Tuesday, 20 December 2011

A Question On Hitchens

Here is a question for those on the Left with any brains: why did Hitchens defend the positions of his "comrades" with such weak... not even arguments, but mere prejudicial psycho-babble?

This was a journalist, no less of the Left than of anyone else, who could describe in detail - and without flinching - the monstrosity that was Bill Clinton during the latter's time in office. That has to be celebrated, because so many people (including on the Right) seemed to cower under Clinton's stare at the time.

And yet, over a decade later, in the face of the obsese monetary and fiscal flop that the U.S. government had become, and at the long instigation of the Left, Hitchens seemingly lost his nerve and had nothing substantive to say.

I have three* hypotheses (the third being a null) to account for this: either Hitchens was guilty of an intellectual failure, or, and this is somewhat more adventurous, he was playing Nietzsche's old joke on his remaining friends on the Left (i.e. I will not publicly give you up, but I will defend you with the weakest arguments possible).

Which is it?


  1. Never has your shit philosophy been more beautifully dismantled


    This bastardised libertarianism makes 'freedom' an instrument of oppression

    Also note how George Monbiot can actually make an argument. Your garbled crap is laughable drivel that makes the brain hurt.

    Anyway, if you want to see the horizon of your intellect, stick your head up the arse of a Wall Street banker and look around!

  2. Note that it was not "dismantled" by you. You who can't seem to get beyond copy & paste.

    Monbiot's piece is wrong because (and despite his sincere efforts of course) he does in fact mangle Berlin's distinction between positive and negative liberty. Here is where it begins:

    "Rightwing libertarians claim that greens and social justice campaigners are closet communists trying to resurrect Soviet conceptions of positive freedom. In reality, the battle mostly consists of a clash between negative freedoms."

    Understand: negative liberty is the freedom from other people interfering with you (usually by the use of force to restrict your range of action). Monbiot then moves from (mis)characterizing the Left as concerned with clashes of specifically negative liberty to this...

    "The landlord was exercising his freedom to cut the tree down. In doing so, he was intruding on Clare's freedom to delight in the tree, whose existence enhanced his life."

    ... which is a clash of positive liberties. The landlord is acting in his own interest to do what he thinks will improve his life, and in so doing this has the effect of diminishing John Clare's positive liberty to "enhance his life". Note that the landlord did not interfere directly with Clare's range of action itself, and so this is not a case of interference with negative liberty.

    But the important point there is that Monbiot uses this example to make a subtly concealed attack on the notion of private property. There is a reason why his annoyance at being called a closet communist leaps off the page: because he is a closet commie. Remember (or perhaps in your case I should command you with the verb "Learn"...) that the whole point of private property rights is that they are a social mechanism for resolving conflicts of interest over the use of resources. Where one man's interest is served by cutting down a tree (e.g. for firewood) and another's is served by daydreaming beneath that same tree... then the interests of both men cannot be mutually satisfied. Now either the two men fight over it like children, or they take recourse to some broadly recognized social principle to resolve the conflict of interest. Private property is one such principle (and, in my view, the best one for several reasons).

  3. More from Monbiot:

    "They [the libertarians] speak, like Clare's landlord, as if the same freedom affects everybody in the same way."

    It is not that libertarians are unaware of differences between people in positive liberty (actually we are acutely aware of them and have better ideas for improving the lot of the poor than he does), but that we reject his tacit premise that these differences should not be allowed to exist or else be minimized (the "equality of opportunity" argument).

    Yet more from Monbiot:

    "It pretends that only the state intrudes on our liberties. It ignores the role of banks, corporations and the rich in making us less free. It denies the need for the state to curb them in order to protect the freedoms of weaker people."

    First, and as he well knows, the banks and corporations he accuses of infringing on our liberty* do so because they are supported by the State both directly and indirectly. That was the subject of my first published letter in the Taipei Times in February 2009.

    Second, of course we deny the need for the State to curb their activity - the State's "protections" will, where they do not aggravate the existing problem, simply be corrupted by both bankers and politicians alike. Free competition would do a much better job over the long term - but you won't even consider thinking about this because it demands a bit more than your copy-and-paste brain can handle.

    *Primarily through inflation, distortion of the price system, the capital markets and amplifying the expansionary and contractionary periods of the trade cycle.

  4. But what if one refuses to acknowledge a landlord's ownership of the tree? What is the basis for a landlord's ownership of the land (and everything on, in, and over it)?

  5. Then "one" must either resort to force or find a better principle for resolving conflicts over scarce resources. However, consider the scale of the question you are asking; the price systems for the entire global economy rest on the (imperfect) basis of private property rights.

    (And an aside: the landlord does not own everything on, in and over the land - that is absurd. If you step onto someone else's property, does that mean they own you? Of course not. People own themselves first and foremost and it is self-ownership that is the basis of property rights.)

    On an alternative principle... someone like Monbiot (and others on the Left) might nominate the principle of "sustainability", i.e. in any given conflict over resources, he whose use is most "sustainable" wins and a court will arbitrate in his favour.

    Let's skip over the likely destruction of the global economy and pretend this was set to work... there are three obvious problems.

    The first is the ethical problem. The use of "sustainability" as the principle for resolving conflicts of resource use would either subordinate all other human values to itself, or, if there were to be a "balancing act", it would require the use of central planning to achieve that balance. At a stroke, either of these alternatives would destroy the freedom of use that individuals now have in respect of their own property (if the principle is extended beyond land to govern other types of property, then the problem becomes worse still). Many on the Left don't see this as a problem of course because they don't really value freedom and the principles required for its realization, but rather the beneficial consequences of those principles - consequences they have become accustomed to and now take for granted whilst arguing for the destruction of those principles from which they arise.

    The second problem is the quantity of information necessary for the sustainability principle to be applied; in the case of a property right all that is legally required to settle the matter is some proof of purchase or inheritence title (and in everyday use, the principle is easily put into practice). But in the case of "sustainability" what is required are first, two sets of competing claims as to the most "sustainable" use of a given parcel of land - these two competing claims will have to resolved either according to one of many subsidiary principles, or according to two sets of comparative scientific data and (possibly dubious) forecasting of consequences. This is obviously a far more expensive and time-consuming principle to apply - an outcome which would itself lead to nasty consequences.

    The third problem is the economics of knowledge and the inherent uncertainty of the future. Consider: were not the development of the steam engine and the internal combustion engine threats to the far more sustainable horse and cart system?

    So the case for private property rights ought over say, "sustainability", ought to be fairly clear. But the Left are not talking about replacing private property rights (at least not openly) because they don't need to. They merely use the State to undermine them and to sneak in their alternative principles.

    That is why, when the Miaoli land theft cases arose last year, the Left were quick to denounce the injustice of them, but not because the government was violating the right to private property - oh no (J.M. Cole was the one exception). They denounced the land theft cases on two grounds: one was the absence of sufficent procedural lubrication and the second was environmentalism. Both of these were a cop-out and a moral failure to defend the freedom of poor people.

    The Left are rotten to the core.

  6. it is self-ownership that is the basis of property rights

    What bothers me is the validity of this argument as it applies to resources as opposed to things that were created or obtained as a direct result of the owner's efforts.

    How does someone add labor or otherwise demonstrate their rightful ownership of a parcel of land when it comes to extracting resources? (From my limited understanding) it all seems a bit unreasonable; this land is mine because I've spent time and effort cutting down some of it's trees*, and I'm the only one who can cut down the rest of the trees because the land is mine.

    *Any other basis? Some thoughts:
    1. I created the land. (Obviously false ... well maybe not entirely. Maybe you were a Johnny Appleseed who planted and raised all the trees.)
    2. Someone else gave me the land. (Well why was the land his?)
    2b. A powerful benefactor, such as the State but who knows could be God, has implicit ownership over all the land, and has trusted this parcel to me for an indefinite period of time. (An accurate description of the current world-wide situation no? How to refute this without refuting long-term, group-ownership in general (e.g. family estate)? Sure we could say the State's initial taking of the land was unjust but that was a long time ago and now the State is older than any single individual...)

  7. "What bothers me is the validity of this argument as it applies to resources as opposed to things that were created or obtained as a direct result of the owner's efforts."

    Whence the distinction? What is the relevant difference between an oil well and a cell-phone? Are they not both resources whose exploitation affords the pursuit of other human values?

    Look around you. How many of your possessions did you "create" or obtain "directly" by your own efforts? Consider an orange for example - unless you cultivated the plant from which it was picked yourself, you had to obtain it indirectly via trade. This trade was itself made possible as the indirect consequence of the actions of many other people (e.g. the farmer, the blue truck guy, the seller and then the various people who made their businesses possible and so on and on). The point is that it is a mistake to seperate resources from labour - labour is the foremost "resource" without which no other resources can be exploited.

    "How does someone add labor or otherwise demonstrate their rightful ownership of a parcel of land when it comes to extracting resources?"

    The question is tautological: you're asking something like how does someone add labour when it comes to adding labour (since obviously extraction of a resource, e.g. oil from an oil well, requires labour).

    "...this land is mine because I've spent time and effort cutting down some of it's trees*, and I'm the only one who can cut down the rest of the trees because the land is mine."

    But you appear to be conflating two different situations there: first, Locke's "state of nature" abstraction (i.e. a given area of land is mine to the extent that I appropriate it in the absence of rival claims), and second, a claim of ownership extending beyond the immediate boundaries of such appropriation (which presupposes exchange after prior appropriation by someone else). In other words, you're mixing up an initial claim (limited by the extent to which you can apply your labour), with a secondary claim (not limited by your own immediate appropriation but by the efforts of those who claimed it before).

    Have you read Locke's Two Treatises On Government? Chapter 5 of the Second Treatise ("On Property") is the place to start.

  8. I should have rephrased that: "How does one demonstrate one's ownership of the land before any resources are extracted?"

    In other words, "Why am I allowed to prevent others, through force, from attempting to extract a resource?" When I cut down the tree, the wood became mine, but on what basis could I have claimed to be the only one with the right to cut down the tree before I even raised my axe? Furthermore, how would any argument I make follow from the principle of self-ownership?

    The way I'm imagining it, there is a small hunting society. There is an unspoken consensus that you own the deer you kill. If you kill more deer, then you own more meat. But it would be absurd to one day make a claim to any of the meat on the bodies of the yet un-hunted deer. (At least, it remains absurd up until the day I gather a large enough group of loyal hunters who agree to enforce my claim.)

    Have you read Locke's Two Treatises On Government? Chapter 5 of the Second Treatise ("On Property") is the place to start.

    Sad to say, I have not. Thanks for the pointer.

  9. "How does one demonstrate one's ownership of the land before any resources are extracted?"

    Demonstrate to whom? Remember, private property rights are a social solution to the problem of resource conflict.

    "...on what basis could I have claimed to be the only one with the right to cut down the tree before I even raised my axe?"

    On the basis of prior definition (e.g. as established through trade). But if you are imagining a truly first-case scenario (i.e. wherein there can be no question of prior trade), then the problem is one of vagueness, of being certain about the boundary between what is exploitable for use and what is not. You might be able to build a small farm on a few hectares of land, but there is no way you could claim the entire island of Taiwan as your "farm" - the problem is defining the upper limit (easily resolved by the point at which rival claims to land emerge). The point is not whether property rights are in some sense a "social construct" but rather, whether they provide a better principle for resolving conflicts of use than some other principle.

    Although first-case scenarios are an imaginary construction for the purposes of logic, a somewhat similar problem occurs in the field of intellectual property. For instance Apple currently has a case against HTC on their patent 5,946,647 - the patent seems to me to be too broadly (i.e. vaguely) defined and that HTC have very good grounds for complaint against this patent since it appears to grant monopolistic State protection to Apple.


Comment moderation is now in place, as of April 2012. Rules:

1) Be aware that your right to say what you want is circumscribed by my right of ownership here.

2) Make your comments relevant to the post to which they are attached.

3) Be careful what you presume: always be prepared to evince your point with logic and/or facts.

4) Do not transgress Blogger's rules regarding content, i.e. do not express hatred for other people on account of their ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation or nationality.

5) Remember that only the best are prepared to concede, and only the worst are prepared to smear.