Category Archives: Political Correctness

Private Critic

One of the central tenants of leftist-progressive ideology is that private concentrations of power are to be feared whereas similar public concentrations (the state) is of relatively minor concern. This indifference is the result of the mistaken belief that “we” can control the state because democracy. But, private actors might do something we don’t like, and without a formal (legal) framework to force them to bend to our will there’s no limit to their potential diabolic deeds. The obvious leftist solution to this quandary then is to unleash the power of that entity we believe we control (the state) so that it may exert its monopoly on the use of violence in order to achieve those ends we find desirable. Just because one can train a lion, tiger, or shark to do their bidding does not mean one is in control of the beast; like the state, they will tolerate you as long as you are useful, and when you are not, well, it’s dinnertime.

Those of us adhering to the tenants of individual freedom and free markets, however, believe the opposite. We fear the state exerting control precisely because we recognize its monolithic power. We can control the state as much as we can push back a tidal wave. Private “power” is not a concern, as private entities can’t use violence to force you to buy their services. If they do something people don’t, like then the market will correct the situation – given enough time (and a lack of state imposed barriers preventing such corrections).

So what is the point of this prologue? Well in the past few weeks we’ve seen the narrative flip somewhat. There has been a widespread move to “deplatform” a variety of right leaning (comedian Gavin McGinnes, The Proud Boys, Stefan Molyneux, etc) and other malcontents (Alex Jones/InfoWars) among the social media giants (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, etc). So what is this? This is private actors using their power to silence voices. This is private actors refusing to serve certain customers. This is private actors discriminating on the basis of thoughts and words.

This is perfectly fine from a rights perspective.

Those (the left) who are normally up in arms over private actors “abusing” their power (e.g. cake bakers) are conspicuously silent. Apparently refusing service to those you disagree with (e.g. Sarah Huckabee Sanders) adheres to the core leftist belief of it should only be legal if I agree with it.

It is now instead the free market libertarians having the loud and vocal conversation about private actors engaging in socially undesirable (censorship) behavior. Yes, these are private companies and they can include or exclude anyone from their platform. No one (libertarians anyway) is calling for some kind of regulation to force them to include everyone. But, just because some one or some group has the right to do something (that is, they should not be thrown in a cage for doing so) doesn’t mean someone who respects that right has to agree with how that right is exercised. One may still rightly criticize how or why some action was taken. Criticizing actions and saying there should be a law against such actions are a universe apart. Criticism is that murmur that can start an avalanche of (non-coerced, voluntary) change.

Cultural Appreciation

A dress is once again in the news (prior ones being Monica’s blue dress and the “what color is this dress” internet meme). In this case it is a red dress, or more precisely a red cheongsam or traditional Chinese qipao, worn by an 18-year-old (Keziah Daum) to her prom. Daum set off a Twitter-storm after posting photos of herself in it. Why the fuss? Well, she’s not Chinese so obviously has no right to wear Chinese clothing (at least according to someone going by the name of “Jeremy Lam” who tweeted at her “For it simply to be subject to American consumerism and cater to a white audience is parallel to colonial ideology.” Fortunately some sanity was injected into the brouhaha wherein other self-identified Asian-Americans thought his criticism was silly. Likewise many in China and Taiwan proper saw nothing wrong with it whatsoever and saw it as a sign of cultural appreciation.

Sadly, opinion’s like Lam are not isolated. This politically correct ideology of so-called “cultural appropriation” has been around for a few years, most notably rearing its ugly head each Halloween wherein little children are made to feel guilty for wanting to dress up as Indians (take your pick) or Eskimos. But even big kids can’t play; last year at Princeton University a Cinco de Mayo party was shut down over concerns about cultural appropriation (can’t have white people wearing sombreros you know!).

Proponents of this concept will deploy terms like “imbalance of power” or “form of colonialism” in their rhetoric to provide a veneer of intellectualism. But this is all just nonsense; this fact being underscored by their claim of it being a violation of “collective intellectual property rights.” Collective intellectual property rights can’t exist because intellectual property is a fallacious concept. You can’t own an idea any more than you can own another human being. Sure one can “legally” do these things; slavery used to be legal and was enforced by the state just as today intellectual property (trademark, copyright, patents) are made legal and enforced by the state – but that doesn’t make them real rights or forms of property. The state could make it legal to own a star. That’s right, you sir can own Betelgeuse! Here’s a piece of paper that gives you title to it. So the law can say one thing but logic dictates the true reality of things.

So it is with intellectual property. The only reason property rights exist is to eliminate (or at least minimize) conflict over (1) scarce, (2) rivalrous, and (3) alienable resources. There are only two options when two people are in conflict over the same object: agree on a set of uniformly applied rules that clarify who owns what, or, bash each other’s heads in until one person is dead and the other takes control of the item in dispute. Even though thieves and the state practice the latter, most sane people prefer the former.

All attributes must be true for something to be categorized as property. The air we breathe satisfies 2 and 3, but not 1 (air is basically super-abundant), therefore we don’t own air, what would be the point? A physical object, say a car, is scarce (they aren’t falling out of the sky), it is rivalrous because if I’m using it you can’t use it at the same time and alienable (if I give it to you then I no longer have control over it). This is why ownership of another is not a real property right: a person may be scarce and rivalrous, but they are not alienable in the sense that you, the slave, can choose to do something other than what the “master” wishes (so that is why we don’t own our children or pets per se, we provide custodial care, but they own themselves).

Likewise ideas can’t be owned because they satisfy neither 1,2 or 3 above. If I have an idea and I tell you, now you have the idea, but I still have it; it is not rivalrous or alienable because we can both have it at the same time. So in the same way when someone “appropriates” the trappings of another cultural (fashion, food, language, music) they are not taking from that cultural, rather they are augmenting it by spreading those ideas to a further audience. Although it is not a rights violation, there is still good and bad cultural “appropriation”, so Keziah Daum = good, but Justin Trudeau = bad (google images of him in India recently, dude, please just stop).

P.S. To head off the obvious objections borne out of the pragmatic “but how would X work without IP…?” please see this page.