Monday, March 26, 2012

Tricky thing called "democracy"

Before I start, I’d like to note that this argument does not touch the morality of government in general or the religious appropriateness of having an Israeli (secular) state. It simply touches the question of peace and preserving Jewish lives, prosperity, and tranquility in the region.

Yungerman in Lubavitch posted the following video on Facebook:

So, it’s nice that Rick Santorum recognizes Israel’s rights to keep its "honestly" conquered lands, right? Let’s say that I don’t have a problem with that (within the realm of something called "international law", something whose legitimacy I am not sure I recognize fully, but that’s another issue). I am not actually sure, because I haven’t really thought about it for a long time. The logical nature of this principle evades me (why shouldn’t the defending state give the attacking state’s land back, with the attacking state paying reparations for the attack?.. of course, if the attacking state refuses, the defending state can keep whatever portion of the land is equivalent to the reparations). But then, most logical arguments about "states’ rights" evade me. So, as I said, let’s say I don’t have a problem with the concept of keeping the territory conquered in self-defense.

The problem is that, as everyone knows, Israel is not interested in making the presumed "Israelis" (as Santorum called them) that live in Gaza and West Bank into Israeli citizens because of a tricky thing called "democracy" and "abuse of minority at the hands of majority" — something which, incidentally, Rick Santorum is a fan of himself. That is why many Israelis themselves claim that they support the idea of a two-state solution to the crisis.

Also, the problem with what he is saying is that while US should not have to give Texas back to Mexico, if Texans wanted to have their own country (or go back to being Mexicans), US should allow it to happen, since whatever presumed "implicit contract" might have existed between the people and the government is broken as soon as the people want to be rid of the government. Therefore, after the contract is broken, the government is no longer "representing", but is simply occupying the land and its people in a state of tyrannic aggression. Americans did fight a War of Independence against a country which they were presumably citizens of, didn’t they?.

I think West Bank/Gaza, as well as Northern Ireland, as well as many other places on Earth are good examples of how a region could benefit from anarcho-capitalist (or voluntarist) society. A "No-State" solution: a lot of private companies, paid for by private citizens, ensuring safety and law in the land. The companies can have only Jews, Jews and Arabs, only Arabs, etc., as their clients and can negotiate between each other a state of peaceful coexistence. This would also require the land to be privatized — something that would solve many other problems. Jews could still have their "government" — i.e., a set of private protection and legislative companies that favored Jewish interests in the area (and had a lot of guns, a lot of money coming from Jews in the region and throughout the world, and a lot of negotiating power).

In this case, negotiation between companies may be quite tricky, and I do not think that a military conflict could always be avoided, at least at first. But the region is already in a semi-constant state of military conflict! How much worse could it get?

Plus, the companies would compete with each other for quality of service. Today you have a monopoly in the form of Israeli Army, which, frankly, we have no idea how effective it is. It’s more effective than its Arab colleagues, but so what? It’s also more effective than Eskimos. We are talking about the effectiveness using the same people, same technology, same place and time. Different managers, different business strategies (which, in war today, include things like effectiveness of defense, best management of resources, human and material, and as little as possible casualty to non-combatant civilians for humanitarian and PC purposes).

The same goes for Israeli legislature. Or, basically, any other monopoly in Israeli society. I would say most ills of the Israeli society today that I know of (besides rudeness) come from the existence of the state and a monopolizing government.

Note that I am not saying that Jews would be better off living under another state. It might be that Israeli State is the best slave-master/overseer that Jews in the region can expect under the current conditions. But why have a slave-master at all?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Natural right to medical treatment?

From a response to my friend, The Real Pianist:

The concept of natural rights is currently misused by the Left. “Natural right” is a tool of the natural law to assign property claims in order to resolve conflicts. One can have a right to something he owns. One cannot have a right to something he does not own, to be provided by others to him for free, since it contradicts the concept of their natural right to their property.

This confusion comes from the mixing of the concepts of natural rights and contractual rights. Under normal circumstances, Bob does not owe anything to Joe. If Joe gets sick, he does not have a right to Bob’s property, since, as I mentioned above, it contradicts Bob’s right to it. But, if Bob is a doctor, and Joe paid Bob for treating him, then Bob does owe Joe some services. This is because a contract has been made between them. Bob's treatment of Joe is the latter's contractual right.

So, the only situation when someone might owe something to someone else is if he has contractually obligated himself to provide this specific thing.

Modern Liberals mix the two concepts. One has a natural right to life in the sense that one has a natural right to his body and therefore has a right not to have life taken away from him by aggression. That is what a natural right is. But Liberals treat the natural right to life as if it were a contractual right that is owed to an individual by the society. Therefore, if an individual gets sick, the society owes it to him to pay for his treatment. But one can never have a natural right to others' property. One can only have a contractual right to their property if they — the specific members of the society — have contractually obligated themselves to provide the specific service.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I believe it's the law

I often hear the phrase "it's the law" from random people, family members, friends, enemies, and well-wishers. People use the phrase the same way as they would say "square root of 121 is 11" or "F = ma". I.e., some binding truth.

In reality, yes, laws should be binding. But not positive secular laws. Positive secular laws are just some arbitrary rules that a bunch of people with most guns came up with for the rest of people. So, what is the moral or praxeological force of the argument "It's the law"? Why should I care? (Obviously, if there is a police thug around, I should care, but that's the same as saying "This is Black Ravens' turf". I.e., I should care for the same reason I should be careful walking late at night on some gang's territory — because thugs are dangerous. But imagine if I could do something that a particular gang dislikes without them finding out — why shouldn't I?)

Now, there is a concept of natural laws. For example, there are natural laws of physics. They are binding in the sense that you have no choice but live according to them. If you walk out of the tenth floor's window, you will have no choice but to learn about the law of gravitation.

There are laws of economics. They are equally binding. For instance, if the government enacts a minimum wage regulation, this leads to a greater unemployment among the low-wage earners, becomes it becomes unprofitable to hire them at the minimum wage if the latter is greater than the marginal profit one might derive from them.

There are laws of linguistics. The word peace is a synonym of tranquility, while the word piece is a synonym of portion. What is the source of this law? Not the dictionary. If one published a dictionary that said that dog is "a flying reptile that makes hissing sounds", you would say that the author of the dictionary made a mistake. What dictionary writers do is observe the behavior of people and codify it, not much differently from the way that neuroscientists observe the behavior of neurons or particle physicists observe the behavior of subatomic particles.


So, what about social law? Well, it's no different. If people want to speak to each other, they have to obey the laws of a particular language that spontaneously arose in evolutionary way as a result of people communicating with each other. If people want to live in peace and tranquility, they have to observe natural laws of society. A simple example of a natural raw is driving on the right side in the US and on the left side in the UK. These laws are in place not because some organization with a lot of guns decided so, but because if you're going to go on the left side of the road in the US, that would be like saying "accurate" when you mean "fastidious" (the two words are Russian–English linguistic "false friends").

But natural civil laws are more than just customs. They are natural ways for people to live in tranquility, which is the whole point of civil laws. (Note that the purpose of the civil laws is not to uphold morality or increase wealth. The former is done by religious laws or concept that are similar to religion. The latter is done by laws of economics. I know it might sound shocking, but I don't see why. It's also not the point of the civil laws to maximize your pet fish's lifespan or make sure your shoes fit well.)

Sometimes living in tranquility depends on observing a custom (such as driving on the side of the road on which the majority is driving); sometimes it depends simply on using logic to figure out what sort of behavior leads to minimization of conflict. The concept of natural rights is one such logical tool. Logically, the best way to minimize conflict is to assign claims to property between individuals based on homesteading or transfer of property. Law is necessary to codify and acknowledge the natural rights — not to create them.

[It is true that positive law exists in Judaism, but in that case it is based on Divine Law, which is a kind of natural law. I.e., G-d tells Chazal that they have a responsibility to safeguard Torah and therefore can (and must, if they find so necessary) create new laws that would be binding.

But you should notice that in Judaism today there is also the concept of codification of existing laws and legal opinions and customs; not arbitrary positive legislation.]

So, the next time someone tells you that something is a law because the government said so, tell him that that's not the case. The government cannot create laws. It can only acknowledge them. When the government makes an edict that contradicts natural rights (for instance, that one must pay one's taxes or one must do certain repairs to one's car or one can force someone else to pay for his health insurance), the edict's binding force from natural legal point of view is the same as the binding force of an entry in a dictionary that defines "cactus" as "a prehistoric marine animal". You may stick to your guns and use that definition, but it won't help you reach your goal.

By the way, I am not, by far, the first one to use this concept. Torah says that if Hashem did not give us certain rules of behavior we could learn them from animals or use our reason to come up with them (not all of them are civil laws; some are laws of morality, for instance, modesty, or laws of hygiene). The concept of natural law was upheld by ancient Greek philosophers, by medieval Christian and Muslim philosophers, by Western philosophers of the 17th–19th centuries; it is the concept that is the foundation of the Declaration of Independence.

The above was inspired by this video:

For more on the topic of natural laws, listen to this lecture — or watch the following video (in the first part of the lecture, he discusses the mechanism through which private laws would be "discovered" or "determined" in a free society):

For historic examples of natural laws in a society, see:
— Medieval Iceland as an example of private law creation and enforcement
— Medieval Ireland: an example of a libertarian legal system

Monday, March 12, 2012

Medieval Iceland as an example of private law creation and enforcement

Fascinating article on private law in Iceland: Private Creation and Enforcement of Law: A Historical Case.

Legal conflicts were of great interest to the medieval Icelanders: Njal, the eponymous hero of the most famous of the sagas, is not a warrior but a lawyer: "so skilled in law that no one was considered his equal." In the action of the sagas, law cases play as central a role as battles. 
Second, medieval Icelandic institutions have several peculiar and interesting characteristics; they might almost have been invented by a mad economist to test the lengths to which market systems could supplant government in its most fundamental functions. Killing was a civil offense resulting in a fine paid to the survivors of the victim. Laws were made by a "parliament," seats in which were a marketable commodity. Enforcement of law was entirely a private affair. 
And yet these extraordinary institutions survived for over three hundred years, and the society in which they survived appears to have been in many ways an attractive one. Its citizens were, by medieval standards, free; differences in status based on rank or sex were relatively small; and its literary, output in relation to its size has been compared, with some justice, to that of Athens. 
While the characteristics of the Icelandic legal system may seem peculiar, they are not unique to medieval Iceland. The wergeld -- the fine for killing a man -- was an essential part of the legal system of Anglo-Saxon England, and still exists in New Guinea. The sale of legislative seats has been alleged in many societies and existed openly in some. Private enforcement existed both in the American West and in pre-nineteenth-century Britain: a famous character of eighteenth-century fiction, Mr. Peachum in Gay's "Beggar's Opera," was based on Jonathan Wild, self-titled 'Thief-Taker General," who profitably combined the professions of thief-taker, recoverer of stolen property, and large-scale employer of thieves for eleven years, until he was finally hanged in l725. The idea that law is primarily private, that most offenses are offenses against specific individuals or families, and that punishment of the crime is primarily the business of the injured party seems to be common to many early systems of law and has been discussed at some length by Maine with special reference to the early history of Roman law. 
Medieval Iceland, however, presents institutions of private enforcement of law in a purer form than any other well-recorded society of which I am aware. Even early Roman law recognized the existence of crimes, offenses against society rather than against any individual, and dealt with them, in effect, by using the legislature as a special court. Under Anglo-Saxon law killing was an offense against the victim's family, his lord, and the lord of the place whose peace had been broken; wergeld was paid to the family, manbote to the crown, and fightwite to the respective lords. British thief-takers in the eighteenth century were motivated by a public reward of 40 [pounds sterling] per thief. 
All of these systems involved some combination of private and public enforcement. The Icelandic system developed without any central authority comparable to the Anglo-Saxon king; as a result, even where the Icelandic legal system recognized an essentially "public" offense, it dealt with it by giving some individual (in some cases chosen by lot from those affected) the right to pursue the case and collect the resulting fine, thus fitting it into an essentially private system.
Read on in the article.

Next time somebody asks you for a success story of anarchy, point him to this article. Iceland successfully existed in this state for 300 years and fared better (in societal sense) than many other countries. Life in Iceland may have been harder than in France, but let's not forget that it was basically a settlement on top of an icy rock.

(Yes, it's true that eventually the state of anarchy ended, and Iceland became subjugated to another king. But please point me to its statist contemporary that did not suffer the same fate.)

By the way, another example is medieval Ireland.

The point is not that Icelandic or Irish societies were Heaven on Earth. The point is that private law creation and enforcement are clearly feasible within the framework of human society. Ancient wheels were also not as good as modern wheels. And anyone who has read Shulchan Aruch HaRav knows what use Russian peasants had for rocks as late as the 18th century.

So, with modern technology, modern development of natural and social sciences, with modern levels of population, capital accumulation, experience, and private initiative, surely we can much better than the medieval Irish and Icelanders. There is no reason to believe that if they were able to accomplish something in the "simpler times" we can't do the same in the modern times.

Just like there was a short period of considerable cooling down of climate in the last few centuries, known as the Little Ice Age, I think that the 20th century will be known in the future as "The Little Dark Age". All the crying out for liberty that we hear nowadays is by no means a new phenomenon. If you read the writings of the Founding Fathers (and philosophers such as Thomas Paine, John Locke or Adam Smith), you will see a very clear and sharp understanding of the evils of the government and the necessity for private initiative in all areas.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Political spectrum, another view

I have posted before about the concept of Nolan chart, where political spectrum is represented in terms of two axes -- one representing political/social freedom and another representing economic freedom:

Today I saw this representation of the political spectrum, in terms of what services the government should be providing:

(click on the image to enlarge)

It shows that first of all, modern Conservatives and Liberals are not that different from each other, second, Ron Paul barely scratches the surface in pursuit of freedom (he is the minimally acceptable candidate), third, "voluntarism" sounds better when you're discussing your views at your (prospective) in-laws' dinner table than "anarchy" or "anarcho-capitalism".

The simple way to battle communists is with statistics. Examples of USSR and Sweden (before it went socialist vs. after, etc.). When people tell you that USSR was also totalitarian, ask them what that has to do with economics. Explain that you're talking here only about the effectiveness of the state providing services.

When battling people "below" communists (even all the way to minarchists), ask why the free markets cannot provide for all the services "below" the cut-off point (whatever it is for the individual) vs. "above". I.e., if free markets can provide food, why can't they provide education? Why not police? Why not law? (Use medieval Ireland and Jewish Law in the last 2000 years for examples of non-centralized legislature and arbitration in the hands of competing private legal authorities.)

When people quote Pirkei Avos to you, ask them, first, whether they believe that without doctors and hospitals many more people would be sick, and second, whether this means that medicine needs to be in the hands of a single centralized monopoly vs. a large number of competing service providers. Why can't the same apply to the government?

By the way, when people hear "voluntarism" and "voluntary exchange" they for some reason assume that this means no crime. I.e., if we are to have voluntary exchange of services, then we all need to be peaceful. But since we are not peaceful, we need the government to impose peace on the society.

But that argument simply states the need for protection and legislature services. Those are also services that can be provided and subscribed to voluntarily. For more information see Robert Murphy's article "But Wouldn't Warlords Take Over?"

Saturday, March 10, 2012

No emotions now

(Rav Moshe Tendler on Har HaBayis)

I have recently read the following article: "Temple Institute Disagrees with Chief Rabbis over Temple Mount".

Briefly, a few rabbis have declared it ossur to ascend on Har HaBayis. And the rabbis of Temple Institute disagreed with them.

Now, I am all in favor of dissenting opinions, especially those disagreeing with Israeli rabbis. But I like dissenting opinions expressed intelligently. Not this way:
Throughout the ages many prominent halakhic authorities personally ascended to the Temple Mount, including the celebrated Rambam (Maimonides), who ascended to the Mount at the risk of his life in Crusader-dominated Jerusalem. Indeed, as the Rambam himself testifies in his letters, he was so moved that he merited to ascend the Temple Mount to pray there, that he instructed his descendants to mark the day of his aliya (6 Cheshvan 1166) as a day of personal yom tov (rejoicing) for all generations.

Issues of Jewish law are not to be determined by personal feelings, opinions, or emotions. In the formulative process of halakhah, sources must be cited, verified and compared. Today, many prominent, respected Torah scholars, including yeshiva heads, visit the Temple Mount on a monthly basis together with hundreds of their students. To minimize or denigrate these scholars and to imply that they are acting outside of Torah law is misleading, damaging and wrong.
Do these people realize that the two cited paragraphs contradict the two sentences in bold? Yes, emotions or personal opinion have no place in halachic process. Yes, sources must be cited, verified, and compared. What do they offer? A story (uncited) about Rambam ascending Har HaBayis and how emotional he got — and no other opinions or arguments. Oh, right, a bunch of "yeshiva heads" have been known to make the journey, and to say that doing so is ossur would be to hurt their feeling. I see...

I am wondering whether these people are aware of the fact that once upon a time the wives of great "yeshiva heads" and leaders of the generation had cooked chicken with milk. And yet, at one point, it has become not kosher to do so due to a gezeira of the Chazal.

Simply put, times change. And each rabbi has halachic authority to pasken for his community (the "formulative process of halacha" is, after all, nothing but a lot of personal opinions of some people whom certain communities hold in respect). As the authors of the ban eloquently answered to the question regarding Rambam, "The poskim in the times of Rambam allowed it. We don't." Yes, what was good for Rambam is bad for modern Israeli and American tourists. And what was fine in the times of the First Beis HaMikdosh stopped being so in the times of the Second.

Not that I have any sympathy for the modern chumra fetish or Israeli rabbis. But badly constructed arguments repulse me even more.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Burden on society

My answer to every single "... because otherwise, they will become a burden on society" argument is: two wrongs don't make one right.

For example: "We have to regulate food industry, because too many people consume sugar-rich products which lead to multiple health problems that increase the burden on society."

My answer: Two wrongs don't make one right. Just because the system is set up in such a way that people are being forced to pay for others' medical bills does not mean you can now also force them regarding what to put in the food that they sell to those who willingly buy it.

First, the obvious option is to eliminate the first wrong. Stop forcing people to pay for other's problems. But even if you cannot or are not willing to eliminate this problem, then... you're stuck with it. Don't try to solve it by committing a second set of aggression.

Second, there are other ways to solve social ills such as obesity, addiction, illiteracy, racism, etc. Activism. Competition (e.g., providing healthier products that taste just as good; hiring employees of multiple races to create more effective companies; creating various educational facilities that attract people better than currently existing ones). Research. Literature. Whatever. Don't use violence to solve a social ill.

"If we don't educate people forcefully, they will become a burden on society."

Are you kidding me? There are so many holes in this argument, it looks like the Laptop Dad's daughter's laptop. This is not the place to go into them. But the bottom line is: no, force-feeding people with education is not the answer. People have a right to make their own decisions. If you want to influence them, you can only do so peacefully.

Most people would agree that using violence to force one's spouse to do something that he or she does not want is immoral. (And I am not talking here about self-defense.) Whatever the ramifications. For instance (an example not from real life), one's wife doesn't want to apply for a job (or doesn't want to wash dishes, or spends a lot of money on shoes). That creates a burden on the family. And because one has kids with her (or, I don't know, loves her?..), he can't divorce her. Therefore what? You can use violence to force her to apply for a job? Either suck it up or find a peaceful way to convince her of your opinion or find a compromise of some sort. Maybe help her find a job that she would like.

So, if it is immoral to use violence to influence someone on a personal level, why is it ok when the government does it on a societal level?

I have said it many times and will say it again: a society becomes sick when its way of solving a social ill is to rely on the government. If you want something to become better, make it better yourself. Or support a private individual or a company who is trying to make things better. Buy a product, donate your money to the effort, whatever. Spread the word. Ask others what else can be done. Don't ask a bunch of bullies with guns to solve problems. They don't really know how. And they never will.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

No sympathy

A while back, I wrote:
When a liberal person tells me that she hates being frisked by TSA in airports, I have no sympathy. You voted for a government that takes some of our liberties away, and the Republicans voted for a government that takes some others. You guys can bicker which liberties should be taken away in the name of "society", while I will continue to say that we need to go to the basics: upholding people's natural rights to their property, to themselves, and to their lives and freedom.
The same goes for a conservative person who hates paying for someone else's insurance that allows what he considers to be immoral.

Following that thread of though, if this woman voted for Obama in 2008 or Bush in 2004, I have no sympathy for her: "TSA forces new mom to pump milk out of her breasts in public restroom before boarding the plane".

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Russian goban

I don't know if such a goban exists in reality or not, but I think it looks rather interesting (source: Russian Go Federation):