Mad Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, and video games. We play video games.

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Thus Spake Zarathustra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zarathustra_big

From Scratch 4.2 Background and name

Slave Rebellions and the Homestead Principle

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

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

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

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

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

Slave Rebellions and the Homestead Principle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cropped-From-Scratch-4.2-Background-and-name.png

Pope Francis and Shrek Babies

The Pope is making headlines again, as he made an allusion to the Thomist position on contraceptives similar in function to the condom being ok in some circumstances. In some ways, this is nothing new… The Church has a history of having such discussions when talking about AIDS in Africa and similar instances of terminal STDs.
 
What is new, though, is the Pope’s excessive dependence on pro-state activist scientists who amount to nothing more than snake oil salesmen. The Zika virus has nothing more than a flimsy correlation with the Shrek baby epidemic in South and Central America. There are far greater correlations that have more causal explanative power than a virus that’s been around for nearly a century and has never before had a correlation to Shrek babies.
 
This is dangerous territory to be wading into, as this sets a precedent for drastically lowering the threshold of severety in situations in which contraceptives would be morally and ethically permissible, almost to the point of conceding that point entirely to the culture of death.

Charity: Another Definition

More Definitions? Really? You’ve gotta grant this, at least, when one hears or reads the word “charity”, an idea pops into one’s head which is radically divergent from most other people. I’ve had family members cease speaking to me at thanksgiving for upwards of four years due to this seemingly innocuous term.

Really, though, is charity giving money away, being nice, or the girl you met at the club? Just as I’ve done with honor, justice, ethics, anarchy… I’m going to define a culturally significant term that is vaguely defined at best and likely upset some people along the way.

I’ve previously written on virtue and honor as well as crime, vice, and sin. The common element in each of these cases is the fact that they are performative actions regarding one’s character. If one is virtuous, one tends to do virtuous things, if one is honorable, one tends to do honorable things, etc. So, if one does charitable thins, what do we call them? What are charitable things, anyway?

Typically, I look to etymology and history to inform my understanding of a term. This time is no exception in that regard. However, unlike terms such as “honor”, “charity” seems to be a fairly recent invention. “But right here in my copy of the Vulgate, I see ‘caritas’ something like fifteen times!” Yeah… but “caritas” didn’t have the connotation of “virtuous love” or “philanthropy” until some time in the middle ages; those ideas themselves seem to be something underdeveloped in the ancient world. Rather than fully exploring the philology of charity and losing a chunk of my readership this week, I think it may be more beneficial to simply give a modern definition of the term and demonstrate its role in my understanding of the human condition. We can devote more time to this issue in later posts concerning Scriptural translators’ notes… I have a lot to say concerning that.

If one defines charity as, “maintaining an attitude of sympathy (or empathy) and compassion, and habitually attempting an understanding of one’s fellow man”, what results do we get when looking at the term’s use in the vernacular? The least controversial application of this definition, I think, would be when one is speaking of a critical analysis or opinion, for instance “While the author did not pull any punches, his critique of the work was charitable.” In such a case, a “charitable review” would be one that attempts to understand the purpose and perspective of a particular work while also expressing the faults of said work.

Additionally, when one speaks of doing charity or donating to charity, one can see where this definition would apply, if indirectly. If one is compassionate (etymologically: “suffering with”) towards one’s fellow man, they may feel compelled to ease another’s suffering at one’s own expense, even if it is only to treat them with a dignity deserving of a human being at the expense of one’s time and energy. Donating to charity is the same idea, if one step removed from the actual act: one donates to a “charitable organization” so as to aid in that ministry of charity… or, at least, that’s the pretense for it; it could just be an attempt to get a tax break or gain social status. Even in the case of one merely pretending to be charitable (by our definition), they are doing so in order to approximate the appearance of charity as we have defined it.

Even so, why does charity, a modern and loosely-used invention, warrant a role in my list of positive human activities alongside honor and virtue? Would it not be secondary or redundant if one is already an adherent to the non-aggression principle and a pursuer of virtue? Secondary, maybe, but not redundant. I say it is secondary because if I had to choose between an individual who hated me with every fiber of their being but refused to murder me versus a person who loved me unconditionally but felt it would be more humane to murder me, I would choose the non-aggressive asshole over the do-gooder criminal. I just realized this is the easiest way to delineate the libertarian left and libertarian right… but that’s neither here nor there.

Charity is not redundant in the face of virtue and honor. In the same way sin can be considered to be a specific brand of vice, one which is considered less often but can be far more detrimental to one’s happiness in the long run, charity can be considered the equivalent on the side of virtue. Charity is a specific virtue (a habituated act which aids one in the pursuit of happiness/their telos) which is considered less often, or one’s understanding of it is often maligned, but it is crucial to one’s flourishing. This is strange coming from an brutalist egoist/anarchist, isn’t it?

I tend to not write concerning charity for two reasons. The first is that it is one of my weaknesses. Empathy doesn’t come naturally to me… it’s a skill I’ve learned for the sake of bolstering my rhetorical and oratory skills. Charity is also a difficult sell amongst most Objectivists and AnCaps, given the cultural connotation of “giving shit away to undeserving people” and the Objectivist/Capitalist distaste for moochers and looters (which I share). Charity, when defined as above, does not necessitate enabling moochers and may even discourage doing so in many cases.

For example, the effective altruists have had some degree of success in proving that economic principles and employment do far more than just moving money and resources around (they would have more success if they could stop being so statist). The New Work, New Culture movement has also been quite effective in demonstrating an authentic and humane method of lifting the poverty-stricken without subsidizing moochers (they would be more effective if they were to do a little more PR work and learn some Austrian economics). The question at the heart of these sorts of programs is not “how do we get rid of poor people?” but instead “What causes humans to make stupid decisions and how do we provide them with the tools necessary to avoid such decisions?”

These programs are far more charitable and authentic than something so banal and superficial as simply giving money to those that don’t know what to do with it or feeding those that refuse to feed themselves. There is certainly a place for such practices, but such practices must be seated in a much broader framework of genuine human interaction and care. Even communities centered on such ideas, such as Catholic Charities, fail to meet the demands such a framework entails due to a number of limiting factors. Bureaucracy, lack of funds/resources, the crushing onslaught of the disenfranchised overwhelming a small number of volunteers, state regulations… they all serve to inhibit the effective charity of an organization centered on provision as primary care and the supporting framework as a secondary one.

I’m doing my best to avoid sounding like I believe in a silver bullet to cure all ails, but charity can only truly flourish within two concentric cultural movements: a free society and an intentional community within the limits of the Dunbar number. The state and cultural controls exist in such a manner so as to discourage the formation of genuine empathetic bonds between individuals and virtuous behaviors. The slavery of the state aside, a community of sufficient size to exceed the human person’s capability to develop psychological bonds with every member of the community is forced to engage only those that are capable of bringing immediate gains to the individual. Those that are in most need of charity are typically those who have the fewest tangible resources to provide, therefore disincentivizing charity to the poor due to the limitations of one’s mental resources. In a smaller community, however, the very nature of the human mind would compel one to develop a standing relationship with even the most impoverished of one’s community, which is the basis and prerequisite for true charity.

Why does any of this matter to a philosopher or an anarchist? This is barely virtue ethics, barely economics, and would be nothing more than a beneficial side-effect of anarchy. It is important for three reasons. Without charity, one cannot effectively interact with other human beings on an authentic level, which drastically impairs one’s ability to achieve any form of happiness. A common accusation leveled against anarchists and other liberty-minded individuals (which is typically false) is that they “don’t care”. As one would expect, this accusation comes primarily from the left; demonstrating the virtue of charity in its true form would effectively shut down such accusations. Thirdly, charity is absolutely essential to the proper application of justice in a free society.

Authentic human interaction is an issue I discuss frequently enough, so I don’t feel too compelled to comment on it here. However, “not caring” is a common and typically lethal accusation made against freedom-minded individuals, and it really shouldn’t be. Where a liberal (or a “conservative” which is now just a less-racist liberal) feels as if they care about the poor and therefore feel compelled to regulate their poverty, steal from the less poor in order to give a portion to the more poor, and push economically benighted ideologies surrounding vague concepts such as equality or “charity”. In all reality, if they cared about the poor, they would attempt to understand the circumstances of the poor, both on a personal level and an institutional level. Such research would demonstrate the abject and necessary failure of the welfare state and the pernicious influence of feeding moochers.

A mere historical survey of economics will demonstrate that the poor are, in fact, not “getting poorer” but instead have seen a dramatic improvement concerning material wealth, not just in America, but across the entire globe. This is a result of economic prosperity and the very manner in which the world operates. If one were to allow nature to take its course (a-la free markets) without the stifling effects of institutionalized crime (i.e. the state), the material standard of living for all people would be improved much more dramatically and efficiently. It is the welfare state itself that causes a vast majority of the poverty the leftists claim to care about. This economic argument should be a tool in every AnCap and Objectivist’s rhetorical toolbox.

Happy side-effects aside, a more compelling case would be that charity cannot be an institutional and impersonal function, but instead must be a genuine engagement between members of a community. In which case, bureaucratic welfare programs, free markets, and philanthropic donations do not qualify as charity. Instead, one must get out and do charity themselves. Creating a job market for the less-employable (children, reformed criminals, drug addicts, the mentally ill, the elderly, etc.) which accommodates their particular market deficiencies can be an uplifting and profitable venture for all involved. Unfortunately, the leftists “care” and government regulations actively prevent such forms of charity, which have been consistently proven to be more effective than welfare programs and resource distribution.

As mentioned before, justice is restoration of relationships in spite of interpersonal damages. If one is unable to engage those that have done them harm in a manner consistent with understanding and empathy, justice is impossible. In this way, the virtue of charity is required for justice to be realized. Closely related to justice, as well, is the subject of deescalation of conflict. I’ve mentioned before, if in passing, the importance of avoiding conflicts where life, liberty, and property are at stake. Charity is a useful tool in assessing and engaging in situations where conflict is likely to escalate. This is also the basis of Non-Violent Communication (NVC), which is both an incredibly useful rhetorical tool as well as a useful methodological tool for one to simply engage with the world. It is very similar to both stoicism and epicureanism in a lot of ways.

Remember, anarchism is a philosophy of personal responsibility. Without armed thugs forcing everyone to obey the arbitrary dictates of Leviathan, we’re going to have to learn to get along on our own. A great many libertarians and anarchists have a hard time getting along, this is partly due to the tensions that run high between those who pursue truth and those that are willing to simply do as they feel the urge, but it is also due to the manner in which focus rests primarily on intellectual and martial virtues to the detriment of developing social virtues such as charity.

TL;DR: Charity cannot simply be “giving stuff to people that haven’t earned it” and it can’t simply mean “loving people”, it must be a more grounded and virtuous habit. Thus charity, in its modern incarnation, is the virtue or habit of maintaining an attitude of sympathy (or empathy) and compassion, and habitually attempting an understanding of one’s fellow man. This virtue is cardinal among virtues, as it stands in direct opposition to sin, which is chief among the vices of man.

By Virtue of… What?

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

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

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

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.

The Death of Honor

 

Whoever appeals to the law against his fellow man is either a fool or a coward
Whoever cannot take care of himself without that law is both
For a wounded man will shall say to his assailant
“If I live, I will kill you. If I die, you are forgiven”
Such is the rule of honor
~Randy Blythe

 Welcome to “honor part two”. Wonderful, right? I spent a good fifteen minutes of your life rambling about ancient concepts that are quite evidently dead, and the best way I can find to spend another fifteen is with a sequel. If you bear with me, I can show you what I see.

Something I did not articulate in the last post is that honor, in its purest ultimate form, is unobtainable by humans; the human condition is such that perfection is unobtainable in this lifetime. We still ought to try, though. No human being has ever demonstrated that they were entirely consistent, self-sufficient, powerful, courageous, just, and intelligent. Instead those that are honored are honored for specific ways in which they demonstrate virtue, not for being perfect. One could honor a soldier’s combat prowess while also acknowledging the fact that he is a murderer or honor a bank robber’s tactical reasoning while also acknowledging that he is a looter.

This is important because there are people we can look at and say, “I want to have the athletic skill of that man, so I will emulate him… but, unlike him, I’m going to try to avoid doing drugs and beating my girlfriend.” Similarly, one can say that someone is a “good thief” or a “good cop” in that they excel at a profession, while still being aware that the profession in question is immoral. If you haven’t noticed yet, I avoid using the words “good” and “bad” with regards to ethics, as our language equates “good” with utility and “bad” with discomfort, neither of which apply in ethics. In this way, honorable action can appear to take on a multitude of incongruent forms.

The character of an honorable man does share certain commonalities across every specific instance of honor, though. They are active, personally engaging their environment in a manner which is efficacious. They are consistent, not stumbling into being honorable but instead consistently acting in accordance with principles for action. They are defiant, not in the way of being stubborn and childish, but in a virile and confident resistance against injustice, misfortune, or the petty squabbles of lesser men.

The aged farmer clawing food from a drought-scorched field, a spartan blocking the advance of Xerxes’ army, the scholar pursuing the truth in a society of liars, the Batman pursuing justice in a city of criminals, and the father leading his family to refuge from wicked men are all examples of honorable action. Looking at all of these examples, which I argue to be a representative sample, we will find several commonalities. They each face adversity in some form or another, whether it be the result of personal choices or environmental misfortune. They determine an appropriate course of action, whether it be fight or flight. They are willing and able to sacrifice everything they have in order to pursue that course of action. They do not expect others to do their work for them. Most importantly, though, they are not inviolate. Not planning ahead, resorting to misanthropic agendas, mis-diagnosing the problem, not living life in a manner consistent with achieving flourishing, reliance on vice, naivete, the list of shortcomings is quite long.

So, we’re halfway into a post titled “The Death of Honor” and I’m still continuing last post. What is the death of honor? Ultimately, the death of honor happened at the hands of the puritans. One day, I will share my full indictment against puritanism, but today really has little to do with puritanism; it merely dispatched a decrepit shell of what honor once was. Most of the work was done by the state.

It is no secret among historians that the sate, any state, has a vested interest in concentrating and standardizing populations. There is a fair amount of scholarship as to why this is the case; most popular and accessible of which is the writings of James C. Scott. The only reason pertinent to this discussion is that of dependence. If the state is to justify its theft and coercion, it must convince its victims that they need the state to commit these crimes for the sake of their survival. By securing the infrastructure for urban environments and taking advantage of the human tendency towards paranoia in crowded spaces, the state can convince its victims that without the state no one could build the roads or protect them.

I am certain you can already understand why the attitude of dependence is antithetical to the concept of honor but, before I address that, I want to address population concentration. I briefly touched on the Dunbar number before, and the time has come again. The Dunbar number is basically an expression of the reality that the human person is constructed such that one can maintain only a limited number of meaningful interpersonal relationships. Honor is closely tied to that number; normal honorable acts can only effectively serve as setting an example within a community of a few hundred people at most, and extraordinary honorable acts are limited to a couple thousand. I am currently working on an “Intro to the Dunbar Number” post, but for now, I will have to direct people here if they want to learn more about it.

Ultimately, by concentrating populations greater in number and density than the human person is built to handle, individuals are forced to begin interacting with other individuals as if they were merely objects in their environment. An object is not given attributions of things such as honor and virtue. One doesn’t have the ability to legitimately honor the girl making one’s coffee, the man taking away one’s trash, or often even one’s own grandfather, simply due to ignorance and the constraints of the lifestyle of a population-dense area.

“Now, wait a minute,” you’re saying, “What about Martin Luther King, John Paul II, and Murray Rothbard?” Well, they’re dead… so… “Ok. How about Pope Fancis, Stan Lee, and Edward Snowden?” These people certainly have done honorable things that are worth emulation, but have you ever met one of these three? Do you go out for coffee together, go to the same school, church, or bar? Unless you know them personally, you only know a story of a thing they did. These stories are quite useful in demonstrating socially preferable behavior, but only in the same way that Hector, Moses, or Bruce Wayne demonstrate such behavior: as mythology. In concentrating populations to unhealthy degrees, honor becomes an attribute of myth as opposed to man.

More importantly, the mindset of dependence which is instilled by excessive population density is strictly antithetical to the development of honor. Where honor requires that one takes responsibility for one’s situation, good or bad, and takes the initiative to improve that situation, dependence insists that the work be done by someone else and that the credit, good or bad, should go to that someone else. When a king conscripts labor to build the roads and aqueducts according to a central plan, he is credited by those that develop a dependence on those commodities. When the kings’ men stop neighbors from invading or pillaging, the king is credited for that security. When the kings’ men pillage and invade, it is seen as the necessary cost of these other things. Out in the fields, though, men are left to their own devices and still successfully travel, procure water, and ward off aggressors with little or no assistance from the king. These activities engender spirit of self-sufficiency, productive action, and responsibility, which overrides any sense of dependency and encourages honorable action. A less-than-perfect but only recently lost example is the anti-or-small-government sentiment amongst bands of farmers and other producers in rural areas of North America.

The modern democratic equivalent of this dependency vs. honor paradigm is readily available, however. The common citizen saying “there ought to be a law”, and attempting to accomplish one’s own ends by use of the ballot box as opposed to direct action is dependent upon his domesticators, whilst the “outlaw” identifies a need, whether it be a market demand or the homeless needing food, and fulfills that need, the law be damned. It may very well be honorable to grab a weapon and interject oneself between a murderer and his victim whether it is a back-alley assault, an abortion, or an ISIS beheading, but there is no honor in demanding that someone else do so. It may be honorable to advocate good causes and to expose misanthropy, but there is no honor in demanding that others should compel good behavior or kill those that exhibit bad behavior. It is even a possibility that there could be honor in assaulting me for my possessions, but there is no honor in sending someone else to do so.

The state is the death of honor. In order to restore this essential virtue, one must establish a geographically local community with a reasonable number of members and engender in themselves the virtues on which honor depends. In the interim, one ought to do what they can to become honorable whilst establishing deep, authentic relationships with friends, family, employers, customers, etc. Stop asking “is it legal?” and start asking “what is just and righteous?”
One cannot obtain external freedom without first becoming free internally.

TL;DR: Honor requires that one be willing and able to assess a situation and take matters into their own hands. The ethos ingrained in subjects of the state is antithetical to these requirements. So long as a culture is dependent on reputation systems, laws and their enforcement, and a mentality of irresponsibility, honor will remain dead. If someone may be faced with the need to call 911 or is anxious to keep their gold stars, they are not free. Without honor, freedom is impossible.

Also, you’ll have to bear with me on the wonkiness of my recordings.  Audacity keeps doing something weird and I haven’t been able to figure it out just yet.

 

Honor

“Kill him!”
“No!”
“But it is our way! It is the Klingon way!”
“I know. But it is not my way.”
“This boy has done me no harm, and I will not kill him for the crimes of his family!”
“Then it falls to Kurn!”
“No! No, you gave me his life, and I have spared it.”
“As you wish.”
~Worf and the Klingon high council

Several weeks ago, I made a post about the opposite of honor. It is long overdue that I should address the root of all social virtues: honor. One will notice that I write more about the handful of things that one should not do as opposed to what one ought to do. Today, I intend to shrink that ratio a little bit. What is honor? Isn’t it some ancient concept that society has advanced beyond? Isn’t honor something like following the orders of your superior? That’s not very anarchist… Wouldn’t an anarchist denounce honor societies out-of-hand?

A more important issue to address than these questions lurks behind the ivory paywalls of academic literature and the veil of history. Modern conceptions of honor are, fundamentally, the opposite of the true nature of honor. Popular culture and medieval theological writings conceive of honor as dutiful obedience to one’s leaders and adhering to social norms. This conception of honor is comically shallow and presents a great deal of self-contradiction, as is explored by numerous sci-fi and fantasy works. I don’t have the space and time right now to address this unintended straw man and all of it’s problems which have been created by history. Instead, I will have to simply define and describe true honor. So, forget anything that you have seen about honor that was produced since Marcus Aurelius, and come with me to the ancient world.

-cue time-travel harp and ancient-sounding music-

Ancient Greece, a region populated with several dozen city-states: some of them more free than others, some of them ruled by kings, some ruled by mobs of slave owners, some of them were pseudo-hierarchical warrior cultures. This region and time is credited with the birth of philosophy as we know it as well as serving as the foundation of western culture. It was also a time and a place, like all places and times with states, a region constantly faced with the prospect of war. In order to flourish in such a region, one would have to either submit to being owned by a powerful man or engender virtues in oneself such so as to be self-sufficient.

There are different types of virtue, and flourishing in its fullness requires all of the virtues, but today is devoted to one specific virtue. Honor is a social virtue. It is an internal, personal disposition to certain behaviors that concern themselves with one’s relationships with others. Honor is a virtue that can only be developed in community, but what is it?

The original words for honor, which later became the Greek kleos and the Latin dignitas, originally meant something akin to “trophy”. It was a physical object which represented an accomplishment that would be given from the community to the individual responsible for the accomplishment. Most often, honors were the spoils of war granted to the soldier who demonstrated how one ought to conduct themselves in battle. Other times, though, honors would be granted to those who demonstrated how one ought to innovate, parent, lead, teach, or even farm. These honors would be given publicly and were expected to be displayed publicly. Over time, honors as physical trophies became overshadowed by honor as a social reputation. An honorable person was one who demonstrated a paradigm behavior that others could acknowledge. In this way, honor was essentially setting the example.

During this time, there existed an interesting linguistic situation. The word for honor represented a single, integral concept that modern languages have teased apart and made two diametrically opposed terms: honor and shame. Honor, like many ancient concepts, was a very complex and rich tradition which defies surface exploration. It was a trophy, a reputation, and a feeling all bundled into one. These were nearly indistinguishable from each other and the same term applied to each of the three independently at times. When one received or established their honor, they would have a particular set of feelings associated with that accomplishment.

When put on a pedestal, one ought to feel self-satisfied and proud, even. One ought to be humbled by others’ recognition of one’s accomplishments, and feel a certain degree of self-consciousness or nervousness. I’m not saying this as an introvert who doesn’t like attention, but because of the nature of honor; at the heart of honor is an expectation of integrity and consistency. Having demonstrated one’s character such so as to be granted honor means that the village children will be pointed to oneself as the role-model: “You see, little Apollonius, if you want to be magnanimous, try to be like Alexander, son of Phillip.” Alexander ought to feel the eyes of his neighbors and inferiors on him at all times, scrutinizing his actions.

Alexander has no obligation to his inferiors. He has no moral obligation to uphold his honor, especially since it would have to be given to him from someone else, freely and without solicitation lest it would be meaningless (much like the medals on a President’s uniform). Meaningful honor cannot be granted to one’s self. Of course, if Alexander drops the ball, finding work may become difficult. There is a certain circumstance of expectation for one with honor which must be taken into account if one wishes to flourish.

These feelings and circumstances should look familiar to those acquainted with the modern religious concept of shame. Initially, as western cultures developed terms for shame, it was essentially synonymous with humility. Not the flimsy Thomist “just roll over and take it” version, but the ancient stoic “don’t exaggerate your accomplishments, just be aware that you are being watched and let your actions speak for themselves” version. Shame originally meant “the feeling you should get concerning your honor,” which used to be the meaning for the word “honor” when used in the context of feelings.

Incidentally, some cultures would honor undesirable behavior, as well. One would be honored for their cowardice, dishonesty, or promiscuity. In which case, the shame felt would be more akin to the popular modern conception of the term. This specifically, is simply a fun bit of trivia as far as the issue at hand is concerned, but it may come up in later posts.

What is important to the issue at hand? So far, we’ve only tried to clear up some small degree of confusion regarding a term that has been repeatedly co-opted throughout history. We haven’t really defined or described it. So, what is honor and what does it look like? As I already said, honor is a social virtue: a virtue pertaining to the manner in which one relates to others. It is essentially setting the example. What kind of example?

An example of virtue. Ancient virtue. Virtue, as a Latin word, really means “manliness’. Manliness meaning “the paradigm example of what a human ought to look like, in appearance and behavior.” I will make a post later about virtue specifically, but for now I will focus on the attributes of honor. Honor is a demonstration of virtues such as integrity, justice, courage, and self-actualization. A man of honor, ultimately, is a man who is free and willing to do the most righteous thing without the aid or encouragement of others. Instead of saying “someone ought to do X” or “There ought to be a law”, a man of honor simply does X and demonstrates how it ought to be done without seeking payment or recognition.

Clearly, honor is a virtue largely contingent upon other virtues. One cannot, for example, step-in when someone is committing a crime against someone unable or unwilling to defend themselves unless one first possess virtues like courage, magnanimity, and the martial virtues. One cannot engage in intellectual pursuits and eloquently and passionately introduce others to esoteric knowledge unless one first possesses the virtues of diligence, discipline, and reason. Unlike crime, honor is more fluid and less axiomatic in its specifics. However, it’s definition is quite helpful in identifying honor when one witnesses it. Honor is a character trait whereby one is prone to consistently demonstrating exceptional virtue in their interactions with others.

Remember, anarchy is a philosophy of responsibility. In the absence of the perpetual threat of murder for disobedience to arbitrary moral claims, alternative cultures of cooperation must endure. Honor, shame, and social relationships have always been crucial to the functioning of free societies.

TL;DR: Instead of confusing honor with a pseudo-Christian bastardization of servitude and approval from one’s masters, one ought to read ancient Greek ad Roman stoics and scholarship concerning them. Honor is centered on the social virtue of living well and setting the example as to how one ought to flourish.

Who is John Galt?