This Anarchist Condemns Rioting and Looting

I am an anarchist.

I do not believe in the legitimacy of any rulers, politicians, political governments, or other non-consensual institutions. No exceptions. That’s what “anarchist” means.

I condemn archation (the initiation of force and property violations) no matter who commits it.

Cops are the bad guys.

Antifa are the bad guys.

Looters, arsonists, vandals, attackers of any sort are the bad guys.

As are all who use the political means.

Defenders are on the correct side, but not everything claimed to be defense is. It’s not “defense” if you use force (or politics) against someone who isn’t currently violating your life, liberty, or property, nor credibly threatening to do so.

Those who protect the innocent and private property are doing the right thing, whether their actions are “legal” or not. Yes, that means it is right to shoot looters and vandals or anyone who is violating others.

Doing the right thing, without violating anyone, with or without “official permission”, regardless of what legislation permits, is anarchy. Do anarchy right.

Don’t claim to be an anarchist if you don’t want to be burdened with the responsibility inherent in the philosophy, and especially not if you’re a socialistic thug (or thug of any other variety) who violates the inflexible principles for sport. Or for your twisted notions of “justice“. You can’t get justice by being a non-anarchist.

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No Idea What Government Good For

Many problems in modern societies happen because people confuse political government for something it isn’t. They expect it to do things it can’t do and isn’t suited for. To do things right you need to use the correct tools.

A hammer is the proper tool for driving nails. A feather isn’t a hammer; neither is a shotgun. Even though you might be able to use a coffee cup to drive a small nail — don’t try this with your favorite cup — it’s not a hammer either. Using things for purposes they aren’t well-suited for will cause problems.

Even if something looks like a hammer, feels like a hammer, and can be wielded like a hammer, if it is made out of the wrong material it’s not going to work well as a hammer.

After decades of observation I have yet to find any situation that requires government, or where government would be the best tool for the job. It doesn’t seem to be the correct tool for doing anything helpful.

You probably disagree, so I’ll stay out of your search for the proper use of political government and instead focus on what I know government isn’t the right tool for.

Government is not your doctor. It is not a scientist. It’s not an expert on anything other than how to push people around and steal their life, liberty, and property.

Government is not your parent. It is not your educator. It is not your moral guide. It is not your savior. It is not your friend.

Government is not your spouse, nor is it your provider. It is not your leader or your protector.

Government is not a genie from a magic lamp, granting your wishes. It is not your ATM. Anything it gives you has been stolen from someone — often from your future self. Can future-you afford to support present-you?

Thinking of government as something it isn’t won’t turn out well for society. It’s not healthy to treat it as though it is any of those things.

Even if you get away with using government as a tool, when you mix anything with politics you end up with only politics. It’s like mixing poison with food.

As I say, I can’t tell you what government is good for; I’ll let you ponder the answer to that puzzle for yourself. For me, political government — which is everything people usually call “the government” — is an unnecessary evil. It’s not a tool I would use even if I had no other.

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What I’m Thinking

1. Getting people to be rational about politics is an uphill battle during the best of times.  During a global hysteria, it’s hopeless.

2. Due to this doleful realization, I refrained from discussing the lockdown when it first emerged.  The best course, I deemed, was to wait for readers to simmer down.

3. Since many have now simmered down, here’s what I was thinking three months ago.

4. I was convinced that coronavirus was a dire threat by early March, but I opposed the lockdown from day 1.

5. Why?  Because per Huemer’s The Problem of Political Authority, I accept a strong presumption in favor of human liberty.  You cannot rightfully shut businesses and order people to “stay at home” out of an “abundance of caution.”  Instead, the burden is on the advocates of these policies to demonstrate that their benefits drastically exceed their costs – by at least 5:1.  Almost no one even tried to discharge this burden.

6. Telling government to “err on the side of caution” is a recipe for severe oppression.  Individuals, in contrast, have every right to personally “err on the side of caution.”  In early weeks of the crisis when risk information was scarce, erring on the side of caution was reasonable.

7. Nevertheless, I was initially moderately optimistic that lockdown policies would, in hindsight, at least pass an ordinary cost-benefit test.  I no longer think so.  Even draconian measures have mostly failed to put R0 far below 1.

8. Due to the absence of Paid Voluntary Human Experimentation, we still lack definitive answers to almost every crucial coronavirus question.  Over the last two months, though, I have raised my best estimate of the Infection Fatality Rate from .3 to .6.

9. During the same time, initial claims about the age and especially the pre-existing health status gradient of mortality have been confirmed even more strongly than I expected.  Near-zero people known to have no underlying conditions have died of coronavirus.  There is a middle category of “underlying conditions unknown” with fairly high mortality.  I wish we knew more about such people, but my best guess that 90% have underlying conditions (versus about 40% for the general population).

10. Roughly 5% of survivors seem to have long-run problems, but risk of serious long-run problems almost certainly correlates highly with risk of death.  (And of course a wide variety of other risks, like car accidents, commonly maim survivors.  Coronavirus is not remotely a sui generis package of dangers).

10. Am I saying that I don’t care if old and sick people die?  No, but I confess that I would care even more if young and healthy people died.  I know this sounds terrible, but my view is not eccentric.  It’s implied by the standard notion of QALYs, and almost everyone I surveyed agrees with me.

11. QALYs aside, the extreme heterogeneity of risk highlights a cheap, humane alternative to the status quo: Healthy people should return to approximately normal life, while people with underlying ailments should maintain elevated to extreme caution.

12. Why “approximately normal” rather than “fully normal”?  Because healthy people should make reasonable efforts to protect vulnerable people.  This obligation should be legally enforceable in extreme cases, like deliberately coughing on others.  Otherwise, we should trust to conscience and social pressure.

13. Why “elevated to extreme caution”?  Because though the data on underlying conditions is binary, the actual severity of conditions like diabetes varies widely.

14. Following this dual path would get us to herd immunity with few deaths, especially when combined with multiple other layers of reasonable precaution.  Hopefully I’m wrong, but waiting around for a vaccine seems like wishful thinking.  Nor should we forget that unemployment is a grave evil.

15. What’s my risk of death if infected?  Being a 49 year-old gives me roughly the average risk; being white and male roughly cancel.  Since I have no underlying conditions, I estimate my risk at about 5.4% of the base risk of 0.6%.  That comes to about 1 in 3000.*  That’s about three times my annual risk of dying in an auto accident.  That gives me pause – I’ve long told my kids that driving is the most dangerous thing we do.  When choosing my behavior, however, I have to remember that I might still contract the disease despite exercising extreme caution, and might avoid the disease despite exercising merely reasonable caution.  I’d put the former probability at about 15%, and the later probability at about 40%.  So the marginal cost of hewing to reasonable (versus extreme) caution is only a 1 in 12,000 risk.

16. Driving, moreover, imposes roughly equal risks on all my family members.  Coronavirus, in contrast, poses near-zero risk to my children.

17. The U.S. has ample state capacity to follow the advice of a few reasonable economists.  But no wise policies will be adopted, because we have bipartisan dysfunctional state priorities.  You might think a crisis would bring demagoguery under control.  Alas, it hasn’t and it won’t.

18. Alex Tabarrok is wrong to state, “Social distancing, closing non-essential firms and working from home protect the vulnerable but these same practices protect workers in critical industries. Thus, the debate between protecting the vulnerable and protecting the economy is moot.” Moot?!  True, there is a mild trade-off between protecting the vulnerable and protecting the economy.  But if we didn’t care about the vulnerable at all, the disease would have already run its course and economic life would already have strongly rebounded.  Wouldn’t self-protection have stymied this?  Not if the government hadn’t expanded unemployment coverage and benefits, because most people don’t save enough money to quit their jobs for a couple of months.  With most of the workforce still on the job, fast exponential growth would have given us herd immunity long ago.  The death toll would have been several times higher, but that’s the essence of the trade-off between protecting the vulnerable and protecting the economy.

* The rough math: In NYC data for my age bracket, (deaths with no underlying conditions + .1*deaths with unknown conditions)/total deaths=3.4%.  40% of the adult population has underlying conditions, so their risk is 1.5*.966/.034=42.6 times as high as mine.  Setting my risk equal to x, we have .6x+.4*42.6x=.006, so x=2940.

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Why Logic is Unpopular

Value hierarchies are inevitable. What value belongs at the top to make sure the others stay in their proper place?

The ancient Greeks spoke of three perspectives: pathos, ethos, and logos. From a pathos perspective, emotions and feelings take center stage. From an ethos perspective, reputation and tradition are what really matter. From a logos perspective, reason is what guides to wise action.

The Primacy of Logos

There will always be tension between people with different values and tendencies, and this tension often manifests most obviously in politics. Most people are driven primarily by instinct (pathos) or tradition (ethos), which is why self-described “liberals” consistently find themselves at odds with self-described “conservatives”. Some few are driven primarily by reason (logos). Logic is unpopular because it calls into question both instinct and tradition.

In politics, instinct-dominant (pathos) people seek validation of their feelings and messages that make them feel good, usually because something sad/scary/unfair is presented along with an easy solution that would make everything better. Tradition-dominant (ethos) people seek assurance that the messenger is trustworthy, usually because they are part of the in-group or because they signal about duty and allegiance to established institutions like governments and churches and against out-groups and their institutions. Reason-dominant (logos) people seek to establish the truth of ideas and messages, even when it causes them to subordinate natural tendencies and inherited traditions to come into consistent harmony with the wisdom they cherish.

By Their Egocentric Biases Ye Shall Know Them

If you aren’t sure whether you’re dealing with a pathos-dominant person or an ethos-dominant person, you can look for patterns in their behavior.

Typical emotion-driven behavior:

  • Tend to engage in hot cognition with motivation bias
  • Feelings/intentions valued over facts/results (“it’s more important to be morally right than factually correct” or “that wasn’t real socialism”)
  • Easily scared/overwhelmed, and therefore easily controlled (“we need to do something!”)
  • Furious “mama bear” overreactions when challenged
  • Confuse “open minded” with “empty headed”
  • Oppression narratives with victimhood as a status symbol (various privilege/equity/social justice/forced redistribution schemes)
  • Anecdotal NAXALT fallacy and tactical nihilism in response to statistical evidence

Typical tradition-driven behavior:

  • Tend to suffer from the illusion of asymmetric insight and base rate neglect
  • Obedience to authority valued over truth (“it’s the law” equivocation)
  • Retreat to dogma and orthodoxy when challenged
  • Pearl-clutching fear of ambiguity and change (belief that the only alternative to the status quo is chaos)
  • Confuse “consensus” with “evidence”
  • “Might makes right” crusade narratives
  • Tendency to oversimplify patterns and overlook exceptions

The Cure for Irrational Tribalism

A society that subordinates reason is destined to corruption and ruin as the fruitless scramble to justify and rearrange prejudices to satisfy confirmation bias replaces the quest for truth. Narcissistic moral relativism and political power struggles only escalate the conflict. It is only by subordinating emotion and authority to wisdom that can we avoid catastrophe.

“If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.”

– J. Reuben Clark

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Harvard’s Latest Attack on Homeschooling Abuses Reason and Justice

Harvard University publications continue to present a skewed perspective of homeschooling, spotlighting Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Bartholet’s call for a “presumptive ban” on homeschooling while failing to provide an accurate picture of American homeschooling.

In addition to the recent Harvard Magazine article on “The Risks of Homeschooling,” both the Harvard Crimson and the Harvard Gazette ran stories last week reinforcing Bartholet’s one-sided view of homeschooling. While Harvard’s invitation-only summit to address homeschooling’s “problems, politics, and prospects for reform” scheduled for next month has been postponed due to COVID-19, the disinformation campaign against homeschooling goes on.

Interestingly, in the recent Gazette interview, Bartholet admits that most parents are quite able to homeschool their children. She says: “I believe that the overwhelming majority of parents are capable of providing at least a minimal education at home without presenting any danger of abuse or neglect.” Yet, in recommending a “presumptive ban” on the practice she would “require that parents demonstrate that they have a legitimate reason to homeschool—maybe their child is a super athlete, maybe the schools in their area are terrible.”

She would also require parents to “demonstrate that they’re qualified to provide an adequate education and that they would provide an education comparable in scope to what is required in public schools,” as well as “require that their kids participate in at least some school courses and extracurricular activities so they get exposure to a set of alternative values and experiences.” In other words, parents may be able to get permission from the government to homeschool their kids if they can jump through certain government-approved hoops and send their kids, at least part of the time, to the government schools from which they are fleeing.

Bartholet’s rationale for this heavy-handed approach to controlling homeschoolers is that, while most homeschooling parents won’t abuse or neglect their children, a tiny few may and so the entire homeschool population must be managed and monitored—including being subject to frequent home-visits by government officials to make sure they are not doing anything wrong. This guilty-until-proven-innocent approach is not only antithetical to American ideals, it sacrifices the freedom of an entire group out of concern that a small sliver of that group could potentially do harm.

The claim that homeschooling could lead to higher rates of child abuse is unfounded. In fact, three academics responded harshly to Bartholet’s conclusions, writing at EducationNext: “Professor Elizabeth Bartholet’s claims that homeschooling contributes significantly to the scourge of child abuse fail to survive scrutiny.” Some research shows that homeschoolers are less likely to be abused than their schooled peers. And as I’ve written previously, physical and sexual abuse by educators is rampant in public schools, which Bartholet holds up as the gold standard. Still, Bartholet argues that homeschooled children could be abused because they are not in the presence of school teachers and administrators who are “mandated reporters” of child abuse.

Although Bartholet’s recommendations against homeschooling were initiated well before COVID-19 hit, she uses the current school shutdowns as further evidence that parents, unwatched by government officials, will abuse their children. Bartholet says in the Gazette interview: “I do think, though, that the present near-universal home education situation is illuminating. The evidence is growing that reports to Child Protective Services (CPS) have plummeted nationwide, because children are removed from the mandated reporters that schools provide.”

It is possible that declining CPS reports could indicate unreported child abuse, but it could also reveal a CPS system gone awry, with overly-aggressive reporting and investigative practices. A 2018 in-depth report by The Hechinger Report and HuffPost, for instance, found that “schools often use child protective services as a weapon against parents.” According to this analysis, school employees use CPS as a way to coerce parents who resist a school’s recommendations or approach. Reporters Rebecca Klein and Caroline Preston write:

Fed up with what they see as obstinate parents who don’t agree to special education services for their child, or disruptive kids who make learning difficult, schools sometimes use the threat of a child-protection investigation to strong-arm parents into complying with the school’s wishes or transferring their children to a new school. That approach is not only improper, but it can be devastating for families, even if the allegations are ultimately determined to be unfounded.

Such a determination is how the vast majority of these investigations conclude, despite terrorizing parents and children. In her powerful book, They Took The Kids Last Night: How the Child Protection System Puts Families at Risk, family defense attorney and policy advocate, Diane Redleaf, finds that the CPS system has ballooned in recent years, with millions of calls and family investigations despite most of them being baseless. She writes in her introduction: “In 2016 alone, 7.4 million children were reported as suspected victims of child abuse or neglect. Of this number, 4.1 million had a case referred for some CPS responsive action, ranging from finding no merit to the allegations and closing the case, to referring the family for social services, to a placement of the children into foster care. At the conclusion of a CPS investigation, 676,000 children were then labeled the victims of abuse or neglect.”

The Hechinger/HuffPost report reveals that poor and minority families are the ones most likely to get caught in the CPS dragnet, and Redleaf’s research reinforces this finding. She writes: “The child protection system most disproportionately intervenes against families of color and those who lack other forms of privilege…A system that is supposed to protect children from their parents ends up too often harming children’s precious attachment to their parents.”

Child abuse is horrific and should never be tolerated, but the growing distrust of parents and the related trend toward increased intervention in family life under the guise of protecting children may hurt more children than it helps. When families are weakened and parents are disempowered, children suffer. As Redleaf concludes in her book:

Family advocates need to proudly proclaim that children’s best interests are one and the same as their families’ best interests, for there is no other way to protect children but to defend their families—and to fight for the right of families everywhere to raise their own children.

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Immunity through Exposure

On Thursday’s little road trip deeper into Texas, I spent some time in a park of sorts where I encountered poison ivy for the first time in decades.

When I was a kid I was horribly allergic to the stuff. I would break out just from being around it– and the reaction was painful enough I was very aware of when I was around it to try to avoid any contact with it with my skin or anything I might touch even days later. Yet it always got me. Every time. And considering that I spent almost all of my time in the woods, you can imagine what I went through.

Then when I was 14, I stood by and watched as a neighbor kid took a baseball bat to a thick poison ivy vine on the side of a tree. Stupid me!

The splatter, vapor, or fumes from the vine pretty much covered me and I got the worst case of poison ivy of my life. Then, just as I was getting over it I got chickenpox– and the pox LOVED the fresh, sensitive skin that was the result of the healing poison ivy rash. I became one giant pox, and actually couldn’t move one hand because it was a solid scab.

However, after I healed I discovered something nice. I was no longer allergic to poison ivy. Not even a little. It might as well have been spinach. I did careful experimentation until I was sure. Then I made it a habit to expose myself in a major way every chance I got. I never reacted again and eventually moved away from anywhere poison ivy (or its relatives) grew.

I had wondered recently whether my “immunity” had faded over time. But it looks like it hasn’t. I waded through thickets of poison ivy Thursday, got it on my skin and clothes, and didn’t react even a little.

In the same way, I believe I’m immune to statist thought. It holds no appeal to me. It isn’t on my list of possibilities when confronted with a problem. And, living in the modern, politics-twisted world, it is easy to keep being exposed so I know my immunity stays solid.

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