Why Principles Matter

Everyone has a set of principles that they follow. It’s true that these principles aren’t always neatly defined and expressed, and that this failure to codify leads many people to do and say things that seem hypocritical, but, at the end of the day, everyone does have a set that they follow. There are three basic parts to any problem: the issue, the principles, and the solution. We could just say that only the issue and the solution are truly parts of the problem, and that the principles are merely how a person gets from the issue to the solution, but when we’re discussing things like politics and rulers, it is of utmost importance to us how a person gets from the issue to the solution, because knowing their method of “how” allows us to predict their position on any given issue.

My set of principles is pretty simple: it is wrong to initiate the use of force, violence, and coercion. This is a principle that I would gladly follow right off the cliff. If, for example, I found myself in a world where failure to initiate force and violence would result in widespread catastrophe, then I would gladly let the catastrophe hit. There are a few reasons for this, but the primary one is the principle that “The whole is not more than the sum of its parts. The whole is an illusion.” Preventing the catastrophe to y possible people by harming x people when y > x relies upon this sort of conceit: y‘s victims are possible ones. Theoretical ones. It may or may not happen exactly as predicted, but… it may or may not happen exactly as predicted. The reality of life in our universe is that there are far too many variables for a person to predict accurately what will happen five seconds in the future, and the perceptions that the person uses to identify and evaluate those variables can’t be demonstrated to be reliable in the first place. But I’m not here to give an overview of my positions and why I hold them. I’m working on such a document, but it’s not completed yet.

Moving along, the Social Justice Warrior is motivated by a different set of principles: a sort of usurped empathy that more closely resembles empty sympathy and that is directed entirely at certain groups and people. The SJW does not consider the morality of using force, violence, and coercion, not when force, violence, and coercion can be used to promote the SJW’s agenda, such as this masterfully phrased piece on Twitter:

Free speech is inconsequential to the SJW, the type of person who coined the phrase “Hate speech is not free speech.” We’re not here to say whether they are right or wrong; we are merely pointing out that their set of principles does include liberty or free speech. Still, their response to any given issue is relatively easy to predict, because they do abide a set of surprisingly well-defined principles. Primarily, the question “Is it in support of a historically disenfranchised group?” is the deciding factor. Whereas my deciding factor would be “Does it involve the initiation of force, violence, or coercion?” they use a different set of principles to take them from the issue to a solution.

Then you have people like Rand Paul and Gary Johnson, who are the real reasons that I’m writing this. Although it looks like the Libertarian Party is finally free of Johnson, it isn’t going to do any good if we immediately turn to a candidate who is motivated by poorly defined principles.

Gary Johnson’s position on religious freedom at least was motivated by concerns more in accordance with the SJW’s than with the libertarian’s. If force, violence, and coercion are unambiguously wrong, then it obviously cannot be the right thing to force one person to associate with people that they don’t want to associate with. Although Johnson eventually changed his position on this (though not really by very much, and it doesn’t really matter for reasons I’ll explain a moment), the fact remains that he used some hidden principle to determine when to apply the libertarian principle of non-violence and when not to apply the libertarian principle. This is dangerous, because it makes him unpredictable. Without being able to identify the principle that he uses to determine when to be a libertarian and when not to be a libertarian, we are unable to draw a straight line from any issue to his solution. If, for the sake of the argument, gun sales quadrupled and the homicide rates of LGBTQ people in the south multiplied several times, would his SJW-style principle prompt him to discard the Second Amendment in favor of protecting the LGBTQ crowd, just as he was ready to discard the First to protect the same group? Honestly, I’d guess “Probably,” without even getting into Gun Grabbing Weld.

Libertarianism isn’t defined by a person’s position on a given issue or even a set of issues; it is defined by the methods a person uses to get from the issue to their solution. Let’s play a game. I’m going to use mathematical principles to determine my answers; you, an imaginary person, are going to just “answer from the gut.”

Problem Your Answer My Answer
1024 * 8 “About 8000.” 8192
9 / 3 3 3
75 * 15 1,125 1,125

As this short, stupid example attempts to show, using the wrong set of principles won’t always result in an incorrect answer. Math, of course, is defined by the rules of numbers and its own field, so it has right and wrong answers… so does a political issue, really, since a person’s evaluation of an answer as right or wrong is determined the principles they used to make that assessment… I would say the SJW is wrong to come to their answer that it’s okay to use violence against people who say things they don’t like, because the principles that went into my answer are that force and violence are wrong. This is inescapable–the principles we use to determine an answer will always be the principles we use to determine whether someone’s answer is right or wrong…

Strictly speaking, is “your” answer of “About 8000” wrong? No. It’s simply imprecise. 8192 is “about 8000.” And though you came to precise and correct answers for the next two questions, it doesn’t in any sense mean that you’d get Question #4 correct, and we have no idea whether you’d get Question #4 correct, because we don’t know what principles–what rules you are following–to get from the problem to your answer. If Question #4 is “37 * 6 + 15” we could justifiably guess that your answer will be an estimate, but this is assuming that “Give an estimate unless the problem is one that can be done quickly and easily in the head or on one’s hands” is your guiding principle. With a large enough sample size, we could probably deduce your principle, but if you’re running for President of Mathematics, then we should not have to deduce your principles in the first place.

This is the problem with people like Rand Paul and Gary Johnson. Sure, they do occasionally land on the correct answer–correct from the perspective of libertarian principles–like Gary Johnson on marijuana and Rand Paul’s recent behavior over the GOP ACA replacement bill–but that doesn’t mean they’re going to land on the correct answer next time, or that they landed on the correct answer last time. In fact, we’ll have a hard time predicting any of their responses to an issue, because they alone know when they choose to apply the principles of libertarianism and when they choose to apply some other principles.

We’re talking about giving these people power. Unpredictability isn’t acceptable. We need to know how an elected official is going to respond to things that will come up during their reign. An educated guess isn’t good enough. A vague understanding of their principles isn’t good enough, not relative to the power we’re handing over to these people. And I think after the unprincipled Trump is finished, Americans will have a deep yearning for a president who abides clear and simple principles, since they’re learning first-hand how poorly shooting from the hip works out.

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