Saturday, September 22, 2018

America, The Independent Republic

Stuart K. Hayashi

“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”

“CapitalistPig” Jonathan Hoenig edited and published the anthology A New Textbook of Americanism. It features the original Textbook of Americanism, a series of essays in question-and-answer format that Ayn Rand wrote to explain the individualist principles upon which the republic was founded. Ayn Rand was not able to complete the entire series, but she wrote out a list of the remaining philosophic questions she had intended to answer. For the remainder of A New Textbook, Jonathan and other Objectivist scholars have taken it upon themselves to answer those remaining questions, both according to their own knowledge of the subjects and also according to how they think Ayn Rand might have answered. I have assisted Jonathan in the editing and contributed an answer to the question “How to identify a Nazi?”

The online conservative periodical The Resurgent has published an op-ed from me on this topic that is adapted from the book, “What’s the True Meaning of Americanism?”

Previously I have written that, on account of it being founded on principles of openness and on rewarding individual businesses for their merit, regardless of their country of headquarters — prioritizing such individual merit above collectivist nationalist and ethnic considerations — America is and always has been “the globalist republic,” in the best possible meaning of globalist. I stand by that, and in the op-ed, I add another layer: America was founded as the Independent Republic. I say,

In his first draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote that “all men are created equal and independent...” In keeping with the burgeoning philosophy of its time, the Age of Enlightenment, this draft declared independence in a respect even more significant than independence from Britain: that each peaceful adult is independent in how he is to navigate his life. In more context than one, then, America was always to be the Independent Republic. This idea came to be known in the late nineteenth century as the spirit of Horatio Alger, and what twentieth-century historian James Truslow Adams later dubbed “the American dream.”

Not only is it possible to be both an independent individualist and an economic globalist, but to describe oneself as both is to be redundant.

A parochial collectivist — an economic nationalist — will demand that his fellow countrymen purchase goods or services primarily according to whether it benefits other members of their ethnicity or some other group designation in which they had no choice in joining. The parochial collectivist and economic nationalist expects that his countrymen prioritize this over their individualistic freedom to purchase peaceably whatever good or service best serves their individual needs.

By contrast, the independent individualist prioritizes the satisfaction of her own individual needs, and knows that maximizing the opportunity of completing this task requires that she have the freedom to purchase such goods or services from any peaceable vendor from anywhere, including vendors who are not of her race, sex, or cultural background.

I thank Katherine Revello, who maintains the Politics of Discretion weblog, for pointing out to me that Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence said that “all men are created equal and independent.” The Declaration remains beautiful and important, but its meaning would have been even clearer if that independent had been kept in the final version.

Yes, America is the Independent Republic — not only independent from a colonial master, but the republic wherein the independent individual has the freedom to thrive, doing business with other independent individuals throughout the world.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Progress Hindered Not By ‘Slave Morality’ But By ‘Caveman Ethics’

Some Emotional Biases That Might Have Helped Our Hunter-Gatherer Ancestors Procreate Are Not So Helpful to Us — But This Can Be Overcome

Stuart K. Hayashi

A major problem in the world is not what Friedrich Nietzsche dubbed a “slave morality,” but what I call “caveman morality” or “caveman ethics.” Before I address these matters more fully, I must issue some caveats.

First, slave morality was always a creepy expression, as it has been used to denigrate slaves much more than their masters. The idea is that because the master dominates the slave, that means the master is strong and the slave is weak. And no one wants to be weak. When someone says you follow a “slave morality,” it is to demean you as weak, just as a slave is presumed to be. But the slave’s efforts feed both the slave and the master; the master here functions as a dependent on the slave. Qua this arrangement, it is the slave who is stronger and more admirable, and it is the master, not the slave, who should feel abased. A code of ethics that condones coercive domination over others is much more shameful than a “slave morality.”

The real scourge is “caveman ethics,” but I must provide a disclaimer about the extent to which caveman can be taken as a pejorative in this context. There is nothing inherently bad about cavemen. We owe much to them, insofar as they practiced ingenuity that later generations built upon, and which continues to benefit us to this day. As I shall explain below, though, we benefit today not by the extent to which cavemen acted upon their collectivist cognitive biases, but by the extent to which some relatively psychologically independent cavemen and -women advanced technological progress by defying the social collectivist norms of the very clans and tribes from whence they came.

Life During Over 89 Percent of Our Species’ History
This is the situation. Compared to the span of most of human history, our life in industrial civilization — in republics bound to constitutions enshrining the rights of the individual — is very new. That is the past 300 years, compared to humankind’s lifespan that exceeds one million years. Even our living in cities and practicing agriculture as our main source of food is a relative blip. Life as hunter-gatherers constitutes over 99.5 percent of the history of members of the genus Homo, and constitutes over 89 percent of the history of our own species, Homo sapiens sapiens. The extent to which industrialization and liberal republican politics have changed the human habitat both geographically and socially is enormous, whereas the extent to which human physiology has changed is comparatively minuscule. And included in that “human physiology” is brain chemistry.

We do not dress like cavemen; we have technologies that were not at their disposal. But, to a large extent, we have inherited cavemen’s cognitive biases, which were often socially collectivist. This is because, over the course of 89 percent of the history of Homo sapiens sapiens, environmental pressures “selected” for the human clans’ possession of emotional tendencies toward social collectivism, usually weeding out independence and rendering independent-minded persons a rarity.

By contrast, whereas psychological independence is very important for modern life in an industrialized, more-liberal republic — the most successful entrepreneurs succeeded largely as a consequence of their psychological independence — the modern environment has not weeded out any genes within individuals that might have imbued them with psychological biases toward social collectivism. This is for several reasons. First is that this new environment is fewer than 500 years old, which is much less time than the million years it took for the propagation and establishment of genes that might have imbued our ancestors with emotional biases in favor of social collectivism.

Secondly, as a very consequence of the innovations sired by individualists such as George Westinghouse, the mortality rate overall has declined, across the board, for people in the industrialized, more-liberal republics. If a man is born with an emotional predisposition toward social collectivism, and, more importantly, chooses to act on those predispositions, the more-liberal republican, industrialized environment has still made it unlikely that such a man will die before he has had his own children and reared them to adulthood. And since that collectivist man’s children have inherited his genes, they have likely inherited whatever genes might have encouraged their father to have an emotionalistic, cognitive bias in favor of social collectivism.

Of course, as natural selection has also imbued every member of our species with volition (that is, free will), it does not follow that this man’s children are programmed to let such emotionalistic, pro-collectivism cognitive biases control them; they can choose to think over matters and override any such emotionalistic, pro-collectivism cognitive biases. But anyway, this is the set of circumstances that we have been dealt: as a default, people often fall back on the emotionalistic, pro-collectivism, cognitive biases of their ancestors.

Not “The Reptilian Brain” But “The Caveman Brain” 
We can think of it this way. Pop psychology writers often say that if you act on impulse, you are succumbing to “the reptilian brain.” The idea is that our reptilian ancestors always sought immediate gratification, and therefore, when we do the same, we are falling back on a default we inherited from our reptilian ancestors. That expression is quite misleading, as the ability of lizards to learn and process their percepts is more complex than that. Bearded dragons experience deep sleep, which suggests they might dream — just as mice and cats do — and they learn new skills through observation. But here I will employ a concept similar to “the reptilian brain.” When people go with socially collectivist “tribal loyalties” mindlessly, rather than examine a matter, and when they immediately come to some fallacious conclusion that seems obvious but which is refuted by empirical evidence and economic science, such people are falling back on a default they inherited from their collectivist hunter-gatherer ancestors. That is not “the reptilian brain” but “the caveman brain” or “caveman psychology.”

For a person to be guided by his “caveman brain” in matters of social ethics and political economy is highly problematic for two reasons:   1) it is mismatched with the modern environment, which is more psychologically individualistic, laissez-faire liberal, and industrialized, and 2) all the progress and advances of the modern world — the aforementioned psychological individualism, laissez-faire liberal republicanism, and industrialization — were themselves the result of our bravest forebears triumphing in psychological independence as they overrode “the caveman brain” both within themselves and the people around them.

What Environmental Circumstances Encouraged Social Collectivism Among Our Ancestors?
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived through a process that William Donald Hamilton dubbed “kin selection.” This means that an intra-species competition for food and other resources does not pit one individual against other individuals, but a family unit against other family units. Charles Darwin gave the example of insect colonies and hives. An ant colony is a single family unit. Worker ants and soldier ants are sterile throughout their lives, but insofar as they contribute to the physical well-being of the queen and the males with which the queen mates, those worker ants and soldier ants will contribute to the hatching and proliferation of family members who share their genes. Hence, although a worker ant does not itself lay any eggs, a worker ant acting in accordance with its assigned role shall help that worker ant propagate its own genes indirectly.

Hunter-gatherer clans were not so regimented, but a similar phenomenon was at work. Human beings lived in clans in which most of the clan’s members were genetically related; there was no distinction, at that time, between “family” and “village”; “family” and “community” were the same. Even if a man died before ever having sex, if he did something that contributed to the continued existence of the clan as a whole — if he helped save other clan members in battle — then, as long as other members of his clan survived and reared their own children into adulthood, that man would still be propagating his own genes via an indirect means.

Rev. T. Robert Malthus’s theories about population pressures did apply to nomadic hunter-gatherer clans. They traveled around a continent consuming resources and did not replenish those resources. If the number of nomadic hunter-gatherers got too large, they would reach a point where there was not enough food or other resources per capita, and there would be mass starvation. Hence, clans (and, later, tribes) would go to war against one another for land and other resources. These environmental pressures encouraged an “us-versus-them” mentality in possibly two ways. As this process went on for over a million years, it is conceivable that the family units/clans that survived and propagated themselves were the ones possessing genes that emotionally predisposed the genes’ carriers toward having, as their psychological default, a socially collectivist, “culturally chauvinistic,” us-versus-them mindset.

Moreover, this mindset would also be transmitted and enforced culturally — if this bias was not the default, the clans that survived and perpetuated themselves would still be the ones that chose to inculcate such social collectivism among its children; any such children who grew into adults and survived various wars would transmit those ideas to their own children. For such reasons, for most of human history, “us-versus-them” was the default and norm, and almost all people considered it obvious that economics and wealth were a zero-sum game, in which one person having more wealth and resources necessarily meant there was less wealth and fewer resources available for everyone else. The psychological tendency to believe, as a default, that survival and eating and resource-accumulation are a zero-sum game is a tendency that modern human beings might have inherited biologically. And this belief was definitely taught and transmitted culturally for over 89 percent of our species’ existence. Samuel Bowles of the Santa Fe Institute dubs this mindset “parochial altruism, a predisposition to be co-operative towards group members and hostile towards outsiders.”

Also note that such clans were small. Robin Dunbar points out that such clans seldom had over 250 people in them. Because the clans were so small, it was common for someone to have regular, personal, face-to-face interactions with other members of one’s own community. The idea of treated someone from one’s own community “impersonally” was still alien to human beings. A human being could only be “impersonal” toward someone from outside of his clan. The impersonality was not always confined to enemies in wartime. In times of relative plenty, separate clans would trade with one another rather than battle, though the modicum of trust between these clans were fragile. In such a case, a trading partner from a separate clan would not be condemned as an outright enemy, but instead regarded impersonally as someone neutral. Temporary allies and trading partners were still regarded as being from the outgroup, not the in-group.

The Newer, More Individualistic, Positive-Sum Environment
Of course, the human species was not always doomed to a life of inter-clan warfare over food resources. What changed matters was the invention of agriculture and then the adoption of farming grains as the main source of food. Crops were the first natural resource that human beings learned was renewable. As noted by Jean-Baptiste Say and Julian L. Simon and Ronald Bailey, it is not the case in a free-market economy that human beings are doomed only to deplete natural resources until nothing is left.

In the process of producing units of output to sell, an entrepreneur needs inputs — natural resources, human labor to convert those natural resources into units of output, and tools for the laborers to use in that conversion. And the tools themselves were crated from prior exercises of entrepreneurship in which the entrepreneur managed and instructed laborers in converting natural resources into those tools. The entrepreneur must trade away some of her own wealth to acquire those inputs of labor and natural resources; using up many inputs imposes a cost on the entrepreneur that eats into her profits. Hence, the entrepreneur can downsize her costs — and thereby upsize her profits — by devising ingenious methods of producing more economic value in her units of output even as she uses up ever-fewer and ever-smaller inputs of labor and natural resources to do so. As an example, in the year 1900, to took ten pounds of coal to light a 100-watt light bulb for an hour; by 2002, it took only one pound of coal to perform the same task. Ronald Bailey gives other examples.

Since the 1970s, the weight of the average car has fallen by 25 percent. Food cans are 50 percent lighter than they were 50 years ago. A flexible plastic pouch that replaces a steel can reduces the packaging weight by 93 percent. Plastic soda bottles are 30 percent lighter than they were in the 1970s — which were already much lighter than the glass ones that preceded them. Similarly, plastic grocery bags are 50 percent thinner than they were 20 years ago and lighter than the paper bags they replaced. 

The empirical data evince that trading under freedom is a positive-sum game. But when people do not bother to think about this, they default to the emotionalism of “the caveman brain,” which presumes that one person getting richer inexorably spells that everyone else is getting poorer.

In New Scientist magazine, Graham Lawton elaborates on how Donald Trump’s demagoguery against free trade and immigrant laborers gets such a strong gut reaction from so many people:

Zero-sum thinking was an evolutionary adaptation to a time when we lived in small bands of hunter-gatherers, says neuroscientist Dan Meegan at the University of Guelph in Canada. Under those circumstances, resources such as food and mates were finite and often scarce, so more for one person meant less for another. Today, however, things are different. 
A good example is international trade.... People find it hard to believe that a trading “win” for a foreign partner doesn’t lead to a loss for them. This is one reason why free trade is politically unpopular among people it would benefit.

It was when human beings switched to farming grains as their main food source that they also began to form large cities. This was when people began to live in relatively small households within such a city. On a cognitive level, they began to make a distinction between “family” and “community,” and also a distinction between “member of my family” versus “member of my community.” However, because of the emotional predispositions that these city-dwellers had inherited from their nomadic hunter ancestors — and remember that the nomadic hunter lifestyle comprised over 89 percent of humanity’s history — these city-dwellers still did not always distinguish “member of my family” from “member of my community” on an  emotional level. This is why, although city-dwellers have come to view strangers in their community much more impersonally, they can develop an emotional bond with someone from their community who is not closely related to them genetically. It is also why sometimes someone can develop a stronger emotional attachment to a friend or coworker than to an uncle or cousin.

Because so many emotional predispositions remained the same, the hunter-gatherer’s emotional bias toward the sentiment of “sacrifice for the family/clan” became the city-dweller’s bias toward the notion that the moral ideal is for the individual’s well-being to be sacrificed for the ostensive well-being of the community as a whole. The idea that the individual’s rights are less important than the purported welfare of “the larger community” is something inherited from “the caveman brain,” and it is the modern manifestation of “caveman ethics.”

“Gorilla Kidnaps a Woman,” 1887,
by Emmanuel Frémiet.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.
As long we retain our 
hunter-gatherer ancestors’ rudi- 
mentary  interpretation of ethics, 
we are  held  captive  by 
ancient  hominids.
How the Caveman Brain Remains — And How Some Want Us to Be Held Captive By It
As I have argued elsewhere on this blog, it is the peaceable egoism of entrepreneurs — acting under the relative freedom of a more-liberal republic founded on the principles of individual rights — that should be thanked for reducing the mortality rate, lengthening and improving human lives. But again, this is mismatched against the notion of warring nomadic hunter-gatherers that some peaceable self-interest is morally neutral at best, and that what deserves most esteem is sacrifice of the individual for the clan.

As I have written here before, many evolutionary-psychology promoters such as Eric Michael Johnson proclaim that just because our warring nomadic hunter-gatherer ancestors considered that the ethical norm, it follows we that we modern industrial republicans should as well. This assumption on the part of Eric Michael Johnson and his ilk is ironic in that, exactly because psychological individualism and liberal republicanism and industrialization have advanced us so far, the same population pressures that influenced our hunter-gatherer ancestors to regard collectivist self-sacrifice as the ethical norm are circumstances do not even apply to us. This insistence on clinging to collectivist self-sacrifice as the ethical ideal is itself a default to “the caveman brain,” and a clinging to “caveman ethics” that are, at best, obsolete.

That human beings are still influenced by “the caveman brain” helps explain the following:

  • Why many people regard their favorite TV celebrities — no matter those celebrities’ ignorance about health science — as more trustworthy experts on human health than actual scientists are.
  • Why many people find it easier to believe, fallaciously, that the summer 2007 financial crisis was deliberately caused by a tiny cabal of “globalist” billionaire bankers who conspiratorially control everything, rather than accept what actually happened: the crisis was the mostly accidental result of large, bureaucratic, impersonal institutions having difficulty in communicating data accurately to one another.

I won’t go over all those explanations in a single blog post. But suffice it to say that human beings still defaulting on their “caveman brain” will lead them to cling to the sort of primitive interpretation of ethics that their caveman ancestors held. And this is a dilemma because those outmoded interpretations about ethics give people a very misleading impression about what happens in modern life; this is what leads them to misinterpret the very same peaceable global trade that has lengthened and sustained their lives and their family members’ lives as some evil that has harmed them.

Again, this is not a discounting of free will. One can refrain from being misled by the cognitive biases of “the caveman brain” by being aware of them and, when coming to a decision, rationally considering whether the emotion-driven biases from “the caveman brain” match up with the data and the principles of nature, including the principles of economics. Through our own free will, it is thus our task to educate our fellows about the perils of being controlled by “the caveman brain” and unthinkingly following “caveman ethics.”

Saturday, September 15, 2018

In Remembrance of Corey Baum

Stuart K. Hayashi

We missed Corey at OCON 2018, and we will continue to miss him, always.

Corey Baum started the In-the-Closet Objectivists podcast with Dr. Meghann Ribbens. The admittedly strange title came from the place from which they first broadcast the show: it was a space so enclosed that it was if they were in a closet. Over time, they came to joke about the irony of the title, as they made no secret of their philosophic convictions. Months later, I was honored when they invited me to join them as a co-host.

Corey passed away last night. He was a highly spirited, good-humored man; he loved to debate, and he debated with passion. In the relatively short duration through which we got to know each other over BlogTalkRadio, we had laughs and discussed our favorite movies. He encouraged me to talk matters out, many times having more confidence in me than I did. My heart goes out to his wife and daughters; his family lost someone great. His wit and wisdom will be long remembered and cherished.


ADDITION on Friday, September 28, 2018: On Thursday, September 27, 2018, Meghann and I recorded the final episode of In-the-Closet Objectivists, a retrospective on Corey.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Trump Is Involved in a Witch Hunt, But Is Not on Its Receiving End

Stuart K. Hayashi

When most people say the word monster, they usually do so as a synonym for “ugly” and “evil.” But if you have glanced upon the drawings I have put on the World Wide Web, you have probably noticed that I don’t share that perspective. I draw monsters because they are beautiful and good. And yet this time I did decide to draw a phenomenon I consider to be ugly and evil.

The specific image of “being burned at the stake” is metaphorical, but — in the greater abstract — government-inflicted violence toward undocumented immigrants is something happens literally. Governmental decree is ultimately enforced at gunpoint, and that applies to deportations. Deportations are carried out by armed federal agents; this is armed force just as when a mugger sticks you up.

Between 2010 and 2016 the U.S. Border Patrol agents fired bullets into 33 would-be immigrants, ending their lives. In 2014, James Tomsheck, the chief of internal affairs at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), was fired by the agency for having investigated 28 of those deaths and ascertaining that at least seven of them were likely under circumstances where deadly force on the Border Patrol’a part was unjustified. That trend continued into the Trump administration. On May 23, 2018, Claudia Patricia Gómez González — a 19-year-old Guatemalan — got into an altercation with a border agent in Rio Bravo, Texas, and was shot dead as well.

And, once the immigrant has been deported, the violence does not end for him or her. In too many deportation cases, border agents are knowingly sending immigrants back to environments dominated by gang warfare and high murder rates. Steven Sacco writes,

One study found that between January 2014 and September 2015 eighty-three deportees who were sent back to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador were murdered after their return. They were people fleeing the killers who eventually took their lives. People like José Marvin Martínez, who fled violence in Honduras and made it to the U.S. when he was 16, but was deported and four months after his forcible return was shot to death. Or Juan Francisco Diaz, also deported back to Honduras, where he too was murdered a few months later. Or Giovanni Miranda, who, after spending most of his life in the U.S., was deported to El Salvador to be murdered in front of his wife and son in June 2015. Or Edgar Chocoy, 16, who ran away from a gang to the U.S. only to be murdered by that same gang seventeen days after he was deported back to Guatemala in 2004. Or an unnamed teenager who was shot to death hours after being deported back to San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Moises, 19, was murdered after he was deported to El Salvador. And there are too many more names we’ll never know. 
What’s more, the number of deportees delivered directly to their killers does not include those who survive attempted murder or other violence because of their deportation — a number no one knows. Isais Sosa, who was 19 when the Los Angeles Times covered his story in 2014, survived being shot by a gang days after his deportation. The 19 year old daughter of Dora Lina Meza fled to the U.S. from the same gang that, after she was deported back home, raped her at gun point. After Juan Ines Alanis was deported he was kidnapped and held for ransom while his fingers were smashed with a hammer.

Governmental action, as it is backed by violent threats, is justified when it is in retaliation against some party having initiated the use of force against a person or her private property. But most undocumented immigrants are peaceful, having violated no laws unrelated to their having arrived into the USA without a license (and such licenses, visas, are ridiculously difficult to come by, involving even more red tape than what small businesses have to face). These undocumented immigrants are individuals who must be judged on an individual basis. As observed by the family of murder victim Mollie Tibbetts, to paint undocumented immigrants in general as violent is demagoguery and scapegoating; that is the witch hunt.

It is for this reason that I don’t say “Politicians are the real monsters.” That would be employing monster as a pejorative and a reproach, which I am not about to do. Monsters, such as the one created by Victor Frankenstein and the titular Beast from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, are weird outcasts — and that is how undocumented immigrants are still too often treated. Now, as before, someone must stand up for the weird outcast.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Zuckerberg Built That

Stuart K. Hayashi

Philip Rearden: “They pursue a ruthless, grabbing, grasping, antisocial policy, based on nothing but plain, selfish greed. [...]” [...]  
Hank Rearden: “Philip, say any of that again, and you will find yourself out in the street, right now, with the suit you've got on your back, with whatever change you've got in your pocket, and nothing else.” [ . . . ] 
Philip: “But don’t I have any freedom of speech?” 
Hank: “In your house. Not mine.”
—Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, “The Concerto of Deliverance”

 Hank Rearden’s words need to be repeated to every person who, feeling aggrieved that Facebook doesn’t want to publish his diatribes against Mexicans, pouts that Mark Zuckerberg just owes it to him that Zuckerberg provide him a platform for his diatribes against Mexicans, and demands that the government overrule Zuckerberg’s control over what Zuckerberg peaceably created. The house that is Facebook was built by Zuckerberg; it was not built by the man who wants to use Facebook just to air his endless diatribes against Mexicans.

Photo taken by Jonathan Hoenig.