Reductio ad absurdum of welfare

A central Leftist belief is that it is not just to simply leave another person alone, but rather that justice in some circumstances requires a person to actively help another.

That is not an unreasonable principle. For a concentration of people to live in proximity, it is necessary for some forms of positive right to be respected.

But they do insist on taking it to the absurd.

Greeks cannot get money from the banks, because the banks are closed. The banks are closed because they do not have any money. They do not have any money because the ECB (“The Germans”, if you like), have stopped giving them any. The left are describing this situation—Germany not giving Greek banks any more money—as an attack on Greece. By not giving Greece money, Germany is overruling Greek democracy. It is imposing austerity.

You can make a case that if the wealthy of Britain, say, are not paying taxes to fund various generous services and subsidies to the poor of Britain, they are in some way depriving their neighbours and countrymen of something they are entitled to. To be a property-owner within a stable society, arguably, implies duties to that society. It’s hard to see where to draw the line, but it’s not outrageous.

But to posit in the same way, that the people of Germany have the moral duty to fund the people of Greece to live a first-world lifestyle in a third-world economy, is just baseless. They are not fellow-countrymen. They are not neighbours. They do not share a common inheritance from a community of ancestors. Even descending into the swamps of democratic theory, German taxpayers do not get to vote for the Greek government. It’s just blatantly insane. There is no starting point for an argument to begin to work towards that conclusion.

By making or supporting that claim, leftists are undermining their more supportable claims for egalitarian policies within societies. If they can argue for Germans to subsidise Greeks, then there is no conceivable limit to the level of charity they will consider a moral necessity. Therefore whatever level they do argue for must be opposed; since they clearly cannot themselves limit their demands, their demands must be limited for them.

Professional Begging

From @edwest :

Police survey finds just one in 10 beggars are homeless

Officers in Nottingham say some of those supposedly living on the streets own their own homes

Now, we should be cautious of this survey: 52 beggars in one possibly-atypical English city.

But if its findings are general, it’s quite an alarming fact. The question of how many beggars are genuinely needy has been a live one since at least ’91 (that’s 1891). But half being homeowners is not what many of us would have guessed.

This issue is a miniature example of the problems of liberal social policy. Because, even if the survey is correct, there are really people in genuine need, homeless and depending on the generosity of passers-by.

However, the simple solution, of giving beggars money as you pass by, just doesn’t work. The people who get the money will largely not be those that need it, but those who are most adept at appearing to need it. By giving money to beggars, you are displacing those that you want to help, pulling in others, even some with their own homes and the ability to do useful work.

And yet, if nobody does anything, the only people on the street will be those with genuinely nothing else to do.

It isn’t just welfare payments (informal by handing out money in the street, or formal through a state benefits system) that have this effect.

In Mary Nichols’ time, there were many women who were trapped in marriages with abusive husbands. The reforms that Nichols and her successors advocated and implemented make it very easy for a wife to escape a marriage.

What is the result? It is not that those women escape their marriages, and everyone in a happy marriage is unaffected. It is that marriage has almost totally broken down, to the point that at least a quarter of people don’t even bother with it. Of those that do, a minority are actually lifelong, because marriage no longer means what it used to. Of those marriages that do last, even they are not the same, because couples lose the assurance that they are in a permanent situation, with the psychological comfort that that provides. And with all that, there are still women trapped in abusive relationships. Those most in need of the benefits of reform are least capable of taking advantage of it.

The beneficial effect of the reform occurs immediately, but the knock-on reshaping of society takes generations. By the time the damage has outweighed the benefit, people are no longer aware of what they have lost.

This same pattern occurs time and time again: from central banks preventing crashes, to health and safety regulations keeping children away from dangers.

It doesn’t follow that when we see something bad, we must assume that whatever we do will make it worse. But any kind of reform would need to be cautious, experimental, and pinned to a statement of what it must not be allowed to sacrifice. There should be a finger on the “revert” button.

A Slice of 1850s Boston

I tweeted this the other day (can’t remember where I saw it), from The Paris Review

Thomas Nichols was born in New Hampshire in 1815 of old New England stock—his father was a militiaman in the War of 1812 and his grandfather fought for the rebels in the Revolutionary War.

As a medical student at Dartmouth he attended a lecture on vegetarianism by the influential health reformer Sylvester Graham.

He married Mary Gove in 1848, presided over by a Swedenborgian minister.

Free-love doctrine rested on the belief that no one can honestly vow to love another person forever; once love is lost, a partner is free to pursue their “passional affinities” and find romantic love elsewhere.

Thomas returned to medical school at New York University and graduated in 1850; he and his wife began to promote water-cure doctrines around New York City and launched the Water-Cure Journal, which amassed twenty thousand subscribers. The following year, the couple established the nation’s first school devoted to the principles of water-cure. They hoped to develop the Hydropathic Institute into a “School for Life,” which would act as the movement’s hub and graduate reformists who would lead the communitarian effort to reconstruct society.

Two years later, they relocated the school, which was increasingly popular, to Port Chester, New York, inviting all those “willing to be considered licentious by the world” to join them.

Local outcry swelled, and the school didn’t last long. The Nicholses decamped to Long Island in 1852; they took over Modern Times, an existing utopian community, but doctrinarian and monetary conflicts ensured its brisk demise.

Cincinnati was the next stop, followed by Yellow Springs, Ohio, where they established another water-cure institute in 1856 with some 500 followers. It was formally dedicated on April 7, Charles Fourier’s birthday, under a banner that read “Freedom, Fraternity, Chastity.”

The couple wrote “Marriage: Its History, Character and Results” in 1854.

“Everybody knows the evils of marriage institution, but like disease and death they are regarded as inevitable,”

Throughout her life, Mary had turned to the spirit world for guidance on philosophical and social matters. During a séance in Yellow Springs in early 1857, St. Ignatius of Loyola appeared to her and directed her to study the history of the Jesuits, prompting the couple to convert to Catholicism. The announcement of their sudden conversion was met with stunned surprise by their followers and incredulity by their detractors. Had Mary finally cracked under the relentless public assault? Regardless of the motivations, they improbably remained Catholics for the rest of their lives, continuing to pursue much of their old work, now stripped of free-love doctrine.

There are copies of The Water-Cure Journal online at An extract:

From the Report of the Committee of the American Hygenic and Hydropathic Association of Physicians and Surgeons (Chairman Roland S. Houghton, M.D.) July 1851

The most important sanitary measure ever adopted in England was the “Act for the Registration of Births, Marriages, and Deaths, in England and Wales,” which  went into operation on the 1st of July, 1837. This act was brought into  Parliament by Lord John Russell, and supported by Lord Morpeth (now Earl of Carlisle), the late Sir Robert Peel, and other distinguished members. Under the operation of the system which this act established, “a mass of statistics, relating to life, health, and disease, has been accumulating, which will exert, and is exerting, an immensely beneficial influence upon the physical and moral welfare of the population.”

What do I draw out of this rambling little story?(everything above, other than the extract from the Water-Cure Journal, is quoted from the Paris Review piece, though I’ve rearranged bits into chronological order)

First and least importantly, there is the amusing story of the woman who declares permanent marriage vows to be a great evil when she is trying to persuade a second man to take her on after divorcing her first husband, and then converts to Catholicism when she sees holding on to her second husband to be her main priority.

Second, that of course the concept of free love, of destroying the social institutions of European civilisation, did not originate in California in the 1960s. It was going around for more than a century before then.

Third, that alongside the radical element of New England reformism, there is the administrator, or “Man of System.” Gathering population statistics is “the most important sanitary measure ever adopted in England”. This anticipation of the modern omnipresent bureaucratic oversight existed alongside the fashions of feminism, vegetarianism, free love and innovative health practices.

They’re not necessarily quite the same people. Roland Houghton, M.D., who wrote so sensibly about urban public health, was quite likely not keen on Mary Gove Nichols’ idea of marriage. But the Nichols were chased out of towns because they went too far, not because they were going in the wrong  direction. More importantly, the likes of Nichols and the likes of Houghton moved in the same circles—the Water-Cure Journal and so on. The two arms of the modern left—the radical and the scientific—were together, in Boston, in 1851.

Discussion on Hacker News

My post A Strange Loop appeared on Hacker News, and some comments were posted in the few minutes before it was inevitably censored.

I can’t add comments, possibly because the post itself has been [flagged], possibly because I only created my HN account after it was posted, I’m not sure. But a couple of the comments are worth addressing.

In order,

I wondered when this nonsense would show up here, and indeed am utterly unsurprised to see an article spinning conspiracy out of the disinvitation of a virulent racist and fascist popping up at #1.

For a less sensationalized counterpoint, try this:’t-censorship-be-exciting….

jarcane cites Alex Payne as a “less sensationalized counterpoint”

Alex Payne is a socialist activist.

After several years as an enthusiastic reader and supporter, it’s my pleasure to announce that I’m joining the Jacobin advisory board.

Jacobin describes itself as “a leading voice of the American left, offering socialist perspectives on politics, economics, and culture.”

Regardless of the merits of socialism or neoreaction, even bringing him into the discussion does nothing but strengthen my argument.

Do we really need this kind of culture war nonsense? I don’t agree with anyone being barred from speaking at technical conferences for their political views, but then bringing Steve Klabnik’s politics into it doesn’t feel like a classy move either

I think you don’t need it. But now you’ve got it, and the point of the article was to explain how and why. Since Steve Klabnik put pressure on Miller to bring Yarvin’s politics into the conference, bringing in his has to be relevant.

gaoshan 53 minutes ago [excerpted]

The author clearly has a curiously well defined political ax to grind but to conflate the issue of this speaker being banned with what looks like a 1950’s style anti-communist fetish is bizarre….

As someone who has attended the conference in the past and who is diametrically opposed with the political views of the extreme right (being a moderate, normal, person), I don’t have a problem with someone like Yarvin speaking about tech at the conference.

Well, as Moldbug pointed out, at the height of the 1950’s anti-communist fetish, being a right-wing extremist in America was still much less acceptable than being a communist.

You don’t have a problem hearing about Urbit, but various other people, some of whom identify themselves as socialists or Marxists, such as Klabnik or Payne, have a great problem. If it’s not because of their left-wing politics, then why do they not agree with “a moderate, normal person” like you? If it is because of their left-wing politics, isn’t that an interesting fact?

The Case for Ad Hominem

This is a postscript to A Strange Loop.

What I want to emphasise, more than before, is the reasonableness of the complaints about sexism in technology that gave the blacklisters their foot in the door.

It would be easy to think, that because I’ve been critical of the social effects of women working on equal terms with men, that I would be in favour of maintaining hostility to women in technology, as a means of moving society towards Patriarchy, which I support. It rather looks like I’m doing exactly what I accuse leftists of doing, and lying about my true motives.

That’s not actually true. I am opposed to women in the workplace on equal terms with men, and I ought to have made that clear. But the vast majority of working women work in areas that are in no way as male-dominated as information technology. The idea that being offensive to women technologists is a step on the road to restoring patriarchy is a complete non-starter.

It does mean that I would not accept arguments that sexism in technology is infringing the “rights” of women to equal treatment in the workplace. But I think I made my opinion of rights arguments fairly clear in the piece.

In fact, as a working technologist, I have a small number of female colleagues, and I have no wish to drive them out or disadvantage them in the name of incremental social change. All the working female computer programmers in the country would not make much impact on fertility if they were to go home and make babies. Incremental social change is not an option for the right; any actual social change of the sort we wish for is likely to be cataclysmic in nature.

Also, just to be absolutely clear on this, I do not hate them. I personally like having females around as colleagues, particularly if they’re pretty. That is no doubt a “sexist” attitude, but it is not motivating my view of the culture war in technology. Leftists love to talk about hatred. They will resort to it at the drop of a hat, to avoid addressing contrary arguments on their merits. If you want to reduce welfare benefits, you hate the poor. If you want more women to have families, you hate women. If you notice differences between races, you hate all races but your own. And, as they have themselves demonstrated in the way they talk about Curtis Yarvin, it is quite possible to internalise a political position emotionally to the point that it resembles hatred. But we neoreactionaries are a very cerebral bunch (much to the disgust of others in the alternative right). We are, far more than most other groups, able to separate our theoretical positions from our personal relations, though the question is sometimes raised as to whether this is a bad practice. (There was a considerable flap when Justine Tunney entered our forums with sympathetic ideas, and the predominant, but by no means unanimous, attitude was to interact with her and her ideas politely, and put aside the widespread view that “transsexualism” is a mental illness).

Certainly the only hatred visible in the Strangeloop controversy is coming from leftist agitators who have raised their disagreement with traditionalist political ideas to the level of hatred of those who advance them.

The reason I did not refer to my support for patriarchy when talking about the question of women in technology is that it never struck me as relevant. If my pro-patriarchy position were grounded in hatred of women, it obviously would be highly relevant to the question of women in technology, but again, that never occurred to me. I want a future where most women marry once and have children, in part because I think that would make them happy. I would, as I wrote recently, also like women to be involved in the economy sufficiently to engage their need for fulfilling work, though this is tricky to square with the modern workplace. I hope for better solutions to that than those I have so far advanced. I do not expect to easily convert new readers to my pro-patriarchy viewpoint, but I think they ought to recognise that, even if it is wrong, it is not motivated by hatred.

It is true that I have written previously that women need to be kept out of technology to save technology, but that is essentially the same argument that I made in A Strange Loop: that the culture war is now on and as such it tends to make women in technology into the enemy of technology (sometimes against their will). If there were no culture war, that argument would vanish.

The point of this is that I believe that the argument “You shouldn’t make sex jokes at technology conferences because that will drive women out” is fundamentally a sound and good argument. It is obvious, it is fine, I accept it as an argument. The reason the argument should have been rejected from the beginning is not that it is a bad argument, it is that those spearheading it had a different, hidden agenda of introducing political blacklisting into technology, one which now is beginning to bear fruit.

What do you do if a good argument is put forward in bad faith? Within a community, you have to reject it. That is because the standards of discussion in the community assume common goals and good faith, and those with divergent goals and bad faith will take advantage of the assumptions to achieve far greater change than they otherwise would be able to. In a venue acknowledged to be hostile—a political forum, the same does not apply. A politician is not blindly trusted, but a member of a goal-oriented community like the software industry more or less is.

The other path is the one Alex Miller feared and tried to avoid, which is to acknowledge that the community is in fact a hostile, or political, venue. That is what has happened to the gaming community, for example. There are obviously parallels between that and what is going on in software, but as I haven’t really played any games made this century, I’m not well placed to discuss them.

My conclusion, made to political neutrals in communities affected by politics, is that you need to be extremely distrustful of people who come into your community and attempt to change it, who have any kind of political loyalty. I offer this advice in good faith, though I have a political agenda of my own. You should be suspicious of my advice because of my political agenda. (And if you are, then you are following my advice). But unlike leftists, I have nothing to offer but the truth—that is why I have gone to the length of writing this second post on the subject, to point out that I actually am what today is called “sexist”, and to explain that that is not the motivation behind my advice, though at a glance it might seem probable that it would be.

[Nobody has yet objected to my previous post pointing out that I was concealing my support for patriarchy. That can only be because nobody has read it with a sufficiently critical attitude, so this is in a sense a reply to criticisms that have not yet been made but should have been]


A Strange Loop

Curtis Yarvin’s presentation at the Strange Loop technology conference in St Louis has been pulled, because of objections to Yarvin’s previous political writing, up to 2013, under the name Mencius Moldbug.

So what? The conference is the property of its organisers, who can invite and uninvite whomever they like. It is not, fundamentally, any serious issue that they happen not to like Yarvin.

There are some interesting points to be teased out of the affair, however, mostly about culture and about truth.

It will probably be necessary, in order to avoid confusion, to dispose of some distracting non-arguments.

This is nothing to do with “free speech”, whatever that is supposed to be. Freedoms are nice, and I value them, but none of them are absolute, none of them have intrinsic moral force. Yarvin, as Moldbug, argued for the overthrow of his country’s government. As it happens, that government is explicitly founded on the principle that people should be allowed to argue that, so it lets him do so. It seems a very questionable principle to attempt to govern by, but the issue in any case is between it and him, and none of my business. So much for “free speech”.

The matter is not about rights or freedoms. It is about politics. The statement made by Alex Miller, organiser of the conference, said

A large number of current and former speakers and attendees contacted me to say that they found Curtis’s writings objectionable. I have not personally read them.  I am trying to create a conference where the focus is on the technology and the topics being presented. Ultimately, I decided that if Curtis was part of the program, his mere inclusion and/or presence would overshadow the content of his talk and become the focus. This would not serve the conference, the other speakers, the attendees, or even Curtis.

What is important about all this is the “large number of current and former speakers and attendees”. They objected, not to hearing about Moldbug’s ideas (Yarvin has never presented them under his real name, so there would be no possibility of that), but to Yarvin’s being considered an acceptable person to have any kind of contact with at all. To them, it is an absolute requirement that anyone who utters opinions they consider unacceptable must be excluded from their society. It is a matter, initially of political tactics, but internalised to the point of being an emotional disgust reaction. They “would not feel comfortable” being forced to treat him as a respectable human being.

As a matter of tactics, this is perfectly reasonable. After all, the people we are talking about are communists.

Yes, really. A few of them actually identify as Marxists, but that is extra. If, one day in the future, neoreactionaries ran the world, the ideas we are arguing for would not be known as neoreactionary ideas. They would just be normal. If we succeeded to the extent that most of our ideas had become widely accepted, but one or two hadn’t, then those who believed in the widely accepted ideas would not be regarded as neoreactionaries. They might even be seen as opponents of neoreactionaries, if that remained the label for those still pushing the few still non-widely-accepted ideas.

But, from our point of view here, all these people believing, like everyone around them, that sovereignty must be concentrated and tightly defined, that nobody should have influence over government who wasn’t officially part of government, and the rest of it would be neoreactionaries. Similarly, today, with the exception of a few points of economics, the ideas that almost everyone in communion with Harvard University believes are communist ideas, and would have been labelled as such even fifty years ago.

It is, as I said, perfectly reasonable for communists to employ this tactic to reduce the influence of their political enemies in society. It is pointless to complain about it. The thing to complain about them is that they are communists, and communism is wrong and harmful. But that’s a long argument.

Miller’s statement does not, however, give us the impression that he is motivated by communism. He seems to go out of his way not to make any political judgement at all. All he says is that he wants to do technology, not politics, and if having Yarvin speak would mean politics, then no Yarvin.

I have no complaint about communists using blacklisting tactics against their enemies, and I have no complaint about Miller trying to do technology instead of politics. What, then, is there to complain about?

Nothing. But I do have some observations to make, about lies. Where things were done wrong was not Strange Loop 2015, but about PyCon 2013. That was no doubt part of a larger pattern, but it is the place to focus.

PyCon 2013 was of course the venue for DongleGate. The accusations and responses over Urbit, Moldbug and Strange Loop are all quite beside the point, and can be harmlessly ignored, but I urge everyone to read about DongleGate. Ars Technica has a fairly careful overview, and Wired one giving a wider view of the cultural conflict involved.

The hard core of the tech industry—people like Alex Miller—might not be too bothered by what a programmer blogs about off hours under another name, but they were much more concerned about “inappropriate sexual behaviour at the conference“.

That is understandable. The claim that was made was that women would not be able to get into technology because the environment was hostile to them. By removing this hostility, women (and others) who would otherwise be kept out of the industry and out of conferences, would be able to participate and contribute. Conferences, and technology, would be better.

The claim was made.

In a blog post explaining the story in her own words, Richards wrote about how, over the course of the jokes, she moved from “I was going to let it go” to “I realized I had to do something.” The moment of decision came after seeing a picture of a young girl on the main stage who had attended a Young Coders workshop. “She would never have the chance to learn and love programming,” Richards wrote, “because the ass clowns behind me would make it impossible for her to do so.”

Ken Fisher at Ars says, “Clearly, this is hyperbole.” He is mistaken. It was not hyperbole, it was a lie.

Why was Adria Richards lying? Because that’s her job. As some guy wrote, “It’s a mistake to think these people have opinions. They have careers.” Her career was to go around technology events, and fuck them up in the name of women’s access.

Why? Whatever is the point of that? The point of that is to create a line of control from political activists to industry. Because of Adria Richards, and the many like her before and since, everyone in the technology industry knows that they cannot afford to upset far-left activists. They only succeeded in this, though, because people like Alex Miller believed their lies—that these misdemeanours against political correctness, such as making similar jokes to those aired in Superbowl commercials, are responsible for a 5:1 male–female ratio or whatever in technology. They let the political activists into the decision-making process on the promise that that would get them more and better technology. Today, we see that the motivation of the activists is not more and better technology, it is the capability to blacklist their political enemies.

I do not criticise their tactics, but I expose their lies.

Finally, I refer back to my first blog post, on Progressivism, Reaction and Symmetry. Because Yarvin is only the beginning. Of course, as Moldbug, he really is an extremist. Not all that many technologists are actual supporters of bringing back monarchy and give consideration to the merits of slavery. And most of us are more careful than Moldbug was when he started leaking Yarvin’s tech ideas into his political blog. The purpose of blackballing Yarvin is not merely to hurt one fairly harmless reactionary (I say harmless because Moldbug explicitly endorses passivism, staying out of conflict with the current order until it destroys itself). The purpose is to create a hostile environment for conservatives.  Now it is established that spare-time right-wing politicial opinions can get you blackballed, the criteria for exclusion will inevitably become broader. Once conservatives are knocked out, moderates will be turned on.

Again, tactics. No complaints from me, I’m a political extremist myself. But neutral parties might want to consider what future they want for technology.

What should have happened was the activists being told to get lost five years ago, when the “inclusiveness” crusade began. Neutral technologists, if they knew then what they will know eventually, would have done that. But they believed the lies. As a result, they now have negligibly greater contributions from “the oppressed”, but they are losing out on contributions from conservatives—extreme conservatives now, but moderate conservatives later. In the end they will have nothing.

We don’t lie. Not because it is an unfair tactic, but because it doesn’t work for us. Our whole political platform consists of seeing the world for what it is. Our aim is a society where government does not control what people believe, because it doesn’t need to. Where “they say what they want, and I do what I want”—separation of information apparatus and state. We do not want to fight a culture war with the communists, because fighting it would necessarily turn us into a copy of them. Let them turn technology, and the rest of society, into an intellectual wasteland of Lysenkoism and let it collapse under its own insanity—then those who have read our works will see what they should have done and what they need to do. Only the truth can serve us.

ObMoldbug: Mr Jones is rather concerned

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Discussion on Hacker News