Monday, January 25, 2010

Stupid philosophical arguments

The following is an excerpt from The Barefoot Bum:
Anarchism is a curious topic. Its linguistic roots mean literally "no rule". But by these roots no self-described anarchist can impose a definition of anarchism...

Taken to the logical extreme of its roots in a non-vacuous sense, anarchism would entail absolutely no coercion whatsoever...

Locking your front door or physically hanging onto your wallet is coercive: you are using physical force to prevent a person from doing what he wants to do.

(Bold emphasis mine)

Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

1. "No rule" means "no imposition/coercion." The Barefoot Bum concludes that "no rule" means "no imposition." This step in his argument is already false. "No rule" means exactly that—no rulers. Generally, most anarchists are more specific in saying that anarchism means "no government" or "no state." Most, including me, will stop at that.

No government doesn't even mean no governance; governance is the act of administering policy and decisions. If an anarchist society were divided up into syndicates (as it probably would be, since this is the most practical application of anarchism), each syndicate might elect a representative who would then speak to the representatives of other syndicates. The leadership could be rotational, the decision-making could be through consensus, but whoever carries out a decision, even if it is agreed upon by all, is practicing governance.

2. "No coercion" means you cannot lock your doors or keep your wallet/shirt. As I have already demonstrated that the "no imposition/coersion" assumption is false, I don't really need to go on, but I will anyway. Even if "no rule" did mean "no coercion," it wouldn't necessarily be logical to push the argument even further down the slippery slope to "no locked doors/ no personal belongings."

The Barefoot Bum uses the argument that someone (George) cannot hang on to his own shirt*, because if someone else (Sue) wants the shirt, George would have to use physical force to keep Sue from taking it. But by that same logic, Sue would be using physical force to take George's shirt, if he doesn't want her to. By The Barefoot Bum's own arguments, both parties are using coercion, simply depending on what either person wants. These wants cancel each other out, once again rendering The Barefoot Bum's argument moot.

In the real world, including the anarchist world, the desires of the person who wears the shirt are more important than the desires of the person who wants to take the shirt (assuming everyone has enough clothing, which they would in a libertarian socialist society). Anarchism does not prohibit possession (not to be confused with private property), nor should it, even if there were no form of governance in that society. Forcing somebody to do something they don't want to do, which would have an adverse affect on them physiologically/psychologically, is very different from e.g. forcing a toddler to share his toy. Yet both are technically forms of coercion. One form of coercion (the form The Barefoot Bum was talking about) cancels itself out easily using simple logic. The other doesn't.

What I hate about these slippery-slope arguments is that they are so abstract and philosophical, they have no bearing on the real world except that they distract people from it, and convince people with poor reasoning skills that the argument made is actually valid. As I explained to The Barefoot Bum, a similar argument could be made about socialism:
Socialism is about equality. Therefore, it's about 100% equality. Therefore, nobody can have or do anything that anybody else can't have or do. If anybody is in a wheelchair, everybody has to be in a wheelchair. If anybody is blind, all have to cover their eyes. And if there are any women in a socialist society, all men have to make themselves bleed for five days out of the month.

I have seen that argument made seriously by right-Libertarians, and I can tell you, it's a poor argument. Simply the fact that it's made by right-Libertarians should point to that obvious fact.

Here's another one:
Monarchy means "rule of one." Therefore, only one person can rule. Therefore, if anybody but the monarch has any influence whatsoever on a policy, that policy must be scrapped. If the monarch chooses to change a policy based on his/her popularity or what the populace thinks about him/her in general, that policy cannot be changed. But then it has to be changed, because it was indirectly influenced by the populace.


Perhaps this is why I hate philosophy, in the "I have a degree in Philosophy" sense. Don't get me wrong, my closest friends in college were philosophy majors. But a lot of it is plain intellectual masturbation (sorry, guys).

One (especially a philosopher) can take any idea or even political philosophy and render it useless if one has enough wanking time. I'm personally surprised that The Barefoot Bum didn't just say something to the tune of:
Anarchism literally means 'no rule.' But what does 'rule' mean? And what does 'no' mean? Isn't 'no' the ultimate negative statement? Should any system based on such a negative exist? Could it? And what does 'it' mean? I don't know. Who am 'I?' What am 'I?' Who am I to claim to know what 'I' am...perhaps somebody else know more what it is like to be 'me' than 'I' do...?

...And so forth. I used to have these existential debates inside my head when I was eight.
* I chose to use a shirt instead of a wallet in the example so as not to bring money into the equation.

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