Edmund Burke was a Liberal

Harry Walton writing on the Open Oxford Facebook group (to me, prior to the addition of a rule against external quoting):
Sure, I never said [Burke] didn't use reason. I just said he disliked the enlightenment and disliked liberalism.
But you wrote, "Individual reason was something that [Burke] held disdain for."

I sure don't think you meant Burke liked collectivist reasoning and was anti-individualist! That'd be ridiculous and I didn't see other claims along those lines from you. So, I read it like you said Burke had disdain for (proper) reason.
"Burke tried to explain to people how actual progress and reform work, how to go about that"

I mean, I like Burke so I'm going to agree that he showed how genuine progress and reform ought to go about. Could you give me a description of what you believe he argued for/said?
"A disposition to preserve and an ability to improve ... would be my standard of a statesman.” – this interest in improvement is not conservative"

Firstly, it is important to note that it is the 'disposition to preserve' that is the important part.
No, the point as a whole is the important part, it's about having those two things together. Did you check the original context before making this claim?

A disposition to preserve and an ability to improve, taken together, would be my standard of a statesman.
I think that clears it up. But read more context and tell me if you still disagree.

Maybe we could put it like this: you think the "disposition to preserve" is the important part, so you're a conservative. Burke thinks the "disposition to preserve" and "ability to improve" need to go together, so he's a liberal (and me too). And then, some people care about "ability to improve" without much/any "disposition to preserve", so they are dangerous radicals, revolutionaries, utopians, etc...
It's the basic part of conservative thinking. My favourite essay by Oakeshott is useful to put here. It explains what it means to be conservative. If you have some spare time you should read it. It's probably the best way of describing conservatism I've seen.

replies to this are at the end
"Seeking progress rationally is how liberalism works"

Liberalism is an ideology that has a set goal of 'freedom' as a value that it wants to pursue. Burke has no such value put forward first except for maybe tradition. The goal of liberalism is to maximise freedom. The goal of Burke is just a vague. One of the main reasons Burke likes change is because he believes it is necessary towards preservation of the nation state. I think the only person who you would see as 'conservative' would be Maistre.
This concept of liberalism is mistaken. That helps explain why you don't see the connection between Burke and liberalism. I think a lot of our confusion is because the opponents of liberalism have spread a lot of lies about what it is, and now most people don't have much understanding what liberalism is actually about.

And the claim Burke only wants change for preservation is silly given I just quoted him, and you requoted him, saying he wants *improvement*.

For understanding liberalism, start with:


and read especially


then you could find out what liberalism is – according to actual liberals! – before trying to claim and deny things about it.

Liberal means things like: open to improvement and change, tolerant, favorable to individual rights and freedom, pro-liberty. All of those apply to Burke. Liberalism involves being willing to question and change tradition (which Burke was).

Conservative is a kind of pointless word if you define it such that someone is liberal and conservative, at the same time. It's perfectly possible to do that. The "conservatives" in the US today are pretty liberal (and the "liberals" are largely illiberal).

But if Burke is a "conservative" in addition to a liberal, then what do you call the tories? What word is left? Burke was a whig, the *liberal* party, who opposed and politically fought against the more conservative tories in many things. Burke was one of the reformers standing up to King and traditional authority – calling him a "conservative" is therefore confusing, since he put so much effort into politically battling the conservatives of his time.

Declaring Burke conservative and non-liberal would also get into awkward questions like whether you're going to do it to William Godwin too.

Besides liberals and conservatives (meaning stuff like those tories Burke frequently opposed), another big category to be aware of and complete the picture better is *radicals* – the people who want revolutions, utopias, reimaginings of society. Radicals are the guys who don't respect tradition or piecemeal progress, who want replacement with their latest flakey idea instead of reform. (Objectivism does not use the word "radical" this way, but I do. I'm open to ideas about better word choices.)

So you get:

conservative – keep things the same
liberal – value tradition but seek progress, reform, improvement
radical – sweep away the cobwebs of tradition, replace with something new

or in programming terms:

conservative – the software works well enough, no new versions

liberal – let's refactor a bit and fix some bugs, and occasionally even add new features that we carefully think through

radical – i'm not satisfied with some of the design choices for our software, let's start over from scratch and do a full rewrite

again: if you want to define "conservative" differently, whatever. but then what word should i use to convey ideas like this? (pro-stasis?). can you see the logic to using words this way?

i think a big part of the issue is basically there aren't conservatives anymore. no one in the anglosphere wants *stasis* now. but in the past, lots of people really have wanted stasis, which is something moderns find hard to understand. there's still traces of people wanting stasis today, and problems there, but it's hard to find significant strands of thinking which are very thorough about stasis. and if you go further back in the past, or you look at other worse cultures, you get a lot more pro-stasis stuff. (have you seen David Deutsch's book, the beginning of infinity, and his discussion of the static societies of the past?)


say it IS possible to
elicit explanatory general principles from what is recognized to be conservative conduct
The general characteristics of this disposition are not difficult to discern, although they have often been mistaken. They center upon a propensity to use and to enjoy what is available rather than to wish for or to look for something else; to delight in what is present rather than what was or what may be.
Saying this isn't difficult is bad. It insults people who have difficulty with it, and doesn't add value.

Burke often wanted something else, something that "may be" – e.g. a different policy towards America, France, India, Ireland.
What is esteemed is the present; and it is esteemed not on account of its connections with a remote antiquity, nor because it is recognized to be more admirable than any possible alternative, but on account of its familiarity: not, Verweile doch, du bist so schon, but Stay with me because I am attached to you.
Where does Burke say we should hold the present in high esteem because we're familiar with it? I don't think he thinks that way.
In short, it is a disposition appropriate to a man who is acutely aware of having something to lose which he has learned to care for
Burke does have this. I am not denying that a fair amount of Burke's ideas have some overlap with some conservative ideas. But that doesn't stop him from being thoroughly liberal.
Now, all this is represented in a certain attitude towards change and innovation; change denoting alterations we have to suffer and innovation those we design and execute.
This idea of thinking you have to *suffer* alterations is just the sort of thing I would consider conservative. But Burke thought some alterations were good, not things to suffer.

The part about innovation has a grammar problem, I'm hoping to figure out what it means later.
Changes are circumstances to which we have to accommodate ourselves
averse from change, which appears always, in the first place, as deprivation
change is a threat to identity, and every change is an emblem of extinction
Changes, then, have to be suffered
This attitude is like, "stasis would be nice, but we'll have to figure out how to deal with a few deviations from stasis".
The idea of innovation, on the other hand, is improvement. Nevertheless, a man of this temperament will not himself be an ardent innovator. In the first place, he is not inclined to think that nothing is happening unless great changes are afoot and therefore he is not worried by the absence of innovation.
Burke was an ardent reformer, a vigorous seeker of improvement.
Further, he is aware that not all innovation is, in fact, improvement; and he will think that to innovate without improving is either designed or inadvertent folly. Moreover, even when an innovation commends itself as a convincing improvement, he will look twice at its claims before accepting them.
This is true and wise, and is also believed by liberals.

This essay stuff is a mix of stasis, of disliking change, of strong, old conservatism. And then also of liberal-compatible stuff. Whereas Burke is a liberal who had only the liberal-compatible parts of conservatism, but wasn't some kind of stasis-sympathizer.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (49)

Open Thread: Promoting and Spreading Fallible Ideas

For discussion in comments about marketing, promoting and spreading Fallible Ideas.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (106)

Fallible Ideas Unformatted

Some people claim they find email a hassle to use, and email quote formatting a burden.

They seem to like places like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit where they can write stuff more quickly.

OK, guys. Here you go. I've always had blog comments that are even easier than that. You don't even register an account. Write whatever you want and hit submit. That's it.

There are no format rules in blog comments, no worries that you're sending people a bunch of dumb emails. Just write and hit submit, that's it. Just as easy as Facebook, etc. Better, actually, because of no stupid stuff like post length limits. My blog comments actually keep it simpler. You can use them like IMs.

So go ahead, write in the comments on this thread all the stuff you would have posted to FI list if only it had lower standards and no formatting rules. It's just blog comments. Say whatever. Who cares? Let's go!

Edit: (Re-edit) I had a link to a subreddit here. But it turns out reddit doesn't let you keep discussing stuff that's 6+ months old, so fuck that.

Edit 2: Note there are now more than 100 comments in the discussion. (Which took under half a day to reach.) Join the discussion!

Edit 3: So if you don't know how to use the site, you want to use the Recent Comments page to view the latest 50 comments. The link is in the left sidebar, so you can find it normally. And at the bottom of that page is a link to view ALL comments.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (686)

Stefan Molyneux Discussion

Having a Twitter discussion about how I don't believe almost the same things as Stefan Molyneux.

But Twitter length limits are super annoying, and he didn't want to use FI list, so I wanted to move to blog comments here.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (17)

Free Speech Takes Thought and Effort

Open Oxford (OO) is a Facebook discussion group (with some IRL elements) which claims or aspires to be a free speech zone, but there have been some large discrepancies and problems. There are many other groups with some pretense at liberalism which have similar issues, so I think this is worthwhile even if you don't care about OO.

Here is a representative example of what Open Oxford falsely thinks of itself:
... no one is made to feel unwelcome for their opinions, and every viewpoint, no matter how controversial, can be expressed freely and without fear ... value the free exchange of ideas, and not to restrict on the basis of the opinions ... to create and nurture a culture of open debate and pluralism.

... If all ideas cannot be debated, without fear ... how is our society supposed to be organised by reason and understanding rather than groupthink and prejudice?

Admin_1 deleted 5 posts which he claims were "spam". They were not in the category of things everyone agrees is spam, like links posted by a bot advertising viagra, online poker, etc.

Rather, what Admin_1 deleted was a different style of discussion than he's accustomed to and prefers. He reinterpreted a disagreement of ideas (about how to discuss, writing styles, etc) as something else other than a disagreement of ideas (in this case "spam". In other cases various other things considered illegitimate are used like "trolling" or "harassment".)

A major tactic against free speech is portray it as something else. E.g., reinterpreting speech as trolling, spam, hate, obscenity or profanity, as an excuse to censor it. In the same way that unwanted/dislike (by the parent) behavior of children must be seen as disagreement (not misbehavior, sin, willful troublemaking, etc), so too must unwanted/disliked speech be seen as disagreement (not misbehavior, sin, willful troublemaking, etc)

Admin_2 and Admin_3 don't understand free speech either, see (7) and (8) below.


A poster was doxed and consequently left (preventing his free speech, because Open Oxford is not a safe space).

Doxing like seen at Open Oxford is initiation of force. The standard purpose of doxing is:

A) IRL violence, harassment, intimidation or other force


B) Threat of (A), making people feel unsafe or threatened


C) Incitement or aid for others to do (A) or (B)

Doxing can also violate property rights over the information in question.

Force like this is or should be a serious crime. It is incompatible with a free society and free speech. Initiation of force – via intimidation tactics involving harassment or threat of harassment – must not be allowed in a discussion.

There is no outcry, nothing is being done to prevent it from reoccurring and make people feel safe from force at Open Oxford. The doxer wasn't banned, and rules about doxing were not clarified. In fact, the doxing was openly supported by many posters, including an admin. Open Oxford has a dangerous mob atmosphere which is actively suppressing discussion.

(FYI, the dox comment was deleted.)


Admin_2 admitted he deleted a comment because he didn't like it ("For the record, I deleted that comment because it was borderline abusive."). Here is the comment:

Context, discussing dating ideas: "Eww, fuck this shit."

Reply that Admin_2 deleted: "You sound cute, what's your number?"

That is speech. That is a discussion style – responding to hostility with a joke. It's super mild, but it shouldn't really even matter what it is. Shouldn't Admin_2 be the one explaining himself? Why hasn't he posted full written documentation of all his moderator activity – including his reasoning – like some other Facebook groups do?

Flaming someone's comment as abusive is low quality discussion, not justification of censorship.

But Open Oxford doesn't even have clear and accurate written documentation of what the moderator policies are in the first place. The result is as expected: arbitrary rule of man, rather than predictable rule of law. That isn't free speech or open discussion, it's unpredictable and unaccountable censorship.

To make matters much worse, the comment Admin_2 deleted was the very same comment the doxer had targeted. So Admin_2 sided with a thug and censored the exact thing the thug didn't like, giving the thug what he wanted.


Admin_2 threatens to ban people from the discussion merely for posting ideas Admin_2 doesn't like. Admin_2 feels no need to give clear reasons for his threats, or clear criteria for what would constitute adequate obedience not to be censored.

Demands like to stop being "needlessly obnoxious" or stop making "offensive personal remarks" are hopelessly vague. That's arbitrary power.


Open Oxford lacks intellectual leadership. No one is setting a good example and leading the way. No one is teaching new members how to participate more productively. No one is making essays or videos explaining how to have a productive intellectual discussion. Without teaching, demonstrations or leadership, how will the community improve and grow?

And Open Oxford's goals are vague. Is there any intention of creating new knowledge? Is this about objective truth-seeking? Is anyone expecting to actually resolve any issues? Or is it just joking around and feeling better about ourselves because we're associated with something that partially pretends to be intellectual?


Open Oxford's missing moderation rules are replaced by the unpredictable oppression of vague social conventions and pressures. Where you don't have clear rules, people mostly do what feels right to them, rather than actually tolerating everything. Without clear distinctions about what crosses a line, you have everyone (including admins) making up their own lines about what is open discussion and what is somehow line-crossing. This has worked out, as should be expected, largely along conventional mob-mentality lines.


OO admin Admin_3 repeatedly demanded the dox victim be banned from the group, because he interprets speech he disagrees with as abuse. People writing ideas he doesn't like, he writes, "literally just abused the policy" – referring to OO's policy of free speech. He added that he felt people were being "needlessly stubborn" about the issue of whether to ban anyone who expressed an opinion he doesn't like.


Admin_2 posted, "if you make any more offensive personal remarks I'll remove you from the group. Even if you don't, you're causing people completely needless upset by arguing in this deliberately offensive way. It would also be nice if we could all try to engage with the actual ideas in this thread. Why don't you restate your argument in non personal, non emotive language?"

Let's go into detail on this. There are important misconceptions about free speech and reason here:

What's "needless" is a matter of ideas people can disagree about, not a fact.

Being deliberately offensive is a style choice that some people actually consider a moral duty. Again, there are ideas in dispute.

The demand for non-emotive language (also called "tone policing") is a requirement to write in Admin_2's style, or a range of styles that seem OK to Admin_2. But don't use other more different styles! This is a way of suppressing certain types of speech (emotive language) without realizing there is a disagreement of ideas involved, and that it's suppressing ideas. (When people write emotive language, they frequently believe that's good and right and proper – they have different ideas about how to think and discuss and communicate than Admin_2 does. Which is completely fine until someone starts demanding that other people conform to his discussion standards without understanding that he's suppressing ideas.)

Emotive language is important. In Cohen v. California, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of a man who had a jacket that said "Fuck the Draft". That's a good reminder of what free speech means – it includes emotive and offensive speech.

It's unclear what Admin_2 thinks constitutes a personal remark. But it is nevertheless clear, in general principle, that people may disagree about what remarks are personal, and that Admin_2 is threatening to ban people who have and follow certain ideas about that topic. Again the theme is Admin_2 does not seem to be aware that it's a topic where people have ideas which disagree with his. He doesn't seem to recognize many topics as potential areas for debate and open discussion.

It's unclear what Admin_2 considers offensive. Trying to disallow offensive speech is a particularly well known and egregious way of suppressing free speech. People routinely find the ideas of their debate opponents offensive. So what? If we can't post unpopular, offensive things here, then Open Oxford is a joke.

Admin_2's concept of how to engage with ideas in discussion is another view he's trying to impose on others, without seeming to recognize it's a controversial topic. When Admin_2 demands people "try to engage with the actual ideas", it's a demand they do it in such a way that Admin_2 would agree that's what they've done – he's demanding actions fitting his own ideas about discussions.

To sum up, Admin_2 has many ideas about how to have a discussion. That's fine. Rather than explain them and try to persuade others of why they are wise, Admin_2 takes them for granted as facts of reality, and threatens to remove people from the group if they think differently than he does.

Admin_2 is blind to many opportunities for critical discussion. That wouldn't be a big deal if this was a free speech zone, because then people could point it out. Everyone has flaws. But it becomes a big deal when Admin_2 is an admin with blindspots that lead to ban threats and deleting comments.

A free speech zone – like Open Oxford aspires to be – needs admins that understand the principles of free speech. It needs leadership that defends the expression of unpopular views, instead of joining the angry mob.

I hope people will find this criticism helpful and use it as an opportunity to improve.

[Disclosure: I wrote the "spam" comments and I was the dox victim. Also worth noting: I reported the dox to Facebook which found that it was harassment which violated Facebook rules. Facebook (redundantly) removed it.]

[Note: The 3 admins discussed were anonymized as a personal favor to a friend. Normally I would have included their names.]

[Note: The Open Oxford rule (that contradicts open discussion) not to repost text anywhere else did not exist at the time I had these discussions, it was created later and doesn't apply.]

Update: Open Oxford removed me from the group, no reason given.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (45)

Trump Praised Obama in 2009

Donald Trump was a big Obama fan. I found a shockingly bad quote. Guess where? In his book from April 2009! Think Like a Champion: An Informal Education in Business and Life by Donald Trump:
Barack Obama Election Ushers in a Different World

After the election in November of 2008, I was interviewed by Dominic Carter of New York 1 (who has recently, as of late 2009, gone through a great deal with spousal abuse) on his program called “Inside City Hall.” New York 1 is an all-news program that is popular in New York City, and Dominic has a dynamic television presence. He describes me as “a man not known for keeping his opinions to himself,” and we covered some interesting topics. Dominic asked about the election and I was honest about it. McCain was in an almost impossible situation. Bush had been so incompetent that any Republican would have a hard time unless they could bring back Eisenhower. Bush was a disaster for the country as well as for the Republican Party. Then he asked me about Barack Obama. I told him that Barack will need to be a great president because we’re in serious trouble as a country. It hasn’t been this way since 1929. So he doesn’t have much choice—he will simply have to be great, which he has a very good chance of being. What he has done is amazing. The fact that he accomplished what he has—in one year and against great odds—is truly phenomenal. If someone had asked me if a black man or woman could become president, I would have said yes, but not yet. Barack Obama proved that determination combined with opportunity and intelligence can make things happen—and in an exceptional way. He is not walking into an easy or enviable situation. As of October of 2008, the U.S. government reported a $237 billion deficit. The good news is that Obama seems to be well aware of the situation. His comments have led me to believe that he understands how the economy works on a comprehensive level. He has also surrounded himself with very competent people, and that’s the mark of a strong leader. I have confidence he will do his best, and we have someone who is serious about resolving the problems we have and will be facing in the future. To me that is very good news. After 9/11, this country received a lot of compassion from countries and people around the world. Within a short amount of time, however, we were hated. How did that happen? We had no dialogue with other countries because they just plain hated us. What’s different today is that we have a new chance, a new beginning. The world is excited about Barack Obama and the new United States. Let’s keep it that way. [Emphasis added in this paragraph.]
I don't think any political opponent of Trump has tried to draw attention to this quote yet. Why not?

I don't expect a perfect president, but I do think flaws like this are important and worth knowing. Trump is still worlds better than any of the Democrats, and worlds better than Republicans like Jeb Bush. Trump may well be good enough to make things significantly better.

My favorite Presidential candidate has been Ted Cruz the whole time. He'd never say something like that Obama "understands how the economy works on a comprehensive level". Anyone with good judgement, good thinking and one day of research to spare could have known Obama was a clueless anti-capitalist (and anti-American anti-semite) since before he was elected. I did.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (4)

Actually Changing Your Mind

(I wrote this Feb, 2005.)

People often say things like, "I don't want to do X if you don't," and don't really mean it. They mean they want to, but they are willing to do what the other person wants. This is not ideal; it's not coming to agree. So how should it work?

Jack: Jill, I don't want sex if you don't.
Jill: Are you not attracted to me?
Jack: That's not it. You are attractive. But look, there are thousands of attractive girls out there who I don't want to have sex with. I think it's a bad idea. Most of them are total strangers. In each case I could be persuaded otherwise, if we met, got along, discussed it, and so on. But right now, I don't want sex with all those people. Nor with you. You could persuade me otherwise, by explaining why I'm wrong not to want it, and then I would change to want it, but presently I don't.
Jill: Why don't you?
Jack: I know it's important to you not to.

Why important? Well, one possible reason is: Jill is considering becoming a Nun, and they won't take her if she's not a virgin, and she wants to keep that option open at the moment.

Another possible reason is that Jill is confused about abortions, and scared of birth control failing (she had a scare with a late period last year), and feels she can't have sex again until she works that stuff out, but is really stuck on those issues and doesn't know when they will get better.

Another is that Jill is currently in a monogamous relationship with someone else, and doesn't want to cheat.

So anyway, how do we know that Jack is serious that he doesn't want to while Jill doesn't? How do we know he isn't just saying it? Here is a test:

Jill: Oh baby! Let's fuck!
Jack: Umm, Jill, you're drunk.
Jill: Nah, I'm fine. But I changed my mind. Let's have sex now.
Jack: No. You're drunk. I don't want to right now. If you really changed your mind, we can do it later, when I feel better about it.
Jill: Screw you. Aren't you attracted to me?
Jack: Yeah, but I'm not comfortable with this. Why did you change your mind, anyway?
Jill: I just did. And I'm in the mood now. I may not be in the mood again for a long time if we don't do it now. C'mon.
Jack: Please don't try to threaten me to have sex. I don't want to without understanding why it wasn't a good idea yesterday but is today.

And so on. Jack passes the test by avoiding sex even though Jill is willing, because he cares about her in general, and not just about what she will agree to do tonight. But this is a commonly known situation, that many people would get right. Let's try a harsher test:

Jill goes on a vacation for a month, to relax and stuff. Jack wants to stay home and pursue some hobby Jill doesn't share. They are both happy with this. Jill returns, and that night they go out to a romantic dinner, and have a moonlit walk on the beach. Or pick whatever romantic stereotypes you prefer. Or even imagine they do their own thing that they like, but you wouldn't. The point is it's nice.

Jill: *whispers* Jack, I think I'm ready to have sex.
Jack: Really? Why?
Jill: I thought through some things, and I think it's a good idea now. *kisses Jack* (They've already kissed before lots, say.)
Jack: *breaks kiss after a few moments* Jill, I'm happy about this, but I need to understand why.
Jill: It's fine. Let's not ruin the mood. *runs hand along Jack's chest*
Jack: But my best understanding is that this is a bad idea. I need to be told why to change that and want to.
Jill: That's sweet of you, I'm glad you're thinking of me, but this is what I want, and you shouldn't say no to me to protect me. It's my decision, alright? *smiles seductively*
Jack: But *I* am not comfortable with this. Why aren't you telling me what changed so that it's a good idea now?
Jill: Alright, sorry, I will.

This was a much better test. I believe many people would pass the first test, but fail the second. They don't want to feel guilty about taking advantage of a drunk person. But in the second scene, Jill has thought out what she wants, and as she points out, Jack shouldn't decline just to protect her. Here, he has to actually not like the idea himself, because he's internalized some of Jill's old reasons, and now he himself cares about them, and he needs to see the solution to them to feel good about sex, exactly like Jill must see the solution to them to want sex.

If Jack hadn't acted the way he did in the dialog, and had agreed to sex, we would know when he originally said he didn't want to if Jill didn't, he wasn't doing it right. If Jack will have sex when Jill says she wants to, then it shows he didn't value the same things Jill did, that made her not want sex, he only valued not hurting her, fighting with her, etc. Which means he didn't really agree with her the whole time, and it was a problem. It might be expressed as Jack saying, "I do want to have sex with you, but even more than that I don't want to hurt you." This is much better than nothing, but if Jill cares about what Jack wants, then she will feel pressured.

Hi guys, 2015 Elliot here to add a few comments:

The big thing here is, if you genuinely change your mind, the new opinion is now part of you, alone, by yourself. Real mind changing means you're now a true believer who'd advance the cause for your own reasons. The reasons that used to be someone else's arguments to you, are now part of you, and you'd carry on even if they fell over dead. (For personal issues it might become irrelevant if they died, but the concept applies to persuasion about anything.)

A good test of whether you believe something yourself is whether you'll still argue for it when the person who was persuading you changes their mind. Were you just trying to be on the same side as them and will be happy to drop it now? Or will you be curious what more they learned and unable to change your mind further without new information?

People understand this better with impersonal topics. If you persuade me of socialism, you'd expect me to still be a socialist when you leave the room, and to argue for it with others. If I'm not going to advocate socialism on my own, I'm not really persuaded that it's true and important. But with personal topics, people often mix up deferring on an issue with actual persuasion.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

John Galt Should Not Have Been A Track Laborer

It would have been better if John Galt didn't take a job as a track laborer.

I respect the principle not to spend wealth from Galt's Gulch outside the valley. Don't create value there then bring it back to the regular world to aid non-members.

But Galt had better things to do with his time, like work in his lab, and I see a simple solution. Francisco could have simply given Galt a million dollars. Galt could pay him back in some way in the Gulch, or not, I don't think it matters too much. Francisco already had plenty of outside world money and wouldn't be harmed by giving some to Galt (he was in the process of destroying his outside wealth anyway).

Consider the effect on the outside world. In the one case, Galt does some minimally productive work, then spends money on food. In the other case, Galt doesn't do that work, then spends money on food. In both cases, the grocery store gets some dollar bills for their food, and Galt eats the same thing. In one case, an outside world company gets some extra help, though not of a kind or amount that made any fundamental difference.

If Galt just wanted to observe Dagny and chat with Eddie, he could have found another way to visit that was less time consuming than a full time job.

I don't see how Galt doing track laborer work was a good idea. I think it was a real shame he didn't spend most of that time doing physics, reading, thinking about how to recruit Rearden, etc, rather than doing manual labor. And I think the manual labor was unnecessary.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (36)

Steiger's Law

Steiger's Law:
People involved in a structure spend more time and energy maintaining that structure than in working toward its goals.
The intended context is stuff like government agencies, businesses, non-profits, unions, guilds (like the people in charge of letting you be a doctor or lawyer). That's the kind of stuff the rest of the post discusses. No applications to other areas are mentioned.

The page also suggests that, if it's a good, efficient structure, then it's 85% energy for maintenance and 15% for progress.

My first thought when reading the law was: marriage, dating relationships, friendships, families.

How much work do people put into staying friends, compared with benefitting joint activities they like? I can certainly see married people putting most of their effort into keeping the marriage together, with only a little left to accomplish anything.

In a good friendship, at first glance, it appears the majority of the effort is productive, not maintenance. Like people might go to 10 baseball games together, or have 10 BBQs, or 10 beer nights, or 10 video game playing sessions, for every time they discuss their friendship or have any kind of fight. I don't think that's rare, especially for children. So it seems a good friendship is more than 90% productive.

However, people put a lot of generic effort into learning how to get along with people. They make an effort to fit into social groups when they are alone. And while they are at a baseball game, they spend part of their time wondering about how loudly to cheer and how drunk to get. They don't want to be boring and unenthusiastic, and they don't want to be disruptive either, so they modulate their behavior. Children are still learning how to do these things and have lower expectations about their peers. Adult friends expect everything to go real smoothly since everyone should have already learned how to hang out, how to handle the situations they do together, and how to pay attention all the time.

Typical adults know how to watch for when someone else wants something but isn't saying it. They know how to offer hospitality, turn hospitality down, reoffer it, etc. They know when and how to bring a gift like wine, and how much to spend on it. They even sometimes go find a boyfriend/girlfriend so they can be invited to a couples event.

Typical adults know how to come off as normal, not weird, in the eyes of strangers, so they don't embarrass their group. They know how compromise and, often, hide the fact that they compromised so no one feels bad. They know how to have low standards – if the friend group proposes an activity, they accept unless they have a big problem with it, rather than looking for the most optimized activity. These low standards reduce conflict, which is necessary because they have very limited ability to negotiate more productive ways to spend their time.

So, yes, friend groups go do stuff most of the time. But the whole time everyone is devoting a lot of their attention to making sure things go smoothly. And when they have a meal and chat, they may well discuss any maintenance issues that have come up, such as someone being a little annoying, and maybe they shouldn't invite him next time. (Leaving someone out often seems easier to people than doing problem solving. Which is one reason people try so damn hard to fit in and not cause any problems in the first place, because if a problem does come up, they may well be fucked.)

Schools are another interesting case. How much effort goes into keeping the kids quiet and orderly, and getting them to show up to their classes on time, and getting them to do their homework, and pressuring them to learn the curriculum, and school spirit events, and administration overhead, and deciding what classes you'll take, and so on, vs. actual learning? I think the ratio is grim.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (7)

Banned from Ayn Rand Facebook Group

There is a Facebook group about Ayn Rand with 7000 members. I just got banned (I saw this coming and it wasn't valuable anyway). I was trying to post about how Reason is Urgent; Now or Never, which has four Ayn Rand quotes and discusses Objectivist ideas like how big a problem contradictions are, which the moderator deleted, twice. You can see what happened next in the screenshots below (comments are unmoderated).

Michael Brown is very irrational. It's interesting that he controls what might be the largest Objectivist group in the world. I suspect the way he accomplished it was by filling it up with thousands of non-Objectivists (a little like Wynand's large readership):

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (5)

Reason is Urgent; Now or Never

Imagine a person finds Fallible Ideas (FI) philosophy and they agree with 20% initially and contradict 80%. And they are excited and think FI's amazing. Sounds like a really good start, right? I think it is. That's a lot more than you could really expect at the start. Most promising newcomers will have less pre-existing knowledge and compatibility.

(FI is the best, purest advocacy of reason. But if you disagree with that, no problem, just substitute in Objectivism, Critical Rationalism, or something else. The points I'm making here do not depend on which philosophy of reason you think is best.)

(The percentages are a loose approximation to let me write this point in a simpler way. If you don't like them, consider what's going on when someone partly agrees and post a comment explaining how you think that works, and how you think I should have written this without percents. I'm trying to discuss the case of a new person who agrees with some stuff, disagrees or doesn't know a lot more, and learns a bit more over time.)

Now, imagine over the next 5 years they increase their agreement to 30%. Is that good progress? A nice achievement? A proper application of gradualism?

No, I think that's a disaster.

In that scenario, they just lived for 5 years while contradicting at least 70% of FI. How can they do that? Why don't they complete hate themselves? Here they are finding out about reason, and then living a 70% anti-reason lifestyle. How do they live with that?

The answer is: they deny that 70% of FI is good. They oppose it. To not hate themselves, they have to hate most of FI instead. They have to come up with a bunch of evasions and rationalizations, and they have 5 years to entrench those.

The moment you find out about reason, there is a ticking clock, because it's so very hard to live with contradictions. It's not viable to just live for 5 years half liking reason and half hating it. You'd tear yourself apart. You have to do something about this tension. FI offers ways to deal with it, but to use those you'd have to learn more about FI and embrace it more thoroughly. And irrationality offers ways to deal with it – rationalizations, evasions, self-lies, etc...

The middle, caught in between reason and unreason, is not a viable long term place to be. It doesn't work. It's not just a mess of contradictions like many people's lives, it's more like the strongest contradiction there is. And who could live with that? The only person who perhaps could, like John Galt, would be a better person and wouldn't even be in that situation, since he'd embrace reason more.

So at the same time this person learned 10% more about reason in 5 years, they also figured out how to rationalize not learning the rest, and be OK with that. They made up stories about how they will learn it one day, later, but not now. They backed off from feeling like reason is truly sacred in order to to reduce the contradictions in their life. They lost their sense of urgency and excitement about new possibilities, most of which they've now put off for 5 years. Most of which they still don't plan to start learning for years.

When there's a contradiction, something has to give. When you have such a strong major contradiction that's so hard to ignore – like life vs. death, reason vs. unreason, thinking vs. unthinking, open society vs. closed society, problem solving vs. destruction, initiative vs. passivity, independence vs. obedience, infinity vs. finite limits – then something has to and will change pretty quickly. And if they don't embrace reason in a big way, then it's clear enough what happened: while making their bits and pieces of supposed progress, they actually managed to find a way to either deny all these major contradictions exist or take the wrong side of them and be OK with that. There's no other way.

Once someone finds out about an idea and finds it notable and important, they have to take a position.
E.g. that it's good in theory but not very practical to use in life all the time. That's an example of a well known evasion. Or they think it's pretty good, but it's for geniuses. Or they think it'd be nice to learn it and they will work on it, later, but they are busy right now. There's many other evasions possible, many ways to rationalize why they aren't acting on the idea. Or they could believe it's really urgent and serious and try their best to learn and use it, which would be a good attitude, but is very rare. People always take some kind of position on ideas once they find out about them and acknowledge those ideas matter.

So the scenario I talked about, which I think lots of people see as an ideal to strive for, is actually really bad, and helps explain why the people pursing that plan seem to be stuck indefinitely and never become amazing.

Life is now. Reason is urgent. These things get much worse over time unless you're making rapid progress and pursuing reason with the utmost seriousness and vigor. There can be no compromises where you work on rational philosophy a little bit here and there in your spare time. It can't wait. Nothing's more important than your mind. Prioritize your mind now or, by betraying it, you will destroy it and never again want to prioritize it.

As always with these things, there are rare heroic exceptions which no one knows how to duplicate on purpose, or predict, or how it works, etc. The human spirit, or something, is very hard to crush with literally-exactly 100% reliability, and there's billions of people. Here's a few quotes about that from The Return of the Primitive, by Ayn Rand:
“Give me a child for the first seven years,” says a famous maxim attributed to the Jesuits, “and you may do what you like with him afterwards.” This is true of most children, with rare, heroically independent exceptions.
With very rare exceptions, [young men with independent minds dedicated to the supremacy of truth] are perishing in silence, unknown and unnoticed.
There are exceptions who will hold out, no matter what the circumstances. But these are exceptions that mankind has no right to expect.
Finally I'll leave you with one of my favorite Ayn Rand quotes about urgency, about now, not later:

The Virtue of Selfishness, Doesn’t Life Require Compromise?:
The excuse, given in all such cases, is that the “compromise” is only temporary and that one will reclaim one’s integrity at some indeterminate future date. But one cannot correct a husband’s or wife’s irrationality by giving in to it and encouraging it to grow. One cannot achieve the victory of one’s ideas by helping to propagate their opposite. One cannot offer a literary masterpiece, “when one has become rich and famous,” to a following one has acquired by writing trash. If one found it difficult to maintain one’s loyalty to one’s own convictions at the start, a succession of betrayals—which helped to augment the power of the evil one lacked the courage to fight—will not make it easier at a later date, but will make it virtually impossible.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (20)

Peikoff: Children Are Property


in the podcast, Peikoff says 10 year olds are property. jesus fucking christ.

my loose notes on what podcast said:

shud biz be allowed to sell alcohol and tobacco to 10 year olds?

peikoff: no cuz they are the property of their parents

it is self-evident that a 10 year old is not a self-sufficient independent entity

you don't have to go investigating this stuff, but if something is visibly someone else's property and has no authority to make a purchase, you have to act accordingly

what do you even say back to that? he didn't argue, he said it's self-evident. i don't find it self-evident and don't know his reasons.

i do know that lots 10 year olds are smarter and more competent than the average adult in lots of ways. i know that in the past, it wasn't that rare for 10 year olds to be taking care of themselves without parents. i know that 10 year olds have clearly demonstrated a capacity to think and learn many years prior (icnluding especially, as Ayn Rand discusses in The Comprachichos, in their first few years of life). and i believe that if you can learn and think (universally, the same as any adult), you are a person, not property.

also from the same podcast he discusses swinging (in the sense like sexual promiscuity). he mentions common motivation being thrill of rebellion against morality and also feeling free from morality. i roughly agree but i think it's more rebellion against society, against social norms, against society's rules. and feeling free from all that stuff, like feeling you can do what you want instead of obey your culture's rules. i think it's less philosophical than Peikoff said, more about other people than moral principles.

Update: I transcribed the text about children being property. It's from 5:45 to 6:50.
Q: Should businesses be allowed to sell tobacco and alcohol products to people of whatever age they wish, for example a ten year old?

A: No. Because these are the property of their parents, legally and recognizably, objectively by anyone. It is self-evident that they are not, a ten year old is not, a self-sufficient entity and is under the control of someone else. And you must respect that as an issue of respecting someone else's property.

Now this does not mean a businessman has to inquire into the moral status of everybody he deals with. You don't have to find out if you're selling bread, is this customer a communist or an Objectivist? You're selling a product. But if something is visibly somebody else's property and has no authority to make a purchase, then you have to act accordingly.
(That's the full text. Then he moves on to the next question.)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (9)