Thursday, December 24, 2015

9 brief criticisms of UPB

Molyneux quotes are in italics.
1) 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 Molyneux 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. Molyneux 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. We don't put people in jail for making a mistake, we just don't believe them. People don't enforce debate rules by means of physical punishment. Debate is an ideal world of nonviolence. How does Molyneux base enforcement on the ideal of debate? He ignores the question.

2) Preference gives a ranking. Given a set of choices, a preference determines which alternative is chosen. UPB needs a set of prohibitions. Molyneux 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 equivocation. UPB is really universally prohibited behaviour, maybe universally enforced behaviour.

3) Do I believe the coma test? Why shouldn't a man in a coma be treated as if he had reverted to infancy, or as an animal or rock would be treated, on a temporary basis? How can we draw conclusions about ordinary persons this way? An infant needs a guardian, and so does a man in a coma. If either an infant or a man in a coma were somehow able to injure another, the guardian would be responsible, not the infant, and not the man in the coma. Does Molyneux excuse the infant only, or both, or neither?

4) Any Positive obligation must be constantly being fulfilled at all times? I am able to cobble up an elaborate explanation of this idea of Molyneux's, but I am still tempted to count it as a reductio ad absurdum. That is, if I can reason to that conclusion, some of my assumptions must be wrong. The fact that the argument is so elaborate is a danger sign. At the very least, Molyneux needs to explain this better, because it is a very surprising result. He treats it almost as obvious. He bases the idea on universality. Why not think of a positive obligation in analogy to a gas tank, you have to fill it up before it gets empty?

5) Do I care about the 2 guys in a room? Molyneux's critics love to try to twist that scene, for instance, trying to show that it is not logically impossible for the 2 to be mutually obligated to kill each other. If we accept the success of the move against moral obligations based on the coma test, why is the 2 guys test even useful? There is nothing that I can consciously be doing at all times, because I have to sleep. So why would it matter if there were additional absurdities or logical impossibilities if there were two of us? If we have already established that there are no positive obligations, what does this test accomplish?

6) Can we derive a moral truth using UPB? It makes sense to reject a moral proposition that contains logical contradictions or physical impossibilities, and call that "false." But if a moral proposition passes the tests, does that prove it is true? Are we sure we have eliminated all the sources of falseness? He does not so much derive or prove rules as eliminate some. Actually, this would be a respectable accomplishment in itself (if successful), but he pushes it further than he can justify.

7) Molyneux talks about the hypothetical imperative as "if you want X you must do Y or use Y." But the way he uses it, the Y is always a negative, "not steal," "not murder," "not rape." He is clear about what you must not do, vague about what you must do. In fact, he denies that you must do anything. Stef's version of the hypothetical imperative should be, "if you want X, you should not do Y."

8) Molyneux begs the question with most of his example tests. Murder is defined as wrongful killing. There is no difficulty proving that wrongful killing is wrong. The difficulty arrives when we try to draw a clear line between wrongful killing and other sorts, such as legitimate self-defense, accident, etc. Molyneux does not draw this line.

9) Words based on the idea of validity (valid, validate, validity, etc.) are used almost 200 times in the text. Sometimes it can be interpreted as logical validity, others as validity according to the UPB system. In some other contexts it is used in a confusing way, to signify correctness in general or accuracy or something like that. How can a concept or idea be valid or invalid, without reference to a standard of validity? For example: If this “null zone” is valid, then no logical proposition can ever hold. (Page 14). If he means "true," why not say it? 

As you may have noticed, none of these criticisms is deadly to UPB. The fact that Molyneux has made mistakes doesn't disprove his idea. It just means Molyneux has failed to give us good reasons to think he is right.

Religion without god 2

I do not think that god exists. Assuming I am correct, what do I lose by not participating in religion?

Nowadays we separate religion from philosophy, science and practical skills. At some point religion became formalized, with static dogma frozen in holy texts that could not be expanded or corrected, full of received knowledge, separate from our human ability to learn. Science and philosophy took on the task of correcting and expanding knowledge about our world.But they also became more specialized, separate from the experience of ordinary persons. People still need to apply these insights in their lives to interpret their experiences. Religions help people integrate ideas into their lives, such as:

  • Spiritual experience (awe).
  • Morality.
  • Passion? Motivation.
  • DIY psychology. 
  • Dissemination of practical knowledge.
  • Community.
  • Charity.

This is a personal experience that we cannot delegate to someone else.

The church used to provide a counterbalance for the state. Fugitives and refugees could take sanctuary in the church. The military exempt conscientious objectors from service.
How is this different from government?
  • Government uses coercion. Religion (nowadays) must rely on persuasion.
  • Government tends to let the winners impose their solution on the losers. Religious dissidents may give their own answers and make their own mistakes.
How is this different from a union? How is this different from a club or charitable organization? These organizations tend to focus on a specific mission.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Religion without god

I don't believe in god. Does that mean I have escaped religion, or the need for religion, that it has no relevance to me, nothing to offer? By taking that position, have I eliminated superstition, irrationality, bias and counterfeit intellectual authority from my thinking? Does the institution of the church represent nothing for me beyond the dogmatic belief in false prophecy? 

What remains when religion loses god, divine authority, papal infallibility and dogma? Ritual practice, community, the search for truth and moral struggle remain. If these remain important to each of our lives, we need to replace religion or reform it.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Love or money

Leo Babauta discussed the idea that "earning money for what you love [might] make you stop loving it."
In the old days, I had no problem with incentives. I took my Econ classes and nodded my head. You want something to happen, you pay someone to make it happen, that's how it works.
Then I noticed that this didn't work so well when it came to the war on drugs. Legal penalties and crack-downs raised both the price and the risk associated with drugs, but people didn't obey the incentives.
Next I read a book by Alfie Kohn titled "Punished by Rewards." His basic theme was, psychologists who study motivation found that incentives could go wrong. People are more motivated when they care about the result of what they're doing more than what they're getting paid. There was another interesting book titled, "Do what you love and the money will follow."
Think of the price system as a proxy for social benefit. It works better than a bunch of central planners, but is it good enough? We can do better when we keep things at a small scale. Can we do better at a large scale? Or combine many small scale units into a large scale system?
The price system measures only the exchange economy. It ignores housework, editing Wikipedia, other unpaid but useful tasks, the gift economy. It is imperfect as a proxy.
Imperfect metrics give imperfect results, so the price system will never be perfect.
On the other hand, letting some dictator or central committee use their biased judgement to measure social benefit is likely to work much worse. Even if they don't give in to corruption, their guesses would not work. Most start-up companies funded by venture capitalists fail. Picking winners is really hard, unless you can cheat for them, which in this case would defeat the purpose.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Liberty without ideology?

Some pessimists think that positive change cannot happen unless everyone consciously embraces the ideology of liberty. 

Incremental political change requires popular support. But we hope to see profound paradigmatic change. Does this sort of change require broad conscious ideological consensus? The change from hunter-gatherer society to agriculture (and hence the birth of the primitive state) probably wasn't driven by a wide-spread ideological change (though maybe in a bad way, since it may have been imposed by conquest). The change from feudalism to capitalism was mostly about "I can eat more if I do that." How hard is it to believe that the state would become irrelevant if someone devised something that worked better and was more fun? Would everyone have to read Rothbard first? 
We face the challenge of getting a critical mass of persons to successfully ignore (#irrelevateTheState) the state. How big must it grow before it reaches a tipping point? The first persons involved have to know some ideology. After we achieve critical mass, all anyone has to know is "Wow, no taxes!" or "Gosh, jobs for poor people!" or just "Fun!" We need some innovators and early adopters to come up with something that works, and then the product will sell itself to the rest.

I hope that what we come up with makes it easier for the average person to understand the world we live in, but I doubt we will ever see a world where this describes the majority. 

That might sound elitist. I hope it actually has more to do with pluralism. Different people have different talents, interests, beliefs, histories and passions. Not all of us like to sit around obsessing about history or politics or economic theory. Some will make their contribution in another area. If our ideas demand that people live up to unrealistic expectations, they will fail. So we must answer the question, how can realistic expectations move us toward the reality we prefer?

[Blank] the state

I encountered something titled "eliminate the state" while plodding around the web. That requires me to pay too much attention to the state, to focus on it, to defeat it, then eliminate it. I would prefer to build something that makes the state redundant, obsolete, irrelevant. So I need a better verb. Unfortunately, I can only think of adjectives, so I might need to invent a new verb.
"Evade the state." This still centers on the state too much.
"Ostracize the state." Not exactly.
"Spurn the state." Too retro. Make the state too important.
"Jilt the state?" Similar to "spurn".
"Shun the state." Maybe. Sort of.
"Desanctify the state." Makes you think, but doesn't deliver my message clearly.
"Desecrate the state." Like desanctify.

No conventional English word I can think of seems to really  capture my thought. So, let's invent some words.

"Redundate the state." Rhymes, and people would know what I mean.
"Obsolate the state." Similar.
"Irrelevate the state." I like it.

One hundred years from now, I hope the state will have the same relevance that a record store has now. Or friendster.