Governing Least: What’s Really Wrong with Utilitarianism

One argument against utilitarianism is that no one actually follows it.  I call this the Argument from Hypocrisy.  A better objection, though, is that even highly scrupulous utilitarians don’t comply with their stated principles; I call this the Argument from Conscience.   In Governing Least, Moller powerfully develops a parallel objection: While utilitarians often urge self-sacrifice, they rarely preach other-sacrifice.  But given their principles, they totally should!  Moller’s explanation is so well-phrased that I decided to reproduce a complete section.

Challenges to living with utilitarianism tend to focus on what I called options— the option we think we normally have to flout the overall good when we rather sleep in, or buy a subwoofer instead of donating to charity. But what really cuts ice are constraints on our actions. Singer and others emphasize that they can accept that they do not, as utilitarians, have the option to loaf about when they could help others, however much they fall short. But what is really hard about living with utilitarianism isn’t self-sacrifice but other-sacrifice, paradoxically enough. This wouldn’t be so if we were purely self- interested, but we aren’t, and the prospect of exploiting others for the greater good thus terrifies us. Of course, it’s rare that harming innocents will produce much good, but it’s easy enough to come up with cases:

Grandma: Grandma is a kindly soul who has saved up tens of thousands of dollars in cash over the years. One fine day you see her stashing it away under her mattress, and come to think that with just a little nudge you could cause her to fall and most probably die. You could then take her money, which others don’t know about, and redistribute it to those more worthy, saving many lives in the process. No one will ever know. Left to her own devices, Grandma would probably live a few more years, and her money would be discovered by her unworthy heirs who would blow it on fancy cars and vacations. Liberated from primitive deontic impulses by a recent college philosophy course, you silently say your goodbyes and prepare to send Grandma into the beyond.

If this seems too outré to take seriously, we can try this instead:

Child: Your son earns a good living as a doctor but is careless with some of his finances. You sometimes help him out by organizing his receipts and invoices. One day you have the opportunity to divert $1,000 from his funds to a charity where the money will do more good; neither he nor anyone else will ever notice the difference, besides the beneficiaries. You decide to steal your child’s money and promote the overall good.

Recall that we’ve already set aside ecumenical views that side with deontic morality in practice. So it’s no use to protest that the true utilitarian theory has some esoteric feature that lets us ignore the case, say because we should only follow rules with good consequences, and killing those around us to reduce hunger would have terrible consequences overall. The only views left on the table at this point are precisely those that are willing to contemplate that, at least in some circumstances, rubbing out Grandma and stealing from our children is the right thing to do. The problem, then, is that most people don’t seem able to accept even that they ought to aspire to such behavior, let alone engage in it. Exploiting those we love isn’t an ideal we fail to attain, it’s the very antipode of the ideals themselves. Just consider contexts in which we are specifically seeking to articulate them, as when we instruct our children. Do revisionist utilitarians sit down their sons and daughters and implore them to steal from their friends when it is possible to do so undetected and to divert the money to famine relief? There are many books by revisionist utilitarians telling us that we ought to do more to live up to the demands of morality through self- sacrifice; the fact that there are so few urging us to engage in more other-sacrifice would be surprising if revisionists really could take their philosophy seriously in practice.

Notice, again, that Moller is not invoking the Argument from Hypocrisy.  “The problem, then, is that most people don’t seem able to accept even that they ought to aspire to such behavior, let alone engage in it. ”  In other words, utilitarians don’t preach other-sacrifice, but fail to practice what they preach.  They barely even preach it!  Suspicious, to say the least.

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Basketball

Nobody asked but …

I love basketball.  I love it from the women’s grade school level, in which I used to coach, to the Olympic level with NBA and other international superstars.  Why?  I love it for the same reason as I do rugby.  The games are models of chaos.  They are models of life.  They are models of anarchy.

A great deal of hoopla has been raised about the end of the semi-final NCAA Tournament game between Auburn and Virginia.  Of course, the Final four weekend is attended by a mob of muckrakers, gamblers, and self-appointed analysts.  This gaggle of elites sweep through the sporting meccas on an annual circuit, this week in Minneapolis for the Final Four, next week in Augusta for the Masters.  They will cram the after-contest tavern scene, shouting observations over one another.  The topic du jour is a couple of calls made or not made by referees.

The thing we forget here is that basketball is chaos.  Certainly it has rules and hierarchy and officials, but these exist only to define the confines of the chaos — and sometimes, as in the case of dribbling, to induce chaos.  They are fundamental, just as are the dimensions of the court or pitch.  But nevertheless it is chaos.  If basketball were not chaotic, who would watch?  It is because the unexpected can happen that we aficianados are hooked.  In a basketball game there are a conglomeration of convoluted, complex, confounding collisions of chance encounters.  There is free will and determinism.  The stochastics of ten players, three referees, two coaching cohorts, and a howling spectatorship, cannot be fully described.  Each of the entities is operating both dependently and independently.  Each of the entities has competencies and incompetencies, and each property for each entity varies with time.

Was there a double dribble?  Probably.  Such a thing happens throughout a game.  Did events occur before, after, and during the double dribble, dependently and independently?  Most certainly.  Was there a double dribble, in appearance or in fact?  Historians will disagree.

— Kilgore Forelle

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Big Government and Big Tech versus the Internet and Everyone

Governments around the world began trying to bring the Internet under control as soon as they realized the danger to their power represented by unfettered public access to, and exchange of, information. From attempts to suppress strong encryption technology to the Communications Decency Act in the US and China’s “Great Firewall,” such efforts have generally proven ineffectual. But things are changing, and not for the better.

The European Parliament recently passed a “Copyright Directive” which, if implemented, will force Internet platforms to actively monitor user content instead of putting the burden of proving copyright infringement on those claiming such infringement. The Directive also includes  a “link tax” under which publishers will charge aggregation platforms for traditionally “fair use” excerpts.

The US government’s Committee on Foreign Investment is attempting to force the sale of Grindr, a gay dating app, over “national security” concerns. Grindr is owned by a Chinese company, Beijing Kunlun. CFIUS’s supposed fear is that the Chinese government will use information the app gathers to surveil or even blackmail users in sensitive political and military jobs.

Those are just two current examples of many.

Big Governments and Big Tech are engaged in a long-term mating dance.

Big Governments want to regulate Big Tech because that’s what governments do, and because, as with Willie Sutton and banks, Big Tech is where the Big Tax Money is.

Big Tech wants to be regulated by Big Governments because regulation makes it more difficult and expensive for new competitors to enter the market. Facebook doesn’t want someone else to make it the next MySpace. Google doesn’t want a fresh new face to send it the way of Yahoo.

It’s a mating dance with multiple suitors on all sides.

The US doesn’t like Grindr or Huawei, because FREEDUMB.

The Chinese don’t want uncensored Google or Twitter, because ORDER.

The EU is at least honest about being sexually indiscriminate: It freely admits that it just wants to rigorously screw everyone, everything, everywhere.

Big Tech wants to operate in all of these markets and it’s willing to buy every potential Big Government as many drinks as it takes to them all into the sack.

Everybody wins, I guess. Except the public.

Governments and would-be monopolists are fragmenting what once advertised itself as a Global Information Superhighway into hundreds of gated streets.

Those streets are lined by neatly manicured lawns per the homeowners’ association’s rigorously enforced rules, and herbicide is sprayed on those lawns to kill off the values that made the Internet the social successor to the printing press and the economic successor to the Industrial Revolution.

As Stewart Brand wrote, “Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive. … That tension will not go away.”

Big Tech and Big Government are both coming down, increasingly  effectively,  on the side of “expensive” and on the side of Ford’s  Model T philosophy (“you can have any color you want as long as it’s black”).

They’re killing the Internet. They’re killing the future. They’re killing us.

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Statist Misrepresents Laissez-Faire

Here’s another statist lie, paraphrased for brevity:

“Sorry, libertarians. You are wrong. We know laissez-faire doesn’t work, because it means there are no rules. You have to have some government, just not centralized control, because that doesn’t work, either.”

Yes, I heard one make that argument recently. He’s wrong.

All government is centralized control. Yes, there are differing amounts. But if there is no centralized control it’s not government as people understand government. It would be something else. Centralized control– any and all centralized control– is cancer. There’s no way to keep it from metastisizing.

Laissez-faire doesn’t mean there are no rules. The rules are just not imposed by a coercive, thieving gang of molesters. Control, in this case, is provided by social interactions. By the market. By self-interest. “Bottom-up” (which works) rather than “top-down” (which doesn’t).

To make the claim the statist made is terribly ignorant. He probably believes himself to be very enlightened.

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None Obligated to Obey Bad Laws

While I appreciate when governments express support for natural human rights, I wonder if they really understand the rights they claim to support.

Roosevelt County was recently declared a “Second Amendment Sanctuary” by the county commission. How serious are they?

Are they only concerned with additional violations of the Second Amendment by the state? What about enforcement of all the violations on the books beginning in 1934 with the National Firearms Act?

Do they understand the only purpose of the Second Amendment was to make it a crime to pass or enforce any laws against weapons?

Do they understand that the Second Amendment recognizes and protects the right to own and to carry weapons however you see fit, everywhere you go, without asking permission?

Do they understand this right existed before the first government was established and will still exist unchanged long after the last government has been forgotten?

These are rhetorical questions because I know the answers. I also realize they call the resolution “not legally binding;” a symbolic nothing.

I wonder how seriously anyone would have taken politicians in the 1850s had they “symbolically” declared their region to be a sanctuary for escaped slaves, yet continued to allow slavery in their communities, and allowed slave catchers to brutally capture and return runaways to the individuals who claimed them as property.

You aren’t a Second Amendment Sanctuary if you allow even the slightest anti-gun “law” to be enforced on your watch.

To posture over additional infringements if they are “unnecessary, duplicate, and possibly unconstitutional” is to miss the point of the Second Amendment. To try to weasel out of responsibility, claiming you “cannot determine the constitutionality of a law” is dishonest.

As pointed out in a previous column, the Supreme Court stole the power to be the final arbiter of constitutionality — this power was not theirs to claim. Constitutionality is yours to judge. Would you wait to see if the Supreme Court says the Constitution permits the federal government to murder a peaceable neighbor over the church he attends before you know it’s unconstitutional?

The federal government will never allow unconstitutionality to stand in the way of established rules and bureaucracies.

No one needs to fight unconstitutional “laws” since even the Supreme Court has ruled that a law that violates the Constitution isn’t a law at all, and no one is obligated to obey. All who enforce such non-laws are criminals.

Don’t stop at symbolism. Respect human rights; all of them, completely without reservation or hesitation. It’s the right thing to do.

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Inconsistency is a Hallmark of Statism

Statism is so internally inconsistent that statists hallucinate inconsistency everywhere else, in everyone else. They can’t even imagine anything like consistency.

I’ve seen statists hallucinate that the right of self-defense somehow justifies their support of an armed gang of badged government employees, funded with stolen money, imposing counterfeit rules at gunpoint, with little or no accountability. They imagine that recognizing this gang for what it is is somehow an endorsement of a free-for-all Mad Max world. They come to believe it’s somehow different to shoot a rapist in the act of raping than it is to shoot a law enforcer committing an act of law enforcement.

I’ve seen statists claim that not supporting a government “border wall”, funded with stolen money, built on stolen land, and maintained with stolen money, police state tactics, and coercion, is the same as not respecting private property rights. This is a hallucination caused by statism in the brain.

I could go on, but I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of examples of your own.

The statism requires this internal inconsistency in order to be maintained. They don’t want to admit they have a problem, so they project their traits onto others so they won’t feel bad. Being so inconsistent, they see inconsistency where it doesn’t exist. They have a psychological need to find inconsistency in others to excuse it in themselves.

If people were internally consistent– in reason and principles– they wouldn’t be statists.

Consistency doesn’t guarantee an individual is right (you can be consistently wrong), but inconsistency guarantees an individual is wrong.

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