Tuesday, January 28, 2014


What is the opposite of voting?
One of the reasons that some people oppose voting is the idea that the act of voting lends legitimacy to the state, independently of whether the system works or backfires. In that sense, voting is counterproductive. People who vote participate in a sacrament of the religion of the state. Like other religious rituals, it serves to reinforce the beliefs of the participants and unite them as a group. Even if I have no illusions about the practical results of voting, my participation harms others by helping to perpetuate the myth, reinforcing the dominant statist paradigm, the idea that we can solve our problems by electing good people to run a broken system.
But if the mere act of voting can reinforce the system, in spite of what the participants think as they act, then there must be some opposite action which could undermine the same beliefs, that could perform the same sort of voodoo in the opposite direction. Call it countervoting. The mere act of countervoting would undermine the belief in the legitimacy of government held by the participants, in spite of what they consciously believe. What would that look like?
If voting keeps us hypnotized, countervoting must wake us up. Where voting reinforces our belief in the  legitimacy of the system, countervoting undermines that belief. Where voting makes us confident, countervoting gives us cognitive dissonance (makes you a cognitive dissident). The sacrament of voting celebrates the pageantry and ritual of the state. Countervoting blasphemes against that religion. It tears off the fig leaves arranged by voting. Where voting bows down, countervoting squats and craps. Where voting is solemn and dull, countervoting cracks jokes or loses its temper. Voting makes us feel like good little citizens, countervoting gives us a peculiar queasy feeling about the whole thing. We laugh, perhaps self-consciously. 
You don't have to wait for election day to countervote. Have you countervoted today? 
Countervoting not only undermines your belief in the state, it builds your understanding of voluntary interaction, brings it to consciousness.
Why do we spend our lives doing things that prove we don't need the state, but don't realize it? Perhaps because we use cooperation constantly, and conflate the two? 
Nearly everything we do other an voting is a sacrament to society. How come it doesn't build up our confidence?
I am not even sure I agree with this description of voting, and if I did, that would not necessarily mean that countervoting exists or is possible. But sometimes creative thought requires you to suspend the "black hat thinking" temporarily, in favor of "blue sky thinking."
Can you think of some examples of countervoting? What activities make you particularly conscious of the beneficial social processes we depend on, or of the "square peg-round hole" aspect of the state?Please put them in the comments.

Noesis' critique of UPB

Noesis raised at least two interesting questions about UPB. Can some form of moral nihilism (moral anti-realism?) pass the UPB tests? And did Stef beg the question when defining some of his jargon, instead of deriving his results from logic as he claims?

page 31

Noesis, on 01 Feb 2011 - 01:10 AM, said:
It is simply begging the question, [...]
Noesis has a point, but could have made it very simply. UPB as Stef has defined it prejudged any moral theory that involves violence (either in the violation or in the enforcement) as necessarily part of ethics, not neutral or even aesthetic. Universality requires it to be all or nothing, either always required or always proscribed. Can he really get all this from the norms implicit in argument? Or do we need additional restrictions, and an argument supporting them? 

How do we define moral nihilism in the context of UPB? Noesis wants to just say "morality is subjective." But that is not a moral proposition, eligible for testing by UPB. We can't say moral nihilism is "all violence is aesthetic or neutral" by definition. Maybe Noesis should not be so quick to accept the UPB framework?
Noesis, on 01 Feb 2011 - 10:18 PM, said:
The argument for neutrality goes like this: "Inflicting your will, or not inflicting your will on anyone is always (morally) right." [Keep in mind the definition of morality is: a [/size]principle concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour.[/size]]
Every possible action is either a case of inflicting to not inflicting your will. So we can simplify this to "Every possible action is always right." Not sure how to plug that in to the 2 guys in a room test. Does this mean they are obligated to be doing everything all the time? Have we re-introduced positive obligations?

Noesis's definition of morality does not match Stef's (subset of UPB that is enforceable). She also either does not notice or intentionally ignores the unusual sense in which Stef uses the word "preference." Unless I am wrong, for Stef, preference is limited to items within the feasible choice set. So, although in some sense I may prefer to fly to Paris, by Stef's definition I do not prefer flying to Paris if I am not flying to Paris (or I've at least bought a ticket). This also undermines her thought experiment where she acts without or against her preferences. As long as she is consciously acting and has a set of feasible choices, her action reveals her preference. She can place herself in circumstances where her choice set is restricted, but that doesn't get her what she wants. Common usage allows us to use the word "preference" in either way, so that it makes sense that I would prefer something that I cannot actually choose, but Stef is using the word in the more narrow sense, and it is Noesis who is equivocating, not Stef, in this case.

"Inflicting your will, or not inflicting your will on anyone is always (morally) right." This statement means that one of 3 possibilities exists, that is, one option, or the other is right, or both are right. If Noesis meant to say both are right, we should replace "or" with "and" in the statement. The original statement is ambiguous.

Let's assume Noesis meant that both options are always right. "Inflicting your will [and] not inflicting your will on anyone both are always (morally) right." Does that make a difference? Within UPB, this means "nothing violates UPB." My version of Noesis's claim is "Morality is objective, but everything is permitted, no enforcement is required. It's all good."

Noesis, on 31 Dec 2011 - 08:38 AM, said:
[from page 13...]
[quoting Nima]"Arguing against the conceptual existence of UPB requires engaging in a debate. But once someone engages in a debate to convince another person, he inevitably implies that all people at all times and at all places should rather prefer truth to falsehood."
No, that's completely false (and absurd). Anyone should be able to clearly see that debating doesn't imply this. [...] For example, if I say that you cannot use UPB to prove the truth of a MORAL CLAIM, and that doesn't mean that I'm saying you cannot use UPB to prove something else (like the logic behind a framework purporting to prove that you can use the said framework to prove a moral claim). See the difference? "UPB" is just a fancy way of saying "logic". 

Habermas and Hoppe also use the performative contradiction idea, so "absurd" goes too far. Maybe controversial would be a better description, or arguable. Noesis's first statement sounds like she is not willing to consider the idea seriously enough to actually understand what Stef is saying. One of the secrets of wisdom is, if an intelligent person says something that seems absurd, it is highly probable that you misunderstand them.

[Nima gives a version of Stef's definition of morality]

Quoting Noesis:
I don't accept this definition. The reasoning in support of this definition is flawed. It assumes that violent infliction is what morality should be about, before morality has been proven as a legitimate category for any actions, never mind only some. [...] what does behaviour that can be avoided have to do with morality, without begging the question that morality exists[...]

Noesis raises a valid concern. Has Stef begged the question, has he cooked his assumptions and definitions in such a way that the system gives unjustified answers? But because she is unwilling to engage with Stef's derivation of these concepts, her argument boils down to "no, you're wrong!" That is, she does not show us the actual problem, she just asserts that it exists.

Another person might suspect that Stef has actually derived his definitions and assumptions from the performative contradiction, and Noesis just doesn't understand the ideas she criticizes. On one hand, I am tempted to forgive her, because Stef's explanation is difficult to follow, and the forum posts responding to her criticisms fail to clarify the issue. On the other hand, she is not very specific in her requests for clarification. Instead of saying "Where does this definition come from?" she says something more like "You can't do that!"

Ultimately, I may agree with her that Stef has pulled a fast one. But I want to do my due diligence before making my decision.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Self-Detonating Counter-UPB Arguments

Stef wants to show that someone who claims "UPB is wrong" by using logic and evidence, commits a performative contradiction by doing so. The norms of argument provide the basis for UPB. These norms include (there are more):
* I value truth above falsehood, clarity above obfuscation.
* Truth is objective.
* I will correct others when I see they've made a mistake, and accept corrections from them when I have.

Godel proved that logic has limits, but no one can use logic to prove that logic is useless. So, a logical syllogism that concluded, "therefore logic can prove nothing," is a performative contradiction. There may or may not be a logical error in the argument, but if it uses a method of proof that it explicitly rejects, that is a problem.

If I somehow learn something I believe to be true, but the implications of this truth include the idea that I cannot or should not communicate it to someone, or it is meaningless or pointless for me to do so, can it really be true? (Hoppe's argumentation ethics and Habermas and Apel's discourse ethics have taken similar approaches.) This paradox invites us to conclude that the proposition must actually be false, no matter how much the proposition may tempt us to believe it. If we can only communicate an idea by becoming a hypocrite, there's something wrong with that idea.  

If I explicitly reject the norms of argument, I can still speak the truth. If I decline to self-identify as a member of the fair-debate speech community, can all my claims be dismissed? No. Only those statements that contradict my current actions.

This allows Stef to evade the "is/ought" problem without solving it. Here's what I mean. Someone says "UPB is wrong." According to Stef, that person has opted in, has demonstrated their willingness to debate and committed to the norms of debate. So any further debate can make use of those norms, and if that person contradicts the norms of debate, that is a performative contradiction and we should reject the claim. 

So what Stef would really like to do is have UPB logically follow from the norms of debate. Everything in his book would then just be a derivation and explanation of those norms and their corollaries and implications. Unfortunately, the book is not organized in a way that makes it easy to see where he is going or whether he gets there.

There are of course questions about this, even the more "mainstream" versions are controversial. Stef is not very explicit in his arguments or clear in his explanations. To attack this idea, you can argue that the specific norms do not follow from the activity of debate, or that we have no grounds to universalize them, that we could ignore them as soon as we stop debating, something like that.

And UPB is more than logic. It is logic, evidence, universality, the coma test, the "2 guys in a room" test and all that other stuff. How can we get a performative contradiction from that? I can think of two possibilities: either it really all can be derived from Stef's premises using logic, or Stef has added something that he must support with argument. Maybe I can get universality from pure logic, and the coma test is a corollary of universality. What about the 2 guys in a room?

This works for the scientific method and aesthetically preferred actions (APAs), but does it work for Stef's target, ethics? Could someone truthfully say (see Noesis http://board.freedomainradio.com/topic/26465-debate-about-upb-moral-nihilism/), "I accept the norms of argument, and the principles of UPB, but I believe all actions are morally right, no violation of UPB is possible," without contradicting norms of debate?

This is all stuff I don't understand yet, still many questions in my mind.

How do we know that the coma test and 2 guys in a room test work? Do they depend on anything other than universality?
Given universality, if a proposition fails the tests it is false. If it passes, how do we know it is true? What does it really mean for a moral proposition to be true or false?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

True and false moral propostitions in UPB

How do we know the tests are sufficient, that UPB does not give the green light to bad ideas? The way the process works, if a proposition contains a logical contradiction or performative contradiction, I can see how it is reasonable to say it is false. But just because a proposition does not contain one sort of flaw, does not guarantee it does not have another. How can we be sure that Stef has covered all the possible flaws with his tests? A perfectly valid logical syllogism will be true only if it's premises are true.

It is easier for me to think of a moral proposition as false than to know what it would mean for a moral proposition to be true. Certainly Stef is not saying that moral propositions that pass the UPB test can never be violated by anyone, like laws of physics. My best interpretation is that Stef would define truth for moral propositions like this: A moral proposition is true if it does not imply that persons must (may?) violate the norms and assumptions on which argument relies. Argument provides the means by which we communicate, and Stef's approach uses that as a foundation on which to build. A stronger way of putting it would be that true moral statements can be derived from or at least do not contradict the norms and assumptions underlying debate.

If I somehow learn something I believe to be true, but the implications of this truth include the idea that I cannot or should not communicate it to someone, or it is meaningless or pointless for me to do so, can it really be true? (Hoppe and Habermas have taken similar approaches.) This contradiction invites us to conclude that the proposition must actually be false, no matter how much the proposition may tempt us to believe it. If we can only communicate an idea by embracing hypocrisy, there's something wrong with that idea.

If a debater uses coercion to win a debate, at the instant she uses that tactic, the debate ceases to be a debate. Coercion cannot take part in debate. Coercion transforms debate into indoctrination, interrogation, threats, or brainwashing.

This approach may owe more to Hans-Herman Hoppe http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argumentation_ethics than to Stefan Molyneux, I'm not sure. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Confucius again

The Ideal society under moral rule or the rule of rites defined by Confucius

The translation of “da tong pian”(great equality society)

The ideal society under moral rule or the rule of rites defined by Confucius is called DATONG, which is  literally equivalent to  great equality society, yet it is translated  by different people differently. Here are just a few examples:

The Great Harmony

When the great principle prevails, the world is a commonwealth in which rulers are selected according to their wisdom and ability. Mutual confidence is promoted and good neighborliness cultivated.

Hence men do not regard as parents only their own parents, nor do they treat as children only their own children. Provision is secured for the aged till death, employment for the able-bodied, and the means of growing up for the young.

Helpless widows and widowers, orphans and the lonely, as well as the sick and the disabled, are well cared for.

Men have their respective occupations and women their homes. They do not like to see wealth lying idle, yet they do not keep it for their own gratification.

They despise indolence, yet they do not use their energies for their own benefit. In this way selfish scheming are repressed, and robbers, thieves and other lawless men no longer exist, and there is no need for people to shut their outer doors. This is called the great harmony

The Commonwealth State

When the perfect order prevails, the world is like a home shared by all. Virtuous and worthy men are elected to public office, and capable men hold posts of gainful employment in society; peace and trust among all men are the maxims of living. All men love and respect their own parents and children, as well as the parents and children of others. This is caring for the old; there are jobs for adults; there are nourishment and education for the children. There is a means of support for the widows, and the widowers; for all who find themselves alone in the world; and for the disabled. Every man and woman has an appropriate role to play in the family and society. A sense of sharing displaces the effects of selfishness and materialism. A devotion to public duty leaves no room for idleness. Intrigues and conniving for ill gain are unknown. Villains such as thieves and robbers do not exist. The door to every home need never be locked and bolted day or night. These are the characteristics of an ideal world, commonwealth state.

The Grand Union

When the Grand course was pursued, a public and common spirit ruled all under the sky; they chose men of talents, virtue, and ability; their words were sincere, and what they cultivated was harmony. Thus men did not love their parents only, nor treat as children only their own sons. A competent provision was secured for the aged till their death, employment for the able-bodied, and the means of growing up to the young. They showed kindness and compassion to widows, orphans, childless men, and those who were disabled by disease, so that they were all sufficiently maintained. Males had their proper work, and females had their homes. (They accumulated) articles (of value), disliking that they should be thrown away upon the ground, but not wishing to keep them for their own gratification. (The), laboured) with their strength, disliking that it should not be exerted, but not exerting it (only) with a view to their own advantage. In this way (selfish) schemings were repressed and found no development. Robbers, filchers, and rebellious traitors did not show themselves, and hence the outer doors remained open, and were not shut. This was (the period of) what we call the Grand Union.
Translated by James Legge



From the ancient Book of  Rites 礼记 大同篇

The exemplary moral rulers mentioned by Confucius in The Analects are  Emperors Yao, Shun, Tang, and Wu:

Yao said, "Oh! you, Shun, the Heaven-determined order of succession now rests in your person. Sincerely hold fast the due Mean. If there shall be distress and want within the four seas, the Heavenly revenue will come to a perpetual end."

Shun also used the same language in giving charge to Yu.

T'ang said, "I the child Li, presume to use a dark-colored victim, and presume to announce to Thee, O most great and sovereign God, that the sinner I dare not pardon, and thy ministers, O God, I do not keep in obscurity. The examination of them is by thy mind, O God. If, in my person, I commit offenses, they are not to be attributed to you, the people of the myriad regions. If you in the myriad regions commit offenses, these offenses must rest on my person."

Chou conferred great gifts, and the good were enriched.
"Although he has his near relatives, they are not equal to my virtuous men. The people are throwing blame upon me, the One man"….

Confucius on how to act rightly for a political leader:

Tsze-chang asked Confucius, saying, "In what way should a person in authority act in order that he may conduct government properly?" The Master replied, "Let him honor the five excellent, and banish away the four bad, things;-then may he conduct government properly." Tsze-chang said, "What are meant by the five excellent things?" The Master said, "When the person in authority is beneficent without great expenditure; when he lays tasks on the people without their repining; when he pursues what he desires without being covetous; when he maintains a dignified ease without being proud; when he is majestic without being fierce."

Tsze-chang said, "What is meant by being beneficent without great expenditure?" The Master replied, "When the person in authority makes more beneficial to the people the things from which they naturally derive benefit;-is not this being beneficent without great expenditure? When he chooses the labors which are proper, and makes them labor on them, who will repine? When his desires are set on benevolent government, and he secures it, who will accuse him of covetousness? Whether he has to do with many people or few, or with things great or small, he does not dare to indicate any disrespect;-is not this to maintain a dignified ease without any pride? He adjusts his clothes and cap, and throws a dignity into his looks, so that, thus dignified, he is looked at with awe;-is not this to be majestic without being fierce?"

Tsze-chang then asked, "What are meant by the four bad things?" The Master said, "To put the people to death without having instructed them;-this is called cruelty. To require from them, suddenly, the full tale of work, without having given them warning;-this is called oppression. To issue orders as if without urgency, at first, and, when the time comes, to insist on them with severity;-this is called injury. And, generally, in the giving pay or rewards to men, to do it in a stingy way;-this is called acting the part of a mere official."

Notes and Comments /by Mingshen Zhou/

  1. A few places in the translations are disputable, depending upon different understanding of the original text.. Take 大道之行也,天下for example, its English equivalent can be:
    • When the great way is followed, all under heaven will be equal.
    • When the Grand Course was purchased, a public and common spirit ruled all under the sky.
    • When the perfect order prevails, the world is like a home shared by all.
  2. There is a controversy over the existence of this great equality society.
  3. The two founders of Daoist philosophy Laozi and Zhuangzi were radical  anti-statists and anarchists. They seem to have been primitive libertarians, representing the aspirations and interest of independent farmers.

UPB in an eye dropper

Here is my attempt to make the shortest possible summary of UPB:

When someone makes a moral claim, when they use a sentence with the words "ought," or "must," or "should,"1 if their proposition doesn't apply to all moral agents, everywhere, for all time, then that person is a hypocrite and you can ignore their bogus claim. If it does apply universally, you need to take it seriously, but it shouldn't have logical contradictions or practical impossibilities.

Where do the moral propositions come from? We do not derive them from the theory, we just apply the tests to claims we hear or devise ourselves. From this perspective, UPB is just a method we use to test any sort of proposition. If it fails the test, it is either not a moral proposition or it is not true. If it passes, it is a true moral proposition. Stef claims that a surprising number of conventional moral theories fail the test, containing some sort of special pleading or performative contradiction of the norms of argumentation. 

Of course, a skeptic can still dispute Stef's conception of what argument actually presupposes. What argument does Stef present to support his idea of strong universality? Is it possible that moral propositions that pass the UPB test could contradict each other? I'm not sure how to answer those questions, but I want to think about them and others. If you have suggestions, please add them to the comments section.

 1 Sometimes we use these words to show a logical or practical necessity, rather than a moral necessity. UPB only applies to moral propositions. I wanted this summary to be short, but still reasonably clear. I hope that helps.  

Sunday, January 19, 2014

UPB Jargon

Here are some terms used in the context of UPB that sometimes have special meanings. Quotes from Stefan Molyneux's book "Universally Preferred Behaviour" are in italics.

Universal: A rule that is universal applies to all moral agents at all times and at all places. I discuss that at length in another post. And here I discuss the source of strong universality. Also see page 43.

Morality and ethics: Stef uses these words interchangeably, but his meaning is distinct from common usage. These words refer to the UPB category dealing with violence, either when the violation of UPB involves physical violence, or when the enforcement mechanism may include violence. They are not avoidable, not consensual. Ethics violations involve unwilling participants, victims.
UPB defines the boundary between ethics and aesthetics according to whether or not all participants are willing participants. I was having a problem dealing with fraud and theft, because they need not be violent. Fraud is sneaky theft, theft that is hidden, so the victim is not aware of being victimized until too late. There is a fine line between fraud, where I intend to fool you, and buyer's remorse, where you fooled yourself.
Morals are a set of rules claiming to accurately and consistently identify universally preferable human behaviours, page 40. Those preferences which can be considered binding upon others can be termed “universal preferences,” or “moral rules," page 40. Ethics is the subset of UPB which deals with inflicted behaviour, or the use of violence. Any theory that justifies or denies the use of violence is a moral theory, and is subject to the requirements of logical consistency and empirical evidence, 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.

inflicted, violently inflicted: Stef also uses "forcibly inflicted" sometimes, so these phrases seem to have distinct meanings. If I inflict something on you, I do so without your consent. You have not participated in the choice. Why talk about inflicting, rather than consent or choice? If I do not use violence or force, what do I use? Deception?
Force violates the moral requirement of avoidability, page 118. This capacity for escape and/or avoidance is an essential characteristic differentiating aesthetics from ethics, page 50. preferences for logic, truth and evidence, which are also binding upon others (although they are not usually violently inflicted. Page 40. Ethics is the subset of UPB which deals with inflicted 
behaviour, or the use of violence. Page 48. (Are they synonyms or is he making a composite class composed of two sorts of things?) Wherever ethical theories are corrupt, self-contradictory and destructive, they must be inflicted upon the helpless minds of dependent children. Page 60.

Avoidable: Stef uses this word in the ordinary way, but I included it because it plays such an important role, yet seems hard to objectify. Perhaps I am overstating this. Avoidable stuff happens only if everyone participating has given consent. Why did Stef use the idea of avoidance instead of consent?
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.

Aesthetic: Universal preferences that have no element of violence, that are avoidable. In at least one place, Stef also includes non-universal personal preferences in this category. I find that a bit confusing, but I try not to worry too much.

Binding: I read that as "the rule applies". I am tempted toward confusion 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, etc. cannot be chosen arbitrarily. 
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 invalidThose preferences which can be considered binding upon others can be termed “universal preferences,” or “moral rules.” Page 40. 
Enforceable preference vs. unenforceable preference: This seems obvious, but is it? Unenforceable preferences cannot involve violence, either in the violation or the enforcement. To inflict such preferences forcefully is itself a violation of UPB. But what exactly does it mean when Stef discusses enforceable preferences? Presumably, force can be used to enforce rules without violating UPB. Stef does not say much about that. During one podcast, I think he said it is an implementation issue. Here are the only mentions in the book:
We will use the term aesthetics to refer to non-enforceable preferences – universal or personal – while ethics or morality will refer to enforceable preferences. Page 48.
In some cases, Stef uses "enforceable preferences" to mean "violent preferences" or "preferences that can only be satisfied by use of violence." There's an awkward (for me) discussion of this at the end of this thread. Thanks to FDR member cynicist for help.
Universal preference, preference: In common usage we may choose something from the feasible alternatives, while preferring something else. For Stef, personal preference is always about which item from the feasible choice set actually gets chosen. By "universal preference" Stef means a universal "ought," a moral principle that is universal and objective. A person's personal preference and the corresponding universal preference (moral principle) need not match, e.g. an embezzler may calmly decide he prefers to rob his employer, but the "universal preference"/moral principle is that he should not steal.
"Stealing could be universally preferred. In other words, everyone in the world could wake up tomorrow and just decide to become a thief. It's not likely, but it's possible. But [...] stealing cannot be universally preferable."  So, "universally preferred" means everyone actually does prefer it, "universally preferable" is a jargon phrase which means more or less everyone ought to prefer it and make choices as if they preferred it, although they may not actually prefer it or make choices as if they did.
In ordinary speech, Preference gives a ranking. Given a set of choices, a preference determines which alternative is chosen. UPB wants a set of prohibitions. Stef says almost nothing about what you ought to do, discussing instead what you should be punished for. Using the word "preference" as jargon introduces confusion and ambiguity. This is really universally allowed behavior, or universally prohibited behavior, maybe universally enforced behaviour
Evil: That which we can enforce against. Good usually just refers to the avoidance of evil, but without clearly distinguishing it from morally neutral actions. Self-defense cannot be “evil,” since evil by definition can be prevented through force. Page 87

Opposite: Stef doesn't actually use a different definition for this word, but he uses it in a context that confused some of his critics. For example, he begins by examining several possible categories (always good, sometimes good, positively aesthetic, personally preferred, neutral, etc.) He uses some of his other definitions to narrow down the range of possibilities to consider, so that only 2 possibilities remain. In that context, it is a bit confusing but not technically incorrect to use "not X" and "the opposite of X" interchangeably. Given the narrow context of the discussion, where he considers only two possibilities, "not X" and "the opposite of X" both refer to the same concept.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Molyneux's Moral Mathematics

Stef sees UPB as a general category that includes ethics, aesthetics, math, logic, science, and fair argument.

UPB ethics should be closely analogous to mathematics. Math can be correct, or incorrect. It has different branches that deal with different subjects, and sometimes controversy breaks out among mathematicians over some subtle issue. But it's not possible for two people to have different mathematics. If they disagree, either both of them are wrong, or one of them is wrong, or the topic they disagree about is not really mathematics. Eventually the controversy must be resolved in some way, perhaps in the synthesis of the two ideas.

Ordinary people usually speak as if that is true also of morality, though there is a lot less agreement about the details, much less tendency to converge to a consensus. Even philosophers and sophisticates who espouse moral relativism or subjectivism often continue to use moral language which implies objective, absolute and unique solutions.

Stef claims to defeat the "is-ought" problem with a flanking maneuver. There is an implicit goal in science, the desire to know the truth. The other categories of UPB must have analogous (perhaps identical?) goals. So this provides a "sort-of" solution. Nothing obligates anyone to obey the rules defined by UPB. But if someone guilt trips you, you can use UPB to debunk them. By aiming an "ought" at you, they declare themselves part of a discussion that takes objective truth and universal preferences for granted, and if you catch them in hypocrisy, they fail. By wanting to know what you ought to do, you declare yourself to be part of the group bound by the rules. 

What does it mean to say that a moral proposition is false? According to Stef, a moral proposition is false if it can be shown to contradict the norms of fair argument that I must accept before I can participate in the discussion, or if it contains a logical contradiction. 

Is this fair? Is it possible for the following statement to be true? "I am a liar and 2 + 2 = 4." Stef makes an analogous argument for UPB ethics. He claims that for someone to deny the norms of argument while making an argument creates a performative contradiction. Yet, we can tack on any number of valid arguments at the end of their denial, and the arguments remain valid. It is the entire argument as a whole that is false, not necessarily each of the component claims. So perhaps all we can say of such arguments is that their truth value can't be determined in the usual way. 

On the other hand, if I was unable to say "2 + 2 = 4" without denying that truth is objective, that would raise a red flag. Maybe my analogy lacks something, specifically, the two parts of my claim seem completely independent of each other, but the UPB skeptic's critique is inseparable from the context of argumentation.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Manipulation vs. Shared Exploration

How to know when you are being manipulated?
How to manipulate yourself?

Is "persuasion" too much a word of domination culture? When I persuade you, I bring us into alignment, but without adjusting my position. The learning all happens to one person, in one direction. What word can convey a meaning of shared exploration and learning?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Getting Liberty Done

We tend to spend a lot of time thinking about liberty. What will it look like? We argue about this ism versus that ism, purge the impure, read long books about how it all might work.

But that question can't really be answered and is not important at this point. If we can know in advance what social innovations will succeed, central planning should work. This is the old way of thinking about how to change the world. Come up with a grand scheme, convince the voters, implement the unique optimal solution. If that approach could work, we'd be there already.

Politics is a preliminary to violence, is based on violence. For mainstreamers, violence and Politics are the ways to change the world. Liberty lacks the popularity required for success through violence, and in fact achieving liberty using violence involves a contradiction. You can only achieve freedom by choosing freedom. We need to find a peaceful way. Liberty can't be won by revolution. But it can go viral.

The endpoint of the process is not interesting. What we need to think about is the first step. Better to know where to put your foot now, than to guess about the end of the trail while nowhere near it. 

More on that later.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Skepticism, Truth, Experiment, Disruptive Social Innovation

A skeptic wants to believe that which is true, disbelieve that which is untrue. Why do I believe what I believe? Knowledge that can be tested should be tested. Knowledge that cannot be tested should not be relied upon too firmly. How does one test political beliefs, beliefs about government policy, beliefs about social organization? Where should I aim my skepticism? What sort of data should I gather? Who can I trust to gather it without bias? Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Even with data, can I convince anyone?

The only way to innovate is to experiment. The only way to do ethical experiments at that scale is to let people choose to participate or not. Is the even possible in the US? The central government wants to get involved in nearly everything. Can anyone find a place to try something different? How about outside the US?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

How to pursue liberty?

Let me oversimplify slightly and describe 3 approaches, and let me associate them with Ron Paul, Murray Rothbard, and Stefan Molyneux (perhaps inaccurately, even unfairly).

Ron Paul: Find a great spokesperson and an adequate political party, and use logic and evidence to get elected. Once elected, repeal bad policies, enact good policies (pro market, anti-war, pro freedom, etc.) and of course everyone will see that this is best. Everyone lives happily ever after. The system itself is not broken, the electorate are fine but a bit ignorant, the people and ideas running the government are the problem.

Murray Rothbard: Find a great spokesperson and an adequate political party, and use logic and evidence to get elected. Once elected, repeal laws and enact laws in such a way that boundaries become dynamic and DROs can compete and a market process allows people to choose what they want while tolerating experiments, innovations, and differences. Basically, flip the switch on the central government. 

Stefan Molyneux: Convince parents not to traumatize their children. Wait until a significant fraction of the population is not composed of broken people. Wait for people who respect logic and evidence to collect evidence and apply logic. At some point the supersaturated solution will rapidly crystallize. The government will attempt to enforce some idiotic policy, and whether by intent or by accident, no one will obey them. The person who was supposed to obey, will just refuse. The person who was supposed to enforce it, will think, " You know, I think I will let it slide.." And an avalanche will begin. This parallels the end of the USSR and the Eastern Bloc, where governments first lost legitimacy, and then some unpredictable events snow-balled into the metamorphosis of numerous states and the collapse of the USSR.

The problem with the political approaches is their diagnosis of the problem. The "Ron Paul" solution assumes that both the system and the electorate are fine, we just need good, persuasive, smart candidates. The "Rothbard" solution assumes that you could fix the broken system without changing the ideas in the minds of ordinary people. The "Molyneux" approach claims that the common belief in the legitimacy of the state is the only real obstacle, and better parenting is the only way to crack that. If we just changed policies, or pulled the plug on government before addressing the legitimacy idea, people would just rebuild the state.

I hope Stef is being too pessimistic. After all, most of his listeners started out a bit broken, and have gone in search of self-knowledge. I doubt that we can "fix" everyone, but maybe we can get something going. Maybe a tiny Hong Kong in New Hampshire, or some sort of web community that goes viral. Something that demonstrates our ideas instead of just talking about them, something inviting to anyone who is willing to consider the possibility that what we have isn't perfect and we can't improve on it without tolerating some experiments. A place or a way for poor people to make money, for creative people to create, for different people to feel comfortable. All are welcome who prefer cooperation to coercion. 

When the government tries to control things like bitcoin, BitTorrent, the 3D printed gun, etc. they embarrass themselves. Maybe we can build something in that gap between what they wish they could control and what they actually can control. Maybe we can widen that gap, and wave it in ordinary people's faces until they see what it really means. Or maybe they don't all need to know. The people using Napster and its descendants ( like Imule and even BitTorrent) were not consciously thinking "Mwahaha, let's revolutionize the music industry!" But it sure got revolutionized.