Existentialism is a Humanism

Jean-Paul Sartre was born at the dawn of the century of total war and lived seventy-five years. An existentialist philosopher and novelist, he was awarded (and declined) a Nobel Prize in literature. Today, I’m just focusing on his lecture presented in 1945 Paris: Existentialism is a Humanism.

Today’s post is not going to be some university-level lecture on Sartre, or even on this lecture. Instead, I’m going to give a quick overview and pick out a few of the things I’ve highlighted in my copy. Really, what I want is for everyone to buy the book and read it. There are enough youtube lectures and sparks notes out there, but nothing compares to the text, itself.

So, a quick overview… Enlightenment era philosophy and culture, by way of it’s rabid anti-clericalism, effectively “killed God”. It didn’t kill religion, spirituality, or morality, but it killed that which served as the foundation for such human activities. This is, essentially, what Nietzsche’s entire project consisted of: pointing out the hypocrisy of using the tools, traditions, and philosophies of Christianity after having announced a total divorce from it. This attitude, largely led to the humanist movement.

Ultimately, humanism along with other political, historical, and moral philosophies created during and after the enlightenment and fostered until the 20th century resulted in the sudden violent expansion of state power, resulting in the World War… which effectively continues to this very day. As the second chapter of the world war raged on throughout Europe, a certain philosophy began to emerge in France. Existentialism, fundamentally, is a philosophy of trying to pick up the pieces after humanism, progressivism, and scientism resulted in Nazi and American concentration camps, the wholesale slaughter of millions of soldiers, the UK and American militaries firebombing civilians throughout Europe and the Pacific as well as irradiating entire cities. Unsurprisingly, there was a bit of a culture-wide existential crisis, a collective ennui, and existentialism is searching for solutions, largely by way of doubling-down on Nietzsche.

Sartre, a huge fan of Camus (the arch-existentialist), was an indomitable philosophical figure himself. He was enamored with Marxism, but the Marxists were not impressed.. At the same time, other ideological and political factions were not happy with his communist sympathies or his supposedly amoral philosophy. This lecture, Existentialism is a Humanism, was an answer to his critics, to try and distill his entire project and present it in a manner such so as to make friends with the post-progressives and the commies, simultaneously. I chose this text as my first “Teaching from philosophical texts” post, as it’s one that I’ve recently re-read and it is an excellent primer or overview of existentialism.

There is a large camp in philosophy which agrees, to some degree or another, that existentialism is, fundamentally, nihilism. I am actually in that camp, despite my love for existential writers and texts. Sartre disagrees, though: “It would appear that existentialism is associated with something ugly, which is why some call us naturalists. If we are, it is strange that we should frighten or shock people far more than naturalism per se frightens or offends them… Those that find solace in the wisdom of the people -which is a sad, depressing thing- find us even sadder… However, since it is the very same people who are forever spouting dreary old proverbs -the ones who say ‘It is so human!’ whenever some repugnant act is pointed out to them… who also accuse existentialism of being too gloomy, it makes me wonder if what they are really annoyed about is not its pessimism, but rather its optimism. When all is said and done, it could be what frightens them about the doctrine is that it offers man the possibility of individual choice?”

That supposed optimism is the result of coming to grips with a reality in which man is abandoned. “Man is condemned to be free: condemned because he did not create himself, yet nonetheless free, because once cast into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.” This is a form of condemnation because, “Existentialists [unlike the secular materialists] find it extremely disturbing that God no longer exists, for along with his disappearance goes the possibility of finding values in an intelligible heaven. There could no longer be any a priori good, since there would be no infinite and perfect consciousness to conceive of it.”

That doesn’t sound too optimistic, does it? Maybe you’re an atheist libertine, and this sounds great already… Well, for better or worse, when man finds himself abandoned by God, he is still faced with a reality that sounds an awful lot like Kant’s categorical imperative. “When we say that man chooses for himself, not only do we mean that each of us much choose himself, but also that in choosing himself, he is choosing for all men. In fact, in creating the man each of us wills ourselves to be, there is not a single one of our actions that does not at the same time create an image of man as we think he ought to be… I am therefore responsible for myself and for everyone else, and I am fashioning a certain image of man as I choose him to be. In choosing myself, I choose man.”

Despite the overt mentions of God’s nonexistence, the general theme here seems to parallel common Christianity. Most Christians, by far, do not have routine two-way conversations with God; it tends to be a strange relationship by which one writes letters to an estranged Father and only periodically receives checks in the mail. This is the “abandonment” which is so popular in existentialism and explicitly outlined in Existentialism is a Humanism. Because of this abandonment, one bears full responsibility for one’s actions, as I’ve already brought up. This burden of responsibility is often referred to as “anguish”, which makes sense given the extreme weight of that burden, choosing the nature of mankind though one’s actions.

Of course, a philosophy as moody as existentialism, one built around “abandonment” and “anguish” would be incomplete without “despair”. Despite the novelty of the name and the extremely poetic method of presentation, despair (as formulated by Sartre) is actually an ancient idea. Interestingly enough, Sartre’s “despair” is one of stoic philosophy’s basic tenets: one ought to concern oneself exclusively with that which one can control and one ought to divorce oneself from the expected results of one’s actions. That divorce from the hope and expectation of getting the desired result is where “despair” gets its name. One may instinctively recoil at such a suggestion, but the results of one’s actions are largely contingent on the quality of information available to the actor, the innumerable facts outside one’s control, and the actions of others… why place hope and faith in such fickle and pernicious things?

With an entire metaphysics built around human action and choice, it’s also no wonder that “The doctrine [Sartre is] presenting to you is precisely the opposite of quietism, since it declares that reality exists only in action… Man is nothing other than his own project. He exists only to the extent that he realizes himself, therefore he is nothing more than the sum of his actions, nothing more than his life.” What he means is something quite akin to Aristotle, that there is no virtue that is not inextricably bound to the virtuous act and no vice that is not inextricably bound to the vicious act. Relationships, character, ideas, and power are not “things” which one possesses but are, instead, performative: they are things that an individual does or exercises. For such things, there is no existence outside of that actuality.

It is this performative nature of being which, I think, gives rise to Sartre’s exuberance for freedom. I dare say Sartre cares more about freedom as an end in itself than I do, and I’m an anarchist. “When I affirm that freedom, under any circumstance, can have no other aim than itself, and once a man realizes, in his state of abandonment, that it is he who imposes values, he can will but one thing: freedom as the foundation of all values… Therefore, in the name of will to freedom, implied by freedom itself, I can pass judgment on those who seek to conceal from themselves the complete arbitrariness of their existence, and their total freedom, under the guise of solemnity, or by making determinist excuses, I shall call cowards. Others, who try to prove their existence is necessary, when man’s appearance on earth is merely contingent, I will call bastards.”

There is far more contained in the book than the handful of quotes I’ve haphazardly thrown at you, most notable of which is Sartre’s commentary on the work of Camus. If this post elicited any reaction, positive or negative, I recommend reading the book. Sartre does a better job of explicating his position. So, if you like what you’ve read here, you’ll definitely enjoy reading the source material; conversely, if I have said anything that has upset you or that you find disagreeable, you could possibly find a better interpretation in the actual text or find more material with which to construct a counter-argument.

TL;DR: I really enjoy reading existentialist texts; the pathos and prose of even the more procedural works is artistically skillful, a perfect compliment to the rich intellectualism of the content. I don’t ascribe to existentialism as a philosophical commitment (Sartre would take some degree of pleasure in calling me a coward and a bastard), but it has certainly influenced my philosophy and life choices. I feel that Existentialism is a Humanism is the best introductory work to the philosophy of existentialism, and everyone ought to read it.

Rant 6: Socialism and Inconsistency

There’s a cute little meme going around that effectively demonstrates the fundamental flaw with socialism. It’s a picture of half of a Bernie Sanders sign with a note taped where the missing half should be. It basically says “You had one sign, I had none, so I took half of yours, yay socialism!”
This is a perfect depiction of socialism as an ideology: securing the wealth of those with access to it and deploying it to those without. Depending on the specific socialist you ask, you’ll get a different answer concerning what method, exactly, should be used to redistribute the wealth, but that’s a superficial difference.

Communists, at least, propose seizing the means of production, so one would still have to work to produce wealth, rather than simply leeching it off of those who have already produced it. Communism at least pretends to present a sustainable economic model.

Of course some benighted cuckhold liberal “fixed” this meme:

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What jumps out to you from that adorable little paragraph? The fact that what he just announced is actually called “charity”and is absolutely not socialism? Good job! You’re not retarded!

This is even worse that what the feminists do, hiding behind the dictionary definition of the term “Feminism is about equality, see? The dictionary says so… Kill all men!” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines Socialism as “A philosophy which promotes the central control of the means of production and distribution and the rejection of capitalism(RE “property rights”).” What this guy did was throw out the definition of socialism entirely and replaced it with a definition wholly divorced from the original. It’s like a feminist saying, “Do you like kittens? Then you’re a feminist.” The individual giving away his surplus signs is likely to occur for only two reasons: to promote Bernie Sanders, or because he’s a nice guy and would rather give away his stuff than sell it. The only way to make this hypothetical more closely resemble socialism would be to have Bernie Sanders or Ted Cruz get elected and send a militarized police force (in the name of the IRS) to go and forcibly take the signs and distribute them as Bernie sees fit.

Many who support Sanders (or any politician, for that matter) would actually agree that such a course of action is acceptable, because of some ingrained hatred for successful people. Usually, the rhetoric centers on “how many signs does this guy really need?” Which is an asinine question. The guy has as many signs as he has bothered to invest in. If he had wanted more, he would have made or purchased more and if he wanted fewer, he would have made or purchased fewer. If he were to have acquired a certain number and then decided he wanted fewer, he could sell, give away, or destroy the requisite number of signs so as to accomplish such a goal. I can’t understand how this is a difficult concept for anyone older than 13.

This question really is an intentional framing error: it’s not “How much do you need?” it’s “How much of it can can I steal?” Unless you can demonstrate an axiomatic and universal principle which states that “Someone should only have as much as they need,” the burden of proof will weigh heavy on your shoulders. Even if you could, the next step of that process would be to demonstrate why, exactly, you need that smartphone, spandex undergarments, indoor plumbing, the ability to vote, the granola and nuts you had for breakfast, or even the air in your lungs… There is no tangible difference between “a guy with a trillion signs” and “some schmuck who doesn’t understand the political ideology he is attempting to ram down the throats of hundreds of millions of people”, which means that the same moral rules apply to both of you.

So, before you start preaching outright lies about your lord and savior, the state, and trying to violently inflict your lies on others, maybe (just maybe) you should get your head out of your ass and leave the thinking to the adults in the room.

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Life and Death: A Meditation

A good number of important intellectuals, famous artists, and people I know personally have died or come pretty close in the last couple years. This phenomena is nothing new to me; even in the heart of Empire, humans are subject to the human condition no less than those in Empire’s killing fields. I’ve been faced with this reality a little more than I have grown accustomed to of late and felt I could share my musings here a little more long-form from the offhand remarks I’ve been getting in trouble over.

Before discussing death outright, it would likely be prudent to address that which immediately precedes it: life. As will be addressed in my 95 Theses, there exist two possible ontological realities concerning life. It can either be teleologically directed or it can be a mere gratuitous happenstance. In the absence of what amounts to some purpose and afterlife beyond this one, life is nothing more than a complex chemical reaction that eventually exhausts itself; one’s phenomenological experiences are nothing more than a freak occurrence of matter briefly knowing itself before once again becoming deaf and dumb.

Alternatively, if the Catholics, Buddhists, animists, or adherents of some other religion turn out to be correct, the purpose of this life is directed towards what occurs afterwards. I don’t know how deeply I ought to follow this line of thought for the sake of this post; I think the absurd caricatures most people have concerning heaven and hell or reincarnation are sufficient.

In the case of life being gratuitous, death is equally so. Not even the individual who may be dying has much cause for emotion. In a few moments, there will be nothing left, and there will be nothing left to observe that absence; the universe is (phenomenologically) extinguished in death. Other than waxing poetic or discussing the epistemic impossibility of comprehending such a reality, there isn’t anything more that needs to be said. I guess I could mention that, in a universe in which life and death are gratuitous, moral principles are meaningless, even a prohibition on murder, as the “victim” has nothing to lose by such an incident. In the words of Albert Camus: “There is a passion of the absurd. The absurd man will not commit suicide; he wants to live, without relinquishing any of his certainty, without a future, without hope, without illusion and without resignation either. The absurd man asserts himself by revolting. He stares at death with passionate attention and this fascination liberates him. He experiences the ‘divine irresponsibility’ of the condemned man. Since God does not exist and man dies, everything is permissible.”

In the case of life having a telos, specifically one that motivates human action, then death may yet achieve some meaning alongside life. Death then, depending on the nature of the afterlife, could be a blessing or a curse, contingent on the relation the dying has with said afterlife. Given that the existence or absence of any sort of afterlife is yet unknown by any reliable measure, it would likely be the most prudent course of action to err on the side of rational caution, whatever that may be.

Either way, one type of comment that has gotten me in trouble is speaking of suicide in what some consider to be unaffected or positive ways. I’m no stranger to suicide, having seriously encountered that spectre in my life by way of both experiencing the temptation myself and having friends and family succumb to it. Observing suicide from the clinically detached position of praxeology can provide some insight as to the nature of such a choice. In the language of praxeology, suicide is a result of one of two possible functions: extreme time preference or cost/benefit analysis.

Speaking from personal experience, it can be quite easy to make ill-informed decisions when one has a very high time preference. Ultimately, that which differentiates human action from animal movement is the deliberative and deferred function of rationality. Where a dog will eat whatever activates their appetite, a man can choose to abstain or to eat something different from that which activates his appetites. Each individual has a different capacity for such deliberation. For example, one could usually pass up one bitcoin today if it ensured receiving two bitcoins tomorrow… but if one were to win the powerball, the would likely take half of the prize up-front, rather than taking the full prize divided into several annuities.

How does such a time preference influence the choice to kill oneself? The easy example is that of adolescents killing themselves over the inhospitable nature of school as an environment or bullying from their peers and adults. School may be a 25,000 hour system of dehumanization, but one is typically expected to live for forty to eighty years after emerging from that abuse engine. Bullies and environments come and go, but death is permanent. The decision, then, to kill oneself when still so young is demonstrative of a time preference by which one would rather permanently obliterate oneself (or face eternal damnation, same idea) than suffer the ennui of being a slave for what amounts to a relatively brief time.

A different, but functionally equivalent, example is one I have faced more than once. I have always had a very contracted time preference, and certain bouts of what could appropriately be called ennui could have been fatal for me in the past. In the saving words of Camus (again): “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest – whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories – comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer.” Technically, that question is an open one for me. The only reason I still live is that of a Sisyphean dare: “There is the possibility, however, slim, that tomorrow could be better than today… wouldn’t it be a sick stoic joke if I gave up just before it’s too late? I dare tomorrow to be worse though…” By and large, the number of better tomorrows has outweighed the worse ones.

After spending so many words on time preference, cost/benefit analysis doesn’t warrant much expenditure. Where suicide as a function of extreme time preference is typically the result of a flawed cost/benefit analysis, one which weighs immediate discomfort far more heavily than expected future gains, suicide as a function of cost/benefit analysis is simply one that is better informed. If someone is over a century old and is diagnosed with an inoperable and advanced form of cancer, odds are there will quickly arrive a day beyond which each day will be worse. In an act of stoic virtue, one may make an analysis of one affairs and choose to die on one’s own timeline, rather than that of one’s cancer. There are a great number of historical and literary examples which parallel this one.

This sort of deliberation has, historically, been rejected and discouraged by Christian thinkers and preachers even though, despite argumentation to the contrary, Thomism will defend my position, utilizing the myth of “double effect”. The most prominent basis for such a rejection has been that suicide is an act of despair and despair is the opposite of faith; to reach a conclusion that each day will be worse than the any preceding day and today is the lowest threshold of desirability is to despair in God’s ability/willingness to perform miracles. This is, of course, derived from a naive interpretation of Thomist theology. God has an equal capacity to miraculously improve one’s life tomorrow as He does to do so the moment before one pulls the trigger.

The other argument presented most often from the Christian camp is some variation of “Your body is not your own, it’s God’s; to kill your body would be to steal from God.” While such rhetoric could be eminently useful as a shorthand ethical device (“Would God rather I pursue physical and intellectual virtue with this body, or let it become a shiftless mass of wasted resources?”), the metaphysics of such a claim is either non-actionable or absurd, depending on the formulation. That is not to say that I am opposed to the idea that suicide may be a sin, but it certainly is not a crime.

Of course, when discussing faith and suicide, I would be remiss in not at least mentioning martyrdom. Allowing or intentionally causing oneself to be killed for the sake of furthering an agenda, especially in the case of “Christ’s Kingdom”, is typically what one means when one refers to a martyr in the literal sense. In other words, martyrdom is typically an instance of “suicide by cop/barbarian/jihadi/etc.” whereby one has allowed themselves to fall victim of an ideologue of an opposing faction. I intend to dedicate a full post to martyrdom some other time, but it suffices to say in this context that, if suicide is impermissible for any consistent reason, martyrdom must also be avoided at any cost (possibly other than apostasy or suicide) and a great many “martyrs’ may just be suicides by any reasonable definition. Having faith in God, the afterlife, or the righteousness of one’s cause is insufficient to differentiate between suicide and martyrdom, as suicide is an attempt to escape this life for whatever comes after (and is therefore more appropriately characterized as an act of faith in the afterlife, be it nothingness, reincarnation, whatever) and the only difference is whether one kills themselves by way of their own hand, or the inevitable reactions of others.

From a anthropological perspective, death is the driving motive behind human progress. Every human action is directed towards maximizing either quantity or quality to one’s life, even if that action may be misinformed. It follows, then, that the avoidance of death is what lies, fundamentally, behind the creation of internet, smart phones, cotton underpants, indoor plumbing, drugs/medicine, and whatever other white-bread modern inventions you enjoy. In addition to being a motivating factor, it is also an inter-generational biological process. Human strains that have existed for tens of thousands of years in a particular environment have been naturally selected to exhibit different characteristics due to that environment. Said factors have played a smaller, but more significant, factor in this selective process. Yes, I’m speaking of human evolution.

Human ingenuity has largely mitigated these natural selective processes in the last couple thousand years. One of the few factors which still contributes to beneficial selective processes is the individual detrimental effects of extreme time preference, which can largely only be mitigated by the actions of the individual in question who has such a time preference. As a result, suicide is, in effect, one of the few natural processes which contribute to beneficial breeding selection. This isn’t to say that suicide is a good thing, but it is one of the few factors in human environments that contributes to genetic hygiene.

One other circumstance in human environments which contributes to beneficial selective processes is the adverse consequences of crime and vice. Criminals place themselves in situations where lethal force may be used against them. If not immediate lethal force, social forces tend to reduce one’s ability to reproduce after the fact. Despite the best efforts of progressivism and the state to mitigate the consequences of crimes (such as theft) and vices (using poorly-designed drugs like krokodil or adderal), they have not totally succeeded. The violent death rate in progressive cities such as Chicago is one such data point to illustrate this.

In the absence of the state, these beneficial consequences will become more pronounced: rather than relying on welfare to purchase food so as to subsidize one’s drug addiction, a drug-user will be forced to choose between starvation or sobriety. Those with the capacity for virtue will eschew dependence on externalities and become a valuable member of a community and those without said capacity will not be passing on their genes. A similar paradigm emerges in the case of crime. In the absence of a politically-motivated and violent monopoly on security, jurisprudence, and welfare (such as prisons), criminals will be faced with more immediate and dire consequences. Without getting into specifics, as volumes have already been written about the plethora of options in LibPar, criminals will be faced with the prospect of a more vigilant and aware set of potential victims coupled with the likelihood of death or exile if caught. It is more likely, by orders of magnitude, that those capable of basic risk-assessment and cost/benefit analysis will refrain from making ill-advised decisions while those that are incapable are not likely to reproduce.

This post, thus far, has been largely descriptive: simply observing the ontological state of affairs without making a value judgment as to whether such things are “good” or “bad”. If you, the reader, have found yourself disagreeing with the facts as I’ve laid them out or if your aesthetic tastes have been put off by my sterile approach and you are still reading this, I first want to thank you and second would like your feedback. For the reminder of this already over-sized post, I want to delve into my personal aesthetics and, perhaps, some prescriptive writing.

Life, for me, exclusively finds its meaning in death. If there were no prospect that my existence as such would ever terminate, there would be no impetus for action outside of immediate carnal itches. Even the two deepest passions in my life (my family and philosophy) would likely lack the immediacy which makes me passionate. Rather than investing so much time and effort into relationships or reading, arguing, and writing, there would certainly be an attitude of , “I’ve got time… I’ll do that right after I eat this ten-pound steak and sleep it off.” Rather than frantically devouring philosophical texts or taking on the lifetime (and, in this hypothetical, therefore eternal) commitment of marriage and siring of children, a more causal and haphazard perusal of earthly delights would be in order. I believe I can at least understand why J.R.R. Tolkien, in the Silmarillion, would have the supreme creator of the world grant Man the the “gift” of being able to die, since Man was incapable of experiencing and appreciating the supreme beauty of the gods, as could the elves.

Given my awareness of mortality (having touched death a few times, unintentionally, and having lost friends, loved ones, and acquaintances), I have spent no small amount of time dwelling on the realities expressed above as well as much more that remains unaddressed in this post. Ultimately, as far as I can tell, death is no more or less significant that one’s birth, puberty, bowel movements, or meals. Circumstances of such an event, coupled with the aesthetic preferences of those involved can imbue the event with a subjective emotional quality (happy, sad, etc.) but an objective observer could identify certain facts about the event which may be lost to others blinded by personal preferences.

Regardless of whether life and death are gratuitous or teleologically significant, the reality remains that one’s emotional and aesthetic response to a death is what it is, and bears no moral value whether it be indifference, joy, or anguish. Ethically speaking, how one chooses to express or act upon one’s reaction is purely a matter of goal acquisition. If one wants to maintain relationships with one’s extended family, it may be ill-advised to shout for joy at grandpa’s funeral, for example.

If life and death are gratuitous, the deaths of your friends are to be mourned while those of your enemies are to be celebrated (if you care at all). If life and death are teleological in nature, it all depends on the telos; to a Muslim, animist, Buddhist, shamanist, or Jew, the circumstance of the death of either friend or foe is the determining factor as to whether it is cause for happiness or dismay. Christianity, being a uniquely optimistic worldview, presents a compelling case (and resultant mystery/paradox) that every life and inevitable death is cause for celebration. The resultant mystery is such that human beings are created with the innate and ineradicable desire to add quality and quantity to their lives, while also celebrating the extreme absence thereof. This apparent paradox is resolved by a more diligent exploration of ontological matters, which I will engage in the 95 Theses.

TL;DR: As this post is as concise as I could make it and it is still 50% larger than expected, I don’t know if an abbreviated version is responsible. The general moral that can be inferred from this post, I would hope, is that one should first focus on the categorical and ontological realities of life and death in an honest and descriptive manner before entertaining emotions, preferences, and prescriptions concerning specific cases. I spent so much time addressing this moral, though, that I never got to address the three or so statements I have made recently, revolving around this topic, which raised the ire of people less philosophically involved which motivated this post.

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More Tuttle Twins: Bastiat

The Tuttle Twins series, by Connor Boyack, is one I cannot recommend highly enough.  I’ve previously acquired a copy of The Tuttle Twins and the Miraculous Pencil and my kids love it.  Written in a style that is educational and fun (as all childrens’ books should be), it is a good read, even for adults.

Because I can’t contain my excitement about the upcoming release of a fourth Tuttle Twins book, I’ve decided that I intend to give special attention to each of the books as they become available on Amazon.  I would do so as they come out, but the eCommerce on the official Tuttle Twins site is a little wonky, and I don’t want to encourage my readers to accidentally purchase a product they didn’t intend to.

This post concerns The Tuttle Twins Learn About The Law.  Just as The Miraculous Pencil is a splendid adaptation of “I Pencil”, Learn About The Law is an adaptation of Bastiat’s “The Law”.  I believe “The Law” to be one of the few texts that ought to be “required reading” for any civic-minded individual.  I’m not a fan of voting, but passing a test on “The Law” would be required to register to vote, if I were put in charge of the electoral process.  Rather than read all 61 pages of Bastiat, though, one could get by on reading the far more digestible Tuttle Twins adaptation.

That’s all I feel compelled to write at the moment about this book, you should pick it up and read it, yourselves.  I intend to read it to my kids at the earliest convenience and I’ll probably have more to add to this post afterwards; my kids are great at picking up on things that I miss and ask all the right questions.

Cartography vs. Geography: Borders

A little over a year ago, I felt compelled to write a blog post about national borders. As that discussion is a perennial subject for every ideology to fight over, I felt I had plenty of time to double-check my understanding of the matter before posting and still seem relevant. Boy, was I surprised.

This was an issue that everyone seemed to agree to disagree on, relegating the discussion to election years only, during which the nation would compare and contrast open borders with slightly-less-open borders. Of course no-one would question the premise of the existence of borders being necessary. Anyway, out of nowhere, a wealthy, aggressive alpha male appeared in this election cycle, running on a platform that amounts to, “We need an almost-closed border, build a wall.” Donald Trump managed to take an issue most anarchists thought they agreed on and turn it into an issue so divisive in anarchist circles that the word “schism” has been thrown around… which is rare in a community built on debate and philosophical adversity.

I have heard and read a great many arguments before this hidden powder keg was lit, and probably twice as many since then. Not surprisingly, my position has remained largely unchanged in all this mess. That’s not to say the ideas I post here are entirely unchanging and correct, but it does reflect my confidence that my position is consistent with the principles outlined on this blog and the principles of anarchism.

To be clear, (because this somehow got confusing in recent history), I am discussing national borders. I’m discussing the cartographical phenomena of lines drawn on a map delineating “state A” and “state B”, and the subsequent expectation that a matching line be drawn in the sand and walls and enforcers be stationed along that line. This is a different phenomena entirely from what could be called “property lines” or some other defined boundary of private property. That being said, what is the nature of national borders?

A national border is largely comparable to a dam. A government subsidizes the creation of an infrastructure to manage the flow of resources from one place to another. In the case of a dam, it’s typically the flow of water (carrying fish, generating electricity, being used for agriculture, etc.) from uphill to downhill regions. Some times, things flow uphill, such as fish, but it’s usually a downhill function. In the case of borders, it is typically the flow of individuals (carrying material goods, generating revenue, performing labor, etc.) being regulated. Different dams regulate differently and with different goals, just like borders.

The consistent elements among all borders are that they are subsidized by the state, they are considered to be state/”public” property, they are the edge of (certain types) of jurisdiction and they can be open (to varying degrees) or closed. While there could be variations not explicitly addressed by this approach, I feel addressing the US or EU border as a reasonable microcosmic example of these commonalities. For example, the US border exists, in any actionable sense, because the ICE and law enforcement say so. In theory, the ICE and El Paso cops can’t arrest me for selling Anarchapulco Gold in Chihuahua, but they totally can if I happen to do so on the US side of that cartographical line.

These enforcers are funded by a mixture of taxation and Federal Reserve loans (using our descendants as collateral), which means this activity is endorsed and encouraged by the state, AKA subsidized. The (almost) reasonable comparison of national borders to private property lines is useful at this point. Regardless of the moniker (“public land”, “open land”, “federal land”, “the commons”), the actionable reality is such that “public land” is the ill-gotten property of the state, and said state enjoys all of the rights that come with property. In the same way I could subsidize my friend’s bad relationship choices by allowing him to sleep on my couch when he gets kicked out, the state can subsidize the bad economic and social policies of neighboring peoples by allowing them to stay on “public land” and take advantage of the welfare beyond that border. Conversely, a state can be selective or prohibitive with regards to such subsidization. It can pick and choose who is allowed in or out or simply close the border.

History has borne out the shortcomings of open, semi-open, and closed border policies alike. The Iron Curtain, Berlin Wall, and DMZ of Korea demonstrate the economic fallout inherent in isolationism at scale as well as how difficult it is to enforce a closed border. The litany of empires that have come and gone, for the most part, fell victim to the failures of a semi-open border policy; productive citizens fleeing the slavery of the state, welfare leeches and foreign enemies getting in, all coupled with the perpetual cost and externalities of enforcing the border. The significantly more rare examples of open borders present no less dire a prognosis; one need look no further than the ongoing implosion of socialist Europe to get an idea of what open borders look like.

Given the state of political and philosophical discourse in the current election cycle and the ongoing invasion of Europe, I would be remiss in not addressing Trump and his wall., I am against Trump no less than I am any of the criminals vying for the throne of Empire this year. That said, as long as anti-discrimination laws, welfare statism, and elections exist, the violence of the state and tax dollars would do less harm constructing an enforcing a border wall and an almost-closed border policy than subsidizing the importation of individuals with goals contrary to that of successful human enterprise, which is the alternative. Trump’s wall will become the biggest tombstone on the largest mass grave in human history, and that’s the least damage that can be done with the border of Empire, at this point. Terrifying.

I managed to make it halfway through a post being charitable to the concepts of statism… I think that’s a new record. Now, lets get some anarchism up in here. Borders are bullshit. As I stated above, history dictates that borders don’t work. Borders and states are as close to synonyms as two words can get without actually being synonyms. One of the few truths uttered in the presidential debates this last year is, “There is no state without borders.”
“But… if you want Trump to build a wall, how can you want to get rid of borders?” This is a fair question. In order to answer it, I have to explore a basic economic question first. Migration, like all of human action, is a response to market signals; so, what signals would current migrants be responding to? Not jobs, America currently suffers from the largest labor surplus in history. Not for security, America has both the highest incarceration rate and largest prison population in human history. Not for quality mates, America has an extraordinary rate of genetic and self-inflicted diseases like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, depression… and that doesn’t include the growing population of beta males and feminazis. The only answer that holds water is the innumerable forms of state subsidization of migration.

If I were to push the “end the state” button today, immigration would dry up instantly. Even if it didn’t, though, the damage that could have been caused by said migration would not occur. Without a state apparatus to steal from producers of wealth and subsidize their inferiors, a state apparatus of wielding violence against one’s betters, a state apparatus preventing intelligent and voluntary interactions, and whatever other state functions immigrants are currently responding to, migrants would be faced with the same challenges as everyone else: get a job or starve, don’t initiative violence or you will get killed, respect private property or you’re gonna have a bad time.

“But what about ISIS? Without a wall…” This is me, being totally unafraid of ISIS. They are too busy doing statism on the opposite side of the world, murdering peaceful people, stealing, raping, you know, the same things that the government does over here. If, somehow, ISIS manages to conquer the Middle East, fend off a Russian invasion, not provoke Israel into stepping up it’s genocidal agenda, get through Europe, and proceed to eliminate every privately-managed American shipping company’s navy (which would totally be a thing once the government is eliminated, can’t let those destroyer ships go to waste), they would be treated the same way every home-grown criminal would be. Unless, by “ISIS”, you mean “muslims”. If that’s what you mean, there’s a much more peaceful and cost-effective solution, one which has been illegal for quite some time: private property rights.

If you’re in my house or place of business, you follow my rules or get kicked out. Most of those rules would likely be intuitive: no violating the NAP and adhere to posted social norms (‘no shirt, no shoes, no service”, “no smoking”, etc.) Some businesses may even cater to outliers: fight clubs, smoker-friendly restaurants, nudist beaches, etc. Depending on where you live in LibPar, one such social norm may be “No Muslims allowed”. Someone is far less likely to jump on a bus, shout “allahu akbar” and explode if the entire town is private property and all private property owners have a “no looking like you are wearing a suicide vest” rule.

“But… RACISM!” So? I’m not sure what you are concerned about. If the individuals being discriminated against are equal or greater than others with regards to ability to provide value to others, those that do not discriminate will out-perform those who do. This will send a market signal deterring discrimination. Conversely, if the individuals being discriminated against are inferior in that regard, such discrimination is warranted and those who discriminate will out-perform those that don’t. To argue against this position is to tacitly admit that one believes a particular demographic is, in fact, inferior; in other words, to argue against this position is to be racist.

One issue which was indirectly addressed in this post but warrants explicit mention is the myth of “right to travel” or “freedom of movement”. No matter how one formulates such a concept, it is a “positive right” which, as readers of my book or attendees of Tom Woods’ Liberty Classroom will know, can’t possibly exist. I have as much “right to travel” as I do a “right to functioning kidneys”. If, for whatever reason, my kidneys fail, no one has an obligation to give me theirs and I cannot be justified in stealing them. The same goes for right of travel; my ability to do whatever I want ends where your property begins. If for whatever reason, I am not welcome on your property, I have no right to travel into your place of business, your home, or your butthole without invitation.

TL;DR: The arbitrary lines drawn on a map by which criminal gangs determine jurisdiction, AKA national borders, are as unnecessary and misanthropic as the gangs themselves. Every vaguely legitimate function of national borders are better accomplished by simply reinstating private property rights and letting nature take its course.

Borders

Statist Sunday (Episode 1)

A reading from the book of Constitution:
“And, lo, the Founding Fathers rendered the skin og a sacrificial lamb, the sheep representing the flock of ‘we the people’. The Fathers inscribed unto that skin the Covenant prescribed by Locke, binding that flock into the Union. Madison then looked upon the covenant and was pleased. Riding forth on his black steed, he proclaimed in all the land of America, ‘This is truly the social contract by which you, the people, shall build muh roads.”
The Word of the State.
-Muh Roads-

The second reading from the book of Economy:
“In this time of the New Order, King Roosevelt approached the oracles and soothsayers in their den outside the City. ‘I am troubled. My slumber is disturbed by the spectre of time. The young of today will one day become independent and self-sufficient as they age and their descendants will inherit their wealth. The economy will cause them to forget my name and fall prey to the spirits of anarchy.’
Hearing the king’s lament, the spirit of Mammon (in whom we trust) overcame the oracle Keynes and thus he spake: ‘Oh, Roosevelt, builder of greatness, surely the young will one day become aged, but that age need not bring independence. Using your divine authority and seal, sign a covenant with the young of today. This covenant shall guarantee that you provide for their livelihood in old age and thereby secure your name in history.’

The king’s heart was lightened at Keynes’ words, but he was still troubled. ‘How shall I secure their livelihood? Not even the Awesome might of the Federal Reserve can create so much.’ Keynes laughed in the face of the king, ‘Steal it from their children and their children’s children; the old shall devour their young, and when the young age, they shall eat the next generation. These nosferatu will forever praise the name Roosevelt and his Social Security!’

With that, the spirit of Mammon departed from Keynes.”
The Word of the State
-Muh Roads-

The gospel according to Democracy:
“In the days of progressivism, the social planners stood atop capitol hill and began to preach to the schoolchildren. “Blessed are the followers, for leading is risky. Blessed are the victims, for Privileges will be granted to them. Blessed are the entitled, for they shall receive gives me dats. Blessed are the ignorant, for ignorance is bliss. Blessed are the sophists and autists, for they will attain consensus. Blessed are the patriotic and egalitarian, for the moral high ground shall be theirs. Amen, I say to you, vote early, vote often, obey the law, and the Kingdom of Mammon shall be yours.
The Word of the State
-We pledge allegiance-

Rant 5: Blame Capitalism

This rant got a little off-course, as is prone to happen in a fit of passion.  I will likely make a full post about this later, to flesh it out a bit better.  In the meantime, though, you can hear me yell about lazy and stupid people who want to force others to subsidize their uselessness:

Demonizing and attempting to eliminate freedom or capitalism (same thing) for the alleged increase of inequality or poverty is the intellectual equivalent of demonizing and attempting to eliminate the sun due to the existence of broccoli or whatever food you dislike.

I obviously don’t have time to explain the way the world works in it’s entirety in one little rant, given that it took Mises 900 pages. Besides, as you’ve demonstrated, you don’t give a single fuck about the way the world works, if you’re whining about an emergent property of rationality as if it’s something that can be done away with.

In short, inequality will always exist, even if your socialist utopia were possible (think Brave New World), there would still be inherent inequalities in man. When humans are allowed to flourish, those that are better suited to success in personal goals or providing value to others will naturally do better than those who are not. This does not “make the poor poorer” but it certainly makes the superior more wealthy. This is the paradigm example of what’s known as “Market Signals”, in the absence of a violent monopoly-granting criminal gang, the only way one garners wealth is by way of providing value to others. If one is wealthy, it is an indicator that you would rather hire them to help you with something, rather than the guy who can’t even provide menial services such as making coffee, scrubbing toilets, or selling his body parts.

If you are complaining about capitalism because the service of flipping burgers or waving a sign on the street corner is not worth enough to properly fund the services of keeping a family alive, going to college, or subsidizing your heroin/football/video games addiction, that’s not the fault of capitalism or greed, but a reflection of the objective reality of the situation: I can flip my own goddamned burgers, and nobody cares about the sign you’re waving. I understand this all too well, I have been building a career the last seven years entirely off of wiping peoples’ asses for them. There’s only so much one is willing to pay an asswipe. The only difference between me and you, though, is that instead of blaming abstract concepts or individuals superior to myself and attempting to violently inflict my inferiority on them, I am working on improving my ability to provide more valuable services and diversifying what I have to offer.

Capitalism is the only way that I will ever not have to wipe aristocratic and ignorant white suburbanites’ asses and bend over backwards for illiterate mexicans in order to survive; if you are trying to eliminate that sole savior from my incredibly short list of options with your benighted and violent religious beliefs, I will be forced to try to stop you by any means necessary.

Capitalism is as inevitable and necessary as the sun, without it we simply wouldn’t exist and there’s nothing we can do to stop it, only render ourselves unable to take advantage of it. I’m perfectly content to let you sit at home and complain about the fact that you can’t or won’t just get a job or try to improve yourself, but if you’re going to try to stop me or anyone else from doing so, you have made yourself the enemy of humanity, you misanthropic waste of resources.