Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ad hominem, a serious threat to all intellectual debate...

I wrote this a long time ago on the Zeitgeist Forums, and I think it bears repeating here.

I am writing this here as it is clear that debates on this forum just as many other forums like it is fraught with a plague that chokes to death intellectual discussion. And hinders the purest forms of communication. An open exchange of ideas where the goal of both participants is to further their understanding of the subject.

As was pointed out in Zeitgeist, we tend to equate being "wrong" to somehow being inferior. This results in the topic of the conversations presented becoming a conflict of egos and reputations rather then an exchange of information to reach conclusions.

Miyamoto Musashi was a great swordsmen, perhaps the best of his time. He used to say:

"Today's goal is to defeat yesterday's understanding."

The form of debate that I wish to expose for what it is and ask that we all apply social pressure to eliminate from our communication is called Ad Hominem.

"An ad hominem argument, also known as argumentum ad hominem (Latin: "argument to the man", "argument against the man") consists of replying to an argument or factual claim by attacking or appealing to a characteristic or belief of the source making the argument or claim, rather than by addressing the substance of the argument or producing evidence against the claim. The process of proving or disproving the claim is thereby subverted, and the argumentum ad hominem works to change the subject."

Essentially, lets say two people are arguing. We will call them Charles and James. They have an audience who is listening intently to the debate.

Charles: "Look, I am telling you the sky is blue during the day."

James: "You are wrong, I declare that the sky is in fact purple during the day."

Charles: "Look at this photo. I took it yesterday. It proves that in fact the sky is blue during the day. Timestamped and everything..."

James: "Well...why should I accept photographic evidence from someone who cheats on their wife?"

Charles is winning the debate. James decides he cannot defeat Charles's logic and evidence presented. So to attempt to "win" the debate he decides to direct the conversation towards Charles's illicit affairs in an attempt to discredit Charles as a person. Thereby distracting the audience from the weaknesses in his own logic and lack of evidence.

This is a fairly obvious example of Ad Hominem, but if you look closely you can see it all over the internet in particular. When you are not face to face with someone it is easy to distract people from the original point because now everyone is focused on the new "subject". When Charles eventually retreats in shame or frustration then James will have "won".

Sometimes people will call each other "stupid" during debate to come to the same conclusion. Or will switch to personal insults and "flames" to further their defamation of the person defeating them. And particularly if they are teamed up with a pack of "trolls" this can be very effective. The intellectual exchange is buried somewhere underneath the piles of bile created by the "trolls". The audience either allows these trolls to convince them that the person is discredited, or they just stop reading the thread altogether.

Rarely will people stand up to these gangs of intellectual thugs because they don't want to be next. This allows this kind of behavior to isolate and bring down one person at a time. Eventually a forum is left with nothing but it's social "clique" of "elites" who are on the top of the pecking order. And anyone who speaks outside of what they like will be punished into submission. And what is even worse, the social structure sets up a "reward" system for participating in the hateful behavior. It's the "in thing" to pick on this person.

Some people simply refuse to participate when this is going on. I say this is the worst thing to do. The "society" of our forum should come together and expose this behavior right away. And make it very clear that it will not be tolerated.

I honestly feel that the battle against Ad Hominem ruining intellectual debate and is important to every aspect of our movement. The notion that being "right" or "wrong" has social implications and consequences is one of the most powerful things holding back mankind.

I used to moderate for a chat room that frequently had trolls. It was a Libertarian chat room so they would hide behind "free speech" as their right to be mean to any member who they saw fit to pick on. They would frequently manipulate the owner of the chat room to allow them back in when they would be kicked or banned for their behavior. What the owner failed to see was that allowing this just furthered the bad behavior. So he asked me to come up with a rule that would prevent this from being an issue. The trolls would always accuse me of kicking them or banning them just for disagreeing with them. Some of them had gotten a hold of some issues of my personal life and felt the need to bring them up whenever the debate was going badly for them. When the owner would finally take a look at what was going on, he would just see me, the one person being isolated. And therefore would identify me as the problem.

Eventually I came up with the rule. And that was no Ad Hominem. Period. We unbanned everyone and simply enforced the rule that you were not allowed to in any way use personal attack during your debate. You could disagree all you wanted to. But you could not under any circumstances refer to some flaw in the person themselves as a flaw in their debate.

It was amazing how quickly the trolls lost interest in the chat room. It absolutely paralyzed them to have such a rule and to have it enforced. This also exposed what I had been claiming all along. The people using this debate tactic were rarely there because they actually cared about the subject matter. They like many other dysfunctional members of our society would just surf the web to look for people to bully from the safety of the internet.

It also opened intellectual discussion in such a way that huge progress was made in the general understanding of the people in the chat room. With the "ego" no longer being a target for debate suddenly people started having discussions to further their understandings, not to prove their understanding was better then some other person.

I urge the moderators of this forum to consider what I have pointed out here, and to apply this same rule to the forums. And I urge the members of our movement to actively seek out and destroy Ad Hominem and ostracism in the forums and in the chat rooms. Both of these things are tools of the same system that has kept mankind in this ridiculous state for so long.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Questions for Capitalists...

Obviously I hear quite a bit about some of the problems that people see in implementing a Resource-Based Economy as the Venus Project advocates. And during these debates some good questions are asked. And some bad ones. In many cases I notice that people are asking the same questions that they themselves cannot answer.

Lets assume for a moment, that we wanted to implement what Anarcho-Capitalists suggest. Complete Free Market, absent of any government.

And of course, we also have to get rid of that pesky federal reserve, and switch to sound money. In fact most Free Market Capitalists that I talk to seem to think that it's the unsound money that is the root of all of our woes. And that despite the fact that even when money was based literally on gold and other precious metals (because it was made out of them) we still had huge pockets of poor in our society.

So, then what? Do we just throw a lever and get rid of all of the regulations at once? What about all the people who own property purchased using the fraudulent banking system? Obviously we cannot have a Free market where everyone is equal and able to compete if these mega-corporations are allowed to retain all the property they purchased with federal reserve notes right?

So then what? Do we seize the assets of everyone on the planet, and reset everything and create no regulations whatsoever?

If the answer is no, then how do we propose to solve the issue that will happen when we suddenly switch to sound money that there is only a finite supply of? In this supposedly "equal" race we will have people staring off in the 1,000 meter dash at the 900 meter mark. What kind of "Free" market do you think will exist at that point?

Something I always found funny about many Libertarians during the course of my time working with Senator Mike Gravel in his bid for the Libertarian nomination, was that they did not believe in the ability of the citizens to be competent enough to make decisions to participate in ballot initiatives to make their own federal laws. They called democracy "mob rule" (leaving out the fact that Gravel's NI4D proposal is still limited by the Constitution so as to protect the minority) yet most of them place so much faith in those very same people to adequately participate in the final fail safe in the Free Market system. The consumer. All of our woes that will come from such a system supposedly are going to be made fine, as the consumer (the "mob") will make sure that all evil business practices are not profitable.

Apparently we don't need laws to prevent sweat shop factories because the same "mob" that they don't trust to vote for their own federal laws, will be responsible citizens as consumers, and always do what is best for the economy.


Seeing as how we can already see this is an utter failure I don't see how this is going to in any way work. Particular in the monetary profit motivated system. The average consumer knows about sweat shop factories. They know about bad environmental practices. The vast majority of them simply don't care. They still put on a smile and shop at Wal-Mart so they can buy more junk that is planned to be obsolete as soon as the maker of the product can feasibly get away with. Why? Because it is a profit motivated system from top to bottom. And as long as you have that profit motivated system, all parts of it will be corrupted by it.

There is also the issue of the fact that even if you wanted to make choices, in many cases there are none. And the more the economy tanks the less choices people will be able to make. As the greedy profit motive causes the consumer to buy products regardless of who it puts out of work locally, and the employer continues to put more people out of work through machine automation or finding a country of people desperate enough to accept ten cents an hour to do their work, despite the fact that this will eventually destroy their consumer base.

Free Market Capitalism relies on a lot of fallacies. Including that supposedly no monopolies can exist in a free market. When you ask them why they can't exist, they just say they can't because they can't. Or because Ayn Rand said so.

I remember talking to one guy who said in response to me pointing out that wages are decreasing as fast as companies can get away with it that history "proves" that as production rises wages will rise. He acted like it was some sort of law of physics that this would occur. I warrant that in history this used to take place. But that trend has been over for a long time. There was a time when the consumer cared about such things as honorable business practices. Now they care about $50 DVD players. The greed inherent in the system trickles down from the top to the bottom like water pouring from the top of the mountain. But also like water, it erodes everything. And I think eventually we are going to see an avalanche when the mountain that proves to be a house of cards crashes.

So again, how do you implement this Anarcho-Capitalist system?

Personally, I think it is rather "utopian".

The Venus Project and the Green Party

So I have endeavored to get to know the Green Party, and it's platform as I realized recently that the Green party is also very compatible with our ideas. I figured I would start with first with a comparative analysis of the Green party's platform and the ideals of the Venus Project.

What follows is quotes from the Green party platform, and my comparisons afterward.

Every human being deserves a say in the decisions that affect his or her life and should not be subject to the will of another. Therefore, we will work to increase public participation at every level of government and to ensure that our public representatives are fully accountable to the people who elect them. We will also work to create new types of political organizations which expand the process of participatory democracy by directly including citizens in the decision-making process."

The Venus Project obviously agrees entirely with the notion of human beings deserving a say in the decisions that affect his or her life and that they should not be subject to the will of another. We feel that eventually this should also extend to getting rid of the need for employment to survive.

We do feel however that as long as there is a monetary system, there is very little any honest politician could ever accomplish. That doesn't mean that we don't advocate being activists as it is the best way to spread awareness.

All persons should have the rights and opportunity to benefit equally from the resources afforded us by society and the environment. We must consciously confront in ourselves, our organizations, and society at large, barriers such as racism and class oppression, sexism and homophobia, ageism and disability, which act to deny fair treatment and equal justice under the law."

This statement could of just as easily been taken from the Venus Project website. It is absolutely compatible.

Human societies must operate with the understanding that we are part of nature, not separate from nature. We must maintain an ecological balance and live within the ecological and resource limits of our communities and our planet. We support a sustainable society which utilizes resources in such a way that future generations will benefit and not suffer from the practices of our generation. To this end we must practice agriculture which replenishes the soil; move to an energy efficient economy; and live in ways that respect the integrity of natural systems."

This statement also could easily of been taken directly from the Venus Project website. It is entirely compatible with our ideals.

It is essential that we develop effective alternatives to society's current patterns of violence. We will work to demilitarize, and eliminate weapons of mass destruction, without being naive about the intentions of other governments.
We recognize the need for self-defense and the defense of others who are in helpless situations. We promote non-violent methods to oppose practices and policies with which we disagree, and will guide our actions toward lasting personal, community and global peace."

Well we certainly agree on that. I would comment that our answers to solving the "patterns of violence" is about changing the environment in ways that eliminate the root causes of violent behavior. Scarcity causes violent behavior in almost every case.

Centralization of wealth and power contributes to social and economic injustice, environmental destruction, and militarization. Therefore, we support a restructuring of social, political and economic institutions away from a system which is controlled by and mostly benefits the powerful few, to a democratic, less bureaucratic system. Decision-making should, as much as possible, remain at the individual and local level, while assuring that civil rights are protected for all citizens."

We agree with virtually all of this. However we do not oppose a larger infrastructure to help ensure that every community has the resources that it needs. But we feel that most of that infrastructure can be automated and taken out of the hands of politicians who tend to only administrate resources in the interests of whatever companies can pay them the highest political campaign contributions. An elimination of the monetary system of exchange would fix this.

Redesign our work structures to encourage employee ownership and workplace democracy. Develop new economic activities and institutions that will allow us to use our new technologies in ways that are humane, freeing, ecological and accountable, and responsive to communities. Establish some form of basic economic security, open to all. Move beyond the narrow "job ethic" to new definitions of "work," jobs" and "income" that reflect the changing economy. Restructure our patterns of income distribution to reflect the wealth created by those outside the formal monetary economy: those who take responsibility for parenting, housekeeping, home gardens, community volunteer work, etc. Restrict the size and concentrated power of corporations without discouraging superior efficiency or technological innovation."

This basically falls in line with the Venus Project as well. Though we feel that all "corporate" problems can go away by removing the monetary system and holding the resources of the world in common heritage to be cultivated for all the world's people in a way that is sustainable. We certainly want to redesign "work", "jobs" and "income". We offer the solution that if we used technology to it's fullest extent we could create enough abundance of everything people need to eliminate poverty altogether. But the corporations oppose anything that prevents us from being dependent on them.

We have inherited a social system based on male domination of politics and economics. We call for the replacement of the cultural ethics of domination and control with more cooperative ways of interacting that respect differences of opinion and gender. Human values such as equity between the sexes, interpersonal responsibility, and honesty must be developed with moral conscience. We should remember that the process that determines our decisions and actions is just as important as achieving the outcome we want."

No issue with that statement at all.

We believe it is important to value cultural, ethnic, racial, sexual, religious and spiritual diversity, and to promote the development of respectful relationships across these lines. We believe that the many diverse elements of society should be reflected in our organizations and decision-making bodies, and we support the leadership of people who have been traditionally closed out of leadership roles. We acknowledge and encourage respect for other life forms than our own and the preservation of biodiversity."

While we also respect this diversity of different cultures we also want to emphasize on the unifying principles and the things that all of mankind has in common. As long as cultural differences can allow us to contribute to a richer whole rather then being dividing factors that keep mankind from working together I don't see any problem with that. As for the last sentence, we absolutely agree with that 100%.

We encourage individuals to act to improve their personal well-being and, at the same time, to enhance ecological balance and social harmony. We seek to join with people and organizations around the world to foster peace, economic justice, and the health of the planet."

We certainly agree with all of this. But we also feel that people should keep in mind that it benefits the individual to also do what is best for the group. Not saying that this statement is against this of course, but our past encounters with some groups emphasized so much on the individual even when individual actions endanger not only the individual but everyone else.

Our actions and policies should be motivated by long-term goals. We seek to protect valuable natural resources, safely disposing of or "unmaking" all waste we create, while developing a sustainable economics that does not depend on continual expansion for survival. We must counterbalance the drive for short-term profits by assuring that economic development, new technologies, and fiscal policies are responsible to future generations who will inherit the results of our actions. Make the quality of life, rather than open-ended economic growth, the focus of future thinking."

Yes, this statement is also completely in line with our beliefs.

In conclusion, I would say that it would certainly benefit the Venus Project and the Zeitgeist Movement to extend a hand to the Green party. It is clear we are on the same page on the issues, maybe if we exposed them to our solutions we could join forces?