Stillwater’s Challenge

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Murali

Murali did his undergraduate degree in molecular biology with a minor in biophysics from the National University of Singapore (NUS). He then changed direction and did his Masters in Philosophy also at NUS. Now, he is currently pursuing a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Warwick.

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48 Responses

  1. Avatar mark boggs says:

    When you say “arranged marriage”, a certain image comes to mind.  When you describe what you mean by “arranged marriage” it doesn’t look anything like what us Westerners probably imagined “arranged marriages” look like.  In other words, you’re calling it something that probably doesn’t match up with what I would think it means at first glance.

    I see arranged as “coerced” or “forced”.  You seem to be saying “encouraged” or “advisable”.  Big difference.

     Report

    • Avatar Mike in reply to mark boggs says:

      “We picked this girl so you marry her” or “he paid the bridal price so you’re his now”, or even the slightly more cynical “you’re going to marry this person so that our dynasty/country/business benefits from family ties to their family” is a WORLD apart from “This is my friend’s daughter, you two should go on a date and see if you like each other.”Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike says:

        Agreed.  And I’d only add that when people whitewash arranged marriages, they ought to be smart enough to realize what they are doing.  Being able to imagine — or even name — a few pretty decent arranged marriages doesn’t excuse the abuses committed under this institution, which we are far better off without.Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          Agreed.  And I’d only add that when people whitewash arranged marriages, they ought to be smart enough to realize what they are doing.  Being able to imagine — or even name — a few pretty decent arranged marriages doesn’t excuse the abuses committed under this institution, which we are far better off without

          Its not just a few decent arranged marriages. It is every single arranged marriage (or almost every) I know of. In fact, I do not personally know of a single abusive arranged marriage. Every single arranged marriage that I know of has roughly followed the pattern I described in the OP. That is the reality of arranged marriages that Iive in, not some soap operatic horror story.

          Report

          • Avatar Kim in reply to Murali says:

            Figure this only works because it’s in a highly populated zone (and probably hasn’t been going on forever…).

            I foresee structural difficulties.Report

          • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Murali says:

            I see a lot of cultural bias here. Murali as I understand it is from India, or his parents are. Arranged marriages have been common in the East for literally millennia. In fact the whole concept of marrying for “love” is less than 250 yrs old. Therefore those who espouse the new method are the anachronism not the rule.

            That said, there’s no way my wife and I would have gotten together via arranged marriage, literally impossible. From a pure genetics viewpoint (because AKC breeds are genetically inferior to mixed breeds) I believe “purebred” races need to go away. One of the first things they teach in veterinary school is “hybrid vigor”. Many of society’s problems, especially racism would go the way of the dodo bird if “race” were removed from the equation.Report

  2. Avatar sonmi451 says:

    If we are talking about hypothetical consent, then my view is that fully rational people in a hypothetical situation behind a thick veil of ignorance would consent to being governed by benevolent technocrats and/or dictators.

    Can you expand on this a bit? Sure, behind the veil of ignorance, you could end up imagining yourself as the benevolent dictator (sweet gig, if you can get it), but you could just as well end up as a woman the dictator fancies and decides to keep in his basement as a sex slave, and he can do so, because he’s a dictator. Plus, how long will a benevolent dictator stays benevolent anyway? Absolute power corrupts and all that.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to sonmi451 says:

      Also even dictators die. Who takes over after Mr. Benevolent? What assures that the next dictator is also benevolent or that the transition is smooth?Report

      • Avatar Mike in reply to North says:

        Why does the end of benevolence have to be the dictator’s death? Power corrupts. Mr. Benevolent may start out as an early Duvalier (pick one, they both followed similar trajectories), or even an Aristide, and devolve within their own lifetime. “Revolutions” to remove an Evil Dictator often put in place someone who initially does what the people wanted, and then proceeds to consolidate power, become more corrupt, and become the Evil Dictator themselves later in life.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to sonmi451 says:

      If we are talking about hypothetical consent, then my view is that fully rational people in a hypothetical situation behind a thick veil of ignorance would consent to being governed by benevolent technocrats and/or dictators.

      You realize that this is a brilliant one-sentence refutation of A Theory of Justice, right?Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Murali says:

          Because Rawls very clearly states that his actors would reject the idea of a dictator.  He also thinks that they would demand some amount of political agency for themselves.

          I’m fairly certain, as I have often said in the past, that the original position would not generate any agreement at all, just a different set of priors about which we would all then disagree.Report

          • Avatar Murali in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            Because Rawls very clearly states that his actors would reject the idea of a dictator

            I dont think Rawls is entitled to that claim. His pro democracy conlusions are rather unmotivated.

            I’m fairly certain, as I have often said in the past, that the original position would not generate any agreement at all, just a different set of priors about which we would all then disagree

            Actually, I dont see how this could be true. Behind the veil, all the parties are to all intents and purposes identical. If they are identical, how could one choose any differently than another?

             Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Murali says:

              I dont think Rawls is entitled to that claim. His pro democracy conlusions are rather unmotivated.

              So say you, anyway. And what would you do in the Original Position, when faced with an orthodox Rawlsian social democrat?

              Of course, you may believe you could talk him into supporting a benevolent dictatorship.  He probably thinks he could talk you into social democracy.  Loren Lomasky’s in there too, and he thinks he can talk you both into libertarianism.

              It’s my considered opinion that nothing whatsoever actually takes place in Rawls’ Original position.  You get out of it exactly and precisely what you put into it.  Social democrats produce social democracy.  Lovers of enlightened despotism produce enlightened despotism.  And so on.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali says:

              Behind the veil, all the parties are to all intents and purposes identical. If they are identical, how could one choose any differently than another?

              Assuming that’s true (I don’t think it is – presumably, the veil is a place <i>each of us </i>goes behind, so things like risk aversion, personal ambitions, weighting of certain values, even our own understanding of the way the world works, will creep in) it doesn’t answer the question of whether behind the veil I would or would not believe democracy is necessary.

              If we take your suggestion here seriously, all we can determine from behind the veil is that a government is necessary, not the type of government. Whether we choose to support a benevolent dictatorship or democracy comes from permitting additional empirical and logical considerations to be evaluated behind the veil. And that additional information would tip the scales on the side of democracy (as a check on abusive state power) rather than a belevolent dictatorship (which might, for purely accidental and foreseable reasons, become a malevolent dictatorship). At least, that’s how things would shake out for me behind the veil.

              So: the inconsistency is that if government is legitimized by consent, but there is no mechanism to ensure that consent is continually expressed, consent becomes moot. That’s the inconsistency, I submit, that you’re embracing.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Murali says:

          I don’t think that this is necessarily the best reading of how the veil works.

          You don’t get to pick “we’ll have a good dictator” or “we’ll have an evil dictator”. You instead have to pick “our leader will have the following powers and we’ll have this system to remove him”.

          Why? Because you may step out from behind the veil and find yourself in charge of a kiosk at the train station and find out that, oh no, Mike is in charge of the country… and he has a finite list of posteriors and a nigh-infinite number of size-18 boots.Report

          • Avatar Murali in reply to Jaybird says:

            I just dont think right to vote will be one of the basic liberties guaranteed under the first principle of justice. Rather, the political system that would be chosen would depend greatly on the local conditions. In a number of cases, that would be democracy, in some others it will be some kind of technocracy, and in even others it may be a dictator. At any one point in time, the form of government that would be best is the one that will gurantee the bsic liberties and maximise the prospects of the worst off.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Murali says:

              I just dont think right to vote will be one of the basic liberties guaranteed under the first principle of justice.

              Possibly not. But you know what I think its main rival will be in the selection of office holders?  Lottery.Report

          • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to Jaybird says:

            Exactly. If we don’t know WHO is going to be the leader, and what jerk-like qualities he might have, rational people would go for a system that makes it the easiest to remove the leader, i.e. elections in a democracy. You don’t have to move to another country every time a benevolent dictator suddenly turns less benevolent.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to sonmi451 says:

      Of course a dictator who keeps sex slaves is not benevolent. The benevolent dictator I have in mind enacts all my first best policies and not my second  or third best compromises. Of course, this is a heavily idealised situation.Report

      • Avatar Mike in reply to Murali says:

        Just to play devil’s advocate, say we find a dictator who is otherwise benevolent, to the tune of 99% so, who enacts all the policies you agree with, and we can find enough reasonably attractive women who are kinky in that manner and enjoy being sex slaves to satisfy him/her on that score…?

        (Please take this as an ENTIRELY facetious argument, btw.)Report

  3. Re: Stillwater’s comment that “your view of eliminating democracy as a check on state power is inconsistent with the consent of the governed”

    Probably true.  But it’s worth noting that some libertarians argue for a system of competing non-democracies, where people vote with their feet about which polity is to their liking.  That puts pressure on the dictators to be benevolent, and to offer superior packages of taxes/policies.  In that way consent of the governed is maintained without democracy.

    Some people object that one shouldn’t have to vote with one’s feet to get what they want, but I don’t have a problem with that (we do it all the time, with stores, churches, jobs).  The problem I see is that there’s no mechanism to ensure the dictators will allow citizens to vote with their feet–that is, to emigrate freely.  If a dictator realizes he’s losing population, he may decide not to improve his policy package, but just to build a Berlin Wal to keep them in.  But if that problem could be resolved, then eliminating democracy isn’t necessarily inconsistent with consent of the governed.Report

    • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to James Hanley says:

      Some people object that one shouldn’t have to vote with one’s feet to get what they want, but I don’t have a problem with that (we do it all the time, with stores, churches, jobs).

      But surely choosing which store or place or worship to go to and changing jobs are worlds apart from moving to another country?Report

      • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to sonmi451 says:

        “place of worship”, sorry for the typo.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to sonmi451 says:

        They are obviously worlds apart.  You go to one store one day, you go to another the next day, you go back to the first the day after that.  It’s six of one, half a dozen. Moving from country to country like that entails massive cost and personal upheaval for families.  It seems completely divorced from peoples’ actual preferences.  Majorities in every country everywhere stay put even while thousands flee what we would probably all agree are intolerable conditions in many.  If all borders were opened, majorities would still stay put. Many people are okay with picking up and moving to another country, but many, many more would prefer not to, all things considered.

        Do you not feel this is a compelling objection, James? Why?Report

    • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to James Hanley says:

      Or what about people who don’t have the ability to vote with their feet? The old, the sick, the infirm, or those caring for the old, sick and infirm. Say they are living in Benevolent Dictator A’s region, suddenly BDA dies and is replaced by his not-so-benevolent Dictator Son, what happens to these people who aren’t able to move to Still Benevolent Dictator B’s region?

      Or what if all the BD’s decide it makes more sense for them to collude, let’s all stop being benevolent so we can ALL do what we want without losing population? If every BD is essentially a non-benevolent dictator, where’s the incentive for people to move anywhere? Sure, they might be one smart BD who decides he wants to remain a BD because he thinks his region can become a safe haven for people fleeing the now non-BD regions, but how long can he survive before the other non-BD regions conspire to attack him?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to sonmi451 says:

        sonmi,

        Let’s begin with reemphasizing the point that I’m not wholly persuaded by the argument for selection among benevolent dictatorships.  So I’m not trying to persuade anyone to accept the idea; I’m just presenting what is a serious theoretical proposal made by others.

        But as to your specific point, the number of people who truly can’t move is a small portion of the population.  The majority of human emigration throughout history has been by those who seem least capable of doing it; the poor, and very often the infirm.  They have the most to gain and the least to lose by emigrating.

        We could also say that for each person it is an individual benefit/cost calculation as to whether a particular dictatorship is unpleasant enough to make moving worthwhile.  For some, the threshold will be higher than for others.

        Finally, the infirm often are unable to vote in democracies, due to their infirmities.  So they may be unable to express their preferences there as well, and if they are, as you fear, unable to move, they may still be stuck in a polity that they despise and can’t change.  My point here is that we have to think carefully about what types of things we’re comparing–it’s critical to compare real-world institutions/probable institutions, rather than to compare real-world vs. idealized.  By pointing out the problems the infirm would have in the proposed system, and not noting the problems they have in a democratic system, you (inadvertently, I’m assuming) implicitly treat democracy as an ideal system.Report

        • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to James Hanley says:

          Finally, the infirm often are unable to vote in democracies, due to their infirmities.  So they may be unable to express their preferences there as well, and if they are, as you fear, unable to move, they may still be stuck in a polity that they despise and can’t change.

          Oh I understand you’re just presenting an available theory, sorry if I sounded like I was badgering you. I take your point about these things possibly occuring in a democracy as well, BUT, if they are living in a democracy, they would not be “stuck  in a polity that they despise and can’t change” forever, elections are held every few years, and in the history of the United States, I don’t think one political party has held power for the duration of the average lifetime of an American.

          I would say that’s the biggest selling point of democracy for me, that change IS possible, and the citizens of a country – yes, not all of them in practice, but by principle all of them – have a say in making that change, instead of depending on which dictator decides to be benevolent. (Insert my rant about laws forbidding ex-felons from voting, but that’s a discussion for another day). Yes, some people would argue about the corrupting power of money in politics, and how all political parties are the same so some people would never get their policy preferences anyway, and how we’re all at the mercy of big money and thus not living in a real democracy at all, etc etc, but those strikes me as reasons to improve our system of democracy, not to jettison it for a system that might require you to move to another country every few years.Report

        • The majority of human emigration throughout history has been by those who seem least capable of doing it; the poor, and very often the infirm.

          I’m not sure that this is true, or at least as much of a given as the statement seems to suggest.  At least for American immigration history, immigrants often (usually?) followed a process of “chain migration” that required them to have contacts in the US in order to get housing, jobs, etc.  (I’m also talking of the period of relatively “free immigration” in the late 1800s through c. 1924, although even then there were restrictions, some of which were race-based, that skewed the way in which people had to have connections to move to the US).  It wasn’t always necessarily the most disenfranchised people who came, but sometimes those who were a step up from the most disenfranchised.

          I realize my statement is equivocal–“wasn’t always necessarily” isn’t a claim for me to base an argument on–but I think it’s an important issue to investigate when assessing the degree to which people actually could vote with their feet.

           Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

      The problem I see is that there’s no mechanism to ensure the dictators will allow citizens to vote with their feet–that is, to emigrate freely.

      That’s one problem, and a very likely one. The other is that on the way to a more sustained equilibrium, populations shifts can potentially over-burden or even break existing social systems and institutions, creating a lowered – rather than a raised – overall level of social utility.

      In either of these cases (yours or mine), the remedy would be building walls, no?Report

      • on the way to a more sustained equilibrium, populations shifts can potentially over-burden or even break existing social systems and institutions,

        An interesting critique that I hadn’t thought of.  I’m not well-read enough in the proponents of this approach that I could say whether they’ve addressed this issue or not.  I’m inclined to agree with you.  At least temporarily walls would seem to be necessary in this case–and then what’s the mechanism for ensuring the walls don’t become permanent after all?

        What these folks are responding to in democracy, of course, is the belief that ultimately the public will vote themselves a social welfare state that they’ll try to avoid paying for, etc., etc.  But they may be…ah, they almost certainly are…comparing the defects of democracy to only the good points of their proposed system.  Of course that’s the best way to go about trying to persuade people (basic advertising, eh?), but for those of us inclined to be either analytical or at least skeptical…

         Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

      My question is, if the suggestion is that dictators would in fact be incented to attract and retain residents, then what would keep them from doing this by… asking the ones they have what they want and giving it to them so that they keep as many of them as they can and then marketing those policies worldwide to attract immigrants (or in any case, the ones they’re interested, and up to the extent their carrying capacity)?  Sound like anything you recognize, except on steroids? Why wouldn’t this result in ultra-hyper-welfareism and collapse?

      And if dictators in fact weren’t incented to respond to negative outflows from their countries (perhaps sovereigns agree upon a revenue-sharing scheme so as to preserve their freedom of action regardless of population flows), why would we expect this system not to descend into worldwide totalitarian dystopia.Report

  4. Avatar Mike says:

    Regarding “consent of the governed”, the US model is only in a very small, “well fuck we can’t do anything about it and we’re not yet to the point of violent revolution” sense.

    The government ruthlessly stomps down on private militias that could be the center of an armed uprising. Unsurprising in itself, but not helpful to the idea that all governed are consenting.

    I’ve gone over the problems of disenfranchisement attempts from the racist GOP of late, and I’ve gone over the problems of disenfranchisement created by partisan gerrymandering. A political party with maybe 35% (40% if you really push it) membership in Texas manages to control 2/3 of the legislature thanks to partisan gerrymandering, and 2/3 of the congressional delegation as well. What are the rest of the people to do? They’re effectively disenfranchised. Even if Texas hit 100% voter participation in a given election, the gerrymandered districts would mean the racist GOP still got to control the government.

    If you say the US enjoys “consent of the governed”, you really must be joking. It’s like saying that someone caught up in the latest stock market fraud/scam “consented” to it.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Mike says:

      I’m not saying the US specifically does enjoy consent of the governed. I’m just saying that there is no reason to believe that a country which has consent of the governed is therefore better on that count.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali says:

        I think that comment was directed at me Murali. If so, then consent of the governed doesn’t need to be realized in any determinate way for the principle to still apply. ‘Consent purists’ might like to go to direct democracy; ‘Consent realists’ might opt for representative democracy; ‘consent idealists’ might go with instant runoff voting, publicly financed elections, closure of the revolving door, shorter campaign cycles, etc.Report

  5. Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

    Logical consistency is something for which I strive, but I have little concern for consistency beyond that narrow sort.  The truths to which we arrive are always, in a way, bound to the angle from which we came to them, and there’s no one true angle.  As Nietzsche said, there are no facts, only interpretations, by which I mean that all facts arise within the world of an interpretive framework, none of which is exactly the same as any other.  I take the view that it’s best to consider truth from multiple perspectives and interpretations, a path that cannot help but result in some inconsistencies.Report

  6. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    I am pretty sure I will be a voice of one here saying this, but count me in favor of having contradictory beliefs. Take almost any position and if you follow it to an extreme, it’s often best to be able to say “yeah, well not that.”  Refusing to budge on any little thing for any little reason in the name of purity of thought is the stuff of dystopias.

    I know he won’t see it this way at all – at all – but one of the things I have always admired about Jason’s libertarianism is when faced with a potential evil that what others might consider “pure” libertarianism might bring, he has no truck with finding new arguments to fold into his libertarianism to counter such evils.  (His amazing bit on racial discrimination he linked to on a post of mine comes to mind.)

    Purity of thought dedicated to a single idea rarely ends well for humans in a human world.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      I actually agree, mostly.  I’m a Hayekian, not a Rothbardian.  I don’t do first principles and deduction.  I much prefer lived experience and incremental change.Report

    • I agree with Jason, I think.  I haven’t read Hayek or Rothbard, but what he (Jason) says and what you (Tod) say strike me as convincing.

      I do think it is possible to be so caught up in consistency that one comes off as an absolutist, uncompromising person.  I have a trotskyist friend is who is very consistent in his views (with some exceptions, as I imagine is true of everyone), and he’d be quite a scary dude if his proposed revolution ever really had a chance to take off.Report

  7. Avatar Christopher Carr says:

    Everything I believe is contingent.Report

  8. By arranged marriages, I refer to a situation such that the parents or family elders can initially veto any potential partner (preferably before the couple actually start dating).

    My objection would be that even this “veto” curbs individual liberty to some extent.  Maybe it can be argued it’s a necessary curb–it’s not quite so different from the more indirect means American parents might have use to ensure that their children choose their marriage partners, such as “disapproving” of someone, or making sure that they go to college and be surrounded by other people from similar backgrounds (or in a similar social class).

    As for not holding any contradictory ideas:  I suppose I could try to read all your posts and comments and mine apparently contradictory ideas from them, but I don’t want to spend the time to do so.  Therefore, I (or anyone) would have to take you (Murali) at your word when you say you don’t hold any inconsistent ideas.  But when someone insists that, I see, maybe fairly or unfairly, it as a red flag that the person might lack introspection.  I do not really intend to accuse you of this, although what I just wrote might sound like I am, because in your other posts you have proven quite thoughtful and have offered many challenging perspectives that I disagree with, but that also cause me to rethink where I’m coming from.Report

  9. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Hobbes and the German School of Liberalism, (using Hayek’s taxonomy of classical liberalism) seem to conclude it doesn’t matter which system is in operation, monarchy, oligarchy, mob rule — to which we could include our present forms of government.  They all have deficiencies.  Hobbes concludes the odds of divisions arise directly with the number of people involved in decision making.   In that, I suppose you’re right.  The USA is not a democracy so much as it is a republic.  We know there’s a difference.

    As for arranged marriages, no parent wants his child to marry a fool.  The problem with arranged marriages, at least the ones I’ve seen, is the overweening role of the parents in the marriage itself.  The mother in law generally treats her child’s wife like crap, as she was treated like crap by her mother in law, and hers.   The Romans observed grandparents and grandchildren are natural allies for they have an enemy in common.   Perhaps your experience has proven otherwise.

    A Sikh friend of mine, spoke to him just last night, was raised in Chicagoland.   I met him in school.  I made the photographs for his Marriage Resume.   He sent his mother to India to find him seven potential wives.   He had a list of questions:  the first was “Do you speak English well?”   The woman who would become his wife sharply responded “Of course I speak English!”   He knew right there he’d found the wife he needed.   With one foot in the USA and the other in India, he wanted a woman who could stand up for herself, not some subservient bibi.

    We all contain contradictions.  It’s a pointless struggle to square them all up.   Walt Whitman said “Do I contradict myself?Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”   We’re always best served to view ourselves in the light of what’s happened to us,  the summa of all our waking moments, reduced and compressed into the submerged axioms by our dreams.  The truths of our lives are ultimately unknown and perhaps even unknowable.   The shaping of a man will shape the truths by which he lives.

    You may not care about your personal consent in the matter of how you are governed.   Well, neither do we, here in the USA.   We are a republic, we grant power to our representatives according to their appointed time in office.  Once elected, those representatives are granted mandate to do often unpopular things.   At least that’s how it’s supposed to work in principle:  at any rate, nobody’s advocating mob rule.   But Americans will not tolerate the rule of a capricious monarch.Report

  10. Avatar Liberty60 says:

    Having a worldview that is completely ordered and free of contradictions is to propose one that is free of any error or unresolved datasets whatsoever. Further, it presupposes that our understanding is able to be adequately expressed in words and symbols.

    Isn’t the notion of holding contradictory views, a way of stating that no one can be completely sure of their ability to find and understand the truth? Of admitting that our understanding of things is incomplete and needs further study and discernment?Report

  11. Avatar b-psycho says:

    First of all, no system of governance except a fully voluntary society (i.e. some kind of anarcho-syndicalist) actually enjoys full consent of the governed.

    Just felt like quoting some truth.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to b-psycho says:

      That assumes the total ‘volutariness’ in an anarcho-syndicalist system would be greater than the total ‘voluntariness’ in a federally centralized government (or whatever).

      Why think that’s the case? (And you can’t point to the definition of AS as being ‘complete voluntariness of the governed’ :).Report

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