Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Parable of the Infinite

I thought myself a wise man, beyond the wisdom of my fellow men; I had lived a thousand years to their one. But yet I did not understand happiness. And so I asked evolution, a fellow traveler of time, what happiness was; and evolution said to me, "Happiness is children." But I had no children, and was yet possessed of happiness; clearly evolution was wrong. so I asked the market, a fellow traveler of space; and the market said to me, "Happiness is serving others." But I had lived years alone, and was yet possessed of happiness; clearly the market was wrong. And so I asked my fellow man; and his answers were as varied as the currents of the sea, sometimes in agreement with evolution, and others in agreement with the market, and some others in agreement with such things as I could never question, for they would never grant me an audience. And so I concluded that only I could answer this question. And so I have been happy ever since.

Property Rights... exercise in informal logic.

Start with Ayn Rand's definition of rights: "Rights are conditions of existence required by man’s nature for his proper survival."

I have rights because they're necessary for my existence. I take the right of my existence as my axiom.

However, having food to eat is not a condition of existence necessary to my survival.

I just made a patently ridiculous statement. I promise you I'm going to back it up. I'll ask you to pause, here, for a moment, before you continue, and try to predict what I'm going to say next.

I don't have food to eat right this second. I could go and get some from my pantry, but even if my pantry were empty, I still wouldn't fail to survive. What is necessary to my survival is the ability to -acquire- food. My survival is dependent not upon my having the materials to satisfy my material requirements, but upon my having the ability to -acquire- those materials. More, because I must adhere to the rights of others, I must do so without infringing upon the ability of others to acquire such materials for themselves.

As a corollary to this, I have a derivative right to acquire and keep those things that enable me to acquire those materials necessary to my survival, so long as that acquisition does not infringe upon that equal right of others.  That is:

A.) I have a right to my existence.
B.) Therefore, necessarily, I have a right to acquire those material things necessary to my existence.
C.) Therefore, necessarily, I have a right to possess those material things necessary for me to acquire those material things necessary to my existence.

You don't know what I need for proper survival, except that which I have clearly marked as unnecessary to my survival, such as the chair I left out on the curb. In the absence of perfect information, we can only signal indirectly. If Ug makes a sharpened wooden stick - a spear - to hunt with, taking that spear impairs his ability to procure resources for his proper survival; a society which permits that spear to be taken likewise impairs that ability, both directly, in that this spear is no longer available to him, and indirectly in that he can no longer evaluate whether or not creating a spear will in fact contribute to his proper survival. His ability to procure resources for his proper survival is dependent upon society respecting that steps he has taken towards ensuring that survival are respected as being part of that survival as well. His spear must be respected.

But more importantly, the flint which he uses to sharpen that spear must be respected as well, even if nobody else in that society knows the purpose of the flint. Anything Ug has produced or acquired must be treated as though it were necessary to his proper survival in the absence of a clear indicator from Ug otherwise; if Ug throws the flint into the scrap heap, he's clearly signaled that it isn't necessary to his proper survival.

To make the latter distinction clear, imagine that Tog, Ug's friend, has already tried hunting with flint, and discovered it useless. He may have clear personal evidence that the flint is unnecessary to Ug's survival - but the flint -is- necessary to Ug's survival. Tog must respect that Ug is a creature with purpose - which gets into the "proper" part of survival - and therefore must respect that anything in Ug's possession is something which Ug may have discovered necessary to his survival. It doesn't matter whether or not Tog can surmise or discover a purpose for the flint.

Thus, you can take the chair I've left out by the curb, but not the one in my house.

This extends to strict trade currencies as well; if Ug trades his spears for shiny rocks, something all of his tribesmen want but which all acknowledge serve no particular purpose, those shiny rocks are imbued, as if by magic, with Ug's purpose. He may store them for the day when hunting is bad, so he can trade them at that point in time for something necessary to his proper survival. And this point is where all property rights become innate, because all property duly produced, traded for, or found in conditions in which purpose can be asserted without violating the others, can later be traded for property in turn. I can pawn my chair, even if it serves no purpose for me whatsoever.


A.) I have a right to my existence.
B.) Therefore, necessarily, I have a right to acquire those material things necessary to my existence.
C.) Therefore, necessarily, I have a right to possess those material things necessary for me to acquire those material things necessary to my existence.
Da.) You don't know what material things I necessarily need for me to acquire those material things necessary to my existence.
Db.) Therefore, you must, in order to avoid severing any of my rights, it is necessary to assume all material possessions imbued with my purpose are necessary, directly or indirectly, to my existence.
Dc.) Therefore, all material possessions which I have acquired with purpose are to be assumed to be necessary to my existence, directly or indirectly.
Ea.) Trade is merely a mechanism by which I may acquire those goods necessary for my existence.
Eb.) Therefore, even goods which you know I do not directly need, but which I have nonetheless acquired, are similarly protected as necessary to my existence, indirectly.

Thus, property rights, derived from nothing but my right to existence in a universe in which material goods are necessary to that existence.

In order to disprove this notion of property rights one of two things must be denied:
1.) The right to my existence.
2.) The transitive property of this right.  (I/e, if it's transitive, it includes food and trade goods both; if nontransitive, it doesn't.  If it's transitive, it includes those things necessary to my existence in the future; if it's not, only those things I need in the immediate are protected.)

Note that denial of either of these things leads to a situation in which civilization is impossible at the most primitive scale; Ug cannot make spears, neither for his own use, nor to trade, because the labor involved in doing so confers no benefits on Ug, and is therefore detrimental to Ug's survival, taking away from time in which he could be doing things that do guarantee his survival.  Civilization at a more complex scale is no more possible, depending as it does on not merely these rules, but much deeper derivations (such as the right to property which isn't material at all).

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Metaethics II

This has only a little new intellectual content over the first metaethics post, but I wanted to revisit it:

Put succinctly - what's the utility value of an additional utilitarian ethicist?

Have you ever evaluated the ethical value, within your ethics system, of propagating that ethics system?

Take, for example, a greed-based hedonist; is such a theoretical hedonist best-served (his own prosperity being the measure of his ethics) by propagating his own ethics system, or would he be better served propagating an altruistic ethics system which he can better take advantage of?

This issue isn't limited to a subset of hedonists, however; consider a moral system which simultaneously values economic equality and has proscriptions against doing harm.  Is it ethical to promote this ethics system to anybody who is better off than the global average, or in a country in which almost everybody is better off than the global average?  The inherent guilt (and possibly hypocrisy) inherent to this ethics system reduces quality of life for most people who attempt to follow it.

The more limited the ethical system, and the more universal its scope, the more likely it won't have contraindications to its own propagation; ethical values with universal scope have particular resilience, such as "Justice," or "Equality," or "Liberty," or "Happiness," or "Life."  Ethical systems rarely have singular ethical values, however; strict Randian Objectivism is one counterexample, choosing "Human Life" as its prime ethical value (for humans), from which others may be derived, but have no ethical meaning independent of that value.

Thus, there's some reason to believe Occam's Razor applies in metaethics; ethical systems which are simpler are more likely to be useful, because they're less likely to contradict their own use or propagation.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Could you, in good conscience, recommend your morality to other people?

"What a trivial question, of course!"

Could you, in good conscience, recommend your morality to other people, no matter what circumstances you find yourself in?

Imagine you're a utilitarian ends-oriented altruist - the sort of altruism Comte proposed.  And imagine you're in a society of such Comtean altruists.  Isn't there a point at which the best ends are achieved, not by preaching altruism, but by preaching greed?  Isn't there conceivably a point where the marginal utility of an additional altruist is less than the utility of greed?

In a nonideal society, can you even be certain of the utility of an additional Comtean altruist?  Should a Comtean altruist -ever- teach Comtean altruism?  The ends justify the means, after all; how certain are you of the utility of altruism?  If you're not certain, should you ever bring it up?

If you're an atheist who believes in doing no harm, should you encourage -any- kind of altruism?  You don't believe in a soul - don't you do some harm to people by encouraging them to give up some of their well-being?  Does it increase overall utility to instill guilt in somebody about their own relative state of well-being? On an individual basis, aren't you doing harm by doing so?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Open Source

Most "open source" software is not "free," and the more time someone spends trying to define "freedom," the less free the damn thing actually is.

I'm generally skeptical of the "open source" movement. On one hand, I recognize that a lot of people get value out of open source software for private and commercial reasons. On the other, I tend to find that the underlying motivations driving many (if not most) proponents of open source are suspect at best.

I've said to Orphan before that, if you looked at any successful or "good" piece of open source software, you'd almost be guaranteed to find commercial investment behind it, either in the form of direct funding or the use of paid development / quality assurance time. This statement was mostly offhand, without any significant research to back it. That said, however, I think that the declaration largely stands. OpenOffice, Firefox (insomuch as you can consider that "quality" anymore), Eclipse, and so forth. Name a widely used or quality piece of software and I can almost guarantee that I'll find commercialism is responsible for putting it where it is today.

That's not to say that commercial software is inherently better, though I do find this to generally be the case. "Open source" includes every piss-poor project that every moron threw together over a weekend and stamped as being "open." Obviously this is going to mean that, with a much wider range of available crappy software, open source is going to look worse for it. There are, of course, many such horrible commercial products, many of which I've used. The difference is that the "community" (you may note I'm overly fond of quotation marks) doesn't automatically back and go to the defense of poor commercial software, yet they seem quite willing to go to bat for anything where you can download the source code.

Source code available or not, a turd is a turd is a turd.

My problem with open source really comes down to the users and developers themselves. To be blunt, I find  the movement ultimately altruistic, and I use that word with all of the condemnation it entails (if it has no such connotation for you then, by all means, fuck off).


Three letters: GNU.

Aside from the fantastically idiotic use of acronyms by these people ("GNU's Not Unix?" That's "clever," is it?), these and many other open software groups constantly advocate open source as being "free." The slogan I hear most often is "free as in freedom," as opposed to "free as in beer." Do yourself a favor: go read look up the license terms for the LGPL (the license GNU eventually had to come up with when they realized that nobody valuing hygiene was going to use the GPL), and pay particular attention to Stallman's pleas and "reasons" (if you can consider such emotional nonsense to even remotely resemble rationality) as to why you should use the GPL instead of the LGPL. That's "free," is it?

Most people I'd consider sane (it's not an objective evaluation; you automatically fail if I disagree with you) are already familiar with this and the problems therein. But what I love in particular, and what I'm rambling on mostly pointlessly to address, is the idea that the GPL, LGPL, and all of the bastard variations thereof, do not in any sense represent freedom.

A license that restricts the usage of software to non-commercial applications is not promoting "freedom"; it's promoting anti-commercialism, and you'd have to be a child to think otherwise. You cannot claim that something is free if it places a requirement on another person (full stop), be it the requirement that the license is redistributed or maintained or that the product can only be used a certain way.

If you want to claim that software is free, you must place it in its entirety with no protection, copyright or license into the public domain. You will never see the "open source" community do this. You won't see me do it, either.