Libertarian vs. Authoritarian, Anarcho-Communism, Democratic Socialism, & Free Will (37m) – Episode 336

Episode 336 has Skyler giving his commentary on the following questions from Quora: “What is the difference between a libertarian and an authoritarian?”; “Can an anarchist oppose communism?”; “What are your thoughts on democratic socialism?”; and “Can virtuous action exist without free will?”

Listen to Episode 336 (37m, mp3, 64kbps)

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Progressive Policies Keep Failing

I laughed when I saw The Washington Post headline: “Minneapolis had progressive policies, but its economy still left black families behind.”

The media are so clueless. Instead of “but,” the headline should have said, “therefore,” or “so, obviously.”

Of course, progressive policies failed! They almost always do.

“If you wanted a poster child for the progressive movement, it would be Minneapolis,” says Republican Minnesota Senate candidate Jason Lewis in my new video. “This is the same city council that voted to abolish the police department.”

The council, which has no Republicans, spends taxpayer money on most every progressive idea.

They brag that they recycle most everything. They have a plan to stop climate change. They tell landlords to whom they must rent. They will force employers to pay every worker $15 an hour. They even tell supermarkets what cereal they must sell.

Despite such policies, meant to improve life for minorities and the poor, the Minneapolis income gap between whites and blacks is the second highest in the country.

While that surprises the media, it’s no surprise to Lewis, who points out, “When you take away the incentive for work and savings and investment, you get less of it!”

Exactly. When government sends checks to people who don’t work, more people don’t work. Guarantees like a high minimum wage raise the cost of potential workers, so some never get hired. High taxes to fund progressives’ programs make it difficult for businesses to open in the first place.

Lewis says; ” I’ve been touring businesses that were burned. They did not mention global warming, recycling, or the environment one single time. You know what they say? Give me low taxes and give me public order.”

Lewis says Minnesota is now a “command and control economy….They’re not even shy about it. (Congresswoman) Ilhan Omar said we need to abolish capitalism!”

Not exactly. But Omar did call for “dismantling the whole system of oppression,” including America’s economic systems that, “prioritize profit.”

Lewis says she wants to create “equal poverty for everybody.”

No, I push back, “She thinks her ideas will lift everybody up.”

“Show us, Ilhan,” he responds. “Where has it worked? Everything that you’re proposing hasn’t worked!”

He’s right.

But Cam Gordon, a current Minneapolis councilman, tells me the city’s economic “disparities were caused by a long trail of historic racism.”

He tweeted: “Time to end capitalism as we know it.”

He says that would be good because “we could have more democratic control of our resources.” Cam Gordon is the kind of guy who gets elected in Minneapolis.

“Every alternative to capitalism brings stagnation and poverty,” I say to him.

Gordon answers, “I think we can take care of each other better.”

Lewis points out that before COVID-19, “the people gaining the most were at the bottom end of the wage scale. Women, Hispanics, African Americans were gaining the most. A rising tide truly lifts all boats.”

He’s right again. In the past 50 years, while progressives attacked profits, capitalism—the pursuit of profit—lifted more than a billion people out of extreme poverty.

When I point that out to Gordon, he simply ignores my point about fabulous progress around the world and says: “The problem with capitalism as we know it is this idea that we have to have constant growth….Capitalism got us the housing crisis right now and…climate change. It’s actually going to destroy the planet.”

Sigh.

His Green Party’s “community-based economics” would give the community control over private property. Seems to me like community-based economics is just another way to say socialism. That’s brought poverty and tyranny every time it’s been tried.

“When socialism fails,” says Lewis, “the apologists always say, ‘We just didn’t do it enough, just didn’t do it the right way.’ (But) it’s always failed.”

Sadly, today in America, the progressives are winning.

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On Socialism

As most economists and political scientists agree, capitalism is “the private ownership of the means of production” and socialism is “the public/state ownership of the means of production.” Where they disagree is on which is preferable to achieving their ideal socio-economic outcomes, fair enough, but that aside, what cannot be denied is the fact that each and every person is themselves a means of production. Which begs the question, who owns you? Under capitalism, you own yourself (self-ownership). Under socialism (and it’s variants communism and fascism), you guessed it, the public/state. I don’t know about you, but I reject slavery in all its forms, including socialism. Do you? And that’s today’s two cents.

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On Capitalism IV

It’s vogue these days to claim that capitalism is responsible for the suffering and deaths of more lives than has been communism or socialism. The argument goes that when capitalistically produced food, drugs, medical care, et cetera, are withheld from those who can’t afford it, the resulting suffering and death (which numbers in the billions, orders of magnitude greater than communism or socialism) was thereby caused by capitalism. Interestingly, the same “greed” which produced the aforementioned goods and services supposedly keeps entrepreneurs and capitalists from simply giving it all away. Remove capitalistic “greed” from the world, and not only are those who can’t afford these goods and service no better or worse off, but those who can must now join them in their suffering and death. Gee, if only the world ran on wishes and dreams. And that’s today’s two cents.

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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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Do Intellectuals Make Life Any Better?

There’s a path my life could have taken – could still take – toward the life of an intellectual.

I’ve just about always been interested in one or more of the favorite intellectual subjects of philosophy, history, politics, theology, economics, psychology, and sociology (whatever that is). I’ve always liked to have big opinions on things. And I’ve always preferred toying with ideas to toying with numbers or machines.

But I’m beginning to think this is an aptitude worth resisting. It’s not obvious to me that intellectuals as such bring a whole lot of benefit to the world.

Obviously this will be controversial to say.

For the sake of this post, I’ll be using a Wikipedia-derived definition:

An intellectual is a person who engages in critical thinking and reading, research, and human self-reflection about society; they may propose solutions for its problems and gain authority as a public figure.”

Let me be clear that I think everyone ought to engage in critical thinking. It’s in the rest of the definition that the problems start to emerge.

Every intellectual is a person who not only has a pet theory about what’s wrong with the world – but who makes it their job to reflect/research on that problem and write about that problem.

When you think about these intellectuals, what do you think of?

My mind wanders to the endless number of think-pieces, essays, and books with takes what’s wrong with humans, what’s wrong with society, or what’s wrong with intellectuals (that’s right – I’m currently writing a think-piece. Shit.) The history of this produce of intellectualism is an a stream of lazy, simplified pontifications from individuals about things vast and complex, like “society,” “America,” “the working classes,” “the female psyche,” etc. in relation to something even more vast and complex: “human life.”

It’s not that thinking about these things are wrong: it’s that most of the ink spilled about them is probably wasteful. Why?

Because core to the definition of intellectualism defined above is its divorce from action. Intellectuals engage in “reading, research, and human self-reflection,” “propose solutions,” and “gain authority as public figures,” but none of these acts require them to get their hands dirty to test their hypotheses or solve their proposed problems.

The whole “ivory tower” criticism isn’t new, so I won’t belabor the point. But I will point out two consequences of intellectualism’s separation from practical reality.

First, intellectuals don’t often tend to be great people. Morally, I mean. Tolstoy left his wife in a lurch when he gave up his wealth. Marx knocked up one of his servants and then kicked her out of his house. Rousseau abandoned his children. Even Ayn Rand (whom I love) could be accused of being cultlike in her control of her intellectual circle. Those are just the notable ones – it’s fair to say that most of the mediocre “public intellectuals” we have aren’t exactly action heroes. While they may not be especially bad, they aren’t especially good on the whole.

There seems to be some link between a career which rewards abstract thought (without regard for action) and the mediocre or downright bad lifestyle choices of our most famous intellectuals.

The second major problem with intellectuals springs from the fact that nearly everything the intellectual does is intensely self-conscious. Whether it’s a philosopher reflecting on his inability to find love and theorizing about the universe accordingly or an American sociologist writing about the decline of American civilization, the intellectual is reflecting back upon what’s wrong with himself or his culture or his situation constantly, usually in a way that creates a strong sense of mental unease or even anguish.

Have you ever seen an intellectual coming from an obvious place of joy? The social commentators are almost always operating from malaise and malcontent, which almost always arise from a deep self-consciousness.

Of course it’s anyone’s right to start overthinking what’s the matter with the world, and to feel bad as a result. The real problem is that the intellectual insists on making it his job to convince everyone else to share in his self-conscious state of misery, too.

How many Americans would know, believe, or care that “America” or “Western Civilization” was declining if some intellectual hadn’t said so? How many working class people, or women, or men would believe they are “oppressed”? How many humans would be staying up at night asking themselves whether reality is real? Both are utterly foreign to the daily experience of real, commonsense human life. And while the intellectual may draw on real examples in his theories, he’s usually not content to allow for the exceptions and exemptions which are inevitable in a complex world: his intellectual theory trumps experience. The people must *believe* they are oppressed, or unfulfilled, or unenlightened, or ignorant of the “true forms” of this, that, or the other.

I’m wary of big intellectual theories for this reason, and increasingly partial to the view that wisdom comes less from thinking in a dark corner and more from living in the sunshine and the dirt. The real measure of many of these theories is how quickly they are forgotten or dismantled when brought out into daily life.

People who use their intellects to act? The best in the world. But intellectuals who traffic solely in ideas-about-what’s-wrong for their careers? More often than not, they are more miserable and not-very-admirable entertainers than they are net benefactors to the world.

The ability to think philosophically is important. But that skill must be used in the arena. Produce art. Produce inventions. Be kind. Action is the redemption of intellectualism.

Disclaimers

*By “intellectuals,” I don’t mean scientists. On the humanities side, I don’t even mean artists. The problem isn’t artists: it’s art critics. It’s not scientists: it’s people who write about the “state of science.”

There are exceptions to the bad shows among intellectuals, but usually these are the intellectuals who are busy fighting the bad, ideas of other intellectuals: people like Ludwig von Mises fighting the ideas of classical socialism, or . The best ideas to come from people like this are ideas which don’t require people to believe in them.*

And don’t get me wrong: this is as much a mea culpa as a criticism of others. I’ve spent much of my life headed down the path of being an intellectual. I’m starting to realize that it’s a big mistake.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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