Sunday, June 04, 2006

A Response to G. Stolyarov

Category: Mind Change
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Old Comments

  • “Granted, one of us might be an idiot, and that could be me, but I think it’s far more likely that we’re both really smart.”

    The only thing I can say is that I’m pretty confident that you are both smarter than I am.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/05  at  01:54 PM
  • Mr. Stolyarov has replied through email:

    When you say that “every choice is a trade,” you are implying a true idea: every choice has opportunity costs. In making a given choice, an individual is forgoing the consequences of not making that choice. He must consider the consequences of not making the choice to be worse than the consequences of making it—or else he would not have made the choice.

    So the individual who coerces does indeed view the consequences of coercion to be better than the consequences of non-coercion. The same can be said about the individual who sacrifices.

    But the “trade” that occurs between a choice and its opportunity costs is a different trade than the one that may or may not occur between two individuals as a result of their choices. The coercer may think he is benefiting himself by making his choices, but he is harming the person whom he is coercing. (That is, the other person would have been better off had the coercion not taken place.) The sacrificer may indeed think that he is benefiting himself in an emotional sense—or in the sense of expecting otherworldly rewards—but he is ultimately harmed by the objective consequences of his decision. If the sacrifice is coerced, then the sacrificer is also immediately harmed in the sense of being worse off than he would have been if the sacrifice had not been expected of him. Furthermore, he does not ask the other individual to give him anything in return for his sacrifice; thus, there is no inter-personal trade.

    So the coercer and sacrificer are making intra-personal trades among the consequences of the various potential choices they could make, but not inter-personal trades with other people.

    If you would like me to use less ambiguous terminology for the three cateogires of human interaction, I will do so from the vantage point of Person A interacting with Person B.

    Unilateral infliction of harm: A takes Y from B without giving anything in return. 

    Unilateral surrender of benefits: A gives B X without expecting or accepting anything in return.

    Mutually beneficial exchange: Both A and B are benefited through the transaction; A gets Y from B, and B gets X from A.

    To apply this to the issue of abortion, if abortion is a woman’s unilateral infliction of harm upon a fetus, then it is perfectly proper to prevent or punish such an infliction of harm by a law that prohibits abortion. The law is not a “unilateral infliction of harm,” because it is a response to harm that another party has either already inflicted or plans to inflict.

    I do not think that even the enforcement of laws that one is willing to support should require the infliction of unilateral harm upon others. In “An Outline and Defense of a Properly Limited Government,” I describe a system in which all funding for the government is voluntary, and an individual’s sway over government policies is directly proportional to the resources he voluntarily contributes:

    I tend to agree with you when you say that “it is possible to improve your own life and the lives of others who will disagree with your rational and objective view by teaching them principles.” Some people might not be receptive to the entire method of rational, autonomous judgment, but they might still be willing to adopt some of the conclusions reached through this method. Adopting these conclusions will improve their lives; they will be using the consequences of rational thinking without even knowing it. Teaching by example helps in this way. If a rational, objective person leads a successful life, people will wonder what the reasons behind his success are. They will try to adopt at least some of the rational man’s habits, attitudes, and ambitions.

    In this sense, I sympathize with your method of “comparative voting,” especially insofar as it might help individuals select better alternatives than the ones they currently endorse. This will not result in perfection, but I agree that it can produce substantive improvements.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/08  at  03:27 PM
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