Monday, April 04, 2005

Slip-Slidin' Away

It was the summer of 1978 and my new wife and I were driving through Rocky Mountain National Park on our honeymoon. We had started in Tallahassee, Florida, and our destination, if that concept makes any sense on a trip like that, was the 36th Annual World Science Fiction Convention in Phoenix, Arizona. We still had several days before we needed to be in Phoenix and we were taking the scenic route. The scenic route, in this case, was Old Fall River Road -- a rocky, bumpy winding road that offered breathtaking vistas, terrifying dropoffs and lots of dents and scrapes on the undercarriage of my low-slung car. It was a lovely day and half a mile away, across a steep ravine, we could see people skiing on the snow that still covered one of the peaks. It was not a very smart place to ski because the slope got steeper near the bottom with a 30 foot ice cliff at the end. As we were watching, one of the skiers, a young lady, fell, sliding down the slope and off the terminal cliff. She landed in a rocky, melt-water creek below.

The mountain she was skiing on had a bigger road than ours with a parking area near the skiers, but the place where the girl had landed was difficult to reach from that side because it required a transit across a considerable area of unstable ice. It was about eight hours before the main rescue team was able to reach her, strap her down and drag her back up the hill with ropes. The person who reached her first -- and possibly saved her life -- was an atheletic young man from one of the cars parked on our side of the ravine. He collected warm clothing from the rest of us stopped along the road, scrambled down the ravine and and up the other side to reach the fallen girl from below. It took him about two hours to make it across. My wife and I contributed a jacket and a blanket -- which gave us an excuse to stay and watch the the rescue so we could get our stuff back.

Years later I spoke to someone who remembered the story from the news. He told me that the girl had broken an arm, both legs and her pelvis as well as hurting her back, but that, after an extended hospital stay, she had fully recovered.


Slip Slidin' Away

A number of things I have seen today have me thinking about slippery slopes. The first was a post by my friend Calvin. He was writing about the new law proposed by the San Francisco City Council that would require bloggers who engage in political speech to tell where the money comes from if they spend more than $1000 on their blog and have more than 500 individual readers in a 90 day period.

One view of this story is that it represents a considerable slide down the slippery slope that we stepped out on when we decided that campaign finance reform could somehow be reconciled with the first ammendment. A cynical take on campaign finance reform is that the politicians voting to "get the money out of politics" are like oil men who want to "get the money out of a hole in the ground." Sadly, however, I don't look at it that way. I think they are more or less sincere -- the more's the pity. I wish I thought they were merely greedy. Greedy politicians have limits. They are limited by the need for stealth, occasionally by guilt, and more often by the limits of self-delusion. It is their sincere but misguided colleagues who do the real damage. The problem is that once you decide that it is a good idea to limit political speech its hard to know where to stop.

While it is tempting to think that this latest law shows, once again, the totalitarian tendencies of the SF government since they are even trying to regulate blogs, the real problem is not the application of campaign finance rules to blogs, it is the flaws that have been in the thinking about campaign finance reform from the beginning. And there is something a bit odd about the word "even" in the phrase "even trying to regulate blogs." If we take the major bloggers' opinions on blogging on face value blogs are a new and influencial medium of which the mainstream should take notice. Well, ok, they seem to be noticing. If you take the proposed law and replace the word "blog" with, say, "privately owned newspaper" then most bloggers could read it without feeling the need to comment. Only a few of us out here on the right-libertarian fringe would still cry foul. I'm not sure I see the compelling reason for the radar to be adjusted upwards so that bloggers can still fly under it.

In a number of issues where I, for one, worry about a slippery slope the San Francisco City Council sees the same issues and says "Whoa! A slippery slope! Dude! Where's my snowboard?" That said, I am not sure that the proposed legislation about blogs is a good example. While I am adamantly against keeping people from spending their money to express their opinions, I am sympathetic to a requirement to say where the money came from. I found another posting that suggests that the SF law may be more the latter than the former. It's still slippery out there on that part of the slope -- but I may be ok with it because I have these:

Social conservative footwear:
for making small concessions
on slippery slope issues.

The second reminder of the slipperiness of slopes was a brilliant posting by Jane Galt on the subject of gay marriage. She is showing all the warning signs of the inevitable slide into Fusionism that happens to libertarians who think too long or too carefully about their positions. Fusionism was the idea of Frank S Meyer who, about 50 years ago, posited that libertarianism and traditionalist conservatism, properly understood, will wind up at the same place. His insight: good acts are not particularly virtuous if they are coerced, and absent a tolerable degree of civic virtue it is difficult to make a convincing case that freedom is a good idea. It is almost impossible to find anyone who buys all of Meyer's notions but it is also impossible to deny the gravitational pull that drags libertarians and conservatives to the empty spot in space that Meyer identified as the center of the universe.

In her posting Jane Galt demonstrates a masterful grasp of several concepts that a libertarian cannot completely understand and remain a libertarian and remain sane. One of these is the suspicion that, in some cases, when social conservatives worry about a "slippery slope" they may be onto something. She looks at other other slopes that conservatives have been ridiculed for asserting were slippery -- welfare, sexual liberation and divorce. In her survey she finds society lying broken and bleeding at the bottom of each of these slopes.

At he beginning and end of her posting she denies supporting one side or the other -- but her arguments all run one way. Her denial that she has drawn a conclusion shows her her sense of the approach of the Fusionist event horizon, and her helpless flailing as she is being drawn in.

Random notes: Those shoe spikes are Liberty Mountain Crampons -- no kidding, "Liberty Mountain" -- you can buy them here. You can read a bit more about Frank Meyer here and here.

Update: My wife instructs me to describe the "atheletic young man" in my story as a "semi-professional climber" and urges me to include the detail that when the girl fell she landed a few feet away from a crevase that would have added another 70 feet to her fall.

1 comment:

Calvin said...

I agree that the root problem, to change metaphors, is the idea that money ought to be removed from the notion of free speech and political discourse. It pains me to think that billionaires can spawn multiple front organizations and pump millions of dollars into influencing elections and issues of the day. Why should a billionaire have any more influence than me? I can see the temptation to prevent such people from doing these things and I can see the temptation to at least require financial transparency in their activities. But I believe that it is a temptation that must be resisted. Free speech without the freedom to spend money, and spend it privately, is no free speech at all.

Having said that, I'm also in favor of a free and aggressive press to find the people who are spending the money to support various initiatives and candidates.