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Archive for the ‘society’ Category

The Decline of the Empire

Most empires don’t end with a bang, with the spectacles of doomsday prophecies and widespread destruction. What destruction occurs, occurs gradually and without remark. What spectacles happen, happen amidst the pervasive stagnation of the social structure. An empire on the decline cannot be saved, at best the problems can be put off for a little while by unpopular policies.

When did the Roman Empire fall? That’s not something which can be well-dated. When Rome fell to the barbarians the first, second, or third time? When the Eastern Roman Empire was swept away by Muslim invaders in the 15th century? When the empire was no longer politically unified? When the decline was terminal, if that could even be diagnosed? Or, does it still exist today, succeeded by numerous political bodies?

I ask this because, amidst the fallout of the re-election of Barack Obama on Tuesday, there has been a flurry of articles and sentiments spoken by those of a conservative bent who believe that Mitt Romney was the one last true chance to “turn America around” or something like that. What they fail to realize is that Obama is not likely to be the end. He will be one in a long line of increasingly desultory tyrants. Nor would Romney have turned anything around, I am certain of that.

Is the American Empire in decline? Certainly. Is the decline terminal? I am also certain of this. When more than 50 million of a nation will vote for a murderer, there is a deep moral rot that has set in for which no operation will save the patient. But the government will keep doling out our bread, and it will keep providing circuses.

Will it end with a bang? No. There will be a series of tragedies, massacres, dissolutions, controversies, scandals, crises, and collapses. This could go on for several more centuries yet, the decline only becoming apparent from a view a millennium or more out.

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Which is logically prior? Property or society? Is there such a thing as property rights, and then we can form society, or must society be formed in order to recognize property rights? I think it is clear that property rights precede society, and that they are a precondition of society. For, if society is prior to property, then there could be society without property, but then in what does that society subsist?

Society is the widespread respect of property rights. At leas, that is how I would understand it. If people do not have a respect for property rights (and such could conceivably be the case if society is somehow prior to property), then how do people cooperate? What forms the basis of that cooperation? Cooperation assumes each individual has something of their own to bring forward, namely, their own participation, their own labor, their own consent, and so on. Cooperation assumes, in other words, a kind of property or ownership, namely the ownership of the immediate products of the self, such as labor, consent, opinions, and so on.

One might object that this kind of ownership does not make sense, since ownership must be of tangible things. I can own a hammer, I cannot own my labor. However, this doesn’t seem to make much sense. How can I acquire except with that which is my own? If I do not put my labor into it, I shall fail to acquire the hammer. It doesn’t make much sense to say I gift myself the hammer, as though the labor comes not from me but somewhere else. I think this is why it makes sense to say we own the immediate products of our self. While it may not make sense to say we “own our selves” in a literal sense, since one must be a self in order to own at all, I’m certain this is what “self-ownership” means; the immediate products of the self, i.e. the body, the labor, the opinions. I am representing, after all, opinions that I lay claim to, and I can’t present something as my opinion unless I lay claim to it in some sense. This is a kind of ownership, an ownership of consent to ideas. (Note: Not the ownership of ideas. Ideas are abstractions. Consent or agreement with them is concrete, an activity of the self.)

What of Crusoe? On his island by himself, it wouldn’t make sense to ascribe property to him. There is no one from whom he would need to protect or assert his property rights against. This might be the case, but I don’t see why that is a problem, since we clearly still recognize that what is Crusoe’s is Crusoe’s, and that property represents a limitation on the actions others might have on his island. What this means is that property is something that prepares us for society. There is a use to marking out what is and isn’t Crusoe’s even if he is by himself, since that would mark out what he can offer to others and what others can do, assuming he would meet other people. This is to say that property is a precondition of society; even if we are by ourselves, we mark out what is ours in order that, if we can, we can interact with others with equal respect to what is each our own.

This illustrates an important point. Property is not merely a precondition of society, but its purpose is the facilitation of society. Property has a social telos. Since property is intrinsic to human action and life, human action has its end in social activity, such as the development of rich and meaningful relations with other people. If we try to put it the other way, then one ironically defeats the point of coming together. Why should we come together? To acquire more? What is better about acquiring more for ourselves or others, unless it was something we valued before we came together? What’s the purpose of coming together? It must ultimately be because we acquire more than we would if we remained apart, and this not just to acquire more material goods, but intellectual, aesthetic, and social goods. I can get sustenance by myself without others, but I cannot get these important human goods without society.

Someone might object that, while this is all well and good, it seems that there are examples of propertyless societies. What of tribes? Everything in the tribe is held in common. Yes, that is the case, but I would note that holding everything “in common” is still an ownership. After all, when you have two tribes meet, each tribe recognizes what is its own. Further, there are still tasks delegated to individual members of the tribe, and this because of what that person happens to own that they can contribute, such as their own labor, their own wisdom, their own guidance, and so on.

This would ultimately explain why the degree to which society respects property is how well off that society will be. A society is ill to the degree it does not recognize what is another’s own. A people who are ready to expropriate the property of another, who are given to voicing their envy and disreputable claims against others for their productiveness, inevitably leads to a society that looks suspiciously upon those who would act to accumulate to their property by the honest means of trade and exchange. This ultimately leads to the breakdown of cooperation and the breakdown of society. If you take away respect for property, you cannot keep society in place, because there is nothing for society to be centered around. There is no reason to come together if it profits no one.

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The Right to Anarchy

I wish to demonstrate, not necessarily the moral superiority or even its moral necessity, but the logical feasibility and necessity of allowing individuals to live in anarchy. Perhaps I could later push on this conclusion further to derive something more, but for now I only want to show that, granting some intuition that I believe many people share, many people are proto-anarchists.

I am calling proto-anarchists those who accept the right of people to be free from being compelled to be a member of a state. That is, they would accept that, were there someone somewhere living but not a citizen of any state, that individual would also have the right to remain outside the jurisprudence of a state. Further, it would be unjust for either a state or a private individual to compel that individual to join the state.

There is such a thing as the right to secede. That is, very simply, outside of someone’s giving, by their own will, a contractual agreement, someone is free to dissolve what relationships that hold between them and others. For instance, I have made no contractual agreement to be your friend; ergo, I am free to dissolve our relationship. Likewise, I have made no contractual agreement to eat at Burger King every Sunday, so if I choose not to eat at Burger King this upcoming Sunday I have done nothing wrong. In fact, I may have previously eaten at Burger King every Sunday of my life, and I would maintain the right to dissolve that ongoing relationship.

Such a right to dissolve potential or ongoing relationships must also apply to government. Since I have made no contractual agreement with the government to be its citizen, then I must also reserve the right to dissolve my relationship with it. In other words, I must have the right to secede from the state, and so enter into a state of anarchy, being a citizen of no state.

Would this right to dissolve non-contractual relationships somehow not extend to the state? I cannot think of a reason why not. After all, unless one holds to a theory of the state in which it is somehow just for obligations to be discharged onto others without their agreeing to it, then it would follow one must be free to simply “not sign the social contract.”

Now, I can imagine some smart ass suggesting “Well, but the state has given you certain things, therefore you must obligated to it!” I’m skeptical that this is the case. It is certainly possible to give things without obliging others; gifts and such. Further, there are certain conditions of giving things that you cannot thereby oblige the other towards you; for instance, if what you give wasn’t rightfully yours in the first place. Or, in those instances in which what you are giving is only being taken because you have coerced others from also being able to give it to you, or you have at least made it very inconvenient, or you are simply giving someone something that you already made them pay for; these do not seem instances that oblige one to the giver. So, even if I have benefited from certain goods the government has provided, it does not thereby follow that I am obliged to remain a citizen and so be compelled to do whatever the government tells me.

Now, realistically, would I be allowed to secede? I do not think so. When you “purchase” property the government still reserves all rights of first use, in order to declare what it may and may not be used for. This would include the “legal” inability to declare that your property is no longer subject to the government’s jurisprudence, but then this just reveals that the government is unjust to the extent that it doesn’t respect the right to secede.

For that, would you hold a gun to my head and tell me that I can’t secede? And what is government but would you enforce on others?

Therefore, I believe that most people are at least proto-anarchists, and while they might not personally choose to live in anarchy, they would respect the right of others to make that choice.

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The idea and problem of inequality is often taken up in reference to material scarcity and inequality of consumption and ownership. This guy has $100 million in his bank account, and this girl has $10! Inequality! Oh no! The solution inevitably proposed? Widespread theft.

But let’s leave that alone for now. I think we can show that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with inequality, or at least that it should be accepted as an inevitability which can’t be solved without making things worse overall, by making reference to immaterial kinds of inequality.

Let’s suppose there were a people who lived in some Garden of Eden, where everything material that anyone could ever want could be had just by extending one’s hand. If someone has something, you can also have it; there is no material scarcity, and no one is for material wants or needs. Nobody ever has more than another which can’t be remedied by simply wishing to have more, and there is no purpose to keeping or having more. There is no reason to steal, because you can get the same thing without having to deprive someone of something which they have already taken from the commons. There is enough for everybody, and nobody is left with less than they might ever wish for.

But there will still be some elements of scarcity. Inevitably, some people will be smarter than others, some will be more interesting conversation partners, chess players, poker players, video game players, social commentators, and so on. Even if there might not be a scarcity of spirits and food in order to host discussions about various things, you cannot always guarantee that your party will be the most interesting one. Perhaps you are unable to convince the renowned philosopher Martha Grenadine to attend your own soiree, because she chooses to do something else with her own time. Or maybe you can’t convince Alex Pyotrvitch (that’s a Russian sounding name, in case you didn’t catch that) to play you in chess because he doesn’t consider your skills worth investing his time on.

So there will still be all these not inconsiderable kinds of inequality. What can be done about it?

Well, we could still try and impose some sort of socialist redistribution of the personal talents of individuals. Say that, for every 100 matches Alex Pyotrvitch engages in, he must engage in 35 matches with opponents chosen by the state, and Martha Grenadine must attend an equally proportionate number of discussions chosen by the state. Should these individuals refuse, they will be killed.

That seems rather a serious sort of consequence for just not imposing on oneself the task of spending your time playing opponents not worthy of your skills or spending time trying to explain the basic elements of philosophy when you were intent on discussing a very specific proposition with others of equal background knowledge. It seems rather unjust to impose such redistributions at the end of a gun. But that would be socialism in the Garden of Eden. In fact, that is how socialism is implemented outside of the Garden of Eden as well, but just in regards to material things.

Inequality cannot be eradicated, and at least in our hypothetical Garden of Eden situation, it seems worse to try and get rid of it than to let it be. After all, if you’re not just redistributing the time of your chess grandmasters and philosophical geniuses, that leaves the incentive to try and gain those skills for oneself so that they might be worthy of bending the ear of said philosophical genius to the consideration of their own systems, or to play a game of chess. But when you penalize productivity in favor of the nonproductive, you remove the incentive to get ahead at those tasks for oneself, since what you sought will be given to you by the force of arms. The end result is that in the Garden of Eden you end up with fewer philosophers and a poorer quality of philosophers, chess grandmasters, social commentators, and so on, when you engage in socialism in order to eradicate these immaterial inequalities.

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The problem with empiricism is that you cannot, by empiricism, explain what is empirically received. You cannot move from sensation to explanation; as Hume put it, we are witness to one event occurring, and then another, and what of it? We cannot, by the principle of observation alone, provide an understanding of that which is observed. It is a body without legs to run, as it were, a set of objects grouped arbitrarily and not by any principle which proposes an adequation to the mind.

Some would take this as my meaning that there is no use to observation, as if we might understand what there is in the world apart from going out and looking at it. This is not my meaning. I will draw an analogy to geometry. By pure rationalism, we can construct theoretical systems; that, from the positing of certain axioms and definitions, the mind can recognize these things for themselves as well as perceive certain logical consequences of the postulated axioms. But knowing whether they represent one’s own world is a different matter. Consider the question “Is Euclidean geometry true?” Literally, the question is nonsense. It doesn’t ask anything, that is, whether something is the case of something. You may as well ask “Is 5 apples true?” Maybe, maybe not, it depends on what you are asking the question of. “Does Euclidean geometry describe our own universe?” would be a better question, and in order to answer it, one would need to undertake experiments. (Now, even if Euclidean geometry were not true of our universe, its theorems would still be true within the system of Euclidean geometry. It is theory, a description of what might be in some world, even if that possible world is not our own.)

But recognize that we are still being firmly rationalistic, or a priori/metaphysical in our examination of the question so far. In fact, answering “What experiment and its results would show us that the world is Euclidean?” is still not an empirical pursuit.

We can take this model of “spatial understanding,” as it were, and apply it to the whole of science. We can build in our minds models of the world, and then we test whether those models “map onto” or are “in accordance” with the world. Science boils down to answering questions like “Is there milk in the fridge” by figuring out how to open the refrigerator.

I bring up all this about rationalism because I want to apply it to the explanation of social phenomena. I would contend that without a rationalistic social theory, one cannot explain why social events take place as they do. Social phenomena are events like prices on oil rising, certain politicians coming to power, monarchs abdicating their thrones, Truman dropping the bombs, the spreading of Internet memes, and so on. Without a rationalistic, a priori/metaphysical social theory in place, we are powerless to try and explain for what reasons they occurred. We are left in the Humean problem of inducting from observations; without an a priori framework which puts together and gives meaning to our senses, there is nothing which justifies our taking together of disparate occurrences in the world and marking them down in our minds as propositions which are true or false.

But note this as peculiar. A rationalistic system is observationally unfalsifiable. This allows propositions of a rationalistic character to wield a particular kind of power; that power is of explanation. Falsifiable propositions are not explanatory; “There is milk in the fridge” explains nothing. (Now, I recognize that we might offer sentences in everyday conversation which are grammatically like this. “Why did he buy milk?” “There was no milk in his fridge.” However, these statements are implicitly married to additional propositions, like “He wanted to have milk in his fridge” or something of that sort.) “There is milk in the fridge because it was found desirable to have milk in the fridge,” on the other hand, does provide some explanation, because it positions the state of affairs as resting on another which are essentially capable of doing so. In other words, it provides explanation because desire has as its end to manifest in the achieving of concrete states of affairs. That is just what desire is.

When it comes to considering desire or what we will be technically referring to as “rational action,” we recognize intuitively* certain axioms and definitions, and thus can perceive logical consequences that come about from this. We are in the same place as with geometry. We can build up a system of rational action, what has been called by Mises praxeology, which serves as a deductive system which provides explanation to social phenomena. The only question left is whether, as we are most interested in knowing, humans are rational actors.

*I recognize that there is some baggage to the word “intuition.” For here, I mean precisely that an idea is understood for itself by the powers of the mind, and the mind is capable of doing so by its own power because that is what the mind is. I don’t mean something like “recognized as true,” because that requires postulating an “intuitively understood proposition” as true of some particular state of affairs, i.e. “space in our world” or “people in our world.”

Rational action is behavior committed for a purpose. A purpose is some end in which the actor understands themselves to be made better off by engaging in this behavior. It does not matter what the particular end is; only that the actor has some end in sight. The actor will by necessity find this end to be of a greater good for oneself from among other options understood and considered.

Now assuming that humans are rational actors (I will leave the demonstration of this to another time), then praxeology would provided explanation for social phenomena. An example of a praxeological proposition is that “As demand for a good increases, price increases.” I wish to analyze this proposition as an example in the broadest praxeological sense. As such, I am divorcing it from its usual economic connotation. The meaning comes out as this; if something is desired more, it follows that one is willing to give up more of other things in order to have it. It does not matter what one is getting and giving up (be it money, time, the pleasure of reading a book, composing a song, or writing this blog post) and for what reasons one weighs the goods gained and given up. We simply understand it to be the case that, if you demand (or desire) something more, then it follows you are willing to give up more to have it. You find it (relatively) more desirable than another thing.

This praxeological law of demand cannot be falsified, but it follows from the action principle, that our actors are rational. Of the principle itself, we see that there is a positive correlation between demand and willingness to give up other things (“price”). That is important to understand when we do a praxeological analysis of social phenomena and conditions. Of the essence of a praxeological proposition, it must be understood and weighed by itself; it is a common reflex for people to try and falsify the principle by describing some case in which people seemed to not give up as much as they would have for something due to other conditions that were present. But this misses the point and represents a misunderstanding.

It is easier to show the misunderstanding if we zoom out and look at more concrete instances of human action. Usually in economics propositions are expressed in reference to the market, meaning that typically the praxeological proposition is expressed explicitly in terms of money. Hence, the law of demand becomes, by economics, “when demand for a good increases, its monetary price increases, ceteris paribus.” Two things are added. One, it is explicitly expressed that money forms an element; take out money, and it is no longer economics. (This might be misguided, but I’m not attempting any meta-economic critique right now.) Two, the qualifier of ceteris paribus is attached, which means “other things held equal.” This is in order to express the principle of itself. What is meant is that, assuming every other factor that influences the monetary price of a good remains the same, then what will occur when demand increases is that the price increases. So, if we witness that demand for a product increases and the price falls, this does not form a falsifying example of the (economic) law of demand. It simply means that the law of demand was not the dominant factor influencing the monetary price of the good; perhaps, among other things, the good in question became much cheaper to produce due to increase in technology. (Economics-qua-economics is a descriptive science. It can only tell you the effects in principle of certain policies or conditions in the economy. It cannot tell you which are preferable. That is a question of morality; however, economics can help inform one in which policies/conditions ought to be adopted in order to achieve one’s moral end. This is why economic illiteracy of well-meaning people perpetually and consistently produces bad results.)

Let’s zoom in again to praxeology, where we are not concerned with stating these laws in terms of money. Can a thoroughgoing social theory go without engaging in a rationalistic system? I believe no. Now, some might choose other principles than the action principle (aka the founding principle of praxeology) to base the rationalistic elements of the their social theory on, but that there must be rationalistic elements is a foregone conclusion, because without them we are powerless to explain social phenomena. We must at some point analyze and embrace rationalistic principles, for otherwise our social theory will be powerless, and like the economically illiterate, we will be unable to provide solutions for the problems that strike us as being in need of solving.

If one takes a dim view of the idea of rationalistic principles in social theory, then they will be in principle unable to critique or prescribe certain policies and conditions for their own or others’ societies, adrift at sea without a rudder. We can later come back to proving the truth of praxeology in particular, but for here my point is that a social theory requires a commitment to some level of rationalism and apriorism/metaphysics.

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It is insisted by my Church that the family is the building block of society, that it is prior to both society and the individual. We can examine both of these claims in a straightforward way. First, the family is prior to the individual in that no human being is generated from nothing or by their own power, but from the union of a mother and father, and to whom their years of maturation are committed for care and education. Every person comes from, and is formed by, the family they come from. Likewise, in respect to society, families are the immediate context in which people exist, and as such, they are the structures from which interfamilial exchanges occur such that society arises. The family is a sort of intergenerational commitment, the locus of conservative wisdom regarding the transmission of traditions and mores. These are only at a prior point dispersed to society.

It is in this sense that the family must be regarded as the fundamental social unit. If you do not have families, you do not have a society. You can have a group, but the longstanding structures that we witness occur after roots are laid down by individuals in the making and maintaining of a family. In fact, these structures are the motivation for societal intertwining, in order that children may come into contact with the world embedded in the family and so be given over for their own growth and independence at a certain point.

It’s worth noting that two different views on the matter are usually looked to over this that I have presented. Individualism, which supposes that it is the individual which is prior to society, as opposed to collectivism, which supposes that society is prior to the individual. They have their reasons, but they both overlook the family. As such, the individualist fails to notice the corruption of the familial institution that has been wrought in the last century, while the collectivist is always frustrated in his attempts to turn every individual into a conformable and tyrannized subject because it is through the medium of the family that people relate to the culture at large. These people are our immediate contact with society, as it were, the zero dimension of social reality. It is the first reality insofar as our phenomenal social experience goes.

When we form a social theory, then, we must take into account the normative structure of the family. We must examine how certain social power structures work to corrode the familial institution and how it is the familial institution which births acculturation and cultivation. Personally, I intend to make a thoroughgoing pro-family commitment a measure in my analysis of certain social, political, and economic structures, which I can already see will produce some practically surprising conclusions.

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There are, to be sure, many different kinds of proposed “anarchies,” or I should say, proposals of how people would choose to live in a society that is free of a government. Anarcho-capitalism, anarcho-syndicalism, anarcho-communism, so on and so forth. I do believe that, were people to live without government, and we assume that we’re speaking of macroscopic societies and not tribes (which would be communistic in character), society is likely to take the form of anarcho-capitalism. Capitalism only predicates that people will keep for themselves what is theirs and only give out what is theirs provided someone is trading them something they want; the other kind of anarchies suppose that people will, for some reason, choose to give over their own property to others in the hope that others might also choose to give them what they want (and we assume that what people even choose to give is something that other people want). There are theoretical problems in abundance with those other anarchical systems, which are prevalent even in their statist versions, but I don’t mean to put forth an explanation of why those anarchies wouldn’t work.

What I want to do is explain why anarchy itself just cannot work.

There is a false distinction people make when it comes to social systems. People are apt to say, when it comes to a system like communism, that “it works on paper but doesn’t work in practice.” This is to make a distinction between theory and practice, when it comes to social systems. I think that, for other kinds of systems, we can maintain such a distinction, but when it comes to the consideration of social systems, it is simply the case that one is actually accounting for reality with their theory, or not. If a social system cannot work in practice, then it doesn’t work in theory either, since the “variables” of practice, as it were, that being the way people tend to act towards each other, the way they come together and form societies, is the very thing the theory is supposed to be accounting for. If the theory cannot work in practice, that is because in terms of the theoretical structure it does not account for what it portends to account for, namely, human social systems.

In short, if a social system cannot work in practice, then it also does not work in theory, because the theory is to account for whatever might occur in practice, and if it doesn’t account for practice, then it is a poor theory. It is like a physical theory which doesn’t account for gravity; it doesn’t work in theory because it doesn’t work in practice, it fails to account for what it portends to account for. If it doesn’t properly account for its subject matter, it is a poor theory.

Hence, I wish to draw out the conclusion that anarchy, of whatever variant, is theoretically inviable for the simple reason that it fails to account for its subject matter. It fails to work on paper because it makes some fundamental assumptions which can never be true, and trades on a definition of “government” which is quasi-mythical. Anarchy supposes stateless society; I do not understand that a society can even exist that does not have a state inherent to it.

If we suppose that the present government were to collapse tomorrow, there might persist, for a short while, “anarchy,” the occurrence of generally unbridled anti-civilizational behavior. Looting, killing, raping, and so on, all offenses against civilization and crimes, in such a time, which warrant shooting on site by whoever would defend civilization and try to uphold it. Quickly, it would occur that the antithesis to this chaos, an order constructed by communities to defend against such lawless and anti-civilizational behavior, will be put in place, which provides a mechanism for dealing with crime and exacting retribution and recompense for the victim.

It is meant to operate on those who do not negotiate, who do not make an agreement for trade or contract with those who are violated. In other words, it is meant to operate against those who do not come under its power willfully and freely, to override their “anarchical” liberty. But then, is this not once more a state, even if one that is much less grandiose?

Where you have a system in place meant to deal with those who do not negotiate, i.e. law, you have a state. It may be a very small state and one which self-described anarchists are okay with, but it is, nonetheless, a kind of state. If we understand this to be the natural order of society (and I believe it is), then anarchy is theoretically impossible. People are apt to form communities that abide by laws which operate on those who do not agree to them (but then that is the need for and essence of law itself).

However, I think a theoretical adjustment can be forwarded, and it is one I’m very sympathetic to. The anarchist can very well accept that such is the kind of government they would prefer (unless they literally want no laws whatsoever, but then what do we care about them at that point?) and maintain their essential position on the otherwise exploitive and unjust nature of government. Anything which goes beyond the law of community is unjust. This position could be called anarchotarianism.

So there is a problem with anarchy, but not the anarchical theory itself, at least, provided we can forward that kind of adjustment.

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