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Archive for the ‘Obtuse Observations’ Category

The Machinery of Freedom?

Lately I have engaged in a number of arguments with people supporting anarcho-capitalist notions. Many of the most extreme of these not only will throw out ambiguous desires for no government, but some of them have stumbled upon a few obfuscatory references to support their claims – or so it appears. Many those immediately point to the same video on youtube (The Machinery of Freedom).

mof

I’m reluctant to post a link to that post, because it’s a bunch of nice sounding rhetoric that makes the ideas of the Anarcho Capitalists seem workable – or at least sound more appealing. From what I understand, it’s an excerpt from a book (?) of the same name. I will admit I have not read the book, as of yet, I see no compelling reason to do so, especially if this excerpt is a representative example of the kinds of arguments the book attempts to make. The video in particular is talking about how police and courts can be handled by private ‘agencies’ like insurance agencies but with policing powers.

My take on ‘Anarchistic’ (non) government

Let me take an aside for a moment and speak to my own opinions of Anarchistic systems I have heard proposed and what I assert the consequences would be. In general, any time in history an anarchistic system is either established intentionally or results consequentially anywhere that a prior existing ‘government’ system (tyrannical or representative), the inevitable result in virtually all cases is for the society or region to fall quickly into tyranny. About the only exception to this is ‘frontier’ states where a migration of people are in the process of moving in, and the government they came from eventually moves in with them. (in other words, the desire is to bring not only themselves, but their culture and the means to maintain it with them)
As a result, I assert that the only time an anarchistic system can exist is when any other form of government is impracticable. Namely when the population is so low and the people are so spread out that a formal government is not only something that would be unfeasible, but is mostly unnecessary.

Some banter around words like ‘anarcho-socialism’ which is even more of an absurdity. A pseudo-marxist voluntary system where everyone just gets along and shares out of their love of the common good. (Whenever I hear this one, I start looking to see if the person is wearing Ruby slippers and chanting “There’s no place like social utopia… There’s no place like social utopia…”)

The basic conclusions that I arrive at whenever I examine suggested ‘anarchistic’ systems is that they will degrade into uncontrolled in fighting between ‘factions’ that spring up – aka ‘tribalism’ and ad-hoc governments will start to spring up despite any desire forbid governments (or certain types of them) to exist. Ultimately, the most brazen and charismatic leaders of these tribal factions will begin to gain a power base which will cause others in less powerful factions to side with the few remaining. The more brutal and irrational, without a basis of rules, will be the one that wins and it will either be beholden too or have to outright attack those with the most wealth first in order to achieve it’s ends. And those ends are tyranny rampant with brutality.

To the credit of the ‘anarchist’ thinkers, I am prone to agree with them that government based systems are also prone to a slow creep to tyranny regardless. But I’m also prone to think that a properly formed government will last far longer and produce better results than any ad-hoc system which is what ultimately results from any anarcho-based system. The best argument I ever heard in favor of anarchy was someone that didn’t describe it as lack of organized government, but a lack of ‘rulers’ – based on the original etymology of the word. At least the view is honest. (although the individual that communicated this to me was one of the ones that forwarded me the link to the video mentioned above)

So what about these Agencies?

In regard to the system outlined in the video itself (and any closely related to it), upon watching the whole thing, my most immediate questions are:

  1. how is that not going to continually erupt into conflict when two (or more) ‘competing’ agencies are marketing their ‘services’ to different groups with different interests and goals?
    and
  2. what is going to prevent that from eroding into serving primarily the ‘clients’ with the biggest pockets and/or most friends?

posseI used to bring up examples of the old west, and while I understand that the stories of the shootouts were more the exception than the norm, the nature of the law being somewhat ‘flexible’ based on whoever had the most gumption and the biggest posse was the only ‘working’ example of what they were talking about that I was aware of. And there were enough examples in the old west of that system failing to reach proper ‘justice’ and thus not being as ‘peachy’ as they describe it. So i always challenge people supporting such ideas to give a ‘working example’.

The honest ones will try to suggest, that just like the minarchism (which is what I support) in the US, it’s a bold, new idea that has never been tried but should be. The less honest will try to point to places where the anarchistic nature of the (lack of) government was simply a consequence of the nomadic or spread out population involved. One such example someone raised was Greenland – I looked it up. As soon as the population started to rise, the imperial influences in Europe came in and enacted a totalitarian regime.

Has it really never been tried?

But as I watched that video, something about what they were describing sounded familiar. And not from the old west. But at first I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I ended up watching some portions of it a couple of times and finally it hit me. It has been tried. A lot. The thing that I couldn’t hit on is that I had this impression in my head – it came initially as just a hunch, but once I realized the nature of what they were describing, I realized there were examples of it – that the only way there can be ‘multiple agencies’ in a single region is if the agencies have very similar goals and if those agencies have formal agreements (i.e. “government”) between one another not only as to how they will pursue those goals to mutual benefit, but to address what to do when their goals come into conflict.

Any other instance of multiple agencies with competing goals being in the same geographical region, as I was inclined to think, break down into endless conflict or results in the multiple agencies drawing lines in the sand based on whatever geography each of them can secure and defend. And even then, the feelings of resentment from their ‘customers’ carry on for years, even decades and centuries and conflicts at their borders generally continue with that resentment. People who used to live on one side of the line want back what they had. People who were moved against their will want to strike back.

Then the money and influence is also exemplified over and over again. Agencies as they describe, do in fact pander and cater to specific desires of the ‘customers’ they claim to represent. If those in charge of an agency, once confined to a given set of geography, feel bold enough, they will even turn on their customers and use the power they have amassed for their own ends. And even when this doesn’t happen, money and influence constantly peck at the doors and convince some running or working for the agencies to suit their needs above the needs of the rest of the ‘customers’.

History is the evidence

No, the anarcho-capitalist’s “agency” approach isn’t anything new at all. They just fail to see how the mixing of opposed ‘customers’ does turn into an endless shootout. It’s happened. In Israel. In Ireland. In Rowanda. In Korea. In Viet Nam. In Cambodia. In Eastern Europe.

If you haven’t figured it out yet yourself, the corollary is international politics. And ask anyone if they want a system that mirrors the one that spawned holy wars, inquisitions, imperial conquests, world wars, nuclear cold wars, etc. I have a feeling, anyone with a brain will say ‘NO’!

international

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walkie talkie kid

I don’t recall my elders ever commenting on me using my walkie talkie too much growing up. Of course, there was a problem with using walkie-talkies too much. The battery life and the range were both greatly limited. But I got to thinking about playing with walkie-talkies as a kid today after thinking about how many of the older generation now express concern over the younger generation spending too much time playing with cell phones.

One of the most frequent comments I hear is generally along the lines of “we did just fine without cell phones” and tends to involve side references to how, instead, they went outside and played or would actually go interact with their friends in person. Fair enough criticism and one that I considered (and still do consider) has some merit. But not so much since I thought about the walkie-talkies.

Sure, there were other devices that we had, some of which equally raised hackles in our parents and their friends. My brother was obsessed with his Coleco electronic football game for a while as was I with the racing game. In high school, some of the nerdier guys I knew all got HP48c scientific calculators and used to spend hours trying to program rudimentary software into them to do a plethora of inane things hardly worthy of the time it required to achieve them.

“Look, I wrote a program last night that tells me the time in Shri Lanka!”
“And we need to know the time in Shri Lanka because why?”

But the closest analog to the modern cell phone has to be the walkie-talkie. For those of you that might be from my generation or slightly before, you probably know what I’m talking about even if you haven’t considered the comparison. The first thing you did after making sure they worked – a process that generally involved about 20 minutes of tinkering with batteries, switches and buttons – was to hold them next to one another pressing the buttons on each at once. This usually produced a loud squalk which could sometimes pre-occupy those kids new to the concept of audio-feedback for another 30 minutes. But once the initial fascination with the devices and the feedback subsided, the ultimate use of hand-held walkie-talkie radios was finally put to the test…

And without question, that involved getting out of sight of one another. Walkie-talkies made no sense what-so-ever if you could hear the guy talking within earshot. It didn’t even make much sense if you could see what he was doing, especially because the most common subject of conversation amounted to “what are you doing?” and the corresponding response. Needless to say, the nature of the ‘walkie talkie’ was to be out of line of sight from your friend. More often than not, the bulk of the first few weeks of playing with walkie-talkie radios involved an endless series of tests to see just ‘how far out of sight’ you could get from one another and still be able to converse. Once the initial fascination with wireless communications settled down, then and only then would you try to figure out things to do that did not revolve directly around the concept of getting-as-far-away-from-one-another-as-possible.

Another common practice, and one that would also generate concern from parents would be if and when two kids in close proximity could figure out how to use the walkie-talkies to converse while still in their own houses, especially the privacy of their own bedrooms. While this too caused concern with parents, it was generally not over the devices distracting from other activities — well that is except for the most common activity that generated the concern, going to bed instead of talking on the damn radio all night!

walkie talkies

As I mention, the devices were limited though, so there was not nearly as much concern. If you talked in them too much, the batteries went dead and getting mom or dad to buy you more batteries was an effort that became more difficult with increased use of the radio and increased frequency of need for new ones. So ad-hoc communications such as with the modern day cell phone and the advent of built-in rechargeable batteries was extremely limited. Of course, you were also limited to just talking and then only half-duplex. (read: one side conversing at a time) And as already mentioned there was only a limited range. If your friend went to the mall, you would be lucky if you could hear him transmitting past the top of the street corner. (though that did not stop us from trying, especially in the aforementioned ‘range testing’ phase)

There is also the very real concern today that a cell phone can connect to an internet full of all sorts of other influences. While many walkie-talkie devices were defaulted to channel 14 on the citizen band (CB radio) which was also used by truckers, truckers also tended to be more polite to kids on CB in those days and any nefarious behavior, if and when a meager walkie-talkie signal actually got heard by an adult, involved the adult telling the kid to knock it off!

Thinking back, however, if there had been any way for us to play games directly on those walkie talkies, we would have utilized it. If we could have talked farther than to the next block, we would have reveled in it. (hey, I became an Extra class amateur radio operator in my teens – I actually DID it) And if we could have sent text over them, we would have done that too. (the best we ever had was the occasional walkie talkie with a second red button that could send a morse code tone)

Thus, I think it is fair to say that for my generation (and those immediately before) who enjoyed things such as walkie talkies, we do not have much cause to complain – or at least to complain too loudly. Envy, perhaps. But complain? No!

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ImageI’ll never forget when US Airways flight 1549 had to do an emergency belly landing in the Hudson river and no one was injured. Shortly following the event, a whole lot of people started clamoring about how it was ‘a miracle’ or that God definitely played a role in getting all those people to safety. My inbox was no exception.

Such things tend to frustrate me because it shows the blatant confirmation bias of the religious thinker. No one questions that ‘God’ steps in to do the ‘good’ outcome but they do not also apply that similar thinking to the ‘bad’ outcomes any more than they think the same ‘God’ would have played a role in causing or should have played a role in preventing the situation in the first place.

For example, do you suppose that anyone on board was ‘cursing’ God when they thought they were going to die? Or what about passengers or witnesses to crashes where no one survives? Well, obviously, that is just part of God’s plan then right? It’s a mystery!

Such thinking is not only inconsistent and intellectually dishonest, it distracts from the real heroes doing real things — real people! — who are contributing to great outcomes. To more than one person who sent me the ‘miraculous’ assertion, I had but one response:

Yes, I am sure that God personally intervened to make sure that all of those passengers and crew as well as the people on the ground were not harmed.
I’m sure that the years of training and calm headed, quick thinking of the pilot and the flight crew played absolutely no role in keeping the jet from crashing.
And the air traffic controllers using the world’s most advanced and coordinated air traffic system, radar technology, two-way radio communications and direct lines to multiple airports across the northeast didn’t have anything to do with it.
Nor did the years of development and advancement in aircraft design, technology and safety measures contribute in any fashion.
The flight attendants, their years of training and their similar cool thinking keeping the passengers calm and following safety procedures that have been practiced and rehearsed had nothing to do with it.
Not to mention the passengers themselves for following instructions and remaining so calm and working together.
No one on the ground in New York city with a cell phone, similarly developed through years of technology utilizing one of the most advanced telephone systems in the world calling upon seeing the plane going down did anything to help.
The 911 operators utilizing their refined network of emergency resources and vast network of trained emergency response procedures obviously did not contribute.
Nor did the quick response of the harbor authority and their rescue vehicles that rushed to the aid of the plane once it was safely upon the water.
Obviously it was all God’s work.

Now I’m sure you’ll probably say ‘well, God created all those things’ or that he had a hand in carrying them out. But I’m just curious. If God really wanted to make sure all of those people were safe, wouldn’t it have been far easier and less trouble in the long run….

…. if he had just moved the goose 3′ to the left?”

WSIDAirplaneGeeseinFlight

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lightbulb-idea

A few absolutes about human ideas…

  1. If you can conceive of it, chances are someone has already thought of it before.
  2. If you try to do anything about it, someone will claim they thought of it first (whether they did or not) and try to stop you.
  3. If you try to build it, some union boss is going to say you need to do it with union labor.
  4. If you actually build it, some advocacy group is going to claim it is dangerous to the environment, harmful to children, unfair to minorities, etc.
  5. If it turns out to be beneficial, some religious group will say it’s a miracle and try to give the credit to their chosen god or gods.
  6. If it is cutting-edge, some other group is going to say it’s evil and try to get it banned, protest your workshop or declare a holy/social war against you.
  7. If it is useful, someone in the military is going to try to find a way to weaponize it.
  8. If you created it for a specific purpose, someone will eventually find a way to misuse it regardless of how many warning labels you put upon it. (See #7 & #12)
  9. If it can be used in any way to hurt somebody else (see #4, #7 and possibly #12) then someone will use it that way on others despite the labels and warnings in #8.  Refer back to #6 for the consequences.
  10. If you try to sell it, someone in China will quickly make a knock-off version of it for less.
  11. If it makes money, someone in government is going to find a way to tax it. If it makes people’s lives simpler and easier, someone in government will require 14 forms to get one and further regulate it to make it more difficult and complicated.
  12. If people buy it, someone will eventually find a sexual use for it.
  13. If you make it durable, someone will find a way to break it.
  14. If it makes you rich, some liberal is going to say you exploited your customers, workers or the environment getting that way.

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I direct this post specifically at those individuals saying they intend to vote for a Romney presidency either primarily to defeat Obama or for those who cannot cite any valid, unequivocal reasons that they have any cause other than an Obama defeat as their primary purpose. This includes those of you that say trite little phrases like ‘a vote for a third party is a vote for Obama‘ or that call people names for considering a third party vote without making any valid arguments other than an alleged Obama win as cause for not doing so.

The Three Imperatives

So let us say for a second that you are right. Or at least that your claim has validity to it. What you are saying carries with it a couple of imperative premises. Imperative, for any unfamiliar with the term, means ‘absolutely necessary or required; unavoidable‘. This means that the claim that a ‘vote for a third party is a vote for Obama’ requires that certain things be true or at least highly likely. There are three specifically that I would like to point out first.

If you are saying that a vote for a third party is a ‘vote for Obama’ than it is not simply an implication, it is an imperative that you think such a vote would otherwise have been a vote of support for the most likely candidate ‘other’ than Obama. In our current two-party system, this means the Republican candidate whom this time around happens to be Mitt. In other words, by making your assertion, you are saying that support for third party candidates (such as Gary Johnson) are going to, or at least more likely going to come from what otherwise would be a likely Republican base. (again, this is not an assumption, it is an imperative based on that claim)

If you can’t cite worthwhile reasons to vote ‘for’ Romney – or worse, you admit fully that your support of Mitt is primarily based upon a desire to ‘defeat Obama’, then there is also an imperative in that line of reasoning. That being, you assume 4 more years of Obama will be very bad, will damage the country, will do harm to the country’s future, etc.  You are in essence saying that anyone who supports ideas similar to yours would be foolish and self-defeating to do anything that might help Obama have more years in office.

Finally, the third imperative in this statement is related to the likelihood of Obama winning. If Obama was perceived by all to be as awful as you claim he is, to be doing as much potential damage as you say, and if the Republican alternative is that much more superior, then people should be voting for Romney by default anyway. The election should be an open-shut Romney landslide.

But to say that third party votes will so damage Romney’s chance of winning that it will ensure an Obama win requires another thing to be true: Romney does not inspire nearly enough enthusiastic support as would be required for a landslide Obama defeat. Or in other words, Obama’s chances to win are pretty good despite your claims that his presidency is so horrible.

A Reasonable and Likely Assumption

Another implication that is not quite to the level of an outright imperative, but which seems to be suggested by the existence of those three imperatives is those supporting Obama are either too stupid to know better (in significant enough numbers to still give him a good chance of victory based on the third imperative above) or, more likely, Obama is a slick politician who is very good at using politics, manipulation, corruption, deception and whatever other means he can utilize to get himself support. And even if your worry is simply that the main stream media’s biases will simply support and promote the democratic candidate to make up for such short comings, the same reasoning below still applies, only to the media machine instead of the Obama campaign staff.

Although I am sure anyone that fits my description in the first paragraph probably considers the former to also apply, any with any integrity will also admit that they think the latter is also something they believe or assert as a truism for our current President. Based on this assumption and corresponding evaluation of Obama as a very slick political opportunist, this brings me to the purpose of this posting.

If Your Assertion is Correct, Watch Obama!

If what you say is in fact true, that a third party vote (for someone like Johnson) is in fact a vote to get Obama re-elected,  then it stands to reason that getting more people to support Johnson (and therefore ‘not’ support Romney by your own reasoning) is in Obama’s own interest.  If in fact it is correct that Obama is an unscrupulous, political opportunist then he and his campaign/handlers will use whatever means he can to improve his chances of being elected. In short, if your assertion is correct, then if Johnson continues polling in states above 10% (such as he recently did in his home state of New Mexico) such as to make him more a more significant alternative than most third party efforts, then it is in the Obama campaign’s best interest to help him get to 15% to get him into the debates so more people will see him and (by your reasoning), more Romney voters will filter off to Johnson.

So, watch Obama. If Gary continues to show increases in the polls, and your assertions hold any validity to them at all, then Obama should start finding ways to get more attention on the Libertarian candidate. If not, then you are as full of crap as your assertion that anything other than a ‘vote for Obama’ is a vote for Obama.

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Last night I had a dream. I was sitting in a park minding my own business when up walked none other than President Barack Obama. Before I could say anything, he began to speak.

“I understand you don’t like me young man,” he said reaching out his hand.

I just sat nonplussed and responded, “To be more accurate I disapprove of you.”

Seeing I was not going to shake his hand, he held it out a moment longer than eventually pulled it back with a slight ‘hmm’ sound then resumed speaking with his political smile.

“Well, I would like to try to change your mind. As President of these United States I would like to offer you anything you desire that is within my power to grant.”

I looked up at him a second to see if he was serious, then looked around to see if perhaps it was some kind of hidden camera prank, then looked back at the President. He seemed quite in earnest. After I pondered his intentions a bit longer, he finally asked again, “Well, what would it be?”

I took in a deep breath and said simply, “No.”

“No?” he asked, “You mean to say I offer you anything you want, anything that is within my power to grant you and your answer is no?”

“Yes,” I said, “my answer is no. But if you are sincere in your desire for me to have such a favor, I will tell you what…,” and I reached into my pocket and pulled out a pen and a small pad of paper I carry around for scribbling down writing ideas.

As I started to write, the President tried to peek out of curiousity, but catching my attention and causing me to pause in my writing, he quickly resumed his smiling stance patient but curious to see what I was up to.  I eventually finished writing and tore off the sheet and handed it to the him. It read as follows:

To whom it may concern:

Today I offered a young man by the name of Scott Webster Wood a favor of anything I had within the power of my office to bestow upon him for the purpose of trying to gain his favorable regard of me and my administration. This young man refused my offer.

He refused it on the grounds that he does not approve of my administration, it’s policies or even my holding this office based on the nature of those policies. Therefore he considered me neither worthy, nor holding the appropriate authority to grant such a privilege onto him in the first place.

But it was my sincere intention to grant this favor. So should this man ever return to the capital seeking fulfillment of this favor, I would like to ask humbly that you take it under consideration should any of my successors be found sufficiently worthy by this young gentleman after my term of office has expired.

Sincerely,

X______________________________
President Barack Hussein Obama

When it appeared he had finished reading, I told him, “Now all you need do, if your offer was in fact sincere, is sign your name down there at the bottom and shove that somewhere in the drawer of that big HMS desk that you love to put your feet up on all the time.”

Obama just scoffed, then began to laugh, crumpling up the piece of paper and throwing it on the ground before walking away spouting only the word “Fool!” I went back to minding my own business.

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William James - philosopher and author of 'Pragmatism'
For some time I have dubbed myself a ‘theoretical idealist, but a practicable realist’. But at the same time, I am a very staunch denouncer of pragmatism. I was thinking more on the differences between ‘practicable realism’ and ‘pragmatism’ lately and finally hit on a succinct way to describe the difference.

When I say that of myself, what I mean is that I can conceive of the ‘best’ course of action or the ‘best’ possible result in any circumstance, but that I also understand the nature of reality. Reality is such that not only are some results not possible, but in some cases, some courses of action are either not available or not worth pursuing when faced with the potential for success.

When I refer to pragmatism, specifically in my condemnations of it, what I refer to is the practice of placing the most worthiness or value in courses of action that are the likeliest to succeed and/or to produce a desired result. More often than not, ‘likeliest’ also entails, the ‘easiest’ course or the one requiring the least effort to accomplish.  It materializes through cliches such as “the ends justifies the means” and “picking the lesser of two evils” and is often referred to as ‘acting out of expedience’. Pragmatism is rampant in both the behaviors of our politicians and in the votes of those electing them, so it is often a subject for me when speaking on politics, as well as many other areas of life where it appears.

The reason I find a problem with pragmatism is that most people oversimplify situations. The term ‘lesser of two evils’ is a prime example of this. In most cases where this phrase is applied, two alternatives do not constitute the entire pool of choices. Instead, the ‘two’ refers to the ‘two’ pragmatic, or most-likely/easiest choices. The less likely choices are disregarded out of expedience, and often become a self-fulfilling prophecy since the pragmatic never pursue them in the first place — especially in populist arenas like democratic elections or assemblies.

The main and most outstanding difference between this form of pragmatism and what I refer to as ‘practicable realism’ is that realism requires taking all possible or available options into account. Acting in this way, one might use pragmatic-like criteria to determine their actions (picking the lesser evil from a given list of alternatives) but ONLY when no other alternatives exist. In contrast, the pragmatist ignores or otherwise disregards the difficult or unlikely choices in favor of the easy or likely ones.

Besides being bad philosophy, this pragmatic approach to decision making is lazy, cowardly and irresponsible. If a better alternative exists, you should pursue the better alternative in ALL CASES. This does not mean that some aspects of pragmatic thinking might help you determine what is the ‘best’ alternative, but it means that you must rank likeliness as secondary to what is proper, good and right whenever considering a course of action.

** editor note: to further differentiate this concept from ‘pragmatism’ which is often expressed through ‘practical’ solutions, I am changing my wording to use the word ‘practicable’ (which is more accurate to the concept anyway) for better clarity.

“If you have standards that you wish to live by, by all means live up to them and demand the same from others around you. To do otherwise is to be disingenuous to yourself, to others and to those standards you hold.” – Scott Webster Wood

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