#46 On hominems

Dear Jamie,

I’d like to invent a phrase. I proposed it on Twitter and a rando was able to give me the Latin for it. “Ex homine”. Rather than ad hominem (try to disprove an idea by criticising the person), ex homine (from the person), my phrase, is to automatically dismiss an idea because of who it comes from. The rando insisted that ad homimem does what I want, he has a point, but this second thing is so common I think it deserves this more precise version.

Jesus is an ethical exemplar only in the way that his story contains tidbits of ethical exemplarism. You’re triggered because you took this literally and you’re disgusted by the source. Let’s instead consider his story and message made up of ideas and consider each idea on their own merits. We could move forward calling it stoicism if you like because it shares enough similarities to the struggle myth to be interchangable for our purposes. If you need an even more palatable framework, then a Dawkins veneer is possible by dividing this (and all) stories into memes that are selected based on their success. If it makes it easier we can even avoid calling them “truths” and instead call the successful ones “wisdoms” or what’s “right”.

Here’s the thing. Human flourishing always comes at the cost of injustice. Let’s use your awful trigger-unhappy summary of democracy.

if other people or the system fucks you, you should struggle for recourse.

This is wrong, unless struggling for recourse is exclusively either arguing your point or voting. Western civilisation is the opposite. If someone kills your family member you must suffer that injustice and suffer the additional culturally-enforced injustice that you must leave the bastard to police and face the monster in a courtroom. And in a non-trivial number of cases face the additional injustice of the murderer maybe getting away with it on a technicality.

But we believe in the personal cost of Due Process. Is that merely a balm for the servile that gives murderers a “free pass”? Or does it unlock some mechanism to allow more of us to flourish on a civilisational scale; does it accomplish some greater good?

When comparing governments, they are not simply different one-dimensional equipoises of the competing forces of oppressed masses and oppressive government. They are each branching, common-ancestor experiments of humans trying to improve their lot, at all scales, with different ideas of how this should happen. Some are outperforming others and if we’re being serious we should consider the ideas on their merit and not their hominids.

So the Jesus story is not some swindle that gives ground in an eternal tug of war, it is merely a collection of ideas that seeded the civilisation we both love.


PS Yes Roosevelt was interfering in a world he didn’t understand. The question to ask is: did it live up to his expectations? He built a kind of safety net, but I’m sure he would be concerned with overbearing bureaucracy; rising national debt; and the bizarre fact that, if it’s so clearly great, why approx. 50% of people still think it doesn’t work. My actual position is that I’m glad I live in a country with welfare. I think it works best as a minimal safety net. I also think it hit diminishing returns a long time ago. Is this so controversial? There’s a proportionality thing here: just from the numbers alone the right wingers criticising tens of trillions of dollars on welfare seems proportional to the left criticising hundreds of trillions on military spending. Intentions are a good starting point, but intentions be damned if we’re talking about tens of trillions of dollars.

PPS My rule is not non-interventionist. It is local-interventionalist. Experimentation should occur locally and reversibly. If welfare was purely implemented state by state and only half of them implemented it we might have good enough data to evaluate the effect of welfare. Instead it was done nationally in a single way and is pretty much irrevocable. Comparisons across states and countries have weird results like California having the largest welfare spend but the worst inequality. It’s also misleading to just imagine the hypothetical no-welfare world as being our world with all the good stuff removed. Where else would these trillions have gone? Back into the economy? Maybe into infrastructure? Into the pockets of the 1%? Into a better socialist program? Into cancer research?

PPPS > Is recognising the legacy of slavery really meddling?
Clearly no. Recognising anything that’s true is a good thing and doesn’t count as meddling. The legacy is pretty well recognised, it’s as universally acknowledged as it could possibly be (for any idea there are a minority of ignorant hold-outs).  If what you mean by “recognising the legacy” means “determining the extent of the damage” I see this more as an economic problem whose answer is always going to be wrong. At the very least it will be as permanently controversial as any economic narrative or prediction.

PPPPS > Is paying reparations really messing too much?
It depends what you mean by paying reparations. The devil’s in the detail. There have been some good examples where reparations work. These tend to be small-scale injustices with measurable losses and where protagonists to the injustice are involved in the remedy. There are also terrible examples of unfair broad-brush reparations paid by people who weren’t physically responsible, the “war guilt” reparations of the Treaty of Versailles come to mind.

Also published on Medium.