Sunday, April 29, 2012

Church & State

It seems like freedom of religion has been roiling about a bit more than usual in the national consciousness, so I thought I'd take a poke at what I think is important in this idea and what it means for good governance.  Basically, this is about a natural tension between the desire for people of faith to exercise their political will in accordance with their personal beliefs, and the need for government to permit, value and tolerate the beliefs of those outside the majority-faith.

Now, this is a real contradiction.  People of faith should certainly be allowed to vote for policies in keeping with their beliefs, but those who don't share those beliefs shouldn't be prevented from practicing appropriately because of those policies.  Tricky widget.

The tools that we bring to this challenge on behalf of people of faith are freedom of speech (& expression, & religion, & to assemble peaceably) and the idea of conscientious objection.  But, in a nod to diversity, we constrain these freedoms in both scope and context.  These constraints are the subject of much bickering--as they should be--so I kind of want to lay out the ones that I see and what I think of them.

1.  People of faith cannot justify impeding the safety or freedom of others by citing religious practice. 
 This principle allows limiting or outlawing animal sacrifice, curbing faith sanctioned abuse and murder, and applying the fire code to religious buildings. Creationists can't squash the teaching of evolutionary fact (though boy do they love to try).

2. Conscientious objection is legal only when it is demonstrably non-opportunistic, and only exempts the objector from direct participation in the objectionable act.
This is clearly the case in wartime, where pacifists a) still pay taxes that support the war effort and b) often end up as medics or otherwise indirectly involved participants in the conflict.

3. Public institutions, offices, and officers acting in their official capacities are severely constrained in their ability to proselytize, endorse particular religions, or adopt explicitly sectarian practices.  This seems primarily to be true of un-elected officials.
We're not always super successful at applying this rule, but it is certainly a general principal at work in our country.

Basically, I think that what's going on here is that we as a society recognize that the rights of others constrain our own rights, and observe a moral distinction between personal life and public service.

Some interesting general distinctions arise:

1. That the practice of faith can be properly limited to the personal, or limited to the community of the faithful.

2. That the right of the faithful to object is limited to the eschewing of direct action contrary to faith and the peaceful--read here as non-disruptive, as opposed to non-violent--protest of such actions (and of course the right to vote according to belief).

3. That the faith rights of individuals do not extend to the public institutions in which they serve, and the official capacities in which they act.  When acting on behalf of the public, they must respect the constitutional constraints of church and faith.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Some sustainability science of interest

I saw this article which does a nice job of summing up some of the thoughts and concerns regarding the impact of ecological damage.  I don't know why exactly this topic interests me, other than that it seems to be a part of politics where I'm right of left and left of right and don't have much in the way of company in the discourse. Still, I'll keep posting informational articles until I get bored or form some substantial opinions that can stand on their own in the company of the evidence.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Just for the record, there are some economists just as skeptical about local foods as I am.

There you go.  I'm not a crazy person.  May still be wrong, but officially not crazy.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Terms of Art and Points of Agreement in Sustainability

Right, so first of all, I'd like to declare victory on the "local" aspect of this environmental argument (which was the whole point of these pots... the rest of the sustainability stuff just appeared as a side effect).  The ongoing comment-blog debate has basically shifted entirely away from issues of local and small-scale farming.  I've noticed some points of confusion arising from terms of art, and some points of broad agreement, so I want to highlight the latter and clarify the former in this post.

Where the sustainafreaks and I are in agreement:

1. Companies need to pay the real costs of the damage done by their pollution.  I come at this from a broadly economic (more on that later) rather than ecological perspective, but the conclusion is the same.  If you are going to pollute or otherwise harm people, the cost of that externality (economic term-of-art) should be included into your operating costs.  That would go a long way to leveling the playing field between "green" industry and traditional industry.

2. Again, from a purely economic perspective, we shouldn't be subsidizing farms (or, really, much of anything at all except basic research and some other things prone to market failures).  If this incidentally furthers ecological aims, that's a bonus.

Terms of art:

The big thing that I wanted to mention in this is that when I say "reduced quality of life" I'm borrowing a term of art from economics.  The fact that I think of this phrase primarily in the economic way probably says something about how far down the rabbit whole I've gone in my reading, but there it is.  As a side note, while some people would happily abandon many modern amenities, I'd say that they aren't the majority case. I can tell by how people keep voluntarily buying all this extra stuff they "don't need".  Everyone has a list like the one in the comments about what bits of modern life they like and want to keep, but the point is that these lists don't overlap, and the people who don't want certain modern amenities can (and do) decline to purchase them.  The fact that we keep making these things indicates that for many people they are standard of living enhancing even in the common sense.

As a side note, I also use the word "externality" a lot, which is basically a cost of production born by society rather than the producer.  Pollution is the canonical example of this sort of thing, and basically every branch of economics thinks that such things should be forced into the cost of production and passed on as added prices.

And because I can't help myself...

Places where we hilariously disagree, or are miscommunicating (limited in scope to sustainability):