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  1. MBH

    Charles, I’ve enjoyed your talk and Darian’s very much. But this I don’t understand: how is the shape of the society underneath the shell not a variable in your equation? How can you want to throw off the shell regardless of what’s underneath? Are you concerned that it might be a self-defeating strategy?

  2. Rad Geek

    MBH,

    I’m sorry; I honestly don’t understand what you’re asking here. Is the shell supposed to be a metaphor for the State, and throwing off the shell a metaphor for abolishing it? Or something else that’s in the vicinity (e.g. coercive as vs. consensual means, or electoral politics as vs. direct action, or …?). If so, what’s the equation I’m supposed to be reckoning here? Is it addressing the question of whether or not it’s legitimate to abolish the state? Is it addressing the question of whether or not it’s a good idea to abolish the state? Is it addressing a question of priorities in the order in which repeals should occur? Is it addressing a question of priorities in the order in which anarchists should identify and work for specific repeals? I’d need to know a lot more about what’s going into the question before I can give you a precise answer.

    As far as broad answers gp, the shortest answer I can give on most of these questions is that I’m not a consequentialist, and I believe that individual rights to person and property are side-constraints on legitimate action, in a rather strong sense: I don’t believe that there is any end worth achieving to which statist coercion can be the means. (The fact that the end is attained coercively is, in and of itself, a reason to disqualify it as a worthwhile end.) If someone’s rights are being invaded — and where there are States, by definition, someone’s rights are always being invaded — I have an immediate concern with stopping the invasion against her individual liberties, whether or not I think I can get good socioeconomic results out of that.

    That said, I’m at a loss as to why you would think I don’t address the issue of the underlying organization of culture and civil society beyond the coercion of the state. It seems to me that I’ve repeatedly stressed that questions of how a free society is organized are important questions, and questions that I think libertarians ought to address themselves to. (That’s a large part of the point of Libertarianism Through Thick and Thin, to take one example.) But I see that as a reason to become more radical, not less, about freeing people up to adopt the most effective means of activism (my view is that grassroots organization and direct action are typically much more effective than government politics as means to effecting social change). I talk about sequencing issues somewhat in On crutches and crowbars; on the debate as a whole, I’d refer to what I say in this passage from the expanded version of Libertarianism Through Thick and Thin:

    First, pointing out that conscientious libertarians may have good reasons, as libertarians, to favor other social projects in addition to libertarianism raises a related, but importantly distinct question: whether libertarians should favor a gradualist or an immediatist stance towards the abolition of statist controls while those other social projects remain incomplete or frustrated in their progress. In particular, if getting or keeping a flourishing free society depends on having a base of certain social or intellectual preconditions in place, should libertarians still make direct efforts to abolish all statist controls immediately and completely, regardless of the social or cultural situation? Or should they hold off until the groundwork is in place, and restrict themselves to calls for limited and moderated repeals in the meantime?

    For much of his career, Murray Rothbard endorsed a form of thin libertarian anarchism, arguing that libertarianism will get nowhere until we realize that there is and can be no libertarian culture (Left-opportunism: The case of S.L.S., part one, in Libertarian Vanguard, February 1981, p. 11). At the same time, he endorsed ultra-immediatism, joking that if he had a magic button that immediately abolished an aspect of the state, he’d break his finger pushing it. In Total Freedom, Chris Sciabarra criticizes Rothbard’s thin libertarianism as unanchored utopianism (202); Sciabarra argues that a dialectical sensibility recommends a more comprehensive three-level model of social transformation, incorporating not only to the political structure of the state, but the interlocking dynamics by which political structure (Level-3) affects, and is affected by, individual psychology and philosophy (Level-1) and the framework of established cultural institutions (Level-2).

    Sciabarra’s critique of Rothbardianism, and his later writing foreign policy, have emphasized the dangers of directly pursuing libertarian policies in contexts where libertarian individualism and anti-authoritarianism are not well-established in the local culture. All this strongly suggests that Sciabarra prefers a form of libertarian gradualism, and suspects that any form of immediatism depends on non-dialectical disregard for the cultural base necessary to sustain liberty. But whether Sciabarra’s right about that, or wrong about that, you need to keep in mind that endorsing a form of strategic thickness does not, just by itself, commit you to gradualism; that’s a separate issue that needs a separate argument. Believing in particular material or cultural preconditions for the flourishing or long-term survival of a free society, once statist interventions are repealed, does not entail any particular position on whether those invasions ought to continue until that base is established. A dialectical sensibility requires us to consider the possibility that individual attitudes and cultural institutions might adjust dynamically as the political structure changes, and that these changes might be favorable rather than hostile to the cultural base that we advocate. Or they may not: illiberal attitudes may be intransigent, and even without statism they may nevertheless find new, equally destructive expressions. They may even worsen. The point awaits further investigation, and is not settled simply by accepting a thick conception over a thin conception of libertarianism.

    But even if you concede that immediate repeal of statist controls, without the preconditions in place, would eventually result in disaster, rather than cultural adaptation, that still doesn’t settle the argument in favor of gradualism. To do that, you would need to add some kind of further moral argument that would show that people are entitled to continue invading the rights of other people in order to maintain a particular standard of living, or to stave off aggression that would otherwise be committed by some unrelated third party at some point in the future. I happen to think that the kind of arguments that you’d need to add to thick libertarianism in order to justify gradualism are morally indefensible. ….

    Does that help? If I haven’t answered your question, please let me know a bit more about what it was you were meaning to ask.

  3. Łukasz Rożej

    You wrote: “The fact that the end is attained coercively is, in and of itself, a reason to disqualify it as a worthwhile end.” Did you mean: “The fact that the end can only be attained coercively is, in and of itself, a reason to disqualify it as a worthwhile end.”

  4. MBH

    Charles, that definitely helps.

    Let me say: I don’t mean to imply that you aren’t concerned with what’s underneath the shell (beyond the State). Quite the opposite. You help me see several dimensions that I never previously saw. So, that’s certainly not what I mean.

    I want to distinguish between a new society which makes the State irrelevant vs. attempts to directly throw off the State. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I take it that you would consider both worthwhile. Your selection from Thick and Thin seems to acknowledge the possibility that the latter may undermine the former. But, for moral reasons, you cannot rule-out the former.

    I understand the desire to avoid consequentialist reasoning. But I think what Roderick calls the weak consequentialist filter is appropriate. I think it’s analogous to depth grammar vs. superficial grammar. “I’m not hiding any Jews in my basement,” is a lie in terms of superficial grammar, but insofar as it achieves a more truth-filled world, its depth grammar is correct. Similarly, a component of the health care bill written by Bernie Sanders — that creates 10,000 community health centers — is a coercive measure since it uses the State to do so. But insofar as it prompts truer way of interacting, its depth grammar is correct.

  5. Rad Geek

    Łukasz Rożej,

    You could say can only be attained if you prefer, but I meant, and am happy with, is attained. The reason I don’t think the modality needs to be corrected is because I have a particular view on how to individuate ends. I think that whether an end is to be attained consensually or coercively is itself a constitutive aspect of the end. So to (say) earn $6.99 for lunch through a consensual transfer, and to steal $6.99 for lunch from an unwilling victim, are in fact two different ends, not the same end pursued by two different means. (This is part of a larger view about the relationship between the virtues or vices that govern action, and the ends sought through action.) Anyway, since I don’t acknowledge the coercive and the noncoercive means as means to the same end, it’s not necessary to switch over to the can only be modal. (If anything, I’d be more inclined to switch over to a more expansive modal — if an end can possibly be attained at all by a coercive means, that end is, thereby, under normal conditions, disqualified from being a worthwhile end. So, e.g., get $6.99 for lunch by any means necessary is, as I see it, not a worthwhile end, since it involves considering vicious means, like robbery or fraud, as live options, even if you actually end up selecting a non-vicious means in the end. Earn $6.99 for lunch is a different matter, since the live options for means are already limited to honest and consensual ways of making it.)

  6. Łukasz Rożej

    Thanks for your interesting answer. It made me reconsider my view of means and ends. Here are some of my thoughts.

    I agree that (A) “getting lunch through robbery” is not worth achieving and (B) “getting lunch by consensual means” is. I’m not sure what to think about (C) “getting lunch” or “getting lunch by whatever means”.

    I thought of an argument against your position. If I get lunch through consensual means, I get lunch. So if I achieve B, I also achieve C. So if C is not worth achieving, then neither is B. So there seems to be a contradiction in your approach.

    Then I thought of a counterargument. Suppose I eat peacefully earned lunch with a fork and by doing so I actually (D) “move my hand several times away from the table and back”. I achieved B. Did I achieve D? I didn’t because D was never my end and the fact that it happened is beside the point.

    We might say the same about B and C. Whenever I achieve B, C also happens but it doesn’t mean I achieve it. The difference between achieving something and just making it happen is the fact that we aim at what we achieve.

    If I understand you correctly, you think that aiming at something without considering means of getting it is morally wrong. Do you think each time you choose to get lunch, a thought about using ethical means should pass through you mind. Or is it enough if the thought of coercive means doesn’t come up? Or maybe it’s not that psychological. I might just think “I’ll get lunch” without any thoughts about means, but because I’m generally committed to getting things done through consensual means, I’m really aiming at B?

  7. MBH

    Charles, how do you handle situations in which eliminating the State necessarily undermines the development of a new society?

  8. Louis B.

    MBH, can you elaborate on that? You seem to be saying that statelessness is only desirable as long as the resultant society conforms to your idea of what a society should be like.

  9. MBH

    Louis, I’m saying that statelessness — by itself — does not entail free-markets, equality, and solidarity. A culture which does not recognize universal principles and natural rights cannot sustain a stateless society. Statelessness, in such cultures, will not only revert back to statism, but more than likely a more vicious form of statism — probably in the guise of corporatism.

    I doubt that my idea of what a society should be like is significantly different from the standard left-libertarian ideal. The difference though is in how we read the present situation. I don’t see how a new and sustainable society can be built without a tag-team from direct action and political institutions.

  10. Rad Geek

    MBH,

    But I think what Roderick calls the weak consequentialist filter is appropriate.

    I don’t think that a weak consequentialist filter provides a basis for reinterpreting acts that initially seem like paradigm cases of injustice (say, robbing people in order to fund your pet projects) as being just after all in virtue of their consequences. The idea is to provide a means for settling on what a virtue (such as justice) might require in situations where it is initially unclear how to apply the virtue to that situation. (So it will generally take effect when ordinary principles of justice underdetermine how to apply the virtue in that particular situation.) It’s also, importantly, supposed to be a two way street: on Roderick’s view, part of what marks an outcome as a good outcome rather than a bad one is its relationship to the other virtues — so, for example, the fact that an outcome includes commissions of injustice is, just as such, a reason to consider it a bad outcome.

    how do you handle situations in which eliminating the State necessarily undermines the development of a new society?

    I don’t think that eliminating the State is a choice that anyone makes on the margin. There are lots of different routes to eliminating the State, each of which are composed of myriad individual actions on the margin, and my primary concern is that those individual actions be within the bounds of justice. Strategically, some actions better promote the development of a robust civil society than others. (For example, I think that countereconomics and underground institution-building are generally more fruitful strategies than street riots or other forms of immediate armed insurrection. Either are preferable to mediating your interactions primarily through political parties and conventional political discourse.) Morally, you need to remember that the first thing justice calls you to do is to be just to your fellow human beings, at street level. Grand plans for the development of a new society, no matter how wonderful that society would be, don’t justify beating up innocent people or locking them in cages. If you can’t imagine any way of realizing your social plans without hurting or robbing innocent people, then your social plans suck and ought not to be developed.

    A culture which does not recognize universal principles and natural rights cannot sustain a stateless society.

    That sounds like a good argument for including philosophical education and antiauthoritarian culture jamming in your anarchistic activity, alongside direct efforts to frustrate state enforcement. It certainly doesn’t sound to me like much of a reason for encouraging government to continue indulging in powers directly contradictory to any reasonable theory of individual natural rights, say by taxing people in order to force the creation of government-controlled healthcare clinics.

  11. MBH

    [The weak consequentialist filter] will generally take effect when ordinary principles of justice underdetermine how to apply the virtue in that particular situation.

    Like when saving 45,000 lives/year (according to a Harvard study) may put more money in insurance companies?

    The filter opens the front door to apply justice in difficult situations, but at the same time the back door swings open to gradualism. (Roderick’s expression — about something else)

  12. Rad Geek

    MBH,

    1. I take it that the 45,000/year is relative to the baseline of the existing corporatist cartel system. If so, I don’t know what relevance it has to questions of libertarian praxis, since libertarains don’t advocate the existing corporatist cartel system. We advocate something radically different from any option likely to be considered by a Harvard study.

    2. When you talk about saving lives and putting more money in insurance companies, you seem to be forgetting a couple of parties to these transactions. Specifically, I see no mention in all this of patients. And I see no mention of taxpayers, either. But those people are the most important people in question if you want to consider the question of justice. Because, first, libertarians question the justice of forcing a patient to carry corporate health insurance if she has decided, based on her own assessment of the situation, that she’d be better off not carrying corporate health insurance for the time being. The proposal you’re advocating on consequentialist grounds would force her to do so against her will. But I don’t think that principles of justice underdetermine how to apply the virtue of justice when it comes to that kind of coercion. It is obviously wrong to force people to do things like that, even if you think you might be able to save some of them from some future harm by doing so. Secondly, libertarians question the justice of using taxation to force an unwilling third party to pay for a government-subsidized corporatist healthcare system. And, again, I don’t think that principles of justice underdetermine how to apply the virtue of justice when it comes to taxation. It is obviously wrong to rob specific individual people of money that they rightly earned. Whether or not you can get good results from doing so. If you believe you can save 45,000 lives a year with the money somebody else has, you can jolly well convince them that you can save 45,000 lives a year, and persuade them to donate the money. If you can’t do that in any individual case, well, that seems like either a problem with you, as a fundraiser, or else a moral problem with the donor (perhaps they are flinthearted; perhaps they are just stupid). But neither your failings as a fundraiser, nor the personal moral or intellectual failings of donors, are justification for a stick-up job.

      Of course, maybe you disagree with me about what principles of justice actually entail. But if so, you’d have to give me some kind of argument for abandoning my usual principles for justice in interpersonal interactions, and taking such paradigm cases of paternalistic coercion and coercive commandeering of individual property as being, somehow, up for consideration as possible applications of the virtue of justice.

  13. JOR

    The filter opens the front door to apply justice in difficult situations, but at the same time the back door swings open to gradualism.

    Gradualism?

    Do you really think Obama and his handlers and followers have any interest in seeing the corporate-state complex dismantled? Let alone diligently working toward that end in baby steps? Come on.

  14. MBH

    JOR,

    Considering that the government just sued Goldman Sachs for profiting on mortgage defaults, I don’t see how you can rule that out.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/17/business/17goldman.html?hp

  15. MBH

    Charles,

    Specifically, I see no mention in all this of patients. And I see no mention of taxpayers, either.

    The premise behind this specific kind of reform is this: taxpayers fund emergency care so that all potential patients will be guaranteed treatment regardless of insurance status. The purpose of the program — which is really RomneyCare — is to take some of the burden off the taxpayers who have insurance.

    Are left-libertarian solutions better? No doubt. Are they on the table? Not yet. I think justice does underdetermine its own application in cases where no possible choices are just choices.

    I’m almost certain that you’ll argue about choices that weren’t on the table. And I love to read your vision. I really do. But I think the deck is too rigged to avoid politics altogether.

  16. JOR

    Well, Bush II lowered taxes (sort of). And he talked about freedom and free markets (sort of) sometimes. I guess he was really a principled anarchist trying to abolish privilege and aggression in baby steps, too.

  17. JOR

    “Are they on the table? Not yet.”

    Well, thanks to this bill, it’s probably feasible for fewer tables than before. That’s gradualism, I guess. Gradualism towards, well, something.

  18. MBH

    JOR,

    No response to the significance of the US government suing Goldman Sachs? Isn’t that a strange way to run the state-corporate crime ring?

    Yeah. Obama is just like Bush. All talk; no… wait a minute. Suing who? “Release the Kraken!”

  19. Rad Geek

    MBH,

    I have no idea why you think the suit against Goldman Sachs is as significant as you seem to think it is. It’s not unusual for government regulators to attack corporations which they have colluded with in the past. Corporate-State relations in the industrial age, like Church-State relations in an earlier age, are full of grandstanding, hypocritical moralizing, petty squabbles, and power-plays intended to put one party in a better position over the other. That doesn’t mean that the relationship isn’t primarily a matter of colluding against their common victims. It’s not about to convince me of a genuine antagonism any more than the existence of Antitrust legislation or corporate funding for Dick Fucking Armey’s LibertyWorks and similar organizations, convinces me. It just means that each one wants to be the senior partner in the partnership, and these kind of fights are how they jockey for position. If the SEC wins it suit, it’s not like the proceeds are going to go to the exploited working class, or even to the immediate victims of the alleged investment scam. They are going to go to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

    The purpose of the program — which is really RomneyCare — is to take some of the burden off the taxpayers who have insurance.

    If you think this is an awesome idea, why don’t you start a fund and solicit voluntary donations to cover the costs, rather than forcing taxpayers who would rather not buy in to comprehensive corporate health insurance to do so, against their will? That’s something you can do right now. You could do it a lot better if government stopped robbing working folks of discretionary income, decimating their savings, forcing medical costs sky high through regulatory monopolies and cartels, etc. But it needn’t wait on that. Mutual aid begins at home.

    Are left-libertarian solutions better? No doubt. Are they on the table? Not yet.

    I disagree that they are not on the table; there are certainly things you can start doing now. (In fact, I think there are many things which would be a sight better than just collecting money to help people get catastrophic or comprehensive health insurance. But there’s that too.) The point of a countereconomic approach is to begin routing around the damage the state causes now, rather than waiting around for unlikely legal reforms.

    I think justice does underdetermine its own application in cases where no possible choices are just choices.

    Did you mean to write something different here? By definition, if you know that there are no just choices, then the application isn’t underdetermined; you’ve already recognized the choices as being instances of injustice. What you seem to want to argue is that it’s impossible for there to be a situation in which there is no just choice. I disagree with you about that — I think there are such things as moral tragedies. Why do I have to believe that there is always a just choice out there? Perhaps there are situations in which there just isn’t any good way out.

    But, even if I did agree with you, I wouldn’t see the application to the situation at hand. You seem to want to talk about choices in terms of large scale policy-decisions — e.g., should we adopt law A, or law B, or stick with the legal status quo C, or do something else, like trying to get rid of some other laws? But that’s not a description of the choices that I face on the margin, and I doubt it’s a description of the choices that you face. Or, in fact, the choices that any individual faces, since all of us act individually on the margin, whereas legal outcomes are the collective product of many aggregated actions under a certain institutional structure. If you look at the choices that individual human beings face, they are choices like to collect taxes or not to collect taxes, to comply with or evade the requirements of people taxing, to physically punish a tax-evader or not to physically punish her, to physically punish someone who refuses to buy corporate health insurance or not to physically punish her, to snitch or not to snitch to the IRS, to give or not to give your own money to a mutual aid effort, to vote or not to vote in favor of giving somebody else’s money to a government program, etc. In all these cases of real individual choices on the margin, I think there are some (e.g. the majority of us, who aren’t in government, are well within our rights to refuse to pay taxes, and well within our rights to refuse to buy corporate health insurance, to refuse to snitch on tax-evading or insurance-evading neighbors, etc. no matter what the government insists; correspondingly, the just thing for people who are in government to do, is to refuse to collect taxes, to enforce unjust prohibitions, or to arrest, imprison, inflict fines, or otherwise punish people who act within their rights). And other choices which are outside the bounds of justice (e.g. to snitch on your neighbors, or for people in government to levy fines, arrest, imprison, etc. those who refuse to comply with unjust laws). What to say about policy decisions is way, way downstream from the basic issues of justice and injustice; the first thing to do is to make sure you are practicing street-level justice — by treating your neighbors and fellow citizens like rational human beings, rather than like beasts of burden or potentially useful items of private property. Anything else is just bullshit.

  20. MBH

    Charles,

    [The lawsuit against Goldman Sachs is] not about to convince me of a genuine antagonism…

    It doesn’t strike the root. But it’s really close. The SEC is going after the ingenious kind of fraud that’s vital to the Corporate-State’s incentive structure. If you have the time, you might enjoy sitting down with a beer and this: http://www.propublica.org/feature/all-the-magnetar-trade-how-one-hedge-fund-helped-keep-the-housing-bubble (the best concrete case ever for why capitalism encourages failure)

    Why do I have to believe that there is always a just choice out there? Perhaps there are situations in which there just isn’t any good way out.

    I would think that decision-making from an impartial perspective counts as a portion of justice even in situations without a good way out. Even if all decisions are tragic.

  21. JOR

    Yeah. Obama is just like Bush. All talk; no… wait a minute.

    Just like Bush? Well, he looks different I guess. Better orator. Wrote a somewhat readable, if forgettable, Goo Goo book. Is he just as bad? In practical terms; I’d say roughly so. Slightly better or worse, maybe. Too close to call yet. Is he just as bad deep down in his heart? Only God knows men’s hearts, even if God doesn’t exist.

    But would that either of them were all talk. I don’t know why anyone even thinks Obama ever talked a good game, even before he was elected. So he’s a better orator than the previous president. But the substance really is all the same, and was all along.

    I’m having trouble figuring out if you honest-to-god believe it’s remotely possible that Obama’s really some kind of libertarian free-market anarchist deep down, or if you’re just pandering to an audience who you think is naive enough to buy it and stupid enough to care what someone is deep down even while they preside over worldwide murder, vandalism, extortion, and oppression. The latter is just insulting and a waste of everyone’s neurons. The former is… well, to be honest it’d be almost but not quite cute, like the dreamy-eyed Christian or Objectivist who insists on seeing the secret Christian or Objectivist virtues in some writer or rock band or movie actor.

  22. MBH

    Do you think Chomsky is some kind of libertarian free-market anarchist deep down? Even though he wants the State to grow in the short-run… Wouldn’t you say that he talks a bad game when he suggests nationalizing health care… Would you consider Brad Spangler almost cute for thinking Chomsky is somewhere still an anarchist behind all that grow-the-State rhetoric?

  23. JOR

    MBH, in chronological order: No*, and Yes.

    But at least Chomsky is not actively presiding over global murder, terror, extortion, and oppression. As I said, would that Obama *were all talk.

  24. MBH

    If a gang runs the world, is it a bad idea to try to run the gang? Even if that means playing by their rules for a period of time?

  25. Gabriel

    If a gang runs the world, is it a bad idea to try >to run the gang? Even if that means playing by >their rules for a period of time?

    In my view I’d say that’s correct. The moral reason it’s bad is because you will be required to participate in the gang to some degree to prove yourself and obtain any real power. On TV shows this is usually portrayed as the “bad guys” asking the protagonist to kill someone to “prove they are serious”. In the context of a government that could range from any number of activities like shutting down a non-licensed bakery, to foreclosing a mortgage, to actually killing someone.

    The practical reason it’s bad is that it just doesn’t work, especially with a political message like freedom. It’s difficult to change a lot of people’s minds, especially about something they strongly believe in and is part of a system they were raised from birth to respect. You’re not going to convince Supreme Court Justices that corporations aren’t persons, or that government should not restrict free speech or invade foreign countries at the president’s convenience for example. You can’t even convince them to follow their ((own** rules! (E.g. the SCotUS ruled recently that the exclusionary rule doesn’t apply in cases where arrest warrants were clerical errors!) A message all about freedom and responsibility is the last thing that’s going to succeed in electoral politics and government, because it has no real practical benefit to those who already have wealth and power and would in fact represent a risk to their privilege.

  26. JOR

    Yes.

    Anyway, all this discussion of hypotheticals is nice, and all. But what reason does anyone have to think Obama is really some sort of libertarian underneath it all? At least Chomsky claims to be an anarchist; it’s something he thinks is worth aiming for someday, after every other defect with the world is irrevocably repaired. Where does Obama give any indication that he’s anything other than the mainstream, centrist, technocratic authoritarian that he sells himself as?

  27. MBH

    It’s hardly a secret that Obama follows Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. He spent three years engaged in community “organization.” “Organization” is code. The activity is really a process of education — teaching groups of people that and how they are enslaved. Then guiding them to activity that levels power. Alinsky’s son said in 2008, “Obama learned his lesson well.” Alinsky famously said this about his book:

    The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away.

    He wants to wage war against the System. And he believes the best way to do it is from the inside. Compromise is a legitimate tool. You may disagree with that. In fact, that’s the message I keep hearing from most of you. “No compromise.” And well, whatever. Some of you confuse the Alinsky-style end. I think it’s clearly an egalitarian end (hardly different from the equality in authority that Roderick talks about).

    Some of you may say it’s not an end at all; it’s a series of tactics. But when you claim that — by definition — a means which is inconsistent with its end is no longer a means to that end, I have to wonder in what sense your claim is falsifiable. What do you say about particular instances that show a means-inconsistent-with-its-end bringing about the end? Do you say that — by definition — something else caused it? If you do, then you’re claim isn’t falsifiable. And I have to wonder why I should consider a claim that isn’t falsifiable.

  28. JOR

    Look, you can posture as the wise pragmatist all you want, dude. I don’t have anything against gradualism per se. Hey, it beats nothing. I don’t even object to certain kinds of “compromise”, as long as it doesn’t involve personally doing something immoral (like, you know, taking out hits on people). But all the gradualism and compromise I see from Obama is moving in precisely the direction I don’t want things to go (i.e. towards more statism, more imperialism, more authoritarianism).

    Charles has already explained why many of us think “pragmatic” arguments for electoral gamesmanship fail. Instead of engaging with those arguments, you just stand aside going in circles as if they were never made, and instead argue against some “purist” caricature making the expected “market fundamentalist” arguments.

    “But when you claim that — by definition — a means which is inconsistent with its end is no longer a means to that end, I have to wonder in what sense your claim is falsifiable.”

    Well this is more Charles’ argument than mine. The way I solve these sorts of problems is just to divorce ethics from praxeology and psychology. The ends don’t justify the means for the same reason that atoms don’t justify molecules. Justice just isn’t about means and ends, at all. (If watching cool explosions is morally permissible, then, if the ends justified the means, I’d be justified in blowing up the Earth to watch the cool explosion. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with watching cool explosions!)

  29. MBH

    I’m not posturing, evading, or straw-manning.

    What you’re condemning was my response to your question:

    Where does Obama give any indication that he’s anything other than the mainstream, centrist, technocratic authoritarian that he sells himself as?

    I gave you the evidence I have and you’ve ignored it entirely. And I am the one posturing, evading, and straw-manning?

  30. Roderick T. Long

    But when you claim that — by definition — a means which is inconsistent with its end is no longer a means to that end, I have to wonder in what sense your claim is falsifiable

    I don’t think conceptual claims are supposed to be falsifiable.

  31. MBH

    Roderick, always a pleasure.

    I don’t think conceptual claims are supposed to be falsifiable.

    You’ve said that to have a concept is to understand its connection with other concepts and to be able to apply it in the world. Shouldn’t the application of a concept be falsifiable?

  32. JOR

    I gave you the evidence I have and you’ve ignored it entirely.

    Because it’s utterly inane. It’s as stupid as thinking that suing Goldman Sachs is radical change, or even a gradualist move towards (good) radical change. It’s as stupid as the sorts of nonsense that Randroids or Misoids pull when they drag out some quote where Mises or Rand or whoever approves of some clown, and that supposedly makes them libertarian or Rational or whatever (nevermind that Rand and Mises weren’t really much more libertarian than the standard Republican or Democrat). Alinsky is not particularly radical or particularly libertarian, and Obama is not the first supposedly “radical” magical person to inhabit the white house, and Alinsky’s son complimenting him would not be the first time an activist or intellectual who (arguably) should know better made a complete fool of themselves singing some Great Leader’s praises.

    And really, if you’re right about Obama, then all his other fans and supporters are dead wrong about him. And that’s far more important than anything he could possibly accomplish in his entire political career, let alone in is term(s?) as president.

  33. MBH

    http://baselinescenario.com/2010/04/22/the-safe-banking-act-break-them-up/

    If this kind of legislation goes through, then I’ll disagree. If it doesn’t, then I’ll be inclined to agree with you.

  34. scineram

    statelessness is only desirable as long as the resultant society conforms to your idea of what a society should be like.

    That’s borderline tautological.

  35. Rad Geek

    MBH:

    He wants to wage war against the System. And he believes the best way to do it is from the inside.

    Well, whatever. But then he’s no longer using Alinsky’s methods. The point of Alinskyian community organizing is to do something different from the usual sort of electoral politics.

    In any case, even if he were operating on orthodox Alinskyian principles still (which he’s not), Alinsky wasn’t an Anarchist. His notion of what fighting the System amounts to, and what the System is, differs significantly from mine. Lots of people conceive of their politics as fighting the System but that tells you remarkably little about what they are actually after and how they mean to get it.

    Compromise is a legitimate tool. You may disagree with that. In fact, that’s the message I keep hearing from most of you. “No compromise.”

    If that’s the message you keep hearing, I think you’re not listening very hard. I have my own views on compromise and gradualism, but my point here hasn’t had much of anything to do with the legitimacy of compromise per se. It’s mainly had to do with the choices that are actually available to you as a political actor. You keep trying to make this about some kind of debate between pragmatic realism and pie-in-the-sky utopian theorizing. But you’re rigging the debate by doing so, and ignoring what I’m actually arguing. As I said above:

    You seem to want to talk about “choices” in terms of large scale policy-decisions — e.g., should we adopt law A, or law B, or stick with the legal status quo C, or do something else, like trying to get rid of some other laws? But that’s not a description of the choices that I face on the margin, and I doubt it’s a description of the choices that you face. Or, in fact, the choices that any individual faces, since all of us act individually on the margin, whereas legal outcomes are the collective product of many aggregated actions under a certain institutional structure. If you look at the choices that individual human beings face, they are choices like to collect taxes or not to collect taxes, to comply with or evade the requirements of people taxing, to physically punish a tax-evader or not to physically punish her, to physically punish someone who refuses to buy corporate health insurance or not to physically punish her, to snitch or not to snitch to the IRS, to give or not to give your own money to a mutual aid effort, to vote or not to vote in favor of giving somebody else’s money to a government program, etc. In all these cases of real individual choices on the margin, I think there are some (e.g. the majority of us, who aren’t in government, are well within our rights to refuse to pay taxes, and well within our rights to refuse to buy corporate health insurance, to refuse to snitch on tax-evading or insurance-evading neighbors, etc. no matter what the government insists; correspondingly, the just thing for people who are in government to do, is to refuse to collect taxes, to enforce unjust prohibitions, or to arrest, imprison, inflict fines, or otherwise punish people who act within their rights). And other choices which are outside the bounds of justice (e.g. to snitch on your neighbors, or for people in government to levy fines, arrest, imprison, etc. those who refuse to comply with unjust laws). What to say about policy decisions is way, way downstream from the basic issues of justice and injustice; the first thing to do is to make sure you are practicing street-level justice — by treating your neighbors and fellow citizens like rational human beings, rather than like beasts of burden or potentially useful items of private property. Anything else is just bullshit.

    And:

    I disagree that they are not on the table; there are certainly things you can start doing now. (In fact, I think there are many things which would be a sight better than just collecting money to help people get catastrophic or comprehensive health insurance. But there’s that too.) The point of a countereconomic approach is to begin routing around the damage the state causes now, rather than waiting around for unlikely legal reforms.

    But when you claim that — by definition — a means which is inconsistent with its end is no longer a means to that end, I have to wonder in what sense your claim is falsifiable.

    1. I’m not a Popperian. I don’t accept falsifiability as a distinguishing feature of scientific discourse.

    2. I also don’t think that the constraints on scientific discourse constrain permissible moves in apriori conceptual analysis, either. Conceptual analysis is not a natural science. (Popper didn’t think this, either, for what it’s worth.)

    3. I didn’t say that a means which is inconsistent with its end is no longer a means to that end. (I don’t even know what a means which is inconsistent with its end is supposed to mean here. Is the inconsistency supposed to be causal? Logical? Epistemic?) What I did say is that whether an end is achieved consensually or coercively is a constitutive aspect of the end itself. If you steal $6.99 for a lunch special you are revealing through action that your end must something other than the end to earn some lunch. But the ends which might be served by that means are either underspecified (my view is that to get lunch tout court is not an end at all; to individuate it as an end you need to connect it implicitly or explicitly with the several virtues), or else ends not worth pursuing (e.g. to get lunch by any means necessary, to steal lunch, etc.).

    Shouldn’t the application of a concept be falsifiable?

    Why?

    What do you even mean by falsifiable here? Do you mean that it should be logically possible for there to be a condition in which a given application of a concept is incorrect (whether or not the applicant ever knows, or can know)? That it should be epistemically possible for it to be incorrect (whether or not the applicant ever knows, or can know)? That it should be (logically? epistemically?) possible to introduce evidence to the applicant that would convince her to retract the application? That it should be (logically? epistemically?) possible to introduce evidence to the applicant that would give her reasons to retract the application? Something else?

    In any case, what would you say about the application of mathematical concepts — for example, 7 is a prime number. Is that falsifiable? If so, how would it be falsified?

    Louis B:

    You seem to be saying that statelessness is only desirable as long as the resultant society conforms to your idea of what a society should be like.

    scineram:

    That’s borderline tautological.

    It only seems tautological if you think that the deciding factor in whether or not statelessness is desirable is how it does or does not contribute to some further, global-level set of societal outcomes, other than the outcome of statelessness itself.

    I can’t speak for Louis B., but I for one am not a consequentialist, so I think there may well be reasons to value statelessness for itself (because, say, the State is necessarily an injustice, and so statelessness is a partial application of the virtue of justice in social relations), independently of whether or not it promotes some further set of independent societal outcomes.

  36. MBH

    Charles,

    The point of Alinskyian community organizing is to do something different from the usual sort of electoral politics.

    Maybe. But by the end of Rules for Radicals, Alinsky is explicitly convinced that the best way to empower the powerless is for the powerful people with a conscience to become shareholders of the most powerful corporations. To then steer those corporations in productive or self-destructive directions — depending on the context.

    I’m not a Popperian. I don’t accept falsifiability as a distinguishing feature of scientific discourse. [And] I also don’t think that the constraints on scientific discourse constrain permissible moves in apriori conceptual analysis, either. Conceptual analysis is not a natural science. (Popper didn’t think this, either, for what it’s worth.)

    I don’t say that conceptual analysis is a natural science. But I do think that a priori analysis is one end of a spectrum. I think a posteriori analysis is the other end of the same spectrum. And I think any proposition that cannot move along that spectrum and cannot open itself to inter-subjective critique is empty.

    (my view is that “to get lunch” tout court is not an end at all; to individuate it as an end you need to connect it implicitly or explicitly with the several virtues), or else ends not worth pursuing (e.g. “to get lunch by any means necessary,” “to steal lunch,” etc.).

    I agree with you insofar as the conventional language will do. But “to steal lunch” in one context is different from “to steal lunch” in another context. If S will die without l, then “to steal l” is hardly an end not worth pursuing for S — especially if it doesn’t adversely effect anyone else and/or if S reimburses the owner.

    What do you even mean by “falsifiable” here?… That it should be (logically? epistemically?) possible to introduce evidence to the applicant that would give her reasons to retract the application?

    That it should be inter-subjectively possible for the applicant to see that certain rules are not applicable in all contexts. That the rule can be shown — from another perspective — to apply or not apply.

    In any case, what would you say about the application of mathematical concepts — for example, “7 is a prime number.” Is that falsifiable? If so, how would it be falsified?

    It depends on the context. If I’m reading a textbook and “7 is a prime number” is followed by “8 is a prime number” then I’m going to say, “this textbook mis-applies the concept prime.” If you mean in the absolute sense, then no, I don’t think that’s falsifiable in itself. But I do think whether or not you apply it in the absolute sense is falsifiable.

    Ethics is different though. The absolute sense of “stealing is bad” means (among other things) that you ought to starve instead of stealing food and then reimbursing the owner. What should be falsifiable in ethics is not whether you can apply an imperative categorically, but whether you can apply it in a way that’s sensitive to the context.

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