Choose Your Own Occupation
August 24, 2010 1:17 PM   Subscribe

Human society cannot be rationally understood until what it is seen it for what it is: The Story of Your Enslavement.

From Freedomain Radio, the largest and most popular philosophy conversation in the world.

"I am Stefan Molyneux, the host of Freedomain Radio. I have been a software entrepreneur and executive, co-founded a successful company and worked for many years as a Chief Technical Officer... I also spent two years studying writing and acting at the National Theatre School of Canada."
posted by at the crossroads (340 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
This doesn't end with Laurence Fishburne holding a battery, does it?
posted by Rhaomi at 1:22 PM on August 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


Extreme conservative propaganda sure is ugly.
posted by stbalbach at 1:27 PM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I also spent two years studying writing and acting at the National Theatre School of Canada."

Maybe you should have used that time to take some editing classes. You'd have learned that it's mighty hard to make a salient political/philosophic point when you juxtapose footage of diseased livestock with Monty Python clips.

"You cannot swing a sword at a tree and scream at it to produce more fruit..."

Clearly this man has never harvested fearberries.
posted by griphus at 1:29 PM on August 24, 2010 [57 favorites]


...so he doesn't like taxes
posted by norabarnacl3 at 1:32 PM on August 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


"we became, alone among the animals, afraid of death."

are you fucking kidding me? it's too bad he doesn't list among his credentials any study of biology.
posted by shmegegge at 1:32 PM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


"The God of Atheists" follows the downfall of three men who wake up one morning and decide to take what they have not earned. Al, a down-and-out music producer, bullies his handsome son into forming a boy-band. Alder, an obscure academic, steals a brilliant idea from a grad student. As they exploit the talents of the naïve youths around them, their fame and wealth increase – but they become more and more terrified of exposure and destruction...

So it's like a Jackie Collins novel, but without the sex?
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:33 PM on August 24, 2010


It's true enough, but so is it true that we're orbiting a fusion inferno that could kill the entire planet in milliseconds. Casting global reality in a negative light really doesn't help much of anything, because, like hating the sun, there's nothing you can do about it except lock yourself in a cave and eating moss and beetles. And when you consider it as a whole, we're all going to die anyway! OH SHIT.

Beauty is found in details.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:33 PM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


SPOILER ALERT:

He was a crank all along.
posted by djgh at 1:33 PM on August 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


this fellow has an understanding unique among philosophers: that reality is kind of like the matrix except instead of a red pill or a blue pill it's pretty much just monster bonghits
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:33 PM on August 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


"we became, alone among the animals, afraid of death."

And this is where I stopped watching.
posted by mullingitover at 1:33 PM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm entirely not sure what to make of this. It seems to me, looking around the Freedomain Radio website, that there is a very specific philosophical slant to this "largest and post popular philosophy conversation in the world." So, is it really an education resource, or an indoctrination / propaganda machine?

The video linked in the FPP made me wonder if it was going to end with the narrator standing outside a Bilderburger meeting shouting at random people as they walk into the hotel for the conference.
posted by hippybear at 1:34 PM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Does he ever say anything interesting or attempt to prove his points? I listened for 5 minutes then had to stop as my ears and brain started bleeding.
posted by nomadicink at 1:35 PM on August 24, 2010


What I love* about videos like this is how they're accusing me of being blind to my enslavement by the Government**, and yet I'm not exactly sure what they're proposing as a sustainable alternative method to sufficiently organizing a large group of humans to get much of anything done.

Because I'm sure we'd be able to have the electrical grid, water and sewage systems, communication network, internationally manufactured sophisticated electronics, and ready supply of nutritious food -- which this person no doubt took advantage of while making this video -- without any kind of central organization system. All of that would obviously just work itself out, somehow!

Not impressed, Freedomain. Mostly just kind of irritated that I wasted that much of my afternoon.

*and by that I mean "absolutely loathe"

**our semi-benevolent farmer overlords
posted by Narrative Priorities at 1:36 PM on August 24, 2010 [14 favorites]


Reality is so much more complicated than the simple explanations offered by ideologues of this type.
posted by grizzled at 1:36 PM on August 24, 2010


WAKE UP SHEEPLE!
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:36 PM on August 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


Well, I've learned something today. I've learned that the best way to punctuate an undergrad, hotboxed-dorm-room rap session on the meaning of life is with Billy Crystal's midlife-crisis speech from City Slickers.

In a word: Whoa.
posted by gompa at 1:36 PM on August 24, 2010


Look at that image of the pope, you could make the case that he is enslaved as much as his 'animals' are. This type of reciprocal enslavement is more to the point vs a vis society. Laterally and vertically, this reciprocal obfuscation of intent denies the possibility of a "Master" who is not himself enslaved.

This is a rehash of natural selection but with one half of the relation left out. For example, we may have enslaved corn to do our bidding (GMO's ethanol etc), but we are equally committed (enslaved?) by our reliance upon corn; Whole political classes are beholden to it.

The master/slave dialectic can function from purely one side of the relation as illustrated by this video, but it is not the whole truth of the matter.
posted by kuatto at 1:39 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know what's funny? How this freedomain radio thing, with all its learned members and speakers, really amounts to nothing more than a staunch endorsement of that status quo, whatever that happens to be.

Did I say funny? Sorry, I meant violently enraging.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:41 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


"The massive increases in wealth throughout the 19th century resulted from economic freedomscolonialism..."

This is a fun bit of rhetoric, and I like his speaking voice, but if you're going to talk about societal gloom and doom and completely fail to address the human drive for kindness, respect, or altruism, then you're just moving air around.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 1:42 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Does this really merit a metafilter post?
posted by outlandishmarxist at 1:43 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


it's all talk until these jerkoffs try it in somalia.
posted by TrialByMedia at 1:43 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


“Just between us, slavery, preferably with a smile, is inevitable then. But we must not admit it. Isn't it better that whoever cannot do without having slaves should call them free men? For the principle to begin with, and, secondly, not to drive them to despair. We owe them that compensation, don't we? In that way, they will continue to smile and we shall maintain our good conscience.”

Check and mateFUCKYOUHIPPY
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 1:45 PM on August 24, 2010


His ideas intrigue me and I would like to subscribe to his newsletter.

I wonder if he also has a site where I can buy a set of lavender pajamas and a pair of tuxedo shoes.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:45 PM on August 24, 2010


Badly needs the "libertarian" and "anarcho-capitalism" tags: not a fan of stalking horses.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 1:45 PM on August 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


I notice that many of the people listed on this page are members of the Von Mises Institute. For those of you who don't know, the Von Mises Institute primary focus is the generation of reddit spam.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:45 PM on August 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


looking at the design of freedomainradio.com, I feel my capacity for creative thought diminish
posted by kuatto at 1:45 PM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


TL;DR

Entitled white middle class people, blind to their own privilege and the benefits society gives them, imagine themselves to be self-sufficient isolated individuals, and imagine that being required to contribute to the well-being of their fellow humans is the culmination of an evil, millennia-spanning plot.

In other words, typical libertarian-conservative bullshit.
posted by edheil at 1:49 PM on August 24, 2010 [31 favorites]


Clearly this man has never harvested fearberries.

I may need new underpants. I think I just harvested some fearberries.

"The notes blatted skyward as the sun rose over the Canada geese, feathered rumps mooning the day, webbed appendages frantically pedaling unseen bicycles in their search for sustenance, driven by cruel Nature's maxim, 'Ya wanna eat, ya gotta work,' and at last I knew Pittsburgh."
-- Sheila B. Richter, winner 1987 Bulwer-Lytton contest
posted by poe at 1:50 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


and a pair of tuxedo shoes.

I read that as "tuxedo shorts", and in my head boxer shorts popped up.

Whereby it is black over the legs, and obviously white down the middle where you crotch area is. I insta-imagined the bow tie being below the slit where your penis comes out, but on further thought that wouldn't work, so the bow-tie would have to be on the waistband, and maybe you could unbutton the fly like it was the jacket (i.e. with an extra bit of material overlapping), and then you could pee.

That is the best thing to happen to my brain in this thread.
posted by djgh at 1:50 PM on August 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


I don't even think that step 3 (fear) is used as much as the author thinks. There was a comic on Reddit *shudder* about how distraction (TV,computers,movies) are used to distract the populous instead of fear. It's the Orwell/Huxley juxtaposition.

We're not scared, we just can't see that we don't care about anything of value.

There's also some weak arguments. In the opening he says you can't get a hen to produce more eggs, but you can get a man's eggs (with fear). But what he should say is that you can use fear to get CONTINUAL production from a person who will do work for a long time with only SOME fear and violence. That's the difference between a human and an animal. I can steal a dog's lunch just like I could steal a man's eggs. Posturing, yelling, noises can scare an animal as well as a human.

As said already, the footage was ridiculous. Some too graphic, some too humorous.

I think humans look for safety. I think the upper class know they're privileged and they work their magic to keep it that way. In fact they try to keep it going in that direction. It's assured that they think they're superior too (I have a upper-middle class friend who thinks so... about me and everyone else).

But what are you planning on waking up from? Are you not going to participate in capitalism? Are you going to quit your job and stop paying taxes? Sure. But you're not really going to get away from it. I think that videos like this should be put in the "conspiracy" bin unless they support some specific outcome. Like "we need to be more politically active" or "we need to stop the Tea Party because they're tools" or "no more career politicos who do nothing but try to hit the right message to get elected" or "Don't let these bailouts happen, do something"

Instead their message is nil. It's just a really negative light on how things are without actually showing how we can affect the process.
posted by Napierzaza at 1:52 PM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter: Does this really merit a metafilter post?
posted by verb at 1:53 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Did I spot a YTMND screen capture in there?
posted by fontophilic at 1:58 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm entirely not sure what to make of this. It seems to me, looking around the Freedomain Radio website, that there is a very specific philosophical slant to this "largest and post popular philosophy conversation in the world." So, is it really an education resource, or an indoctrination / propaganda machine?


I am a member of the site, and I've spoken to Molyneux several times.

The last thing I'm going to do here is agree with his views. I disagree with many of them. But I will say that I've found him to be very open to debate. For instance, I am a determinist and he's a staunch believer in free will. We argued this back and forth for a month, and he never once tried to silence me or use any bullshit conversational tactics. Eventually, he invited me onto his podcast and we discussed it in a civil way. So I give him props for wanting to discuss things with integrity.

I think some of his views are seriously wacked out, and he's been criticized in worse ways. But he also has some smart things to say, and there are some other smart people on his community (and some followers who just ape anything Stefan says).

I really urge people here to take a look at more than one or two things on the site -- rather than just immediately ironic and dismissive. Even if you hate him, pay attention, because he has a lot of fans. So, at the very least, "know thine enemy."

Also, I urge people not to have a knee-jerk reaction to "Libertarian." There are many types of Libertarians and not all of them are just Republicans calling themselves by another name. Molyneux has tons of views that are not traditionally Conservative: for instance, he's pro gay rights.

His branch of Libertarianism comes from a hatred of violence. He returns to that over and over and over. He believes that when states demand that citizens pay taxes, that's a form of violence. (If you don't pay, you're jailed; if you try to resist being jailed you are hurt.) I'm not suggesting you should agree with him about this. (I have some issues with it.) I'm suggesting that if you have any interest in being fair, you don't just hear the work "Libertarian" and assume that he doesn't want to pay taxes because he wants everything to be "mine! mine! mine!"

As someone who hates violence as much as Molyneux, I have sympathy for his views. He came to Libertarianism by saying "what if I take an absolute moral stance against it. That it's never okay under any circumstances? What would be the ramifications of such a view? Could one sustain a culture without allowing any violence? Without having an army? Without police? Etc." I respect you if you disagree with him. Personally, I think he's being way to utopian. But he's asking serious questions. I'm deeply sorry if you don't find them worth discussing.

Above all, if you disagree with him, I really urge you to tell him so and tell him why.
posted by grumblebee at 2:07 PM on August 24, 2010 [13 favorites]


FUCKYOUHIPPY

I beg your pardon. What did I do to you?
posted by hippybear at 2:12 PM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


looking at the design of freedomainradio.com, I feel my capacity for creative thought diminish

Yeah. That is awful. I thought I recognized the template, so I looked at the source.

They are running Dot Net Nuke.

Dear god.

The horror.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 2:13 PM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


I cant watch this at work, is there a timecube involved?
posted by T.D. Strange at 2:24 PM on August 24, 2010


He believes that when states demand that citizens pay taxes, that's a form of violence.

I believe when you allow the disenfranchised to suffer because you have not collectively organized a social safety net that insures that those with less access to resources with us can get food, or shelter, or health care, you're committing violence. And it's actual violence, in that actual people actually suffer, not some theoretical violence in which people are afraid of suffering if they don't pay in their fair share.

I'm sure he's a friendly guy, but anybody who thinks they are making political points by showing images of animals being abused, and compares paying taxes to slavery -- another form of actual violence, that actually still exists in this world, and actually hurts people -- is not going to be especially good for my psyche to debate. I don't especially care that he has some crackpot theories, or that he makes vaguely duncy videos. It's a big net. He's welcome to his little corner of it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:25 PM on August 24, 2010 [25 favorites]


Once again, I am eternally grateful that the technology wasn't yet cheap & accessible enough for me to foist my undergraduate philosophies upon the world.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:36 PM on August 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


I believe when you allow the disenfranchised to suffer because you have not collectively organized a social safety net that insures that those with less access to resources with us can get food, or shelter, or health care, you're committing violence.

That's an extremely broad definition of violence. You don't get to redefine terms just because you don't like something.
posted by ripley_ at 2:55 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


grumblebee: "when states demand that citizens pay taxes, that's a form of violence. (If you don't pay, you're jailed; if you try to resist being jailed you are hurt.)"

Of course it's violence, that's self-evident and we should never forget it. However, history has shown, repeatedly, that the inevitable alternative to a strong central State maintaining a monopoly of force and legitimised violence for the purposes of tax collection and infrastructure creation and renewal is the emergence of local centres of power aggregating around strongmen which then create their own local force monopolies that tend to much less relatively responsive mechanisms of control through representation.
posted by meehawl at 2:55 PM on August 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


Above all, if you disagree with him, I really urge you to tell him so and tell him why.

Okay, grumblebee. Since I respect you so much. I'll expand a little. His Libertarianism is philosophically abhorrent to me in a way that conservatism itself is not, for several reasons.

One of the most important has to do with the way his arguments are constructed: He makes a whole bunch of assumptions a priori that he treats as existential certainties, for example, about fear, noted upthread. Another, common to libertarians, is the universality of a certain idiosyncratic vision of property rights, which for them come as naturally as breathing. Logical consistency in pursuit of these ideals leads (inevitably as far as I have seen) to beliefs which most of us would find repugnant for ethical reasons and therefore dismiss out of hand. (See for example Ruwart on child prostitution and consent, or Walter Block on "slavery contracts".)

This is no problem for Molyneux, his ethical system grounded as it is in a radical individualism he seems to take largely for granted. However, realizing this will not win many converts, he wraps his ideals in a cloak called "freethought" which allows them to be presented in a kinder, gentler context, whether deliberately disingenuous or otherwise.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 3:00 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


You don't get to redefine terms just because you don't like something.

That's true. Fortunately, that's not what I'm doing at all.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:00 PM on August 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


The problem with this argument is that violence isn't going anywhere, whether it's moral or not. Violence is a natural consequence of being thinking, mortal creatures in a world governed by the laws of physics; it's simply a part of being animals which bleed, whether we like it or not.

Likewise, if the farming cycle starts with "brutal, direct violence", evolves through "economic freedoms", and then eventually destroys itself through greed, then the next stage after greed isn't waking up from the farm -- it's brutal, direct violence again. No amount of "waking up" and "seeing the farm" will make the truncheon not a truncheon, or the boot not a boot... and the idea that booting and beating will never occur to anyone in a "peaceful, free society" is wishful thinking.

Absolute freedom exists only in bellum omnium contra omnes. True peace exists only through death... or, alternately, through the iron-clad control of everyone in the system. That's the unfortunate truth you've got to deal with if you're both anti-violence and pro-freedom; at bottom, these are mutually contradictory beliefs.
posted by vorfeed at 3:21 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think the upper class know they're privileged and they work their magic to keep it that way

I'm not so sure they all have that level of awareness. It's like everyone thinks they're the victim somehow.
posted by Kirk Grim at 3:31 PM on August 24, 2010


...and yet I'm not exactly sure what they're proposing as a sustainable alternative method to sufficiently organizing a large group of humans to get much of anything done.

In one sentence you've summed up why I -- a right-leaning independent -- won't be voting for any Republicans or Tea Partiers in November.
posted by coolguymichael at 3:32 PM on August 24, 2010


You don't get to redefine terms just because you don't like something.

But he does? If requiring taxes can be violence, then causing a living situation which will enable misery is a reasonable interpretation of violence. Both are expansive definitions, but can be defended.

Personally, I think he's being way to utopian. But he's asking serious questions.

Well, those two claims are at least slightly at odds with one another. He is naive in his assumptions. He may be sincere, but to say he is asking serious questions is a bit misleading - they are not questions which need to be seriously considered by anyone familiar with political philosophy. These issues have been addressed endlessly.

The government does not enslave us. We create it, to manage some of the most basic components of society, such as police protection, waste removal, a justice system, etc. It is ours to adapt as we see fit, but because we have determined certain things should be available to everyone (and that it would be a pain for us all if they weren't - no one wants a neighbor who can't afford sewage treatment...), we handle them collectively rather than individually.
posted by mdn at 3:34 PM on August 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


There are many types of Libertarians and not all of them are just Republicans calling themselves by another name.

Look what they done to my brand, Ma.

Also:

"I have been a software entrepreneur and executive, co-founded a successful company and worked for many years as a Chief Technical Officer... I also spent two years studying writing and acting at the National Theatre School of Canada."

"I have a degree in massage from the University of Beijing!"
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:44 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I hate to say it – and grumblebee, knowing and respecting you, I tried to keep an open mind while watching – but this is so full of faulty premises that it's understandable that so many of the conclusions are wrong.

The most obvious thing, I think, is that it's just another filling in of the Marxist template that isn't exactly as popular as it was fifty or seventy-five years ago, but that's still just as wrong, I think; he has a very strict dialectical view of history, and every single event and moment in history is carefully fitted into his framework of exactly what he believes it should look like. Never mind that history is messy, that good things happen and bad things happen – that to anyone who actually looks at historical events there's none of the clear progression of events or dialectical inner logic to historical events – that, in fact, if anything seems to characterize history, it's the dramatic lack of a dialectical inner logic of history, which we see most keenly in inexplicable tragedies; he brushes all this aside and jams everything into what he believes is a necessary conclusion, without having actually accounted for everything in the system.

And I say this fits into the Marxist template not because I'm some knee-jerk John Bircher or anything like that – I hope people here know me well enough to know that a city-state form of socialism like that of medieval Geneva or ancient Greece is my favorite form of government – but because I really do believe that's where this legacy comes from; Marx is the person who initiated the critique of systems based on a systematic framework as a guide to reading history. Molyneux almost quotes those famous words, "all previous history has been the history of class struggle" – he simply replaces "class struggle" with "farms," although farms mean essentially the same thing to him. And it's not wrong simply because it's Marxist – Marx could be right about certain things sometimes – but because it's so dismissive of all other past and present thinkers and opinions and positions. To stand above it all and give this radical framework from which everything else must be viewed – the framework then has to be a very, very good one, else our whole conception of the world will be flawed.

And that's another thing – the framework is a bad one. It begins from false premises. For one thing, he seems to think that the fear of death is coeval with social oppression. He claims that animals do not fear death, and therefore can't be threatened. This is demonstrably false. Even if you flatly accept that animals cannot know and do not fear death (which seems silly to me, given the way I've seen animals act when another animal dies) animals can clearly remember pain and loss, and will go to great lengths to avoid it. Animals are just like humans in this respect. And what's more, the fear of death is clearly not simply a tool of the enslavement of humankind; if he wishes, I can adduce hundreds upon hundreds of examples of human beings throughout history who have eloquently and carefully described why they fear death, without reference to societal oppression and without being tools whereby the masters have enslaved the slaves.

Now, he'll obviously respond – as have critics from this school since the late 1800s – that they were unwitting supporters of oppression, that they didn't know they were being used by the masters, that they were ideologues (to use Marx's term for it.) But this is precisely why I object as strenuously as possible to these kinds of arguments; we become trapped in a sort of end-game where nobody really knows what they believe, and everybody is being manipulated by somebody else. It's easy to claim you're right when everybody else is just a tool of oppression. But you can't argue rationally that way; you actually have to go back and show why Shakespeare, Al Ghazzali, Aristotle, etc were all tools of enslavement. And you discover that you can't actually prove that – because it's not true.

It's a vast, unshakeable naivete, this – a naivete that is convinced that everyone else is part of oppression, that everyone else is part of the 'system,' that human beings hitherto have not been thinking, rational beings but machines unaware of who they are or what they're doing.

The thing is: they're just human beings. Just like the 'masters,' just like the 'oppressors.' There has been oppression sometimes in history. It hasn't been part of a grand scheme; in fact, the human beings doing the oppressing, just like all human beings, have tended to be inable to plan anything, incapable of sustained effort, and above all completely at a loss as to how to keep power over other human beings. They failed. Sometimes, the slaves became the oppressors. That happened over and over again. Usually, when people have the ability to go from slaves to oppressors, they choose to. That's human nature.

But the notion that there's any system involved here, that there are models or frameworks or obvious markers, is silly. There is no grand design, no massive conspiracy. There's just humans – who are pretty much like animals, if a little more self-destructive.
posted by koeselitz at 3:55 PM on August 24, 2010 [19 favorites]


Yeah, sure, society is run by evil capitalists, but it's a hell of a lot better than no society at all.
posted by tehloki at 3:57 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is another in the long line of works to equate "freedom" with "not paying taxes" and fuck everything else.

What's particularly weird about it is that his "history" boils down to, "throughout history, the powerful have used various methods to control society and get the most out of it. As these methods began with cruelty and use of force, and then evolved once the rulers began to realize that the more freedoms granted to the populace, the more productive they would be. So now we have more "freedoms" than ever, but not really, because it means that we're more productive as a society, which means that tax revenues are higher, which is the antithesis of freedom!"

In other words, I'm glad that he's pro-gay rights, grumblebee, but by his own logic those rights would only serve the "farmers."

The problem with anarchism - or one of the problems, anyway - is that it makes ludicrous assumptions about what anarchy would entail. And it does this because it imagines that an absence of government would mean an absence of oppressive ruling forces. It wouldn't. Oppressive ruling forces are a fact of sociological nature. All that a [modern] system of government does is to provide accountability for those forces. Anarchy/libertarianism/what have you is simply about removing the accountability, which then allows the "farmers" to run wild.

He also imagines that his "farmers" as a conspiracy, which is rich to be sure. Are we referring to the state actors here, who can't get anything done due to full-scale gridlock, or the captains of industry who, if they had the chance, would sell all freedoms down the river for a better competitive edge against one another?

Here's an example: cops scare the bejeezus out of me. I've got a criminal defense attorney mindset and don't trust cops as a matter of principle (though I've almost always liked the ones I've met personally.) Still, I'm glad to live in a society with an organized police force, bound by public law, because it's way better than vigilanteism. Can we do better? Yes, but "better" means "more accountable."

Maybe it's just because I live in the DC area, and thus am so immersed in the people he so virulently "others" here. The government is composed of people working for wages which are independent of tax revenue. It's the lobbyists and contractors who are dependent on where the tax money actually ends up, and they could frankly give a damn about anyone's "freedoms."

But at least he tells us how to finally be truly "free," whatever that means to him. "Wake up." he says. Got it. Whether that means not paying taxes anymore, I'm not sure. Maybe I'll understand better when I see the cage.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:14 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, and my cats are scared shitless of heights. I have to imagine this has a lot to do with a fear of death. Evolution tends to perpetuate that trait in successful species.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:17 PM on August 24, 2010


The thing is: they're just human beings. Just like the 'masters,' just like the 'oppressors.' There has been oppression sometimes in history. It hasn't been part of a grand scheme; in fact, the human beings doing the oppressing, just like all human beings, have tended to be inable to plan anything, incapable of sustained effort, and above all completely at a loss as to how to keep power over other human beings.

I'd call this just as much a denial of the messy nature of history as the video is. Any honest appraisal of human history shows that we are sometimes capable of planning, sustained effort, and keeping power over other human beings, and that oppression sometimes is part of a grand scheme. I've no idea how your view of humanity can account for the existence of the Great Wall of China, much less the Great Leap Forward... and much less the existence of globalized capitalism, which at the very least has required the sustained efforts of millions of people for nearly two hundred years.
posted by vorfeed at 4:19 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Okay, we've got accusations of him being everything from Marxist to Libertarian. Meaning he's onto something big. Having heard a few of Molyneux's talks before, I can give a quick characterization: although I find some of his ideas questionably constrictive, I have to give him credit for at least tackling these subjects. I found little to object to in the talk posted here. You don't think today's consumer class is being "farmed"? Even a medium-thorough study of the just-burst credit bubble would very much suggest otherwise.

He's not attempting to give a full description of history here. He does a fine job however, of studying the history of coercion.

My one objection is that he refers almost exclusively, as many of a Libertarian bent tend to do, to taxation as the means of social theft. As if corporatism (i.e. maximized profit at any cost) is not as big or an even bigger problem.
posted by telstar at 4:32 PM on August 24, 2010


We argued this back and forth for a month, and he never once tried to silence me or use any bullshit conversational tactics.

You mean something like implying that people who disagree with him as deluded and afraid, worse than animals?

He came to Libertarianism by saying "what if I take an absolute moral stance against it. That it's never okay under any circumstances? What would be the ramifications of such a view? Could one sustain a culture without allowing any violence? Without having an army? Without police? Etc." I respect you if you disagree with him. Personally, I think he's being way to utopian. But he's asking serious questions.

I don't think that's a particularly serious question at all, since what counts as violence or non-violence beyond trivial cases depends greatly on your philosophical starting point. And often with these types, they never actually started from their starting point, they ended up there by backing into it, beginning from some conception of the world and finding premises that support that conclusion. So maybe we can see the truth of his philosophy by reading him in reverse: in order for him to be free, we must all become animals.
posted by AlsoMike at 4:50 PM on August 24, 2010


But telstar, his entire "point" hinges on taxation being the ultimate non-freedom, and he structures the rest of his argument around those currently levying the taxes being the same as those profiting from the greater productivity created by greater... I dunno, let's call them "small-f freedoms," since apparently the only freedom that means anything is not paying taxes.

If he were pointing out the corruption infesting all aspects of the system, well I wouldn't argue with that, but he's obfuscating that point to rant against taxation as simply a tool for the government to profit off of the populace, which doesn't actually make any sense at all. (Take a look at the deficit, for one thing.)

It takes a special kind of smugness to define those who don't subscribe to your view as "enslaved," and as such no, I don't think I will try to engage Molyneux in debate. Singing Karaoke to chimps would change more minds.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:55 PM on August 24, 2010


Okay, we've got accusations of him being everything from Marxist to Libertarian. Meaning he's onto something big.

Or his ideas are kind of half-baked and contradictory. I'm getting some poorly thought-out Nietzsche, some Weber, and a misunderstanding of the archaeology of early agrarian societies. Plus a relatively unproblematic assumption of radical Lockean individualism. A claim to philosophy should at least be able to acknowledge and distinguish itself from its antecedents.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:04 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Libertarianism is like a free energy scheme. It won't work, it can't work, it defies the physical laws. Yet there will always be some crazy lunatic with magnets, flowcharts, and the Atlas Shrugged pocket reader explaining how you are wrong and that some evil conspiracy of scientists are keeping the truth from you. I recommend we put them in a room, pump it full of oxytocin and play the Internationale until they are cured.
posted by humanfont at 5:06 PM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


There's also the problem of what I'll call the "internal checkmate" fallacy, whereby one makes himself correct because anyone who would argue is merely deluded into defending what he is arguing against, by his own logic.

How is one supposed to debate that, again?
posted by Navelgazer at 5:15 PM on August 24, 2010


But telstar, his entire "point" hinges on taxation being the ultimate non-freedom, and he structures the rest of his argument around those currently levying the taxes being the same as those profiting from the greater productivity created by greater... I dunno, let's call them "small-f freedoms," since apparently the only freedom that means anything is not paying taxes.

I agree. I tried to point out that I object to his reasoning concerning taxation as the only means of enslaving populations. He sees the modern tax state as growing out of, for example, the feudal system. But couldn't you just as easily make the case that the modern multi-national mega-corporation (of which Molyneux is curiously silent) pertains to the same geneology? Why are libertarians so blind on this issue? Maybe because they fear the government less than the corps when they feel it's time to speak out? Maybe they all hope to become mega-corp population-farmers free to exploit the masses without interference from the gov't? I suspect that may be the freedom that really matters to them.
posted by telstar at 5:16 PM on August 24, 2010


In that case, telstar, I find that we are in agreement.

(Yay, minds can be changed and consensus can be reached between people discussing things respectfully enough to treat others in the discussion as human beings!)
posted by Navelgazer at 5:36 PM on August 24, 2010


That's an extremely broad definition of violence. You don't get to redefine terms just because you don't like something.

Neither does Stefan Molyneux.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:43 PM on August 24, 2010


Dude showed the shooting of Oscar Grant for no discernable reason. What a dick.
posted by defenestration at 5:48 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Okay, we've got accusations of him being everything from Marxist to Libertarian. Meaning he's onto something big.

If you read that post on Marxism, the comparison isn't ideological but structural. The point was that the author engages in the same overly systematic interpretation of history. Everything is understood through the lens of his particular assumptions.
posted by mdn at 5:49 PM on August 24, 2010


Sure, it's easy to mock, but let's not forget that Milton Freedomain won a Nobel Prize.
posted by Bromius at 6:14 PM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


imagine themselves to be self-sufficient isolated individuals

Libertarians do not imagine themselves to be self-sufficient nor isolated. They imagine that they can successfully mutually interact, but in a world where every one of those interactions is voluntarily agreed to by every party whose life or property is involved.

That belief also might be incorrect, but it's what you should respond to; otherwise your response is only going to be convincing to people (17 favorites and counting!) whose understanding of their philosophy is equally inaccurate.
posted by roystgnr at 6:53 PM on August 24, 2010


Sure, it's easy to mock, but let's not forget that Milton Freedomain won a Nobel Prize.

Milton Friedman (1928) and Carl Sagan (1951) both graduated from the same high school as me (2002). I always thought it would be cool to write a play where their timelines somehow intersect, making them classmates. I wonder what the hell a conversation between them would be like.
posted by defenestration at 7:03 PM on August 24, 2010


I hate to say it – and grumblebee, knowing and respecting you, I tried to keep an open mind while watching – but this is so full of faulty premises that it's understandable that so many of the conclusions are wrong.

Remember, Molyneux views aren't my views. I haven't even had time to watch the video linked to here, and I won't be surprised if, upon watching it, I disagree with it. I disagree with about half of what I hear Molyneux say. I just posted here because it saddened me to see his entire community, from which I've learned a lot, reduced to a bunch of cranks. I don't blame anyone here for doing that. All you have to go on is the video. The video WAS what was linked to. Etc. But I wanted at least one voice in this thread to represent the fact that many intelligent discussions take place on Molyneux's site and that I've had intelligent discussions with Molyneux himself.

Me: Personally, I think he's being way too utopian. But he's asking serious questions.

mdm: Well, those two claims are at least slightly at odds with one another. He is naive in his assumptions. He may be sincere, but to say he is asking serious questions is a bit misleading - they are not questions which need to be seriously considered by anyone familiar with political philosophy. These issues have been addressed endlessly.


I disagree with this. I'm not a Libertarian, but I think the questions Moyneux's type of Libertarians ask are deeply important. I don't ask you to agree with this, but as an extreme pacifist, I am deeply disturbed by the violence that is built into the American system. But the taxation sort that Molyneux talks about AND the stuff that's done to the disenfranchised, which people brought up here. I think our system is deeply, deeply evil. Again, I don't expect you to agree.

My problem is that I see no acceptable way to move towards an alternative system and no guarantee (or even acceptable risk) that an alternative would work. But that doesn't mean what we have right now shouldn't be criticized. In my view, it's VITAL that we criticize anything that's embedded.

Since Molyneux (and I) is a pacifist, he would never endorse overthowing our current system by force. Neither would I. That would be abhorrent to me. So I'm stuck hating what we have but seeing no way to change it to something I can tolerate. Molyneux has said he doesn't know how the change is going to happen, but that he's an optimist about it. That's him. I'm a pessimist.

But I realize there are negatives to my pessimism. I give up too easily. I think there's a place in this world for utopians. Taking things to extremes is sometimes the sort of shake-up we need to see things clearly. I know some people have a deep hated of extremes. I don't.

In want to hear about fairyland, because by doing so I can better understand where I'm living right now. But I don't believe for a second that we'll ever be able to visit that magic kingdom. I think we're stuck in the sludge. Which is why I can't be a Libertarian.

Personally, I think he's being way to utopian. But he's asking serious questions.

The government does not enslave us. We create it, to manage some of the most basic components of society, such as police protection, waste removal, a justice system, etc. It is ours to adapt as we see fit, but because we have determined certain things should be available to everyone (and that it would be a pain for us all if they weren't - no one wants a neighbor who can't afford sewage treatment...), we handle them collectively rather than individually.

I thought we included me. I didn't create any of this stuff. And "we" didn't do anything. People in power did things. "We" may have elected those people.

It's fine for people to disagree with this stuff. Like I said, I disagree with Molyneux 50% of the time at least, but I'm stunned this is so solved and done for you. It sounds like you think we've proven that Democracy works in a way that should satisfy everyone. Yet it's not just a few oddballs on the fringe who aren't satisfied.
posted by grumblebee at 7:36 PM on August 24, 2010


roystgnr: I do, in fact, believe that the belief you have outlined is incorrect. I understand the ideal, really I do. And it's a good one, at the idealistic stage. One of my best friends in this world shares it, and he's much smarter and more well-informed than I am.

But part of his being smarter and more well-informed is that he's curious about the world, and that he takes his Rand-based Objectivism seriously enough to not make conclusions about the world based upon it, but to question his own knowledge based upon it.

An example: the now cliche Rand-ism, "when your conclusions are absurd, question your assumptions." How many Objectivists/Libertarians/Conservatives actually do this? I know that my friend does, which is why he doesn't fall into ideological talking points. But this appeal to logic, and to rethinking one's own logic, doesn't truly appeal to most who would claim to subscribe to Rand. Because when you take people who could be curious but haven't thought very deeply about anything much in their lives, a cleverly-worded argument that confirms what they want to believe is like manna from heaven.

And I'm not trying to denigrate the masses in my bit above, actually. In this world, having the time and capacity to think clearly and knowledgeably about these sorts of things is a privilege that few can afford. People gotta work, go to school, take care of their families. A sensible person isn't wasting time on philosophy classes because they know their dad is paying the rent - the sensible person is learning something practical, if they can afford to go to college at all. And new ideas are seductive as hell. We all want to be smarter. Especially if being smarter means strengthening our own viewpoints.

But the effect is that bad ideas, well-packaged, lead us all to hell. An Islamic group wants to build a Community Center in downtown Manhattan, for instance. New Yorkers shrug. Most of them aren't Muslim and downtown Manhattan is a big and busy place. They won't notice, and besides, the group is free to build their center wherever they want. What do they care?

Enter the crazy opposition. They claim that the Community Center is a Mosque (it isn't) and that it's being built at Ground Zero (it isn't) and scream that since the terrorists that attacked the World Trade Center were Muslim extremists, that Muslims shouldn't be allowed to build anything near it.

Now this hits people on a visceral level. Most of those people won't have been in New York on 9/11, but they still remember the fear of that day, and are still angry about it. Ground Zero Mosque? What the hell? What do they think they're doing?

(All of this is clear to all of you, of course, and I swear I'm not trying to derail, but to use an example to make a point)

But then it becomes clear to a lot of people that, you know, it isn't actually a "mosque" or at "ground zero," but they still feel emotionally angry about it. Enter the bad idea, well-packaged:

"They have the right to build it there, but it's insensitive, and they shouldn't."

This sounds like a sensible middle-ground position to take. It resolves the intellectual and emotional dichotomy that people were feeling about the issue. And it totally ignores the actual point, in favor of telling Muslim Americans that they should take responsibility for what bin Laden did, regardless of their having nothing to do with it, and the fact that almost all of them would have completely opposed the idea, had they been allowed input.

But it works, and now most Americans are following the bad idea, well-packaged. They aren't Muslim, don't live in New York, and have no reason to give any more mental energy to this stupid-ass "controversy."

Molyneux is also delivering a bad idea, well-packaged. I'll again ghost-speak for my objectivist friend, who keeps in mind not just "I shall live my life for no one else," but also the next part, which states, "I shall let no one else live his life for me." He lives liberally in both his personal interactions and political views, though he is independent, and tends to believe that it is in his own interest that crime is managed, that homelessness doesn't perpetuate more crime and greater taxes (as it costs more to manage it than it does to solve it), that the people he deals with from day to day know how to read, and that freedoms which don't physically infringe on others' freedoms remain intact or else be created (i.e. gay rights, eradication of bad drug laws, etc.)

I have seen with my own eyes that Objectivism can be used for good, by the right person, curious enough to learn about the world and steadfast enough to apply it pragmatically. His issues now are about specifics in tax policy and spending, in order to make thing fair, yes, but also optimally efficient.

To me, anything less is shouting at the wind and calling oneself a martyr for doing so.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:38 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Who do these people think they are going to convince with this nonsense?
His branch of Libertarianism comes from a hatred of violence. He returns to that over and over and over. He believes that when states demand that citizens pay taxes, that's a form of violence.
Well. The problem with that is that it's just fucking stupid. People like this don't know how to think or reason.
If you don't pay, you're jailed; if you try to resist being jailed you are hurt.
How many people actually go to jail for tax evasion? Not many, since most people just get fined harder. Eventually, they'll take away your property and you won't be able to make any more money. Somewhere along the long the line they'll eventually go to jail I guess.

But no one has to pay taxes. There's a simple way to avoid it. Just don't work. No income, no taxes. Problem solved. If you want to run off into amazon jungle and live off the land like some of the natives there, no one is stopping you.

The only way to acquire money, which is taxed, is to interact with society If you want to participate in society, then you have to pay a participation fee. If you don't, then you don't. But the alternative is not very appealing to most people. So they just whine like idiots.
posted by delmoi at 7:53 PM on August 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


I don't think that's a particularly serious question at all, since what counts as violence or non-violence beyond trivial cases depends greatly on your philosophical starting point. And often with these types, they never actually started from their starting point, they ended up there by backing into it, beginning from some conception of the world and finding premises that support that conclusion. So maybe we can see the truth of his philosophy by reading him in reverse: in order for him to be free, we must all become animals.

Oy. I'm going to SO regret debating any of this, because I think I'm quickly becoming identified with Molyneux in this thread. Which is my own doing. But it's wrong because he and I differ in so many ways.

Anyway, here's how I look at it: Ii I lock you in a room for a year, that's violence. We can quibble about whether or not that's a good definition of "violence" -- whether violence means physically striking someone or not. Whatever. Point is, I think most people would agree that if I grabs some guy off the street and lock him in my basement, that's an infringements of his human rights. And that I am WRONG for doing that. At least I'm wrong according to my morals and values.

And if the guy tries to escape and I stop him by hitting him, shooting him, etc., then it's definitely violence (by ANYONE'S definition -- right?).

So, I grab (say) cortex, lock him in my basement, he tries to escape and so I kick him down the stairs. Do we all agree that's an evil act? That I'm wrong to do it? I HOPE we agree on that.

So the next step is this: I go to police academy, get hired by the cops, put on a uniform, and it's then OKAY for me to lock people up and hit them if they try to escape.

Here's where all sorts of arguments and personal values come into play. If you want to say, "the difference is that you're now not a private citizen but a representative of the state" or whatever, I'm not going to argue with you. Molyneux would but I wouldn't. I'm too unsure at this point. But I will say that I'm deeply uneasy. I am not happy with moral rules applying to some people and not others.

I don't have a prescription. I don't have a plan. I don't have an alternative. But BOY am I troubled.
posted by grumblebee at 7:56 PM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


If you want to run off into amazon jungle and live off the land like some of the natives there, no one is stopping you.


This is not true. I am not a citizen of any countries that contain the Amazon jungle. I don't know if the officials of those countries would be able to find me or how much they'd care, but I'm not allowed to just move there.

It is also the case that, as an American educated in America, I was not trained to fend for myself in a jungle. I would die.

It's fine to defend our system, but I've heard this glib "if you don't like it, leave" thing all my life, and it doesn't make sense to me. Probably because I take it literally.

Have you ever SERIOUSLY considered the viability of that for an average American, or is it just a way to brush people off?

Let's say your best friend in the world said he couldn't tolerate democracies or dictatorships, and even though you didn't agree with him, because he was your friend, you agreed to help him "just leave." What advice would you give him to help him leave (for the rest of his life) and survive?

Bonus points if you can figure out a way for him to do this without breaking any laws.

Again, if democracy is great, it's great. Sing its praises. But don't tell someone he has an alternative -- that he's not being forced to live in a democracy or a dictatorship (which are the two unpalatable choices I see as possible) unless you honestly think he has an alternative. If you don't think he has one, then say, "Sorry. This is what there is. Suck it up and quit complaining." But don't tell him he can leave any time he wants to.
posted by grumblebee at 8:06 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


....There is one problem with your "if I stop you from escaping as a civilian vs. as a police officer" analogy, though, grumblebee.

You neglect to take into account that the fact that if you are a police officer, the fact that you are attempting TO prevent their escape is because there is a reasonable suspicion that they themselves have done something violent towards someone ELSE. If you're a cop, you're not just locking people up for the sheer whimsy of it.

That strikes me as a VERY big difference which your analogy fails to take into account. True, there are officers who indeed DO do this out of sheer whimsy, but there are also means in place to in turn prosecute THEM for precisely that. Saying that it's a difference between "I'm not allowed to do this as a civilian -- but if I were a cop it'd be totally okay!" strikes me as being a wee bit...willfully simplistic.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:09 PM on August 24, 2010


EmpressCallipygos, I don't quite get how that makes any difference. If I have a strong reason to suspect you're a thief, I'm not allowed to lock you in my basement. Let's say I did that, and my wife said, "I think I hear someone in the basement? What's going on?"

"Oh, it's EmpressCallipygos. I locked her down there!"

"Good God! Why?"

"I strongly suspect she's a thief."

"You...? This is absurd. Let her go this instant!"

"No. Didn't you hear me. I said I think she's a thief. And I have EVIDENCE! Oh shit! She's escaping. Hand me that club!"

Many people would call my actions wrong. But, again, if I'm a cop, they're not wrong any more. So we're back to it's wrong if I'm a private citizen but right if it's a cop. So we have different rules for one sort of person than other sorts of people.
posted by grumblebee at 8:14 PM on August 24, 2010


But the taxation sort that Molyneux talks about AND the stuff that's done to the disenfranchised, which people brought up here. I think our system is deeply, deeply evil. Again, I don't expect you to agree.

Well, all you are saying is that human beings are deeply deeply evil. To suggest that it is due to the way in which the system is set up rather than the various drives and interests of people is the part that's naive. And to suggest that the problem is BOTH too much taxation AND not enough assistance to the needy just drives the point home: you can't even determine what exactly is wrong with the system. You're just upset that people generally are such jerks.

but I'm stunned this is so solved and done for you. It sounds like you think we've proven that Democracy works in a way that should satisfy everyone. Yet it's not just a few oddballs on the fringe who aren't satisfied.

Fair enough, and I didn't mean to come across that way. I absolutely agree that most things do not work as well as they should, that there are a lot of problems and a lot of injustice in the world. What I disagree with is the idea that it's because of one key mistake we have made, and if we can change our stance on that, everything will work. No. The difficulties are more complicated than that.

If we ditch government and no one is taxed, then there is no one to even try to keep the peace - we're down to "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short" because individuals fight for their own interests and not the good of the common. So certainly, government is hugely flawed, since it is, after all, the product of human beings. But relying on individuals to self-regulate without any agreed-upon boundaries is not the solution.
posted by mdn at 8:14 PM on August 24, 2010


grumblebee, I know you (online) too well too try to drag you into this personally. I'm not arguing with you, but with phantom Molyneux, who is an idea in this thread, and who might actually think about things, as opposed to IRL Molyneux, who I am convinced will not.

I have given up on opposition without alternative. It is pissing up a flagpole. It is useless.

I used to work with an extreme leftist who wanted to abolish all prisons. As I believe the prison system to be extremely overcrowded for no good reason, and I question the usefulness of the penal system to begin with, I was intrigued. Here's how the conversation went:

HIM: Prisons don't lower the crime rate, right?
ME: Correct.
HIM: And prison culture actually leads to recidivism, right?
ME: Also correct.
HIM: So we do more to bring down the crime rate by closing all of the prisons.
ME: Wait, what?

I honestly still kind of like his argument, but it ignores so much that I still can't buy into it. I hate the prison model of criminal law, but until we think of something better, I dunno, I'd still like the violent criminals incarcerated for their legally adjudicated terms.

That wasn't the worst, though. Once, jesus I can't even remember what he was proposing. All I can remember is the discussion eventually reaching the point of:

ME: What about crime?
HIM: What about it?
ME: Well, you still have to deal with crime.
HIM: But what if there is no crime?

And that's where I can no longer debate someone. When they will invent their own universe to support their idea, there is no discussion. And when people try to create revolution, without an idea of what the alternative might be, they are doing the same thing, but just not doing the work of looking though it.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:18 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


mdm, we're at a point where I largely agree with you. Molyneux and others on his site have some plans for solutions that they claim aren't solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. But, honestly, I don't bother reading them. I might read them some night -- if I want to read some sci-fi.

To me, even if they're brilliant workable plans (and I'm skeptical about that), they're not going to happen. I could come up with a system that's WAY better than what we have now (well, I couldn't, but imaging that I could), and it won't happen. It won't happen even if I convince a large number of people that my way is better. What we have now is too entrenched. It's not going away.

Especially if we (the people who believe in grumblebee's magic system) are opposed to using violence for change -- which we are.
posted by grumblebee at 8:20 PM on August 24, 2010


If anyone here is interested in a more well-rounded view of Molyneux, try the following podcasts. If nothing else, they contain an interesting story: one that involves romantic relationships, sexism, atheism and online communities.

There are things Molyneux says that in these that deeply offend me (some really condescending stuff) and other things that I think are quite perceptive and generous. There's some dubious armchair psychology and some probably on-the-mark armchair psychology.

Anatomy of a Relationship, part one: http://www.freedomainradio.com/Browse/SearchResults/tabid/90/mid/542/articleId/3364/ctl/ReadDefault/Default.aspx

Part Two: http://www.freedomainradio.com/Browse/SearchResults/tabid/90/mid/542/articleId/3365/ctl/ReadDefault/Default.aspx

Part Three: http://www.freedomainradio.com/Browse/SearchResults/tabid/90/mid/542/articleId/3364/ctl/ReadDefault/Default.aspx
posted by grumblebee at 8:27 PM on August 24, 2010


telstar: “Okay, we've got accusations of him being everything from Marxist to Libertarian. Meaning he's onto something big.”

Oh, how I adore this line of argument.

Adolf Hitler was accused of being everything from a socialist to a fascist, and has been maligned for decades. He must be a genius.
posted by koeselitz at 8:30 PM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I will say it once more before I go to bed. "Freedom" is a cannard in the debate about government. The real goal is accountability. Accountability means actual freedom. But good luck finding anyone in politics fighting for accountability.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:31 PM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Nearly through this video and it occurs to me I'm in the odd position of agreeing with most points being made, while also observing this has got be to most paranoid way possible to approach telling this story. It's like the video needs a disclaimer: This is a story, take from it what you will, don't take it too seriously- and think for yourself, schmuck! (But I guess the paranoid storyteller just don't play like that. It's a shame. Paranoia is handy and also needs to be kept on a short leash.)

To sum up, "I agree with you, but you're fucking insane!"
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 8:31 PM on August 24, 2010


I was really disappointed that this didn't turn out to be a Buddhist meditation on death and dying. The video sure started out in a promising direction.
posted by desjardins at 8:38 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


The most interesting thing about this argument, and also the most flawed, I think, is the farming analogy.

It's clearly (I think) intended as a goad, as something provocative, the reference to farming. Molyneux continuously refers to farming as 'enslavement,' and (rather smugly) refers to the nebulous and vague group of people who are 'farmers' who 'own human livestock.' This is supposed to be shocking, but I don't find farming to be ominous. He says that it's utterly false to "imagine some benevolence at work," but I have to say that I think benevolence is inherent in farming. I get the sense this comes from the fact that freedom seems to be the self-evident aim of human existence to Molyneux. So being a farm animal is, in Molyneux' eyes, as terrible as being a slave; and since freedom is the highest value, being a slave is the most wretched state humans can live in.

I don't find that self-evident. In fact, I think it's easy to argue that it's not true at all. I don't think human beings seek freedom as their highest good. I think humans seek happiness as their highest good.

In any case, even the farming analogy is extremely flawed. First of all, there is no such control whatsoever in society. Human beings in our society aren't controlled at all. They simply aren't! That is: they may be 'controlled' by their circumstances, and they may not be capable of seeing beyond their station and their society. But control implies a controller. There is no human being in charge. All of human society is a mess. It's anarchistic. The notion that there is some grand, architectural, carefully-designed structure of society put in place by 'owners' who are carefully running things for their own 'profit' is a farce, and not a very good one. Nobody pretends that anyone is in control today. Even dictators enjoy a ridiculously precarious position in power; if anyone things Kim Jong Il or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has any kind of security in his position, they are invited to read the news a bit more. And in our own countries, the rich are not utterly and completely secure; they are constantly losing their money, constantly doing embarrassing things in front of a lot of people, constantly getting themselves in the papers by being shameful. Their machinations are periodically found out, and in every instance the most shocking thing is how inept they were, how foolish, how silly, how narcissistic, how blind. They're just human beings, just like everybody else. And the unfortunate fact is, all throughout history, whenever the 'animals' got a chance to be the 'farmers,' they've almost invariably turned out to be just as hideously cruel, if not crueler.

The fact is that everyone – from the 'farmers' on down – is just wandering through this society. Nobody generally has any real intention to rule all over the world, to gain control over every human being, to have ultimate power; and whenever a person does have that intention, they always fail. It would be nice if all of this was a conspiracy carefully created by a small group of insidiously evil capitalists; but in fact no capitalist would ever have the skill to pull off that kind of massive manipulation. Nor would anybody else.

Humans aren't animals. They're very difficult to lead. Even when you want to convince them to do something good, they aren't likely to listen to you.

What's striking about this analogy Molyneux draws out is the fact that it parallels a passage in the work of an actual political philosopher – someone I believe Molyneux would benefit from reading: Xenophon, one of the greatest thinkers who ever lived. It reminds one distinctly of the very beginning of Xenophon's treatise on leadership, The Education of Cyrus, which also compares leading human beings to being a farmer – although with very different conclusions:
We have had occasion before now to reflect how often democracies have been overthrown by the desire for some other type of government, how often monarchies and oligarchies have been swept away by movements of the people, how often would-be despots have fallen in their turn, some at the outset by one stroke, while those who have maintained their rule for ever so brief a season are looked upon with wonder as marvels of sagacity and success.

The same lesson, we had little doubt, was to be learnt from the family: the household might be great or small--even the master of few could hardly count on the obedience of his little flock. And so, one idea leading to another, we came to shape our reflexions thus: Drovers may certainly be called the rulers of their cattle and horse-breeders the rulers of their studs—all herdsmen, in short, may reasonably be considered the governors of the animals they guard. If, then, we were to believe the evidence of our senses, was it not obvious that flocks and herds were more ready to obey their keepers than men their rulers? Watch the cattle wending their way wherever their herdsmen guide them, see them grazing in the pastures where they are sent and abstaining from forbidden grounds, the fruit of their own bodies they yield to their master to use as he thinks best; nor have we ever seen one flock among them all combining against their guardian, either to disobey him or to refuse him the absolute control of their produce. On the contrary, they are more apt to show hostility against other animals than against the owner who derives advantage from them. But with man the rule is converse; men unite against none so readily as against those whom they see attempting to rule over them. As long, therefore, as we followed these reflexions, we could not but conclude that man is by nature fitted to govern all creatures, except his fellow-man. But when we came to realise the character of Cyrus the Persian, we were led to a change of mind: here is a man, we said, who won for himself obedience from thousands of his fellows, from cities and tribes innumerable: we must ask ourselves whether the government of men is after all an impossible or even a difficult task, provided one set about it in the right way.
This is, I think, a clearer and more true picture of human history. Leading human beings, ruling them, is not some easy thing that a bunch of crazed conspiracists with ominous plans for domination could ever pull off; it's very, very difficult. But it's a fine and noble thing, so long as it's benevolent – which it can be. I think history shows that humans in general live their lives and govern their affairs in such a haphazard and random way that it's unlikely anyone have any real control over anyone else for very long. Sure, this isn't a picture that's very useful for those who are looking only to inspire a call for 'freedom!' – but it's a heck of a lot more realistic.
posted by koeselitz at 9:11 PM on August 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


defenestration: “Dude showed the shooting of Oscar Grant for no discernable reason. What a dick.”

Yeah, I take grumblebee's word that he's a fine human being, but this video made me a bit angry the more I watched it; I first saw it at work, through a transparent command-line shell, so I couldn't really tell what was going on, but even there it disturbed me. Here at home, I had to minimize the window to just listen to it.

I have to say that I really feel kind of pissed off at Molyneux for doing that. It's supremely manipulative and propagandistic to flash disturbing and painful images like that continually through a video. I appreciate that he wants to elicit an emotional response, but sticking crap like that in there indicates to me that he doesn't really care about having an actual discussion with anybody; he just wants to pound the eyeballs of his viewers into submission.

Not cool, and not remotely respectful of the various people or animals beaten, maimed, or killed during the video.
posted by koeselitz at 9:15 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I lock you in a room for a year, that's violence. We can quibble about whether or not that's a good definition of "violence" -- whether violence means physically striking someone or not. Whatever.
No, not "whatever". You don't just get to redefine words in order to make your argument more emotionally charged. Using the word "violence" instead of "coersion" or "force". Locking someone in a room isn't violence. It's certainly unpleasant and probably worse then some violent acts (i.e. punching someone in the face). But it's not violent.
This is not true. I am not a citizen of any countries that contain the Amazon jungle. I don't know if the officials of those countries would be able to find me or how much they'd care, but I'm not allowed to just move there.
Oh please. Practically speaking it would be easy to do, and of course they wouldn't be able to stop you. People do all kinds of illegal things in those places, including mining, deforestation, etc. For all intents and purposes, it's a lawless region, and certainly no one (except for criminals doing illegal logging and whatnot) would stop you.
Have you ever SERIOUSLY considered the viability of that for an average American, or is it just a way to brush people off?
People do live in that jungle, living traditional lives. It's obviously possible. But more importantly, it's totally absurd for you to complain about the practicality of such an endeavor. Randians and Libertarian nutcases never worry about the practicality of their plans.
Bonus points if you can figure out a way for him to do this without breaking any laws.
What difference does it make? It's not like the laws are enforced. No one in the Brazilian government is going to risk their lives running around in the jungle to stop someone from living there and bothering no one.
Let's say your best friend in the world said he couldn't tolerate democracies or dictatorships, and even though you didn't agree with him, because he was your friend, you agreed to help him "just leave." What advice would you give him to help him leave (for the rest of his life) and survive?
Well, in the real world, I would just tell him that I didn't really care and that he can do whatever he wants, and change the subject if it ever came up (since it's so annoying to listen too)

But it's interesting that you're asking if I would help him since the entire premise is that people don't have to help eachother. Why should I spend any time helping someone who can't be bothered to pay taxes? There's no reflexivity here. If someone has zero responsibility towards me, then of course I have zero responsibility towards them.
posted by delmoi at 9:17 PM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


So the next step is this: I go to police academy, get hired by the cops, put on a uniform, and it's then OKAY for me to lock people up and hit them if they try to escape. Here's where all sorts of arguments and personal values come into play.

I don't even have to bring in another set of values, because I think the argument doesn't even stand up on its own. Even if you concede that locking people in basements is always wrong, even when it's state-sanctioned, how would you prevent that from happening? If you say: "Any way other than state power is better, even if it's less effective at stopping violence," then for you, state-sanctioned violence as the ultimate evil, not violence as such. Which is fine, but that's somewhat different from where you said you were starting from.

It seems like you're saying something like "I can't lock someone in a basement, why can a police officer?" But I think the effect of that line of reasoning ends up in the opposite: if a police officer can lock someone in a basement, why can't I? In other words, you look at the state's monopoly on power as if it is only granted power (only in the minds of the deluded, of course), not in the way that power and violence is simultaneously circumscribed, to specific situations and by specific actors. You can see this double meaning in the phrase "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." It seems to be a call for revenge, but originally it meant "No more than an eye for an eye." If someone took your eye, you couldn't kill their whole family.

In a way, state violence is a kind of disavowal - it is violent for us, so that we can (pretend to) be peaceful people. Of course this is also quite dangerous because it conceals the actual violence committed on our behalf, but this is why I think it's quite naive to think we can simply dismantle the state and there will be less violence. If anything, there will be more. The correct question is not "How is the state violent to us? How are we deprived of our rights?" but "How is the state violent on our behalf?" When we see all these images of police brutality, the immediate response is "I didn't ask for this," and then to protest against the people who you think did - in other words, still more disavowal. Isn't all this frantic activism really designed to conceal the fact that you did ask for that, we all asked for it? No wonder that these ideas always devolve into paranoid fantasies of elites - it's necessary to find someone who is responsible for the brutality of our system, to wipe away our own complicity in it. It's like Lady Macbeth frantically trying to wipe away the spot. Are these pseudo-radical ideas really trying to eliminate the violence, or are they trying to eliminate the guilt? State violence continues unimpeded, but it's OK because we've taken ourselves out of the picture, we can believe it's no longer done on our behalf.

The true radical position, I claim, is to refuse to take the easy way out, and instead of asking how we can eliminate the state, we should ask how the original idea of the state, to restrict and limit violence, is a project that remains incomplete; to not just ask how the state has gone too far, but in a way, how has it not gone far enough?
posted by AlsoMike at 9:19 PM on August 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


grumblebee: “So the next step is this: I go to police academy, get hired by the cops, put on a uniform, and it's then OKAY for me to lock people up and hit them if they try to escape. ¶ Here's where all sorts of arguments and personal values come into play. If you want to say, "the difference is that you're now not a private citizen but a representative of the state" or whatever, I'm not going to argue with you. Molyneux would but I wouldn't. I'm too unsure at this point. But I will say that I'm deeply uneasy. I am not happy with moral rules applying to some people and not others. ¶ I don't have a prescription. I don't have a plan. I don't have an alternative. But BOY am I troubled.”

I agree that it's troubling. That's why human beings need wise leadership – a rare thing, but a necessary thing. It's also why democracy is largely worrisome. I don't want just anybody putting on that uniform – I want someone wise, or at least someone who a wise person has decided is benevolent.
posted by koeselitz at 9:26 PM on August 24, 2010


AlsoMike: “You can see this double meaning in the phrase "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." It seems to be a call for revenge, but originally it meant "No more than an eye for an eye." If someone took your eye, you couldn't kill their whole family.”

(Just a small, niggling point: originally, it actually meant monetary payment. As in, if you put out the eye of a pregnant woman (that's who the passage is about, pregnant women) you must pay her and her family monetary compensation equal to the value of one eye. And it wasn't saying that she got to exact that revenge on you, or that her family got to exact it; it was a guide for judges who were supposed to mediate the whole thing and demand the payment from the person who put the eye out. Much-misunderstood passage, that.)
posted by koeselitz at 9:30 PM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


I lock you in a room for a year, that's violence. We can quibble about whether or not that's a good definition of "violence" -- whether violence means physically striking someone or not. Whatever.

No, not "whatever". You don't just get to redefine words in order to make your argument more emotionally charged. Using the word "violence" instead of "coersion" or "force". Locking someone in a room isn't violence. It's certainly unpleasant and probably worse then some violent acts (i.e. punching someone in the face). But it's not violent.

You didn't quote the whole section where I discussed this. I am happy to use the more common definitions. My points ere (a) that it's wrong for me to force you to stay in my basement; so why is it okay for a police officer to force you to stay in jail. (b) violence comes into play if you resist. If I lock you in my basement and you flee, I'm bad if I use violence to stop you; a police officer isn't bad.

Have you ever SERIOUSLY considered the viability of that for an average American, or is it just a way to brush people off?

People do live in that jungle, living traditional lives. It's obviously possible. But more importantly, it's totally absurd for you to complain about the practicality of such an endeavor. Randians and Libertarian nutcases never worry about the practicality of their plans.


But I'm not a Radian or a Libertarian. And I'm not talking to them. I'm talking to you. If I was talking to one of them, and he said something that didn't make sense, I would call him on it. I expect people to make sense and to not be glib. Glibness is a waste of time. I call Molyeneux on shit all the time.

Let's say your best friend in the world said he couldn't tolerate democracies or dictatorships, and even though you didn't agree with him, because he was your friend, you agreed to help him "just leave." What advice would you give him to help him leave (for the rest of his life) and survive?

Well, in the real world, I would just tell him that I didn't really care and that he can do whatever he wants, and change the subject if it ever came up (since it's so annoying to listen to)

So I'm still trying to figure out if you were making a real and valid point when you said, "Hey, no one is forcing you to do anything. If you don't like it, you can go live in the jungle." Is that really a viable option in your mind or just a jokey way of saying "You're stupid. Leave me alone"?

But it's interesting that you're asking if I would help him since the entire premise is that people don't have to help each other.

That's not my premise. Are you talking to me or some Libertarian?
posted by grumblebee at 10:28 PM on August 24, 2010


But it's interesting that you're asking if I would help him since the entire premise is that people don't have to help each other. Why should I spend any time helping someone who can't be bothered to pay taxes?

Ugh. It's so wrong for me to defend Libertarians, because I'm not one. But I find what (some of them) have to say interesting and provocative in ways that are useful to me. And one thing that I know is if you equate Libertarian with someone who doesn't want to pay taxes then you're being unfair to a lot of Libertarians. To be fair to you, that IS the popular conception of what a Libertarian is. And, of course, there are some who are like this.

But the smart and ethical ones I know would NEVER stop paying taxes unless everyone stopped paying. It's find if you think this would create a chaotic, hellish, terrible world. But recognize that -- foolish or not -- it's possible for someone to be against taxation for ETHICAL reasons, not for selfish ("MY money! MINE!") reasons.

If you quit paying taxes and live off other people's tax money, that's theft. It's immoral. But that's NOT what many Libertarians advocate or believe in doing. That would be like saying, "I'm better than you because I don't consume fossil fuel. I just take taxis and let the person driving me consume it." That's total hypocritical bullshit. But saying "I'm against consumption of fossil fuel, and I think we ALL should stop using it" might or might not be bullshit, but there's nothing selfish or hypocritical about it.
posted by grumblebee at 10:50 PM on August 24, 2010


Like the Libertarians, I think forces taxation is immoral. But that doesn't mean I'm going to refuse to pay taxes. Even if the government granted me lifelong immunity from paying, that would solve exactly nothing. Immoral (in my view) taxation would still be going on.

In fact, I'm not really bothered by paying taxes. I make a good living and the amount I pay in taxes doesn't hurt me. But that's not the point. It also doesn't hurt me, personally, that gay people aren't allowed to get married.
posted by grumblebee at 10:54 PM on August 24, 2010


From the YouTube link:

As Seen On: infowars.com

Well, that smacks of trustworthiness to me!
posted by dhens at 1:05 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


You didn't quote the whole section where I discussed this. I am happy to use the more common definitions. My points ere (a) that it's wrong for me to force you to stay in my basement; so why is it okay for a police officer to force you to stay in jail. (b) violence comes into play if you resist. If I lock you in my basement and you flee, I'm bad if I use violence to stop you; a police officer isn't bad.
So, if you have a child who is acting out and you send him or her to the basement for a 10 minute timeout, that's somehow bad? Why?

It's obviously not. All of these things are context dependant. In some cases they are good and in other cases they are bad. The idea all situations that can be described the same way must carry the same moral value is obtuse.
So I'm still trying to figure out if you were making a real and valid point when you said, "Hey, no one is forcing you to do anything. If you don't like it, you can go live in the jungle." Is that really a viable option in your mind or just a jokey way of saying "You're stupid. Leave me alone"?
You don't have to go live in the jungle. You could go be a bum on the street. The point is, no one is forcing anyone to work. That's what makes people non-slaves. And beyond that if you keep your salary below a certian point you'll actually have a negative tax via the earned income credit. Certainly it's more then possible, and quite easy to have a negative tax rate in the U.S. so long as you're willing to keep your income low. There are lots of options. The Jungle thing would just be the most complete and 'natural' -- cutting yourself off from society.

If you think taxes are immoral, then your moral reasoning is brain-dead. I'm sorry, but that's just the way it is.
it's possible for someone to be against taxation for ETHICAL reasons


A lot of things are possible. That doesn't mean the people doing them aren't confused.

---

I'll try to explain what's wrong with this kind of thinking, which is generally spouted by randroid objectivist 'tards. The basis of the reasoning (though not the explanation) goes like this
"I don't like taxes"
"In fact, I feel like my money is being stolen when I pay taxes"
"Everyone agrees stealing is immoral!"
"Therefore taxes are immoral!"
Of course, that's not really logically sound, because here we are comflating something that feels like X with X itself.

So, people come up with some convoluted arguments about how taxation really is theft. Or a form of violence, or "Death" itself as Rand would argue.

So the argument (as expressed) goes something like this
Violence (stealing/coersion/death/whatever) is wrong.
Taxes are a form of violence (stealing/coersion/death/whatever)
Therefore, taxes are bad. AS BAD AS BEING PUNCHED IN THE FACE
Essentially what you're doing is ascribing a property every element in a set because most of the elements in that set have that property. And then using that to argue that a particular element has that property. It would be like saying:
Birds can fly
ostriches are birds
Therefore: ostriches can fly
It's obviously wrong. People would obviously agree to the first two premises in both of those, but in fact the first premise is only true in most cases.
posted by delmoi at 2:10 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


EmpressCallipygos, I don't quite get how that makes any difference. If I have a strong reason to suspect you're a thief, I'm not allowed to lock you in my basement.

koeselitz and delmoi have it.

The reason why you are not allowed to lock me in your basement is because you have not been properly trained in safe basement-locking technqiues, the legal ramifications of same, how to accurately ascertain the difference between suspicion of theft,evidence, and "hunches", etc. The reason policemen DO have that right is because they HAVE been trained in same.

Policemen are TRAINED in how to exercise that particular agency in a manner ensured to maximize the chance that they are acting in ways consistent with the rest of society's collective agreements about law and order. You, as "random guy in your house", have not been trained. THAT is the difference. The police also have a lot of checks on their actions so as to prevent them from acting on their instincts all the time, even after having been trained. "Random guy in your house" has no such checks on your actions, so the likelihood of you being wrong about whether I really did break into your house is greater. That is ALSO the difference.

Like Delmoi said, these things are more nuanced than you're seeing them, and the nuance counts for a great deal. Willfully reductifying them just to make them fit the point you're trying to make is sloppy debating.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:19 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Policemen are TRAINED in how to exercise that particular agency in a manner ensured to maximize the chance that they are acting in ways consistent with the rest of society's collective agreements about law and order. You, as "random guy in your house", have not been trained.
Ah, but if I were to receive that training, become a police officer, be recognized for my bravery, honesty, and fairness... and then quit, I would no longer have the right to lock people up. I think there's a cart-before-the-horse thing going on here: we do grant certain people the right and the responsibility of 'policing' society, and we training them in order to make that more effective and less likely to hurt the innocent. Becoming a law enforcement agent isn't just about passing qualifying tests.
posted by verb at 4:25 AM on August 25, 2010


Me: Like the Libertarians, I think forced taxation is immoral.

delmoi: If you think taxes are immoral, then your moral reasoning is brain-dead. I'm sorry, but that's just the way it is.

This has been an interesting experience. I saw this thread, posted my critique/defense of Molyneux and his community, and then went over there, where I'm also a member, and started a thread to alert people that THIS conversation was happening. I asked from there to come here and post in this thread, assuring them that they'd be treated well. I am very disappointed that no one decided to come here; I am also disappointed by some of the posts here.

What's surreal to me is that I found myself working to convince the folks there that Metafilter is a community filled with smart, polite people who care more about reasoned argument than name calling. They don't buy it, so it's sort of me against everyone else in that thread. And I'm in pretty much the same position here. It's weird to be in the same position in two communities that are so dismissive of each other.

delmoi, you are clearly not brain-dead. And if you read that last sentence as sarcastic ("you're CLEARLY not brain-dead"), you're reading it wrong. I mean that sincerely. Even though your last post misinterpreted my views about five times (especially in your syllogistic constructions, which made various assumptions about my believes that were not in my actual words and which are untrue), I can see you have thought long and hard about these issues. Since we disagree, obviously I see your views as incorrect in places, but I'm capable of seeing someone as wrong without seeing him as brain-dead.

And even if I did see you as brain-dead, which I don't, I wouldn't call you that. That sort of name-calling destroys any possibility of reasoned conversation. If I called you that, it would debase you and it would debase me even more.

If you think I'm brain-dead, then you're wasting your time talking to me, right? A brain-dead person is going to be too muddled to follow your arguments. I thought I was following them and bringing up points of disagreement, but you it seems you think otherwise.

I will end this post by throwing myself totally off the deep end, responding to one thing you wrote (and then, I guess, we're done talking -- or at least I'm done talking to you, because I don't think we're going to get anywhere if you call me names). But if you want to insult me, this will give you plenty of fodder (and you'll have the field to yourself, because I won't defend myself), because I'm going to come out with a view that most people will think is even more absurd that they nutty things I've already said in this thread:

So, if you have a child who is acting out and you send him or her to the basement for a 10 minute timeout, that's somehow bad? Why?

It's obviously not.


Yes, I'm against that. Your "obviously not" is not obvious to me. I don't think it's AS bad as, say, hitting a kid (it's not even close to as bad). For some reason you got it into your head that I think all bad things are equally bad, even though I never said that.

I am not ignorant of caring for children. I've spend twenty years of my life as a teacher and many of those years working with kids. I worked with rich kids and poor kids -- kids from a variety of environment. My students were two-year-olds through third graders. I never punished them the way you're suggesting and yet, magically, my classrooms were almost devoid of behavior problems.

In another thread, with a person who doesn't call me brain-dead, I'll be happy to discuss alternatives to this kind of punishment and why I think it's problematic.
posted by grumblebee at 6:24 AM on August 25, 2010


Ah, but if I were to receive that training, become a police officer, be recognized for my bravery, honesty, and fairness... and then quit, I would no longer have the right to lock people up.

Yes, I agree with verb. Whether you're okay with the police or not, I think the locus of the argument has to rest on "It's okay for them to do it because they represent the state." Which means that there are different morals for state representatives than for other people.

Despite what people think I represent in this thread, I'm NOT going to take the next leap and say, "and clearly that's terrible." I am not at that point in my thinking. I'm at a point of being deeply troubled.
posted by grumblebee at 6:27 AM on August 25, 2010


Ah, but if I were to receive that training, become a police officer, be recognized for my bravery, honesty, and fairness... and then quit, I would no longer have the right to lock people up.

Yes, I agree with verb. Whether you're okay with the police or not, I think the locus of the argument has to rest on "It's okay for them to do it because they represent the state." Which means that there are different morals for state representatives than for other people.
Well, there's an important part that's left out of your construction: in a democracy, or any system that approximates a democracy, we are the state. The difference between a police officer arresting someone and a private citizen kidnapping and imprisoning them is that we as a society have collectively decided to delegate responsibility for "appropriate violence" to a small set of people.

To suggest that there are different "morals" for state actors and nonstate actors misses the point, at least in my opinion. We have different rules for construction workers and bakers: a baker is not allowed to tear down someone's house with a wrecking ball, for example. That's not because we have different "morals" for bakers, rather that we've tried to ensure that only those who need to and have demonstrated that they're capable perform the dangerous work.

It can certainly be argued that the scope and nature of our state apparatus obscures the direct connection between society and those who police it, but that's an implementation problem that we see and are angered by, not a fundamental aspect of "policing." Suggesting that "Being state actors is what gives police the right to do things" feels a bit like saying, "Justice Stephens reading an oath to Obama is what gives him the right to command the military." The mechanism is not All There Is.

I'm not sure I'm making my point very effectively -- my coffee isn't finished yet, see...
posted by verb at 7:14 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure I'm making my point very effectively -- my coffee isn't finished yet, see...

I hear you, brother. How I fucking wish a real Libertarian would come in here and take over from me. But until that happens (ha!), I guess I'll keep pretending I can tell my ass from my elbow.

Well, there's an important part that's left out of your construction: in a democracy, or any system that approximates a democracy, we are the state.

"We are the state" is a platitude I'm heard my whole life, and I don't really get it. I don't mean to imply that you, personally, are just spouting conventional wisdom. You may have thought it through. I'm just responding to the phrase. What -- exactly -- does it mean? Who is "we"?

What I see in democracies is that a majority of the people (which is not the same as an all-inclusive "we") gets what they want, at least at election time. Then, after that, the officials may do a lot of stuff that even that majority doesn't like. Of course, I understand that we all get to be part of the election process -- we all get to vote -- but I can't quite connect the dots between that and "we are the state." From what I can see, the state are the people in power at the moment.

What's more important is that, in my view, none of this connects with ethics. What if "we" elect some bad guys? This has often happened in history, notably in a European country in the 1930s -- a country I can't mention here without causing rhetorical problems. Many would say it happened in the USA in the early 21st Century.

So I'm back to "It's wrong for me to lock you in my basement" And it's right for a cop to lock you in a cell, because he's a representative of the state, and the state has MORAL authority? Is morality whatever the majority says it is? THAT'S something I can't square with history.
posted by grumblebee at 7:37 AM on August 25, 2010


So I'm back to "It's wrong for me to lock you in my basement" And it's right for a cop to lock you in a cell, because he's a representative of the state, and the state has MORAL authority? Is morality whatever the majority says it is? THAT'S something I can't square with history.

The cop doesn't have the right to lock you in his basement, either. The cop only has the right to put you in a cell as a representative of the state, and at least theoretically, that means a whole series of requirements has to be met. You have to know your rights, you have to be given a trial by a jury of your peers, and all that. The whole point of the constitution is to create the best possible system by which we can handle these necessary components of life. We are stuck with a problem out of the gate: people will commit crimes. What do we do about that? The most purely libertarian answer would be that we each handle those incidents privately. That would be, inevitably, unfair. Poor people or powerless people would have no way to defend themselves; rich or powerful people would be able to get away with murder.

Now, of course, this is still true to some degree even with a justice system in place. But the solution is NOT to scrap the justice system. The fact that it doesn't work perfectly doesn't mean we would be better off with nothing at all. I agree the system is far from perfect, but I think it is ridiculously naive to think that things were better before we had any structures in place at all. It's a long, slow process - but what's that quote? The arc of the universe bends toward justice? I think that's a good way to think of it.
posted by mdn at 8:00 AM on August 25, 2010


"We are the state" is a platitude I'm heard my whole life, and I don't really get it. I don't mean to imply that you, personally, are just spouting conventional wisdom. You may have thought it through. I'm just responding to the phrase. What -- exactly -- does it mean? Who is "we"?
When I say that "we are the state," I mean that we -- the people who have the right to vote -- have a concrete mechanism for ensuring that our desires are reflected in the actions of the state. This mechanism does not always work as quickly as we'd like, and there are lots of sub-optimal compromises inherent in representative (as opposed to direct) democracy, but there are positive and negative aspects to every group decision-making mechanism. At the end of the day, police officers have the power to arrest people because "We" decided to delegate that power.
What I see in democracies is that a majority of the people (which is not the same as an all-inclusive "we") gets what they want, at least at election time. Then, after that, the officials may do a lot of stuff that even that majority doesn't like. Of course, I understand that we all get to be part of the election process -- we all get to vote -- but I can't quite connect the dots between that and "we are the state." From what I can see, the state are the people in power at the moment.
And we decide, collectively, who's in power at the moment. It's about delegation, and the ultimate responsibility for what our leaders do lies with us, the voters, the public, the people. The problem ultimately comes when only a small number of people believe that something bad was done by a state actor, or when we all believe that something bad was done but that it wasn't bad enough to put some other person in that position of delegated responsibility.

These aren't "state" problems, they're "group decision making problems" and they emerge in anarchist collectives, tech-utopian crowdsourcing systems, and so on. That isn't to dismiss the seriousness of the problem, or to suggest that bad faith actors can manipulate the system in an attempt to circumvent the authority of society (gerrymandering is a good example).
hat's more important is that, in my view, none of this connects with ethics. What if "we" elect some bad guys?
That's an excellent question, and I think it gets to the core of the 'different moralities for state actors' idea. If we truly assumed that morality and ethics derived from being a State Actor, there would be no grounds for throwing someone out of office, calling for their resignation, etc. We'd face the problem that plagues hard-core Calvinists when explaining where 'Goodness' comes from.

As I said earlier, the responsibility for who we elect is ours.
So I'm back to "It's wrong for me to lock you in my basement" And it's right for a cop to lock you in a cell, because he's a representative of the state, and the state has MORAL authority? Is morality whatever the majority says it is? THAT'S something I can't square with history.
That's a question for philosophers and theologians, IMO. What can be said is that it is legal for a cop to lock you in a cell if you have violated or are suspected of violating one of a number of laws. There are many circumstances under which a cop is not allowed to do that, and in fact much of the ability to "do stuff normal people can't" is really just a benefit-of-the-doubt mechanism. If they act outside of the legal parameters they've been given, cops can be arrested too.

It's also understood that certain actions that would be inappropriate, or would be the sole domain of cops, are acceptable if no cops are around. For example: an intruder breaks into your house, and you knock him out. You tie him up until the cops arrive. You are not arrested for this act, even though you do not have a generic free pass to tie people up whenever you feel like it, and if cops HAD arrived on the scene sooner you would have been expected to let them take care of it.

A lot of this reminds me of a friend who repeatedly fell back on the phrase "Voting is violence" in political discussions. He insisted that any mechanism by which someone's desires could be overridden was inherently tainted by the implicit threat of violence. i.e., "Go along with our choice for president -- or we'll throw you in jail." I see his core point, but I believe that the problem ultimately emerges with any group. Anytime monkeys get together and do stuff, they eventually have to figure out what to do when someone wants to do different stuff. I could be wrong, but in my experience talking with both libertarians and anarchists (I understand they're different, but IMO they exist on a spectrum) I've come to the conclusion that the ideals they espouse are only practical in a world where infinite physical space is available for people to set up their own mini-societies when they decide they need to "fork off" from the one they're in.

Lacking that infinite space, people have to make compromises to participate in a society. It's not perfect, but I'm not clear on the feasibility of any alternatives.
posted by verb at 8:07 AM on August 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


We'd face the problem that plagues hard-core Calvinists when explaining where 'Goodness' comes from.
For those who didn't grow up immersed in evangelical slap-fighting, this problem is probably more familiar as the Euthyphro dilemma, heh.
posted by verb at 8:11 AM on August 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


The reason why you are not allowed to lock me in your basement is because you have not been properly trained in safe basement-locking technqiues, the legal ramifications of same, how to accurately ascertain the difference between suspicion of theft,evidence, and "hunches", etc. The reason policemen DO have that right is because they HAVE been trained in same.
Well, that's the theory, anyway. In the real world it doesn't always work out that way. But the argument was about paying taxes, which only involve police in extreme cases, it's mostly a civil matter. You end up with things like leins on property and so on.

It's not all that clear that what one might call "humane restraint" is actually "violence". And certainly it is possible to restrain people in ways that reduce the risk of injury or even pain
This has been an interesting experience. I saw this thread, posted my critique/defense of Molyneux and his community, and then went over there, where I'm also a member, and started a thread to alert people that THIS conversation was happening. I asked from there to come here and post in this thread, assuring them that they'd be treated well. I am very disappointed that no one decided to come here; I am also disappointed by some of the posts here.
Oh well.
Even though your last post misinterpreted my views about five times (especially in your syllogistic constructions, which made various assumptions about my believes that were not in my actual words and which are untrue)
Maybe you could explain how your views differ from the average libtard/randroid/etc? But it's important to understand that I wasn't try to describe your views, but rather the 'average' randroid, someone who makes the same kind of arguments that you've been making in this thread. In fact, it seemed like you were trying to paraphrase the arguments of others, rather then make your own personal arguments. If you're not personally bothered by paying taxes, but still find them unethical or whatever, then I guess you've just been confused by bad arguments? I don't know what to tell you.

Now anyway, you're not really responding to any of the points I brought up. Probably because there aren't really any good responses. (Other then to say you're opposed to time outs)
posted by delmoi at 8:12 AM on August 25, 2010


I have to say, I partly agree with this guy. I don't agree that big-G Government is itself slavery, because after all social contract, voting and blah blah blah. But when corporations (and other embodiments of the rich and powerful) get to make laws (or even operate extra-legally) that out-and-out exploit everyone else, it's hard to see it as anything *but* enslavement. However, that doesn't make the rest of government bad, it just means we need to get rid of those elements.
posted by DU at 8:18 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't agree that big-G Government is itself slavery, because after all social contract, voting and blah blah blah. But when corporations (and other embodiments of the rich and powerful) get to make laws (or even operate extra-legally) that out-and-out exploit everyone else, it's hard to see it as anything *but* enslavement.

Matt Yglesias had an interesting post the other day.
A colleague mentioned to me the other day that I’m “pretty conservative” on some state and local government issues, with reference to some recent posts on occupational licensing. Someone on twitter asked if I’m trying to score a date with a Cato staffer. I’m not. And I’m not. And I think that whole framing represents a bad way of understanding the whole situation.

I think it’s pretty clear that, as a historical matter of fact, the main thing “the state” has been used to do is to help the wealthy and powerful further enrich and entrench themselves. Think Pharaoh and his pyramids. Or more generally the fancy houses of European nobility, the plantations of Old South slaveowners, or Imelda Marcos’ shoes. The “left-wing” position is to be against this stuff—to be on the side of the people and against the forces of privilege. It’s true that some useful egalitarian activism over the past 150 years has consisted of trying to get the state to take affirmative steps to help people—social insurance, the welfare state, infrastructure, schools—but dismantling efforts to use the state to help the privileged has always been on the agenda. Don’t think to yourself “we need to regulate carbon emissions therefore regulation is good therefore regulation of barbers is good.” Think to yourself “we can’t let the privileged trample all over everyone, therefore we need to regulate carbon emissions and we need to break the dentists’ cartel.”
There are clearly a lot of things wrong with the current setup.
posted by delmoi at 8:28 AM on August 25, 2010


I agree the system is far from perfect.

This is why I think that Libertarian voices -- and other "contrarian" voices -- are so important. It really doesn't matter (for my purposes) whether they are too extreme or not, because I don't believe we're ever going to have the system they want. Even if they're worked everything out so that anarchy is workable, it's STILL not going to happen. No way. So, at best (and I believe this IS best), their views can (if we're willing to listen to them) act as a critique of our system.

It's my belief -- one of my deepest beliefs -- that ALL systems should be exposed to constant criticism.

So that I'm not quoting you out of context, I'll add this: "I agree the system is far from perfect, but I think it is ridiculously naive to think that things were better before we had any structures in place at all."

There's a great practicality to "our system isn't perfect, but it's better than most other systems." I'm not going to knock that wisdom. But it contains the trap of complacency. Of COURSE there are believers in democracy who are also trying to improve it. But there are also lots of people who, once they are convinced that they are living in the lesser of several evils, equate that to "the best of all possible worlds" or "Hey, it's not perfect, but whatchgonna do?" and then brush any problems under the rug.

This is not just a political trap. It's a trap I've seen in every kind of institution: schools, marriages, corporations, etc. It's worse than, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's "if it's broke less than other things, don't fix it." It stops the imagination. It becomes "these are the cards we were dealt."

Here's the one thing you said that I violently disagree with: The arc of the universe bends toward justice. My guess is that you can't prove this, and, of course, I can't prove what I believe -- that it bends towards injustice. I am a pessimist, and I freely admit that I'm seeing things through that biased lens. Probably the truth is something more along the lines of "the universe bends towards indifference." In either case, I think the scariest mindset is "It will all work out in the end."

The key mental exercise of my life is what I refer to as "calling a spade a spade." It means describing my actions (or actions I support) as behaviorally as possible, with as few value judgments as possible. And with no justifications.

I forced myself to do this once a week when I was teaching children. I would say things to myself like this: "Every day, I know that children want to do things that I don't want them to do. I force them to do what I want instead of what they want. I am able to do this because I'm bigger and stronger than they are. They are easy for me to over-power."

I am not at ALL saying that justifications don't matter. Of COURSE I forced my will on children for their own good. But just once a week, I confronted my actions without justifications. Because it's SO easy for me to let justifications close my mental doors. My language starts getting further and further from what I am actually doing with my body to other people's bodies. I start talking about the value of education and learning and socializing... All important things, but that doesn't change the fact that I'm a dominant person forcing my will on weaker people. It doesn't make that (necessarily) bad, either. But it IS what I'm doing.

And, personally, I'm grateful to the educational-theory contrarians for continually reminding me of what I'm doing, even if I don't always agree with their conclusions.

I remember, as a really small child, asking my mom why she thought it was okay to stop me from stealing and doing other stuff she thought was wrong. She said, "Because it's wrong." I asked, "But that's not what I'm asking about. I'm asking why you think it's okay to impose what you think is wrong on me." She just looked blankly at me and said, "But it IS wrong."

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get her to talk about the fact that she was using her power to force me to conform to what she thought was right. (I would do the same to my child. I am not saying my mom did anything wrong. I am just talking about accurately describing reality -- as accurately as possible. I do realize that ALL words are value-laden. It's hard to talk about "forcing" in a neutral way.)

Years later, when we were both adults, I brought this up with her again. She said, "I guess on some level you're right. I was forcing my will on you. But I have to believe that I wasn't just being a prison guard -- that I was helping you learn right from wrong -- and that my assumptions about right and wrong were correct." All of which I agree with. But the mental exercise of constant self-examination, where I strip away all those onion layers of philosophizing and justifying, has served me extremely well in life. I hope I do it until the day I die.
posted by grumblebee at 8:36 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


But there are also lots of people who, once they are convinced that they are living in the lesser of several evils, equate that to "the best of all possible worlds" or "Hey, it's not perfect, but whatchgonna do?" and then brush any problems under the rug.
This is very true. I find that response as troubling as the "It's not perfect, let's burn it down" response. The mature response is to say, "This is imperfect. How can we iteratively fix some of those problems, and avoid exacerbating others?"
posted by verb at 8:45 AM on August 25, 2010


This is very true. I find that response as troubling as the "It's not perfect, let's burn it down" response.

I think we're agreed about the perils of both of those extremes, verb.

It's interesting: In middle age, I've finally understood that extremist views close some minds and open others. And I say that without any judgment. I think it's just two different kinds of brains, both of which can belong to smart people. You get the "extremes help me see the middle clearly" mindset vs. "you can take ANYTHING to extremes" mindset. The people who think comparisons to Nazi Germany clarify the argument and the people who think those comparisons muddle the argument.

The peril of "It's imperfect, so burn it down" is that you may waste time rebuilding a lot of wheels, and you may wind up with something worse than you had when you started.

The peril of "It's ain't too broke, so don't try to fix it" is that you get stuck inside mental boxes. I see this all the time in talks about education. Most of those talks center around whether textbook A is better than textbook B. Every once in a while, it's great (to my sort of brain) to hear, "Hey, why do we need a textbook at all?" Because before I hear that, I'm stuck in a box in which textbooks are a Law of Nature.

I don't see how it's possible for the mind to travel to certain places without considering extremes. And not just considering them, rejecting them and moving on. I don't think the mind can go on certain journeys without continually noting the cliffs to either side.
posted by grumblebee at 8:57 AM on August 25, 2010


grumblebee: I didn't say the arc of the universe DOES bend toward justice - I said it's a good way to think of it. I don't actually think the universe has an "arc" of any kind. We get to make up the story as we tell it. I think it's useful to think of it as "bending toward justice" as we make changes, because it is certainly slow going, a two step forward, one step back sort of thing, and even as things get better, we will be disappointed, continually, by the behavior of our fellow human beings. But I don't see the point in shrugging our shoulders and saying "fuck it". We have to keep pushing toward a better world, doing the best we can to improve things, recognizing all the while that it is a messy process.

The question of what is "better" is complex, of course. There are plenty of different theories, and in the end I'm basically an existentialist about it all, which means I don't think any one answer is right. We have to deal with our own beliefs and take responsibility for the consequences they come with. The principle of the thing is not enough. Theories only mean so much before you're faced with real choices. (eg: I was watching a documentary about Jefferson last night, that talked about how he was all super anti-federalist... until he was in the White House. Then suddenly it seemed very sensible to him to make a whole series of presidential decisions without getting congressional approval.)

Self-awareness about your own actions, responsibility for the consequences of what you do, and an attempt to work toward behavior which will result in better future consequences, is what I consider morality. And while not everyone has an immediate effect on the law or who runs the government, we each contribute to society in some small part, and collectively impact the direction of our world.
posted by mdn at 9:16 AM on August 25, 2010


grumblebee,

So I'm back to "It's wrong for me to lock you in my basement" And it's right for a cop to lock you in a cell, because he's a representative of the state, and the state has moral authority? Is morality whatever the majority says it is? THAT'S something I can't square with history.

I appreciate what you've added to this conversation a lot, because you've been demonstrating a way of thinking that's entirely foreign to me (and which, incidentally, is why I've always been condescending and dismissive towards libertarians [not that you are one]).

The whole 'locking people in a basement' analogy just strikes me as being so caught up in an abstract concept that my instinctual response is to scream "so f'n what?". Yes, if one really wants to focus on the morality at the heart of the issue, it does seem strange that The State can do things that individuals are not permitted to do. And yes, The State's power does ultimately derive from its monopoly on legitimate violence. And violence is not a good thing, so how can something that's good derive its power from something that is inherently not good?

Perhaps I'm just less inclined to be inquisitive in this particular respect, but that type of reasoning just seems so detached from the problems of the real world that it amounts to mental masturbation. Without actually understanding how the answer to that question affects the actual world of people, institutions, and society, why bother even asking it? It's possible to reframe any question an infinite number of ways if you're going exclusively for pure abstraction.

I suppose that this is just a roundabout way of saying that I don't see the value of a priori reasoning (especially when it comes to political and social questions). I'm interested to hear why you seem to focus on the types of questions that you do.

(And sorry that this is so rambling and might come off as 'Here's why you're wrong. Defend yourself.' I'm genuinely interested in this. On a side note, I'm very impressed by the grace and patience you've exhibited responding to posts on this thread. That's not an easy thing to do.)
posted by graphnerd at 9:45 AM on August 25, 2010


These aren't "state" problems, they're "group decision making problems" and they emerge in anarchist collectives, tech-utopian crowdsourcing systems, and so on.

Specifically, they emerge wherever a decision is required to be a "group decision", and they become moral problems to the extent that the group is one you didn't enter voluntarily and can't leave easily. Where libertarians go off the deep end is the belief that *every* decision should be made without resorting to an involuntary group. But even though that's probably wrong in the limiting case, it's often been right in individual cases where common sense used to think otherwise.

Lots of very major decisions (from "what religion should we believe" to "what work should each person do") used to be considered group decisions, and used to have the same major decision-making problems. It turned out that the solution wasn't "figure out the right decisions for the group to make" or even "figure out how to help the group make better decisions", it was "let each individual in the group make an individual decision". This doesn't mean that groups stop existing (e.g. organized religions, companies in the examples I gave), just that people get to pick and choose between them. That choice then eases the group decision making problems which remain, because it turns out that while being able to vote can help to ameliorate bad group decisions, being able to vote with your feet works even better.

Avoiding coerced group decisions where possible even makes future decision-making problems easier. "Figure out the best thing to do, then make everybody do it" seems like a great idea, because otherwise by definition someone is doing something worse! But there have been so many times in history where the "best thing to do" wasn't obvious (or even that it seemed obvious to the vast majority of people, but they were all wrong). In such cases, even the uncontrolled natural experimentation which results from letting people dissent from the group decision can make it much easier for the group decision to be improved or corrected.
posted by roystgnr at 9:55 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


The whole 'locking people in a basement' analogy just strikes me as being so caught up in an abstract concept that my instinctual response is to scream "so f'n what?". Yes, if one really wants to focus on the morality at the heart of the issue, it does seem strange that The State can do things that individuals are not permitted to do. And yes, The State's power does ultimately derive from its monopoly on legitimate violence. And violence is not a good thing, so how can something that's good derive its power from something that is inherently not good?
The problem here is that they are using sloppy reasoning. There are two mistakes in their argument. The first is the most obvious: using a broad definition of 'violence' that doesn't really match up with what most people think of it as.

So let's switch the word from 'violence' to 'coercion' or 'force'. Even right there, you can see that they are things that are bad in general, but not always.

The second point of confusion is a little more subtle, but not by much. It's actually pretty obvious when you switch out 'violence' with 'force'. It's easy to say that "the use of force or coercion is bad". But that's not the same as saying all uses of force or coercion is bad

Objectivist types love to prattle on about how their arguments are all based on cold hard logic. But not only are their premises incorrect their logical reasoning is also incorrect.

But unfortunately, arguing with these people is often a waste of time, because they are too stupid to understand why they are wrong. It's the Dunning–Kruger effect in action.
posted by delmoi at 10:31 AM on August 25, 2010


Yes, if one really wants to focus on the morality at the heart of the issue, it does seem strange that The State can do things that individuals are not permitted to do. ... Perhaps I'm just less inclined to be inquisitive in this particular respect, but that type of reasoning just seems so detached from the problems of the real world that it amounts to mental masturbation. Without actually understanding how the answer to that question affects the actual world of people, institutions, and society, why bother even asking it?

I think this is a really, really, really important question. And I have an almost overpowering urge (which, luckily is just "almost" overpowering) to insert ten more reallys into that last sentence.

I'm going give you two answers, which, of course, you can accept or reject. I'm not sure either is 100% compelling. Obviously, they are compelling to me, or I wouldn't bother mentioning them. But note that these are very much open questions to me, too -- not signed and sealed deals.

1) "Why bother even asking it?" Because I can't help it. This is where you and I may differ. Certain kinds of question stick in my craw. One of these is ethical questions. If it's clear to me (or even probably to me) that something is bad, I can't just ignore it. I'm not built to ignore it. I can try, but 40 years of trying has taught me that I will fail. I will lie awake at night thinking about it, like it or not.

This doesn't mean I believe all moral questions are solvable. In fact, I believe some aren't. There's a point at which I have to admit that you're right: there's no sense worrying about something you can't control. But admitting "there's no sense" doesn't necessarily mean anything on an emotional level -- at least not for me. For instance, I can't control death. I am going to die eventually. Worse: my friends are going to die. It's utterly beyond my control. I "should" stop worrying about it. Wish me luck...

2) I believe there's great utility in seeing things clearly. (Many in this thread would argue that I'm not doing that, but my point isn't that I'm right. Right or wrong, I'm TRYING to see things clearly. And I can only do that to the best of my ability. If I have a blindspot, I have a blindspot. Hopefully, I'll be able to see trough it if I keep thinking and listening and studying and experiencing.)

I discussed this value -- my value that one should strive to "call a spade a spade" -- in a previous post. IF we agree that cops are doing something immoral (I'm not saying we DO agree, but IF we agree...) then it's very valuable to say this and to say it often. Because (in my counter-factual in which we're all in agreement on this point) it's true.

A very good question at this point is "So what?" What is the utility of truth? To be honest, this is where I begin to falter. I know in my gut that truth is deeply valuable, but I'm not sure I can do a good job of explaining why. If you want to accuse me of being "religious" about truth, I can't easily say you're wrong.

Partly, it's that facing truth trains the brain. It's like continually using logic. Why use logic? What's the point? Why take a Math class -- especially if you're not going to be an engineer. Of course, many people ask that very question. All I can say is that it trains your brain in what I think is a good way.

I also think that layers and institutions and justifications -- things that move you further and further from seeing things in their raw state -- tend to breed. So while I'm missing the (pointless) truth about subject A, that's going to prompt me to miss the deeply important truth about subject B. This may be because A and B are connected. But even if they aren't, if I get out of the habit of DEMANDING truth -- of forcing myself to see it -- then I'm not going to do it when it's important. I'm going to start justifying my OWN evils ... not just the ones committed by the police.

To me, the one of the biggest (non-violent) evils is refusing to listen to another human being. For instance me in this thread. I'm sure to many I seem like a brick wall -- someone who won't listen no matter what. I'm sorry if I come across that way, but with my limited resources, I am trying very hard to listen openly and respond to anything anyone says. (The people on Molyneux's site think I'm a fool for doing that.) Of COURSE I am going to have my prejudices and conceptual boxes. If you refuse to talk to anyone with biases and baggage, you might as well not talk to anyone.

Which is why I'm angry at delmoi. He mixes legitimate debate with ad hominem attacks. In my view, "You're so stupid! Don't you see that your logic is flawed because..." is WAY worse than "You're so stupid!" At least the latter is clearly just chest-beating and an attempt to humiliate. The former is mixed. It's saying, "I respect you enough to take your argument seriously and respond to it in a rational way, but I also want to humiliate you. I want both rational argument and a playground battle at the same time."

I can ignore the insult part and just respond to the logic, in which case I'm letting myself be humiliated; or I can just respond to the insult (which, I'm sad to say, is what I did), in which case I'm just as bad as delmoi. I am no longer discussing to seek truth. I am trying to win. Those two goals are not compatible.

This isn't a tangent. If I don't force myself to look at my own ugly, uncomfortable (sometimes pointless) truths, I get into the metal habit of ignoring what I don't want to think about. I start pre-judging ideas as pointless without seeing where they lead. At this point, I become less receptive to what OTHER people say. Rather than really engaging, I lash out or flee. At that point, I stop learning. I stop growing. My intellect becomes a slave to my fears.
posted by grumblebee at 10:35 AM on August 25, 2010


Molyneux just responded to this thread: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EFpV1so-eQU
posted by grumblebee at 11:45 AM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I won't comment on the video, other than to say that I totally accept everything Stef (Sorry about "Molyneux." It seemed a bit weird to call you by your first name on another site where people don't know you.) said about what I wrote. I am ashamed that I so misrepresented another person's views. I'll never do that again. Lesson learned.

The funny thing is, I barely pay attention to the political content on Stef's site. I am not a political person, usually. Politics gives me the hives. I like his site mostly for the philosophical discussions on other matters (free will, etc.), the focus on childhood, education and psychology -- all passions of mine. It pained me to see a (what I consider) a good, smart group of people snarked into oblivion by another good, smart group of people. It still pains me.

But I am deeply glad that someone else (namely Stef) is explaining Stef's arguments. I am out of my element there. From now on, I'll stick to my own arguments.
posted by grumblebee at 12:25 PM on August 25, 2010


I find it disheartening that Stef relies so heavily in his response on the sort of bold assertion and snarky dismissiveness that he slams this thread's participants for. For example, he's clearly a nurture-over-nature sort of guy, and he spends several minutes reiterating that humans do not have any inherent bent towards particular social constructs, that they are simply shaped by early childhood experiences. This is not a logical argument, simply picking a side in an ongoing debate: noting that lots of books agree with him does not address the fact that lots of books disagree.

He starts off the video by explaining that he is very smart, and that it's terribly frustrating arguing with people who are not as good at philosophy as he is, because they aren't as rigorous as he is: always a bad sign. He insists that he does not have 'beliefs' or 'views' but rather that he argues from first principles, but fails to do so. He takes three-sentence snippets of MeFi comments and tosses them aside because they are 'emotional,' but defends his own videos because they "are too short to answer all the questions." He insists that people who dismiss him as a libertarian are lazy and not as intellectually rigorous as he is, but proceeds to say, "Anyone who uses the words 'social safety net' is a propaganda-bot," and moves on to the next topic. He says that MeFites "use emotional language" without proving their points logically, then simply reassets that all collective decisions are violence. He says that "accountability" would mean that Bill Clinton would be in jail without acknowledging that that lots of people disagree, an ironic assumption given that jailing someone is, in his own formulation, the initiation of violence.

At the end of the day, he's an interesting guy I'd love to have at a party, and the arguments he makes are interesting if relatively tired. I'm not sure if he realizes just how many twenty-year olds I've known who've made the very same case for the very same ideas. This isn't to say that he is fundamentally immature, or that he is wrong, simply that he has a much higher view of his own philosophical chops than I think he merits.

He's an Internet Performance Philosopher. There's nothing wrong with that, and I'm glad they're out there. But unless he learns to engage with people who have already thought through many of his ideas and come to different conclusions without simply insulting them, he's going to be Just Another Dude With A Web Site.
posted by verb at 1:20 PM on August 25, 2010


Tu quoque fallacy right off the bat.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:26 PM on August 25, 2010


He insists that he does not have 'beliefs' or 'views' but rather that he argues from first principles, but fails to do so.

He does exactly that (argues from first principles) in dozens of videos on his site: http://feeds.feedburner.com/FreedomainRadio-IntroPhilosophy
posted by grumblebee at 1:33 PM on August 25, 2010


On my part? I don't think so. The laziness in Stef's responses doesn't mean that he's not correct in this philosophical arguments, it just means that he didn't bother making them in this particular response.

To be fair, recording a video response to a 100+ comment thread doesn't lend itself to complex rebuttals. But then, either does posting a comment on MeFi. Perhaps only people who write several books on philosophy should be allowed to talk to each other about philosophy.
posted by verb at 1:36 PM on August 25, 2010


He does exactly that (argues from first principles) in dozens of videos on his site: http://feeds.feedburner.com/FreedomainRadio-IntroPhilosophy
I do on my own blog, too. Stef ignored those posts.
posted by verb at 1:37 PM on August 25, 2010


Molyneux just responded to this thread

Holy crap; 33 minutes?!??

Guy sure loves the sound of his own voice.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:37 PM on August 25, 2010


Holy crap; 33 minutes?!??

Guy sure loves the sound of his own voice.
Realistically, I think most of us who've participated in the thread have spent just as much time typing and editing. The use of video responses in a written medium annoys me, but it doesn't necessarily mean that he's a narcissist, any more than our long-winded posts mean that about us.
posted by verb at 1:39 PM on August 25, 2010


I watched the whole response video and there's nothing interesting there. He spends the vast majority of the time responding to comments that he thinks are undeserving of a response for one reason or another, and putting on a show of brushing them off. Then when he gets to the substantive comments, he skips right through, except where grumblebee defends him. Despite his claims to academic seriousness and logical argument, he acts like an entertainer concerned about his self-image, obsessing over how people talk about him as a person, whether positive or negative.
posted by AlsoMike at 1:59 PM on August 25, 2010


For the record I would rather have a beer with grumblebee and talk about philosophy.
posted by verb at 2:02 PM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I suppose it's only around 5,000 words, assuming an average English speaking rate of 150wpm. Written up with a reasonable level of clarity & cohesion, that couldn't take more than a couple of hours.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:05 PM on August 25, 2010


Can it be whiskey or something? I don't like beer.
posted by grumblebee at 2:08 PM on August 25, 2010


Nothing but Oban 14, my friend.
posted by verb at 2:11 PM on August 25, 2010


Is Astro Zombie also invited?
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:13 PM on August 25, 2010


If he buys the drinks.
posted by grumblebee at 2:16 PM on August 25, 2010


I suppose it's only around 5,000 words, assuming an average English speaking rate of 150wpm. Written up with a reasonable level of clarity & cohesion, that couldn't take more than a couple of hours.

A couple of HOURS for 5,000 words? Didn't you guys take typing in high school? Sheesh. I could breeze through 5,000 in an hour.
posted by grumblebee at 2:23 PM on August 25, 2010


It's probably late to say this (as the comment I'm responding to is now way up thread), but the whole "we are the state" thing stands in marked contrast to how it used to be... where the monarch WAS the state, and everyone else merely subjects.
posted by hippybear at 2:28 PM on August 25, 2010


I can type pretty quickly, but thinking through 5,000 words of complex ideas slows things down a bit. The 'reasonable level of clarity and cohesion' part is the killer...

Also, I don't mean to be dismissive of Stef's thoughts. he's clearly applying a great deal of attention to complex ideas, and he clearly has the schooling and background to do an interesting job of it.
posted by verb at 2:30 PM on August 25, 2010


It's probably late to say this (as the comment I'm responding to is now way up thread), but the whole "we are the state" thing stands in marked contrast to how it used to be... where the monarch WAS the state, and everyone else merely subjects.
Oh, certainly. I wouldn't want to suggest that it has always been that way, or that there isn't a long history of state authority being treated as a divine right/moral mandate, etc.
posted by verb at 2:31 PM on August 25, 2010


Back to the topic: I'd be interested to watch the rebuttal or other videos if at any point he explains why it is that (North) America seems to be the only place on the planet with a significant subset of people who are obsessed with this idea that it's somehow terribly wrong & illegal for governments to tax citizens.

Nowhere else that I know of are these kinds of ideas taken seriously or even listened to in the first place, but for some reason the ideological ground up there is fertile for this particular brand of abstract obsession, a fact which completely flies in the face of all evidence that the highest quality of life is consistently to be found in heavily-taxing countries - Scandinavia in particular.

For some incomprehensible reason, the notion of this abstract 'freedom' becomes an end in itself, without any tangible evidence that it actually leads to a better standard of living for anybody. This is especially because it's a negative freedom; a freedom from something, without any obvious benefit or purpose other than the unfounded assumption that it's necessarily a good in itself.

“Freedom from what? Zarathustra does not care about that ! But your eye should clearly tell me: free for what?"
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:32 PM on August 25, 2010


Ubu, I don't want to put words in Stef's mouth, but from the videos he's posted I would assume that he'd say that freedom from taxation is freedom from violence. Freedom from violence is freedom for living. If you can't escape the threat of violence, then you're basically at the bottom level of the hierarchy of needs and everything's a scratch-and-claw affair.

I tend to view those kinds of absolutist formulations with a jaundiced eye, because they're part and parcel of the theological and philosophical world that I grew up in: "All sin is ultimately rooted in pride," for example. Proving it is an interesting thought exercise, but at the end of the day it is not a useful distinction, and all that you've managed to do is prove that You Can Categorize.
posted by verb at 2:37 PM on August 25, 2010


(Damnit, I'm serial-posting now, but a clarification: I don't think Stef would call freedom from taxation freedom from violence, rather freedom from a specific kind of violence.)
posted by verb at 2:41 PM on August 25, 2010


Oooh, I can play this game, too! I'm going to define uncertainty as a form of violence, because a lack of regularity & predictability equates to a relative lack of security, which causes anxiety, which is violence to the soul, not unlike the anxiety caused by a fear of imprisonment or death.

A lack of taxes makes it impossible for governments to provide a base level of regularity, predictability & security for day-to-day life, so not taxing is a form of violence.

This leaves us with two competing forms of violence: taxing & not taxing. Examining the evidence of states that impose heavy taxes v light taxes v no taxes (Somalia, for instance), I'm going to conclude that the scales favour the imposition of taxes.

Now that this has been done with, who's buying the first beer or single malt?
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:47 PM on August 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well, although I disagree with the A is A certitude of Stef's violence framing, it's not hard to argue that authority in a nation-state is tied to the ability to punish defiance. That punishment could be lots of things -- shunning, imprisonment, execution, monetary fines, etc -- but if you're willing to classify "punish defiance" as "violence" then yes, a case can be made. I think that's a lot shorter line than the one needed to draw the "Lack of food is violence" comparison, but it's still weak and lives in the world of fun philosophical parlor tricks rather than useful insights.
posted by verb at 2:51 PM on August 25, 2010


I'm trying to watch this now, but I have to say: for someone who claims to be a philosopher, and who claims to be an anarchist, he's mighty reliant on the whole "I am a philosopher, dealing with the silly stuff I hear on the internet is tedious but somewhat amusing" thing. Downright dismissive. Very dismissive. Ugh.
posted by koeselitz at 3:02 PM on August 25, 2010


His smugness is disheartening for sure. He judges people for their snarky (and false) one-liners, then turns around and does the same thing. At one point, in a snarky aside, he attempted to point out the irony of someone making a statement about anarchic societies inevitably falling apart on a message board that has no hierarchy, which is therefore anarchic—if you're familiar with MeFi you'd know is untrue. In other words: "If you would've have just taken a moment to think, you'd see that's untrue blah blah blah blah."

His pedantry is grating as well. I'm about to leave work, so this message is very short, but I may return later to discuss some other issues I have with his response.
posted by defenestration at 3:58 PM on August 25, 2010


—if you're familiar with MeFi you'd know that's untrue*
posted by defenestration at 3:59 PM on August 25, 2010


I'd be interested to watch the rebuttal or other videos if at any point he explains why it is that (North) America seems to be the only place on the planet with a significant subset of people who are obsessed with this idea that it's somehow terribly wrong & illegal for governments to tax citizens.

If you're seriously interested in this, why not take Stef up on his offer and call his show on Sunday? If you can't or would rather not do it publicly, email him or post on his board. I would love to hear his answer to your question.
posted by grumblebee at 4:05 PM on August 25, 2010


Yes, it's hard to trust the opinion of a cabal denier.

On preview: no way am I going to pay international phone rates or fartass around trying to work out the time differential & rearrange my weekend to call his show.

I could, in theory, email or post on his board, but to be honest I don't have enough respect for his opinions or investment in the issue to bother. To me, that'd be like engaging one of those "barcodes are the sign of Satan, as foreseen in Revelations!" nutcases.

Having said that, you might wonder why I'd bother responding at all to his theories, and you'd be right. I plead guilty to hypocrisy & concede that I've already wasted more words than this stratospheric nonsense deserves. Thankfully, most of it was back in undergraduate sociology, where Rousseau & Social Contract theory are done to death in about your first semester.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:15 PM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


(but I do remain interested in why some Americans*, in particular, are obsessed with this zero-tax ideal. I'd tentatively suggest that a lot of it comes from the framing & rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence & Constitution, along with a logical (or illogical) extension of the political rhetoric around small government)

* and, apparently, Canadians.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:20 PM on August 25, 2010


Just to add fuel to the fire, here's a site devoted to criticizing Stef and his community: http://www.fdrliberated.com/. Here's another: www.molyneuxrevealed.com/
posted by grumblebee at 4:22 PM on August 25, 2010


but I do remain interested

But you're not interested enough to take five minutes to go over the Stef's forum and paste your question there? I really don't get that. There are people there who continually say, "Stef, you're wrong, because..." So it's not like everyone there is a sycophant. But it IS a place where people would be happy to answer your question -- where they'd be interested in it. I don't know if they'd answer it in a way you'd respect, but surely you're not going to prejudge people's answers without knowing anything about those people.
posted by grumblebee at 4:26 PM on August 25, 2010


grumblebee - fair enough. I just assumed, rightly or wrongly, that I'd be more likely to get a better discussion here.

At base, I think the issue comes right down to the fundamental assumption of whether people prefer abstract freedom or concrete security, and anarchist / libertarian types already proceed from the assumption that freedom is paramount. It's a philosophy of means, not ends.

Recent US history suggests otherwise; that people are more than willing to sacrifice freedom for (at least the appearance of) security. Not only that, I am convinced from my own experience - especially in developing countries - that people all over the world want, more than anything, to live in the kind of society where they can eke out a stable & reasonably comfortable living for themselves & their families. Stability, predictability, regularity, security. Personally & psychologically, this is what I think people crave above all else, even wealth.

If it comes at a price of losing some of your theoretical income before you even see it, then that's the tradeoff that you make. Complaining about it is as pointless as complaining that some of the nutrients you consume pass through your body undigested, because the food is still tasty & good, and it enables you to live a happy life.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:45 PM on August 25, 2010


Interesting to see that there's some controversy around Stef's site and philosophies. Grumblebee, while I have a great deal of respect for your willingness to grind through philosophical problems and question premises, I don't see a lot of value in Stef's forums beyond what one would find in any active group of articulate, well-read commenters. I say that having signed up and read through some of the material, not just on the basis of what's been linked here.

At the end of the day, there are lots of people on the Internet with interesting ideas, and lots of people who claim that they've figured things out. Given the magnitude of the task facing anyone who wants to think and talk about interesting topics, I have to rely on some simple heuristics to separate the chaff. On almost every count, Stef has failed. He leads with condescension, in the interactions I've witnessed he spends more time talking about the value of his ideas than the ideas themselves, he offers sweeping Theories Of Everything that must be understood before The World Can Make Sense, and he loops everything back to an idiosyncratic hobbyhorse (the parental relationship/government violence comparison).

A century from now, the joke might well be on me -- Stef might be the great genius of our time, and his ideas might well help humanity make the next great leap. For now, though, he's a guy who charges people $500 to call themselves "Philosopher Kings" on his message board.
posted by verb at 4:56 PM on August 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


verb, thanks for taking the time to check out the site.
posted by grumblebee at 5:01 PM on August 25, 2010


ouch
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:14 PM on August 25, 2010


For the record:

Ah, but if I were to receive that training, become a police officer, be recognized for my bravery, honesty, and fairness... and then quit, I would no longer have the right to lock people up.

But if you were the kind of person to be recognized for honesty and fairness (especially the fairness), how likely would it be for you to be the kind of person TO lock someone willy-nilly in your basement in the first place?

My ultimate point being: the whole issue is much more nuanced than a simple "cops can lock people up but regular joes can't -- what's up with that, y'all?" question would suggest.

I was more critiquing what was to me an artificial simplification of the question than I was critiquing the point itself.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:59 PM on August 25, 2010


Well, it's more nuanced in the sense that a cop isn't just a guy wearing a uniform. As you pointed out, he's a guy who has had specialized training and who is certified by a specific institution. The question (my question, anyway) is whether or not that makes any difference from an ethical perspective.

I think ethics are universal. What applies to me applies to all people; what applies to all people applies to me.

I DO believe that circumstances matter. In other words, if I'm being attacked by a mugger, the ethics are different than if I'm not. But I have a hard time swallowing the notion that training and certification changes ethics.

In my view, certification changes nothing. Training can definitely affect how well you can do a job. A police office is going to be BETTER at handcuffing someone than I am. But that says nothing about whether handcuffing that person is right or wrong for either of us.
posted by grumblebee at 6:30 PM on August 25, 2010


Okay, consider this:

Ethics are universal. But are ethics INBORN, or do they need to be TAUGHT?

Training can affect how well you do a job, but can training also not be where one learns these ethics in the first place?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:59 PM on August 25, 2010


I am confused by that, EC. I think we acquire ethics via a combination of inborn data and learning. Which is not to say that ethics are relative. What's right in Japan is also right in America. If parents in America teach their kids different ethics than parents in Japan, than either the Americans or the Japanese must be wrong.

(Remember, though, circumstances count. It's possible that different rules apply to starving people in a 3rd world country than to me, but if you put me in their circumstances, the same rules apply to both of us. There's just one set of rules.)

You can disagree with that if you want, but if you do, I don't see how you can condemn Nazis or pre-Civil War plantation owners. You'd just have to say "They had their own ethical system, and it's just as valid as mine." It's not suddenly okay to kill people in Australia if Australians decide to teach their kids that it's okay to kill.

But I kind of wish I hadn't written those two paragraphs, because they have nothing to to with whether or not different rules apply to trained cops than the rest of us.

Let's say all ethical rules are learned. (I don't think they are, but I'll go with that for now.) Okay, so people are born with no opinion about (say) stealing. Then we teach them that stealing is wrong. So they grow up believing it's wrong.

What does that have to do with training police officers?

Police officers, like everyone else, learned that stealing is wrong. Yet I am morally wrong if I walk into your house and take your marijuana without your permission. But a police officer is not morally wrong if he does the same thing?

You can agree or disagree with that, but either way, I don't get what it has to do with moral training. And I don't get how "we're trained to be ethical" and "policemen are trained to be cops" connect with each other -- other than via a word-association of the word "training."
posted by grumblebee at 7:24 PM on August 25, 2010


I also think ethics are universal and that circumstances matter. But why stop at highly specific circumstances (ie., 'being mugged' being different from 'normal') and not widen the circumstance net to take into account, say, the entire fabric of society in which a person finds themselves in? What argument is there to make 'circumstance' be specific? Myself, I consider a person's 'circumstance' to often be a lot more complex than a simple statement like 'being mugged' can convey.

Some people seem to have taken that tact in regards to why cops can lock people up but non-cops can't. I think if you expand the 'circumstances' it doesn't seem like such a discrepency. Consider, but not limit ourselves, to the following:

a)citizens can arrest other citizens in some situations in some jurisdictions (and not limited to bounty hunters)
b)cops don't just lock people up in any old place but in specific places that most people can visit if they want to
c)if a cop just locked someone up in their house they would also go to jail
d)people will be given representation if locked up (some disgusting counter examples notwithstanding) to make sure they weren't locked up 'just because'
e)people can be released if they convince the right people they should be released

So I don't actually see an incredibly huge difference between what cops and citizens can do. The primary difference would probably be cops can use more force in their day-to-day life without getting hassled by other cops. Also I personally think that if cops do abuse their priveledges as agents of the state they should face stiffer punishment. That is, I think that those with extra priveledges puts them in different 'circumstances' from an ordinary citizen doing the same basic thing. Just my suggested way of giving equilibrium to those society didn't give the power to shoot at suspects.

But while I think there should be more safeguards in place against state 'violence' from being abused I would be more concerned if it weren't so easy to get that sanction from the state in the first place and there were less safeguards to prevent abuse. If the circumstances around the power we give the state were to change I would no longer consider it ethical.
posted by Green With You at 7:30 PM on August 25, 2010


Ethical issues are typically about competing rights. If there were a clear answer & no grey areas, we'd already have the obvious solution already.

Where arrest is concerned, allowing "legitimised state violence" via a police-only rule is a least-worst tradeoff between:

- the right not to be deprived of liberty

- the right not to be deprived of liberty arbitrarily & without due process

- the right of people & property not to be placed at risk, for at least as long as it takes to determine whether a suspect is a legitimate threat or not

- the right to assurance that people exercising a deprivation of liberty are doing so with authority, within a reasonably transparent framework, following processes & precedent, and with recourse available if this force is not used correctly

It is the level of relative assurance around the process that distinguishes police from vigilantes, and makes it more "right" for them to do it than regular citizens. And anyway, subject to jurisdiction citizens are allowed to detain suspects for a reasonable period until police show up.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:32 PM on August 25, 2010


shoulda previewed
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:34 PM on August 25, 2010


Watching his response video, around 3:30 he talks about how animals don't fear death as a concept. But there is some evidence that Chimpanzees and other high apes do understand death as a concept.

---

The rest of his comments generally seem to be snarky Reponses to snarky responses. He says no one says anything. Which makes you wonder why he bothered. The rest of his video makes him seem like an incredible idiot. He's not doing real philosophy at all. Certainly not the same way other professional, academic philosophers do it. He's just some crank with a website, and an apparently compelling (to some) rhetorical style.
Which is why I'm angry at delmoi. He mixes legitimate debate with ad hominem attacks. In my view, "You're so stupid! Don't you see that your logic is flawed because..." is WAY worse than "You're so stupid!" At least the latter is clearly just chest-beating and an attempt to humiliate. The former is mixed. It's saying, "I respect you enough to take your argument seriously and respond to it in a rational way, but I also want to humiliate you. I want both rational argument and a playground battle at the same time."
Well, fear not. There are lots of reasons to refute arguments you don't respect. For one thing, other people may not be able to articulate their problems with it, and working through it may help them if they get into an argument. For another, working arguments can help you clarify your own thinking, and can lead to new insights even if the base argument.

Also, you shouldn't take it personally. How I feel about your arguments in the thread has nothing to do with how I feel about you personally. I mean you seem like an OK guy.

But that said, what I have noticed over the years is that people who make these kinds of arguments are generally just not really intellectually capable of understanding the problems with those arguments. Maybe you are, I don't know. And sometimes they grow out of it on their own.
I can ignore the insult part and just respond to the logic, in which case I'm letting myself be humiliated; or I can just respond to the insult (which, I'm sad to say, is what I did), in which case I'm just as bad as delmoi. I am no longer discussing to seek truth.
Well, I simply don't believe there is any 'truth' to be found with this kind of intellectual wanking. Which is what this seems like to me. I wonder how many real philosophers believe you can find some kind of intrinsic truth simply by thinking about things. I think that the number who would say that all of their ideas are intrinsically correct and anyone who disagrees with them is wrong or stupid would be vanishingly small.

(What you would find instead is something like given the following moral framework, action X is immoral. Or something like "If X Y and Z are immoral then so is K". What Molyneux seems to be doing is arguing that his premises are fundamentally true. This generally is the major intellectual flaw exhibited by people who make these kinds of arguments. In addition to the premises, there seems to be a logical flaw in play as well, as I explained. The fact that most elements in the a set have a property does not mean that all elements in that set have a property. Most people would agree that "violence is bad", but if you bring up specific examples of violence, maybe they would say it's not bad.

Another major annoying logical flaw is expanding a set to include new elements and then making arguments based on premises about the original set. So for example if you say "that the initiation of violence is always bad" (which is what Molyneux actually said) most people would agree. But then you extend the definition of violence to include things like Taxation, and then you argue that all the negative things about violence apply to taxation as well. But that's no longer true because the definition has changed.

Another thing you see is an obsession with the definition of words. The definition of words doesn't matter at all. All that matters is whether or not people agree on the definition of a word before they start. The definitions of words are part of the premises. If you redefine a word then you're actually changing a premise. A lot of these people tend to think that definitions are set in stone and they are whatever works out so their arguments are correct).
posted by delmoi at 7:41 PM on August 25, 2010


grumblebee, you say "circumstances count". And that is precisely my point.

Police officers, like everyone else, learned that stealing is wrong. Yet I am morally wrong if I walk into your house and take your marijuana without your permission. But a police officer is not morally wrong if he does the same thing?

Like you just said YOUR OWN SELF, "circumstances count." The cirumstances involved that LEAD that police officer to walk into your house and take your marijuana are what count in this instance. And, as you YOURSELF say, "circumstances count."

And again -- for the nth time -- it is not your point I'm arguing with, it is the way in which you are framing it. If what you want to say is that you are uncomfortable with the degree of authority which our society gives to those individuals appointed to be members of our legal enforcement team, then that is one thing. But to frame that point by saying "why is it okay for a policeman to do something that a civilian can't just because they're a policeman" just sounds naive.

It feels kind of like if you were trying to make a point that some people may be wasting food because they were a little too paranoid of mold or spoilage to the point that they were throwing away only slightly bruised apples rather than turning them into applesauce or something; but you were making that point by saying, "isn't it funny that you can pick two apples, and eat one right away and people think it's okay, but if you leave it on the counter two months suddenly people are saying it's bad for you to eat? I don't get it!...." Whatever point you had about how people can salvage fruit past the point most people throw it away is going to get overshadowed by people thinking, "....does this guy seriously not understand that fruit ROTS?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:44 PM on August 25, 2010


Where arrest is concerned, allowing "legitimised state violence" via a police-only rule is a least-worst tradeoff

There are two very important issues here. Important but distinct. What I'm talking about is simply whether cops are right or wrong to do what they do (and whether those same rules apply to me, and if not, why not?).

You're talking about the NEXT question. Given that there are ethical problems with police actions, should we willingly accept them, because the alternative is worse?

If there's no ethical problem with what police do (because they legitimately have different moral rules than I do), then your question doesn't even arise.
posted by grumblebee at 7:50 PM on August 25, 2010


EC, the reason I poked my head in regarding the "Cops are trained to be cops" bit is that I think it's true but not quite germain to the question of moral authority. If a police officer were given the job without sufficient training, he would still be a police officer and his arrests would be given equal weight as those with training. If he were subsequently fired because of the oversight, he would no longer be able to make arrests but it would not automatically negate the work he did do while wielding the legitimate delegated authority.

That said, I think this sort of thought exercise is a bit of a distraction: it fixates on the details of a particular example at a particular point in time and pulls us away from the underlying premise that Stef falls back on repeatedly, namely that enforced behavior (even if it is enforced only by social convention) is "violence."

grumblebee, I'm bad about obsessive reading and researching, and I've spent the time since my last post reading Stef's writing, listening to his podcasts, and digging around the "culture" of the forum that he hosts and maintains. I can honestly say that I think all of us are giving him a lot more credit than he deserves when we treat him as a philosopher. He is A Guy Who Talks About Stuff On The Internet, And Has Convinced People To Support Him Via Donations.

When talking to a message board full of snarkers, he claims that it's terribly tiring to lower himself to the level of such debased conversation when he's used to such rigor. When critical readers engage his own works and point out fundamental fuzziness in his own thinking and framing, he complains that they are "nitpicking." He's a man who's master the form of philosophy, but I don't see a lot of substance. At least, no substance that hasn't been explored by other more careful thinkers in the past.

It seems that he's mistaken fixation for insight, while the majority of the participants on his site have confused prolificacy with profundity. The more I listen to and read his work, the less respect I have for it and the more concern I have for the people who take it seriously. It's the political-ethics version of extreme freudianism: not only is ever dream about your mother, your politics are about her, too.
posted by verb at 7:54 PM on August 25, 2010


Also, you shouldn't take it personally. How I feel about your arguments in the thread has nothing to do with how I feel about you personally. I mean you seem like an OK guy.

But you made a personal comment. You called me brain-dead. That's not a comment about my argument. That's a personal remark about me. What other way is there to take that except personally? Your quip about "the average libtard" is also a personal remark, though not about me. It does not make any point about arguments. It calls people names. It's an ad hominem attack.

It's not fair to do that sort of thing in the first place. It's doubly unfair to do it and then say "I didn't mean it personally. I was attacking arguments, not people."
posted by grumblebee at 7:54 PM on August 25, 2010


There are two very important issues here. Important but distinct. What I'm talking about is simply whether cops are right or wrong to do what they do (and whether those same rules apply to me, and if not, why not?).

You're talking about the NEXT question. Given that there are ethical problems with police actions, should we willingly accept them, because the alternative is worse?
Except you haven't even started with the most basic question: Where do moral rules come from and what are they? Until you have a firm foundation on that the rest of it is nonsense.
posted by delmoi at 7:59 PM on August 25, 2010


And again -- for the nth time -- it is not your point I'm arguing with, it is the way in which you are framing it.

I hear you. I really do. I know it's frustrating to feel like no matter how many times you say the same thing, the person you're talking to doesn't listening. I am deeply and sincerely sorry if I'm making you feel that way. Note that in most discussions like this, both parties feel that. It SEEMS to me like I'm saying the same thing over and over to you and you're not listening. But I totally trust that's not true.

I promise you that I AM listening, but I simply don't get it.

I know you think my framing is the problem, but I simply don't agree with you. I think my framing IS the point. I'm not using cops as a symbol for something bigger. Cops ARE my point!

(I think my point applies to other people working for the state, but cops are not tangential.)

Like you just said YOUR OWN SELF, "circumstances count." The cirumstances involved that LEAD that police officer to walk into your house and take your marijuana are what count in this instance. And, as you YOURSELF say, "circumstances count."

What are the circumstances that make this okay? The police learn that so-and-so has a big hoard of pot in his house, and that he's selling it? If I learn that that, is it okay for me to break into his house and take the pot?


To frame that point by saying "why is it okay for a policeman to do something that a civilian can't just because they're a policeman" just sounds naive.


I don't really know what it means that it sounds naive. Whether it's naive or not isn't what matters, is it? What matters is whether it's true or false. If I'm right that it's immoral for cops to do thing that it's immoral for me to do, then, naive or not, it's immoral.
posted by grumblebee at 8:05 PM on August 25, 2010


delmoi, it's your right, of course, to comment on anything I post here, but I am not going to respond to anything else you say, because I don't trust you to not make personal attacks. If you want to address the fact that you did that with me (here or in memail), that's different. But until/unless you do, I have an absolute policy against talking to people who attack me. (Attacking my arguments is totally fine and encouraged.)

I'm guessing you don't give a shit how I feel, but since you responded to me in your last post, I wanted to make myself clear.
posted by grumblebee at 8:10 PM on August 25, 2010


I've spent the time since my last post reading Stef's writing, listening to his podcasts, and digging around the "culture" of the forum that he hosts and maintains. I can honestly say that I think all of us are giving him a lot more credit than he deserves when we treat him as a philosopher.

Fair enough. Honestly, you've probably listened to more of his political stuff than I have. It's not really my interest (when it comes to his site). I shouldn't have defended it in the first place. I was really trying to ease Metafilter away from an ad hominem attack on a whole group of people.
posted by grumblebee at 8:13 PM on August 25, 2010


You're talking about the NEXT question. Given that there are ethical problems with police actions, should we willingly accept them, because the alternative is worse?

If there's no ethical problem with what police do (because they legitimately have different moral rules than I do), then your question doesn't even arise.
I think there's a fundamental logical flaw in your framing that you might be missing, grumblebee. You're pitting "Police Are Allowed To Do Certain Things Routinely That Private Citizens Are Not -- This Is Morally Wrong" against "Police Operate Under Different Moral Rules Than Us, So Differences In Allowed Behavior Are Acceptable," and pretending that those two choices are the only valid ones.

They're not, and others in the thread have discussed additional ways to resolve the apparent dilemma in detail -- namely, there's the fact that police officers are subject to the same laws that other private citizens are; if they abuse the privileges they have been given by society, they are stripped of those privileges and punished. In some cases, they are punished even harsher because they have violated a social and legal contract above and beyond what private citizens face.

There are abuses of privilege that escape punishment, obviously, but those are not implicit in the societal contract that governs police action and state use of force: they are abuses that we as a culture actively work to correct, just as we actively work to find criminals who steal money from other citizens.
posted by verb at 8:15 PM on August 25, 2010


grumblebee, I'm simply going to point to verb's comment above and say "this is what I was trying to say."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:18 PM on August 25, 2010


Fair enough. Honestly, you've probably listened to more of his political stuff than I have. It's not really my interest (when it comes to his site). I shouldn't have defended it in the first place. I was really trying to ease Metafilter away from an ad hominem attack on a whole group of people.
Aw, man, now I feel like I drank raw eggs just to prove a point.

You've been doing the yeoman's work on the trying-to-steer-the-thread-away-from-ad-hominem, and I think the resulting discussion was certainly more interesting for it. I think you just happened to get unlucky in picking a thread where the trigger for the discussion was actually not very easy to defend, heh.
posted by verb at 8:18 PM on August 25, 2010


Also, I have learned that after a beer I can't spell Callipygos.
posted by verb at 8:21 PM on August 25, 2010


It's the political-ethics version of extreme freudianism: not only is every dream about your mother, your politics are about her, too.

Actually, where anarchists are concerned, it's usually more about the father.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:24 PM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


What I'm talking about is simply whether cops are right or wrong to do what they do

That would come down to the social utility of (temporarily) depriving somebody of liberty, versus the utility to that person of having their freedom unimpeded.

(here, I'm just substituting 'utility' for 'right' in the competing forces that I listed above)

I'd answer yes, it is 'right' / useful / ethical for somebody to temporarily restrict somebody else thought to pose a realistic risk to people or property, at least until it can be determined if they are a danger or not.

Again, it's a situation of competing rights, but on balance (and depending on circumstances) the greater public good takes precedence over the temporary inconvenience to one person.

This, of course, assumes that the circumstances are such that arrest is a legitimately balanced response to a potential threat, and not applied capriciously to minor offences with little or no harm, or applied in absence of reasonable suspicion.

(this dovetails into a long debate about punishment v prevention, but for now I'm assuming a preventative function of arrest)
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:32 PM on August 25, 2010


I think there's a fundamental logical flaw in your framing that you might be missing, grumblebee. You're pitting "Police Are Allowed To Do Certain Things Routinely That Private Citizens Are Not -- This Is Morally Wrong" against "Police Operate Under Different Moral Rules Than Us, So Differences In Allowed Behavior Are Acceptable," and pretending that those two choices are the only valid ones.

They're not, and others in the thread have discussed additional ways to resolve the apparent dilemma in detail -- namely, there's the fact that police officers are subject to the same laws that other private citizens are; if they abuse the privileges they have been given by society, they are stripped of those privileges and punished. In some cases, they are punished even harsher because they have violated a social and legal contract above and beyond what private citizens face.


There's a ton of (great) content here, and I don't think I have time to tackle it all tonight. I have to head off to bed, soon.

But it sounds (to me) like you're saying, cops are bound by the same moral laws that we are. They are just in different circumstances. This is what EC was saying to me, too. She reminded me that I claimed circumstances matter, and so, given that, I should take cop circumstances into account.

If we were in those circumstances (cop circumstances), we would be allowed (by our ethics) to act in the same way as cops. We can't generally act that way, not because we're not cops, but because we're not experiencing their circumstances. (Or maybe experiencing those circumstances is what makes someone a cop.) Have I totally missed your point?

They quick way to say how cops are different (besides training, which I still think is a red herring), is that "we have given them special privileges." That is such a densely packed statement that it will take me some time (time I don't have right now) to discuss it.

It assumes that we all accept the democratic decision-making process as ethical. "Given that we all feel that the democratic process (that elected the officials who certified the cops) is morally just, it makes sense to say that cops are just people we've given special permission to..."

But what if I don't accept that given?

I won't say more right now, because besides the late hour, I may have totally missed your point. Can you elaborate on the differences between cops and non-cops? Even if you think those differences are circumstances, can you be explicit about what those circumstances are? Maybe there's something I'm missing besides training and state sanction. Because that might be the locus of our disagreement. Or it might clear away a confusion that will allow us to agree.
posted by grumblebee at 8:35 PM on August 25, 2010


UbuRovas, I may be wrong, but I'm thinking you might be confusing the question of whether it's morally right/wrong for us to have a police force (for us to make that decision) with whether it's morally right/wrong for an individual cop to take some action that I can't take. If we pretend for a minute that we're all Christians, I'm talking about the cop's immortal soul, not that souls of we who allow cops to exist.
posted by grumblebee at 8:39 PM on August 25, 2010


It assumes that we all accept the democratic decision-making process as ethical. "Given that we all feel that the democratic process (that elected the officials who certified the cops) is morally just, it makes sense to say that cops are just people we've given special permission to..."

But what if I don't accept that given?


Then your problem is with the democratic decision-making process itself, not the actions permitted to cops.

So if that's the case, why focus on cops rather than the system of which the cops are simply a tool?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:49 PM on August 25, 2010


grumblebee allow me to explain the situation:

The state is the creator of property and money. In creating these items and granting them to citizens it has done so while retaining the right of taxation and taking property back under eminent domain. It also has established the right to issue laws governing commerce, conduct and other matters. A state has a monopoly on these items within its borders and is only subject to the restrictions of treaties and international law. As long as you live inside the boundaries of the state or claim its protection as a citizen your are subject to it.

As agents of the state the cops have the right to search and arrest based on probable cause or with a warrant issued by a judge. The tax collectors are also agents of the state and thus may take assets. Nothing in these actions by themselves is unethical. Furthermore your refusal to pay taxes, acknowledge the laws or otherwise is a violent act; thus the state may reciprocate under established principles of ethical response (an eye for an eye).

The state may also grant private citizens some authority to enforce laws (such as in the case of trespass and shoplifting). These may give a private citizen temporary authority to detain, search and question. However these exceptions are extremely limited as the state would prefer that its agents enforcers.

Furthermore if violence is a pejorative term related to the use of force related to terms such as injury, profanation and impetuosity; then we must question if the mere act of coercion is violent in and of itself. Is a peaceful arrest where the subject is placed into custody without resistance a violent act? Is the person defending themselves from an aggressor equally violent? My view is that it is not.
posted by humanfont at 8:52 PM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


If we were in those circumstances (cop circumstances), we would be allowed (by our ethics) to act in the same way as cops. We can't generally act that way, not because we're not cops, but because we're not experiencing their circumstances. (Or maybe experiencing those circumstances is what makes someone a cop.) Have I totally missed your point?
Yeah, I'd say you're tracking with the point that I'm making. The "Circumstances make a cop" bit might be a bit of a rabbit trail, but I don't think I can articulate why until I deal with the next statement.
The quick way to say how cops are different (besides training, which I still think is a red herring), is that "we have given them special privileges." That is such a densely packed statement that it will take me some time (time I don't have right now) to discuss it.
Fair point -- this is actually one of the reasons that I made the quick jump to collective-decision-making and the concept of Ethical Delegation earlier in the thread. I see those issues as central to the question of moral and ethical authority, and don't think that the cop-versus-citizen divide can be accurately discussed without quickly moving on to them.
It assumes that we all accept the democratic decision-making process as ethical. "Given that we all feel that the democratic process (that elected the officials who certified the cops) is morally just, it makes sense to say that cops are just people we've given special permission to..."
Not necessarily. If we're talking about the general principle of Delegated Authority, any mechanism by which some individuals are given extra privileges, but still held responsible to the larger group, would do. In our nation, this happens via representative democracy, which is in and of itself a delegation of responsibility.

This aspect of the discussion brings us back to something I mentioned earlier -- the 'Voting Is Violence' bit that my anarchist friend fell back on in many conversations. In his view, any decision making process that did not result in consensus was an act of violence -- because it relied on the threat of violence to coerce dissenters into conformity. That particular premise is one the I in turn do not accept: his complaint was really about the fact that There Is No Land Left To Go Form Your Own Anarchist Zone On.
posted by verb at 9:02 PM on August 25, 2010


Since the title of this post is Choose Your own Occupation, can we make this about hospitals & doctors, instead of cops & prisons? I feel that the latter are too loaded to disentangle properly.

So, what if I wanted to set up a surgery in my own house, despite not having any training or authority to do so. Is that ethical?
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:03 PM on August 25, 2010


Thanks, humanfont. If I've understood you correctly, you've outlined the view (or a possible view) of someone who accepts the authority of the state as having moral weight. That's fine, but you haven't explained why I should accept that view.
posted by grumblebee at 9:05 PM on August 25, 2010


Since the title of this post is Choose Your own Occupation, can we make this about hospitals & doctors, instead of cops & prisons? I feel that the latter are too loaded to disentangle properly.

So, what if I wanted to set up a surgery in my own house, despite not having any training or authority to do so. Is that ethical?
Most of the anarchists I know would say that, yes, it's perfectly ethical unless your intent is to harm. Restricting your ability to do so -- under the implied threat of violence, naturally! -- is just the sort of unethical intervention that The State engages in all the time.
posted by verb at 9:14 PM on August 25, 2010


Then your problem is with the democratic decision-making process itself, not the actions permitted to cops.

So if that's the case, why focus on cops rather than the system of which the cops are simply a tool?


I know you really want me to quit dwelling on cops. I'm sorry that I keep doing it. I don't really see how I can stop and still say what I'm trying to say.

IF you accept the state as a legitimate entity, then the state matters. But if you don't, it doesn't. In other words, to me (in a sense) there is no state. There are just people. So I'm seeing these particular people -- cops -- who are claiming they have moral rights that I don't have (or circumstances that are different from mine). And I'm asking why they have different rights (or what the circumstances are that temporarily grants them special rights).

If the answer starts, "Because the state..." that's just not going to be meaningful to someone who doesn't accept states as meaningful entities. (I am taking on that role so as to not overly complicated the discussion. In real life, I'm not an anarchist. I'm a person who is drawn towards anarchy but is still on the fence about it.)

Imagine you saw someone steal a wallet. You said, "Stop! That's wrong!" and the person told you, "No, it's not. Normally, it would be. It would be for you. But it's not for me, because my circumstances are special." You ask him about his circumstances and he says, "I worship the Sun God, and He told me I'm supposed to steal."

Now what is the crux of your issue with him? Is it that the guy is claiming he has a special right to steal or is it that the Sun God doesn't exist? Even if the issue IS the Sun God for you, would you call someone nuts who says, "Wait. I don't want to talk about the Sun God. The issue is that this guy just stole a wallet!"

I do, of course, agree that government buildings exist. And certain rituals exist, like people going into voting booths and pulling levers. Claiming that all those buildings and activities equals a "state" and that that state has meaning is a common interpretation. It's like agreeing to do things on a checker board or a football field. But to someone who isn't into football, it's just a bunch of big guys running around.

If that anti-football person is totally against violence, he might say, "It's wrong for all those guys to tackle each other." You can say, "Ah, your problem isn't with what those guys are doing, it's with the game of football." I think he can legitimately say, "No. There is no football as far as I'm concerned. There are just guys jumping on top of each other. And that's wrong."
posted by grumblebee at 9:21 PM on August 25, 2010


So, what if I wanted to set up a surgery in my own house, despite not having any training or authority to do so. Is that ethical?

Yes.

It's unethical for you to lie -- including by omission. So you can't pass yourself off as a trained, certified doctor (including by just not mentioning anything about it unless someone asks). If you say, "I am a total amateur, but I'm willing to cut you open and mess with your innards," I don't think you're doing anything wrong. People (if they're weird) can choose to go to you if they want. Personally, I wouldn't.
posted by grumblebee at 9:25 PM on August 25, 2010


delmoi, it's your right, of course, to comment on anything I post here, but I am not going to respond to anything else you say, because I don't trust you to not make personal attacks. If you want to address the fact that you did that with me (here or in memail)
Well, I think I made my points clearly. If you don't want to respond, that's fine.

I would just point out that Molyneux was pretty insulting to the members of this "stitch 'n' bitch" (as he called it) in his response video. Calling most of his detractors comments meaningless and one poster a "propaganda bot". There's some irony in having this kind of double standard for people who agree with you and people who don't in a thread about moral principles. Anyway, I don't particularly want to hurt your feelings anymore so I'll just stop talking.
posted by delmoi at 9:31 PM on August 25, 2010


It's unethical for you to lie -- including by omission. So you can't pass yourself off as a trained, certified doctor (including by just not mentioning anything about it unless someone asks). If you say, "I am a total amateur, but I'm willing to cut you open and mess with your innards," I don't think you're doing anything wrong. People (if they're weird) can choose to go to you if they want. Personally, I wouldn't.
But if the state doesn't exist, there is no certification. There may be people who declare themselves Certifiers, but any old person on the street can counter that they are just as valid as another certifier. Anarchism isn't just about who has the guns, after all.

Grumblebee, I'm curious about a thread that's come up and seems to have been ignored or dismissed out of hand several times: the idea of collective delegation of shared authority. You say, "There is no state -- just people!" but the approach you're articulating would seem to reject the idea of "People" making decisions unless the decision is unanimous. This is where I believe that rubber-meets-the-road anarchism fails as a scalable philosophy in the same way that communism seems to.
posted by verb at 9:33 PM on August 25, 2010


verb, I am not going to speak to the "Voting is violence" thing, because it doesn't make sense to me. You'll have to ask Stef about it if you care to follow it up.

If we're talking about the general principle of Delegated Authority, any mechanism by which some individuals are given extra privileges, but still held responsible to the larger group, would do. In our nation, this happens via representative democracy, which is in and of itself a delegation of responsibility.

This is a good point.

We might even be able to narrow it down to a few people on a desert island. Let's say ten people. Nine of them agree to vote on all issues that effect the group. One of them doesn't. They have a small supply of food. They vote on how to divide it up. After the vote, the "anarchist" says, "Wait! I never agreed to vote!"

The rest say, "Fine. Then go to the other side of the island and live by yourself."

"Okay, but I'm taking half the food with me."

"No! We won't let you do that."

"What gives you the right to stop me?"

Is there anything besides might-makes-right that gives them the right? Is there some other sort of decision-making process, aside from voting, that would give them the right?

I'm not talking about what's practical. I'm just talking about morality. And I'm not talking about the morality of dividing up food. I have a gut sense that the guy is wrong to take half the food. I think he's wrong by any human moral standard -- any that I've ever heard of. He's violating deep instincts of what's fair. Experiments with other primates show even they have a sense of that.

I'm talking about the right to impose some specific group decision-making process on everyone. What, besides might-makes-right, gives the nine guys the right to impose voting (or whatever) on the tenth guy? If he says, "You're just a bunch of bullies!" how is he wrong? If they elect two of the guys to be police... Well, I hope you see where I'm going.
posted by grumblebee at 9:36 PM on August 25, 2010


Calling most of his detractors comments meaningless and one poster a "propaganda bot".

propaganda bot - heh, you'd just need to glitch the video up a bit & you'd have Max Headroom in his student politics days.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:42 PM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ooooo, I like this hypothetical. It's fun. Like you, I'd react instinctively to the anarchist taking half the food -- more than his "fair share" if we were to boil it down to instinct. I would argue that it's just as valid, though, to ask the anarchist why he has the right to take any of the food at all. Only the mutually agreed upon idea that things should be divided equally suggests that he should get any food at all.

Variations on the question result in different "gut check" answers. What if the food was found on the island when they all arrived? Does the finder get to choose what's done with the food? What if one of the "consensus" members of the group had the food in his or her backpack? Would taking even his "fair share" constitute a violation of the rights of the person with the food? What if the anarchist had the food in the first place? Would conducting a vote without the consent of the anarchist be immoral? Would the anarchist refusing to share the food equitably be immoral?

For the purposes of our discussion, I'll say that the food was found on the island when all of the people arrived. In fact, it was visible on the beach and everyone spotted it at the same time -- there was no single person who "discovered" or "brought" it, etc.
What, besides might-makes-right, gives the nine guys the right to impose voting (or whatever) on the tenth guy?
If he wants to be part of the group, he has to play by the rules. In the real world, one of the problems we face is that there is no "fair" starting point. Some people start with lots of 'food' and others start with none, and anarchism in my experience offers little recourse aside from Everyone Voluntarily Deciding To Make Things More Equitable.
posted by verb at 9:49 PM on August 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


You say, "There is no state -- just people!" but the approach you're articulating would seem to reject the idea of "People" making decisions unless the decision is unanimous. This is where I believe that rubber-meets-the-road anarchism fails as a scalable philosophy in the same way that communism seems to.

You and I are in complete agreement that this is the crux.

I think there are two questions: what's right? and what's practical?. I am really shaky on both, which is why I can't declare myself as an anarchist, libertarian, democrat, etc. I keep describing myself as "troubled," which is the best I can label my political view.

From what I can tell, when you boil things down to this level, you get to might-makes-right. Which is just a glib way of saying there is no right or wrong. Or it's saying, at that level, nobody cares about right or wrong. It's a battle (unless everyone just happens to agree) and the strongest will win.

Once some group DOES win, THEN they can start saying, "Okay. Ignoring what just happened, let's just assume our power as a given. Assuming that -- assuming our power is like a law of physics -- what is right and what is wrong WITHIN this universe in which we rule."

But everything falls apart when some asshole (me in this case) says, "Wait. It's NOT a law of physics. You just fucking grabbed power. I don't recognize your power." If I don't shut up (and if I start doing things that undermine their power), they will have to resort to might makes right again.

This has ramifications in America. What if the Native Americans insisted that the US government, which is really a colonialist group from Europe, get out? What if they said, "We refuse to recognize your sovereignty. We're claiming all this land as ours." We'd stop them by force. Would that be because we're right and they're wrong? Or would it be might makes right?
posted by grumblebee at 10:01 PM on August 25, 2010


I would argue that it's just as valid, though, to ask the anarchist why he has the right to take any of the food at all.

Agreed. I focused on the nine democrats. But that was arbitrary. I could just as well have focused on the anarchist. What gives them the right to impose democracy on him? What gives him the right to impose anarchy on them?

We might be able to simplify this even more: just TWO guys are on an island. They disagree about how they should make group decisions. Using morality alone, is there a way to decide a right process? I say no. I say they can't start using morality until they duke it out first (unless they get lucky and just happen to agree -- or unless one convinces the other).
posted by grumblebee at 10:06 PM on August 25, 2010


It's a pickle, allright. I think this is what Howard Zinn was all about when he said something about there being no way to stay stationary on a moving train.

Going back far enough, one can say that the Native Americans had no inherent right to claim the land they were living on. I think that's a cop-out on many levels, but it's one of the other reasons that I don't believe "Property Rights" can form the basis of a complete moral system the way some libertarians seem to argue. (I'm not clear enough on the nuances to say confidently that's what it boils down to, but a number of Libertarians I've known and talked to treat property rights as the fundamental principle all others derive from.)

I don't have any good answers to your question, at least not in the form of clearly articulated universal principles. This doesn't mean that we're adrift, with no way to judge whether an act is good or bad, ethical or unethical. It just means (at least in my mind) that we have to accept the hard work of weighing events and actions by a fuzzier set of guidelines -- heuristics rather than checklists, as it were. In fact I tend to be deeply suspicious of those who claim they have a "Universal Set Of Principles To Govern All Morality And Ethics" -- at the end of the day they almost always turn out to be a way of bullying past someone else's heuristics.
posted by verb at 10:15 PM on August 25, 2010


Once some group DOES win, THEN they can start saying, "Okay. Ignoring what just happened, let's just assume our power as a given. Assuming that -- assuming our power is like a law of physics -- what is right and what is wrong WITHIN this universe in which we rule."
Also -- in the perfect world where there is infinite space to go off and form your own hermitage/village/nation-state without interference, there is no real conflict. Those who didn't consent to the group's decisions would simply be ejected from the group, and would go find their own way.

In that sense, all arguments about power and consent can be seen as arguments about allocation of scarce land.
posted by verb at 10:22 PM on August 25, 2010


If you accept the fact that morality can't come into play -- or doesn't for most people -- until one initial group wins a sort of Darwinian battle, it explains why these Statist vs. Anarchist battles are so bitter -- and why they tend to go nowhere.

I'll go back to my checkers analogy for a second. People who want to stack checkers up into a tower instead of playing by the rules aren't wrong. But they are totally incompatible with people who want to play the traditional game. They two just can't share the same checker board. If they both insist on having their way, they're going to have to duke it out.

I think this is why Native Americans are so troubling to many of us. We feel an immense need to take the U.S. government's authority as a given. IF we don't question whether it's right or wrong. If we just assume its existence is right, we're good to go. We can say, "Okay. WITHIN that framework, is it more morally correct to legalize pot or to outlaw it?" (Or whatever we happen to be discussing that day.)

But if you say, "Whoa! Wait! What gives the U.S. government the right to exist in the first place? I'm not saying the land belongs to the Native Americans. What gives THEM the right to it, either? If there's a contest between those two groups -- if both want control of, say, Ohio, can we appeal to anything besides might-makes-right to decide who should win?"

That question is just NOT compatible with most people's frameworks. That's not my sly way of saying most people are wrong. But I just can't see how you push those two views together in any harmonizing way.

When I take off my anarchist hat (which, remember, really is just a hat, because I haven't tipped over into anarchistland) and put on my statist hat, I feel like the only honest thing I can say to anarchists is, "For whatever reason, I'm devoted to the state. It's not rational. Or maybe it's self interest. Whatever. It's simply what I accept as a given. If you take that given away from me, I have nothing. So I'm not going to let you. I'm going to fight you to keep the status quo intact. I have no right to do that, because my rights exist within a framework where the state exists. But with or without rights, I'm going to fight you. Might is going to have to make right."
posted by grumblebee at 10:32 PM on August 25, 2010


In that sense, all arguments about power and consent can be seen as arguments about allocation of scarce land.

Yup. We can eliminate this entire discussion once we have the ability to colonize lots of other planets.
posted by grumblebee at 10:33 PM on August 25, 2010


If you accept the fact that morality can't come into play -- or doesn't for most people -- until one initial group wins a sort of Darwinian battle, it explains why these Statist vs. Anarchist battles are so bitter -- and why they tend to go nowhere.
Well, I wouldn't go that far. I'd just say that I've yet to encounter a set of hard and fast moral "rules" that can settle the "Who among us gets to decide?" question. Thus the appeal to fuzzy heuristics, gut checks, and vigorous arguments.

I also maintain that anarchy/statism is a false dichotomy. There are other ways of framing the complex questions, though they don't lend themselves as cleanly to easy contrasts. It makes for interesting discussions into the wee hours of the night, though...
posted by verb at 10:46 PM on August 25, 2010


I'm talking about the right to impose some specific group decision-making process on everyone. What, besides might-makes-right, gives the nine guys the right to impose voting (or whatever) on the tenth guy?

Social contract and the general will as defined by a super majority. There is no individual right to revolution, only a collective right. The objections to this precept result in insanity like the free men of the land nonsense. Without the state individual rights cannot exist as rights are a construct of law which only exists as a social construct. Thus one person alone cannot actually have laws or rights since these are meaningless at the level of an isolated individual without a social fabric.
posted by humanfont at 11:14 PM on August 25, 2010


I'd have to think through that pretty carefully before I could agree or disagree, humanfont, but it does remind me of something I wrote vigorously about when I was younger and cheekier: the idea that "Rights" are not some inherent moral construct but rather a framework for resolving disagreements about morality in a group.

It was definitely not as Awesome And Insightful as I thought it was when I was nineteen, but it does all come rushing back during a few of these posts.
posted by verb at 11:32 PM on August 25, 2010


This video was embarrassing. Logic like this is one of the reasons I quit smoking pot.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:09 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow.

Waking up this morning and reading back over the thread is like realizing I went on a bender last night and ranted about quantum physics to the whole bar.

I'm not sure how I feel.
posted by verb at 6:42 AM on August 26, 2010


Social contract and the general will as defined by a super majority. There is no individual right to revolution, only a collective right. The objections to this precept result in insanity like the free men of the land nonsense. Without the state individual rights cannot exist as rights are a construct of law which only exists as a social construct. Thus one person alone cannot actually have laws or rights since these are meaningless at the level of an isolated individual without a social fabric.

I can't respond to this unless you make the word "right" unambiguous. That word creates all sorts of confusions -- not just in what you wrote, but all the time in conversations like this. Consider this example:

Soviet citizen Vladimir said, "All men have the right to free speech, but here in the USSR, we don't have that right."

Vlad isn't contradicting himself. He's using right in once sense at the beginning of the sentence and another at the end. What he's doing is similar to me saying "My foot is more than one foot long."

Vlad's first use of "right" means something like "all humans should be free to say whatever they want to say, and anyone who tries to stop them is evil." His second use refers to the fact that his government uses force to stop people saying certain things.

When a prison guard says, "You have a right to one phone call," I really doubt he's talking about ethics. If a prisoner makes two phone calls, I doubt the guard would call that a sin or an evil act. By "right," the guard is just talking about the prison rules.

Of course, one CAN conflate the two meanings. I've heard people say that there's no morality EXCEPT what the state rules you can and can not do. Someone given to that line of thinking WOULD view Vlad's statement as a contradiction. If the state says you don't have a right to free speech, then you don't have the right to it -- even in a moral sense.

That's a pretty scary view, because it means that it was morally fine to exterminate Jews in Nazi Germany and morally fine to own slaves in pre-Civil War America.

I would bet a small sum of money that humanfont doesn't think either of those things, even though the state gave its citizen the "right" to do them. But then I am confused as to what he means -- what you mean, humanfront -- by statements like...

"There is no individual right to revolution, only a collective right."

and

"rights are a construct of law"

If the law gives me the "right" to own slaves (which really means the ABILITY to own them without getting punished), does that give me the MORAL RIGHT to own them?
posted by grumblebee at 7:08 AM on August 26, 2010


grumblebee, the problem with anarchy is basically that there's no one to insure that the law isn't upheld. In other words, people are going to try to get away with things, one way or another. If you decide to ditch government altogether and say "there are no laws", some people who don't want to deal with theft or murder etc, are going to get together and start agreeing with each other that "if you don't kill me, I won't kill you", so you'll end up with partial laws that only apply to the rich, or to various tribes (or gangs, whatever). A system will emerge, like it or not, and you can continue to deny that it was your idea, but if your grandparents made a deal when they moved onto a certain street, then when you end up in that house, you will have to continue to abide by the rules of that neighborhood.

That is all the government is. It just grows over time and gets expanded to apply to a broader population, and people try to make it more and more fair. So as a citizen of this country, you sign on to the social contract in place, which includes paying taxes. You can vote to change that, or run for office, but those taxes aren't just going to create crown jewels or something - as is well known, the government has spent more than it has taxed in recent years. If you are against taxes, you must be against government spending - public education, highways, assistance programs, the post office, defense, the FDA, and so on - should they all be private? SHould they just be dropped? AGain, the principle of the thing is not enough, especially when it is abstract.

A governing body comes into existence because human beings want to have some control over their lives. They will make agreements with each other to protect themselves. The question is only, what kind of government do we want?
posted by mdn at 7:14 AM on August 26, 2010


I'm not sure how I feel.

verb, are you saying there's no longer agreement between you and the subject?

I've been waiting to say that this entire thread! Cha-ching!
posted by grumblebee at 7:14 AM on August 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


grumblebee, the problem with anarchy is basically that there's no one to insure that the law isn't upheld.

Are you SURE of that? Have you read the alternative structures proposed by anarchists? They have thought of the same objections you have. They -- the ones I've heard -- don't just say, "It's a free-for-all! Everyone does whatever he wants and we just hope people are nice to each other."

Their alternative structures to a centralized state might be smart or they might be bullshit. I can't say, because I haven't spent time studying them. I am vaguely aware that many anarchists have put huge amounts of thought into these structures, so I'm not going to dismiss them offhand, but I couldn't begin to tell you anything about them. (Again, if you're interested, check out Stef's site. If you don't trust Stef, read posts by other people. If you don't trust them, check out books and articles that they link to.)

I haven't paid attention to non-state structures, because they don't interest me. Here's why: Let's say an anarchist 100% convinced me that we didn't need a state. Let's say he convinced me that his alternate plan would work -- that it would keep people safe, happy, etc.

So what?

That plan is not in effect and it's not going to be in effect. This is where idealism rams into pessimism. I simply don't buy that the state, good or evil, is going away. Not in my lifetime, anyway. I can't even begin to care about alternatives until you first prove to me that the state isn't a "law of physics." (I don't really believe it's one, which is why I put it in quotes. It's not that I think it's impossible that the state will crumble. It's that I wouldn't go to Vegas and bet on it crumbling. I think that would be a sucker bet.)

I also think it's possible that I'm not being rational about that. I have a strong irrational urge towards pessimism. But rational or not, I have no belief that the state will fall.
posted by grumblebee at 7:26 AM on August 26, 2010


Are you SURE of that? Have you read the alternative structures proposed by anarchists? They have thought of the same objections you have. They -- the ones I've heard -- don't just say, "It's a free-for-all! Everyone does whatever he wants and we just hope people are nice to each other."
The anarchists I've read tend to say that ad-hoc committees will form to handle those problems, and that the committees will not impose decisions on their fellowmen, but implement the decisions made by their fellowmen.

It's at that point that I reiterate the kind of objection that mdn voices above: they haven't avoided the problem of The State, they've just tap-danced around their definition of it and implemented it under another name. I don't view this as a fundamental dishonesty, really, just a reflection of the difficulties inherent in implementing a large-scale society fully consistent with anarchist principles.

Since we're all about thought experiments in this thread, let's imagine that there's an anarchist nation-state here on earth that has managed to push past that set of problems. It's living the dream, everyone is an equal co-authority, and anything that requires collective work is agreed upon. The 'Who gets to be janitor' problem is solved and everyone agrees on the solution. Any collective action that requires funding is donation-supported, and the tax man is named Kickstarter.com.

Anarchistan's neighbors aren't terribly thrilled about the arrangement, since it has no extradition laws, no IDs, and is unwilling to police its borders. (Those things aren't inherently incompatible with anarchism, but some of Anarchistan's residents thought those things were bad, so there you go.)

The real problem comes when someone disagrees with the rest of Anarchistan about proscriptive moral laws. Bob, for example, believes that playing loud music is violence against one's fellowmen, just like murder. If the disagreement is serious enough and Bob is not willing to compromise, it's the end of the road for consensus. Either everyone with a stereo is committing violence against Bob, or Bob convinces them to stop playing music by threat of force. The classic response is that the Bob is free to leave and start their own anarchist collective outside Anarchistan's borders. AnarchiSoftJazzistan, we'll call it. It's voluntary and non-coercive, and people who like soft jazz can go there and enjoy the consensus.

The problem is that all the countries surrounding Anarchistan refuse to let Bob do that. Turns out, there isn't any land available to start AnarchiSoftJazzistan. Which means that Bob must either join an existing nation-state that's even more coercive than Anarchistan, or submit to the violence of nonstop Poison marathons delivered via his neighbor's tactical boombox. It quickly devolves into the same "Love it or leave it" choice that you object to earlier when it's presented by fans of the United States.

This isn't to say that the underlying moral premises of Anarchism aren't appealing and interesting, just that it takes a great deal of just-so pretending to imagine a world where Anarchist societies don't run into the very same problems that we do. They'd just read a lot more China Mieville novels.
posted by verb at 7:54 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm listning to his ''Responses to Criticisms from Metafilter.com '' Christ, what a condescending....
posted by CitoyenK at 8:10 AM on August 26, 2010


That seems a confusion of words to me, then - not an-archy but just alternative-archy... If people can make agreements amongst themselves you just end up with tribal governments, warring gangs, and essentially start from the beginning - over time these local groups make contracts with one another, until eventually they unionize and make a larger nation.

Whatever, the point is, people have to agree that it would be better, and as you said yourself, it's unlikely the federal state is going away - not (just) because it's a behemoth, but because a lot of people appreciate the services it provides. Someone has to keep the roads up and treat the sewage and ensure some basic safety.

Seriously, if you don't want to pay taxes, get a piece of land (in a place with low property taxes), and don't earn income - hunt, grow your food, make your furniture, etc. (Or just make under like $15K a year...) The reason you pay taxes on income is because the only reason you can make that income to start with is due to the infrastructure in place. You can separate if you want, but then stop trying to use society-issued money.
posted by mdn at 8:13 AM on August 26, 2010


Seriously, if you don't want to pay taxes, get a piece of land (in a place with low property taxes), and don't earn income - hunt, grow your food, make your furniture, etc. (Or just make under like $15K a year...) The reason you pay taxes on income is because the only reason you can make that income to start with is due to the infrastructure in place. You can separate if you want, but then stop trying to use society-issued money.

I just want to say again that it's perfectly reasonable to be morally opposed to the state without doing this. I have some huge moral issues with the state and with taxes, but even if I felt I could survive that way (if I had no farming skills, etc.), your solution wouldn't do a thing for me.

Imagine someone in 1790 saying, "Slavery is evil" and hearing "Well, if you think that, just don't own slaves. Problem solved."

Me personally not paying taxes will do NOTHING to counter the evil of taxation (I know we don't all agree that it's evil, but go with me for the sake of argument.) As I've said, my objection to taxes isn't even for me, personally. I don't mind paying them. I have enough money left over after paying taxes to do whatever I want.

Similarly, I have BIG issues with the amount of surveillance online. But not for me. I don't feel I have much to hide. I have some secrets that I'd be embarrassed about if they got out, but I'd get over that. But it's not about me. It's about the evil of depriving people of privacy (without making it explicit that's what you're doing).

These discussions always circle back to, "Well, if YOU don't want to pay taxes, then..." as if they only possible reason someone might be against taxation is selfishness. Of COURSE there are selfish people who, if you said, "Everyone has to pay taxes except you," would say "Yay!" and he happy. But not everyone who is troubled by taxation is like that.
posted by grumblebee at 8:40 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


grumblebee, I find it a little weird that you're framing your participation in this thread as only tangentially related to Stef while on FDR.com you're framing it as a defense of Stef. I don't think that it's dishonest, more that you're interested in diplomatically engaging with both communities.

You're very apologetic to him when he snipes at you for misrepresenting his views:
Stef, that was am excellent video, including your accurate critique of what I said. I am very sorry that I misrepresented so many of your views. I hope you understand that, in my stupid way, I was trying to cut through the noise and get people to listen. I should never have espoused your "views" without having really paid close attention to your arguments.
...But in reviewing his writings, you actually represented his premises quite well. He threw his only defender under the bus in a public video. Why? Because the arguments he makes are fundamentally weak, and you defended them honestly rather than relying on rhetorical slipperiness and control of the medium.

The responses of the other FDR forum members is traditional circle-the-wagons-and-ignore-the-infidels talk. It seems like you've only been a member on the FDR.com forums for a few months, but I think it's fair to say that you deserve better. Delmoi might call you names, but there's no bowing and scraping required.
posted by verb at 8:41 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am not bowing and scraping. Stef said I misrepresented his views (and he doesn't like it when I call them "views," either), and I take him at his word on that -- that I did misrepresent them.

It's not fair for me to do otherwise unless I go through his video ABOUT POLITICS, see what his views are, and see whether or not my portrayal of them was accurate. I've never done that. I assumed all sorts of things about his arguments re Libertariasm/anarchism/etc., based on little scraps of them he dropped in videos on totally different subjects.

If you say to someone, "I refuse to take the time to actually listen to what you say, but I'm going to make all sorts of assumptions about it, anyway," you are guilty of gross unfairness, and you owe that person a BIG apology. I owed Stef a big one, and so I apologized.

I am not "bowing and scaping to him" because he's right and I'm wrong (though I do think he's more LIKELY to be right about his own arguments that I am, since I haven't really taken the time to study his arguments.) I am "bowing and scraping" because I was discourteous.

I've learned a lot (though not so much about politics) and met many smart, cool people on FDR, and my initial reason for posting here was because I felt that entire community was in danger of being maligned without any sort of rigorous scrutiny. I though I was pretty straightforward and honest about my goal, which WAS to defend FDR -- without making it out to be perfect.

(I've also learned a lot from Stef, personally. I hope I've been really clear here AND on FDR that I disagree with all kinds of things he says. Most of my posts on FDR have been along the lines of "Stef, you're wrong about X, because..." And Stef (and the other FDRers) have always responded to my critiques with politeness and a willingness to debate honestly. That alone, to me, makes FDR a valuable community. I'm sure name-calling and chest-beating happens there, but so far no one there has treated me the way delmoi did here. That, to me, is a virtue.)

Over there, I was just asked why I posted some anti-FDR links. It's because I think people here
-- the ones who care about what FDR is about at all -- need to form their own opinions about the place. They'll have a better chance of doing that if the see both pro and anti FDR stuff.
posted by grumblebee at 9:02 AM on August 26, 2010


I have some huge moral issues with the state and with taxes, but even if I felt I could survive that way (if I had no farming skills, etc.), your solution wouldn't do a thing for me.

Imagine someone in 1790 saying, "Slavery is evil" and hearing "Well, if you think that, just don't own slaves. Problem solved."


So you think paying taxes is something other people need to be stopped from doing? Is paying rent evil?

Paying taxes is just putting in your share to take advantage of the services provided by the government, like the fact that your food is checked for parasites, your water is cleaned, your garbage is picked up, your toilet flushes, your streets are paved, an ambulance will come if you call 911, you could go to school for free through 12th grade (if you wanted), there's a fire hydrant on your block, and a mailbox - and countless other things. It is a contract. I pay taxes in order to have certain conveniences and protections.

I understand the idea that labor is slavery, that working for the man or being stuck in the system is not living the true ideal, or whatever, but a)not everyone gives a shit, b)there are ways to live outside the standard version and make your own life a little different, and c)it isn't all about taxes.
posted by mdn at 9:09 AM on August 26, 2010


He threw his only defender under the bus in a public video. Why? Because the arguments he makes are fundamentally weak

That's one interpretation. Another is that he threw his only defender under the bus because his only defender was wrong.

If you said, "Hey everyone! Stop picking on grumblebee! He doesn't really have a problem with the state. He's just saying that stuff for the sake of interesting conversation," I would throw you under the bus. Not literally, of course. But whether you were defending me or not, you'd be wrong.

What would it had meant if he'd said, "Everyone is wrong except for grumblebee?" It would have meant that he was the kind of person who agreed with anyone who was standing up for him, even if that person was wrong. That's about as intellectually un-rigorous as you can get.

Finally, I imagine (though I haven't talked to him about this) that he "threw me under the bus" because he knew I could take it. Remember, he and I have been arguing about stuff for a month. He's been brutal with my arguments (in a way I like) and I've never once cried for mommy. He knows very well that I don't like it when people pull punches. I don't know whether if he thought I would be upset, if he'd have gone easier on me. But I do know he had no reason to go easy on me.
posted by grumblebee at 9:09 AM on August 26, 2010


So you think paying taxes is something other people need to be stopped from doing? Is paying rent evil?

I am not bothered by people contributing to a common cause. I am troubled by a gang of powerful people telling less powerful people to "contribute or else!"

Again I find myself wishing that a real anarchist would come in here, but I understand why they don't want to. I am creating this fictional version of myself who is against taxation. I am doing that because I think those ideas are important. But I am not the one who should be delivering them. Because I'm on the fence. "I am deeply disturbed by taxation" is the best I can say.
posted by grumblebee at 9:13 AM on August 26, 2010


Stef said I misrepresented his views (and he doesn't like it when I call them "views," either), and I take him at his word on that -- that I did misrepresent them.
You have given him more credit than he deserves, because you did offer a reasonably accurate summary of Stef's stated views. That's right. Views. The problem is that you did it in a straightforward, unambiguous fashion that made it easy to discuss without the decorative flourishes and podcast tangents that he relies on in literally every piece of work I have listened to or read so far.

As I mentioned earlier, his dedicated followers seem to have confused prolific output with profound insight. "I've recorded 1700 podcasts" doesn't mean squat - it just makes it easier for him to suggest that the Genius Answer To Any Question is hidden in the back archives. I respect the fact that you've learned from listening to and interacting with Stef, but I've learned from listening to and interacting with lots of fundamentally incorrect, arrogant people.
It's not fair for me to do otherwise unless I go through his video ABOUT POLITICS, see what his views are, and see whether or not my portrayal of them was accurate. I've never done that. I assumed all sorts of things about his arguments re Libertariasm/anarchism/etc., based on little scraps of them he dropped in videos on totally different subjects.
The funny thing is that you still did a good job of summarizing what he actually does say. You weren't discourteous at all: you were polite, respectful, and accurate. He presents himself as an intellectual Colossus, doing the hard work of thinking up systems from nothing -- the bits and scraps he drops about his political views should be consistent.
posted by verb at 9:24 AM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am not bothered by people contributing to a common cause. I am troubled by a gang of powerful people telling less powerful people to "contribute or else!"

It's "contribute if you want to use the common services". As I said above, if you really want to remove yourself from society, you can avoid paying taxes.
posted by mdn at 10:05 AM on August 26, 2010


It's "contribute if you want to use the common services". As I said above, if you really want to remove yourself from society, you can avoid paying taxes.

I am not confident enough in my views to call say you're wrong about that. But here are some of my issues:

Let's say I'm setting up an institution that I want people to join and leave AT WILL. I want them to always have the option of opting out if they don't like it. If that's my goal, AND IF I HAVE THOSE PEOPLE UNDER MY WING FROM THE TIME THEY ARE TINY INFANTS, I need to give them the skills to be ABLE to opt out.

Let's say some parents choose to home-school their kid. They then never teach him how to read; how to do basic math; how to speak clearly; etc. They don't teach him any skills. He grows up totally dependent on them for survival and for base levels of happiness. It's not fair if they then say to him, "Hey, we're not FORCING you to live with us."

Of course, my state eduction did give me literacy and speaking ability. But I have zero chance of surviving on my own, without the state. It's not a matter of needing state doctors. It's a matter of not knowing how to give myself even basic medical attention. I don't know how to farm, etc. In my view, state education brings people up TO depend on the state. (I am not claiming this is necessarily purposeful.)

Also, if you bring a child up in, say, North Korea and never tell him there are any other options, he's simply not going to choose to leave. He may be miserably unhappy there, but he's going to assume that North Korea is the universe -- or that it's just as bad everywhere else. You may disagree, but I think American education does exactly this. It's not so much that people don't know there are alternatives. It's that those alternatives are "unthinkable." We are brought up to be servants of the state. It's what we know. When it's "what we know," issues like whether it's healthy for us go unexamined.

We've been focusing on taxes, but they aren't the only issues. It's NOT true that I can opt out by earning under 17K. I may be able to opt out of paying taxes. But I can't opt out of the state interfering in my life. Where can I go (where I have any reasonable chance of surviving) where that's the case? Let's say I want to openly grow pot. Where can I do that without the government interfering? What if I want to say "No one is allowed on my land -- not even a CIA agent or a cop with a search warrant"?

It's disingenuous to say "We give you the option of opting out" unless you're REALLY giving someone the option of opting out.
posted by grumblebee at 10:25 AM on August 26, 2010


It's "contribute if you want to use the common services". As I said above, if you really want to remove yourself from society, you can avoid paying taxes.
Yeah, but that's where the "And there's nowhere to go that isn't society" comes in. There isn't a really good way -- other than not making any money at all -- for someone to opt out of the system. There isn't even really a way to "stop using services" in many cases, because the purpose of the services is to create positive externalities for all residents.
posted by verb at 10:28 AM on August 26, 2010


You have given him more credit than he deserves, because you did offer a reasonably accurate summary of Stef's stated views.

But, verb, do you see my position? Stef is saying I misrepresented him; you are saying I didn't. I have no way of knowing which of you is correct without actually watching Stef's videos. Maybe I'll do that this weekend (maybe I won't), but UNTIL I do, what is the honorable thing to do?

Fred says, "I'm like the color blue."
Mike says, "No you don't."

I really need to accept Fred's statement over Mike's until I have reason not to. I think it's crappy to assume something about SOMEONE ELSE'S claims without listening to what they actually say. That's basic Golden Rules stuff to me. I hate it when people do that to me.

In an argument between you and Stef about anything neutral, I will side with whoever I think is right. I an argument between you and Stef about what Stef has said in the past, I am going to side with Stef until I actually hear what he said.

This is not about fawning over Stef. It's core ethical stuff for me. You can read more about my conversational ethics (if you care about them) on my profile.
posted by grumblebee at 10:33 AM on August 26, 2010


You're not opting out if you earn under 17K. If you're using money at all, you're at least paying sales tax. I guess you could avoid this if you bought everything on black markets. It would be pretty hard to do this all the time, for everything you need in order to survive. I think opting out means doing no transactions with the state at all. You need to be able to grow your own food, etc.

By the way, you also need to be able to feed your children. I do think having kids is a choice (I've chosen not to), but, on the other hand, a state that says, "You can opt out if you want to, but there's no way you can do that and support a family" is pretty disingenuous.

To me, having kids is pretty basic to being human -- not for everyone but for many, many people.
posted by grumblebee at 10:37 AM on August 26, 2010


You have given him more credit than he deserves, because you did offer a reasonably accurate summary of Stef's stated views.

But, verb, do you see my position? Stef is saying I misrepresented him; you are saying I didn't. I have no way of knowing which of you is correct without actually watching Stef's videos. Maybe I'll do that this weekend (maybe I won't), but UNTIL I do, what is the honorable thing to do?
A fair point: when I saw that you had summarized his views, and read more of his work and discovered your summary was accurate, I assumed that you were more than just lucky. ;-)

Had I been in your position, I might have said, "That's interesting -- from [a] and [b] and [c] it certainly seems that your position is [x]. Can you explain where I was mistaken in my reading of A, B, and C?" but given the scope of this discussion I can understand that not everything gets turned into a philosophical arm-wrestling match. We pick our battles.
posted by verb at 10:40 AM on August 26, 2010


"I've recorded 1700 podcasts" doesn't mean squat

I agree, but it also means that you possibly missed some key videos. That's not your fault. And it's not your responsibility to watch all 1700. I certainly have no intention of doing that.

But I HAVE seen many videos in which Stef has rigorously argued from first principles -- I mean when he's literally started with "what is it possible to know?" Have you seen any of those?

Now, when I watch those videos, sometimes my reaction is "That makes sense" and other times it's "Wait, Stef. Your reasoning from point E to point F is wrong," but that doesn't mean I think he's just being bombastic. He's REALLY reasoning.

Are there other videos in which he's just spouting opinions? Maybe. Probably. I'm just telling you that my experience, having listened to maybe 40 of his podcasts, is of hearing a rigorous thinking much of the time.

Of course, I may think that because I'm not myself a rigorous thinker. I can't do anything about that. I can only think to the best of my ability.
posted by grumblebee at 10:42 AM on August 26, 2010


A fair point: when I saw that you had summarized his views, and read more of his work and discovered your summary was accurate, I assumed that you were more than just lucky. ;-)

But the thing is, I've never watched a SINGLE video in which Stef has explained his logic re the State. Not a single one. (I still haven't gotten around to watching the one this thread originally linked to.)

For all I know, he's spouting total bullshit in those videos. (That would be odd, because I don't think he does that in his other videos, but it's possible. There are things I can talk completely rationally about and other things I can't.)

I have heard him talk about free will, education, parenting, child abuse, romantic relationships, and so on. When he comes out with a bunch of podcasts, and the subjects are dating, school, parents, the state, my response is listen, listen, listen, skip.

Now, when he talks about dating (or whatever), he will drop little statements here and there about his political views, and it's from those that I built my entire "summary."
posted by grumblebee at 10:48 AM on August 26, 2010


grumblebee: “Stef is saying I misrepresented him; you are saying I didn't.”

Well, yes, but more to the point, he's ranting about how people like him don't have 'views' because he's apparently more intelligent, or more learned, or more educated, or more wise than some pleb like you, and therefore it's offensive to ascribe 'views' to him because how could you be so insulting?
posted by koeselitz at 10:51 AM on August 26, 2010


Now, when I watch those videos, sometimes my reaction is "That makes sense" and other times it's "Wait, Stef. Your reasoning from point E to point F is wrong," but that doesn't mean I think he's just being bombastic. He's REALLY reasoning.
Sure! But I might be spoiled: pretty much everyone that I hang around with on a regular basis does that recreationally. It doesn't mean that we're smarter or more humble or more insightful, it just means that we have fun asking certain kinds of questions.

An example of the kind of laziness I'm frustrated by came in one of his most recent podcasts, in which he was talking to a 25 year old member of his forum about the impossibility of heaven existing. He noted that, logically, heaven must be what someone loves and desires most. He also noted that, logically, not everyone goes to heaven. And based on those two statements he declared that Heaven is an internally inconsistent impossibility: if Mary loves her husband and her husband doesn't go to heaven, it wouldn't be Heaven when she got there.

Obviously, that exchange wasn't up to the rigor of a "Let's start from first principles" conversation. But with no qualifiers, no disclaimers, and no acknowledgement of alternatives, he offered a "rebuttal of Heaven" that the average evangelical youth group leader could sleepwalk their way through. Yet when he replies to Metafilter, he starts by lamenting the deep pain and suffering that he endures when forced to discuss ideas with people who don't share his intellectual rigor.

There is nothing particularly shocking about someone using different standards of rigor for different kinds of conversations, but that's the sort of bombast that I refer to when I say that I don't see a lot of value in his work beyond that of, say, Kant.
Are there other videos in which he's just spouting opinions? Maybe. Probably. I'm just telling you that my experience, having listened to maybe 40 of his podcasts, is of hearing a rigorous thinking much of the time.

Of course, I may think that because I'm not myself a rigorous thinker. I can't do anything about that. I can only think to the best of my ability.
No, I think you're a pretty rigorous thinker based on this thread. Rigor doesn't mean correctness, of course, just that the processes by which we try to arrive at correctness are more transparent.
posted by verb at 10:57 AM on August 26, 2010


He noted that, logically, heaven must be what someone loves and desires most. He also noted that, logically, not everyone goes to heaven. And based on those two statements he declared that Heaven is an internally inconsistent impossibility: if Mary loves her husband and her husband doesn't go to heaven, it wouldn't be Heaven when she got there.

I didn't hear that podcast, so I'll take it on faith (heh) that your description is accurate. (Wouldn't you know it, I also skip Stef's talks about religion. I am too rock-solid sure of my atheism to find them interesting.)

Can you explain Stef's error to me? That argument seems internally valid to me. I do have a gut reaction to his premises. Without having spent more than half a minute thinking about the heaven thing, I don't get why heaven MUST be what someone loves or desires most. And I don't get why it MUST be true that not everyone goes to heaven (though that is the dogma of the religions I know). But IF those premises are true, isn't Stef's conclusion valid?

The husband can't both be and not be in heaven.
posted by grumblebee at 11:10 AM on August 26, 2010


Yes, if those premises are true, Stef's conclusion is valid. The problem is that he's taken areas of philosophical and theological debate (the nature of heaven and question of a just deity) and pretended that his quick-and-dirty straw man is a legitimate premise. For someone so concerned with first principles, this is shocking.
The husband can't both be and not be in heaven.
If we first accept the premise that Anarchists believe guns are evil, anarchy can easily be proven silly. The gun is an inanimate object with no inherent moral nature, just as the husband cannot be both in heaven and not in heaven at the same time: that doesn't mean that I'm valid in concluding that anarchism is absurd.
posted by verb at 11:26 AM on August 26, 2010


Yeah. I think we're in agreement that those premises are dodgy. If I was even remotely interested in the subject, I would call into Stef's show and ask him to explain his reasoning re "Heaven must be what you most desire."

Let's say I agree with you that Stef is a terrible philosopher. (I don't, unless I'm going to agree that all philosophers are terrible, because I've never read one who I thought reasoned well all the time.) You have claimed something along the lines of the Stef's of the web being dime-a-dozen, right?

Okay. Where are the other communities like FDR? (That's not a rhetorical question. If you know, tell me.) By which I mean where are the other communities that are (a) run by someone making bold (true or false, valid or invalid) arguments about all sorts of subjects and (b) opening them all up for discussion? The site also must have an anti-snark policy and a large number of members.
posted by grumblebee at 11:32 AM on August 26, 2010


Let's say I agree with you that Stef is a terrible philosopher. (I don't, unless I'm going to agree that all philosophers are terrible, because I've never read one who I thought reasoned well all the time.)
To clarify: I'm not saying that he's a terrible philosopher, just that he's a philosopher who thinks far too highly of himself, dismisses easy opportunities to learn from others, and makes really elementary errors in the areas he claims that he is strongest. Being good enough to reason your way through complex questions is great, but assuming that makes your Grand Theory Of Everything valid is dangerous. A philosopher who confined his or her work to some specific focused questions could be excused for applying less rigor to topics that they Simply Find Interesting. But Stefen Molyneux has definitely not restricted his claims: his book Universally Preferable Behaviour for example is about as sweeping as it gets.
You have claimed something along the lines of the Stef's of the web being dime-a-dozen, right? Okay. Where are the other communities like FDR?
My comments about Stef were related specifically to his work as a philosopher and his behavior towards those who disagree with them, not to the successful donation-supported web board and podcast that he runs. People who write philosophical treatises and release them as free downloads on the Internet, who form all-encompassing Theories Of Everything and insist that those who disagree are sheeple, philosophers on the fringes of academia who brush aside the past few hundred years of thinking as pointless before expounding on their own theories, tech workers who discover objectivism and Dive Into The Deep End, and Thinkers who dodge tough questions by circling around definitional arguments... these people are a dime a dozen on the Internet. Stefen Molyneux is a much better speaker than most of them -- I like his video and podcast production, for example -- and he's clearly made a splash in some circles.

But, again, the level of work he's showing in everything that I've read of his -- including his Magnum Opus -- is very "meh." The bold nature of his claims is impressive, but the content he delivers makes it impossible for me to consider him anything but a failure.
(That's not a rhetorical question. If you know, tell me.) By which I mean where are the other communities that are (a) run by someone making bold (true or false, valid or invalid) arguments about all sorts of subjects and (b) opening them all up for discussion? The site also must have an anti-snark policy and a large number of members.
I want to make clear, again, that my comments about him were regarding his philosophy work and not the community site that he's built. He has, by most measures, managed to built a successful and sustainable donation-supported web site. It has an entire section dedicated to playlists people have made of their favorite Stef Podcasts. Judging from the number of Philosopher King level accounts on the message boards, he's made at least $50,000 from that membership tier alone. But that isn't necessarily a reflection on Molyneux's philosophical rigor or correctness.

Regarding the site itself and its unique qualities, I popped open Google and searched for 'Objectivism Message board.' First hit? The Objectivism Online forum, with 7400 current members to FDR's 8300. Surely it won't satisfy your other criteria as well -- Ayn Rand is dead after all, and can't make any claims, valid or invalid -- but it's an indication that FDR's size is not unique, even among sites dedicated to political and ethical philosophy. It's also a little odd to say that 'Anything is up for discussion' considering the number of people I bumped into on the 'net, frustrated that they'd been banned from FDR for being insufficiently deferential to Molyneux when they dissected his work.

At the end of the day, if FDR is a forum that you like to hang out on, there's nothing wrong with that. I hang out on a 100-member Christian message board for the pure scab-pulling fascination of talking philosophy with a Neoconservative Punk Rocker, for example. I just think that you're taking Molyneux's claims about his own work, and the uniqueness of the community site he's built, less critically than you might.
posted by verb at 12:47 PM on August 26, 2010


I just think that you're taking Molyneux's claims about his own work, and the uniqueness of the community site he's built, less critically than you might.

I don't take his word on the uniqueness of his site. I'm not even sure it's unique. I just haven't found many other sites like it. Which is why I said (and meant) that my question wasn't rhetorical. Seriously, if you know of an open-minded, philosophy site that is well moderated and non-snarky, PLEASE tell me. I will probably stay on FDR, but I'll visit that site, too. The more the merrier!

If I've made ANY claims about Stef's own work as a philosopher, other than that I've learned things from many of his podcasts, then I must have been high when I made those comments. I have not sampled enough of his podcasts (and I haven't read his books) to know anything much about his grand, unifying theories -- if they exist. Of his 1700 podcasts, I've maybe listened to 40. And I've disagreed with things he's said in some of them.

It's also a little odd to say that 'Anything is up for discussion' considering the number of people I bumped into on the 'net, frustrated that they'd been banned from FDR for being insufficiently deferential to Molyneux when they dissected his work.

IF I ever found that to be the case, I would immediately leave FDR. Right now, it's hearsay. I would have to talk to those people and see their posts. Were they POLITELY disagreeing with Stef? Because if they were snarky, I totally agree they should have been banned. If they weren't snarky or rude and Stef silenced them, that is terrible. But ... innocent until proven guilty.

(A couple of times, I'm come close to leaving Metafilter because I couldn't take the way we treated a member. This is a very serious issue for me.)
posted by grumblebee at 1:00 PM on August 26, 2010


I popped open Google and searched for 'Objectivism Message board.' First hit? The Objectivism Online forum, with 7400 current members

Would they make me read Ayn Rand? Because I'd rather eat glass. (Sorry Rand fans. I don't know what I'm talking about, because I've never even read a paragraph of her writing. But I know she wrote didactic novels. And I HATE that form of literature.)
posted by grumblebee at 1:02 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Would they make me read Ayn Rand? Because I'd rather eat glass.
See, that I considered snark. But, I like snark. ;-)
posted by verb at 1:24 PM on August 26, 2010


It's really, really not snark. It's ALMOST true. I guess I would choose reading Rand over eating glass. But, honestly, reading her stuff would be like torture to me.

I work in the theatre, and people are always trying to make me direct Shaw plays. But his didacticism makes me sick to my stomach (not a metaphor.)
posted by grumblebee at 1:33 PM on August 26, 2010


I hear you.

While the topics might not be what you're as interested in, and the philosophical bent of the regular writers might not be your cup of tea, Obsidian Wings might be an interesting place for you to check out. (Its slogan: "This is the Voice of Moderation. I wouldn't go so far as to say we've actually SEIZED the radio station...")

Among other things, its Rules of Conduct for commenters makes my heart happy:

Be reasonably civil.

No profanity. For the record, 'hell', 'damn' and 'pissed' are not considered 'profanity' for the purposes of this rule; also for the record, the more offensive racial slurs and epithets will be deemed to 'profanity' for the purposes of this rule

Don't disrupt or destroy meaningful conversation for its own sake.

Do not consistently abuse or vilify other posters for its own sake.

We don't ban for ideological reasons (unless you're a Nazi or something equally vile) and/or simple disagreements (never mind that it's not the easiest thing in the world to find someone who can manage to disagree with all of us on the same topic). We're all adults here, so I'm sure that this should be sufficient.

Lastly, just a reminder that Left and Right have very broad definitions and that people are going to take it personally if you inform them that of course all Xs eat babies, should they themselves be Xs (or Ys trying to keep things cool).

As you may have noticed, we delete and ban spambots on sight. This is because comments sections are for original and/or interesting thoughts, not mass postings. Therefore, please note that if I come across a overly-long comment that is obviously a cut n'paste job, out it goes, no apologies, no regrets. Small cut n'pastes are fine; entire articles are not: when in doubt, it's too long. Mind, if you have seen or made a comment elsewhere that would be perfect for a particular thread, you are more than welcome to link to it; just don't give us the entire thing. We don't have unlimited storage space.

Calls for the assassination of any politician will be subject to immediate banning. An exception is made for legitimate military targets in time of war; due to the unique nature of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, members of the Palestinian Authority are to be considered 'politicians' for the purpose of this rule.

The above should be explicitly not read as being a prohibition on (but is not limited to) criticism, vituperation, espousal of conspiracy theories, disagreement, speculation on personal habits and/or motivations, expressions of contempt, unfavorable extrapolations of past behavior in order to guess future behavior, mild cursing or any other traditional method of expressing disapproval with a politician's policy positions or personality, provided of course that such behavior does not violate another of the Posting Rules.

Calls for the assassination of any person will be subject to immediate banning. Exceptions are made for legitimate military targets in time of war, being put to death after being convicted of a capital crime, etc. -- basically, the things that make a killing not 'assassination' to begin with. As before, this is not a prohibition on criticism, vituperation, and all those other good things; just a recognition that there's all the difference in the world between passionately disagreeing with someone and calling for that person's death.

If a commenter feels that another commenter has violated the posting rules and would like to request a temporary or permanent ban of that person, please send a request via email.

We have no desire to censor people whose views we disagree with. However, there is a difference between stating and defending an unpopular position on the one hand, and repeated drive-by insults on the other, and the fact that we welcome the first does not mean that we must accept the second. We therefore reserve the right to warn and, if necessary, ban commenters who show a consistent pattern of blatant disrespect toward groups of people (e.g., people of a given race, military status, sexual orientation, or religion), when that disrespect is coupled with an apparent lack of interest in providing evidence for one's views or engaging in reasoned argument about them.
Communities like ObWi are where I'm most used to talking about complex ideas and issues on the Internet -- it's one of the reasons why the idea of celebrating open discussion or encouraging civil discourse doesn't feel exceptionally novel.
posted by verb at 1:57 PM on August 26, 2010


I will check it out for sure. Thanks.

I will say that though I champion their commitment to civility, I am surprised and saddened by their intolerance for swearing. But you can't have fucking everything in this goddamn life, goddammit.
posted by grumblebee at 2:04 PM on August 26, 2010


Does ObWi have a message board or is it just a blog? Also, it looks like mostly political discussions. You'd never guess it from this thread (where I've discussed politics WAY more than I ever have on FDR or anywhere else), but I HATE talking about politics.
posted by grumblebee at 2:08 PM on August 26, 2010


Also, fair warning: ObWi touches on philosophy and ethics occasionally but it is primarily concerned with political and social issue, with a focus on news. By the standards of FDR, it's less "real", but I find the conversations there to be a lot more anchored than many of the ones I read on FDR. It's a matter of taste in some ways, I think. The League of Ordinary Gentlemen is similar.
posted by verb at 2:12 PM on August 26, 2010


I am surprised and saddened by their intolerance for swearing.

Yeah, what a can't-ish rule.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:13 PM on August 26, 2010


Heh, should have previewed. You're correct in that ObWi is primarily about politics, and it probably won't be your cup of tea if you don't roll with that kind of thing. I mostly linked to it as an example of the fact that communities placing a strong value on civil discourse are not as rare on the internet as one might think.

Also, regarding your earlier comments about who has or hasn't been banned from FDR, it's impossible for me to say what the exact circumstances were, and I don't want to imply that there is some sort of Idea Police wandering the FDR forums. Rather, I wanted to point out that I saw plenty of othering of outsider views there, and dismissive treatment of people who didn't engage in ways that the forum members considered "legitimate." At least to my mind, that's as problematic for philosophical discussion as someone calling someone else names.

I think we may have slowly frittered the discussion here to an end, but I've definitely enjoyed it. I hop up to Brooklyn semi-regularly for business, perhaps a mini mefi meetup would be fun sometime!
posted by verb at 2:16 PM on August 26, 2010


I'm totally up for a meetup. Let me know when you're in town.
posted by grumblebee at 2:20 PM on August 26, 2010


It's disingenuous to say "We give you the option of opting out" unless you're REALLY giving someone the option of opting out.

Yeah, but that's where the "And there's nowhere to go that isn't society" comes in. There isn't a really good way -- other than not making any money at all -- for someone to opt out of the system. There isn't even really a way to "stop using services" in many cases, because the purpose of the services is to create positive externalities for all residents.


I completely agree - that was what I was trying to get at. The only way to opt out of taxes is to opt out of society. That isn't easy, because society is everywhere. It's sort of possible if you're really committed to doing it. You definitely can't keep using highways and flush toilets and so on, and really opt out at the same time. This isn't enslavement. It's belonging to the world. You're a member of a species. You came from a family. You're part of it.

you can isolate yourself to the best of your ability if that's really important to you, but not paying taxes while still taking advantage of other components of being part of society is misunderstanding what that money is. It isn't yours first. Money only has worth because of the social contract. The infrastructure to have a job only exists because of civilization.

Stuff like drug laws, or say, noise prohibitions, or licenses to run a business - look, things get complicated, and I'm by no means suggesting we have the best answers currently. THere is a lot of room for improvement, and maybe in some cases, the answer will be to stop regulating certain things altogether. But that doesn't entail that nothing should be regulated.
posted by mdn at 3:22 PM on August 26, 2010


You definitely can't keep using highways and flush toilets and so on, and really opt out at the same time.

What about the internet & radio? Can you still use those?
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:09 PM on August 26, 2010


The point is, no man is an island. People are more reliant on others than they tend to assume. Wishing, twenty-odd years into it, to not have been affected by society, is just imagining yourself to be more independent than you are. You're a member of a species, made, nurtured, taught and enabled by others. It's a strange kind of egotism to think "not belonging" would be straightforward. It is only something that can be approximated by living in isolation.
posted by mdn at 7:39 PM on August 26, 2010


You can not belong, while still being within a system. Consider a pest, which is part of a house, although the homeowner will purchase some pesticide to solve the problem. Or a tumor, which is a part of its host, which it slowly kills. Optimally we'd be rid of those things that don't belong, and, suffering without the resources provided by their habitat, the parasites would die.
posted by nervousfritz at 7:47 PM on August 26, 2010


When I used the term rights I was referring to both the abstract notion of a moral and ethical decision and a concrete notion of the application of power and authority. Both are interconnected in the social contract and where concrete rights are restricted or granted in a means inconsistent with abstract rights such as liberty, equally, justice then there will be problems in the social contract which may lead t revolution. Revolution is a process of disbanding the existing social contract and creating a new one to take its place. Thus we see that collectively we have the power to disband the social contract and this may be the moral or ethically right thing to do. However no individual has this right unto themselves. They must take actions to build the consensus for revolution. During that time they will be subject to the laws of the state. It may be through their persecution under the law that the discrepancy is established between the asbstract and the concrete thus establishing the importance of civil disobedience as a tool. One cannot opt out of the state though without emigrating beyond its boundaries, and even then you may remain subject to it.

The social contract was agreed to by your ancestors when they came to this country and swore the oath. This contract is both a legacy and a burden.
posted by humanfont at 7:57 PM on August 26, 2010


It's been half a day since grumblebee brought it up, but now that the conversation on this thread has picked back up I thought it would be OK to answer.

Posted by VERB at 12:47PM on August 26:
"It's also a little odd to say that 'Anything is up for discussion' considering the number of people I bumped into on the 'net, frustrated that they'd been banned from FDR for being insufficiently deferential to Molyneux when they dissected his work."

Posted in Response by GRUMBLEBEE at 1:02PM on August 26:
"IF I ever found that to be the case, I would immediately leave FDR. Right now, it's hearsay. I would have to talk to those people and see their posts. Were they POLITELY disagreeing with Stef? Because if they were snarky, I totally agree they should have been banned. If they weren't snarky or rude and Stef silenced them, that is terrible. But ... innocent until proven guilty."

"Bake" was a polite disagreer at Freedomain Radio (FDR) who was banned earlier this year. Her first post was regarding one of the core texts at FDR, Real-Time Relationships: The Logic of Love, in a thread called Logical Flaws in RTR. On the 9th page of that 11-page thread, she made the following post, That is empirically false, and included a link to a web page to support her statement.

On another website, she later stated that she received an email from Stefan Molyneux telling her that remarks like that were unacceptable and copied the text of that email into her post. Her account at FDR was deleted.

She also posted in the threads I'm Puzzled; Please Explain and Importance of Solid Arguments; Reasons. You can go through those threads and determine if she was polite and free from snark, or if she was "uninviting," "not helpful," and "not advancing the kind of debates that move people forward," as she was described by Molyneux in the email she copied, to explain why he banned her.

A few years ago, "DonnywithanA" was a poster who engaged in many extensive discussions about flaws he spotted in Molyneux's Universally Preferable Behavior. This post of his addresses Molyneux directly and asks for answers to questions and in the following post, Molyneux asks him to stop posting at the site. You can get a list of all of DonnywithanA's posts here. His account has not been deleted. Around the same time, "Tyler" was a poster who was banned after strongly arguing that it was unfair for Molyneux to call his (Tyler's) parents monsters without ever having met them or having heard anything about them besides that they were Christian. Molyneux immediately responded by asking him not to post anymore.

Some people have been banned from FDR for being impolite and snarky, true, but I don't these three people were. I think Molyneux banned them for disagreeing with him, or being insufficiently deferential. I'm sure there are others.

I am sorry this post went so long. I hope it doesn't gloss over the eyes!
posted by KarenX at 10:28 PM on August 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I'm done. This guy's a jerk, he's disrespected people I respect, and it seems like he's disrespected others, as well. I'm not going to waste any more time on him.
posted by koeselitz at 10:52 PM on August 26, 2010


Not even to poke fun at how he apparently signs his emails "Stefan Molyneux M.A."? That's just inherently funny for so many different reasons.

~Ubu K.M.R.I.A
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:33 PM on August 26, 2010


Is it lame to go back and fix a mistake? Because I accidentally linked to this page instead of one of the ones Bake posted to at FDR:

I'm Puzzled; Please Explain

I balanced the shame of being the person who has to retroactively correct something against the shame of being the person who links to nowhere. Voila.
posted by KarenX at 12:03 AM on August 27, 2010


KarenX: if you make a linking mistake, just flag (click the [!]) your comment as "HTML/Input error," and the moderators will usually fix it - they're really great here about that.
posted by koeselitz at 12:09 AM on August 27, 2010


KarenX, thanks for posting. I will definitely check out all those links.
posted by grumblebee at 5:08 AM on August 27, 2010


I just posted on the FDR message board. I can't figure out a way to link to a specific thread or post there, so I'll paste the text of what I wrote here (or you can go to freedomainradio.com, click on the forums link, go to the promote FDR board and click on the thread about Metafilter. My new post on the fourth page):

Hi. I am troubled this morning. I have been trying hard to explain and defend a community I'm new to (FDR) to one I've been a member of for a long time (Metafilter). I stand by everything I've said.

In my short time here, I have learned so much from so many of you. I have had the one lengthy free-will/determinism conversation on my life that went well (both in terms of debate and in terms of politeness), and my interactions with Stef have been great. Though he and I have disagreed (and still do) about some things, he has treated me with respect (which I hope I have returned), taken time to answer my questions, and has been friendly to me online, over the phone and in private emails.

Nothing has changed on any of those fronts. But I was contacted, yesterday, by a (former?) FDR member who said some disturbing things. She told me that Stef has kicked people off the forum (sometimes just asking them to leave, other times revoking their accounts) for disagreeing with him.

I responded, saying that maybe they disagreed in an impolite way. If I ran a forum, I would have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to insults and snark. So if Stef banned someone who, say, called him (or someone else here) an asshole, I would 100% agree with his decision to ban that person.

The member who contacted me has since posted her grievances on Metafilter, linking to various posts on this forum and to some responses by Stef. One thing she linked to was an email Stef allegedly wrote to a former member, saying he was banning him. From what I can see via the links, these really were polite (but passionate) people. They didn't insult Stef or anyone here. They presented arguments and sometimes just opinions. And -- seemingly -- because these opinions didn't agree with Stef's, he asked these people to leave.

(Here's the Metafilter post: http://www.metafilter.com/95084/Choose-Your-Own-Occupation#3256828 -- note that the poster screwed up the "I'm Puzzled; Please Explain" link. She corrected it in a followup post.)

I don't really know what to do with that information right now -- other than to say it troubles me. This is, of course, Stef's site, and he's perfectly within his rights to ban someone because that person doesn't like the color blue. But I wouldn't want to be part of a community where bans like that happen. I have a general principle against being part of any community that's not open to polite dissent, and, on a personal level, I would always be scared I'd be banned if I disagreed with the leader. (I HAVE disagreed with Stef and he always seemed okay with it. I don't understand the difference between my dissent and that of the banned folks.)

We talk about childhood a lot here. That feeling -- I'd better not disagree -- is all too familiar from home and school. I don't ever want to feel it again. Though, of course, it's my responsibility to disagree with respect and politeness.

I am not just blindly giving credence to these accusations. I know I may be seeing the tip of an iceberg. Maybe there was other stuff going on behind the scenes. I'm just ... troubled.
posted by grumblebee at 6:57 AM on August 27, 2010


Both are interconnected in the social contract

I've never understood the term "social contract." I thought contracts were agreements freely entered into by all parties. If you tell someone he's born bound to a contract, that's not really fair, is it? Is this why I'm bound to the contract?

The social contract was agreed to by your ancestors when they came to this country and swore the oath.

What is the link between my ancestors and me? They and I were never in any sort of freely entered partnership. How am I connected to my ancestors (in any legal or moral sense) any more than I'm connected to Benny Hill, F. Scott Fitzgerald or King Henry VIII?

Is it just required that I believe in mystical blood ties?

where concrete rights are restricted or granted in a means inconsistent with abstract rights such as liberty, equally, justice then there will be problems in the social contract which may lead to revolution.

There are (in my view) CONSTANT problems between the law of the land and abstract rights. And yet revolution almost never happens. It is, perhaps, more likely to happen if two groups of POWERFUL people clash. But as long as the majority are comfortable, the minority generally doesn't stand a chance.
posted by grumblebee at 7:30 AM on August 27, 2010


grumblebee, I just wanted to poke my head in again and note that, although I've been pretty hard on Stefan's philosophical work, I'm a pretty fast-and-loose kind of guy when it comes to online communities. I don't have any problem hanging around places where people get banned or ejected for a variety of reasons, as long as it's not simple capriciousness. In a lot of ways, the libertarian/anarchist ideal of "I do not like this place, I will go and create another place" is best seen in online communities, where the scarce-land-resources issue that we discussed earlier is a nonissue. There is always more room for another web site. Cool domain names are another problem, but that's a bit tangential. ;-)

I don't want anyone to get the idea that I'm trying to take him down or convince you he's a bad person or that FDR is a bad site; if anything the problem I see is that they aspire to something incredibly profound (changing the world through reason, and creating a community of people who do the same) when the reality is closer to the normal drama and idiosyncrasies of any web community. It doesn't make it 'bad' as much as it makes it 'like other things.'

Also, if I ever ran my own web community there would be a Wheel Of Doom. Every week it would spin and land on the name of a random member, and they would be perma-banned. It would be a commentary on mortality.
posted by verb at 7:56 AM on August 27, 2010


Is it just required that I believe in mystical blood ties?

it's not just "blood ties" - it's being born somewhere. So what you have to believe in is that you were born somewhere, and when you were born you were incompetent to make rational choices for yourself. Someone else made those choices for you.

These are the kind of completely obvious and yet completely denied issues libertarians tend to get stuck on. We are not pure rational beings. We're animals with ties to one another who have developed the ability to reflect on our desires and interests.
posted by mdn at 8:13 AM on August 27, 2010


it's not just "blood ties" - it's being born somewhere. So what you have to believe in is that you were born somewhere, and when you were born you were incompetent to make rational choices for yourself. Someone else made those choices for you.

These are the kind of completely obvious and yet completely denied issues libertarians tend to get stuck on.


Since I'm not a Libertarian, I am not going to respond to your second paragraph. Your first one confuses me a little, because -- it seems to me -- that it leads to all sorts of scary conclusions. Example: I'm too little to decided for myself, so my parents sell me into slavery. Am I in any way bound by their choice?
posted by grumblebee at 8:33 AM on August 27, 2010


it's not just "blood ties" - it's being born somewhere.

Further thoughts: what if you're born in North Korea, China, Germany in the 1930s, Soviet Russia, etc.? What are your responsibilities to the state contract you're born into?
posted by grumblebee at 8:40 AM on August 27, 2010


In those cases no one made the rational choices to be part of those nations. They were forced into bondage.

The best case scenario we can come up with is an intentional entry into a country, but the problem is that we are not rational beings until a certain age, so we are necessarily members of a society long before we can rationally choose to be so. This leaves us dependent on our ancestors.

I would say the rule would have to be something like, the ancestor makes a rational choice for themselves, which extends to their children, thus making any case where the ancestor sells the children, or any case where the ancestor is forced into a situation, void.
posted by mdn at 9:21 AM on August 27, 2010


Earlier grumblebee asked why it was right for a majority of the people to force the minority to do something in regards to 10 people washing up on an island.

Well lets say that it was never ethical to force someone to do something against their will. Instead, the only ethical action was to never force someone to do anything they don't want. How can this group of people truly follow that guideline given the myriad ways they will affect each other merely by existing? I propose that they can't. There is no way to follow this principle unless everyone agrees on everything. If people can't agree on everything at all times then the only other option is for the people who believe they shouldn't affect others without their consent to kill themselves. That's usually unpalatable to most people so they just get on with their lives and affect other people to a degree they feel comfortable. There goes that ethical system in at least a practical sense.

I believe at this point the libertarian would talk about 'externalities' and how those are the one exception to the proposed One True Ethical system. But now you have the problem of who gets to decide what constitutes externalities so you still don't escape the fundamental problem of being unable to get away from one group of people either intentionally or unintentionally deciding how other people will live their life.
posted by Green With You at 9:46 AM on August 27, 2010


The problem I see, mdm, is that if you feel that states are evil, then you can't say "my ancestors made a rational choice" when they joined it. Either they were evil people or they were, more likely, in denial or thinking within the box of their upbringing.

Since you believe being forced into bondage nulls the contract (is that what you believe?), what about African Americans? Most of them can trace their ancestry back to people who were forcibly brought to my country. Are they, the descendants of those people, bound by a contract with it?

What about descendants of people with whom America broke its end of the contract. Many Japanese Americans are children of people who were interred during World War II. Are they still bound by the contract, even though their country violated it?

I am the direct descendant of people who were, for years, persecuted in this country. I am also the direct descendant of people (women in this case) who were, until recently, denied the vote.

It sounds like -- tell me if I'm wrong -- you're saying that you're bound by your contract your ancestors made with the state, as long as that stare isn't evil. But that last phrase is so problematic, I don't know where to start with it.

But I have an immense problem, in general, with the idea that I'm contractually bound by ANY choice others made for me, even if they're my parents.
posted by grumblebee at 9:48 AM on August 27, 2010


I've never understood the term "social contract." I thought contracts were agreements freely entered into by all parties. If you tell someone he's born bound to a contract, that's not really fair, is it? Is this why I'm bound to the contract?

You have cited perhaps the best known criticism of social contract theory, that is under typical jurisprudence a valid contract must have informed consent, mutual consideration and negotation. The question of consent is used as a means to question if the "social contract" can be valid. However as a minor child (which you were at some point) your parents could enter into a legally binding agreement on your behalf. Their parents could have done the same, and if we trace this back far enough we will find that one of your ancestors must have legally consented to the social contract at the time the contract was enforced; or they must have delegated to the collective will the enforcement of the contract. Futhermore since during your youth you received the benefits of the contact and there is no mechanism under the current social contract to abrograte it (short of a collective revolution); you are bound by it.

What is the link between my ancestors and me? They and I were never in any sort of freely entered partnership. How am I connected to my ancestors (in any legal or moral sense) any more than I'm connected to Benny Hill, F. Scott Fitzgerald or King Henry VIII?

Your parents had you. You wern't a free person until you reach the age of majority. Under the prevailing view of ethics parents have responsibility for and authority over their children. Under the current system in the US your rights are significantly restricted until you reach the age of majority. Your parents have broad authority over you, unless you are an emancipated minor, can prove abandonment, abuse or neglect. in that case the state may take over certain parental functions and even appoint a guardian. As I mentioned above your parents can enter into contracts on your behalf and you can be held accountable for them (e.g. your student loan documents).

Is it just required that I believe in mystical blood ties?

No you had a legal gaurdian until you reached the age of majority, and they had a guardian, etc going back to the general consent to the existing social contract. Furthermore the fact that each successive generation assented to the contact strengthens the case that this is binding upon you.

There are (in my view) CONSTANT problems between the law of the land and abstract rights. And yet revolution almost never happens. It is, perhaps, more likely to happen if two groups of POWERFUL people clash. But as long as the majority are comfortable, the minority generally doesn't stand a chance.

There will always be problems between the abstract and the concrete. You may want to read some Hegel for information on the concept of the progress of Objective reality to a subjective worldview.

Another book to read on this subject is The Social Construction of Reality. It shows how realities (like states and organizations) are ultimately social constructs. Without the society and its rules to filter and define the world you simply have nothing left. Thus the only way you could really individually opt out of the social contract would be to eschew language, art, literature, and knowledge (essentially the products of culture and society). All of these things were passed to you through society, they are items you accepted and they came wrapped in a shrink wrap license like software. Your only recourse to revoke the agreement would thus be to reject all of it. However this is impossible short of killing yourself. How would you reject the food provided to you from your mothers breast or infant formula certified by a government agent? How would you return it? You can't QED you can only seek a renegotiation of the social contract through revolution or reform within existing legal channels.

And with that FDR disappears in a puff of logic.
posted by humanfont at 10:04 AM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Earlier grumblebee asked why it was right for a majority of the people to force the minority to do something in regards to 10 people washing up on an island.

Well lets say that it was never ethical to force someone to do something against their will. Instead, the only ethical action was to never force someone to do anything they don't want. How can this group of people truly follow that guideline given the myriad ways they will affect each other merely by existing? I propose that they can't. There is no way to follow this principle unless everyone agrees on everything. If people can't agree on everything at all times then the only other option is for the people who believe they shouldn't affect others without their consent to kill themselves.


Okay, let's say ten people are in a lifeboat (yes, one of those fun-for-the-whole-family lifeboat questions!!!) with no food. They realize that the only way they can survive is for nine of them to eat the tenth. Nine of them decide to eat Charlie, the tenth. (Because, when he was a baby, Charlie bit their fingers.)

Is this okay?
posted by grumblebee at 10:20 AM on August 27, 2010


humanfont, I feel we talk past each other, sometimes, because I bring up what I think is a problem with the way we live and you respond, as far as I can tell, by DESCRIBING the way we live. Example:

However as a minor child (which you were at some point) your parents could enter into a legally binding agreement on your behalf. Their parents could have done the same, and if we trace this back far enough we will find that one of your ancestors must have legally consented to the social contract at the time the contract was enforced; or they must have delegated to the collective will the enforcement of the contract. Futhermore since during your youth you received the benefits of the contact and there is no mechanism under the current social contract to abrograte it (short of a collective revolution); you are bound by it.


That is a description of the law and, partly, a description of tradition. But why, ETHICALLY, should I be bound by those laws and traditions?
posted by grumblebee at 10:25 AM on August 27, 2010


humanfont, I feel we talk past each other, sometimes, because I bring up what I think is a problem with the way we live and you respond, as far as I can tell, by DESCRIBING the way we live. Example:
grumblebee, I don't think this is necessarily talking past each other. As you express concerns about the way we live, there's an implicit description of what that "way we live" actually is. I think humanfont is attempting to focus the discussion on that a bit more, perhaps because he thinks there are some missing pieces to the descriptions you're positing.

The danger in analogies and thought exercises is that the conclusions we come to are not always applicable to the complexities of the world we live in. This isn't an attempt to dismiss them, just a reflection on the limitations of "clean room" philosophy.
posted by verb at 10:31 AM on August 27, 2010


you just seem to be in denial about a basic reality of your existence. You were a helpless, irrational creature for a long time, that other people cared for. You are still helpless and irrational in a lot of ways. Sure, it's just "tradition" or "law" or whatever, but now you are bound to that community which nurtured you. It's part of being a living thing. Not everything makes perfect sense. A lot of it is just "tradition" because there is no way to make it perfectly rational, because the world simply is not made out of logic.

It sounds like -- tell me if I'm wrong -- you're saying that you're bound by your contract your ancestors made with the state, as long as that stare isn't evil. But that last phrase is so problematic, I don't know where to start with it.

You were looking for an opt-in or opt-out system. I'm just extending that to your historical lineage. If your parents or grandparents opted in, then that extends to you. Again, I do not see this as some sort of perfectly rationally ideal situation. That's not a possibility. But to claim that you should just be able to opt out at 25, or 45, after having taken advantage of society all that time, and even, that you should still be able to use lots of socially based things - like money for instance - doesn't make sense. So I'm just trying to remind you of the reality of social existence. You are part of something bigger than yourself - that's what it comes down to.

But I have an immense problem, in general, with the idea that I'm contractually bound by ANY choice others made for me, even if they're my parents.

Aren't you a determinist??!

Eh, look, ideally I like the idea that we would all sign on to our chosen state at the age of 18 or something. But it is not workable, for a zillion reasons - natural resources, emotional connections to land areas, changing politics over years, changing politics just when it happens to be to your benefit (eg, suddenly socialistic when you need medicare, etc). We have to live in a practical world.
posted by mdn at 10:53 AM on August 27, 2010


But it is not workable, for a zillion reasons

I should clarify something about my position, which I think is fairly unique. I thought I HAD made it clear, but I probably didn't.

I am absolutely not, in ANY way saying, "Here's my proposal for what we should replace the state with." I am ABSOLUTELY pointing out (what I consider) problems without proposing any solutions. I have no solutions, and, though I don't know this for sure, I wouldn't find it odd if there were no solutions. If you find talking to someone like that pointless, I understand. But I have no answer to any form of "Okay, so what's your idea?"

This is what makes me a pessimist. I am fundamentally different from most of the anti-anarchists (or whatever you want to call them here) and the anti-statist folks on FDR. Here's my caricature of our views (please note that I am not claiming everyone feels these ways).

anti-anarchist: "What we have is okay. It may not be perfect, but nothing is. In general, it's pretty good, workable, and it contains possibilities for improving it. Because that's what I believe, I'm an optimist."

anti-statist: "The state is evil, but I have an alternative. Not only that, but I believe the state will crumble. Which is awesome, because then we can replace it with my alternative! Because I believe that, I'm an optimist."

me: "The state is evil, but I don't even bother thinking about alternatives? Why not, because we're stuck with this evil thing. Because I believe that, I'm a pessimist."
posted by grumblebee at 11:18 AM on August 27, 2010


you just seem to be in denial about a basic reality of your existence. You were a helpless, irrational creature for a long time, that other people cared for. You are still helpless and irrational in a lot of ways. Sure, it's just "tradition" or "law" or whatever, but now you are bound to that community which nurtured you.

What am I in denial about? That I was helpless? No, I know that. That I was (and continue to be) irrational? No, I know that, too.

To me, there seems to be a missing bit in your logic, which (I think) goes something like this:

1. You were born helpless and incapable of rational choice.
2. Members of the state make choices for you.
3. If they hadn't, you wouldn't have survived.
4. ????
---------------------
5. Therefor, you are bound to the state.

How do you get to that conclusion from those premises?

Aren't you a determinist??!

You are quite right that much of what I've said, in this thread and elsewhere, is at odds with a believe in determinism.

This was the core of Stef's argument with me, when he explained to me why determinism doesn't make sense. (Yow! I'm claiming to speak for Stef again: I hope I get this right...) He basically said that if you're arguing with someone, you are trying to change their mind. The fact that you're arguing means you believe people can choose to agree with you or not -- that the conclusion they'll take from the argument isn't a foregone conclusion. Otherwise, if you thought they were just going to wind up believing whatever were "fated" to believe, why would you bother arguing with them in the first place?

I will not go further with that, here, because otherwise I'll have to retype in a month-long debate on FDR. (I think what Stef told me before, and it was an argument I'd never heard before, but I don't think it proves free will or invalidates determinism. It just proves I'm irrational.) If you want to discuss determinism elsewhere, I would be thrilled to do so.

In this thread, I urge you to think of me as someone who believes in free will. In my life, I act like that's what I believe in, I hold people (including myself) morally responsible for their actions, etc. At core, I believe that's irrational, but I also believe I'm trapped in that bit of irrationality.
posted by grumblebee at 11:30 AM on August 27, 2010


I suppose that would make me an anti-anarchist, grumblebee, but I don't think that the "Evil/Not Evil" framing is terribly useful in the real world. There is evil to be found in the way that people and systems work, and we do the hard work of affecting change. But The binary formulation of "The State Is Evil" requires collapsing the nuances of reality to an over-simplified toggle-switch. One of the profound dangers of that mode of thinking is that it blinds the Binaryists to the fundamental evils that can exist in their own preferred systems. Ideology is fundamentally dangerous for that very reason -- at least, IMO.

I spent a little bit of time thinking about this after some of the conversational threads that always spring up around "Opt-in societies." At the end of the day, it feels like a problem that comes up a lot in software development: reimplementing is more fun than refactoring.

Saying, "This is terrible and evil (or, in the case of software, inefficient or badly architected or kludgy). Tear it down!" feels good. We can start with our whiteboards and start building from our Gang of Four book on Enterprise Patterns, and everything will rock. The problem is that that approach inevitably leads to a system with different problems rather than fewer problems, and you've incurred the opportunity cost of rebuilding everything that was already working acceptably.

Refactoring, on the other hand, is unglamorous work for the most part. It requires that people spend a lot of time digging into the existing system and learning how it works and what it's trying to accomplish and -- most importantly -- why the suboptimal hacks and workarounds are there. Nine times out of ten, the horrible terrible broken-ness is there to fix another problem that you've never witnessed, because the ugly shim is in place, holding back the tide of shit.

Refactoring is about picking the system apart, finding places where isolated changes can do some good, and carefully implementing them. Sometimes it's about scrapping larger chunks, but for the most part it's in-the-trenches work. It's not what anyone with Really Good Ideas wants to be stuck doing, but at the end of the day anyone who's worked on large projects acknowledges that it's where the most good often results.

This isn't to say that there aren't times when "Toss it and start over, it's bad to the core" isn't a valid assessment. Just reflecting on the fact that the natural human inclination is to wipe all that ugly legacy cruft away and start talking about The Ideals.
posted by verb at 11:31 AM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


grumblebee, I don't think this is necessarily talking past each other. As you express concerns about the way we live, there's an implicit description of what that "way we live" actually is. I think humanfont is attempting to focus the discussion on that a bit more, perhaps because he thinks there are some missing pieces to the descriptions you're positing.

Okay, well I would have to go point-by-point through humanfront's assertions to mean this with 100% surety, but you can take it as generally true that I agree with his descriptions of how things work. I think he's fairly accurately described the way most people view their relationship with the state -- what they feel their responsibilities to it are and why they feel they have those responsibilities.
posted by grumblebee at 11:33 AM on August 27, 2010


Hi. So I've been following this off and on and I'm wondering, grumblebee, what your position is on solipsism? I ask, because, if you acknowledge external rational actors, a lot of society stuff like contracts and kindness and fealty and whatnot pretty much follows from "do unto others lest they do otherwise unto you." I mean, if you're invulnerable to pain and suffering and all this reality shit is in your head anyway then what does it matter how you treat others... but if you aren't alone in there, then there's a pretty big argument to be made for cooperating/collaborating, or at least not fucking with other people too much.

I hope that doesn't come off as too flip, but I'm just kind of poking at this from a few hundred feet because the current argument seems to ignore kind of basic principles about not pissing off people who can hurt you because: ow.

Maybe I'm missing the point. Thanks.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:46 AM on August 27, 2010


verb, I'm a programmer, so I enjoy your use of the word "refactoring."

The problem is that that approach inevitably leads to a system with different problems rather than fewer problems, and you've incurred the opportunity cost of rebuilding everything that was already working acceptably.


That is called Conservatism. I think there's great merit to it -- up to a point.

But ... I don't care. You're talking at a level that bores me. It doesn't matter to me if tearing down and starting over is "more fun," because we're never going to have that fun. My gut says the state is here to stay. Which is why I don't read anarchist ideas about alternatives. It's like obsessing on what I'd do if I became a billionaire. I'm never going to be a billionaire, so what's the point?

I don't think that the "Evil/Not Evil" framing is terribly useful in the real world.

I think it's a useful shorthand. Is grumblebee good or evil? Neither applies. I've done plenty of good things and plenty of bad things. But there's a tipping point where I have no trouble calling someone (or some organization/state) evil. There's a point where I think that label BECOMES useful. I doubt I need to bring up the usual suspects. One of them has a name beginning with H. I'm fine with calling him evil, even if he once cared for a stray cat.

In my view, America continually and systematically engages in acts that are beyond the pale. If you agree that it EVER makes sense to call a state evil, but you don't think that word applies to America, all that means is that it's crossed that tipping point for me but not for you.

Any example of "unforgivable sins" I bring up will propel this thread down a tangent, because if I say, "American is evil because it does X," you (probably) are going to say, "but X isn't evil! Maybe it's a problem, but it's not unforgivable -- and we can work to improve it!"

Most of the problems I have with America are so embedded that, if I bring them up, I sound like a crazy person -- like a moon-landing denier or whatever. Of course, one possibility is that I AM a crazy person. But of course I'm going to think I'm not. You'll have to judge for yourself. That's a box I can't climb out of.

One reason America is evil is because it systematically abuses children. It does this by forcing them to go to school.

I am looking at that last paragraph and thinking "This isn't going to end well." Plenty of people aren't crazy about the public school system, but they don't see it as a horrible evil, especially when you compare it to evils in other countries -- genocides, etc. My feeling is that those people can't see the evil of school, because it's too close to them.

As with determinism, we need a whole other thread to discuss whether or not school is child abuse.
posted by grumblebee at 11:49 AM on August 27, 2010


grumblebee, I honestly don't understand why you hold that position you're holding, then. Is the state the worst of the possibilities? Why is it just inherently evil, but not compared to anything?

Personally I don't believe in good and evil. I believe in better and worse. To me the constitutionally democratic state is better than no state.

I'm not really an optimist or a pessimist. I'm someone who finds myself in a world, and is interested enough to stick around and do things to make it more interesting and generally better for myself and other people. What will happen? Who knows - it could be awful, it could be great, most likely it will be something more complicated than that...
posted by mdn at 11:51 AM on August 27, 2010


That is a description of the law and, partly, a description of tradition. But why, ETHICALLY, should I be bound by those laws and traditions?

You asked through you infant cries for food, shelter and warmth. Your father gave you DNA and your mother carried your helpless embryo for 9 months. The persons, tribe/society and family that cared for you until you could take responsibility for many of your descisions. These services came with obligations, long recognized by many societies. Let us suppose you wanted to ethically free yourself from these obligations. To avoid the being a thief you must return those good and provide restitution for services. How do you return language and what is it's value? Also I would argue that any continued use of our collective social property constitutes as ongoing infringement. Thus to avoid ongoing licensing costs for language perfomance you must agree tongue it up. If you choose to create your own obligation free language then
you must also take care to avoid having a derivative work which means you must avoid using grammar and idoagraphic or phonetic writing schemes. Also note mathematical notation, musical notation, artistic vocabulary. You may also need to license certain technologies such as ink, paper, computers, the wheel, etc.
posted by humanfont at 11:56 AM on August 27, 2010


As someone who was homeschooled through middle and high school, and whose close friends were "un-schooled," I'm well acquainted with the arguments against traditional public school education but definitely opposed to the idea that compulsory education is evil. Over on FDR Stef has had to grapple with this himself in his daughter's case, and came to the conclusion that "After the fact consent means that the non agression principle wasn't violated." I don't think I agree with the way he got there (it leads to other troubling rationalizations), but as you said, the details of it are probably too tangly to deal with in this thread.

The reason I object to totalizing labels like 'Evil', especially when we're trying to be rigorous and come up with generalizable principles, is that it leads us to cheap and easy answers that are more about shifting blame than recognizing and solving problems. That's an assertion, and I won't bother doing the careful work of explaining how or why, but I'll leave it dangling out there as a tantalizing target for anyone who wants to shake a fist at me. ;-)
posted by verb at 12:00 PM on August 27, 2010


grumblebee, I honestly don't understand why you hold that position you're holding, then. Is the state the worst of the possibilities? Why is it just inherently evil, but not compared to anything?

Personally I don't believe in good and evil. I believe in better and worse. To me the constitutionally democratic state is better than no state.

I'm not really an optimist or a pessimist. I'm someone who finds myself in a world, and is interested enough to stick around and do things to make it more interesting and generally better for myself and other people. What will happen? Who knows - it could be awful, it could be great, most likely it will be something more complicated than that...


I'm curious how far this goes with you. If you lived in a world in which everyone was ritually whipped for an hour every day, would you say, "I don't believe this is good or evil. It's what we have"?
posted by grumblebee at 12:17 PM on August 27, 2010


In that world there would be the possibility of not being whipped. You are calling something evil when you yourself see no alternative.
posted by mdn at 1:02 PM on August 27, 2010


I'm not saying, in this world, it's a law of physics. You know that it's possible for people not to whip people. But you also know that people DO whip people in every country.
posted by grumblebee at 1:25 PM on August 27, 2010


in other words, to me there are no absolutes, but a world where everyone is whipped is surely less desirable than one where people aren't. Your claim is that the world we're in is the best option (or at least you can think of no better alternative), but still evil. That just means "nature is evil" or "human beings are evil" or something... Which is fine, but not all the much more meaningful than "math is evil", in the end. If all options are evil, then you're just expressing dislike, I think...

To my mind, there are still the options of better and worse, even within the so-called evil world we're stuck with, and that's the part that matters.
posted by mdn at 1:27 PM on August 27, 2010


If all options are evil, then you're just expressing dislike, I think...

I also agree with you that there are better and worse options, and that, for instance, we're living in something much better than, say, Victorian England.

I also think that if someone came up with a better system than what we have now (I do think it's possible that someone might), there ARE ways of putting it into place. But I can't imagine non-violent ways of doing it. Since I'm a pacifist in most cases, those options are out as far as I'm concerned.
posted by grumblebee at 1:32 PM on August 27, 2010


sorry, didn't see your update. I'm not sure I understand, but if something can be changed and there are better options, they should be worked toward, and if they literally cannot be changed, then that is what you start with, and you presumably find a way to endure, or not.
posted by mdn at 1:34 PM on August 27, 2010


Somehow something went missing from my last post.

I meant to say that, in a way, I agree with you that I'm just expressing dislike. I am not giving any alternatives.
posted by grumblebee at 1:36 PM on August 27, 2010


Back to the real topic at hand, have you been unpersoned over at FDR yet, grumblebee?

Or has our friend made an attempt on his own record for the Longest Continuous Video of Pompous Condescension Without Actually Saying Anything of Substance?
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:42 PM on August 27, 2010


I also think that if someone came up with a better system than what we have now (I do think it's possible that someone might), there ARE ways of putting it into place. But I can't imagine non-violent ways of doing it. Since I'm a pacifist in most cases, those options are out as far as I'm concerned.

Society is in a state of continuous change. There have been mulitple non-violent transformations of our social order in the last 40 years in the US and elsewhere in the world. It would seem that the majority of social improvements have come from non-violent change. In fact violent change has proven to be the least important. For example the war on terror and drugs as instruments of social policy have been marred by violence and very unsuccessful. It was leaders like FDR, MLK who made the biggest changes to our social compact and they did it through political processes; not violence.
posted by humanfont at 2:02 PM on August 27, 2010


Hey, grumblebee--

I always love when this happens. This thread is simultaneously being watched and commented on at FDR and at Liberating Minds. Very interesting takes all the way around. For what it's worth, I maintain the FDR Liberated blog. Not all FDR members agree with my little articles, but I try to be very fair and meticulous in my research and I quote Molyneux at length and in context.

Regarding bake, Molyneux replied to you this way: "8 months after being asked to leave, 'bake' is still trolling, stalking, obsessing about FDR, making ugly accusations, and posting my private email communications on public forums."

Everything Molyneux told you above is untrue. I exchanged e-mails with bake briefly as I was writing my article about the events that led up to her being banned. She rarely posts on Liberating Minds and had only a passing interest in FDR. She doesn't make ugly accusations. I believe (and the reason I wrote my article) is that she doesn't have to. The simple, verifiable facts are quite enough.

bake signed onto FDR only for a single conversation--to ask for clarification on Molyneux's "masterwork" on human relationships ("Real-Time Relationships--the Logic of Love") She had no role in FDR beforehand and no interest in it following that one conversation.

Molyneux implies that KarenX, who originally told you about bake, is the same person. I know them both and they are two different people. KarenX has never been an FDR member--she just happens to find Molyneux's schtick amusing.

I apologize that the article I wrote relevant to bake is long-winded (comprising two entries) but it also demonstrates the inner mechanics of FDR, which I find fascinating. Molyneux also neglected to mention that other FDR members quit as a result of bake's treatment, which again I have documented.

If you are truly interested in the type of banning Molyneux employs, then you should also follow the story of Danny Shahar that I chronicle in the (painfully) longer article The Promise and Failure of UPB.

Shahar--who KarenX also mentioned earlier--is a graduate student in philosophy and perhaps one of the most cordial people I've met on-line. He was never a member of FDR in the traditional sense. The story began amusingly--with Molyneux claiming his book "Universally Preferable Behavior" was a rational proof of ethics. Shahar bet him $50 that he hadn't accomplished his goal. No matter how kind Shahar was in his attempts to clarify Molyneux's imprecise language in the days that followed, he was banned, and indefensibly so.

In that same article, you'll hear about Stewart, a long-time member was banned simply for suggesting he might write his own review of UPB. And you'll see how Molyneux ridiculed both of them on his chatroom when he thought only his inner circle was watching.

You'll also read about a former member named LibertyIsNotGiven, once hailed as a wonderful contributor to FDR. LibertyIsNotGiven's crime was to suggest that Shahar's incisive critique deserved better response than it got. LibertyIsNotGiven was eventually banned and he captures the story in his YouTube video "This Train is Bound for Bullshit." He has since marked the video private, so you would have to ask him to see it. I have excerpted a few quotes in the above article.

These are all pretty much genial, thoughtful people banned for no supportable reason. And I can tell you about others, if you like.

In fact, you don't need to say anything to be banned at FDR. Dozens of FDR members have been banned for simply posting on a site that is often critical of FDR (Liberating Minds). Apparently, Molyneux routinely patrols Liberating Minds looking for FDR members who post comments there. If he believes they are critically discussing his ideas, he closes their accounts and IP bans them. Here's one example of a former FDR member named eye2i2. In this thread, another FDR member asks why eye2i2's account has been deleted. You'll notice that Molyneux actually doctors that post, inserting the words "(PS it is eye2i2 of course)," after which Molyneux leads his followers in open ridicule of eye2i2. And remember, eye2i2 had committed no offense at FDR and as far as I know shares many of Molyneux's views to this day.

I can fire out examples all day and have many of them at my site. My point is (and FDR Liberated mostly demonstrates) that once you dig past the "virtuous" facade Molyneux has carefully constructed for his site and his own persona, you'll find a very different type of community underneath.

-Q.E.
posted by QuestEon at 2:52 PM on August 27, 2010


how bizarre... But what I find weirdest is that people see a virtuous facade. I don't know this person at all, but the video that was linked above in response to this thread was basically unwatchable. I really tried but since it seemed to contain nothing of substance and was just dripping with condescension, and occasional other jerkish attitudes (a bit of sexism at one point, for instance) I gave up. If that's how he comes across in general, what is the draw?

Well - I suppose it's got to be that age old issue - someone who claims to have answers...
posted by mdn at 3:25 PM on August 27, 2010


This thread is simultaneously being watched and commented on at FDR and at Liberating Minds. Very interesting takes all the way around.

The FDR thread is an interesting read, mostly for the way it evidences the very real effect of in-group versus out-group thinking.

If I were to try & summarise the general feeling, it'd be "why bother with MetaFilter? It's obviously a bunch of trolls & they obviously have no interest in discussing Philosophy from First Principles or other Serious Matters"

(we also need a professional white background and apparently love Bill Clinton playing the saxophone, and GW Bush in his little pilot costume)

It's a shame that it's turned out this way, but I think it's an almost inevitable outcome when you tell somebody their baby is ugly, in a culture that includes a level of snark. That'd get almost anybody's in-group protective hairs standing up on the backs of their necks.

Kudos to grumblebee for his earnest attempts to encourage dialogue between the sites; I'm sure he wouldn't have done so if there wasn't a lot of good to be found at FDR. As it stands, there seems to be too much suspicion about the other (from both sides of the fence) and an equal amount of jumping to conclusions based on not very much evidence at all; only I don't think we take ourselves quite as seriously as they apparently do, hence the flippant snarky comments that they're largely objecting to.

For a bunch of self-proclaimed Deep Thinkers, you'd imagine that they could separate the wheat from the chaff, but that's probably expecting too much in the circumstances. To be fair, though, who would want to engage a bunch of perceived snarkers? That'd be as unpalatable as engaging a bunch of Libertarians is to me.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:01 PM on August 27, 2010


Hi QuestEon,

Thanks for joining Metafilter and for posting here. As you know by now, I joined your site and chastised people there for talking about me behind my back. And then, to my embarrassment, almost immediately after I'd hit the post button, you posted here. So sorry if I jumped the gun!

I will, of course, read everything you've linked to. Thanks.
posted by grumblebee at 4:38 PM on August 27, 2010


This thread has turned disappointingly civil. Come on, people. Bread and circuses!
posted by verb at 4:59 PM on August 27, 2010


With one exception, I think it's always been civil.
posted by grumblebee at 5:40 PM on August 27, 2010


Wait, was I the one being uncivil? Because I just wrote a long rant about putting letters after your name, for verb's benefit, but I won't post it if I was the one being particularly douchey here...
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:47 PM on August 27, 2010


I think it was just a reference to delmoi saying that people who consider taxes immoral are brain-dead. But I'm actually really fond of the thread now turning inward as we all obsess over whether we were the one that was subtly assy.

Does this outfit make me look dismissive? Damnit.
posted by verb at 5:52 PM on August 27, 2010


Not you, UbuRoivas.
posted by grumblebee at 5:55 PM on August 27, 2010


alright then, here goes. *ahem*

Disappointingly civil? Shall I go into detail about how it's somewhat douchey - at the very best - to put your letters after your name unless it's absolutely required by your profession or workplace, and is actually counterproductive if you expect to be taken seriously as a thinker?

Especially when it's not that impressive a qualification, when it explicitly positions you as less qualified than just about every single person in the pond you're trying to swim in, and all the more so if your schtick revolves around being a bit of an iconoclast & critic of institutions and power structures. The fact that it's a qualification that absolutely reeks of western white male "chattering class" privilege, and was almost certainly subsidised by taxpayer money is just the icing on the cake in this particular case.

Don't take this to mean that I disrespect an MA in itself, or the effort that it takes to get one. But like any qualification, it's only a foot in the door of your next job or promotion interview, not something that you bandy about the place as a crutch for your credibility, and certainly not when you expect to be taken seriously for your words & thoughts. The only people you'll impress are the people who'll be impressed for the wrong reasons, and everybody else will wonder what you're trying to hide.

Hell, just about every single person I know has at least a Masters in something, and typically that's only one of a number of degrees they have. And absolutely nobody makes a big deal of it. The PhDs never use the "doctor" appellation, and nor do the medical doctors, outside of their workplace.

I actually mean this in the nicest possible spirit, just like I'd alert a friend to the fact that his fly is undone, because it's embarrassing for all concerned. So, I'm not really being uncivil at all.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:08 PM on August 27, 2010


Ubu, there's an amusing running joke about that very thing on the Slacktivist site, wherein he reviews the loathably bad Left Behind books. One of the protagonists is an airline pilot, and throughout the entire eleventy-zillion book series, great pains are taken to ensure that he's always known as Captain Steele. In family pictures it's always noted that he's in his uniform and wearing his Captain hat, etc.

The best part is that the authors seem to really, really think that this makes the character more authoritative, rather than weird and pompous.
posted by verb at 6:14 PM on August 27, 2010


wow, I took a look at that FDR thread and am feeling sort of hopeless about the idea of human communication right now. It's amazing to me, but it looks like the people there are saying practically the same things people here are saying, but in reverse... That is, they are saying people in this thread are condescending and dismissive and saying nothing of substance, which is pretty much what, for instance, I said about that video above (and I wasn't the only one who felt that way).

I know from my own experience that it can be hard to hear things until you are ready to hear them. I have come to philosophical ideas years down the road and realized "oh that's what that guy meant" when I think back to an earlier teacher / book (or something), so sometimes conversation just doesn't really cut it. You have to find your own way through the brush... But it's still frustrating that we all feel as if the other group is not getting something basic.
posted by mdn at 6:28 PM on August 27, 2010


wow, I took a look at that FDR thread and am feeling sort of hopeless about the idea of human communication right now. It's amazing to me, but it looks like the people there are saying practically the same things people here are saying, but in reverse... That is, they are saying people in this thread are condescending and dismissive and saying nothing of substance, which is pretty much what, for instance, I said about that video above (and I wasn't the only one who felt that way).

Welcome to my world. I have never felt comfortable with teams. I know that there are just wars, and that someones one side is just right and the other is just wrong, but the minute people form a team (and start badmouthing the other team), I want to weep.

Most of my friends are Liberals. I share many of their values (pro gay marriage, etc.), but I continually have to leave the room. I am never really one of them. Because if I'm with a group of my friends, at some point, like clockwork, the conversation will turn to how evil Conservatives are.

And most of it isn't reasoned stuff. It's just name-calling. What sickens me the most is when it's hypocritical. When they jeer at some Conservative politician who gets caught stealing money but not at a Liberal politician who does the same thing.

Eventually I get so upset, I flee to the Conservative camp, thinking it will be better, thinking, "True, I don't agree with much of what those people think, but surely they'll be more tolerant and less filled with bile than my friends." But, of course they're not. And I want to kick myself for not remembering that from the last time I tried talking to Conservatives. They are just as bitter and hateful about Liberals as Liberals are about them, just as unwilling to even spend a second trying to understand the other side, just as want to revel in endless mockery and snark.

Because this upsets me so much, I regularly try to talk to Liberals about Conservatives (and vise versa), pointing out that the other camp is a group of HUMANS. I suggest conversation and attempts at understanding, rather than mud-flinging. This is the only time I ever see Liberals and Conservatives uniting. They unite against a common enemy: me. Neither has any interest in taking to the other side. Dialogue. Fuck that!

Recently, I read an amazing article by a former New Age guru who read some science books and realized that what she'd been preaching was hokum. She tried to gently explain this to her followers, but, of course, they got angry and rejected her.

So she befriended skeptics. And once she was in the skeptic community, she tried to explain to them why their arguments were failing to get through to New Agers. She explained that though they were factually correct about how New Age dogma, they didn't know how to talk to New Agers in a way that wasn't angry, mocking and condescending. And that talking to them in that way would just make them defensive. It would never convince them of anything.

She was working really hard to build a bridge between the two communities, and she said she wanted to create a website to help that process. I was deeply impressed by her article, and so I emailed her and volunteered my time to help her with her site.

She wrote back to tell me that she'd given up the idea. That the skeptics had treated her with constant condescension and were uninterested in any of her ideas, even though they came from an insider, about how to better communicate with the other side. Of course, I only have her word for that, but her word matches my experience, almost any time I encounter any kind of team at all.

I often come to the conclusion that sometimes you just have to let people hate each other. But this is really hard for me to swallow, because I see so many of the world's problems exasperated by people just refusing to talk, listen or consider anyone else's point of view.

Regardless of the truth about Stef, it would absurd to say that all members of FDR are assholes. There are lots of smart, good, well-intentioned people there. And yet when I invited them to come to Metafilter, exactly ZERO people took me up on that offer. And when I suggested people here go post their views there, the score was the same. And, as you noted, mdm, it was AMAZING how similar the prose is on both sites, when the members of one site are talking about the OTHER site. Reminds me of the verbiage Liberals and Conservatives spout about each other.
posted by grumblebee at 7:14 PM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


grumblebee, that narrative is amusingly similar to my own. I grew up in a staunchly religious conservative household -- I wouldn't say that it was particularly crazy in its intensity, but I was a kid given to extremes and I became very, very serious about my religious and political beliefs. Ironically, I think it's the intensity and insistence on certainty inherent in fundamentalism that caused me to ultimately reject those beliefs, but I definitely hear you about the "Not Being At Home In Either Camp" thing.

To some extent I now view it a bit like having two friends who used to date, and split badly. The odds of them changing their minds about each other based on my intervention is slim, but as long as they understand that I can't Get My Hate On about the other one, things stay reasonable.

I actually started and ran a small group blog for a while talking about the cross-cultural issues, and the gaps in understanding, that are there between religious and non-religious individuals. The difficulty was figuring out how to maintain an honest but civil tone with a number of different perspectives represented. How to make honest discussion of frustrating, anger-inducing things something other than a vent-fest? I don't know that there's a very easy or clear path to it for one person, let alone many of them collaborating.

Today, for example, I believe that "conservatives" as a popular movement in the united states demonstrate a much greater willingness to lie and resort to dirty rhetorical tricks. I don't think that this is universal, and I don't think that it's inherent in the idea of conservatism. That's one of the dilemmas for me: how does one strike a fair and honest balance between "not othering the people you disagree with" and "not ignoring legitimate differences in integrity or correctness that sometimes exist?"

One of the easiest traps to fall into is evaluating based on hypocrisy or consistency. For example, FDR claims to be a place to openly and honestly discuss philosophy, question authority, ask tough questions without fear, and so on. Metafilter claims to be a web site where people post good links to interesting things on the web. Accusing MeFi of being snarky and lacking philosophical rigor is a bit beside the point, like accusing people at the pool of being unproductive. FDR's attitude, though, seems to cut at the central claims of the forum's purpose and self-identity.

On the other hand, that sort of metric can't be the measure by which we judge who's correct: it would result in an endless race to the bottom, with 4chan being the most honest and internally consistent forum for discussion ever. Funny thing is, that's one of the flaws I think cripples Stefan's own Universally Preferable Behaviors book. Underneath the fuzziness and the terminology, it's about how to decide whether someone's being consistent with their own ethical claims. One of the things I decided early on in evaluating my own beliefs was that self-consistency is the easy thing to assess. Whether the ideals someone claims to work towards are worth working towards is much, much tougher.

For the record, I didn't post on FDR in part because I didn't fell I had anything to add to the dialogue there. I read quite a bit, and lurked for a couple of days in the chat room, and listened to the podcasts, but I didn't think it would be very fair or honest of me to post for the purpose of "Testing" them. That kind of engagement almost always feels disingenuous, or antagonistic. The conclusions I reach came from reading the existing discussions there and listening to how they talked about ideas from outside their own circles. It's not a perfect assessment, but it was enough for my personal "Do I Want To Invest Time In Participating Here" heuristics.
posted by verb at 7:47 PM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know, grumblebee, what is weird for me about this exchange is that I thought I knew that already, and have gone through it myself plenty of times with liberal vs conservative / etc. In fact I think I very often play the devil's advocate around here, just to try to make a point about considering the other side.

...but in this particular case, that video just seemed so completely spiteful that I could not think of it that way. The trouble is, I guess, that it's hard to know where the right limit is - I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I find myself backing down a lot when I try to understand someone's mindset, and later I think I should have just stuck with my point.

I mean, I don't know Stef, but I do know if you're talking about philosophy on the internet, it's not worth bringing up how well educated in the canon your interlocuters are. If you want to discuss things with people who really know the texts & topics, go to the conferences and read the journal articles. If you want to connect to other minds who have various insights from other perspectives, check in with smart, interested people in other venues. It's a different outlet, and the constant "you don't know what you're talking about" attitude is entirely missing the point (even in conferences that kind of attitude is frowned on - there are a lot of interpretations out there).
posted by mdn at 8:04 PM on August 27, 2010


Attention members of FDR: Stef is an obvious charlatian who uses simple NLP tricks and faux intellectualism to convince you that he is saying something more than mere nonsense. He uses other techniques such as constantly grouping himself with you and talking about how intelligent you both are, while laughing at his critics and dismissing them as beneath his gaze. If he is a rational person, why is his rebuttal just a series of quips about how simplistic we are and snickers at some of the snarky comments. He proposes that he is Simon from Idol while we are one of the masses. He is the sacred high priest, the keeper of truth, that he alone is capable of making a rational argument. These are the rhetorical tricks of a con artist and manipulator, not a legitimate philosopher. How can one distinguish his 1700 podcasts from any other preacher? I'm sure many of them are thought provoking and contain insights, but if you listen to Glenn Beck or Rush you will find kernels of truth there and periods of lucidity. Look deeper though, model his arguments out. Deconstruct his podcast using logic. Identify his premises and assumptions, connect his conclusions. For each premise, examine the evidence provided. Is he making an inductive, intuitive, or deductive argument? Are there empirical facts to back his conclusions? Double blind studies? How does he handle objections? Are the objections he raises logical, or simple strawmen that can be dismissed? Note his attempts to manipulate language and redefine terms, or isolate you from your existing relationships. By changing the meaning of words and isolating you from existing friends he is furthering his control over you. First he alters your thought patterns by claiming some precise definition over a term like love, family, death or freedom. This is an classic tick to establish expertise. It will contain references to latin roots and cite dictionaries and references. Often the third or forth definition of a term will be used. Then exploring this topic in detail he draws you deeper into less rational places. During this process he is separating you from existing social relationships and steering you towards new relationships inside the group and most of all with him.
Grumblebee look critically at his attack on you. You didn't really misstate him to any great degree he just used an old trick on you to assert his authority by shaming you in don't of the group. Because you respect him, he holds power over you; and your response of apology was validation. Then as a reward for apologizing he offers to speak privately to you. That's classic manipulator. Create a private club in the mind of your mark, it's you and him with some special information, perhaps he said, I'll let you in on a secret about x, or I really can't share this publically, BUT YOU SHOULD KNOW.

Are you still here FDR readers? have you formed long rebuttals to my coment? Have you dismissed me as a troll, denied me personhood as an other, or discounted me as naiive. This just proves how in control Stef is of your thinking. He has offers you anarchy, freedom and truth and instead made you a servant of his tiny little hive, brining him honey. Will you sting me now little bee? Go ahead make the final sacrifice of yourself to him. Be his proxy or wimpy prepare to stand in church for his latest podcast and be rallies against me. Strike me down and prove to your master your fealty, he will return new secrets for more honey to you his loyal servant. I stand ready to mock your ignorance of basic philosophy.

Alternatively you could ask yourself hard questions, you could challenge your assumptions. You could strip away lecture after lecture seeing though the simple illusions he offers. Notice his constant desipre to go back to first principles, to claim some novel insight into socialogy or political theory. Yet in ignoring the long chain of historical debate about these topics, he keeps out he real arguments and criticisms so that he can always be the victor in his rhetorical game. Awakened from his dream scape and shocked to discover the truth of his ignorance, you might find it laughable that you believed these things. You may feel some shame, but relax this ia the final hold he has upon you. The shame of being taken. Everyone who has ever been conned has felt this way. This is how the master manipulator survives, the shame enables him to walk away and find his next victim. You must accept that thee is no a shame in falling for the ticks of the manipulator. This is their craft, their art. It takes years of training to spot it; and even masters fall for it occasionally. In hindsight it is always this obvious. You dream most nights and never recognize the dream, even when you've dreamed the dream before. This is how it worked, he was just another dream in there. Let it go, the freedom you aree seeking is in your heart. Go out there and explore this limitless world around you. Go into that world and leave FDR behind. Don't say farewell, the manipulator will have more tricks to hold you and pull you back. Just walk away.
posted by humanfont at 8:26 PM on August 27, 2010


humanfront, to be fair to grumblebee I've been chatting with him on another forum and his humility to others in regards to their positions is something he displays to lots of people, not simply Stef. You can argue that this causes Stef to respond to him favorably, but I've come to the conclusion that grumblebee is just really polite.

It's a little disconcerting on the internet.
posted by verb at 8:31 PM on August 27, 2010


how does one strike a fair and honest balance between "not othering the people you disagree with" and "not ignoring legitimate differences in integrity or correctness that sometimes exist?"

The trouble is, I guess, that it's hard to know where the right limit is - I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I find myself backing down a lot when I try to understand someone's mindset, and later I think I should have just stuck with my point.


Of course, I don't have all the answers to these great questions. Hell, I don't even have 10% of the answers. But I do think one thing worth trying is to continually remind yourself to think about utility: continually asking yourself, "What am I trying to achieve? Why am I having this conversation?"

Because unless your goal is something like "to wound the other person," "to win," or "to humiliate the other person," you'll NEVER get what you want via a personal attack. Which is why it's SO important to say, "I disagree with you that we should lower taxes" rather than "I disagree with you that we should lower taxes, you asshole."

That's an obvious example, but I think if you ask people why they're bothering to talk to, say, Republicans, they'll say things like, "I want them to see how they're wrong about X." To which I want to reply, "Then why are you calling them assholes? You're working against what you say is your goal. Do you think they're likely to listen to you when you call them names?"

I realize this usually comes from frustration. People make a good, honest effort to be polite yet persuasive, the other party doesn't listen, and then ... ARG! What happens then is people's goals change -- often without them realizing it themselves. They start out trying to persuade, but (due to frustration), by then end they are trying to win, wound, dominate or humiliate.

I think there are two honorable options: keep trying to explain politely or walk away. Explaining takes a LONG time, a lot of patience, and it often fails. But if you deal with that failure by lashing out, you make it that much harder for the next person.

If you just fail to convince a Republican that he's wrong, that's too bad, but if you fail AND start yelling at him, he's now convinced he's right, convinced you're a childish person, convinced he has the right to yell back at you, and, due to natural defensiveness, even more likely to be forever entrenched in his views.

(One thing to remember is that there's no such thing as a Conservative or a Republican. There are individual people who have come to certain views. Each had his own unique way of coming to those views.

As soon as you feel you're talking to a "Republican," you are standing in your own blindspot. You're NOT talking to a Republican, you're talking to Bob. He's a guy who has two cats and a dentist appointment next Wednesday. No matter how typical his views are, he's not "one of them." Even if he thinks he's one of them, he's not.

He's also not every Republican who has pissed you off. This is the first time you've ever talked to Bob. Even if he has similar views to other Republicans, it's not his fault if other Republicans pissed you off.)

I think there are MANY ways of subtly saying "you're an asshole" or "you're an idiot" that don't actually uses those phrases. One -- that we've even seen in this thread -- is "I've said the same thing three times and you're not listening..."

What does that accomplish, even if it's true? If I'm not listening, am I more likely to listen after you say that? After you imply that I'm too stupid or pigheaded to get your point -- or that I'm a liar who is pretending to not get it? Either patiently explain your point to me AGAIN (who knows: maybe this time it will get through my thick skull) or quit. And quit GRACEFULLY.

I have some rules for myself in debates. I work very hard to abide by them. I fail a lot, but I keep trying. I've published them on my profile, if you're interested.
posted by grumblebee at 8:36 PM on August 27, 2010


Grumblebee look critically at his attack on you. You didn't really misstate him to any great degree he just used an old trick on you to assert his authority by shaming you in don't of the group. Because you respect him, he holds power over you; and your response of apology was validation. Then as a reward for apologizing he offers to speak privately to you. That's classic manipulator. Create a private club in the mind of your mark, it's you and him with some special information, perhaps he said, I'll let you in on a secret about x, or I really can't share this publically, BUT YOU SHOULD KNOW.

I'm not going to respond to your claims about Stef, because there's enough back and forth about him from other people going on right now. I'm going to sit back and listen for a while.

But I want to clear up some factual errors in what you posted:

Stef didn't offer to speak to me privately. He asked me to call his Sunday show, which he makes public every week.

If Stef is trying to "assert his authority by shaming" me, he's failing. I am not ashamed. I was ashamed of some things I said about his arguments. Whether I got them right or wrong isn't the point.

The point is that I explained someone else's arguments without actually listening to them. It really doesn't matter, in terms of that, if Stef is a good guy or a bad guy. That WAS a shameful thing for me to do to ANYONE, and it's right that I felt ashamed. But I don't feel any sort of general shame, humiliation or whatever. (If, as some people are suggesting, I actually got Stef's positions right, that was just luck and it doesn't change the wrongness of what I did.)

And even in terms of that, I apologized to Stef for speaking for him, he gracefully accepted that apology (that exchange DID take place in a private email exchance), and so in my mind, that's done with.

"Because you respect him, he holds power over you"

No. He has no power over me. He's a guy on the Internet that I had some good exchanges with. He's been friendly to me. I had fun talking to him. That's about it. If he bans me from his community (which he hasn't said he has any plans to do), I'll be mildly upset, and then I'll move on. It's not like Stef and I have been best friends since kindergarten.

"your response of apology was validation."

If you mean Stef took it as validation, I can't speak to that. I can't get inside his head. I didn't intend it as validation. I intended it as an apology. Stef is welcome to take it however he wants.

I think the people on FDR who have been following what I've written both here and there are very aware that I'm not kowtowing to Stef -- that I'm seriously listening to both his defenders and accusers.

To be honest, I have a hard time listening to you, because your prose is so over-the-top and "Biblical." ("Attention members of FDR: Stef is an obvious charlatan" -- you don't need to use a bullhorn when you talk to people! Just talk in a natural, conversational way. I promise you more people will listen if you do.)
posted by grumblebee at 8:56 PM on August 27, 2010


you don't need to use a bullhorn when you talk to people! Just talk in a natural, conversational way. I promise you more people will listen if you do

It depends on which people you want to listen; the people you are nominally trying to convince might stop, but the people who already agree with you could have a spike of attention.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:09 PM on August 27, 2010


but the people who already agree with you could have a spike of attention.

If they already agree with you, why are you preaching to them?
posted by grumblebee at 9:13 PM on August 27, 2010


To be honest, I have a hard time listening to you, because your prose is so over-the-top and "Biblical." ("Attention members of FDR: Stef is an obvious charlatan" -- you don't need to use a bullhorn when you talk to people! Just talk in a natural, conversational way. I promise you more people will listen if you do.)

I appreciate your response. I hope you can get past my prose. The guy is bad news.
posted by humanfont at 9:46 PM on August 27, 2010


Because preaching is fun, I guess. People wouldn't do it otherwise.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:51 PM on August 27, 2010


I'm not going to pretend it's on topic, but I think this guy would really be useful right about now.
posted by verb at 10:39 PM on August 27, 2010


If they already agree with you, why are you preaching to them?

Because it's always easier to preach to the choir.

In that sense, I'd be surprised if there was even the slightest chance in hell that Mr Molyneux was seriously intending to address any of the people here in his 'rebuttal'. That was entirely for the benefit of the audience within his own community, who responded with appropriate 'hear hear' cheers.

However, as various people have pointed out, he simply sneered at the snarky comments (early snark before deeper discussion is a typical pattern here) and completely glossed over the commenters who were offering more detailed, logical responses to his video. If it was meant to be a rebuttal, why did he spend 33 minutes conspicuously avoiding any of the real objections? And why does a Mixed Martial Arts style philosophical cagefight between him and, say, koeselitz just sound like so much fun? For values of 'fun' that don't include a tight, evenly matched competition, that is.

But yeah, preaching to the choir. And for all of the "Biblical" nature of humanfont's prose, I do feel a tingle more than a hunch that Mr M MA has a bit of the cult leader thing going on. The deference on the message board was downright creepy to my mind, and his 'rebuttal' video had a similar whiff of rampant demagoguery to it, as opposed to somebody genuinely wanting to discuss ideas.

Throw in the implicit "privileged access to the truth" spiel & a tedious tendency towards framing arguments in his own idiosyncratic terms & a studious avoidance of any mention of the many eminent people who have explored the exact same paths of sociological & political enquiry before him, and the whiff of charlatanism becomes more like a rotting corpse of an elephant in the room.

That's only a gut feeling, by the way. It hasn't been derived from First Principles, and is about 95% ad hominem.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:30 AM on August 28, 2010


grumblebee, for the record I've been trying to post on FDR since yesterday, and although I registered several days ago I've either not been approved, or my account was locked pre-emptively. The former is more likely, but if there's a week long wait before an account can actually be used, there's little chance I'll bother to stick around and engage there.

What I find most interesting reading the FDR thread is that it is utterly and completely indistinguishable from the internal support-talk that members of my former church comforted each other with when they felt they were under attack. I don't mean "sounds alike," I mean literally, point for point, indistinguishable.
I visited Metafilter, and while I did see some curiosity and open-mindedness to the libertarian/anarchist perspective, most of sentiment I saw was:

"Greedy, evil libertarians...they don't want to pay their fair share of taxes!"

"This anarchy stuff is unworkable nonsense!"

"Stef didn't encapsulate the solutions to every conceivable human problem in the one 10-minute video of his I've seen--which I was only able to watch 2 minutes of since it was enraging tripe...all he does is whine w/o providing alternatives...what a crank!"

"Haven't these greedy, evil libertarians ever heard of the Social Contract?!"

"HELLO...where would we get water, roads, prisons, and everything else that makes society function from if it weren't for the state?!"

"Stef, and all anarchists, are morons."

I saw very little acknowledgment, let alone rebuttal, of the assertion that the state is a violent and coercive entity. Then again, if folks actually ADMIT this then they're forced to acknowledge the inherent evil (assuming one thinks initiatory violence IS evil) of the state (which SO many seem intent on grabbing control of--only for the good of mankind, of course!) and to think of alternatives. That's MUCH too taxing, I guess, so its easier to pretend a broken and immoral system can be fixed.
As someone who's spent the past two days discussing the concept of state violence and collaborative responsibility with you, I don't think that it's been resolved. The assertion that the posters in this thread have refused to address the topic strikes me as delusional at best.

I spent three days lurking on FDR in its boards and chat room: I found people who were more than happy to dismiss me as a deluded statist, unwilling to answer questions that I found fundamental because they considered them already-answered-in-podcast-four-thousand-fifty-nine, and quick to dismiss any concerns I had about the implications of their philosophies as "hatred." I read back archives: I found five minutes hate directed at parental figures substituting for self-examination. I listened to podcasts: I found circular logic and transparently false premises whenever Stefan visited topics outside his areas of competence -- but no acknowledgement that such areas had limits. I read UPB: what I found there was a set of fuzzy arguments that I'd explored when I was seventeen and dismissed because they didn't hold up under their own weight. I started looking for other forums that discussed Stefan's work to see if I'd missed something, and found universal disappointment, even disdain, for it outside the supportive cocoon of his own web site.

MetaFilter is a community with some snark to it: frankly, that's why I'm here. I'm a big boy and I can take it when the topics I feel passionately about get the 'hurf durf' treatment. If I care, I can still engage and I've always found that the discussion shifts to the level of the most serious commenter. On FDR, I find a community that is utterly blind to the possibility that its ideas have been examined and found wanting.
None those haters have any real solutions to any problems other than armed robbery and central planning.

They express umbrage and resentment toward those of us who support laissez-faire free-enterprise because we criticize and ridicule the gang of thugs and idiots with whom they identify.
And they, in turn, express umbrage and resentment at us because we see that their leader is an emotionally manipulative hack who failed in academia not because The System kept him down, but because his ideas do not stand up to careful examination.

FDR members still reading this: If you ever let me log in to your message board, I might post there. For the time being? Enjoy yourselves: I know from experience how fun the club can be when it's dedicated to pretending The Others are evil.
posted by verb at 6:31 AM on August 28, 2010


Hey, verb. I take everything you say seriously, but I think your inability to join the FDR forum may be technical rather than due to moderators not wanting to let you in. As far as I can tell, there's no human involved in the signup process.

To test this, I just created a new account. It was activated immediately after I signed up and I was immediately, automatically logged in. I didn't even have to do that usual responding-to-an-email to authenticate thing. (I did receive an email, but it just alerted me that my account existed. It didn't instruct me to click anywhere or do anything.)

Note that there are two different ways to join FDR. Way at the top of any FDR page, there's a link that says Register. But that won't get you access to the forum. (Yearh, I know: crappy UI.) I think that's for the chat room, but I'm not sure.

To register for the chatroom, click the FORUMS link on the left -- the link that lets you read the forum. At the top of the forums, but not at the top of the whole web page, you should see Sign in | Join | Help.

Click "Sign in" and go from there.

Of course MOST FDR members will reject counter-arguments to what they believe and snark at you for making them. That's what I've just gotten done talking about. That's what people do. Thy do it here, too. Do they do it more readily and more often at FDR? I don't know. I debated Free Will there, which isn't one of the major topics at the site. If you want to debate Statism, you may have a harder time than I did. But I can't say, because I never tried doing that.

It would be interesting to see how things would go if that's what you did.
posted by grumblebee at 7:13 AM on August 28, 2010


Your advice is appreciated: it does appear that I'd signed up for the site and not the forum. My frustration with the difficulty interacting is hereby redirected from the slowness of the signup process to the fact that they're using .Net Community Server, the worst software every designed by Satan.
posted by verb at 7:23 AM on August 28, 2010


No argument with me on that front. Except I don't think Satan is a developer. He has people to do that for him. I know. I've been in development hell many times.
posted by grumblebee at 7:34 AM on August 28, 2010


I read back archives: I found five minutes hate directed at parental figures substituting for self-examination.

*ears prick up* ooooh, was it about the father?

There's such a strong correlation between hatred of authority & daddy issues that anybody aware of it could probably work out a way to mine it for personal gain, just by pushing the right buttons.

For example, one could pose as a benevolent father figure, concerned about violence and protective & encouraging towards his brood, not to mention patronising & paternalistic, in a "there, there, father knows best" sort of way. He'd be strict in his punishments, too, but with a guise of fairness, to imply that he'd only expel one of his own children if they transgressed severely. Best of all, he'd offer universal answers & appear to be intellectually indestructible - the kind of superhero status that your daddy had when you were tiny.

Clearly, I'm talking about one of those 'charismatic' preacher men.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:28 AM on August 28, 2010


Ubu, in what I've seen of the site so far I don't think that Molyneux is operating some sort of deliberate psychological scam. I think he legitimately believes he's pieced together what philosophers have been unable to for 6000 years, and he legitimately believes that he's helping people figure out real insights into themselves, their families, society, and so on.

That doesn't mean that I don't think he's capable of demonstrating really ugly behavior, or of violating his own principles in defense of ego or turf, but it takes a lot for me to suggest that someone's life work is just a cover for cash-focused psychological manipulation. I enjoy dissecting the psychology of online communities, and FDR has untalked-about-undercurrents in spades, but it doesn't necessarily imply malice or deliberate deception.
posted by verb at 11:59 AM on August 28, 2010


Okay, let's say ten people are in a lifeboat (yes, one of those fun-for-the-whole-family lifeboat questions!!!) with no food. They realize that the only way they can survive is for nine of them to eat the tenth. Nine of them decide to eat Charlie, the tenth. (Because, when he was a baby, Charlie bit their fingers.)

Is this okay?


As stated, no that's not okay. I don't think every majority decision is correct. Especially if the reasoning really were "when he was a baby, Charlie bit their fingers". I think the order of most to least desirable outcome would be:

1)The people on the boat figure out how to cut off limbs without killing someone so they can eat each other and still live. This probably won't happen unless you have an equipped surgeon on the lifeboat but I did say most desirable outcome first. And if it were even theoretically possible you'd still need to have people agree on who gets eaten first so on to the next outcome.

2)One person decides to allow the others to eat him/her.

3)Everyone agrees to draw lots on who gets eaten.

4)Majority agrees to draw lots and forces it on the entire group

Pretty much any other outcome I would say the group made the wrong decision on how to handle their situation. Some individuals I would probably be more culpable than others.

If I were in that position (and option 1 was not possible) I would be in group 3 and/or 4. If I were then were chosen to be the one to die I would not be surprised if I did not go quietly. But that would be because my sense of self-preservation might turn out to be stronger than my ability to care about whether or not my actions were ethical. But if I said "you don't have the right" it would be more sour-grapes than anything to do with ethics.
posted by Green With You at 1:19 PM on August 28, 2010


I would summarize my ethical views as, "It really sucks to be trapped on a lifeboat."
posted by verb at 1:29 PM on August 28, 2010


I don't think that Molyneux is operating some sort of deliberate psychological scam.

Sure, and I believe that a lot of charismatic preachers are completely earnest, too (not being sarcastic there).

One needn't be consciously aware of how to channel daddy-hatred in order to gain from it effectively.

And why don't the people in the lifeboat make for that desert island where those other 10 people have food? Hopefully, the islanders will have worked out how to plant some of it. More likely, they're engaged in civil war, in which case there should be corpses to cannibalise.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:44 PM on August 28, 2010


In the matter of the lifeboat murder-cannibals let's continue the timeline a bit. Assuming they are never rescued but instead land on desert isle and form a new tribe which remains uncontacted for a few hundred years. You encounter the people and they tell their origin story which includes the gory details of the great sacrafice. You discover they have tranformed him into a christ like diety. Holding regular services where they reenact drinking his blood and eating his body. Now assume I'm a tribal elder, make your case about the ethics of my anscestors.
posted by humanfont at 2:53 PM on August 28, 2010


Six points to humanfont. You can kick for the extra point or run for two.
posted by verb at 3:02 PM on August 28, 2010


they have tranformed him into a christ like diety

heh.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:22 PM on August 28, 2010


...in what I've seen of the site so far I don't think that Molyneux is operating some sort of deliberate psychological scam. I think he legitimately believes he's pieced together what philosophers have been unable to for 6000 years, and he legitimately believes that he's helping people figure out real insights into themselves, their families, society, and so on.

I think that captures it perfectly. I theorize that what he does lack is insight into his own psychology. He often expresses tremendous hatred for his mother and only slightly lesser hatred for his father and only brother--all of whom he has refused to speak with in a decade.

Is it such a coincidence, then, that his central thesis is (roughly) "you are not able to understand or accept anarcho-capitalism because you were abused by your statist and/or religious parents"? This is no exaggeration. I have linked to his essays on my site, in which he makes the case that "nearly all parents are horribly bad," and that parents have created the insanity that has resultantly created statists.

Casual observers of FDR often don't realize how intrinsincally linked Molyneux's views on philosophy/psychology/economics are. Sadly, I don't think Molyneux realizes how instrinsically linked his own emotions about his family and his own worldview are! There seems to be a whole lot of projecting going on.

So, yes, he believes he is giving people real insights into themselves but when you listen to the "convos" he conducts with his 20-something (or younger) acolytes, you realize he is simply using his own brand of cognitive behavioral therapy to "prove" that all of their bad feelings and faults are a direct result of parental abuse. And both parents always share the blame.

They do not realize that he is not really listening to their situations individually. He has already decided before speaking with them that they were abused. The "insight" he is sharing with them is helping them understand how they were abused.

He feels great about it, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn he's got about 50 or so people around the world who have gone "all in" with his guidance--"defooing" their family and friends, living alone, unable to excel in a job or career (because they won't associate with corrupt people), and waiting, waiting, waiting for the life of happiness he has promised them.
posted by QuestEon at 8:46 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


An FDR member "named" Sugar Shane asked me to post this for him. (I do not endorse or condemn his views. I just offered to post for anyone there.)

---------

I visited Metafilter, and while I did see some curiosity and open-mindedness to the libertarian/anarchist perspective, most of sentiment I saw was:

"Greedy, evil libertarians...they don't want to pay their fair share of taxes!"

"This anarchy stuff is unworkable nonsense!"

"Stef didn't encapsulate the solutions to every conceivable human problem in the one 10-minute video of his I've seen--which I was only able to watch 2 minutes of since it was enraging tripe...all he does is whine w/o providing alternatives...what a crank!"

"Haven't these greedy, evil libertarians ever heard of the Social Contract?!"

"HELLO...where would we get water, roads, prisons, and everything else that makes society function from if it weren't for the state?!"

"Stef, and all anarchists, are morons."

I saw very little acknowledgment, let alone rebuttal, of the assertion that the state is a violent and coercive entity. Then again, if folks actually ADMIT this then they're forced to acknowledge the inherent evil (assuming one thinks initiatory violence IS evil) of the state (which SO many seem intent on grabbing control of--only for the good of mankind, of course!) and to think of alternatives. That's MUCH too taxing, I guess, so its easier to pretend a broken and immoral system can be fixed.

I'm constantly amazed at the HATRED directed towards people who adhere to the non-aggression principle...yes, WE'RE the bad guys!
posted by grumblebee at 8:44 AM on August 29, 2010


Grumblebee/Sugar Shane,

This site is composed of highly intelligent people, artists, economists, physicists anthropologists and scientists, geeks, nerds and hackers. This isnt our first thread on anarchy / libertarianism / an various models of economics and politics. Perhaps you should consider why all these informed, educated people have come to an opposite position. Is it really that we are uniformed about anarchism, libertarians, etc or is that we are actually quite well informed and feel no need to provide evidence again. I consider myself highly informed on the subjects of political philosophy, sociology, psychology and history. My initial comment was that libertarians and their offshoots are a bit like free energy theorists. No matter how elaborate the charts and graphs it can never work in the real world. You can keep trying to build perpetual motion machines, or you can recognized the constraints of a reality.

The core of your philosophy seems to be based on rhetorical tautology and egoism. It would seem that your view is that the definition of a state is as a violent and coercive entity and thus a state is evil. It also appears that there is a view of the primacy of yourself without any obligations to your fellow humans. That your definition of freedom is one in which you have no obligations to society. I point back to my earlier and as yet un-acknowledged argument that you are bound to the social contract by ongoing usage of cultural assets such as language, grammar and math and real estate. If you don't pay your taxes you are stealing from us, and a result we are not instigating violence, we are resounding in self defense. Who made money a universal store of value and medium of exchange for debts public and private? Even if it was gold who assayed the gold and minted into a coin that could be trusted? Who records the deeds and title to land? The answer is the state. When you refuse to pay your taxes on property or money earned, you ignore the license under which the money and property were provided.
The state is the foremost creator of peace in the modern era. The Diet of Worms created the modern nation-state and lead the way for humanity to transition from a set feudal dictatorships ruled by divine right to a more pluralistic democratic set of states. The model has been widely copied and where it does not exist today life is substantially worse. As Hobbes observed without the state life is nasty, brutish and short.
Those who advocate an overturning of the social order should anticipate that they will provoke a response. You are making provocative accusations about family relationships and society based on your views of your own superiority. Stef compared himself to Simon Cowell American Idol. These are aggressive positions.
posted by humanfont at 11:18 AM on August 29, 2010


The core of your philosophy seems to be based on rhetorical tautology and egoism .... It also appears that there is a view of the primacy of yourself without any obligations to your fellow humans.

I know nothing of Sugar Shane's claims, but you addressed your comment to me as while as him.

What makes you think that MINE are based on ego? What makes you think I think I have primacy or that I have no obligation to my fellow humans? What have I said in this thread that leads you to believe that?

Haven't I repeatedly said that though I am against taxation in principle, I don't personally mind paying taxes? Haven't I said that even if the government said, "Grumblebee, you don't have to pay taxes any more," that wouldn't do anything for me, because my concern ISN'T for me, it's for EVERYBODY?

How did you turn that into ego, primacy of self and no obligations towards others?
posted by grumblebee at 11:34 AM on August 29, 2010


grumblebee, I believe humanfont's statement was addressed to Sugar Shane via you, not necessarily to Sugar Shane and you.
posted by verb at 12:54 PM on August 29, 2010


The Diet of Worms created the modern nation-state.

It might also be a workable solution for our friends on the desert island.

(Are you sure you're not thinking of the Treaty of Westphalia, though? Martin Luther may not have been quite that influential at that point in time)
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:19 PM on August 29, 2010


I saw very little acknowledgment, let alone rebuttal, of the assertion that the state is a violent and coercive entity. Then again, if folks actually ADMIT this then they're forced to acknowledge the inherent evil (assuming one thinks initiatory violence IS evil) of the state (which SO many seem intent on grabbing control of--only for the good of mankind, of course!) and to think of alternatives. That's MUCH too taxing, I guess, so its easier to pretend a broken and immoral system can be fixed.

I don't have a whole lot of time right now, so I'll try to put down what I can in the time I have; apologies if it's a bit disjointed.

By way of background, I specifically chose to study sociology, philosophy, legal theory & social theory in my undergraduate degrees. At the time, I ran with the socialists & anarchists, and remain very left/liberal in my politics. This is just to describe where my sympathies lie, and to suggest that these arguments are far from new to me.

First up, I agree with koeselitz (I think it was) on the point that your approach is structurally similar to Marxism - in the sense of an overly dialectical approach to the interpretation of history, and especially in the way that people who disagree are thought to have "false consciousness": "You're either with us or your thinking has been corrupted by the State"

I suspect as well, that like Marxism, you focus more on the problem to be overcome (exploitation of labour, or laws, respectively) and less on what will fill the void in the new structure. And history shows that what has filled the void previously is far, far less palatable than what it was replacing. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.

This baby & bathwater problem is probably at the core of the problems I have with your theories. Let's use freedom as an example. People who are manifestly unfree have a real need & desire for freedom. If you're a minority in Burma, for example, the State isn't just taxing you, it's marching in with the army, burning your villages, raping the women, and destroying your crops. It's literally nothing less than genocide.

Here in the West, in contrast, we have a very high degree of freedom - freedom of association, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom of occupation, freedom to marry whoever we like (or can), and so on. The original video talked of "enslavement" but the freedoms we enjoy are so far from enslavement that it's literally nonsensical to apply that term to us. Slaves had no control whatsoever over their lives or destinies, except maybe to eventually earn freedom after years of good service.

In your theories, though, any degree less than absolute freedom is equated to slavery, and this is where I disagree. Like I said, it's a baby in its bathwater. We desire freedom up to a certain point, but this does not mean that it's essential to have absolute freedom. It's like a hierarchy of needs: once relative freedom is achieved, people's needs turn to security, but your theories bang on about getting that final 20% of freedom at the extra 80% of cost, at which point it becomes a tradeoff, of whether that extra is worth what you lose in achieving it.

Like Grumblebee, I actually like paying my taxes. Not because I've bought into my own 'enslavement', but because I honestly believe that a strong & healthy society is achieved the more people at all levels have access to good education & universal healthcare, not to mention the numerous programs for subsidising science & the arts, assisting people with disabilities, environmental programs, and a whole raft of other broad & point solutions.

But now I've gotta take off, on my ISO based bicycle, on state funded roads where I can be reasonably sure that people will obey the road rules, to a gym that's cleverly subsidised to improve my health.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:11 PM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Like Grumblebee, I actually like paying my taxes.

Just a small point: I never said I like paying taxes. I said (a) I don't MIND paying them and (b) even though I think taxation is wrong, the problem wouldn't be solved by just me not having to pay taxes. In other words, my objection to taxes has nothing to do with "Me! Me! Me! Mine! Mine! Mine!" Whenever anyone says he's opposed to taxes, other people immediately assume he's just greedy and wants more money to himself, and that he doesn't care about other people. That CAN be the case, but it's not necessarily the case. It's not the case with me.

If someone says, "I am against taxation" and you actually care about why -- if you don't just want to use that person as a stand-in for general views you are angry at -- you should ask him WHY he's against taxation.

I don't mind paying taxes, because I don't miss that money. It's like if someone breaks into my garage and steals a bunch of "National Geographics" I never look at. The fact that I'm not terribly worried about my magazines does not mean I'm unconcerned by the fact that thieves are loose in my neighborhood.

By the way, if all my tax money was going to help the poor and fix potholes, I'd STILL think taxation was wrong, but I'd be a little bit less upset about it. But a big chunk of my tax money goes to pay for a military machine that, I as a pacifist, am sick in my heart that I'm supporting. And some of my money is going to pay for that, whether the Democrats or Republicans are in office. In some sort of theoretical world, I could start a Pacifist Party and work to get enough representatives into office to allow them to stop military spending. But that ain't gonna happen in the real world. Some of my money IS going to fund things that I consider deeply, deeply evil.

I feel the same way about public schools. I know a lot of people think I'm crazy, but I believe that public schools are abusing hundreds of thousands of children every year. ABUSING them. It's fine if you think I'm nuts, but the important thing is that I believe that. And yet, some of my money is going to pay for something I consider to be child abuse. That's pretty hard to live with.
posted by grumblebee at 4:09 PM on August 29, 2010


OK, thanks for the correction.

I'm also unhappy that some of my taxes go towards programs that I object to, like detention of asylum seekers. Unfortunately, there is simply no existing or suggested political system that could ever be a 100% match for any individual's particular venn-diagram-intersection of interests (yes to forest regeneration, no to firearms, no to detention centres, yes to labelling & regulation of foodstuffs, no to the death penalty, etc etc etc etc etc).

But back to the point above: considering that we've been accused of not being rigorously analytical & "first principles"-based, Sugar Shane sure employs a lot of fuzzy & emotive rhetoric in his argument.

For example: "the inherent evil [...] of the state." It is rarely useful or productive to demonise historical actors as "evil" (as opposed to simply having differing motives & views to us) but even if this were OK, "the state" cannot be "evil" because it doesn't actually have a consciousness or intentionality per se, and I believe that "evil" (insofar as it can be said to exist) requires conscious intention to do harm. It would be far better to not anthropomorphise "the state" in the first place, and focus on what various arms & agencies actually do, in terms of practical results, instead of muddying the water by pretending that it is a single, unified entity with clear moral intentions.

"That's MUCH too taxing, I guess, so its easier to pretend a broken and immoral system can be fixed." Well, that's begging the question. Broken compared with what? Immorality also hasn't been clearly established (except perhaps in this abstract & tenuous concept that any regulation is inherently wrong) and again, anthropomorphising "the state" hardly adds any clarity to the analysis. And note also the absolutist, binary framing: broken v fixed. Again, it's the old Marxist argument of revolution before reformation, with the implication that attempts to improve an admittedly imperfect system are necessarily failed, and are in fact a sign of being co-opted by it.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:42 PM on August 29, 2010


It is my view thar egoism is the primacy of the individual and the self over obligations to others or the collective will. The objection to taxation as sometng forced by society upon an individual contrary to their wishes would seem to imply a supremacy of the individual. Perhaps I'm reaching the wrong conclusion. Please take me through the logical steps that explain this otherwise. Perhaps you would prefer an alternate term than egoism.

On the taxation issue, I'm curious. How do you respond to the theft of state services argument. Specifically you have described taxation as a form of theft. I counter with the premise that the creation of a form of universal exchange for payment and a store value (Aka money) is a service of the state. The other key sevice of the state is management of land records and land rights. Thus you have ownership of your home and specific rights therein because the state has recorded the deed. If you are in a boundary dispute with your neighbor it is the state court that will resolve it. The state created land ownership and with it property taxes. QED taxation of monetary transactions or real estate or other property cannot be theft, since the money and the real property are ultimately creations of the state. You have assented to being taxed by agreeing to take money for payment or in claiming ownership of the land.
posted by humanfont at 6:42 PM on August 29, 2010


It is my view thar egoism is the primacy of the individual and the self over obligations to others or the collective will. The objection to taxation as sometng forced by society upon an individual contrary to their wishes would seem to imply a supremacy of the individual. Perhaps I'm reaching the wrong conclusion. Please take me through the logical steps that explain this otherwise. Perhaps you would prefer an alternate term than egoism.

Let's say the state officials demanded you that you marry someone they pick for you -- or that you spend your life working at a job they pick for you. Would you call objecting to that "ego"? Actually, I guess, taken literally, it IS ego. It's ego if you use the word to mean the belief that you have the right to make any decisions for yourself. In more common usage, ego tends to mean selfishness -- not caring about other people. I do care about other people. Which is yet another reason I pay taxes. I think it's wrong, but if I'm the only one not paying taxes, that's not fair.

On the taxation issue, I'm curious. How do you respond to the theft of state services argument.

Easy. It's wrong to steal from the state. You really need to stop believing that I'd like everything to go on the way it is except with no taxes. Maybe that's not what you believe, but if it's not, I don't get your question.

If I get use of public funds (of stuff bought with public funds) but don't contribute to those funds, I'm stealing and that's wrong.

Presumably, that's one of the reasons anarchists are anarchists. They don't want a state at all. They don't want the state to steal from them; they don't want to steal from the state. They have worked out all sorts of alternatives, which you may or may not think are workable. As I've said here many times, I can't tell you much about those alternatives. I've glanced at them, but they bore me. They bore me because ... what's the point? The state isn't going away.

If I thought there was a way I could opt out of involvement with the state -- I mean totally opt out -- I would consider it. But I don't. Mostly I can't, because I was trained by the state to be a citizen of the state. I have no survival skills for living outside it.
posted by grumblebee at 8:23 PM on August 29, 2010


Also, if I DID somehow magically learn how to farm and whatnot, that still wouldn't solve anything. Sure, I could go live in the jungle or whatever. But meanwhile the state -- which I think is evil, which I think abuses children -- would still be abusing children.
posted by grumblebee at 8:25 PM on August 29, 2010


Let's say the state officials demanded you that you marry someone they pick for you -- or that you spend your life working at a job they pick for you. Would you call objecting to that "ego"?

This is the point at which things become muddier still for absolutist & universalist claims, and especially if you go down semiotic, structuralist & post-structuralist paths & start investigating the ways in which even "the self" is linguistically constructed, and doesn't even have an essential meaning outside of discourse.

Throughout history, there have always been 'people', of course, but the particular flavour of Homo Economicus that we are talking about here has only really existed since the Enlightenment, and was arguably first personified by Robinson Crusoe. In other words, the very concept of the individual which is being treated as natural, essential & ahistorical, was actually a product of a particular intellectual & political context.

Even today, East Asian societies don't think of the individual versus the group in the same way we do in the west, and the question of who or what would be objecting if "the state" told you who to marry or what job to do doesn't even arise unless there's a conception of "you" as somehow separate from your group and with "rights" of choice that can be at odds with your role within your broader context.

Simplifying in the interests of space, in traditional Indian society, you are your dharma. In Australian Aboriginal society, you are your moiety. Telling somebody that they can actually choose to act differently is not just an idea (a structural linguistic construct) that makes little sense, it actually makes no sense whatsoever, in that the concept simply doesn't fit in with what is or isn't philosophically possible in the context of those particular cultures. Again, I'm simplifying, but I'm sure you get the point.

Even Homo Economicus himself is effectively extinct, at the very least since Freud, and certainly with recent developments in neurology that demonstrate that the conscious & "rational" mind is even more massively overemphasised than the evidence allows for. So, if you ask if it is "ego" objecting, the answer is more that a particular linguistic meme is reacting against another linguistic meme, using your body as a host and only very slightly responsible agent, but that's another argument for another day.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:48 PM on August 29, 2010


Further to the above, "rights" in the individualistic sense that we now use them, are also a recent invention, and do not have the intrinsic, natural "self-evidence" that people like to ascribe to them.

At best, they're an expression of an Enlightenment will-to-power of the common people against the "divine right" of Kings.

And again, they're a specifically Western obsession. In Confucianism & Hinduism, for example, duties & maintaining the natural order are ten thousand times more important than any individual's petulant desire to rock the boat.

In probably the most retold & best loved story in human history, the Ramayana, Lord Rama is seen to epitomise the perfect man, because at all points he did the duty required of him, regardless of his personal wishes or own perceptions of fairness.

It's one of the things that disappoints me most about modern Western political rhetoric, that everybody is so endlessly obsessed with rights, and so uninterested in even considering that with rights come corresponding duties. We're even less interested still in the idea that duties might in fact take precedence over rights, so obsessed are we with me me me and I want my cookie and I want my cookie right now and don't you dare stand in my way!

And libertarians seem to me to be the worst of the lot.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:41 PM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hm, along the lines I was ranting on about just earlier, this looks interesting:

The article, titled "The weirdest people in the world?", appears in the current issue of the journal Brain and Behavioral Sciences. Dr. Henrich and co-authors Steven Heine and Ara Norenzayan argue that life-long members of societies that are Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic — people who are WEIRD — see the world in ways that are alien from the rest of the human family. [...]

"If you're a Westerner, your intuitions about human psychology are probably wrong or at least there's good reason to believe they're wrong," Dr. Henrich says.

After analyzing reams of data from earlier studies, the UBC team found that WEIRD people reacted differently from others in experiment after experiment involving measures of fairness, anti-social punishment and co-operation, as well as visual illusions and questions of individualism and conformity. [...] Privileged Westerners, uniquely, define themselves by their personal characteristics as opposed to their roles in society. [...]

WEIRD people, the UBC researchers argue, have unusual ideas of fairness, are more individualistic and less conformist than other people. In many of these respects, Americans are the most "extreme" Westerners, especially young ones. And educated Americans are even more extremely WEIRD than uneducated ones.

"The fact that WEIRD people are the outliers in so many key domains of the behavioral sciences may render them one of the worst subpopulations one could study for generalizing about Homo sapiens," the authors conclude. "If the goal of the research program is to shed light on the human condition, then this narrow, unrepresentative sample may lead to an uneven and incomplete understanding."

posted by UbuRoivas at 12:29 AM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Presumably, that's one of the reasons anarchists are anarchists. They don't want a state at all. They don't want the state to steal from them; they don't want to steal from the state. They have worked out all sorts of alternatives, which you may or may not think are workable. As I've said here many times, I can't tell you much about those alternatives. I've glanced at them, but they bore me. They bore me because ... what's the point? The state isn't going away.

Someone said this above, but I wanted to reiterate, it's important we don't personify the state. "the state" is just the series of agreements human beings have made with one another. What you are saying is that the series of agreements humans have made with one another is ultimately negative for the majority (for all?) of those human beings.

But you have to recognize there's no way to stop people from making agreements at all. All you can hope for is that they make fewer agreements or less complex ones, which means there are various services and protections that will have to be handled independently, which means some people will not be able to handle them for themselves (eg, if we stop public education altogether, some people will simply not learn to read - maybe that's fine, but just recognize that as a fact).
posted by mdn at 6:38 AM on August 30, 2010


Also, if I DID somehow magically learn how to farm and whatnot, that still wouldn't solve anything. Sure, I could go live in the jungle or whatever. But meanwhile the state -- which I think is evil, which I think abuses children -- would still be abusing children.

The state abuses children? That is quite an extraordinary argument. Can you please clarify? Is is the agents of the state who are abusive or the notion of the state itself? Is the state ultimately a passive entity as described above incapable of its own actions, or is there something active an malevolent that emerges from a state? What about regulations on child labor, standards of childcare, and services such as clean water and power which have dramatically improved the lives of students.
posted by humanfont at 7:32 AM on August 30, 2010


The state abuses children? That is quite an extraordinary argument. Can you please clarify?

Yeah, I realize it sounds nuts, and my problem is that to explain it, I'd have to basically write a book. I'd have to delve into all sorts of aspects of education, child development and cognitive development that I've been studying for about 30 years. And this thread isn't the place for that.

What I'll do here is to summarize my views without giving a scrap of evidence: children are born as curious being who are most happy when they are learning. For the majority of them, something happens to kill (or greatly diminish) this drive. Very few kids, by the time they are teenagers, if not before, wind up thinking, "Oh! Yay! I get to do homework!" The kids that do tend to like it -- and to like school -- because they like getting strokes from the teacher, not so much for the thrill of the work itself.

As I said, I will not attempt, here, to prove anything in the above paragraph. If you don't already agree with it, there's no reason why me stating it should make you start believing in it. My aim here is just to explain to you what I believe: school kills something fundamental in many kids -- something that could give them great joy if it was left alive.

I go further: without a life of unforced learning, the brain fails to grow in significant ways. It's possible to keep someone alive but malnourished. If you feed a child on a terrible diet throughout his formative years, I'd call that a kind of abuse. He'll grow up with life-long heath defects. I see school like that on a mental level.

We could argue here about the use of my word "abuse." Does abuse have to mean hitting or torturing someone in an obvious and immediate way? Or can it also mean a slow process, one that never allows people to live up to even a fraction of their potential, one that causes parts of them to atrophy in a permanent way? You may not believe this is happening, but can you see how someone who thinks millions of children are abused by state educations might have a problem with the state?

The state forces kids to "be educated," but it doesn't force them to go to public school. There are other options -- sort of. There are private schools open to wealthier families. I am not convinced they're much better. Some parents homeschool their kids (which is what I'd probably do if I was a parent), but you generally need a certain amount of wealth to do that, too. For many parents, that's just impossible.

Most parents would do it badly, anyway. Why? Well, in my opinion, it's because THEY got educated by the state. It's not like we have great models to think of when we're trying to come up with alternatives. Most of us are stuck in conceptual boxes, largely due to the state-based educations we got.

One problem with my argument is it always encounters "I went through the public school and I turned out just fine." To which I would say, "No, you didn't." (Of course, I don't know you. I'm speaking in general terms.) If we lived on a world in which everyone spent their whole lives in prison cells, plenty of people would say, "Living in a prison cell is fine! Look at how I turned out!" But that doesn't mean they're fine. They just don't know any better. And it WOULD be a good idea to rid that world of its cells. The problem is, no one in the prison-cell world is likely to do that.

Okay, that's my load of unfounded assertions for the day. If you're interested in learning more, I recommend STARTING (because it's the tip of a HUGE iceberg) with John Holt's classic, "How Children Fail."
posted by grumblebee at 2:11 PM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Living in a prison cell is fine! Look at how I turned out!" But that doesn't mean they're fine. They just don't know any better. And it WOULD be a good idea to rid that world of its cells. The problem is, no one in the prison-cell world is likely to do that.

Blaming that on the state is short sighted, I think. Remember Plato's allegory of the Cave? Society does mean we grow up in a "prison cell" - and it is very hard to see beyond it. But this is an ancient problem of living within socially reinforced norms. It isn't just an issue of taxes...

Re: whether education kills something in a child, there are a few separate issues to consider there.
For one, is every child actually interested in learning? Depends what the subject is... Some countries allow people to concentrate on skilled labor or other non-intellectual areas once they've passed basic literacy/ math competency, which might be a better method. Some students will just not mix with some topics.

For another, is it education or the practical world that is "killing" something in the child? Working in contemporary western culture, you have to get a job and do a thing for so many hours a week, just the way school works. If education were better, but then those kids had to get jobs, wouldn't their souls eventually get crushed anyway (except, once again, those lucky few who get jobs they love, like those lucky few who got to go to awesome private schools)? Modern education is built to prepare people for the capitalist world, not to learn for the sake of learning, but to earn grades and get promoted, like they will later earn salaries and get promoted. Alternative schools, and alternative careers, do exist, and perhaps are more popular than ever these days - but still are not the majority.

Thirdly, the most basic philosophical question here would probably be how society ruins our potential - what amounts to the myths of the child raised in the jungle, or even the story of the fall of man... in pure nature, the human being is perfect; once they become civilized (in eden, they start to wear clothes, eg), they're tainted. This yearning to escape our social selves is evident all throughout art, religion and philosophy. I find this stuff resonant, as I think most people do on some level.

Where we differ is the same place I differ from Christians about the garden of eden. I don't take it literally. This is an analogy to explain those feelings of disparity we experience in dealing with depending on others (what Sartre called "despair"). But we have to depend on each other. We have to have arrangements and communities, either implicitly (as is most often the case) or explicitly (as recent western civilization has preferred) laid out. It's part of being a member of the human family.
posted by mdn at 3:01 PM on August 30, 2010


Is every child actually interested in learning? Depends what the subject is.

Yes, with a few exceptions (e.g. kids born with brain damage), every child is actually interested in learning. Have you ever seen an infant that wasn't basically a full-time learning machine? At some point, for many kids, that yearning for learning stops. The question is, is that just a natural part of getting older or is that yearning "beaten" out of them? Most people assume it's the former; I assume it's a mixture of the former and the latter, but that it's primarily the latter.

As for subjects, I never said anything about them. I would never claim that all kids want to learn all subjects. In fact, I don't believe in required subjects at all. Which is another nutty statement ("If we don't force kids to learn to read, they'll all wind up illiterate.") that I'm not going to pursue here, because it really deserves a whole other thread. But there's a lot of literature on the subject. I mentioned one book in my last thread. It's also worth reading the (dated and offensive in sections but still valuable and provocative) "Summerhill School: a New View of Childhood."

I agree with you that most schools aren't chiefly places of learning; they are places where kids are trained for corporate life. (Exception: some of the vocational departments that me and my "sophisticated" friends used to mock, back when we were in high school. I have a feeling more real learning went on there than in any of my classes.) I see this as a big problem.

Where we differ is the same place I differ from Christians about the garden of eden. I don't take it literally.


Me neither. I'm not utopian. Many times in this thread, I've stated that this is the main reason I don't even bother listening to Libertarian alternatives. My view of human nature is largely dark and "Darwinian." But I do believe children are born learners and that our culture tends to kill that. And further, I believe that's a terrible thing. That's it's profoundly damaging.
posted by grumblebee at 6:40 AM on August 31, 2010


For anyone still interested in my relationship with Stef and FDR, here's the end of that story (as far as I'm concerned): I went onto Stef's Sunday call-in show and asked him questions about his banning policy and charges that he'd silenced people with dissenting views. I did not accuse him of anything. We talked for about an hour.

Here's the text of a post I just made on the Liberating Minds site:

Okay: Stef has just done me a service. He has made up my mind for me. He cut me from the podcast. (I haven't listened to the whole thing yet. If he's moved me from the beginning -- I was the first caller -- to the end, then I'm wrong, and I will post as much when I get done listening.)

He didn't email me, telling me he's cutting me; he didn't post that he had cut me. The content is just gone. He talked to me for an hour or so after the podcast. He was friendly. I told him I would not go on an anti-FDR rampage if I chose to leave, and I will keep that word. (Which is pretty easy, because posting ant-FDR screeds would bore me.) I can only guess that he thought, "Great. He's no thread. I'll just cut him from the podcast and that's that taken care of."

In my view, a community that does not allow itself to be criticized can not work. Or at least I don't want to be part of such a community. From what I've seen so far, LM is totally open to criticism. Metafilter is also open to it (people constantly question the mods, who make notes in threads making it clear when they've edited out content).

I didn't make any claims about Stef or FDR. I just asked questions. Stef deleted them and didn't even note that he deleted them. Too bad.

I had some interesting discussions on FDR. Many of Stef's podcasts are interesting and I'm sure I'll still listen to them. But I won't be part of a community that isn't open to criticism from its members. Which is fine. I will survive without FDR and FDR will survive without me. I wish Stef and its members well.
posted by grumblebee at 1:34 PM on August 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


I wonder if that kind of unilateral & authoritarian censorship - completely lacking in transparency - is part of the model he has for his personal vision of Utopia?

Because I far prefer the open way that we (including the moderators) discuss anything & everything about site policies, behaviours & norms in MetaTalk.

Or, to put it slightly differently: Christ, what an arsehole. Choose your own occupation, indeed.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:39 PM on August 31, 2010


Speaking of Christ...as for "the state" being morally bankrupt, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:52 PM on August 31, 2010


For what it's worth, this thread, the side reading that it's inspired, the side threads that it has inspired, and so on have been really interesting, thought provoking, and rewarding. Thanks to all who've participated in it. I feel richer for it.
posted by verb at 7:04 PM on August 31, 2010


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