Sunday, June 30, 2019

Nuanced Censorship #2

This post is an offshoot from yesterday's. The Ayn Rand Institute’s (ARI) digital publication New Ideal has an article about free speech and regulation featuring John Stossel and ARI’s chairman Yaron Brook. It includes a video of Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook testifying before Congress that he is willing to work with regulators for what he regards as rightful regulation. Brook and Stossel Scrutinize Facebook’s Regulatory Bid.

Stossel appears before Brook and argues that Facebook is only trying to use regulations to erect a protective wall against competitors, a frequent argument made against government regulation by free markets advocates. Then Brook argues instead that Facebook is acting in self-defense, to protect itself against government meddling and/or control. Finally, Stossel begrudgingly accepts Brook's argument, according to the author of the article.

I agree more with Brook's argument, since his is stronger and better tied to the relevant facts at hand. However, we differ some on the reasons for self-defense.

A business such as Facebook may face two fronts -- competitors and government. Stossel focuses on the first and Brook the second. Zuckerberg welcomes government regulation if he can shape it to (1) legally support Facebook’s own practices or desires, and (2) make it easier for Facebook to comply with future regulation. He doesn't express any desire about wanting to make compliance more difficult for Facebook's competitors. He may have this desire in the back of his mind to thwart competition like Stossel says, but thwarting competition is not mentioned in the video with Zuckerberg.

I agree with Brook's idea that Zuckerberg is trying to defend himself or Facebook from government controls. However, Brook and I differ at least some on the kind of controls. He uses Microsoft as an example to explain why it's self-defense. However, in Microsoft's case, the government's concern was monopoly. There might be some concern about monopoly in Facebook's case, but it is not mentioned in the video with Zuckerberg. Instead his concern is bad regulation -- bad in his view. He welcomes government regulation about censoring content that users put on Facebook as long as the regulation is shaped to suit Facebook. Using the new terms I introduced in my previous post, Zuckerberg is comfortable with turning Facebook's quasi-censorship or extra-legal censorship into legal censorship. Opposing bad regulation is a form of self-defense. On the other hand, Zuckerberg wanting "good regulation" --  good in his view -- is a form of offense.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Nuanced Censorship

Two typical dictionary definitions of "censorship" are:
1. The process of removing parts of books, movies, letters, etc. that are considered inappropriate for moral, religious, or political reasons.
2. The practice of limiting access to information, ideas or books in order to prevent knowledge or freedom of thought.

Both leave open who is the censor – a government, religious authorities or other.

In contrast, Ayn Rand asserted that “censorship” pertains only to government being the censor (link).

Whether you agree with the dictionaries or Rand, it would be helpful to have two terms to distinguish who the censor is in this era of “hate speech” and actions by Facebook, Google, and YouTube. “Censorship” could refer to censorship by a government. “Quasi-censorship” could refer to censorship by a non-government entity such as Facebook, Google, or YouTube.

The distinction is still not as clear as it may seem at first. Suppose:
- the government passes a law specifying what sort of content can be legally censored by Facebook et al
- Facebook et al heavily, successfully influences the legislative details such that the details are much like what Facebook would do anyway on its own.

Hence, the legislation is authored in effect by government and other entities, crossing the presumed boundary between “censorship” and “quasi-censorship.” But at least it affords a boundary between legal/illegal and extra-legal (not a matter of law). That leads to a different distinction. “Censorship” could refer to censorship by a government. “Extra-legal censorship” could refer to censorship by a non-government entity.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College

I wondered how the $11 million compensatory damage amount was justified. The link helped some. An economist on behalf of the plaintiffs estimated how much present and future revenue would be foregone by the bakery being branded as racist. The amount was “more than $5 million.” How the $5 million was calculated is not given. On the defense’s (Oberlin College’s) side, the value of the business was assessed at only $35,000. This was said to be based on what the bakery would have been worth between 2012 and 2016 when the Rust Belt was still in the “Great Recession” economic woes. Why whoever believed 2012-16 is relevant, but not the present, is beyond me. Being that low, it seems like an estimate only for what the store property could be sold, with nothing for the value of an ongoing business. $35,000 is even below average income for one year for one person, whereas some of the news articles indicate at least four employees. 

In my opinion the damage should be assessed similar to the way the economist did it -- on the estimated loss of income to the owners over more than a year. Of course, any estimate is necessarily rough since we can't predict the future with a high degree of accuracy. That's two futures in this case -- one given the situation now and the other as if the libel had not occurred.

Subtracting my estimate of the attorney's share from the $11 million, I estimate the Gibson's share to be about $7.33 million (2/3rds). Maybe the jury was persuaded by the economist's estimate and took into account the attorney's share when it decided on the $11 million.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Spheres of Justice #7

Chapter 5 is about office, for which he stipulatively defines as “any position in which the political community as a whole takes an interest, choosing the person who holds it or regulating the procedures by which he is chosen.”

Offices cannot or should not be appropriated by private persons, passed down in families, or sold on the market. The idea is old. In the West it developed most clearly within the Christian church in the struggle to disengage the church from feudalism. Church leaders argued that ecclesiastical positions could not be owned by feudal patrons, be given to friends and relatives, or be traded or sold.

The idea gradually descended into civil society. It was secularized in civil service jobs. Today governments control membership in many professions via licensing and enforcement of standards. In academia the means is accreditation. In principle, grades and degrees are not for sale. Offices are typically regarded as open to all and fair to all candidates as a matter of justice. It is a kind of “simple equality.” But whatever the qualifications and selection process, these should not become the basis of tyrannical claims to prestige and power.

The principle of meritocracy – for those who support it -- is that offices should be filled by those most qualified. Walzer comments on quotas, such as for blacks or women.

What makes the distribution of offices so important is that so much else is distributed along with it: honor and status, power and prerogative, wealth and comfort. When office is treated as dominant, it becomes insolence. It may be used to override distributions that are best left to the sphere of money and commodities, where personal discretion of entrepreneurs, owners and families are morally acceptable.


Friday, June 21, 2019

Jury rules Oberlin College guilty of libel and owes $$$$$

Here is one of several news stories about this. Many more can be found searching with Google News. Wikipedia page.

An employee at Gibson's Bakery -- his father and grandfather own it -- chased and confronted an Oberlin College student trying to shoplift in 2016. The employee is white and the student is black. Two other black students got involved. Oberlin College is very progressive-liberal. The campus erupted in protests charging the bakery with racism. Some Oberlin College administrators and faculty actively supported the protestors. The college stopped being a customer and students boycotted. The Gibson's Bakery owners sued Oberlin College for libel and harming their business. The jury awarded the owners $11 million compensatory damages plus $33 million punitive damages! The $33 million will likely get reduced.

Political commentator and Oberlin graduate Michelle Malkin says Oberlin College "had it coming" (link).

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Spheres of Justice #6

Chapter 4 is about money and commodities. I preface the following with this. First, it is my summary, Second, there is justification for considering Walzer’s writing sometimes being too sketchy. That’s hard to avoid with a bird’s eye view of times and places and many possible nuances omitted.

Money is the common means of exchange, but there are blocked exchanges in every society, things money can’t buy. Typical are human beings (slavery is not allowed); political power and influence (citizens cannot sell their votes or officials their decisions, bribery is illegal); criminal justice, freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly; marriage and procreation rights; the right to leave the community; exemptions from military service, jury duty, and other forms of communal work; political offices; basic welfare services like police protection and basic education; prizes and honors of many sorts (e.g., Congressional Medal of Honor, Pulitzer Prize, Most Valuable Player in sports); love and friendship; sales considered criminal, e.g. murder, blackmail, some drugs (97-103).

What is the proper sphere of money? What social goods are highly marketable? There have always been some – objects, commodities, services beyond what are communally provided, both staples and luxuries, goods that are beautiful or functional and durable. But we all have different particular needs, tastes, and desires. Money may be redistributed via gifts and sharing, both personal and communal. 
Money doesn’t grow on trees. Things can be had only with effort. Effort seems to supply ownership, at least originally. Wanting, making, owning and exchanging hang together. Individuals differ by their successes and failures in the sphere of money and commodities. But market power may spill over its boundaries, turning market power into a kind of tyranny, distorting distributions in other spheres. 
The marketplace, when free, awards all in accordance with the contributions we make to our own and others’ well-being (108). 
The man or woman who builds a better mousetrap, or opens a restaurant, or teaches on the side, is looking to earn money. Why not? Who wants to serve or satisfy others only for gratitude? It seems only right that an entrepreneur, able to provide goods and services, should reap the rewards he had in mind when he went to work. 
This is, indeed, a kind of “rightness” that the community may see fit to enclose and restrain. The morality of the bazaar belongs in the bazaar. The market is a zone of the city, not the whole of the city. But it is a great mistake, I think, when people worried about the market seek its entire abolition. It is one thing to clear the Temple of traders, quite another to clear the streets” (109).

The merchant panders to our desires. But so long as he isn’t selling people or votes or political influence, so long as he hasn’t cornered the market in wheat at time of drought, so long as his cars aren’t death traps, his shirts inflammable, this is harmless pandering. He will try, of course, to sell us things we don’t want; he will show us the best side of his goods and conceal their dark side. We will have to be protected against fraud (as he will against theft). But the exchange is in principle a relation of mutual benefit; and neither the money that the merchant makes by this or that consumer, poses any threat to complex equality – not if the spheres of money and commodities is properly bounded” (110).

Successful entrepreneurs might be considered monopolists of wealth. “Simple equality would make this sort of thing impossible, but simple equality cannot be obtained without eliminating buying and selling (and every other sort exchange relation, too” (111).

Walzer criticizes the views of social theorist Andre Gorz, who is very critical of a free market and bourgeois privatization. Gorz wants more collective decisions made by the state (113-15).

Walzer believes the more perfect the market, the smaller inequalities will be. The gross inequalities we see around us derive more from status hierarchies, organization structures, and power relation than the free market (116-17). On the other hand a radically laissez-faire economy would invade other spheres, dominating other distributive processes. He is concerned about powerful business people capturing political power or bending public officials to their will. When money carries with it control, not just goods and services, but of people, then it crosses its bounds into political power (121).

There is also a section on gifts and inheritance. I will skip saying anything about most of it, since it is about two historical societies. Anyway, the topic is where the sphere of money and commodities intersects with the sphere of family and kinship. The latter is the topic of a later chapter.


Sunday, June 16, 2019

Spheres of Justice #5
Chapter 3 is about security and welfare.

Walzer posits socially recognized needs. “The social contract is an agreement to reach decisions together about what goods are necessary to our common life, and then to provide those goods to one another.” … “Communal provision is both general and particular. It is general whenever public funds are spent so as to benefit all or most of the members without any distribution to individuals. It is particular whenever goods are actually handed over to all or any of the members. Water, for example, is one of ‘the bare requirements of civil life,’ and the building of reservoirs is a form of general provision” (65-6).

People don’t just have needs, they have ideas about their need; they have priorities, they have degrees of need; and these priorities and degrees are related not only to their human nature but also tot their history and culture. Since resources are always scarce, hard choices have to be made. I suspect these can only be political choices. They are subject to philosophical elucidation, but the idea of need and commitment to communal provision do not by themselves yield any clear determination of priorities or degrees” (66).

There has never been a political community that did not engage its collective strength – its capacity to direct, regulate, pressure and coerce – in providing needs of its members. The modes of organization, the levels of taxation, the timing and reach of conscription: these have always been a focus of political controversy. The building of fortresses, dams, and irrigation, armies, the securing of food supply and trade generally all require coercion. The state, with its agents, is the tool of coercion. Communal provision is always mediated by politicians, priests, soldiers, and bureaucrats who introduce distortions into the process, siphoning off money and labor for their own purposes or using provision as a form of control (68).

Walzer follows with sections about Athens, Greece in the 4th and 5th centuries, B.C. and a medieval Jewish community.

Surely the price of social survival includes state expenditures for military security, say, and public health, and education. Socially recognized needs are the first charge against the social product; there is no real surplus until they have been met. What the surplus finances is the production and exchange of commodities outside the sphere of need. Men and women who appropriate vast sums of money for themselves, while needs are still unmet, act like tyrants, dominating and distorting the distribution of security and welfare” (75-6).

Distributive justice in the sphere of welfare and security has a twofold meaning: it refers, first to the recognition of need and, second, to the recognition of membership” (78).

He criticizes John Rawls’ hypothetical “original position” and “difference principle” (79). They don’t much help in determining what choices people will make or should make when they know their particular circumstances. Also, what are “fair shares” of things like justice, tranquility, defense, and liberty? The ideas are also vague. 


Thursday, June 13, 2019

Spheres of Justice #4

Chapter 2 is about membership.

The primary good that we distribute to one another is membership in some human community. And what we do with regard to membership structures all our other distributive choices: it determines with who we make those choices, from whom we require obedience and collect taxes, to whom we allocate goods and services” (31).

Membership as a social good is constituted by our understanding; its value is fixed by our work and conversation, and then we are in charge … of its distribution. [T]he choice is also governed by our relationships with strangers – not only by our understanding of those relationships but also by the actual contacts, connections, alliances we have established and the effects we have had beyond our borders” (32).

Few of us have any direct experience of what a country is or what it is to be a member. We often have strong feelings about our country, but only dim perceptions of it via symbols, offices, and representatives. It’s helpful to compare it to smaller associations more easily grasped – neighborhoods, clubs, and families.

A neighborhood is enormously complex. It is an association without an organized or legally enforceable admissions policy. Strangers may be welcomed or not welcomed, admitted or excluded. Neighborhoods might maintain cohesive culture for a generation or two on a voluntary basis, but people moving in and out may diminish the cohesion.

A feature of clubs is that they can regulate admission. Only when clubs split into factions and fighting may the state intervene. When states split, however, no legal appeal is possible; there is no superior body. Imagine states as perfect clubs, with sovereign power over their own selection process. In some states are like families rather than clubs, for in families are morally connected to members they have not chosen. A state differs from clubs and families in that it is territorial. A person with full membership in a state is a citizen.

Also in this chapter Walzer comments about immigration and emigration, aliens and naturalization, refugees, guest workers, and legal rules about these, but I will skip the details.


Monday, June 10, 2019

Spheres of Justice #3

[W]e should focus on the reduction of dominance – not, or not primarily, on the break-up or the constraint of monopoly” (17).

We search for principles internal to each distributive sphere … the disregard of these principles is tyranny. To convert one good into another, when there is no intrinsic connection between the two, is to invade the sphere where another company of men and women properly rules. Monopoly is not inappropriate within the spheres. There is nothing wrong, for example, with the grip that persuasive and helpful men and women (politicians) establish on political power. But the use of political power to gain access to other goods is tyrannical.

In formal terms, complex equality means that no citizen’s standing in one sphere or with regard to some social good can be undercut by his standing in some other sphere, with regard to some other good” (19).

Walzer’s three distributive principles are free exchange, desert, and need. Free exchange is open-ended; it guarantees no distributive outcome. Desert seems to require an especially close connection between particular goods and particular persons. He doesn’t say much about what are needs, but basic things like security, food and water, adequate medical care and education are good examples. Obviously children are more needful. Need does not work for many other goods. Some people want but nobody needs political power, honor and fame, sailboats, rare and expensive books or works or art, etc. A search for a hospital director focusing on the needs of the candidates rather than the staff and patients of the hospital would be improper. Other distributive criteria will always be operating alongside need, and it will always be necessary to worry about the boundaries that mark them off from one another. Every distributive criteria that is forceful meets the general rule within its own sphere, and not elsewhere (21-26).


Friday, June 7, 2019

Spheres of Justice #2

I continue on Michael Walzer’s Spheres of Justice.

Human society is a distributive community. That’s not all it is, but it is importantly that: we come together to share, divide, and exchange. We also come together to make the things that are shared, divided, and exchanged.” The making or work is distributed among us by a division of labor. Judgments about what each has rightly or wrongly, justly or unjustly, are never easy.

The idea of distributive justice has as much to do with being and doing as with having, as much to do with production as with consumption, as much to do with identity and status as well as with land, capital, or personnel possessions. Different political arrangements enforce, and different ideologies justify, different distributions of membership, power, honor, ritual eminence, divine grace, kinship and love, knowledge, wealth, physical security, work and leisure, rewards and punishments, and a host of goods more narrowly and materially conceived[.] … And this multiplicity of goods is matched by a multiplicity of distributive procedures, agents, and criteria” (3).

Most societies are and have been organized on one good or a set of goods that is dominant and determines value in all spheres of distribution. He calls a good "dominant" if the individuals who have it, because they have it, can command a wide range of other goods. He calls it "monopolized" when a single person, a monarch, or a group, oligarchs successfully hold it against rivals. In a dictatorship or totalitarian society, the political rulers are dominant and they have prestige and power. In a capitalist society, capital is dominant and readily converted into prestige and power. In earlier centuries, religious authorities or royalty dominated and held prestige and power. For aristocracy, those who lay claim to breeding and intelligence are dominant. For meritocracy, those with talent and education are dominant.

Distribution is what social conflict is all about. Control of the means of production is a distributive struggle. Land and capital can be shared, divided, exchanged and used for prestige and power. Land and capital may be acquired in the marketplace, or via military or political power, religious office, or heredity. Some group of men and women – class, caste, strata, estate, alliance, or social formation – comes to possess a monopoly or near monopoly of some dominant good or a coalition of groups comes to such possession. This dominant good is more or less systematically converted into all sorts of other things – opportunities, powers, wealth, and reputations. Perhaps the ideology that justifies the situation is widely believed to be true. But resentment and resistance are almost as pervasive as belief. There are some people, perhaps many, who believe the situation is unjust, with the dominant group not entitled to its dominance (10-12).

At a societal level simple equality would require continual state intervention to break up or constrain incipient monopolies and to repress new forms of dominance. But then state power itself will become the central object of competitive struggle. Politics is always the most direct path to dominance, and political power is probably the most important, and certainly the most dangerous, good in human history. Hence the need to constrain the agents of constraint, to establish constitutional checks and balances (15).


Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Spheres of Justice #1

I read Spheres of Justice by Michael Walzer. By “spheres” he means different domains of social life – politics, economics, education, family and friends – that call for different principles of distributive justice. I found his observations of similarities and differences between the different spheres, and how principles reflected by practice have changed over centuries, both interesting and thought provoking.

Throughout history, the market has been one of the most important mechanisms for the distribution of social goods – ones that are made, exchanged, divided, or shared – but it has never been a complete system. Similarly, no state power has been so pervasive as to regulate all patterns of making, sharing, exchanging, or dividing to fully control all distribution (p. 4).

Philosophers have mostly sought a single principle, criterion or underlying unity for distributive justice. Such philosophical impulse is unavoidable, but he argues that such a search is to misunderstand the subject (p. 4).

He argues against the simple equality of egalitarianism and favors a “complex equality” with different distributive principles in different spheres.

All the book reviews on Amazon are very short. There are longer ones, but most are in journals and hence not easily, freely accessible.


Sunday, June 2, 2019

Blanshard on Implication and Necessity #5

This post is less about what Blanshard says in his book than the earlier ones and my last in this series.

Blanshard's critique is excellent. Still, I wonder why he did not say something like: Why are two of the rows in the truth table, when p is F in post #1, even relevant? To wit, what logical truth is implied by '7 < 4' or 'the moon is made of cheese'?

Subsequent to the problems with "material implication" logic being noticed and acknowledged, relevance logic arose. It was proposed before Blanshard’s book was first published in 1939. However, it didn’t become prominent until the 1970s.