Sunday, September 17, 2006

the language coil

I've often found that peoples unknowingly hold thoughts and beliefs which they are bound to by the words and concepts they have used all their life, but pay no more than cursory attention to their meanings. Surely there is a good reason for the usage, as abstractions serve a purpose of both mental and verbal shortcuts, allowing us to quickly express complex thoughts without having to resort to reinventing the wheel every time we need to have a flat tire fixed.

Therein lies the danger-- the assumption that people automatically understands the full meaning of the abstraction, and are not mislead to take the abstraction as a significant term other than the sum of its parts.

One quick example that can demonstrate this point; the use of the words "natural" and "unnatural" used other than to discern between occurrences that come about on their own in accord with the law of nature, and occurrences that come about through the intervention of some higher being, such as man or a supernatural being.

As Vache Folle points out,
"I have known folks who claim that their hatred of homosexuality stems from reason. In support of this, they claim that it is “unnatural”. Since it occurs in nature with some considerable frequency, I dispute this characterization. It is true that homosexuality does not lead to reproduction, but neither does celibacy, and I don’t know anyone who condemns celibacy. Ultimately, this moral reasoning depends on the metaphysical assumptions that “natural” is good and that reproduction is always desirable."
Please note how the construct of the abstractive terms "natural" or "unnatural" cast not any moral and ethical judgments such as right and wrong, or good and bad. The association of natural and good, and vice versa is a wholly inappropriate exercise, and ought be corrected where ever visited.

Similarly, I have friends who refuse to use microwave ovens, or artificial sweeteners, and I wholly understand this position being that these health-conscious individuals are always looking out for the next bogeyman, in this case the scary terms "radiation" and "artificial" or "synthetic".

It never fails to amaze me how grown, reasoning people can get frightened from the term radiation. After all, every moment of our existence, from start to end is bathed in, and emits radiation. There is the heat radiation our body's give off, the radiation we bask in from the radiator, the sun's light radiation we attune our brains to see with, the infrared our convection ovens cook with, and the TV, radio and cosmic rays that endlessly bombard us, or pass through us without regard to our atomic density.

But set an unnatural magnetron to emit alternating electric currents at 2.450 GHz, fully and benignly enveloped in a Faraday cage, and see how people run to hide to the accustomed and relative safety of Prometheus's fire (which by the way radiates in the infrared range).

I fail to understand why this particular form of radiation is feared more so than other forms, but I'm willing to put myself out there and dare blame it on the abstraction of "radiation". I can also assure you that it's a waste of perfectly good oxygen to try to talk sense into a microphobic by telling him that because the size of the perforations in the mesh is much less than the wavelength of 12 cm, the microwave radiation cannot pass through the door, while visible light (with a much shorter wavelength) can. In this case the abstraction must be clearly defined and explained to break through the paranoia.

In regards to sweeteners of all origins, I have found the aversion to synthetic chemicals to be ill-informed and non-reasoned. First, what is a sweetener? Obviously a sweetener is some chemical formation that interacts with your taste buds in a way that your mind might find enjoyable and pleasing. For a long time, sugars found abundantly in nature have provided that stimulation, with much resulting havoc to the health of those whom have over-consumed.

With the introduction of man-made sweeteners, luddites have found yet another non-sensical distinction to hound to no end. They suddenly become paternalistic scientists, positing such brilliant and hard-hitting questions such as "How do you know it won't give you cancer?" (I often fear that the loathing people have for synthetic sweeteners derives from their gloomy sense of universal justice, as though it cannot be that something tasting so good can dare exist without having a significant unnutritional repercussions.) My usual answer to this nonsense is to ask them how they know the fruit, vegetables, or whatnot that they consume will not give them cancer.

The abstracted assumption I am asked to believe is that a chemical formation which is not found in nature, must automatically be harmful to, and was never meant to be assimilated by the human body. The term that does the brain damage in this case is "artificial"- equated by the luddites to mean "fake", and jeez, fake things must be bad for you. The person who doesn't get caught up with these meaningless distinctions though would be prudent to monitor the effects of, both short and long term, for all types of foods, not just those of unnatural origin.

Frankly I can go on about the knee-jerk aversion to genetically-modified foods, but I think the patient reader has already grasped my point.

Changing Gears

Some while ago, there was heated discussion over the viability of corporations in a free market. The furor started over Piet-Hein Van Eeghen's corporation-scathing JLS article titled "The Clash With Classical Liberal Values and the Negative Consequences for Capitalist Practice".

To summarize, Van Eeghen's arguments boiled down to a few critiques of the injustices of corporations such as: corporations historically relied on a state to give it entity status, they separate control from responsibility (limited liability), they exist independent of human life, and can well exceed it, and are hence essentially state-like in their nature.

To a LeftLibertarian, sometimes the luster of this poison apple has them to cast aside their better judgment as they eagerly denounce all forms of corporations. The problem of course is their inability to overlook the historical, and abstractional association of the term.

Shrugging aside the baggage of positive law, the function of a corporation is a useful abstraction to a free society. For one, it makes a wonderful vehicle to expedite the accumulation of savings necessary to allow production to reach higher, more roundabout stages, which result in prosperity. It also allows those with pressing time constraints to delegate the task of working their otherwise non-productive capital.

The much ballyhooed illegitimacy of the corporations' entity status is as wholly irrelevant, as is the historical fact that corporations were state-granted abstractions. I fail to understand why that should have any bearing on a group of freemen consentually hallucinating the imaginary entity for the unified purpose of filling some productive desire.

Furthermore as I wrote there in separate posts;
"Entity, or personhood is just an abstraction; a convenient mental construct. Let not the statist baggage cloud the free market variety which could accomplish the same function. The real owners are, and have always been the shareholders"...

"As an addendum, I want to point out that the immortality question isn't an issue once we recognize the shareholders (and to whomever they sell or bequest their property) as the real owners."

"I don't know why you insist on conflating state capitalism's form of corporation, and it's convenient legal fictions, with a free market version which is based on libertarian principles, in which the only recognized form of ownership is clearly vested in the shareholders, and not some fictitious entity.

A corporation under libertarian law would be recognized as a relationship where persons are under the acting orders of the ownership to steward some property, and under which any tort liability would have to be aimed strictly at the parties involved in causing the damages.

Mere ownership of the property does not necessarily include the owner as part of the cause-- to accept otherwise would be a knee-jerk response by someone who only recognizes the whole package deal of state-capitalism's corporatism"...

"I have no disagreement here, other than I would think that under anarchy people would be free to form voluntary arrangements, for example to live communally under socialist principles.

Such society would allow people to suffer the illusion of having a distinct personhood for fictional entities, something that some might say we have that today with the concept of god as expressed by religion.

Of course such illusions will be strictly subjective to that group, and any other individual or group dealing with the corporation would deal with it's owners or management under the libertarian condition of determining causation."

What Else?

I imagine that there are hundreds of abstractions that most people hardly think twice about-- the nonsensical basis for intellectual property laws for example. The point I make is only that one should maintain constant guard against accepting the package deal of an unstudied abstraction.

1 comment:

Stephan Kinsella said...

iceberg--your comments on the Carson thread were GREAT, as are the ones here. Very very good. i postd a (belated) comment there just now. Wish I knew who you were! We have a good libertarian email discussion list going, email me if you want to join.