I Don’t Need Society!


That’s one of the topics in a recent diavlog with Glenn Loury (who I last mentioned here) and Josh Cohen. He even gives a shoutout to Charles Murray (while denying he’s asserting a variety of claims, somewhat reminescent of Scalia on Heller and speaking of Heller & bhtv Volokh makes Rakove look ridiculous). It’s a shifting of the discourse, as they say. He also questions how meaningful the opportunity of “equal opportunity” discussed by political philosophers is. Recently at OrgTheory they presented two theories of family influence, and I pointed out the neglected Judith Harris position, but nobody responded until just now when I checked it out to get the link. Bryan Caplan, an adherent of the Harris position, now says he needs to catch up on the latest findings of the field.

I’ve gotten my Harris second-hand, such as through Steven Pinker (still haven’t written a review of Blank Slate like I said I would) and while I still haven’t gotten around to reading her books I just got another Pinker tome, How the Mind Works. I’d promise a review, but as I’ve just noted that isn’t worth much. Tom Wolfe’s Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers is on the way.

UPDATE: Scroll to the bottom of this post for what Lauren Landsburg has to say.

I’ve been temporarily banned a number of times, but this one was the last straw. In this thread about James Hansen’s call for putting global warming denying oil executives on trial I assuaged Arnold Kling’s fears for his freedom by saying “The difference between oil executives and Kling is that Kling doesn’t matter. Also, he has less money.” This was ruled ad hominem, and since it was directed at the host and I had been repeatedly warned, I was banished forever.

I don’t see how noting that Kling has less money than an oil executive would merit that, as he has discussed high CEO pay and oil company profits on his blog. So the ad hominem part was that oil company executives matter and Kling does not. If carbon emissions cause warming, then the work oil executives do has a large impact on that warming. These executives have also been in the spotlight when Congress feels it ought to Do Something and they provide funding to people that spread their desired message. So we can say they matter. Does Arnold Kling matter on this issue? Is James Hansen aware of his existence? If he was, would it be worth his time to concern himself with Kling? My guess is no.

In some ways this reminds me of conversations I repeatedly have with Mencius Moldbug and Hopefully Anonymous. The former is talking about overthrowing the current system of government throughout the First World, a plan which now involves restoring the Stuarts. The latter wants to minimize existential risk and discover how to attain immortality, or something close to it. What I tell them is that you don’t matter, I don’t matter, and all the time we spend on the blogosphere will have no effect on the achievement of your goals. The latter at least will learn a few tips about common health and accident risks, but he’s not going to get a new Dr. Ishii cloning massive numbers of Aubrey de Grey and Nick Bostrum.

REPLY FROM LANDSBURG: I sent an e-mail when I found my comment was still up, here is the reply.

Hi, TGGP.

> When I checked it out I saw that the comment I was
> banned for was up.

Is that a question? a complaint? a reminder?

Yes, we left the comment up.  Usually it isn't necessary to remove a
comment altogether, even if it's the last straw or the final cause for
permanently banning someone who has been warned repeatedly for crossing
the line.  A comment has to be exceptionally crude or disruptive to be
removed.

It was possible to interpret your EconLog comment in various ways, so
taking it down didn't seem necessary.  In fact, someone pointed out
yesterday to me that you argue on your own blog that you intended it as
illustrative.  That argument seems perfectly reasonable.  I probably
picked the wrong comment of yours over which to ban you; but frankly,
you've been gunning for getting banned for a long time.  You've managed
to drive your benefit/cost ratio for EconLog well below 1.

Having to waste my time moderating someone does not exactly endear him
to me. After someone receives multiple warnings, bans, and
reinstatements, even a semblance of an infraction is enough to make it
no longer worth my time to sort it out.

Were you an iota as articulate and respectable on EconLog as you are on
your own blog, almost surely you'd never have gotten moderated, much
less banned.

However, that's all water under the bridge. In your case, banning you
doesn't mean I don't respect you as a thinker or as a writer.  Quite the
opposite, in fact.  However, it does mean that you've not cottoned to
EconLog's standards and style--not even after receiving two reprieves
more than we give most commenters who violate the rules here.

I look forward to continuing to enjoy reading your blog entries, as I
have in the past.

Best regards,

Lauren

That’s how fundamentalist Christian libertarian Vox Day describes the Supreme Court’s Boumedienne decision. As extreme an originalist (meaning, not intent) as I am for rule of law reasons disgusted by judges simply making up stuff as if there were a silly law clause in the Constitution, I am sympathetic to that view. It was really the denial of habeas corpus to U.S citizens captured in America (like Padilla) that got my goat the most, and apparently the Supreme Court already prohibited that though I must have forgotten about it. I’m not averse to the use of military courts for some purposes, but the problem administration never got around to setting them up, even preferring to release huge numbers of prisoners without trial (the one person who was convicted of anything is living free in Australia) as even they realize that many have little reason for being there. The President appears to have been fundamentally uninterested in how to resolve the issue and dismissive of the idea that there are supposed to be some constraints on his authority (the Padilla case really did represent a discarding of our fundamental freedoms dating back to the Magna Carta or earlier). John Roberts was right to point out that the Court doesn’t actually specify a clear way forward, which is perhaps a legacy of muddled living-constitutionalism and deference to authorities that fit poorly with an administration that wasn’t even trying to pretend very well. I guess they had a lot on their plate, being busy suckered by a below-average Burger King employee.

I had some good news that day I wanted to share with Vox, but unfortunately his comment section is too popular not to expect it get buried and remained unnoticed. Contrary to his gloomy prognostications, the newest generations are better behaved than their parents. A series has started at Gene Expression titled Previous Generations Were More Depraved. It promises to provide data showing that on a wide variety of measures of social dysfunction things are improving from the bad old days of the Boomers. The first entry is on sluttiness, and brought a smile to this prude’s face. If we look at things from an even larger time scale we may conclude with Stephen Pinker that the Great Sixties Freakout really was an aberration in the long decline of violence. I’m interested in what Randall Colins says about that in his Violence: A Micro-sociological Theory but it will probably be in paperback by the time I get around to it.

UPDATE: A concurring opinion from a Magna Cum Lousy graduate of the I Can Read The Constitution School of Law admitted to bar at pretty much any place he can afford to buy a round.

I’m back from the Upper Peninsula and have access to the internet again. Woo-hoo! Unaware of events going on around me I neglected to raise a pint in memory of Raymond Crotty. I don’t take pride in my own Irish ancestry and don’t think much of those who do, but in this case I’ll make an exception. Hurrah for unanimity rule!

The requirement of unanimity (or rather the absence of any final authority that can say “yes”) is held responsible for many of the ills we ascribe to “bureaucracy” in James Q Wilson’s book, which I have just finished. Wilson is interested in the constraints placed upon government agencies and though he recognizes that those constraints exist for a reason would like to reduce them on the margin. As one who would prefer that they [EDIT: by which I am referring to the agencies, not constraints] not exist at all I consider that a second best outcome. I do think they are given too many goals by the political system that the rationalist economist in me would prefer to be dealt with through a sort of lump-sum transfer payment disentangled from the functions of these agencies, but that is unfortunately politically infeasible.

Wilson tries to point out the good work government agencies do and seems to hark back to the turn of the century when forceful executives created and shaped elite agencies like the Forest Service, Army Corps of Engineers and FBI though he also recognizes (not often enough) that the imprint folks like J. Edgar Hoover left was not always benign and often hindered their agency’s ability to accomplish some tasks. When a government agency’s performance is looked at favorably, it is usually relative to another government agency (Steve Horwitz stifles his inner libertarian to do likewise for the Coast Guard here) as private organizations are noted at the end to almost universally deliver equivalent outputs with lower costs (the exception between power generation, perhaps due to economies of scale or breaks given by other government officials). The short segment at the end comparing the market to the government really lacked imagination in considering what can be privatized (he unfortunately neglects to distinguish privatization/mutualization from contracting, saying “We could have a small, minimalist government dear to the heart of the strictest libertarian that nevertheless conducted its business entirely through public bureaucracies. Conversely we could have a large, activist government with great powers and vast revenues that hired private firms to exercise those powers and dispense those funds”). I recommend reading this book along with Bruce Benson’s excellent Enterprise of Law, which points out how privately provided legal and security services are not only feasible but have a fairly long and satisfactory track record. Another reason the two books are good to read alongside each other is that Benson rather vigorously pushes the traditional Public Choice analysis of government favored by “economic imperialists”, which Wilson explicitly rejects and provides a decent amount of evidence why we should at least rethink it. Dain provides more here, and notes that Jeffrey Friedman (to which I and Jeff would both add Bryan Caplan) has greatly critiqued the old view of Bureaucratic Imperialism resulting in something I might call New New Institutionalism. An Austrian-Virginian (both schools Friedman happens to reject) history of Public Choice and its mistakes is here.

I’m afraid my own interests are going to give you a warped sense of the focus of the book, which really is about “What government agencies do and why they do it”. It discusses the different kinds of tasks and ways of monitoring performance, the actual employees who implement policy as well as the managers and executives and try to mold their behavior, the environment (Congress and its committees, the White House, interest groups, the press, peers within the profession) that shapes how they operate and more. It explores how different our presidential system is from parliamentary ones and how our “pro-business” government adopts a more adversarial approach toward industry than its Swedish counterpart. All in all a good book I recommend. I’ll leave you with a quote I found amusing

“There is no reason in principle why we could not repeal the laws against homicide and create in their stead a Commission on Life Enhancement and Preservation (CLEP) that would hear complaints about persons who had killed other persons. It would consider evidence about the character of the deceased: Was he lazy or dutiful, decent or disorderly, likable or hateful? On the basis of this evaluation of the lost life and relying on the professional judgment of its staff, the CLEP would decide whether the life lost was worth losing and, if not, whether the person who took it was justified in doing so. By thus decriminalizing homicide, we surely would experience a reduction in the number of events officially labeled murders since the CLEP would undoubtedly conclude that many who had been killed richly deserved their fate”.

Wilson recently (perhaps its still going, I’m out of the internet loop) made a series of posts on Volokh, gathered together here. Now that I’ve finished his book I’m reading Freda Utley’s China Story. On Power is on order and when it arrives for me to start transcribing and/if I take the job in Wisconsin I’ll likely have less extra time to fritter away on the blogosphere. So heads up and sorry in advance.

I had almost forgotten about I had written a draft just consisting of the post title, but Chip reminded me of the Buckley vs Vidal video, which of course sparked a remembrance of the Buckley vs Chomsky video (both of which can be found in what I am proud to declare the largest gathering of Buckley obituaries), and then in turn Chomsky vs Foucault (part 2 here). That last one I found via OrgTheory and planned to write a post on but for some reason forgot.

As might be guessed, I lean toward Chomsky. I have a disdain for Frenchy post-modernist dreck. Chomsky at least theoretically embraces a decentralist anarchist (though anarcho-syndicalist) vision, though in the near term he has said he’d like to strengthen the federal government (what kind of anarchist says that?). For all his political radicalism Chomsky embraces old school Cartesianism and is firmly in the nature (contra nurture) camp when it comes to linguistics. Foucault in at least one way reminds me of Mencius Moldbug in that he is not focused on the State but has a much broader view of the architecture of our ruling institutions. As a Szaszian I am somewhat partial to his critique of our institutions dealing with mental illness (which are, as RadGeek points out, endowed with the coercive power of prisons).

My verdict: interesting, if disappointing because of the expectations Mencius Moldbug planted in me. It is more along the lines of Bryan Caplan’s Myth of the Rational Voter or Jeffrey Friedman’s Critical Review than a study of the media as I came in thinking it would be. I would note that it is a shame Lippman didn’t live to read Pinker’s “The Blank Slate”. Since I ended my discussion of Der Staat by noting Oppenheimer’s optimistic endpoint, I’ll do the same here. Lippman imagines advances in political science (or the “social sciences” more broadly) in line with the expertise (“technic” is his favored word) displayed by engineers and accountants. These disinterested and removed experts will diminish the silliness that characterizes politics or argument more broadly. The term we use now is “technocracy” or “technocrat”, which generally winds up being plain old bureaucracy. Politics and public discourse is just as stupid as ever today. On that note, I saw a paperback copy of James Q. Wilson’s “Bureaucracy” in Borders a few days ago for a low price, so that’s probably what I’ll get next. I haven’t decided which of the books currently on my computer I should get to next. Right now I’ve got The Unheavenly City Revisited by Edward C. Banfield, China Story by Freda Utley, As We Go Marching by John T. Flynn, Burke’s Reflections and Vox Day’s The Irrational Atheist. I’m also thinking of getting one of Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s books (like Liberty or Equality and Procustes: Against the Herd ) from the Mises site. In addition, Keith Preston listed his top three “desert island” books as Storm of Steel, The Ego and Its Own and God and the State by Mikhail Bakunin. I’m a big fan of the first two, so I’m considering reading the latter online though it seems quite long. If you’ve read more than one of the books listed, say which ones are more worthwhile.

I’ve mentioned before that one of the subjects people just freak out about is children (won’t SOMEBODY think of them!?). Combine children and sex and it’s freakout squared (or due to synergy, possibly an exponent between 2 and 3). We knew Robert Lindsay had balls, but I think titling a post Kid’s Lie About Child Molestation takes the cake (and feminists say only pro-rape misogynists claim rape victims lie). So as to maintain the innocence of those precious snowflakes I would add that it’s usually adult authorities that badger them into lying, even insisting they tell the truth when refuted by videotape. If that doesn’t bother you enough his previous post discusses all the students that had a thing for him back when he was a teacher, and his regrets that he didn’t commit statutory rape.

Post title thanks to IOZ. More on that subject from the Distributed Republic. The makers of the Powerthirst commercial engage in pedophile humor here.

UPDATE: Robin Hanson on Paul Graham on lying to kids.

UPDATE 2: Roderick Long defends Mary Ruwart’s comments on pedophilia/child pornography here.

Some posts I came across today I figured I’d point out. At the Left Conservative there is a response to VDARE’s Arthur Pendelton on the “sellout” of paleolibertarians on race (which reminds me of MM’s charge that by linking to Greenwald Lew Rockwell is entering the “leftist fever swamp”). The interesting thing about the response is that it makes an argument under the assumption that race realists are right. I’ll note here that I agree with McMaken that the Mexicans are taking back what we stole from them whether we like it or not. Since I don’t live in the south-west I advise cutting our losses, handing it back, and building a fence. The call there for paleos to make common cause with black power types is also echoed for the goofy hippy types in Bill Kauffman’s review in First Principles of A Conservative History of the Left.

Moving then from race differences to gender differences, via TATP Charles “Rad Geek” Johnson points out the ambiguous nature of “spontaneous order”, which may mean either voluntary or unplanned. He uses Susan Brownmiller’s “Myrmidon theory of rape” as a non-benign example of unplanned order. I was among those “thin” types confused by Francois’ dismay at the anarchist implications of studies showing gender differences in monkeys, but Johnson’s post is still good. I was told Brownmiller was to blame for the ridiculous “rape is not about sex” theory, or at least its popularization, here. Further barely related linkery is below the fold. (more…)

Starting with a thread the Agitator (incidentally, the IndyBay site he links to sucks and deleted all of comments after the first), I got into an argument with La Rana over Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine”. Now via BlackDogRed comes this review of the book from Left Business Review. Interesting stuff.
UPDATE: It was pretty stupid of me not to link to this earlier post on the subject.

Will Wilkinson and I got into an argument stemming from the FLDS raid that came to center around competent agency, brainwashing and “false consciousness”. Now Will has made a post dedicated to those issues. Join the fun.

Hopefully Anonymous and I were also arguing a little while back (not counting all the arguing we did before then) on the subject of “consciousness” (another term I do not find very meaningful/well-defined!). I assure you I had more respect for HA even before he said I had a good comment, so it is not mere confirmation bias. It’s an old thread that I’ve been delinquent in linking to, so I should also add that he responded to my first comment with this post on “zombies” and this catch-up post. His latest on the subject is a thought experiment aimed at people who claim: something passing turing test is conscious, but corporations are not conscious.

The man is, of all things, a Hillary Clinton supporter. Yet even when he’s matched up at Bloggingheads against a righty (including an according-to-Frum anti-Iraq one like Heather Mac Donald) I find him far more sensible. I thought it might be because he’s an economist, but so is Robert Reich, and he came off looking similarly fuzzy-headed. I recall hearing that Krugman (another Barack-detractor) used to complain about Reich’s economics back in the 90s, so maybe he’s not a good example, but I may have to reconcile the fact that despite his choice of candidate Loury is just smarter than the av-er-age bear.
One point of dissent: Loury says “realism is not cynicism”. I say it is.

I was involved in a pretty good thread at The Art of the Possible during which I brought up the ideas of Jeffrey Friedman, who unfortunately does not have a blog for me to link to. Dain, who appears to be considerably more familiar with Friedman’s ideas, then pointed out this lengthy intro to his basic ideas, which might be referred to as “post-libertarian”. Friedman is the editor of Critical Review, whose recent issue featuring Bryan Caplan reviewing Tetlock I covered here.

A member of the attackthesystem group asked the following: A common criticism of libertarians and anarchists is that we don’t need more freedoms than what western democracies allow us today.
So, let me ask you:
What freedoms do YOU want, that you don’t have today?

Keith Preston responded: I think your point here illustrates very well the central intellectual question of our time concerning political theory. We need to intellectually attack the basic presumptions of the ruling class, particularly “democracy” and legal positivism. These two things are the cornerstones of the modern state’s ideology of self-legitimation.
Virtually all educated people in modern societies recognize the illegitimacy of absolute monarchy, military dictatorship, communism, fascism, aristocracy, theocracy, etc. Only “democracy” and “rule of law” retain supposed legitimacy. What this view means is that the state can legitimately do whatever it wants to anyone so long as there is an existing parliament, elections are held periodically, and laws are made according to some kind of formal institutionalized procedure. Discredit these ideas like the divine right of kings has been discredited, and the modern state is finished.

I wrote: I’ll stick up for “rule of law”. The phrase does not indicate that a law is dandy just because it is on the books, but that the government is restricted by law rather than the whims of those in power. Of
course the Constitution can’t protect itself, but establishing the norm of not violating it (even if I would prefer the Articles of Confederation) is helpful. Similarly “state’s rights” proponents don’t actually think states have rights, only that the central government does NOT have certain rights over them.

Expanding on that, I wrote: Hume’s is-ought would seem to preclude ever establishing anything to be objectively valid or good, but we can still insist on standards or boundaries for officials and a Constitution can serve as a Schelling point.

Keith wrote: This is my take on this issue:

Laws simply reflect the self-interest of those who make them. Nothing
more, nothing less. Whether or not a particular law gets enforced
depends on the wishes of the powerholders of the moment. To the
degree that “law” restrains powerholders, it is only because of
competing power centers in society, or wider historic traditions or
cultural norms that preclude certain state actions. For instance, it
would be impossible to outlaw Christianity in the US, not because the
First Amendment says so, but because of the wider cultural power of
both organized religion, the self-interest of powerful Christians and
the historic tradition of church/state separation.

On the other hand, from my studies of the “war on drugs” I would say
that “the constitution” does absolutely nothing to restrain drug
enforcement officials or the courts, for the simply reason that drug
users/sellers lack cultural power, historic recognition, powerful
advocates, etc.

“Law” is simply as mask for the ongoing war of each against all. The
law will reflect the views of those who have succeeded in this war to
the degree necessary to institutionalize their own interests.

I responded: My point is that “rule of law” is a norm that serves to restrict the government. It doesn’t do so as much as we would like, particularly in the case of marginal folks like drug dealers or prostitutes (I assume you already read the Levitt article about how pervasive police-rape is), but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t do it at all. I suspect that living in a country that doesn’t even pay lip-service to rule of law would make you nostalgic for the Great Satan.

Keith replied: Yes, I agree, but is not this “rule of law” that restrains the state (sometimes) not an expression of wider historic and cultural traditions derived from the Anglo-American Enlightenment? Is it really “the law” that’s the issue or is “the law” merely a euphemism for this wider cultural/historical milieu?

I replied: I think the idea was cemented with the Magna Carta, which was the result of elites being angry that their traditional privileges were being encroached on, but the idea is not just the English tradition of limited government but that the government is subject to the law just as much as people are. The issue is alive today in the wire-tapping amnesty where some people say it’s okay for the law to be broken under extreme circumstances, or in Mansfield’s ideas on the executive.

Keith Preston notified the members of his mailing list of this attack on Matt Welch and his Ron Paul column by Justin Raimondo at Taki’s Top Drawer. I wrote up a response, but Taki has a very restricted comment system, so I’ll have to put the post here and then link to it.

Both Welch and Raimondo aquit themselves poorly. Nowhere did Welch actually demonstrate that “whipping up white resentment” was unpopular, and any political analyst worth their salt knows that cosmopolitan libertarianism (correct on its merits or not) is a very minority opinion. The people at the Monkey Cage were right to mock the Reason crowd for their active fantasy lives. LeftConservative already wrote a good take on the Duke issue [he responds to this Raimondo post here].
Raimondo takes the typical mistaken oppositional view of the LR crowd that believes people are even aware enough of paleos to have it in for them. Reason was not “out to get Paul”; any centrist or leftist would have thought they were huge Paul boosters. It is the same mistaken view that led Raimondo to believe that Reason was going to fire Doherty for being pro-Paul. Welch explicitly denies that there is any evidence Paul was a racist in his article. Welch’s criticism regarding MLK isn’t simply voting against the holiday, but embracing J. Edgar Hoover’s take on him as a menace when Paul later called him a hero (it seems implied that Paul didn’t make the first statement). I can’t think of any excuse for Rockwell’s statement about recording the police, but I think there are legitimate reasons to work with members of the Communist Party, if not for communism.

Raimondo tries to paint Welch as dishonestly covering up his past, but he admits at here that before he “begged for U.S. leadership in a feckless world to stop the slaughter in Sarajevo” but after the Iraq war has shifted gears. I also wonder if Raimondo spoke similarly about Vaclav Havel in the past.

Jonathan Wilde at the Distributed Republic riffs on the subject with a discussion of Hayek, Popper and rationalism in response to Jim Manzi at NRO’s Corner and has a nice roundup of links. When I read Jonathan say “When there’s a conflict between libertarian policy and federalism, I’ll favor federalism 99% of the time.” I wondered under which situations I would disfavor federalism against libertarianism, and I can’t think of any. Suggestions?

Manzi quotes William F. Buckley (whose obit list I am still expanding) saying “Now if, for instance, a society feels that its attachment to that society is substantially vitiated in virtue of the toleration, let’s say, of a movie based on a comedy treatment of Dachau, it tends to lose self-esteem. And to the extent that it loses self-esteem, it stands in danger of reducing that which is its principal resource in matters of emergency. An America that hates itself cannot possibly defend itself against the Soviet Union or anybody else”. On a certain level I agree that a society that cannot sustain itself will not long have its liberty and so some coercive measures may be necessary (immigration restriction is where I deviate from many libertarians). I just don’t see that example as fitting the bill. We are naturally pre-disposed to favoring ourselves and those we know over others. Laughing at a comedy about the Holocaust does not make us hate ourselves. Worrying about “self-esteem” is for empty-headed liberals; most people could use a good bit less self-esteem. At some point I’ll deal with the over-hyped “threats” and “enemies” used as a justification for the expansion of a government that does a piss-poor job of protecting us (at least on the margin), but for now I’ll link to some previous posts on federalism with regard to marriage, abortion, and in general.

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