Authoritarians and totalitarians of the political left and right, in arguing that they are not authoritarians or not totalitarians, often engage in a bait-and-switch, with little or no awareness that they are doing so. To argue that policy or programme X is justified is not somehow a contradiction of a claim that policy or programme X is authoritarian or even of a claim that policy or programme X is totalitarian At best, the authoritarians are arguing that authoritarianism is justified and the totalitarians are arguing that totalitarianism is justified but it seems that they are arguing that authoritarianism is not authoritarianism if it is justified or that totalitarianism is not totalitarianism if it is justified
Archive for the ‘ethics’ Category
[I posted the following as an entry to Facebook six years ago.]
Every now and then, one of my Facebook Friends posts or comments to a posting about someone who has lost his battle with depression.
I recently saw one of those postings, and visited the page of the person who was said to have lost the battle. I saw his some of his final posts, and some of his pictures. And, yeah, he was battling with depression. If I'd know him, I would have told him to stop.
I don't mean that I would have told him to go somewhere and die. I mean that depression is not to be fought. I very much doubt that a depressive personality can ever be anything else; but I am absolutely certain that fighting it is not how to deal with it.
People who try to fight depression either are always fighting it or have lost to it. They compound the depression with a sense that there is something unacceptable about themselves, which can only be overcome by a fight. If they don't have that much fight in themselves, then they don't accept themselves; their lives hang on their belief in their ability to fight depression, to somehow refuse to be depressives.
It looks an awful lot like an unrecognized internalization of some of the things that the depressive was told as a child, by those who were failing that child, and who in many cases had taught and were teaching the perverted life-lessons that had made the child a depressive.
Depression is to be explained, to be understood, and to be put in context. There is no guarantee that life will then be livable, but at least one doesn't have to die upon losing a fight.
The mainstream narrative about SARS-CoV-2 has itself mutated many times, but it seems headed towards a crisis from which it will not recognizably survive. I believe that, as
progressives try to get out from under their own responsibility for that narrative and for the homicidal and otherwise inhumane effects of the policies developed and defended by it, they will ascribe principal blame to what they will call
Big Pharma, and they will insist that the lesson to be drawn is that the power of the state must be extended — to control more thoroughly the development and allocation of medical treatment, to prevent commercial interests (in general) from influencing supposedly scientific research by selective funding, and to prevent commercial interests from influencing state policy.
Some large pharmaceutical firms have played a decidedly unhealthy rôle in the response of important institutions to SARS-CoV-2. At this stage, I would be less surprised to discover that some of the persons at these firms have been guilty of crimes against humanity than that they were simply bunglers. But, when someone says
Big Pharma (with or without capitalization), I don't know that he or she refers to just these firms. Nor, for that matter, am I sure that only large firms have been a cause of the problem, though I am quite sure that not all firms are responsible.
Some people had or have been primed to blame what they call
Big Pharma from very early into the pandemic, if not indeed from the outset. Until recently, most of the political left wrote and spoke of
Big Pharma as an enemy, demanding such things as quicker expiration of drug patents, monopsonistic bargaining by the state to drive-down drug prices, or overt price ceilings. The first time that I encountered the expression
Big Pharma was in AD 2000, when Albert Arnold (
Al) Gore jr used it as he made attacks on the pharmaceutical industry a key feature of his Presidential campaign. And people not on the political left had been increasingly worried about the pharmaceutical industry as they saw social perverts such as William Henry (
Bill) Gates III develop an interest and involvement in pharmaceuticals as part of a broader vision to remake mankind.
But I think that it is far more reasonable to see the firms, large and small, pharmaceutical or otherwise, that have behaved problematically or downright evilly concerning SARS-CoV-2 not as masterminds but as amongst the many mercenaries and whores.
In any case, the changes that I predict that
progressives will demand would in practice mean that medicine would be further socialized and made bureaucratic, that the selective funding of the state would be almost the sole determinant of prevalent, ostensibly scientific conclusions, and that those in the non-commercial commanding heights of society would have still greater control over the political process. Each of these changes would deepen the the fundamental problems that we observe connected to the present mainstream narrative and to state policy concerning SARS-CoV-2. The left should not be tolerated in some further attempt to suppress dissent and deviation.
Most prefaces, forewords, introductions, and introductory paragraphs are largely or entirely superfluous; most introductory sentences are wastes of time. In the last few years, my annoyance about entropic rhetoric in general and about blathering preambles in particular has become outrage.
The internal state of affairs in the West is more terrible now than ever previously in my lifetime. A great many people believe themselves to have important insights to convey about this state of affairs, and want our time. Our time is scarce, but many of them want to deliver essays in the form of audio recordings, which deliver words far more slowly than most of us can read. Worse, almost every one of those who offer these recordings prologues for some minutes, usually about the importance of what they will have to say but almost always without the prologues' saying anything important.
I believe that some of these people indeed have important things to say; but, in each case, he or she behaves as if unable to recognize what is important. In each individual case, the probability is especially low that a person not getting to the point will get to an important point. I almost always abandon attention before the prologue ends, possibly well before it ends.
 I acknowledge exceptions. I like to believe that I am responsible for some of them; but, had I always the luxury of being my own editor, some of my work would get more rapidily to its point.
One of the points taught in a great many introductory courses on microeconomics is that a tax-cut can be expected to have the same effect on schedules of supply and of demand, and thence on the resulting equilibrium, as would a subsidy. In this sense, economics shows that a tax-cut is equivalent to a subsidy. And, ignoring differences in administrative costs, the resources possessed by the state given a tax-cut are equivalent to those after dispensation of a subsidy. But it is only in these effects that microeconomics shows an equivalence; and, even if we confine ourselves to the considerations of non-normative microeconomic theory, we would be speaking or writing rather loosely if we simply said that a tax-cut were
the same as subsidy.
In the sphere of normative discourse, whether a party's refraining from taking is equivalent to giving is determined by whether that person or group of people is entitled to take. A person who forgives a debt may be said to give; but the person who does not steal that which is yours does not in this way donate to you. The invaders or other thugs who declared themselves to be lords did not give what they merely did not confiscate from the farmers whom they conquered.
To treat a tax-cut as morally equivalent to a subsidy, or to do as so many
progressives and left-wing populists — to insist that a failure to increase some tax on some party to a prior or even new level simply is a subsidy — is to insist that the state is morally entitled to tax at the greater level, that the state owns those resources.
This moral claim is certainly not a principle of economics nor a consequence of bringing economic principles to bear on moral theory, and should not be allowed to pass as such nor by insinuation.
 A creditor who forgives a debt has given her rights as surely as if she had assigned them to a third party.
In introductory treatments of economics, one often encounters a distinction drawn between what is called
positive economics and what is called
normative economics. In these names — and in typical discussion — there are problems.
The meaning of
positive here is restricted to fact, as opposed to speculation. Now, on the one hand, supposedly positive economics, like all attempts by human beings to understand the world, is permeated by speculations, which in scientific effort are hypotheses. (The philosophic movement called
positivism arose with incompetent aspirations.) On the other hand, contrasting the normative with something called
positive entails an implication, insinuation, or declaration that the normative cannot be placed on as solid a foundation as the rest of our understanding. Sometimes a lack of present agreement is treated as if proof that there is no objective ethical truth; sometimes the question is just begged. In any case, the distinction is irrational.
Instead using the terms
prescriptive steps away from the worst aspect of using
positive, though it would be less corrosive to refer to non-prescriptive economics as, well,
non-prescriptive or as
However, in behavioral science, elements drawn from prescriptive theory are often useful non-prescriptively, either as approximations or as bounding cases. Economic rationality and expected-utility maximization (the latter sometimes conflated with the former) are such elements.
Some economists would not even recognize economic rationality or expected-utility maximization as prescriptive in any case, because they are meta-preferential — they express a preference for structures of preference that have ordering properties such as transitivity and acyclicity, but say nothing about ultimate objectives and thus, in themselves, say nothing about whether one should prefer tomatoes to apples or life over death.
The prescriptive arguments for economic rationality and for expected-utility maximization are to the effect that those who conform realize more of their objectives — regardless of what those objectives might be — than those who do not, with it usually treated as tautologic that one desires such maximization.
The non-prescriptive arguments for economic rationality and for expected-utility maximization as approximations note that these are relatively tractable models of behavior for which evolutionary dynamics will select. Because the models are taken from prescriptive work, some people mistake or misrepresent any use of them as necessarily prescriptive, but the claim is neither that social or other biologic evolution ought to select for something approximated by such behavior nor that agents ought to engage in the behavior for which evolution selects. (If anything, what is illuminated is that evolution selects for a propensity to such prescriptions!)
I endorse use of these models as tractable approximations in many cases, but I also embrace use of a weaker notion of economic rationality as a bounding case. A boundary of economic outcomes is given by considering what those outcomes would be were agents economically rational.
Behavioral economics concerns itself with when-and-how people actually behave, and especially with failures of the aforementioned models. Although this research is not what I do, I acknowledge its value. However, a great deal of what passes for behavioral economics involves an inferential leap from identifying a real or apparent deviation of behavior from one of these models to a conclusion that this-or-that result could be obtained by state intervention, with the researcher looking away from any proper examination of the behavior of agents determining practices of the state. Behavioral economics is thus used as the motte for a statist bailey. Additionally, even behavioral researchers with no apparent statist agenda often fail to recognize when behavior that seems at odds with these models is or may be instead at odds with some presumption of the researcher.
 The main-stream of economic theory treats completeness of preferences as a feature of economic rationality but I've never seen a prescriptive argument even attempted for this feature. The prescriptive cases for transitivity and for acyclicity seem to presume an absence of conflicting, prior meta-preferences. The prescriptive argument for expected-utility maximization is especially problematic.
 While I have problems with some of the work and with much of the rhetoric of Gerd Gigerenzer, he has ably identified important cases of such failure on the part of researchers.
In almost every instance in which the admonition Don't take the law into your own hands! is used, the intention is that one should defer to some other party. But there are various parties to whom one could defer, some of them rival. A choice to defer at all is itself a choice about what is the law and implicitly about how it should be applied. In choosing to defer to one of these parties, rather than to another, one has already taken the law into one's own hands, if only then to let it go. A person is always responsible for such choices. Sometimes, deference is a very appropriate choice, and perhaps even the only appropriate choice, but one is responsible for choosing when and to whom to defer. The only way that a person could perhaps not at all take the law into his-or-her own hands would be in utter passivity — not even acting to draw some other party into the situation as giver or enforcer of law. And, still, to choose passivity would be a choice, and sometimes a morally unacceptable choice.
Those who insist that we should not take the law into our own hands almost always intend that we should defer to those with the most social power concerning law. Various concerns might motivate that intention, but most often the admonition comes from members of that group (state officials), or from people who take it that the social power somehow arises from virtue of some sort, or from those who believe that the only alternative to deferring to those with the most social power is so obviously barbarism that no argument need be made. If a reader believes that I need to critique any of these cases, then he-or-she should comment below to that effect.
Assuming something that is not necessarily believed by oneself or by one's audience or by either is a regular practice in various intellectual pursuits.
In discussion of policy, appropriateness of the set objectives of a real or imagined audience will often be assumed by economists who are either attempting to proceed in a wertfrei manner or to argue for or against some ostensible means of accomplishing that set of objectives because of how those means would affect other matters about which the economist has a normative position. Thus, an economist who does not believe that an objective is right and proper may none-the-less assume that it is, to explain
- that some policy will not accomplish the objective; or
- that some policy will be most effective at accomplishing the objective; or
- that some policy might be very effective at accomplishing the objective, but would, will, or does come at unacknowledged costs of importance to some in the audience; or
- that some policy will be very effective in accomplishing the objective, and would, will, or does bring unrecognized benefits of importance to some in the audience.
One of the various things that I find uncomfortable about engaging in discussion of policy is that some people lose or never catch sight of the point that my assumption of objectives is not an endorsement of those objectives. However, I think that repeatedly assuming objectives in the context of being socially surrounded by people with those objectives will indeed lead some analysts to fall into the habit of presuming those objectives — of implicitly embracing those objectives — and may eventually lead them to endorsing those objectives overtly.
Unhappiness prevails amongst various libertarians and near-libertarians, concerning the comportment of what are called
beltway libertarians, who are scholars, intellectuals, and professional political operatives located in or near the District of Columbia, and who self-identify with
libertarian yet who have been silent about some of the most illiberal policies of our day, or contort themselves to argue that these policies are actually libertarian, or even assert that circumstances warrant policies that they acknowledge to be illiberal. For the most part, the liberal community elsewhere simply takes it that the
beltway libertarians have been corrupted by their context; I am here suggesting part of the mechanism of corruption.
 Normatively neutral.
 I use
illiberal in their original and proper senses.
Fairly inexpensive hair combs made of hard rubber — rubber vulcanized to a state in which it is as about firm as a modern plastic — could be found in most American drugstores at least into the mid-'90s. Now-a-days, they have become something of a premium item. I was looking at listing on Amazon supposedly of hard rubber combs and discovered, to my annoyance, that a careful reading of the descriptions showed that most of the combs explicitly described as
hard rubber were made of plastic. To me, the situation seemed to be of pervasive fraud, as it will to many others.
But then I realized that it is more likely to be something else. Fraud, after all, involves deliberate misrepresentation. Whereäs we live in a world in which a great many people believe that no use of a word or phrase is objectively improper — that if they think that
hard rubber means a rubbery plastic or a plastic that looks like another substance called
hard rubber, then it indeed means just that. (Of course, we cannot trust any verbal explanation from them of these idiosyncratic meanings, as they may be assigning different meanings to any words with which they define other words.)
My defense of linguistic prescriptivism has for the most part been driven by concerns other than those immediate to commercial transactions. And, when I've seen things such on eBay as items described with
mint condition for its age or with
draped nude, my inclination has been merely to groan or to laugh. But it seems to me that the effects of ignoring or of rejecting linguistic prescription have found their way into commercial transactions beyond the casual.
Well, those who are not prescriptivists are hypocrites if they complain, and they're getting no worse than they deserve.