Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Freedom To Easily Exit From Absurd Traditions

Comment on: Tradition, Authority, and Reason by Adam Gurri


To be honest, this was the last thing I read before I fell asleep last night and I'm not exactly sure whether or not I unearthed your point.

From my perspective, there's nothing inherently wrong with traditions.  The only issue is how easy it is to exit from nonsensical traditions.  Easy exit facilitates evolution.  Hard exit fosters stagnation.

Adam Smith provides the best example that I can think of...

But if politics had never called in the aid of religion, had the conquering party never adopted the tenets of one sect more than those of another, when it had gained the victory, it would probably have dealt equally and impartially with all the different sects, and have allowed every man to chuse his own priest and his own religion as he thought proper. There would in this case, no doubt, have been a great multitude of religious sects. Almost every different congregation might probably have made a little sect by itself, or have entertained some peculiar tenets of its own. Each teacher would no doubt have felt himself under the necessity of making the utmost exertion, and of using every art both to preserve and to increase the number of his disciples. But as every other teacher would have felt himself under the same necessity, the success of no one teacher, or sect of teachers, could have been very great. The interested and active zeal of religious teachers can be dangerous and troublesome only where there is, either but one sect tolerated in the society, or where the whole of a large society is divided into two or three great sects; the teachers of each acting by concert, and under a regular discipline and subordination. But that zeal must be altogether innocent where the society is divided into two or three hundred, or perhaps into as many thousand small sects, of which no one could be considerable enough to disturb the public tranquillity. The teachers of each sect, seeing themselves surrounded on all sides with more adversaries than friends, would be obliged to learn that candour and moderation which is so seldom to be found among the teachers of those great sects, whose tenets, being supported by the civil magistrate, are held in veneration by almost all the inhabitants of extensive kingdoms and empires, and who therefore see nothing round them but followers, disciples, and humble admirers. The teachers of each little sect, finding themselves almost alone, would be obliged to respect those of almost every other sect, and the concessions which they would mutually find it both convenient and agreeable to make to one another, might in time probably reduce the doctrine of the greater part of them to that pure and rational religion, free from every mixture of absurdity, imposture, and fanaticism, such as wise men have in all ages of the world wished to see established; but such as positive law has perhaps never yet established, and probably never will establish in any country: because, with regard to religion, positive law always has been, and probably always will be, more or less influenced by popular superstition and enthusiasm.

Right now it's "our" tradition to allow representatives to spend our taxes for us.  But I think this tradition is entirely absurd and extremely harmful.  Unfortunately, it's not easy for me, or anyone else, to exit from this absurd tradition.

And maybe I'm not correctly understanding or seeing the true importance of this tradition.  Yes, for sure, this is entirely possible.  But who's going to argue that fallibilism is a one way street?   If we gave people the option to exit from this tradition then we'd see how many other people are in the same boat as me.  If there are only a few other people in the same boat then this theoretically important tradition isn't going to be harmed.  If there are lots of other people in the same boat then the nation would have a vigorous debate about whether this tradition's importance is real or imagined.  Immense amounts of information would be exchanged and, as a result, our citizens would be that much more informed about the importance, or lack thereof, of this prominent tradition.

The fact of the matter is that we don't have impersonal shoppers in the private sector.  Nobody in their right mind is going to voluntarily give their hard-earned money to somebody in exchange for goods or services that really don't match their preferences.  So I'm pretty sure that the only reason that this absurd and detrimental tradition continues to exist in the public sector is because exiting from it isn't easy.


  1. The money you pay in taxes belongs to the public. It's not your private property. Hence you have no special right to choose how it is spent. This is why the public elects representatives to decide how to spend public money.

    1. My argument is that it would be BENEFICIAL for people to have the OPTION to choose where "their" taxes go. Just like it's BENEFICIAL for you to have the OPTION to choose how you spend "your" time.

      To be clear... I'm NOT arguing that people have the RIGHT to choose where "their" taxes go. So when you argue that people do not have the RIGHT to choose where (their) taxes go... you're really not attacking my argument.

      I'm not interested in RIGHTS... I'm interested in RESULTS. Of course you're welcome to argue whatever you want about RIGHTS... but your arguments will be entirely irrelevant to my own argument.

      Why do I think it would be BENEFICIAL for you to have the freedom to chose how you spend "your" taxes? Why do I think it is BENEFICIAL for you to have the freedom to chose how you spend "your" time? Well... you use your brain to make choices. And I'm pretty sure a society is better when more, rather than less, brains are used. The more brains that are used... the more information is shared and processed.

    2. "My argument is that it would be BENEFICIAL for people to have the OPTION to choose where "their" taxes go."

      But it's not their money. It doesn't belong to them personally, it belongs to the public. They can't spend "their" taxes because those taxes aren't "theirs".

      "Why do I think it is BENEFICIAL for you to have the freedom to chose how you spend "your" time?"

      False analogy. Your time belongs to you. The money you pay in taxes doesn't belong to you. It's not your private property, so you can't decide how to spend it.

      Here’s a simple but more accurate analogy: Think of taxation as a club membership fee. You pay your membership fee to the club, and that money then belongs to the club. It's no longer your property. However, as a member of the club, you get to elect a board of directors and a president to manage the club’s affairs and to create club rules. You have an equal say on how you think the club's money should be spent, but that money belongs to the club, not to you. As such it is the club as whole, or the board/president elected by the members, which decides how to spend that money. You can't personally decide how to spend that money because it isn't your property. It’s the property of the club.

    3. And what do I do if I'm not happy with what the club does with the money that I give to them? Either I try and change their policies... or I exit from the club.

      Right now you and I are in a relationship. What happens if you aren't happy with our relationship? Either you try and change my "policies"... or you exit from the relationship.

      Right now taxpayers and elected representatives are in a relationship together.

      Do you want to argue that taxpayers are happy with this relationship? Yeah? Ok. So then you should have absolutely no problem with giving taxpayers the OPTION to exit from the relationship. If you're so certain that taxpayers are happy with this relationship that you should be certain that few, if any, taxpayers will choose this OPTION.

      Do you want to argue that taxpayers are unhappy with this relationship? Yeah? Ok. So then you should have absolutely no problem with giving taxpayers the OPTION to exit from this terrible relationship.

      Why would you want anybody to be trapped in a terrible relationship? Sure, people can leave the country... but that's the epitome of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    4. Taxpayers can 'exit' the relationship by leaving the country. No one is forcing them to stay.

      Alternatively, they can choose not to do things which entail paying taxes.

    5. The people who are really trapped in a terrible situation are the poor. The wealthy have got nothing to complain about regarding their personal situation.

      You're just upset that you're not getting as many social privileges, without obligations, as you believe you're entitled to.

    6. Liberals are in a relationship with the government officials that are tasked with the elimination of poverty. Liberals cannot easily exit from this relationship. Is it a coincidence that poverty hasn't been eliminated?

      "Public services are never better performed than when their reward comes only in consequence of their being performed, and is proportioned to the diligence employed in performing them." - Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

    7. irrelevant quote. Smith is simply saying that public servants should be paid according to how well they perform their duties.

    8. And you're saying that poverty is a serious problem. Why is poverty a serious problem? It's because public servants are doing a terrible job of eliminating poverty. Why are public servants doing a terrible job of eliminating poverty? It's because liberals can't easily exit from their relationship with these public servants.

      Once liberals are entirely free to boycott the public servants that are tasked with the elimination of poverty... then, and only then, will these public servants have the maximum incentive to diligently eliminate poverty.

    9. Benjamin Franklin dismissed a version of your ideology back in 1789:

      "Suppose one of our Indian Nations should now agree to form a civil Society; each Individual would bring into the Stock of the Society little more Property than his Gun and his Blanket, for at present he has no other. We know, that, when one of them has attempted to keep a few Swine, he has not been able to maintain a Property in them, his neighbours thinking they have a Right to kill and eat them whenever they want Provision, it being one of their Maxims that hunting is free for all; the accumulation therefore of Property in such a Society, and its Security to Individuals in every Society, must be an Effect of the Protection afforded to it by the joint Strength of the Society, in the Execution of its Laws. Private Property therefore is a Creature of Society, and is subject to the Calls of that Society, whenever its Necessities shall require it, even to its last Farthing; its Contributions therefore to the public Exigencies are not to be considered as conferring a Benefit on the Publick, entitling the Contributors to the Distinctions of Honour and Power, but as the Return of an Obligation previously received, or the Payment of a just Debt. The Combinations of Civil Society are not like those of a Set of Merchants, who club their Property in different Proportions for Building and Freighting a Ship, and may therefore have some Right to vote in the Disposition of the Voyage in a greater or less Degree according to their respective Contributions; but the important ends of Civil Society, and the personal Securities of Life and Liberty, these remain the same in every Member of the society; and the poorest continues to have an equal Claim to them with the most opulent, whatever Difference Time, Chance, or Industry may occasion in their Circumstances.

      On these Considerations, I am sorry to see the Signs this Paper I have been considering affords, of a Disposition among some of our People to commence an Aristocracy, by giving the Rich a predominancy in Government"

      There's nothing new about the idea of distributing voting rights according to wealth, which is what you advocate. It's the exact opposite of democracy.

    10. "liberals can't easily exit from their relationship with these public servants."

      We can 'exit from our relationship' with bad public servants by firing them.

  2. Your entire ideology is based on a simple error.