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On Taking a Dive, if You Know What We Mean
Hello Liberty Lovers of Riverside County!
In the News: Trials, Tribulations, and the Tenure of Senators
Trump is in court. Hunter is in court. The House is in chaos. Biden’s impeachment might proceed, or it might not. Something might happen. Something might not. These things are theoretically newsworthy, but shouldn’t be. Impeachment and no-confidence votes should be happening all the time, at every level of government. Removal from office is the only way to hold any government official accountable. Not fines. Not censure. Removal. And a government capable of ejecting bad actors (after proper due process of law) is a government whose constituents won’t decide to eject the bad actors (with or without due process). Unfortunately, the chances of the Biden impeachment (or any of the high-profile trials currently running) accomplishing anything is effectively zero. So yes, these things are happening. No, you should not get excited about them, no matter how Concerned the big media outlets try to convince you to be.
Likewise, it’s tempting to talk about Laphonza Butler, Governor Newsom’s pick to fill the late Dianne Feinstein’s seat. Feinstein rarely met an authoritarian solution she didn’t like, so there’s not much nice to say about her from the libertarian view. Some might think of something. But they’re going to have to dig for it. As for Butler, why would she get picked for this? Because she's not a politician. She's a politico, which is different. She's an organizer and campaign staffer. Having a brief stint as a senator only increases her swing as a lobbyist and her ability to fundraise for team Blue. She doesn't have to run for anything, ever. She walks the halls for a year or so, gives a speech or three, gets some great photo ops, networks like the spider queen she almost certainly is, and then returns to behind-the-scenes powerbrokering with a nice title to burnish her fundraising cred. She gets all the benefits of the elected-to-lobbyist pipeline without ever needing to be elected. That’s not anything worth celebrating.
So let’s talk about something else this month.
The one thing Libertarians tend to complain about most fiercely is government intrusion into people’s lives. Sometimes it’s a big intrusion, like taxes. Sometimes it’s a comparatively small intrusion, like licensing. Licensing is big business for government, and would-be authoritarians try to insert themselves into pretty much everything, trying to convince the rest of us that we need permission slips for … pretty much everything. Licensing is so ubiquitous that sometimes it can be a surprise to learn that government isn’t involved in something. Let’s talk about one of those surprises this month, via a guest essay by county Libertarian Marcus Schuff.
The Libertarian World of SCUBA Diving
There is no such thing as a scuba license, and there are no scuba police. Welcome to the libertarian world of recreational scuba diving.
Co-invented by world famous explorer, writer, and documentarian Jacques Cousteau (who called his invention the Aqua Lung) SCUBA is an acronym for “Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus.” This is the system that scuba divers use for breathing underwater, consisting of pressurized air tanks, valves, hoses, regulators, and buoyancy compensators.
Scuba diving is a complex activity that demands specialized training for safety. Improper practices, such as holding your breath while ascending, can be life-threatening due to pressure changes. In the ocean, each 33 feet of depth corresponds to an additional atmosphere of pressure (14.7 psi). As a result, a balloon filled with one cubic foot of air at 33 feet deep will double in size when it reaches the surface, and from 66 feet deep, it will quadruple in size. Thus, when ascending from 66 feet, if you hold your breath, your lungs can expand to four times their original size, which is potentially deadly (and extremely painful). Deeper dives also require more air due to the compression of the surrounding water, leading to increased nitrogen absorption (the air we breathe is 78% nitrogen). This necessitates depth limits and safety stops to prevent nitrogen narcosis and decompression sickness.
That all sounds extremely dangerous, and exactly the sort of activity that government would try to “make safe” via regulation. But recreational scuba diving is a mostly self-regulated industry that establishes safety standards through market forces. It does this quite well; In 2018, there were 189 worldwide scuba diving deaths out of approximately 2.85 million divers. In the US, Annual fatalities while scuba diving range from 2 to 14 per 100,000 (comparable to horseback riding and jogging). Even within those numbers, up to 50% of diving fatalities can be linked to acute cardiac events, often involving pre-existing risk factors like hypertensive heart disease, cardiomegaly, diabetes, obesity, advanced age, and smoking.
Most recreational scuba divers are voluntarily certified by one of the major private certifying agencies. There are over 160 scuba organizations worldwide. The oldest certifying agency is NAUI (The National Association of Underwater Instructors), and they remain one of the most prominent and reputable certifying agencies, along with PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors), CMAS (Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques (aka World Underwater Federation)), SSI (Scuba Schools International), and SDI (Scuba Diving International).
These agencies are in competition with one another to offer the best possible training at the lowest possible price for the maximum number of people. The largest and most recognized certifying organization by far is PADI, certifying about 60-75% of divers. However, PADI is far from a monopoly. The other agencies keep PADI accountable in terms of both pricing and quality of training. If PADI were to decrease quality or increase prices, it would certainly result in lost market share. Scuba certifying agencies are accountable to their students, instructors, other agencies, and the diving community. Competition and risk deter shortcuts, like hiring subpar instructors or granting certifications to unqualified individuals for short-term gains.
Scuba safety standards are upheld through voluntary compliance. Dive shops typically mandate certification for gear rental or purchase. This practice reduces the dive shop’s liability by ensuring that all customers possess the essential knowledge and skills for safe scuba diving.
Given the government’s propensity to control everything, it is surprising that such a potentially dangerous recreational activity like scuba diving is self-regulated, with very little government interference. Governments do not issue scuba licenses, nor are there any government authorities authorized to demand a diver’s certification card in order to go scuba diving, unlike hunting and fishing, for instance.
It should be noted that certain federal and state laws pertain to dive shop owners and dive boat operators but not individual divers. OSHA has regulations on dive shop and dive boat employers. The State of California has regulations that apply to commercial, scientific, technical and agricultural divers, but not to recreational divers.
The US Department of Transportation regulates scuba tank specifications for commercial transportation due to compressed air’s classification as a hazardous material. A dive shop won’t fill your scuba tank without a dated DOT stamp and visual inspection sticker. Tanks get a new dated DOT stamp every five years when they are required to be hydrostatically tested in order to be filled by a scuba shop or boat. My local dive shop charged me $40 to send my tank out for a visual and hydrostatic test, which it passed, and it was returned to me within a week.
Other regulations that surround scuba diving vary from state to state, but mostly apply to boaters recognizing and staying away from “diver down” flags. Dive boats are required to display the diver down flag whenever divers are in the water. You have probably seen the North American Diver Down Flag, either flying on a boat or as a sticker on the back window of somebody’s truck, but there is an international version, too.
Divers that hunt, fish, and trap can be impacted by regulations related to environmental protection, particularly in designated marine reserves where hunting, fishing, and trapping are prohibited for everyone, not just divers. And scuba divers are not exempt from local fishing license requirements. Additionally, Coast Guard regulations apply to dive boat operators, indirectly affecting individual divers due to the common use of boats in diving activities. Of course, most Coast Guard regulations apply to all boat operators, not just dive boat operators.
There are always ways around the few regulations that do directly affect recreational divers. You could avoid certification and buy all the gear you need on the used secondary market. Private party sellers are unlikely to ask to see a certification card when selling their used gear. One could also buy their own air compressor to avoid the checks dive shops do when filling tanks, and it would be perfectly legal. It might not be a smart idea, but it wouldn’t be illegal.
Why don’t people do this? Because thanks to the free market it is so easy and cheap to get certified that it could cost you more to avoid it than to get it. My local dive shop charges $750 for the PADI Open Water Diver Certification. The course includes the instructor fee, access to PADI’s e-learning materials, rental gear, several pool dives, several open water dives, knowledge reviews, the final exam, and ferry tickets to Catalina Island to do your certifying shore and boat dives. That fee also activates an account on the PADI website where you can reference all their training material as well as store your e-Cards (electronic certification cards) for easy retrieval. The free market makes training and certification easy to get.
The libertarian world of recreational scuba diving is one of voluntary compliance and enforcement, yet it is one of the safest (and most relaxing) activities despite the potential dangers involved. It is a model on which we should base other human activities that are currently overregulated by government.
(Marcus is a veteran and recreational diver. He can be contacted at email@example.com for more information, including sourcing for the stats he cites above. If you have an idea for an essay like Marcus’s, let us know!)
More Suggested Reading This Month
Speaking of overregulation, Reason magazine interviews Rick Perry, where he makes the conservative case for psychedelics.
School and State makes “The Case for Separation.” https://schoolandstate.com/?page_id=54
Gary Winslett lays out what he calls the six economic identities, and how they intersect to create strange political bedfellows.
As always, bookmark and regularly check
for up-to-date event details.
28 October 2023: Quarterly Central Committee meeting. Our Q4 business meeting, held at Cactus Cantina in Riverside. We will be calendaring the 2024 County Convention at this meeting, and discussing the state of liberty in the IE. Come have lunch at 11am and chat. The meeting will be called to order at noon.
23-25 February 2024: The Libertarian Party of California annual convention. Since 2024 is a presidential election year, this convention will include the election of state delegates to the national convention in May (in Washington D.C.). For us here in the southern parts of the state it’s conveniently located in Orange County this year! Find details here: https://ca.lp.org/2024-convention/
23-26 May 2024: The Libertarian Party National convention. Under this year’s theme, “Become Ungovernable,” LPN will conduct its regular election of officers and be a focus for libertarians from all over the country to discuss and debate the issues of our time. As this is a big election year, this will also be the event where the LP nominates its presidential ticket for the general election. Find details here: https://lnc2024.com/
Voter Registration and Party Membership
If you vote, be sure your registration is Libertarian (don’t let either the Rs or the Ds think they’ve got you in the bag). Whether you vote or not, stay abreast of your registration details on the California Secretary of State page at this link: https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/cavoter
Being a registered Libertarian voter certainly allows you to call yourself a real libertarian. However, there is more you can do. You can join the national Libertarian Party as a “sustaining member" by signing the membership application statement and paying dues (currently a minimum of $25 per year) to the national organization. Note that while paying dues at the state level (California) makes you a "central committee member" locally, national membership is separate.
If you aren't a dues-paying member at all, you can join as a national member AND as a state/county member using a single online form:
Join us in taking a stand for a world set free!
Closing Thoughts from the Chair
I started listening recently to The Free Press’s podcast The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling, and the interviews with Rowling’s haters (past and present) reminded me that it’s October, the month that brings us one of the weirdest, and arguably the most divisive, holiday in America: Halloween. Those two things are excellent object lessons in practicing the libertarian perspective.
I am asked regularly about the downsides of libertarianism. Often, this takes the form of “whatabouts.” You’ve heard whatabouts as an objection to everything at some point: if “we” end X, what about people who do Y? If government legalizes psychedelics, what about people who abuse them? If government doesn’t issue scuba licenses, what about people who don’t dive safely? If a public project is voluntarily funded instead of being paid for with tax money, what about the people who won’t donate to the cause? If “we allow” Halloween to be celebrated, what about people who will use the day to be stupid?
Harsh as it may sound, what about them?
Broadly, the rank and file of any group of authoritarians just don't want to have to be uncomfortable about choices other people make. Not that those choices cause harm, mind you. They might be weird (and admittedly might be self-destructive for the one making the choice) but ultimately do not cause harm to others. One of the biggest hurdles libertarians need to clear in conversation with authoritarians (and with each other sometimes, too) is the idea that freedom means some people are going to make choices you think are terrible choices. Knowing that someone, somewhere, is doing something you believe to be stupid is a hard thing for a surprising number of people to stomach.
This is the opening sought by every authoritarian tyrant. "Give me power," says the tyrant, "and you won't need to deal with people who make you uncomfortable, ever again." And the rank-and-file sign on to that goal, unable (or unwilling) to see what kind of atrocities will be committed to get there.
The Harry Potter books sparked a furious backlash among concerned religionists. As time has gone on, it has become clearer that this backlash was at best misguided, and at worst embarrassingly clueless. The Harry Potter books are not “bad.” They’re just books. As time has gone on, that has become clear.
Halloween as a holiday is met every year with a new backlash from concerned religionists who decry its “celebration of darkness,” as well as busybodies breathlessly panicking about razor blades in candy or fentanyl or human traffickers or whatever. And every year all those fears are shown to be at best misguided, and at worst embarrassingly clueless. Halloween is not “bad.” It’s an excuse to have a party (or several, in whatever way you like to party).
Not everything you do is smart. If you want the freedom to do things that others see as stupid or wrong, you have to grant others the same courtesy, allowing them to do things you see as stupid or wrong. If you can do that, something amazing will happen; you will get to see people experience the results of their choices. That's when you finally learn if you were right or not.
They might crash and burn, and then you’ll know. But they might find success, and you can be pleasantly surprised by that and learn something else entirely. Or you might see that something they were doing did have merit to it, even if most of it was, in fact, stupid. And you'll be thankful that you didn't try and interfere with people whose choices had nothing to do with you, because you'll have learned from seeing what happens. The tyrant's way short-circuits all that, and robs the whole process of its educational power. It's tragic.
The Harry Potter books got a whole generation of young people to read. Have you seen those books? They’re enormous. Kids devoured them anyway. My own daughter blew through the last one in 18 hours. In a world where kids spend more and more time in front of split-second social media, anything that motivates them to slow down and read a book is a good thing. Regardless of how you feel about the books themselves, it can’t be denied that a lot of young people decided reading was cool (for a while, at least) because Harry Potter got them to.
We live in southern California, and without Halloween as an entry, who from outside the culture would have ever discovered the beauty of Dia de los Muertos? The beauty and reverence wrapped up in the latter is made much more accessible by the presence of the former. If you let yourself be consumed with how “weird” it all is, you’ll miss the depth in the details. What learning will you deny yourself through your own stubborn intolerance?
Spend some time this month letting the spooky season lead you to contemplate some things you otherwise might not. You don’t have to go along with it. You don’t have to like it. You may ultimately decide you were right all along and none of it’s your jam. That’s fine. But make that decision an informed one. Take an honest look at the choices others make this month without judging them for their choices. You may be surprised at what you learn, about fear, about others, and about yourself.
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