Attention National Press!

I will not be blogging the Democratic National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts. I will be denigrating Harvey Mansfield, in addition to tackling sundry other non-convention topics. I am a fount of information about what it is like to have nothing whatsoever to do with the convention. Please direct press inquiries to the comments section.

What Kind of Seriousness is This?

The Big Trunk from Power Line posts an excerpt from Harvey Mansfield's Weekly Standard review of Stephen Rhoad's Taking Sex Differences Seriously. Let me tell you what I think of this bit:

What evolutionists think is the closest we usually get to the notion of nature these days. But it is not close enough. For evolution sees everything as organized for survival and cannot recognize our better, higher nature. Thus it sees no difference in rank between the male desire for an active sex life and the male interest in being married, or between the promptings of desire and the instruction of reason. What kind of seriousness is this?

Right back atcha Mansfield. What kind of seriousness is this? You know, I've heard this stuff about “seriousness” before from Strausseans. It's really got to be said that Mansfield and his posse are masters of “seriousness,” which is a kind of painfully earnest self-congratulating pose. But he apparently cares very little about seriousness, which is involved in things like finding out what nature is like, as opposed to jacking off over Machiavelli.

wilberforces.jpgAnyway, get this: “What evolutionists think is the closest we usually get to the notion of nature these days. But it's not close enough.” Wow. I think I just shit my pants. Seriously (not “seriously”), who does this guy think he is? Sure, sure: William R. Kenan Professor of Government at Harvard University. But where does the Kenan Professor of Government get off announcing that what evolutionists, people who study nature in a systematic and methodical way for a living, aren't close enough, to the “notion of nature?”

Apparently Mansfield, master of the classics, knows nature. Mansfield knows, a priori from the well-appointed comfort of his study, that a sufficient approximation to the “notion of nature” includes a satisfactory account of our “better, higher nature.” What is this exactly?, you may find yourself asking. Better than what? Higher than what? Well, whatever it is, I guess an account of it is a constraint on any theory of nature. Somebody call the biology department! Call MIT! Does Steven Pinker know?

If by “better, higher nature,” Mansfield means our capacity for benevolence, sacrifice, sense of honor, dignity, spirituality, integrity, loyalty, love, friendship, longing for transcendence, etc., then the evolutionist has exactly zero problem recognizing our better, higher nature. It's data. It is something to be explained.

Mansfield's beef is this: actual factual mind-independent nature, the thing that people who specialize in studying nature, like evolutionists, specialize in studying, that thing, out there, is not normative just all by itself, and thus lacks “ranks” and differences thereof.

Disappointingly, an evolutionary (or any naturalistic) explanation of our longing for transcendence, for example, will not be an account of the existence of a transcendent reality in which we as beings are finally made whole through reunification with our creator. An explanation of love is going to say something about pair bonding, babymaking, oxytocin, vasopressin, credible commitment in a high stakes cooperative game, and so forth, and NOT, that we were all once roly-polys ripped asunder by Zeus's lightning bolts and left longing for our lost halves. Or whatever. That is, an account of our nature that has something to do with truth, i.e., correspondence with the world, and not “Truth,” i.e., a certain profound feeling of affirmation and enlightenment, will be an explanation that is not built from within the first-personal moral-psychological conceptual scheme.

Now, most of us understand the difference in rank between a desire for an active sex life, which is clearly sensible, moral and good, and the desire to become married, which tends to be a disastrous mypopic choice stemming from a desperate desire to avoid confronting one's own panicked emptiness. And we all know about the promptings of the desire to heed the insructions of reason and the instruction of reason to heed the promptings of desire, and which is better than which. So the problem isn't that we don't perfectly well know how to rank things.

The point is that ranking things is something that we do, not something that nature does. We have hopes and dreams and all sorts of “higher” emotions that play into the way we represent and engage with the world. If we were built differently, and we held the rest of nature constant,–if we had other needs, a different kind of psychology,a different set of emotions–then we'd ranks things differently, and we'd be right to do it.

In any case, Mansfield, like most Straussians, is a rhetorician, not a philosopher. So he is not, strictly speaking, arguing. He is exhorting us to imagine his moral opinions as lines in the book of nature. I decline. It's a good book as it is. Take a look Harvey!

[Note: Thanks to Robert Light for the link. The picture is Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford.]

State Autonomy and Electoral Triviality

Almost everybody thinks elections are events of immense importance. I think this is evidence that almost nobody understands how we are in fact governed (or ruled). The distinction between the government and the state is simple enough, but it seems that nobody really really gets it.

The point is that if Kerry wins, just suppose, then we'll get a new slate of political appointees in the agencies of the executive branch. But the overall turnover will be negligible. Now, political appointees matter, but not THAT much. The lifers rule.

When Congress passes a law, it's out of their hands. It's up to the bureacracy to interpret it, which they can do faithfully or perversely, and to enforce it, which they may choose not to do at all.

I once went on a date with an EPA lawyer. (Yay Nerve.com!) I said to her, more or less, this is my guess about what you do. . . A new environmental law is passed. The EPA people decide whether they like it or not. If they like it, they enforce it. If they don't like it, they think, “What would we like the law to mean?” They then try to find a way of interpreting the language to reflect their, rather than congress's preferences. The lawyers then think about who will sue them if they interpret the law this way, and whether they would win the suit. If they can't win, they reinterpret it in a way that maybe doesn't reflect their preferences as much, but which is more likely to stand up in court. Once they've got a winner, they implement, and prepare for the likey suit.

She said, “That's almost exactly what I do.”

I wanted to know whether she, a good liberal, considered this anti-democratic. She didn't. Not at all. Democracy is beautiful! It's just that the representatives of the people tend not to know their elbows from their assholes, are subject to all sorts of distorting electoral pressures, and so pass laws contrary to what they would pass if they knew more and were directly motivated by a desire to promote the commonweal. So democracy is great, except when it's not, due to ignorance and bad motivation, which is almost always, in which case the bureaucracy, who really do know what they're doing, has to fix things.

Now, I found this to be an astonishing . . . tension. (No, we never went out again.) In any case, I'm quite glad things work this way. You may never hear another libertarian say this, so listen up: I think the United States of America has an absolutely wonderful bureaucracy! That is, wonderful relative to most actually existing bureacracies in the world, which should be the relevant comparison class, not the Meinongian bureacracies of our dreams.

Anyway, we elect the government, not the state. Governments comes and go. The state persists. We should count ourselves lucky to have a decent state that is pretty much competent, and does a fairly good job of undermining democracy in a generally salutary fashion.

That said, when a President tells the Army to go invade a country, they go. A president that didn't do this might be nice.

Cuddle Party!

Does the DEA know that oxytocin is addictive?

934 Westminster is so having a cuddle party! The rules:

1. Pajamas stay on the whole time.

2. No SEX. (Yep, you read that right.)

3. Ask for permission to kiss or nuzzle anyone. Make sure you can handle getting a no before you invite or request anyone to cuddle or kiss.

4. If you're a yes, say yes. If you're a no, say no.

5. If you're a maybe, say NO.

6. You are encouraged to change your mind from a yes to a no, no to a yes anytime you want.

7. NO DRY HUMPING!

8. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

9. If you're in a relationship, communicate and set your boundaries and agreements BEFORE you go to the Cuddle Party. Don't re-negotiate those agreements/boundaries during the Cuddle Party. (Trust us on this one.)

10. Get your Cuddle Life Guard On Duty or Cuddle Caddy if there's a concern, problem, or question or should you feel unsafe or need assistance with anything during the Cuddle Party.

11. Crying and giggling are both welcomed and encouraged.

12. Outside of your personal relationships, it's nobody's business who you cuddle, so please be respectful of other people's privacy when sharing with the outside world about Cuddle Parties.

13. Arrive on time.

14. Be hygienically savvy.

15. Clean up after yourself.

16. Always say thank you and practice good Cuddle Manners.

My guess is that any party where you have to emphatically proscribe dry humping is a party in which there will be some dry humping.

Objectivist bonus: CuddleParty.com is apparently the copyright of an entity named “Atlas Spooned.” Which makes me think: If Rearden would have just taken some of his seeting psychosexual frustration and just cuddled with Dagny . . . I mean, jammies stay on, and they just spoon. I think our Promethean giants of industry might have been a lot less stressed out about all the parasites, moochers, and whim-worhsipping second handers, and everything would have turned out a lot nicer for everybody. Rural Colorado gets pretty boring after awhile.

Want to know some words I learned from Ayn Rand: bromide; instransigent.

[Link from Gene, who I think could use a good cuddle.]

Rich in Love

A friend (who may or may not want to be named) points to this WebMD article summarizing the economic value of sexual activity. It turns out that extra money doesn't make us that much happier, but sex makes us quite a lot happier, so if we're putting a money value on units of happiness, sex is worth a lot of money.

After analyzing data on the self-reported levels of sexual activity and happiness of 16,000 people, Dartmouth College economist David Blachflower and Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick in England report that sex “enters so strongly (and) positively in happiness equations” that they estimate increasing intercourse from once a month to once a week is equivalent to the amount of happiness generated by getting an additional $50,000 in income for the average American.

My first reaction to this is that prostitutes are undercharging. My second reaction is pretty much the same as my correspondent, who writes:

There should be a tax on all that undeclared income! — after all, all those people are getting the benefit of that money, isn't that the same as actually having the money? How can that $50,000-equivalent benefit be redistributed so that everyone can benefit 'equally'?

It seems like a good joke, but it really is more than a joke from the perspective of distributive justice. Take a similar case. Those of us who prefer leisure over money, once we've passed a fairly low threshold of money, gain all the benefits of society without paying much in through taxes.

Suppose that after $15,000 annual, the marginal value of a dollar for me plummets sharply, while the value of an hour of leisure remains very high. If I could be working 40 hours a week, and making sixty big a year, but I'd rather have the leisure after working only 10 a week, then those extra hours are worth at least forty five grand to me. So I buy a lot of leisure for the price of my opporunity cost. But, unlike the guy who likes owning a Cris Craft and a high-end stereo more than reading library books, taking long walks, and writing poetry, the value of my leisure can't be taxed. But this seems patently unfair. People who happen to have leisurely preferences just luck out.

How to rectify this? Well, we could just force people who like leisure to work and give the proceeds to the state, but that makes us sort of uncomfortable, as we're then caused to think a little too hard about what taxes really amount to.

hammock.JPGWell, I guess it turns out that getting a weekly rather than a monthly is worth about $50G. And it also turns out that having more money doesn't get you more laid. So, suppose I like leisure, as above, AND I like sex as much as most people do. (Suppose.) If I manage to fit a weekly into my fairly relaxed schedule, then I'm looking at the equivalent of close to $100G in non-taxable income. This is clearly the way to go! People who work sixty hours a week to make $100G taxable, and as a consequence of all that time working and all that stress, only manage a monthly… well, those people are suckas! They're paying like 30-ish% of their income, and while I'm not literally rollin' in the Benjamins, I'm rolling in the endorphins, which is just as good.

This isn't fair! Maybe I have some control over my preference for leisure. Maybe I cultivated it by reading Marcus Aurelius or something. But my ability to swing a weekly? Well. Suppose (counterfactually, of course) that I'm ruddy and good looking, and the ladies are just irresistably drawn to my animal charisma. Well, I didn't do anything to deserve my mojo. By babe magneticity turns out simply to be an unredistributable resource. Nice for me! But hardly fair.

Maybe because I won't be so depressed, which we also find (also, that ladies ought to consider that OrthoTri-cyclen is cheaper than Prozac and condoms), it'll turn out that I contribute to the surplus of social cooperation by means of my sunny attitude. Everyone likes a guy with a spring in his step. But really, the folks paying for all those public goods, which I happily enjoy, with their labor and their lousy sex lives are certainly getting a raw deal. Notice that if they state provides things like health insurance, and so forth, then I'm really kicking it, and things have gotten even more unfair.

Seriously though, what do egalitarians think about this? Should we legalize prostitution and give people vouchers? Should we have mandatory national sexual service? Or can we just ignore certain deep kinds of inequality if the detection and enforcement costs are too high? That would be interesting.

I'm sure I've gotten ahead of myself here, but, you know, good times.

Choose or Lose

Has anyone considered that this may be an inclusive disjunction?

Meanwhile, P. Diddy is attempting to stir the nation's youth to action with his “Vote or Die” campaign. Now, Diddy, being a master logician, has had the foresight to pick a disjunction that is certainly true, if only contingently so. Everyone will eventually die, while it is perfectly possible (because actual) to neither choose nor lose.

Now it may be that Diddy intends an exclusive disjunction. (Either one or the other, but not both.) But I don't think he really wants to say that people who die didn't vote. He only wants to say that if you don't vote, then you'll die. Right? Well, we do know that only about half of the registered voters, to say nothing of eligible voters, failed to exercise their rights of citizenship in the last election. But Diddy's conditional entails that the non-dead voted, yet many non-dead non-voters are among us. So that can't be right. So he must be saying that if you don't vote, the probability of dying will increase. How about that? Well, we can check the death rates among voters and non-voters from the last election. My hunch is that the rate of death among voters is probably higher than among non-voters, since the elderly vote more reliably than the young, and the elderly tend to die more. So what is Mr. Combs trying to say?

Wonkette, takes it as a threat, “Vote or I'll wave a gun in your face in a midtown nightclub,” which is frightening, but can't quite capture it, because waving a gun in someone's face doesn't entail their death. So it needs to be a bit stronger: Vote or I'll make you dead (whether with a pistol, a machete, a tank of water and a cinder block, a mortally frightening clown, whatever). I don't think this is the intended message, however.

Perhaps it is something like “There is someone such that if you don't vote, they will make you dead.” This is a good possibility. But who could “someone” be? An avenging Democracy Fairy who slays non-voters? Well, the Democracy Fairy would have to be new, since we guessed that voters are in fact more likely to die than non-voters. Maybe the intention instead is “In a contest between A and B, if you don't vote, then A or B will make you dead.” I think we're getting very close, and that this is entailed by the correct interpretation. I think it's more like, “In a contest between A and B, if A wins, then A will not make you dead, and if B wins, then B will make you dead, and if you vote, then you vote for A, and A wins, and if you don't vote, then B wins.”

I wonder if Puffy knows something we don't. For my part, I suspect that B is . . . Michael Badnarik!

Or that the Diddy is subversively highlighting the majoritarian coercion implicit in democracy.