Monthly Archives: August 2013

3 Blog Posts I Now Disagree With

Reading up for a post about economic calculation and it’s taking me a while because I want to make sure I properly understand the concept. So thought I’d throw this together for the time being.
Many of the posts I put here are ones where the conclusion I have hasn’t changed, but the way I get to the conclusion has. Bad arguments are bad arguments.

So in a sense, this is less of me making a list of posts (whose conclusions) I disagree with, but rather making a list of posts I think are bad. If you think these posts are bad too, then great! We’re in agreement! Just don’t assume these are posts representative of the typical quality of this website. Nevertheless, if you read some of the other posts and think the quality still sucks, then feel free to give me some feedback on how I can improve.

I’m going to start with the smaller errors and save the worst ones for last:

1) Are you a libertarian?

I actually like this piece I wrote overall. I think it makes some good points for libertarianism that the layman might find appealing, and that was my target audience. However, I pulled the following fact out of my ass:

The philosophers of the pasts were generally consequentialist utilitarians. In other words, their philosophy stressed the outcome that would be the “best” for mankind. The hidden assumption was that they were willing to do absolutely anything to make that outcome reality. That is, they were willing to aggressively, violently force other individuals to act accordingly with their utopian desires. And the prevailing mechanism was the State.

While it’s true that there are many consequentialist philosophers, it’s definitely not appropriate to throw that label on the ancient ones (I think it would actually be more applicable to modern ones). To claim this is a characteristic of the majority of past philosophers is probably blatantly false.

2) Voter Apathy? Quite the Contrary

This article was written to show that one might not necessarily be apathetic just because he decides not to vote, and secondly, to dissuade people from voting. While I still agree with the conclusion of this piece (maybe I’ll write another post when voting time comes around again), one of the arguments I made is clearly not a good one:

Let’s start off with a clear understanding of what the State is. The State is a monopoly of force over a given territory. What the State decrees is forced upon the entire nation, upon every individual who may or may not be opposed to that decree.

Voting is an act of taking part in the State’s process of forming decrees. By voting, you are imposing your opinion on someone else.

We all have opinions and surely have the right to have an opinion. But when you take part in the political process, you are forcing someone else to go along with your opinion.

For example, if 51 people vote that we all dye our hair red, and 49 people vote against it, all 100 people end up having to dye their hair red even though 49 did not want to.

So by its very nature, politics turns into a “them vs. us” situation. Normally we can both go our separate ways and choose whatever hair color(s) we want…

While this is true, as a libertarian who thinks there indeed is some proper use of force (self-defense), I cannot use this argument against voting, at least without proper clarifications. Since the libertarian is in favor of the non-aggression principle, and thus against activities such as murder, rape, and theft, he is in favor of the right to use violence to stop these activities. In other words, he is in favor of forcing his opinion that murder, rape, etc. should not be allowed on others.

Of course, there aren’t that many people who the libertarian is forcing his opinion on. In fact, the vast majority of the public agrees with outlawing these activities (there are obviously some issues with this argument since libertarians are individualists and typically don’t care what the majority thinks, however).

It can also be argued that the particular use of force of self-defense is more justified than others. The libertarian only allows the use of force in response to the initiation of force by someone else. Defense against those who are already transgressing against others is certainly necessary, while forcing other opinions of taste and personal choices on individuals has a variety of unintended consequences. My intention isn’t to prove this argument at the moment but rather to show that it exists and could be used. So let’s move on:

3) Does God Exist? Yup

I realized pretty quickly after I had written this that there is so much I don’t understand about the arguments for God. While that’s true about virtually every subject I learn about (I’m just a student after all), I think I’ve been lucky to have access to good sources on most topics, something I lacked when I jumped into a discussion about first causes. This isn’t completely my fault, of course: I don’t think 99% of people that jump into discussions about God properly understand teleology, and most don’t even discuss the metaphysical views necessary to reaching conclusions about God but instead decide to argue at a less basic (incorrect) level.

I think I’ve found the proper sources (check out The Last Superstition by Edward Feser yourself) to have an educated conversation about this, so hopefully next time I bring this up I won’t be so uninformed.

Note: I still like the intuition I give in that post, but obviously I was looking for more than intuition, I was looking for a proof.

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The Nature of Power

It is the Nature of Power to be ever encroaching, and converting every extraordinary Power, granted at particular Times, and upon particular Occasions, into an ordinary Power, to be used at all Times, and when there is no Occasion, nor does it ever part willingly with any Advantage.  – John Trenchard, Cato’s Letter No. 115
This quote is particularly relevant when it comes to discussions of civil liberties with regard to current events. We are in an endless war with terrorism, involving a grab for power that goes further than even Trenchard may have imagined. As a perpetual war, the war on terror serves as a justification not just for an initial gain in power, but for a perpetual gain. Each and every encroachment on liberties should not be taken lightly, when permanence is already an intrinsic characteristic of the encroachments.

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Why Conservatives Are Wrong to Legislate Morality, Part II

See Part I here. I am responding to a counterargument in this post, so it won’t make much sense unless you read Part I and understand my original argument. Quick summary: If force is used against a person to make him act “morally”, the entire concept of morality becomes nonsensical. This is because moral actions, which are associated with acting out of duty, imply choice. If an individual is not free to choose to act either morally or immorally, there is no meaning to the word morality. The person is no longer acting out of duty, but necessity.

The counterargument states the following: if it is nonsensical to legislate morality, why would we create laws banning actions such as theft, murder, and rape? Doesn’t your argument still apply? And if so, isn’t it absurd to not have laws against those types of activities?

I agree, it would be absurd. However, my argument does not apply to those situations. To understand, let’s separate the activities I was originally discussing and the activities the counterargument brings up into two separate classifications. We’ll note the differences and then explain why those differences matter.

Classification #1: Activities such as prostitution and buying/selling/using drugs.

Classification #2: Activities such as theft, murder, and rape.

The primary difference between the two categories is that in the former, both parties consent and are making a voluntary exchange. In the latter, one party is using violence against another; therefore, one party consents (the party using force) and the other party does not (the one being forced).

Why does this difference matter?

My original point to certain social conservatives who try to legislate morality is that they are not advancing morality by legislating but destroying it. This is because in the original situation (classification #1), both parties are acting voluntarily, and have a choice whether to act morally or immorally. Morality in such a situation still exists and is still possible; if we use violence, it is destroyed, but we have the possibility of using peaceful persuasion to change the individual’s mind toward acting morally (side note: I don’t know if I think prostitution/drugs are moral or immoral; but this argument applies to any objective morality).

However, in the latter situation (classification #2), force is already used. If Bob uses force against Becky, he has deprived Becky of the opportunity of being moral. So if our goal is to advance morality here, we have two choices:

1) Don’t use force (i.e. don’t create laws banning those activities): if we do this, Bob still has the opportunity to act morally, but Becky does not.

2) Use force (i.e. create laws banning those activities): if we do this, Bob no longer has the opportunity to act morally, but Becky does.

Either way, one party will lose the opportunity to act morally. As such, we can create laws against these activities while not degrading morality. We are not necessarily advancing it either, according to the argument. However, we are in other respects. A society that respects defensive force allows the opportunity to act morally. It’s intuitive how absurd a society without such laws are, but it also clear that a society that has no respect for defensive force would lead to an absence of the opportunity to act morally.

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Why Conservatives Are Wrong to Legislate Morality

Last April, I wrote a blog post titled “Rousseau Blowing Up The Right of the Stronger.” Rousseau was arguing against the idea that morality is derived from the greater force; in other words, (this idea argues that) if A is stronger than B and forces him to do action X, action X is moral. And so on, regardless of the content of action X. All that matters is that A was the “stronger” and therefore all of the actions B takes because A forces him are moral actions.

Rousseau blew up the argument by pointing out the incoherence in the concept of morality if it is true that there is a right of the stronger. He points out “To yield to force is an act of necessity, not of will; at most it is an act of prudence.” Morality exists only because of choice. You have the choice to be moral or immoral. But if morality is a function of the greater force, then 1) you are not acting out of duty (as one thinks of morality), but only necessity (as Rousseau says, the word “right” adds nothing to force and therefore means nothing), and 2) there is no longer any concept of immorality; after all, you cannot even act immorally if you are constantly forced to be moral.

My purpose here is to show how this argument applies to legislation in government, although it may already be clear to some readers by now.

Often, individuals (especially conservatives) attempt to legislate morality. Two examples that immediately come to mind are 1) making drugs (such as marijuana) illegal and 2) making prostitution illegal.

Rousseau is arguing against a general right of the stronger, that is, the right of the stronger in all instances. But does legislation of particular activities leave the concept of morality intact? It does in all particular cases that aren’t legislated against. But it destroys the concept in the areas that are.

Suppose actions A,B,C are immoral and X,Y,Z are moral. Can we force an individual, say, Mr. Jones, who chooses to take actions A,B,C, to act morally? Rothbard responds:

Is Jones moral because he chooses X when he is forcibly deprived of the opportunity to choose A? When Smith is confined to a prison, is he being moral because he doesn’t spend his time in saloons getting drunk?

There is no sense to any concept of morality, regardless of the particular moral action one favors, if a man is not free to do the immoral as well as the moral thing. If a man is not free to choose, if he is compelled by force to do the moral thing, then, on the contrary, he is being deprived of the opportunity of being moral. (Man, Economy, and State with Power and Market, p. 1305); emphasis mine

Clearly, there is no meaning to morality if it is dependent on the right of the stronger. And clearly, there is no meaning to morality in specific instances where force is used and the will of the actor is prohibited.

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Done with My Summer Internship at Telonium

Very fun 2-3 months doing a summer internship at Telonium, a hosted phone systems provider for businesses. Basically, they provide phone systems (e.g. single business phone #, multiple lines coming in, multiple extensions for employees, and features like transferring calls, etc.) using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology rather than typical landline services that a company like AT&T would provide.

I’m just going to plug some of the things that I worked on over the summer for future reference, and…well, I’m in marketing, so for a bit of self-loving SEO as well.

  • We worked on this great whiteboard series (titled Telonium Thursdays) throughout the summer. Making videos was probably the most fun part of the internship for me. I was in charge of writing the script, so if Alice or Alex happen to say anything you think is stupid, I’m the one to blame 🙂
  • I also worked on a number of blog posts for Telonium. The first was directed toward startups, encouraging them  to consider a proper phone number when branding themselves (just like you’d want a domain for your business email rather than using something like Gmail). The second was conjured up from looking at popular searches related to business phone systems. “Forward calls” and “transfer calls” were two particularly popular searches with low competition, so I made a post about features that highlighted call transferring and call forwarding as quintessential.
  • I was most proud of my final post though. I originally wanted to write an article about the 4 benefits of Spiderman, but I suspected I wouldn’t be allowed to put that on the Telonium blog. So I just talked about SaaS and its relationship to VoIP instead. [Hehe, in case you don’t click the link and just think I’m weird for making a joke about Spiderman (“What?? It’s a joke??), I titled that blog post “The 4 Benefits of SaaS and Your Friendly Neighborhood VoIP Provider” 😀 ]
  • We also started a contest near the end of the summer. The goal was to reach 500 followers on Twitter. If we reached this goal, we’d give away free phone service for 3 months. Unfortunately, we didn’t, but we did have other benefits, including increased attention to our company and visitors on our website.
  • Finally, we started a site for startups (this was started at the beginning of summer but I’m lazy to reorganize these bullet points in chronological order so I’m just including this parenthetical description instead) called The Startup Voice. Our goal, in terms of marketing strategy, was to create a community for Telonium, basically a path for people that would benefit from Telonium’s service to find out about the company. But I believe the website is much more than that. I genuinely think it’s useful for startups and I think it has a lot of potential to become something big, the main reason being our section called “Startup Voices.” Often, people get a kind of fictional, unrealistic view of startups from reading websites such as TechCrunch (which is not useless, by the way; I am simply claiming you don’t get the whole picture from them). So this section was created to allow entrepreneurs or really, any employees of startups, to contribute articles discussing their experiences working for a startup company. Whether that be the decisions they’ve made, good or bad, advice they may have for other startups, and/or perhaps their outlook or culture as a young firm. This is great because 1) it’s real, it’s coming from startups themselves, 2) it’s free marketing for startups, who often have to struggle to get themselves out there, and 3) it provides real benefits for aspiring or current entrepreneurs.

There are so many great things about doing an internship for a startup. Many of my friends who had internships before with larger companies have told me that they were either on Facebook all the time chatting with friends, or doing nothing because their boss was gone, etc. etc. The main point of an internship, in my opinion, isn’t to make money. It’s to build skills for yourself and relationships with others. With a startup, you’re going to get both. There was so much to do at Telonium; the other interns and I basically started marketing from the ground up. We got to try plenty of things we hadn’t done before and put on many different hats. We also were constantly around and interacting with the other (awesome) team members of the company (after all, we were all in the same room). I’m not saying you can’t have a good internship at a big company, or you’re definitely going to have a good one at a small one, but in general I think smaller companies (especially startups) are favorable for such experiences.

Conclusion paragraphs are for losers.

-Bharat

P.S. It’s been like three weeks since my last “normal” post, but hopefully I’ll get off my ass and finish up a blog about morality tomorrow (well, more like on my ass, because I’m sitting at a desk with my laptop).

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