Posts Tagged ‘coercion’

I am not by any stretch a writer and most certainly not a screenwriter. And I’m pretty glad I’m not because to be a writer in the US and be eligible to sell your script to any significant production house, you have to join the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA).

Yes, you heard that right, the WGA compels your membership. You have to join, you have to pay your dues and you have to obey their orders when they say you must strike. Membership is automatic and does not depend on your consent; nor is there a way for a writer to resign his membership ever. The closest you can go to resignation is by opting for fi-core status. You continue to pay dues and so on, but you cannot vote and you are not obliged to follow guild rules or obey their orders.

Fi-core members are very few and are despised by the guild; but as John Ridley points out, they get something that cannot be bargained for, freedom. If I were ever to switch careers and start writing (unlikely), that’s certainly the path I’d take. Ideally I’d not belong to the guild at all but as I said, that is impossible.

No, I do not hate unions or deny the power (and occasional necessity) of collective action. I hate coercion. And I will never belong to a coercive institution, even one that fights to improve my financial condition.

All of the above is of course irrelevant to my current life, except that they give me an excuse to post John Ridley’s amazing post during the Writers Guild strike of last year. He went fi-core and was despised by his colleagues. But as I said, I’d have done the same. Here’s the post in full. An excerpt is below:

Since I was conscripted into the Writers Guild of America a decade and a half ago — and membership in the guild is mandatory — I’ve found myself politically opposed to it on any number of issues. Not long after, I wrote an Op-Ed about the woeful lack of diversity in Hollywood and what little the guild was doing to rectify the situation. I got a personal call from then-WGA President Frank Pierson ripping me a new orifice for daring to take my disappointment public. The gist of his argument: If you haven’t anything nice to say about the union, then shut up. But, hey, what did I expect? If you shake the tree, you can’t get upset when the apples fall.

[…] The first rule of Strike Club: Never talk about Strike Club!
That would be fine for an organization whose membership joins voluntarily. But when membership is compulsory, free expression must be accommodated. The obligation of the union is to protect, not crush, the minority view.

In December, I attended the general guild meeting in Santa Monica. Outside the Civic Center, before the meeting, guild members told me that I was not welcome and that if I went inside, I should prepare to be pilloried. During the meeting, one high-profile television writer announced to the membership that anyone who didn’t have anything good to say about the strike should shut up. If I used the adjective “frenzied” to describe the reception the declaration was given, I don’t think I’d be exaggerating.

Did the president or the executive director who sat onstage rise up and announce — even if just for show — that their tent is large enough to accept dissent? That their cause is sufficiently just to withstand criticism? Or did they tacitly support the blood fervor by sitting on their hands? That is, if they weren’t also applauding wildly?

They sat. They let the threat carry the day. I got the message.

After 15 years of being told shut up, sit down and be part of the groupthink, I decided I did not belong in the guild. The guild has a way to option out. I took the option.

[…] I’ve no desire to start a movement, to be the first name on an open petition, or to be the poster child for disgruntled writers. I don’t want to do a money grab and jump on a rewrite of “Pinkville.” Though, I’ll be perfectly honest with you: If I’m going to be trashed anyway, I’m not about to be trashed on the cuff. I am, simply, done.

So, then, this is my interim agreement. You all can have your strike. I’ll take what can’t be bargained for: self-determination.

Update: Apart from the Writer’s Guild, showbusiness also has the Actors Guild, the Director’s guild and so on. All of them employ the same coercive and monopolistic techniques (you are compelled to join the guild if you want to work for any major studio). It gives me pleasure to learn that some prominent movie personalities, notably George Lucas, Quentin Tarantino, George Clooney and Jon Voight, either have fi-core status or are not even members of their particular guild. In fact, this was the reason that Tarantino — who is one of my favourite directors — was refused permission by the guild to direct an episode of X-files. It is heartening to know that there exist creative people I admire who prefer self-determination to the group-think of the collective.

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The latest issue of Reason magazine has a long op-ed titled “The Libertarian moment.” Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie make the case that we are at the threshold of a new age of freedom. They cite as evidence relaxing social norms, increased permissiveness and the `soft libertarianism’ that the internet age has spawned.

I would be happy to be proved wrong but I cannot help feel that this is just a puff piece designed to fit in with Reason’s 40th anniversary. Most of the examples they cite could as easily apply to liberalism. Homosexuality may be getting more acceptable but so is the idea that offending speech ought to be regulated. Marijuana may be easier to find but smoking is much harder. Anti-discrimination laws are becoming wider in scope every day; political correctness more pervasive.  The nanny-state is getting more obscene, government more bloated, the deficit is a monster.

Even the word libertarianism is under attempted hijack from some who call themselves libertarian, yet fail to see the fundamental difference between negative and positive liberty, and between social pressure and state coercion.

These are tough times to be a libertarian. Perhaps Welch and Gillespie are right and change is on the way. After all, they say that the darkest hour comes before dawn. Till I see the sun though, I see little reason to believe that things are going to really change anytime soon.

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A professor at UC Irvine refuses to take sexual harassment sensitivity classes. Here’s why:

First of all, I believe the training is a disgraceful sham. As far as I can tell from my colleagues, it is worthless, a childish piece of theater, an insult to anyone with a respectable IQ, primarily designed to relieve the university of liability in the case of lawsuits. I have not been shown any evidence that this training will discourage a harasser or aid in alerting the faculty to the presence of harassment.

What’s more, the state, acting through the university, is trying to coerce and bully me into doing something I find repugnant and offensive. I find it offensive not only because of the insinuations it carries and the potential stigma it implies, but also because I am being required to do it for political reasons. The fact is that there is a vocal political/cultural interest group promoting this silliness as part of a politically correct agenda that I don’t particularly agree with.

The imposition of training that has a political cast violates my academic freedom and my rights as a tenured professor. The university has already nullified my right to supervise my laboratory and the students I teach. It has threatened my livelihood and, ultimately, my position at the university. This for failing to submit to mock training in sexual harassment, a requirement that was never a condition of my employment at the University of California 30 years ago, nor when I came to UCI 11 years ago.

I also found this bit interesting:

I am not normally confrontational, so I sought to find a means to resolve the conflict. I proposed the following: I would take the training if the university would provide me with a brief, written statement absolving me of any suspicion, guilt or complicity regarding sexual harassment. I wanted any possible stigma removed. “Fulfilling this requirement,” said the statement I asked them to approve, “in no way implies, suggests or indicates that the university currently has any reason to believe that Professor McPherson has ever sexually harassed any student or any person under his supervision during his 30-year career with the University of California.”

The university, however, declined to provide me with any such statement.

(Hat Tip: Instapundit)

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I would not be doing my job as a libertarian blogger if I did not link to the blog war between Todd Seavey on the one hand and Kerry Howley/Will Wilkinson on the other (with minor roles played by Helen Rittelmeyer and Julian Sanchez). The best link (in the sense that it points to almost all the other relevant links) is the post by Todd above; navigate from there! Keep in mind that all the characters in the fight are multiply related — not only are they all writers for Reason magazine but there is a complex boyfriend/girlfriend/ex-boyfriend web that connects them — as Todd triumphantly describes. Enjoy!

I will not take sides except to say that in their own ways, both Todd and Kerry are right. Todd is right in what the political or legislative aspect of libertarianism ought to concern itself with. State coercion is fundamentally different from social coercion, maximizing negative liberties is the correct political prescription, property rights do lie at the heart of freedom.

Let me be clear — I am not dismissing the importance of positive liberty. However, demands that too much positive liberty be provided by the state invariably leads to authoritarianism, as history has shown again and again. Moreover, the curtailment of your basic property and personal rights, in a purely moral sense, is in a different plane from not being able to make the most of your life. If anything, this distinction between negative and positive liberty (and between state and social coercion) is the essence of libertarianism.

But Kerry is also right that situations exist that do not involve state coercion but nonetheless are liberty-restricting, at least in the way the term ‘liberty’ is commonly used. The question is what is the right way to address these problems. If Kerry believes the correct way is through voluntary, social means, then I am completely with her. If, on the other hand, she thinks that the law should step in, then I agree with Todd that her views are incompatible with libertarianism.

As for Will Wilkinson, I do not quite know what to make of him. He is obviously very smart. He has written gloriously intelligent posts in the past — like this one — that are logically and intellectually perfect. He has, on multiple occasions, authored passionate defences of libertarianism such as this post from only a few weeks back. He has also written sentences like this:

[If libertarianism is the view] that coercive limits to liberty are justified only in defense of private property, or in the enforcement of contracts, then libertarianism is false, and I am not a libertarian.

which convince me that in his moral core he is not a libertarian but a liberal; it is only his impeccable analysis that so often lead him to libertarian solutions. I guess I’ll still take the bargain!

All this of course, reminds me of this gem of an anecdote by Milton Friedman:

I particularly recall a discussion [by a group of libertarian economists] on this issue, in the middle of which Ludwig Von Mises stood up, announded to the assembly “You are all a bunch of socialists”, and stormed out of the group.

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A post over at the Art of The Possible asking for libertarian perspectives on blackmail law morphs into an interesting discussion on private property, coercion, reputation and related philosophical issues.

I have detailed my position on blackmail law and related issues in the comment thread linked above, so I will not expound on it here. However there is one sentence from one of the comments that is worth repeating, especially for the benefit of non-libertarians:

[a]n insight that appears elsewhere in libertarian thinking (e.g. prostitution), namely that it shouldn’t be illegal to sell what one can legally give away for free.

This is of course, standard fare for libertarians, as it follows directly from the non-aggression principle. Nonetheless, I think it is an important insight that deserves to be highlighted separately because it clarifies the libertarian position on a lot of issues (blackmail, prostitution, minimum wage, social gambling vs for-profit gambling)  and applies to a great many situations in a more obvious manner than the NAP does.

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Via a post by Althouse, I was alerted to this recent Richard Dawkins quote about children reading Harry Potter and other fantasy fiction:

I think it is is anti-scientific – whether that has a pernicious effect, I don’t know…

I think looking back to my own childhood, the fact that so many of the stories I read allowed the possibility of frogs turning into princes, whether that has a sort of insidious [e]ffect on rationality, I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s something for research.

In fact, Dawkins goes further than simply advocating that children should not read Harry Potter. He thinks identifying children by their religion or even teaching them your religious views, is child abuse:

Do not ever call a child a Muslim child or a Christian child – that is a form of child abuse because a young child is too young to know what its views are about the cosmos or morality […]

It’s a form of child abuse, even worse than physical child abuse. I wouldn’t want to teach a young child, a terrifyingly young child, about hell when he dies, as it’s as bad as many forms of physical abuse.

It is worth noting that Dawkins also once advocated that legal action be taken against astrologers under trade laws.

Now, I am an atheist. However, on the Harry Potter issue, I am more inclined to agree with the Althouse commenter who writes:

Does he have kids? Does he remember being a kid? Does he approve of the way our culture infantilizes children through and beyond the age of 18?

To which I could add some more — does he understand freedom? Imagination? The simple fact that indulgence in fantasy is a necessary component of growing up?

Also, I am disturbed by his tendency to impose rationalism via coercion. For a very personal take on coercion vs science, read this old entry of mine.

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I don’t usually agree with the National Review, but this article is bang on the money.

During the presidential debate Tuesday night, Barack Obama was asked if he thought health care was a “right.”

He said he thought it was a right. Well, if you accept that premise, I think you can ask some logical follow-up questions: Food is more important than health care. You die pretty quickly without food. Do we have a “right” to food in America? What about shelter? Do we have a “right” to housing? And if we do have a right to housing, what standard of housing do we have a right to? And if it is a right, due to all Americans, wouldn’t that mean that no one should have to accept any housing, or health care, which is inferior to anyone else’s… since it’s a right?

Do we have a right to be safe? Do we have a right to be comfortable? Do we have a right to wide-screen televisions? Where does this end?

There are a lot of things that a person needs to live a decent life. However, the word “right” implies something much more fundamental — it means that the government is legally bound to provide you that. It is not a word to be used loosely. In the libertarian worldview, the only fundamental rights are those that protect you from the initiation of force. In other words, it means that you have a birthright to free speech, complete sovereignty on your private properties, the freedom to do whatever you want with your body, the right to associate freely with others and to engage in any consensual activity. The law is bound to treat you equally and to protect these freedoms from other citizens and the government irrespective of your wealth or your status.

In other words, you ought to be able to do anything you want provided you respect the equal liberty of others. The freedoms that stem from this basic principle are the only legitimate rights. It is not a big list. However governments already do a terrible job of safeguarding these. Obama ought to strengthen these constitutional rights before pandering to his audience.

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Apropos of nothing…I remembered myself from ten years back.

When I hated all mongerers of superstition; when I simply could not fathom why the government did not declare the practice of astrology, quackery, faith-healing and all related unscientific mumbo-jumbo illegal; when I would have liked all religious extremists and preachers of hate put behind bars; when the ultimate aim of the government to me was the advancement of a scientific spirit; when I truly believed that the world would be a better place if those who were caught in the warp of irrationality and actively spread dogmatism were silenced, by force if necessary; when I was fifteen.

Today, as then, I believe in the scientific spirit. But I no longer believe in coercion. Does that make me a wiser person?

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