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.

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).

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.

It’s “Just” a War

Just War Theory used to be a major focus of mine when I was much younger.  When I was a communist, I had two motivations for researching and debating just war theory: the first was whether or not revolution counted as war and whether it would be justified, the second was a result of 9/11, the subsequent continuation of war in the middle east, and the discussions that ensued with parents and classmates.

After a few years of research and debate, I decided that Just War theory really is nothing more than a Theory on How To Justify a War.  Today’s resource is someone much more engaged in this discussion than I in an interview with Tom Woods, but saying essentially the same things I have believed for years, now.

Something a Little More Uplifintg

Hans Rosling is a very smart man who has a lot to say.  Fortunately, he’s entertaining to listen to.  Given his age and his profession, he is a true scientist.  In his talks and lectures, he presents quite a lot of food for thought.

He has certain ethical commitments that I don’t agree with (he’s a big fan of population controls and contraception as well as curbing greenhouse gasses/fossil fuel use), but he presents the information in a manner that allows one to pick apart the data and make their own analyses.

Today’s Suggestion is this small collection of short videos presented by Rosling.  Consider it a late thanksgiving.

The Rise of Victim Culture

Today’s Resource Suggestion is some food for thought over the Thanksgiving (state-endorsed genocide day) weekend.  This academic article is a survey of modern academic culture (and the areas of mainstream culture it has infected) and an attempted genealogy of victimhood culture.

Microaggression_and_Moral_Cultures

The main draw for me, and the reason I want to draw it to your attention as well, is the correlation the authors find between the oppressive power of the state and the distancing of a culture from virtues such as honor.

This ties closely to a piece I hope to post in January concerning eugenics, the free market, and statism.  This is good reading for the interim, though.

 

Also, in case you have managed to avoid exposure to the blight that is victim culture, here’s an example:

Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature

The term “fair” comes up a lot these days.  I have only a limited chronological sample (26 years), and I have not always been as aware of its use as I could have been, but it would seem that my generation (unlike preceding generations) never learned to stop using that word.  When I was five, things being fair was a big deal.  Of course, “fair” meant something different to each person, even grown-ups.  The more conservative (RE: less-socialist) parents would try to make each instance one of desert: “who earned what?” while the egalitarian lefty parents would try to implement some form of social justice: “Your brother is younger and smaller than you, so he always gets to go first and gets more candy.”

Of course, when one grows up, a part of that process is the realization that “life isn’t fair”.  This is because “fair” doesn’t exist, and it’s a self-contradictory concept, no matter how one defines it, much like common conceptions of justice.

Today’s resource suggestion is more Rothbard.  This time, it’s the essay “Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature“.  This is a scathing reductio ad absurdum of the very premise of any sort of “equality-oriented” philosophy (feminism, egalitarianism, socialism, progressivism, statism…).

You can read the text or listen to the audio for free, courtesy of the Mises Institute.

Ben Shade Interview

This week’s full post is another audio-only post.  As compared to last week, though, I get the feeling that this one has a fair amount more utility to provide most listeners/readers.

It’s an interview with Ben Shade, professional biologist.  He provides is unique perspective on the subjects often covered on this blog.

I think you can probably play this at 1.5 speed, so it’s not quite an hour and a half in duration.

Cops in Classrooms

I’ve let this incident (and the literal hundreds of identical incidents) sit for a while before posting something on it here.  On facebook, I posted one allusion to Spring Valley in particular when discussing the criminal nature of law enforcement as a whole, but that’s about it.

I was planning on simply bundling Spring Valley into a long list (as I am wont to do in my full posts) of examples of why it’s bad to put cops in schools when addressing public education, but the guys over at Reboot Your Body/Kids AKA Revolutionary Parent.com had such a good discussion concerning three important details that nearly everyone overlooked concerning Spring Valley as well as effectively refuting a blogger that I follow fairly closely (he’s really right about 50% of the time, and the other 50% he’s just a dirty statist).

So, today’s resource suggestion is this short podcast episode.

Also, I want to make a note that the podcaster made an effort to avoid pointing out.  Matt Walsh apparently believes that Teachers and Cops are no different than wild animals: wholly devoid of individual autonomy, consisting solely of input-output behaviors.  This is more dehumanizing than I have ever been to cops.  I wish I could simply say “cops are rabid dogs, and so we should put them to sleep”, but I can’t they are human beings capable of making moral and ethical decisions and ought to be treated as such, even if Matt Walsh believes they have no autonomy of their own.

About The Author (and his ideas)

Howdy? I am the titular Mad Philosopher of this particular work. I am a philosopher in my late twenties. Rather than focusing your ire on my lack of years, though, you may feel more vindicated by directing such feelings towards my lack of academic credentials. I am a proud college dropout who routinely speaks out against the academic industry.0612141803b

How can a man claim the title of “philosopher” without a degree or a chair at university? What are the
necessary and sufficient conditions for one to be a philosopher? I would argue that a philosopher is one who habitually engages in the activity of philosophy. Of course, philosophy itself is quite controversial. Is it merely thinking deep thoughts or questioning authority, or is it building a vocabulary and grammar for describing and discussing the human experience? Is it the activity of stoners and pedophile Greeks or is it the activity of academics and lawyers?

I am working on publishing a book dedicated, in small part, to addressing this controversy. In the mean time, readers of this blog (and listeners of the podcast) will notice a few family resemblances betwixt the entries on this blog which may inform the readers concerning what I believe philosophy to be. Readers of this introduction will receive the added bonus of my current working definition being explicitly provided here:
“Philosophy is the ongoing exercise of attempting to create an internally consistent, logically sound, empirically viable, and universal worldview which possesses ethical agency, utility, and (ultimately) Truth.”

I have been engaged in just such an exercise ever since I began reading the Nicomachean Ethics at the naive and virginal age of eight years. This has resulted in incalculable quantities of reading, writing, and arguing over the course of a couple decades. Also in that course of time, I have camped under the open sky for just shy of one thousand nights, earned the rank of Eagle Scout, renounced the honors associated with such an award, attended and dropped out of university (earning an associate’s degree in philosophy despite being a mere 20 elective credits short of a bachelor’s degree), married a (still) smokin’ hot woman, sired three beautiful daughters, and a bunch of other life experiences that likely only matter to me. These experiences have informed my worldview, though, and I thought it only fair to share them with you.

I tend a 500 square foot microfarm which provides nearly one ton of food each year. I make a meager living working facilities and maintenance at a church. I make time, daily, to work on this blog and my books as a matter of vocation and passion. I host philosophy clubs, play Dungeons and Dragons, shoot guns, do landscaping work, and tutor in writing, logic, and philosophy on the side.

More important than the man, I believe, would be his ideas. I doubt you are reading this blog to get to know me, personally, and are instead interested in engaging some unique and challenging views presented in a rational and grounded manner. Why else would someone read a blog titled “Mad Philosopher”? I cannot guarantee that any of these ideas presented will be unique in their substance, given that it is far more common for one to read numerous sources and simply synthesize a new arrangement of old ideas. I do guarantee, however, that I do what I can to make these ideas digestible to all audiences, that I try to make the form of the discussion engaging and bite-sized, and that these ideas are central to a series of worldviews and schools of thought which I contend ought to be at the heart of a fulfilling and eudaemonic life.

Many individuals, across the entire spectrum of intellectual ability, strive to eschew labels and “-ism”s in order to not bring others’ baggage into a discussion prematurely and to avoid feeling constrained by specific doctrines or dogmas. It may be my semi-religious upbringing speaking when I say it, but I find labels and “-ism”s to have a very unique and indispensable utility. For instance, I can provide you with a list of ideologies and “-ism”s which are the strongest influences on my worldview and method of reason, and that will help frame the discussion on this blog in such a manner that you are less likely to misinterpret my arguments.

As a matter of fact, that is what I intend to do. I will list here a series of ideologies and methods to which I owe my worldview, in order of philosophical priority, with each successive entry on the list obtaining only insofar as it is compatible with the preceding entries. I, Mad Philosopher, am a/an:

  • Epistemic Popperian: Of course, I have to put the most complicated entry at the top of the list. In all reality, it’s not too complex, only the terminology. Basically, I believe that “knowledge” defined as “justified true belief” is something to be approximated due to phenomenological limitations of the human mind (we can’t necessarily trust our senses and interpretation of experience). When one makes a knowledge claim, it must be accompanied with falsifying criteria: criteria that, if met, would force one to renounce the held belief. This is (ostensibly) the driving mechanism behind the scientific methods. I like to think that this is the underlying operating principle for all of my claims, given that I have had ample opportunities to change my mind concerning a great many important subjects. Reading this blog will gradually expose one to this catalogue of mind-changes.
  • Anarchist: This blog is technically about philosophical subjects in general. However, I choose subjects for blog posts based primarily with discussions I have IRL (in real life) and on various spots on the internet. As such, most of my posts would center on the most contentious of my beliefs. anarchism is, by far and away, the most controversial. Not because people would disagree with the premise (people shouldn’t murder, coerce, or steal from others), but because they don’t want to apply that claim to their own behavior in an intellectually consistent manner.  as far as the AnCom vs AnCap debate is concerned, I like to call myself “merely an anarchist“, but I am fairly economically literate, which would make most people consider me an AnCap by default.
  • Catholic: Yes, an anarchist can be Catholic and vice-versa. I have not fully explored this discussion in a blog post yet, but I assure you, it’s on its way. For now, It will have to suffice to say that I believe the doctrines of the Church to have sufficient falsifiability criteria to be provisionally assented to and that the doctrinal moral teachings of the Church bolster rather than contradict the Non-Aggression-Principle in any of it’s more intelligible forms. One will notice that I have issues with Catholic social teaching and a great many non-doctrinal claims. These issues are informed by the preceding entries on this list as well as a simple rational and critical inquiry into the teachings of such figureheads as Aquinas and Augustine.
  • Optimist: As a Catholic, I believe that this must, in fact, be the best of all possible worlds (It would have to follow from the claim of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God). There’s is the glaring issue of the problem of evil, regarding which I have several posts in the works. Given my issues with Aquinas, I am disinclined to endorse the Augustinian Theodicy (which is really a construction of Aquinas’) and instead hold to a cross between the Irenaean Theodicy and what I call the Rorschach Theodicy.
  • Brutalist: Almost as if to balance the claim of optimism (this is the best of all possible worlds) I also believe that this world sucks. Mankind has largely been concerned with the activity of enslaving, domesticating and murdering itself throughout all of known history (excepting the possibility of pre-agricultural revolution, pre-government times), and this has resulted in a world wherein humans are a tortured, maligned wreck. Unfathomable potential squandered by the lazy and criminal. This is why I listen to Death Metal.
    Taking on the label of brutalist is a sort of double-entendre, as there is the general disposition of a metalhead which is called “brutalism” and there is a line of libertarian/anarchist thought which strictly adheres to the Non-Aggression Principle. When I say I’m an anarchist, my particular brand of anarchism very closely resembles that of the brutalists to begin with. I do have various ethical and virtue-oriented prescriptions above and beyond that which the brutalists allow for, that’s why Catholicism precedes brutalism in priority on this list.

The name “Mad Philosopher”, itself, is a double-entendre. It’s obviously an homage to the popular phrase “mad scientist”, which seems appropriate: a mad scientist is often depicted as a social outcast reviled by other scientists and engineers for holding unorthodox views and implementing unorthodox methods. Would not this blog be the philosophical equivalent? That aside, I consider myself “Mad” in the same spirit as the mad scientist. Additionally, I am mad… well… livid, enraged, infuriated, wrathful, incensed, disturbed, repulsed, inflamed, and tempestuously, violently so. It is beyond my comprehension how one could be aware of the circumstance of contemporary culture and not at least feel a twinge of the pain, outrage, or guilt that I feel is warranted and just.

This blog is an opportunity for me to sublimate some degree of the infernal wrath I harbor, so as to maintain a level head in my day-to-day life while also hoping that others’ minds will catch fire as well. While I expect no amount of success with this project, if I were to have my way, this blog would generate a sufficient following such so as to instill a culture of resistance and intentionality. This culture would aid in making the world a better place in general, but also (more importantly to me) aid in the possibility of starting an actual intentional community outside the reach of Empire so that I can achieve some semblance of freedom in my lifetime. Oh, and it couldn’t hurt to get some bitcoin and sell some merch. on the side.

Carpe Veritas,
Mad Philosopher

By Virtue of… What?

A while back, I discussed honor, but neglected the other elements of the more positive aspects of human action. Where crime, vice, and sin are the trifecta of “bad” human action, charity, virtue, and honor are the opposing trifecta. Today, I am focusing on virtue.

If we were drawing direct comparisons between these two trifectas, I would say that vice is the inverse form of virtue. I defined vice as “any non-criminal activity which would prevent or inhibit the participant from effectively pursuing their telos.” Virtue, as an opposite, is fairly easy to describe by comparison: “a habit of action which aids one in pursuit of one’s telos (or end).”

Since I have already outed myself as a deontologist, it may seem odd for me to be focusing on virtue for a blog post. However, as I mentioned in “New Logo”, the brutalism of a mere prohibition against violating the NAP creates an impoverished ethical framework by which one should live one’s life. Even if I’m not murdering, coercing, or stealing from people, I am not likely to achieve happiness (take your pick of any of the, like, eight Greek words that have different flavors) if I am not pursuing some form of human excellence. Even a hedonist is really pursuing ataraxia (which is something akin to contentedness or tranquility), even if they are unaware of it.
One of the fundamental precepts of both virtue ethics and teleology is the assumption that one will be most happy when pursuing or achieving their end (telos). This assumption is awfully intuitive, and modern psychology seems to be providing pseudo-empirical evidence to bolster such an assumption, so I am reasonably confident in universalizing my own experience of such things. Of course, this virtue ethics/teleology requires a lot more exploration before one can just say “being good will make you happy”, obviously.
For example, one’s telos could be anything. For the last two-and-a-half millenia, lots of stupid people and a few smart people have argued about this very subject. I’m planning on contributing to this mess (and hopefully helping sort some of it out) in my 95 Theses, those chapters are much longer than I could expect someone to read as a blog post or listen to as a podcast, so I’ll have to be brief here.
Aristotle, and anyone who has Aristotelian influences, argues that one’s telos is primarily knowable and possibly even determined by one’s attributes. I say “attributes”, because it is the most philosophically vague term; each philosopher since Aristotle has tried to pin telos to a different aspect of a creature’s being, but they are all related in some way or another to the faculties/functions/attributes/essences of the creature in question. I’m no exception to this accusation. I argue that there are higher-order and lower-order teloi, the higher-order relating to the categorical nature of a thing and the lower-order relating to the specific nature of the thing. A simple example of these things would be that of a hammer; a hammer’s higher-order telos (categorical nature) is to hit things, however, a hammer can be a ball-peen, rubber, claw, sledge… each of which hit in a particular way, are designed to hit a particular material, or have additional functions which do not impede their utility as hitting instruments.
In a similar way, there ought to be higher-order, human teloi and lower-order individual teloi. A relatively less-controversial example of a human telos would be the necessity for growth (mental/physical/spiritual/whatever). An equally less-controversial example of a specific telos would be that of a naturally-gifted doctor; one could have the natural disposition and skill to care for others’ bodies and derive happiness from the pursuit of such, but not every human would be “called” to be a doctor. Just like the case of the hammer, one’s specific teloi can’t come into conflict with their categorical teloi, by virtue of the ontological relationship between one’s essence and existence. In the case of the doctor, caring for others’ (and one’s own) bodies can lend itself to one’s growth and, if pursued appropriately, will even aid in such a pursuit.
In this way, one can establish both a Aristotelian list of virtues which ought to apply to all men and a much more subjective and individualistic list of virtues associated with specific teloi. I wish to reserve the actual list-writing for later (time and space constraints for today’s post), but one can start composing such a list on their own. I would love to discuss such lists with people outside the blog, either in the comments below, via email, or on facebook. These discussions will help revise both the lists themselves as well as the theory we are using to compile the lists. What I want to do here is explore the specific nature of virtue, especially as relates to morality, ethics, and honor.
Virtue, defined as a habit, has quite a lot of baggage associated with it, but what matters for this discussion is to merely define “habit” as a “propensity for particular types of action”. Much like vices are habit-forming, virtues are as well. These habits often contribute to one’s productivity, epistemic rectitude, security/self-sufficiency, humanity, etc. At a minimum, though, they contribute to one’s character in a manner consistent with virtue ethics, existentialism, and a number of other ethical frameworks.
Where morality is a relationship between action and deontological proscriptions, ethics is a series of prescriptions predicated on individual value judgments and an understanding of how the world operates; I explored this in “Morality and Ethics”. Therefore, virtues are an element of ethics, in general. If one values ataraxia, an understanding of virtue would lead them to conclude that developing a habit of temperance (not the puritanical bastardization, but rather the actual meaning of “enough of all things”) will help one achieve ataraxia. If one values eudaemonia, an understanding of virtue would lead one to pursue industriousness or discipline. If one values apatheia, an understanding of virtue would lead one to pursue epistemic rectitude and objectivity.
How does one pursue such virtues? For fear of being branded an Aristotelian, I’d have to say “Fake it ’till you make it.” A praxeologist will tell you that a virtue is expressed in demonstrated preference, and I will tell you that demonstrated preference is, in fact, how one forms preferences in general. Performing an act that is virtuous (practicing one’s art without external motivation is a disciplined action) aids one in forming that particular virtue; doing so consistently will ingrain the habit of doing such… which is the act of possessing that particular virtue. So, if I wish to be magnanimous, I ought to determine what behaviors are magnanimous and do them until such a point in time that it would require effort to refrain from performing those actions. Nietzsche, G.E.M. Anscombe, and Alasdair MacIntyre each have their own particular flavors of virtue ethics, and I recommend that interested readers pursue their works in order to come to a greater understanding of the specifics.
In the mean time, though, I believe that virtue can aid in a great many limit-cases when discussing anarchist morality and ethics. Remember, anarchism is a philosophy of personal responsibility. I have been accused by several people of “wanting to live in a world totally devoid of rules, like some sort of nihilist” and “wanting to live in a world in which I exist alone in the wilderness, like some sort of solipsist”; how a regular reader of this blog could come to that conclusion is beyond me. I may wish to live in a world devoid of crime, AKA a world with no laws and will do what I can to pursue a lifestyle in accordance with such, but the very nature or reality is that of rules; “If I drop this, it will fall,” “If you want to stay alive, you shouldn’t pick fights with people better armed and practiced than you,” and every if-then statement in-between demonstrate this reality. Additionally, if one were to live a solitary existence, they would likely have their time wholly consumed with mere survival and asceticism, rather than a more common teloi, such as that of a profession or of philosophy.
What virtues allow for is reduced friction and uncertainty in an otherwise brutalist reality: in all reality, if something doesn’t violate the deontological proscription against crime, it is morally justified. I may be more interested in living amongst others who pursue and express christian eudaemonic virtues, as opposed to mere brutalists. Conversely, I may wish to live amongst brutalists and be spared the social repercussions of being a libertine amongst Christians. What these virtues allow for is the sort of self-selection mentioned in my post on mereology. Additionally, when one is faced with a limit-case, such as Nazis at your door asking if you are hiding Jews, witnessing a mother (in an anarchist society) abusing her children, abortion in all of it’s controversies, or cases of extreme discrimination, an understanding of virtue can inform one’s actions in such a circumstance. Of course, one cannot produce a categorical moral statement concerning some limit cases (if one witnesses a crime in progress, one does not have a moral obligation to intercede), but one’s own pursuit of virtue may encourage action (courage, honor, etc. would encourage one to intercede).
TL;DR: Virtue is primarily an ethical principle, much like its inverse: vice. It is a principle which dictates “If one wishes to achieve happiness (in whatever form), one ought to engender a habit of X.” This is because a virtue is best defined as “a habit of action which aids one in pursuit of one’s telos (or end)”, and intuition and modern psychology suggest that pursuit of one’s telos is a primary source of happiness for individuals. There exist virtues that are categorically applicable to all humans, and other virtues that apply to individuals, contingent upon their own unique construction. Virtues, while not necessarily necessary, are certainly useful in helping individuals pursue happiness and lubricating the gears of “society”.

Intellectual Property?

It should be no surprise that the issue of property should become so central on an anarchist philosopher’s blog; nearly every opposing argument to anarchy I have encountered hinges on property rights or one’s fear that their property should become insecure.

It also should be no surprise that intellectual property should come up so quickly; copyright law has been a cultural mainstay sine the Church and publishing companies had decided to try and control society’s intellectual pursuits several centuries ago. IP is a subject almost as involved and arguably more convoluted than property at large, so I’m going to focus on one specific point concerning IP today and add to it more later on. I would have to, as property rights and IP intersect frequently with issues such as innovation and privacy. Some more definitions, some metaphysics, and one not-so-world-shaking claim are all I can manage this week.

What is intellectual property? Despite being a centuries-old cultural mainstay, IP law is very nebulous and unhelpful to rational inquiry. Only slightly more useful is the cultural and academic narrative concerning “stealing ideas” and channels by which one gives credit, which are somewhat informed by IP laws. Instead of teasing ideas out of these frustratingly ad-hoc narratives, we should look at the term and the high-altitude basics with fresh eyes.

So, “intellectual”. I tend to avoid metaphysics on my blog, instead reserving such exercises for in-person discussions and my still-unpublished book. I am essentially a substance pluralist, which means I am not beholden to the materialist doctrine. Today, I am going to be using terms such as “ideas”, “mental/intellectual substance”, “mind” and the like. While these terms sound like some sort of Cartesian dualism (to which I do not ascribe), I am aware that, in some form or another, there are materialist parallels to each of these concepts. For the sake of our discussion, we will have to assume that people possess minds and that the discussion of intellectual matters are concerned primarily with the operation of minds. I don’t think this is too far a stretch for my readers.

Ideas are immaterial. Where apples or rocks exist independent from observers and act on their own (producing gravity, growing, decaying, interacting with their environment), ideas are contingent upon minds (or, rather a medium which can contain the idea, such as a mind). If there is an idea in my mind, it exists solely within my mind. Even as I write these words, the idea I am attempting to express resides solely within my mind. It is possible, though infinitely unlikely, that someone, at some point in time, may have an idea that is identical to the one I am expressing now, but it would not be the same idea, nor would we ever have a method by which to determine that it is identical.

This is due to the phenomenological barrier between our rational minds and the world around them. I am currently experiencing having an idea and attempting to express that idea in precise linguistic terms. I am expressing it in this way, hoping that by reading these words you, the reader, will be able to use this expression to construct a similar enough idea such that we will have a common language for expression of ideas. You can never see or experience the idea in my head, but you can attempt to construct a facsimile idea that is close enough.

In short, I cannot “give” or “take” and idea from you, I can only strive to provide you with the necessary components of an idea I wish to share. If I, for whatever reason, wish to prevent you from constructing a particular idea, I can attempt to avoid expressing hints at that idea. This is the basis of a secret. If I have an idea in my mind and wish no-one else to be aware of it, I can refrain from expressing it and even engage in behaviors that may prevent others from becoming aware of such an idea. For instance, Bruce Wayne can pretend to be a playboy billionaire too busy hanging out with loose women to be beating criminals in the dead of night, thus keeping his secret of being Batman.

Bruce Wayne is an excellent example, as he effectively demonstrates the nature of secrets. For example, the common inhabitants of Gotham have no idea that Bruce Wayne is Batman, primarily because they are ignorant of the requisite evidence to form such an idea. However, every iteration of Bruce Wayne is eventually exposed as Batman to someone else (Alfred, Dick Clark, Catwoman, Bane, etc.). The moment that a copy of the idea that Bruce Wayne is Batman is created, the secret is out. Such a secret inevitably spreads at a geometric rate, sparking the creation of duplicate ideas in fresh minds from the initial host, spreading like a virus and taking on a new form with each duplication.

If Alfred discovers Bruce Wayne is Batman, can Bruce justifiably kill or coerce Alfred in order to prevent such a spread of information? One may make a convoluted case that Alfred, by knowing something that could put Bruce in danger, is aggressing against him… but I don’t have time to waste on such absurdities. All Alfred has done is construct an idea which serves to inform his understanding of the world. The material equivalent would be Bruce creating a tool, say an ax, in order to make woodcutting easier, and Alfred, seeing the utility of such a tool, fashions an ax himself to cut his own wood. It is possible that Alfred’s ax may put Bruce at risk,(Alfred may snap, and murder Bruce in his sleep or a criminal may acquire the ax and use it in the same manner), but the mere fact that Alfred possesses a tool does not threaten Bruce. The same applies to Catwoman, Talia and Ra’s AL Ghul, Bane, etc; regardless of who knows the alleged secret, the only thing that matters (morally speaking) is what they do with that knowledge.

Now that we’ve taken most of our time exploring the term “intellectual”, let’s briefly turn our attention to “property”. My last two posts (here and here) explored the basics of property already. We don’t have to go much further than we already have. I got the least amount of feedback to-date concerning these posts, so I have had very little opportunity to change my mind.

Two key requirements I have laid out for something to be considered property are thus: the alleged “property must be a discrete and identifiable object, and it must be transmissible. Given what we have already covered concerning intellectual matters, it becomes readily apparent that an idea is not really discrete and identifiable. Whether it be an immaterial entity within one’s mind, a specific arrangement of cells and chemicals in a brain, or a series of magnetic charges on a metal plate, an idea is difficult (to the degree of being an impossibility) to identify as a discrete object. Additionally, an idea, in any of the forms I have just listed, cannot really be moved from one medium to another; they are actually merely duplicated with varying degrees of fidelity. Because “intellectual” things cannot meet the necessary conditions for property, “intellectual property” is an oxymoron.

“But what about books? You can own, trade, identify, and move books.” Books are obviously property; they meet each of the necessary and sufficient conditions we have already covered. However, there is a delineation between the material book itself and whatever ideas the book “contains”. The paper, ink, glue, etc. are discrete and identifiable, but the ideas that can be constructed by way of the material object only exist insofar as the mind is able to assemble ideas from its interaction with the material object. When one buys a book, one isn’t buying ideas. One, ostensibly, purchases a book with the intent of receiving fresh inspiration for one’s mind, but all they purchase is ink-stained paper.

“What about ebooks or software?” Legal fictions aside, we can look at identifiable, concrete actions and determine what is taking place. When one creates an ebook or piece of software, they are devising a particular series of on/off signals which are comparable to the phonetic and tonal sounds one makes when one performs a speech or holds a conversation. One can duplicate that series of signals with comparative ease, courtesy of modern computers. However, in order to create a duplicate, one must first have access to an existing instance of that arrangement of signals.

Ultimately, the (ostensibly) easiest method of gaining access to that series of signals is to pay the creator or host for such access. Things like DRM are typically implemented with the intent of making alternative methods of access cost-prohibitive. In the case of software, limiting functionality to people and charging for a password to increase functionality is still a common practice today, even if it is somewhat hidden behind the user interface. A material comparison would be a factory producing fully functional and free cars with locked doors. The easiest way (in this case) to gain access to the car and drive it away would be to pay the factory owner for the key to unlock the door.

Based on these behaviors, I would say that electronic media or, rather, the data stored on those media, are not property. They are certainly intellectual, which disqualifies them from being property. Instead, when one “purchases” an ebook, software, or whatever, one is paying for the service of allowing access to an extant copy in order to duplicate it, for the service of providing a password which grants access to functionality, or some comparable service. If this seems contrary to one’s intuition, I suggest one investigate how exactly services like Netflix operate.

The most informative part of this discussion, though, is a matter of the metaphysical and physical impossibility of theft. When something is stolen from its owner, the owner looses access to and control over the stolen item; that is the definitive quality of theft. Ideas (and data, a subset of ideas)can be copied, modified, and even destroyed, but they cannot be stolen. If it can’t be stolen, it isn’t property.

TL;DR: Metaphysics and science alike will admit that the phenomena of ideas are immaterial (or, at least, have not yet found the specific material components and nature of ideas). Both will also bolster the claim that ideas are not moved about in the same manner as material objects, but are mind-specific and merely copied from medium to medium. Based on our current definition of property and these attributes of intellectual things, ideas cannot be property. Therefore, intellectual property is an oxymoron and ideas cannot be stolen. Nor, despite laws to the contrary, can one justifiably initiate aggression against anyone else over an idea they have, not even Batman

Picture

 

Is Property Theft?

 

Is property theft? I used to be a hardcore commie in the spirit of Marx and Trotsky, so one could assume that I would simply say “yes” and go burn down a Walgreens or CVS.

 Of course, if property were, functionally or definitively, an exclusionary principle (this is my rock, go get your own), it would be forgivable for a collectivist to believe that personal property would be something stolen from the collective society. The working definition I presented last post is exclusionary, so I’m not likely to be making any AnCom friends this week.

How could the exclusive nature of property be theft? If one were to assume that the world at large consists of common resources and common welfare, there are certain logical and practical results that follow. Whether these resources are held in common among men, animals, plants, God, Gaia, etc. results in merely superficial differences. Logically, if a river, rock, oil well, or field of poppies is a common resource to all, individuals ought to be disincentivized, culturally, from taking from that resource. In all reality, if one believes that common resources exist (as opposed to either unowned and owned property) the inevitable conclusion is that “property is theft”. The fairy-tales of noble savages, taking only the fruit that had fallen from a tree and living in shelters made of driftwood and caverns seems to be the inevitable outcome of such a position.

I argue that even this outcome is insufficient, though. If we are going to consistently apply this rubric that property is theft by virtue of its exclusivity, than any act which would exclude access to a resource would be considered theft. (Side note to my AnCom friends, this is not a case of affirming the consequent as I mistakenly believed back in my commie days, but we don’t have time for this discussion right now.) By discriminating who I work for, have sex with, or have a conversation with, I am preventing others from having access to the resources that are my labor, body, and mind. Not only is property theft, but so is any form of consumption, work, or even existence… which results in absurdity because letting oneself starve to death would be robbing the collective of one’s intellect and labor.

This description, I guess, is not entirely fair. It is conceivable that one could make an argument that theft isn’t categorically bad and that some level of theft produces sufficient utility to allow for it… but that’s utilitarianism… which is moral nihilism, so we’ll focus on more intelligent arguments. It is also conceivable that a system could be set in place which could allow for collective consensus. Theoretically, if 100% of the collective’s members agree that a particular common resource ought to be invested in a particular manner, than one would be directed by the collective to invest it is said manner. The 100% consensus is crucial to this solution, though. If 99 people decide that a particular roll of toilet paper would best be invested by dividing it between collectivists numbered 001 through 035 but I’m collectivist 100 and I’ve got poo on my bum, I would likely disagree with the majority. If they go through on the plan to divide the roll of toilet paper amongst the senior collectivists, they are preventing me from having access to a collective resource. They are stealing the toilet paper from me. The majority has stolen from the minority and there is no amount of definitional gymnastics that can correct that.

The more inclusive a collective is, the more problematic consensus becomes. If the semi-intelligent collectivists had their way and the only intellectually consistent implementation of collectivism were to extend to all people, then the consensus of property use would be required from, at a minimum, the several billion humans on the planet. Assuming everyone plays by the rules (and that children are capable of consent) the human race would quickly starve down to a population small enough to achieve consensus, because economics. If we are to do as Pope Francis and other hippies do and begin involving God, cows, and soil bacteria in our collective ownership, though, consensus becomes impossible. God, cows, and bacteria are mute; they cannot vote on who gets to eat or clothe themselves. So, thanks hippie god, we collectivists get to starve now.

If I were to not try my hardest to come up with experientially viable premises from which one could conclude that “property is theft” in the vein of collectivist ideologies, I wouldn’t be doing my due diligence. The issues we’ve run up against thus far are a result of assuming that one could own property and that collective ownership arises from individual ownership; while this is a standard application of philosophy (building from ontological simples to relationships of greater complexity), perhaps we could try the theological approach and work top-down. What if it is impossible for the individual to own property? Initially, I would say that all things are unowned. If all things are unowned, I’m not certain how something could be stolen. I guess we could define theft as “preventing access to”, and see if we get any new results.

Immediately, it is apparent that nothing changes from our initial attempt. “Preventing requested access to” might work better. If I discover food as I wander barefoot through the woods, it wouldn’t be theft to eat said food, then. As a matter of fact, by turning it into energy for one cell of our collective, I am contributing to “the common good”. If Cacambo, the man who could not prevent my access to his service as a sherpa, also desires the food I have discovered, I must share. Initially, this makes sense; this actually most closely parallel’s my formerly-held communist beliefs. For the sake of efficiency in such a world, it would make sense to build some sort of Rawlsian socialist government wherein rights are contingent upon the state’s authority. For the ability to say “no” is ultimately the meaning of rights, and the collective consensus would be the enforcer of when it is culturally acceptable to say “no”. Sounds an awful lot like the moral nihilism of Hobbes’ Leviathan, no? Electing kings to delineate and enforce “rights”?

Well, that’s because it is. If one cannot deny others access to resources, even with exceptions granted by Rawls’ utopia, one will ultimately wind up where we are in the American Empire and where we are heading. If I cannot deny my labor (taxes, cake bakeries, etc.), resources that I control and have access to (civil asset forfeiture, taxes, etc.), or even myself (social engineering, social justice cults, etc.), others can be expected to be constrained by the same rule. So, in the absence of 100% consensus, which has already been explored, we encounter the situation wherein I cannot deny your request to resources I am using or labor I can perform and, simultaneously, you cannot deny my request to the same. My request (and yours) is functionally equivalent to denying access to a resource, which is property (by our hypothetical definition) and therefore theft. In this way, we’ve come full-circle. This is moral nihilism because either theft is immoral and merely existing is theft and therefore immoral, or theft is not immoral and, based on our definition of theft and property, I can do whatever I want to anyone.

Therefore, property cannot be theft or, if it is, there is no reason to care. This negative determination, even informed by last post, isn’t entirely satisfying; property is not theft, it is merely that to which one has access and over which one has control. I’m going to take my remaining space allotment to try and expound a positive case for property. All my usual qualifications apply: this case is not a necessary conclusion from the premises already laid out, this is not a categorical anarchist claim but only a claim made by an individual who happens to be an anarchist, I’m making this case for the sake of discussion and reserve the right to change my mind at a later time, etc.

I would go so far so as to say that the soundbite, “Property is theft,” is actually backwards. A soundbite that better fits my definition and determination is, “If it can’t be stolen, it isn’t property.” Of course, like all soundbites, this phrase is practically meaningless, it merely expresses the inverse case of the definition I provided last post.

More exciting and meaningful than soundbites would be the ideas of self-ownership and autonomy. Most anarchists, libertarians, Austrian economists, and the like often hinge their rhetoric and arguments on the principles of self-ownership. One can see why, based on the absurdities encountered while exploring collectivism and the attempted abolition of property, one would conclude that one must own oneself. If property is that to which one can lay claim, have access, and control over, who else could own one’s self? Of course, it raises the question, “Can a person be property?” There is a lot of fodder here for linguistic and semantic inquiry in most extant languages concerning possessives as applied to the self; as much as I enjoy these discussions, though, I just want to make one quick philosophical point.

One definitional point of property I did not address last post is the transmissibility of property. In parallel to my earlier soundbite, if something cannot be transferred from one person to another, I am not certain that it could be considered property. So, if oneself is property, one must be able to forfeit control and access to one’s self to another person. I would argue that, even in the case of slavery, in whatever form, one is merely separated from one’s property or labor while still being oneself. I understand the utility of using self-ownership as a rhetorical shorthand, but, anti-prostitution rhetoric aside, one cannot “sell themselves”; ergo, one does not own oneself.

Bracketing centuries of metaphysics, what is a “self”? A materialist will tell you that your body and your self are identical. A dishonest materialist will tell you that your consciousness is your self and that it is an emergent property of the material arrangement of brain stuff. A lazy Christian will tell you that your self is your soul. A more rigorous Christian will at least say that your self is the unity of your body and soul. These answers, for all of the disparity in substance commitments seems to provide a consensus that the self is the specific arrangement of things that one has direct control over and access to and could not exist without. Based on that consensus, I would say that self-ownership is likely impossible, or problematic at best, but self-autonomy is a viable alternative that also fills the role that self-ownership does in AnCap philosophy.

TL;DR: Property cannot be theft. There is no way one could define property, or argue for collectivism, in such a way that does not quickly unravel into absurdity. If one finds oneself in a situation where people are shouting pithy one-liners at each other, a decent response to “Property is theft,” would be “If it can’t be stolen, it isn’t property.” Closely tied to issues with property and collectivism is philosophy of identity. In all reality, the breakdown in communication between collectivists and anarchists hinges on divergent commitments concerning identity, but that’s a huge piece of work I’ll have to chip away at slowly.

 

Morality and Ethics

It seems that my philosophy posts get less feedback than my more political or religious posts. I find this disappointing but unsurprising. Today, as you could guess from the introduction is a philosophy post.

Deontology and virtue, morality and ethics… I started discussing these relationships last week. It was only briefly exposed and not defended, so I guess I should probably defend those claims. The first claim was that any statement of “should” or “ought”, when concerning a person’s actions, are either ethical or moral statements, without exception. I don’t know if this statement really needs defense, as it it merely a definition. I would define moral or ethical statements, broadly, as statements that concern themselves with how one ought to behave or act.

Moral and ethical statements obviously rely on a framework for a determination of truth value. One cannot say “One ought to voluntarily work towards the extinction of the human race,” without a justification for such a claim. One such justification could be “Human beings are destroying the global ecosystem, therefore one ought to voluntarily extinct themselves.” That justification, though, can only be said to be valid if it is operating in a framework which dictates that moral statements are derived from some cosmic preservation principle (ignoring that humans are a natural part of that global ecosystem), or an aesthetic principle that is dependent upon the one uttering the statement, or a misinformed understanding of how one ought to achieve a particular valued state of affairs (if you value nature, humans ought to extinct themselves). Validity does not necessitate actually obtaining in reality, though.

In order to obtain, the statement and it’s framework must comport to objective reality while also being logically valid and based on factual premises. “Don’t murder because Jesus said so,” is an example of failing to meet these criteria while also stating a moral truth. I argue that “Thou shalt not murder,” is an easily defended and true objective moral fact. However, appealing to something Jesus is purported to have said is not an argument in defense of a statement, it is merely appealing to an authority hidden behind two thousand years of history. Additionally, exclusively using the Bible as a moral framework is impossible; without additional work done outside the realm of Scripture to inform one’s interpretation of it will inevitably result in ridiculous statements, such as“homosexuality and abortion aren’t sins because Jesus never mentioned them.”

If “Thou shall not murder,” is an objective moral fact, it requires some form of deductive or inductive argument to demonstrate its categorical nature and its unimpeachability. There have been numerous arguments made for such a claim, and I don’t feel like pointing them all out. The first ones that come to mind, though, are Kant’s formulation of the categorical imperative in “Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals”, Rothbard’s defense of the NAP in “War, Peace, and the State”, or Ayn Rand’s formulation in “Man’s Rights”. Essentially, the shortest and easiest formulation of “Thou shalt not murder” is thus:

  • Murder can be defined as “killing an individual against their will without first facing the threat of murder from that individual”.
  • The definition of a right necessarily extends to all individuals. If one has a belief in a right they or another possesses, it must necessarily extend to all individuals.
    ∴ If one individual has a right to defend themselves from murder, all individuals have the right to do so.
  • If one denies the right of another to be secure from murder (demonstrated by killing them against their will) one is denying this right to themselves, thereby willing the possibility that they may be killed by another.
  • In willing that another be able to murder oneself, it makes murdering this individual definitionally impossible, as unwillingness is a necessary condition for murder.
    ∴ If one murders another individual (or argues for the legitimacy of doing so), it does not revoke murder’s definitional status as a violation of a right.

I don’t fully agree with this argument, but it is the shortest and most straightforward case for objective moral facts.

Of course, if one is arguing for objective moral facts, they are a deontologist of some sort. Most of which are divine lawyers, trying to figure out God’s commandments based on revelation. While a noble effort, such activities are rarely compelling to those outside of whatever cult the divine lawyer is a part of. Deontology, then, is better suited to pursuing objective moral facts by way of rational and axiomatic inquiry into the nature of reality and of man’s relationships.

Where Kant or any social justice warrior will argue that deontological maxims can be positive statements of rights, I argue that only the inverse is true. One cannot say with axiomatic certitude that “one must affirm life” is an objective, and therefore categorical, moral fact. An example of why one cannot say “one must affirm life” is because it breaks down in limit cases (and some not so limiting cases). For example, if one is witnessing a murder taking place, can one kill the murderer? Or, if one eats something unhealthy or neglects to devote all their resources to the sustenance of the brain-dead or the starving people on the opposite side of the globe are they committing a crime? Pope Francis’ answers aside, I argue that these are obviously not the case. This line of reasoning is what has led to my mantra of “Murder, coercion, and theft are categorically unjust.” This far, these are the three behaviors I have found to be inconsistent with reason in every instance, by definition.

So, “Thou shalt not commit murder, coercion, or theft,” is a deontological objective moral fact. Something that simply exists no more or less than the matter from which my body is constructed, if in a different modality. Of course, as I’ve said before, this is a certainly stronger moral framework than what is seen in mainstream culture, but it is still incredibly impoverished. One cannot necessarily achieve flourishing by simply ensuring that their interactions with others are voluntary, as one may still do stupid and ill-advised things. The agent in question, of course cannot be coerced into not engaging in these voluntary, but ill-advised, actions. They can, however, be discouraged by rational persuasion. Enter: ethics.

Ethical statements, unlike moral statements, are not predicated on objective moral facts. These are positive statements that can be built on top of moral statements. These statements are subjective, based upon positive value judgments. “If one values the virtuous life, they ought to pursue virtuous actions,” for example. Some are very simple: “If one wishes to make money, they ought to provide products or services in trade with those who have money.” Others may be more complex: “If one wishes to prevent fishing entire species into extinction, one ought to purchase the bodies of water in which the fish reside or construct fish farms.” These more complex ethical statements are usually at the heart of the heated debates found on facebook and in politics.

These statements have a common grammar and syntax; they are all if->then statements. The “if” portion of the statement is an assessment of the value in question. Usually the value in question is an aesthetic or pragmatic issue. In other words, it’s either,“I like this thing because it makes me feel good” or “This is a thing that I need/want in order to be fulfilled.” The “then” portion of the statement is the place in which action is informed. Once one has determined the value in question, the “then” portion is where understanding the causal nature of reality can say “this is the way that is most likely to achieve that valued outcome”. In order to utter a true ethical statement, then, one must actually understand the innumerable influences of reality on the particular valued outcome in question, at least sufficiently to make an accurate and informed guess. In the realm of human action, economics, biology, and other areas of philosophy are crucial in generating an accurate “then” statement. The reason I argue this is the case is simple: unintended consequences or acts of ignorance are unlikely to accomplish the valued objective and are more likely to prevent the accomplishment of that valued objective. Walter Block, in his “Defending the Undefendable”, demonstrates this very clearly, concisely, and evocatively.

This understanding of morality and ethics is why I have attempted to eschew use of the terms “good” and “bad/evil”. These words, in our common parlance, and even in philosophy have been reduced to mere aesthetic judgments. There is little distinction between “this pizza is good” and “giving money to hobos is good” or “sushi is bad” and “drugs are bad”. As a basis of morality or ethics, then, these aesthetic judgments are essentially meaningless. I can say, “If you think drugs are bad, then you shouldn’t do them,” but that is the extent to which an ethical statement can be produced based on that flimsy of an “if” statement. If something can be determined as immoral (or unjustifiable, as I tend to refer to it) there is no need to make an additional aesthetic statement about it. If one is attempting an ethical prescription to others, they ought to have more compelling a case for the “if” in question than “it’s icky and I don’t like it”.

Remember, anarchy is a philosophy of personal responsibility. If you want to accomplish an ethical action, such as bettering the livelihood of the impoverished in the third world, one ought to ensure that they are well-informed as to what course of action is most likely to result in achieving that valued outcome. For example, just throwing money, food, and Bibles at them creates a perverse incentive to remain poor and continue to receive free stuff from other people. However, bringing an industry specific to that region (for example some sort of crop or livestock that will grow better in that region than elsewhere or acquisition of a natural resource found in that area) to the people and employing those that are willing to work will improve the infrastructure and quality of life for all of the people in the area.

TL;DR: In the interest of producing valued outcomes and maintaining one’s own integrity, individuals ought to attempt to develop a solid moral and ethical awareness and grammar. In order to pursue this end, an awareness of deontological principles and the causal nature of reality is a necessary skill. Objective moral facts are few in number but categorical in scope: “Thou shall not.” Ethical statements are subjective and as numerous as there are value judgments, but must be informed by the objective causal nature of the universe. Before arguing on facebook about “If we just…” or “If you don’t think this, you’re stupid”, it would behoove the agent in question to assess their aesthetic premises and their fundamental values. After expressing those premises, the discussion is a matter of clarifying the “then” portion of an ethical statement.

Picture

 

An Economics of Ethics

 

 

Yes, the title sounds really bullshitty, but it certainly is an eye-catcher, isn’t it? If you listened to last week’s belated post, you may recall me talking about my journey to anarchism. When I was rounding the bend on my final approach to liberty, I was repulsed by certain environments I encountered and was kinda’ forced to enter the philosophy of anarchism through the back door. The rabid paulbots were throwing temper tantrums over the media ignoring the existence of their messiah. The Libertarians were too busy voting, raising money, pretending to be freedom-minded while also pretending to be politicians and endorsing ridiculous concepts like abortion and gay marriage. The objectivists were being generally surly, demeaning, and staunchly atheist. The AnComs were too busy burning down private property to be bothered by the fact that the government was out to get us all. Most distressing, though, were the AnCaps.

“Wait, ain’t you an AnCap?” Not quite. If you recall my post about the MadPhilosopher logo, I consider myself to be just a straight-up anarchist. Since before I had started this blog, I have been economically literate enough to know that capitalism is, for all intents and purposes, a necessary and inevitable feature of pre-and-post-state societies, but that doesn’t necessarily make me an AnCap. Part of the reason I don’t consider myself to be so is because of the experiences I had with them on my way to liberty.

My first exposure to anarcho-capitalism was under the more innocuous name of “Austrian Economics” when I was reading Rothbard and Spooner. I read these guys towards the end of my communist days, when I was trying to figure out why previous attempts at the communist experiment didn’t work out. I was hoping to find a handful of controls that those dirty capitalists had come up with to ensure that products were manufactured within expected tolerances. For example, if I go to Home Depot, a great number of things are standardized. You’ve got X, Y, and Z diameters of pipes and fittings, and there seems to be the perfect supply available to meet demand; rarely would something run out, but there were only ever a couple dozen items on the shelves… and in communist experiments, people would cut corners to meet the letter of the regulations while putting in the minimum quantity of resources. “Make a million nails,” results in thumbtack-sized nails. “Make this weight in nails,” results in railroad spikes. And when it gets to the point of “Make a million nails that are exactly this size, shape, and out of this material… and if you don’t, it’s off to the gulag with you,” results in everyone saying “fuck it, I quit” and the USSR collapses overnight.

Clearly, I didn’t get the answer I wanted. “Stop making regulations, and let people do what they will… don’t worry, it’ll all work out just fine,” isn’t exactly what a communist wants to hear. I learned a lot, though; it definitely had a pronounced effect on my migration from communism to the Tea Party and then to liberty. I returned to doing research in the Austrian School when I was getting into objectivism, later on, and that’s when I discovered the AnCaps. There was a specific distinction in the rhetoric of the Austrians like Rothbard as compared to the AnCaps I met: awareness of the is/ought divide.

The AnCaps I met, either through their ignorance or a misunderstanding on my part, seemed to equivocate that which is economically advisable as identical to that which is ethically desirable. This was disappointing to me; AnCaps were clearly the inheritors of the Austrian School, but they lacked the moral awareness of their predecessors. My motivation for communism and the subsequent ideological migration was primarily a moral one, as fits in the rhetoric of Aristotle, Aquinas, Marx, and Trotsky, and to hear “That which is profitable is that which is moral,” rubbed me every wrong way. I am totally open to this interpretation being mostly due to misunderstandings on my part, though.

The communist projects, ostensibly, are an attempt at adapting economics to ethics. Ironically, the Tea Party, in their own fucked-up way, are engaged in a similar project: attempting to adapt politics (the widespread application of violence) to ethics. Even Rand and the objectivists are engaged in that project: adapting public consciousness to ethics. So, to see AnCaps seeming to do the reverse, adapting ethics to economics, was so contrary to my methods of reason that I didn’t know how to process it. Now that I’ve mentally acquired my liberty legs, I see anarchism as an attempt to adapt oneself to objective moral facts… something that Christians ought to be more sympathetic to.

In hindsight, I think that I misunderstood mostly due to the paradigm I was operating in, adapting various things to ethics. I think that one thing that didn’t help, though, was the lack of philosophical knowledge on the part of the AnCaps in question. I think I’m gonna try to fix that here. That which is profitable is not necessarily moral. It could be profitable to rob a liquor store, but it’s a violation of one’s right to be free from theft and is therefore immoral. On a long enough timeline, I argue, that which is moral is most profitable. For example, not robbing a liquor store will most likely play out better for one in the long run. Even virtuous things, such as sustainable living or industry, when done responsibly and rationally, are likely to play out well in the long run; investments in oceanic desalinization would have suddenly become incredibly profitable in California in recent years and the same can be said for growing homegrown organic hipster-feed.

What do I mean by this is/ought, ethical/economic divide? As I said, when talking about Paradigmatic Awareness and Moral Ambiguity, one’s actions ought to be informed and rational. Statements of “should” or “ought”, when concerning a person’s actions, are without exception either ethical or moral statements. (Taxonomic note: I consider moral statements to be statements as relate to objective moral facts and ethical statements to be “if->then” statements predicated on value judgments, but that’s a different blog post that hasn’t been written yet.) Moral statements are relatively easy: something is either moral or immoral, depending on it’s status as relates to deontological principles… you know, murder coercion and theft are immoral. Ethical statements are a little more involved, and tend to be at the heart of a lot of angry internet arguments: “If you care about poor people, you’ve gotta vote for this rich guy,” or whatever.

In order to make an accurate ethical statement, one must understand the intricacies of the “if” and have a solid grasp of the way the world works in order to produce the appropriate “then”. This is where economics comes into play. It goes well beyond “if you want to pay rent, you probably shouldn’t buy this meth,” and even beyond, “if you care about poor people, you should probably lift employment regulations so that they can get a job.” For example, an understanding of basic principles of economics can inform decisions that have nothing to do with money itself. This is because economics is about management of scarce resources, not just money. For example, if I have a limited amount of time and I’m trying to maximize my gains in family relationships, self-education, and general pleasure, then I should probably try to generate an overlap in applications: do something educational with the family that isn’t boring as hell. Knowing when to cut one’s losses is another useful piece of information: cost-benefit analysis, risk assessment, utility assessments, etc. are, too.

In other words, it’s not a statement of morality to say eliminating perverse incentives can incentivize productive behavior; however, it is an ethical statement to say “if you want to encourage productive behaviors in moocher and looter classes, then you should try to eliminate perverse incentives.” I’m not talking matters of political policy, mind you. After all, managing the widespread application of violence is immoral and if one wants to make the world a better place, then they should opt-out of political engagement.

Picture

Remember: anarchy is a philosophy of personal responsibility. How can one hold themselves to a moral or ethical standard if they don’t know how to accomplish their goals or even set those goals? If one wishes to travel to a third world country and improve the quality of life of the people there (preaching religious views included, but optional), they ought to understand what behaviors are being incentivized by showing up and just giving things away or doing the work oneself. Without educating and assisting in the development of infrastructure, gifts and labor are more harmful than helpful. Before trying to do good, one must know how.

TL;DR: Economics and ethics are two different fields of study. However, ethics devoid a solid understanding of how the world works is useless at best and misanthropic at worst. As much as statists will try to deny it, economics is an excellent instrument for understanding human action. Basic scientific literacy, including physics, chemistry, economics, etc. is necessary for the development of a solid ethical grounding. This distinction and requirement is important to acknowledge explicitly when discussing economics and/or ethics with non-anarchists, lest outsiders misunderstand.

 

Moral Ambiguity

The time has already come for another dose of procedural philosophy.

 As is always the case with procedural philosophy, some homework is in order. If you want to get the most out of this post, you should read or listen to the post about “Paradigmatic Awareness”. Today, we are talking about ethics directly, as opposed to the usual posts about how ethics impacts our relationships. Ethics, like all terms, requires a shared definition in order to be useful.

Ethics is the study of principles which dictate the actions of rational actors. Some will note that this closely parallels some people’s definition of economics. This is not an accident, but this phenomenon will have to be addressed later. There is a glut of ethical theories which assume different premises and result in wildly different prescriptions. This is a problem for an individual who is genuinely concerned with pursuing an absolute truth by which to live. Being one such person, I must admit I’m still searching; but I can help others make it as far as I have and ask others to do the same for me.

“But wait, ain’t you one o’ dem Catholic fellers?” Yes, I am. The Church has a pretty solid grasp on it’s doctrine and dogma (of which there is surprisingly little) and has built an ethics on top of that, something akin to a divine-law-meets-metaphysical-utilitarianism to which it appeals in every ethical discussion. One will notice that I do not advocate a moral stance which violates the doctrinal positions of the Church. I am fortunate that my quest for the truth has not yet forced me to choose between my own faculty of reason and the divine law of my faith. One will also notice that I staunchly oppose certain modern positions of the Church, especially in cases surrounding “divine right of kings” and compromise with injustice, such as “You have to pay taxes, because of the politically expedient manner in which we interpret ‘Epistle to Diognetus’, a letter written thousands of years ago.” (CCC-2240) What I am trying to say here is that “God said so” is never sufficient justification for one’s actions, but what “God said so” may nonetheless be rationally justifiable.

That tangent segues nicely to where we are going today. Ethics operates identically to the method outlined in “Paradigmatic Awareness” in many ways, with some variation. As the numerous postmodern moral nihilists are wont to point out, ethics faces an important problem: the is/ought divide. This problem, popularized by Hume, essentially points out that objective material knowledge of what is does not give rise to ethical prescription without first approaching what is with a subjective value assessment, an ought. This is where the procedure outlined in “Paradigmatic Awareness” becomes crucial.

Simply put, I must determine by way of intuition and abduction from what is to what I (should) value. Ultimately, anything could conceivably be the basis of ethical reasoning; hedonism, consequentialism, stoicism, legalism, virtue ethics, divine law, statism, nihilism, and anarchism are all predicated on different values and represent a fraction of existing ethical frameworks. Many are compatible with each other; as a matter of fact, most ethical frameworks are ultimately either nihilist or teleological in nature and tend to compliment others of the same nature.

Ethics, really, is the ultimate product of philosophy. Philosophy can answer any question, “How did the universe come to be?” “What is it made of?” “How can we know anything?”, but without answering “Why should I care?” it has no real utility. I propose that the best answer to “Why should I care?” is “because, if this worldview is factually true, you ought to do X and here is why.”

Of course, an ethics which is too esoteric or complex for common application and immediate results is as equally useless as a philosophy with no ethics whatsoever. This is where rules become attractive; “thou shalt not” and “always do” are certainly the result of most or all ethics. For instance, if I were a Kantian (I am NOT), I would value the rationality and identity of individuals, which results in the mandate that people be ever treated as ends only and never means; followed to its logical conclusion, one could say, “Thou shalt not enslave others.” Those that lack the faculties or resources to consider the corpus of Kant (a waste of time, really) can simply rely on the rules which fall out of his work. Without an understanding for the cause of these rules, though, one cannot reliably improvise in a circumstance not outlined in the rules, nor can they discuss ethical matters in an intelligible way. “You can’t do that, because this book said so” is a laughable claim, regardless of the book in question.

Everyone considers themselves to be an intelligent person and feel themselves to be very ethically-minded. They are correct in thinking and feeling so. Even psychopaths have a set of motivating factors for behaving in the way that they do. However, such a set of motivations, even in the form of a rule-set, does not qualify as an ethical framework. As a matter of fact, if one does not pursue the full rational grounding of one’s motivations, they will likely adopt a heterogeneous hodgepodge of contradicting rules from various sources. Any ethical claim which feels intuitive or justifies an action one desires can be easily adopted and, with a little mental gymnastics, can be incorporated into one’s rule set without too much apparent contradiction.

This results in an emotional minefield scattered with beliefs such as, “I value property rights above all else, so we have to steal from people to prevent theft.” All one needs to do is go on the internet and read the intellectually toxic political arguments found in nearly every comments section and they will see what I am talking about. The problem is not the argument or even the belief held (though, by definition, nearly every political belief is wrong), but instead the lack of paradigmatic awareness. If someone lacks the foundational knowledge of what is, a clear definition of one’s values, or a grasp of logic sufficient to put it all together, it is impossible to assess others’ claims or to sufficiently convey one’s own belief. Instead, such people (regardless of whether one’s claim is factual or not) are forced to resort to dismissive name-calling and an arsenal of rhetorical and formal fallacies.

So, then, the same prescription in “Paradigmatic Awareness” applies in ethics as well. When encountered with a radical and apparently nonsensical claim such as, “You have a duty to vote, even if it is merely a choice between two evils,” it is important to inquire as to the value and basis for such a claim. Conversely, when meeting resistance to a personally forwarded claim, it is crucial to present the premises and method used to reach the contested claim, lest one look no different than a generic social justice warrior or fundamentalist republican.

Also, just like with paradigmatic awareness, if someone is not willing or able to have a calm rational discourse, they are not providing an opportunity for critical thought. They are wasting everyone’s time. One’s time is better spent writing blog posts no one will read, reading books, or smashing one’s face in with a hammer rather than getting into a shouting match with a morally illiterate person. The goal, as is the case with all of philosophy, is pursuing truth; one cannot do so while stooping to the level of the ignorant. However, if one pursuing truth happens to bring others along, all the better.

Ultimately, my motivation for writing this post is twofold. I want to invite people to critically assess this approach and help me do a better job of understanding how I ought to live my life. I also want to find someone, anyone, who can play by the rules I’ve outlined and believe to be absolutely crucial to communication and progress. I honestly desire for someone to prove me wrong. The ethic that I have managed to cobble together over the last twenty years is incredibly taxing. I would love to (re)apply for welfare, to stop going to church, to stop trying and start partying… but I can’t. My rationality and what little virtue I do possess prevent me from doing so. I think I could do well as a Fascist (which I believe to be the only logically consistent alternative to anarchy), but no one has proven me wrong yest, so as to grant me the opportunity to try my hand at it.

Remember, despite the immense and demonstrable utility that it provides, anarchism is a moral philosophy. It holds the utmost value for human rights and, as a result, human flourishing. When an anarchist says “you shouldn’t do that,” they aren’t forcing someone else to behave in a manner consistent with their opinion. Anarchists cannot point a gun at someone and demand that they refrain from doing so, nor can they vote and delegate that task to someone else.

TL:DR; If someone wants the privilege of being able to criticize the actions and ethics of others, they ought to put in the work of critically assessing one’s own position and actions. If people cannot communicate the reasons for the rules they are so wont to broadcast, they are wasting everyone’s time.

A Response to Laudato Si

 

Has Mother Church wielded the sword and shackles of the state for so long She has forgotten the use of the shepherd’s crook?

 
A Response to Laudato Si

As is usually the case, the Pope did something and the liberal media came in their pants with excitement. My less-involved Catholic friends and some non-catholic friends then asked me what he actually said and did and what it means, media spin aside. I make it a point to read Encyclicals as they come out, as often as possible. While I’m skeptical of Catholic social teaching for a number of reasons, it would be unbecoming of a Catholic intellectual critical of some social teachings to not keep abreast of progress made in that regard. Also, with the persistent questions from others, I find that it is beneficial to myself, my friends, and our relationships to be able to provide a service in the form of translating 170-odd pages of teaching that’s very involved and built on millennia of scholarship into something digestible to a more secular mind.

In interest of defending Church teaching against the portrayal it will receive in the mainstream (RE: pagan) culture, I spent a good chunk of yesterday and this morning reading and re-reading Laudato Si and reading many short commentaries written by various clergymen and lay Catholic journalists. I have several pages of handwritten notes, addressing specific things that were said, the general theme of the encyclical, and its relationship to history and standing Church teachings, and I’m not sure how much use those notes are going to find in this post, as there’s some very important general themes that need to be addressed. These issues far overshadow individual lines or phrases that may be misinterpreted or otherwise used contrary to the goals set out for the encyclical, so these smaller issues may be overlooked in this post.

The most important point to get out of the way is the relationship between Catholic social teaching and the general body of scholarship within the Church. Many Catholics, even devout Catholics do not understand the role that the encyclicals and other works in Catholic social teaching play in the Faith. Catholic social teaching is not Doctrine or Dogma, it is not an infallible pronouncement by the Pope acting alone and in persona Christi. Catholic social teaching is, essentially, the magisterium of the Church saying, “Based on what we have to work with, here, this looks like the best solution to a particular problem the Church faces.” In the case of this encyclical, it identifies several problems, some real and some imagined, and looks for a root cause for these problems in order to make “a variety of proposals possible, all capable of entering into dialogue with a view to developing comprehensive solutions.” In such a dialogue, “…the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views.” This post (that will be wholly invisible to the magisterium and to those who could and would affect change) is an attempt to address the issues presented, their root causes, and continue the dialogue sought by Pope Francis. No, I don’t claim to be an “expert” as indicated in the encyclical, but I am confident that I am no more or less an expert than a substantial majority of the people involved in and affected by this dialogue. As such, I am as entitled as anyone else to express my informed assessment of the situation.

This document is essentially three different encyclicals blended together in a frenetic and haphazard arrangement, a departure from the more analytic and procedural voice and style of Francis’ immediate predecessors. It may sound strange, but I will do my best to explain what I mean.

One of the encyclicals is an assessment of mankind’s relationship to it’s environment, the role that we play in our environment’s well-being and the role that our environment plays in our well-being, both spiritually and physically. It explores how exploitative and irreverent practices with regards to creation develop vicious attitudes within the practitioners which results in the exploitation and irreverence being directed at other human beings as well. In a surprising but well-defended argument, the Pope lays out how industrial monoculture farming is culturally related to inhumane medical experimentation and abortion, for example. This encyclical reads as a slightly less poetic text that one would expect Francis’ namesake to have written, waxing on and on about the glory of the Creator as seen in His creation, our role as stewards of that creation, and the teleology of all things. This encyclical appears to be addressed to the traditional audience of the encyclicals: the people of the Church in the world at large and within the magisterium. It calls for a pastoral approach centered on acknowledging the almost panentheist nature of reality, how God Himself is part of his creation and His presence in His creatures must be respected, lest one fall into the habit of not acknowledging that same presence on one’s fellow humans. With typical Franciscan flair, the primary focus is on how the poor are marginalized and harmed the most by these irresponsible and irreverent practices.

Another one of the encyclicals is drawing a connection between this renewed environmental focus and the greater body of Catholic teachings, the relationship between abortion, postmodernism, consumerism, the destruction of the family, the evils of war and violence, etc. These passages are, unsurprisingly, the main focus of the articles popping up all over the internet titled some variation of “Ten things that the mainstream media will ignore in Laudato Si”. This encyclical is, essentially, a reaffirmation in the long-standing tenets of the Church: Abortion is murder, contraception is bad, gay marriage is a metaphysical impossibility, postmodernism is an intellectual cancer that is killing humanity and faith, etc. The only new addition to this litany that is presented is to try and add “and mind your greenhouse gasses” somewhere in-between “Postmodernism is bad,” and “We have to be careful with GMOs.”

The main focus for everyone, myself included, is this third encyclical. This one is addressed to “world leaders” and the UN in particular, as opposed to the Church and its people. This encyclical is rife with praise for worldwide economic manipulations, the use of government violence to accomplish the ends of the Church, an appeal for granting all governments more authority and force to implement stricter environmental regulations, broader economic manipulations, and redistribution of wealth. This encyclical explicitly calls for a progressive carbon tax, a world government with a navy and police force with authority to supersede national governments, national and local governments to implement “free” public housing and utility access, and heightened enforcement of drug laws.

Worse, though, than pleading with the state to use it’s swords and shackles to coerce responsible behavior out of humanity at large, Francis takes a page out of Pope Urban VIII’s book. Overstepping his authority in moral and theological matters, the Pope attempts to side with the “scientific consensus” and endorse a worldview that is anti-scientific and empirically falsified. Declaring human-caused global warming to be an existential threat to creation of a magnitude equivalent to the great flood which God repented of in Genesis, Francis demonstrates that he needs to hire better researchers and ought to be more reticent before declaring Galileo anathema. He makes this mistake twice, in rapid succession. After demonstrating an unwillingness to critically assess the legacy academic stance in light of empirical evidence in science, he does so again in the realm of economics. Using Keynesian economic prescriptions and “green” socialist rhetoric, he creates a straw-man of the free market which is even more flimsy and caricatured than those manufactured by liberal college students on social media.

Picture

Pope Francis decides to decorate the Vatican instead of reading Rothbard
  There was one line, in particular that required a double-take, a re-reading, and it ultimately elicited a violent reaction from me:

“Civil authorities have the right and duty to adopt clear and firm measures in support of small producers and differentiated production. To ensure economic freedom from which all can effectively benefit, restraints occasionally have to be imposed on those possessing greater resources and financial power. To claim economic freedom while real conditions bar many people from actual access to it, and while possibilities for employment continue to shrink, is to practise[sic] a doublespeak which brings politics into disrepute.” p96

This quote is taken from the midst of pages upon pages of diatribe against international outsourcing of labor, speculative investment, development of trade infrastructures, the automation of menial tasks. While lamenting these actions, the Pope calls for an increase in the policies which are the direct cause of them. Economic regulations, such as the minimum wage, intellectual property legislation, and progressive corporate taxation and subsidies creates innumerable perverse incentives within the market, as a natural matter of course which is empirically verifiable. To blame “the market” and paint such claims as “a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals,” demonstrates a wholesale ignorance of the science that is economics. One should expect a former scientist to understand the limitations of his understanding of others’ fields and at least call upon them to inform his opinion. If he has done so, he needs to look harder for a reliable resource.

The reason this sudden interest in mainstream sciences and display of ignorance in these matters is offensive is because the Pope is a moral authority in the world, and to draw upon obviously false data, bundle it up in moral language and issue ethical and political proclamations demeans both the sciences he misrepresents and the position which he occupies in the See of Peter.

These three encyclicals are blended together in a manner that makes them inextricable from each other. In one sentence, Francis will point out a theological understanding concerning substantive relationship of the trinity, move to an analogy concerning the nature of agriculture, and indict private ownership of resources. Because of this, it is impossible to tell where the Pope is addressing individual Catholics and exhorting them to consider their role in creation from a theological perspective and where he is exhorting politicians to use violence in order to protect the poor in the developing world from global warming from an economical perspective.

There is no denying that people everywhere in the world are facing ecological crises: living in cities that are not conducive to human flourishing, living near industrial mining operations, facing evictions from tribal lands or private property in the interest of economic gains for the powerful, the destruction of biodiversity in inhabited areas, and a general disregard for the inalienable rights of human beings are all issues that need to be addressed, and quickly. However, to blame “the free market” when there is no such thing, to pin the blame on people that are merely doing their best to survive when faced with systematic violations of their rights, and to fall back on methods that are the direct cause for the decline of Christianity and the rise of the postmodern world seriously misdiagnoses the cause of the problem and results in a very dangerous situation, both in the world at large and in the Church itself.

This political edict in the guise of moral teaching places those that are well-versed in science and economics in the difficult position of trying to justify the teachings of the Church that are explicitly contrary to what they know to be true. Some may lose their faith, either in the Church or in reason. The loss of faith in either is a tragedy, and it can be prevented simply by Francis double-checking his work and being cautious not to overstep the bounds of papal authority. An even greater tragedy than some umber of individuals losing their faith due to a contradiction in moral teaching and empirical fact is the alienation that such teachings has formed between the Church and the people and institutions best situated to aid the Church in pursuing a more Christian world. Economists the world over are denouncing the Church and discovering the long-standing trend on Catholic social teaching towards full-blown socialism. The scientific communities that tend to lean more socially and fiscally conservative (like the Church) also happen to be the ones that have disproven any substantial causal relationship between human activity and global climate change, in outright ignoring their findings, the Pope has alienated the scientific community once again, driving the long standing wedge between reason and faith even further. Even in moral and philosophical circles, there is outrage that the pope would undermine basic human rights (such as the right to be secure in one’s property) for the sake of the rights of woodland critters and soil bacteria, which is explicitly done in this document.

TL;DR: Despite all of my defenses of Pope Francis to-date, my re-interpretations of his words in the light of reason and Church teaching in order to explain to others how one can rationally support his teachings, there is no way to deny that he is a full-on socialist with a callous disregard for economics and science. While I am not a sedevacantist or about to apostatize, this is an excellent opportunity to begin picking apart the whole of Catholic social teaching and calling for reform in the Church, not concerning matters which are doctrinally secure (such as prohibitions on gay marriage or abortion) but concerning instances where the Church draws too heavily on philosophically and scientifically flawed information. Many lament that this encyclical will be remembered as “the global warming encyclical”. I lament it as well, the global warming was merely a pretext for pushing a theologically-backed call for one world socialist government, and to remember it as the “global warming encyclical” discounts the very real damage that has already been done by the document to the integrity of the Church and the incalculable damage that will be done if world leaders heed the Pope’s plea.

Discovering that the See of Peter is occupied by a died-in-the-wool socialist is a good opportunity to review Church history. I’ve found, in my limited education of the subject, that the delineation between a Doctor of the Church and a heretic is a razor-thin one between those who are willing to admit the possibility of error and those too prideful to do so.

Only time will tell.

You can read the full text of Laudato Si here:
http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html

 

An Open Letter to Mom and Dad

 

Dear Mom and Dad,

We rarely find time to talk anymore. I guess that’s what happens when you have eight kids and your son has three more. Rushed, oft-interrupted, and emotionally-charged bursts of conversation are not conducive to mutual understanding, and I understand you are too busy to read and understand everything I write. While considering this reality, I’ve decided to address my confusion over our philosophical disagreements and consolidate my ruminations into the most direct and concise letter I can write for your to read at your leisure. Depending on how the letter turns out, I may publish it as an open letter on my blog, for others to better understand as well.

Really, the heart of my confusion is centered on mom’s disparaging and dismissive attitude towards my ideas and understanding of the world. I have arrived at this stage of my understanding primarily due to your influence. Dad’s perennial pragmatism and skepticism gave me a high standard and difficult challenge for rational methodology and mom’s example for action has given me a healthy respect for intuition and substantial consideration regarding virtuous and moral action. In a way, I guess I’m concerned that I may have put you on a pedestal and now require more form you than you can provide, but I am extremely reluctant to admit that possibility. So, here I will write the things I feel you have taught me and how they have led me to the conclusions I have reached; hopefully, it will give us somewhere to begin understanding each other.

If an idea or approach is discovered to be false or does not work, eschew it for what is and does:

When I was a little kid, I often had great ideas or plans which were poorly engineered. Clubhouses which required far more than the few pieces of scrap wood I had available, for instance. While he may not have had the greatest method of explaining why, dad was very good at pointing out why the idea was impossible and providing a more realistic, comparable plan. After the school system had demonstrated that it wasn’t working, mom pulled me out and attempted home schooling. At which point, you perpetually modified and refined the curricula and methods of schooling. Trying different methods for allowance, chores, discipline, and personal liberties, keeping what worked and dropping what didn’t was a constant state of affairs growing up. It seems that ethos is still in full force today.

It shouldn’t take too much explanation to see how this ethos has had an effect on my journey thus far. Primarily, identifying and learning from mistakes. Whether it be my approach to studies, finances, personal life choices, whatever, I’m not afraid to admit error and strive to rectify it, and to rectify the subsequent mistakes made in the attempt to rectify, ad infinitum. Philosophically, I have always had a set of needs. I’ve applied this ethos to fulfilling those needs, moving through pursuits such as paleontology, vulcanology, meteorology, astronomy/ology, cryptozoology, theology, astrophysics and demonology, ultimately settling on philosophy. Along this path, I’ve found what fulfills this need and what doesn’t

This process has served as a useful tool for self-awareness, but I will save that for later. For now, I will move to the things you have shown me which have been consistently shown to work.

Deontological maxims supersede practical considerations:

This is a truth that was a long and hard task to learn. For a long period of time, possibly due to the environment in my early childhood, it was hard to critically assess the position that, “The ends justify the means.” “If my goal is noble enough and attainable, the most direct course of action to get there must be taken, regardless of how undesirable the course of action may be.” This claim, in it’s myriad forms, consistently saw resistance from you. “Murder is still murder, even if it’s for a good cause,” was a common response I would get.

As I warmed up to the idea, for example, that the ten commandments are non-negotiable, I explored the real world and hypothetical ethical dilemmas which would test such a deonotological maxim; trying to expose inconsistencies and contradictions with such an approach became a daily exercise. So far, after trying to break deontology, all I have found is that a clearly-defined and concise set of maxims are the most resilient and reliable basis for moral action. Sometimes, these maxims set a standard too difficult to achieve; this is due to human failings, though, not the mind of God to which we ascribe these maxims.

It is infinitely more honorable to set a moral standard, strive to meet it, and fail than to set a low standard or otherwise make no effort:

These moral maxims, such as “Thou shalt honor the LORD above all else,” “Thou shalt not murder, steal, or covet,” and their necessary conclusions, “Love your neighbor as I have loved you,” and “Uphold the dignity of the human person,” can be more demanding that one can manage at times. This is not an indictment of these maxims, but instead an empirical fact of the human condition. When faces with this fact, one may choose to dissemble and rationalize or justify their failures and accept them or, worse, to simply give up altogether. I’ve lost too many friends and seen too mane others loose friends to this temptation. Seeing you strive to more consistently meet that standard, and succeed, has demonstrated the honor in doing so.

Rather than striving to meet such a standard, I would often attempt to reinterpret these maxims or rationalize my status. You dissuaded me for doing so, mostly by example. It helped that, as I explored limit cases of these maxims, you made an effort to resolve issues or directed me to resources wherein others made the effort. Often, neither you nor the sources could provide a compelling resolution, but instead gave me the tools needed to do so for myself. The important trend through this process was the need for integrity: if someone abandons honesty to themselves and their standards, it is tantamount to lying.

Acting justly is more important than comfort:

Between the maxims mentioned above, the need to act in accordance with those maxims, and the need for integrity, one has a duty to accept responsibility for their situation. Again, this is something I learned from your example, first, and be exploring the philosophy behind it later. Simply assessing your circumstances and making what is ostensibly the best choice available, even when it will be difficult or uncomfortable. Those instances when we would move, switch to hippie food/medicine, move to homeschooling, etc. seemed to demonstrate that duty and the discomfort associated with it. Discussing my situations concerning college, marriage, kids, work, etc. with you also followed that trend.

To engage in or directly benefit from immoral action is to be complicit in that act:

Part of acting justly despite discomfort is to avoid immoral action. When I was younger, I had a hard time understanding why you would discourage ideas of what would be a clearly profitable venture: varying from things like selling vices or running (relatively) harmless scams. The recent example would not be wanting Tommy to be a security guard for a pot shop. While I may disagree with you on specific questions of morality, I think we all agree now that selling one’s morals for profit is unacceptable.

That which is immediate and actionable supersedes, distant, future, or theoretical concerns:

Even though it may pay the bills to sell cocaine out of the Church garage, and may make enough to be comfortable on top of paying the bills, but the ends do not justify the means. There’s a story stuck in my head that I think dad told me, but even if it was someone else it sounds like all the other stories about poop brownies and the like. There was a olympic rowing team that lived together and whenever someone wanted to do something, the team would ask them, “Will it make the boat go faster?” At face value, it would seem to justify the idea that the sole justification of the means is in fact the end.

That interpretation is incredibly naive, though. The olympic rowers found themselves in the circumstance that they were olympic rowers; the olympics was upon them and they had a demonstrable and immediate goal of making the boat go the fastest. In their case, the olympics is as distant or theoretical as getting shot is when on a battlefield or being corralled onto a train in 1939 Poland. That is to say, not very abstract. When faced with a choice, as one is thousands of times a day, the primary consideration of that choice ought to be, “is this option just, in and of itself?” and then whether the demonstrable outcome of the action will “make the boat go faster”. After that analysis, the “what if?” and big picture enter into the equation.

This is how I was coached with regards to Boy Scouts, college prep, financial issues… Dave Ramsey‘s version of this is “debt is bad, mmk? Avoid selling your future for unnecessary gains (like one does with a car loan). Use what is on-hand to solve the problem.”

It is impossible to judge the heart of another, for your sake you must give them the benefit of the doubt even when judging their actions:

The way I have best seen this expressed is Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” Dad has consistently stated and re-stated this claim in some form or another at every occasion I have judged another person. It took an embarrassingly long time to come around to the idea. Philosophically, I call it the “phenomenological/epistemic barrier”. That is, one is privy only to one’s own internal experience, it is impossible to directly apprehend the outside world, especially the internal experiences of others. One has an indirect access to others’ behavior (the same way they have access to the behavior of a rock, tree, or beast) but not to the internal experience corresponding to the behavior.

One can, with varying degrees of ease, judge the behavior. For example, dismembering an infant with scissors can easily be identified as the crime of murder, regardless of whether the murderer’s internal experience reflects that behavior. The CIA could have slipped the murderer some crazy drugs, he could be indoctrinated by the medical school system to do so, or he could simply have dementia. I can’t judge his internal experience and call him evil or insist that he is going to hell, but I can say that he has murdered a baby. However, some cases are not so clear-cut and it would not be unjustified to err on the side of caution.

Question the auspices of authority (the only authority is epistemic):

This is something that I think I watched you learn which, of course, is what taught me. My early life experiences like my appendicitis ordeal and elementary school career demonstrated the need for skepticism when interacting with an individual or institution, even if they have the credentials (like an M.D., 100-ish years of history to back them up, or a teaching certificate). The authority of the doctor, teacher, administrator, or priest is not some metaphysical or divine attribute, but instead an epistemic one. The doctor is an authority in medicine insofar as his knowledge of the field is accurate. Not all doctors, teachers, etc. are created equal. Hearkening back to how those who have no standards tend to dissemble and rationalize, those that lack authority tend to lean on their credentials and auspices of authority and, subject to skepticism, are therefore not to be trusted.

Independent research and conceptual reasoning countermand the status quo:

Alongside authority, the status quo is also subject to skepticism. Your rejection (or partial rejection) of vaccines, standard education models, debt-oriented finances, moral/legal equivalence, and the “2.4 kids and a puppy” paradigm is the logical extension of the skeptical approach to the auspices of authority. Independent research can be anything from getting a second opinion from another authority to actually doing the requisite work oneself. Very little on the internet is true, of course. For that matter, very little outside the internet is true, either. This makes independent research incredibly difficult; by extension, that difficulty makes finding an actual authority equally difficult.

What, then, can one rely on when searching for factual or true knowledge? Conceptual reasoning can guide the process, at least. The application of careful deduction, induction, and abduction is ultimately the only tool one has in discernment between different claims, authorities, or options. Of course, like a hammer and nails, reason is useless without experience. All epistemic crises aside, the facts one is able to discern as immediate and actionable often come into conflict with and overcome the status quo. That’s because the status quo is an emergent property of human nature.

The human condition is such that utopia and systematization is impossible:

Back in my Marxist days, dad frequently said things like “people don’t work that way”, “You can’t program society like a computer”, and “who is going to program the computer you put in charge?” Meanwhile, mom was vocally denouncing standardization, especially in education but also in medicine and just about everything else. That, coupled with the Scriptural education you provided, paints a pretty clear picture about the relationship between the human condition and utopia. Utopia being the Greek word St. Thomas More made up which means “no-place”.

Namely, that relationship is radically irreconcilable. In spite of rejecting gnosticism, I am certain that corporeal paradise as we can conceive it, is fundamentally opposed to the human condition. This is not a failing of the human condition, but instead one of utopia. Utopia, in all of its implementations, requires humans to be standardizable, equal, replaceable, and incapable of growth or change. Humans are none of those things; attempts to make them such are doomed to failure.

Coercion doesn’t work, neither does rules:

Coercion is essentially any engagement which can be reduced to, “Do/don’t do X, or else.” In hindsight, almost every moral crisis I had faced until recent years was a result of being coerced. Sometimes, the coercion was an explicit statement as above. Other times, the coercion was inferred from consistent exposure to the above statement or the behavioral equivalent. I don’t want to air dirty laundry, new or old, especially as everything is essentially forgiven and forgotten or is still a secret and not yet beyond the statute of limitations. Having been on both the giving and receiving end of coercion, even in the form of rules that are “for your own good”, I have seen how such behavior does infinitely more harm than good and, on a long enough timeline, ultimately fails to accomplish its intended end. Besides, the ends do not justify the means and coercion undermines the human dignity of the victim in every instance.

Contracts are bullshit:

This is something I have to pin on dad, so you can skip this portion, mom. This comes primarily from our discussions on social contract theory. I unknowingly, used to place undue metaphysical belief on the social contract. You brought this to my attention be demonstrating how the social contract has no effect on the physical world. In a world such as Hobbes’ state of nature, there is no difference between two people backstabbing each other over a limited resource and the leviathan’s people/leaders backstabbing each other over other issues. The social contract has no more effect in the real world than any other metaphysical fairy-tale. I can believe in ghosts all I want, but that will not change your behavior. The same is true for “real” contracts. Ultimately, any contract signed is nothing more than a promise which alludes to the integrity and ability of the signers to uphold that promise, a-la the social contract. Admittedly, there is a difference between the social contract and a “real” contract. That is, a social contract attempts to coerce its “signers” with the boogeyman of anarchy and a “real” contract attempts to coerce its signers with the threat of government violence. But we’ve already had this discussion.

The dignity of the human person:

More important than the practical issues concerning coercion, there is a moral issue. Being created in the image of their creator and being given a special moral quality which is at the center of salvation history, there is a certain revealed dignity to human persons. Even “natural man”, a.k.a. Pagans, are aware of this dignity, expressed in our reason, will, and relationship to each other and the divine. Actual catechesis aside, you taught me this be way of debate, example, and counter example, just like all the other items in this letter.

I’m going to circumvent the whole Plato vs. Aristotle, “human being” vs. “human doing” debate and just assent to people possessing their own dignity by virtue of being human. Ultimately, that’s the only available underpinning for individuals’ duties and rights, but I’m trying to avoid getting too philosophical and lengthy in this letter. I’m just going to stick to the duty (or right) to life, in the interest of time. Simply by virtue of our relationship with out creator, humans have inalienable rights. Chief among those, that from which they are all derived, is the duty to life.

Simply put, it means murder is wrong. By extension, coercion (the threat of murder) and theft (depriving one of their resources used for living) are wrong. Accidental murder, that is, killing someone through avoidable circumstance is still murder. For example “If I leave this toxic waste near the well, people may get poisoned and die. Oh, well, I’m will do it anyway.” So, abortion, murder proper, the death penalty, and war are necessarily a violation of human dignity. Additionally, abdication of one’s humanity and person-hood is an offense against human dignity. I imagine this is the basis of mom’s paranoia concerning drugs, but I’m not sure. I am sure, though, that intentionally allowing oneself to be objectified, abased, or to lose one’s free will/discipline is a violation of human dignity as if they had done the same to someone else.

I guess this is as good a place as any to ask why you changed your mind with regards to the American proxy war in the Middle East. When Bush Jr. wanted to re-invade Afghanistan and Iraq, I fell for the propaganda. You were quick to try and dissuade me from that position. A decade later, I came to your earlier position by a different avenue, that is, by way of the dignity of the human person. I was surprised, then, that mom is so anxious to continue that war and the slaughter of millions of innocents that she tried to dissuade me from supporting. Dad is a bit more coy on the subject, but I think he agrees with mom.

Find what you love and pursue it; make it a tool for survival:

I have a million interests and desires, but the all grow from a root desire which is a love affair I have with Truth and my family. Unfortunately, there is a very limited market for these things in a world rife with lies and captivated with misanthropy. That’s not an excuse, but an assessment of my situation. Why does it matter though? I mean, the aspect of the “american dream” you preached to me the most was entrepreneurship and the ability to turn one’s loves into a tool for living. So, then, I ought to determine how I and my family are called to live and do what we can to fulfill that vocation.

“If you’re not growing, you’re dead.” Another nice soundbite from dad that I now totally agree with. In each aspect of one’s person, if they are not growing, they are dead. Spiritual, mental, and physical growth, at a minimum, is required for one to uphold one’s dignity and pursuit of Truth/flourishing/perfection/“the good”/whatever. Mental growth is clearly the aspect of person-hood I am most disposed towards, with a constant pursuit of numerous “-logy”s and “-ism”s and such, seeking to ground my rational faculties in Truth. Mental growth alone has it’s limits. To pursue mental growth, spiritual and physical growth are required. People and action are required.

I am confident in a great many beliefs I have as to what my own vocation has in store for me, and only slightly less confident in what I feel my family’s vocation is. Of course, to come to such conclusions, I have to constantly work together with them; I know only myself, and must rely on them to know themselves.

Exit Strategy. Have a concrete goal with demonstrable success/failure criteria and have a contingency plan:

There is so much I have to write on this and the preceding subject, as the main initiative for this letter is to try to figure out where our misunderstandings lie in general, but most especially concerning moving to New Hampshire and later fleeing the american empire. Unfortunately, I’m running out of steam for writing this letter, so I’m sure you’ve run out of steam and time to read it.

One of the many books dad is never going to write inspired this one. I know I took his treatise on eschatology and turned it into a practical tool, but you grab truth where you can find it. I don’t know how much I need to expound on the heading, it seems straightforward enough.

So, what?

This collection of beliefs and lessons has obviously influenced my worldview at large. I think I’ve spent far too much space and time exploring these ideas, so I will try to wrap this up quickly. Really, I can’t understand why you would be so dismissive and crude about the things I have come to understand and what I intend to do. I totally understand disagreeing, as we have always had disagreements, but those disagreements were (generally) calm and rational. Yelling, name-calling, and repeating fallacies is unproductive and neither calm nor rational. It certainly won’t change my mind as previous discussions have.

I don’t find the beliefs I have to be too extreme. Due to the dignity of the human person, no one has the right to murder, coerce, or steal from another. One has a duty to life, in the fullest philosophical sense of the words. One has an obligation to uphold whatever responsibilities and obligations one takes one. One must have rational justification for one’s actions, derived from these first principles.

I find myself in a position where I have taken on the responsibility for the well-being of four other people whom I love dearly. I have this responsibility in the midst of a disturbing situation. This situation is one where I live in a culture centered on misanthropy and death. A society where myself and my children are treated as livestock, coerced into various behaviors by the perpetual threat of murder, routinely stolen from, and ridiculed for pointing these things out. A brief study of history demonstrates an unavoidable cycle of imperialism, where we are currently in one of those cycles, and the fates of those unable to predict such historical cycles. Most importantly, the situation is such that a murderous gang of kidnappers with no accountability, far more firepower than I possess, and a predilection for kidnapping children from those who have beliefs such as mine operates in my neighborhood (funded by the money stolen from me, no less).

A simple cost/benefit analysis revels a clear course of action, especially when the well-being of my children, all the way down to the state of their immortal souls, hangs in the balance. We must assess what fundamental needs we have, what desires we have, and how to change our environment to best fulfill those needs. In order to achieve the flourishing we seek, we must be able to avoid or counter the coercion, murder, and theft we may encounter. That is categorically impossible where we currently live, therefore we must go somewhere else. We must go somewhere where we will either not encounter such things or have more of a fair fight against them. The simple matter of fact is that it is too late in this place to fight back and I don’t want myself or my children to face the circumstances that naive Catholics have been faced with in first-century Rome, 18th century Prussia, 20th Century Poland/Germany/France, and at least a dozen other places and times.

I am fully aware that I am to be a martyr, but martyrdom comes in all shapes and sizes. I would like to be a martyr worth emulation, even if never recognized by historians. I would not hesitate to kill or die for my children, so why should I hesitate to forego creature comforts and worldly status? If the status quo is such that I could take advantage of criminal activity, imperial decadence, and misanthropic agendas if only I would forego my conscience or “move to Somalia”, I would side with morality, reason, and my conscience. Not for my sake, but for my kids, so that they will not have this dilemma foisted on them because I didn’t feel like addressing it.

I don’t need you to understand. I don’t need you to agree or condone my ideas or actions. What I need is to understand you, your actions, and help giving you a chance to prove me wrong. I wrote this down so you could read it at leisure and approach the discussion more calmly and rationally and so that you could see that I still value our relationship and your opinions, even if they are wrong.

 

The State IS War

The State IS War

A few months ago, I briefly described a “state of war”. The main focus was on the state of war as pertains to interactions between individuals, but it could be considered a prerequisite to this post on the nature of the state of war as pertains to states.

Hearkening back to “Towards a Definition of Anarchy”, I denounce any institution predicated on or constructed for the sake of coercion, murder, or theft. For now, we will simply define “government” as the very same. Between laws enforced by men with guns threatening murder or imprisonment and theft in the form of taxes, fines, and regulations, it is clear that the common conception of government fits the bill. What are the differences between an individual criminal engaging his victim in a state of war and an institution of thousands of individuals doing so?

The first difference, as will be apparent from readers’ gut reaction to the above statement, is one of public opinion. A random individual pointing a gun in someone’s face because “Smoking is bad for you” would be publicly reviled and may even be stopped by a third party. However, a man in a blue shirt and a shiny badge pointing a gun at someone for smoking is hailed as a hero and many would likely come to his aid if the victim were to defend himself. Admittedly, public opinions on weed are shifting (and the opinion on tobacco is shifting the opposite direction), but public opinion on law enforcement is not. The same holds true for taxation (because you live within an arbitrary cartographic boundary, the state owns your property), laws (those within said boundary are subject to the opinion of the state with regards to morality), standing militaries, etc. So, where one could easily find support in protecting oneself from an individual criminal, the same is not true with institutionalized crime.

Secondly, due to the nature of institutions and collectivist ideologies, the guilt of the crime is distributed across a great many people. For example, one’s intuition is typically such that the grouchy lady making $10 behind the counter at the DMV is not guilty of theft or murder due to her job. Many people, even, do not find the soldiers stationed around the globe or the local cops who are shooting children to be guilty of murder. This intuition can find its root in many claims; “It’s just self-defense”, “it’s for the greater good”, “they’re just doing their job”, and “if you just follow the law, nobody gets hurt”, come to mind. At the end of the day, though, by participating in an institution, one is de-facto endorsing the core beliefs and activities of that institution. If I work for planned parenthood, I endorse eugenics and infanticide. If I work for Starbucks I endorse pseudo-socialist fair trade coffee. If I join the Boy Scouts or the Knights of Columbus, I am endorsing a pseudo-paramilitary organization dedicated to nationalism.

The aforementioned grouchy lady at the DMV, many cops, soldiers, and politicians, etc. are not murdering children or stealing property with their own hands and I am not about to advocate the wholesale slaughter of social workers… but the guilt of these crimes rests more heavily on their heads than the average voter or on those that do not execute their duty outlined in “What is the State of War?”.

Thirdly, related to the first two differences, is the efficacy or success rate of institutional states of war. Between public support, the apparently clean hands of the individuals operating on behalf of the institution, and the sheer difference in tactical assets available to the state versus the individual, the odds are forever in favor of the state. The tragedy of the commons rears its ugly head when MLK and Eric Frein are murdered by the state, the Confederacy is invaded by the United States, the government massacres native Americans and innocent citizens at Ruby Ridge, Waco, Kent State, the list goes on and on. This ignores, of course, the firebombing, drone striking, and nuclear annihilation of civilian targets on the other side of the world and imperial occupation of the globe.

Closer to home, though, one-third of my wages are stolen from my paycheck before it is even printed, due to the institutional efficiency of compliant victims. Across the continent, arbitrary laws and fines are written, levied, and enforced by a legion of bureaucrats and armed enforcers with the public support and consent of their subjects. Driving 76 on the “free”way is a deadly prospect, not because of mechanical or skill limitations, but because doing so legally grants authority to state enforcers to explicitly engage the driver in a state of war between individuals.

So, what is the cash value of these differences? Well, with regards to “What Is the State of War?” not much. If someone, anyone, attempts to force someone else into a state of war, the victim has a moral obligation to kill or permanently incapacitate them. It matters not whether they are a back-alley crackhead, a law enforcer, a mob racketeer (but, I repeat myself), a Nazi, or a Marine. Does this mean we should all start crucifying social workers or killing cops sitting in a Dunkin’ Donuts? Not necessarily. The difference between individual states of war and institutional ones hinges on the difference between individual interactions and institutional interactions; I will write more about this distinction later, but for now I will simply show the result of this difference as applies here.

As is the case for an individual state of war, institutional war ought to be avoided if possible. If one finds themselves living in an institutionalized state of war, whether by way of accident of birth, invasion, or an aristocracy signing some document in a nearby colony at the behest of the French monarch, one ought to take all reasonable action to avoid and opt-out of the state and its inherent war. Anonymity, disruptive technologies, the agora, and perceived compliance are all options which do not require one to abandon their right to live where they may. An option which has greater cost and risk associated with it but with tremendously greater payout is to simply move away. Not to Somalia, of course, but to a more free place; as compared to North America and a majority of Europe, a great many exist. One does not have a moral obligation to leave, but the ought to do what they can to cease support and compliance with regards to the state while also avoiding individual states of war. One such method is to simply leave.

As is the case with individual state of war, one ought to properly equip themselves and conduct themselves so as to be prepared to defend oneself. This requires the formation of a geographically local community centered on the principles of anarchy, with equipment designed to obtain a tactical advantage, an environment of self-sufficiency, and outside the purview of the law. Insofar as these attributes are lacking, such a community must make it as costly and dangerous as possible for the state to operate in said locality, thus discouraging direct acts of war.

One also must try to de-escalate the state of war they find themselves in. This may sound contrary to the preceding prescription, but it is not. In the case of institutionalized war, it is closely tied to the second method of avoidance. If one is self-sufficient and living outside the purview of the state, the state will have little public support in engaging one in a state of war. Additionally, in disseminating the truth of the state and its inherently misanthropic nature, one can garner additional public support, thereby starving the state of its authority. As MLK and Malcolm X’s cultural revolution demonstrates, good PR is key.

Ultimately, when individual agents of the state engage one in a state of war, they are no different than any other man, morally speaking. When a master is beating his slave or a rapist is raping or a murderer is murdering, they ought to be stopped at any cost. What about the interim? When a slave owner is drinking tea, a rapist is at Starbucks, or a murderer is at church, ought one stop them from being able to continue such crimes? In 1940’s Paris, could a citizen of France be justified in shooting a man in an SS uniform who is simply drinking wine? I do not have an answer as of yet.

I do know, however, that that is the basis on which police arrest people after a crime is committed. In which case, if one supports arresting criminals after the fact, they must also support the execution of professional criminals after the fact as well. Additionally, if you believe that, for any reason whatsoever, that the US soldiers shooting SS officers across the European countryside were justified, then the french resistance is as well and those that wish to kill cops in the name of freedom most certainly are as well. If any war in known history (identified by numbers of individuals in uniform killing numbers of other individuals in uniform) can be justified, a freedom-minded individual is equally justified in killing individuals wearing the uniform of their oppressor.

TL;DR: The state, as an institution predicated on the crimes of coercion, theft, and murder, is itself a state of war. This raises serious moral concerns with regards to the relationship between a free individual and individual members of the state. Much discussion is required, especially taking into account statist justifications for war and how they apply to such relationships. A further investigation into the tragedy of enforcement is also required.

Also, for your viewing pleasure:

The Dark Side: Crime, Vice, Sin

Today, we explore the dark side of humanity: crime, vice, and sin.

As readers of previous posts and my facebook page are well aware, I use these terms quite frequently. I have come to realize that, despite my best efforts to contextualize the use of these terms, many people are either unable or unwilling to understand what I mean by crime, vice, and sin. Today, I plan on setting things straight such that I don’t have to explain it quite as frequently.

As can easily be guessed, being a philosopher and an anarchist, I do not believe the contemporary and common use of the term “crime” is valid. As I have expressed already, the laws of man are inherently unjust; as such, the term “criminal” cannot apply to an identical class of things as the term “illegal”, as is commonly assumed in our culture. Instead, I define a crime as any action intentionally or negligently directed at the invasion or destruction of another’s life, liberty, or property. In other words, it is an action which violates someone’s rights or duties.

Easy examples consist of incidents of murder, coercion, and theft. Some such instances of these crimes are difficult to discern outright, as would be the case of unreasonable bank fees, protection rackets, systematic coercion, or deprivation of life essentials. There exist any number of examples that could be presented. It is crucial to have a clearly defined set of necessary and sufficient conditions for what is to be considered a crime for reference in these more veiled instances of crime, given the dire consequences.

I doubt anyone is reading this, let alone anyone accepts or wishes to help me refine these conditions, but I am compelled to attempt a definition. The result should be intuitive, but still analytically sound such as to justify one’s response. I believe that if one demonstrates resolve with regards to performing an action, has a demonstrable ability to perform such an action, and the action in question is an immediate or direct and demonstrable causal violation of someone else’s life, liberty or property, the action in question is a crime. In this way, holding a gun to someone’s head and demanding a particular behavior or taking someone else’s property without consent is a crime. Conversely, making idle threats, wishing cancer at people, and using incandescent light bulbs are not crimes as they do not meet the conditions I have outlined to be necessary and sufficient.

Now is a good time to point out why my definition of a crime possesses more

A handy flowchart I found that explains this reasoning

utility than the non-aggression principle (NAP). The most commonly accepted iteration of the NAP can be and is used to justify coercing, stealing from, and even murdering people for things like using incandescent light bulbs, belonging to a different community, smoking tobacco, driving a car, refusing vaccines, and just about any other non-criminal action that could be considered a nuisance by some. These justifications are logically consistent when using the NAP as one’s initial premise. Of course, attempting to do such things to someone for using the wrong light bulb is, itself, aggression. The issue hinges on people’s definition of “aggression”, and any definition which does not result in counter-intuitive or absurd claims will be equivalent to my definition of crime. A similar issue arises with the less popular objectivist “non-initiation of force” principle.

If I were to simply claim that my definition of crime and prescription as to how to handle it were the extent of moral and ethical reasoning required, we may very well witness a conservative’s nightmare: legions of communist, polygamist, sodomites freebasing coke and praying to Allah simply because it isn’t a crime to do so. Of course, it’s equally likely that we would see a liberal’s nightmare emerge: mobs of tobacco-chewing, corporatist, racist, fundamentalist Christians chugging liters of soda while deforesting the amazon. What I am alluding to, obviously, is that there are courses of action which are not crimes but are not conducive to human flourishing. The main focus of this portion of the post is vice. A vice is any non-criminal activity which would prevent or inhibit the participant from pursuing their telos.

Again, I am guilty of referencing my still-unfinished book. A quick primer is in order. “Telos”, a Greek term which has been at the center of philosophical discourse since Aristotle, essentially means “end” or “purpose”. I argue that any individual is beholden to a certain hierarchy of teloi (plural of “telos”), but that is a discussion best left to my book or later posts. For now, we can simply say that eudaimonia is any individual’s ultimate goal. Another Greek word: “eudaimonia” is a very technical and precise term which, for our current uses, can be reduced to “free and productive flourishing”.

Any activity which would limit one’s freedom, productivity, or well-being can be considered a vice. Addiction, mind-altering substances, dependency, time-wasting activities, body-harming practices, character-undermining activities, prophylactics… essentially the traditional list of vices are good examples of what can be considered a vice.  Now, am I a tee-totaling puritan hellbent on avoiding anything fun? I play video games, drink alcohol, smoke cigars, stay up late, work a 40-hour wage-slave job, and so much more. I am still dependent on others’ skills and resources. I still rely on less-than-perfect activities to sublimate my aggression and discomfort. I still use Google, Facebook, and Windows. In other words, I still have my vices.

As I will likely discuss in an upcoming post, the virtues of prudence and temperance are paramount in flourishing. With regards to handling vice, prudence and temperance are also key. While it would be ideal for people to simply commit to being a taoist or stoic sage, an ascetic monk, or whatever and eschew all vice outright, it is not entirely possible and may, itself, be a vice of sorts. Instead of abandoning the real world for some gnostic exercise in death, most people may flourish best by approaching their own vice from the perspective of a responsible cost/benefit analysis. There is a reason I smoke cigars rarely as opposed to mainlining heroin daily.

Whereas “How do I deal with criminals?” warrants a near-infinite number of discussions, “How do I deal with a vicious person?” is pretty straightforward. If one’s vices are, in fact, vices and not crimes, they ought to be free from coercion, murder, or theft, like any other human being. If their vices are beyond the realm of tolerance, such as someone vigorously masturbating in public, they can be refused service, reprimanded, shunned, etc. The social norm can be enforced without resorting to criminal actions against someone. Social norms, tolerance, and exile are ideas that will be more thoroughly explored when I get around to talking about cities, the Dunbar number, and intentional communities.

If any of my nine readers are Christians, they are likely pulling out their hair and screaming, “SMOKING WEED WILL LAND YOU IN HELL!” I jest. In all seriousness, though, a great many vices and all crimes are sins. If a crime is someone violating another’s rights and a vice is someone preventing their own flourishing, where is sin in this whole mess? I’m going to try to keep this short and sweet. So far, I’ve written very little on relationships. There are a handful of reasons this is the case, but now I’m compelled to do so.

Sin is relational. I can pretend that I have a relationship with you, my anonymous, silent reader. If I start hiding pictures of my manhood in my posts or if every post were to gradually devolve into senseless diatribes against Ronald McDonald and the lizard Jews, I would be damaging my relationship with those of you who expect philosophy from me. I would be sinning against you.

If I am in relationship with an omnipotent, omniscient, omnivalent, omnibenevolent, omni-omni, being… especially one that created me personally for the sake of us coming into full communion with each other… any action which would make me less omni-omni and therefore less able to come into communion with Him would be a sin against Him. The same applies to any action which would otherwise damage our relationship.

TL;DR: If someone is intentionally and willfully acting in direct violation of another’s rights, they are committing a crime. If someone is doing something which prevents or inhibits human flourishing but isn’t a crime, they are committing a vicious act. Sin is any activity which damages a relationship. In this way, sins against God would be actions which damage one’s relationship with God. As always: you ought to defend yourself from criminals, reprimand and ignore vicious people, and avoid sin.

What is the State Of War?

What is war? Can war ever be justified? So many questions and so many emotionally charged readers… lets see how rationally we can navigate this terrain and, consequently, how many people I can piss off in this post.

“War, huh yeah
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, oh hoh, oh
War huh yeah
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, say it again y’all
War, huh good God
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, listen to me”
~Edwin Starr

War, by the broadest definition, is man killing man. One can argue for qualifiers in order to narrow the application of the term, something like “large numbers of men killing large numbers of men” or “the institutionalized or systematic state of men killing men” or “states fighting states”, etc. While I am sympathetic to the desire to make “war” a technical and precise term, the manner in which the term has been used historically has been intentionally broad and inclusive, with a few exceptions. Instead, qualifiers are typically assigned on top of the term to better explain the circumstance: “civil war”, “guerrilla warfare”, “world war”, “war of X”, “war on X”, etc. It is even said when small numbers of men are involved; when two tribes or gangs consisting of a few dozen engage in killing each other , it is called tribal or gang warfare.

Thomas Hobbes, the architect of contemporary views on the human condition, aptly used the term “state of war” to describe two closely related states of affairs. The first being any situation in which a man attempts to deprive another of their life. The second is an environment or state of affairs in which there is a known disposition for such an occasion. Hobbes then equivocates this second form of a “state of war” with what he calls the “state of nature”: that is, his impoverished view of anarchy. Of course, I disagree with his false dichotomy of either sacrificing any and all rights to a tyrant or living in a perpetual solitary state of war, but his definition of war seems solid enough.

What does a state of war look like, then? Some examples are easy to point out: Nazis marching into Poland, remote-controlled planes dropping “ordinance” on children, and gangs executing people wearing the wrong color, (or an environment where such things are common) for example. There are far less obvious examples to draw on as well, but these tend to be more controversial due to their more discreet nature. I will save those for later.

For now, let’s see whether war is ever justified. As I mentioned very briefly in “Towards a Definition of Anarchy” and hope to addressing detail later, one has a duty to life and a moral obligation to acknowledge and respect others’ duty to the same. It’s a very short axiomatic step to then say war (and the state of war) is categorically unjust. Simple and straightforward, right? Well, yes… but with a qualifier.

I have a duty to live and flourish, and by extension must not inhibit others from doing the same. In a purely rational and robotic world, this would mean that mankind would never encounter or even conceive of a state of war. Of course, experience tells us a very different, more Hobbesian, story. What happens when someone violates their obligation to allow another to live and flourish? What happens when there is a gun in my face? Does one have a duty to live or an obligation to let live? There is only one rationally consistent answer: the would-be-victim has a duty to stop the aggressor from taking the victim’s life. If this means the death of the aggressor, so be it.

It is always tragic when someone is killed; again, in a world of purely rational actors, such an event would not occur. However, it is infinitely more tragic when an innocent person is killed by a criminal rather than the other way around. Why is this the case? When one is innocent of a crime (using Spooner’s definition of a crime), the are to some degree fulfilling their duty to live and flourish. Conversely a criminal is not only acting in direct violation of their duty to live and flourish (from the virtue ethics perspective) which is a vice, but also depriving others of their ability to do so. The engagement in a criminal act is to enter into a state of war, and a systematic criminal rings a state of war with him wheresoever he may go.

We have touched on how one instigates war (by attempting to coerce, rob, or murder someone), but not what the target of said instigator ought to do in concrete terms. Firstly, of course, one ought to take all reasonable precautions to avoid such an occasion: moving to a safer region, locking doors, demonstrating a secure posture in both person and property, and behaving in a virtuous and amiable manner are all good examples. Secondly, one ought to be prepared for such an occasion. Both mental and physical preparedness are required; being able to tactically assess one’s environment at all times, to have the tools needed for security on-hand, and the mental and physical ability to use said tools are a requirement for preparedness.

Thirdly, if or when the first two steps prove to be insufficient, one will find themselves faced with the immediate threat of war. In such a situation, it would seem that there are a series of morally acceptable courses of action. If possible, one must try to defuse the situation before it escalates to violence. One such option would be to simply “talk down” their aggressor… to say something to the effect of “I know you don’t want to do this, let’s work through this together” another option would be to warn the aggressor that if he does not stand down, he will, in fact, be executed on the spot. Diffusing the situation is not always possible, as sometimes war sets in unexpectedly and with great intensity. Easy examples would be when a gang randomly assaults a bystander or when the SWAT team performs a no-knock raid, but I repeat myself. In the event such an action is impossible or fails, there remains the most primordial of dichotomies: fight or flight. If one can successfully flee with one’s life, liberty, and property intact one would be justified in doing so (as long as one later performs one’s due diligence in raising awareness of the instigator’s behavior). However, if any one of the three cannot successfully be secured and one parts with any of the three to any degree (even in the de-escalation phase), one is complicit in the crimes committed against oneself. In the act of turning over possessions or liberties demanded of oneself unjustly, one is enabling and condoning the theft and coercion occurring. Additionally, a compliant victim allows a criminal to pursue theft from others and such a criminal will likely become a repeat customer with regards to a compliant victim. Such is the case with murder as well, excepting the “repeat customer” portion of course.

The remaining and most unfortunately likely course of action available to one forced into a state of war is to fight. In the case of war, the victim of the instigator is thrust into an unjust situation by an unjust actor. How ought one conduct oneself in the state of war? Ultimately, there is only one acceptable answer: with all the fury, power, ferocity, and coldly calculated intent to kill that one can muster. Anything less would be, itself, a criminal and vicious act.

How could pulling punches of “showing mercy” be a crime and a vice? Well, it is quite simple, really. Once every option to avoid a state of war has been exhausted, the intent of the aggressor to commit a criminal act against the victim at any cost has been established. Any degree in which one is derelict in commitment to stopping an aggressor in the most efficacious and efficient manner possible is a degree to which one is complicit in an aggressor’s crime. In this degree one is derelict in combating the aggressor is a degree in which one is willing to allow the aggressor to commit a crime against oneself What’s more, not only a crime against oneself but the aggressor has effectively established the nature of his character to be a criminal one; therefore, allowing the criminal to commit a crime against oneself is to encourage him to commit crimes against others.

Remember, anarchy is a philosophy of personal responsibility, not winner-take-all violence. Those who believe it is their right or ability to act out a Hobbesian liberty (the ability to do literally whatever one wants with no regard to the rights of others) will not live long in truly anarchist society. An easy explanation as to why this is the case is to simply imagine a society in which a majority of people live by the standard outlined here and how such a society would respond to a Hobbesian.

I will follow-up on this post in the near future with regards to how one ought to conduct their affairs when living in an institutionalized state of war.

TL;DR: The state of war is is a state of affairs in which one or more individuals cannot be dissuaded from committing a crime. When one is faced with the prospect of war, one ought to do what one can to avoid it. If one is forced into a state of war, one ought to pursue the most effective and expedient method by which to halt said criminal. Namely, they must kill their aggressor.

There is a further discussion of this topic at about the 1:19:00 mark of Sovryh Tech Ep. 108:

On the Ethics of Voting

On the Ethics of Voting: a Dialogue Between George and Robert
So, this was supposed to be a higher-quality production, but there were scheduling issues and time constrains such that we had to settle on the demo recording as our final recording.  We were planning on having a celebrity guest, but we couldn’t get everything worked out in time.  Hopefully, in the future, we will be able to revisit this script and get a better rendition recorded.

Still, all of the material and substance is here, just not as polished and palatable as I had hoped.  Above is the audio version, and below is the script.  Enjoy.

UPDATE 2015-5: Brian Sovryn had some excellent points to make on the subject of voting, and I thought they were worth adding to this discussion:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AFagDhfCRoc
Introduction

George: Oh, hi, Rob… I didn’t expect to see you here on a day like today.

Robert: What’s going on here? Handing out free books at the library or something?

George: >sigh< Rob… it’s election day. And no, I don’t have time for your Socratic bullshit; I just gotta get my ballot in the box and get back to work.

Robert: Socrates was an asshole, that hurt my feelings; but I can see where you’re coming from. I used to really, really get involved in elections… reading all of the amendments and referendums in their entirety, looking at voting histories and financial backers… It was exhausting, but I felt it was rewarding, even though I only ever voted on the winning side once. But It was rewarding, doing my civic duty and upholding the political system that kept us from destroying ourselves.

George: Yeah, but I follow your social media now-a-days. I guess I have time to talk for a little bit… I am just waiting in line for about an hour or so. You do know that if you don’t vote, you can’t complain, right?

Robert: It was a very smart and grouchy old man that once said, “If you vote you have no right to complain.” I don’t always agree with him, but he was on top of his game for a good portion of his life. So, now, I have to decide whether this one smart guy was right, or the general consensus of the masses is right. >chuckle< You know…

George: Yes, I know… “republic versus democracy”… Your sense of humor has declined over the years. I also think your philosopher is wrong. I mean, if there’s a guy that is running for president or congress or something that is vehemently in favor of infanticide and you don’t vote against him, you’ve essentially allowed him to pursue an evil course of action with your tax dollars. You could have done something to stop him, but you didn’t. You have no right to complain.

Robert: So, I have to choose a lesser evil?

George: If there is no good candidate, yes… but every so often, Abraham Lincoln or Ronald Reagan runs for office.

Robert: “I sought for great men, but all I found were apes of their ideal…”

George: What was that?

Robert: Nothing, just something a philosopher said… if we are going to get into the “lesser evil” debate again, I would suggest we should lay some ground rules. we’ve gotta be operating in the same paradigm, with the same premises, or we’ll just keep talking past each other.

George: Yeah, I remember your philosophy club; ground rules are fine. What do you propose?

The Anarchist Position

Robert: Well given how the environment we are in is quite adversarial towards my position and we are limited in time, may I suggest we start by assuming the anarchist position today?

George: You’ll have to define it for me, because when you say “anarchist” I still only see white utopians complaining on social media and black kids throwing Molotov cocktails at gas stations .

Robert: We’ll go with the easy definition, then. We’ll just say that anarchy is “the rejection of any institution predicated on coercion, theft, or murder”.

George: I’m not sure what that has to do with voting, but I’m sure you’ll tell me all about it. Are you going to tell me that voting is murder?

Robert: Well, I think that we can just confine ourselves to voting like we are here. I wouldn’t say that all voting is evil… If we had a group of friends trying to decide where we should go for lunch, for example, we could vote on where we are going as a group. Anyone who doesn’t want to go to the selected restaurant doesn’t have to go or pay for anything.

George: Isn’t that exactly what’s going on right now?

Robert: Well, ignoring representatives for a moment, let’s take a look at your ballot. Let’s see, here I see a handful of amendments, propositions, and issues that are not opt-in like our example. You see, “raise taxes”, “forced labeling”, “more taxes”, “banning pets” “raise taxes”… Regardless of whether or not I vote, or how I vote if I were to do so, I will still be forced to abide by these rules. In effect, my friends are telling me “You HAVE to go to Chuck ‘e Cheese’s, and you WILL pay a percentage of the bill,” which is coercion and theft. An anarchist wouldn’t allow for that.

George: So, you should vote against those things, disallow them from happening, Mr. Anarchist. I think you have a difficult uphill struggle to make a compelling argument from what you just said to reach “I don’t vote”.

Robert: Oh, it’s even harder than you think. I’m not saying “I don’t vote,” but rather, “Everyone ought not to vote as participation in any system that is predicated on coercion, theft, or murder.”

George: Wait wait wait… I see where this is going. We’ve had these discussions about anarchy before, and we don’t have time to do that… last time, we talked for six hours and still had ground to cover when I went home. So for rule number two: let us, to the best of our ability, confine the discussion solely to voting (arguing from the anarchist’s position) without getting sidetracked on other pedantic issues about anarchy.

Robert: Fair enough, as long as you let me include this discussion in a book I’m writing on this very subject. Or, at least, use this discussion for inspiration. You may actually help me figure out, once and for all, what my stance is on voting and have sufficient justification for both myself and my critics.

George: That’s fine. So, what’s your big hangup?

Justifications for and condemnations against voting

Robert: Well, I would say my big hangup is established in the anarchist position itself: I disbelieve in the authority of the government, so why would I vote? Rather than just diving right in, though, I think it may work better if you tell me why you’re voting rightnow. You’ve already agreed with me that a government such as ours is broken in past discussions, let’s start there.

George: Well, that’s precisely why I’m voting. Unlike you, I’m not committed to the idea that social order is inherently evil, only that this particular government is not doing it’s best at upholding social order and freedom. I’m committed to changing what we’ve got into something better. It’s this commitment to change that brings me here: the action of voting is the most effective and easiest way to enact that change.

Robert: So what are you here voting for? To eliminate taxes, defund the enforcement of unjust laws, and end government-funded murder? I didn’t see those options on the ballot; let me see it again.

George: That’s not fair, and you know it. It took a long time to get into this mess, and it will take a long time to get out of it. Yes, all I can do this election is choose who is best suited to the political positions available and vote against levying new taxes. In the future, the politicians we elect may put taxation reducing and freedom promoting bills on the congressional floor or on the ballot for popular vote.

Robert: It may not be fair, but it is true. Even if you are assuming government is somehow justified, voting was either the direct cause for this mess or was insufficient to prevent or even mitigate the creation of this mess. To take it from our current specific instance to the categorical realm: I argue that voting in government, when “done right”, is the means by which the majority can take advantage of the minority through coercion, theft, and murder and, when “done improperly”, is the means by which the ruling class can appease the masses desire for freedom while disallowing the ability to truly influence governance… notice the absence of any good option on your ballot, representative or otherwise.

George: You’re mistaken. Voting is the method by which a society of free people agrees on how their particular society ought to be run. We got into this mess because there are too many uneducated, disengaged people voting themselves benefits.

Robert: So, because in the past we have had a majority of fools in society, all of them voting to steal people’s property and force them to make bad decisions, we are in this mess? I’m not sure I believe that, but even if it were true I have to ask how you aren’t condoning that theft and coercion by continuing to participate in the system which institutionalizes such behaviors.

George: There may have been more people voting for bad representatives and presidents before, but now that people have seen that the old way of doing things it isn’t working, we will soon have a majority ready to enact real change.

Robert: That didn’t answer my question: “If your political system explicitly allows a mass of individuals to vote in such a manner to steal your property and coerce you to make bad decisions, how do you not support those very actions when you vote?”

George: Oh, that’s easy, I simply vote against those choices.

Robert: You may be able to vote against this amendment here that says “Should we raise taxes?”, but what about your representatives? You don’t get to vote against people, only for them. Even if you could, they can still do whatever they want once they are in office.

George: If you don’t vote for someone you’re voting against them. And besides, when someone is elected, they are kept in check by the checks and balances of the system as well as the threat of not getting re-elected.

Robert: Wow. ‘If you don’t vote for someone, you’re voting against them.” I rest my case.

George: I suppose I wasn’t clear enough: if you vote for someone’s opponent, you are voting against them.

Robert: It sounds to me like a vote for something is a vote for something, and a vote against something is a vote against it… and paying attention to words and what they actually mean is important if we want to be honest to ourselves. So, say I “vote against” some evil politician or another and vote for some less-evil guy instead; regardless of who wins, then, am I not condoning the actions of the victor simply by participation in such a system and my agreement to abide by the rules of the game?

George: Not if I vote against the guy, or elect someone into the other branches of the government to check their poor decisions.

Robert: I level the same accusation against the “checks and balances” as I do voting in general: either the checks and balances are insufficient or have expressly allowed us to vote our way into this mess.

George: Again, it’s the surplus of stupid people that have caused this… that’s the risk of a free society. Besides, if you don’t like the options, you can always run for office.

Robert: Free society… ha. So, anyone can just show up and say “I want to be president” and have even a remote chance of winning? I think not; show me one candidate in the last century that wasn’t carefully selected by the republicans or democrats and got even ten percent of the votes… or even got a spot in the debates before election… but that’s beside the point. If I did win, I would be paid money which was stolen from people with the express intent of giving it to me. And, what’s more, how are you free if your behavior and rights are dictated by the will of the majority?

George: I’m free because we’ve voted to prevent my actions and rights from being dictated by the will of any random aggressor. Besides, freedom doesn’t mean doing whatever you want, but I’ve already explained this to you.

Robert: You have attempted to, yes, but I’m going to inquire as to how you expect those laws to be enforced.

George: The threat and reality of imprisonment or death seems to work well enough.

Robert: So, if you’re a minority, men with guns will make you do what they want? Well, that explains the environment in the inner cities and prisons… but you can’t simply legislate morality and force people to be good.

George: The law IS morality. Voting is the method by which a society ensures just laws.

Robert: Say what, now?

George: Without laws (and their enforcement) against behaviors such as murder, coercion, and theft, those behaviors will run rampant. Voting is the method by which society agrees on what is immoral. The term for it is “illegal”.

Robert: With all due respect, that is just patently absurd. If the law derives it’s authority from the opinion of the majority, it’s no different than justice being the will of the strongest or a direct attack on ideological pluralism. If the majority or their representative decides to round up all the Jews, gays, Blacks, Catholics, Japanese, or whatever minority you choose, and put them in labor camps or gas chambers, that’s what is considered just and moral… If the law, however, derives it’s authority from some objective matter or truth, then voting is clearly one of the worst ways to determine what a just law is. We would rather go to a theocracy or Plato’s Republic.

George: Well, we have representatives, as opposed to a direct democracy, which we elect based on how closely their opinions match ours.

Robert: That still leaves the problems that theocracy or Republic are supposed to account for. I see one of two possibilities. One, there is no objective morality from which the law is derived: your opinion is merely that and you are delegating the actual task on oppressing an ideological minority to your representative. Or the other option is that there is an objective moral good from which laws derive their justification and that the democratic process of voting is actually contrary to allowing that to happen; elected representatives who are elected by ignorant masses are merely representatives of that ignorance.

George: You didn’t let me finish. The purpose of the representatives are to be exemplar instances of the population they represent. They are given the task of discussing the issues at hand in order to vote on their peoples’ behalf. In this way, our model reflects the ideas in your Plato’s Republic: politicians are philosopher kings.

Robert: Exemplar of what, exactly? Clearly, you don’t believe this… you wouldn’t simultaneously claim “our voting system is just, the only reason we have this mess is because too many people are ignorant people” and also hold the belief that “our system of voting is an acceptable method of electing philosopher kings that can determine the truth of things”. They fundamentally contradict themselves, and I know you’re smarter than that.

George: Well, if you put it that way, they do. I’ll get back to you on that one. Besides, it sounds to me like you’re arguing things you don’t believe either: “your options are humanistic subjectivism or theocracy.'” Hardly sounds like an anarchist argument.

Robert: Close. I was pointing out the flaw in your reasoning. Your excuse for voting doesn’t hold water; it merely justifies non-representative governments, which like anarchy is opposed to voting. Here, let’s take a different approach which may represent our actual positions a bit more closely.

George: Good, we’ve already wasted twenty-odd minutes already. So, now it’s your turn: what’s your big hang up with democracy?

Robert: Ok, sounds fair. Earlier, you mentioned that law protects you from a random aggressor coercing, raping, or murdering you. I imagine you believe that this random aggressor has no right to do so, hence your law preventing it?

George: It’s my turn to examine you, so you have to answer the question for yourself.

Robert: Fair enough. I claim that I, like every other human being, have no right to coerce someone else to do something, steal from them, or murder them. These are the three aspects of the golden rule, or the three violations of the right to liberty. The important part right now is the simple truth that I have no right to violate your liberty by way of coercion, theft, or murder. So, even if I believe you should or should not behave in a particular manner, I have no right to force you to act accordingly. If I lack the authority to do so, how can I delegate this authority to a representative, law enforcement officer, judge, et cetera? Additionally, if I lack the capacity to discern what each individual ought to do, how could I possibly determine who is best suited to do so?

George: Enough with all this conceptual “morals” bullshit. Voting is merely an attempt at maximizing the pleasure of the largest number of people. So long as most of the citizens are able to defend their quality of life from the enemies at the gates, that goal is met. Besides, some people tend to be incapable of responsibly managing their affairs, we need laws and voting and such to protect consumers from making bad choices and evil people from hurting others and themselves.

Robert: What you just described is the oft-referred to adage that, “democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner”. If you are not ok with that image, I rest my case… If you are ok with it, well… I’m sorry.

George: You’re sorry? What for? Don’t take this pious attitude with me, this really is what I believe.

Robert: You misunderstand me. I’m sorry for what comes next. You’ve hit the crux of the issue: Leviathan.

George: The big fish in the Bible?

Robert: America may have inherited its character and constitution from John Locke (eternal optimist that he was), but it inherited its worldview from his predecessor, Thomas Hobbes (the pessimistic monarchist). Your position is precisely that which Hobbes outlines in his appropriately titled Leviathan. He claims that without law, absolute and relentless law, we exist in a world of “every man against every man in a life that is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” He then claims that by putting on the airs of civility and monarchy, we can escape that reality. Those that came after him thought that constitutions, elections, pluralism, welfare, and the like would do a better job than monarchy. At the end of the day, though we continue to exist in a world of every man for himself, only one guy or group of guys maintains a monopoly on force, infringing on the freedoms of everybody and convince them that it is for their own good. Why else would one vote, except to impose their will on others by means of participating in an institution built with the express purpose of making people behave in a particular way, steal the fruits of their labor, and kill those that resist the first two functions?

George: Dude, you’ve gotta calm down… we’re gonna get kicked out… people are looking at us. Besides, I still say you should vote to opt-out, move to Somalia, or run for office yourself if you don’t like it.

Robert: Even voting to be free from oppression is suspect behavior! You were right in one regard; there really are people who are so ignorant and incapable of managing their own affairs that they volunteer for servitude. I have no right to force someone to leave an abusive relationship, I cannot point a gun at someone’s head and tell them to quit doing drugs or else, and I cannot prevent someone from making deals with the devil. In this way, even if there were a referendum to disband the government in it’s entirety, the first and only true vote for freedom, I could not with clean conscience go to the ballot box.

George: Then, you aren’t committed to change. All this grandstanding is for naught, if you won’t vote even to mitigate what you see as the greatest of evil.

Conclusion and Challenge

Robert: The ends do not justify the means. Even if it is so tempting to compromise my morals for the sake of progress, “For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul?” If, due to the widespread obsoletion of the government, masses of non-compliant free individuals, and possibly even the threat of war, by people doing what it takes to be free, the government simply starves into nonexistence, my conscience would be clean.

George: Splitting hairs. You refuse to vote because you don’t want to do what it takes to be free, and you refuse to put your money where your mouth is and just move to Somalia. You need to calm down, too… I think those cops in the back of the room are talking about us.

Robert: Let them talk. Let me talk. They may just prove my point. Voting, as it exists in this building, is an institution predicated on coercion, theft, and murder. It is tantamount, at a minimum, to condoning these evils. We, as the governed, are all authoritarians, rapists, and murderers by our willful participation in this governance. We may not be in a position to be held accountable for these sins, these actions of slaves against fellow slaves. But, now that my eyes are open, and all you present here who have heard my case, the burden rests on your conscience.

George: You’re over-thinking it. All this abstract and convoluted lines of thought are just an excuse to wash your hands of your responsibility to commit a mere hour of your year to your own freedom which you ignore. Your arguments are not compelling, I think you’re just too lazy to commit a mere hour of your time, even if you think it is a waste of time. It’s almost my turn to go exercise that freedom. Last chance.

Robert: It may not be a perfect argument, especially given how it fits into a much broader discussion. It’s amusing to me that people think I believe participating in politics is a waste of time (calling congressmen, voting, etc.). If it were merely a waste of time, I would continue to do it out of the vain hope that something would come of it. I pray almost constantly. Take that to mean what you will. I don’t think it’s just a waste of time to participate in government, but that those that participate in government are, purposely or not, marching lock-step with the master of misanthropy himself, and I for love of my immortal soul will have no part in it. Be forewarned: if you walk in that box without first discovering a compelling counter argument, you are signing away not only your rights to the king of the Leviathan, but also your soul to a very particular prince with his own personal kingdom… and I doubt they hold elections there.

Picture

Towards a Definition of Anarchy

From the Greek: “A/An” = “not” + “Archon” =King/ruler”

Throughout Athenian history, the form and function of an “archon” changed in various ways, but all of the meanings and applications of the term shared three things in common:

  • Reverence of the position held, regardless of the actions of the individual holding the position
  • Authority to dictate the actions of others
  • A support structure or institution designed to grant that authority

Because of the close relationship between mythology and political life in ancient cultures, the term archon was used to both describe human actors and intermediary deities/angels/spirits. Excepting instances wherein poetic license was used heavily, the term clearly applied to one or the other type of being; much like our use of the term “love” being applied to loving pie and loving your wife (with the only grey area being “American Pie”). Because of this distinction, I am comfortable in focusing primarily on the word as applies to human archons as apposed to divine archons.

However, it is interesting to note the mythological use of the term, and it does inform the use of the term as applies to humans. In many ancient religions, “archon” was the word applied to spiritual beings responsible for acts of widespread destruction. They typically targeted non-believers. The gnostics, especially, interpreted archons to be any being which acted in such a manner so as to prevent human beings from pursuing individuality, excellence, eudaimonia, or from taking responsibility, but this use was fairly widespread when translating other religious texts into Greek as well.

So, in the interest of crafting a concise, simple, and categorical etymology of the Greek word “archon”, I assert the definition of “archon”is as follows:
“An individual who claims the authority to coercively dictate the behavior of other individuals, especially in cases which cause destruction or prevent other individuals from pursuing individuality, acquiring excellence or eudaemonia, or taking responsibility.”
Of course, a Philosophy is always more complex than an etymological definition of its moniker. I like to make the arbitrary claim that the best philosophies closely match their moniker and I believe anarchy to be an example of this claim. Being an ontologically negative term, “no-archon” can be taken at face value to be a form of either rejecting a claim or to be an enumeration of negative claims. In this case, it is both.

Firstly, it is the rejection of the claim that one has the right or ability to be an archon. Where one may claim to be a monarch, oligarch, tetrarch, etc. they may as well be claiming to be the Messiah or Darth Vader. The same applies to terms which are not explicitly descended from the term “archon”; a republican, democrat, theocrat, etc. is an equally fictitious position to be held. I will address this rejection of belief in archons later.

Secondly, anarchy as a philosophy is an enumeration of negative claims, many of which are ontological in nature. Many times, the dramatic claim of an individual anarchist is, “No gods, No masters”. This claim, while effective and concise is overly simplistic and vague. I contend that the attitude of the motto is accurate, being derived loosely from the etymology of the name and philosophy. A less dramatic but more accurate version would be “no slaves, no masters” or “Man holds no authority over man.” The reasons I wish to avoid “no gods, no masters” is probably fairly apparent; I believe that belief in certain deities is compatible with the tenets of anarchy (that is a matter for later blog posts), and the term “master” has multiple meanings and applications, many of which are not related to slavery; by putting “slaves” alongside “masters”, it demonstrates the particular application of the term “master” which one ought to assume.

So, what does anarchy mean as a philosophy? Clearly, the first negative ontological claim would be that no man has the right to coerce others to behave in a particular fashion and any institution designed for the sake of coercion or predicated upon such actions ought to be done away with. Coercion is a term with many feelings and intuitions surrounding it; many of which, if inaccurate, touch on key elements of it. However, to an analytic such as myself, a clear definition or at least description of the term is required in order to flesh out a legitimate philosophical stance. In the case of coercion, I imagine the definition is something akin to “an action or threat of action which intentionally removes one’s means of achieving flourishing with the intent to compel a particular action.” For example, saying “Do X or I will kill you,” is clearly coercion. A less obvious example would be saying, “Don’t do X (especially where X is a component necessary or beneficial to one’s flourishing) or you will be put in a cage and I will steal your property.” When phrased this way, it is obviously coercion… but it can be less obvious when each piece of that statement is multiplied a thousandfold and spread between millions of pages of legal code. The fallout of such forms of coercion is readily apparent to anyone who looks at certain parts of the public record (or my facebook page).

Equally damaging to human flourishing are the issues of murder and theft. These are both closely related to coercion, but the full relationship between the three is so complex and rich that I do not have the time and space to fully address it in this post, but I will explicitly address it later. For now, I will have to content myself and any would-be readers with a brief examination of the issue as pertains to the definition of anarchy. The root desire which leads to the need to be free from coercion cannot be fulfilled if one is subject to the threat of murder, especially when institutionalized, for the same reasons that one must be free from coercion. Also, by definition, murder is unjustified and an immediate stop on one’s ability to flourish by any defensible standard.

Theft is often the most veiled and insidious of the three issues at hand. Where murder is fairly cut and dried as far as identification is concerned and coercion is infrequently undetectable, theft is more difficult to define and can often go unnoticed indefinitely. However, if one is exposed to institutionalized theft, even indirect and unnoticed theft, they are subject to an institutionalized inhibitor of their freedom and flourishing.

So, then, anarchy is ultimately the rejection of any institution predicated on or designed for the sake of coercion, theft, or murder. There is a multitude of reasons why one would come to embrace such a philosophy and worldview, some of which I will address in later posts. One thing is certain, though: no one who embraces anarchy as defined above does so out of naivete or a desire to perpetuate the same crimes which such a philosophy decries. Anarchy is not a guarantee that people will not commit the crimes of coercion, theft, and murder; the idea that such a thing is possible is utopic and therefore absurd. However, any worldview that does not fundamentally incorporate the anarchist position is a guarantee that people and institutions will commit these crimes. Those that wish to commit these crimes have far easier and safer means by which to accomplish their goals than anarchy. For example, they can become politicians, cops, soldiers, democrats, or middle and upper management at a corporation, thereby granting themselves a secure position which allows them to commit the very crimes they wish to pursue while remaining above social reproach, as opposed to taking on the risk associated with the moniker of freedom from such crimes. That is not to say that all people who choose such careers do so out of the desire to commit crimes with impunity, but these positions certainly encourage such activities and some are predicated directly on these crimes. Before I ramble too far beyond the topic at hand, I should save such ideas for later posts.

TL;DR: In conclusion, I propose the starting place for formulating a categorical definition of anarchy would be “The rejection of any institution predicated on coercion, theft, or murder”. This definition is subject to critique and revision, but so far has served me well.