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There are so many folks who complain about labels.  “I don’t think we should label people” or “I don’t want to be labeled.”

Well, labels are a fact of life, and essential to communication–especially in the interest of brevity.  Yes, we should be careful with them, but just because we ought to be careful with something doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use it at all.

Sadly, labels often suffer from misapplication, intentional and unintentional distortion, connotations and emotional reactions, and simple linguistic shifts.

For example, the term “Anarchist”–while it simply means “one who is opposed to rulers” (and not, as is often thought, necessarily to rules), often conjures in the minds of the hoi polloi visions of the socialist bomb-throwers of the 19th and very early 20th Centuries; or perhaps visions of the property-destroying socialists at the anti-WTO protests in the late 20th-early 21st Centuries, despite many anarchists being opposed to aggression, and even in favor of property rights.

The same with Capitalist–a term which has probably never actually had an agreed-upon definition, but which is often used as a pejorative.

Free Market Advocate–again, the term has been abused so much, that the associated image is more likely to be that of the chaotic and destructive regulated market which currently exists; or alternatively of the “black” markets which involve much violence due to government interference, rather than the actual peaceful voluntary exchange it actually denotes.

Voluntaryist, or Volunteerist–evokes images of people doing community service in soup kitchens or some such–in this case, not really a bad image, but definitely not one which covers the spectrum of the actual intended meaning.

Also, there is much talk of “taking the word back”–in the sense of folks choosing to make the attempt to revitalize one of the above terms (or any of a number of other ones) and renew it to its former “glory.”  Thus far, I haven’t noted much success in this tactic. However, that doesn’t mean it  can’t be done.

THEREFORE (please note, this is my public announcement voice), I have elected to take on a label for myself, which, while perhaps embodying some of the spirit of the image I want, did not originally mean what I intend it to mean henceforth; and in the spirit of “taking a word back”–although I’m not taking it back, per se, rather merely “taking it”–which I think you will find somewhat appropriate–and, inasmuch as it is not presently in common use anyway, I maintain that under international law of the sea, I may thus claim salvage rights; and I think it does at least somewhat convey the various things which go into my meaning of the term…

I shall henceforth label myself, for purposes of Political and Ideological identification:

A PRIVATEER!

Thus, when folks observe that I am in favor of private property rights; do not recognize the authority of governments or of any claim they may make to property; feel perfectly justified in fighting them, tricking them, ignoring them, taking from them, or even in complying with them in the event of convenience or overwhelming force; recognize the value of dealing justly and peacefully with those who do the same with me, but also am quite willing to deal violently with those who initiate aggression; and so many more things which I shall share in the future… I think the label is appropriate.

I shall be issuing myself a Letter of Marque and Reprisal on my own authority in the very near future.

The Problem of Evil

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I mentioned to several folks recently that I have a list of things about which I need to write which is quickly outpacing my list of things I have written.  For the most part, I prefer having written to actually writing…

Anyway, one of the subjects which has come up independently in a number of discussions to which I’ve been a party in the past month has been what is generally referred to in Philosophical circles as “The Problem of Evil.”  I did a good bit of writing on this when I was in college, but I’m going to attempt to distill it down for folks who really don’t have the time or inclination to run all over the place reading Leibniz and Kant and Hume and Epicurus et al.  It’s a big part of the story in The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and who knows how many other works of fiction as well–because it’s a big part of life.

Often the question comes up in some form of “How could bad things happen to good people if God actually existed?”  Well, I’m not going to attempt to prove to you that a God exists.  I’m not an atheist, nor an adherent of any organized religion–I’m basically a Deist, of sorts.  The best way to examine the problem is to lay out a series of premises upon which the problem–and most of the manners of dealing with it–are based.  So here goes:

  1. God exists.
  2. God is omnipotent.
  3. God is omniscient.
  4. God is omnibenevolent.
  5. Evil exists.

Atheists reconcile P5 by denying P1 (and thus P2-P4 as well).  Thus, for them, the explanation is simply that Evil exists because there is no God.

There have been–and probably still are–religions which explain P5 by denying P4–saying that God is not all good.  Many pagan religions saw God (or more usually, Gods) as a “mixed bag”–sort of like humans writ large–in that they could be both good and bad, often times by turns both generous and capricious.

Some religions explain it by denying P2–saying that although God is Good (affirming P1, P4, and P5), Evil exists because God does not have the power to prevent it, or sometimes, as in Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism, that there is an Evil God who prevents the Good God from eradicating Evil.

Some explain it by denying P3, sometimes via the “absent creator” explanation–that is, affirming P1, P2, P4, and P5, but saying that God doesn’t know Evil exists here on Earth, because he created us and went away, and no longer pays attention to us.

And, as crazy as it may sound to some folks, some deal with the problem by denying P5–saying that what we define as Evil isn’t actually evil–that in fact, if we could see things from God’s point of view, we would see that all these things are part of God’s plan, and will accomplish the greatest good. Sounds crazy, perhaps, but when people claim “It’s all for the best” or “It’s all part of God’s plan” and so forth, that’s essentially the course they’ve chosen.

My preferred explanation–and I claim no special knowledge here apart from having studied and thought about it a lot, and it seems the most reasonable explanation to me–is actually one which affirms ALL the premises above.  Seems like that’d be contradictory, no?

The key to this explanation is simply Free Will.

If you have no choice–if you Can either do “A” or…well… You can only do “A”–you have no choice.  And without choice, there is no free will.  And without free will, we are merely automatons, wandering around, going thru the motions, and essentially accomplishing in a flawed and messy and inefficient way what could be done in a “better” way.

Now, the way I handle this is to attempt to put myself in the shoes of God.  I know, blasphemy, I will be struck down, and go to hell, and have all my soft bits poked with sharp and flaming nasties for all eternity, etc. etc.

The best way I can think of to put myself in the creator’s shoes is to imagine the creator as the greatest and most benevolent and wise parent.

Now, if God were a “helicopter parent” and a “tiger mommy” and so forth, he (or she, or it, or whatever your preferred pronoun may be) would probably not be a fan of free will, and would present us with only option “A” forever and ever.  We would all learn to play the violin, whether or not we wanted to–indeed, the very idea of not wanting to do so would never be allowed to occur to us.  We would all keep everything immaculately clean and orderly at all times, we would all march around quietly and in orderly fashion at all times, we would all wear the same uniform…  Get the picture?

Now, consider your truly wise parent.  They want the best for their children.  They don’t like to see their children hurt, or make bad decisions, etc.  But they also know that if their children are ever to learn what is best, and to mature mentally and emotionally, and grow as people, and so on…they will have to make some bad decisions.  They will get scuffed up and hurt sometimes.  The child who never falls down is the child who never learns to walk–because they’ve never even attempted anything beyond crawling.  Nothing teaches: “Hot! Danger!” like the burned finger.

Wise parents recognize that no amount of yelling and screaming and rule-making and so forth will actually teach the children anything but to yell and scream and attempt to impose their will on others.

Now, to compare the horrible evils which occur on Earth to a parent who allows their child to get a minor burn makes God sound like a complete psycho.  And yes, we wouldn’t think much of a parent who didn’t step in to prevent serious harm coming to their child–there is a big difference between a parent who knowingly allows their child to burn their finger by touching the car on a hot day outside, and one who allows the child to pull a pot of scalding water on themselves.

But, if there is in fact a life beyond this one–not the cliché Heaven so many Christians claim to believe in, in which everyone sits around for eternity praising God and playing the harp–but perhaps bigger and more complex challenges elsewhere…  If you consider that a possibility, then perhaps as awful as these things are to us with our child’s understanding of the universe, they might not be all that big a thing when you consider it in light of another existence; a larger existence.

The only way to determine if someone is really trustworthy is to trust them.  The only way to determine if someone is really responsible is to give them responsibility.  And, at the risk of inducing many of my Browncoat friends to start quoting Firefly, You don’t truly know who someone is until you’ve seen them under the effects of serious pressure.

It’s easy to claim you’re not a cheater, but do you really know until someone has attempted to seduce you?  It’s easy to not be a thief when you’ve never wanted for anything.  It’s easy to not be a drunk when you’ve never had a drink.  It’s easy to say “winning the lottery wouldn’t change me” if you’ve never won. It’s easy to not be a murderer when you’ve never been angry or scared enough and in a position to do something about it. I am reminded of a Warren Zevon tune: “You’re a Whole Different Person When You’re Scared.”

Some of the hippie-dippy new-age types might have it right after all:  it may well be that we were put here to learn things like caring for each other, and love, and integrity, and other such things.  Perhaps only those of us who’ve learned these lessons have what it takes–and can be trusted–to take on much larger tasks elsewhere.  Earth may be the cosmic nursery–and those of us who learn to play well with the other kids, and demonstrate responsibility and integrity, and let’s call it “first order wisdom” eventually leave the nursery, graduating to tasks which require those things.  And maybe those of us who don’t will be recycled in place–repeating nursery school until we eventually learn those lessons.

But again, I claim no special revelations here–for all I know, we could all be playing a cosmic Role Playing Game by mutual agreement on some other plane of existence.  Seems like that makes about as much sense as anything else.

But–a sort of Pascal’s Wager for you all, if you will:  Would it be such a bad idea to live your life as if the nursery idea were possibly true?

I’m not saying anyone has to believe in a God–in general or any specific one.  I’m not saying anyone has to believe the idea is absolutely true at all.  But if you operate on the assumption that it–or something like it–is a possibility, then it seems to me you won’t go too far wrong.

Or, as it seems I read somewhere once:  Live your life as if, somewhere in the distant future, they develop the technology to resurrect the dead, and decide to throw the greatest party in the universe for the remainder of eternity, and they are going thru their database of everyone who ever lived and deciding who should be resurrected and invited.  Do you want to be on that list?  “Do we want to invite this guy?”  “No, he’s a dick.”  “He’s not a Hitler or a Mao or a Stalin…” “Yeah, but he’s still a dick.  leave his dead ass down there.”

Clauswitz and Personnel Assessment

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I am very judgmental.

Well, I like to think I’m not overly harsh–I try not to be.  And I make efforts to remain open to new information and reassessment–although I find that new information often merely refines my initial assessment, rather than fundamentally changing it.  I don’t often share these judgments, unless it is necessary.  But I do use them to make operational decisions.

I have a pretty big toolbox for these assessments, which I’ve picked up over the years (such as a variation of the MBTI).  One of them is a classification which was perhaps not originated by Clauswitz, but which I first encountered in his writing.

Simply stated, it divides people into one of four boxes along two axes: General Intelligence and Activity Level.

So, the four resulting types are:

Smart Active
Smart Lazy
Dumb Active
Dumb Lazy

Harsh, I know, but consider it shorthand.

According to Clauswitz (and I generally agree), the pros and cons work out thus:

Smart Active:  Pros-Generally quite useful–energetic, really gets in there and gets things done.  Takes calculated risks and can achieve great success.  Cons-because they’re smart and generally have been successful in their past calculated risks, they can overextend and their calculated risk can cause a great disaster–they’ve gone to the well one too many times, and the well has suddenly come up dry.

Smart Lazy: Clauswitz’s favorite box. Pros-Smart enough to see when things are working well enough, and to leave them alone.  Good for developing competent subordinates, because they don’t micro-manage, and they’re good delegators.  Great for innovation, because if there is a better, easier, more efficient, and less risky way to do things, they’ll find it. Cons-may tend to be too patient-waiting too long, and thinking too much to get involved.  May leave problems unaddressed for too long. Also can get bored with things if left in position too long.  Can be a bad example for less competent subordinates, who perceive the laziness, but not the intelligent self interest and intelligent management style behind it.  Also, can be too aware of the likely costs of making a change which needs to be made, and decide the cost isn’t worth the effort–organizations often need someone to do things for the good of the organization, but to their own detriment.

Dumb Lazy:  Pros-A “good enough” place-holder.  When you need someone to hold a position, but the person doesn’t have to be smart, this type will do, so long as they have competent subordinates.  Dumb enough to not get ideas “above their station” and to allow subordinates to run the show.  Lazy enough not to screw up systems which already work well enough.  Cons-If not provided with competent subordinates, can let things get really screwed up.  Not smart enough to ask for help when needed–unlikely to recognize when things are screwed up too much.  Bad for the morale of more competent subordinates, who begin to resent being subordinated to such an incompetent. Also prone to being ridden-over by more intelligent subordinates, which can cause other organizational problems.

Dumb Active: Clauswitz’s least favorite–indeed, he says that it is essential to identify DAs as quickly as possible and get them out of the organization completely. Pros-not sure there are any. Cons-Not smart enough to recognize their own incompetence (see: Dunning-Kruger Effect).  Tend to be overly convinced of their own intelligence, and overly concerned with their own power.  They tend to be micro-managers, and to feel threatened by competence, thus they surround themselves with incompetents and are active in purging any competent people from their bailiwick. They are easily swayed by whims and snake oil, and engage in constant “reorganization.”  They converse in poorly-understood (by themselves) buzzwords.  They are infuriating to smart subordinates, constantly butting heads with smart actives, while smart lazies are likely to stand by and let them run over the cliff, having found themselves a safe place to stand while it happens.  DAs will take a well-tuned machine, and turn it into a smoking wreck, taking down competent but unprepared or otherwise unprotected subordinates with them into disaster.  Absolutely horrible for productivity and morale, but may play the sycophant well enough to be successful within an organization which subordinates them to other dumb types.

Now, Clauswitz was looking primarily at military officers, and in the context of the Prussian General Staff system he devised (but which was never completely realized according to his vision–which owed much of its success to the extent it did conform to his design).  But this is a decent rough tool for looking at any organizational staffing.  The Peter Principle  and The Dilbert Principle should also be considered in this context.

Anyway, that’s one of the tools I use–you have to be careful to use it in the proper manner and context, which often only comes with experience (which, of course, generally comes long after you really needed it).  I’m sure I’ll share others as time goes on.

Executive Summary of Modern Stoicism

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Short and sweet, if you want a basic grasp of the fundamentals of Modern Stoic Philosophy, here it is:

  1. Control the things which are in your control.  Do not concern yourself with those things you cannot control.
  2. You gonna cowboy up, or just lie there and bleed?

There it is.

Yes, there is more–much more.  But that’s the short version–and probably the most important principles to grasp.

Reading List

I intend to continue updating this list, as it contains the books which influence my outlook and methods.  I expect it will grow way too long quite quickly.  I’ll try to keep it fairly organized, at least.

Education

  • Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century by Cathy N. Davidson
  • Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova
  • Market Education: The Unknown History  by Andrew J. Coulson
  • The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto
  • Education: Free and Compulsory by Murray N. Rothbard

Psychology (or Understanding People and general “Headology,” if you read Pratchett)

  • Achilles in Vietnam by Jonathan Shay
  • The Lucifer Effect by Philip G. Zimbardo
  • Understanding Other People by Beverly D. Flaxington
  • Just Listen by Mark Goulston
  • Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman
  • A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby K. Payne

History

  • FDR’s Folly by Jim Powell
  • The Real Lincoln by Tom DiLorenzo

I’m a big believer in the educational value of Fiction, as well as the simple enjoyment, so:

Fiction

  • The Ring of Fire Series and the associated Grantville Gazette Series by Eric Flint and many others
  • The Paksenarrion Series by Elizabeth Moon
  • The Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett
  • The General Series by David Drake and S. M. Stirling
  • The Garret, P.I. Files by Glen Cook
  • The Regiment Series by John Dalmas
  • The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold (one of my favorite male characters, written by a woman)
  • The Honor Harrington Series by David Weber (one of my favorite female characters, written by a man)
  • The Troy Rising Series by John Ringo
  • The Belisarius Saga by David Drake and Eric Flint
  • Pretty much any of the many Alternate History series and individual novels by Harry Turtledove, including The Videssos Cycle (based on Byzantine History), the series which begins with an alternate Civil War in How Few Remain and continues thru alternate WWI and WWII in North America, Guns of the South (another alternate Civil War), and many more
  • Anything by Rudyard Kipling, but especially his poetry
  • The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
  • Wasp by Eric Frank Russell (anything you can find by Russell, actually–if nothing else “And then there were none