The Great Depression

 

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Sorry for the raw-sounding audio, Audacity detected the wrong microphone and I didn’t catch it until it was too late.

  1. I recommend that you listen to last podcast episode about the Weimar Republic. While I’m not super happy with the finished product, it will serve as a good introduction to the thought processes we will be running through in this episode and I probably won’t be able to resist taking some things from that episode for granted in this one.
  2. There are a number of “mainstream” explanations as to what caused the Great Depression and what prolonged it. Of course, those are two wildly distinct questions; I will be focusing on the causes of the G.D. and, if I have time, I can touch on reasons it lasted so long.
    1. History: The Great Depression, generally conceived, was basically the entire 1930’s. It started with a stock market crash near the end of 1929 and ended with a general rise in employment and quality of life around 1941.
    2. Many historians will claim that the great depression was only from 1929 to 1933, but the economy was in the toilet for the entire 30’s with a brief uptick due to speculation on increased gold supplies in the mid 30’s.
      1. Many Keynesians credit the wartime spending of WWII for the depression era ending. That’s just as incorrect as blaming deflation for the Weimar Republic or Great Depression.  Hopefully we’ll have time to address that at the end.
    3. Like I pointed out last episode, people act with incomplete data, due to delays in market signals as well as simply not being omniscient.
      1. Mises’ Master builder: Builder starts running low on supplies: he can adjust the plan better the earlier he knows.
    4. Business cycle is due to credit expansion sending false market signals until there is a shortage and correction.
      1. One such signal is the availability of capital assets and consumable goods.
        1. The primary mechanism by which loans are issued (specifically, the incentive to offer a loan and the signal that loans are available for investors) is interest rates. Interest rates are, effectively, the price of money over time.
        2. If I want money now and you have money that you don’t need right now, you can give me said money so long as I promise to give that money back within a certain time frame, plus interest.
          1. This exchange is beneficial, as I can take the money that is otherwise stagnant and invest it in a way that it otherwise would not have been, thus increasing the odds of it generating further wealth. You, in turn, are able to put the money to work for yourself by increasing its quantity over time, based on your level of risk aversion and distance of your time horizons.
          2. The interest rate is usually determined by two factors.
            1. The primary factor is the supply of money available for loans as compared to the demand for loans: basic supply and demand curves. The more people that want money, the higher the interest rates until the market clearing price is discovered: those that can’t afford higher interest rates drop out until there is the same quantity of loan requested as there is money to loan out.  These funds are usually supplied by savings accounts, certificates of deposit, and other forms of “long term” storage of money.
            2. Secondarily, the interest rate can be skewed higher or lower based on individual risk factors. If you have a good or bad reputation for paying off debts, your specific interest rate could be lower or higher, respectively.  Collateral for the loan is also a factor; mortgages can have a lower interest rate, because the loan issuer can always just take the house back.  Car loans are a little less secure, as a car can drive into the sunset, never to be seen again, and thus have a higher interest rate.  Then credit cards and student loans merely have abstractions such as credit scores as collateral and therefore ought to have some of the highest interest rates, second only to payday loan outfits.
  • Because the interest rate is tied to various factors such as supply and demand and risk, it serves as a market signal to potential savers/loan issuers/loan-takers with regards to the current economic climate.
  1. In the parable of the master builder, the apparent supply of bricks correlates to the signals sent by interest rates.
    1. In the framework I outlined just now, an investor can estimate, fairly accurately, the trajectory of various economic factors and thus be better able to steer his investments to success (which is represented by wealth creation).
  2. If, however, there is a central authority on the creation and management of money, propped up and secured by a violent imposition of legal tender status, interest rates begin to lose their utility.
    1. If money can be issued in the form of a loan without being backed by some actual creation of wealth, the interest rate will naturally fall.
      1. Last episode, I mentioned how coinage used to be made from materials that had reliably stable supply curves, such as gold or silver. The only way more coins could be made was by actually acquiring the requisite materials (barring counterfeiting).
        1. As a side note: this reality is essentially what led to the discovery of inflation; with the sudden influx of gold and silver into Europe from the Americas, the otherwise reliable supply curve was upset and purchasing power of most currencies dropped. Kings were very confused at how getting more money made things more expensive, much like leftists, today.
      2. This reliable supply curve helps establish interest rates because one can calculate how much money will be created during the lifespan of the loan and the degree of wealth that will be created over that same time span, which will determine the real price of the money (the purchasing power) once the principal and interest are paid.
      3. If there is no real competitor for the monopoly money of the central bank and there is no significant physical limit to the printing of more money, the effective money supply is theoretically infinite: you can always just print more. To incent increased loan quantities issued by the central bank, the bank can simply set the interest rate lower by fiat or decree, rather than necessarily inflating the money supply directly.
        1. Either way, the end result remains the same: the quantity of money available increases significantly relative to the availability of wealth: the brickyard says it has more bricks than it really does. Eventually, there will be no more bricks, regardless of how many were promised.  The bubble bursts.  The decade-long party comes to a crashing halt.  There’s a run on the banks to try to pull as many bricks out of the brickyard before everyone else that was promised bricks gets them all.
      4. Many mainstream economists and public-school-educated plebs insist that the cause of the great depression was the contraction of credit supply at the end of the roaring 20’s.
        1. A second parable: A certain public figure gets addicted to Methamphetamines.  The addiction, of course, begins as a result of the increased focus and energy the drug provides.  As intake of the drug increases, the body needs to begin expending stored resources to keep up with the metabolic strain of the drug, which, counter-intuitively, results in a chemical dependency on the drug to keep running: the hallmark of psychological and chemical addiction.
        2. Eventually, friends, family, and fans of the public figure get worried and stage an intervention: cutting off the supply of the drug. This makes the addicted public figure furious.  They feel great.  They have energy, they are focused, they are invincible.  But any outside observer would note that they are emaciated, covered in sores, irritable, and exclusively focused on Meth, rather than anything productive.
        3. When the friends and fans cut off the meth supply and the addicted celebrity becomes increasingly uncomfortable and angry at his situation, what do you think he’ll blame his situation on? Will it be himself and the choices he made early on (probably because he was unhappy to begin with) which caused the addiction, or the people who cut off his supply of drugs (which made him feel awesome)?
      5. Public figures in the 30s, and pretty much ever since, have responded to being cut off from their credit addiction the same way any other addict is; they blame the absence of the drug, rather than the drug itself, for their shitty situation.
        1. You will even hear friends of ours in the Chicago School parroting these sentiments, despite the prima facie fact that the initial and protracted artificial credit expansion is what led to the inevitable implosion of the market.
      6. Why does this matter, though? Wasn’t the depression, like, a century ago?  Didn’t the federal reserve learn its lesson?  Otherwise, why wouldn’t there be any depressions since then?
        1. Well, if you’re aware that all the mainstream economists and politicians did was change the definition of “depression” and effectively replaced it with the term “recession”, then one would have to account for 1945, 1949, 1953, 1958, 1960, 1969, 1973, 1980, 1990, 2000, 2008…
        2. Admittedly, only one or two of them would be able to compete with the depression of the 30s, but we’re finally coming out of a decade-long depression as a result of credit expansion and collapse in real estate and ancillary markets, so it’s fairly relevant today.
          1. The most recent issue of “The Austrian”, a publication of the Mises Institute, gets deep into the parallels and differences between our current situation and that of the progressive era. I highly recommend getting a subscription to “The Austrian” as it always has relevant material derived from history and praxeology.
        3. “We” clearly haven’t learned our lesson from the Great Depression, as the federal reserve and the federal government (same thing) implemented essentially the same strategy they used back in the 30s, with the same outcome.
      7. The strategies implemented in the 30’s were centered around manipulating market signals further, in order to incent consumers and investors to behave as if the economy were running smoothly, as it had prior to the creation of the federal reserve (pay no attention to the man behind the curtain).
        1. For example, FDR tried to artificially elevate prices by literally destroying supplies of necessary goods like food, causing shortages, which would elevate prices. No now all the unemployed and under-employed could take their meager assets and buy far less food than before.  Great idea.
        2. He also artificially raised the cost of labor by using the violence of the state to enforce minimum wages and increasingly untenable workplace regulations, making it too expensive for beleaguered entrepreneurs to hire the mass of unemployed who would be happy to work for even a nickel an hour, thereby worsening unemployment rather than solving it.
        3. Stealing all the gold by executive order was another brilliant idea. It was basically an expansion of the existing legal tender structure, forcing people to exclusively use federal reserve notes as currency as opposed to more secure and reliable assets.  Thereby further reducing the available wealth of the American people, especially when artificially elevated prices are in effect.  It’s almost as if FDR wanted everyone to starve.  Fortunately, today, no one can confiscate Bitcoin absent the rubber hose method.
        4. And, of course, hardcore propaganda echoed across the country so loudly that wrong-think didn’t need to be punished by legal means; social stigma and even private-sector violence were promptly unleashed on anyone who would dare to question the new socialist order. To this day, that propaganda can be heard echoing through the halls of academia and when random “financial experts” catch a whiff of the sweet perfume of industry on social media, you can be sure that someone will be compared to Hitler for questioning FDR.
        5. Unfortunately for everyone involved in the American 30’s, or any other socialist era, no amount of coercion and destruction of wealth will solve the economic calculation problem presented by violent centralization of market action.
      8. Which brings me to my final point, Herbert Hoover was far from the laissez-faire Ayn Rand Anarcho-Capitalist FDR’s propagandists have made him out to be. A better way of characterizing Hoover would be to say that he’s the Vladimir Lenin to FDR’s Joseph Stalin.  That is to say, they tried the same thing, but FDR definitely got the high score.  The entirety of the New deal was simply taking the knobs on all of Hoover’s attempts to salvage the economy and turning them up to 11.
      9. Also, deflation had even less to do with the great Depression than it did the Weimar Republic. Sometimes people will point to certain market shifts during the credit contraction and go “See? Deflation.” Even if it were deflation, it was minor, isolated, and a symptom rather than a cause of the Depression; calling it deflation is disingenuous, though, as those isolated incidents are merely the result of increased assets being available on the market as people tried to unload luxuries in favor of necessities, flooding the luxury markets with goods and causing prices to fall.
      10. I also highly recommend getting a subscription to Tom Woods’ Liberty classroom (using my link), Reading Rothbard’s “American Great Depression”, and listening to the Mises Weekends podcast feed. I don’t think I’ve said anything original in these 20-or-so minutes, I’ve just amalgamated a bunch of material from these and other sources over the last decade or so.  I may have made some mistakes or left some important details out, so it’s always best to go to the primary sources if you’re interested.

Carpe Veritas

Weimar Germany and Deflation

 

  1. During WWI, all major players not beholden to a commodity standard (such as gold or silver) inflated their money supplies.
    1. What I mean by “inflating the money supply” may be a little bit different than what one would learn in a basic economics class. What I mean is that the total quantity of money put in circulation increased relative to the available wealth within that nation’s economy.
      1. This is usually only possible if the money in question is not physically made of a commodity that is limited in availability (such as fiat currency not tied to gold or silver reserves) or if there is an unexpected windfall of the limited commodity (such as the sudden importation of gold and silver from the Americas into Europe).
    2. Typically, this inflation is felt by consumers in short order, as the supply of money increases relative to its demand (as the available goods remain constant). This is represented by decreased purchasing power a.k.a. a general rise in prices.
      1. In the case of the Weimar republic, this rise in consumer prices was delayed by various forces.
        1. In the mainstream narrative, this was due to people hoarding their money in mattresses and hidey-holes due to the economic uncertainty of war. By not allowing the money to enter circulation, the citizens of the Republic delayed the Cantillon effect.  After the war ended, people had more confidence in the economy and began spending the money they had hoarded, causing the Cantillon effect that should have been felt gradually over the course of the war to be felt all at once.
          1. The Cantillon effect is a result whereby an individual coming into possession of counterfeit or inflated (same thing) currency can more easily raise the market clearing price of a particular good, thereby securing that good more easily than others in the market. This windfall on the part of the seller of said good then contributes to his ability to raise the market clearing price of a good he desires.
            For example: if the Reichsbank just printed me a hundred thousand marks, I could either more easily outbid my competition for purchasing a vehicle I desire or I could buy the next nicest model without having contributed any actual wealth to the market.  This is free money for me and it is also effectively free money for the car dealer.  He, in turn, can purchase a house he wants for a higher price than his competition or buy a nicer house than he could have originally afforded, and this process continues throughout the economy.
          2. This process can be drowned out by noise in the market if it is just one counterfeiter, but when an entire nation takes advantage of that free money, there’s no way the market can absorb that general rise in prices.
        2. After the initial market correction to the elevated prices, uncertainty concerning the value of the Mark over time diminished and the economy was allowed to recover and adjust to the new normal. This new normal featured relatively stable purchasing power for the Mark, despite the Reichsbank continuing to print money.
          1. A situation not unlike the current situation in the United States emerged, though. Through government payments to foreign nations (in Weimar, it was due to the absurd demands set in the treaty of Versailles, in our situation it has a lot more to do with foreign aid and proxy wars) as well as a severe imbalance between importation and exportation, the Cantillon effect was, again, delayed by moving Marks out of the country at a rate comparable to the rate they were being printed.  This made the Mark weak as compared to other currencies in circulation, but one would not notice if their financial concerns were purely domestic.
            1. This loss of purchasing power (like that of the USD is) was masked by the coincidental inflation of foreign currencies as well.
          2. As more countries dropped the Mark as a preferred currency, more and more marks moved back into the Weimar Republic, causing that delayed Cantillon effect to be felt all at once, again.
            1. The mainstream account tends to overlook the reality that the mechanism by which this flood of returning currency occurred was by using the Marks, which were created out of thin air without commensurate increases in tangible wealth within the Republic, to purchase the goods which remained in the Republic. This drastically decreased the available capital assets of the Republic while also drastically increasing the available money supply relative to those assets.
            2. One thing that the mainstream account does acknowledge is that the rising prices over time provided consumers with incentives to spend quickly, which, in economic terms, means that the demand for said money was drastically reduced, further compounding the effects of inflation.
              1. To take it one step further: at this point, according to Mises’ regression theorem, the Mark was totally unsuitable for use as a currency, which should be no surprise given the nature of fiat currency in general, but the Western World has a hard time learning from its history.
            3. Ultimately, once the Mark was inflated to the point that it was more expensive to hold and transport the Marks one owned than the Marks were worth, the economy was dead on arrival. This is where a populist movement centered around a fiscally literate charismatic demagogue will come to power, declare the Mark to be of no consequence, default on international debt, install a more secure monetary policy, and unleash military force on anyone who would try to stop them from doing so.
            4. But I digress… As far as deflation is concerned, it had very little impact on the general trajectory of interbellum Germany.  While the mainstream accuses deflation for the sudden burst of post-war inflation, the cause of post-war inflation was the presses running amok during WWI.  The deflationary forces of scared consumers, at most, simply delayed the effect of wartime inflation.  A more likely cause of the delayed effect than scared consumers, though, is the mechanisms by which the inflated money supply was confined to military budgets and paychecks that wouldn’t be spent until the war wound down and the soldiers went home and the manner in which the inflated marks were exported to foreign producers of arms and consumer goods, much like the temporary stability experienced in the Weimar Republic.
              1. This delayed economic impact is actually more common than a lot of people may think. Because economic signals are the results of human actions and human actions are the result of people responding to market signals, there is always a degree of delay between when an event takes place and when one reacts to the event… rinse and repeat.
              2. Also, if one is able to keep certain market signals secret, as in the housing collapse of 2008, the delay of a couple days or even months can cause people to behave in ways that they would not, if they had all the information they needed to make a sound investment. In the case of the housing bubble, the banks were able to feign loan viability and even solvency for the entire bank long enough to get political processes started for pending bailouts.  In the case of apparently stable prices during WWI and prior to the hyperinflation as the Mark collapsed, the sheer quantity of money being printed and exported was being largely ignored in the media at the time.  For comparison, look at the reported national debt of the United States today as compared to the “unfunded liabilities” of the same.
            5. A lot of these events and theories parallel the next podcast episode that has been commissioned concerning the Great Depression in America.
              1. If you like this episode, please send Bitcoin (BTC) to the address in the show notes: [insert address]
              2. If you’d like an episode to be produced on commission or would like consulting or tutoring services, feel free to contact me on social media or at madphilosopher@gmx.com
            6. Carpe Veritas

Costco and a millkshake recipe

The other day at Costco…

Such a cliche start to a blog post from a stay at home mom with multiple children who semi-home-schools and sends the oldest to a charter school who makes her own Kombucha and just nursed the family’s most recent female addition (yes, we only have girls) to sleep and can ramble on just as long as Mad Philosopher with smaller words…

That was actually the start to Mad Philosopher’s recent post, but it suited me as well.  In the same vein as “visit Costco and buying their giant boxes of baby diapers that never seem to last as long as you want and giant tasty muffins that a Hashimoto’s girl like me can no longer enjoy”, I figured I would throw my run-on-sentence stream-of-consciousness into the giant void that is the internet.

“I have gadgets and gizmos a plenty…I have ideas and recipes galore…want a gluten free dessert- I have 20! But who cares…no big deal…”

Okay, kinda’ hope you care enough to keep reading. And to not tattle on me to the Mad Philosopher that I just quoted the “Little Mermaid.”  I’m burying the lead, here, but hold out just a little longer…

Mad Philosopher counts how many words he writes each and every post. I don’t think I will. radical freedom!  In all seriousness, I am trying to keep my post short and fun and maybe even helpful.  As a thank you for any who made it this far in my first not-gif post, here is a super easy and delicious Bailey’s milkshake recipe to sip on later and a promise of a funny gif post soon.

 

Bailey’s Shake:

2 shots Bailey’s

Roughly 1 1/2cups ice cream (chocolate is recommended)

Optional (but not really): whipped cream.  Also, sprinkles.

Put the Bailey’s in first, add all ingredients into blender and then enjoy! Add more or less ice cream depending on desired thickness.

 

Artificial Intelligence

The other day at Costco, a guy guy behind the counter read my Nietzsche t-shirt and pronounced his name properly.  Pretty much two groups of people can do so: people who really enjoyed that one college philosophy class and continental philosophy professors given that he was working at Costco, I correctly deduced that he was not a college professor.  Our discussion of philosophy, itself, petered out fairly quickly, but we switched gears to discussing Artificial Intelligence and I thought it would be fun to do a data-dump regarding the problems I see with discussing Artificial Intelligence.


Also, an update on the Trolling at the LFL project: https://www.facebook.com/UnApologeticPhilosophy/posts/1705777666122442

Wizardly Wisdom Guest Spot #3

Howdy.  I promise I’m still around and working on content.  I just also happen to be doing a lot of client work on the side and helping my family as my gradfather passes away.  Also, did you guys catch the shenanigans at the Unite the Right rally?  Exciting times, to be sure.

Anyway, here’s my recent guest spot on the Wizardly Wisdom Podcast:

Carpe Veritas

Cryptocurrency for Catholics

Here’s another impromptu conversation post with a new friend of mine from Facebook.  We talk about the fundamentals of cryptocurrencies, currency in general, certain economic issues related to cryptocurrency and then the Catholic Church’s relationship to cryptocurrencies and possible options for it to navigate the current political and economic climate.  All the really meaty material starts at the 13:10 mark.

Regulations

This is another audio-only post.  Given how out-of-control my life has been with work, my side gig as an Anarchist Consultant, and the birth of my fourth beautiful daughter (and fourth total daughter), I’ve been less able to write things down as I want to be.  So, for now, I’m going out of my way to produce more short-form audio recordings on relevant subjects and release those more frequently.

This is the first of one such post.

Carpe Veritas,
Mad Philosopher

The Role of Philosophy in Daily Life

One might read the previous chapter and question whether philosophy is more than esoteric navel-gazing.  Admittedly, I didn’t do a very good job of presenting it in a manner that would appeal to “Plumber Joe”.  Why should one concern oneself with trying to figure out all the little details about how the universe operates and why?  Shouldn’t it be sufficient to figure out how these more concrete tools at my disposal can contribute to my quality of life?  I can make more money, get better employee benefits, and have more self-satisfaction if I simply tend my garden[1] and work on much more real things.  Besides: lifting weights, buying cars, and playing guitar are easier activities than questioning fundamental assumptions about reality and considerably increase my value in the sexual market by comparison.

I, myself, feed my growing family by way of more practical considerations than discussing the specific ontological status of contracts.  I’m a facilities manager by trade and a philosopher by vocation.  Given that practical considerations generally have more market value than philosophical ones, why would one choose to engage philosophy?  There are a number of answers that, cumulatively, make a compelling case for such activity.  For now, I will focus on the more practical aspects and save the more psychological and ephemeral ones for later in this book.

One of the key aspects of the philosophical exercise is epistemology.  What epistemology effectively boils down to is the study of knowledge: what it means to know something and by what mechanism one comes to know something.  At first, it may seem like a dumb line of inquiry.  One knows something if they believe something and it happens to be true; they know these things because experience leads them to believe such things with accuracy.

As anyone who has had experience with mind-altering substances, mental illness, or living with a pathological liar, will attest, sometimes knowing things isn’t as easy as people initially think.  This has been the case throughout history, as well.  If I see an omen or an angel comes down and tells me something will happen at an appointed time, could that belief rightly be called knowledge?  What if an authority figure tells me something?  Hell, even my senses are suspect; how many times has someone looked at an object and misjudged its size or distance, witnessed a mirage, heard or felt something that didn’t correspond to anyone else’s experience, or any number of other illusions?

Descartes[2] wondered if he was the only mind in existence and that there may be a spirit of some sort causing him to have a vision of all the other phenomena he experienced.  This line of reasoning is called solipsism[3].  This solipsistic reasoning has been extended to “Matrix”-like brain-in-a-vat thought experiments and universe-simulation theories.  One doesn’t need to get as involved as Descartes, though, a quick trip on drugs or mental instability will give one sufficient experience of “seeing things that aren’t really there” to begin doubting one’s senses.

Epistemic problems don’t even need to be that far-reaching, either.  For example, inexplicably, there are a growing number of people that believe the Earth is flat, that crystals have magic healing powers, that children should be encouraged to undergo irreversible unhealthy and life-altering plastic surgery, and so many more absurdities.  Just yesterday, I was led to believe that I had to be somewhere at a certain time… and both the time and location were incorrect.

Understanding the nature of knowledge in a deeper and more reflective manner has, however, been quite useful in preventing situations such as the one that occurred yesterday.  For example, exploring common occurrences of human fallibility in theory helps to identify instances in reality and navigate people through them.  When attempting to coordinate multiple contractors, administrators, and customers, heightened awareness of epistemic difficulties and solutions has been invaluable.

Something related to epistemology and equal in utility is the study of ontology.  Ontology is the study of existence, things that exist, and in what manner.  Again, this may seem to be as obviously superfluous as epistemology at first, and one could just as easily be surprised.  The earlier epistemic examples of “experiencing things that aren’t really there apply to ontology as well, of course.  But what if I told you that a great many things we take for granted as existants[4] are of dubious ontological status?

There’s the obvious things like God, space aliens, astrological energies, political authority, true love… and some less obvious things like consciousness, free will, fundamental particles, or that fortune that Nigerian prince still owes you[5].  One can’t be certain of the existence (or non-existence) of these things if one doesn’t have a firm grasp on one’s methods of knowing things but, even then, it can be difficult to prove or disprove the existence such things.

This is where the bottom-up approach of philosophy
I mentioned in the previous chapter becomes pertinent.  If one can secure knowledge of or, at least, confidence in the existence of some things, it becomes easier to bring other things into that sphere of knowledge by way of understanding the relationships between the two.  Since Descartes’s famous cogito[6], philosophers have largely attempted to prove their own existence or the existence of the phenomena experienced by themselves and used that as a starting place by which to prove the existence of the other furniture of the world that we all take for granted.

I’m sure that this doesn’t seem practical just yet.  “I know I’m hungry because I feel hungry and I know that this bacon cheeseburger I’m about to eat is real because I can see, smell, touch, and taste it.”  Fair enough.  But what if there is a God and he hates people who eat cheeseburgers?  Alternatively, what if that meat isn’t real meat but is some science experiment grown in a vat and happens to be riddled with prions[7]?  Knowing either of those circumstances may give one sufficient reason to modify one’s behavior.

The same goes for whether or not the cow and pig that were, ostensibly, butchered to produce one’s meal possess consciousness and are capable of experiencing meaningful mental events.  If one were convinced that were the case, one would likely become a vegetarian, posthaste.  Otherwise, why wouldn’t one eat baby-burgers with dolphin sauce?

That took a dark turn, but the question still stands.  There is a great deal of human suffering that one can witness and, assuming one believes that other humans exist and are capable of comparable mental faculties to oneself.  A good portion of this suffering is, directly or indirectly, a result of epistemic or ontological mistakes made by either those that are suffering or by others who have those unfortunate individuals within their sphere of influence.

This is why ethics is the oldest and most-engaged field of study throughout the history of philosophy.  The pre-Socratics[8] were primarily concerned with “how does one live the good life” and secondarily concerned with “how does the world work?”  Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle had similar priorities.  Medieval thinkers in Europe and the Middle East alike were also primarily concerned with “How does one be holy?” and secondarily concerned with “How does God work?”.  Enlightenment-era and modern thinkers have been primarily concerned with “what is justice?” and secondarily concerned with political institutions such as monarchy and various forms of socialism (such as democracy, republicanism, communism, etc.).  Only recently has postmodernism shifted the focus from “how does one live the good life?” to “how can we best undermine all of the institutions which were built by Europeans of bygone eras?” with living the good life becoming a secondary philosophical pursuit.

Of course, one can’t know how one ought to act without first knowing at least a little bit about the world one is trying to navigate, hence my initial focus on epistemology and ontology.  For example, one cannot determine that one ought to act to minimize the suffering of others if one does not first establish that there are others who can suffer and that suffering is undesirable.  The same dilemma applies when determining that one ought to live by the prescriptions of a book written thousands of years ago or refraining from eating a delicious and juicy steak.

A quick survey of ethical theories will present so many varieties of premises and conclusions that one is liable to despair at the outset of such an investigation.  Do not worry; I hope that, by the end of this book, you will have a firm enough grasp of philosophical methodology and (possibly) the reality of the matter which philosophy engages that you will be well on your way to making sense of ethics.

For now, I think it should suffice to say that ethics is the most practically applicable area of philosophy because its primary focus is influencing how one acts.  Ethics takes into account the various circumstances an actor finds himself in and applies a rubric by which he can or should act.  As the ancient Greeks phrased it, the problem is “how does one live the good life?”  Such an inquiry is obviously directed at happiness and, hey, who doesn’t like being genuinely happy?

Admittedly, this rubric must take into account objective facts about the world, such as what things exist and in what manner as well as subjective matters such as the objective of the individual actor, and that process is where things get hairy.  The methodology one uses to sort through the furniture of the world and the subjective goals of the individual actor is the source of the plethora of divergent ethical theories[9].

Ultimately, this introduction to the basics of philosophy is directed at establishing in your mind the plausibility of philosophy having practical utility in daily life.  I do not know you, the reader, personally but I am confident that it is a rare exception to find an individual completely lacking in ethical awareness.  How often does one encounter phrases like “that’s just wrong,” “people should just,” “such-and-such are as bad as Hitler,” “you really should go vegan/to church/vote/to college” or other variations of statements directed at modifying or justifying one’s behavior?  Whether those claims relate to a consistent and expansive network of ethical calculations and value judgements or not, those are ethical frameworks in action.

Even if one isn’t aware of the genealogy of those ethical compunctions, I can guarantee that they are derived from some philosophical work or another.  It is important to be aware of that genealogy, though; without the ability to critically examine the consistency of ethical claims one can fall victim to con artists and well-meaning do-gooders alike.  How many political campaigns have stemmed from undeserved patriotism or lies generating outrage?  How many people donate money to charities that simply show a sad image and ask for money, only to line the pockets of fraudsters?  Philosophy can help prevent such things.

[1] This is a barely-veiled allusion to “Candide” by Voltaire.  It’s an exceptional work of scathing philosophical satire.  It’s not as much fun if one hasn’t familiarized oneself with Leibnitz’ optimism.

[2] Rene Descartes: French philosopher from the turn of the 17th century; began a series of inquiries in modern philosophy named “Cartesian” which center on mind-body dualism and problems of knowledge.

[3] Solipsism: The belief that one’s self is the only thing that can be known to exist as such.

[4] Existants (n): Things that exist.

[5] If you don’t get the reference, just look up “Nigerian Prince scam” on the internet.

[6] “Cogito ergo sum.” translated as “I think, therefore I am.”

[7] A prion is a unique vector of disease wherein mutated proteins migrate through a host organism and reproduce, much like a virus.

[8] Pre-Socratics (n): The philosophers who lived in the Mediterranean region before the time of Socrates (the end of the 5th century BC).

[9] This dilemma is made strikingly clear by the observation of David Hume in “A Treatise of Human Nature” wherein he indicates that moral obligation is a concept of a different category than facts about the world.  This is commonly called the is-ought divide.  I will address this particular issue in the chapter on human action.

The Nature of Philosophy

As is the case with most cultural pursuits which hearken back into the dark recesses of history, philosophy has no universally-agreed upon definition.  Even in academic circles, the definitions of the enterprise called “philosophy” is likely to be as numerous as the number of philosophy department chairs one asks.  This is a phenomenon[1] that vexes many analytic-minded[2] philosophers, given their obsession with necessary and sufficient conditions[3].

While I write and think very much like an analytic, I do not feel that it should be absolutely crucial to assign a definition to philosophy which outlines necessary and sufficient conditions.  At the same time, however, I am not inclined to do as postmodern[4] and continental[5] thinkers tend and simply hand-wave the issue and say “it’s a family of activities that generally resemble each other”.  The only remaining option, then, is to make an attempt at crafting a heuristic[6] for identifying philosophical activities as opposed to any other activities within the scope of human intellectual experience.

Looking at the historical context of philosophy, one may get a feel for the “family resemblance” of philosophical activities.  The helps one create a genealogy of philosophy.  This genealogy begins with ancient thinkers were predominantly concerned with “living the good life” as well as understanding how the world worked.  One of the tools that was of utmost importance to the ancient thinkers and has maintained its utility (at least, up until the point where the postmodernists have taken over) is logic.  In the middle ages of Europe and comparable periods of time in locales such as India and Japan, there was a burgeoning attempt to ascertain the fundamental qualities of existence; admittedly, this was universally in a religious or theistic context of some form or another, but that does not negate the contributions made.

In the more modern eras, from the enlightenment[7] to today, the philosophical enterprise has been a predominantly directed at understanding the manner in which man interacts with reality, from the nature of sense experience to the nature of knowledge and its acquisition.  Additionally, there has been a lot of emphasis on the manner in which the individual interacts with mankind at large and how that interaction ought to be conducted.

Depending on one’s definitions and motivations for constructing a narrative, philosophy can be seen as the progenitor of, handmaid to, or companion of nearly other activity in human intellectual life.  Modern scientific methods are the product of ancient natural studies and enlightenment-era epistemology[8].  Computer science is predicated on mathematical principles and linguistic theories which have been formed through philosophical discourse.  Theology is, by and large, the application of philosophical tools to puzzles related to spiritual revelations and religious doctrines.  Economics[9] is the result of a-priori[10] reasoning in conjunction with philosophical tools of introspection and observation.  These relationships cannot be ignored, but the exact nature of these relationships is at the heart of many lively debates.

I can (and have) gone on a much more rigorous exploration of the necessary and sufficient conditions for something to be considered philosophy, but that sort of exercise is better suited for a longer, more exhaustive, procedural work.  For now, I think it would be most prudent to do a quick breakdown of the etymology[11] of the word “philosophy”.  The word, itself, hails from ancient Greek and effectively means “love of wisdom”.

Of course, nothing in Greek translates so directly into English.  For example, ancient Greek has at least four words for love (arguably, there are a few more).  This particular root, “-philia”, would be most appropriately used in the context of a dispassionate desire for (non-sexual) intimacy, such as that of close friends.  Additionally, “sophos” is a Greek word the denotes a wide array of practical and virtuous skills and habits regarding wisdom, rather than just the sterile modern English concept of knowing a lot or having advanced experience.

The best I can do to describe the Greek root of the term is to say that it is “an actionable desire to develop intellectual virtue and put it into practice in the world at large”.  This takes many different forms, as demonstrated by Socrates and Diogenes relentlessly badgering their neighbors concerning how wrong their ideas of how the world worked really were, while Aristotle, Pythagoras, Epicurus and Zeno started schools and lectured ad-nauseam.  Later in history, the general attitude of a philosopher had largely homogenized into academic bookishness and the writing of essays and long-form treatises.  The exact nature of each essay and treatise may be radically divergent with regards to content, method, and end, though.

Ultimately, taking into account all these diverse enterprises and the influence of postmodern thought, I believe that any human enterprise directed at creating an internally consistent, logically sound, empirically viable, and universal worldview which possesses ethical actionability, utility, and (ultimately) Truth can be rightly considered to be “philosophy”.[12]

In order to attempt to construct a worldview that correlates to reality, there are a great many prerequisites that must first be met.  For example, there is the assumption that there is a reality to which a worldview can correlate.  Another example would be establishing the fundamentals of logic in such a way so as to be certain of their utility[13].  Yet another assumption would be that one is capable of constructing a worldview at all.

Rather than dragging my readers through the most meticulous and technical aspects of post-enlightenment thought, I’d like to discuss the general methodology of philosophy and, if my readers are so inclined so as to investigate these problems in their fullness, I can recommend some starting places.[14]  These problems of philosophy are quite significant, and I believe that these issues ought to be examined, but they are not issues for beginners or the faint of heart.

Instead, I recommend familiarizing oneself with the fundamentals of philosophical methodology and begin exploring this new way of perceiving reality, first.  Even though it has taken many different forms throughout history and our contemporary academic landscape, the fundamental methodology of philosophy has found no better expression than that of the trivium and quadrivium of the middle-ages in Europe.  Although these fields of study were crafted in a theistic environment and are, therefore, often ignored or denigrated by modern (leftist) scholars, the methodology they present are still quite valid, even if they may have been used to reach illicit conclusions.

The trivium consists of three stages of thought: the logic, the grammar, and the rhetoric.  Initially, these stages of thought were applied exclusively to language (hence their names).  The logic was the basis of linguistic thought; it contained the a priori principles such as the law of identity[15], the principle of non-contradiction[16], and the resultant laws of induction.  The grammar demonstrated the rules of language which reflected the logical principles outlined earlier; subject-object relations and other syntax relationships are important to maintaining fidelity to the logical principles underlying that communication[17].  The rhetoric refined the above skill sets so as to aid a thinker[18] in convincing others of the facts which he had uncovered through the application of logic and grammar.

Since its inception as a linguistic methodology, the trivium quickly expanded into a philosophical methodology.  This is partly due to the close relationship that language and philosophy has always held and partly due to the axiomatic nature of the trivium lending itself to the inquiries of philosophy.  In essence, a thinker must first establish the furniture of the world (the fundamental principles and objects of those principles), then explore the relationships between those objects, and then must find a means by which to express those relationships.  For example, the “Socrates is a man” syllogism I referenced in the footnote on this page contains material that isn’t merely linguistic.  For example, the categories “Socrates”, “man”, and “being” are assumed to correlate to realities in the observable world.  Additionally, the grammar of the statement establishes a relationship to those categories which are assumed to correlate to the observable world.  This trend is maintained through the rest of the syllogism:

Socrates is a man,

All men are mortal,

∴ Socrates is a mortal.

At each level of the syllogism, new categories and relationships are assumed or established.  On a linguistic level, logic serves as the structural framework for the grammar to populate with the symbols for Socrates, man, etc. and the rhetoric is the manner in which one would express this syllogism to others and defend the validity of the syllogism.  On a philosophical level, the logic serves as the source for the objects Socrates, man, etc. the grammar denotes the relationships between those symbols, and the rhetoric serves as the means by which these ideas move from my mind to the page for your mind to reassemble[19].

This quick introduction into the methodology of philosophy will be expounded upon in the next chapter, as we explore the role of philosophy in daily life or, as the ancient Greeks put it, “how does one live the good life?”

[1] Phenomenon (n): The object of a person’s perception or discussion; an event of which the senses or the mind are aware.

[2] Analytic Philosophy (n): A school or tradition of philosophical thought predominantly populated by English-speaking philosophers which emphasizes procedural methodology and strict definitions and application of logic.

[3] Necessary and Sufficient Conditions (n):  The requirements of any given subject to meet a definition; necessary qualities are qualities which, if absent, preclude subjects from being defined as such and sufficient qualities are qualities that, if present, allow a subject to be defined as such.

[4] Postmodern (adj): Relating to a school of thought which maintains certain attitudes such as indefinability, plurality of reality, and subjective narrative ontologically trumping objective reality.

[5] Continental (adj): Relating to a school or tradition of philosophical thought predominantly populated by thinkers from mainland Europe which emphasizes meta-philosophical influences on philosophy such as culture and economics.

[6] Heuristic (n): A method or system of interpreting ideas as they are presented.

[7] Enlightenment Era (n): A period in European philosophical history, commonly accepted to be from as early as the 16th century to the end of the 18th century; the era is marked by a sudden surge in scientific advance, political upheaval, and sheer number of philosophical schools of thought.

[8] Epistemology (n): The study of knowledge, the manner and mechanisms by which one knows.

[9] Austrian Economics.  This will be discussed in Chapter 4: Political Philosophy and its Discontents.

[10] A priori (adj): A logical justification for a claim based on syllogisms, moving from given premises to their necessary conclusions.  This is often set in opposition to a posteriori or “empirical” reasoning.

[11] Etymology (n): The study of the meaning of words and the changes of those meanings throughout history.

[12] There is a good amount of jargon in this proposed definition; as these terms appear later in this book, they will be defined in more detail.

[13] Utility (n): The capacity for a thing to provide or contribute to accomplishing one’s end, usually in the context of alleviating discomfort.

[14] “The problems of Philosophy” by Bertrand Russell, “Cartesian Meditations” by (((Edmund Husserl))), and (for the preeminent masochist) “Critique of Pure Reason” by Immanuel Kant

[15] Law of Identity (logic): A=A (A equals A), A≠¬A (A does not equal not-A)

[16] Principle of Non-Contradiction (logic): The logical principle that something cannot both be and not be in the same mode at the same time. (Abbreviated as PNC)

[17] For example, in the over-used case of the “Socrates is a man” syllogism, if you were to mistake the subject-object relationship, you can end up with things like “Man is a Socrates” which is not only incorrect, but it is nonsensical.

[18] i.e. The philosopher

[19] There are deeper epistemic realities hidden in this discussion of the trivium method, but those will be addressed in the coming chapters of this book.

A Meditation on Mondays

 

There’s a quote by Slavoj Zizek that I used to really like when I was an economically illiterate communist:

“If you hate Mondays, you don’t hate Mondays; you hate capitalism.” (or something to that effect)

The obvious hidden premise is that you hate Monday because you just had a weekend and don’t want to go back to work. That makes sense for a majority of people in the developed world; if I had sufficient wealth so as to live the weekend lifestyle all week, I probably would. Admittedly, I would still be working… but I would be working by building things and writing things and enjoying the leisure of exertions not tied directly to survival.

The part that Zizek (and most people) miss is that Capitalism is the only reason that not every day is a work day. What I mean is, only the set of emergent properties of voluntary exchange on the aggregate, can generate sufficient wealth so as to allow some people to emerge from the had-to-mouth existence of poverty. Only with the division of labor, the production of wealth through the voluntary exchange of goods and services, and the ability of individuals to act on their subjective values and preferences, coupled with the efficiency of markets in the aggregate, is it possible to generate enough wealth so as to afford the opportunity cost associated with taking two-or-more days a week off.

As I’ve addressed previously, the natural state of man is one of abject poverty. In order to emerge from that state, individuals must either get incredibly lucky (such as finding a region so laden with food and shelter and absent natural predators that one no longer has to work to survive) or, more likely, find a mechanism by which individuals are able to contribute maximum utility to their family/tribal unit so as to create surplus wealth. Rather than reiterating that point in greater detail, I’ll just suggest you read that previous post.

Instead, I want to meditate on Mondays just a little bit more. If I were to wake up in some other time in history and some other place, let’s see what my relationship would be with Monday…

>rolls d20<

Ok, so it’s the mid 19th century in Europe. Political tensions being what they are, various governments have shut down the international marketplace. It’s basically the white people version of most African warlord situations.

>rolls another d20<

Welcome to Ireland (I really did randomly select the time and location, I promise).

The only day of the week that is unique is Sunday. Every day of the week, we lay around and wait to die because the soil is useless and nobody will sell us food or let us emigrate to greener pastures. We try to find or make food, but one might as well try to get blood from a stone. The only reason Sunday is special is because we get to feel guilty about not making it to church because we had to eat our horse to live and our local priest already died.

Why am I writing about to potato famine? Partly because the dice led me here. Also, it is a clear example of what happens when different anti-capital policies reduce people to the basic state of man: poverty. A “Monday” for us is any day after we actually managed to buy some food from a smuggler or find an animal in the arid fields to kill and eat.

This serves as a specific example but, by and large, most of human history has consisted of this state of affairs. Those that manage to develop a skill or combine existing technologies/resources in a novel and useful way, have the ability to improve the quality of life of their neighbors in exchange for their clients’ goods or services. When enough people engage in this entrepreneurship, a division of labor emerges and everyone benefits. When too few people manage to do so, though, people get locked into poverty. There are a number of factors that can interfere with peoples’ ability to engage in entrepreneurship, but criminal gangs (such as government) tend to be the largest impediment.

What has changed throughout history? Why did Monday used to be “the day after Sunday and before Tuesday” and it is now “the first day of the average work week, the day after the weekend”? The division of labor above mentioned allows one person to specialize as a doctor, treating people’s illnesses and injuries, in exchange for the services of a guy who specializes in car maintenance and repair or the product of a guy who specializes in farming or factory labor. That same doctor can take the “surplus” (the amount of wealth he generates that is more than sufficient for mere survival) he receives as a result of his profession being high in demand and low in supply and he can invest it in an entrepreneur who wishes to build a more efficient factory which has lower costs and can sell cars at simultaneously lower cost and higher profit.

Even though this one feature of being a doctor (or a lawyer, or an accountant, or a banker…) is insufficient to create a weekend for everyone, it’s a microcosmic example of that market function. For example, that doctor now makes enough money as part of his profession that he can make that money create more money though investment. He’s so far removed from sustenance living that he is now able to say “I don’t need to work on Saturday or Sunday. Even though I’d make more money doing that, I don’t need that money… I’d rather go skiing with my kids.” The guy who built the factory with his money can likely do the same thing as he corners the automotive market and begins selling his machines to factory owners in other markets.

As more and more people engage in this type of investment and wealth creation, the wealth that individual workers can produce is increased as well. If anyone has played Minecraft in survival mode before, they’ll know what I mean. When you have to run around and find food in the woods and make things by punching trees to get wood, your time is largely focused on not dying. The same is true in the real world: if all I’ve got is a fistful of seeds and a stick, you better believe that I’ll be focused on farming 99% of my time, because if I don’t I’ll starve. Once I can drive a tractor around, pipe water in from beneath the earth, purchase fertilizer from neighboring ranchers, and hire laborers to do the same, I no longer have to worry so much about farming as I do what I’m going to do with all the extra food I’ve made but can’t possibly eat.

This solution obviously hasn’t lifted everyone out of sustenance hand-to-mouth living, yet, but it’s done a pretty good job, so far. As more and more people see their quality of life improve and “mere survival” becoming nothing more than a vague nagging in their reptile brain, they have more chances to make the same decision that the doctor did. This is a historical phenomenon that one can see happen over and over, between periods in which government conflicts reduce people back to square one, but it’s also a phenomenon that can be witnessed in individual peoples’ lives.

When I first got married, I was burdened with crippling debt and a useless degree (mistakes I made). I bounced from part-time job to part-time job, providing minimum value to employers for minimum wage. As time has gone on, I’ve built a resume and a skill set that has given me the bargaining power to secure a salaried position with, you guessed it, a weekend. Mondays are definitely the most strenuous day of work for me… but that’s because I’ve front-loaded all my work for the week so I can be more proactive and provide more value to my employer, thereby giving me more bargaining power when requesting increases in my salary.

People, such as my past self, will complain and point out that “if it weren’t for capitalism, you wouldn’t have to work 40+ hours a week, just for a paycheck… who needs money, anyway, man?” To a certain degree, they’re correct: if it weren’t for capitalism, you wouldn’t have a 40+ hour a week job. Instead, you’d have to work every waking moment to scrounge up enough nuts and berries to feed yourself and the couple of your kids that survived infancy. Even if we were socialists, the best we could hope for is to share those meager findings between us all… but that’s basically just a really lame “food insurance pool”.

I used to hate Mondays. If I had a more preferable alternative, I would still not go to my job on Mondays. But to complain about Mondays is just spoiled and ignorant: you just got two days off to do things like walk into the giant food-warehouse where delicacies from around the world sit on shiny and clean shelves to wait for you to take home and savor or go engage in leisure activity such as exercise, reading, going to the movies, arguing with people on facebook… and your biggest complaint is “now I have to go and provide value to others in order to afford all these privileges I just enjoyed.” I get it, I’m as misanthropic and antisocial as the next guy, but if you’re going to exchange money for my time and patience, I’m going to smile and tolerate your banality with the disposition of a Hindu cow, because I want to take a couple days off this week to drink rum and write blog posts no one will read, play video games, celebrate my grandfather’s 80-something birthday, and roughhouse with my kids.

TL;DR: “If you hate Mondays, you hate capitalism” is a clever one-liner, and I understand where that opinion would come from, I used to be there. At the end of the day, though, anyone with a weekend should celebrate Mondays: without them you would have no weekend. Without the wonders of capitalism, mankind would still be primitive cave-dwellers praying to rocks and clouds in the hope that not all of their kids would die this year. Or mankind would be extinct, courtesy of any number of natural disasters which could threaten a small community of technologically illiterate creatures. Instead, capitalism has elevated your quality of living to the point that you are wealthy enough to say “I’ll take these two days off from surviving and do something fun, instead… because I can.” Someday, I hope to have created enough wealth so as to “go to work” fewer and fewer days of the week and, instead, provide value to people in other, more enjoyable, ways.

Not only is this a more accurate way of looking at things, but it has really changed my attitude towards work, family life, and my life in general. I am genuinely more happy for having learned these things I’m meditating on, today.

If you want to learn similar things, and have your life radically improved by a PhD-level understanding of history and economics, you should check out Tom Woods’ Liberty Clasroom. If that’s too pricey, you can do the next-best thing and support this site on Patreon.

Mad Education

One of the many ongoing conversations I am having with my old college buddies is that of education. Of course, given our unique perspectives and attitudes, we aren’t discussing the usual mundane and empirically-oriented discussions as to whether school choice, prayer in classrooms, standardized testing, or mandatory attendance are good ideas. Instead we are discussing the definition of the word “education” (something for which I get picked on relentlessly), and whether or not it is true that “all children ought to be educated”.

As much as I wish I were prepared to write a full text centered on that question, I am not yet prepared and that conversation has not yet concluded. One participant in the conversation, someone you ought to be familiar with, likes to try to bring the high-altitude and categorical discussion down into our spheres of influence. This time he did so by directly asking me (the main antagonist and contrarian, as usual) what relationship I have with educating children, in concrete terms.

I proceeded to monologue about how Wife of Mad Philosopher and I have gone about preparing our daughters. I became very self aware as I went on and on, given that I was (once again) talking about myself at length. At the end of the monologue, though, I was given positive feedback and some questions for the sake of clarification. As that portion of our conversation wrapped up, I felt so good about how it went that I figured I could share it with my readers. I assure you, it pertains to philosophy.

The Wife and I are currently home-schoolers, it would seem. This decision happened somewhat organically, as we cannot afford private school (at least, not any private education worth paying for) and public schools are undeniably indoctrination centers for the creation of left-statist suicide cultists. I was homeschooled for a good portion of my junior high school years and skipped high school altogether, so I am not unaware of homeschool culture. My wife attended Catholic private schools in New Hampshire, and we both went to a Catholic University in Florida. Given that background, awareness of our Faith and a healthy regard for the GTB (Good, True, and Beautiful), and those are things that seem to be lacking in availability in the current market.

If any of you readers are familiar with homeschool culture, you may have a hard time finding a box to put us in. We’re certainly not the curriculum-hunters, moving from Alpha to Seton to Ron Paul to Tom Woods. Some people may want to call us un-schoolers but that isn’t entirely accurate, either. Besides, I try to avoid the term as it’s often used as an invective.

Ultimately, the best way to explain our methodology is to simply describe what we do and the intentions behind the actions in question. The short answer is we’re using a combination of the Trivium, self-awareness (Brandon, (((Rosenberg))), etc.), and more mainstream tools in a lifestyle approach. It will be difficult to simply say “here is what a typical day looks like, extrapolate that to two-thirds of the year,” because every day is its own unique experience.

This variation is due to the relational nature of our approach. Rather than simply establishing a “teacher-student” dynamic and declaring “I am in teacher-mode, now, so you must learn these things I have set out for you, student,” We explore the world around us from the perspectives of a bunch of little, beautiful, white girls ages six and under. On days when Wife has the physical ability, they often set up little desks and do level-appropriate literacy/numeracy exercises as long as attention-span and desire for the ability to do grown-up things persists. Some days, this is five minutes, other days it’s a whole morning. When she is having a bad day (Hashimotos+pregnancy+dietary mistakes= a bad day), there is a lot of web-based material available and educational television; we don’t force them to play ABC Mouse or watch Veritasium videos, but they often enjoy to opportunity when it is offered.

Logic is *always* emphasized in communication as well as NVC and other self-awareness methodologies. I make a conscious effort to speak in syllogistic phrases and reference rules of induction as well as fallacies and cognitive biases in my daily conversations, and I redouble that effort when speaking with my children. When discussing desires and engaging in conflict resolution, NVC comes in handy as well. This emphasis on logic and self-awareness is less a matter of some sort of concrete learning mechanism, but instead learning a skill set that helps oneself determine what one wants to do and how to do it. As a result of this approach, my children are able to engage adults and other children in dialogue directed at meeting their own needs.

On average, three times a week, there are group science/engineering, play, and field-trip get-togethers with other families. Some of these get-togethers are with my family (I am the oldest of eight kids and my youngest sister is seven years old), but many of them are with other homeschool groups.

My kids have their own money and property and are responsible for the investment and consumption of those resources, with some adult suggestion and guidance. They get this money and property by way of gifts for holidays/birthdays and exchanging goods and services with others. They get plenty of gift money, and they have already figured out subjective ordinal value by way of spending that money and selling things to each other and other kids (mostly my siblings).

I do not believe in allowances (paying your shildren for existing, in the hope they learn how to manage money), and establishing a scheme of “you do these chores and I pay you” seems contrived and puts a strain on our relationship. Of course, in the same way that I must care for my apartment and follow certain rules as pertains to my lease, my children must do the same with regards to their things and my apartment. If messes get out of control and are not cleaned in a timely manner, the messes are physically removed from the apartment.

Daily, Wife and I pray at our icon corner, read the Scripture passages from the Divine Liturgy, recite rote prayers (grace before meals, bedtime prayers, etc). We encourage participation, but we make it a point to not coerce it. We are at our Byzantine rite parish or a Roman Rite parish at least two times a week, but often three or four times. Our kids get plenty of exposure to our Faith, and they ask a lot of questions. Fortunately, Wife and I are sufficiently catechized and skeptical so as to be able to provide honest and concrete answers to many of their questions, instead of hand-waving and appealing to authority. You won’t see us saying “God just made it that way,” or “it’s a mystery, just believe it or you’re going to hell.”

Bedtime stories are always exercises in literacy and often pertain to classic literature, economics, survival skills, natural sciences, etc. My kids love the Tuttle Twins series, Survivor Max, My Little Pony Comics, 1001 Nights (Harvard Classics 1909-1911 edition) and the usual “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” type stuff. They pick out words, letters, sentences, etc. that they recognize and always, always, always, with the questions. My favorite ones are the questions we get from Tuttle Twins and Magic school bus, but even normal kids’ books generate fun and informative discussions.
And by now you should know me: every waking moment is a series of questions, arguments, answers… my kids are not spared that fate. Every assertion they make, I request evidence. Every demand they make, I ask for an NVC phrasing and a justification for their request. Every time they express that they think I’m wrong or unjust (“fair” is a banned word in our house), we negotiate. Of course, I have the brunt of the bargaining power, being the effective landlord, but that doesn’t mean they can’t improve my quality of life in exchange for whatever it is they want.

We do mild amounts of parkour, self-defense/martial arts, camping, and structured physical activity alongside a ton of simply running around in nature and roughhousing. Park trips, snowball fights, swimming in a nearby pool… it’s a blast. I share my vast knowledge of plants, creepy-crawlies, and other animals whenever I can (and they are interested); the Boy Scouts did at least that much for me.
And there’s the never-ending series of “Why”s that come from the children and they always get answer, whether it’s something I know off the top of my head or we need to go to my bookshelf for the answer.

When my bookshelf is insufficient, we just duck it.
By now, you can probably see why the “unschooling” label would be applied; our approach is more a lifestyle education process as opposed to a “sit in your desk and memorize this shit” curriculum. There is some of that, but it’s an added feature as opposed to the central approach.

Oh, and Wife and I don’t filter our conversations in front of the children, so they are exposed to conflict resolution, finances, political intrigue, rhetoric, etc. That’s where a lot of the “why”s come from.

Oh, and video games. We play video games.

Wife has a more disparaging view of our approach, but that’s because she doesn’t like to give herself credit when it is due. She even admits that it’s due to a lack of self-confidence, and I understand and empathize. At the same time, we’re getting results and it’s more fun this way. She is nervous about attempting something less Prussian. I understand why, she is a product of said system and she turned out intelligent, informed, beautiful, and morally straight… but she is the minority output of that particular system.

(A quick aside about the Prussian comment, if you are not prepared for several hours of youtube videos about the history of American education… The modern American education model finds it’s point of origin in the Prussian war machine, circa late 18th century. It was explicitly designed to create factory workers and soldiers. Essentially, a handful of education consultants visited Prussia/Germany during summer break, took some tours given by diplomats, got sold on the idea and came back to the US and created the public education system. Which, in order to comply with government monopoly, the private institutions copied.)

Relating this subjective instance to the general principles we were discussing in my group of friends:
It would be arrogant and naive for me to assume to know the specific teloi which may or may not exist for each of my daughters, but I am exposing them to reality in a manner that is digestible and intelligible with the intent of providing them with the tools necessary to determine subjective needs/responsibilities for themselves. I believe this is the “self awareness” aspect of our discussion.
Any one of them may be the chief engineer on Musk’s Tesla-branded inter-generational spaceship, or they may do something more appropriate for women such as producing offspring or joining a monastery. The necessity of numeracy, literacy, and even logic are dependent upon those outcomes, but the self-awareness provided by NVC, property negotiation, and Nathaniel Brandon’s brand of “self esteem” will certainly aid in making that determination. This is the case simply because my children have the capacity for intellection and delay of gratification. If they were… of lesser genetic stock… or somehow disabled, even this self-awareness could be optional.

This is why I am resistant to the claim that “All children ought to be educated.”

TL;DR: I don’t know how to make this more concise. It’s about how I’m contributing to the development of my children, a little bit about the reasoning behind this approach, and the results of said approach. Carpe Veritas isn’t just a tagline, it’s an imperative I live by and set the example for my children to do the same.

Wizardly Wisdom Guest Spot

This week, I had the pleasure of being invited on the Wizardly Wisdom podcast.

We discussed a decently broad array of subjects, mostly centered around philosophy and libertarianism.  I’m about 70% happy with my performance this time around, so I guess I should apologize for not bringing my “A” game.  Still, I think this is an episode worth listening to, and the show over at Kenny the Wizard’s feed is worth listening to, as well.

If you liked this discussion, you’d love the 2016 anthology book, especially the book-exclusive chapter on “late stage anarchism”.

Language Barrier

Pod-and-blog-fade seems to be running rampant in the post-election libertarian and philosophy circles. I can’t help but wonder if it’s a combination of political hangover and something like a sigh of relief as certain existential threats have been postponed. Everywhere else, lefty entertainment and philosophy podcasts and blogs have begun their four-to-eight year pity-party, wherein they cry about the president to the exclusion of any other form of content. Technically, that’s why I voted for Trump, was to make these people cry… but I’ve got a bit of buyers’ remorse, now.

Anyway, I’m back on the content-producing bandwagon. Today, I’m talking about words.

 

I expect most of my readers will be well aware of the rules of grammar and have a decently expansive vocabulary. I’m not going to make a “top ten” list of fun punctuation marks… I mean, who hasn’t heard of an interrobang I’m not going to share my fun story about arguing about ancient Greek grammar with Jehova’s Witnesses (subject-object relationships are more important when you haven’t discovered punctuation yet). Instead, I’m discussing the philosophy of language in broad strokes.

As far as I can tell, most people haven’t critically examined the relationship between language and the world around them (unless they’ve smoked a lot of weed or have suffered severe concussions). As such, most people have intuitively just assumed one of two paradigms concerning the operation of language. If this describes you, Understand I’m not talking-down to you, as this is something esoteric enough in the realm of philosophy so as to be compared to particle physics or studying neolithic attitudes towards one’s in-laws. It is, however, an important issue to address when engaging in philosophical discussions.

Now that the disclaimers are out of the way, what are these two paradigms of language people assume? The first is that of what could be called “linguistic realism”: it’s a belief that words and sentences directly correlate to reality (in some cases, one could even say that words and reality are commensurate). In the case of thinkers like Plato and Aristotle, the word “justice” is an actual expression of some form or concept. When a poor soul makes the mistake of using the word “justice” near Socrates, Socrates assumes that the man must know the platonic form of justice so thoroughly so as to be able to utter the word, itself. Aristotle is a little more grounded, but he still assumes a sort of direct correlation between the word “justice” and manifestations in meatspace of someone “giving that which is owed”. In the modern age, that attitude is usually expressed by people who really enjoy Rhonda Byrne, people who think that bad words are bad words due to some innate quality of the word itself, and people who deride the idea of words changing meaning over time as well as the creation of new words. I used to be a linguistic realist.

The second paradigm of language could be called “postmodern nominalism” or “naive nominalism”. This position holds that words have very little correlation to reality; as a matter of fact, the best way to describe the position would be “the belief that words exist as nothing more than a game between individuals wherein rules are made up concerning the meaning and use of words, with little to no relation to the world outside of said game.” In the case of thinkers like Peter Abelard and Ludwig Wittgenstein, the meaning of a word depends on something along the lines of social consensus and common usage. When I say “tree”, it only means “that thing growing out of the ground, made out of wood, and bearing leaves” if I am speaking to someone who comprehends English and understands the botanical context of the statement. In a different context, the term “tree” could refer to a shape, such as that of a propane tree, a family tree, or a decision tree. To a non-English-speaker, it may as well be any other set of phonemes: it’s pure gibberish. In the modern age, that attitude is usually expressed by people who really enjoy saying “a rose by any other name…”, people who think that bad words are bad because of some historical or class-related context, and people who live-tweet their netflix-and-chill experience with their cis-gendered binary life-partner.

One of the clearest ways to delineate between these two positions is to inquire as to the nature of dictionaries. For example, if I hear or read a word I do not recognize, I obviously go to the dictionary… well… to google’s dictionary, at least. When I read the definition of the word, I am reading one of two things: I’m either reading the common context for the use of the particular term at the time of publication, or I am reading the “actual meaning” of the word. For example, if I were given the word “obacerate”, I would obviously have to google it or look it up in a century-old edition of the OED. When I get the definition “to interrupt one’s speech”, is that what the word means in some innate sense, or is that simply a description of how the word has been used in the past? If I were to begin using the word in colloquial conversation, would it mean “to interrupt one’s speech”, or could it take on a new meaning based on the context in which I use it or the context in which others understand it? If I only ever used the word “obacerate” when referencing covering someone’s mouth or punching them in the jaw, could the word take on that connotation?

If one says “the word means what the word means, regardless of context” one is likely a linguistic realist. If one says “the word hasn’t been used for almost a hundred years, it can mean whatever society begins to use it as” one is likely a naive nominalist. A more apparent, but less cut-and-dried example would be the use of words like “tweet”, wherein it could either be onomatopoeia for bird sounds or an activity which takes place on the website, twitter. If the word were to fall out of common parlance concerning birds, would the meaning of the word have changed once Webster cuts out the atavistic use of the word?

As is typically the case, I get the feeling that most people who bother to read this far are asking themselves “Why do I care about this hair-splitting over words?” If you are, you are right to do so. In day-to-day conversation, words just mean what they mean. If there is a misunderstanding, we need merely exchange one word for a synonym or offer a definition to contextualize the use of a particular word. In philosophy (and, therefore, any sufficiently advanced field of thought), though, these sorts of distinctions become important.

For example, if I assume that words have innate meanings and are either direct representations of something or are a sort of manifestation of the thing, itself, then when I start talking about something like colors, thoughts, phenomena, property norms… you know, abstractions, it can get hairy if I’m speaking to someone from a different set of preconceptions about language. I’m a sort of compatibilist nominalist. I greatly appreciate Peter Abelard’s contributions to the philosophy of language and I’m a recovering linguistic realist. As I will eventually get to in the 95 Theses, and I have already covered in the Patreon subscribers-only content, the human experience appears to be one which takes place entirely within one’s mind.

Whoah. Hit the brakes. That likely seems either patently obvious or totally insane, depending on who’s reading it. It’s either obvious that one has a consciousness which navigates a never-ending stream of sense-data and never grasps a “thing-in-itself” beyond those sense-inputs, or it’s insane to start talking like a Cartesian or Kantian solipsist: of course one sees, touches, tastes, smells, and hears the world around them and discusses these things with others…

…Which is a similar divide as the one between the linguistic realists and the postmodern nominalists. As far as I’m concerned, though, my mind is locked away from the world and only sees it as mediated through sense organs, nerve connections, chemical emulsions, brain wrinkles, and more. The only way I can make sense of all those inputs is to pick out regularities and assign concepts to those regularities. Through this systematic approach to those sense inputs, one can create a noetic and epistemic framework by which one can interact (albeit though similar mediation as the senses) with the world outside of one’s mind.

After all that fancy noesis and epistemology is underway, it becomes useful to apply language to this framework. If I consistently see a woody creature growing from the earth and bearing leaves and fruit, and I wish to express that set of concepts to someone else (who is obviously a similar set of sense perceptions, but I assume to be someone like myself), it helps to have a name, a sound, a mark, etc. to signify that set of concepts. And the basis for the word “tree” is created. The intuitive concepts such as causality, correlation, etc. also exist in that bundle of sense inputs and later receive names. If trees, causality, or even a world beyond the phenomena don’t actually exist, the sense inputs I have mistaken for these things still do. The reason I bring up abstractions of relationships, such as causality, is because they seem to relate to certain aspects of grammar. For example, subject-object relationships and prepositions seem to presuppose these causal and abstracted relationships.

Now, of course, there’s hundreds of years of philosophy of language at work and I couldn’t hope to go through even a thorough examination of my particular flavor of philosophy of language. The reason I tried to give this 2,000-word summary of the idea is twofold. First, I think that this is an issue that underlies a lot of misunderstandings and disagreements on the more superficial levels of human interaction. From the comical dilemmas over who’s allowed to say “faggot” or “nigger” to the more fundamental issues of whether or not “rights” or “norms” exist and in what manner, these conflicting theories of language are at play. The 95 Theses will go into the idea more in-depth and if the Patreon subscribers demand it, I’ll explore the idea further.

Second, I want to announce the upcoming glossary page on the website. I am often accused of mutilating language or using words in a way that only I can understand them. Less often, I’m accused of using too many technical words for people to keep up. I hope to remedy some of these issues by providing a cheat sheet of sorts to help people keep up with me and to understand what I am saying when I use words in a more precise way than they are commonly presented in dictionary definitions and colloquial use. Of course, I need feedback on which words should go in said glossary so, please, do comment on this post and send me emails about my abuses of language.

TL;DR: Philosophy of language is a very involved field of study, but nearly everyone is a philosopher of language, provided they speak a language. Even if one hasn’t critically analyzed their understanding of how language relates to the world, they are walking around with a bundle of assumptions as to what they mean when they speak certain words, and whether or not those words have some innate quality to them or whether they are just some sort of social game being played with other speakers of that same dialect. Most of those assumptions can be categorized as being that of “linguistic realism” (words are directly related to things and act as an avatar of the things they relate) or that of “postmodern nominalism” (words don’t mean anything in and of themselves and only vaguely gesture at socially agreed upon concepts). There are other, more nuanced positions that people can hold, but usually only as a result of actively engaging in the philosophy of language, an exercise I strongly recommend for those that are able.

New Year Resolutions

Belated new year’s resolutions are not uncommon. New year’s resolutions being made in mid-February are a little bit more uncommon, especially ones as uncertain as the ones I plan on presenting today.

 

I wanted to write this post at the start of January. Of course, I wanted the latest anthology book to be published at the start of January, as well. While I am involved in a great many projects, I seem to have let this domain run derelict. This is a difficult admission to make, as I have been so zealous to work on the Mad Philosopher project and I have made such progress so as to warrant actually getting Patreon subscribers and merchandise sales. Even though I technically do not owe anything to those of you that have supported the program so far by such methods, I still feel like I ought to try and do right by you.

When I started writing this post last month, I had three goals in mind. By the end of this year, I want this project to fully fund itself. As my family grows, so do my expenses; while I can justify monetary investment or investments of time and attention, I doubt I will have the ability to do both simultaneously. In order to accomplish this goal, I would need enough Patreon subscribers, book and merch sales, and donations to be able to pay for the web hosting, the soundcloud account, and the technology required for production. For the most part, I have gotten all the up-front costs out of the way and now only need to pay to maintain the subscriptions and equipment.

I also want to get more hands on deck for the Mad Philosopher project. We have already unveiled the Mad Theologian podcast, as an attempt to broaden the scope of the Mad Philosopher project and to cover more ground in our philosophical pursuit. While I’m excited at the prospect of bringing more content producers on-board and I’m excited by prospects for broadening our reach through other peoples’ channels, what I am most especially hoping to find is someone that can do the technical work for the site. While I am excited to do content production, most of my efforts have gone to audio editing, site management, account management, and site promotion; if I could either enlist one as passionate as myself or hire someone technically savvy enough and cheap enough to do so, I can devote more time and effort to content production and the broader vision of the Mad Philosopher project. This, of course, ties back to the first goal, given that hiring someone will have to be paid for.

The third goal is a little more vague. I want to get more involvement from readers, listeners, and contributors to the project. Ultimately, that goal looks like engagement by way of comments and market incentives. I want to know what the readers like, dislike, agree with, disagree with… and to have a conversation surrounding those points of engagements. I really don’t mind where that may lead us: I am equally equipped and excited to discuss the interrelationships between different schools of philosophy, the history and genealogy of philosophies, praxeology, anarcho-capitalism, or even just a unique perspective on pop culture mainstays such as music, tabletop RPGs, film, books, video games…

I think that each of these three goals supports the others, so I don’t know if any one can be pursued without also pursuing the others. Of course, this set of goals puts a larger burden on myself and the few of you currently engaged with the Mad Philosopher project than it will on those we recruit towards that end. I’m sure that, in the future, there will be certain rewards available only to those of you that contribute at this early hour of the project.

Which brings me to the next thing I want to talk about. Why has the blog run derelict for over a month? Part of it can be chalked up to my “new” job and my slowness in adapting to new time constraints. Where, before, I had time at work to write outlines for posts, read books, and discuss these ideas with others, my new job is a 40-60-hour-a-week marathon of phonecalls, emails, meetings, and clogged toilets. It’s been a great job, don’t get me wrong, but it leaves me with less time and energy available for vanity projects than my previous job had. I’ve also begun producing subscriber-only content for Patreon subscribers.

Lame excuses aside, I have been investing quite a lot of time into a few collaborative works. I am writing a book with one of our Patreon subscribers which goes through all sorts of gritty details concerning the philosophical justifications for censorship and the failures thereof. It is a work that covers medieval religious arguments, classical teleological arguments, postmodern critical theory arguments, and my own aesthetic values to boot. We’re having a lot of fun while we slowly and methodically slog though such arguments.

I’m also working on a collaborative death metal album with a friend of mine. It’s a concept album that explores the issues addressed in the 2016 anthology book-exclusive chapter “late stage anarchism” with a healthy dose of revolutionary and helicopter references, just because. We are hoping to put together a full demo album in the coming months and possibly even put together a kickstarter to get a studio band and some recording time. What we’ve got so far is like a purely-voluntary kick in the teeth. It’s as metal as you can get, and it’s been a lot of fun to work with DRFrozenfire.

I’ve also been contributing, publicly and behind the scenes, to other anarchist and philosophy productions out in the internet as well as IRL.

One final thing that I’ve been doing is hosting and participating in a lot of local discussions and events. Honestly, this blog originated as a substitute for in-person engagement which I was severely lacking. As I have had more opportunities to engage people IRL, the blog and facebook have become less of a focus. This hiatus I’ve been on, though, is one that was intended to be a chance for me to get my life in order and get a little more reading under my belt before going back out to blog content production.

With luck, I will be able to continue working on these side-projects, produce subscriber-only content, and make blog content. I am doing my best to avoid becoming a current events production, as tempting as it may be. I think that the likes of Cantwell, Molyneux, and Woods have it pretty sufficiently covered. Instead, I’m thinking I may begin to deconstruct different philosophers and discuss their ideas a little more in-between releasing some of my more original content, such as the 95 Theses. Ultimately, though, those that contribute towards the aforementioned three goals may have a direct impact on the nature of the content I choose to produce.

So, starting next week, expect some real content up on the site again. Carpe Veritas.

Coming Soon

Coming soon, to the Mad Philosopher project:

The Mad Theologian podcast!

This awesome picture of Rasputin is just here as a placeholder until our Mad Theologian-in-Residence takes his rightful place on the site.

See you soon and Carpe Veritas, readers.

P.S. In the mean time, head on over to Patreon to support this project and get some cool bonuses.

2016 Book Announcement!

Good news, everybody!

We’ve got another anthology book coming out in the next few days on Amazon, a Death Metal concept album in the works, a new offshoot brand from the Mad Philosopher project, and I’m starting to get my life in order so I can start working on the blog again!

Also, as always, you should head over to Patreon and get all the goodies that come with becoming a patron.

Stream-of-consciousness

Today is an audio-only episode.  It’s mostly just a stream-of-consciousness concerning different promotions I have going on and a little bit about the nature of “spreading the message”.

 

Something I forgot to mention in the recording is I am on a new Syndication site called “Everything Liberty“.  It’s worth checking it out.

A Frank Discussion of Rights

Previously, I have written on my blog and on social media concerning rights and all the things surrounding rights in common discourse. As far as I can tell, I have not written the word “right” in quite a while… and I’ve only mentioned it a few times out-loud in private conversations as I explored the ideas I am planning to write on, today.

Today, I want to begin a frank discussion of rights. Given my self-imposed word limit and general mental constraints, I want to ask and contextualize three questions and make one follow-up (potentially) controversial statement. One may be able to trace the evolution of my ideas alluded to in previous posts to where I am now by reading though my published posts and the book-exclusive material, and one certainly could do so if they know me on social media or in-person; regardless, this is where I am at in my exploration of the concept of rights. So now, some questions:

  1. What function does the concept of rights serve?
  2. What is the ontology or metaphysics concerning rights?
  3. Are there more philosophically resilient alternatives to the concept of rights?

I will save my statement for later.

Rights seem to be a shorthand for ethical and moral reasoning. In classical texts I’m familiar with, “rights” are less a concern than they tend to be in modern and postmodern texts. As a matter of fact, when the Greeks and Romans addressed concepts that look like “rights”, they tended to focus more on what the term “privileges” covers in the modern age: a liberty granted to an individual or group by the guy(s) in charge. In a lot of ways, moral and ethical argumentation either had everything to do with virtue and ignored rights entirely, or centered entirely on one’s responsibilities as derived from one’s privileges. In the middle-ages, the concept had evolved slightly so as to include what amounts to “privileges granted by God”; a prime example would be the so-called “divine right of kings” or the liberties taken by the Church.

In the 1700’s, there was a major shift in popular philosophy. With the sudden explosion of productive technologies (such as the printing press and general industry), the subsequent decentralization of cultural production and consumption, and the sub-subsequent weakening of governmental power, certain theories that were only whispered about in the middle ages became widely popular. One such set of theories would be those of classical liberalism; another would be social contract theory; and one more example would be the rise of secular humanism.

One theme that was central to all three of those sets of theories was this niggling question: “If our rights aren’t derived from the king’s (or God’s) permission, how can morality exist?” The answer that seems to have won out in the marketplace of ideas is the straightforward, “People have rights because they are people, just because. Rights are something intrinsic instead of some contingent set of permissions.” Given how liberalism, democracy, and humanism have played out over the last few centuries, I doubt anyone with a basic understanding of modern history could honestly deny that the answer provided above is fraught with pitfalls. Even the SJWs demanding that free college, getting paid just for existing, and having permission to murder one’s offspring are intrinsic rights, just because, will tell you that people are mis-applying the concept.

Ultimately, every application of rights I am familiar with revolves around the essential question(s): “What can I get away with and what am I entitled to?” This is the reason I say it seems to be the case that rights are used as shorthand for ethical and moral reasoning; the focus of the rights discussion seems to be largely the same focus of ethical argumentation in general. If I have a negative right (the moral claim to be exempt from some obligation or another), such as the right to be left alone, that would mean that I “can’t get away with” harassing others (because they have the same right). If I have a positive right (the moral claim to be served by others), such as medical care, that would mean that anyone who can provide me with medical care is obligated to do so.

Depending on the theory, rights derive their ontology from different underpinnings. Some theories posit that rights are God-given, others posit that rights are brute facts, yet other theories posit that rights are derived from the general acceptance of society, and on and on. I think this diversity of suggestions is a result of the above discussed function of rights. Ethics and morality are, by their nature, abstract. Ethics and morality don’t make things happen in the world, at least not directly; they are descriptions of how one ought to act, but they don’t make someone act in a particular way. Rights, as a shorthand for parameters of acceptable human action are at least equally abstract. Where one can observe an apple falling in the orchard and posit a theory as to the mechanisms by which such an event occurs and the regularity with which such an occurrence is likely, one does not have the opportunity to observe a right and speculate as to the mechanisms by which the right accomplished its end.

Instead, more often than not, a philosopher or political activist will ask themselves, “What do I want to achieve? By what mechanism can I empower people to give me what I want and disenfranchise those who would get in the way of my goals?” This may sound like a very cynical take on Locke, Montesquieu, Smith… but one must remember that “What I want to achieve” may in fact be “peace on Earth and goodwill towards (wo)men” or some other fruitcake ideal. Upon answering these questions, the strong zeitgeist of rights becomes a valuable tool in accomplishing those ends. One need only come up with a source of rights that is compatible with one’s pre-existing ontological commitments and promotes one’s agenda.

Of course, this cynical reading of the history of philosophy presents a series of arguments concerning rights that have more to do with sophistry and political theory than it does with a genuine pursuit of Truth. If one were to make a genuine attempt to ground rights in a reliable ontological or metaphysical framework, I imagine it would look a lot like the cases made by a number of Rothbardian philosophers. Unfortunately, the level of abstraction required to make a case for the existence and nature of rights rivals the cases for the existence and nature of God. I only have enough bandwidth for one God-level case at a time, and people should know by now which one I’ve taken on. Instead, I just want to point out that a theory of rights which anchors itself in some moral or ontological case needs something metaphysical which lacks direct interaction with the physical world, some sort of platonic realism, and a theory of rights which anchors itself in utilitarian or sociological cases results in a utilitarian ethical framework which is sufficient to replace a similar doctrine of rights altogether.

So, what if a grounded theory of rights is better just left as an ethical framework without the concept of rights? Well, for one, doing so effectively neuters the ongoing social justice commentary as well as the general statist narratives wherein people claim positive rights which must be produced by state slavery. Additionally, It expedites certain discussions within and without my particular school of thought when one focuses on the principles and facts available which concern themselves with issues most people refer to as “rights issues”. What I mean to say is that the rhetoric and traditions of rights may only muddy the waters if there is an equally or more philosophically resilient alternative.

Despite the likelihood of being accused of all manner of character flaws, such as that of being a materialist, being a nominalist, or of being some sort of pagan or atheist, I think we can ground any discussion of “rights issues” in a far more easily defined and effective set of terms and principles. For example, I believe Hans Hermann Hoppe’s premises for argumentation ethics obtain nicely. One such premise is that private property is an inescapable feature of the human condition; the very fact that one has access to and control over one’s body demonstrates the principle of self-ownership in a way that cannot be abrogated by any instance or degree of criminal trespass or chemical interference.

So, ever the quintessential AnCap, I think that exploration of the logical, physical, and metaphysical features of property will sort out all of the issues commonly presented as “rights issues” and will, more often than not, produce results that jive with rational intuition. For example, a good portion of the classical liberal “negative rights” are the immediate logical consequent of the nature of property: the right to secure oneself against coercion, murder, and theft is less a “right” and more a natural result of the nature of self-ownership; If I own my body (and by extension that which my body produces), given the definitive quality of property that is “exclusivity”, I may exclude others from use of that property by whatever means that does not involve trespass on my part. There: without “rights”, I’ve established the justifiability of self-defense and, due to the universal nature of property, have also denied the justifiability of trespasses such as murder, coercion, and theft.

If there were any rationally defensible claim to what is often called a positive right, an argument for such a claim could be made stronger by avoiding a discussion of rights, itself, and focusing on the reality of property, instead. Perhaps the most defensible claim of positive rights is that of the Catholics: the “right to life”. For example, a “right to life” can not be taken seriously, lest it result in absurdity given the above alluded to discussion concerning the relationship between positive rights and state slavery. Death is inevitable, so to have a right to escape such an inevitable phenomena would require that mankind collectively devote every resource available to the discovery of immortality which would, itself, result in the deaths of everyone involved.

Instead, acknowledging the unborn human’s ownership of its body, the propertarian obligations of a landlord (or, in this case, a mother), the degree of action either is able to engage in, and other features of property and the human condition would result in positions which directly parallel the traditional positions of the Catholic Church concerning abortion, evictionism, self-defense, euthanasia, and care for the elderly. As an added bonus, such an activity would demonstrate the absurdity of the “right to choose”, “right to birth control”, and etc.

The time has come for my controversial claim (as if this hasn’t been controversial so far). The Catholic Church made a grave error in adopting the enlightenment-era’s rhetoric concerning rights. I kinda’ already alluded to that claim in the last section of the post, but I think it is important enough to warrant explicit attention. In engaging a secular humanist agenda on its own flawed terms instead of continuing its pursuits in determining the truth of the matter, the Church made itself more popular in an adversarial world. In the process, though, it laid the groundwork for the current social and ethical battles it finds itself buried under. That is not to say that the Doctrinal positions of the Church, or even the moral and ethical teachings of the Church as a whole are inaccurate, but it is to say that the use of flawed theories and terminology obfuscates the veracity of those teachings. Because of this obfuscation, it is not an unfair accusation to blame the SJWs on the Church and to point out that the Church has backed itself into a corner concerning the pursuit of knowledge of creation (most noticeable of which being economics). This mistake can be rectified if teachers and clergy make a concerted effort to pursue truth as opposed to political expedience… but how long it will take to do so is very much a live question.

TL;DR: Rights, in their most resilient formulation can best be described as “temporary privileges granted by the guys in charge” or, alternatively, “an ethical or moral shorthand for determining justification of actions”. There are a number of frameworks in which people try to ground rights and accomplish the ends for which the have created those rights, some are more reasonable than others, but they all present issues I do not believe can be resolved. Additionally, there is far too much baggage and theory in the realm of discourse concerning rights to expect calm, rational debate. Property, and the logical and material consequences of property provide a resilient alternative to the discussion of rights which also achieves intuitive outcomes. For these and other reasons, I think that it would be a better rhetorical move to simply deny the existence of rights altogether and demonstrate the efficacy and utility of property in dispute resolution and moral or ethical dilemmas.

Also, here’s some George Carlin, for your entertainment.

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Logical Anarchy Guest Spot!

Today, I have another guest spot I’d like to present.  I feel much better about my performance on this episode than the previous guest spot I had, and I’d like my readers/listeners to check out the work that they do over at Logical Anarchy.

Carpe veritas



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My 2016 Ballot

Before you read this post, I recommend that you read my recent post on why I’m doing this. Also, you should probably read No Treason by Lysander Spooner before commenting on this particular post. Most especially, I want you to pay attention to his case for “voting in self defense” (to which I do not ascribe) and his case that a secret ballot proves that a) the government is nothing but a band of criminals and b) that those voting in self defense ought to share their ballot selections in order to promote responsibility for one’s actions (no matter how minor).

voting-sticker

President
Donald Trump
I wish all the propaganda that the media is putting forth were true. I wish that Trump were a belligerent troll who wanted to go back to “the good old days” when only land-owning men could vote. I wish he were willing to imprison and execute the liberal puppets in the media. I wish he would nominate supreme court judges who were radically pro-gun, pro-life, and anti-left. I wish Trump were a radical social conservative who wanted to deregulate the markets and slash taxes. In other words, I wish Trump were literally Hitler.
Looking at the man and his words, though, the best we can hope for is a man who makes liberals cry, move away, and kill themselves because “he said something mean about that one lady that everyone hates”. There’s no telling what he will do in office, but his rhetoric so far has been the best thing I’ve heard any politician other than Putin say in my lifetime.
Hilary Clinton is evil incarnate, Gary Johnson is a drug-addles cuck who doesn’t even know what libertarianism is and he gives freedom-minded people everywhere a bad name, and all the other third-party candidates are religious fanatics and socialists who have only the most tenuous grasp of reality. This makes Trump preferable… even if the comparison is similar that of being slowly dismembered with a spork versus being shot in the back of the head.

US Senator
Lily Tang Williams
This one was a close call between Glenn and Williams. At the end of the day, Bennet will win because of the gerrymandered and skewed electoral pool within the state, so I might as well choose the candidate that has the most sound policies in general. Some may get upset that I’m voting for a candidate that is wishy-washy on abortion, but she’s no less wishy-washy than Glenn if you look at his history. I’m not a fan of her rhetoric on equality and promoting drug use, but her economic policies more than make up for her lack of social conservatism as compared to Glenn

District 6 Rep.
Norm Olsen
This was another tough one between the republican and libertarian. The thing that made it difficult was the abortion issue again. On all other counts, Olsen trounces Coffman. The determining factor for me is that neither Coffman or Olsen are actually pro-life; one wants to try to limit, in some regards, some aspects of the abortion industry while the other basically wants to get the government out of the issue altogether (a largely libertarian position). If Coffman were actually anti-abortion, I would be forced to chose him over Olsen, given that he’s not, I am voting Olsen.

Amendment T
Against
There is a twofold reasoning behind this one. Firstly, because in a free society private enterprises that would serve a similar function to prisons would likely require something that would approach or meet the description of servitude or slavery that the state uses. To disallow, wholesale, that option is to take a step away from a free society. Secondly, because the measure is being put forth by egalitarian cultural marxists in order to push a specific cultural narrative. Barring throwing these people from helicopters, stopping their ballot measures is an acceptable one-tenth measure.

Amendment U
For
Simple: it’s a reduction of taxes. There’s all sorts of minor other arguments taking place; for example, the fact that the state spends more money collecting said tax than they gain means that they are currently literally just stealing our money in order to waste it on things like stamps and envelopes. By reducing the tax burden on small-time property owners, one is also reducing the tax expenditure burden.

Amendment 69
Against
A handful of liberal shithead doctors in Boulder want a violent monopoly on all things related to health services in Colorado. It’s nationalized medicine on a state-level, and it will be worse than even Obamacre. Also, my premiums have already doubled, I don’t need them to triple or quadruple. Also, no legitimate law should take up 11 pages of that stupid blue book they send you in the mail.

Amendment 70
Against
Any legitimate economist will tell you that minimum wage is a bad idea, unless you are simply trying to kill of ethnicities that are less-able to provide value to others by pricing them out of the labor pool and leaving them to starve. (Or, if you’re a democrat, purchasing them via welfare to become professional voters).
I, personally, would go from having a hard time managing my staff as a facilities manager to being unable to do so at all. My place of work would go out of business (and that, given that it’s a church in a wealthy neighborhood, is an indicator that it would destroy what’s left of the Church in Colorado.)

Amendment 71
For
This one took a lot of research and moral/ethical reasoning to decide. Ultimately, the lynchpin argument is thus: If one is forced to be subject to hyper-inclusive mass-democracy, it would be prudent to try and prevent situations like Amendment 69 from arising. If a handful of doctors in Boulder can get enough signatures from CU students to ruin everyone’s lives, that’s a problem.
Yes, it may slow down measures put forth to, say, secede from the Union or to limit the political power of Denver over the rest of the state, but those measures aren’t going to pass anyway.

Amendment 72
Against
Again, it’s a simple matter of limiting the crime of taxation. Also, it’s disingenuous to advertise it as a “cigarette tax”, because the language slips in several, much more broad taxation schemes. Besides, sin taxes are stupid.

Proposition 106
Against
I’m against it, but not for the reasons that most people would assume. I think the Thomists (mainstream Catholics) have gotten themselves all confused and backwards on issues concerning suicide, but that’s a different blog post. In a free society, I could probably go to Walgreens and buy morphine; they may have a system in place to prevent customers from buying lethal doses, but I could have a friend go get a second not-quite-lethal dose for me, or whatever. That would make something akin to 106 look like a “pro-liberty proposition” (yes, I know that’s an oxymoron).
However, with the way the law itself is written (all nine pages of it), it puts way too much power in the hands of doctors and actually removes certain safeguards against malpractice provided to patients. At the end of the day, I cannot help but get conspiratorial about 106 and think it’s an intentional inroad to the Obamacare “death panels” and political assassinations.

Proposition 107
Against
You would think an anarchist wouldn’t have a principled stance on how primaries ought to be conducted. At the end of the day, though, the political parties that exist are voluntary associations of people. By using the violence of the state to allow non-party individuals to impact the goings-on within a party, one effectively destroys the party in any actionable sense. If a handful of my friends decided to build a clubhouse and put up a “no girls allowed” sign, it would be criminal for the state to demand that the activities within the clubhouse correspond to the wishes of women who are, obviously, not in the club. Same idea.
I believe this ballot measure was put forward by the same marxists pushing amendment T. Rather than joining the Republican or Libertarian parties, they would rather just use the aforementioned professional voters to make those parties even more cuck-y and lefty than they already are.

Proposition 108
Against
See proposition 107. This is merely pushing the intrusion even further.

Issue 4B
Against
I am opposed to a good portion of what the SCFD does, and I am certainly opposed to continuing and increasing taxes.

State Board of Education
Debora Scheffel
There’s no actionable difference between the two, so this is merely my anti-democrat bias in action.

Regent of CU
Heidi Ganahl
See Board of Education

State Representative District 43
Kevin Van Winkle
I’m not exactly impressed with Van Winkle, but Wagner is a died-in-the-wool socialist and should be thrown from a helicopter.

18th Judicial District and RTD
Nobody
Since the position is uncontested, there is no opportunity to voice a preference. As such, I can’t justify voting on these positions.

County Comissioner District 2 and 3
Partridge and Thomas
Just the same as the education positions: there’s no actionable difference other than party affiliation.

Judges
This one is a tricky one for me. My default setting is to simply vote against retention of all the judges because they are all terrible. At the same time, some are on the better end of the bell curve as far as terrible judges are concerned. In such a case, it may be preferable to retain said judges because their replacements are (statistically) likely to be worse. That looks too much like an endorsement to me, though; I am either going to vote against retaining or not vote with regards to the judges, either on an individual basis or altogether. I haven’t decided yet.

Mad Philosopher’s 2016 Election

This Election Season, sitting next to Mad Philosopher…

I am sure many (or none, really) are curious about what Mad Philosopher was thinking about during the election season. I’m not trying to be mean or suggest no one cares about the Mad Philosopher. I am suggesting that he does a decent job posting what is on his mind on Facebook. But one of the perks of being the Wife of Mad Philosopher is getting a unique point of view on what’s going with the Mad. And in celebration of the election finally being nearly here and (finally) over, here is a glimpse into that view point. I hope you enjoy!

4 years ago (because that’s when the talking began)
Him: Voting is absolutely an act of coercion.
*cue running victory lap for coming to a conclusion*
Me: Sounds legit…

1 year ago
Him: This show is a joke and full of retards or worse. I wish I didn’t have to pay attention to it all.
Me: Why do you think you have to?
Him: *cue some well-reasoned explanation*
What I remember: “I need to know exactly how everyone is wrong so I can tell all about it on Facebook!!!”

6 months ago
Him: I was right all along. They are all stupid/ evil. But…
Me: uh huh…uh huh… (must admit I stopped paying attention to the specifics at this point)

2 months ago
Him: I wonder… maybe I should be voting…
Me: WHAT?!

Currently
Him: *cue a frustrated look back at whether or not voting is always an act of coercion*
Me: *cue banging head on wall*
Him: Maybe also repeal the 19th Amendment, too?
Me: *curl up in corner in fright*

This election season has seen the Mad truly came full circle. I’m sure there is a Lion King pun to be put in here, but I am too preoccupied with… well, see above to properly put together that joke.