The Great Wetback Prevention And Elk Encouragement Debate

I find it amusing that Kim DuToit can notice the fact that the US government can’t wrangle elk properly but naively accepts that the government is competent to secure 5000 miles of borders.

The reason for this is easy enough to explain: DuToit isn’t a philosopher and so has no inherent stake in making a correct analysis of the situation. His credulous faith in the nonexistent abilities of the Federal government to keep Mexicans out of the US doesn’t do him much good, but more importantly it doesn’t do him much harm either: however much or how little thought he puts into this, he’ll get the same amount of Mexicans. Likewise with elk.

A majoritarian democratic government might as well be a cargo cult for all the good that rational thought does you: think this, blog that, vote the other, and out pops a result. If you like the result, do the same thing next year. If you don’t, change a few things and try again. A cargo cult doesn’t operate any better if you think real hard about it.

This is a capsule example of why rational evangelism doesn’t work. There’s no penalty for holding contradictory political ideas, there’s no apparent benefit from adopting a more consistent worldview. The goofiest bumpkin notion is equal to the finest philisophical idea, when they’re committed to ballots.

All of that seems to speak against logical argumentation in general: why bother if it isn’t going to get anyone anywhere? Why think about things if the most likely outcome of the matter at hand is that everyone maintains their state of rational ignorance?

The best possible outcome of the great Wetback Prevention and Elk Encouragement debate isn’t that it’s going to end up producing you any different amounts of elk or wetbacks, the best possible outcome is that you gain something by participating.

Love Of Truth

He that would seriously set upon the search of truth ought in the first place to prepare his mind with a love of it. For he that loves it not will not take much pains to get it; nor be much concerned when he misses it. There is nobody in the commonwealth of learning who does not profess himself a lover of truth: and there is not a rational creature that would not take it amiss to be thought otherwise of. And yet, for all this, one may truly say, that there are very few lovers of truth, for truth’s sake, even amongst those who persuade themselves that they are so. How a man may know whether he be so in earnest, is worth inquiry: and I think there is one unerring mark of it, viz. The not entertaining any proposition with greater assurance than the proofs it is built upon will warrant. Whoever goes beyond this measure of assent, it is plain, receives not the truth in the love of it; loves not truth for truth’s sake, but for some other bye-end. For the evidence that any proposition is true (except such as are self-evident) lying only in the proofs a man has of it, whatsoever degrees of assent he affords it beyond the degrees of that evidence, it is plain that all the surplusage of assurance is owing to some other affection, and not to the love of truth…


Via Caplan.

Refusing to be a Refusenik

Along the road to martyrdom,Claire Wolfe reaffirms an old lament in An American Refusenik, while at Strike the Root Per Byland lays out a better roadmap.

I live for myself first and foremost, and then come my family and friends. I do not care to save the world if I can find freedom for myself and the ones I love without doing it. Why should I? I’m nobody’s slave; I do as I please simply because I want to. It would be nice to live in a free world, but I don’t think it is worth the trouble. I’d rather be free now, on my own, than break free along with millions of strangers 40 or 50 years from now.

Isn’t this what individualism is all about? One has to make one’s own choices, for oneself and the ones willing to follow. If they do not want the freedom I want, then why the hell should I spend my time and money on making them share my ideals and go with me? I’m no selfless Samaritan or a slave of the peoples; I’m my own.

As libertarians, we need to break free from the collectivist worldview of this Savior Complex. There is no reason to work day and night to liberate people you don’t know, never will know, and who sincerely do not appreciate what you are trying to do for them.

Most NT worthy attitude.

Democracy: A Cure For Free Markets

Bryan Caplan points out that Hong Kong has long had the most free economy in the world, yet it’s citizens strongly favor socialist public policy.


To be blunt, it looks like the lack of democracy under British rule was a key component of Hong Kong’s ascent. The policies worked wonders, but they never became democratically self-sustaining. In politics, people often resist policy change just because “things have always been this way,” even if the results were never very good. But free-market policies apparently labor under a greater political handicap. Even if “we’ve always left these things to the free market,” even if leaving things to the free market has worked in the past, it just isn’t enough to win over public opinion.

This ought to be especially troubling for consequentialist libertarian evangelists. How can they expect their arguments to persuade the public when even massive successful demonstrations don’t sway public opinion in favor of free markets?

If Wishes Were Horses…

…then collective politics might work.

In “The case for studying military history” Martin McPhillips writes:

In other words, if Americans knew more about how warfare works, they would be less susceptible to the hysteria of bloviating nitwits like Ted Kennedy and Michael Moore.

My first full-scale experience with military history was Victor Davis Hanson’s Carnage and Culture, and it effected a complete change in the way I view all of history.

That might be a case for wishing Americans studied history more, but how is it a case for the individual American to study more history?

Q: Who gets a better government – the credulous fan of Michael Moore or the serious student of Victor Davis Hanson?

A: They both get the same government.

McPhillips can study history till the cows come home and his senators will still be Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton. So where is the political return on effort invested by the individual?

Beck cites George Santayana:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

To which I add:

“Those who can remember the past are just as condemned, in collective politics, to repeat it.”

Moore, Hanson and the perfect political philosopher are all condemned to the same collective political results regardless of who is wiser. Collective politics decisively favors vice over virtue. It offers negligible returns on individual investments of virtue, but lucrative returns on vice.

I’m certainly not saying that the individual ought not pursue truth. I’m saying that a proper case for pursuing truth cannot be based on collective political consequences.

Hipster Comic Vs. Rational Evangelism

Mad props to Sabotta for another dose of cartoon goodness.

Beyond the pointer to a cool web ‘toon, though, there’s a lesson to learn here that’s especially revealing. The forum associated with Questionable Content has 2113 registered users, right now., “the center of internet market anarchism”, has 2062.

The inescapable conclusion: market anarchism is less popular than this one obscure cartoon.

The Problem Of Political Irrationality

Economics relies on the assumption that individuals make rational choices. But if that’s the case why do so many of those choices seem irrational? Michael Huemer makes a distinction between epistemic rationality and instrumental rationality.

Instrumental rationality (or “means-end rationality”) consists in choosing the correct means to attain one’s actual goals, given one’s actual beliefs. This is the kind of rationality that economists generally assume in explaining human behavior.

Epistemic rationality consists, roughly, in forming beliefs in truth-conducive ways—accepting beliefs that are well-supported by evidence, avoiding logical fallacies, avoiding contradictions, revising one’s beliefs in the light of new evidence against them, and so on. This is the kind of rationality that books on logic and critical thinking aim to instill.

David Friedman confirms that what Huemer calls instrumental rationality is indeed an underlying assumption of economics.

The rationality assumption in economics is that individuals have objectives and tend to choose the correct way of achieving them.

Huemer explains why instrumental rationality dominates politics and how it produces irrationality.

The theory of Rational Irrationality holds that it is often instrumentally rational to be epistemically irrational. In more colloquial (but less accurate) terms: people often think illogically because it is in their interests to do so. This is particularly common for political beliefs. Consider one of Caplan’s examples. If I believe, irrationally, that trade between myself and other people is harmful, I bear the costs of this belief. But if I believe—also irrationally—that trade between my country and other countries is harmful, I bear virtually none of the costs of this belief. There is a tiny chance that my belief may have some effect on public policy; if so, the costs will be borne by society as a whole; only a negligible portion of it will be borne by me personally. For this reason, I have an incentive to be more rational about the individual-level effects of trade than I am about the general effects of trade between nations. In general, just as I receive virtually none of the benefit of my collecting of political information, so I receive virtually none of the benefit of my thinking rationally about political issues.

The theory of Rational Irrationality makes two main assumptions. First, individuals have non-epistemic belief preferences (otherwise known as “biases”). That is, there are certain things that people want to believe, for reasons independent of the truth of those propositions or of how well-supported they are by the evidence. Second, individuals can exercise some control over their beliefs. Given the first assumption, there is a “cost” to thinking rationally—namely, that one may not get to believe the things one wants to believe. Given the second assumption (and given that individuals are usually instrumentally rational), most people will accept this cost only if they receive greater benefits from thinking rationally. But since individuals receive almost none of the benefit from being epistemically rational about political issues, we can predict that people will often choose to be epistemically irrational about political issues..

I could quibble with the formulation but I don’t think Huemer much overstates the case when he writes: “The problem of political irrationality is the greatest social problem humanity faces.

Huemer’s analysis is good but his prescriptions for alleviating the problem of political irrationality are not very helpful. They really amount to simply advising individuals to apply epistemic rationality consistently. But this does nothing to address the source of the problem which Huemer has already identified: “…it is often instrumentally rational to be epistemically irrational“. Huemer’s advice will only be marginally useful for those who already value epistemic rationality highly enough. It’s fruitless to attempt to persuade most people to use better judgment (to use epistemic rationality instead of instrumental rationality) when it is not in their immediate interest to do so.

It was always too late for a political solution. The problem of political irrationality cannot be addressed by political means.