Archives for category: Logic

The idea that truth-value is proven by use-value seems to rest upon a meta-meme, the notion that ideas firmly fit together in a tight system, that there is no looseness to the world.

It is my experience that there is a fair amount of looseness.

Nevertheless, I understand why we seek to make our beliefs fit together; avoiding cognitive dissonance is a good thing. But avoiding such dissonance should not be hastily accomplished, using short cuts that scuttle truth. Seeking cognitive consonance mainly by hunting to confirm previously held beliefs? That can lead us to error and prevent correction. Worse yet may be constructing theories that succeed not by mapping reality but by skipping cognitive steps. (My late boss R. W. Bradford called these “logical synapses.’ Though it may indeed be the case that bad ideas tend to lead to bad results, cooking up theories just to lead to good consequences can be perilous. The notion that something must be wrong because it leads to “bad consequences” is not only wrong, it can lead to bad consequences.

Too droll, that.

Examples abound. The belief in your own superiority may not be true, not in your career’s beginning — but it can lead to actual superiority, as in the case of “thinking like a winner” itself wins friends and followers, enabling you to become a winner in the end. Alas, the opposite can also be the case, as when an untrue belief in your inferiority can lead to demonstrable inferiority of status — thinking like a loser and appearing as a loser, despite many advantages, can derail an otherwise likely successful course of action, causing you to lose.

Sometimes having an incorrect belief can yield good outcomes; sometimes it can yield disastrous ones. What’s more, the same incorrect belief held by one person that serves to damage can prove helpful to another. Some people who believe they are spectacularly inferior to others take that hunch or prejudice as a spur to work harder, think harder, and place themselves in positions to take advantage of improvement. Just so, but mirror-opposite, are those many cases of people with high esteem who becomes criminals and thereby ruin their lives.

This variety of looseness turns out to be important in evolutionary theory.

Exaptation, for instance. This is a type of adaptation that Herbert Spencer relied upon in his discussion of the evolution of political institutions (see the first chapter of Political Institutions). The idea is this: a trait that was selected for — or arose because it was not selected against — can turn out to have much more significant advantages in some remote domain. The classic case seems to be in religion, where it appears that holding any “religious” or even merely metaphysical idea (such as the idea of truth not being logically and ineluctably linked to pragmatics) gives the person who holds to the belief a marker that encourages others to regard that religious person as more trustworthy than irreligious others. One person may hold to the belief in Zeus Pater and another in YHWH and another of Ishtar, but all three beliefs signal to co-religionists that the acolyte is cooperative and thus not anti-social.

The fact that piety to these three very different deities “works” — lead to good social results — does not prove that any of these deities exist.

What gets weird is the late-stage recognition that piety alone matters, that belief in some god is important, but which particular one does not. This ecumenical theory leads to a general tolerance, with only atheism to be despised, since only it would serve as a signal of a lack of trustworthiness. But things tend not to stand pat: general toleration eventually leads to tolerance of atheism.

And, contra The Jolly Heretic (anthropologist Edward Dutton on YouTube), it is obvious that a serious atheistic stance can also work as a signal of cooperativeness. Indeed, in America, atheists sport longer marriages than theists, on average — thus atheism proves a key indicator of what religion itself is supposed to indicate.

Perhaps what matters is that self-transcendence notion. Merely demonstrating recognition of one’s self as a being with a non-trivial consciousness of the cosmos (with or without supernatural elements) signals not only to others, but also to self, that selfishness and criminality and similar traits are dead ends. Furthermore, atheism in a theistic society may indicate a greater commitment to self-transcendence than does theism. (Here we see self-transcendence competing directly with conformism — conformity signaling one kind of cooperativeness, commitment to transcendent ideas signaling another, perhaps more valuable variety.)

Of course, there are atheists who hold to their atheism in a way that signals to me STAY AWAY. Just so, however, there are theists whose manners of belief signal obvious dangers. I think of Islam as a memeplex with disastrous social consequences except in one dimension: the Islamic memes tend to replicate, often in a predatory way. The modern world succeeded because Europe found a workaround for the bottleneck of Islam: America, really. So we have several different dimensions upon which to judge social utility, and then contrast it with truth.

My resistance to Islam — my confident resistance — is not exactly popular these days. Against it is the poisonous notion that “all cultures” are equal, an absurdity related to the idea that all races are equal, which is itself . . . problematic, in part because, whatever it means, it is irrelevant to the basic individualistic foundations of Western civilization.

What we now witness is our civilization in a decadent phase, with Christianity having metastasized into progressivism, a political cult that holds an abundance of absurd beliefs and destructive practices. One of them is to try to shame people for objecting to the Islamic memeplex, just as progressives shamed folks when I was young for ‘red-baiting,’ that is, for resisting the memeplex of communism. Progressivism is an unhinged meta-belief that opens up a society to many dangers (which itself helps define decadence), including being taken over by those it defends as “just as good as the rest of us,” meaning criminals, jihadists, communists, etc. It’s a childish way of looking at the world, thinking that “good” depends upon equality, and objecting to even thinking in terms of inferiority and superiority. It’s a hopeless muddle.

But it is a familiar muddle.

That muddle relates to the adoption of ideas not for their truth-value, but for their social effects.

Racists hold bundles of notions, some of them not incorrect, but with crucial and quite significant errors. Of course, racism itself can lead to horrifying injustices. But to fight racism, some folks go so far as to spout nonsense, like the currently popular pieties “race is a not a scientific concept” and “races do not exist,” and such malarky.

These are over-compensations. Rather than strike at the root of what is wrong in racism, anti-racists often prove too hysterical to bother with careful thought. Invidious racism being quite bad, its foundations in a kind of collectivism (individuals are less important than groups) and in folk statistics (imputing to individuals in a group traits that are commonly found in the group but not defining of it) leading to some dangerous results and infecting minds away from truth and towards social discord — sure. But anti-racists find it more convenient, especially when engaging with not very bright people, to attack the foundational notions of the distinctions upon which racism rests — especially the idea of “race” itself — rather than the precise errors that lead to bad results.

You often see this in philosophy, too, where the method becomes mere debunking, where debaters aim to show not merely that their opponents are wrong in one regrettable detail, or in a specific synapse in an argument, but totally.

Racists are bad because they (horrors!) believe in races!

How simple. How satisfying to say. How foolish.

And all this rests upon an expectation that ideas are best seen as fitting together in the tightest way possible. Progressives, having learned to argue incorrectly against racism, then apply the same sort of gambit to religion, and criticism of same. One mustn’t criticize a world religion! So I have been told, and this we often hear.

Funny thing is, most of the folks who marshal such an absurd prohibition themselves ridicule, mock and censure Christians relentlessly.

It is hard to consistently hold a goofy idea.

But it can be done, by gum.

The world of our experience is amazingly complicated, and navigating it is difficult. It takes a fairly high IQ to do so without cultic thoughts. It may be that the requirements for thinking well about the social world are too hard for current levels of IQ in our society.

If true, it would just be another form of looseness of the very systems that make up our complex reality.


Over at Quora, Sayed Hajaj explains a common fallacy in politics and social science, something he calls The Past Hoc Fallacy”:

It goes something like this: “In the past, we did not have much X but we had a lot of Y, now, we have more X and a lot less Y. Therefore, not having as much X would result in more Y”.

It is usually contracted to: “we’ve tried reducing X and it led to Y”.

A few examples: “We’ve tried not polluting, and it led to pirates”, or “When I played with toys and went to bed on time, I was shorter. Therefore, sleeping earlier and playing with toys makes people shorter”

I’m sure you can see what is wrong with this type of argument.

  1. It looks at changes in absolute levels rather than trends. As global temperature increased, the number of pirates in the world has decreased. This does not mean that a change in one has resulted in a change in the other.

  2. It is not specified whether the change in Y precedes the change in X. If Y decreased before X increased, then there is no basis to say that an increase in X is responsible for the decrease in Y, causality and time travel don’t go together.

  3. It’s possible for Y to have been decreasing anyway, and for X to have slowed it down, but because we don’t have an alternate reality to examine, we can only observe the seen. We do not know what could have happened had X not increased.

Sayed Hajaj then applies it to common objections to libertarian ideas:

[R]eplace “X” with “level of government” and “Y” with a list of things that, from a Western 21st Century perspective seem horrible but from an 18th Century perspective is far better than the alternatives in existence, e.g “low(er) wages, long(er) hours, poor(er) working conditions” etc.

The problem is that, even if you had current levels of regulation at those times, all of these problems would still exist. The technological development that allow us to live our relatively comfortable lives did not exist then. People took these relatively uncomfortable jobs because the alternatives at the time were worse.

Many of those laws that supposedly solved these problems only came to pass as the problems were disappearing. For example, the 40 hour work week was due, in part, to Henry Ford calculating that people who worked longer than 40 hours are counterproductive.

Often, government actually impeded or slowed down that process.

I wrote an appreciative response, which I placed on Quora as a comment to Hajaj’s excellent post:

People do not really think in terms of cause and effect when systems become complex enough to obscure causation. They think in terms of the association of ideas — or, in political debate, “guilt by association.”

Which also explains, perhaps, why they engage in such high reliance upon stated intentions in establishing policy. Our public intention on Problem X is associated with our solution, Fix Y. That is, Problem X, Fix Y, and Outcome Z follow each other “naturally,” because of the mental operation associating Outcome Z as the end with their chosen fix to Problem X.

Unintended consequences occur, of course, for a variety of reasons, but Herbert Spencer called it The Law of the Multiplication of Effects. Outcome Z is the end, or chosen imagined outcome, but other outcomes come about, say, M, N, P, and Q. These other outcomes are often not even imagined, for reasons that cause and effect are messy in complex systems, so progressives (and conservatives) just stick to the end (Outcome Z), and forget M, N, P, and Q. And when N and P and Q come to pass, it is easy to attribute them to other causes, not Fix Y or the obsession with Outcome Z.

So how is this problem obvious to us and not to others? Maybe it is because we have seen N and P and Q result so often from reforms. Maybe some of us have been hurt by them.

But more likely it is the result of attention (it takes effort for most people to think objectively about social causation), differing bias forcing reconsideration of standard social causation accounts (Spencer’s list of biases that can prevent good social science is still worth reading, in The Study of Sociology), and . . . higher IQs.

It’s been shown that while progressives tend to score higher on IQ tests than conservatives, they also show that libertarians outscore progressives. On average. (Of course. It’s not a law. One of my favorite libertarians was a retired seaman who seemed to be operate at less than 80.) And it takes mental sophistication to map a complex system.

But progressives suffer also from Dunning-Kruger, and think they are smarter than they actually are — perhaps because they compare themselves to conservatives. But they are also, let us remember, proud products of public education in our time, which has degraded to produce the illusion of learning where little exists. Progressives are the credentialed elite of the cognitive elite. Those credentials are important, and they take their awards earnestly, as did the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.

And one reason progressives try to reduce libertarians to a type of conservative is to let them off the hook, allow them not to address the more sophisticated arguments.

Most are scared of the critique Sayed Hajaj has made. It freaks them out. They are trumped.

So the critique must be buried. And calling libertarians “right wing” and “far right conservatives” helps them in this.

Guilt by association.

My working model of ends and means incorporates all this, hinted at above.

I almost never hear this discussed popularly. Nor can I remember the simple schema advanced by a philosopher — though it has to be in Aristotle or Ludwig von Mises (Human Action) or G.L.S. Shackle and I have forgotten where, precisely, it was spelled out.

I reformulated the idea (“discovered it”!) in the context of contemplating the praxeology of Mises (Theory and History and The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science were my main focuses of my early reading on the subject), the unnamed praxeology in Herbert Spencer’s Data of Ethics, and the aborted praxeology of Destutt de Tracy.

Here we go:

  1. Every cause has multiple effects (Spencer’s Law of the Multiplication of Effects).
  2. Every contemplated act must then be seen as a possible cause . . . with multiple effects.
  3. The basis of a deliberate action (there may be other kinds, such as spontaneous and habitual) is imagination of a possible flow of cause-and-effects:
  4. an actor imagines an optional act as well as its possible (expected) effects.
  5. The effects the actor likes are then compared with other effects of the act as well as with the expected effects of other optional acts.
  6. The latter effects — given up by not engaging in the optional, unchosen act(s), and also the results of inaction — are considered the opportunity costs of the chosen act.
  7. But in the former scenario, the non-preferred effects are the negative or inutile externalities of the act (from the perspective of the actor),
  8. as are, also, the unforeseen effects of the act — unless judged, after the fact, as beneficial. (I don’t remember what I called these.)

This is just the schema for action. I call it simple, but you see how complex it is. Eight steps! I could be forgetting some. (It’s been years.) Now, imagine acts in society with multiple actors, each acting and causing multiple effects, and acting in expectation of other acts (some not turning out to have been engaged, and with most unforeseen). And it gets even more complex, for I’ve not explained value; and I’ve not explained what economists put in a black box, all the psychological and situational factors that lead to preferences, in which the tree of causation spreads out backwards, so to speak — as Spencer confessed later in life, every act has multiple causes.

Liberty is important as a baseline of social action in part because policies seeking governmental programs with specific goals are hubristic and prone to failure. For “obvious” reasons.


N.B. Yes, I know my Quora response could have used more editing, but this is what I do between jobs. Scarce time makes haste makes . . . waste?

The subject of another post, perhaps.

And, in my haste, here, I may not have formulated properly the latter part of the schema for action. It’s been 20 years, folks! And this is just a hasty note scribbled on a blog.

The Quora discussion is on the libertarian Quora blog, Liberty At Large, which might be worth looking at carefully. Some really smart contributors.