I Am Not a Conservative

I’ve chosen to write this because there has been some confusion with regards to my political views. This confusion is fair; they are somewhat idiosyncratic. I want to get ahead of one of the most pernicious assumptions, though, and proactively assert that I am not a conservative.

I take the label of “liberal” with pride. I appreciate its history; like any liberal worth the term, I trace my philosophical lineage to Adam Smith and Thomas Paine, to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. A foundational observation of my beliefs, one that I consider to be straight-forward, is that people and groups in a position of power, be it economic, political, or social, fight for the extension of that power at the expense of the common person. You can call this conspiratorial; I call it obvious.
This trend is not the loose conspiracy popular among leftists and rightists, of shadowy figures you disagree with Doing Bad Things. This is concrete and, largely, un-hidden. Corporations and the government have always worked together to cement their power; I just am not willing to wave it away when someone I agree more with is doing it.
After the Enlightenment, my lineage winds into the 19th century American individualist anarchists, especially Benjamin Tucker. Tucker picked up where Paine left off, as far as I’m concerned. Central to Tucker’s ideas was his four monopolies, the four areas where governments grant unjust monopolies to moneyed interests that ensure that the powers that be remain as such. These are: currency, land, tariffs, and patents. This is an aspect of my foundational assumption: corporate tyranny can only exist where governments collaborate. This is because of another philosophical realization that the anarchists (of whom I am not a member) imparted to me: ultimately, government is a monopoly on violence. A “government” is an entity that we have imbued with the legal right to perform acts on our behalf that, if they were enacted between private citizens, would be violent crimes. Kidnapping, imprisonment, murder; these are rights we grant government in exchange for security and order. Again, I am not an anarchist; I don’t think this is necessarily a bad deal. The benefits of governance are high, but so are the risks. I therefore feel strongly that usage of government must be judicious and careful — it is far easier to break something than it is to fix it.
This is why my sympathies lie with voluntary exchange, and, where possible, I think people should be allowed to work and trade freely. I do believe in markets. I do have an affinity for the decentralization economics of Friedrich Hayek, but even Hayek was supportive of a robust safety net, a reality often ignored by his libertarian fan base.
I believe that the state has a valid role in righting its own wrongs, and in ensuring that people won’t fail for lack of trying. I believe that our safety net is inefficient and needs reform; I would prefer a universal basic income over every welfare system we have. Does this make me a conservative? Or does it make me a socialist? Does it make me neither, or both? I’m not sure it matters.
I am a radical individualist, and am thus somewhat skeptical of the gross benefit of collective action. I am also a feminist, an anti-racist, and an advocate for LGBTQ rights. I don’t see a contradiction here.
Like Adam Smith, I believe in the labor theory of value, and that the individual should retain ownership of his or her labor and be allowed to sell it in an open market. Does this make me a conservative? Or a socialist? It doesn’t matter. I believe that, where government has unjustly given preferential treatment to certain corporations or groups, they have a right to regulate their wrongs out of existence. What does this make me?
Enough of philosophy, though. To make matters simpler, I’ll list below where, exactly, I stand on various issues:
I support same-sex marriage as a natural right under the 14th amendment. I support any and all marriage arrangements between adult individuals as a right of contract.
I am strongly pro-choice; I believe in the principle of bodily autonomy as a natural right.
I think that the banks responsible for the financial crisis need to be punished and broken up. Their power has been given to them by state collusion for too long; their currency monopoly is unjust.
While on the topic of currency monopoly, I strongly support Bitcoin and the markets of the deep web. People have a greater right to free exchange than the government does to monopolize currency and trade.
I also support net neutrality. The state built the Internet, and should keep it neutral in the face of corporate pressure.
I support a universal basic income as a more dignified and efficient alternative to our welfare system.
I believe that climate change is a serious issue, and that green technology and entrepreneurship is our best bet to fight it.
I believe that the sharing economy is, ultimately, a victory for voluntary exchange and a serious blow against huge moneyed interests.
I generally support free trade, but I do not support the TPP or other free trade agreements. These are privileged trade, written in secret. These are the opposite of free trade.
I believe that our K-12 education system needs serious and fundamental reform, and I’m open to the idea of charter schools and even vouchers as a way of getting there. I am, similarly, a serious critic of tenure for K-12 teachers, and the Common Core standards.
I believe student loan debt is out of control, and our universities are too expensive. I believe that bureaucracies have to be trimmed and other, non-university options should be highlighted for high school graduates. I also don’t have an issue with raising taxes on the rich to lower interest rates.
I believe in open immigration and free travel between states as a natural right.
I am strongly anti-war. Former General Smedley Butler had it right: “war is a racket.” I think most overseas expeditions have not been justified, and possibly constitute war crimes.
I am strongly against surveillance and am a staunch civil libertarian and privacy advocate.
I believe that the Drug War is an expensive, dangerous failure, and that marijuana ought to be legalized and the rest decriminalized. Drug addiction is a medical problem, not a criminal one.
Our criminal justice system needs reform, in general. We focus way too much on punishment and not enough on rehabilitation. We are destroying people.
I think that corruption in government is a huge problem, from Citizens United to the Clinton Global Initiative. I do not, however, support term limits; I find them uncomfortably undemocratic.
I find ideological kinship in people like Glenn Greenwald and Lawrence Lessig — high-tech, anti-authoritarian liberals.
I voted for Barack Obama in 2008, happily. I supported Ron Paul, briefly, in 2012, and nearly voted for Gary Johnson, but ultimately voted for Obama again. I support Bernie Sanders in 2016, and am willing to vote for a third party candidate over Hillary Clinton.
My political positions ultimately come down to the principle of individual dignity and freedom. People ought to be allowed to pursue their own ends so long as they don’t impede anybody else’s right to the same, and when government acts, it must only be under command of the people and only to ensure equality and liberty. To some people, this makes me an extreme right-winger. To others, it makes me a radical socialist. That’s fine; I’m not really either one. I’m dedicated to fighting authoritarianism and promoting equity and liberty in the individual. This leads me to support Democratic Party candidates, mostly, but I’m not above voting for Libertarians and Greens down-ticket (or maybe even for president). I am not a doctrinaire Democrat, though, and that’s okay. I’m happy to tear into Democrats, like President Obama and Secretary Clinton, whom I perceive as acting negatively towards the causes of dignity and freedom, and I’m willing to fight the corporate-state collusion wherever it appears — even if it’s among liberals. This makes me seem like a conservative to some people, but wait until there’s another Republican president. Then you’ll see.
I’m a liberal, with everything that word entails, and I’m proud of it.
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