Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Libertarian Vision: Better Achieved Gradually

The libertarian cause, i.e. to reduce government intervention in every area of life and to give people more flexibility and 'freedom to do the right thing', is a very noble cause. However, I believe that it must be achieved gradually, perhaps over decades. Let me explain.

Firstly, whilst libertarian policies as we commonly understand them are ultimately what we should strive for, in some cases their immediate implementation would cause some people to lose freedom. For example, the withdrawal of anti-discrimination laws would mean ethnic minorities and LGBT people have less freedom to access opportunities in life, the withdrawal of government welfare would mean those living in poverty have less freedom to negotiate their working conditions, and the complete and immediate withdrawal of gun control may mean those who cannot afford to buy a gun or learn to use one feel unsafe and therefore effectively lose their freedom of movement. Whilst all these policies may eventually be able to be implemented in a society that is mature enough for them, in the 2010s we are simply not there yet.

Let me take this from another angle. Whilst those of us familiar with libertarianism find libertarian policies logical, whether we agree with their (immediate) implementation or not, the wider world really doesn't understand them at all. The Libertarian Party may be the third largest party in the USA, but stereotypes about libertarians being conspiracy theorists or even anti-social remain strong in some circles. In Australia, where a senator representing a libertarian party was elected recently (something US libertarians can probably only dream of right now), many people across the political spectrum, from the environmentalist left to the religious right, still appear to completely misunderstand the new senator's positions on various matters. All this just shows that libertarianism continues to have a communication problem worldwide, and many non-libertarians continue to view it as, to put it mildly, eccentric.

In a society that measures policies and ideologies by their results more than anything else, libertarianism cannot exist in a bubble. It must generate acceptable results regarding its stated goal: to maximize freedom for everyone. And if it is to do so, then libertarian policies must be rolled out gradually, and only when they do increase freedom in the current society. If we can consistently stick to this plan, libertarianism will become better understood by society, and will be seen as practical and the right thing to do.

Marriage Has Changed, and it's Too Late to Go Back

Once upon a time, marriage always represented a lifelong union. Well, there were exceptions, for example regarding domestic violence, but in more than 95% of cases it lasted for life. Like most pro-marriage people, I have long lamented the change away from this concept in the wider society in the past five or so decades. In the past, I have tried to support everything from divorce reform to denouncing Hollywood celebrities who don't take marriage 'seriously', by our standards. I have even tried to tie my support for marriage equality to a demand that gay and lesbian couples who do marry take marriage 'seriously'. Guess what? None of that worked at all, and all of that was seen as offensive by significant numbers of people.

And I probably should not have expected any differently. Marriage may traditionally have been what we believed it to be, and it may have been that way during our own upbringing because our families were more traditional than many others out there, but for many people the marriage they buy into does come with the option of walking away when they don't like how things turn out. And when we try to uphold 'traditional marriage' by criticising those who have opted into 'modern marriage', we only end up offending many people.

Whilst we may not like how marriage evolved into 'modern marriage', it is a fact of history, and it is something that has already become fact (perhaps even before our generation was born). Whilst we may not like 'modern marriage' very much, it is now a legitimate option, and one that is chosen by many people. We just have to accept it for what it is. To many people out there, 'modern marriage' was always available, and those seeing marriage this way right now effectively just opted into what was already available. They are not responsible for 'cheapening marriage' (that occured long ago), and any movement suggesting that would rightly be seen as offensive.

I guess those wanting to support traditional marriage as it existed before the 1960s should find another term. Some have suggested 'covenant', whilst others have suggested something along the lines of 'lifelong partnership' or 'lifelong marriage'. Whatever we end up choosing, however, we should not aim to expand the new description beyond those who really believe in lifelong commitment, 'for better or for worse'. I believe one reason why marriage became 'modern marriage' was that there was great pressure on couples to get married back in the 1970s and 1980s, when many couples just weren't ready for that commitment, due to the temporary influence of various 'liberation movements' back then. If we let these couples just cohabitate without social pressure, we would have been able to retain the traditional spirit of marriage, ready to become mainstream again perhaps in the more family friendly 1990s. Belief in commitment, like all other traditional values, must never be forced onto an unwilling majority. Otherwise, it will be the traditional value that ends up being subverted, because the majority always wins.