Archives for category: Basic Principles

A lot of people who think they are anti-nationalists . . . are not. Or, at the very least, are nothing like my kind of anti-nationalist.

Nationalism is a [set of] political idea[s]. It is the notion that states should be co-extensive with nations, with “peoples,” as in ethno-linguistic groups and cultures.

Most people who call themselves anti-nationalists, today, are globalists. They believe that states should incorporate many nations. This ideology is a kissing cousin to imperialism.

I am anti-nationalist in the other direction. I believe that states, if they must exist, should be smaller than nations.

There are many good reasons to hold such a commitment. But I confess: to some degree this view of politics was embedded in me early on, perhaps genetically.

My main ground for this attitude boils down to Acton’s Law: Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I regard nationalists as rather mad. Maddened by power.

But globalism and imperialism? (Some variant of which is what a majority of what people in the West seem to support.) I consider these madder yet.

So, it is with some amusement that I confront the current craze on the left to dub people who aren’t their kind of inter-nationalists “Nazis” and “fascists.” I have always put their kind in the same camp as the fascists. I do not see them as much better. Not infrequently they are worse. (What is worse than fascism? Well, internationalist socialism, that is what.)

I realize that mine is decidedly a minority position. My kind lost in 1789 in America, when the anti-federalists were made irrelevant upon the adoption of the Constitution. But, remember, pretty much every prediction of the anti-federalists came true.

So, today, we Americans live in a nation-state, not a federation — which is almost a dead letter. Look at the way Wikipedia describes the American compact, a document in which the word “nation” cannot be found. The idea, originally, was for the states to be sovereign (and remember: John Taylor of Caroline argued for individual sovereignty). The federation was a convenience to facilitate the survival of the several states. But try telling a college grad that, these days. Programmed by false history.

The Constitution, for all its faults, was not designed as a national government.

Under the federalist framework, “the nations” of America would be many and varied. But the problem with the federal idea is that it makes a super-state larger than any particular state, and thus bigger than the separate commonalities and cultures within the states, and focuses power away from the dispersed loci. Which in turn conjures up nation-building — with flag-worship and “patriotism” and all that — to create a single nation to correspond to the federal government. Thus, less than a hundred years after the Constitution was adopted, the federal union became a nation-state. Which was soon aggrandized into an imperialistic power.

For fun, recently, I have been calling my variant of anti-nationalism “Ameri-skeptic,” playing on the Brexiteers’ “Euro-sceptic” moniker.

I am not a patriot of the United Sates of America. I am merely rather fond of these United States. My patriotism leans towards principles, not institutions.

Terms and conditions apply, though.

twv

Philosopher Jan Lester offers what he says is a new paradigm for libertarianism. Though old hands at the philosophy may raise an eyebrow at the daring of such a claim — and I am, by this time, one of those old hands — it is not as if libertarian social philosophy were all shipshape and Bristol fashion.

Looking at his essay “The Three Great Errors of Most Libertarians,” I found myself not at all shocked by his alleged novelty — though novelty there is. From a perspective of critical rationalism (via Popper, Lakatos, Bartlett, and others), Mr. Lester advances three alternatives to most libertarian ideology and rhetoric:

  • Instead of “justificationism” and the eternal search for the Foundations of Ethics and Politics, Lester insists that we stick to the more humble and honest task of offering conjectures about which we are open to debate.
  • Instead of characterizing our normative theories in terms of “deontological” or “consequentialist” terms, recognize that they are “more like two sides of the same coin.”
  • Instead of waffling and arguing in a circular fashion, develop an explicit, sufficient and necessary “theory of freedom.”

This last point points to the most obvious need, but it is not one that many libertarians recognize as an actual problem. There is an awful lot vagueness and hand-waving among libertarian theorists. And some concepts get jumbled together, like “self-ownership” and “negative freedom” and so forth. Hearkening back to classical liberal days, Lester focuses on non-interference — Henry Sidgwick would have understood this — and develops it as a prohibition of “proactive constraint.” I have not adequately confronted this understanding of liberty, so as I prepare to read his book, Escape from Leviathan: Libertarianism Without Justificationism, I will try to keep an open mind.

I am sympathetic to his general perspective, and, so far, seem to agree on quite a lot. I do have a different way of looking at freedom than many libertarians — and this has been one reason for my odd position in the libertarian movement: I am a member of no faction, and hail not from the School of Rand or School of Rothbard, but, instead, from the School of Nozick . . . without having ever been a Nozickian.

Odd man out, I.

So, before I lash out at Lester’s paradigm, or drop mine, I will put them to the test, which would also mean essaying to discover whether the two might be compatible.

As far as the deontic/consequentialist debate goes, anyway, we are on the same side. I found this “controversy” very interesting in my early 20s, since it was a major feature of libertarian intellectual discussion in the 1980s. I soon decided, however, that most discussions of this were hopelessly muddled or, at the very least, red herrings. My late boss R. W. Bradford, writing as Ethan O. Waters, did not exactly make the issue clearer, in the pages of Liberty magazine in its first year. I went a different direction, taking consequentialism chiefly as a meta-ethics.

Regarding Lester’s anti-justificationism, well, this strikes me as a terminological issue. He denies this. I am more in line with C. S. Peirce than Karl Popper, so I see all this “critical rationalist” talk as just another form of fallibilism, whereas he regards it (I think) as quite distinct. I may have read both Popper and Lakatos, I confess to having devoured their work only in small doses: this is not an area of anything but a passing familiarity for me. So, I should practice caution. Still, I will drop a hint: Jan Lester believes that philosophy is not about words, it is about the world. That is certainly a nifty slogan. It reminds me of Husserl’s “to the things themselves!” I think philosophy cannot help but be about words — and definitions, too — because words are our chief tool for engaging with concepts. He calls them theories and conjectures, and that is fine, except it seems a long way around to say something fairly obvious.

But I could be wrong. Indeed, all this jumps the gun of reading his book.

So, if I have not read this book, and the cited essay is brief, how do I know what Mr. Lester holds to? Well, a year-and-a-half ago a friend of mine and I interviewed Mr. Lester at length. And this week I finally turned the Skype session into a video, which is now up as a series on YouTube:

Where Libertarians Go Wrong:

  1. Introduction: Why “Critical Rationalism
  2. Error One: Seeking a foundation or justification
  3. Error Two: Taking sides between deontologism and consequentialism
  4. Error Three: Lacking an explicit, necessary & sufficient theory of freedom

By the way, I had intended to do this all last year. But the best laid plans of mice and men, the gang’s all here in the glee club, and all that.


Jan Lester’s Escape from Leviathan. And me.
Definition of a word most people are not familiar with, from the Century Dictionary.
Philosophy: the last thing Americans consider in public policy. Because it might be wisdom.

It was a joke when I was a child. It is an atrocity now.

The Army has carried the American ideal to its logical conclusion. Not only do they prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, creed and color, but also on ability.

Tom Lehrer, An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer (recorded at Harvard’s Sanders Theater on March 20–21, 1959)

Ah, discrimination. People forget that it is a good thing. It is what makes us human.

But let us admit it, the normal run of humanity rarely bothers to do much in the way of careful thinking. A word gets associated, in common speech, with another word — and then the concept of the word pair leads, as if by an invisible hand, to impute meaning back up the two words’ separate semantic lines. Well, up at least one of them. Racial discrimination being bad, at least when done by the state or when engaged in privately with malice, so careless, slovenly speakers come to think “all discrimination is wrong.”

And it was not just about race. Sexual discrimination was said to be wrong by liberal folks. And religious discrimination, too. These are the three mentioned by Lehrer in his joke.

In 1984, the two major party candidates for the United States Presidency, when asked about gay rights, admitted, humbly and righteously both, that “all discrimination is wrong.” Walter Mondale insisted that he learned that outstive truth “on his daddy’s knee.” His father had misinformed him. Ronald Reagan answered the question with another question, if memory serves: “isn’t all discrimination wrong?” The answer is definitely “no.”

What is going on here? Well, a puzzled person might consult a dictionary.

from Merriam-Webster’s iPad app.

The root meaning can be found in the second and third listed defnitions, not the first. This is made more clear by consulting an older dictionary.

My copy of The New Century Dictionary (1927), D. Appleton-Century Co. (1933)

Discrimination is the act of recognizing differences, making distinctions and apt judgments. This is what makes man a rational animal.

The error comes down to a category problem.

Racial discrimination is bad when one identifies race as a relevant characteristic upon which to make a judgment or decision when race is not, in fact or by custom or morality, relevant.

We who support the idea of basic human rights insist that it is a person’s status as a human being and not as a member of a particular race that matters in advancing and defending his or her rights.

In employing someone, productivity is what matters, not race as such, so one would be a fool to hire or fire mainly on the grounds of race.

But in other domains of life it may indeed make sense to discriminate to some extent by race. If you are putting on a play about Martin Luther King and the best actor you can find is some white guy, it would be ill-advised to hire him and paint his face darker — better, I think, t limit your search to a population of actors from black African stock. And of course the reverse is true: when casting for the part of George Washington, you can rule out of hand right from the start all black, Asian and even short actors, no matter how good Denzel Washington, Naveen Andrews, and Danny DeVito may be.

Similarly, when choosing a mate, it may be high-minded of you to be open to members of all races, but it would hardly be wrong to discriminate for members of your own race, or members of a race you find most attractive.

The upshot is: equality before the law and doing good business indicate reasons to set up a taboo on discrimination on the basis of race, but there may be a few or even many areas of life where where racial discrimination is not wrong.

And other forms of discrimination — on basis of talent, taste, concepts, efficacy, etc. — remain central to what it means to be human.

I shake my head at this now, and wonder how anyone could be so dunderheaded as to think otherwise. But I remember Reagan and Mondale, and I see why the error of believing that all discrimination is wrong could be made.

Especially by those who are over-vigilant, for whatever reason, in the fight against racism. Over-compensation is a strategy.

But it can lead to bizarre and horrific consequences, as seen in an article that was just published on Quillette, “Public Education’s Dirty Secret.” In this revelatory memoir, schoolteacher Mary Hudson describes why New York City’s schools are so bad. And “bad” is an understatement:

The school always teetered on the verge of chaos. The previous principal had just been dismissed and shunted to another school district. Although it was never stated, all that was expected of teachers was to keep students in their seats and the volume down. This was an enormous school on five floors, with students cordoned off into separate programs. There was even a short-lived International Baccalaureate Program, but it quickly failed. Whatever the program, however, the atmosphere of the school was one of danger and deceit. Guards patrolled the hallways, sometimes the police had to intervene. Even though the security guards carefully screened the students at the metal detectors posted at every entrance, occasionally arms crept in. Girls sometimes managed to get razors in, the weapon of choice against rivals for boys’ attention. Although I don’t know of other arms found in the school (teachers were kept in the dark as much as possible), one particularly disruptive and dangerous boy was stabbed one afternoon right outside school. It appears he came to a violent death a few years later. What a tragic waste of human potential.

As the weeks dragged painfully into months, it became apparent that the students wouldn’t learn anything. It was dumbfounding. It was all I could do to keep them quiet; that is, seated and talking among themselves. Sometimes I had to stop girls from grooming themselves or each other. A few brave souls tried to keep up with instruction. A particularly good history teacher once told me that she interrupted a conversation between two girls, asking them to pay attention to the lesson. One of them looked up at her scornfully and sneered, “I don’t talk to teachers,” turning her back to resume their chat. She told me that the best school she ever worked at was in Texas, where her principal managed not only to suspend the most disruptive students for long periods, he also made sure they were not admitted during that time to any other school in the district. It worked; they got good results.

But this was not done. Suspending the violent and the disruptive was considered by administrators to be . . . wait for it . . . “discriminatory.”

It would be “discriminatory” to keep the students at home. The appropriate paperwork being filed, the most outrageously disruptive students went for a day or two to a room with other serious offenders. The anti-discrimination laws under which we worked took all power away from the teachers and put it in the hands of the students.

This is of course a recipe for chaos. No learning can occur when violent students disrupt classrooms and receive protection from the authorities.

I tried everything imaginable to overcome student resistance. Nothing worked. At one point I rearranged the seating to enable the students who wanted to engage to come to the front of the classroom. The principal was informed and I was reprimanded. This was “discriminatory.” The students went back to their chosen seats near their friends. Aside from imposing order, the only thing I succeeded at was getting the students to stand silently during the Pledge of Allegiance and mumble a few songs in French. But it was a constant struggle as I tried to balance going through the motions of teaching with keeping them quiet.

The abuse from students never let up. We were trained to absorb it. By the time I left, however, I had a large folder full of the complaint forms I’d filled out documenting the most egregious insults and harassment. There was a long process to go through each time. The student had a parent or other representative to state their case at the eventual hearing and I had my union rep. I lost every case.

The sheer craziness of this policy is dystopian in its extremity. And note that excuse: being “against discrimination.”

And let us not fool ourselves. We know where the abuse of the word “discriminatory” comes from: progressivism.

And lawyers.

Over-vigilance against racial discrimination has led to the anathemization of all forms of discrimination, including those forms noticed by Tom Lehrer, discrimination on the grounds of ability. And it is white guilt that is the main trouble — coupled with the moral corruption of inner-city black parents and their lawyers and advocates. Progressive white folks have been so afraid to think carefully about — and criticize, judge — “the marginalized”* when they do wrong that they defend bad behavior and thereby nurture evil and self-destructive vice.

This is a grand example of moral and intellectual cowardice.

That it has led to a form of philosophical corruption, where a word central to the whole moral and intellectual project — discrimination — has become a word to defend bad behavior and the corruption of the young.

The story is not just horrific, though. It is also darkly comic:

Sometimes you just have had enough. One day a girl sitting towards the back of the classroom shouted at some boy up front, “Yo! Nigga! Stop that!” I stood up as tall as I could and said in my most supercilious voice, “I don’t know which particular nigga the young lady is referring to, but whoever it is, would you please stop it.” The kids couldn’t believe their ears:

“Yo, miss!  You can’t say that!”
“Why not? You say it all the time.”
“Uhh . . .  Because you’re old.”
“That’s not why. Come on, tell the truth.” 

This went on for a bit, until one brave lad piped up: “Because you’re white.” “Okay,” I said, “because I’m white. Well what if I said to you, ‘You’re not allowed to say some word because you’re black.’ Would that be okay?” They admitted that it wouldn’t. No one seemed to report it. To this day, it’s puzzling that I didn’t lose my job over that incident. I put it down to basic human decency.

Decency? Maybe. More likely it was a philosophical moment. For one instance the students learned something. What? That the normative order thst they relied upon was itself evil. One can hope that their momentary glimpse of the truth came to serve them later in life. And speaking of life — what kind did they have?

Students came to school for their social life. The system had to be resisted. It was never made explicit that it was a “white” system that was being rejected, but it was implicit in oft-made remarks. Youngsters would say things like, “You can’t say that word, that be a WHITE word!” It did no good to remind students that some of the finest oratory in America came from black leaders like Martin Luther King and some of the best writing from authors like James Baldwin. I would tell them that there was nothing wrong with speaking one’s own dialect; dialects in whatever language tend to be colorful and expressive, but it was important to learn standard English as well. It opens minds and doors. Every new word learned adds to one’s wealth, and there’s nothing like grammar for organizing one’s thoughts. 

It all fell on deaf ears. It was impossible to dispel the students’ delusions. Astonishingly, they believed that they would do just fine and have great futures once they got to college! They didn’t seem to know that they had very little chance of getting into anything but a community college, if that. Sadly, the kids were convinced of one thing: As one girl put it, “I don’t need an 85 average to get into Hunter; I’m black, I can get in with a 75.” They were actually encouraged to be intellectually lazy.

The adults responsible for this system, black and white, should be ashamed of themselves. And repent. Reform the schools. Get rid of the insane “anti-discrimination” rules — at the very least.

But how likely is that? To do that, after all, they would have to discriminate.

twv


* This term of art, “the marginalized,” is especially inartful, hardly an accurate descriptor, since it misidentifies nearly all the problems noted in this memoir.

There must be no bloodshed, no violence unless it is defensive, no coercion! We must do it our way and our way alone! To do otherwise is to betray centuries of hardship and struggle.

Above all else Kyfho. Forget Kyfho in your pursuit of victory over the enemy, and you will become the enemy . . . worse than the enemy because he doesn’t know he is capable of anything better.

― F. Paul Wilson, An Enemy of the State


There is absolutely no link between religion X and violence. But, if you attempt to make such a claim, you’ll make innumerable otherwise peaceful adherents of X very violent. So say that X is peaceful or else face the violent (I mean peaceful) consequences.

—Professor Gad Saad, Facebook, December 11, 2017


But this can’t be happening! [Swedish economist] Johan Norberg pooh-poohed the situation last year. We were silly for believing the stories of no-go zones, increased violence and rape.

But now it’s bombings.

Hint to economists: We worry about terrorism not because it is always statistically a danger, but because the supply of terrorists and terrorist violence is elastic, and the demand isn’t in our direct control.

It’s about scale. Terrorism can scale upwards. Bathtub deaths tend not to so scale. And even opiate deaths do not threaten the legal infrastructure. Terrorism is designed to destabilize. (It often does the opposite of course; ask anarchists, if they have any reflective capacity at all.)

TWV, Facebook, November 4, 2017


Violence and Irrationality in Politics: Paretian Sociology

Alberto Mingardi EXCERPT: [Vilfredo Pareto] considered World War I a consequence of demagogic plutocracy, with profiteers benefiting from military spending and part of the working class cheering entry into the war, hoping for a better life afterward.

The very triumph of demagogic plutocracy foreshadowed a crisis of this kind of regime. Plutocracy feeding demagogy entails a dangerous equilibrium: it means feeding ever-bigger demands for new benefits and special privileges. For Pareto, when a ruling class weakens, it becomes at the same time less efficacious in defending its own power but also more greedy: “on the one hand its yoke gets heavier, on the other hand it has less strength to keep [the yoke on society].”

Giandomenica Becchio EXCERPT: [A] non-logical theory based on irrational feelings and emotions can be very persuasive and useful to generate forms of social integration which seem to work in the short run, yet they are dangerous in the long run because they decrease economic development and erode individual liberty. Both socialism and fascism are good examples of this mechanism which combines rationality and irrationality: in fact, Pareto interpreted political theories as ex-post ways of rationalization and camouflage. . . .

Pareto, who rejected the theory of class struggle, adopted the theory of spoliation to explain the emergence of any governing group that seizes power either in legal or illegal ways. His theory of elites is the broader application of this mechanism to politics. Elites can vary in their compositions, but they are all oligarchic.

Richard E. Wagner EXCERPT: Political environments are different from market environments. People do not bear the value consequences of their political choices. Choosing between candidates is nothing like choosing between products or inputs. One might express a preference for one candidate over the other, but that expression does not yield the product or the input that might have been associated with that candidate. This situation does not mean that action is irrational. It means only that the rationality of action manifests differently in political environments. There can still be reasons for selecting one candidate over the other, only it has nothing to do with products or inputs. It has to do with images and the penumbra of associations those images carry in their wake.

In this respect, [Vilfredo] Pareto, and also his compatriot Gaetano Mosca, treated political competition as a process by which candidates sought to articulate ideological images that resonated more strongly with voters than the images set forth by other candidates. The result of this competitive process was the possibility of inferior outcomes dominating superior outcomes. Along these lines, Jürgen Backhaus (1978) explained how importing some implications of Pareto’s thought into public choice theory could lead to a sharper understanding of how acceptable political programs would have been rejected under market arrangements, with Patrick and Wagner (2015) amplifying Pareto’s scheme of analysis.

via Williamson M. Evers on Facebook, November 13, 2018


Fox news-opinion anchor Tucker Carlson, regarding a recent incident involving his children at a restaurant:

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A few days ago, Kat Timpf, a quick-witted, quirky and extremely attractive 30-year-old woman who provides a libertarian perspective on the Fox News Network, reported on Twitter that she had been run out of an establishment in New York by a screaming drunk woman.

At some point speech becomes abuse, because it is not just speech. It becomes assault.

I am not sure where that line is, but since I hold to a Stand Your Ground view of self-defense when it comes to deadly weaponry, I am not sure I can condemn Tucker’s son in throwing a drink at the man abusing his sister, calling her the most vile of names. Normally, I would say that owners and managers of eateries and taverns and lounges and the like should try to maintain control at their establishments, preventing some patrons from verbally abusing others, and committing a variety of minatory “speech acts.” If they do not, they implicitly side with the abusers. And, of course, many of the recent instances of harassment of Trump Administration figures have been organized by the establishments’ owners. And at least one has suffered consequences in drop-off in patronage.

A full-blown culture war, with Americans choosing sides and reviling each other in public, and engaging in aggressive speech and action, and in mutual ugliness, is still on the rise. One would have hoped that Democrats taking back the House of Reprentatives last week would have assuaged their mad powerlust that spurs much of this violence. They believe they are entitled to rule, and just cannot countenance those whom they disagree with from having power, even if by democratic processes, within a constitutional framework.

Every political ideology is about force and violence, for every ideology is about directing state power (or limiting it) in defense and offense for social outcomes. So, it is no wonder that those who demand more extensive state action would tend to be more violent. They want more violence.

But of course they want more violence by the State. Their frustration leads them to take action themselves, though.

Conservatives and those “on the right” also can be violent, and have been. But because they want to limit state action in principle — to at least some degree (libertarianism being one of several popular fantasies in conservatives circles) — and because they are, by nature, more conscientious than those “on the left,” they tend to be a bit less violent.

Of course, the besetting sin of the right is rage, and one of their characteristic crimes is going overboard in retaliation against perceived threats. “There is no kill like overkill” could be a slogan of the right in general.

I do not recall seeing mobs of right-wingers rioting after Barack Obama’s election and re-election. But after Trump’s election two years ago, we have witnessed a constant stream of low-level rioting and public abuse, almost to the point of insurrection, from the left. But this is in no way new. The left loves protest marches, which have often instigated rioting on the margins — and sometimes from the center — of the protest ranks. While the Tea Party protests were almost uniformly peaceful, the later left-wing variant of this sort of protest, the “Occupy” protests and sieges, were filled with violence. And the general difference between left and right protest marches is that the right-wing ones almost always have permits, and the left-wing ones rarely do. And yet the police tend to give more leeway to the leftists bent on violence than they do the right-wingers, who tend to engage in violence only in self-defense — when “antifa” and BAMN and other terrorists engage in counter-protests, complete with thrown bottles and swung bike-locks in socks.

The post-Kavanaugh protests at the Supreme Court building, with mobs beating on the doors, and the recent mob at Tucker Carlson’s doorstep, where the beating on the doors actually harmed the doors (I guess the Carlsons did not invest in a castle-apt door), is all the more indication of the inherent violence of the left.

And yet they pretend to be the peaceful ones.

It is part of the left’s strategy, has been since the dawn of socialist agitation, perhaps since the French Revolution: lead with a fantasy of peace, but demand maximum government action, which is inherently terroristic. And the means dreamt of in their mad philosophies being violent, become the means they use in their agitation.

It has always been thus. Which is why I hate the left with a bit more passion than the right. The right leaves social room for individuals and groups as countervailing powers to the State. The left puts everything in the State. And, as part of their agitation, everything in their groups: class struggle; marginalized group rebellion; mob action.

I also support violence: I believe in self-defense. And if a mob is heading towards me, and I cannot easily escape, I reserve the right to go to total war upon the aggressors.

Things do not look pretty. Especially if the economy takes a nose-dive and the ideological character of progress becomes murkier on the right and clearer on the left.

Meanwhile, I sympathize with Tucker Carlson. Even if his politics, these days, veers off into the irrational.


Hey, socialists, if you don’t want me to think of you as violent, maybe you should ditch your ceremonial stance of fist raised in the air.

It looks as threatening as tiki torches, to me. The latter are goofy and convivial as well as threatening in some contexts. But a fist in the air has always been a sign of defiance, at least in our time.

So, yeah: I think of you as wannaBmurderous thugs. Stop throwing rocks and bottles and firecrackers at people you disagree with, and stop chanting with those raised fists, and get back to me.

—TWV, August 4, 2018


re Democrats’ objection to the president’s language regarding illegal-alien gang members:

Most people, of all colors and even parties, are smart enough to know that denigrating cruel, tribalistic murderers is not a sign of denying the human “the spark of divinity,” as doddering Nancy Pelosi put it. It is merely an acknowledgement that people, in their actions, can forsake that moral fiction of “the spark of divinity” for an equally realistic “spark of deviltry.” And yes, “animality” is an adequate figure of speech to cover this. Calling cruel, violent murderers “animals” is one way to raise a “hue and cry” against precisely the people the term “hue and cry” was coined: horrific criminals.

—TWV, May 23, 2018


A Revision on the Bill of Rights, Part III

The main problem with the notion of self-defense is it imposes on justice, for everyone has the right for a fair trial. Therefore, using a firearm to defend oneself is not legal because if the attacker is killed, he or she is devoid of his or her rights.

I just skimmed this, since I try to make a point of not reading any more HuffPo nonsense, but I can still ask — is there a reader on the planet who does not see the idiocy here? The author argues that the problem with lethal self-defense is that it robs criminals of a fair trial! Can anyone not recognize that the purpose of the fair trial is to constrain RETALIATION and not DEFENSE?

There is a difference between the two. At the moment of a crime, social questions of innocence or guilt or possible feuding retaliation (with its ratcheting-up of violence) are not in play.

Elementary concepts elude HuffPo writers.

—TWV, Facebook, June 20, 2017


A point I make that is often lost even on my libertarian friends: the classical liberal theory of the State “monopolized” the use of force not evenly in practice but in the limited sense of setting the terms of all violence, of taking to itself a position in conflict similar to a central bank does in relationship to a nation’s banking system, becoming a “lender of last resort” — the State, in liberal theory, is the Defender of Last Resort.

This means that, according to most classical liberal theorists, such as founders of the United States of America, one does not give up the right of self-defense by living under the umbrella of state power, one merely gives up the right of retaliation and forced redress.

That is the theory, anyway.

twv

IMG_4393

One of the odder things about dealing with people in the political realm is the recurrent reliance upon simple definitions — speaking as if an Official Meaning could trump reality.

For instance: we call a government policy “a minimum wage.” People therefore seem to think that what the government does in enforcing such a policy is establishing wage rates. I mean, “that is just what we are doing, right?” Wrong. A minimum wage law is a law prohibiting hiring people below a specified rate. It is functionally a prohibition on hiring at a specified set of rates. It does not and cannot guarantee any person a wage, for it does not set any wage — wages being, after all, the terms of a particular kind of trade contract. Wages are set by businesses and workers in the market. The government has merely made some contracts at certain rates illegal.*

Calling a legislated wage-rate floor a “minimum wage” is like calling the prohibition of heroin a “minimum opiate” — with only some opiates allowed (Darvon, Dillotid). Under minimum wage laws, only some wage contracts are allowed. On the transactional level, both policies are policies of prohibition, not guarantee.IMG_1239

And yet people blithely go along speaking of minimum wage laws as if they established employment at the levels specified.

Like magic.

Say the word, and it happens.

This struck me when I was reading the Earthsea trilogy by Ursula K. Le Guin, when I was a youth. The magic rules in these fantasies are all about knowing how to find and speak the True Names of the thing or person to be manipulated. Now, these are terrific books. Le Guin’s account of word magic basically amounts to the reification of the human reliance upon words. But one must not believe that this is actually how the world works. The books are good because this is how the human mind works — especially in dreams.

In the actual world, outside our mindscapes, there are no True Names. Words here in the everyday world serve as conveniences of communication. They are semiotic tools. Signs. And though they come in three varieties (icons, indices, and symbols), and evidence no small degree of complexity in the dimensions of their utility and meaning, we can hone these signs to focus in on separate essences — logical atoms — each distinct.

And this is where the power of definitions come in, when we so hone our focus as to become clear as to what we are talking about, and what we are talking about pertains to the world around us and our operations within it. When we define something as x, and point to an X, our definition of x does not change the pointed-to X in our mere act of definition. The thing pointed to, X, may contain essence x as well as essences y and z. So all our blithe confidence in our definitions may not reach far beyond those definitions.

To pretend they do is magical thinking.

Yet that is what dominates politics.

I have found this over-imputation problem in rights theory, in discussions of religion and politics, and in . . . nearly everything said by a leftist today.

IMG_2080Let us say I am arguing with a feminist about the nature of sex and gender and human rights, and I make the case that feminism has advanced some grave errors and moral atrocities. And the feminist responds, “but feminism is merely equality of the sexes — it’s in the dictionary, stupid!” My jaw drops. The dictionary definition does not track what feminists actually say. Though I advocate equal rights for all, regardless of sex, I find that much of what self-designated feminists do is seek superior status for women and girls over men and boys. Special privileges. More rights. And feminism, today, contains a whole lot more bizarre content than is represented by the seemingly inarguable cause of “sexual equality.”

Another example relates to antifa. I often complain, to my friends, about the violence of these leftist bullies in black. And yet mainstream center-left mavens assert that we should not worry at all about these thugs. Why? “Because they are literally ‘anti-fascists’!” Well, yes, fascism is a bad thing. Sure. But fascists can, in reality, masquerade as anti-fascists. And fascists are not the only authoritarian bullies to worry about. But leftists merely point to the definition as if they have proved something. It is as if they think they can utter a few words of a definition and, magically, change reality with their utterances.

This seems like the simplest and least sophisticated form of logic-chopping. It does not even quite rise to the level of logomachy. But when done confidently, with brio, it can bowl over opponents, partly out of the sheer audacity of it all. Which is why one sees the method everywhere, especially in the realms of religion in politics. It is the sophistication of simpletons.

And it is now a major problem of our time.

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* An exception, in a sense, is when governments raise their own employees’ — government functionaries’ — wage rates. But you should see the difference here.

When politicians speak of the inconvenience of the Constitution, or insinuate that it is “outdated,” we should neither be shocked nor impressed.

Thieves don’t like security systems, murderers don’t like electric chairs. We don’t ask an aggressor’s opinion of the law. Likewise, professional politicians* are the very last folks to listen to for judgments about the troubles associated with systems of limited government power.

Constitutions — explicit frameworks for the rule of law — are not designed to make it easy for politicians to do what politicians do.

A constitution is designed to protect the citizens from political government’s historical and ongoing and seemingly inevitable excesses.

States rarely (if ever) arise “for the good of the people.” States arise by conquest and imposition, and are best at exploitation of some for the good of others. To curb the severity of the State’s innate “inconveniences,” law is marshaled against it, myths are erected to guide its behavior, ethical principles are held up to check its powers.

Which is why Jefferson wrote of the necessity of severe limits: “in questions of power then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the constitution.”

And the “man” most in need of such chains is not your everyday worker, or parent, or child, or loafer. It is the politician. Normal folks place so much confidence in politicians perhaps in impatience to go about their lives, or in desperation or hope. But it has been discovered, over the vast eons of history — the rise and fall of states and empires, kingdoms and republics, tyrannies and democracies and everything in between — that confidence in leadership is over-rated.

Hence the need for limits on government. Written constitutions have been tried. But because they are in the hands of politicians to interpret and rewrite and skirt, they have proved imperfect.

But that does not mean that they should be gotten rid of. Still, if we could find a better way to limit state power than parchment rule-of-law frameworks, it might be a good idea to look into it. For what all government limits point to is the limits that liberty itself requires. “Liberty is the only thing we cannot have unless we give it to others,” William Allen White said.

Another quotation suggests even better the limits at the heart of liberty: “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”

“Constitutionality” is the practical concern with such limits.

And we cannot trust politicians to provide it. Nor should we be surprised when we see politicians balk. We should even remain a bit suspicious when they play encomiast to the concept.

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* Throughout this piece, by “politician” I mean the professional pol. In other contexts, citizens are also politicians, as well, insofar as they attempt, through activism, argumentation, litigation, or voting, to influence the State. But come to think of it, this points to a problem inherent in the question of “whom to trust” regarding matters of constitutionality. For even citizens play politician . . . and can be as corrupt or evil as any pol.

N.B. The visual “meme” is from my second memegenerator.net account: Wirkman. (Not my first, Lucian.) The Jefferson quotation is from the draft of the Kentucky Resolutions. The famous “fist” quote turns out to have been written by one Zechariah Chafee.

Sometimes it seems as though people no longer know what freedom of speech is. The Stanley Fish argumentation in his infamous essay against the very coherence of free speech has not increased clarity or general understanding — though I take it that was indeed what Fish was trying to provide. So I have, in a number of venues, tried to explain free speech.

Recently on Quora I have answered two questions that sketch out what I believe to be the correct formulation of the idea:

I provided the gist of my understanding in the first essay:

Remember, freedom of speech is a term of art. It does not mean “all speech is free,” or that all symbolic acts are legally justifiable. Freedom of speech is merely speech broadly construed (semiosis) that does not aggress against the rights of others to be free. It is a way of defending freedom in the realm of speaking, listening, reading, writing, etc.

We cannot (rightly) possess a right to use speech to conspire against the rights of others.

The most important point to take away is this: a right to free speech does not mean that all speech is free.

Free speech “absolutists” get this wrong all the time, for they are constantly moved by their desire for consistency and absolutism to construe all speech as free. One reason for this is that they wish to use the First Amendment in a lawyerly way, with specific words carrying the most weight. They most strongly wish to avoid philosophy, and instead use the Constitution as a magic document, and the words in it as incantations that solve all problems.

We can see how well that has turned out.

And perhaps my free speech absolutist friends are afraid of Fishian (piscine?) error, of saying that if some speech is free and other speech is not, then the demarcating line must be arbitrary.

This is just simply not the case.

So, what is the line of demarcation between speech that is protected as free and speech that is not?

Freedom itself, in the wider context.

Most importantly, free speech really only makes sense in societies that regard general freedom (liberty) as in some sense primary. Indeed, it also only makes sense — and this can be seen best when paired up with freedom of religion and especially the press and association in the First Amendment listing — in a private property rights regime.

You have the right to speak freely on your property. You have the right to speak freely on property you have hired for the occasion.

It necessarily becomes murky regarding public places. This is especially murky regarding the freedom of the press when the press is a government outfit, like Britain BBC. What is “freedom of the press” regarding a government-run medium? All speech is finite, and its purveying is done under conditions of scarcity. Everyone must ration their resources. Including newspapers and blogs as well as radio and TV networks. So when the BBC makes an editorial decision, “free speech” is problematic: which words and ideas to broadcast is a constant decision-making process, with some telling others what to say and what listeners and viewers may hear. “Freedom of speech” is perilously close to meaningless. (But is not.) Which is why minimizing government is a necessity: it obviates basic principles and places government bodies in the position of serving some people and not others.

And government is, in theory, supposed to serve all people.

Oh, why did I bring up “freedom of the press”? That is not free speech, I can hear someone protest.

But it is. “The press” is just a technological way of distributing speech beyond our local realms, outside of our properties. It is free speech with extended borderlines. But the extension must always conform — as speech alone must conform — to individual rights in society.

It might be useful to remind today’s confused connoisseurs to see these concepts in a continuum:

freedom: of thought — of speech — of press

with the most basic being on the left and going from private to public as we read right.

And the context of property rights integrates everything. Without property rights there is no freedom of any kind. For freedom depends on exit rights and exclusion rights. Which, together, make up free association, which is implied by free speech and press freedom.

And, as I noted on Quora: No one has a right to contract a hitman to murder another. You cannot absolve yourself on “free speech” grounds for that sort of criminal speech. Similarly, you may not command someone you have reason to believe will follow your orders to commit a crime, either. The common law has long held that incitement to riot and similar acts do not constitute protected speech because free.

The idea is simple: freedom as both a fact and a right requires reciprocity. Your speech cannot be defended as free speech if your speech precludes others from their free speech.

It is an old idea, reciprocity. But people still get this wrong.

Maybe it would help to compare freedom of speech and press with freedom of religion. In the United States, the First Amendment prohibits Congress from messing about in religious matters, or favoring one religion over another, ceteris paribus.

But that does not mean everything declared “religious” is protected. It may be the case that you desire to sacrifice infants and virgins to your god Ashtaroth, but let us be realistic: sacrifice of this kind abridges the rights of infants and virgins. “Religion” is no excuse for crime.

This is not so nuanced an idea that it cannot be readily understood. No? But maybe it is difficult. After all, I cannot recall anyone else make this exact formulation.

So this is what I insist upon: all these British-American concepts are terms of art, and the art should not seem to us British and American citizens at all recondite. The art is liberty. As soon as you erode liberty either by erecting a Leviathan state (of any variety) or by engaging in piecemeal criminal activity, these freedoms become incoherent.

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asked & answered on Quora: “Is life really unfair?”

Herbert Spencer

“Fairness” is a principle human beings and other animals discover in play. We humans then try to apply it to coöperation-based interactions of a more productive nature — in domestic, tribal, and business endeavors. The next step is to move the concept and its principles to handle situations of violent conflict.

And, finally, the principles are shanghaied to cover (and make up for) the workings of Fate and Chance.

For every step beyond play, “fairness” becomes trickier to apply.

It is very tempting to regard justice as identical with (or subsumed by) fairness. But it is worth noting that the principles of justice as they have evolved from ancient times into the modern age were chiefly concerned with preventing the worst harms. (This is a truth made clearest by philosopher Bernard Gert.) They did not make up for the vagaries of time and chance and the vast causal gyrations of the universe — the forces that make me homely, you beautiful and that person over there ugly and sick and deformed.

Traditional justice is a limited affair, a virtue that cannot cover everything. Unfortunately, there has developed a major competing vision of justice — “justice as fairness” in a cosmic context. Social justice — utopian or Rawlsian or neo-Marxian or what-have-you — is such a radical paradigm shift that it spells a complete paradigm revolution.

And not in a good way.

This extension of fairness standards to make up for the workings of nature is socially destabilizing. Indeed, it threatens at every application to overthrow the great advances made in traditional justice with the tweaks that happen when society moves beyond the tribal and agrarian and into open society status. Our approach to justice should be studied, not wishful. Instead of either traditional justice or revolutionary justice, I suggest evolutionary justice, as pioneered by Herbert Spencer and F. A. Hayek. With this approach, our moral reasonings are moderated by reason rationally restrained. Evolutionary justice interposes between traditional and makeshift authoritarian dogmas and the more grandiose claims of cosmic fairness.

Caution. Please. It’s hard enough applying fairness to games, much less work and family and all that. Extending it to cover all the fortuitous differences among humans and the higher animals is . . . well, the word is hubristic.

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Pictured: Herbert Spencer, author of the Synthetic Philosophy.

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The more diverse a people are — the greater the variety of ethnicities, languages, cultures, folkways — the less extensive a government they can peacefully share. Real diversity requires limited government. Only in monocultural societies can robust, Leviathan government remain sustainable for long.

The reasons for this are not hard to fathom. The chief of these is the tragedy of the commons.

A government in the form of a republican State (a “liberal democracy” as it is sometimes called) is conceived of by most of its proponents as a shared resource, established for the good of all — a “commonwealth.” But common resources require regulation to prevent individuals and groups from abusing and over-using the resources — that is, adapting to the common resource opportunities by gobbling up more for themselves than for others. And by “adaptation” I mean altering their behavior and their way of life to enable them to secure more common resources. And, as anyone with a lick of sense knows, self-regulation would be ideal. It’s the least expensive way to maintain the institutions, secure their long-term viability. Hence the importance of a monoculture.

enjoy-capitalismAristotle wrote about this. But I haven’t read Politics in 40 years, so I forget if the great philosopher applied the commons problem idea to the form of government itself. (I will let someone else look it up, or just tell me.) Economist W.F. Lloyd wrote about this in the 1830s, and ecologist Garrett Hardin made it famous in the “tragedy of commons” phrasing in our time. Hardin applied it to environmental resources, but it also applies to State-marshaled resources of any kind, including wealth obtained from taxes. Public Choice economists have been working on these problems for about the period of my lifetime, though Vilfredo Pareto clearly understood it in his critique of socialism at the beginning of the 20th century.

It was this idea that helped lead me to prefer limited government as a general policy in the first place. It should be easy to see that the more similar people are, the more likely they are to forgo overusing public resources. Why? Out of kinship altruism. But this sort of forbearance is harder to generally maintain in diverse populations, so there is a tendency for welfare states to turn into “churning states,” where the web of “everybody trying to live at the expense of everybody else” becomes so complicated that no one really knows who the net benefactors and net beneficiaries are. This leads to poltical strife, and … our present situation.

IMG_2027The Scandinavian states have been moderately successful with a robust redistributive state in large part because they have been so genetically and culturally uniform. And yet, over time, the moral probity that prevented overuse of common resources has waned, and permanent dependent classes have formed. Oddly, these countries have been importing these dependent classes, too, mainly from Muslim countries, so I expect these states to fall or undergo some significant kind of revolution in a generation or two.

Note, then, how wrong today’s progressives are. Driven by liberal piety, they insist upon diversity. And yet their politics is one of class division combined with socialistic government growth, which undermines sustainability. It is inherently contradictory.

More contradictory yet is their internationalism. Nationalism — indeed, ethnonationalism — is the surest sustainable way to keep welfare states going in the long run. So progressives are wrong and the so-called “alt-right” is definitely correct. If you want extensive state action, you need to draw boundaries along ethnic or “racial” lines. And indeed we find that alt-right maven Richard Spencer, after scratching the surface of his poses, has proven to be an ardent supporter of the welfare state.

Now, there are several other ways (serving as alternatives to ethnonationalism) to counter-act this commons-overuse problem. The chief method, in our time, has been consumerism. Consumer culture has broken down ethnic divisions, and can indeed make populationsmore uniform the better to be ruled by — and encourage support for — an extensive “welfare state.” And once again we find progressives utterly on the wrong side, for they pretend to be against consumerism, and their hatred for big business works against the only cultural factor that could possibly make the politics of social democracy work in a diverse population.

For my part, I prefer actual diversity, and believe that a rule-of-law-based polity is the way to go, so I oppose both the pathetic alt-right and the contradictory mishmash philosophy of progressivism.

Yes, I’m a real liberal. I do not just spout liberal pieties, as does today’s left, but I embrace the liberal spirit of tolerance of diversity, which the left, today, does not (their class warfare version is faux-diverse, and in fact promotes commons overuse). And I also wish to establish long-term social institutions, not institutions subject to takeover by special interests and run along exploitation lines. Democracy in a welfare state is as contradictory as a welfare state in a diverse society.

So, you may have guessed it: diminishing the scope of democratic action is another way to control overuse of common resources. On the left this is done by seeking to limit lobbying of government (a basic right under our Constitution) and setting up of complex bureaucracies and guilds of power, immune to electoral shock. On the right we have . . .

Donald Trump.

IMG_1929Trump sure seems anti-democratic, and that is a possible solution to save the welfare state from its most hysterical advocates and its abuse from group interests at the public trough. And, let us admit, that is precisely what modern conservatism is all about: saving the welfare state from the progressives and their insane prodigality. (Conservatives do talk about building down the welfare state, but that’s just their piety; it does not seem to be a real goal. Demonstrated preference tells us this.)

Since I’m not a conservative, you see why I dislike both political parties and the major factions within them. And why I don’t get on board with Trumpism.

I can find Trumpism funny, however. Why? Because modern ideologies are so incoherent that Trump serves as the cutter of Gordian Knots; he’s the Mule (as I’ve said any times); he’s the Loki figure. Whether this will save the welfare state, or bring it down faster, I do not know. While we wait to see what happens, Trump’s bizarre antics entertain.

He and we fiddle as the Empire burns.

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It has become commonplace: the hallmark of today’s self-identified Left is to play encomiast* to diversity while brooking scant diversity of opinion. Indeed, difference of opinion now fills them with scorn and rage.

What do we call their error here?

They have ready terms for people who hate or discriminate against others on the basis of race or sex: racism and sexism, respectively.

They have ready terms for people who hate or discriminate against gays, trans people or foreigners: homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia.

So, what do we call their hatred for people with different philosophies, who diverge on matters of facts and values?

Shall we dub them with an “ism” or a “phobia”?

If it is to be the latter, may I suggest xenologophobia?**

I have many ideas for the ism variant, but I suspect I should merely ask others for the exact term that has been fixed upon by professionals. (Call this a bleg.)

Nevertheless, I proceed. And I note that it would be especially satisfactory to base the epithet on the philosophical nature of the error.

How? Well . . . racism and sexism, for example, are not just about hatred or “discrimination.” The error in these attitudes, if we drill down to principle, limns the nature of the prejudice: racism is the “making too much of race” by imputing some generalizations about a race to individuals of that race regardless of merit.

Even were the modal Swede socialist-minded, it would be an error to assume that every Swede you meet is a socialist, no matter how statistically relevant the identification with Swedes and socialism. This would be racism, were Swedes considered a race. (Otherwise we could call the error Swedism? I mean, ethnism?)

Similarly with sexism. “Sexism is judging people by their sex,” wrote the coiner of the term, “when sex doesn’t matter.”

Leftist ideologues who will not debate their opponents respectfully, who exclude non-leftists from the community of scholars on criterion of lockstep ideological agreement, put too much stock in their ideas, and have abandoned liberality, tolerance. We could simply and rightly call them illiberals. But that doesn’t quite get to the heart of the matter.

They negatively judge people by their ideas when ideas don’t really matter . . . by ideologies when ideologies shouldn’t matter. But we can’t call these illiberals “ideaists” (“idealism” already having been nabbed for other purposes). Too clumsy.

But hey: we do not need the -ism or -ist, really; there are other suffix options: think of Christianity. Isn’t there an -ity suffix, or something similar?

How about idiots?

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* Encomiast, remember, was defined by Ambrose Bierce as “a special, but not particular kind of liar.”

** If they fear even going halfway to meet people they disagree with, for fear of endlessly parsing disagreement, we could call them Zenologophobes.