Thursday, June 30, 2005

Debate the State

An interesting conversation is going on between The Agonblog and Don Watkins at Anger Management regarding minarchism and anarchism. I haven't read much of Agon as of yet, but he prooves to be a very intelligent and bold read. See also here.

However, I perhaps think that the key (or maybe just more interesting) issue is Don's post called "The Real Social Contract". The crux of the Objectivist argument seems to be captured here--libertarian anarchists think the real victim of crime is not the actual victim, but society in itself. Seems a little collectivistic for my blood.

Of course, Don is wrong in saying that criminals represent a general threat to society as a whole. People who beat their family members or kill competing black market operators generally not a threat to society as a whole. They are a threat to friends, family, and black market operaters--but not to society in general.

But to address Don's point more square on the way he was trying to argue it, it is not totally clear that he has made his point. He writes:

Why? Quoting Ayn Rand, "If men are to live together in a peaceful, productive,
rational society and deal with one another to mutual benefit, they must accept the basic
social principle without which no moral or civilized society is possible: the principle of
individual rights" (The Virtue of Selfishness, 126).

The key phrase there is "basic social principle." A criminal does not merely harm his
individual victims -- by his actions he rejects the principle that makes a moral society
possible. He therefore becomes a threat to that society as a whole. If you want to be part of
society, you must accept the principle of individual rights.

Clearly there are people who violate this "basic social principle", and a criminal does reject this principle by his very actions. As an aside, it seems strange to think that the esence of the criminal's wrong, or what makes it significant is that he rejected the wrong principle. However, just because they reject this principle does not mean that there is an automatic right for society to lock them up, beat them up, kill them, or whatever. Another response may be more appropriate, or perhaps one over the other. Actually, restitution seems most appropriate.

The possibility that we could violate this basic social principle in response to a crime is totally ignored. It is almost as if because they have committed a crime they are beyond the pale and their own rights are not worth respect. The basic principle seems to be revenge. You have violated our rights, we will violate yours. Nevermind the principle that it is bad to violate others rights. I mean that is the basic principle: Do not violate rights. It is not clear that "he did it to me first" is a really great justification.

I also can't help thinking of the Nietzsche's point that usually we call the people we fear "bad". The convergence of fear and hate and the moral outrage that usually accompanies these issues (criminal justice) seems uncomfortable, and the strong emotions of fear and hate seem strongly connected to the philosophy of criminal justice.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Anarchy & Utopia

Recently, on a libertarian email list that I frequent, an old debate was brought up. The basic question revolves around how you would fund a police force without taxes, or probably more to the point: could a free-market anarchist society fund a police force. It has lead me to question the utopian nature of free-market anarchy.

The most appealing answer to this is that prisons should produce revenue. This revenue would not only be for the upkeep of prisoners (I think there are self-sustaining prisons out there, Angola prison in St. Francisvill, LA comes to mind), but also for the payment of restitution to the criminal's victim. This is actually a very pleasing resolution to the question. A prison system where prisoners were forced to pay restitution to their victims would be more just than the current system because the victims would be made whole.

Revenue producing prisons also help defend this idea by creating a mechanism where the indigent would be protected by independant profit seeking defense companies. Assuming that one could sell one's right to collect damages from criminal harm, the indigent could always sell the rights to collect the restitution to a defense company in order to insure that the offender would be appreheneded. While this appears to be a solution that would provide for the investigation of crimes against the poor and powerless as well as the apprehension, prosecution, and detention of the corresponding offender, this does not provide explicit crime prevention in poor neighborhoods. That is not to say that there wouldn't be some externalities providing some crime prevention or the fact that there would be no way around the problem. One may wonder how much security the police provide poorer urban neighborhoods anyway.

But the key problem that all of this rests upon is whether or not prisons can be modified in order that prisoners actually produce money in which to pay restitution to their victims. This seems soemwhat unlikely, although I believe some people argue that it can happen. Arguments and research (perhaps) forthcoming.

Zen politics

According to Zen teaching, when two people point at the moon, they may be pointing in different directions. However, they are pointing at the same thing. That is to say that sometimes teachings may be opposed, but they aim at the same thing. What is important is the thing that is being aimed for--not the teaching. In zen, the direction, or the view, is not what is important. What is important is the moon.

Using this type of analogy, it occurrs me that there are some vast underlying commonalities between hard core advocates of laissez faire capitalism and serious socialists. The core of their teachings, or at least the goal of their teachings, may be pointing at something vastly similar. However, the corresponding viewpoint and various interpretations of fact--as well as some philosophical glosses that get in the way.

One of the most apparant ways in which this works is with attitudes towards individual initiative and responsability. On the so-called "capitalist" side, there is a whole lot of talk about the importance of individual initiative and responsability. This can be seen in the Objectivist school, which prizes individual responsability, and argues that individuals should think for themselves and take initiative in their life--including and perhaps especially at work. The individual should be in control of themselves. Economists, a few "Austrian" economists especially come to mind, talk about the benefits and importance of entrepenuership. The basic argument is that capitalism both enables, encourages, and promotes individual initiative. However, on the socialist side, there is an equal concern. Socailists, or at least the anarchists among them, face the reality of the life of a corporate employee, and the problem of de-skilling. Individual initiative, responsability, and input of the daily work tasks is deminished. Trotsky (not an anarchist, really a vicious violent totalitarian kind of guy), I believe, thought that under communism every man would be wonderfully skilled, productive, etc... Both capitalist and socialists are interested in promoting individual power, efficacy, responsability, etc... However, neither seems to see their own weaknesses in this area or recognize the truths presented by the other.

Another approach is to look at how leaders are chosen. Socialists present fears (or perhaps reality) of a government lead by economic eliets. They feel that the wealthy should not rise to the top just because they are wealthy. A more capitalistic concern is that democratically elected leaders are not necessarily the people who are altruistic or concerned with the public, but shrewd, manipulative, blood-sucking political operatives. A good example of this is a chapter of Hayek's The Road To Serfdom, which I believe is called "Why the worst rise to the top". Again, both sides seem blind to their own problems and unaware of the good points made by the other side. Each is affraid of what ammounts to greedy idiots leading the country, but neither can see that the other is affraid of the same thing.

This is clearly not enough to prove my case. It is only a brief sketch of a few of the ways that I think capitalism and socialism may be pointing at the same thing even though the viewpoint of the two is in very different directions.

Note: When I say "pointing at the same thing", I do not mean they would have the same result. Only that the same concerns may underly each ideology.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Scales falling from my eyes?

I once had a teacher who taught poly sci at Macomb County Community College. He couldn't understand why marijuana is illegal. It simply no longer made sense to him. He would tell stories of asking random people on the street and at bars why marijuana is illegal. He could never get a satisfactory answer. I suppose part of the idea was some kind of gonzo discussion tactic trying to shock people out of their view, and show them it is nonsensical. However, part of it was like he crossed over into another world where he ceased understanding other people's views. It is like he took one of society's assumptions (marijuana=bad) and pointed out there is nothing to it.

I am beginign to feel the same way about non-possessory property, that is property that you own but don't personally use. I just no longer understand why we do it. Doesn't owning the land others and demanding tribute (or you could call it a "tax", but it is usually called "rent") seem like an awefully feudalistic practice? I have simply ceased to understand why society deems this practice just or usefull.

So this brings me to a question: are scales falling from my eyes, or are they growing on my eyes?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Organ Doners On Strike

I have recently come accross (through Eugene Volokh) an interesting strategy for promoting leagalized organ markets. The basic idea is that other methods of promoting organ markets being aparantly futile, the author (a professor at George Mason) decided to withold his organs from donation until the time that his estate will be paid about$900.00 per vital organ.

While the idea seems interesting, I found the document lacking. It spends excessive amounts of time belaboring the arguments for organ markets. I have been on board with that for a while. What it fails to provide is any explination as to why he chose this strategy. Of all possible methods of promoting organ markets, this seems unlikely to achieve the goal. Assuming that all people seriously convinced of the goodness of organ markets (and the idea is indeed good as markets will increase the supply of available organs), I don't really see that changing the situation. Furthermore, until organ markets are indeed made legal, the witholding of organs will cause increased suffering--and thus go against the goal of increased supplies of transplantable organs. It really may do more harm than good.

However, it may not be an unethical response. It is certainly in the tradition of teachers strikes, police strikes, or nurses strikes. In fact, it may even be more "altruistic" than any of the above, because those strikes are usually for personal benefits, not the notably moral sentiment of increasing the available organs.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Buddhists teaching in ways that may

Can an Objectivist benefit from some of the teachings of the Dalai Lama? Perhaps it would be best for our rational faculties to take up some of the Buddhist virtues! Take a look at this quote from The Dalai Lama's The World of Tibetan Buddhism

"One of the best human qualities is our inteligence, which enables us to judge what is wholesome and what is unwholesome, what is beneficial and what is harmful. Negative thoughts, such as anger and strong attachment, destroy this special human quality... When anger or attachment dominates the mind, a person becomes almost crazed... A person gripped by such states of mind and emotion is like a blind man who cannot see where he is going. Yet we neglect to challange these negative emotions and thoughts that lead to near insanity. On the contrary, we often nurture and reinforce them."

Basic idea: anger and attachment are bad for the mind, they make us near-crazy and prevent us from making good decisions. So we need to cultivate good mental states. Maybe, just maybe, parts of Buddhism are necessary to achieve the Objectivist goal of best use of rational facility.

On preventing surprise attacks

I heard Posner talk the other day on NPR. He was discussing his new book "Preventing Surprise Attacks". While I was actually surprised that NPR played such a libertarianesque author in its main news show, I found what he had to say to be quite important.

His main point was that we can't provent surprise attacks. It is kind of basic, no? It is a surprise!
And we spend lots of time and money going to wierd lengths (think airport security confiscating nail clippers and doing lots of things that may make people feel safe, but don't really protect them) to stop the inevitable. Now we are all for preventing the next attack, but we know we can't prevent everything. Plus there was an interesting point that we go to the greatest lengths in areas where we have been hit--the air transportation system. But the lengths we go to are absurd and irrational.

He also talked about the intelligence restructuring and how that is a bad idea. He seemed concerned about the abuses of the FBI, and really liked the MI5 (although he saw some problems). One of the more interesting bits (although not totally evident) is that he compared intelligence agencies and strategies not on their logic but on the history (read: report of abuses) that the agencies had. He didn't seem to take much of a rationalistic stand, suggesting how these agencies should be run. Instead he looked at structure of the organization and evaluated it by the results--mostly allegations of abuse.

One of the more disturbing bits was that he admitted the fact that political reality in the war on terror is more connected to psychology and reason, and that people probably won't opt for lessening security even when it is rational because they want measures that make them feel secure, even if the result is not more security.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Benj. Tucker & Mutual Money

Benjamin Tucker spends a good amount of effort in Instead of a Book discussing his ideas on a mutualist banking system. According to his idea of mutual banking, Tucker argues that a mutual bank can provide lots of loans at an incredibly low interest rates (note: I have my doubts on the feasability of this system, but that can be worked out later). At this point there will be a super abundance of money. This super abundance of money will lead to a super abundance of capital goods. Once capital goods are super abundant, lots of people will be able to purchase them and work for themselves. This will put pressure on employers to raise wages. In fact, labor will have the upper hand and be able to dictate its terms to owners of capital. Furthermore, since capital goods are super abundant, their possession will be of no economic benefit to anyone--they flow like water--and the price of any good will be equal to the price of labor that went into producing the good (there is also a good amount of bypassing on the argument here that labor would and should be sold and purchased in time units).

Tucker, however, does not seem to realize that even if mutual banking could put lots of money in people's hands interest free, that does not mean that capital goods would be super abundant. It seems to me that increasing the availability of money would not increase or decrease the amount of capital goods available. Capital goods would maintain the same amount of scarcity. It would just be that there would be more money out there and each unit of money would be worth less.

Furthermore, while it would be a good thing for labor to have more bargaining power, it seems unlikely that capital goods could become so abundant to be, well, worthless and command no part of the value of the consumer good produced. This does not even seem desirable.

I will have to further unpack and deal with these issues as time goes on.

A spattering of thoughts on pacifism (or non-violent resistance)

1. One argument against pacifism is that it sanctions violence. If you get slapped in your right cheek and "turn the other cheek", you are supporting the violence that is being used against you. O.K. However, wouldn't a violent response to agression also sanction violence. It would affirm that violence is, after all, an appropriate way to resolve disputes. The use of violent self defense as opposed to violent agression simply implies a reluctance to solve these issues through violence.

2. Using violence--even in self defense--seems to be a concession that the dispute at hand cannot be setteled using the mind and rationality. It is giving up on thinking and manuvering one's way out of the situation. Perhaps it is an admission that the mind really isn't capable.

I'm not saying I'm necessarily a pacifist yet. It is just that these kinds of thoughts are bugging me.


I forgot to link to that Bidinotto article. You can find it here:

More thoughts on restitution and retribution

Retribution, as Mr. Bidinotto puts it, reflects back the damage done by a criminal onto himself. Restituion, on the other hand, would only ask the offender to pay back the victim for damage done.

The idea of restitution is to restore the status quo ante. That is to say to pay for the damage done before the crime occurred but to force an offender to pay no further cost than requierd to in some way restore the victim to their former position. The idea is to pay back what was taken.

Retribution, on the other hand, desires to inflict the damage that the criminal has done back onto the criminal. It seems somewhat indifferent to the issue of restoring the victim. It is more insistant on creating suffering in the criminal equal to that of the victim. But why would a rational self-interested person want this? A system of restitution would not only restore the victim but also insure that crime does not pay. Anything further--namely retribution--would be an expense beyond what is necessary to remedy the situation. The money would be better spent, well, persuing one's own life as opposed to punishing other people. It seems unclear why a rationally self interested person would want to persue the issue any more than to obtain restitution. Any more seems to be a waste of money.

Restitution and Retribution

Thinking on the issue of crime and punnishment (the legal concepts, not the novel) I have had the chance to reflect on Robert Bidinotto's essay "The goal of law: justice or 'utility'". In this essay, Bidinotto advances a number of claims, but the main idea seems to be that the proper response to crime is to reflect the harm done by the criminal back onto the criminal himself. This reflection, actually retribution, is apparantly performed through jail time and also possibly the death penalty (I think, but am not sure, that Bidinotto also advocates for torture).

The essay in itself is basically confused. It attaches the idea of a system of restitution with market anarchy. This in itself is a mistake. While market anarchy may or may not be able to work without a system of restitution, a system of restitution can work in a state of "minarchy", liberal democracy, feudalism, whatever. It would be perfectly workable if under the state the end of prosecution was to return the value taken by crime to the victim or the victim's family. (Of course, I am assuming a system of blood money for injuries and even murder). Mr. Bidinotto presented no reason to believe that restitution porportionate to the crime committed would not satisfy his concept of porportionality. One assumes that this would be the best punishment because it not only punishes the offender, but makes the victim whole. Of course, it seems very very strange that Mr. Bidinotto doesn't spill much ink on talking about making the victim whole. It would appear that his only concern with the criminal justice system is to make sure the offender pays.

However, in the most telling segment of the essay, Bidinotto makes his key argument against market anarchism. He states that "the persuit of porportionate justice cannot be done economically. Retribution is not an economic good--there is no profit in it--and to persue it would require an agency that is not limited by the need to seek or show a profit." This, to my ears, sounds like every other argument for a nanny/welfare state. To argue that justice cannot be done profitably is similar to liberal nanny state conceptions of safety, environmental protection, etc... Automobile safety advocates argue that because safety eats into profits, car safety is not an economic good and must be enforced by the government. Mr. Bidinotto argues that justice is not an economic good and must be enforced by the government. What neither realize is that independant of government interfierence, the market will get the safety it is willing to pay for and that society will get the justice that it is willing to pay for.

More importantly, to say that justice is not an economic good is to say too much. In fact, it would appear that it is almost to give up in defeat. To argue that justice is not profitable is to argue that it costs more than it is worth, or that anyone would self-interestedly pay for. One would wonder, why then this justice that is worth more than it costs would be persued at all. In fact, after thinking his essay over, this much seems clear. Mr. Bidinotto thinks that justice is something that must be persued--even though it costs more than it is worth. Because self-interested rational people (not just the people of today, but fully realized rational self interested people) would not pay for it on their own, the government must force them to do so. This indeed seems contrary to the objectivist viewpoint of government. It is doing nothing less than place the demands of morality above and beyond rational self interest.

A system of restitution can be worked out in manny ways. If things do not work out, it may do to tweak the system. For example, Bidinotto asks what profit inheres in protecting prostitutes. And it is true that prostitutes, the homeless, the poor, etc... couldn't afford to pay for protection in a market anarchy system. However, in a restitutive system anyone who cannot afford to be protected can quitclaim their rights of restitution in return for protective, defensive, and insuring services. Anyone who is hurt has the right to restitution, and anyone who may be hurt has the right to sell his restitution rights in return for protection.. Bidinotto also asks, for example, where would the profit be in hunting down a serial killer. The answer to this is relatively simple, anyone who values capturing the killer would be willing to pay these businesses (or cooperatives) to hunt said killer down or reward them for having done so.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Amnesty International and Gitmo

By now, most people have heard about Amnesty International and their declaration that the detainee prison at that facility is a modern day "Gulag". This declaration does appear seriously wrong. I had orriginally figured that AI and its supporters are either seriously downplaying the evils of the USSR or exagerating the evils of the USA. Without going into the details of exactly what a Gulag was, I won't hesitate to say that I cannot imagine anything comperable in the USA.

However, I did a short review of news reports generated by an acquaintance, Clive Stafford Smith. This is what I found:

First we have Omar Deghayes found at

Mr Deghayes mother Zohra Zewawi, from Brighton, wept as lawyer Clive Stafford Smith
described the injuries the detainee has allegedly suffered at the Cuban base.

"In March 2004 the Emergency Reaction Force in Camp Delta came into his cell," he said.

"They brought their pepper spray and held him down. "They held both of his eyes open and
sprayed it into his eyes and later took a towel soaked in pepper spray and rubbed it in his

"Omar could not see from either eye for two weeks but he gradually got sight back in one

"He's totally blind in the right eye. I can report that his right eye is all white and milky -
he can't see out of it because he has been blinded by the US in Guantanamo."

Another article details the use of hanging handcuffed men by their cuffs as a punishment for speaking when he was not supposed to. The same article mentions other torture methods, as well as the difficulties these men's attorneys have had in placing information regarding interrogation techniques in the public eye. The article can be found here:,6903,1382033,00.html

So, does the use of these torture tactics make Gitmo a Gulag? Probably not. However, I can see reason for stating that it is more like a Gulag than it is like any other US prison.

Objectivist hatred and accused terrorists

In her usually astounding weblog, Diana Hsieh addresses the issue of the alleged terrorists being held in Guantanamo bay. Basically she posts a story about an inmate at Guantanamo severly attacking a guard. Then she concludes this:

"The militant Islamists may look human, but they are nothing but rabid beasts in human skin. (Of course, that's an insult to rabid beasts everywhere, but you understand my point, I hope.) My sense is that the serious leftist defenders of such people do not merely refuse to acknowledge their true nature, but work hard to conceal it from naively benevolent Americans."

There are two major flaws with this reasoning. The first flaw is that of course civil rights activists and human rights defenders have done no such concealing. If anything conceals the true nature of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, it would be the US Government. It is the US government that refuses to have trials or produce evidence or anything of the sort.

The second, and most distressing part of the argumentation is that millitant Islamists are not human, but "rabid beasts in human skin". This kind of dehumanization is dangerous. To actually state that they are not human is to suggest that it is morally permissible to treat them any way we like. I don't care how morally reprehensible you may find people, torture and murder are not an option.

What puzzels me the most is what inspires normally rational people to think like this--especially when you consider the most strident objectivists doing this en mass.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

New Beginings

I would like to start this blog out with a few ideas on where it is going, or perhaps where I hope to take it. Perhaps one way to put it is that I would like to clear up confusions. I would like to clear up confusions anout capitalism, socialism (individualist socilism, Tuckerite, not the authoritarian types of socialism), objectivism, buddhism, geoism, etc, etc.... . Or maybe I want to clear up my confusions about all of these things. Anyway, the point is that I see so many insights--good and bad--eminating from these ideas.

Another point of departure for this blog is my interest in criminal law. Currently I work as an Indigent Defender in Caddo Parish, Louisiana. I am a former volunteer at the Innocence Project in New Orleans. I have no doubt quite a few observations on criminal law coming out of these experiences. Anyway, here goes.