The Great Depression

 

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

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

Carpe Veritas

Weimar Germany and Deflation

 

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

Wizardly Wisdom Guest Spot #2!

Hello all,

Here’s another bit of audio-only content.  I did another guest spot on Wizardly Wisdom Podcast.  The first one was a blast, but this one is about 20% more awesome.  We spoke about the philosophical underpinnings of the libertarian movement, some historical context for different positions people hold to be “the libertarian position”, and why discourse about this discourse is important.

You’ll have to forgive my rough audio, we had some technical difficulties, but I think the content more than makes up for a little echo and click.

 

Cryptocurrency for Catholics

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

A Meditation on Mondays

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

>rolls d20<

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

>rolls another d20<

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016 Book Announcement!

Good news, everybody!

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

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

A Frank Discussion of Rights

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

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

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

I will save my statement for later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Liberty Classroom: an Invaluable Tool

If you are reading this near the end of November in 2016, you can get some major discounts and provide a great deal of support to the Mad Philosopher project by going to Tom Woods Liberty Classroom and subscribing.  If you are reading this at any other time, you can still provide a great amount of value to the project by doing so.

Tom Woods Liberty Classroom is easily one of the most undervalued resources available on the internet, as it provides a legitimate PhD-level resource on a number of crucial subjects such as history and economics.  The term “legitimate” is important, here, as what most universities provide is only half-true and full of leftist propaganda.  This resource is the closest to comprehensive and the closest to unbiased as can be found.

Click Here to get some coupon codes and subscribe.  This affiliate program is definitely one of the best ways to support the Mad Philosopher project, second only to just sending me Bitcoin directly.

 

Here’s some free samples (the best stuff is behind the paywall, obviously):

the best way to fulfill the maxim “Carpe Veritas” is to subscribe to Liberty Classroom and take advantage of everything such a subscription provides.

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Logical Anarchy Guest Spot!

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

Carpe veritas



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The Downfall Episode 28

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

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

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Podcast List 2016

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

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

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

Podcasts I no longer listen to:

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

Podcasts that have been discontinued:

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

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Democracy: The God That Failed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Treason: Lysander Spooner

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philosophy Reading Lists

Intro To Philosophy Reading List

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

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Method List:

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

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

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Survey List:

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

  1. Plato’s Republic

  2. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

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

  4. Descartes’ Meditations

  5. Hobbes’ Leviathan

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

  7. Marx’ Das Kapital

  8. Russel’s History of Philosophy

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

  10. Neitzche’s The Gay Science

  11. Rothbard’s Man, Economy, and State

  12. Popper’s Conjectures and Refutations

Just Another Friendly Argument 1: Dan

 

Discussing:

Water rights, the tragedy of the commons, cost-benefit analysis,(im)migration, how I may very well be incorrect, muh roads/highways, competition between railroads and highways, ethics vs economic utility and government vs individuals, cardinal vs ordinal values, ethics vs. morals and “thou shalt not murder”, evolutionary biology/psychology, Sustainability in human action, Zomia and the nature of History, Transgender restrooms and democracy, the psychology of voting, the housing crisis, Keynesian economics and my communist roots, Trump-flavored cancer, mass extinction, labor prices and economic growth, minimum wage and education.

This is an audio-only post, and I expect that (provided this becomes a recurring segment) it will remain audio-only.  It’s a little bit longer than most podcasts, but I hope you enjoy it.  As always, I crave feedback, so let me know what you think, so I can do a better job.

Carpe Veritas,

Mad Philosopher

Slave Rebellions and the Homestead Principle

In 1969, two significant libertarians wrote articles for the Libertarian Forum Volume 1. One Karl Hess published a list of questions he felt needed concrete answers from the libertarian community and Murray Rothbard dutifully stepped up to the plate and answered those questions from a principled, pragmatic, and economically-minded stance. Due to some unfortunate circumstances, though, this work of Rothbard’s has been excised from the libertarian consciousness and left to the AnComs to champion.

Rothbard is widely recognized as the arch-AnCap and rightly so. Without too much geeking out, I want it to be known that Rothbard, with nothing but a pen, brain, and lectures, has done more for humanity’s sake than nearly any other individual. Of course, he used that brain, pen, and lecturing gig towards such an end for fifty-or-so years and, understandably, made some mistakes along the way. The most significant of those mistakes, which he admitted to being an unmitigated disaster , was the time he spent on the political left.

Between the left-friendly rhetoric and the apparent inability for most to contextualize and dispassionately read material, “Confiscation and the Homestead Principle” has gone overlooked despite its presentation of what amounts to, simultaneously, the most principled and most actionable solution concerning the problem of de-socializing state property. Admittedly, this is not entirely Rothbard’s fault, as he was answering the questions of Mr. Hess, a bleeding-heart liberal lacking any solid grasp of libertarianism’s philosophical commitments. Instead of shredding Hess’ article for it’s numerous errors, though, Rothbard attempted to address it on its own terms.

Hess was clearly unaware of the inherent “right-wing” nature of libertarianism/anarchism, openly denigrating “the right” in favor for “left-libertarian” (AKA Marxist) presumptions. The most philosophically criminal of which being his overturning of the ontological hierarchy of human activities, claiming that conceptions of rights and property are derived from some goal of human activity as opposed to the other way around. Such an argument is nothing short of a performative contradiction. Additionally, he lifts openly Marxist revolutionary rhetoric and terminology while also demanding that specifics be given concerning environmental agendas, the revolutionary takeover of General Motors, and egalitarian nonsense such as racially-motivated “reparations” programs in the context of libertarianism.

Given the stage of development Rothbard was at and the stage set by Hess, it isn’t surprising how Marxist Rothbard’s response sounds. Despite all the garbage concerning answers to Hess’ stupid questions, Rothbard still produced a gem which demands legitimate attention. Instead of doing what Rothbard ought to have done and devoting my energy to destroying Hess, what I want to do here is mine out the gem Rothbard created using his later, more AnCap material to inform this activity.

Slave Rebellions and the Homestead Principle

It can be taken for granted in anarchist circles that the dichotomy most central to libertarian discourse is that between the state (socialists) and the individual (anarchists). Another, less equivocal, way to name that dichotomy would be that between the criminal (outlaw) and the non-criminal. In order to appropriately understand this dichotomy, one must first come to an appropriate, if basic, understanding of property.

In the tradition of John Locke, property comes into being by way of homesteading. The simplest conception of homesteading is that unowned property enters into private ownership by virtue of an individual investing one’s own property into it, whether it be labor or materials or by way of occupying or otherwise adding value to it. After a certain property is homesteaded, it can easily pass from one owner to another by way of voluntary trade or donation. This is the basis of all forms of human interaction and that which is commonly referred to as “rights”.

For the sake of clarity, a definition of “property” ought to be proffered here. I use the term to mean “any discrete object to which one has access, control over, and a legitimate claim by virtue of homestead or acquisition from the previous owner with the owner’s assent”. Incidentally, I’ve also addressed the concept of “theft” as applies to property before, and recommend that others read the post centered on the issue. In lieu of reading the whole post, one should at least be aware that theft, in this conception, is the unauthorized use, consumption, or acquisition of another’s property.

In such a case that one steals another’s property, one is engaged in crime and is, therefore, deserving of the title and status of “outlaw”. The unfortunate etymology of the term notwithstanding, all it means is that one such individual is not likely to be welcome in polite, cooperative society, so much so that they are likely to, themselves, have property taken from them and be the recipient of violence. Ideally, this circumstance would lead to the outlaw seeking reconciliation with his victims, making the victim whole. Even if reconciliation is impossible, it would still be morally and economically preferable for the outlaw’s stolen property to be confiscated by literally any private individual who can invest it back into cooperative society. Not only should the stolen property be re-appropriated by the market, but also any (formerly) legitimate property belonging to the outlaw which was utilized for that theft.

The clear example of this principle would be a back-alley mugging. Say I take a shortcut down the wrong alley in Denver and find myself held at gunpoint. My assailant demands my wallet. For the sake of discussion, I either hand over my wallet or have it forced from me. It would clearly be justified if I were to promptly re-appropriate my wallet from him. Not only would it be tactically sound, but it would also be morally justified for me to confiscate his firearm and maybe even his getaway vehicle as well. If I am overpowered and some honorable bystander witnesses this event, he would be equally justified in intervening and doing so on my behalf.

This action is preferable and just for three reasons. Firstly, it makes the victim of a crime closer to being made whole and increases the opportunity for justice to take place. Secondly, it decreases the opportunity of the outlaw to continue committing crimes. Thirdly, it sends a market signal that there are externalities and risks associated with committing crimes, thereby reducing the likelihood of others taking such a course of action.

A crime which has only recently been acknowledged as such, historically speaking, is that of slavery. Ultimately, slavery is little more than institutionalized coercion and theft. The (largely fictional) account of slavery in the American South is an easy example of this reality: individuals compelled by the use of force to perform tasks and refrain from others while also being robbed of the fruits of their labor. This description may sound reductionist, but no one could argue that it is not the heart of the matter. The only change that may be warranted would be the addition of some description of scale, but that is superfluous to this discussion.

Given the above description of homesteading, theft, and confiscation along with the popular sentiment concerning slavery, I imagine it would be largely non-controversial to claim that a slave rebellion in such a climate would be morally justified. At a minimum, one who believes the American Revolution was justified would have to acknowledge the legitimacy of a slave rebellion in the South.

Such a fictional rebellion could take several forms. One, unfortunately impractical, instance would be an entire plantation or county witnessing its slave populations simply standing tall and walking off the plantation. I imagine most can see why that would be impossible; given the surrounding environment, it would likely turn out much like emancipation really did. More likely to succeed and more in-line with the first part of this post would be the confiscation or re-homestead of the plantations. Rather than remaining complicit with their slavery (horizontal enforcement, complying with orders, etc.), the slaves could act in self-defense, thereby exiling or executing their masters and confiscating or re-homesteading the products of their forced labor and the instruments by which that theft occurred.

This is where Rothbard’s application of the homestead principle comes into play. How ought the slave re-appropriate the plantation? What options are available? By way of the nature of homesteading, each slave who remains on the plantation and continues to work would naturally come into ownership of his tools and the immediate fruits of his labor. While the theory is simple and broad, the application could be messy and case-specific.

One possibility would be an extreme individualist approach, whereby the individual plants on the plantation would be divided among the farmhands while the individual household appliances and rooms would be divided among the house servants and a micro-economy could emerge whereby the cooks could prepare meals in exchange for the fruits of the field and as rent for staying in the house… but this solution is likely to result in friction: petty squabbles over bits and pieces of the plantation and personal disputes.

An other option would be to collectivize ownership of the plantation whereby a communist micro-state could be formed. Each former slave would continue doing the very things they were before the rebellion, only replacing the masters’ directions with weekly meetings to determine how the plantation ought to be run. Presumably, these meetings would also serve to manage how wealth ought to be distributed amongst the former slaves who choose to stay. Of course, this solution looks far too similar to an Orwell novel and is likely to go as well as the Bolshevik revolution.

A more likely to succeed option would be a sort of middle-ground by which the confiscated plantation would be incorporated, for lack of a more accurate term. It would take a certain degree of commitment and foresight, but the former slaves could divide the plantation into a number of shares equal to the number of remaining former slaves, essentially granting virtual ownership of the plantation to those who re-homesteaded it. This creates an economic incentive to remain and invest labor and play nice with others in order to increase the value of the shares one owns in the plantation. Such activities would increase the dividends and resale value of the share as well as increasing the security of one’s livelihood. However, if one desired to leave, they could, using the dividends or resale of the share to serve as compensation for one’s participation in the labor and rebellion preceding his departure.

Admittedly, this is all hypothetical. To my knowledge, no such rebellion occurred in actual history, which leads me to believe that slavery, writ large, wasn’t as bad as I was told in elementary school. Even so, I only presented three out of a literal infinitude of resolutions of a slave rebellion. Given my more pessimistic views of human genetics, the most likely outcome would be something similar to that which exists in sub-Saharan Africa as opposed to Iceland. However, this hypothetical would be far more likely to end well in the following example.

Before moving further, it is important to draw attention to the basics of this hypothetical. The justification for and the means of achieving this slave rebellion is a combination of self-defense and confiscation in conjunction with the homestead principle, as indicated at the beginning of this post. Self-defense from criminal acts is eminently justifiable, this applies to theft and coercion and, therefore, to slavery. In the case of self-defense, confiscation of the implements of crime-in-progress as well as stolen property is justified as well. Stolen property is, in practice, unowned due to the outlaw effect and the lack of legitimate claim in conjunction with access to the property. Even if that weren’t the case, an executed or exiled criminal’s former property (legitimate or otherwise) is effectively unowned and, therefore, open to homestead.

With this argument in mind, we turn our attention to other instances of slavery. Most widespread, historically and today, is the case of slavery known as the state. By way of regulation, taxation, enforcement, and other euphemistically-named criminal activities, the state coerces specific behaviors, steals and destroys property, and engages in all manner of murderous, coercive, and thieving activities. It is impossible to define slavery in a manner consistent with its historical referents while excluding government in a manner consistent with its historical referents. In Rothbard’s words, “The state is a giant gang of organized criminals, who live off the theft called ‘taxation’ and use the proceeds to kill, enslave, and generally push people around.”

In the case of state-slavery “All taxpayers, all draftees, all victims of the State have been mulcted… Any person or group who liberates such property, who confiscates or appropriates it from the State, is performing a virtuous act and a signal service to the cause of liberty.” In the spirit of the earlier example, “How to go about returning all this property to the taxpayers? What proportions should be used in this terrific tangle of robbery and injustice that we have all suffered at the hands of the State? Often, the most practical method of de-statizing is simply to grant the moral right of ownership on the person or group who seizes the property from the State. Of this group, the most morally deserving are the ones who are already using the property but who have no moral complicity in the State’s act of aggression. These people then become the “homesteaders” of the stolen property and hence the rightful owners.”

The specific examples are largely straightforward: police can take their armor, guns, and vehicles home and take advantage of a sudden demand for private security personnel in the absence of the state. Lawyers and judges can establish arbitration firms. Educators can take control of the facilities and implements of education and continue to teach in a competitive market. Those currently providing non-marketable “services”, such as DMV employees, bureaucrats, union thugs, and military will likely have to find a way to re-brand their respective talents of race poverty. Of course, the slave-holders themselves, the politicians, executive officers, representatives, and lobbyists will face exile or execution. Unfortunately, not everything is that straightforward. What of corporatist entities? General Motors, Haliburton, Koch, MSNBC, the Post Office, and “private” colleges are wholly indistinguishable from the state, itself.

“As a result of zealous lobbying on behalf of the recipient… The same principle applies… they deserve a similar fate of virtuous homesteading and confiscation.” In the case of corporations and organizations that receive half or more of their funds though government institutions, they are effectively inseparable from the state and must suffer the same fate. The military industrial complex, especially, ought to be confiscated from the criminal band known as the state, not only for its complicity in theft but also its open endorsement of globalized murder. Important note: this is a wholly different issue that the legal abuse suffered by firearms and alcohol manufacturers and distributors when their products are abused.

Speaking of these absurdly regulated industries, many of a communist persuasion will argue that all industry is a beneficiary of government and ought to be re-homesteaded. I disagree. Whereas Haliburton is a direct recipient of welfare, most other corporations are merely indirect beneficiaries of the state’s criminal activities by way of limited competition, externalized expenses, and coercing purchase of goods and services. These corporations will be forced, in the absence of the state, to either adapt to the ensuing market correction or fold and sell their assets. Besides, it is morally suspect and quite inefficient to try and homestead every regulated industry. Those that manage to adapt to market correction were clearly sufficiently virtuous enough to deserve protection from re-homestead, whereas those that fold and sell out were vicious enough to deserve such a fate and homesteading becomes superfluous, as those entities are peaceably re-introduced into the free market.

TL;DR: What is required to de-socialize the state and appropriately pursue the abolition of slavery is nothing short of a slave rebellion. Such a slave rebellion must be conducted in accordance with the moral principles of self-defense, confiscation, and homestead. Otherwise, such activities are likely to end in the establishment of an even-less preferable state of affairs, such as that of communism. In the words of Rothbard, “Libertarians have misled themselves by making their main dichotomy “government” vs. “private” with the former bad and the latter good. Government, [Alan Milchman] pointed out, is after all not a mystical entity but a group of individuals, “private” individuals if you will, acting in the manner of an organized criminal gang. But this means that there may also be “private” criminals as well as people directly affiliated with the government. What we libertarians object to, then, is not government per se but crime, what we object to is unjust or criminal property titles; what we are for is not “private” property per se but just, innocent, non-criminal private property. It is justice vs. injustice, innocence vs. criminality that must be our major libertarian focus.”

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Abstract of the 95 Theses

Assumptions and their descendants:

From Aristotle1 to Zeno, every man who has claimed the title “philosopher”, has made basic assumptions from which all their later works (if rigorously done) are derived. Even those that demand a priori proof of even the most atomic basis for argumentation (such as those in the Cartesian tradition2) make assumptions somewhere, no matter how well disguised or hidden they may be. There is nothing wrong about doing so, though; being an experiential creature man can only begin to reason from some given truth of which they have experience. The pre-existent knowledge required is of two kinds. In some cases admission of the fact must be assumed, in others comprehension of the meaning of the term used, and sometimes both assumptions are essential… Recognition of a truth may in some cases contain as factors both previous knowledge and also knowledge acquired simultaneously with that recognition-knowledge, this latter, of the particulars actually falling under the universal and therein already virtually known. ”3

Because it is the case that one must begin from assumptions, it is in one’s best interest to select the most fundamental and apparent assumptions and build up from there with the assistance of reason and observation. When one follows these assumptions to their logical conclusion, then, one will likely see the errors of one’s assumptions if the results are absurd or impossible. At that point, one must select an improved set of assumptions and move forward, repeating this process as many times as is necessary. I use epistemic assumptions here, as my childhood experiences in Cartesianism have shown to me the impossibility of accurately describing the universe if one is an epistemic skeptic or nihilist.

In addition to selecting a certain type of assumption, one must be deliberate in what quantity of assumptions one makes. If too few assumptions are made, there will be insufficient material from which to derive cogent syllogisms or conclusions, trapping one in the tiny cell of skepticism. Choosing too many or too advanced assumptions will short-circuit the philosophical process of discovering where the assumptions will lead and will necessarily result in the desired (and likely incorrect) conclusions of the author. Also, too many or too complex assumptions place one’s work beyond the accessibility of critics, in that no critic can hope to verify one’s claims based on one’s assumptions if the assumptions themselves are opaque, obscurantist, or simply a secret to all but the author.

As was implied by an earlier paragraph, and would logically follow from this conversation concerning the quantity and quality of assumptions, certain enlightenment-era questions and practices ought to be bracketed4 for later discussion. If one were to be forced to synthesize their own version of the Cogito, or the world of numena, the practice of philosophy would have halted midway through the enlightenment with each new philosopher attempting to invent a square wheel. That is not so say that skepticism should not be addressed; only that it doesn’t necessarily have to be the starting point. Nor does it mean that one’s assumptions suffice on their own; they ought to result in an empirically falsifiable claim by which one could determine the validity of one’s assumptions.

The physical world and our understanding:

Why would my project run straight from epistemological assumptions into physics? The physical sciences are the first source of certitude after the basic epistemological claims are made. It is far simpler to state that we can know things and that the primary engine for any knowledge is our experience and discuss that experience as opposed to making such an epistemological claim and immediately begin attempting to discuss experience or knowledge of some transcendent or ethical claim, as their experience is often derived from some manner of physical experience to begin with.

This is because philosophy, like reason, operates from the ground up: first, building a foundation before building arguments atop that foundation. “…If a house has been built, then blocks must have been quarried and shaped. The reason is that a house having been built necessitates a foundation having been laid, and if a foundation has been laid blocks must have been shaped beforehand.”5 As our immediate experiences are derived from our bodily senses, which are confined to matters of a physical nature, so too must our immediate foundations. Even universal and unavoidable principles, like the principle of non-contradiction or many ethical principles, are made known to one by way of physical sense experience (with assistance from reason, of course). In addition to the foundation which physics provides on an experiential level, it also provides a conceptual basis. One cannot properly ask “why?” without first asking “what?” and “how?” Physics, when done properly, effectively shows one what happens in our physical universe and how it does so.

Metaphysics6, as the name would imply, can also be appropriately appealed to in this stage of development. As a counterpart to the physical studies of how our universe operates, metaphysics applies a slightly less experiential and more rational but very similar method as physics to immaterial questions regarding our experience. Metaphysics and I have had a very rocky on-again-off-again relationship throughout my life. As a confessed former adherent of scientism, for quite some time I disavowed that metaphysics could even rightly be considered to exist. I am sure that by the time my life ends, I will have left and returned to metaphysics at least once more, but each time such an event occurs, our understanding and appreciation of each other grows.

Ontology as derived from experience:

Why ontology? If ontology is to be understood as the study of existence or existants, then it would naturally follow from our study of our experience to move on to the study of the things we are experiencing, namely, that which exists. There is a question more likely to be asked by a modern readership. That is, “why theism?” I have long struggled with the discussion of theism or atheism in the realm of philosophy. Even as a “scientist”, I was agnostic as to whether there existed some being beyond the physical realm, primarily because both a positive or negative claim as to theism are empirically unfalsifiable.

However, that was at a period of time where I was still immature, both biologically and philosophically. I have come to realize (as will be discussed in the Theses)7, that one’s assumptions on which one builds one’s philosophy necessarily result in either a positive or negative claim concerning theism. In the case of any teleological philosophy, it must result in a positive claim and, conversely, in the case of any nihilist philosophy, it must result in a negative claim.

Also, after physics is able to establish an empirical validation of one’s assertions, it must be relegated to the role of double-checker, simply checking all later claims against man’s experiences, ensuring that no claims made by other fields of study run contrary to that experience. Naturally, after physics establishes what happens and how, the philosopher must ask why it happens, or another way of phrasing “why” would be, “what is the practical universal significance of such an event?”

Although the question asks for the practical universal significance, and despite the claims made by postmodernists, it is not in any way untoward or egotistical to presume that the universal significance of such an event must, in some way, be centered upon ourselves. There is a twofold reason that this is the case. Firstly, the nature of man is such that he feels a compelling need to search for meaning in his existence; any teleological philosophy would rightly assign an end to that compulsion. Secondly, our definition of philosophy is predicated on the assumption that man is capable of discerning a relevant place in the cosmos for himself. Ultimately, in this case, the absurdist is right, it matters not whether there is a significant place for man in the universal sense or not, man can always make one.

In knowing man’s role and significance in the cosmos, one possesses a tool set which one can use to determine what one ought to do. Now, many will refer to Hume at this point and will insist that “One cannot derive an ought from an is,”8 but rather than conclusively disproving my point, they merely indicate their lack of understanding of Hume. The prohibition of deriving an ought from an is assumes that the realm of “is” consists merely of objective impersonal atomic facts. If one allows value claims into their ontology, or their category of “is”, it becomes inevitable that the is/ought distinction collapses. These value claims are clearly not empirical, but that brings us to our earlier discussion about the relationship between the sciences and philosophy, the moment that certain supplementary matters of fact are allowed into the realm of discourse, such as metaphysical, psychological, teleological, or ontological assertions, it can easily stand to reason that one can derive an ought from an is.

Even in such an event that objective values do not exist, the subjective values of individuals must be informed by a proper understanding of physics, metaphysics, and ontology. If one values a particular activity or outcome, one’s ability to achieve such a result is dependent on properly navigating reality. Many would-be “oughts” are simply impossible or absurd and are beyond the human capacity for comprehension, let alone accomplishment; thus, the realm of values to which one can assent is limited by the same factors which have confined our definition of the philosophical activity thus far. Even after one assents to a rationally consistent and metaphysically possible value, the methods by which one achieves such an outcome is dependent on the nature of reality and the actor’s ability to navigate it. With these strictures in place, it is essentially actionable to claim that one can derive an “ought” from an “is”.

The problem of evil and subsequent ethical prescriptions:

All philosophers are eventually faced with the question which plagues all men: “Why does life suck?” It finds itself phrased in many different ways but, since the time of Epicurus, the problem of evil has remained central to the discourse of philosophy. The most common phrasing would be something akin to, “If there exists an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent god, how can he allow innocent people to suffer as horribly as they do?”9 Usually, there are citations of disease and natural disasters killing small children to this effect.10

Different philosophers and traditions provide different answers, some more radically different than others. Some, such as Epicurus, would say that the problem of evil is sufficient cause for a practical atheistic hedonism. Others, such as Pascal, argue quite the opposite. Not the least of the responses, while being more or less outside the theistic spectrum, would be the approach popular in the ancient East (and the answer I once held myself), “Life simply sucks”. While my answer now is slightly more refined, the practical application of it remains mostly the same. So, what to do about the problem of evil? This is, again, more clearly and articulately discussed in the Theses11 than I could hope to write here. It will suffice to say, for now, that our understanding of man’s telos must accommodate for the problem of evil.

What can one do about the problem of evil? I believe that the answer is twofold. In the case of the philosopher, one is obligated to, at least, address and accommodate for it and move on with their reasoning. Each man, however, must be able to address and accommodate for the problem in their daily lives. While the appearances between these two courses of action are very similar, I believe that each require individual attention. The problem of evil serves as a strong device for proofreading philosophical assertions; insofar as one’s philosophy can or cannot address the problem, one can quickly assess the practical viability of said philosophy. The personal approach, while strongly tied to the philosophical one, need not be as rigorous or well-reasoned as the philosophical. The great acts of kindness displayed by those such as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta or Saint Nicholas are no less great a response to the problem of evil because of any lack of philosophical argumentation for their actions. In this work, I hope to articulate the philosophical side of the problem, and in a later work I hope to provide practical tools for living in accordance with that philosophical approach.

As will be discussed in this work, in all reality, the problem of evil only exists in the form of a problem because of the innate desires of man. Man bears in his heart the desire and freedom to excel. Whether one is aware of it or not, a majority of his actions are caused by or strongly influenced by that desire. Despite the common formulation of the problem of evil, it is less an ontological statement of “How can this thing possibly exist?” and more a plaintive cry of “Why do I want this, if the universe conspires such that I cannot have it?” One must be able and willing to address the problem and either overcome or circumvent it in order to achieve the self-fulfillment sought after by all men.

Conclusion

My aforementioned saloon discussions have operated as a club of sorts, with the working title of Lucaf Fits, which is an acronym for “Let us create a foundation For it to stand.” As the basis of logic, reason, philosophy, and ultimately all human endeavors, a solid rational foundation is required for all meaningful discourse and progress. “Lucaf Fits” serves well as both a goal and mantra for my group and myself. With this work, I hope to begin setting forth a foundation on which my other discourses may stand.

This work, as I have already said, is to be a starting place, not an exhaustive foundation or even an introductory work like the Summa or Prolegomenon. In sharing this work, I am exposing the beginnings on my internal discourse to the harsh elements of the social world. I hope to be met with great amounts of constructive criticism and support from my peers and superiors, but I am not so confident so as to expect it.

Regardless of the social and financial success or failure of “A Philosopher’s 95 Theses”, I intend to continue this line of work, exploring and expanding the 95 Theses, following them to their logical conclusions and modify the foundation as is needed to most successfully pursue the goal of philosophy. I also hope that with sufficient time, effort and experience, I can one day move beyond such foundational types of works and move into a more practical style of discourse and argumentation. I believe that the foundations such as these outlined here will necessarily lead to the conclusions that I so frequently argue and strive to engender in social media and day-to-day life; I hope one day to have outlined from this foundation those points so that others may see the validity of my position and actions. If, however, my conclusions are invalid and do not follow from the premises I am currently laying out, then, just as well, as it will guide me to the Truth which is far more valuable to a philosopher than public affirmation.

Because such discussion is directed at the revision of one’s arguments and beliefs, I will likely revise and correct this work through time. I have already, in the writing of this introduction, revised a few of the theses contained within this book, and have since edited each one a number of times, so as to more appropriately maintain their cohesion and logical validity. While I hope that such causes for revision will appear less and less frequently until, one day, I have acquired Truth, I am skeptical that such a time or event will occur in my lifetime, or even this world at all.

The ideas contained herein are the product of nearly two decades of oral discussion12 and revision, as well as excessive reading of philosophers across time and traditions. I am simultaneously both encouraged and discouraged by the genealogy of my current position. Having run the gamut of political, economic, religious and philosophical stances in my short lifetime, I am emboldened in saying that I have recognized my own mistakes and intellectual frailty enough times now to be more willing and able to admit my own mistakes when they are made. At the same time, however, I find myself skeptical of any truth claims I do make, now, because of my long list of fallacious stances in the past.

With luck and a fair degree of self-control, God willing, I will be able to make use of another seven or eight decades in this endeavor. That, I would hope, will be sufficient time to complete the revisions to this and my later works. Perhaps, one day, my ideas will be perpetuated in the traditions of philosophy. Perhaps commentaries on my work will be required reading in some institutions.

After all, the entire tradition of philosophy consists of free ideas. I do not mean “free” as in without cost, for many of the greatest and worst of the world’s philosophies have been crafted at great price. I mean “free” in the sense that the ideas, granted an appropriate environment, will spread and flourish like wildflowers. As I mentioned before, these ideas are as much a part of the intellectual atmosphere as any other cultural trend or idea. In many cases, these ideas are so liberated from the moorings of their original author that they are falsely attributed to one who was unwittingly synthesizing an already existing work.

It is an obligation of the philosopher to give credit where it is due. One ought especially to give citations to one’s contemporaries, as they are still present to take advantage of what approbations and criticisms come their way. To only a marginally lesser degree, one ought also give credit to those who have come before and laid the foundations on which one now builds, both so that one is not falsely assumed to be the progenitor of another’s work and so that one’s readership may be able to find the primary sources for their own edification. That being said, one must not be so averse to inadvertent plagiarism so as to hinder actual progress. A healthy balance must be struck between progress and citation.

In addition to the intellectual and social coin of credit given where it is due, actual coin ought to be given as well. Being merely human, a philosopher still needs food and shelter and time. When one works full-time performing menial and self-debasing labor (as is common in this age), it can be difficult or impossible to set aside sufficient time, resources, and motivation for such an undertaking as philosophy. Even if the ideas and art of philosophy ought to be unbound by financial constraints like all other intellectual or artistic works, the one producing the work is. I can justify selling this work as opposed to making it freely available to all only because it is being sold at an affordable price and because I am willing to donate copies and excerpts to those who can and will benefit from it but cannot possibly afford it13.

I make this financial case for philosophers with a caveat: no man should solely be a philosopher. If not working some form of job at least part-time or arranging for one’s self-sufficiency to supplement both one’s wallet and mind, than one must be working in some capacity either for survival or for art. A man’s mind can stagnate on outdated and fallacious thought if he is not careful to keep both his body and his social life healthy and active. Even if one makes enough money from teaching or publication (which, I understand, is rare), one must at least volunteer for a local, personal charity in which one works with other people and worldviews.

To this effect, I intend to continue this course my life has taken and see where it leads. I hope you, my reader, are willing and able to make use of this work and to aid me in my quest for Truth.

95 Theses

1Technically, Albertus de Saxonia is alphabetically prior to Aristotle, but he is much less known.

2The philosophers who followed in Descartes’ footsteps, maintaining a skeptical stance towards all facts that are not entirely doubt-free

3Aristotle “Posterior Analytics” book one

4Set aside with the intent to more thoroughly explore at a later time, it is a technique to be used only on concepts that are not crucial to the discussion at hand.

5Aristotle “Posterior Analytics” book 2

6From Greek: “after physics”. While the name denotes only that it was the subject Aristotle would teach after physics, it can be said to deal with the non-material aspects of physical inquiry.

7Chapters 5 and 13

8Hume “A Treatise of Human Nature” book 3

9 Hospers “An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis” p310

10Dostoevsky “Brothers Karamazov” is an excellent example of such descriptions.

11Book 5

12 In this case, I consider social media as a form of oral discussion.

13 Ironically, I qualify under my own rubric for a free copy

Philosophy in Seven Sentences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introduction to the 95 Theses

Introduction

“A Philosopher’s 95 Theses”, a silly and audacious title for a work by a college dropout with little to no substantive endorsements. What is this work even supposed to be? This work is primarily an attempt to begin a systematized and traceable discussion concerning my particular brand of philosophy. Having spoken in various public forums, from in the classroom, to hosting salon discussions (thank you, Voltaire), to water cooler discussions, to arguing on Facebook (a noble means of communication, to be sure), teaching and tutoring homeschoolers, and managing a blog, I have found that many people in my generation and social stratum lack even rudimentary exposure to true philosophy or even formal logic. This isn’t the case for everyone, but a majority. Many times, people disagree with my statements or beliefs, not because of any logical or ideological error on my part, but rather a lack of understanding of how conclusions follow from premises. Ultimately, the discussions belie no understanding of the objective material at hand, but merely emotional attachments to already-existing prejudices as well as a fundamental lack of foundation from which they are arguing. When presented with this fact, others are wont to accuse me of the same. In this work, I hope to both soundly establish a defense from such accusations as well as begin to spread a culture of “lower-class intellectualism”: a culture of self-education and intellectual progress compatible with and available to “the lower class”, economically speaking. The first step of doing so would be to make something accessible and affordable available to what I call “my social stratum”, as well as simply raising awareness of alternatives to the current institutions which are fueled by big money and political agendas.

Clearly, as a starting place, this work is merely the beginning of what I hope to be an expansive and pervasive body of work. I hope to one day move beyond this project of establishing my foundations to making these concepts concrete and practical, providing a certain utility to all that would be open to a paradigm shift from our current postmodern sensibilities. From this body of work, I intend to expand and build on these ninety-five theses using the same style and methods contained herein, as well as writing a series of philosophically weighted articles concerning how one ought to live from day to day.

As most anyone who reads this work can tell, there is nothing groundbreaking or even original in this work, other than the arrangement of these ideas pulled from the atmosphere of the philosophical tradition. As a foundational work, I would expect this piece to be fairly conventional. Besides, as one prone to taking things too far and stating the outrageous, I want to give myself a moderate baseline from which to work in order to give some credence to my more extreme assertions which I have begun to publish already, alongside this work.

Despite the conventional content, I chose a particularly evocative title, (if I do say so myself). The title “A Philosopher’s 95 Theses” is an unabashed attempt to cash in on the fairy tale of Martin Luther’s dramatic succession from the Church. There is a narrative in which Luther made official his succession through the posting of the 95 Theses on the church doors as an overt “Eff-You” to the Church. While evidential support for this re-telling of history is nonexistent, the actual format and concept of the work itself is worthy of emulation. This is certainly the case if this is to be a beginning of a break from the status-quo of contemporary philosophy.

To be honest, the suggestion for the title and style for this work was presented to me by a friend who seemed quite earnest in wanting me to write my thoughts for his own edification. The suggestion was made primarily from a religious awareness of the Theses as a work of philosophy which could be easily adapted to a social media format. The concise nature of each thesis makes it easily tweeted in ninety-five segments. He leveled a challenge to me to post ninety five philosophical theses in ninety five days on Twitter and Facebook in order to encourage me to begin writing my ideas in a codified and discussion-friendly format. After a hilariously disorganized and epistemically infuriating four months, I had ninety-five theses, a ton of notes from discussions that were sparked (by the early theses, I think many friends and loved ones lost interest around #35 or so), and a new-found energy for attempting to publish something of worth.

The name and format of the original “95 Theses” has been lifted, but much of the argumentation and content has been abandoned, as Luther and I have very different intentions and circumstances concerning our respective works. Where Luther simultaneously affirmed and protested various Church doctrines and principles of theology, I intend to do the same for the philosophical doctrines which many contemporary philosophers have confessed. As such, rather than explicitly arguing the finer points of revelation and redemption, I intend to establish a solid foundation for later arguments in the philosophical realms.

As I will address in detail later, philosophy is a historical and holistic entity. Due to the nature of philosophy, I don’t expect to have come up with any original material, even if I know not where it has been written before. In the words of Descartes, drawing on Cicero, One cannot conceive anything so strange and implausible that it has not already been said by one philosopher or another.1 The ideas and truths of philosophy are simply “in the air”, as it were. One of the marks of truth in the philosophical world is its longevity. Many ideas that emerge in these theses, as well as my other works, are strongly rooted in classical philosophy as it has survived to this day.

I borrow heavily from existing works, as all philosophers do. I give credit where I can recall or research the original source, but it would be impossible to trace the genealogy of every idea which springs from my mind. This arrangement of concepts and their relationships is likely to be original, but the ideas themselves are old and deep-rooted. It is the perennial duty of the philosopher to water, trim and tend to the tree of knowledge which is philosophy: to hold the ideas in one’s mind, to criticize and correct errors, and generally allow the Truth to become known. Not a bonsai tree, but a veritable orchard of delicious and ripe fruits.

This work, hopefully, will establish a faux a priori2 foundation from which I can assert all of my later reasoning. Now is your chance, critics. Now is the time, in this work, to correct my premises, my errors, my moments of weakness, before I attempt to plumb the depths of truth in this vessel I have cobbled together. It will be too late, I am sure, when I arrive at a premise so incomprehensible and flawed to point out that I had overlooked a basic truth here and now.

I have grandstanded long enough on what philosophy is, without giving an appropriate definition and description of it. One should not assume that one’s use of terms is identical to that of one’s readers or opponents.

What is philosophy and why bother?

I believe that all who can rightly claim to be a philosopher will recognize certain fundamental characteristics which I believe to be necessary conditions for philosophy. It must be rational, as even the most blasé and stale philosophy assumes the basic precepts of logic, non-contradiction, and the ability of the mind to grasp truth. It must be consistent, as rationality simply can not allow for the possibility that the principle of non-contradiction is invalid. Therefore, all rational things are self-consistent. It must be empirically viable, as our experiences determine our understanding of the universe and, subsequently, the truth (the theses themselves will discuss this3); we cannot hold a belief which predicts or necessitates an experience divergent from what we actually experience. It must be universal, as any truth which is contingent upon circumstance is not a truth, but merely a fact.

In addition to these necessary attributes of the practice itself, I believe it must also produce certain results, fruits if you will, lest it be nothing but a mental exercise. Without ethical agency, this exercise would have no bearing on our lives as a prescriptive measure which, in the absence of an equivalent authority for prescription, would result in aimless and irrational lives, driven simply by the reptilian and hedonistic pleasures of our own genome. Without utility, this exercise would be superfluous to any other activity man would undertake; very few (and no sane) men would choose an impotent and laborious endeavor at the expense of something enjoyable and productive. Ultimately, without truth, there would be no rhyme or reason to the philosophical endeavor; if it were to be self- consistent and pursue truth, it must actually be capable of and ultimately accomplish the task of acquiring Truth. For these reasons, I assert with a fair degree of certitude that the purpose and goal of philosophy, as well as its necessary and sufficient conditions, (and, therefore its constituent elements, such as theology, physics, etc.) is to create an internally consistent, logically sound, empirically viable, and universal worldview which possesses ethical agency, utility, and (ultimately) Truth.

As mentioned in the above definition, philosophy possesses many constituent elements and tools of which it avails itself. As a reading of Aristotle or many of the enlightenment philosophers will support, I find that it is most natural to begin the philosophical journey in the realm of epistemology or phenomenology. A definition of each is in order, I believe, before addressing the practicality of such a method. Epistemology, taken from the Greeks, can simply be considered “the philosophy of knowledge and thinking, an explanation for how one thinks and knows”. Similarly, phenomenology would be “the philosophy of experience, an explanation for how one experiences and interprets those experiences”, also from the Greeks.

An approach starting from the angle of philosophy of thought and experiences does present some inherent issues, like the infamous discussion between Kant and Hegel:

“We ought, says Kant, to become acquainted with the instrument, before we undertake the work for which it is to be employed; for if the instrument be insufficient, all our trouble will be spent in vain… But the examination of knowledge can only be carried out by an act of knowledge. To examine this so-called instrument is the same thing as to know it. But to seek to know before we know is as absurd as the wise resolution of Scholasticus, not to venture into the water until he had learned to swim.”4

Hegel presents a very pragmatic alternative approach, which was quite popular with later Hegelian philosophers, like Marx. Essentially, he asserts that one ought to simply begin thinking and doing philosophy and will learn how one learns by witnessing one’s own experiences, much like how one learns to swim. As one can see, in reading the first ten or so theses, my assumptions and their descendants take a very Hegelian approach to early epistemology.

Amongst the historical traditions of philosophy, a debate as old as the pre-Socratic philosophies rages to this day: the theists vs. the atheists. Despite the greatest attempts of the moralist atheists, though, the arguments between theism and atheism ultimately deal with a more fundamental question. Whether or not there is a God is ultimately an argument as to whether there is any Truth at all. Again, as the theses address, either the universe is nihilist (devoid of any fundamental or objective meaning and purpose) or it is teleological (purposeful and directed)5. The most common theistic argument made is one concerning teleology, “What’s the point, if there’s no point?” Conversely, the atheist makes an absurd or existential (presenting logically inconsistent facts, or asserting that the universe itself is logically inconsistent) argument, “If there is no point, I can make one.” These arguments will be addressed in the theses6.

Ultimately, all forms of science and pseudo-science (assuming that they are rational and logically rigorous) are constituent elements of philosophy. If our definition of philosophy is accurate, then all rational activities which are directed at the goal of achieving ethics, utility, or Truth are elements of the grand attempt that is philosophy. The scientific endeavors are all part of the philosophical school of physics, by which one establishes the empirical viability of any particular philosophical view. The pseudo-sciences, ranging from sociology, to psychology, to astrology, to magic (again, assuming that they are rational and logically rigorous) can sometimes be appropriated into either physics or metaphysics. Some rare cases may even wander further from physics into epistemology or phenomenology, but all intellectual pursuits are ultimately an element of philosophy. Many of the individuals which pursue these endeavors lose sight of the forest for the trees, but that does not make their work any less valuable to the philosopher.

Bertrand Russel asserts, in chapter fifteen of “Problems of Philosophy”, that science becomes science by divorcing itself from philosophy once it becomes useful. Joseph Pieper, similarly contends that scientific inquiry is capable of achieving conclusions which are resolute and unyielding, whereas the philosophical endeavor can not.7 Both Russell and Pieper have a distinctly post-enlightenment flavor to them in this regard, which is unfortunate. They both fail to see that science is but a tool and a field contained within philosophy. Science may try to distinguish itself apart from its mother, with such cultural figureheads as Neil DeGrasse Tyson outright ridiculing her, but it can never truly extricate itself from the frameworks from which it came. Instead, it would be more appropriate for the specialists to concern themselves with their specialty and the philosophers to draw on them when needed.

Above all, reason is the driving force of man and his works. Above all rational pursuits, philosophy reigns. While not all men may have the ability to be great philosophers, all men are called to be philosophers, nonetheless. If in no other way, one must examine their choices and their lives in such a manner to achieve the best outcome available. Unfortunately, in this day and age, I fear that even this minor task proves to be too much for most.

It is no surprise, really, that this task has proven too much for my generation. The heart of philosophy is discourse and my generation is illiterate and disjointed in this regard. Rather than bemoaning our state of affairs, however, I ought to concern myself presently with the discursive nature of philosophy. Whether the discussion be oral debate in the city square, essays and books written in the solitude of a cave or study, or a college dropout’s ramblings on social media, philosophy only flourishes when an idea is shared, tested, refined, and put into practice. The manner in which this discourse and implementation takes shape is varied and veiled, but it is very real, even today.

The ideas and themes in popular philosophy pervade every area of our society, especially in the United States of America. They are boiled down to aphorisms and images and spread like a plague or meme through the cultural ether. I say “especially in America” as our nation was founded on a social experiment derived from the popular philosophies of the time (social contract theory), and that is a tradition that has continued for two centuries. Those that participate in the creation and sharing of art in society play a crucial role in the spread of these ideas.

Literature has been a long-suffering companion to philosophy. As far back as Homer and Gilgamesh, we see philosophical themes and musings riddle the characters and narratives of the culture. In more modern times, with the rise of the printing press, we saw an emergence of overtly philosophical fiction and some less-overtly philosophical fiction. There was such literature before the press, to be sure, just look at the classics. However, I find it unlikely that “Candide” or “Thus Spake Zarathustra” would have lasted the way the “Iliad” or “The Divine Comedy” has in the absence of the press. Even popular works of both fiction and nonfiction, whether intentionally or not, are rife with philosophical commitments.

These commitments are equally prevalent in film. While film is a fairly recent advancement in technology, it shares a common lineage with literature. We can easily trace its heritage from screenplay to stage play to oral traditions which stand as the forebears of ancient literature. For the sake of this discussion, I will consider video games and television shows as film, as their storytelling devices and methods are more-or-less identical. In addition to the words and language used in literature, film also presents ideas and commitments through the visual medium as well, certain images or arrangements can, consciously or unconsciously, link certain ideologies and characters together. The same holds true for music, sculpture, painting, any artistic or cultural endeavor, really, even dance.

Through the public discourse and permeation of cultural works, philosophy drives a society’s zeitgeist8. Any of the uninterested or uneducated who participate in cultural events, from watching movies, going to school, being subjected to advertising, have their minds and views molded by the underlying philosophy. Through exposure and osmosis, ideas that were once held in contempt have become mainstream and vice versa. This is the natural cycle of philosophy, and it is always made possible by the liberty of the minds of true philosophers. Even if the zeitgeist demands that the world be one way or another, the free thinkers are always at liberty to pursue the truth and share that quest with others through discourse.

Philosophical Schools, the Good and the Bad

Philosophies, taken in their historical and cultural context, ultimately tend to land in two categories: that of “the man” and that of “the rebel”. Whatever cultural or institutional norm for a culture may exist, it exists because of the philosophers who have brought those concepts to light and shared them via the public discourse. Those ideas that find themselves in favor of the ruling class or establishment naturally become the driving force of a society or state. Those ideas which are newer and less conformed tend to become popular amongst the counter-culture. It is important to note: this observation does not lend any judgment to the truth value of any one or another idea, simply its cultural impetus. It is the duty of the free-thinking philosopher to sort thought these ideas, regardless of the cultural context, and to ascertain the objective truth value of each respective idea. This often makes their philosophies unpalatable by both “the man” and his reactionaries. (C’est la vie.)

This cultural presence and impetus of popular ideas is revealed in every cultural work. From little nuances in color choice, sentence structure, musical tonality, to overt themes and statements, certain ideologies become manifest to an audience. These manifestations can be analytical and conscious and others can be more insidious or subconscious. The two most prominent contemporary examples are in the mainstream news and popular film, where phrasing and imagery is specifically designed to impart a worldview and philosophy on the unwashed masses.

It is no mistake or coincidence that the more authoritarian a state becomes, the more strictly social discourse and cultural works are censored. It is always in the best interest of the establishment to engender in their subjects conformity of thought and philosophy. The most intuitive and frequently used methods towards that end are limiting the subjects of discourse and subverting the thoughts of the masses. I believe that now, like any other time in history, the people of the world are having their thoughts and philosophies subverted and censored by the social and political establishments around the globe. An easy example of this phenomena would be the blind adherence to material reductionism, Neo-Darwinism, and cultural relativism which is strictly enforced in academia as well as by societal pressure, despite the lack of compelling rational evidence to support any of the three.

It is possible, however, that the prevalence of “bad philosophy” in popular culture is less a conspiracy of idiocy and more a benign zeitgeist of an uneducated time. Regardless of whether it is intentional or incidental, there is a silver lining in this situation. Philosophy, when maligned, can be a powerful tool for subjugation, but it is also, by its fundamental nature, liberating. Philosophy, as the pursuit of truth by rational means, necessarily drives its earnest adherents to freedom. By questioning the reasoning behind the social structures and institutional norms one encounters, one comes to understand where the truth lies and liberates oneself from the lies perpetuated by a society devoid of reason. Because of this, we see a dichotomy emerge: popular culture and its discontents. Now, this doesn’t mean that philosophers cannot enjoy and partake in the fruits of popular culture; it simply means that one ought to be aware of what is being imparted upon oneself, especially when there is a surplus of material available.

Reality exists such that there are several misconceptions and maligned concepts in the realm of contemporary philosophy. One of the popular misconceptions concerning philosophy and intellectualism is that it is a domain primarily inhabited by out-of-touch nerds arguing about stupid questions. “Which would win in a skirmish, the Enterprise or the Executor?” While the answer is obvious after a short bit of reflection (Enterprise), it is a dilemma that only a specific and small demographic will ever face. It is also a question that has questionable practical significance. I have witnessed in both the media and the general public a rising belief that those that contemplate such questions are to be considered intellectual and philosophical, at the expense of those that are deserving of the titles.

Of course, those that are deserving of the title have long been plagued by equally absurd-sounding puzzles. “When removing stones from a pile of stones, at which point is it no longer a pile?” While the answer may appear to be obvious to a mathematician or engineer (the pile is a designated set, it remains a pile even if there are no units in the set), it has far-reaching implications in the way man thinks and knows, or in other words, in the realm of epistemology.

Without philosophy, man would lack a crucial tool of introspection and rationality. The very question “What is knowledge?” does not have a satisfactorily categorical answer. Through our pursuits in philosophy, man has made great strides in addressing such a fundamental question which has evolved from “What is justice?” and moving onto “How can I be certain I exist?” and now addressing a wider, more complex assortment of queries. The fact remains, we must always ask, “How do I know this?”

These questions form our culture and our ethos. Or, rather, the pursuit of answers to this class of questions drives the popular zeitgeist. Even banal entertainment, like prime time television and late night talk shows touch on the questions which plague all sentient beings. “Why am I here?”, “Why am I unhappy?”, “What’s for lunch?”9 are all questions which people are desperately trying to answer whether they are aware of it or not. Philosophy attempts to codify and rationalize the pursuit of these answers, to make it accessible to our contemporaries and future generations, not only for our own sakes, but for the sake of man as well. These attempts are frequently used to answer these questions by taking our common assumptions and putting them to the test.

In each age and culture, there are certain ideas that become popular and omnipresent. An example would be polytheism in ancient Greece, or Christianity in 13th century Europe, or social Darwinism in the early 20th century. As can be seen through the examples presented, many of the common assumptions of the time fall to the wayside as a culture’s awareness evolved. In the words of Paschal: “Whatever the weight of antiquity, truth should always have the advantage, even when newly discovered, since it is always older than every opinion men have held about it, and only ignorance of its nature could [cause one to] imagine it began to be at the time it began to be known.”10 In some cases, those changes are for the better or worse (the shift from superstition to reason or the social ideology which fostered Nazism) at the time that change occurs. However, in the long run, philosophy always allows the individual and their culture to learn from the past. Typically, though (as I indicated above), this puts the individual at odds with his culture until the culture can catch up with him. This often makes the more notable philosophers those that were considered nonconformist.

A popular postmodern mindset in the philosophical landscape today has attempted to artificially generate that notoriety through philosophical non-conformity. What I mean is, they attempt to protest even philosophy itself. This is a trend which began in the enlightenment and found its perfection in the existentialist movement. Where enlightenment philosophers tended to either decry the philosophical mindset as some form of mental illness or feel the need to announce that it isn’t a “real” science, existentialists were (and are) wont to denounce not just the rationale of philosophy, but the very existence of logic altogether.

Absurdity is, fundamentally, simply denying or violating the principle of noncontradiction: asserting that something both is and is not in the same mode at the same time. Absurdism is a whole realm of postmodern philosophy in which one, such as Jean-Paul Sartre, attempts to use the tools of philosophy without following the rule of logic. While such attempts are entertaining and mind-expanding, they are just as the name says: absurd. As the 95 Theses (like all philosophy) assumes the existence and necessity of logic and rationality, this treatment of absurdism will be short and off-handed. Even so, Sartre, Camus, and other existentialists manage to contribute observations and arguments of value to those pursuing truth. I hope, in other works, to address the good and the bad of absurdist philosophy, but not today. This will be explicitly outlined in the theses themselves11, but this will help to better prepare a novice for the oncoming vocabulary contained in this work.

Nihilism is not a new concept in philosophy, but it has recently found a surge in popularity after witnessing the World War and all of its continuations. It is tempting to deny the existence of meaning when witnessing the most inhumane behaviors being perpetrated by man. “What is the meaning in millions of men killed by other men?” can easily become “What is the meaning?” However, as a being capable of asking such a question, the answer literally precedes the question. If one is able to witness and analyze whether or not something has meaning, there is, at a minimum, the production of that question. In the case of an absurdist, he looks no further than the mind of the inquirer, asserting that the inquirer/philosopher must give meaning to an otherwise meaningless world (and ultimately violating the PNC to do so). In this way, nihilism, in using a meaningful discourse to establish that there is no meaning besides the absurd is, itself, absurd. In the case of a philosopher, one asks “from whence does that desire for meaning come?”

In order to make sense of the universe at large, philosophy must be logical. Taking the evidence available to the philosopher and arranging it into a coherent narrative which is both satisfying and capable of producing utility and accurate predictions of cosmic behavior. The fact that our minds and our philosophical endeavors exist in such a way, and the fact that it is successful as such, we conclude that the universe itself must follow a form of logic. While the human intellect may be limited to codifying and adapting a series of laws to describe the universe’s behavior distinct from that behavior itself, the universe’s behavior is quite clearly consistent and logical, regardless of our perception of it.

This, of course, brings us to the subject of relativism. Relativism, in all but its softest forms, asserts and assumes the absence of objective existence, either in the form of moral reality, or physical or ontological reality. Moral relativism and its twin, cultural relativism, asserts that, because of the diversity of contradicting perceptions of ethical truth, there can be no absolute moral truth. Naïve relativism follows this form of logic to its inevitable conclusion: anything that can have contradictory observations or beliefs concerning it does not exist objectively, therefore reality itself does not objectively exist. While, at times, some form of scientific study is used in an attempt to justify such an assertion, typically it is an extreme reaction to scientism.

As objectionable as relativism is, it is at least identifiable and easily refuted. Scientism, however, is a beast of a different nature. Scientism is a strict adherence to the scientific method predicated on the philosophy of materialism, it is a union of empirical positivism and material reductivism. Anything not immediately falsifiable12 is of no consequence and ought to be done away with. Not all elements of scientism are bad (coming from a former adherent to scientism); a strict adherence to the methods of reson and empirical observation is what has elevated the school of physics to become the driving force of modern society it is today.

In recent centuries, most noticably the twentieth, there was a sudden surge in scientific thought and progress in all of the civilized world. There were innumerable factors that contributed to this phenomenon and, thankfully, I have no intention of going into detail concerning them. At the moment, I am far more concerned with the fruits of this technological renaissance than its causes. In the nineteenth century, the perpetual swell of knowledge and increasng standards of living appeared to be infinitely sustainable. This led to an optimism in the whole of society, but most especially in philosophy and its constituent sciences.

Confidence in science’s ability to cure all of humanity’s ails was joined by a popular trend in science known as reductionism. It was widely believed that science’s messianic qualities were a result of its percieved ability to reduce the most complex psychological or biological ailments into some simple alchemical formula (female histeria and electroshock therapy come to mind) and even the darkest and most troubling metaphysical questions could be exorcized with a simple application of mystical scientific hand-waving. Reductionism isn’t a modern invention, even the pre-Socratics strove to reduce all things to one atomic principle (the world is air/water/fire/flux/love/whatever), but never before was it so widespread and influential as during the rise of modernism and postmodernism.

Unfortuntely, in all their excitement over the leaps and bounds that were being made in their discoveries, true scientists (one who studies the physical sciences) became “scientists” (those that adhere to the philosophy of scientism). Subsequently, some bad science was introduced into the realm of sceintism without sufficient criticism. A handful of non-falsifiable theories, like Neo-Darwinism and String Theory, have managed to charade their way into the cult of scientism and are now defended with a fervor and blindness rivaled only by the most rediculous of religions. While it is not currently my goal to write a full-fledged indictment of scientism and other instances of bad science, I am compelled to at least demonstrate that materialism is insufficient and direct my readers to a work that more than completely shows that materialism and Neo-Darwinism are incomplete and illogical worldviews13. In favor of misguided science, many are equally prone to jihad in favor of bad philosophy (ie. relativism and consequentialism14). Some of these people have legitimate exuses for doing so (public education and demographics of their upbringing come to mind), ultimately, their excuses can be reduced to the defense of, “I didn’t know any better.” Some despicable men, however, are quite aware of the logical fallacies they commit in the name of furthering an agenda contrary to the pursuit of Truth.

Sophists, since ancient Greece, have always profited from making defenses of the indefensible, either for the acquisition of wealth or the silencing of their own conciences. Whenever an ill-informed or malignant trend emerges in a culture, it is certain that some sophist or another will emerge from the woodwork to champion it. Unfortunately for true philosophers, most sophists find their roots in philosophy and academia. This is unfortunate because, to the unwashed, the sophists and philosophers are indistinguishable between each other, save for sophists defending the fulfillment of their base desires while the other demands intellecual rigor and consitency. These sophists were the enemy of the ancients and are the enemy of philosophy today. As certain historians through history (like Cicero) have noted, there has been a noticeable trend of cultures falling for sophistry not long before their demise. In our modern culture, we see popular philosophy dominated by sophistry and intellectual vacuity. In academic philosophy, it would appear that a certain apathy to the common man and common culture has gripped the hearts of philosophers as they discuss the impractical and esoteric. Worse, though, than the philosopher turned sophist, is the celebrity or lawyer turned “philosopher”. Lawyers are paid to play by the rules and obfuscate the truth. Celebrities are paid because they make people feel good. Both of these careers are antithetical to the pursuit of truth. In such a case that one who makes a career of pursuing personal interest (whether it be thier own or their clients’) turns their attention to announcing certain ethical, social, scientific, or really any intellectual claim, they ought to be met with close scrutiny. An example which has plagued America (and the world) in recent years is the Hollywood zeitgeist of celebrities loudly and aggressively endorsing the political ideologies of the radical left. While these endorsements ought to be recieved skeptically, we instead have seen a widespread voice of agreement in the public forum. This is no different than the phenomenon observed by historians of bygone empires and cultures.

The same cult of irresponsibility and self-promotion in both popular culture and academia that existed in ancient Athens still plauges true philosophers today. At times, given the ascetic15 nature of the philosophical disciplines, it can be incredibly temptng for one to compromise one’s integrity for the sake of wealth or popularity which a philosopher would never see otherwise. Additionally, even if one is unaware of what they are doing, it is common for one to confuse one’s ideas with one’s self, which leads one to take justified criticism poorly and leaves no room for improvement and correction of ideas. When one is more concerned as to whether they are well-liked or can turn a profit rather than engaging in a genuine loving pursuit of wisdom and truth, it can only end badly.

As Socrates is credited to have said (which is more likely a paraphrase of his entire body of work), “The unexamined life is not worth living.” In order to successfully achieve eudaemonia16 or Truth, one must be vigilant and develop the ability to accurately assess one’s self. As will be expressed in the theses, one’s experience and examination of that experience is fundamental in one’s understanding of the universe and subsequent actions. Additionally, seeing as how eudaemonia and truth are the goals of the philosopher, it is clear that any philosopher and, truly, every man must live an examined life.

Now, this is not to say that every man must so thoroughly analyze and examine every atomic facet of his life in perpetual stoic apatheia. In fact, the reality is quite the opposite. While the philosopher must develop a categorical and pervasive habit of self-assessment, this could be crippling in other endeavors. Some men are simply incapable of this degree of introspection and others live in an environment which disallows such behavior. Even these men, though, can and ought to engage in what could rightly be called a “partially examined life”17: a lifestyle in which one at least routinely examines one’s conscience and actions. Training in and awareness of philosophy are invaluable tools in such an endeavor.

After all, our definition of philosophy clearly illustrates that philosophy is universally applicable. In clearly defining how the universe operates and why, as well as exploring what our actions must be in any given circumstance, philosophy establishes itself as the prime candidate to be the very center of culture and individual lives.

Through careful examination of one’s self and of the universe at large, one can come to an understanding of what one needs in order to acquire self-fulfillment. The desire for self-fulfillment is already the driving force behind culture. In developing and advancing the understanding required to achieve self-fulfillment, one contributes to the formation of a culture of self-fulfillment. This culture, informed by philosophy, would be a haven for those seeking eudaimonia.

As the centerpiece of ancient Greek culture and subsequently of philosophy, eudaimonia deserves a more thorough examination and definition. While it is alluded to in the 95 Theses, it may not get the fullest treatment it deserves. It then falls on the introduction here to give at least a high-altitude explanation with which to work. Eudaimonia as it is used here and in the theses can most easily be described as “the freedom to excel”. This means not only the presence of the mental faculties required to conceptualize and pursue excellence, but also the material and metaphysical circumstances required. In truth, I believe that this has always been the pursuit of man: to live in a culture of eudaimonia.

Philosophy: a Brief Genealogy

Regardless of which narrative one adheres to concerning the origins of man, there are certain circumstances which must have occurred at some point. While the beginnings of just such a narrative exist in the theses, I will attempt to imagine the worst-case scenario for the point I am attempting to illustrate. That point is, from the inception of the human race, philosophy has existed. With the emergence or creation of the first man, whether he was a mutated member of an ancestor race or created fully formed from the dirt by the very hand of God, his was the unique responsibility of siring the human race. While language and conceptualization may not be required in order to find a mate, it could certainly help. However, from the birth of the first progeny of man, communication and conceptualization become necessary for the continuation of the species. In order for her offspring to survive long enough to fulfill its duty to the species, our Eve must be able to express the concepts necessary for survival. Even if one is to assume that genetics supplied her offspring with instincts concerning fight-or-flight responses or aversions to creepy-crawlies that could be harmful, they would be insufficient for the task of allowing the offspring to learn, “This mushroom is bad,” or “This is how you kill a boar,” when they are one-chance circumstances which drastically impact survival.

It is clearly in the best interest of humanity’s survival to build on and diversify the material each generation inherits. “This mushroom is bad,” can only take one so far; it certainly does not place one at the top of the food chain. However, inquiry, discovery, and purpose can drive a nomadic people, scratching a meager sustenance from the earth, to ever greater achievements. I may not be able to kill a bear in hand-to-hand combat (I have never had the chance to try), but I don’t have to. By virtue of the utility of philosophy (and its constituent physical sciences), I live in an environment which is naturally repulsive to bears (though, in the instance of this region, the case was quite the opposite until recently); as added protection, though, I have many tools at my disposal, not the least of which is my Mosin–Nagant.

Aside from mere survival though, philosophy also provides mankind with an awareness of purpose and ethics which provides far more utility and impetus than survival, especially once the requirements for survival are met. In the pursuit of eudaimonia, we can imagine a genealogy of thought, moving from, “This mushroom is bad,” to, “Why is this mushroom bad?” to, “Why is?” With as many intermediary steps. Alongside this line of reasoning, we also see a diversification of material, branching from mere survival and pagan “gods of the gaps” into physics (including biology, astronomy/astrology, chemistry/alchemy, etc), metaphysics, epistemology, theology, etc.

While all these endeavors are oriented towards one end: the creation of an internally consistent, logically sound, empirically viable, and universal worldview which possesses ethical agency, utility, and (ultimately) Truth, they are sufficiently detailed and esoteric that one could spend their entire lives in devotion to one small element of a particular area of philosophy. This should not, however be used as a justification for skepticism18 as it would only serve as justification if philosophy were a solitary venture. Philosophy, by it’s nature, is collaborative. Each area of philosophy, no matter how distinct from another in focus and subject, bears at a minimum a holistic relationship to each other. In the same way that each area of study collaborates with the others, so too must individual philosophers. This relationship of the areas of study is due, in part, to their common material and practical significance; each area of philosophy informs the others and serves as a check against fallacious reasoning.

Being a human endeavor, philosophy finds itself the victim of human error quite frequently. As optimistic and teleological as my views are concerning this endeavor, I am not ignorant of the inherent shortcomings and roadblocks such an endeavor faces. I fully expect that even in the case of my own contributions, I will find myself (many years from now) arguing against the very assertions I make in this work. These shortcomings often lead to the development of dead-ends and half-truths. Some of these are quite speedily identified and handily defeated (like geocentrism) but many others are quite bothersome. Concepts which are rooted in truth or bear tangential resemblances to the truth often mislead the philosophical discourse. One need only to look as far as Epicurus’ problem of evil and subsequent resolution, or Puritanism, or the Copenhagen Interpretation, or Marxism to see what kind of damage can be done by philosophy run awry. These mistakes, as damaging as they may be, will, ultimately become a footnote in philosophy as failed experiments, as the utility of accurate reasoning becomes apparent and the march of the true philosopher continues unabated.

As the definition I am using for philosophy states, philosophy is an ongoing pursuit of truth (or, the Truth). All legitimate philosophers have, at one point or another, made a categorical assertion regarding truth. Even most faux philosophers make categorical assertions regarding truth, even if that assertion is a naive and misguided utterance of, “There is no truth.” While I do not necessarily believe that the “end of philosophy” has some metaphysical role to play in directing philosophy or that it may be attainable in this world, I do believe that the simple utility of truth allows and encourages “those who have eyes to see” to be diligent in selecting the philosophies to which they ascribe. This “natural selection” of memes will, naturally, lead towards the end of philosophy. I know this sounds quite similar to the Darwinist narrative which I have rejected mere pages before now, and it should, as there are some good ideas buried amidst the bad science. The survival of the fittest, as Herbert Spencer is credited with having formulated it, is one such concept.

Such memes as survival of the fittest are a prime contemporary example of how philosophical concepts tend to simply be a part of the atmosphere in which society functions. Most everyone has heard that phrase in one memorable context or another, even if they have no idea or a misconceived notion of what it means. In the case of philosophical culture, or rather the culture of philosophers, far more obscure and odd concepts are part of the atmosphere. In this way, a well-read and intelligent philosopher may breathe in Descartes, Scholasticus, Nietzsche, and Groothuis in order to utter forth a synthesis of these elements unique unto himself, even if it is identical to another’s work.

What utterance do I have to make? What can one such as myself bring to the banquet table of philosophy? I desire to partake of the feast about which those before me have written, but what can I do to pay admission? As will be clear to those who will bother to read these Theses, I am not yet sure, but I hope to one day have applied myself thoroughly enough to this, my vocation, so as to be worthy to touch the garment of lady philosophy.

This work, itself, is an attempt to codify my existing ideas in a format suitable for public development and critique. Philosophy, by its nature, is discursive and social by nature. I could not rightly call myself a philosopher if I were to merely wonder at the cosmos. Only if I were to share my wonder with others and argue my way to the truth alongside my companions would I be worthy of such a name. This is my first of a thousand steps towards the banquet for which I was created. I hope to bring along as many as can come with me to sing the praises of the Grand Architect of such a marvel as creation.

All I can rightly ask of philosophy and of those philosophers who would aid me in this journey would be that I contribute one more voice to this chorus as old as man: to be heard and considered by others, to have what truth I can find be perpetuated while my own shortcomings be disregarded. A lesson I have learned from Ayn Rand: to be considered sophomoric and redundant is still, at least, to be considered. If I could rightly ask more, however, I would ask that I be granted a personal fulfillment of my unslakable thirst for answers.

Hopefully, I can play an integral role in this chorus, can make an impact. I want to bring the practice of true philosophy back from the grave that enlightenment dug, existentialism filled, and postmodernism hid in the woods. The death of god19 was less a death of god and more the abortion of philosophy. I want to aid in the restoration of Lady Philosophy to her former glory, to clothe her once again in dignity and honor, and to bring her back to the common people, not as an object of rape, but of royalty. This novitiate book is the inauspicious beginning of such a daunting career choice.

95 Theses

1Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences” Pt. 2

2Self-evident and deductively reasoned

3Chapter 1: Epistemic Assumptions

4Hegel, Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences p10

5Chapter 5: Teleology?

6Also Ch 5

7“Leisure: The Basis of Culture” p110

8German: “Spirit of the times”

9“Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so.” Douglas Adams

10Groothuis, On Pascal (Stamford: Thomson Learning, 2003), 202

11Chapter 5

12 a theory resulting in an empirically verifiable prediction which, if inaccurate, determines that the theory is wrong

13Groothuis “Christian Apologetics” chapter 13

14An ethical school of thought which argues that the result of an action determines the ethical quality of said action

15Self-disciplinary and abstinent

16Flourishing and fulfillment

17 A phrase that is certainly as old as the Socrates quote from before, but never better implemented than as by the people on the Partially Examined Life podcast: http://www.partiallyexaminedlife.com/

18 disbelief that it is possible for one to obtain truth or knowledge of the truth

19Nietzsche used the phrase “god is dead” quite frequently. Most notable of which is his parable of the madman from “The Gay Science” book three.

More Tuttle Twins: Bastiat

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

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

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

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

Cartography vs. Geography: Borders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Borders

Statist Sunday (Episode 1)

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

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

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

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

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

The Selling of the President 1968

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

Picture0720150831_1

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

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

A Solid Definition of Government

This week, I am clearly picking the low-hanging fruit. I have to admit, working on my book last month and getting so worked up last week seems to have burned me out. I’d rather just read Dostoevsky and listen to Dimmu Borgir in my free time this week. Instead, I’m going to lean on my default post-type and define something while looking at the etymology and philology of the term.

Looking at my definition of anarchy (and the preceding discussion), it would seem that I am doing things backwards. Typically, people define anarchy as “the absence of government”; I argue that anarchy was here first and government is the absence (or privation of) anarchy. I could leave the conversation at that, but I wouldn’t be doing the history of the word its due time, nor would the subject warrant a full blog post.

“Government” is one of the many words that English-speakers have lifted from the French, like buffet, ballet, abatement… lots of words that end in “t”, it would seem. In the French use of the word, it largely means the same thing it does in English: “The group of assholes who violently claim arbitrary swaths of land and the people and fruits thereof”. Technically, the noun form of the word is derived from the original verb, “To control or dictate.” Unless we are speaking of self-governance, that sounds an awful lot like coercion and slavery.

As a matter of fact, that’s where the French got the word. Somehow (there’s some debate in academia), the French got a hold of an ancient Greek word: kybernan. Kybernan is the Greek word for “piloting a ship”. Pretty innocuous and maybe even voluntarist, right? Well, this word came into widespread use in the time of Greece’s heyday of naval warfare and mercantilism. Still innocent-sounding? The ships of that period were not diesel or cesium-powered, nor were they steamboats or sailing ships; they were powered by slaves. The primary method of steering a ship was by dictating the manner, rate, and direction the slaves were to row.

It would seem that kybernan has managed to keep it’s meaning fairly well through its multiple iterations. The federalists, especially Madison and Hamilton, were particularly fond of descriptions and metaphors for government that, while not quite “The citizens shall be like slaves rowing a trireme while me and my friends whip them,” were not much different. Interestingly enough, the prefix “cyber-” is derived from the very same Greek word. “Cybernetics” or “systems theory” is inextricably tied to government, too. In today’s vernacular, “cyber-whatever” usually means “computer-y” or “robot-y”, but cybernetics is a field of study much older than computers and robots. Cybernetics is a tradition that reaches back to Plato, but has changed dramatically from it’s origins in “studying regularity in closed systems” into a form of sociological alchemy pursued by many famous intellectuals such as John Dewey, Norbert Wiener, and Alan Turing. This set of theories were predicated on the idea that human environments were closed systems which could be molded by internal and external factors. The idea driving cybernetics was the idea that the masses of under-educated and working castes could be molded into a sort of perpetual-energy machine, sustaining both itself and the lifestyles of the enlightened progressives. All such an endeavor would require is the perfect admixture of coercion, theft, violence, and mind-control.

This may sound like a crazy conspiracy theory, but it is truly a matter of mainstream historical fact. On need only read the writings of those involved in the project to confirm its facticity. Besides, there’s already a popular (and crazy) conspiracy theory about the word “government” that I need to dispel. Rather than focusing on the historical reality of Dewey’s obsession with cybernetics and government, some say that “government” is either Old English or Latin for “governing minds” or, alternatively, “mind control”. Given the relationship between cybernetics and western governments over the last century-and-a-half, it isn’t surprising that one would assume that “government” and “mind control” are synonymous, but there is one degree of separation betwixt the two; it’s just a funny philological quirk that it worked out that way. As is usually the case, it is better to address historical realities and actual conspiracies instead of creating imagined conspiracy theories out of ignorance.

While fun, this linguistic foray has done little to define the term “government”. Unless, that is, we are going to define government as “slave-driving on an ancient Greek boat.” I guess I went on this tangent to bolster the case for my definition, but before I deliver the punchline and just tell you my definition, I have one last point to touch on.

Those Greek slaves were different in nearly every way from the slaves in America circa 19th century, and both were equally different from slaves in Egypt circa the 20th century BC. What, then, is common to each “slave” to make them such? Slaves in the American south were largely allowed to do whatever they wished when not working, so “total loss of autonomy” doesn’t work. Slaves in Greece were afforded second-class citizenship and some degree of representation in government, so “lack of legal ‘rights” and “lack of political representation” does not suffice. Many slaves in Egypt became such voluntarily, as an alternative to the death penalty or to pay off family debts, so even “being conscripted from your home country” doesn’t work. Similarly, nearly every alternative faces similar counterfactuals.

However, even in the case of Greek slavery (which had the most liberty regarding property to my knowledge), that property was more-or-less rented from the local government and could be repossessed via an ancient Greek eminent domain from which real citizens were secure. Therefore, I think I’m going to take a page out of the AnCaps’ book and say that the defining characteristic of a slave is a systematic or institutionalized denial of one’s property rights. It wouldn’t be surprising, then, that Marx would have found the average family of his day to be a form of slavery. I’m sure you’ve already guessed where this is going; kybernan, being equivalent to “slave driving”, and “government”, being equivalent to “an absence of anarchy” gives us a historical basis for saying “government” is best defined as, “an institutionalized denial of one’s property rights”. I have not yet been presented with an example of government, in the abstract or specific, which fails to meet this criteria, nor have I encountered an instance, in the abstract or specific, of an institution which is not a functional equivalent to government which meets this criteria.

Taxation is functionally equivalent to declaring superseding ownership over another’s property or self and demanding rent for continued use of that property or self. Property tax is a declaration of ownership of land and improvements upon the land. Income tax (by the books) is a declaration of ownership concerning monetary gains that arrive in the owned territory and is also (in practice) a declaration of ownership of one’s labor. Sales (and the synonymous “value-added”) tax is the declaration of ownership of both (or either) the property changing hands and/or the relationship between the two parties. This list is as long as the list of things taxed.

Law enforcement is functionally equivalent to declaring ownership of either one’s self or one’s actions (same thing, really). Even the most honorable and benevolent law-maker will admit (as the Federalists openly did) that laws are designed as an attempt to control individuals. I’ve already addressed the relationship between control and ownership, so we don’t need to discuss that now.

In establishing a monopoly on certain services (de-facto or explicitly) such as defense, security, infrastructure management, financial instruments, etc., governments establish a claim on either the concepts themselves or every specific instance of such things. For example, I can’t own a tank, arrest someone, build a power generator, mint coins, deliver packages, or even opt-out of having those services provided without explicit permission. Of course, all of these services are provided by way of stealing my property and by taking out loans from central banks using me and my descendants as collateral… yet another explicit claim of ownership over myself and all I own.

Someone can attempt to contrive something that looks like, and achieves similar outcomes to government without violating property rights. So far, every time I’ve witnessed such attempts, the attempt either fails to meet so simple a moral standard or is, effectively, a description of AnCapistan. This is how I, myself, became an anarchist. I was a communist out of an Aristotelian notion of positive rights and the need for government to provide them. After a decade or so of trying to explicate and enumerate rights and how they could all be upheld without contradiction, I realized that it is metaphysically impossible to uphold positive rights and that the government can’t even protect one’s negative rights.

TL;DR Government, the absence of anarchy, is ultimately defined by one identifiable function. Every historical example of government presents some feature or behavior unique from or contradictory to another, save one. Interestingly, slavery is defined by the same function which is fitting given the etymological root of the word: kybernan. Government is “the institutionalized denial of property rights.”