Quick Roundup 196

Monday, May 21, 2007

Just a Minute

Via Galileo Blogs, where GB cross-posts his own very good "The One Minute Case for Unrestrained Profit", a group blog based on an interesting concept has come to my attention: The One Minute Case... .

The One Minute Case is a new collaborative blog which will present a brief argument about a controversial issue that can be read in under a minute. The goal is to publish one case per day. You can read the cases to learn something new about an issue or use them as a source for longer arguments of your own.
Each one minute case has also so far included a short list of references appended to the end for further reading. Topics already covered by the new blog include Abortion Rights, the Case against Antitrust, Open Immigration, and Atheism.

As an aside, I laughed at this exchange between a Bible-thumper speaking up for his imaginary friend and the blog's administrator after the entry on abortion rights. The reply starts off with,"The Christian God is NOT pro life", and just gets better and better. It had never occurred to me that the Bible could be such an effective way to slap down insolent fundies, when wielded by a thinking man! As Johnny Carson would have said, "I did not know that!"

Darwin's Letters on Line

Adrian Hester emailed me last week with the following interesting news:
The Darwin Correspondence project has existed offline since 1974. It has so far published 15 volumes of the scientist's letters as books.

An agreement with the publisher of the books means the new website will offer digitised versions of the texts freely available to anyone four years behind the hard copies.

Nearly 5,000 pieces of correspondence will be fully searchable when the site launches on Thursday 17 May. [link added]
The site complements Darwin Online, which is in the process of posting Darwin's complete works -- minus his correspondence -- to the Internet.

Related: I haven't seen it all yet, but Michael Caution recently posted a video (with his commentary) of Brown University professor Kenneth Miller demolishing the notion of Intelligent Design Creationism.

Socialism, not immigration, is the problem.

Mark Steyn echoes a point about the immigration debate that I have made here and here, among other places. As quoted by Glenn Reynolds:
[I]f you wanted to construct the perfect arrangement for modern life, it would be to acquire:

a) just enough of an official identity to be able to function - open bank accounts, etc - and to access free education and health care; but

b) not enough of an official identity to attract the attentions of the IRS and the other less bountiful agencies of the state.

The present "undocumented" network structures provide this. For these Z visas to "work" (in Washington terms), they have to be attractive enough to draw sufficient numbers out of "the shadows". Right now, "living in the shadows" is a pretty good deal. Somerset Maugham famously called Monte Carlo a sunny place full of shady people. Undocumented America is a shady place full of sunny people.

Instead of attempting to draw the undocumented out of the shadows, it might be fairer to allow the rest of us to "live in the shadows", too. My suggestion is that, on the day this bill comes into effect, all 300 million US citizens and legal residents should apply for a Z visa.
I agree, except that if we were to do this at all, it should be not as a protest against illegal immigration, but against the welfare state, which is making the lives of all but the illegal immigrants difficult, and without which many of the problems associated with illegal immigration would cease to exist.

Giggle Maps?

If you want to find out how to get from New York to Paris in just shy of 30 days, just consult Google Maps! (HT: Adrian Hester)

Those Clueless Libertarians

Had I been pressed for time, I could have posted a decent roundup based solely on recent email from my good friend, Adrian Hester.

He also sent me to a link where a Libertarian demonstrates a total misunderstanding of the nature of rights in general and intellectual property rights in particular. I'll let Hester sum up the article:
[C]heck out this bone-headed libertarian arguing that plagiarism in the public schools should not be considered fraud or a violation of any honor codes since the children are forced to be there and are not getting paid for their work and so on. Oh yeah, and intellectual property doesn't exist since the author still has his words even after they've been stolen by the plagiarizing punks.
Where to begin? By Daniel Macintyre's own arguments:
  1. A murder committed in prison wouldn't be a murder since the inmates were forced to be there and they can always claim to be trying to "subvert a coercive authority".
  2. Any attempt to discipline children (i.e., coerce or threaten them for not doing something) at all is contrary to the requirements of a free society.
  3. The concept of property applies only to tangible goods.
The common denominator behind all these errors is the failure to realize that the concept of "rights" stems from man's nature as a rational animal, his need to use his mind in order to survive, and the fact that the primary threat to his doing so stems from threats initiated by other men. Using force in retaliation to threats (which is what a proper government does) is good because it protects individual rights.

Thus, to quickly rebut the above three egregious errors:
  1. To voluntarily initiate force against another person is a crime. Being forced to be somewhere is not the same as being forced to commit a crime.
  2. Children have not yet fully developed the capability to think rationally and so have more limited rights than adults. Forcing them to do things for their own good is an integral part of helping them become rational adults. In fact, failing to do so can even result in their violating the rights of others (as by plagiarism). Viewed in the latter context, it can be seen that failing to control children is at least as much a threat to the rights of others as failing to control an animal one owns, and for many of the same reasons.
  3. The expression in language of the fruits of one's intellectual efforts is not identical with the intellectual effort itself, but it can transmit the fruits of that effort to others, sparing them from making such efforts. To use a more concrete analogy: If I take money from a rich physician, I haven't made him unable to make a living. So, since I just took his money, and he still has his skills, I haven't "stolen" from him, right? Wrong!
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is part of why I make damn sure that people never mistake me for a Libertarian.

-- CAV


: Minor editorial changes.


Jim May said...

It had never occurred to me that the Bible could be such an effective way to slap down insolent fundies, when wielded by a thinking man!

I was just thinking to myself on the way home last night... a decent knowledge of a particular religion's holy books can give a rational man quite the wildcard in debates. I remember scaring the, um, bejesus out of one of them by pointing out that in Genesis (NIV Bible), man was created before the animals, not after as many seem to think. He was unpleasantly surprised by the fact that I had such familiarity with the Bible... it limits the tricks he can pull.

Then I thought, how much more dangerous would an Objectivist be with a degree in theology? The irony of a atheist theologian aside, I wonder whether the credibility on the topic of religion conferred by the diploma would make such a person a very effective critic of religion.

Gus Van Horn said...

What you will get by being able to quote things chapter and verse from the Bible is the ability to more easily make a fool out of a 'thumper and the ability to throw one off-balance psychologically from time to time. The former is more valuable as it can make rational people who witness the debate think more about your point of view.

However, the value of each of these advantages is limited by the fact that ultimately, the problem is that people are willing to accept things on faith, even in the face of evidence and logic. Thus after a brief moment of shock or perhaps even insight, a truly religious person will blank out again, and especially so if he knows you're an atheist. He will perhaps twist what you said to mean something else (to his satisfaction), manufacture a reason why you're "wrong" in how you've read the scriptures, or even simply evade what you just said.

(And in the context of more rational people, you will still, sooner or later, have to demonstrate to them on some level why just taking things on faith is harmful to them....)

Furthermore, I seriously doubt an atheist theologian would really have that much (if any) added credibility than a devout one. This is partly for the same reasons as above, and partly for the same reason that an Objectivist tax attorney would have little more credibility in arguing against taxation than a professional Objectivist intellectual. Namely: What will intimate familiarity with something that is evil in principle do to add to the basic argument that that "something" should be opposed?

(And on that score, I have entertained further thoughts about what such vocations would be like for Objectivists before!)

Anonymous said...

Hi Gus, thanks for the link. I made a quick response to them here and just figure the polite thing to do would be to notify you. Feel free to make any comments you wish!

Oh, I continued my rationale against plagiarism here - in case you were interested.

Gus Van Horn said...

Sorry Daniel, but I am afraid I read your post, which you titled "Defense of Plagiarism" correctly the first time.

Simply calling my arguments "straw men" does not make it so.

Your rebuttal, in fact, reinforces my point, which is that you do not understand the basis for the concept of "rights" (or, for that matter, the noninitiation of force principle): "One of the main theses of my argument was that plagiarism was NOT an act of aggression and therefore could not rightly be banned from the starting point of natural rights."

You then claim, AGAIN, that if someone steals the "words" of another, nothing has been lost since the victim can just repeat himself.

But property rights stem from man's nature as a rational animal and the fact that other men can, by initiating force against him (or threatening to), deprive him of the life-giving fruits of his intellectual effort. Let's quickly see how this is true for plagiarism....

What has been stolen from the original author is at least some portion of the time he spent on original thought in the form of whatever he could have charged the thief (and anyone who paid the thief for these "words"). (This, by the way, validates the physician analogy that seems to have gone over your head.) Yes. He can say his words again, but suddenly he has lost possible income because others did not have to learn the ideas conveyed by those words from him.

You end your post with a reading recommendation, so that is how I will end my reply. Consider obtaining a copy of Peter Schwartz's Libertarianism: The Perversion of Liberty. He does a far more thorough job of showing what is wrong with the entire Libertarian approach.