Tolerance, Libertarianism, and the Conservatives' Religious Culture War

May 18, 2010 by  

A strategy is emerging. Dare to point out the influence that religion is having upon government policy, and the defenders and apologists for such a mixture of religion and government will pretend that the condemnation of that mixture is somehow a call for religious people to be denied the freedom to air their views. For many, what may be more surprising is the observation that libertarians – a group that claim to be in favour of individual freedom – can be found amongst those defenders and apologists.

A case in point: the commercial media in Canada this week are abuzz (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, etc.) about a new book by Marci McDonald titled “The Armageddon Factor”. The subject of the book is the nature and degree of influence that end-of-days Christian organizations increasingly have upon or within the Conservative Party, and upon the governance of Canadians. The Harper Conservatives have been shaken by the book, essentially alleging a conspiracy theory – involving CBC and other left-friendly entities – to make Conservatives look bad (note the sort of admission that is implicit in such an objection). Yet evidence is certainly piling up quickly, with a number recent developments pointing to a conclusion that the governing Conservatives are indeed consciously, though incrementally, attempting to re-make Canadian culture in the evangelical Christian image.

Just last week, the Conservatives surrendered Canadian publisher and cannabis culture advocate Marc Emery for extradition to the USA for selling marijuana seeds (an offense for which one is rarely charged in Canada, and which typically results in either a $200 fine or some community service…the same offense, in the USA, carries a maximum penalty of death). They also announced that they were cutting off federal funding to the Toronto gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender Pride parade, but not because of any principled opposition to government funding of parades or culture: Conservative MP Tony Clement said that 19 new events will be funded instead. And just last Thursday, a large gathering of pro-life/anti-choice religious folk gathered at Parliament Hill, encouraging the governing Conservatives to reopen the abortion debate and ban abortions. This latter development gave rise to a debate on this morning’s John Oakley radio talk show (640 AM, Toronto) featuring religious conservative panelist Charles McVety who, with respect to the waging of a “culture war” on the issue of abortion, said boldly “Bring it on!” (McVety is referred to over 100 times in McDonald’s book, and is regarded by some as a danger to the Conservative Party because he is so explicit about the connection between Christianity, religious policy / theocracy, and the Conservative Party). However, McVety arguably is a day late and a dollar shy: introducing his government’s “anti-drug strategy” at a Salvation Army headquarters in October of 2007, Stephen Harper explicitly declared his government to be against “a culture” that has “romanticized” drug use (subtext: a culture that thinks it wrong to imprison people for using drugs). And, on a recent youtube interview, he declared that “drugs are illegal because they’re bad” (somehow missing the fact that although drinking gasoline is bad, gasoline production, sale, and possession is not illegal).

It is important to note, however – as I did in Part 2 of my “The Principle of Pot” movie (released on April 21, 2010: you can view it here) – that the culture that the Conservative government opposes is not merely a culture of pot smokers, but a broader culture of non-smokers and smokers alike that believes – in principle – that individuals should be free to make peaceful lifestyle choices without facing punishment or discrimination by the government. Such being the case, one would expect any individual or group who claims to advocate individual freedom should be first in line to condemn the Conservative party’s marriage of religion and governmental policy-making. Yet libertarians – who claim to be advocates of individual freedom – have been among those condemning the condemnation of the mixture of religion and state…on the grounds that condemnation is wrong. The basis of the libertarian defence of that lethal mixture: the notion – founded upon libertarianism’s implicit moral subjectivism – that tolerance is a virtue.

In a recent exchange on facebook, one such libertarian posted the following in response to my having posted this article on my facebook wall:

“In a free society, those of all view points have to be allowed into public life and debated rationally to the benefit of the public. These exposes strike me as yellow jounalism. Enflame prejudices, douse debate. And you have to be careful as someone who holds on to the idea of an objective good. It makes one more prone to restricting what one take as threats to their values.”

I initially replied as follows:

Without objective good, freedom cannot be a value. I don’t regard tolerance as a virtue: it is a vice. I don’t tolerate pro-tyannical views: for example I do not quietly tolerate Naziism…I condemn it. Likewise, I don’t tolerate the view that government should punish those who violate some alleged god’s commandments. And so long as we are lulled into believing that tolerance is a virtue, those who value their freedom will tolerate its absence.

Moral condemnation does not imply the advocacy of making immoral conduct illegal. The whole point of freedom is that individuals capable of reason should be defended from those who would use force to prevent them from thinking independently and making choices that deprive nobody else of his life liberty or property without his consent. The purpose of government is not to ensure that one makes moral choices, but to ensure that nobody obtains another person’s values without the person’s consent.

The same libertarian having written, in a separate but related wall post that:

…the marijuana activist war on the federal Conservatives is misplaced. The past Liberal government proposed C-8, signed the treaty that made it easy to extradict Emery without consulting Parliament, and approved the American investigation of Emery. This isn’t partisan. It’s about the proper role of the Government of Canada.

the libertarian rebutted:

The question is condemnation how? By directly addressing the claims of the vicious and demonstrating their falsity or simply falling back on existing prejudices against them as McDonald does?

I responded thusly:

“…condemnation how?”.

The question of what exists is an issue to be debated with reference to physical evidence, using a strictly logical process of thought/analysis. What the Conservative Party “is” is a question of fact. We can know what the Conservative Party is by listening to/reading what its representatives and membership say, and by observing what it does. Stephen Harper, its leader, has told the membership that “for Conservatives, it can’t be just about freedom” and that for conservatives it has to be about “policies that ensure” that people make “good choices”. Taking him at his word, and observing that his party just introduced S-10 and washed its hands of Marc Emery, such that he’ll now face cruel and unusual punishment for perfectly consensual behaviour, it is obvious what the Conservative Party “is”.

The question of whether a person or party “ought” (i.e., good) or “ought not” (i.e., evil) to do something is a question of that branch of philosophy called “ethics” / morality. Every “is” implies an “ought” or an “ought not”: a political party either (a) ought to pass S-10 and surrender Marc, or (b) ought not to do so. In other words, it is either good or evil for a political party to pass S-10, and it is either good or evil for a political party to surrender Marc to the USA for what he did.

When you are evaluating the actions of a political party, that evaluation is necessarily a decision about whether the party ought or ought not to be doing what it is doing: whether the party’s actions are good or evil. Similarly, when you are evaluating the nature of a political party, that evaluation is necessarily a decision about whether the party is a value or a disvalue; whether the party is good or is evil.

Keep in mind, I’m not implying any sort of childish correlate, like a devil that temps one to do evil, or an angel that encourages one to be good. I’m simply saying that the proper word to refer to something that is a disvalue is “evil”.

If your aim is to survive and pursue your own happiness on this earth, in this life, then your highest value is your own life, your highest purpose is your own happiness, and your only effective means of achieving your happiness is rational thought and action: a logical process of thought about that for which there ultimately exists physical evidence. In such a case, rationality – thinking for yourself, making your own decisions, obtaining life-giving values by strictly consensual and productive means, being honest with yourself and others, recognizing and accepting the facts facing one instead of evading them with delusions of evil ghosts and benevolent fairies – is your highest virtue.

If your aim is to win a place in a supernatural heaven, after you die, then living on this earth in this life is not your highest value. If you believe there is a big white-haired omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent entity that requires you to obey all he allegedly says, rationality is not a virtue to you: obedience is (incidentally, the meaning of the word Islam is “obedience”). And if that white-haired thingy tells you that dying on a cross for the sins of your brothers is the epitome of good, then death is your highest value.

I choose life, on this earth: the one that I can prove exists; the one that is neither arbitrary nor false. And, for a person who has chosen to live and to pursue his own happiness, ones own death is the greatest evil, the sacrifice of values/happiness etc. to others is what one must avoid, and obedience is a vice.

To a person who loves his/her life and wants to live it and pursue his/her own happiness, those who hold up ones own death as the highest value, misery/suffering as ones highest purpose, and sacrifice as ones highest virtue, are evil. As such, they are perfectly harmless so long as they do not attempt to prevent you from pursuing your own happiness, on this earth, in this life, by rational means. They are merely like lemmings, whom one can watch as they gladly [jump to their deaths]* and wait for an afterlife of unearned, effortless, after-life bliss.

I can easily co-exist with a person who lives as Jesus did. But when an evil person or entity uses force or dishonesty to deny you the freedom to making rational choices – to think independently and make peaceful choices for yourself – that is a person/entity who is fighting against your ability to live and to fulfill your highest purpose; it is a person who is demanding obedience and suffering; it is a person that is trying to force you, ultimately, to live according to his self-destructive, irrational and delusional code of morality. Such a person has gone from being like Jesus, to being like the Pharisees, or Pontius Pilate, or the soldiers who nailed Jesus to the cross.

Jesus concluded: “Forgive them father for they know not what they do”. When it comes to the Conservatives, Harper, and Nicholson: that’s BS. They know exactly what they are doing, or else they are in self-denial: “Forgive us lord, for we know not what we do…and please don’t tell us”.

“…condemn how”? By way of moral condemnation. By way of analogy. The conservative government is – as a moral evaluation – evil, by the standard of any person who chooses to live, to pursue his own happiness in this life on this earth, and who lives a rational, hence peaceful and purely consensual life. Condemn them as Christians now condemn Pilate and the Pharisees because, brother, that is exactly the role they are playing.

*NOTE: A request for latitude: FaceBook postings are hardly the stuff of well edited argument, in the original posting, I spoke of people gladly lighting themselves on fire rather than of people jumping to their deaths. And, incidentally, lemmings do neither.


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