Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Progressivism and socialism

Working for and advocating the establishment of rough equality* is the essential property of progressivism. I call this notion "progressivism" because we are making progress away from the elitist authoritarianism that was the essential character of past political systems — most notably the maximally elitist absolute power of the individual monarch — in favor of more politically egalitarian democracy.

*Dismissing (out-of-hand, for the moment) the Harrison Bergeron almost-straw-man notion that equality entails erasing individual differences.

Under this definition, one cannot be a progressive while being sexist, i.e. holding that women are inferior just by virtue of their gender. In the same sense, one cannot be a progressive while being racist, or a homophobe, or a nationalist**, or holding any other bullshit establishment of inequality. But while eliminating these bullshit distinctions is necessary, it is not sufficient to implement progressivism.

**In the sense of holding that some people are inferior just by virtue of their nationality.

We are still left with the more refractory notion of economic class. Class is not transparently bullshit in the same sense that racism is transparently bullshit. When class was explicitly determined by virtue of heredity, as during feudalism, it was transparently bullshit; The West, however, especially the United States, has to a substantial extent transformed class into a sort of meritocracy. Class by merit is a definite improvement over class by birth (or race, or gender, or sexual orientation, or nationality, etc.) but it's not enough. Class itself, however it is established, is inherently unequal.

First of all, the notion of "meritocracy" is ambiguous and subject to equivocation. There are two definitions of meritocracy. The first is the unobjectionable notion that we should reward people according to their individual merit. The more problematic notion is that we should concentrate power ten-million-fold and give that concentrated power to the "best" among us. To equivocate these two notions entails holding that Bill Gates is ten million times better than an African subsistence farmer. Another way of looking at it is that the United States' 300+ billionaires are worth more than 90-95% of the people of China put together.

Such a notion is patently absurd. (There are those who would argue this sort of meritocracy directly and explicitly, notably Ayn Rand, gleefully contemplating the fall of civilization when a few thousand rich bastards exempt themselves from human society). The notion that one human being could be ten times better than another is barely credible; just a hundred times better is obviously ridiculous. Ten dumpy out-of-shape middle aged white guys like me could beat the NBA MVP in a game of basketball. I'm a damn good computer programmer, but you could take a hundred random people off the street, give them the same sort of training that I had, and they would certainly out-produce me, probably by an order of magnitude. And these examples arein a areas of narrow specialization, where "better" and "worse" can be objectively measured.

Why does Bill Gates have tens of billions of dollars? There's no possible way he could actually personally consume that much wealth, even with the help of his immediate family. There's only one reason to have that much money: To control what gets made and who gets to use it. In short, to gain power. And this sort of economic power is of the same essential character as political power: Whether or not a person gets enough to eat, and has a right to dignity at work is just as important as his liberty, dignity and well-being at home.

Even the most cursory study of history (real history, not fourth-grade civics propaganda) shows that concentrating power is a Bad Idea in general. Power, by its nature, perpetuates itself, and once you give real, concentrated power to an individual, it is he (and it's usually been men) who decides who gets the power when he decides. Once the people create a King and become his subjects, the only way they themselves can decide who becomes the next King is violent, destructive, wasteful rebellion. Even if we luck out and make a saint our King, that's fine for today, but what about tomorrow?

We have learned that it's best not to concentrate political power too narrowly, and when we do concentrate political power at all, we must create elaborate democratic institutions to make those who exercise that concentrated power responsible to an informed, realistic electorate.

We don't know that democracy is the correct solution to the concentration of political power, but we do know that every society that has concentrated political power without democracy has eventually oppressed the population to the extent that they had no choice but to starve to death, rise up in rebellion, or degenerate into anarchy and Mafia rule. Yes, Stalin turned the most backward country on the Eurasian continent into a global superpower in a generation, but two generations later the Communist party ran Russia into the ground, perpetuating the cycle of totalitarianism and chaos. While the jury is not yet in on China, I expect the same thing to happen; the cycle of totalitarianism and chaos is readily apparent in Chinese history.

It is ridiculous that any person could be ten million times better than any other person — great economic wealth is not earned by inherent individual merit — therefore such wealth must be socially constructed: it is granted by the people at large. Since great wealth cannot be deserved by individual merit, we must evaluate schemes that grant great wealth to individuals not on the scheme's "intrinsic" merit, but on its consequences. And the consequences of concentrating power have invariably been bad for everyone, even those who actually held the concentrated power (just ask Czar Nicolas or Marie Antoinette).

Thus we can conclude that the only progressive position on economics is to distribute wealth many orders of magnitude more equally than it is presently distributed. Furthermore, where wealth is concentrated, it must be under the power of democratic political institutions. In short, progressivism entails socialism.

Nothing changes, nothing stays the same. The only choices are progressivism (more equality), regressivism (less equality) or passivity. The "true" conservative, someone who wants things to stay exactly the same is deluded or dishonest. You are either progressive, regressive, or an instrument of progressives or regressives.

29 comments:

  1. Preemptive commentary:

    But people aren't inherently equal.

    Read the post, dipshit. "Harrison Bergeron" comments will be rejected.

    Who are you to define "progressive"?!

    Just a person. Feel free to define progressive any way you please. Feel free to accept or reject my definition on any grounds you please. If you have an alternative definition, bring it to my attention: you might persuade me. If you don't persuade me, I'll be more than happy to tell you in elaborate detail why I think you're full of shit.

    I'm not a socialist, but I want to call myself a "progressive".

    See above. Call yourself whatever you please; I'm not going to have you arrested or write to Google and have them censor your blog even if you call yourself a "progressive conservative". (I will, however, consider you a retard who couldn't spot a contradiction if it bit you on the ass and didn't bite you on the ass.)

    But socialism is Teh Evul!

    Here's a nickel, kid: go buy yourself an opinion.

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  2. First, I have to say, your one-sentence description of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged is sheer brilliance that I'm going to have to quote soon -

    Second, I have to quibble - I really think there is an order of magnitude, 10 to 100 times different, among programmers - I've worked with many programmers (when I was one) - and the worst of them actually did negative work that created sometimes hundreds of hours of pain for others on a project. Now, if you picked 100 random people, they probably all would not be that bad (or that good) - but one could certainly find someone who is 100 times better at programming than someone else (and who actually is a professional computer programmer). That this happens is a testament to IT project staffing decisions being made by HR people who don't know diddly about programming or what makes a good programmer.

    That said, even if one is 100 times better at programming than someone else, that is not the sole worth of a person.

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  3. I know I'll probably regret commenting on your blog, but I just have to ask. Why is wealth a measure of worth? Bill may have more money than Larry, but that doesn't mean Bill is better that Larry.

    Bill may also have more hair than Larry, but that says nothing about Larry or Bill's relative worth as humans.

    Wealth is simply a measure of what society thinks of the value of your contributions to it. Gates makes something that lots of people like. So they give him money. This doesn't make him better.

    Hey, at least you admit you're a socialist. That's always the first step.

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  4. First time poster to this blog…….

    On beginning to read I was pretty sure this rant was going to be total bullshit. But you surprised me for a moment, here:

    >>> First of all, the notion of "meritocracy" is ambiguous and subject to equivocation. There are two definitions of meritocracy.”

    What jolted me is that I have long been aware of the two definitions and the shoddy way people confuse and misuse them. I have never heard anyone else sound off on this, so my eyebrows went up, “cool.” But then you fucked it up. Here are the two definitions you gave:

    1) >> we should reward people according to their individual merit.<<
    2) >> The more problematic notion is that we should concentrate power ten-million-fold and give that concentrated power to the "best" among us. <<

    When I read that number 2 I was very excited [except for the inverted fallacy of “we”; but I’ll skewer that as we go along] because you are exactly correct; we should NOT give overblown power to the chosen few. But then here is the fuckup: the rest of the rant fails to make the distinction between political power and economic power. In fact, you explicitly conflate them. This makes everything you said a fallacy.

    You should get the two varieties of power correct, from a First Position, before corruption.
    Free people give certain powers to a very constrained, very minimalist government for a highly proscribed set of common functions. This is political power.
    Free people contract with each other and trade value voluntarily and own the surplus by right. They can do whatever they want with it and contract with whomever they please. This is economic power.
    So, “we” can only “give” political power, not economic power.
    The government can only “take” wealth.
    There is no true construct of “we” giving economic power by edict.

    Here are the actual two usages of ‘meritocracy’:

    1) the citizens of the contextual polity create no coercive barriers (government interventions) upon contracts between citizens or upon the creating/keeping of wealth by he who earned it. Therefore, no one can become wealthy/successful by ‘gaming’ the artificial system, and no citizen can be hindered in attaining all the wealth he creates with no gun pointed at it. People merit their success. The successful, not having their created wealth stolen, are motivated to do even greater things. No others are harmed in this process; it is meretricious.
    2) The idea of a large ‘public sphere’ is a fait accompli; you have giant institutions sutured in place by the power of government to confiscate wealth, distribute it for favors (or any damn reason), regulate people before they open their mouth, conscript them and generally control and command. Well, the ‘virtuous’ thinkers who accept this paradigm hold that those wielding this artificial coercive power ought to be the best among us. They should be well educated, seriously intelligent, morally upright, and supposedly impervious to bribes. They ought to be “People of Merit.” This is the kind of meritocracy dreamed up by Plato in the Republic. Like you, he constructed the ‘we’ fantasy regards wealth and freedom, namely that “we” (the meretricious evolved philosopher-kings) should find the highest ways of controlling wealth and ordering the lower people around. Any doubts about the right to do this coercive controlling is squashed flat by the certainty of one’s superior merit.

    If you think I am just blowing my own hot air about 2, check out the revelatory books by and about Robert McNamara. He explicitly admits the hubris of “2” above was rampant in the Kennedy administration and in himself to extremes. McNamara’s primary philosophical mentor is Plato. He blames his delusional discipleship to Meritocracy2 for the magical thinking that the war could be won (by the meretricious K. administration and later by himself in the less illustrious LBJ admin.) when the reality was clear that the war could not be won. 50,000 of ours and who knows how many hundreds of thousands of others died for this.

    I am sure you can easily see that I am no fan of Meritocracy2 and a champion of Meritocracy1.

    Here is my preemptive strike against the inevitable blowback:

    “There is no merit in supposed ‘earned’ wealth since the mechanisms to create the economy come from Washington and those who get rich are gaming the system with lobbyists.”
    Me: I pour crap on anyone who can only get wealthy by gaming the coercive social democracy currently in place; they are the ugly orc-demons of an unclean marriage between quasi-businessmen and power-lust politicians. But my answer is not “more regulation and repressive taxation, plus find better Merit2 people who will wield power better.” My response is: Laissez-faire and let Merit1 flourish.

    “Capitalists who earn their money fairly and deserve their wealth? Bullshit, no such thing; they have to be in bed with corrupt politicians at some level, prima facie. Tax the fuck out of them.”
    Me: Laissez-faire and let Merit1 flourish.

    “With no progressive taxation and no regulation on wealth, the rich will get even more obscenely rich; they won’t give one glance at someone struggling.”
    Me: Laissez-faire and let Merit1 flourish. You have not the slightest inkling of how generous people can be…if no one is pointing a gun at their head to force them to be so.

    “How much wealth does one person need for fuck’s sake…”
    Whoops, too late. You already blew that trumpet.
    My response: it is not a zero-sum game.

    “Your Meritocracy1 is a sophomoric bullshit fantasy. It never existed and never will exist. Only Realpolitik exists.”
    Sorry you can’t see it. But if you think socialism is better than it, YOU are living in a fantasy.

    John Donohue
    Pasadena, CA

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  5. Curiosis: I know I'll probably regret commenting on your blog...

    That's an understandable sentiment, shared by many. But I'll be nice.

    Wealth is simply a measure of what society thinks of the value of your contributions to it.

    This is a gross oversimplification of economics and how money works.

    Hey, at least you admit you're a socialist. That's always the first step.

    You apparently did not read or failed to comprehend the preemptive commentary.

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  6. John: [T]he rest of the rant fails to make the distinction between political power and economic power. In fact, you explicitly conflate them. This makes everything you said a fallacy. In fact, you explicitly conflate them. This makes everything you said a fallacy.

    Well, it makes everything I said heresy against Libertarian dogma. And my long-time readers know how much I admire Libertarian dogma.

    The comment isn't bad, though. If you'd like to clean it up and make it into a stand-alone essay, I'd be happy to publish it on the front page of the blog, subject to ordinary editorial standards.

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  7. You should get the two varieties of power correct, from a First Position, before corruption.

    Sorry, Larry. It seems the Objectivists are migrating from my site over to yours.

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  8. It seems the Objectivists are migrating from my site over to yours.

    I really prefer to call them Randians. Calling the ideology of Rand's cult "Objectivism" is an entirely unwarranted semantic corruption of "objective", an otherwise perfectly good word.

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  9. I hear "Randian" and I can't help but think of excessively horny fraternity brothers. =]

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  10. Wait…why am I cleaning it up? To make it more formal? To take out the swearing and such? To explain who LBJ was?

    I read your wonderful love letter to libertarians. I am not a libertarian or a Libertarian; neither was Ayn Rand. But I did extract your major excoriation point, and it is highly fucked up. I figured out how you got it so wrong, though. You didn’t listen to your wife and read the classics, right? Geeze, you missed “The Second Treatise of Civil Government” by John Locke. If you go for the cliff notes, find the section on the acorns. Locke supplies the rebuttal to your claim that declaring property in the first instance is ‘initiation of force” (coercion.)

    This in turn leads to the subject of distinguishing between political power and economic power. Which leads in turn to the opposition of Progressive Socialism vs. Free-Market Capitalism.

    Meanwhile, since this is a crude place, go right ahead with “Randian,” and “dogma” which normally I spit on as the smears of a little mind out of ideas. I will continue on with Objectivism. With a capital “O”.

    John Donohue

    P.S. I am somewhat unaccustomed to this vernacular, but enjoying it a lot. Do you think ‘fucked up’ should be hyphenated?

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  11. John: I meant "cleaning it up" explicitly in the sense of making it stand-alone and also making it a tad more formal, perhaps smoothing the flow somewhat and correcting the minor errors of spelling and punctuation (which are entirely unobjectionable for a comment, but could be improved for a post). No, you don't have to remove the colorful language, and no, "fucked up" does not require a hyphen.

    Locke supplies the rebuttal to your claim that declaring property in the first instance is ‘initiation of force” (coercion.)

    I've read it; I think Locke is wrong on this point; more precisely I think his argument is not directly relevant.

    Argument by reference is weak; your comment would have more force if you quoted Locke and summarized his argument. It is within the realm of logical possibility that I've misunderstood either the argument or its justification, a possibility that can be eliminated only by actually examining the argument in detail.

    I would definitely enjoy your continued participation here: You seem to have views substantially opposed to my own, as well as a spine and a brain.

    I'm a reasonable man, and open to rational persuasion. But to have a hope of persuading me, as well as persuading my readers, you will have to supply the arguments themselves — not just references — for critical analysis. And, since the comments receive (at best) a tenth the attention that the posts receive (and are not searchable), I very much prefer to publish substantive arguments, especially the arguments of others, as posts, not comments.

    Alternatively, you might want to start your own blog (it's free), publish your arguments there, and bring them to my attention, in which case you'll definitely get a link.

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  12. Also, by "stand-alone", I mean a reader should be able to understand your thesis and justification without having to actually read any cited works, which means summarizing points from other works, whether you are criticizing them or using them as support, explicitly showing the relevance of those works, and supplying quotations to substantiate your interpretation.

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  13. This in turn leads to the subject of distinguishing between political power and economic power.

    This is a false distinction. Up until the 19th century, these two disciplines were intrinsically linked into one overarching area of study called political economy, and for a very good reason: they are inextricably bound to one another.

    To paraphrase a friend: Things like property rights and freedoms are lies we tell each other. We've determined that people are happier with them, and rightfully so. But they are not intrinsic privileges, fundamental to man. They are conceits. Good conceits, don't get me wrong, but conceits nonetheless.

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  14. Things like property rights and freedoms are lies we tell each other.

    To be a little more precise and charitable, property rights, especially abstract property rights, are social constructs of one sort or another.

    There are two central equivocation fallacies of Libertarianism (shared by Randianism).

    The first is to object to some social constructs (such as taxation) because they are social constructs, and to accept other social constructs (such as ownership) because they're good social constructs.

    The second is to set a meaningless standard, a notion of "consent", it's meaningless in that its literal meaning is impossible: There is no social construct that has universal consent. Again, the consent garnered by those social constructs Libertarians approve of is considered sufficient consent, whereas the the consent garnered by those they disapprove of is insufficient.

    To appease John (a tiny bit), I actually approve of certain forms of radical Libertarianism, such as the society depicted in Eric Frank Russell's novella And Then There Were None, which depicts a Libertarian society without any sort of abstract property whatsoever.

    Such a society, however, is so divorced from present-day historical context that it has to be placed on a centuries-isolated planet to preserve even the most basic verisimilitude.

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  15. I found a couple of points in your reasoning contentious. (If I understand you correctly) you are complaining that the merit system gives the impression that Bill Gates is "ten million times better than an African subsistence farmer." While I think we are both in agreement that he is NOT ten million times better, I also disagree with your opinion that this is even implied through his monetary success. I would suggest that his vast wealth is not evidence of his own self-worth, but rather evidence that the market has liked some of his ideas and that he has manipulated it to keep rewarding him. So his success speaks to the nature of our market structure (capitalism, etc) more so than any notion of class or his worth as a person.

    You then ask, "Why does Bill Gates have tens of billions of dollars? There's no possible way he could actually personally consume that much wealth, even with the help of his immediate family. There's only one reason to have that much money: To control what gets made and who gets to use it. In short, to gain power."

    Again, I have to disagree. Your suggestion is that he A) Has money so he can B) gain power. His monetary worth is not an extension of his desire for power, though it may be a way to achieve it. The truth is that he A) Has power because B) has money. Beyond that you will get no argument from me on your assertions that power corrupts.

    So then, what is our solution for dealing with these concentrations of power in our world? You have clearly staked out your plan: "Thus we can conclude that the only progressive position on economics is to distribute wealth many orders of magnitude more equally than it is presently distributed. Furthermore, where wealth is concentrated, it must be under the power of democratic political institutions. In short, progressivism entails socialism."

    Since you have not detailed your wealth distribution plan, I will not make the assumption that you are talking about taxing the rich and giving to the poor, per se. i'll have to dig through your archives to see if you've gone into more detail in a previous post.

    Social mobility is indeed a hallmark of Progressivism. This is wealth re-distribution in the sense that new people can gain wealth through upward movement, but it is not a re-distribution in the classic socialist sense.Instead, the Progressive vision for social mobility relies on using existing market structures to pull one's self up. Thus one's status becomes a matter of choice and iniative.

    While I initially jumped at the notion of you discussing your own particular brand of progressivism, I was disappointed to learn that it apparently equals socialism. Hopefully when the long-awaited response to our debate on the 'progressive' label arrives I will gain a little more insight into the other elements of your (small p) progressivism.

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  16. Progressive:

    [Y]ou are complaining that the merit system gives the impression that Bill Gates is "ten million times better than an African subsistence farmer."

    I'm making a narrower point: "To equivocate the two notions... entails that Bill Gates..." Equivocation is a logical fallacy, the label is pejorative.

    I also disagree with your opinion that this is even implied through his monetary success.

    Since many people explicitly support the point, notably Randians, Libertarians and many Republicans, as well as commenter Curiosis on this very thread, the notion is sufficiently well-advocated to deserve rebuttal.

    So his success speaks to the nature of our market structure (capitalism, etc) more so than any notion of class or his worth as a person.

    No argument there.

    Your suggestion is that he A) Has money so he can B) gain power.

    Well, I'm implying that money is power. I would have been more precise to ask, "Why did Gates amass so much money?" Because money is power, and he wanted the power. I doubt that he derives much direct pleasure just from observing the digits on his bank account.

    i'll have to dig through your archives to see if you've gone into more detail in a previous post.

    Save yourself the trouble; I haven't yet gone into more detail. At this point, I'm content to be clear about the goal, if not the preferred means.

    the Progressive vision for social mobility relies on using existing market structures to pull one's self up.

    That's your "Progressive vision", to which you're certainly entitled.

    It's not mine, though. I don't think social mobility is redistributive, and I've seen no evidence whatsoever that existing market structures, at least not those existing today in the United States, have a positive effect on social mobility or the redistribution of economic power.

    Of course, I'm entitled as well to consider your use of as "progressive" not only different from mine, but also as doing considerable violence to the plain meaning of "progress".

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  17. TO barefoot bum...
    Okay, I am thinking it over. The only reason I'd consider getting serious here on your blog is that so far you have been fair about posting in toto and responding reasonably, even though we are fundamental enemies. I am proactively against blogging myself as I have another hugely consuming life pursuit that would make it doubtful I could keep up my commitments to the blog. You are welcome to check me out at my personal site jrdonohue dott com if you wish. My principle essay there concerns the war over "equality" and is called Jefferson's Glory.


    You and Mr. Elliot posted a fundamental I would attack....

    that distinguishing between political power and economic power is a false distinction.

    Their being conceits or social constructs? Do you think they have no objectivity, that they might as well be considered arbitrary, and that there are no absolutes in the arena of political philosophy? Most thinkers subscribe to this notion. However, I see postmodernism scorned on this blog elsewhere and thus wonder if you can avoid self-inclusion if you share the postmodernist/radical skeptic's axiomatic beliefs that 'reality is socially constructed.'
    Certainly "social constructs" is a postmodernist notion.


    My argument is that political systems are choices, informed (one would hope) by normative philosophy. For Objectivists, the normative branches of philosophy are specifically and seamlessly derived from metaphysical truth about human beings. So they are choices, but not arbitrary. To be correct they must stem from the facts of reality, deep facts, about the nature of man.

    John Donohue

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  18. John: The only reason I'd consider getting serious here on your blog is that so far you have been fair about posting in toto and responding reasonably, even though we are fundamental enemies.

    I can promise the first without reservation.

    The second is a little more problematic, depending on what you mean by "reasonably".

    In the sense of "moderate" or "temperate" I have a tendency to react with great anger, sarcasm and scorn to what I consider egregious and indefensible stupidity, intellectual dishonesty, and outright mendacity. This is not a tendency I'm particularly interested of changing.

    I do my level best, however, to offer actual reasons for my immoderate and intemperate comments. Whether those reasons are good reasons I must leave to the judgment of my readers.

    You are welcome to check me out at my personal site jrdonohue dott com if you wish.

    Normally, I link to all (almost all) my readers in the sidebar, but since you've obscured the URL, I won't do so automatically. If you'd like a sidebar link, let me know.

    Of course, if I were to reference and criticize any work at your site, I would be obliged to create a proper link in the response.

    Do you think they have no objectivity, that they might as well be considered arbitrary...

    I don't know what James thinks, but I certainly consider social constructs to be "arbitrary" in the sense of being subjective (not necessarily in the sense of being capricious).

    ...and that there are no absolutes in the arena of political philosophy?

    The qualifiers "absolute" and "relative" are too ambiguous to carry any philosophical water, at least not without further modification.

    However, I see postmodernism scorned on this blog elsewhere...

    To be more precise, I scorn bullshit postmodernism. I do consider myself a postmodern philosopher, however, and I've written extensively on this meta-philosophical topic.

    You refer to:
    the postmodernist/radical skeptic's axiomatic beliefs that 'reality is socially constructed.'

    This is a false dichotomy; one does not have to adopt the extremist position that all ideas, or specifically (physical) reality or ideas about (physical) reality are socially constructed to conclude that some of our ideas are indeed socially constructed.

    Certainly "social constructs" is a postmodernist notion.

    To an extent, although the idea of social construction has (like all philosophical ideas) roots in pre-modernist philosophy, all the way back to Platonic idealism.

    My argument is that political systems are choices, informed (one would hope) by normative philosophy.

    You'll have a difficult sell there, since I consider the notion of normative philosophy to be incoherent, at least in the sense I think you mean.

    To be correct they must stem from the facts of reality, deep facts, about the nature of man.

    Note that "facts about the nature of man" are by definition subjective facts, facts about minds, not the world outside of minds, and therefore "arbitrary" in one sense. Unless, of course, you mean about facts about the objective (outside of minds) reality which inexorably lead to properties of minds. I suspect you mean the latter, but it's very important to clearly and explicitly draw the distinction, to avoid falling into the fallacy of adaptationism.

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  19. I tend to react more moderately to ideas that have some sort of argumentative support, even if I consider that support to be fallacious or mistaken.

    I offer no guarantees, however. "You pays your money and you takes your chances."

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  20. I don't know what James thinks, but I certainly consider social constructs to be "arbitrary" in the sense of being subjective (not necessarily in the sense of being capricious).

    Bingo. This is where I don't scorn Foucault and Derrida as outrightly as many philosophers I respect do: Language is important, and the usages to which it is put more so. As a culture, a certain pejorative is attached to "construction" and "subjective" when we talk about them in contexts like society and ethics. Just because some things are subjective doesn't mean they're not real or valuable.

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  21. To address John's question more explicitly:

    "Do you think they have no objectivity, that they might as well be considered arbitrary, and that there are no absolutes in the arena of political philosophy?"

    "They" being political and economic power. The problem, for me, is that the Objectivists I've interacted with tend to subjectively privilege the one over the other: Economic power is okay, while political power is not. One just appears to be selected as "okay." The false distinction is in denying that economic power isn't power over others.

    It is undeniable that "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" have proven to be good. What is eminently disputable is that they are somehow intrinsic, a part of man's "natural state." Throughout the whole of human history, the trend is in the aggregation of power - economic, political, and physical - to the few. These worthwhile things, that the Founders identified as Rights, are wonderful, but they are not inherent, fundamental things. They are easily surrendered, abrogated, and confiscated. That they are constructed and must therefore be maintained is what makes them so precious.

    Ignoring the very real abuses to which economic power can be put -- which is convenient if you deny that it exists in the first place -- imperils what we have determined to be the goals of a maximal society.

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  22. I accept your differentiation between bullshit PMists and those postmodernist philosophers who do not write in the bullshit dialect.

    'reality is socially constructed.'
    >>>This is a false dichotomy; one does not have to adopt the extremist position that all ideas, or specifically (physical) reality or ideas about (physical) reality are socially constructed to conclude that some of our ideas are indeed socially constructed.<<<

    First it should be noted that many BSPMs (bullshit postmoderns) in fact DO belive that even physical reality is socially constructed! So, that has been my default. As soon as someone starts throwing around the axioms of radical skepticism I delightfully slam them into that extreme position, until they prove otherwise.

    Now, you having absented yourself from that group...you are contending that only SOME parts of reality are socially constructed, and some are not. Is that accurate?

    If so, is it fair to say, then, that you acknowledge an epistemology that can with certainty identify and categorize existents which are real parts of objective reality on their own and not social constructed?

    John Donohue

    P.S. Don't worry about the "reasonable" thing. What I meant was you have given reasons for your anger, sarcasm and scorn. If you go off on me, as long as I can trace your reasons, I have no problem; I will just track them down and one-up you in blue usage.

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  23. James F. Elliott >> The problem, for me, is that the Objectivists I've interacted with tend to subjectively privilege the one over the other: Economic power is okay, while political power is not. One just appears to be selected as "okay." <<
    It is possible the Objectivists you were speaking with did not demonstrate that this was not just an ad hoc selection or subjective privileging. It is also possible they did, but you did not get it. If this dialog continues, I may be able to clarify it for you and you can address or challenge my explanations.

    One thing: many who hold both to be equally wrong totalize on "economic power." They make cases not on 'original position' free-market capitalism, but on a mixed economy, wherein some people with wealth exert control over others not because of free exchange, but because they have enmeshed themselves with the state and their control has a sting to it that others not so connected/enmeshed do not possess. This is a mixture of political power and economic power I call Cartel Syndicalism. It is fucking evil.

    John Donohue

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  24. John: First it should be noted that many BSPMs (bullshit postmoderns) in fact DO belive that even physical reality is socially constructed

    Yes, some BSPMs do believe that. They're completely full of shit, in my not-at-all humble opinion.

    you are contending that only SOME parts of reality are socially constructed, and some are not. Is that accurate?

    No. If you mean objective reality, then that is by definition that which is independent of our beliefs.

    I'm saying that some ideas are socially constructed. Some of our ideas about objective reality are in fact socially constructed, but they can either be scientifically constructed, or they are without sufficient epistemic justification.

    However, many of our ideas are not ideas about objective reality. In which case, noting that they are socially constructed is not an argument about their epistemic basis.

    If so, is it fair to say, then, that you acknowledge an epistemology that can with certainty identify and categorize existents which are real parts of objective reality on their own and not social constructed?

    Not with certainty, but yes, the scientific method can deliver epistemic confidence about objective reality, and separate out that which can only be socially constructed.

    If you go off on me, as long as I can trace your reasons, I have no problem; I will just track them down and one-up you in blue usage.

    Excellent! <rubs hands> We'll get on fine, I think.

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  25. James F. Elliott >>> As a culture, a certain pejorative is attached to "construction" and "subjective" when we talk about them in contexts like society and ethics. Just because some things are subjective doesn't mean they're not real or valuable. <<<<

    The reason for the pejorative is that those of us not speaking the dialect realize thay are attempting to bullshit us into accepting there is no objective basis for society and ethics. It's a frontal assault.

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  26. Correction: However, many of our ideas are not ideas about objective reality. In which case, noting that they are socially constructed is not necessarily an argument about their epistemic basis.

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  27. 'original position' free-market capitalism,

    This is something that cannot exist outside the realm of theoretical mathematics. The very presence of human beings within the system prevents it. This is not an original insight: Adam Smith realized it centuries ago. To predicate your argument on something which's very existence is impossible is to create a position not worth standing on. It's not even wrong.

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  28. The reason for the pejorative is that those of us not speaking the dialect realize thay are attempting to bullshit us into accepting there is no objective basis for society and ethics.

    Sure there is: People need to live socially to survive and thrive; man is, as a species, poorly suited to individual success in nature. Societies and ethics simply arise from various successful ways of meeting that basic need.

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  29. Just a flying and belated comment to thank you for this post. It's been a catalyst for quite a lot of rethinking of my politics.

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