Showing posts from June, 2014

Americans: Narcissists with absolutely no sense of historical proportion?

I just watched Frank Marshall, the producer of The Bourne Identity, declare that "obviously, one of the most major world events that occurred ever" was... 9/11!

Look, I don't want to diminish the loss of those 3000 lives, but... the millions lost in the Holocaust? The Killing Fields? The Armenian Genocide? The Thirty Years War, when Europe lost perhaps a quarter of its population?

And in terms of world-historical significance? How does 9/11 compare to the migration of humans out of Africa? The development of agticulture? Of writing? Of Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam? The fall of the Roman Empire? The Greek victory in The Persian War? The conqests of Alexander? The discovery of the New World by Europeans? The Reformation?

Well, I could go on for several hours listing thousands of events obviously "more major" than 9/11. And I don't mean to pick on Frank Marshall: I don't know him from Adam. And perhaps he is smart enough to know he is spouting n…

Bosanquet on the ideality of economics

"Conditions which have become 'economic' have ceased to be material. They are motives, interests, means to ends." -- The Philosophical Theory of the State, p. 300

All of the idealist philosophers I have read recognized the "praxeological" nature of economic life.

The world of physics is an abstraction from the real world

"Thus we get a wholly new metaphysical position. Taking the elements of the traditional seventeenth-century cosmology and simply rearranging them, Berkeley shows that, if substance means that which exists in its own right and depends on itself alone, only one substance need be asserted to exist, namely, mind. Nature as it exists empirically for our everyday perception is the work or creature of mind; nature in Galileo's sense, the purely quantitative material world of the physicist, is an abstraction from this, it is so to speak the skeleton or armature of the nature we perceive through our senses, and create in perceiving it. To sum up: we first, by the operation of our mental powers, create the warm, living, coloured, flesh-and- blood natural world which we know in our everyday experience; we then, by the operation of abstractive thinking, remove the flesh and blood from it and are left with the skeleton. This skeleton is the 'material world' of the physicist."…

Anarchism: All Based on a Joke

Edmund Burke's A Vindication of Natural Societyis a satire, intending to ridicule Bolingbroke's deism with what Burke thought would be a great reductio: "Bolingbroke, if your right, then we should get rid of government as well!"

But then William Godwin decided to read Burke's satire at face value, and thus anarchism was born from a joke taken seriously.

Joe Sobran tried to explain this away: "[Burke's] argument for anarchy was too powerful, passionate, and cogent to be a joke." Sobran contends that "many" have doubted the satirical intention of Burke's work. By "many" he means... Murray Rothbard.

But as John Weston noted, not a single Burke scholar agrees with Rothbard, who notably was not a Burke scholar. The evidence against Rothbard is overwhelming: Burke himself declared the work a satire, and he was already expressing his typically conservative views at roughly the same time as the pamphlet's publication.

Why did Roth…

The historian is like a detective

Collingwood likened the historian to a detective in The Idea of History: both regard narratives from the past not as "the facts," but as evidence to be analyzed to get at the facts. Agatha Christie seemed to understand the resemblance as well:

"You are at least right in this -- not to take what has been written down as necessarily a true narrative. What has been written may have been written deliberately to mislead." -- Murder in Retrospect, p. 183

All institutions fall short of their ideal form

"The whole question really depends on our understanding of the relation of abstract and concrete. It is plain, as Green says, that the idea of a common good has never been the sole influence operative in the formation or maintenance of States. And, in so far as it has operated at all, it has done so in very imperfect forms." -- Bernard Bosanquet, The Philosophical Theory of the State, p. 289

The imaginary construction of the anarchist utopia

"In the simple ideal of liberty, as equivalent to the absence of all government -- for we must not forget that it is an ideal, obtained by neglecting the facts of life which run counter to it -- there is clearly embodied a claim which commands our respect... We have assumed that the root of it lies in the claim to be ourselves." -- Bernard Bosanquet, The Philosophical Theory of the State, p. 134

Note that Bosanquet, in the last sentence above, has anticipated the argument from self-ownership.

Animal Consciousness

This big beautiful fellow flapped confusedly around my porch light for a while tonight as I read Bosanquet:

I have seen some people (Dawkins?) ask, "How could you think these creatures are conscious, given how easily they are confused by something as simple as a porch light?"

I ask, "How can you think something that is not conscious can be confused at all?"

Has anyone ever noted a confused rock? A confused cloud? A drop of water that has made a mistake? Mistakes and confusion are marks of consciousness, not signs of its absence!

A Favorite Ideological Game: "Oh, So What You Mean Is..."

Ideologies contain strategies for self-maintenance, among them a filter that converts every statement that might challenge the ideology into one it can easily refute. So, for instance, when I wrote a post showing that taxation is just, the filters of several commenters tuned it into a post arguing "We shouldn't worry about justice in the context of taxation!" Now, it was easy to refute: Gene doesn't care about justice: what an amoral guy!"

A favorite way ideologues do this is by continually re-stating your argument. Let's imagine someone has an ideology requiring them to believe that the Spurs are a terrible basketball team and anyone who likes them has a completely distorted worldview. Here's how to play this game:

Spurs Fan: Tony Parker is a very good point guard.
Anti-Spurs Ideologue: Oh, so what you're saying is that Parker is the best point guard who has ever played!
SF: Don't be ridiculous: I'm just saying he can really move the ball arou…

The Cuba Gooding Jr. Stamp of Awfulness

Is their a better guarantee a movie will be terrible than Cuba's name on the DVD cover?

Externalist versus internalist history of science

At the History of Economics Society meetings this past weekend, there was some talk about internalist versus externalist histories of science. The first traces the development of a science through the development of the ideas "internal" to the science. (E.g., "After Galileo's advances, the stage was set for the work of Newton.") The latter looks to the larger society to explain what science is up to at some point in time. (E.g., "The Protestant Reformation enabled scientists to more easily question the ideas of Aristotle.")

But surely both ways of doing the history of science or partial and one-sided. To do a merely external history ignores the obvious fact that scientists develop new theories in response to the inadequacies of older theories. But a nearly internalist history is incomplete as well: as Bosanquet said, "It is impossible to state the idea fully and correctly without including the environment on which it rests, and the activities in…

And Lilla is pretty funny as well

"Nationally elected officials in the weaker states, hoping to stay in office while having to impose austerity, point to the Germans; the Germans shift blame to the EU solvency rules. The EU then points to the omniscient financial markets, which refer you to American bond-rating agencies, which are staffed by MBAs working in cubicles who have become, faute de mieux, the new sovereigns of Europe."

See two posts ago for link.

The thing that they do in ads that I might hate the most

Experience is a world of ideas. Music is a part of experience, and so music is a world of ideas. When someone writes a good song, its "goodness" consists in the coherence of the ideas it involves.

But advertisers today are continually splicing out snippets of songs and putting them together in ways that make no musical sense at all. They only have 30 seconds for their ad, so what they do is to give you the first few bars of a verse, and then cut immediately to the chorus. But if it was a good song in the first place, the part the ad cuts out was necessary to the musical flow of ideas that led to the chorus. So what we get is musical nonsense, a mangling of what was a good song, served up to prompt people to buy deodorant or beer or a new car.

What is an ideology?

"What is, or was, ideology? Dictionaries define it as a “system” of ideas and beliefs people hold that motivate their political action. But the metaphor is inapt. All practical activity, not just political activity, involves ideas and beliefs. An ideology does something different: it holds us in its grasp with an enchanting picture of reality." -- Mark Lilla, "The truth about our libertarian age," The New Republic

Hayek tries to resolve a non-conundrum

This was in someone's PowerPoint presentation this past weekend: "The aim of theoretical psychology is to explain why the world of our senses differs from the world revealed by the physical sciences." (I don't know if it is a direct quote from Hayek or a paraphrase.)

If Hayek had things in the right order, the answer to this question would be easy: the world "revealed" by the physical sciences is actually a world created by them, by a process of abstraction from the real world. It differs from the "world of our senses" because it deliberately takes up a partial view of the real world.

Sorry, Ancaps, you've got your priorities backwards

"Thus, the world of Bourgeois Society -- a world, on the whole, of cash nexus and mere protection by the State -- has a structure or tendency of its own which brings it back by necessary steps to connection with the State proper or explicit and determinate social unity. It is, we must observe, posterior to the State in time. It is only within the State proper, and resting on it solid power, that such a world as that of Bourgeois Society could arise or be conceivable. Its priority to the State is, like that of the family, the priority of comparative narrowness or simplicity, of dealing with fewer factors, and of representing human nature in a more special, though necessary, aspect. And for this very reason it could not exist by itself." -- Bernard Bosanquet, The Philosophical Theory of the State, p. 276

Guest Post from Samson Corwell

"The Remissness of our People in Paying Taxes is highly blameable; the Unwillingness to pay them is still more so. I see, in some Resolutions of Town Meetings, a Remonstrance against giving Congress a Power to take, as they call it, the People's Money out of their Pockets, tho' only to pay the Interest and Principal of Debts duly contracted. They seem to mistake the Point. Money, justly due from the People, is their Creditors' Money, and no longer the Money of the People, who, if they withold it, should be compell'd to pay by some Law.

"All Property, indeed, except the Savage's temporary Cabin, his Bow, his Matchcoat, and other little Acquisitions, absolutely necessary for his Subsistence, seems to me to be the Creature of public Convention. Hence the Public has the Right of Regulating Descents, and all other Conveyances of Property, and even of limiting the Quantity and the Uses of it. All the Property that is necessary to a Man, for the Conservation of t…

Bosanquet on the General Will

"The General Will seems to be, in the last resort, the ineradicable impulse of an intelligent bring to a good extending beyond itself, in so far as that good takes the form of a common good." -- The Philosophical Theory of the State, p. 109

One of the stupidest human activities on prominent display?

I just saw two TV announcers mocking how silly the fashions they wore 20 years ago look now.

But of course they are both still slaves to fashion. And what's more they think that what they're wearing on TV today is perfect and beyond reproach, because it is "current"!

Do they really not realize that in another 20 years there will be some other announcers on TV mocking how stupid what they are wearing today looks? This summer they will be wearing orange, because "orange is this summer's black," and announcers of the future will be ridiculing them for their ridiculous color choice.

George Will's Rape Blunder and Doing History by Intuition

George Will continues to be in the news for his controversial op-ed column claiming "that when [universities] make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate." He really put his foot in it when he next discussed rape, implying that there are now many flimsy rape charges being forwarded.

His host of critics called this "stupid" (this search turned up 165,000 results for me today) and have gotten him fired from at least one newspaper.

George Will seems to just know this sort of thing is going on, while his critics seem to just know that it is not going on.* What amazes me is that both sides simply bring their presuppositions to the table and state them as facts. Neither side seems to of heard of research.

I do not claim to be more virtuous than these people, but I am fortunate enough to have been trained in historical thinking. When an historian resorts to talking about the likelihood or implausibility of something having happened, that…

Heard on Alaskan Bush People

A bush guy talking about his brother: "He's kind of like his own animal: bear."

Um, no, I'm pretty sure there are other bear animals in the world.

Look what you've done, Kevin Quinn

This is the grief stricken attendees at the History of Economics Society meeting, when they learned that Kevin Quinn could not attend. The third fellow was so overcome with sorrow that he could not even bear to show his face.

My gift to you may be qualified

Let us say I have a mansion in the Hamptons. I'm feeling generous and decide to give it to you, but on a condition: I may have the use of it 10 weekends a year.

Certainly there is nothing unjust about me coming to use the house on those ten weekends, correct? In fact, if you try to deny me the use of the house, it would be you who is in the wrong, and I would be justified in using the law to make you to meet your obligation to me. And it would be utter nonsense if you claimed that in doing so, I was "stealing" your property "at the point of a gun."

Well, property rights are a gift to all of us from the civil order that we found pre-existing us upon our birth. As Rousseau notes, outside of civil society, property rights do not exist, and all we could have is mere possession: we have a good in the same way an animal has its kill, until someone stronger comes along and takes it from us.

The gifts we have received from the pre-existing civil order come with an obligat…

Bosanquet on Mill

John Stuart Mill tried to delimit a realm of government action and a private realm that was off limits to the government by claiming that the government could not interfere in purely private actions. But Bosanquet notes that there is no such thing:

"For every act of mine affects both myself and others; and it is a matter of mood and momentary urgency which aspect may be pronounced characteristic and essential" (p. 64).

The line can be drawn wherever one wants, and thus Mill provides no limit to government action at all. (For instance, Mill himself proposed forbidding those without means to marry.)

Bosanquet then offers a superior criterion for making this judgment:

"Throughout all these objections to authoritative interference we trace the peculiar prejudice that the criterion of its justifiability lies in the boundary line between self and others, rather than in the nature of what coercive authority is and is not able to do towards the promotion of good life" (The Phi…

Doing away with metaphysics

Every time I hear someone suggest the above, it turns out that they actually have a materialist metaphysics. But they don't have any way of defending it, so what they really want to do is to declare out of bounds all discussion of metaphysics, and just assume materialism.

Samuelson using mathematics to produce policy

Listening to a paper on Samuelson versus Von Neumann, I was struck by the idea that Samuelson thought he could use mathematical economics to produce policy. This, not the mere introduction of mathematics, has been the key problem with recent, mainstream economics: the failure to recognize that the mathematization of economics makes it abstract and divorces it from political economy. (It is fine to generate such abstractions, but a serious error to try to make reality fit the abstraction.) This is discussed in more depth in "Economics and Its Modes."

Living in hotels: the cleaning staff is your enemy

I've spent a lot of time in hotels over the years. One thing I've learned is that when you check-in, your hotel room is never the way you want it. The chairs are in the wrong places, the ottoman is in the wrong place, the lights need to be adjusted, that giant duvet needs to be chucked into the corner of the room, the ironing board put out where you can use it, and so on.

After a couple of hours, you will have gotten everything in proper order. You get to sleep, then go out the next day. But until you learn the principle that I will convey to you in this post, when you get back that evening you'll find tragedy has struck: the devilish cleaning staff has placed everything exactly back where it was when you checked in, as if they thought that all your work rearranging things had been some sort of accident.

So the first key to a happy stay in your hotel room is never let the cleaning staff in. Ever.

Yes, after a few days, the towels may be getting a little musty, and the toilet…

The most key-card happy hotel?

The Hilton Garden Inn already requires a key card to use the elevator. So imagine my surprise when I found out that I had to use my key card again to get to the vending machine.

We can't have unauthorized people buying cream sodas now, can we?

I'm not sure whether to be embarrassed or pleased

Despite having read extensively in the secondary literature on Oakeshott in the course of writing Oakeshott on Rome and America, I somehow missed what I now think is the best book about Oakeshott out there: Paul Franco's The Political Philosophy of Michael Oakshott.

In one sense this is embarrassing: I really ought to have read the book some years ago. But on the other hand, I am somewhat glad I didn't: Franco's thoughts on Oakshott are very close to mine, especially concerning the importance of idealist philosophy to Oakeshott's critique of rationalism. But I had to struggle my way to these conclusions over the course of several years of contemplation. If I had merely read them in Franco's book, I'm not sure that they would be nearly as much "mine" as they are. O felix culpa!

What city?


Imaginary construction of the anarchist utopia

As we have seen, anarchists do not even realize that any attempt to implement their own proposals will involve coercion and politics, and perhaps just as much as in the current society. (That is an empirical matter, and we'd have to see it running to decide it.)

Nevertheless, their idea of how they would like their society to function is useful to contemplate. Over the past couple of years, I have come to treat it much as Mises used the evenly rotating economy: an impossible state of affairs, but useful as a foil in thinking about the real world.

Issue 1.3 of Cosmos and Taxis

now available, edited by Leslie Marsh and me. It is a special Oakeshott issue, dedicated to Kenneth Minogue.

The politics of the book

Of course there is no correct definition of a word. Definitions can be in more or less widespread use, more or less enlightening, more or less useful, but they are not correct or incorrect. (Of course, one can be mistaken about a definition: if someone thinks that the common definition of "dog" is "a cream-filled pastry," and he uses the word that way, he has made a mistake and he will be misunderstood. But, if he says "Let me define 'dog' as 'a cream-filled pastry,'" it is odd, but not wrong.)

So if one wants to define "ideology" as "a person's political views," well, there you have it. But I think that there is a more useful definition, one that differentiates a political ideology from mere political views. That definition has been elaborated by Russell Kirk, Eric Voeglin, and Michael Oakeshott, among others. Here is Paul Franco on Oakeshott on ideology:

"But by far the most significant characterization of rati…

Est-ce que...

"Est-ce que c'est un oiseau?"

It seems such a wordy way to say "Is it a bird?"

Of course, given you are not pronouncing about half the letters, it is a lot less wordy when spoken then when written.

Overthrowing Saddam

I think the people who cooked up the idea hadn't read quite enough Hobbes, don't you?

The babble of contemporary political discourse

I was watching The Interpreter. Someone is giving a speech at the UN. The speaker says, "We must not allow the peace of the world to be jeopardized. Not only is this a negation of democracy, it constitutes interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states."

I noted it because it sounded like a real UN speech, and is pure babble. What if "the people" vote for war? What if the sovereign in some nation is not democratic? But I bet someone has said something much like at the UN this month.

Boundaries in the living world

Boundaries are pervasive throughout the biological realm. Start with the simplest living thing: the cell. The cell is defined, first and foremost, by the cell wall. Is the interface between the interior of the cell and the environment beyond the cell. In particular, it regulates what passes through the cell wall, and what must be kept out if the cell is to survive. And what do we do if there are some cells, say those of pathogens, that we want to kill? One way to kill them is to burst their cell walls by subjecting them to high heat. No cell wall, no living cell.

Let us move up to the level of multicellular organisms. We still have the rough equivalent of the cell wall, but now it is more complex: skin, bark, thorns, roots, hard shells, exoskeleton, the surface of leaves, mouth, nostrils, anus, the immune system. All function to bring into the organism things helpful to its flourishing, and keep out things harmful to it. And to destroy an organism, we breach its defenses: with poison, …

Apple's voice recognition software completely ignores context

I note this because I find it a very curious decision on the part of the engineers who built it.

An example: a minute ago, I just spoke the words "an ant colony." The software inserted the words "an and colony." That does not even make syntactical, let alone semantic sense. But the software did offer me two alternatives: "Aunt" and "an." An "Aunt colony" is an amusing suggestion: I pictured a group of spinsters gathered together on an island, knitting and serving each other tea. But again, "an an colony" makes no sense at all.

Surely, far and away the most common word, which sounds like these choices, to go in the blank in the phrase "an ____ colony" is "ant," right? But that was not even offered as an alternative.

Does anyone know why the designers decided against taking any clues from context in deciding what was spoken?

Deliberately Misreading a Metaphor as an Identity

A favorite tactic used by unprincipled partisans on the Internet is to take an opposing side's metaphor and read it as an identity, and so turn it from a trope that shines the spotlight on one particular aspect of a situation into an absurdity that makes the opponent look like a buffoon.

So let us say this partisan wants to ridicule the Old Testament. They turn to the Song of Solomon and find:
Thy teeth are as a flock of sheep
which go up from the washing,
whereof every one beareth twins,
and there is not one barren among them. Of course, the author knew that no woman's teeth are like sheep in every, or indeed, even in very many, respects. The author was noting the uniform whiteness and even regularity of the teeth by comparing them to the same features of a flock of sheep.

But the partisan comments on the passage as follows: "Oh my God, those idiots writing the Old Testament thought that a woman's teeth were hoofed animals that had four legs, could give birth to yo…

"Immigrant Haters"

In the wake of Brat's victory, I've seen a number of Facebook posts about "immigrant haters."

No doubt some people hate Mexicans, or Jamaicans, or Laotians, etc.

But equating a desire for controlled immigration with hatred for immigrants is a childish smear tactic.

The fact I do want my neighbors to continue living in their house rather than moving into mine does not mean I hate them.

The fact the Tibetans do not want their culture wiped out by the flood of Chinese moving into Tibet does not mean they hate the Chinese.


It Is the Theorist Who Makes the Rules "Followed" by Animals, Not the Animals

Jonathan Finegold claims: "Thus, saber-toothed cats adopted evolutionary social rules, just like humans do."

No: the cats just behaved the way they behaved. They could not have "adopted" a rule, because they lack the means (language) necessary to even formulate a rule.

That cat behavior was somewhat consistent, however, and due to that consistency, the theorist can abstract a rule (since he does have language at his disposal).

Understanding this is a crucial part of avoiding the great rationalist error, which is believing that reality is only comprehensible through abstractions.

For more on this topic, see this paper.

Why Are People Jerkier Online?

Reading this essay, I contemplated why people are more apt to be a jerk online than in person. I thought back to a recent conference, where I confronted a Marxist presenter about how the attempt to put his ideology into practice in the past had created, rather than the utopia he sought, Gulags and Killing Fields. "Why," I asked, "should anyone believe it will be different this time?"

His answer was that he didn't care if the utopia he wanted could ever be created: "We struggle because we must."

I was stunned. This was really evil: At least the 20th-century tyrants had believed that, in the end, they were going to create a utopia. But this guy didn't mind if 100 million people died for no purpose except to fulfill his need for "struggle." If we were online, I would have laid into him. But... but... we had met an hour before, and he had been nice. He had shaken my hand, and thanked me for reading his paper.

The difference was this: online,…

I Am Close to a Brat

I just co-edited a journal issue with Leslie Marsh. And Leslie, a man with fingers in multiple pies, is editing a new volume of essays on Adam Smith. (I also know about a half-dozen of the essay authors.)

And look who the last author is on the list.

An Introduction to Distributism

A well-done guide here. (Someone was asking about it in the comments.)

Netflix recommendations are kind of weird

Because I watched The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I might also want to watch a documentary on Hannah Arendt?!

There is also a strange lack of "self-awareness" on the part of the recommendation software: one of the "top picks" for me is the show Luther. But I have already seen every episode.

Then, just two lines down the screen, a new set of selections is offered "Because you watched Luther." So here the software knows I watched Luther? Why didn't it know this just a moment before?

When You in the Water You Never Get Wet If You Keep on Doing That Rag

Instructions for the ideological two-step:

Imagine two rocks in a pool. The rock to the left is called "ideal theory" and the rock to the right is called "real world policy." (Don't think of the political left and right here: we just need to differentiate the two feet somehow.) Place one foot on each rock.

Let's put your left foot on "Democratic reform leads to an empowerment of the average citizen, an increase in his or her liberty and security, and a higher standard of living."

Now, carefully place the right foot down on "The U.S. must act internationally in the interest of democratic reform."

To do the two-step and render yourself immune from being knocked off of your ideological platform, you just notice which leg an opponent is trying to dislodge, and swiftly lift that one and switch all your weight to the other.

So, your opponent comes at your left leg: "This is empty verbiage."

Shift to the right: "No, it calls for …

Remarks that leave one speechless

Every once in a while, someone says something so mind-bogglingly oblivious that I am left without a response. For some reason, one such remark is on my mind right now.

We were discussing artificial intelligence, and something came up about computers and emotions. One commentor posted the following:

'It is very easy to make a computer feel sad. Just put in this line of code:
print "I feel sad."'

He was being serious.

I suppose if we asked this person to solve the problem of making a computer smaller than an atom, he would say it is easy:

print "I am smaller than an atom."

Spoiler Brat

There, I just had to use the headline. For the story, you'll have to go here.

Of course, no one is suggesting that X!

"Progressives" usually advance their agenda with assurances that there are perfectly reasonable limits on what they will agitate for: "Of course, no one is proposing that we set up a racial quota system, or ban speech we find offensive!" This assurance is given just a few years before a racial quota system is set up, or offensive speech is banned.

I recall assurances from a few years ago that "Of course, no one is suggesting that we force churches to marry gay couples!"

And once again...

The Free Market: Now You See It, Now You Don't!

Whenever you point out something particularly bad being done by a corporation or an industry to a libertarian and ask if the free market might have had a part in it, you are told "The free market does not exist: we are living in a world where markets are plagued by a myriad of interventions!"

But this free-market that does not exist whenever one is pointing to a problem, suddenly pops into existence whenever a libertarian wants to take credit for some improvements that have gone on in the world:

"and peaceful solutions (the free market) have emancipated more people from grinding poverty than any other force in the history of the world."

Sorry, the exact same mixed economy that has produced crony capitalism and pollution has produced the economic growth that has lifted people out of poverty, since that is the only sort of economy we have had during the time Woods is discussing. You don't get to call it your beloved free market whenever it produces something goo…

My review of Social Physics...

is now online at The Review of Austrian Economics.

The logical result of anarchist rhetoric


Yes, I know for most of you, anarchism is just a pose. But some people are going to take your rhetoric seriously when you say the government "robs people at gunpoint."

The persistence of falsehoods

I will cite another case with no particular ideological implications. I saw an add for an upcoming movie on TV tonight. In the ad, Morgan Freeman cites the "fact" that humans only use 10% of their brain.

The real fact, that this 10% myth is nonsense, has been widely circulated. And yet the myth keeps showing up again and again. Is it really the case that once a falsehood gets out there, it will continue to circulate forever?

Against their will / we were taxing against their will / we were young and we were strong and we were taxing against their will

Never one to allow a mistake to go uncompounded by a glaring error, Bob Murphy digs in deeper. He claims that "Taking money from people against their will is not akin to getting on the treadmill; it is akin to killing people against their will."

Bob has introduced a largely irrelevant criterion here with his "against their will." Let us start with killing. (No, no, not killing Bob: we still love him despite his obstinacy.)

The justice of a killing does not depend at all on whether the "victim" wants to be killed. If I shoot someone who is attempting to set off a nuclear weapon in Times Square, the fact that I killed him "against his will" does not make my killing immoral. And if a friend who is in despair asks me to shoot him in the head, the fact that he wants me to kill him would not make my action moral.

Similarly, in taking money from people, the crucial question is whether you are taking it justly or unjustly, not whether they want you to …

When you accidentally leave dictation on while talking to your son

But you should ask is I was a coffee would be would be fine though well we have to late last don't want that I'll cook the dish tomorrow but I'll give you a few bucks can get pizza or Chinese medicine needed tonight isn't rocket tired of it don't boastful up

My mortgage payments, stolen from me at gunpoint

One way in which ideologies are kept afloat is by re-describing ordinary parts of social life in a colorful and surprising way: for instance, Proudhon famously re-described property as "theft." Using an extraordinary definition of an ordinary aspect of social life makes the ideologue feel like he is privy to some esoteric knowledge. Sharing that special knowledge with others who have adopted the same ideology builds group solidarity.

Anarcho-capitalists like to do this with taxation. By redefining taxation as theft (note the similarity to Proudhon!) and then claiming that the government "steals money from people at gunpoint" and anarcho-capitalists can feel superior to the "sheeple" who don't have this special piece of information.

Of course, taxes are no more "stolen from me at gunpoint" than are my mortgage payments. After all, if I stop paying the mortgage and try to keep living in my house, eventually people with guns will show up to cl…

Subjectivism: A Bolt-Hole

"The young Socrates, like so many philosophers in distress, takes refuge in a limited ad hoc subjective idealism: perhaps, he says, forms are only thoughts. Parmenides with one turn of the wrist pulls him out of that bolt-hole..." R. G. Collingwood, The Idea of Nature, p. 64

Let's hope that anarchists don't turn their attention to the family anytime soon

We would get arguments like this:

"All parents are flawed. Many, many of them have been known to even murder their own children. Therefore, we must abolish parents."

"If ordinary people force a child into a car with the threat of violence, we call it kidnapping. Why do we think that this is magically different when the people are called parents?"

Creating a capital good

Is Government a "Necessary Evil"?

Bob Murphy claims "Thus, the average person defends the existence of the State not for principled reasons but instead as the lesser of two evils."

This is true only by equivocating on the meaning of "the lesser of two evils."

In one sense, we use the phrase all the time for things we don't really think are evil, but that, if reality were different, and they became unnecessary, we would not engage in just for the heck of it. So, one might say "working out is the lesser of two evils" (when compared to getting fat and out of shape), or "paying those hospital bills is the lesser of two evils" (compared to dying of a heart attack). In cases like these, the person using the phrase "the lesser of two evils" does not actually think that exercising or paying for medical treatments are evil at all. The phrase is merely a rhetorical device indicating that if the speaker thought he could get the benefits of X without bothering with X, he w…

The Mysteries of LinkedIn

I get friend suggestions from LinkedIn. Many of the suggestions are people who are linked to someone to whom I am linked. Fair enough.

But other recommendations are for people with whom I have no mutual connections, and often no seeming rational for why LinkedIn has come up with that person as a suggestion. For instance, today I was presented with an office manager in San Jose, California, as "Someone you might know." Well, might, sure, but how did LinkedIn come up with this person? Do they just throw up a certain number of random people?

In Science, It Is Better to Make Important Mistakes Than Getting Trivial Things Right

As evidenced by this great post on science advancing through conflict.

Collingwood refutes Caplan thus

Bryan Caplan, in his "Why I am not an Austrian economist" paper, claims that it is perfectly possible to choose things based on indifference. (As I recall, without his paper at hand at the moment, the example he used was plucking a pair of socks from his drawer: he was indifferent among the various pairs, but still chose one.)

R.G. Collingwood explains why this does not qualify as a choice:

"Choice is choice between alternatives, and these alternatives must be distinguishable, or they are not alternatives; moreover, one must in someway present itself as more attractive than the other, or it cannot be chosen." -- The Idea of Nature, p. 41

What Caplan chose in his example was to get some socks. What he did in the drawer was to randomly grab one pair, not to choose it.

Does anyone want to co-author a note to the Southern Economic Journal on this point?

We are just the right size!

First of all, my legs just barely reach the ground!

But, secondly: "Professor J.B.S. Haldane has pointed out that the human organism is exactly intermediate between the electron and the spiral nebula, the smallest and largest existing things. This, he suggests, gives man a privileged position in the world of nature..." R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of Nature, p. 24

Markets in everything

I like markets. I also like sex. But the idea of "markets in everything" sounds just as awful to me as the idea "have sex with everything."

The worst libertarian argument ever

Surprise! I am not going to criticize libertarianism here, and I expect that most libertarians will agree with me on this point. Certainly, people like Rand and Rothbard would.

But there is a certain subspecies of libertarian who makes the following sort of argument:

"We know that morality is all just subjective preferences. So no one has any right to interfere with these subjective choices of others, so long as they concern consenting adults."

But if the first sentence is true, then the second sentence appears to be nonsense, as it seems to assert that it would be objectively wrong for someone to interfere with these choices. But that, of course, contradicts the assertion of the first sentence.

In short, if the Taliban enjoy stoning an adultress now and then, where does this sort of libertarian get off griping about their subjective preferences? After all, it is just his subjective preference that they stop.

By the way, it is not just this type of libertarian who has this proble…

In Ancapistan, will one be subject to authorities not of one's own choosing?

There is a very tedious commentator who I want to discourage, so I haven't posted his most recent comment. But he claims something that I have seen claimed a number of times, so it may be worth addressing. What he said was (I paraphrase), "Callahan, you are missing the crucial distinction: under anarchy, no one will ever be subject to an authority not of his own choosing."

Now, it is true that in ancapistan, no one will have to acknowledge an authority not of their own choosing. But that is true in the current state system as well: anarchists, for instance, do not acknowledge the authority of any current state.

"Ah," the anarchist may respond, "but we are forced to submit to the state's decisions even though we do not acknowledge its authority. That is what would never happen under anarchy."

Nonsense! Perhaps it would happen less often, but it would happen very regularly. I will offer just a few examples, but I could literally generate these all day …

The middle way between intolerance and relativism

Some people fear that if they cannot assert that their own spiritual path is the one and only true path, that they will fall into a muddled relativism in which any old way of behaving is as good as any other. But there is a middle way.

Let us turn to an old metaphor that has been used to promote religious tolerance: the spiritual journey as a climb up a mountain. The point about tolerance is made by claiming that there is more than one path up the mountain.

I believe that is true. But in no way does that imply that every path goes up the mountain! Meandering around aimlessly in a swamp is not a path to the mountaintop. Heading straight away from the mountain is not a path to the mountaintop. Getting distracted by shiny rocks down on the plain and spending all one's time collecting them is not a path to the mountaintop. And signing on with one guide, going a little ways up the mountain, quitting, heading back down, signing up with a new guide, going a little ways up, quitting... is a…

The most verboten phrase in modern English?

"I don't know."

Gracy Olmstead writes a nice post noting how reluctant people are to admit ignorance of anything in our culture.

If someone asks me if human-caused climate change is a real problem, I answer, "How would I know? I've never studied climate science." But almost everyone I talk to seems to be a climate scientist, since they all have very, very firm positions on the issue.

Or take recessions, a topic I have studied for over a decade. When asked what causes them, I answer "When I first began studying recessions, I knew exactly what caused them. But the longer I study the topic, the less clue I have."

Nevertheless, my dermatologist assures me that he knows exactly what causes them.