Archive for April, 2017
Pragmatism is my least favorite philosophy. Unfortunately, it seems to be the philosophy a majority of the human race as subscribed to.
The idea behind pragmatism is that policies should be implemented that provide the greatest good to the greatest number of people. On paper that doesn’t sound bad. In practice it has lead to a tremendous amount of death and destruction.
The very foundation of pragmatism is unsound because it never addresses what the greatest good. What qualifies as the greatest good to me may not necessarily qualify as the greatest good to you. Consider the Nazi Party (we’re brining Godwin into this conversation right at the start). The Nazi Party blamed much of the world’s problems on the Jews and decided that the world would be far better without them. This lead to the Holocaust. Now consider the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union believed that the greatest good for humanity was communism. It saw anybody who disagreed with communism as a threat to the future of humanity and, like the Nazi Party, chose to exterminate that perceived threat. Millions of people were slaughtered by those two regimes. Did they provide the greatest good to the greatest number of people? Most people today would say that they didn’t but the people who were running those regimes believed that they were.
Therein lies the biggest problem with pragmatism: anything goes so long as it can be justified as the greatest good for the greatest number of people. If a few million people have to die? Well, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few million eggs! That’s just the price we have to pay for progress!
Most environmentalists believe that the world’s worst polluter, the State, is the only way to save the environment. They scoff when you mention the environmentally friendly advances that have been made by market actors. Worse yet, they often disparage market advancements that have greatly improved the environment, such as the internal combustion engine:
The internal-combustion engine began improving the environment, however, long before global warming became a concern. Consider the fact that in 1900 a large percentage of the available horsepower really was horse power, or mule power, or ox power. As the power of the internal-combustion engine began to be substituted for animal power in the early 1900s, we began to substitute the emissions coming out of the tailpipes of cars and trucks for those coming out of the tailpipes of animals. The result was that the environment started becoming far cleaner and healthier.
Consider horse manure’s effect on the environment and health of New Yorkers in 1900. Robert Fogel, a Nobel Prize-winning economic historian, writes:
We complain a lot about air pollution today, but there were 200,000 horses in New York City, at the beginning of the 20th century defecating everywhere. And when you walked around in New York City, you were breathing pulverized horse manure—a much worse pollutant, than the exhausts of automobiles. Indeed in the United States, the automobile was considered the solution to the horse problem because pulverized horse manure carried a lot of deadly pathogens.
No serious person denies that photochemical smog from gas-powered vehicles is a health risk. It would be silly to do so. It would be even sillier, however, to deny Fogel’s observation that the air and water pollution from horse manure was a far greater health risk than the pollution from cars and trucks. Diseases such as cholera, typhoid, typhus, yellow fever, and diphtheria were responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans in the early twentieth century. As cars and trucks began replacing horses and other beasts of burden, these deaths began to decline dramatically. Medical improvements get some of the credit, but most of the credit during the early decades of the twentieth century goes to the reduced filth in the environment from animal waste.
People forget the past. Environmentalists, who often rant about how much more environmental damage humans are causing today than in the past, seem to have forgotten just how terrible living conditions were barely a century ago. Humanity’s agricultural knowledge was far more limited, which means farmers commonly practiced more damaging forms of agriculture. Horses were the primary mode of transportation, which introduced a great amount of biological contaminants to metropolitan areas. Trash was often discarded in place instead of collected and moved to a designated dump.
Our species has come a long ways in terms of environmentalism and not because of the State but because of rational self-interest. Having a cleaner environment benefits us so market forces have been hard at work reducing humanity’s environmental impact. This hard work continues today. Energy production continues to cause environmental damage. While the State has continued to hinder cleaner forms of energy production such as nuclear power plants, the market has been hard at work making more power efficient devices. Devices that use less energy reduce the load on power production facilities, which means less new facilities have to be built to meet demands. Mining is another activity that causes notable environmental damage and the market is once again responding. Apple has announced that it will rely on recycled materials instead of newly mined materials and other companies are likely to follow suit.
Environmentalists should be cheering the market, not condemning it.
There is a child in a third world country painting fake mud onto jeans and wondering what the fuck is wrong with Americans:
After it was ridiculed for selling designer rocks at Christmas, Nordstrom may have topped itself with its latest offer.
The department store is offering a pair of jean covered in fake mud for a whopping $425.
Stateside there are farmers, construction workers, miners, and other working professionals who are probably willing to dirty up the jeans you already own for a much more reasonable price. I sense an agorist business opportunity.
This weekend was the March for Science. What was the March for Science? A march for philosophy.
Judging by the number of people who participated in the March for Science, there are a lot of people who don’t understand what science actually is. Perhaps nothing illustrates this fact better than the commonly used phrase, “The science is settled.”
Science, or more specifically the scientific method, is a process of discovery that relies on observation and experimentation. First, a phenomenon is observed. Second, a hypothesis that explains that phenomenon is developed. Third, an experiment is performed to determine whether the hypothesis is plausible or not. Eventually, if enough experimentation indicates that the hypothesis is correct, a theory is developed. The keywords here are “hypothesis,” “experimentation,” and “theory.” Theories are not immutable truths. Every theory has the potential of being proven incorrect by future experimentation. So science can never be settled.
The existence of this misunderstand can be further illustrated by people mixing the scientific method with democracy. How many times have you heard a variation of the phrase, “[Insert an arbitrary but large number] percent of scientists agree that…” as if it meant something? Democracy is based on the idea that truth can be discovered by polling a voting body. Science is based on the idea that observation and experimentation can help us explain natural phenomenon. The two are unrelated. Even if 99.9 percent of scientists agree on one theory they can be proven wrong if the remaining 0.1 percent perform an experiment that proves the majority’s theory incorrect. A debate based on what the plurality of scientists think isn’t a scientific debate.
The purpose of the March for Science was to promote science-based policies. This purpose is entirely philosophical in nature. You see, the scientific method is a tool that can address a specific problem domain, namely the understanding of natural phenomenon. The scientific method cannot address all problem domains though. There’s no way to prove that two plus two equal four with the scientific method. To do that humans rely on deductive logic. There’s also no way to prove that the scientific method is the proper tool for understanding natural phenomenon. To do that humans rely on philosophy.
What is the best way for humans to conduct themselves in groups? The scientific method is not the proper tool for answering this question because the answer cannot be discovered through experimentation. The best way is not a natural phenomenon, it’s a subjective criteria. For example, the most important criteria for decided the best way is individual freedom. For a somebody else, the most important criteria may be equality in wealth. The question is necessarily philosophical because it’s subjective.
Whenever somebody says that the United States needs more scientists they’re using philosophy because they are using their subjective criteria, the number of scientists, to decide the best way for humans in an arbitrarily defined group (often referred to as “society”) to conduct themselves. The same is true for anybody who says that there needs to be more government funding for scientific education.
Naturally, I’m apt to blame the government indoctrination system, which is often mistakenly referred to as an education system, for Saturday’s deplorable public display of ignorance. I’m also smart enough to know that my blame is philosophical in nature, not scientific, because there is no way for me to perform an experiment that can confirm or deny my hypothesis. I will also say that I philosophically find this widespread ignorance detrimental to humanity (based on my subjective criteria of what is best for humanity).
Statists always ask, in the absence of government who will protect us? I want to know, in the presences of government who will protect us? The State commits murder on a massive scale but it also finds time to murder little guys as well. Consider the case of Terrill Thomas. He ended up in jail because of an undiagnosed mental illness. His kidnappers then turned the water off to his cell and let him slowly die of dehydration over the next eight days:
Terrill Thomas spent seven straight days holed up in a solitary confinement cell with no running water, slowly withering away.
Thomas started the weeklong stretch at the Milwaukee County Jail belligerent and loud, the result of an untreated mental illness, prosecutors said. But as the days wore on, he grew weak and dehydrated. He lost nearly 35 pounds and turned quiet, never asking for or receiving medical attention.
Barely two hours into his eighth day in solitary, jail staff found Thomas, 38, dead on his jail cell floor, the result of profound dehydration.
In his opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley said surveillance videos show three corrections officers cut off the water in Thomas’ cell – a disciplinary measure after Thomas flooded another cell – and never turned it back on. The same officers never documented the water cutoff or notified supervisors, leaving fellow corrections officers in the dark.
Based on the history of how these kinds of incidents are handled, the officers who cut off the water probably won’t face any real disciplinary action. If there is a trial, the officers might receive a paid vacation for the duration of the trail. If they’re found guilty, they might even be fired. But then their union representative will step in and strong arm the prison into reinstating them.
And people wonder why I have no faith in government.
Occupational licenses are sold to the public as a mechanism for protecting consumers from fraudulent providers. Licenses don’t actually provide such protections since they’re just pieces of paper. More importantly, they can actually reduce protections since their existence convinces people that actual protections, such as regular inspections by private independent inspection organizations, aren’t as necessary. So what purpose do occupational licenses server? They serve as a source of revenue for the State as well as a mechanism for it to lash out at its critics:
In September 2014, Mats Järlström, an electronics engineer living in Beaverton, Oregon, sent an email to the state’s engineering board. The email claimed that yellow traffic lights don’t last long enough, which “puts the public at risk.”
“I would like to present these facts for your review and comments,” he wrote.
This email resulted not with a meeting, but with a threat. The Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying responded with this dystopian message:
“ORS 672.020(1) prohibits the practice of engineering in Oregon without registration … at a minimum, your use of the title ‘electronics engineer’ and the statement ‘I’m an engineer’ … create violations.”
In January of this year, Järlström was officially fined $500 by the state for the crime of “practicing engineering without being registered.”
How dare he practice engineering without a license? The audacity of this criminal scum!
You almost have to admire the vindictive nature of the State. An individual came forward offering information that could potentially lead to the correction of a bug in a system and the State slaps him with a fine for daring to question its authority. Welcome to America, the freest goddamn country on Earth!
Fascists have been trying to make inroads into libertarian circles. That has lead a lot of libertarians to state that libertarianism is anti-fascist. I’m beginning to think that fascism isn’t the real problem for libertarianism, pragmatism is.
As I touched on yesterday, pragmatism has been leading some libertarians to side with fascists because they’re offering a “lighter” alternative to communists “full” socialism. I’ve also seen a few libertarians passing around this article, which is basically saying that libertarians should support universal basic income because it’s better than the current system of welfare. And, of course, I’ve seen some libertarians passing around this article, which argues that supporting universal healthcare is fiscally responsible.
These are just a few cases where I’ve seen libertarians argue for pragmatism. And they make me understand how Ludwig von Mises felt when he was attending a meeting of classical liberals and called them all a bunch of socialists as he stormed after they started talking about pragmatism:
When I hear libertarians siding with fascists, supporting universal basic income, and supporting universal healthcare I can’t help but call them a bunch of socialists because they are expressing pragmatism, which is a socialist ideology.
The problem with pragmatism is that it always requires compromising principles. While some libertarians might think that compromising their principles, at least if it’s only a little bit, is fine so long as it moves some libertarian ideas ahead, doing so actually forwards the goals of socialists in two ways. First, the compromise means at least some of their agenda was also moved ahead. Second, the compromise means that they were able to get some libertarians to bend on one thing, which gives them the knowledge to get them to bend on other things. The first is obvious, the second is sinister.
Getting people to compromise on their principles requires finding the right button to push. Usually the button is fear. If you can find something that somebody is so afraid of that they’re willing to set aside their principles to make themselves feel safer, you’ve won. In fact, that was the whole point of the Room 101 scene in Nineteen Eighty-Four. If, for example, somebody fears communism so greatly that they’re willing to side with fascists, the communists know that they can manipulate the actions of that person by exploiting that fear.
If you’re willing to compromise your principles then you’re susceptible to manipulation. If you’re susceptible to manipulation then your opponents manipulate you.
Last year the government granted itself permission to widen the scope of warrants when any form of anonymity tools is involved in a case. This expansion, commonly referred to as Rule 41, allows government agents to acquire a warrant that authorizes them to remotely access any computer using, for example, Tor to conceal either its physical location or its users physical locations. Needless to say, the privacy community wasn’t thrilled when news of this expansion broke.
But the privacy community is, unfortunately, relatively small. The government doesn’t really care about it. It’s far more interested in convincing the masses that this expansion of power is a good thing. To demonstrate the value of this power the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) requested and received a warrant to remotely access systems that were infected with a botnet so it could clean the malware:
Mass hacking seems to be all the rage currently. A vigilante hacker apparently slipped secure code into vulnerable cameras and other insecure networked objects in the “Internet of Things” so that bad guys can’t corral those devices into an army of zombie computers, like what happened with the record-breaking Mirai denial-of-service botnet. The Homeland Security Department issued alerts with instructions for fending off similar “Brickerbot malware,” so-named because it bricks IoT devices.
And perhaps most unusual, the FBI recently obtained a single warrant in Alaska to hack the computers of thousands of victims in a bid to free them from the global botnet, Kelihos.
The FBI sought the 30-day warrant to liberate victims through a new procedural rule change that took effect in December amid worries among privacy advocates that the update would open a new door for government abuse. But the first use of the amendments to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure has assuaged fears, at least for the moment, because the feds used their power to kill a botnet.
How benevolent of the FBI!
This is, of course, a purely propagandistic move. Now when some pesky privacy advocate brings up the heinous nature of Rule 41 the federal government can point to this case and berate the advocate for wanting to help botnet operators. It’s a classic maneuver with a proven track record.
Who will protect the people from murderers without a government, is a common question asked by statists. Who will protect the people from the State, is a common question asked by anarchists.
Of the two dangers, individual murders or the State, which is more concerning? The State because it is capable of mass murder:
Government use of force against ethnic groups is far more effective than private use of force against these same groups. I remember that when I first heard about Hitler at about age eight, and asked my mother who he was, I was told that 15 years earlier he had used tanks and other weapons to try to take over the world. I pictured a nut with some tanks he had bought coming down our highway and invading our small town in rural Canada. I didn’t understand at the time why Hitler was such a threat; I had been raised to believe that the police would protect us. Imagine the shock and sudden surge of overwhelming fear I had when, years later, I learned that Hitler employed the police and, indeed, ran a whole government. That was scary. Even as a child I knew that the government, any government, had more power than anyone who was not in the government, and that when the government passed and enforced a law, you couldn’t legally fight back. That’s when the true terror of Hitler dawned on me.
In the 20th century alone Democide, the act of a government murdering its own people, killed more people than war. A lot more people. But combat deaths should be included as well for the purpose of this post since almost every war in the 20th and 21st centuries has been started and fought by governments.
Nongovernmental murderers aren’t even a blip on the radar when compared to governments. If protection is something you’re truly concerned about then the elimination of government should be your primary mission.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend is a popular sentiment. Hell, a great deal of the United States’ foreign policy is built on that sentiment. But is it always true?
Here in the United States we’re in the midsts of a political class. Communists have been working, and have been greatly successful, at gaining control over academia. While their political opponents have been trying to push them back they have met with little success. So we now exist in a country where college campuses have a tendency to lean heavily to the left. Now, seemingly out of nowhere, a new group has promised to take care of this communist menace. This group, as you’ve probably guessed, is the alt-right.
While the alt-right is still pushing socialism, it’s pushing a “lighter” form of socialism. This has lead a lot of libertarians and conservatives to side with the alt-right on the grounds that the enemy of their enemy is their friend. Mind you, this is nothing new for libertarians and conservatives. A lot of them sided with the Republican Party for the same reason (just look at the political history of Lew Rockwell, Murray Rothbard, and company). This is also nothing new for history.
During the early 1900’s communists were making a lot of headway in Europe. Several European countries fell to communist revolutions and their neighbors were desperate to find a way to ensure the same thing didn’t happen to them. That solution came in the form of a “lighter” form of socialism; fascism. Fascists were able to gain power in several European countries by exploiting both the government and peoples’ fear of communism. While many disagreed ideologically with fascism they also believed that it was a preferable alternative to communism. The enemy of their enemy had to be their friend, right?
I think most of us are well enough versed in history to know how that turned out. While people were dying left and right in countries that fell to communism, people were also dying left in right in countries that fell to fascism. While the fascists were successful at defeating the communists they were no better.
As we watch the alt-right and communists “fight” (really live-action role-play) remember that the enemy of your enemy is not necessarily your friend. The alt-right is offering a solution to the communist problem and the antifa is offering a solution to the alt-right problem but is either actually better than the other? I think history has shown that “lighter” socialism ends up being just as destructive as “full” socialism, which shouldn’t be surprising since both fascism and communism are authoritarian and pragmatic in nature.