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Eliezer Yudkowsky on voting

Eliezer Yudkowsky wants us all to think more rationally, and is involved with various attempts to train people to do so, including the fascinating web site Less Wrong. A pet hypothesis of mine is that rational thinking leads inevitably to a desire for a smaller state. Evidence so far includes the Micklethwaitian observation that if you look around the world you find that people are better off when they are more free: an honest rationalist cannot fail to notice this. Additional evidence is Eliezer Yudkowsky, a man who spends his life trying to be as rational as possible and who apparently wants a smaller state.

Suppose that you happen to be socially liberal, fiscally conservative. Who would you vote for?

Or simplify it further: Suppose that you’re a voter who prefers a smaller, less expensive government – should you vote Republican or Democratic?

That is from his essay The Two-Party Swindle. It starts by noticing how, for probably evolutionary reasons, people like to divide themselves into us and them, which leads to sports team fandom. It goes on to point out that the fans of either team have far more in common with each other than with the players.

Why are professional football players better paid than truck drivers? Because the truck driver divides the world into Favorite-Team and Rival-Team. That’s what motivates him to buy the tickets and wear the T-Shirts. The whole money-making system would fall apart if people started seeing the world in terms of Professional Football Players versus Spectators.

And I’m not even objecting to professional football. Group identification is pretty much the service provided by football players, and since that service can be provided to many people simultaneously, salaries are naturally competitive. Fans pay for tickets voluntarily, and everyone knows the score.

It would be a very different matter if your beloved professional football players held over you the power of taxation and war, prison and death.

Indeed, I LOLed too. Politicians want you to support your favourite team in order that you see the other team, rather than the politicians, as the enemy. In the next essay, The American System and Misleading Labels, Yudkowsky strips away the abstraction of the American political system to identify where the power is, and show that it is very much not with the voters.

When I blur my eyes and look at the American system of democracy, I see that the three branches of government are the executive, the legislative, the judicial, the bureaucracy, the party structure, and the media. In the next tier down are second-ranked powers, such as “the rich” so often demonized by the foolish – the upper-upper class can exert influence, but they have little in the way of direct political control. Similarly with NGOs (non-governmental organizations) such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, think tanks, traditional special interest groups, “big corporations”, lobbyists, the voters, foreign powers with a carrot or stick to offer the US, and so on.

Since voters have such a small share of the influence pie, Yudkowsky argues that the main benefit of living in a democracy is that in theory, if you got them angry enough, the voters could vote for a third party. It is fear of this hypothetical situation that keeps the politicians “too scared to act like historical kings and slaughter you on a whim”. I do think, though, that those in real power have worked around this somewhat by making changes in unpleasant directions small enough that the voters do not notice, or at least do not get angry enough.

All this is brought together in Stop Voting For Nicompoops, which argues (quoting Douglas Adams on voting for lizards along the way) that you should forget about the rhetoric of wasted votes and just vote for who you like.

Remember that this is not the ancestral environment, and that you won’t die if you aren’t on the winning side. Remember that the threat that voters as a class hold against politicians as a class is more important to democracy than your fights with other voters. Forget all the “game theory” that doesn’t take future incentives into account; real game theory is further-sighted, and besides, if you’re going to look at it that way, you might as well stay home. When you try to be clever, you usually end up playing the Politicians’ game.

Clear your mind of distractions…

And stop voting for nincompoops.

Read the whole thing. And then read everything about politics. And then read everything about everything.

Update: There is a follow-up to this post.

45 comments to Eliezer Yudkowsky on voting

  • Regional

    Democracy, effwits electing effwits

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Sorry, but your whole approach is wrong! Everyone says that they think rationally, but this is usually incorrect. I remember that film based on Clinton, where the Democrats tell themselves that they’re the only ones who can be trusted with government! (Primary Colors? Travolta as slick candidate?). Obviously, if you are the only wholly sane individual, then you are the only one who should be in control- in fact, you’ll be able to plan other people’s lives for them, much better than they can!
    One of the arguments of the communists was that people who disagreed with them must be suffering from false consciousness- since the communists were rationally correct, disagreers were automatically wrong!
    So I’m not sure that rationalism leads to small government, or less of it.

  • chuck

    better off when they are more free

    Yeah, but that’s other people, big whoop. Now let’s be rational, and a bit sociopathic, which is surely the proper emotional state for the strictly rational. What should I care about other people? Most irrational. Big government with me in charge, now that means something. And if I can’t have that, maybe run an extortion ring, with me in charge. Whatever, as long as it’s me in charge, fine. And if that take some time, well, that’s what brown nosing, sucking up, and the knife in the back is all about. It’s science.

  • Rob:

    A pet hypothesis of mine is that rational thinking leads inevitably to a desire for a smaller state.

    That would greatly depend on what is meant by ‘rational’. To me at least it implies logical thinking, without accounting for basic premises (AKA ‘values’ – which by definition are subjective and hence non-rational). Under that definition your hypothesis clearly does not stand – but there may well be a problem with my definition. Thoughts?

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    Nick: Actually you can measure your rationality by making predictions and seeing if they match with reality. This is what the web site Prediction Book is about.

    Chuck: It depends on your utility function. As in: Ayn Rand suggests that a man should be judged not by whether he acts in his own self interests but by what it is he sees to be in his self interest. Being rational does not mean being sociopathic or unemotional. It means having emotions about things that are true, rather than things that are untrue.

    Alisa: Perhaps I was too vague. Rationality is about aligning your beliefs with the objective truth. To desire a smaller state implies goals (a utility function). Perhaps I should say: *If* you want people to be better off *and* you are rational *then* you will desire a smaller state.

    I suppose you can be both rational and evil (though I have my doubts about that) but I was not thinking of that.

  • PeterT

    This might be covered in your point, but I think people are quite rational. The problem is that they don’t bother checking their premises or take the time to think deeply. This is part of the reason why we live in a society where the solution to a problem is almost always perceived to be to do more rather than less. If you don’t think further than your nose then sure, paying teachers to motivate them and thus improve education might seem like a good idea, for example.

    Thanks for the post and link. Most interesting stuff.

  • Rob: yes, that was what I was getting at. And yes, I do believe that people can be rational and evil.

    Peter T: yes, people are rational, but to varying degrees. None of us is perfectly rational, though, and so there’s always room for improvement.

  • Rob, did you stumble upon Less Wrong via the link posted on Judith Curry’s blog a few days ago, as I did? I must admit I’ve been fascinated and reading the sequences ever since. I think the point of Less Wrong is not to point anyone towards a particular political standpoint (although the authors will have their own political views, of course) but to provide a mental toolbox of how to pick apart irrational arguments.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    Jonathan: no. Which Judith Curry post was it?

    Regarding climate, you might find this interesting: http://lesswrong.com/lw/lv/every_cause_wants_to_be_a_cult/

    I found Less Wrong after somehow stumbling across the fan fiction Harry Potter and The Methods of Rationality. I first wrote about it here: http://www.samizdata.net/2011/12/the-map-is-not/

  • CaptDMO

    Alisa (&cet.):
    I find the word “Intellectual” useful.
    But only with folks that adhere to the dictionary comprehension of the word.
    MY big failing with it is the whole “without considering personal experience” bit.

  • chuck

    Rationality is about aligning your beliefs with the objective truth.

    Calling Bishop Berkeley.

    To be a bit more serious, I don’t see rationality as displacing motivation, it is just a tool to achieve ends determined by other factors. By itself it has no more life than a textbook sitting on a shelf.

  • Good point, CaptDMO.

  • Fraser Orr

    > A pet hypothesis of mine is that rational thinking
    > leads inevitably to a desire for a smaller state.

    I think this is actually a second order effect. Clearly if you put the right, rational, evidence based, scientific oriented people in control of the levers of power they could use it to make the optimum environment for a society, assuming we could specify what measures to optimize for, and assuming we provided them with incentivization to align their interests with that outcome. This is certainly a possible configuration.

    However, the problem is getting the right people in that place. The political game is not won by excellence in rationality, it is won by excellence in charisma and manipulation. Consequently the problem is not that the right people couldn’t do a better job, it is that the right people are not able to get the job in the first place.

    I have often (as an American) heard a lot of whining about President Obama. The problem is not with President Obama or the congress, every society has those sorts of people. No the problem is that the American people put them in place, again and again and again. The problem is not with the elected officials, it is with the people who chose to elect them.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    “Clearly if you put the right, rational, evidence based, scientific oriented people in control of the levers of power they could use it to make the optimum environment for a society” — no, it’s the opposite of this that we want.

    We want the voters to behave more rationally, so that they put people in power who will make the state smaller. Like you say, “he problem is that the American people put them in place, again and again and again”.

    Eliezer is trying to make people more rational in the same way that Perry is trying to change the metacontext.

  • Laird

    @ Fraser Orr: “The problem is not with the elected officials, it is with the people who chose to elect them.”

    @ Rob Fisher: “We want the voters to behave more rationally, so that they put people in power who will make the state smaller.”

    You’re both dancing around the issue. People are what they are; you’re not going to change that. The problem is the popular vote, especially with near-universal suffrage.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Laird, what do you personally see as the best system of government (or governance)?

    I’m honestly interested in people’s answers to this question.

  • Julie near Chicago


    I don’t see rationality as displacing motivation, it is just a tool to achieve ends determined by other factors.

    Absolutely. I see emotions, biological needs or “urges,” will, and rationality as the “components” that impel us to do what we do (not the autonomic-nervous-system stuff). They’re not entirely separable in practice, although intellectually we sort their manifestations into three different categories. And there are feedback loops galore amongst the elements of the four categories.

    Anyway, it’s not reason or rationality that triggers the will; it’s emotion grown into an urge to act (“act” in the broadest sense). It’s an old thought, but “emotion tells you what you want; reason tells you how to get it.”

    And if the biophysical system which is You is out-of-order, the will may not kick in enough to get you moving.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Four different categories. Mumble…mumble…must take off socks next time….

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Well, the best current system would be the Confederation of Helvetia, a.k.a. Switzerland. This has stromg local governments, i.e. cantons, and a weak Federal government- probably what the Americans had in mind when they came up with US Constitution. The Swiss have managed to keep their central government in check.
    As for hypotheticals, there seem to be too many to choose from! Sometimes the North American Confederation (“The Probability broach”) seems pretty good. And sometimes I think someone should write a sequel to ‘Atlas Shrugged’, so we can see how their supposed utopia would have developed in the real world!

  • Rob, the link to the post on Judith Curry’s blog is here.
    The timing must just be very coincidental.

  • Paul Marks

    There is the Ralph Miliband reply – the reply he gave when not doing his tap dance that various socialist Hellholes were not “really” socialist.

    This reply is that in “many generations” in the future socialism would turn out well.

    Is this a “rational” reply?

    Well it is not formally speaking insane – there is no evidence of mental illness in the reply.

    But I would say it is not a SENSIBLE reply.

  • PeterT

    I think it is almost impossible to design a constitution that will resist popular will and political ambition over time. Witness the US.

    Nevertheless for what its worth my money is on:

    – strong right of secessions and partition. If parts of any county or state could vote to form a new political entity with a simple vote, this would limit the power of government to favour certain parts of the electorate (focused in one regional part) over another. This must be combined with strong de-centralisation of power to be effective, i.e. what is the point of seceding from a state if all decisions are taken on a federal level.

    – Limits or outright bans on government debt. In the UK local councils thankfully are not allowed to borrow money or have some restrictions in place. Rather than use debt many of them have ‘rainy day funds’ to cover years when they are out of pocket.

    – 60% of votes in the legislative body to pass laws; 40% to abolish them.

    – It would be useful to have some institution of equal status to parliament/the presidency which only had the power to say ‘no’, plus powers to prosecute government employees for over-reach.

    – No political interference in Supreme Court appointments. Outgoing justices nominate their sucessors; or their colleagues do. Wouldn’t do much good in the US just now of course; you’d have to start off with judges that actually believe in the constitution.

    – Bans on institutions delegating their responsibilities to other layers of government to prevent ‘accidental’ centralisation.

    The trick is to put together a structure which is not so inflexible that politicians either try to ignore it, willfully misinterpret its rules or change it, but nevertheless stacks the decks against more government.

  • Peter, why pass new laws at all?

    As to judges, a very bad idea from experience: they all appoint their own – who, like them, have been indoctrinated in the Progressive Academia. Combine that with judicial activism, and you have a disaster on your hands.

  • Fraser Orr

    Julie Near Chicago:

    I think the question you ask contains the seeds of its own destruction. There is no system that can be put in place that self regulates and prevents tyranny. I think the US Constitution is the closest we have ever come, and it really is a brilliant document in many respects. Could it be improved? Yes of course. But the problem is that any fixed system like a constitution will eventually be degraded in the baking sunshine of megalomaniacal scuzzy people.

    The price of liberty truly is eternal vigilance. Some mechanisms, such as the constitution an be quite effective at slowing the tyrannical monster, but none will stop it save a people who truly want liberty.

    The US Constitution degraded significantly at certain specific points in time: The Civil War, the Wilsonian years, the second world war and the social upheavals of the sixties. These were all very difficult times for the United States. Do a people have the capacity to choose liberty over the easy option? Often not. That is a nature verses nurture thing. In truth the real cause of our tyranny is in the school classroom.

    Nationalized education is so entrenched in modern societies that we barely think about it. But the truth is that he who pays the piper calls the tune, so we should hardly be surprised that our schools turn out believers in big government. In fact we should be surprised that it isn’t a lot worse. Nationalized education is far more dangerous than nationalized healthcare. I’d choose the former over the latter any day.

    So there is no system that will fix the problem, the fix is by people wanting liberty. A system helps for sure. But there is no magic wand.

    Fraser, ironically also near Chicago.

  • Tedd


    For what it’s worth, I see rational as being a super set of logical that also includes the nature of one’s premises. In other words, to have a rational position on something that position must be based on logical conclusions, but logical conclusions that are drawn from premises that can also be justified on rational grounds — either empirical or reasonable.

    That sill leaves considerable room from interpretation, of course. Adequate empirical data isn’t always available, and reasonable people can disagree about non-empirical premises. So rationality can only lead to unanimity about a small set of things. It’s tempting to think that one’s own position on something (such as the desirability of small government) is one of those things, but the odds are against it.

    For me, the fact that rationality alone doesn’t necessarily lead to the conclusion that limited government is desirable makes limited government desirable. As the scope of government expands, more and more rational objections to it are proscribed, which can not be just.

  • Tedd: of course I was being simplistic, but then with some issues it is as simple as one’s fundamental values, such as life and freedom – and I think it reasonable enough to assume the scope of government to be one of those issues. To use your expression, it does belong to that small set of things.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Fraser, as you know there are lots of Orrs “Near Chicago,” and whether you are all related I don’t know. But I wonder if you’re by any chance a relative of Brian Orr, attorney, Flossmoor, died young of a heart attack 15 or 20 years ago? Sheer curiosity–he was my ex-sister-in-law’s brother-in-law.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Back On Topic: Fraser writes,

    “There is no system that can be put in place that self-regulates and prevents tyranny. … So there is no system that will fix the problem, the fix is by people wanting liberty.”

    That’s the only conclusion I can come to, myself. Liberty — political liberty — has to be recognized and recommitted to (what horrible English!), and fought for with words and harder weapons, or it ceases to exist. Not everyone wants liberty. Even for themselves, let alone for others. And there are lots of temptations to leave the paths of liberty.

    The question in my mind, though, is how people think the governing body (including Presidents, Ministers, Congresses, Parliaments, Judiciaries, whatever else) should be chosen. Laird wrote,

    “People are what they are; you’re not going to change that.”

    And short of miracles, I agree with that. –Although the ideas a society holds does promote certain agendas and actions while inhibiting others. This certainly does affect how the individual people within the society behave in their various capacities.

    Laird continues,

    “The problem is the popular vote, especially with near-universal suffrage.”

    So the question is, For those who don’t approve of choosing our government by popular vote, how do you think it should be chosen? By a representational system, such as the American democracy is supposed to be? Or by lineage? Or should there be anarchism? (And by “should,” I don’t mean as in “morally pure” — I mean as the best that is practically possible.) Or what?

    And for those who think there should be some form of democracy but not universal, or near-universal, suffrage, what are your criteria for who should have the vote?

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Well, I actually favour what I call time-share government. Ideally, government becomes local, as in shires and counties, and cantons. Then citizenship would be available to any adult who chose to become a citizen, but this would involve some form of community service, such as fire-fighting/militia/road patrols/etc., for eleven months of the year. In the twelth month, 1/12th of all the citizens would assemble and become the government for that month. They would democratically pass laws, and make resolutions, etc. I also favour some form of seniority, so the longest-serving citizens have the right to speak first, effectively becoming a council. The oldest person on the council could be called ‘Mayor’, meaning they could represent the county when negotiating with other counties. Indeed, state and national governments would be replaced by conventions of counties, rotating among the towns of the realms. That is one way to fight centralism- by having no center!

  • Fraser Orr

    Julie Near Chicago…

    I think the US Constitution is one of the best attempts at it so far. Really it is a remarkable document. It has a number of features that are absolutely crucial.

    1. A list of enumerated powers, as opposed to an assumed universal power with enumerated restrictions (which is the case in most of the rest of the world.)

    2. A further list of restrictions (the bill of rights, which was originally argued redundant because of 1. but thankfully is a second double check in place.)

    3. Power within the federal government distributed among different agencies, executive, congress, judiciary, each of which has different competing interests, offering a check and balance.

    4. Even within those agencies there are further sub competing agencies, different departments in the executive, (cross competing with congressional approval), congress in two parts, the judiciary having three levels of court etc.

    5. Also power is distributed to different layers of government, federal, state, county, and city, with each having different and somewhat competing agendas.

    6. Originally this competition was further increased by the fact that senators were appointed by state governments rather than popularly elected, and originally the president was elected by electors rather than popular vote.

    7. Also different states are represented in different ways — two senators each, but apportioned in the HoR.

    There are a few other features that I can’t think of off the top of my head, but I am sure others can add. However, the bottom line is that the government is designed to be dancing around with each other so much, and constantly hitting roadblocks and legal hurdles that it is hard for them to get stuff done without a very strong consensus. Which is pretty much what you want from a government.

    It is why the sucking up of more and more power to the central government, and especially the federal income tax which offers the power that comes with money (federal grants to the state to control the state level, along with controlling tax loopholes and breaks, and the wide distribution of other forms of patronage) and why the gross compromise of the plain language of the constitution, is such a dreadful thing.

    The 14th Amendment, which probably necessary at the time was a major source of centralization of power, and then the Wilsonian 16th and 17th made it even worse. (BTW, among Libertarians FDR is widely considered the worst President, I think Wilson gives him a good run for his money.)

    The point is that we started with an excellent document, but 250 years of assault by the forces of tyranny have stripped a lot of the good stuff away. In my mind the place to start is not in Washington though, it is in trying to strip the power of the public school system away from our government, and give children an education that is free from the taint of dependency. However, I’m not holding my breath on that one either. People just love the public school system.

    I do not know know your ex-sister-in-law’s brother-in-law. I am originally from Scotland, so am starting a new branch of the Orr clan here:-) However, it is always good to know fellow lovers of liberty in the area, so feel free to email me sometime. My email address is the two words of my name joined together without any intervening character at yahoo.com

  • Laird

    Fraser Orr has done a fine job of characterizing the US governing system. (And I agree with him about Wilson, too.) The growth of the federal government’s power has resulted in a modern, federalized form of patronage, wherein the federal government (having all the money) bestows largesse upon the states, which in turn dance to its tune.

    I think where the Constitution failed was in its attempt to create a separation of powers (legislative, executive and judicial) with competing interests, because it failed to account for the possibility of those three branches colluding to arrogate power at the federal level. That, of course, is precisely what happened. They do have separate interests, but their joint overriding interest is in expanding federal power in the aggregate; once that’s done they can squabble about how to distribute the spoils. What is missing from the Constitution is a power superior to the federal government, to keep it in check. That power was supposed to be the states (with their control of the Senate and the election of the President) but it was foolishly squandered with the passage of the 17th Amendment and the “democratization” of the presidential election process (we still have an Electoral College but it’s essentially a figurehead). So I disagree with Fraser in one respect: trying to reform the public school system is impossible given the current power structure. However, if the balance of power were properly realigned to give the states a stronger hand most of the rest of our problems would work themselves out. And with control of the schools returned to the states (through the elimination of de facto federal control via the Department of Education and its financial manipulations) the schools would cease the be the problem they have become, too.

    And in answer to Julie’s question, I think the original British system of a constitutional monarchy with a hereditary nobility plus a popularly elected branch of the legislature having strong but limited powers (and with the vote limited to actual taxpayers), is probably the best overall system. Unfortunately they have abandoned that system just as we have abandoned ours. Pity.

  • Fraser Orr

    Laird, they say politics is the art of the possible. Returning supervisory power to the states by any means, including revocation of the 17th is just simply not something that could possibly happen without some sort of political miracle.

    However, a gradual reduction of the power of the state school system does seem a possible target. In fact there are already movements along those lines with vouchers, magnet schools, homeschooling etc. Of course many of these have their own problems, but the political system that is carefully designed to slow the tyrants power also slows the righteous. Which is to say change is possible, but only slowly.

    Something that I think is possible is the idea of passing a law giving a full tax credit of $7000 per child for educational expenses in lieu of the hated department of education and miscellaneous grants to the state schools, a credit that could be given to a private school, a public school or toward homeschooling expenses. Perhaps reducing for “the rich”.

    If we could make that happen, which I think isn’t entirely impossible in light of giving control back to parents, I think it would radically change the landscape of schooling in the United States, and eventually the shape of politics and government in general.

    The solution isn’t perfect — tweaking the IRS is hardly a core idea of libertarians — but we already pay that money in taxes already, better to give control to the tax payers (minus some outrageous transaction cost as it flows through the sticky fingers of the bureaucrats of course.)

    Like I say, politics is the art of the possible. We libertarians are prone to ideal solutions that could never happen. I think that this one at least has a snowball’s chance in purgatory of happening, so might be worth pursing with some energy.

  • Tedd


    …with some issues it is as simple as one’s fundamental values, such as life and freedom – and I think it reasonable enough to assume the scope of government to be one of those issues…

    There’s an element of a leopard not being able to change its spots, in this. Liberty has been a fundamental value for me for as long as I can remember, and I’ve always trusted my intuition about that. And I believe that the need for limited government follows logically from making liberty a core value. But I don’t consider that sufficient to say that it’s a reasonable assumption that limited government is the inevitable result of rational analysis, because intuition is not rational and my premise of liberty is based on intuition.

    (Before anyone gets excited, I’m not claiming there is not a rational basis for limited government. I believe there is. I only mean that the fact liberty is a fundamental value to me is not part of that rational basis.)

  • Tedd

    What Fraser said and what Laird said about what Fraser said, except for two things: the part where they disagreed, to which I have nothing to offer; and Laird’s comment about where the U.S. constitution failed.

    Laird, I think your comment is fair and even correct, I just wouldn’t go so far as it to call it a failure. Ultimately, I think the U.S. lost its way because the pace of change in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (including the effects of the depression) triggered too many people’s fear response, undermining their faith in the principles the U.S. was based on. And then after that came a sustained propaganda campaign by forces hostile to liberty, to discredit its core ideas, much of it from within the U.S. itself. I’m not sure any constitution, of any design, could have survived that.

    Liberty requires generosity of spirit, which Americans have historically had in abundance. One of the most pernicious aspects of the propaganda campaign against liberty was the technique of turning that generosity of spirit against itself; of convincing Americans that the free (and free market) society their political liberty lead to was the antithesis of that generosity of spirit, rather than the apotheosis of it (which it actually is).

  • Asterisk

    This line of reasoning is essentially identical one that’s traditionally been a position of communists: they say that the members of the proletarian working class in all nations have more in common with each other than the bourgeoisie of their own countries, and that people who identify with others on the basis of common culture, shared values, etc. were suffering from a sort of “false consciousness” intentionally inculcated by the capitalist class to keep them divided.

    Of course, the reality is that people *do* build their identities around more intangible elements than their immediate economic circumstances, and do usually perceive themselves as having more in common with those who advance similar hierarchies of values than with those who merely have similar economic circumstances. Telling people that they possess a “false consciousness” is an attempt to simply dismiss their basic values without having to actually offer any substantive criticism. It’s just a rhetorical cop-out.

    Trying to tell other people what their actual interests consist of in defiance of the values they’ve actually manifested through their choices isn’t going to win you any influence with them.

  • Alisa

    But Tedd, our basic premises – AKA ‘core values’ – are neither rational nor irrational. They are just that: values – i.e. things we want in life. Only the processes through which we are working to achieve these values can be described as rational or irrational.

  • But Alisa, you don’t just have to have liberty as a core value to want liberty. If you have any good will at all towards your fellow man *and* you are rational then you will want liberty.

  • Rob, for that to be correct, you’d have to define the ‘good’ part in ‘good will’ very carefully – because otherwise you’ll fall into the same trap as with the ‘do unto others’ principle. I’m sure you can think of numerous examples of people who do not like liberty for themselves, and therefore would loath to inflict it on their fellow men:-\ Roads paved with good intentions and all that.

  • Tedd


    To me, limited government seems too specific a thing to be called a fundamental value. It’s the conclusion of a fairly long chain of reasoning. It can be valued, but that doesn’t make it “a value” in the way that “life” or “freedom” are. But reasonable people can disagree about that.

    I guess I agree that it’s a reasonable assumption that limited government is inevitably rationally justified. It’s just that I think it’s also a reasonable assumption that limited government is not inevitably rationally justified. So I don’t feel that I can escape the need to rationally analyze the arguments on both sides.

  • Tedd, I absolutely did not mean to imply that limited government is in and of itself a fundamental value. Moreover, I don’t even see it as a value at all – government is a mere mechanism, which can promote certain values. A largely limited government can promote fundamental values such as life and liberty.

  • …while an unlimited government can promote values such as coercion and control. It is therefore perfectly rational to use each kind of government to accordingly achieve each set of values.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Fraser & Laird,

    Thank you both. Plenty to discuss here, but I’ve been under the weather and now I’ll be out of touch for a few days.

    I just wanted to let you know you Did Not Post in Vain.



    PS. This is a really good discussion. Thanks to everyone.

  • Hope you feel better soon, Julie.

  • Laird

    I’ve been away and am just now getting back to this thread, if anyone’s still here (and interested).

    Fraser, I would support the changes you suggest to our educational system; they could very well result in an improvement of the electorate. The problem is that every time any state has made substantial moves in that direction the educational establishment (lead by the federal DOE) has utterly squashed it. So I don’t think we can achieve those changes without first changing the ground rules (hence my point).

    Tedd, I used the word “failed” intentionally. I don’t disagree with your description of the causes of the changes we have experienced, but the fact remains that the Constitution failed to protect us from them. We now have a constitution in exile, which is honored by our courts and political establishment when it suits their purposes and ignored by them when it does not. I don’t know how else to define “failure”.

    Julie, I hope you’re feeling better now.