Libertarians are sometimes accused of a certain “glibness,” or a Fish You I’ve Got Mine mentality.  And that accusation is in evidence in some of the responses to Jason Brennan’s recent Bleeding Heart Libertarians thread.  In that thread, Brennan addresses an ad hominem he found on twitter.  That ad hominem calls him to task for an argument he has made in the past about the role today’s adjuncts have played in their own poor job fortunes.  Whatever one thinks of Brennan’s post–and I agree with it–it highlights a kind of argument that the unconverted sometimes interpret as glibness.

I’ll call that argument the “one momentous choice” argument.  Here it is, from the original argument that Brennan had made:

Adjuncts are people who played what they should have known, and in most cases did know, was a risky game, and lost…They are more like formerly rich people who understand statistics, but who decided to bet the house in Vegas anyways.

The “one momentous choice” argument refers to a mistake someone made and should have known better than to make.  That mistake should govern the rest of that person’s life circumstances.  No help, no sympathy, is merited or ought to be forthcoming.   The person made their bed, etc., etc.

No, that’s not really Brennan’s argument.  It’s only part of his argument.  The other part is that in the case of adjuncts, there is an opportunity for exit.  Another part is that the higher ed system is corrupt and needs some fixing, and as Brennan said in response to my comment, he pushes for reform “internally.”  Yet another part (not stated in that particular post) is the very reasonable question of why someone else’s mistakes should be a third person’s obligation to remedy?

My point is, though, that the argument seems glib. To the “glib” caller, the argument probably seems like a radical and unrealistic insistence on responsibility to which few of us are ever really held accountable in real life.  The “glib” caller probably believes that we’ve all made mistakes and few of us would want to live in a completely just world where we’re accountable for each and every one of the mistakes we’ve made.  Not to deny the importance of responsibility, that person believes themselves to be just trying to point out even the hardest working and most deserving among us have gotten breaks.  And as the ad hominem Brennan is responding to claims, Brennan is an “overprivileged libertarian faculty member who believes in his heart of hearts that he somehow beat the house.”  He’s already got his, so the ad hominem implies.

I’m not a big fan of ad hominem’s in general and don’t like that one in particular.  And again, I agree with what Brennan says in that OP and what he’s said in other OP’s about the “plight” of adjuncts.  But I do think this particular example highlights why some libertarian ideas have a hard time gaining much currency.  And although there’s perhaps no other way for Brennan to make the argument he does without coming off as “glib,” it’s hard not to acknowledge that there’s something understandable  (not particularly defensible, but understandable) about the “glibness” argument.

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17 Responses to The “glib” in “glibertarianism”

  1. To the “glib” caller, the argument probably seems like a radical and unrealistic insistence on responsibility to which few of us are ever really held accountable in real life.

    It’s probably poor form to be the first commenter on my own post, but I just wanted to clarify something here, and that’s I believe the people most likely to be adjuncts are also among the more likely to have been held less accountable for their choices in the past than other, less privileged people are. It’s probably true that the poorer, etc., one is, the more one is, the more he/she is probably held accountable for what they’ve done. My main goal is to try to get in the mind of someone who objects to Brennan’s type of argument.

  2. Oscar Gordon says:

    I don’t think of it as glibness, but rather an overt statement of the obligations of all parties. Adjuncts made a choice, one that they should have good information about, and thus they have to own the consequences of that choice. Making this overt statement does not mean the adjunct is undeserving of help, or that the system is just, merely that the system was fair by it’s own rules that the adjunct agreed to play by.

    Also, libertarians hold everyone accountable for their mistakes, rich or poor, advantaged or not, provided the mistake was made in a fair system. So the rish man who bets big in Vegas & loses has to own that, even if he still deserves help.

    That is what liberals & progressives get wrong, what they mistake for conservative attitudes. They stop listening after that overt statement & assume the rest is that such people don’t ever deserve help.

  3. The Pen is Mightier says:

    Ew, nasty libertarianism! Needs more government… MUH BASIC INCOME GUARANTEE!!

    • I thought basic income guarantee was a libertarian thing, or at least something supported by some libertarians.

      And don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for many libertarian positions. I’m not 100% on board, but I agree they bring an excellent critique that needs to be discussed.

  4. fillyjonk says:

    Perhaps some graduate programs are not fulfilling their obligations to incoming Ph.D. students.

    I’ve been “off the job market” (and in a fulltime, currently tenured position) for almost 20 years now, but even back then, academia had changed in some subtle ways I was not really prepared for (My parents were professors.)

    If a talented student came to me and expressed a desire to become a professor, I’d gently dissuade them, because any more, full-time positions that are an actual career are fairly hard to come by – the norm is being a “freeway flyer” teaching at several different schools part time.

    But no one ever told me, as a Ph.D. candidate, “Hold on….what you want to do, understand that it’s changed a lot in the past 10 years and it’s different from what you anticipate.” I might not have listened but I still would have appreciated having been given the heads-up.

    I know I sound kind of cynical and bitter, but I admit I’m kind of shocked at how many poorly-prepared students we get. And some of those students have the attitude of “I got As all through high school, therefore I should also get As in college.”

    • Yeah, I have similar reservations, fillyjonk. I currently work in an academic library, and occasionally an undergrad will ask my opinion about whether to go to grad school. I’m always hesitant, because I usually don’t know the undergrad well enough, but I do say that my default answer is that it’s probably a bad idea, but that she/he should ask several people. I do suspect it depends on the discipline and what one is going for. My most recent opinion request was from someone who wanted to get an MA in psychology, a field I know almost nothing about. Her goal, I think, is to eventually serve her community (however defined) in some way (as opposed to doing research or becoming a professor). I told her there’s just a lot I don’t know about the field. (I will say that from my interactions with her, she’s a very intelligent and, just as important, hardworking person.)

      As for the advice I got….I probably got the “yes go to grad school by all means” pep talk as an undergrad. But after my MA program, I had seen what things were like. Therefore, what Jason Brennan says about PHD’ers oughting to know better….that applies to me, because I knew better, but did it anyway. For mostly the wrong reasons, but that’s another story and certainly not society’s problem.

      • fillyjonk says:

        Actually, I think MAs or MSs in certain fields are still pretty valuable – a lot of our students who get good agency jobs do a MS first.

        I just….I worry about higher education a lot. What it’s becoming, how the expectations have changed. I see how things could be better but I am frustrated in that I am largely powerless to MAKE them better. The one thing I can do – hold my students to high standards – often winds up with a lot of student push-back, and once or twice, calls from an administrator over it.

        I dunno. On good days I really love teaching but all the administrative stuff, the being told “brace for more budget cuts” when we’ve been doing that for 10 years, the ever increasing bureaucracy, they all get me down so much.

        If I were starting over from scratch as a high schooler? I’d work harder in pre-calc and Calc 1, do more high level math, and go to engineering school and become an MSE or EE.

        • Oscar Gordon says:

          But do you like engineering?

        • fillyjonk says:

          I might have. I don’t know.

          Sometimes it seems like you have to sacrifice what you “like” to “what can you get a job in.” The “follow your bliss” advice is often kind of misguided.

        • Oscar Gordon says:

          I might have. I don’t know.

          Oh man that could be a whole blog post right there…

        • James Hanley says:

          “the being told “brace for more budget cuts” when we’ve been doing that for 10 years, the ever increasing bureaucracy, they all get me down so much.”

          Are you sure you’re not just down the hall from me?

        • fillyjonk says:

          No, but it seems that many small schools have very similar problems.

        • If I had it to do over again, I’d probably do everything just the same up to and including the job I had right before I entered the PHD program. I’m not sure what I’d do after that, because it wasn’t that great a job, but good enough.

          I’d also want to somehow find a way to shed that marxist-friendly garbage I used to believe in. One thing studying the PHD program did for me was to expose the shallowness of my prior thinking. Who knows? Maybe in a few years my shallow thinking of today will be exposed to my future self 🙂

      • Mike Hunt Ray Rice says:

        Why would someone ask a librarian for career advice?

        • fillyjonk says:

          Because librarians are supposed to be all-knowing, aren’t they the ones with access to all the books?

          (Said only party with tongue in cheek. I’m an ecologist and I regularly get people asking me medical questions, which I am SO not qualified to answer, but I guess they figure, all biologists know all biology)

        • I think my colleague was more concerned with the fact that I was/am an ex-graduate student than a quasi-librarian. She probably thought I had an insight to grad school that a non-ex-graduate student wouldn’t.

          That said, I probably wouldn’t ask a librarian–let alone me–for career advice, unless it were advice about being a librarian. And then, the best advice is 1) be lucky and 2) hope that you don’t lose your job due to budget cuts.

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