Thursday, February 23, 2006

Ruse swiftboats Wilson, and other atrocities.

Last night I attended a panel where Michael Ruse, Richard Lewontin, and three others discussed how to teach evolution. Ruse's presentation was shocking: he attacked E. O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, and others with accusations of evolutionism.

Apparently, this is also part of his latest book, reviewed in The Evolution-Creation Struggle and Reviewing Ruse.

His presentation turned out to be a rehash of his article in Science: Is Evolution A Secular Religion? As I've come to expect from most philosophers, his argument is spectacularly bad. Essentially, he is claiming that evolutionism is a religion based on evolution, and his political opponents practice it.

The most obviously stupid argument that he made was his illustrations of churches and the British Museum of Natural History. See them in the article linked above. We're supposed to think how similar they are, and that it demonstrates his point. But of course, these buildings have columns and arched ceilings for much the same reason why both hippos and elephants have thick legs. When you want to build a large public building, there are many principles and traditions in architectural practice that tend to make the architecture somewhat similar. Which is why theatres, legislative buildings, large train stations, other museums, and any number of other buildings from that era also have columns and arched ceilings.

Ruse writes: In his On Human Nature, he calmly assures us that evolution is a myth that is now ready to take over Christianity. And, if this is so, "the final decisive edge enjoyed by scientific naturalism will come from its capacity to explain traditional religion, its chief competition, as a wholly material phenomenon. Theology is not likely to survive as an independent intellectual discipline"

Note how Ruse misrepresents scientific naturalism (which Wilson presents as all of consilient science) as only evolution, so that evolutionism can be limited to evolutionary biologists. But worse, he omits Wilson's explanation of why scientific materialism is myth-like: because belief in scientific laws relies on the unprovable assumption of materialism. So despite the ue of the word myth, Wilson is no different than any other scientist that way; just honest. So why did Wilson use the word myth? Because it was at the end of a chapter where he's describing humans as myth-using animals. Nor does Wilson forsee taking over Christianity: he sees merely disrepute of academic theology. The very next sentence, Wilson writes "But religion itself will edure for a long time as a vital force in society."

I find it strange that someone opposed to creationism would steal the epithet "evolutionism" and revive "progressionist" to describe scientists who attempt to inform political views with scientific knowledge. Judging from the bogus arguments I noticed, it looks to me as if these are simple political attacks on opponents, and unworthy.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Scourge of Public Libraries

The Scourge of Public Libraries

Jeff Landauer somehow concludes that public libraries are failures because one of their minor sidelines, video tapes, doesn't do the volume of Blockbuster Video. Come see the violence inherent in the library!

This one is linked in Make Or Break Views Of Libertarianism.. Tip o fth ehat to Mark Plus for the recommendation!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Goodbye Washington Consensus, Hello Washington Confusion?

Goodbye Washington Consensus, Hello Washington Confusion?

Dani Rodrik, of Harvard University, points out that the neoliberal prescription of free markets, privatization, and non-interference has been a great failure for developing nations. India and China have done vastly better with their own prescriptions.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Excuses for Liberty

Latest addition:

Excuses for Liberty
Carl Milsted Jr. harshly criticizes natural rights, utilitarian, and a priori justifications for libertarianism. But then he just as naively proposes economic arguments, which fail for similar reasons.

In the Libertarians Criticizing Each Other index.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

State Of The Propaganda address

Today, I heard the conclusion of the Bush SOTU address (which I had dilligently avoided) on the radio.

BUSH: Before history is written down in books, it is written in courage. Like Americans before us, we will show that courage and we will finish well. We will lead freedom's advance. We will compete and excel in the global economy. We will renew the defining moral commitments of this land. And so we move forward optimistic about our country, faithful to its cause and confident of the victories to come. May God bless America.

This is not a speech: it is merely a litany of double-plus-good newspeak. Vague, glittering generalities of propaganda. This is why "politician's promises" are held in contempt: not one of these promises is concrete. Not one of these promises specifies any action by the government. And even if it did, it would probably be a lie, as so many Bush promises have been.

How Roe v. Wade will be overturned.

I feel like making my prediction publicly, even though I think nobody's paying attention. It'll be archived so that I can say I was right. Or (I hope!) wrong.

Roe v. Wade is close to settled law. It will not be overturned directly. Instead, conditions must be created to change the assumptions, so that it is conspicuously in error.

The key assumption that will be changed is whether or not the fetus has rights. I forsee the Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito block setting precedents for fetal rights. At some point, after fetal rights are firmly established in a variety of cases, Roe v. Wade will be found in error because fetal rights conflict with (and outweigh) the woman's rights.

First attempts along the lines of fetal rights have already taken place, both in the courts and in legislatures.

All that's needed is one more anti-abortion vote on the court. They will find for fetal rights, and then "regretfully" have to overturn supreme court precedent.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Mechanism Not Policy: response

Nick Szabo has written a response to my Mechanism Not Policy article. Here's my response to Nick.

I really enjoy when I get a good, hostile reading of my ideas by somebody with an axe to grind. First, because it stimulates my thinking a great deal, and second because such emotional, ideological responses invariably contain many errors whose debunking educates me.

Nick, you start out with a gross misreading: I didn't say "the law", I said "the Constitution". I stuck to one example, primarily because I wanted to make a point about interpretation.

As for common law evincing "mechanism, not policy", no. It's just historically not true. Bob Black's White Man's Ghost Dance provides lots of counterexamples. First, we wouldn't expect a distributed decision making system to be able to adhere to such a restriction. Second, decisions about the nature of contracts or property amount to policies. Third, common law does not set up its own mechanisms of judges and courts, the sovereign does (to the best of my knowledge: you may know better.)

I'll grant that the common law does provide mechanism for the people (as opposed to my example of providing mechanism for itself.) Of course, statute law often does that as well. For example, laws creating limited liability corporations (which I think I recall had to override common law.) These too are important modern inventions by common law countries, but not inventions of common law.

But common law (a common libertarian obsession) is a distraction from my point, that the US Constitution was primarily intended to define mechanism, not policy such as rights. Now that statement may be "absurd and awful" to you, Nick, with your heavy investment in ideology and received interpretation of law. But it's a fair historical hypothesis begging for an unbiased examination. So what examination do you give it besides crying "absurd and awful"?

Not much that I can see. Instead you unleash a torrent of unbacked and arguable (if not incorrect) assertions. For example, you write:

"In this case, the Founders (which for the Bill of Rights are the anti-Federalists, not generally the Federalists as Mike suggests) clearly had in their minds that the main purpose of the mechanisms was to protect individual rights..."

While the anti-Federalists won their Bill of Rights, it was written by arch Federalist Madison. And mechanism proponent, if I'm right. If anti-Federalists had written the Bill of Rights, we'd expect rather clear statements of rights not just against the federal government, but against everybody. Instead, we see extremely skimpy statement of rights, almost as if invoking the principle of least authority in rights. But exactly enough for mechanism purposes. I don't know if the anti-Federalists were snookered into thinking the rights were more generous, or if they were satisfied that they were adequate. But it's obvious that they don't resemble the Virginia Bill of Rights very much in ways typical of Madison, as I discussed.

You also say:

""Life" and "liberty" occur three times in the Constitution; "property" is protected in four different places. Mike's beloved welfare state, on the other hand, occurs nowhere in the Constitution. Much of the Constitution was intended to protect the mechanisms of the common law from the hubristic policymaking of legislatures and the arbitrary actions of government officials."

Far be it from me to snicker at the lame argument of counting uses of words without context, but you're really silly here. And if you want to say welfare state doesn't occur in the Constitution, well neither does common law. But I wouldn't expect such an anacronism, would you? If I'm right about mechanism, not policy, then there's no contradiction between the Constitution and the welfare state. Unlike, say, the Virginia Bill of Rights.

Now, if you're going to insist that the idea was to protect the common law from legislators, then I really have to wonder how the 5th Amendment came to permit deprivation of life, liberty, and property by due process of law. How do you read that as protecting the common law?

"The recent great strides of progress in human history, such as the Industrial Revolution, the Information Revolution, and the abolition of slavery, were propagated by common law countries."

Now that's just silly. Those were widespread events, taking place over many nations with many different legal systems. Slavery, for example, was abolished innumerable times in innumerable countries. And we were among the last, with our commonlaw protecting slavery to the end. And slavery was never abolished by common law: always by legislation or other centralized fiat. The industrial revolution occurred in many other non-commonlaw nations, such as Germany. And the Information Revolution has prospered in large part due to non-commonlaw nations such as Japan and Sweden.

I recommend that you re-read my essay, and put up some real objections.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The easy way to deal with trolls and haters.

You'd think that with all the fuss over trolls and hate mail in blog comments that somebody would have come up with the obvious solution.

Instead of censorship or turning off comments, simply have a second set of comments. Nobody can post to them: they are the deprecated, shameful, unwanted, proscribed, improper, hateful, obscene, or otherwise inappropriate comments. Blog editors can consign noisome comments there (or back) with a simple checkbox. Perhaps checking an explanation category too. Perhaps some posters' comments are automatically put there. Readers can see exactly what is and isn't thought appropriate.

This accomplishes too things. It allows blog editors to maintain the atmosphere they want with the same effort it takes to delete a post. And it produces editorial transparency: communication of disapproval without censorship.

Doubtless some won't want this system. In my 30+ year experience of mail lists and news groups (starting on the PLATO system), trolls actually benefit many groups because they lead people to face their own understanding of the topics with more than just belief. But when there is a high volume of obnoxious or off topic posts, this might be a good solution.

A divider, not a uniter.

Bush came into office claiming to be a uniter, not a divider.

That lie was transparent from the start, though of course all of his ilk swore it was what made him great.

Well, what more evidence do we need than the most divisive supreme court nomination ever?

There were probably dozens of eligable candidates for the supreme court who would have sailed through the confirmation process essentially unopposed: which indicates they would satisfy the American people somewhat better than this extreme right ideologue.