Monday, October 24, 2011

On Being a Libertarian Skeptic

With the presidential campaign season in full swing (for the republicans at least), I've been thinking a bit lately about politics and skepticism. Generally I call myself a Libertarian, but that's pretty much just a convenience so I don't have to identify with either of the dominant US political parties. I resist affiliation with either the democrats or the republicans so that I don’t have to accept or justify rejecting the very significant parts of each party’s platform with which I disagree.

My libertarianism is therefore shorthand for a somewhat common refrain - like many others, I consider myself  to be fairly conservative on fiscal issues but liberal on social issues. I agree with the Republican party on many economic issues, but part with them vehemently on things like gay rights, abortion and their antipathy to science. The democrats drive me crazy on fiscal and economic issues, but I'm with them on the social issues.

So there I am, in my libertarian middle ground, cherry picking candidates from the major parties to vote for (I don't actually vote Libertarian, but I would if they’d bring forward some sane candidates: Bob Barr? Really? Ron Paul? God help us!).

When I first happened on the skeptical community a few years ago, I quickly figured out that it was a community that leaned pretty hard to the left. That wasn't a surprise, but it made me hesitant to actively join the fray. One doesn't want to risk getting flamed by someone online for suggesting that, maybe, just maybe, everyone to the right of Dennis Kucinich isn't actually evil.

Luckily there are prominent skeptical voices out there who help make it safe for Libertarian skeptics like me to come in out of the cold and not feel quite so unwelcome. It was encouraging and refreshing to hear Michael Shermer on a skeptical podcast expressing his belief that the best way to deal with climate change is less government interference in the economy and more unleashing  of bright human minds.  And Penn Jillette’s libertarianism, based in a firm belief in the rights of the individual, is a very appealing philosophy.

So, yeah, it’s good to know that you can be libertarian and find acceptance in the skeptical community. I have a hard time imagining a true blue conservative who would feel very welcome, but I also have a hard time imagining a true blue conservative wanting to be accepted there.

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