction between legality and morality is very important. All of the points I just made are moral ones. Legally, it becomes very simple. As a parent, mother, what have you, the choice is hers. Legally, abortion should be fully permissible and unrestricted (individual hospital policies not withstanding). This is the position, I think, of most libertarians, and certainly mine.

Morally, though, things are much more gray. I worry that abortion could be abused as a convenient first-line defense, as a form of birth control, an always available card for those "oopsies" as a result of bad decisions. I don't know fully yet how I feel on the issue of whether it is murder, but I prefer to err on the side of caution. This means I think we should always strive to find other methods of achieving the same goal (that of not having a kid). Use a condom or a pill or something. Don't take it lightly. That way the issue is much more moot. It won't matter as much whether it's murder or not because you can avoid the issue entirely by not having to choose at all. I support the ability of choice in the matter, though I hope and would encourage we avoid the exercise of it whenever possible in the first place. I think we can all agree that not having to choose to abort or not is always preferable.

I realize my fears may be unfounded. I don't know of any evidence that it would or is being used as a convenient replacement for other measures (condoms and pills, as mentioned previously). I don't really know whether "kids these days" are taking it seriously or, having the option available, are having sex without much consideration because hey, if it comes down to it, they can always abort. I don't really know if that is the case. I'm not sure how you could prove it, either. But the mere fact that it is possible worries me. Still, I also realize a possibility is nothing more than that. It is neither necessarily fact nor reality. Abortion probably isn't any fun, either. It's scary, it probably hurts. It is perhaps embarrassing, too, coming with a lot of stigma in the eyes of one’s family or friends. But would they know that (I mean REALLY know that) ahead of time, before getting pregnant? I just don't know.

But that is all moral debate. And moral questions should be up to individuals. I don't believe in some central authority proscribing the "proper" morals for all. Who is anyone to say what is always right or wrong and when? As we've already seen throughout history, the moral zeitgeist is always in constant flux and evolving. We now abhor slavery nearly universally. This was not always so. Let moral trends develop as they may. That is the only way we will all slowly come to find the optimal balance. Morality ultimately exists to facilitate the most harmonious existence between groups of humans, anyway.

And so you'll often hear this kind of talk from me or other libertarians. "Well, I think it should be legal, but..." That 'but' part is where we go into the moral question. But our opinion of its legality should not imply anything of our moral opinion. This is the mistake that others so often make when considering us cold and uncaring. It's an easy mistake to make when you hear things like "We should stop all government welfare programs: Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, WIC, you name it. Abortion, drugs, alcohol, and prostitution should be completely legal." Sounds like a real hedonistic bastard, but just because we think those things should be allowed and the other things to be stopped doesn't mean we think the functions or acts themselves are right or wrong. We just don't think it should be the government's responsibility. I may advocate legality, but personally I don't do drugs or fornicate with prostitutes. But that's just my choice, and it should always be my choice.

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