Monday, August 23, 2010

Now C'mon, That's Just Plain Ignorant

Sweet jebus:

The only thing I disagree with is the notion that there is an idealistic libertarianism that exists outside of the ugly view that humans exist in service of money or social hierarchies. As far as I can tell, that’s the whole point of libertarianism.

Argh... that's about the absolute inverse of anything that can remotely be called "libertarianism". Here's the lede from the SEP:

Libertarianism, in the strict sense, is the moral view that agents initially fully own themselves and have certain moral powers to acquire property rights in external things. In a looser sense, libertarianism is any view that approximates the strict view.

Societies are constituted by individuals and exist solely to serve them; individuals most emphatically do not exist to serve social hierarchies. And I don't care who happens to be calling themselves a "libertarian" these days; words have meanings and no amount of self-identification on the part of third parties will change that. If Amanda wants to play that game then Phyllis Schlafly and Sarah Palin are feminists and feminism is nothing more than a ploy to keep women chained to the stove.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Random Technology Speculation

Random question: Now that Dell has bought 3PAR what storage vendor is Cisco going to buy to complete its UCS offerings?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mises' Liberalism

I just finished Ludwig von Mises' Liberalism; it wasn't quite what I was expecting. It's not clear to me why he's beloved of libertarians and reviled to various degrees by progressives; both camps should find things to agree (and disagree) with in his particular philosophy. Though he's often mentioned in the same breath as Hayek, both of them being of the Austrian school and the latter a student of the former, I found Liberalism to be much less compelling than The Road To Serfdom. Liberalism quite plainly shows its age at times which, while Mises' has a lot of good ideas, makes it hard to swallow the work as a whole.

The starting point of Mises philosophy is that the goal of "social policy" is to increase the absolute material well-being of all members of society:

Liberalism is a doctrine directed entirely towards the conduct of men in this world. In the last analysis, it has nothing else in view than the advancement of their outward, material welfare and does not concern itself directly with their inner, spritual and metaphysical needs. It does not promise men happiness and contentment, but only the most abundant possible satisfaction of all those desires that can be satisfied by the things of the outer world.1

After reviewing the five possible systems of organization based around the division of labor he concludes that capitalism represents the best means by which humanity's aggregate material welfare may be increased. It is easy to see why Mises appeals a to certain class of fiscal (and social) conservatives since he, as a consequence of the philosophy sketched above, advocates a free market system with zero government regulation/intervention.

However, I find the appeal he holds for many libertarians to be somewhat mystifying. The policies which he advocates (unregulated markets, private ownership of the means of production, etc.) strongly coincide with those held by most libertarians, but he arrives at them via some very non-libertarian assumptions. Anticipating Rawls by several decades he says the following in the introductory paragrpah of the section entitled "Private Property and Ethics":

In seeking to demonstrate the social function and necessity of private ownership of the means of production and of the concomitant inequality in the distrubtion of income and wealth, we are at the same time providing proof of the moral justification for private property and for the capitalist social order based upon it.2

Mises' dedication to private property is purely instrumental; private property and the inequalities in wealth that it generates are justified because they benefit society as a whole. He then goes on to say

Everything that serves to preserve the social order is moral; everything that is detrimental to it is immoral. Accordingly, when we reach the conclusion that an institution is beneficial to society, one can no longer object that it is immoral. The may possibly be a difference of opinion about whether a particular institution is socially beneficial or harmful. But once it has been judged beneficial, one can no longer contend that, for some inexplicable reason, it must be condemned as immoral.3

Perhaps in other works he has added qualifiers to such sentiments, but in Liberalism they are presented without caveat. Though likely unintentional on Mises' part the above nevertheless sounds somewhat authoritarian in its absolutism. More important for this analysis, however, is that Mises' formulation places the good of society over the rights of the individual, essentially inverting the standard libertarian ethos.

Which is somewhat ironic considering the critiques that he levels at the etatists. He rails against them4 for treating the state as an end in itself, but it seems to me that he commits the same error with respect to society as a whole. "Society" is no more real an entity than "the state"; it has no independent interests of its own. Like government it is simply a phenomena arising from the collective choices of individuals. Mises' reasoning is ultimately flawed because it derives the rights of individuals on the basis of what is good for society without ever demonstrating how society comes to have a legitimate claim for perpetuation in the first place.

In the same vein progressives should not reject Mises' work out of hand. His primary goal is to increase the material well-being of society as a whole, a cause that progressives should be able to embrace with ease. Consider some of the ideas that Mises endorses:

  • Self-determination for any collection of individuals large enough to form an administrative unit.
  • Absolute freedom of movement for all individuals.
  • Complete formal equality under the law for all individuals.
  • Peace
That last one is a biggie since its a theme to which he returns over and over again throughout the book. He contends that states should give up empire building, give up colonialism, and instead embrace the cause of universal peace as completely as possible. That stance places him firmly in the progressive camp. Admittedly there are a few problematic bits about the white man's burden, but even in that case he advocates turning administration of the colonies over to the League of Nations with an end towards granting them full autonomy as quickly as possible.

The conflict with contemporary progressives comes, I believe, from his contention that unbridled capitalism is the best system for achieving this end. As Mises points out that is largely an empiric question; presumably he would accept another form of social organization if progressives could demonstrate that it was more efficient in accomplishing the same goal. As I noted above this is not, in essence, that dissimilar from the position taken by John Rawls, so it's hard to argue that Mises philosophy is inherently inimical to the interests of progressive.

All of which leads me to wonder how many of the people, in both the pro- and anti-Mises camps, have actually read anything that he's written and how many are just repeating received wisdom.

1 P. xix
2 P. 14
3 P. 15
4 Pp. 17 - 19

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Utility And Propriety Of Sardonic Responses

Quoth Amanda in reaction to a kerfuffle over at Penny Arcade:

3) That said, the guys at Penny Arcade responded in officially the worst possible way to respond. As Melissa correctly notes, they attacked strawmen, and this time they really did make light of rape. Jokes where you condemn rape in a sardonic tone really do imply that rape isn’t a big deal. In the time it took them to write the response, there were probably like 10 rapes in the U.S. alone. The cartoon implied that rape is less common than it is, that rape culture isn’t real, and that the whole subject is beneath you. This was tone deaf, sexist, and stupid.

That's a tremendously uncharitable interpretation, more or less the worst-possible reading of the cartoon, especially when you consider the nature of the accusation to which they were responding. Helpfully, Amanda characterizes the critique of the original comic as follows:

2) Someone at Shakesville takes offense. I found the blog post an annoying rationalization for disliking humor in general, which the blogger admits she does. I find the “but rape is real!” argument against jokes of this nature to be a disingenuous one. Slavery is also real, as is murder and general violence. But there’s no way that the blogger would have gotten mad about jokes in those veins, but a joke about a form of torture that is supposed to sound over the top and mystical got her into offended mode.

Milli A (from Shakesville) is arguing in bad faith that the folks at Penny Arcade are endorsing/trivializing rape, a fact of which said folks are apparently aware. Thus the contentious comic should be read as a response to an argument in bad faith addressed primarily to Milli A (and anyone else who might share eir opinion). The question, then, is whether Amanda's critique is valid in this light.

I tend to think not. Here's my reading of the meaning of each panel:

  1. It is irrational to interpret the previous comic as an endorsement of rape given its overall tone and contact. People who say otherwise are arguing in bad faith; they know it, we know it.
  2. Because you're arguing in bad faith we're not going to seriously engage your argument but respond with a sarcastic semi-rebuttal instead.
  3. Yes, we're assholes.

Their intent is not to "condemn rape in a sardonic tone". Rather, they're engaging in much the same critique as Amanda herself, calling bullshit on a bullshit argument. They're most certainly not setting up a strawman; by Amanda's own reckoning their representation of Milli A's position is accurate.

There is, of course, the secondary issue of whether their response was appropriate. There might have been a more productive way to go about rebutting the accusation, right? Once again I give you Amanda:

Well, Amanda, you might be asking, what were these guys supposed to do? That’s a good question. In all honesty, I think they should have ignored it and the whole thing would have blown over. I realize that’s really hard to do sometimes. And sometimes addressing concerns is a better idea. It really depends on the situation. But in this case, the critic comes right out and says she objects in a very general way to comedy. When you’re facing someone who condemns the entire genre you work in, I don’t really think there’s a possibility of communication there. It’s like trying to argue the finer points of a rap song to someone who says hip hop isn’t music. Explaining the joke isn’t going to work, either. Trying to make jokes about the joke will fail you as well---remember, your critic has made it clear that she finds comedy distasteful.

Their critic has also made it clear that ey thinks they are endorsing rape, a fairly serious accusation by any measure, and Amanda's advice to them is "Sit down, shut up, and hope it blows over?". Umm... no. Even if Milli A might not be moved by the power of their argument they can still sway observers to the conversation. Moreover, these same observers might interpret silence on the part of Penny Arcade as a tacit admission of guilt, so a reply is probably merited.

Was it appropriate to be "sardonic"? Yup... my rulebook says that you're not required or expected to engage earnestly with someone who is arguing in bad faith. The application of sarcasm, while no doubt satisfying in its own right, also does a public service by highlighting that someone is engaging in dishonest rhetoric. As Amanda points out this dishonest rhetoric does a grave disservice to rape survivors by casting them as "a group of women too delicate to even understand context and meaning".

Saturday, August 14, 2010

This Is Très Cool (Unbridled Joy Remix)

About a month-and-a-half ago or so someone pointed me to Grooveshark and all I have to say is... wow. Its like Pandora but without all the annoying limitations... you can play any band, any song, any album immediately. And it's free; you don't even need to create a login. I believe they're ad-supported, but I don't even see the ads on account of NoScript.

I'm having a field-day with the site. Their catalog is copious... I've been able to stump it exactly once (I couldn't find B.Y.K.) and I've searched for some pretty obscure stuff. Right now I'm listening to the Stigmata soundtrack (yeah, they've got soundtracks too), an album I've been meaning to pick up since about forever. And the quality is fine, some kind of streaming MP3... I haven't bothered to dig into the page source to identify the exact technology.

Needless to say, it's pretty cool to have all this music at your fingertips. They've got a "Show Similar" feature which works pretty frickin' well1... you can spend all day bouncing from band to band. Definitely a good way to discover bands you might like but haven't yet heard of. I haven't messed with their "smart playlist" functionality yet; don't know how well that works.

On that topic... the "Popular" playlist is an education. I think that the only artist on today's list listened to in any substantial amount is Eminem. Eh... I suppose there's no accounting for taste (mine or the crowds).

On second thought... "pretty cool" really doesn't do the feeling justice. It is an unmitigated joy to be able to waste my time wading through oodles and oodles of music without any commitment. The only investment I have to make is my time, which means that I can assuage my musical curiosity in any way I see fit without worrying about the cost.

This wasn't going to turn into a philosophical post but... damn... thank you Internet. From here on out anytime someone complains that the tubes are good for nothing but porn and Lolcats I'm going to point them to GrooveShark. Having instantaneous access to an essentially unlimited catalog of music free of charge (modulo ads) is a qualitatively new and different experience. It's the moral equivalent of having the complete Library of Congress delivered to my latop. And it is awesome.

1 Usually. For some reason they think that Britney Spears is similar to My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult. This is either an astute piece of musical analysis or breakage; I'm inclined to favor the latter.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Phrase of the Day

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