By golly, I’ve stumbled upon another reason libertarians will never win: the complete absence of a sense of humor.
“It’s happening” gifs notwithstanding, the liberty movement can’t take a joke. I write one measly piece poking fun at a silly idea, and suddenly I’m a monster. Go figure. I’ve been through this crapshoot before, but the game is getting old.
Here’s what I’m talking about: my recent article on the anti-work crusade has engendered an interesting response from the target of ridicule, Mr. Nick Ford. This wasn’t your typical internet rebuttal. Rather, it was a “meta” rejoinder that focused on the style of my argument rather than the substance. For that, I say, “good job Mr. Ford.” The nature of debate is a topic seldom discussed today. Liberals too often wax and pamper their own victim status, while conservatives cherish their fatalism — a flaw I’m certainly guilty of.
Ford contends that my entire takedown of his philosophy is compromised by not fully understanding his view. He claims my critique “isn’t much of a critique at all.” I made the mistake of going off “on tangents” and brought up “irrelevant” points in “pretty noxious ways.” To Ford, I committed the great crime of not being “familiar” with my subject. Clearly, I deserve a good stint in the stocks!
Jokes aside, do Ford’s accusations have any merit?
I readily admit I gave him a good scolding for his ridiculous campaign to abolish work. Methinks Ford misses the point, however. I wasn’t writing an erudite rebuttal to the threat of economic wage slavery. I leave that fulfilling task to actual philosophers. I penned the article to connect the dots on what I see as a gaping logical hole at the heart of left-libertarianism. And, bastard I am, I attempted to be pithy and amusing. Like remedial math in college, I guess I failed.
For my lack of charm, I apologize. I alluded to Mr. Ford being a “slacker” and overall childish person. Strangely enough, he admits to being lazy, so my characterizations didn’t all miss the mark. But regardless, I may have come off as mean-spirited and not as jocular as I intended. So apologies if I hurt any precious feelings.
What Ford needs to realize though is this back-and-forth is neither a “flame war” or a stoop debate in Periclean Athens. We both write articles on blogs, which is neither a proud or noble tradition. Let’s know our role before we get all uppity over the fine points of argumentation. I admit I didn’t spend hours perusing through Mr. Ford’s archives to learn the entire basis of his philosophy. So what? I had real work to do. And I used his own definition of work as “production enforced by economic or political means, by the carrot or the stick,” so I didn’t inaccurately portray his cause.
Ford’s primary objection to my article was the conflation of effort with his definition of work. As I pointed out, I used the definition of work conveniently located in the “about” section of his website. I know, I know…due diligence says I should have perused the entire breadth of his writings to find what he really meant by “work.” But is this really necessary? We’re not Hayek and Keynes battling it out in the pages of an academic journal. We’re two thinkers discussing political economy on the internet. So pretentiousness need not show its ugly face.
I maintain that my use of “work” synonymously with “effort” was legitimate. Economist Murray Rothbard considered leisure and labor to be binaries. To not labor in pursuit of a goal is, by definition, leisure. But laboring for the purposes of sitting on your fanny is still working for an economic goal. It’s called an ordinal scale of values. No amount of bellyaching defeats the fact that you have to produce before you consume. Say’s Law über alles.
Ford dreams of a world where we all work for our own leisure and nothing else. That’s nice, besides the fact that it’s utopian and unrealistic. Eugen Böhm von Bawerk proved long ago that capital and production are necessary for long-term economic growth. He also gave Marx a right-good thrashing. Bawerk showed that without the effort of our forebears, Ford and I wouldn’t have time to trade barbs over the net. We’d be scavenging for food instead. Maybe Ford should check his industrial privilege next time he tries to sear capitalism.
As a whole, Ford’s rebuttal is not what it claims to be. His main critique is that I failed to make a coherent argument, and relied on “useless tangents, blatant ad hominems, strawmans[sic]” to bolster my case. Yet he’s guilty of many of the same charges leveled against me. The first half of his post is on meditating over whether or not I’m worthy of a response. After deciding I make the grade – judgey judgey! – Ford proceeds to make absolute statements about my technique. Herein lies the contradiction: I made declarative statements about both the anti-work philosophy and the less-than-respectable left-libertarian crowd. If Ford thinks I was too facile in my analysis, he should take a look in the mirror.
Ford’s “meta-discussion” ends up sounding like one side’s response in a debate between a militant atheist and a theologian. One side positively declares God exists and is an interminable part of reality. The other says no deity exists, and reality is the proof. Nobody gets anywhere because there are no definite answers to the debate. Ford adopts a similar approach in defending my positive statements with a set of further positive statements, all the while upbraiding me for not being detailed enough to his liking. Some lesson on the fine points of debate. When it comes to epistemology and argumentation, I recommend Mr. Ford stick to his day job…err day “leisure” next time.
I’ll conclude by saying that unlike more self-respecting folks, I don’t mind answering criticism. Ford was kind enough to write a response. I’m reciprocating by pointing out a few mistakes in his rejoinder. He can take my advice, or leave it. That’s his choice. And there’s always the chance I’m wrong. Years of penning internet polemics and engaging in debate have led me to not presume I’m any more knowledgeable than the next guy. Like St. Paul says, we should always be humble in practice. And as Front Porcher Jason Peters recently wrote, we’re all “incorrigibly self-centered mendicant puling retards.” So I see it as no annoyance to answer Mr. Ford — as one selfish dunderhead to another. I’m just sweet like that. Or maybe pathetic. I’ll let Ford choose, as long as it isn’t too much work.
An addendum: Ford offhandedly remarks that my description of satirist “Weird Al” Yankovic’s music as “crappy” was the most “most off-point claim” of my entire piece. I disagree. Al meticulously crafts his songs so the lyrics match his topic of ridicule. But guess what: his music is still garbage. It’s parody for potheads to chuckle over in a stupified state. So there.