Posts from June 2005

Bolts from the Blue

(Links thanks to Marian Douglas [2005-06-07], Lew Rockwell [2005-06-06], and Edmund Burke [1757].)

Cops in America are heavily armed and trained to be bullies, and they routinely hurt people who are not posing any serious threat to anyone, in order to make sure that they stay in control of the situation. You already knew that they electrified children and suspected salad-bar thieves; you can also add to the list women who have committed the horrible crimes of driving on a suspended license and going 12 miles an hour over the speed limit, provided that they are (1) Black and (2) talk back to the cops, especially on points of legality. Note that being completely unarmed and doing nothing more dangerous than not getting out of the vehicle promptly on command will not stop them from using a 50,000 volt electric blast to immobilize you with pain two or three times in quick succession. Neither, incidentally, will being eight months pregnant.

This is getting repetitive, so let’s just review:

We already knew that Florida cops were willing to electrify a 6 year old boy and a 12 year old girl with a 50,000 volt blast from a taser. The 6 year old was distraught and threatening to hurt himself (after all, why hurt yourself when you can have a cop immobilize you with pain?); the 12 year old’s crime was playing hooky and maybe being a little tipsy, and the incredibly dangerous imminent threat she posed was that she ran away from the cop and so might have been able to skip school. Back when it happened, I mentioned that the main reaction from the police brass was to review the decision to equip cops with tasers–as if the equipment were the primary problem here. I also mentioned that we might be better served by scrutinizing the paramilitary police culture that we have, in which peace officers are trained to take control of every situation at all times, by any means necessary, and where any notion of proportionality between the possible harm and the violence used to maintain control is routinely chucked out the window in the name of law and order and winning the war on crime.

The cops, of course, continue to treat these cases as a P.R. management problem, not a public safety problem created by out-of-control cops. That’s because the cops aren’t out of control; they are doing what cops normally do in our society; we only know about it here because the victims were vulnerable enough that their caretakers were able to get the attention of the newsmedia and the civil courts. We are not talking about a few bad apples here; we are talking about a systematic feature of policing in our society.

— Geekery Today 2005-04-26: Peace Officers

Meanwhile. in Seattle:

Law enforcement officers have said they see Tasers as a tool that can benefit the public by reducing injuries to police and the citizens they arrest.

Seattle police officials declined to comment on this case, citing concerns that Brooks might file a civil lawsuit.

But King County sheriff’s Sgt. Donald Davis, who works on the county’s Taser policy, said the use of force is a balancing act for law enforcement.

It just doesn’t look good to the public, he said.

— Marian Douglas 2005-06-07: Police Taser pregnant woman 3 Times, Just happens to be Black

I’ve been at this for a while with more or less the same analysis applid in each of several different cases (1, 2, 3), so by now I probably ought to at least add a bit by way of a reply to Martin Striz’s complaints. In that direction, let me just say that my main concern here is the paramilitary stance that police forces take toward you and I, and the routine use of extreme violence that that fosters; and that my main difference from Martin has a lot to do with a difference over whether the institutional framework that cops work in is essentially or just accidentally connected with the abuses of power that rampaging cops display every day.

But there’s no need for me to dwell on this point about the hangman State when Edmund Burke already explained it better than I could, back in 1757:

These Evils are not accidental. Whoever will take the pains to consider the Nature of Society, will find they result directly from its Constitution. For as Subordination, or in other Words, the Reciprocation of Tyranny, and Slavery, is requisite to support these Societies, the Interest, the Ambition, the Malice, or the Revenge, nay even the Whim and Caprice of one ruling Man among them, is enough to arm all the rest, without any private Views of their own, to the worst and blackest Purposes; and what is at once lamentable and ridiculous, these Wretches engage under those Banners with a Fury greater than if they were animated by Revenge for their own proper Wrongs. …

To prove, that these Sort of policed Societies are a Violation offered to Nature, and a Constraint upon the human Mind, it needs only to look upon the sanguinary Measures, and Instruments of Violence which are every where used to support them. Let us take a Review of the Dungeons, Whips, Chains, Racks, Gibbets, with which every Society is abundantly stored, by which hundreds of Victims are annually offered up to support a dozen or two in Pride and Madness, and Millions in an abject Servitude, and Dependence. There was a Time, when I looked with a reverential Awe on these Mysteries of Policy; but Age, Experience, and Philosophy have rent the Veil; and I view this Sanctum Sanctorum, at least, without any enthusiastick Admiration. I acknowledge indeed, the Necessity of such a Proceeding in such Institutions; but I must have a very mean Opinion of Institutions where such Proceedings are necessary. …

I now plead for Natural Society against Politicians, and for Natural Reason against all three. When the World is in a fitter Temper than it is at present to hear Truth, or when I shall be more indifferent about its Temper; my Thoughts may become more publick. In the mean time, let them repose in my own Bosom, and in the Bosoms of such Men as are fit to be initiated in the sober Mysteries of Truth and Reason. My Antagonists have already done as much as I could desire. Parties in Religion and Politics make sufficient Discoveries concerning each other, to give a sober Man a proper Caution against them all. The Monarchic, Aristocratical, and Popular Partizans have been jointly laying their Axes to the Root of all Government, and have in their Turns proved each other absurd and inconvenient. In vain you tell me that Artificial Government is good, but that I fall out only with the Abuse. The Thing! the Thing itself is the Abuse!

— Edmund Burke (1757): A Vindication of Natural Society

Chapter IV and much, much Moore…

This is old news, but I was too busy packing for my temporary relocation to upstate New York to put a post up about it at the time: the transcription of G. E. Moore’s Principia Ethica proceeds apace, and this time I have not one, but three milestones to announce (!):

  1. Chapter III, Moore’s extended treatment of hedonism, which I mentioned around the time I was halfway through with it, is now completely transcribed. I’d already finished Moore’s dissection of naturalistic hedonism (that is, hedonism supported by the naturalistic fallacy, as in, for example, Mill’s Utilitarianism); the new passages carry on with Moore’s discussion of Sidgwick and intuitionistic hedonism (that is, hedonism supported by an appeal to ethical intuitions). I think this actually contains some of the best material in all of Moore’s work — including one of my favorite arguments in all of philosophy, the Two Planets argument against ethical hedonism. (It may seem like an intuition-pump, but it’s a beautiful intuition-pump. And also, actually, a successful one: many people worry that he’s just begging the question, but I’d argue that Moore completely refutes hedonism, and that the argument ought to be convincing whether your intuitions about the planets line up with Moore’s or not. Maybe I’ll go into the reasons why here a bit later.)

  2. Chapter IV, Moore’s discussion of what he calls Metaphysical Ethics, is also completely transcribed. This is one of the chapters where Moore’s partisan aims come through a bit more clearly than you might hope; the goal is honorable enough — to show that his British Idealist contemporaries are actually guilty of the same sort of fallacy that constitutes the naturalistic fallacy when used by naturalists, and that the fallacy is no less fallacious when good is reduced to some set of supernatural properties rather than some set of natural properties — but the effort to count some coup against British Idealists who cited their Continental predecessors ends up in a very weak bit of criticism against Kant, who never did anything to deserve it. (Unfortunately, this would not be the last time that this happened to Kant — and especially not to Hegel — among the Analytics.) Still, the chapter is well worth reading, and on somewhat firmer ground when Moore is doing philosophy (i.e., when he examines the conceptual contours of the doctrines he sets out) than when he is doing scholarship (i.e., when he starts making claims about where those doctrines came from).

  3. Finally, you may notice a technical change that I took a few days off from transcribing to implement: the text of the documents is now stored in machine-readable feeds and processed by a PHP script that I wrote for the purpose. Aside from some minor aesthetic improvements I made along the way, the main upshot of this for you is that you can now read and cite the text not only by chapter, but also by individual section (as I did above when I cited §50) or even by ranges of sections (such as, for example, the characterization of the naturalistic fallacy and the Open Question Argument in §§10–13). Of course, you can still read chapter-by-chapter if you prefer.

Next up is the transcription of Chapter V, Moore’s discussion of right and wrong conduct; a bit of the work has already begun and I’m trying to keep along at a steady clip of at least one passage per day. How well I’m able to keep up with that depends on how hectic my work schedule turns out to be; but if you’re interested in keeping up with the process, and happen to have an Atom/RSS newsreader handy, you can do so by subscribing to the Atom feed for Chapter V.

Let me know about any typos that you spot. Read; cite; enjoy!

Lost Causes

image: Confederate soldiers in front of the second flag of the Confederacy

DiLorenzo and the Fact-Checking Team unwind after a hard day of defending free markets and individual rights against the warfare State.

Tom DiLorenzo has made a pretty steady gig for himself in lodging criticisms — mostly just ones — against the federal government’s conduct in the Civil War and against Abraham Lincoln in particular. But the tenor of his comments and his comments about similar crimes by leading lights of the Confederacy has led to some accusations that he seems to be motivated by a dishonestly-supported fetish for Dixie at least as much by concerns about the historical Lincoln. Lately he decided to prove these charges wrong, once and for all, with the following modest proposal:

re: Greatest Americans

Perhaps we should start a list of politically incorrect greatest Americans. I’ll begin by nominating Robert E. Lee, who brilliantly led the Army of Northern Virginia in its war of secession against the empire.

Virginia originally voted to stay in the union, after the lower south seceded, and re-voted (by popular vote as well as by its legislature) only after Lincoln began his invasion of the southern states. Lee turned down command of the Union Army, which was offered to him, to defend his home country against foreign invaders. He also personally liberated the slaves his wife had inherited, something Ulysses S. Grant did not get around to until he was forced to do so by the 13th Amendment in 1866.

(This should cause the politically-correct liberventinists to start cackling like a flock of hens).

Now, my opinions about Robert E. Lee may be different from Tom DiLorenzo’s. (If I were going to make a list of politically incorrect greatest Virginians, I would suggest Gabriel Prosser or Nat Turner long before the pro-slavery, anti-secession, statist warrior Lee.) But whatever our differences may be, what I want to remark on here is that DiLorenzo’s description of Lee contains a documented factual error. I know about it, and he knows about it; I know that he knows about it because I wrote him about it a week ago:

To: Thomas DiLorenzo
Subject: Like a flock of hens, indeed.
Date: Mon, 20 Jun 2005

In “re: Greatest Americans”, you recently claimed:

Perhaps we should start a list of politically incorrect greatest Americans. I’ll begin by nominating Robert E. Lee, who brilliantly led the Army of Northern Virginia in its war of secession against the empire. … He also personally liberated the slaves his wife had inherited, …

But this is not true. Lee’s wife did not inherit any slaves and Lee did not “liberate” them. Lee did gain temporary control over 63 slaves after the death of his father-in-law, George Washington Parke Custis, but Custis freed the slaves in his will and Lee was legally obligated to process the manumission papers within five years of his death. (You can find a copy of the will at [1].) In fact, after hiring the slaves out to other plantations for the five years he finally released the slaves in the winter of 1862 and formally filed the manumission papers on December 29, 1862 [2], five years, two months, and nineteen days after his father-in-law’s death.

To suggest that Lee deserves any credit for the emancipation when the terms of the will legally mandated it, and when he held the slaves in bondage for his own profit as long as he was legally able to do so, is either misinformation or disinformation; in either case it should not have been printed and ought to be publicly corrected.

Charles Johnson

DiLorenzo didn’t mention this point in his later posts to the LRC Blog, exactly, but he did go on to prove his objectivity by explaining that Lee could not be blamed by anti-state, anti-war, pro-market libertarians for his role in the imperial war against Mexico because doing the right thing would have been personally costly and possibly dangerous, and to suggest Jefferson Davis as the candidate for the state of Mississippi.

Still, it is important that these facts see the light of day. I wrote yesterday in praise of direct action over lobbying, and since DiLorenzo’s public correction doesn’t seem to be forthcoming, I suppose that I will have to take matters into my own hands.

Lee did not free a single one of the slaves that he gained control of after his father-in-law’s death. Custis emancipated them in his will; Lee just enacted the terms of Custis’s will, as he was legally obligated to do as its sole executor. Lee also happened to keep control over those 63 slaves for as long as he could legally get away with it and sent them, for his own profit, to be forced to work on neighboring plantations and in eastern Virginia. To credit Lee with liberating enslaved people, when it was his father-in-law who freed them, and Lee who kept them in bondage as long as he felt that he could, is disingenuous, and the statement ought to be retracted.

Further reading:

Shut up and put up

I’m usually not one to be too picky about labels — depending on the dialectical context and the aspect of my politics that I want to emphasize at the moment, they can accurately be described as Leftist, a libertarian, free marketeer, socialist, anarchist, democratic, republican, individualist, mutualist, populist, radical, feminist, et cetera. But there is one thing that I just refuse to call myself anymore. I am not a Progressive, God damn it, and no matter how much I may like some individual people who call themselves that, and no matter how much I may sympathize with a broad cluster of their personal concerns and subcultural values, I just will not call myself one for love or money.

Why not? Well, there are some specific historical reasons having to do with what the folks calling themselves Progressives in the early 20th century actually were like and what they actually did. But there are also some contemporary reasons, too. Look at the prominent political figures and organizations calling themselves Progressive, and the kind of politics that they endorse when they have their Progressive hats on. You are now looking at a bunch of losers. Sometimes they’re noble losers, and sometimes they are silly milksop losers, but losers they remain, and you may as well go around calling yourself pudd’nhead for all the grace and dignity that the mantle of Progressivism confers.

An example: here is the latest series of e-mails I’ve received from MoveOn. Quick! Everybody wring your hands!

From: Noah T. Winer,
To: Charles Johnson
Date: Tue., 14 Jun 2005

A House panel has voted to eliminate all public funding for NPR and PBS, starting with Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow, and other commercial-free children’s shows. If approved, this would be the most severe cut in the history of public broadcasting, threatening to pull the plug on Big Bird, Cookie Monster and Oscar the Grouch.

Sign the petition telling Congress to save NPR and PBS:

If we can reach 250,000 signatures by the end of the week, we’ll put Congress on notice. After you sign the petition, please pass this message along to any friends, neighbors or co-workers who count on NPR and PBS.


From: Noah T. Winer,
To: Charles Johnson
Date: Wed., 15 Jun 2005

In less than a day, we’ve blown past our goal–more than 300,000 of us have signed the petition to save NPR and PBS from losing public funding. This is huge, but we need your help.

Tomorrow, the House Appropriations Committee will decide whether to approve these severe cuts to NPR and PBS. We can stop the cuts–and save public TV and radio–with a strong show of public outrage. We’ll report to the committee members on our petition before they vote.

Can you help us reach 400,000 signers by the end of the day?

And then, when the effort to stop the committee vote failed:

From: Noah T. Winer,
To: Charles Johnson
Date: Wed., 17 Jun 2005

Yesterday, a House committee slashed half of the federal funding for NPR and PBS, specifically targeting popular children’s shows like Sesame Street and Postcards from Buster. These cuts will decimate local stations and undermine quality news reporting. This is nothing less than an effort to kill off NPR and PBS.

But people like you are fighting back, making the petition to save NPR and PBS one of the most popular we’ve ever seen–750,000 signers to date! Already, the public outcry has delayed the effort to eliminate funding entirely, but we must fight to restore full funding at once. The House will vote on these massive cuts to NPR and PBS as soon as Tuesday, and representatives are making up their minds right now.

Make sure Rep. Dingell doesn’t take away the programs you love. Call him today at:

Congressman John Dingell
Phone: 202-225-4071

And then:

From: Noah T. Winer,
To: Charles Johnson
Date: Wed., 20 Jun 2005

In the next few days, the House of Representatives will vote on whether to slash funding for NPR and PBS. And tomorrow, before Congress votes, we’ll present stacks and stacks of printed petitions and public comments to save public broadcasting. We’ll be joined by members of Congress and the public TV and radio staff fighting for survival.

Over 817,000 people have signed the petition so far–simply incredible. But we want to present 1 million signatures to the press tomorrow, and we can do it with your help. In all our years of online organizing, we’ve never heard of one million Americans signing a petition in a week, but we’re within striking distance now.

Help us reach 1 million signers by the end of the day. Sign the petition at: …

The stakes are high: some of the best programs on the air are at risk. After you sign, please send this message on to your friends and colleagues–it’ll take all of us pushing together to get to the 1 million mark.

If the House passes these massive cuts, we’ll fight to restore the funding when the Senate takes up public broadcasting. But even if we stop the House cuts, we’ll need to make sure Senate Republicans don’t try the same thing.

Together, we can stop the House from slashing NPR and PBS in the federal budget. Can you help us hit 1 million signers today?

MoveOn’s online petition campaign had exceeded their goal of one million petitioners. In fact, they’d reached 1,091,509 last I looked.

And, the last I heard, they managed to get the programming funding restored, but the House voted for another $105 million of government funding to be eliminated from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s budget anyway:

After a storm of protest from supporters of public television and radio, the House voted overwhelmingly Thursday to restore $100 million in programming money to next year’s Corporation for Public Broadcasting budget. The CPB is the private agency that disburses funds to the Public Broadcasting System, National Public Radio and their member stations.

At the same, however, $105 million in funding, including $23 million for children’s programming and educational outreach, was eliminated. The fight over that money will now move to the Senate, which has traditionally been a strong backer of PBS and NPR.

San Jose Mercury-News 2005-06-24: House restores public TV funding, but fight continues

image: a hamster runs on its wheel

Above: Mister Buckles saves public broadcasting.

If you want to know why Progressives keep losing all the time, then here it is:

If we can reach 250,000 signatures by the end of the week, we’ll put Congress on notice. …

We can stop the cuts–and save public TV and radio–with a strong show of public outrage.

But people like you are fighting back, making the petition to save NPR and PBS one of the most popular we’ve ever seen …

Make sure Rep. Dingell doesn’t take away the programs you love. Call him today

And tomorrow, before Congress votes, we’ll present stacks and stacks of printed petitions and public comments to save public broadcasting. …

What this has accomplished, so far, is that it’s sent 1,091,509 copies of the following e-mail to members of Congress:

TO: Your senators and representative
FROM: (Your Name and Email)

Dear senators and representative,

(Your personal note)

Congress must save NPR, PBS and local public stations. We trust them for in-depth news and educational children’s programming. It’s money well spent.

Don’t get me wrong. I like PBS and NPR is just about all the radio I ever listen to. The issue here isn’t whether they should face a funding crisis or not; I hope that they don’t. Rather, it’s what you should do in the face of that funding crisis. MoveOn just invested an incredible amount of time, money, and energy into mobilizing a bunch of Progressives to whine about it in Congress and beg for the money back. Meanwhile, instead of signing an online petition, calling my Representative, and e-mailing my friends and colleagues to get them to shake the change cup with me, I shut up and put down a pledge of $10 / month to Detroit Public Television.

Now, if 1,091,509 people in MoveOn’s orbit had done what I did, instead of what they did, then by my calculations PBS and NPR would have $130,981,080 more money for programming in the upcoming year. More importantly, they’d have that $131 million no matter what Congress and the Senate decided to do.

You might claim that not everyone who gets MoveOn e-mails will put down a pledge, but a lot more people will put down a zero-cost signature. You might think that MoveOn just can’t command that kind of money. Well, that strikes me as making excuses: we are talking about the group that just threw tens or hundreds of millions of dollars (depending on the as-yet unreleased budget data for their 501(c)(4) branch) down the tubes for electable John Kerry just last year. But fundraising is tricky, and maybe they wouldn’t make as much as they might hope. But think it about it this way: when you give money directly to people doing good work, the economics of failing to meet your goals are different. Lobbying is, more or less, an all-or-nothing game, with very few chances for gains on the margin. Names on a petition may or may not make a difference; but if they don’t make a difference (and, frankly, it doesn’t look like they made much of one here) then the names and pious hopes that NPR and PBS got out of the campaign aren’t worth the electrons that they’re printed on. But if you don’t hit your targets in direct support, the contributions you did get are money in the bank, no matter what. If only half as many people pledged as signed the petition, well, then PBS and NPR would have $65,490,540 that they didn’t have before. If the average contribution was $30 instead of a $10 / month pledge, they’d would have $32,745,270. Maybe that will save Big Bird and maybe it won’t; but even if it doesn’t it’s a darn sight better and more secure than the nothing that failed petitioning campaigns produce.

There’s a general principles here worth mentioning; it’s a principle the Left used to care about. It’s called direct action, and the longer the Progressive wing of the Left keeps ignoring it — the longer that they spend throwing time and organizing effort down the tubes to beg the government to support the institutions that they like — the longer we are all going to be losers.

We can do this ourselves, so quit begging. Shut up and put up.

Other things: Chapter III of Principia Ethica is now online

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I’ve been on something of a break from writing here for the past few weeks (due partly to travel, partly to lack of motivation, and partly to wanting to spend some quiet time away from it). I don’t know whether I’ll feel like picking up on the rate of posting in the near future; I do know that I’ll probably be taking more time off about a month from now when I head off for summer work in New York (same thing as last year: I’ll be working for the Center for Talented Youth, TA’ing two courses in Logic for extremely gifted 12-16 year olds).

I’m trying to wean myself off posting Sorry I’m not posting posts; but my purpose here is a bit different anyway. While I may not have the drive to post much right now, I do at least have the energy to copy out things that people smarter than I am once wrote. Thus, I’ve been making some substantial progress in transcribing the third chapter of G.E. Moore’s Principia Ethica for online reading and citation. It’s not complete yet (Chapter III is one of the longest chapters in the book), but I am mostly keeping up a pace of a section a day or more; which means that if I keep a steady pace the chapter should be complete in under three weeks. (Knock on wood.)

Chapter III contains Moore’s extended treatment of ethical hedonism — that is, the theory that pleasure is the only thing good in itself (this is how Moore defines it, anyway; he claims that some hedonists might not agree to the formulation explicitly but that they have to rest on it at least implicitly for their arguments to go through). The first part of the chapter is an addendum to his treatment of naturalistic ethics in Chapter II: he attacks arguments for hedonism based on the naturalistic fallacy, using John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism as an example. (The case is mostly pretty convincing, although I think he is unfair to Mill toward the end and doesn’t adequately discuss Mill’s notion of goods that are desired as parts of happiness.)

That’s as far as I’ve gotten in my transcription of the chapter so far; but if you want a preview of what’s to come in the next few days, Moore goes on to consider whether hedonism can be defended on grounds of ethical intuitions, once defenses based on the naturalistic fallacy have been set aside. He argues no; this involves what I think are some of the best arguments in the book and a long consideration of Sidgwick (Moore’s ideas about the proper methods of ethical philosophy owe a lot to Sidgwick’s intuitionism; but Sidgwick thought that intuitionist methods supported hedonism, and Moore thinks they decisively refute it). Finally, he wraps up with some rather brief and unfair polemics against the two ethical schools that seem most commonly to be based on hedonist arguments–Egoism and Utilitarianism.

There’s a lot to complain about in the chapter, but also a lot to love; it’s certainly something that anyone engaging in ethics or moral psychology ought to read and engage with. Read, cite, and be merry!

Further reading