Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Politics is not geometry

I've been reading a great (as yet) unpublished paper by David Corey. He gave me permission to quote it:
Ultimately, the problem with the first postulate—that the abstract [in politics] is better than the embedded—is that it is simply false. In mathematics, if someone can latch onto one truth, he can often use it to find others. For example if one element of a complex equation can be solved, it may be used to solve the rest. But moral and political “truths” are not like this. We cannot focus on one aspect of the human political terrain, abstracted from the overall context, and expect this to point the way to social harmony. This is because (to put it bluntly) humans are not numbers, and our affairs admit of irreducible contingency. No doubt, we are frustrated by contingency. We wish for a degree of simplicity and universality that human moral claims do not actually possess. But to allow such frustrations to overwhelm us, to insist that the abstract is superior to the embedded when the results tell us otherwise, is to engage in a kind of intellectual dishonesty, all the worse for the disastrous political consequences.
NAPsters, take note.


  1. L

    That is supposed to be a glyph looking like a thumb held firmly upwards. The most valuable question any prof asked me, or rather the whole class, was in third year phil. Don't we always know more about the concrete example than the abstract principle?

  2. I'm curious to know why Rothbard opted for a such a "geometrical" approach. The effects of this approach usually show themselves in the examples anarcho-libertarians point to as working examples of things similar to their ideal system. These examples like the Wild West, medieval Iceland, or (embarrasingly) Somalia usually leave me scratching my head. I just can't see it.

  3. Some people have what Hofstadter called 100% minds. They cannot tolerate doubt, uncertainty, gaps in knowledge. Rothbard is one, and so are most of his acolytes.
    One of the easiest way to recognize a 100%er is to see how he reacts when you produce a reduction to the absurd from his arguments. He embraces the absurd. So you can shoot wanderers ambling across you fields, those aggressive bastards.

    1. Just wondering what you guys think about this, but I've had a problem with reductio ad absurdums for a while since it seems that what is absurd is something merely subjective. Of course, what we consider as absurd can even ultimately be proven to be true on occasion. Am I looking at reductio ad absurdums in the wrong way?

    2. "what is absurd is something merely subjective."

      What is "merely subjective" is nothing at all. That a certain result is absurd is a judgment, And so is deciding 2 + 2 = 4. See What the Tortoise Said to Achilles, by Lewis Carroll.

    3. There are two broad kinds of reductio. In the first you exhibit a flat out contradiction. In the second you exhibit something merely false or ridiculous. If you tell me that men with 4 letter names are infallible then I can prove you must accept Iraq had huge stockpiles of WMDs in 2003. That is not a contradiction, merely a falsehood. This example I think no more outlandish than many you can find from ideologues and NAPsters in particular.

  4. Found a good quote regarding this. Rothbard (indirectly) on Rothbard: "But, as we have discovered in the past century, no constitution can interpret or enforce itself; it must be interpreted by men.".


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