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Morality and infinity

The simplest moral distinction may be the binary distinction between wrong and right.

But there are important moral distinctions that can be made between different wrong acts. Some acts are worse than others. One distinction that can be made is the punishment merited by the act - no longer a binary distinction.

For each wrong act, then, we might state the punishment that it merits. Having done this, the statement that it is a wrong act is, on the face of it, superfluous, since the wrongness of the act would seem to consist in its meriting a certain punishment. How can an act be wrong if it does not merit any punishment? So instead of classifying acts according to whether they are wrong, we might classify them according to what punishment they merit (and of course most acts merit no punishment at all).

But now we are relying on the idea that a certain punishment is "merited". But what does this mean? It seems to mean something like this: normally it would be wrong to put someone in a cell for a year, but because they committed a certain act (e.g. theft), it is not wrong to do that. So "merit" seems, itself, to be a binary statement about wrong and right - one which, as explained above, fails to make important non-binary distinctions. And since it is a statement about right and wrong, we can perform the same operation on the punishment that we performed on the original act, replacing the binary right/wrong distinction with a non-binary distinction among punishments merited by the act.

Rather than say:

Theft merits the punishment of one year in prison,

we say:

Putting a thief in prison for one year merits no punishment.

We can perform this operation recursively. For example:

Putting someone in prison for putting a thief in prison for one year merits one year in prison.

Putting someone in prison for one year for putting someone in prison for putting a thief in prison for one year merits no punishment.

And so on.

This recursion is, of course, more than the human mind can handle on a daily basis. Nevertheless, it's really there, lurking "behind" moral statements. Events can happen which act out the chain at a deep level. A corrupt official might be imprisoned for a list of crimes, one of which might be to have placed a judge in prison for having placed one of the official's cronies in prison. There is no question that the corrupt official deserves to be in prison and that his jailers do not, for that just act, themselves deserve punishment. But to recognize this is to recognize that:

It would be unjust to jail someone for jailing someone for jailing someone for jailing a thief.

In the specific hypothetical:

It would be unjust to jail the official's jailers for jailing the official for jailing the judge for jailing a thief.

This recursion (I'm not sure it's a recursion - I can't think of a better word) can be carried out arbitrarily far. But not to infinity, because both ends are needed - i.e., there must be an end that contains the punishment that is or is not merited, and there must be an end that contains the initial act which hypothetically gives rise to the contemplated chain of punishments. And since this cannot be carried out to infinity, ultimately we are left with a binary judgment that such-and-such act is wrong or right.


Some economics of invasion and the state

(I am not an economist - these are just some rough ideas.)

If someone overthrows the state, he overthrows it both for himself and his neighbor. So the overthrow of a state is a public good, and the public good is undersupplied. Consequence: states will not be overthrown even if everyone would benefit from their overthrow.

But if someone could, in effect, overthrow the state for himself without overthrowing it for his neighbor, then the overthrow of the state would be a private good, and it would not be undersupplied. Consequence: if everyone benefits from the (piecemeal) overthrow of their state, then states will be overthrown.

Two ways of effectively overthrowing a state for oneself but not for one's neighbor:

1) Emigrating.

2) Hiding one's person, activities and property from the state.

Farmers living near each other are easy targets, because a key asset, land, cannot easily be emigrated or hidden from the state, and the overthrow of the state is a public good if (as is likely) the nearness of the farmers places them into the territory of the same state.

A state which relied on a single farmer would have its own resources limited by that farmer's productivity. But a state which relied on many farmers living in an area would have at its disposal resources taken from all the farmers together, which it could use to put down an uprising by a single farmer. Of course, if all the farmers rose together to overthrow the state then the state would not have a chance. But the overthrow of the state is a public good, and public goods are undersupplied.

But how can a state arise? If farmers are living together, a single invader slightly stronger and more determined than one farmer can defeat the farmer. Having defeated the farmer, the invader can use the farmer's assets to strengthen its power and defeat the next farmer. One by one the farmers fall and the invader's strength snowballs. The farmers could defeat the invader by acting together, but repulsion of an invader is a public good, and public goods are undersupplied.

On the face of it, the economics seems to favor conquest and state, if people's key assets are hard to move, hard to hide, and located near enough each other for a single invader/state to conquer/claim as territory. If any of these three changes, then the economics of the state and of successful invasion, which depends on all of these, changes and possibly reverses.


If I were president

A friend of mine visited a boys and girls club in Hartford, Connecticut. He took these pictures of a project where the kids tell what they'd do if they were presidents. Enjoy

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us
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Last but not least,
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A serious comment: it struck me that kids do not think in term of budgets because, as far as they're concerned, getting stuff only depends on the willing of the authority. The state can allocate free stuff to everyone, merely by agreeing to. There's no notion of trade off. Adults do it to, I shall call it, the allowance fallacy. The belief that the government can will things into existence.


Consequentialist Fox sacrifices truth to the greater good

Fox News will attempt to maximize global utility.

Ailes responded to the report in the New York Daily News that he instructed FNC to tone down attacks on President-elect Barack Obama. He denied giving specific orders, but said he told staffers "all presidents deserve time to get their team on the ground and get organized."

"We have some obligation in a new presidency not to attempt to destabilize it," he said.

News is to be reported, not on the deontological basis of whether or not it is true, but on the consequentialist basis of whether or not reporting it will destabilize the presidency, thereby threatening global utility.

Of course, we have long known that members of the media see their noble mission not as to inform their audience but as to promote the greater good by manipulating the public. It is too bad for the media that the paying customer remains the audience and not the greater good.


They decide all the elections

A nice illustration of Bryan Caplan's thesis.

Elections are decided by numbers, and the ignorant outnumber the knowledgeable, so the ignorant decide the outcome. This casts an odd light on the lengthy and detailed explanations by the hyper-informed as to why they voted the way they did. A single person only gets one vote, so it is hardly of earth-shattering importance how they voted, let alone why. Sure, a single voter's explanation may be of interest as a microcosm of what tens of millions of people were thinking. Were that only so! Alas, a writer informed enough to give a decent explanation of their vote does not represent the masses who actually decide an election.

But would the knowledgeable actually decide better than the ignorant? Knowledge can magnify error and bad judgment. People can use what they learn to reinforce their prejudices (e.g. confirmation bias).


New Scientist reports on Club of Rome prophesy...

Maybe a change of title to New Junk Scientist is in order. Prophesy is in the realm of faith, not science.

Changes in industrial production, food production and pollution are all in line with the book's predictions of collapse in the 21st century, says Turner. According to the book, the path we have taken will cause decreasing resource availability and an escalating cost of extraction that triggers a slowdown of industry, which eventually results in economic collapse some time after 2020.

"For the first 30 years of the model, the world has been tracking along an unsustainable trajectory," he says.

According to Herman Daly of the University of Maryland, Turner's results show that we "must get off the growth path of business as usual, and move to a steady state economy," stopping population growth, resource depletion, and pollution.

newscientist.com article.

Yeah, population control, that'll work. While they are at it, lets see if they can legislate us some morality, or some of that much desired justice.

May your chains rest lightly.


Somalia: Pirates Hijack Saudi Ship Off Kenya

"Increasingly daring attacks are being conducted by Somali pirates on a variety of merchant vessels," said a statement from the U.S. Fifth Fleet, issued from Manama, Bahrain.

The statement said that pirates attacked the very large crude tanker, Sirius Star, more than 450 nautical miles southeast of Mombasa. The ship was sailing under a Liberian flag and was owned by the Saudi-based company, Saudi Aramco. The crew comprised citizens of Croatia, Britain, The Philippines, Poland and Saudi Arabia.

Story at allafrica.com


Is economics about allocating assets or social status?

Asking, I don't know. Boggles my mind that a person with $2 billion would waste an hour of time to acquire another billion.

Thought experiment: Say that free for the taking zero point energy was discovered and all labor was done by robots, and every sort of consumer good was free for the asking/taking. Thanks to free energy and robots, every part of the dry earth could be used for building residences.

1. How would shorelines and mountain tops be allocated?

2. How would Las Vegas, NV and Mt Athos evolve?

3. In other words, if money didn't matter, would not humans find a way to raise their own social status and to dump of people they thought beneath them?


First Planets Photographed Outside our Solar System

Three big ones, about 10x the mass of Jupiter, orbiting a star ~130 light years away.


So Long, Schumpeter

Perhaps no destruction would be as creative as that of American automakers with their cancerous union contracts. Over at Carpe Diem, Mark Perry has a telling graph of the labor costs of the big 3 American automakers:

Ordinarily, troubled firms would cut back on labor costs. They can't.

One might think that unions have the incentive to make concessions to keep their host firm in business rather than risk the jobs of their members. However, the potential of a government bailout to feed off of is an infinitely preferable alternative that involves no sacrifice. The automakers will join the ignoble ranks of unionized firms kept alive by tax dollars, incapable of producing goods for which consumers will pay above cost.

The auto industry is frozen in time. New, innovative competitors will be kept out of the market by competition from tax-funded dinosaurs. Car companies have become an expensive, politically connected welfare agency for UAW employees.

With the Democratic Party's pro-union agenda, look for GM-efficiency and Detroit aesthetics coming soon to a corner of the nation near you.

Rent-seeking is a depressing phenomenon to watch in action.


Change.gov changes without notice, not surprisingly.

I have seen a lot of screenshots of change.gov on blogs today. So I tried the google cache, which apparently updated its snapshot of change.gov on November 17th, so hitting the cache button in a google search did nothing for me.

See for yourself.

Check the agenda link on www.change.gov right now. I bet you may have noticed you cant get to the Agenda pages, which have generated so much internet based controversy on just about every topic covered by the President-elect's team. Apparently the statists tried to chuck this one in the memory hole, wanting to prevent further analysis and discussion.

Good thing there is a mirror, so we can keep this train rolling.

http://www.mega.nu/ampp/obama_agenda/agenda.html


Watchmen, Heroes, the Wrath of Khan, and the greater good

Major plot spoilers if you haven't seen (or read) one of these.

Linderman - the villain.

Rorschach - the only hero.

Spock - the hero because he sacrificed only himself, not someone else, to the greater good.

Utilitarianism - the moral philosophy of evildoers with god complexes.

Spock, as he died, espoused utilitarianism but applied it in a way that did not truly put it to the test. The nobility of his sacrifice ennobled what he said - but had he murdered someone else - i.e. killed an innocent person against their wishes - using that philosophy as an excuse, then the same philosophy would not have sounded nearly so noble. Spock's statement: "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few ... or the one."


Russia: Civil disobedience mocks statist ability to 'control'.

On the night of November 7th, the Russian anarchist revolutionary art group known as War made a mockery of state power by committing a little breaking and entering at the Russian White House.

Yasha Levin of the Exile goes on to say in his article regarding the incident:

But most importantly, young revolutionaries everywhere should live by that old adage: “If you can’t blow up something good, you shouldn’t don’t do any revolutionizing at all.”

I don't think violence or bombing is going to help any revolutionary anarchist cause at this moment in history. It would only feed the fires of nationalistic fervor and xenophobic paranoia, while also giving the state issue to take what little rights they let you have in the first place.

Non-violence sends a bigger message in my opinion, an all important message that just may help bring about the catalyst:

When the police cant defend Government House, what can they defend?


Love songs

No particular reason.

This is Lillian Roth singing If I Could Be With You as a prisoner in one of my favorite movies, Ladies They Talk About. (libertarian point of interest: the movie was pre-code)

Return to me sung by Dean Martin with scenes from Roman Holiday.

I was reminded of this song by this Maaco commercial.


Obama's creepy "Call to Service"

Before the election, I wrote elsewhere about Obama's creepy "call to service".

Public schools will have their funding cut unless they force their students to perform 50 hours of service a year. Since for most people, public school is the only choice they've got, this amounts to a mandatory service program for every child in a public school in the country.

Well, it appears that this wasn't just standard electioneering pablum, because Obama's new website expounds on his plan "to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year." This program is disturbing, representing a new government intrusion into private life cloaked in the patriotic rhetoric of "serving America," and a crowding out of private enterprise by government-created programs using forced labor. So it would seem that the nation's first black president wants us to work for free.

EDIT: I note with interest that the wording of the website has been changed, no doubt because of the spate of blogs talking about it. (Change...our position on the issues!) The original full text will be posted below. Nevertheless, the amendment is still troubling.

Grants contingent on community service, while still a matter of government taking money from taxpayers to entice others to do things, is an easier sell. But as I argued before, this program will offer $40/hour wages, enticing students away from good resume-building activities to government make-work jobs, and the proposal may well lead to tuition inflation based on simple supply and demand. (Note that in this case the rich will be better able to afford lower-paying but better resume-building internships - a way for Democrats to play to their Upper West Side faction.)

And for secondary school the ploy will be even more coercive. He talks about "setting a goal" to force kids to volunteer. But how will that be accomplished? By the only means that the federal government has - public schools will have their funding cut unless they force their students to perform 50 hours of service a year.

APPENDIX: The original note was changed to its current stage without fanfare, retraction, or acknowledgment. Now politicians do this all the time, so it's not much of a criticism of the Obama administration to point this out. It is, however, a small rebuke to those who believed that his election would somehow lead to a quantum leap in political transparency and integrity. The original Obama blurb, before they were called on it and cloaked it in nicer sounding language:

"The Obama Administration will call on Americans to serve in order to meet the nation’s challenges. President-Elect Obama will expand national service programs like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps and will create a new Classroom Corps to help teachers in underserved schools, as well as a new Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, and Veterans Corps. Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year."


Byrd steps down

From Politico:

Senate legend Robert Byrd, approaching 91 this month and hailing a “new day in Washington,” said he would voluntarily give up the chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee with the new Congress.

“To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven,” said Byrd, who had fended off earlier challenges this past spring and summer. “Those Biblical words from Ecclesiastes 3:1 express my feelings about this particular time in my life.

While we're quoting Ecclesiastes, dear appropriator of Robert M. Byrd Federal Highway, this is my more-fitting tribute:

Ecclesiastes 2:5-11:

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem [a] as well—the delights of the heart of man. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me.

Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.

or perhaps Ecclesiastes 5:8:

If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.


American serfs

http://www.change.gov/americaserves/

When you choose to serve -- whether it's your nation, your community or simply your neighborhood -- you are connected to that fundamental American ideal that we want life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness not just for ourselves, but for all Americans. That's why it's called the American dream.

Truly evil, and not a hoax (notice the .gov)


Christians are meek

James Donald explains.

James: Christians have not murdered dissidents for several centuries.

Attila: Not from a lack of interest. They just can't get away with it any more.

James: Christians today conspicuously turn the other cheek, even in cases where they could easily take care of offenders.

Observe all the people who do bizarre and extreme things in an effort to get a rise out of Christians. They don't get a rise. Ask yourself why the Artist does not publicly use the koran for toilet paper the way he publicly uses a depiction of Jesus as a toilet? He refrains because the Muslims would kill him, his parents, and various random people. Christians don't even show up to spit on him. If one Christian in the entire world wanted to do something about it he could quietly roll up and leave a bomb. There is no security to protect against Christian bombers - because the Artist knows he is insulting tolerant and kindly people - no security because the Artist knows that each and every Christian in the entire world will tolerate him in a manner that adherents of other religions conspicuously fail to do.


Author Michael Crichton dies at age 66.

Goodnight, sweet prince.

In a 2004 interview with The Associated Press, Crichton came with a tape recorder, text books and a pile of graphs and charts as he defended "State of Fear" and his take on global warming.

"I have a lot of trouble with things that don't seem true to me," Crichton said at the time, his large, manicured hands gesturing to his graphs. "I'm very uncomfortable just accepting. There's something in me that wants to pound the table and say, 'That's not true.'"


Remember, remember, the fifth of November.

Remember, remember, the fifth of November, or; How I learned to stop worrying and love anti-establishment revisionist historians that delight in regicide.

Apologies to Kubrick.

I would prefer if regicide never fell out of favor. That may seem inconsistent, but just because I follow the NAP and adhere to Agorism doesn't mean that I make moral judgment on others who do not. With that disclaimer out of the way, lets begin.

As John Hull would observe on the occasion of the Charles I execution: "a very solemn and strange act; and God alone can work good by so great a change."

To wit, I agree with the first part of that statement. As for God, I find that working good out of any situation is the domain of those who wish to place the event in framework suitable for moral application in their mind. Regardless of intent, the act is done.

Others such as John Cotton have defended regicide on moral grounds, that is not my intention. I am here to declare regicide as my preferred spectator sport.

May it forever be. Justice and morals be damned.

With that in mind, I salute Guy Fawkes on this most auspicious day for his attempted regicide. Tonight I shall drink merrily and viddy my copy of V for Vendetta, a revisionist masterpiece.

Have a good night, its the LAW.