Archives for category: Basic Principles

A late, lamented neighbor of mine once defined “just war” as “mere war.” That was a quip.

A rather cynical one.

When I read just war theory, as a teenager, the most important point, I determined (in this rarefied and rarely consulted domain of thought), was this:

In contemplating intervention into a conflict with which one’s own country is not directly involved, it is not enough merely to determine which side is more nearly in the right. One must also have good reason to believe that, by intervening, one’s State could win and establish a stable and  just peace.

Even if you know who is in the wrong, if there is no likely way of “winning,” or if one’s intervention is not likely efficacious to establish a peace, entering into the conflict is immoral.

A recent study of just war theory and history by Laurie Calhoun suggests that most uses of the tradition, especially in recent times, have been to cover for gross, murderous immorality. Not to limit warfare.

As near as I can make out, this is largely because the tradition is almost never treated seriously or rigorously in the manner indicated above.

It is telling that I have not once heard, in recent public discussion over the Syrian intervention, one mention of just war theory.

twv


The newly sworn-in President of the United States has been saying quite a few idiotic things, and doing some interesting things, as well. I wish to look at only one of the things he has said: “Torture absolutely works.”

“Does torture work? . . . Absolutely I feel it works.”

In his favor, he had asked “people at the highest level of intelligence” whether torture works, and that was their answer, “Yes.”

And Sen. Rand Paul responded with a resounding “No,” citing more specific studies.

Now, to me the question is irrelevant. Whether torture gives us good information or misinformation or even poisoned disinformation, torture is an abridgment of human rights. Furthermore, it has a long history of harming innocents; as Rand Paul noted, recent torture procedures in rendition zones turned out to have harmed quite a number of innocent — misidentified or set up — suspects. Our whole system of jurisprudence developed around the idea of protecting innocents from incorrect punishment and outrageous moral horrors. And the method of torture is not just using pain and damage and fear to gain information, the method is also one of secret proceedings apart from normal judicial processes.

When we say torture abridges human rights, we are not merely expressing a preference, or establishing some arbitrary cultural norms. There is a reason for our rights-imputation to counter torture. For we find that not only does torture harm innocents, it abuses the guilty and — more obviously than anything else — it empowers government personnel to take license rather than uphold justice. Torture corrupts.

And one of the grounds of universal human rights is to prevent the corruption of that most dangerous of institutions, the State. To give government functionaries the lattitude to torture foreigners or citizens gives them way too much power, power that we know very well cannot be handled by frail humanity.

So, when POTUS Trump — or even Rand Paul — pretends that “does torture work?” is a relevant question, we should be very concerned. Torture should be opposed even if it does give government functionaries “reliable information.”

Further, the language of Trump is, obviously and characteristically, sloppy in the extreme. Who cares if he “feels” torture works? On important matters we must demand higher epistemic standards than “feels.”

And there is no way that this contentious issue can be responded to with an “Absolutely.” There have to be some points of contention here. Nothing I have read in the literature surrounding torture gives me enough confidence to use the word “absolute,” in adverbial form or otherwise.

Thankfully, Sen. Rand Paul expresses a reasonable desire to extend more oversight over the federal government’s intelligence community. If “people at the highest level” of this community have a hankering to torture — as their confident answer seems to suggest — we must indeed keep a close watch on them .

twv

“No Peaceful Transition,” promised the protest/riots organizers’ Web page, earlier this evening. The page later ditched the motto.

Since the 1960s we have been living a myth: protests that disrupt public traffic and private ingress/egress are “non-violent” and heroic. But the myth is merely a self-serving story, a crucial lie, that those on the left tell themselves and everybody else, thereby taking license to lord it over others.

We now witness the moral depravity that is at the heart of the notion.

Protesting something is staying on the sidelines and making your views known. Rioting is a mob abridging others’ rights. Most unlicensed protests turn riot because they are riot in ovo.

The mob is now a tyrant, and the worm, as they say, may soon turn — the worm, here, being the masses of truly peaceful people, who may now at last see the tyranny at the heart of the self-righteous mob.

The culture war may be going bloody this week. Someone was shot at a Milo protest in Seattl. We will see how far the violence goes.

“No peaceful transition” indeed.


Mr. Sotomayor has a dim view of the rioters:

The Young Turks seem to accept the nonsense from the folks dressed mostly in black:

But here is video without commentary:

The history of philosophy is that of geniuses getting so close . . . but missing the mark.

Hence, my appreciation of a thinker is often not “do I agree” but “can I learn” from encountering said thinker’s work.

It is not for nothing that I am apt to say appreciative things about Jeremy Bentham but not William Godwin. Is Godwin uninteresting? Never, on occasion, correct? Irrelevant. It is merely that making sense of Bentham and where he went both wrong and right is much more edifying.

Thus, often we must look for truth, but keep a special eye out for the interesting and profitable mistakes, even blunders.

The two most interesting failures in political philosophy, in the last two centuries? Herbert Spencer and John Rawls. I am not sure anyone else comes even close.

The errors of great men are venerable because they are more profitable than the truths of little men. — Friedrich Nietzsche


When a friend or sibling advises me how to be safe, I attribute the concern as earnest, perhaps even as “heartfelt.”

When my insurance agent advises me in a similar manner, I infer self-interest on his part.

In both cases, I consider the advice in a spirit of equanimity and good feeling.

But when an agent of the government lectures me on safety, I check for ready exits, and eye any official weaponry with deep suspicion.

twv

It is interesting how the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates are now both intimately embroiled in scandals regarding male-female rape. Trump, for boasting in a typically vulgar, alpha-male fashion about his sexual conquests, and Clinton, for covering up and defending her husband from multiple sexual harassment and rape charges.

alpha male baboonFor all I know, Trump has also fought off rape charges; he has certainly confessed to rapey gropings. But we do know for sure that, back in the 1990s, Hillary maligned her husband’s accusers, worked mightily against them behind the scenes. And thus found herself the de facto enemy of contemporary American (that is, feminist as well as Christian) sex mores.

There is a certain degree of hypocrisy on the part of both sides. To make much of the one and not the other seems unsustainable, morally.

Though I suppose one might make the case that Trump comes off as the more honest. The full statement of his that caused so much scandal was that rich and powerful men can get away with sexual misconduct that most men cannot get away with. Alas, this is obviously true. Hillary’s Bill is living proof of that. He got away with multiple rape and sexual harassment charges. Most folks, today, seem oblivious, utterly unconcerned, even today,  about his many trips on a supporter’s “statutory rape” plane. And we know how Hillary’s husband got away with it: Hillary and her many friends in the press worked mightily to spin all the stories in his favor.

Or ignore them entirely.

If sexual misconduct is a big issue for you, advantage Trump, but not by much. An honest horned goat is still a horned goat. Or, switch the metaphor. Make it baboon. A species known for displays of sexually aggressive behavior to signal alpha status.

It interests me that so many voters are enough obsessed with power and political advantage that they could forgive their candidate such behavior . . . if not the opponent candidate. But few of these people would forgive their neighbor for such conduct. (I hope.) But most folks apparently so strongly yearn for an alpha male in charge — or an alpha female — that they will shrug and vote for their candidate. Turn a blind eye. Cover their ears. Speak no evil . . . against theirs and theirs alone.

This suggests something very interesting. Since no single voter’s vote determines an election, this means that, from a practical political point of view, each voter’s vote is costless — and this suggests to me that most folks who vote Trump or Clinton do not care about matters of sexual probity much at all. Demonstrated preference. If you say you support something but effectively demonstrate no such support when the cost of such support is near zero, you are a hypocrite.

If voters did care about rape and sexual misconduct, they’d vote Johnson or Stein. Who have no such scandals dogging them.

So, radical feminists may be right; there is a rape culture in heterosexual America: it can be found among the voters who overlook sexual misconduct and its valorization when they cast their votes for either Clinton or Trump.

Rights asymmetries were the rule in the ancient world. Hierarchies were caste hierarchies, with different rights and duties dependent on where you came from, who your parents were, etc. “My station and its duties,” as F. H. Bradley put it. The king had a divine right to rule, and it was the duty of others to obey. Case closed.

Modernity begins with a universalist attitudes towards rights. This yielded a belief in symmetrical rights assignment, to basic rights, human rights, “natural rights.” The idea?  Everyone — every person, every individual human being — was to possess the same basic rights set, and any hierarchies that evolved from there were to be based on action, chiefly, and seen as derivable from universal rights. That is, particular rights that we do not all share were dependent upon the basic rights that we do share.

The big issue of our time appears to be immigration. And here we stumble upon a rights asymmetry: 

It is almost umiversally believed that everyone has a right to leave one’s country. Only tyrannies hold their inhabitants within state-demarcating border lines. But the flip side of migration-out is migration-in: the right to emigrate would seem to entail a right to immigrate.

That is not today’s everyday reality: immigration controls are almost universal these days.

What good is a right to leave a country if one may not be accepted elsewhere?

The immigration debate sounds like excuse piled upon excuse. It is all based on fake rights, non-compossible rights.

One reason I occasionally worry about the current anti-immigration craze is memetic contagion: to resolve cognitive dissonance, emigration rights would also become widely opposed. And real, palpable tyranny would result.

  • Who has best dealt with this apparent antinomy? 
  • Can it be legitimized by appeal to universalizability? 
  • Is the émigré/immigrant asymmetry a representation of an underlying compossible rights set, something I cannot yet fathom?

RobertOwen

How much better for the world would it have been had Robert Owen’s original formulation of socialism been studied and debated in full, rather than overshadowed by the looming monstrosities of writers like Marx and Engels?

Consider the following selection from Owen (see below). There is much that is wrong, here. Much. But it is wrong in interesting ways — far more interesting than the pseudo-intellectualism of Marx’s idiotic inversion of Hegel, or his misguided, historically embarrassing wrong path on track of value. Further, Owen’s own success at making a profit while improving the living conditions for his workers was an interesting example of managerial entrepreneurship. Had he not distracted himself from  out-competing more callous businesses, and thereby spreading a new way of looking at hiring and firing help — and its great utility — he might have changed Britain for the better earlier on.

And killed state socialism in its crib. Read the rest of this entry »

America — that is, the United States — was such a good idea. Mention the name and we get teary-eyed. We think of a rule of law, “liberty and justice for all,” an honest republic, a democracy . . . all that.

us_1812And yet every patriotic American de facto lies about his or her country on nearly every occasion of praise; the government has gone through major revolutionary sea changes multiple times, each time perpetrated illegally, in some underhanded manner.

The Secessionist Federation (1776-1787) became a Constitutional Republic (1787-1860) by a peculiar sleight of hand: the new Constitution was adopted in a manner completely at odds with protocols of the existing Articles of Confederation.

Today we celebrate an interesting anniversary, the day the word “national” was stripped from the Constitutional document. On June 20, 1787, the anti-federalist forces (as they were illogically called) maneuvered to strip the last vestige of Hamiltonian nationalism from the document being written in Philadelphia. The word “nation” was removed. They thus turned the written language of the compact back towards confederacy. (Yes, the Federalists were nationalists and the “anti-Federalists” were federalists. Why the nomenclature confusion? Because this is politics, and politicians are liars.) And that federation idea is what was adopted by the states.

And yet, moves towards nationalism began almost immediately. Alexander Hamilton turned his back on multiple of his own arguments for a federal republic made in The Federalist Papers, just as soon as he settled in to his position as the republic’s first Secretary of the Treasury. Thomas Jefferson, for all his fascinating commitments to federalism prior to winning the presidency (he wrote the “treasonous” Kentucky Resolution), took his positions of power as excuses to make an “empire of liberty,” an ungainly idea that didn’t work out anywhere near as planned. Andrew Jackson, while with one hand destroying the Hamiltonian monstrosity, the Second National Bank, with the other perpetrated a genocidal land grab against the Cherokee and moved to promote a nationalist conception of the republic that Abraham Lincoln would later run with. I mean, start a war with.

Lincoln’s response to the secession of the vile Southern states was a grand example of nationalism, not federalism. The end of the Civil War and the beginning of Reconstruction was a triumph of nationalism. And though the freeing of the slaves was a great moral good, it was done in a way that was becoming traditional in America: mostly at variance with constitutional law. The 14th Amendment upended the constitutional order, leaving us with political and moral conundrums with which we fight about even to this day. With Lincoln, the U. S. became a National Republic. Or, if you prefer, a Suppressionist Republic, for the suppression of dissent and self-government became the modus operandi of the new State.

Indeed, the United States ceased being that.

United. States.

By morphing into a national republic, the formerly sovereign states were subordinated to subsidiary positions, and the south, of course, was treated as a conquered province. By the letter of the law, all the Reconstructionist Amendments were illegal. But then, the Civil War suspended normal procedures.

It was no shock, then, to find, a mere 40 years later, a president of the U. S. utterly contemptuous of the Constitution, a frank advocate of both war and empire.

This president is, today, widely admired as one of the Greatest Presidents by most intellectuals, left and right. Obama is a huge fan; but the honored, remember — often known by his initials, TR — was a Republican.

In high school history books we were instructed to all but worship the man, when I was a kid. Why? For his trust busting and other anti-constitutional reforms. Yup, Theodore Roosevelt, the Progressive, is much adored.

And his work, followed by Democrats Woodrow Wilson (a racist Constitution hater, and huge supporter of forced segregation and Jim Crow) and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (who “just happened” to set up a wartime concentration camp system, and whose economic policies were all over the map, but almost uniformly interventionist and unconstitutional), sealed a New Deal, one with so much bureaucracy and warfare interventionism that America’s judicial tradition entered a new phase: outright lying. We now live in a Post-Constitutional Imperial Nation State.

Oh, I know: it is not as bad as it sounds. Our hegemons always present a plausible-to-the-plebes rationale for killing brown people in other countries. And the American people who support this massive warfare/“welfare” state often do have something close to good intentions. But mostly what is played upon is fear: fear that if we don’t send our troops overseas, the world will go to hell.

Interestingly, Americans let this half-plausible theory ruin the nation with debt, taxation, regulation, and cronyism. America indeed might be an honest country if not always fighting, killing, torturing, bombing, and erecting “sanctions” against states that our side claims (with diminishing plausibility) to be worse than our own.

But a “free country”? Alexis de Tocqueville would laugh. He predicted the abuses democracy could make, turning government into tyranny. It seemed far-fetched and pessimistic in 1840. But now it seems like reportage.

America, a very good idea gone wrong. Very, very wrong.

In light of the deconstruction of the statist sophism, “rights vs. privileges,” floated in my previous essay, it is worth thinking about one of the odder uses of the word “privilege” in our time, the use of the word amongst modern feminists and the protestors of the Social Justice Warrior crowd — all those now under the thrall of the bizarre meme complex they call “intersectionality.”

For several years now I have struggled to make sense of the common charge, “white male privilege.”

I am told that it is something I possess. But I have to say, it sure is hard to pinpoint what advantages I get from this alleged “privilege.” With my name, on the Internet, many people are not even sure what race I can be said to fall into. Virkkala? What is that? So my Internet life — which makes up a considerable part of my life and livelihood — seems hardly to benefit from some sort of unearned racial advantage.

For the longest time I looked askance at the charge because I attributed to it a misidentification of my being treated, where I live, mostly justly, contrasted with folks in other areas of America and the world in which what was obviously lacking was not privilege, but justice.

To call a person privileged because they are treated justly seems to run afoul of the basic duality of rights vs. privileges. The chief problem with those whom we used to call, regularly, the “under-privileged,” is not that they lack privilege, but that they lack justice. One of the chief reasons they do not thrive, say in Africa or elsewhere, is that their surrounding social institutions are grossly unjust.

And those who are treated justly, but still remain impoverished — is it because they lack “privilege”? Really? Is not what really separates their lives from mine to be found in the unfortunate fact that while I have (at present) sources of income based on trade, they do not?

Remember, when we dissolved the duality rights vs. privileges? Rights are instruments of justice. Privilege differs, is characterized by allowed benefit from generosity or forbearance. But when we finally move beyond the duality to trade, we are talking about neither the strictly just nor the strictly privileged. We are talking about serving others through a particular form of voluntary cooperation.

Bastiat's great treatiseAnd these trades — exchanges —occur only when you possess something that someone else wants, and that person has something that you want. Both of you are willing to give up what you have for something deemed better that the other has.

This area of trade is where earning happens. Where productivity receives reward. Where we service one another in distinct transactions.

I trade some of my labor and attention and skill for someone else’s money, which they got from trading their labor and attention and skill.

Trade and its benefits depend, of course, on you possessing some labor and skill, and a willingness to attend to others. And, it is a truism: one’s initial skill set is not determined by one’s own self. Nature, circumstance, chance, Providence, and the like, determine our basic make-ups, and these influences produce vastly different beings in vastly different circumstances. Inequality. At start and on an ontological level. Obviously. But, no matter what your initial outlay of talents and prospects, over the course of your life you have a number of decisions to make, and the most pertinent ones facing you are not: how do I get more privilege? or how do I get more basic rights?

The hardest thing in the world to change are other people, especially when what you want from them comes at their cost. Granting privileges to you obviously comes at cost to them. And granting basic rights to you does also come at even greater cost.

How so? Well, privileges one person bestows on another come from generosity or charity, mainly, and diminish the grantor’s resources. (Ask yourself, why would they do that?) And, similarly, the justice that one person can “give” to another depends on that very difficult thing, coordination with many other people. While one person can be just towards another, the actual granting of a condition as a right to one or more people requires, for accomplishment, a general consensus or preponderance of social actors engaged in community mores. And the hardest social thing to do is coordinate the actions of many, many people.

What is easiest to do, as we go about living our lives, is to engage in specific transactions with others. We can give, or we can take. And between these two actions, we can engage in give-and-take, in mutually advantaged trade. That is, giving dependent upon taking; taking dependent on reciprocal gift. (See Condillac, Destutt de Tracy, Frédéric Bastiat, and the later writers in the Third School of Political Economy for more details on this.)

This is the source of most advancement. This is what successful “white men” do to get their alleged “privilege.”

But to ascribe privilege to what they are doing falsifies their actual behavior. What successful white men do is trade. They exert themselves. They figure out what talent or property they possess (or can legally acquire) that they can give to others — dependent upon a return, for remuneration.

So, the vast cadre of intersectional feminists who talk incessantly of The Patriarchy and of “privilege,” and scream and demand their “rights” to not be “oppressed” by a system of white male dominance, uh, this crowd of folks misses the main transactions that make up successful life.

And thus they miss on the pleasures of voluntary society while condemning themselves to fruitless lives of coercive protesting and exclusionary tactics to promote “inclusion.”

By focusing on privilege, and insisting on rights to be given stuff, to demand reparations, to be equalized at the base, natural stages of their lives — to be made equal, or to compensate for some perceived inequality — they debilitate their lives and the lives of the people they aim to help. For, really, no matter where you are in life, if you cry about the injustices of inequality or the perfidy of Fate, and do not engage in strategies of advancement through voluntary cooperation, via trade, you are worse than under-privileged. You are self-condemned to frustration and failure, and will, therefore, miss out on the blessings of civilization — which has, it should be obvious to us all, lifted man out of rough natural life, and into something comparatively easier.

Civilized life is not about privilege, folks. Civility is about what you do in relationship to others. If you want to know what oppression is, do not look to our initial unequal conditions, but to the discrete transactions among people that are based on initiated coercion.

And, if you want to see people thrive? Then treat people justly, as having the basic minimal rights, and follow up with a myriad of transactions . . . yes, undertake the many, many next steps, to cooperate with others in a friendly (or at least not unfriendly) manner.

Without whining and hectoring.

twv