Thursday, May 25, 2006

A few remarks on a reply to a rejoinder to a reply to my "Concluding thoughts on protests," which were apparently well short of conclusive

Remarking on the reply made here, by Mr. Robbins (Shawshank Redemption; Anchorman; Zathura: A Space Adventure). His comments indented, bolded, mine, not so much.
Every step towards the pure idea is an improvement and loosening borders is a step towards equality of opportunity. And I do believe that perfect liberty and perfect equality can co-exist (and I believe the other three you mentioned are just variations or derivatives of these two).
Well, it matters how you conceptualize liberty, equality and security. I don’t believe that security is a species of either liberty or equality, and I do believe that liberty, equality and security cannot exist together in perfect forms. In fact, they cannot exist even independently in a well-run society.

Pure liberty—open the jails and turn out the criminals; eliminate all taxation or interference from the government—indeed, eliminate government all together; allow all actions howsoever destructive and antisocial. Thomas Hobbes famously imagined a state of pure liberty in the state of nature—it was a war of all against all. Every man had a right to everything. Chaos. Violence. Anarchy. These are synonyms for pure liberty, and make life “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

Pure equality—the tale of pure equality is the gruesome tale of Procrustes. Procrustes, a bandit in Greek mythology, made men equal by adjusting them to his bed. Those too large, he cut into the right proportions. Those too small, he stretched, as with a rack, until they fit perfectly. Humans, beyond a basic moral equality (with which egalitarians are never satisfied), are unequal. Attempts to equalize unequal men have meant the gulags of Russia, or, less dramatically, the stultifying malaise of Eurosocialism.

Not only can liberty and equality not exist independently in a pure state, they cannot exist together in purity. Give men liberty and those that are exceptional in ability will excel and flourish while the less well situated will struggle to make ends meet—liberty will devour equality. Enforce material equality through laws, through heavy taxation, through strict regulation—equality devours liberty.

As I said at the outset, liberty and equality can be conceptualized so as to not be antagonistic—but I think in doing so we give to liberty and equality definitions at odds with our common intuitions. If pure liberty is not total liberty, free from all fetters, then what is pure liberty? And if pure equality is not equality in everything, then what is it equality in?

If, however, you have perfected the synthesis between liberty and equality, please inform me, so that I might publish it and become rich—or at least the political philosopher version of rich, which means I’ll be able to afford enough fresh fruit to fend off scurvy for another few days.
This would be a tangent to get into, especially because I don't know your reasons for believing they can't co-exist, but essentially, if you're familiar with John Locke's "second treatise of government". I believe that what he wrote there is a society that could practically exist and that would guarantee equality and liberty.
Locke allowed that equality and liberty could coexist, somewhat uneasily, in a state of nature. However, both his equality and liberty were asserted. As for equality, Locke thought that we were, all of us, “promiscuously born to all the same advantages of Nature, and the use of the same faculties.” I think this is obviously not the case. There is a basic moral equality we all share, but as for our advantages and faculties—these we definitely do not share. We are manifestly unequal.

Locke’s liberty, it seems, is in a similar boat. He was able to escape a Hobbesian war of all against all only by saying that although the state of nature is a “state of perfect freedom” it nevertheless falls “within the bounds of the laws of nature.” There are laws of nature which circumscribe our freedom even in its pure form, outside the state. How? We are all God’s property, in Locke’s view. He made us, He owns us—and so our liberty is beholden to his dictates.

Maybe one can find such a theological stance on liberty appealing—I believe there is much to be said for a basic natural law perspective. However, I don’t think this is an instance of pure liberty. It is exactly the role of natural law to rescue us from our pure, licentious liberty. Liberty, even for Locke, must be qualified by God’s will, else it is a perverse liberty.
We may never realize pure liberty or equality (although I believe we will, in the far far future)
This may be the case, I believe, quite aside from anything I’ve said so far. But, when this pure liberty and pure equality are realized, it will not be our current, intuitive conceptualizations of liberty and equality that are so realized. Further, it may not be we, in our current conceptualization of humanity, that ends up realizing it.
Given enough facts the majority will always choose the right answer, and gaining those facts is a slow, but thankfully inevitable process.
I wish I had your optimism, from the categorical “always” just dripping with faith in the masses, to the providential “inevitable,” looking bright-eyed toward the future. Me, I’m no fan of democracy myself—I say with Churchill that it’s simply the least bad political system out there, not to be glorified in itself, but only in light of its alternatives. I don’t love democracy because of what it is, I endure it because of what it isn’t.
My lofty opinion of immigrants . . .
I have nothing against immigrants. Insofar as they are individuals, I’d kick back with any of ‘em and shoot the breeze. Insofar as they are marching down my streets demanding this or that, dude, they get the stone cold rebuke I give to any street pollution.
You seem to take a lot of what I say and turn it into absolute ideas. When I say that "Rationality can only remain a quiet thing when it exists in a society that is free and fair.", you say that rationality can never exist. ... Its a good argumentative tactic, but it doesn't really help either of us learn anything or approach truth
If you're speaking of free and fair as pure ideas, then they can never exist in a society, for reasons mentioned earlier. Therefore, if you make rationality contingent on the presence of these, pure, perfect, “Platonic” conceptions of freedom and fairness, you will never have rationality. It is simply an implication of positing perfection as a necessary precondition for rationality, that rationality cannot exist without perfection.

If such a rendering is absolute, it is the result of the rhetoric of pure ideals you employ, not any argumentative tactic of mine.

However, if you speak loosely of freedom and fairness as the best we can hope to achieve in this imperfect world, then, sure, rationality is possible. This is my view. Rationality is possible, and should be employed, even in an imperfect state. It is a quiet thing, Rationality, and so we must bend our necks and still our passions in order to hear its soft whisper--that is the point I was trying to make in my initial post.
The immigrant protests in France right now are doomed. I am confident that they will result in more bad than good simply because of the way they are being carried out.
Ah, a little bit of French bashing. Everyone can agree on that—even, remarkably, the self-loathing French. It’s the glue that binds the worlds together.
Protests are a form of education that will inform the public. Anything that (correctly) informs the public will bring us closer to Truth.
Education indeed. These protests taught me how much I really hate protests. Which leads you to wonder at their efficacy--how many others have been taught the same?


Anonymous Tiim Robbins said...

If it bothers you that for "liberty and equality [to] be conceptualized so as not to be antagonistic-but [you] think in doing so we give to liberty and equality definitions at odds with our common intuitions," then call it something else. True liberty, to me is the freedom to do absolutely anything with your property and your property alone, and property should be defined as those things you have created with your labor or used your labor to trade for. Because anybody is sovereign over their property they can make any deal with the products of their labor, including giving it to you. In this society the only job of government would be as a police to ensure that the rules of property (and the right to do what you want with it) are maintained. This is where the rights to life, liberty, and property (the pursuit of happiness) originally came from. On an off note, the US is the closest society in the world to what John Locke envisioned (because it is based mostly on his ideas) and I believe that is why we have been so successful. Now I've said many times already that by equality I mean equality of opportunity not forced equalness. If we all have equal access to the resources of this planet (e.g. no borders) then all accumulated wealth will be undeniably earned. Nobody would even have grounds to demand welfare. In order for these two things to exist it demands security. People will always try to take advantage of a system. So we need a police force, and a justice system. However, in order to maintain liberty (because forced taxation would be an infringement on true liberty) people could choose to pay the taxes for them, and they would only protect those who paid. And as long as these police only retaliated to infringements on property, they would not infringe on the property of others. This is a pretty good idea of how they could ideally exist together, but is it practical? In order to synthesize the ideas I believe are necessary for a perfect society I have had to move far away from our own society. The good news is that if you consider history we have been moving slowly towards the society I just described. Throughout history, in the short run there are often setbacks in liberty and equality, but these have always been overcome and if you look at the world as a whole over the long run we have continuously become more free with more equality of opportunity. I would say given the current pattern this society isn't just possible, but it is inevitable. This isn't really optimism, I used to think we were doomed. I looked at the intelligence of most of the people around me and I realized a lot of people, not even this smart, own guns, know how to make bombs, and some are even working on attaining nuclear weapons. But the more I considered history the more the evidence convinced me that we have always headed in a better direction. To prove this, I would like to ask you to show me one single thing that has gotten worse over the long run of history (the holocaust is a good example of a short run worsening). The only qualification for this is that you have to consider how humans have gotten worse. For instance, you could say pollution has gotten worse lately. But I would point out that if people 1000 years ago had technology that pollutes they would have used it. These people dumped shit out there windows, the people themselves are getting better (e.g. we spend millions on sewer systems). And now that we're discovering that pollution may be too much for our environment (this is something I don't know enough about, maybe it is, maybe it isn't), people care about it. I could keep talking about this idea, but I'm tangenting and hopefully you get the point. Before I tangented I was discussing if my perfect society was practical. Obviously it is far off, but as I said in my last post, any movement towards a perfect society would be an improvement, and improvements are obviously practical. As for the society itself. Because it would be truly equal you would have less people complaining that they deserve governmental handouts. Those that do sit around demanding them wouldn't get them. This would have the dual benefit of removing both lazy and whiny people from our society. Because we wouldn't listen to them sitting around whining they would eventually perish, therefore being less "fit" in the evolutionary sense. This is contrary to our currect system of rewarding whiny and lazy people and making them more "fit" Meaning instead of evolutionarily hardwiring society to be lazy and whiny we would be evolutionarily hardwiring them to have good work ethic and to complain only when they have truly been wronged. The only reason the government wouldn't survive is if people didn't give it enough money to ensure that nearly every criminal was caught, and if nearly every criminal was caught then crime would drop off. Who would commit crimes if they knew they would be caught? At that point people would be rewarded exactly in proportion to their effort and talents. Better, more hard-working people would survive best and evolution would be allowed to do its job again. And obviously, to make this truly free, people could choose to belong to a government that restricted their freedoms if they wanted, it just couldn't be a forced government like we live in now. Really, the only hard thing about having this society is getting to it. Once it exists it will be so advantageous to everybody that nobody would want to leave it. But as I said, fortunately we are heading towards this society, so I don't really have to do much, I'll do my part in society and let it improve itself. Locke's statement that we are all “promiscuously born to all the same advantages of Nature, and the use of the same faculties.” is a reference to the natural resources on this planet, not the natural resources within ourselves. No intelligent person would maintain that argument for long. He is saying that because we are all equal, and because nobody has a valid claim to natural resources, morality demands that we share them equally, and that the fruit of our labor is what should set us apart from others in wealth (I also have an explanation for how this could be practical, but its another long tangent). As for Locke's attempt to escape a Hobbesian war, I don't see what's wrong with what he did here. The only thing he says that circumscribe our freedom is that we cannot infringe on the freedom or property of another. Obviously doing that would obviate their freedom. As for Locke's views on God. Locke obviously believed in God, but it appears to me from his writing that he did not feel an appeal to God for authority was truly necessary. He only did so because he believed society at that time would react much better if he was able to show them that his ideas did not conflict with their previously held beliefs, in fact, as he argues, they support them. So if you don't like calling this liberty, then fine, call it something else. But it is a pure state and it is the desired state. In it we would all be free to make whatever decisions we want, and a society where we have that freedom is a good society where we can choose if we want to pursue the good life that so many philosophers have talked about.

You mention that it may not be "we" that reach liberty and equality and these may not be our current conceptualizations. Obviously I believe that I just described true liberty and equality, but I'm not foolish enough to think I'm without error, so I have no problem with these statements, it is entirely possible.

Back to the optimism. Truly, I asked dozens of people, liberals, conservatives, apathetics, moderates, libertarians, to show me one single instance of how humans have gotten worse, nobody has been able to. Just to get you rolling I'll show you some ways we have gotten better. In our world, more and more countries are eliminating slavery, giving women the right to vote, giving women equal rights, giving minorities equal rights, moving to governments where the people have the power, about 300 years ago the mere idea that people should have the power was created (this may not be perfect, but definately an improvement from before), landlords are being eliminated. 1000 years ago, none of these things existed anywhere. Now they are almost universal in the west and are moving to the rest of the world. I don't agree with taxation-forced charity, but still the idea shows that for the first time people care enough about people they've never even met. We're starting to believe that the weak and elderly, all weak and elderly, not just those we know, should be taken care of and they should, just not by forced taxation. You use the fact that we are far from perfection to support pessimism. But how can you not be optimistic if you consider that throughout history things have gotten better 100% of the time and worse 0%?

"It is simply an implication of positing perfection as a necessary precondition for rationality, that rationality cannot exist without perfection."

I suggested that liberty and equality lead to rationality. More liberty and more equality leads to more rationality. The difference is I'm not saying that we have to have complete freedom and equality for any rationality, I'm saying there is a linear relationship.

You learned that you hate protests. I'm not really worried about others being taught the same. That is simply a bad view, it ignores the question at hand. It is, if anything an excuse to not have to consider if the protests should be allowed in. It is a recipie for bigotry. When faced with a valid argument we disagree with we have three options. We can either form a cogent counterargument, accept that we were wrong, or ignore the argument. The first two lead to an increase in knowledge and a decrease in bigotry. Taking the argument that these immigrants are making, and changing the subject, claiming that you disagree with their argument because of the way it was carried out, is a way to ignore the argument. But if these protests teach some people that they hate protests, and other people that they want open borders, and other people that they want closed borders, and if it polarizes people, then good I say. The more polarized people are the more they debate, and as I said, a good debate has always led to an increase in liberty and equality. As long as it doesn't become violent I love polarization, and we have a good government that will do a lot to guarantee that violence is minimized. I suspect that if we become polarized on this it will speed up the process of borders opening, this is one of the few things I actually like about the European Union.

11:18 AM  

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