David M. Brown's Blog

August 20, 2016

Thugs can be either friends or enemies of each other

Filed under: Ethics,History,Politics,War — davidmbrowndotcom @ 3:52 pm

In March of 1940 George Orwell wrote: “The plan laid down in Mein Kampf was to smash Russia first, with the implied intention of smashing England afterwards. Now, as it has turned out, England has got to be dealt with first, because Russia was the more easily bribed of the two. But Russia’s turn will come when England is out of the picture–that, no doubt, is how Hitler sees it. Whether it will turn out that way is of course a different question.” The accommodation with Russia had taken the form of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939.

A couple of thoughts that occur to me are, first, that although historical accounts of Germany’s pact with Russia tend to stress how flabbergasted the world was that these two “ideological enemies” (different hues of totalitarian) should agree to be cooperative comrades in divvying up Poland, Hitler’s short-term agreement with Russia does not at all contradict his long-term goal of smashing Russia, so that somebody at all perceptive, like Orwell, would not be surprised by such a pragmatic mere deferment; and, two, it was obvious to Orwell that the short-term agreement was short-term. And, indeed, Operation Barbarossa began in June of 1941, a little more than a year after Orwell published his column.

A third thought that occurs to me is that Orwell sees in Mein Kampf an “implied intention” to go after England sooner or later, whereas others see in it a desire only to come to terms with Britain, perhaps even as an ally. In Jeff Walker’s interview of the late, great Roy Childs, published in Liberty magazine in 1993, Roy says: “That Hitler had no intentions against Britain, I think can be argued very well. I mean Britain declared war on him and not vice versa. Hitler wanted to go East. Walker: Yeah, he thought that Britain could be his ally. Childs: Yeah. He didn’t want to knock off the French either. Why did he let the British escape at Dunkirk? He wanted to appease them, to a certain extent. He wanted to take central and eastern Europe.”

When I read this, I thought that RAC’s remarks neglected a lot of pertinent facts about Hitler; including, for example, the fact that Der Fuhrer could not exactly be relied upon to keep any very firm promise about what he would or would not do with respect to invading other countries, despite endless wishful thinking by Chamberlain and others. Shire’s heavily documented tome on the Nazi regime is full of behind-closed-doors contradictions of Hitler’s blatant, reassuring public lies about his intentions. Historians debate about why the Germans dithered at Dunkirk, but this is in any case a subsidiary question. What contemporaries could see is that Hitler’s many public assurances and instances of disingenous grandstanding were followed by actions that flagrantly contradicted his playacted promises.

Roy even goes so far as to say that it was a “bunch of lies” for anyone at the time to suppose that Britain might well have eventually been attacked by Germany if it had not gone to war over Hitler’s invasion of Poland. It’s not a certainty that Germany would have attacked Britain in that alternate timeline, of course. Perhaps Hitler would not have attacked the West immediately if he had gotten his way in the East. But was it a certainty that Hitler would never have turned his attention westward had he secured the East? And is it really a “lie” to have been concerned about the prospect? Was Hitler’s track record to date so auspicious? Roy is right about the terribleness of the West’s becoming allied with Stalin and handing Poland to the Soviet Union. But that is not the same question.

Of course, I could not raise these questions with Roy either when I first read the interview in 1993 or reread it later. He had died in the spring of 1992.

Read The Flying Saucers Are Very Very Real

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

Read The Case of the Cockamamie Killer


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


A social media forum that won’t muzzle and ban? Sign me up.

Filed under: Economics,Politics,Publishing,Self-help,Society and culture — davidmbrowndotcom @ 2:54 pm

If you do Twitter-like and other social-media communicating but hate Twitter-like, Facebook-like muzzling of too-contrarian views and banning of those who utter them, you may want to get on the waiting list for http://gab.ai/ , which is being founded with the explicit purpose of protecting freedom of expression on its forum. Its home page has this quote:

“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”— Salman Rushdie

Gab.ai is small now. Will it get lots bigger? That’s partly up to us. I say we help it reach the tipping point that will make it competitive with the muzzlers and banners. I’m #8052 on the waiting list. Yes, I am a Number.

August 10, 2016

Both rational parties benefit when they trade good goods with each other

Filed under: Art and Music,Ethics,trade — davidmbrowndotcom @ 5:58 am

A Breitbart reader criticizes an actor’s apparent “indulging in a form of narcissitic exhibition,” but I don’t want to say anything about fashion, psychology or Jaden Smith. The commenter then makes much broader claims:

I will always hold self-gratifying forms of expression the basest form of art relative to those genuinely purposed for the benefit of others…. Producing value for others rather than self is the fundamental building block of a cooperative and healthy society.

Art “genuinely purposed for the benefit of others”? An artist should be conveying something that he intends another mind to perceive and grasp; he is not and should not be drafting in a void, without regard to whether there is any possible means for anyone else to appreciate and benefit from what he makes. But his motivating purpose–his primary motivating purpose–should indeed be personal, a matter of achieving his own creative vision. Doing so, if done well, will benefit others (or may; it depends on those others too, not just the creator). But the driving purpose should be the artist’s own benefit. And that kind of selfish motive is not synonymous with “narcissistic exhibitionism.”

The commenter sets up a false alternative, implying that if my own good is of more importance to me than the good of the person with whom I trade (contrasted in his remarks with producing values “for others rather than for the self”), then my personal selfish motive must undermine my ability to offer something of value to others whose own good is properly of primary importance to them. This is not true. In any trade in the free market, the producer’s primary motive should be his own benefit, which does not imply lack of any reasonable consideration of others whom I would want to appreciate the value I have selfishly created. I do my best for any client or employer. But I do the work first of all for my own sake, not as an act of charity or self-abnegation. I do it to pay the rent, to make my service worth paying for, to maintain values of character that I depend upon, to be proud of my work, and other suchlike self-sustaining and self-improving considerations.

The commenter suggests that “self-gratifying” art is per se degrading. Does “self-gratifying” art include any work of art consistent with a personal artistic vision? Any human activity may take a degrading form. But it does not become degrading because the ultimate intended beneficiary is the self. One must examine the artwork and the standards that the artwork meets or fails to meet. (Or perhaps nihilistically flouts.) Eating delicious food gratifies the hungry self. Is this “self-gratifying” activity in and of itself the “basest” form of eating, rendered base by its selfish motive? Or is consuming a particular meal self-debasing only if one eats like a glutton or treats dinner guests shabbily, et cetera?

Plenty of imitative artistic fare is animated by no motive force in the imitator’s own personal and integrated vision. But having such a vision and seeking to effectively actualize it is selfish. If one succeeds at all in actualizing the vision, one is gratified. Which is completely consistent with offering it as a value to others who are seeking just such value primarily for their own sakes. The artist hopes that others see what he has tried to make. That too, is to his personal benefit, and to the personal benefit of the person who hopes to find values created by others that are possible to appreciate.

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 9, 2016

The “odds” that what has already happened has happened are 100%

Filed under: Science — davidmbrowndotcom @ 7:15 am

Instapundit Glenn Reynolds repeats in apparent agreement a claim that the odds of there having been no major hurricane in the U.S. over the past 11 years are one in 2,300.

This is wrongheaded. Statistical guesstimations pertain only to what may happen in the future, and only when we don’t know enough about the relevant causal factors to say with certainty what must happen under given conditions. The “odds” of what has already verifiably happened are never one in anything, including one in 2,300, unless you want to say that they’re one in one. But the notion of statistical probability doesn’t apply at all to those known past events. Whatever causal factors were operative, they’ve already operated, and the outcome is now a datum. The erstwhile ignorance about what would happen–the ignorance about how causal factors would precisely interact, the ignorance about the individual case which alone makes the application of statistics relevant to our assessments and actions–no longer exists.

Similarly, there are no one-in-two “odds” that a coin that has already come up heads would have come up heads. We already know the result of all the interacting, not fully perceptible and not fully calculable factors. With respect to future events, statistics are irrelevant if our knowledge of causal factors is adequate enough to say with certainty what must happen under defined circumstances. We don’t have to calculate “the odds” that a weighted coin will come up on just one side if the falling coin falls a large enough distance. We can, in fact, then predict what the statistics must be in all like circumstances given our knowledge of the coin and the atmosphere and how we’re tossing it.

Knowledge always trumps ignorance. Our means of navigating ignorance when we don’t have the relevant knowledge are beside the point when we do have the knowledge. Statistics are relevant only when we know too little about individual cases to make predictions on the basis of our knowledge of the case alone, but we do know something about the statistical patterns of groups of similar events.

August 1, 2016

Britannica on Objectivism

Filed under: News — davidmbrowndotcom @ 10:49 am

Although I have a few quibbles with Britannica’s entry on “Objectivism” (not excluding the article’s lower-casing of Rand’s capital-O name for her philosophy), is a pretty accurate summary of some of her main ideas. Perhaps I should not be too surprised, since her work more often gets fair treatment these days than it did when, for example, Atlas Shrugged was published in 1957.

No, automation is not a productivity-killer

Filed under: Economics,Society and culture,Technology,trade — davidmbrowndotcom @ 9:36 am

Contrary to GeekWire’s Alan Boyle and, apparently, Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds, automation is not “the biggest challenge to jobs” if by that is meant the biggest challenge to a high-employment and highly productive economy.

Automation improves productivity. It enables you to do more stuff with less time and grunting. Automation is not a “challenge to jobs,” even if it makes specific jobs irrelevant because people don’t have to do them any longer. Do we really want to lament that we’re not 90% farmers these days because of vastly improved technological methods of agriculture, or that the candle and buggy makers were once thrown out of work by light bulbs and automobiles? New means of productivity require new kinds of jobs.

The point of any productive work is to produce something of value so that one can directly and indirectly sustain one’s life; it is not to cling to a (static, never-changing) job as an end in itself. That technological progress has gone beyond flint, spears and bear skins is not a tragedy.

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

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