Monday, March 21, 2011

Libertopia: My Solution to Libertarians

Libertarians claim that everything would be better if government got out the business of, well, government. If everything were privatized and government were non-existent, people would just get along, and no one would ever try to take advantage of others unfairly.

I propose we test this hypothesis. We should set aside an area of land where absolutely no laws will be enforced. Maybe somewhere in Alaska, or perhaps eastern Africa. If what the libertarians say is true, it should become a utopian wonderland full of rainbows and unicorns. As more people want to go there the area can be expanded as necessary.

On the other hand, if it turns into a poor, violent hellhole, well...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Taxes are not Theft

In fact, without taxes, theft doesn't really have a meaning.

The thing is, property is not an objective reality. There is no empirical test you can perform that will determine if an object belongs to someone, and to who. Property is a social convention.

You only own something to the extent that you control it. You have it, and someone else doesn't. But someone bigger and stronger than you can take your stuff, and there's nothing you can do about it. Even if you're the biggest strongest person there is, a group of people can overpower you.

One of government's functions is to protect property rights. If you own something, someone bigger than you isn't allowed to just take it from you. And if they try, well, government is the biggest one around. And government needs taxes to operate. You need funds to pay for the police who will stop people from stealing.

Without taxes, the enforcement of property rights collapses, and property ceases to exist. And you can't have theft without property.

Beyond even that, taxes pay for roads and other infrastructure, which you're in debt to, even if you don't use it directly. Even if you don't own a car, you still get a benefit out of roads, because grocery stores you shop at are supplied via roads. Even if you have never needed medical care in your life, public medical care benefits you by herd immunity. The list goes on.

Wanting to get these benefits without paying for them is closer to stealing than taxes are.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

There is Evidence for God

Something many atheists claim is that there is no evidence for god or religion. Not one single bit of evidence at all. But that's not true. It's frequently talked about as if it were an all or nothing kind of thing. As if all the evidence points one way or the other. But, it's possible for there to be evidence for something that's false.

There is evidence for god. It's weak evidence, and clearly overwhelmed by the evidence against, but it's still there. It's not nothing.

The biggest piece of evidence I can think of is that the vast majority of people believe in god. And this is not argumentum ad populum, but rather a probabilistic, Bayesian point of view. Which is more likely? The probability that so many people would believe in god given that god exists, or the probability that so many people would believe in god given that god doesn't exist? I think people are more likely to believe in something true rather than something false, especially if it interacts with them personally. Of course, people are willing to believe all sorts of crazy shit, so it's not much more likely. Which is why it's very weak evidence.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Identity and Intuition

If you were to be perfectly duplicated in every respect, would the duplicate be you?

Intuitively, the answer is no. I'm me, and the duplicate is the duplicate. But intuition is not perfect. Our intuition is a shortcut rule-of-thumb for life on the savannah. In a radically different environment, or different circumstances, intuition is not a helpful guide at all, and can easily lead you astray.

Consider, for instance, relativity. If you see one person running at six miles an hour in one direction, and another person running at six miles an hour in the other direction, what speed will the first see the second one going? Intuitively, and correctly, twelve miles an hour. But what if you see one spaceship moving at 2.9x10^8 meters per second, and another moving the same speed in the opposite direction? Will the one spaceship see the other moving at 5.8x10^8 m/s? No, it will see it moving at 2.999x10^8 m/s. Because velocity addition is not really u+v as we intuit, but rather (u+v)/(1+uv/c^2). It's just that at low speeds, the speeds we evolved with, the difference is imperceptible.

And similarly, we never evolved in an environment where people were perfectly duplicated. Our intuition isn't equipped to deal with that situation. So to answer that question, we can't rely on our intuition. We need something more than that.