An “Inclusionist” contra Liberty


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In 2011*, Psychology Today presented us with a screed against libertarianism, an absurd array of cliché and error. All this from a man who — to judge by his credentials — should know better. He is an academic who specializes in complexity theory. Yet he seems entirely unaware of the importance that complexity has played in the development of ideological individualism.

It becomes painfully obvious that the author of this sad screed did not do much research. Indeed, the author appears not to understand that his central case against libertarianism was the case for liberty in the classic writings of Adam Smith and Herbert Spencer.

Here is the most relevant passage:

We evolved as intensely interdependent social animals, and our sense of empathy toward others, our sensitivity to reciprocity, our desire for inclusion and our loyalty to the groups we bond with, the intrinsic satisfaction we derive from cooperative activities, and our concern for having the respect and approval of others all evolved in humankind to temper and constrain our individualistic, selfish impulses (as Darwin himself pointed out in The Descent of Man).

Well, yes. As Adam Smith “himself” pointed out in The Theory of Moral Sentiments over a hundred years earlier, and as Herbert Spencer elaborated in many of his books, most especially the Principles of Ethics. Darwin was not advancing a wholly new thesis. He was developing a theme already well-established among his contemporaries. It was, in fact, “settled science.”

Yes, I know, of course: the word “empathy” hadn’t been coined yet. Eighteenth and 19th century writers used “sympathy.” Smith and Spencer were the leading theorists of sympathy in their respective centuries. Their work was well known, and, if a modern sociologist or psychologist appears oblivious, it is usually the result of never having read Smith and Spencer. Few modern sociologists have bothered with Spencer, for instance, since Talcott Parsons pronounced his reputation “dead” in the first pages of The Structure of Social Action. (Later in his career Parsons revived many of Spencer’s ideas, but without citation, without any recognition of what he was doing.)

Herbert Spencer was the first evolutionary psychologist — though this is rarely acknowledged by today’s EP crowd. They do not need to burden themselves with a reputation declared toxic. But Spencer advanced a very complex theory of complexity. And it encompassed ideas his critics pretend are theirs — but usually Spencer’s treatment is more sophisticated.

Consider the obsession with inclusion, which is now the official focus of campus radical ideology, a watchword of the cult of “social justice.” (Spencer wrote merely of justice, and Hayek later followed in his footsteps to criticize social justice as a “mirage.”) Spencer called the inclusionary and loyalty aspects of human cooperation “the ethics of amity,” in the first chapters of The Inductions of Ethics. What our critic misses is what all modern progressives shield from their eyes: in parallel to this in-group allegiance exists a chthonian out-group antagonism, which is just as much a part of our evolutionary heritage empathy and the general sense of cooperativeness.

Spencer called this contrasting set of historically demonstrated imperatives “the ethics of enmity.”

Throughout the history of human civilization, the ethics of enmity has had a huge part in the foundation and structure of social systems. It is inevitable in eras of vast social conflict. And it has always uneasily existed in parallel to loftier, more charitable-sounding pronouncements of amity. And what the liberal tradition — modern libertarianism, especially, which in a sense grew out of Spencer’s work —always tried to do was solve the problems of human discord by rationalizing the terms for peace, making the standards of justice public and limited to a few tasks, mainly regulating when force can be used in society. And the key contribution of this form of individualism, not addressed anywhere in our critic’s analysis, has become the bedrock position of the modern libertarian position: the same standards that apply to individuals must apply to groups of individuals, including people working in the State.

For it is not just selfishness that morality and law must contend with as criminal, but group frenzy and tribalistic suppression of individuals, as well as group-to-group antagonism.

Liberalism, like libertarianism, is an attempt to minimize and control the impulse to go to war, in part by limiting the number of issues over which force may legitimately be used.

Liberty, in the libertarian system — as, more loosely in the classical liberal order of an extended civilization — serves as the moderating middle-point, a marker of equilibrium, among competing interests. It is a constraint not only on the excesses of egoistic self-serving at the expense of one or all others, it also serves as the rational regulator (in rule-of-law terms, in Weber-speak, it possesses rational-legal authority) of in-group/out-group antagonisms. It constrains communal misbehavior as well as individual misbehavior.

From our critic, no peep about this possibility. He appears to be a utopian, hinting that group action is pristine, placing human sin entirely in the “selfishness” category. Blink after reading, and see: the man has a limited view of human nature, apparently thinking that only selfishness is an evil.

To believe this is to be a fool. And a tyrant, perhaps, at heart.

There is one excuse the man could marshal, to explain his witless and inaccurate take-down: Ayn Rand. She muddied things up with “egoism” and “the virtue of selfishness.”

Combined with the author’s Econ 101ish misunderstanding of the place of Homo economicus in market theory, his calumny makes sense . . . in terms of the filiation of his ideas.

But this set of intellectual errors does not justify — cannot be justified— for Liberty is all about constraining both selfish criminality in the individual and the “altruistic” horrors perpetrated by mass man and his obsession with hierarchies.

And the author’s closing gambit is droll, in the context of debate about liberty:

A more serious concern is that the libertarian fixation with individual freedom distracts us from the underlying biological purpose of a society.  The basic, continuing, inescapable problem for humankind, as for all other living organisms, is biological survival and reproduction.

When Herbert Spencer is acknowledged for his extended analysis in this vein (that our critic suggests), he is derided, declared a Social Darwinist.

The level of cluelessness here is astounding.


This particular hit piece popped into my consciousness as a Facebook posting, a blast from the past. Belatedly, I bite. It is a good example of barely intellectual nonsense that academic folks periodically bring out, to  beat back, if they can, skepticism about the nature and functions of the State. They really dislike skepticism about the State, and basically freak out when confronted with an ideology that encourages resistance to allegiance to the modern state, in part by frankly discussing the perils as well as difficulties associated with collective action. The modish progressive, today, looks at “inclusion” as a solution, not as a problem also meant to be solved by the institutions of a free society.

The original draft of this essay appeared on the Herbert Spencer’s Shade Facebook page.

twv

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What we now call “crony capitalism” has gone under other terms in the past. My favorite euphemism remains popular: “private-public partnership.” It is descriptive without being too prejudicial. “Crony capitalism” is obviously a pejorative. But no matter what you call the policy, it is still the favoring of some over others, leveraging the power of the state to secure that favoritism.

It defines, in essence, an insider vs. outsider antagonism, a system of exploitation.

The policies of crony capitalism have been (and are) supported by both major American political parties; it remains standard operating procedure in the U. S. and elsewhere. And such policies — though they have taken many forms, and waver according the winds of doctrine — are not merely not new, they are ancient. Indeed, it was these policies (in the form that Adam Smith identified as “the mercantile system”) that classical political economy evolved to replace, with its early radicalism, the corruption-reducing system they sometimes called “Laissez Faire.”

Generally, people tend to support public-private partnership policies if they or their friends and family are directly benefited in some way — and don’t if they aren’t.

But since government increasingly involves itself in more and more areas, many people adapt to the system, hoping to squeeze out some advantage or favor.

The perfect egoist would desire cronyism for himself and laissez faire for all others. (That way he would be the exception, leaving others to compete for his consumer attention, offering goods and services at the lowest price or highest quality, or some combination thereof.) But stretching beyond egoism, the policy offers decreasing advantages: the idea that we can all be specially advantaged by a public policy obviously cannot work. So the egoistic approach to such practices is to work for those advantages that benefit oneself, and let opposition to others’ special privileges go as too costly to oppose.

This attitude — entirely “rational” from a narrow-interested point of view — obviously sets a ratchet into play: cronyism will increase, since the incentives to reduce it are too weak, and the incentives to utilize it increasingly present to increasing numbers of the population.

Common means of crony capitalism include

  • direct subsidy,
  • tax benefits, and
  • specialty services by the state such as condemnation of others’ private property and giving it (or selling it cheaply) to a business for development.

But the most efficient and widespread tactic of crony capitalism is regulation.

It is commonly thought amongst advocates of “more regulation” that business regulation is a public-interest enterprise that keeps businesses honest.

What is not usually understood is that most regulation is lobbied for — and even written by — businesses. Corporations. Trade associations.

Indeed, some of the most expansive regulatory regimes beloved by Progressives, past and present, have been exactly that: creations of the industries they were allegedly intended to “rule” with the proverbial “iron fist.” Prime examples include the Federal Reserve, which was almost wholly a creature of the banks, and the recent ObamaCare programs, which was heavily written by insurance companies and other major medical institutions.

Economists who study regulation are not surprised by such facts. The history is of course quite clear, with the economic policies of the ancient states (what Douglass North calls “limited access systems”) and the mercantilism of early modern nation states providing exhaustive data.

Besides, the logic is clear: regulation hinders competition. This means that regulations help some businesses at the expense of other businesses, and generally (the argument ineluctably runs) the consumer.

The political process by which regulations are pushed into law have been described by economist Bruce Yandle as abetted by a union of two disparate groups, “Bootleggers and Baptists.” This political alliance between two stereotypical actors is instructive of so much about modern government.

The disreputable, advantage-seeking businessman is the bootlegger in Yandle’s scenario — a person with a material interest to favor regulation that harms his competition — and the Baptist is the earnest, public-interested zealot who provides social cover for the scam. Yandle’s paradigm case pertains to alcohol sales and consumption, Blue Laws and Dry county prohibitionism in particular. Bootleggers, who sell illegal alcohol, benefit from moralistic “temperance” regulations. If the local tavern is closed, or the local grocery cannot sell wine or whiskey, the bootlegger gains a market foothold. And, as researchers have found, bootleggers have even been known to donate funds to the anti-alcohol political campaigns.

This scenario plays itself over and over again in politics, in every domain where regulation is proposed. Even deliberately and seemingly “pure” anti-business regulations can find support among some enterprises, simply to reduce competition. More “reasonable” (fine-tuning) regulations find even more enthusiastic support. Big businesses love reporting requirements, for example, as found in Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank: the sheer expense of massive reporting requirements kick in early among start-ups, and only mature businesses (with some established economies of scale) can handle those expenses easily. Indeed, they limit their competition, giving those businesses more room to raise prices — since their industries are thereby effectively cartelized, with the cartels backed by the full power of the U.S. Government.

And people wonder why there is money in politics!

They are being played.


The image at top is a graph from Bruce Yandle’s recent presentation, linked to in the article.

imageDonald Trump makes nasty, personal attacks against both men and women. Those he degrades he does by demeaning their looks or intelligence or basic life outcomes, usually those characteristics that resonate most closely with sexual selection standards.

For this, he is often called a misogynist, a hater of women.

And yet men get the same treatment — rude talk about their main traits pertaining to what social scientists sometimes call the mating market.

Despite this, I have never heard him called a misandrist.

Why not?

This is a question not so much about Trump but about contemporary American culture.

img_2351Barack Obama was in Cuba when the Brussels attacks occurred. He made his usual “solidarity” speech for a paragraph . . . and then quickly went back to ballyhooing his new Cuba policy. While European leaders scrambled to appear statesmanlike for more than a few ticks on a clock, to reassure their people at length, and to marshal forces to track down the murderous Jihadists, Obama was laughing it up at a baseball game.

With Communist leaders.

This, as the folks at Fox News pointed out relentlessly, was bad “optics”; it didn’t look “leaderly.”

For some reason, the talking heads at MSNBC did not belabor the point in the same manner as the Fox folks.

I was immediately reminded of a similar moment, on 9/11/2001 when George W. Bush was informed that the World Trade Center had taken two hits. He was being recorded, for he was doing that most presidential of things, reading to children.

About a goat.

The look on his face? As he went back to reading the story?

Well, anyone who has seen Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 knows that look. Moore made much of it.

Past American leadership has been so witless on the Mideast that I don’t really know what Obama should be doing to fight Islamic terrorism, at this point. I am pretty sure he is at a loss.*

But we might want to give him some time to process the news.

Everybody has their own initial reactions. George Bush sure didn’t look presidential on 9/11.

Hint for all participants: maybe we should not expect immediate genius responses to crises from our leaders; and maybe they shouldn’t be on camera all the time, encouraging the demand for same.

* Watching Fox and MSNBC, I am even more sure that neither his supporters nor his critics have a clue. Their failure to realize how fundamental hegemonic violence is to Islam, or that their previous, ill-thought-out efforts have merely stirred the nest. A concerted attack on ISIS, done in the usual witless fashion, will almost certainly turn a hornet problem into a Hydra problem.

Taxation is a form of expropriation. Libertarians like to say it is theft.

I have been pretty iffy about that statement. Taxation is an odd form of theft, if it be theft indeed, in that it is not mere confiscation, not ad hoc or makeshift, and is almost always announced in advance. Taxation is expropriation by the state according to some rate or rule. And the fact that it is widely considered just or necessary seems to have some bearing on the advisability (or accuracy) of the “theft” charge.

My “iffiness” was perhaps most forcefully expressed on my old blog:

Taxation is the expropriation of private property according to an established rate, as put into law by an established state.

Robbery and other forms of theft are illegal kinds of expropriation, and piecemeal at that. Taxation is a legal kind of expropriation.

To many libertarians, this distinction is not much of a distinction at all. They have pretty much thrown out the distinctions between legal and illegal, and are in a continual revolutionary mode of thinking, ready at a moment’s notice to throw out whole chunks of the rule of law and state practice.

So of course they equate all kinds of expropriation.

Well, not all, since libertarians do support some forms of expropriation. They have no trouble expropriating the loot of thieves from thieves, after court adjudication. And they have no trouble expropriating from a person found liable, in court, to a tort claim.

They just don’t support taxation.

My Contention: The main reason radical libertarians will not get anywhere is their complete lack of understanding of the normal mindset, which is not constantly in revolutionary mode. Radical libertarians who trot out slogans such as “taxation is theft” do not address the respect a non-revolutionary has for the rule of law.

Indeed, because of this revolutionary stance — and I’m not talking about physical, bloody revolution so much as a particular stance regarding ideas and consent — these libertarians cannot deal with normal folk.

They offend normal folk; libertarians often (and with good reason) strike normal citizens as lunatics, perhaps dangerous lunatics.

This is one reason why I choose my words more carefully — or at least differently — than radical libertarians. I wish to address normal folk in normal language. I believe it is incumbent upon me to make every step towards a revolutionary mindset clear. I wish to pull no wool over any eye. I believe we have to approach greater liberty with complete honesty. No rhetorical trickery.

And I regard slogans such as “taxation is theft” as something close to rhetorical trickery.

Whatever else we may say of it, however, taxation cannot be univocally defined as a good thing. Every tax taken diminishes the wealth and wherewith of the mark, er, taxpayer.

So, two things are obvious:

1. we have, other things being equal, good reasons to wish to diminish taxation as much as possible; and

2. we should inquire deeply into the proposals of those who suggest, or insist, that we reconstruct society to provide the necessities of civilization without the inconvenience and horrendous burden (not to mention moral horror) of taxation.

But we see a lot of pushback against the idea of low-tax or no-tax society.

Unfortunately, most of this online discussion is witless. I argue against one typical instance here:

NOTE: In this video, I mistakenly refer to Peter T. Leeson as “Peter Levin”; sorry, Professor Leeson.

I greatly enjoyed Leeson’s book on pirates. Getting his name wrong is unfortunate. (Leeson is Professor of Economics and BB&T Professor for the Study of Capitalism at George Mason University.) His book, in the image at top, is required reading on the subject of a tax-free society that still can sport an industrial, market order.

 Related to the issue at hand, but on a more subtle level, is the Hume essay I wrote a foreword to, for Laissez Faire Books. It can be found on Amazon as a Kindle book, or on iBooks, or on LFB.org. From the same publisher, I also recommend the fascinating Instead of a Book. A great book, despite the name. And, unlike my video, but like most of the books shown at top (all recommended), that book does not eschew the “A word,” anarchy.

More on that, anon.

Stay Puft

Donald Trump is “of the people” perhaps because he practices a common vice: he lies sportively.

People lie all the time. Normal people do; Everyman and Everywoman. And, surely, Every Kid. Sociologists have studied normal, everyday behavior, and have discovered that most people prevaricate many, many times a day.

And it is not just white lies. The fibs are not just out to save others’ feelings, telling them look good when they look like a wreck, or saying you have said something funny when you have squeezed out the world’s lamest pun. And it is not just to make themselves look better, in CYA fashion. Much of their lying is sportive. It is POYA — “pulled out of your ass.”

Everybody, I dare say, has done it. But at some point, most virtuous people forswear the practice. The virtuous make do with telling stories that lack that special, sense-of-an-ending/money-shot touch. They didn’t meet Celebrity X that time. They did not have the snappy comeback. When they forget a funny story . . . they don’t tell it.

Trump, however, makes lying part of his schtick. He runs with it. He “makes shit up.” Not remembering the accurate detail, or the apt statistic — or perhaps like most Ameicans he has no idea what the most relevant fact to cite is — he invents one, on the spot.

And the people roar their approval.

Trump supporters don’t care, in part because the Trump Show is entertaining, in part because they run their own, lamer version of the show nightly, and in part because it annoys the people they hate: leftists and insiders. The Establishment.

And Americans need a liar, because they do not want to confront the truth — that citizens and voters are caught up in the same mess as their politicians, they cannot simply vote their way out of their mess without cost, and that they are morally culpable for the frauds and mass murders their government perpetrates on a daily basis.

Americans for Trump want to feel good about themselves.

They are reacting against some foolish and dangerous people, sure, but they are also reacting against the usual scapegoats as well. Trump plays up some of the most idiotic elements of modern democratic bigotry, the anti-furiner bias and the anti-market bias, for starters. And that is where his lies come in handy.

Indeed, more than just handy. Necessary.

(And yet, he may serve a useful function. He is the Stay Puft marshmallow man. He is the Doom chosen.)

 

 

If I had to vote for either Trump or Clinton this year (and I don’t, so I won’t), I’d choose Trump.

imageWhy? For the same reason so many others are choosing Trump, and why so many chose Obama in 2008: to punish the opposition.

Voting for Hillary would reward not only a scheming, lying, carelessly corrupt crony-insider — and probably the worst Secretary of State in U. S. History, and not just because of her cavalier approach to security — but also the disaster that is the Obama administration.

Mrs. Clinton has been running for an “Obama third term” for quite a while, and almost nothing the administration has done has been done right.

Worse yet, instead of racial healing, Obama and the Democrats have brought further racial disharmony.

And the level of sanctimonious blather from Obama’s partisans — if ever a group of ideologues deserved a thrashing .&nbsp.&nbsp.&nbsp!

So punishment is in order.

Think of it as democracy in action.

I am sure we will come to regret a Trump presidency. The likelihood that the huckster will transcend his bizarre and demagogic campaign seems low in the extreme.

But I won’t blame him for the horrors to follow. I won’t blame his supporters.

I’ll blame the Democrats, who set the bar so low, who set up the environment where an authoritarian outsider could take the helm.

But, as long as I am not imprisoned or shot, I will try to laugh. This could be quite a ride.

I just watched a neutral presentation of interviews with college students about the difference between sex and gender. Poor kids. They have been taught sanctimonious theory, and can regurgitate it upon demand, but the Rousseauvian nature of their goofball ideas they have no comprehension of.

Sex is a huge subject, and everything I hear from young folk strikes me absurd and unscientific — and based upon political pressure and ideological need, not upon biological reality.

I believe that we live in a new age of a rampant fear and hatred of the biological reality of sex.

It is a sort of mirror image of the traditional fear of sex.

Whereas the old fear was based on the notion of the consequences of action, and the centrality of the idea of responsibility, the new fear is based upon a notion of cosmic fairness, and the centrality of identity (what we used to call personhood).

In olden times, religion was the dominant institution of social control, and people imagined that their selves, their persons, were ghosts stuck in the icky machinery of biology. Fearing being trapped in the consequences of unrestrained sexual passion — disease, death, children one could not provide for — the traditional sex fear expressed itself in a euphemestic manner of speaking about the subject, with extensive social pressure to refrain from sexual behavior except in limited circumstances, socially valorized.

In modern times, political government is the dominant institution of social control, and people imagine that their very selves, their identities, are social constructs imposed on the malleable matter of the brain’s tabula rasa. Today’s taboos center around protecting a person’s expression of what used to be called (incessantly so, by women) their “sexuality.” This expression is said to be their “gender,” which constitutes the sum total of their desires, affects, self-regard, and choice in pronouns.

Both models strike me as absurd. But at least the older paradigm recognized the inherent power of carnality.

Postmodernity sucks, and “gender” theory — its shiniest, newest offspring — is cretinous.

My advice to the youngsters? Forget your “gender.” Sure, folks make hasty judgments and may express biased expectations about you based on your sex. But have a little gumption. Construct your own life according to your own lights, and deal with your biological heritage prudently, and not as a slave either to tradition or fashion.

Be individuals. Persons.

Grow up.

I like the music of Steve Reich — and not just because Music for 18 Musicians is the best make-out music ever composed. His list of masterpieces is long, and includes Drumming, Music for a Large Ensemble, Octet, Different Trains, Sextet, The Desert Music, and many other works.

I even enjoy some of his earliest minimalist experiments, such as Piano Phase.

Here we learn that this early classic has been adapted for harpsichord:

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Apparently Harpsichord Phase is a riot.

What we have here is a bit of a reversal.

After The Rite of Spring ballet elicited a riot at its 1913 Paris premiere, the story got related to Rite fans in the late 20th century as a case of snobby, stodgy oldsters who didn’t really appreciate music. They were no better than culture snobs who wanted their ears blessed with the merely pretty (and perhaps by the merely Parisian). But the folks objecting to harpsichord minimalism at this recent boo-out no doubt love music. They love their music, not others’. And by going to a harpsichord recital, they thought themselves insulated from alien sounds. This cannot be construed as simple snobbery, can it?

Fortunately, my tastes are broad enough that I wouldn’t even object to some painful rendition of a dodecaphonic monstrosity.

But then, my manners and respect for others’ property and contracts preclude me from interrupting even dreck.

I would not cry fire in a crowded theater, either.

Unless there was a fire.

We can be certain: there was no fire in Harpsichord Phase. That music is saved from the heat and rufosity of that most volatile element.

BOSCH-trump

Barack Obama has been a horrible president.

So: Blame Bush.

Not a joke.

Sure, the prez himself has coasted seven years blaming his predecessor. But we have the better rationale to play that hand. How so? The reason we got stuck with a cool dude sporting the BHO initials is that GWB was so bad. And not just on foreign policy grounds.

The pendulum swings.

Americans voted for Barack Hussein Obama in great part in reaction to the sheer awfulness of the Bush Administration. They chose a smooth-tongued, dark-skinned American “community activist” who had been pampered by the university system and the political power structure over a bumble-tongued, redneck-pretending fratboy who had been born into a political family with its vast influence and network of oil money. Americans had so come to despise this man that they chose his seeming opposite, even if the replacement sported a name that sounded like the alien monikers of the two main targets of the man to be replaced: Osama bin Laden and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.

But Americans also voted for Obama to seal the healing needed in America over racial divisions and antagonisms. But under Obama and the Democrats, the racial divide has deepened, gotten uglier. The constant socialistic demands for more “free” stuff, along with renewed charges of systemic racism in police-citizen relations, has combined with the far left’s “Social Justice Warrior” crowing and bullying on college campuses and the Internet to dominate popular culture in an overtly (and absurd) “politically correct” (p.c.) manner.

And average Americans — not just (though perhaps primarily) white folks — have had enough.

The pendulum has swung back, ridden by a man who makes headlines gleefully flouting the p.c. code: Donald Trump.

And he is grabbing more than the Archie Bunkerish grump vote. He is getting support from all sorts of people who have had it with neo-Marxist overkill regarding race and gender, primarily students living charmed lives who think it “oppression” when they hear an unwanted opinion.

Normal Americans, writes Rob Dreher in The American Conservative, “know that the academic elites despise them and their culture, and are going to try to educate their children into hating themselves and their culture. . . . [A] vote for Trump is a vote against the class that’s doing this p.c. indoctrination.”

“Cheering on the likes of Trump,” Reason’s Robby Soave suggests, “might just be one way for them to cope with [the] perceived reality” . . . of leftist cultural hegemony.

If Trump wins, blame the Left.


 

Image is by the great Bosch Fawstin, excerpt: see the original

There will almost certainly be follow-up to this piece, as I try to understand the mindset of the average American. Not an easy task.

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