Rebirth of Reason

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Sunday, February 1, 2015 - 6:59amSanction this postReply



I've often felt frustrated trying to explain some aspect of capitalism to a person on the left, someone I know isn't being dishonest in the usual sense, but who ends up preferring to stick to some emotional, almost paranoid-seeming explanation that paints the Koch brothers, or Wall Street, or the military-industrial complex as the cause of something that simple reason easily says couldn't be the case.


So, they see their opponents as evil people who intentionally thwart 'good' outcomes (i.e., collectivist, altruist outcomes) for selfish reasons while telling lies to cover up.  Fascinating!


That viewpoint makes clear the futility of responding with the usual arguments and calls for a different kind of response altogether.  Maybe one that addresses this unstated premise of the left... drag it out in the open and ridicule it and make them attempt to explicitly defend it or discard it - which would have the added advantage of putting them on the defensive (and taking arguments to moral level of altruism vs rational self-interest).

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Monday, February 2, 2015 - 4:16pmSanction this postReply

Thanks, again, Joseph.  You always put a lot of work into these; and I am not alone in appreciating your effort.  


I wonder why you seem to have backpedaled on "conservatives."  Here you seem to embue them with virtues that you denied in your earlier essay, "Conservatives are not Friends of Freedom."  I came to that assumption because you did not offer equally fallacious claims by conservatives in opposition to liberal policy initiatives with which a consistent advocate of freedom would find consonance such as gay rights, gender issues, reproductive freedom, and freedom from religion.   


In The True Believer, Eric Hoffer wrote about the conspiracy of evil in broad terms. Once, we had a nearly-perfect world, but evil people stole it from us.  If we all band together, we can secure a perfect future for our descendents. That is the clarion call of all mass movements into which pathetic individuals lose themselves.  It is found among the communists, nazis, and libertarians alike.  For the libertarians and objectivists, it is Ayn Rand's claim that 19th century capitalism was not perfect, but indicative.  Coupled to that - and recommended by Ayn Rand - is the fine work of communist historian Gabriel Kolko, The Triumph of Conservatism, that demonstrated how special big business interests ("trusts") used government power to prevent competition.  The cartelization of railroads under the Interstate Commerce Commission is perhaps the paradigm. 


As you noted, we would have had a better world, but evil people had selfish reasons for preventing us from attaining it.  Among libertarians and objectivists, we denounce George Soros, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Davos, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderbergers, the World Trade Organization, and the International (Jewish) Debt Bankers.  (For a more consistently objective understanding, see "Debt: the Seed of Civilization" on my blog here.)


It would be a paradigm shift to view the sinusoidal waves of civilizations as beyond the control of individuals.  Objectivism is ambivalent on that point.  We have Anthem, The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged. Those provide ideal standards, but Ayn Rand actually counseled that in a mixed economy, it is perfectly acceptable to take a job with a government agency that usurped a market sector.  (That seems to be a fallacy of the practical-versus-ideal genre; but more on that later)  In other words (I think close to her actual example), you can teach piano at the State Agency of Music, but you must not work for the State Agency of Taxation.  (Of course, Ragnar Danneskjoeld did depend such moles to carry out his work.  So, you have to parse literature and reality to gain a complete understanding there.)


I do, personnally, believe in and accept that utopian paradigm.  I believe that if we continue to broadcast our message to the world, enough others who are similar to us will praxeologically act in our individual best interests to create the "Rebirth of Reason" in another renaissance.


So, your fundamental claim about "intentionalism" is broadly applicable.  I appreciate that.  


(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 2/02, 4:33pm)

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015 - 3:34pmSanction this postReply

Timely and insightful post, thank you.


I have been making my own informal study of socialism - its mindset and intentions - mostly on an individual basis.


I was formerly the President of the Libertarianz, and stood twice in general elections.

Since then I enter into attempted discourse with our local Green Party Candidate on his blog and facebook page. In New Zealand, the Green Party has grown to about a 15% share of the general vote - at the left - perhaps where our Labour Party used to be. Our "Centre Right" ruling National Party is in effect to the left of your Democrats.


Anyway, context aside, I am genuinely fascinated by the mindset of the socialist. Your post absolutely concurs with my findings - there is a lack of reason. Consequently there is an ethical vacuum. There are no philosophical underpinnings. There are no absolutes.


My question is - what does the average socialist intend to ACHIEVE?

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Post 3

Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 11:25pmSanction this postReply

I don't think that this really qualifies as a critique of "leftism" per se, but rather just political naivete. In fact, I think that the vast majority of people view politics this way, all across the political spectrum (of course, with roles and a few details interchanged).


In my opinion, the key to understanding leftism is the idea of "karmic balance". According to this viewpoint, whenever someone exercises any form of power over somebody else, be that power political, economic, ideological, etc., they have, in some sense, disturbed the "moral balance" of the universe. The universe is then thought to have a natural tendency to return to balance. This is the origion of oth the idea of progressivism and the idea that socialism is inevitable. According to progressivist thought, the world started off as a barbaric place and is slowly settling down to an egalitarian and morally balanced state. According to socialist thought, the ruling classes have destroyed the natural harmony that existed under "primitive communism" and the "inherent contradictions" of capitalism will inevitably lead to its downfall and the establishment of communism, a balanced situation where everyone has equal economic power (which according to Marxist economic determinism, is the only source of power).


The other side of this coin is that the "oppressor" (say, capitalist) is always acting against nature and morality (regardless of their intentions, and this is very relevant to your thesis) while the "oppressed" (say, worker) is always acting with nature and morality. Hence, regardless of their intentions OR actions, the worker is always in the right and should be supported, while the capitalist is always in the wrong and should be condemned. This is why leftists don't find fault with things like Red Terror, but are quick to condemn even the smallest number of casualties incurred in a way by a capitalist country. It is also why even those capitalists who engage in philanthropic projects are seen as "class enemies", since their philanthropy is "propping up" capitalism artificially and extending its "unnatural" life.


(Edited by Naomi Ludenberg on 2/11, 10:36am)

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 5:24pmSanction this postReply

There is Progressivism in politics and there is Progressivism in a broader sense - a philosophical idea.

Wikipedia defines the philosophical idea as follows:

Progressivism is a broad philosophy based on the idea of progress, which asserts that advancement in science, technology, economic development, and social organization are vital to improve the human condition. Progressivism became highly significant during the Age of Enlightenment in Europe, out of the belief that Europe was demonstrating that societies could progress in civility from barbaric conditions to civilization through strengthening the basis of empirical knowledge as the foundation of society. Figures of the Enlightenment believed that progress had universal application to all societies and that these ideas would spread across the world from Europe. Sociologist Robert Nisbet finds that "No single idea has been more important than ... the Idea of Progress in Western civilization for three thousand years"...

I maintain that this philosophical approach, which is too vague to stand on its own as either a goal or a standard, was hijacked by those who wanted to implement their political philosophy. And the result of taking whatever was projected as being a desirable goal in society at the time (e.g., environmentalism, income equality, social justice, etc.) and putting it up for window-dressing, while architecting mechanisms and structures that would actually ensure a movement towards totalitarian control by a centralized elite and often no movement towards the professed goal.


Dishonesty is the cardinal trait of Political Progressivism. Because the actual motives of those few are kept hidden behind the announced goals of peace, justice, clear air and water, health care access, etc. The result is that the vast majority of those who would say they agree with Progressives only see the announced goals and have no concept of the drive to eradicate individualism and any individual rights which are the primary obstacles to implementing their collectivism.


Hiding behind the dishonesty we can see different strains of leftist views: The Fabian Socialists of the late 1800's, and the Saul Alinsky followers of the Sixties, are just examples.


What has to be asked is "progress towards what?", "by what standard?" and "at what cost?"



Naomi mentioned:

..."karmic balance". According to this viewpoint, whenever someone exercises any form of power over somebody else, be that power political, economic, ideological, etc., they have, in some sense, disturbed the "moral balance" of the universe. 

But the amount of hypocrisy involved in that is overwhelming.  In the name of stopping others from having power over some, we elites, as a government, are going to take power over everyone and force our idea of equality!  That position could only be held by seriously NOT thinking... ever.



I'd say that the importance of "intentions" is in determined the level of honesty of the individual in question. Is the person consciously making ad hominem statements they know to be false but do anyway because they think it will be effective? Or, do they really believe the conservative intends to do harm?

That is the category where the importance of "intentions" is just what Joe said. It is about the political view being held by the progressive/socialist in question, where they honestly believe that support of Capitalism is an example of intentional evil, attempting to hold down the poor, or pollute the air and water for a buck, etc.


And then there is the issue of psychology.  Is the person in question is actually engaging in reason or just a kind of pseudo-reason to mask emotionalism or a kind of conditioned-reflex argument.  I can see many people, indoctrinated into a style of argument, who have adopted an emotionalist approach to disagreement and who brand someone else as a "conservative" and therefore evil, therefore justifying jumping on a moral high horse, and the causal event is someone arguing against one of their PC issues. That's less about claiming intentionality of evil as it is about and irrational, emotional style of discourse - i.e., "You're not part of my pack" and they start growling to chase off the outsider.

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Thursday, February 12, 2015 - 7:01pmSanction this postReply

Objectivism as the proposition of Laissez Faire Capitalism is also in the Progressive tradition.  Do not surrender Progress to the reactionaries of the village.

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Thursday, February 12, 2015 - 11:34pmSanction this postReply

Using "Progress" as the root of "Progressivism" was their first lie.  And Objectivism is not the 'proposition' of Laissez Faire Capitalism, but rather a philosopy that supports Laissez Faire Capitalism, which the Progressives have declared war on.  It is clear that some people have no shame when it comes to abusing the language.... "Progress" and "Progressivism" are clearly not the same.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015 - 7:43pmSanction this postReply

Thanks for the comments.


Michael asked "I wonder why you seem to have backpedaled on 'conservatives.' " 


I haven't.  This particular article was not about how each side is wrong about the beliefs of the other side.  It was focused specifically on the left's view of intentions.  Conservatives don't share that view.  Their beliefs would be different.  Typically, they'll view liberals as mistaken or ignorant.  For the topics you mention, they might view the left as intentionally destroying moral institutions with the goal of reshaping society.  Of course, we all believe that there is a such thing as intentions.  And we can choose to believe our enemies are dastardly or foolish.  But that's not the focus of the article.  I'm not trying to point out that they are less charitable with their view of intentions.  It's wider than that.  They look at things that were never explicitly intended, like the market wage for teachers, and consider that someone must have intentionally decided that.  We've long known that some people think that an employer determines the wage, and so they can set it to near zero (although amusingly, they don't give moral credit to employers who pay more than near-zero wage).  Similarly, if a university has a smaller percentage of minorities than the population, they see intentions and assume it must be racism by the admissions board.


And with this view of intentions, the left goes the next step and says if all of these results are intended and someone decided them, why not make those decisions democratic?  Why continue to allow evil results to be chosen by what must be evil people?   Why allow individuals out there to make these important choices?  Why allow these pockets of private control?  And if those pockets of control are allowed to exist, who has decided that?  Who intended it?


Shane, I wouldn't say there is a lack of reason or philosophical underpinnings. At least here, I tried to describe that there is a reason behind their choices.  It may be a mistaken reason, but it exists.  But there's a lot more to their belief system.  The focus on intentions is part of it, but that may be a symptom of the large belief that if you want some moral result, direct action is the way to do it.  Conservatives might think incentives for moral behavior should be set up that will eventually lead to the results.  If you want people to be charitable, you can give them incentives to do it.  But the left is more straightforward.  If you want poor people to be better off, why not just give them the money directly.  Why try to do things indirectly, unless you don't really want it.  So there's a focus on direct action.  But even this is confused because the direct action is ultimately to prove the moral worth of the actor.  And if that direct action leads to unintended consequences, those are ignored as unrelated.  So on one hand, the left is more focused on results than incentives.  But on the other hand, they don't really care about the results. They uphold a standard that says if you want something done, you should just do it.  But the action is not really meant to get the result.  It's meant to prove the intention.  They don't care if minimum wage leads to poverty.  They care about making a law increase minimum wage in order to prove that they care about poverty.

Post 8

Tuesday, March 3, 2015 - 5:11pmSanction this postReply

Thank you, Joseph.   I appreciate the clarification.  I do agree of course that your characterization of this aspect of the progressive (Left) mentality is accurate: 


"They look at things that were never explicitly intended, like the market wage for teachers, and consider that someone must have intentionally decided that. We've long known that some people think that an employer determines the wage, and so they can set it to near zero (although amusingly, they don't give moral credit to employers who pay more than near-zero wage). Similarly, if a university has a smaller percentage of minorities than the population, they see intentions and assume it must be racism by the admissions board."


That is the reason why I point out that if a business has succeeded in some area that we find dissonant with our beliefs, such as solar power, then we claim that they must have achieved that market by government favor.  In other words, some evil person intended it.  In a mixed economy, that is an easy claim to prove.  Recall that in Atlas Shrugged, Wesley Mouch was Hank Rearden's lobbyist.  Though Mouch double-crossed Rearden, he must have achieved some of Rearden's goals. We might like to think that it was purely defensive, fending off intrusions, regulations, and taxes.  But we know that Rearden was internally conflicted, morally compromised, before his redemption by Dagny Taggart.  Maybe Mouch got tariffs on German steel.  Maybe Mouch got a tax credit for re-opening a closed coal mine that Rearden owned...  I am in the realm of speculative fan fiction, but you see the point: even J. J. Hill cashed in on government favors granted to others, though he never applied for one for the enterprises which he created de novo.  


Please understand that my intention is not that "everyone does it" but that your insight in "intention" is not limited to the Left.  That said, I do agree with you that the Left employs it; and I accept your own goal of writing only about the Left on that point.


(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 3/03, 5:14pm)

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