(Captain's log): I am an atheist and a humanist. I believe in the fundamental dignity of the individual and the inherent right of self-determination. I am an engineer and "ruthlessly pragmatic", which means that I understand that everything is tradeoffs and that no right is absolute. But I believe that society works best when it imposes as few constraints on individual choice is possible, consistent with fulfilling other competing public benefits such as maintaining a reasonable degree of public safety.
I think that the single most fundamental right of humans, and the one we should be most wary of trying to infringe, is the right of free thought and free expression. I believe that people should have the opportunity to seek out and listen to as wide a range of opinions as possible on any subject, so that they can then come to an informed opinion of their own based on how persuasively each alternative was presented.
And it is thus essential that humans have the right to make choices that others around them will consider deeply unwise, and to hold and express opinions that others find to be strongly offensive. True freedom is only possible when I have the freedom to make stupid mistakes, and where the consequences of doing so arise only from the direct consequences of my mistake and not from externally-imposed legal sanctions. And it means that I must be free to offend those around me, for if I cannot then I am free, but only to do things my neighbors don't condemn. And such freedom is illusion.
I don't want anyone forcing me to think and act in certain ways solely "for my own good". I want the right to make my own decisions about what's good for me, even if it turns out I'm wrong. I want the right to hold an opinion even if most of those around me disagree with it.
It is better to be free than to be correct.
I therefore oppose any case where a single overriding moral force comes to dominate the political system. I fully oppose the idea of any state religion, and strongly support the legal firewall between government and religion which is in the First Amendment. In fact, I think (and have said more than once) that the First Amendment to the US Constitution is the single most important and profound sentence ever written in the English language.
I am no anarchist. I believe that there must be a system of laws, and that the purpose of the law is to maintain the peaceful and successful operation of the society. But I take a very practical view of law, and strongly dispute the idea that law is an extension of morality. I believe that acts should be made illegal because they threaten the fabric of the society, not because they are considered evil or because the majority disapprove of them.
Thus I strongly support the gradual process over the last thirty years of dismantling a body of law regarding consensual sex. I have always believed that what consenting adults do behind closed doors is their business alone.
I support the idea of legal and formal gay marriage. I think married gays (and I mean "married to each other") should be permitted to adopt if they are otherwise qualified as parents. I favor legalized prostitution as long as it is regulated sufficiently to make sure that the prostitutes themselves are kept safe from disease and pimp violence and customer violence, which is why I think that it should be handled through formally-licensed brothels (as is the case in Nevada now). I favor legalization of marijuana.
And I think that the single most basic right we have, and the true measure of whether our freedom is real or illusion, is the right to scandalize the neighbors. (As long, that is, as that's the only harm done.) We, as citizens, must tolerate scandalous behavior by our neighbors as the price of our own liberty.
Government exists to serve the people; it is a construct of men and women, and it has no inherent right to exist except to the extent that it is supported by the women and men who live under its control.
I am a humanist. I am a liberal, in the classic sense of the term, meaning that I think that the goal of a political system should be to liberate the individuals within it to have as much ability to make decisions about their own lives as is practical, with as little interference by other citizens or the mechanisms of the state. I strongly believe in diversity at every level: diversity of opinions, diversity of political beliefs, diversity of lifestyles. When in doubt, permit it unless it is clearly a danger to the survival of the state or threatens the health and wellbeing of those within the state.
Which, in 2003 in the United States, makes me a "conservative", at least in the reckoning of self-anointed "Liberals" in this nation. I've never been comfortable with that term, myself, and indeed I'm uncomfortable with almost any "ism" as a label for my beliefs (except for "humanism" and "populism"). Is there such a thing as "ain'tism", as in "I ain't any ism"?
Part of why I'm uncomfortable being labeled "conservative" is that those who categorize me in that way then group me with many other "conservatives" with whom I deeply and fundamentally disagree, and try to pret