Prisoner’s Dilemmas- XXV: Social Justice (Part B)- The Left Cannibalizing Their Own (Sam Harris)

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Part A

There are times when Social Justice rhetoric and Wokism are weaponized and used again another contemporary liberal/progressive public figures. Few instances of this have been as underhanded as how the progressive tastemakers disparaged public intellectual Sam Harris. For years, Harris has exalted liberal values, including economic equity. This has been elicpsed by the fact as he has committed the cardinal sin of attempting to be logically consistent when professing to be a liberal.

Harris has been an instrumental voice in the New Atheism movement, a philosophical movement that perceives irreligiosity as crucial in advancing human progress. It would appear that a growing number of liberals agree, considering there was a ten percent decrease in belief in God among liberals polled over the past several years. To be critical of religiosity requires that all religions to be criticized, including Islam. Despite the conservative quiddity and its virtual incongruence with progressive values, many socially conscious commentators believe Islam is above reproach. For an atheist to give Islam a pass in the name of “tolerance” is intellectual dishonesty.

Harris is one of the few left-of-center thinkers audacious enough to critique Islam; he paid the price with accusations Islamophobia. The Southern Poverty Law Center attacked Harris for being critical of Islam. Social Justice rhetoric, Wokism, and political correctness caused liberals[1] to start cannibalizing their ideological fellow travelers. Almost utilizing obtuse adherence to the muddled logic of the far-left as a litmus test, separating the wheat from the chaff. Placing social pressure on academics and other intellectuals to tow the party line, regardless of its inconsistencies.

What the left has done is create a Prisoner’s Dilemma by creating no room for “dissenters” in the realm of intellectual thought. This has forced thinkers like Sam Harris and Bret Weinstein to seek intellectual companionship in the most unlikely of places. Does Ben Shapiro in any other universe seem like a potential ally for Harris? What the progressive wing of the left has failed to recognize is that they have only created odd bedfellows coalitions through attacking figures like Harris. If his fellow liberals will not tolerate his earnest commentary, perhaps conservatives will.

The reward for Mutual Cooperation: R= .5

If free-thinking liberals like Harris and the Progressive elites come to an understanding, that would be the best scenario. Odds are Harris will not persuade them nor vice versa; it is best for the Progressive with a political agenda to avoid commentary on the work and opinions of Harris.

Punishment for Defecting: P=-0

Both parties have their audiences (Sam Harris is a best-selling author and hosts a popular podcast), but it is unlikely that Harris or Progressive influencers, public intellectuals, or pundits will lose fans over doubling down. 

·  Temptation to Defect: T= 1

Since the political interests of Progressive political actors have strong incentives to cancel anyone who violates the norms of political correctness, Sam does not have much choice but not only to continue with his work but also to align himself with other pundits who will not attempt to de-platform him.

· Sucker’s Payoff: S= -1

If Sam no longer produced content after the accusations came out, it would have been the death knell for his career.

Condition 1:

· T>R>P>S

· 1> .5> 0 > -1

Condition 2:

· (T+S)/2<R

· (1+-1)/2 <.5

· (0)/2 <.5

· 0 < .5

Conclusion: 

Essentially, the uncompromising nature of the New Left has left open-minded intellectuals like Sam Harris with no other choice but to defect and find flatforms and other pundits who have no incentive to cancel him for criticizing Islam.

Even more concerning is the suboptimal results of stifling intellectual debate through defacto censorship projected by cancel culture. In the arena of advancing knowledge this is poisoning the well. Many brilliant thinkers might prefer to remain quiet than get canceled. 

Notes

  1. Liberals in the contemporary sense of the phrase, not to be confused with Classical Liberalism.

Contra-Populism: Part III

Do not let the hollow promises of populist ideology fool you! Populism of the right or left is antithetical to the individual liberty cherished in Classical Liberalism and Libertarian philosophy. For one, populism frames policy in collectivistic terms rather than individualism. Populism tends to advocate for policies that support Positive rights (a right to an economic good, e.g. Social Security) over Negative rights to protect the individual from interference with exercising their rights (free speech). Much of what populists advocate for is the retribution of wealth and market privilege instead of individual freedom. Policies such as Single-Payer Healthcare and tariffs impose costs on all voters. This is because populism holds the interests of the group; without unanimous consent. Sure, by choosing to live within a certain jurisdiction you may be tacitly consenting to the laws. However, the rise in populism has spurred an increased demand for state intervention to provide more economic privileges. The problem is that the preferences of the “average voter” cannot be known, as every voter has their own opinions and preferences (p.20). Ordinary voters are not unitary actor, but many individuals with different political proclivities; populism assumes too much about what is best for all of society (p.16).

It is not just the threat of majoritarian tyranny that makes populism perilous to liberty, but populism also requires conferring more authority to the state. This may seem ironic with all the “drain the swamp” rhetoric of the Trump presidency. Even in applying rudimentary logic, more collectivism requires a more centralized authority to be enforced and implemented. The unified will of the people is not recognizable; it takes the personified form of a “strongman” leader embodying the general will (p.20). They generally shift towards autocratic regimes (p.20) since implementing and justifying factually flawed and illiberal policies necessitates large sums of political authority. Beyond the threats of authoritarianism, the elites still benefit from waves of populism. The elites can hide behind the fluid nature of populism and allow majoritarian sentiment to shape crony policies that benefit narrow interests (p.171-172). For example, the supervillain of retail Walmart’s (not the author’s opinion, but a commonly held belief)CEO publicly stated the minimum wage was too low. Raising the minimum wage has been a longstanding talking point of the populist left. In true Bootlegger and Baptist (1983) fashion, Walmart stands to gain. Why? Because a higher minimum wage means more automation and fewer salaries. The bonus is that not only will the firm gain monetary from saving money while maintaining the veneer of having concern for those in the lower income brackets. 

The Confusion Between IP and IP Laws

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Intellectual property is a valid form of property rights; however, most of the flaws are not with the inherent claims to ownership of the intangible property; but rather the laws allocating these rights. The duration and definitions of what constitutes IP rights can seem arbitrary (p.25). All because the Copyright Act of 1976 mandates the peculiar terms as being:

  • “…For works made for hire and anonymous and pseudonymous works, the duration of copyright is 95 years from first publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter (unless the author’s identity is later revealed in Copyright Office records, in which case the term becomes the author’s life plus 70 years) (p.1)…”

This exercise in line drawing is riddled with flaws and subject to the capricious whims of interest groups (the rent-seeking behavior of Disney). Conversely, it is inane to suggest that because the property is not tangible, therefore; we cannot own it because the property lines are not clearly defined (p.2). If IP is non-rivalrous it would be considered a public good (p.534). This is ironic since many Libertarian critics are hostile towards IP  and also reject the notion of public goods. Even intangible property is rivalrous and excludable. The confusion is that consumption intangible property is not rivalrous, but the ability to profit from IP is. The first entrant into a new market will be the one to reap the most benefit from the innovative product, service, or process. Consumers will generally see anything afterward as a cheap imitation (unless they can drastically improve the product). 

The above statement should not be confused as an appeal to legislative fiat or other state measures to resolve this conundrum. But it is foolish to pretend that IP is analogous to a public good. We can alienate it (in the Lockean sense) through tacit acknowledgment of the first of the idea, patentable process, trademark, etc. Paralleling the first use provisions implied in the prior appropriation water rights regimes in the western United States. The first to put the concept to practical use could claim ownership. Admittedly, the transaction costs of such an informal system would be high. In other words, the government needs to clarify IP rights? Maybe. Hypothetically, producers could eliminate ambiguity through user contracts and licensing agreements (disputes which can be adjudicated in a private or polycentric legal system).

A Fresh Take on Gun Control

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The gun control debate recycles more haggard and stale arguments than other issues in public policy. The talking points of both sides of the Second Amendment have become warn-out platitudes that lack facts, context, or intellectual depth. All these two-dimensional pithy statements fit handsomely on a bumper sticker. Intellectually honest or curious individuals would insist that further elucidation is required. 

However, there may be a novel anti-gun control argument that few commentators have explored. See below from philosopher Michael Huemer:

“…As in Example 1, except that Victim has a gun, which he would use to defend himself against Killer. Before he can do so, Accomplice grabs the gun and runs away, with the result that Killer is able to stab Victim to death.

Q: How wrong was Accomplice’s action in this case?

A: This case is morally comparable to Example 1. Again, Accomplice violates Victim’s right of self-defense in a way that predictably leads to Victim’s death. This is comparable to murder.

The government does not know specifically which people will thus be victimized, but we know a large number will be, and our not knowing their specific identities is morally irrelevant. So strong gun control laws are similar to the Accomplice’s action in Example 2.”

We frequently hear the right to self-defense as one of the key arguments supporting the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Few gun rights activists squarely address (from a moral context) the government’s culpability in victimizing law-abiding citizens in instances of strict gun regulations. Too often, they rely on the concise statement “guns save lives”. There is some truth to this statement, but what did the government do when they restricted gun access to the victimized individual? In effect, these laws were analogous to restraining someone while they were being robbed, assaulted, or raped, making the state complicit in the crime. Stringent controls on personal possession of weapons have a greater degree of ethical depth than the conspiratorial narratives of “gun grabs” spun by populous conservatives. A government using legislative fiat to deprive its citizenry of access to weapons is morally equal to a rapist, thief, or murderer.

The Billionaire and The Average Voter: Moral Equals

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It is easy to forget that not everyone shares similar needs and desires as you. This is a fact that is validated by contemporary public policy debates. All too often, voters and participants in the political process conflate (either inadvertently or strategically) their self-interest with the common good. Public interest or social welfare is an abstract metric open to interpretation; the terms operate as a form of persuasion than a concrete standard (p.77). For some, it is difficult to think that someone would not want free college or a single-payer healthcare system; this stems from an individual being too fixated on their values and policy preferences.

If it is likely that every political actor (including the average voter) acts in their self-interest, then why is it perceived to be immoral when a wealthy voter does versus an impoverished or middle-class voter does so? If the Republican and Democratic parties are moral equivalents, it is not outrageous to surmise that the poor person voting for “free” healthcare and the billionaire that votes for tax cuts are ethical equals. Neither individual is genuinely concerned by the potential externalities their favored policies impose on the rest of society. They only want initiatives that work in their self-interest. The concerns for the feasibility of these programs and processes are not even the equation for these people!

Admittedly, this is a heterodox position; most people would derisively dismiss it. The underlying assumption is that wealthy people do not need more money or institutional advantages. Most refutations would cite the imperative of actual need, especially if people lack necessities. There is some veracity to this argument, but the United States is not on par with the plight of a third-world country. Only 10.5 percent of households in 2020 suffered from “food insecurity”; in 2021, the United States outranked Germany in food security. Overall, impoverished people in the United States are better off than their counterparts abroad. While the wealthy may have market power and the connections to exert their political influence, the stakes for the average person in the US are often embellished. 

The belief that wealth inequality is the only determining factor in assessing the morality of voters acting in their self-interest is a fallacy. This suggests that the ethical responsibility for advocating and selecting bad policies (at the referendum level) is only subject to the size of a voter’s bank account. While a single vote is inconsequential in an election, a myriad of like-minded citizens voting in unison is a formidable coalition. Should these individuals be excused for electing representatives and choosing government programs that bankrupt this country or get us tangled in another foreign war? It would be reasonable to suggest no. Ultimately, neither the billionaire nor the average citizen truly cares about what is best for the country, only what benefits their interest. In the consumer market, this is not an issue, as acting in your interest does not require a redistribution of resources. In contrast, the same cannot be said about the political marketplace. 

Conspiracy Theories- The Lazy Man’s Cult

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The literature (p.93-94) paralleling conspiracy theory culture with the social dynamics of religious cults is starting to accumulate. In the post-factual world, there has been an explosion in the amount of research and commentary surrounding the psychological and sociological implications of conspiracy-mongering political sects such as the alt-right and QAnon. Outside of the grand edicts of Alex Jones being profane (non-spiritual in nature), there is another notable difference between the microcosm of conspiracy land and a religious cult; commitment costs. 

In theory, a fan of conspiracy theory media can participate in this sphere without paying a dime (outside of the cost of electricity and monthly bills for internet access). Sure, our good friend Alex might be slinging some bogus supplements, but there is no requirement to purchase any Infowars products. Anyone with internet access can still access his web-based content. In contrast, a religious cult not only lays claim to all your earthly possessions and assets, the leader expects that future earnings are directed to the “church’s” coffers.

 Beyond the differences in direct monetary costs, there are also drastic disparities in the nonmonetary costs of participation. In the conspiracy community, there is a large spectrum of various commitment preferences; no formal obligations to increase your level of commitment. The range goes from sitting consuming conspiracy media and frequenting conspiracy Reddit pages; even partaking in political activism predicated on conspiracy theories. Even if you are under the spell of the false prophet peddling tin-foil hat tomfoolery, there is still a degree of choice. To be a member of a religious cult, the costs of participation are extraordinarily high, and there is no gray area. A prospective member is fully obligated, or they are out. They must give up or share (their spouse or sexual partner), job, family, friends, hobbies, and contact with the external world. Alex Jones nor David Icke are not pressuring people to cut all ties with family to worship in their bugout bunker in rural South Dakota. 

Essentially, conspiracy theories are opium dreams for the lost and disillusioned, like religious cults. But subscribing to conspiracy theories is the lazy man’s version of being a cult member. The commitment expectations and financial costs are much lower. Theoretically, a conspiracy theory adherent can live normally; hold down a square job, and raise a family. However, once they are off the clock, then their double life begins. 

Athena: Her Impact Upon the Polis (2012)- Part II

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The religion and mythology of Greek antiquity were heavily an integral component of the lives of the ancient Greeks. The ancient Greeks as a civilization worshipped the same pantheon of deities; however, each individual city-state has a patron deity that was extensively venerated by the citizens of that polis. The manner in which the patron deity was portrayed and their role in mythology often influenced the culture of the polis. The most conscious example of this was in the ancient city-state of Athens, the citizens of which often derived rituals, values, and concepts from the mythological depictions of their patron goddess Athena. The patron goddess of Athens influenced the form of Athenian government, perspective on education, rituals of celebration, and the local function of their institutions of worship.

In the city-state of Athens much like other city-states, religion and mythology were closely intertwined. Athena was a prevalent figure throughout Greek mythology (Mikalson, 68). Athena was often depicted as the following: a cultural hero, a figure of protection, a virgin deity, and a rival of Ares, the Greek god of war. Athena is known as a cultural hero for her role in establishing the crucial institutions of Greek life (Hoffman, 277). She was responsible for life-sustaining institutions such as arts and crafts, wisdom, the structure and order of law, shipbuilding, domestic chores such as cooking, mathematics, etc. (Burkert, 140-141; Graves, 96).

Athena often acted as a protective figure that tended to guide a hero or the Greek people away from harm.  Examples of such accounts are ample, for instance, her aid to Hercules in the myth of Twelfth Labor: The Capture of Cerberus, his task of capturing the dog, Cerberus, from Tartarus, offering him guidance and moral support (Graves, 514-517). Athena was portrayed as being a deity that never engaged in any sort of amorous activity and zealously guarded her prudish nature. The account of Teiresias being blinded by Athena while watching her bathe clearly illustrated this attribute (Graves, 327). Athena has also been depicted as a rival of the god of war, Ares.  Ares tended to be viewed as the boorish representation of offensive warfare, while Athena was the representation of strategic and defensive aspects of war (Burkert, 141, 169).

It is important to realize the cultural context in which Athena was venerated in ancient Athens, the same polis which first developed the institution of Democracy. This development was rooted in the Solonian reform (594 BCE) and came to fruition during the era of Cleisthenesian leadership (508 BCE). Under Cleisthenes is where pure democracy was developed. A form of democracy in which average citizens had an actual say in making policy and were selected to the Assembly or boule, by lot for an annual term. Individual citizens who disagreed with policy had the ability to issue a “writ of unconstitutionality” to formally express any grievances (Starr, 46-47, 50-53). Both developments created a sense of socio-economical equity with regard to the political rights of the polis.

It appears as if this cultural development is rooted in the founding mythology of the city-state. The city-state of Athens has a strong sense of national identity coupled with a sense of equality among the citizens of equal status (Athenian-born male landowners). It is speculated that this value of equality among Athenian men is what engendered the establishment of the first democracy. This sense of equality among Athenian men stems from a myth in which they are identified as having a common lineage with an early Athenian king, Erectheus, who was cared for by Athena (Mikalson, 58-59; Starr, 50-52).  The myth depicting the birth of the first Athenian king begins with an account of Hephaestus attempting to sexually force himself upon Athena. She halts this attempt, but Hephaestus does end up ejaculating on her thigh.  She wipes off the discharge and lets the semen fall on the ground, thereby creating Erectheus. Fulfilling her role as a protective figure, Athena watches over him until he ascends to the throne of Attica and institutes the worship of his protective surrogate mother (Gantz, 77; Graves 96-97). This myth rationalizes direct democracy through the concept of the divine right of kings, a premise based on the idea that authority and order are derived from divine will (Leonard & McClure, 192-193). Due to Athenians being decedents of the chosen king, they are all of equal status and all participated in running the government. This clearly illustrates how humans tend to utilize myths to justify governmental authority.

True to the depictions of Athena, the Athenians held wisdom and education in high esteem. Formal education was available in the polis; however, contrary to Athens’s lack of social stratification in politics, it seems as if it was a privilege of the wealthy. Formal Athenian education was diverse and included: poetry, music, rhetoric, physical training, grammar, didactic, writing, and logic.  All of this suggests a very holistic approach to the education of young affluent males. Formal higher education was available in the form of academies founded by philosophical thinkers such as Isocrates and Plato, which was a development that transpired around the 4th century in Athens. However, male children of lesser affluence were often taught to read at home due to the skill playing a vital role in citizenship (Starr, 44, 61-63; Webster, 59-63, 67).  Athenian males of voting status pursued knowledge in order to be competent participants in the political process, illustrating the value of knowledge (Beye, 113). It is quite evident that the form of democracy practiced in ancient Athens did have an influence on the Athenian values of education and knowledge because of the high degree of civic involvement. However, the city-state’s patron goddess’s influence cannot be ignored when examining this cultural value. Athena has been depicted in Greek mythology as being the divine manifestation of wisdom (Hamilton, 29).  This is shown in the myth of The Wooden Horse, in which Athena suggests using a wooden horse as an effective means of covertly sneaking troops into Troy, which proves to be a worthwhile strategy (Graves, 692, 696). Just as their patron deity inspired the proper application of knowledge, Athenians in the classical era used wisdom to stay informed, so they could govern themselves, instead of succumbing to the consequences of detrimental policies. The value of education is more directly influenced by mythology since Athena created many of the academic disciplines that existed.  She is known to be the deity that taught Prometheus math, astronomy, medicine, architecture, and other fields of study (Graves, 39).

Athena: Her Impact Upon the Polis (2012)- Part I

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This upcoming series will feature segments of a paper I wrote while attending Bridgewater State University. My paper Athena: Her Impact Upon the Polis (2012) was composed for professor Dr. Michael Zimmerman’s course Anthropology 111-F01. Most of the papers I wrote in college might have been “well written”, but this is the only work I chose to hang on to for the past ten years. For me, accumulating sources and drafting this paper became something more than a mere school assignment; at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I was fighting for my soul. I attended this course my senior year to fulfill a university-mandated “writing intensive” requirement. However, this endeavor was far from mundane. After spending hours engaging with material that pushed me to question the interaction of religion, mythology, culture, and social institutions, but circuitously led me to look a little deeper inward to learn more about myself. Any dynamic thinker cannot help but examine their own beliefs and values when undergoing such a transcendent analysis. After all, culture is never neutral. The stories of our culture permeate into our subconscious without us even being fully cognizant of this occurrence. These commonly shared tales manifest themselves in everything from moral arguments to colloquial speech and are even referenced in popular entertainment.

This was a defining moment in my life; I was about to graduate and faced a hostile job market. This lingering confrontation with the uncertainty of my future career and life was extremely anxiety-inducing. Ancient myths convey lessons and observations that are still applicable in modern society. For example in the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh’s struggles with life, legacy, and acceptance of death was not parochial concern isolated to the ancient Mesopotamians; but are concerns that are prevalent in modern societies today. Once an individual has this revelation, it is difficult to deny the logic behind Carl Jung’s theory of Collective Consciousness. I was a fan of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell’s work shortly before Jordan B. Peterson reignited interest in their intellectual contributions.

A decade has passed since I was at the crossroads of being a student and entering the workforce; I have done much self-reflection within these ten years. In retrospect, majoring in psychology was a horrible error in judgment on my part. I have also realized that the mythic hue of the proverbial “dream job”; is nothing more than a rose-tinted mirage. However, the specter of uncertainty still is omnipresent in my life; it will be a lifelong process to acquire the adequate skills to navigate these uncharted waters. Whether this context is impertinent or adds another level of depth to my analysis remains to be seen. I request all my readers to join me on this multipart series journey. I hope you all find this series to be illuminating and insightful. 

Peter Clark, Arizona

April 2022

Adam Smith’s Fallacy of Productive Labor

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This concept has been submitted to the Journal of Brief Ideas.

https://beta.briefideas.org/ideas/f19f83884619d0642e5713c18c96fe88

Adam Smith’s Fallacy of Productive Labor

Adam Smith was the brilliant moral philosopher who dispelled us of the persistent myths of mercantilism. However, as prescient as Smith was, he was far from being above reproach. One example was his inability to solve the Diamond-Water Paradox. Smith being unable to explain the Diamond-Water Paradox was not his only shortcoming. In his economic treatise, The Wealth of Nations (Book II, Chapter III) (1776), Smith surmises that any work that does not result in producing tangible goods is unproductive labor.

Smith writes: “…The labor of some of the most respectable orders in society…unproductive of any value.. does not realize itself in any…vendible commodity..”(p.423). Smith was even bold enough to add lawyers and physicians to the list of unproductive contributors in the workforce. This mistake is a corollary of the labor theory of value, the same principle that hindered his ability to address the value paradox. The value of a product or service is not determined by the amount of labor required to produce it but by whether consumers value it. If consumers values an intangible service and firms can provide such services and yield profits, then whether the enterprise creates tangible goods is immaterial.