David M. Brown's Blog

August 23, 2016

#TriggerWarning: Don’t ever say any of the following things to me. I will be offended.

Filed under: Economics,Ethics,Philosophy,Politics,Society and culture — davidmbrowndotcom @ 6:22 pm

#TriggerWarning: Don’t ever say “Here are some words you may never use.” I will be offended.

#TriggerWarning: Don’t ever say “Let’s soak the rich because they’re rich.” I will be offended.

#TriggerWarning: Don’t ever say “A person accused of sexual assault is guilty regardless of the facts.” I will be offended.

#TriggerWarning: Don’t ever say “A police officer who shoots somebody is automatically guilty of wrongdoing, regardless of the facts.” I will be offended.

#TriggerWarning: Don’t ever say “I don’t have time to read the free Kindle sample of your new book The Flying Saucers Are Very Very Real.” I will be offended.

#TriggerWarning: Don’t ever say “The earth, which I like to call Gaia, or Gaea, is in great danger from industrial civilization; therefore, we must outlaw plastic bags, incandescent light bulbs, and toilets that flush too vigorously.” I will be offended.

#TriggerWarning: Don’t ever say “The meaningless, nihilistic smears and juxtapositions of modern pseudo-art are an eloquent and transcendent expression of something-or-other.” I will be offended.

#TriggerWarning: Don’t ever say “As a journalist, facts are not important to me. What’s important to me is skewing or omitting the facts in service of my egalitarian or socialist ideological agenda, and always licking the boots of the politically powerful.” I will be offended.

#TriggerWarning: Don’t ever say “Islam-motivated terrorism isn’t at all motivated by Islam and maybe it isn’t even terrorism.” I will be offended.

#TriggerWarning: Don’t ever say “You will enjoy this movie as long as you turn off your brain before you start watching and desist with your importunate demands for originality, intelligence and honesty. It’s just a movie.” I will be offended.

#TriggerWarning: Don’t ever say “I don’t care how much wealth and survival is made possible by capitalism and ambitous profit-seeking; capitalism is evil. Why? Because production, division of labor, trade, freedom, human life and rationally fulfilling the requirements of human survival are evil, I guess.” I will be offended.

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August 20, 2016

Aging is not a “disease”; nor is finitude

Filed under: Ethics,Philosophy,Science,Self-help,Society and culture — davidmbrowndotcom @ 6:56 am

The blogger Instapundit, commenting on efforts to slow the inexorable advance of our decrepitude, says “Good to see aging being treated as the disease that it is.”

No, I veto this wording. A normal, universal and inevitable biological process is not a “disease,” even if it makes us more susceptible to disease as we careen toward the finish line. Is the intention here to be loose and metaphorical, deliberately inexact, in a sort of jovial and ironic way? Well then, fine. But it doesn’t sound like that’s the intention when the claim is being made repeatedly and emphatically. If biological limitations and finitude as such are a “disease,” living as such is a “disease,” and the concept of “disease” loses its meaning. Then we would have to find another word for colds, pneumonia, myocardial infarctions, et cetera. What’s next, prescribing penicillin for the Law of Identity? I’m all in favor of our slowing or stopping aging, and I’d also like us to slow or stop misuse of language.

A commenter at the Instapundit site, responding to the same Instapundit report on efforts to combat aging, wants to know: “So what gives the current generation the justification to live forever? Why shouldn’t they die like every other generation? I see no redeeming qualities about me to justify such a thing. In fact, I’d recommend resurrecting the Greatest Generation before letting the current morally and physically deficient generation continue for another breath.”

This is one of those strenuously nonsensical assertions that must exhaust and outlast any attempt to fully answer it. One may as well ask the commenter what “justification” he himself has to exert the effort required to live the next hour, month, year, decade, or whatever the full span is until he is no longer able to survive.

Justifications occur within the context of pursuing the ultimate goal of your own life. Taking medicine is justified to help keep you alive; you don’t stay alive to “justify” your taking medicine as an end in itself. If someone who might have died at age 59 instead lives until 89 because he improves his habits of exercise and diet, would this guy say unto him, “So what gives you [and other members of ‘the current generation’] the right to live longer? Why shouldn’t you have died at age 59 like every other person who dies at that age? I see no redeeming qualities about you [or ‘the current generation’] to justify such a thing”?

Organisms expend effort and energy to sustain their existence; that’s what it means to be alive. Whether a particular individual is “morally corrupt” or lacks “redeeming qualities” and is thus deserving of censure is a separate question. And no, there isn’t any mass indictment of all members of a generation as a group that can properly be made without consideration of what differentiates specific individuals in that group and their choices and actions as individuals.

Another commenter says: “This anti-aging obsession is very selfish….why do baby boomers and others think they are so special that they should live longer and grub more resources? Pathetic.”

This means that staying healthy and alive is a bad thing, because being alive is per se a bad thing. This also means that eating, exercise, shelter, medicine are all necessarily bad things too isofar as they foster the continued well-being and survival of a living individual.

Of course, doing the things you need to do to stay healthy and alive is indeed selfish, if selfishness simply means being concerned with and taking appropriate actions to foster and preserve one’s self. But I suspect that the commenter intends “selfish” to include also what he anyone would regard as bad and objectionable conduct rather than only acting rationally and peacefully to enhance one’s life–so that benign life-serving actions are guilty by association with the malignant actions. Note that he offers no argument or reasoning to explain why taking further steps to improve one’s ability to survive is bad. He offers only disapproval and guilt by association with some undefined evil, maybe bank robbery and murder.

Similarly, the production and consumption required to sustain human life are pejoratively transformed into “grubbing” if an individual should begin to do more than the commenter is willing to countenance in the way of living a healthier life. The connotation substitutes for argument. Folks have been “grubbing” to sustain their lives long before life extension or anti-aging research came along. No doubt each new advance of civilization making possible longer average lifespans was greeted with equal howls of protest by equivalent commenters in their day.

Read The Flying Saucers Are Very Very Real

Read Omelet: A Tragedy of Bill Shake-a-speare

Read The Case of the Cockamamie Killer

August 18, 2016

The triumph and tragedy of George Reisman’s Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics

Filed under: Economics,Philosophy,Publishing,trade — davidmbrowndotcom @ 7:33 pm

George Reisman’s Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics is a triumph of sustained creative insight into the nature of economics and the ethical and epistemological ideas that illuminate the science of economics and strengthen the philosophical defense of capitalism as a rights-based social system.

Some more technical parts of the book are beyond me. But I would say that at least a good two thirds is a clear-sailing voyage of intellectual discovery. It is a tragedy that the tome’s virtues, because of how much it has to offer on so many levels, can never really be fairly indicated by even the best critical assessment. Some persons who should have commented on this work have yet to do so, two decades after it was originally published. And some even favorable commentators have taken too few pains to outline its many virtues while spending too much space on sometimes unworthy disagreements. The virtues of the book include its clear, forceful, eloquent style; its continuous stream of small and large original insights (some of them controversial among fellow-traveling Misesian economists); and the smoothly interlocking logical development of a mammoth theoretical structure that must have been brain-cracking to keep track of and keep concise. The scope of integration is really thrilling, and must be experienced firsthand. Reisman credits the invention of the personal computer for having made the project possible at all. This seems plausible. The book is primarily a positive achievement, a contribution to our knowledge, but also by the way smashes many an egregious anti-capitalist fallacy at its root or at the root of its root.

Yes, the book is concise. It is compact. It is tightly written and non-word-wasting. Years ago, on his Objective American web site, the journalist E.G. Ross (now long dead) took a casual swipe at the work for allegedly going on too long. Didn’t Reisman know how to get to the point? (Or words to that effect.) I had to doubt whether Ross had skimmed more than a few pages or done more than lift the book or look at a picture showing how thick it was. He certainly said nothing in his remarks to indicate that he had tackled any of it with understanding, the doing of which would have provided more than one clue as to why the length was more than justified. I am glad to see that many of the readers leaving comments about the book at Amazon do understand why. Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics is the furthest thing you could imagine from a slack and wordy recapitulation of stuff about capitalism that every informed person or competent economist already knows. It is a careful, fresh and often brilliant rethinking of the subject from the ground up and in detail.

Of course, Reisman takes care to generally credit many major sources and influences. But that he seeks comprehensiveness in articulating his own synthesis is a great virtue of the work. A Reader’s Digest Condensed Version of the book would fall short, I’m afraid; it would cripple the overarching awesomeness. On the other hand, the book could probably be divided into ten or fifteen normal-sized volumes, and perhaps it should be published that way also. Alas, Mr. Ross would not be around to give one of the entries in the less intimidating format a try and thus realize how tightly welded and enlightening this intellectual accomplishment really is.

Reisman may never fully get the credit and understanding he is due for Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics. But at least he knows he did it, that he achieved this.

Read The Flying Saucers Are Very Very Real

Read Omelet: A Tragedy of Bill Shake-a-speare

Read The Case of the Cockamamie Killer

 

July 27, 2016

False alternative: Humans as ants or history as playing out of providential plan

Filed under: Bible stories,History,Philosophy,Religion — davidmbrowndotcom @ 11:24 pm

Here is eminent and eminently readable historian Paul Johnson in  A History of the Jews (the Kindle e-book edition of which is, as I write, on sale from Amazon for $1.99):

Is history merely a series of events whose sum is meaningless? Is there no fundamental moral difference between the history of the human race and history of, say, ants? Or is there a providential plan of which we are, however humbly, the agents?

How about this: human beings are not agents of a providential plan, because there is no Providence, i.e., no Jupiter, no Zeus, no Odin, no Amun, no Jehovah. But there is indeed a fundamental moral difference between ants and human beings. Ants act automatically. Ants do not choose what they value, have no capacity to reason and have no morality. They are extremely ant-like; and this is a matter of observation, not of theological supposition. Human beings, by contrast, do possess a faculty of reason and the ability to choose the values that guide their lives, and hence can act in accordance with a good, bad, or mixed morality. These facts about human beings are also observable.

Furthermore, it is okay for human beings squash ants. It is not okay for human beings to squash other human beings

Why does Johnson implicitly assume, by presenting the alternatives as he does, that chosen human purposes have no moral significance unless that significance is injected outside of human moral agency by an unfathomable, unknowable, in fact mythical agency? The act of imputing a significance-endowing power to a fictional entity itself has moral significance, but a significance entirely human-generated. The imputing demeans human agency and  treats it as insufficient, partial or unreal except insofar as bolstered or enabled by an occupant of an alleged super-real dimension.

July 24, 2016

Frustrated, nihilistic losers are attracted to ideas that appeal to frustrated, nihilistic losers

Filed under: Ethics,Islam,News,Philosophy,Psychology,Religion,Society and culture,Terrorism — davidmbrowndotcom @ 4:08 pm

Why do some people think that if a Muslim terrorist has been psychologically screwed up in ways not directly related to a jihadist ideology of religious-political murdering of innocents in the name of Islam, then an evident Islamist motive becomes marginal or irrelevant to explaining his mass-murdering? So that, if so, we may no longer acknowledge Islamist rationalization of mass murder as a salient motive no matter how many times the guy screams “Allahu Akbar” as he takes people out?

New York Magazine‘s Claire Landsbaum last month:

“Since the shooting, police have been attempting to piece together what motivated Mateen to carry out the attack. He reportedly declared his allegiance to ISIS in a 911 call just before the shooting, and police say he referred to the Tsarnaev brothers, who were responsible for the Boston bombings, as his ‘homeboys.’ But officials stressed that Mateen’s links to terrorist groups remained unconfirmed, despite the fact that he’d been investigated three times by the FBI for such connections.

“It’s still impossible to say what motivated Mateen, but it now appears the answer is much more complicated than Islamic extremism.”

So, there are complexities in life.

But no idea, good or bad, if it is grasped and acted upon in the world, functions in a vacuum outside of anybody’s psychology. It’s specific individuals who accept, implement, practice, spread ideas.

In his book The True Believer, Eric Hoffer observed that frustrated and despairing individuals who seek a way to submerge and forget their lousy lives and selves are open to mass movements that demand submergence of and sacrifice of life and judgment in the name of those movements.

Hoffer: “All mass movements generate in their adherents a readiness to die and a proclivity for united action; all of them, irrespective of the doctrine they preach and the program they project, breed fanaticism, enthusiasm, fervent hope, hatred and intolerance; all of them are capable of releasing a powerful flow of activity in certain departments of life; all of them demand blind faith and singlehearted allegiance….

“Starting from the fact that the frustrated predominate among the early adherents of all mass movements and that the usually join of their own accord, it is assumed: 1) that frustration of itself, without any proselytizing prompting from the outside, can generate most of the peculiar characteristics of the true believer; 2) that an effective technique of conversion consists basically in the inculcation and fixation of proclivities and responses indigenous to the frustrated mind.”

In one case after another of a Disturbed Young Man slaughtering people in the name of Islam, we have a screwed-up self + obliterative jihadist ideas demanding sacrifice of selves, ideas which appeal specifically to frustrated souls eager to throw away their own moral responsibility and lives, and, incidentally, the lives of others. How does one indispensable part of this combination become irrelevant if and as we acquire information about the other indispensable part?

If we learn that a zealous convert to Nazism was frustrated and screwed up well before he ever became devoted to Nazism and der Fuehrer, does this mean that the collectivist Nazi ideology, Nazi movement, Nazi institutions, and Nazi mechanisms of force and murder to which the convert has pledged his allegiance—all the animating Nazi notions and apparatus which, in the mind of the true-believing Nazi, justify all manner of viciousness—no longer need be morally, intellectually and physically combatted?

The proto-killer’s bottomless personal frustration, zero willingness to struggle to make better moral choices in his life, and absolute willingness to throw himself and others on the pyre for the sake of ideas that both demand such sacrifices and promise that making those sacrifices will relieve the frustration…these are not mutually exclusive motives that cannot be enlisted together in consistent explanation of why somebody would shoot into a crowd or drive a truck into a crowd while screaming that he’s doing it all for Islam and Allah.

No, we don’t know everything about such individuals. But we know as much as we do know. One thing we know is that nihilistic losers and the ideas designed to appeal to nihilistic losers are perfectly compatible.

 

Read The Flying Saucers Are Very Very Real

Read Omelet: A Tragedy of Bill Shake-a-speare

Read The Case of the Cockamamie Killer

July 8, 2016

With respect to the way James Comey let Hillary Clinton off the hook…

Filed under: Ethics,News,Philosophy,Politics — davidmbrowndotcom @ 1:45 am

…Charles Krauthammer writes, “I admit I’m giving Comey the benefit of the doubt. But the best way I can reconcile his reputation for integrity with the grating illogic of his Clinton decision is by presuming that he didn’t want to make history.”

Krauthammer chastises FBI Director James Comey for shabby logic, but the commentator’s own logic is shabby. How is evading evidence because one does “not want to make history” consistent with integrity in drawing conclusions from evidence?

Proposing a minor variant of the widely guessed motives behind Comey’s evasion of Hillary Clinton’s prosecutability, Krauthammer suggests that the director’s conduct is not as ugly-looking if the Krauthammer-preferred rendition of motive, and not some other motive, animated the evasion.

But imagine a case in which another official, also not being physically threatened, recommends prosecution when that official knows–not guesses: knows–the accused person to be innocent. What then? Would the injustice done to that innocent person be somehow more consistent with the integrity of a commitment to justice if Motive A for committing the injustice were operative rather than Motive B? Would assigning one motive rather than the other constitute giving the “benefit of the doubt” to an official who knowingly cooperates in trampling the rights of an innocent person? That it is hard to be just in a particular case is no excuse for being unjust.

December 22, 2013

There is no God

Filed under: Bible stories,Philosophy,Religion,Society and culture — davidmbrowndotcom @ 10:58 pm
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I sometimes hear that although an atheist may be entitled to not believe in God, he is not entitled to believe or flatly assert that there is no God. The atheist, supposedly, cannot be sure that there is no God.

It is true that lack of belief in any gods, i.e., an absence of theistic belief, is all that is required to make one an atheist. I agree with George H. Smith there. But any atheist, if he comes at the question with the appropriate epistemological greaves and cuirasses, which consist in nothing more than uncomplicated and explicit acceptance of the self-evident and inescapable axioms at the base of all thought, is also fully justified in asserting that there is no God. Not only has the burden-of-proof requirement never been met by proponents of notions of supernatural entities of any sort, but it is impossible for this burden of proof to ever be met. How can there be “evidence” for the existence of entities that cannot possibly exist? One is entitled to believe and to positively assert that impossibilities do not exist and cannot exist.

In addition to the theist’s claims about God’s impossible powers (e.g., although theists often quarrel about points fine and not so fine, God is said to be able to violate the law of identity via miracles; is said to be omniscient, omnipotent, creator of the universe, etc.), God and any gods are the kinds of entities for whose existence no evidence is ever provided. (Storytelling is not evidence, so no need to “contradict” me by pointing to Homer or the Bible.)

If somebody were to arbitrarily assert that there exist winged elephants (elephants of the bulk and weight we we are acquainted with, using wings to fly with), and I say that I don’t believe in winged elephants, then I would be an a-winged-elephantist, a non-believer in winged elephants. I am such now. I am also sure that winged elephants don’t exist. (I am sure only because I have paused to consider the notion; normally it would not come up and I would not be expending any epistemological effort to assess it.) The proposition contradicts everything we know and cannot be substantiated by any direct or indirect evidence.

Now, if (actual) evidence could be provided for a winged elephant, rendering the claim of the existence of winged elephants non-arbitrary, I would have to examine that evidence to come to a judgment about what if any value it has. This evidence would have to show that under certain natural conditions, a certain kind of creature could and evidently does exist (perhaps in another star system) that I would be willing to call a “winged elephant” because of its similarity to elephants and the similarity of the unexpected limbs in structure and capacity to wings. But this new evidence, requiring a new conclusion in light of my new knowledge, could not be of the sort that stipulates that winged elephants are invisible, or “beyond human understanding,” or capable of contradicting the nature of things, etc. I can be shown actual evidence for winged elephants only if the winged elephants are part of the natural world. Thus they would have a specific, finite nature, interacting with other things in nature and having some kind of effect on those other things.

To be is to be something, a something that cannot be what it is and not what it is at the same time and in the same respect. If the entity that men call God, an entity currently invisible and imperceptible, were in fact a part of nature; if this “God” did in fact have a specific identity that could not be violated and this “God” could not wield magical identity-violating powers, etc., then it would not be “God” or a god in any familiar sense of the term. The entity would be a part of nature, interacting with other parts of nature, leaving evidence of its existence, footprints and so forth. But it would not be able to alter any part of the universe (let alone bring it into existence) by saying things like “Let Their Be Light.” For the entity to secure effects, it would have to enact causes. There would have to be a light bulb or a candle involved, or at least flint or lightning.

The God we’re told about is not only implausible, but impossible. What we’re entitled to take as self-evident starting points of thought are the facts that the things that we perceive exist, that they are what they are, that they act in accordance with their nature. Any claim about the existence of an entity whose very nature is supposed to be exempt from the constraints of nature is an impossibility. I know that impossible things can’t exist. Not only is there no God, but I also know that there isn’t.

February 13, 2013

A partial solution to the it’s-in-a-box-somewhere problem

Filed under: Philosophy,Self-help,Society and culture — davidmbrowndotcom @ 10:26 am

Having moved so often, I have become skilled of the art of moving. Perhaps I am not a professional but at least I am a gifted amateur. One thing I learned to do is label boxes of books “A,” “B,” and “C,” in the order in which they were to be unpacked. It takes a long time to unpack the boxes. After my most recent move I never did finish unpacking them, in part because I don’t have the room to shelve them all.

The point I am approaching is that I often know that I have a certain book in my library but am unable to easily get the book because it’s in a box somewhere instead of on a shelf. Recently I came across a recommendation of The Art of Cross-Examination by Francis Wellman. This volume, purchased many years ago, is in my library and may even be on a shelf, but I did not bother to look. Via Google I soon found two free pdf editions, one more cleanly typeset than the other, and downloaded the cleaner version to the Goodreader app on my iPad mini. These days, a reasonably readable free electronic edition of almost any classic text out of copyright can be gotten within a few minutes.

Part Two of The Art of Cross-Examination includes transcripts of famous cross-examinations. I began reading John K. Porter’s examination of Charles J. Guiteau, who assassinated President James Garfield on instructions from God, as Guiteau believed or pretended to believe. Wellman writes that the defendant was “cleverly led [by Porter’s cross-examination] to picture himself to the civilized world as a moral monstrosity.” Porter grills the assassin about when God inspired him to do the deed, when he realized the notion had been instilled by God, whether he initially disagreed with God about the feasibility of killing the President, etc. Goiteau’s thought of killing Garfield seems exactly like the kind of thought that might occur to a person had no deity implanted it. His insistence that God authorized the deed seems like what a rationalization of his own decision to commit it would seem like.

If one believes in God, how does one distinguish between a thought that has not been injected into one’s head by God but which one has convinced oneself (or at least is trying to convince oneself) has been thus injected, and a thought that has in fact been thus injected? In light of the fact that there is no God, there is no way to do it, no distinction to be made. The former is always the case.

October 25, 2012

Did Roy A. Childs Jr. suffer from ‘Archist Illusions’?

Filed under: Philosophy,Politics,Psychology,Scrammo,Society and culture — davidmbrowndotcom @ 10:16 am
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Two distinguished libertarian and anarchist friends of the late, great Roy A. Childs Jr. (1949-1992) suppose that Roy likely had suspect motives for his change of mind about anarchism later in life, and perhaps also for his failure to explain his reasons for his change of mind in print during the years of his declining health before he died in 1992.

In a recent post at Cato’s libertarianism.org in which he endorses psycho-speculations of Roy’s motives offered by Ron Neff, George H. Smith reports that Roy toward the end of his life told him that he believed that anarchism is impractical. But a sarcastic remark by Smith, which he recalls now with regret, unfortunately ended the conversation before Roy could elaborate. Ron Neff, for his part, cites Roy’s earlier reference to the messy situation in Lebanon. “He referred to the condition into which Lebanon had fallen after the shelling of Beirut by Israel in September of [1982], and he said that that was what anarchism would produce.” For Neff, the import of this example is somehow unlikely to represent what he calls “the whole story” of Roy’s rejection of his famously influential anarchist views. Another old friend of Roy’s, Jeff Riggenbach, offers a fine profile of Roy for Riggenbach’s Libertarian Tradition podcast that stresses the influence of Roy’s early anarchism but also scrupulously neglects to mention his eventual repudiation of that anarchism.

That anarchism or anarcho-capitalism can’t coherently function to objectively protect individual rights doesn’t seem a bad reason for believing that anarchism is impractical from the perspective of someone who values life, justice, rights, liberty. In the anarcho-capitalist society, what indeed is to be done about competing gangs—oops, competing “defense agencies”? Would a government concerned about (actual) rights and (actual) freedom and (actual) justice be justified in outlawing fundamentally competing brands of physically-enforced justice? Would a genuinely just, libertarian “defense agency” be justified in “competing with”—i.e., using force to stop—a “defense agency” determined to impose reparations for slavery, to impose reparations for the taking of Indian land, to stop abortions by force, or to extract the “surplus labor value” that the rich capitalists “steal” from their employees?

That anarchism is incompatible with the protection of individual rights is obvious from reading the news. Look at what the Mafia Defense Agency does. Look at what the PLO Defense Agency does. Look at what the Al Qaeda Defense Agency does. Such annoyingly obtrusive facts as the chronic conduct of these defense agencies are meaningless, though, we’re told. Anarchists tend to reply, “There you go again. That kind of bloody conflict among power-lusting gangs is not what we mean by defense agencies or an anarcho-capitalist society. What we mean is the smoothly functioning rights-respecting ‘defense agencies’ of our disconnected-from-facts-on-the-ground theoretical books and journal papers, a society in which everybody is always carrying around a copy of the Libertarian Law Code and has sworn to it eternal fealty, ever ready to submit to arbitration in case of a dispute the defense agencies can’t resolve amongst themselves as if the last three thousand years of human history had never happened. Human beings aren’t evil by nature, after all.”

In other words, anarchists merely assume that none of the proposed defense agencies would in fact actually be competing at the most fundamental level—i.e., at the level of what vision and package of justice, rights, and proper use of coercion they would be promoting in the brochure—a level at which they would not be inclined in good faith to accept binding adjudication of disputes if they happen to hold the exact opposite view of rights and justice as the party doing the adjudicating.

What happens, according to the anarcho-capitalists, in the anarcho-capitalist society with respect to fundamentally different uses of coercion? Is it that the defense agencies will be free to compete at the very most fundamental level, but that they simply won’t want to, all criminal, leftie and jihadic motivations for violating actual rights having evaporated as soon as the anarcho-capitalist program gets the go-ahead? Or would there, after all, be some kind of mutually accepted and enforced ban on the wrongful use of force? If the latter, would there or would there not be enforceable mechanisms in place for adjudicating disputes among the defense agencies, and for declining to renew the license of a defense agency that tries to blow up World Trade Centers in the name of the Allah Defense Code?

Problem, though: as soon as any such reasonable, enforceable constraints are imposed on the defense agencies independently of their preferences in a particular dispute, we are talking about an apparatus of limited government, not about anarchism or anarcho-capitalism. The defense agencies would be governed by this government. They wouldn’t be allowed to secede to institute a contrary program of justice, rights and coercion.

To be sure, unfettered government is also misbegotten with respect to the purpose of safeguarding genuine rights. So what, then, would be a practical means of protecting life, liberty and property in a society? We the people would have to institute a government restricted to the defense and enforcement of individual rights, an institution the attaining and maintaining of which depends a lot on education, ideas and culture. (Which means that anarchists are wrong to suggest, as some do, that governments virtually automatically devolve into tyrannies—ideas and culture being potent in their view except when they matter not at all.) Such a limited government could accept a lot more competition in means of protecting rights than we see today; but it could not permit citizens to protect their rights anywhichway whatever, especially when there is no immediate threat to life and limb.

According to Neff, it’s unlikely that Roy Childs could have honestly come to the view that his youthful and rationalistic arguments for anarchism were mistaken. (By rationalism, here, I mean theoretical web-spinning that may be very smart and persuasive on its own self-contained terms but which inadequately takes into account critical facts on which the theory should be based.) For Neff, Roy’s change of mind was more likely strategic than genuine, a product of short-term political calculation. “I do not think he meant by [his claim that anarchism is not practical] that anarchism was an ideal that could never be achieved, or that competing defense agencies could not behave justly. I think he meant that anarchism merely exacerbated the alienation from American culture its adherents already felt, especially adherents who came from an Objectivist background,” Neff contends, as if Roy hadn’t pointed to Lebanon. (Only Roy’s every explicit reference to the question of anarchism versus limited government in his later years would tend to suggest that he meant what he said.)

Says Smith: “Though speculative, Neff’s explanation of what was really going on with Roy’s refutation of anarchism is, in my judgment, exactly on point, so I refer readers to his account for additional details.” In the same article, Smith also suggests that Roy’s employment of Objectivistic arguments in certain essays defending anarchism was mediated primarily by his desire to appeal rhetorically to Objectivist readers rather than by his own sympathy with Objectivist ideas.

All this strained imputation of merely strategic profession of conviction strikes me as gratuitous at best, a smear at worst. If Smith and Neff are right, Roy, dead at 43, was one of the most disingenuous severely-ailing non-writers of an essay he never got around to that ever bestrode lower Manhattan. But is it really so implausible to suppose that their good friend changed his mind about anarchism because Roy was a good thinker and a man of integrity who concluded that anarcho-capitalism is incoherent as a means of instituting a free society in large part due to the hardly irrelevant fact that it is?

October 1, 2012

Get super-cheap now: Leonard Peikoff’s History of Philosophy and other Objectivist courses

Filed under: News,Philosophy — davidmbrowndotcom @ 8:42 am

I’d say that $22 for a course–Leonard Peikoff’s 24-lecture set on the history of philosophy–which used to cost hundreds to purchase–is a pretty good deal. At its new Ayn Rand Institute eStore, the Ayn Rand Institute is selling for a song that course and many other courses and individual lectures in the format of downloadable MP3 files. I also downloaded Peikoff’s 1976 course on Objectivism, which includes Ayn Rand answering some of the questions in later lectures.

I’m not sure why these files are being offered so inexpensively, since the demand would be there for somewhat higher prices still a lot lower than the old prices for cassettes or CD-ROMs. These MP3 prices are much better than even The Teaching Company’s frequent cut-rate sale prices for courses. Now would be the time to download from the ARI eStore any sets or individual lectures you are interested in, as for sure the prices are not going to go lower.

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