Responsible Voting

18 October 2017

It was once socially accepted that people were not responsible for acts of a wide variety if the persons engaged in them while intoxicated, even if the intoxication were quite voluntary and the engagement active. Over time that attitude has eroded. After all, a person who chooses to be intoxicated chooses to engage in increased probability that he or she will effect those acts. If a person who chose to drink passes-out on the front lawn, drives his vehicle into a pedestrian, or beats his domestic partner, few people would insist that he didn't choose to do such a thing. And, should we meet one of those few people, we rightly suspect that they cannot be trusted to use intoxicants responsibly.

In response to the campaign of Bernard (Bernie) Sanders, a great many people embraced things that they called democratic socialism. They didn't actually agree amongst themselves as to what this term meant. Many of them insisted that democratic socialism weren't socialism, which insistence did not provoke as often as it should a question as to why then its name should contain socialism. The answer simply was that Sanders had long referred to what he advocated with this term; they were stuck with socialism if they held onto Sanders. Whether they admitted that democratic socialism referred to socialism or not, all of the folk calling for something by that name sought to neutralize the dire associations of socialism with various outcomes that had been observed when regimes had been identified by that label. And all of these folk, whether or not they acknowledged that they were referring to socialism, agreed that what they called democratic socialism would indeed be democratic.

That insistence has afforded them a rhetorical ploy for dealing not only with socialistic regimes that were never democratic, but with socialistic regimes that have lost popular support, such as that in Venezuela. Absenting that support, these regimes are said not to be democratic, and hence plainly not to represent whatever might properly be called democratic socialism. But when a socialistic regime is brought to power by democratic means, in a framework of law that was effected by democratic means, and then uses that law to take unpopular actions, to insist that the regime is undemocratic begins to resemble claiming that the neighbors passed-out on the lawn, driving their cars into pedestrians, or beating their domestic partners did not choose to do such things. Oh yes they did. And anyone who insists otherwise is to be regarded as dangerous with the relevant intoxicants, including ballots.

Indeed, for most of recent history, popular opinion was not treated as particularly important in application to America by most Americans who came to call for democratic socialism. They had earlier thought it perfectly democratic when the Democratic Party, democratically elected to majority control of both Chambers of Congress and to the Presidency, effected various measures that were in fact widely unpopular with the more general population. President Obama advised the Republicans to win some elections. When they did, so that the Democrats lost first the House of Representatives and then the Senate, he and most of these folk for democratic socialism held to the idea that his democratic election to the Presidency legitimized his actions in defiance both of the votes of the Congress and of popular opinion amongst the wider population. Popular opinion in Venezuela and elsewhere has emerged as ostensibly relevant to democratic socialism exactly and only because, once again, socialism — even socialism within a framework democratically effected — has devolved as it always will if allowed to persist. There is no magic in democracy.

The state is a terrible institution, to be checked by an institutional framework that resists its growth, instead of enabled to grow by fantasies that amateurs or experts can use it expansively to bring about a more humane world.

Helmholtz's Zählen und Messen

16 October 2017

When I first encountered mention of Zählen und Messen, erkenntnisstheoretisch betrachtet [Numbering and Measuring, Epistemologically Considered] by Hermann [Ludwig Ferdinand] von Helmholtz, which sought to construct arithmetic on an empiricist foundation, I was interested. But for a very long while I did not act on that interest.

A few years ago, I learned of Zahl und Mass in der Ökonomik: Eine kritische Untersuchung der mathematischen Methode und der mathematischen Preistheorie (1893), by Andreas Heinrich Voigt, a early work on the mathematics of utility, and that it drew upon Helmholtz's Zählen und Messen, which impelled me to seek a copy of the latter to read. To my annoyance, I found that there was no English-language version of it freely available on-line. I decided to create one, but was distracted from the project by other matters. A few days ago, I recognized that my immediate circumstances were such that it might be a good time to return to the task.

I have produced a translation, Numbering and Measuring, Epistemologically Considered by Hermann von Helmholtz It is not much better than serviceable. I don't plan to return to the work, to refine the translation, except perhaps where some reader has suggested a clear improvement and I effect a transcription.

I have not inserted what criticisms I might make of this work into the document. Nor have I presented my thoughts on how Helmholtz's ostensible empiricism and Frege's logicism are not as far apart as might be thought.

A Passing Anniversary

30 August 2017

I used occasionally to mention a girl-friend in unfiltered entries to this 'blog, but stopped doing so in 2013. The relationship had problems that I didn't and don't care to discuss here publicly — for her sake.

On 30 August 2013, without warning, she hanged our relationship, strangling, at the end of a rope. I don't know exactly when the relationship should be deemed to have died. I can say, to the day, when I reached acceptance of its death, but I don't imagine that, on the previous day, it might actually have been saved.

Vocal Cues

26 June 2017

Many animals, across different classes, have two distinct sounds that may be classified as growls or as whines, respectively. The growls signal threat; the whines signal friendship or appeasement.

The bark of a dog is actually a combination of a growl with a whine; it is thus not a pure signal of aggression, as many take it to be; it is literally a mixed signal, perhaps indicating confusion on the part of the dog, perhaps signalling both that the dog is prepared to fight and that the dog would consider a peaceful interaction.

When women talk with men whom they find attractive, women tend to raise the pitches of their voices. Men tend to do something different when talking with women whom they find attractive; they mix deeper tones than they would normally use with higher tones than they would normally use. The deep tones are signals of masculinity, of being able to do what men are expected to do. The higher tones of men carry much the same significance as do the higher tones of women — with the additional point in contrast to the deep tones that the man does not mean to threaten the woman.

It amused me to reälize consciously that this behavior by men is at least something like barking. Then I grimly considered that some men are actually barking, telling the woman that he can be nice to her if she is nice to him, but will actively make things unpleasant if she is not. But at least it should typically be possible to disambiguate the threatening behavior, based upon where the low notes are used, and of course the choice of words.


2 June 2017

This site now supports HTTPS connections. For most visitors, an HTTPS connection will mean no more than that they won't receive a spurious warning from their browsers about the site being insecure. For friends with accounts giving them access to restricted entries, HTTPS will allow them to be less concerned about whence they log into the site.

de transitv Veneris res

31 May 2017

002 yr

Failing to Recognize an Inner Life

23 May 2017

In its issue of 19 January 1924, Collier's published The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Edward Connell jr. This now quite famous story — repeatedly anthologized and adapted for film,[1] for radio, and for television — is of Sanger Rainsford, a big-game hunter.

At the start of the story, Rainsford and company are on a yacht, moving through foggy darkness in the Caribbean. In reference to their planned destination, a companion asserts Great sport, hunting.

The best sport in the world, agreed Rainsford.

For the hunter, amended Whitney. Not for the jaguar.

Don't talk rot, Whitney, said Rainsford. You're a big-game hunter, not a philosopher. Who cares how a jaguar feels?

Perhaps the jaguar does, observed Whitney.

Bah! They've no understanding.

Even so, I rather think they understand one thing — fear. The fear of pain and the fear of death.

Rainsford dismisses this. The world is made up of two classes — the hunters and the huntees. Luckily, you and I are hunters. On this score, his luck does not hold.

Shortly after this conversation, he falls from the yacht as he goes to the railing to listen, having heard shots in the distance. He decides that his best chances for survival are in swimming in the direction of those shots. As he does so, he hears a cry from an animal that he does not recognize, except in-so-far as it is at the extremes of anguish and of terror. Then he hears yet another shot. Continuing to swim in that direction, he finds his way to an island. Thence, he makes his way to the hunter, General Zaroff.

Zaroff recognizes Rainsford by name, and expresses himself as pleased to think that he might now have a hunting companion. But Zaroff hunts men; as game; as the most dangerous game. The resulting argument between Rainsford and Zaroff is rather like the earlier argument between Whitney and Rainsford, with a terrible amplification. And, because Rainsford refuses to become a hunter of men, he is made the game. He is forced into a life-or-death contest that he never sought, against someone whose skills as a hunter are greater, and who additionally has assistance and weapons that Rainsford does not.

Hearing a sound that he has known — the howls and barks of a dog pack when on the hunt — Rainsford learns the fear of which Whitney had spoken; Rainsford comes to know how an animal at bay feels, because he is now an animal at bay.

I don't imagine any of you learning anything from this story about the perspective of the hunted. But there are as well the perspectives of hunters — the perspective of Zaroff, of course; but also the earlier perspective of Rainsford. Those of us who recoil at killing for sport find it easy to imagine Rainsford as a changed man, who has learned an important lesson, in a terrifying way. But Rainsford was capable of such change, because he is not a psychopath, not a sadist, nor too great a fool to learn. He was simply a man who was very mistaken. Perhaps better men would be better creatures of the same time and of the same place, but he was not truly a bad man.

Theunis Botha was guiding hunters who stumbled into a group of elephants. A female grabbed and lifted him by her trunk; she was shot, and fell, crushing him. My reäction to the story wasn't one of regret. But someone about whom I care (rather a lot) has written

I hope he suffered. I hope he felt every crush and the same sense of helpless panic animals feel when being chased, trapped and shot to death by well-armed hunters.

And I think — my God! — why? What good would such suffering do? It is unlikely that Mr Botha rejoiced in the fear and in the pain that he caused; rather, it is far more likely that, as with Rainsford before he met Zaroff, the fear and pain of the hunted did not register with him. If Botha were a man rather like Rainsford, here he had no time to learn from suffering. Can we recognize the inner life of Theunis Botha and still wish terrible punishment upon him for failing to recognize the inner lives of beasts?

[1] See especially the classic movie version of 1932.

The Shape of Things

19 May 2017

There is a stock formula for political action that says that If the state may X for Y, then the state may X for Z! Usually, the state is euphemistically called we; sometimes the person using the formula is instead honest enough instead to say the government.

Often, the X refers to spending. (Taxation is then only mentioned when the spending immediately involves continuation of a tax that was supposed to be temporary.) For example, after the defeat of Japan in the Second World War, after the Paris Peace Treaty of the Viet-Nam War, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the claims were that, since the United States could previously afford to spend as much money as it had on the military, now it could afford to spend that much money on expansion or introduction of welfare programmes of various sorts. However, sometimes there has been a different X. For example, within the movie Scarface (1932), it is declared that if the Governor of Oklahoma could declare military law to cartelize the petroleum industry forcibly, then military law could be used to effect extensive gun control through-out the nation.

There has been rather a lot of talk, since even before he took office, to the effect that Donald Joseph Trump were a dictator. I don't think that it's necessarily unreasonable to assert that he were just that, though he took office with exactly the powers that he'd inheritted from his immediate predecessor, which is to say that if President Trump were a dictator then so were President Obama. The Office of the President has become increasingly powerful over time, with each strong President picking-up where the last one left-off, and adding to the power of the Office, establishing precedents which the other branches have seldom effectively undone. But, whether the refrain is technically correct or not, it is that President Trump be a dictator. If Trump should leave office before the end of his term, then the refrain will become that President Michael Richard Pence were a dictator, as quite possibly he might be.

And if-and-when the Democrats retake the White House, the formula that I noted above will be used. It will more specifically be of the form If we could have a dictator who did Y, then we can have a dictator who does Z! where Y will correspond to the policies and programmes of the Trump or Pence Administration as refracted through the progressive lens, and Z will correspond to progressive policies and programmes, described in terms of their presumed outcomes. This formula will not be used much if at all before the General Election, but it will be used gleefully and self-righteously beginning on the very next day.

(I think it grossly implausible that the Republicans should hold the White House indefinitely; but the public is ever more disgusted with the results of a two-party system, so a Republican loss is not inevitably a Democratic victory.)

On the Meaning of Sexism

11 May 2017

In a previous entry, I noted that the original definition of racism was a theory or an adherence to a theory that merit is in part intrinsically a function of race. It was exactly by analogy with the word racism that the word sexism was introduced in 1968, thus referring to a theory or an adherence to a theory that merit is in part intrinsically a function of sex.

Now, here is where matters get tricky. In any case in which one rejects sexism, it is regarded as an inappropriate response to the sex of people; and, in particular, the treatment is likely to be seen as unethical. A very great many folk employ the concept of unethical response to the sex of people as if that were the very definition of sexism. That notion is going to operationalize very much like the actual definition whenever and wherever the issue at hand is one of ethics and ethics actually call for neutrality — for a rejection of the relevance of sex to the issue. But nearly all of us regard people of one sex as better suited to some rôles that are of importance. For example, if I presume that sexism must refer to something unethical, then I am compelled either to associate sexism with something other than neutrality of a sort, or as a matter of justice to try to entertain thoughts of accepting a man as a potential spouse for myself. (People are led astray by the analogy with racism; the cases in which sex is relevant to selection loom larger because of the importance of reproduction.) And the substituted notion is not going to operationalize at all like the original definition exactly when someone believes that merit is a function of sex in a far wider range of cases than do folk such as I; then the substitution is going to get things almost perfectly twisted around. He or she will label anti-sexism as sexism and will label some sort of sexism — perhaps quite an intense sexism — as anti-sexism.

The spurning of a claim of relevance is the maintenance or adoption of indifference. This indifference is an equality of one sort — and we often see the words equal and equality used in antonymy to sexism — but it is not an equality of various other sorts. Advancement of a conflicting equality would itself be sexist. Such conflicting equalities can arise when the equality sought is equality of outcome. If people, regardless of sex, may be presumed to respond to a framework in essentially identical ways, and we observe markèdly different outcomes for one sex compared to those for another, then this difference is prima facie evidence that the framework is sexist. But if it is recognized that people of one sex behave differently in that framework, then the presumption that the framework is sexist does not follow from the mere presence of a difference. If we say that the different behaviors must be treated as of equal merit because otherwise a difference in outcomes emerges, then the merit that is ascribed to the behavior is treated as a function of the sex of the people who engage in that behavior; that prescription is itself intrinsically sexist.

For example, the rates at which men are arrested for, charged with, and convicted of criminal behavior of various sorts are much higher than the corresponding rates at which women are arrested, charged, and convicted. We cannot conclude simply from these differences that the system of criminal law is sexist, because it may be that men simply engage in that behavior more often; indeed, most of us are fairly sure that this latter case holds. If we insist that the behaviors themselves must be decriminalized in order to reduce the rates at which men are arrested, charged, and convicted, then we are inferring the relative merit of the behavior from the sexes of those who engage in it. The very same sort of analysis would apply to hiring practices and to the wages or salaries paid to those in various occupations.[1]

(Many people, including certainly me, would argue that an unfortunate sexism prior to whatever exists in the legal system is one factor contributing to greater criminality by men, but few-if-any people propose that part of an appropriate response would be an adjustive sexism, giving more tolerance to male criminalized behavior than to female criminalized behavior. Likewise, some of us assert that an unfortunate sexism prior to whatever exists in the jobs market is one factor leading to different career outcomes for women, but we don't propose an adjustive sexism attempting to compel employers to pay women more than the expected values of their marginal products.)

The confused presumptions that only an unethical discrimination can count as sexism and that sexism is found where there is some sort of inequality other than non-neutralityan attention to sex — causes people in all sincerity to misapply the word sexism and to fail to see legitimate application of the word, perhaps to their own attitudes and actions. If substitutions of these sorts are not recognized by those who use the word sexism in accordance with its definition, then interactions will be characterized by mutual incomprehension, quite possibly enraged. Attempts to employ logic and facts won't be persuasive because one of the two groups will actively misunderstand a word central to any communication. Additionally, there are people who implicitly believe that ethical significance clings to symbols, such that by changing labels what was wrong may be made to be right and vice versa. In dealing with them, the principal point that ought to be made is not that words cannot be redefined, but that, if we should for any reason redefine sexism, then whatever case was made against what was originally called sexism isn't thereby logomantically transformed into a case against whatever is now to be called sexism, nor is a case against something that was originally called sexism somehow invalidated by ceasing to call it by that name.[2] Of course, there are also those who effect the substitution as a device of unconscious projection, and others who opportunistically seek to sow further confusion.

[1] In the absence of a coherent explanation otherwise, if any population really could be hired at bargain rates, then not only should we expect all members of that population to be hired before any members of any other population; we should expect employers to bid-up the wages and salaries of this less expensive population to the point that they matched those of other populations, before hiring any members of those other populations. If there is some occupation such that the cost of hiring workers for it is notably less than the expected values of their marginal products, then we should expect employers to increase their hirings for those occupations, and in doing so (each in competition with the others and in the face of otherwise ever more reluctant workers) to bid-up the wages or salaries of those workers until the difference disappears.

[2] The same principle of course applies to efforts to redefine racism.

On Deductibility of Local Taxes

8 May 2017

In my field of awareness, there has recently been more discussion than usual about deductibility of constituent-state taxes and of municipal taxes from income computed for purposed of Federal taxation. I think that most of the discussion has been fundamentally wrong-headed.

In the textbooks of middle-schools, of high-schools, and of introductory courses in college on civics, on politics, or on economics, there are discussions of various proposed guidelines for taxation, based on ostensible or insinuated theories of justice. One commonly offered theory is that people should be compelled to pay based upon supposed ability; another is that they should be compelled to pay based upon the amount of services that they receive from the state.[1] I've yet to see such a discussion in such a textbook that could withstanding much critical examination.

In any case, these homilies don't serve to explain how-and-why taxation is effected in the real world, except in-so-far as some of their prescriptions are invoked to argue for a tax of one sort, even as conflicting rationalizations are offered (often by the very same people) to argue for taxes of other sorts. Historically and to the present day, taxation has been fundamentally opportunistic. That which has been taxed is whatever seemed to be most readily taxable. Targets of convenience have been wealth or income that has been thought to be easily tracked and measured, difficult to relocate outside of the jurisdiction, or for the taxation of which there is wide-spread acquiescence if not support within the community. (It is with respect to that last aspect that textbook theories have their real relevance.)

The state is not satiated by some steady extraction of wealth from the community. When extractions are greater than were expected, the state will not return the surplus to the taxpayer as such, except under extraordinary pressure; and, here-to-fore, states have always moved towards attempting to extract as much tax from their communities as the communities will suffer. This tendency is natural, as the people who make-up the state generally see their positions within society improve as they have increasing command over resources; mechanisms that exist in sectors whose rewards are determined by markets which cause participants to identify and pursue efficiencies simply have no correspondents within the state; the state is able to cultivate dependencies in the wider population; and many people imagine a very extensive rôle for the state within society (especially those people who lose sight of the distinction between the state and its subjects). The state grows ever larger and becomes ever worse at the allocation of resources, and so seeks ever greater extractions.

When, within the jurisdiction of a constituent state or within a municipality, there is greater community resistance than elsewhere to taxation, there is less taxation than there otherwise might be. That difference is a target of opportunity for a federal state, whose jurisdiction encompasses a wider community. There is a mechanism for obtaining the acquiescence of that wider community without typically triggering a significantly intensified resistance on the part of the communities subjected to a federal surtax in the face of lower taxes by other entities. That mechanism involves allowing taxpayers to deduct what taxes they pay to those other entities from the calculated worth of something that the federal state taxes; because, in the face of those deductions, parts of the wider community become less resistant to rate increases.

Let's say that people in jurisdictions A, B, and C, which are all of roughly the same size, face a federal tax of 30% on income, and that people in jurisdictions A and B face a more local 10% tax on pre-tax income, while people in jurisdiction C face a no such tax. If the federal tax is increased to 1/3 on taxable income, but local income taxes are made fully deductible, then the people of jurisdictions A and B face no net increase in income tax, and so may acquiesce; the people in jurisdiction C may thus find themselves out-voted and their taxes increased by about 3%.

A great many people imagine what thus happens is that, given deductibility of more local taxes, people in jurisdictions with lower local taxes are force to subsidize those in jurisdictions with higher local taxes; but that conclusion is spurious. It would in some sense follow if the quantity or quality of goods and services delivered by the state were well correlated with the amount of resources that it extracts from the community, but there is no such correlation, except in transitory cases in which the state deliberately impairs performance to provoke acquiescence to greater extractions. The people paying lower taxes than they otherwise might are not getting something from those paying higher taxes than would be tolerated without the mechanism of deductibility. They are simply less victimized. One would be no less mistaken in claiming that people who live in other nations with lower income taxes are ipso facto subsidized by American taxpayers.

(For purposes of economic analysis of some sorts, tax-cuts and subsidies are equivalent, but those in the jurisdictions that are less taxed by the federal state have not received a tax cut, they have instead not been subjected to tax increases imposed elsewhere. And the aforementioned equivalence holds only if either there is no prior property in resources, or the state has a prior claim on whatever resources are involved. If no one has a claim prior to taxation and subsidization, then no one is paying taxes; they are being extracted from resources that are un-owned. If the state has a prior claim, then there are again no tax-payers; there are people who are granted more or less wealth or income belonging to the state. And, if there are no tax-payers, then the tax-payers subsidize no one.)

Eliminating the deductibility of other taxes would create greater resistance to federal taxes, as some who had previously not been subjected to higher levels then would be. But not everyone thus penalized would previously have been a supporter of imposing those levels on others. Innocent by-standers would be dragged into a fight; there could not be justice in that.

[1] When I say state, I don't necessarily mean one of the constituent states of a federation such as the United States. I certainly don't mean the jurisdicational area of one of those states, nor the inhabitants of such an area. A state is an organization that successfully claims an effective monopoly of some sort in the control of violence.