A Letter From Butler Shaffer
positive feature of the post-September 11th mess has
been the discovery of who is, and who is not, devoted to individual
liberty. Itís all so easy to espouse liberty principles when there
are no apparent costs associated with doing so. It becomes much
tougher when the costs begin to escalate.
am reminded of an exercise I have used on the first day of my classes.
I hand out a list of philosophic statements and ask students to
express their agreement or disagreement with various propositions.
They do this anonymously. Among the statements are those which state:
"the interests of the group should take priority over individual
interests," and "people should put aside their personal
interests when the well-being of others is at stake."
usually get anywhere from 40-60% of the students to state agreement
with these notions. I then tell them that we will have a dual grading
system for the course: individual and group-based. For those who
select the individual method, their grades will be determined on
the basis of their performance on the exam. For those who select
the group basis, all grades will be pooled (for the group) and each
student will get the average grade for that group. In the instances
where I have used this exercise, I have never had a "group":
I will sometimes get one student to sign up for it, but never two
may be willing to espouse collectivist sentiments, but donít want
their grades determined that way. I tell them that itís a lot like
the beauty contestants who are asked: "if you had but one wish,
what would it be?" They all respond with variations of: "peace
and brotherhood for all mankind." I use this as an introduction
to some "law and economics" ideas. "Why do they answer
this way?", I ask. After some efforts on the part of the students
to answer this question, I tell them: "itís because they know
they donít really have a wish!"
the separation between what one is willing to espouse and to live
by also help to explain the current American experiences with terrorism?
As long as American bombs were falling in other parts of the world,
and no pain was being inflicted at home, most Americans were content
to ignore the human costs of such activities. But now Americans
are facing the harsh realities that my students had to encounter
in the prospects for their grades: ideas have consequences (to borrow
from Richard Weaver).
too, it seems with so many of the Randians, the FreeRepublic, the
Cato people, and the Libertarian Party: in a time of crisis, they
all seem more intent on looking "respectable" to the very
people and ideas that their stated philosophy would seem to reject!
To such people, there is now a greater "cost" to leaving
the security of the herd than there is a "benefit" to
living as a free, self-controlling individual.
I have not been a supporter of these above groups in the past, my
willingness to support any groups in the future will be determined
by how they respond when the threats to our liberties are not just
implicit in the state, but explicit in the expanded police state
measures now being implemented in our lives.
the aftermath of the WTC attack, as well as the governmentís attack
on our liberties, I have had occasion to learn a great deal about
people I have regarded as my friends, . . . most of it quite favorable,
some not so favorable. As I told one of my colleagues who could
not understand my unwillingness to join in the war fervor, I do
not take kindly to people whose sense of patriotism consists in
helping to create an environment that threatens the lives of my
suspect that, in the ensuing months, I shall find myself more withdrawn
from some of my erstwhile friends, and more embracing of newly-discovered
friends. (This, by the way, is why I have just sent you another
contribution, in response to the request I received the other
day from your Burlingame, CA facility.)
nonetheless remain optimistic for the future even in the
short-term! After seeing thousands of angry and fearful people driving
around with their American flags flapping from their cars
whether from a sense of jingoistic sentiment or a lack of understanding
as to any better course of action I have noticed a few "Lakers"
flags, and one Mexican flag, added to the show. I even saw one bumper
sticker that read: "why do we go around killing people who
kill people in order to show to the world that it is wrong to kill
people?" Perhaps all of this is a way of people beginning to
favorite anecdote, however, came from one of my students, who told
me that she and her husband had been to some public event a week
or so ago, prior to which the "national anthem" was played.
She and her husband remained seated as, she told me, they
did even before September 11th. A man sitting behind
them whapped her husband on the shoulder and asked: "why arenít
you standing for the national anthem?", to which he replied:
"well, you really canít dance to it, can you?"
more people come to the realization that they canít "dance"
to this music, perhaps they will also be disinclined to "march"
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