Book Review: Against Empathy

Against Empathy is a book about the negative effects of trying to feel what other people feel by Canadian American psychology professor Paul Bloom. The book makes the case that concern and compassion function better in the absence of empathy. It also makes the case that empathy is a driving force behind much of the cruelty and irrationality in the world. The book is divided into six chapters and two shorter interludes, each of which explores a different aspect of empathy.

Bloom begins by defining his terms and laying out the case he intends to make over the whole book and in each chapter, as any good academic would. Adherence to definitions for the purpose of avoiding confusion is done well throughout the book, and is especially necessary when a word as widely defined and misused as empathy is in play. Rather than arguing in favor of psychopathy, Bloom advocates thinking with our heads rather than our hearts so as to reach a more consistent and helpful morality. Nor does he argue that empathy is completely bad; only that it does more harm than good.

The first chapter makes the distinction between cognitive empathy (recognizing another person’s feelings without feeling them oneself) and emotional empathy (experiencing the world as one thinks that someone else does). The shortcomings of the latter are the primary focus of the book, namely that empathy can lead to ignoring unidentifiable victims, denigrating logical choices that have superior results, letting our biases lead us astray, overrating present costs versus future costs, and sending unnecessary aid. The chapter ends with responses to objections raised by Bloom’s colleagues during the writing of the book.

In the second chapter, Bloom explores the neuroscientific aspects of empathy, including mirror neurons, the role of preconceptions of other people, and the difference between understanding and feeling. The difference between cognitive empathy and emotional empathy is important here, and it can be detected in fMRI scans. Bloom then discusses how empathy is currently measured, as well as the shortfalls of such methods.

The failures of empathy in the pursuit of virtue are the primary subject of the third chapter. These failures occur because empathy works as a spotlight, illuminating some problems and leaving the rest in the dark. This causes people to choose to help suffering individuals instead of suffering masses, to care less about the problems of a perceived out-group, or to engage in high-time-preference thinking. There is also the matter that one person can never truly feel what another person feels because one person does not have another person’s aggregate experience. In short, empathy interferes with a rational assessment of how to make the world better. Bloom concludes the chapter by praising economists for avoiding empathy in their analyses.

Next comes a half-chapter-length interlude about empathy and politics, which deserves more attention than it gets here. Bloom correctly states that empathy is not a useful measure of where one falls on a map of political views, but says little about libertarianism and nothing about anarchist or reactionary thought. The shortsightedness discussed earlier leads to incorrect long-term policy decisions, and empathy can lead judges to take decisions contrary to the letter of the law.

The fourth chapter is about the relationship between empathy and intimacy. Bloom argues that empathy runs counter to the special nature of a close interpersonal relationship, instead leading one to treat one’s family no better than strangers. He mentions an interesting hypothetical case of a pathologically empathetic person and shows how psychologically harmful this condition can be. It is interesting that there is no clinical name for this condition. Next, Bloom explores the difference between cognitive empathy and emotional empathy in Buddhist philosophy, which contains a similar distinction and a similar recommendation about embracing cognitive empathy while rejecting emotional empathy. After this, the difficulties that doctors may encounter if they are distracted by emotional empathy are discussed, as well as the negative effects that receiving emotional empathy can have on patients. Then, Bloom makes important distinctions between having useful past experiences, caring about people without using empathy, and having emotional empathy in the present. The positive role of empathy in apologizing for misdeeds is examined, and Bloom has no counterargument on this point.

The second interlude considers empathy’s ability to serve as a foundation for morality, especially from the beginning of life. Bloom considers that empathy may be foundational for young children but harmful for adults, much like human breast milk. He considers that selfishness may motivate kind acts, but finds the explanation wanting on the grounds of misunderstanding both natural selection and psychology. The topic is left as an open question, but the evidence discussed suggests that even young children are capable of caring without internalizing another person’s feelings.

In the fifth chapter, Bloom explores how violence and cruelty are linked to empathy. In particular, he discusses how empathy can lead people to commit cruel and violent acts, especially toward people who have themselves committed atrocities. Bloom correctly posits that violence will always be with us, as some problems are insoluble without it. Here, the spotlight nature of empathy is seen to maximize the impact of victimhood while minimizing the impact of perpetration, which leads to escalations of hostilities between nations and blood feuds between families. Empathy can lead people to falsely believe that they are doing good deeds when they are being cruel and violent. It can also lead wartime leaders to fail to recognize sacrifices that must be made to win the war. Next, Bloom looks at the nature of psychopaths and the role that dehumanization plays in atrocities. He shows that these are concerns are different from concerns about empathy. He ends the chapter by comparing empathy to anger, and finding both to be unworthy of removal from a person’s psyche, but in need of subordination to rational deliberation.

The final chapter addresses the role of reason and defends it against several attacks. After all, an argument that presupposes rationality can be undermined by a case that people are fundamentally irrational. This chapter could have been improved by including the discourse ethics of Jürgen Habermas or Hans-Hermann Hoppe, as it would have added a strong defense of objective morality. Like so many controversial academics who encounter social justice warriors, Bloom was told to check his privilege, which he rightly dismisses as nonsensical, though “SJWs are the real bigots” is not a sufficiently sharp response. He addresses the concern that regardless of the virtues of reason, humans are incompetent at it. But this can be shrugged off by noting that reason is objective and thus not subject to individual competency. The arguments in favor of determinism lead to performative contradictions if taken to their logical conclusions, but Bloom does not attack them in this fashion. A second attack on reason comes from psychological studies that show how people can be subconsciously influenced, but to know this is to know to take corrective steps to eliminate the problem. Finally, Bloom makes the case for rationality by discussing the strong correlation between high IQ and success, as well as the correlation between self-control and success. He briefly returns to politics to note the irrationality there, but concludes that this is due to the political systems rather than the participants themselves. Bloom ends the book by conceding that empathy can have good results, but that this is the exception and not the rule.

In a sense, Bloom does not go far enough. The concept of conspicuous compassion is barely mentioned, and there are some cases in which psychopathy can be used for beneficial results. The final chapter is in need of stronger logical cases against Bloom’s critics. Even so, Against Empathy is thought-provoking and much-needed to stem a tide of books that take too bright a view of empathy.

Rating: 4.5/5

The Not-So-Current Year: 2016 In Review

Though the specific demarcation of the passage from one year into another is a rather arbitrary social construct, it does provide a useful annual period for self-examination and remembrance. Now that 2016 has entered the history books, let us take a look back at a year’s worth of essays and review the not-so-current year.

We begin, of course, with last year’s article of the same kind. Some articles in this list are sequels to articles in that list. Aside from that, we may move on.

My first article proper of 2016 was A Case Against the Nineteenth Amendment. It was intended to come out before the New Year, but I was not satisfied with it until January 3. If I were to rewrite this article, I would say more about biological differences between the sexes and why these make the entrance of women into democratic politics a danger to the stability and sustainability of a society. I took down the First Amendment later in the year.

The Bundy standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Preserve began. I made nine observations on the event. Their later acquittal on several felony charges after the standoff ended in what was essentially an instance of jury nullification was cause for celebration.

As usual, leftists called for more gun restrictions and an end to gun violence without seeing that the former would both cause and be enforced by gun violence or the threat thereof. Rather than take the usual path of reductio ad absurdum, I argued the sharper point that gun deaths can be a good thing. This did not sit well with the editors at Examiner.com, who pulled the article. Given a long and contentious history with the site, I decided to part ways with them and start my own site. This proved to be a wise choice, as Examiner gave up the ghost less than six months later, with all content disappearing into the aether. My next task was to choose a name for the site and explain its meaning.

Christopher Cantwell argued the libertarian case for Donald Trump, and I gave him some pushback. Shortly afterward, Rand Paul suspended his campaign, and I wrote a list of observations on the event.

‘No victim means no crime’ is a common saying among libertarians, but an altogether too reductionist one. I explained why.

A Russian film crew flew a drone over the city of Homs and recorded the aftermath of Assad’s forces besieging the city. I rarely get emotional, but seeing the wanton destruction was quite triggering for me. Aleppo was conquered later in the year, and I wrote a list of observations on the event.

I decided to take an educated guess at whether Ron Paul could have defeated Barack Obama if he had been the Republican nominee in 2012. I believe he would have done so easily.

Twitter decided to give in to government and social justice warrior requests to censor their enemies. Unsurprisingly, this tanked their stock prices. I proposed several remedies for the situation, and Twitter has of course used none of them.

Jason Brennan published an article arguing that arguments made by libertarians against open borders have disturbing implications that said libertarians almost never address, so I addressed them and showed on a point-by-point basis that some such implications are not only not so scary, but are actually vitally important to the maintenance of a libertarian social order.

Charlotte City Council approved an expansion of its anti-discrimination ordinance to include transgender people, which I denounced as a violation of private property, freedom of association, public safety, and freedom of religion. Governor Pat McCrory and the state legislature responded with House Bill 2, and the controversy has brewed for almost a year.

An author known as Mr. Underhill published an article arguing that violent revolution is not the appropriate method for achieving liberty. I took the opposite view, which led to a lengthy exchange of four more articles on my part and four more on his part. Following this exchange, I decided to write about how I choose who to debate and for how long, which made me realize that I had entertained Mr. Underhill for far too long. Later in the year, I covered political violence more generally to argue that we need more of it as well.

When examining the intellectual foundation for private property rights, I noticed an unexplored quirk which turned into an original proviso. A critique in the comments section led to another article defending the proviso.

Islamic terrorists attacked the airport and a subway station in Brussels, killing 31 people and injuring 300 others. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Social justice warriors seem to have their own language which is distinct from both the dictionary definitions and the common understanding of words by most of the general population. I created a glossary to help normal people better understand SJW rhetoric.

Donald Trump suggested that women could be punished for getting an abortion, which outraged both sides of the mainstream abortion debate. I weighed in with a view which did the same.

Having addressed water ownership and pollution in two articles in 2015, I decided to lay out a libertarian theory on air ownership and pollution.

Puerto Rico reached new lows of fiscal irresponsibility, and I explained why it is best to cut them loose from the United States to become an independent country.

The rise of neoreaction and the alt-right has brought reactionary thought back to the forefront. I deemed my first attempt at examining its relationship to libertarianism to be inadequate, so I took a second stab at it. A Jeffrey Tucker article prompted a third effort, and I made a fourth effort later in the year in response to a pro-Trump neoreactionary article by Michael Perilloux.

Peter Weber published an opinion piece arguing that the institution of the American Presidency is being delegitimized, and that this is a dangerous direction. I argued that this is actually a welcome and even glorious development.

Having already explained my decisions about debating other authors, I wrote two more articles explaining my lack of profanity and lack of satirical content.

Many incorrect arguments concerning libertarianism and punishment began to appear, so I laid out a theory of libertarianism and punishment which utilized heavy doses of Rothbard.

The Libertarian Party held its nominating convention, and it was a disaster from beginning to end. The Republican convention was not much better in terms of substance.

Many people have noticed a correlation between weightlifting and libertarianism. I explored this correlation and found many reasons for it.

A terrorist who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State attacked a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., killing 49 people and injuring 53 others. I wrote a list of observations on the event, but missed a major point in doing so. Democracy is partly responsible for terrorism because it gives the common person a political voice, which makes them viable targets in a way that absolute monarchies or stateless societies would not.

When the Supreme Court ruled against Abigail Fisher in her anti-white racism case, the Internet cheered. I did not, realizing that the decision was a rejection of pure meritocracy.

Against all predictions, the vote to remove the United Kingdom from the European Union succeeded. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

In my most controversial article to date, I argued the most extreme position in the gun control debate: a private individual has a right to own nuclear weapons, and this would be beneficial for liberty. The troll brigades were out in force making typical leftist non-arguments, and I thank them for granting me a then-record in daily page views (and thus advertising money). A few did raise legitimate criticisms which will require an addendum to be written in the future.

As the major-party presidential nominations were secured, the establishment media wasted an inordinate amount of time engaging in speculation about who would be the running mate of each candidate. When discussing the potential benefits that each potential vice presidential pick could have, they neglected the aspect of assassination insurance.

Several recent problems with the criminal justice system demonstrated that government will not hold government accountable, and that a market alternative is required.

Five police officers were killed by a sniper in Dallas. I used the event to argue that those who kill government agents now are not cowardly murderers perpetrating senseless violence, but neither are they heroic or helpful to the cause of liberty.

A certain type of policy analysis exhibits many symptoms which are also found in high-functioning autistic people. This is more common among libertarians than among people of other political persuasions, so I decided to address the phenomenon.

A significant portion of the media coverage leading up to the Republican convention focused on the possibility of violence on the streets involving leftist protesters and rightist counter-protesters. This possibility went unrealized for reasons which were covered up by the establishment media.

Hillary Clinton said that she was “adamantly opposed to anyone bringing religion into our political process” and that it is “just absolutely wrong and unacceptable.” I argued the opposite case.

Gardening is an enjoyable hobby and a useful metaphor for many things, a libertarian social order included.

Trump hinted at the assassination of Clinton should she win and threaten gun rights. Predictably, every element of the establishment went apoplectic. I argued that political assassinations are ethically acceptable, though not usually the wisest practical move.

Since the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, libertarians have had strong differences concerning how to engage with it. I explained the differences between their intentions and libertarian goals.

The 2016 Summer Olympics took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Whenever disasters impact an area in modern times, governments play a large role in the cleanup and recovery efforts. But this causes a behavioral problem in the population, not unlike that caused by the Pax Romana.

The Commission on Presidential Debates decided to exclude third-party candidates yet again. I made cases for peaceful and violent protest of this policy, and longed for a future candidate who might actually motivate people to engage in meaningful resistance.

Liberty Mutual created more advertisements that contain economic fallacies, so I did another round of debunking.

The establishment media tells us that every election is the most important of our lifetime. I proved that this cannot be the case, then psychoanalyzed the establishment media to explain why they keep repeating this, as if to convince themselves.

Argumentation ethics has been controversial since its introduction, but Roderick Long’s criticisms of it had gone unanswered. I remedied this state of affairs.

Rioters plagued Charlotte for three nights in response to a police shooting, which happened to involve a black officer and a black suspect. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Congress voted to override President Obama’s veto of a bill that allows relatives of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for any role in the plot. Though some libertarians argued against the bill, I celebrated it for chipping away at the anti-libertarian idea of sovereign immunity, giving victims of American foreign policy a peaceful means of addressing their grievances, and possibly revealing clandestine activities to the American people about which they have a need to know.

Having heard libertarians argue in favor of every presidential candidate except Hillary Clinton, I decided to give it a shot. Only a bootlegger’s case was possible, and it was rather grim.

The idea of market failure is a widely believed misconception which has found widespread use in statist propaganda for the purpose of justifying government intervention in the private sector. I gave the idea perhaps its most thorough debunking to date.

In the last quarter of the year, I began reading more books, which resulted in several book reviews. I can strongly recommend The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing and Our Sister Republics; The West Point History of the Civil War somewhat less so. Good Guys With Guns, on the other hand, is a disaster.

The month before the election presented several opportunities for rebuttals. Milo Yiannopoulos demonstrated both a misunderstanding of and an enmity toward libertarianism, and I rebutted his assertions, which gained a surprising amount of attention. Jeffrey Tucker tried to defend democracy as a superior alternative to monarchy or political violence, and I showed why this is misguided. Penn Jillette argued in favor of vote swapping, and I argued against it.

Finally, the 2016 election came and went, which presented many observations to be made.

Black Friday is revered by most libertarians as a celebration of free-market capitalism. I updated my explanation of why this reverence is somewhat misplaced.

Finally, Otto Warmbier spent all of 2016 detained in North Korea. I made the unpopular case that he should be left there.

All in all, it was an interesting year full of occasions to make sharp libertarian arguments. May 2017 bring more of the same. Happy New Year!

Book Review: Good Guys With Guns

Good Guys With Guns is a book about concealed firearms and their effects by sociologist Angela Stroud. The book discusses the rise in concealed carry permits, the way armed citizens interpret their environments, and the role of gender, race, class, and culture in firearm ownership through a series of interviews conducted by Stroud.

The interviews illuminate many interesting aspects of firearm ownership which are not adequately discussed elsewhere, and Stroud makes a genuine effort to understand people who disagree with her. But she commits a multitude of errors which are common among leftists and sociologists, and seems to be unable to keep herself from doing so. A survey of these errors will be more edifying than a more typical book review, so let us explore where and how Stroud goes wrong.

In the opening chapter, Stroud claims that gun advocates ignore empirical data which show that women might be more harmed than guns than protected by them, but there is good reason to ignore such data.1 She describes security, family values, individual freedom, and the defense of vulnerable people from criminals as being inherently masculine values rather than healthy values for any person regardless of gender. Later in the chapter, she describes her research methods, detailing the number of interviews, the types of people interviewed, the length and location of the interviews. She concludes the chapter by describing her own views and how they were changed by her research activities.

The second chapter opens with Stroud describing her concealed handgun license (CHL) test experience and criticizing her instructor for calling out incompetence and foolishness in other people during the shooting part of the test. She then argues that gender roles are social constructs while showing little recognition of the biological and environmental realities upon which such constructs are built. This is a recurring error that she makes toward a variety of subjects throughout the book. On the subject of good guys and bad guys, she neglects to mention a third type of character (who might be called an antihero guy) who breaks the rules not to take pleasure in violence for violence’s sake, but due to desperation and/or rules which promote injustice. Like most of her supposed binaries, this is actually a sliding scale between two pure extremes. Her interviews with men reveal some expected results: firearm ownership and use provides a bonding experience for males; men who are vulnerable due to aging or lack of size feel more secure when armed; and men carry guns as part of their traditional role as family protector. But she dismisses the concerns of the men who feel vulnerable as “elaborate fantasies,” seems to have no concept of peace through mutually assured destruction, and presents the vulnerability of women without guns against men as a social construct rather than a frequent empirical fact. She claims that men who want guns to defend their families but are frequently away from home and men who believe it is their job to defend their families because they are physically stronger but want women to have guns as equalizers are in contradiction, but there is nothing contradictory about these positions. Later, she suggests that a response to being robbed is to let the robbers get away with what they want, which shows no understanding of how incentives work.

The third chapter is about Stroud’s interviews with women who carry guns. Again, the interviews reveal what we might expect: women are usually introduced to guns by men instead of other women or their own initiative; many women who carry firearms do so to reject the need for men to protect them; women do not have access to as many institutionalized opportunities to learn about guns as men do; carrying firearms can restore a sense of strength and confidence in women who have been victimized; women can gain a sense of pride from mastering what is thought of as a predominantly male activity; and women with children typically value their children’s lives above their own. Stroud claims that it is paradoxical for women to fear men and rely on them for protection, but this is only true if it is the same men in both cases. Her analysis of women’s vulnerability as a social construction is flawed because it relies too strongly on empiricism; while it is true that men are more likely to be the victims of violent crime, the average woman is more victimizable than the average man due to the difference in size and physical ability. Her claim that arguing against common female perceptions about guns amounts to reinforcing the patriarchal nature of gun culture is an example of kafkatrapping. She continually attributes to patriarchy what is actually the result of male disposability.

The fourth chapter discusses perceptions of good versus evil, and how race and class shape those perceptions. Stroud claims that crime is a social construction, but because crime is defined as violating the law, it follows that the law is also a social construction. This makes the idea of determining good guys versus bad guys with respect to their obedience of the law or lack thereof entirely subjective, making her analysis of people who carry firearms illegally highly questionable. Her discussion of the perception that young black men are viewed as criminals neglects to mention crime statistics which show that they are responsible for a disproportionate amount of violent crime. This is especially interesting given her claim in the next chapter that there is a lack of awareness of data on criminal victimization. Stroud contrasts those who respect a business owner’s right to refuse service to anyone with those who will not support a business that prohibits firearms on its premises, but these positions are mutually consistent as long as one does not violate a property owner’s wishes. She glosses over an instance in which a female demonstrates privilege vis-a-vis males. She speculates about what might have happened to a man who caused an incident if he had been black instead of white as though it were a foregone conclusion that the police would have fired on him rather than restrain themselves and assess the situation. As mentioned earlier, good versus evil is not a binary construct, but a sliding scale with various shades of gray. That said, the reason that women are almost never mentioned as bad guys is partly because men are responsible for a disproportionate amount of violent crime and partly due to the relative disposability of males.

The fifth chapter covers self-defense and personal responsibility, from protection against criminals all the way to doomsday prepping. Again, Stroud seems to have no sense of objective reality, instead referring to threat perception solely as a social construct. The belief that the outcasts of society are necessary to define its boundaries demonstrates an inability to step outside of binary thinking and look at how a society can define itself in terms of what it is for rather than only what it is against. Stroud discusses free markets as though they have existed, and is critical of the supposed result of them, in effect blaming capitalism instead of cronyism or communo-fascism. She claims that white perceptions of the high rate of homicides among blacks can only be viewed as a case of white racial apathy, but it may also be a case of whites expecting blacks to take responsibility for solving their own problems and fixing their own communities instead of expecting the state to do it for them, especially because the state has caused most of their problems. She seems incapable of understanding privilege as something that is earned and inequality as something that is both extant and just, though perhaps not at its current extent. Ultimately, she regards individualism not as an empirically observable fact, but as a fiction of whiteness. That those who have enough wherewithal and firepower to survive would be the only survivors in a complete breakdown of civilization is the result of any logically sound consideration of disasters, with the exact nature of who survives a particular scenario providing the definition of “enough” for that scenario.

The final chapter discusses the social implications of an armed citizenry. Stroud repeats the mistake of viewing the idea of a threatening other as a social construct rather than an empirical reality. She asks how it can be that gun violence is both so common that good people need guns for defense but so uncommon that restrictions on gun purchases are unjustified, without considering that the answer is that the restrictions which do exist have a terrible track record of stopping criminals. For some reason, she believes that criminals will obey gun control laws even though they disobey laws by definition.2 The idea that gun restrictions represent a slippery slope toward confiscation is not a baseless conspiracy theory; it is demonstrated by a multitude of cases. She speaks of the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman incident as though it was black versus white, but it was really black versus Latino. She confuses social responses with state responses, which need not be equivalent. We know how Adam Lanza gained access to guns; he killed his mother and took her guns, meaning that no gun control law that forbade him from owning guns would have worked against him. That government must play a role in creating stronger communities and keeping guns away from violent criminals is asserted without evidence and may therefore be dismissed without evidence. To say that we must refuse to become victims in a democratic society is to ignore the fact that democracy necessarily victimizes people. Finally, she speaks of structural social inequality that perpetuates injustice while seeking more government involvement without realizing that government is inherently a structure that causes social inequality between its agents and the citizenry and perpetuates injustice in favor of its agents against the citizenry.

While there are many insightful points made in the book, Stroud commits far too many fallacies along the way for the book to be enjoyable or read smoothly. What could have been an excellent work on an important topic is instead bogged down by postmodern discourse, social justice rhetoric, and shoddy reasoning.

Rating: 2/5

Footnotes:

  1. Empiricism cannot provide a sufficient explanation of a situation in which counterfactuals are important. This is because empirical methods only allow us to look at the choices which were made and the consequences thereof. Examining what would have happened had a different choice been made requires one to use rationalism instead. With regard to gun issues, this means that studies which suggest that being armed could make one more likely to be harmed must be taken with a grain of salt, as there is no way to know what would have happened to armed people in a counterfactual in which they were unarmed, and vice versa.
  2. Also note that the Supreme Court has ruled in Haynes v. United States (1968) that some gun control laws which are supposed to apply to criminals do not because this would violate their Fifth Amendment right not to self-incriminate.

Neoreactionaries Are Off Their Heads About Trump

In a November 11 article at Social Matter, Michael Perilloux analyzed the election of Donald Trump with respect to its meaning for the neoreactionary movement, speaking in the voice of all neoreactionaries. In this much, he is mostly correct. But there is much to be criticized about the goals discussed therein as well as the means of reaching them. Let us examine what is wrong with the neoreactionary project and their thoughts on Trump through a libertarian reactionary examination of Perilloux’s article.

Hailing Trump

Perilloux begins with a statement of support and hope for President-elect Trump which would not be out of place in a mainstream conservative publication. Though it is debatable whether a Trump presidency or a Clinton presidency would have been better for liberty and/or Western civilization over the long term, Trump has positioned himself as an enemy of many enemies of liberty and Western decline while showing a willingness to boldly engage issues that other candidates would not touch with a ten-foot pole. For those who believe that there is hope for working within the system, this view of Trump’s victory is understandable.

However, as Perilloux correctly observes, being “a good president in the current system…will not halt the decline of America, and it will not truly Make America Great Again. If just being a good president is his game, there is no reason for us to get excited.” The neoreactionaries have a much different vision of what they hope Trump can do. But as we will see, this is where they lose their heads.

Understanding The Problem

The neoreactionary diagnosis of the problem is much like the libertarian reactionary diagnosis: the way that power works in liberal democracies is fundamentally flawed. The notions of division of power and checks and balances are false because the power is divided not among different societal organs (let alone competing non-monopolized service providers in a free market), but among different branches of the same organ. Just as one would not let one’s legs quarrel with one another lest one fall over, those who run a state apparatus have a powerful incentive not to diminish the effectiveness of said apparatus by setting different parts of it against each other. The incentives in a liberal democracy are particularly damaging; whereas a king owns the capital stock of his country and has an incentive to leave a good inheritance to one heirs, an elected official with limited terms controls only the usufruct of public lands and has an incentive to take what he can while he can. Rather than accept donations from and grant favor to special interests that help the society, elected officials are incentivized to do what is best for themselves at the expense of the citizens they are ostensibly representing. The citizens themselves are also subject to perverse incentives in a democracy, as they can vote themselves handouts from the public treasury, conflicting their personal interest with that of the nation. The citizens can also use state power to attack each other by using the ballot box to impose their criminal intent upon their fellow citizens without suffering the normal criminal penalties for engaging in such behavior oneself. The end result of subjecting everything to a vote is well described by Nick Land:

“[T]he politically awakened masses [are] a howling irrational mob, …the dynamics of democratization [are] fundamentally degenerative: systematically consolidating and exacerbating private vices, resentments, and deficiencies until they reach the level of collective criminality and comprehensive social corruption. The democratic politician and the electorate are bound together by a circuit of reciprocal incitement, in which each side drives the other to ever more shameless extremities of hooting, prancing cannibalism, until the only alternative to shouting is being eaten.”

Of course, kings can be bad and elected officials can behave better, but the incentive structures favor good monarchs and corrupt elected officials. But in either case, it is in the interest of the state to grow, so long as it does not interfere with private commerce to a sufficient extent to choke off its supply lines of tax revenue. There is nothing counter-intuitive about this, but it does require an intuition which is outside the realm of modern mainstream political thought. When we see government tyranny and deliberate cultural destruction, one need not choose between thinking that state power is bad in and of itself or asking why it is doing such things. In fact, contrary to neoreactionary thought, a thorough study of the latter leads to the former conclusion.

Two Different Ills

While it is true that elites damage and/or weaponize the civilized structure of society because it helps them to acquire and maintain power, this problem is present in monarchies as well. A truthful and inquisitive press may uncover and report embarrassing details about the king’s activities. A powerful economy that provides great wealth and options to the citizenry while creating a strong middle class may cause the public to question the king’s necessity, as occurred with the classical anarchists of the 19th century. Strong communities with strong virtuous culture may also question the need for a king to rule over them, viewing him as superfluous at best and malicious at worst. Big old families and religious leaders may challenge the king’s power and lead a rebellion against him on secular or religious grounds, respectively. A strong belief in free association can lead to anarchy, as people may seek to stop associating with the state apparatus. A strong belief in law and order can also lead to anarchy, as people may seek to hold agents of the state to the same moral standards as everyone else. The most important difference, then, is that monarchists would be more inclined to damage these societal organs while democrats would be more inclined to weaponize them. But both monarchy and democracy produce these ill effects to one degree or another, so both are enemies of liberty and restoration.1

Overthrow The Crown

In his examination of absolute monarchy, Perilloux demonstrates a complete ignorance of how challenges to monarchical power occur and succeed. When people are denied a voice and are either unable or unwilling to exit, they effect change by revolt. The royal military is generally unfit to deal with a hostile populace, as it is meant to protect the realm from foreign centralized threats, not the sort of decentralized but violent revolution which could depose a monarch by rendering his lands ungovernable. As long as the dissidents do not make the mistake of attempting to fight Goliath on Goliath’s terms, they can create a nightmare for the Crown through the use of guerrilla tactics and disappear back into the general population before they present a target to the royal military. Though the royal military has powerful weapons which are denied to the public, the use of these weapons will destroy the lives and properties of innocent people, as well as infrastructure that the Crown needs. This will only anger the public and cause fence-sitters to side with the rebels.

There was a time period in which adept rulers could shut down or co-opt conspiratorial challengers, but technology has made this all but impossible, and further technological development is both unstoppable and more helpful to rebels than to the Crown. Should one king decide to crack down, his subjects will either seek to move to a less restrictive state or, if this option is denied them, begin to revolt. If a large interest of some kind gets out of hand and the Crown tries to nationalize it, the people in charge of that interest could resist in a multitude of ways. They could shutter their business and blame the Crown, thus denying people of beloved goods and services while raising their ire against the king. They could move their headquarters to another country, thus presenting the Crown with the option of banning their products, which again raises the ire of the public. If they were desperate, they could attempt to assassinate the king to protect their business interests. Though this option was rarely used in history, it could make sense if there is nowhere to run or hide.

Though it is true that the Crown could relax and let civilization flourish as long as it maintains a decisive lead in political power, it is also trivial because advances in technology and philosophy have made divine right monarchy impossible in all but the most backward of societies (e.g. North Korea, and even that is debatable). Therefore, the libertarian reactionary must ask, given that monarchists are at a structural disadvantage against democrats, what protects your shiny new monarchy from the next wave of democratic revolutions?

Historical Errors

Perilloux writes:

“So this is the king-pill: that power we shall always have with us, and that it is thus much better for everyone to kneel, hail, and do the King’s will than to wear ourselves out in endless political conflict at the expense of our civilization.”

It is important to be careful with the word ‘always,’ for it denotes a very, very long time. The king-pill is a poison to those who swallow it, trapping them in an outlook of historical determinism that lacks both intellectual courage and imagination. This is one of the most notable quirks of neoreaction; neoreactionaries frequently show great intellectual courage and imagination on other questions, but imagine that the future must be like the past and present with regard to the presence of state power. Though there are many reasons to prefer monarchy over democracy, both are inferior to the sort of stateless propertarian social order favored by libertarian reactionaries. This possibility breaks the false dilemma between kneeling to a king and wearing ourselves out in endless political conflict.

Perilloux responds to a likely objection by democrats by asserting that the eras of history in which power was consolidated and secure were eras in which conflict was eliminated and society was the finest. To the contrary, violent conflict was exported to the edges of the realm, which were in constant need of expansion in order to obtain the plunder necessary to sustain imperial growth. Inside the empire, violent conflict was replaced with less destructive forms of exploitation, such as taxation and conscription for public works, but these are a lesser evil rather than a good. The plunder from foreign conquests disproportionately made their way into the coffers of elites, resulting in public resentment and populist uprisings. Once those empires fell, they left many people in a condition of helplessness, as they had monopolized essential services and left their subjects unable to provide those services for themselves. Finally, it is quite strange to suggest that life was finer in the Roman Empire or the Mongol Empire than it is in contemporary Western countries, at least in terms of knowledge, wealth, life expectancy, and respect for individual rights.

Bad Kings

Unlike the neoreactionary, the libertarian reactionary has no concern with a bad king, as a stateless propertarian society has no political power to accumulate, and thus no king to worry about. Instead, the power vacuum is artificially maintained through the continuous application of defensive force. Just as matter is forcefully expelled from a vacuum chamber, the state must be forcefully expelled from a libertarian-controlled area. Once this is done, there will be attempts by government agents, warlords, terrorists, mafiosos, and lone wolf criminals to re-enter the resulting stateless society in order to establish a new coercive enterprise, just as atoms attempt to re-enter a vacuum chamber and restore atmospheric pressure. These people must be physically separated and removed from the society, just as atoms must be continually pumped out of the vacuum chamber.2

Perilloux claims that a king should turn his will toward “the improvement of our race, the betterment of our civilization, and the glory of God” without any discussion of what that means. It is unfortunate that he does not dial this in because it could mean almost anything, as race is a social construct, betterment is partly subjective, and God is not proven to exist. Hopefully, the king would have a correct understanding of genetic differences between population groups, a proper sense of what betterment means, and an eutheistic concept of God. To his credit, Perilloux does understand that it is unlikely for elites who have gained power in the current system to meet these criteria.

Libertarian reactionaries agree with neoreactionaries that “[w]ithout democracy, [the elites] would either consolidate power and refocus on the problem of how to run a civilization, or they would find themselves replaced by someone who could.” The difference is that the replacement process in a neoreactionary monarchy or oligarchy is likely to be violent, while the same process in a stateless propertarian society need only involve people choosing to do business with different service providers who are more efficient and responsive to consumer demand, with mutually assured destruction between private defense agencies and the possibility of competitors gaining market share keeping the peace.

To leave the problem of whether a proposed king would have the right vision for future generations is not only a cop-out, but an impossibility. As Friedrich Hayek explained, no central planner can have the necessary knowledge and foresight to have a proper vision for the future because a central planner does not have access to all of the decentralized information in the market economy. All that could be hoped for is a king who would oppose degenerate behaviors and ideas while keeping his hands off the market. Unlike neoreactionaries, libertarian reactionaries would not consider Trump to be good enough in this regard. Much of his core platform was abandoned by other political factions many decades ago not because elites wished to bring about decline by moving in a different direction (though this certainly motivated many of their other actions), but because protectionism and welfare statism are bad economic policies. Also, should the king’s vision be sufficiently wrong, the neoreactionary project will come to a screeching halt as the king is overthrown and democracy restored by an angry citizenry.

Statist Pathologies

Though libertarian reactionaries may sympathize with the neoreactionary view of democracy as cancer, the libertarian reactionary view is that if society is an entire human body, then any kind of state apparatus is a malignant cancer. Cancer is a corruption of healthy cells and functions, it grows at the expense of healthy cells, it can kill the body if it becomes too prominent, and it can come back with a vengeance following an unsuccessful attempt at removal. All of these aspects are true of governments as well. The effect of democracy might be better compared to the effect of HIV in humans, in that it weakens a society’s natural defenses against mob chaos, correlates strongly with degenerate behaviors, and accelerates the course of other societal ills.

What Trump Can Do

Perilloux’s assessment of Trump’s potential is generally correct. Trump does not have the “very strong, sufficiently large, and ideologically conditioned organization to pull off any serious change in Washington,” if serious change is defined as fundamentally altering the system rather than just being a breath of fresh air within it. Given his loss of the popular vote, the historical antipathy of the American people toward monarchy, the rather desolate intellectual foundation of Trumpism, and the dearth of competent statesmen who could assist him in building a new governance structure and/or dismantling the current one, there is no way that Trump could elevate himself from President to King by normal means. Even if a crisis occurs and Trump is able to convince people to entrust him with singular executive power, the tolerance of the American people for a king would not outlast whatever crisis prompted them to grant him such power. Like the dictators of the Roman Republic, Trump would be expected to divest himself of such power once the crisis has passed. In sum, he will only be able to prepare the way for someone in the future. As Perilloux suggests, Trump can do this through his deal-making abilities as long as he refrains from kicking leftists too much while they are down and engaging in sideshows which have temporarily derailed his efforts on numerous occasions thus far.

What Trump Should Do

The libertarian reactionary view of what Trump could accomplish is much different from the neoreactionary view. The neoreactionaries seek to secure a responsible long-term elite coalition, and would have us make peace with leftists in order to accomplish this goal, even if it means “mov[ing] left on key causes like economics and health care.” The libertarian reactionary understands that no such long-term coalition is possible because the elites in a natural order will not be static and the current elites are too invested in the current system to make for useful allies in a transition to a new order. Making peace with the left is exactly what the right has done for decades, and anger at the resulting decline is what allowed Trump rise to power in the first place. If he does the same, it would signal to Trump’s supporters that he has abandoned them and is just another phony politician who will say anything to get elected. That, combined with the radicalization of the Democratic base carried out by Bernie Sanders and his fellow-travelers, would make Trump a one-term President and lead the right away from both democracy and neoreaction.3

While it is true that the left will be radicalized by an overzealous Trump administration, respond by “working overtime in the areas he doesn’t directly control” now, and create more chaos and division when they regain power, this is not necessarily a negative in the long-term. The neoreactionaries seek to have the cup of violent revolution pass from them, but the libertarian reactionary understands that liberty requires revolution. For it is not only the leftist elite which must be purged, but the rank and file as well. As Hoppe so wisely said,

“There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and removed from society.”

Better to let the leftists fully reveal themselves in opposition to Trump so that we have a better idea of who must be purged. The backlash is thus not something to be avoided, but something to be encouraged.

Perilloux’s other suggestions for Trump are to

  1. rebuild the Republican Party,
  2. expose, purge, and destroy all the crooks and radicals, including non-governmental actors like the foundations and Soros,
  3. strategically change immigration policy,
  4. deconstruct leftist ideological propaganda and disable their propaganda organs and speech controls,
  5. build the wall,
  6. get the universities and media to play nice,
  7. sow dissent among the enemy, and
  8. weaken democracy.

The second, third, fourth, seventh, and eighth objectives are well worth doing and merit no critique. However, rebuilding the Republican Party is largely unnecessary at this point, unless Perilloux means to rebuild it in Trump’s image rather than being content with defending the significant majority of governorships and state legislators. Building the wall is largely infeasible and counterproductive; should matters get worse, such a barrier will be used to keep us in. There is also no way to make Mexico pay for it; the best Trump can do is to garnish their foreign aid, which means only that American taxpayers will be forced to fund one project instead of another. The immigration restrictions which are necessary to prevent Americans from being overrun by people who are demographically hostile to liberty can be accomplished through other means, such as E-verify, harsher penalties, and denying federal funds to sanctuary cities. Finally, the mainstream press and universities are never going to play nice with the right, as they are fundamentally left-wing institutions at present, and Trump has not the time or resources to alter this. All Trump will be able to do on the education front is to extricate the federal government from the student loan and grant business, encourage would-be college students to consider trade and technical alternatives, and possibly abolish the federal Department of Education. Trump can do more against the media, in the form of revoking media credentials of establishment news outlets and instead relying upon alternative media, independent journalists, and direct communication with the American people via social media to deliver his messages.

Conclusion

Perilloux writes:

“But whatever happens, it’s not going to be enough. Democracy and communism will not be defeated this time, and when Trump is done, if democracy still stands, all the worst of the modern world will come crawling back to us. …Trump will not end democracy and bring about the coming golden age…because no one was ready with a männerbund of a thousand virtuous statesmen with a full vision and plan. Therefore, if that’s going to happen, while Trump and company labor valiantly in the Potomac swamp, someone has to be building that intellectual and human infrastructure for the true Restoration in the future.

It is not immediate power we need for the long game, but wisdom, vision, virtue, and solidarity. We will not get these from Trump’s administration. These things can only be built without the distractions of power. The men of the Trump administration will be busy playing anti-communist whack-a-mole and thinking about a very different set of strategic considerations than a long-term Restoration-focused research team must be. Their work will be valuable I’m sure, but they will not have the time or attention to think about the long game.”

In this much, he is correct, but it is libertarian reactionaries rather than neoreactionaries who must build said infrastructure. We must build private alternatives to government services which succeed where governments have failed. We must create black markets to deprive the state of revenue and lessen its ability to harm the economy. We must infiltrate the halls of power to obstruct government functions from within. We must protest and practice jury nullification to obstruct government functions from without. We must educate people to understand the necessity of eliminating the state apparatus by any means necessary, as well as the need to rely on oneself and one’s community instead of the state. Perhaps most importantly, we must train ourselves to be competent in the use of defensive force and irregular tactics.

If we accomplish these tasks well in the coming years, we will be prepared for the task of defeating the current state and keeping a new state from filling a power vacuum. Nothing less than this will allow us to end democracy, monarchy, and every other parasitism upon innocent and productive people. The neoreactionaries, on the other hand, would restore the Crown, and much like the mainstream conservatives who would restore the Republic, will only condemn our descendants to re-fight our battles for liberty.

Footnotes:

  1. This may help to explain why democracies largely replaced monarchies through the 19th and early 20th centuries, as weaponized, less-damaged institutions have a combative advantage against non-weaponized, more-damaged institutions.
  2. Notably, libertarian reactionaries have two advantages over the physicist using a vacuum pump. First, a vacuum pump cannot destroy atoms, but a libertarian reactionary can kill an aggressor. Second, the physicist will never turn the entire universe outside of the vacuum chamber into a vacuum, but libertarian reactionaries can come close enough to turning the entire world into a libertarian-controlled area to be able to live all but free from aggressive violence while standing by to eliminate any new threat.
  3. This could provide the impetus for the necessary violent revolution, so perhaps Perilloux is accidentally correct on this point.

Read the entire article at ZerothPosition.com

On My Lack Of Satire

Longtime readers of my work will notice that unlike the work of many other radical libertarians who produce essays or videos, my content is consistently presented in a straightforward manner. Nowhere to be found in my body of work thus far is a satirical article. As an explanation of this may help the reader of my work to better understand the author, I will take time to inform my readers concerning my lack of use of satire.

Unlike my case against using profanity, this is not simply a matter of personal choice backed by a multitude of reasons. I greatly admire authors who have used satire to make a strong case for liberty, as Frederic Bastiat did in his Candlemaker’s Petition. Unfortunately, this style of writing is not my strong suit. Should I ever gain this strength, I would endeavor to use it, but the best work I can produce at the time of this writing consists of face-value explanations and rebuttals.

This is not to say that I have not tried, however. In fact, I have made several efforts to produce satirical content, all of which have ended in one of three ways. Each of these are best exemplified by a particular article, so I will spend the remainder of this article reviewing those works in light of how my attempts at satire have diverged into other directions.

An Unavoidable Poe

The first example is an article which is unpublished and will almost certainly remain so. I pretended to be a social justice warrior to see if I could criticize them by writing from their perspective and reaching obviously false and absurd conclusions. But there are some people whose views are so outlandish that it is impossible to satirize them. It turns out that Poe’s Law is real and can be unavoidable. I decided not to publish the result for fear that a social justice warrior might take the satire at face value and use it for inspiration and motivation. Although the intent would be clear when nestled among my other works, it could easily be plagiarized and republished elsewhere where this would not be the case. This is the worst of the three possibilities, as it results in a lost article and a waste of the effort expended in writing it. The silver lining from this particular episode is that I turned my attention toward compiling a glossary of social justice warrior terminology, which remains one of my most frequently read works, but this does not usually happen.

A Reasonable Absurdity

The second example is “The Pragmatic Libertarian Case for Nuclear Proliferation.” This was originally going to be a rebuttal to “The Pragmatic Libertarian Case for a Basic Income Guarantee” by Matt Zwolinski. I planned to apply the arguments that Zwolinski used to argue for an alternative to the current welfare state to a different situation in order to reach the conclusion that nuclear weapons should be guaranteed to all nations, or perhaps even to all individuals. Upon further consideration, I realized that this idea is not half as absurd or frightening as it sounds. This resulted in the article changing from a satirical work after Zwolinski’s format into a face-value work in its own format. The subject change resulted in the removal of content concerning redistribution of resources, as the final article is about other nation-states or private actors developing a nuclear deterrent of their own rather than being given one from elsewhere. Eventually, this article led to two more articles in the same vein which apply the case to a particular situation and take it to its logical conclusion, respectively. Thus, what was going to be an April Fools article became a serious case for more nuclear-armed entities in the world. While far better than the first outcome because a useful article (series) was the result, it was taken less seriously than it otherwise would have been due to the publishing date of April 1.

Only Half Kidding

The third example is “Bring Back the Joust: A Modest Proposal.” In this article, the case is made for the replacement of democratic elections with jousting tournaments in which candidates battle to the death for the right to hold public office. While it is highly unlikely that such a system would ever be tried in the current era, it has several advantages over democracy. This, like the second example, was a joke that turned serious upon further examination. But the format of the piece never changed; it was always going to be a proposal followed by a history lesson, a case for the proposal, likely effects, and a consideration of likely objections. This is the best outcome of the three, in that an article was produced, no rewrite or reorganization was necessary, and the article is both thought-provoking and fun for the reader. Even so, the tone and format are only applicable in some cases.

Conclusion

Each author must write in the manner that works best for them. Unfortunately, as shown above, satire does not appear to be a manner that works for me.

Seven observations on the Rio Olympics

On August 3-21, 2016, the 2016 Summer Olympics were held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. More than 11,000 athletes from 207 National Olympic Committees took part in 28 different sports across 38 different venues. Seven observations on these events follow.

1. Governments do not care about poor people. In order to build the Olympic venues, government officials in Rio displaced thousands of poor and homeless people, including many children. When affordable housing is demolished, it raises the price of other housing due to smaller supply and a new surge of demand. Food and transportation costs have also risen. The end result is that people are priced out of their own communities by state action. While government officials have claimed that the Olympic construction was done to improve the city, the ends cannot justify the means of eminent domain and forced relocation. Additionally, much of the construction does not address the most pressing concerns of Rio’s citizens, such as connecting more neighborhoods to the sewer system.

Another problem that has increased due to the Olympics is the amount of human rights violations against Brazil’s street children, many of whom are detained arbitrarily and put into an already overcrowded prison system. The government in Rio chose not to try to help the children who eke out a homeless existence on the streets while suffering from drug addiction, but rather to merely sweep them away from the eyes of international tourists. All of this is par for the course for governments. To quote Stefan Molyneux, “The government does not care about the poor as anything other than hostages to shame and capture the guilt of the innocent and force them to hand over additional money, rights, and children to the government.”

2. The Games serve to glorify the state at the expense of the individual. While the competitions are won and lost by individuals or teams thereof, these are almost always tied to a nation-state. It is always said that athletes win medals for their countries, and the award ceremonies always feature the national anthem of the nation that sent the gold medalist athlete, along with the flags of the top three finishers in the event. This amounts not to a celebration of individual achievements, but a garish display of jingoistic nationalism. The host nation-state forces its taxpayers to fund a spectacle in which a sort of cold war is conducted by having each nation-state’s champions vie for supremacy. It would be far better to privatize the entire process so that nation-states are deprived of a propaganda tool.

3. Some activities simply cannot be made safe. Every Olympics features its share of athletes suffering injuries (10-12 percent), and the 2016 Summer Olympics were no exception. Despite all of the precautions taken, athletes who push themselves to the top level of competition in strenuous activities sometimes get injured, especially when going for a medal means exceeding what one has done in training. The only way to prevent all of the injuries would be to eliminate all of the activities, so it is better to leave the athletes to take their own risks, reap their own rewards, and suffer their own consequences.

4. It is important to pace oneself in any task. This is a lesson which is frequently displayed across various athletic events, but it bears repeating. Those who put too much effort into the beginning of a long and/or arduous task will have difficulty in finishing. Many runners exhaust themselves in leading the pack of competitors for most of a race only to lose at the end because a less tired runner who managed to hang back just behind the leader is able to muster a sprint for the finish line to overtake the pace-setter up until that point. This happened in several medium distance races in Rio.

Another example of this phenomenon occurred in men’s weightlifting for the superheavy weight class. Behdad Salimi, the gold medalist from the 2012 Summer Olympics, set a new world record in the snatch only to fail all three of his attempts at the clean and jerk, meaning that he failed to post a total and won no medal.

5. Performance-enhancing drugs will always be one step ahead of detection methods. This is unavoidable, as there is no real incentive to test for a drug before it is known to be manufactured and used. While many users get caught, and punishments are handed out (such as the banning of many Russian athletes from the 2016 Games), many more do not. There are many incentives which create this problem. As Dr. Cayce Onks, a family and sports medicine specialist at Penn State Hershey Medical Group, explains, “Anyone who gets a gold medal has the benefit of TV contracts, announcer gigs, commercials and all the money that comes with it. It’s not just the prestige and satisfaction of competing at that level and winning. Tenths of seconds can mean the difference between a medal and no medal, so whatever they can do to get that extra tenth, they want to try.” As for other incentives…

6. An interesting spectacle is more important to many people than honest competition. While the Olympics are somewhat hit-or-miss in terms of being a financial boost for the places that host them, they are always a cash cow for the television networks that air footage of them. Ratings go up for performances that push the limits of human capability, as well as for athletes who have a reputation for delivering such performances. It was Usain Bolt in the 2016 Summer Olympics, but it is always someone. The advertisers, the International Olympic Committee, the doping testing agencies, and everyone else involved are fully aware of the incentives here, and it would be exceedingly foolish to believe that they never respond to the incentive to let some athletes break doping rules.

7. Human biodiversity clearly exists. Finally, the Summer Olympics should be a quadrennially sounding death knell for the idea of blank-slate egalitarianism. That certain events are almost always won by people with ancestry in particular population groups cannot be explained solely by the sum of culture, training, government funding of sports, and other nurturing elements. Humans will adapt to their environment like any other organism, and those adaptations can give members of a particular population group an advantage in a particular activity. While these adaptations can be noticed in people who move to another place and live as the locals do, the extent of the adaptations which are present in a population group that has inhabited a place for many generations cannot be replicated in one human lifetime. These differences are not nearly large enough at present to categorize humans into different species or subspecies, but they were in the past and very well could be again in the future. While this will not affect the average person’s daily life, it will determine who has the extra performance capacity needed to win Olympic gold when other factors, such as diet, training regimen, and rest, are nearly equal.

Black Lives Matter Versus Libertarian Revolution

Since the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, libertarians have had strong differences concerning how to engage with it. On one hand, libertarians would agree that many laws whose enforcement results in deaths of black people at the hands of government agents should be eliminated, such as those forbidding drug possession. On the other hand, many people who protest under the BLM banner engage in activities which are at odds with libertarian philosophy, such as blocking roads, disrupting businesses, and rioting.

As time marches on, as tends to happen in most activist organizations with street presence, the more radical elements within the BLM movement are gaining more attention. The sister of a man who was killed by police on August 13 urged protesters,

“Don’t bring that violence here. Burning down shit ain’t going to help nothing. Y’all burning down shit we need in our community. Take that shit to the suburbs. Burn that shit down.”

At the beginning of the riots in Milwaukee, a rioter could be heard yelling to police officers,

“We do not want justice or peace anymore. We done with that shit. We want blood. We want blood. We want the same shit y’all want. Eye for an eye. No more peace. Fuck all that. Ain’t no more peace. Ain’t no more peace. We done. We cannot co-habitate with white people, one of us have to go, black or white. All y’all have to go!”

And at a protest in Portland, Ore. on July 12, BLM leaders told protesters concerning police officers,

“Whatever you do, you pull your pistol out and fucking bust them… Trust me when you see me move, I’m moving in violence. We need action. I don’t give a fuck if you knock them over, whether you run up on them, whatever you do, you better fucking take action.”

The urgings of some misguided libertarians notwithstanding, these sentiments should make it clear that there is not an alliance to be made between BLM radicals and libertarians. Although there are segments of the libertarian community who understand that violent revolution is necessary to abolish the state, and both would physically remove government police officers from their communities, this impulse for libertarians is radically different from what is illustrated above. The libertarian revolution proceeds from the realization that a libertarian social order is superior to that of either a democratic or authoritarian state, and that such a state stands in the way and cannot be expelled from a territory or completely eliminated by peaceful means. Anti-police violence advocated by BLM leaders proceeds from the realization that police are an obstacle to degenerate and criminal behavior which they would like to see removed, and that this will not happen by peaceful means.

While the libertarian revolutionary seeks to end a system which violently victimizes the innocent, the BLM radical seeks to impose such a system upon white people. While the libertarian revolutionary seeks to protect individual rights and private property, the BLM radical seeks to take private property from its rightful owners in order to fund government programs and give reparations to people who were never personally wronged. While the libertarian revolutionary seeks to free minds and markets, the BLM radical seeks to perpetuate government indoctrination and communize resources. While the libertarian revolutionary seeks to replace government monopoly police which are coercively funded with private competing security forces which are voluntarily funded, the BLM radical seeks to abolish police with no clear alternative in mind. It should be clear to all but the most cucked and autistic libertarians that these two groups cannot work together toward a common goal because they are aimed at cross purposes.

That being said, it is possible that this could change. BLM radicals could think things over and come to the realization that the real enemy is not society, white people, racism, capitalism, patriarchy, privatization, or any other false target that various leaders within their movement have pursued thus far. They could figure out that burning down their own communities (or other communities) grants the police that they claim to oppose the appearance of legitimacy and necessity that they need to continue and escalate the activities for which they claim to oppose them. They could figure out that making this about black versus white rather than blue versus you creates a sense among white people that they should enter this conflict on the side of the state against the black community rather than on the side of the black community against the state. They could figure out that calling for huge government programs and expanded government control of the economy will require far more of the enforcement agents that they claim to oppose while further ruining their communities by creating perverse incentives. They could figure out that the root problem is aggression by government agents, and that the only solution to this problem is self-defense against government without deliberately targeting anyone else.

But unless and until that happens, BLM is an enemy of libertarianism which happens to be in conflict with another enemy of libertarianism, namely agents of the state. It is important to recognize that the enemy of one’s enemy is not necessarily one’s friend, or even an ally of convenience. Though the United States government is the most powerful and dangerous criminal organization in human history, its power could fall into worse hands and be used for worse purposes. Its abolition by people with the wrong ideas could create the need for a counter-revolution against them in order to establish a better social order rather than a worse one (or the complete lack of one). As for how libertarians should deal with BLM as it is now, when government agents and common criminals fight, it is generally best to pull for no one and hope for heavy casualties on both sides.

The Case For Bringing Religion Into Politics

In a July 23 interview with Scott Pelley of CBS, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was asked about internal Democratic National Committee emails which had been released recently. One of the email chains included a staffer’s suggestion that they ask questions about Sanders’ religion in an attempt to undermine him with religious voters. Clinton said in response, “I am adamantly opposed to anyone bringing religion into our political process. …That is just absolutely wrong and unacceptable.” But is it? Let us make the contrary case that the religious beliefs of a candidate should be part of the political process.

In the philosophical sense, a religion is a set of principles by which an adherent is supposed to live. As these principles are supposed to be the guiding precepts by which a believer makes decisions, it is especially important for people who are going to choose who will wield state power to know about the stated religious views of each candidate. Knowing this will allow voters and rival candidates to detect hypocrisy, anti-empiricism, and aggressive tendencies, none of which are desirable in a person who wields state power. It also allows people to consider whether any heretical views held by a candidate are for good or ill.

Hypocrisy

It is in the nature of politicians to say one thing and do another, or to espouse contrary principles when pandering to special interest groups or demographics which are at cross purposes. This is understandable, given the perverse incentive structures which are invariably present in democracies. But some engage in more blatant hypocrisy than others, doing so out of internal corruption rather than merely as a reaction to the prevailing political system. One indication of this is for a politician to claim a certain religious affiliation while acting in contradiction to the teachings of that religion. This can be a sign that the candidate will flip-flop on important issues, as those who lie to voters about one thing will be more likely to lie to them about something else.

Anti-Empiricism

Religions are frequently a source of anti-empirical beliefs, as most prominent religions were founded long ago when current scientific knowledge was unavailable. In the absence of reason and science, religion offered people what they thought were answers for phenomena which eluded their understanding. But accepting answers on faith is dangerous on two counts; they are probably incorrect, and it keeps people from searching for a proper understanding of the correct answer. When politicians take answers on faith rather than seeking rational, scientific explanations, the policy results can be disastrous. As such, it is important for a voter or rival candidate to know whether a candidate believes, for instance, that the Earth is flat and/or less than 10,000 years old just because an ancient text tells them so. This is an important indication that the candidate can be made to believe almost anything without asking for proper evidence.

It must be noted that not all anti-empiricism is undesirable. There is nothing wrong with opposing the entry of empiricism into fields of study in which it does not belong, such as mathematics or economics. And because empiricism requires rationalism in order to be used, it cannot overrule pure reason. As such, logic overrules experience and a priori truths are not subject to empirical study. But religions do not generally offer such strongly rational truth; instead, they rely upon divine revelation, which believers are taught to accept without evidence.

Aggressive Tendencies

When most prominent religions were founded, the world was a more violent place. Punishments for behaviors which aggressed against no person or property were commonplace, as was genocidal behavior toward neighboring people of different faiths as well as conquered peoples. But understanding of moral principles (if not their practice) has advanced since then, and most people have come to rightly condemn such behavior. When a candidate espouses a fundamentalist or literalist interpretation of a religious text which calls for such behavior to be practiced throughout the society, it should give voters pause. This can require some study on the part of voters and other candidates to detect, as openly supporting wars on religious grounds is no longer fashionable in the West, but such tendencies can still be observed among religious neoconservatives.

Many religions also include content which is opposed to free markets, private property, and freedoms of thought and association. If such content influences a candidate to support such policies as high taxes on the wealthy, expansion of common spaces and/or welfare statism, restrictions on activities which do not aggress against any person or property, or policies which discriminate in favor one’s own religion and/or against other religions, voters and rival candidates should be aware of this.

Heresy

Some people claim to be an adherent of a particular religion but have a different understanding from most people of the meaning of the teachings of that religion. This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if such heretical beliefs lead a religious person away from hypocrisy, truth denial, or aggression. But those who define terms differently in one aspect of life will almost certainly do so in other aspects, and this is important information for voters and rival candidates to know. Whether this is for good or ill depends upon the particulars of each case, but it is an indicator that a candidate must be given more than a cursory examination in order to be properly understood.

Conclusion

For the above reasons, it is entirely appropriate to bring religion into the political process. It is a tool that voters can use to examine a candidate for flaws, as well as legitimate grounds for one candidate to attack another for character traits unbecoming of a person who would wield state power.

Fifteen Life Lessons from Lifting

Libertarians who have experience with weightlifting will know that there appears to be a correlation between having libertarian political views and being an active lifter. This is because the process of pumping iron and increasing one’s physical abilities has an effect on the mind as well. There are lessons that the iron has for those who are willing to listen, and these lessons provide a significant push in a libertarian direction. Let us examine some of these lessons.

1. You are responsible for your own advancement. While other people can give you advice on which exercises to perform, how many repetitions and sets to do, how much weight to use, how much of each food to consume, how much rest to get, and so on, no one can do the work but you. You must figure out how to sift through the available information, motivate yourself, and do the work to get the results you want. This is no different from any other aspect of life.

2. You must put something in to get something out. In the words of Ronnie Coleman, “Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder. Nobody wants to lift this heavy-ass weight!” Without proper effort, strength and endurance will not develop, fat will not be burned, and your health will not improve. Elsewhere in life, you cannot learn without listening, reading, watching, or thinking. You cannot start or improve relationships without spending time with people and treating them properly. You cannot maintain skills without practicing them. Results out requires effort in.

3. You cannot compensate for bad (or no) preparation. If you go into the gym after eating junk food (or nothing at all), or after laboring hard the previous day with inadequate rest, you will not lift as much as you could with proper preparation. In other aspects of life, a lack of studying will negatively impact your test scores and a lack of rest will lower your productivity at work. If you want success, prepare for it.

4. Targeting your weaknesses makes other aspects of your performance improve. When you reach your maximum weight for a particular lift, there is usually a particular muscle or group of muscles that is too weak to allow you to lift more. Exercises which isolate those muscles can not only help with that lift, but with other tasks as well. The same reasoning applies to other disciplines; fixing one bad technique while playing an instrument will make other techniques work better, eliminating one bad habit of studying will improve one’s overall learning ability, and so on.

5. Those who focus on appearance will have inferior performance. There are those who lift to look strong, and those who lift to be strong. Training for size involves more repetitions with less weight than training for strength. If one never ventures into one-rep-max loads, then it is possible to build a physique which looks impressive but does not perform as well as that of a smaller person. Outside of the gym, this lesson applies to people whose beauty is skin-deep and whose personality is superficial. They may appear to be attractive and polite, but underneath the surface they are inferior, if not rotten to the core. Which brings us to…

6. Appearances can be deceiving. Most people would look at a skinny person and believe that person to be in better shape than an overweight person. But there is a condition which trainers refer to as “skinny-fat,” which means that a person is thin but weak and deconditioned. Meanwhile, an overweight person may have a large amount of muscle mass in addition to a large amount of fat mass, which can allow them to perform well despite their extra baggage. In every other aspect of life, it is equally important to not judge a book by its cover, so to speak.

7. A positive attitude makes a real difference. In the words of Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t you’re right.” This is not entirely true, of course; lifting a weight which is far beyond one’s capabilities will not happen regardless of one’s attitude. But at the edge of what is possible, toughness and endurance are partly mental. A positive attitude can make the difference between making a new personal best lift and having to wait until the next time you perform that movement. This is true of any other activity; believing that you can do something makes it more likely that you will, whether in the moment or long-term.

8. All can boast; few can beast. Anyone can claim to be able to do anything, but extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Regardless of whether you tell yourself that you can move mountains or nothing at all, the iron is an arbiter of truth. Everyone has their own opinion, but 150 kilograms is 150 kilograms, and it cares not for anyone’s opinion. Elsewhere in life, you will encounter people who make dubious claims. Require evidence for them, and watch the wheat separate from the chaff.

9. There are different kinds of pain, each with a different meaning. The body is capable of experiencing several kinds of pain. Pain can be acute or chronic, caused by tissue damage or nerve damage. Most importantly for the lifter, there is a type of pain that represents weakness leaving the body, and a type of pain that warns you to stop. Failure to decipher which is which can lead to serious injury. This is true of all physical activities, regardless of whether they involve lifting.

10. Those who focus on one aspect of fitness while ignoring others will miss out. Moderation is important for achieving a healthy, well-balanced life. Those who lift heavy but ignore their cardiovascular health will have health problems later in life and a shorter lifespan. Those who never lift heavy will be physically weaker, less capable of dealing with stress, and be at greater risk for osteoporosis and falling as seniors. This is true in mental endeavors as well. Focusing only on mathematics while ignoring language studies will leave one ill-equipped to communicate one’s proofs. Focusing only on history while ignoring science will leave one ill-equipped to understand why certain events happened as they did. Whether physical or mental, do not be a specialist to the exclusion of other disciplines.

11. Actions have equal and opposite reactions. That which you work against will work against you. If you work against heavy weights, they will make you more like them. You will become heavier, larger, and harder to push around. If you work against light weights, these positive changes will happen slower, if at all. In life, this applies to the kind of associates one keeps as well as the larger tides of political change.

12. There are no shortcuts to any place worth going to. Every lifter knows that this one is about steroids. People use steroids because they work; they reduce the amount of recovery time needed before lifting again. But strength can be gained through a proper barbell program without resorting to substances which can cause long-term health problems, as well as land one in jail (although jail for steroid use would not happen in a libertarian society). Outside of the gym, cutting corners is a way to avoid learning needed skills while increasing the risk of an accident, which will eventually come back to haunt you. Shortcuts may seem like a benefit in the moment, but they always cause more trouble than they are worth in the long-term.

13. There are hard limits which cannot be surpassed. Even with the best training, diet, supplements, and rest, you can only do so much. You will not squat, bench, or deadlift 1000 kilograms. The human body is simply not capable of structurally supporting that kind of load. In other aspects of life, there are also hard limits, whether imposed by the laws of physics or the limitations of biology. It is important to recognize such limits and know that that which cannot be done should not be attempted.

14. There is no equality of outcome or opportunity; there can only be equality of freedom. Everyone has equal freedom to lift, in that unless someone has committed a crime and is being punished for it, no one has the right to deprive anyone else of access to gym equipment. But this is no guarantee of opportunity, let alone results. Some people have more opportunity because they have more access to resources which will help them recover from a tough workout. Some people will have better results because they work harder, work smarter, or are naturally inclined to be stronger. In all aspects of life, people have different amounts of potential and various levels of motivation, and will therefore achieve different amounts of success. This is because…

15. All people are not created equal. Each person has the same fundamental rights, but we are not all interchangeable cogs in a machine. There are measurable differences in performance not only between individuals, but between genders and ethnic groups. On average, a woman will lift about 30 percent less than a man of the same size, build, and experience level. Also note that most weightlifting world records are held by people from Asia or eastern Europe. Such differences occur not only with physical strength, but with intelligence and temperament as well. Whether such differences come from nature or nurture, they do exist and are measurable.

The Case For Damages For Abortion

At a town hall on March 30, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said that if abortion is outlawed, then women who still have abortions should face “some form of punishment”, though he did not elaborate upon what that might be. Outcry from both anti-abortion and pro-abortion activists led him to walk back his statement, saying,

“If Congress were to pass legislation making abortion illegal and the federal courts upheld this legislation, or any state were permitted to ban abortion under state and federal law, the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman. The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb. My position has not changed — like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions.”

But is there a form of punishment for the woman that is compatible with libertarian principles? Let us examine this from both a criminal and a civil perspective.

The act of abortion involves removing a fetus from a woman’s uterus and killing it. The reason that most people have difficulty in figuring out the morality of this is that it weighs fundamental rights against each other: the woman’s right to liberty and property in her body versus the fetus’ right to liberty and property in its body. But before the point at which the fetus is viable outside the uterus, the only way the fetus can keep itself alive is to rely upon the woman for sustenance. The rights to liberty and property cannot be exercised without exercising the right to life, and that which is dependent cannot supersede that upon which it is dependent. Thus, the fetus’ right to life overrules the woman’s rights to liberty and property. Therefore, the logical position is to be pro-life until the fetus is viable. After the fetus is viable, the woman may choose to evict it but not to kill it.

Of course, there are some special cases where this calculus is altered and an abortion is clearly justifiable. If a woman’s life is in imminent danger and the fetus is not yet viable, then there may be a choice between aborting a fetus to save the mother and letting both die. In such a case, the fetus is out of luck and the abortion should proceed to preserve what life can be preserved. A birth defect or other illness which causes the fetus not to have the potential to become a sentient being (e.g. anencephaly) also legitimizes an abortion, as carrying the pregnancy to term will accomplish nothing and fail to produce a being with self-ownership. But aside from these circumstances, a fertilized egg which implants into the uterus has the potential to become a sentient being. (Implantation is a better starting point for when life begins than conception because at least half of fertilized eggs do not implant in the uterus, but instead leave the uterus as menstruation does.)

When none of the above special cases apply, killing a fetus is unjustifiable. Therefore, stopping someone from killing a fetus is justifiable, as is applying some sanction to someone who has killed a fetus. If an abortion is performed against the woman’s wishes, then the performer is clearly a criminal against both the mother’s body and the fetus’ life. But if an abortion is performed at the woman’s request, then she bears some vicarious responsibility for hiring the abortion provider to act as her agent. But how may someone be stopped from killing a fetus? To whom are the people complicit in the abortion responsible? What kind of criminal sanction or civil restitution is just? These are not easy questions, but let us attempt to answer them.

Using force to protect a fetus from being aborted must be done carefully; otherwise, such an effort may cause the very problem it is intended to prevent, as well as aggress against innocent bystanders. Such an effort would have to be directed solely against those who perform abortions and never against the women receiving abortions. This will probably always be difficult, if not impossible, so let us consider the matters of responsibility and restitution once an abortion is performed.

In all cases where killing a fetus is unjustifiable, the criminal liability for destroying a potential sentient being is upon the abortion provider. While there is some vicarious responsibility on the person who hires the abortion provider (usually the mother), the general rule is that there is no vicarious liability in criminal law. This is because a crime is composed of both an actus reus and a mens rea, and the mother has the latter but not the former. As such, the mother’s responsibility is best handled civilly.

The responsibility for restitution depends upon what was negotiated between the mother and father of the fetus. The default condition, which should apply when no other explicit agreement was made between the couple, is that agreeing to engage in an act which may result in pregnancy creates an obligation to be responsible for the new potential sentient being which may be created. One may assert a preference that a pregnancy not occur, and one may act upon that preference by using contraceptive measures, but the only guaranteed method of contraception is abstinence. If an abortion is performed, then the responsibility for the new potential sentient being has been shirked, and its heirs, if any, are due restitution. A fetus has only its parents for heirs, and restitution for an act of aggression cannot be due to a person who is complicit in the act. Thus, the restitution must be due to the father of the fetus, and only in a case where he did not consent to the abortion, as this would make him just as culpable as the mother. If the couple did make an explicit agreement to terminate any pregnancy resulting from their sexual activity, then there is an injustice against the fetus, but no restitution for it because there is no one who can receive said restitution.

Finally, let us discuss what sort of restitution may be appropriate. If a mother aborts a fetus against the father’s wishes, then he is deprived of offspring that he would otherwise enjoy. But to compel specific performance in terms of forcing the woman to bear the aborted fetus’ father a child would legitimize both rape and slavery. This makes specific performance inappropriate in the circumstances of the case. While damages cannot adequately compensate a father for the deprivation of offspring, a monetary judgment would have to suffice, in an amount which is best determined by specialists in such cases.