Author Archives: Nick

Optimism On The Fourth Of July

Or maybe just bloody-mindedness, who knows. Wrote this last year. Don’t think I can better it. And now (admittedly not that many) people actually read what I write. Slightly dated, the mood being heavily set by the then-recent Kelo decision. Still, much of it is more or less timeless.

A lot of conservative bloggers seem to be wearing black and mourning the death of America today. Truth be told, I was too as I went to bed last night, prepared to make a sob-filled eulogy to the dying ideal of the Land of the Free. But depression doesn’t come naturally to me…it usually transmutes itself to burning anger within a few hours. And that’s how I feel today: angry. Not just angry at the misguided people that undermine the constitution everyday in all three branches of the government. Not just angry with the idiots who shepherd them into office, chasing a dream of the European ideal…a land where they never figured out how not to be subjects. A land where what looks like milk and honey turns out to be nothing but whitewash and food coloring. But I’ve been angry with myself for getting depressed in the first place.

On this day a Call to Fight came from the colonial caucus, magnificently penned by Thomas Jefferson. 229 years later, it is still a call to fight, albeit against a far more insidious enemy. July 4th in 1776 was a challenge, to the maddened King George, and to the wave upon wave of red coats and muskets that would soon come by the boatload. On that day, our forefathers stood their ground and declared that no more would they be ruled in such an arbitrary manner, heads bowed to an authority that was scarcely their better.

Today our enemy comes from within, but, like those British soldiers, they are simply taking orders. Their orders come from their false education and indoctrination, and from their lack of introspection. Today we are called to arms, not to raise our swords upon the field of battle, but to raise our pens and our voices, to win possession not of bloody battlefields but of hearts and minds.

Heinlein, that preternaturally brilliant political commentator, remarked that a people who forget their history will have no future. And that is the very essence of the problem. We simply aren’t taught our history well enough. We learn dates, we learn places, and we learn names. But that’s the least important part of history. Way back when, it didn’t matter what day of the week or the month that Patrick Henry spoke his famous words. It doesn’t matter what the Federalist Papers were called, or even who wrote them. That Ben Franklin invented bifocals, are you serious?

The importance of our founding fathers lay in what they said and what they did. Of the lessons they imparted to posterity. Of the struggles they fought for 7 long years. Of the failure of the Articles of Confederation, and how from its ashes the Phoenix of the Constitution which arose with such glory no better governing document has been written. This is the history that’s important, and it is precisely this history that isn’t taught.

This country’s laws and institutions aren’t something to be discussed, agreed upon, and decided by Democrats and Repubicans. That was already done for us with the birth of the Constitution. Our framers were polymaths, accomplished economists, historians, and philosphers; The constitution is thus approximately as outdated as this post, possibly less. They were also some of the most paranoid and far-thinking individuals the world has ever seen. They created a document that had no need of changing with the times. A simple, profound document which gave us the basic ideals on which society should be built, and just how limited government should remain.

The Constitution should no more change with the times than the Bible, Buddha’s words, or Shakespeare. Our framers’ very intent was to create an ahistoric document. One that it doesn’t matter when you gave it a glance, the words are timeless. On the 150th anniversary of July 4th, Calvin Coolidge said as much about the Declaration (hat tip powerline ):

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.

Not progress, reactionary. These days no Republican is untainted by assault on certain principles of our founding document, but the entire ‘progressive’ movement is a reaction against the Constitution. They are not progressive, they are regressive. They are Statist. Individual liberty is not the goal, but individual comfort. By such stuff are subjects and sheep made. Their power lies in speaking to the fears and the emotions of their minions. That is not the life I want to live, to take counsel of my fears (to quote churchill) before deciding my course of action (except insects…i’m still afraid of insects) Our message is clear, it is invincible, the only thing that remains is to speak that message. To remind people of what it means to be American, to believe in freedom, and the sacrosanct individual. To remind them that the government is our plaything, not the other way around.

The Gadsden flag is flying today in my mind and in my heart. It neatly encapsulates everything our forebears stood for on the field of battle and in the composing of our great ideological foundation. Years ago it was flown by the most belligerent of Revolutionary War soldiers. Today, it’s resurrected, flown by one of the most belligerent classical liberals I know: me. They stood there ready to die for their cause.

No one will ask that of me, or of you; we have no excuse for walking out on this fight.

The events I’ve witnessed in recent years, the debates I’ve had with fellow students, the pure filth that comes out of so many politicians made me question whether America really was better than Europe. I dont know how the country got to that point, but no more. Melancholy has given way to the much more comfortable rage. Rage I can do, rage is familiar to me. I can do it all my life and not blink an eye. And you know what? I think I will. The statists fought a war of attrition for 200 long years, but their day ends now.

Why Any Rights At All?

Edit: I should point out that I’m a doofus. I didn’t intend to mischaracterize Francois’ position. Didn’t even mean to intimate that this was a direct response to his position. Just a general thingy on the problems I see with anarchy…and why I support the concept of negative rights. And, as a couple point out, I might be dead wrong in my characterization of anarcho-capitalism entirely.

There are many who claim not to see the difference between negative and positive rights. However, this isn’t a valid position to take given the extent of application of the positive/negative distinction. Far from being applicable solely to the rights of man, they find use in describing virtually every situation in which action is required. For instance, in Operant Conditioning, the terms positive and negative are used to denote different forms of reinforcement. Negative reinforcement isn’t punishment and positive reinforcement isn’t reward. Negative reinforcement is withholding or not using a stimulus (whether a reward or a punishment). Positive reinforcement is giving that stimulus to the subject (again, whether it’s a good or bad stimulus).

When it comes to rights, negative rights are quite simply those things you would have with no interference; Unless you murder me, I live. Unless you stop me, I’m free. Unless you take it, I have property. Unless you attempt to take it away from me, I have that right. Positive rights on the other hand are things you can only have with interference (again, ‘good’ or ‘bad’). A ‘right to a standard of living’ can only be maintained if those who don’t have that standard of living are given it by an outside source. This outside source is inevitably government. And said government works through taxation and regulation. You have a ‘right to a standard of living’, if I subsidize it. You have a ‘right to maternity leave’ if your employer concedes it. The difference can only be made up through the contribution of others. It is thus a ‘positive right’. And, because this ‘right’ can only be maintained through the coercion and loss of property of others, it is mutually exclusive to the maintenance of negative rights. The same is true for all ‘positive rights’. They thus result in a net loss of liberty.

But a man could ask why any rights at all?

Which is an exceedingly more difficult question. But one I’ll try to handle in the following post. As I’ve said, I’m a behavioral ecologist. And while I love monkeys, I also have a passion (if you couldn’t tell) is for philosophy. Particularly evolutionary epistemology and ethics. Evolutionary epistemology is comparatively easy to derive from first principles, and even easier to expound upon. Evolutionary ethics, on the other hand, is a huge mess. It is nearly impossible to derive a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ when all actions essentially derive from selfishness. We call the selfish but devoted father that is the Titi monkey ‘good’, while we call the infanticidal–but no more selfish–male Howler monkey ‘bad’. I still haven’t figured that problem out, and the manuscript still sits on the back burner more or less untouched, 2.5 years later.

The Problem
This basic problem of how to define ‘good’ without a clear universal is even more complex when it comes to political philosophy. The reason is because what at first looks like a simple problem is actually twofold:

1)Why are ‘negative rights’ good? Why are ‘positive rights’ bad?
2)Why any rights at all?

I’ve discussed Problem 1 at length both here and at my own blog. The major defect in ‘positive rights’ is that it posits the existence of ‘The People’ as a single entity, a collective. This differs from ‘the people’ as used by the Framers to denote a collection of individuals who share a common government. The idea of a collective, of group selection, has little or no basis in reality. It hasn’t been shown to exist. Rather, as outlined by Adam Smith and corroborated by two decades of economists, mathematicians, and behavioral ecologists progress and cooperation are simply epiphenomena relating to self interest. To quote Terry Pratchett:

‘I’m sure we can all pull together, sir.’

Lord Vetinari raised his eyebrows. ‘Oh I do hope not, I really do hope not. Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions.’ He smiled. ‘It’s the only way to make progress…’

Forcing humans into a collective goes against our very nature, which is why such coercive governments seldom last without the added coercion of lethal retaliation for disobedience. And why they inevitably succumb to stagnation.

The Solution
And in here we see a makeshift solution to the ‘good’/’bad’ problem: What were we built to do? How were we built to behave? What are the rules by which we function? And if the trend continued, how would things end up? In other words, if the models that behavioral ecologists and economists used were taken to their logical conclusion, what would we see?

With Problem 2 we run into greater difficulty. ‘Surely what we see in nature is anarchy,’ would inevitably be an anarchist’s reply. And in that no animal other than humans has a codified rule of law, he’d be right. Yet there are trends we can see within the animal kingdom, particularly among the most intelligent social mammals, that would seem to tend toward things that are too expensive to fight for.

The basic idea is that the ‘worth’ of an individual can be calculated in terms of the time and energy spent to create said being. An insect or a mantis shrimp doesn’t cost a whole lot to make. Neither does an egg-laying vertebrate like a fish or a frog or a snake. Small mammals aren’t much further up the scale. But as one goes up the scale in intelligence, sociality, longevity, and size, they get much more expensive and much more demanding very fast. Just for some perspective, while some rodents can produce up to 6 offspring every 3 weeks, you can only produce 2-4 wolves every two years in your average pack (which consists of several adults of both sexes). It takes a monkey anywhere from 2 to 6 years to achieve completion, a chimp or a gorilla up to a decade, and a human close to 18 years, with correspondingly lower interbirth intervals.

A mantis shrimp dying might only represent 50-100 calories lost. A chimpanzee on the other hand, would amount to literally anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of calories of lost investment if he died. Interestingly enough, the cost of producing an adult of a given species and the intensity, frequency, and lethality of fight situations within and between groups shows a pretty robust trend toward fewer and less intense fights the more expensive the individual. Fights to the death are not uncommon among invertebrates and ‘cheaper’ vertebrates such as the famed lethal dances of male hummingbirds. But amongst higher primate males (excluding humans), within-group lethality is such an uncommon occurrence that a simple description of the incident is often worth an entire scientific publication (in other words, pretty remarkable). Lethality between groups is likewise low, with Chimpanzees being the only other primate known to do so in a systematic manner. And even that is rare.

As might be predicted, the general trend we see, from ‘life’ on down through ‘property’, is that the higher the energetic worth of an animal, forcible coercion through violence drops lower and lower. Instead, the mere likelihood of retaliation is enough to convince the would-be aggressor not to bother. This is the basic principle behind Heinlein’s assertion that ‘an armed society is a polite society’.

This would seem to be an argument in support of the anarchist’s assertion that society will find order on its own anyway. But an important part of this understanding is that violence does happen. Animals’ ‘property’ (whether food or territory) is stolen. And females and males alike find themselves coerced by more dominant individuals on a regular basis.

Although the incidences of all of these would decrease relative to other animals in a human anarchistic society due to an increased fear (and cost) of retaliation, they would still exist. So what the anarchist asserts is that a basal level of murder, coercion, and theft is somehow ok. The depredations against others in an anarchy represent the background noise that proponents clearly ignore as mere stochastic effect. Which seems just a bit dismissive, if you ask me. And not all that different from the collectivist mentality of the leftist when you get down to it. Just as–according to the Supreme Court–the police are responsible for the protection of ‘the people’ but not a single individual, the anarchist is fine with a relatively low level of transgressions against man’s right to life, liberty, and property among ‘the people’ despite its continued occurrence amongst individuals. ‘As long as ‘the people’ are more or less free, who cares about a couple of them?’ is what they seem to say.

But more importantly, the anarchist imputes too much to statement that ‘All men are created equal.’ Even at birth, some are taller, some are heavier. Some are healthier, some are more alert. Should one strip away all of the material (environmental) differences, the genetic differences would still leave vasts gulfs between the most capable and the least. The anarchist’s basic argument of self order is dependent upon not only a level playing field but teams consisting of cloned players. While his assumptions hold basically true in the animal kingdom where the difference between the Alpha male and the lowest of the subordinate males doesn’t tend to be all that great, in a population as varied as humanity, the assumption doesn’t even begin to resemble reality. In such a system, where some are capable of greater acts of coercion than others, and where the threat of retaliation varies widely from almost none to almost infinite, a few will inevitably come to control the many. An oligarchy. History tells us much about these oligarchies, and about how noble, how meritocratic, how well-meaning they are in the beginning, such things will inevitably become mere tools for the ambitious, the greedy, the predators, to all the more easily take power with. And so tyrannies are born.

The anarchist turns a blind eye to the difference between the perfect world of their assumptions and the real world. The classical liberal merely acknowledges them. He sees that for society to remain free from tyranny, individuals must treat each other as if they were equal. It is not only the logical conclusion of the trend toward less and less coercive acts in the animal world, but also the only way to prevent tyranny. The young man must not kill the old one merely because the latter cannot protest. The man must not rape the woman merely because he can pin her. The strong must not take bread from the mouth of the weak merely because he can. Because eventually the young man will become a general, the man a police chief, the strong an iron-fisted dictator.


I saw this beautiful post by Individ about what patriotism really is. From what I gather, like me he’s a trained scientist, and that scientific background informs and strengthens his commitment to classical liberalism/libertarianism. Making him one of the handful of scientists able to apply their methods to political thought.

Anyway, I just had to riff off of it. Here’s a teaser:

But worst of all they try to tell us that rather than remaining true to being a country founded upon Freedom From Government, we should become a country that espouses ‘Freedom’ Through Government. They are not patriots, they do not think like Americans. Now, their heart might be in the right place, and in a couple of instances they might even have a point, but that doesn’t change the fact that what they believe in isn’t the America that men have fought and died from 1776 until today. They want to change every principle that defines our country as they vilify those of us who remain true to its ideals. If that’s love, I don’t want to see what hate looks like.

I would’ve just cross-posted it in full but I got all self conscious, being the new guy and all. I didn’t want to have 2 of the 3 newest posts and seem like I was trying to take over the place.

The Aristocracy Returned

You know, the first thing that went through my head when the news erupted with the William Jefferson mess was the bit in Animal Farm where the pigs learn to walk on their hind legs:

There was a deadly silence. Amazed, terrified, huddling together, the animals watched the long line of pigs march slowly round the yard. It was as though the world had turned upside-down. Then there came a moment when the first shock had worn off and when, in spite of everything — in spite of their terror of the dogs, and of the habit, developed through long years, of never complaining, never criticising, no matter what happened — they might have uttered some word of protest. But just at that moment, as though at a signal, all the sheep burst out into a tremendous bleating of —

‘Four legs good, two legs better! Four legs good, two legs better! Four legs good, two legs better!’

A representative is believed to be taking significant amounts of bribes. The FBI file a request for a warrant, they get the warrant. And then they find the evidence they expected to find all along. Some 90,000 dollars hidden in a freezer. A corrupt government official, a man who did not represent his constituency or the people of the united states, but merely his own pocketbook. Outrage, now one would definitely expect outrage over this. And indeed that’s what we saw, from both the people and the government.

What we couldn’t expect is that while our ire was (rightly) directed at Jefferson–and at corruption in the legislature at large–our supposedly representative officials had taken umbrage that one of their own was treated like an ordinary citizen. Note that, one of their own. They reacted not as stewards of our will and desire, but as people in power. A ruling class. As Hastert, Santorum, and Boehner raise their voices in objection, they also herald in all-too-certain terms that they see themselves as above us. I’m particularly upset about Boehner. The man certainly seemed to have integrity and be serious about reform. It’s why I gave my thumbs up to him way back in the day.

But I guess it should come as no surprise that the only time we ever seem to have bipartisan support for a bill is when it has to do with government privilege. Continued hidden earmarks? Pay raises? Perks? Immunity? Might as well send it to committee. But even when an overwhelming majority of American citizens support such things as a hardline stance on border control or a simplification of the tax code, nothing ever happens. Likely never will.

Of course, none of these observations or thoughts are anything particularly new. But it’s nice when something you’re fairly certain of is writ large for all to see. And as a behavioral ecologist, I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m not surprised at the fact that congress seeks to serve themselves. What I’m surprised by is how brazen they’ve gotten. To so openly declare that they should have immunity from the law, that they should be able to get away with taking a bribe in order to not do their job.

But more than that, that they would offer up such a pathetic justification as ‘separation of powers’. These people increase the scope of the federal government every day they’re in office: This, more than anything else, has become their job. More Federal money to their state, to the people who donate to them, to the people who bribe them. And considering they are the ones who vote on the budget and taxation, it’s not such a difficult thing to increase taxes so everyone (or at least the aristocrats) win.

Legislators see themselves as above us. They believe they shouldn’t be treated as ‘ordinary citizens’. And like the feudal lords of old, they see citizens as merely serfs. Sources of power and nothing more. Republican? Democrat? All the same. All power-mongers, all insincere, all parasites.

The moral of the story? I try to visit India every couple of years. The mosquitos down in the southern part are killer. Literally. So when I was a kid we used to use this extremely strong smell menthol-ish repellant. And it worked darned well. But if you missed a spot, you’d invariably be bitten, no matter how small the uncovered area was. Parasites are good at finding openings, and the more they find, the more they’ll take. A big government is like a bare spot the size of your back. Not the best idea. This recent mess has shown that whether we’re talking about a ‘selfeless’ Democratic or ‘small governemnt’ Republican elected official, what we really have is someone who will suck you dry given half the chance. So don’t give them that chance.

Government represents nothing more than the sovereignty that you surrender. The more power you give to others in the form of government, the more power they can use against you.

And I’ll end with another excerpt from Animal Farm:

But they had not gone twenty yards when they stopped short. An uproar of voices was coming from the farmhouse. They rushed back and looked through the window again. Yes, a violent quarrel was in progress. There were shoutings, bangings on the table, sharp suspicious glances, furious denials. The source of the trouble appeared to be that Napoleon and Mr. Pilkington had each played an ace of spades simultaneously.

Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

Just Call Me Token…

My Blog

I make it my business to understand what makes people tick. In high school, by virtue of being big, older-looking, and trustworthy, my peers laid upon me the mantle of lay psychologist. In undergrad, I studied the biology of the brain itself. And then on a lark I went off to england to get a master’s in human evolution and primate behavio(u)ral ecology. Now, at 22, I’m trying (mostly failing) to keep playing primatologist as I enter my second year of medical school, eventually to become a child and adolescent psychiatrist. Understanding a man’s political ideology is in many ways merely a matter of understanding his psychological mindset. Understanding the nuts and bolts of how a person interacts with and within a political system merely an extension of behavioral ecology (of which economics is a subfield).

I blog because I love to write and I love to think. I love writing about why I think the way I do (philosophy). I blog because I think I have an interesting take on the world, being a broadly educated guy who attempts to apply the lessons of evolution and ecology to human interaction. I blog because you can only have one (1.25 in my case) career, but you can have many interests. And, of course, I blog because it’s a good ego boost.

Words and Numbers. That’s how I see the world. Words are important, they define what we experience, they help us categorize and systematize it. They help turn the infinite complexity around us into an intelligible construct. And numbers. Whether Newton’s Theory of Universal Gravitation or the Laws of Supply and Demand, numbers are a powerful predictive force, even when it comes to understanding the choices that as complex a being as a human makes.

I call myself a classical liberal because I’m dissatisfied with both groups claiming to be the tradition’s ideological heirs. Libertarians deify self-interest in an almost Randian way while failing to acknowledge that the market has limitations. Progressives on the other hand, posit that freedom and comfort are interchangeable and close their eyes to the evidence that humans are and will always be self-interested. One group takes too superficial a view of a valid concept (the efficiency of the market). In addition to its oxymoronic motto of “greater freedom through increased regulation!”, the other posits a political system based upon assumptions known to be completely invalid (group selection). Both are childish.

As a classical liberal I believe government’s role should be minimal, to protect our inalienable rights and to intervene where self-interested individuals acting in a self-interested manner will fail to do what is necessary to preserve their rights and maintain their liberty(Tragedy of the Commons). It’s what Chris calls minarchy. The market isn’t perfect. If it was we wouldn’t need any government. I will from time to time talk about where government intrusion may be necessary (education for instance…although not as it is now), but I will never say the state intrusion is good, merely necessary. Just like an amputation that could save your life.

Oh. For those of you who don’t get the joke in the title, here you go. I’m not black, but I do own a few do-rags, can rap along with Twista and Busta when I feel like it, and…I can dance.

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