Sunday, July 6, 2014

UPB Comment, page 28-30

Page 28: According to UPB, a valid theory is logically consistent and empirically testable. 

Page 29: Moral propositions claim that human beings should act in a particular manner, or avoid acting in a particular manner. 
Page 30: A personal preference is what?
A universal preference, is what is objectively required, or necessary, assuming a particular goal. If I want to live, I do not have to like jazz, but I must eat. “Eating” remains a preference – I do not have to eat, in the same way that I have to obey gravity – but “eating” is a universal, objective, and binding requirement for staying alive, since it relies on biological facts that cannot be wished away. Isn't all human action goal oriented? Life is a universal goal? Is this the same as universally preferable?
Ethics as a discipline can be defined as any theory regarding preferable human behaviour that is universal, objective, consistent – and binding. Where does this come from?
Page 32: If you want to live, it is universally preferable that you refrain from eating a handful of arsenic."   it is universally preferable that your theories be both internally consistent and empirically verifiable. “Universally preferable,” then, translates to “objectively required,” but we will retain the word “preferable” to differentiate between optional human absolutes and non-optional physical absolutes such as gravity.
One adopts a goal, then a causal relationship exists between the goal and the means of achieving it. Sometimes the means is unique, sometimes many means are equally preferable. Why talk about preference or preferability at all?
Similarly, if ethical theories can be at all valid, then they must at least be both internally and externally consistent. In other words, an ethical theory that contradicts itself cannot be valid – and an ethical theory that contradicts empirical evidence and near-universal preferences also cannot be valid.
What does that mean? How can an ethical theory contradict empirical evidence, since it is not a factual claim? Feasibility? What are near-universal preferences?

Thus in ethics, just as in science, mathematics, engineering and all other disciplines that compare theories to reality, valid theories must be both logically consistent and empirically verifiable

Social Contract, Holocaust, chattel slavery, North Korea

Is there anything in the idea of the social contact that should have protected Jews from the Holocaust?  If not, what is it worth? If we must trump the social contract with other principles of justice, why not just stick to the principles of justice and forget the social contract?
Does North Korea have a social contract? How can the people of North Korea request a renegotiation?
Did chattel slavery somehow violate the social contract? If so, why didn't anyone notice at the time?
Why should this philosophy-flavored pacifier satisfy anyone?

Comment on UPB page 49

Certain preconditions must exist, or be accepted, in order for ethical judgments or theories to have any validity or applicability. Clearly, choice and personal responsibility must both be accepted as axioms. If a rock comes bouncing down a hill and crashes into your car, we do not hold the rock morally responsible, since it has no consciousness, cannot choose, and therefore cannot possess personal responsibility. If the rock dislodged simply as a result of time and geology, then no one is responsible for the resulting harm to your car. If, however, you saw me push the rock out of its position, you would not blame the rock, but rather me. To add a further complication, if it turns out that I dislodged the rock because another man forced me to at gunpoint, you would be far more likely to blame the gun-toting initiator of the situation rather than me. 
Should we count situations of coercion as exceptions to moral principles, or violations, for the purpose of enforcement or self-defense? 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Penn cops out on global warming

I just listened to Penn Jillette's podcast (Penn's Sunday School, May 31, 2014). He briefly discussed his change of heart on global warming, which I would paraphrase as "whether or not global warming is a problem, this is all stuff we want to do." This is a cop-out.
Sure, some things that have been discussed as reducing carbon emissions or ameliorating the effects of global warming would be beneficial. They might save lives. But are they more beneficial or more life-saving than other things we could do instead? What is the goal here, and what assumptions are we making?
Don't forget, trying to save lives by reversing global warming prevents us from trying to save lives in other ways, some of which could be more effective.
My point is, there are many things we want to do, but we can't do them all. If the politics of global warming did not impose unwelcome costs on anyone, no one would complain, and the controversy would never have exploded.
Global warming is both a scientific and a political challenge. What do we know, and how certain are we? What can we do about it? Can we get the entire planet to agree? How will the agreement be enforced? We will not solve these problems easily, and no one would embrace them without strong motivation. Certainly we would prefer to avoid catastrophe, but do we actually know how? And finally, in response to Penn, if global warming is not that big a problem, no, we don't want to do all those things anyway.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Debunkery: Motivation

A lot of ideas I took for granted when I was young now seem questionable, or just wrong. Motivation provides a good example. I used to think, if you don't want something to happen, attach a cost or punishment to it. If you want something to happen, attach a reward.
Psychologists have attacked this idea. Alfie Kohn wrote a book on this, titled "Punished by Rewards." Punishment is complicated by factors such as the certainty, swiftness, and severity. But even rewards have unexpected limits and complications. Intrinsic motivation taps in to persons' understanding of the world, their identity, and the meaning and significance of the activity. Motivation can be affected by group morale, effective leadership, and other factors. And none of this is uncontroversial, psychologists disagree with each other, and business consultants will be happy to sell you help based on theories old and new.
Maybe it's a good thing we can't quite figure his out. If it was easy, advertisers would have us buying robotically, our bosses would have us filling out TPS reports enthusiastically, and the legislature would prevent us from having any sort of fun.


If we want to help, or try something new, or opt out of something we dislike, yes, we can. We seek a society where everyone strives to rely more on cooperation, empathy, and mutual respect, eliminating coercion where we can. We should not need to ask permission to do a good deed, never face denial or coercion. Conscience without law may be confusing. Law without conscience is tyranny.

6/8/14 consciousness stream

What activities erode the psychology of obedience and the dogmatic belief in justified coercive authority? What beliefs and practices strengthen society? 
Once someone has noticed the danger, they can study psychology, starting with the Milgram experiment. But what sort of experiences could help them notice that things might not be okay, and once they notice, make them more and more aware? We needs some Cognitive dissonance jujitsu. Or aikido. What will make people notice the things they'd rather ignore?
People who visit the local DMV will experience bureaucracy. Trying to start a business will do it.
What positive experiences help us learn to cooperate without coercion?
James Howe challenges voluntaryists, if you will be able to deal with armed gangs in your utopia, why can't you deal with them now? I'm working on an answer, here are some notes. It has less to do with the gang than it does the defenders and the bystanders. Currently, the bystanders are rooting for the gang, and this gives the gang a serious advantage. In utopia, cognitive dissonance and Stockholm Syndrome will not frustrate defenders.
People study criminology. What about copology?
Thaddeus Russell: Cops don't enforce laws if they have no cultural acceptance. Plenty of laws on the books, but not enforced.
Success is not an option. Fail often, fail big. (And don't give up.)
Proto utopia, where many ideas get tested and fail, so that we can find a few that succeed.
The economy is an ecosphere of desire.
What is the endgame for China? Ordinary people there know that their government is corrupt. What makes the supersaturated solution crystallize? What prevents it? What might prevent them from producing an even more corrupt, tyrannical successor?
I don't want to talk people into doing things my way. I want to do things my way, and invite them to join me.
What would teach me that I am wrong? Someone would have to discover a better way to predict the future, a way to learn that is better than trial and error, a hierarchy that outperforms a swarm. They would need to find a way for central planning to work better than a market.
The day the average guy understands the basics of how the Internet works, will be the day coercive authority dies of old age. Learning the psychology of motivation will speed it up.
I'm not sure Rothbard transcended the old one-size-fits-all paradigm. I think he saw success as "the entire US/world goes libertarian all at once." 
Optimistic signs: public key crypto, the Internet, the web, collapse of the Soviet Union, Baochan Daohu, gnu/Linux/FOSS, bitcoin, name coin, Silk Road, BitTorrent, 3d printers.
Still to come, P2P versions of amazon, google, etc. DIY food, power, protection ( personal, environmental, etc.), dispute resolution, education, housing. Antifragility, tolerance, cooperation.

Friday, May 30, 2014

5/30/14, stream of consciousness

Strong evidence is not the product of a very high probability that A leads to X, but the product of a very low probability that not-A could have led to X.

--Eliezer Yudkowsky
There’s a technique we use in our local rationalist cluster called “Is That Your True Rejection?”, and it works like this: Before you stake your argument on a point, ask yourself in advance what you would say if that point were decisively refuted. Would you relinquish your previous conclusion? Would you actually change your mind? If not, maybe that point isn’t really the key issue. You should search instead for a sufficiently important point, or collection of points, such that you would change your mind about the conclusion if you changed your mind about the arguments. It is, in our patois, “logically rude,” to ask someone else to painstakingly refute points you don’t really care about yourself. 
--Eliezer Yudkowsky

Libertarianism is not like socialism or liberalism. Those political movements found a way to buy politicians. Politicians used the new ideas to win elections and increase government power, leaving room for corruption at the margins. Actually reducing power can't work like that. It won't happen as the result of a violent revolution, either. If it can happen at all, it will grow organically. This could happen suddenly or slowly, but it won't spring from the dream of a philosopher. It will crystallize like a supersaturated solution. People will start doing something, and other people will imitate it, like Baochan Daohu.
David Brin proposes radical transparency. Thaddeus Russell wants to assassinate shame. Can these go together? Brin has a problem, in that no one wants their bank account to be transparent, or their political donations to peripheral causes (liberty), etc. Russell's solutions, screw them! Do it openly! Or don't do it. Not sure how to keep my bank account/bitcoin wallet secure without a bit of secrecy. The bigger problem for Brin is how do you actually get the powerful to tolerate transparency and accountability?
Make a difference, stay under the radar and out of jail.  Is that possible? It should never occur to them to put you in jail. If it does, don't be there when they come to pick you up.
Would I rather have people take me seriously, or point Cassandra-like in the right direction, ignored? Would I willingly abandon my search, for the sake of friends and admirers?
How do we forge new social connections? Production, trade, socializing, learning. Religion, philosophy, science, politics.
Teach with stage-magic. That sounds manipulative. How about stage-magic that is obviously fake? I could imitate Colbert, who is always in character but hilariously fake. Or the opposite, I could drop the mask often.
Conventional wisdom, conspiracy theory, Hanlon's razor. If government is as inefficient as libertarians claim, beating them should be no problem. Provide a better service? No problem. Pry their hands loose from power? Maybe not.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Defeating the religion of the state, while defusing libertarian hot-heads

Ben Stone thinks some hothead libertarians will inevitably seek to fight the state directly. He thinks this strategy courts disaster, and he used his podcast series "Beyond Civil Disobedience" to try to channel that energy into more productive directions. I appreciate his contribution and agree with his concern, but important parts of his approach seem likely to hold us back. We don't want hotheads flying off at the handle, but Stone's advice is too vague.

In this series and in other episodes of his podcast, Stone has made clear that disrupting the "religion of the state" will bring our goals within reach, that changing a critical mass of minds on the issue of legitimate authority will guarantee our success, and no other measure can bring success so long as people persist in current beliefs. Yet the "Lego brigade" he discusses does not attack the basic ideas and practices forming the religion of the state. By distracting his listeners from the primary goal, he undermines his own effort.

Stone lists 4 goals for libertarians: 1) educate others on the moral illegitimacy of the state, how it delegitimizes it's own authority, harms citizens, betrays their loyalty, defiles the ideas of the Enlightenment upon which it was supposedly founded, and unfairly oppresses the weak; 2) point out the practical failures of the state in fulfilling their monopoly functions; 3) make money in general but also in particular make money by cheating the government; 4) assist government indirectly to destroy itself. Clearly, educating people about the moral and practical faults of statism does take aim at the primary target. But these do not address the hotheads. The actions he reserves for the hotheads, baiting and cheating the government, expose our cause to great risk.
Stone encourages the Lego brigade to exploit government corruption and inefficiency to gather funds for the movement by cheating the government. The benefits to the cause presumably include a source of funds for other projects and a reduction of the effectiveness of government. Plenty of pigs are feeding at that trough already, but do we want to associate with them? Ironically, if this idea succeeds, it undermines the educational effort. When scandal erupts, Statists will spin government failure as the result of a vast anarchist conspiracy, making us look like hypocrites and parasites. We want people to think of us as builders of society, not scammers of government. Government  consists entirely of conmen already, why should we corrupt ourselves by joining in? I think scamming the government is a pretty competitive sector of the economy, do we have any innovations to offer there? I mean, that is why we are libertarians, right, because we know that government attracts inefficiency and corruption?

Stone describes the actions intended to "assist the state in its self-destruction" with ambiguous and violent metaphors. The state should die of 1000 tiny cuts. David should bean Goliath with a sling stone and use Goliath's own sword to cut off Goliath's head. Our hotheads should place Legos at the top of the stairs, where the dragon can trip over them. But who is Goliath? What is the dragon?

You cannot trip an idea with Legos. You cannot kill an idea with 1000 tiny cuts. "Civil disobedience does not expose the religion of the state" and neither does embezzling or "homesteading" government property. David cannot cut off Goliath's beliefs with a sword or smash them with a sling stone. None of our substantive objectives stand vulnerable to violence or stealth. Just the opposite - we must make people think consciously and voluntarily choose to engage in our project, or at least to tolerate it. They must respect our ideas enough to let us try them out. We need a P.R. blitz and some viral videos, not skulduggery. Yet Stone does not list any psychological objectives or tactics for his Lego brigade, and if he had, secrecy would not offer an advantage.

The lego brigade, as imagined by Stone, must operate in secret. Secrecy brings with it accountability and transparency problems. Secrecy undermines accountability, which leads to corruption. Hence, the Lego brigade risks harm, while offering no clear benefit. 

Stone imagines a cell of libertarian hackers freeing political prisoners. I must admit I was amused by the antics of lulzsec and antisec, and the idea of having political prisoners start disappearing from federal prisons would please me even more. But what price am I willing to pay?

Stone wants to deal with hotheads who can't resist the temptation to "do something." If we are going to have an underground, I suggest they just join the existing black market, and use agorism and counter-economics to build society and satisfy the enormous and expanding market for forbidden or over-regulated goods. Better yet, we should find some legal, aboveground forms of activism that satisfy their need for accomplishment in a constructive way. 

The real heroes of our movement include people like Satoshi Nakamoto, Gavin Andresen, Phil Zimmerman, Whit Diffie, Cody Wilson, and Bram Cohen; people who have succeeded in changing society for the better, in spite of government opposition. Although they all showed courage, none of them is a hothead. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014


I started this project determined to understand UPB as Stef understands it, give a better explanation of it, and fix its problems if I could or point out the problems if I couldn't. I don't think I can do it yet, so this FAQ is still incomplete. My understanding has gaps and even the parts that I've made sense of may not match Stef's ideas. Feel free to comment.

What does the UPB jargon mean?

When he discusses UPB, Stef uses a number of words in a surprising way, distinct from common usage: ethics, morality, universality, inflicted, avoidable, aesthetic, binding, enforceable, preference and evil are important examples. I posted a UPB jargon blog entry trying to point out what you need to notice when he uses these words. Ethics and morality are used interchangeably, and the boundary between ethics (enforceable) and aesthetics (not enforceable) is marked by avoidability. All moral propositions must be universal in the sense that they apply to all moral agents at all times and places. All morality is interpersonal, as in, if your actions have no impact at all on another person, or the impact is avoidable, then ethics says nothing about them.

What is UPB?

UPB stands for universally preferable behaviour. It is a framework used for testing moral propositions. That means, you find a moral proposition and you subject it to tests. Those that fail are false, those that pass are true. True means enforceable, though Stef has left the details of enforcement vague.
The main requirement for moral propositions to pass the tests is universality. The proposition must apply to all moral agents at all times and places. Stef uses universality to argue for the coma test and the 2 guys in a room test. Moral agents must also have free choice, in the sense that no one is explicitly coercing them. That is, if I hold a gun to your head and threaten to kill you if you disobey me, I have nullified your responsibility for your actions, according to Stef.
The coma test claims that, due to universality, no one is obligated to do anything that a person in a coma is not also obligated to do. Since a coma victim can't do anything but lie there and breathe, no one is required to do more.
The 2 guys in a room test investigates whether 2 persons can be moral at the same time and place. If a moral proposition excludes this possibility, it fails the test. 
If you forget everything else, UPB is about condemning hypocrisy.

How does Stef argue for the ideas of UPB? 

He uses the idea of a performative contradiction to derive some fundamental norms and principles, such as universality, that cannot be denied by persons using fair argument. Using those principles as a basis, he derives the concepts and tests that he calls UPB. Then he subjects various moral propositions to the tests.

What is a performative contradiction?

In order to disprove UPB, you must engage in argument. But the activity of argument itself presupposes certain norms and premises. Anyone who rejects those norms and premises cannot engage in argument and remain consistent. Their activity depends on claims that they deny, and hence their denial calls their own conclusions into question. 
A simple example of this would be for me to say out loud, "I am dead." Because the dead do not speak, the way that I made my claim contradicts its content. Similarly, any argument that used logic to conclude "therefore logic is worthless" qualifies as a performative contradiction. If you use a typewriter to type out the message, "I can't type," you contradict yourself in the act of expressing your idea. 
Hoppe and Habermas have used the performative contradiction in a similar way previously.

What are some of the norms and premises of argument that Stef derived?

  • "You should correct your opinion if it is objectively incorrect."
  • "objective facts exist, and that objective truth is universally preferable to subjective error."
  • Morality is a valid concept.
  • Moral rules must be consistent for all mankind.
  • The validity of a moral theory is judged by its consistency.
  • universality: A rule that applies to our debate, here, today must apply to any debate, anywhere, any time.
  • Entering into any debate requires an acceptance of the realities of choice, values and personal responsibility.
  • Etc. There are more.

How does Stef derive the tests and jargon from the norms and premises?

He gets the two tests from universality. I have a blog entry where I try to reconstruct how he got the idea of strong universality from the performative contradiction. I am curious how his other jargon connects to his basic derivation. For example, Stef draws the line between ethics and aesthetics using the concept of avoidability, but I am not sure really what that means or how it relates back to the performative contradiction or some other derivation. Consent seems to draw a clearer line for me, that is, I think involuntary interaction covers the same territory that Stef uses unavoidability for. If you're speaking and I don't consent to listen, I can leave. If you stab me without my consent, I can't avoid the injury.

How does Stef solve the is/ought problem and bring normative content into his system?

Here's a list of possibilities that occurred to me. I am not sure whether Stef accepts any of these, or all.
  • UPB does not derive the moral propositions it tests. It just tests them for logical consistency and universality. They begin the process with moral content, so if is/ought causes problems,  the problems concern the moral propositions, not UPB.
  • Stef's performative contradiction move derives norms of debate from the act of debate. By choosing to engage in debate, the debater endorses the norms of debate and so cannot consistently make arguments that deny these norms. It forms a hypothetical imperative: if you want to argue, you must accept the norms of argument, at least while you're arguing. Then argue for universality, that accepting the norms during argument implies accepting them in general.
  • By their actions, persons opt in or opt out of moral agency. Persons who opt out or deny UPB or claim that morals are subjective effectively assert that force requires no justification. By their actions they deny that any reason exists not to treat them like infants or animals. 

Who does UPB apply to? 

Here also I have some possibilities and confusion:
  • those who make moral arguments
  • those who make arguments
  • Those who choose moral agency
  • Those who choose to live in society
  • Everything

What are some criticisms and critics of UPB?

Most of the criticisms are shallow, in the sense that, even if true, the criticism does not seriously damage the basic idea, as opposed to a deep criticism, which if true, would defeat the basic purpose of UPB. For instance, many critics have attacked the 5 syllogisms in the section beginning on page 40 for basic logical errors such as non sequitur. I agree that this section seems to have been written carelessly and contains numerous errors. But this is not a grade school math assignment, where we can find a mistake and mark it with a big red "x". The serious critic must try to see past any superficial errors to find out whether the basic idea works or not. The ideal critic would first understand UPB, then restate it with error removed, if possible, and then point to any problems.
Critics seem to misunderstand the performative contradiction step, or ignore it, rather than arguing against it. If any of them understood it, they must disagree with about its importance, because none of them mentioned it in a serious way.
Noesis gave two notable criticisms of UPB on the FDR forum. First, can moral nihilism pass the UPB tests? Second, does the definition of UPB beg the question? 
Noesis claimed that a version of moral nihilism can pass the UPB coma test and 2 guys test. In effect, she accepts, for the sake of argument, the basic ideas of UPB but proposes that nothing is prohibited, no enforcement is justified. Here is my response. She wants the set of enforceable prohibitions to remain empty, so she cannot propose that enforcement be prohibited, just that there is no objective justification for it. But UPB collects and evaluates any and all moral propositions. If a moral proposition is not universal, or is logically contradictory, it is discarded. But otherwise, it may add to the set of enforceable propositions. So Noesis' proposition adds nothing to the set of prohibitions, but it cannot prevent other propositions from passing the tests and adding content to the set of prohibitions. Her proposition would need to show that all other moral propositions should fail the test. But this is a claim about moral claims, not a moral claim, so it does not qualify for the test. Noesis would perhaps reply that the set of propositions that pass the UPB tests would not be logically consistent, because her proposition says it is okay to do anything, which contradicts the other propositions which all prohibit something. I'm not sure whether Stef would mind, so long as the set of prohibitions remains consistent. Or perhaps he would counter that "do whatever you want" is not really a moral proposition. Ultimately, I think this was a cute trick, but what Noesis really wants is a way to deny the entire idea of UPB.
She takes a shot at that by claiming that Stef defines his jargon in a way that sneaks in the concepts and distinctions that he wants, without basing them on logic or the performative contradiction. This is called begging the question, it is a way to sneak the conclusion of the argument into the premises. I'm not sure how Stef should reply. When I first noticed his use of strong universality, I was very confused and could not see how he came up with it. Later, after much struggle, I saw how he might be able to use the performative contradiction to derive strong universality. So I am reluctant to say it can't be done with the other terms and concepts at the foundation of UPB, just that I have not understood how to do it yet.
David Gordon criticized Stef's use of strong universality, but oddly ignored the performative contradiction step. I say oddly, because I associate Gordon in my mind with his Mises Institute colleague, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, who uses a similar performative contradiction prominently in his work. Gordon also balks at the idea of biological UPB: Is it not obvious that Molyneux has confused two different senses of "universally preferable behavior"? Biological laws are, as even our author elsewhere realizes, descriptive regularities; Molyneux fails utterly to show that acting in accord with such laws to keep oneself alive has anything to do with moral obligation.
This criticism, though accurate, is shallow. The biological version of the UPB idea is not essential to Stef's project. In fact, I can't understand why he even mentioned it, as Gordon's objection hits the target. But the target is at the periphery, not the center, of Stef's conceptual territory. 
Stef declares that UPB is an "umbrella term" that applies to the scientific method, logic, empiricism, debating, language, and ethics. He gives no explanation of how this works, and fails to include the biological sense mentioned by Gordon, though Stef does use that idea in several places. I am tempted to lump these together as "fields of truth-seeking, using logic and evidence." But then we should subtract language and bio-UPB, and probably add mathematics. And it is clear that Stef's understanding of the scientific method differs from mine.
Regrettably, I have lost the link to the pages that made the following criticisms, so I can't give links or credit. One critic claimed that self defense and property rights break Stef's strong universality. For example, imagine two situations where I have just punched mr. X in the face. In one, he had threatened me and struck me first, and I fought back in self defense. In the other, he did nothing before I attacked him. The critic claimed that if the rule was truly universal, it would not only abstract from persons identities, locations, and times, but also their circumstances. I think the critic used a quote from Stef to support this interpretation of universality, perhaps this one describing theft on page 101: It is morally wrong for all people in all situations at all times and under all circumstances. I disagree that Stef has committed himself to this idea, though I agree that Stef has not made the boundaries of universality clear. Do we know how he determines which aspects are universal (times, places, persons) and which are not (context of previous violence, who owns what, etc.)? 
Universality is based on the nature of argument. If I make a successful argument now, and write the words of the argument down, and someone else repeats the argument later in a different place, how can the argument fail? It can fail in the new context only if the original argument depended somehow on the original context of the argument. 
The next criticism is closely related. This critic accused Stef of using value laden words without justifying them as part of the theory. For instance, murder versus kill, steal vs. take, etc. Killing is a general and value-neutral category, which includes subcategories such as murder (wrongful killing), killing in self-defense, accidental killing, suicide, and mercy killing. So by evaluating propositions such as "murder is not universally preferred behaviour" Stef is stating a tautology. Murder is wrong by definition, but how do we define murder? Given knowledge about a killing, is it murder or not? Stef should have derived this somehow, instead of just assuming it. I think it is safe to approximate Stef's meaning as defining murder as intensional killing, involuntary on the part of the victim. Stef could clarify this, but does it matter? If Stef lets someone else define murder for him, his method lacks the objectivity he seeks.  UPB must give us this answer. Does it?
Opposite vs. negation: More than one critic quibbled about Stef's use of the word "opposite" in the context of the "2 guys in a room" test, claiming he should have used the word "negation" instead. I claim that they should have read with more care and charity. In that case they would realize that Stef has eliminated all possible cases but two: a moral proposition either prohibits something or requires something. When there are only two alternatives, there is no difference between the opposite of a choice or the negation of that choice. Both just mean "the other choice." They may wish to criticize the argument by which Stef eliminated the other possibilities, but it's silly to quibble about his word usage.
I have some criticisms of my own, in a forthcoming blog entry.
FDR user labmath2 provided this criticism: "Punishment and self defense. What counts as self defense? If someone trespasses on my property can I shoot them on sight or am I required to warn them first? Can I shoot someone for breaking a contract in defense of my stolen service or property? What about punishment, can there be punishment that involves initiating violence against someone? If I murder someone, can men with guns come and detain me or is self defense the only allowed form of aggression."

Rule enforcement has similar issues. 

Self-defense also cannot be required behaviour, since required behaviour (“don’t rape”) can be enforced through violence, which would mean that anyone failing to violently defend himself could be legitimately aggressed against. However, someone failing to defend himself is already being aggressed against, and so we end up in a circular situation where everyone can legitimately act violently against a person who is not defending himself, which is not only illogical, but morally abhorrent. (Page 87)

But self-defense is violent, unavoidable from the standpoint of the aggressor being defended against. Therefore it falls in the category of ethics, and is either prohibited or required, according to the argument Stef gives in UPB. So if it is not required, it is prohibited. Or is it special somehow, related to enforcement? In effect, the entire UPB book is a justification of self-defense and rule enforcement. Stef should have made it clear how this works.

Enforcement requires justification, because it takes a different form in ordinary life than it does in debate. In debate, rules are enforced by pointing to infractions. Violations of the rules weaken a debater's case, sometimes demolish it. But enforcement by means of physical punishment is abnormal in the context of debate, if not necessarily nonexistent. Debate is an ideal world of nonviolence. It is not clear how the act of arguing presupposes violent enforcement of rules.

Enforcement is not just a subset of self-defense, it has a special justification. All of UPB aims at justifying it. But UPB says almost nothing about enforcement. We could also see UPB as a metaphysical classification scheme that we can use to label all actions good or bad? (If we lump neutral and good together.) This just means bad = a violation of an enforceable rule, good = not a violation of an enforceable rule. This is peculiar. Maybe UPB is a theory of evil, not a theory of good and evil? Or it is a theory of enforcement.
Here is a summary of UPB critics from a rather biased source. It contains many dead links. I suggest doing a web search of upb and critique, if you are interested.
There is a lot of material in the forum at FDR, but it is not very helpful. I hope this FAQ and my other blog entries help a little. Stef has many videos, but they tend to cover the same things, and would be difficult to organize into a sensible treatment of UPB.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Questions for Stef

Here are some questions I still have about UPB, and my guesses at answers. Quotes from Stef are in italics.
1) How do we differentiate ethical propositions from aesthetic propositions in UPB using avoidability?  How does Stef derive this category distinction from the norms of argument or pure logic? If that's not how he derived it, where does it come from?

Avoidable: Stef uses this word in the ordinary way, but it is hard to objectify.  When critics try to claim that moral nihilism passes the UPB tests, they are claiming that everything is avoidable, using Stef's terms. Clearly, some things are not avoidable. So they would try to attack that distinction, claiming that unavoidable things are aesthetic, that Stef's definition begs the question, it's arbitrary, has no basis.

Non-violent actions by their very nature are avoidable. Page 48. This capacity for escape and/or avoidance is an essential characteristic differentiating aesthetics from ethics. Page 50. For the moment, we can assume that any threat of the initiation of violence is immoral, but the question of avoidance – particularly the degree of avoidance required – is also important. Page 51.
This sounds like consent to me. Why not just use consent as the criterion derived from argument, and define violations of consent as violations of UPB and bad?

2) Morality and ethics:
Any theory that justifies or denies the use of violence is a moral theory, page 49. Morality is defined as an enforceable subset of UPB, page 76. The subset of UPB that examines enforceable behaviour is called “morality,” page 125. Ethics is the subset of UPB which deals with inflicted behaviour, or the use of violence. Page 48. 

    inflicted behaviour and use of violence 
    • mean the same thing?
    • are two distinct categories with some overlap?
    • Completely separate categories  (if so, explain inflicted)?
    3) Ethics must involve 
    • violent violations of universal rules
    • violent enforcement of universal rules
    • either? 

    4) Who does UPB apply to? 
    • those who freely choose moral agency and responsibility.
    • those who make moral arguments
    • those who make arguments
    • all Human beings  
    • some other category, or needs more explanation

    5) Is/ought defeated by "if I want X I must do Y" and performative contradiction. How do I defeat the is/ought when debating? My debate opponent explicitly chooses
    • moral agency 
    • to seek knowledge of good and evil
    • to live in society
    • to make a moral claim, an ought
    • to engage in debate, implicitly accepting the premises and norms of debate.
    • all of the above
    • some of above
    6) What does enforceable mean? Can be enforced by anyone? Must be enforced? Why is it a separate category? How is it derived from the performative contradiction?

    7) Binding: what does it mean? I read that as "the rule applies". I am confused because "binding" seems to have more of a connotation of "consequences are guaranteed to occur." But this cannot be the case. Stef seems to use it to deny choice. Personal preferences do not bind anyone, but logical necessities, math, etc. cannot be chosen arbitrarily, in that sense they are binding. Because UPB is all about deciding what behaviour is enforceable, I guess "binding" = "enforceable?"

    The fundamental difference between statements of preference and statements of fact is that statements of fact are objective, testable – and binding, page 22. Ethics as a discipline can be defined as any theory regarding preferable human behaviour that is universal, objective, consistent – and binding. Naturally, preferential behaviour can only be binding if the goal is desired. If I say that it is preferable for human beings to exercise and eat well, I am not saying that human beings must not sit on the couch and eat potato chips. What I am saying is that if you want to be healthy, you should exercise and eat well. [...] It is true that if a man does not eat, he will die – we cannot logically derive from that fact a binding principle that he ought to eat. page 30. We all know that there are subjective preferences, such as liking ice cream or jazz, which are not considered binding upon other people. On the other hand, there are other preferences, such as rape and murder, which clearly are inflicted on others. There are also preferences for logic, truth and evidence, which are also binding upon others (although they are not usually violently inflicted) insofar as we all accept that an illogical proposition must be false or invalid. Those preferences which can be considered binding upon others can be termed “universal preferences,” or “moral rules.” Page 40.

    8) Choice: Moral agents must also have free choice, in the sense that no one is explicitly coercing them. That is, if I hold a gun to your head and threaten to kill you if you disobey me, I have nullified your responsibility for your actions. You are not responsible, you are not a moral agent while I am controlling you that way.

    Wednesday, April 23, 2014

    NVC gamesmanship

    What if I replace "must," "ought," "should," and any other choice-denying word or phrase with "choose" or "prefer?" Will that necessarily change my thinking eventually?

    Friday, April 18, 2014

    Liberty roadmap elevator pitch

    How do we get to liberty, starting where we are now? Politics probably won't work. Politics is the tail, society is the dog. Change politics without changing what people think, and pretty soon things will go right back to where they were. Change what people are thinking and politics will follow. How do we change what people think?

    Show me, don't just tell me. Adopting libertarian ideas is like adopting a new technology. The innovators and early adopters are relatively easy to convince, but to gain widespread support we need to be able to show people how using our ideas can help them succeed.

    Here are some examples of the sort of thing I am thinking about: The Internet, BitTorrent, PGP, Bitcoin, Wikipedia, crowd funding, Linux development. All of these phenomena seemed strange when they were new. If they had needed approval from a majority of people to get started, none of them would exist. In a few cases, the government would prefer that they did not exist, but here they are. We can use that kind of dynamic.

    What can I do now that will actually make a positive difference? I want to participate in projects that are tangible, credible, inclusive, and epic. Maybe even profitable! 

    Oops, this is my floor.

    Tuesday, April 15, 2014

    Swarming versus Voting

    I may have discovered a good example of countervoting. I use the word "countervoting" to describe any activity that strengthens persons' willingness or ability to interact voluntarily, or to notice the coercive aspect of ordinary experience, as opposed to voting, which desensitizes us to coercion by inviting us to participate. Whether or not you accept the idea that voting reinforces beliefs in the legitimacy of arbitrary authority, any activity that does the reverse, that strengthens persons' understanding of how to achieve beneficial social change through voluntary cooperation, deserves promotion. So here I go, promoting.
    Ironically, I found this idea in a book about the founding of a new political party, the Swedish pirate party. The founder of the pirate party, Rick Falkvinge, has published a book in which he explains the methods and principles that he used to organize volunteers on the Internet for this purpose. He titled it Swarmwise. (It was released under a Creative Commons license, so it is legal for you to pirate it!) Yes, the pirate party used a swarm to bootstrap itself into the Swedish and European legislatures. I find it ironic that they used a swarm, which depends on voluntary cooperation, to gain power within coercive institutions.
    Falkvinge sees his swarm as a hybrid of traditional hierarchical organizations (slow, expensive, boring) and pure networks like Anonymous or Occupy Wall Street (unfocused, limited to small groups working on small, temporary projects). Falkvinge wanted to add leadership, yet keep the spontaneous, self-organizing aspect of leaderless Internet phenomena, ending up with something like an open source software project. A small hierarchical group at the core works to support the swarming volunteers, who just pick something off a list and do it as they please. The leader starts the swarm, establishing the goal, the culture, and values (probably also "the face" for old media), and keeps everyone focused on the objective. The core group makes sure that resources and infrastructure are available, and the swarm does the rest. Ideally, the goal inspires, motivates, and focuses the swarm's creativity and generosity. Everyone trusts each other, experienced swarmers help out newbies, and the core group supports the activism.
    Falkvinge admits that his approach also has vulnerabilities and limitations. The swarm herder cannot control the brand or messages of the swarm, cannot hire or fire for the most part, and so must lead by inspiration. He suggests that a leader "focus [...] on what everybody can do, and never what people cannot do or must do." The leader announces "I am going to do X, because I think it will accomplish Y. Anybody who wants to join me in doing X is more than welcome." Some weaknesses become strengths: duplication of effort and mistakes provide material for learning what works, and the swarm learns as it does. Extreme transparency is almost required, but helps to reduce conflict, maintain trust, control rumors and limit creation of factions. The author hands out many interesting ideas, not all of which seem easy to implement or fully explained and illustrated.
    Based on Falkvinge's ideas about encouraging swarms, here is a list of ways to sabotage a swarm:
    Change or debate the goal.
    Create lots of paperwork, bureaucracy, and procedures.
    Collect lots of information about volunteers.
    Make people ask for permission.
    Allow working groups to get too large and break into factions.
    Discourage fun. Make it dull.
    Worry if you get criticized by outsiders.
    Criticize mistakes instead of learning from them.
    This may sound collectivist to you, or make you think of Harry Browne's "group trap." It just sounds like individuals cooperating to pursue a shared value to me. Entrepreneurs need customers, is that a group trap?
    Back to the irony. If Falkvinge can inspire large numbers of Internet volunteers to hand out handbills, hang posters, recruit new members, attend rallies, etc., all to elect a few members to a legislature where they play tug of war with other politicians, why not inspire them to do something useful and lasting? Once people have empowered themselves with these techniques, won't ordinary politics seem awfully useless and dull?

    Sunday, April 13, 2014

    Modest inquiries

    What is the goal? What is the win condition? The lose condition?
    Does it work? May I try? How may I contribute?
    How can we test it?
    What do you want me to do about it?
    What alternatives can we think of?
    How long have you believed this? What convinced you it's true? How easy was it for you to change your mind?
    Why/how do people change their minds? How can we know what is true? Why do people join cults, or believe conspiracy theories? Why do people believe the status quo? 
    How can I compensate for my biases? How can I know what they are?
    Why should anyone care what I have to say?
    How can we improve the world? How do I know that would be an improvement?
    What is important to me? Who else thinks so? Who is helping me, and who is holding me back?
    What is the next step? What is preventing me from acting?

    Friday, April 4, 2014

    Pondering paradigms

    What would happen if by some fluke congress and the president agreed?

    If they were all progressives, they would raise taxes and pile on the legislation, give out favors to their friends. If they were all conservatives, they might cut some social spending and give out favors to their friends. If they were libertarians, they might cut taxes and all sorts of spending. And give out favors to their friends.

    In all cases, voters would register some degree of displeasure at the first elections. Blowback! Some of their oversteps would be repealed, especially in the case of the libertarians, because whatever the wisdom of such policies, they are unpopular. All three would be blips in the data, the system would return quickly to the status quo, if indeed much happened at all. 

    What if we did something else. What if we allowed any district to opt out and produce their own "public goods" or negotiate for them with local state or central government? Allow each district to veto state or federal law and arrange their own? Secession, nullification, subsidiarity!

    Ironically, according to the dominant paradigm, we would need to use politics to reform politics. That possibility seems remote. We need a new paradigm. Where can we find one?

    Nonconformist zones and the consent of the governed

    Politics these days consists of trying to find a way to make the other side shut up, instead of trying to figure out how a large diverse group of people can live together peacefully and productively. The two big teams fight for a utopia where they have "won" and the other side, the bad guys, have given up on every issue. Somehow, I don't think it ever will happen.
    Of course, trying to visualize cooperation between the two groups may be even more difficult. How can one part of the country embrace immigrants, while the rest reject them utterly? How can one part of the country have free markets, while the other regulates to the maximum? How can one subgroup embrace peace, while others pursue global military intervention? How will it work if some allow government to spy on them, and some don't, or some restrict their carbon footprint and others don't?
    What if we took the idea of "consent of the governed" seriously? What would that look like? But first of all, why might we wish to do so? The consent of the governed, where governors paid attention to it, would restrict the action of governments to those which provide a benefit. That is, the consent of the governed would check tyranny. It would act as a safety value, releasing unwanted error, selfishness, and rigidity. It would make the people the rulers, so that our lives would not be ruled by the legislature's errors, or our social innovation limited by the legislature's imaginations.
    How could this work? I'm not really sure, but a couple of possibilities keep suggesting themselves to me. 
    Declare a free zone, where malcontents go to opt out. Expand it's borders as its population expands. If it turns into a western Hong Kong, all the better.
    Restore federalism by renewing the principles of nullification and subsidiarity, all the way down, from central, to state, to county, to municipal, to land owner. This sounds a bit crazy, but how does it differ from the common law doctrine that parties to a contract may explicitly choose to go against law set by precedent, so far as it pertains to them and their contract?
    What do you think? Does the consent of the governed mean anything if the governed have no way to provide feedback in favor of good ideas and against errors?

    Thursday, April 3, 2014

    Groping toward Utopia

    Even someone who embraces the current dominant paradigm of politics will admit that an enormous gap lies between the status quo and any imagined utopia. We have plenty of room for improvement and innovation in society.
    Those who understand politics well must increase their estimate of this gap. Politics tends to stifle innovation, to wear out people who want to try something new, by forcing them to fight a tug-o-war over shared policies. The system shrugs them off and continues as before.
    If you believe Hayek, your estimate gets larger still. He encouraged scepticism in regard to theories and abstractions, and toward our ability to predict and understand large complex social phenomena. The limits of central planning generalize to any designed social system. The difficulty of gathering, integrating, and processing the necessary information limits us to decentralized approaches. Allow each individual to respond to local conditions and the system will learn.
    So utopias serve as a direction rather than a destination, a reason for acting more than an understanding of the final outcome, an inspiration for experiments from which we must learn and correct our ideas instead of a certainty. Utopia can inspire us to cross the stream, but cannot show us which rocks to step on.
    My utopia contains people who cooperate with each other, not coercing each other. Coercion poisons empathy, corrupts integrity, and perverts loyalty. Cooperation enables these, and leaves room for inspiration.
    It's not clear to me how we could eliminate coercion, or that it is entirely possible in all cases. But I know it is worth investigating and we can learn from trying new things. We can know what direction to explore, without knowing our exact destination.
    Many recent social and technological developments empower individuals in ways we could hardly have imagined 20 years ago, both as individuals and as members of firms, organizations, or groups. [e.g. The Internet, cell phones, BitTorrent, bitcoin, Wikipedia, open source software, P2P, etc.] When such secrets reveal themselves, we do not forget them.
    I want more. I hope for more. And I hope our imagination will catch up with our potential soon. Government does more to block experiments than to enable social learning. Still, we can do what we can do. We have examples to follow. With our utopia to guide us, we know why we act and which direction to explore: more cooperation.

    Tuesday, March 25, 2014

    Orwell's Orders

    1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
    2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
    3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
    4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
    5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
    6.  Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

    Sunday, February 23, 2014


    Breakfast: broccoli, cheese, pepper, maybe salsa, oatmeal and chia seeds, with a bit of chocolate,  hard boiled egg and bacon. Coffee
    Lunch: broccoli, cheese, pepper, maybe salsa, peanut butter, carrots, egg, maybe bacon, fiber bar, raisins
    Dinner: broccoli, cheese, pepper, maybe salsa, baked chicken, yogurt, and raisins
    Avocado or olives, onion fried baked dried or raw! Nuts

    Friday, February 21, 2014

    Questions about resource based econ

    • How do you bootstrap RBE? How do you move in the right direction, starting from where we are?
    • What is the smallest scale where RBE seems plausible? 
    • How does RBE handle innovation? Will that also be automated, or does sustainability imply stasis?
    • To what degree does RBE attempt to build on the ideas of market socialism, and respond to criticisms of that approach?
    • Do the RBE believers really understand coercion and exploitation? You may be able to convince me that it is possible to get rid of one while ignoring the other (or maybe not). But using one to get rid of the other? Really?

    Sunday, February 9, 2014

    Strong universality in UPB

    The concept of universality that Stef uses in UPB is very strong. Any rule that applies to someone must apply to all moral agents at all times and all places. How did he derive this concept, and who should we categorize as moral agents?
    Ordinarily universality might mean "applies to all members of a category." So non-UPB morality can create all sorts of subcategories of moral agents and construct arguments based on the characteristics of those categories. These moral propositions flunk the UPB tests. Why does Stef reject them? He does not really explain this in the book, but we can squeeze out the meaning.
    Because Stef uses a performative contradiction as the basic move for deriving UPB, debate and the norms of debate stand at the center of UPB. Stef claims that those who engage in debate cannot deny the premises and norms on which debate relies. (Here debate is interpreted broadly, so that no one could present a disproof of UPB without engaging in debate.) 
    What do we know about the participants in a debate and their arguments? We know that they participate willingly, otherwise it is not debate but interrogation or something like that. They must have some common language, an ability and willingness to debate, and broad agreement on what it means to debate fairly and honestly. Without these presuppositions, debate fails as a means for seeking truth. Of course, debaters may fail to follow the rules in a particular case, either from error or from a desire to deceive, but they must put up a show of playing fair, or no one will bother to engage them.
    Can we limit the time or place where a debate may occur or may have occurred? No. As long as willing participants are seeking truth, debate may proceed, between anyone, any time, any place. For that reason, the norms of debate should be similarly eternal, independent of location, and indifferent to the identity or category of participants. The only limitation that makes sense is their willingness and ability to debate.
    If you have made a claim in a debate, and then go do something else, does your claim expire? Do you stop believing it and asserting it? For the most part, no, if you honestly assert something at one time and place, you could have asserted it just as honestly elsewhere, later, or earlier. If you come to doubt your claim, you can make assertions about the new evidence that raised your doubts. Hence, only a complete nihilist, who believes absolutely nothing and makes no truth claims could ever deny the norms of argument. And if he did deny them, then he would no longer be a complete nihilist. Even making an argument that X is false requires that one accept the norms of debate.
    What about persons who are not yet, or no longer, or temporarily unable to debate? Appoint a guardian.
    What about animals? Guardian or owner?
    What about rocks? Owner.
    What about persons who are able to debate, but unwilling to embrace moral agency? Treat them like animals, or infants, or sages? Perhaps not sages.
    Someone must take responsibility.

    Wednesday, February 5, 2014

    Logic, Politics, and Innovation

    This article, Logic and Liberty, takes for granted that we should adopt the goal of getting more people to join our end of the political tug-o-war, rather than to disrupt the market for goods and services now provided by government.
    One of the paradoxes of politics: as everyone must consume the same good, there is no way for innovators or early adopters directly to choose something new. All (innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and late adopters) must engage in a tug-o-war to determine which one size shall fit all. Because persons' individual choices do not determine the actual outcome, persons will not learn from the sort of feedback present in a market (See Caplan "Myth of the Rational Voter"). Because persons' political choices do determine other factors in their lives, such as their acceptance by their peer group (See Haidt "The Righteous Mind", also Darrel Becker's "bridge of empathy" ), they will tend to base their decisions on those factors and tend to disregard the actual consequences of their favored policy.
    If Haidt and Becker are right, we must have an empathic connection with someone before we have more than a tiny chance of getting her to change her mind. And who do we empathize with most easily? Those who agree with us, especially when it comes to politics.
    It's not a matter of logic. A logical argument always depends on its assumptions and its correctness. If you hand me a proof that everything I know is absurd, I am not forced to believe that, I am forced to choose among: everything I know is absurd and this argument and its assumptions are correct, some of the assumptions of the argument pull a fast one, or there is a mistake somewhere. Given our collective experience with sophistry, no one can be criticized for declining to waste the time necessary to debunk inconvenient arguments, there are just too many of them and their errors and tricks can be quite subtle. At best, we might insist that someone should consider slightly increasing his estimation of the probability that the argument might be correct and that therefore he needs to re-examine his entire worldview.
    That points out another difficulty caused by the one-size-fits-all nature of politics, it discourages taking ideas for a test drive. We tend to neglect the one approach ("show me") that can actually settle a question.
    Given the dominant political paradigm, I don't know what to recommend. Education and argument face severe limits, but any alternative solution seems to require some degree of political participation, paradoxically. Maybe seasteading is our only hope. Or the free state project?

    Sunday, February 2, 2014

    Crowdsourcing the Panopticon

    In "The Most Dangerous Superstition," by Larken Rose, the author claims that "[t]he distinguishing feature of 'government' is that it is thought to have the moral right to give and enforce commands. [...] What distinguishes a street gang from 'government' is how they are perceived by the people they control." That communicates the basic insight of the book. Rose denies the existence of authority, defined as this moral right to command, and a corresponding obligation of ordinary persons to obey. 

    Government is not the ultimate problem, the problem is how we fool ourselves: "the primary danger posed by the myth of 'authority' is to be found [...] in the minds of those *being controlled*." "[T]he underlying problem is never the particular people in power. The underlying problem resides in the minds of the people being oppressed." "If the people continue to adhere to the myth of 'authority,' after any upheaval of a particular regime they will simply create a new set of masters to replace the old set." This myth resists efforts to debunk it: "Even the most heinous examples of man's inhumanity to man, committed in the name of 'authority,' rarely persuade anyone to question the idea of 'authority' per se. Instead, it leads them only to oppose a *particular* set of tyrants." 

    The author wants to expose the psychological process that people use to rationalize the status quo and avoid dealing with the truth underneath the myth. "[O]nly a small percentage of the coercion of 'government' is implemented by the enforcers of 'authority'; most of it is implemented by its *victims*." Victims "lack the *mental* ability to resist" tyranny. We live in a crowdsourced panopticon, a prison where the inmates are the guards. "Large scale oppression [...] depends a lot more on mind control than it does on body control. Those who crave dominion gain much more power by convincing their victims that it is *wrong* to disobey their commands than by convincing their victims that it is merely *dangerous* (but moral) to disobey." Unfortunately, the book does not reveal any deep psychological principle that can help us avoid such error. Rose cites psychological research such as the Milgram experiment, but gives no hint how to overcome the tendencies he discusses. (Michael Huemer's book "The Problem of Authority" deals with similar topics as Rose's book, but takes a less strident tone, as is appropriate for an academic philosopher.)

    He attacks the idea of the "consent of the governed": "If there is mutual consent, it is not 'government'; if there is governing, there is no consent. [...] Whoever has the right to make the rules for a particular place is, by definition, the owner of that place." This "logically implies that everything in the 'country' is the property of the politicians." "If the organization called 'government' stopped using any threats or violence, except to defend against aggressors, it would cease to be 'government'." What if governments took the consent of the governed seriously, allowing them some reasonable way to opt out?

    Rose emphasizes the distinction between morality and obedience: "Morality and obedience are often direct opposites." That is, in some cases one must disobey authorities in order to act morally.

    Rose denies the possibility of a gradual transition from tyranny to freedom: "If 'authority' outranks conscience, then the common folk are all the property of the ruling class, in which case freedom cannot and should not exist. If, on the other hand, conscience outranks 'authority,' then each person owns himself, and each must always follow his own judgement of right and wrong, no matter what any self-proclaimed 'authority' or 'law' may command. There cannot be a gradual shift between the two, nor can there be a compromise." From the standpoint of a particular person this is true, but society is composed of many persons, not all of whom will experience their epiphany at the same time. And even if we did, we would then face a Hayekian challenge of creating new voluntary institutions to replace the old coercive ones. Some people need more than a book full of interesting ideas before they will be willing to gamble on something new.  They need to see examples of people actually cooperating and succeeding without coercion. Supersaturated solution crystallizes, or seed sprouts and blooms?

    Rose disregards politics: "Voting is an act of aggression" because elections "are about arguing over how everyone should be *forced* to behave" and what they must support financially. "There is a mind-bogglingly huge disconnect between what the average person views as 'civilized behavior' on an individual basis, and what he views as legitimate and civilized when it comes to the actions of 'authority'" and they "demand that 'government' do things they would never dream of doing on their own." "[I]f the goal is individual freedom, 'political action' is not only worthless, it is hugely counterproductive, because the main thing it accomplishes is to legitimize the ruling class's power." Anyone who plays the game of politics will "aggravate the problem by inadvertently legitimizing the system of domination and subjugation which wears the label of 'government'." 

    But if voting can strengthen statism, shouldn't there be some opposite activity that weakens it? Let's call it Countervoting. What would it look like? It would reinforce a person's conscience, while weakening her desire to obey authority mindlessly. It would provide a way to hack the panopticon. Rose did not mention that idea in the book, Countervoting is my concept, but perhaps he would say reading his book is a form of Countervoting. But I want something just like voting, a ritual that naturally tends to move your mind toward autonomy, in spite of whatever thoughts you may consciously think while participating, just as I can think "government stinks" while casting my ballot.

    Rose's prescription to cure society's illness is vague and negative: 
    "The ultimate solution is negative and passive: Stop advocating aggression against your neighbors. Stop engaging in rituals that condone the initiation of violence and reinforce the notion that some people have the right to rule. Stop thinking and speaking and acting in ways that reinforce the myth that normal people should be, and must be, beholden to some master, and should obey such a master rather than follow their own consciences." "[W]hen even a significant minority of people outgrow the superstition, and change their behavior accordingly, the world will drastically change." Freedom seekers can "achieve it without the need for any election or revolution." 

    What sort of behavior change does he mean? He gives us vague hints: "If people truly understood [...] they would simply stop surrendering their property to the political parasites."  But the "idea of disobeying 'authority' [...] is more disturbing to them than the idea of being a slave." Rose seems to recommend non-compliance and disobedience. He has demonstrated this himself, and spent time in prison for failure to pay income tax. This strategy may appeal to a brave few, but has little to offer early adopters. What if we could find some positive, active, reasonably safe activity to build people's confidence?

    Noncompliance can come only after enlightenment. We must create a new paradigm while removing the old one. How do we build an alternative paradigm in people's minds? The language and behavior of the dominant paradigm work to reinforce it. How can we resist this indoctrination? Perhaps Rose thinks everyone should read his book and swear off obedience. But many will not read this book, and for reasons he discusses in the book, those that read the book who are not already convinced are not very likely to change their minds. (Jonathan Haidt's book, "The Righteous Mind," gives some theories about why this is true, where it comes from, and what Rose might want to try to do about it.)

    We need more than disobedience, and less. We already have plenty of disobedience, in the form of black market participation, drug use and sales, illegal gambling, prostitution, and other victimless crimes. What we need is a way to get all those "criminals" to understand Rose's idea, to abandon the dangerous superstition of the title. But they won't read his book, they have political biases, and they are unlikely to act on an untested idea. We need a way for them to participate directly, to create temporary autonomous zones, to protect each other from violence, and then turn the TAZs into permanent autonomous zones. We need to sell them safety and freedom, show them examples of people living peaceful, cooperative lives without coercion. We need to crowdsource the free zone. Rose's book gives us little help with that, it is all theory, no practice.

    Authority has already lost, according to Rose, because it is an illusion. "If the alleged 'authority' upon which the entire concept of 'government' relies is merely an illusion [...], then saying that society cannot exist without 'government' is exactly as reasonable as saying that Christmas cannot occur without Santa Claus. Society *already* exists without 'government', and has from the beginning." This sounds absurd, so what does he mean? He means that we have lied to ourselves about how society works, what society is. He means that the organization we call government is actually something else, a polite Mafia with good public relations. He means that when enough of us are willing to give it a try, we may find that cooperation beats coercion.