:: Tentativity ::

A Blog of Zealously Defended Tentative Ideas Offered in a Rambling, Unfocused and Non-Suitable-For-Publication Format
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:: Tuesday, March 25, 2003 ::

Interesting feedback I've gotten off of that last post.
I was hard on the idea of commitment because I'm so revolted and repulsed by the common understanding of commitment (i.e. restrictive monogamy, jealousy, and all that bad crap).
I'm now convinced that there exists an understanding of the word that contains none of these connotations, but is more about people non-coercively trying to work towards common goals.
I'm still a wee bit nebulous on the positive side of the concept, but I'm willing to grant nonetheless that I may have thrown out the conceptual baby with the connotational bathwater in regards to commitment.
:: Justin 10:48 PM [+] ::
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:: Monday, March 24, 2003 ::
Posted this to my new list, Rational Polyamory, in response to a curi post on my list; thought my blog audience might like it too :)

In various areas of life; hobbies and professional pursuits and artistic passions, we pursue things when and to the extent we value them. If we want to write a novel, or become a lawyer, or get heavily into a computer game, we do so, for the period of time during which it is either inherently fun or advances other goals.
To "committ" to one of these things, in the sense of dedicating oneself to them whether or not they continue to affirm your values, would be folly; your enjoyment of the task and the quality of your life in general would suffer from the lack of real interest, real passion, resulting from your lack of continuing, serious interest in the thing.

This follows for relationships as well; the only way one can truly have a "committment" to something in a meaningful sense is to coerce oneself from pursuing other, more interesting relationships. If the one relationship one had was truly fulfilling, formal "committment" would be unnecessary, but instead come naturally; if one has to force oneself to commit to something that's supposed to be based on mutual love and enjoyment, well, it's just not going to work; having to coerce oneself qualitatively changes the nature of the relationship.

The inherently coercive aspects of "committment" in the traditional sense are borne out in business committments; the coercion of the written contract backed up by the courts, often against the angry murmurs of contractees, is an example of a relationship where committments are enforced. And for that matter, an example where they are necessary. Contract law is about the enforcement, through coercion if necessary, of written agreements upon occassionally unwilling contractees for the purpose of making a trustworthy market economy possible; romantic relationships are about mutual happiness-finding and common-preference seeking. The model for one does not carry over into the other.
:: Justin 10:55 PM [+] ::
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:: Tuesday, March 18, 2003 ::
Some people are skeptical about my claims regarding nanotechnology and the way it seems to be a "panacea" to all our societal ills.
Part of the confusion is a poor choice of words on my part. When speaking of scarcity ending in the material sense, I specifically mean that many of the "basic needs" people and welfare states so struggle with now, like housing, food, medical care, internet access, etc.

David Deutsch rightfully points out that scarcity has always been and will always be a creativity problem, and not a mere lack of certain molecules. He is quite right, and my theories about nanotech reinforce this point. Nanotechnology is a tremendous application of human creativity and ingenuity down to the molecular level, and will help us solve many, many problems, and also open up the path to entirely new experiences (like virtual reality). But of course there will always be a scarcity in the realm of knowledge, ideas, creativity, thus necessitating future intellectual growth; for scarcity to *cease* exist in *this* realm, would seem to require a rejection of philosophical fallibility and embrace of a secular theory of omniscience; not to mention necessitate a vision of the future that seems dreadfully boring to me.

Tom Robinson posits a theory in comments about vain politicians being megalomaniacal attention-fetishists. I think this accurately describes some of the more evilly ambitious ones, though I still stick to my original premise that most sleazy politicians are just self-interested cash+comfort-seeking missiles. Regardless, a reduction/elimination in "basic needs" scarcity affects them all. By eliminating the "need" for many of the most bloated government programs, nanotech weakens the power concentrated in government institutions overall, thus lessening the draw for all those vain attention-loving megalomaniacs. I also don't buy that politicians will be able to keep up in terms of taxation and government power; the explosion of the economy in the coming years will make government an increasingly smaller player, and the effects of that explosion will likely be felt worldwide, bringing wealth and prosperity to the benighted cesspools from which those who have the least to lose by blowing themselves up come from.

And so my point is thus clarified :)

Thoughts?
:: Justin 11:13 PM [+] ::
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More on my Dogma

I have a natural (I don't mean this in the biological sense, don't worry; just as a basic attribute of my thought and personality) tendency towards self-criticism and improvement of theories.
What happens when this natural tendency runs up against deeply entrenched memes, and one is willing to neither dogmatically reject a better theory, nor quite ready to embrace it.

*drumroll*
*dramatic voice*
INTELLECTUAL PURGATORY *echo, echo, echo, fade*

That most annoying state of being deeply conflicted and feeling unable to figure things out.
I was like this regarding the war, and mainstream libertarian theory, for quite a long time.

Another part of the reason for the purgatory, besides dogmatic memes, was that much of the criticism I saw of the Libertarian position was poor. Often times, Libertarians are RIGHT, on the terms they are arguing on. For instance, if you're arguing that a war on Iraq can only be justified in a retaliatory sense, and you're straining to connect al-Qaeda and Iraq, that looks like a pathetically weak justification for war.
The attitude of many pro-war people was also off-putting. i.e. "Why do you want to defend a ruthless dictator". It doesn't ALWAYS make sense to invade the nation of EVERY ruthless dictator, and emotional appeals are just as invalid as arguments if you happen to be on the right side of an issue as if you're on the wrong one. Pleas and bloody pictures are not substitutes for argument, and the truth is not self-evident. Not everyone who has a bad position on an issue does so out of a willful desire to embrace evil, people. Try and remember that and temper your criticism accordingly.

A turning point for me was when I saw commentary that posited a consistent moral and strategic framework under which invasion made sense (kudos to U.S.S. Clueless, Bill Whittle, and my amigo Curi for that). My reaction to these people followed something like this: "Here are people arguing from MORAL positions of expanding freedom that made *sense*, and yet they AREN'T LIBERTARIAN (in the mainstream sense). *gasp*
How could this be?! Unless....MY PREMISES ARE FLAWED! NOOOOOOOO! IT CANNOT BE"
Well alright, that was a slightly dramatized representation, but you get the gist of it. It could, of course, "BE", and my theories are changing accordingly.

Political and worldview roller-coaster rides are rather strange journeys. I started off as a liberal, morphed into a liberalatarian, as I call it, then a true-blue Libertarian, then an Objectivist, then an anarcho-capitalist, and now an anarcho-capitalist who tentatively supports a U.S. invasion of Iraq. I just hope something really stupid like socialism doesn't wind up making sense one day; that'd really piss me off :)
:: Justin 11:08 PM [+] ::
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:: Sunday, March 16, 2003 ::
The Economics of Destruction and Liberation

A Fictional Scenario:

The Unified Empire of Evil is a cancerous rot upon civilization. It's intents are to spread a militaristic empire of state socialism and rigid authoritarianism throughout the globe. It also intends to eliminate a significant portion of the population it has deemed insufficiently good. Our best available theories indicate that, if they go unchallenged, the Empire of Evil will annihilate 100 million people, and claim most of the planet under their umbrella of totalitarian insanity.

The only significant moral countervailing force to the UEE is the Alliance of Civilizations with Flawed Yet Nonetheless Significantly Better Ideals. The Alliance undertakes a war to destroy the UEE; in said war, 25 million UEE civilians are killed. The Alliance triumphs.

Did the Alliance "murder" 25 million civilians, or save 75 million?

Well, you say, we can't know for *sure* that the UEE would have actually killed those 100 million. Well, you say, an internal coup could have overthrown the evil regime, sparing us all the deaths of the war.
Well, you say, the UEE, left unchallenged, could have weakened and possibly brought an early demise to the Union of Ridiculously Stupid Socialists (U.R.S.S), which later developed into a tremendous menace to the free world, thus sparing us a great horror.

This is all true. These are all plausible arguments. But were they the best at the time? Were they the best available theories?

Or, was it more likely that the plans for genocide would have gone unhindered?
More likely that the current leader would endure for a long time, or that, even allowing for a change in leader, the basic structure of and theories underlying the government would not have improved significantly?
More likely that either one evil nation would triumph, unifying most of the world under a banner of horrific totalitarianism, or that both would agree, ultimately, to a tyrant's truce, content to allow each other Rights of Slaughter in their respective spheres?

Citizens of the Alliance can condemn the intervention of their government sincerely and without malice towards other peoples or their own society's values; indeed, much has been written by brilliant men in the Alliance about the dangers of unnecessary intervention. The traditions of isolationism run deep. And one of the glorious things about the Alliance is that its citizens are free to vehemently disagree with government policies without persecution.

And many such dissidents would no doubt be quite worried about the deaths of innocent civilians at the hands of their government. They do not want Alliance Planes carrying Alliance Bombs with Alliance Explosives, paid for by Alliance Taxes, being dropped upon the heads of innocent civilians whose only crime, it would seem, is to live in territory either appropriated or conquered by the UEE.
They want to help people, and prevent the death of innocents.

Yet what's required here is what want might call an economic perspective.

Another scenario:
A liberal sees a rich person, well-heeled, sharply dressed, and Rolex-wearing, walking by an unshaven rag-wearing homeless person on the street. He sees unfairness, poverty, injustice, and, out of a true desire to help people, formulates a mechanism (wealth redistribution) and an engine for that mechanism (government) to remedy this situation. Let us presume our liberal here has not thoroughly thought on the moral implications, does not revel in the destruction of wealth and prosperity, but, instead, is our prototypical Misguided Idealist.

An economist sees this situation and understands many truths. Firstly, that in a free society, people get sharp clothes and Rolexes by *creating wealth*, for the benefit of themselves and all others. The rich get richer, yes, but they drag everyone else along with them in the same direction. Secondly, that wealth redistribution from the rich to the poor punishes and discourages wealth creation while encouraging idleness. Born from the liberal's instrument to eliminate poverty are the very conditions for its sustaiment and growth. Thirdly, if our economist is as good with moral analysis as he is with financial, he will understand that to hold one having greater wealth then another as an inherent injustice is to pave a moral path straight to the hell of Communism. A communist's moral analysis ends with the primacy of Need; a capitalist is content to let the Market award people according to their Ability.

What does this have to do with our war scenario?

Those fictional Alliance citizens, opposed to the intervention, motivated by a sincere desire to do good, are stopping two steps too short in their analysis. They are seeing the corpses left from the Alliance bombers, but not the horrors that are being *prevented* by those bombers, nor are they looking forward towards the glorious future when the UEE joins the world of civilized nations, and their people are set free.

They are committing the common liberal error of determining that they want to help people, that this is sufficient, and that anyone who disagrees with them must be motivated by malice towards the innocent, or hatred, bloodlust, greed, or any of another thousand horrors which blight the hearts of the human race. And they will not even grant that those who oppose them might share their motivations to help, to be good, to do right, since to cease this dehumanization of their ideological competitors would *force* them to take the opposing view seriously; something, of course, no dogma can allow.
But those with the larger perspective on the issue must stand steadfast in the face of this dogma; the very fate of civilization may very well depend on it.
:: Justin 1:11 PM [+] ::
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:: Friday, March 14, 2003 ::
This article plunges with extraordinairy depth into the subject of the motivations behind al-Qaeda's suicide squads.
The monumental strategic stupidity of inciting the U.S.'s wrath by launching an attack on civilian structures reinforces my point about the inevitable strategic-knowledge handicap evil people have to deal with. Harris, in this article, paints a vivid picture of the twisted, demented mentality one needs to have to view such an act as a "success".

The closer one stays to reality in terms of executing one's lunatic plot, the more dangerous the plot is. The Germans did not rely on one act of destruction to prove to God their worthiness in expectation that he'd take care of the rest, but instead relied on legions of brilliantly engineered tanks and bombers to make the dream of the Third Reich real. In this respect, then, the strategic problem of an enemy who is all-too-happy to die for their cause is more then balanced by their utter lack of strategic judgment, as well as their total inability to mount a conventional threat.
:: Justin 4:15 PM [+] ::
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Might European opposition to US policy *actually* be motivated by a sort of misguided idealism, as opposed to the other theories which have taken root here? (i.e. of European economic concerns and cowardice)

This very long and utterly brilliant article seems to propose exactly that. What follows is a rather serious chunk of the article, but this is necessary to give you a sense of the ideas discussed:

"During the Cold War, few Europeans doubted the need for military power to deter the Soviet Union. But within Europe the rules were different.
Collective security was provided from without, meanwhile, by the deus ex machina of the United States operating through the military structures of nato. Within this wall of security, Europeans pursued their new order, freed from the brutal laws and even the mentality of power politics. This evolution from the old to the new began in Europe during the Cold War. But the end of the Cold War, by removing even the external danger of the Soviet Union, allowed Europe's new order, and its new idealism, to blossom fully. Freed from the requirements of any military deterrence, internal or external, Europeans became still more confident that their way of settling international problems now had universal application.
*snip*...many Europeans, including many in positions of power, routinely apply Europe's experience to the rest of the world. For is not the general European critique of the American approach to "rogue" regimes based on this special European insight? Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Libya - these states may be dangerous and unpleasant, even evil. But might not an "indirect approach" work again, as it did in Europe? Might it not be possible once more to move from confrontation to rapprochement, beginning with cooperation in the economic sphere and then moving on to peaceful integration? Could not the formula that worked in Europe work again with Iran or even Iraq? A great many Europeans insist that it can.

The transmission of the European miracle to the rest of the world has become Europe's new mission civilatrice. Just as Americans have always believed that they had discovered the secret to human happiness and wished to export it to the rest of the world, so the Europeans have a new mission born of their own discovery of perpetual peace."

Quite a counterpoint to the view of sniveling French poodles and German shepards with their noses up dicators' asses being popularized in both comic strips and serious commentary here in the states, eh? Even though the Europeans are wrong, especially in regards to this theory that having lots of power itself tends to lead inherently to destructive consequences ,the knowledge that their policy might be driven not by sheer America-hatred, nor cowardice, nor a reworking of an "it's all about oil" conspiracy theory to their side of the Atlantic, but by a different and reasonably plausible view of how to maintain peace and security in the international order, has serious strategic and diplomatic implications. It reminds us never to underestimate our ideological competitors; by chuckling self-assuredly that the motivations of the French are guided entirely by their innate cowardice, we are missing the picture as much as some schmuck in the street waving a "socialist revolution is the only way to end capitalist imperialism!" sign.
:: Justin 3:33 PM [+] ::
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(If you're the type whose head explodes anytime anyone gets passionate over the definition of a word, ya might wanna skip this one)

Pride is a glorious word that deserves to be liberated in the same way Ayn Rand liberated selfishness.

To take Pride in something, whether that thing is anything from a successful business to a poem to a blog essasy, is to honor said thing as a standard bearer of one's values made manifest; a glorious thing that by the spark of one's ingenuity, the fire of one's passion, and the diligence of one's effort, has been born into reality for all to see.

Pride also has another, unfortunate meaning. I'm sure we've all heard the statement about someone having "too much pride". People who can't stand criticism without getting visibly upset, people who refuse to change their ways/methods of doing things even when they've been clearly refuted, etc., are all accused of this crime of having more then their allotment of pride. But what is it that they are supposedly so proud of? Their low self-esteem? Their embarrassment at being shown to be wrong? Their delusions of competence? What does the pride connote?

The answer is nothing... *positive*. Instead of pride at something glorious, we find delusions and anger and tradition-bound thought. Being defensive of such things, such irrational emotions, is no more Pride, then stabbing oneself with a sword because one is so shamed at one's incompetence to live on is "Honor". Honor what? Honoring what? A value system where the ultimate act of cowardice is held in higher moral standing then carrying on with the knowledge of one's screw-up, and fighting another day?

Pride does not deserve these connotations. Pride deserves to stand unblemished as a concept which connotes the best within us; goodness knows we already have a multitude of concepts which describe the worst.
:: Justin 3:32 PM [+] ::
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:: Monday, March 10, 2003 ::
Dogmas are systems of ideas accepted uncritically, containing memes that are hostile to rational criticism, and circularly logical "proofs" designed to support and explain all things in the universe according to the dogmatic theory. Dogmas are one of the single biggest blocks to the creation of knowledge in existence.

Religion is probably the most common form of dogma, though it is not the only one. Any system which causes one to think in terms of shoehorning the facts of the world into your theories, as opposed to creating theories which can explain the facts, has in it dogmatic elements. A rather recent revelation for me was the realization that I myself had somewhat bought into Libertarian dogma, and was not analyzing problems in terms of trying to find optimal solutions, but in terms of trying to find solutions compatible with popular Libertarian theory, which I was accepting as a given and not challenging sufficiently. For example, I'd analyze WWII in terms of "Maybe we shouldn't have gone to war, since doing so resulted in multiple violations of the non-initiation of force principle" as opposed to, "was defeating Hitler the optimal choice in terms of defending and expanding liberty, and if so, what actions at various junctures were justified in the context of that goal, and which were not". Criticism from multiple peeps close to me, especially one in particular, helped correct my thinking on this issue; ya know who ya all are ;)

This is not to say that I don't still have doubts and conumdrums about such issues (you can see below for some examples), but it occurs to me that far more important than what you think is HOW you think, and given this, the answers which have eluded me for so long, remaining ever out of my grasp, will reveal themselves much more easily given my recent upgrade in philosophical outlook.
:: Justin 9:46 PM [+] ::
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Alpha Centauri is, in my far less than humble opinion, and for all its flaws, one of the greatest computer games in the history of mankind.

One of the reasons I say this is it makes a serious attempt at modeling various forms of human government, economic interaction, societal values, ideologies, and Utopias. The ability to mix-and-match seemingly unusual combinations which actually exist is another cool aspect (i.e. Free Market Economics/Police State government, ala Singapore), and is far, far above Civilization's Democracy/Anarchy/Despotism model of monolithic, undifferentiated governments.

The game even has moral elements. Nerve-gas happy atrocity-doers face economic sanctions, certain factions are natural enemies do to clashing ideals (no greater fun then nuking dirt-worshippers with Better Then Nuclear Weapons made by the Free Market, let me tell you!), and various snippets try and flesh out the underlying ideologies of the faction leaders (i.e. Chairman Yang is the crown prince of asceticism and bucket-theory epistemology, and appropriately leads the most evil faction, the Human Hive, a.k.a. "We Make the Bolsheviks look like Libertarians").

Just thought I'd mention that, since part of the reason I've been scarce lately is my level of Alpha Centauri playing has gone up dramatically ;)
:: Justin 9:45 PM [+] ::
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:: Thursday, March 06, 2003 ::
How many times have I gotten into historical arguments over WW2 I cannot count. A common thread in such discussions is "We're lucky the Nazis didn't do X, cuz if they had they would have won". Examples: if the Nazis hadn't enslaved and killed so many productive members of their populace and caused a brain drain to the U.S.; if the Nazis hadn't been so overly confident in their belief that the British would simply surrender to them; if the Nazis had more rationally allocated resources, better managed their economy, shown more strategic insight later on in the war, etc. etc. etc.
The thing about these arguments is that you can carry them further and have even better results. Instead of simply avoiding the enslavement and murder of the population (and subsequent economic and scientific consequences), you could posit a more generally free society overall ( more like England or the US), with all the economic and scientific benefits therein; instead of positing a better-planned Sealion, how about not invading one's neighbors at all, which would have been to the benefit of Germany and the rest of Europe; and so on and so forth.

The point is this: the further away you move the Nazis from the course they actually took and towards the more rational courses of action, the *less they become Nazis*, and the more they become rational, civilized individuals. The moral knowledge needed to move on to the proper course at many of these junctures (like realizing that killing innocent, moral, productive people is NOT a good) is precisely what the Nazis (and evil people in general) lack, what made them evil, and thus it's NO SURPRISE that they blundered as tremendously as they did.

Given this, military assessments of a situation between two opposing forces of vastly differing moral knowledge that are based on the notion of both sides acting with about equal rationality are almost always overly pessimistic, for the "morality gap" is of tremendous strategic importance, though not nearly as measurable as troop concentrations and pieces of artillery. Even so, one must keep the realization of one's superior moral position in mind, and even against seemingly overwhelming odds, realize that it is one's evil enemy who is far more likely to blunder.
:: Justin 11:34 AM [+] ::
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:: Tuesday, March 04, 2003 ::
Scarcity (in the material sense) is set for a recategorization from an annoying everyday fact to one of those abstract mental-masturbation topics in our new future, thanks to nanotechnology. I offer the theory that this will greatly weaken nation-states and transform the very structure of our society.
When it comes down to it, governments are basically stuff takers, redistributors, and protectors. Taxes, welfare programs, and the defense of some modicum of liberty and property are pretty fundamental government functions nowadays (except that last one in the case of commies and fundies). So what happens when technology allows us to hack our Civilization scenario and give everyone near-infinite gold?

A: The impetus for welfare programs (a HUGE part of the modern nation-state) vanishes.
B: Most crimes involving stuff taking stop
C: Poor people in other countries lose their reason to be envious of us cuz they have stuff too
D: Everyone can afford really big guns to stop the few remain wacko criminals anyway

Now, while some form of law and arbitration will still be necessary in this future society, with the lack the crime and the tremendous weakening of government, the conditions will be ripe for the development of that ubercool anarcho-capitalist society knowledge we're all pining for.
And if it turns out that states DO survive in any form, they'll be so weak (by, um, unnecessity) as to make L. Neil Smith novel governments look like totalitarian regimes.
Thoughts?
:: Justin 2:18 AM [+] ::
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