What I Write When I Should Be Writing

Writing and reading are so seemingly essential to modern life, especially modern academic life. This might seem odd to people that believe that the advance of technology would destroy the written word. However, the internet has not devalued the written word but made it more powerful and omnipresent. Now, the majority of the American populace is literally surrounded at all times by more written information than ever before in human history. Furthermore, though places like Amazon may have “killed” (a ghastly metaphor) the brick-and-mortar bookshop (though not in all cases); they have not “killed” the print book. Indeed, this seems odd given the advance of devices and apps such as the Kindle, Google Books, and iBooks; for some, ebooks truly rule the day, but for many people physical books are still very much desired and used. Positing why this is the case can only be pure conjecture, utterly tainted by personal preference. However, I believe that the there is something in the physicality of tangible books that make them appealing to many people; there is also the aspect of visibility. It is impossible in most cases to tell from a passing glance what someone is doing on their smartphone, tablet, or laptop. Maybe they are reading an ebook, or maybe they are scanning Facebook; it’s a mystery. Whereas with a physical book there is no mystery, it is easy to tell at a glance when someone is reading a physical book. Moreover, I would hazard a guess, that a third aspect contributing to the continued presence of print books is a desire to differentiate activities.

There is a serious danger when one is reading on a screen to flit to something else, a game, a social media app, etc. This can seriously damage one’s reading; indeed, only the dedicated reader will not yield to temptation when a boring section of a book occurs. Clearly, there is a danger to flit between tasks with a physical book as well. It is all too easy to put a book down during that dull section. However, I would posit that there is a fundamental difference in these two types of task switching. Fliting between apps on a smartphone is as simple as putting down a book, but far less physical and, thus, (I would guess) far less memorable. Whereas after putting down a physical book it is still there in what can sometimes be oppressive physical omnipresence, reminding one of the task they’ve abandoned; switching apps on a smartphone is easily forgotten, it is easy from minute to minute to go from iBooks to Facebook to Twitter and on and on, without returning to iBooks. Closing out the app removes the presence of the book as does shutting down one’s Kindle or other e-reader. The book is in some sense gone, vanished, not, as with physical books, oppressively omnipresent. Giving up reading Gravity’s Rainbow on a reading app is much simpler than abandoning it physically. The file takes up no physical space, it does not stare one in the face every time they pass their bookshelf; in short, electronic books are more easily forgotten than physical books. Furthermore, I believe that many people probably want to differentiate their tasks, between “screen-time” and “non-screen-time;” especially with the growing body of evidence that screens are changing our brains [1]. I think it is safe to say that print books are going nowhere anytime soon. However, this does not get us any closer to why reading and writing are so fundamental.

It seems odd that something so artificial has shaped the modern world in more ways that it is really possible to fully comprehend. It is hard for any literate person to imagine a world without writing; I do not mean that it is hard to imagine what it is like to be illiterate. This is something, I think many can easily imagine, though I doubt many can understand the deeply unsettling emotionality of adult illiteracy. However, I think that to imagine being illiterate, or actually to be illiterate, presumes literacy. The lack assumes to the presence. To imagine being blind, or to be blind in reality, necessitates that sight exists. Similarly, illiteracy necessitates that reading and writing exist. This is why imagining a world totally without reading and writing is so difficult. However, stepping back from our phenomenal present existence and considering writing from a distance we can see that it is strange and artificial.

Speaking and listening are deeply natural for humans. We are linguistic creatures. This is evidenced by the fact that all humans in all places speak some language or another from infancy onward. Indeed, even deaf individuals develop and use language, though not spoken, that is deeply and structurally linguistic every bit equal to spoken language. Language is what people do. Many in the modern literate society, such as the United States, would unreflectively assume that writing is just as natural, evidenced, no doubt, by its omnipresence in society. However, upon reflection it becomes clear that writing isn’t natural. It is artificial. Consider indigenous societies that even today do not write. They are non-literate societies – NB they are not illiterate societies; they are non-literate, meaning that they live without writing and not without the knowledge of writing.  Of course, many of these indigenous populations are now illiterate societies, having been brought into contact with the written word. However, it should be clear that writing is not something natural in the same way that speaking (or signing) is natural.

Writing was invented a few times in a few places, the big ones are Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, and Mesoamerica; but there are other places where writing was invented, for example Crete and the Indus valley. For a long time a theory called monogenesis ruled the day. The theory held that writing was invented once, in Mesopotamia, and spread from there to Egypt; however, more recent finds have shown that the Egyptians invented writing on their own. Obviously, China and Mesoamerica (the Maya and Aztecs) were not in contact with the Mesopotamians, and thus could not have stolen writing from them; though this was, for obvious reasons, never seriously postulated. (Now, if certain people are correct, monogenesis may yet be saved, as obviously the aliens invent writing and gave it to everyone; but until there’s actual concrete evidence for these “aliens” it’s safe to say that the Egyptians and the Mesoamericans invented writing independently.) From these inventions of writing, the idea spread and morphed along the way. Soon Phoenician traders had developed what would become the alphabet, though they didn’t have vowels in their version. These traders spread their invention around the Mediterranean. The Greeks took hold of it changed some letters from “barbarian” sounds to vowels, thus creating the alphabet the majority of the world uses today (the “Latin” alphabet is an Italian variant of the Greek and the Cyrillic is a Slavic variant) [2]. All of this should show that writing is far from natural, in the sense of innate. It may have become naturalized because of its singular ubiquity but it is, nonetheless, created, artificial. Writing is an art and a gift that those of us in literate societies too often take for granted.

We’ve lost touch with the art of writing in two senses. The first is the rather forgivable loss of appreciation for the beauty of the written form, as handwriting and calligraphy slip more and more to the periphery; however, this loss is not so great given that writing began as something merely functional in many ways, after all most early examples of writing are basically accounting records. The second loss is much graver, we have, I fear, lost touch with the art of writing in a broad sense. By this I mean that we have lost the sense that there is an art to writing; that writing is something special, that it is something to be grateful for, and something to appreciate and cherish.  I fear that writing has become something so merely functional, so basic, and so base that it has lost all meaning to most literate people. It may be unclear what this loss means, but I fear that its implications are as deep and wide. If we forget that writing is something special we run the risk of relegating it to merely another technological tool, something to be used without much thought; something, moreover, to be abandoned if something better comes along. We forget that though writing is an artificial gift, it is a gift nonetheless, and has deeply changed our world. Forgetting the art of writing is forgetting the power of writing.

It cannot be denied that writing is the most power thing people have ever invented. This claim is bold but true. Certainly, inventions like the wheel, the utilization of fire, and guns have shaped the world and qualify as important inventions. However, the knowledge of these things can only be transferred in two ways: speech or writing. Indeed, the oral tradition is the older option, useful in many cases, but severely limited in scope. In the oral tradition things are passed down generation to generation in a direct line, this means that if any one part of the chain is broken the knowledge is lost. Since the oral tradition is also limited to the size of a human community, a break in the change is more likely than with writing. In writing, knowledge can skip a generation, or more, as long as the text isn’t lost. For example, it is possible for anyone to become a Scholastic scholar even if no one else in the family ever read St. Aquinas. Furthermore, unlike the oral tradition, writing is not limited to the size of any one human community; any one can learn the language of a text and read, regardless of their membership in a particular community. An additional benefit of writing is that written information is less prone to change in meaning than oral information. One need only think of the children’s game where something is whispered alone a chain of people and the message is changed, often extremely, by the end of the chain. Writing allows not only for the widespread and, generally, accurate transmission of technical knowledge for building wheels and weapons; it also, more importantly, allows for the spread of the most powerful thing in human history: ideas.

I believe that it is ideas that rule society and history. Indeed, to quote Ludwig von Mises [3]: “The history of mankind is the history of ideas. For it is ideas, theories, and doctrines that guide human action, determine the ultimate ends men aim at and the choice of the means employed for the attainment of these ends.” There is no better way to disseminate ideas than writing, itself an idea of sorts. Writing allows for the spread of ideas regardless of context, place, time, culture, or any number of factors that limit other means for spreading ideas. With the advent of the printing press the spread of ideas in writing grew faster, freer, and wider. With the ideals of universal education and literacy that blossomed in the mid twenty century, though never fully achieved, the advance of writing was finalized as universal. It is a tragedy that in all this the medium of advance has been largely forgotten and ignored; writing hardly receives a seconds thought as it is used to spread ideas around the globe. It is hardly considered that it is writing that heralded scientific revolutions, writing that convinced men to send armies to march across the globe to advance written ideas, writing that championed the ideals of world peace and an end to war, writing that simultaneously sent people to their deaths and promised that there would be death no more. Writing is a neutral tool as all tools are, the hammer can be used to destroy as well as to build, no less can writing. Nevertheless, it is the unique providence of writing to be that omnipresent tool that is used for every imaginable end. War and peace are penned in the same medium, racism and antiracism proclaimed with the same tool, theology and atheism championed in the same form. Writing and the advance of ideas, thus the advance of history, are inexorably linked. Writing as the basic representation of spoken language in symbols is often, unfortunately, overlooked and forgotten; its unique place in history and society overlooked; however, in a different sense writing is hardly ever overlooked or forgotten.

Writing as prose or poetry; writing as essay; writing as literature; in short, writing as the thing taught in English classes, is rarely overlooked. Compositional writing is the likely the first thing that jumps to people’s minds when they think about writing. Organized writing rules the day, in books, newspapers, magazines, and even television and movies (which use written scripts). There is no doubt that organized writing is important and world-changing; however, it is thoughts of composition, of order, that remove one from the wonder of the medium itself. As important as good composition may be, it is impossible without the presence of the medium of writing itself. A well written piece is something to be admired and praised but without the letters it is impossible. It is important that in composition we forget about the letters in favor of the words, or even forgetting the words in favor of the structure of a piece; however, though this leads to good composition it also leads to a loss of wonder and appreciation for writing qua writing. It is important that we take time to learn what makes a good composition a good composition, but it is equally important that we take time to reflect on the medium of composition itself: the art of this artificial thing that was invented a few times and in a few places; the beauty and power of the invention that changed the world; the might of this tool that we call writing. Writing is the most human of inventions and tells the most human of stories.

 

[1] See here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/cravings/201609/how-internet-use-is-shaping-our-brains

[2] For a more in depth history of writing, watch Thoth’s Pill by Nativlang here:  https://youtu.be/PdO3IP0Pro8.

[3] von Mises, L. (1977). Planned Chaos, p.62. Foundation for Economic Education: Irvington-on-Hudson, New York.

Should The Word ‘Very’ Really be Avoided?

There is a great deal of writing advice on the internet warning people against the use of the word ‘very.’ The reasons everyone should avoid using ‘very’ in their writing range from that ‘very’ has become so weakened that it has no intensifying purpose anymore to the claim that using ‘very’ is simply lazy writing. It ought to be noted that in none of this writing advice do people give a legitimate stylistic or grammatical reason to use their suggested alternatives in place of an adjective modified with ‘very.’ Claiming that ‘very’ is a weak or lazy word is not really a stylistic justification for avoiding it; in fact, there may well be stylistic reasons not to avoid using ‘very,’ as the aggressive use of large words can make one’s writing seem awkward, or like they have just discovered how to use a thesaurus. To be clear, large and complex words have a clear and important place in writing; however, they should never be used simply to avoid the word ‘very.’

Indeed, if one of the supposed reasons to avoid ‘very’ is that it has become so weakened to lose all meaning, one ought to avoid the intentional overuse of words to replace ‘very.’ In fact, the intentional use of replacement words to avoid ‘very,’ does more to damage good written style and language use than the “overuse” of ‘very.’ To quote C. S. Lewis: “Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.” Furthermore, many of the alternatives suggested to replace the use of ‘very’ actually lead to a difference in meaning between the original adjective modified with very and the alternative. Let’s take some examples (from the infographic found here):

“very afraid: fearful;” the problem with this one is that fearful and afraid mean exactly the same thing, fearful does not imply a greater intensity of fear than afraid, therefore if one wishes to express that someone has intense fear they could not use fearful in place of very afraid without failing to convey their actual meaning. [1]

“very boring: dull;” dull does not meaning the extremely tedious or uninteresting, i.e. very boring. In fact, dull has more senses than boring and to replace the “very boring” with “dull” could VERY easily (notice that I didn’t use “effortlessly”) completely alter the meaning of a sentence. Example: “that professor is very boring” [meaning: the professor is extremely tedious] changed to “that professor is dull” [possible meanings: (a) the professor lacks excitement; (b) the professor is stupid].

Oh I love this next one:

“very dull: tedious;” that’s right folks, when you want to intensify an adjective don’t! Instead, use one of the possible definitions of the un-intensified version of the original. Dull means tedious! Therefore, it is impossible for tedious to mean very dull, since if it did dull would also already mean very dull!

“Very colorful: vibrant;” this doesn’t work, since vibrant refers to a color’s brightness, whereas colorful refers to the amount of colors or the brightness of something; so to replace very colorful with vibrant is to lose not one but two meanings as one loses both the reference to amount of colors and to the intensity, since vibrant does not mean ‘intensely colorful.”

“very perfect: flawless;” the problem with this is that instead of replacing the phrase “very perfect” with a synonym of perfect, one should just cut the word “very” from the phrase, as it is simply redundant.

There are some on the list that work well like “very stupid: idiotic,” as idiotic means very stupid. However, the biggest flaw of this list is that many of the replacement words of synonyms of the original adjective without adding any intensity. Indeed, to get the same sense out of “tedious” as out of “very dull,” one would have to say “very tedious.” I fully agree that having a larger vocabulary is a positive thing for which everyone should strive; however, the way to get there is not to dispense with the use of the word very and replace it with “better” alternatives, since that is not the sign of a larger vocabulary but a sign of a thesaurus user. Meaning is nuanced and complex, different words mean different things to different people, part of having a large vocabulary is welding it well, not shoehorning words in places they don’t really fit. Perhaps, for some “tedious,” does, in fact, mean “very dull,” but that still doesn’t change the fact that in everyday speech and writing there is a place for “very dull.” If it is the most efficient way to get one’s meaning across, and one doesn’t have some other commitments in writing (class style guides for example), use the words and phrase most fit for the writing.

[1] I am using the definitions of Oxford Dictionaries online.

One further point, despite the widespread belief among people using larger words in writing doesn’t actually make one sound more intelligent and may actually have to opposite effect if overused. Thus, one should use the words one thinks best fit the situation. See the study by Oppenheimer, D. (2006). Consequences of erudite vernacular utilization irrespective of necessity: problems with using long words needlessly, Applied Cognitive Psychology 20, 139-156. DOI: 10.1002/acp.1178.

Random Thoughts on Politics

This is another collection of short pieces on my random thoughts, this one happens to be political in nature. I understand if you dislike politics and don’t want to read this, I swear that I will be returning to languages soon and then some philosophy stuff. Anyways here are some random thoughts on politics.

Immigration and Refugees

This is a big topic in light of recent events and yet I can only bring myself to barely care. That probably makes me a terrible person, oh well. The reason I barely care is that in my ideal world neither of these things would be issues, but this isn’t my ideal world so they are. I’m for free and open immigration, I’m for letting refugees enter the United States; however, I’m against all forms of the government getting involved in either of these matters. There are ways of privately helping refugees and those are what we should be engaged in. No immigrant should receive government money, not because they’re immigrants but because governments and by extension government money shouldn’t exist.

I know I’ll be criticized, if only silently, by many. One criticism is “what about national borders, national sovereignty, or national culture.” Granted the last one usually doesn’t have the word national tacked on the front but it is certainly implied. Well, I don’t care about national anything because I don’t believe nations should exist, not in some weird one-world government meaning of the phrase but in a localist way that everything should be run locally. Simply put, I don’t think governments, certainly not national governments, should exist and therefore I don’t believe in the nation-state as a justification of anything. Oh and on the culture thing, people seemed worried about “losing their culture.” I’m really not sure what that means. Culture is not a stagnant thing, it is a constantly changing process, a negotiation made each and everyday by each person. Another criticism is that “we don’t want violent people coming into this country.” On some level I agree, I mean no-one should be violent period. That actually leads me to disagree on a much deeper level with this sentiment. First, there are already violent people here, I doubt it will be that much worse if some people come into the country. Second, as I stated above I don’t believe in the whole nation-state thing so there is no “our country,” there is a piece of geographically territory that is ruled by an entity founded on force that for some reason everyone insists on asserting is “one and unified.”

Maybe you can see why I am basically apathetic on this issue. People seem to want everyone to adopt a pro-immigrant/refugee policy stance of an anti-immigrant/refugee policy stance, but either way they want you to have a (governmental) policy stance. That makes it tough for me, because both sides are wrong due to the fact they both of them believe that government must be involved; whereas, I don’t.

Hate Speech and Free Speech

I have declared before that I am a free speech absolutist and I am. In my opinion all speech should be free including what is commonly labelled “hate speech.” This is not a generally accepted or even tolerated position, which to my mind shows the lack of nuance in people’s thinking. Let me explain. To begin with let me state plainly: I despise bigotry and despise bigoted and hateful speech. However, that does not mean I think it should be banned or in any way silenced. This is where people seem to lack nuance; many seem to believe that if something is terrible, evil, or vile that it ought to be banned or silenced. However, this creates more problems than it solves.

When speech is open and free there is more responsibility. Silencing speech removes responsibility for that speech, the speaker of hateful words goes into hiding, makes all their comment anonymously, and never takes responsibility for their speech. Furthermore, silencing removes the possibility of openly combating the ideologies that lead to hateful speech. Moveover, silencing does not kill hatred, it grows it.

Let me be clear: I understand the psycho-emotional damage of hateful and derogatory speech. Hateful speech is despicable; however, that doesn’t mean it should  be silenced. No, it should be made openly and combatted openly and decisively. Moreover, it must be combatted with respect if for no other reason than to be unlike the bigot. As Marcus Aurelius wrote: “The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.” Hate speech is disgusting but it is free speech and thus must be allowed. By the same token, it must also be decry and freely combated at every injunction without silencing or disrespect. If allowed to be openly express it is unlikely to last long in the market of ideas, as Louis Brandeis said: “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”

Note: Hateful action is not speech. Violent must never be allowed. It must always be denounced.

Respect and Listening to Each Other

It seems as though no one can listen to each other any more, if they ever could. In all matters of disagreement people seem to only shout at each other and never engage in meaningful and free discourse. Moreover, not only can people not listen to other viewpoints, they feel compelled to constantly insult and belittle everyone that disagrees with them. There never seems to be respectful discussion instead it is merely insulting each other. All sides engage in this shameful practice and it works because it captures people’s emotions. However, at the end of the day respectful discussion and debate have better results than emotional appeals and insults. Not that this is anything new. Insulting opponents seem to have always been a tacit, but they’ve never been a tacit that should be accepted. Hopefully, we can all try to be better at listening and being respectful even of those we most disagree with (i.e. don’t call people names!).

Taxation and Federal Programs

I recently saw a post on a social media platform that asserted the minimal cost of certain “threatened” federal programs, including schools, museums, and arts funding. The post asserted that the cost to fund these various programs is only around 22 dollars per year for each taxpayer. It also asserts that the posters are happy to give up this money to keep these programs in operation. Interestingly, the post uses the correct terminology for taxation, saying “please take my $xx.xx;” take is the correct verb since taxation is theft. However, that is not the part of the post that made me want to write about it. I want to write about this post because it shows an odd twisting in logic. Imagine if someone said that these programs should be privatized, run not by government but by private means. There would be massive uproar, likely from that same people saying that they are happy to have their money taken to fund these federal programs. They would claim that if these things were privatized no one would give them money. However, they have asserted that they are happy to have their money taken to fund them, so by simple logic they should be happy to fund them privately. If you think that the government should fund something, then you should be able to see that it will be funded privately! If you are happy to have your money taken to fund a federal arts program then you should be equally happy to fund a private arts program. Unless of course, you just say that you’re happy to fund all these things because you think it makes you sound decent, civilized, or cultured, when in actual fact you don’t give a damn about whatever it is you believe the government should be funding.

The Federal Department of Education

Upon the confirmation of the Trumpian Secretary of Education there has been an outpouring of discontent. Justifiable or not, people dislike the new Secretary of Education for various reasons for her policy proposals, her lack of experience, or just the fact that she’s a Trumpian. Nonetheless, I don’t take issue with people that disapprove of her, nor for that matter people that approve of her. Either way, they’re wrong. I don’t care who’s in charge of the department, because the department shouldn’t exist. I’ve now uttered, actually written, the fatal words. How dare I claim that the Federal Department of Education not exist! Think of the children! Apparently, the Federal Department of Education is the only thing keeping children in the Bible Belt for being openly taught creationism in science class, ya know, because parents and teachers are too stupid to make decisions. That’s the point, I’m at most a localist, I believe things should be run locally, in fact, I would say we should run things at an even smaller level, but that’s a different comment for a different time. Schools should be run locally and by and large they already are. The Department of Education has rules and regulations, sure, but if you really have so little faith in the states (especially southern states) to educate without them, do you really believe they aren’t already ignoring as many rules as they can get away with? There are going to be bad schools with or without the Department of Education, and the benefit of not having it is that you wouldn’t have to worry about a Trumpian being in control of it.

Everything’s a Metaphor

The word metaphor is generally refers to the figurative use of one word or phrase to describe another unrelated word or phrase. It is non-literal. For example, “time is money,” is a metaphor, because time is not literally money. However, as the title of this post suggests I am using the word ‘metaphor’ with an expanded, (you might say, metaphorical), meaning. Let me explain why everything’s a metaphor.

When someone says, “I like this coffee,” what do they mean? This is fairly cut and dry, no metaphor in sight; they mean just what they have said, i.e. they enjoy the coffee they are drinking, just finished, or saw the bag of, etc., which precise meaning is context dependent. That’s all very well and good, but what do they really mean? That may strike the reader as a strange question but here’s my point. The metaphoric is omnipresent in everyday use of language. When one says, “I like this coffee,” what they mean to convey is the nebulous and impossible to precisely define conception of enjoyment of “this” coffee. Ask them why they like this coffee and you may be treated to a soliloquy on its aroma, taste, mouthfeel, or some memorial-emotional connection. Yet, ask them why they like that taste, that aroma, etc. and most will be at a loss to explain. A great deal of human experience is hidden from conceptualization by both outsiders and ourselves.

Thus, everyday language, and even more precise academic language, cannot capture everything one means. At best language can hint at the outside world and the internal mental world.  I think this hinting is best described as “metaphor.” Furthermore, much of people’s everyday speech is not as direct and simple as, “I like this coffee.” A great deal of the time, interpersonal communication, especially among friends and family, involves shared secrets, inside jokes, and communicative short-cuts.  Here, there is yet another level of abstraction, thus another level of metaphor.

One criticism of this view maybe that it is a little thin on explanatory power. For example, of what is the phrase “I love you” a metaphor? Well, it is a metaphor of the experience state of the feeling of love for the loved person by the speaker. Great, says the detractor of my view, but what exactly does this actually explain? Here is the problem; it doesn’t really explain anything, because it cannot. Language is metaphorical, therefore trying to explain on metaphor leads to another metaphor and on and on. This is why even the very statement that everything’s a metaphor is a metaphor. Where does this leave us?

This position does nothing to one’s everyday life. Language is still the same; ideas still remain as they were. Might this position affect one’s world view? Perhaps, but it needn’t. Just because language is ultimately a collection of imperfect metaphors about the world, doesn’t mean that knowledge is unattainable, or that this or that thing doesn’t exist, or that language isn’t one of the best tools (if not the best) we have in life. As Haruki Murakami wrote: “A certain type of perfection can only be realized through a limitless accumulation of the imperfect.”

On 2016

As the year draws to a close, it is a perfect time to reflect on the year and look to the future.

According to some 2016 has been the “worst year” (e.g. here). Indeed, some very bad things did happen in 2016. Here’s a brief list: celebrities died, the United States continued to be a statist nation that elects presidents who have too many powers, there were diseases, there were wars, terrorism, other things anyone doesn’t like happened. How sad. I mean compared to 2016 all other years fail to even register as bad, for example: 1916 with the Battle of Somme; or the Plague years; or 1941-1945, with the Holocaust; or 1520-21 for the Aztec (fall of empire); or any of the years 1861-1865 in the United States.  I think my point is clear, 2016 wasn’t all that bad, it wasn’t great but there has never been a “great” year if you think about it.

Beyond the nostalgic view of some golden pass, every year looks pretty bad but also pretty good. Here’s the long and the short of it. People die; fight; make choices others think are wrong, stupid, dangerous, or whatever; bad, even terrible, things happen, often to good people; there are diseases and wars and potential despots and dictators. However, there are many positive things that make life worth living, for example (without getting religious): the sun continues to rise and give warmth; people fall in love, make friends, and build communities; cures for diseases are found; disasters are avoided; people innovate more and more every day. Indeed, it is true that there are many, many things that are terrible in the world, but there are just as many things that are wonderful. Certainly, some things are looking down, but just as many things, if not more, are looking up.

There is an important point here that is easy to miss. All of us are very good at projecting problems into the future, both our own problems and the world’s problems; but we are very bad at predicting the innovations, the solutions, and the ideas of the future. If you truly believe that 2016 was one of the worst years ever, than it should be a starting point to inspire new solutions. Indeed, that’s what has happened before. Many things have gotten better over the time. Disease, violence, war, and poverty have decreased over time; whereas, life expectancy, literacy rates, and standard of living have increased over that same time. Indeed, if you think about it, one of people’s biggest complaints about the year is that it “took” so many celebrities.

First of all, the year does not “take” any one, the year doesn’t do anything. People die during the year, not because of the year, but because of any number of things including: age, health conditions, lifestyle choices, accidents, or a combination of these things. More importantly, it shows how go things actually are that one of the biggest complaints about the year is that so many famous people have died this year. It is true that anyone’s death is a tragedy, but it hardly makes a 2016 any worse. I also understand that many people that bemoan this year aren’t complaining mainly about the death of celebrities but about war (a legitimate complaint, but overall this year was better than, say one hundred years ago – WWI), or, sadly much more likely, political votes not going how they would have liked.

First it was Brexit (a truly ridiculous word, but never mind) and then it was the election of Donald Trump. Let me be honest, I think the British vote to leave the European Union was a good thing (light your torches) and I am a harsh critic of Donald Trump and I voted against him (for Gary Johnson). Let’s talk Brexit for a moment, I believe that it was the best option not because I believe strong nationalism is necessarily a good thing, nor do I hate immigrants; furthermore, I think the average British person that voted in support of Brexit did not vote nationalistically or because of some deep and profound hatred of immigrants; I would hazard the guess that most of them were simply unhappy with the increasing power of the EU. I understand that one can think I am totally wrong and that’s perfectly okay and won’t ruin my year. Now onto Donald Trump; if his election actually ruined your year, I’m sorry. I really am. You see, if it truly ruined your year you obviously are under the twin delusions that (a) the US president is all powerful and (b) government and society are actually the same thing. Guess who also has these delusions: people that blindly support Donald Trump. Will he be a great president, no; a good president, maybe; a bad president, maybe; a terrible president, maybe; a dictator, no.  If you are honestly afraid of Donald Trump, you have a problem; there’s a difference between being literally afraid of him and thinking his policies will be bad.

The president is not all powerful, they cannot do anything they wish, the likelihood that one will become a death camp administering life-long dictator is low; not impossible, but very, very long while this country is at least somewhat stable. The likelihood that Donald Trump will become dictator for life is next to zero, as is the probability of him jailing those that dissent. There is a simple reason: everyone is on guard about his actions before he has actually assumed power. The moment he does something debatably unconstitutional he will have hundreds if not thousands of people fight him in the courts.

More deeply, politics is not life. Government is not society. At most it is a poor and distorted reflection of society. We must not allow government to replace society, the bullet to replace the book, or the black-and-white thinking to replace nuanced, gradated thinking. In the end, life will go on no matter what individual is the president of the United States.

2016 has been a mixed bag, but every year is. Think back to any other year and you’ll find that there were just as many negatives as 2016. Perhaps, the problem is looking for the negatives. If one looks to be saddened, outraged, or otherwise made upset, they have ample opportunities and outlets. 2017 is fast approaching and it will be just as much a mixed bag as 2016. Maybe, just maybe, if we all try not to find ever more things to be upset by and to divide ourselves over the world can continue to improve. I hope that 2017 will be a year of increased intellectual dialogue, informed and nuanced thinking, and ever more free discourse.

Pulling away from this wide view of the year and towards the personal, you are the only one that can determine how the year was for you and how the next year will be for you. In the words of Marcus Aurelius: “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

On Voting

Today is the day of the general election in the United States of America. It is the most important election of our lifetimes! You must vote! If you don’t vote, you are in fact voting for the worst candidate in history! You have a duty and an obligation to vote! Furthermore, you have an obligation and duty to vote for one of the two major parties, because voting third party is in fact voting for the major candidate you like the least. Voting for the lesser of two evils is absolved from any moral implication of supporting evil. Of course, if you don’t vote you can’t complain, because as it says in my made-up copy of the Constitution: “All citizens shall have the right to complain if and only if they have voted.”  The take away: Vote or leave the country, you democracy hating, ignorant, stupid, terrible, anarchist – you know where you can move? Somalia, have fun there with no omniglorious democratically elected government.

Wait! None of that is true, except that today is the day of the general election. You do not have an obligation or duty to vote, much less to vote for only one of the two major parties. Voting for the lesser of two evils is still evil, and even if you choose not to vote you still have a right to complain. In fact, voting is a hard-won right and, therefore, it is ludicrous (and dangerous) to claim that people must vote. This may be an unpopular position, but it is far more reasonable and humane than claiming that people are required by some civic or moral bond to cast a ballot for a political leader once in a given number of years.

One reason why one has no obligation to vote is that in national (and, often, state) elections a single vote does not matter (break out your pitch-forks, torches, and slogans: “every vote matters!”). The economists, Casey B. Mulligan and Charles G. Hunter, assembled the data for 40,036 state and federal legislative elections and found only eight elections that were determined by a single vote, only one of which was a federal election. Thus, one the basis of purely individualistic mathematical analysis, a single vote does not matter. Only when many votes come together to achieve some real result (i.e. if you want to vote do not be deterred that your single vote will not really have tremendous impact). Some may claim that simply that it statistically does not matter, one still have a moral or civic duty to vote.

Is it a moral duty, or obligation to vote?  The simple answer is: no. It is hard to see how one can have a moral duty to vote for politicians that likely will enact or help enact immoral laws and advance immoral positions. Even if one believes that their favored politician truly is omniglorious and omnibenevolent, this hardly translates into a moral duty to vote in the abstract. There is no moral duty to participate in a system that one does not like, no moral duty to have a voice in a society’s governance, certainly no moral duty to check a small box on a ballot. Even if there were a moral duty to vote there would certainly not be a moral duty to vote for the “lesser-of-two-evils.” Indeed, that would seem to contradict most moral theories, as most moral theories tend to be against evil. It is hard to see why there would exist some moral duty to vote, but isn’t there a civic duty to vote?

The answer is no, there is no civic duty to vote. At least in the United States, there is no legal civic duty to vote, if there were it would be illegal not to vote. However, some would say that there is an extralegal civic duty to vote. A duty to pay alliance to the government that protects the citizens; a duty to honor those that fought for the right to vote; a duty, in short, to prove that you are a good and responsible citizen that cares about their country. There is no such duty, especially if you believe that the government does not protect or does not represent your interests. A civic duty to vote implies that to vote is to consent to the system.

This belief, closely tied for some to “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain,” is utterly wrongheaded and dangerous. What is strange is that many anarchist libertarians repeat the mantra that “voting is consenting to the system,” yet, also say that tacit consent does not really exist. They are absolutely correct that tacit consent to governance does not exist, but apparently they stop using logic when it comes to voting. Voting is nothing more, to quote the abolitionist, individualist anarchist, Constitutional lawyer Lysander Spooner, than replacing the “bullet” for the “ballot.” Indeed, Lysander Spooner makes a powerful case for voting, even though it is not an effective mechanism, a moral obligation, or a civic duty:

In truth, in the case of individuals, their actual voting is not to be taken as proof of consent, even for the time being. On the contrary, it is to be considered that, without his consent having even been asked a man finds himself environed by a government that he cannot resist; a government that forces him to pay money, renders service, and foregoes the exercise of many of his natural rights, under peril of weighty punishments. He sees, too, that other men practice this tyranny over him by the use of the ballot. He sees further, that, if he will but use the ballot himself, he has some chance of relieving himself from this tyranny of others, by subjecting them to his own. In short, he finds himself, without his consent, so situated that, if he use the ballot, he may become a master; if he does not use it, he must become a slave. And he has no other alternative than these two. In self-defense, he attempts the former. His case is analogous to that of a man who has been forced into battle, where he must either kill others, or be killed himself. Because, to save his own life in battle, a man takes the lives of his opponents, it is not to be inferred that the battle is one of his own choosing. Neither in contests with the ballot – which is a mere substitute for a bullet – because, as his only chance of self-preservation, a man uses a ballot, is it to be inferred that the contest is one into which he voluntarily entered; that he voluntarily set up all his own natural rights, as a stake against those of others, to be lost or won by the mere power of numbers. On the contrary, it is to be considered that, in an exigency into which he had been forced by others, and in which no other means of self-defense offered, he, as a matter of necessity, used the only one that was left to him.

Doubtless the most miserable of men, under the most oppressive government in the world, if allowed the ballot, would use it, if they could see any chance of thereby meliorating their condition. But it would not, therefore, be a legitimate inference that the government itself that crushes them was one which they had voluntarily set up, or even consented to.

Vote today, or don’t vote today: it’s your choice, it’s your right. Vote, or don’t vote, but, either way remember that this election doesn’t (really) matter.

 

Sources:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/06/01/yes-you-do-have-an-obligation-to-vote-for-the-lesser-of-two-evils-heres-why/

https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/10/27/jacoby/PiV0sbV2bXf6OQAToXalxM/story.html

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1542-4774.2010.tb00548.x/abstract

http://www.nber.org/papers/w8590.pdf

http://ethicist.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/03/must-you-vote/?_r=0

http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/presidential-campaign/288551-why-2016-may-actually-be-the-most-important

http://www.hercampus.com/news/if-you-dont-vote-you-cant-complain-about-government

https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20121116131301AA9aTOa

http://praxeology.net/LS-NT-6.htm#NT.6.2.n1.1

http://libertarianchristians.com/2008/11/28/new-testament-theology-2/

http://libertarianchristians.com/2013/04/02/theology-doesnt-begin-and-end-with-romans-13/

http://www.notbeinggoverned.com/kill-state-consent-voting-nonsense/

https://fee.org/articles/tacit-consent-a-quiet-tyranny/

 

Also, thank God that this election is finally over (hopefully, I wrote this like two weeks ago, who knows what’ll happen tonight, Trump may legally contest the election, or something, but, at least it should be over now). Even as a political junkie this election has been a bit too much to handle, after this, I can go back to my regular arguments against the government without being associated with a political candidate.

Some Thoughts

Before jumping into this article I will warn that it is a little strange. Instead of being an article on one topic, thoroughly covered, it consists of many short ideas. Have fun and comment if you would like to see a longer article on one (or many of these) topics!

The primacy of questions:

To ask a question is a simple task that many people do on a daily basis. Mostly questions such as “what’s the weather?” and “how are you?” Many questions are used not so much to find things out as just to facilitate conversation or to be polite, it is doubtful that someone asking “how are you?” to a cashier is truly inquiring after their well-being. These sorts of questions are important; however, there are questions that are far more important. Obviously important questions would be things like “why is there something rather than nothing,” and “what is the meaning of life?” These questions do not have clear answers. Nevertheless, there are questions that are less obviously important while having tremendous importance in life. One such question is “why?” or “for what reason?” Why is the most overlooked and underused questions in life. At some point one might run out of answers but they will never run out of questions, this is the reason that questions are so important. Never stop asking.

 

Anything can be true:

It may seem an outlandish proposition to say that any statement can be true (here meaning without error). This means that a ridiculous statement like “the Pope is a married bachelor” can be true. The reason for this is that using the right definitions one can make any statement be without error. For example if one were to define “married” as “in a committed relationship to anyone or a anything,” “bachelor” as “any man not wedded to a person;” therefore, the Pope is, in fact (truly), a “married” (to the church) “bachelor” (not wedded to a person). Therefore, anything can be semantically true, though not objectively true.

Philosophy should be taught in high school:

There are a few ways that I would reform education (increased focus on literacy, encouragement of bilingualism from the start, etc.), but one of the major reforms I would like to see is that everyone high school student takes two classes which I call “philosophy.” One of those classes would be an argumentation and rhetoric class (this is the bedrock of all philosophy and perhaps all knowledge) and the other would be a great survey class of major schools of philosophy. These two classes (especially, the rhetoric class) would greatly improve students abilities to think clearly and logically,  improve their abilities to see the world through different perspectives, improve their abilities to think things through, and expose them to a wide range of ideas. The practical (i.e. non-academic) value of this would be to help foster students’ abilities to come up with novel solutions to real problems.

Drinking tea:

I love drinking tea. I love many varieties of tea and rarely turn down a cuppa. There are few finer things in life than a simple cuppa. However, I do not merely love tea for the taste. There are many things that I enjoy the taste of but would not say I love. Tea is as much about taste as it is about culture, history, and companionship. There is great amounts of culture conjured up by merely drinking a certain cup of tea, it transcends physical, linguistic, and temporal borders. Tea is deeply tied to history, not merely of one nation or place, but of the world. For good or bad tea has been a powerful force in human history. There are few things (at least for me) that cement companionships than having a cup of tea (or coffee) together. Food has always been a major relationship building device, for example look at the word companionship for a moment. Com comes from the the Latin con meaning with (it changes from con to cowhen it meets the in pan; just try saying conpanion without it sounding like companion). Tea is not merely a matter of taste, it is a cultural experience, a doorway to history, and a builder of relationships.

The one phrase that defines the 2016 U.S. presidential election:

There is one phrase that defines the entire 2016 U.S. presidential election: party over principle. Indeed, this may be the defining phrase of every election in a liberal democracy with a strong party system. The party system is a perfect breeding ground for corruption, elitism, and nepotism. There is a great pressure to support one’s party even if the chosen candidate is in opposition to some (or all) of one’s political principles. The 2016 U.S. presidential election is making this plain to see. There are socially conservative individuals are lining up for a man that is offensive to the principle they hold dear (chastity, morality, honesty) and social democrats (who had a candidate cheated out of nomination) are lining up for a woman whose actions are against their principles (taking money from Wall Street). They do this because they think the other party’s candidate will be so much worse, nonetheless, they are placing party over principle.

 

 

Irrelevant Issues trump Policy Positions (pun intended) [NB strong language]

Apparently, new tapes of Donald Trump “bragging about kissing and groping women” have surfaced. Those that are against Trump are using the news to prove Trump’s “war on women,” etc. Trump supporters are retorting with talking about Bill Clinton’s record with women and Hillary Clinton’s involvement there. Both sides are acting as though this really matters, as they always do with this sort of thing. None of these sort of things actually matter, though people seem to believe that they do.

Apparently, people want a political leader that is a nice person with good progressive, modern, cosmopolitan personal views. Apparently, a candidate’s (or their spouses’) record with/ talk about women, is more important than their policy issues. People seem more concerned that Trump is a sexist pig than that his economic policies are ridiculous, or that he believes in Stop-and-Frisk. People seem to think that Hillary Clinton’s possible involvement in covering-up her husband’s indiscretions and possible crimes is more important than her equally terrible economic policies, or her hawkishness on war. Apparently, irrelevant personal issues trump policy positions (pun intended).

Does it affect the way he will govern that Trump is a personal sexist, that he mistreats the women in his life, etc.? Does it affect how Clinton will govern that her husband is unfaithful and possible a sex addict? Does any of this personal bullshit actually matter? Perhaps a moralist will say that all of this does matter. Well, if you’re a moralist you are completely screwed in this election since Trump has a terrible record with women, Hillary Clinton’s husband has a terrible record with women, Johnson is a former marijuana user (which assumingly a moralist will be against), and Stein has been in legal trouble (again assumingly a moralist will be against this). Perhaps, someone that is concerned about women’s rights and freedom will say it all matters as well. Well, unless being a sexist pig personally (or being married to one) automatically translates into having sexist policies, it does not matter. Trump has not said “I’m going to legalise being horrible to women.” No, all he has proven is that he’s a douchebag that women should avoid. His personal failings are not policy failings and it is these latter failings that should matter.

The point is that in elections what ought to matter is not a candidate’s personal issues or failings but their policy ideas. In the end I would rather have a completely unscrupulous, rude, bastard that won’t do anything with their government than have a nice person with a good record with women/men that is also cool that will put their boot on my throat and a gun to my head.  Unless a personal issues directly translates into a policy, I don’t care. Unless one’s personal issues with women, African-Americans, or other people directly translates into enacting policy against these groups, I fail to see why it matters. It matters much more to me that Trump’s economic proposals will be ruinous to the already falling economic prosperity and freedom of this country, than his “kissing and groping” of women. I apologize to all those that have some weird belief that this stuff matters, I completely disagree. Vote on policy not on personality, if you vote at all, which you have no obligation or imperative to do (I should come back to that).

Power and Privilege: A Freed-Market Anarchist Approach

Before discussing any sort of “answer” to the question of inequality often captured under the term “privilege,” it would be most useful to describe what the concept even means [1].  “Privilege refers to “unearned power conferred systematically” [2], most commonly to “male privilege,” “white privilege,” and “class privilege.” However, privilege is often expanded to include: “ability (health) privilege,” “linguistic privilege,” “educational privilege,” “religious privilege,” and various other forms of “privileges” [3]. Here there is a great deal of rather unproductive conflict between those that deny that privilege exists and those that affirm that it does.

One of the misinformed (and, therefore, unhelpful) criticisms of privilege theory, is to claim that it is a Marxist system. This claim is false. Privilege theory has its origins in Post-Marxist thought that explicitly diverged from the Classical Marxists [4]. Indeed, some socialists [5] oppose privilege theory because of its nature as a post-Marxist movement that they contend “is not a framework that can move the struggles forward” [ibid.].  A further, though distinct, claim against privilege theory is that it is “a shield against reason” [6]. This criticism is not without merit, at times a vulgar form of the privilege theory is used to shut down debate and silence opposition, this discredits the movement that may have good intentions at its core [7]. Furthermore, to correct this criticism one must change the way in which one thinks about privilege. If one thinks of it as a means to silence those that have been historically favored, one is engaged in a circumstantial ad hominem [8]. Whereas, if one thinks of privilege as something which creates psychological biases that can be overcome, one has the opportunity to move the conversation forward by helping clarify thinking. This is why to move forward with discourse in the modern age one must admit, or at least accept that many hold, that privilege does, indeed, exist. However, once people outside the political left admit that privilege exist, the entire conversation can change.

The issue with the intellectual monopoly by (a certain faction of) the left on the concept of privilege is that it becomes merely a political tool to further their own goals [9]. Furthermore, by possessing the total ownership on the concept they can dream up new forms of “privilege” by the day to suit their political needs (e.g. “homonormativity” [10]); often this sort of thing is used to “purge” the movement, once they people it targets have outlived their usefulness to the movement. Thus, it is imperative that other groups stop pretending privilege is entirely a myth and add their approach the concept. Luckily, some libertarians and anarchists have already begun this process; sadly they align themselves, at least in name, with the left (chiefly; Roderick Long, Sheldon Richman, Kevin Carson, and others with the Alliance for the Libertarian Left and the Center for a Stateless Society [11]). These thinkers have decided, rather unfortunately, to call their beliefs “left libertarianism,” or “left-wing market anarchism,” because they oppose things like privilege, imposed hierarchies, and the capitalistic system [12]. This is unfortunate on two counts: (1) it buys into the left’s intellectual monopoly on the concept of privilege and the struggle against imposed power, (2) it explicit claims that market anarchism and libertarianism are functions of either the left or the right (see note 1). However, despite their unfortunate name, many of their insights are interesting [13].

If the definition of privilege is “unearned power conferred systematically” [2] it seems clear that a freed-market anarchist would have a deep interest in the concept [14]. “Unearned power” is always suspect and can often lead to oppression and “conferred systematically” seems to refer to (a) governmental systems (which are suspect), or (b) cultural systems. Given these conditions the answer to the problems of privilege and power seem obvious. However, one most establish that there are problems stemming from privilege and power. Unless this is established in a rational framework, it is impossible to defeat. Often times without establish that the supposed problems do in fact exist; one is left with mere empathy for those they feel have been dealt a bad hand (i.e. the under-privileged). Though empathy is important, in the end reason (and not empathy) will do far more to solve problems [15].

It is difficult under the leftist monopoly on the concept to establish a reasonable basis that affirms that problems stemming from privilege and power exist. This is likely do to the search for evidence is seen as a threat to the concept. However, it is not; nor, do I necessarily demand empirical evidence. Society cannot be reduced to a mathematical formula like some physical reaction, it is constantly changing. Thus, if the definition or premises of the privilege theory offer deductible conclusion that would be enough to at least satisfy the rationalists. Of course there is at least some empirical evidence that privileges exist in all manners [16]. Furthermore, it is clear that the premises that (a) privilege is unearned power conferred systemically, (b) power, especially unearned, power tends to be corrupting, and (c) systemic conference requires a conferrer (namely, government, or society); leads to the conclusion that privilege is a corruption force conferred onto people by some outside force. It is, therefore, changeable. This is one of the areas where most privilege theorists are incorrect: they seem to hold “a very pessimistic and disarming theory—seeing individuals as unable to escape their prejudices or their role in the oppression of others” [5].

Approach from a different way the problems of privilege do not seem as daunting as the “pessimistic” “theory” of inescapable oppression. If, instead of seeing privilege as any inescapable consequence of uncontrolled circumstances (skin-pigmentation, sex, etc.), one views privilege as a mere cultural artifact emboldened by governmental systems and leading to ingrained (but challengeable) cognitive biases, one can see that the problems of privilege can be dealt with. First, one must realize that since the government is systemizing (or at least helping systematize) privilege, it can hardly be expected to end or even help end the problems of privilege power. There are two reasons for this: (1) societal class does exist, but Marx was incorrect in labeling them as he did, instead there exist three main classes in society: the politically elite (those in power), the strong but disconnected (this class threatens those in power, as they are hard to control, they must either be eliminated or incorporated in one of the other classes), and the weak and disconnected (this class is easy to control with the promise of a better life through political solutions  [17]) [18]; and two, as I have previously written:

The issue comes down to this: political solutions to social problems do not work. They replace education with legislation, the book with the bullet, the free mind with the shackled mind. The only way to solve any social issue is to change hearts and minds. Legislation, guns, and silence cannot do this. Force does not win arguments. Might does not make right. [19].

Therefore, the only solutions to the problems of privilege power are social solutions, social meaning non-governmental, educational, and free-speech embracing solutions. To weed out prejudice from the barrel of a gun is not a just solution. However, changing people’s hearts and minds is a (I would add, the only) just and moral solution.

One of the best social solutions to destroy the power of privilege is to put an end to the current neo-Mercantilist system by embracing the freed-market. The free-market is founded primarily upon the principle of private ownership (beginning with ownership of the self), this can take multiple forms under a decentralized system, it may be single individual ownership, partner owner, communal ownership, etc. The point is not the type of private ownership, but that it is completely decentralized and discourages violence. This leads to four more principles. The principle is that of voluntary exchange, this is the principle that people may voluntarily exchange mutually beneficial goods and services without outside interference. The next principles are free competition of firms (this would help decrease and decentralize firm size, thus decreasing hierarchical relationships), and entrepreneurial discovery to compete in the market but also to benefit society through new opportunities both social and economic. The fifth principle is that of spontaneous order, the idea that order emerges out of chaos without a central planning board directing things [20]. The nature of the freed-market is decentralized and non-violent; it is marked by voluntary interaction and social cooperation.  Thus, it would tend to prevent privilege power in a variety of ways.

First, it would disincentivize social bias on the part of both firms and consumers. On the part of the firms, under the condition of decentralized free competition, it would be not be advantageous to systemically discriminate either in employment (it would lead to more economic losses and lower productivity) or in sales (it would lead to less profit and possible social consequences, i.e. boycotts). On the part of consumers, discrimination would lead to less choice and having to pay higher prices for the same goods (or even going without). Second, by its highly decentralized nature the freed-market favors voluntary interaction based on the innate integrity of each person (i.e. on the basis of individual self-ownership); this would lead to limitation of the power of privilege by challenging the paradigms of unearned powers. Indeed, this was the sort of thing the classical liberals fought against: “the inequality of privileged lords and priests who were seen as better than peasants and shopkeepers” [21]. However, under the freed-market there might still be some social privilege and prejudice.

Human differences are a fact of life. Though people are more alike (biologically and genetically) than they are different [22]; everyone is different and that’s a good thing. Biases and prejudices are likely to persist no-matter the prevailing governmental, economic, or societal system. However, a decentralized freed-market anarchism guided by a moral presumption against aggression and injustice (unfairness), would lead to the most amiable society to fairness, openness, and toleration this was the goal of the classical liberals and ought to be the goal of the modern freed-market anarchists. By adapting and (slightly) modifying the theory privilege, freed-market anarchism can offer a solution to the issues of injustice and unfairness, by affirming individual integrity (self-ownership), peaceful exchange, and equality in liberty.

Notes:

[1] There are two risks in writing this article, insofar as being politically slurred can be considered a risk; the first is that people on the political right may accuse me of having taking a “left-turn” or of being a leftists; the second, is that people on the political left may accuse me of being a right-winger. Of course, as these would be political slurs it would be far more likely for someone on the right to call me a “commie,” or a “SJW;” and for someone on the left to call me a “fascist,” or a “bigot.” In the end any such criticism as these would be completely inconsequential to me; however, I will address them by saying this: I believe that what I am here calling “freed-market anarchism” is neither right nor left [1.1]. Indeed, it might be better to term it more fully as “ideological mixed freed-market anarchism,” as this would make clear that this system takes reasonable ideas and insights from a variety of sources, not merely supposed leftist or rightist sources.

[1.1] Chiefly: Block, W. (2010). “Libertarianism is Unique and Belongs Neither to the Right nor Left” in The Journal of Libertarian Studies 22: 127-70. Retrieved from https://mises.org/system/tdf/22_1_8.pdf?file=1&type=document. Though Block uses the term “libertarian” (in my opinion, a less precise term, thus I tend not to use it when trying to be precise), I believe that his arguments in this paper apply equally well to “freed-market anarchism.”

[2] McIntosh, P. (1988). “White Privilege and Male Privilege.” Retrieved from http://www.collegeart.org/pdf/diversity/white-privilege-and-male-privilege.pdf .

[3] Media Smarts (n.d.). Forms of Privilege. Retrieved from http://mediasmarts.ca/diversity-media/privilege-media/forms-privilege. Also: Subtirelu, N. (2013). “Language Privilege: What it is and Why it Matters” on Linguistic Pulse. Retrieved from: https://linguisticpulse.com/2013/06/26/language-privilege-what-it-is-and-why-it-matters/.

[4] Laclau, E. and Mouffe, C. (1985). Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Retrieved from http://v3.ellieharrison.com/money/hegemony.pdf.  I feel that it must be made clear that though many post-Marxist leaders still used the term “socialist” and much of the Marxist terminology, they represent a significant philosophical break with traditional Marxism (which might be thought of as modernist Marxism). The Post-Marxist were (are) also, by and large, post-modernists and, therefore, rejected “totalizing” world views [5].

[5] Choonara, E. and Prasad, Y. (2014). “What’s wrong with privilege theory?” in International Socialist. Retrieved from http://isj.org.uk/whats-wrong-with-privilege-theory/#esmeyuri142_11. This is a highly interesting article, though written by socialist and towards a socialist audience it remains a valuable piece for anyone (socialist or not) interested in the history of privilege theory, a left-wing critique of privilege theory, and privilege theory more general.

[6] Campbell, D. G. (2010). “‘White Privilege:’ A Shield Against Reason,” in Academic Questions 23: 497 – 504. DOI: 10.1007/s12129-010-9188-5. Mr. Campbell makes a rather compelling case against privilege analysis and for a return to reason, viz. “We must  speak the truth: that true intellectual diversity within an academic department or any organization cannot be attained by focusing on or exploiting skin color, family origin, or sex.”

[7] Galles, G. (2015). “The Intellectual Intolerance of Behind ‘Check Your Privilege’” in the Mises Daily. Retrieved from https://mises.org/library/intellectual-intolerance-behind-%E2%80%9Ccheck-your-privilege%E2%80%9D. Galles makes a highly useful point about the manner in which productive dialogue happens:

It would start by precisely specifying what faulty premises, assumptions, or arguments someone supposedly holds, either included or excluded inappropriately. Then it would explain why it is inappropriate for the issue being considered. It would lay out the correct or appropriate premise that would take its place and articulate the reasons why. Building on that foundation, it would show how the “new and improved” premises would change one’s conclusions. Consequently, it would lay out the appropriate remedy based on the alternative analysis.

Indeed, checking one’s “faulty premise,” especially if they are founded on a psychological bias, is one of the most important tasks in any debate or pursuit of knowledge.

[8] Copi, I. and Cohen, C. (1994). Introduction to Logic (ed. 9).  Macmillan, Inc.: New York.   The circumstantial ad hominem is a logical fallacy whereby one discounts another’s argument on the basis of the other’s circumstances. From Copi and Cohen:

When a circumstantial ad hominem argument explicitly or implicitly charges the opponents with inconsistency … that is clearly one kind of abuse. When a circumstantial ad hominem argument charges the opponent with lack of trustworthiness by virtue of group membership or conviction, that is an accusation of prejudice in defense of self-interest and is clearly also an abuse.

It seems odd that the group general most concerned about group power and dynamics is so wont to use abusive ad hominem attacks, which are tantamount to the very type of prejudice they declare to decry.

[9] Daum, M. (2014). “Using ‘Privilege’ as a weapon” in Las Angles Time. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-daum-privilege-shaming-internet-20141016-column.html. The article is well worth a read, though one line will illustrate the danger of the left’s intellectual monopoly on privilege, viz. “Now what was once a legitimate tool for self-examination is an insufferably smug platform for self-righteousness.”

[10] Kacere, L. (2015). “Homonormativity 101: What It Is and How It’s Hurting Our Movement” in Everyday Feminism. Retrieved from http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/homonormativity-101/.

[11] Alliance of the Libertarian Left website: http://praxeology.net/all-left.htm; Center for a Stateless Society website:  https://c4ss.org/.

[12] It would be apt at this point to example the terms “capitalism,” and “freed-market.” The word capitalism is often used by libertarians, conservatives, conservo-libertarians, and (“right-wing”) market anarchists, in an approving manner that affirms it as a name for the free(d) market. However, there is a deep issue in using the term in this way, namely, that for most people on the left the term has deep negative connotations. True, it is a pointless semantic battle (as Kinsella points out [12.1]), to attempt to stop people from using the term. However, it is far simpler to use the phrase “freed market” or “free market,” rather than “lassiez-faire capitalism” (which is unjustly tied to Hoover, cf. Rothbard, M. America’s Great Depression (ed. 5). Mises Institute: Auburn, Alabama.), or “capitalism, but not what we have today, which is crony-capitalism.” Indeed, there’s the rub: the word capitalism and to some extent the phrase free market have been associated with the Neo-Mercantilist crony capitalist economic system that being used today [12.2]. This is why I prefer to use the term “freed-market,” because (a) it disassociates it form the current economic system, (b) it makes clear that this is a goal not an actuality, and (c) it does not have negative connotations in a wide audience (though it may with certain libertarians and market anarchists).

[12.1] Kinsella, S. (2010). “Capitalism is Libertarian!” on StephanKinsella.com. Retrieved from http://www.stephankinsella.com/2010/05/capitalism-is-libertarian/.

[12.2] Rothbard, M. (1999). “Neo-Mercantilism” in The Mises Daily. Retrieved from https://mises.org/library/neo-mercantilism.

[13] NB this article is not about the work of these scholars are any other, this article is purely my approach to the issue of power and privilege. This is why the title says “a freed-market anarchist approach,” and not “the freed-market anarchist approach.” To reiterate this article is purely my approach, any mistakes, ill formed ideas, etc. are purely mine. Furthermore, to be absolutely clear, though there may be similarity between my ideas and those of the left-wing market anarchists, I do not consider myself a “left-wing market anarchist” (see note 1).

[14] Though my interest in these issues also stems from my conviction as an Episcopalian Christian and Hazlittian cooperatist utilitarian.  I believe that it is a Christian duty to do justice in the world, viz. the Most Reverend Bishop Curry:

Crazy enough to love like Jesus, to give like Jesus, to forgive like Jesus, to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God — like Jesus.  Crazy enough to dare to change the world from the nightmare it often is into something close to the dream that God dreams for it. [14.1].

Therefore, I believe that is the duty of every person to attempt to achieve justice (i.e. anti-oppression) in the world. Furthermore, I can make this case not only on religious grounds, but on humanistic and utilitarian grounds. The humanistic grounds are that oppression is clearly against the goals of humanism (namely, human flourishing); the utilitarian grounds are that justice and anti-oppression  lead to the greatest long-run satisfaction of the greatest number of people [14.2].

[14.1] Curry, M. (2012). We Need Some Crazy Christians. Retrieved from http://www.episcopalchurch.org/posts/publicaffairs/general-convention-july-7-sermon-bishop-michael-curry.

[14.2] Hazlitt, H. (1998). The Foundations of Morality. Foundation for Economic Education: Irvington-on-Hudson, New York. Chiefly, page 354, point 2f.

[15] Bloom, P, (2013). “The Baby in the Well,” in The New Yorker. Retrieved from: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/05/20/the-baby-in-the-well.

[16] take the disparities in incarnation rates between African-Americans and whites: “Nationwide, African Americans were incarcerated in state prison at 6 times the rate for Whites and in local jails at almost 5 times the rate for Whites” as one example.  Hartney, C. and Vuong, L. (2009). Created Equal. Retrieved from http://www.nccdglobal.org/sites/default/files/publication_pdf/created-equal.pdf.

[17] There is an apt quote attributed to Machiavelli in the film, Poverty Inc.: “The reason there will be no change is that those that stand to gain from change have none of the power, while those that stand to loss for change have all of the power.”

[18] This class analysis is based on Hoppe, H. (1990). “Marxist and Austrian Class Analysis,” in The Journal of Libertarian Studies IX (2). Retrieved from https://mises.org/system/tdf/9_2_5_0.pdf?file=1&type=document.

[19] Heckner, R. (2016). “Society, Government, Rationality, and Emotion” on Cogita! Retrieved from https://rhecknerlanguageblog.wordpress.com/2016/05/17/society-government-rationality-and-emotion/.

[20] Chartier, G. and Johnson, C. (eds). (2012). Markets Not Capitalism. Retrieved from: http://www.libertarianismo.org/livros/gccjmnc.pdf

[21] Crider, P. (2016). “Libertarian Social Justice,” in Libertarianism.org. Retrieved from http://www.libertarianism.org/columns/libertarian-social-justice.

[22] Highfield, R. (2002). “DNA survey finds all human are 99.99pc the same,” in The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/1416706/DNA-survey-finds-all-humans-are-99.9pc-the-same.html.

Bibliography:

Block, W. (2010). “Libertarianism is Unique and Belongs Neither to the Right nor Left” in The Journal of Libertarian Studies 22: 127-70. Retrieved from https://mises.org/system/tdf/22_1_8.pdf?file=1&type=document.

Bloom, P, (2013). “The Baby in the Well,” in The New Yorker. Retrieved from: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/05/20/the-baby-in-the-well

Campbell, D. G. (2010). “‘White Privilege:’ A Shield Against Reason,” in Academic Questions 23: 497 – 504. DOI: 10.1007/s12129-010-9188-5.

Chartier, G. and Johnson, C. (eds). (2012). Markets Not Capitalism. Retrieved from: http://www.libertarianismo.org/livros/gccjmnc.pdf

Choonara, E. and Prasad, Y. (2014). “What’s wrong with privilege theory?” in International Socialist. Retrieved from http://isj.org.uk/whats-wrong-with-privilege-theory/#esmeyuri142_11.

Copi, I. and Cohen, C. (1994). Introduction to Logic (ed. 9).  Macmillan, Inc.: New York.

Crider, P. (2016). “Libertarian Social Justice,” in Libertarianism.org. Retrieved from http://www.libertarianism.org/columns/libertarian-social-justice.

Curry, M. (2012). We Need Some Crazy Christians. Retrieved from http://www.episcopalchurch.org/posts/publicaffairs/general-convention-july-7-sermon-bishop-michael-curry.

Daum, M. (2014). “Using ‘Privilege’ as a weapon” in Las Angles Time. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-daum-privilege-shaming-internet-20141016-column.html.

Galles, G. (2015). “The Intellectual Intolerance of Behind ‘Check Your Privilege’” in the Mises Daily. Retrieved from https://mises.org/library/intellectual-intolerance-behind-%E2%80%9Ccheck-your-privilege%E2%80%9D.

Hartney, C. and Vuong, L. (2009). Created Equal. Retrieved from http://www.nccdglobal.org/sites/default/files/publication_pdf/created-equal.pdf.

Hazlitt, H. (1998). The Foundations of Morality. Foundation for Economic Education: Irvington-on-Hudson, New York.

Highfield, R. (2002). “DNA survey finds all human are 99.99pc the same,” in The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/1416706/DNA-survey-finds-all-humans-are-99.9pc-the-same.html.

Hoppe, H. (1990). “Marxist and Austrian Class Analysis,” in The Journal of Libertarian Studies IX (2). Retrieved from https://mises.org/system/tdf/9_2_5_0.pdf?file=1&type=document.
Heckner, R. (2016). “Society, Government, Rationality, and Emotion” on Cogita! Retrieved from https://rhecknerlanguageblog.wordpress.com/2016/05/17/society-government-rationality-and-emotion/.

Kacere, L. (2015). “Homonormativity 101: What It Is and How It’s Hurting Our Movement” in Everyday Feminism. Retrieved from http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/homonormativity-101/.

Kinsella, S. (2010). “Capitalism is Libertarian!” on StephanKinsella.com. Retrieved from http://www.stephankinsella.com/2010/05/capitalism-is-libertarian/.

Laclau, E. and Mouffe, C. (1985). Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Retrieved from http://v3.ellieharrison.com/money/hegemony.pdf.

McIntosh, P. (1988). “White Privilege and Male Privilege.” Retrieved from http://www.collegeart.org/pdf/diversity/white-privilege-and-male-privilege.pdf .

Media Smarts (n.d.). Forms of Privilege. Retrieved from http://mediasmarts.ca/diversity-media/privilege-media/forms-privilege.

Rothbard, M. (1999). “Neo-Mercantilism” in The Mises Daily. Retrieved from https://mises.org/library/neo-mercantilism.

Subtirelu, N. (2013). “Language Privilege: What it is and Why it Matters” on Linguistic Pulse. Retrieved from: https://linguisticpulse.com/2013/06/26/language-privilege-what-it-is-and-why-it-matters/.

Happiness

«Au milieu de l’hiver, j’apprenais enfin que qu’il y avait en moi un été invincible.» – A. Camus.

Life is difficult. Sometimes life’s difficulties can cause people to become disheartened and depressed. At times the struggles of life obscure one’s goals and one’s blessings. Most people do not enjoy being in a state of prolonged sadness, though momentary pain and sadness, are important in human life. Indeed, since Aristotle most of Western philosophy has held that “all men agree that” the goal of life “is happiness.” Now, what happiness means varies from person to person. Aristotle held that the “contemplative life” is “happiness in the highest sense.” The early Utilitarians held that happiness meant maximising pleasure and minimising pain. Henry Hazlitt’s system of utilitarianism holds that happiness is to “maximize our satisfactions in the long run” fostered by “social cooperation.” The definitions of happiness could fill entire volumes and still fail to account for one’s personal view of happiness. Furthermore, it must be noted that there are some that do not believe happiness is the ultimate goal of life or even a subordinate goal of life. However, most want to happy; in whatever way they define it.

At times being happy is difficult, but there is always hope. The first step to becoming happy [1] is to recognise that one does not have to be happy all of the time and that pain and sadness are essential parts of the human experience. Indeed, as Camus wrote in The Myth of Sisyphus: “The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.” This suggests that not only are struggle and pain it a necessary part of life; they are a requisite condition for happiness. Under this view, all utopias become logically incoherent, as they posit that people can be happy without any struggle; they suggest that people can feel joy without knowing pain. This utopian vision infects many people’s life-views and does great damage to happiness. In believe that every moment of life one should be happy, one becomes trapped in a dangerous fantasy that once destroyed will cause much greater pain than if one simply admits that they will not always be happy and that they are not victims of adversity but masters of it. This final point reveals the second step in becoming happy.

One must never accept a life-view that says they are the victims of adversity, for a victimhood mentality leads to the greatest and most corrupting evils of human life, namely self-pity. Once one begins to pity themselves, they commit treason against their own happiness and well-being. Self-pity is utterly and entirely destructive to the self and to happiness. To quote Stephen Fry:

Self-pity will destroy relationships, it’ll destroy anything that’s good, it will fulfil all the prophecies it makes and leave only itself. And it’s so simple to imagine that one is hard done by, and that things are unfair, and that one is underappreciated, and that if only one had had a chance at this, only one had had a chance at that, things would have gone better, you would be happier if only this, that one is unlucky. All those things. And some of them may well even be true. But, to pity oneself as a result of them is to do oneself an enormous disservice.

Self-pity is generally predicated on a victimhood life-view that will destroy happiness in the end. It is impossible to pity oneself, to see oneself as the victim of some great injustice (whether temporal or cosmic), and to be happy. One must take the place of the other. Once one has stopped view themselves as a victim and instead begins to view themselves as a saviour or a master of the struggles and adversities of their life, then one can see the tremendous blessings of life.

In many ways the third step in becoming happy is by far the easiest. It is simple to count one’s blessings. Though it is easy to look around and see all the terrible things in the world, it is equally easy to look around and see all the great things in the world. Absolute poverty has declined, the caloric intake of human population has risen, more people have access to clean water and education than ever before, violence is in decline, etc. Not only is it simple to see that the world is bright and that there are many things to celebrate, it is easy to find things to celebrate in one’s own life. Certainly, there are many material things for many to be happy about, but there are things that one need not have money of goods to enjoy. Perhaps the weather is fair and one can be warmed by the light of the sun. Perhaps one has friends or a significant other that one can be thankful to have in their life. Indeed, if one looks there are many things one can be thankful for and happy about [2]. Of course, some of these things do not equate to long term happiness.

The fourth step in becoming happy is to recognise two things: (1) one is capable of setting and achieving long-term goals that will make them satisfied; (2) to quote Haruki Murakami: “pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” Once one has accepted the first point one will find that they are able to find fulfilment. Setting and achieve goals is important in life and contributes to long-term satisfaction. These goals have the same infinite variety as the humans that set and achieve them. The second point harkens back to the first step. In life there will be pain and there will be struggle; however, allowing oneself to be overcome by this pain, allowing it to sap one’s self-efficacy, is a choice. Every day one must make a choice whether to be happy or to suffer. Indeed, though I have written about “becoming happy,” the true key to happiness is that it is, by and large, a choice.

Happiness is a choice. Indeed, it may be a choice of choices, meaning that happiness consists of many subordinate choices that one makes. The choice to recognise that pain and sadness are important aspects of life, the choice not to be victims, but masters of this pain and sadness, the choice against self-pity, the choice to find things to celebrate, the choice to set and achieve goals, the choice not to suffer, etc. In the end the happiness is one of the most important choices that one will make in their life. The final and perhaps most important lesson in choosing happiness is, in the words of Camus, “no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger, something better, pushing right back” (emphasis added). [3, 4].


Notes:

[1] I define happiness close to Hazlitt’s definition, that is maximizing satisfaction in the long term. This definition specifically refers to “satisfaction,” i.e. not merely hedonistic pleasure, but a more well-rounded and multifaceted goal of fulfilment of life goals, of blessings, of healthy relationships, et cetera. It also refers specifically to “in the long term” this is, again, to distinguish it from a hedonistic happiness, by making clear that some things that might make one temporarily “happy” (for example, using heavy drugs) will actually decrease one’s “satisfaction” in the future (for example,  by making one ill, or getting one in legal trouble). It also should be noted that though I use this definition of happiness for this article, I believe the suggestions made are applicable in other ways of conceiving of happiness.

[2] This is the point where some people object by stating that they are “realists.” These so-called “realists” are not happy, nor do they general have happiness as a goal, for life is nothing but unbearable suffering or strife or pain. They may admit that there are some good things in the world, but they have a view that believes bad outcomes and negativity are the inescapable lot of human life. Certainly, many may be credited for seeing that life is absurd and that it has, to quote Sartre, “no meaning a priori.” However, these “realists” must be taken to task for perpetuating a negativistic view of humanity, they must be taken to task for giving life a pessimistic meaning. Indeed, some “realists” are, in reality, nihilists; and nihilism, despite positing that there is no meaning to life, that there is no point to life, that there are really no true values, often ends up creating a world view of a negative life meaning (life is pain), a negative point to life (the point of life is to suffer), and an anti-satisfaction extreme asceticism (pain is a virtue). Other so-called “realists” are merely pessimists who believe that in the end things will turn out badly. The issue with pessimism is that it often turns out to be a victimhood life philosophy, often it is tied to a vulgar fatalist belief that everything is doomed and that there is no point. NB that I have used the term “vulgar fatalist” to describe a belief that everything is doomed and therefore there is no point in anything. This is to distinguish it from what may be termed “Nordic” or “heroic fatalism,” a belief that though everything is ultimately doomed it is noble and good to fight this losing battle. Where “vulgar fatalism” dooms one to unhappiness and nihilism, “heroic fatalism” may have the ability to allow one to be happy, for under “heroic fatalism,” though one is ultimately doomed to one’s fate, one is still the hero of one’s life in fighting this fate.

[3] One may wonder, if they come from a Judeo-Christian background, if the advice given herein is applicable within a Judeo-Christian framework, or if the advice requires one to adopt a different framework. The answer to this may depend on a few considerations, viz. one’s stance on the free-will debate and one’s other theological views in some aspects of morality. If one is an extreme determinist they may reject this advice on the grounds that if God’s unshakeable (and infallible) design calls for one to be unhappy, then it is impossible and completely immoral for one to attempt to reject this design. This extreme determinism has many serious problems, which are far too difficult to discuss in an endnote; however, a simple argument against this and, indeed other softer forms of the self-same argument, is to simple ask: (1) “would a loving God design some of His children to be condemned to misery?” and (2) “why would God want His children to live in despair?” Indeed, this latter question is applicable to this entire commentary; no matter one’s theological views, it seems unlikely that God would desire for His creation to live in despair. In fact, this idea is laughable and unsound. Thus, to answer the question as to whether the above advice is acceptable within a Judeo-Christian frame: I would say most certainly, yes; however, it is not only applicable within one narrow frame-work or life-philosophy. I believe the advice given is helpful for anyone in almost any life-philosophy (excepting those that are predicated on self-pity, despair, and/ or absolute victimhood).

[4] Any discussion of happiness must, I think, include something concerning the “only true philosophic question, that of suicide” (Camus). Suicide is a difficult and extremely sensitive subject. However, it is important to talk openly and frankly about it. I firmly believe that suicide is a supreme act of cowardice, I understand that this view is not very widely liked; however, I wish to be completely frank about the subject. To be clear, I do not believe that anyone that thinks about or commits suicide is a worthless person or even necessarily a “coward.” Indeed, I struggle to understand the use of the word “coward” as a noun. To me “cowardice” applies only to actions never to persons, useless every single action is one of cowardice (which is a near impossibility). Though I believe to commit suicide is a cowardice act, I do not believe that the person that thinks about or commits it is anything else but a sick human being. Depression must be understood as an illness, as the common cold is an illness. They need help and not condemnation. They must be reminded that there is always the choice to be happier, that there are people that will support them, and that suicide is never the correct answer to their condition similar to how cutting one’s nose off is never the treatment for nasal congestion. If you know someone that is thinking about suicide or you suspect someone is, reach out before it is too late. Come as a friend they can talk to, come as someone that understands, and come as someone to share their pain with. If you are someone that is suicidal: know that there are better ways to deal with your pain, know that there are people that can help you, and know that things can only get better if you continue to breath. You can also call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1 (888) 628-9454.


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