Why was ethanol a non-issue for “rigged economy” liberals?

ct-bernie-sanders-ted-cruz-iowa-20160201-001

Just before the Iowa caucuses, the Renewable Fuel Standard became a big issue in the Republican race, with Ted Cruz and Rand Paul coming out against it and the rest supporting it. The law essentially mandates that transportation fuel contain a minimum amount of ethanol.

Cruz and Paul took the principled and correct position that the government should not be dictating the contents of fuel and using force to disrupt the voluntary exchange of a good between buyers and sellers. To do this, they had to take on the very powerful ethanol lobby, something which few politicians have done before.

Despite a barrage of misinformation and negative ads, Cruz went on to win the caucus and in doing so, effectively killed the ethanol lobby (or so say the pundits). If ever there was a win for principles over special interests, this was one.

So, coming to the point — why was this almost a non-issue in the Democratic race? Why did Clinton and Sanders end up supporting the mandate? Don’t they go around exciting the masses by talking about how “rigged” the American economy is? Why would they support something that is a quintessential case of rigging the system?

The answer lies in the fact that they (and liberals, in general) do not actually understand what an unrigged economy looks like and what corrupting it entails. A market that consists of voluntary exchange of goods and services between buyers and sellers is not rigged, even if it results in outcomes one doesn’t like.

On the other hand, Sanders’ proposals to force people to pay for “free” college, “free” healthcare or the likes are what can be considered unjust interventions or “rigging.” If people want to help others attend college or get healthcare, they can donate through existing charities or form new private organizations for that purpose.

The system is definitely rigged (think of the various subsidies, private discrimination laws or the laws that interfere with the contract between an employer and her employee), but liberals, if anything, want to rig it even more. Most of them have never spent any time studying political philosophy and thus do not understand that positive rights are not valid (because they are essentially in conflict with someone else’s negative rights), or even the difference between positive and negative rights.

What rigs the system is legislating positive rights, or equivalently, making the state initiate aggression against someone. A prime example would be something Clinton and Sanders both have come out in support of — forcing people to fund abortion†.

Unless liberals undertake the efforts required to understand basic political theory and form coherent thoughts about politics, the rest would have to endure having their negative rights violated and see a clueless man like Sanders be hailed as a savior.

† I cannot imagine people more amoral and depraved than those who support forcing people to fund abortion. In order to do this, you have to simultaneously believe in these two propositions: 1. that a mother has neither an enforceable nor an unenforceable obligation towards the child in her womb, but 2. strangers have an enforceable obligation to pay so that the mother can terminate that child.

What a Conservative Columnist’s Tweet Tells Us About Our Approach To Animal Rights

Quite a while ago, I was reading a scathing piece on the celebration of Labor Day by NRO’s Kevin Williamson. After making it amply clear that he’s no fan of unions, he went on to take a swipe at animal rights activists, calling them “animal-rights nuts.”

Being someone who supports animal rights myself, I contacted Kevin on Twitter to register my objection and share with him an excellent pro-animal rights piece by a conservative Matthew Scully, a former speechwriter for George Bush and Paul Ryan.

His immediate response was to denounce Scully’s views, but what he said upon being prodded further was especially revealing.

Now, what does his shooting animals for fun have anything to do with them having rights? (Leave aside the ludicrous proposition that one can’t be cruel to non-human sentient beings.) If animals do, in fact, have rights, it would just mean that he’d been grossly violating them, not that they can’t possibly exist! After all, humans have been brutalized and subjected to all kinds of horror throughout history. That is not used as evidence against the existence of human rights (rightly so). Possessing rights does not automatically protect someone from violence.

There’s a reason I am highlighting and showing the problem with this particular bit of reasoning. What he said so openly is one reason people are so reluctant to accept the fact that animals, like humans, have rights. This is a typical response of a non-vegan:

“How could a pig have rights? I ate bacon just this morning. In fact, almost everyone eats bacon.”

Even if many don’t articulate it explicitly, this is how they seem to think. Now, it’s not as if animal rights have not been established enough by moral philosophers. Consider the very powerful Argument from Marginal Cases expressed by David Graham in the form of a dialogue between an opponent and a proponent of animal rights:

Opponent of animal rights: How can you say that animals have rights? It’s impossible.

Proponent of animal rights: Why?

Opponent: For one thing, animals can’t reason. They can’t be held responsible for their actions. To have rights, you must have these capacities.

Proponent: Wait a minute. Infants can’t reason. Does that mean it’s open season on babies?

Opponent: Of course not. Infants will be able to reason someday. We must treat them as prospective rights-holders.

Proponent: But what if the infant is terminally ill and has only six months to live? What about a person who was born with part of his brain missing and has the mental capacity of a pig? What about a senile person? Is it OK to kill, eat, and otherwise use these people for our own ends, just as we now use pigs?

Opponent: Well . . . let me think about that.

Welcome to the Argument from Marginal Cases.

So, in short, if you want to deny animals rights on the (very popular) basis that they can’t and will never be able to reason, you’d have to also deny any rights to a terminally ill infant. Same is the case with a mentally deficient adult. This shows that setting the bar at rationality yields nonsensical outcomes. The only way out is to accept that rights depend on sentience, the ability to feel pain or experience sensations.

Then, there is this non-objection objection repeated endlessly: “humans evolved to eat other animals, just as lions evolved to eat deer.” There’s a name for this kind of faulty reasoning: “appeal to nature” or “naturalistic fallacy.” The thing is the way humans or other species evolved tells us nothing about what we ought to do. It does not tell us what behavior is moral and what is not.

Many people steal, lie, rape and murder. Many species engage in infanticide and cannibalism. Notice how that is never invoked to derive a system of morality. No one ever says in these cases, “it’s natural, so it must be morally okay.” We realize that we have all sorts of tendencies; being ethical involves realizing which of our actions harm others and curbing them.

So, it’s not as if there is any intellectual objection to the concept of animal rights that keeps a large number of people from accepting its validity. Instead, it’s the more mundane fact that seeing so many animals used, tortured and killed for human convenience somehow makes it harder to accept that they could have rights. (Also, isn’t it just plain convenient?)

This isn’t a unique situation: when blacks were owned as slaves, anyone saying that they possess the same rights as whites would be laughed at. It would be just as obvious that blacks are meant to be owned and used, like it is now to own and use animals. It is baffling that many fail to see the obvious parallel here. (If you are saying, “but blacks are humans, these are animals,” you are falling prey to the same kind of essentialism that the racists employed; sentience matters, not attributes such as species and race.)

In a world where most of the meat and dairy products come from extremely cruel factory farms, the only moral thing to do is to expand our circle of empathy: to recognize that it’s wrong to use animals for our selfish ends, to go vegan and thus stop participating in and funding this violence.

It’s not even difficult once you see a pig or a chicken the way you see your dog:

***

Want to know more about how animals are treated in farms? Watch this 60-second video of treatment of pigs, or this award-winning documentary Earthlings. You can also read this informative post at What I Vegan.

Like what I write? Subscribe by entering your e-mail in the “Follow Blog via Email” section in the right sidebar.