Skip to the end of my diary entry
if you'd like (about 1800 words). (This is the longest diary
entry I've written this month, I think.)
lilo, things in Latin normally requiescunt in
pace (in peace) rather than in pacem (into peace). You can
also wish that your old car requiescat in partes -- rest in pieces. :-)
"Pacem" is used in prayers for peace ("dona nobis pacem", not necessarily
far from the Kaddish Shalem) and the intensely controversial quotation
"Si vis pacem, para bellum" (if you want peace, prepare for war). Some
peace activists during my lifetime have suggested "Si vis pacem, para
pacem" (if you want peace, prepare for peace) instead.
"Throwing up our hands"
stefan, here is the beginning of what I wrote about
"throwing up our hands", with some changes. It's too long, but
I know I glossed over some important things anyway.
Phil Agre wrote one of his essays about his limitless frustration
with libertarians, pointing out that lots of libertarians obsessively
avoid the idea of "designing" or "consciously choosing" anything.
I should try to find that essay; it was very good, although I didn't
think it quite reached my own objections.
If we talk about social problems as engineering problems (a powerful
metaphor, an influential metaphor, obviously far from the only
metaphor through which the left understands social problems), then
clearly it's appealing to bring to bear some engineering-like methods
(conscious choice!) to try to resolve or mitigate these problems.
Libertarian writers like Hayek and von Mises who were aggressively
attacking totalitarian arrangements like Stalinist central planning
pointed out (among other things) that social engineering has unintended
consequences. So it doesn't always work, or often may not work as
Then such writers sometimes added theoretical reasons to suggest that
social engineering almost never works and typically achieves
the exact opposite of what it sets out to do. I don't understand
those theoretical reasons, and I think that part of the case was
enormously overstated (although of course I have more political
agreement with these writers than economic agreement).
I mean, some very naive central planning enthusiasts might have
suggested in Stalin's day that all social programs can be solved
directly and completely by engineering methods. Obviously those
people were not engineers. :-) But it seems that a Hayek-style
attack is most effective against somebody who believes that public
policy is perfectly effective and never has harmful unintended
consequences. Real engineers don't normally think of real engineering
that way, or else they should be reading
Against "engineering problem" metaphor, there are a number of
different attacks. In normal engineering problems, there is some
actor (an engineer or engineering staff) knowledgeable, capable,
and authorized to act to remedy the problem. If social problems
are thought of in these terms, Hayek, say, hammers away at the
"knowledgeable and capable" part, whereas I would be much more
stressed out about the "authorized" part. Normal engineers almost
always get to choose the means they think best to solve a problem,
because the subject matter of their engineering doesn't implicate
other moral concerns.
(As a side note, I should point out that this is wrong, a lot of
the time, but engineers have yet to realize that, so we can
pretend it's right.)
Social engineers (in the metaphor) are engineering with
(not merely for) groups of people -- so that even given
that they are "knowledgeable and capable", there are huge concerns
about the morality of the means they choose.
(But progressives and libertarians already disagree about whether
certain means are allowed -- so maybe phrasing the problem this
way doesn't help, or maybe what I've said is already obvious.)
For example, libertarians, as individualists, normally consider
individual choice sacrosanct, so that overruling it is wrong, even
if overruling it is an appropriate engineering solution to a
genuine social problem. (I don't have much patience for the claim
that there is no such thing as a genuine social problem: just
because society is an abstraction doesn't mean that it isn't a
useful abstraction for understanding problems. That doesn't mean
I'm willing to use that abstraction for other purposes.)
In other words, would-be social engineers are enormously constrained,
because they probably lack legitimate authority to employ most of
the means which would seem appropriate to them (and which, ineed,
might be broadly effective).
If you think of the Prisoner's Dilemma, libertarians will insist
that people who end up at the lower right should be allowed to
stay there instead of forcing them to the upper left (although
that's not the whole story) -- so how do you get everybody to the
upper left corner without forcing them? I grant that
things could be much better (in the utilitarian sense) and it's possible
to get closer to that through conscious choice.
And libertarianism permits (please, not "produces") mutual
defection in many situations where progressivism might forbid it.
Somebody wrote a recent book about two strands of thought in the
liberal tradition dating back to the Enlightenment (and portions
of which are older). One of these is rational ordering of things,
and the other is individual sovereignty or autonomy. People have
started to notice (obviously this author is far from the first
to do so)
that both of these are a part of the liberal tradition and yet
that they're often in dramatic contrast.
Sometimes (frequently, it seems) the rational order fails to just
appear (and what to blame for that is itself a subject of
endless political debate -- greed, culture, human nature, advertising,
a lack of education, the essential bankruptcy of the liberal
tradition, states' policies or propaganda, foreign or domestic
"time and chance" per Ecclesiastes).
The liberal tradition's answer to this is probably that you need to produce
the rational order through education and not indoctrination or
coercion. I think lilo might feel less attacked
by graydon if the former reflected on the latter's
reluctance to suggest that cell phones should be banned:
just, I think, that maybe we don't all absolutely need them.
[After a few days, graydon emphasized that he didn't have a political
agenda in mind, but rather a suggestion.]
As someone who's just recently given up on cell phones for a while, I
could endorse that. :-)
But obviously people have different lifestyles and some people might
have more use for certain items or (thinking of Phil Agre again)
institutions than others. I'm sure that in most of these
areas (from what graydon wrote) graydon
would be happy to see people simply being more reasonable and
reflective, less gratuitous and frenzied.
[Speaking of sub-issues, how about the difference between "there is
such a thing as technological progress, and it is important and
frequently beneficial to humanity" and "people all need to consume
a lot and have a fast-paced lifestyle"? I think it would be nice
to separate these two, and maybe others.]
So the outstanding issue about the "education alone" idea is in part
that some people say it doesn't work (it's not enough) and some
people say it will take a long time and some people say it's simply not
being practiced at all.
Where education doesn't work, libertarian liberals would suggest that you
simply give up (and perhaps try to mitigate the problems
indirectly, or to escape from them), because you are not allowed
to use other means to effect social change, lest you should compromise
Progressive liberals would suggest that you consider some other means as
well, provided that you have appropriate motives and/or appropriate
I'm enthusiastic about education for lots of reasons -- in this context
because it's the largest common ground between libertarians and
In other news
I got a green FSF shirt in the mail,
completing my collection (beige, maroon, black, green) -- and then I lost
Oops, davidm goes by davidm here and not dmandala.
The MIT Museum Shop seems
to have stopped carrying slide rules. Shame!
The transition back to PST is very convenient. I trust all the other
U.S. time zones made it OK, too. :-)
I read The Forge of God by Greg Bear. That's the first science fiction
novel I've read in several months; I was disappointed in the ending
(things rapidly get more and more "far out" and extreme, and it's not
a happy ending by any stretch).
It's funny how science fiction writers manage to get together what would be
called an adventuring party in role-playing games, and how
normally most of them are brilliant scientists and their spouses; then
some politicians or military leaders, some soldiers, and at least one
smart kid. So The Forge of God did that.
The book also had some scenes taking place at an "American Geophysical Society
meeting in San Francisco", which brought back some memories for me (although
it's actually the American Geophysical Union).
plundis, take care and good luck.
Bay Area book collecting
Some really good news is that Black Oak Books of Berkeley has bought
out Columbus Books at 540 Broadway in the City, and is opening up
a third store (the second one is at 630 Irving, near Golden Gate Park).
Now, Black Oak is an excellent used book store (though some people
think their prices are high, they have really nice inventory).
Columbus Books is a just-OK used book store with a very large space
and an impressive number of subject areas, but very uneven quality.
So under Black Oak management, I think they will become consistently
But the really cool thing is that Columbus Books is just one block
from the famous and also excellent new book store City Lights Books,
so North Beach is going to become a fantastic area for book shopping,
with an excellent independent new book store only a block away from
an excellent independent used book store.
There's also Carroll's Books, about two blocks from City Lights;
they're small, but I like them. (Used only.)
Something I'd like to do is go book-hunting with some friends again,
by announcing in advance an all-day book hunt on a Saturday. I
had a really pleasant itinerary like that with Sumana (hi,
Sumana) one day earlier this year, and it would be a nice thing to
The backbone of that trip would probably be
Stacy's (new), Alexander (new)
City Lights (new), Black Oak III (used), Carroll's (used),
Books Inc. (new), Green Apple (used), Green Apple (new),
some bookstores down along near Van Ness (used), A Clean
Well-Lighted Place for Books (new). There are other
possibilities. Lots of other possibilities.
For Berkeley: ASUC or CTE (textbooks), Cody's (new), Moe's (used),
Shakespeare (used), Cartesian Books (used), then on Solano the
surviving Half-Price Books (used) and Pegasus (used). The
challenge is to fit in conveniently The Other Change of Hobbit
(sci-fi), Pegasus on Shattuck, and Pendragon (among others)
on College. College in particular is in the opposite direction
So I should announce that I'm doing this on some fine clear
Saturday and see who wants to come along.