The Specificity of Ideological Labels

It’s become hip to scoff at ideological labels. You’ll sometimes hear the ultra-woke deny all ‘isms’. I agree with the spirit. “Think for yourself!” “Why put yourself in a box?” “Attachment to labels is tribalism!” These are all fine points.

Except for the fact that there are really only two ways to avoid ideological labels:

  1. Have no positions; or
  2. Refuse to name your positions.

(1) isn’t as bad as it seems. You probably should withhold opinion on matters into which you have not put significant analysis or research. (This is assuming you want to hold your opinions because you’re justified in thinking them to be more likely correct than alternatives, and not simply for sport.) But (1) is not the reason for the anti-label imperative. The same people who tell you to avoid labels will also tell you to think through the issues and come up with your own answer. So they would not agree with (1).

(I hope it’s obvious by now that I have no concrete examples of who these ‘people’ are who supposedly argue against labels. I hope you know who I’m talking about. If not, alas, this post is not so serious.)

(2) is, of course, silly. Naming things is necessary for reference and communication, activities I highly recommend.

So, what’s up?

I think the problem isn’t with labels in general, but with labels that are insufficiently specific. Unspecific labels have a tendency to conceal the substance of positions. My favorite example of this is ‘capitalism’. As Roderick Long has helpfully noted in a clip short enough that some people might actually watch it, ‘capitalism’ sometimes means ‘free market’; sometimes ‘means of production owned by capitalists instead of workers’; sometimes ‘this economic system we have in the contemporary west’.…

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Left Market Anarchism | Who Shaves the Barber? #47

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Political philosophy begins with the question: who should have political authority and why? Anarchism answers: no one. Popular mythology tells us this is synonymous with chaos and disorder, but there are many reasons to doubt this must be so. In this episode, I argue that anarchism – properly understood – is in fact the correct answer to the problem of political authority; it is the only answer that avoids unjust hierarchies, provides for individual and social freedom, and optimizes for general welfare. This is because, in a word, society is best seen (and run) as a web, not as a pyramid.

Much of my focus is on specifying what I mean by anarchism, and which version of anarchism I’m arguing for. Specifically, I argue that the notion of a free market – again, properly understood – is at the heart of anarchism. At the same time, I argue against “capitalism” as being a confused and rather unhelpful notion, quite removed from the notion of a free market. I also argue against popular libertarian approaches to free markets and anarchism, such as the so-called “non-aggression principle” and property rights. Instead, I zero in on a notion of free market defined as a cultural norm in which monopolies are viewed as unacceptable. Only this definition, I argue, properly communicates what a free market really is and only it provides the necessary conditions for a free and prosperous society. It is, at the same time, a maximally permissive definition: it requires no particular views on interpersonal ethics or lifestyle, and is as compatible with (for example) communism as it is with more familiar notions of “free markets”.…

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Jason Lee Byas: Against Criminal Justice | Who Shaves the Barber? #43

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What gives some people the right to put others in prison? Is prison – and the criminal justice system generally – an ethically permissible method for dealing with criminality?

Individualist anarchist and prison abolitionist Jason Lee Byas goes over the common justifications for the prison system and explains why none of them succeed. Specifically, he covers the doctrines of retributivism (specifically desert retributivism and expressive retributivism), deterrence, rehabilitation, and rights forfeiture, arguing against each. In place of prison, Byas proposes a tort system of restitution. Monetary restitution may not be sufficient to right the wrong of a crime, says Byas; but it is all that the law should mandate, leaving other desired correction or compensation up to community-based initiatives (Byas cites restorative justice as an example of the sort of institutions that can take the place of those corrective aspects of criminal justice that retribution does not address). Byas also explains how a system of monetary restitution can get around problems of class-based inequality (for example, if someone is so rich that they don’t mind having to pay to commit a crime, or if someone is so far in debt that another dent wouldn’t matter). Finally, he explains how violent offenders who pose an “ongoing threat” might be handled in his preferred system.

Next weekJc Beall: Logic of Christ

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Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art, and The Tin Box for the theme music.…

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