What wrong with anarcho-syndicalism?

What’s an anarcho-syndicalist supposed to do in the advent of artificial intelligence, process automation, and robots?

Wikipedia relates anarcho-Syndicalism as follows:

Anarcho-syndicalism (also referred to as revolutionary syndicalism)[1] is a theory of anarchism that views revolutionary industrial unionism or syndicalism as a method for workers in capitalist society to gain control of an economy and thus control influence in broader society. Syndicalists consider their economic theories a strategy for facilitating worker self-activity and as an alternative co-operative economic system with democratic values and production centered on meeting human needs.

The basic principles of anarcho-syndicalism are solidaritydirect action (action undertaken without the intervention of third parties such as politicians, bureaucrats and arbitrators) and direct democracy, or workers’ self-management. The end goal of syndicalism is to abolish the wage system, regarding it as wage slavery. Anarcho-syndicalist theory therefore generally focuses on the labour movement.[2]

Anarcho-syndicalists view the primary purpose of the state as being the defense of private property, and therefore of economic, social and political privilege, denying most of its citizens the ability to enjoy material independence and the social autonomy that springs from it.[3] Reflecting the anarchist philosophy from which it draws its primary inspiration, anarcho-syndicalism is centred on the idea that power corrupts and that any hierarchy that cannot be ethically justified must either be dismantled or replaced by decentralized egalitarian control.[3]

As a matter of preference, I’ve leaned toward anarcho-syndicalism. I don’t have a lot of faith in humans or humanity to govern or self-govern. The arguments for this, whether monarchies, democracies, plutocracies, or even anarchies are each rife with its own sets of problems. Still, I favour a system where there is no class of governors, though I am more of a fan of Proudhon over Marx.

Mind you, I don’t think humans make very good judgements and are as bad in groups as individuals but for different reasons—and especially where complexity or too many choices are available. That we’ve survived this long is, quite frankly, a miracle.

This said, it isn’t my problem. My contention is with the syndicalist aspect. If all of this human as worker displacement occurs as some are forecasting, there will be precious few workers. I am not saying that this is inevitable or will ever happen. My concern is merely conditional. If this were to happen, the idea of a worker-centric system is daft.

Do we just defer to people categorically, where we arrive at simple anarchism? Without delving, there are different flavours of, and I have neither the time nor the inclination to debate, for example, the merits of anarco-capitalism (an oxymoron if there ever was one) versus anarcho-communism or anarcho-transhumanism for that matter.

Although, I like how Kant identified four kinds of government…

  • Law and freedom without force (anarchy)
  • Law and force without freedom (despotism)
  • Force without freedom and law (barbarism)
  • Force with freedom and law (republic)

…the whole notion of freedom is another weasel word, and laws without force are unenforceable—pun intended. At least the syndicalism felt like it was intentional or purposeful. I understand why Plato despised the rabble, but as with the sorites paradox in the heap-hill distinction, where to the rabble distil down to something meaningful?

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Fashionable Fascism

So, it started with this video.

Video: The fascist philosopher behind Vladimir Putin’s information warfare — Tim Snyder

I’d never heard of Ivan Ilyin, so the entirety of my knowledge derives from whatever Tim Snyder conveys in this clip. The risk is that he may misrepresent Ilyin’s message, much like Stephen Hicks misrepresents Postmodernism in his work. So, if you’ve got a deeper understanding of Ilyin, apologies in advance, but I am only reacting to this clip without much intention of reading his published work not performing additional second-hand research. Sue me.

Snyder raises three ‘important ideas’ from Ilyin:

/1/ Social advancement is impossible

Each person is like a cell in a body, each having it’s defined function or purpose. So, freedom means knowing one’s place, which function to perform.

/2/ Democracy is a ritual

People vote, but they only vote to affirm their collective support for a leader. The leader is not legitimated or chosen by votes. Voting is just a ritual by which people people endorse a leader every few years.

/3/ The factual world doesn’t count

The manifest world is not real. It’s a mishmash of facts, which have no intrinsic value, but these facts cannot be unified into some larger whole.

Nothing is real, or what is real isn’t important. The only things that really matter are preferences and biases.

Through this, Ilyin surmises that the only true thing is Russian Nationalism and its role as saviour to bring order back to the world.

Of course, this conclusion is precisely the one to which the US arrived except that its American Nationalism is the correct version.

. . .

As to points 1 and 2, I can’t disagree with the base statements. Social advancement is impossible because we’ve got nothing to measure it against. As I’ve said before, we move recognise change and a sense of movement, but movement is not progress.

As I’ve already admitted, I don’t enough about Ilyid, so I am taking Snyder’s statement at face-value, but it does not follow that because social advancement is impossible, we need to adopt some deontological position that freedom means knowing one’s place. It’s a bit of a forced non sequitur.

Democracy is a ritual. It’s a failed experiment, and the only thing that remains is the shell of an empty promise. I do think that the voting serves to legitimise the representative figurehead. There are persons who debate the legitimacy of, say, Bush-43 or Trump-45—or perhaps just their competencies—but this is a twenty-first century phenomenon, as US politics have become more and more divisive.

That the factual world doesn’t count is difficult for me to buy into. In many ways, it is easy enough to manipulate people with non-facts masquerading as facts, but I am not convinced that this contingent is large enough to gain critical mass in the long run. I understand history well enough that these anti-fact forces have run roughshod over entire civilisations, whether the Inquisitions or witch-burning or current religious organisations and other snake oil hawkers.

Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

Like the characters in Orwell’s 1984 or Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, there is still resistance. I’m not even trying to make the claim that my vision of a world absent of superstition is the true world or the right vision. I am only claiming that my vision of a world without it is more pleasant to me.

But, then again, that just confirm’s Ilyid’s point that the only thing that matters is preference, and there is no separating bias from preference.

Emotion Trumps Reason

“Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them,” said David Hume said in his Treatise of Human Nature.

Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.

David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature

Hume claims that “reason alone can never be a motive to any action of the will,” and that reason alone “can never oppose passion in the direction of the will.”

In the United States, forces on the Left have still not learnt this lesson. They are still trying to fight emotion and irrationality with reason. It’s like trying to coöpt the insane with rationality. It’s not going to happen.

And despite protestations, even the most supposedly logical of us are still motivated by some emotion or passion, as much as we can try to deny it. One can claim to have become an accountant or an engineer or a physicist because it was a calculated, logical thing to do, but in the end, even the brightest of these are driven by passion, by emotion.

As long as we are fighting emotion with reason, the battle is already over before it starts. We need to fight emotion with empathy. This is where the story of the oak and the willow comes in handy. Reason is the oak. Reason is the hare, but emotion is the supple willow of the tenacious tortoise.

Wage this fight and escalating commitment will prevail, as the emotional response will trigger a sort of fight or flight, but your opponent’s reason will form a hard shell to fend off any attacks.

But don’t feel too smug. It’s only your emotions that give you the passion to fight the good fight. Reason has convinced you that this is the logical route.

Moral Pragmatism

It appears you are interested in the workings of morality from a practical perspective.

This statement occurred in a discussion thread on The Philosophical Hack.

I don’t feel there is another perspective. It is a human construct of language, but, in particular, it’s a social construct. By definition, language is arbitrary (though not capricious), any anything within language is necessarily arbitrary, too.

Morality and its cousin, ethics, are essentially normative rules of conduct, so they are, foundationally speaking, pragmatic: what is the best system for a society to flourish. This implies some goal or goals. In essence, this becomes an optimisation problem that involves systems thinking, and humans are particularly poor at systems thinking especially when faced with complexity. Along our evolutionary path, managing complexity was not a huge survival factor. Kahneman and Tversky identified two systems: System I is the sort of automatic reflexive system and System II is for advanced functions. System II requires a lot of energy and upkeep. For most humans, it’s not well-developed or maintained,and System I appears to be the arbiter and has right of first refusal, so it attempts to solve heuristically something that should be assessed analytically.

Why the ramble? Morality is a complex system with boundary conditions and dynamics: precisely what humans are poor at. Just defining the boundaries is a challenge. Perhaps this is why some people simply attempt to define the boundary as universal, but this creates its own challenges. And many reject universal morality, opting for smaller moral domains—nations, states, municipalities, communities, schools, churches, families, peer groups, couples. To Hegel and Nietzsche, the main concern is authenticity for the individual. And Nietzsche didn’t feel that there was any one-size-fits-all morality to begin with. I could operate with different moral imperatives than you. This was most evident in his Master-Herd distinction.

But since I reject the notion of objective morality, it is necessarily normative or relative or subjective. Here, we end up trying to optimise an equilibrium model, but the trick is what to optimise.

In the modern age, the consensus is to maximise happiness or utility, but, as I’ve mentioned before, we are still left in a quandary: do we optimise personal happiness or group happiness, and what group? A nationalist might choose to draw a boundary around the nation. This will maximise happiness within the borders without concern of whether ‘people are starving in Africa’.

Of course, there are multiple dimensions to any morality. If there are two people and one has $100 and the other would feel happier to take it, in a utility optimisation model, there is nothing to defend not taking it. Prospect theory within behavioural economics provides some rational insomuch as humans tend to value loss over gain, so the $100 received is perceived as having less value than the person losing it. This is further complicated if the person receiving it is poor—perhaps s/he has no money—and the person relinquishing it is Jeff Bezos, to whom it is nothing more than a rounding error.

I mention these because we could have a positive sum game (borrowing from game theory)—the gain to the poor person would outweigh the loss leading to a net positive gain—, and yet Pareto optimisation disallows this. Of course, happiness and utility cannot be measured in the first place and they are not persistent in the second place.

My point in all this is to argue that humans are woefully ill-equipped to grasp these topics, and so most of this is not much more substantial than mental masturbation. And this leads me full circle to me original contention that morality and so-called moral truths are nothing more that rhetoric, the ability to persuade that your position is the truest truth.

Emotion-Reason Scaling

I’ve been engaging in an online dialogue on the topic of a scale or continuum of emotion and reason with Landzek through comments on his blog. Since, I am unable of posting images in his comments (AFAIK), I am posting them with commentary here.

He’s got 4 parts of this topic (so far), but, for reference sake, it starts here. Without retreading context you can get on his site, the essence is the notion of a scale, a spectrum between emotion and reason. In part 4, he conveys something I interpret as a time series graphically as image A.

Emotion and reason are a dimension represented on the Y axis, and time is on the X axis.

Prior to this, time was not a factor, so I had been constructing this as a simple continuum as shown in image B.

Here, there is only a X axis, running from emotional to rational, representing reason. Ignoring for the time of the index of the scale and not being concerned if the relationship is even-tempered linear or something else.

Secondarily, is there a quality perspective to the placement? My initial questions are embedded on the graph.

As I don’t feel that the Emotional-Rational scale are opposites, I’ve been thinking through how this scale might work. My first take was along these lines, creating a Cartesian plane.

It this, Irrational and Rational create an X-axis scale and Reserved and Emotional create the Y axis. I’m not sure that the nomenclature opposite of Emotional is, but stoical or reserved are placeholders for now.

Upon further thought, I am not sure irrational is the extreme opposite to rational. I am also not sure what the interplay of rational versus irrational versus non-rational should be, but I created a fourth chart as a basis of discussion.

I am not making a claim that any of these are correct. I am just trying to think this through visually. As I’ve got a day job, I need to get back to, I at least wanted to provide this foundation for conversation.

The Mystery of the Good

I happened upon a video where three philosophers engage in friendly debate over the nature of absolute goodness. The three each in turn give their positions, and then they debate three themes. This post captures their positions—until about 12.5 minutes—, and I’ll reserve the themes for future posts.

Video: The Mystery of the Good:
Is morality relative or absolute?
 
Naomi Goulder

The swapping an evaluative good over a moral goodness is a slight of hand or a head fake. As Naomi Goulder states, citing Nietzsche,

“Our weak, unmanly social concepts of good and evil and their tremendous ascendancy over body and soul have finally weakened all bodies and souls and snapped the self-reliant, independent, unprejudiced men, the pillars of a strong civilization.”

—Daybreak, Friedrich Nietzsche

I won’t call Nietzsche on his facile belief in ‘self-reliant, independent, unprejudiced men‘.

The problem is as much one of mathematics as well as of language. Good is a weasel word, so it is easy to equivocate over its meaning. I’ve commented on this before, so I’ll leave it here at the moment and focus on the maths. No matter what bogey we are attempting to maximise, we are left optimising across to dimensions: individual versus some group, such as society; and present verses future.

I’ll start there. Without regard to which normative function to optimise, we should recognise that what provides the most what I’d deem benefit now not also be optimised in the future.

If I have enough money for either an ice cream cone or bus fare home on a hot day—so even on a relatively short time scale—,and I choose an ice cream, my near-term satisfaction quickly fades when I realise I now have to find alternative means to get home.

In fact, I am not simply optimising across now and a few minutes from now. I am optimising across all possible future times across my lifespan. Plus, taking some choices are necessarily going to eliminate the possibility of others. Rational choice theory be damned.

Beyond the time dimension, we’ve got the individual versus group dimension. This is just as silly. Not only is the group undefined, we are likely to constrain it to our perceived in-group. As a citizen of the UK, I may not consider the effects of my choice on, say, Germany or Myanmar.

In effect, this becomes a system boundary definition problem. Just because I adopt a nationalistic boundary does not mean that I’ve chosen this correctly. The Germans who made this calculaus circa World War II learnt that being on the losing side of a conflict yields outcoems divergent from original expectations. Had Germany and the Axis prevailed, who knows how this might have changed?

My point is that, even divorced from the language problem, the bulk of this topic is mental masturbation. It is unresolvable because it’s not much more than academic sophistry.

Paul Boghossian

Paul Boghossian conveys three possible interpretations.

In the first he posits a strawman statement, ‘It is morally good to educate girls and young women’, a topic sure to get an emotional reaction from Western-indoctrinated people, assuming a moral high ground over fundamentalist Muslim beliefs. Proponents of this view claim that this can be assessed as simply true or false.

More fundamentally, he defends this approach in proxy by asserting that, ‘ultimately, there will be some normative claim at the bottom of that chain of reasoning which will either be true or false‘. It hinges on the expected role of the human, in particular the female of the species. Again, this is only true or false within some context, a context which is neither objective nor universal.

In the second, which he labels as relativistic, acknowledges the social contextual interpretation.

His last interpretation is nihilistic, wherein, ‘normative vocabulary is fundamentally confused; there is nothing in the world it answers to; if you really want to do things ‘right’, you just have to drop this vocabulary and find some other vocabulary—not itself normative; not itself evaluative—in which to describe these things that we call moral convictions or moral beliefs‘.

I subscribe to this last school, though I do not feel that language is fundamentally capable of this level of precision and even more fundamentally is not truth-apt.

He adds a fourth category, where preferences rule, which is weaker still, as preferences are not only normative but emotional and, I might argue, are somewhat arbitrary and capricious and subject to all of the weaknesses inherhent in preference theory.

Michael Ruse

Michael Ruse begins by downplaying the absolute notion of the good but then backtracks and defending something close to absolute by ‘taking it very seriously’.

He defends the believers in the quasi-absolute morality of good gods, ignoring the relative nature of that belief (and not to mention how to validate the objectivity). He goes on the defend Platonism but comes up short trying to assert the positive analytic notion of maths and a normative vantage where morality is objective.

I was pleasantly amused with his case where he highlights the inherent problem with a sexual morality formulated around a binary sex world if we imagine intergalactically a world with a ternary sex arrangement. We can observe this locally, as not all species are restricted by human sexual dimorphism.

For reference, the three themes discussed are as follows:

Theme One: Is there an absolute good?

Theme Two: Does morality apply to the act or the consequences

Theme Three: Should we strive for absolute truth

Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds

New discoveries about the human mind show the limitations of reason.

As everyone who’s followed the research—or even occasionally picked up a copy of Psychology Today—knows, any graduate student with a clipboard can demonstrate that reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational. Rarely has this insight seemed more relevant than it does right now. Still, an essential puzzle remains: How did we come to be this way?

The New Yorker

This is not the essential question to puzzle. The question is the mental tricks we torture ourselves to convince ourselves we are rational beings and when lengths we go to defend this view.

Systems of government, jurisprudence, and law are predicated on the notion of rationality. In reality, this is the elephant in the room. In law, there are the notions of truth and of right and wrong, each fraught with their own problems, but there are also issues of the ability to reason between right and wrong as well as the problem of intent. We read time and again people rationalising why this person should be found guilty. Of course s/he knew the difference between right and wrong. Like an economic model, the nuance is stripped away, and we are left with a mechanistic 8-bit sense of reality laid bare, but the details lay in the details left on the cutting room floor. This is the modern justice system.

I’ve participated on three sides of this ridiculous justice system:
jury member, defendant, and plaintiff. As a jury member, one is really exposed to how the attempt to appear to be objective is merely being primed to rig the game. Jurisprudence is 90% showmanship and 10% of je ne sais quoi. It’s a smoke and mirrors legerdemain spectacle to illustrate the reason inherent in the system. And there is reason. And there are reasons. And it’s all for show. Trust me: like the medical system in the US, you don’t want to have to be any part of the legal system if you can avoid it. It’s not for the poor or faint of heart.

In one case, I served on a jury in Beverly Hills. A young man of Mexican descent was on trial for armed robber of a liquor store. He was found not guilty—not innocent, so an interesting twist—, but it was obvious from the start that the police officers testifying against him were lying—outright lying. So in one sense, his being found not guilty was a sort of vindication and perhaps a sign that reason prevailed, but maybe things would have gone differently if these police officers were more convincing liars.

All’s well that ends well? Not exactly. How is it that a system allows false accusations without repercussions? Wouldn’t it be a fairer game if the police officers were held accountable? Wouldn’t that be a better incentive not to lie—or at least not misrepresent truth? But that’s not the goal. Like a casino, the goal is to present the appearance of a fair game, but the odds remain in favour of the house.

People defend these rationality-based systems with reckless abandon. I don’t hesitate to point out the deficiencies. I’ve been cited the misattributed Churchill so many times I’ve lost count:

Democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time…

Winston Churchill (Sort of)

Aside from the source of the quote and the veracity of the claim, the defence of Democracy is up there with the defence of Capitalism. So many reasons. So little Reason.

I’m asked if this is so broken, what better option might I suggest, as if my pointing out that you leg is broken somehow commits me to know how to fix it. But since you’re asking. I suggest an approach other than reason.

Irrationality

I’ve not read nearly at a pace as I’ve done in prior years, and I’ve got a million excuses. I did recently start and stop Quine’s Pursuit of Truth, but I’ve just picked up Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason.

EDIT: I’ve since finished this book and posted a review on Goodreads.

As a former behavioural economist, it’s good to see the expansion of the position that the Enlightenment brought the Western world an Age of Reason, but it failed to see how little capacity most humans have for reason even regarding mundane affairs.

Have you ever stopped to consider that literally half of the population has less than average intelligence?

Some guy

Fundamental attribution bias is clearly at play, as the authors of these Enlightenment works were high-intellect individuals. I respect greatly the likes of Locke, Hume, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and their near contemporaries, but the world they envisaged was based on an invalid premise.

In the realm of governance, one might try to argue that Plato was trying to address this in his admonishment of democracy in favour of The Republic, but he, too, was incorrect, essentially not seeing principle-agent problems as well as predicating a system on the notion of virtue—naive, to say the least.

I’ve been tremendously busy in my day job, so I haven’t been able to contribute here as much as I’d like, but I’ve taken time to jot down this.

The Colour of Justice

Sort of interesting topic, but I’ve been too busy to post much or respond lately.

Think about the concepts of “red” and “justice” and you’ll notice a key difference. If you’re sighted, you’ll associate “red” most strongly with the sensory experience, which relates to signals from cone cells in your eyes. “Justice”, in contrast, doesn’t have any associated sensory qualities – as an abstract concept, you’ll think about its meaning, which you learnt via language, understanding it to be related to other abstract concepts like “fairness” or “accountability”, perhaps. But what about blind people – how do they think about “red”?

A brain-imaging study of 12 people who had been blind from birth, and 14 sighted people, published recently in Nature Communications, shows that while for sighted people, sensory and abstract concepts like “red” and “justice” are represented in different brain regions, for blind people, they’re represented in the same “abstract concept” region.


Competition and Jordan Peterson

Jordan Peterson was interviewed by Joe Rogan, where he discussed gender and competition. I am not going to address his gender issues, but I’ll say something about competition. I’ll also ignore his stance that the word is ‘functioning unbelievably well, even though it has its problems’. He gets to competition through some comments on equality.


[Focus] on winning the largest number of games across the span of a lifetime.

Jordan Peterson

Firstly, Peterson differentiates equal playing fields from equal outcomes, a favoured Conservative talking point slash whipping boy. He then sets up a strawman argument relating to people favouring the ‘best of the best’ (which is to say, their personal favourites, I suppose) in lieu of exploring the vast universe of music available on the myriad streaming services, the result being that in the aggregate, the preferred acts make more money through this competition. Of course, this is the result of preference theory, which produces different outcomes based on inputs such a time and place, fads and trends, and the ‘winner’ is the one who attains the most listens.

There’s no accounting for taste.

Having had worked in Entertainment for years, I realised early on that the correlation between talent and financial success was fairly weak. In fact, I had several conversations with artists who felt ‘guilty’ for their commercial success over people they deemed more talented. This is a fundamental problem with market systems, the value calculus is influenced by what Keynes termed ‘animal spirits‘. As the saying goes, there’s no accounting for taste.

Peterson and Rogan both agree that competition is healthy and necessary, but they don’t define the scale and scope, so they sacrifice a participation trophy red herring on the altar.

Peterson does come back to discuss scope within a timeline of a lifespan, that a single game is less important than a championship—and, apparently, there is more than one championship. What never happens is a definition of what the rules of the game are or how you know you’ve won. I suppose, that’s a relative concern. They also don’t provide any guidance on where to set the dial between competition and cooperation.

If you are trying to get a job versus even some anonymous pool of applicants, then you’ve won this match. I see this as an evolutionary game. I remember a story by Clarissa Pinkola Estes where she tells about a guy who had been climbing the corporate ladder for decades, and when he got near the top, he came to the realisation that he had it up against the wrong building. Perhaps what he thought was a worthy goal (say acquisition of money) was in conflict with some higher ethical goals or deeper friendships.


It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.

From what I can tell, Peterson is guided by a sense the virtue ethics are the way to go, and, judging from this interview, he’s more than just a bit of a Consequentialist. But it’s clear he is no Deontologist. Case in point, he claims that the adage, ‘it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game’ is a ‘sentiment confuses children’.

Play well with others.

He ends by saying that if you learn the kindergarten lesson to play well with others, you’ll temper your winning or redefine winning within the context, and somehow your goal should be ‘focusing on winning the largest number of games across the span of a lifetime’.

At the end of all of this—given Peterson’s pathological worldview—, it’s no wonder he’s so defensive, combative, and irascible: he is driven to win, and he thinks it matters. And it’s abundantly clear that he hasn’t learnt his own kindergarten lesson: Play well with others.

And now for something completely different…

I chose the cover image of this post on the merits of the upcoming competition between Peterson and Žižek on 19 April.