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Calling Marxism Egalitarian Is a Strawman

One of the worst things that can happen to a bad idea, is to have it propped up by bad counter arguments. Marxism is one of those bad ideas that is often strengthened by misunderstandings. A particularly common strawman, is the accusation that Marxism is an egalitarian philosophy, seeking equal outcome regardless of unequal input. This assumption is popular within the libertarian community. It’s mostly put forth by fans of Hans-Hermann Hoppe and Jordan Peterson. It’s not hard to see why this misconception would arise. Marx and Engels collectively wrote well over 25 books and hundreds of letters, essays and speeches. There is so much work it would take a short lifetime to fully grasp all of their ideas. Egalitarianism is also a common trope within the general left. One could see a leftist calling for equality and falsely assume that such ideas are core of all leftist philosophy, included in that Marxism.

The truth is Marx and Engels were pretty explicitly anti-egalitarian. If you dissect what is meant by the line “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”, it is necessarily a call for an unequal outcome and distribution of wealth and social responsibility. The phrase is a recognition that everyone is different and unequal and as such they need different and unequal things. But Marx gets even more explicit in other parts of his 1875 ‘Critique of the Gotha Programme’, he offers a criticism of socialist movements that advocate for equality.

The internet anarchist and marxist AnarchoPac summarizes Marx’s criticisms far better than I could in these paragraphs:

“Firstly, Marx claims that it makes no sense to speak of equality in the abstract. This is because we can only understand what it means for x to be equal or unequal with y if we first specify the dimensions along which they are being compared. For x to be equal to y is for them to be equal in a particular concrete respect. For example, if x and y are people then they can only be judged equal relative to particular criteria such as their height, how many shoes they own, or how much cake they have eaten. Therefore, one can only be in favour of equality along specific dimensions, such as equality of cake consumption, and never equality as an abstract ideal.

Secondly, Marx claims that advocating equality along one dimension, such as everyone in a society earning the same amount of money per hour worked, will lead to inequality along other dimensions. Everyone earning an equal amount per hour of work would, for example, lead to those who work more having more money than those who work less. As a result, those unable to work a large amount (if at all) such as disabled people, old people, or women who are expected to do the majority of housework, will be unequal with those who can work more, such as the able-bodied, young people, or men. Or those doing manual labour, and so unable to work long hours due to fatigue, will be unequal to those who engage in non-manual labour and so can work more hours. If a society decides to instead ensure equality of income by paying all workers the same daily wage then there would still be inequality along other dimensions. For example, workers who don’t have to provide for a family with their wage will have more disposable income than workers with families. Therefore we can never reach full equality but merely move equality and inequality around along different dimensions.”

There is simply no room for egalitarian thought in Marxism. It’s important that critics and advocates do not make the error of grouping them together.

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Self Driving Cars Can and Should Beat Out Public Transportation

I just read a really frustrating article on wire titled “Autonomous Vehicles Might Drive Cities To Financial Ruin.” The title should be enough of a red flag, but I figured i’d dive in and see what was up. Well, It’s actually worse than I expected. The writer complains that self driving cars will lower city tax revenues because cops won’t be able to pull them over and fine the driver any more. Cities make billions of dollars in parking violations and it’s certainly true that these revenue sources will deplenish if you take out the human error involved in driving around. She goes on to frame this as a sort of social justice concern, worrying that such a loss in revenue may mean public transportation being cut, disproportionately affecting minority groups. Of course she doesn’t make note of the fact that police traffic stops, tickets and fines, disporationaly affect minorities. It’s worth considering how lowering the amount of traffic stops might actually be the ideal social justice perspective. However that’s not her major error. The real flaw in her thinking comes from not realizing how these self driving cars will ultimately lower the cost of travel for everyone. Uber Pool and Lyft Line, services where you can split your ride with strangers, already have driven the cost of ride sharing close to that of public transit. One of my recent rides in Atlanta was $3 for 5.5 miles of travel. Atlanta’s bus service MARTA would have cost me $2.50. Imagine how much lower this could get if there was no driver to pay. Maybe instead of her call to “press pause on aggressive plans to deploy driverless cars in cities across the United States”, we should actually be looking to accelerate the process by getting regulations out of the way.

Self Discipline and My Productivity Variables

Working from home is difficult. Staying motivated and disciplined when you could easily just lay around and scroll memes can be quite the task. I’ve been exclusively self employed for almost a year now and Ive had to learn how to master this skill. I’ve noticed productivity is often about getting the specific variables right. Here’s a list of my variables and maybe you find some insights to your own struggles in those.

Natural light to keep me awake and focused

Chairs that promote good posture without being too uncomfortable

Filling breakfast to give me fuel for the day

Music, usually without lyrics to help zone into my work

Work in room other than my bedroom to keep myself from getting sleepy

Facing a window so I have something stimulating to look at

Sober unless doing casual work like art

Exercise in the morning to get blood flowing and keep myself awake

 

Egoism needs Virtue Ethics

I have an intense interest in ethics and using philosophy to discover general rules for how to live life and interact with others. This passion has always lead me to take the position of ethical egoism very seriously. Ethical egoism, which i’ll just call egoism for the rest of this, is the idea that when at the crossroads morality, you ought to always choose the thing that is in your self interest. Of course egoism doesn’t mean you can’t help others or value the interest of others. Simply that the core principle that should motivate one’s moral actions should be based in self interest.
Virtue ethics is the idea that morality is not about specific actions, or specific results, but about the character of the person making those moral choices. Aristotle is the old dead philosopher often credited with its creation. He starts with idea that all people want to and should seek their eudaimonia. The simple translation of this word is happiness, but that’s a bit misleading. Eudaimonia is a much grander final goal in life. Think of it as fulfilment beyond just simple fleeting pleasures and temporary happiness. The major way Aristotle thinks we can reach such a state is through learning to live out the virtues. The virtues are the characteristics one can embody when making choices. The virtue of courage is needed to make the action to defend your community against an invader. The virtue of temperance (not to be confused with the temperance movement) is needed to learn how to enjoy alcohol in moderation without going overboard. For Aristotle, the way in which me discover the virtues is by finding the middle of two extreme vices. Courage is in between being a coward and seeking out danger for example.
Though I think this sort of middle ground approach for discovering the virtues, has its flaws, I’m very interested in the synthesis of virtue ethics with egoism. Obviously one can see where valuing eudaimonia can be interpreted as a sort of egoism. If at the core of our ethics is the question of happiness and fulfillment for ourselves, then the core is a matter of self interest. Maybe more intriguing is how virtue ethics helps us flesh out egoism. It’s not enough to say “you ought to act in your self interest”. The question that must follow is, how do we know if something is actually in our self interest or not? We could simply it down to impulsive wants, that may lead us to some confusing contradictions. I may want to shoot up heroin all weekend but I also have a value for maintaining healthy relationships with my family and friends. Both of these are my expressed values, yet It’s unlikely I will be able to successfully do both. If the standard for self interest is simply “what I want to do”, then I’m not really closer to knowing which choice is best. It may be tempting to resolve this by categorizing specific actions as good or bad. But such an approach isn’t very universalizable. Shooting up may be intuitively in the bad category, but there’s certainly cases where it might be in your self interest. Soldiers in Vietnam used heroin was a way to self medicate and deal with the horrors of war. Most of which were able to come home and quit cold turkey. This is where the virtue ethics comes in. If you want to truly act in your self interest, then the specific actions you take are less relevant than the mind set and intentions of why you took those actions. It would make sense to embody virtues and characteristics, that are universalizable, to help insure you always make the choice that is in your best interest. For example, If you want to know what the best choice to make is, then you must live with the characteristic and virtue of valuing truth and logic. This is what helps us reach a better egoism. It’s through embodying virtues that we can get closer to resolving the question of knowing what is truly in our self interest.

The Spontaneous Order of Interior Design

It’s tempting to always approach interior design as a top down system. We may start a conception of how we want a room to look and disrupt the natural order of the room, to reorganize it to fit with this conception. Then we try to force our habits to match the design of the room. The whole approach can come with a lot of problems. We may find it difficult to adjust our behaviors. Or find forcing an aesthetic on a room will feel clunky and awkward. However this is not the only way to approach interior design. Consider a more natural or bottom up tactic. One that conforms with our natural spontaneous activities.
Within the study of economics, there is a concept called Spontaneous Order. It is an insight about how order can develop without the need of top down design. Complex and functional systems can be built through what looks like chaos. Evolution is a solid example of this. There’s (likely) no top down design to nature. Why a specific body part evolved can be explained simply through understanding the complex and chaotic incentives that animals face over generations. Walking around on a busy city block is another example. There’s no cop telling you to walk on the right side of the sidewalk. No expressed rules for when to get out of someone’s way. Yet the vast majority of the time, you aren’t bumping into people. The relevant insight here, is that sometimes designs doesn’t need to be over thought. Often systems should just follow the natural order and incentives already in place.
So how do we apply this concept to interior design?
To start off, let’s discuss furniture. Have you ever not had a night stand by your bed? Seriously think about it. Everyone reading this can probably be fit into two categories of experience. Either you left your parents house with a night stand and take it for granted, or you didn’t have a night moving out and asap found a substitute or bought your own. Without one you find yourself with noticeable inconveniences. Imagine waking up in the middle of the night and you need your glass of water. Most people have it conveniently placed in arms reach on a stand, at a height near the height of the bed. If you didn’t have the nightstand, the placement of your glass of water becomes a lot more inconvenient. It’s either on the floor, below the bed, or away from the bed on some other piece of furniture. Naturally the incentives are clear for you to buy a nightstand to place besides your bed.
It’s easy to see how we can use this idea for something like furniture, but what about aesthetic design choices?
Here I’ll use a personal example to help illustrate my point. When I first moved into my current room, I found myself often sitting in my bed, always facing a certain direction. This happened to be the most comfortable spot to sit on my bed, were I might naturally lay around while passing the time. Unfortunately while in that spot, the only thing I had to look at was a blank wall. Not just any blank wall, but a pretty ugly one at that. A makeshift wall previously installed in the room before I moved in. My basic incentive was to find something to increase the value of staring off into this direction. I knew I needed something large to cover as much of the wall as possible. I knew it had to be interesting to look at as to avoid getting bored. This lead to purchasing a large world map. Hanging up on my wall, it covers most of the ugly and fulfills all of wants. I have something interesting to look at that never really gets boring. Simply through designing around my natural activities, I was able to reach a meaningful design choice.
Next time you’re designing the interior of a room, consider taking an approach that accounts for your natural behaviors. Obverse exactly how you live in your room. Consider where you eyes fall and where you place your belongings before going to bed. Pay attention to your natural activities and design around those incentives instead of trying to confirm your actions to some grander design. Pay attention to the spontaneous order of interior design.