The Compass and the Constructs

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75 Responses

  1. This is really good. Really, really good.

    Some notes:

    Economic right should represent capitalism. However, capitalism in its early form was a solution to problems of feudalism, the first problem being social ordering, where there was a fixed place for everyone. There were few ways out of these social orders even if a person’s interests and talents would have been better utilized in a different order.

    Yes. But increasingly as well, there are right-wing elements that openly espouse a return to absolutism (that is, an early-modern monarchy with a degenerate feudal system tacked on) or even outright feudalism. It is somewhat of an open question to me the degree to which these elements recognize that the feudalism affixed to the early modern absolutist regimes was really just a revenue generating mechanism, and a highly inefficient one at that when compared to capitalism (of any form) plus modern taxation and modern bond-driven government finance.

    The other problem with feudalism was that the worker had little control over the final product they produced. The capacity of the greater social order to extract the products of an individual’s labor was unchecked.

    Yes. Marx’s account of the alienation of labor under capitalism was partly correct–Adam Smith even anticipated some of it–but the idea that artisans under the feudal system enjoyed unalienated labor is a complete joke. They may have performed the labor from start to finish, but they did so under stultifying guild rules, at the behest of a cartel of superiors, and if they weren’t members of a guild, they frequently couldn’t practice their craft or trade at all. If that’s not alienation from one’s labor, then nothing is.

    I do have one challenge that I would pose to this post.

    The left-right political spectrum is a gross simplification, as we both clearly agree. But so is the political grid as laid out above, or really any cartesian representation of political opinions and dispositions. These representations, 1-d or 2-d, are not without their uses, however, in teaching how opinions and dispositions tend to correlate or conflict. But when the ladder is ascended, it may be discarded, right?

    I’m not going to plump for a 3-d representation, because to some degree that would be silly. Still, I think the next step is to ask yourself about the place of spontaneous orders in the typology you’ve given. Individual constructs may occupy one pole of many people’s political thinking, with social constructs on the other, but there are also constructs that arise (as you doubtless know) from the products of individual human action, yet not of individual human design.

    Language is the most obvious of these spontaneous orders: No one person invented English, yet here we are, communicating high-level concepts with it, and I have very little fear (I trust) of being misunderstood. Who invented this thing? Milton? Shakespeare? Chaucer? None of them? All of them?

    Certain of the items you offer as representatives of the two types of constructs may be, but are not always, spontaneous orders. I would nominate law, marriage, race, industry, financial institutions, public property (commons), majority rule, and many forms of private property claims both real and personal (that is, considered as claims that command a degree of social respect, and apart from government-provided protections thereof, which are social constructs in your sense). (Note also: Not all spontaneous orders are good or unproblematic. Race seems to be a thing we’re predisposed to set up, and in a social context we often do. But it’s really, really dangerous too.)


    • Avatar Joe Sal says:

      A desire to construct fuedalism or a regime by right wing agents should be looked upon with great skepticism. Those are social constructs built upon other social constructs. Any time you see someone reaching for those, it should be standard practice to question if they are from the right. (The exception is if there are government constructs that so violate individual constructs, that monarchy provides a higher degree of existing individual agency, but things have to get particularly hellish for that to occur.)

      Per your challange:
      Language is a tough one, I think math would be easier to unpack. Some constructs exist in both areas, social and individual. The recording/sharing of progress in these fields is somewhat social, and sometimes advances occur in these fields out of social collaboration.
      There however are many discoveries made by individuals. Much of math was carried forward by individual discovery. At some point in time the individuals had to make math ‘their own’. To make math a individual construct it first has to have subjective value to instill the user to learn the mechanics of construct. What we find also in the individual construct is the subjective preference of which part of math the individual hopes to advance. For some it is physics, for others it may by statistics.

      I don’t know if that clears up the challenge, but hopes it explains how the two can interact in a positive manner and remain parsed.

      A pretty significant construct that I still am having problems with is the construct of wealth. That one I find difficult to parse.Report

      • I’m not sure that wealth qualifies as a construct at all. It may be a category error to treat it that way, because it’s possible to have wealth in a wide variety of things. You could have wealth in the stock market–or in slaves–or you could have wealth in the personal means of exchange.

        I would think that “being wealthy” is a subjective evaluation, one that is often but not always shared, and that the evaluation may derive from many different forms of constructs, in your typology.Report

        • Avatar Joe Sal says:

          “I would think that “being wealthy” is a subjective evaluation, one that is often but not always shared, and that the evaluation may derive from many different forms of constructs, in your typology.”

          This is were I ended up also.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      but the idea that artisans under the feudal system enjoyed unalienated labor is a complete joke. They may have performed the labor from start to finish, but they did so under stultifying guild rules, at the behest of a cartel of superiors, and if they weren’t members of a guild, they frequently couldn’t practice their craft or trade at all.

      A semantic quibble: Is the guild system considered to have been part of the feudal system, or a parallel system? I’ve been under the admittedly vague impression that the artisans were off doing their own thing and not really part of the feudal system.Report

    • and I have very little fear (I trust) of being misunderstood

      Why do you hate America?Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      I think we should be a bit careful about people who “desire to be above the law”. Some of them are simply criminals, who don’t really see what they’re doing as anything more highminded than “I can get away with it, so I do.”Report

  2. Avatar Damon says:

    I’d be interested in the community posting their thoughts on where exactly does the US fall into this grid, and the link provide provides some guidance.

    I’d put it in the left upper category of “statism”.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      Sure you would, but where within that box?Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        Use the link provided above in the OP and find “statism” in the chart. It’s right smack in the middle of the upper left box.Report

    • My claim would probably be the lower right quadrant, but very close to the middle of the graph. I say this because for all the statist interventions and contra-individual “constructs,” we still operate in a society and under a legal system that presumes a certain amount of contractual freedom for individuals.

      Still, in many cases (e.g., contracts of adhesion between individuals and large credit card companies or pretty much any example of corporate rent-seeking), that presumption is shown in practice to be just pretext. And in some cases (e.g., the war on drugs or instances of police killing people arbitrarily), it’s simply shown not to exist.Report

  3. Avatar Marchmaine says:

    I love these kinds of exercises… I wonder though if the taxonomy wouldn’t benefit from some slight neutralizing?

    For example… I’d suggest replacing Authoritarian with something at least as attractive as Libertarian – maybe Communitarian? Alternately you could replace freedom loving Libertarian with something less inviting, like, say, Autonomous Individualism.

    Its a little bit like personality tests… if you make one personality sound horrible – like the old definition of Phlegmatic as a thoughtless bump on a log vs. the new definition of the thoughtfull deliberate peacemaker – then you’ll get a better discussion of the quadrants.

    Every quadrant has to have benefits and cons, even if they aren’t the benefits you would prioritize.

    Lastly, to deal with the “Authoritarian” question, I’d borrow from Aristotle and add two diagonals that represent distributed decision making… for example, are the communitarian decisions made through broad societal and institutional consensus or by a single authority? On the Autonomous side, same distinctions… some people favoring autonomy do so within a broad network, others… well, we’ll always have Somalia to kick around.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      I think anarchist might be a better term than libertarian for the bottom end of the Y axis.Report

      • Avatar Marchmaine says:

        Anarchy is certainly a bottom category, but in my mind I’d see it as the far bottom right – full autonomy with the tyranny of the one. Everyone is a tyrant in that corner of the zone. Conversely, the bottom left is the collective anarchist tyranny – think Mad Max.

        Ultimately, the trending term of “autonomy” should allow for good things as well as well as to show how the corrupted form degenerates in a way totally differently from the other quadrants.Report

        • Avatar Michael Cain says:

          I’ve always thought authoritarian, libertarian and anarchist were (a) loaded terms, and (b) not representative of what really needs to be measured. I prefer to think of that axis as covering a range of how much individuals owe to the social system of which they are a part, ranging from “none” at the bottom to “everything” at the top.Report

          • Avatar Marchmaine says:

            I agree. I also think there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of “Authoritarianism” at work here.Report

            • Avatar Marchmaine says:

              Actually, I’m going to pull back a bit… I’m not sure “owe” is a term I’d use for this.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                I wasn’t sure “owe” was what I wanted when I wrote it.

                I’ve been trying to think of something better by trying to place different policies on the plane. One of the difficulties I’m encountering is that it’s really hard to separate into just “economics” and “everything else”. Take military conscription. It imposes constraints on both the economic axis — for a large army, how several billion hours of direct labor will be used each year — but also on the other axis — eg, where some individuals can live is controlled heavily.Report

              • Avatar Marchmaine says:

                @michael-cain interesting thought re:Policies. I’m wondering though if policies aren’t actually definition at all. As you say, take conscription.

                Conscription in North Korea is one thing; in Israel another; in Switzerland and Finland something else; in America, yet another thing, then something different, then gone.

                Nations and peoples make collective decisions without respect to policy alignment… its the nature of the community that informs the decision that informs the policy.

                Liberal Democracies are not defined by their policies… sometimes the borders are open, some times closed. Sometimes young men are conscripted in peace but not in war, sometimes they conscripted in war but not in peace.

                But then none of that solves the question of what’s a better word for “owe”Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            I prefer to think of that axis as covering a range of how much individuals owe to the social system of which they are a part, ranging from “none” at the bottom to “everything” at the top.

            I love this distinction.

            This is where the “You Didn’t Build That” argument has teeth or, alternately, where it’s an exceptionally risible thing to say.Report

            • Avatar Joe Sal says:

              I just am not seeing it from that angle. If we speak of owe, how is that debt created?Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                That’s just code for “a large group of people want you stuff” to do something with it you may or may not agree with, but they are taking it anyway.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                Not debt so much as obligation. Created by the social contract or whatever you want to call it. In a European feudal system, peasants “owed” labor to the local lord of the manor. The lord “owed” protection of various sorts to the peasants. Fuedal society tended to spell it out in oaths that everyone took. Today, in a western-style democracy, we do it more flexibly by voting, consensus, compromise (although the details do tend to get spelled out eventually, eg, the EPA decides that 10 ppb is too many, but 9 is okay). In all cases, the hard part is dealing with the malcontents who oppose the current social order.

                How about, on one end of the scale the society is tolerant of people working to make changes in the construct, and at the other end the society is intolerant. The US is, in general, quite tolerant of people who want to change the construct. Feudal society was not.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                People born into debts or obligations they cannot change are somewhat born into types of slavery.

                How about instead of owe, lets consider invest. Maybe we could say invest obligation, or invest their own authority?

                I guess it doesn’t matter, if your born into a high left system, it would look like slavery to a construct.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Dig this, then. To what extent can a parent tell a child to sweep the front room?

                There is one POV that says that not only can a parent do this but a parent is *OBLIGATED* to do this, and tell a child to do dishes when s/he is older, and vacuum, and fold laundry, and cook the occasional dinner and so on and so forth.

                There is another POV that says you should not use your children as slave labor (at the other extreme, of course).

                How much of a debt does the child owe the parent? To what extent does it have nothing to do with “debt” as much as “this needs doing”?Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                Ah, the dinner-table conversations with my children: “Everyone in the household gets a certain amount of walking-around money. Everyone in the household does a certain amount of chores. These two things are related, but not in the way that you think they are — I am not buying your direct labor.”Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I think that the whole “allowance” thing is somewhere right in the middle.

                I’m not buying your labor, per se. I am buying your enthusiasm. You will be sweeping the front hallway *AND* you will be sweeping in the corners *AND* you will be using a dustpan *AND* you will empty the dustpan *AND* you will endure me looking under the rug.

                This event can take 12 minutes start to finish, or it can take 4 hours. It *WILL* be done.

                The allowance is not for your labor. I already have that.

                I want your enthusiasm.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                You are a wise fellow, so I can point up there and suggest that that the kid has some quantum of subjective rule of law built in.

                I can also say that the construct of being a parent has some quantum of rule by law built in.

                I would probably make a wager that the odds of that front room getting swept, greatly depend on how those two things are invested and given authority.

                Maybe even include a futile appeal to a individual preference that a kid might like to live in a clean house.

                We are talking outcomes right?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I think I’m one of those who leans closer to “parents have an obligation to make children do chores as part of the process of turning children into adults who will eventually be capable of having children who are capable of doing chores” so I suppose it’s outcomes but that’s a looooooong, long time to measure a particular outcome.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                How does obligation work? Can it work without some means of authority?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                If something needs to be done, it needs to be done.
                If it can’t physically be done, I guess it won’t be…
                But if it can… well, that’s where the obligation comes from. That’s how it’s created.

                Just recognizing that a thing needs to be done and that it can be done is probably a foundation for any kind of authority, then.

                How are we using the term “authority”? Someone who is an expert? Someone who is a strongman? Someone who has moral standing? Someone who can give out carrots (or apply sticks)?Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                Is this a sincere comment?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Yes, absolutely sincere.

                That was my best guess at throwing together how obligation works and explaining that I’m not entirely sure how we’re using authority here.

                (A lot of times when I’m unsure about how words are being used, it’s because we’re using different definitions in different sentences without clarifying (or noticing)) that we’re doing so.)Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                Ok, just checking.
                This first part “recognizing that a thing needs to be done”, the problem is it can go pear shaped depending on who is using it and how it is to be used.

                “parents have an obligation to make children do chores as part of the process of turning children into adults who will eventually be capable of having children who are capable of doing chores”

                This part, how do you want it to play out over time?
                a. As a rule Jay was strict about.
                b. This is a preference our family shares.
                c. This is a preference I have.

                how to get there?
                w. torture
                x. bribe
                y. vocally obligate
                z. demonstrate it/live itReport

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Is this one of those things where we’re going to put stuff like “yelling” or “spankings” under “torture”?

                I think that it’s somewhat easy to take two societies and put them next to each other.

                One has kids who are made to do chores and do them well. The other sees making children do chores as a form of slavery.

                Which society will have more efficient people more capable of working together as teams after a couple of generations?

                Game it out. Let’s say that these two societies go to war against each other. Which side is likely to do well?Report

              • Avatar Marchmaine says:

                Possibly both, but for different reasons.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                My money is on Alexander.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                Yeah spanking and yelling could be under something like ‘discomfort’. Lets call that (d.)Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I think that it’s one of those things where if you grow up obeying and you see everyone else obeying, it makes sense to just obey when told to do this thing or that thing.

                But if Bobby down the street can get away with saying “BUT I DON’T WANNA”, it creates a situation where everybody starts to ask “how come Bobby doesn’t have to sweep his house but I have to sweep mine?”

                And it creates a bit of a cascading effect.

                A collective action problem that is only noticed the first time that someone is allowed to get away with defecting.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                There are some problems in becoming path dependent to systematic obeying.

                IMO it is a good exercise to see defectors. Each person has to determine what their subjective rule of law should be. If seeing defectors topples your construct, what does that tell you about the construct? What does it tell you about how invested individuals are in that construct?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                This all comes down to the issue of how does society deal with children? What is society’s role and responsibility to children?

                It seems to me that the responsibility of society is to turn a child (who cannot take care of him or herself) into an adult who can not only take care of him or herself (perhaps with help from others) but also contribute to other adults taking care of themselves and, if it comes to that, children who need taking care of as well.

                To get all economics about it, net producers.

                Allowing a child to be a net consumer is not a problem. Allowing a child to *REMAIN* a net consumer? It’s unsustainable and will result in an implosion if such a thing moves past a very, very close-by tipping point.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                Let me offer this, if only individual constructs existed, kids would have no other option than to be net producers. This leads to what responsibility a child has to itself, whether greater ‘society’ exists or not.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Compare the individuals that asked “what use is a baby?” to the societies who saw babies as the equivalent of “seed corn that needed to be sown, weeded, and cultivated” .Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                So what do you do, do you make them overly special?
                Wasn’t there a ‘social self esteem movement’ awhile back. Instead of letting children struggle and slowly build esteem in a individualist manner, they decided to try socially pumping up kids self esteem, and the results tended to produce narcissists.

                Nearly every time society trys to make something ‘special’ it screws up what it touches. I don’t consider kids to have a naturally high ‘flaw rate’, when developing outside of social constructs. You stick them in the middle of certain social constructs, and holy hell, the rate climbs.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I would say that you do what you can to impart in them a sense of belonging to the group. The family first then, as time goes on, the greater community.

                The other day, there was an interaction I had on twitter that went something like this:

                my six year old just said "mommy, why does the outgroup consider tales of precocious children signalling tribal alliegence to be endearing?"— Alice Maz (@alicemazzy) July 27, 2016

                @alicemazzy If you can't brag about your 4 year old saying that he wants to become a Christian and then praying with him… then what?— Jaybird (@OG_Jaybird) July 27, 2016

                @OG_Jaybird @alicemazzy Those are both just brainwashed kids.— LizzzFarrell (@lizzz_818) July 27, 2016

                My immediate response was something to the effect of “NO THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH BRAINWASHING”. The concept of inducting your own freaking kids into the ingroup is not brainwashing at all. Jeez louise. Do you think it’s somehow harmful to teach your kids the English words for the colors in the rainbow?

                But, of course, twitter does not allow for nuanced discussions so I bit my tongue.

                But here I can say that the best way appears to be some form of introduction and inclusion into the society by degrees.

                Which makes me think that “adolescence” might have been a bad idea. We should have jumped straight into “apprentice adulting” rather than “childhood plus”.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                This imparting to community, or imparting to society isn’t inherent. Each child has a built in level they will invest in society or social constructs. Some will invest heavily others won’t. If they want to interface with society, do what you can to help facilitate a healthy interface.

                People who desire a social aspect to their life by default assume everyone else desires it. Best I can figure populations comprise somewhere in the neighborhood of 30-60% individualists.

                Even in family settings, people need to be able to defect if relationships become overly abusive. The duty or obligation is not something that should outweigh an individuals ability to rationally assess a situation.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Take two tribes. Have one have kids that invests heavily in society and social constructs. Have another that has kids that doesn’t.

                Wait 30,000 years.

                Which tribe still exists?Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                No tribe survives.
                Factions are a social construct, armies are a social construct. Thermonuclear warheads are a social construct. The last time we used nuclear warheads was in the name of social constructs.

                War is a social construct.

                I ask again, how do you disassemble faction, all faction?Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                My tribe has a pretty long run at it. So have the Chinese, the Japanese, the Koreans, the Persians, the Greeks, and many other groups from antiquity. People are social animals and formed and existed in groups for our entire history as a species. Your proposed radical individual autonomist ideas are more artificial than group identity and just as much as a social construct.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                Yeah individuals don’t exist, let me know how that works out for you.Report

              • My tribe has a pretty long run at it. So have the Chinese, the Japanese, the Koreans, the Persians, the Greeks, and many other groups from antiquity. People are social animals and formed and existed in groups for our entire history as a species.

                If “people are social animals and formed and existed in groups for our entire history as a species,” then the “tribes” you mentioned are no different from any other groups of people who have ever existed. So singling them out as distinctive because of seems to run against your point.

                Your proposed radical individual autonomist ideas are more artificial than group identity and just as much as a social construct.

                Joe can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think he’d distinguish between “constructs that are social” because they require or presume participation in a society with others and “constructs that exist in society.” I don’t think he’s positing that the pure form of a “radical individual autonomist” actually exists, but that it’s not a social construct in the first sense I’ve mentioned.

                So when JOe calls something a “social construct” he seems to be saying a construct that presupposes some sort of communitarian ideal or goal. In fact, one reason I appreciate his writing this piece is that I hadn’t understood it this way from his comments.

                I admit may be reading something into what Joe has said that he didn’t intend. So he can correct me if I’m wrong or misreading.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                “a construct that presupposes some sort of communitarian ideal or goal.”

                I would say your very close to what I am trying to convey.
                There are a spectrum of people, some will value the social constructs more, some will value the individual constructs more.

                What appears to be missing is how to build a society where all parts of the spectrum can exist with the least amount of conflict.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                We need someone who can write knowledgeably about the history of the Japanese concept of giri.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                If these things are unable to find enough merit to survive in either subjective preference, or subjective rule of law, there is probably nothing that can be done or should be done to sustain them.

                Commanding obligation is just building a culture/construct on top of rule by law. It’s a wasted effort.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                With a bit of research, I could write about that.
                You have no idea how long it took to explain to the Japanese the concept of state’s witness. They were rather horrified/disgusted by the concept.Report

      • Avatar Joe Sal says:

        I thought about anarchist, but there is a pretty significant difference between right and left anarchists. To somewhat group them together at the bottom, I think, is a mistake.Report

        • Avatar North says:

          Wouldn’t that be what the X axis is for? I dunno, it’s probably my own priors but I think of libertarianism as a spectrum with anarchy being the maximal freedom focused extreme end of said spectrum but that’s just me.Report

          • Avatar Joe Sal says:

            I would like to think the x-axis could do that work, but so many times all anarchists are just clumped together in a group. This isn’t very good practice because left wing anarchist will continue to express freedom within social constructs, while right wing anarchist will wish to express freedom without social constructs.

            Freedom means different things to different anarchists (and probably libertarians as well).Report

    • Avatar Joe Sal says:

      I am hesitant to replace authoritarian, as it is important to relate it to stuff like ‘police state’ or other constructs that are expressions of control. Control typically requires authority.
      If you have spent much time with maximum authority, invested in maximum social constructs, it becomes reasonably obvious that it needs to be on that axis.Report

  4. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    Excellent, I am looking forward to the discussion. I wish I could add something, but I’m having pancakes with the Bug right now.Report

  5. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Interesting post.

    I generally am a bit skeptical of how people define themselves. Partially for the reasons @marchmaine mentions or at least related. I think that people pick words with vague definitions that sound good to them and then stick to it. This includes myself. So how much does our attraction to a descriptor influence our beliefs and vice-versa? How much do our actual beliefs and behaviors differentiate from how we describe ourselves.

    You have self-described conservatives who end up having very wild private lives and often hypocritical ones like the evangelists who condemn homosexuality in public and then are found on grinder or being just as drugged and drunk out as the party culture that they declare is moral decay. And then you have liberals who are fine with people doing as they please but are quiet and prefer sitting with a good book and going to bed relatively early then partying all night.

    So what makes us liberal or conservative or libertarian? Our actions? What we say we are? Our beliefs?

    This gets more complicated when you get to modern American politics where the self-described conservatives often propose radical policies like dismantling Social Security and Medicare and the self-described liberals want to preserve and maybe expand the programs that are 50-80 years old.Report

    • Avatar Joe Sal says:

      So if we were to ignore peoples self label, and watched what they reached for, maybe we could get a better sense of where people are. In reality know one really knows an individuals preferences other than that individual. Even then, it can be blurry and change over time.

      I like to ask: “what does freedom look like to you?” and listen to where that leads. It isn’t useful in terms of outlining parameters, but maybe at least hear a set of preferences of someone in the moment.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        I mean the issue is obviously complicated because there is social liberty, economic liberty which is much harder to define (because it seems to mean very different things to people) and the fact that freedom is a malleable word.

        Part of the problem is that the U.S. is a democratic republic. Almost no one is going to describe themselves as authoritarian/fascist except people on the fringe and some dweeby high school students. So everyone says they represent freedom including the far-right House Freedom Caucus. I don’t see how the House Freedom Caucus is actually representing freedom.Report

        • Avatar Joe Sal says:

          This is somewhat my point. Freedom is malleable until someone starts to define what it means to them. Usually you can see where a person is at by what constructs they want/reference and what they want those constructs to do.Report

  6. Joe,

    Thanks for writing this. It clears up some questions I’ve had about your use of “social constructs” in various comments. I wanted to write this before I read the comments, so this may have already been addressed, but one quibble I have is that some of the individual constructs you cite strike me as “social.”

    I’m referring to personal exchange and personal property. Exchange is a social activity, albeit one in which under a certain model it is individuals acting on their preferences. Personal property also seems “social” in the sense that it’s a negative claim against others. The property holder has something that by virtue of being property cannot (or does not for the time being) belong to someone else. So it seems to me the idea of holding property can only meaningfully exist in a context where there are other people. So it’s “social” in that respect. I am, however, open to notions like exchange and property being more “individual” than “social.”

    All that said, I’d like to repeat I’m really glad you’ve written this. Thanks.Report

    • Avatar Joe Sal says:

      I’m glad you brought these up.
      Personal exchange doesn’t have to be inherently social. One individual can exchange a item with another individual, it doesn’t require a greater society or social context to exist.
      If individuals are operating their own personal production I tend to call them owner operators. There isn’t anything social required for owner operators to exchange among each other.

      I can’t say for sure where a clear parsing parameter would be between private and personal property. The one item that continues to display the easily perceived notion of this is the toothbrush. I am relatively sure there is sufficient numbers to defend that hill as personal property. Where it goes beyond that varies widely, and I am open to thoughts on the matter.

      I had written a more expansive conclusion to this work, deleted it and wrote another, deleted it, and wrote another. After about the five different attempts, I just deleted it for for good. I figured if someone wanted to know more I could explain what ever part that was of interest.

      Subjective rule of law is a big one also. I figured I would catch all kinds of hell on that one, but so far not a peep.

      Thanks again for your interest in this. I am a far measure from being a writer.Report

      • Meh, a writer is someone who writes. You’ve written, so you’re a writer. I can certainly understand the temptation to keep adding on something and then having to delete it because it makes the piece too long or doesn’t quite fit. To me, that’s being a good writer.

        On our point about exchange, I guess I’d say two things, one that’s probably a stretch and another that’s probably not. The stretch: I’m tempted to say that when the exchange is only between two people, then it’s still “social” because it involves more than one person. That’s a stretch because, well, you (by which I mean everybody, not just you) have to define things at some point, and defining exchange between two people as still non-social is a fair cop.

        The thing that’s more justifiable is that exchange almost never takes place purely between two people and people in practice are probably never purely owner operators. To be sure, I don’t read you as making those points, just as saying some people and some contexts are more conducive to “exchange between two people” and “owner operator” than other people and contexts.

        As for your points about property, I admit I was being pretty vague in my comment about what I meant. Not vague because I was trying to be sly, but because I wasn’t putting much thought into what I was saying. I do think there is something “personal” about property that is inherent to begin human, even if the person in question doesn’t think of it in terms of “property.” There’s a certain claim to one’s own body, to a personal right/claim/prerogative to privacy, that seems inherent to being human. And I think we could make the claim that certain personal items–as in your example of the toothbrush–are an inherent and perhaps even necessary extension of that claim to one’s own body/privacy.

        Where I think you and I differ (but maybe not, you can tell me if I’m understanding you right), is that I believe that even this “inherent” claim to the personal and the private is usually socially mediated. I say “usually” because I’m not prepared to say “always.” And I don’t mean so much that societies often have and often do invade that personal and private. But I mean it’s more that the claim itself is against others’ intrusions if those intrusions are uninvited or unwanted. The “others” are usually (always? necessarily?) members of a shared grouping, or society in which the individual finds himself or herself.

        Perhaps I’m taking the discussion further afield than where you were going. But those are my two cents.Report

        • Avatar Joe Sal says:

          There are several parameters I set out for personal exchange. Exchange between individuals can occur without the presence of society. To take the parameters to a extreme, if the last two people on earth traded something, society as most of us recognize it, would be absent.
          Another parameter asks the question “is there anything else involved other than the two individuals?”. Things like taxes, prices, surcharge, fee, regulations, or anything that society tends to apply to exchange.
          When the pendulum swings heavily in favor of social constructs it is a possibility that these types of transactions will be made illegal, as their is a need to extract rents.

          The tough part I am trying to convey in personal property is where does the power of legitimate ownership come from? Do the people embedded in social constructs assume they own everything in/of the world and dole out legitimacy to the individuals? I think not. So where does the individual gain equivalent legitimacy to own something without the action of asking permission/permit from society? Maybe it’s just a subtle nuance, but I bet it varies with each individual. Maybe it’s not subtle. If one where to dismiss individual agency and start collecting peoples personal effects ‘for abstract reason x, the ignored agents would become outspoken. I am sure we would hear more than a couple “hey, put that down, it’s mine”.
          It’s almost in the same context we often think about personal relationships. There is property we become accustomed to owning at a personal level that often has nothing to do with greater society or groups.

          Keep bringing your two cents.Report

  7. Avatar DavidTC says:

    Okay, I’m reading this, but I really don’t understand some of the ‘Individual’ stuff.

    How can you have individual education? Who is being educated, and in what manner? Same with justice…that needs at least two people.

    How are ‘rights’ even a thing except in relation to other people? Or ‘consent’?

    Even *truth* doesn’t really exist in a single person. Whether something is true or false is how we judge information from other people. Stuff we’ve experienced isn’t measured that way, or, if it is, then *everything* is true. We don’t need the concept of truth for *ourselves*, we need it only in relation to *other people*.

    And the phrase ‘subjective rule of law’ is just completely nonsensical to start with. Subjective is literally the opposite of a description of ‘rule of law’. The rule of law is when laws are applied in an *objective* manner, instead of laws being applied subjectively. (And how can that be there when ‘law’ is down below?)

    You’re not comparing ‘individual’ constructs to ‘social’ constructs, you’re comparing ‘constructs’ (By which you mean possible human interactions, apparently.) that exist in *all* societies to constructs that exist in ‘larger’, or perhaps more modern, societies.

    Although your division isn’t quite right.

    Rule of law, for example, should go on the second list, as should justice. Those are concepts that very small societies can operate without.

    Meanwhile, all societies have a hierarchy in some manner, and all societies have *some* concept of public property. No society has let people claim ownership of the air, for an absurd example, but for a less absurd example all of them have had the concept of public land, even if it was only streets/walking paths so you could get between private properties. The smaller the society, in fact, the more likely it regards *almost everything* as public land, and the only privately-owned land was people’s house and maybe some planting area.(1)

    And ‘culture’ isn’t something that is possible to not exist if more than one person exist and interact with each other. If your first list actually *was* individuals, sure, it goes on the second…but it’s not. The smallest group has ‘a culture’.

    Additionally…market value, debts, salaries, and a few other economic terms are not things that have anything to do with the size of anything, but what sort of the economy exists. It is *possible* not to have them in very small groups…but it’s also possible to have them between the only two people in existence.

    And industry is just a word meaning ‘people making things’.

    1) Thus leading to the idiotic idea that Native Americans didn’t believe in private property. Sure they did…of their possessions and their houses and whatnot. Who the hell needed to figure out who owned *the trees* and *the rivers*…how were *those* going to get used up? This is because a society only need to define ownership of things if that society is large enough to need to *ration those things*. (Which is why no society has let anyone own the air, because we can’t run out of that. EDIT: Well, and the obvious fact it would be almost impossible to manage.)Report

    • Avatar Joe Sal says:

      I don’t think I can unpack all this in a comment. Education, consent and justice are fairly common in the individual context, many authors have presented the frame work better than what I could in a couple paragraphs.

      Subjective rule of law is something less common and I think few people have addressed it within an individual construct. I probably should make an argument for it, as it is rare in this sense. One example is here in these comments. When Jay mentioned the kid above having a potential of defecting from sweeping the floor, because he observed another kid in similar circumstances not sweeping the floor, this has some context in individual rule of law.

      The kid observed that there was a possible unfairness because that other kid was not being made to follow the rules while he was being made to. That perception was not being made in general society, it was being formed in the mind of the individual. There was becoming a conflict within the individual. If that kid decided to defect then his subjective rule of law changes about sweeping. If enough kids also had subjective rule of law changes, you may observe a shift in rule of law in a social context, but the ground I would like to defend is that it starts at an individual construct level and emanates from there.

      I don’t know if that helps or not. You and I start from distant places and I am not completely sure I can build enough of an argument to bridge our gap. That said, I think it is not particularly important to come to some agreement here as much as it is to say that we people think of things differently, we just have to figure a way to live in the same world. I know I keep repeating this, but to bring policy back to a place where the conflict isn’t the main expression of society we have to make room for both ends of the spectrum to exist without much friction.

      I think when one measures the amount of policies that maintain/support individual constructs versus those that tend to maintain/support social constructs the measures are greatly out of balance.Report