Carrier For Congress: A Curse In Disguise

This post was an April Fool’s Day joke. Richard Carrier is not running for Congress and he’s not a libertarian. Most of the quotes using his actual words from his blog posts are quote minded, i.e., taken out of context and made to imply the opposite of his actual intentions.

Last week at the Reason Rally, tens of thousands of American atheists showed up on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to tell our government and our fellow citizens of that we atheists are here, we vote, and we are tired of seeing secularist principles and irreligious people demonized by our politicians and fellow citizens. As part of the day’s festivities we saw a taped message from Representative Pete Stark, of the 13th District in California—the lone openly irreligious member of  the House of Representatives.

Well, soon, he may not be the only atheist in Congress. And he may not be the only one from California either. The atheist philosopher and biblical scholar, and my Freethought Blogs colleague, Richard Carrier is planning to announce on Monday that he abandoning his blog and running for Congress in California’s 9th District against incumbent Barbara Lee.

In the 4 months that Richard has been at Freethought Blogs we have become very close. We share an enthusiasm for dragging philosophy out of the ivory towers and into the public square. He wrote in his book Sense and Goodness Without God (Kindle Locations 273-284)

Philosophy is not a word game or hairsplitting contest, nor a grand scheme to rationalize this or that. Philosophy is what we believe, about ourselves, about the universe and our place in it. Philosophy is the Answer to every Big Question, and the ground we stand on when finding answers to every small one. Our values, our morals, our goals, our identities, who we are, where we are, and above all how we know any of these things, it all comes from our philosophy of life—whether we know it or not. Since this makes philosophy fundamental to everything in our lives, it is odd that people give it so little attention.

Philosophers are largely to blame. They have reduced their craft to the very thing it should not be: a jargonized verbal dance around largely useless minutiae. Philosophy is supposed to be the science of explaining to everyone the meaning and implications of what we say and think, aiding us all in understanding ourselves and the world. Yet philosophers have all but abandoned this calling, abandoning their only useful role in society. They have retreated behind ivory walls, talking over the heads of the uninitiated, and doing nothing useful for the everyman. So it is no surprise the general population has lost interest. And when pundits lament a spiritual aimlessness in modern culture, what they see is not the loss of faith in any particular religion, but the divorce of human beings from a devoted exploration of philosophy—philosophy as it should be. That divorce was a serious mistake.

Well, now, Richard has decided to put his money where his mouth is and prove the practical relevance of philosophy in the halls of Congress. He has told me that he is inspired to fulfill Plato’s vision of a “Philosopher King”. He is going so far as to vow to live in poverty should he be elected, as an example to his fellow elected officials of how ruling should be about implementing the Good (as discerned through an unwavering commitment to a life of learning), rather than about personal enrichment.

When Richard first confided these plans to me in December, I found all of this very noble and exhilarating. The prospect of a Congressman who is not only an out of the closet atheist but also an unapologetic philosopher and a biblical scholar who is one of the the foremost defenders of the historical thesis that Jesus never existed, seemed to me at first to be just what America needs most right now.

But at the end of the day, though I wish him well with all my heart, I will not be able to support my dear friend and colleague in his Congressional run. I am going to have to support Barbara Lee, and here’s why.

California’s 9th District is one of the nation’s most liberal and Lee, accordingly has a sterling record as a leader in progressive causes. To even run for office, Richard had to get on the ballot as a Republican since he would have no hope of unseating a wildly popular Democratic incumbent like Lee. Now, Richard would not be any ordinary Republican. He favors gay marriage and is adamant about the separation of church and state and the right to abortion. He is, for sure, going to be a “California Republican”. But where he apparently seeks to distance himself from the progressive incumbent will be on his increasingly staunch libertarianism.

Now, I share Richard’s burgeoning enthusiasm for legalizing hard drugs, gambling, euthanasia, and prostitution—especially after he donated a weekend of his time last month to visit me in New York and help me figure out through firsthand experiences why these things are too good to be illegal.

But other of his libertarian policies are more troubling. Many regular readers of his blog were disturbed when a creeping pro-corporatism influenced his defense of the agriculture industry. In that post he dismissed vegetarian concerns about the suffering of animals and expressed unwavering faith in rational agents following their desires in a free market to make things just for animals:

 “[F]actory farming” tends to be misreported. When you investigate the actual conditions on most farms, especially those vending major industries like KFC or McDonalds, you find they are not as bad as PETA videos claim. They tend to mix ancient footage with recent (thus representing as current, conditions that have long since been abandoned), overstate the frequency of outlier events (e.g. accidents), and misrepresent farms in violation of existing laws or their own contracts with vendors (farms which then went out of business or underwent severe reforms after being exposed) as being the norm (that’s where a lot of their “horrific” video comes from: gotcha investigations of criminally negligent enterprises, not statistically common farm conditions).

The industry is actually a lot smarter and cleaner than propagandists represent. In fact many of the conditions rights activists complain about are actually so bad for actual production efficiency and profit margin that no rational business would ever engage in them anyway, even if animals were vegetables. Of course stupid criminal mismanagement still occurs from time to time just as happens in any industry (think Enron or the Titanic), but at the very least that means we should support the enforcement of the laws we already have

Few could have foreseen that his defense of factory farms was just the tip of the iceberg of his indifference to the suffering of animals. Richard is now planning to advocate for the legalization of dog fighting in California.

And economically some of his policies are becoming even more extreme since he began reading Ayn Rand in January. Though this influence builds on some views he was already developing last summer (and which I’ll document below), he hasn’t talked about his fascination with Rand much in public because his philosophy was very much in flux and he didn’t want to commit to anything in public. But in private we would have a lot of conversations over Skype in which he would  “play devil’s advocate” for the Randian/Ron Paul position and have me try to defend against it. I did my best but he would keep besting my strongest arguments since, at the end of the day, I’m no economist. Then he had what he describes to me as a “Gestalt shift” wherein one day he went from understanding libertarian economic theory but holding it at mental arm’s length to suddenly just feeling completely convinced of it. He started telling me that “This is what consistent atheism leads to philosophically” and that he has become convinced that “atheists who aren’t libertarians still haven’t let go of gods or adequately embraced the freedom that comes with that” (to quote, with his permission, a recent zealous e-mail).

There were some signs of his fringy right wing views. Read what he wrote last summer in defending the right to start militias so that private citizens could better band together to protect themselves against the threat of organized gangs:

When ten guys with guns are coming after ten other guys, it makes no sense for the latter ten to act as individuals. They have a common interest to work together to defend their individual rights. To claim otherwise is simply retarded. And when ten guys with guns come after you, if you expect no one to come to your aid, because “only an individual can legitimately act in self-defense,” you’ll just be screwed. Darwinism will then eliminate your harebrained political ideology from the arena of debate.

When a reader named Benjamin expressed a desire for peaceful resolutions rather than armed citizenry, Richard came back by saying:

We can’t vaporize all the world’s guns. And even if we did, people will have sticks. Take those away, and they’ll still have fists. Reality is, there are irrational people, psychopathic people, and ignorant people (and whole nations likewise), and whether with guns, sticks, or fists, they will use force upon you. Unless you stop them…You need them to back your play to fend off vandals, looters, murderers…Otherwise you can’t have any rights to life, liberty, or property… If you’d ever actually been raped or robbed by thugs you’d know this. But I suspect you are just a freeloading pussy who has never had a hard day in his life and takes all the goods you enjoy for granted

Part of Richard’s newfound libertarianism also entails a strong emphasis on states’ rights as well:

federal government shouldn’t meddle in local affairs unless it has to (to uphold the Constitution, for example, e.g. to defend your rights). The federal government should concern itself with universal and nationwide issues, exactly as the Constitution establishes it should.

Richard also goes on to attack Social Security saying that if only we abolished it and stopped deducting FICA payments from people’s paychecks, with the extra money “rational people would understand the economics of risk and insurance and thus voluntarily all pay into a reliable pension fund…to insure themselves and their families against disaster and penury.”

Presaging his eventual sympathies with Ron Paul, in that same piece, he attacks the Fed’s practice of quantitative easing as “just dangerous”. He advocated disbanding government run police and fire departments, insisting instead that citizens should pay for their own police and fire protection and that private property owners should be recompensated for this by being allowed to excise tolls on everyone who use the sidewalks and roads outside their homes:

Surely you would not say I or anyone can just come in and sleep in your house any time we want as long as we don’t damage anything. We are causing you a loss in economic terms in several ways: not only in causing wear-and-tear, but in causing you a loss through inconvenience, crowding, and usurping of your priority of access to goods like the bed, sheets, bathroom, etc. (thus we have laws regulating crowding and right of way on sidewalks, just as you would lay down rules for our use of your house).

Moreover, you spent all that money building and maintaining that house, yet we get to benefit from those expenses without paying any part of them? That’s universally recognized as a form of theft: we are usurping your property rights by claiming benefits you paid for. As for your house, so for all our shit: sidewalks, roads, police, armies, sanitation, etc.

In his most bizarre argument of all he rants against taxpayers, through the EPA, being “forced” to “clean the air” of freeloading citizens. Here’s his response to the challenge that he is speaking absurdly to claim that taxpayers are forced to clean the air:

You can force us to clean the air you need to breathe, making us your slaves, and somehow still claim this isn’t an initiation of force against us?

Finally, he has a harsh “love it or leave it” attitude for those who disagree with his radical views on liberty:

Your only recourse is to leave. Which you are welcome to do, BTW. Quite frankly I’d be relieved if you got the hell out of my country. At any rate, as in free markets, so in nations. We the people own this country. If you don’t like what we’re doing with it, leave. Because our nation is like a corporation, in which each one of us holds one share, which we inherited from the Founding Fathers, whose last will and testament (for the property–the American Colonies–that they seized by force from the King of England) is now called the Constitution. That’s the agreement, the contract, you were born into, and inherited from your parents, which they inherited from their parents, and so on.

All of this adds up to a sobering, post-Reason-Rally reminder that not only should we not elect our leaders based on their belonging to a certain religion, but we also need to vigilantly watch out against voting for people simply because they are irreligious atheists (or our friends). Many a bloody dictatorial communist has been an atheist and Ayn Rand’s perniciously anarchic libertarianism is an embarrassing atheistic influence on contemporary politics as well. I just never thought it would take such a hold on the noble mind of my dear friend, the otherwise estimable philosopher, Richard Carrier as well–even though, in retrospect, the signs were admittedly there last summer.

To read Richard’s formal announcement of his campaign, see his final post at Freethought Blogs.

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.