Friday, July 29, 2005

Gems

Courtesy of the good people at Catallarchy we have this interesting thread of comments exploring AnCap political theory. Is this definition enough: "The state: a monopoly on legitimized coercion," or is there more to it?

Also via Catallarchy, a link to this fantastic site. Sit back when you have some time for a great story. (Some explicit content, enjoy)

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Dollar power

I've always been wary of many people's apprehension towards equating value with money. Many, particularly liberal democrats, love to proclaim the worth of things like blue skies and watching a sunset, things that don't have a dollar value attached to them. The problem is, of course, that money is, by definition, a measure of value.

This is pretty self-evident, of course. We trade our time and productive effort for money, called wages, which we in turn spend on things we need to survive. Currency is simply the middle man that eases trade. Instead of working in an apple orchard for an hour to get my apples, I can spend a few minutes in a grocery store and use a small portion of the wages I've earned for spending my time elsewhere. Money allows us to trade more effectively and specialize in our craft.

It hardly goes without saying that there are other measures of value. For instance, one might not have much money to spend towards nature conservancy, but if one devotes one's time to an environmentally active cause, the same end is achieved. It likewise goes without saying that if there is something that I claim to value but that I'm unwilling to spend time or money on, then I clearly don't value it.

The one fleeting example where I can see that the relationship between money and value isn't absolute is when I get change after making a small purchase. When I get back, for instance, 75 cents, it is worth much less to me than a whole dollar in change. Obviously, the difference in value to me should be somewhere around 75 cents worth, but it is actually far more than that. I will give the cashier an extra quarter simply to be given a whole dollar in change. The only reason I would take the extra effort to pull out the extra quarter would be if I actually valued the whole dollar more than the change.

I think we can safely assume that most people would choose a dollar bill over 4 quarters, except in instances where payphones and video arcade games are involved (and these instances are increasingly rare with the rise and cell phone and PSP use). The stack of change I have on my dresser is practically worthless to me, but the few dollars in my wallet are worth every last penny.

Is the perceived difference between these two irrational? Is it simply logistical, as bills are easier to carry than coins? Or is there really a much greater relativity in the relationship between money and value than I realize?

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Potter

Like everyone else who speaks English, I've recently read the penultimate Harry Potter book, and while I enjoyed it, I didn't see that it had much significant philosophical merit. Left2Right's Mika LeVaque-Manty, though, seems to read a little bit more heavily into it. She makes the assertion that these are "deeply moral books without easy answers to some the toughest moral problems people confront" and that they are indicative of a thoroughly modern perspective, leaving questions of right and wrong up in the air. Perhaps I read a different book, but this describes precisely none of what I read.

Sure, I agree with the thoughts on the secularization thesis and the rationality of magic. I even concede that Harry Potter might be good in large part because they are so secular, and that all the action in the stories comes from the characters themselves, not some outside influence like God or the devil, and I especially appreciate his head nod to Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. But Harry Potter is anything but modern.

The ethical dilemmas that the characters face throughout the books seem particularly cut and dried. The ethical issues that Mika is speaking of, I believe, are not so much ethical issues but more questions about where loyalties lie, and attempting to reconcile perceived loyalties with actions. For instance, ever since year one Harry and the gang have suspected Snape as being a "bad guy," but Dumbledore's assurances of his allegiance to the "good guys" has caused tension. There isn't tension in trying to choose the right action, there is tension in reconciling Snape's actions to the trust that a respected figure has for him.

Furthermore, the moral quality of a character is distinguished specificity by the magic he uses. Dark Magic is shunned even when the spell itself is not inherently bad. For instance, The Unbreakable Vow is a Dark Magic spell that Mrs. Weasley almost had a heart attack over when Fred and George tried it, but how easy would it make things to use Unbreakable Vows to enforce contractual agreements? The ethical status of certain types of magical actions is already presupposed to be good or evil, inherently, without even a question as to the consequences. It is decidedly deontological, and totally indisputable.

While I'm on the topic, it might be beneficial to point out that all the Hogwarts kids do celebrate Christmas (although there is no mention of Easter). This doesn't necessarily denote religious tendencies (I celebrate Christmas and am decidedly non-religious), but does seem to indicate some religion involved. Perhaps Rowling has left this ambiguous in order to remain as secular as possible?

When it comes down to it, Star Wars is much more philosophically inspiring than Harry Potter. The newest Star Wars film raised a variety of ethical questions, whereas Harry Potter is simply good, fun reading.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Pray for me

Surprise, surprise; prayer doesn't work [free subscription req].

Seems as though prayer for other people, without their knowledge, has no measurable effects. Reminds me of the time my father's men's group at church started a pact whereby they would each focus their prayer power on a single thing for 23 days (or some such amount of time), expecting positive change. I believe that after talking to my father about it after I heard their plan I sufficiently convinced him to abandon the project. First of all, thou shalt not test the Lord your God, or whatever the hell that part says. Second, if it didn't work, what then? Did God forsake them? If they use the "God works in mysterious ways, it wasn't his will" excuse, then there isn't any point for the exercise, as He would do it anyway, regardless of prayer. Lastly, if it does work, so what? What does it prove?

How did such a silly practice ever get started?

[Hat tip to the Vegblog]

Anti-monopoly

Recently, while house-sitting, I stumbled upon the game "Anti-Monopoly," a cheap knock-off of everyone's favorite property rights game. The game involved, in short, traveling around a board (11 spaces by 11 spaces) and placing indictment chips on businesses (cleverly named things like Stundart Oil or Egson) in order to bust the trust, oligopolies, and monopolies. In the end, the game was won by accumulating "social credit points" for busting said monopolies.

The propagandic effects of games like this are probably over-rated, and even Monopoly, an originally satiric game, seems to have failed in its original message, as pointed out in this post. All the same, the further effects of Anti-monopoly make the game seem even more silly: in the end, everyone wins, as the players work together to bust the trusts. Then the businesses, now making less money, pay less in taxes to the government who pays the trust-busters' salaries. Eventually, all the players lose, as they are laid off due to insufficient government funding. Cue "whammy" sound.

For some reason, I keep humming the new Nine Inch Nails single "The Hand the Feeds" to myself...

Monday, July 11, 2005

Work

I had a lengthy post cooked up in my head when I sat down about the utility or disutility of work, when I read this from Will Wilkinson, who seems to have said it all for me. Looks like I've been beaten to the punch.

The point is, work isn't always a huge source of disutility. Sure, many of us would not do the work that we get paid for now if we didn't need the income, but many others would continue to do their work, regardless of what compensation they are getting.

I, for one, find that my work time doesn't cause me much disutility at all, and that I would probably take a much lower wage if I was actually being compensated for the disutility it causes me. Instead, my wage is more determined by market forces and what I could be earning somewhere else, not how much I am put out by doing said work.

My last post on work and leisure was more philosophical, and Will is obviously waxing more economic(al?), but the point is still essentially the same; work is both an ends and a means.

Remember in grade school when people asked what you wanted to do with your life, if money was no object? If you said work on cars, you were supposed to be a mechanic. If you said make cookies, you were supposed to become a pastry chef. And if you said pick up trash, you were supposed to be a garbage collector. The point was that you can do what you like with your life, you can spend your creative energies where ever you'd like to, and your work can become an end in itself. When your work is its own point, then the compensation from it, the means part of your work, loses importance.

We need the compensation from our work to live, of course, and this is one way in which work constitutes our lives, but as a means to survival. Work is also, though, the very point of our existence, as action constitutes living, and thus work becomes an end in itself as well. The best work, and the only work worth doing, is work that is both an end and a means.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Movies

After witnessing the carnage that is The Fantastic Four this afternoon, I came to this shocking realization: I have ceased to be a discerning art connoisseur. I simply can't tell a good film from a poor one anymore.

I've enjoyed the summer blockbusters so far this year; Batman Begins, Fantastic Four, Star Wars III, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, etc. This very fact is what bothers me. It bothers me fantastically.

What, though, makes art? How are movies, and their static brethren, photos, be judged aesthetically?

There are three types of movies: art films, entertainment films, and bad films. Each large category has subcategories, named, for the most part, thusly:
Art-
-Pretentious films
-Accidentally philosophical films
-purposefully philosophical films
Entertainment-
-Historical, documentary, or otherwise educational films
-Comic book, action, adventure, thriller, suspense, and horror films
-Romantic comedies
-Dramadies
-Movies you forget a week after seeing
Bad-
-Films so awful they are funny
-Films that you have to see to be hip and in the know, yet are of poor quality
-Unwatchable

The difference between, say, Spiderman and Coffee and Cigarettes is that where one is a flashy trip into another dimension, the other is an understated introspection into our own dimension. What makes a film art, what makes it more than simple, mindless entertainment, is the manner by which a director can purposefully depict a larger philosophical question or value judgment about the world as they see it. Movies have artistic merit when they are the abstract recreation of the world, according to the creator's values.

Fantastic Four, Batman, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith had nothing to say about the world, they reflected no real values, and there was no abstract recreation portrayed, thus, they cannot be called artistic films. This doesn't necessarily mean, though, that they were bad. In fact, it seems obvious why most people prefer The War of the Worlds to Pi; why drink wine when a soda will do? Art is hard to understand; it takes effort and thought and creative reasoning, it takes rationality and an ability to discover an artists original motives. X-Men, on the other hand, simply requires that we sit still for a couple hours and take in the sights. Summer movies are the aesthetic equivalents to romance novels in literature; sure, it might be better to read The Republic, but isn't Captain Montegue's Love Affair a nice break sometimes?

How do we judge this brain candy, then? The normal rules for aesthetic judgment can't apply, as these types of movies don't really merit it. Instead, the only things to judge are technical things, like special effects and camera work, as well as professional things, like acting and script writing. Given these criteria, Fantastic Four, wasn't fantastic at all, but not too bad. The acting was passable, the special effects were good, and the story (if it can even be said that there was one) certainly took me out of reality for a moment. Batman Begins was much better, as the acting was top notch and the story was far more developed, although the camera work was incoherent and distracting.

Summer is all about brain candy. Enjoy it.

Monday, July 04, 2005

4th

Independence day is not about servicemen and war in Iraq, as many 4th of July parades might have us believe, and it is not about flag burning amendments, as congress might want us to think. Rather, the 4th is about liberty; it is about being a sovereign nation.

Catallarchy has a few great posts from our great freedom fathers. I'm partial to this one, something I'd not read before. They also offer a few suggestions of things to do today.

National Holiday

The summer job where I am working does not guarantee that I had holidays off. In fact, my job doesn't even offer overtime pay for hours worked on a holiday. While my boss understands that people want, for instance, the 4th of July off work, she can only offer so many requests, and expects at least some of the office staff to work. I have no complaints about the situation, it is the perrogative of the business that I work for to offer time off or not; as a private industry, they can act as they please.

Some of my co-workers, though, are not quite as content. In the words of one co-worker, "it is a matter of respect. Companies should respect their employees enough to give them a holiday off." She also went on the praise the lax working habits of European countries.

I, of course, called her on the variety of illogicalities she was spouting, maintaining at least some semblance of restraint given the work environment. First of all, she had no plausible solution to the problem she was raising, as she agreed that the government should not mandate non-work days. Really, she decided, the problem was more related to America's insistence on holding work as the central purpose of our lives, as opposed to the more enjoyable things, like friends, family, or adventure.

Perhaps it is simply the Ayn Rand talking in me, but I cannot see how work could be anything besides the central object in one's life, as work IS one's life. It is the work that we do, it is our productive and creative labor, that is the means by which we sustain our own lives, and thus must be the central object of it. The equation is simple: work -> cash -> food, shelter, and other essentials -> life sustenance. Without work, there is no life.

Why not forget about one extra day? Because it is tantamount to forgetting about one day of life. Why work so many hours a week? Because life is that important to us. Our work doesn't define us, it creates us. No national holiday is as important as all that.