Sometimes you have to take a stand

One of the things I love about my life is never knowing what I’m going to write about from one day to the next. My favorite thing is when someone asks a question, or offers a problem, or seeks my advice, or criticizes a statement and asks for clarification. That…is a conversation. And that is a wonderful thing. Got a great PM this morning that fits this bill precisely.

“Steven — I’m just going to call you on what sure looks like a violation of your own principles. You’ve said repeatedly that it doesn’t matter so much if one agrees with BLM (to pick a random example), but you certainly have to accept its members believe the problems in disproportionate police violence against blacks are institutional and racist. Believe THEIR belief, even if you question their conclusions is what I interpret you having written on multiple occasions. “

Yep. If you don’t believe THEY believe it, you are destroying any basis for a conversation. You are invalidating my own experience, and without a basic foundation of “you are reporting reality as you have experienced it, and believe it to be true” there is actually no way to move forward.

“So why does it take a working model of a libertarian government to accept that libertarians genuinely believe the rights of the individual should trump the authority of the state?”

I don’t believe I said I didn’t believe that, precisely. In fact, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t believe that to some degree. The difference is the degree, and no two people will agree on where that line is, precisely. So people who believe MORE in individual rights will often accuse those who support collective action of believing “the government should own/do everything.” Do people on the other side exaggerate? Sure. But I actually DO hear Libertarians say “government can’t do anything right” and “free enterprise does everything better.” And defend those positions if you question them. And call themselves Libertarians, and other Libertarians don’t seem to attack their positions, so it is reasonable for me to assume that this is not an uncommon attitude among Libertarians. But its along a spectrum. To the degree that you believe governments can’t do anything, you are simply the flip-side of someone who believes government should do EVERYTHING. I will ignore both ends of that spectrum as unrealistic about human psychology and sociology.

“How can you have a reasoned dialog with someone about an issue if your opening argument is essentially, “I’m right, and only people who agree with me have points I want to consider; those who have concerns or disagree are disingenuous or deluded.”

You can’t. I don’t know of anything I think “I’m right” about. There ARE things where I say “I am willing to take a stand here. I can’t know I’m right 100%, but if you don’t make a decision, you cannot act. So I will move forward with faith, while remembering that I cannot possibly be certain.” From the outside, that can certainly look like “I think I’m right” but there isn’t much I can do about how something looks to someone else.

I cannot think of a subject where I have not considered points contrary to my own. But let’s take BLM. Is it possible that the playing field is actually level? That black pain and negative statistics are the result of something innate about us, or an hallucination? Of course it is. Anything is possible. But I use the analogy of a burning house. I believe I see the house burning, and my children trapped on an upper floor. This is not the time to debate whether there is a fire, or discuss the combusting temperature of wood, or whether those were really my children in the window. This is a time for fireaxes and bucket brigades. And if I’m wrong? I’ve trampled my neighbor’s lawn, used up water they could have used in their gardens, and made a fool of myself.

But if YOU are wrong? If I pause and discuss with you when it feels to me that I see my children screaming, feel the heat and smell the smoke? Then my children are DEAD. And you saying “oops!” later on doesn’t help a damn. And worse…if you look like the person I saw creeping away from my back porch with a box of matches? I am going to find it very very difficult not to wonder about your motivations. I really am. And the conclusions I come to if I have to dig my children’s bodies out of the wreckage will not be pretty.

Sometimes, you have to act. And when you are in action, it is not the time to consider. Time for considering, discussing, debating is BEFORE action. Can you make mistakes like this? Yes. But discussing until everyone agrees simply ensures nothing will be done. And that, of course, is what the snakes want.

“I personally believe there’s room for compromise, but people opposed to UHC have some legitimate concerns that ought to be dealt with. Some of those concerns are actually based on real-world outcomes documented in countries whose UHC solutions have otherwise been successful. But simply ignoring the views and disparaging the ideals of people who see things differently seems to be part of the problem rather than part of the solution. That’s unlike you from what I’ve read these past several years, so I wanted to mention it privately and respectfully in case you hadn’t thought about it in those terms.”

I also never said that I don’t think there are legitimate concerns about UHC. In fact, I’ve listed some of them. What I DO believe is that the basic stats, that UHC supplies better health care on average to a population at a lower price, and that you can quantify that result by looking at life expectancy, infant mortality, and cost of delivery. And that those statistics are very clear to me, such that those who disagree are looking at reality differently enough that I will not trust their perceptions with more complex statistics (say, those dealing with Global Warming). As this is an arena where urgency is a factor — people are dying — it is one of those cases where no, I cannot be 100% sure, but yes, you have to make a decision and act on it.

Do I think that there are people who pretend to disbelieve the statistics? Yes, absolutely. I’ve seen it. Sometimes directly, and in other cases I have to infer based on comments they make in unguarded moments. My assessment: They prefer their individual health plans, and that private insurance costs less than the taxes they would pay for a UHC system. It is, in essence, “I have mine, and I don’t want to pay for yours.” It would be honest if they say that straight up (to be frank, I think that comments about “ethnic minorities dragging down the statistics” flirt with being this honest. On a tribal level, there is nothing more common than wanting to keep resources for “your own.”). But they don’t say this directly, for various reasons including not wanting to sound selfish. In a couple of cases, they knew that this is going to be decided democratically, and they could not motivate a vast swatch of voters saying “I have mine, screw you” so they literally play to the innumeracy of the crowd, trying to convince them to vote against their own best interests: “It doesn’t work! Don’t pay any attention to the fact that we are surrounded by poorer countries getting fine results by organizing differently in this arena.”

To admit you don’t want to pay someone else’s health care is one thing. To say it doesn’t work is another. And because I see that result so clearly, if you don’t see it it really is as if I’m looking at a mountain, and you’re telling me it isn’t there. I can either doubt my own senses…or doubt yours. Simple as that.

With BLM concerns it is more like I’m LIVING ON THE MOUNTAIN that you tell me isn’t there. I have to believe that you are mistaking ignorance for wisdom, or are a snake: you KNOW there is inequality, but are afraid of the consequences of admitting it, so you lie, lie, lie.


I wrote something for myself yesterday that had to do with making decisions in a group.

Say you believe a dam is needed. Who agrees on the need?

Of that group, find out who is motivated. Who can explain their interest, demonstrate passion, feels urgency?

Of the ones who 1) Agree, and 2) are passionate, you then, and ONLY then, begin to study the “how.”

Why? Because you are creating a proposal to put before the boss, ruler, or electorate. If a democracy, something that people can agree on to between 51–66% of the population.

The issue is this:

It is true that anyone and everyone should be in the “should we build a dam?” meeting. The more the merrier.

All of the people who raised their hands can then be polled to check out their motivation. Do NOT allow people who didn’t raise their hands to the first question here, because they will poison the water. Remember: people who don’t want to build a dam in the first place will come up with every reason in the world not to, including reasons totally obviated by necessity. And they will put up filters that even THEY cannot see. Don’t worry — they’ll have their chance to vote later.

The people who are not enthusiastic? Who cannot imagine more drinking water, better recreation, power generation, creation of arable land or what not? Their interest is too mild to make it through the development process. They will lose enthusiasm.

Now, to be sure it is fair, once created, you must submit your proposal to the group at large. If you cannot convince 51% of them then you must yield, or start over. But do NOT let doubters into the process of “should we?” when you are discussing “why should we?” or “why should we?” They will deliberately or unconsciously slow your progress to a crawl, hammer you with minutia until you are disgusted with the entire process and quit. YOU’D BETTER BELIEVE THAT THAT CAN BE A TACTICAL INTENT. Disruption is not an accident. It is the GOAL.

And if the majority agrees on a need, and we’re moving? You simply cannot stop and debate while in motion. There should be pause points where you evaluate the actions and the mission, yes. And if you take an action and it is proven a waste of resources or a violation of rights, you will lose the authority to do that again. Mistakes can and will be made. But by far, the biggest mistake is assuming you need to convince “everyone” before you do “anything.” That…is called paralysis.


Why don’t I accept Libertarian principles without sight of a Libertarian country, state, or town? Because the proposals tend to be radical, and it seems to me that they violate basic rules of human societies evolved over tens of thousands of years. Maybe more. I could be wrong, of course, but the way to PROVE to me that I’m wrong would be to show me a role model. Show me a thousand people in a town living by Libertarian principles and I’ll agree we should try it with 10k. That works? 100k. That work? A million. And so on, testing at each step. That’s how I work.

And if it feels to me that you ignore real-world examples (say UHC) but want me to accept a thought experiment without them (say Libertarianism), that is VERY different from the way I think, feel, and have lived my life. And at that point I ask: is it possible that I am just wrong, and this person is just right? That his (and most Libertarians I’ve spoken to are most certainly male. What this might mean is unclear) methodology, his epistemology, his cosmology is more accurate?

Well…my standard comment is that if you are smarter than me, clearer than me, if your map is more accurate than mine, you’ll get better results than I’ve gotten. I’ll look at your results in the three major arenas of life: relationships, fitness/health, and career. If you are more successful than I am IN ALL THREE AREAS, starting from a similar place that I started from in life, I’m going to empty my cup and bow before you to learn.

Seriously. I know people who qualify for this, and have learned massive amounts from them. In fact, I’d say that most of what I’ve accomplished in life has come from modeling successful people, whether they were better than me in one arena (say, Larry Niven) or in multiple arenas (say, Steve Muhammad).

I will say that Libertarians do seem to be more successful than the average science fiction fan. I’ll give them that. They tend to be smart people who see the world differently, have different theories of social contracts and human psychology. I disagree with their positions, but would love to actually observe a Libertarian society and see how it really works. Let me know when you find one.

Until then, there are lines which, if crossed, I have to regretfully shake my head and say: “this person doesn’t see the world I live in.”

Flat Earthers are there. 9/11 conspiracy theorists are mostly there. Global Warming deniers on the same spectrum, but less extreme.

And people who don’t share BLM’s concerns, and don’t believe the working role models of UHC are on that spectrum as well. Certainly not as extreme as Flat Earthers, but enough to believe that somehow, we aren’t seeing the same world, sharing the same values, have the same basic beliefs about human beings and the societies we make.

(I KNOW this is true with the BLM concerns, because a totally disproportionate percentage of the people who deny them cannot swear to believe in human equality. I notice things like that.)

And it diminishes the degree to which I trust their perceptions. I would assume that that if they REALLY believe what they believe, it will diminish their confidence in MY perceptions. I’m cool with that. And if they are really, truly convinced of their own positions? I don’t think they’d try to convince me of a damned thing. I certainly don’t try to convince them. I just realize we see different worlds, and wish them luck in theirs.

Because when it comes to things like BLM concerns, UHC, and Global Warming? As far as I’m concerned, the house is burning, and you don’t see it. And understanding that I could be wrong, it is time to stop debating “is it true?” and ask “what should be done?” Like grabbing buckets and fireaxes.

I do believe we should try not to trample your lawn, though.



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