Friday, May 30, 2014

Anarcho-capitalism does not solve the problem of authority

Anarcho-capitalists sometimes claim that under anarcho-capitalism, the problem of authority is eliminated, in that there are no authorities. Joseph Fetz just sounded a variation on that theme in the comments, when he claimed that under ancap, all relations will be contractual. Let us consider.

I "own" ten acres in the Poconos. It is steep land, falling past the house to a creek in the middle, and then rising to a ridge line. I probably have not been on my "back 5" in two or three years.

Tomorrow morning, I wake up to find that all government in the United States has been dissolved, and ancapistan has been declared. Tomorrow afternoon, a group of Lenape Indians arrives, and begins to erect cabins on the other side of the creek.

This prompts me to head over there. "Whoa, guys, what are you up to?" I ask them.

"Well, kemosabe, now that the evil United States government is out of the way, we are reclaiming our ancestral land. Oh, and we don't mind if you keep your house over on the other side of the creek. But we will expect thousand dollars a month in rent, thank you."

"But, but... I own this land!"

"Says who? The state of Pennsylvania? Well, the state of Pennsylvania doesn't exist anymore."

Now, it is possible that the two parties here could reach an agreement by bargaining. But if each party sincerely believes its claim to ownership, each party might just dig its heels in as well. This is why it is simply not possible for all relations to be contractual: we need some prior agreement as to who owns what before we can start contracting exchanges. (Why anyone would want all human relations to be contractual in the first place is a whole other question.)

In the case where the two parties cannot negotiate an agreement themselves, either:

1) The two parties will be in a state of war, even if no violence breaks out. ("Cold wars" are possible!)

2) The two parties submit to some authority to resolve their dispute, e.g., "The Council of Libertarian Elders," or "The Federation of Ancap Defense Agencies." And those authorities will be considering a political matter: "What should we do when two parties each have some basis for claiming a piece of property as their own, one ancient and customary, and another modern and well recorded?" And the decision they reach will be a political decision.

And it is not just land disputes that will require some authority to decide them: we can imagine on the day ancapistan is declared, that a whole bunch of people say, "Thank God! Now I can finally start copying and sharing music and movies without fear." But that afternoon, the Microsoft and Disney defense agencies ring their doorbells (with SWAT teams), seize their computers, and demand huge reparations.

Either this dispute will be resolved by pure force, and Microsoft and Disney will win because they can muster more force than can the sharers, or there will be an authority that will mediate this dispute.

People often disagree. That is a fact that cannot be wished away. If the disagreement is profound and serious, there are two ways possible to resolve it:

1) force; or
2) acknowledgment of an agent with the authority to resolve the dispute.

So, ancapistan will either:

1) be more violent than our current world; or
2) have something functionally equivalent to a government, even if it is not called that.

What does politics mean?

Bob Murphy recently suggested that I must be using some idiosyncratic definition of 'politics' when I noted that anarcho-capitalism is quite obviously a political movement and advocating it is engaging in 'politics.'

Here is Michael Oakeshott defining 'politics' to open his essay "Talking Politics":

"Politics is not concerned with anything or everything which it may come into a man's head to want and to contend for but with the consideration of the arrangements and rules which give shape to an association of human beings."

We should note here:
1) Oakeshott was a professor of politics;
2) He quite probably had never heard of anarcho-capitalism when he penned those words; and
3) He puts this forward as a commonplace idea, not worth arguing for but merely worth mentioning to orient his readers to what he will discuss.

If we ever see an anarcho-capitalist society, there will be plenty of politics going on in it, e.g. "considerations" of whether fractional reserve banking or intellectual property is legitimate, and so on.

We can precisely predict all future states of the system

Watching some lectures on differential equations, I hear the lecturer say, "If we can explicitly solve the equation, we can precisely predict all future states of the system."

The use of "precisely predict" here is very odd. If we are speaking of a pure mathematical system, then we are not "predicting" anything: all states of the system are called into being at once with the creation of the system of differential equations, which, even though we may label a variable 't', do not have a future or a past.

On the other hand, if he is speaking of an actual physical system (say, a mass-spring system), then "precisely" is grossly inaccurate: what he ought to have said is "We can predict future states of the physical system to whatever extent it does resemble and continues to resemble the abstract system of equations." Our predictions of the actual mass-spring's behavior based on the mass-spring equation will go seriously awry if someone walks in the room and grabs the spring, or an American drone blows up the building containing it, suspecting that an Afghan wedding party might be inside.

Should everyone go to college?

Adam Ozimek does a very nice job debunking the silly idea that every American should attend college. The guy who proposes this actually tries to justify the notion by noting that "The pay gap between college graduates and everyone else reached a record high last year..."

Let us say every single worker in America had a college degree: What would the pay gap then be between  college graduates and everyone else? College graduates would be "everyone else," and would simply get the average wage, on average. Since we would still need carpenters and auto mechanics and hair dressers and janitors, if Leonhardt thinks this average wage will be higher than it is now, he must believe that sending people to college for jobs that don't require college degrees will somehow force their wages up! I don't know about you, but when I hire someone to take down a few trees in my yard, I don't first check if he has a B.A., and then say, "Oh, here's an extra $100!" if he does.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Rational argument with an ideologue is not possible

I have a lot of Facebook friends who are anarchists. For people who claim to "hate" politics, I have never met a group who are so obsessed with it. For many of them (and I recognize that this is not true of every anarchist friend I have: if it doesn't apply to you, then you are not one of the "many"), it seems that about 90% of their posts are political. They are fixated on promoting their political view to the exclusion of all else.

About 95% of the time, I manage to make the sensible choice and ignore these posts. But every once in a while one of them gets to me: it is usually a combination of a sense of smug superiority in the poster's own views and a sneering contempt for lowly "statists" that leads me to wander in where angels fear to tread.

It happened the other day: someone posted a bit of nonsense from Mike Huemer, claiming that if we don't accept the head of a charity organization simply going around seizing the funds he needs to help the poor and jailing those who won't pay up, then we shouldn't accept a government doing the same thing. I noted that this argument is ridiculous: in a constitutionally ordered government, officials are also not allowed to simply demand funds from people for anything they think is needed, but instead must pass legislation according to constitutional procedures to raise funds for a project.

The response? "Oh, so you think the Nazis were perfectly justified in taking the property of Jews because they passed laws permitting this?"

It is as if a couple of thousand years of literature differentiating legitimate governments from illegitimate ones, and legitimate government actions from illegitimate ones, simply did not exist. It is as if when the people of a Swiss canton meet and vote funds for a new bridge, it is exactly the same as when a group of thugs seized control of the German government and used it to enact their racial prejudices.

I am not begging the question here: someone can argue that both the Swiss government and the Nazi government are illegitimate. But if they cannot even recognize the vast difference between them, and do not even acknowledge the huge amount of thought that exists differentiating them, they are completely lost in an ideological haze. There is no sense trying to reason with anyone in such a condition: their ideology acts as a filter, turning any opposing view into a ridiculous caricature of that view, the ridiculousness of which then confirms the truth of their ideology.

I dropped out of the discussion, and asked Facebook not to show me posts from the person in question anymore, in order to stay out of that tar pit. I am sure the anarchists who had participated in the thread then all high-fived each other, assuring each other that "Callahan left because he cannot refute our arguments!"

And that is how ideologies sustain themselves.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

When being a virgin makes you a laughable idiot...

As is typically asserted in the popular media:

Then it is not surprising that some virgins will build up a lot of resentment about their "condition."

Note: In pointing this out, I am absolutely not absolving Elliot Rodger of his crimes. What he did was evil, and he is personally responsible for choosing to do that evil. But recognizing that fact does not preclude examining the circumstances that led that particular evil person to act in that particular evil way.

Not knowing how to eat an orange

The man across from me on the subway is eating an orange by gnawing into a half-peeled but still whole fruit. He apparently doesn't realize that it easily comes apart in nice, bite-sized pieces. This wouldn't be of much concern to anyone else but him except that, as a result of his bizarre consumption method, he has left a large puddle of juice and seeds beneath his seat.

And here comes the unfortunate about to take his seat and... Yep, feet right in the puddle.

The Idea of a Social Cycle

Andreas Hoffman and I now have our working paper posted at PhilPapers.

Here is the abstract:
The paper aims to explore what it means for something to be a social cycle, for a theory to be a social cycle theory, and to offer a suggestion for a simple, yet, we believe, fundamentally grounded schema for categorizing them. We show that a broad range of cycle theories can be described within the concept of disruption and adjustments. Further, many important cycle theories are true endogenous social cycle theories in which the theory provides a reason why the cycle should recur. We find that many social cycle theories fit with a two-population disruption and adjustment model similar to the well-known predator-prey model. This implies that a general modeling framework could be established for creating agent-based models of many social cycle theories.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

All "private judgments" are to have no public force...

Except those of Gerald Gaus:
A moral order of free persons rejects appeal to the natural authority of some people’s private judgments over those of others. A social morality that allows the (self-appointed?) “enlightened” to make moral demands on others that as free and equal moral persons those others cannot see reason to acknowledge is authoritarian. Just as authoritarians in politics hold that they should rule over others who are too unenlightened or corrupt to see the wisdom of their laws, so too do these “enlightened” moralists hold up their “right reasoning” about morality as the standard that warrants their demands about how others should live, even when those others, exercising their rational moral autonomy, cannot endorse the imperatives to which they are subject. -- Gaus, The Order of Public Reason, p. 16
Gaus's invocation of "private judgments" is simply rhetoric, designed to somehow seal off certain areas from the public realm. If I judge that, say, polygamy is wrong, the only thing "private" about this would be if I happened to keep it to myself. In that it is a judgment, I can publicly give reasons for it, and if I am trying to get the judgment enshrined in law, I am certainly not keeping it to myself!

And anyway, just who does Gerald Gaus think he is, to impose his moral views on authoritarians? This is, of course, the contradiction at the heart of liberalism: it purports to be a neutral scheme tolerant of all views, but in the end it wins up only tolerating liberal views.

(Thanks to Jonathan Finegold for bringing this quote to my attention.)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

How did Stove get Berkeley wrong?

Let us explore a little further how David Stove got Berkeley so wrong. As you may recall, he summarized one of Berkeley's arguments for idealism as follows:

"You cannot have trees-without-the-mind in mind, without having them in mind. Therefore, you cannot have trees-without-the-mind in mind."

But Stove had to add a step to Berkeley's argument to make it stupid: "without having them in mind." The actual argument is that you cannot have trees-without-the-mind in mind, period. What Berkeley is noting in the passage Stove cites is that when you attempt to have trees-without-the-mind in mind, you fail. And that failure is inevitable. "Trees-without-the-mind" is a mere abstraction, and to mistake mere abstractions for things that can actually exist is what Whitehead called "the fallacy of misplaced concreteness."

"Ah," the materialist-minded may say, "but what about the billions of years before conscious evolved, and the universe consisted only of matter?"

Well, science itself is an abstract world, and it makes use of other abstractions such as "matter apart from all consciousness." But there is no scientific evidence that there was a universe without consciousness for any length of time, ever. How in the world would science "demonstrate" this? With its consciousness-o-meter? Idealists have forwarded various handlings of this issue of parts of the world, whether temporal or spatial, without human consciousness: Berkeley, for instance, held the whole universe is always in the mind of God, Hegel had his concept of Geist, Bradley the absolute, and Whitehead proposed a form of panpsychism, where all bits of "matter" experience the world.

Friday, May 23, 2014

How much exercise do we really need?

Saint Simeon Stylites lived on a small platform atop a pillar for 37 years. Although some of his devotions do seem to have involved a bit of exercise, he certainly was not able to jog or swim laps.

Typical election fraud

Politics, always so dirty. What we need is everything privatized, purely private communities...

Oh, wait, Wild Acres is a private community. Never mind.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

When does striving toward ideals become utopian?

In the comments on this post, Keshav worries that anti-utopianism may lead to complacency: isn't it a good thing, he wonders, to strive for an ideal, even if one knows one will never achieve it?

Good question. I will try to indicate when I think striving toward an ideal is fine and when it is dangerous. Let us move away from politics, to take the emotional charge off of the topic, and consider basketball (which appears to be coming another major theme of this blog).

A basketball shooter should clearly have the goal of making every single shot, even though he knows he will inevitably sometimes miss. But the player slips over into utopianism if he takes this not as an unachievable ideal by which to orient his practice, but as a realistic goal which implies that he should "never rest" until he achieves it. In the latter case, he may decide to increase his time practicing shooting continually so long as he is not hitting 100% of his shots. That approach will prove destructive, since after a certain amount of practice, he will actually begin doing damage to the muscles involved in shooting.

This distinction carries over into policy quite nicely, I think. It is a reasonable policy goal to strive to minimize the destructive effects of drug addiction in a society. But if we set a goal of a "drug-free America" as something we might realistically achieve, then we get the massively destructive "War on Drugs."

It is easy to provide more examples like the above.

The problem with practicing Italian in the car?

You can't drive with both hands on the wheel.

Monday, May 19, 2014

What country life has done for me

I see a group of people, in a movie, walking through a tall meadow. My first thought?

"My God, how many ticks will they bring back with them?!" (I have found ten on myself already this spring.)

The problem with the idea of "white privilege"

Is, as economists would say, that privilege exists along many margins. Of course there are situations where merely having white skin is an edge: gaining membership in the Klu Klux Klan is an obvious example. And there are many others where the legacy of past discrimination has accumulated to white people's advantage. But there are other situations where white skin clearly is not an advantage. For instance, my son played for a few weeks in an elite Brooklyn basketball program. Regularly, he would hear his opponents taunt him with, "Yeah, white boy, I'm gonna..." whatever. (I told him he should at least get them to taunt him correctly, as "Half-white, half-Filipino boy.") After a few weeks he couldn't take any more of this and dropped out.

And there are many, many other aspects to privilege: being beautiful can make you privileged. (Beyonce appears to be in a fairly privileged position to me.) Being the president's kids isn't a bad deal. (The kids of some meth-addled trailer-park mom in Appalachia will no doubt be amused to discover that their "white privilege" gives them an edge over Malia and Natasha Obama.) Being the son of the greatest international reggae superstar is an edge. (Respect due, Ziggy.) Being very tall makes one privileged in some regards: I recently read that well over 10% of males in the US over 7 feet tall and between 20 and 40 years of age are currently in the NBA!

So one problem I see with the idea of white privilege is not that it is total nonsense but that it is a one-sided emphasis on one aspect of privilege amongst many others. But there is a further problem: the whole project of harping on privilege itself seems to assume that we could create a human society in which privilege does not exist. But we have never, ever seen such a society: even in the most egalitarian of hunter-gatherer cultures, being the chief's son was no doubt an advantage. And current efforts to fight one privilege typically just create privilege for a different group: affirmative action has largely benefited the children of upper middle-class blacks, especially black immigrants, so that, say, Nigerians are four times more likely to be doctors in the US then is the average American, while doing very little for the most under-privileged blacks. (Note: this is just what Pareto described. New political projects are forwarded by a rising elite trying to displace an established elite: their non-elitist elements are mere "derivations" created to collect non-elite support for the rising elite.)

A just society can try to ameliorate the effects of privilege. But to try to eliminate those effects is a utopian project, which, when taken to its logical extreme, is likely to result in things like the death of everyone who wears glasses.

Nobody dunks on Pompidou!

While reading a short article on Georges Pompidou, I encountered the following:

"Il garde ce post jusqu'en 1968."

From Russell to Chamberlain, everyone in the 60s agreed: nobody could guard the post like Pompidou.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Anarchism is a political view

This might seem obvious, were it not for the many anarchists who express their disdain for "politics."

"Anarchy, as Waltz outlines, is a political relationship in which units possess no authority over one another and are not bound under any common authority." -- Marjo Koivisto, "Liberal world orders, reciprocal and hierarchic," in Liberal world orders, p. 108.

To argue for anarchy is a political action, and an anarchic polity certainly cannot do away with politics, since that is precisely what will be going on whenever these units negotiate with one another as to how to resolve some dispute between them.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Good investments and bad investments

I am surprised by how often I hear someone declare that a certain type of investment is "good" or another is "bad": "Investing in Manhattan real estate is always good," "Investing where a city is growing is a good idea," "Invest in companies with good cash flow," or "Don't invest in a property with a trailer on it: the value of the trailer declines every year."

What all of these dictums ignore is price! Buying a lot with a trailer on it can be a great investment, if the low price more than accounts for the future decline in the trailer's value. Investing in a growing area of a city can be a terrible investment, if the area has become trendy and prices have risen enough to account for all of that future growth and more.

Any type of investment can be good at one price, and bad at another.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Desolation of Smaug: Game Theoretic Puzzle

The wood-elf king offers Thorin a deal: "I will let you out of jail, if you promise to bring me back some jewels stolen from me by Smaug."

Thorin turns him down: "I don't trust you."

Huh? The wood-elf king is going to let him go, and trust Thorin to bring back the jewels. What trust does Thorin have to have?

The NBA: Worst Fixers in the World?

I sometimes hear the contention, among other complaints about the NBA, that the games are "fixed." This is supposedly so that series go seven games for TV revenue, and so that the big TV market teams wind up going deep in the playoffs.

The NBA must be the worst at fixing its own games of any organization that ever attempted it. Not a single one of the regional semifinals went seven games.

And then, look at this list of top TV markets. Eight teams from the top fifteen markets made the playoffs. How many of them are left?
Zero. Instead we have number 16, 25, 37 and 45. Bad job, you game fixers!

Since the same people don't complain about the NFL, MLB, or the NHL being fixed, I begin to suspect that their real complaint about the NBA is "too many black people."

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Subjectivity is not an ontological category

'Each of us occupies such a present as his own; it is a personal present. But it is not composed of so-called "primordial subjective experiences" and our relation to it is not "immediate" or "intuitive" as distinct from reflective. My Venice is not your Venice, and this grove of trees, which to me now is a shelter from the rain or a place to play hide-and-seek, to another (or to me in different circumstances) may be a defense against soil erosion. But there is nothing subjective or esoteric about these various understandings. They may exclude one another but they do not deny one another, and they may be recognized by those who do not share them. Every such object the perception of a subject, but none is "subjective" in the sense of being outside discourse or impervious to error. "Subjectivity" is not an ontological category.' -- Michael Oakshott, On History, p. 12

Why I Love the Spurs

Tonight their leading scorer played only 10 minutes and had zero points.

Yet they won by 22. Team basketball!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What the State Produces

In anarchist literature, one often finds the contention that the State produces nothing, and is entirely parasitic on the rest of society.

This claim is false. Of course, it is true for some things that modern states do, such as the provision of welfare. But it is false applied to the state as a whole, because there is one service that is highly productive, and that only the state can provide: the service of being the final arbiter for all disputes between its members. This service must, logically, come from a monopoly provider: if there are multiple providers of arbitration at the same level, then none of them are final. (And that is why, if a network of ancap defense agencies can provide this service, they will, in fact, compose a state. And if they can't provide it, then we will have "anarchy" in the bad sense of social chaos.)

Once one focuses on this service, one can easily understand why German barbarians would fight to get inside the Roman Empire: both productivity and security go up in the presence of such a final arbiter. And that is why we have never seen any wealthy, stateless societies.

It's like encountering a T-Rex on the corner

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Why don't iPhones cache anything?

All web browsers I have used on desktops etc. cache web pages: they generally won't reload them unless you ask them to. Particularly, they won't reload them simply because you used another app than the browser for a few minutes. (There are exceptions, like pages of sports scores that auto update.)

But on my iPhone, a device often is only tenuously connected to the Internet, Safari (and other apps, such as The Weather Channel app) attempts to reload the page I was looking at every time I return to it from another app! When, while writing a recent blog post, I was looking at a page listing the 100 largest television markets, I wanted to toggle back-and-forth between the list in Safari and my blogging app, to make sure I got all my numbers correct. Every single time I returned to the page listing TV markets, the page reloaded. And I am pretty sure they were not updating this data every couple of minutes! Aargh!

Does anyone have any idea why the iPhone behaves this way?

Mark Bittman: Most Annoying Food Writer?

Bittman's decade long campaign to get people to stop deveining shrimp is getting really annoying, as he seems to be getting frustrated that people don't want to eat shrimp shit:

"Peeling shells for stock is a much better use of your time than deveining, which is a complete waste of energy. (For those who find this a repulsive statement: make a shallow cut on the back side of each shrimp with a paring knife, and pull out the black, threadlike vein. But seriously, use the time for something else.)"

Complete waste of time? Well, perhaps we don't like the taste of shrimp shit, Mark?

"There are several reasons for removing the intestine, the most obvious being the aesthetic appearance of the poop chute (I mean, how can you NOT look at it?!). In addition, the shrimp's colon and its contents can impart a disagreeable taste and gritty texture to the meat or dish." (Here.)

Right. I have had shrimp both ways, and they taste a lot better without the shit, believe it or not!

The way he writes his recipes is often also ridiculous. He gives one recipe, then several others where he substitutes multiple ingredients. Now, this can make sense, when there is only one or two substitutes of closely related items. But this week, for instance, we get "Substitute chopped walnuts for pickles, chopped Granny Smith apple for red onion and chopped celery for dill." Capers might be a substitute for pickles, but walnuts are not. He might as well have written "Substitute chopped celery for pickles, and chopped walnuts for dill." The recipe with the substitutions is often just about as long as the original and substitutes almost every ingredient: so why not just put in the new recipe? Because it is "cute" to do things the way he does.

The Genuinely Free, Purely Imaginary Market

Steve Horwitz: 'What the (usually leftist) critics of the book are missing in their simplification of the "good rich and evil poor" is that Rand understood the difference between a genuinely free market and what is now known as "crony capitalism."'

Does the difference go like this? "The genuinely free market is a purely imaginary construct never witnessed by anyone at any time or any place. Crony capitalism is what we actually always get when we let markets dominate social life."

Then I would say that Rand indeed understood the difference.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Ideological jujitsu

On Facebook, I encountered someone claiming that anyone who did not place liberty above all other values was not a "true libertarian."

I noted that recognizing the multiplicity of human values, and the fact that we must balance one against the other in acting, is a sign of sanity, and that elevating one value above all others is a mark of monomania.

In response, the original poster told me that what I said was merely a cover for wanting to "impose" my "plan" on a large number of people who are not interested in it, through initiating aggression against innocents.

This is what I would refer to as "ideological jujitsu." I did not suggest any "plan," but merely pointed out an aspect of our moral life that has been noted by many others, such as Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas. I am not attempting to "impose" this reality on anyone: it is simply a fact about our moral life.

Actually, it is my conversation partner who has a plan: anarcho-capitalism, or the rule of the propertied. It is he who is willing to impose this plan on an populace that is not interested in it (since only about... what, .1%?... of the public subscribes to anarcho-capitalism). And imposing this rule of property would be an act of aggression against all non-property owners.

This is a typical ideological maneuver: project the ideologue's own traits onto anyone who calls into question his ideological vision. We see it in neoconservatives labeling as "moral relativism" any call to hold the United States to the same moral standards as other nations, or progressives calling those who won't help them stamp out disapproved ideas "intolerant."

Weber's Triumph

For the first time I am delving into the International Relations literature, in the process of reviewing a book called Liberal World Orders. (This is funny in a way, as IR was one of the specialties of my dissertation supervisor.) I was immediately struck by how prevalent Max Weber's concept of "ideal types" is in what I am reading. Here is a typical quote:

"One is to map the various models of liberal international order--both in ideal-typical terms and in their historical setting." (G. John Ikenberry, "Liberal Internationalism 3.0")

Neti neti

"Being then was not, nor not-being. The air was not, nor the sky above it. What kept closing in? Where? And whose the enclosure? And was the plunging abyss all water? Death then was not, nor not-death... Who knows it, and who shall declare where this Creation was born and whence it came?" -- The Rig Vedas

Friday, May 09, 2014

Keynesian advice from one's car

My friend just got this message from his car:

It must have felt he needed some stimulus.

Siri: Worse at history than a college student!

The guy giving the lecture I was listening to in the car mentioned Diocletian. "Hmm," I thought, "when was he emperor? Around 290?"

Figuring it was worth a shot, I hit my Siri button and asked, "Siri, when was the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian?"

Her answer? "I don't see any events concerning Diocletian between January 1, 2014 and today."

Yes, I was pretty sure he was a bit earlier than that.

Anarchist Crackpottery

Jeff Tucker today sent out a Facebook post declaring that bad race relations are "overwhelmingly" due to government restrictions.

Tomorrow, expect an update from Jeff as to how original sin was caused by Eden's lacking a free market in fruit.

I'm Seeing Ghosts

Or trees that look like ghosts, anyway.

Driving along I 84, I saw a bunch of white shapes on a hill in the distance. "Funny," I thought, "those look like ghosts." (I assumed that what they really were were some trees heavy with white blossoms, and when I got closer, I found I was right.)

But my next thought was, "How did ghosts come to look like white blobs? That is certainly not what Hamlet's father looked like, or Hamlet could not have recognized him. Of course we still have that sort of recognizable ghost in our stories as well. But where did the ghost that looks like a kid with a white sheet over his head come from?

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Politics is not geometry

I've been reading a great (as yet) unpublished paper by David Corey. He gave me permission to quote it:
Ultimately, the problem with the first postulate—that the abstract [in politics] is better than the embedded—is that it is simply false. In mathematics, if someone can latch onto one truth, he can often use it to find others. For example if one element of a complex equation can be solved, it may be used to solve the rest. But moral and political “truths” are not like this. We cannot focus on one aspect of the human political terrain, abstracted from the overall context, and expect this to point the way to social harmony. This is because (to put it bluntly) humans are not numbers, and our affairs admit of irreducible contingency. No doubt, we are frustrated by contingency. We wish for a degree of simplicity and universality that human moral claims do not actually possess. But to allow such frustrations to overwhelm us, to insist that the abstract is superior to the embedded when the results tell us otherwise, is to engage in a kind of intellectual dishonesty, all the worse for the disastrous political consequences.
NAPsters, take note.

Rappers Agonistic Lyrics as the Continuation of an Ancient Tradition

Rappers famously put other rappers down in their lyrics. But for those of you who might be tempted to write this off as some bit of modern decadence, not so fast: in Homo Ludens, Johan Huizinga extensively documents what he calls "slanging" matches, consisting in outdoing oen's opponent at being insulting, finding them in ancient China, ancient Rome, pre-Islamic Arabia, the Eddas, Beowulf, The Pilgrimage of Charlemagne, and more.

So next time you bump into Eminem, tell him you like the ancient, traditional slanging that he performs.

Where a Materialist, Evolutionary Explanation of Morality Fails

As Ed Feser notes, is that it cannot explain moral obligation.

Perhaps we can get a perfectly satisfactory materialist, evolutionary explanation of the cause of every one of our moral beliefs. ("We think incest is wrong due to the fact incestuous breeding weakens the gene pool," "We believe stealing is wrong because groups that don't respect property rights failed to prosper," and so on.)

What we would now have is not a theory of moral obligation, but a theory of why moral obligation is an illusion. To illustrate: let us say I convince my son of the truth of "evolutionary morality," and he responds, "Great, that's all it is? I thought there was something wrong with stealing, but now I see that thinking that is a kind of trick that our genes have played on us. Well, personally, I don't give a hoot about the survival of the group, and I'm taking up stealing!"

It should be pretty obvious that the believer in such a materialist, evolutionary explanation of morality has nothing to say at this point (as Ed's opponent in his debate on this point graciously admits). He has not explained morality, he has explained it away.

Vaguest Sports Story of the Year?

Just might be this one.

Somehow it involved some football players, a woman, a hotel in Miami, and a hospital, and one of the football players "changed his way of thinking," although he is not saying how it changed. Quite seriously, except for the names of the players, the previous sentence pretty much gives you all of the information in the original story.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Reporting in from TV Land

On NCIS Los Angeles a character from Homeland Security just described an Iranian terrorist group with 100,000 members!

No actual Islamic terrorist group has more than a few thousand.

No wonder Americans are easily frightened, when the actual threats are blown so out of proportion.

I feel like the theme from Rocky should be playing...

Since I just emptied my inbox:

Layers of Deception

So, I'm watching Anthony Bourdain in Sicily. He is taken out on a fishing trip to catch cuttlefish. He is skeptical about the site his guide brings him to: it looks too well-trafficked with other boats to really provide a good fishing site. But he dives in the water with a facemask on and begins looking for cuttlefish. Then he is betrayed! A colleague of the fishing guide, from another boat, begins to throw dead cuttlefish in the water, so that the stupid tourists can "catch" them and be happy. What deceit! And Bourdain and his crew have caught it all on film.

Except... wait a second: the fishing guide obviously knew there was a whole film crew out there recording his and his colleague's actions. They knew the crew was filming them throwing dead cuttlefish into the water. They could not have been so stupid that they would think that they could get away with this. So I'm forced to conclude that it is actually Anthony Bourdain who is the deceiver here: he must have asked the fishing guide to engage in this stunt for the purposes of giving his show an interesting story line. So a show supposedly exposing the deceits of Sicilian fishing guides is actually the deceit on the part of the host of the show.

In the next scene, Bourdain reports to us that he was so depressed after suffering through this scam that he went and got "plastered." He went to dinner that night at a restaurant, but later he could not even remember who he had eaten with or what he had had.

Yet, we know there was no reason for him to be depressed, since he had set up the dead cuttlefish plantings in the first place. And throughout the dinner during which he was "too plastered" to remember a single detail, we see him on camera, holding a completely coherent conversation while barely slurring his words. So he was not "plastered" at all, and surely remembered everything that happened.

But Bourdain obviously takes if for granted that his the members of his audience are nitwits, who will swallow this all whole.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Claes Ryn on the Concrete Universal

"Whenever goodness, truth and beauty are realized, universality and particularity are mutually implicated in each other. Universality manifests itself through the particular. This synthesis does of course shun particularity incompatible with itself, but, to become itself, universality requires its own kind of particularity. The more adequate the concrete instantiation, the more profound the awareness of universality that it yields. Universality is transcendent in the sense that none of its particular manifestations exhausts its inspiring value, but without historical particularity universality also is not a living reality, but is only an empty theoretical abstraction created by ahistorical reasoning."
-- Claes Ryn, "Leo Strauss and History: The Philosopher as Conspirator"

What Explains the Appeal of the NAP?

It is obvious that citing the NAP as making the case for libertarianism doesn't work at all: it is only convincing to people who are already libertarians, and not even to all of those. So why is it still clung to so tightly? In the comments, Matt wins the cigar:

" It's an appealing thing for some to believe, so they choose to believe it."

Rationalism in Racquetball

Rationalism illustrated: in the movie The Oxford Murders, Elijah Wood's character attempts to master racquetball by writing equations all over the walls of the court calculating possible trajectories for the ball. And the movie shows him as being not too bad at the game as a result.

The fact that anyone thinks this would be a recipe for anything other than complete paralysis on the court illustrates how deeply rationalism has permeated our culture.

Is the Essence of Government the Open Use of Coercion?

I just read the above claim in a paper. It is false, not based on "my ideology" as opposed to "your ideology," but demonstrably false on a scientific basis. (By science here I mean "rational enquiry into some realm of reality.")

To understand why this is so, let us consider someone who says "the essence of private property is the open use of coercion." "Whoa," you may think, "how can anyone claim this? Private property is about my legitimate authority to control what is mine!''

But what about someone who disagrees with me about my legitimate authority over some property? For instance, I presently own ten acres in the Poconos. But suppose some Lenape Indians show up and say, "This was our ancestors' land: we are going to establish a village here." And they then begin constructing a village on "my" land.

Well, I now have two choices: I can abandon my property claim, or I can use coercion to force them to stop their efforts. In other words, I can let the private property regime I had subscribed to dissolve, or I can employ force to get the Lenape to stop building their village, i.e., I would have to "openly use coercion" against them.

Or imagine I am the NBA commissioner, believing my organization has the right to set the rules for play in NBA games. The NBA has declared that taking more than two steps while holding the ball, without dribbling, will be considered "traveling," and result in the possession of the ball being awarded to the other team. Things are going fine, until a number of players, who call themselves the "three-step league," declare that they will ignore this rule, and simply refuse to give up the ball when the ref calls traveling against them. I would now have the options of abandoning my role as NBA commissioner, or "openly" using coercion to stop these players from violating NBA rules, by, say, using security guards to escort them off the court.

Even the simple libertarian claim that "I own my own body" is a claim of authority, and a right to use coercion against those who deny that authority. Thus, accepting this claim, if someone comes to take hair clippings from me because they are necessary to fertilize our community garden, I can legitimately, "openly" employ coercion against them, to get them to stop, based on my legitimate authority over my own body.

Similarly, my claim to have legitimate authority to regulate my children's behavior means that, if one of them decides to hold drinking contests in his or her bedroom, that I may legitimately ("openly") use coercion against them to get him or her to desist.

And so it is with government: the actual essence of government is the claim on the part of some entity to be the legitimate authority for setting the "master" laws for some domain (usually a territorially contiguous one). Of course, an intrinsic part of this claim, as in our previous examples, is the subsidiary claim that such a government can legitimately use coercion against those who violate its authority in this domain.

My analysis is "scientific" in that I have merely used rational analysis to examine what any claim to authority over any domain whatsoever implies, whether it be one's body, one's children, a piece of property, an organization, or a polity: any such claim necessarily implies the right to openly use coercion against those who deny that claim to authority. I have not, in any of these cases, tried to adjudicate whether any such claim is legitimate: perhaps I do not really own my body, perhaps I have no legitimate authority over my children, perhaps the Lenape Indians really ought to have the right to build a village on my land, perhaps the NBA really has no authority over the rules of basketball, and perhaps some particular nation-state (or even any nation-state whatsoever) really has no authority to make law for the territory it claims to govern.

In short: Any claim of authority, even a claim of authority over one's own body, implies the right to "openly" use coercion against those who deny that authority. Thus, the claim of a right to openly use coercion is certainly not the essence of government, but is, rather, a component of all claims to authority over any aspect of human life.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Court Street Fair

My wife was very anxious to get me to take a walk up the block to the fair with her. She kept talking about how good the zeppoles were. But when we arrived, she kept telling me, "You know, this vendor looks really interesting. Maybe you should pop in and ask for a sample:"

Rich and Poor

My family was in the Philippines recently. They ate at a number of houses in the village where my wife was born.

At the house of a lower-class family in the village, they ate grilled tilapia, homemade chicken soup, rice, salad with homemade dressing, sticky rice cooked in coconut, and a homemade sauce.

When they went to eat with an upper-class family, they were served... Domino's pizza.

UPDATE: What interested me here was that ordering Domino's was a signal of the family's wealth: the poor family couldn't afford that, and had to serve "humble," home-made food due to their poverty.

Friday, May 02, 2014

The Supernatural Laws of Physics

When I noted a while back that as usually viewed by scientists, the laws of physics fit the definition of "the supernatural" quite well. This produced a bunch of sputtering and muttering, but no real counter-arguments, except that "naturalists don't think of these laws as supernatural!"

Yes, well, that was my point: despite not consciously thinking of them as such, many scientists (and other naturalists) treat them as such.  And here is physicist Paul Davies, making the same point:

"The orthodox view of the nature of the laws of physics contains a long list of tacitly assumed properties. The laws are regarded, for example, as immutable, eternal, infinitely precise mathematical relationships that transcend the physical universe... In addition, it is assumed that the physical world is affected by the laws, but the laws are completely impervious to what happens in the universe... It is not hard to discover where this picture of physical laws comes from: it is inherited directly from monotheism... Clearly, then, the orthodox concept of laws of physics derives directly from theology."

In other words, these laws are regarded as supernatural.

Open Source Software and Skin In the Game

I have been tinkering in the Haskell programming language recently. Trying to up my game, I have begun reviewing and working on issues in th...