19 Jan 2017

My Talk at the Heartland Institute

Mises, Shameless Self-Promotion 7 Comments

The sound was messed up (for the streaming, not the audience) in the beginning, so you miss my jokes. This is why you should always come hear me live. Anyway, I summarize some of Mises’ contributions, and then there’s a lengthy Q&A.

7 Responses to “My Talk at the Heartland Institute”

  1. Darien says:

    The more I see of the beard, the more I like it. It’s a good look for you.

  2. Aisling says:

    All page numbers refer to Ludwig von Mises’ “Human Action”.

    Mises is likable, friendly, comes off as someone genuinely trying to give advice that is honest within the limits of his knowledge, doesn’t try to tell people to just give up because they are unworthy of life as some idealists do, doesn’t fall into the trap of fantasizing about some ideal world at the expense of failing to give practical advice (to the best of his ability) on how to live in this one. And I especially enjoy his rants against Nazis. (e.g. p. 172)

    But he doesn’t fully understand the nature of violence. (I mean corporeal violence. I realize that people often use the term violence to mean other things, but for the sake of brevity, please understand that is the type I am interested in talking about unless specifically stated otherwise.) He understands it better than some authors do, and it leaves marks in his writing (e.g. p. 172-173, p. 197), but he doesn’t understand it well enough for all his predictions to be accurate, e.g. “It is this fact that has made all systems of compulsory labor disappear,” (p. 626) and “Yet the fact that the enterprises employing unfree labor would not be able to stand the competition of enterprises employing free labor was not contested by anybody.” (p. 627) That hasn’t happened.(1)

    Violence damages the psyche of all who inflict, receive, or even witness it, and, for that matter, those who refuse to witness it as well. It tends to be non-linear, someone new to violence will often be more damaged by a specific incident than someone who has already been accustomed to it, because in the case of the latter, a lot of the damage has already been done.

    To the person who inflicts violence, it can be addictive, seductive, make the person feel powerful, in control, dominating, encourage sadistic tendencies to develop, and if not sadism, then at least desensitization. The mind often warps to try to rationalize the violence, mere nuisances like seeing an annoying expression on someone’s face are perceived as terrible “emotional violence” and justification for brutal beatings or other methods of inflicting physical pain and terror. Necessity is another rationalization, would-be employers who don’t have the funds to pay their would-be employees turn to violence to control them instead. Once warped to rationalize violence, the process is unlikely to be reversible without the person having to undergo significant amounts of guilt, which is not impossible, but is more than many are able and willing to face. Even violence inflicted in defense against violence against oneself is still damaging to the psyche, though generally far less so than violence inflicted for most other reasons. That which is done as an act of desperation seems to be less damaging to the psyche, usually, than that which is done for greed or sadism or whatever. The least damaging, to the psyche, reason for inflicting violence, generally speaking, seems to be to protect another person or persons from violence. That which is done from compassion — whether it is compassion from the heart or compassion from the mind (and it is often the latter, as people often become unemotional in such situations) — does not usually seem to damage the psyche in the same way as the same act under different circumstances.

    To the person who receives violence, a myriad of responses are possible as the mind repeatedly breaks and tries to reform itself in a form better suited for survival under the circumstances. Self-loathing is a common one. It makes sense for a person to focus on what is under their control, their own thoughts and actions, and how these can impact their fate, but this should be done dispassionately; when emotion is mixed in, this often warps into self-loathing. The person inflicting violence often encourages this by calling the receiver, stupid, evil, pointing out various perceived flaws, “You bring violence out of people”, etc. Members of society at large often encourage this by asking, “What did you do to deserve that?” or similar questions when they see someone injured, or by characterizing the symptoms of what violence does to the psyche as mental disorders or personality flaws worthy of contempt or even beneath contempt. When even facial expressions are met with brutality, it is common for the person to develop talent in lying, deceit, and manipulation, and in particular at the art of appearing to be cheerful when one is actually miserable, but these talents do not come without damaging the psyche in a variety of possible ways. Anger is another common response, and while this can be powerful if a healthy outlet is found for it, it can be quite dangerous if directed towards those weaker than oneself, which does happen and is why people often refer to “the cycle of violence”. Even when a non-violent outlet for anger is found, or when it is directed towards the inflictor of violence, anger still clouds judgement. The role of desperation and the will to live in making slavery and violence profitable for the enslaver or other inflictor of violence is not to be underestimated. When violence or the threat of violence comes from a multitude of sources, it is common to ally with those threats perceived to be lesser — this is a manifestation of desperation. This multitude of threats contributes to the belief that one has no better option than to remain in a violent situation, which reduces the chance that one will try to escape even if not locked in or chained to something. Members of a society often increase overall violence to this effect, the effect of encouraging people to remain put in violent situations — in my opinion, often deliberately. The inflictor of violence, and members of society who wish people to remain put in violent situations, may also encourage people to underestimate their own talents for survival — which, after many years of living in a violent situation, may actually be quite finely honed. Stoic philosophy is the best tool I have found for resisting and reversing much of the damage to the psyche caused by receiving violence, but it should be taken in moderation — in extreme practice, Stoicism might cause someone to ignore their own survival instincts at their own peril. In moderation, however, it is complementary to those survival instincts, as a person in a calm state of mind can more easily and accurately evaluate their options.

    People who witness violence, especially first-hand, may suffer a variety of types of damage to the psyche, in part depending on which party they identify with. If they identify with the person inflicting violence, they too may engage in rationalizing thought patterns, and encounter difficulty in reversing those thought patterns due to inability or unwillingness to process guilt. If they identify with the person receiving violence, their psyche is likely to suffer more if they do nothing to intervene than if they do attempt to do something; however, caution should be exercised, as a person attempting to intervene often makes things worse when they don’t understand the situation. After someone makes things worse attempting to intervene, it reduces the chance that the person they attempted to help will ask for help in the future, and increases the chances the person will take greater steps to hide what is happening from the world, increasing the overall veil of silence on the topic of violence.

    People who fail to witness violence, particularly where they make a conscious effort to avoid witnessing or acknowledging it, also suffer damage to their psyches. Similar to people who inflict violence, they often engage in rationalizing thought patterns, though the rationalization takes different forms. Rather than trying to justify violence, they are trying to pretend the problem does not exist or at least underestimate its prevalence. Violently coerced slave labor is falsely called wage slavery or sweat shops, which, they explain, is just exploitation, not real slavery. Refugees are lumped into the broader category of illegal immigrants, and the wealth rather than the levels of violence in the countries they are fleeing is discussed. People fleeing domestic or other violence in their homes and communities are lumped into the broader category of homeless, and, though they make up a significant portion of the homeless, instead most people talk about wages and cost of living and questions of laziness and just about every economic factor besides violence. People have plenty of motives for not witnessing violence and for denying the problem exists, and for subsequently advocated for social policies which encourage it to continue and discourage people from escaping — they benefit from the reduced price of consumer goods and services which as some stage of production (usually the raw materials) were produced with slave labor, they benefit from reduced immigration leading to competition in the workforce, they benefit from not seeing people sleeping in the streets as often, they benefit from avoiding the unpleasant experience of actually watching documentaries on the subject of slavery, they benefit from the belief that they actually earned their wealth through honorable transactions and not ones tainted with slavery. But all of these benefits, particularly the act of protecting these benefits, come at a cost, a cost to the well-being of their hearts.

    1. The Minderoo Foundation Pty Ltd. “In 2016, we estimate that 45.8 million people are in some form of modern slavery in 167 countries.” The Global Slavery Index. http://www.globalslaveryindex.org/findings/ (accessed January 10, 2017).

  3. Trent says:

    Thank you for coming to speak here in Chicagoland on Wednesday.

    I particularly liked your analogy how Economics is more like Geometry than Physics – a very good example.

    I did purchase your book before I left and look forward to reading it. Am hoping I’ll learn much more about von Mises as I did in reading Russ Roberts’ book on Adam Smith’s “The Theory of Moral Sentiment.”

  4. Kevin Regal says:

    I hadn’t seen the beard before. It’s definitely a keeper. Looks good!

  5. Tim Baxter says:

    Usually the question answer period is terrible, but I thought that was the best part.

  6. David says:

    Beard is glorious.

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