Labels and Contradictions

 Posted by on 8 November 2002 at 6:08 pm  Uncategorized
Nov 082002

As an admirer of much of Brink Lindsey’s writing, it is with a twinge of sadness that I must agree with Arthur Silber’s analysis of the deep philosophical problems of Lindsey’s views of capitalism. Arthur’s analysis of the dire consequences of Lindsey’s breed of altruism-driven semi-libertarianism is dead-on. He writes that Lindsey “is helping the enemy in the long run” and it ought to be “clear to everyone that it is the principles of altruism and statism that have brought us to our current state, and that more of the same will not cure the problem, but only make it worse.” Augh! Why must people cling so tenaciously to that pseudo-ethics of altruism?!?

(For my analysis of the four necessary philosophical pillars of libertarianism — reason, egoism, mind-body integration, and harmony of interests — see the transcript of my lecture The Philosophical Underpinnings of Capitalism.)

Since Lindsey’s comments concerned his reluctant use of the term libertarian, let me offer some offhand comments about ideological labels. (These comments really don’t apply much to Lindsey himself.)

I often hear people argue that they don’t like ideological labels, as they are too restrictive and confining. Such people claim to be staunch individualists, who aren’t going to march lockstep with the crowd, whether it be the crowd of Marxists, libertarians, Objectivist, or socialists. In my personal experience, such people wish to be free from logic and consistency, not dogmatism. They want to be able to advocate whatever incoherent hodgepodge of ideas they please, without any reference to systematic integration. The are dressing up unreason as individualism. Such people are at best deeply epistemologically confused.

Of course, people do sometimes reject (or only begrudgingly accept) particular ideological labels for good reason. Sometimes, no single position describes their views accurately. (I face just this problem in philosophy of mind. Lindsey seems to face the same problem in politics, although I do believe he also faces a much larger problem, that of incompatibility between his altruism and his advocacy of limited capitalism.) The solution to such problems is to create a new label, to form a new concept that does accurately capture what ought to be a systematic and consistent viewpoint. At other times, a person’s view may simply not be well-settled enough to be properly categorized one way or another — yet. But a label would be appropriate at a later date. Both of these reasons to reject particular labels with respect to particular ideas are legitimate. Unlike with the people discussed above, the problem is not with the labels per se, but the accuracy of those labels.

As a parting note, let me simply pass on my observation that most people, including far too many intellectuals, have little to no capacity to recognize contradictions between ideas. On multiple occasions, I’ve seen people laud the glories of service to others in one breath and the sanctity of individual happiness in the next. Scientologists routinely claim to also be Christians. People wonder whether Objectivism is compatible with Buddhism or Christianity. Most scientists believe in God. The examples go on and on. Sadly enough, learning to detect contradictions between ideas is a skill that most people simply have never developed.

Personally, I blame government schooling. :-)

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha