Thursday, January 27, 2005

Government

It is a shame that our present government has lost all sense of natural rights for its citizens. Instead of guaranteeing those crucial elements of existence for society, the government, or rather, the people who comprise the government, have decided instead to tread on rights, obstruct liberty, forcefully take property, and enforce the opinion of a tyrannical majority on all people.

The reason why individuals band together to form societies and governments is simply out of self interest. By agreeing mutually that we all respect one another's right to life we each assure for ourselves the ability to live and exist in a relatively safe world. Without this assurance, we surely could never even begin to explore the realms of our own potentiality, as we would be so preoccupied with watching our backs that we would never be able to produce, create, and be happy.

Beyond this assurance of the right to life - and, of course, its subsidiary properties of liberty and property rights - we only live in societies in order to trade, socialize, and mutually benefit from interactions with one another. The government, therefore, has no jurisdiction beyond that of securing the right to life for its individuals.

Instead of seeing this as the freeing and liberating proposition that it is, people at large tend to only see those things that they have become accustomed to that will be removed from government jurisdiction. For instance, people are used to free education for all children; they are used to free use roads and public transportation; they are used to libraries and public pools; they are used to being told how to invest their money into pyramid schemes. When we remove these unnecessary elements from the federal government, we end up with the very best possible outcome, that is, a government for the people, by the people, and of the people.

I advocate privatization in all these areas. Moving towards a private education system creates the most efficient schools and allows parents to more effectively control what sort of education their child gets. Moving away from socialized roads allows people to only pay for what they will use. All of these different topics deserve their own post, but let it suffice for now to say that both morally and economically these superfluous government actions are unsound.

The best way to imagine the role of the government in society is to envision the term "anti-coercion arbiter." By this we mean that the government is in place to create the facilities, that is, police and national defense, by which to secure its citizen's freedom from coercion. Coercion is the diametric opposite of freedom; it is force choice. Therefore, the government's role is to stop coercion among citizens, and coercion enacted from other nation states.

To this end, the government is primarily composed of a police force and a national defense, that is, the armed forces. Additionally, it is important to have a justice system, very much like the one currently in place, in order to arbitrate situations that might not be so black and white. In order to organize this system and for the sake of international relations, a heiarchy of some sort is required, that is, an executive branch, and we require a selection of lawmakers as well who can represent sections of the populace. It seems that the founding fathers of our great nation were thinking pretty well when they drafted the constitution. In fact, were our current government to restrict itself to the powers delineated in the constitution without the rampant abuse of the elastic clause we might find that government in general would be a lot more ethical, efficient, and philosophically sound.

The moral of the story is this: a government that has bloated to the size of the current US government it as unhealthy as the obesity epidemic that is also sweeping our nation. Both bloated government and bloated stomachs serve only to kill us slowly, and both must be avoided and rectified before it is too late.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Rights

While my last post might imply that I fall into the category of act-utilitarians, I am actually far more of a rule-utilitarian (and more accurately described as an egoist beyond that). We must go back to examining the fact/value problem to see the support for this viewpoint.

The logical positivist movement of the 30's is quite appealing to me, even if they have been largely discredited in recent years. We remember from out metaphysics that the things we perceive might or might not be real, but it is that which we perceive that dictates what happens to us. Because unobservable causes cannot create observable results, it only makes sense that those things which we define and identify with out world must likewise be observable. In fact, those things are not empirically provable (or tautologically true) are not meaningful in any real way.

Presently, we have no empirical evidence to support one a value system of any kind, leaving us in quite a quandary. On the one side we have our empirical facts, on the other we have our subjective value judgments, unsupported by anything factual, or so it seems.

Let us go back to our one lasting primary: the self. Without it, we are dead, so we must embrace it. While it doesn't necessarily follow that we must value the self, it does follow that without the self there is nothing to value. It makes sense from this perspective to uphold the self even if for no other reason than to open the avenues of opportunity.

We enter the world with our selves and we leave with it, in fact, it is the only thing that is constant through our entire lives, by definition. We must be guaranteed the right to that life, because it is the primary, the first, the foundation for the rest of everything we know or can know. It is the job of government to defend this right, not, of course, because the government is some God figure that saves us, but because we enter into a contract securing this right with the people around us for everyone's mutual benefit.

Left2Right recently featured this article attacking natural rights. While seemingly important sounding, it is in fact full of inconsistencies and difficulties in definitions. Her three main arguments:
(1) Certain types of property rights and rules found in advanced capitalism have no sound basis in "natural" property rights but are nonetheless essential to advanced capitalism. (2) Natural property claims do spontaneously arise independent of state action, but they are incapable of generating the distinctive form of property needed for capitalism--namely, capital. State action is required to turn property into capital, and such action will inevitably, and rightly, abrogate these "natural" claims. (3) A pure system of natural property rights with unrestricted freedom of contract contains inherent tendencies to revert to feudalism if the state does not limit freedom of contract by restricting property transfers from the desperate to the well-endowed.
First of all, Elizabeth Anderson's definitions of things like "advanced capitalism" and the like are highly suspect. That being said, she fails to recognize these things:

(1) The only "natural" property right is the right to the self and the subsequent rights that support this primary. Saying, "it's mine" must be sufficient, and the question is not begged here, it's mine because I was born with it, it's mine because I earned it, it's mine because it was given to me, etc. The examples Anderson uses are by and large not even necessary in a free market.

(2) Capital is an artificial creation by the government. It is my understanding that de Soto's findings regarding capital around the world both illustrate the potential worth of third world nations as well as a government's penchant for destroying the lives of its citizens by becoming overbearing. The problem could be avoided entirely, in my understanding, but removing the government from the economic sphere, taking away the idea of the label "capital" arbitrarily placed by the government. Perhaps this is a misunderstanding of capital in this sense, and if this is the case, please correct me.

(3) Perhaps I slept through 9th grade world history, but as I recall the United States was the first primarily democracies and capitalistic society, it was created as an escape from feudalism, and the United States, being for centuries the most economically free nation in the world, has not, as Anderson predicts, "reverted to feudalism." Limited freedom and restricted property transfers sounds like the very definition of a budding communism, actually, and we all see how well communism has done for the world in both practice and theory.

It seems Anderson's lengthy war on natural rights is nothing more than a string of misused terms and a string of thinly veiled socialism.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Society

When people live together in a society, there are invariably problems. Each individual, seeking their own personal flourishing, is apt to do whatever it takes to get what they want. In a society like this, life itself is impossible. In a society where one must watch one's back constantly, trust no one, and sleep with on eye open, no one can achieve the flourishing that they desire.

If, though, we can mutually agree to assure each other's safety in a sort of social contract, then we are all able to pursue the flourishing that we desire. When an individual in this society agrees to abide by simple rules against harm to others, they assure their own safety and freedom from harm.

While this initially seems contrary to the ethical theory I have promoted, it is in fact very in keeping with it. Assuming that all people in the society are seeking their own self preservation and the best possible life they can achieve, they will realize that the best possible life is not possible when subject to the whims of other, potentially irrational people. Yes, a situation might arise in which the best thing for one's own life would be to take another's, and a social contract like I propose would prohibit this, but the total utility of a secure society far outweighs whatever gains might be had by taking someone's life. Put simply, a social contract against harm to others is a non-zero-sum game.

It does not, though represent a Nash equilibrium. In a society where all abide by the rule of non-harm, one person breaking the rule stands to benefit over the others. The benefit and non-zero-sumness of the equation still stands, and rational people continue to desire the non-harm contract. Enter government, who we, the people, bestow the power of power upon in order to protect our safety. Looking at an isolated case, we can take the prisoner's dilemma; assuming that both prisoners stay silent, then they both stand to achieve the best possible outcome, but the Nash equilibrium would dictate that they both confess. If we bring in a third party to enforce non-harm between them, both stay silent and both can be certain of achieving the best possible outcome. Bringing in the third party, the enforcer, the government, pays off for everyone involved.

This right to life that the government gives brings with it a variety of things. First of all, on is unable to procure their own flourishing, the best possible life for themselves, without the ability to choose and act for themselves. Individuals know best what they want, need, and desire, and thus require the freedom necessary to achieve those things. Additionally, individuals need to be certain that the things they need to live, e.g., shelter, food, and water, cannot be arbitrarily taken from them, as this would be tantamount to taking life itself away. Necessary to a right to life is the right to private property. This is the true and real meaning of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (or property)."

Sadly, our current permutation of government has taken this rationale too far. The non-zero-sumness of this game is clear, but power-hungry politicians have corrupted the logic and tried to extend it to education, welfare, transportation, infrastructure, and agriculture. Any sort of game outside of the preservation and assurance of one's own life becomes entirely zero-sum. As an example, imagine the prisoner's dilemma with a third prisoner, one who was an accomplice who knew nothing and is up for 10 years of prison. The only way this third prisoner could have his sentence reduced is if one of the original two prisoners tacked additionally time on to their sentence, taking it from the third prisoner's sentence. They stand to gain only more time in prison while the third prisoner only stands to win as much as they lose. Sound familiar? It is the totally zero-sum game of the welfare state.

The specifics of this system will continue to be worked out in later posts, but for now the conclusion is clear: the sole purpose of our government is the preserve the central right to life of its citizens, including the corollary rights to freedom and the pursuits of happiness and property. This government, and only this type of government, creates a non-zero-game for everyone involved.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Death

We do, of course, always lose in life. Life always has a bad ending, in fact, it always has the worst possible ending: death. How are we to face a challenge that is impossible to overcome?

Some might advocate immortality by way of offspring, or through innovative contributions to society. The problem, of course, lies in the fact that these things, too, will pass. Children will die, entire societies will die, and any contribution or historical contribution to the world will eventually be forgotten. We are, in fact, destined to lose in the great game of life.

This initially depressing realization is, in fact, not quite so bad as we might imagine. Sure, we cannot hold our prime value forever, but then nothing really lasts forever. Our goal remains the same; we must work for life, and not only life, but the best possible life for as long as we are able.

Once we do die, it would be easy to lament our apparent failure at achieving our value, but it would be impossible to do so. When one is dead, they are dead, and there is no more lamenting or hoping to be done. Others might praise or chastise us, but their thoughts mean nothing to a dead person, and they too will die, along with their thoughts. Ultimately, we care when it is important and possible to care, that is, when we are alive, but we likewise cease to care about values and virtues at all once we are dead, as they dead care about nothing.

This actually gives us great relief. While we might care passionately about our existence now, when we do not have our existence any more, when we stand to be the most distraught, is exactly the same time that it will not matter to us anymore. There is nothing to fear in death, because there is nothing in death.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Virtues

An egocentric value system sounds inhumane. In fact, our very evolutionary development has lead us to feel this way, and society has continued to condemn it. The actual ramifications, though, are far from the anarchist free-for-all that egoism's opponents make it out to be.

A virtue is a trait or action that words towards achieving and maintaining our values. Our primary value, that is, the amelioration of our own life, requires a variety of virtues in order to support it, and a variety of other values are created by acknowledging the self as our highest value. For instance, good health is a value that supports the self as our highest value; eating healthily and moderately is a virtue that leads to attaining this value.

Looking at the current trends in society, we see that the virtues upheld are far from being virtues at all. Charity, for example, is precisely contrary to our preservation of self; charity requires we give of ourselves for the sake of others, not ourselves. Sure, there are some sense where charity is self serving, for instance if the giver gets a great feeling for donating, but the sense of charity by and large is the idea that we give of ourselves totally unselfishly.

How can I be so insensitive, you might ask? When I look around and see rampant poverty, not to mention destruction from natural disasters like tsunamis, how can I just let such need eventually destroy itself? While I disapprove of the altruism that underlies charity, there is a type of "giving" that is mutually beneficial. To sacrifice oneself indiscriminately gains nothing for the person acting, but if we think of charity in terms of investment, then everyone involved wins. For instance, imagine a person who is down on their luck through a series of unfortunate circumstances. A wealthy business owner decides to provide him with lodging and board for a few months, and pays for his education. Later, this formally impoverished person takes a job in the wealthy entrepreneur's business, and ends up being his most productive employee. With out the rehabilitation, the self centered charity, of the entrepreneur, the poor person would never have gotten out of their situation. Because the businessman made an investment, his business is now more productive than his competitors.

Of course, not all investments pay off, which is why it is called an investment and not a purchase. Many other virtues can be thought of in this way, as investments looking for greater future returns. Regardless of the specific form it takes, our highest value is the self, and our virtues must reflect that.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Values

In order to determine a normative account of human existence, we have to pinpoint the substantive elements of human nature. There is a link, though, that must be delineated before we can arrive at a cogent system of ethics. This link is our values; our values serve as that which we wish to attain and maintain, and thus leads us to the method by how we should do that. What, then, are we to value?

As I've posited before, the existence of the self is the first and only assumption we might be able to hold. Keeping in mind that one must use what they know in order to discover what it is that they do not know, and remembering that we know simply one thing, that question of value becomes simple. We should value first and foremost the one thing we know, our self.

This egocentric view of the universe has been shunned in society for ages, but the idea behind it is starkly apparent in day to day life. Our very genetic nature, our animal instincts themselves push us towards self preservation, and while some might try to convince you that laying down your life for another is the greatest good, most rational beings would agree that one should preserve one's own life, even if only to help others more.

By observing the causal chains around us, we are able to extrapolate a hierarchy of values and virtues, that is, the ways in which we achieve our values. For instance, because I can observe that those who eat too much get fat and have health problems, and because being healthy of body is necessary to sustain the existence of the self, I can recognize that overeating is counterproductive to the goal of sustaining my one value, my existence, and say that moderation in eating is a virtue. On a larger scale, because I realize that in a society where I am allowed to murder someone indiscriminately that I am subject to the same random violence, I recognize that peacability is a virtue, a way in which to pursue and assure my own existence.

When we say that our self is our highest value, our system of ethics becomes clear, as will be explained in future posts. If simplicity is important to scientific and philosophical constructs, then acknowledging only one idea as our prime value seems to fit the bill perfectly.