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The First Church of Mises

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Clayton replied on Tue, May 8 2012 6:00 PM

Very good, Clayton.  At its core though the community has to have some recognition of justice (which is essentially the NAP) as its central value.  Essentially the purpose is to rebuild on a more solid basis the important community aspects that have atrophied due to the growth of the state.

 

Absolutely. I'm struggling with how to frame it, though. I like the NAP but I feel that it is only a first-order approximation of the correct ethics of social order, so a simple statement of the NAP would be open to legitimate criticism.

Also, what actual activities do you see this group engaging in apart from general gatherings? Charity (including fund-raising), running classes?  Which existing organisations can we pilfer ideas from?  The Freemasons, the boy scouts?

How about food and dancing? Food is part of every social function in every part of the world and dancing is one of those things that I think we've lost. There has been a revival of interest in square/folk-dancing for weight-loss reasons, of all things, in the US. All the old-fashioned dances (and I'm sure there's been new ones invented - not break-dancing or hip-hop dry-humping, of course) are a great way to socialize, to meet and touch other human beings in a positive atmosphere that fosters feelings of well-being.

The food can be a chance for people to show off whatever cooking skills they have. Perhaps prior to the food you could have some kind of brief speech (15-20 minutes) on social issues from a classical liberal perspective - imagine something like "Say's law illustrated through a humorous anecdote" or "The broken window fallacy told in the form of a brief fairy tale". And so on.

The key problem will be locating and activating the organizational and pedagogical talent.

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I think the 'presumption of freedom' per de Jasay should supplant the NAP as the basic justification of liberty.  Essentially he argues that the burden of proof must fall upon those attempting to prohibit free action, rather than on those freely acting (his actual argument is much fuller than this).  In general we need to emphasize the (customary) prohibition of torts as justice, rather than the state as justice.

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Clayton replied on Tue, May 8 2012 6:37 PM

the (customary) prohibition of torts

Indeed. Michael van Notten has shown that the Somali law system explicitly prohibits any but a victim or a victim's family member from making a tort claim and I think this "legal detail" is one of the reasons their society is not flooded with all this "social justice" nonsense that has taken over most of the rest of the world, in one form or another. The final discharge of a tort - so that it can never be raised again - through a payment (rather than prison time or "community service") is also an important point that woudl do away with a great deal of the nonsense in our present social order. The freedom to switch clans is also another.

In general, I think we need to get out of this modernist narrative that we're more enlightened than our forebears. Obviously, we have the advantage of historical hindsight on our ancestors as our descendants will have on us, but that's it. Almost everything they discovered about the human condition is still relevant and in the narcissistic obsession with "the modern", we lose sight of just how deep and useful the repository of knowledge we have inherited from our ancestors really is.

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Clayton replied on Tue, May 8 2012 7:21 PM

Jasay on the presumption of freedom:

In the West, at least two centuries of ever more elaborate legislation, regulation, taxation and public services - in short, recourse to the rule of submission - have bred a reliance on the state for securing social cooperation. Society has therefore less need for the old conventions, and its muscles for maintaining old conventions and generating new ones have atrophied. 

Jasay expresses pessimism at the capacity of society to deliver itself from the State because of this atrophy. But I think that's precisely what I have in mind is that we need to start "physical therapy" to reinvigorate our social-order muscles outside of the context of submission and obedience to statutory dictates.

I think there is another way to make Jasay's case in the above article - this would be "mind your own business" liberalism. Starting from the Epicurean conception of satisfaction, we can note the simple fact that satisfaction is experienced subjectively by the individual. I do not know what satisfies you better than you know it yourself. But any attempt on my part to "rectify" a social justice situation is implicitly claiming exactly this, that you do not know your own satisfaction as well as I know it.

We don't need a presumption of freedom if there is a presumption that the individual actually knows his own mind, that is, knows whether he is or is not satisfied. Victimless crimes reduce to a much less grandiose claim that the activist is mentally injured by the fact that the vice he or she dislikes is occurring. This is a much less impressive sounding offense than "a crime against society". In the case of redistribution, again, we simply note that the individual(s) who feel they are harmed by the excessive wealth of Bill Gates should organize their own lawsuit against him. If they fail to do so, then clearly they are not being harmed unless we are to believe that the social justice planners know the minds of those they "represent" better than they know their own minds.

If anyone who brings a lawsuit had to explain how he himself is injured, the entire dynamic of Western law would be fundamentally altered. It is allowing "the public prosecutor" to speak on behalf of others (who did not agree to be spoken on behalf of) and to speak on behalf of an imaginary entity (the "State" or "Society") that is the culprit. From this flows all the mischief of modern law. And the same is true at the level of social norms. If you don't approve of something, you should provide an explanation of why it is bad in terms of how it harms you, that is, reduces your satisfaction. If you are speaking on behalf of someone else who did not agree to have you as their spokesperson or if you claim you are speaking on behalf of God, the State, Society, Culture, or whatever, then forgive us for ignoring your arguments until you can at least produce your plaintiff in the plaintiff's seat.

The arguments for the State are like an onion - layer after layer of justifications and defenses. But - at root - they are really very flimsy because the State is not about social order, it's about exploitation.

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Agreed on both points.  Most of our contemporaries, but especially academics, politicians, and journalists, suffer from the twin errors of technocratism and the Whig theory of history.  Truth and justice as a measure of ideas is replaced by novelty and authority.

EDIT: Just saw you post on Jasay.  Yes, that's essentially what I was thinking also - that although the state attempts to monopolize law at the expense of the creation of customary law, some of the aspects of the latter can develop beneath the tyranny of the former, ultimately perhaps to the decline of the former.

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Dennett never explicitly identifies the State as a culprit in memetic engineering and I remain perpetually mystified as to why Dennett/Dawkins/etc. lay the blame for wars on religion when it is obvious that the generals and Presidents are the immediate organizers of war.

I'm not familiar with Dennett's work on religion or politics, but I am familiar with his ontology, specifically with his approach to the mind-body problem (See "Consciousness Explained"), which is eliminative materialism: i.e. the outright rejection of the existence of consciousness and the subjective. In my experience, radical materialism, atheism, and statism seem to occur together very often, especially in academics - it's not hard to see the connections.

In any case, as for the idea of a libertarian church, I like it. I think a stateless society desperately needs some solid institutions to keep it from drifting toward non-libertarian practices: one such institution could be a church. At the mundane level, what does a church need? It needs a symbolic leader, a book, and an icon. A Christ, a Bible, and a cross. Our symbolic leader would obviously be mortal, and dead, and a famous libertarian. Our book would be some definitive work on the basic principles of libertarianism. And our symbol would be....well, may I suggest a crossed-out beehive? :  )

apiarius delendus est, ursus esuriens continendus est
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Clayton replied on Wed, May 9 2012 1:58 AM

What the hell is up with that beehive, anyway??

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"As in a kaleidoscope, the constellation of forces operating in the system as a whole is ever changing." - Ludwig Lachmann

"When A Man Dies A World Goes Out of Existence"  - GLS Shackle

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I don't think we need "believers" because we're not asking people to believe (take on faith) anything.

I disagree.  You are asking people to take it on faith force will spontaneously organize and apply itself justly in the absence of a state.

I have often stated the following observation.  All societies that have, do, or ever will, exist in a global environment of anarchy.

I have identified the following methods to intelligently organize a geographical majority of force:

1.  Convince a majority of force

2.  Breaed a majority of force

3.  Geographically organize a majority of force

I used to include:

4.  Eliminate an existing majority of force

But minority of force > majority of force.is not logical.

(Slightly O/T): I also have developed a philosophical issue with liberty as an end. With liberty, it is possible to say things like "Live Free or Die", a motto which Dennett rightly mocks as just another idea to die for

If liberty is not an end.... why bother going through all the trouble of implementing The First Church of Mises in order to convince a majority of force?  Ok, maybe it's an idea "not to die for" but give me a break on suggesting you are interested in going through all this trouble because...

This is possible because liberty is something outside of and greater than yourself. It doesn't just mean liberty for yourself, it means liberty for "all people" or all the people in your country, or whatever. But this is precisely the problem: self-sacrificial (what I call self-treacherous) ideas that latch onto their host and drive them into giving up their own satisfaction for that of another.

I probably could not have said it better.  Perhaps you were not aware of the contradiction and meant something else like...

However (I love that word), I think we need to keep the "rugged individualism" of a lot of libertarians in check

What can I say... those self-treacherous ideas of something outside of and greater than yourself yadayadayada.... will get ya everytime....

At all points, the only correct basis for methodical decision-making is one's own satisfaction.

I feel this merits a rebuttal but I don't feel like making one right now.

One of the key steps to freeing people of the hold that statism and anti-ataraxic memes have on them is to identify the difference between self-sacrifice for the purpose of attaining greater satisfaction in the long-run, versus self-sacrifice on the behalf of an external beneficiary (parasite).

That sounds a lot like....

...sacrificing to The First Church of Mises for the the purpose of attaining greater satisfaction in the long-run because individual liberty is an end (but not worth dying for), versus self-sacrifice on the behalf on an external beneficiary because the liberty of others is not an end.

If individual liberty is an end but the liberty of others is also not an end I reckon we can throw the entire concept of society including those of a free market variety out the window.  Maybe I am confused about the concept of a free market and any presumed parasitic benefitting actors.

After much reflection over time and espousing of the bulleted points above on many occassions...... I have come to a new conclusion:

If you want to make a change in the world absent any concept of force.... change what satisfies you.

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Clayton:

we also need parents who know the difference between necessary self-sacrifice for long-run self-satisfaction versus abnegation of one's own satisfaction

Doesn't this imply a standard beyond the individuals own preferences to determine what produces the greatest amount of satisfaction?

The atoms tell the atoms so, for I never was or will but atoms forevermore be.

Yours sincerely,

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Clayton replied on Wed, May 9 2012 1:14 PM

At all points, the only correct basis for methodical decision-making is one's own satisfaction.

I feel this merits a rebuttal but I don't feel like making one right now.

Well, seeing as that is my central thesis and that everything else you responded to are just tangential points, I am happy to wait until you feel like rebutting it.

The purpose of the organization I have in mind (I'm not calling it "The First Church of Mises", a wholly facetious name as I pointed out in the OP) would be to help people on a holistic/spiritual level by providing a forum for them to come together and establish community bonds outside of the confines of existing organizations which - to a one - are statist at one level or another. So, the choice to participate would be on the basis that you feel you're getting something out of it, not so that you can sacrifice and put something into a "cause".

The single most important way that people can be helped is to show them how to shed the fear and guilt with which they have been programmed since childhood at the prospect of frankly acting in their own self-interest, that is, thinking about the world exclusively in terms of their own satisfaction. We all do it anyway (if we did not, the human species would perish virtualy overnight), but we put it in the same mental/moral category as masturbation - a dirty shameful thing you pretend you don't do but which, in fact, you do. This is the very thing that is hindering people from realizing their potential, from flourishing and simply being satisfied with the incredible beauty and wonder of life.

Another way to say it is that we need to begin reversing the infantilization of society. Fear and guilt about acting on your cognizance without permission is an infantile way of thinking. Adults don't need permission to act and do not seek it. Statist memes have browbeaten people into this place of timidity, servility and infantile approval-seeking. For their own good, they need to expel these hobbling memes from their minds and begin to act within the world unapologetically as adults who do not need or seek prior approval for their chosen course of action. Most of the work to be done in this regard is spiritual, not logical. That is, it has to do with healing one's emotional well-being and developing one's spiritual understanding of self more than "grasping" libertarian arguments about this or that.

The goal is not to bring about an anarchic society. I wrote about why this is wrong goal a long time ago, here.

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clayton:
Another way to say it is that we need to begin reversing the infantilization of society. Fear and guilt about acting on your cognizance without permission is an infantile way of thinking. Adults don't need permission to act and do not seek it.  Statist memes have browbeaten people into this place of timidity, servility and infantile approval-seeking.

How clever of sheep to acquire shepherds?

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Clayton replied on Wed, May 9 2012 4:02 PM

Proposed name: The Well-Being Society

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Proposed name: The Well-Being Society

... Belive it or not, that's the direct translation for "welfare state" in Finland.

-- --- English I not so well sorry I will. I'm not native speaker.
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Clayton replied on Wed, May 9 2012 4:52 PM

... Belive it or not, that's the direct translation for "welfare state" in Finland.

Well, the socialists have long been co-opting the language of genuine well-being and twisting it around to collectivist ends. It is unavoidable that an honest name for what I have in mind would collide with the distorted language of the collectivists.

The difference, of course, is that I have in mind the well-being of the individual, not of some imaginary entity, such as "the collective."

Here's an example of the kind of moral instruction that I think could be profitably spread. This is more negative (what to avoid, protect yourself against) than positive.

We've all seen the following "joke" a thousand times in TV, movies, even from talks show hosts and news broadcasters:

It really isn't a joke, actually. It can be looked at several different ways. Insomuch as Hollywood is a conduit for messages the Establishment want to convey to the general public, it is a conscientious reinforcement of a reasonable fear. Prison rape is widespread and anyone who isn't part of a gang is at much greater risk of being victimized. The nature of the victimization is far worse than any kind of crime you could be subjected to outside of prison because there is no legal recourse and victimization - once it begins - tends to be perpetual for the duration of the prison sentence. So, they can't burn us at the stake or jab our eyes out with hot pokers but they can send us to prison for years where they will turn a blind eye while we are raped.

But why do people laugh at this "joke". This trope is as reliable as the swift kick in the nuts for getting a laugh from audiences. This leads me to the other way to look at it - this laughter can also be thought of as the uneasy laughter of commiserating potential-victims who understand that they or a loved-one could be subjected to this treatment if they happened to be falsely accused and very unfortunate circumstances led to their conviction and sentencing to prison.

A final way to look at it - unfortuantely, this is probably the most factual - is that it appeals to our capacity for schadenfreude - taking pleasure in the misery of others. Stocks, dunce caps, drunkards-barrels, heretics garments and other forms of public humiliation have been employed as punishments by the authorities in times past. Why do such punishments work? In part, they work because of the participation of the general public in heaping scorn upon those who have been  so marked by the authorities. So, this dark capacity for real schadenfreude is the very thing being appealed to by the "go to prison and get raped for the rest of your life" trope.

I think it is important to note who are the primary targets of the trope: poor, non-criminal, young men. It is the poor who are targeted because they are more likely than others to be arrested, the non-criminal or petty criminal because they are the ones who are less likely to be members of gangs and, therefore, are the primary victims of prison rapes. And it is men because very few women get arrested or go to prison by comparison to men.

The trope itself adds a booster effect to the victimization. Imagine, for a moment, being raped by a ruthless prison thug with a shiv stuck to your jugular - it's a terrible thought, isn't it? But now imagine that being done to you with millions of people standing around, watching, laughing. Even worse. And that's exactly what this trope does. It converts a real crime that tens of thousands of men (and some women, too) are victimized by into a joke - we all know that it's actually happening but instead of doing something to stop it, we simply laugh.

So, what are some steps we can take in response to this sick and disgusting trope?  First, if you are a young, non-criminal man below the line of comfortable, middle-class income, refuse to be intimidated by this trope - avoid situations where you are likely to be arrested (thus being put at risk of being raped in prison) but otherwise dispel these veiled threats from your mind. Spit on the threat for the disgusting thing that it is. Even if you're not one of those in the targeted group, you can still express your own moral and aesthetic views on its use in culture. Second, simply note that it's not actually funny in the vast majority of cases where it is used. It's just lazy writing - cheap laughs bought on a morally questionable basis. Third, note that taking pleasure in the misery of others - even the psychological misery inflicted through veiled threats - is immoral. Refuse to participate. Raise the issue with your friends and point out the fact that prison rape is a fact, that people who are innocent are at much greater risk of being raped in prison than people who are actually guilty and that the "joke" is simply barbaric and disgusting.

This is an example of the kind of thing that I think people really need to hear. The best way for them to hear is to simply start un-hearing the bad stuff to begin with (supplant it with good things instead, such as healthy social interaction in a community setting) but direct confrontation of the filth within the culture is also critical.

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Admittedly I don't watch that much tv but the whole prison rape thing was played straight in Shawshank Redemption and American History X.  No jokes at all.

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Clayton replied on Thu, May 10 2012 1:08 AM

Don't know how I missed this...

we also need parents who know the difference between necessary self-sacrifice for long-run self-satisfaction versus abnegation of one's own satisfaction

Doesn't this imply a standard beyond the individuals own preferences to determine what produces the greatest amount of satisfaction?

No. It implies that not all the means to attaining one's preferences are under one's own control. To be clear, when we use the word "ends", as in many ends, these are proximate ends which can, in turn, be understood as means to some other final end. Aristotle says in the opening of the Nicomachean Ethics,

Now we call that which is in itself worthy of pursuit more final than that which is worthy of pursuit for the sake of something else, and that which is never desirable for the sake of something else more final than the things that are desirable both in themselves and for the sake of that other thing, and therefore we call final without qualification that which is always desirable in itself and never for the sake of something else.

Now such a thing happiness, above all else, is held to be; for this we choose always for self and never for the sake of something else, but honour, pleasure, reason, and every virtue we choose indeed for themselves (for if nothing resulted from them we should still choose each of them), but we choose them also for the sake of happiness, judging that by means of them we shall be happy. Happiness, on the other hand, no one chooses for the sake of these, nor, in general, for anything other than itself.

...

Happiness, then, is something final and self-sufficient, and is the end of action.

Presumably, however, to say that happiness is the chief good seems a platitude, and a clearer account of what it is still desired.

And he goes on from there to give his account.

The point is that the final end - happiness, satisfaction or what Epicurus termed ataraxia - is ascertained solely within the mind. If a proximate end does not lead to happiness, we can say that it was, in some sense, an objectively wrong end. But the final end itself is the very standard by which the insufficiency of the proximate end is being judged, and it can never held to a higher standard than itself precisely because it is ascertained solely within the mind. So we see that all proximate ends can be thought of as themselves means. What we ordinarily refer to as ends - specific purposes present within the mind - are really means not ends.

As a result of our human nature, some means lead to no one's satisfaction (say, drinking a quart of sulphuric acid) and other means lead to everyone's satisfaction when the conditions are properly specified (e.g. eating), and excepting pathological cases. We can safely refer to all the former as "evil" and all the latter as "good." And while this body of values is universal - because it is a consequence of our nature - it is precisely because these courses of action have been discovered to consistently lead or not lead to satisfaction that they are to be considered good or evil. Therefore, the final end - happiness, satisfaction - is the only criterion of morality and it lies entirely within the mind.

The parent is merely fulfilling a temporary pedagogical role in this respect. He is simply giving his child "hints", pointing him in the generally right direction and warning against lurking dangers.

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bloomj31 replied on Thu, May 10 2012 1:20 AM

What if my happiness comes at your expense?

In other words, what if what makes me happy necessarily makes you unhappy?

Am I still acting morally?

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In other words, what if what makes me happy necessarily makes you unhappy?

Two ways to look at this

1) Happiness and unhappiness are determined by your actions, not some set idealistic mindset or words that are supposed to have "eternal" meaning alone.  If you say to person X's actions "boo", that can only be seen as your optimal actions to happiness in the situation at hand.  In this case get rid of the word "unhappiness" and just see it as a comparison of less "social currency" of happiness to person X.

There is no zero sum: if you do an action, it is always a positive one, and always the most optimal, and always "happy".  Saying you are "not happy" is just the easiest way to press your comparative advantage to get what you want at that given point in time.  As a rule of thumb, it can be stated that things that are stated "negatively" automatically signal they have "less value", and are probably a scoundrels last resort, than something stated positively. 

2) If someone's happiness is coming at such a high expense to relevant people -he will be eradicated in some form or another because he is being antisocial.  In so much that the person exists within society, his happiness is "correct".

 

 

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Clayton replied on Thu, May 10 2012 1:37 AM

What if my happiness comes at your expense?

In other words, what if what makes me happy necessarily makes you unhappy?

Am I still acting morally?

Awesome questions - that is exactly what social order is all about. From my article Action and the Soul:

Norms arise instead from interpersonal conflict. It is easy to see why this is the case. Imagine that Crusoe’s island has become a popular tourist attraction and is filled to the brim with people. By chance, it happens that no one ever comes into conflict with anyone else on the island. In this case, there is no difference for each individual than if he were completely alone on the island. That is, the question of right and wrong is merely the question of pleasure or pain. The problem of right and wrong as a matter of normative principles simply never arises.

When we reintroduce the possibility of conflict on the island, the question of how conflicts will be resolved arises. Regardless of who is right or wrong, the problem is that one individual’s chosen end involves obstructing one of the chosen ends of another individual. One individual can only be happy by frustrating another. Disputes arise whenever the chosen ends of two individuals come into conflict, that is, whenever the chosen ends of two individuals are mutually exclusive.

The purpose of a norm, then, is to determine who should get to pursue their end unobstructed and who should stand aside and accept the frustration of their chosen end. Once the purpose of a norm is understood, it is easy to see that most discussions of ethics and morality go astray right from the outset. A moral rule or norm doesn’t exist for its own sake. If it did, then we would be correct in suspecting that Crusoe is subject to moral rules even when he is completely alone on the island. A necessary condition for moral problems is the existence of two or more people pursuing mutually exclusive ends.

...

As many disputes are settled between individuals, patterns arise in what sorts of behaviors result in what sorts of outcomes, that is, which party usually defers. However, unlike law – where the threat of potential violence always stands behind the verbal dispute – the threats employed in the process of settling non-legal disputes are less violent. The threats employed are those of public humiliation, snitching, nagging, guilt, family estrangement, hazing, petty vandalism, community shunning or ostracism, and so on. Since everyone but sociopaths finds these outcomes highly unpleasant, such threats can be effective even though they do not rise to the level of violent threats.

Because these retaliatory behaviors are present in every culture, we can safely conclude that the human brain must have circuitry that permits other humans to impose this wide array of negative feelings on the brain without the use of outright violence. The fact that these circuits exist attests to some process of evolution by which they came about.

...

As individuals act, they are forced to weigh the satisfaction they expect to receive from a given end against the retaliation which may be taken against them by someone else as a result. The attainment of ends which leave an individual vulnerable to retaliation by another individual who has a mutually exclusive end becomes more onerous by virtue of the added risk of retaliation.

Behaviors which will result in negative social consequences - head-wagging, humiliation, verbal berating, emotional browbeating, etc. - can simply be called "wrong" and those behaviors with the opposite effects can be called "right". So, the facts of right and wrong - the essence of social order - are really sociological facts, they are facts about how human beings behave, socially.

I explain these ideas in a clearer manner here.

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Clayton replied on Thu, May 10 2012 1:49 AM

In so much that the person exists within society, his happiness is "correct".

This is an important point that is often overlooked - we are the descendants of the people who got along. The trouble-makers and rabble-rousers either eliminated each other or got eliminated. Or founded States. But that's a different topic. This - in combination with the existence of social norms and law which can change much more rapidly than innate dispositions to keep up with changes in the social environment - is why pursuing your satisfaction is inherently harmonious.

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bloomj31 replied on Thu, May 10 2012 1:52 AM

So I guess it all comes down to what one is willing to risk in order to pursue happiness correct?

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Clayton replied on Thu, May 10 2012 2:01 AM

what one is willing to risk in order to pursue happiness

Well, you have no choice in the matter - Time itself imposes upon you the fact of choice at every moment. Whether you take risks or not, you are still acting and the consequences to your happiness are, therefore, the result of your own action either way. This is what Mises was talking about in Human Action.

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Clayton:

As a result of our human nature, some means lead to no one's satisfaction (say, drinking a quart of sulphuric acid) and other means lead to everyone's satisfaction when the conditions are properly specified (e.g. eating), and excepting pathological cases. We can safely refer to all the former as "evil" and all the latter as "good." And while this body of values is universal - because it is a consequence of our nature - it is precisely because these courses of action have been discovered to consistently lead or not lead to satisfaction that they are to be considered good or evil. Therefore, the final end - happiness, satisfaction - is the only criterion of morality and it lies entirely within the mind.

The problem with this is if you are keeping a strict individualist position on happiness or ataraxia, then the statement consistently lead or not lead to satisfaction is impermissble since it attempts to internalise other people's level of happiness and as such brings about an interpretation of happiness beyond the individual. Hence there can be no meaningful distinction between self abnegation or seeking your own happiness since if you perform as an action, as Vive points out, it is optimal.

I understand why you are attempting to integrate human nature into play since the facts you state above are obvious however to make the claims of "good or evil"  mankind requires not only a shared end, happiness, but also shared means again takes you outside your strictly individualist position otherwise it is pure prejudice as to whether an action does or does not lead to someone's happiness.

 

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Not necessarily.  All action is undertaken in a condition of uncertainty.  Thus what one thinks will lead to happiness may not in eventuality do so.  There is, then, room for thought and discussion about what means will lead to a eudaimonic end.

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Yes, but under Clayton's position it can only be assessed by the individual for himself.  Therefore any idea of shared means for happiness is necessarily invalidated by his strict individualism at this point.

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Clayton replied on Thu, May 10 2012 12:40 PM

The problem with this is if you are keeping a strict individualist position on happiness or ataraxia, then the statement consistently lead or not lead to satisfaction is impermissble since it attempts to internalise other people's level of happiness

Not quite - I'm not thinking of peers' experiences as being normative so much as thinking of all prior human lives as a "grand science experiment", the results of which are recorded within culture itself (some decoding required). In other words, Bob can't come up to me and say "I've never been satisfied with Diet Coke. Therefore, Diet Coke is evil. You are drinking Diet Coke, therefore, you are doing evil." That's an attempt by Bob to make me internalize his happiness. There's no reason to believe that just because something doesn't make one person happy that, therefore, it can make no one happy.

But, according to biologists, there have been about 100 billion human lives before mine. These people have tried everything - things like jumping off cliffs without a parachute, cheating on their spouse, murderous rampages, and so on. Some of these things never brought the actor happiness. Of course, I do not mean that I can know this in the same way that I can know what makes me happy - I am merely looking at the external marks of happiness/unhappiness and that through the somewhat distorting lens of the cultural artifacts left behind by all these "scientific experiments", so to speak. But this argument regarding happiness is much stronger - if a million people in thousands of different circumstances have tried a particular course of action and it never turned out the way they were apparently planning (never led to their happiness/satisfaction), then it's a good bet it won't work if you try it. In other words, these many experiments tell us something about the facts of the human constitution (human nature).

We are in the fortunate position of having a great deal of cultural information, some of which communicates to us the results of the "grand scientific experiment". Social norms, law, cultural practices, the arts, they all communicate things about past attempts by people to find satisfaction in a variety of ways and whether they succeeded or failed in their chosen courses of action.

and as such brings about an interpretation of happiness beyond the individual. Hence there can be no meaningful distinction between self abnegation or seeking your own happiness since if you perform as an action, as Vive points out, it is optimal.

 

I think that vive's note is a slightly hyperbolic description of the logic of evolution. Every organism on the planet is "optimal to its environment"... until it gets eaten - oops, apparently it wasn't that optimal. Evolutionary arguments are always relative... organism X is more optimal relative to the alternatives that could have arisen instead. So, my behavior is more optimal to social harmony relative to the behavior of the hypothetical descendants of the rabble-rousers who were killed off long ago without producing offspring.

I understand why you are attempting to integrate human nature into play since the facts you state above are obvious however to make the claims of "good or evil"  mankind requires not only a shared end, happiness, but also shared means again takes you outside your strictly individualist position otherwise it is pure prejudice as to whether an action does or does not lead to someone's happiness.

That is a nihilistic position regarding the relevance and usefulness of cultural and innate information regarding the conditions of happiness. The evolution of consciousness obviously played a role in getting the desired behavior out of organisms through the use of what is essentially Pavlovian conditioning occurring completely within the confines of your skull: you feel satisfied when you eat because you evovled to eat and not starve, and vice-versa. So, this covers the biological conditions of happiness, which are human universals because we all have human bodies and can be put down simply to the particulars of our physiology as they have evolved.

But, clearly, there is something more to human happiness than just eating. And this is where culture enters the picture. Just like the particulars of human physiology tell us something about the conditions of human happiness, so the particulars of human culture tell us more about the conditions of human happiness than can be learnt merely from studying human physiology. This has nothing to do with saying "because Bob doesn't like Diet Coke, you cannot possibly like Diet Coke", it's a much stronger argument that human culture represents empirical knowledge about the facts of human happiness as a result of the discovery of these facts through trial and error with many real human lives that have gone before us.

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Clayton replied on Thu, May 10 2012 1:13 PM

Norms arise instead from interpersonal conflict. It is easy to see why this is the case. Imagine that Crusoe’s island has become a popular tourist attraction and is filled to the brim with people. By chance, it happens that no one ever comes into conflict with anyone else on the island. In this case, there is no difference for each individual than if he were completely alone on the island. That is, the question of right and wrong is merely the question of pleasure or pain. The problem of right and wrong as a matter of normative principles simply never arises.

I want to note that my views on this have changed a bit since I wrote this - morality does enter the picture even when Crusoe is alone on his island, just not in the sense we normally think of morality. In this sense, Crusoe's "ends" should really be thought of as "means" as I described above and the problem is no longer one of morality but one of praxeology - will Crusoe's chosen means lead to his happiness?

To illustrate the point, let's go back to Rothbard's illustration of Crusoe eating the poisonous mushroom (somewhere in EoL, I'm too lazy to look up the cite right now). Why did Crusoe decide to eat the mushroom? Well, let's say he was hungry. In this case, he ate the mushroom to ease his hunger pangs. And he wants to ease his hunger pangs because he wants to be satisfied, that is, untroubled, pain-free and filled with an effortless sense of well-being. So, the mushroom was not the final end. Satisfying his hunger was not the final end. Satisfaction/happiness remains the only final end. Thus, on this account, the eating of a poisonous mushroom is not immoral so much as the technically incorrect means to the attainment of the final end: satisfaction.

But Rothbard points out that it is possible for Crusoe to eat the mushroom even if he knew it was poisonous - perhaps from very high time-preference or just for kicks. But I think when you analyze this more carefully, you see that there are only three possibilities:

  • Crusoe actually does desire to be poisoned (end his life) - perhaps he's wearied of the loneliness of island life and just can't take it anymore. Eating the mushroom then is a correct course of action to the attainment of the goal he has.
  • Crusoe wants to test the theory that the mushroom is deadly. He does not believe that if you eat the mushroom you will necessarily suffer and die. In this case, Crusoe is merely using himself as a test-subject in his own science experiment to determine the claims that a particular mushroom is deadly.
  • Crusoe is ill. He is genuinely choosing against his own satisfaction, whether out of delusion, insanity or something else. Any departure from pursuit of one's final end - satisfaction - is pathological. So, if it really were the case that Crusoe had somehow managed to have in his mind the full contradictory knowledge that the mushroom will cause him dissatisfaction in the most final sense and yet he still chose to eat it, we would have to simply say that something was medically or psychologically wrong with Crusoe since no one who isn't ill knowingly chooses their own suffering.

This is rather less important than the question of social order, however, precisely because we're not Crusoes. Almost all the conditions of our satisfaction reside within the social order. This is why we use the word "morality" almost synonymously with how we are expected to treat other people. Therefore, the bulk of inquiry into the question of morality has to focus on the facts of the social order.

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bloomj31 replied on Thu, May 10 2012 2:09 PM

How can we be sure that cheating on one's spouse has never been the technically correct means to the attainment of someone's satisfaction?

It seems more like you're setting morality up as an issue of trade-offs and risks rather than an either or question to me.  If that's the case then I totally agree with you.  But since I highly doubt that you and I have the same perception of morality I assume I'm just reading this wrong.

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Clayton replied on Thu, May 10 2012 2:20 PM

How can we be sure that cheating on one's spouse has never been the technically correct means to the attainment of someone's satisfaction?

It seems more like you're setting morality up as an issue of trade-offs and risks rather than an either or question to me.  If that's the case then I totally agree with you.  But since I highly doubt that you and I have the same perception of morality I assume I'm just reading this wrong.

See what Aristippus said above about uncertainty. The fact is that a state of affairs either does or does not bring you satisfaction. In the final analysis, morality is black and white - you either succeeded or failed in your chosen course of action. But because we have uncertainty about the conditions which will give rise to satisfaction and the course of action which will bring about those conditions, the process of decision-making can be characterized as "trade-offs and risks".

But I think that we often become myopic in discussing the issue because we're ruling out vast swathes of possible decisions that we could make with the unstated knowledge that of course they will lead to unhappiness. And it's that very "of course" judgment that I'm trying to call attention to as the "absolute" or "universal" aspect of human morality. It's not just kind of or maybe the case that drinking a quart of sulphuric acid will lead to unhappines, it is definitely the case. But many other less absurd behaviors are just as certain to bring about unhappiness - going on a murderous rampage, openly cheating on your spouse, and so on. And I'm further asserting that it's no accident that these things will lead to unhappiness - the social order has developed into what it is precisely so that inharmonious courses of action result in a state of unhappiness. That's the function of the social order.

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bloomj31 replied on Thu, May 10 2012 2:43 PM

So it's not just the cheating on the spouse it's getting caught doing so that matters right?  So there's a risk vs reward dynamic.

Moreover, doesn't the context of murder change how it will be viewed within the social order?  

I was reading a mises daily last week I think that referenced this Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle.  I looked him up out of curiosity.  Kyle has 160 confirmed kills and claims to have 255 altogether.  He apparently got a book deal out of it and now currently resides in Texas.

Ted Bundy, the infamous serial killer from the 70's, confessed at the time of his execution in Florida to the murders of 30 women.  Some people seem to think the real number was higher.

Even if Bundy killed 50 women it would still be less than a third of the total number of Kyle's confirmed kills.

It seems like in the context of war, murder is rewarded by the social order rather than punished.

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Clayton replied on Thu, May 10 2012 3:02 PM

So it's not just the cheating on the spouse it's getting caught doing so that matters right?  So there's a risk vs reward dynamic.

Moreover, doesn't the context of murder change how it will be viewed within the social order? 

I was reading a mises daily last week I think that referenced this Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle.  I looked him up out of curiosity.  Kyle has 160 confirmed kills and claims to have 255 altogether.  He apparently got a book deal out of it and now currently resides in Texas.

Ted Bundy, the infamous serial killer from the 70's, confessed at the time of his execution to the murders of 30 women.  Some people seem to think the real number was higher.

Even if Bundy killed 50 women it would still be less than a third of the total number of Kyle's confirmed kills.

It seems like in the context of war, murder is rewarded by the social order rather than punished.

In the case of cheating, what is more interesting to me than the question "but what happens if you don't get caught" is why do so many people get caught despite their best efforts to the contrary and why are the consequences to themselves typically so dire? These facts are telling us something important about the human condition.

Intuitively, I think most people just translate this into "don't cheat, it's immoral" which I think is a good first-order approximation of the problem. Clearly, there is a lot more to it than just that but the fact that this is what most people come away with upon cursory reflection matters. To state it anthropomorphically, the social order itself wants us to come away with that lesson. And the interesting question to me is why?

I think the juxtaposition of the sniper versus Bundy shows us a couple things:

  • The social order itself is corruptible and can be hijacked - the State does precisely this
  • When the social order is distorted in some way, it fundamentally alters individual morality - this is its most dire consequence. To use an extreme example, we can see looking back how the enabling of the Nazi State - its propaganda, culture, policies and so on - actually brought out, rewarded and enhanced behaviors that were clearly deleterious to the social order and to the well-being of millions of people.
  • While armchair analysis (deductive reasoning) cannot tell us what is right or wrong, we can infer from the rest of the body of knowledge regarding human nature (evolutionary psychology, history, comparative culture, and so on) when a social order is "unhealthy" in that it is no longer conducive to harmonious society and individual well-being for a significant portion of the population. There are such things as social pathologies.

This is why I keep saying that we have to heal the social order and individuals together because the health of each is dependent on the other. Without a spiritually* healthy social order, you cannot have spiritually healthy individuals, and vice-versa. A necessary precondition to not killing hundreds of foreigners - many of whom were likely "innocent" by any reasonable measure right and wrong - is not having a State that is recruiting and paying people - decent and otherwise normal people - to do precisely this. Maybe we can't get rid of the State en toto, but at least we can point out the absurdity of assassinating hundreds of foreigners with skilled snipers.

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*Again, I'm using this term advisedly, I am not asserting the existence of the intangible

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bloomj31 replied on Thu, May 10 2012 3:37 PM

clayton:
why do so many people get caught despite their best efforts to the contrary and why are the consequences to themselves typically so dire?

I do not know how to answer this question because I lack any meaningful data about how many people cheat on their spouses, what percentage get caught and what the varying consequences are, dire or not.  I can only think of my personal experience with the issue which is not extensive at all.  For all I know it could be happening far more or less than I think.

clayton:
This is why I keep saying that we have to heal the social order and individuals together because the health of each is dependent on the other.

Wouldn't you necessarily "heal" the social order if you "healed" every individual?  Moreover, what is the name of this pathology our social order suffers from?  The moral double standard?  The dual law?

clayton:
A necessary precondition to not killing hundreds of foreigners - many of whom were likely "innocent" by any reasonable measure right and wrong - is not having a State that is recruiting and paying people - decent and otherwise normal people - to do precisely this.

You know, I have given a fair amount of thought to this and I've come up with two distinct paradigms for thinking about this.  One is that an act can be wrong in and of itself regardless of context, regardless of its purpose, regardless of intent and regardless of consequence.  This is objective morality as I understand it.  In this paradigm Kyle and Bundy are...not so different they're just being judged on a double standard.

The other is that actions cannot be judged without a reference point to judge them on.  Context is key.  In this paradigm, the righteousness of an act depends on its context, its purpose, intent and its consequence. This is relative morality as I understand it. In this paradigm Kyle and Bundy are very different because while both men killed people, they each did so under very different circumstances with very different intentions and for very different purposes. In this light, the double standard starts to make sense.  It's not that Bundy killed people, it's that he killed the wrong people in the context of his time and thus was seen as a threat to society whereas Kyle killed the right people in the context of his time and thus is not seen as a threat to society.

Perhaps the social order isn't sickened by the dual law of the state, perhaps the dual law of the state reflects the shifting, malleable nature of morality, the social order and man.  What do you think?

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Clayton replied on Thu, May 10 2012 3:59 PM

the dual law of the state reflects the shifting, malleable nature of morality, the social order and man.  What do you think?

The State is only one manifestation of dual-law/hypocrisy. I don't think that hypocrisy per se is a social pathology - I just don't think that makes any sense.

In a post in another thread, I've pointed out that I think we have to distinguish between two facets of government - there is clearly some kind of "natural" form of government that arises from clan/tribal order and there is dual-law in this system as in ours. But then there is the more frankly imperialistic form of government which we have today. I think the difference between the two is that the former is clearly symbiotic - the led benefit from being led and the leaders benefit from leading - where I think the imperial orders - Rome, London, Washington, DC, etc. - are one-way relationships. The rulers benefit at the expense of those they rule. And that's all there is to it.

While it's a mistake to describe this as "immoral" because the facts of reality are neither immoral nor moral, we can note that such situations do not last long anywhere in nature. The predators may find easy hunting for a time but soon their prey will adapt and equilibrium will be restored, perhaps even a golden age of relative scarcity of predators may emerge. So, I think that the present social order is doomed precisely because it is so absolutely unilateral. I haven't thought about in sufficient depth but I think we can describe this condition as pathological - it is an illness of society.

I agree that the specific character of culture is largely determined by the type and nature of its dual-law, however, I think that it's a mistake in Conventional Wisdom to treat the social order as infinitely malleable, as if human nature is a blank slate (see any Steven Pinker lecture on this topic for more detail). Human nature has particular features that are essentially unchangeable from the point-of-view of social order. So, things change and dual-law can be expressed in different ways in different cultures (different societies tolerate different kinds of hypocriscy) but not everything changes and not everything can be re-arranged.

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bloomj31 replied on Thu, May 10 2012 4:17 PM

I will think on this.  I want to research some things before I try to respond.  Thanks for your responses.

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So Clayton,

If I understand you correctly you are saying that there are agent neutral norms (applicable for all agents) which are means, though not exhaustive ones, to an individuals happiness. If an individual does not adopt these means he will not be happy.

I actually agree with the above however I don't think your arguments can justify it. You need to raise your ideas of human nature on a par with your individualist ataraxia to be consistent but to do so invalidates your fundemental position that the individual is the measure of all things and to attempt to go beyond him is hubris. This is, I think, the fundemental point of disagreement. If we can go beyond the individual the first paragraph can be justified otherwise it cannot. I argued thus in your Action and the Soul article.

However on the general idea  of creating a "Church of Mises" with a broader cultural agenda is a good one.

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Clayton replied on Fri, May 11 2012 10:57 AM

If we can go beyond the individual

What do you mean by "go beyond the individual" and who is "we"?

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Clayton replied on Fri, May 11 2012 3:50 PM

Also, I looked through the Action and the Soul thread and didn't see any replies by you to that thread.

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What the hell is up with that beehive, anyway??

The (kept) beehive is a symbol of the State: a managed society, which is farmed.**

It's also an allusion to Oppenheimer's metaphor for the genesis of the State. First the bear hunts for honey and destroys the beehive in the process (looters, raiders, etc), but eventually he realizes it's in his own interest to settle down and become a beekeeper (the State, the tax-farmer as opposed to the periodic looter). My signature states: the beekeeper must be destroyed (the State must be abolished), but the hungry bear must be restrained (but the criminals cannot be allowed to run loose).

**Sheep is to shepherd as beehive is to beekeeper. Fact of the day: in the earliest written records from Mesopotamia (e.g. Gilgamesh) the kings frequently refer to themselves as the shepherds of the people. Uruk was known also as the "sheepfold." It's actually a very common epithet for a king throughout ancient near eastern history (we all know this through Judaism, which says some interesting things about the Jewish and then Christian God...but I digress). I think it speaks a lot to the mindset of the ruling class. Plato referred to his ideal society (which we might call oligarchical collectivism) as a beehive, and that metaphor has stuck (it was used previously in archaic Greek art to represent power, order, etc). The masons adopted it for that reason I think (the ideal society, the Great Work)...and I'm rambling.

 

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Clayton replied on Fri, May 11 2012 8:11 PM

the beekeeper must be destroyed (the State must be abolished), but the hungry bear must be restrained (but the criminals cannot be allowed to run loose).

Absolutely - and I think this is where a lot of people get lost. They equate statelessness with lawlessness - if that's true, then we are stuck with the State. Fortunately, it's not true.

I think that this threat from the State - "If you destroy us, you will be overrun with criminals" - is a lot like the threat that the banks made to the Congress during the 2008 financial collapse: "Bail us out or the entire economy will be destroyed." It's a kind of extortion. First, they monopolize the production of law and security, thereby destroying the ability of the market to produce solutions in these areas while doing the most half-hearted job in providing the minimum they can possibly get away with in order to prevent a revolution. Then they have the nerve to say "You can't get rid of us because there will be chaos if you do." Well, yeah, of course there will be chaos, you've made damn well sure there will be chaos. How about we just end the monopoly and force you to compete on the open market and see where customers willingly go?

This is particularly obvious in countries outside the US/UK/EU/Japan-complex. That "places that don't exist" documentary covers quite a few countries where it is clear that the authorities don't give a rat's ass about the keeping the people safe but neither will they allow the people to organize their own protection, thus leaving them vulnerable to all sorts of private predation on top of the regular public predation they must endure. It isn't any wonder that such places are so economically backward.

So, we need to see through this charade and realize that the State is the very thing that is preventing people from properly securing their property from private theft, while itself engaging in theft that far exceeds any losses that would have been borne as a result of private thievery (what private thief could ever steal 50% of your entire life's productivity?) Let's abolish the beekeeper. Or, at least, let's abolish the biggest, nastiest beekeepers, the globe-sprawling ones like the UN, the EU, the US Federal government, and so on. Then, maybe later, we can work our way on down to the local level.

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