Maybe our fried ice can help reduce the fever

February 27, 2017 § 131 Comments

I’ve argued before that there are no free societies: that when people use the term “free” or “freedom” in a political context what they really mean is that the “more free” society puts the right sort of people in prison.  “Less free” societies put the wrong sort of people in prison; so “freedom” in the political motte has become a way of expressing the speaker’s approval of that society’s rules and customs, while tyranny has become a way of expressing disapproval[1].

It is sometimes objected that the USA really is more free than countries which live under different variants of liberalism, such as North Korea or Nazi Germany.  This is just obvious, it is thought, and refusing to concede it invalidates my understanding of liberalism without any further thought or argument required.  (It has even been suggested, amusingly, that my refusal to see political freedom as something ontologically distinct from the constraints implied by every “right” makes me a positivist).

What is good in any given society is as much attributable to what that society forbids and sanctions, in the particulars, as it is to what that society “permits” (which is itself another way to say what a society supports, enforces and destroys opposition to through informal and formal structures of law and custom). To the extent the USA is better than North Korea that is as much or more a function of what isn’t accepted and permitted as it is of what is accepted and permitted. Restrictions on arbitrary confiscation of private property by Communists are, well, restrictions. Every right which empowers carries inextricable corresponding restrictions; in fact each and every single empowerment gives rise to a plenitude of constraints. So the very notion of an abstracted political “freedom” – divorced from the myriad restrictions implied by adopting one set of rules and customs versus another – is nonsense.

One might as well complain that I refuse to concede that the USA is more round-squarian than North Korea, and has more and better fried ice. When one makes an intrinsically nonsensical assertion the only truthful response is that the assertion is – and I mean this quite literally – nonsense. It may seem like it isn’t nonsense on the surface; but that only works as long as we refuse to think about it any further.  That one thinks the USA puts the right sort of people in prison and North Korea puts the wrong sort of people in prison may be true enough, but labeling that difference in the details freedom, as if these “freedoms” were one-sided coins which imply no corresponding restrictions, is just self deception.

Whatever one thinks of USA under its current variation of liberalism and North Korea under its current variation — keeping in mind that liberalism isn’t everything — these intramural conflicts between which kinds of liberalism are “better” or “worse” are in my view a pointless exercise, or worse. More immediately benign forms of liberalism (to the extent we even buy that there is such a thing) cultivate, protect, spread, and give rise to more virulent forms. This is the basic problem with “conservatism”, about which much has already been written: what it conserves these days is, for the most part, merely earlier and more larval stages of liberalism.

Is it better to have symptomatic carriers of virulent disease in a quarantine, or asymptomatic carriers wandering around spreading the illness? Even if we grant the premise for the sake of argument, showing that not-yet-symptomatic disease carriers are “healthier” than symptomatic disease carriers – in a truncated and temporary sense – doesn’t have the positive implications that the term “healthier” implies.


[1] Regular readers might be concerned that I am drifting into the vicinity of claiming that freedom and tyranny are anti-concepts.

You may rest easy though: tyranny is a perfectly meaningful concept, and freedom is a perfectly meaningful concept.  In fact if freedom were not a meaningful concept at all then it would not be possible for freedom-as-a-political-priority — liberalism — to be self-contradictory.  “Round square” and “fried ice” wouldn’t be self-contradictory if the constituent terms had no meaning.

As always it is important to be aware of qualification-into-vacuity.  A retreat into “freedom” as vacuously meaning exercise of authority when it is good to do so and not when it is bad to do so is the tautological motte into which the more assertive forms of liberalism creep away to hide from the burning truth of daylight.

Cloud products, usury, and the death of property

February 20, 2017 § 41 Comments

Human beings used to be reasonably capable of distinguishing reality from imagination, at least in the boots-on-the-ground world of day to day life.  Property at one time referred to something real, something which exists in its own right. Thus property could be possessed, repossessed, bought, sold, stolen, consumed, or destroyed independent of the property’s owner or of any other particular persons.

Human beings and possessions were understood to be different things, with the notable – but at least clearly delineated – exception of economic chattel slavery, not to be confused with prison.

Then along came widespread acceptance of usury. Liberal modernity counts, as one of its crowning achievements, the destruction of chattel slavery.  As with all of liberalism’s putative emancipatory achievements, this is illusory.  Rather than freeing humanity from the objectification inherent in chattel slavery, liberalism has merely driven this objectification into the subcutaneous socioeconomic metalayer, implanted it under the skin, making it that much more difficult to see and resist.  As always liberalism does not actually “free” us from authority as it pretends to do: it simply makes authority sociopathic.

The old tyrannies could at least be seen out in the open. A man knew where he stood. Now the tyranny comes cloaked as the seductress “freedom”. Liberal tyranny boils up from under layers of flesh, lurks inside clinging to the bones as it gnaws away at internal organs and releases its offal into the body. If paganism, Mohammedism, and Rabbinic Judaism are packs of hyenas harrowing Christendom, liberalism is a cancer that eats away at it from within, an alien embryo feeding on its host as it releases a thousand horrors.

But I digress.

Property is objective[1], that is, it consists of objects independent of any particular human subject or subjects.  Owners are human subjects, human beings independent of any particular property. Take away a man’s property and you still have a man.

You can tell who truly owns what by asking what happens when the music stops: by asking what, at the end of the day, secures each person’s claims. In a recourse mortgage the borrower “owns” the house and the lender owns the borrower, because the lender is contractually entitled to collect deficiencies from the borrower if selling the house does not fully discharge the borrower’s contractual obligations.  The situation is even worse than that though, because in the case of taxable real estate the sovereign really owns the property and leases it back to the tenant (whom we deceptively label the “owner”).  Real estate “owners”, then, don’t really own the actual property. The sovereign owns the property and what the “owners” really own is exclusive leasing rights: a kind of financial security.  That isn’t nothing, but there is much less there than meets the eye. Real estate “ownership” where there are property taxes is a form of lie: what is owned is not land and buildings, but a perpetual[2] and exclusive lease on land and buildings.

Products dependent upon cloud software represent a new, technologically enabled phase in non-ownership “ownership”.  Cloud software or “Internet of things” products require a “mother ship” somewhere on the Internet in order to work. Without the mother ship they become literally useless; “bricked” in the vernacular. For example you can spend years of your life producing work with a cloud based – or even just cloud licensed – CAD program, under the illusion that you own at least your own actual work product. You don’t own the software, it is merely ‘licensed’ to you, sure.  But in fact you don’t even really own your own work product which you produced with the software using your own hands and mind, because you cannot even continue to access your own work without regularly checking in with the mother ship to ensure that license terms are met . If the terms and conditions change, or the company goes out of business or the mother ship crashes for some other reason, you can’t even access the features of your own “property”; not even your own accumulated work.

Cloud products represent a kind of legalized ransomware.  As with usury there is a superficial resemblance to legitimate transactions; in this case a resemblance to having sold or leased you some tools with which you can produce your own  work; work which you then own. The work you produce with cloud-based ransomware looks like it belongs to you.

But when the music stops your hammer no longer works, there are no other hammers which will work, and all that you have built with the hammer is hostage to the true owner’s terms and conditions.  You were never the owner of your own work product in the first place: you rent your own work at the pleasure of the private party who really owns it.

When philosophical anti-realism invades the domain of property, the distinction between persons and property disappears.  This erodes the distinction between persons and objects in spheres beyond property and ownership.

If you would like to see the great dehumanization reversed, I can’t really offer much hope. But I’d be happy to hand you a shovel.


[1] Nota bene: not physical or merely physical, since physicalism is false.

[2] At least for as long as the tenant continues to make payments, which can be increased at any time without his agreement.

Sexual integrity as a state of mind

February 11, 2017 § 50 Comments

I recently received a Disqus notification for a comment someone left on a long forgotten discussion about the martyrdom of St. Maria Goretti:

[St. Goretti] did not die for her purity. She died for [her attacker’s] purity. Stop calling rape victims sinners. Stop committing idolatry by worshipping mere hymens. Stop allowing a demonic obsession with physical virginity to pollute you and make you a destructive force in the world. When you call rape victims sinful you’re committing an act of Satanic worship.

St. Maria Goretti is not just a martyr to purity.  In my view she is also a martyr to metaphysical realism.  If rape isn’t an objective violation of sexual integrity worth resisting when possible then why is it wrong at all?

Suppose instead of a rapist St. Goretti’s family had been attacked by marauding Barbary slavers, she had died resisting the breakup of her family, had forgiven her attackers, her attackers had later converted, etc.  Suppose the hagiography was basically the same, in other words, but the objective violation in question was different.

Years later she is canonized a saint and celebrated as a martyr to family integrity.

This leads to an annual freakout by protesting orphans and runaways, who feel aggrieved that anyone could celebrate the defense – to the death, by a saint and martyr – of family integrity.

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