Nov 9, 2011

My Core Philosophy

I talk often about and freely align myself with libertarianism and naturally gravitate to organizations, news, and people that also share it. I find it to be a perfectly fine and accurate summary of my philosophy, it has the benefit of being the most well-known term (though still not necessarily a house-hold name) which aids in communicating, and it carries no (to my knowledge) adverse social stigma, such as atheist does in the theological realm.

Still, to anyone that actually professes libertarian philosophy or, such as myself, envelopes themselves in its history and thinking a lot as an interest, the term is still surprisingly vague. Many flavors and approaches exist, some from moral foundations and others from practical theories. It is surprisingly open-ended on how and why you end up promoting liberty.

Finding the right specific term first requires you to know your own opinions specifically and then to study each term to match it as closely as possible. Due to the variability of both opinions and accepted terms, you'll probably never find a perfect fit and the search itself may take considerable time. Once you have one, it may be in such limited use that everyone else has to look it up too just to know what you mean by using it. So much complication for a label!

In the interest of enumerating some of my own core beliefs, and in the interest of using plain, straight-forward language instead of obscure sesquipedalian terms, here they are in no particular order:

Try to put yourself in their shoes

One of the hardest things for people to do is to try to imagine things from the point of view of another. It is something that many parents and schools and so on try to teach us when we are young. It doesn't come easy for some of us. Empathy requires knowledge of the other person's life, circumstances, values, and so on, much of which we may not even know. It also requires the willingness to divorce, as much as possible, our preconceived assumptions that have to do with our own personal circumstances, values, culture, etc., that may be influencing our opinions. This difference can help explain why our eventual opinions differ, and how perhaps neither is more correct or wrong than the other, since they do not originate from an equal starting point.

When considering things on the macro scale, particularly government policy and the like, it's useful to employ the other shoes mentality and ask questions like "Would I like to be treated that way?" If I were gay, would I like to be denied benefits, legal and financial, simply because I don't want to marry someone of the opposite gender? If I were an immigrant, would I like to be treated as a criminal simply because I found this country to be preferable to my own? If I were a woman, would I like to be told that I absolutely must give birth to this baby?

I don't know what's best for other people

Ignorance is everywhere: it is a simple fact of life and there's really nothing wrong with that since it cannot be helped. I've talked about specialization before, how it is preferable, but it also means you leave a lot of other things in life outside of your knowledge. As we humans specialize more and more in our rapidly evolving cultures and societies, more and more of us will be woefully ignorant and, worse, mistaken in our assumptions of what other lives, people, places, and such are like.

How can you even hope to govern effectively if you don't really know what you're governing? Legislators constantly pass massive omnibus laws covering large swaths of the economy and our lives and I guarantee you most of them haven't a clue what the people and processes they are affecting are really like (nor do they actually read the bills). And besides, general knowledge in a subject like economics still doesn't make you the end-all-be-all authority and give you a pass to orchestrating the economy of a nation, or even parts of it like healthcare, credit card companies, or banks. It is hubris at best. In fact, most “progressive” ideology seems to rely upon two impossibilities: that it’ll all work out fine if we just have the Right People with access to the Right Information. At least you can imagine finding the right experts (or good enough ones, perhaps), but they’ll always be working with inadequate, out of date, and insufficient information when making their decrees.

I couldn't even begin to make recommendations, let alone laws, that cover the vast majority of things in this country, and I suspect that most people doing the governing aren't truly qualified much more than I am in most areas. A few of them might be a bit better off. As I said before, the economists at least have a glimmer of hope when it comes to financial regulations or something, but most of the time they're working on other things anyway, as it is the nature of the position to be dividing attention amongst many different responsibilities.

Is it any wonder that people often remark that we are governed by fools or children? It sure seems that way, indeed. But perhaps it is due to the intrinsic nature of ignorance as opposed to a true personal failing of the governing class (e.g. an actual lack of intelligence or age/wisdom, as the two previous phrases suppose).

Be willing to accept evidence to the contrary

This is basically just a re-phrasing of the idea of skepticism and strong opinions weakly held, which I'm sure any regular readers are sick of hearing about from me by now. (Heh... "regular readers"... didja catch that little joke? I... oh, never mind.)

It's important to remember that libertarianism and such is simply a way of approaching the world, ideas, and problems. It is not a set of laws written in stone. Always be mindful of blind adherence to cherished beliefs. Be willing to discard ideas that prove not to work in the real world. Because in the end, we should all want what's best for the world. We should be willing to admit when our solutions aren't working or when other solutions work better.

And there you go. My core philosophy consists mainly of three basic concepts: empathy, ignorance, and skepticism. I believe it is the most honest and loving way to approach life and humanity.

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