Several years ago I watched and listened for anything I could understand during a debate between a handful of presidential hopefuls. I did not know much about politics, economics, foreign policy, or anything else they were talking about.
But I do remember being angry when I heard something I disagreed with.
… or thought I disagreed with.
The real story is that I was ignorant and overwhelmed. I wasn’t angry because the people were saying things I disagreed with, I was angry because I didn’t have the slightest clue what I was talking about. I didn’t know which political perspective was correct because I didn’t know which news sources to trust or which political philosophies were consistent.
Everything seemed loaded with assumptions and I didn’t know how to discern right from wrong. And given my interest in epistemology, this really frustrated me.
But I gave up politics for a little while. My ignorance forced me into apathy.
If I didn’t know anything about it, why should I care? I’ll let other people figure out that mess, I thought.
Now fast-forward about a year. I was on my way back to work after lunch and I got pulled over. As I was pulling to the side of the road, I thought this should be interesting. My inspection is up to date and registration is fine. I was not speeding. My phone is in my bag. There is no reason why he should be pulling me over right now.
“Hello officer”, I said.
“License, registration, and proof of insurance please”, he responded.
“Sure, here you go. Mind if I ask you why I am being pulled over?”
“You’re not wearing a seat belt. I’ll be right back”
“My seat belt? I didn’t know you could pull me over for not wearing my seat belt”
“Yes sir, it is against New York state law to drive without a seat belt. Now hang tight while I run your license”
I was pulled over (and eventually ticketed) because I was not wearing a seat belt? I should be able to drive around and put myself in danger if I want to. I’m not hurting anyone. Why in the world is this a law?
So I walked into work with a fresh ticket in my bag and a new injustice to complain about. While on my [the government isn’t here to protect me from myself?!] rampage, my friend John asked a fairly pointed question.
“How do you feel about drug laws?”, he asked.
“Yea, should drugs be illegal?”
“Yea, of course.”
“But I thought you said the government isn’t here to protect you from yourself?”
He was right. If I was going to say that the government isn’t here to protect me from myself, then I need to be consistent or abandon the principal entirely.
So, I did the opposite of what he wanted me to do. I said that drugs shouldn’t be illegal. He was trying to convince me that the government should protect me from myself, but I embraced more freedom rather than more restrictions. But I wasn’t sure if this was a good decision; all I knew is that I would rather live in a world (or country?) where I am free to do stupid things instead of somewhere where the government decides what is stupid for me.
This inspired me to start reading political philosophy. I had no idea where to start, but I knew I had to start somewhere. So I looked into drug legalization. And that lead to me the conspiracy theory type libertarians who claim that jet fuel can’t melt steel beams, chem-trails are a government experiment, the moon landing was a cold-war tactic, and all that stuff.
I didn’t have a ton of time to study and wade through that nonsense to find a kernel of truth, but I was in my later years (and more difficult classes) of my undergraduate degree so I had my studies to distract me enough. During this time of political exploration, I signed up for a bioethics class. I really enjoyed it, and it counted for both my major (biology) and my minor (philosophy), so that was nice. We had a guest lecturer named James Stacey Taylor, and he presented his perspective on market solutions to organ donation/procurement problems. Before I heard his perspective, I wasn’t sure how libertarianism would solve many of the social issues that plague society. But his presentation offered a glimpse into a possible libertarian solution to one specific issue: kidney shortages. We read a part of his book, Stakes and Kidneys, Why Markets in Human Body Parts are Morally Imperative, (here’s a snippet) and the conclusion of his arguments was that if we really care about kidney shortages, we have a moral imperative to open markets to human kidney sales.
You can find a brief overview of the moral case here:
The combination of the desire for a consistent political philosophy and the desire to offer real solutions to real problems pushed me to libertarianism. Now that I’ve been studying it for quite some time, I hold liberty as one of the most important political values. It is not an accidental property of a political philosophy; it is the foundation for the political philosophy.
The promotion of government involvement generally decreases liberty, even in the cases where most people believe the government is doing a service to the people. If a decision increases liberty, I will likely side with it. And this is because I firmly believe that liberty is the best possible solution to nearly all economic, social, and political issues.
And that’s why I am a libertarian.
I plan on addressing specific issues on liberty in the near future.