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The Autobiography of Russell
Life from a different perspective
Opinion Article: I don't know, but I'll try.
"I don't know, so I'm an atheist and libertarian"

I especially like the view that if you don't know something you don't try to assume based on faith. As a programmer I know intimately well that methodology gets a great many people in trouble. Programming is like life. It has a set of rules and data behind them, and if you don't know the rules or the data going through them then trying to make guesses, and assuming you're right rather than simply making a hypothosis, will get you in trouble.

I should go see their show in Las Vegas again. Hmm, I wonder if there are any more espisodes of their TV show on Netflix.
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legolastn From: legolastn Date: August 17th, 2011 04:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
I suppose these days more and more the two terms are used interchangeably, but it seems to me if your position is "I don't know" you are an agnostic, not an atheist. And I think this is the key to understanding the whole piece.

I suppose if Penn were a "little-l" libertarian I could buy an argument that his libertarianism is something like a "government agnosticism." However, in such a case his arguments are flawed in that there is quite a bit data to use to decide what ways are more or less effective in alleviating suffering, helping the poor, or whatever. There's a difference between saying we don't know so we shouldn't assume we are right or have the best possible answer, and saying we aren't certain so we can't do anything. It is bad to assume blindly but (as you hint at in your reflection) if you aren't even willing to make and test hypotheses you're actually also making an assumption - that the best thing is to do nothing.

Which is what I think Penn is actually advocating. If he is a "big-L" Libertarian, which my impression from his essay here and other places leads me lean towards, he isn't saying he doesn't know. He is saying he does know and the answer is, we should have no government (or as little government as possible). He is a government atheist (he doesn't believe in government) not a government agnostic (one who is not sure what the role of government should be). Which I suppose makes him consistent but also puts the lie to his whole argument as a little sleight of hand (which I suppose should be no surprise coming from a magician).
zimzat From: zimzat Date: August 18th, 2011 01:52 am (UTC) (Link)
I think the key point to his argument regarding government involvement isn't that the government shouldn't get involved (although I do think he believes that as well), but that the people who say the government should get involved often don't know what the government should do once it gets involved, thus leaving the government trying to show that they are doing something and yet ultimately either trying to do too much, doing conflicting things, or doing the wrong thing.

If you don't know what to do (or aren't sure) then the thing to do is to figure out what you should do, not assume or randomly guess what to do. Maybe that answer involves government, and maybe not.
legolastn From: legolastn Date: August 18th, 2011 03:12 am (UTC) (Link)
I think that it is a reasonable position to say that we should have some evidence/theory/rationale for the government getting involved in an issue and in regard to what it should do to get involved. That may be your position or what you took away from the article. But the way I read it I don't think that is actually what Teller is arguing in the article (even though it probably should have been).
From: anarchomo Date: August 17th, 2011 09:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
These discussions get deeper and more complicated that what lj usually allows for, so I'll try to condense my thoughts to one point rather than invite us down lots of rabbit holes.

I agree that Teller is wise to factor uncertainty into his analysis, but there are different ways to do that, and different methods of including uncertainty result in different conclusions. For example, you can assign a proposition a degree of likelihood rather than a black-and-white true-false value. In this way, you don't have to throw out uncertain data (and I would go so far as to say that all data is to some degree uncertain.)

And you can factor that uncertainty into your behavior as well as your models of the world. Teller is right that states usually don't do that, and neither do the best-known religions. What I think he misses is the counter-currents in spirituality and civic life that make room for what amount to organized experiments. (He also seems to miss that the state and capital are two sides of the same coin, so he winds up asking to be oppressed by the rich directly instead of by way of the state.)

To give an example of organized experimenting, there's what they call praxis: cycling between action and reflection. In some kinds of community development you gather data, make some best-guess decisions about what to do, do it, and then reflect upon what was done and reformulate accordingly. With some group facilitation skill you can include all interested parties who show some degree of good faith (and I would say you have to exclude those whose interests are opposed to community empowerment, e.g. people representing governments or corporations.) In this way you can replace the condescending charity that Teller talks about with solidarity rather than crossing your fingers and hoping that people will be nice to each other in a market that plays them against each other.
legolastn From: legolastn Date: August 18th, 2011 03:13 am (UTC) (Link)
Well said.
mai_neh From: mai_neh Date: August 18th, 2011 01:27 am (UTC) (Link)
I think it is entirely honorable to say, "I don't know" when you don't know, and to be both an atheist and a libertarian :-)
zimzat From: zimzat Date: August 18th, 2011 01:35 am (UTC) (Link)
heh. I see way too many people who refuse to say "I don't know" (as if it makes them appear weak or stupid?) so they spend gobs of time saying everything else, possibly even making stuff up. *shakes head*
vaelynphi From: vaelynphi Date: August 19th, 2011 10:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
So far I haven't been able to find the #include
[Error: Irreparable invalid markup ('<god.h>') in entry. Owner must fix manually. Raw contents below.]

So far I haven't been able to find the #include <god.h> anywhere.

Perhaps that's why so many thought processes error.
zimzat From: zimzat Date: August 24th, 2011 11:38 am (UTC) (Link)
heh. Amusing way of putting it. :-)
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