The Downfall Episode 28

This week, I’ve got a treat for you guys.  I was a guest on The Downfall with Jared and Dave!  I wrote briefly about them before, and it was an honor being welcomed onto their show.  I gave them about a week to get all their regular views before posting it here, just so that they could get credit for their quality production, first.

Also, if you’ve somehow missed the repeated announcements, we’re on Patreon!  Please consider incentivizing the production of more Mad Philosopher content; big donors get neat prizes and the ability to influence the direction of the show and if we hit certain goals, the project can expand.

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Podcast List 2016

About one year ago, on the old site, I posted an extensive list and brief set of reviews concerning the podcasts I was listening to.  People still periodically ask me what I listen to, but the old list is out-of-date.  This week, I’m listing my current podcast list and some recommendations for others to listen to.

Podcasts I continue to listen to (in order of importance):

  1. Mad Philosopher Podcast: Yeah, yeah… I know… I listen to my own show, I’m such a dork and a narcissist.  I listen to it the day I upload in order to catch major quality-control issues with the show.  I’ve already caught and re-uploaded several, so the process works.  I recommend everyone listen to what I have to say, too (as any narcissist would).
  2. Very Bad Wizards:  My favorite Philosophy podcast, these two guys are hilarious and relaxed.  Their content is always fresh and informative.  They just discuss issues in ethics and philosophy at random.
  3. Sex and Science Hour:  Brian Sovryn and Stephanie Murphy are back, and they’re better than ever.  It’s really just Sovryn Tech, but with more banter.
  4. Sovryn Tech:  A tech and culture podcast with another paradigm anarchist.  A little thick/left sometimes, but always well-reasoned and intellectual, I think Brian Sovryn has done more for liberty than any politician has, ever.
  5. Primal Blueprint:  I will be discussing this one soon in a full blog post, but over the last few months I’ve made a lot of health decisions, as has my wife, and this podcast is an interesting source of information.
  6. Radical Agenda:  With more passion and rage than even I can muster, the well-read and ever-grounded Cantwell reads the news and gets “triggered”.  Lately, he’s been forced into a corner concerning racism and right-wing politics, but I very rarely disagree with him on anything more than tactics.  He will also occasionally record a stand-alone rant which always has something important to tell someone.
  7. School Sucks Show:  Usually randomly updated, but with long episodes, School Sucks is a show devoted to education and intellectual self-defense.  Parents and educators ought to listen to this show, as well as anyone who wishes to be intellectually literate.  The host keeps it really fun and very level-headed.
  8. DH Unplugged: A weekly discussion of the financial markets by Dvorak and Horowitz.  Very informative about what’s going on in the world, even if one has no skin in the markets.  With these two, I know more about what’s going on than even listening to Cantwell or Sovryn.
  9. Tom Woods Show:  Updated every weekday, I make it a point to keep up-to-date with this show.  Tom is one of the most respectable and most influential anarchists alive today.  Every day he has something new and important to share with the world.  Everyone, regardless of what they believe, should probably listen to his show.  He covers the surface of nearly every topic even tangentially related to liberty and periodically goes super-deep.  I also listen to Contra Krugman, Woods’ other show, wherein he and Bob Murphy teach economics by tearing arch-Keynesian Paul Krugman’s works to shreds.  It’s not a podcast, but since it’s a product by Tom Woods and it far surpasses either show, the Tom Woods Liberty Classroom needs a mention here.  It’ll get you a PhD-level education in history and economics and it’s an excellent tool for figuring the world out.  If you use my link, I get a little piece of the action and it helps keep the lights on over here.
  10. Catholic Stuff you Should Know:  A podcast currently hosted by my former assistant pastor and my current pastor, they cover a wide variety of subjects, all of which are important to living a full faith life.  Lots of fun banter and jokes, lots of educational stuff.  It’s exceptionally fun for a Catholic in the process of switching rites, as my former assistant pastor is a Roman Rite priest and my current pastor is a Byzantine priest.
  11. Personal Profitability Podcast:  This is a podcast put on by a former co-worker of mine from Summer Camp.  It reminds me a lot of “The Art of Manliness” but with more useful ideas about money and less soldier worshiping.  He’s a direct descendant of Baal Shem Tov… which is mostly just an interesting sidebar, but also an indicator that he knows his money, (if you know what I mean).
  12. Philosophize This:  A fun exploration of concepts in philosophy, seemingly chosen at random.  The host has a cleverness about him and a solid grasp of the concepts and contexts he covers.  It’s another great show for beginners, as well as a way to fill in the gaps for more well-read listeners.
  13. The Incomparable: After listening to Robot or Not for a year, they finally sold me on listening to their actual show, and it’s a lot of fun.
  14. The Cracked Podcast:  Just like the Cracked website, but in audio format.  Hilarious, informative, and a little too lefty to be taken seriously.  I have fun and learn a lot of trivia.
  15. No State Project:  I only started listening a couple weeks ago, but it’s a great exploration of the Socratic method and its applicability in the kangaroo courts of ‘Murica.
  16. History of Philosophy Without any Gaps: A weekly podcast that has been methodically plodding through the history of philosophy from the pre-socratics through today.  Each episode is short, easy to understand, and like the name says, has no gaps.  Excellent for both beginners and people who know it all.  I also listen to the corollary podcast History of Philosophy In India which, ironically, fills some gaps left by the preceding podcast.
  17. Partially Examined Life:  The first podcasts I listened to, the Partially Examined life is a monthly exploration of a small group of texts in philosophy.  With a healthy balance of irreverence, humor, and knowledgeably, this show is usually a lot of fun, and teaches me stuff I didn’t know in a field in which I’m generally very knowledgeable.  They approach the text much the same way a seminar class would in college, but with less authorities around.  Since they’ve become the name in philosophy podcasts, they’ve kinda gotten corporate and are trying a little too hard to be “inclusive” in their approach, but they’re still a great listen.
  18. Anime World Order:The snobby older brother to Anime Pulse, AWO updates rarely and sporadically, but I very much enjoy their discussions of older anime, especially since they tend to share similar opinions to my own and expose me to things I’ve missed.  They’ve got an older and more refined taste than a lot of anime commentators out there.  I grew up on 80s and 90s anime, so that’s still where my preferences lie.
  19. Robot or Not: Five minute episodes in which the hosts determine whether or not a specific piece of technology is a robot.  Fun, short, funny.  I disagree with their conditions for being a robot, but that doesn’t take away from the fun.
  20. Rationally Speaking:  An atheist podcast that focuses primarily on cognitive biases, science, and ethics.  On rare occasion they’ll bring Neil DeGrasse Tyson (or some other popular “scientist”) on to shit all over philosophy and religion, but they are usually very nice and even-handed.  One of the main hosts left a year ago, but the remaining host has carried along nicely.
  21. Revolutions:  A podcast that goes very in-depth discussing the history of drifferent revolutions.  I listened to it upon a reader’s suggestion after my post on slave rebellions.
  22. History on Fire:  A podcast from Daniele Bolelli (of Drunken Taoist fame).  He recounts interesting and often-ignored chunks of history from an amusing angle.  The history lessons being my favorite part of the Drunken Taoist, this podcast is pretty awesome.
  23. Downfall with Jared Howe:  Technically part of a larger group of shows (seeds of liberty), Downfall is hosted by a guy I met on facebook who is an absolute genius.  I finally got convinced by a mutual friend of ours to listen to his show, and I like it.
  24. Samurai Archives Podcast: Exactly what it sounds like.  A historical survey of Japanese culture, samurai, bushido, etc.  A must-listen for samurai fans.
  25. The Ex-Worker:  An AnCom production about AnComs.  I still listen to it, even though I’ve had an anti-communist awakening over the last year (alongside Cantwell’s racist awakening).  I am still encouraged by their ability to get out and fuck shit up, even if they are fighting the wrong enemy half the time.
  26. Revolutionary Parent:  Formerly “Powerful Parenting”, this show is almost never updated anymore, as they’ve moved to a new content method.  Their rare piece of content is still worth it, though, as the host coaches people through the methods of peaceful parenting, which is really just NVC applied to children.
  27. Radiolab:  This show (still) keeps just barely making the cut.  Overproduced, frenetic, and excessively liberal, the only thing that keeps me coming back is the fact that every three episodes or so presents me with something I hadn’t known about previously.
  28. Manga Pulse:  A subsidiary of Anime Pulse, a podcast that’s really gone down the tubes since management changed.  Manga Pulse is hosted by a couple guys that live in my hometown of Denver and tend to be a lot of fun whenever they actually upload a show.
  29. Eric’s Guide to Ancient Egypt:  This show is great for me, as I did a lot of reading about Egypt when I was in high school and never had a chance since.  I don’t know if the show’s been cancelled or not, as I haven’t heard much from them since the school the titular “Eric” works at got shot up by a drugged-up leftard.

Podcasts I no longer listen to:

  • Drunken Taoist:  the podcast started getting more and more lefty as I was getting less and less lefty.  With History on Fire being several hours at a time, I couldn’t do both.
  • Rebel Love Show:  Degenerate druggies discussing degeneracy and whining about cops.  Where Cantwell’s technical roughness is easily compensated for his actual content, the technical roughness of the rebel love show has nothing to hold onto for support.
  • Lets Talk Bitcoin:  As I became less enthusiastic about the inanity of the cryptocurrency “communities”, I lost interest in the daily shows about the inanity of the crypto-space.  Still love Bitcoin and still love MaidSafe, but I don’t want to listen to podcasts about regulators regulating what should be free.
  • East Meets West:  I just got bored with them and the other podcasts have overwhelmed my playlist.
  • Art of Manliness:  They started re-treading old roads and shows like School Sucks and Personal Profitability cover a lot of the same material.  The soldier-worship started getting intolerable, too.
  • Matt Walsh:  Since I put him on last year’s list, all he’s done is cry about Donald Trump and about how republicans aren’t warmonger-y enough.  I’d rather just listen to Cantwell.
  • Freedom Feens:  It used to be fun, but MK Lordes really started getting a lot more time (obnoxious feminist), and the program became the 24-hour “Michael Deen slowly dies on-mike while everyone strawmans Cantwell” show.  Ultimately, the daily two-hour shows were just way too much time and way too little content.
  • Anarchast:  Jeff Berwick is a scammy guy and I stopped listening a few episodes after he was seriously entertaining flat-earthers.

Podcasts that have been discontinued:

  • Superego
  • Atlas MD (never officially canceled, but I haven’t seen an episode in a very long time)

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Democracy: The God That Failed

Back in college, when Bitcoin was brand new, I was still a techno-optimist trotskyite, and I was only just halfway through Human Action for the first time, I had a weird conversation with an upperclassman.

I was arguing about Aristotelianism and its contributions to communism with a classmate when this upperclassman interrupted and began building a case for restoring a Catholic monarchy. Needless to say, I was neither surprised nor impressed… at least at first. Then, he started using the terminology used in Human Action and really got my attention.

At the end of our conversation, I was far from sold on his case for monarchy but I was willing to read the book he offered me off the shelf in the school library: Democracy: The God That Failed. I read the book and it changed my understanding of the world irrevocably. As a matter of fact, I went back and read the first half of Human Action again, and actually understood it. I wasn’t an immediate convert, though; it would be another two years before I dropped real communism in favor of communism light: republican conservatism.

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Why all the autobiography in a book review? I wanted people to know the reluctance with which I engaged the ideas in this book and the profound change it had on my philosophical moorings.

In this book, Hans Hermann Hoppe begins by exploring the historio-economic history of the rise of democracy, explores econ 101 as could only be taught by an Austrian economist who studied directly under Rothbard, and proceeds to describe the economics behind democracy, monarchy, and natural order. Of course, he makes the same case all Austrians do: “Value is subjective, so I’m not going to tell you what to value, but I am going to show you the relationships between various causes and effects so that you can act on those values efficaciously. So, if you value human flourishing…”

The primary focus of Hoppe is the nature of economics and the incentives that emerge under different political arrangements, specifically monarchy, democracy, and anarchy. I couldn’t do the work justice without approaching a page count comparable to the book, but I do want to give you a preview of what’s in store.

In the case of anarchy, economic incentives parallel the Darwinian reality of nature and, where many argue that is a flaw of anarchy, it is inescapable no matter what social structure one builds on top of that state of nature. For example, survival of those best conditioned to live in a particular environment is one such reality. The way this plays out in the absence of the state is that those better suited to delay gratification, cooperate with others, and defend private property are more likely to benefit from a division of labor, specialization of skills, and technological advancement than those who are less suited to such activities.

In the absence of criminal or political elements which undermine these activities, there will be a natural selective process by which those who have these abilities amass more wealth, social capital, and mating opportunities than those who do not. On a long enough timeline, this will create evolutionary side-effects but even in the short-run, market forces naturally puts wealth in the hands of those best suited to invest it in a beneficial manner. Hoppe notes that this process is, both a-priori and historically, the origin of monarchies.

Any given region with sufficient selective processes will eventually have the most well-adapted stock in charge of all or nearly all the land or other resources in the region, making the entire region one large landlord/renter arrangement. Given that this individual in-charge acquired this position by way of making wise investments and mutually-advantageous exchanges, there would be no reason to cease doing so at this point; this means that the de-facto king will continue making decisions directed at improving the value of his assets which, in turn, increases the quality of life of his tenants.

This means that those in service of the king do so by way of voluntary employment: knights, soldiers, constables, etc. provide for the security and management of the king’s assets in exchange for what amounts to wages and employee discounts/benefits. If, at any point, a tenant or employee is unable or unwilling to abide by the rules of the landlord, they can emigrate or be exiled.

It is this liberty which is at the heart of all the incentives for a healthy economy in a monarchy.  The king, in order to maintain or increase the value of his property, must strive to make it worth the cost of rent for his existing and potential productive tenants to remain and the tenants must make it worth the king’s time to invest in their quality of life. At the point in time the king no longer allows individuals to leave or otherwise undermines their ability to function within the bounds of private property, he invalidates his rightful claim to the property he is leasing to his tenants and becomes something more like a tyrant or warlord.

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With that transition, the people are incentivized to undermine the king’s property value while building their own investments. This leads to “black markets”, political graft, treason, and invitations to foreign kings or barbarians to invade. Such a transition is a death knell for that particular region’s economy and culture. By and large, this is the story of the collapse of the British Crown and Empire. Of course, what came next was less than preferable: the rise of democracy.

In much the same way as when a king becomes a criminal, when a democratic social order is imposed on a people, the economic incentives get turned upside-down. Whereas a king owns the kingdom and has both the natural inclination as well as economic incentive to manage it for the sake of long-term gains, a president does not own the state. Instead, a president has near-unlimited access and control over the criminal apparatus of the state designed for expropriation and market manipulation for a limited amount of time. In such a circumstance, a president is incentivized to raise taxes, secure long-term benefits for himself at the expense of future taxpayers and presidents, and to funnel value into the assets he actually owns and that his friends own.

It’s not just the politicians who are corrupted either. Whereas anarchy and de-facto anarchistic monarchy are naturally eugenic, selecting for those most able to cooperate and produce value for others, democracy is a dysgenic process, selecting for those best able to rile the masses into demanding benefits at the expense of those producing the taxed revenue, those best suited to criminal activity, and actually incentivizing all of the behaviors witnessed in the seediest inner-city slums.

The majority of the text is spent on exploring all off the perverse and dysgenic economic incentives which democracy installs over and above, and in direct contradiction to, the natural order. Given that HHH is the economist and I am not and that he spends about 150 pages on the subject, I’ll leave the rest to him. In the meantime, I want to move on to the final portion of his text.

The final portion of the text is focused on where one could be expected to go in a post-democracy world. Barring a wholesale collapse of western civilization a-la the fall of Rome which preceded the rise of free-market monarchies, it is unlikely that the state will find an appropriate method by which to auction off its properties to the people in such a way so as to undo the undue gains of the corporate entities which have grafted themselves onto the political machine. Instead, modern economic technologies such as mutual and voluntary associations and risk-pools (such as HOAs and insurance companies) can simply begin to compete with the political apparatuses and, due to the nature of voluntary markets, outperform the state and put them out of business, so long as they secure their ability to defend against the states’ violence.

This scenario seems to have a fair amount of potential behind it, given HHH’s economic arguments to the efficiency and efficacy of such a transition. While the arguments are very involved and well-argued, the general theme of the argument is that “The state provides for (or at least, doesn’t wholly disallow) various services, such as the roads, education, security, risk pooling, etc. because there is a demand for it, and in the absence of the state, there would still be a demand for what amounts to our current status quo. He explores the economic incentives that would be in place wile fulfilling those market demands in the absence of the states’ direct influence and the social order that is likely to come about as a result of those demands and incentives.

From what I know of Hoppe’s other works, I think that he finds the outcome he presents to be most preferable. While I have a more traditionalist and rugged individualist bias, which I think would be sustainable in a free-market environment, I find his proposed option infinitely preferable to what we have today. Essentially, we would have all the bourgeois amenities such as grocery stores, roads, internets, common currencies, military defenses etc. without any of the current fallout such as poorly-planned roads, wars of foreign aggression, taxation, and perverted markets.

He makes a compelling case for why competitive insurance agencies would actually manage to provide the services that government cannot in a manner consistent with property rights and individual liberties, all economically-based, of course. The first time I read this book, I was very off-put by his apparent love for insurance companies, but the second time around I realized that he’s not talking about your dad’s insurance companies, the ones twisted and maligned by intimate relationships with state violence and regulations, but real risk-mitigation and risk-sharing pools owned and managed by the people best suited to managing such affairs in a competitive market.

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His cases for what ought to come next seem fairly abstract, and he has been called out on that abstractedness by many other authors. To which he responded with a supplementary essay titled “What Must be Done”, wherein he outlines, step-by-step, what he believes to be the most direct and moral route from here to there in modern-day-America. Seeing as how this essay is far more controverial than Democracy: The God That Failed , this is an appropriate place to bring up the most controversial parts of the book (as if advocating the case for monarchy over democracy and anarchy over monarchy isn’t counter-cultural enough). There is a quote of his, from the middle of the book which has become quite popular in my circles on facebook:

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He also makes the case that a free market will naturally select for what has been the traditional family and lifestyle structure in the West. It’s not too unreasonable to think this, seeing as how that traditional family structure necessarily emerged from the selective pressures extant at the time (pre-feudal Europe) and still seem to have the most economically sound incentive structures built into them, from the a-priori angle. Where it gets controversial is when he argues that insurance companies (in their free-market iteration) will act to mitigate moral hazard rather than promote it and, that mitigation of moral hazard is likely to result in (justified) discrimination against those individuals choosing alternative lifestyles, such as homosexuality, polygamy/andry, extreme drug use, and other things that the cultural “right” views as deviant. This discrimination could be as benign as increased premiums or as intense as a denial of coverage which, in Hoppe’s propertarian conception, would result in physical exile from certain communities. As I’ve covered in my post on LibPar, this does not necessarily mean the end of the homosexual lifestyle or culture, it merely means that communities would have to form around such lifestyle choices and they would have to either be isolationist or able to compete in the marketplace against their more conservative neighbors.

The book is incredibly well-researched and annotated. There are footnotes on every page, some taking up entire pages in their own right. They are drawn from all sorts of references, not just Austrians; Hoppe calls upon historians of every political persuasion, mainstream econometricians, Austrian economists, sociologists, and more. There are a few texts that he referenced enough times that they have been put on my reading list.

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TL;DR: Democracy: The God That Failed is one of the books that, if there were a canon of AnCap literature, would be in said canon. When I first read the book, it neither converted me from my communist ways, nor did it convince me to become a Catholic monarchist as was the intent of the guy that told me to read it. In hindsight, though, it was the only way that I could begin to understand what AnCaps on facebook were saying and gave me something to argue against. As is typical, though, a few years later I could recall the things I had argued against, but had changed my position on all of them. I decided to re-read the book and discovered that, on all the key points at least, I agree with HHH. There are some minor side details and some expressed preferences that I hold contrary views on, but I think this book is a Must-Read, right after Human Action.

No Treason: Lysander Spooner

This month’s Lucaf Fits meeting (that’s my philosophy club) is centered on the nature of freedom. I did my best to try and separate my apolitical proclivities from the philosophy club, as I wanted to be a little more culturally ecumenical with the group’s prospective members, but the group demanded it. The difficulty with finding literature for such a discussion is that You have statist bullshit on one side and high-level praxeological works by anarchists on the other side, with a little bit of lefty garbage scattered between the two. However, there is a gem hidden in that grey zone between the two extremes: Lysander Spooner‘s “No Treason: The constitution of No Authority”.

 

As always, a bit of historical context is in order. Spooner was born at the beginning of the 19th century in America. He was a natural-born anarchist/agorist. He set up a law firm in Massachusetts and quickly became recognized as one of the best lawyers available, despite not having the required government permits to do so. He made a compelling legal case against licensure, but that cost him potential clients, as the government did everything in their power to keep him from acquiring new clients. After business dried up, he tried a few unsuccessful entrepreneurial efforts and eventually decided to set up a post office as an act of defiance against the violent monopoly that the US government held on postal services, and quickly outperformed his criminal competitors. Of course, that didn’t last very long, as the government violently shut him down. From that point on, he was a one-man publishing company, writing almost as much as Rothbard, himself, much to the same effect as Rothbard.

One can’t discuss a lawyer, activist, or political commentator in 19th century America without addressing slavery. Spooner was one of the many activists in the 19th century that has been stricken from the mainstream historical record for the heinous crime of not fitting the ex-post-facto justification for the war of northern aggression. He was a die-hard abolitionist AND he was a defender of the Confederacy’s right to secede from the Union and tend their own affairs. He wasn’t alone, but he is certainly one of the more prominent members of that elite group.

No Treason was actually written as a response to the war of northern aggression, pointing out how the lies written and perpetuated by the Federalists had lost any of their legitimacy when Lincoln (at the behest of criminal bankers) purportedly abolished chattel slavery by way of actively enslaving half of the inhabited continent of America by way of military conquest. In many ways, Spooner is the godfather of the sovereign citizen movement, using common law practices and contract law to point out the reality that the existing government is not only criminal but is, in fact, illegal. He met a similar fate as many Sovereign Citizens, as well… he was mostly ignored into obscurity.

That obscurity is unwarranted, though. In “No Treason”, Spooner presents a compelling case using common law and the contract law of his day, demonstrating the Constitution to be neither a legal document nor a reasonable declaration of intent. He attacks the rationale behind the “Social Contract” argument, demonstrating that the Constitution meets no necessary or sufficient conditions for being a legally-binding contract and that, even if it did, “We know, historically, that only a small portion even of the people then existing were consulted on the subject, or asked, or permitted to express either their consent or dissent in any formal manner. Those persons, if any, who did give their consent formally, are all dead now… And the constitution, so far as it was their contract, died with them.”

He also demonstrates that the secret ballot undermines the legality of the contract and reveals the true nature of the government under the Constitution:
“What is the motive to the secret ballot? This, and only this: Like other confederates in crime, those who use it are not friends, but enemies; and they are afraid to be known, and to have their individual doings known, even to each other… In fact, they are engaged quite as much in schemes for plundering each other, as in plundering those who are not of them. And it is perfectly well understood among them that the strongest party among them will, in certain contingencies, murder each other by the hundreds of thousands (as they lately did do) to accomplish their purposes against each other. Hence they dare not be known, and have their individual doings known, even to each other. And this is avowedly the only reason for the ballot: for a secret government; a government by secret bands of robbers and murderers. And we are insane enough to call this liberty! To be a member of this secret band of robbers and murderers is esteemed a privilege and an honor! Without this privilege, a man is considered a slave; but with it a free man! With it he is considered a free man, because he has the same power to secretly (by secret ballot) procure the robbery, enslavement, and murder of another man, and that other man has to procure his robbery, enslavement, and murder. And this they call equal rights!”

He also consistently argues against the possibility that most, or even any, individuals consent to be governed under the Constitution. Citing the involuntary nature of taxation, the demonstrated propensity for the government to initiate violence to get its way, the illegality of putting a small group of unaccountable oligarchs in charge of a violent apparatus of coercion and theft, and so on. He also points out that, even though the government consists entirely of criminals, they are not even preferable to common criminals, because:
“The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: “Your money, or your life.” And many, if not most, taxes are paid under the compulsion of that threat.
The government does not, indeed, waylay a man in a lonely place, spring upon him from the roadside, and, holding a pistol to his head, proceed to rifle his pockets. But the robbery is none the less a robbery on that account; and it is far more dastardly and shameful.
The highwayman takes solely upon himself the responsibility, danger, and crime of his own act. He does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit. He does not pretend to be anything but a robber. He has not acquired impudence enough to profess to be merely a “protector,” and that he takes men’s money against their will, merely to enable him to “protect” those infatuated travellers, who feel perfectly able to protect themselves, or do not appreciate his peculiar system of protection. He is too sensible a man to make such professions as these. Furthermore, having taken your money, he leaves you, as you wish him to do. He does not persist in following you on the road, against your will; assuming to be your rightful “sovereign,” on account of the “protection” he affords you. He does not keep “protecting” you, by commanding you to bow down and serve him; by requiring you to do this, and forbidding you to do that; by robbing you of more money as often as he finds it for his interest or pleasure to do so; and by branding you as a rebel, a traitor, and an enemy to your country, and shooting you down without mercy, if you dispute his authority, or resist his demands. He is too much of a gentleman to be guilty of such impostures, and insults, and villainies as these. In short, he does not, in addition to robbing you, attempt to make you either his dupe or his slave.
The proceedings of those robbers and murderers, who call themselves “the government,” are directly the opposite of these of the single highwayman.
In the first place, they do not, like him, make themselves individually known; or, consequently, take upon themselves personally the responsibility of their acts. On the contrary, they secretly (by secret ballot) designate some one of their number to commit the robbery in their behalf, while they keep themselves practically concealed.”

Even if people consented to being enslaved by the government and found it preferable to the possibility of falling prey to common highwaymen, Spooner argues that there is no mechanism, physical, metaphysical, legal, or otherwise, by which one could accomplish such an end. Ignoring the performative contradiction of such an activity, Spooner argues: “If I go upon Boston Common, and in the presence of a hundred thousand people, men, women and children, with whom I have no contract upon the subject, take an oath that I will enforce upon them the laws of Moses, of Lycurgus, of Solon, of Justinian, or of Alfred, that oath is, on general principles of law and reason, of no obligation. It is of no obligation, not merely because it is intrinsically a criminal one, but also because it is given to nobody, and consequently pledges my faith to nobody. It is merely given to the winds.” This is a result of the secret ballot, the non-contractual nature of the Constitution, and the manner in which the Constitution is inflicted on those who do not assent and have never assented to be party to the contract.

Lysander Spooner writes with a command of both legal theory and language in a way so as to make slightly-complex legal concepts accessible to the reader while also maintaining a level of entertainment-value which allows one to read through the entire work. It is only about 75 pages long, so one can get through it in an afternoon if one really applies oneself. He touches on other ideas that are central to libertarian discourse, such as the idea of “voting in self defense” and the economic realities inflicted on the peasantry by international banking cartels. I argue that this work, like several others mentioned on the blog, ought to be on everyone’s reading list.

TL;DR: I’ll put the TL;DR version here, in Spooner’s own words:
“Inasmuch as the Constitution was never signed, nor agreed to, by anybody, as a contract, and therefore never bound anybody, and is now binding upon nobody; and is, moreover, such an one as no people can ever hereafter be expected to consent to, except as they may be forced to do so at the point of the bayonet, it is perhaps of no importance what its true legal meaning, as a contract, is. Nevertheless, the writer thinks it proper to say that, in his opinion, the Constitution is no such instrument as it has generally been assumed to be; but that by false interpretations, and naked usurpations, the government has been made in practice a very widely, and almost wholly, different thing from what the Constitution itself purports to authorize. He has heretofore written much, and could write much more, to prove that such is the truth. But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain – that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.”

Also, here’s a silly video from the Free Thought Project to a similar effect:
https://www.facebook.com/thefreethoughtprojectcom/videos/1765770890309837/

Thus Spake Zarathustra

This weekend, I hosted one of my philosophy club sessions for the summer. The discussion was on Nietzsche’s magnum opus: Thus Spake Zarathustra. A reader of this blog was recently kind enough to purchase a copy of the text for me from my wishlist, and I couldn’t let that act of charity go unpunished. Today, I am doing a “teaching from the text” post.

For a bit of context, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was born in the mid-19th century. He was a very clever Prussian/German child, quickly grasping academics and rising through the social and official ranks in university. His main focus was that of a cultural critic and philologist, both of which naturally lend themselves to philosophical activity as well. When he was relatively young, he started to suffer from a mental illness which has never been fully diagnosed. Many believe it to be Syphilis, but there is considerable reason to doubt that diagnosis.

During his time as a productive member of the continental philosophical culture, the western world was reveling in it’s own greatness. Between the ongoing rise of industry, the new form of nationalism that was emerging, and the social fallout from the enlightenment era, mainstream culture was very self-satisfied. Nietzsche, however, was largely unimpressed. He found the post-enlightenment culture to be hypocritical and could sense the looming prospect of the century of total war to come.

His philosophical writings themselves, due to the political climate in his later life and after his death in conjunction with his continental style of writing, generally serve as a sort of ink-blot test for his readers; a punky young college freshman will read “Beyond Good and Evil” and immediately become a Nihilist, whereas a more well-read individual may read “The Gay Science” and hold a deep discussion with someone over the nature of science and the indispensable role of levity and partying in one’s pursuit of virtue. Many who have been educated in modern American colleges and universities, when they read “Thus Spake Zarathustra”, see Nazi propaganda and elitist nonsense…

Fortunately, enough scholarship has been done on the original writings of Nietzsche and the later editions and translations such that one can actually see beyond the veil of history and get to know the actual philosophy of the man… with a little bit of effort. An important historical fact that puts things into context is that Nietzsche is the Aristotle to Schopenhauer’s Plato. Arthur Schopenhauer was a German idealist from the early 19th century who had a very distinct philosophy. He drew heavily on the material available from eastern philosophy, most especially Buddhism, and mixed it with German Idealism as well as his own curmudgeonly intuitions. The most famous of his works, and the basis of his ontology, is “The world as Will and Representation”; spanning three volumes, Schopenhauer builds a world that consists of a creative force which simply swells up out of nothingness, namely, will.

Nietzsche discovered philosophy through reading Schopenhauer, but he spent a good portion of his time arguing against things that Schopenhauer had said. Most especially that of the universe as will; Nietzsche argued that will alone is inert and that it must be coupled with power, the ability to execute one’s will, and the world would therefore have to at least be the “will to power”. This will to power is at the heart of the rest of Nietzsche’s project, and it’s one that I, myself, am sympathetic to.

Thus Spake Zarathustra is a sort of novel wherein the main character preaches Nietzsche’s worldview to the masses of modernists in the German countryside, to varying effect. Zarathustra is, at the same time, both an avatar for the author as well as a manifestation of his philosophy. The general plot is fairly straightforward: Zarathustra lives alone on top of a mountain, generally being awesome and waiting for the coming of the Ubermench (Superman), he then decides to go down from the mountain to preach to the peasants of Germany. While down there, he preaches “the truth” and some people start following him, but most would rather mock and avoid him. So, Zarathustra takes on a few disciples, leaving “the rabble” to their own devices. After a while, he can’t stand being around lesser men anymore and he returns to the mountaintop.

A while later, he has a vision which tells him that people are perverting and ruining his teachings, so Zarathustra has to condescend again to the rabble and try to sort things out. He makes a couple more friends and preaches some more, sings some songs, goes to some parties, laments that he is so awesome he can’t help it and bemoans how he can’t help but bestow his awesomeness on everyone else… Then he starts showing everyone how to really have a good time and cut loose. All and all, for all of Zarathustra’s solemnity when dealing with the rabble and the false prophets (that is, all of them) of the modern world, his exhortation is always that to be joyous and celebratory, because that’s all that there is that makes life worthwhile in a world wherein God is dead for grief of his love of man.

Despite how reductionist and flippant I am when describing the plot of the story, there is a lot of great fodder for discussion and examination in the text. Zarathustra’s words and actions are pointed and weighty; he brings to bear a striking series of accusations against the hypocrisy of post-enlightenment culture, the solemnity with which people address the absurd (in a pre-existentialist way), the futility of attempting to enjoy a life divorced from one’s own personal virtue. Zarathustra takes social conventions, such as friendships, and professes that everyone has the idea backwards. Where modern culture would insist that a friend is one who will support you in every endeavor and turn against those who do not, Zarathustra reminds his audience that one can only become greater than they are by being made aware of one’s faults and weaknesses. One can only achieve power by way of keeping those close who would remind one of one’s errors and shortcomings. A true friendship, one rooted in will to power, is one wherein a friend desires greatness for his friends, even at his own expense. For example: “If a friend doeth thee wrong, then say: ‘I forgiveth thee what thou hast done unto me; that thou has done it to thyself, however, I could not forgive that!” because in doing ill to one’s friend, one is behaving viciously and injuring oneself.

Ideas like solidarity in the state are also turned upside-down.

“Somewhere there are still peoples and herds, but not with us, my brethren: here there are states.
A state? What is that? Well! open now your ears unto me, for now will I say unto you my word concerning the death of peoples.
A state, is called the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly lieth it also; and this lie creepeth from its mouth: “I, the state, am the people.”
It is a lie! Creators were they who created peoples, and hung a faith and a love over them: thus they served life.
Destroyers, are they who lay snares for many, and call it the state: they hang a sword and a hundred cravings over them.
Where there is still a people, there the state is not understood, but hated as the evil eye, and as sin against laws and customs… This sign I give unto you: every people speaketh its language of good and evil: this its neighbour understandeth not. Its language hath it devised for itself in laws and customs.
But the state lieth in all languages of good and evil; and whatever it saith it lieth; and whatever it hath it hath stolen.
False is everything in it; with stolen teeth it biteth, the biting one. False are even its bowels… Everything will it give you, if ye worship it, the new idol: thus it purchaseth the lustre of your virtue, and the glance of your proud eyes… The state, I call it, where all are poison-drinkers, the good and the bad: the state, where all lose themselves, the good and the bad: the state, where the slow suicide of all—is called “life.”…
Do go out of the way of the bad odour! Withdraw from the idolatry of the superfluous!
Do go out of the way of the bad odour! Withdraw from the steam of these human sacrifices!
Open still remaineth the earth for great souls. Empty are still many sites for lone ones and twain ones, around which floateth the odour of tranquil seas.
Open still remaineth a free life for great souls. Verily, he who possesseth little is so much the less possessed: blessed be moderate poverty!
There, where the state ceaseth—there only commenceth the man who is not superfluous: there commenceth the song of the necessary ones, the single and irreplaceable melody.
There, where the state ceaseth—pray look thither, my brethren! Do ye not see it, the rainbow and the bridges of the Superman?”

He has harsher words, still, for those he calls “tarantulas”.

Welcome, tarantula! Black on thy back is thy triangle and symbol; and I know also what is in thy soul…
Revenge is in thy soul: wherever thou bitest, there ariseth black scab; with revenge, thy poison maketh the soul giddy!
Thus do I speak unto you in parable, ye who make the soul giddy, ye preachers of equality! Tarantulas are ye unto me, and secretly revengeful ones!
Therefore do I tear at your web, that your rage may lure you out of your den of lies, and that your revenge may leap forth from behind your word “justice.”
Because, for man to be redeemed from revenge—that is for me the bridge to the highest hope, and a rainbow after long storms…
Ye preachers of equality, the tyrant-frenzy of impotence crieth thus in you for “equality”: your most secret tyrant-longings disguise themselves thus in virtue-words!
But thus do I counsel you, my friends: distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful!
They are people of bad race and lineage; out of their countenances peer the hangman and the sleuth-hound.
And when they call themselves “the good and just,” forget not, that for them to be Pharisees, nothing is lacking but—power!
My friends, I will not be mixed up and confounded with others.
There are those who preach my doctrine of life, and are at the same time preachers of equality, and tarantulas…
With these preachers of equality will I not be mixed up and confounded. For thus speaketh justice unto me: “Men are not equal.”
And neither shall they become so! What would be my love to the Superman, if I spake otherwise?”

If you couldn’t tell by the couple selections I chose to share with you, there are at least a few things Nietzsche has to say to which I am very sympathetic. I used to bristle when people would call him an elitist, because that word was a pejorative in my Marxist vocabulary. As time has gone on, though, I’ve learned that, in fact, both Nietzsche and myself are elitists of a sort: those who can be great ought to do so, and not everyone has that ability or will bother to follow through with such an exercise. In that way, both Zarathustra and myself have a certain attitude: “Not to the people is Zarathustra to speak, but to companions!… I am not to be a herdsman or a grave-digger. Not any more will I discourse unto the people; for the last time have I spoken to the dead.” This wasn’t always my attitude and, reading Nietzsche’s works in chronological order, I get the feeling that wasn’t his original attitude, either.

There is a lot in Zarathustra that certainly isn’t as truthful or as poignant as the other parts… his discourses on the nature of women and religious sentiments themselves somewhat miss the mark, but still ought to be read, so as to better inform one’s position nonetheless. There are a fair number of people that one will run into in the course of daily life, at work, school, the grocery store parking lot, etc. who are unwitting disciples of halfwit Nietzschean professors. So, when someone cuts you off in the parking lot screaming racist obscenities before getting out of his car and sauntering up to the water-cooler next to your cubicle and going on-and-on about how women’s sole virtue is their love of men, you can understand “Oh, this guy must have had a Nietzschean professor back in college and he never grew out of being a frat boy…” and you can decide whether to lay some real Nietzsche on him or to smugly await the superman with the knowledge that rabble like your coworker will soon be obsolete.

Some translations of the work are better than others, as well. There are some that are so far removed from the original German so as to render a totally different ideology from that originally espoused in the text. That is why my favorite edition of the text is the JiaHu Books German/English edition; the translation is pretty solid and the original German is on full display so one can double-check the translators’ work if one so desired.

This work only barely didn’t make my Suggested Reading Lists, but it is an excellent companion to either of the Nietzsche works that did make the lists, as it explores them in a more poetic and novel way.

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From Scratch 4.2 Background and name

Philosophy Reading Lists

Intro To Philosophy Reading List

A few people have asked me to compile some sort of list of philosophical texts directed at teaching philosophy to someone who has had little or no exposure to philosophy, academic or otherwise. Some of the requests were for a list that would teach someone how to do philosophy, while the other request was directed less at learning how to do philosophy and more directed at simply getting a survey of the ideas that were out there. As such, I’ve created two lists which, admittedly, are very similar. Each one has twelve entries so that one could, theoretically, complete the list in one year. Some of the texts are definitely longer than a month’s worth of reading, though, and a few are shorter than what one could conceivably read in one month, so it’s more a game of averages and desires than it is any hard-and-fast rules.

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Method List:

This list is directed at learning the methods and tool-set of philosophy. I arranged the texts in an order such that they build on each other, so I suggest moving through them in sequential order. All of the links below will send you to amazon to purchase a hardcopy of the book, but nearly every one of these books can be found in some format or another for free on the internet. I prefer to have a physical copy when reading philosophy, so I can highlight text, make annotations in the margins and mark pages with sticky notes. It’s a much more visceral experience that way, and I find it easier to review old notes when using a physical copy than a softcopy.

  1. Philosophy in 7 Sentences ~ Douglas Groothuis: This book, as you will see, is the only piece of secondary literature on the list (Except for maybe the Kreeft book, it gets fuzzy when one is discussing the Bible). I largely dislike reading secondary literature first. I prefer to read the original text and then secondary literature if I need assistance in interpreting the context of meaning of the original text.
    In the case of Groothuis’ book, though, I really feel that it gives an excellent overview of the history of philosophy and the methods of doing philosophy while not trying to encompass everything. It’s an excellent work to cut one’s philosophical teeth on and prepare them for the labor that is to come next.
  2. Prior Analytics ~ Aristotle: Aristotle, in my mind, is really the first systematic philosopher. Sure, Socrates, Plato, and their contemporaries did philosophy, but none did as well as Aristotle in building an entire systematized methodology which encompassed just about every area of the intellectual life of man. In most cases, he was tragically ill-informed but, regardless, he is the one that got systematic philosophy off the ground.
    One of the areas that he was largely correct in, though, was his approach to what the medieval philosophers called the Trivium. In reading the Prior Analytics, one should get a feel for both how dense and dry philosophical texts can be while also getting a solid basis in the methods of reason. Don’t worry, Aristotle will be, by far and away, the most difficult read on this list, so it’s all downhill from here.
  3. Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences ~ Rene Descartes: Usually, people just call it “Discourse on the Method”. Most Philosophy 101 classes will read Descartes’ Meditations, which isn’t a bad idea; it’s a fun read and it has both an argument for the existence of God in it as well as a general exercise in the methods of skepticism. However, the Meditations draw nearly all of it’s ability to perform heavy-lifting from Descartes’ Discourse on the Method. Since this list is designed to turn you into a philosopher in about a year or so, it would make sense to go for the meatier text and let you read Meditations on your own time, for aesthetic enjoyment.
  4. Problems of Philosophy ~ Bertrand Russell: This book is another one that can be a bit dense. Russel is largely credited with the creation of modern logic and, upon reading his works, it’s easy to see why. In “Problems of Philosophy”, he addresses certain issues with logic and epistemology which still bother modern philosophers. It made the list because it further demonstrates the methods of philosophy while also giving the reader some things to think about and ponder while away from one’s books.
  5. Conjectures and Refutations ~ Karl Popper: This is the biggest book on the list so far, and if one is crunched for time, it may work out to confine oneself to secondary or tertiary sources on the material… such as podcast episodes or something akin to a sparks notes. The book was dedicated to F.A von Hayek, who only barely didn’t make the list, being usurped by his students, it’s no wonder, then, that this book should make the list; about 500 pages long, it covers a wide swath of epistemology and philosophy of science in a way that is categorically applicable to philosophy as a whole. It was a strong influence in my understanding of both the scientific method as well as the general methods of reason. It was also a key stepping stone in my road to liberty, despite things like liberty being little more than a side-note to the general thrust of the text.
  6. Symposium ~ Plato: After so much epistemology and logic, not to mention the density of the texts presented, it may be a relief to read something a little less involved and more entertaining. Plato’s Symposium explores a fun scene in which a bunch of Athenian celebrities get together, drink heavily, and discuss the nature of love. While there are some wild theories and mythologies presented in the story, the characters are clearly doing two things in the story. Firstly, they are showing the “right ways” and “wrong ways” of doing philosophy, as well as showing what type of personality is like to emerge from what philosophy (or vice versa). There are a lot of good secondary sources and a lot of bad secondary sources. I recommend reading the text first and, if one is interested in learning all the little nuances in the text, traveling down the rabbit-hole of secondary sources.
  7. An Absurd Reasoning and The Myth of Sisyphus ~ Albert Camus: Almost as fun as the Symposium, we now explore existentialist philosophy. Camus really was the arch-existentialist, and the two texts that seem to have the most philosophical eight to them would be An Absurd Reasoning and The Myth of Sisyphus. While there were some great novels and plays written by existentialists and I recommend reading them, this list is intended to give my reader tools with which to do philosophy on her own. I think these two essays most effectively encapsulate existentialism in as small a package as possible.
  8. Genealogy of Morals ~ Nietzsche: While not as widely read as other works by Nietzsche, the Genealogy of Morals serves as both a historical work as well as an account for ethics in philosophy and culture. If you haven’t had your feathers ruffled yet, I doubt this text will be as controversial to you as many people seem to expect it to be. Also of note: this, coupled with the above mentioned existentialist text, is a good example of what is known as “Continental Philosophy”, which stands in contrast to Russel, Descartes, Popper, and Groothuis who are members of “Analytic Philosophy”. If one enjoys the rigor and argumentation of the Analytics more, one is probably an analytic. If one enjoys the more narrative and freewheeling style of the Continentals, one is likely a continental. Of course, I write and think like an Analytic, but I enjoy reading continental philosophy much more than I do the Analytics.
  9. Enchiridion (Manual of Epictetus) ~ Epictetus: Back to the Ancients, we explore stoic philosophy, which I think demonstrates both the practical applications of philosophy in daily life as well as giving any individual a useful tool-set for conducting one’s affairs. The main two reasons for this text winding up on the list is because 1) the name is awesome and 2) Stoicism is one of the longest-lived philosophical traditions which is consistently applied to daily life.
  10. Book One of Science of Logic ~ Georg Hegel: I would suggest reading the entire work, but it far surpasses even that of Popper in page count. Most modern continental philosophers are some variation of Hegelian or Marxist philosopher. This is because Hegel was a key figure to the systematization of Continental philosophy in addition to being prolific and provocative. Marx was indirectly taught be Hegel and nearly all of his ideas were lifted directly from Hegel. So, rather than suggesting the Communist Manifesto or some other derivative work, I wanted to go straight to the source. Especially since Hegel’s conception of Being and Nothingness is quite novel and interesting to entertain, I recommend reading the first book of The Science of Logic which covers the nature of Being and Nothing.
  11. Human Action ~ Ludvig Von Mises OR Man Economy and State ~ Murray Rothbard: I proffered both texts, because they each have something to offer. I find Human Action to be more detailed and better arranged, in the spirit of Analytic Philosophy. Man, Economy, and State is just as long, but it is written in a manner that makes it a quicker read and it has been updated to include some more modern discoveries in the field of praxeology (the study of human action). Both Mises and Rothbard were students of Hayek, and they both present a profound understanding of the human condition and the emergent properties of individual human actions in society at large. I know these books are about 900 pages long, but they will so radically alter the way you see the world that there will be no going back. This is the proverbial Red Pill; it’s hard to swallow, but once you do, you’ll become enlightened. Really, all the other texts on this list are simply there to help the reader develop the appropriate tool-set and methodology to be able to fully comprehend either of these texts.
  12. Three Philosophies of Life ~ Peter Kreeft: After such a beast as Human Action, I thought a nice little book that’s totally unrelated to praxeology or analytic philosophy would be in order. Instead, this is a short work which applies certain hermeneutical tools to the Bible, demonstrating how one could appropriately apply the philosophical mindset to issues such as faith and spirituality. It serves as a nice bookend to a list that starts with Groothuis, another modern religious philosopher.
  13. Extra Credit Mad Philosopher 2015: I doubt this book needs much more introduction than it has already had.

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Survey List:

This list clearly got less attention than the above one when it comes to explaining the selections of the text. As above, you can probably find these texts for free on the internet, but it would likely be better to get them from Amazon. If you choose to do so, please use my link, as I get a few pennies for every purchase made through my link. I use those funds to pay for the site hosting and such. This list is directed at giving someone a general knowledge of the philosophical ideas that have been floating around throughout history in a manner that is important to understanding modern culture.

  1. Plato’s Republic

  2. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

  3. Abelard’s “Ethics” and “Dialogue Between Philosopher, a Jew and a Christian”

  4. Descartes’ Meditations

  5. Hobbes’ Leviathan

  6. Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations

  7. Marx’ Das Kapital

  8. Russel’s History of Philosophy

  9. Introduction to the Reading of Hegel (OR Phenomenology of Spirit)

  10. Neitzche’s The Gay Science

  11. Rothbard’s Man, Economy, and State

  12. Popper’s Conjectures and Refutations

Philosophy in Seven Sentences

I’ve previously presented a brief review of Christian Apologetics (which seems to have vanished… I will have to write a second one or re-publish it). From the same author, InterVarsity Press has recently published Philosophy in Seven Sentences. Now that I’ve read the book (twice), I feel compelled to share it with my readers.

I love teaching/tutoring, especially audiences yet uncorrupted by academic ignorance and apathy. A few years ago, I taught a series of philosophy classes to a local homeschool group. It was well-received, it payed the bills, it gave both myself and my audience a newfound appreciation for the science and art that is philosophy.

The average age of the class was somewhere in the vicinity of thirteen or fourteen years of age, so they were largely unaware of philosophy altogether (which is a shame). I had four lectures with which to cover all the bases of “Philosophy 101” in a manner amenable to a young audience. Ultimately, I decided on pulling four themes/philosophers from history and simply walking the class through a philosophical exercise of exploring those themes. Almost the entirety of my preparation time was spent choosing the four themes. Ultimately, I think I chose Plato’s (Socrates’) apology, Aristotle’s categories (basic logic), Descartes’ cogito, and Kant’s categorical imperative. Of course each philosopher served as a foil for their contemporary history of philosophy and their inheritors, thereby covering the bases of philosophy’s history. Having taken two Philosophy 101 classes (from two different schools, long story), I get a feeling this is a popular way to teach such courses.

All this dry nostalgia is to set the stage for a brief overview of “Philosophy in Seven Sentences”. Typically, this would be a full-on “teaching from the text” post, but this book is literally fresh off the presses and both you and Douglas Groothuis would be better served if you ponied up the small amount of money required to acquire the text itself. That said, I do intend to give the text its due justice.

In eight short chapters, averaging about sixteen pages each, Groothuis takes one sentence per chapter (plus a short challenge at the end) and gives an excellent introduction to both the tools and traditions of philosophy. Typically, such a text will either attempt to impress its readers with technical terms, obscure references, and complicated methods of presentation or it will be written so casually and simplistically so as to render a rich and beautiful tradition banal and empty. Groothuis manages to dance a fine line between condescension and elitism, speaking plainly and straightforwardly but also challenging even seasoned readers to step up to his level of mastery concerning the material at hand.

I genuinely enjoy reading primary sources which, I guess, makes me weird; secondary and tertiary sources are generally less appealing to me, but I read any material with a sufficient insight-to-page-count ratio. As a case-in-point, I’ve already read many of the texts referenced in “Philosophy in Seven Sentences”. Even so, Groothuis manages to take a broad array of information, presumably acquired through extensive reading, discussion, and lecturing, and distill it down to one of the highest insight-to-page-count concentrations I have seen, even for someone with reasonable familiarity with the material presented.

The seven sentences in question are well-selected: spanning history and traditions from ancient Greece with Protagoras, Socrates, and Aristotle, to the early Church with Augustine, to the enlightenment with Descartes and Pascal, to modern existentialism with Kierkegaard. While I may have selected a couple different sentences (exchanging Paschal for Nietzsche and Kierkegaard for Camus or Sartre), Groothuis tells a progressive narrative which begins, dialectically and historically, with Protagoras’ “Man is the measure of all things,” and concludes with Kierkegaard’s pointed and melancholy “The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all.”

Readers who have no prior exposure to philosophy proper should, at least, recognize three or more of these quotes, as they have become memes referenced and repeated throughout popular culture. “Man is the measure of all things,” “I think, therefore I am,” and “The unexamined life is not worth living,” are referenced in popular films, shows, books, and songs. Descartes’ contribution, in particular, is the subject of a great many common jokes. I once owned a t-shirt which read “I drink, therefore I am.”Groothuis does an excellent job of setting misconceptions concerning these sentences without becoming a party-pooper.

Usually, a book I enjoy reading is full of highlights, annotations, and sticky notes. Every page of Human Action and Existentialism is a Humanism has some sort of mark on it. One would expect, then, that an unmarked book would be a sign of disinterest and, typically, one would be correct. In the case of “Philosophy in Seven Sentences”, though, nearly every line would be highlighted (defeating the purpose of highlighting) and there is no need for annotating the text; it is clear, concise, and wastes no time or space in exploring, if not the history of philosophy, a powerful narrative through the tradition of philosophy.

I have never before encountered a book better suited to serve as a textbook for an intro to philosophy class. Admittedly, this book would likely be better received in a Christian institution than elsewhere but, even elsewhere, it far outstrips and conspicuously secular text as far as both demonstrating the techniques of the philosophical exercise as well as exploring the philosophical tradition. I guess I’ve been salivating over this book long enough and ought to move on to “teaching”.

The general plot of the book begins with Protagoras’ exploration of subjectivity. Given that the pre-socratics are the progenitors of western philosophy, it makes perfect sense that one would start the narrative there. With a quick glance over extant pre-socratic works, one largely has a choice between the Zenos’ contributions of stoicism and obnoxious math problems, Pythagoras’ trigonometry, Heraclitus’ almost Buddhist sense of impermanence and meaninglessness, or Protagoras’ relativism. While Zeno (either one), Pythagoras, Heraclitus, et.al. each contributed quite a lot to philosophy as a whole, Protagoras sets a particular stage for Plato and Aristotle to get the show really going.

“Man is the measure of all things,” could easily be the opening lone of a stage play concerning the history of philosophy. I know from firsthand witness that phrase has hung on the wall of many dorm rooms that have borne witness to activities often reserved for cheap motel rooms outside of town; it has also, quite contrarily, remained very near the heart of philosophical discourse for over two millennia.

Such a mentality is easy for the philosophically-minded to slip into. As the exercise of philosophizing often consists of comparing and contrasting (AKA “measuring”) experiences, narratives, and ideas, it’s a natural temptation to declare oneself (or one’s kind) “the measure of all things”. Given the absence of an immediately apparent alternative to man, as far as measuring is concerned, Protagoras can’t really be blamed for making such a claim. Groothuis does an excellent job of exploring Protagoras’ position, the rationale behind it, what such a position means, and the ultimate results of a position. I don’t have the ability or word count to do so.

Moving on, a younger and arguably more famous contemporary of Protagoras is reported to have said “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Of course, if man is the measure of all things, then such an examination is likely to be very short in duration. Groothuis shows the tension between Socrates/Plato’s views on the transcendental nature of reality and Protagoras’ more materialist understanding of reality. While also setting up an opposition between Protagoras’ camp and the Socratic camp (which remains in the narrative all the way through Kierkegaard), he describes Socrates and his basis for such an extreme statement as “The unexamined life is not worth living,” in its own right as well. Admittedly, I feel that, despite explicitly addressing the key issue in interpreting Socrates (he didn’t write anything down, so all we have is other peoples’ accounts of what he said), Groothuis blurs the line between Socrates and Plato as far as their ideas are concerned.

Regardless of whether Plato or Socrates ought to get the credit allotted by Groothuis, they effectively prepare the stage for Aristotle who begins the discussion of man’s nature. Ultimately, the issue of man’s nature is what Augustine, Descartes, Pascal, and Kierkegaard are called to opine upon. Each one comes from a particular philosophical school and era in history and, therefore, has something unique to contribute to the discussion and Groothuis demonstrates a depth and breadth of knowledge on both the philosophers and their ideas.

This book is a must-read and must-have for anyone who is even fleetingly interested in matters beyond dinner, dates, and this week’s sportsball game. This goes for the engineer who did everything in his power to avoid liberal arts as well as the philosophy masters’ students who may need a reminder on the basics, a reminder of where philosophy 101 students stand, or as a textbook from which to teach. This book is one of the few secondary sources I will suggest, and I plan on snagging a few of the books listed in the bibliography for my personal extra-credit.

TL;DR; Philosophy in Seven Sentences, by Douglas Groothuis, is a paradigm example of how the more knowledgeable one is concerning a particular subject, the better one ought to be at explaining it in terms everyone can understand and, hopefully, enjoy. Derived from a popular introductory lecture style, Groothuis’ work takes seven deep, meaningful, and crucial sentences from the history of philosophy. While I may have chosen sentences from Nietzsche, Rousseau, ort Sartre instead, I would not have been even remotely capable of laying out so much information in so concise and readable a narrative. If anyone has a hard time keeping up with the terminology or argumentation in this blog, “Philosophy in Seven Sentences” is my most highly recommended starting place (followed by Liberty Classroom).

Existentialism is a Humanism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Tuttle Twins: Bastiat

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

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

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

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

FREEDOM! By Willia- Adam Kokesh

I recently came into custody of a copy of Adam Kokesh’s book “FREEDOM!” on the way to a friend of mine.  I figured there would be no harm in quickly reading through the text, myself, while I was waiting for my chance to pass it along to the appropriate party.

At 97 pages, with large font and margins, it’s a pretty simple read.  It’s written in articulate prose while using a third-grade vocabulary, effectively accomplishing the stated goal of the author: to be accessible to as many people as possible, at any reasonable cost.  The book is available in every format imaginable and is free in nearly every format as well.

If someone wants to read (or wants someone they know to read) the basic concept of freedom and non-aggression in a calm, reasoned, amenable voice, this is likely the text I’d recommend.  It isn’t as philosophically or economically involved as I would prefer, but not everyone can just read Human Action over the weekend and become an AnCap; not even I, myself, was able to accomplish such a feat (I read it in two weeks and it took about a year to become an AnCap).  A compromise between the task of reading Human Action or the less-involved (and, while effective, less satisfactory) process of reading “FREEDOM!” would be to look into Tom Woods’ Liberty Classroom or read My Book.

Shoe0nhead: a Manic and Funny Christina Hoff Sommers

Between Christina Summers (mother of one of my favorite podcast hosts) and Shoe0nhead, the camp of reason-and-evidence-based worldviews has been blessed with two shining counter-instances to the rare instance of “respectable” feminists: the older, calmer woman using facts to back up what are intuitively obvious claims, and the attractive, overly-made-up manic pseudo-comedian who manages to convey facts and evidence in a way that is entertaining.

If the state were a rapidly-spreading apartment fire, consuming all wealth and livelihood in its path, feminism (and the other leftist cults of feels and misanthropy) is the jet fuel being dropped from airplanes onto the building.  It is eminently helpful (if insufficient) to have a handful of firefighters and air-traffic controllers, like these two, trying to prevent the spread of destruction.

 

Also, I’m aware the site has been a little low-content the last couple weeks… we had an aborted attempt at moving to NH which presented quite a bit of opportunity cost and monetary expense.  Hopefully, starting Saturday, we will be back in full-force on this site.

Zomia Offline Games Pt. 2: Ninja Trek

Following closely on the heels of the first widely-known anarchist video game Zomia Offline Games has done it again.  Brian Sovryn of Sovryn Tech fame (or infamy), having set a challenging standard for what “anarchist game” means, has managed to meet this standard while releasing a more mainstream product.

Ninja Trek is a more mainstream-style RPG than Hypercronius.  What I mean by that is that it is a little longer, has more combat, and less dialogue.  It also has a slightly smaller price tag (It’s hard to get smaller than that of Hypercronius), at a mere .012 BTC.  I’m going to try and review Ninja Trek by it’s own merits, rather than comparing it to Hypercronius, but we’ll see how successful I am in that regard.

Gameplay/Story: The gameplay and story are pretty direct and intuitive.  If anyone has played Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest/Warrior, or any other classic J-RPG, you’ll know how to play Ninja Trek.  Even as a short game, there are exciting story elements, fun puzzles, and a decent variety of baddies to clobber.  Most notable of the story elements are the handful of connections made to Hypercronius, implying that this game takes place thousands or hundreds of thousands of years after the events in Hypercronius; I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll leave it at that.  There’s one main puzzle in the game which is simple but fun enough (I, in my sleep-deprived and mensa-puzzle mindset overlooked the solution and spent hours trying to figure it out). but general gameplay presents it’s own puzzle-like atmosphere; grinding would undoubtedly make the game easier than avoiding combat at every possible chance, but how will that pay off in the long run?  I’ve only played as a straight-up magic user thus far, but may play through again using the fighter class and see how that changes gameplay for combat.  It is possible to beat the game without grinding if one is smart about equipment, items, and party composition, but I’m sure it would be easier to just grind along the way, killing everything in sight.  But that isn’t the gameplay that I was looking for, given the subtext of the game’s relationship to Hypercronius.
There are, like in Hypercronius, a lot of obvious and not-so-obvious references to esoteric ideologies, which add to the richness and apparent depth of the environments in the game.  One can’t miss the use of the Ankh and the Garden of E.DIN, for example.
The Message:  Where Hypercronius is very, very story-heavy, Ninja Trek is a little more gameplay-driven.  As such the message is mostly contained in they payout at the end of the game (“Kami do not kill!“).  The protagonist/player is faced with what could be called a moral dilemma which has profound implications in the world laid out by the game’s plot.  If one is inclined to meditate on the story and the ending, they can easily tease out different implications concerning the nature of power, domination structures, and even the NAP.
A little bit of meta-game message is bundled in as well: the game’s EULA is actually the BipCot license.  It is pretty much the only EULA that I recommend anyone read, as it’s the first ever license that I know of which is valid under the rubric of the NAP.
The Rub:  If one is expecting the level of text, story, character development, and drama experienced in Hypercronius, they will likely be disappointed.  In addition to being less dialogue-driven, there was a noticeable absence of voice acting and sexy sprite-humping.  However, the game stands very well on it’s own as a classic RPG-style hack-and-slash.  I encountered one bug towards the end of the game that led to the game crashing, but I was unable to recreate the bug (it’s just as likely my antivirus breaking things as it is a flaw in the actual game).  Fortunately, the age-old “RPG best practices” of saving constantly meant that I only lost about 5 minutes of gameplay to the crash.
The Verdict:  For just a few dollars, it’s hard to go wrong.  Again, Zomia Offline Games successfully delivers on the stated goals of their project.  Ninja Trek is an excellent companion piece to Hypercronius in that they compliment each other’s absences.  Where Hypercronius lacks the more traditional hack-and-slash RPG elements, Ninja Trek has it in spades; where Ninja Trek lacks full-motion video, voice acting, and visual-novel levels of dialogue, Hypercronius has more than enough.  Seeing as how one could get both for under $10, one can get the full anarchist 16-bit experience for the cost of a cheeseburger.
In it’s own right, though, Ninja Trek is well worth the couple dollars for a couple hours of nostalgic adventure true to the medium which simply doesn’t exist in the modern gaming landscape.  The anarchy just makes it that much more fun.
Oh, and you can buy it with Bitcoin in addition to the usual PayPal et al.

https://zomiaofflinegames.com/product/ninjatrek/

TL;DR:  4 out of 5 stars, fun game, good combat engine, fun environments, yay anarchy.  I’m certainly looking forward to Hypercronius II as I’ve come to expect great things from Zomia Offline Games.

Defending the Undefendable

In the spirit of Rothbard, Walter Block presents a treatise on the relationship between crime and economic manipulation, semi-appropriate ethical indignation and the unintended consequences of using violence to try to prevent those ethically unappealing actions.
In Defending the Undefendable, Walter Block defends the heroin dealer, the speculator, the employer of child labor, and the man who screams “fire” in a crowded theater against accusations of economic perversity and harming the social order.  He does so quite effectively.  After reading this book, one who is educated in economics will have to seriously reconsider support of a minimum wage and legal prohibitions against child labor.
The introduction, written by Rothbard himself, makes it clear that while the people defended in Block’s book are heroes because of the role they play economically and the adversity they face in reducing the friction of a politically-controlled economic system, this is not a moral defense of the particular actions the people make.  For instance, a heroin dealer could very well be a boon to the market and a hero in face of the evils of government while also perpetrating an immoral or unethical act (such as selling poison to people, even if it is a voluntary interactions).
As compelling, concise, and informative as the book is as a whole, there is one chapter, however, that doesn’t seem to belong.  The defense of the “Male Chauvinist Pig” was less an economic defense of chauvinism and much more an incoherent and aggressive defense of feminist talking points, most prominent of which being the importance of abortion.  This defense of abortion is actually inconsistent with a much more compelling case he makes later on in the case of defending “The Employer of Child Labor”.
All-in-all, though, this book is a must-read for anyone who believes in the free market but hasn’t critically assessed their position on “the undefendable” as of yet, people who are genuinely interested in reducing crime and increasing the quality of life for the poor, and those that still believe that government violence can somehow improve the world.  Each chapter is a few pages long, very direct and to the point.

One can acquire the book for free in digital form from the Mises Institute, or purchase a hardcopy at Amazon.  I strongly recommend that you do so.

Engines of Domination

A book written by Mark Corske was recently made into a pseudo-documentary film that is very well-produced and well- written.  I strongly recommend that people watch the video on youtube.  It’s an hour long, but it can easily be played at 1.25X or 1.5X speeds.  It gets a little choppy at 2X speed.  It is well worth the time to anyone who has felt that “something isn’t right” about the world they live in, and it’s even thought-provoking to those who haven’t.
Reading the book would be warranted, too. However, I feel that watching the youtube video for free is much less a commitment than buying and reading the book.  There’s also the issue of market forces… there is a certain AnCom vein that runs through this work, so one’s money may be better spent on Rothbard or Hans-Hermann Hoppe.

If one hour is too long or someone doesn’t want to watch a documentary, there is a third option to the documentary and book.  Here is a 30-minute interview that covers pretty much all the same information and ideas, but without a cool soundtrack and powerful visuals.

Disclaimer: I’m not a fan of Anarchast anymore, but this interview is still legit.

 

The Selling of the President 1968

A few months ago, I stumbled across this book at a thrift store.  The title was provocative enough, and my very limited knowledge of post-World War american history informed me that it was probably about Nixon.  Nixon has always intrigued me, but not enough to actually try to learn anything about him.  I decided to correct that and bought this book for less than a dollar.

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The book describes, in detail, the experiences of the men involved in Nixon’s television campaign leading up to the election that made him President.  Why would an anarchist care about Nixon and how he became president?  To be honest, some of it is just morbid fascination with how we got to where we are.  The reason I am suggesting you read it, though, is because it serves as an excellent exposition as to how, exactly, television has altered our society as a political body and the new methods of advertising that removed any semblance of intelligence from the electoral competition.

The first half of the book is the actual story, while the second half of the book is a massive collection of the documents from the actual election team, which are even more interesting than the story, in my opinion.

Easy Bitcoin Access and Use

Bitcoin, as both a technology and as a currency, is an invaluable tool for the rise of freedom and decentralization.  There are those in governments (especially the US government) who understand this and are doing their best to smother it in its crib.  The remainder are ignorant and happen to be blundering their way into attempting the very same sort of abortion.

Fortunately, the government cannot regulate Bitcoin, they can only regulate the points of contact between Bitcoin and the legacy systems that the government controls.  This, of course, has made access through exchanges and more traditional methods of exchanging one form of money for another quite difficult and somewhat risky.  Fortunately, where there is a market demand, the market provides:

Purse.io is a simple solution to a ridiculous problem.  Much like Brawker, a previous endorsement of mine that has since gone out of business, Purse.io allows one to essentially use their credit/debit card to buy Bitcoins.

Basically, someone makes a wishlist entry on a site like Amazon and places an appropriate amount of bitcoin into an escrow wallet to purchase that item.  You then order that item form their wishlist.  When they receive the item, the bitcoin is released from escrow and sent to your account.  Congratulations! You’ve just got yourself some invaluable magic internet money.
The process works in reverse, as well.  If you want to spend your newly-acquired Bitcoin to buy something from Amazon (say the price jumps in value 600% again and your $50 in BTC becomes $300 in BTC overnight), You need only to make an Amazon wishlist entry and to place enough bitcoin to make the purchase worthwhile to another Purse.io user (people frequently get amazon products at a 5-25% discount buying in BTC) and just wait for someone to fulfill that wish.

I’ve only used the service once, but the UI was seamless and easy to use, the instructions were clear and simple, and I managed to get my Bitcoin right away, courtesy of same-day shipping on Amazon.  This is a great starting place for people who are bit-curious but intimidated by all the paperwork and regulatory bullshit associated with using fiat to buy crypto-assets on exchanges.

14 “Hard” Questions With Easy Answers

Before any commenters speak up, I am totally aware that I plug a lot of Tom Woods on this part of the blog.  Some day, I will be plugging a lot of Rothbard and Spooner, but I need to get my priorities sorted out with them… they were very prolific writers and, while it would behove anyone and everyone to read the entirety of their works, I feel it would be prudent to focus on the highlight reel in this section.  I am doing the same with Woods, currently.

14 Hard Questions for Libertarians: Answered
is an excellent resource.  Where reading Rothbard and thinking things through from first principles (fundamental economics, the NAP, etc.) will inevitably produce the same or similar answers to those in this book, it is an amazingly simple and accessible resource for beginners, people who can’t be bothered making freshman-level arguments with detractors, and people who may have done all the heavy lifting themselves and may have a couple blind spots.

I, personally, land in all three categories.  I’m an anarchist of only about two years, and I have a lot of catching up to do, I’ve already cited and linked to this book twice on facebook in arguments with people that are intelligent but ignorant, and was surprised to find myself reassessing some of my stances on things.  Most especially my position on Prisons in a Free Society has come into question, and I’ve been inspired to do more reading in primary sources and more critical thinking about how I arrived at my position.  I expect to make a full blog post in the future, once I’m done researching and revising my position.

A Catholic Dayna Martin?

A Little Way of Homeschooling: Thirteen Families Discover Catholic Unschooling is  an interesting work.  It simultaneously provides the more rigorous and analytic exploration of unschooling that I was looking for after reading Radical Unschooling and tries to answer a question that had never crossed my mind: “Can a Catholic home/unschool?”

What Suzie Andres calls “The Little Way of unschooling”, I have been referring to as “the Tao of family life” for a while now.  The proper application of effort in the proper area of life.  Too much, and you break something, too little and nothing gets accomplished.  In the case of education and developing healthy relationships within the family, it requires a lot of focus and self-knowledge, unschooling seems to be an excellent method of discerning the proper application of effort.

I know I have been writing about primarily Catholic issues a fair amount lately, but pagan or atheist readers could easily take this book and exchange out references to trusting God to believing in the all-present life force or whatever or trusting in humanity and still get the same results.

Where I was already pretty much sold on unschooling before reading Radical Unschooling, my wife was suspicious before reading the book and then doubly so after reading that book.  In the interest of helping me out and giving my ideas a chance, she sought out this book herself at the library.  Now, she’s almost totally sold on the idea, and I have the reading list in the back of the book to help me find more resources that may be directed more towards people such as myself.

I would strongly recommend that Catholics with children should read The Little Way of Homeschooling, even if they are happy with whatever schooling situation they are currently in.  If non-Catholics are pursuing unschooling, this resource may still be useful, but they may want to read Dayna Martin (if they are of a freedom-minded persuasion) or John Holt.

Leaving the Cave, An Amiable Introduction to Anarchy: A Free Market Manifesto

At Ave Maria University, the college I attended, James Chillemi recently presented a solid introduction to Anarcho-Capitalism for his senior thesis. Despite some degree of opposition from the professors and administrators at the school (not surprisingly), he did so for his senior thesis.
I recommend reading this to everyone. Many people have a tremendous blind spot in their education. Even economics majors often have no concept of the foundation principles of economic theory. It is crucial to fill this blind spot before beginning to discuss questions like “Who will build the roads?” and “What about education?” James does a great job of starting that process.
Those that already know the foundations of economics can find some useful rhetorical tools in explaining it to the uneducated. It’s also useful to have a refresher course on the basics, every so often.
It’s not a long read, a couple smoke breaks or a lunch break can handle this paper.

For those who would rather listen than read, his presentation is on youtube. I recommend reading the paper over the video, almost entirely due to the fact that the audio is a little rough. I think it was recorded on a cell phone.
The conspiracy-theorist in me wonders why they didn’t do his thesis in the lecture hall, which is equipped for better audio and actual recording of video and audio. His thesis was the only one that was not allowed to have open attendance, the audience was limited to economics and law students only… but, it’s equally likely that the administrators just still suck at their jobs instead of some sort of attempted censorship (which was also prevalent at Ave).

Radical Unschooling: a Book Review

I guess I will start with my complaints and then write about why this is likely a valuable resource to some. Radical Unschooling by Dayna Martin suffers from self-publish-itis and was clearly not written with me in mind as the target audience. That aside, I did learn a few things and, for a little more than $10 and 145 large-print and wide margin pages, I’d have to say it was worth it.

Self-publish-itis: there are a handful of grammar and spelling errors that, while not egregious, certainly feel as if they are undermining the message of the book, seeing as how it is about education. Also, the format of the text has many of the issues seen in some self-published works, where some lines will have only two or three words separated by long spaces and similar issues.

Target audience: I get the feeling that this book is written to an audience that consists of women with the opposite myers-briggs personality type as what I have that are in a similar situation in life as myself. As such, I found myself frustrated with the content as well as the manner in which the content was presented, finding it to be, well… I don’t know a word that conveys the feeling… somewhere around dilettante with a little bit of floozy thrown in. I want everyone to know that this is in reference to the book itself and not Dayna Martin. I’ve heard her speak publicly, seen her in informal interviews, and heard her as a guest on podcasts. She, herself, is a very intelligent and conscientious individual, it just doesn’t come through very well in her book, at least to me.

Still Worth It: In reading the book, I have found many useful examples as to how NVC can be applied to a parent-child relationship. It is also very encouraging, in an emotional way, concerning the feasibility of transitioning from a traditional authoritarian parenting style to a more peaceful approach. Also, whereas I can easily speak to other I*T* personalities about the philosophy of unschooling, I now have a resource to direct E*F* personalities towards that may be able to better communicate in their language.

Dayna Martin: Back in 2013, Dayna and her family were on wife swap (I hate that show). I very much wanted to post the episode along with this review in order to give a better example of unschooling in action, but the IP mafia has made the video inaccessible everywhere I’ve looked for it. So, if you have a chance to watch Season 8, episode 4 of Wife Swap, it is the only episode I would ever recommend watching. In lieu of watching her many public appearances or that episode of Wife Swap, this book can be useful. I recommend reading it after reading NVC, so as to have a more concrete understanding about the things discussed in Radical Unschooling.

ProXpn and Virtual Private Networks

Virtual Private Networks, while not absolutely necessary or a complete defense in themselves, are the bast starting place for a privacy/security-minded individual on the internet.  I do not have the space and time here to do a full exploration of VPNs, but I can give a brief overview.

All of the internet traffic you generate is sent from your machine, through your connection, directly to your ISP (Comcast, Century Link, Verizon, etc.), more or less.  At which point, their servers analyze that traffic and route it to the appropriate destination (more or less).  That destination receives your information and usually sends something back to your machine, via the ISP.  The method by which “they” know where to send your information is by way of IP addresses.  Your machine is assigned a special address that has all of your traffic and history tied to it (more or less).
Unscrupulous corporations, such as Google, the NSA, your ISP, and other more secret covens of crackers, can access and track that information sent between your machine and the rest of the world.  Using this information and access, they can do relatively minor things like look at your naked pictures, steal your credit card number, or break your computer.  With a little more elbow grease and smarts, “they” can plant any sort of evidence on your machine and ISP records to convict you of pedophilia, terrorism, or not liking the president, at which point you can expect modern-day ninjas to kill you in your sleep or disappear you into a black-site prison.

How does one protect themselves from such things without unplugging one’s computer and setting it on fire?  Enter Virtual Private Networks.

Essentially, a piece of VPN software such as ProXPN encrypts your data on your machine before sending it to your ISP.  It scrambles all of the data in a manner that only someone with the right secret code can un-scramble it, sticks it in what amounts to an envelope, labels the envelope “forward to this server over here”, and sends it to the ISP.  The ISP sees this envelope the same way it sees any other traffic, and routs it to the server in question just like in the scenario before.  This server, upon receiving the traffic from your ISP, then decrypts (un-scrambles) the information and sends it to the end destination.  This way, the site that you want to visit sees the server and thinks that it is you, and uses the VPN server as the end destination and IP address to send information back to.  The server then encrypts the data, sends it back to the ISP labeled “Forward to this guy,” and your machine decrypts the information on your machine itself.

This method makes your traffic essentially invisible to the ISP and makes most web-based cracker attacks.  Also, you can get a discount when signing up, using Bitcoin!

https://proxpn.com/

HYPERCRONIUS: a First Among Many

The first widely-known anarchist video game has been released.  Brian Sovryn of Sovryn Tech fame (or infamy) has created his first video game.  As far as firsts go, it’s an excellent first effort at game development and it sets a challenging standard for others to meet as far as calling a game an “anarchist game”.

Hypercronius is a very short game, which would best be considered a teaser for a much larger universe that has been promised and planned by the developer.  For now, I believe a brief review is in order.

Gameplay/Story: As the motto of ZomiaOfflineGames is “Story First, Story Forever”, this game does not disappoint.  The game plays very much like a 16-bit visual novel.  True to visual novel style, there is a lot of text and some fairly rich characters, histories, and relationships that the player will encounter in the brief time they have in the universe of Hypercronius.  Most notable in regards to story and history would be the 80’s Sci-Fi vibe of empires and their outlaws, unique forms of space-racism, genocide, technology run amok, and a thinly-veiled scientific mysticism.  What makes Hypercronius stand out among a very familiar and comfortable genre is the not-so-hidden message of peace, love, and freedom.  Despite the familiar presence of conflict, hatred, and oppression, the titular character, Hypercronius, gives the player a unique view into the psyche of an anarchist in an unfree world.
There is a classic Final Fantasy-style combat system that has a solid implementation, if sparingly, used in this iteration of the Hypercronius series.  A brief look through the .zip file indicates that there are plans to expand the combat system and broaden the number and type of enemies faced in the future.  From what I know of the developer, though, the combat system will always be secondary to the story and adventure of the series.  This is a good thing, as combat systems, no matter how good they are, tend to become monotonous by the end of the game (Here’s looking at you, Arkham and Assasin’s Creed) but a good story keeps you till the end.
The Message:  As mentioned above, the driving force of this game is that it is the first widely-known anarchist video game.  The game, as brief as it is, does a very good job of laying down a hefty dose of what people call “thick libertarianism”, but does so (for the most part) by way of character exposition, so as to not simply bludgeon the player over the head with the message.  “Thick libertarianism”, for those not versed in the nomenclature, is essentially “a form of anarchism/libertarianism that argues for more than the bare essentials of anarchism”.  For instance, there is a strong polyamory vs. traditional marriage thread and a less-overt anti-killing/violence thread which are not necessarily the inevitable conclusion of first principles such as the NAP (non-aggression principle).  Rather than weakening the overall case made for anarchism, though, the way that the characters embrace these ideologies serves to enrich the universe that they reside in and prevents them from becoming a cardboard cutout holding an anarchist bullhorn.  In my opinion, it makes them more fleshed-out as characters with what may be considered their own unique set of flaws. and vices.  The cartoonish overreactions of their antagonists to these ideas is both amusing and right in line with the 80’s sci-fi vibe.
The Rub:  Aside from a couple typos, the dialogue (the main feature of the game) is accessible and entertaining enough to carry the game in its own right, much like a good visual novel.  However, audiences that are more accustomed to strategy and kick-in-the-door roleplay may begin to lose interest sometime in-between the dulcet and savory introduction to the universe (as provided by Dr. Stephanie Murphy) and where gameplay actually begins.
Also, the game is sort-of NSFW.  Implied 16-bit sprite-humping is amusing it, but it is something to be aware of if you’re going to whip out your flash drive during lunch at work.  The sexier bits seemed to be shoehorned in to the story and detracted from the overall flow of the narrative.  The character dialogue would have served the same purpose as the cutscenes in most cases.  In other words, I don’t see anything wrong with the scenes in themselves, but maybe trimming the four interludes down to two and simply implying the other two would have kept the flow of the narrative at a healthy pace all the way through the game.
The Verdict:  For $7, it’s hard to go wrong.  The game could easily fit between “Binding of Issac” and “Don’t Starve” in the indie steam games library.The message of freedom isn’t for everyone, but the game is fun in it’s own right and certainly deserves a shot from anyone with $7 or .02 BTC laying around.  That’s right, you can buy it with bitcoin.  Also, it’s entirely DRM-free and portable, which automatically makes it a cooler game than 99% of the marketplace.  I’m sure with a little work that you can get your hands on the game for free because of it, but the developer (like all anarchists) doesn’t believe in intellectual property, so he’s not going to come after you with the guns of the state for doing so.  However, this is one game that I will not be pirating, as Brian deserves every bitcoin for homesteading the video game industry.

http://zomiaofflinegames.com/product/hypercronius/

TL;DR:  4 out of 5 stars, fun game, lots of reading, don’t play at work unless your boss is really cool, yay anarchy.

SCIENCE! and Epistemology

Today’s resource suggestion is a little more involved than previous ones.  Today’s resource suggestion is Karl Popper’s Conjectures and Refutations.  This book primarily concerns itself with the problem of doing science from an epistemic standpoint.  This may not seem to be too important to the project I have been engaged in with this blog, but to anyone who reads the book, you will likely see the connection very quickly.  My post on Paradigmatic Awareness is, essentially, a synthesis of this work and another by Thomas S Kuhn, which will likely be another resource suggestion soon enough.

While Popper was primarily interested in the philosophy of science in this book, I believe his insights apply to all of epistemology, not just the study of the material world.  As a classical liberal, Popper extends his epistemic reasoning out to his own version of social contract theory.  I think that, while he had a good basis to work off of and an amazing intellect, he made the mistake that many classical liberals made: he forgot that the institutions he advocated for would never go away; where tolerance, as he imagined it, was only supposed to be implemented so long as it was practically useful to collective flourishing, it has become the monster that it is today… inspired by his own words.

So, please read Conjectures and Refutations.  It will help broaden your understanding of how one can say that they know what they know, how science as an exercise ought to be done, and reveal a great deal of the social philosophy that has gotten the western world into the trouble that it is in now.

http://www.amazon.com/Conjectures-Refutations-Scientific-Knowledge-Routledge/dp/0415285941

NonViolent Communication

About a year ago, I read “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life — Second 2nd Edition”. I was very resistant to giving NVC a chance.  My introduction to it was some people on Free Talk Live talking about it, and it sounded like some sort of cult-y, Scientology-like, “if we all learn to pray and talk with hippie vibes, the world will be healed”.  Hearing about it from Stephan Molyneux next sealed the deal (he is a de-facto cult leader). Satya Nadella made this book required reading for Microsoft execs, which made me wonder if this was becoming a mainstream fad and made me even more resistant to the idea. Also, the name itself seemed off-putting to me.  I figured (and still do) that any language that didn’t consist of veiled or direct threats is, by default, non-violent.

Then, certain people that I don’t always agree with but always respect their opinion and degree of thought it takes for them to develop an opinion re-introduced me to the idea of NVC. Between Brian Sovryn explaining that it has less to do with non-violence, and more to do with empathy, I started to reconsider. Seeing Adam Kokesh put it to work on Christopher Cantwell, of all people, sealed the deal. I saw the way that Kokesh (someone whom I’ve always been suspicious of) managed to basically shut down the angry part of Cantwell’s brain and get a begrudging admission that NVC may be an effective tool. I still was very, very suspicious of the whole idea in general, but I knew I had to at least research it before dismissing it.

I bought the book on Amazon for something like $15 and read it in a few weeks, taking it a few pages at a time. The book is easy to read, short and sweet, and gives actionable suggestions. While the methods of NVC aren’t useful in every circumstance, (philosophical discourse, for instance), they are incredibly effective at smoothing out day-to-day interactions with people, especially adversarial people. I am, by no means, a peaceful parent, but I’m looking into that, as well. I can say this much, though, after giving NVC a shot, I’ve gotten incredible results with my middle child. It used to seem like her sole purpose in life was to antagonize me, but we’re making excellent progress in getting along, thanks to Rosenberg.

The way I understand NVC to operate is thus:
We, in our culture today, are addicted to counter-productive emotions. We have developed a habit of being outraged at things. The4 internet has proven to be instrumental in fueling this addiction to outrage, as there’s always something out there for anyone to be mad at. The way addictions work is in cycles. Stimulus, reaction, dopamine/adrenaline/etc, brain-drugs wear off, repeat. In the case of outrage, something touches on an unresolved need or desire within us, we get mad and lash out at at whoever or whatever touched on that nerve, we get a release of feel-good drugs in our brains, and we feel good about being miserable, repeat ad-infinitum. What NVC seems to do is interject itself between the stimulus and reaction and closes that loop prematurely. This is how addictions are broken, how good habits are formed, and how someone can talk down a 280 lb thug before getting their face punched in.
It is also a method of communicating that, in closing that loop prematurely, leads people into uncharted areas of their own human mental experience and opens them up to actually exploring alternative ways of seeing the world, which is useful when discussing crucial matters such as human flourishing.

As it stands now, I understand NVC in an almost entirely scholastic sense, but my early efforts at putting it into practice have already made family and work far more manageable. I recommend everyone read this book. I don’t think it’s some sort of silver-bullet to eliminating the state, as some do, but I do believe that this is a tool set that is irreplaceable if one wants to flourish in a post-state society.

 

Admittedly, the metaphysics in the book is very cloogy, but that’s to be expected.  Ignoring the metaphysics and treating the work as a rhetorical tool seems to be much more efficacious and fits well into other practices in rhetoric, such as the Trivium.

Survivor Max: Educational Zombies

A young adult fiction book about an 11-year-old surviving the zombie apocalypse with a collection of skills learned from the Porcupine Freedom Scouts (a non-statist alternative to the Boy Scouts).  It’s educational, fun, short, and sweet.  Oh, and Zombies.  These zombies are a fresh take on a very stale genre villain.

The second installment of the series was released October of 2015, and my copy is in the mail.  I’m very excited.  I also have some small degree of insider information about the next few installments of the series, the biology of the outbreak, and the inspiration for the story.  I am certain the rest of the series will not disappoint.

The best part?  You can buy it with Bitcoin, here.

Or, you can buy it on Amazon if you’re stuck in the legacy economy, here.

This series is written in a voice that’s accessible to elementary school kids, but still appealing to an adult audience, other than the default scariness and morbidity involved with zombies, I’d say this story is appropriate for all ages.