The Atheist Libertarian Connection

I Only BelieveIan Murphy has written a fun little article called Five Atheists Who Ruin it For Everyone Else. In it, he notes that there is a growing population of people without faith, but that this movement is being hindered by a few high profile atheists, who, for lack of a better word, are assholes. I take issue with the first part of this claim: I don’t think there is a growing population of people without faith. I think they were always there and maybe now they feel more comfortable self-identifying as atheists and agnostics. True believers are pretty rare in my experience.

Murphy’s list of asshole atheists is a good one: Sam Harris, Bill Maher, Penn Jillette, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and S.E. Cupp. What do all of these people have in common? They all lean libertarian. And this isn’t just true of them; it is true for a large portion of the atheist community. And I have long wondered about this.

It is not, as would seem to be the case, because they are all followers of Ayn Rand. But it is related to this. I think that Ayn Rand was an atheist for the same reason the Assholes Five are. Libertarian thought is based upon the myth of individual accomplishment. Humans are social animals and must be—Mitt Romney at the peak of his brilliance would have quickly died if stranded alone on an atoll; no car elevator for him! Belief in this myth allows people to not think just that they are an important member of their society or even that they are marginally better than other people; it allows them to think that they are discreetly better than other people: one, two, or more sociological quantum leaps beyond the common herd.

This is how we end up with a book like Atlas Shrugged, with its demigod heroes. All of these great “producers” decide to go on strike because the world would be lost without them. And of course, in the novel, the government falls apart and John Galt is there to create a new society from scratch: a free market utopia of the type we’ve heard so much about in post-war Iraq. In reality, we would see something different.

Consider this example that I got from The Winner-Take-All Society: suppose we had an edict that said only people with IQs of less than 70 could practice law. This would not affect the world in any way. People with the most money would still hire the best lawyers and so on. Now this would not be true of, say, engineering. If all our engineering was done with very limited minds, our cars wouldn’t work. But if we did something less extreme, and just removed the top people in the field, their work would be taken over by the second string engineers, and you know what? Nothing would change.

I’ve written about this before. The huge distinctions we make between the best and almost the best are mythical: they don’t exist. I admire Einstein, but his thinking wasn’t that revolutionary. I admire Usain Bolt, but he isn’t that much faster than other runners. I admire Darwin, but his thinking wasn’t that revolutionary—wait: Alfred Russel Wallace!

The core of libertarian thought is based on the deification of people who, through a combination of genes, environment, and luck, succeed spectacularly in society. It is not surprising then, that people who lose faith in one mythology (e.g. Christianity) would grab onto another (e.g. libertarianism or communism)—especially when that new mythology has the trappings of rationality and science.

What tends to make both libertarians and atheists such assholes is their shared belief that they see the world so much more clearly than others. It is rare indeed to find a libertarian who doesn’t think that his ideology can be derived from first principles. And this is not only annoying, it is dangerous.

Afterword

I consider myself an atheist—or at least as much as one can reasonably be. There is still raison d’être, which very many atheists embarrassingly seem to mistake with cosmology. I also have a lot of anarchical leanings. I do think that people should just leave each other the hell alone. But for most people, atheism and libertarianism are religions. I have great concern about people who combine these things. It is much easier to assume that someone like Richard Carrier, who combines atheism with secular humanism, is not blinded by ideology, and hence, theology.

Thanks to Buring at the Stake for the image above.
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Did He Build That?

You may have seen the original of this picture where small business owner Ray Gaster proclaims, “I built this business without gov’t help. Obama can Kiss my ass.” Of course, the fact that Gaster owns a lumber yard, means he’s received lots over government help in the form of low cost lumber resources.

Someone, it seems to be Being Liberal on Facebook, has added some much needed context for the photo:

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I do have one question: did the creator really mean “founded” and not “funded”? There ought to be a good deal more government funded spelling and grammar education.

Fox News Blond Z-294

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I’m not the only person who is bothered by the conservative blond automatons. Last night, Stephen Colbert discussed the coverage of the lack of patriotism at the Olympics in a segment hosted by, “Fox News Blond Z-294, Alisyn Camerota”:

The Colbert Report was very funny last night. The second segment was even better than this first one. The same could not be said of The Daily Show.

Jon Stewart continues to burnish his reasonable centerness whenever he has the slightest opportunity. He continues to go after Harry Reid. And then last night, he went after the unfortunate, stupid, and rude Adam Smith, the CFO of Vante Inc. Smith took video of his harassing of a Chick-fil-A drive-thru clerk and posted it on YouTube. He was being a dick in a way I particularly hate. However, was it really necessary to publicly shame the man after he lost his job over the incident?

I guess the answer is yes. When it comes to Jon Stewart’s commitment to the not very reasonable center, all attacks are okay. And that makes him what? A dick.

Thank God for Stephen Colbert.

Economic Apologetics

Economic ApologeticsApologetics is the defense of a particular doctrine. It is a noble endeavor. But as with most things, it can be done poorly or well.

Most people think of apologetics with regard to Christianity. But I think we all see it more often in the field of politics—especially economics. It is just that it is usually not referred to as apologetics.

Romney’s economic advisers have come out with a really despicable bit of apologetics for his policies. What is really notable is that the authors are very big men in the economics field: Kevin Hassett, Glenn Hubbard, Gregory Mankiw, and John Taylor. I’m no economist and I already knew about three of these four men (I didn’t know Hassett).

Dylan Matthews over at WonkBlog, discusses how the paper cherry picks its data in the discussion of the effects of Obama’s stimulus. He notes that they first compress the entire discussion of the stimulus to one small part of it: cash for clunkers. Then, they ignore two studies that found positive effects of this program. And then to make matters as bad as they could possibly be, they misrepresent the findings of at least one of the two papers they do cite. What is most shocking about this is that Dylan Matthews is not an economist. He is just a reporter who focuses on tax policy. Yet he was able to see how intellectually dishonest this supposedly respectable group is being.

This makes me think of Christian apologists. William Lane Craig is probably the most famous one of these. Although I disagree with him greatly, he is intellectually honest. When he finds a problem in the Bible, he doesn’t cover it over. Instead, he uses his considerable intellect and knowledge to justify and explain the problem. This is what I am used to seeing from liberal economists like Paul Krugman and Dean Baker.

On the other side of things, we have Lee Strobel. He is simply a true believer who will say and do anything to prove his case. He is the most intellectually slimy person I have ever seen in any field. And this is the kind of economic policy apologetics that we are getting from the Romney camp. Brad DeLong has written a substantial article where he goes point by point through the Romney team’s white paper and counters all of its nonsense. If you are at all interested in economics, I recommend reading the article. But you will get an idea of how upset the reputable part of the field must be with this short quotation:

HHMT: Rather than focusing on the structural problems revealed by the financial crisis and the ensuing recession, the Obama administration focused on short-term fiscal ‘stimulus.’

FALSE: I am sorry, but here I just have to escalate from “WRONG” to “FALSE”, because this is not just wrong, this is false–and knowingly false.

Obama administration attempts to focus on the structural problems revealed by the financial crisis were hobbled by Republican obstruction to the reform effort that eventually yielded Dodd-Frank.

HHMT were conspicuous by their absence in the lobbying for reforms to deal with the defects of existing financial regulations and with the rise of and consequences of shadow banking.

Why they were conspicuous by their absence I do not claim to know.

Meanwhile, after all of this and the Tax Policy Center’s analysis, Fox News today has been all day, all the time on how mean a new Obama attack ad is—including on their “straight” news programs.

Update (8 August 2012 11:27 am)

It seems I was wrong. The Romney economists didn’t disregard two studies that indicated that the stimulus was effective—they disregarded 15! Ezra Klein does more work demolishing this horrible attempt at economic apologetics. He ends his article with as straightforward an attack as we ever see from him:

So even the studies that the Romney campaign’s economists handpicked to bolster their case don’t prove what the Romney campaign says they prove. And some of the key policy recommendations that flow from those studies are anathema to the Romney campaign. And in perhaps the key policy area highlighted by these studies, the Romney campaign doesn’t have a formal policy. If this is the best they can do in support of their economic plan, well, it’s not likely to quiet the critics.

Update (9 August 2012 6:29 pm)

Here is the ad that Fox has been running constantly for the last couple of days:

And here is an Onion parody.