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Democracy
Posted by: Jon Henke on Friday, August 31, 2007

This post by Thoreau touches on a pet peeve. I used to make the "republic, not a democracy!" argument, too...but I was in grade school. I've since grasped the fact that 'democracy', in geopolitical and philosophical usage, doesn't mean what I once thought it did...
I notice that a Hit and Run thread has gotten sidetracked onto the “republic, not a democracy!” tangent. I find this tangent particularly annoying but sadly common ...

I’ve seen multiple definitions for “republic” and “democracy.” If you insist that the real meaning of “democracy” is basically “unlimited democracy” where 50.0001% can do ANYTHING at all, then, certainly, we are not a democracy. And if you insist that the real meaning of “republic” is a system of representation coupled with protection of rights (i.e. limits on what that 50.0001% or representatives thereof can do) then certainly we are (or at least ought to be) a republic.

[snip Thoreau pointing out that dictionaries contain "a wide variety of meanings for both terms."]

Now, because of the variety of usages out there, linguistic precision is certainly desirable. There are at least 2 ways to approach this:

  1. Insist on your preferred definitions for each term, and recite “republic, NOT a democracy” at anybody who uses the word “democracy.”

  2. When somebody uses one of those terms, ask the person to elaborate.

The second approach leads to dialogue and further communication, in which people discuss the role and power of government, the proper limits on its powers, and the proper uses of elections. You know, interesting topics of great significance. The first approach , however, tends to short-circuit interesting discussion and degenerate into “my definition is better than yours.”
There's not really any significant democracy in the (current) world that operates on a real majoritarian basis. All "democracy" really implies in modern usage is that the government is responsive to popular vote, and that there is respect for individual rights. Conflating "democracy" with "majoritarianism" is unnecessarily re-fighting a linguistic battle that was settled years, even centuries, ago.
 
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How true. Please blog more Jon. I miss it.
 
Written By: Lance
URL: http://www.asecondhandconjecture.com
I guess a shill of your ilk would be one to talk about “Democracy.” Democracy is merely the name given to the oppressive and structurally violent system of ruling that occurs in the Devolved World. It merely the packaging g and selling of certain icons and images to the Sheeple, by the Elites. It is no more than slick marketing that is designed to sell various corporate shills “positions”. Positions that are, for the Core Nation’s, the various distribution schemes of the New Corporate Ruling Classes expropriation of the dregs surplus value of the labour of the Periphery and Core Nations Proletariats, whilst these gluttonous, rapacious Leeches abscond with the vast majority of the power and wealth of the disinherited.

In the Periphery, the mask falls away to reveal the naked face of greed, exploitation and violence, not the mere structural violence inherent and on display to the discerning in Core nations, but rather the violence of the baton and machete, the violence of the assault rifle volley, the pistol in the back of the head, the collective rape of the village womyn. It is the proverbial “boot in the face” that Orwell wrote of, most of the times administered by the mercenary goons of the Compradors ruling in the name of their Corporate Fascist Masters, yet deplored in a ironic Kabuki Dance by the Corporate Media and the so-called “Compassionate Leaders” of the Core, but when necessary delivered with a measured brutal precision by the Deluded and Vicious Legions of the Core, in the form of the rifle volley from the “Peace Keepers” of La Legion Etranger or in the form of the “Shock and Awe” that brought to heel one not in favour of continued neo-colonial exploitation. In either case the FAMAS or the JDAMS, thousands of civilians are killed and millions more terrified all in the name of “stability” and “value-added for the share holder.” This IS YOUR DEMOCRACY!

TRUE DEMOCRACY involves deconstructing the narrative of corporate whore-mongers and their eager little Eichmann shills and exposing their lies for what they are. THEN, once properly motivated cadres can lead the newly radicalized Masses in the Revolution that is necessary! Democracy means the Gibbet! Democracy means People’s Justice! Democracy means that Social Justice and Equality will be achieved….and when the last rapacious, death-merchant has been strung up and the last vestiges of sexism, racism, bigotry, homophobia,and exploitation have been erased and a New Generation has arisen, THEN we shall have DEMOCRACY….

WOW, that reads like the opening lines of a good dissertation, mayhap I ought to go back to school?
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
There are examples of direct democracy in the U.S. — the frequent referenda in states, particularly California. Like laws made by the legislatures, they are still subject to judicial review for state and federal constitutionality, so they don’t constitute mob rule in the main, but they do constitute direct democracy, i.e., majoritarianism.

The U.S. Constitution "guarantees" to the states "a republican form of government," so there would be some basis in that clause, in fact, to challenge the constitutionality of state referenda, but maybe not.

One of the least appreciated amendments to the Constitution was the 17th, which switched us over to the direct, democratic election of U.S. senators. The original design had them chosen by state legislatures. So, that’s a big move away from republicanism toward democracy. The differential meaning of the two terms remains useful. They describe different things, however much they are assumed in some recent sense to mean the same thing.

Here’s a good example of why it’s a mistake to let these terms get too fungible in their meanings.

At the local school district around here the board of education has a document on its website that sets goals for "student outcomes" and one of those goals is to make sure that students understand what it takes to live in a "social democracy."

I’m convinced one of the usual suspects slipped that in there, but the people on the board don’t seem to mind that it’s there, even though "social democracy" has a very specific and very political meaning, i.e., socialism by legislative as opposed to revolutionary means.

The board people seem to think it’s just as good as saying "a democratic society," meaning, of course, our democratic republic.

So, I guess my point is that "democratic republic" or plain "republic" is better than "democracy" because when you start moving meanings around when the words still have to mean what they mean (in this case because a republic is a different thing than direct democracy, as illustrated by state referenda) you can wind up with school districts wittingly or unwittingly calling the U.S. a "social democracy."

And that means that when a curious high school kid goes to look that term up and he gets the Wikipedia entry, or any site that defines it, he’s going to think that he lives in a socialist country under a system that’s a variant of Marxism.

The Framers, of course, feared democracy as just another form of tyranny, and so they created a republic fettered with distrusts of the federal government (and each of its branches), distrusts of the states, and distrusts of the people. They distrusted unfettered power, but still left great discretion to individuals through a system of rights — discretion in liberty but not a preponderance of political power. They also left the states sovereign in their sphere and the national government sovereign in its sphere: a sovereign union of sovereign states. And behind it all is the sovereignty of the people: but sovereign as the citizens of each state. Through the states and the state legislatures (or state conventions) the people rule via the super legislature of the states, which created the Constitution and has the power to amend it, or even to dissolve it, by a three-quarters super majority.

So, I think there’s a whole lot of republicanism goin’ on that throws direct democracy as illustrated by the state referenda into high contrast. The two terms have different meanings still.

 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Generally in political science Democratic Theory holds that crude majoritarianism isn’t a democracy. To be a democracy (as understood by most in the field of political theory, at least) you have to be able to assure opportunity for voice, which implies equal rights and protection of individual liberties. In a true democracy the majority cannot vote to silence or treat as second class citizens the minority. But most definitions, it would be hard for anything to be a democracy that was not also a republic (though Great Britain is a fascinating exception to this).
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
"To be a democracy (as understood by most in the field of political theory, at least) you have to be able to assure opportunity for voice, which implies equal rights and protection of individual liberties."

What stupid, insipid rubbish.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
Well, Billy, if you’re going to dismiss democratic theorists who have been studying philosophy and debating and developing ideas in peer reviewed journals and debates by simply calling them names, that’s fine. But unless you have the ability to back up your position with reason and evidence, don’t expect it to be taken seriously.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Beck writes:
What stupid, insipid rubbish.
I note the appearance of one of Boris’s best friends: "most in the field," who sometimes appears as "most scholars." It’s the academic equivalent of "they" of "they say" renown. Sometimes, "most" and/or "they," when there’s an imbalance in power relationships, appear as "the Man," but Boris will only refer to "the Man" by other names, such as "Corporations" or "mafias" because "they say" that "most in the field" agree that there can be too much "opportunity for voice."

But it’s changing all the time, sometimes every day.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Boris Erb writes:
Well, Billy, if you’re going to dismiss democratic theorists who have been studying philosophy and debating and developing ideas in peer reviewed journals and debates by simply calling them names, that’s fine. But unless you have the ability to back up your position with reason and evidence, don’t expect it to be taken seriously.
Why don’t you name some of the "democratic theorists," Boris. Note the "peer reviewed journals" you’re referring to also.

If you think they’re important, the articles will be along the lines of "Lipstick Fighting in the Girls Locker Room" in The Journal of Tenured Faculty Boobs.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
You have equal rights to vote in elections that delegate power, you are a democracy. You have a selected head of state, you are a republic. The two are not mutually exclusive or inclusive. You are a Democratic Republic or Republican Democracy, both are the same thing but approached from diffent sides.

Being a republic without democratic representation is possible, you are not this. It is possible to be a republic by selecting the most learned theocrat to be the head of state, a non-hereditary caliphate would be a republic.
 
Written By: unaha-closp
URL: http://
unaha-closp writes:
You have equal rights to vote in elections that delegate power, you are a democracy.
I have no problem with "democratic republic," but the democracy angle is very deformed at this point. Beck recently commented at his blog on the role that mass propaganda now plays in it. "Constitutional republic" is probably most accurate, because in the American context it describes a limited representative government — although there’s a lot more "government" now than there is "limited" or "representative."

As you can see from the comment by Boris, however, "democracy" has become an all-encompassing stooge term that all sorts of fakers unto social activists can use to foist all sorts of things onto the body politic, "in the name of democracy."

As it’s used "on the street" in the U.S., democracy means "that thing we got where we think we got something to do with it and it gives us stuff and takes our money to pay for it." And if you say, "but isn’t the U.S. a republic?" the answer would probably be "a what? no sir, we ain’t got no Republicans around here. We’re all good Democrats."

If you catch my drift.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
"...back up your position with reason and evidence..."
To who, mush-boy? You? Anyone tapping out two words on-point in your direction at this point can bet his life on you going straight squish and not grasping a single word of it. It could be made clear, however, to any teen-ager of un-corrupted mind willing to analyze to plain English the tripe that you ran out here.

Idiot. Sit down and keep your mouth shut.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
"Well, Billy, if you’re going to dismiss democratic theorists who have been studying philosophy and debating and developing ideas in peer reviewed journals and debates"

"in·sip·id (ĭn-sĭp’ĭd)
adj.
Lacking flavor or zest; not tasty.
Lacking qualities that excite, stimulate, or interest; dull.
[French insipide, from Late Latin īnsipidus : Latin in-, not; see in–1 + Latin sapidus, savory (from sapere, to taste).]"
http://www.answers.com/topic/insipid

Sounds pretty accurate to me. You will notice, the definition is sourced. You might try that sometime.

I would say not only insipid, but intellectual onanism. In this case, though, since you say it involves multiple ’theorists’, it would be more like an intellectual circle jerk. I will admit to an unfortunate prurient interest, however, in how your peers have said reviewed you. Somehow I don’t think you will provide any sources for that.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Jon and Erb, just because you’ve altogether ditched the proper, individuating, and meaningful, use of the words even in an academic setting doesn’t mean you should feel any rectitude in doing—you’re just being sloppy.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
 
Written By: Tom Perkins
URL: http://tomdperkins.blogspot.com/
It’s amusing to listen to people complain about the improper use of the word "democracy" after years of arguing that we’re "bringing democracy" to Iraq. I don’t recall anybody ever making the argument that we were trying to make Iraq strictly a majoritarianist, direct democracy - yet everybody seems comfortable with using the term ’democracy’ in that context. Why? Because everybody knows what "democracy" means, until they find it rhetorically useful to narrow it to one of numerous definitions.

Beck excepted, because he’s always thought his own preferred usage should be definitive. Why he’s allowed to draw lines for the rest of us, I don’t know, but at least he’s consistently under the impression that he is.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://QandO.net
Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 09/01/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention updated throughout the day…so check back often. This is a weekend edition so updates are as time and family permits.
 
Written By: David M
URL: http://thunderrun.blogspot.com/
Jon Henke writes:
It’s amusing to listen to people complain about the improper use of the word "democracy" after years of arguing that we’re "bringing democracy" to Iraq. I don’t recall anybody ever making the argument that we were trying to make Iraq strictly a majoritarianist, direct democracy - yet everybody seems comfortable with using the term ’democracy’ in that context. Why? Because everybody knows what "democracy" means, until they find it rhetorically useful to narrow it to one of numerous definitions.
I don’t recall anyone in this thread disputing how the word "democracy" is used in practice ("thrown around" might be a better description than "used" because in its general usage it literally has no correct usage. It can mean anything. "Elections" in socialist countries mean what, exactly? A right to fight over the last cookie in the jar? Is Sweden still a "democracy" with the latitude necessary to actually do something about itself? I don’t know.)

So, "everybody’s...context" is what, exactly?

It is very useful and instructive to explore the meanings of these concepts, regardless of how they are commonly used and who is using them.

In the general sense of things global, we note differences between "liberal democracies" and, for instance, authoritarian dictatorships. On closer inspection, however, some liberal democracies have taken on more aspects of totalitarian regimes than the garden-variety authoritarian regimes.

So, we need to look and see what the "demos" are doing, too, and be reminded that the people and even their passion-cooling republics have a tendency to cycle around to tyranny.

Through taxing and regulation the various levels of government in the U.S. are now taking roughly 50% of national income (per Milton Friedman). John Lott points out that until about 1920 the Feds managed on a taking of about 2 or 3% of GDP, but have now settled in at around 20%. This kind of trend is fairly consistent throughout the "liberal democracies." And as I pointed out here some time ago, federalism, as a buzz trend, has grown state (inclusive of their municipalities) governments to new enormities.

We need to get into the basics here and, again, cracking open the meaning of these concepts can be a very worthwhile effort.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Joe wrote, way above, clearly anticipating the arrival of the lemonade stand Ward Churchill:
TRUE DEMOCRACY involves deconstructing the narrative of corporate whore-mongers and their eager little Eichmann shills and exposing their lies for what they are. THEN, once properly motivated cadres can lead the newly radicalized Masses in the Revolution that is necessary! Democracy means the Gibbet! Democracy means People’s Justice! Democracy means that Social Justice and Equality will be achieved….and when the last rapacious, death-merchant has been strung up and the last vestiges of sexism, racism, bigotry, homophobia,and exploitation have been erased and a New Generation has arisen, THEN we shall have DEMOCRACY….
If I could pare that down to a phrase, Joe, I would say that you have struck a mighty blow that will long "assure opportunity for voice." And "most in the field of political theory, at least" will long applaud the forthrightness with which you have laid it out there.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Look, Henke: the fact of the matter is that there is no actually useful definition of the term because it attempts to refer to application of political power by an entity that simply has no capacity for it and — in fact — does not exist in any actually politically useful way. Your average dolt on the street is not far off at all when he thinks it means that his "voice" (see mush-boy, above) actually bears on decisions ruling his life, and this is because that’s how it’s pitched to him by goddamned morons in universities. A moment’s observation by a thinking being, however, almost instantly reveals that decisions are taken by individuals: "the rule of law" always devolves to rule by men, and if you don’t think so, then go dispute them when you have reason for dissent from what they do. You will not be dealing with "democracy". You will be dealing with a singly identifiable person, who will no doubt claim the authority of "democracy", but who nonetheless acts on his very own political values, which is why he’s in that position of power in the first place.

Erb:
"...assure opportunity for voice, which implies equal rights and protection of individual liberties."
What transparent f*cking horsesh*t. It wasn’t long ago that the ’sphere was ablaze with the matter of Eminent Domain seizures, in which peoples’ "voices" were going hoarse over injustice that a child could see, and they all took it straight up the ass in the Supreme Court, by a goddamned democratic vote. Erb’s concept of "equal rights and protection of individual liberties": you get to scream when you’re getting killed.

Observe that I did not say that his parrot-roted concept of democracy was wrong. It’s not. He’s the closest one here to what just about anyone would tell you.

What I point out is what it actually means with reference to the facts, and if you have a problem with that, then you’re the one with the problem.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
Beck implies that there are no purely disinterested parties, i.e., who apply the rule of law.

I agree that there is no pure anything in the political sense.

But are there reasonably disinterested third parties, who could fairly hold the scales of justice in a dispute between two adversarial positions? Yes, I think there are. I’ve seen juries do their work that way. I’ve seen judges do their work that way.

But you are correct in observing a trend where the government gigantism is now so overpowering that justice in the ordinary sense is suffering from diminished capacity.

You’ve seen the case that I outline at my blog, where the local town court judge manufactured a conviction of a young man by using a perfectly innocent e-mail as a necessary element of the crime. So, there is incontinence throughout, from the homely justice of the peace to the Supreme Court.

But neither justice nor injustice is guaranteed.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
"I agree that there is no pure anything in the political sense."
Well, you’re going to have to agree with someone else, then, because that is not my contention. Quite the opposite, in fact.
"But neither justice nor injustice is guaranteed."
You know what, Martin? I could live with that a lot easier if not for the bloody lying pretense of claims to things like "justice" and "individual liberties".

The euphemasia shot through all this is completely scandalous, and a great deal of that is because there simply no reason on earth for presumably intelligent people to be batting concepts and language about as if they’re party-favors at some goddamned costume ball.

And all that is before we get to the actual life and death matters bound up in them.

At this point in my life, I’d settle for the bloody murder just being called what it in fact is.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
Tom, I suggest you read some of the work on Democratic theory. It’s not sloppy, it’s carefully thought out and well developed. Indeed, what’s sloppy is the "we’re not a democracy we’re a Republic" argument because it assumes mutually exclusive definitions and mistakes raw majoritarianism for real democracy.
Look, Henke: the fact of the matter is that there is no actually useful definition of the term because it attempts to refer to application of political power by an entity that simply has no capacity for it and — in fact — does not exist in any actually politically useful way. Your average dolt on the street is not far off at all when he thinks it means that his "voice" (see mush-boy, above) actually bears on decisions ruling his life, and this is because that’s how it’s pitched to him by goddamned morons in universities.
Actually if you follow democratic theory, there is a large body of work that makes essentially the same claim you do concerning the real state of modern democracies, that average citizens have very little say in what government does. It’s certainly not pitched to students at universities the way you claim, at least none that I know of.

"...assure opportunity for voice, which implies equal rights and protection of individual liberties."

What transparent f*cking horsesh*t. It wasn’t long ago that the ’sphere was ablaze with the matter of Eminent Domain seizures, in which peoples’ "voices" were going hoarse over injustice that a child could see, and they all took it straight up the ass in the Supreme Court, by a goddamned democratic vote. Erb’s concept of "equal rights and protection of individual liberties": you get to scream when you’re getting killed.
Billy back up. I gave you the theoretical definition of democracy (very brief version). Almost all theorists would argue that we don’t actually have that kind of democracy yet, and in fact they critique the current system for lacking in these regards. You’re mixing a theoretical ideal with the actual state of affairs. I don’t think anyone would claim we have an ideal system (not even close). You just have the unfortunate fate of living in the pre-history of human kind when life is full of oppression, violence, and suffering.

That’s the "way it is": we’re in barbarious, repressive pre-history of human kind, where most people are so caught up in misunderstandings and illusions that they don’t recognize their self-interest and used and abused by powerful actors. Yeah, it sucks. But that’s the world we have, and it ain’t gonna change much any time soon. Over the long run, humanity will through crisis and learning work its way out of it, but all we can do is try to live ethically in the world we have.

Now, there is also an operational definition of democracy that is used in Comparative Politics more often, which looks at the existence of competitive elections, the ability to have peaceful transitions of power, etc. Charles Tilly’s book Democracy has three pages talking about definitions (p. 7 - 11) and in almost every book about democratic transitions, etc., there are efforts to operationalize the definition. The point is that this is far more advanced and thought through than the "republic not a democracy" slogan.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Erb, piss off.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
In other words, you can’t counter what I wrote. Thought so.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
You pious little creep: if I want warmed-over Stoicism, I can take it up with Marcus Aurelius, who has the slim but comparably very considerable virtue of preceding you on the scene by some nineteen centuries, or even the monstrous jackass John Maynard Keynes, who at least was admirably brief and got the thing into a single line. And I am not about to take a lecture on any of this from a chimp with a keyboard.

You are nothing. That’s why you get nothing from me.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
I can take it up with Marcus Aurelius, who has the slim but comparably very considerable virtue of preceding you on the scene by some nineteen centuries, or even the monstrous jackass John Maynard Keynes, who at least was admirably brief and got the thing into a single line. And I am not about to take a lecture on any of this from a chimp with a keyboard.

You are nothing. That’s why you get nothing from me.
Yet you feel compelled to type four lines to say you’re not going to say anything.

You use insults and contempt as armor to shield you from having to confront ideas and arguments that might challenge a world view you’ve become very comfortable with.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Boris Erb, now a futuristic Marxist, actually writes:
That’s the "way it is": we’re in barbarious, repressive pre-history of human kind, where most people are so caught up in misunderstandings and illusions that they don’t recognize their self-interest and used and abused by powerful actors.
If only the millennium would come and we could be ruled by the philosopher kings of the High Council of Erbs, how wonderful it would all be.

But for now, we must be satisfied with a therapeutic society, that will gradually, perhaps eugenically (but only in the highest sense of the word!), cultivate The World to Come!

Heretofore, only Comrades Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and Fidel have had the courage to take this ruffian — Mankind — by the scruff of his neck and show him The World to Come!

But not one of them had the knowledge of how to make lemonade out of the lemons of the civilized world. And set up a stand on the sidewalk. And sell it.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Beck writes to me:
Well, you’re going to have to agree with someone else, then, because that is not my contention. Quite the opposite, in fact.
What, then, is pure in politics?
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
"Yet you feel compelled to type four lines to say you’re not going to say anything."

That’s not what I said, and you’re still an idiot.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
"What, then, is pure in politics?"
Concepts, Martin, at the very least.

Look: even if I am the only one who bloody knows what he’s talking about, then by fu*kin’-aye Christ, at least someone does.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
Beck writes:
Concepts, Martin, at the very least.
Well, O.K. concepts. Applied to experience through judgment can concepts remain pure? I don’t think so. If men were angels...
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
"Applied to experience through judgment can concepts remain pure?"
If they aren’t, then the mess is bigger than almost anyone can begin to describe.

Ask me how I know this.

I’ve said it many times before, and I recall at least one occasion when you took strident exception, but you were wrong: we are at a point where the whole process of thought, itself, must be re-constituted as the principal activity upon which human life depends. And if you don’t think so, then you are about to — in the broad sweep of historical terms — about to receive an object-lesson when this government resumes its gross mutilation of medicine in this country. And that will only be one example of the principles in practice.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
Boris Erb, now a futuristic Marxist
Now?

You mean, something’s changed?

And Martin, let’s assume that someone in a lack of office, is telling the truth when he says he wants to serve the public interest. Let’s assume further, that he wants to do so, because he considers it in his interest. What advances America, advances him/ her/ it. Even in that most grandiose of cases of altruistic action, the person is self interested. As soon as one becomes self interested, they are immediately less than pure thereby.

Of course what I’m suggesting is that there are no disinterested parties. In both a clinical and operational sense, a disinterested party is an impossibility. It’s the major argument that I have always had with Rand, for example.

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
"All "democracy" really implies in modern usage is that the government is responsive to popular vote, and that there is respect for individual rights. Conflating "democracy" with "majoritarianism" is unnecessarily re-fighting a linguistic battle that was settled years, even centuries, ago."

Can anyone point out a government ANYWHERE that respects individual right? Anywhere? Can you point out where "majoritarianism", or its counterpart, rule by the elite under an ostensible democracy, is NOT the norm?

"Responsive to the majority" isn’t the case in Europe or even in the US unless it allows for more government power.

Even more, "Responsive to the majority" and "individual rights" is pretty much an oxymoron.

 
Written By: Sharpshooter
URL: http://
Billy writes:
A moment’s observation by a thinking being, however, almost instantly reveals that decisions are taken by individuals: "the rule of law" always devolves to rule by men, and if you don’t think so, then go dispute them when you have reason for dissent from what they do. You will not be dealing with "democracy". You will be dealing with a singly identifiable person, who will no doubt claim the authority of "democracy", but who nonetheless acts on his very own political values, which is why he’s in that position of power in the first place.
Owning a company that deals with thousands of "consumer" (I loath the term) clients in their financial matters, a great deal of my time (and money) is spent dealing with various state agencies in the various 50.

It’s laughable, but you would be amazed (or maybe not) how often I see in written correspondence some punk just out of law school using the 3rd person "the people" in place of the 1st person "I." I see it all the time.

Billy’s right, though. Nine times out of ten, it’s going to turn largely on personalities and "cooperation." You must know as a business, going in, that they can get you if they want to. The laws are plenty ambiguous enough, not to mention home court advantage.

The only voice you have is to say "yessir" and get it over as quickly as possible.

Most people have no idea what it’s really like out there for a small business serving "consumers" on a national level.
 
Written By: Richard Nikoley
URL: http://www.uncsense.com


Look: even if I am the only one who bloody knows what he’s talking about, then by fu*kin’-aye Christ, at least someone does.
Yeah, the whole world is misguided, all the thinkers, poets, scientists, writers...all wrong because they do not share exactly the whims of one Billy Beck.

 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
A moment’s observation by a thinking being, however, almost instantly reveals that decisions are taken by individuals: "the rule of law" always devolves to rule by men, and if you don’t think so, then go dispute them when you have reason for dissent from what they do. You will not be dealing with "democracy". You will be dealing with a singly identifiable person, who will no doubt claim the authority of "democracy", but who nonetheless acts on his very own political values, which is why he’s in that position of power in the first place.
This is shoddy, slopping argumentation. It is a blanket assertion, unsupported by evidence based on what one person claims "observation by a thinking being" will yield.

One only needs to compare governance in corrupt states like Nigeria to that of, say, state governments in places like Maine to recognize that legal norms constrain people from acting as they would if they could simply follow their values. Great Britain, in fact, has virtually no limit on parliament’s ability to act and do whatever it wants. Those limits are culturally imposed and followed by the actors because they’ve been socialized to those views and they know that their actions will be rejected if they do not.

Therefore individual preference here is shaped by both custom, and recognized consequences for violating the law or custom. The vast difference between a) lack of effective law (no consequences for acting out of ones’ own personal values alone) and effective traditions and customs (social norms that people choose not to violate both out of conviction and fear of the consequences); and b) rule by men on their own whims, is not only obvious, but well documented.

It’s breathtaking to see the lack of logic and clear thinking in someone who defies reason and evidence and makes a patently absurd statement that there is no difference between rule of law and rule of men. Unbelievable.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
"One only needs to compare governance in corrupt states like Nigeria to that of, say, state governments in places like Maine to recognize that legal norms constrain people from acting as they would if they could simply follow their values."
Shut up, Erb.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
No, Billy, I won’t shut up. And you know it. You engaged in absurd, sloppy, and irrational argumentation, and I called you on the carpet for it, and you have no defense. You simply don’t think clearly, you have your whims and emotional predilections, but you don’t use reason and logic. Luckily, you’re not in a position where you can do any harm, but you should be embarrassed by how ridiculous your argument was. Seriously. You obviously don’t understand the concepts and issues in play.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
You simply don’t think clearly,
[..../]
Irony

"One only needs to compare governance in corrupt states like Nigeria to that of, say, state governments in places like Maine to recognize that legal norms constrain people from acting as they would if they could simply follow their values."
The law doesn’t constrain people at all... else, enforcement wouldn’t be the booming business that it is, today. And you and I both know there are only executing enforcement a small percentage of the crime than actually exists.

Billy’s point about such things devolving to rule by man, is precisely why Nigeria is in the state it’s in. Are you really slow enough to think that the law did not/does not exist in Nigeria?

Look; I’ll be the first one to say that the very purpose of law, and government, is to reinforce the culture that give it life. I’ve made that argument often enough that everybody here should be able to recite it from memory. But don’t give as this nonsense about legal norms being the end all... If law and government were the answer we wouldn’t need nearly the police presence we do to keep even the small modicum of order that we have.

And Erb, just for future reference... Generally speaking it’s best not to tell someone else they’re arguing in a sloppy fashion, when your own argument is so easily defeated. Just so you know.

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
By the way; Do you understand the significance of the link he offered?
Did you even read it?
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
"I won’t shut up. And you know it."
Then you’re far more stupid than I think anyone here would have believed. You never surprise me, though.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
"... we’re in barbarious, repressive pre-history of human kind...and used and abused by powerful actors."


????
Two or three thousand years of written history is a pretty long ’pre-history’. What, pray, is your definition of history? Perhaps if this was not so poorly written it would make some sense.

 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
The Sultan of Malmo wrote: No, Billy, I won’t shut up. And you know it.

And, in other news, the Commons remain tragic. Film at 11.
 
Written By: Mike Schneider
URL: http://
Then you’re far more stupid than I think anyone here would have believed. You never surprise me, though.
You’re all bravado Billy, but since you can’t support your flawed, weak, and sloppy thinking with anything but name calling, you reveal yourself as a fraud. You have a few friends who will chime in with insults, and I’m sure your bravado makes you feel like you’re somehow being tough (though don’t forget: internet insults are a dime a dozen). But I see nothing but someone afraid to confront the fact his beliefs might be wrong, afraid of actual dialogue. If you just ignored me it would be one thing, but the need you show to insult is proof that it gets under your skin, as much you want to deny it. You know I’m on to something, and it bothers you. Luckily, the only person hurt by that is yourself (or perhaps those who take you seriously).

Timactual, history will go one tens of and hundreds of thousands of years. We’ve had only about 6000 years of written history. The only reason we don’t see how unadvanced we are, how far from our potential we are, is because we think we’re advanced. That’s probably true for any era in history
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Bithead, do you know what the logical fallacy is when you generalize from one example?
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Boris Erb writes:
Timactual, history will go one tens of and hundreds of thousands of years. We’ve had only about 6000 years of written history. The only reason we don’t see how unadvanced we are, how far from our potential we are, is because we think we’re advanced. That’s probably true for any era in history
Yes, Boris, I’m sure that as things move forward, and the Ruffian is better educated and therapy becomes more extreme that even wayward thoughts will be subject to detection and an advanced shock to the testicles will immediately correct them.

You have nothing to worry about.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Boris Erb protests:
I won’t shut up. And you know it.
Batting practice continues then, on the regular schedule.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Beck responds to me:
"Applied to experience through judgment can concepts remain pure?"

If they aren’t, then the mess is bigger than almost anyone can begin to describe.
Well, for instance, one of the central concepts of politics is justice.

Mr. X is accused of armed robbery. He’s put on trial.

It’s possible that he did it, perhaps even probable, but the prosecutor cannot prove his case to the jury, and they acquit. The standard of justice here is "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." The standard is set up so that it will be more easy for a guilty man to go free than an innocent one to be convicted.

Justice is not perfect.

About "disinterested parties." If you do not believe that there can be disinterested parties, such as jurors and judges, who apply the law, as in the case above, then you don’t believe in conscience, or even the possibility of conscience, and without conscience there can be no hope for any sort of society.

But there is hope.

"Moral good is objective and a properly formed conscience can perceive it." That’s why uncorrupted individuals, who are ready to seek the truth in an adversarial matter to the best of their ability, can remain disinterested and render judgment on the facts and the law and do justice, imperfect though it might be.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Eric writes:
The law doesn’t constrain people at all... else, enforcement wouldn’t be the booming business that it is, today.
That’s a very thin proposition.

It is roughly, If the law worked, then there would be little enforcement.

The law doesn’t perfectly constrain people. It constrains most people. As participants in a civil society, most of us will by conscience obey just laws.

We are less likely to obey laws that our understanding tells us are unjust, or unnecessary. It is not necessary to make every sort of offensive behavior illegal by positive law.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Boris Erb, the king of the eels, writes:
Yeah, the whole world is misguided, all the thinkers, poets, scientists, writers...all wrong because they do not share exactly the whims of one Billy Beck.
"The whole world," according to you in this very thread, you idiot, "is misguided" and living in barbaric pre-history.

That aside, yes, "all...thinkers" are often wrong, as we well know from the radical changes in scientific theory across the 20th century.

But Beck has a point of view, and a theoretical framework, and you don’t, never have, never will, which is why he just called you "mush boy." You’re an eel.

And you don’t belong anywhere near a classroom. Never forget that.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
timactual asks Boris Erb:
Two or three thousand years of written history is a pretty long ’pre-history’. What, pray, is your definition of history?
It will change every week, as necessary. You must follow Boris’s blog to keep abreast.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Hey Erb,

Read this:
Salatin, Joel, _Everything I want to do is illegal: war stories from the local food front_. (Swoope VA: Polyface, 2007)

It’s chock full of stories that prove Billy’s point: that a person’s livelihood can be destroyed by ONE MAN who decides, "We aren’t interpreting the law in that way anymore." I know these things aren’t so likely to happen in academia (though it’s interesting that nobody much cared about Ward Churchill’s plagiarism, sloppy scholarship and pseudo-NA-ness until he gave them all a hardon with that "little Eichmanns" line.). But that’s a pretty small part of the real world.

You know, the only reason things work at all is that we’re such a goddam lawless people. And if I were in the mood to curse you, I’d wish you could live in a world where every law now on the books is perfectly and fairly enforced.
 
Written By: Jeffrey Quick
URL: http://
Here’s the link to the story Jeffrey references.

 
Written By: Richard Nikoley
URL: http://www.uncsense.com
The law doesn’t perfectly constrain people.
Fair enough, Martin, and we agree.

But take the statement I am responding to within the context of his complaining about a sloppy argument on the part of Billy. Shouldn’t I be pointing out sloppiness were I see it, if I am to take Erb seriously? Or does that street only flow one direction?

I think we both know the answer to that question.


 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
Bithead, do you know what the logical fallacy is when you generalize from one example?
Oh, I don’t know, Erb. Most of us don’t seem to be having a great deal of problem generalizing based on what we see from you....
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
"Justice is not perfect."
To whom, Martin? Who says so?

Here’s the point: justice is not principally a matter of politics. Justice is principally about ethics. It’s a value for which we act, most often in order to recover lost values, although that is certainly not always possible (and I think this part of it is about what you said) and then it’s about assuaging lost values. The central point here is that, because of the nature of values, a statement like this —
"The standard of justice here is ’guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.’"
...is simply absurd. It has no place in this discussion. There is no "standard of justice" in what you said: it’s a standard of guilt, which is a completely different thing.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
Billy,

Well, let’s see.

Who says justice is not perfect?

The example I just gave says it.

"Here’s the point: justice is not principally a matter of politics."

Well, when it is central to the affairs of the polis, it is by definition a matter of politics. That is an analytically secure propostion.

If you’re referring to cosmic or existential justice, depending on what you mean, you could be correct. But that’s not what’s under discussion here.

"There is no "standard of justice" in what you said: it’s a standard of guilt, which is a completely different thing."

A standard of guilt in a court of law is a standard of justice. And that is analytically secure is well.

 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Eric writes:
But take the statement I am responding to within the context of his complaining about a sloppy argument on the part of Billy. Shouldn’t I be pointing out sloppiness were I see it, if I am to take Erb seriously? Or does that street only flow one direction?
I think the only problem I see in that is that Erb cannot be taken seriously, with one exception. He can be taken seriously only as a paradigm of a totally unserious person pretending to be serious.

We’ve always been lucky to have Erb around. Besides being the creepy fellow he is, he is a sponge who absorbs all the rancid juices of the modern American university scene. He makes himself available at places like this one where those aforesaid rancid juices can be squeezed out in the light of day, outside of the locked-down academic setting.

But I digress.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
I’m not sure where I heard it, so I’m not claiming to have originated it, but how about a pure standard of justice being that: everyone gets what they deserve?

"Deserve" is the operative concept and it integrates a whole host of ethical considerations and determinations. I don’t see how you could get more fundamental that that, if it’s a standard you seek.

But this is limited to human interaction. We’re already aware that there’s no pure justice in nature. Nature (random chance, accident of birth, etc.) mets all kinds of bounty upon people who did nothing to deserve it, and squashes those who equally did nothing to deserve it; and it randomly allows people to escape with their skin from stupidities that killed a thousand people who came before and exercised the very same stupidities. Of course, this is also outside the realm of ethics.

From time to time I’ll flip on the TV and observe what passes for a criminal trial, now days. I’m often astounded at the amount of hype, narrative, emotionalism, slogans and bromides allowed to go unchallenged in front of juries. Nullification can also go both ways. I have seen people routinely convicted of murder when there is simply no way to reasonably infer anything close to "proof."

I am more and more convinced that we are simply not designed to partake or participate in large societies. Large societies lose too much in the crowd and breed individuals who spend their lives in pursuit of the unearned and escaping the truly deserved. Only in a small society (family and/or small village) do we seemed to be equipped to do a fair job of having "shame mechanisms" in place that keep people in line of their own volition, and a reasonable (though imperfect) application of justice when needed.

 
Written By: Richard Nikoley
URL: http://www.uncsense.com
Richard writes:
how about a pure standard of justice being that: everyone gets what they deserve?
That would be a tall order. That’s what people mean when they say "there is no justice in this world." I think that’s what Thomas Sowell calls "cosmic justice," though perhaps he means something marginally different.
I am more and more convinced that we are simply not designed to partake or participate in large societies.
Or small ones, which are more constraining and vicious than large ones.

But here we are, with a leg in each, and our balls on the fence.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
"Timactual, history will go one tens of and hundreds of thousands of years. We’ve had only about 6000 years of written history. The only reason we don’t see how unadvanced we are, how far from our potential we are, is because we think we’re advanced."

Having just come from another thread, this reminds me of a passage from some trite, pretentious Science Fiction story. Do you wear a white lab coat and smoke a pipe while you are typing this stuff? By the way, barring some evolutionary change in human behavior, we reached our potential some time ago. The only differences between Babylon and Brooklyn are technological, not behavioral. Vice, virtue, crime, passion, the details may change but the same plots get used over and over. (Ecclesiastes 1:9-14 NIV) "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. {10} Is there anything of which one can say, "Look! This is something new"? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time." Or, if you prefer something more secular or modern, "Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose".
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
I am more and more convinced that we are simply not designed to partake or participate in large societies. Large societies lose too much in the crowd and breed individuals who spend their lives in pursuit of the unearned and escaping the truly deserved. Only in a small society (family and/or small village) do we seemed to be equipped to do a fair job of having "shame mechanisms" in place that keep people in line of their own volition, and a reasonable (though imperfect) application of justice when needed.
Yes — and the problem of government abuse of power, tyranny and oppression is a direct result of large societies which yield not only the problems you note, but highly centralized power (even in democracies). It also makes possible aggressive and internventionist military policies.

Timactual, you can’t be serious! Let’s say, for the most part we’ve overcome slavery, we’ve developed systems of human rights, we’ve moved towards equal rights for men and women, we have developed science and technology, and are changing constantly in ways never imagined before.

You seem to think I’m saying human nature will change. It won’t. But human nature now is limited by lack of understanding. People are lost in superstition (e.g., religious extremism), fear, guilt, and as noted above, put together in mass societies that create stresses and anxieties that cause people to too easily grasp at behaviors and ideas that work against our ability to cooperate out of rational, ethical, self-interest. It’s a kind of darkness of the mind, almost a kind of cultural hypnosis, where people simply don’t do the kind of critical and reflective thinking that will yield a better world. Some do — most people treat others well, especially when in a personal setting where you see the other person and interact — but at a broader cultural level people are led astray by misunderstanding who they are.

The challenge for the future is to overcome all that. It’ll take generations. At base we are self-interested. What’s lacking is the understanding that the best outcomes emerge when we recognize that ethical respect for the rights of others is ultimately in our self-interest.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
"But human nature now is limited by lack of understanding."

No. Human nature is, by definition, hard-wired. Changing the software won’t change human nature.


"What’s lacking is the understanding that the best outcomes emerge when we recognize that ethical respect for the rights of others is ultimately in our self-interest."

Right. Education is the answer. If only someone had had a good heart to heart conversation with Richard Dahmer. Tell it to Bin Laden. Too bad folks like Dr. Goebbels nor Lenin weren’t exposed to such ideas. Oh, wait,...
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Scott Erb writes:

First, even though I have my own "history" with you slithering this way and that (way back in USENET, ’95ish; "Taxation is Theft" thread; posting as "Nicholas Rich," and McQ was in on that long-running thread as well), it’s a long time ago, so I’ll just let that go right now.
Yes — and the problem of government abuse of power, tyranny and oppression is a direct result of large societies which yield not only the problems you note, but highly centralized power (even in democracies). It also makes possible aggressive and internventionist military policies.
Yea, and so what does that suggest? Aren’t you tending to confirm what others have been saying? My approach is that America strayed from the imperfect but largely reasonable limited-government origin way back when because human beings were involved and there was no other way for it to go. Large groups, regardless of what you call them (democracies, republics, tyrannies, societies, etc.), simply can not function both as a unit and — get this — a subordinate to the individual at the same time. And if a group is not subordinate in every way to the inalienable rights of every single individual then you are dealing with an irreconcilable problem. Forever irreconcilable, i.e., systemic in the sense that an individual human being is a "system" and a group is a different kind of system and they simply cannot work together in a manner that ensures the rights of the individual.
The challenge for the future is to overcome all that. It’ll take generations. At base we are self-interested. What’s lacking is the understanding that the best outcomes emerge when we recognize that ethical respect for the rights of others is ultimately in our self-interest.
Scott, there is no end to things, ideas, services, products, behaviors, disciplines and so on that are objectively in the self-interest of just about any given (rational) individual. Yet they behave as they wish; always have and always will. If you cannot even count on an individual to always do that which is clearly in his own self-interest when he has complete liberty to do it, then it’s pure fantasy to entertain the notion that somehow society will wake up enlightened enough to behave as a unit in a way that respects and affirms any individual’s self interest. How is it that we have the sense to understand in a second that a business cannot and could no function in a way you are proposing society could function, and that is why they are organized under unilateral control by owners (and you’re free to associate or not). The only unilateral-owner control possible in society is that of the individual owner, if respect for rights is the ideal.

And this does not even get into the fact that you and I most likely have completely different notions of what individual rights amount to. As I recall, you can’t even be counted on to acknowledge that theft from an individual by a group calling themselves "society" is morally identical to theft from an individual by another individual calling himself "Vito the Protector."

I hear the plea to "individual rights" everywhere, nowadays, and all I can think is: euphemism for "behaviors I and my buddies like."

At any rate, Gustave Le Bon seems to have had a good notion 100 years ago (PDF) of the hopelessness of crowds and there’s not a fact anyone could point to anywhere that it’s gotten the slightest bit better (though worse would probably be an easy case to make).


 
Written By: Richard Nikoley
URL: http://www.uncsense.com
It’s gone on a bit of a tangent now, but this thread is a good example of some of the problems that lead to the initial "republic, not a democracy" silliness.

I will note that words - "democracy", for example - have no intrinsic meaning. The meaning of the word "democracy" depends entirely upon what you intend or understand it to mean. If you understand "democracy" as "majoritarianism", that’s what the word means to you. If you understand "democracy" to mean "ham sandwich with extra grease", that’s what the word means. To you.

Among virtually everybody - excepting confused pedants, trolls and the simple-minded - the word "democracy" defines general approach to government, within which there are a range of specific governmental organizations. Arguing that it has a more distinct meaning flies in the face of generally accepted definition, and that’s a fool’s game.

 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://QandO.net
Jon:

Nobody that I’m aware of is arguing that words (like democracy) have different meanings and nuances to different people. That’s the whole point. If such was not the case, this thread would be superfluous; as would be your original entry; as would be your entire blog. It is fundamentally the fact that people don’t agree on the meanings of thing (less so than their application) that gives rise to all discussion and disagreement.

But you’re free to keep implying that your blog and its posts, including yours, are silly and foolish. I don’t mind. Really.
 
Written By: Richard Nikoley
URL: http://www.uncsense.com
I will note that words - "democracy", for example - have no intrinsic meaning. The meaning of the word "democracy" depends entirely upon what you intend or understand it to mean. — Jon Henke
And instantly to my mind comes this ode to nominalism, from Through the Looking Glass:
`I don’t know what you mean by "glory,"’ Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. `Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant "there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!"’

`But "glory" doesn’t mean "a nice knock-down argument,"’ Alice objected.

`When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

`The question is,’ said Alice, `whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.’

`The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master - - that’s all.’
Carroll addressed such matters seriously in other writing, but here he knew he was dealing nonsense, and that’s what it always sounds like to me.
 
Written By: Linda Morgan
URL: http://
Richard, I certainly don’t take arguments personally or hold grudges, though I’m afraid I don’t remember you or that thread.
My approach is that America strayed from the imperfect but largely reasonable limited-government origin way back when because human beings were involved and there was no other way for it to go. Large groups, regardless of what you call them (democracies, republics, tyrannies, societies, etc.), simply can not function both as a unit and — get this — a subordinate to the individual at the same time. And if a group is not subordinate in every way to the inalienable rights of every single individual then you are dealing with an irreconcilable problem. Forever irreconcilable, i.e., systemic in the sense that an individual human being is a "system" and a group is a different kind of system and they simply cannot work together in a manner that ensures the rights of the individual.
I think I mostly agree with you. I made — and was ridiculed for — the argument that I thought it would be best to have the United States become small confederal units to avoid the centralization of power while dealing with the inherent need for some kind of governance. If you had smaller units, you could have more informal governance and less overt power.
Scott, there is no end to things, ideas, services, products, behaviors, disciplines and so on that are objectively in the self-interest of just about any given (rational) individual. Yet they behave as they wish; always have and always will. If you cannot even count on an individual to always do that which is clearly in his own self-interest when he has complete liberty to do it, then it’s pure fantasy to entertain the notion that somehow society will wake up enlightened enough to behave as a unit in a way that respects and affirms any individual’s self interest. How is it that we have the sense to understand in a second that a business cannot and could no function in a way you are proposing society could function, and that is why they are organized under unilateral control by owners (and you’re free to associate or not). The only unilateral-owner control possible in society is that of the individual owner, if respect for rights is the ideal.
I think ultimately we will learn to devolve power and move from the kind of centralization that defines this era. If the problem is population (with big cities and so many people there is too much interaction/collision), then that might be a problem that can’t be solved completely, though clearly some things are better than others (as we see in comparing totalitarian regimes like North Korea’s with it’s brother to the south). Also, I think human ingenuity and learning can happen. I also think that culturally we still are grappling with issues like ethics, the role of sentiment vs. reason (can they be balanced), material possessions vs. non-material satisfaction, and all that.

I also think we’ll learn — and get the technology to — decentralize authority and give individuals greater power, ultimately individual choice will dominate. Since I believe individuals are social animals — we construct societies and those societies are rule driven — it isn’t so much a collectivist vs. individualist dichotomy as a choice vs. coercion dichotomy. We now have rules that are based on coercion (some worse than others) rather than choice. But even that can’t be put in absolutes; even small societies have a coercive element to their norms, but I can imagine that as superstition subsedes that kind of coercive aspect can be minimal.

I just returned today from Chicago to the Maine woods. Chicago is one of the most beautiful cities, and I find urban landscapes to be at times breathtakingly beautiful in archetcture and scope. There is a romantic aspect to watching the pulse of the city, seeing the diverse crowds and people, the choice of restaurants, theater, and culture is amazing. But as the saying goes, "it’s a nice place to visit, but..."
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Nobody that I’m aware of is arguing that words (like democracy) have different meanings and nuances to different people.
You should be reading more closely. That was a not-insignificant point made here. There is no single, exclusive form or definition of democracy. It covers a variety of systems that operate within some rough boundaries. I even wrote "dictionaries contain "a wide variety of meanings for both terms.""
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://QandO.net
Hey Erb,

Read this:
Salatin, Joel, _Everything I want to do is illegal: war stories from the local food front_. (Swoope VA: Polyface, 2007)

It’s chock full of stories that prove Billy’s point: that a person’s livelihood can be destroyed by ONE MAN who decides, "We aren’t interpreting the law in that way anymore." I know these things aren’t so likely to happen in academia (though it’s interesting that nobody much cared about Ward Churchill’s plagiarism, sloppy scholarship and pseudo-NA-ness until he gave them all a hardon with that "little Eichmanns" line.). But that’s a pretty small part of the real world.

You know, the only reason things work at all is that we’re such a goddam lawless people. And if I were in the mood to curse you, I’d wish you could live in a world where every law now on the books is perfectly and fairly enforced.
 
Written By: Jeffrey Quick
URL: http://
Jon:

I apologize for not being clear. That should have read:

Nobody that I’m aware of is arguing that words (like democracy) *DO NOT* have different meanings and nuances to different people.
 
Written By: Richard Nikoley
URL: http://www.uncsense.com
Rich:
Thanks for the essay link, not that Erb will read it. That essay leads off Salatin’s book, but each following chapter is about a specific subtopic, each generally beginning with a 1st-person horror story...which are the parts Erb needs to read. I can’t decide whether, in publishing those, Salatin is a fool, cocky, or Beck’s long-lost cousin who’s going to tell the truth regardless.

And sorry for that double post...Jon, you can make that go away.
 
Written By: Jeffrey Quick
URL: http://
I also think we’ll learn — and get the technology to — decentralize authority and give individuals greater power, ultimately individual choice will dominate. Since I believe individuals are social animals — we construct societies and those societies are rule driven — it isn’t so much a collectivist vs. individualist dichotomy as a choice vs. coercion dichotomy.
Scott Erb you miss a crucial observation. Societies are more powerful as a collective than the sum of their parts acting individually. You are welcome to hold a superstion that technology will provide people with greater power as individuals, but the critical point is that it is only a fantasy. Please do not spend anymore time arguing on the basis of superstition.
 
Written By: unaha-closp
URL: http://warisforwinning.blogspot.com/
Scott:

Let me make this short.

While I see no reason to think that human beings will fundamentally change, I do think that history is predominantly moved by large and unpredictable things ("Black Swans") that nobody sees coming. These can have negative or positive impacts, but the only possibility for a human being to ever at some future point be able to participate in society to whatever extent pleases him, while be free to do whatever he wants without positively hurting anyone — to include keeping 100% of the fruit of his labor, thought, and capital gain if he wants to — is some major out-of-nowhere advancement that affords individuals the ability to escape whatever government throws at them. I’ve no Earthly idea what that could even be, but we aren’t that good at predicting what might come to pass, when, and to what extent.

Essentially, we’re talking about technology or capability that renders all theft and other aggression impotent.

As to urban centers, I have both a condo in the city and a house in the remote woods and I love them both, including their environments. I speculate that evolution built us in such a way that we naturally "urge" to profit 100% from our individual gains, but to spread our individual losses amongst society (ethics ought to enforce the former and curb the latter). I think this is what explains why primitive hunter-gatherer tribes were at most about 30 members (control "socialism" by the numbers) and it explains the red/blue phenomena. To large extent, I think, city dwellers look around and see a giant safety net, and that’s not so out in the woods.
 
Written By: Richard Nikoley
URL: http://www.uncsense.com
Richard,

Real short reply for now: I basically agree, though obviously any explanation of human behavior is incomplete, there are so many factors and variables, both in our "nature" and the way we are socialized. People often have real trouble understanding how someone in a very different context or society than themselves actually experiences the world differently. MOre later. Gotta run.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
While I see no reason to think that human beings will fundamentally change, I do think that history is predominantly moved by large and unpredictable things ("Black Swans") that nobody sees coming. These can have negative or positive impacts, but the only possibility for a human being to ever at some future point be able to participate in society to whatever extent pleases him, while be free to do whatever he wants without positively hurting anyone — to include keeping 100% of the fruit of his labor, thought, and capital gain if he wants to — is some major out-of-nowhere advancement that affords individuals the ability to escape whatever government throws at them. I’ve no Earthly idea what that could even be, but we aren’t that good at predicting what might come to pass, when, and to what extent.

Essentially, we’re talking about technology or capability that renders all theft and other aggression impotent.
Well, there will always be disputes about what 100% of the fruit of ones’ labor, thought and capital gain really is — so I wouldn’t set the bar based on goals defined by contestable notions. Instead I’d look for a society where coercive power, whether by government or large non-governmental corporate actor (corporate broadly defined — not just a business corporation, but any collective entity) is so limited by technology and cultural norms that these issues are worked out collaboratively/peacefully.

To be sure, it’s long in the future, and anyone who wants to define exactly how it will or should look, or a path to get there, is not only probably wrong, but risks the folly of Karl Marx. Marx really believed he was charting a course to a society without repression and alienation, and that people would be able to be fully free. But he was so wrong in his so many of his assumptions about how the world works that efforts to put his ideas into practice led to some of the most horrific regimes in human history. Utopian and idealist notions of the future are best when that "black swan" phenomenon is kept in mind, not put into some kind of political program or movement. Pragmatic small steps make the most sense.

As to urban centers, I have both a condo in the city and a house in the remote woods and I love them both, including their environments. I speculate that evolution built us in such a way that we naturally "urge" to profit 100% from our individual gains, but to spread our individual losses amongst society (ethics ought to enforce the former and curb the latter). I think this is what explains why primitive hunter-gatherer tribes were at most about 30 members (control "socialism" by the numbers) and it explains the red/blue phenomena. To large extent, I think, city dwellers look around and see a giant safety net, and that’s not so out in the woods.
In smaller setting social cohesion - the fact one cares about others in ones’ group — leads people to want to share some of their gains, and spread the cost of the some losses. And people will know if some abuse this in a smaller system, so the "shame" aspect comes in as well. When you are anonymous, then it’s easy to fall prey to that temptation. And powerful corporate actors (again, governments, businesses, criminal syndicates, labor unions, etc.) all have a greater capacity to not share their gains but force individuals to accept more of the cost of their loses.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Erb
"Well, there will always be disputes about what 100% of the fruit of ones’ labor, thought and capital gain really is — so I wouldn’t set the bar based on goals defined by contestable notions. Instead I’d look for a society where coercive power, whether by government or large non-governmental corporate actor (corporate broadly defined — not just a business corporation, but any collective entity) is so limited by technology and cultural norms that these issues are worked out collaboratively/peacefully."
Nikoley

Read that very carefully, and then think about this:

Do you recall the time when you wrote to me and said that you’d hate to have to sit across from me at a negotiating table? Remember that?

This creep is my touchstone when it comes to that.

If you don’t recall, then let me know and I’ll refresh you.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
Billy:

Yea, I remember.

I’m not sure whether your point is that you think I’m "negotiating" (away rights) with Scott, or warning me that Scott can’t be pinned down on matters of utter simplicity (I suspect the latter).

If the former, I just figure there’s plenty enough bile to go around already, it’s been a long time since I was in a debate with him, and so what the hell? We’ll see.

As to the latter, Scott, it’s pretty simple, I think, if one looks at it in the reverse. What are you (meaning: anyone) trying to gain that you can’t honestly say you earned? I accept there are disputes about that, and I’m willing to take may chances. Hell, if I could be reasonably assured of keeping 95%, I’d probably just walk away from the disputed 5% just like a creditor (or any business) accepts a certain amount of loss as just a cost of doing business. That’s a practical approach to the exercise of a moral principle. If I can get people to acknowledge that what I produce, what you produce, what anyone produces belongs to them — morally — then I can certainly accept that there will sometimes be disputes about what rightly belong to whom.

See the distinction?

Billy, actually, in the case where we both had something to gain, I’d be delighted to sit across the negotiating table from you. I think my reference, back then, was that I wouldn’t want to if I was trying to gain an unearned edge or angle on you.
 
Written By: Richard Nikoley
URL: http://www.uncsense.com
Jon Henke writes:
I will note that words - "democracy", for example - have no intrinsic meaning. The meaning of the word "democracy" depends entirely upon what you intend or understand it to mean. If you understand "democracy" as "majoritarianism", that’s what the word means to you. If you understand "democracy" to mean "ham sandwich with extra grease", that’s what the word means. To you.
Egads.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
BTW, you’d love negotiating with me because I’m notoriously bad at it. Luckily, when house or car buying my wife takes over and she’s good.
As to the latter, Scott, it’s pretty simple, I think, if one looks at it in the reverse. What are you (meaning: anyone) trying to gain that you can’t honestly say you earned? I accept there are disputes about that, and I’m willing to take may chances. Hell, if I could be reasonably assured of keeping 95%, I’d probably just walk away from the disputed 5% just like a creditor (or any business) accepts a certain amount of loss as just a cost of doing business. That’s a practical approach to the exercise of a moral principle. If I can get people to acknowledge that what I produce, what you produce, what anyone produces belongs to them — morally — then I can certainly accept that there will sometimes be disputes about what rightly belong to whom.
I certianly don’t want to gain anything I haven’t honestly earned. I’m arguing instead that there is severe contention about how much one has really earned. I suspect that people, often sincerely, believe they’ve earned more than they receive credit for.

Production processes are complex, as are markets. For instance following how the market works today, a CEO of a company suffering severe loses might nonetheless earn a massive salary and even bonuses, including a ’golden parachute’ to leave. Unions might at the same time be forced to cut back wages and personnel due to the company’s predicament. Has the CEO earned this money? On the one hand, shareholders could say that it was their money and while they may have made a lousy deal (lousy negotiation) with the CEO, the money was legitimate capital they earned and have control over. The workers only earn what the market says labor is valued. Contrarily the workers might argue that this demonstrates that the system is paying a small number of people massive salaries whose work really doesn’t earn it.

In short, you have a confrontation between different methods of determining or measuring value. That is inherently a political conflict. Now, before you assume I’m making a ’labor theory of value’ argument, I believe that markets almost always function better than bureaucracies in determining proper outcomes, so I would side with markets. For a profession like mine, how can one really determine the value teaching and research has to society or even those receiving the education now (the gain won’t come until later). Only a market can really make that call, the variables are too complex for humans and bureaucracies (Hayek’s argument). But since powerful actors can skew market performance, in the example above it may be less the market giving us this outcome for CEOs, but a distoration of the market at the hands of powerful monied actors (and, of course, the most intense market distorations are caused by powerful governmental actors).

So yeah, in principle I agree with you. And in small societies it was pretty clear who deserved gain, and it was relatively easy for those who had deserved gain to take pity on those whose conditions held them back and give them a hand voluntarily. Now you have a mix of people who claim conditions hold them back when really they want to get by on someone else’s dime, and people who claim they deserve all their gain, when they’re really playing/manipulating the system. So in an ideal sense, I agree with you. As a pragmatic matter, I don’t see the ideal as realizable in the world we find ourselves in. Big government is the probelm, but it’s enmeshed with big money — that’s why big business can be as happy with Hillary as with Rudy.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Boris Erb, not ready for prime time, writes:
To be sure, it’s long in the future, and anyone who wants to define exactly how it will or should look, or a path to get there, is not only probably wrong, but risks the folly of Karl Marx. Marx really believed he was charting a course to a society without repression and alienation, and that people would be able to be fully free. But he was so wrong in his so many of his assumptions about how the world works that efforts to put his ideas into practice led to some of the most horrific regimes in human history. Utopian and idealist notions of the future are best when that "black swan" phenomenon is kept in mind, not put into some kind of political program or movement. Pragmatic small steps make the most sense.
Your Marxism is hard-wired, Boris. Here you’re praising Marx with faint damnation, even as you engage in the most ridiculous of all the Marxian follies: historical determinism, or, history is heading someplace definite and wonderful but "we’re just not there yet." History, as a work of man, can head back in the direction of barbarism, and worse, at almost a moment’s notice, or it can settle down in a reasonably civil society. That’s about the most up it gets, and that is a condition always in peril. Barbarism of one kind or another is far more common.

A good example of an atavism in an ostensibly civilized institution is the academic world, and I would submit you and virtually everything you say as Exhibit A. That’s right, I don’t think that you are a mistake. I think that you’re the norm. There are armies of imbeciles just like you occupying the faculties of universities everywhere. How scary is that?
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Boris Erb must be joking:
I certianly don’t want to gain anything I haven’t honestly earned.
Then surely, Boris, you’ll readily throw your Marxist wares on the market and compete with the next thousand applicants by voluntarily renouncing your lifetime tenure on the dime of Maine taxpayers at UMF.

Or do you think that you earned immunity from the marketplace for professors?

Are you still spelling hypocrisy like a form of government (hypocracy), Boris?
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Scott:
I’m arguing instead that there is severe contention about how much one has really earned. I suspect that people, often sincerely, believe they’ve earned more than they receive credit for.
In my experience, that generally happens when people believe someone is standing by to take it for them. Civil litigation is probably the best example. People literally think that hurt feelings earn them millions, and while the underlying emotion is sometimes understandable, what is required beyond that is someone, somewhere, willing to use a gun. In the end, it must come down to force.
For instance following how the market works today, a CEO of a company suffering severe loses might nonetheless earn a massive salary and even bonuses, including a ’golden parachute’ to leave.
Yea, I think they’re called contracts, and the board of directors, elected by the owners, are empowered by them to enter into such contracts. In any contract that’s entered into prior to services actually being rendered, there are usually provisions which, if touched upon, have the result of giving one side or the other a massive payoff at the expense of the other party. Look at it in reverse. There are CEOs who oversee massive, unforeseen increases in profits and share price, and since unforeseen there usually aren’t provisions for that CEO to benefit to the extent he would have negotiated for had the increase been planned for.

Same in sports. Owners take the risk of a massive contract knowing that if the guy doesn’t perform, they get the short end. But if he becomes a massive success and a massive draw, the guy is going to have to wait for the next contract negotiation to cash in.

As consumers or fans, your authority is to be a customer or supporter, or not, and lobby others accordingly. If you find yourself in a situation where you essentially have no choice but to do business with a company that doesn’t uphold your values, then you have the options of tying to create an alternative — unless, of course, the government prevents you by means of one of the tens of thousands of regulations that create artificial barriers to entry in order to protect those companies.

Incidentally, I chalk up the above to a pervasive worldwide ignorance as to how business operate: why they use contracts (hedge risk and/or profit from a windfall) and how they judge and use risk. Almost nothing big is ever gained without a accepting a significant degree of risk, which means sometimes you lose. Everyone seems to understand the great and often lucky successes, but they don’t understand that significant risk was required to position that opportunity.
In short, you have a confrontation between different methods of determining or measuring value.
I think you have a difference of opinion over value, which of coarse is what makes the world and markets go round. The confrontation is over who rightly owns what.

Incidentally, I believe that the chief source of "irreconcilable" disparities in how people value things is that human beings are unbelievably awful at rationally pricing risk (look at Veags). I could write a hundred pages about it, but you could consult Nassim Nicholas Taleb: Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan. In general, people simply have no clue as to how much and to what extent we are ruled by randomness (leading to false "knowledge"), and to make matters worse, they have no concept of the notion of both hedging against negative random events and taking huge risks to profit massively from positive random events (leading to morally unjustifiable feelings of being screwed, which are then manipulated by the clever).
That is inherently a political conflict.
True, but only because politicians promise to come to the rescue with clubs, handcuffs, guns, fines, and jail cells. Otherwise, it would just be a social or business conflict and people would have to figure out a way to work it out.
But since powerful actors can skew market performance...
You give them too much credit. They make bets. Most bets never get anyone’s attention, because in a well-operated business, they are designed to render a slightly net positive, i.e., perhaps 10% profit or so a year. It’s when they go bust or hit it really, really lucky that everyone hears about, so what’s really being skewed is people’s perspective. They attribute failure to wrongdoing and massive success to unfair or nefarious advantage. Then enter government. We’re well aware that the force of government is brought to bear not so much to protect them from the consequences of making the wrong bet (though sometimes, if big enough) but more commonly to guarantee their success for some bet. Conversely, what you hear about less frequently are those put out of business, because government favors one over another — or it’s an inevitable consequence of guaranteeing an outcome.

But it all reduces to government force, which essentially reduces to theft and the gain of the unearned.


 
Written By: Richard Nikoley
URL: http://www.uncsense.com
Rich
"I’m not sure whether your point is that you think I’m ’negotiating’ (away rights) with Scott, or warning me that Scott can’t be pinned down on matters of utter simplicity (I suspect the latter)."
Neither, actually, in this context. Let’s see if I can help.

Erb:
"Well, there will always be disputes about what 100% of the fruit of ones’ labor, thought and capital gain really is — so I wouldn’t set the bar based on goals defined by contestable notions. Instead I’d look for a society where coercive power, whether by government or large non-governmental corporate actor (corporate broadly defined — not just a business corporation, but any collective entity) is so limited by technology and cultural norms that these issues are worked out collaboratively/peacefully."
The first clause of his first sentence ("always be disputes") is nothing but his arbitrary theoretical claim to what others produce. What you’re getting in that is his rejection of the principle of private property. The only remaining question is how much of the booty he can get away with. When he talks about "actor[s]", he is equivocating the ability to produce with the power to steal. This equivocation poses the authority of a proper moral claim, and it’s his ticket to sit down and "negotiate". That’s what he has in mind with "cultural norms" (i.e.; tricking you into accepting the power/production package-deal), and "collaboratively/peacefully" refers to his hope that you’ll actually sit down with him and bargain away what is already yours (the principle of private property) before he has to get tough and call out the guns of government.

Now, pay no attention when he gets up on his hind-legs and starts howling: this is what this stuff means in actual practice.

Martin
"Egads."
Indeed.

This is the point that I was making when I wrote about the precision of concepts. The most general implication of Henke’s position is that it is impossible to communicate these concepts.

It doesn’t take a rocket-surgeon to figure out where that goes.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
The first clause of his first sentence ("always be disputes") is nothing but his arbitrary theoretical claim to what others produce. What you’re getting in that is his rejection of the principle of private property.
That, and the rest you claim, Billy, is just wrong. You’re trying to put words in my mouth which aren’t there, and in some cases intimidate the exact opposite of what I believe.

Moreover, your thinking is confused. My making a claim about reality, which I explain in the next post. That claim is an "is" claim, not an "ought" claim, and it’s that given the complexity of social relations and production I am convinced that there will be disputes and different beliefs about what one "deserves." Even if we agree on which claim is valid and which ones are not, unless we can convince others to agree with that claim, that will have little impact in the world about settling those disputes.

You are asserting that this is claim will be used to justify ’guns and government.’ Moreover, you are assuming that your ought claim is unquestionably the right one, and anyone acknowledging dissent to it is thereby unjust because that opens the door to the possibility that something other than your particular belief might be acted upon. You end up with nothing but argument from assertion.

(The debate about the word ’democracy’ reminds me of the nominalist/realist debate in the mid-ages; apparently Billy wants to be Peter Abelard).
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Boris Erb squirms in his dress:
That, and the rest you claim, Billy, is just wrong. You’re trying to put words in my mouth which aren’t there, and in some cases intimidate the exact opposite of what I believe.
Nah, Boris, he has it just about exactly right.

What you are confused about, Boris, is how quickly he puts all those eels of yours back in the barrel before you can take your next breath.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
"...apparently Billy wants to be Peter Abelard."
You wouldn’t compliment me if you knew what you were doing, you idiot, but I’ll take it, anyway.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
Boris Erb writes:
(The debate about the word ’democracy’ reminds me of the nominalist/realist debate in the mid-ages; apparently Billy wants to be Peter Abelard).
Funny, it reminded me of when I collected all of your various definitions of socialism, especially where you would pop out your latest definition to bash someone for using a definition that you had used earlier.

You’re a slithering eel, Erb.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Richard, I actually agree with most of what you wrote, and think you’re especially on target about the difficulty of rationally pricing risk. People in general don’t think probabilistically about their life choices and usually go with what they can imagine as likely, or what their past experience suggests. Our main point of disagreement comes here:

True, but only because politicians promise to come to the rescue with clubs, handcuffs, guns, fines, and jail cells. Otherwise, it would just be a social or business conflict and people would have to figure out a way to work it out.
I submit that governments as we now have it are the result of people ’figuring out a way to work it out.’ If you got rid of governments and politicians tomorrow, new ones would spring up, just as willing to use force, be corrupt, and subvert markets. Moreover, if the politics of third world states is any guide, absent either a shared set of cultural values or stable rule of law, it will be essentially contests between organized criminal syndicates. States and modern government began as a kind of protection racket, and at some level modern governance is nothing but a glorified protection racket, whose paid killers now are honored and wear police uniforms, and who use taxation and fees as a way to have a piece of the action.

So while you see government as the problem, I see government as a symptom of the problem. Getting rid of government isn’t a solution because another will grow in its place, and in fact may end up more violent to individual rights and markets than what we in the industrialized west have now. The problem is we identified earlier: large populations organized in states that yield powerful centralized actors, alongside human cultures and technologies unable to put individual rights ahead of the power of those actors.

I also think you make too stark a distinction between private actors and governments: they are all made up of people who, when given collective power, are prone to abuse that power. Governments do more damage than private actors because they have more centralized power and can try to claim a monopoly on violence (though it’s usually hard for them to enforce this claim). Organizational theory models see similar problems and dangers associated with governmental and private organizations.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
The first clause of his first sentence ("always be disputes") is nothing but his arbitrary theoretical claim to what others produce. What you’re getting in that is his rejection of the principle of private property.
That, and the rest you claim, Billy, is just wrong. You’re trying to put words in my mouth which aren’t there, and in some cases intimidate the exact opposite of what I believe.
In that event, the concepts you’re trying to get across, are even more arbitrary in nature than Billy lets on.


 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
Boris Erb writes:
Moreover, if the politics of third world states is any guide, absent either a shared set of cultural values or stable rule of law, it will be essentially contests between organized criminal syndicates.
Soured so quickly on the Wonderful World to Come, Boris?
So while you see government as the problem, I see government as a symptom of the problem.... The problem is we identified earlier: large populations organized in states that yield powerful centralized actors, alongside human cultures and technologies unable to put individual rights ahead of the power of those actors.
Well, you know what to do, Boris. Kill off large portions of those populations until you get down to a core group of, of...students who want to get an A in your class!

Then all the world’s problems will be solved!
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
That’s exactly right, Eric.

And, if that’s true, then he and Henke are blood-kin when it comes to the efficacy of concepts.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
I also think you make too stark a distinction between private actors and governments: they are all made up of people who, when given collective power, are prone to abuse that power
And, sans government, at what point is an individual given "collective power"?

Why do I get the feeling we get more variable definitions, on the way?

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
Scott:

In many ways we seem to have a similar perspective on the raw "is." The main disagreement then is on the "ought," and the implications of various courses of action in pursuit of an "ought."

I’ve got some things to attend to, but I’ll be back with some specifics in a few hours or so.

By the way, 15 years ago (I have a good memory, so you’ll just have to take my word for it) in that "Taxation is Theft" thread in USENET, it turned on the notion of whether theft was a legal or moral principle and one of the things both I and McQ raised was the anthropological origin of the state as a theft racket. Your principle line was a sovereignty and "divine" rights argument.

I’m gratified to see you see the brutal reality of it.

 
Written By: Richard Nikoley
URL: http://www.uncsense.com
I don’t think that discussion occurred before about 1997, Rich.

It’s a damned shame: the Google Usenet archives are going to hell. I saw that very thread during a search for something else not three months ago, and I can’t find it, now.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
I’m throwing it out here without reading any of it, but this is probably the thread.

Google really is going to have to do something about access to the Groups archives. Nothing seems to work right anymore.
 
Written By: Linda Morgan
URL: http://
Billy:

You’re right, and even I knew it was 96 or 97ish. So where did I get 15 years from that? Hell if I know.

I do know that I checked back some years later and that thread (in name only, I imagine) was STILL going.

Anyway, try this.
 
Written By: Richard Nikoley
URL: http://www.uncsense.com
I know I’ve altered many of my views since the nineties, but if anyone posts anything I said and wants me to recant, explain or defend, go ahead and I’ll do it.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Scott:
True, but only because politicians promise to come to the rescue with clubs, handcuffs, guns, fines, and jail cells. Otherwise, it would just be a social or business conflict and people would have to figure out a way to work it out.
I submit that governments as we now have it are the result of people ’figuring out a way to work it out.
Well, reasonably presumably, I was implying that they work things out in ways that don’t (or at least rarely) resort to coercion, and I’m making no particular distinction between who’s doing the coercing (individuals, groups, businesses, governments).

And aren’t you also acknowledging that force is king?
States and modern government began as a kind of protection racket, and at some level modern governance is nothing but a glorified protection racket...
Doesn’t that imply, by any reasonable meaning of "figuring out a way to work it out," that excludes coercion?

See? So, as near as I can tell we’re in essential agreement as to what government is. You want that I draw less distinctions between (big) business and the state; fine. I really don’t care what you call an entity that exists by coercion. I tolerate more big business’ lobbying, protection and privilege seeking from the state simply because coercion isn’t their sole means of existence. That’s the state’s nature. Essentially, every dime they collect is backed by implicit or explicit coercion. Business employs state coercion because they’re moral midgets and it’s sometimes easier and cheaper than real competition and risk taking. Absent state coercion, I’m not expecting they’ll get a conscience, but I do give even odds that they’ll find it cheaper and easier to compete than to go about coercing on their own.
If you got rid of governments and politicians tomorrow, new ones would spring up, just as willing to use force, be corrupt, and subvert markets. Moreover, if the politics of third world states is any guide, absent either a shared set of cultural values or stable rule of law, it will be essentially contests between organized criminal syndicates.
At some point this morning I was telling myself I’d eventually get a "better the devil you know" argument. Never fails.

Other than just keep killing devils — you may find you like it — I don’t think we’re good enough at predicting the future everywhere and at all times to say what will fill a void, especially every void. America, such as it was, started from out of nowhere and we’ve yet to see anything like it. Moreover, there are a lot of factors that go into what eventually springs up in such voids (ideas, technology, etc).

But really, I’m far less interested in trying to argue about what might be, when neither of us knows. The essential question is: what is.

We seem to agree it’s coercion, and for now, I’m totally happy and satisfied with that outcome. I’m not even asking you to morally condemn it. This thread began as a simple effort to identify a thing by exactly what it is. How people judge that and what they think ought to be done, if anything, is really up to them personally and individually. This battle is more about proper identification than anything.

How do you think things would change if most people explicitly understood that taxes are theft, that the state is a protection racket? I don’t mean in the joking way a lot of people do, but seriously and explicitly, to an extent that it becomes part of the social discourse?

I was wondering at lunch a bit ago what the most powerful thing a president could do if he wanted to attempt to change things. Know what I came up with? An executive order to perform a find/replace on every federally financed website and every federal document (which aren’t under the purview of the legislature or judiciary) and simply do thing like change all instances of "tax" to "theft," "cooperation" to "coercion," and so on and so on. Get rid of as many euphemisms as possible and then watch things take their natural course.
 
Written By: Richard Nikoley
URL: http://www.uncsense.com
Boris Erb:
I know I’ve altered many of my views since the nineties, but if anyone posts anything I said and wants me to recant, explain or defend, go ahead and I’ll do it.
You haven’t "altered many of" your views. You’ve trimmed out the for instances that make you look like even more of a fool.

Have you changed your mind that Fidel Castro, after nearly 50 years of totalitarian Communist rule, is "still better than Batista"?

Do you still think, in typical crypto-Commie academic fashion, that the United States was responsible for the Cold War and was the real cause of the Korean War?

Do you still rhapsodize the EU, even as you weezil around about how "smaller is better"?

Do you still believe that Kurt Lochner is "very intelligent and a scholar"?
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/

See? So, as near as I can tell we’re in essential agreement as to what government is. You want that I draw less distinctions between (big) business and the state; fine. I really don’t care what you call an entity that exists by coercion. I tolerate more big business’ lobbying, protection and privilege seeking from the state simply because coercion isn’t their sole means of existence. That’s the state’s nature. Essentially, every dime they collect is backed by implicit or explicit coercion. Business employs state coercion because they’re moral midgets and it’s sometimes easier and cheaper than real competition and risk taking. Absent state coercion, I’m not expecting they’ll get a conscience, but I do give even odds that they’ll find it cheaper and easier to compete than to go about coercing on their own.
In principle, I agree. But here’s the problem. Taxation is a coercive fee for services imposed by government agents in the name of the people. You benefit from those services. It is still coercive because you did not agree to or contract for that benefit. Absent taxation, you would not get the same enforcement of contracts, protection from fraud, protection from others, infrastructure building and maintenance (such as it is), and other benefits ranging from an interstate highway system to a national defense. Moreover, you pay taxes with government currency, meaning essentially they are demanding from you something of theirs that you use on their condition. The coercion is not taxation per se, but the fact that you have no choice to opt out of taxation (opt out of government protections, government currency as the only method of exchange, etc.)

My view from the 90s, as I recall it, was that due to the free rider problem and the complexity of social relations, this mode of collective coercion was moral and legitimate because it received overwhelming public support and it probably was ultimately cheaper for you than if you had to contract out all those protections yourself — in other words, you end up with more in a system like we have even being taxed, then if it was all private.

I’ll drop that argument, since as you note, it’s based on speculation. I’ll even drop the claim it is moral and legitimate (it is legitimate in a political science sense where legitimacy comes from public support, but that’s a different use of the term). I’ll agree that even if it is as I think the best we can hope for now, it is, at it’s core, coercive and morally questionable.

The reason for my change in view is driven in large part by Kosovo and Iraq, and recognition that if the government can take one legitimate function — national defense — and use it to rationalize power grabs and interventionism/coercion (imperialism in the name of defense, if you will), then certainly it can do that in all realms, and the idea it would be self-limiting due to its democratic nature was a bit naive. What I see from the Democratic and Republican parties also gives me little solace, neither dislikes government power when they have it.

My view now is what I would label "pragmatic libertarian." In other words, I am persuaded that, at base, we have a system based on coercion and force. It may be one far superior to totalitarianism or monarchy, and we may have managed to construct modes of accountability and rule of law that place limits on the ability to coerce, but that doesn’t change the fundamental nature of the problem. Where I differ from "ideological" libertarians is that: a) I follow a somewhat conservative Burkean view of culture. Just as Burke decried the French revolution for going against social norms that held a society together, correctly predicting in 1790 where the revolution would lead, I think that societies only stray from their culture at risk to social stability and chaos. We can only have a kind of libertarian society if the culture supports that, and the only way to build that is to work towards values in society that would support voluntary change away from the kind of governance we have; and b) a recognition that my beliefs and political convictions are my own, and thus I respect those with different views (albeit I do not respect all actions they might take or rationalize). I do not claim to know the truth, I only can give my best take and realize that in the world I find myself in, I have to make compromises and act as best as I can in accord with my principles and beliefs.

(And, in comparison to people like Billy, I’m an philosophical idealist in the neo-platonic tradition, which really brings me at this from another perspective — my perspective is at base idealist in the philosophical sense, and if you will spiritual rather than materialist).
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Boris Erb tries it again:
My view now is what I would label "pragmatic libertarian."
Boris appears to agree with Henke, that words can mean anything you want them to mean. In this case, "pragmatic libertarian" can mean "my next iteration of Marxism".

Fascinating.

And this:
I follow a somewhat conservative Burkean view of culture.
Ah, no you don’t, but let’s pretend for a moment that you do.
Just as Burke decried the French revolution for going against social norms that held a society together, correctly predicting in 1790 where the revolution would lead, I think that societies only stray from their culture at risk to social stability and chaos.
Well that’s going to be quite a problem when it’s time to enter the Fantastic World of Tomorrow via the predicates of Erbian historical determinism, but what it sounds like just in this moment, listening between the lines, is your justification for leaving the murderous Ba’athist regime in Baghdad. And I think, Boris, if you hold it sideways long enough, you’re going to find your long-sought justification for being on Stalin’s side in the Cold War too!
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Oh, and then there is this coda from Boris:
(And, in comparison to people like Billy, I’m an philosophical idealist in the neo-platonic tradition, which really brings me at this from another perspective — my perspective is at base idealist in the philosophical sense, and if you will spiritual rather than materialist).
In other words, you’re a full-blown materialist who is entranced by Deepak Chopra and you want to make sure your bases are covered.

A "philosophical idealist in the neo-platonic tradition," indeed.

Yes, after so many years of having "labels" forced onto you, you’ll force one onto yourself. Well, it will at least get you your niche in the faculty lounge.

"Oh, that’s Erb," the cartoon caption will have some department chair say as an adjunct professor looks on with concern at the smiling fool across the room, "he’s a philosophical idealist in the neo-platonic tradition."

You’re a tenured faculty boob, Boris. You’ve floated up to the ceiling, hit it, and you’re on your way back down again.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Martin cited this out of the Erbonics
"Just as Burke decried the French revolution for going against social norms that held a society together, correctly predicting in 1790 where the revolution would lead, I think that societies only stray from their culture at risk to social stability and chaos.
Isn’t it curious? Burke defended the American Revolution, but this creep won’t.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
Scott:
Absent taxation, you would not get the same enforcement of contracts, protection from fraud, protection from others, infrastructure building and maintenance (such as it is), and other benefits ranging from an interstate highway system to a national defense.
I don’t know that I could say what I would or wouldn’t get, absent taxation. I really don’t know. Nor is it that important. I tend to shy away from justifying means with guessed ends or "scary" consequences.

In short, I’m perfectly willing to take my chances.
Moreover, you pay taxes with government currency, meaning essentially they are demanding from you something of theirs that you use on their condition. The coercion is not taxation per se, but the fact that you have no choice to opt out of taxation (opt out of government protections, government currency as the only method of exchange, etc.)
Isn’t that hair splitting? The essential point is that, and you’ve agreed, it’s all coercive, force backed; i.e., go to jail or worse if you don’t toe the line.

That acknowledgment is really all I seek. You’re perfectly free to attempt various equivocations and justifications, and in part, I understand that completely. I fully admit that I’m not willing to take a principled stand to the extent required to minimize my exposure to "the way things are done." I used to get a government paycheck, I pay taxes meticulously, and I generally obey even laws I find useless and worse.

I understand the need to try to reconcile the fact that I benefit — not by choice, but I benefit nonetheless — from a system that will take my money and lock up and kill innocent people with it. I am outraged, but not so much as to measurably alter my way of life because it’s all I’ve got and it’s all a pretty short time.

Judge that however you will.

So I console myself in one single aspect: I will not shy away from identifying its nature and that’s all I seek to impart to anyone else.

As to the rest of it, fine. It’s far preferable that any changes to take place in the future emanate from a clear understanding of the nature of what we have now — rather than from revolutionary emotionalisms based on erroneous notions of what people are owed that they haven’t really earned and what ought to be taken from others that they have really earned.

I understand you have long and perhaps bitter histories with these other guys and from where I sit, that doesn’t look too reconcilable, even assuming you were seriously seeking such. But if you are, my only suggestion is to never shy away from the exact nature of things as they are. In time, that’ll buy you some respect, I think. Bonus if you teach your students how things really are.

That’s probably about it for me in this thread.

 
Written By: Richard Nikoley
URL: http://www.uncsense.com
" Moreover, you pay taxes with government currency, meaning essentially they are demanding from you something of theirs that you use on their condition."

Jesus!
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
timactual quotes Boris Erb and reacts:
"Moreover, you pay taxes with government currency, meaning essentially they are demanding from you something of theirs that you use on their condition."
Jesus!
Indeed. You might wonder how something that incredibly cheesy gets into one of Boris’s arguments. Well, you’ve got to remember that Boris doesn’t really think when he writes, and for that matter he doesn’t really write. He types.

He’s a Chatty Cathy on a keyboard.

But he teaches this stuff!
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Richard, thanks for the conversation. I approach net debates with "rules:" 1) always be self-critical and recognize that the goal is to learn from others, not defeat them in a debate; and 2) never hold a grudge. I think we agree on this issue far more than we disagree.
But if you are, my only suggestion is to never shy away from the exact nature of things as they are. In time, that’ll buy you some respect, I think. Bonus if you teach your students how things really are.
As for teaching, I have an aversion to ever telling students ’this is how it really is.’ Rather, I try to give different interpretations and perspectives, and explain them in a way that shows why intelligent people might think a certain way. I also try to create conditions where students can feel comfortable disagreeing with me, knowing that their use of evidence and argumentation is what matters. The world can be interpreted different ways, and I want students to navigate for themselves the process of figuring out what they believe. However, I do stress the idea of never letting an emotional attachment to a belief or ideology prevent one from being self-critical and putting an effort to understand the world as it is above their current beliefs. However, one thing I guarantee you: the problemmatique of whether governments have a moral right to rule, with an argument much like you make in this thread, is something I aggressively challenge students to consider.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Boris Erb writes:
I approach net debates with "rules:"
Oh?
1) always be self-critical and recognize that the goal is to learn from others, not defeat them in a debate;
Or, in plainer language, "never, ever admit that I’ve been crushed in an argument; always find a way to accuse my opponent of ’not being worth my time;’ and, in a pinch, be ready to adopt my opponent’s argument and claim that it was what I was arguing the whole time."

"Oh, and I forgot, I’ve never learned a thing! It’s just not possible."
and 2) never hold a grudge. I think we agree on this issue far more than we disagree.
Or, in even plainer language, "I’ve been a loser so many times that I occasionally have to adopt a pseudonym so that I can attack the people who catch me lying. But I never lie!"
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
"You might wonder how something that incredibly cheesy gets into one of Boris’s arguments"

Well, it wasn’t cheesy when Jesus said it, but he said it first.


" I also try to create conditions where students can feel comfortable disagreeing with me, knowing that their use of evidence and argumentation is what matters"

Somehow that seems to clash with the little anecdote you told some time ago about how you regularly began a class by mocking those who held a certain position on an issue. Quelle surprise!
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
little anecdote you told some time ago about how you regularly began a class by mocking those who held a certain position on an issue.
Little snide comments from the cheap seats are fine, but now it appears you’ve taken simply lying.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
timactual quotes me and comments:
"You might wonder how something that incredibly cheesy gets into one of Boris’s arguments"

Well, it wasn’t cheesy when Jesus said it, but he said it first.
Ah, I missed the allusion to the coin episode. I thought that you were just exclaiming.

Then he quotes Boris and comments:
"I also try to create conditions where students can feel comfortable disagreeing with me, knowing that their use of evidence and argumentation is what matters"

Somehow that seems to clash with the little anecdote you told some time ago about how you regularly began a class by mocking those who held a certain position on an issue. Quelle surprise!
Odd. Boris is notorious for ignoring evidence so that he can say that arguments actually based on evidence are not. So I wonder why he would make such a claim...Oh, I forgot for a second, he also lies about it. And you seem to have caught him in the act.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
And now Boris Erb quotes timactual and comments:
"little anecdote you told some time ago about how you regularly began a class by mocking those who held a certain position on an issue."

Little snide comments from the cheap seats are fine, but now it appears you’ve taken simply lying.
No one would ever have to lie about you, Boris.

So, I would take timactual at his word. First, it sounds exactly like something you would say. Second, it would be typical of your behavior.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
"I thought that you were just exclaiming."

Both. Plus a very strained allusion to its well know narcissism. I do love wordplay.


"Little snide comments from the cheap seats are fine, but now it appears you’ve taken simply lying."

Ooh! It appears I have hit a nerve.
Yeah, that’s right Erb, I decided to destroy my integrity just to take a shot at you. As if there isn’t enough material available without inventing some. You do have an inflated sense of yourself. And do work on your writing, old boy, the number of misspellings and other errors in your writing is unseemly for someone in your position.




 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
timactual writes:
Yeah, that’s right Erb, I decided to destroy my integrity just to take a shot at you. As if there isn’t enough material available without inventing some. You do have an inflated sense of yourself. And do work on your writing, old boy, the number of misspellings and other errors in your writing is unseemly for someone in your position.
Boris does have one misspelling that I like: he spells hypocrisy as "hypocracy," which I take as his preferred form of self-government.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Oh, a lie and then a spell flame — impressive!
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm

 
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