Moral Binaries

At heart, I’m an Emotivist. Following Ayer, I don’t believe that morals (and their brethren ethics) convey more than, “I like this, and I don’t like that.” Stevenson’s Prescriptivist extension makes sense, too: “I think this is good, and so should you.”

It seems that Hilary Lawson and I share this perspective. He makes the further point, one I’ll surely adopt, that morals and ethics are effectively ‘designed’ to shut down argument and discussion. It’s akin to the parent telling the kid, “Because I said so”—or “because it’s the right thing to do”.

Podcast: Audio rendition of this page content

I’m a moral non-cognitivist, but people have difficulty enough grasping relativism and subjectivism, so I’m only going to reference moral relativism here. As a moral relativist, right and wrong were both subjective and contextual. One person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist. I won’t derail this with obvious examples. Once one adopts a position, they enjoy the luxury of turning off any critical thinking.

I’ll presume that morals predate religion and deities, but now that the thinking world has abandoned the notion of gods, they’ve replaced it with morals and ethics—and nature, but that’s a topic for another day. The faith-based world retains a notion of gods, but that is fraught with the same relativism of my god is right, and your god is wrong.

As Hilary notes, we’ve transferred the authority, per Nietzsche, from gods to morals in and of themselves, so it again becomes a device for the unengaged. He notes, as I do, that some absolute Truth is a fool’s errand. Echoing Donald Hoffman, what we need is fitness—what Lawson calls usefulness—, not Truth, which is inaccessible anyway—even if it did exist, which of course it doesn’t.

He cites the position Wittgenstein arrives at in his Tractatus. There is and can never be a place where language—words and symbols—intersect with ‘reality’, so the best we can do is to talk about it in a third-person sort of way.

As I consider the works of McGilchrist, it feels like Lawson is establishing moral simplicity as a left hemisphere function. Seeing beyond this is a right hemisphere activity, so that’s not promising. There seem to be few right-brain thinkers and then it comes to convincing the left-brain crowd. In a poor metaphor, the challenge is rather like trying to convey the maths of special relativity to the same crowd. They are going to tune out before they hear enough of the story. The left-brain is good at saying, ”la la la la, la la, la”.  

Without getting too far off track, a major challenge is that systems of government and laws are facile left hemisphere-dominant activities. These are people in power and influential. Rhetoricians have right hemisphere dominance, but they understand that their power depends on defending the status quo that has elevated them to where they are. As Upton Sinclair said, “’It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” This holds true for women and non-binary others.

In closing, Lawson asserts that apart from comic book supervillains, people tend to do what they believe to be good, and yet all goods are not created equally, nor all bads. And in the manner that one person’s trash is another’s treasure, one person’s good is another’s bad.

This moral discourse is not benign. It’s dangerous. I don’t want to steep this in contemporary politics, but this is being propagandised in things like the Ukraine conflict or the Covid response. If you’re not with us, you’re against us. This is divisive and creates a rift. That governments are propagating this divide is even more disconcerting, especially when they unapologetically backtrack only a few months later in the wake of people suffering economic impacts, including getting fired, for opposing a position that has turned out to be wrong and that was being asserted in the name of science and yet with little empirical support. These people are politicians and not scientists but attempting to hide behind science like a human shield, it serves to erode trust in science. Trust in science is a separate topic, so I’ll leave it there.

I recommend watching the complete video of Hilary Lawson to gain his perspective and nuance. My point is only to underscore his positions and to say that I agree. What do you think about morals? Are they a device to assert power over others, or is there something more to it than this? If not moral, then what? Leave a comment.

Not Only the Queen Is Dead

“The Queen is dead. Long live the King,” I believe it goes. There is propaganda through symbolism and spectacle. And there is detachment. Witness in this photograph of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral procession, a sea of mobile devices—black mirrors.

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Are these people living in the moment? I can’t say for sure, but I am thinking they are more interested in laying claim to bragging rights that they were present (in body)—pictures or it didn’t happen, eh?—, but at the same time, they were missing the moment. Perhaps it would have been overwhelming otherwise.

I recall a Buddhist meme where a traveller was more (or as) interested in taking photographs than experiencing the moments—well before the Social Media Age. And what are photographs, except attachments to the past? As if the memory is not enough in and of itself.

I am neither a Royalist nor a Statist, yet I understand that many people are and they have emotional connexions to transitions of this nature. Some ask if the system will persist whilst others wonder if there might be changes conforming to their worldviews. Time will tell.

As for me, I am flexible. Were I Charles, I’d likely abdicate the throne and pass the sceptre to William, whom I would hope would usher the monarchy out of existence in favour of something more modern—and by modern, I mean something in the order of an anachronistic constitutional republic such as (poorly) employed by the United States of America.

Obviously, my preference would be for some autonomous syndicalist structure, but I am not holding my breath, nor do I feel that would fare much better anyway. I feel that’s just another pipe dream anyway as it involves people.

Would you look at the time? I’m off wittering again. Cheers.

Anatomy of a Social Media Challenge

As a Social Justice Warrior, I tend to favour diversity and inclusion as a principle. As such, I follow some people who share this interest. In fact, most of these people expend much more energy toward this end than I do. The challenge I am about to convey is that some people don’t read beyond the subject line, and don’t even attempt to assess the underlying claim, let alone the issue at hand.

I recently engaged in a nonsensical interaction that I am sharing and dissecting. It started with this share, an image of the border outline of Nigeria with an overlay caption that reads: “Nigeria becomes the first country to ban white and British models in all advertising”.

I’d like to point out two items in particular. Firstly, the caption is fabricated. I’ll get to the source reference presently. Secondly, the re-poster aptly corrects the caption when he shared it—”Well, all foreign models, but HELL YEAH!”

Nigeria recently passes a law that essentially assesses a tariff or levy on advertising content using non-Nigerian talent. There is no mention of ‘white’ models, though British models would fall under this umbrella. This protectionist law stems from nationalism. I’d guess that ‘white’ people comprise less than one per cent of the Nigerian national population, but I could be wrong. This is well outside my area of expertise.

My response was to say “Down with Nationalism and the Promotion of Otherism.”
I may be misinterpreting myself, but it feels to me that this is denouncing racism and other forms of otherness.

Sabrina responds, ‘Why is not having white models in advertising a bad thing?” and “Isn’t the whole point of advertising [for] people to…see themselves… ?”
In response, I should have pointed out that the initiative had nothing to do with skin colour. Instead, I responded to the second question: the point of advertising is to sell product. Full stop. If people see themselves with the product, then great. Clearly, this comprises a fraction of successful adverts. More common is to make a connection to what they aspire to. It’s not about making a social statement—unless, of course, that social statement will sell more product. If an ad with a white model will sell more product, a business would be derelict not to employ one; conversely, if white models result in lower sales, a business would be foolish not to switch to the more successful vector.

Sabrina really goes off the reservation with her reply, somehow conflating Nigeria with the African continent. Attention to detail is not her forte.

At this point, I feed into her laziness and send her a link to an Al-Jazeera article addressing the law.

She leaves with a parting shot, and I quote: “Have you ever thought about the harm you might cause by playing devil’s advocate and “creating an argument”?”

She’s off course and then attempts to diminish my point by calling it ‘playing devil’s advocate’ rather than admitting that she hadn’t even considered the rationale and possible ramifications. She didn’t even grasp the main point, so I suppose I should forgive her for not noticing secondary and edge cases.

At this point, Dr Perkins adds her voice. Her initial question is valid, and as I responded, the answer is “No”. The race card was introduced by some narrator who didn’t know what game he was broadcasting. But then she goes on to “applaud Nigeria for making a [decision] centering [on] Blackness”, save to say that was not what prompted the decision.

Notice, too, that other people “Liked” the other comments, a testament to the principle of least effort of the bystanders, too.

I recognise that the original post anchored the conversation off the actual topic, but it was also very easy to track down the reference and note the content discrepancy. Granted, this takes time and effort, but so does responding on a thread and then escalating commitment to a non-cause. And for one tilting at windmills to be tossing around accusations of playing devil’s advocate. It’s not a good sign.

But wait, there’s more. I commented on this post on a second thread.

In this case, Dr Anderson suggests that this is just “a country celebrating its own citizens by recognizing their beauty and knowing they can move product just as good, and probably better than white women, to which I responded that this is a testable hypothesis. It’s either true that on balance white models sell more product or black models do. Again, don’t fail to miss the point that none of this is about white versus black models.

Somehow, LinkedIn can’t seem to keep their threads in order, but Ms Rice takes my hypothesis testing point as a support for racism before precipitating to full-on troll mode.

It scares me to see that there are two academic doctors participating in this thread, neither with a trait of attention to detail nor even a fundamental pursuit of evidence.

This is why it is difficult to engage with social media. You have no idea what level a commenter is coming in on. And even when spoon-fed information, they refuse to alter their position. In fact, they tend to double down on their wrongness.
Moving on…

Non-Identity Property Paradox

I’ve been reading David Benatar’s Better Never to Have Been, which I expect to review presently have reviewed, but that’s not what this post is about. In it, I happened upon the Non-Identity Paradox asserted by Derek Parfit. In essence, the argument affecting three intuitions runs like this:

  1. Person-affecting, intuition. According to that intuition, an act can be wrong only if that act makes things worse for, or (we can say) harms, some existing or future person.
  2. A person an existence, though flawed, is worth having in a case in which that same person could never have existed at all, and the absence of that act does not make things worse for, or harm, and is not “bad for,” that person.
  3. The existence-inducing acts under scrutiny in the various nonidentity cases are wrong.

The first intuition is my interest: an act can be wrong only if that act makes things worse for some existing or future person. In particular, relative to the future person.

I’ve long held that private property is immoral. One reason is that it favours an extant person over a non-extant person. It also favours humans over non-humans, but I suppose that’s an argument for another day. Plus, it appropriates common public property into private hands—and by ‘public’, I don’t mean property of the state, which is of course just another misappropriation but at a higher level

I believe that this intuition hones the edge of the extant person, person-affecting, argument insomuch as it puts future persons at a disadvantage relative to existing ones.

Nothing more to add. Back to reading Benatar. Thoughts?

Sovereign Persons

I do not wish to be either ruler or ruled

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

I have agreed with this sentiment for as long as I can remember, at least stretching back to age 10 or 12 and long before I had ever heard of the likes of Proudhon. I don’t believe that Proudhon is a big focus in the United States. I never encountered him in all of my studies from kindergarten to grad school—and I was an economics major.

In the US, disparaging Marx was always in vogue, with the off-hand remark along the lines of “Communism works on paper, but because of human nature, it can’t work in practice. And by the way, look at the Soviet Union. That’s all the proof you need.” Of course, I was left thinking that at least it worked on paper, something I can’t say with a straight face for Democracy.

For those who are familiar with Proudhon, he is likely remembered for his quote, “Property is theft!” I’ve discussed this before.

La propriété, c’est le vol!

Property is theft!

But this is a different quote: “I do not wish to be either ruler or ruled.” When I was in high school, there was a saying, lead, follow, or get out of the way. As imperfect of a metaphor as it is, I just wanted out of the way. In the world of leaders and followers, I wanted to be an advisor. In a manner—given the false dichotomy of followers and leaders—, this relegated me a de facto follower. Only I am not a follower. I not only question authority and authority figures, I question the legitimacy of their power. Not a great follower, to be sure.

I feel I am the peasant in Monty Python’s Holy Grail who tells King Arthur upon encountering him, “Well, I didn’t vote for you.” Not that voting yields some source of legitimacy. What options does one have?

Philosophically speaking, there is no justification for personal bodily autonomy. Someone just made this claim, and some others agreed. Sounds good to me, but there is no real reason to support the idea save for selfish rationale.

The science fiction staple, Star Trek, famously created a Borg where autonomy was futile. Because of our acculturation, we find this idea perhaps silly or perhaps appalling or absurd, but one is not more justifiable than another except by rhetorical devices. Yet neither is right.

Resistance is futile!

In the West, we tend to prefer a rather middle path, and perception doesn’t actually comply with reality. I think that people believe that they are more autonomous than they are. I’d be willing to argue that this is the same delusion underlying a sense of free will. Sartre might have argued that we each retain a sort of nuclear option as a last resort, but a choice between two options is hardly freedom. It sounds a lot like Sophie’s Choice (spoiler alert).

Not so come across like Hobbes, but I do feel that violence (subject to semantic distinction), or at least the potential for it, is inherent in any living system. With political and legal systems, violence just shifts from explicit to implicit, and so out of sight, out of mind.

In any case, I do not wish to be either ruler or ruled. I just want to advise. I’m an introvert. I want to be left alone. I value the benefits of society and I participate at the margins, and that’s where I prefer to remain. If the direction of the train I am on seems to be running off the tracks I’d presume it should be on, then I’ll get vocal. Otherwise, I’ll take the privilege to concentrate on cerebral and philosophical interests.

I’ll advise you to do the same.

Freud and Moral Responsibility

Morality is a social construct, but so are notions of identity and self. Upon reflection, psychology, a discipline I already hold in the lowest regard, is only the minutest subset of sociology. Without society, psychology would have nothing to study.

Sociology is more focused on structure and interrelationships whilst psychology concerns itself with the individual agent’s psyche. Sigmund Freud did recognise this by the taxonomy of id, ego and superego. It seems that by Freud’s reckoning, the id is a stand-in for volition, rather unconscious reactions, whereby the ego is more reflexive and tempered by the external world. Employing this model, in at least one way of thinking, the id represents the bare and authentic self whilst the ego is the accumulation of inputs.

Put in causa sui terms, the id is the result of inherited genetic temperament and the ego is the result of societal forces as interpreted by the id and any antecedent ego.

Remember, one function of the brain is as a Bayesian prediction engine that evaluates new inputs and forms a new sense of perceptual reality and fitness to operate in this universe.

Freud’s superego is ostensibly a part of the ego gone underground—, most of it operating beneath the surface. It’s what I’ll consider being the Nancy Reagan of the psyche—just say no*. It’s Jiminy Cricket. Apologies for not having more contemporary conscience references. I suppose my age is showing.

According to Freud, most of who we are is a social construct, save for the kernel of the id, the proto-self. The ego is the part almost—but not all—above the surface, manifest in consciousness. Conversely, the superego has the reverse configuration, existing almost entirely below the surface. One might even be tempted to argue that the portion of the superego above the surface has actually already been assimilated into the ego.

So, we’re animated sausages, skins stuffed with social cues. Some of these social cues are also moral codes, but many moral codes are inherently unstable and vary by context. And there are local and global morality sources. For example, most religious doctrine is local, so a text authored by a venerated leader in one area may not be venerated outside of that context. In some cases, the directive contains no moral content—don’t eat pork or shellfish or take Saturdays off—whilst others do—love thy neighbour as thyself. Still, they are all social constructs.

If one has no interactions with the other culture, these societies can coexist without challenge, but when a ‘take off on Saturday’ group intersects with a ‘take off Sunday group’, there may be friction, each chiding the other for their nonsensical belief in the manner of Dr Seuss’ Sneetches.

Given this, when discussing morality, we are forced into a structure built on shifting sand. The challenge is that some people believe this ground is bedrock, and power structures insist it is in order to leverage a more solid foundation to maintain power and control.

If we are in some milieu, we are then forced to comply with their norms and morés or be cast out or marginalised, perhaps even scapegoated as Girard might suggest.

Meantime, just take morality with a grain of salt and remember that as will all things human, there are flaws in the logic and outcomes. Also understand that even if these outcomes are flawed and you need to participate in that society, you probably need to remain under the radar—easier for some than others—, conform, play the eccentric, or perish.

* Apparently, Nancy could say no to just about anything except for giving blowjobs. Perhaps this is what saved Ron from the same fate as Bill Clinton, but who am I to say? No shame in that is my position.

Violence and Rules

I haven’t yet shared my thoughts that equate bureaucracy with violence, but this is somewhat tangential or perhaps orthogonal.

Humanity does not gradually progress from combat to combat until it arrives at universal reciprocity, where the rule of law finally replaces warfare; humanity installs each of its violences in a system of rules and thus proceeds from domination to domination. The nature of these rules allows violence to be inflicted on violence and the resurgence of new forces that are sufficiently strong to dominate those in power. Rules are empty in themselves, violent and unfinalised; they are impersonal and can be bent to any purpose. The successes of history belong to those who are capable of seizing these rules, to replace those who had used them, to disguise themselves so as to pervert them, invert their meaning, and redirect them against those who had initially imposed them; controlling this complex mechanism, they will make it function so as to overcome the rulers through their own rules.

Michel Foucault, Nietzsche, Genealogy, History 1977

Taking holiday, so taking shortcuts in posting. Here, Foucault discusses Nietzsche.

Institutionalised

Jordan Peterson is decidedly not my cup of tea. I can tolerate Pinker and Haidt. I agree with much of what they have to say, but in this video, the dissonance finally dawns on me. Interestingly, I can tolerate Peterson within the scope of this discussion.

I don’t agree with much of what these three are saying, but it is refreshing to hear Peterson outside of a philosophical domain, a place where he has no place. And although I don’t agree with him here, it is on the basis of his argumentation rather than his abject ineptitude.

I disagree with this trio. This video reveals these three people as Institutionalists. Peterson may be a political Conservative versus Pinker’s and Haidt’s enlightened Liberalism, but this is a common core value they defend with escalating commitment. Typically, we find these to be polar opposites, but here they have a common enemy that is not necessarily anti-institutionalists or anarchists but people who don’t understand venerable institutions and thereby risk tipping the apple cart or toppling the Jenga tower because they just don’t understand. Not like them. Besides constitutionalism, the common thread is Paternalism. They may disagree on the specifics, but one thing is true: We know more than you, and this knowledge is embedded in the sacred institutions. If only the others understood.

In this video, we hear these three commiserate about the diversity and inclusion forces in University today, and where this movement is off base.

Motility, Automotion, and Agency

I just wrapped up chapter eleven of The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. I’ve got only 35 pages to go to get through chapter twelve. I’ve been tempted to stop reading. Chapter eleven—and I am tempted to inject a bankruptcy pun here—has been more frustrating than the rest thus far. And yet I am glad to have persisted.

My intellectual focus these past months has been on agency. Et voilà, paydirt. Chapter eleven’s title reveals the context: Religion is a Team Sport. Let’s walk through this garden together.

A goal of Haidt is to educate the reader on his third principle of moral psychology: Morality binds and blinds. He establishes parallels between sports and religion. And here’s the thing—I don’t disagree. But here’s the other thing—I feel that are equally vapid—, with no apologies to sports fans or the religious. Let’s keep moving.

“A college football game is a superb analogy for religion.”

Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind, Chapter 12: Religion is a Team Sport

He talks about the organising and unifying functions of both. But here’s the thing. It unifies the like-minded. Haidt claims to be irreligious and not be into sports, and yet he cites these as somehow desirable. I find him to be an apologist for religion.

I am not a psychologist, but if I were, I’d be tempted to claim that Haidt’s conclusions follow from his personal beliefs. He believes in morals, society, order, intuition, and institutions. He is a textbook Modern and an extrovert to boot. I think he also falls into teleological fallacy traps. Was that a play on words?

His goal is to fuse the positions of Darwin and Durheim. Along the way, he reminds us of the New Atheists, their publications, and their positions: Sam Harris’ The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason; Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion; Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon; and Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

Although he views religion through rose-coloured glasses, he comes to the conclusion that religions have done a great deal of harm over the millennia, but the good outweighs the bad, especially if you consider it through a social-moral lens. But if religion creates in-groups versus out-groups, which they do, and religious in-groups outlive even non-religious ingroups, then this is a winning option. But what if you don’t like that option?

Personally, I am a collectivist, but this is not willy-nilly any collective.

Haidt contrasts the New Atheist vantage that religious belief is an evolutionary byproduct versus a position that what started as a byproduct evolved into group selection and then, perhaps, an epigenetic phenomenon.

Here’s my contention:

Borrowing from New Atheism, Haidt adopts the notion of a “hypersensitive agency detection device [that] is finely tuned to maximize survival, not accuracy”.

The first step in the New Atheist story—one that I won’t challenge—is the hypersensitive agency detection device. The idea makes a lot of sense: we see faces in the clouds, but never clouds in faces, because we have special cognitive modules for face detection. The face detector is on a hair trigger, and it makes almost all of its mistakes in one direction—false positives (seeing a face when no real face is present, e.g., ), rather than false negatives (failing to see a face that is really present). Similarly, most animals confront the challenge of distinguishing events that are caused by the presence of another animal (an agent that can move under its own power) from those that are caused by the wind, or a pinecone falling, or anything else that lacks agency.

The solution to this challenge is an agency detection module, and like the face detector, it’s on a hair trigger. It makes almost all of its mistakes in one direction—false positives (detecting an agent when none is present), rather than false negatives (failing to detect the presence of a real agent). If you want to see the hypersensitive agency detector in action, just slide your fist around under a blanket, within sight of a puppy or a kitten. If you want to know why it’s on a hair trigger, just think about which kind of error would be more costly the next time you are walking alone at night in the deep forest or a dark alley. The hypersensitive agency detection device is finely tuned to maximize survival, not accuracy.

Op Cit, p. 292

I fully agree with the assertion that the brain values fitness over truth, and I’ve commented in several posts that pareidolia and apophenia create false-positive interpretations of reality.

But now suppose that early humans, equipped with a hypersensitive agency detector, a new ability to engage in shared intentionality, and a love of stories, begin to talk about their many misperceptions. Suppose they begin attributing agency to the weather. (Thunder and lightning sure make it seem as though somebody up in the sky is angry at us.) Suppose a group of humans begins jointly creating a pantheon of invisible agents who cause the weather, and other assorted cases of good or bad fortune. Voilà—the birth of supernatural agents, not as an adaptation for anything but as a by-product of a cognitive module that is otherwise highly adaptive.

Op Cit, p. 293

For me, this supports my contention that agency is a wholly constructed fiction. The same agency we ascribe to unknown natural events, we ascribe to ourselves. And perhaps this ability served an egoistic function, which was then generalised to the larger world we inhabit.

I have an issue with his teleological bias. He feels that because we have evolved a certain way to date; this will serve as a platform for the next level as it were. I’ll counter with a statement I often repeat: It is possible to have adapted in a way that we have been forced into an evolutionary dead end. Historically, it’s been said that 99 per cent of species that ever occupied this earth are no longer extant. That’s a lot of evolutionary dead ends. I am aware that few species could have survived an asteroid strike or extended Ice Ages, but these large-scale extinction events are not the only terminal points for no longer extant species.

So finally, Haidt essentially says that it doesn’t matter that these religious and cultural narratives are wholly fictitious, if they promote group survival, we should adopt them. This seems to elevate the society over the individual, which is fine, but perhaps the larger world would be better off still without the cancer? Just because it can survive—like some virulent strain—doesn’t mean we should keep it.

Finally, given these fictions, what’s a logical reasonable person to do? I don’t buy into ‘this country is superior to that country’ or ‘this religion is better than that religion’ or even ‘this sports team is better than that’ or ‘this company is better than that’.

Haidt does idolise Jeremy Bentham, but this is more Pollyannaism. It sounds good on paper, but as an economist, I’ll reveal that it doesn’t work in the real world. No one can effectively dimensionalise and define ‘good’, and it’s a moving target at that.

No thank you, Jonathan. I don’t want to buy what you are selling.

News Flash: From the time I started this content, I’ve since read the final chapter. Where I categorically reject a lot of what Haidt proposes in this chapter, I tend to find chapter twelve to fit more amicably with my worldview. Perhaps I’ll share my thoughts on that next.

If you’ve reached this far, apologies for the disjointed presentment. I completed this over the course of a day through workaday interruptions and distractions. I wish I had an editor who could assert some continuity, but I am on to the next thing, so…

Bonus: I happened upon this journal article, and it somehow ended up here. I haven’t even read it yet, so I’ve got no commentary. Perhaps someday.

Rai, T. S., and A. P. Fiske. 2011. “Moral Psychology Is Relationship Regulation: Moral Motives
for Unity, Hierarchy, Equality, and Proportionality.” Psychological Review 118:57–75

Cover art source

System Failure

The system is broken. It’s not just broken in the United States. It’s the entirety of Western Civilisation. It’s not time for a reboot. The virus is still inherent in the system. It’s time for a new system.

The reaction to this line of reasoning does something along the lines of, ‘It’s easy to criticise. What’s your solution?’ So let’s begin by parsing this enquiry.

Firstly, not all problems have solutions.

Humans, it seems, need resolution and closure. And they seem to gravitate towards easy answers, specious or otherwise. But humans have an abysmal track record of solving complex problems—political issues, social issues, economic issues, and so on. It’s not as much as there is no solution, per se, but that the interactions within the complexities are too many to consider. The system has a temporal dimension, which means even if I solve the problem at time-nought, the solution may not hold at time-prime.

Secondly, that one can recognise a problem does not mean one can fix it.

This was the denouement of Occupy Wall Street a few years back. They shed light on the problems, but those in charge—hawking ‘solutions’—established a frame wherein a problem without a solution is worse than a problem ‘remedied’ with the wrong solution. You don’t have to be a mechanic or body shop guy to recognise a smashed car even if you can’t fix it.

Auto smash

What then?

Harry Potter’s Hermione’s Magic Wand

If I had a magic wand, for a start, I’d abolish Capitalism, private property, and religion and go from there.

What’s wrong with private property?

‘Do you live on the street?’ is a typical response I hear when I suggest abolishing private property. ‘Give me your address. I suppose you wouldn’t mind if I moved in’ is another. I’ve discussed eliminating private property elsewhere, but the underlying problems remain:

  1. Why accept the usurpation of the commons to private property?
  2. Why accept the premise that one can own what one doesn’t possess?
  3. Why accept the premise of a first-come, first-served principle?
  4. Why accept, given the notion of property rights, that distribution must occur within the domain of economics?
  5. If one accepts that property should fall into the domain of economics, why not apply a ‘best use’ litmus instead of a ‘first come’ or ‘ability to purchase’ litmus?

Usurpation of the Commons

I don’t accept this usurpation. In nature, where conflict exists, violence or the threat of violence is the arbiter. As humans in nature, it’s no different. Like the meat one purchases behind the veil of a grocery mart, we are shielded from the inherent violence,

In many jurisdictions, property owners are justified in homicide if another person encroaches on their property. Many homeless or indigent people have tried to squat on unoccupied property only to be forcibly removed.

Monopoly Game Board

Property is like the game of musical chairs. And if you are late to the game, the chairs may already be taken. Imagine joining a game of monopoly late in the game and ownership of all the property has already been distributed. How do you think you might fare?

Possession is 9/10 of the Law

Possession is different to property. That I possess a place offers a different justification for my occupancy of it than a place that I own in absentia. Sure a philosophical argument could be made against any right to possess, but I’m not going there—at least not today.

This becomes a situation where usage is a determining factor. Can this ownership be justified if you’ve got a dozen places scattered around the globe?

First Come, First Served

It’s easy to see why this is in place: It’s simple. And at the start, there were few people and a seemingly infinite amount of land, but this was not sustainable. Land is ostensibly a fixed resource whilst humans multiply somewhat geometrically. So, given enough time, this allocation problem was predictable and inevitable.

But, given that property is something we insist on, what are the alternatives? Do we have a lottery periodically to redistribute property? Do we reset ownership whenever a new potentially qualifying owner emerges? Do we establish duration of ownership with some expiry? Do we not allow property to pass to forward generations? Or do we simply disallow ownership because this solution is too cumbersome to implement?

Disclaimer: In an attempt to economise my time yet still contribute content, this is a post dredged from Drafts (from May 2020) and posted with touchups in the manner of applying lipstick on a pig. Sadly, it’s still relevant.