What would you accept as evidence? [guest post by dicentra]
I jumped in on an interesting an ultimately distressing little conversation on Twitter yesterday. Most of the exchange is here, including what came before I jumped in. (I haven’t read it all and don’t need the headache.) I’ve also inserted things that Twitter didn’t thread. My interlocutor, @SettlerColonial, is writing a PhD thesis, and we got into the nature of property rights. @SettlerColonial has stopped responding to my tweets, so I can’t push some of the questions that interested/worried me.
Notice that @SettlerColonial has the intellectual wherewithal to distinguish accurately between categories — including the correct use of “begs the question” — but then has hinted at some astounding inferrences that reveal equally astounding blind spots.
@SettlerColonial Why would you labor give you ownership over anything to trade?
@EricStrobel Why would you think it DOESNíT? I *create* wealth by using seconds of my life in labor.
@SettlerColonial That’s an assertion, not an argument. What’s this connection between time, labor, and wealth you’re assuming?
@dicentra33 I. Perform. Tasks. In. Exchange. For. A. Paycheck. I create things that did not exist before.
@SettlerColonial You’re begging the question of why tasks are “yours” to trade and what that even means”
@dicentra33 My company needs a task done. I volunteered to perform the task in exchange for money. Explain why that’s problematic.
@SettlerColonial How is what the task produces “yours” to exchange?
@dicentra33 Am I entitled to the fruits of my labor or not? And if not, who is?
@SettlerColonial Maybe you are, but you have to tell me why. “Because God said so,” or “it’s self-evident” aren’t evidence; they’re assertions.
@dicentra33 It’s the Little Red Hen principle: she performed all the labor, took all the time. The loaf of bread is hers.
@SettlerColonial You’re begging the question. The question is *how*.
@dicentra33 Are you challenging the very concept of ownership?
@SettlerColonial No, I’m asking you to provide an argument for your version of it. So far you just keep repeating the assertion.
@dicentra33 And I need to know what paradigm you’re operating from, because it’s nothing I recognize. What would qualify as “how”?
@SettlerColonial Locke said labor translated into property rights because of God. Do you assert God as the source of your property rights, too?
@dicentra33 Are you saying that because God is nonexistent, so are property rights?
@SettlerColonial No, I’m saying if you don’t have God as the source of your property rights, you have to fill that explanatory gap with somethin.
@dicentra33 Why isn’t “I produced this with my own mind/hands” good enough?
@SettlerColonial No, it’s assertion that begs the question. Which is why Locke had to have the story about God granting ownership.
@dicentra33 Ultimately, you will always come to an assertion that must be accepted as true. And then it’s turtles all the way down.
@SettlerColonial So you’re admiting that your vision of property rights is dogmatic (i.e.: has no supporting arguments; is a first principle)?
@dicentra33 Of course it’s dogmatic. But operating under that dogma has particular consequences that I find desirable.
@dicentra33 If one’s own labor insufficient, then ownership of things goes to whomever is strong enough to take it. Such as the State.
@dicentra33 Ergo, we can settle on the assumption that property rights come from labor and its tokens, or we can go with warlords.
@SettlerColonial False dichotomy. Labor theory and ‘might makes right’ theory aren’t our only two options. But let’s get back to the question…
@dicentra33 What does history show? Either you have the rule of law or the rule of the strong. What else has existed?
@SettlerColonial So property rights are an agreement in order to avoid chaos? A social compact to insure that its not an anarchist free-for all?
So this is what he was getting at: the concept of property rights does not reduce down to evidence. Doy. No kidding. But watch where that leads him:
@dicentra33 Yes. Is that a problem?
@SettlerColonial Nope. It just puts property rights in the same category as Christian faith in the Resurrection and original sin. That’s fine.
Yup. that’s where he went. He does manage to negotiate his way out using valid methodology, but then ends up in a worse spot:
@dicentra33 Hardly. The Resurrection is alleged to be a genuine historical event, happening in space & time to an individual.
@dicentra33 Putting it in the same category as any other distant historical event that may or may not be true.
@dicentra33 The “dogma” of property rights is a philosophical assumption on which you can base an economic system.
@dicentra33 Don’t be confused by the connotations of the term “dogma,” or the fact that “unprovable” has various categories.
@dicentra33 If we had a video recording of the Resurrection, it would not be dogma, it would be historical fact.
@SettlerColonial I’m not talking about the object of belief, I’m talking about the nature of belief in the object.
@dicentra33 But you SHOULD talk about the nature of the object. Belief in true things has a different effect than belief in false ones
@SettlerColonial Yes, well that’s why we ask for evidence of existence, which you failed to provide in reverting to assertion of existence.
@dicentra33 What would you accept as evidence of Labor = Property Rights?
@dicentra33 “Property rights” is not a historical event and therefore cannot be shown to have happened. #CategoryError
@SettlerColonial Don’t disagree. Again, not talking about the object of the belief, but in the nature of the belief in the object, ie, dogmatic.
@dicentra33 What’s the nature of a dogmatic belief?
@SettlerColonial That the belief is held with no supporting evidence, but rather, as evidence to support other beliefs.
@dicentra33 A foundational assumption is what you build other ideas upon. Otherwise, it’s infinite regress to find “evidence.”
@SettlerColonial Yes. That’s fine. I don’t mind that labor = property rights is your unquestioned starting point.
@dicentra33 Is there an equivalent starting point that has the force of “evidence” to support it?
@SettlerColonial Those models that rest on agreement and social norms rarely make the kinds of metaphysical claims that libertarians do.
@dicentra33 So what’s the point? You’ve established that labor theory of property is a foundational assumption. I already knew that.
@SettlerColonial Point is that as dogma it should be tolerated but shouldn’t be given too much weight in political decision-making, nor religion.
Do you see that? There’s something aside from “dogma” that should inform politics.
@dicentra33 What you just said? Pure assertion. Where’s your evidence?
@SettlerColonial They were normative claims (notice: “should”) not positive empirical claims (ie, my labor product *is* my property).
@dicentra33 Can we replace one normative claim with another? Maybe we can dispense with the concept of ownership altogether.
@dicentra33 What would you give weight to?
@SettlerColonial Whatever I can find agreement on. I don’t require God or Nature or anything as a foundation for political order.
@dicentra33 Then you’re OK with arbitrary power? Rule of the mob? Shifting consensus? Manipulation? All that can be agreed on.
@dicentra33 In other words, your beliefs are based firmly on a void. Shifting sands. Best argument wins.
@SettlerColonial You’ve given the game away there in your reference to “best” arguments.
@dicentra33 Come again?
@SettlerColonial You lament shifting sands (by the way, welcome to politics) and then speak of the possibility of a “best argument”. Best, how?
@dicentra33 I didn’t mean that it WAS the best, only that sophistry wins the day. I’m making the case FOR dogma.
@SettlerColonial You’ve just engaged in a performative contradiction, making the case for the evils of “making the case”.
@dicentra33 If you don’t hold truths to be self-evidentóif you don’t establish a rockóyou have nothing left but sophistry.
@dicentra33 Unless you’re saying that I just made the best damned argument ever on Twitter (low bar to clear). In that case, Thanks!
@SettlerColonial Sure, but don’t make the additional claim that the background assumptions you hold to be self-evident must determine politics.
@SettlerColonial That’s when you end up with arbitrary uses of brute force to squash disagreement on first principles.
@dicentra33 When did I do that? Where was the MUST? That was a different interlocutor.
@dicentra33 So if we get rid of “dogma,” brute force goes away? They’re not dogmatic in Chicago politics, right?
@SettlerColonial Well, if you don’t believe that, then you must see politics as a place of negotiation between people with different truths.
@dicentra33 Could that be the foundation of our Constitutional Republic? Self-rule according to the dictates of our consciences?
@dicentra33 HOWEVER, some “truths” are mutually exclusive and cannot be worked out. We tried with slavery; ended in war.
@SettlerColonial Yes, that’s the general theme of my PhD dissertation.
@dicentra33 How did I know you were a grad student in a non-STEM field? #SoWasI
@dicentra33 Are you assuming that Being Sure About Something Makes People Dangerous? That religion is a de facto danger?
Good, because if he were going there, I’d have reached through the screen and pummeled him. Though on second thought, that might be exactly where he’s going.
@SettlerColonial Then what?
@dicentra33 What’s the thesis of your thesis?
@SettlerColonial I critique the privileging of the ‘voice’ model of agency & legitimacy in democratic theory and political theory more generally.
@dicentra33 Voice model?
@SettlerColonial The orthodox model of public reason that posits articulated perspectives as responsible for preference shift and emergent norms.
@dicentra33 “It ain’t so that people are convinced by other people’s words.” #translation
@SettlerColonial More or less.
@dicentra33 Does it follow that Rush Limbaugh did NOT cause McVeigh to blow up OKC?
@dicentra33 In your model, where is the locus of meaning: in the intent of the speaker or the interpretation of the listener?
And there it ends. I won’t assume at this point that he chickened out, because all Twitter exchanges must evenutally end, but I would very much like to continue exploring that last question as well as the following:
“@SettlerColonial False dichotomy. Labor theory and ‘might makes right’ theory aren’t our only two options. But let’s get back to the question…” If the dichotomy is false, what are the alternatives? I mentioned eliminating the very concept of ownership, which underlies theoretical communism (not the USSR version, which was Socialism). I mean, look at the guy’s bio: “Anti-Oppression Satire and Commentary.” He’s writing a dissertation wherein he gets into pomo weeds (or appears to). Where ELSE is it going to go?
Also, if we’re to eliminate dogma from political decision-making, what the hell do we use? As I tried to point out, every single thing we believe can eventually be reduced to a baseless assertion, and all we can do is look at the consequences of upholding such an assertion to decide where to go. I asked him straight-out about the “Certainty Is Dangerous” thesis and he denied it, but where else can his assumptions go? How hard is it for people to say, “That’s DOGMA! Out with it!”
OR, worse yet, “That’s when you end up with arbitrary uses of brute force to squash disagreement on first principles.” I wonder what he’s thinking about, which examples he’s basing his model upon. I can only think of the Civil War, whereupon the North “used ‘arbitrary’ brute force to quash disagreement with first principles.”
Well, I was wrong about where he was going in a couple of instances, so maybe I’m wrong about that. But I can’t stop thinking about it.
The country’s in the best of hands.