Grab That Gas With Both Hands

Winning an argument is not enough if you win it by conceding your opponent’s erroneous ideas. JTK illustrated this at the start of the recent invasion in Iraq:

This is the argument libertarians need to make, not that war is evil, but that it can never be moral to force others to participate. It will do no good to win the argument that a war is evil while implicitly accepting that it is legitimately a collective decision; that’s the wrong hill. The right hill is the one where we reject the collectivist premise first.

Recently, a blog post at The Last Free Voice posted a link to a letter. The Governor of Connecticut recently chided Chesapeake Energy for refusing to sell some of its natural gas, since Chesapeake would lose money. Cheapeake’s CEO responded with a letter outlining why the Governor was wrong. The Last Free Voice, which hosts the letter, said that the letter “explain[ed] all the ways in which Governor Rell was wrong.” I read the letter, and it was entertaining. But the letter did not explain all the ways that Governor Rell was wrong. In fact, although the letter may have won on its various arguments, it ultimately lost, because it conceded Governor Rell’s fundamental premise: that the State of Connecticut has any business telling Chesapeake what to do with the gas it drills.

And there’s the problem. Even when you win an argument, if you concede the wrong premises, you lose. Chesapeake nowhere argued that Connecticut has no business messing with its gas. Chesapeake, then, has implicitly conceded that Connecticut does have business messing with its gas. Chesapeake may win this battle, but it has already conceded the war.

5 thoughts on “Grab That Gas With Both Hands”

  1. “This is the argument libertarians need to make, not that war is evil, but that it can never be moral to force others to participate. It will do no good to win the argument that a war is evil while implicitly accepting that it is legitimately a collective decision; that’s the wrong hill. The right hill is the one where we reject the collectivist premise first.”

    =====

    “And there’s the problem. Even when you win an argument, if you concede the wrong premises, you lose.”

    An over-hasty misgeneralization, surely!

    One battle is only one battle, not the whole campaign, as Mr. Poster concedes. But then to lose only one campaign remains far indeed from losing one’s War altogether.

    We inveterate unregenerate are a bit puzzled about Mr. Poster’s “village on a hill,” so to call it, where everybody “reject[s] the collectivist premise first.” That can’t possibly be either Gov. Winthrop’s 1630 proleptically City-crowned hill or the Yalie lad’s Mount Hyperpower of 2007.

    What “hill” is this, then, real or figurative, O Planet Dilbert, only some Morton’s Merrymount after all?

    Come along, O dilbertarian gentlebeings! Please try to decently reassemble yourselves for combat: your Miss Rand of Petrograd and your Mr. Nozick of Harvard have passed away, R. I. P., but what’s this, now, to hide away in isolated hill-top villages like a thousand and one other former losers? To become inexpugnable mostly because you are negligible and overlooked?

    O Zeus, O Montreal! (And fancy what John Galt might say about hilltop withdrawal, begorrah!)

    Meanwhile, closer to home: “This is the argument libertarians need to make, not that war is evil, but that it can never be moral to force others to participate.” A nifty notion after its fashion, that, and perhaps it is a logical enough outcome of the former Dilbertarianism to forget about Rand and Nozick and just hand oneself over to Eric D. Prince and Blackwater at the end of the day.

    Hesse wins, America loses. Now that nobody sane makes war except for her own individual profit, shall we not expect a New Camelot, an explosion of valiant neo-chivalry?

    I dunno. “We’ll really kinda hafta wait and see,” he mumbled as he slunk away . . . .

  2. John

    What hill is this, then, real or figurative, …

    It’s simply the truth, and I have nothing to gain by surrendering it. Conceding that you’re entitled to enslave me can’t advance my purposes.

    I can see how, if you’re half asleep, you could get the idea that I aim to convert men to my moral position. But that’s not the case.

    I’m advising those who already apprehend this moral fact that it can’t profit them to surrender it.

    And by holding fast to it they will most quickly recognize that no form of collective politics will profit them – because the only hill they could conceivably win on cannot be taken in practice.

    But collective politics does not exhaust man’s life.

    So at root I’m telling libertarians not to waste their time and efforts on collective politics. That isn’t a prescription from Rand or Nozick, it’s mine.

  3. Always a pleasure — or it ought to be — to discover that the black hats aren’t quite so black as they’ve been painted or self-portrayed.

    “Collective politics does not exhaust man’s life” — why, golly, that’s tentatively almost sub-Thoreauvian of you, sir! And should you ever care to devote a fraction of your politically unexhausted life to scribbling a Walden follow-up, why let me be the first to applaud!

    Meanwhile, though, “telling libertarians not to waste their time and efforts on collective politics” strikes me as only negative advice that rather invites an obvious cheap shot: “So what should the slaves of Planet Dilbert waste their spare time about, then?”

    Miss Rand and Professor Nozick, at whom I maybe somewhat unfairly needle because of an accidental prominence, had at least detectable alternatives to propose for the expense of their own spare time, shlock fiction and Philosophy respectively, but surely these are very “elitist” pursuits?

    So at root you’re telling “libertarians not to waste their time and efforts on collective politics. That isn’t a prescription from Rand or Nozick, it’s mine.”

    Well, OK, sure, exactly who prescribes Dr. Kennedy’s patented or patent-pendin’ Hate-Politics Pills doesn’t matter if the drug itself be really efficacious.

    But is it, really?

    And don’t all human events other than pill-takin’ rather seem to vanish Dr. Kennedy’s way?

    Chimpanzees do not take pills, only we miserable a very few genes off from chimps ever thought of pill-takin’! Here is a major discimination of things, no doubt about it, but nevertheless, is pill-taking (and pill-prescribing) basically US?

    God knows best.

  4. Meanwhile, though, “telling libertarians not to waste their time and efforts on collective politics” strikes me as only negative advice…

    That’s likely because it is only negative advice.

    But is it, really?

    Depends on the metric. I’m honestly curious to hear what yours is.

    And don’t all human events other than pill-takin’ rather seem to vanish Dr. Kennedy’s way?

    Only if your only human event is partisan politics.

  5. Maybe I ought not to try, but the only thing that sticks in my mind after reading what JHM has said, is some sort of a Walden reference.

    I’ve never heard complaints about Walden before. That said, this talk of collectivism in politics what is it you are referring to exactly?

    So far as I can see, if it were possible to have a community environment where people can choose their involvement, that would be most successful. Communism failed because the incentive to meet needs had not been met, and people needed freedom. Anarchy so far as I understand depends on a more advanced population identity, which may or may not be achievable at the stage we have currently. Some system, then, where people can choose their involvement, would be preferable. In economics, allow both communes and corporations for the populations who are interested in them, the bison that is capitalism, ought not feel threatened by the little birds of really-free markets, sharing, and community.

    “Chimpanzees do not take pills, only we miserable a very few genes off from chimps ever thought of pill-takin’! Here is a major discimination of things, no doubt about it, but nevertheless, is pill-taking (and pill-prescribing) basically US?

    God knows best. ”

    as a person interested in science, (which is sort-of what I think you are sort-of making an analogy with?) I have to ask what the hell you are babbling about here.

    As a note, I apologize that this doesn’t better reflect the more thought based topic above. I think it is noble to recognize “Even when you win an argument, if you concede the wrong premises, you lose.” This is very much a part of the discussions of war, how it can be handled better, managed, whatever. All that is trash, because to say you mismanaged something, and that’s what’s wrong?, is missing the boat. You are allowing that it was okay to have had war in the first place.

    It is not unlike schoolyard bickering,
    antagonizer-“do you like sally?”
    kid,”no”
    antagonizer-“does sally know you like her?”
    real pain in the neck.

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