A place for new ideas to settle.

26 May 2014

FOX News on how to make excuses for serfdom

Earlier this month, Jordan Weissmann at Slate's Moneybox column wrote two interesting—and highly disturbing—pieces on the material nature of poverty in the United States. The first details why poverty is still miserable, and the second includes graphs on how the poor spend their income. Both are well worth the time to read in full.

And they're important, because it's not hard at all to hear a curious sort of reasoning in favor of this status quo from the likes of FOX News. On the July 19, 2011 edition of Your World With Neil Cavuto, guest host Stuart Varney and guest Robert Rector discussed the following statistics about America's poor families, and how the "definition of poor families [isn't] what it used to be":

19 May 2014

The parable of the hallucinogenic mists

I.

Once, a long time from now, there was a village. The people who lived in this village were mostly happy. Everyone generally had enough to eat, comfortable clothes and shoes, a nice place to sleep, and plenty of ways to enjoy their lives. But theirs was not a perfect life. Occasionally there would befall the village some mysterious tragedy. A person might go missing, or an otherwise healthy child might suddenly become ill and die. These events were sad, but they were rare and mysterious. The villagers mourned the loss of their kin, but everyone said that sometimes these Mysterious Evils happened and that was the way of the world.

Then, one day, a stranger appeared at the village gates. He wore a very strange mask, and his hands and feet were tightly wrapped, but otherwise spoke the local language and was exceedingly polite. Nervous, but never one to turn away visitors, the village admitted the stranger. He immediately went to the public square and began speaking, seemingly to the empty air. At first, nobody paid him much attention. This was highly irregular, but the villagers were not closed-minded and he wasn't really bothering anyone, so they let him talk.

Then someone actually listened. The masked stranger said that the entire world was enshrouded in a mist, which was invisible, intangible, odorless and colorless, but despite this was a powerful hallucinogen. Anyone who inhaled the mists would perceive the world in an entirely different way. Specifically, they would ignore the poisons and dangers that were everywhere. As it turned out, humans were supposed to live much, much longer than the villagers expected. Humans were supposed to be stronger, faster, and smarter than the typical villager. The true world was more bright, varied, and vibrant than anyone in the village could even imagine. In short, the villagers' mostly-happy lives were a lie. But that wasn't the worst part. The hallucinogenic mist was also supposedly addictive, and powerfully so. The stranger warned that even though he spoke the truth, most of the villagers would deny him because of their lifelong addiction to the mists.

One curious youth approached the stranger. "If this is true," the child said, "how can we break the spell of the mists, and perceive the true world?"

The stranger reached into his rucksack and brought out another mask, identical to his own, as well as some cloth wraps. "You must put on this mask," he said, "and bind your hands and feet. Separate yourself from the poisons of this false world. But I say to you, this will not be as simple as it sounds. There will be symptoms at first. You will beg to return to the false world of the mists. You may even hate me. But I will not abandon you. Humanity deserves to live in the true world, to live without lies."

But the youth, whose years of life may have been too few for the mists to take hold, was not deterred by this admonition. The stranger handed over the mask and wraps. For the next few days his prediction was borne out. Once the wraps and mask were in place, the youth felt a powerful desire to remove them. Nausea and sickness came in waves. Then the begging and crushing doubts. But the stranger stayed true. After the time of adjustment had passed, the youth awoke to a new world, and it was all as the stranger had said.

"Now I will teach you the ways of the true world," the stranger said. "Which fruits are truly good to eat, which plants have poison leaves and barks, how to avoid beasts that prey on humanity in the night..."

And all these things seemed to explain the Mysterious Tragedies, the sudden sicknesses and overnight disappearances. But suddenly a thought crept into the newly-awakened youth's mind:

What if this mask is made of those poisonous plants?

For a fleeting second, the possibility that the youth had traded one fantasy for another was too much to bear. But then a second, comforting thought drowned out the first:

Ah, this is just a lingering side-effect of the terrible hallucinogenic mists. The true world is so wonderful, I am wrong to doubt.

And the youth joined the stranger in making masks, spreading the truth about the terrible hallucinogenic mists, and saving people from the false world.

06 May 2014

Justice requires closeness. If that's a bit uncomfortable, deal with it!

It's time again for some musings on social justice, culture, and the culture wars. Where did we leave off...

05 May 2014

There's more than one road to liberty

Reason magazine has a great piece by Sheldon Richman on the theme of 'thick' versus 'thin' libertarianism. It's worth the whole read, but this comment on the article grabbed my attention in particular:
Because there are two ways to arrive at libertarianism - two distinct methods.

One method is to arrive at libertarianism by way of doubt. You can say, "I don't think anyone can overcome the Hayekian information problem in economic policy. I also don't think anyone can ever conclusively devise an exhaustive set of moral norms. Further, I think that the people who occupy government positions are incredibly fallible, and we need to diminish their ability to impose their fallibility on others, by procedural and other means."

But the other way is to arrive at something that looks a lot like libertarianism by way of certainty. (The Objectivists are the best known example of this.) You say, "I know exactly what is right and wrong, and among the set of things I know to be right are the propositions, 'Government should be small and limited' and 'Individuals possess the following set of moral rights'."

Both of these groups can contort their views to fit into the straitjacket of the NAP. But the second group will have a lot more demands to make. Richman may not be an Objectivist, but he's in the second group.
To the extent that I align with libertarian philosophy, it's from the doubt angle. And personally I'm super skeptical of the certainty crowd. That's not to say you can't reason your way into a philosophy (plenty of philosophers have done it), but it's tempting to assume that because it only requires pure reason, it's simple to do. And all should beware the seemingly-easy path.