You are currently viewing the aggregator for the Distributed Republic reader blogs. You can surf to any author's blog by clicking on the link at the bottom of one of his/her posts. If you wish to participate, feel free to register (at the top of the right sidebar) and start blogging.

The main page of the blog can be found here.

Despite all my rage I am still just a...

(A funny parable)
A Rat is shocked when he touches a wall with his nose and so he stops touching it. Why did he do this? One guess might be that the rat either thinks that (or uses a mechanism that relies on the theory that) the future will resemble the past; if he touches it again he'll get shocked again. Well that seems reasonable, but another person (a Popperian) suggests that perhaps the rat had a former theory about the wall that was just falsified (the wall will not shock me) and he has moved on to a new theory which is- by the sheerest coincidence, of course -"Don't touch the wall" instead of a million other unfalsified theories like "Touch it only with your ear and you'll be fine." Curious, they try it again and again and always the rat the touches the wall once or twice and then ceases to. The Popperian- his master's voice perhaps ringing in his ear- unfailingly exclaims "Why you see- the rats are simply holding their first "Wall won't shock me" theory tentatively, changing it to the next random unfalsified theory (coincidentally it's always "I shouldn't touch the wall") and then maintaining and acting on the new "I shouldn't touch the wall" theory."
A dialogue starts:

Achilles: Wow, so it looks as if he hits upon the correct theory quickly, and you think that's always a function of chance?
Popperian: WOAH WOAH! "Correct theory" you say? Nonsense- his theory that the wall will shock him is no more likely to be true than any other theory (save, perhaps for his falsified theory "The wall is okay to touch")
Achilles: Well but right there we can see the voltage running through...
Popperian: Voltage? (he tentatively licks the place where the wire and electrified wall meet, he's painfully shocked and draws back) eeeeggghhhh!
Achilles: (grabs Popperian) What in the hell do you think you're doing?
Popperian: Oh it's aww in a days wowk. From my random bed of unfalsified theories I drew "The wire/wall connection tastes of delicious chocalate and will not hurt you."
Achilles: Well which new randomly unfalsified theory have you settled on now?
Popperian: Oh, um... "That wall will hurt me every time I touch it and never touch it again."
Achilles: Do you believe that's more likely than not to be true?
Popperian: Why..., er, of course not. It's- by the sheerest of coincidences- the new theory I've settled upon from my stack of possible theories.
Achilles: Why not "The wall wire/connective area will give me a hand massage if I touch it with my hand"? Is your theory better than that one?
Popperian: Oh not at all, they're just two unfalsified theories. No better, no worse.
Achilles: Well give that one a try then- there's no reason to keep your present theory (it's no more likely to be true after all) how about switching?
Popperian: Oh, er, hmmm... Well, I'm not quite certain that it would be er, rational to do so.
Achilles: interesting, but you're certain that your reluctance to touch the area isn't because you think it's more likely than not that you'll be shocked?
Popperian: (indignantly) not in the slightest.
Achilles: You think that the "hand massage" theory is just as likely to be true as you theory that the wall will shock you?
Popperian: Of course {this guy needs to read some Popper, sheesh...}
Achilles: And that you, and the rat, and everyone else who would almost immediately adopt the theory that "the wall will shock you"- they are all doing by the most random of selections? Simply finding a new unfalsified theory and then, for no apparent reason, dogmatically sticking to it even though (as you say) it's no more likely to be true than any other?
Popperian: Well you see, any other way would be irrational.
Achilles: Well in that case I have to ask something. You're obviously quite skilled in ex post facto justification. But your theory, falsification: is it really falsifiable?
Popperian: ...


Dawkins and Instrumental Unreason

Instrumental unreason is when you say "I can't prove x, but I'm going to believe it anyway so that I can do y." The question of whether you actually need x to do y is a separate question, but it seems to me that this is an important concept to deal with in the great atheist debates of the late 2000s. Why? Well because Atheists use it just as religious people do and accordingly it's one of the few arguments that religious people make that Dawkins doesn't just demolish. As I always do when talking about this, let me say that I'm a secular atheist but not a militant atheist. I like Dawkins, am ambivalent toward Dennet (he gets credit by association from Hofstadter), and hate Hitchens and Harris with little restraint.

What is x for atheists? There are possibly a few examples, but it seems to me the most obvious one is something like the "problem of induction." That is to say, is there any principle by which we know that the floor will be there when we wake up tomorrow? Or that the Grue-Bleeners aren't right? There isn't. So why do we assume it, and why is the problem of induction really meaningless? I presume it's because we are willing to make the small leap (and it's important to stress "small") that in practice the problem of induction is only a problem of sample size and not theory. I fully embrace this, and in so doing I say "I can't prove that the floor will be there tomorrow when I get out of bed, but I'm going to believe it anyway so that I don't wake up every day scared, carefully prodding the whole floor for weak-spots using a stick." Everyone agree with this?

Well so let's take a look at a similar religious use: "If I didn't believe in God then I'd know I could never see my dead son again and I doubt I could go on living." If you say that Dawkins, he'll say two things:

1. Wanting it to be true doesn't make it true. Your desire doesn't prove anything.

2. Atheists deal with tragedies all of the time, and there is much meaning to be found in the beauty of rational life.

Did I miss anything? I think those are the two Dawkins responses, and I've listened to a lot of Dawkins. Always "that doesn't prove anything" and "There is meaning to life in a secular worldview." Well on the first point Dawkins is of course correct but he's either misunderstanding what's meant or just providing a caveat. That question doesn't say "I want to see my dead son therefore religion is true", it says "I'm willing to have an irrational belief to ease the pain from Life's tragedies." As for point 2, this is also true but the simply fact that you or I or Dawkins find consolation in secular rationalism doesn't mean that someone else will. Point two can only be an appeal to alternatives rather than some disproof. Suppose that our questioner doesn't find consolation in the secular worldview. What then?

It seems to me that we're dealing with two questions of the same type. One says "I'll believe in induction even though I can't prove it so I can continue building and admiring this tremendous edifice of science" and the other says "I'll believe in God even though I can't prove it because I want to have meaning in my life." They are both examples of Instrumental unreason. What distinguishes them then, aside from what I've already covered? It seems to me that the two major differencres are as follows:

1. Differences of goal: Is the ability to not spend 4 hours crossing 1 street because you can't be sure if you aren't stepping on illusory pavement this time superior to "finding meaning in one's life?" Possibly; I happen to think that "finding meaning" thing is rather overblown, though if not it's arguable.

2. Differences of reasonableness: This is the meat of it- is the jump from "it's EXTREMELY likely that the floor is there" to "it's true that the floor is there" much of a jump? No, especially when compared to the jump from "there probably isn't a bearded man in the sky who watches me and takes my soul to heaven" to "there is."

Okay, so it's a problem of reasonableness but... that's subjective and hard to pin down. So how do we make the distinction? I'd love to hear some thoughts. As for me, the best I have is "if possible one shouldn't have irrational beliefs." It seems to me that trying to eliminate induction from my life is not possible and yet finding meaning in my life without god is. Therefore I'm a secular atheist. However, I recognize that as a personal assessment that may be different for other people. That's why I'm tolerant of religious moderates. I'm not interested in defending religion from the militant atheist movement; I'm interested in defending pluralism.


Neoliberalism and the Washington Consensus

It's nice to be able to create content, since I've always wanted to ask question like this on Catallarchy but would've been practically trolling to put this in the comments.

I'm curious as to how Libertarians like yourselves deal with the results of Neoliberalism and the Washington Consensus. As far as I can tell, the "structural adjustment programs" that have been shoved down the throat of every country that needs some IMF money are almost perfectly in line with everything that Libertarians advocate as policy. Here's a list of the basic conditions (culled from wikipedia):

* Cutting social expenditures
* Focusing economic output on direct export and resource extraction,
* Devaluation of overvalued currencies,
* Trade liberalization, or lifting import and export restrictions,
* Increasing the stability of investment (by supplementing foreign direct investment with the opening of domestic stock markets),
* Balancing budgets and not overspending,
* Removing price controls and state subsidies,
* Privatization, or divestiture of all or part of state-owned enterprises,
* Enhancing the rights of foreign investors vis-a-vis national laws,
* Improving governance and fighting corruption.

With the exception of last one (which is really so vague as to be meaningless) I should say that I've probably heard every single one of these programs defended on Catallarchy and can't remember any of them being disputed by any non-left-Libertarians (I could easily be wrong on that last one, though.) These programs have almost always been unmitigated disasters (indeed, the countries which have developed have always RADICALLY violated these rules) and so I guess i fail to see why this stuff hasn't just basically ended the economic argument for Libertarianism altogether. Actually, that's disingenuous, because i think I do understand but for a group as intellectually honest as ya'll, well I don't get it.

I suppose someone could get on here and argue that they haven't all been unmitigated disasters (there might be an example of certain exceptions, though I haven't seen them outside of city-states.) More likely though is the standard marxist-style claim that every single country this has been tried on (and there have been a LOT) has simply had some critical flaw in it that nobody could've seen beforehand that prevented our magic from working. I'm happy to refer anyone who makes this argument to some overheated rhetoric (probably culled from No Treason) about how we "can't afford to keep trying these horrific experiments when the consequences are so deadly" and "when will we stop imposing our utopias on other people's lives when we wind up killing them."

One last thing, and this could get controversial: I think the deaths caused from these programs and programs like these (which we can just go ahead and call "free market capitalism" unless anyone can present a good case why we shouldn't) are plausibly higher than those caused by marxism/communism as an economic system. Let me explain what I mean: while I probably agree with most the people here that something like the Stalinist purges are derivable from Marxism (that nonsense about a "Vanguard party" will probably lead inexorably to totalitarianism) I'll say that has to do with Marxism as a socio-political system rather than an economic one. With this same spirit of fairness in mind, I don't attribute to Capitalism the 2 million+ killed by the US in Vietnam. Famines attributable to communism (like in China) are fair game.


The War on Terror

Writing in part to respond to McIntosh and Constant, I thought I'd make a few simple points about the so-called war on terror.

1. Can you declare war on a tactic? This is not as pedantic a point as one might think, since it may be deeply problematic to declare war on something so obviously bad if one if one is only masking more sinister aspirations. Sort of like declaring yourself "pro-family" or "anti-death."

2. Can you declare war on something you're definitionally guilty of? Which is to say, is it logically possible to declare war on oneself? To take a simple example, Orlando Bosch is a known terrorist (one of the worst, in fact- take a look) we funded and now keep in the United States, refusing extradition. Okay well step two simply requires that classic Bush quote "Those states which Harbor terrorists are no different than the terrorists themselves." Therefore, the US is a terrorist nation, QED. Could the US declare a war on terror in that case?

3. Can Iraq be considered part of a war on terror? Consider, first of all that the war in Iraq is drastically increasing active terror, the threat of terror, and recruitment for Al Qaeda-style groups (I don't know anyone who disputes this, but I'll happily provide a source if you like.) Furthermore, this was known ahead of time (the CIA for example, warned that invading Iraq would increase terror) and should have been perfectly obvious anyway- the US fighting an obviously unpopular war adds at least another 10 minutes of solid propaganda to the Al Qaeda recruitment videos. Either Iraq was simply not fought as part of the war on terror (obviously) or it was one of the most catastrophic military defeats ever recorded, one that actually saw the opposing army quadruple (at least) in size and spread even further around the globe rather than dwindle .

4. Is there then a war on terror? I've seen no evidence other than simply "it's true because the dear leader says so" and I would hope that people as devoted to anti-stalinism/statism as there are around here would despise such evidence. What might we expect a war on terror to look like? It'd start with the addressing of underlying grievances that lend public support to these inexcusable acts and it'd probably continue by avoiding the acts that give rise to terror (the most tell-tale, as I understand it, is illegal/unjust occupations of foreign land) and, well see point 3 again.

PS- this is a great look for the site- what a radical change. I'm excited about this.