Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Left libertarians, model agnosticism and RAW

Some of the material I link to in these blog posts relates directly to Robert Anton Wilson, but sometimes I link to an article because I think RAW would have been interested in it, or because I believe his fans might be.

I am about 90 percent sure that RAW would have enjoyed Jesse Walker's interview with historian Thaddeus Russell, reprinted on from the magazine's March 2011 issue. Russell is the author of a new book, A Renegade History of the United States. Walker explains, "The book’s title deliberately echoes A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn’s retelling of the American story from a New Left perspective. But Russell’s book takes a rather different vantage point, celebrating the prostitutes who seized new freedoms for women, the gangsters whose gay bars opened spaces for same-sex liaisons, the lower-class Birmingham blacks who threw bricks at racist cops, and the consumer revolution that expanded American pleasures."

I think RAW would enjoyed Russell's thesis and his provocative ideas, but I think he would have been interested in Russell's politics. Russell is a left-libertarian. I often feel a little bored when I read about the opinions of a conservative, or a liberal, or even a libertarian, because there's seldom any chance of a surprise. The ideology has pretty well been worked out. I can easily guess what George Will or Ezra Klein will say about a given issue. The "correct answer machine" as RAW would put it is ready to provide an answer.

It seems to me that a sense of doubt arises more often with left libertarians, a sense that they may not have all of the answers. Robert Anton Wilson "was" a "libertarian" but he also was a "progressive" who supported a social safety net. (In the Mung Being interview, referenced earlier this week, Wilson advocates "Voluntary taxation: you pay for government programs you want; you don't pay a penny for any programs you don't want." But would that generate the necessary income for the kind of national health program Wilson advocated?)

In the Thaddeus Russell interview, the term "model agnosticism" is never used, but Walker skillfully presses Russell to admit that he hasn't put everything together yet. Russell observes, "You’re really homing in on the stuff that’s the trickiest things for me to deal with, that almost no one else in the world would get. (laughs) I don’t want to defend either one—the welfare state or slavery. But my ideas about them are mixed."

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