Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Walter Williams has some choice words for his critics!

"Public misunderstanding, ignorance and possibly contempt for liberty play into the hands of people who want to control our lives."

That's right folks, never let it be said that Walter Williams is a man unafraid of demonizing his opposition. Oh, so you disagree with his opinions? That's probably just because you hate liberty, which is just what the evil authoritarians want! It's impossible for someone to have an honest disagreement with him about the role of government in people's lives - they're uninformed, a synonym for uninformed, or possibly evil.

Never let it be said that Walter Williams is a man unafraid of redundancy.

The theme of this week's missive from Walter is 'settling scores'. It seems that some of the people who read his thoughts a few weeks back were able to poke enough holes in his logic to get under Walter's skin, necessitating a whole new article designed to answer those critics. The subject?

"I argued that the anti-tobacco movement became the template and inspiration for other forms of government intrusion, such as bans on restaurants serving foie gras, McDonald's giving Happy Meals with toys, and confiscating a child's home-prepared lunch because it didn't meet Department of Agriculture guidelines. A few responses read like this: "Smoking is different because that actually affects other people. We should be living by the notion that you should be able to do whatever you want as long as you don't hurt other people. Smoking hurts other people."

That seems reasonable enough, doesn't it? Not according to Walter!

"If we banned or restricted all activities that affect, harm or have the possibility of harming other people, it wouldn't be a very nice life. Let's look at what can affect or harm other people. Non-obese people are harmed by obesity, as they have to pay more for health care, through either higher taxes or higher insurance premiums. That harm could be reduced by a national version of a measure introduced in the Mississippi Legislature in 2008 by state Rep. W.T. Mayhall that in part read, "An act to prohibit certain food establishments from serving food to any person who is obese, based on criteria prescribed by the state Department of Health." The measure would have revoked licenses of food establishments that violated the provisions of the act. Fortunately, the measure never passed, but there's always a next time."

This is the danger of being conspiracy-obsessed. You become so desperate to prove those obsessions that you'll grab onto any random bit of fact that backs up your improbable beliefs. Walter can't actually find any evidence of ludicrous laws impinging on people's freedoms, so he flails around until he finds a crazy law, proposed by a nobody, that was taken seriously by no one. Anyone else would look at that law and think 'hey, that's funny. Politics are dumb, sometimes, huh?' but to the conspiracy-obsessed, it becomes just another piece of the mosaic depicting all the ways the big scary government is trying to take away his freedom! The fact that the proposed law was laughed out of the state house is a meaningless footnote - after all, next time we might not be so lucky! Which is, of course, why we need heroic freedom fighters like Walter Williams, the only man brave enough to protect your right to weigh over five hundred pounds.

"The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that in 2010, nearly 33,000 people were killed in auto crashes. That's a lot of harm that could be reduced by lowering the speed limit to 5 or 10 miles an hour. You say, "Williams, that's ridiculous!" What you really mean to say but don't have the courage to is that to save all of those lives by making the speed limit 5 or 10 miles per hour is not worth the inconvenience. Needless to say -- or almost so -- there are many activities we engage in that either cause harm to others or have the potential for doing so, but we don't ban all of these activities."

I'm done saying that you're ridiculous, Walter. I used to say it a lot, but by now I've realized that ridiculous is your natural state, so calling your that - even at your behest - would be like constantly referring to you as 'alive' or 'male'. Accurate, but self-evident, and therefore redundant. So, from now on, let's take 'everything you say is laugh-out-loud stupid' as read, shall we?

Now, for your actual point - Walter is so bad at arguing his positions that his only recourse is to always go straight to the most extreme possible position when describing opposition to his point. Of course anyone would think an 8KPH speed limit would be crazy, so natural we have to eliminate all government regulation, right? In Williams' manichean world, there exists only complete freedom or absolute tyranny. Thank god the rest of us don't actually have to live in this fantasy land. We're capable of seeing the degrees in between, and deciding just which tradeoffs and compromises are important to us.

Also, it's weird that Walter missed a good talking point here - since studies have shown that highways without speed limits are safer than those with them, the argument can be made that those limits are being kept in place by governments solely so that they can fine (or... tax!) innocent leadfeet! I don't know if it really would have fit into this article, but its seems like his kind of talking point. Although, come to think of it, consistency has never really been the man's strong point anyhow...

"One of the least-understood functions of private property rights is that of determining who may harm whom in what ways. In a free society, it is presumed that the air in a person's house, restaurant, hotel, car or place of business is his property. That means that if you own a restaurant and don't want your air polluted by tobacco smoke, it is your right."

Look at the one he tried to sneak by us just then! This is another favorite tactic of his - assert something absurd, then immediately build an argument on it as if the absurdity was a matter already settled. Here's the thing, Walter - I don't concede that you own the air in your house. Air is common property, owned by every one of us. While you may own the airspace inside your own home, and choose to not allow me to throw paper airplanes through it, you don't own that air, and you can't legally prevent me from breathing it. The question of cigarette smoke in a restaurant isn't 'I, the restaurant owner, get to decide whether or not I fill the air with poison', it's 'I, as the owner of a business designed to serve the public, don't get to decide whether I want to poison the people whose patronage allows me to continue running a small business - because it's poison.' Air needs to be clean, because all of our health is dependant on that. While it's fine for people to smoke in their own homes, where there's minimal transfer of smoke to people outside, or to smoke outdoors, where the worst parts of the fumes dissipate quickly, in an enclosed environment with relatively little circulation, public health becomes an issue. I know that Walter thinks any call to public health is a secret plot by the Illuminati (see below), so I don't expect him to be able to wrap his head around this point. This is the limitation of Walter's concept of 'freedom' - it's entirely selfish. The only freedom he really wants is the freedom to never think about anyone else, unless they have something he wants.

The crazy part about this is that Walter is old enough to remember leaded gasoline. I only know of the terrible toll it took on people based on the theme song from Seasame Street (or at least my mishearing thereof), but Walter must have experienced the lung-clogging, asthma-triggering hell that was the smoggy downtown core of most major American cities. Does he really want to go back to those days solely because people should be 'free to put whatever they want in their cars'? I'm not suggesting that Walter actually holds this opinion - but the leaded gas situation is the closest analog to secondhand smoke (although obviously more serious), so it's certainly a fair comparison.

"The emerging tragedy is our increased willingness to use the coercive powers of government, in the name of health or some other ruse, to forcibly impose our preferences upon others. In the whole scheme of things, the tobacco issue itself is trivial. Far more important is its template for massive government disrespect for private property."

God damn it, Walter. Don't you realize how you sound when you write these things? Public health is a 'ruse'? See, in Wlater's mind it's impossible that anyone actually does anything to help other people - he can't even muster up an acknowledgment of the existence of good intentions before reminding people what was used to pave the road to hell. According to Walter there's no such thing as empathy - all claim of human concern is simply pretext.

What a sad and lonely place the inside of your head must be. Hey, at least you've got that sweet Lexus to comfort you, right? Must be a sweet ride, huh? Or it will be, up until Obama's Traffic Tsar makes it illegal to drive faster than walking speed!

"John Adams said, "The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.""

I can understand Walter's desire to tie his beliefs to something a founding father said (well, wrote, anyhow) - tenuous as that connection may be - but let's not forget that John Adams is the man who signed the Alien and Sedition Acts into law. He was a great man, but like most great men, he had a lot of bad days. It's always dangerous to attribute equal respect to everything that a brilliant man said.

Conversely, it's pretty safe to attribute equal derision to everything that Walter Williams says.

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