Archives for category: Quora

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.

twv


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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can see how well that has turned out.

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

This is just simply not the case.

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

Freedom itself, in the wider context.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

freedom: of thought — of speech — of press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

twv

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

Herbert Spencer

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

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

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

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

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

And not in a good way.

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

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

twv

Pictured: Herbert Spencer, author of the Synthetic Philosophy.

In-group/out-group (inclusion/exclusion) tendencies are inevitable. I would be hard-pressed to find in  moral philosophy a more wrongheaded notion than the idea that inclusion is the solution to the problem that is exclusion. Individualism — treating people as individuals, not by their group membership . . . as much as possible, but especially at law — is the solution to the problems associated with inclusion and exclusion both. It is a regulatory check on their associated perversities.

It is at the heart of civilization.

It is the path forward.

Many people oppose it, however, because, well, we are programmed by evolution to practice in-group love at the expense of out-group hatred. Which is why today’s intersectionalist-feminist-cultural Marxists talk so much about inclusion while qualifying as the most nastily exclusionary group I have ever encountered.

Disbelieve me? Heard at a rally in Portland a few years back: “This is a place of love and inclusion — you are not welcome here.”

twv

a question asked on Quora; my answer:

The level of incredulity about political and bureaucratic governance would almost certainly be astoundingly high. Mockery of those in government, and their major supporters, would make Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Samantha Bee blanch — and these denunciation “comedians” would act in earnest as what they truly are, conservatives in temper if not institutional preference.

Also, before a majority were reached, a tax revolt would likely usher in a crisis on a constitutional level. The federal government would be apt to undergo spasms of an amazing nature, something like we have not witnessed in our lifetimes.

And yet, the power of a squeaky wheel, an intransigent minority, is worth remembering.

If the libertarian majority remains culturally laid back and tolerant of the boorishness and rudeness and sheer crazed monomania of the statist minority, that seemingly likely revolt might not happen.

Right now, for example, less than a quarter of the population is progressive, and yet progressive institutions dominate. Indeed, they are seemingly impregnable. Even political conservatives, who ostensibly oppose progressives, contemplate thoroughgoing attacks upon progressive institutions only in the realm of wish and fantasy: they accomplish next to nothing. This makes their limited-government values mere velleities. Indeed, it seems clear to me: all conservatives really want is conscientious and responsible maintenance of society’s basic institutions, which just happen to be FDR/LBJ progressive in nature. Note that conservatives cannot now manage to muster the energy and intelligence to repeal the recently enacted Obama/Pelosi medical regulatory/subsidy institutions.

And yet the left freaks out over this — progressives have even called the Tea Party “anarchists.” The egregious Elizabeth Warren is the ninny, here, and a more absurd judgment could hardly be imagined. Leftists are so far out on whatever limb they have crawled onto that they see responsible maintenance of basic institutions as a threat to those institutions. It’s quite astounding.

But even more importantly, our conversation is still being driven by the cultural left, obsessed with issues regarding racism, sexism, and the like. Indeed, much of the current angst is the result of the popular revolt against “political correctness,” which most Americans think has gone way too far down the road to groupthink bullying.

So, who knows what would happen? It depends upon what form the ideas and proclivities a libertarian majority would take, and how they would relate to other habits of thought and action. If libertarians remain as quelled and squeamish as conservatives have been, and allow themselves to be serially betrayed by their spokespeople and representatives, as social conservatives have, then, well, progressives will continue to dominate.

There is no automatic unfolding of policy and constitutional order from an ideology. There is always that niggly matter of the difference between fantasy and reality.

I just hope, whatever libertarian ideas come to dominate, and whatever mores the new libertarian majority possesses, those future libertarians will not allow themselves to become as delusional as social conservatives and intersectional progressives have become.

twv

a questioned asked on Quora; my answer:

A number of times. But here is one obvious case, in what amounts to metaethics. Maybe I am misapplying the idea. You tell me.

What modern normative philosophers call “morality” — and what older philosophers might have designated as “the rules and standards of justice” — depends, in practice, upon widespread reciprocity. That is, there are prisoner’s dilemmas throughout situations of conflict and potential coöperation, and it makes sense for any individual to coöperate often only if others also approach such arenas of interaction with an open attitude, not flight or fight, much less with a hankering to steal.

It has been shown that a tit-for-tat strategy of reciprocity — which closely tracks many traditional notions of justice — leads to the most widespread success. But how can you trust “the other guy” to treat you fairly, justly, and not as predator to prey?

It takes more courage than many, many folks naturally possess to approach a potentially dangerous situation with a reserved reciprocity standard in mind. So, how do we steal ourselves to this? Indeed, how can we open ourselves to such attitudes before we gain the practical experience with the world to be confident that such strategies do in fact work, for both self and other, and over a long haul?

A number of religious ideas have helped. They differ from society to society, and we call them myths, and all or most seem obvious fictional. Made up. But the threat of a punishing Deity encourages some to curb their bloodlust and “defector” urges. The idea that we are all “equal before God” helps, too. And as a number of evolutionary psychologists have pointed out, the mere contemplation of a supernatural (nature-transcendent) or metaphysical (normal existence-transcendent) Being or even Principle signals both to self and others a willingness to transcend narrow ego-interests. Setting the stage for civilized coöperation.

This sort of thing often gets swept up under the rubric of “signaling.” But such signaling works regardless of reality. There may or may not be a God. Or natural rights. Or the categorical imperative. But even fictional ideas can be real in their effects.

I sometimes think of the advance of civilization as aided by a series of outrageous fictions.

Seems like the Thomas Theorem to me.

twv

Asked on Quora:

What is your honest opinion on Trump?

Answered on Quora (revised):

Donald J. Trump is a deeply unlearned man, incurious and undisciplined in thought. He seems appetitive and vulgar. And yet he is not an idiot — indeed, he might very well be a sort of publicity savant. And he is a fairly good persuader, certainly knowing how to demean his opponents while entertaining his audience — he is often very funny — thus increasing his fan base even while behaving in an asshole-ish way.

img_1569One could go on and on about the defects of his character. His moral deficiencies are many and numerous. And his policies, to the extent they are nationalistic and blustery American boosterism, are generally wrong-headed.

He may be serving as an avatar of Chaos.

But I think most of the answers Quorans gave in response to the question are marred by typical partisan self-congratulation and special pleading. They echo the nonsense from the media quite well.

Listen, leftists: We have Trump not because his American supporters are uniformly racist and sexist and xenophobic — a “basketful of deplorables,” as one famous privileged fool put it — but because the federal government and many of the states are approaching structural crisis, and the establishment of both parties has proved unable or unwilling to deal with the foundational problems. Increasing numbers of Americans despise both major parties — a majority of self-identifying Republicans even loathe their own party (they just trust the Democratic Party less). The number of voters who do not affiliate with either party appears to be growing.

Here is the crucial factor in the 2016 election: when Democrats selected the famous fool (indicated above) as their standard bearer to follow Barack Obama, they did so despite their knowledge that she is roundly hated by millions of Americans. This effrontery sealed their fate. While the Left and the Right both, together, bred their Nemesis, Donald J. Trump, the sheer hubris of establishment Democrats in choosing an incompetent, corrupt and murderous harridan to lead their cause almost guaranteed their comeuppance.

And then came the Progressive caving in, the falling for the feminist solidarity pitch. This made the whole campaign about “progressive values” — that is, Social Justice. Which the left did not realize has passed its peak influence.

And yet, despite the rising reaction to the leftist culture war, the standard-bearer for the Democracy doubled down on intersectionalist ideology and class warfare. This united her campaign around a two-headed beast: the corrupt Establishment on the right with the increasingly insurrectionist mob (I’m referring, of course, to BAMN, BLM, and Antifa, all soft-pedaled by the progressive media) on the left, suggesting to many Americans that progressives are, at base, violent and anarchic as well as tyrannical and even communist.

So, many, many voters held their noses and voted against one candidate, rather than for the ultimately successful one.

I know that leftists are indeed shocked by what happened. Many people are. It is obvious that few expected any effective pushback to the progressive agenda or its stock technique, its modus operandi. Leftists thought they could go on calling their political and policy opponents racist, sexist, stupid and evil and win every battle.

Hubris. Over-confidence. Blinkered folly.

Because at least a third of the country cannot stand the sanctimonious, screeching, imprudent, crazed, hectoring, contradictory, statist and, yes, racist and sexist Left, a rebuke was delivered.

Why Trump? No mystery at all:

Dear Progressives




N. B. This visual “meme” was created early in the year by James Littleton Gill and me, as part of our LocoFoco meme project.

 

What’s the difference between classical liberalism, anarchism, and libertarianism?

answered on Quora:

Most of the answers given [on Quora] so far concentrate on the terms liberalism and libertarianism. I discuss these two terms, and the two main varieties of anarchism, too, on a blog post I recently wrote: “Grand Theft L-Word.”

IMG_2863So I will summarize: Classical liberalism is today’s term for 18th and 19th century liberalism. Most scholarly people, and most who all themselves libertarians, understand this. But many people today, perhaps not so well read, think “classical liberalism” is FDR’s ideology. This is an error. But carelessness and ignorance are the leading causes of lexical drift, so maybe that will become an accepted truth some day. But, as of now, the truth is, “liberal” was taken away from individualists by collectivists, and the remnant started using the designator “libertarian.” It, however, had already been taken up by anarchists of a variety of stripes, so things get complicated.

IMG_4661Anarchism is the term for a variety of anti-statist philosophies all of which oppose political governance through The State. But those on the ideological Left think that the reason to oppose the State is because it props up private property and trade, and does so with its laws and institutions. But individualist anarchists opposed the State because they see monopoly political governance as a chief opponent of private property, and a perverter of trade — and they want a rule of law, and think such a thing can emerge without the institutions of defense and adjudication to claim or practice any kind of territorial sovereignty. Individualist anarchists insist that all alliances among individuals and institutions be built on explicit contract, not fake “social contracts” that are nothing more than the result of bluster, duress.

The modern terms for individualist anarchism are “anarcho-capitalism” and (more confusingly) “libertarian anarchism.”

None of these terms are incontestible. It is worth noting that the first coherent exponent of the individualist anarchist position, Gustave de Molinari, a Belgian economist of the French Harmony School, never referred to his system of “competitive government” (see “The Production of Security,” 1849) as anarchistic. He considered himself a liberal, and argued extensively with socialists of all varieties, including those many incoherent advocates of “anarchism.” A better term for the Molinarian proposal was devised late in the century: panarchism. But it has never caught on.

img_4664In the late 19th century, many of the more radical classical liberals had abandoned Liberalism for “individualism.” See the writings of Auberon Herbert (who coined a term for his variant, “voluntaryism”), J. H. Levy, and Wordsworth Donisthorpe. A mere generation later H. L. Mencken used that term to defend a simple market-based republicanism in Men versus the Man. More radical forms of individualism were revived by Albert Jay Nock, Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, and Ayn Rand in the decades after, and at mid-century this group in America took “libertarian” from the anarchists. And then these anarchists manqué reinvented the Molinarian idea, and things got even more confusing.

In the 1960s, a simple newsletter called Innovator had begun its life as Liberal Innovator. Other samizdat journals abounded in this decade, and by 1972, the Libertarian Party had been formed by Ayn Rand fans who had given up on Nixon’s heavily statist Republican administration.

The Libertarian Party has always harbored both so-called anarchists and “minarchists” — advocates of a strictly limited minimal (“nightwatchman”) state — and, increasingly in recent years, hordes of vague “constitutional republicans.”

Amidst this confusion, I sometimes clarify by recalling an 1830s political movement, Loco-Focoism. Since I am agnostic about the ultimate legal and political status of an ideal free society, I often call myself a “LocoFoco agnarchist,” the latter term a droll coinage of an erstwhile colleague of mine, the Reason writer Jesse Walker.

“Neoliberalism,” an ugly term for libertarianism, classical liberalism, or just pro-market conservatism and globalism, is a pejorative often used by Europeans and leftists. I know of no libertarian who can stand the term. The fact that it is used by witless leftists of the Naomi Klein variety helps explain that.

It is worth noting that Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce coined a simpler term for the anti-fascist, anti-statist liberal revival: liberism.

It has not yet caught on. It seems that Croce was not a supporter of laissez-faire, though, so the propriety of appropriating it for modern individualist liberalism is open to question.

And now you should be able to see the rationale for my preferred term for all these terms for private property, rule of law, free trade individualists: “individualist liberalism.”

It hasn’t exactly caught on either.

twv

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What is the point of morality if there is no god, no afterlife?

Answered on Quora:

The point? Living a better life, mainly by

  • avoiding conflict,
  • learning how best to coöperate with others while
  • mastering how to mind one’s own business as well as
  • how to help others and
  • be helped by others
  • without encouraging conflict or
  • destroying opportunities for voluntary coöperation.

img_5132One could turn this a little less utilitarian by saying the point of morality is

  • Fulfilling human potential, most likely by
  • controlling the passions and
  • seeing possibilities of goodness where too many sufferers do not.

Aristotle took a typically Greek view of the point of the virtues by focusing on eudaimonia as the goal. That is often translated as “happiness,” but many contemporary scholars prefer “flourishing.” In this view, virtues are good habits — skills inculcated to function as means to increase the odds on leading a full life. (Nineteenth century philosopher Herbert Spencer elaborated on this notion of flourishing by saying that what we should want is to increase the length, breadth and depth of life.) Each virtue has its own rather obvious almost-intrinsic merit, so one needs be able to concentrate on virtue emulation (of admirable people) without bogging down in the pursuit of a wider pleasure, which often scuttles happiness. This is the “happiness paradox”: if one pursues only it, one ceases to be able to obtain it. A field of “natural law” developed around these ideas. The Stoics propounded a similar but quite distinct doctrine of acting “in accordance with nature.”

Epicurus, on the other hand, thought that nature often set us traps, and one reason to learn from nature is to avoid those traps. He thought one should investigate nature not merely because it is fascinating, but also to learn which pleasures to avoid — complicated pleasures that engender pain and suffering and anxiety and much else. He also campaigned to debunk much of religion and statecraft and traditional “common sense,” seeing many of the notions in these domains of thought as illusory dogmas that bring most people more grief than satisfaction.

Instead of eudaimonia, Epicurus offered ataraxia as the wisest goal, which is the pleasure remaining after conquering and/or avoiding pain. Ataraxy (the anglicized version of the word) is not so much “flourishing” as achieving peace. But he propounded no “peace which passeth understanding”: he thought understanding was the very key to peace, and reason and evidence the basic guides in that endeavor. Though close to a utilitarian, he thought that maximizing pleasure was self-defeating (that “happiness paradox” again!) and argued, instead, that minimizing pain and anguish was far savvier. His ethics of simplicity placed cheerfulness as a central virtue, with friendship and inquiry practices worth encouraging. His general approach was encapsulated, in ancient times, as “The Tetrapharmikon” (four-fold cure):

  1. Do not fear the gods;
  2. do not fear death;
  3. good things are easy to get; and
  4. suffering is easy to endure.

img_1711Note that the concept of duty is not central to these “pagan” philosophies, which have little to do with theology. This orthogonal-to-theology aspect is clearest regarding Epicurus, who was understandably (if somewhat inaccurately) accused of atheism in his day. With the rise of the monotheistic religions, duty took on a bigger importance than even found in the Stoics; I see it as almost apotheosized in the early modern period with Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative. (I will let Kantians give their answer, which I believe is basically incoherent — after all, I could be wrong.)

It is interesting to note what use Jews, Christians and Muslims made of the philosophical tradition. Though Aristotelianism eventually trumped the early Platonic strain in Christianity (Plato’s quasi-mystical notions of The Good fit well with a theological mindset), Epicureanism was from Christendom’s early days a deep and abiding enemy of the Church. Perhaps that is why the Christian apologist Lactantius attributed the famous “Problem of Evil” to Epicurus, even if Epicurus was not likely its author. It is the main moral challenge that philosophy brings to theistic ethics:

  • Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
  • Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
  • Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
  • Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

This does more than merely suggest that with God morality has no point!

DSCN0035And it is worth going back beyond Aristotle to his teacher, Plato, to find a knock-down argument why a belief in God is at the very least irrelevant to ethics: namely the “Euthyphro Argument.” It concerns holiness, but its general tenor applies to the moral form of the Good, too. It can be found in the dialogue Euthyphro. It is well worth reading. The upshot? It makes no sense to believe something is good because God says so; instead, God must say so because it is good. Carry that argument further and you find yourself where natural law philosopher (and devout Christian) Hugo Grotius found himself:

“What we have been saying [about right and wrong] would have a degree of validity even if we should concede that which cannot be conceded without the utmost wickedness, that there is no God.”

Also along these lines, Grotius wrote: “Measureless as is the power of God, nevertheless it can be said that there are certain things over which that power does not extend. . . . Just as even God cannot cause that two times two should not make four, so He cannot cause that which is intrinsically evil be not evil.”

So, the point of morality lies in Nature, or in our natures, or some such construction. It is the very essence of good/bad and goodness/evil that its point be discernible, ready at hand. Investigatable.

Arguably, the tying of morality to theology has caused much harm, by steering us away from living better to striving, instead, to hit some dubious afterlife target.

twv

N.B. The specific question on Quora was worded this way: “If there is no God, no afterlife, no nothing, then what is the point of moral values?” I did not deal with the overkill concept of “no nothing,” taking it as hyperbole, and abandoned the postmodern formulation of “moral values” for the old-fashioned “morality.”

The question answered on Quora:

Neither.

The Republican Party will always be stuck in a spiral of stupidity and insane compromise. It is easy to see why. It is made of incompatible factions.

  • Conservatives are generally unreliable at making changes, even ones that are necessary. Wow, what a surprise. To be conservative of temperament means, basically, to be resistant to making changes. Remember what the perceptive G. K. Chesterton said of this: “The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected.”
  • Populists of the social conservative bent are worse, for their basic commitments have almost nothing to do with freedom. I see no indication that they will ever do anything but always screw libertarians. Despite themselves being the victim of repeated betrayals. They let themselves be used and discarded by neocons for three decades, and now a huge of them just voted for Trump, the most flagrantly anti-modest, anti-traditionalist man since … TR? A more deluded bunch does exist in America (I will not name the indicated bloc, so don’t ask), but social conservatives are committed to fantasies of the past, so at variance to reality enough to be pure poison for liberty.
  • Populists of the pro-Trump variety are nationalist at core, and will always be easily manipulable by fear. Protectionism and preëmptive war and over-the-top crime-fighting are things they can only seem reasonable about in contrast to the cucks of the Far- and Center-Left.
  • Neocons are cultists, congenitally unable to muster up even scant realism about the limitations of the power of the U.S. military to remake the world over into something that Straussians would like (but would never confess openly in public, for Straussian reasons). One of the great joys of watching neocons in action is to witness their pretense to being reality-based repeatedly dashed upon the shores of real-world politics, governance, and strife. The book to read to understand the neocons is Leon Festinger’s When Prophecy Fails.
  • The shaky business coalition of Main Street and Wall Street is filled with players who just want to stave off utter disaster so they can go about doing business, picking up rents (sorry, it is the accepted economics term) where they can. They are for “free markets” when out of power, but in power they will exploit opportunities for subsidy, protection, and favorable government contracts.

So I don’t expect much of Republicans.

The Libertarian Party, on the other hand, I have much sympathy for. But it, alas, is made up mainly of people who don’t approve of doing politics … doing politics … very badly. They will always shoot themselves in their feet.

More importantly, the system is rigged against any minor party. And it seems to me that Americans give small, upstart parties just a few years to prove they can take down one of the big guys. It is th schoolyard bullying standard. The LP proved incapable of making  the established order even flinch in 1980. Nearly 40 years ago. And not even the over three million votes for the Johnson/Weld ticket really demonstrates that the LP is up to the task. Americans not unreasonably look upon the LP as losers. Weaklings. Crazies, suffering from delusions of … efficacy.

Ideally, the LP would be disbanded, replaced by many competing, cooperating libertarian groups influencing elections, initiatives and referendums, legislatures, courts, commissions, and public opinion in a variety of ways. After a few years with no party, a new party with a somewhat more narrow agenda could float candidates and aim to handle the biggest, most pressing issues.

But that won’t happen for a simple reason: a coördination problem. Libertarians are caught in a prisoner’s dilemma, and don’t have the imaginations to break themselves out of it. They are on a path-dependent course set to waste resources.

Still, the LP could do good, in the near future. How? By playing Agent of Chaos. It could engage in a major blackmail program against the major parties to negotiate the establishment of more open, alternative voting systems: incorruptible (get rid of most electronic systems) and novel (as in ranked choice voting and non-partisan ballot laws). This could be done by threatening to run in races targeting imperiled incumbents and close races, explicitly telling the GOP (or, on occasion, the Democracy) that Libertarians could run to peel voters off one side or the other, in exchange for electoral reform. The LP could threaten to undermine the GOP nationally, for instance.

But from what I can tell, Libertarians like to pretend they can beat the double-headed Juggernaut (the “two-party system”) and take down Leviathan (the dirigiste Churning State) on terms set up by that same Leviathan and Juggernaut. And the same thing keeping Libertarians from dissolving the party gracefully prevents them from doing anything that could have long-term good effects.

So, I wish the libertarians within the GOP … patience. For pushing the rock up the hill only to have it tumble back down will always be their Sisyphean task. I guess that is the case for the party-minded Libertarians, too — the difference being that in the GOP they will always be betrayed by competitive factions — those in power — while in the LP they will always be betrayed by those with no more power than themselves.

This could change, I suppose, if the libertarians could figure a way to introduce a Mule into the system, like Trump has been for the ever-flailing, incoherent GOP: an unpredictable, out-of-the-ether politician who can break through the stuck mindsets of enough people.

Trump was not and is not that Mule for libertarians, of course, though it has been fun to watch the pro-Trump libertarians pretend otherwise. A truly libertarian-minded Mule would have to be able to articulate to wide swaths of people (not just libertarians) the nature of the trap we find ourselves in. This takes intelligence. Imagination. Daring.

I don’t know of any prospects.

What would be better? A million Mules, people who understand the statist trap as well as the electoral dilemma and are willing to do more than merely vote for change. But not even most libertarians qualify (otherwise they would not be in either party) so … patience. I’ve never expected to see liberty in my lifetime. Humanity apparently has to work through its delusions according to a long story arc that has not quite played out yet.

Let us hope civilization survives that playing out.

twv