Thursday, June 2, 2011
Patriarchy as self-fulfiling prophecy

Patriarchy as self-fulfiling prophecy

Stateless defense, freeriding, and a rebuttal to FringeElements response to my last video. See my last post for the script.

Response to FringeElements response

Here’s why the social/cultural solution to the defense free-rider problem doesn’t work. That’s the one where not free riding on the defence agency is a matter of culture or avoiding social ostracism. The biggest problem with this argument is that it amounts to ignoring the free-rider problem from the start… the whole point is that there are strong rational incentives in favour of free-riding so simply asserting that social factors will overpower rational factors isn’t actually an answer. If the social-factors are bolstered by blacklisting and systemic ostracism you’ve simply re-invented taxation. 

Free-rider problems actually have a readymade set of solutions already, but basically they all amount to re-ordering incentives to make supporting the thing in question what’s rational. But simply saying people will donate enough, don’t worry, or social pressures will cause compliance, is basically saying the free-rider problem will be solved through spontaneous collusion when the whole point is that collusion is unsustainable. So any answer that is a euphemism for colluding behaviour is a nonanswer in my opinion. If a formulation of market-anarchy is to work it has to be based on market fundamentals. Social pressures leading to collusion, ie. everyone simply co-operating together to donate enough, is analogous to a kind of market speculation. Collusion and speculation can only drive market behaviour temporarily before someone defects or the house of cards collapses, and in the long run all markets come to bare based on real factors and rational incentives.

What I find so strange about the responses from anti-statists that have just brushed off the free-rider problem as nothing to worry about – and by the way Fringe Elements is not one of these people, he’s actually proving a very deep commitment to self-scrutiny – and it’s generated lots of good discussion. If this were left-anarchist community and he made a video about the free-rider problems of syndicalism and so on he would have been castigated as a counter-revolutionary, so brushing it off as easy is at least a step up. But still, the ones who brush it off must have a huge amount of cognitive dissonance, because one of the basic arguments in favour of market-anarchy, particularly with regard to natural monopolies, is an affirmation of the free-rider problem. Market competition is just the free-rider problems, only the problem is specifically for the firms. So, basically my point is that market anarchists everywhere should intuitively see the seriousness of the free-rider problem; you can’t have it both ways: recognizing the difficulty of collusion on a free-market, and the difficulty of the defence free-rider problem go hand in hand.


The remainder of this video will be a response to FringeElement’s response to my last video titled Polycentric Law is Not Libertarian. I’ll link to his video with the time stamp for when he begins his response to me so I don’t have to restate what he said. 

I can’t really respond to ‘an act of state is an act of war’ because I just don’t believe in the NAP, and I find the other intuition pumps simply unpersuasive. At least in the context of defending a classically liberal minarchist state whose sole prerogative is to defend negative liberties and enforce contracts it doesn’t commit any acts of war as you seem to mean it anyway.

I do believe an enlightened monarchy would be preferable to a stateless society, precisely because I want to go against the general will in requiring respect and protection of liberty irrespective of operational support.

And I don’t believe enforcing draconian laws in a polycentric order would be too costly. Obviously this is true of the massively expensive War on Drugs and War on Terror, but new laws don’t necessarily create new expenditures. It’s just a matter of informing the police agencies to start enforcing them. If a region had operational support to outlaw men and women holding hands in public, for example, it just requires that the private enforcers include it as another thing to be mindful of. 

I understood your point about the threshold to pass a law, but I don’t agree that a polycentric system would either pass fewer or less invasive laws. The majority of people may or may not be dormant theocrats but they definitely don’t hold to our libertarian values per se. You could say that if a legal agency in someplace like the Bible Belt or Ireland decided to outlaw for example beliefs heretical to Christianity, or homosexuality say, than gays and atheists could just move to some more secular enclave or withdraw funds. Withdrawing funds wouldn’t be sufficient because the laws were passed with an operational support that doesn’t depend on their money – not to mention the incentive against doing this for the reason that it might withdraw you from legal recognition altogether, even for laws that protect you. And while moving is possible, it’s a major inconvenience that could outweigh the desire to evade a law. You could say a-ha manifest subjective preference, but it doesn’t change the fact that many people will still live under anti-libertarian laws. I just don’t see it as justifiable to say that it’s alright that these laws exist because the guy who opposes them somehow indirectly affirms them by not being able to move. 

I didn’t mean to suggest you had to refute an infinite number of ways to organize a state. I was just pointing out how much effort you’ve put in to trying to find a solution to what I believe is an intractable free-rider problem, compared to how little imagination antistatists generally have for acknowledging similar solutions to the collective action problems that lead to government growth.

On historicism. You’re explanation of what the historicists believed is correct, but I by mentioning Austrians I meant it specifically in the sense used by Karl Popper when he attacked the idea of their being inexorable laws of historical destiny. Basically all I meant was that to claim a non-descript state is destined to balloon in size and scope is to subscribe to a kind of historical determinism akin to the claim that capitalism by historical law is doomed to fail. It’s understandable that you missed this difference because Popper’s book the Poverty of Historicism was actually famous for having little to do with what actual historicism is and for completely misunderstanding Hegel and other key figures. 

Finally I’ll quickly address one of the better points made in my comments: 

Atheist Altar essentially wrote that I was conflating an institutional framework with a normative framework. 

He’s very smart to pick up on that and is correct. I define libertarianism via a set of normative positions, namely the right to do, say, think, feel, exchange and create the things I want to so long as it doesn’t infringe on another’s ability to do the same. The reason I named my last video Polycentric law is NOT libertarian was because it would not enforce my normative standards uniformly if at all. Like I said, the status of freedom of expression would depend on your municipality. I’d much rather live under a state-of-affairs that ensures the same liberties throughout the land, which I should have made clear was a degree of universalism that was only congruent to but not inherent in a state system. In other words, I don’t think a polycentric framework is good specifically because it doesn’t lead to my preferred normative outcomes, outcomes I refer to as libertarian. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Among the evidence that should exist is a relationship between the environmental exposure and cancer that makes sense scientifically for the specific exposure. In the case of cell phone radiation, this means that the laterality of brain cancers should correlate with the laterality of usage. This Finnish study shows no evidence of any such correlation. In fact, if you take this Finnish study together with the existing studies out there, other than the studies by Dr. Lennart Hardell’s group in Sweden, studies that have serious limitations, in particular recall bias, the evidence supporting a link between cell phone radiation and cancer is so resoundingly nonexistent in epidemiology, preclinical science, and physics that it boggles the mind the WHO would come to even the tepid conclusion that cell phones should be added to Group 2B… Respectful Insolence on the WHO Cell-phone press release, over at The WHO is really discreditting itself with this change in classification, ignoring a huge amount of good data that’s already put any connection to rest. This is so much stupider than the EU health officials decision against GMOs, and goes to show that governmental authorities =/= science authorities. The new studies they cite (which are only being released today) only just pass statistical significance. Sounds like a P-value fallacy to me.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Polycentric law is not libertarian. You can fiind the script below this post. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Polycentric Law is Not Libertarian

Preserving the freedom to believe and behave non-violently requires something like a universally enforced constitution prohibiting violations of life, liberty and property. In these so-called polycentric common law societies that FringeElements envisions there’s no theoretical reason the policing of thought and free expression wouldn’t become dominant, and he admits it, saying that both totalitarian and welfarist societies were possible in a stateless society, although he said the former was unlikely. Part of the Austrian credo, however, has always been a resistance to the idea that one can predict how a market will turn out. So I don’t know how he has the impossible knowledge that statelessness won’t trend towards illiberal outcomes. There’s in fact every reason to think it would.

 If something like Fringe Element’s vision were true it would be a matter of months before blasphemy was illegal. Fringe talks about how his vision of common law will require a critical mass to do anything nefarious – 90% according his mind’s eye, a very scientific estimation I see – setting aside the absurdity of that number, those percentages can easily be found in the religious. The threat of theocracy is virtually guaranteed in a stateless society when one realizes that today’s most populous, loyal, and well-financed non-state organizations are and always have been the institutions of Religion, and they will have a huge leg up in any nascent stateless society. They did in the past, after all. From health care, to charity, to local safety nets, to even law enforcement. 

Liberty will die in a polycentric legal environment, because liberty is neither profitable, nor are inalienable rights something that deserves being decentralized. In a stateless society the law that emerges is variable and up for grabs. Liberty, however, depends on a resolute and unshakable defence of certain essential freedoms. This depends on a central authority, and will not survive if they depend on private whim, social evolution or the inter-subjective consensus. 

I’m a classical liberal. I believe in naïve things like not having my beliefs censored, not having by personal habits regulated, and not having the products of my labour stolen. A minarchist state that guarded only those things would be infinitely better than market anarchy, the state-of-affairs where the status of freedom of expression depends on your municipality. 

To those worried about government growth, the inevitable trend towards bigger government, I won’t even bother pointing to examples that falsify what is fundamentally a historicist doctrine – another thing I thought Austrians opposed. Rather, think about the huge amount of energy anti-statists invest in developing contrived way around the free-rider problems inherent in things like defence, civil law, regulation and immigration. If you took the effort FringeElements put into trying to find a solution to any one of these free-rider problem of statelessness, the public choice problems of a state could be solved a thousand times over. The number of conceivable systems of checks and balances is infinite, and pretending they don’t exist is a selective lack of imagination. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Government Fundamentalism is rampant. See my last post for the script.

Government Fundamentalism

In his latest video Ryan rebukes those who use the label free market fundamentalism by making the case that, as an analogy to religion, statists are much more aptly labelled the fundamentalists. I actually would completely agree with that.

A market fundamentalist, as I understand the use of the term, is anyone who jumps to privatization, deregulation, spending or tax cuts, and decentralization in response to any given problem or crisis. The problem with market fundamentalism is not just that it prescribes those things, but that they don’t follow given the kind of problems under question, they’re non-sequiturs. Many republicans I think can aptly be labelled market fundamentalists. America has a major recession, and they propose tax and spending cuts. That’s simply a non-sequitur. Regardless of where you fall on the Keynes debate, cutting taxes and spending is just not a logical way to respond to a recession. Either you don’t believe in fiscal stimulus and the tax and spending cuts will have no real effect, or you do believe in fiscal stimulus and you’ll understand why tax cuts are suboptimal and that we ought to run deficits in down turns. I’m not saying spending cuts aren’t a good idea, they just don’t follow from this particular problem. So yes, free-market fundamentalists exist.

But, and this is a big but, their numbers absolutely pale in comparison to the number of people who reflexively, illogically and unjustifiably turn to the state to solve problems that are sometimes measly and often not problems at all. State policy makers and policy wonks in general at least understand that there are certain theoretical market conditions where state intervention makes sense. Some things are what are called public goods. That means they’re nonrivial and nonexcludable.

The best example of a non-rival non-excludable good is national defence; you can’t exclude yourself from the benefits of national defence, and your enjoyment of those benefits doesn’t reduce anyone else’s ability to enjoy the benefits either. This makes it a difficult thing for a market to provide let alone price, and a very easy thing for the state to provide out of taxation. The justification is twofold: A, the state can do national defence better and B, the fact that it’s both a necessary service and one that you can’t exclude yourself from it gives taxation legitimacy.

Whether you think this is true or not isn’t the point, the point is we have a plausible theoretical framework to explain when state intervention might do some good. You can look up market failure theory if you want more examples, but Statists throw all this out the window and use “the government” as a big all purpose band aid for their personal grievances and wish lists. And unlike market fundamentalism, which exists in the minds of a small demographic of economics nerds and libertarian ideologues, state fundamentalism is practically the default for the majority of lay people and short sighted politicians in the world. You got a problem? Pass a law on it.

The examples abound. Anyone who’s ever said health care is a right, therefore the government should run it, is a state fundamentalist. Why? Because it’s a complete non-sequitur. So what whether health care is a right… you need some kind of analysis between the first and second clause to bridge the two. The same is true for people like Bill Maher, who argue that providing health care is too important to be motivated by profit. How’s that anymore ignorant than a free-market fundamentalist saying “the military, prisons and healthcare are too important to not run for profit…” other than the fact that the people who use Bill Maher’s reasoning are far greater in number.

A real argument for state intervention would sound like this: National health insurance is basically a risk pool.  The larger the insurance pool, the more risk gets distributed, the more efficiently insurance can be provided. The nation is the largest possible insurance pool and therefore the most efficient, in addition because of the lack of overhead. Furthermore, because health and death statistics are easily collected, and because pricing insurance is an actuarial science, the economic calculation problem doesn’t apply. This justification is again twofold, in both giving a theoretical reason government is better and as an area of acceptable taxation.

Again whether you buy this argument or not isn’t the point. The point is that this is the type of argument one is required to produce if one isn’t a naïve statist or government fundamentalists. There are lots of people who try to do this, but they’re by far the minority and are largely academics.

Free market fundamentalism is a real thing, but the bards of statism doth protest too much.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why Non-cognitivism is Correct. Scroll down to my last post to read along with the script.

Why Non-cognitivism is Correct

Non-cognitivism is the meta-ethical position that moral statements aren’t truth appropriate. That is, an ethical claim like “lying is wrong” is not saying anything objectively true or false about lying, but rather “wrong” is just the attitude we carry with respect to lying and people who lie.  

I got interested in Non-cognitivism (and eventually came to accept it) after reading A.J. Ayer’s, Language Truth and Logic, of which meta-ethics is only a piece. There are different brands of non-cognitivism, of which Ayers is pretty crude. In his rendering moral propositions like “lying is wrong” are converted to the form “boo! Lying” – our attitudes are expressed to convey emotions not facts. In this video I won’t argue for a particular version of non-cognitivism, just the general principles.

 Ayer was an important Logical Positivist who came from the Wittgenstein school that rejected most of metaphysics and philosophy as pursuing dead-ends in language. Most of the problems of and disagreements in philosophy, in this my view, aren’t problems at all, but instead range from meaningless conjectures to semantic confusions of our ordinary language, which is ill-equipped for understanding the world as it is. Using the steadfast principle of verification, therefore, we can cut through the metaphors and essentialism of language to get to truth.

The logical positivists have come and past, and today’s empiricists and moral non-cognitivists have moved on too, with theories that are now much more sophisticated. But the positivist approach is still in my opinion by and large correct. Many of the debates in philosophy can be solved by just stepping back and looking at the material reality of what it is you’re philosophizing about.

By this standard I judge non-cognitivism to be positively correct. Looking at the way we moralize it seems to be abundantly obvious that, at least in the first instance, moral expressions are expressions of internal attitudes and do not have any actual truth conditions.  

Think about the human sense of right and wrong. We know with a high degree of certainty the following facts about our moral sense:

1. It was not injected into us by a God.
2. They are not real properties in the universe, which is approximately what natural right-er’s believe. Natural rights theories range from question begging to a kind of divine command theory without the deity.  
Because the moral sense is neither “intelligently designed” nor “intelligently derived” the 3rd thing we can say with certainty is that our moral sense had to have been a product of our biological evolution.

Indeed, we can say that our innate moral sense is evolved with a high degree of certainty because of a huge wealth of biological, neurological and anthropological data that has poured in over the last half century, and which has been organized in a literature of Evolutionary Psychology.

In this video I don’t intend to make that case for you. I take it as a given. Popular expositions of the evidence have been published in numerous books in recent years, if you want to understand the evidence for yourself. Of the ones I’ve read I can recommend Moral Minds by Marc Hauser, in which he argues we have a kind of innate moral grammar, analogous to Chomsky’s universal grammar. Then there’s The Moral Animal by Robert Wright, The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker, and Evolutionary Psychology by David Buss. Any attempt by me to defend this view – that our innate moral sentiments are emotional responses that the human species evolved because they helped our ancestors survive and procreate – would be a weak duplication of what you can read in those books.

But for this video let me pick one clear illustrative example: our attitudes towards rape.

There is a clear and cross cultural consensus that to rape is to do a wrong, ignoring for simplicity the special exceptions that prove the rule. Furthermore, the attitude is very clearly pre-cognitive, given the strong emotions that come along with it, comparable to those for murder. We understand rape is wrong, in other words, not as a cognitive belief, an acknowledgment of a fact, like observing that rape is non-consensual or to causally note that it’s raining outside, but as an intense emotional conviction that phenomenonlogically borders on knowledge. Yet the wrongness of rape is a very strange thing if you think about it. Sure it’s non-consensual, it’s violating and often violent, but many things happen to us without our consent including violence, and while we may consider most of it wrong, we don’t think it has moral equivalence to murder – the total annihilation of a person’s existence. Indeed, sex is something people do voluntarily all the time, and people have learned to have very open attitudes about sex in general,  but very few undisturbed people volunteer death, and even when people do there are strong moral attitudes against it.

The fact that we have evolved psychologies goes a long way to explaining these weird equivalences. The evolutionary purpose of humans is to survive, procreate and invest in their offspring to carry on their genes. Women, the primary victims of rape, were forever in our species history the child carriers. Sex in Northwest Africa circa 50,000 BCE had none of the casual implications sex often has today. Sex, for a woman, was literally life threatening, and a large fraction would die during labour. This contrast with men, who, ignoring a few serious venereal diseases, have next to no biological reason to feel reluctant about having sex.  This is reflected in the number of sex cells men produce compared to women. Women therefore have evolved to be relatively picky compared to men in choosing a mate, with a focus on commitment. Getting knocked up by the wrong guy, the genetically and socially inferior guy, or worse a complete stranger, is ensuring your fate to the forces of natural selection. Women have therefore evolved a psychology to guard their sexuality from strange men, and likewise have men who would have been fathers with a similar genetic interest to not have their daughter be inseminated by the kind of person too unfit to find a voluntary lover.

Survival and reproduction have a peculiar kind of equivalence, in terms of importance, with regard to natural selection. It’s this very equivalence that our non cognitive attitudes mirror. And in any event, neurological studies have confirmed that moral opinions arise from preconscious attitudes.

I chose rape because it’s vivid, but a similar argument can be made for all our base moral attitudes. This doesn’t mean there’s no cognitive potential for morality. We are obviously able to take our attitudes, most of which have a technical kind of universality, and form beliefs around them, or construct entire ethical theories. The important point is that our morality is in the first instance non-cognitive. This is the meta-ethical reality. It doesn’t come from god and is not a property of nature. The cognitive constructions that come after are allowed because they don’t claim to be meta-ethics. They are things like normative and applied ethics, and one is justified to partake in them so long as one acknowledges GE Moore’s argument about them being Open Questions. I’m a non-cognitivist when it comes to aesthetics too. Evolution has selected our sense of beauty – for instance, in picturesque landscapes or the waist-hip ratio. The former is became beautiful because it indicated natures plenty, and in the latter because it indicated fertility. Yet theres no meta-aesthetic way to substantiate these attitudes as true or false, so we simply live with them as attitudes, and construct aesthetic rules while never closing the argument of what’s beautiful.

Putting it short and simple: non-cognitivism can be said to be true if and only the following 2 these are valid:

A. Moral and indeed aesthetic propositions are non-factual.


b. And our moral attitudes are psychologically non-cognitive, meaning emerging prior to cognition.

The first of these is patently obvious once you understand the non-natural state of moral properties and the second is, in the positivist tradition, a scientifically demonstrated fact.

I rest my case. 

(check out my archive to see past posts I’ve done on Non-cognitivism, like in November)