Archive | December, 2015

Purgation Insertion

Just noticed today: the most recent edition of We the Living has something new; at the beginning of chapter I.16, the words “THE PURGE,” previously appearing in ordinary typescript, now appear in handwritten form:


I’m guessing that the text is in Rand’s handwriting, borrowed from her original manuscript – I can’t imagine they’d do this otherwise. But there’s no announcement or explanation of the change. (Which, alas, is typical of the Randarchs; more drastic changes than this have previously passed in silence, from the deletion of a section of Rand’s introduction to The Fountainhead discussing Frank O’Connor’s painting Man Also Rises, to the deletion of the original ending of Night of January 16th.)

Are You My Other Mummy?

Back in 2011, Doctor Who and Sherlock both featured the main character apparently getting killed, leaving fans to figure out how he faked his death.

Right now, Doctor Who and Sherlock are both wrapping up 2015 with a threatening veiled undead woman.

Moreover, if you combine the adjective from the title of the upcoming Sherlock holiday special with the noun from the title of the 2012 Doctor Who holiday special, you get a 1967 Doctor Who story ….

Keep on Truckin’ (and Barterin’ and Exchangin’)

[cross-posted at BHL]

Murray Rothbard famously (well, famously in libertarian circles) condemned Adam Smith for positing an “an alleged irrational and innate ‘propensity to truck, barter and exchange’, as if human beings were lemmings determined by forces external to their own chosen purposes.”

As I’ve pointed out before, this interpretation is difficult to square with Smith’s own words:

Whether this propensity be one of those original principles in human nature, of which no further account can be given; or whether, as seems more probable, it be the necessary consequence of the faculties of reason and speech, it belongs not to our present subject to enquire. [Emphasis added.]

In other words, far from regarding this propensity as a brute irrational instinct, Smith makes clear that he regards it as more likely to be a byproduct of our rational faculty.

In a recent column provocatively titled “Down with Truck, Barter, and Exchange!,” my friend Jason Kuznicki raises a criticism of Smith similar to Rothbard’s. According to Jason:

People don’t have a natural propensity to truck, barter, and exchange, if by “natural propensity” we mean that they enjoy these activities in themselves, or for their own sake, or for the pleasure that they derive from them.

Instead, Jason maintains, all that humans have is a “a propensity to seek perceived advantage,” which might or might not involve exchange, depending on the circumstances.


Jason’s position seems right in and of itself, but it’s a mystery why he considers it at odds with Smith. Why on God’s green earth would anyone think that in calling the propensity to trade “natural” Smith must mean that it’s a propensity to value trade for its own sake rather than as a means to some further end? Smith does say that when people trade they ordinarily “ha[ve] in view no such extensive utility,” but the more extensive utility Smith’s referring to is the “general opulence” of society that results indirectly from trade; he never means to deny that trade is sought as a means to the trader’s advantage. After all, just a few sentences later Smith describes the operation of the propensity in such a way as to make utterly clear that trade is ordinarily a means to the further end of the trader’s own advantage:

[M]an has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and shew them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this: Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of.

My client, Adam Smith, is not guilty. (On this point, anyway.)

What’s So Special About the Cheesemakers?

On tv the other night I saw a couple of pundits debating whether Islam is a religion of peace or a religion of violence. Each side of the question was supported, easily enough, by quotes from the Qur’an and Hadith. Yet neither debater drew the obvious moral: namely, that Islam – like just about every religion I’m familiar with – contains both peaceful and violent strands, so that which sort of religion it “is” depends on which strands one emphasises.

And this points to a broader conclusion: the impossibility of “fundamentalism.”

moses-frenchFundamentalists are supposed to be people who embrace every provision of their religion’s scriptures and traditions in its most literal meaning. But any religion old enough or complicated enough to have left any sort of mark on the world is almost inevitably going to contain strands that cannot be reconciled except by interpreting one strand or the other in something other than the most obvious and literal sense, be the striving elements “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day” and “Let there be no compulsion in religion,” or “He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one” and “They that take the sword shall perish with the sword,” or for that matter “Congress shall have power … to promote the progress of science and useful arts by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries” and “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”

sacredtextoAnd that means that every religious believer, so-called fundamentalists included, always chooses some provisions to interpret non-literally. Interpretation is inevitably made in the light of some vision of what is worth believing in: for example, is one’s religion to be essentially a doctrine of peace, with some oddball violent passages to explain away, or essentially a doctrine of violence, with some oddball pacific passages to explain away? The answer isn’t a given; it’s a choice. So the would-be fundamentalists’ trick of trying to evade reasoned arguments about right and wrong via appeals to authority of the form “Odin/Vishnu/Cybele said it, I believe it, and that’s the end of it” are fooling themselves (unless they can find a god who said so few things that all its pronouncements are easily reconciled in their most flat-footedly literal form, but how many gods are that dull and taciturn?). You need to have some independent idea of what a worthwhile God would command in order to decide what he did command.

La Homilía de San Bernardino

For Republicans, the moral of the San Bernardino shootings is clear: an excuse to ramp up state violence against Muslims and immigrants.

For Democrats, the moral of the San Bernardino shootings is equally clear: an excuse to ramp up state violence against gun owners and would-be gun owners.

Here’s a radical idea: when you see an act of mass aggression against the innocent, maybe don’t decide that the moral is to imitate it.

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