Getting into this box is what's best for both of us. During your time in the box, you will learn so much, and yet experience so little. It's a wild ride, my friend, one well worth the time spent...and let's face it, you don't have much to do these days anyway.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

A response to Didact's respose to me.

Didact has written up a piece in reply to a comment I left on his blog. Go read it, it's worth quite a read. Still, I feel obligated to explain my views, whether one agrees with them or not.

Let's begin, then. Didact states the following:
"When John Locke wrote his major work on the subject of the limits of power to monarchy, Two Treatises, his arguments in favour of natural rights started with the philosophical idea that all men are born equally innocent, a state of nature created by the Almighty and none other. What they become after this is a function of their upbringing and their surroundings. From this argument comes the idea that there are certain rights that men retain simply by virtue of their birth."
Perhaps it is convenient, then, that Radish Magazine's latest piece has a section on John Locke:
In the same Essay, Locke invents a key bit of Whig doctrine: the so-called blank slate (or tabula rasa).


Ultimately, Locke’s philosophy fails because it hinges on an impossibly accurate and precise correspondence between words and things. He defines certain terms, thereby translating things into words; he reasons exhaustively with those words; and finally he translates the words back into things, which all sounds fine — except the natural-language correspondence between words (e.g., “injustice”) and things (e.g., grandmother stew) is never perfectly accurate or precise, and hence it has no chance of holding together under the terrible corrosive rigor of pure logic, which explodes the smallest of contradictions into infinite nonsense.

Politically speaking, though, the greater fault here is that nowhere in his interminable Essay does Locke explain whether or not “character” includes ability, cognitive or otherwise. Generations of Whigs have assumed, much to the detriment of science and education (not to mention immigration policy), that it does; in other words, all nurture, no nature. It should but probably doesn’t go without saying that this is not true.
The gist of my argument is that I deny the fact that all men are born equal, that instead people are born with varying levels of gifts and talents and that where the concept of freedoms are concerned, they should be allocated to those who have proven the wherewithal to wield them responsibly. Indeed, Julius Evola criticises the very idea of natural rights in the third chapter of Men Amongst the Ruins, of which I'll quote a small sample:
To begin with, I find it odd that the title "natural right" has been given to that which appears to be the most unnatural thing conceivable, or to that which is proper to primitive societies. The principle according to which all human beings are free and enjoy equal rights "by nature" is truly absurd, due to the very fact that "by nature" they are not the same. Also, when we go to an order that is not merely naturalistic, being a "person" is neither a uniform quality or a quality uniformly distributed, nor a dignity equal in everybody, being automatically derived from the mere membership of the single individual in the biological species called "mankind." The "dignity of the human person," with everything that this expression entails, and around which the supporters of the doctrine of natural law and liberals rally, should be acknowledged where it truly exists, and not in everybody. And even where this dignity truly exists, it should not be regarded as equal in every instance. This dignity admits different degrees; thus, justice means to attribute to each and every one of these degrees a different right and a different freedom. The differentiation of right, and the hierarchical idea in general, derives from the very notion of a person, since this notion, as we have seen, is inconceivable without referring to the difference, to the form, and to the differentiating individuation. Without these presuppositions, the respect for the human person in general is only a superstition, or rather one of the many superstitions of our time.
The same applies to freedom, the first term of the revolutionary triad. Freedom must he understood and defended in the same qualitative and differentiated manner as the notion of "person": everybody enjoys the freedom he de-serves, which is measured by the stature and dignity of his person or by his function, and not by the abstract and elementary fact of merely being a "human being " or a " citizen ".
To reiterate, point seven of Anarcho-Papist's approximations of neoreaction: freedom imposes responsibilities, and the inability to exercise those responsibilities should entail a limiting of that freedom. People are unequal, and the ability to exercise actual freedom, instead of manufactured, packaged freedom sold by modernity as controlled opposition - that is a rare thing indeed.

Nothing says you're a rebellious, anti-establishment type like a mask sold by Time Warner made by minimum-wagers.

Again, to better illustrate this, you do not allow children to have the freedom to choose what they will have for dinner for they will only eat candy; similarly, you do not let defectives and degenerates to vote themselves goodies from the public purse.

I will say it again: I'm not a great thinker. There is the temptation to lie back and let others take care of me, and it is very tempting indeed for the midwit. It's a readily observable fact of today that the majority of the world's population do not care about liberty and freedom when they are fed, clothed and given Dancing With The Stars to watch, whether it's in Singapore or the US. These people do not care for liberty or freedom and simply want to be taken care of and indeed are afraid of it, and who can blame them? The modern age of the vulgar and mediocre will be a brief, but tragic, flash in the pan of history. After all, the Common Man couldn't be bothered to make it otherwise, leaving himself to be ruled by unelected bureaucrats and banksters while going through the motions of elections which make no difference whatsoever.

Terry Pratchett's Feet of Clay may be a work of fiction, but it hits the nail on the head with this quote:
'You Say To People "Throw Off Your Chains" And They Make New Chains For Themselves?'

'Seems to be a major human activity, yes.'

Dorfl rumbled as he thought about this. 'Yes,' he said eventually. 'I Can See Why. Freedom Is Like Having The Top Of Your Head Opened Up.'

'I'll have to take your word for that, Constable.'
But to summarise: I disagree with Didact's premise of people having any sort of inherent rights by virtue of their birth. As has been said earlier on this blog: Enlightenment values concocted by autistic philosophers, who think that everyone is just like them, that do not reflect reality is a bad way to run a society.

Now to move on: it is true that the "right" to free health care, the "right" to tell other people what to spend on, and the "right" to be free from want and fear - whatever the hell that means - seem absurd to us, but the problem is that they stem from the very idea of rights themselves - that people can be entitled to certain things regardless of situation, ability or circumstance, it inevitably opens up the path for all the petty tyrannical rights Didact mentions. Get people to believe that there's something that they're entitled to by virtue of existing, or in other words, frame it as a right, and you can push anything through. It's the same problem with republicanism and indeed, how monarchies decay into republics: there will always be that extra sliver of people who think they deserve a vote, who have just a little less land that is required to be able to vote, and that inevitably keeps on expanding until you get the mob rule of today. Similarly, the first rights may sound very good, and instinctively agreeable - life, liberty, property. The problem is that the franchise inevitably expands to encompass all the petty tyrannical rights spoken of.

It's not a slippery slope argument if there's precedent for it. There are no “rights,” only what you’re afforded by society. Anyone looking at the US today and the various scandals can see that despite lots of talk about the right to privacy,  the best response has been ineffectual since the NSA still does what it's doing.

The distinction between "rights" and "freedoms" may seem merely semantic, but believe me, they aren't. If you support the masses and their demands for "rights", eventually you'll lose your freedoms.

With regards to monarchy, I won't go into detail (since it's not really the focus of this reply), but point to points 5 and 6 of "Ten Objections to Traditionalism and Monarchism with answers":
Good kings are good, but bad kings are very bad.
Bad kings are not nearly as bad as Demotist/Communist dictators. Bad kings are in a different universe from bad Demotist leaders. There is not even a vague comparison. In the traditional system, kings rely on the aristocracy and clergy for support, and have trouble doing anything without them. For a Demotist leader, there tends to be far fewer checks and balances. They can cause a half million deaths in a place like Iraq with a snap of their fingers. Study up on the history of “death by government” to get a better perspective on what I mean. Kings and emperors very rarely, if ever, engage in mass murder against their own people.


What if the king is an idiot or psycho?

Then the prior king appoints a regent to take over the affairs of state on behalf of his successor. There is also a debate within the Reactionary community as to whether adoptive succession is preferable to hereditary succession, which avoids the issue of stupid or crazy children. Adoptive succession was used for the “Five Good Emperors” of the Roman Empire, until the disastrous sixth emperor, Commodus, who was the child of the fifth. After he threatened to kill them, the Roman senators ended up paying a gladiator to strangle him in the Colosseum’s equivalent of locker rooms. After his assassination, the senators declared Commodus damnatio memoriae and all his statues and inscriptions were destroyed. Such extreme scenarios rarely ever happened during the age of Renaissance European monarchs. One of the greatest statesmen of all time, Klemens von Metternich, strongly influenced the mentally deficient monarch Ferdinand I of Austria during his reign, sat on the regency council, and ran most important affairs, presiding over a hundred years of relative peace in Europe.
Didact is right to point out the problems with absolute monarchy, and that a bad king can be damaging. But for comparison, Bloody Mary was thus named because she had 200 Protestants executed and 800 exiled.

What's the body count of democratic and demotist leaders today? The difference between the fascists and communists, and the monarchs of yesteryear, is that they did not claim to be the champions of something as nebulous as "the people", were not accelerating towards a leftist singularity by means of holier than thou, and were disincentivised from running their kingdoms into the ground if they wanted anything to hand down to their next generation. It was not perfect, but time preferences in general were longer than in a democracy.

One point of agreement amongst most reactionaries is that utopia is not possible, that we cannot eliminate human nature, only account for it - there's a reason why libertarianism is described as proto-reaction and that there's a joke going around the block that reactionaries are libertarians who've been mugged by reality. Sure, monarchy - absolute or otherwise - has its problems. Democracy has its problems. Anarcho-capitalism has its problems. The goal is not to develop a system that has no flaws, but instead do least harm. As Nassim Taleb points out in Antifragile, if something has always been done a certain way, there's a reason this arrangement is stable. Don't go around tearing down Chesterton's fences without knowing why. There's a reason why monarchy has been the prevailing governmental system in so many nations around the world for so long, and it's only now that reactionaries are discovering why, when faced with the ugliness that is democratic modernism.

There was an interesting tweet on my feed some time back: "The ideal king should do nothing but brutally murder anyone who tries to take his power." I should have asked for clarification. The ultimate goal is to a) maintain hierarchy and structure to accommodate differing peoples and b) avoid holier-than-thou acceleration into a leftist singularity. If monarchy is not perfect, but best at this, then so be it. If another form of governance is better than this, then so be it.

I haven't looked deeply into the divine right of kings, but it's important to note that the Mandate of Heaven has a very specific clause within it - that even the Emperor himself is subject to hierarchy, and the peasantry are obliged to revolt should Heaven express its displeasure via natural disasters. Something similar been discussed amongst some reactionaries as a possible solution - legitimacy without risk of abuse. For a more western view, here's a defense of the divine right of kings dating from 1856.

Anyway, back to the point of rights. Didact argues that "might makes right" is absurd, and I will agree with one addendum: might makes right is absurd when those with said might have no connection to the land or people whom they are ruling over - which most demotist fascist and communist leaders were, instead being wedded to ideologies of "the people" instead. Again, this is not an endorsement or claim that absolute monarchy is best - as I've pointed out earlier, monarchs were rarely absolute, even when so in name, and had to garner support from the elites. But apples to oranges - monarchs are hardly modern demotist leaders, who had far more incentive and opportunity, and less compunctions, about abusing power when they had it.

The second point is that might makes right is essentially the way of the world. It's an is/ought problem - you can argue that things ought to be one way, but reality is another - I would like it if everyone was sensible, but reality is that most people aren't most times and you have to plan around that. Power comes from the barrel of a gun, and the second amendment proves just that. Constitutions are easily reinterpreted as "living documents", checks and balances eventually get corrupted - the only kind of person a piece of paper is going to stop is the noble natural aristocrat, who needs no stopping in the first place. The very fact that the people of the US are losing their freedoms rapidly amongst calls for "rights" should make it obvious that a piece of paper is not going to stop a psychopath - the sort of whom modernity encourages up to the halls of power - or the mass man, who can only see the trough in front of him. The problem with contracts is that they are only binding on those who choose - or are forced - to recognise them, and the latter boils down to the same thing.

Confucius once said something along the lines of (I'm lazy to go sift through Analects for the exact verse) "It is better that people not do evil because it is shameful, rather than that they fear punishment." Sure, it's better, and people ought not to commit crimes because it's wrong and shameful to do so. What happens when you get people who only understand the barrel of a gun - and they have bigger guns than you do? Either you submit to them, or you retain your self-respect and go out in a blaze of glory. Your "right" to not be a slave goes only as far as you can defend your freedoms - which I notice has quite perceptibly lapsed.

How are those checks and balances working out for the US now?

The question is not how to eliminate power differentials- which will always exist no matter how hard one tries - by spreading it out, it's how to try and ensure those with power are best suited and encouraged to use it in a responsible and sane manner. I may disagree with some of the things MM Lee did back in the day (and he apparently regrets some of them now), but when things were less demotist, Singapore experienced much more prosperity. Would he have taken another route instead of going for the flash-in-the-pan route of modernisation - which is another point I disagree with Didact, that Singapore's eventual collapse is due to modernity and not the power differentials between the Lee family and the rest of Singapore.

On a final note, I'd like to say a few words about Sparta, to use Didact's example. By his own admission, there was not just a large power differential between the Spartans and the helots in much the same way as elites and commoners were, perhaps even more due to the latter being slaves. By his very argument, the Spartans did not have rights in the Lockean fashion and as we understand the term today - things that everyone is entitled to. Instead, the freedoms, perhaps even privileges that were afforded Spartan citizens were on the basis of their citizenship, which was transferred by blood - which naturally implied other qualities that qualified them for bearing the responsibilities in exchange for they were accorded freedoms by their society, much like was described in the Evola quote above.

Didact makes what I believe is a mistake a lot of libertarians make: the assumption that everyone is just as intelligent, freedom-loving and rational as them. Indeed:
To deny men the basic right to live their lives as they please without being told how to live and what to do is to reject the basic premises of a free enterprise economic system- a system that seems completely chaotic on the surface, and yet is more efficient and generates capital and prosperity faster than anything else ever seen.
This argument will work on a rational, hard-working man. It's not going to work on a defective or degenerate who only cares about getting their EBT cards refilled at the end of the month. A flatter hierarchy can work in a society of philosopher-kings, but even the Spartans made separate rules for themselves and their slaves. Note that by his own examples of Spartan society, power was dispersed amongst a small subset of elites of a small subset of Spartan citizens compared to the masses of people they ruled over - essentially, aristocrats who provided countervailing power against the king, as opposed to "the people" or "the general will" of Robspirre.

This is what "rights" eventually get you in the end:

The main problem was an ongoing decline in the birthrate; a combination of euthanasing any child at birth that did not measure up to specified physical standards and the fact that Spartan women could choose who (or even if) they wanted to marry resulted in fewer and fewer adult males as the decades passed. 
As fewer adult males meant a smaller army, and Sparta's power was based on its military prowess, the army eventually became too small to effectively maintain Sparta's position as a major player in Greece.For example,at the battle of Leuctra (371 BC) only about 3000 of the 11,000 strong Spartan army were Spartiates, the remainder being helots promised freedom if they fought, and mercenaries.The Spartans were overwhelmed in the battle and suffered a severe defeat at the hands of the Thebans. 
By the battle of Mantinea (207 BC) the Spartan army only contained 1000 Spartiates, and suffered another crushing defeat, this time by the Achaean League.Further defeats at Messene (202 BC) and Tegea (201 BC) finished off Sparta as a military power for good.
Now, this is off the top of my head, and I might be wrong on this (don't have the sources on hand, alas), so Didact can correct me if I'm wrong. Perhaps one of the things Spartans believed was a "right" was the status of women in their society, who manned the estates and oversaw the helots so the men could better concentrate on war. No childbearing before age of 17, marriage based on the whims of romantic love, so on and so forth -

- The simple result was a declining birthrate, which was attempted to be remedied via various incentives for childbearing, much like the baby bonuses of Singapore and Australia today. Predictably, those failed, resulting in the Spartan army being undermanned and helots repeatedly trying to take their chance to revolt. Yet the Spartans could not revoke these "rights", because they were sacrosanct.

By the time the Spartans had realised their mistake, bit the bullet and stripped their women of the privileges that they had come to see as rights - what a shock that must have been! - the birthrate immediately jumped, but it was too late for them. This proud people was done for, crushed from without by their enemies, and from within by the Helots, at least in part because they could not revoke a "right" despite the obviously deleterious effects.

And that is why there are no rights, and they are amongst the stupidest ideas ever conceived. There are only what freedoms that you can defend or are given to you by society. One can certainly use "rights" to describe the freedoms and privileges which Spartan citizens enjoyed, but they do not fit our modern understanding of the term where they are available to all Just Because.

Now, I don't expect us to see eye to eye on all issues - as the saying goes, one of us would be unnecessary otherwise. Ultimately, that is why the concept of exit is so important to reactionaries - that Didact can have the society he envisions with people who think like him, and I can have the society I envision with people who think like me, and history will decide whose ideas merit consideration.

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