Politics

I’ve lived through two seismic shifts in my political views during my life. The first was when I went to university as a young adult and was exposed, for the first time, to perspectives that didn’t match the ones that I’d had in my family environment growing up. My parents were moderate, right-of-center conservatives from humble beginnings. They taught me that small government was good, that individual responsibility was the primary determinant of outcomes, that small business was the engine of prosperity, that social programs were expensive, wasteful and prone to abuse by the lazy and the weak, that the private sector provided superior health care to the public one, and that only the political party on the right had the expertise to manage the economy properly.

At university, what had previously seemed like natural truths based on what my parents had taught me were suddenly called into question. My preconceptions were challenged both inside the classroom, and outside of it, and sometimes the two realms cross-pollinated. For example, outside of the classroom, I encountered for the first time the "Women’s Room" (not the restroom, but rather a safe space reserved for women), and arguments refuting the inevitable counterclaim of "Why isn’t there a Men’s Room?". Feminism, which for me had always been an abstract demand for equal rights, materialized into something immediate, present, and at times threatening. I learned that not only did the patriarchy still exist, but that I may be an unwitting member of it. I heard for the first time the argument that "women" should be "womyn", and I learnt about ways that gender operated in language to perpetuate inequality, and how to modify that language to avoid problematic aspects.

Nobody wants to be an asshole. As far as I knew, I wasn’t a chauvinistic pig, but I sure felt like I was being declared guilty by association and I didn’t know how to respond to the implied accusation of complicity without somehow condemning myself. To understand what was going on, I made a point of approaching at least one topic in every class through the lens of women’s studies. Once I understood the claims, I no longer felt threatened by them. I actually agreed with them. None of this was outlandish or radical: it just seemed true.

At least at my university at the time (1996 through 1999) it was definitely odd for a male to be interested in this topic, and even though I was entirely ignorant on the subject, I was foolhardy enough to think that writing about something that I was woefully unprepared for wouldn’t harm my grades. Luckily for me, it all turned out ok. It’s kind of amusing, but when I went back looking for some of my papers just now, I find the Feminism in Norway page on Wikipedia cites an article I wrote for the Nordic Notes journal back in 1998, Henrik Ibsen, Frederika Bremer, Marie Michelet and the Emancipation of Women in Norway under "Further Reading".

By the time I wrote my honors thesis in the final year of university, my interest in and expertise about gender had grown to the point that it became the central theme. The thesis was titled, "The Interplay Between Constructions of Masculinity and Constructions of Subject English in One Coeducational Year 8 English Class". Peppered though it may be with the language of postmodernism and critical theory, I actually think it does a decent job of describing what’s really going on in the classroom — at least, it raises the right kind of questions. I’m pretty happy with it as my first serious piece of academic writing but there is a very important disclaimer.

A novice researcher doesn’t necessarily get to choose the topic or focus of their investigation. First up, they’d be well advised to target an area of current interest in the field; at the time, in my subject area (English and literacy), the study of masculinity was picking up steam. It wouldn’t have been my first choice — namely because I was unconvinced by the "what about the boys?" rhetoric that was in part fueling the activity in the area — by it did segue nicely from the women’s studies things I had been doing in the previous years, so I went with it. I enjoyed study and I was hungry enough to grab just about any ticket I could into the world of academia and a PhD.

The other critical factor is that the bounds on possible topics will often be set based on the availability of supervisors, which means that their expertise and interests matter too. In my case, there was a paucity of supervisors available in my faculty, so I ended up having to talk two academics into sharing the load and advising me jointly, which was a most uncommon arrangement, and for good reason. Somehow, as if in a kind of Challenge Mode, my two advisors would up being like oil and water: one was a humanist, qualitative researcher with an education background and the other was a positivist psychologist, and they disagreed with each other on just about everything. In order to satisfy both of them, my thesis ended up being this bizarre hybrid study that combined qualitative investigation with a statistical analysis of a questionnaire (what psychologists call, in an effort to make their research seem more scientific and objective, an "instrument").

Such a combination makes for terrible research, but the result was good enough — that is to say, a flawed study that nevertheless permitted my examiners to get a glimpse of my ability to carry out research and write it up — to get me into a PhD program on a scholarship.

I found myself deep in the bosom of a radical postmodernist research center. I can say "radical" now because I realize with hindsight how unhinged from any practical applications all this critical theorizing was, and how the absurd jargon rendered the insights utterly inaccessible to all but the inducted inner circle. But at the time the ideas in question were really taking a foothold and it felt like being in the vanguard of a movement that was finally going to deconstruct the structures that had resisted the good intentions of crusaders for equity for so long.

The academics were all falling over themselves to see who could "problematize the reproduction of oppressive discursive power structures" to the most obfuscated degree, wielding the tomes of Foucault, Derrida, Baudrillard, and friends. Sadly, a good idea taken too far, and the result being an incoherent fog of intellectual self-pleasuring. I dropped out after a year or two, never finishing the PhD. I had some difficult personal circumstances at the time, but even if I hadn’t, I can’t say that I would have been able to see it through to the end.

By the time I’d finished my honors thesis I had pretty much lost interest in gender as an object of study. I’d only ever really been interested it in the first place because it was a politically contested area, and I realized that what actually intrigued me much more was the underlying pattern of power relations as mediated and expressed through human discourse. That is to say, I started to care about justice, and it seemed silly to dwell on just justice with respect to gender and the sexes, when power relations were enacted across all manner of dimensions, including race, sexuality, ability and so on. And I still think that’s true: a down-to-earth manifestation of critical theory has a lot to teach us about power relations and questions of equality and justice. It’s just a shame that academia got so carried away with it and turned it all into a silly caricature. Like I said before, a good idea taken too far.

But I digress. I wanted to tell you about the two big political shifts in my life. You’ve just had the story of my first, in which, as a young adult, I came to hold a set of left-libertarian beliefs centered around social justice and fairness. I no longer believed the things my parents had inculcated in me. I thought power relations permeated everything (I still do). I believed in structural inequality and the existence of systemic "isms" (racism being but one of them). I felt that discourse was, if not the principal medium through which power was wielded in our daily lives, was the one that I was most likely to be able to have an influence on and was therefore the thing I was most interested in. While I also knew what physical domination and that the threat of violence was a thing, I tended not to dwell on it. I called myself a feminist, but more generally than that, fancied myself as someone committed to social justice for all human beings, regardless of their group identity. This was long before the term "SJW" had been coined, or "intersectionality" and "identity politics" had been weaponized. I haven’t really changed much since those days, 20 years ago. My results on the political compass test land me pretty much smack bang in the middle of the "left-libertarian" quadrant, and I don’t think I’ve moved much from that spot in two decades:

Even though I’ve stayed pretty constant over the years, the world has not stood still. The second big shift is one in which the political land upon which I have been standing for most of my adult life has very rapidly, in the course of a few years, seemed to stand up and jump about 20 miles to the left of me in what feels like a massive and shocking seismic shift. Increasingly, I find it harder and harder to agree with the views and methods of people on the "left", and I find myself looking on in astonishment as they try to sweep everything away in a kind of ideological "scorched earth" policy that has them declaring everything that was formerly squarely in the left/center territory as politically irredeemable. Anyone who does not confess immediate and total fealty to the party doctrine is guilty of the most heinous crimes and must be "deplatformed", "canceled", and decried for the racist, white-supremacist, transphobic, patriarchal, ultra-nationalist, climate-change-denying scum that they are.

I’m not going to go into more detail on what I think is wrong on the left as there are already plenty of people out there doing that — sadly, commentators on the right do this all too well, which in turn means that when reasonable voices on the left or in the center voice their own criticisms, they end up getting decried as "right-wing"; and the broad political center has become inhabitable space — but I do want to take the opportunity to make a statement about what I do believe to be true.

I don’t think I can really call myself "left" any more, even though my beliefs have remained more or less stable, because the definition of the word has shifted dramatically. I’m just ashamed of what "the left" has become. "Center" might be an alternative term, in the sense that it means "left of the right", but I don’t think that can work either, because "center" is being redefined to mean "right". Which is to say that all of these labels have been poisoned, possibly beyond hope of rehabilitation, and that I think I feel better talking about individual ideas now instead. In these days of tribal conflict, it seems like talking about ideas instead of group membership seems to be one of the few hopeful paths forward anyway.

I believe that power relations pervade all of human society and all interactions. Power is usually applied for the benefit of those who wield that power, which not only produces negative consequences for the less privileged, but also tends to reproduce and maintain the relations. I believe there will always be injustice, so the struggle to root it out must be ongoing; even if we were to produce a utopian society free from injustice, we would need to fight in order to preserve it.

My favorite definition of justice is John Rawls’ one, from A theory of justice. I like it because it’s so simple. Paraphrasing, he says that justice is what you get when you design a system without knowledge of the role that you will be assigned in the system. To take the example of race: is racial segregation just? If you had to design a society without knowing whether you would be black or white, you would probably design one without segregation. Should same sex couples be allowed to marry? Again, this almost inevitably leads you to conclude that same sex marriage is just. Perhaps an even more obvious example: your children must share a slice of cake; if you want it sliced fairly, have one child cut the cake and the other choose which of the two pieces shall be theirs.

I do not argue for equality of outcome (people are different even if all else is held equal, so it is absurd to expect that everybody should enjoy identical outcomes) but rather for equality of opportunity, with one huge disclaimer. Structural inequality is real. Systemic barriers exist. Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ageism, and other forms of prejudice exist. While our education systems should strive to equip people to take individual responsibility, the inescapable truth is that our "meritocracy" is only an approximation of a fair and level playing field.

As such, despite its flaws, I am in favor of affirmative action, which is to say, special effort made to compensate for the disadvantaged suffered by systematically penalized groups. I am aware that with this comes the thorny question of how much affirmative action is appropriate. Obviously, taken to far the "correction" becomes an overcorrection; it may even start to smack of retribution, at which point it provokes a backlash and becomes counterproductive. But I think it is intellectually dishonest to wave away the need for affirmative action by alleging that it is too hard to calibrate it correctly. There are many things in life that are difficult to fine tune: this is just one more.

I think that changing the form education takes in our society is one of the few levers we have to actually achieve social mobility. I’m not just talking about school (although I am talking about it), but rather all the forms in which individuals acquire new knowledge and skills. I don’t think school itself is what will elevate the poor out of poverty (although it may do that in some cases); I actually think that school is less about enabling redistribution than it is about maintaining the status quo. That is, it is principally a sorting and classifying system as opposed to a engine for restructuring society. And this is despite the fact that almost everybody working within the system is in their for precisely those noble ends. It really is remarkable how effectively patterns of privilege and oppression tend to reproduce themselves in change-resistant ways, a smattering of anecdotes to the contrary notwithstanding. Living in a rapidly changing digital world in which the job market is unpredictable (along with so many other things), makes it very difficult to know what education is going to look like 10 or 20 years from now.

I believe in capitalism and "free" markets, but not without limitation. Capitalism works so well because humans are strongly motivated to maximize their profits: they work so well, in fact, that if left entirely unregulated they will act to concentrate wealth in the hands of few with no regard to the externalities (in terms of environmental impact and other deleterious consequences). The role of government, then, is to serve as the safety mechanism that monitors the market and regulates to mitigate as many of the negative consequences as possible while preserving as many of the positive effects (wealth creation, innovation, material improvements to people’s quality of life etc) as it can.

For similar reasons, I think there are sectors within an economy that are too essential to be left to the private sector alone. For example, profit-making has no place in a realm like healthcare: the goal should be to maximize human well-being, not profits. The government should maintain a robust, high-quality, tax-payer-funded, universal health-care system, for the good of the people. An argument can be made that the private sector should be able to compete with the public one, to provide healthcare for the people who wish to pay for it. Fair enough, but I believe a well-run government-backed system should always be superior to a private one, precisely because it can be entirely optimized to maximize well-being rather than profits; which is to say, that of course the private system may be permitted to exist, but if the public system is adequately funded (as it should be, when things are working well), then the rational choice should always be to seek care via the public system.

The pharmaceutical industry is off the rails, especially in the US. Here again we see the profit-seeking incentive within the capitalist system acting as an engine that motivates research and innovation (good), but also harmful things such as price-fixing, profiteering, and monopolization. This is a perfect example of where a government should intervene to ensure that the population’s well-being is not unduly jeopardized in order to inflate corporate profits. If that means limiting the pricing of medicine and thus putting an upper bound on the profits of the pharmaceutical firms (as opposed to subsidizing the costs using tax-payer funds, which would amount to an unjustified transfer of public wealth into private hands), then so be it; if you don’t like that, then look into another line of business.

Other examples of sectors where I want the government to have a strong role (or even a monopoly) include the prison sector, the military, and so on. I expect them to have a strong (universal) presence in education, and an extremely involved approach with respect to things like essential utilities (including energy and communication).

As such, I don’t have a predefined preference for either large or small government; rather, I want government to be "large enough" to fulfil the functions described above. It’s true that government may not be optimally efficient, but I’m prepared to tolerate that risk in order to avoid the greater evil. People over money.

I believe in freedom of speech, and especially speech that we might not agree with. If we only tolerate speech that aligns with our own doctrine, then it’s not really freedom of speech at all, is it? There should be few forms of legally proscribed speech, and where we legislate against "hate speech", we should demarcate the boundaries very conservatively indeed. A literal incitement to violence is very obviously hate speech; but if we start labeling things as hate speech simply because we disagree with them, it takes us towards a very dark place indeed.

I think we’ve become too sensitive in recent years. Comedy, which has always operated in the shadowy boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable utterances, is under siege. Perhaps in the future, the only sanctioned form of humor will be as memes and GIFs, and I’m pretty sure those will end up been purged of all edginess and tonality.

I’m saddened by the fact people are seeking to censure and erase cultural artifacts from decades or centuries past on the basis that they don’t adhere to the cultural standards of the most extreme and vocal observers today. For all our talk of critical reading, listening, and viewing, we seem to have lost sight of the fact that all texts are both produced and consumed in contexts. Instead of analyzing works of the past like adults, we seem to have turned into fanatical zealots with foam-flecked lips, bent on committing to an irreversible virtual book-burning.

When the term "political correctness" first came to be bandied about, it was because people were responding, predictably, in an effort to arrest the change. But in the end the change won out, and rightly so; we’re talking about minimal modifications that come at a low cost, yet eliminate all sorts of problematic constructions. Why say "policeman" when you can just as easily say "police officer"? I’ve never heard a convincing argument in favor of the old status quo; the only defense is laziness, and that’s not a very good one. But in 2020, we’ve gone mad, particularly with the whole "use whatever pronoun you want" thing. Use "they"/"them" by all means if you want a non-binary option, but let’s not be absurd and expect (or even more perversely, legislate) that people comply with an unbounded set of arbitrary prescriptions. It’s simply not practical, and we surely have bigger fish to fry.

I believe in freedom of religion, not because I grant any special status to belief in the supernatural, but because it is an instance of even more fundamental freedoms: freedom of thought and freedom of beliefs. Both of these are under assault right now. I believe these rights extend without limit, bounded only where they impinge upon the rights of others. For example, I am free to believe in whatever deity I please, unless that belief includes a mandate to run around killing people who believe in a different deity. Likewise, I’m free to believe what I want about medicine and vaccines, up to the point where my beliefs would compromise the safety of others living in a society where the democratic process has installed a set of medical authorities and regulations deriving their policies from systematic investigation and scientific evidence.

I think our criminal justice system is broken. In an ideal world, our correctional facilities would embody a humane balance of the punitive and rehabilitative functions. They need to be punitive because the threat of incarceration must be sufficiently unappealing in order to disincentivize crime. They need to be rehabilitative because that is both the humane and the rational thing to do. If our prison system does not rehabilitate criminals then they will simply break the law again, leading to a perpetual cycle. And we need to take responsibility for the fact that in most crime, the choices that an individual makes are very obviously connected to circumstantial factors that are the product of society’s own collective and historical actions. If an individual falls into crime from a context of poverty, lack of education, paucity of opportunities to earn a living legitimately, and so on, it simply isn’t fair that they should have to foot the entire bill. We owe it to them to not only do our best to rehabilitate them and equip them with skills and tools for their post-prison life, but also to work more broadly in society to address the structural issues that created the initial conditions that favored their crime in the first place.

I am against the death penalty. For one thing, it’s too easy to execute an innocent person (and it has happened with absolutely appalling frequency over the years), and for another it violates one of the closest things we have to a moral principal about which we have almost universal agreement ("thou shalt not kill") across times, places, cultures, religions and philosophies. It’s sometimes argued that there are crimes so heinous that the perpetrator is beyond all hope of future reintegration with society and deserves nothing less than death. Some also add that it is obscene for tax-payers to sustain such people for a life in prison, that they are beyond redemption, and that society would be obviously improved if they were eliminated from it, but I think that admitting such an argument for even one criminal puts us in the untenable position of having to define a boundary at which our supposedly universal moral principal that life is sacred must cease to apply. And as I said above, we’re not infallible; even in supposedly clear cut cases we can end up sending the wrong person to death row. Sending even one person incorrectly would be too many.

And here is where it gets tricky, because while I use the sanctity of human life to argue against the death penalty, I simultaneously hold true the right of women to make decisions about the fate of their pregnancies. While I consider all life to be sacred, the fact that the woman carries the growing fetus in her womb, literally inside her body, grants her a special ethical and moral authority to make decisions about what should happen. To legislate about what can and cannot happen to the woman, about what range of actions she is permitted to take with respect to her own organism, and about what her future life might look like if obliged to carry the pregnancy through to completion, strikes me as dangerously close to totalitarianism. And there is an immense gray zone here: the aliveness of the embryo is an undeniable fact, but it remains at a pre-sentient threshold for some time, and the precariousness of its existence is evidenced by the frequency with which pregnancies terminate spontaneously all the time.

Of course, the longer the pregnancy advances, the more tenuous the argument becomes, but I do think it is possible to define a limit condition — some number of weeks into the pregnancy — before which the rights of the woman weighed against the rights of embryo must clearly be tilted in favor of the woman’s autonomy. All in all, I’m saddened by the destruction of a potential human life, but I’m also pragmatic enough to realize that from a utilitarian perspective, it is impossible to weigh the potential, theoretical benefit of that aborted life against the possible suffering and risk to her health of a woman who is obliged to carry a pregnancy through to term against her will. I’m not the one who is going to pay the consequences of the decision, either way: the woman is the one best positioned to make the choice. And finally, the following is not a logical argument but rather a statement of fact: it is far easier to empathize with the human woman before me than the not yet fully fledged "potential human" life that she carries within her.

I have a similar opinion about vegetarianism and veganism. Just as human life is sacred, I consider animal life to be so too. But I also recognize that humankind has a long tradition (on evolutionary timescales) of consuming animal products, and indeed a huge part of the animal kingdom itself operate on predatory lines. Which is to say, I greatly appreciate when somebody makes the decision to be vegetarian or vegan on ethical grounds (and I additionally think it may have sustainability benefits when it comes to feeding an exploding world population), but I respect the right of people to make their own dietary choices.

I’m still a feminist. I’m happy about the progress made by both women and men to construct a fairer society over the last century, but I think there is still a long way to go. Both women and men are still subjected to both overt and covert influence that channels them into particular behaviors, vocations, and so on, and which lead to differential outcomes that are often unjust. Most egregiously, I think that it sucks that women still get paid less than men for equal work (which once again illustrates the power of the status quo to maintain its effective configuration even when most countries have laws that nominally "ensure" that women are paid equally), and I am appalled that women continue disproportionately to be victims of physical and sexual violence, intimidation and abuse.

I abhor racism but I believe that we’ll never eradicate it entirely because somewhere deep in our biology we’re wired to band into tribal groups of "us" and "them" which very often but not always correlate to physical attributes. And when obvious racial differences aren’t at play, we still find ways to divide into warring factions, even in the most homogenous of societies. In short, I think one of the principal tasks of civilized democracy is to overcome these baser impulses and try to elevate ourselves to a plane where we discuss our differences rationally and explicitly work to undo the most pernicious consequences of our tribalistic tendencies.

I support same sex relationships, and that includes the right of same sex couples to marry. I’m an atheist and have always thought that the special fiscal and legal status that marriage endows on a couple is a bizarre historical peculiarity. Back in the day it was probably in the interests of both church and state to accord marriage a special privilege in order that the congregation and the nation might prosper, and that the army might be replenished with fresh cannon fodder. Today, in the prosperous western world, where military conflict is something that happens "over there", we live in times where immigrants and refugees struggle to improve their lot by moving to other countries. It has always struck me as curious how a nation state will deny the right to live there to somebody, but if they claim to be in love with a resident and promise to live with them in a committed fashion, then suddenly, everything is ok. I myself have benefited from this special condition.

I support the right of trans people to choose their own sexual and gender identity. My only concern there would be that we shouldn’t allow or force young children to make irrevocable decisions (such as the decision to undergo hormone therapy or surgery) for the same reason that we don’t allow them to drive cars or drink alcohol. I realize that this may entail great (but temporary) suffering for young adolescents who really do have a clear conviction that their body doesn’t match their identity, so we have to provide other forms of support to manage the psychological and emotional risks until they reach the appropriate age to take full responsibility for their decision.

I think that mostly binary biological sex is real, and has predominantly worked that way for countless millennia, but that there are and always have been edge cases that don’t fit neatly into the simple binary model (eg. people who don’t fall into the typical XX/XY chromosome pattern, or people with atypical genital configuration etc). Even when all the biological factors are totally "standard", it’s possible to identify with the opposite sex/gender, or something else entirely. We’re composed of both "hardware" (DNA, cell structure, chromosomes etc) and "software" (the way we’re "wired" in our brains that determines how we think, what we prefer, want, crave, see, identify as etc), so it is not at all surprising that we see a huge spectrum of sex and gender expression. And lest anybody doubt the importance of "software" in how we think about sex, sexual preferences, and sexual identity, consider the pantheon of sexual fetishes, which can manifest by the simple action of conditioning (ie. one can develop a fetish for say, salt shakers, by pairing exposure to them with pornography).

This flourishing presents a few technical and practical problems, some of which I think will be easily solved and others less so. For example, given that so much of society is built around the axiom that there are only two sexes, we have a bunch of structural stuff that somewhat arbitrarily assumes that we should divide things (places, processes, systems etc) into two. The most obvious one being bathrooms, and which lead us to endlessly debating about who should be allowed to enter which bathroom. The obvious solution there is that we need to make our bathrooms agnostic to sex and just have one kind for everybody; and to the extent that that makes some people uncomfortable, I think that means we have to design them in such a way that people feel they have adequate privacy regardless of who else might be in there. That sounds a whole lot easier than getting everybody to think and feel identically.

The bigger problem though is the question of sports, which have long been divided into sex-based categories. There are some sports — particularly ones that require explosive force (weight-lifting, sprinting etc) — in which competitors who have undergone male puberty (with the concomitant increase in testosterone and therefore muscle mass, lung size, bone structure etc) likely preserve some unfair residual advantage after transitioning to become female, even after extensive hormone therapy. So there, we have a thornier problem, and it’s hard to envisage a non-cumbersome solution; are we going to have to stop talking about the "Mens and Womens Olympic Basketball Teams" and instead refer to them as "Olympic Basketball Team (pubertal testerone level: >= 300 ng/dl; and < 300 ng/dl)"?

I think there are too many guns in the United States. For the most part I think that most of the guns should be in the hands of the police and the armed forces. (A separate topic: police brutality is a clear problem, as is the militarization of the police.) For anybody else, I’d like to see rigorous background checks and a demonstrated need for the firearm. Farmers may need guns to carry out their work. I see little need or justification for urban gun ownership. If you want to use a gun recreationally, go to a licensed venue and do it there, but I don’t think people need guns in their own homes. If crime is high and people wish to have guns to defend themselves, flooding the population with arms is not going to solve the problem.

I think smoking in public should be illegal. Smoking creates many health problems that end up increasing the burden on the health care system down the road. Governments have lacked the political will to address this decisively, other than imposing punitive taxation on tobacco products and using it to line their coffers in the short-term. This is another example of where I would expect the government to step in to regulate human behavior where people aren’t civic-minded enough to do it themselves. We obviously can’t ban cigarettes (they’d just move onto the black market), but we can at least limit the damage, which means that addicted people should be prevented from harming members of the public around them, as well as contaminating the local environment with cigarette butts and ash.

I think that immigration is often good, but people on both political extremes get it wrong: an excessively restrictive policy deprives a society of the enrichment that it would otherwise derive from immigration; on the flip side, a world that was literally without borders would change so rapidly and unpredictably — with potentially terrible consequences — that it would be unconscionable to allow it, no matter how humanitarian the intentions might be. Immigration policy should be carefully and ongoingly calibrated to strike an adequate balance such that it be sustainable; and in the meantime, wealthy nations should act to enable developing nations to raise their standard of living, move towards democratic forms of government, and end armed conflict and human rights violations. In the same way that I favor redistributive and progressive fiscal policy (where the wealthy pay more taxes in order to provide services for those in need), I endorse redistribution (which is not the same thing as reparation) at the level of nation states too. We’re all in this together; it’s not only ethical to help out our fellow human beings in a purely altruistic sense, but its in our self-interest as well, lest we wish inequality and injustice to seed violence and chaos.

Now, all of this is just my opinion. Obviously I’m trying to be evidence-based, but I’m also aware that on every single one of these points it’s possible to find intelligent arguments and reasonable evidence for and against. The matter is far from settled; we’ve been arguing about this stuff for decades, centuries, and millennia, and we’re not likely to stop any time soon. Nobody can (or should) be absolutely certain about any of this, but in the end one has to pick a side on every argument, lest they be eternally stuck in the limbo of equivocation. I think one of the reasons why I tend to fall on the leftward side of most of these arguments is that I not only think that they are right, but I also feel more comfortable with the consequences should they be wrong. In a kind of "Pascal’s Wager" of, we might ask ourselves, what happens if we’re wrong? If you build a society modeled on the utopian vision of the left, you might wind up with a government that is a little bigger than it ought to be, a little less efficient; stock holders might enjoy just a little bit less capital appreciation, and some "lazy" folk might end up draining resources from the state when they could in fact be pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. I can live with that possibility far more comfortably than I can with the counterfactual scenario: if I lived a life holding largely conservative beliefs, only to find at the end that I was wrong and that I had failed to help my fellow human beings, leading to unnecessary suffering, then I would be mortified to think of the harm I had done worshipping a false god.

This is a partial list, and I’ll probably come back to this over time to update it as my thinking evolves. But I wanted to get it out there so that I have something to point to if I ever find myself in strife on Twitter for an utterance with all too little context within which to evaluate it. I don’t want to be a person in this tribe or that tribe: I want to be an open-minded, reflective, rational person with a collection of views and values, receptive to being updated in the face of new information. Feel free to stick whatever label you want on me, but know that underneath the words is somebody with good intentions trying to make sense of the world.