Chad Perrin: SOB

7 March 2008

No, stupid, that’s not the problem.

Filed under: Geek,inanity — apotheon @ 06:39

#4986 (automatic chat input field resizing should be optional, regression from 2.3) – Pidgin – Trac

If you take the time to read some of that, I’m sure you’ll see some surprising things. Here’s one that threw me off:

IM is about sending relatively short messages quickly, Pidgin isn’t a text editor, if you want to edit code use gedit or something. I see no reason why to have more than 3 lines, there’s e-mail for that. I think the devs share the same opinion, and I don’t think this is going to change.

So . . . apparently, there’s a “correct” way to use IMs now, and there are “approved” content types. Is that it?

That was from “hbon”, probably not a developer — just a random prick.

So, would fixing the bug that results in zero-sized input areas for some people plus increasing the maximum from 4 to something greater, perhaps a function of the window height, satisfy this ticket?

No, I don’t think it would. If it satisfies the original ticket submitter, it will certainly not satisfy everyone. The problem here is that people don’t want the developers deciding what size their input fields should be, and when they should change — automatically and unexpectedly for that matter. Some people may like the auto-resize, but many obviously don’t.

If you want to satisfy the needs of both sets of users, just offer a way to toggle that functionality as desired! Is it really that difficult to wrap your brain around such a simple concept?

That’s from “seanegan”.

Again, this sounds like the complaint is about the 4-line maximum. With that removed, there shouldn’t be any difference between you resizing the input area to fit, or Pidign doing so? Rather, if you happen to go one line more than you expected, Pidgin will take care of it, and once your message is sent, you’ll have the maximum amount of room to read your incoming messages. Why should you micro-manage the input area to account for the length of every message you send, when Pidgin can do it much better, for you?

Thanks, “seanegan”, but no. Some of us don’t like to micromanage — we just like to have a particular size for the input field, period.

If you disagree that Pidgin knows exactly how much space you need (which you seemingly do), you must think that for some reason it requires empty, blank lines of whitespace. Why?

Nice attitude, “seanegan”. Apparently this guy is so convinced of the rightness of his approach that he thinks the users are necessarily stupider than the software if they don’t like the way the feature works.

I have an idea for how to explain it:

Some people find it easier to parse what they’re typing if it’s not cramped in an input field that changes shape/size all the damned time.

Why do you arbitrarily resize the input area? Are there times you need to do that specifically? Or do you just like to do it because you can?

Well, thank goodness — another jackass has shown up to explain the users are stupid. No, “deryni”, you don’t have to know why. You removed a popular feature everyone assumed would continue to be a part of the app, and now they’re rioting because rather than provide an option to switch back to the old behavior you’re all digging in your heels and acting like any user that can’t understand your One True Way are heathens or morons. Go to hell.

We are trying to figure out if there is a way for the current mechanism to be usable by everyone, because that would be a better answer than simply adding a preference.

Obviously, “deryni” doesn’t get it. It’s “better” because it’s what he prefers. That’s nice.

It all continues in that vein some more. Check it out yourself if you’re really curious. I just figured I’d make sure everybody knew what they were in for if they ever submitted a bug request for Pidgin. Maybe it’s time to fork the project so we can get some developers on it that aren’t so obviously arrogant nitwits.

I’ve heard rumors the Pidgin developers were condescending assholes. Now I know — they’re not just rumors.


I’ve been known to say that contributions to open source software projects should serve as a stronger qualification and resume bullet point than a bachelor’s degree. There are exceptions, though. When a developer indicates he’s such an overstuffed, arrogant, condescending asshole as these guys seem intent on doing, you might consider hiring someone else just to avoid having that piss-poor attitude mucking up your development team. Seriously.

Employers — seek elsewhere. They treat their “customers” like red-headed step children.

the unintended consequences of “public services”

Filed under: Cognition,Liberty — apotheon @ 11:35

Here is a typical case of someone who doesn’t “get” the concept of unintended consequences:

People DIE because they can’t afford to go to the doctor. Should we let people DIE because we dont’ want to “skew the markets?”.

When you hose up market forces on a broad scale, you affect the productivity of millions — even billions (especially considering the worldwide influence of the US economy). A single minor little market downturn, a “hiccup” like a three year recession, can have far-reaching effects that can lead to entire industries in danger of insolvency. This sort of far-reaching effect can mean the difference between life and death for millions of people whose circumstances turn on the fine line between fed and not-fed, between medicated and not-medicated, because their particular corners of the world depend on a worldwide economy to determine the timing of their own local economy’s growth, to determine whether it will grow from third-world pesthole to sustainable growth today or three years from today.

A strong economy generates a lot of wealth. A weak economy destroys it. I’m talking about “wealth” in the economic sense of the term, derived from an older term for “well-being” — “wealth” meaning the resources for maintaining and improving quality of life. Because wealth deteriorates over time (shoes get old, food goes bad or gets eaten, et cetera), it must be renewed. A strong economy, by generating a lot of wealth, renews existing wealth and creates new wealth. The “velocity of capital” (another economics term) is a component of a strong economy — as money moves around, it serves as an economic resource used to provide incentive for the generation of wealth. I bring it up here to demonstrate the distinction between generation of wealth and “making money”, and that one person having more money than another on average (and even increasing the gap between the two, on average) doesn’t mean that there are not improvements in the quality of life for both — even if the average economic value of the liquid assets of one individual remains constant over time, money flowing through that person’s ownership can contribute to the generation of wealth in that person’s life, improving that person’s quality of life.

Manipulations of the market such as ham-handed redistribution of capital and confiscation of resources to prop up poorly conceived “universal” services has several major negative consequences. These are the two biggies that immediately occur to me (and should occur to anyone with even the most rudimentary understanding of economics):

  1. It destroys many economic incentives to generate wealth. This leads to drops in the velocity of capital, which further damages the economic incentives to generate wealth. The people most affected, statistically, are those in the “middle class” range of the economy, though those who feel the most painful effects are those on the very bottom rungs of the economy, as the bare minimum wealth they may have been able to maintain to stay above the line between subsistence and death is eroded.

  2. An authoritarian centralization of a service industry, such as healthcare, directly damages the private sector in that same industry, dragging it substantially away from a growth industry toward a “zero sum game” condition where in order to provide that service to one person it must be taken away from another. This becomes particularly devastating to quality of life as the number of people in the world in need of that service grows (thank you, breeders).

Thus, people on the bottom end of the economy get screwed from both sides by the “benevolent” policies of “universal healthcare”.

In order to grasp these problems, of course, you need at least three things:

  1. some minimal familiarity with the concept of unintended consequences of an action within a complex system, and how they might come to pass

  2. some minimal facility with basic arithmetic

  3. imagination greater than that of the average dung beetle

See number 2 in there? That’s why it is just incredible to me that so many people who advocate a strong math background seem incapable of doing the math to understand the negatives of “universal healthcare”.

an insomniac defense of “libertarianism”

Filed under: Cognition,Liberty — apotheon @ 03:16

The writer of a weblog called Unqualified Reservations, who goes by the nom de plume Mencius Moldbug, is a clearly well-reasoned individual. There are times that I will find myself reading a particular bit of his phrasing (I’ll assume “he”) and thinking “I wish I’d written that.” That’s not something I often think — in general, I tend to think I do pretty well on my own with the whole “reasoning and writing” shtick. The fact it has happened probably half a dozen times in about as many of his essays may be some kind of record.

In a new post of his, titled in pedestrian fashion UR will return on Thursday, April 17, he had this to say:

My fundamental disagreement with libertarians is ethical: libertarians see property rights (and human rights, which can be defined as property rights) as moral absolutes, whereas a formalist such as myself sees property as an instrumental means to the end of minimizing violence. Thus I am perfectly willing to concede that the US Government is the legitimate proprietor of the powers it exercises at present, regardless of the means by which it acquired these titles. To a libertarian, taxation is theft; to a formalist, taxation is rent.

I have some comments to offer on this.

In economics, I lean toward formalism. In some respects, I think of it as something akin to an engineering-physics discipline: it consists of determining the rules by which a system works, and speccing them out to the point that one can make reasonable choices for how to achieve certain goals as an actor within that system. This is, in part, why I lean so heavily toward the Austrian school of economics — it is one of the principles by which a system’s forces operate, rather than one of wishful thinking and judgment fulfillment. It merely describes the system impassively, and leaves the action within it up to the actor based on goals, rather than assuming certain goals and setting out to find actions that will lead to them. In this respect, I suspect Mencius and I think similarly (though we may describe it all quite differently).

Before attacking the matter of where we disagree, however, I have to lay some groundwork.

On the subject of morals and ethics:

  1. A system of morals is that which defines what we should do, as moral beings. It is derived from a metaphysical understanding of the universe. It encapsulates the defining characteristics of good, evil, and moral indifference, even if these are not the terms one’s moral system uses. If someone chooses to make the moral choice to engage in the evil act of attacking an innocent, the innocent’s involvement is morally indifferent, and that of a passer-by who chooses to intervene on the strength of a moral conviction is engaging in a good act. That example depends upon a particular interpretation of morality, based on a particular metaphysical foundation, under particular circumstances, of course — if the “victim” is in fact guilty of some evil, the attacker may be performing a good act, for instance. The point is that it is the compulsion toward action based on a metaphysical understanding of good and evil that defines the moral character of an act. Morals are slippery things, in that they are based on foundations of belief that are (as far as I’m aware) entirely unprovable.

  2. A system of ethics, on the other hand, is that which defines what we should not do to other ethically significant beings. Whereas morality addresses the matter of how our beliefs compel us to act, ethicality addresses the matter of how the circumstances of our interactions with others compel us to refrain from acting upon those others. A system of ethics encapsulates the defining characteristics of right and wrong, even if those are not the terms one’s ethical system uses. If someone is protected against a particular class of action by ethical prohibitions, that person has rights — and observing them is right. If someone else chooses to violate those rights, the resulting action is wrong. The point is that it is the restrictions on how one individual acts upon another as a function of a valid, consistent understanding of right and wrong that defines the ethical character of an act. Ethics are sharply edged concepts, remarkably resistant to deformation under stress and susceptible to examination by the cold light of logical necessity. They are often easily established, when properly formulated, based on an agreeable set of initial premises.

If you disagree with my use of, and distinction between, the terms “ethics” and “morals” above, I have two things to say:

  1. You probably misunderstand the terms, but I’m sure I won’t convince you otherwise. That’s the only reason I have the second thing to say on the subject.

  2. Pretend I’m using the terms “foo” and “bar” instead of “ethics” and “morals” if that’ll put your mind at ease. Just go with it for now.

On the subject of the definition of “libertarian”:

There are really two major formalized ethical (as opposed to moral) libertarian philosophies, as far as I’m aware. I of course exclude all forms of libertarian left-whackery, wherein people claim to be a “libertarian whatever” of the “we’re all free because we’re enslaved to one another economically” variety. Such non-libertarian “libertarians” tend to call themselves things like “libertarian socialists”, et cetera. Note that many such use the term “left libertarian” as well, though there’s also a “left libertarian” movement that uses the term “left” only to mean “revolutionary” (as opposed to the more commonly understood “left = crazy pinko commie agricultural reformer Marxist theft-culture collectivist” definition).

I’ve strayed from my point. Back to it:

There are really two major formalized ethical libertarian philosophies. Both of them involve a foundational principle, and both of them are internally consistent. They are:

  1. Property Rights Libertarianism — This is what you get when you use the idea of “self ownership” as the basis of your ethical system. All other rights derive from the proprietary right. One has a right to sanctity of life and limb based on one’s self-ownership, for instance. This is the form of libertarianism to which Mencius evidently refers when he says “libertarians see property rights (and human rights, which can be defined as property rights) as moral absolutes,” though at this point I think he mixes up property rights libertarianism with natural rights libertarianism. That is completely understandable, since many philosophical libertarians (con)fuse the two to produce a single Natural Property Rights Libertarianism, whereby a metaphysical understanding of the world leads to a moral imperative understanding of ethics predicated upon proprietary rights. The natural rights component can be safely discarded for purposes of this discussion, however, as long as we assume Mencius said “ethical absolutes” instead. What we end up with, then, is an ethical absolutism, with the proprietary right as the inviolable, foundational Truth on which all of ethical behavior must be predicated. This is probably the most popularly well-known of the two forms of philosophical libertarianism I discuss in any depth here, and that is probably due in large part to the attractiveness of a property-based system of (political) ethics to those who call themselves “libertarians” for no better reason than to improve their own material lot in life. Such people often wear the ideological trappings of libertarianism while, in fact, being little more than pseudo-corporatist opportunists. Their dishonesty should not, however, be considered an indictment of those who honestly hold a property rights libertarian philosophy to be true on its own merits.

  2. Non-Aggression Libertarianism — This is what you get when you use the notion that initiation of force is wrong as the basis of your ethical system. That statement — that initiation of force is wrong — is alternately labeled the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP for short) and the Zero Aggression Principle (ZAP for short). “Non-Aggression Libertarianism” is also often called “NAP Libertarianism” or “ZAP Libertarianism” amongst those familiar with the terminology. One might as easily call it something like “Conditionally Pacifist Libertarianism”, because (contingent upon nobody enacting violence against them) no such libertarian wishes to enact violence upon others, and in fact considers acts initiating force against others to be unethical by definition. This is a form of philosophical libertarianism that Mencius ignores (probably because he hasn’t really noticed it is distinct from property rights libertarianism).

The proprietary rights basis of libertarianism is, so far as I’ve been able to determine, constructed by tracing apparently necessary reasoning from a free-market libertarian perspective to the ethical system’s foundational principle. It is basically the inductive reasoning form of philosophical libertarian ethics.

The non-aggression basis of libertarianism is, by contrast, constructed by beginning with a minimal assumption (“I think, therefore I am!”) and its necessarily attendant axioms (“solipsism is a philosophical dead end — let’s assume others exist as well, if only to hedge our bets against negligent unethicality”), and reasoning via predicate logic to the ethical system’s foundational principle. It is basically the deductive reasoning form of philosophical libertarian ethics.

In the ethics of the NAP libertarian, proprietary rights are in fact nothing more than a convenience — an abstraction used to stand in for the more complex concept of the extension of one’s right to freedom from initiations of force. In short, if some prehistoric Proto-Libertarian picks up a rock, and does not wish to relinquish it, his Proto-Authoritarian counterpart must either offer some enticement toward free exchange or initiate force against the Proto-Libertarian to acquire that same rock. Thus, the Proto-Libertarian “owns” the rock, et voila — we have the basis for proprietary rights.

The difference between this and the property rights libertarian perspective is that the property rights libertarian does not differentiate between ownership of the rock as a right in and of itself and ownership of the rock as an extension of the rights inherent in the individual with regard to himself alone. They’re all property rights. To the NAP libertarian, meanwhile, ownership of the rock is merely a convention used to summarize the relation of the sovereign individual to the extended right of freedom from initiations of force that make it unethical to take the rock against his will.

Now that I’m ready to wrap this up, we should revisit Mencius’ statement about libertarianism vs. formalism.

On the subjects of individual, state, and property:

While it can be argued that property rights libertarianism is inherently individualistic in nature, and thus anti-corporatist, it is also possible (if significantly more difficult) to justify corporate entities with proprietary rights from a basis of property rights libertarianism. Thus, when Mencius says:

My fundamental disagreement with libertarians is ethical: libertarians see property rights (and human rights, which can be defined as property rights) as moral absolutes, whereas a formalist such as myself sees property as an instrumental means to the end of minimizing violence. Thus I am perfectly willing to concede that the US Government is the legitimate proprietor of the powers it exercises at present, regardless of the means by which it acquired these titles. To a libertarian, taxation is theft; to a formalist, taxation is rent.

. . . his assumption that property rights libertarians necessarily oppose the concept of a government being the “legitimate proprietor” of its powers is not necessarily accurate in all cases. Democratic government is, after all, simply the most public form of corporation. It is a collective entity, in which all citizens are shareholders, that theoretically claims proprietary rights. Of course, this interpretation of property rights libertarianism is a massive, mind-boggling engineering failure, where the only real principle of its brand of libertarianism is that “entities” (for some definition of “entity”) own things, allowing all kinds of governmental abuses to sneak in with “Darnit, that’s not nice!” being the equivalent of all objections to these abuses. That’s not to say that this interpretation is inconsistent in theory — it is simply unsustainable in practice.

The more consistent-in-practice interpretation of property rights libertarianism rejects corporatism on the grounds that a “collective entity” is not a real entity, and thus does not have real proprietary rights. The most recognizable consequence of this interpretation is that government is not ethically entitled to proprietary rights, and merely acts as a proxy for the proprietary rights of its constituents. It is empowered by those constituent citizens, and possesses no power of its own. Taxation, then, as a means of employing force to confiscate wealth, is theft because it is the mechanism of the constituency using the proxy of government (which has no proprietary rights of its own) to steal from individuals (who do have proprietary rights of their own).

The non-aggression libertarian, in practice, often refers to taxation as theft (I have done so often enough). This is just a convenience of phrasing, however, because theft by government is not possible. Theft, in and of itself, is merely a convention describing a particular form that an act of force initiation takes — the actual ethical violation in the case of taxation is not theft, but is initiation of force itself, in the form of coercive demands to relinquish wealth. In case you weren’t clear on the idea, threats of violence (the means by which the agents of the state coerce us) are as much an application of force as applications of violence (what the agents of the state use to neutralize resistance when threats aren’t enough). The only theft that really occurs in this view is the theft carried out by the specific agents of the state who are directly involved in the act of relieving the individual of wealth in his possession.

In short, to say that taxation as an exercise of government power is “theft” is entirely meaningless from the non-aggression libertarian perspective. Individuals (agents of the state) initiate force against other individuals (the taxpayers) to coerce them to relinquish wealth, and that is all. Those individuals directly involved are thus ethically wrong, and anyone who is involved in encouraging their unethical behavior is — by way of (often informal, as in the case of voters) conspiracy — also ethically wrong.

On the subject of taxation as rent:

In the view of a Mencius-style formalist (there are other formalisms, y’know), taxation is rent, because Mencius Formalism only recognizes the economic form of taxation as a movement of resources from client to service provider to fund its efforts, without considering its formal (pun intended) ethicality.

In the view of the (practically consistent) property rights libertarian, taxation is theft of resources from the individual by the government, as a proxy for other individuals.

In the view of the non-aggression libertarian, taxation is theft of resources by individuals, at the behest of a largely informal conspiracy of many more individuals, but is not theft in the sense that government can steal anything — because government does not truly exist as a distinct entity except in the imaginations of individuals. Taxation is also rent in the perspective of the non-aggression libertarian. That rent passes through the effective ownership of many individuals in its life as state resources, eventually burned as fuel for further acts by individuals who imagine themselves part of a fictional government “entity”.

The Ending Question:

So . . . since your identification of taxation as “rent” is not strictly at odds with (in my opinion) the more logically supportable libertarian philosophy — what’s your problem with non-aggression libertarianism, Mencius?

Rhetorical Notes:

Of course, this is a semi-rhetorical question. I don’t know if he’ll even notice this essay. Since he’s on Blogspot, it requires far too much jumping through hoops to bother posting a note there directing him here. I just felt a need to address this matter, and ending it with a question seemed appropriate to tie everything together.

I’m not sure how well this will all hold up once I’ve had some sleep. It is, in part, simply an extended ramble spawned by tonight’s insomnia. I lay in bed, that paragraph from Unqualified Reservations that I quoted above going through my head, unable to fall asleep (as happens too often for comfort), and finally decided I should just see if I could order my thoughts on the matter of non-aggression libertarianism with regard to Mencius Formalism.

. . . and with that, I’m done.

All original content Copyright Chad Perrin: Distributed under the terms of the Open Works License