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The uses of libertarianism

Here are some things libertarians might spend their time on.

  1. Affect policy. Persuade. It doesn't matter whether libertarianism is "true" or not as long as you prefer freedom to slavery. Make your dreams come true. Persuasion might take the form of convincing people to become libertarians by getting the message out, or convincing the powers that be that libertarian policies are better than the alternatives.
  2. Understand. Predict. Libertarianism can be a part of a larger project of understanding the world we live in. People who want to clear away their delusions and face reality may decide that libertarian ways of looking at the world are superior to alternative ways of looking at the world (e.g. Marxism). Libertarianism on this view is not merely a preferece, but is or recognizes truths which are obscured by alternative ideologies. Example.
  3. Be prepared. Profit. Escape. Understanding the world is all well and good but if you improve your own life through your superior understanding of the way the world works, so much the better. Recognize, anticipate, and escape the hungry malice of wolves in sheep's clothing.
  4. Be virtuous. Save your soul. Be guiltless. You don't want to be a bad person. You want to be on the side of the angels. Libertarian ethics will provide you with guidance.
  5. Pose. Improve your social standing. Brand yourself a libertarian and work to improve the brand. Denounce others, even other libertarians if association with them threatens your social standing.

Posse comitatus?

I ran across this.

…pardon my French, but what the fuck is going on with this?

Maybe I’m missing something. Could someone with a military background please convincingly explain to me how this isn’t as scary as it sounds? Because it sounds pretty damned scary. Or at least the start of something scary.


Great white teeth

Spotted at the Boston Herald.


A few thoughts on the campaign against racism

As a kind of convenience, I'll present these thoughts as responses to an article with Micha brought to my attention. These aren't meant to be a comprehensive treatment of the subject, just a few thoughts.

Ta-Nehisi Coates has a post about the intersection of race and crime that dovetails with a conversation I had shortly after learning my friend Brian had been shot last week. I got to thinking about how the economic effects of past racism create breeding grounds for new racism—at once more subtle and more difficult to extirpate.

But how much of the economic misfortune is really caused by racism? There are other causal factors, such as welfare programs creating dependency, absentee fathers failing to bring their sons up right, various effects of the drug war, and so on. Is it even at the root of very much? In other times, minorities have been the object of severe hostility but have succeeded economically. Jewish and Chinese minorities succeeded in the face of severe hostility. My sense of it is that racism accounts for virtually none of the economic misfortune of blacks in America, that racism generally speaking accounts for virtually none of the economic misfortunes suffered by most any ethnic group - in times of sufficient peace. Genocides can, of course, be perpetrated against minorities, for example.

And I even found myself wondering whether, paradoxically, the healthy social consensus about the unacceptability of racism doesn’t make it more difficult to root out in its less obvious but arguably most pernicious forms.

If it's causing problems then maybe it's not so healthy after all. And how much of it is really 'social consensus', at least in any spontaneous sense, and how much is adaptation to the legal environment? As a point of analogy, a lot of people think that selling cocaine is really bad but selling tobacco and alcohol isn't that big a deal and selling caffeine is no big deal at all. This is surely not a spontaneous social consensus but an adaptation to the legal environment. Were the law changed, people's attitudes would change.

This is not to say that the spontaneous social consensus would be that racism is acceptable. There are different ways of being unacceptable. Arithmetic errors, spelling errors, the f-word, inattention in class, and any number of other things are each unacceptable in their own way. There is an element of fear and panic nowadays associated with being thought a racist, which may have a connection, if an indirect one, with the current legal environment.

[...]The disturbing thing here is that while these reactions are at least arguably racist in some sense, they’re not obviously irrational as a kind of statistical heuristic. In light of the facts on the ground—facts that are themselves substantially the product of past racism—they eventually become instinctive.

Well, that's right, they're not irrational, and this is an important point. If you're going to condemn rationality then you've set up a herculean task for yourself, because rationality will reassert itself again and again, and if you condemn it then it will hide itself from the light of day. But the problem here is that you're wrong and your target is right. If you condemn the right and seek to replace it with the wrong, then you don't have truth and reason on your side any more, all you have is (possibly) power. People are going to be much more receptive if you can clearly show that such-and-such demonstrable bias is demonstrably irrational.

If it were limited in context, if it were only a matter of how conscious you are of the guy on the street at night, it might not be a serious problem. But that’s not how reflexive reactions like this work. They tend to bleed over into contexts—the temp agency, the corner store—where they are both inappropriate and destructive.

Do you know this for a fact? Do you know how extensive the effect is? Are you engaging in a bit of mindreading here?

And the contexts aren’t even all that separable: The skittish convenience store owner may have a statistical reason for being more nervous when a group of black or Latino male teenagers walk in, but the atmosphere of suspicion that creates for the vast majority who have no designs on the till is so toxic it’s become a trope.

Tragic to be sure, but if it's rational to be suspicious then if you try to make the owner feel bad for being rational then you're wrong and he's right, and nothing especially good will come of you attempting to "correct" him.

Thinking in stereotypes comes easily to us, and it takes conscious effort to at least keep them cabined away where they will do least harm. And that requires entertaining that uncomfortable thought: I might, in some sense, be a racist.

If you include valid statistical heuristics as racist then I most definitely am racist and will always be racist and nothing you or I or anyone can do will stop it. But if by 'racist' you mean that my heuristic is actually mistaken, then you actually need to prove that it's mistaken. Which is, admittedly, hard work. But it's work you have to do if you want to really induce me to drop that heuristic. It's work I have to do if I want to induce myself to drop that heuristic.

Understand what I'm saying here. I'm saying that you need to prove case by case that there is racism and that it's not necessarily easily to do. A particular judgment may in fact be entirely rational. The mere fact that it employs race does not automatically make it irrational.

It's not good for a person to be mugged repeatedly only by young black men and to be aware of the statistics and yet repeat to himself or herself, 'it's racist to be afraid of the black guy behind me in this dark alley.' That's not virtuous - that's insane, it is a rebellion against a person's own rationality. And it's not going to work. At most it's going to make the person feel uselessly guilty for not being able to help being rational. The Catholic Church gets criticized for something similar: apparently in essence it treats human nature as sinful, and so naturally, all Catholics sin and sin repeatedly, and confess and do penance and are forgiven repeatedly. That, at any rate, is the impression I gather admittedly from some distance.

Which leads me to wonder: Is it possible to be so opposed to racism that it becomes more difficult to root out racism?

Sure. But there's something else: it's possible to be so incoherent and/or unfair about what counts as racism that it becomes more difficult to root out racism. If by 'racism' you mean nothing other than true bias - not statistically justified heuristics but true bias that systematically misleads - then you've made your task easier. But when you fail to distinguish between the valid and the invalid, when you declare off-limits all use of the category of race by the brain to draw conclusions about an unknown person, then you are doing the same thing that lawmakers do when they impose unjust law. What they do is induce a loss of respect for law, for all law, and an increase of fear of law, desire to avoid law, desire to run in the opposite direction whenever the police are around. And what you do if you're not careful in what you call racist is replace understanding and agreement with fear. You make people shut up and shut down when you come around with your inquisition. You will still get people nodding, but they will be nodding the way North Koreans praise the Great Leader. Watch North Koreans and they look like they're madly in love with the Great Leader, but you know and I know that it is not based on understanding and agreement with the Great Leader. You and I know that it is based on fear.

[...] But the variety of racism more common today is more subtle than that, and in a way more pernicious for it, since the overt bigot is unlikely to wield much social power. It’s the subliminal reaction of the manager looking for a new cashier who, for some reason he can’t articulate, just doesn’t think the minority candidate seems quite trustworthy enough. It’s this person who we most want examining his own attitudes. But to do that means being prepared to start from the difficult premise that even he—educated, urbane, kind, and so on—may indeed harbor racial biases. Like Hitler! Like a Klansman!

Maybe he does and maybe you're trying and failing to read his mind. The very hiddenness of the supposedly subterranean racism creates a problem of knowledge. If it's hidden, how do you know it's there? If it's there, to what degree are you exaggerating that it's there? When you start condemning and hunting that which is invisible, then you create a situation that doesn't entirely fail to resemble the witch hunts. Back when they hunted witches, they were also hunting the hidden and the invisible. In fact, how do you seriously propose to avoid this turning into a witch hunt? It may already be already a witch hunt.

Now, there’s an obvious way around this, though it should make us uncomfortable for different reasons. We could make a point of talking about race bias and stereotyping in a more gradated way. At one pole is the Klansman. At another, there’s that “typical white person” who is more guarded and alert walking past a black guy at 1am on 7th and V than he would be walking past a similarly-dressed white person.

There's also the "typical black person". How racist is he or she? Can we (typical white people) even talk about such a generality without risk of being branded racists ourselves? Do we dare make easy generalizations about the "typical black person", as easily as Obama makes about the "typical white person"? Obama makes a generalization about a "typical white person" which you accept without trouble even though he has presented no statistical studies backing up his claim. But if I were to say a bunch of things about the "typical black person", I would be almost certain to be condemned as racist not only if I didn't have statistics to back me up, but even if I did have statistics to back me up. People hear Obama easily talk about the "typical white person" and immediately they recognize a form that they themselves would be roundly condemned for employing in the other direction. Is it any wonder that they feel something is off here? And this obvious lack of fairness is yet another problem with the campaign against racism. This is a serious inconsistency, a serious unfairness, and the rational mind rightly rebels against it.

But think about the defensiveness, even outrage, we saw in response to Obama’s “typical white person” comment:

The point I was making was not that my grandmother harbors any racial animosity, but that she is a typical white person. If she sees somebody on the street that she doesn’t know (pause) there’s a reaction in her that doesn’t go away and it comes out in the wrong way.

Is this really controversial?

In addition to what I wrote above, here's Instapunk on Obama.

The world has long needed an heir to Teddy Kennedy, a younger master of the art of beiing rich and well connected while condemning everyone who does actual work.

Now we have him. Aren't you happy? I know I am. There's nothing better in life than being lectured about how we're supposed to be by people who have never accomplished a damn thing but getting elected to the public trough.

That is one more explanation of the allergic reaction to Obama's words.

[...] So reservations notwithstanding, maybe there’s something to be said for acknowledging that, as the Avenue Q song has it, “everyone’s a little bit racist.” I’ll accuse myself here: At 2am on 7th and V, I am not color blind. Maybe that bias is defensible at that time and place. That doesn’t mean it’s not a bias, or that it’s not potentially dangerous.

To the extent that it is defensible, then it is not a bias.

[...] The tricky part here is threading our way between, on the one hand, a sort of blunderbuss condemnation that creates a counterproductive incentive for people to conceal their biases even from themselves, and on the other, a lazy complacency about those biases. I don’t know exactly how we do that. It seems beyond grotesque to ask the law-abiding black guy on the wrong end of a thousand suspicious glances to indulge the skittish whites.

I go through something like this myself as a male, regardless of my race. In certain situations I cause caution in people who don't know me for no other reason than I am male, even though I am in fact no danger to them. They don't know that. But how is this in the slightest their fault? The people to blame, if anyone, are the other males who have created this rational response. Those are the only people I can see myself rightly blaming for the caution that people rationally exercise in certain situations around me. Other people like me. To be entirely fair, then, when a young black law-abiding man is treated with rational suspicion, should he not blame, should we not all blame, other young black men who are not so law-abiding? Rather than the ones who have good reason to be suspicious of this young black man who they don't know anything about.

It seems unrealistic to expect the skittish whites to just knock it off.

It's unrealistic because it's unfair - if you like, grotesque - to ask them to shut off their own reason. And meanwhile, what about actual racism? Actual bias? Actual systematically wrong judgments? Are you ready really to prove case by case that this exists? Or do you want to condemn both actual bias and the use of reason as 'racist' whenever an unknown person's race is used as a clue about him? Certainly, it is much easier for you to do the latter, because it is a lot easier to see that race is used as a clue than it is to see whether its use was rational or irrational, statistically justified or statistically unjustified. It's easier, then, to condemn both, because it's hard to distinguish between them. But it creates a problem when you do so.


A dialog

A: The struggle for freedom is the struggle against aggression.

B: The struggle for freedom is the struggle to maximize our possibilities.

A: I'm all for maximizing possibilities, but just because you like two things (freedom and maximizing possibilities) doesn't mean that they're the same thing.

B: So what makes your characterization any better?

A: It fits the examples.

B: What examples do you have in mind?

A: A slave wants to be free.

B: A slave wants to increase his possibilities.

A: But he can increase his possibilities in other ways. He can ask his owner for more possibilities.

B: But he can increase his possibilities even more if he's free.

A: Not necessarily. A free man may struggle more than a slave.

B: If a certain slave truly enjoys more possibilities than a certain free man, then the free man will envy the slave.

A: How so? What if the free man values his freedom more than his possibilities?

B: But how are we to weigh different possibilities except by how they are valued? If a certain free man envies a certain slave, then however happy he may appear from the outside, by his own lights the possibilities he enjoys as a free man are outweighed the possibilities enjoyed by the slave. But if he does not envy the slave, then however miserable he may appear from the outside, by his own lights the possibilities that he enjoys as a free man outweigh the possibilities enjoyed by the pampered slave.

A: Okay, then I will grant that a free man may, in theory, envy a slave. What do you want to conclude from this?

B: If he envies the slave, then he considers the slave more free. I defined the struggle for freedom as the struggle to maximize our possibilities. If the free man thinks that a slave enjoys more possibilities than he does as a free man, then he considers the slave to be freer.

A: This is only if we adopt your notion of freedom as the struggle to maximize our possibilities.

B: Why not? If the free man envies the slave, then the free man prefers the life of the slave to his own life. Why not say that he considers the slave to be freer? Surely the man's preference trumps every other consideration, at least from his own perspective.

A: Slavery is freedom?

B: A particular slave might be freer than a particular free man.

A: But the distinction between a slave and a free man just is that the latter is free and the former is not. That's just what slavery means.

B: Well, then we might need to reexamine the concept of slavery, but if the free man envies the slave, isn't that more important than quibbles about concepts?

A: But we already have terminology for that. We have the word "preference." Why draft the word "freedom" to serve as a synonym for "preference"? It was already doing important work.

B: What can be more important than preference itself?

A: And therefore it's okay to draft the word? By that logic, every word in the language should be drafted to be a synonym for "preference". No more language.

B: You still haven't explained the important work being done by the word "freedom."

A: You agree that there is such a thing as aggression, correct?

B: I'll agree to that.

A: Then there's such a thing as freedom from aggression.

B: And this is what you mean by "freedom?"

A: Pretty much. "Freedom" is short for "freedom from aggression."

B: Aren't you drafting the word "freedom" to do special work for you?

A: I think all I've done is analyzed the received idea of freedom. I think if we look at examples of freedom, they all concern freedom from various acts of aggression.

B: But I've also analyzed the received idea of freedom. Maybe a different received idea.

A: I see you're not going to change your mind. Can we at least recognize that there are two concepts? Must we try to wipe each other's concept out?

B: Agreed. Freedom from aggression and freedom to act.

A: But these can come in conflict.

B: You are referring to the free man who envies the slave?

A: No, I mean that, in order to increase Paul's freedom to act, it is a common practice to aggress against Peter - to rob him and transfer the money to Paul.

B: But by the same token, freedom from aggression can come into conflict with itself.

A: That sounds like a contradiction.

B: Just replace money transfer with police protection. Here, I'll spell it out: in order to increase Paul's freedom from aggression, it is a common practice to aggress against Peter - to rob him and transfer the money to a police department which protects Paul's freedom.

A: I disagree with a tax-funded police force. Do you disagree with tax-funded welfare?

B: Maybe.

A: But on what basis? You advocate freedom to act, not freedom from aggression.

B: Robbing Peter to pay Paul reduces Peter's freedom to act.

A: But it increases Paul's freedom to act. On what basis do you make a choice? If you consistently make the same choice as I do, siding with the potential victim of aggression, then aren't you in fact an advocate of freedom from aggression?

B: Maybe I have a dilemma, maybe I have to choose between Peter and Paul. Are you saying you don't have a similar dilemma?

A: Well, in this case the principle of freedom from aggression dictates that I side with Peter. The principle of the maximization of possibilities does not decide between Peter and Paul.

B: How about this. What if Peter is so rich he can hardly feel the aggression but Paul's life is transformed by the transfer? Peter's possibilities are reduced less than Paul's are increased. In fact, in this case, don't you agree? Isn't the benefit worth the cost?

A: It's still aggression. You've reduced Peter's freedom from aggression in order to increase Paul's freedom to act.

B: But the world is on the whole better.

A: Debatable. What's not debatable is that it's still aggression.

B: Well - so what? So you get to label it 'aggression'. What is so important about that?

A: It's important to Peter.

B: The transfer is important to Paul.

A: You don't feel any guilt? You don't feel the robbery is wrong?

B: The total sum of human happiness goes up.

A: And that defines right and wrong for you?

B: What else defines right and wrong?

A: Apparently you are not a receptive audience. I will address myself to Peter.

Peter: Oh, hi. What's on your mind?

A: You are being robbed. Join me in the fight against the welfare state.

Peter: Yes, you are right, I am being robbed. But what can be done about it? It is more worthwhile for me to lobby the government to rob Paul and to transfer a bit of his wealth to me.

A: Madness.

Peter: No, rationality. I don't want to reshape the world. All I want to do is get along as well as I can. What I'm doing now is the best thing for my own future.

(Nothing really new here. Just an exercise, or a bit of fun for me, or something. And while I leave A defeated and frustrated, I am in fact A.)


Voting corrupts. And so does moral philosophy.

Our moral intuitions are acquired and reinforced in actual face to face encounters with other humans. Our moral intuitions become corrupt when we are given the power to make morally significant decisions while remaining shielded from the consequences of our own individual decisions - either actual decisions, as when we participate in mob violence, or imaginary decisions, as when we practice moral philosophy (or, for that matter, vote, since the impact of an individual vote is nil even if the collective impact is significant).

Arthur and "immigrant" attempt in recent comments to restore the reader's sense of right and wrong to its non-corrupt state. They do this by asking the reader to imaginatively place himself in a situation in which he is in an actual face to face encounter with another human.

Arthur:

If you have any self respect, grab a gun and shoot immigrant children crossing the border. If you wouldn't be willing to enforce a "right", how can you seriously claim it exists?

Immigrant:

Will you look at me with a straight face, right in the eyes and tell me I should be forced on a plane out of the U.S.? Would you be willing to participate in my arrest? How Would you do it? Would you knock me out and wait for the police to arrive?


Schools continue to decline, now blame Wikipedia, newspaper goes along

Schools fail key measure, blame somebody else. Blame new media, find a sympathetic ear in old media.

WIKIPEDIA and other online research sources were yesterday blamed for Scotland's falling exam pass rates.

The Scottish Parent Teacher Council (SPTC) said pupils are turning to websites and internet resources that contain inaccurate or deliberately misleading information before passing it off as their own work.

The article is a long rehash of the imperfections of Wikipedia. Missing from the article is any serious investigation of whether the schools themselves were in any way to blame for the failure of their own students to pass standardized exams, whose purpose is typically in part to assess the quality of the schools. [edit: admittedly the schools do blame themselves for failing sufficiently to warn students against using Wikipedia/second edit: I might be faulted for conflating the SPTC with "the schools"] Also missing from the article is any serious investigation of whether the quality of information available from Wikipedia has improved or declined in the past year (the year in which the pass rates fell). Also missing is any attempt to discover whether the particular bad answers that students gave this year were actually a result of getting bad information from Wikipedia. Nor was the obvious question asked: why were students left to learn this information while researching their essays, rather than learning it from the teacher in class - since, presumably, students don't all write identical essays and therefore if this knowledge was indeed supposed to be learned from researching, at best a small fraction of the students could be expected by chance to have written their essays about that particular information and therefore at best a small fraction could be expected to get the question right, even if they all used the infallible Encyclopaedia Britannica.

These gaps in the article are understandable, as they would require actual effort to fill in, and furthermore would run the risk of proving the accusations against Wikipedia to be spurious.


Linking

An example of linking.


The excesses of political correctness

Responding to Micha.

But seriously, do you really think any actual attempts to support liberty were hobbled when people criticized politicians for using Southern strategy-type language? Is it really that hard for a politician to say: I won't take away your guns or raise your taxes to pay for welfare without resorting to Us vs. Them ingroup outgroup squabbles regarding how hard someone works and how many laws they choose to abide? Seriously?

You seem to be missing a point that advocates of regulation frequently miss. While it is inexpensive for a company that happens to already be doing the allowed thing to do the allowed thing - and this is all you have pointed out here - it is somewhat more expensive for a company that would have done the prohibited thing to switch and train itself to do the allowed thing, and it is even more expensive for a company to constantly police its practices to make sure that it never does the prohibited thing and always does the allowed thing. Regulations impose the significant burden on business of discovering and remembering those regulations, in addition to the burden of evolving its business practices around those regulations and vigilantly policing its own activities.

Furthermore is the objection only to these words? From previous comments, it seems concepts were prohibited. Rad Geek wrote:

Try thinking about it in reverse, if that helps. "Hard-working" and "law-abiding" are deliberate contrast terms for "lazy," "shiftless," and "criminal." These terms were all deployed with pretty clear racial dimensions during the political debates in question.

The relationship between "hard-working" and "lazy" is conceptual, not terminological. Conceptual links being important, then suddenly the very idea of a hard worker, if it enters into your speech, becomes a potential liability. The chilling effect on speech can potentially be broad and deep.

Chilling speech is of course not necessarily what happens. Non-leftists are apt to ignore the lunatic ravings of leftists, and therefore to go ahead and speak however they feel like speaking, and in doing so constantly step on one left wing land mine after another. While the repercussions exist mainly in the mind of leftists, they do at least in that respect prevent leftists from legitimately dealing with the actual arguments presented. It's scary when leftists lust after prohibiting speech (which they do). It's funny when leftists are shell-shocked by the explosions that go off in their own echo chambers.

I forgot to mention previously that the point I raised also goes toward doubting the story independently of any motivation of the story tellers. As I pointed out, these are important ideas. Criminality? Very important. Earning a living? Yes, extremely important. Therefore it is likely that they were in fact used to mean exactly what they seem to mean rather than as code for racism. Furthermore, even if some people used them as racial code, and even if some audience took them that way, we're talking about large populations here. Not everybody was a member of the secret society. Not everybody had the decoder ring. It seems likely that a lot of people both heard, and made, speech with those terms meaning exactly what they literally meant. In all likelihood the speeches, even if they could be interpreted racially, were in fact sometimes, maybe usually, entirely valid and persuasive points when understood completely literally. To summarize my reasoning: if people have a propensity to do something (e.g. be concerned about criminality), then chances are good that that's what they did. If some leftist comes along and says that when Southerners talk about criminality they're really talking about blacks, I find that impossible to believe as a blanket statement about all or even most Southern talk about criminality and the law. And even if a leftist manages to present evidence that somebody at some time used it as a code, well, it takes a lot more evidence than that to convince me that Southerners didn't care about criminality but only cared about blacks.

If the case for liberty rests or falls on a politician's ability to sort his or her supporters into law-abidin', hard-workin' 'mericans rallied against that "other" group of undesirables, the case for liberty is already lost.

Thanks for adding the twang. That really underlines the contemptibility of the statements you are portraying. If it's said with a Southern twang, then it must really be contemptible. Because, you see, Southerners are that other group of undesirables.

Meanwhile, on the matter of whether "the case" is "already lost" - how? The distinctions are neither invalid nor unpopular. Granted, they are unpopular among the left. As Evan Sayet has pointed out (the Youtube version is best):

There's a brilliant book out there called The Closing of the American Mind by Professor Allan Bloom. Professor Bloom was trying to figure out in the 1980s why his students were suddenly so stupid, and what he came to was the realization, the recognition, that they'd been raised to believe that indis­criminateness is a moral imperative because its opposite is the evil of having discriminated. I para phrase this in my own works: "In order to eliminate discrimination, the Modern Liberal has opted to become utterly indiscriminate."

I'll give you an example. At the airports, in order not to discriminate, we have to intentionally make ourselves stupid. We have to pretend we don't know things we do know, and we have to pretend that the next person who is likely to blow up an airplane is as much the 87-year-old Swedish great-great-grand mother as those four 27-year-old imams newly arrived from Syria screaming "Allahu Akbar!" just before they board the plane. In order to eliminate discrimination, the Modern Liberal has opted to become utterly indiscriminate.

The problem is, of course, that the ability to dis criminate, to thoughtfully choose the better of the available options--as in "she's a discriminating shopper"--is the essence of rational thought; thus, the whole of Western Europe and today's Democrat ic Party, dominated as it is by this philosophy, rejects rational thought as a hate crime.

Granted, distinctions such as the distinction between black and white, between foreigner and American, are often abused, leading to injustices. However, what we can see among leftists is a tendency to broaden the fight against discrimination. Now it is not enough that we refuse to discriminate between black and white, between American and foreigner. Now we must refuse to discriminate even between criminals and non-criminals!

What at first seems a reasonable idea (that we should not, e.g., discriminate by race), quickly balloons into a sickness (the refusal to discriminate even between criminals and non-criminals).


Walking pharmacies

Commenting on this entry.

Athletes start out with greater and worse physical endowments. One man's body may simply produce more testosterone than another man's body. What is, in principle, wrong with the second man artificially topping up his testosterone to match the first man's? What, for that matter, is wrong with the first man's artificially increasing his testosterone even further? If his unusual natural endowment is okay and presumably would be okay if it were even more unusual, then why wouldn't it be okay for him to use artificial means to achieve the same end?

The question - is it a competition between athletes or a competition between drug companies - has an analogous question - is it a competition between athletes or is it a competition between parents/grandparents/great grandparents, who supply the genetic code? When parents start consciously enhancing the genetics of their offspring, then this will be just as artificial as an athlete shooting up before a contest. But now compare this scenario to the present: how is the genetically manipulated offspring of parents any less worthy of participating in an athletic competition than the unmanipulated offspring?

Yes, I know that shooting up is unhealthy for the athletes, but that's a separate objection. I'm addressing the objection I see here.

I do have an idea what's going on, why the objection. It's not that athletes are hurting themselves with drugs. Sports injuries have always been the price of participation in sports. Sporting is dangerous and it can destroy lives. Always has been, for the simple reason that sports stretch people to their limit.

And it's not that people who shoot up are "cheating". It is cheating, after all, only because it's against the rules, and it's against the rules only because people are uncomfortable with it. So it's the discomfort that makes drug users into cheaters; it's not some pre-existing fact that it's cheating that makes people uncomfortable with it.

People object to it because people who shoot up are no longer human, or no longer merely human. The same would be true of genetically enhanced athletes. People who are perfectly happy to acknowledge the greatness of an athlete who has obviously superior inborn genetic endowments to their own, are less happy to acknowledge the greatness of an athlete whose superior "endowments" were purchased from a laboratory, because the mystical bond of common humanity is lost once the enhanced ability comes from a needle rather than from the parents' gametes.

And meanwhile, Americans cheer on other Americans because of the mystical bond of common Americanness.

It's the same reason in both cases. To be more specific, in both cases it's a question of origin. Where do the enhanced abilities originate? Where does the athlete hail from?


The homestead principle, short version

Ownership of something is the right to stop others from doing something with it. Therefore if something is initially unowned, and I start using it, then no one has a right to stop me from using it. If I am using something, and someone takes it from me, then he has stopped me from using it, which he has no right to do. But if he has no right to take it from me, then I have a right to prevent him from taking it from me. It is therefore my property. QED This is a short deductive proof that use establishes ownership.

To explain further, the act of using something creates an asymmetry between two people. In the moment before either person was doing something with it, neither person had a right to stop anyone else from doing something with it. When one person started doing something with it, this created an asymmetrical situation which could only logically be resolved one way. Here are the candidate resolutions:

1) After the use begins, neither the user nor the non-user own the item.

2) After the use begins, the user and the non-user both become owners of the item.

3) After the use begins, the non-user becomes the owner.

4) After the use begins, the user becomes the owner.

Both (2) and (3) cannot be the case, because if either were the case then the inability of a non-owner to stop something from being used is rendered meaningless.

Both (1) and (3) cannot be the case, because it was deductively proved above that the user gains ownership. Thus, (3) cannot be the case for two separate reasons.

This leaves only (4). Now, at first glance it is always possible in a situation like this that all the possibilities are ruled out, which would in turn demonstrate that the very concept of property is incoherent. However, I see no disproof of (4). (1) through (3) are disproved, but (4) is not, and since it is the only remaining possibility, it must be true.

This also affords us a richer understanding of property rights. For, if I start using something, then the basis of my ownership is that others do not have the right to stop me from using it and therefore I have the right to stop them from stopping me from using it. But what if they are able to do something with it that does not interfere with my use of it? Then I have no right to stop them. So my property right in the property is limited in scope: I only have the right to stop others from using it in a way which interferes with my use of it.

Admittedly, physical things being what they are, this generally ends up being a comprehensive right to exclude, because it's generally not easy for two people to use the same thing for different ends. If I'm using a shoe as clothing, then the shoe is pretty much off-limits to everyone else.

There is more to be said, but I'll stop here. Some topics:

a) Use isn't limited to immediate, active use. Thus I am always using my car even if I am not driving it at the moment.

b) While use creates a property right, the maintenance of the property right need not rely on continued use.

c) The owner is obligated to mark his property so that others can see that it is owned and not free to take. If he fails, his property right is extinguished.


Terrible tragedy -> bigger government


The young 6-year-old girl
who was badly injured in a pool accident last June has died. [...]

Minnesota lawmakers are also looking into new pool safety regulations on the state level.

It is a shame that something terrible has to happen before action is taken and safety regulations are put in place.

Sigh.


Seattle day care indoctrinates 8 year old capitalists into collectivism

According to this article:

Into their coffee shops and houses, the children were building their assumptions about ownership and the social power it conveys — assumptions that mirrored those of a class-based, capitalist society — a society that we teachers believe to be unjust and oppressive. As we watched the children build, we became increasingly concerned.

[...]

We met as a teaching staff later that day. We saw the decimation of Lego-town as an opportunity to launch a critical evaluation of Legotown and the inequities of private ownership and hierarchical authority on which it was founded. Our intention was to promote a contrasting set of values: collectivity, collaboration, resource-sharing, and full democratic participation.

In the end, the writers report, the teachers successfully indoctrinated the children. This happened (and presumably is happening) at "Hilltop Children's Center, a child care program in Seattle." (via hacker news)


Good and evil from self-interest - a recap

Living beings predate on other living beings. Animals are, with narrow exceptions, in the world for themselves, and other animals, again with narrow exceptions, are obstacles and raw materials. Caring even the tiniest little bit about other animals is the rare exception, not the rule. This is true between species and within species. And even that caring is itself merely a ploy that serves either the self interest of the individual animal, or the self interest of its genes.

Human sympathy for other humans seems to spread beyond the merely self-interested. To some extent this appearance is simply a failure to realize how a particular atom of sympathy serves the person sympathising. For instance, we sympathize publicly with strangers. By this I mean, we express our sympathy for strangers to our friends and acquaintances. This functions as a show. People are more comfortable around other people who they feel will not stab them in the back the moment they cease to be of any use or the moment they come into conflict, and one way to seem to be a non-back-stabber is to express sympathy in cases where the sympathy serves no self-interest.

To some extent, non-self-interested human sympathy is doubtless a side-effect. Our instincts are not precisely programmed, so there is bound to be some spill-over of our instincts into areas where the instincts are not adaptive, or even are maladaptive. This situation is exacerbated by the rapid technological changes the human species is experiencing.

Sympathy exists because it serves the self. We help others so that we will be seen as helpful and therefore worthwhile helping. We do not harm or threaten others so that they will not feel threatened by us, because if they feel threatened they might attack us. And of course we help family not expecting any quid pro quo because this serves our genetic self interest. However, our instinct to aid to avoid harming others overflows into areas where it is non-adaptive or even maladaptive.

The word "sympathy" is usually reserved for the subjective feeling that accompanies helping and non-harming behavior. But the feeling serves a purpose, and the purpose is to help and to avoid harming others, and this is done for the sake of the self. A feeling of sympathy induces a sympathetic action, which causes others (not just the one helped but observers) to value us more or dis-value us less, which causes them to be more inclined to help us and less inclined to harm us.

The product of all this is society. Society, like the market, is a product of self-interested individual behavior.

So, for the most part, humans do not predate on other humans, and their failure to predate is ultimately self-interested. However, some humans continue to predate, presumably because they believe that the rewards outweigh the risks. Their would-be victims will defend themselves, out of their own self-interest. However, a problem arises:

On the one hand we have a clear interest in defending ourselves against human predators. But on the other hand we do not want to seem threatening (to anyone other than the predators). This requires that we make a firm, and clear, and public, distinction. It must be public because the purpose of the distinction is to appear harmless (to everyone other than the predator) while at the same time harming the predator. So we must make a firm (unvarying), clear (unambiguous), and public (seen by all) distinction between when we will harm someone, and when we will not.

We have many labels that we use for this distinction, but one of them is "evil". Another is "crime". We need to clearly and publicly define what is, and what is not, a crime. We need to publicly distinguish what will trigger a violent and harmful reaction from us from everything else.

Moreover, the category of "crime" should probably not be idiosyncratic, for a variety of reasons. One simple reason is that if it were idiosyncratic, then we would need to do a lot of explaining to keep people up to speed on what we considered a crime. It is much simpler to adopt a ready-made, public concept of crime.

There are many more considerations limiting and shaping the category of "crime". For instance, it would be catastrophic for "crime" to be defined in a way that makes retaliation against a crime itself a "crime". As a self-interested individual, I would avoid adopting such a concept of crime, because it might quickly involve me in a war of all against all.

"Crime" would furthermore tend to be minimized to as small a footprint as possible, because as a self-interested individual I am still highly interested in seeming maximally helpful and minimally harmful. A balance must be struck between these two considerations. Remember that the reason for the category of "crime" is the predatory behavior of some individuals, so that the concept of "crime" would tend to be limited to predatory behavior, and possibly even to some subset of predatory behavior, as I might allow other minor acts of predation to go unanswered in order to seem as nonthreatening as possible.

Please notice one thing that this is not: it is not utilitarian. I (the self-interested individual deciding what to consider a crime) am not trying to maximize global utility. I am trying to optimize my personal outcome. (Well, the actual situation is a bit more complex - my sympathy for others has the biological function of serving myself but I am not necessarily consciously self-interested; the process I am describing need not be entirely or even mainly conscious)

More generally, it is unlike most theorizing about good and evil. Well, me writing this might be just another example of that, but the me-character that I am describing who is weighing (not necessarily consciously) the pros and cons of where to draw the line between "crime" and "non-crime" is not engaging in abstract theory, but is selecting a strategy with the intention of optimizing his own personal outcome, and so is like a businessman who really only cares about the bottom line. (A slight aside: I said earlier that we adopt a public concept of crime, which seems to conflict with the idea that I am deciding where to draw the line. However, this public concept in turn comes from somewhere - it comes from other people like me. It evolves. Individuals are, each in their own way, contributing to the project of deciding where to draw the line between "crime" and "non-crime".)


Burning question of the last two minutes of my life

If you take a snickerdoodle (a kind of cookie), and you modify it by pressing an m&m onto it before baking, is it still a snickerdoodle? My take is that it is still a snickerdoodle.