Thursday, March 22, 2012

Notes on Community vs. Individualism

So what is individualism, really?
(Update: some of the below is inviting reality to kick me in the teeth. Reality obliged.)
If all the finagling and misunderstandings and ignorance and deliberate sophistry is stripped out, if all the holes are repaired, what does individualism look like?
If I were doing a pilot project for testing an individualist society, how would I give it the best chance of success?

First, I'll contrast it against what Mike Lux (says he) thinks it is. (pathway was long) It turned out to be mainly a deconstruction of common propaganda techniques.

Notably, La Wik has only the vaguest idea what it is, and I can't even find a Stanford Encyclopedia entry. However, the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy does exceptionally well, according to me. They default to private property.

The property principle contains my ideal of individualism as an implication. In short, no group has any moral claim on an individual except those stated in explicit property contracts the individual signed with the group. The group stands in relation to the individual exactly as would another individual.

"One of the clearest dividing lines between conservatives and progressives is represented by a battle of metaphors: the individualistic "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" metaphor vs. the community "we're all in this together" metaphor."
I have to agree with this analysis of the narratives. But it means that neither is in fact arguing about individualism - both sides are using sophistry to involve the philosophies at all. A competent philosopher should be able to eviscerate both almost instantly: what happens when a community pulls itself up by its bootstraps? Haha, oops.

Nevertheless, a competent sophist will involve the real issues, to bolster credibility, so I expect to see some real meat further down. (Retrospectively, sadly little.)

"Conservatives have always been individualists first and foremost, believing that we are all ultimately on our own, and that being dependent on others and especially the government is the ultimate sin."
And I am not disappointed. Again, while I agree with the portrayal...

Being dependent has so many different shades that this is ludicrous. As two, there's physically dependent - both of us require a power plant and so on to read these words. There's financially dependent - I have paid off the power plant, and owe them nothing. In fact, by paying them, I make them as physically dependent on me as I am on them. Perhaps more, as the workers use my money to buy food.

The independence advocated by the conservative is very limited. (Likely related to limited working memory capacity.) They mean simply do not depend on the goodwill or largesse of others for anything that is critical to your goals.

What happens if the government suddenly decides it doesn't need to pay off your group anymore, as happened to the working class? What happens to you if its financial irresponsibility takes out social security?

By contrast, if my power plant goes out of business, I still have my money and can usually find another. conservatives really find it necessary to call it a sin to stop themselves from doing it? Isn't it enough that it is self-destructive?
Just to rub it in: how much sense does it make to jail someone for having their social security wiped out by fiscal mismanagement? Aren't they already being punished for their lack of foresight?
If it never makes sense to jail someone for an act, how can it be a sin?

By contrast, consider Randian altruism. When someone demands the right to be dependent on you, they are a leech. Succeeding in being a leech can be a sin.

"They also embrace Ayn Rand's argument that selfishness is the ultimate virtue and that charity and self-sacrifice actually weakens a society by helping the "leeches.”"
I wonder if I saw this out of my peripheral vision, or if the train of thought to Rand is just that obvious.

Another example of sophist vs. sophist.
Note the difference between voluntary charity and morally-obligated charity. If someone convinces you to let them depend on you, are they really a leech? Randians deny that it can be voluntary. Progressives deny that it might not be obligate.

Whether charity is a net gain is an empirical question, and I would expect it would be be tested if charity was in fact about helping anyone.

"Progressives push back against these ideas, arguing that we are our brothers and sisters' keepers."
I see the sophists are loud and proud today.

Keepers? What, like a kennel keeper? If I'm keeping and you're keeping me, how does that work? Do we just swap responsibilities, or what?
Szabo calls the holders of this worldview hello kitty people, for treating everyone like they're a close friend and ally.

"should treat others as we want to be treated"
This can be repaired, but normally means...

I want you to swear at me, because being polite strikes me as intentionally deceptive. For most values of 'you,' you want me not to swear at you. Now what, boys and girls?

This has nothing to do with individualism, so I'll skip repairing it.
I will note the specific sophistry. The golden rule is native to Christianity, which means most conservatives would agree with this. The author is attempting to make it look as if they wouldn't, by putting it in a 'by contrast' context and using Progressive shibboleth words.

"that there is great value in a society where we look out for each other and give each other a helping hand."
Yay, not sophistry. But more missing the point.

Again, there's a difference between voluntarily looking out for each other, voluntarily forgiving missteps, and being obligated to do so by virtue of where you were born.

"That, we say, is what builds long-term common wealth -- along with the trust that enables democracy to function."
Empirical question.

First correction: the trust that allows democracy to swindle and con the populace.

Second: innovation is what builds wealth. Trust is just a commodity like any other.

Meta: this is tribal propaganda. "Join our tribe or it'll go badly for you." It enforces conformity by giving the impression that group obligations are the only pathway that leads to the desired commodity, trust, and that only proggies do this group obligation thing. It also reinforces the mental association between opposing proggies and opposing trust.

Which hopefully looks as absurd to you as to me, when put in straightforward English.

"This is one of the deepest fault lines in history, not just American history but all of human history."
Sophistry, neat; no ice.

The philosophical individual vs. collective thing is a proxy for two contingent, historically-rooted factions, that just contingently picked this battleground as their hypocritical, Hanson's-razor-style cover story.

The following passage is actually a non-sequitur.
"Thinkers like the Old Testament prophets, Jesus, and Francis of Assisi argued for community; whereas those like Aristotle and St. Paul (who was far more focused on individual salvation than on the community minded teachings of the Jesus of the Gospels) argued for a strong individualist view."
This is illustrating the conflict between authoritarians and classical libertarians, not genuinely about individuals at all.

That Lux cannot tell the difference is expected. He plumps for community because he wants to be able to tell you what to do, using community as his cover story. This bit of sophistry only works because the conflation is so common it seems normal.

I think conservatives win this on cleverness, for telling people what to do using individualism instead. Come to think, this is probably where the 'sin' comes in. If you're piously individualist in the conservative way, you end up obeying conservative authoritarians.
I should probably check this against some examples...but come on, you can't tell me that's not a well-crafted bit of propaganda.

"During our own Revolution, some founders -- including Ben Franklin and Tom Paine -- argued strongly for that sense of community, whereas others -- like Gouverneur Morris and Patrick Henry -- came down far more on the side of individualism."
On the topic of craftsmanship, this is a well-crafted bit of sophistry.

Having repeatedly misrepresented the individualism issue, Lux now associates his misrepresentations with verifiable historical figures. You can 'fact check' this and it will come up green.

It is very unlikely that these figures actually agreed with Lux's sophistries, but that's only noticeable after looking deeper.
Verification: crypto-authoritarianism wasn't necessary back then because authority per se was respected. Authoritarians could just come right out and be honest.

Of course they could also be sophists. Always possible.

"In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Social Darwinists bitterly debated the leaders of the Populist and Progressive movements"
I am reminded that experiment always trumps debate. Skill in debate may get you up the scholar status hierarchy, but ultimately you either agree with reality or you're just wrong. No debate is relevant.

Note repeated sophistry. Did they debate over this point, or is it yet another misrepresentation? Can I even be sure that Lux believes they debated over this point?

This article is over halfway down the first page and there's been no 'How To,' as promised by the title, as far as I can tell. It is in reaction to this kind of blather that I praise journal abstracts.

"The question for those of us in political life is: Which of these metaphors has more power among voters?"
The question for the scholar is, "Which of these is true?" Just in case you thought Lux might care about things that aren't power.

"My old friend and colleague from the Clinton White House Bill Galston"
Another choice sophistry. The technique is to give the half-attentive reader (ctrl-f 'skeptical') the impression that Lux knows Clinton. Social proof. In case you doubt, note that he picked someone named 'Bill' and then used their first name alone.
Even if this isn't intentional, at some point, it becomes the writer's responsibility to not be misleading.

"Galston says the family metaphor doesn't work because people don't have the emotional bond to their fellow citizens that they do with their family. But my experience suggests a very different story. [...] So that whole family metaphor Cuomo used must have resonated pretty powerfully."
It is a seven minute speech. Lux wants you to believe that he's convinced that there were no possible confounding factors, that Cuomo talked about essentially nothing but family for seven minutes.

There's that hello kitty people thing again.

"Progressives in America have suffered in the last four decades in great part because they allowed their narrative story to get disjointed and scraggly."
Amusingly, I see the exact same self-criticism from those on the other side of the isle. The narratives on both sides are assessed as bad.

"We have to remind people that in working together and looking out for each other, we do actually make our economy and our country a better place."
Note that Lux went from talking about which metaphors work in an election campaign to talking about an empirical question of economic policy. How much expertise do you suppose an election worker has in the realm of economic cause and effect?

"Progressives can win the fight over narrative and metaphor, and it is important that we do. We need to tell our story of community."
In the middle there was some practical advice. This is just more BS.

Black box the actual content of the metaphors. Remove them from consideration. Now consider: holding the electoral effects constant, what can you put in those black boxes that would offend the politicians so much they wouldn't use the metahpors?

As far as I can tell, the actual political desiderata are merely that they work with voters and don't piss off your interest groups by attacking their interests. Everything else goes, regardless of communities and individuals.

My plan for Monday is to have remembered everything relevant about individualism. The issue itself must be important to voters, or else it would be useless as Lux's sophist camouflage. It would be nice if I could work out what the debate would be about if it were actually about what voters want, not what Lux wants.

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