Those who follow rules

May 30, 2017 § 153 Comments

Authority is conserved, so the political possibilities in resolving actual controverted cases aren’t “more freedom” versus “less freedom”. The range of real political possibility is between authority exercised publicly and accountably by particular men, and authority exercised sociopathically without personal responsibility behind a wall of mechanical bureaucratic procedures and ‘zero tolerance’ rules (a situation often labeled ‘the rule of law’, but positivistically excluding the particular judgment which justice requires).

Modern people are always looking for ways to substitute rules and procedures for the authority of flesh and blood men.  Folks who deny the reality of authority prefer to be an insignificant mechanical component in a vast impersonal rule-executing machine rather than a subject expected to doff his cap to the king. This necessarily results in unjust and sociopathic exercise of authority.

In this post I will argue that substituting rules and procedures for human judgment and authority is necessarily unjust for what is called the “exclusionary rule” in American jurisprudence.

The “exclusionary rule” requires criminal courts in the US to always suppress evidence of a crime when improper procedures were followed in the collection of that evidence.  (Pay special attention to the use of always and some/sometimes in this argument).

This rule necessarily results in some cases resolving to an unjust result; in particular in those cases where good judgment should take procedurally tainted evidence into account. This injustice obtains against both the victims of crime and the common good of the community.  

A rule which guarantees some unjust results is an intrinsically unjust rule. Note that it isn’t necessary for the rule to always produce an unjust result for this to be the case: it is only necessary for the rule to sometimes produce an unjust result, because the rule is supposed to apply always.

Therefore the exclusionary rule is intrinsically unjust.

Arbitrage on the holodeck

May 28, 2017 § 35 Comments

Context and subjectivity are not the same thing.  

Context is objective: water is objectively more valuable in the desert.  It is also more costly to ship water to the desert than it is to use it where and when it is already abundant.

Preferences are subjective, though even preferences are rooted in objective reality.  Preferences are not reducible to nothing but pure subjectivity, because man himself is not reducible to nothing but pure subjectivity.  In the absence of disorder fresh water is preferred over seawater as drink, because the former satisfies the objective needs which give rise to thirst while the latter does not.

Objective truth always trumps subjective preferences. A subjective preference which is contrary to the objective truth is an intrinsically disordered preference.

Prices reflect an equilibrium in preferences between counterparties in the exchange of goods and services. The reason for exchange in the first place is because different objective contexts obtain for each counterparty: the baker has ample bread and few candles, while the candle maker has abundant candles and little bread.  So ten candles are exchanged for a loaf of bread.

An actual exchange represents a preference equilibrium: a subjective meeting of the minds in bringing together two different objective contexts for putative mutual benefit.

But perception is not always reality.


When the controlling preferences of either party to an exchange are intrinsically disordered, the price is an unjust price.  The mutual benefit (or its lack) in any exchange is ultimately an objective property of the actual exchange, not a meeting of minds in an intersubjective preference space.

The social media panopticon

May 18, 2017 § 32 Comments

Jeremy Bentham famously invented the idea of the panopticon, initially as a way to manage prisoners in a maximally efficient way.  The architecture of the panopticon enabled a single guard to monitor a large number of prisoners simultaneously.

Being a modernist, Bentham started seeing the benefits of universal surveillance in all sorts of other areas of life.  (He was also in favor of animal rights, a right to sodomy, etc — in the 1700’s, mind you).  After all, as long as you aren’t doing something that offends the gods why should you care that you are constantly being watched?  This is obviously an efficient way to design a civil society with minimal violence; a society which does not require a lot of messy exercise of easily-abused authority, authority which in any case just falls to certain people by accident of birth.  Nothing about universal surveillance in itself interferes with a person’s freedom.

Bentham’s vision has taken a long time to materialize because (as it turns out) most people don’t really like living under the constant surveillance of prison guards; guards who just might view them as less than fully human, possibly tomorrow if not in the Current Year.

But Mark Zuckerberg found a way to convince a billion people to voluntarily enter the panopticon.  He baited the trap with an irresistible siren:  a perpetual High School reunion, pictures of grandkids, and cat videos.

The idea that ideas can be property is patently ridiculous

May 18, 2017 § 53 Comments

One of the interesting things about patents (unless the law has changed since I filed mine a couple decades ago) is that the invention must be “reduced to practice” before you can even apply for one: you have to have a concrete working implementation before the patent office will even accept your application. And once a patent is granted, what the patent holder actually receives – the patent itself – is a security entitling the holder of the patent to enforceable commercial exclusivity within the jurisdiction of the patent authority.

Similar things can be said about other forms of intellectual property.

So IP doesn’t count in favor of the contention that ideas can be property. It counts against that contention.

As usual liberal modernity requires you to studiously avert your gaze once actual reality starts to come into view.

Means and ends for kindergartners

May 17, 2017 § 113 Comments

There has been a bit of ‘reactosphere’ discussion of means and ends lately.

Unsurprisingly, the aphorism ‘the end doesn’t justify the means’ is ridiculed in its strawman form: basically ‘No means is ever justified by any end.’

I’m always here to help though, and Miss Suzy asked me to visit on Talk To A Grownup Day.  So get out your crayons and let me rephrase the aphorism for the class.

The non-strawman version goes like this:

“Good ends don’t justify evil means.”

That’s a lot to take in, I know, so that is probably enough for one day.

The self-inflicted lobotomy of a society gone mad

May 17, 2017 § 21 Comments

There exist in our world what we might call ‘social beings’: institutions or communities which are composed of individual human beings but which are not reducible to nothing but the aggregation of individual human beings. Social beings transcend individuals in the sense that they are not reducible to individuals. I don’t have an overarching theory of these transcendent social beings, but I know that Italy is not reducible to the collection of all individual Italians, Catholicism is not reducible to the collection of all individual Catholics, etc.

We can refer to the good of these social beings as the common good.

Authority is a natural and essential organ of these transcendent social beings, much as the brain and nervous system are a natural and essential organ of individual human beings.

Liberalism is (as a specifically political doctrine), at least in its more advanced forms, an attempt to reduce this transcendent social organ (authority) to nothing but the collected free and equal wills of the individuals who make up a polity.  Opposing itself to natural authority as inherently tyrannical, liberalism insists that all authority must be mediated through the triumph of the human will. Authority as a real organ which transcends the consent of the governed is denied.

Liberalism is an attempt to build, if you will, a completely brainless and mechanical society in the name of emancipation from the privileges of natural authority: it is the self-inflicted lobotomy of a society gone mad.

The right to life, liberty, and cows

May 13, 2017 § 120 Comments

Modern people have been trained by centuries of usury (among other things) to have a hard time distinguishing between an actual thing and the mere idea of a thing.  

In the case of usury this failure to perceive the difference between real things and mere ideas shows up in how contracts for profit are secured: as St. Francis Xavier put it, “in the whole matter of security for contracts”.  A non-usurious contract for profit is secured by property which actually exists, and only that specifed property.  A usurious contract for profit is secured by (sometimes in addition to some actual property) the mere idea of property: by a personal IOU.

A pledge to give an investor a cow next year is not — the pledge is not — an actual cow.  It is not usurious to pledge to give an investor a cow next year as part of a contract for profit; but only so long as that pledge is secured by some property which actually does exist, which fully discharges the obligation.  The pledge is not to hand over a cow next year simpliciter, but to hand over either the actually existent security or a cow, thereby fully discharging the borrower’s obligation.  A well structured contract will incentivise but not guarantee the latter.

The term ‘right’ is (like many terms) multivocal, kind of like the term ‘cow’. A right which actually has teeth is a particular right: a specific exercise of discriminating authority which trumps all other claims in a particular instance, treating one specific claim as superior to all other claims. Bob is the owner and Fred is the trespasser, so Fred must depart Bob’s property or be dragged off to jail.

Other uses of the term ‘right’ include talking about abstract categories of rights as opposed to actual rights. Again, kind of like cows. The idea that everyone has an equal right to (e.g) property is like (indeed is a superset of) the idea that everyone has an equal right to cows.

If this right is actual as opposed to abstract then it pertains to a particular cow or cows; and no particular cow is equal to any other particular cow. If Fred slaughters and eats Bob’s beef, he goes to jail.  

Furthermore, many people don’t have a cow (other than metaphorically, when all of this is pointed out). The mere idea of beef is not a meal equivalent to actual beef.

There is nothing more authoritative and discriminatory than an actual right; nothing more empty and unreal than an abstract right with no instantiation.  Owning a hypothetical cow is categorically distinct from owning an actual cow.  Reality is categorically distinct from fiction.

It is sometimes suggested that my understanding of liberalism is flawed because it relies on a concept of rights which is “absolute”.  But what critics see as “absolute” in my criticism of liberalism is simply recognition that the difference between reality and fiction is a categorical distinction, not a matter of gradiation. The difference between the idea of a cow and an actual cow is not a matter of moving along some continuum of compromise with a possible happy medium. Being and non-being are absolutely distinct.

The liberal war on authoritative particularity arises from its commitment to political liberty framed in terms of rights: arises from the fact that nothing discriminates (contra equality) and constrains (contra liberty) like actual, real, existent particular things.  And conservative liberalism, as the more sane and commonsensical sphere of liberal societies, makes the mistake of believing that a happy medium is possible between reality and the void.

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