Friday, December 3, 2010

consumer choice

If there's a perfect hypothetical to test the limits of one's committment to free consumer choice, it's this: What if I offer your newborn a cocaine-laced milk bottle? I'll come back the next day and offer two bottles, one with a yellow stripe around the top, one with a red stripe. The one with the red stripe is laced; the other is normal breast milk. Then I'll come back every day for the next year with the same choices for your cocaine-addicted baby. Free market, anyone?

As for the question of how to prevent this scenario--an analogue to what corporations like McDonald's actually do in targeting children with advertising and addicting them with chemicals--the kneejerk reaction among progressives tends to be government action. Anything that hurts the McDonald'ses helps the world. A non-government-dependent way to address the problem is to boycott the worst companies when possible, support local businesses, reduce your overall consumption, continually educate yourself, and insist on talking politics as much as possible in your everyday life, on facebook, email, etc.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I'd argue against Death if I could, but I'll settle for the case against death. A longer life for a Pakistanian, 30 years that woulda been stolen by drones saved by bloggin?* Sure, give that woman her life back! Excellent. Maybe they'll be good years. How should I know? The people who would take them are proven hyprocrites of the lowest order. You haven't shown yourself to me as a hypocrite, Ms. Pakistanian. Please live. Proven hypocrites, please stop being like that.

*Anti-imperialist (and other) arguments by Devin Lenda have no effect on anything.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Facebook status updates on Tribal Signalling Day

Everybody get inside, even you queers and Hispanics! Please grab a flag as you come in. They're by the door. We've smashed all the mirrors so you don't have to worry about how horrible you look. We've tinted the windows "scary" so you'll think twice about leaving.

(The good guys are inside, are you?)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Making judgments under the guise of objectivity

Q: How do you use a hammer?
A: You grab it by the handle and swing thusly, bringing the head into contact, at speed, with an object such as a nail...

Is the answer a normative or descriptive statement? It may sound descriptive, and indeed it describes. But notice how the answer doesn't mention taking the hammer by the head and digging in the sand with it. It also doesn't mention eating the hammer, another plausible use. The answer contains a judgment about the proper use of the hammer. The question was interpreted as "how should I use a hammer?," that is, "what's the correct way to use a hammer?" It would be fair to say that the statement is both normative and descriptive but where the question is whether or not the answerer is passing judgment on hammer use, the answer is most definitely "yes." It's an implicit affirmation of a particular way of using a hammer at the expense of all other possible ways. It's a normative claim.

The desired result (or purpose) informs the technique. The technique cannot be understood in isolation from the desired result. Hammers don't make sense without things to hit.

Q: How should I take care of this hammer?
A: Keep it in a dry place, don't throw it in a blast furnace...

Obviously a normative answer. The word "should" is a giveaway. But a different question arises from this exchange that expands the lesson from the first exchange. Why does the answerer only make recommendations that protect the hammer's integrity while making none that harm it? It's assumed that the questioner wants to know how best to preserve the hammer so that he can use it in the way that hammers are generally used. So as long as we're talking about the hammer, as philosophers say, qua hammer, all claims are normative unless they're bracketed, as in "people say..." or "most people think..." In other words, it's not my normative claim, it's theirs.

If you're talking about a hammer as metal or wood, on the other hand, descriptions of technique may refer to some other end, such as chemical decomposition, and the same analysis will show that technique and purpose remain inseparable.

Recently, a non-anarchist anarchist who goes by "IOZ" posted an article criticizing the vocal technique of 10 year-old opera singer Jackie Evancho, lamenting that "she can't breathe, she doesn't support, she doesn't know how to open her mouth, and she doesn't actually know how to sing the notes she's pretending to sing. Now, as an antidote, here is Montserrat Caballé, from 1975, when she was still near her vocal peak."

According to commenters responding to my response to the article, I'm to believe this was a non-normative statement since it was about "technique." According to one commenter, IOZ is merely concerned about poor Evancho's voice.

The technique, of course, must be just so, in order to sing like Montserrat Caballé, who was at "her vocal peak." But "vocal peak" has nothing to do with the beauty of her voice, only its health, as if the term makes any sense outside the context of singing for the purpose of creating beauty. "Doctor, I'm a mechanic and I have a big problem. My voice isn't at its peak!"

If the issue were the girl's voice, as it relates to being able to speak without pain later in life, I'd grant the point. Her voice is the metal as it relates to chemical decomposition. But it's clearly about more than that and anyone who can read the above quote and interpret it as merely descriptive has failed to grasp the meaning of the word "normative."