Arguing for the Abolition of Prostitution: Talk About The Men

Apparently, there was a part 0 and a part 2. I didn’t realise that, so I skipped video 1. My bad, as this is one I was particularly interested in.

In this video, Elly’s premise is to focus on the right to buy sex instead of the right to sell it. Pausing for a moment, I’d like to point out that sex is neither bought nor sold; rather access is rented or leased, in a manner similar to renting a streamed movie on Amazon or Netflix. You retain no rights to ownership or future access. You don’t get to keep it when your time is up. Rather than adopt new nomenclature, I’ll continue with the convention in place.

Rather than asking is there a right to sell sex, ask is there a right to buy it, AND ask is there a right to profit off of selling someone else for sex.

Ignoring whether a right can even exist ontologically, I’ll go along and pretend that a right can exist. We’ve been down this street before, but I am commenting in real time, and I am not yet even a minute in. Essentially, she suggests asking two questions:

  1. Is there a right to buy sex?

  2. Is there a right to profit off of selling someone else for sex?

Clearly, these two questions are related. The right to buy sex begs the question from whom, so even though the focus is redirected from the seller to the buyer, there cannot be a buyer without a seller. In practice, the seller is a critical piece of the equation. For example, I may have a right to buy an automobile, but you only have the right to sell it if it is your property; you can’t rightfully sell me your neighbour’s car.

Separately, is there a right to profit from selling sex [as a first party transaction] in the first place, and for selling someone else for sex [as a second party transaction] in the second place?

[SPOILER ALERT] » This video does not yield the anwers to these questions.  

The next order of business is to use these talking points…

  1. Discuss what motivates men to by prostituted women.

  2. Discuss how they view and treat them rather than discuss statistics.

…followed by this assertion.

“There is plenty of evidence that men are motivated to buy prostituted women because prostitution at its core means the availability of sexual access with little to no boundaries to young, attractive women anywhere at any time for affordable prices.”

This is where I go off the rails and critique poor methodology and poor rhetorical form. Let’s unpack this:

  • There is plenty of evidence that…
    • First, plenty is a weasel word. It carries no rhetorical weight unless it is followed with, well, plenty of evidence. How much is plenty? Is there plenty of counter-evidence? Is the evidence more prevalent than the counter evidence or vice versa.
    • Second, what is the source of this unspecified, uncited, and unattributed evidence. Elly references links; perhaps they are the evidence she is references. What is the quality of this evidence?
    • Not to offend, but this wouldn’t even pass as a Wikipedia comment.
  • …men are motivated to buy prostituted women because…
    • Apart from the inability to actually know someone’s motivation, I am interested in seeing where this leads.
    • Elly uses the noun phrase prostituted women. As she employs the adjective form prostituted, I am led to wonder what the motivation was for this word choice.
      • My initial thought is that she is modifying the noun women because wants to differntiate buying women from buying prostituted woman, but I don’t think this is quite right.
      • My next thought is that her motivation to convey that these women have no agency or volition; they are passive objects who are prostituted against their will.
      • My third, or perhaps it was my first, thought is why not emply the plural noun prostitutes. She has already established context that her focus is women, so I am left feeling there is a deeper subtext. Perhaps I am reading too much in.
  • …prostitution at its core means the availability of sexual access with little to no boundaries to young, attractive women anywhere at any time for affordable prices.
    • This is some definition. I’ll need to unpack this one slowly:
      • This definition get to the heart of the matter from the perspective of the  punter.
      • Prostitution is the availability of sexual access…  Yup. Nailed it.
      • with little to no boundaries… Wait, what? Where did this come from? Is there some subclass of prostitutes to which this applies? Surely does not define all prostitutes? Does this define most prostitute? As I understand it—at least the escorts of Backpage of days gone by, a victim of FOSTA—, escorts to have boundaries. Moreover, some boundaries can be expanded by an up-charge. Even reading the negative reviews on the Invisible Men Project, it is apparent that many of the complaints were that the woman refused one service or another, which is to say to enforce a boundary. This appears to be counterevidentiary.
      • to young… I wonder how we are defining young. I wonder what the average age of a prostitute is. A quick Google search of ‘prostitution’ yeilds a recent arrest of 7 women. I am not saying this is a valid random sample or size, but their ages range from 27 to 55 with an average age of just under 40-years old. I suppose to a 70-year-old, these are young. Let’s move on…
      • attractive women… Attractiveness is relative, but let’s just say there’s no accounting for taste. Without comment, I’ll leave it to you to decide the attraction level of these same arrested women.
      • anywhere… This is a bold assertion.
      • at any time… This is an another bold assertion. I am certain there is support for this claim somewhere.
      • at affordable prices. Finally, the end of this parsing party. Affordabilty is another relative term. Who’s the punter and what’s the cost? I’m noticing that first guy perportedly spent £340 for 45 minutes. That’s about $450 US for the peeps reading on this side of the pond, and I am just going to go out on a limb and suggest that is beyond the affordability range of most Americans by several hundred dollars.

At the end of the day, I am left with the impression that the purpose of this definition is to incite and inflame not to objectively define anything. In the court system, this is what one would call leading the witness. As such it would be inadmissible. I concur.

Her next course of action is to determine ‘If your opponents are aware of widespread social stigma in society against prostituted people, which causes risks or disadvantages during interactions with law enforcement or social services, ask them if Johns are somehow magically exempt from this’.

Resulting from my previous search, it seems buyers not exempt. In fact, 6 of the 8 people arrested were men ‘charged with patronizing a prostitute’.

Again, an unsubstantiated claim was countered in less than a minute. It feels to me that the tactic is to throw so much word salad at the opponent that they simply can process the mis- and dis-information, and without recourse to Google, they may be overwhelmed and convert having never researched any of the false claims. Donald Trump relies heavily on this technique.

If they are unable to see the misogyny in the words and actions of punters, introduce them to punter forums…where prostitutes are rated like products.

The claim of misogyny is one of intent. It is not a claim that the words are offensive. It is a claim that the intent behind the words is fueled by some inherent hatred of women. I’m sorry but this is unadulterated psychobabble.

I did read the negative reviews on the punter forums, and to be honest at the expense of being accused of mansplaining, these don’t read much differently to bad service reviews on on Yelp or Google. And, yes, the woman are rated—albeit like services not like products: like my stylist butchered my hair; my gardner killed my dog; whatever. Linguistically, this is akin to code switching. They are employing the vernacular of the forum.

Do some of these men hate women? Sure. Who knows? Do they hate all women? Do all men who frequent prostitutes hate women? Do they hate all women or just prostitutes? Do they hate their mothers? Is their hatred of prostitutes simply a hidden hatred of their mother manifest in hatred of women? Do they hate other categories of people? Do they kick cats and beat dogs? Of course they do, and then they go home and beat their wives and children and speak poorly about their aunts and mothers.

Of course, this line of reasoning is just as inane as the line that inspired it.

She mentions men who freely admit to abusing and raping women.

Wait, what? I didn’t see that. I must have been distracted by the snuff films.

I can tell this is just turning into a rant. If there is one thing I can’t stand—and there is more than one thing I can’t stand—is sloppy academics. The rules of engagement for defending a position with integrity are simple. If the goal is to win at any expense, then, as the saying goes, all is fair in love and war. But I am not sure what the prize is here. I am not one to have much faith in the intellectual capacity of most humans, but even I am pretty sure that the majority of people can see right through this subterfuge.

Shake it off, Bry. Just shake it off. Push through it. No pain no gain.

Presumed motivators for men to pay for prostitutes are because…

A. Men want to have sex with no responsibilities with maximum control and no required effort of actually impressing and winning over the other person, and because other men are willing to provide it by pimping out others for their own lucrative profit.

Wow. Another unfounded, ungrounded assertion. Just some claim pulled from thin air. Also, I am pretty sure I heard her say A, as if to enummerate some list, but I never heard any subsequent letters.

  • Men want to have sex
    • So far, so good…
  • with no responsibilities
    • I’ll presume she means with no additional strings attached. I am not sure what other responsibilities we could be talking about.
  • with maximum control
    • I am pretty sure we’ve already trodden this teritory. Perhaps he feels he has (or even has) more control over a prostitute than over some alternative woman. Perhaps he wife or partner won’t allow him to do something or another, but I have a feeling that this maximum control claim is a bit more hyperbole than reality justifies.
  • and no required effort of actually impressing and winning over the other person
    • I am fast-forwarding a bit because this feels like reading it will be like watching paint dry or grass grow. By what Romantic construct is this a thing? Someone’s watched too many Disney films. And this is a game, and the person who pays to avoid effort is a cheater? He jumped the queue. Hmmm. When I say it like that, it does seem awfully juvenile.
  • and because other men are willing to provide it by pimping out others for their own lucrative profit.
    • Let’s just tag some barely relevent rationale on because we can.
    • And let’s pepper our speech with superlatives so the hyperbole doesn’t feel lonely.

Prostitution exists because of the demand not because of a subset of women who are nymphomaniacs.

I have to admit that I loved this last line.

Also [prostitution does] not [exist] because of poverty. Poverty is a supporting factor.

Rachel wins the strawman argument contest of the year. Who is asserting that poverty is the sole arbiter of prostitution? Apparently, some unnamed source in Parliament.

Prostitution exists for one reason: male demand —Rachel Moran

This logic exhibits a fundamental lack of understanding of the basic rules of transactional economics and equilibrium in context with supply and demand.

Not to be a dick about it, but I can demand a Ferrari until the cows come home, but this will not conjure a Ferrari. Believe me, I’ve been waiting for those cows to come home for ages. Also, the supply of Ferraris does me no good either because the transction price is too high; therefore, I cannot afford a Ferrari.

Rachel however is correct—In your face Jean Baptiste Say!—when she recognises that supply does not create its own demand. Sorry believers in Conservative economics dogma. But I digress.

Even if this nymphomaniac offered her services for free, there could be no transaction without demand, so the monetary exchange is a secondary factor.

Don’t sugarcoat the violence that punters and pimps commit.

Also, don’t differentiate violence that happens on the job, such as a dope dealer or a loan shark that would have occurred, perhaps even sooner, whether or not she was a prostitute. Let’s just pretend that these are related to her line of work because it helps to inflate number to make our position more sellable.

occupation definition

When a prostituted woman is raped or killed, the most likely rapist and/or killer is a pimp or a John. That makes prostitution the only so-called occupation which [sic] changes the most likely perpetrator of severe bodily harm from a partner or relative to your customer or employer.

And this is relavent how? Perhaps we should make associating with partners and relatives illegal. It seems that they are the biggest concern.

Why is this a so-called occupation? Is this not a job or line of work?

Lastly, make it very clear that this dynamic and this level of violence does not magically change under legalised prostitution.


The set of men buying and selling women doesn’t really change.

I disagree. Where prostitution is illegal, the good men are going to exit the system, and only bad men will remain. Of course, if you define all men who frequent prostitutes as misogynists, then I suppose you’ve created a situation where all men are bad, and so I stand corrected.

Let’s see how that renders as a categorical syllogism:

  • – All men who frequent prostitutes are bad.
  • – Joe is a man who frequents prostitutes.
  • Joe is bad.

I see how it works. I stand corrected. All punters are evil. Burn them.

Under legalisation, too, men retain their disgust for the prostituted and their disrespect for their boundaries.

Here we go again with the broadbrushing.

Ample evidence are the punter forums of Germany, the Netherlands, and New Zealand. This contempt and the sever mistreatment does not change unless there is effective widespread social intervention that teaches children for elementary school onwards that prostituted women and men are just as human and deserving of respect as anyone else and that all sexual interaction requires enthusiastic consent, which means that it cannot be bought.

Prostituted women and men are just as human and deserving of respect as anyone else…which is why we should deprive them of their livelihoods. Nothing says “I respect you” more than kicking the chair out from under you.  That’s my creed.

Not merely consent but enthusiastic consent. Not only do I have to work, I have to do so enthusiastically.

Abolitionists have an issue not with the prostitutes but in the system they are caught in and the men who operate and benefit from it.

I think I am approaching the end of this clip.

The systems they are caught up in is Capitalism and a market economy, a system that presumes to be able to put a price on anything.

A cynic is…a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing. — Oscar Wilde

Hatred of a system does not equate to hatred of a person in that system.

I agree, and so…

Humans have a piss poor track record in understanding complex systems, whether weather, poitical, sociological, economic, or otherwise. The issue here is that you can hate the system and love the person, but if you disrupt the system intentionally or otherwise, the wide ranging effect may prove disaterous.

Punters love the system but hate the women. Abolistionists care about the women.

Where is all this categorical hatred coming from?

Lastly, Elly mentions that she is working on a video piece to summarise the important stats and info on who punters are, what they do, and why they do it.

And here is where I will challenge your integrity. Who here would believe—especially insomuch as by her own admission that she recommends hiding inconvenietly opposing facts—any reporting would contain an accounting of unbiased and unabridged data, metrics, or summaries or that proper methodological rigour would be applied for the study.

On the topic of studies, in the description of the video on the page, there are links, which I’ve copied here for comment.

  • Rachel Moran at Femifest in London
    • This is a PDF of speaking notes or a transcript of Rachel’s presentation in London, based on her experience as a sex-trade survivor. Rachel’s is a sad story, but it is her story.
  • The Invisible Men project on Tumblr
    • Yet again, a list of cherry-picked perhaps 180 quotes from some Canadian forum. This is contemptuous. I only read about a dozen and a half of them. In order to be even somewhat useful (instead of being polemic) would be to see all of the reviews, and to see what percentage of people wrote these reviews. You can’t convince me that there are no doting reviews. These are exempted because they dilute the disingenuous shock value of only negative reviews. Even a simple word cloud would be more useful than this hatchet job. (I feel like finding one of these forums and cherry-picking the rest of the story just out of spite.)
  • Prostitution Research & EducationAbolish Prostitution And Provide Real Alternatives
    • This is a full forum of resources. I have not done anything more than scan the initial page where I landed. I may return for more context. If you seek additional information, visit. I think it goes without saying that the information here is slanted, much like watching Fox News in an attempt to understand American Liberal politics.
  • How Porn Creates the John: Porn, Trafficking and the Social Construction of Masculinity (Youtube video from a lecture given in December 2012)
    • Being on the topic of social constructivism, this one should be right up my street. I haven’t watched even a moment of this video, so am probably commenting prematurely, but it is interesting to me how some people accept the concept of social constructivism when it relates to a different perspective, but rarely do they accept their own perspectives as social constructions. This is a cognitive bias.

I am not so sure I have the interest in commenting on the rest of the series. To be honest, Elly has other series as well. I’d like to take a look, but I’m afraid I’ll have a similar reaction that the position and content haven’t been well thought out. Perhaps a strong editor would help, a disinterested party who would maintain (or otherwise elevate) the integrity of the content and who would provide needed rigour.

In the end, Elly’s message would be stronger and more cogent, and she could shed the chaff whilst retaining the substance.


The Rhetoric of Foucault

OK, so this isn’t at all about Foucault’s rhetoric. My main riff this year is the assertion that there is no Truth, only rhetoric—or should I rather say Rhetoric. I created a Reddit post asking for references to other philosophers (or whomever) who had made a similar claim, to which I was offered Vico and Rorty. Unfortunately, there were only two responders, and their assistance was superficial.

What I did encounter by one of the responders was a criticism similar to that levelled at Foucault, hence the inspired title of this post. This critique at its essence is that having proposed no positive solutions to the issues I point to, I cannot defend my position. In fact, as with Habermas‘ fault with Foucault, evidently, I have disarmed myself.

I find this line of argumentation weak tea at best. To argue that one has no claim to declare something incorrect if they don’t have a correct replacement for it is absurd. For example, I don’t know what 13,297 ÷ 1,492 equals arithmetically; but I can assert with confidence that it does not equal 2. Moreover, to criticise, one doesn’t need the ‘ability to generate positive alternatives’.

“There is no truth but rhetoric.”

So when I say there is no Truth but rhetoric (for non-ontic concepts), I am making a Truth statement. As such, this assertion—by my own admission—is only as strong as the rhetoric I can muster to its defence. Alas, my defences are weak, and so the argument fails. Were I to make a stronger argument—a more convincing argument—, it might be accepted as Truth.

Evidently, my first mistake was to separate ontic and non-ontic, which is to say things existing apart from their given names and those whose existence is entirely fabricated. An ontic thing might be a stone, a tree, a planet, a star, or the sensation of pain. These things exist even without language, a label, or an observer. As Saussure and other structuralists have noted, in semiotics, there is the signified (or referent) and the signifier—the object and the identifier. In the context of language, these are tautological.

There is no spoon.
Non-ontic things are conceptual, freedom, truth,  justice, rights, gods, and so on. I may opt to replace non-ontic with language-contextual or some such to sidestep the taxonomical quagmire. Or perhaps I’ll adopt the dichotomy of concrete versus abstract. These concepts do not exist outside of language. They are wholly constructed in a complex system created by humans—and humans whilst humans have done OK with complicated systems, they have an abysmal track record when it comes to complex systems. By analogue to the physics of solids, there is more space than atoms, and the atoms and their constituent particles are in constant motion—zero-degrees Kelvin, be damned. Our senses perceive something to be there, but as in that scene in The Matrix, ‘there is no spoon‘.

In my mind, leveraging Saussure’s ideas are useful to depict the differences in the concrete versus the abstract.


The famous painting depicted above illustrates explains the difference between a signifier and a referent. In this image, there is only the signifier. Magritte makes clear the distinction with the text, Ceci, n’est pas une pipe: This is not a pipe. It is merely a depiction of one. To be even more arcane, the image is a signifier to another signifier that in turn refers to the referent.

A sign is the device that encapsulates the concept. It may be visual—an icon (an illustration of photograph) or a written word or even Braille—or it can be spoken or signed, as with American Sign Language. These are all signs.

cat sign

Notice when one considers a sign that a concrete cat (or in French, chat), it is pretty clear to what one is referring. Above the line, we see the signified, the idea conveyed by the sign. This doesn’t mean that everyone sees the silhouette depicted above, but it is a catlike thing, a feline animal, a mammal, normally with four legs and a tail. Perhaps you are thinking of a particular cat. But to someone with a grasp of the language in which you are communicating, when you say cat, there is little room for ambiguity. In fact, if you are trying to teach someone a different language, say, French, you could show them the cat with the chat signifier, and they would grasp your meaning almost instantaneously.

All language is arbitrary and socially constructed, so there is no connection between the words—say, the spelling or shape of a word—and its referent. The words cat and chat do not look like cats.

There are concrete things that cannot be so readily translated into an icon; for example, the wind. However, one could fairly quickly be able to articulate or gesticulate, as the case might be, the notion of wind. The same cannot be said for the abstract concept of justice.

As I’ve mentioned before, justice, especially one of the restorative or retributive varieties, is a euphemism for vengeance. The distinction is supposed to be found in the intent, but intent cannot be known; it can only be inferred. And, speaking of Foucault, justice can only be delivered from a power position.

But the notion of justice relies heavily on social construct; it has geo-spacial dependencies. What is considered to be just in ancient times may not be considered just now. What is considered just in one country might not be considered to be just in another. And this is more than a difference in instantiation. It is due to the arbitrary if not capricious articulation of a nebulous concept.

Returning to Foucault, (Christian apologist) Nancy Pearcey declares his stance paradoxical: “[when someone] states that it is impossible to attain objectivity, is that an objective statement? The theory undercuts its own claims.”

First, Pearcey merely asks a question about objectivity, but it doesn’t matter. The answer is: this may as well be an objective statement, but it’s just another language game. Wittgenstein (and Russell and Heidegger and Rorty…) was on the right path when he pointed out that the ambiguity inherent in language provide cover for all sorts of mischief. I’m only pretty sure that Derrida might yield paydirt as well. Besides, let’s pretend for a moment that there exists some objective truth, there is no reason (language game; except in accepting the broadest definition, reason is a capability elusive to many if not most humans) to expect that this truth is either accessible or verifiable anyway. The best one can do is to pose a more convincing rhetorical argument.

Reason /ˈrēzən/ (noun)
the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic

A similar critique has been advanced by (another Christian apologist) Diana Taylor, and by Nancy Fraser who argues that “Foucault’s critique encompasses traditional moral systems, he denies himself recourse to concepts such as ‘freedom’ and ‘justice’, and therefore lacks the ability to generate positive alternatives.”

So whilst I’ve just managed to stream-of-consciousness my contention, I am not in a position to resolve anything. For now, I’ll settle for documenting my position as I continue to search for other supporters and formulate a more cogent response, a more robust rhetorical presentment.

If anyone can direct me to resources relevant to my position, let me know in the comments. I’ll appreciate it. If you don’t agree—which would be expected, as this is the accepted orthodoxy—feel free to comment as well. 


Sam Harris and the Myth of Perfectly Rational Thought

On Property

We take property for granted. John Locke espoused life, liberty, and property. Rousseau observed that “The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said “This is mine”, and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.”

The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said “This is mine,” and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society.

But property and its defence is nothing more than some accepted rhetoric. Libertarians presume this to be some inviolable right, and Anarchists and Socialists believe that property—well, private property anyway; real property—is a common good.

I have an issue with ownership of real property, though I don’t have such a strong opinion on possession. In reality, this is more of a practical matter than a defensible philosophical position. It has emotivist roots. As Hobbes noted (or I’ll paraphrase liberally), even animals in his state of nature have possessions, but there is no right to these possessions (which belong to the monarch anyway in society); there is only the ability to try to retain ownership through force.

In practice, this is what society does. Insomuch as the force is more potential than kinetic, allowing the state or community to exercise this force by proxy, it is not dissimilar to our consumption of meat products at arm’s length by sheltering the violent reality by intermediary grocers.

And we shelter ourselves through language. We don’t eat cows and pigs, we eat beef and pork, chateaubriand and bacon.

Returning to property, real property, it’s yours as long as you possess it, but it is not yours from a distance, and it’s not yours to bequeath. If we are to embrace capitalism—which I don’t, but for the sake of argument—, we should allow the property to go to the purpose that will provide the greatest utility. History as a judge demonstrates that it is unlikely to happen to be the someone’s heirs.

Looking back at books & such in 2017

Evidently, I ‘read’ a lot in 2017. To be perfectly honest, I listened to a lot of long-form audiobooks in 2017. Here is a summary of my favourites. The ♠ symbol indicates that I read rather than listened to the audiobook version.

  • Recommended Favourites
    1. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari
      This is a strong follow-on to his Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. He assesses the present and extrapolates from the past to formulate a vision of the future.
    2. Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella Meadows
      ♠ Whilst not philosophical, per se, this is a reminder of how much of what we analyse is based on systems and how poorly humans process complexity.
    3. What Is Property? by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
      ♠ I could have captured this under Classics, but Favourites rates higher. Proudhon does a bang-up job of critiquing private property, especially as rentier. Some have espoused stronger views, but he was a trailblazer and a trendsetter.
    4. Good Strategy Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt
      Another non-philosophy book, this was more supportive of my rent-paying day job. He does a good job of defining strategy and explaining how poor most executives are at it—despite how many have done MBA-level coursework in Strategy at top-tier schools.
    5. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
      One of the few fiction pieces I read this year, I am not sure if I’ve read a better book. Whilst it’s difficult to judge over an expanse of years and decades—given falible memory and circumstances—, it’s got to be one of the top two or three.
    6.  Neo-Nihilism: The Philosophy of Power by Peter Sjöstedt-H
      Although this work is entirely derivative, it is presented as a compact summary, and I enjoyed it on a plane trip from someplace to somewhere.
    7. Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue by John McWhorter
      Full disclosure: I’ve been a McWhorter fanboy for years, but again I enjoyed his perspective on language and linguistics.
    8. The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker
      I like Pinker’s presentation style, though I am not quite on board with his defence of Humanism and neo-Enlightenment position. These aside, his analysis resonates once I compensate for the bias they introduce. I read this after having read Robert Wright’s The Moral Animal, which trod some of the same ground. I recommend it, too; I just found Pinker’s presentment to be superior.
    9. Philosophy and Real Politics by Raymond Geuss
      ♠ This came as a recommendation as result of an online conversation in a Libertarian forum. I listened to it as an audiobook and the read it to fully grasp the material. It was well worth it.
  • Classics
    1. Discourse on the Origin of Inequality by Jean Jacques Rousseau
      I enjoyed this quite a bit, and though it’s viewed through quite the quaint Romantic lens, it is nonetheless enjoyable. I was strongly considering this as a favourite, but I opted to place it at the top of the Classics list.
    2. The Social Contract by Jean Jacques Rousseau
      Although I appreciate Rousseau as a thinker and writer, I didn’t really like this. It was a decent thought experiment in its day, but in the end, it’s just a Romantic and fanciful sort of origin story.
    3. Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche
      I also considered placing this in Favourites. Nietzsche or his translator provide coherent exposition, but in the end, I found it to be spotty. Though many find it to be a hard pill to swallow, his extension of Hegel’s master and slave (herd) morality still resonates today.
    4. On the Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic by Friedrich Nietzsche
      A strong follow-on to Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, though not quite a favourite. Nietzsche is a master rhetorician, and this polemic is quite enticing. What struck me most is how he presaged Freud by at least a decade.
    5. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume
      ♠ I actually read rather than listened to this classic. Hume, the Empiricist, was so far ahead of his time.
    6. Anarchy, State, and Utopia by Robert Nozick
      More of a modern classic—whatever that means—, Nozick tries, but the entire idea is based on a faulty premise and wishful thinking. I understand he walked back some of his position in his later years (of which there weren’t many), but he never quite jumped off the Libertarian bandwagon.
    7. On Liberty and Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill were refreshing, as I mention here. Whilst I don’t agree with his consequentialism, I appreciate what he has to say. Ultimately, he demonstrates what is wrong with empiricism. Still, definitely worth the read.
    8. The Republic by Plato
      I found this book to be sophomoric and lame logic. I truly don’t understand how this tripe is revered. It’s like listening to some random dude tripping balls at a party. It’s saving grace is his Allegory of the Cave, but I could have read that on the back of a cereal box. I didn’t need it to be buried in a book.
    9. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber
      Not a favourite in the least. Probably the least interesting book I read in 2017. If I read a worse book, I mercifully put it aside and didn’t slog through it. Let’s just say I read this. Check that box. This was the epitome of boring. I almost quit, but as it was relatively short, I persevered. Weber’s main point of how Calvinism created the environment to allow Capitalism to flourish, could have been presented as a pamphlet. I was not interested in the deep historical perspective. YMMV
  • Great Courses
    In addition to reading and listening to the books above, I enjoyed several courses, which I recommend highly and I’d be remiss not to mention. Follow the links to read about them. 

    1. The Modern Intellectual Tradition: From Descartes to Derrida (publisher)
    2. No Excuses: Existentialism and the Meaning of Life  (publisher)


Movement Is Not Progress

Before creating this, I searched online for instances of ‘movement is not progress‘ and ‘motion is not progress‘. I got results, but these results were generally either motivational or spiritual, which may amount to a different side of the same coin. To this contingent, movement is a necessary but not sufficient condition for progress. The dictionary defines progress as:

1. Forward or onward movement towards a destination

— or —

2. Development towards an improved or more advanced condition

Progress appears to be related to a specific type of movement: forward, but this still doesn’t seem to capture the essence of what we mean by the word progress. This is captured by the second definition by the inclusion of improved or advanced, but on what dimension are we assessing this improvement? Except in the minds of the adherents, this appears coincidentally to be arbitrary; anything in line with their wishes appears to be an advancement.

Unfortunately, progress is more than this still. Take the expanding universe model as an analogy—let’s not even discuss how a multiverse would further exacerbate things. Imagine that I can travel from Earth to Mars, and if I define Mars as the destination, then I have satisfied definition Nº 1, as I have made progress towards Mars (my stated destination), but I haven’t actually made any improvement. All I’ve done is changed position. I’ve gone from here to there, but now there is here, and here is there. If I retrace my route from Mars to Earth, again I’ve made progress under the first definition, but, in fact, I’ve just completed a circuit. Sure, I can argue that I may have done something on Mars that I can label progress: perhaps I’ve planted a flag or started a colony, but how is this progress. Following the same logic, is a cancer in your pancreas colonising your, well, colon progress? A disinterested observer taking the perspective of the cancer might say that the cancer has progressed or spread, but the patient may disagree with the assessment of progress.

In the sense that history is (anecdotally) written by the victors, we may have the illusion of progress, but as notables from Rousseau to Thoreau have quipped, progress is no progress. Even so, this progress presumes a wholesale concept of worse and better, yet there is no objective measure. This can only be claimed within some context. So, if I accept, within in the human domain, that Capitalism is better than Feudalism, then I can claim to have progressed. If I build a house on a plot of land, I can claim progress. Of course, to the previously standing wood, this is no progress. To the creatures who had occupied the wood, again, no progress. So, is progress a zero-sum game that I can qualify as a positive sum game by narrowly defining the system boundaries? Probably so, but let’s leave that for another day.

“Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.” ― Alfred A. Montapert

So what’s my point? My point is that there is only the illusion of progress, and that only in the realm of jingoistic specieism can we accept this illusion. In reality, there is no progress; there just is. We just are.

Justice or nonsense?

Why should justice be the foundation of a society, and why not something else, say, honour or valour or wealth? What do we mean when we say justice? Do you mean the same thing as me? Dating myself to be sure, but would a Klingon from the Star Trek universe share your definition? So what is justice anyway?


‘Justice is the constant and perpetual will to render to every man his due. Jurisprudence is the knowledge of divine and human affairs and knowledge of what is just and what is unjust’, or so writes Justinian in Institutes 1.1 in 533 CE.

“Iustitia est constans et perpetua voluntas ius suum cuique tribuens.  Iuris prudentia est divinarum atque humanarum rerum notitia, iusti atque iniusti scientia.”

This is Justinian’s answer to the question: What is justice? In his Philosophy and Real Politics, Geuss relates that ‘justice is the constant and unflagging will to render to each person what is due to him’ (or perhaps ‘what he’s entitled to’), and therein lies the rub: what exactly is one entitled to?

Geuss goes on to point out that entitlement was contingent to one’s place in society. Citizens were entitled to some things, resident aliens another, and slaves, pretty much nothing at all. In fact, giving a slave more than s/he was entitled to would be considered unjust, as it would be considered to be undeserved. As Geuss writes, ‘that to treat a slave as if he or she had any entitlements would be a gross violation of the basic principles of justice’. Of course, you are thinking, post-Enlightenment ‘all men are created equal’, or so the saying goes.

US-Camp_x-ray_detainees-Guantanamo-Bay-Jan-11-2002-Phot-Shane-T-McCoy-US-Navy-Creative-Commons-513x239[1]In practice, it’s been easy to sidestep the application of justice by redefining a certain group to be outside of some protected group. During the illegal aggression by the United States against Middle Eastern countries that resulted in extraordinary rendition of civilians spirited off to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, off the coast of the United States and outside of their jurisdiction, their acting regime declared that the detainees were not people, strictly speaking, and as such were not subject to the protections afforded to people, therefore they had no access to justice.

“Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought.”
— John Rawls, A Theory of Justice

Hermione’s Time Turner

The ancient Greeks had a different idea of justice, so perhaps we just need to break out our trusty time turner to see what Aristotle had to say about it.

Here Aristotle rather equates the notion of justice to that of equality, but that begs the question: what equality? as we understand that equality comes in a variety of colours, so I won’t belabour the point any further here.

Instead of asking about justice, why don’t we focus on the root of the word, just? This yields the following definition:

Just: (adj) based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair

This brings us into the normative domain of morality, fairness, and reason, so it’s not much to work with—basically, we are in the realm of opinion defended by rhetoric.

For ‘all’ intents and purposes, we’ve got four forms of justice. We’ve been focused on the distributive type, but there are also procedural, restorative, and retributive varieties. In many cases, not just one form of justice is satisfying and so multiple varieties are deemed, well, just.

  • Distributive or economic justice is about fairness in how things are distributed, about getting a fair share.
  • Procedural justice is also about fairness, but it’s more about fair play, an even playing field.
  • Restorative justice is about compensating for an injustice, about restoring some perceived balance.
  • Retributive justice is about punishment—retribution.

A problem arises when we try to quantify and measure justice. Consider distributive justice: If two people work in a field and each cultivates 50% of the crop, are each entitled to 50% of the yield? If the cultivated land was the ‘property’ of some other landowner, what portion would s/he be entitled to? All of it? Some of it? None of it?

What about the court system? Procedural justice comes into play here. Should a wealthy person have access to better attorneys than a poor person? Is this just? The poor person may argue no, but the wealthy person may argue that s/he earned the ability to pay for a better lawyer, so s/he is entitled to this benefit.

Restorative justice sounds simple at the surface. If I steal a loaf of bread, wouldn’t returning the loaf (or, at least, a similar loaf) be restorative—no harm, no foul? Many people will argue that this is not good enough. Balance has not been restored.

This is where retributive justice comes into play. Retributive justice is a poorly veiled euphemism for vengeance. This is where Hammurabi‘s code (or Leviticus‘)  eye for an eye—but not Matthew‘s turn the other cheek rendition—comes in. Let’s not get into Nietzsche’s take on forgiveness as being unjust and part of slave morality.

Keep in mind that in Hammurabi’s code, as with Roman law, justice was relative: Given eyes, (Nº 196) ‘If a man put out the eye of a nobleman (amelu), his eye shall be put out’, yet (Nº 198) ‘If he puts out the eye of a freedman or breaks the bone of a freedman, he shall pay one gold mina’.

Through all of this, we are still left wondering: just what is justice besides some vague notion constructed solely to preserve the status quo.



Leibniz’ Blockchain Revolution

The first thing that popped into my head was blockchain.

Polymath, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716), coincidental discoverer of differential calculus with Isaac Newton, was also an Age of Reason (or Rationalism) philosopher. Whilst listening to a lecture (Nº 5) about Leibniz’ monism (whence: monads), wherein he believed that all substance is comprised of monads—think of them as like atoms—, which  contain ‘entelechy‘ (from Aristotle’s Greek, ἐντελέχεια*), « an inner principle that unfolds all the changes it goes through with respect to other substances, that everything true of the substance, including its relations to all other things, must be deductible from it ».

The first thing that popped into my head was blockchain, that a thing would contain within itself the entire history of itself, in particular, it’s spatiotemporal relationships. Of course, this is not a very tight analogy, but I thought I’d share it anyway.


*Etymologyentelekheiaen– (within), –teleos– (end or perfection), and –ekhein (to be in a certain state).

Evolutionary Morality

Listening to the Robert Wright’s audiobook, Moral Animal, it’s become even more apparent that ethics and morality are the results of a later stage of an evolutionary strategy. Not that he’s saying that.

After cognitive abilities came language and then, presumably, ethics then moral proto-structures. Subsequently, gods and God came into fashion.

That morality is the result of evolutionary progression is not particularly controversial, but sociobiologists seem to view the evolutionary development of morals as a parallel to Chomsky’s theory of innate language and universal grammar. My modification is that morality (as distinct from mores, customs, and such) necessarily requires language and cannot exist independent of language.

Given the evolutionary perspective, it is obvious that this concept will not be popular for those who do not support this base position, but it should not much of a stretch for those who do.