Landsburg’s Misunderstanding of Intelligent Design

Landsburg shows some grasp of the Intelligent Design paradigm, especially as it applies to biology. He points out that "'irreducible' complexity refers to the interaction of many parts, any one of which is useless without the others." Actually, the entire biological machine is useless if even a single part is taken out. "Design proponents prefer to point, for example, to bacterial flagella consisting of about forty critical proteins," he adds in a footnote.

Landsburg notes in passing that "complexity is the hallmark of unintelligent design." I think he means chaotic complexity. But in intelligently designed machines complexity is complemented with unity. Thus, a car is a highly complex object and is indeed designed so well that it's a tribute to human ingenuity. But it's also one -- it has a form, an essence, a definition: "a usually four-wheeled automotive vehicle designed for passenger transportation." That's why the intelligent design people do not look for complexity as such but for specified complexity (which is a more general notion than irreducible complexity), one that forms a meaningful, interesting, and independently specified pattern, such as indeed the bacterial flagellum which works marvelously.

Our author then proposes that both the ID theorists and their critic Richard Dawkins are misguided. The former think that all things that exhibit specified complexity are designed. But Landsburg has a counter-example: arithmetic. It "is so complex that no system of axioms -- not even an infinite set of axioms -- can fully describe it." (31) Yet it is surely not designed. At the same time, Dawkins would have it that all complex systems demonstrate merely apparent design, as if an annoyingly fake gloss, but in fact have evolved from simple or more primitive tech. He, too, is wrong, says Landsburg, because arithmetic did not evolve from anything, let alone from anything simple.

I think that both Dembski and Dawkins can argue in their defense that they are not mad like Landsburg and do distinguish between the real and the ideal. ID concerns and makes claims about complexity as an intricate and highly functional and clever arrangement of real material parts in space and time, not ideal abstracta like numbers or a priori axiomatic-deductive systems like arithmetic. ID is perfectly silent about the latter.

Finally, a traditional theist can contend that arithmetic is undesigned only because it is part of the natural structure of the divine mind in which it exists with whatever else God is defined by and knows in a simple unity. Therefore, the complexity of arithmetic is not a fact that can blithely dissolve the Intelligent Design controversy.

Real vs. Ideal: Ought Landsburg to Be Beaten with a Stick?

Landsburg's abject materialism does not stop him from pronouncing that

my dining-room table is made of atoms, and numbers are surely not. But not everything that exists is made of atoms. I am quite sure that my hopes and dreams exist, but they are not made of atoms. The color blue, the theory of relativity, and the idea of a unicorn exist, but none of them is made of atoms.

Mathematical objects -- such as the natural numbers and the laws of arithmetic -- are real. (6)

Outrageous. What Landsburg really means is that these abstracta are objective, i.e., mind-independent: that "every positive integer is that sum of at most four squares... has been true forever, though it wasn't proved... until the 1770. Because the facts of arithmetic were true long before humans existed, arithmetic cannot be a mere human invention." (6) Arithmetic, of course, is not real but ideal; it exists in the mind.

Landsburg does not deign to reconcile his materialism with abstract objects or tell us how natural numbers and the laws of arithmetic can exist in a material brain.

On the other hand, feelings, such as my sorrow for Landsburg's errors, though still ideal, are subjective. That I feel sorrow does not entail that Landsburg must. For that reason, we say that we think with our minds (intellects) but feel with our hearts (wills).

The elephant in the room is the question, if math existed long before humans came to be, then in whose mind did it exist?

In a stunning reversal, Landsburg then abandons his materialist monism in favor of idealist monism: "The Universe itself... is a mathematical pattern, containing your consciousness and mine as subpatterns. The Universe exists because it can; a logically possible universe is a mathematical object, and mathematical objects exist by necessity." (14) He loves this idea, because "it obliterates the distinction between possible existence and actual existence. If some universes are merely possible while others are real, what distinguishes the real ones? The theory I've outlined makes it unnecessary to ask such uncomfortable questions. Any universe that can exist does exist; there's no longer any need to explain why ours was granted special privileges. They're all real." (16)

But mathematical patterns are again ideal abstract objects and so must exist in someone's mind. If our lives are abstract, as Landsburg alleges, then whose figment of the imagination are we? And why would Landsburg adopt such a pantheistic notion?

Failure to distinguish between the real and the ideal is a sign of serious madness. The idea of a unicorn may "exist" in Landsburg's mind, but would he say that it also really exists? Does Sherlock Holmes really exist? If so, I ask him to point them out for me. A further distinction between abstract and concrete objects is that the former can be infinite in number. Thus, the cardinality of the set of all real numbers is continuum or aleph-one. But the number of real atoms in the universe must be finite. William Lane Craig in his book Reasonable Faith demonstrates with some skill how the various paradoxes of infinities prove that there is no such thing as an infinite multitude of real objects.

(Note that at the very least it's impossible to show that real things are infinite in number, because we'd literally have to count them one by one, and we'd never finish counting, staying at every moment at a finite number no matter how large.)

Our author believes that "the dividing line between 'heart' and 'lungs'... is a human invention; at the molecular level, your body is a teeming mass of trillions of particles, with no natural division between 'heart particles' and 'lung particles.' Our brains create a clear distinction between lungs and hearts, and the science of biology enshrines that distinction, even though it's not a fundamental aspect of reality." (16-7) (Isn't a "brain" also a mass of particles? What makes it special that it is able to create an intellectual distinction between itself, the heart, and the lungs, while the heart and lungs remain incapable of doing so?) He then reduces biology to chemistry (plus "baggage"), chemistry to physics, and physics to math. Math then is for Landsburg ultimate reality.

Now that's nonsense. The ultimate reality is human subjective experience of all kinds. There are aspects of these experiences that exhibit certain regularities. When we focus on these regularities and thereby abstract away from the blooming buzzing confusion of immediate experience, we create science. And there are truths proper to tigers as tigers and not as random clouds of atoms; proper to hearts and lungs as biological organs and not as collections of chemical elements; proper to metals or noble gases as such elements and not to the protons and electrons of physics. Landsburg's reductions of highly non-trivial substances to their purely material causes are unhelpful.

In Chapter 5, Landsburg thinks he describes how humans and other animals perceive colors.

That flower you're looking at reflects, let's say, 8 units of red light, 4 of orange, ...; call it (8, 4, 3, 2, 7, 6, 5) for short. ...

Now seven numbers are more than your brain wants to keep track of, so your eye boils the information down from seven numbers to three. First it averages the 8, 4, and 3 (getting 5); then it averages the 4, 3, 2, and 7 (getting 4); ... These averages -- (5, 4, 6) are what gets sent to your brain. ...

Only those three numbers matter. Therefore, different flowers, reflecting very different light distributions, can appear identical in color. ...

The moral so far is that it takes an eye and a brain to create a color -- and a different eye and a different brain might use very different rules. ...

Color, then, is a biological phenomenon -- it's created in the brains of living things. Light, by contrast, is a physical phenomenon -- it's there whether or not anyone's around to see it. The rainbow is physics. The color wheel... is biology. ...

Incidentally, some animals (like eagles) have eyes that compute four or five separate averages, rather than three. This means the eagle can see a much richer array of colors than you can see. (46ff)

It should be clear at this point that Landsburg has confused an ideal model with a real thing. The eye and the brain in fact make no arithmetical calculations. Their functioning is modellable by math, but no numbers are crunched anywhere within the system. There is no homunculus-accountant within the eye that adds and divides "units of light."

The motion of a baseball and the batter who hits the ball out can be described with the help of mathematical formulas. However, in choosing how to swing the bat, the player does not perform any calculations. Neither do the eyes actually average out any numbers. I can predict when my cat will be hungry by looking at a clock. That does not mean the cat's stomach has a clock in it the position of whose hands physically causes hunger or signs of it like meowing. Biology is therefore not at all math + "baggage." It has nothing at all to do with math, other than its ability to be modeled by math.

On p. 12, Landsburg concedes that a simulation is not the real thing but forgets John Searle's warning with no qualms later in the book.

Landsburg’s Crass Materialism

In his book, The Big Questions, Landsburg somehow manages to be both a fanatical materialist and a fanatical idealist all at the same time. The former is evidenced by the following:

Your brain contains about a hundred billion neurons... It's the pattern of activity (as opposed to, say, the makeup of the neurons themselves) that generates your consciousness. If you were to build an artificial brain, with artificial neurons made of silicon, scrap metal, or cascading marbles, and if those artificial neurons interacted in the same pattern as the neurons in a human brain, your creation would be as conscious as you are. (8)

But why believe that "something as subtle and ethereal as a sense of delight could arise from a mere pattern of firings"? Landsburg answers:

It is quite thoroughly impossible for you or me to begin to imagine the complexity of a network of a hundred billion neurons.

So when we try to imagine it, we conjure up images of, say, several dozen neurons, interacting in complicated ways, and that image leads us badly astray.

It completely fails to account not just for the amount of complexity, but for the kind of complexity that can arise in a system with trillions of potential connections, containing systems and subsystems reflecting and modifying each other's activity. (9)

It's clear that "complexity" for Landsburg is a minor deity. It's true that the fact that I can't imagine / conceive X does not mean that X is impossible. A chiliagon is difficult to picture, but it is eminently possible and maybe even actual somewhere as perhaps an artwork of some sort. It is a strange interpretation of this truth, however, that my failure to imagine X is a sign that X is so complex that by some unknown mechanism, X must be actual!

Landsburg has fallen prey to a false superstition. Again, no one argues that his inability to "imagine" consciousness arising from a pattern of neuron firings is evidence for this thing's impossibility. My skepticism about materialism does not depend on any inability to imagine anything. The problem is that, as Landsburg himself admits, at least in economics and unlike in the philosophy of the mind-body problem, "there is a fully fleshed-out theory detailing how you get from the pattern to the desired outcome." (226) Without such a theory, our author is hamstrung. A market economy consisting of even 100 people is fully functional and works best without government interventions. Even Crusoe economics has definite value as a source of economic insights. On the other hand, Landsburg is clear that 100 neurons are insufficient to generate consciousness. He is, however, fully convinced that 100 billion neurons are sufficient, but neglects to give us the theory according to which such generation occurs. I can't call this belief anything but a blind prejudice. This is standard materialist behavior, by the way: to treat skeptics with endless promissory notes that "in the future" such a mechanism will undoubtedly be found -- notes which have never in the history of world been redeemed.

I can see -- faintly -- how a person can be a materialist; I cannot see how one can be a materialist and an economist at the same time. Human souls have wills which generate preferences, and intellects which allow them to rank desires on their values scales and make choices, something that billiard balls -- or neurons -- refuse to do. Humans act for ends and use means to attain them. Exercising choice is what "freedom" means in the term "free will."

Again, Landsburg confesses that the "complexity" linking atoms with free will is mysterious, but owing to his materialism, he is sure that with progress in physics, etc. the complexity will at some point be understood. Free will, for him, is a fully material phenomenon.

And yet: consider that a machine has no purpose other than to serve man by performing a useful function. Its "goals" do not differ from those of its creator. It wants nothing for itself. It is a perfect slave. A human slave might try to hide his abilities so as not to be swamped with hard work; a machine would not "think" of anything so clever. Or, a master must make sure that the slave will prefer to comply with the master's orders over rebelling; a machine does not in this manner calculate benefits and opportunity costs. A machine has no internal life or experiences that are inaccessible to anyone but itself. Where the machine ends and raw materials and the environment begin is an arbitrary decision.

It is amusing how carefully Landsburg avoids the use of the word "mind," preferring "brain" instead. Let's do some negative anthropology. I ask: Is man a body? Is the soul material? Note the subtlety that I am inviting a materialist to agree with me that the words "body" and "soul" mean different things; but the materialist is welcome to disagree with me on whether they refer to different things, as well. (For example, "brain" means "the portion of the vertebrate central nervous system enclosed in the skull"; "mind" means "the element or complex of elements in an individual that feels, perceives, thinks, wills, and especially reasons." The definitions could not be more different. The harder question is whether these are in fact self-same.) To answer this question, we need to know what matter is. It seems to be at least something that is necessitated to behave in a precise way in any given interaction under threat of instant corruption upon disobedience. But a human being does as he pleases. For example, I trust it will be agreed that the Constitution of the United States allows everybody the free choice between cheesecake and strudel. As a result, one will go neither to hell nor to prison if he chooses either. Since body and soul have different properties, they cannot be identical with each other (as per indiscernibility of identicals, the less controversial part of Leibniz's law), and therefore, whatever the soul is, it is not material, is not a body.

Complexity may be capable of many things, but piling up neurons or atoms will not generate a soul. Neurons do not purposely seek happiness.

Confident assertions of metaphysical monism or panphysicalism can be deflected with a simple argument to the following effect:

1. We do not know, nor are we even close to finding out, how the soul and the body are linked, i.e., the nature of the dual connection of the intellect to (1) the body and (2) the will. It is not in vain dubbed in philosophy "the hard problem."

2. Suppose the contrary: tough-minded monism is true. "There ain't no such thing as soul."

3. But then the mind and body are connected in the most intimate way possible, namely, by being numerically identical to each other.

4. Therefore, the monist claims to know exactly how the soul and the body are connected.

5. Which contradicts (1).

6. Therefore, monism is only an opinion, a metaphysical hypothesis, nothing more. It is at best a starting point in our investigation rather than a dogmatic foregone conclusion.

A dualist would not be stymied by this argument, because he is free to maintain that the soul and body have both different meanings (which the monist may admit) and different referents (which the monist cannot admit), while disclaiming any knowledge of how the two are united.

My view is that the brain's job is not to aid thinking, let alone think on its own, but to limit the human power to think. Thinking is more difficult for an embodied human being than for a separated soul, but not too difficult. The brain is a hindrance to thought not its enabler, though a healthy brain is less a hindrance than a sick brain.

Intellect of God; the Multiverse

Mises talked about the "logical structure of the human mind." The human thinking process is rule-bound.

So is God's, except in Him, there prevails an identity between the intellect / its structure, God's thought, the thing understood, and His act of understanding. Somehow the entire structure of God's mind is equivalent to a thought that comprehends this mind.

What does God know ad intra, in Himself?

First, all possibilities of finite existence.

Second, necessary truths like axioms and theorems of logic and mathematics. It may be asked, if truth is correspondence of thought to reality, then to what does the proposition "2 + 2 = 4" correspond? It corresponds not to "reality" as such but to a fundamental limitation on reality; not to what reality is but to what reality must necessarily be. No world in which 2 + 2 = 5 is possible; nor is God the Son irrational in this sense.

Thus, logic and math are neither in space nor in time and are the same across possible worlds.

Geometry is not in time but in space and therefore different across possible worlds; even in this world there are different geometries.

Certain propositions, such as "Christ will be born," are not in space but their truth values depend upon the moment in time at which they are uttered.

Laws of economics are neither in space nor in time but depend on human nature. Since God knows that humans are possible, He likewise knows all that can be predicated of them.

God is free to create a world in which 2 + 2 = 5, but limited in power by math; God is powerful enough to create a world in which saints went to hell, but His goodness does not allow that.

Just as a cat would know all the ways in which a man is like a cat (say, in having a stomach) but be ignorant of how a man exceeds a cat in perfection, so we do not know what God is (and thereby knows) that is above man by natural reason.

We do know a few things from special revelation, either Biblical or private, such as the Trinity;

we can speculate on the conditions of glorified life;

we can extend dualism into triplism by asserting that God's goodness is a third kind of substance beyond both matter and spirit;

we can admire the majesty of divine providence and the middle knowledge of the Holy Spirit;

we can stress the supreme importance of Christian charity and the many unions to be achieved by man;

we can marvel at the perfection of the Son's both utilitarian governance through disinterested benevolence and His enormous personal love for each human being.

However, the above list hardly exhausts God. We might even venture to propose that God is a universal set of all truths which miraculously comes alive as self-aware mind. Since the universal set is for humans a self-contradictory notion (would this set be a member of itself?), this may be the reason why God is incomprehensible. God instantiates in His own nature what we humans cannot for the life of us countenance.

If the universal set could be grasped, then one would be God. That it's impossible suggests the impossibility of humans reaching divine status.

The hypothesis in physics of the "multiverse," far from being atheistic, is in fact a backhanded concession that God exists. The multiverse itself as an infinite collection of actual worlds is a crude and distorted idea of God. I argued that God knows possible worlds, but these worlds, except our own, do not exist. Moreover, ideal things, such as the set of all natural numbers, can be infinite in number; actual things, such as the number of atoms in the universe, are always finite. The "multiverse" idea ignores this elementary distinction.

The multiverse therefore is a bizarre and primitive perversion of God the Father and a lamentably pantheistic view at that.

Whether God Knows Evil Things?

Evil is a privation of perfection that ought to be there. Consider the idea of a perfect knife. It's extra sharp and easily sharpened, durable, comfortable, well-balanced, weighs just the right amount, will cut anything, and so on. Suppose now that I have an imperfect knife. We can say: the knife is at 65% of maximum possible goodness. I know the good by seeing it by vision, and I know the knife's evil 35% through its goodness, by understanding intellectually how or in what ways precisely it falls short of perfection.

Similarly, a perfect man would presumably be Jesus. Human saints approach but never reach moral perfection. Most people have both good and evil qualities about them. Again, however, evil is a privation, a lack of fitting virtue or wisdom. I know the actual evil by "subtracting" the actual good from the ideal perfection.

This, too, is how God knows evil things: by considering to what extent their good is below perfect.

Main Difference Between Angels, Humans, and Animals

Angels lead contemplative lives but not active lives.

Animals have active lives but do not contemplate. (As a result, their souls are corruptible unless explicitly preserved in being after death by an act of God.)

And humans can enjoy both contemplative and active lives, as they themselves prefer.

Awakenings of Persons of the Trinity

All of the Father's faculties were fully mobilized before His creative act.

Moreover, the intellects of all three persons were uplifted before creation.

Regarding the Holy Spirit, His power was awakened immediately after creation; and His will, just before the giving of the first grace to the angels.

Regarding the Son, His power was uplifted at His conception during the Incarnation; and His will, upon His death on the cross.

Trinity: Ad Intra and Ad Extra

God's intellect, will, and power are each divided into 3 kinds for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

First, ad intra.

God is an infinite mind that thinks itself into existence and in so doing becomes self-aware.

The Father is intellect, the subject that knows, which is a union of everything real and ideal. The Holy Spirit is thought, self-knowledge, intelligible species, a simple and comprehensive act of full self-understanding, which is ideal. Hence "the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God" (1 Cor 2:10), as a thought penetrates to the essence of a thing being examined. The Son is the object known, which is real.

St. Thomas argues that "in God, intellect, and the object understood, and the intelligible species, and His act of understanding are entirely one and the same. Hence when God is said to be understanding, no kind of multiplicity is attached to His substance." (ST, I, 14, 4)

The Father wishes to grasp His own essence. The Holy Spirit's will is Love and Gift. The Father loves the Son by giving Him being / existence, and gives to Him the gift of perfection of essence and full access to and comprehension of the Father. The Son in His turn loves the Father by enjoying the Father's gift perfectly and infinitely, and gives to Him the gift of perfect fealty and justice to His reality. The Son's will consists in self-love, specifically to seek, obtain, and enjoy perfect and unconditional happiness.

The Father's power is to beget the Son, to self-actualize or to realize Himself, to attain perfect cognition of Himself. The Holy Spirit's power is to comprehend the Father, to envelop Him in thought. The Son's power is to be begotten. The Son has no inner contradictions or opposing forces within Him. Nor is the Son in any way composite at all but is 100% simple. He has His being by His very nature, and it is in this supreme integrity that His power to "come to be" and endure forever consists.

Of course, the power is God identical to its exercise within His act of self-understanding.

Second, ad extra.

God is Creator, Sanctifier, and Redeemer.

The Father possesses the natural knowledge of all possible finite worlds. The Holy Spirit possesses the middle knowledge of the potential worlds and the counterfactuals of freedom. For this reason, it is the Holy Spirit who is able to "speak through the prophets," as per the creed. The Son possesses the free knowledge of the actual world. For this reason, it is "through Him" that the world was made; i.e., the Son decided by and for Himself which world was the best possible one and was to be created.

The Father's will is to manifest His goodness. The Father does not Himself seek happiness; He wills that creatures-who-seek-happiness exist. The Holy Spirit's will is to unite all rational creatures into one communion of angels and saints through charity. The Son's will is personal love for each individual. I have already proposed that the Holy Spirit ought rightly to be considered the 2nd person of the Trinity, and the Son, the 3rd. I mentioned an objection to this in regard to the scope of each person's mission to the created world. But now we can see how this objection can be answered: the Father is concerned with the entire universe as before; the Holy Spirit, while giving unique graces to individuals, is concerned with the union of mankind; and the Son, while uniting the human race to Godhead, is concerned with the salvation of each individual human being.

The Father's power is to create ex nihilo; the Holy Spirit's power is to bestow grace; and the Son's power is to rule the created world with perfect and abiding competence for all eternity.

Escaping Tax Serfdom

Two things free men from predatory taxation either by feudal lords or the state. First is their mobility, i.e., the unfettered right to move around from job to job, from location to location, from one political jurisdiction to another.

Second is laissez-faire capitalism regarding the employer-"lords," and the smallness and huge number and variety of these jurisdictions regarding the state.

I believe the state is necessary, but local governments are also fully sufficient for practically all the essential public services.

Large states are an abomination and must all be destroyed.

A Path from Slavery to Serfdom

Bush notes that "within Spanish America, large numbers of slaves worked for wages, the result of the common practice of hiring out slave labor, the wages earned being shared between master and slave." (Servitude in Modern Times, 79)

Again, "another escape lay in the capability of slaves to pay the manumission price -- the result of being able to earn money on their own account, thanks to the practice of hiring them out for wages, and because of the high proportion of slaves who were skilled craftsmen." (80)

But this is just another way of saying that such slaves were not slaves at all; instead, they were feudal tax-serfs! The spectacular advantage of this arrangement to the master was that he no longer needed to worry that the slave would conceal his talents, feign stupidity, malinger, or perform only the absolute minimum required. How much better to let the (former) slave take full control of his own advancement and simply tax his wages! The master would earn more money, if technology and even economy had progressed so far that free labor was then inherently more productive than slave labor.

Mises put it this way:

The slave has no interest in exerting himself fully. He works only as much and as zealously as is necessary to escape the punishment attaching to failure to perform the minimum.

The free worker, on the other hand, knows that the more his labor accomplishes, the more he will be paid. He exerts himself to the full in order to raise his income.

One has only to compare the demands placed on the worker by the tending of a modern tractor with the relatively small expenditure of intelligence, strength, and industry that just two generations ago was deemed sufficient for the enthralled ploughmen of Russia.

Only free labor can accomplish what must be demanded of the modern industrial worker.

At some point the serf might accumulate enough wealth to be able to pay a lump sum for his freedom. The lord would be careful to calculate the expected discounted sum of his tax revenues from the serf over the latter's lifetime and set the price of full freedom to that. The serf, on the other hand, might have secret entrepreneurial plans to improve his productivity in the future so that his actual earnings would be higher than the lord believes, which would make paying the entire tax in advance worthwhile.

To be sure, both slavery and tax-serfdom are exploitative and unjust. The Spanish code for the regulation of slavery in Siete Partidas originally issued in 1263 proclaimed slavery to be "the most evil and the most despicable thing which can be found among men," says Bush.

Nevertheless, slavery in the most general sense was a legitimate economic "stage" in the progress of the world. It disappeared when it became apparent how much it retarded development:

If mankind had adhered to the practice of keeping the whole or even a part of the labor force in bondage, the magnificent economic developments of the last hundred and fifty years would not have been possible. We would have no railroads, no automobiles, no airplanes, no steamships, no electric light and power, no chemical industry, just as the ancient Greeks and Romans, with all their genius, were without these things. (Liberalism, 21-22)

The modern welfare-warfare state that eats a great chunk of each (supposedly free) citizen's income and spends it horribly badly was a huge economic and social retrogression from capitalism back to feudal tax-serfdom. And unlike old-time serfs, we can't even pay the government off for our or our children's freedom.

Block on Anarchist Nature Preserves

I emailed Walter Block the following question: Can a nature preserve exist in an anarcho-capitalist society? By the definition of this term, a nature preserve cannot have any human labor mixed with it. So it seems that it will always be unowned and therefore capable of being homesteaded (and developed, thereby ceasing to be a preserve) by someone else.

In addition, if it stays unowned, it will be unmanaged and uncared for and so may suffer the tragedy of the commons.

But what if a small preserve could be a profitable business if it could come to be owned? The owner could gain by selling tickets or licenses for outdoor activities, hunting, or scientific research on wildlife. What if such use is in fact the most socially valuable for a given lot?

He replied with a link to his paper addressing this very question.

Now first, my question assumes the correctness of the labor theory of property (LTP). In his paper, Block assumes this, too. I argued before that the LTP is not without serious defects.

The second assumption is that, even if the LTP is valid, it is the only way to homestead property. Block thinks so, but as we will see, perhaps not entirely sensibly.

Block defines a nature preserve as fully pristine and unspoiled wilderness. The owner "will not allow any customers to tread upon his territory, since to do so would be incompatible with a pure nature preserve. He will charge them a fee for keeping the land untouched; they will benefit from the mere contemplation of this offering."

He then goes through and rejects several possibilities of how one can mix labor with this land without "imprinting a stamp of his own person," as Rothbard put it, onto it. Placing popsicle sticks all over the grounds, sending out cows, planting trees all involve untoward interference with nature. Block concludes with the following prescription: the homesteader is to capture and immediately release "beetles, frogs, ants, worms, snakes, butterflies, caterpillars, and other such species" within the area. We capture them

either with birds we have trained for this purpose or by utilizing nets with long poles. Thus we homestead and thus come to own these creepy, crawly creatures. Subsequently, we release the members of these species we have previously homesteaded and thus now own to do our homesteading of the land for us. ...

We own these living things, they now "work" for us, whether they know it or not. ...

We release these creatures right back where they came from, where we got them from, thus obviating any objection on the ground that we are upsetting nature in this terrain.

Hilarious. I suppose it's an amusing exercise. But let's be honest: the recommended procedure seems like a meaningless ritual. Labor is being mixed but without any discernible goal. In fact, there is no goal at all other than formally to satisfy the letter of the homesteading law; it's a complete waste of scarce resources.

This magical incantation is in its spirit completely unlike what Block writes earlier. Normally, homesteading involves the following work: "For agricultural purposes, he must clear the tree stumps, move away the big rocks, plow the land, seed it, and gather a crop from these efforts of his. For urban areas, he must build a road or a house or a factory on it," and so on. The process of homesteading in this manner creates wealth. It contributes to society both in itself and as a sign that the development and improvement of the land will continue in the future, once the title to the property is granted.

The process of homesteading a nature preserve described by Block actually harms society. Even as a sign, it signifies only that precisely no improvements will ever be made.

Would it not be simpler to add a special proviso to the LTP instead: another way to homestead wilderness is to go to the local temple of Zeus and sacrifice an ox to him. It would be just as effective -- or rather as ineffective and absurd -- but possibly less costly.

An admitted virtue of Block's solution is that the amount of work it requires to create a nature preserve may deter greens from stealing huge tracts of land from the people by making them so obviously unproductive. On the contrary, making a sacrifice to Zeus does not specify which land is to be homesteaded or how much of it. It's too easy.

Well, one possibility is to make the number of oxen to be sacrificed proportionate to the "fair market value" of the land, if there is such a thing. This way, if maintaining a nature preserve is truly the most profitable use of the land, its homesteader will need to pay the opportunity cost of this use measured in the cost of the sacrifice.

At any rate, I did not have in mind the fanatical greens who want to keep the land 100% untouched. I was thinking about a piece of wilderness that on the one hand is somewhat removed from a park but on the other allows plenty of human activities. Perhaps there is a mountain there for climbing or extreme sports, or herds of deer for hunting (who will need to be carefully conserved by the owner), or ways to engage in a study of plants and wild animals. Although in this case, even such a place will probably need some "paths, lighting, bathrooms," and so on which will be sufficient for ordinary homesteading.

The implicit libertarian view of nature which I personally share here is that nature is to be fully conquered and subdued. The Garden of Eden is to be ultimately recreated on the global scale. Perhaps the proper answer to this problem is that nature preserves are vicious and inhuman institutions which have no place in a civilized and perpetually economically improving society that libertarianism promises to all people.

As a result, that the labor theory of property appears to prohibit keeping any parcel of land forever idle is a virtue of the theory, not its weakness.

What Caused the Industrial Revolution?

In the previous post I suggest that at some point in the development of the economy in its feudal stage, serious difficulties arise that make felicitous a transition to free-market capitalism.

Mises supplies two additional reasons why the Industrial Revolution in particular was so successful:

First there were the teachings of the new social philosophy expounded by the economists. They demolished the prestige of Mercantilism, paternalism, and restrictionism. They exploded the superstitious belief that labor-saving devices and processes cause unemployment and reduce all people to poverty and decay. The laissez-faire economists were the pioneers of the unprecedented technological achievements of the last 200 years. (HA, 619)


The general improvement in political tranquility, which had reached a certain degree about 250 years ago, contributed to an increase in population. This additional population was too much for the social system of those ages. The countries where political conditions were most favorable became infested with robbers, thieves, and murderers -- people for whom there was no place under the existing economic situation. ("Capitalism and Human Progress")

[There would arise a] huge mass of landless proletarians. Then a wide gap separates the disinherited paupers from the fortunate farmers. They are a class of pariahs whose very existence presents society with an insoluble problem. They search in vain for a livelihood. Society has no use for them. They are destitute. ... Laissez faire and its off-shoot, industrialism, converted the employable poor into wage earners. In the unhampered market society there are people with higher and people with lower incomes. There are no longer men, who, although able and ready to work, cannot find regular jobs because there is no room left for them in the social system of production. (HA, 835-6)

And again,

Neither farming nor the guilds had any use for the additional hands. ... The number of people for whom there was no room left in the rigid system of paternalism and government tutelage of business grew rapidly. They were virtually outcasts. The apathetic majority of these wretched people lived from the crumbs that fell from the tables of the established castes. In the harvest season they earned a trifle by occasional help on farms; for the rest they depended upon private charity and communal poor relief. Thousands of the most vigorous youths of these strata were pressed into the service of the Royal Army and Navy; many of them were killed or maimed in action; many more perished ingloriously from the hardships of the barbarous discipline, from tropical diseases, or from syphilis. (HA, 618-9)

The factories freed the authorities and the ruling landed aristocracy from an embarrassing problem that had grown too large for them. They provided sustenance for the masses of paupers. They emptied the poorhouses, the workhouses, and the prisons. They converted starving beggars into self-supporting breadwinners. (Ibid., "Popular Interpretation of the 'Industrial Revolution'")

There is a sense in which the substitution of one economic stage to another happens naturally. An old system suffices for a while, but the improvements introduced during its reign eventually make it exceedingly confining and inadequate at serving society.

But of course "neither a low standard of living nor progressive impoverishment automatically liquidates an economic system. It gives way to a more efficient system only if people themselves are intelligent enough to comprehend the advantages such a change might bring them." (Mises, HA, 860) Hence, the inherent problems of each stage in its mature condition must be coupled with an understanding of how to transcend them. A new system does not come about with the inexorability of a law of nature; it must be invented, and its benefits, demonstrated to all concerned.

Summary of Economic Stages

I have described the 4 economic systems and compared the position of a "worker" under each.

I've also described the 2nd slave stage in some detail.

The first stage is characterized by the invention of the state. This signals an end to total war.

The second stage arises as soon as people recognize the benefits of specialization and trade between their tribes. Specialization between firms is distinct from division of labor within firms.

The latter develops during the third stage as part of purely technological progress. The complex capital goods require complex worker skills. 2nd-stage slavery is revealed as unsuitable for the task of the empowerment of workers, since it does not supply the proper incentives to workers; and is burst asunder, giving birth to feudalism.

The final capitalist stage arises when capital accumulation has reached a certain level. When capital is very scarce, there is no particular need for entrepreneurial freedom to easily shift capital from one project, factory, location, and purpose to another. It became necessary for goods to move easily from place to place and from owner to owner. Labor, too, needed to become highly mobile, an ideal which helped fully to abolish feudal serfdom. Lower transportation costs offer invaluable help. The development of economics as a science helps people to grasp the advantages of laissez-faire and market process, and the resulting ideological revolution at this stage releases all of society's "productive forces."

And that's it. There is no "progress" past laissez-faire capitalism.

Whether the Catholic Church Needs Immigrants?

Lyman Stone says yes, for the following reason:

Given the church's heavy Hispanic demographic, immigration policy in general looms large for the church and its parishioners. ...

For the most part, the only growing religious groups in America are those that count immigrants prominently among their numbers. ...

Delegitimizing the evangelization of immigrants is a swell way to hasten the end of Christianity in America.

This is preposterous. If a Christian immigrant moves to America, thereby increasing the number of Christians in America by 1, he by that very fact moves out of Mexico, thereby decreasing the number of Christians in Mexico. Overall, there is no advantage.

That Americans are leaving the Church is condemnation of the efforts of present Christian evangelists and intellectuals. Relying on immigrants to compensate is a cop-out.

But of course, the issue is actually far simpler. It's not so much the confession of faith that we need to follow here, but money. "The Church and related Catholic charities and schools have collected more than $1.6 billion since 2012 in U.S. contracts and grants," Washington Times revealed in 2015. "Catholic Charities USA, the largest charitable organization run by the church, receives about 65 percent of its annual budget from state and federal governments, making it an arm of the federal welfare state." "Most of the money is used for refugee services and rehabilitation," Newsmax points out.

The Church wants to keep and increase the taxes it unjustly eats. It has become a willing participant in the looting of the populace by the predatory state. Its "love" for illegal immigrants is adequately explained by this illicit profit motive.

What Does “Bionic Mosquito” Mean by Culture?

His original definition is as follows:

Culture... is all of the behaviors in our lives that are not answerable by or even addressed by the non-aggression principle. The non-aggression principle addresses when it is proper to use aggression; it is a political principle. The NAP says nothing about many things: haircuts, clothes, religious affiliation (or not), car color, etc. It speaks to the proper use of force, nothing more.

Oddly, my own definition of culture seems at first glance to be very similar: it's what people, I say, having obeyed the law and abided by justice (the "NAP"), do with their freedom. Culture is as super-diverse as the food in the supermarket. By its essence, then, culture cannot be managed, controlled, or protected by governments. So far America has survived without a "Ministry of Culture," and thank goodness for that.

But in fact Bionic has something much more specific than this in mind. He stresses the alleged importance of culture to libertarians by posing challenges like:

How much labor is to be mixed with land or other unowned resources in order to transform these from unowned to owned?

How much punishment fits the crime? The NAP [binds only the upper limit].

What are acceptable family relationships?

What is an acceptable greeting between two businessmen?

Proper attire?

Greeting a person of the opposite sex?

Hand holding in the park?

What is the age of majority, everywhere?

What is the proper "justice" for stealing an apple, everywhere?

Define the term "aggression," everywhere.

Define property, everywhere.

Based on these, I believe he divides culture into 2 forces. First concerns some aspects of practical application of libertarian law.

Regarding the amount of labor needed for proper homesteading of land, I agree that there may not be a single best answer. But still general limits can be easily established.

Walter Block suggests, for example:

For agricultural purposes, he must clear the tree stumps, move away the big rocks, plow the land, seed it, and gather a crop from these efforts of his.

For urban areas, he must build a road or a house or a factory on it.

To use the territory for a park, he must clear the land, build paths and bathrooms for his intended clients, place lighting there, etc.

He is then and only then justified in calling the land his own, being able to legally repel invaders, etc.

The possibility of hard cases does not detract from the fact that most cases are easy.

Regarding punishments, Rothbard, for example, favored the retribution theory. He notes at one point that a thief in addition to his main crime also puts his victim

into a state of fear and uncertainty... So that for proportionate punishment to be levied we would also have to add more than double so as to compensate the victim in some way for the uncertain and fearful aspects of his particular ordeal.

What this extra compensation should be it is impossible to say exactly, but that does not absolve any rational system of punishment -- including the one that would apply in the libertarian society -- from the problem of working it out as best one can. (Ethics of Liberty, 89)

Is Rothbard's system therefore vain? Is proportionality of punishment a useless ideal because of the practical difficulty of imposing just the right (in Rothbard's system) amount of punishment? There are, of course, other criteria of punishment, such as utilitarian deterrence. The idea is to minimize the combined cost of (1) crime to the victims, (2) punishments to the criminals, and (3) the justice system itself including investigations and enforcement such as prisons to the taxpayers. But that, too, is very empirical which implies not just that different cities may punish differently, but that in the same city, punishments should usefully change from time to time. If we grant these to Bionic, have we thereby conceded that the penal code is a "cultural question"? Not really, because the difficulty of arriving at the correct answer does not entail that no correct answer exists. A "culture" that got it right is objectively superior to a culture that made a mistake.

The age of majority for sex is definitely greater than 9 and less than 21 everywhere. Of course, opinions may differ but hardly exceedingly greatly. Regarding drinking, there should be no "legal" age of majority. Regarding being drafted into the military, there should be no draft. If there is volunteer military, then the government which owns the military can decide on its own authority how old people must be to join. Regarding voting or ability to make contracts, it's the "age of reason," probably somewhere around 14 years old, the age at which young Catholics perform the confirmation sacrament.

Alternatively, we can use Rothbard's criterion that the age of majority is attained when a child asserts his full rights to self-ownership, namely, "when he leaves or 'runs away' from home. Regardless of his age, we must grant to every child the absolute right to run away and to find new foster parents who will voluntarily adopt him, or to try to exist on his own."

The proper justice for stealing an apple is perhaps a small fine or mandatory service to the apple merchant for a few days. A judge issuing a sentence will be guided by a number of considerations, and his judgment will have to be "wise," an objective virtue.

Aggression can be obvious, like getting punched in the face, or more controversial, like being bombarded by photons from the lamp in a neighbor's window. The latter, however, are rarely problems; and the former are the legal system's chief concern.

"What is property?" is not a trivial problem, either. One obvious controversial issue among libertarians is intellectual property. But that well-reasoned opinions regarding it differ again does not entail that there is no best or true opinion. The answer to this question surely is not "it's an entirely arbitrary convention, as impervious to rational examination as a choice between a vanilla and chocolate ice-cream."

So much for this aspect of Bionic's "culture." His second apparent definition is "non-coercive social pressure."

I think our author has definite views on the proper incentives he personally would like to establish to other people in the course of their daily lives for proper business / opposite sex greetings, proper attire, proper family relationships, and so on.

If a person will not greet him the way he likes, Bionic will refuse to do business with him. If a girl fails to greet him well, he will not date her. If his lawyer is dressed inappropriately, he will forsake him for a more respectable person. As for hand-holding in the park, the park's owner can make up his own rules.

It's perfectly fine to ruminate on these, but I personally find these issues fairly uninteresting. Why should they bother a person qua libertarian? All a libertarian will argue is that it is each person's right not to be punished by the state for an "improper" greeting or attire. A private property owner, of course, can establish definite rules and enforce them with threats of ejection of troublemakers from his land.

Bionic then proceeds to affirm that he "would love to live in a community (however large or small) governed entirely by generally accepted common culture and custom, and not governed at all by law." But if in this community a certain punishment for theft is imposed, what does it matter whether the system of "governance" is based on "common culture" or law? Is it simply that one is unwritten and the other written? But what's the big deal? Wouldn't a clear unambiguous written law be far more efficient, anyway?

Suppose further that in that community a death penalty is inflicted for stealing an apple. A traditional libertarian will say this is unjust. But Bionic apparently disagrees, saying that as long as everyone in the community agrees to be bound by this restriction, all is well. Perhaps he would look contentedly at a socialist commune, too, as long as its every member entered it voluntarily. Now I agree that generally, the affairs of one city are none of any other city's business. But the institutional aspect of libertarianism which in part does indeed consist of massive decentralization is very much incomplete without its ideological aspect of laissez-faire capitalism and natural law.

Further, how would Bionic ensure a common culture? There are two ways; one is coercive restrictions on individual culture-making, such as the government forcing everyone to worship the same celebrities. I am pretty sure our author is not in favor of that.

The other is people forming like-minded communities and self-segregating. The "common culture" can arise only within relatively small private civil associations. Even in those, there may be written "bylaws" or contracts if it's a business firm and so on. Again, I do not find his distinction between written and unwritten laws to be compelling. If the community stones you for adultery, an injustice is committed against you regardless of whether the killers are guided by law or "common culture."

The relations between these civil associations which do not have much in common other than desire for mutual benefit through commerce and trade -- their "foreign policy" -- ought to be based entirely on libertarian ideology.

Finally, people with very different values -- and who share no common culture other than libertarian law -- can not only co-exist but profit handsomely from each other's existence. If Bionic does not understand this, then he has not been paying attention to the main points of libertarianism or economics, for that matter. In the economy, diversity (in complementary skills) is strength. There is no need for a thriving and perpetually improving commonwealth to feature any shared culture beyond commitment to libertarian justice.

Mises put it this way: "It is precisely because of [economics'] neutrality that people with different evaluations are able to live peaceably together. This is one of the most important ideas that came out of the Industrial Revolution and the development of modern science. It was an idea that was absolutely foreign to the most eminent minds of the sixteenth century. Very few persons then could have understood that people with different religions, values, and ideas, could live together in the same city, the same country, or the same world."

In sum, I am unconvinced that the focus on "culture" is useful for our libertarian project.

There Are No Black Libertarians

A black conservative or -- per impossibile -- libertarian is a huge trophy. Look, we say. A black guy who is not a loser in his personal life, who is not a complete idiot, and who -- incredibly -- was somehow able to cobble together a decent ideology! What miracle! What a strange and amazing development! We want to display this remarkable creature to all concerned.

I understand and sympathize. On the whole, however, black people are completely useless to libertarians. Which is unfortunate but also is the reality of the situation.

Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams, for example, are minor celebrities that illustrate the point. If they were white, they would be non-entities.

Libertarian Strategy

A libertarian revolution has two components: ideological and institutional.

Ideologically, we can promote laissez-faire capitalism and Rothbardian natural law.

Institutionally, it seems obvious that the US federal government is unreformable. It must be destroyed utterly. David Gornoski has put the matter this way:

The answer to globalism is nationalism.
The answer to nationalism is localism.
The answer to localism is your property.

I have been a "city-state libertarian" for a very long time. This is consistent with Mises' position on secession, namely, that

the right of self-determination... is not the right of self-determination of nations, but rather the right of self-determination of the inhabitants of every territory large enough to form an independent administrative unit.

If it were in any way possible to grant this right of self-determination to every individual person, it would have to be done.

This is impracticable only because of compelling technical considerations, which make it necessary that a region be governed as a single administrative unit and that the right of self-determination be restricted to the will of the majority of the inhabitants of areas large enough to count as territorial units in the administration of the country. (Liberalism, 109-10)

A city, in my opinion, is both necessary and sufficient to provide almost all the essential government services. There is no need for any government larger than what we understand as "local."

Within these hundreds of thousands of towns, libertarian ideology needs to be fully accepted.

A final key libertarian political institution is fully private (not merely "independent") judiciary. It was a major error on the part of the founders of the United States to put judges on the government payroll. It has resulted in the state becoming its own judge.

Regarding the "open borders" problem, in a fully libertarian world in which massive inequalities in the standard of living between cities are not observed, there ought to be 100% open borders on the level of cities; but the borders of any smaller explicit private community or organization within a city will be managed entirely by the property owners.

Libertarian Philosophy vs. Strategy

To appreciate the difference between them, consider that the strategy outlined in the Jeff Deist's "blood and soil" speech is a little devious.

Surely, we reason, the leftists who hate Trump would not mind their own country ruled by Hillary. Perhaps we can persuade or trick them to isolate themselves in their own contemptible ghetto. Let the freaks stew in their own juices. Ah-hah! We have furthered the end of a libertarian society by removing unnecessary strife between conflicting ideologies.

This political success does not mean that no ideology is true. It does not mean the leftists in Hillary-ville will be just as happy as the rightists in Trump-istan, as though each group were choosing merely between ice cream flavors. It is on the contrary very possible that the nation of leftists will collapse, and everyone there will starve to death. What we have actually done is forced the leftists to fully internalize the costs of their errors.

In contrast, the libertarian philosophy exhibits no deviousness at all.

Abortion: Consequences of Outlawry

If I am right, and Rothbard has not proved beyond reasonable doubt that abortion is a natural right, perhaps we can look at the consequences of legally prohibiting it.

The result will surely be (1) aborting fewer and (2) conceiving fewer.

Now first, the pro-choicers argue that prohibiting abortions will lead to women self-inducing abortions in the back alley using dangerous methods ("coat hangers"). This is definitely a social cost. But it is also very likely that the number of illegal abortions committed in this way will be smaller than the number of legal abortions committed now. Isn't that a desirable social goal? How much smaller, no one can tell, so why not experiment to find out? Let's repeal Roe v. Wade, let states handle abortion decisions, and do a thorough study a few years after to see by how much abortions have declined.

Second, it will encourage more responsible sexual behavior. People will be more careful if they know that the cost of conceiving is having to bring the baby to term and be a parent or at least, if the baby is given for adoption, bear the burden of knowing that you have a child whom you were meant to rear and whom you will, however, never see. Again it is very hard to say by how much the number of abortions will drop, but drop it surely will.

For example, suppose that when abortion is legal, every year 10 million children are conceived, and of those 10 million, 5 million are deliberately aborted. After the prohibition is in place, we should expect something like the following: 2 million children are never conceived in the first place due to the new incentives, so only 8 million are conceived; furthermore, of those 8 million, not 3 million but only 1 million are aborted.

A cost associated with this consequence is less sexual fun for the people, but then again perhaps free love is neither in the first place.

A further benefit might be that some abortion doctors will find a less disreputable occupation.

These considerations should be weighed against two things: (i) the harm to undeterred women and doctors from the punishments inflicted by the authorities; and (ii) the extra costs to the taxpayers of additional law enforcement.

“After-Birth Abortion”

Philosophers Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva find no reason to outlaw infanticide. They appear to make no distinction, however, between killing and letting die.

Given this caveat, Rothbard would agree with the authors 100%:

The parent therefore may not murder or mutilate his child, and the law properly outlaws a parent from doing so. But the parent should have the legal right not to feed the child, i.e., to allow it to die. The law, therefore, may not properly compel the parent to feed a child or to keep it alive. ...

This rule allows us to solve such vexing questions as: should a parent have the right to allow a deformed baby to die (e.g. by not feeding it)? The answer is of course yes, following a fortiori from the larger right to allow any baby, whether deformed or not, to die. (EoL, 100-1)

A parent enjoys natural guardianship rights but is burdened by no guardianship obligations. The rights expire when the child asserts his full rights to self-ownership. That occurs

when he demonstrates that he has them in nature -- in short, when he leaves or "runs away" from home. Regardless of his age, we must grant to every child the absolute right to run away and to find new foster parents who will voluntarily adopt him, or to try to exist on his own.

Parents may try to persuade the runaway child to return, but it is totally impermissible enslavement and an aggression upon his right of self-ownership for them to use force to compel him to return.

The absolute right to run away is the child's ultimate expression of his right of self-ownership, regardless of age. (103)

Walter Block has added the refinement that if the parents want to abandon their child, they can't just let him starve in their house. They must do so by following the customary formal procedure of abandonment of any property. The point is to let everyone know that the guardianship rights have indeed been relinquished and to grant other people some time and opportunity to "homestead" the now unguarded child.

I fully agree that it's a clear absurdity for Smith to abandon ownership of a parcel of land, say, without notifying the whole world of this through some established means. The property would be objectively up for grabs, but if people falsely thought that Smith still owned it, no one would be able to homestead it. A useful to society resource would then for all intents and purposes be destroyed. Similarly, parents can be obliged even by libertarian law to care for the child during the entire period of time that custom or convention has decreed will be given to neighbors to pick this child up and give him a new home.