2018-04-11

Comments Versus Blogs

I've been neglecting this blog. Instead of writing content here, I've been writing down my thoughts as comments under other people's blogs. I'm going to try to reverse that trend for the following reasons: (A) I have the sneaky suspicion that linking to websites abroad will increase my own traffic; the selfish motive revealed at last. (B) My gut tells me that removing myself from the fray of blog comments, at least when I'm making cogent and possibly useful points, will improve the cognitive time-horizon applicable to those points. Put differently, long-form thoughts are often of a higher quality than off-the-cuff improvising in commentary below the fold. (To be sure, there is gold to be mined in both media.) (C) Improving things along both of the aforementioned dimensions might improve my reputation in general, which is never a bad thing.

Alright, let's get started. I posted a long comment under a recent blog post, and after reading it, I realized it would have been better if I had written it here. So, with some modifications, here it is.

At Bleeding Heart Libertarians, Jason Brennan writes:
Public reason theorists do not think actual consent is necessary for coercive government policies. But they also deny that “The correct theory of justice says we should do P” is good enough. They want something in between.

But they face a number of problems, including how to deal with real-life citizens, who are often quite unreasonable (according to their theory of what counts as “reasonable”), who might lack any potential to converge on or have consensus on policies, and so on.

So, every theory ends up “idealizing” citizens to a certain degree.
Brennan then goes on to highlight some criticisms of this approach.

Full disclosure: I don't know enough about public reason theory or its criticisms to provide strong input on this particular matter. However, in reading Brennan's post I was reminded of a point Jordan Peterson makes in his book 12 Rules for Life.


Many attempts in political philosophy to conceive of an acceptable justification for government policy begin with a policy in mind and then proceed to model a set of conditions under which that policy is justified. "When do I get to shoot people?" is an absurd question, even after engaging in philosophical rigor, and even when ultimately concluding that "the only appropriate time to shoot someone is in self-defense of a credible existential threat." Here, there is nothing wrong with the conclusion, it's the question that's problematic. Why are we wondering when it's okay to shoot people?

Peterson might that we've gotten it backwards. The more pertinent question is, "Why not shoot people all the time, whenever you want to?" At first, this sounds like an even more ridiculous question; yet, it's in answering this question that we demonstrate why the first question is wrong. It's the answer to this second question that demonstrates a comprehensive philosophy of non-violence.

So, back to politics. It seems to me that political scientists and philosophers are often tempted to ask "When can I do X?" or "Under what conditions can society be forced into Y for its own good?" Wrong questions. The real question is Why shouldn't the government do X and impose Y on all of society all the time, irrespective of what anyone else thinks about it?

My guess is that, if you have a good set of answers to that question then the former questions and their possible answers are no longer relevant.