The secret to peace is to associate with others in activities you like, but avoid others’ activities that you don’t.

I generally shun pop music, sports, dancing, and religious events. Others avoid what I like — classical music, motorcycles, literature, and philosophy — but love their churches or clubs or poker games or what-have-you. So I don’t go to your mosque; you don’t go to the movies I do. I’ve never been in to a titty bar; you’ve never attended a performance of a string quartet. Whoopee.

This diversity of values and interests only becomes a problem when people insist that others conform to their values and share their obsessions. Really. This is about it.

From this follows my politics: we are best served when we keep obligations to a minimum; the basic duties should be few. Free people work around each other and cooperate as they see fit.

Everything above that is oppression and a recipe for strife.

People have different tastes and opinions. The only real trouble is how to navigate the differences, and the key is to bring force into as few of these debates and potential conflicts as possible.

I readily admit: we will often hurt each others’ feelings with our differing values. Of course. But the key to an open society is simple: adults have just got to buck up, get over the taking and giving of offense, and carry on. No one has to be liked by everybody. Love and inclusion are only achievable for small subsets of people. Avoid those whom you dislike. Try not to hate. Just don’t kill or steal, and, please, trade with honor.

The easiest way for “all to get along” is to refrain from doing too much together. The politicians’ eternal promise of “bringing us together” is the exact opposite of what is necessary. These yobs are snake-oil moralists. Avoid them, too, if you can.

Unanimity would be nice on the basic ground rules, the ones that establish our freedoms — justice — but even that may be a luxury.

I suspect Harry Browne said all this in his classic Seventies’ era self-help book, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World. Alas, I have never read the book. But I did read John Hospers’s review of it! He linked Browne’s approach to Epicureanism. And that was savvy.

Epicureanism was one of the three distinctly Hellenistic philosophies that aimed to help their practitioners find spiritual peace in a world of conflict, in distinctly philosophical, rather than religious or medical, ways. The general tenor of Epicureanism, like of Stoicism and Pyrrhonian skepticism, was to caution folks not to embroil themselves in matters outside their control. The locus of our control is individual. And that is why individuals should take responsibility for their lives by increasing their own agency and not dissipating their limited talents and strengths in causes and conflicts that cannot easily maintain personal direction. If one gets caught up in social movements, one becomes too dependent upon others. One’s investment in others is almost doomed to be liquidated to your own hurt.

But that does not mean that others should be shunned, that one had best live as a hermit. That is idiotic. Epicurus praised friendship, but did advise basic withdrawal from politics and religion and the Big Endeavors of life. (Very un-Randian of him.) Why? Because on the personal level you can navigate the social world, increase its benefit to you by reciprocal advantage, and, in the course of doing this, mimic the ideal polity (which in Epicurus’s own day was not possible to erect beyond small enclaves) of friendly people mutually combining for the limited purpose of security. (Epicurean political philosophy was utilitarian in a rather practical-contractarian sense.)

Times have changed since Epicurus’s day, of course. Our societies are democratic in several important ways, not just widespread franchise for majority votes on executives and legislators. Trial by jury; a basic set of rights that do find some legal purchase even against the police power; and common cultural habits that make freedom a part of vast domains of life (even if the State circumscribes us in increasingly restrictive and arbitrary ways). This democracy-as-social openness (what Tocqueville called “equality of conditions”) allows for a lot more citizen input, and a more hopeful view of social foundations. The State isn’t always out to get you. It is not always and everywhere a drain. (Though it still topen often is. Hence our interest in reforms or stratagems to restrain political power further. The actual situation is that the voluntary sector of society is so productive that the political drag, or suck, still does not drain us utterly — at least we who are not under its direct tutelage as wards of the state — to offer more freedom than was available even under less intrusive governments of the American past.)

Despite the growth of the size and scope of the State, the basic complexion of modern life remains that of the open society. And that was not something Epicurus could do much more than imagine. Nevertheless, many of the biggest cultural “wars” of the present time all pick at the open society, as if it were a problem to be solved rather than what it is, a solution to our most basic problems.

I tell you a mystery: The great blessing of our open civilization is . . . indifference! We are indifferent to most people. We love a few, get along with many. But we drop contact when appropriate, which is most of the time.

This is OK. It is more than OK. It is of paramount importance.

Unfortunately, folks who are heavily acclimated to ideologies of love, inclusion, or even kindness (as are very different folks who view free people with suspicion, fear, and loathing) find this civilizational openness challenging. To say the least. But this civilizational and omnipresent indifference doesn’t invalidate communal values of love and inclusion, it just limits them. And it refocuses the idea of respect away from hierarchy and equality (two in-group possibilities) and other obsessions of the in-group to a deference to others’ differences, to their rights.

Nowadays, folks are confused by rights talk, and with reason. The idioms of rights are often made too much of, held to possess a metaphysical importance. Suffice it here to say that basic rights can only be of a limited scope, to be “right” at all.

All rights entail obligations, and all obligations are burdens at least technically.

Rights to freedom differ critically from rights of an allegedly “higher” nature, such as a right to sustenance or right to health care. Freedom rights merely oblige others not to interfere, forbidding aggression against persons (bodies) and justly acquired property. These do not require special services and vast wealth tributes. They do not even require, some say, submission to anything like a Leviathan state. They just require us to mind our own business.

By undergirding free association, which includes the ability not to associate, these rights set up the possibility for voluntary cooperation, particularly cooperation through trade. And here, with exchange cooperation, human beings encounter the full flowering of human potential. And this arises, without overarching plan or specific regulation, from folks determining, each to his own, what is in self that serves other(s) enough that some other(s) reciprocate.

This sets up a division of responsibility. And provides the groundwork for learning, improvement, progress.

Epicurus could not see the great advantages to be gained by an extensive market, in no small part because, in his day, the widespread use of slaves masked the potential of freedom. Mutual advantage, in the ancient world, seemed restricted to kinship, friendship, communal and political realms. The world of trade, so often dotted with fraud and plunder, seemed more a contest, more a combative endeavor.

Like all the Hellenistic philosophers, Epicurus turned inward. The sort of happiness he offered was peace through the removal of pains and unnecessary burdens: “ataraxia,” or ataraxy.

By dissolving the power of the ancient states — those limited-access orders of exploitation and elaborate hierarchies and status — early moderns opened up a distinct approach to social peace, a sort of ataraxy on the level of interaction: peace through the elimination of bothersome harms and force-fed service to The Good, however conceived. By cutting through the Gordian knot of politics by forswearing subservience to some particular set of values — Nation, Duty to God, the Religion of Humanity — humanity has opened up the possibility of happiness through the more spontaneous actions of freer interaction.

This is why I sometimes see this politics as a late flowering of Epicurean philosophy, a neo-Epicureanism. By taking care of the means, preventing the greatest evils and wrongs, and avoiding the traps that nature and the state “set” for us, the putative higher ends flourish not from united and compulsory endeavor, but from the emprise of people voluntarily working together.

Cross-posted at LocoFoco.Liberty.me.

left and rightThe perversion of justice takes many forms, but the most interesting are the political. Especially the common misconceptions on the left and on the right.

There is an element of fairness embedded in the idea of justice. The vice of the left is to think that fairness can be imposed upon society by correcting for nature and chance, which operate heedless of human preferences. This is such an awesome task — impossible, really — that the motto of the left could be “everything is political” . . . for “everything” must be corrected.

The left’s characteristic form of righteous indignation is envy. And there is no intellectual humility in sight.

There is an element of vengeance to the idea of justice. The vice of the right is to think that this is the whole of the matter, and that extremity of retaliation for a wrong is usually better than moderation. The motto of the right could be “there is no kill like overkill.”

The right’s characteristic form of righteous indignation is wrath. And intellectual rigor is rarely welcome.

Of course, the terms left and right, as relating to politics, are perhaps outmoded and flimsy; your mileage may differ, simply because of the inherent relativity of “left and right.” Whether something appears at left or at right depends upon which direction you are looking.

But it is astounding how unidirectional most folk are, as if they were cattle — hence the ability to plot politics, if clumsily, in one-dimensional terms. And name the vices.

Cross-posted at LocoFoco.Liberty.me.


Everybody has said poorly thought-out, foolish things. We’ve all committed boners. But some are harder to walk away from than others, and some folks can say things that others had better not.

“I hate you,” for example, might be easy for a child to recover from, but not so easy for a spouse or a parent.

Better example? Secretary of State John Kerry on the recent Paris massacres. But let Paul Jacob explain — for it is his thesis about how to understand Kerry that is at once most charitable and makes the most sense:

Deep Thinker Kerry

Comparing Friday’s horrific shootings by Islamist terrorists to the events of last January, one-time presidential candidate John Kerry noted that there is “something different about what happened from Charlie Hebdo. . . . There was a sort of particularized focus and perhaps even a legitimacy in terms of — not a legitimacy, but a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, ‘OK, they’re really angry because of this and that.’ This Friday was absolutely indiscriminate. It wasn’t to aggrieve [sic] one particular sense of wrong. It was to terrorize people. It was to attack everything that we do stand for.”

Yes, Kerry pulled himself out of the fire pretty fast, but, even if he earnestly believes that (as Reason characterized it) “killing cartoonists is less appalling than killing concertgoers,” this was a thought better left unexpressed.

What could Kerry have been thinking?

Here’s a guess: John Kerry sees himself as a reasonable man. Reasonable men try to understand things. And in the course of trying to understand things, a reasonable man will likely explore all sorts of ideas, make uncomfortable comparisons, follow challenging arguments wherever they lead.

But Mr. Kerry does have a job: Secretary of State. This makes him a key mouthpiece for the United States of America . . . to the world, and about world events.

A Secretary of State should know that standing up for rights is his public duty. It is not spinning theories about motivation that could ominously pass as justification for slaughtering some folks but not others.

His statement may betray him mid-thought, but hey: “everything we stand for” includes free speech and the press.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

I quote Paul Jacob because (a) he wants to have people send around his “Common Sense” squibs, and (b) it fits nicely with the theme I’ve been running with these last few days, on discriminate versus indiscriminate thoughts and ideologies.

It should be hard for Kerry to “walk away from” this faux pas. But who knows? Americans forgive all sorts of sins and misstatements — if made by members of their own party.


Americans are so phobic about discrimination that they can no longer distinguish right from wrong, important from trivial, A from B . . . or x or y or z.

Puzzled? Then perhaps you are like most Americans, who are so uneducated — so ill-read, so avoidant of the life of the mind — that they do not realize that “discrimination” is itself a good thing, the very foundation stone of thought.

Lazy, foolish people, seeing the word paired with “racial” and “sexual” for decades, came, by a familiar process of the association of ideas, to see it not for what it is, and has been for centuries, but as something very different: a bad thing. That is, a bad activity.

Now, according to Dictionary.com, the word means

  1. an act or instance of discriminating, or of making a distinction.
  2. treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit:
    racial and religious intolerance and discrimination.
  3. the power of making fine distinctions; discriminating judgment:
    She chose the colors with great discrimination.

As I understand it — and understood it even when young, since I had dictionaries available, and was not afraid to use them — definitions 1 and 3 preceded definition 2. (See the definitions provided in the image, above, for more evidence* of my thesis, here; the dictionary consulted hails from the turn of the last century.) Making a distinction and judging the value of the distinguished, and then acting upon this judgment, is what we mean, at base, by “discrimination.”

Or meant. Prior to the bastardization of the word by the thoughtless and ill-informed.

The word pair “racial discrimination” became a term of art for something that, in the 19th and 20th centuries, came to be seen (quite rightly) as bad: judging a person on the basis of the race that person belongs to, not on the individual’s evident qualities. Behind this transvaluation loomed the idea of race hatred, of course, but sometimes it was just a statistical judgment about members of a given race, a judgment that ran afoul of rationality. If many (or at least many prominent, or modal) members of a race, in your experience, were lazy and prone to violence, it would be an instance of racial discrimination to judge an individual as being lazy or violent just because of the race he or she falls into.

Racial discrimination, in this case, is bad because it is bad thinking, bad judgment — a misuse of statistics. An average or common characteristic of members of a group does not mean that every individual in that group has those characteristics.

Now, such use of statistical information does form naturally enough in our minds, since we cannot always judge everything (or everyone) on its (or his or her) individual merits. We haven’t the time.

But on matters of justice, we are obligated to “make time,” that is, go to the extra bother to treat individuals as individuals. That’s the essence of individualism, and indeed the essence of justice itself. On important matters of a social nature, anyway, racial discrimination is unjust discrimination.

But on other matters, perhaps of a personal nature, deciding an individual case on the qualification of race may be just fine. (Most people, for example, prefer to mate with members of their own racial group. They may indeed “discriminate against” prospective mates outside their race. That is not likely to be a big deal, and would almost certainly unjust to oppose on matters of government policy.) And of course the very designating criteria for “race” is not itself the same thing as racial discrimination, though discrimination — distinguishing one thing from another, in this case bodily features and genetic make-up — it undoubtedly is.

Many, many intellectually lazy people make errors of this kind.

A philosopher, on the other hand, is a person devoted to good discrimination. Wisdom. You can tell an unphilosophical mind if that person is witless enough to proclaim opposition to all discrimination.

It is a leading indicator.

And it led in 1984.

Many people think of 1984 not as the year some of us lived through, but as the eponymous year of Orwell’s dystopia. And when you think of life as he imagined it, under totalitarianism, you immediately think of the systematic misuse of words that “Big Brother” engaged in to maintain the authority trap that keep tyrants in power. Newspeak.

There was sort of a dread in the air, approaching the actual year 1984. But times were not exactly following Orwell’s prophecy, as Anthony Burgess noted in his 1985. And yet systematic word misuse was common. And were indeed political, if not totalitarian.

1984 was a presidential year in America. President Reagan was running for re-election against Democratic challenger Senator Walter Mondale. And, in that fateful year 1984, both repudiated “discrimination” as such.

Asked about gay rights — a hot topic then, as now, though very differently emphasized — Mondale responded earnestly, “I was taught on my father’s knee that all discrimination is wrong.” Reagan fumbled a bit, but repeated the sentiment. “Isn’t all discrimination wrong?”**

Perhaps they were fibbing. Perhaps, because they were politicians trying to appeal to an ignorant and bigoted-against-thought population, they dumbed-down their responses.

But I do suspect that at least Mondale had never really pondered the meaning of the word he was abusing.

And, in so doing, the two helped Americans continue to think poorly about the nature of justice and injustice, discouraging philosophy in the process.

To say that “all discrimination is wrong” is to say that thinking is wrong, judging is wrong. It shows a weakness of mind to allow oneself to be waylaid in one’s thinking by a few word pairings, such as “racial discrimination” and “sexual discrimination” and “discriminated against.”

Some may think this a trivial distinction. Language is arbitrary; it changes. True enough . . . or, should I say, too true? But while the changes are happening, while the lexical shift grinds through the culture, we who prefer our statements to be true, and our thoughts to be savvy — fit for the world around us —must stand by the distinctions and standards that promote thought and justice. It is our job to oppose, not follow, the thoughtless mob.

Think, friends; judge reasonably.  And do not let yourself get tricked by words whose meaning you have not fully explored.

And maybe open a dictionary. Perhaps an old one.



* Tom Lehrer’s great joke must be lost upon today’s youngsters as well: “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.”

** I quote Reagan and Mondale from memory. If you find the proper citation of their exact wordings, please contact me and I will revise the above passage.


What do you make of left-thinking ideologues who vociferously object, and on putative high moral ground, to the “hatred” and allegedly vile discriminatory intent of folks expressing worries about Muslims amongst the Syrian refugees . . . but who, months and years earlier, uttered barely a peep while the bombs were being dropped and the arms were being shipped and the region was being destabilized by U.S. “foreign policy”?

Too little, too late, leftists.

If you object to turning away a horde of people that doubtless contains many aggrieved Muslim men itching for vengeance, but you did not object to your own government’s murderous, “no kill like overkill” part in stirring up their wrath — what moral high ground could you possibly stand upon?

That of a martyr, or of one contemplating martyrdom? Yes. That is about it.

For the record, I do not hate Muslims. I feel sorry for most of them. Most were born into a nutty religion that qualifies as the world largest “hate group” (not that progressives let us in the West call it by that term — “hate group” being a designation they reserve for us.) Most Muslims would just like to get richer and live in peace.

But I despise Wahabist radicals and their allied (and competing) terrorists from that region, at least as much as I despise my government’s murderous leaders.

For my part, I would be fine were America to take in every Jew, Christian and Yazidi refugee fleeing the Levant.

But Muslims? Seems like a bad bet. Let their fellow Muslim countries — Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey — take them in.

Why do Americans on the left accuse their fellow Americans of hate for merely balking at taking in millions of Muslims, when actual Muslim countries won’t step up to the plate? Double standard. Where is leftist anger against Jordanian, Saudi and Turkish governments?

Being accused by leftists, or just plain old Democrats, of “hatred” is getting tiresome. It is especially tiresome since nearly the whole lot of their cultural vanguard, with whom I allied myself in the days of George W. Bush, abandoned the anti-war chant as soon as they got their beloved Barack Hussein Obama into office. The richness of their betrayal of the cause is leavened by their continued allegiance to their Their Man, who quickly proved himself (as he himself admitted) quite “good” at killing via drones.

Drone strikes that have killed far, far more innocents than terrorists.

Maybe the proper way to deal with the charge of hatred of others is to advocate a plan to accept all Jewish, Christian and Yazidi refugees. Demand it — better yet, organize it.

And then offer, just perhaps, to exchange them for our entire neoconservative and “liberal” leadership, including Obama and Hillary, who have helped cause the current mess. Let those hubristic, benighted buffoons put their loafers and pumps on the ground in Mesopotamia.

See what they can do when their rubber meets the sand.

Democratic RenewalI pointedly do not belong to any political party. Each makes me want to upchuck, if for slightly different reasons.

But it is only the Democratic Party that sends me daily emails to “renew” my membership. It is an old scam: pretend that your target subject is already a supporter, and ask for a mere renewal and not a new commitment that would imply the responsibility of a sober choice. Why, you, Mr. Bozo, are already committed — now cough up the money!

Of course, I am now no more likely to join the Democratic Party than I am the Socialist Party, with one current presidential candidate trying to polish off “socialism” for our admiration and loyalty. There are few things I despise more than socialism. When I was young I read a lot of socialist writings, especially from the 19th century. The general tenor? Anti-market, anti-private property, anti-individualistic.

And statist to the core. The worship of the state is one of the most vulgar occupations of our time; reliance upon the state in all things? Pitiable.

I am probably more likely to start a political party than join one. I like to think of my party as a very practical one: The Receivership. Such a party would guide the country through its upcoming bankruptcy and sovereign debt crisis.

You know, in a civilized fashion, rather than the martial law version that most Americans, rioting in the streets or quivering in their homes, will demand.



Representative Government


Many to One


From my Facebook page devoted to Herbert Spencer’s “camp,” to which I belong, as did the page’s patron philosopher, George Santayana.

Schumpeter-Imperialism“Driven out everywhere else, the irrational seeks refuge in nationalism — the irrational that consists of belligerence, the need to hate, a goodly quota of inchoate idealism, the most naive (and hence also the most unrestrained) egotism. This is precisely what constitutes the impact of nationalism.”

Joseph A. Schumpeter, The Sociology of Imperialisms, 1919 (Laissez Faire Books: August 19, 2015)

A kid with a book trumps an adult with a prejudice.

A kid parroting an adult’s prejudice is an embarrassment to humanity.

“Laissez Faire” is usually thought of as a policy of “unregulated” markets. And, in a sense, it is. Its proponents, after all, relentlessly push “deregulation.”

According to the Third School of Political Economy, in both its French Liberal and Austrian incarnations, Laissez Faire should be regarded as “natural” — the very antithesis of a contrivance — expanding on Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” metaphor. And there is sense to this characterization as well.

And yet Laissez Faire is a doctrine of business regulation, as I tried to point out on my Facebook economics page recently:

Third School of Political Economy

But what this little post did not make clear enough was the dual nature of Laissez Faire’s regulatory structure. Free markets rest on a rule of law, whereby private property is protected — including the property in one’s own body (“self-ownership” or “self-government”) — and government is disbarred from interfering in the uncoerced production and distribution of wealth. The regulatory aspect is that dual prohibition: individuals in business and out of it must not commit thievery either by plunder or fraud; individuals in “public service” must not prohibit trades other than in the trade of stolen goods, and must not set the terms of those trades. And thus Laissez Faire quite unnaturally — conventionally — regulates the State as well as the general populace. It prohibits crime and it prohibits corruption. And it thus provides the most basic and scalable of regulatory enterprises. These prohibitions alone constitute huge barriers to many careers and many acts that many people hanker to commit. And since they rub against the grain of many an ambition, their “naturalness” can chafe.

Sure seems unnatural to politicians, anyway!

And thus, I think, we have a plausible case for looking at Laissez Faire as a regulatory regime. Not a mere absence of regulation.


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