Archive | January 21, 2008

Jon Stewart on the Media

Just now on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart said something like: “Ron Paul keeps beating Giuliani in primary after primary, yet the media treat Giuliani seriously, but whenever they mention Paul they just laugh.”

Petition to Abolish the Government of the USA

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

The petition I posted in draft form a couple of weeks ago is now available for signing. Here’s the text:

To: All those currently exercising positions of responsibility in the Government of the United States of America, whether elected or appointed, and whether at the federal, state, or local level

Smash the State Whereas the United States Government’s claim to legitimacy is purportedly based on such principles as the consent of the governed, human equality, and the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and

Whereas few if any of those over whom you claim authority have ever consented to such governance; and

Whereas governments, as claimants to such authority over others, are by their nature inconsistent with human equality; and

Whereas your laws, ordinances, decrees, and policies generally stand in violation, directly or indirectly, of the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;

We, the undersigned, hereby demand:

That you cease to claim to be acting in our name or as our agents; and

That you cease all attempts to exercise authority over your fellow human beings, on this continent or elsewhere; and

That you work to dismantle the institution or set of institutions known as the Government of the United States of America, in every branch and at every level, as speedily as possible; and

That you make no attempt to interfere with its replacement by voluntary associations of free and equal individuals.

Click here to sign it. (Signing it in this blog’s comments section doesn’t count!).

The Justice League

Two days ago was Spooner’s birthday, and today – by convention – is King’s (though his actual birthday was six days ago).

Spooner and King would have disagreed on a number of issues (most notably the legitimacy of the state), but these two opponents of racial oppression would also have had some important points in common. In particular, both were eloquent defenders of the idea that state decrees in violation of natural justice have no legal authority – that unjust decrees have no claim on our obedience, while just decrees have such a claim only because they are just and not because they are decrees.

In honour of the season, why not read, or reread, Spooner’s Natural Law, or the Science of Justice and King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail?

I See What You Mean

In a passage that ended up being cut from Galt’s speech, Rand writes:

Man is an entity of mind and body, an indivisible union of two elements: of consciousness and matter. Matter is that which one perceives, consciousness is that which perceives it; your fundamental act of perception is an indivisible whole consisting of both ….Your consciousness is that which you know – and are alone to know – by direct perception. It is that indivisible unit where knowledge and being are one, it is your “I,” it is the self which distinguishes you from all else in the universe. No consciousness can perceive another consciousness, only the results of its actions on material forms, since only matter is an object of perception, and consciousness is the subject, perceivable by its nature only to itself. To perceive the consciousness, the “I,” of another would mean to become that other “I” – a contradiction in terms; to speak of souls perceiving one another is a denial of your “I,” of perception, of consciousness, of matter. (Journals of Ayn Rand, p. 663)

I think this is partly right and partly wrong. It’s wrong, I claim, to say that we can’t perceive other people’s consciousness directly. I’m not talking about telepathy, just the ordinary way that we perceive that someone is angry or bored or scared.

Your mind to my mind ... your thoughts to my thoughts ... Captain, I'm not getting anything. When I say that our awareness of other people’s states of mind is (often) direct, I mean, of course, epistemically direct – that is, not inferred from some other known fact. I don’t mean to deny that causally the chain between your anger and my awareness of it is indirect and quite complex; nor do I mean to deny that this awareness is made possible by additional background information I have accumulated. All I deny is that my awareness is inferred from any of these background factors. In short, what I claim about our direct perception of other people’s minds is very similar to what Rand claims about our direct perception of other people’s bodies.

Rand might object that awareness of other people’s mental states is fallible while awareness of physical objects isn’t. But Rand doesn’t deny the existence of what would ordinarily be called perceptual illusions; she simply holds that in such cases what has occurred is either the mistaking of a perception of one thing for the perception of another, or else the mistaking of a perception for a nonperception. Now if Rand wants to use the term “perception” as a factive, that’s fine by me, but then I get to do the same thing; in that sense, perception of others’ consciousness is infallible too.

But the genuine truth that Rand is reaching for is that no one can be aware of my consciousness the way I am; I think she’s just confusing having a different mode of consciousness with having a different object of consciousness. There’s a way of being aware of X by being X, and no one but X can possess that form of awareness; here indeed “knowledge and being are one.” But what’s impossible is not perceiving the “I” of another, but perceiving it as one’s own “I.”

These issues are on my mind because in the department we’ve started a reading group on what looks so far to be an excellent book, Sebastian Rödl’s Self-Consciousness, which is trying to elucidate exactly what is involved in being aware of X by being X.

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