Monthly Archives: November 2014

Liberty vs Coercion is a Fight Over Property Rights

So recently i have been binging on Econtalk Podcast so I have been hearing a lot of libertarian perspective recently (I highly recommend econ talk, the host leans towards libertarianism but is very open minded and balanced relative to the average commentator from any political ideology). So the next few posts will probably be about that. Libertarians often use the phrases liberty and coercion. Liberty is the freedom to make your own choices, both social and economic whereas coercion is when someone (the government) forces you to do something against you will, likely pay taxes, which is theft (according to libertarians).

My first problem with this is that most peoples values (definitely mine , could be typical mind fallacy) value other things besides liberty in the way libertarians use the. Libertarian Liberty is negative freedom (the freedom from interference by an outside force i.e the government) rather then positive freedom (the right to have access to something, like clean water, giving others an obligation to provide that thing to you). Now as a consequentialist I don’t look at the situation in terms of rights, but its seem intuitively obvious to be that there is no difference between taking food away from a person and refusing to give them food, either way the affect is a person who is hungry doesn’t have food.

On the other hand it seems that libertarians/free market advocates see taking food from a hungry person to be coercive and wrong but to refuse giving food that you legitimately own to a hungry person is completely within your right. Of course libertarianism can be argued for on consequentialist grounds, that free markets will likely lead to hungry people have food so redistribution will be unnecessary. But Many libertarians (possibly the majority) seem to advocate on deontological right theories rather than consequentialism.

The other problem is that the meaning of words like “coercion” and “force” as used by libertarians and particularly Anarcho-capitalists is completely dependent on what system of property rights is being used. If a hungry person is about to eat an apple from a tree and you use force to prevent them from doing so, this is seem as wrong if they own the tree (stealing from them/not letting them use their property as the choose) but it is fine if you own the tree (preventing them from stealing your property). So when an Anarcho-capitalist and and Ancarho-communist debate, they will mostly likely talk past to each other because they have different ideas of what property rights there should be (the Anarcho-communists doesn’t recognize private ownership of the means of production)and therefore different definitions of force and coercion.

I once heard an exchange that went like this:

Anarcho-capitalist: In my preferred society you would be able to form a communist commune within that society, would i be able to form a capitalist commune with private property and trade under Anarcho-communism?

Anarcho-communist: Of course, as long as you don’t use force to prevent me from using the means of production.

Now form my Trying Really Hard To Be Non-ideological But Still Somehow Far Left perspective, property rights are subjective and we should choose the set of property rights that are best for the particular society we are in, which will depend both on the technologically level of that society and the psychological stat of it s inhabitants (including there preference of one system n over another). So I don’t think there is an inherently true and correct set of property rights that one side has correctly identified, it seems like both sides have different sets of property rights and therefore different definitions of words like force and coercion

Reductio ad Absurdum is Absurd

Reductio ad Absurdum is a form of argument that looks like “But if we accept X, then we also have to accept Y, which is clearly wrong/crazy/absurd/ so therefore X can;t be true.” Now there are possible times when this argument is perfectly valid, both for deductive reasoning and inductive reasoning. In deductive reasoing it is called modus tollens and looks like:

If A then B
Not B
Therefore, not A

The inductive form is also valid (although of course induction can only be used to give probabilistic arguments):

“If A then B, but observations X Y and Z all make B seem very unlikely, therefore probably not A”

But there is a third type of Reductio ad Absurdum where the conclusion is not ruled out by logical rules or by observational evidence, but my seeming absurd. “If A then B, but B is crazy/absurd, so obviously not A” This clearly seems like invalid reasoning to me. Absurdity is in the Map not the Territory. No where in reality will you find absurdity particles floating around, it is only a part of our model of reality where we label come things absurd and others regular.

It seems like absurdity is just what something disagreeing with your fundamental beliefs feel like from the inside? To someone who believes in god, the idea that when people die they just stop existing, and that this has happened to every person who has ever died would probably seem really absurd. To someone who is is not a consequentalist/utilitarian, the idea that every single action that a person makes is morally required to be the best possible action they could make at the time probably seems absurd (one of the main objections to utilitarianism is that it “requires too much” unlike deontology which says “don’t do a bunch off obviously bad things like murder and rape” and virtue ethics which says “try to be a nice person”).

To illustrate this further imagine how many scientific discoveries must have seemed absurd at the time they were a being debated. “If your theory is true, then the sun would have to be a million times larger than earth, that is absurd, so you must be wrong.”

Again remember I’m only talking about the feeling of absurdity not the apparent logical contradiction of incompatibility with other observations. But based on the fact that a false belief that contradicts your true belief and a true belief that contradicts your false belief, will both produce the feeling of absurdity, that sense of absurdity can not be used as evidence for the truth of either of those beliefs.
Another separate form of argument is Appeal to Hypocrisy, and is in the form of:

“Group A says X, but based on there reasoning for X, they should also believe in Y, but they don’t; believe in Y so they are hypocritical/are not following  there assumptions to their logical conclusions. therefore they are wre wrong about X”

Put in this form it seems like an obvious mistake, so to make sure no readers think they would not do this im going to use an example of when i used this line of reasoning a few years ago, it still seems very wrong to present!Nick but hopefully it will be a tad more subtle

“Vegetarians/Vegans are against animals suffering in factory farms. But if that is a bad thing then all animal suffering must be a bad thing, any moral framework that says its ok when other animals hurt each other but not when humans hurt each other would be even more removed from my own then a vegan moral framework. So vegans should also care about suffering of animals in the wild. predation stands out as a horrible animal death, I would have to do some math but it’s probably worse than factory farming. But vegans don’t focus on that at all (none that I’ve met anyway) and many I’ve talked to actively justify it. This is absurd. Vegans don’t even have a consistent morality. Therefore eating meat is morally okay”

Now that I am a a Veg*n (still consume some dairy products but in the process of cutting back) and as someone who care s about wild animals suffering this argument seems obviously wrong to me. Carin about animals welfare does imply caring about wild animal suffering, so what? There is no logical contradiction or observational evidence that contradicts caring about animals suffering. So the fact that at the time it seemed absurd that there could be this giant problem that even people who should care about it don’t wasn’t evidence it wasn’t a problem. And now that i have accepted both the disvalue of animals suffering in factory farms and the animal suffering in the wild, the fact that the majority of other Veg*ns doesn’t matter, they just happen to be wrong about this area. Unfortunately, getting one question right doesn’t mean you are able to get them all right. This argument from hypocrisy is also a subclass of trying to Reverse Stupidity to get Intelligence.

So based on my experience using Reductio ad Absurdum and argument from hypocrisy before and being wrong, it makes me more skeptical of these types of arguments in the future. So i tried to think about arguments that i currently reject for reasons that could be the same as the above:

  • Simulation argument
  • Doomsday Argument
  • Theories of consciousness that imply that all things including steam engines and rocks are in some way conscious
  • Modal Realism

All of the above I think still have problems (except the simulation argument which i will talk about more in a future post) but i think part of the reason i don’t believe them is a incorrect use of Reductio ad Absurdum, so while writing this i attempted to increase my subjective probability of these being true (but like I said, I still don’t believe them.)

Consent Is Compilcated

Recently listened to a conversation between a Feminist and an MRA talk about consent. The feminist was advocating enthusiastic consent while the MRA was arguing that the current model of consent was sufficient. Here are some vague thoughts I had from my perspective as a Gender Egalitarian.

Consent is really complicated. I sided closer to the Feminist but bot sides acted like if they just solved this one question then the matter of consent would be settled.

Lets break this down into external and internal consent. Internal consent is how a person feels about the sex on the inside, whether or not they want to have sex. External consent is outwards signs that they give the other person (or people but lets assume its just two people for now) they they want to have sex, like saying “I want to have sex” or making sounds that signal enjoyment. Both internal and external consent are on a scale and while they are correlated one does not guarantee the other. The Feminist and MRA were arguing over where the line society draws on the spectrum of external consent should be. I have heard people use different definitions of enthusiastic consent, some that include nonverbal consent like touching or signs of enjoyment and others that require verbal consent.

Clearly all we care about is internal consent, and external consent just increases the likelihood of internal consent. If internal consent is very certain (like in a long term relationship, doing sexually activities both have verbally talked about and agreed to before hand and using safety words) then apparent lack of external consent (like in non con play) is usually fine.

But this distinction means that someone can give enthusiastic external consent, say “i want you to do X” at every step, and still not give internal consent. Maybe they feel like i they don’t give external consent their partner will be upset. Or they are just to nervous to say no.Enthusiastic consent doesn’t guarantee internal consent. But it is still a good idea because it does make internal consent more likely. Although I’m not sure if enthusiastic verbal consent makes internal consent a lot more likely than enthusiastic non verbal external consent

Another problem is that internal consent is also a spectrum. Someone one can not know whether  they want to have sex, or have a small preference for not wanting sex but not enough to express external non consent.

Another related issues is how alcohol affects consent. Most people agree that people who have had one standard drink can consent to sex and that people who have passed out cannot. But there is no way to objectively decide where on the alcohol spectrum to draw the line, both legally and morally. In a Alcohol affects other internal consent and a its relations to external consent.

I also think that while consent remains a very good deontological heuristic, there are still possible situation where there are consequentialist reasons for not having sex with someone even if they consent. For example if someone really wants to have sex but you are fairly sure they will regret it afterwards,because for example they have a religious belief that will make them feel shame.

Consent is really complicated and the solution that i personally use (“try REALLY hard to not accidentally do something that someone doesn’t consent too”) is to vague to give directly to other people.