Archive | December, 2006

Polly Want An Apology

In his 1689 Essay Concerning Human Understanding, John Locke famously wrote:

A relation we have in an author of great note, is sufficient to countenance the supposition of a rational parrot.

His words are: “I had a mind to know, from Prince Maurice’s own mouth, the account of a common, but much credited story, that I had heard so often from many others, of an old parrot he had in Brazil, during his government there, that spoke, and asked, and answered common questions, like a reasonable creature: so that those of his train there generally concluded it to be witchery or possession; and one of his chaplains, who lived long afterwards in Holland, would never from that time endure a parrot, but said they all had a devil in them. I had heard many particulars of this story, and assevered by people hard to be discredited, which made me ask Prince Maurice what there was of it. A rational parrot He said, with his usual plainness and dryness in talk, there was something true, but a great deal false of what had been reported. I desired to know of him what there was of the first. He told me short and coldly, that he had heard of such an old parrot when he had been at Brazil; and though he believed nothing of it, and it was a good way off, yet he had so much curiosity as to send for it: that it was a very great and a very old one; and when it came first into the room where the prince was, with a great many Dutchmen about him, it said presently, What a company of white men are here! They asked it, what it thought that man was, pointing to the prince. It answered, Some General or other. When they brought it close to him, he asked it, D’ou venez-vous? It answered, De Marinnan. The Prince, A qui estes-vous? The Parrot, A un Portugais. The Prince, Que fais-tu la? Parrot, Je garde les poulles. The Prince laughed, and said, Vous gardez les poulles? The Parrot answered, Oui, moi; et je sçai bien faire; and made the chuck four or five times that people use to make to chickens when they call them. I set down the words of this worthy dialogue in French, just as Prince Maurice said them to me. I asked him in what language the parrot spoke, and he said in Brasilian. I asked whether he understood Brasilian; he said No, but he had taken care to have two interpreters by him, the one a Dutchman that spoke Brasilian, and the other a Brasilian that spoke Dutch; that he asked them separately and privately, and both of them agreed in telling him just the same thing that the parrot had said. I could not but tell this odd story, because it is so much out of the way, and from the first hand, and what may pass for a good one; for I dare say this Prince at least believed himself in all he told me, having ever passed for a very honest and pious man: I leave it to naturalists to reason, and to other men to believe, as they please upon it; however, it is not, perhaps, amiss to relieve or enliven a busy scene sometimes with such digressions, whether to the purpose or no.”

I have taken care that the reader should have the story at large in the author’s own words, because he seems to me not to have thought it incredible; for it cannot be imagined that so able a man as he, who had sufficiency enough to warrant all the testimonies he gives of himself, should take so much pains, in a place where it had nothing to do, to pin so close, not only on a man whom he mentions as his friend, but on a Prince in whom he acknowledges very great honesty and piety, a story which, if he himself thought incredible, he could not but also think ridiculous.

For years Locke has been the butt of ridicule for his gullibility concerning this tale of the rational parrot. But in light of this news story (conical hat tip to LRC), the last laugh may be Locke’s.

Update

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’Tis the Season for Anarchy in DC, Part 2

I’m back from Mordor! Though since most of the times I’ve been in DC have been libertarian-related (e.g., my three summers at IHS) I actually associate DC more with libertarianism than with statism. Well, that plus good ethnic restaurants, coffeeshops, and bookstores.

The Eye of Sauron watching over Mordor The Molinari Society meeting went well and had a good turnout (despite the meeting’s location being changed at the last minute). Matt MacKenzie argued that even mutually consensual transactions can be exploitative from a libertarian standpoint if they are enabled by unfairly coercive background conditions; Charles Johnson in his comments raised questions about unfair but noncoercive backgrounds, as well as some epistemological difficulties. Geoff Plauché criticised the founder-legislator myth from a Hayekian spontaneous-order standpoint; Charles in his comments raised questions about consciously constructed but noncoercive orders. Other libertarian-related events I attended included author-meets-critics sessions for Jan Narveson and Tara Smith, and the Objectivist Center reception. (Apparently for APA purposes they’re still calling themselves the Objectivist Center rather than the Atlas Society.) Good to see lots of old friends.

In the book exhibits I was pleased to see that the full, massive, unabridged version of Foucault’s History of Madness is finally available in English.

I also went to the Library of Congress to look up some old Molinari and Rose Wilder Lane stuff. When I first went to the Library back in 1987 (to photocopy the notoriously Nietzschean first edition of We the Living), security was so bad that I actually wrote my Congressman about it. (Yeah, I did stuff like that in those days.) Nowadays security is much tighter – but clearly aimed more at the threat of terrorists than at the more likely threat of thieves. It would now be fairly difficult to smuggle a bomb in – but still not terribly difficult to smuggle a book out.

While I was in DC two scoundrelly ex-presidents left this sphere – one hastily murdered, most likely to avoid embarrassing inquiries into the past dealings of the American state; the other obsequiously lauded, for similar reasons. The beat goes on ….

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Our Victimised State

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

Two news items for today:

  • A recent study of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show and its viewers reveals that “exposure to the show lowered trust in the media and the electoral process,” and thus Jon Stewarthad “detrimental effects, driving down support for political institutions and leaders.” 

    Another study reveals that the show is, horror of horrors, turning viewers off of both parties: “98% of the evaluations of Republicans prior to the election were negative, while 96% of the ‘reporting’ on Democrats was negative.”

    Voices of concern are being raised in the punditocracy; the Washington Post’s Richard Morin, for example, sounds the alarm:

    Jon Stewart and his hit Comedy Central cable show may be poisoning democracy. 

    Two political scientists found that young people who watch Stewart’s faux news program, “The Daily Show,” develop cynical views about politics and politicians that could lead them to just say no to voting.

    Oh nooooooooo!!! The end is nigh!

  • So Saudi princess Hana al-Jader is being deported, and forced to pay restitution, for keeping her domestic servants’ passports locked in a safe, thus preventing them from leaving, and forcing them to work for low pay. 

    Okay, fair enough. But what crimes was she officially charged with? Lying on immigration forms and harbouring aliens.

    In other words, her real crimes against these actual people had to be redescribed as fictional crimes against the state and its immigration laws in order for justice to be done.

    You see, it’s really the state that’s the aggrieved party in every crime. The human victims are merely occasions.

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’Tis the Season for Anarchy in DC

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

To anyone planning to be at the APA in DC next week, don’t forget to check out the Molinari Society’s third annual Symposium:

Anarchy in DC GVIII-4. Friday, 29 December 2006, 11:15 a.m.-1:15 p.m.
Molinari Society symposium: “Anarchist Perspectives”
Virginia Suite C (Lobby Level), Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, 2660 Woodley Road NW

Session 1, 11:15-12:15:
chair: Roderick T. Long (Auburn University)
speaker: Matthew MacKenzie (Muhlenberg College)
title: “Exploitation: A Dialectical Anarchist Perspective”
commentator: Charles W. Johnson (Molinari Institute)

Session 2, 12:15-1:15:
chair: Roderick T. Long (Auburn University)
speaker: Geoffrey Allan Plauché (Louisiana State University)
title: “On the Myth of the Founder-Legislator in Political Philosophy”
commentator: Charles W. Johnson (Molinari Institute)

Also, don’t miss the AAPSSfest on Jan Narveson (Thursday at 9) or the ARSfest on Tara Smith (Friday at 1:30). (But do miss Narveson’s other session, since, alas, it conflicts with the Molinarifest.) 

In other Molinari news, look for the first issue of The Industrial Radical some time next month.

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Agora! Dialexis! Ia Ia Cthulhu fhtagn!

I’ve been looking for a label for my particular political orientation.

“Left-libertarian,” “left-Austrian,” and so forth are fine, and I happily use them, but each of them really designates a genus more than a species.

Chris Sciabarra and Sam Konkin horribly merged together by a tragic transporter accidentAgorist” is a bit more specific, but without a qualifier it seems both too narrow (suggesting a stricter adherence to orthodox Konkinism than I can really boast) and too broad (inasmuch as it doesn’t capture my particular quirk of seeking an integration of libertarianism with traditional lefty struggles against racism, patriarchy, and the like).

So, thought I, maybe Agorism plus a qualifier. But what? One possibility is “Left-Agorism,” but that doesn’t really specify what’s more lefty about it. Another possibility is “Dialectical Agorism,” which does suggest (at least for readers of Sciabarra) an integration of Agorism with broader concerns – but it doesn’t specify lefty concerns (even though “dialectical” does have a lefty flavour). Combining them would yield “Dialectical Left-Agorism” – admirably specific on the one hand, butt-ugly on the other.

Maybe I’ll split the difference by alternating between them. Okay, let it be so. Henceforth I am a Dialectical Agorist. That’s right, I said a Dialectical Left-Agorist.

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