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Cargo Cult Epistemology VI: Another Conservative Fumble

May 26th, 2010 by Jim May · 6 Comments · Uncategorized

At PajamasMedia, conservative Clayton Cramer (who, resemblances notwithstanding, is not to be confused with the commenter Clayton Jones here) takes up the discussion over Rand Paul’s recent controversial comments about the Civil Rights Act and its overreach into the private sphere.  The following started as a comment on his article, but fits better here as another instance of epistemological primitivism — which I hereby rename as the Cargo Cult Epistemology series.

Italicized Quotes are Cramer’s.

Especially in the South, state governments did not simply allow businesses to discriminate — they often required discrimination.
This is a key point that needs to be brought up over and over again: the main factor sustaining racism coming into the 1960’s, was government intervention.  By its nature, government discrimination flatly contradicts the principle of equality before the law, and in this respect, legal action was the proper (and overdue) solution (“states rights” be damned).

The real topic raised by Rand Paul, however, is racism on the part of private individuals.  That is the part of the CRA64 that advocates of liberty question, and for good reason.  Racism on the part of individuals is a cultural, not legal phenomenon — not unlike stupidity, or being left wing — and is a completely different beast.

In a free society, governments act by permission; the individual is sovereign, and acts by right.  The government may only act where positively given the privilege, by law; individuals may act as they choose *except* where forbidden by law (ideally, only where such action infringes upon the liberty of another.)

IMO no commentary that fails to acknowledge this key distinction in addressing Rand Paul’s comments is even on topic, let alone credible.

Would free markets have been enough to break this long history of governmental force in support of racism?

No.  The two are incommensurable; it is not the job of free markets to write laws.  That requires legislative action, based on free market, pro-individualist ideology.  That is what was needed, and long overdue — and notwithstanding its flaws, the CRA achieved this goal.

Free markets operate in the private domain, among individuals.  What they DO discourage is private, cultural racism, by various mechanisms, only one of which (“my money is just as green as the next guy’s”) is cited by Cramer.  It is not the only one, nor the most powerful.  Free market liberalism include the marketplace of ideas, in intellectual discourse and particularly in education.  These are the forces which drive culture — not laws (to the eternal chagrin of authoritarians everywhere).  It is this process which is impeded by government actions (e.g. in the form of socialized education, as well as the more obvious Jim Crow laws), both before and after the CRA — and has since been reversed by the Left.

And now we come to Cramer’s fatal weakness:  as sound as many of his points are, they remain undercut by the epistemological and moral pragmatism of the article’s conservative author:

On the one hand, there is a very persuasive theoretical argument that free markets will punish irrational discrimination.

Notwithstanding the evidence provided right there in the article that clearly establishes this “theory” as eminently practical and valid, Cramer cites its theoretical, “abstract” aspect as a disqualifier in and of itself.  This is the hallmark of the epistemological primitive who, not comprehending where ideas come from, automatically distrusts them — or takes them on faith — as his pre-existing biases (what conservatives term “prejudice”) — dictate.  As to where those come from, well, Cramer’s reference to Scriptural grounds for condeming racism is a big, if utterly predictable, clue.  Without religion, the is/ought dichotomy paralyzes conservatism in the face of normative claims.

…but I also know that the libertarian solution requires a population of rational actors prepared to look out for their own economic interests.  You let me know when you find a species that fits that model.

Humanity.  *tada*

Of course, Cramer is not referring to the Objectivist theory of free markets, but to a well-known, invalid theory of free markets which operates from the assumption of “a population of [100%] rational actors” (I add the 100% figure, as it’s a fundamental trait of the “rational actor” premise).

That is a basic assumption of a certain view of free markets, a highly rationalistic one which does not and cannot account for free will.   Cramer is freezing the abstraction, by citing an invalid theory to stand for *all* “abstract” theory, which he then regards as suspect in toto.

Put this together with his carefully sloppy conflation of the legal versus the moral aspects of racism, and where do you think Cramer ends up?

In the same sin bin where all pragmatists end up:

Sensible libertarians acknowledge that a free market is not enough to end all racial discrimination — and that a certain amount of it is the price we pay for living in a free society.  This is a fine argument to make as an abstract principle – but it isn’t a path to political victory.

…. dismissing moral principle in favor of  range-of-the-moment political expediency, of course.  Never mind the morality, he just wants his side in power.

How like a Leftist that is.

(Minor edit I: changed “break” to “discourage” in “What free markets DO break is private, cultural racism”.  Markets do not fix stupid, they only punish it.)

(Minor edit 2: changed “conservatives” to “Conservatism” in “paralyzes conservatives in the face of normative claims”, to reflect the fact that individual conservatives can and do stray from conservatism from time to time — much more than individual Leftists do, to conservatives’ credit.  See Stephen Green, for example.)

6 Comments so far ↓

  • Fareed

    it would seem to me that in the libertarian hemisphere liberty is taken as the default setting. the consequence is support for depoliticized markets i.e. free of government intervention.

  • Two--Four

    […] Jim May puts the boring-ass fool Clayton Cramer in his place behind the Rand Paul/Civil Rights Act flap."The pyjamas people are boring me to pieces They make me feel like I am wasting my time They all got flannel up 'n down 'em A little trap-door back aroun' 'em An' some cozy little footies on their mind"(FZ) Honest to god, already. Just shut up, Cramer. Just shut the fuck up. Jun 01, 10 | 12:07 pm

  • Jim May

    Hey Billy, thanks for stopping by with some linkage. I took the liberty of cleaning out the AxeBites material that showed up in there.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like AxeBites. I just prefer it in its original habitat, sans mangled HTML 🙂

  • Tam

    Where the idea comes from that Clayton Cramer is some kind of “Friend of Liberty” because he likes him some guns is completely beyond me.

    That K-Mart Roehm and I haven’t a single issue in common other than a slight overlap on the Second Amendment.

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