Monday, November 26, 2012

"The Shrew"


Werewolves & Zombies

Not to be completely ridiculous (well yeah, to be completely ridiculous) hasn't it ever occurred to anyone that fear is cultural, and more importantly relative to historical cultural backdrops? In the more tribal and communal lives that have been the norm of human existence for centuries, it was always the fringe stranger that was feared most. (weird Google search, don't ask). On the other hand in our modern day overpopulated society where our neighbors are mere objects moving around in our environment, our fear manifests itself in a more pluralist fashion; an essential zombie-land.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Douthat, "Bad Religion"

I’m always on the lookout for intelligent discourse over religious topics, and I’ll tell you as surely as I am a man typing out these words, those debates, rhetoric and conversation are hard to come by. There is little hope, it seems, for the grasp of religious dogma on the consciousness of free thinking people to hold on much longer. It’s always the same old story with the same old Platonic arguments about Deism, followed by feeble attempts to bridge the gaping chasm that exists between ‘it’, and the theist position that wants to say that from this deistic god we can derive a morality. They are struggling against an enormously strong tide of rationalist and scientist dialect, and fighting futily to meet them on their own ground. Theists need to give up this enterprise I think; they need to step away from podiums and get back to their pews and rethink again what the purpose of religion is in society, if any purpose at all.

 These things I can go on and on about, and in the future I shall most certainly do that, however for the moment I did come across a rather intellectually pleasing exchange between Andrew Sullivan and Ross Douthat, author of the newly released book “Bad Religion”. Douthat himself is a bit of an interesting character as his prose dissolves a bit of the usual rationalist rhetoric with a sort of Hegelian historicism that draws you into thinking that he’s really onto something. I don’t want to go too far in my characterization of him (giving him something that he doesn’t deserve) but in one manner or another it reminds me of the intellectual vigor of the late Christopher Hitchens without all the beautiful irony that he was so famous for. That I think, more than anything else, really drew me into this exchange between Sullivan and Douthat. Having said that, I will say that I disagree with them at the very core of their meanings, nevertheless I think this is worth listening to and engaging.

 The main thrust of the conversation centers around the crumbling of religion and the introduction of an ever more secularist society that (according to them) began to happen at an alarming rate in the 1970’s. They begin with two things that will, in a way, serve as the backdrop of the conversation for the remaining time. On the one hand there’s the peak of catholic/religious influence on the American middle class in the 1950’s, and it’s eventual decline following the sexual revolution in the 1960’s. The main issue I have with their thinking on these two very important matters, is that as Hegelian as they’d like to be they’re ignoring the causal reasons for both. That I think is very unfortunate, and left out some higher reason and depth to the conversation. They’re talking about the collapse of Catholicism [specifically] in the face of the sexual revolution. Now granted, they admit that there are several reasons for the eventual collapse, however one of the most important was the just stated.

 The problem to start with then, is again ignoring the causal elements of the sexual revolution so as to stay on task with (to a certain degree) that which has always seemed to be most important to Catholics; namely, the subjugation of one’s sexual desires to Christ. To be more specific they’re eliciting some common felt intuitions about sexual promiscuity in order to draw one towards a more sympathetic position within the conversation. We’re supposed to think that perhaps the sexual revolution was a bit of a perversion which in turn should give us reason to support the idea that what Catholicism holds to most closely may in fact be correct. From there they would like to suggest that it was the pill that plunged us forward to revolution, a mere object of social change. But all the while what they’re ignoring is the feminist movement of the 1960’s and in so cleverly doing so, it pits the church against sex rather than the church against woman. At the same time they’re ignoring the backdrop of the strong and religious middle class that existed in the 1950’s. They’re ignoring the historical backdrop of their lower class beginnings (in addition to the religious involvement there), the impact WWII had on that consciousness, and how that then lead to strong middle class being born out of the fore mentioned.

 The children who led the charge of civil rights and feminism were not born into poverty, but prosperity. It was that prosperity, or so I would suggest, that lead to a generation of people rethinking their moral attitudes about everything from sex, to inclusion of black people into the culture we call “We”. I shall say more on this at another time, but a culture of prosperity is one in which reliance upon ones neighbor for inclusion and identity is no longer the case; i.e. coming up in a world where provisions for your own destiny can be grasped firmly by ones’ own hand releases the grip ones’ religious community has on the degree to which a more idiosyncratic self can reign. To put that in yet another more simpler way, once reliance upon the church for support (in the many ways it gives it) dissolves due to a strong middle class giving one a more certain future with respect to finances and security, there is no more reason for many to follow in it’s ways.

 On those very brief preambles, I’ll leave to engage these ideas further for another time, and let one enjoy the conversation if they’d like.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Rorty's Antipodeans

From Rorty's book, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature

Far away, on the other side of the galaxy, there was on planet on which lived beings like ourselves – featherless bipeds who built houses and bombs, and wrote poems and computer programs. These beings did not know they had minds. They had notions like “wanting to” and “intending to” and “believing that” and “feeling terrible” and “feeling marvelous”. But they had no notion that these signified mental states - states of a peculiar and distinct sort - quite different from "sitting down", "having a cold", and "being sexually aroused". Although they used the notion of believing and knowing and wanting and being moody of their pets and their robots as well as themselves, they did not regard their pets or their robots as included in what was meant when they said, "We all believe..." or "We never do such things as..." That is to say, they treated only members of their own species as persons. But they did not explain the differences between persons and non-persons by such notions as "mind", "consciousness", "spirit", or anything of the sort. They did not explain it at all; they just treated it as the difference between "us" and everything else. They believed in immortality for themselves, and a few believed that this would be shared by the pets or the robots, or both. But this immortality did not involve the notion of a "soul" which separated from the body. It was a straightforward matter of bodily resurrection followed by a mysterious and instantaneous motion to what they referred to as "a place above the heavens" for good people, and to a sort of cave, beneath the planet's surface, for the wicked. Their philosophers were concerned primarily with four topics: the nature of Being, proofs of the existence of a Benevolent and Omnipotent Being who would carry out arrangements for resurrection, problems arising out of discourse about nonexistent objects, and the reconciliation of conflicting moral intuitions. But these philosophers had not formulated the problem of subject and object, nor that of mind and matter. There was a tradition of Pyrrhonian skepticism, but Locke's "veil of ideas" was unknown, since the notion of an "idea" or "perception" or "mental representation" was also unknown. Some of their philosophers predicted that the beliefs about immortality which had been central in earlier periods of history, and which were still held by all but the intelligentsia, would someday be replaced by a "positivistic" culture purged of all superstitions (but these philosophers made no mention of an intervening "metaphysical" stage).

In most respects, then, the language, life, technology, and philosophy of this race were much like ours. But there was one important difference. Neurology and biochemistry had been the first disciplines in which technological breakthroughs had been achieved, and a large part of conversation of these people concerned the state of their nerves. When their infants veered towards hot stoves, mothers cried out, "He'll stimulate his C-fibers." When people were given clever visual illusions to look at, they said, "How odd! It makes neuronic bundle G-14 quiver, but when I look at it from the side I can see that it's not a red rectangle at all." Their knowledge of physiology was such that each well formed sentence in the language which anybody bothered to form could easily be correlated with a readily identifiable neural state. This state occurred whenever someone uttered, or was tempted to utter, or heard, the sentence. This state also sometimes occurred in solitude and people reported such occasions with remarks like "I was suddenly in state S-296, so I put out the milk bottles." Sometimes they would say things like "It looked like an elephant, but then it struck me that elephants don't occur on this continent, so I realized that it must be a mastodon." But they would also sometimes say, in just the same circumstances, things like, "I had G-412 together with F-11, but then I had S-147, so I realized that it must be a mastodon." They thought of mastodons and milk bottles as objects of beliefs and desires, and as causing certain neural processes. They viewed these neural processes as interacting causally with beliefs and desires - in just the same way as the mastodons and milk bottles did. Certain neural processes could be deliberately self-induced, and some people were more skillful than others in inducing certain neural states in themselves. Others were skilled at detecting certain special states which most people could not recognize in themselves.

In the middle of the twenty-first century, and expedition from Earth landed on this planet. The expedition included philosophers, as well as representatives of every other learned discipline. The philosophers thought that the most interesting thing about the natives was their lack of the concept of mind. They joked among themselves that they had landed among a bunch of materialists, and suggested the name Antipodea for the planet - in reference to an almost forgotten school of philosophers, centering in Australia and New Zealand, who in the previous century had attempted one of the many futile revolts against Cartesian dualism in the history of Terran philosophy. The name stuck, and so the new race of intelligent beings came to be known as Antipodeans. The Terran neurologists and biochemists were fascinated by the wealth of knowledge in their field which the Antipodeans exhibited. Since technical conversation on these subjects was conducted almost entirely in offhand references to neural states, the Terran experts eventually picked up the ability to report their own neural states (without conscious inference) instead of reporting their thoughts, perceptions, and raw feels. (The physiologies of the two species were, fortunately, almost identical.) Everything went swimmingly, except for the difficulties met by the philosophers.

The philosophers who had come on the expedition were, as usual, divided into two warring camps: the tender-minded ones who thought that philosophy should aim at significance, and the tough-minded philosophers who thought that it should aim at Truth. The philosophers of the first sort felt that there was no real problem about whether the Antipodeans had minds. They held that what was important in understanding other beings was a grasp of their mode of being-in-the-world. It became evident that, whatever Existential the Antipodeans were using, they certainly did not include any of those which, a century earlier, Heidegger had criticized as "subjectivist". The whole notion of "the epistemological subject", or the person as spirit, had no place in their self-descriptions, nor in their philosophies. Some of the tender-minded philosophers felt that this showed the Antipodeans had not yet broken out of Nature into Spirit, or, more charitably, had not yet progressed from Consciousness to Self-Consciousness. These philosophers became town-criers of inwardness, attempting to bully the Antipodeans across an invisible line and into the Realm of the Spirit. Others, however, felt that the Antipodeans exhibited the praiseworthy grasp of the union of polemoj and logoj which was lost to Western Terran consciousness through Plato's assimilation of ousia and idea. The Antipodean failure to grasp the notion of mind, in the view of this set of philosophers, showed their closeness to Being and their freedom from the temptations to Which Terran thought had long since succumbed. In the contest between these two views, equally tender-minded as both were, discussion tended to be inconclusive. The Antipodeans themselves were not much help, because they had so much trouble translating the background reading necessary to appreciate the problem - Plato's Theaetetus, Descartes's Meditations, Hume's Treatise, Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, Hegel's Phenomenology, Strawson's Individuals, etc.

The tough-minded philosophers, as usual, found a much more straightforward and clean-cut question to discuss. They did not care what the Antipodeans thought about themselves, but rather focused on the question: Do they in fact have minds? In their precise way, they narrowed this question down to: Do they in fact have sensations? It was thought that if it became clear whether they had, say, sensations of pain, as well as stimulated C-fibers, when touching hot stoves, everything else would be plain sailing. It was clear that the Antipodeans had the same behavioral disposition toward hot stoves, muscle cramps, torture and the like as humans. They loathed having their C-fibers stimulated. But the tough-minded philosophers asked themselves: Does their experience contain the same phenomenal properties as ours? Does the stimulation of C-fibers feel painful? Or does it feel some other, equally awful, way? Or does feeling not come into it at all? These philosophers were not surprised that the Antipodeans  could offer noninferential reports of their own neural states, since it had been learned long since that psychophysiologists could train human subjects to report alpha-rhythms, as well as various other physiologically describable cortical states. But they felt baffled by the question: Are some phenomenal properties being detected by an Antipodean who says, "It's my C-fibers again - you know, the ones that go off every time you get burned or hit or have a tooth pulled. It's just aweful."?

It was suggested that the question could only be answered experimentally, and so they arranged with the neurologists that one of their number should be wired up to an Antipodean volunteer so as to switch currents back and forth between various regions of the two brains. This, it was thought, would also enable the philosophers to insure that the Antipodeans did not have an inverted spectrum, or anything else which might confuse the issue. As it turned out, however, the experiment produced no interesting results. The difficulty was that when the Antipodean speech center got an input from the C-fibers of the Earthling brain it always talked only about it's C-fibers, whereas when the Earthling speech center was in control it always talked only about pain. When the Antipodean speech center was asked what the C-fibers felt like it said that it didn't quite get the notion of "feeling", but that the stimulated C-fibers were, of course, terrible things to have. The same sort of thing happened for the questions about inverted spectra and other perceptual qualities. When asked to call off the colors on a chart, both speech centers called off the usual color-names in the same order. But the Antipodean speech center could also call off the various neuronic bundles activated by each patch on the chart (no matter which visual cortex it happened to be hooked up to). When the Earthling speech center was asked what the colors were like when transmitted to the Antipodean visual cortex, it said that they seemed just as usual.

This experiment seemed not to have helped. For it was still obscure whether the Antipodeans had pains. It was equally obscure whether they had one or two raw feels when indigo light streamed onto their retinas (one of indigo, and one of neural state C-692) - or whether they had no raw feels at all. The Antipodeans were repeatedly questioned about how they knew it was indigo. They replied that they could see that it was. When asked how they knew they were in C-692, they said they "just knew" it. When it was suggested to them that they might have unconsciously inferred that it was indigo on the basis of the C-692 feel, they seemed unable to understand what unconscious inference was, or what "feels" were. When it was suggested to them that they might have made the same inference to the fact that they were in state C-692 on the basis of the raw feel of indigo, they were, of course, equally baffled. When they were asked whether the neural state appeared indigo, they replied that it did not - the light was indigo - and that the questioner must be making some sort of category mistake. When they were asked whether they could imagine having C-692 and not seeing indigo, they said they could not. When asked whether it was a conceptual truth or an empirical generalization that these two experiences went together, they replied that they were not sure how to tell the difference. When asked whether they could be wrong about whether they were seeing indigo, they replied that they of course could, but could not be wrong about whether they seemed to be seeing indigo. When asked whether they could be wrong about whether they were in state C-692, they replied in exactly the same way. Finally, skillful philosophical dialect brought them to realize that what they could not imagine was seeming to see indigo and failing to seem to be in state C-692. But this result did not seem to help with the questions: "Raw feels?" "Two raw feels or one?" "Two referents or one referent under two descriptions?" Nor did any of this help with the question about the way in which stimulated C-fibers appeared to them. When they were asked whether they could be mistaken in thinking that their C-fibers were stimulated, they replied that of course they could - but that they could not imagine being mistaken about whether their C-fibers seemed to be stimulated. 

At this point, it occurred to someone to ask whether they could detect the neural state which was the concomitant of "seeming to have their C-fibers stimulated". Antipodeans replied that there was, of course, the state of T-435 which was the constant neural concomitant of the utterance of the sentence "My C-fibers seem to be stimulated," state T-497 which went with "It's just as if my C-fibers were being stimulated," state T-293 which went with "Stimulated C-fibers!" and various other neural states which were concomitants of various other roughly synonymous sentences - but that there was no further neural state which they were aware of in addition to these. Cases in which Antipodeans had T-435 but no stimulation of C-fibers included those in which, for example, they were strapped to what they were falsely informed was a torture machine, a switch was theatrically turned on, but nothing else was done. 

Discussion among the philosophers now switched to the topic: Could the Antipodeans be mistaken about the T-series of neural states (the ones which were concomitants of understanding or uttering sentences)? Could they seem to be having T-435 but not really be? Yes, The Antipodeans said, cerebroscopes indicated that thing occasionally happened. Was there any explanation of the cases in which it happened - any pattern to them? No, there did not seem to be. It was just one of those odd things that turned up occasionally. Neurophysiology had not yet been able to find another sort of neural state, outside the T-series, which was a concomitant of such weird illusions, any more than for certain perceptual illusions, but perhaps it would some day. 

This answer left the philosophers still in difficulties on the question of whether the Antipodeans had sensations of pain, or anything else. For there now seemed to be nothing which the Antipodeans were incorrigible about except how things seemed to them. But it was not clear that "how things seemed to them" was a matter of what raw feels they had, as opposed to what they were inclined to say. If they had the raw feels of painfulness, then they had minds. But a raw feel is (or has) a phenomenal property - one which you cannot have the illusion of having (because, so to speak, having the illusion of it is itself to have it). The difference between stimulated C-fibers and pains was that you could have the illusion of stimulated C-fibers (could have, e.g., T-435) without having stimulated C-fibers, but could not have the illusion of pain without having pain. There was nothing which the Antipodeans could not be wrong about except how things seemed to them. But the fact that they could not "merely seem to have it seem to them that..." was of no interest in determining whether they had minds. The fact that "seems to seem..." is an expression without a use is a fact about the notion of "appearance", not a tip-off to the presence of "phenomenal properties". For the appearance-reality distinction is not based on a distinction between subjective representations and objective states of affairs; it is merely a matter of getting something wrong, having a false belief. So the Antipodeans' firm grasp of the former distinction did not help philosophers tell whether to ascribe the latter to them. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Getting Used to Being a Bigot

In my quest to find some meaningful things to say about Libertarianism, I simply can't at the same time be blamed for coming across pure idiocy and feeling the need to say at least something about it....

As best as I can imagine it, waking up one morning to find out that you're officially considered a bigot has to be pretty hard. Naturally there's going to be some backlash, denial, a little bit of anger, some bargaining and rationality, so on. On the face of it, it can often appear that the bigot has a point until you think a little deeper and see that it's all just a manifestation of the stages of grief. The grief and bigotry in the case I'm talking about is the kind directed towards the gay and lesbian community and their rights to marry. Evidently, or so I'd be convinced to think, bigots have rights to be bigots - or something like that.

Consider the article here on same-sex marriage and the lessons we can learn from Canada. Apparently with the Canadian government recognizing same-sex marriages some additionally terrible things happened. The " and cultural effect was much broader." in that, "What transpired was the adoption of a new orthodoxy: that same-sex relationships are, in every way, the equivalent of traditional marriage, and that same-sex marriage must therefore be treated identically to traditional marriage in law and in public life." Pardon the language here, but isn't that the fuckin' point? I mean seriously unless I'm a complete idiot it seems perfectly logical to me that once you grant same-sex marriage rights that also entails all the 'orthodoxy' of traditional marriage. So what's the problem here?

The problem is, well, it's just mighty hard getting used to the idea that you're a bigot, we continue on:

"A corollary is that anyone who rejects the new orthodoxy must be acting on the basis of bigotry and animus toward gay and lesbians. Any statement of disagreement with same-sex marriage is thus considered a strait forward manifestation of hatred...."

Well, okay, the first and obvious problem with this is that it isn't really a corollary, and whereas that may seem a little trivial for me to point out, I doesn't end up that way. i.e. Same-sex marriage rights aren't just about same-sex marriage rights, [again] they entail all of the human rights issues and orthodoxy of traditional marriage. It's not as though we're in a situation where we've extended the rights, but good luck finding an asshole who will actually extend those rights to you. For example:

"Civil marriage commissioners were the first to feel the hard edge of the new orthodoxy; several provinces refused to allow commissioners a right of conscience to refuse to preside over same-sex weddings, and demanded their resignation."

Notwithstanding other controversial issues within the article, this is not an example of simple free speech or protest rights being trampled upon, but a plain old refusal to comply with an individuals rights and civil liberties. Could any of us (even the individual who wrote this article) imagine decades after the civil rights movement refusing to give a hair-cut to an African-America because it violated our conscience? Perhaps there are some out there who still feel that way, however by and large I'd tend to think we'd all find that rather ridiculous, and this isn't any different. This is, by and large, an example of people going through their own internal struggle (a sort of grief process), but why should we feel sorry for them? They woke up one day and were officially a bigot, and now we're all supposed to feel sorry for them.....

Stupid Voters, or Wrong Choices?

I must admit that there have been plenty of times in my life where I've thought to myself that some voters are just plain stupid. There's a good chance that they know little to nothing about the candidates they're voting for, and their choice undoubtedly affects my life in ways I don't want it to; which is just another way of me saying, "What the fuck, if you were gonna be stupid you could have at least picked 'MY' guy!" At the same time though as much as I think I'm informed about the issues and candidates I vote on, there's much in the complexity I either don't have time to investigate, or perhaps I just don't understand. So naturally I have to pull back from my thinking on stupid voters and say, well, to a certain degree many people are going to vote on ideology because they simply don't have the time and/or interest to get involved in the issues and what they are. It makes me wonder then, just what would it mean to be a "stupid voter"?

For that, I ran across this article over at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, and I gotta tell ya, it's stupid. Brennan tells us that:

"Today most Americans will do something morally rotten–they will vote, despite being misinformed, uninformed, and irrational about politics."

First off it's true that we cannot tell from what's being said here what degree of knowledge is required to actually be informed, and to actually be rational, nor does Brennan ever tell us. Secondly, if there was a way to be properly informed (or just plainly informed), he doesn't tell us that either. The only thing we really know is that, based upon his standard for rationality and information gathering, if you're not up to his standards and make a choice in the polls you're being 'morally rotten'. I'd give him the benefit of the doubt here as I'm sure he'd fill in all the blanks with a nice smattering dialectical bullshit, but this is just an ass-hole-ish thing to say. And if that alone weren't enough, he continues:

"As a result, innocent people around the world, including my children and me, will have to suffer the consequences of bad government. "

In other words, misinformed/uninformed votes necessarily leads to 'bad government'. This is just plain stupid and assumes that when the average citizen goes to the polls and votes that there's a choice which naturally leads to 'bad government'. But if that's true then all Brennan is really saying here is that being misinformed to whatever standard he lays out leads to voting (let's say for candidates) that wouldn't have been the candidate he would have voted for. I mean how else do we get 'bad government' according to his definition if not for picking the wrong guy? To put this all in another way, misinformed voting according to Brennan's standard leads only to a statistical likelihood that voting won't go his way. Let's pause for a minute though, because he's about to contradict himself:

"My theory of voting ethics doesn’t require that you get the correct answer, but rather than [sic] you be epistemically justified in voting for what you vote for."

So is there a correct answer or is there not a correct answer (i.e. is there an answer that leads to bad government or isn't there)? Putting aside the fact that the majority of voters don't even understand what epistemically justified means, can you be epistemically justified in making a choice that Brennan would disagree with? And if it's really just all about being informed and justified in your choice, than how could we ever satisfy Brennan if as a result of the informed choice we make we still end up with what he'd call 'bad government'? Finally, one has to also bare in mind that citizens don't so much make choices as they are given choices, i.e. in the case of presidential elections and positions in office, we don't get the choice of picking who these folks are going to be, we're just given an ultimate choice. (Arguable you can make a 'write in' choice.) Finally Brennan says:

"No, the problem with my fellow citizens isn’t so much what they vote for by why they vote. The overwhelming majority of them haven’t put in the proper care to develop their political beliefs in a rational way, on the basis of the best available evidence. They are like drunk drivers who force me to drive with them. They are like incompetent surgeons who force me to go under their knives. They are like jurors trying a capital murder case, who find the defendant guilty without having paid attention to the evidence, or because they evaluated the evidence in a bigoted or irrational way."

Once again, what do we mean when say 'best available evidence', and how could exercising the right to vote ever be compared to going under the knife of a bad surgeon, or driving drunk on the road? What Brennan is doing of course is vacillating between the idea that there's a wrong choice (leading to bad government), and the idea that there really isn't a bad choice, you just have to be justified in making one. In doing so he then appears to be suggesting that if you're informed properly, perhaps there's only one obvious choice to make, his choice! Or again, maybe there isn't a wrong choice, you just have to be informed when you make it. But then what difference does it make, and what of 'bad government'?

I'll grant that yes, it would be nice if we had a more and/or better informed public when it comes time to vote, but how much is that really going to change peoples ideologies, and how does that change the choices we actually get to make? Further more in todays environment, just what is the standard for being informed for the regular guy and gal off the street that meets the standards for information? I don't know, but what I do know is what I've read above seems pretty damn stupid.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Libertarianism / One Last Shot

I’m hoping that after this go around with Larry “[T]he Barefoot Bum” I’ll have said enough that perhaps I can get back to what I was trying to argue earlier. In the very least this may shine a sliver of light on perhaps the direction I’d like to take with it. To begin with, I’d like to try and break these things down more logically in an effort to make the tangled web more understandable (at least for myself anyway… I’m starting to sense that Larry is getting a bit frustrated, and I don’t want that.).

 Let’s break this whole thing in a little bit different way to separate out all the terms:
A.) Consistently Determinable: a statement is consistently determinable if, given a context, i.e. some statements and inference rules, everyone will consistently assent or dissent to some statement.
B.) Objectively Determinable: A statement that is consistently determinable without introducing any properties of any minds.
C.) Subjectively Determinable: A statement that requires introducing properties of minds to be consistently determinable. (socially constructed).
D.) Ownership (is): Subjectively and social constructed. (we should be able to assume here that ownership is then “subjectively determinable”).
E.) Possession: arbitrarily labeled as objectively determinable.

 Secondly there’s the manner with which Larry says we can evaluate social constructions:
i.) We can socially construct political judgments (judgments of justice and injustice) only on the basis of objectively determinable facts.
ii.) Another method of evaluation is to say that we can socially construct not only on the basis of objective facts, but also on subjective facts, such as agreements, laws, etc. (and earlier Larry states on, agreements, titles, deeds, leases, statutes, and regulations)

 I would argue that if we’re going to remain consistent that “ii” should actually read:
ii.a) Another method of evaluation is to say that we can socially construct on the basis of subjectively determinable facts. (e.g. agreements, titles, deeds, leases, statutes, and regulations)***

 And then of course a third option could be that we:
iii.) A final method of evaluating social constructs is to evaluate based on a combination of both subjectively and objectively determinable facts.

Let’s now flesh out how all this mess is supposed to work. We’ll start by looking at the way we can evaluate the social construction of ownership. If we base ownership only on the basis of “i”, then we’re explicitly agreeing that you own something if we can observe that you possess something, nothing more and nothing less. The most dangerous and obvious problem with this (among many) is the fact that it encourages a competition over thievery. After all, if we’re all socially agreeing that ownership is mere possession (“E” above, by way of “B”), then if I have it, it’s mine. So right at the start we can completely eliminate the idea that any sense can be made of “i”, and for reasons already argued the other issues over “B”.

With that mess out of the way, the only way we can hope to evaluate the concept of ownership is through “ii”, which I think we can rightly say is “ii.a”. In other words ownership must be subjectively determinable and contain such evidence for ownership as titles, deeds, receipts, etc..

 I suppose I should say “not so fast Andrew”, because we can of course go by way of “iii”. In that case, ownership would require that you have both title, deed (etc.) by way of “ii.a”, and actual physical possession by way of “i”. Here’s the problem though, since I can’t always be in a state of “B”, I need to the state of “C” to legitimize my ownership when I’m not around. But if “C” legitimizes my ownership when “B” cannot be determined (i.e. a car in a mall parking lot) then what the heck do I need “B” for when it can be determined? Simply put you could suppose an situation where you were in a state of “B” relative to some possession in hand, then further suppose that someone took it. However if that person who did the taking was in a state of “C” relative to the taken object, he’d be in the right. Therefore “B” and “i” are still irrelevant.

 Hopefully with all of this I’ve established (through the explicit use of Larry’s terms) that the only way to have sensible ownership is through “ii.a”. Any case then, where Larry wants to revert back to some use of “B” is just in some sense a confusion of his own terms and understanding - or perhaps that's just on the Libertarians part.

 Moving along Larry states, “I have with my own ears heard Libertarians argue that taxation are objectionable, regardless of any social constructions, because it has the same objective facts as other cases we judge as unjust expropriation…” Of course, if these Libertarians are arguing using the same irrational assemblage of terms that Larry has put together, then I’d have to agree with Larry here. Since I’d argue that “i” through “B” is utter nonsense, then this statement by a Libertarian would also be as such. From there he states, “They (Libertarians) also argue, however, that enforcement of agreements is permissible, even though they have the same objective facts as unjust expropriation, because of the existence of the social constructions of agreements and ownership.” Since we only have “ii.a” to go on then all we need do is reaffirm the premise of the mitigation of coercion against property rights / ownership, all on it’s own. If that’s the premise, it need not include any other socially constructed agreements that don’t entail ownership. So when Larry states here, “…but arguing that social constructions in general cannot establish justice-relevant facts when one does not like a particular construction, and arguing that social constructions in general can establish justice-relevant facts when one does like a particular construction, is self-contradictory.” Where I would in some sense agree with this, I would also further this by saying that all we have are social constructions (according to the language again) so either the Libertarian and/or Larry are confused here. I would again say that social constructions can, do, and have to establish justice relevant facts, so it really comes down what those socially constructed facts will be.

 As to taxes I would say this briefly: Tax money is something I have ownership of, and not by way of “B”, because as we’ve already shown that doesn’t even make any sense, but by way of “C”. Now if for you this causes the dilemma of definition, i.e. we can just say that the government has ownership of that money, well I’d say that that’s simply not true and you’re only defining it as such for the convenience of your argument. Additionally taxes, whereas they are a social construction, are not at all like the agreements we talked about with respect to ownership by way of “ii.a”, in which case my accusation of your category mistake still stands. i.e. I have not agreed to pay taxes, was never at any time given a choice to pay or not pay, or given the option to come to some agreement. So again taxes and ownership, whereas they are both social constructions, are not both agreements of the same kind, and are not both serving the purpose of ownership.

 In conclusion (and to repeat some already stated items) I would eschew the objective/subjective idea of convenience and say that to one extent or another all we do as people is exchange justifications for one thing or another, and develop social conventions for this or that thing or idea; that’s all we have. From my perspective all we can do is say that we want property rights (socially defined in some manner) protected and free from coercion. At the same time we can also affirm the desire for limited government and taxation without getting into any messy logical binds just by saying that’s what we want. The only issue that arises out of this is what are the implications of such a system and is such a system something we want? Now of course that excludes me (I suppose) from many of the Libertarian positions of justification that Larry is talking about, and perhaps in that I’m either not much of a Libertarian, or just one of a different kind. We’ll see.

First and foremost your comment on me just having a “revelation from God” is a low blow. By the definition of God we’re all used to westerners using, I’m every bit an atheist as you are, and in general call myself an atheist. My historical exploration of religion has been from the perspective of an Idealist and Nominalist, which as far as your concerned should be pretty noncontroversial and free of “pie in the sky” revelations. But touche’ good sir.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Libertarianism & Coercion

Without any agreement on the issues with “objectively determinable” and “subjectively determinable” I’d like to move forward and say a few things about the main purpose for making the distinction in the first place. To the point, the purpose of the distinction was to be able to say something about the failed premise (or one of the failed arguments) of Libertarianism. Naturally then, I’d like to take a look at how Larry uses those ideas to that purpose, and see if we can flesh out why it fails. For Larry’s argument in full, see HERE, "The Libertarian Argument".
For additional reference see the proceeding argument below, "possession vs. Ownership...".

First off, let me just a moment to restate what Larry looks to mean by these terms. On the one hand there’s “objectively determinable”, which again is something we can determine objectively without any knowledge of peoples minds, thus at the same time no knowledge of social contexts. On the other hand theres “subjectively determinable”, which in this case is something we determine which does require some knowledge of peoples minds and some knowledge of social context.

Before getting into the argument lets also look at the way Larry (according to his understand) has defined Libertarianism with respect to coercion: “Libertarianism fundamentally consists of the objective moral value that the initiation of coercion is absolutely wrong”.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this understanding and in fact there may be some Libertarians who actually espouse this sort of definition. For me, given the inclusion of “objective moral value” and “absolutely wrong”, I’d reject it from the start. In any case I’d like to point this out and state that from my perspective, I would have went with the language that Libertarianism simply aims at the “mitigation of coercion”, and left it at that. But, perhaps for our current purposes I’m picking at nits, but, maybe not. In any case I think it’s important to bring this front and center because the main purpose of this attack is on the initiation of coercion in general.

With this groundwork laid let’s forge forward. To begin with Larry points out an example of what may be entailed within the general premise of Libertarian ideas on coercion, which is to imagine “…if someone comes up to you, points a gun at your head, and takes your stuff (wallet, watch, car, or suchlike), you have been the victim of injustice.” So of course it naturally follows that this was injustice because you were, “deprived of your property by force without your consent.” What’s most interesting though is the next step he makes which really starts to make a mess out this idea of “objective determinability” he so wants to use. Larry says thusly, “This step establishes a moral intuition (seemingly) about nothing but a set of objectively determinable facts about the world.” What’s interesting about this is, what he’s said about an individual losing his wallet isn’t objectively determinable at all. Notice he uses the words, “your stuff”, and “your property”, which of course cannot be determined objectively at all unless you A.) know something about peoples minds, and B.) understand something about social construction. The best we can say is that the person who lost a wallet “possessed” it, but that says nothing about ownership at all. With this I hope we're at least suspicious of the point Larry wants to make about “objectively determinable”, that it isn't clear, or at least not justified, that such is the case. All of this makes the rest of what Larry wants to argue extremely problematic.

The next step in the charge against Libertarianism is to say that Libertarians make the same “objective” comparison between the scenario above and taxation. Now I’d agree that they do in fact make the comparison, but not at all on the grounds that they are both “objectively determinable” as Larry would like to believe. (I suppose I should grant here that there are perhaps some Libertarians that argue this way, and if that’s the case, I’d have to side with Larry that if they’re playing that game, he’s got em’ in knots). At any rate, I don’t argue that way, so I’m in the clear. Continuing on Larry makes his next charge that, “It's noteworthy that, unlike random robbery, the counter-argument that taxation is legitimate by social construction can be rebutted only by saying that the fact of social construction is irrelevant; “ Now of course we know this fails because in order to legitimate a robbery you need a social construction to determine ownership of the possessions that were reportedly taken. So Larry is trying to make a distinction here that just doesn’t exist, or so far he hasn’t justified that it exists. 

The next link in the chain moves us on to “absentee ownership”, which according to Larry rightly requires a social construct in order to define (and of course I’d make the argument that everything we’ve discussed so far is a social construct). The essential idea is that Libertarians (perhaps just some) support absentee ownership, and therefore accept the use of coercion in order to protect those absentee property rights. Of course, I don’t find absentee ownership or direct ownership at all problematic, and both indeed relay upon social constructs, i.e. in order to establish ownership you need a receipt, a title, a deed, etc.. But because Larry makes a philosophical incoherent split between objective and subjective determination, it makes him think that it then makes sense to say, “if social construction can legitimatize coercion to maintain absentee ownership, then social construction can legitimatize coercion to collect taxes.” However there are more problems with this then the fact that there’s no logical split between the two concepts he’s drawn out. Simply put, it’s a false analogy, a category error. In other words Larry wants to make a comparison between taxes and ownership, and while they are both social constructs (which all ownership is), they are not both representative of the initiation of coercion against ownership. If I own property, whether directly (in that I, e.g., live there personally) or as an absentee owner, then what I do with that property is to a certain degree my business. If I’m an absentee owner renting space to an individual who fails to pay his rent (and we have some sort of rental agreement), then through coercion I’m going to kick him out. Now to make the analogy work with taxes it would have to presuppose that the government “owned” the money it was taking, but in fact it doesn’t. That we socially agree (to one extent or the other) to pay taxes does not entail ownership over that money and therefore the analogy fails.

In conclusion I've aimed to say two main things:
A.) There is nothing meaningful to be said about “objectively determinable” that gives any force to Larry’s argument.
B.) Everything discussed thus far as it relates to possession (as ownership), ownership, absentee ownership, “your stuff”, “your property”, are all social constructs. ***

Because all of these things are social constructs, and because Larry confuses his ideas about “objectively determinable” he then confuses an analogy between taxes and ownership simply because they’re both social constructs, but so what…? From here I’m not so sure it make a lot of sense to continue on because the rest of the charge is just more misuse of the distinctions he wants to use.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Possession vs. Ownership, A Response to [T]he Barefoot Bum

Continuing on the discussion from below with Larry from the Barefoot Bum and I (and now Eli from Rustbelt) have been having quite the struggle hashing through just what is this possession vs. ownership thing. In all the struggle to communicate, and really that’s all this is-is a struggle to communicate (and agree), I’d like to first start out by giving what I think are the most basic and agreeable examples of these concepts I can think of, then move on to tackle what seem to be the conflicts in how I and Larry would like to use them in a philosophical sense. From there, with any hope, we can get to real misery that is my currently pathetic defense of Libertarianism. For the record, though, it isn’t so much a defense as it is my current exploration. If it turns out there’s simply no defensible position for such a political position, then I’ll abandon it – hell I even read “The Communist Manifesto” over the weekend, which is something I’d like to comment on at some point in the future.

 In any case, moving on to possession and ownership. There are, for the purposes of this discussion, only two meaningful definitions of possession I can think of, and I’d like to draw out two simple examples of both(and a combo of). First, there’s possession as “control-of” something: at any given time you can find me in possession of a firearm, and depending on what time of year it is, it’s either a Glock26, or a Glock21 (it’s much easier in the winter time to go full diesel since concealment isn’t a big issue). Now from the perspective of a Police Officer, should [s]he find me in possession of one of these two weapons, [s]he’s undoubtedly going to give me some heavy question and answer, which will in turn be supported by nothing more than my permit to carry. Generally speaking that’s as far as it goes as the officer in this case doesn’t care whether or not I’m actually the “owner” of the weapon, only that (as I’m in control of the weapon) I have legal authorization to do so. Extended even a bit further than that, suppose I’m in a vehicle; it doesn’t matter whether the gun is on my hip, in the glove box, under seat, or in a case in the back seat, as far as the law is concerned (and I don’t want to conflate law with possession) I’m in control of that weapon. i.e. it’s in a proximity of use. If the gun is in the trunk and I don’t have a permit, that would be okay. In any case, this is an instance where possession is all comes down to the control of a particular object, in this case proximity (and it doesn’t matter that it’s a fire arm) gives us reasonable justification to state that someone is “in-control” i.e. possesses a certain object. It should be noted for future discussion, however, that proximity and control assumes that we know both a little something about human nature (and humans behavior in general), objects and objects in general, and the relationship these two things can have with each other.

Secondly, there’s the idea of ownership. For example suppose I’m driving a car and (sticking with the folks in blue) I get pulled over. As is standard procedure [s]he’s going o check for ownership for the vehicle before coming up and asking me for my license and registration. What will undoubtedly happen is the officer will align the individual up (me, the current possessor of the vehicle) with the information he has on the registered owner of the vehicle. Of course if that doesn’t match, or in the least the last names don’t match up, I could potentially have some explaining to do. If it turns out the registration doesn’t match and/or the vehicle has been reported stolen, I’m on some deep doo-doo. Now sure enough I possess the vehicle, it’s in my control, but given our standards of ownership it’s just as clear that I don’t own the vehicle. All that said it should be just as clear that ownership (in this context) exists in a broader context then possession does. Yes I was in control of the vehicle, however at the same time I wasn’t in control of the necessary paperwork which demonstrated ownership of that vehicle. So, possession in this case is not ownership.

Lastly there’s possession as a synonym for ownership. For example, let’s suppose there’s a boat sitting in the driveway outside my garage. I might rightly say that-that’s one of my possessions, therefore directing ones attention to the broader context of ownership. Having said that it’s not necessarily clear that while I possess the boat (after all its sitting in my driveway, and by proximity I have control of it) that it’s actually my boat, even though I say it’s one of my possessions. Nevertheless I could supply one with the proper evidence to show that, yes, that’s my boat.

Hopefully in this every day, plane and mundane example I’ve shown that possession is A.) a matter of physical control and proximity, and B.) That it’s a handy synonym for the broader concept of ownership. It is important to note here that, just because ownership may exist in a broader context doesn’t mean that any more or less of an understanding of context is necessary to understand what these concepts mean. In other words “broader” in this case simply means we need more information, but the specifics of that we’ll get to shortly.

So then, let’s move on to the meat of the discussion, and take a look at the way that Larry wants us to use the terms “possession” and “ownership”, and just what that implies. Larry first sets out by defining his terms, which always makes the task of understanding all that much easier. First there’s the idea of “consistently determinable”, which Larry defines thusly, “consistently determinable; a statement is consistently determinable if, given a context, i.e. some statements and inference rules, everyone will consistently assent or dissent to some statement.” It seems to me that this statement is generally pretty harmless in that it’s just directing our attention to a “tool-like” use of a piece of language, and therefore I don’t find it at all objectionable. Larry goes on from here to talk about “determinable” within given contexts that are either “valid”, “invalid”, or “indeterminate” given the nature of consent relative to those concepts, and again I think we can rightly use those concept tools to talk about things in the way Larry wants without any philosophical dilemmas.

 However, Larry next makes a real sticky mess of the issue (at least in so far as I can see) when he introduces his next concepts; those two concepts being “objective” and “subjective”. He very plainly wants to say that “objective” is simply the “world outside our minds”, while the term “subjective” pertains to our minds directly. Now for rhetorical purposes there shouldn’t be any necessary dilemma yet. But not so fast because the next thing Larry states is that “the union of the objective and the subjective constitute the real…. Gravity objectively exists, and the law of gravity, i.e. our thoughts about gravity, also subjectively exist.” And just like that, mecca-lecca-hi, mecca-hiney-ho, we have philosophy. Before we get to far we have to pull back because the next thing he states is:
“I don't want to get into a theory of truth, but we can say, glossing over a lot of philosophical problems that are not pertinent here, that because our subjective thoughts about gravity seem in some sense to "match" the objective nature of gravity, our subjective thoughts seem in some sense to be "true."
In other words Larry wants to create a nice philosophical structure for himself, but at the same time we should just gloss over it because after all, it’s not pertinent, they seem to “match”, and they’re in “some sense” true. Okay, gotcha

The next natural question of course is, just what’s wrong with this philosophical dilemma in the first place? Well, lets follow Larry a little bit further down the rabbit hole to see just how he connects the concept of “consistently determinable” up with the dichotomy of the subjective and objective. To realize the idea he has in mind he first tells us that an idea is “objectively determinable” when a statement is consistently determinable without introducing any properties of mind. Now if you don’t understand that statement just by itself (and we’ll ignore what may have been meant by it) it simply means that without human evaluation, a thing is true just by itself. This is basically another way of saying that truth is a concept of reality, or something that exists in reality in itself as opposed to something that’s just a word (an adjective) that people use as a justification for their beliefs. Without getting too deep into that though, lets move onto the next thing that Larry states, which is that “subjectively determinable” statements are those that require properties of minds to be consistently determinable. Leaving that (also) where it stands for the moment he does state that both the objective and subjective determination can be extremely problematic in that it’s not obvious how to operationalize objective determinability. But then he goes on to say that we can “hand-wave” over this, because the terminology essentially captures some deep intuitions about the way the world work, i.e. how our mind conceptualize the world.

In case you missed that, not only are we to simply accept the philosophical ideas that Larry has constructed in the manner I’ve already stated above, but to further the hand-waving we should also accept them because, hey, they’re deep intuitions that we all just naturally have, so why would anyone object to them? Given the language Larry is using it seems clear enough that we can now build a full picture of what’s going on here (unless we get further clarification) which is that he wants us to buy into the correspondence theory of truth, but at the same time his language also suggests that he wants to remain in a certain sense noncommittal in order to give himself some later wiggle room, perhaps. Nevertheless the whole idea is generally best summed up with the idea that the world speaks a certain language (or contains all the facts) that we as human beings are supposed to interpret. But the obvious question from that is, what non-question begging justification could we ever conceive of to convince someone that we’ve determined the proper language with which to interpret the universe? How can something like an idea, or a concept (whatever it may be) exist outside the historical context that we all find ourselves in? How can it make any sense at all that something like what Larry is saying just be naturally intuitive, all the while ignoring the fact that many (if not most, if not all) our intuitions are conditioned by the historical backdrop of thousands of human voices in the past? i.e. How do we know we just don’t think that a given conception of the world is intuition because that’s just what we’ve always been taught, or that’s simply the context within which many of our discussions take place within (much of that perhaps being the result of intellectual, philosophical, and scientific history, etc.). If most people before us were philosophical Realists, it stands to reason that the context within which we think about the word would be not all that much different. So what of this intuition about the world we’re supposed to have?

There are a lot of questions I have for Larry here that we could honestly get stuck on forever, perhaps that’s a good thing, perhaps not. In any case I would like to see how the rest of the story fleshes out with respect to how “objectively determinable” and other concepts connects up with possession and ownership. First there’s those items that are “objectively determinable”, which he labels arbitrarily as “possession”, and secondly theres our normatively or subjectively determinable components which are ownership. Shifting over to the simple examples I gave above, lets suppose we have the statement that “I possess I Glock26”. Larry would like to call this “objectively determinable” because evidently it doesn’t require any minds with historically contingent concepts of having and being in control-of in order to make the determination that there’s something meaningful happening here. As a matter of fact he even goes so far as to state that aliens could even ascertain the fact that I possess a Glock26 as though the concept of possession (in the sense that we use it) would have anything like the same meaning it does for us. The most that we can say for these poor aliens is that they could ascertain proximity, or the phenomenal nature of two objects in space. However the relationship that a person and gun have, what it means for someone to have it holstered on their hip, etc., would be completely foreign to them. Next there’s another statement, which again, following from what I’ve stated above would go something like, “Andrew owns the Glock26”. Now of course, granting the idea of proximity and location in space, indeed I would require some broader contextual information in order to ascertain any concept such as ownership (what’s minds ahs to necessarily have to do with it I don’t know), but the aspect of ownership and the aspect of possession is no less behavioral. In order to understand the relationship and contexts of these things requires a level of understanding of people and relationships.

 Let’s move on to defining the dilemma between possession and ownership a bit more succinctly, and go ahead and see how Larry himself does it. 
“ The first is that ownership directly matches possession: given some objectively determinable definition of possession, anyone who possesses an object always owns it. The second is that ownership does not directly match possession: we must in some sense know a lot of things about people's minds to determine whether or not someone owns something; for any objectively determinable definition of possession, it will be the case that people can possess things they do not own and own things they do not possess. Note that the specific definition of possession is irrelevant; what is relevant is only that possession is by definition objectively determinable."

On this I’m partly agreeable. We certainly could (baring all the issues it would create) align possession with ownership and say that if you have proximal control, you also have ownership. But of course we can’t do any of this without concepts to back them which are in no way purely objective in the way that Larry has used it. The second point he makes is simply the trivial notion of every day possession we talked about at the start, and yet none of this splits the notion that one is more or less a social construct than the other for reasons already pointed out. What’s stickier here is that last sentence where he states that the definition of possession is irrelevant, but only the “sight” (my word) of possession which is objectively determinable. Which, I suppose so, but how this would be conceived of outside of human concepts is a bit of a mystery, and that’s the central problem here. Two objects existing together in space is really all together meaningless.

So then, let’s get even a little stickier, Larry states: 
“If I really possess something, it takes objectively determinable initiation of physical force to expropriate the object without my consent… We need the things we use and possess, and we resent people forcing us to do things without our individual consent. These intuitions are not, by and large, problematic. Even a committed communist such as myself admits that I possess my car, for example; I use it, and I maintain control over it, I need it; and I would be quite peeved if anyone, including the state, arbitrarily expropriated it by force.”

Notice anything interesting here? He stopped using the word ownership. You see on the one hand Larry wants us to use “possession” in the most simplest of forms, which simply means control-of and/or proximity to. But all this get’s quite messy when you now switch to a mode of using possession that looks a lot more like ownership as it’s not always objectively determinable that anyone possess anything. I mean, what does it mean to “maintain control” over something if not that I own something, or in the very least have some sort of right to maintain control over it even when I’m not around. But then we’re not talking about something that is (in Larry’s language) “objectively determinable” anymore because according to him we’d need to know something about peoples minds in order to determine whether or not they had rights to control something. So even if we forget all the messy philosophical stuff and just stick with Larry’s language it still fails to make the point. 

Moving on in part to Libertarianism Larry states: 
“So these intuitions are not problematic. However, the Libertarian argument then typically "subjectivizes" what appear to be the objectively determinable notions of possession…”

But wait, didn’t Larry himself just get done “subjetivising” it himself?!?

To conclude all this, let’s for a moment step outside the philosophical issues and just agree to use Larry’s language. On those grounds as I just pointed out I’m not all together sure he’s standing on any sort of firm ground as in the end, he’s conflated the notion of possession with what he’s consider a social constructive idea of ownership. Unless theres some definition I’m missing out on here, I’m not so sure this can move forward to say anything about what Libertarianism entails with regard to ownership. Additionally it seems that while Larry has spoken a bit more about the concept of possession and ownership, he's done nothing but add terms to the discussion that don't seem to bolster the point. Although I do look forward to correction on those items. 

Sunday, November 04, 2012

From Libertarianism to Tyranny / A Response to [T]he Barefoot Bum, P.2

Continuing on from my thoughts below regarding Larry's view of Libertarianism and it's path to tyranny (see P.1 below), I'd like to now offer two other potential solutions to circumvent that path which I believe are still remaining consistent with the premises of Libertarianism.

Let's suppose that, contrary to the argument I gave below against Libertarianism in a vacuum, that we granted the wholesale implementation of the Libertarian premise therefore leaving ourselves open to the charges Larry has leveled. Let's recall then that the charge is Libertarian does nothing to prevent runaway absentee ownership, thus in effect creating a privileged ownership class. In essence Libertarianism implicitly allows the creation of private property monopolies, not to mention corporate / business monopolies. 

I believe a defense of this may be rather simple in that, there's nothing within the Libertarian premise which would prevent the creation of labor monopolies. At least in theory a labor monopoly could work on a large institution or corporations ability to acquire and monopolize absentee ownership as without the means to produce or purchase, large institutions cannot monopolize without labor monopoly consent and/or labor assistance. 

Second, granting that labor monopolies could be a potential reality (and so far as I can see there's nothing within the Libertarian premise to prevent it) there is additionally nothing to prevent blackmail. In fact there is some consent amongst Libertarians that blackmail which does not involve threat or harm, but perhaps more towards reputation and in this case the threat of work, is completely allowable. As such blackmail, specifically though labor monopolies, could be employed in some tactical manner to prevent monopolies on absentee ownership.

Of course where all this sounds rather corrupt, and admittedly I haven't thought it through all the way to the bottom, it could at least in theory work as not just a preventive measure, but as a measure to keep both sides honest.

*The Barefoot Bum

"Gone Tomorrow"

Great song, and interesting choice of imagery....
Not quite sure what to say about it yet....

From Libertarianism to Tyranny / A Response to [T]he Barefoot Bum, P.1

Below, in “A Response to [T]he Barefoot Bum”, I tried to capture a comment I left for Larry with a few objection to his direction on Libertarianism; admittedly my first stab was purely philosophical. I’d like to now make the mess a little more coherent and see where, perhaps, our differences lie. Again, since I haven’t historically been a “political thinker”, I do struggle a bit with these conversations, and to be perfectly honest I’m still at a crossroads where it’s difficult to explicitly draw out what my political affiliations are. In a general sense, I’m socially liberal and fiscally conservative, which in today’s environment typically gets the Libertarian label; whether or not that’s a fair assessment remains to be seen. In any case what better way to start fleshing out those ideas and begin to make explicit your thinking than to get in a tangle with someone who at least seems to think differently than you do, and who is at the same time very proficient in communicating his political ideas.

 Before getting into all the points of contention, I’d like to offer up what I consider to be an obvious difference between Larry and I. The polemics that Larry offers appear to be against Libertarianism as an ideology in a vacuum. In other words he’s stripping away current context and considering what would happen if Libertarianism were implemented in an environment where nothing had existed before. I would make the challenge that this is at least in small portion disingenuous because it’s not the same standard of thinking he holds for himself.

 As an example Larry stated:
“…we know from experience that while it [communism] might be effective at quickly industrializing a poorly-industrialized country, unconstrained political rule by a self-selecting party elite has serious negative consequences when industrialization reaches a certain stage. I therefore abandon the idea of such a party elite. If the theory does not fit the facts, the theory must change. “

 Clearly then, he’s giving himself the benefit of reasoning from experience and context as opposed to the reasoning in a vacuum approach he applies to Libertarians. In effect he’s allowing himself (and so we should) the freedom of changing and tweaking the premises upon which a given conception is based to make it better. And great! I most certainly agree with that. However as the result of his vacuum reasoning throughout several articles he would like to convince us that Libertarianism effectively entails tyranny, but of course that would be exactly the sort of thing a Libertarian would object to.

 Pushing aside the whole idea of reasoning in a vacuum, we do in fact have a current context with which to place our Libertarian thinking, i.e. we have a political environment with certain sorts of laws and regulations in place that we can draw from when objecting to Larry’s points. To put it in yet another way, we can’t assume that if Libertarian candidates get a hold of House and Senate seats in addition the Presidency that the whole of our current political environment and the context it exists within would simply disappear. So then, it is with this thinking in mind that I’d like to make my objections to Larry.

 First I think it’s important to lay out the definition of Libertarianism that Larry is working from:
“As I understand their position, Libertarianism fundamentally consists of the objective moral value that the initiation of coercion is absolutely wrong, and that interference with one's property, broadly defined, always consists of the initiation of coercion.”

 Most of this looks pretty good to me, although I’m not altogether certain the inclusion of “objective moral value” is a fair one, even though I admit that perhaps not all Libertarians would object to. Hopefully in a post to follow I can address that.

 In any case, the major point of contention as I see it is how we get from Libertarianism to tyranny. We do so, according to Larry, because there is nothing within the Libertarian premise that would prevent runaway absentee ownership. In essence, he argues, Libertarianism enables the evolution of an ownership class which by default become the group of individuals who are privileged to “define the terms of tenancy”, and therefore “play the major role in legitimizing the initiation of coercion; therefore, they are the government”. If we accept this reasoning (and I do think it works in a vacuum) then of course it’s not difficult for us to get from there to the idea of a “government of the owners of property”. In effect a property owning, and potentially tyrannical, oligarch.

 But why should we accept this reasoning given our current environment that anything like runaway absentee ownership could become a reality? In other words we already have provisions and regulations in place against monopolies of all kinds, so why should this one be any different? If I would be correct in saying that current regulation would prevent monopolies on absentee ownership, then the idea of an oligarchic ownership class becomes a moot point. Larry needs to tell us how our current system would allow such ownership runaway outside of the context of pure Libertarianism, otherwise he’s simply arm waving over ideologies. To take another angle, Larry needs to convince us that by allowing a slow evolution of Libertarian thought to trickle into political life through the voting process, why anything like the development of ownership monopolies would be something the people would endorse. Now granting that ownership monopolies are an effect, and therefore not something one could explicitly endorse as a policy, I fail to see that there isn’t enough foresight to recognize the consequences of policies that would allow it. Given that we currently see and understand the negative effects of monopolies in a general sense, I’m not sure how this one would be any different.

To conclude, I would challenge Larry that his reasoning within a vacuum, i.e. holding up Libertarianism outside the context of our current environment, is a bit disingenuous given his own standard of thinking. It's not that arguing philosophical ideologies don't have their place, but in practice (the manner with which political ideologies actually take form; the evolution within a historical backdrop) the reasoning falls apart. It is because of this that I'd challenge him on his conclusions and say that, whereas they may conclude logically from the perspective of reasoning in a vacuum, the same doesn't apply when reasoning within a  political and social environment. In essence then, in order to make the conclusion of tyranny you need to convince us not just that Libertarianism as an ideology fails, but how current context and historical contingency could ever lead to such a hostile takeover.

Incidentally, as an afterthought for later:
why would it be more economical (for example in the case of absentee rental property), to have runaway ownership in rental property than it would be purchase land and build homes for sale and ownership? Additionally, if people want to purchase and own homes, how can one reason that a system which in theory allows runaway ownership would not satisfy the demand of individual ownership since of course, it would be economical to do so. i.e. why favor runaway ownership when there's money to had in personal ownership?

Friday, November 02, 2012

Be Above it

A Response to [T]he Barefootbum

So I've become a bit excited over reading Larry at The Barefootbum, and what a way to get back into this whole blogging thing again then to tray and do something I've never really done here before... You know, politics... No doubt I'm getting myself into a world of shit, but what the hell, I like to learn....

See Larry's post HERE. His words in blue below, my comments in black.

From the top:
“Social constructions are socially and subjectively created facts: a social construction labels some entity that exists only in the minds of (most) people in society. The most obvious example of a social construction is an agreement between two people. The agreement itself does not name any entity in the external, objective world (the physical world that does not include our minds); it names just the fact that some particular mental state is shared between the two people.”

I’m not so sure this distinction works all the way through. You’re explicitly making a mind-matter distinction as it relates to social constructs. So when you say:

“Ownership, as distinct from possession, is a social construct. Ownership might reference possession, but ownership and possession are different concepts. Possession is a physical fact; ownership is a shared idea…”

You’re essentially saying because possession has some phenomenal characteristic that it’s objective and therefore not a construct, but the “essence” of possession (or so it seems). But there too this defines possession rather narrowly as merely the appearance of (let’s say) person “X” having something in their hand. How, though, is that any less of a social construct? In a way this tugs a bit at the “found vs. made” distinction where one would like to say, “we created the idea of a banking system, but the idea of a rock in hand is a phenomenon that was always there whether or not there was anyone there to make that distinction.” But the world (even though it may cause us to think, believe and say certain things) doesn’t supply us the reasons for thinking, believing, and saying certain things, we do. As such I’m really not sure that we can make any sense of the distinction and would argue that possession is every bit a social construct as ownership is. From there the difference between ownership and possession is a bit trivial in that possession is just the adjective we apply to persons who have things but don’t own things; it’s merely the application of either-or social convention. So the question here would be, how is “possession” any less a shared fact than “ownership” once we get rid of the distinction that there are subjective facts vs. objective facts? Why should we want to make that distinction?

So when you continue on to say:
“Even were we to all agree that possession, and only possession, entails ownership, possession would label the physical fact of having some object in a person's physical control, an external fact; ownership would label the ideas in our minds that physical possession was legitimate.”

Well, I’d argue that no, it’s only because you’re creating a distinction between “external facts” and “social conventions” that’s leading you to such a conclusion. If both are merely separate social conventions for two separate ideas, then conflating the two wouldn’t make sense for other reason outside of the external/internal distinction.

Next you state:
“Libertarianism (with absentee ownership) defines a specific social construction of ownership, one that does not correspond to possession.”

This seems rather trivial though. Why state “specific”? Why should ownership entail possession?

“As best I can figure out, Libertarianism establishes ownership as only the unbroken chain of voluntary transfer of property from the original creator to the current owner, and the near-absolute power of the owners of property to use, not use, or destroy that property as they please.”

My open question to myself is, “what’s wrong with that?” Suppose that (and I imagine this is going to be the case in most cases) we’re talking about rental property. Why would a person get themselves involved in a social contract with an individual who has absentee ownership when your temporary “possession” of that property isn’t assured by anything?

Moving on you state:
“It's more difficult to decide between social constructions than external referents. Both are, in a sense, socially created (e.g. we have simply agreed that the word "mass" refers to an object's tendency to resist acceleration), but a social construction does not refer to anything in the external world, and we cannot distinguish between conflicting social constructions directly on a scientific basis.”

I’m not sure I really follow you here. Perhaps it’s the other way around in that you’re giving more to the word possession than it should really have? But even before that I don’t see how it’s more difficult to decide between “social constructs” and “external referents” because the difference between the two relates to a distinction I don’t think we can make any sense out of. You refer to scientific evidence as though we can “scientifically prove” that Bob posses “X” by virtue (for example) of just testing it out with our eyes as though testing for ownership by looking at a Title or Deed would be any different. The difference has to do with how we define the social construct, not that one is “objective” and one is “subjective”.

You state:
“Hence the oft-repeated question: why should we prefer to legitimatize the Libertarian social construction of ownership to alternative social constructions of ownership?”

This would make sense only if we can make sense of the distinction between internal and external, and I don’t think we can.

So when you continue:
“It cannot be that the Libertarian construction is scientifically determinable, because "ownership comes from the unbroken voluntary transfer from the original creator" does not directly reference anything in the external world”

I would suggest that it doesn’t make any sense to say that it’s scientifically determinable, or that it even should be. That’s a distinction that you’re creating, although perhaps at the same time that’s what Libertarians would like to argue. I certainly wouldn’t.

To be continued…..