It’s been a while since we had a Liberty 101 discussion. This one won’t be that long.
In the second debate, Hillary Clinton alluded to the new/hot buzz-expression, “implicit bias,” as something certain Americans need to attack in themselves. She didn’t lay out any policy prescriptions for that. But bringing it up as a public problem, in the realm of electoral politics – or governmental politics of any kind – inherently means that policy is envisioned.
So it is necessary to point out that the idea of hunting down “implicit bias” violates your right to liberty.
You will fail to keep your republic, however (or get it back), if you argue this the wrong way. It’s not about your right to think thoughts. It’s about how that right places limits on what others can do to you.
Recall what the meaning of a “right” is, for the purpose of government protection or enforcement. An unalienable right is one that other people are not allowed to deny to you. That means they don’t get to plan, plot, and execute ways to circumscribe your rights, or punish you for exercising them. Enforcing rights is inherently about limiting what people can do to infringe the rights of others.
In this dynamic, the main infringer is not your neighbor. It’s the armed state.
If you can get that straight in your head, you can move forward in understanding liberty. Until you get it straight, you’ll be at kindergarten level.
Just take one example: killing someone. If your neighbor kills you, and it’s not in self-defense, it’s murder. It’s not “denying you your right to life.” It’s a crime called murder.
If the armed state kills you, and it isn’t done for a legitimate reason after due process, that is “denying you your right to life.”
What’s the difference? The difference is organization and authority. Your neighbor may have the means to kill you, but he isn’t organized to make guarantees to you about your rights, or your proper benefits from public order. Nor does he have the authority to.
The armed state is organized to make a set of guarantees to you, and it does have the authority to. In certain circumstances, it has the legal authority to take your life.
You can have a “right” that’s good against that combination of organized authority. But when your society says that your neighbor isn’t allowed to kill you, that’s a different declaration. Society can’t actually organize itself, or appoint authorities, to ensure that your neighbor doesn’t kill you. The only option society has is to appoint the armed state to punish your neighbor if he kills you.
But the armed state can be organized and chartered to constrain itself not to murder you; i.e., not to kill you without just cause and the moral agreement of society. Where such organization and self-constraint are possible, a “right” can be enforced – by means of that very organization and self-constraint, imposed on the state. That’s what the Bill of Rights is: organization and self-constraint, imposed on the state.
In almost every case, the enforcement of our rights is about what the state does not do. (I recommend just sitting around and thinking about that for a while, until it sinks in.)
That’s what the Founders had in mind when they were framing the Constitution. You have a right to life, but they knew government could never guarantee that you would live. They wanted government to be organized so that it was constrained to not kill you without due process and just cause. That is the “right to life” they had in mind.
The right to life they had in mind also carried with it the meaningful features of liberty. Government mustn’t put you under a yoke, for example, and make you work for it or others. The exceptions are a set of circumstances so limited that they rarely ever occur. The only ones most Americans can think of are an obligation to military service, and penal work details, which can only be mandated for you if you’ve been convicted of a crime. Divorced people who have to pay child support or alimony – mainly men – would mention that one as well.
But government mustn’t hold you perpetually and generally at risk for any sort of mandate or compulsion that makes you do things. If it does, you don’t have liberty. You are being robbed and enslaved instead.
That doesn’t mean government can’t regulate some of the activities you voluntarily engage in. State governments require that you have a driver’s license and carry insurance when you drive, for example, and that doesn’t mean your right to liberty is being violated. You can choose not to drive, and then you aren’t compelled to get a license or buy any insurance.
There are valid arguments against such state licensing and mandates, but they are separate from the core concept of your right to liberty.
Something like the Obamacare mandate, however, does violate your right to liberty. Merely because you’re a legal citizen inside the borders of the United States, fogging a mirror today, Obamacare mandates that you be enrolled in some medical payments program. Obamacare violates your rights further by treating you unequally under this mandate. Some people have to spend thousands of dollars a year to satisfy it. Others don’t. People here illegally simply take advantage of accommodations from our medical system, without being put under the mandate. Still others have waivers from it because of conditions like being in a particular labor union, or being Muslims who have a religious objection to the concept of “insurance.”
Your liberty is badly infringed by all these features of the mandate, starting with the fact that there is one. You have the inherent, God-given right to not be placed under this yoke at all, as well as a right to not be placed under it unequally.
Now that we know how to think of “rights,” you can begin to see how the idea of “implicit bias” violates yours.
It’s not because of the thoughts in your head. Those thoughts are no one’s business but yours and God’s. Never argue against “implicit bias” by discussing what thoughts anyone harbors, about anything. It’s not about that – any more than your right to life is about what kind of life you’re living.
The idea of “implicit bias” violates your rights because it is like Obamacare for your thought life. It’s a mandate that holds you perpetually and generally at risk – of things like losing your job, being sued in court, having your economic prospects destroyed, being required to stand up and say that you’re bad, as the price of being left alone for a while (until you have to do it again), because someone demands it of you.
Implicit bias is a license for the government to force us to do and pay for things, and to treat us unequally, just as Obamacare is. Some people have to “pay,” and pay, and pay through the nose some more. Others – “experts,” “advocates” – get to heap on more mandates, in the same open-ended manner as the thousands of pages of turgid, open-ended Obamacare regulations. Others get full waivers from all risk under “implicit bias,” simply because of their race or religion.
But your right to liberty means that you are not supposed to be infringed in this way at all. It isn’t about what you think, or how you’re motivated, or who you are. Never get into that argument. For what it’s worth, my motives for everything are far fairer, more just, less biased, and more righteous than those of people who claim to be the “implicit bias” police, and there’s no way for anyone to prove otherwise. I’m good and they’re bad. That’s the argument they make, and I am every bit as entitled to make it. So are you.
But it’s not about that, and thank God it isn’t. It’s about the practical meaning of what liberty actually is. Liberty is going about your life without having to worry that other people can hold your liberty at risk, just because of assumptions they make about “what you think.”
Liberty is the God-endowed, a priori state we are supposed to be in, and in practical terms, under the American political philosophy, it means the armed state is constrained to not organize against it.
You don’t organize against liberty (most of the time), and neither do I. But there are people who do, and they talk about “implicit bias.” They want to see you enslaved to a perpetual risk, enforced by the armed state, that they push the buttons on.