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 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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My 2016 Ballot

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

voting-sticker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regent of CU
Heidi Ganahl
See Board of Education

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

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

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

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

From Value to Voting

Today’s post is a far cry from my original podcast episode (and most popular post to-date). As far as I can tell, all of the points I raised on both sides of that dialogue still apply, but I have had about four years to think about it and have some more ideas to throw around.

Earlier this year, I had a surprising revelation which was earth-shattering for me, but would probably come across to my readers as obvious as the revelation I had in my post concerning surprises, themselves. That revelation is that not only is value subjective, but value is ordinal, not cardinal. Half of you are probably saying “I don’t even know what that means” and the other half are saying “Well, duh.” Cardinality, with regards to numbers, is essentially numbering: “one, two, three…” Ordinality, essentially means that something is ordered; with regards to lists of things, it would mean that rather than using numbers, one would use superlatives and relationships: “This more than that, that more than the other thing, etc.”

This is one of those things that usually goes unexamined by just about everyone, myself included. The reason this comes as a surprise to me is a result of my Marxist and Classical roots. One of the pipe-dreams of the communists is the idea of a scientifically-engineered economy; for a prime example of this pipe-dream, one need only look as far as Keynesian (or mainstream) economics and the arch-Keynesian, Paul Krugman. The only way this fiction could appear remotely possible is if one is capable of empirically evaluating individuals’ subjective preferences. Empirical studies require numbers and raw data, which one cannot acquire if value is ordinal, not cardinal. Therefore cardinal value is taken by Marxists as a given, and usually only unconsciously.

If anyone has worked in engineering in any capacity, they can understand that if one changes something even very minor and unobserved in the design of a building, machine, or piece of software one of two possibilities are likely to occur: either the general design can continue operation unaffected, or the whole system will fail horribly and unexpectedly, resulting in all sorts of confusion and hair-pulling. In this case, I knew intuitively that as I realized this minor difference, it would impact my philosophical comprehension concerning all sorts of things, including but not limited to my reductivist understanding of reality, the psychology of man, linguistic quirks, and the ethics of voting.

I have been careful in my use of language concerning preferences already: pointing out that certain options were “not preferable” or “least bad”, in order to not leave the impression that I would endorse such an option. If I recall correctly, a good example of this quirk is lurking in my post on crime and vice but I could be mistaken. Upon examination, though, I’m not so sure that such a linguistic turn is appropriate. In reality, with value being subjective and ordinal, there really is no such thing as “not preferable” or even “less bad”; instead, there’s simply varying degrees of preference, relative between options that are available. At this moment, I prefer sleep to food and working on this blog post to sleep. When one looks at action in the context of consequences, I generally prefer working my job and getting paid to sleeping at my desk and getting fired. When one looks at general principles, I prefer verisimilitude to fantasy and moral action to immoral action.

I’ve thus far demonstrated a preference for living over dying, pleasure over pain, quality over quantity, etc. At any given moment, given a particular context, I may act in contradistinction to these general preferences: acting in such a way so as to cause pain in the immediate future for pleasure in the long run, for example. If I were starving to death in a desert and the only prospect for food in any redemptive about of time were a bowl of cyanide-laced curry, I may choose to act against my preference for remaining alive given the morbid prospects on all sides. These are just examples, but I think you get the point.

These examples are not examples of a violation of some sort of principle or character trait but are, instead, examples of the subjectivity of human action. Action requires an assessment of the facts at hand, a desire for a particular outcome, and the possibility of that outcome being achieved; it’s a uniquely human activity. As such, even though I have a general preference for such things, the facts on the ground may disallow certain possible outcomes, limiting the opportunities for action to options that are, in the abstract, less preferable than the options usually available.

This, in a way, is informed by my description of ethics. If ethics is the rational investigation of actionable goals, ethics is really the source of a framework by which to determine preferences and actions to be taken to achieve said preferences. It is also informed by my description of responsibilities in my discussion of intellectual property. If one cannot be responsible for the ideas that others concoct from available sense experience, one is not endorsing a particular course of action on a moral basis by expressing a preference by way of action or word. In other words, I would not be endorsing suicide as a moral maxim in the case of a desert with poisoned curry; I would merely be acting on a preference specific to myself and the particular context in which I found myself. Sorry Kant, Aquinas, and other positivists, you’re wrong in this case.

I’m sure most of my readers have played some variation of “would your rather?” In most variations of this game, there is a set of options (usually two) offered with no context. “Would you rather die of exposure to heat or exposure to cold?” or, “Would you rather make out with a movie star or drive a sweet car?” are good examples of such options. Most normal people simply weigh the options based either on immediate circumstances: “Well, right now I’m hot, so it would be a sort of relief and cruel irony all at once to die of cold…” or they weigh the options based on a self-assessment of character, “Well, one set of lips is more or less the same as any other (to me), but I’m never gonna get to drive something like a Formula 1 if I don’t take this chance…” The sophomoric philosophical types (myself included) more often answer with nonsense responses which try to contextualize the options or point out that “Neither option is preferable, so I’d just let whichever one happens first to happen.” I’ve since learned the error of my ways and I’m trying to navigate this new understanding of subjective value.

So, today, I find myself in a convoluted and Kafkaesque context for certain actions and opportunities (or lack thereof) to express my preferences. Any of my readers are likely aware of my default list of complaints, so I don’t need to rehash them today. The reason that list of complaints becomes pertinent today is this: when one is faced with a hyper-inclusive mass-democracy which possesses a monopoly on violence and perceived legitimacy, one is forced to either roll over and take whatever abuse comes one’s way, engage in one-tenth measures to perform damage control, or to fight or flee.

There’s several popular analogies and limit-cases anarchists and statists alike like to appeal to in order to demonstrate some aspect or another of voting. There’s also a lot of cases people throw around concerning whether one has an obligation to vote, whether voting is a violation of the NAP, whether a vote is an endorsement of a particular candidate and everything he will do, whether voting is an act of self-defense or an act of legitimizing the crimes of the state, and so much more; it’s an insane rabbit-hole that I’ve been spelunking in for a while, now.

At the end of the day, though, only individuals act and one doesn’t bear responsibility for the actions of other individuals. As such, the moral and ethical status of voting relies entirely on the nature of communication and preferences. Is voting a means by which one endorses another individual or delegates authority? Or, alternatively, is voting nothing more than a voicing of a preference. If it is voicing a preference, is it voicing a preference in the context of availability, like in a game of “would you rather”, where you have only choice A or choice B? Or is it voicing a preference in the abstract, where you’re offered choice A or B, but you could just say “I’m gonna look for better options”?

For four years, I have been a principled anarchist non-voter. For those four years, my conscience has been clean. This has probably been for a number of reasons: the most primary of which is that, given the ontological framework I was working with, voting was both unethical and immoral. This position was best described, in writing, in my initial post on voting. During that time, I still had a lot of Marxist predispositions I hadn’t yet analyzed or even come to be aware of, most notable of which is the fact that I was an expressivist as opposed to a realist and that value is ordinal not cardinal.

I would love to take my time and sort out all of the answers in as long a timeline as is needed, but this year’s ballot is coming due in a matter of days and I am doing what I can to be as virtuous and as moral as I can be despite access to the truth of the matter. It doesn’t help that previous elections have been presented as a choice between socialism and socialism-lite while this election, if my understanding is accurate, can easily play out to be the choice between real war versus proxy war, full-blown self-destruction and merely bad economic choices, and socialists propagating versus socialists killing themselves or moving away. Really, I’d almost sell my soul just to see the Clintons in prison, anyway.

The way I see it right now, if I fill out a ballot and turn it in, all I have done is draw some lines on paper and send that paper to some socialist who’s going to pretend to interpret those lines in accordance with my preferences. If I’m doing so to voice a preference between one candidate or another, or raising versus maintaining taxes, or using the violent apparatus of the state to force people to by things they don’t want and sell to people they don’t like or to let people mind their own business, I’m simply playing a game of “would you rather” in the context of a world in which there is a violent gang that is going to pretend to be acting on my preferences.

If they actually did act on my preferences in the abstract, they would systematically shut down all operations and auction off assets to make bankruptcy payments to those that own US Federal debt. In more contextualized circumstances, I’d rather use tax dollars to build walls and reduce the flood of welfare-seekers as opposed to subsidizing the importation of the same and I’d rather use the bully-pulpit of the presidency to promote masculinity, productivity, and competitiveness as opposed to death, destruction, terrorism, and weakness.

Admittedly, this looks more like a personal aesthetic choice to me than a moral one. The current opportunity-cost associated with filling out a ballot, for me, is the 45 minutes it would take to consider the options, google a few judges and local representatives, and drop it off on my way to work. Seeing as how those 45 minutes would probably be spent playing DOOM or watching anime, I think I can spare them. I hope, in the future to be so productive so as to be unable to afford that cost. Then I can go back to being a non-voter because I’m going the ethically-superior route for expressing my preferences, a-la Assange.

Yes, I know that the rampant voter and election fraud swamp my singular vote and that the electoral college doesn’t give a damn about the popular vote. Yes, I know that democracy is the least legitimate of all the forms of government (of which, all are illegitimate) and that I’ve said in the past that killing voters might not be a violation of the NAP. Yes, I know that the group of individuals calling themselves “the state” will continue to murder and rape at more-or-less the same rate. All this considered, it doesn’t change the fact that the one-tenth measure of simply saying “I’d rather you rape me a little more gently” would be preferable to just rolling over and taking it.

ready-to-vote

TL;DR: I’ve recently discovered the fact that value is ordinal, not cardinal. Where that would normally mean very little to most people, it has altered my ontology sufficiently so as to make me reconsider a great many things. Most pertinent to this fall is the moral status of voting. I’m writing this blog post to follow up on one of my first posts concerning voting and to kick around some newer considerations I have concerning moral, ethical, and aesthetically appealing action. As always, this is intended to be a setpiece for conversation, not some doctrine to which anyone must hold fast.

Oh, and P.S. I’m going to try and actually make a follow-up post showing exactly how I’m going to vote and to encourage you to do as I do. Spoiler alert: Hilary is evil incarnate and all of the third-party candidates are almost as bad for various reasons.

P.P.S. Don’t forget to support this project on Patreon!

Just Another Friendly Argument #2: Contracts and the NAP

If you couldn’t tell, I came into this conversation with a little bit of a cavalier attitude.  James, however, was very well-prepared and had a number of notes he was going to send me in an email, but we both thought it would be more fun to do an argument episode of the podcast.

We discuss property rights, contracts, and the NAP.  I was already coming into a newer and more nuanced position on contracts since the last conversation James and I had concerning the matter, so this episode was less an argument than it was an interview, but we had a lot of fun and I think listeners can get a lot of good material from it.

 

school.of-athens-youtube-template-2014

 

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

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).

Descriptive Vs. Prescriptive Statements

A discussion I have been avoiding since starting this project is that of descriptive versus prescriptive statements. I have been avoiding doing so because awareness of such delineations is so basic and fundamental to any activity resembling intelligence that I felt readers would be offended that I would feel they could use a reminder of that reality. After so many conversations on the internet and in-person, I think more people need a reminder that would be justifiably offended.

In today’s postmodern culture, inability to compartmentalize or categorize thoughts, feelings, activities, and identities is so widespread so as to be its defining characteristic. As such, people tend to confuse their ideas with their identities, their feelings with their actions, and their descriptions with their prescriptions. This has resulted in what amounts to a culture-wide crisis of logical illiteracy. There are few greater examples of what I mean than the electoral politics currently ongoing.

Descriptions are typically pretty straightforward. With little exception, a descriptive statement is one which establishes a definition or identity. For example, a descriptive statement could be, “Dogs, by nature, are quadrupeds.” That statement describes the nature of dogs. However, it doesn’t fully describe dogs; there are many other creatures that, by nature, are quadrupeds and are also distinct from dogs. It also does not sufficiently describe dogs so as to allow for dogs that have more or fewer legs than four. Despite such shortcomings, it is not metaphysically impossible to establish a set of descriptive statements which encompass the entirety of “dog-ness”, it would just require a lot more time, effort, and linguistic exercise than anyone has yet attempted; instead, biologists and preschool teachers seem to have done enough of that work so as to cover the practically required bases of describing dogs. I don’t know what more I could say to make the idea of a descriptive statement more clear.

Prescriptive statements are only slightly less straightforward. Where descriptive statements indicate how things are, prescriptive statements indicate how things should be. For example, a descriptive statement could be, “The U.S. federal government is $250,000,000,000,000 in debt,” and a prescriptive statement is, “The U.S. Federal government should not be able to incur such debt,” or “The U.S. Federal government should declare bankruptcy.” Some prescriptive statements are more tied to descriptive statements than others; for instance, “Hilary Clinton should be president because it’s the current year!” has a little less to do with reality than the above examples. In most circumstances, a prescriptive statement could be phrased as an ethical claim, too.

As with all statements, both descriptive and prescriptive statements may or may not be factual. “Women make less money than men for the same work,” may or may not reflect reality (spoiler alert: it doesn’t at all) as may, “The voting age should be lowered to 16,” (Spoilers: it shouldn’t). In the case of descriptive statements, facticity can be more-or-less established by way of the standard epistemic process: verify logical validity, compare to empirical and experiential data, compare to alternative descriptions… This process can be more-or-less involved, depending on the complexity and immediacy of the statement in question. Prescriptive statements are usually either subjective or aesthetic in nature: “This soup needs more salt,” or an ethical statement, “If one wants an environment conducive to human flourishing, one ought to avoid hyper-inclusive mass democracy.” Aesthetic statements, while not meaningless, are largely non-actionable to anyone other than the individual expressing said preference. However, ethical statements are verifiable by means of experimentation, reason, and evidence. I’ve already addressed ethical statements before, but it bears repeating in this context.

Of course, two difficulties emerge in the hairiness of common discourse. The first, most common, issue I have seen is making descriptive statements as if they were prescriptive. Easy examples emerge in political discourse. “I’m offended,” “That’s racist/sexist/ableist/insert false pejorative,” “That’s not how the world works,” etc. all describe a circumstance (and may more may not be accurate) without any prescription attached; usually, though, they are stated as if one expects someone else to modify his behavior in some way. Regardless of the facticity of such statements, they contain nothing which warrants action, despite what demagogues and their followers may expect.

The second issue, which seems to be the second most common, is confusing the grammar of the two classes of statements. What I mean is that some very skilled rhetoricians and some clumsy conversationalists manage to hide a prescription in a descriptive statement. This is different from declaring a description as if it has prescriptive power. Unfortunately for both my readers and myself, I am not skilled enough to compose an example and my memory has not yet recovered sufficiently to recall one I have encountered in the wild. As long as one maintains an awareness of descriptive and prescriptive paradigms, though, one can pretty easily identify such an attempt.

If you are a regular reader of the blog, you may notice that most of the posts follow a “description, elaboration, prescription, opinion” format. This is technically accidental in that I did not actively choose to write in such a format. However, it is a habit I have which has been established for quite some time. Without an awareness of ontological and metaphysical reality, no one can make reasonable prescriptions. I’ve already addressed this before, in different terms. Because this is the case, I have practiced the approach of establishing an ontological context before issuing prescriptions and issuing prescriptions in the format of “if-then” statements.

More important to one’s grammar and rhetoric than identifying descriptions and prescriptions in others’ speech, more important even than being careful to make a clear delineation in one’s grammar, I have discovered, is explicitly addressing statements as such. Of course, one can’t go around and preface every statement with “This is a descriptive/prescriptive statement:” Sometimes, such pedantics are appropriate, though. I am still experimenting with this variable to see what gets the best results in the art of rhetoric.

This whole discussion of description versus prescription was brought on by repeated discussions of my favorite Hans Herman Hoppe quote:

“In a covenant…among proprietor and community tenants for the purpose of protecting their private property, no such thing as a right to free (unlimited) speech exists, not even to unlimited speech on one’s own tenant-property. One may say innumerable things and promote almost any idea under the sun, but naturally no one is permitted to advocate ideas contrary to the very covenant of preserving and protecting private property, such as democracy and communism. There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian [RE: propertarian] social order. They will have to be physically separated and removed from society.”

Taken in its context, this statement is actually a descriptive one, not a prescriptive one. This is a paradigm case of the hairiness of this distinction in common discourse. On an initial reading, outside of its context, this quote will likely sound like an advocacy of “physically removing” the enemies of freedom, so to speak. However, what Hoppe was expressing is a description of the features of propertarian societies which emerge from the underlying social foundations.

A propertarian society, one which holds property rights as paramount to all human activity, is a social order which arises spontaneously out of the chaos of nature (or capitalism, same thing). Each individual property owner is, necessarily, the arbiter of one’s own property, whether it be land, buildings, physical objects, or one’s own body; it is one of the definitive qualities of property. One may use one’s property towards whatever end one sees fit. There are a few activities for which one can use one’s property which result in performative contradiction, though. For example, one can use one’s property to undermine another’s control over his own property (violating the non-aggression principle); in doing so, though, one is acting in such a way so as to disregard the primacy of property in human action. Using property to undermine the concept of property is a performative contradiction.

The entire preceding paragraph consists entirely of descriptive statements. Any prescriptions that one reads into said paragraph are the creation of the reader himself, stemming from his own value judgments. It’s important to note that, here, as the next paragraph is also purely descriptive and if one hasn’t noticed the absence of prescriptions thus far, the significance of the next paragraph will be lost on him.

In allowing the use or trade of one’s property, one subsidizes or incentivizes particular activities. If my friend is a drug addict and he can either afford a meal or drugs, but not both and I buy him a meal I am subsidizing his purchase of drugs by externalizing the opportunity cost he faces. Similarly, if I own a patch of land or a building and allow customers/clients/acquaintances to use that property as a platform to advocate or perform activities which undermine property, such as the political activity of democracy or communism, I would be engaging in a performative contradiction. I would have to physically remove him from my property or otherwise silence him, lest I be using my property to abdicate my property. In a propertarian society, each individual actor holds property rights paramount and would have to avoid such performative contradictions, which would ultimately result in democrats and communists being physically removed from society.

Now, after a thorough exploration of the description of propertarianism with regards to communism and democracy, we get to explore a couple prescriptions. I find Hoppe’s propertarianism infinitely preferable to today’s anti-propertarian environments such as found within Empire, and I want everyone to at least consider Hoppe’s Democracy: the God that Failed. If one wishes to defend one’s bodily autonomy or private property from unscrupulous hordes of rapists and murderers, they ought to familiarize themselves with both the distinction between descriptive and prescriptive statements as well as the nature of human action and property. Tom Woods’ Liberty Classroom does a great job of both.

TL;DR: Many people confuse descriptions and prescriptions. In common conversation, it isn’t usually too important a distinction. “If you consume this substance you will die,” is often taken as a prescription to avoid consuming said substance. It is technically only a description, though. If one were to wish to die, one may wish to consume the substance. This difference between description and prescription becomes fundamental when engaging in politics and culture. Without proper awareness of descriptive versus prescriptive statements and the “if-then” structure of prescriptions, one is going to be met with failure and, when the violence of the state is involved, cause incalculable damage. Oh, and you should read Hoppe and sign up for Liberty Classroom.

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Rant 1: Taxes Are Not Repayment for Services Rendered

I’m doing something new, we’ll see how popular it becomes.  I’m just recording low-quality rants when I feel like it and posting them when recorded.  I figure I type all this crap into Facebook while yelling it in real time, so I might as well put is someplace a little more accessible and permanent than a Facebook or NSA (same thing) server.

One of the most common and most ignorant arguments I see in favor of taxes, I think, is a direct result of shitty parents.
“Taxes aren’t theft, they are you paying for use of things like roads or benefiting from the government’s activities indirectly.”
The roads have already been paid for, and whatever government activity is involuntary. If I were to buy you a car and just give it to you (regardless of whether you wanted it), I would be insane, but doing nothing more than giving you a gift. Nothing would be owed to me for that gift. If I were to buy you a car and afterwards demand that you pay me for it (especially at a 65%-400% markup), I would simply be insane. You didn’t want the car (or else you would have bought it, why am I making decisions for you?) and I have no right to demand payment for a gift that is already paid for.
If I were to rob you at gunpoint and use a portion (or all) of the money I stole from you to buy you a car, I still stole that money from you, as a car is less liquid an asset than cash and IF YOU WANTED A GODDAMNED CAR, YOU WOULD HAVE BOUGHT ONE!

Taxes are not “your fair payment for services rendered”, but is instead highway robbery of the highest order, with the added insult of the highwayman saying “I’m doing this for your own good.”  If you believe this rhetoric, you were likely abused as a child (if not physically, emotionally). Go get your issues sorted out before perpetuating your abuse on others.

“The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: Your money, or your life…The government does not, indeed, waylay a man in a lonely place, spring upon him from the road side 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…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.” Lysander Spooner

HYPERCRONIUS: a First Among Many

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

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

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

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

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

Cops in Classrooms

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

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

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

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

Intellectual Property?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is Property Theft?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Morality and Ethics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Response to Laudato Si

 

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

 
A Response to Laudato Si

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only time will tell.

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

 

Restoring Justice

If someone were to have read my post concerning honor and engaged in critical discussion, they may have accused me of being a non-dualist. Claiming that honor and same are the same thing would sound to many as if I’m saying “good” and “evil” are the same thing. I am not a non-dualist, but you may not believe me after hearing/reading this today. Today, I’m addressing another ancient concept that nobody seems to understand in this, the postmodern era: justice.

You hear about “justice” every day: SJWs demanding that straight white men be burned at the stake for “social justice”, different victims or criminals becoming the focus of “justice for this guy” mobs, in the statist prayer “liberty and justice for all”, justice in music, television, movies, lectures, C-span, everywhere. Reading Plato, one sees justice presented as “giving to everyone what they are owed” which is often interpreted through the lenses of “an eye for an eye” and “repay your debts”. Something often addressed alongside justice, and often used to help define the limits of justice, is mercy. People point to the beautiful occasions in which someone forgives the man who killed that person’s entire family or something and say “faith in humanity: restored”. Christians, inspired by Thomism, love to juxtapose mercy and justice as opposites and then struggle to argue that God can simultaneously possess two opposites to an infinite degree, which is simply absurd.

 

“Blasphemy!” No, not really. It is the very definition of absurdity to simultaneously hold that both A and non-A are true. No amount of special pleading (mystery) or symbolic logic can change that. I’m not saying God isn’t infinitely merciful or just, only that Aquinas made yet another mistake. As a matter of fact, I’m dropping this God talk in favor of philosophical exploration of justice and mercy themselves. Those of my readers that are both intelligent and theologically-minded will be able to follow this line of thought to its necessary conclusion concerning God’s nature.

Most people, as I understand it, believe that justice is either some formless and vapid idea like “equality” or “fairness” or that it means “retribution”. “This guy did something bad, so we have to do bad things to him.” Very few people will argue with that description, only the specific reason for or implementation of it. “That guy raped someone, so we must lick him in a rape cage (prison) for the rest of his life.” “This lady stole some money, so we must take everything she owns or earns until it is paid back… and a little off the top for me.” There’s always arguments as to how far is too far, like the death penalty; “should we murder a murderer?” but rarely is the more fundamental question asked.

Is doing “evil” to “evildoers” justice?

I’ll leaver that question for your rumination while I address mercy. In the ancient world, mercy was a vice that only the most powerful could afford. In the Christian world, it was a benevolent act that even the most impoverished peasant could perform towards even the most powerful king. In the post-Christian world, it’s a meaningless feel-good word for being nice. In each of these eras, the meaning of mercy has been assumed to mean “staying the execution of justice.” Debt forgiveness, governor pardons, jury nullification, victims and their families forgiving criminals, for example. Mercy, then, is shown by those too helpless to extract retribution on those with power. The paradigm case would be millennial SJWs getting jobs and shutting up.

Of course these two concepts are at odds. If justice has been a perennial issue of rights, honor, and morality throughout recorded history and mercy has been a more recent afterthought, it is no wonder that so many are confused, There are lots of exciting logical conundrums which emerge with this juxtaposition of two aesthetically pleasing opposites. I’m not sure I need to explore them right now, as everyone has read a book or watched a movie which hinged on one such conundrum or another. Any Christian that hasn’t wrestled with these problems has not critically assessed their faith. It’s a very real concern: when does one do evil to evildoers and when does one forgive them? I believe I have a solution. I’m not about to take credit for it, as the inspiration at least comes from the first couple centuries AD.

Our understanding of justice and the function it serves is wrong. Mercy, then, is also misunderstood, due to its status as wholly dependent on justice for its meaning. If justice is people getting what they deserved, people ought to do their best to keep their distance from me; as I’ve mentioned in a recent Daily Resource Suggestion, “Nobody deserves anything. If we deserve anything, it is nothingness.” Unsurprisingly, this is a Catholic belief; that’s why theologians are so desperate to make God merciful.

I have intentionally avoided discussing justice from the utilitarian position, as they equivocate justice with political ethics: “Whatever laws and violence are shown to maximize pleasure for the most people, except the obvious answer of ‘none’.” “Justice” as “deterring crime through punishing those that break the law” is a subset of the utilitarian stance. I call it moral/legal equivalence, and that’s all the time I want to waste on it today.

If justice is not retribution or deterrent, if it’s not repaying debts and taking an eye for an eye, what is it? If mercy is not the suspension of justice, what is mercy? Justice is restoration, and it is growth. Mercy is the proper application of justice. Doesn’t make sense? Good.

Justice exists betwixt individuals. If one were to exist alone in the universe, there would be no party for him to injure or be injured by, there would be no party to establish or show justice to. In this way, justice is a concept that is only manifest between individuals. If one is injured by another, whether it be the intentional commission of a crime or an unintentional destruction of property or honor, their relationship is also damaged. If justice were merely returning harm for harm, both parties are rendered worse off than before the execution of justice and their relationship is damaged doubly so. If justice were merely the replacement of damaged goods, justice could not be applied in circumstances in which the damage is incalculable or immaterial such as the loss of a child or the stripping of honor. Justice (or mercy) could not merely be the forgiveness of transgressions between individuals, as whatever harm has been affected is still present and the relationship will remain damaged after the initial act of forgiveness.

Justice, if restorative, would require the growth of all parties involved. If one party were to be harmed by another, for both the property damaged and the relationship between individuals weakened, they must grow beyond the damage done. Harm itself is contrary to growth, even if it allows at times for growth that would have been otherwise impossible, so returning harm for harm is not justice. The replacement or repayment for damaged goods can be incorporated into an act of justice, as it is an attempt at restoring the status of things to their original state. As mentioned above, though, such an action alone cannot be justice and such an action may be impossible as some things are irreplaceable and relationships cannot return to previous states. The same goes for forgiveness, it is necessary but not sufficient for restoration of relationships and statuses.

The specific implementations of justice are contingent upon the circumstances of the injury between parties. What is required to grow beyond a stranger scuffing someone’s shoe is orders of magnitude lesser than what is required to grow beyond a friend or family member murdering one’s family with a chainsaw. In the first instance, a more sincere apology and offer to make amends and a subsequent act of forgiveness and re-polish or replacement of the shoes (by either party) is all that is required. In the latter case, the one concerning a murder most foul, I know not by what means one would grow beyond the loss of one’s family nor if a relationship could be restored after such an inhuman crime, and I hope never to discover the answer.

Such a limitation is not a limitation of justice, but of those that ought to pursue it. Justice is one of the greatest expressions of discipline and the quintessential foundation of community for, without the mutual guarantee of justice, individuals are left to their own Hobbesian devices, unable to even raise a family. This is mercy, the manner in which justice can restore peace, community, and flourishing, how justice allows the growth of community despite the spectre of risk and bad actors.

Clearly, there is a tension between justice and self-defense. If I am obligated to defend myself, my autonomy, and my property at all costs, how can justice be applied once my assailant is dispatched? In some ways, it cannot; whatever relationship my assailant and I had is severed the moment he chooses to commit a crime against me, and it cannot be restored once he is dead. This tension ought to serve as a reminder to avoid exposure to crime and to encourage one to attempt de-escalation before resorting immediately to violence when someone is being an asshole.

TL;DR: Justice is not punishment, nor is it getting even. The only logically consistent description of justice is that it is restorative. Justice is a mutual concession of guilt and effort to grow beyond damages caused. There are limit cases to justice that can and ought to be explored, but first principles and the immediate fallout of those principles ought to be explored first, especially because this understanding of justice has been largely ignored in modern culture.

An Open Letter to Mom and Dad

 

Dear Mom and Dad,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deontological maxims supersede practical considerations:

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

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

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

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

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

Acting justly is more important than comfort:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Independent research and conceptual reasoning countermand the status quo:

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

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

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

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

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

Coercion doesn’t work, neither does rules:

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

Contracts are bullshit:

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

The dignity of the human person:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

LibPar: Utopia, Utilitarianism, Ethics

 

“So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life.” Hunter S Thompson

Rothbard mentioned “Button Pushers” in his work “Do you Hate the State?” If there were an “abolish all government” button, I would push it with such fervor and force I would likely injure myself and those around me. I believe, with a fair degree of certainty, that what would follow would be a relatively peaceful and gradual shift in peoples’ behavior and attitudes such that a culture of responsibility and respect would slowly grow out of our current slavery. However, even if I knew that the result would be an immediate collapse into “the Purge” or “Mad Max”, I would still push the button without hesitation.

You see, I’m a deontologist of sorts. It’s no mistake that my last post was about ethics. Deontology, at least my particular brand of it, is an ethical framework centered on moral absolutes and individual action. In other words, I believe that, regardless of circumstance or outcome, murder, coercion, and theft are categorically immoral. I believe that the ends never justify the means and that ethical reasoning applies exclusively to the decision at hand and not the past or the future. Considerations of goals, intentions, consequences, etc. only enter the picture after the moral absolutes sort out the morally justified and the unjust actions available. Alternatively, after one determines the most desirable course of action based on such considerations, one must verify that it does not violate moral absolutes. This is all a direct result of my broader philosophy, but that discussion is best left to another place and time.

If Deontology Man were a superhero (he’d be Rorschach), he would need an arch-nemesis. This arch-nemesis would be (Ozymandias) The Utilitarian and his sidekick/son, Consequentialist. Utilitarianism is a sterile, mathematical approach to life and ethics. Its goal is to maximize quantifiable pleasure for the maximum number of people. Imagine giving Spock or the T-800 the keys to the kingdom and the directive of maximizing everyone’s pleasure. Best case scenario, you’ll find yourself in a Peter Singer (advocate of murdering retarded kids and granting whales constitutional rights) book; worst case, scenario, you get “The Matrix”, but with more robot sex slaves and limitless cocaine.

What does deontology and utilitarianism have to do with LibPar and utopia? You’ll see, but we mustn’t forget Consequentialist. Consequentialism is a form of utilitarianism which uses the results of an action to retroactively determine whether or not it was a morally good or bad action. In the example of the miraculous “abolish government” button: if my guess were correct, it would be good to push the button and if we wound up with Mad Max, it would have been bad. A lot of people are sympathetic to this line of reasoning; a law can be called a good law or a bad law based on whether we think it improved or detracted from people’s quality of life… but, by that logic, if someone were to have brutally murdered Maria Schicklgruber in the 1700s, it would have been a morally good act, by way of preventing Hitler from ever existing: ignoring, of course, the impossibility of knowing about the possibility of Hitler in a world where his grandmother was murdered. As a matter of fact, I will milk Godwin’s law even further: modern medicine and space travel, invented by Nazis, have saved and improved more lives than those lost or ruined in the Holocaust, so Hitler was a good guy.

Now we have arrived at anarchy and LibPar. I tend to avoid discussions about Liberty Paradise, except behind closed doors with close friends. People like to (incorrectly) brand anarchism as a utopian philosophy and ridicule it as such. Way back in “Towards a Definition of Anarchy”, I explained that anarchism is not a positive, goal-oriented philosophy but instead is a proscriptive moral claim against criminal institutions. Due to the nature of anarchism and my deontological leanings, discussions as to “the ends in mind” when discussing anarchism vs. statism is inappropriate; such discussions distract from the importance of the issue at hand, namely, “How ought I conduct my affairs in this moment?”

That said, I can engage in a discussion of what I expect LibPar to look like, so long as we keep in mind this important principle: the rest of this post is not a discussion of the necessary result of people behaving in accordance with the principles of anarchy, it is an assessment of a likely possibility, based on my understanding of the human condition and experience. LibPar is a fairy tale that, like the utopian visions of democracy, have no influence on the daily actions of anarchists.

LibPar:
In an ideal state of affairs, I would have the “abolish government” button handed to me from on high and I would make every institution proscribed against in “Towards a Definition of Anarchy” vanish overnight. Yes, the world may be rendered chaotic and in a state of violent upheaval. Some, less domesticated, places would likely continue operations as if nothing had changed, while others may burn to the ground… Of course, that’s what’s happening right now, just on a longer timetable. In a less ideal, but more realistic, state of affairs, the message of freedom and responsibility may reach a sufficient number of people and technology may progress to a point so as to enable the widespread adoption of these beliefs in action. Regardless of the specific events which would lead to the formation of LibPar, what would it look like?

Markets:
Firstly, unlike utopian outlooks, I have no specific design for how the entire world ought to work. I expect, in the open market of ideas and philosophies, that a plethora of societies will form worldwide, each with their own distinct features; some will be better suited for perpetuity while others will not. Such is the way of things; without governments to artificially sustain bad ideas, some societies will collapse under their own weight, while others will flourish if genuinely allowed to compete.

This will likely result in different economic models, such as pure capitalism and pure socialism (think first century Catholics, not USSR or USA), being granted opportunities to succeed without the interference of government guns. So will various alternative markets: gift economies, barter and service, token economies, “smart” economies (think blockchains), honor markets… the theoretical options are limitless. Without global market manipulations and capture, we would actually get a chance to see if any of them work in practice. I have a couple that I’m rooting for, but that’s unimportant.

Dunbar Number:
The human condition is such that we have the capacity for a limited number of meaningful human relationships that one person can maintain at any given time. Anarchist societies will have to reflect this reality in some way. I expect the most likely way the Dunbar Number will be expressed is that such societies will consist of a few hundred or a maximum of one or two thousand. Such a small population also helps prevent the rise of criminal institutions and most considerations delegated to the state in slave societies will simply not be present in a small enough population. Additionally, genuine human interaction becomes essentially unavoidable, the inverse case of urban environments. The essential quality of the Dunbar Number is that, in a community of appropriate size and density so as to promote human flourishing, you would know everyone by name.

Recently, a friend asked me how a small community marketplace could solve moral issues that people generally turn to law to rectify. The example in question was that of strip clubs, which we both find morally objectionable, but not criminal. The Dunbar number, and small community is the way I think the issue naturally gets solved. Stripper Stacy becomes a lot less fun when you know her parents, she lives down the street, and she knows you and the three other dudes that visit the strip club outside of the club. Also, statistically speaking, Stacy is likely to be the only one in the community that would be willing to be a stripper, which would make it more of a small-business-out-of-your-basement kind of operation, which resembles a strip club solely by way of the vicious nature of the specific service. It does not necessarily mean that the service goes away, but it certainly mitigates the impact on the community as well as making a coercive and violent law regarding it superfluous.

Intentionality:
With a population so small, such a community can be centered around a common goal or ideal. Closely tied to the market of markets, there is an infinite number of possible intentional communities: Catholic parishes, hippie communes, AnCap fiefdoms and marketplaces, farming co-ops, tech outfits, brony conventions, and Amish fellowships all come to mind as possibilities. Some may last longer than others, but as long as people are wiling to experiment there will always be a diversity of intentional communities. These societies already exist around the globe, they land all along the anarchist/statist scale, but as a proof-of-concept, they have demonstrated that such a community can flourish over an extended period of time. Ideally, I would like to live in a familial tribe centered around a certain philosophical bent, pursuit of virtue, and self-sufficiency, but that is neither here nor there.

Mobility and Intercommunication:
Simply put, communities of such small populations and of diverse ideas could only be sustainable themselves if mobility from one community to another and the ability to form new ones is a possibility. Additionally, if a community consists of only a few hundred people, the gene pool may get a little shallow without exchange of populations between different communities. Of course, such migration is inevitable if people trade with, communicate with, and travel to other communities. This will rely on technologies similar to the internet, if not the internet itself and technologies like trucks and boats and such… but we’ve had such technologies for a while now. It’s not too much a concern. Really, freedom needs to be open-source, which would allow for exchanging good ideas between communities and the opportunity to copy what works and improve on what is available.

Security:
There are a multitude of ways that an individual can render themselves “secure”. One such manner is with the proper tools and training (AKA guns and the ability to shoot them), another would be a nomadic lifestyle, another would be remoteness (if no one can be bothered to seek you out, they can’t bother you), another would be to position your hippie commune such that it is surrounded by radically isolationist militia-type communities… the list of possibilities is longer than I can come up with on my own. What is important is the ability for individuals within an intentional community to defend themselves from others in their community and those around them.

Sustainability:
I don’t mean the liberal socialist environmental bullshit, but instead focusing on options which are either cost-neutral or renewable. An example would be making sure one does not deplete the surrounding ecosystem or raw materials (growing hemp permaculture rather than resorting to deforestation and mass agriculture for paper, textiles, construction materials, etc.) or carefully managed hatcheries separate from the native population of fish, or nuclear/passive power generation as opposed to fossil fuels. Not for any pie-in-the-sky theories about preventing global warming or whatever, but because reliance on sustainable resources and infrastructures eliminates the spectre of “the tragedy of the commons” as well as eliminating the need for state institutions built for subsidizing irresponsible industrial practices.

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Remember, anarchism is a philosophy of moral action and personal responsibility, not some utopian attempt at a global Galt’s Gulch.  If you think it is, you’ve confused anarchy with the Libertarian Party.  The point of this post is to assuage those who find anarchy to be too short-sighted and not utilitarian enough, to tell them that there is consideration applied to an ultimate goal, even if it is secondary to simply doing the right thing.  The goal isn’t to eliminate struggle or conflict, but to mitigate the damage that the human condition can do to human flourishing at large.

 

The State IS War

The State IS War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also, for your viewing pleasure:

Do You Hate The State?

This article, by Murray Rothbard, was originally published in the Libertarian Forum, Vol. 10, No. 7, July 1977.

I have been ruminating recently on what are the crucial questions that divide libertarians. Some that have received a lot of attention in the last few years are: anarcho-capitalism vs. limited government, abolitionism vs. gradualism, natural rights vs. utilitarianism, and war vs. peace. But I have concluded that as important as these questions are, they don’t really cut to the nub of the issue, of the crucial dividing line between us.

Let us take, for example, two of the leading anarcho-capitalist works of the last few years: my own For a New Liberty and David Friedman’s Machinery of Freedom. Superficially, the major differences between them are my own stand for natural rights and for a rational libertarian law code, in contrast to Friedman’s amoralist utilitarianism and call for logrolling and trade-offs between nonlibertarian private police agencies. But the difference really cuts far deeper. There runs through For a New Liberty (and most of the rest of my work as well) a deep and pervasive hatred of the State and all of its works, based on the conviction that the State is the enemy of mankind. In contrast, it is evident that David does not hate the State at all; that he has merely arrived at the conviction that anarchism and competing private police forces are a better social and economic system than any other alternative. Or, more fully, that anarchism would be better than laissez-faire, which in turn is better than the current system. Amidst the entire spectrum of political alternatives, David Friedman has decided that anarcho-capitalism is superior. But superior to an existing political structure which is pretty good too. In short, there is no sign that David Friedman in any sense hates the existing American State or the State per se, hates it deep in his belly as a predatory gang of robbers, enslavers, and murderers. No, there is simply the cool conviction that anarchism would be the best of all possible worlds, but that our current set-up is pretty far up with it in desirability. For there is no sense in Friedman that the State — any State — is a predatory gang of criminals.

The same impression shines through the writing, say, of political philosopher Eric Mack. Mack is an anarcho-capitalist who believes in individual rights; but there is no sense in his writings of any passionate hatred of the State, or, a fortiori, of any sense that the State is a plundering and bestial enemy.

Perhaps the word that best defines our distinction is “radical.” Radical in the sense of being in total, root-and-branch opposition to the existing political system and to the State itself. Radical in the sense of having integrated intellectual opposition to the State with a gut hatred of its pervasive and organized system of crime and injustice. Radical in the sense of a deep commitment to the spirit of liberty and antistatism that integrates reason and emotion, heart and soul.

Furthermore, in contrast to what seems to be true nowadays, you don’t have to be an anarchist to be radical in our sense, just as you can be an anarchist while missing the radical spark. I can think of hardly a single limited governmentalist of the present day who is radical — a truly amazing phenomenon, when we think of our classical-liberal forbears who were genuinely radical, who hated statism and the States of their day with a beautifully integrated passion: the Levellers, Patrick Henry, Tom Paine, Joseph Priestley, the Jacksonians, Richard Cobden, and on and on, a veritable roll call of the greats of the past. Tom Paine’s radical hatred of the State and statism was and is far more important to the cause of liberty than the fact that he never crossed the divide between laissez-faire and anarchism.

And closer to our own day, such early influences on me as Albert Jay Nock, H.L. Mencken, and Frank Chodorov were magnificently and superbly radical. Hatred of “Our Enemy, the State” (Nock’s title) and all of its works shone through all of their writings like a beacon star. So what if they never quite made it all the way to explicit anarchism? Far better one Albert Nock than a hundred anarcho-capitalists who are all too comfortable with the existing status quo.

Where are the Paines and Cobdens and Nocks of today? Why are almost all of our laissez-faire limited governmentalists, plonky conservatives, and patriots? If the opposite of “radical” is “conservative,” where are our radical laissez-fairists? If our limited statists were truly radical, there would be virtually no splits between us. What divides the movement now, the true division, is not anarchist vs. minarchist, but radical vs. conservative. Lord, give us radicals, be they anarchists or no.

To carry our analysis further, radical anti-statists are extremely valuable even if they could scarcely be considered libertarians in any comprehensive sense. Thus, many people admire the work of columnists Mike Royko and Nick von Hoffman because they consider these men libertarian sympathizers and fellow-travelers. That they are, but this does not begin to comprehend their true importance. For throughout the writings of Royko and von Hoffman, as inconsistent as they undoubtedly are, there runs an all-pervasive hatred of the State, of all politicians, bureaucrats, and their clients which, in its genuine radicalism, is far truer to the underlying spirit of liberty than someone who will coolly go along with the letter of every syllogism and every lemma down to the “model” of competing courts.

Taking the concept of radical vs. conservative in our new sense, let us analyze the now famous “abolitionism” vs. “gradualism” debate. The latter jab comes in the August issue of Reason (a magazine every fiber of whose being exudes “conservatism”), in which editor Bob Poole asks Milton Friedman where he stands on this debate. Freidman takes the opportunity of denouncing the “intellectual cowardice” of failing to set forth “feasible” methods of getting “from here to there.” Poole and Friedman have between them managed to obfuscate the true issues. There is not a single abolitionist who would not grab a feasible method, or a gradual gain, if it came his way. The difference is that the abolitionist always holds high the banner of his ultimate goal, never hides his basic principles, and wishes to get to his goal as fast as humanly possible. Hence, while the abolitionist will accept a gradual step in the right direction if that is all that he can achieve, he always accepts it grudgingly, as merely a first step toward a goal which he always keeps blazingly clear. The abolitionist is a “button pusher” who would blister his thumb pushing a button that would abolish the State immediately, if such a button existed. But the abolitionist also knows that alas, such a button does not exist, and that he will take a bit of the loaf if necessary — while always preferring the whole loaf if he can achieve it.

It should be noted here that many of Milton’s most famous “gradual” programs such as the voucher plan, the negative income tax, the withholding tax, fiat paper money — are gradual (or even not so gradual) steps in thewrong direction, away from liberty, and hence the militance of much libertarian opposition to these schemes.

His button-pushing position stems from the abolitionist’s deep and abiding hatred of the State and its vast engine of crime and oppression. With such an integrated worldview, the radical libertarian could never dream of confronting either a magic button or any real-life problem with some arid cost-benefit calculation. He knows that the State must be diminished as fast and as completely as possible. Period.

And that is why the radical libertarian is not only an abolitionist, but also refuses to think in such terms as a Four Year Plan for some sort of stately and measured procedure for reducing the State. The radical — whether he be anarchist or laissez-faire — cannot think in such terms as, e.g., “Well, the first year, we’ll cut the income tax by 2 percent, abolish the ICC, and cut the minimum wage; the second year we’ll abolish the minimum wage, cut the income tax by another 2 percent, and reduce welfare payments by 3 percent, etc.” The radical cannot think in such terms, because the radical regards the State as our mortal enemy, which must be hacked away at wherever and whenever we can. To the radical libertarian, we must take any and every opportunity to chop away at the State, whether it’s to reduce or abolish a tax, a budget appropriation, or a regulatory power. And the radical libertarian is insatiable in this appetite until the State has been abolished, or — for minarchists — dwindled down to a tiny, laissez-faire role.

Many people have wondered: Why should there be any important political disputes between anarcho-capitalists and minarchists now? In this world of statism, where there is so much common ground, why can’t the two groups work in complete harmony until we shall have reached a Cobdenite world, after which we can air our disagreements? Why quarrel over courts, etc. now? The answer to this excellent question is that we could and would march hand-in-hand in this way if the minarchists were radicals, as they were from the birth of classical liberalism down to the 1940s. Give us back the antistatist radicals, and harmony would indeed reign triumphant within the movement.