Saturday, January 23, 2021
Friday, January 22, 2021
Guess post by Isaac Pigott, reviewing my play here.
Having sat through the latest piece of Jason Brennan’s “Hooligan Theatre,” I feel compelled to share the following criticisms.
Wednesday, January 20, 2021
UPDATE: I'd like to clarify what I am asking here. Many people say that this scenario described below is unrealistic, as Bob will be able to get a job somewhere, or because racists will rally to support Bob. That might be true, but it's not what I'm asking. What I am asking is this: According to a popular view, if Bob is exposed as a KKK member, no one ought to hire him. No one ought to do business with him. Imagine, then, that people perfectly follow these supposed moral norms. What then happens to Bob? Does he have to starve because no one may legitimately hire him or do business with him? If you respond by saying that we should pay Bob basic income, then that seems perverse, as it means that Bob's racism results in us all working for him.
People use to worry that one of the supposed evils of capitalism could be that ideologically motivated employers might refuse to hire people who had beliefs or ideas they disliked. Employers might refuse to hire, say, an anarchist, and then the poor anarchist would have no recourse but to starve.
Of course, when genuine socialist states appeared, we saw this kind of worry realized en masse. At least in capitalism, people benefit from competition. If lots of people ostracize you for your verboten ideas, the wage you can demand becomes lower, which makes hiring you a good deal (because hiring you becomes more profitable), which in turn induces the less ideological or greedier capitalists to want to hire you. But when the Central Committee of the Communist Party owns everything and wants to ensure political uniformity, you must fall in line or not eat.
Oddly, though, today it is more common to hear people complaining about the opposite issue. If a university employee tweets something racist, sexist, colonialist, or whatnot in his spare time—or something that someone might take mistakenly take to be that even when it isn’t—students will often demand the person be fired. So-and-so is racist and thus should be ostracized and fired.
I can see the appeal of this position, even if it is often enforced in bad or excessive ways or against innocent targets. We wouldn’t want to hire some QAnon crackpot in our department. I don’t befriend KKK members.
Nevertheless, if you find this line of thinking appealing, I have to ask you, how far should it go? Suppose Bob works as a cashier at QwikCo Gas and has been exposed as a KKK member. Many people think it would not merely be permissible, but obligatory for Qwikco to fire him. They also think that when Bob applies to nearby FastGas for similar job, FastGas not only may but should turn him down (assuming they know about Bob’s KKK involvement).
Suppose Bob remains unrepentant. If you think, then, that no one should hire him, we then must ask, how should Bob eat? How can he get money to pay his mortgage? Indeed, given that you think employers should disassociate with him, you might for similar reasons hold that businesses should refuse to sell him food and clothing, issue him loans, or whatnot.
But now we’ve effectively given him a death sentence through market ostracism. No matter, one might think. Maybe his friends can feed and house him instead. However, if we should not do business with Bob because of his horrible beliefs, then it is unclear why his friends should continue to continue to befriend him, or offer him any such charity. Not only would feeding and housing him seem to excuse his rottenness, but that money could have been used for more deserving recipients of charity. Further, if Bob started his own business, the reasons that count in favor of refusing to hire him as an employee also count against becoming his client.
Perhaps to avoid such problems, you might say that Bob should lose his job, and no one should hire him either. But, perhaps, you concede that he should still be able to buy food and clothing from most stores; he should not be expelled from all of market life. For money, perhaps, you say that in a just society, everyone should receive some basic, sustaining income if they cannot get a job.
But notice how perverse this is, in its own way. Everyone is obligated not to hire Bob, on this line of reasoning, which means we are obligated not to hire him in a mutually beneficial arrangement in which he contributes to the social surplus. But then, to keep Bob from starving, we are obligated to redirect some of that social surplus his way, all while he is effectively forbidden to work. So, now, to avoid wrongly associating with Bob, but also avoid sentencing him to death, we refuse to let him work for us but we all end up working for him.
So, what should we do with Bob? I admit, I don’t really know. Once you claim that QwikCo should fire him and others should refuse to hire him, it’s hard to avoid this result. This result seems unacceptable. But I see the appeal of saying that QwikCo should fire him.
Thursday, January 14, 2021
In terms of personal character, he may indeed be the worst in a great long time. But is he in fact the worse overall?
Nah. He's not even the worst president this century.
Democratic theorists, ever enamored of democracy and democratic procedure, might be inclined to exaggerate the badness of Trump's recent actions. They are indeed very bad. I agree Trump should be impeached and removed; indeed, I agree Pence should have invoked the 25th to deactivate him.
The peaceful transition of power is an extremely valuable norm. All sort of horrors follow when it disappears.
It might well be that in the coming years, we'll discover that Trump has unleashed the Kraken on the US, and we will see long-term disfunction in democratic transitions. If there's an actual coup in a few years, that would indeed be a disaster.
(That said, in 2016 and 2017, we also saw lots of Democrats believing stupid conspiracy theories about the Russians. These Democrats also were adopting anti-democratic norms in reaction to Trump, but it wasn't Trump's fault. We must be careful not to attribute all the anti-democratic behavior we now see to Trump.)
Nevertheless, compare Trump to Bush II. Bush II started two horrible wars which not only costs tremendous amounts of money, but which lead (as expected) to the mass deaths of innocent civilians, continuous civil wars, corrupt pseudo-democratic government, and on-going bloodshed and instability. Bush II is responsible for the Patriot Act and the mass violation of American's civil rights. Bush II continued the dumb Clinton policies which lead to the Great Recession.
If an evil demon appeared before you and said, "You must now choose either to repeat all the horrors Bush II inflicted on the world or all the horrors Trump inflicted thus far," it'd be far better to pick Trump (so far) than Bush II.
Again, if Trump actually induces a fascist coup of the US government over the next few years, and this was indeed the equivalent of the Beer Hall Putsch, then sure, Trump way well turn out to be worse. But as of now, while Trump is a terrible human being and Bush II is in way a good guy who performed horribly, nevertheless, the Bush II presidency was far worse for the world than the Trump presidency.
Still, Trump ought to be removed and you are right to despise him. Just remember that blowing up innocent Iraqi civilians and subjecting them to decades of horrific war is much, much worse than inducing that crowd to occupy the Capitol building.
Update 1: P.S., one way you might argue for Trump being worse is to say something like this: "If Clinton had been president, she would have been so competent that we would have had like 20,000 COVID deaths instead of 400,000". She probably would have done a better job, and I expect could have cut the total by 10%. But it's fantasy to imagine she'd have cut it dramatically. We don't really know now why some places have so many few deaths than others, though it's fun to point to New Zealand and pretend every country could have been the same with only enough political willpower.
Update 2: On Facebook, Andrew Doris has a good point which can help clarify this blogpost. We can distinguish A) Trump's actual performance vs Bush II's, from B) Trump's and Bush II's overall character an expected performance. I'd say Trump's actual harms are far lower than Bush II's. But given how corrupt Trump is and given that Bush II seems to have decent character and have learned somewhat from his mistakes, I'd say that if given the choice between a second Trump term or a third Bush II term, we should pick Bush II. The Trump presidency was not as disastrous as the Bush II presidency, but right now Bush II would make a better future president.
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
Against Democracy came out in 2016 with Brexit, Trump, and the Five-Star Movement in the background, among other democratic idiocies. (Thanks to these and other democratic failures, the book has now been translated into 10 languages.)
At the time, I argued support for Trump was an example of democratic failure caused by rational irrationality and rational ignorance. Were voters better informed, Trump would not have been the Republican candidate, let alone the winner.
Many prominent democratic theorists, ever ready to defend democracy and dismiss all empirical evidence to the contrary, claimed that no, Trump voters were probably rightly and genuinely upset about globalization. Globalization, they claimed, created winners and losers. Trumpers were the losers, or at least lived near and were concerned about the losers. They supposedly supported Trump because they believed he would fix the flaws of free trade.
At the time, this was already implausible, because economics studies did not vindicate and in fact falsified these claims. For instance, see here, here, and here. In fact, 2016 Trump voters on average receive a higher wage subsidy from globalization than average or than I do. (Back in 2016 and 2017, when I told theorists about these studies, they mostly said, yeah, well, just because lots of economists say this doesn't mean it's true.)
Now fast forward to today. Here are some fun facts:
I wonder, dem theorists, do you still wish to say that Trump voters' support is based on a rational belief that Trump will implement policies which will effectively promote their independent goals?
It's time for philosophers and "political theorists" to dispense with the sixth-grade theory of voter behavior. The evidence overwhelmingly shows that the majority of voters are innocent of ideology and that most do not select political parties or candidates because they antecedently prefer those candidates' or parties' platforms or policies. People join parties and support candidates largely for identity-based reasons which do not track how well those candidates' policies support their interests. Even among the minority who do have more stable policy preferences, it is far more common for people to rationalize that they accept whatever the party supports today than for people to support a party because they agree with it. For almost everyone, politics is like sports fandoms. Adopting political beliefs, if they do it at all, is more about demonstrating fidelity to the in-group and expressing hatred toward the out-group than it is about identifying goals or policies to promote those goals.
I am a rational choice theorist, but a good rational choice theorist needs to understand the incentives. It is instrumentally rational for many Q supporters to believe the QAnon bullshit even though it's epistemically irrational to believe it. The reason is that they get social benefits from doing so, much as one derives a social benefit from playing along with fashion or music trends, or from following the dominant religion in a heavily religious locale.
Indeed, the stupidity of the beliefs is part of the point. Consider: Human beings need to know whether they can trust one another and whether others are loyal members of the group. They need to know whether people will contribute to public goods or free ride on others' efforts. Expensive signals--such as loudly and enthusiastically expressing belief in bizarre things, or engaging in expensive, painful, and time-consuming rituals--help demonstrate such loyalty. It works. QAnon conspiracy theorists are epistemically irrational, but only because epistemic irrationality of this sort pays off with social rewards. They will stop when a new trend takes over or when the total costs exceed the total rewards.
Sunday, January 10, 2021
I'm on the record saying the legitimacy of the state, period, and of democracy are very much in question.
Given that I think that--and many of the others here do too--you might wonder what I am opposed to Trumpist Capital invasion last week, or why I believe Trump should be removed from office, even though he has only a few days left and his removal would largely be symbolic. (I am taking it for granted in this post that he did indeed induce an angry mob to attack the Capitol to stop it from certifying Biden's victory.) Instead, the question is, given my background philosophy, why would I think Trump is obligated to go along with the process? Why can't he or his goons override the system?
As an analogy, consider how sophisticated Marxists such as G. A. Cohen or Brian Leiter react to private property in the means of production. Cohen and Leiter both think that capitalism is unjust and should be replaced by an alternative economic system. There should not be private property in the means of production. Nevertheless, neither of them thinks (I'm pretty sure) that because capitalism is unjust, any person can steal from any private productive enterprise at any time for any reason. One reason is that if it's illegitimate for Elon Musk to have $200 billion, then it's also illegitimate for me to have $200 billion after stealing it. But more importantly, they both recognize (I'm pretty sure) that even when you are in an unjust economic system, willy-nilly and ad hoc thievery simply imposes great harm and causes chaos without doing anything to fix the system. Leiter doesn't steal from or firebomb Amazon warehouses, and he wouldn't do so even if he could get away with it.
Similarly, suppose the NFL's Competition Committee decides, for demonstrably corrupt reasons, to eliminate the forward pass next season. Suppose they took bribes from QBs with no passing game. This may well give teams and referees grounds to engage in collective, widespread "civil disobedience" by continuing to use and recognize forward passes But it would not license or justify players deciding that since the governing board is corrupt, they, the players, should do whatever they want whenever they want.
Even if a system is unjust or deeply unjust, there might be reasons to play along with certain parts of it, and play along with certain rules.
Let's apply some of this to the Trump election of 2016. Trump's election resulted from demonstrable voter incompetence. If voters had been adequately informed and reasoned in an adequate way, Trump would not have been the Republican candidate, let alone the winner. Nevertheless, it would not be acceptable for me, on January 21, 2017, to depose Trump and attempt to install myself as the new president. Doing so would cause massive chaos and violence, and further, even if (thanks to the Competence Principle) Trump should not rule, there is also no legitimate reason why I should rule.
Biden was lawfully elected. Even within the rules of the election, Trump did not have grounds for rejecting Biden's win. But even if you think, as I do, that anarchism is just, or that certain forms of epistocracy are probably more justifiable than democracy (though they are unjust because they are statist), that doesn't mean you should think it's acceptable for a standing president to induce a mob to attack the Capitol to overthrow an election. The background injustice of the system is not a blank check for anyone to seize power or to attack legislators whenever they dislike their decisions.
I think there's good work to be done here on "playing along" inside unjust systems. I discuss some of that here, in When All Else Fails: The Ethics of Resistance to State Injustice. For instance, I argue that if you were to take a job with the Nazi government doing a legitimate function, such as teaching schoolchildren to read, you should still do it competently, even though others should try to sabotage its illegitimate functioning.