A Short Hop from Bleeding Heart to Mailed Fist

When Hugo Chavez began ruling Venezuela, he sounded like a classic bleeding-heart – full of pity for the poor and downtrodden.  Plenty of people took him at his words – not just Venezuelans, but much of the international bleeding-heart community.  By the time Chavez died, however, many admirers were already having second thoughts about his dictatorial tendencies.  Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s handpicked successor, amply confirmed these fears.  Almost everyone now plainly sees the mailed fist of the brutal dictator Chavez II.

Which brings us to two facts about the political world.  Let’s call them Strange and Meta-Strange.

The Strange Fact: This transition from bleeding heart to mailed fist is common.  Almost every Communist dictatorship launches with mountains of humanitarian propaganda.  Yet ultimately, almost everyone who doesn’t fear for his life wakes up and smells the tyranny.

The Meta-Strange Fact: People rarely describe the Strange Fact as “strange”!

What’s so strange about the Strange Fact?  Most obviously, the extreme hypocrisy.  Governments that vocally proclaim their compassion for the meek – most obviously the Soviet Union and Maoist China – commit a grossly disproportionate share of mass murder and other violations of human rights.

What’s so strange about the Meta-Strange Fact?  Well, picture the most vocally compassionate person you personally know, the person who seems most obsessed with the interests and feelings of others.  Wouldn’t you be shocked to discover that they burn babies with cigarettes when you’re not looking?  It’s one thing for people to fall short of saintly ideals; it’s quite another for people who uphold saintly ideals to be downright wicked.

What’s going on?  Here are some possibilities:

1. Politics is a brutal game.  When bleeding hearts take over a government, brutal outsiders smell their weakness, force their way in, bully their way to the top, and unleash hell.

The obvious problem with this story, of course, is that the bleeding hearts and mailed fists are usually the same people, though sometimes at different stages in their political career.

2. In this wicked world, the best way to pursue bleeding-heart policies is with a mailed fist.  Sure, it would be nice if we could harmoniously adopt bleeding-heart policies.  But in the real world, the forces of reaction and selfishness will try to obstruct and reverse bleeding-heart policies with every step.  Unless, of course, you terrorize them into submission.

The obvious problem with this story, of course, is that countries that pursue bleeding-heart policies with a mailed fist look like total disasters.  Most of them face horrifying civil wars; and even when the dust settles, the common man’s quality of life remains very low.

3. Hostile foreigners force bleeding hearts to adopt the mailed fist.  When countries pursue bleeding-heart policies, evil countries like the United States try to isolate, punish, and overthrow them.  The best way to protect your noble bleeding-heart experiment, sadly, is to prioritize the military and internal security.  Then the international community has the effrontery to call these unwelcome defensive measures “the mailed fist.”

The obvious problem with this story: One of the quickest ways to anger countries like the United States is to blatantly use the mailed fist (especially if you combine your mailed fist with anti-Western rhetoric).  Furthermore, if extreme bleeding-heart policies really were prone to provoke powerful foreigners, a sincere bleeding heart would moderate enough to appease these foreigners.  “You don’t like my total war against illiteracy and disease?  Fine, I’ll just do a half-war against illiteracy and disease.”

4. The bleeding-heart rhetoric is mostly propaganda; the main goal is the mailed fist.  Even the most abusive romances usually start with a honeymoon period.  Similarly, dictators rarely gain total power by growling, “Give me total power.”  Instead, they woo the people with flowery words and symbolic gifts.  Part of the goal, of course, is to trick your victims until you get the upper hand.  But the flowery words and symbolic gifts are also effective ways to inspire gratitude in both recipients and bystanders.

This story often seems right to me, but it does implausibly downplay the bleeding hearts’ ideological fervor.

5. Bleeding-heart rhetoric is disguised hate speech.  When activists blame the bourgeoisie for causing hunger, disease, and illiteracy, perhaps their main concern isn’t actually alleviating hunger, disease, or illiteracy.  While they’d like these problems to disappear, the bleeding hearts’ top priority could be making the bourgeoisie suffer.  The mailed fist systematizes that suffering.

It’s tempting to dismiss this story as cartoonish, but it’s more plausible than you think.  Human beings often resent first – and rationalize said resentment later.  They’re also loathe to admit this ugly fact.  Actions, however, speak louder than words.  People like Chavez and Maduro can accept their failure to help the poor, but not their failure to crush their hated enemies.

6. Bleeding-heart policies work so poorly that only the mailed fist can sustain them.  In this story, the bleeding hearts are at least initially sincere.  If their policies worked well enough to inspire broad support, the bleeding hearts would play nice.  Unfortunately, bleeding-heart policies are exorbitantly expensive and often directly counter-productive.  Pursued aggressively, they predictably lead to disaster.  At this point, a saintly bleeding heart will admit error and back off.  A pragmatic bleeding heart will compromise.  The rest, however, respond to their own failures with rage and scapegoating.  Once you institutionalize that rage and scapegoating, the mailed fist has arrived.

This story also seems pretty solid.  It downplays the self-conscious Machiavellians, but only by recasting them as childish fanatics.

If you don’t know much about the actual history of radical bleeding-heart regimes, I’ll admit that stories 4-6 sound overblown and unfair.  But I’ve devoted much of my life to studying this history.  All I can say is:  If your story isn’t ugly, it isn’t true.

P.S. Hugo Chavez is a really boring speaker, so if you’re curious about the general phenomenon I’m discussing, start with this little bleeding-heart speech by the murderous Che Guevara.

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The Creepy Obsession

I am against pedophiles. Especially pedophiles who act on it.

I am also against obsessive pedophile hunters and obsessive pedophile punishers.

They like to think of themselves as knights on a Holy Crusade. I see them as the spiritual descendants of Torquemada.

I’ve come to believe that most people who claim to be hunting or fighting pedophiles are simply hungry for someone it’s socially OK to obsessively hate; someone they can safely post revenge porn about. It’s their version of Nazi hunting. Most even misdefine “pedophile” and “child” so they’ll have more targets available.

It’s a witchhunt; one libertarians seem particularly prone to joining. Perhaps they hunger to behave like the statists they see around them– with revenge and force– so they’ve found a target that’s socially acceptable to those who reject the initiation of force.

It’s somewhat understandable; libertarians are all about defending people, especially those who aren’t able to defend themselves. Children are vulnerable. People who prey on them are evil. But there’s such a thing as jumping off the deep end and being drowned by your obsession. Yes, even in cases like this. In their zeal, libertarian pedophile obsessives become indistinguishable from the statists. This is wrong even when the cause is right.

And you’re not “allowed” to question these self-anointed pedohunters in the slightest.

This makes me suspicious of their actual motives. I’m reminded of the loudly anti-homosexual televangelists. I’d be willing to bet some are more similar to those guys than they’d ever admit. No, not all of them, and probably not even most of them, but some.

Surely I’m not the only person who wonders about this, or who sees their obsession as a bit creepy. But even if I am the only one, I’m OK with that.

I realize that pointing this out will make them claim I’m defending pedophiles– I’m not. If that’s what they get from this they are hallucinating and imagining they can read my mind. They may even claim I am one– I’m not. But it’s their go-to reaction. I’ve seen it before, more than once.

All because someone dared question their untouchable obsession. To them that’s unforgivable.

And this illustrates what I see as wrong with their crusade. It’s not reasonable or rational. It’s rabid and emotional, and anything is OK as soon as they accuse their target. In their minds, accusation equals guilt. No real proof is needed to convict and execute once the accusation has been leveled. The accusation settles it. “For the CHILDREN!”

I’m not saying there aren’t sexual predators out there, because there are, and I know some of them target children. This is wrong. It is archation. No one molests kids by accident. If you do, you intended to. If you don’t intend to, you don’t do it. (You could still be falsely accused, though.)

When I encounter one of these obsessives, I just quietly back away. I don’t support pedophiles, but I don’t support their creepy doppelgängers, either. I’ll probably regret ever saying anything, but it’s been weighing on my mind and needed to be said.

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On Coming to Grips with the Nature of the State

It took me a long time to come to grips with the nature of the state. Once I had done so, at least so far as the fundamentals are concerned, I found it almost amusing to ponder how so many analysts and writers, some of them deep, first-rate thinkers, discuss the matter. For the great preponderance of them, the state is almost a genteel topic. They discuss the state as if it were actually created by well-meaning philosophers sitting around comparing models of truth, beauty, and goodness. They speak as if the state were composed of people who would, for example, deal honestly, openly, faithfully, and humanely with those subject to their authority. Many take it to be innocuous in itself, a sort of puppet dancing at the end of strings pulled here and there by voters in democratic elections or by capitalists, oligarchs, big bankers, or gnomes of Zurich.

Eventually, I concluded that all such discussions are out of touch with reality. First, I found from my historical studies that rulers have and make use of great discretion as they decide what to do and how to do it. Second, I found that the rulers and their henchmen are not like you and me: they are both self-selected and spit out by evolution via no-holds-barred political competition to be among the most unscrupulous, conniving, brutal, violent, and sociopathic people in the society. Third, they have an extraordinary hunger and thirst for power, public adulation, and domination of their fellows. In short, they are predisposed toward the most wicked ways of attaining their personal ends, and they enjoy dishing out death and destruction to those who stand in their way or fail to kowtow to them. Fourth, their public debates are phony: they do not seek the best way to promote the public good, but the best way to achieve their personal ambitions. Many, however, are oily and astute in misleading the public into regarding them as people of good will or even as saviors.

That so many intellectuals talk about the state as if it were a sort of garden-party amusement, rather than the cold, merciless killing and plundering machine that it really is, now puzzles me. I don’t think the disconnect between the ivory-tower conceptions and the reality of the state springs so much from the philosophers and political scientists having prostituted themselves to the state as it springs from these thinkers’ not getting out more—or, barring actual first-hand involvement in the relevant realms, from their failure to learn more realistic history. The material is there if only one takes the trouble to locate it and immerse oneself in it. Mere armchair musing about the state, however, has very little value.

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That’s Not Feminism: 3 Ways Women Advocate For Their Own Oppression

Another women’s march has come and gone, and once again I wasn’t in attendance. Not because I am anti-woman (I would actually argue that I am more pro-woman than even the most die hard feminists), and not because I don’t think women should have equal opportunities and treatment as men. Of course I do. At this point, who doesn’t, really? (Donald Humpty Dump and his cronies don’t count). I love seeing all the ways we demand our rights and equality (like intersectionality), and saddened by the issues that don’t make it to mainstream media (like rights in childbirth).

At the same time, women aren’t men, and often times feminism seems to me more about women wanting to become like men than more like… women.

The patriarchy runs so deep that we can easily find ourselves knocking on the doors of it and desperately asking to join the ranks and systems of a man created world. Personally, I would much rather tune into the power of what makes us female, and work to take down the current model, recreating a new one that wholly supports what it fundamentally means to be a woman. In all of our intuition, vitality, and nurturing spirits.

Don’t mistake this to mean that I believe women and men should be pigeonholed in set gender roles and stereotypes. With that said, and I will say it again, women and men are different, and that is ok. Not only is it ok, but it is crucial for the health and continuation and cooperation of our species.

Something I often see in the feminist movement (and I am a feminist!) is women demanding for something that appears on the outside will liberate them, but in reality, it only furthers their oppression. Usually, the very nature of the thing they are asking for, the very concept of it is bred from patriarchal ideals and ways of thinking.

Women, if you are really wanting to take back your power as a woman, then understand the ways we unknowingly conspire with the patriarchy to keep us from knowing who we really are and what we are capable of…

1) Work/motherhood/childlessness

No, I am not here to say that mothers need to stay home, not work and resort to being housewives. But I will say that it’s the patriarchy that made us all believe that “merely” raising children is an inferior path. Only a society that detests, ignores, and denies the importance of the mother/child relationship says that motherhood is nothing but a burden on women. It is only a burden in a society that puts all of it’s worth into production and growth of industry. It is only a burden in a male centered society that offers women who have had babies no support. It is only a burden in a society that has made it to where the choice to become a mother only further disadvantages a woman.

Your choice to not have a baby is most likely coming from being raised in a patriarchal society that has tragically low views on women and children and has detroyed the the more natural ways of life lived by our ancestors that is more conducive to that.

But don’t be confused. It isn’t motherhood itself that further disadvantages a woman. It is the society that she finds herself in and the fundamental way it operates. Patriarchy puts mothers at a disadvantage. Not motherhood.

There is a big influx of women choosing to not have children and parading it as a choice of empowerment and liberation. For some or many women this is perhaps the case. I am not suggesting all women should have babies and I absolutely believe in having a choice. But a choice can only be made when the option to have a child without you having to sacrifice your life is present. I can’t help but wonder if this choice was made based on the current way society is set up, and the values women have taken on from a society who only grants validation to women who work hard according to its patriarchal definition of “hard work.”

You see, we don’t recognize the hard work of woman (yes, I meant woman, not women). The dark, underground work. The lead to gold. The blood. The death to rebrith. The places we have to go to bring life into the world (and many women don’t even know that one because more patriarchy, i.e. medicalized birth).

We don’t see the behind the scenes work of mothers and women. The work that often goes unnoticed, but without it, everything would collapse.

If a woman has to choose between her job or having a child, that isn’t an empowered choice. If a woman has to jump out of bed at 3-6 weeks postpartum to go back to work or else she loses that job isn’t something we should all high five for because #workingmom.

That mom just severed the symbiotic relationship that is required for mother and child to thrive (which ultimately means for humanity to thrive). She just had to stop breastfeeding and start feeding from a bottle. She just had to leave her baby all day which increases her risk for PPD. It also increases her and her baby’s cortisol production (stress hormone). A woman’s body isn’t even fully healed in this amount of time, and some studies show it takes a woman a whole year to fully recover on every level after giving birth (I can attest to that one). What this is essentially saying is the work to be done out in the world is more important than the work of raising healthy (physically, emotionally, psychologically) humans. We are telling women that they are more valuable at work than they are at home with their newborns. A job that no one can replace for the mother and be as effective as. How is all this in any way, “pro woman?”

2) Birth Control Pills (and all hormonal contraceptives)

I’ve always been a feminist, right? So even when I was younger and very much ‘asleep’ I identified as a feminist, and I was one of these people who thought birth control was like a female entitlement like, ‘How dare you not make this free and widely available.’

But as I began to research more about it, I learned it’s–and not to be too inflammatory–but the ultimate tool for oppression of the modern woman.

Your biology is meant to guide you. It’s meant to empower you, it’s meant to, you know, create a sense of vitality if you can inhabit your body and be in a truce with it.

-Dr. Kelly Brogan MD

Your fertility is not a burden. It’s your power. Our demand and outcry for hormonal contraception means the patriarchal system has very successfully made women believe that they can’t be bothered by what makes them women (so be like a man, basically).

The wide use of synthetic hormonal contraceptions have stripped women of their unique rhythmic cycles and understanding of their own biology. It has meant that the majority of women know nothing about their monthly cycle, or how to track it, or how to read their body for their own personal advantage. This ancient and vast well of wisdom that was given to women has been taken from them by medical, patriarchal thought that says women can’t know their bodies so well. That they need a pill to control their moods, hormones, and when they bleed.

Just like a lot of pharmaceuticals, the pill keeps you from looking within. It band-aids potential imbalances within the body. Don’t even get me started on the long list of side effects and negative outcomes women experience on the pill. Did you know if a woman is taking birth control she is 30% more likely to be prescribed anti-depressants than a woman who is not on birth control? Do you know how many parents are grieving over their daughters who lost their lives to pulmonary embolism (a side effect of the pill)? Not to mention the day-to-day health repercussions like weight gain, migraines, heavy bleeding, low libido, mood swings, et cetera, ad infinitum

Hormonal contraception is a total undermine of a woman’s health and wellbeing. It is the manipulation of her sex hormones, which are inextricably connected to the rest of her body. It is the tactical breakdown of a woman’s autonomy and opportunity to know her true self. It is the rejection of her feminine essence and the power, intuition, and magic that women of the past gained from the total embrace and connection to their monthly cycle.

There is nothing more liberating and empowering than embracing who you truly are as a woman, without suppressing it. There is nothing more empowering than taking 100% control and responsibility for your body, fertility and cycles, and knowing how to work with and understand the ebbs/flows and energy shifts that occur throughout a woman’s life. For me, there has been nothing more radically empowering than taking 101% responsibility and control of my reproductive health. My rights cannot be taken away. Nothing can be given to me that I don’t already have.

There is nothing empowering or liberating about handing your health over to big medicine. There is nothing empowering about not seeking the wisdom of your body because you can just pop a pill to manage your cycles for you. It doesn’t come without a cost. Women deserve to be given all the information before they are given the pill, but more often than not, this information is not disclosed, once again making it not a truly empowered choice. It’s more like the default due to the lack of choices.

There’s a reason there isn’t a birth control like this for men. No really, it’s because they tried but the side effects were too unbearable for them. I don’t know if the patriarchal overtones could reek anymore strongly. Not to mention it absolves men of the responsibility to be vigilant about unwanted pregnancy.

3) Abortion

No “choice” is ever made outside of the potent and unseen forces of socialization that we are all subject to, whether we recognize this or not. I’m much less interested in the reasons and rationalizations for why individuals make the decisions that we do, in favour of looking at choices as political and systemic. I hope that everyone can recognize that while it is never necessary or appropriate to judge individual women for their “choices”, it is in fact essential to make judgements about the cultural mores and expectations that underpin individual choices—this is, after all, the purpose of feminism as a political movement.

-Yolande Clark

Whoa, Nelly. Before I get bombarded with hate, let me tell you that I don’t identify as pro-choice or pro-life (as we commonly define those terms), because this issue is not that black and white to me.

With that said, what I have come to realize in my investigation is that often times, a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy is a symptom of living under a patriarchal regime, not a solution to it. Let me explain…

At this point, I don’t have strong opinions about what constitutes as the beginning of life, nor do I have a religious dog in this fight, so that won’t be the position I am coming from. I am more interested in what drives 1/3 of women to have an abortion at some point in their lifetime. One third. That’s one third of women who don’t “feel proud kinship in the earthy, elemental beauty of birth. To hold it in contempt is to reject our distinctive power, our bodies, ourselves,” as put by Frederica Matthews-Green. (Seriously go read that article). So what’s up? Honestly, I could dissect this topic forever, but I will try to keep it concise.

First I want you to ask yourself this question: Do you believe that if we lived in a matriarchal/woman-centered and revered society, one that understood deeply and honored and prioritized the mother/child dyad, women would still be getting abortions at the number we see them getting them today?

In my opinion, if a woman wants her baby, she should have the right to the means to be able to do that. For a woman to feel like she has no choice (which is the opposite of how we tout pro choice abortion) but to terminate her pregnancy because of societal expectations of who and who is not capable and deemed acceptable to give life, is in its essence patriarchal and abusive to women and their children. Because we don’t have an understanding or reverence for the mother/baby relationship, we place all these outside conditions on who is suitable to have a baby. The underlying message is that the woman herself isn’t enough. She must have a certain amount of money, be a certain age (we hate pregnant teens), be partnered (and preferably married according to many), et cetera, for society to give the nod of approval to her pregnancy. One poll revealed that most women get abortions because it was what someone else thought they should do (boyfriend, parents, et cetera).

In a patriarchal society, death and destruction is the solution to a perceived problem. In a society that was truly for women, the suggestion to end her pregnancy when she felt alone and upsupported wouldn’t make the top of the list. Asking how we can help and support her and make it possible to have her baby (the preferred choice) would. Abortion is a false sense of control and autonomy when a woman feels she has no other option.

If an entire society is set up in a way that becoming a mother only further disadvantages you, is it fair to call having an abortion a true choice?

It’s not really pro-choice if the option to keep the baby (and thrive) isn’t on the table. If we are going to be a pro-choice society then we really need to give women the resources and support they need to keep the baby without it being some great sacrifice. Otherwise, where is the choice really? I don’t think any woman ever really chooses to abort her baby. Abortion is what happens when a woman feels she has no other option.

-Suzanne Gross

Patriarchy is driven by profit and control. It’s what ultimately deconstructed colonial and tribal lifestyles. Lifestyles that support the mother/baby relationship, which is to say, supports our humanity. Without that, it isn’t a wonder why so often women feel driven by desperation to end a pregnancy. Having a child in this culture is grueling work. How can we blame us?

Feminists for Life maintains that abortion rather reflects traditional patriarchal values: seeking power through control and domination, condoning violence on the grounds of personal privacy, and using killing as a solution to conflict. These views represent a renaissance of the original American feminism. Like the early American suffragists, today’s pro-life feminists envision a better world in which no woman would be driven by desperation to abortion.

It is unjust to ask a woman to choose between sacrificing her life plans or her own child in order to participate freely and equally in society. Instead, let us work together to systematically eliminate the root causes that drive women to abortion — primarily lack of practical resources and support — through holistic, woman-centered solutions.

Marilyn Kopp, Washington Examiner

I haven’t even touched on the corruption of the abortion industry and how it’s simply another way we commodify women’s bodies. Nor have I mentioned the physiological and emotional consequences of interrupting a pregnancy that most women have to suffer in silence about because our society doesn’t offer support for the biological after effects of abortion. Because, once again, patriarchy only values that which it can cash in on and assert control over. Nurturing and healing people doesn’t exactly fall into that category.

I totally get that there are some situations (like rape) where a woman choosing to terminate isn’t coming from being driven by societal expectations and lack of support. These are more rare, and I am speaking about the majority of women, but this is why I am not an absolutist in this discussion. With that said, I still believe this is a systemic issue that needs to be investigated and addressed.

Again, I could go on about all the misconceptions here, but I think I have made my point clear. Please contact me personally if you have any questions.

When a man steals to satisfy hunger, we may safely conclude that there is something wrong in society — so when a woman destroys the life of her unborn child, it is an evidence that either by education or circumstances she has been greatly wronged.

-Mattie Brinkerhoff

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Capitalism vs. Socialism: General Thoughts on Bruenig

Yesterday I critiqued Elizabeth Bruenig’s opening statement point-by-point.  Today, I cover broader issues.

1. Bruenig builds her case on quotes from famous, pre-modern philosophers, interspersed with philosophical jargon.  She references virtually no facts from the last two hundred years.  When people who agree with me make arguments like this, I cringe.  How can anyone expect to figure out anything about the real world using this fruitless method?

2. What’s the alternative?  (a) Focus on arguments, not authorities.  If an argument is good, it doesn’t matter if Socrates is the source.  (b) Use jargon only if no simple English words capture your meaning.  If alienation isn’t the same as “disliking your job,” what is it?  (c) Build on the basic facts of the last two hundred years, especially the massive progress in living standards, science, tolerance, numeracy, and the horrors of totalitarianism.

3. I make a real effort not to tar my opponent with the mind-boggling crimes of actually existing socialism.  I’m puzzled that she made no such effort on her own behalf.  Does she not know?  Not care?  Deny or minimize the crimes?  Plenty of apologists for modern Venezuela, for example, would sound like Bruenig.  And victims of such regimes (quite of few of whom personally attend SfL) have good reason to picture blood, hunger, and chains when they hear such words.  Why not at least try to ease their fears?

4. Could victims of relatively capitalist regimes reasonably have an analogous reaction to me?  I think not.  I explicitly acknowledge that actually existing capitalist societies fall far short of the capitalism ideal.  Shame on them for tarnishing the reputation of my noble ideals!  In any case, almost all of the major crimes committed by relatively capitalist societies have been done in the names of nationalism, religion, and the like.  “Don’t tread on anyone!” is not a slogan that unites war criminals.

5. Bruenig takes deep moral offense at seemingly unobjectionable actions, like a profit-seeking business hiring a worker.  This strange mindset has three distinct consequences.  (a) Focusing moral ire on harmless and beneficial behavior.  (b) Rationalizing coercion against the innocent people engaged in harmless and beneficial behavior.  (c) Distracting moral attention away from enormous horrors that I hoped we could jointly condemn.

6. Example: Socialists observe standard employment conditions with outrage.  This in turn leads them to pass onerous regulations on innocent employers, with the textbook collateral damage for workers.  But it also prevents socialists from decrying immigration regulations coercively deny most of the world’s workers their best route out of poverty.  Verily, there are those who would strain out a gnat, yet swallow a camel.

7. Toward the end of the debate, Bruenig asked me about initial property acquisition.  How does someone come to own what they own?  My live answer was subpar, so I’ll try again.

There are many clear-cut cases of righteous acquisition; once we understand them, we can use them to analyze fuzzier cases.  What are some clear-cut cases?  An individual living alone on an island grows some food, builds a house, carves a sculpture, or quarries some rock.  If someone else shows up on the island, the new arrival seems morally obligated to respect that property.*  This isn’t just “seems to me” or “seems to libertarians”; it’s “seems to almost everyone other than self-conscious socialist philosophers.”  Other clear-cut cases: If two people mutually agree to pool their resources and effort, then split the rewards according to an explicit formula – whether 50/50, 90/10, or whatever.  Or: I pay you ten pounds of food to build me a new hut.

If you flatly insist that a person who builds a hut on a desert island isn’t morally entitled to exclude a new arrival from sharing it, there’s little left for me to say.  Otherwise, we can build on these straightforward cases to credibly justify everything from real estate development to malls to multinational corporations.  Doesn’t any big economic project in the modern world ultimately contain at least a small dose of theft?  (I.e., doesn’t every skyscraper have at least one stolen brick in it?)  Very likely, but in the real world, this rarely turns out to be a serious moral problem.

8. Other than the word “socialism,” what part of Bruenig’s opening statement would a full-blown alt-right reactionary disagree with?  I see the same glorification of an objectively horrific past, the same lack of appreciation of the ubiquitous wonders of modernity, the same misanthropy toward the bulk of humanity, and the same antipathy toward vast outgroups.

9. While I think it’s obscurantist to equate self-control with freedom, I agree with Bruenig that self-control is a great virtue.  This is especially if you want to be a meritorious thinker.  Look at someone like Philip Tetlock, author of Expert Political Judgment and Superforecasting, among many other works.  He’s spent decades actually measuring the accuracy of political judgments – and identifying paths to greater accuracy.  If you read his Twitter feed, you’ll see he practices what he preaches.  He doesn’t just eschew hyperbole.  He constantly searches for evidence from any discipline that goes against his expectations.  And he states in advance what would count as error on his part.  I won’t claim to be at Tetlock’s level, but he’s a big inspiration for my public betting – and my current record is 17 wins, 0 losses.  I didn’t get that record with wishful thinking.

When I look at Bruenig’s intellectual method, in contrast, I see a deep lack of intellectual self-control.  She’s trying to understand the world by reading long-dead thinkers she admires.  But her admiration lives in a vacuum; she doesn’t test the accuracy of her favorite thinkers against broad historical facts, much less search energetically for distasteful disconfirmation.  And as I said, her talk is packed with hyperbole.  It feels good, but it’s almost always false – and a strong symptom of intellectual self-indulgence.

* Presumptively.

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Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics

Nobody asked but …

My latest Words Poorly Used blog made reference to a WAG (wild ass guess) number that attempted to purport that a large percentage of undocumented immigrants did not cross a border on the ground, but rather flew into the US, and then stayed after the visa expired.  This has several takeaways, but the one that sticks with me is the problem with statistics.

I was struck by the visa overstaying assertion, so I investigated the backstory.  It develops that no federal office keeps data in a way to determine this phenomenon precisely.  We really don’t know how many of the perhaps 12 million undocumented immigrants are truly visa overstayers.  This is not a number that the feds want to tout.  The lack of properly designed data is the scourge of the social sciences (ironically, this does not lessen society’s hunger for social engineering).  Bureacrats and pundits seem to like the loosey-goosey approach in statistics so that they can stretch or shrink conclusions to suit the occasion.

The likelihood that data is well-designed before the fact to prove some hindsight observance is very small.

I don’t mean to rustle any jimmies, but cimate change analysis, as an example,  has this problem.  What is the likelihood that the design for data collection in 1900 was exactly appropriate for findings in 2018?  In the USA, there has been a massive redistribution of patterns of urbanization in that same time period.

— Kilgore Forelle

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