27 Jul 2020

BMS ep 133: Bob Murphy Debates Thaddeus Russell on Postmodernism as Foundation for Liberty

Bob Murphy Show 19 Comments

Audio here, video below:

19 Responses to “BMS ep 133: Bob Murphy Debates Thaddeus Russell on Postmodernism as Foundation for Liberty”

  1. Henry says:

    “Then the conversation is over… I can’t disprove that or prove that.”

    You should have hit him back on that. What do you mean you “can’t” disprove that? You are sounding like a real authoritarian Thad.

  2. Henry says:

    “If you believe in God I can’t tell you that’s false… and I won’t… and I can’t… it’s dumb and wrong…”

    You should have hit him back on this one. What do you mean you “can’t”? You are sounding like a real authoritarian here Thad.

  3. Minor_Liberty says:

    The gentleman in the video who spoke about ‘the central argument of post-modernists’, contrary to his belief that ‘untethering’ biology from gender, race, etc is a ‘liberating’ feature, that ‘there is no natural essence to anything’, in fact opens the door for anarchist interpretations of ‘freedom’, including the ‘freedom to take control over this nebulous ‘social construct’ power/force and farm human beings into animals/slaves.

    Now to be sure, the farmed animals may believe that because ‘there is no natural essence to anything’ that this provides them with an IDEOLOGICAL control over their own self-image, but their physical bodies were themselves altered/created/farmed by biological controllers who deny biology plays a role in anything!

    If gender was really a ‘social construct’, why then do people have to take action in the BIOLOGICAL SPACE to ‘manifest their identity’? Why the hormone therapy? Why the physical surgery? According to the post-modernist ideology, those most ‘in need’ of it, apparently, are those acting most antagonistic to it by refusing to stay in the ‘ideological space’ of ‘identity’.

    The gentleman in the video has an offputting arrogance to him because he doesn’t even realize his own self-contradiction: If he is so convinced he is right EVEN IF he is going against ‘the mainstream’, which he cannot deny post-modernism was at its outset, then why is he going against the ‘social construct’ ‘mainstream’ view that sex is biologically determined?

    Could he be having an inner tinpot dictator experience where HE wants his ideology to take control over ‘the social construct’, i.e. the ‘narrative’ because he doesn’t like the social ‘narrative’ as it is currently ‘constructed’?

    The idea that ‘social constructs’ are the fundamental driver for human existence IMPLIES A NEED FOR SOCIAL CONSTRUCTORS. He can’t claim ‘the individual decides that for themselves’, because then the ‘social construct’ would be one with contradicting descriptions of what is allegedly a singular ‘social construct’ reality.

    “My understanding of the social construct is that I am male because I have XY chromosomes. That’s exercising my freedom to understand myself.”

    “My understanding of the social construct is that you are mistaken, that you exercising your freedom to understand who you are is NOT TO BE ASSOCIATED with your ‘chromosomes’.”

    Both can’t be true descriptions of the same supposed ‘social construct.’

  4. Minor_Liberty says:

    He also kept making errors in describing what he believes post-modernism ‘refutes’.

    The biologically determined view of sex DOES NOT have ANY “oughts” on what people “should” do. Yet he kept describing the ‘pre-post-modern’ view as a crude “You were born a male, therefore you should do x, y, z.”

    NO! It does NOT follow from being born a male or female that you “should” do anything.

    It is irrelevant to the veracity of post-modernism whether ‘historically’ there were ‘elites’ who ‘abused’ the idea that sex or race are biologically determined by adding to it and imposing control through division of sexes and races. It is no more relevant to the validity of post-modernism than would a history of big pharma companies withholding cures be to the veracity of science. They’re two different categories.

    The post-modern movement, contrary to being “the greatest achievement of academia ever”, is in fact an abortive attempt to escape hierarchical societies by merely calling for a shift in who controls the narrative, the ‘social construct’. It is an attempt to destroy all science as a means to stop those who abuse what we can learn through science. A fear based “we must abolish the science of nuclear physics and because ‘historically’ ‘elites’ used it to make nuclear bombs.”

  5. Minor_Liberty says:

    If you see anyone saying “There is no natural essence to anything”, ask them what they mean by “anything”, and “is”.

  6. Harold says:

    I Minor Liberty related to Major Freedom?

    “If you see anyone saying “There is no natural essence to anything”, ask them what they mean by “anything”, and “is”.”

    In this context, thing is an unspecified object. It be used to refer in an approximate way to an idea, subject, event, action, but I think the object is probably most fitting here. Is means to be, to exist.

    “Essence” is an intrinsic property or quality of something that defines its character. “natural” in this context probably means not made or caused by man.

    I would interpret the statement to mean approximately physical objects do not have an intrinsic property of “natural essence.” As an example, there is not natural essence of “rockiness” that a rock has that defines its character.

    It seems a pointless statement to make.

    • Minor_Liberty says:

      I will neither confirm nor deny any relation.

      “Thing is an unspecified object”

      I would then ask what they mean by “object”.

      And I will continue to ask until they’ve run out of semantic ammo and be compelled to admit the existence of a reality outside their own minds that is what it is and cannot whole sale be changed to exactly match the mind’s thoughts.

      THAT admission would then be an admission that there does indeed exist a ‘natural essence’ which I don’t need to go any further than describe as that which is limiting the ‘infinite’ Ego.

      “As an example, there is not natural essence of “rockiness” that a rock has that defines its character. It seems a pointless statement to make.”

      I agree with the sentiment, I would only add that in a world where there is no such thing as ‘natural essence’ I would again ask what the post-modernist means by ‘rock’ that the post-modernist is pointing to external to themselves.

      • Harold says:

        “be compelled to admit the existence of a reality outside their own minds that is what it is ”

        I am with you there. I was not sure where you were going.

        However, I am only going so far as to say I believe this. I cannot know this in an absolute way. I am not aware of any absolute refutation of hard solipsism. I accept as a presupposition that there is an external reality and that there are other minds in it.

        I don’t see how this gets us to a “natural essence.” I am not sure if this is an important distinction or unimportant, since you say you agree with my sentiment.

        I may say that is a rock. A geologist may say it is alkali feldspar granite. The poet that it is a granite lion and the Daoist that they are friends. An analytical chemist may say it is SiO2 with a little of Al2O3,CaO,MgO and Fe2O3.

        None of these encompass all the rock is. It seems to me the essence is what you make of it, and it does not posses an intrinsic natural essence.

  7. Minor_Liberty says:

    Russell jumped the shark when he responded to the question “Are you saying it’s OK to identify as the planet Jupiter?”

    Sorry, but he’s too narcissistic and arrogant to even see his own flawed ideology.

    “Elites in the past used X for bad purposes, therefore we ought to DENY THE REALITY OF X!”

    That isn’t a way to liberty, that is a way to psychosis.

    And the way he kept telling Murphy to “be skeptical”….he didn’t give a HINT of skepticism in his own worldview. It’s his way or…you’re not a libertarian! You’re trying to exert authority over my psychosis!

  8. Tel says:

    Thaddeus Russell has a good point … since language is a social construct, and the meaning of words can change, I’ve decided that having email is privileged therefore when someone says, “Check your privilege!” what I do is check my email. Then I say, “My phone just told me that my privilege box is empty.”

    I think I’m getting into this whole postmodern codetalking.

    Seriously though, this is a big problem for believers in any constitutional law abiding society. Let’s consider the word “marriage” which is right there in the Australian Constitution. It defines a power of government, but what in fact does the word mean? We aren’t quite sure, it means different things from time to time, and place to place. A man can have four wives in the Middle East but he can have one husband in the Western world.

    Therefore we wave around a document … strictly defining the powers of government … using words which might happen to change meaning here and there. The same document uses the words “naval and military defence” but maybe defence might sometimes mean attack? That’s why we sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, right? Because the constitutionally defined powers of the Australian Commonwealth include the power of attack-I-mean-defence. Jolly good thing we have limited government.

    • Harold says:

      Marriage is an interesting one. To some it is only making a commitment – “jumping the broom” ceremonies. To others it is a religious thing. Some religions in the UK have conducted religious ceremonies of marriage but did not go through the legal process. The couple considered themselves married in the most important way to them – the commitment before God and recognition from the community, with all the rights and obligations that go along with that. However, the law did not consider they were married. Were they married? It depends who you ask and what you mean by marriage.

      As you say, it means different things, which is why it is important to be clear about what meaning you are using when talking about such things.

      The symbolic and the legal are inextricably linked. Marriage and civil partnerships differed in relatively minor ways, and I think most people that wanted to be allowed to marry rather than civil partner did so because of the symbolic rather than practical aspects. That is because symbols are actually important to us. Statues, for example.

      If one is entering discourse and wishes to be productive, it is important to understand what the other means by the words they use. Two arguing people could just continually say the couple was married and they are not married, and both could be correct, but it does not get anyone anywhere. Progress could be made if they asked each other what they meant by marriage, and perhaps they could agree that they were married in the eyes of God but not in the eyes of the law. If you use a meaning your interlocutor did not intend, then you are not having discourse. You can avoid discourse by deliberately mis-labeling the words they use if you wish to do so, but it is simply avoiding discourse.

      • Tel says:

        If people wish to be productive, they can go to the effort of coming to an agreement about what they mean and why. They need no outside influence to achieve this … and generally will figure it out all by themselves.

        However, law does not tend to work that way … it’s adversarial and designed for those situations where the two sides are looking to get advantage over the other. That’s quite a different situation, but one that does tend to come up quite regularly when property rights are involved.

        • Harold says:

          “If people wish to be productive, they can go to the effort of coming to an agreement about what they mean and why. ”

          Yes, so if one party does not make that effort, could we reasonably say they are not wishing to be productive?

          • Tel says:

            If someone breaks into my house and pinches my TV, I would make a first presumption that they are unlikely to be interested in coming to a productive agreement with me. Might not be true every time, they might come back a week later wanting to pay for what they took … but unlikely.

            Therefore I want a law to be a backstop for situations where the other guy is doing the wrong thing, and won’t quit doing that.

            Since government has a long history of power grabbing (also unproductive IMHO) I want constitutional law to be a backstop for the backstop and prevent them seizing too much authority. Admittedly it often does not work as desired … but at the very least when they ignore the constitution they give me a heads-up that they do not with to be cooperate productively with others.

  9. Harold says:

    I like Christopher Hitchen’s analysis of postmodernism: ” “The Postmodernists’ tyranny wears people down by boredom and semi-literate prose.”

    I come to this from the perspective that Austrian economics is over-reliant on some unrealistic principles but does have useful contributions to make. I have pretty much the same view of postmodernism, so this was interesting to me. Main argument first, then some points of detail.

    I think there is a way to combine the two views in a useful way.

    At one point you use the example of a second (of time). A second is an arbitrary unit. We could define it any way we want. A year is not arbitrary – it is defined by a physical reality (in my view). The year would exist if there were no humans. Seasons would still proceed. The second would not exist without humans, it is only how we decided to chop up time.

    Post-modernists may or may not see the difference, but I think the rest of us can take something from post-modernism and apply it to those things that are arbitrary. Are we talking about something that actually exists, like a year, or something that is only the result of categories we impose, like a second?

    The guy on the college campus asking what he may identify as. He said “if I believed I was 6’3” (or similar). That falls into the “real” category. If he said he believed himself to be a tall person, that would fall into the arbitrary category. “I am 7 years old” can be checked. “I am childish” cannot.

    In your discussion about discrimination about women, you argued that people still think that the category “women” exists, but that we decided we should stop discriminating against women. He argues that the category “woman” used to include “scientific” claims about the capabilities of women, which we have since rejected, and that was necessary to allow the end of discrimination. The category “woman” was socially constructed and included all these restrictions. His argument (I think) is that the other things that define “woman” are also wrong or arbitrary.

    Without going full postmodernist, we can accept that biology has useful things to say about male and female. It is
    not correct, but lets accept just for the sake of this argument that sex is purely binary. Animals are either male or female.

    That does not mean that we must use the terms “man” and “woman” to map 1:1 onto those concepts. He points out that other societies do recognize other genders, it is arbitrary whether we do or not. This falls into the “arbitrary” rather than “real” category we discussed above.

    I identify as 6’6″ tall – we can measure that. I identify as tall – we can’t measure that. I am male – we can check that (in my hypothetical binary world). I am a man – we cannot check that.

    I am the planet Jupiter – we can check that.

    The alternative argument is that we *must* exclusively map male to man and female to woman. Then we can check if you are a man by looking at your genitals, or chromosomes or whatever. Yet the existence of cultures that do not do this refutes the argument that we must do this.

    You say: because categories change over time does not mean it is arbitrary which category we place something in at a particular time. I think this is key. If we accept the category, then it is not arbitrary at that time. But because the categories change, the categories themselves are arbitrary. Because the categories are arbitrary, we have no need to use them at all.

    On him saying categories are meaningless. He did say “the category of man becomes meaningless.” I can understand his frustration, but he did mis-speak. He made very clear in his discussion with you that he does not believe categories are meaningless – he said explicitly that they are very meaningful. He had also spent 5 minutes explaining his position to the interviewer, which was ignored in favor if picking up on that clumsy language.

    This brings us back to the race discussion on another post. The characterization of race as we we currently do it is meaningless *outside of the society we live in*. It is not “real,” but it is important. I could say “there is no such thing as different races -we are all the human race.” I would be correct on one level. I would also be wrong to assume this means people do not act on the basis of what they perceive as race. I may casually say “race is meaningless” intending the former idea, but it may then be misinterpreted as the latter meaning.

    He specifically says that he does not believe there is no objective reality, so that one can be dismissed, which I think dispenses with a lot of Minor Liberty’s arguments.

    I laughed at your “is that because you are not sure of anything?”

  10. Jan Masek says:

    So Dr Murphy gives up Contra Krugman to do THIS?? 🙂 Besides Mr Russell’s patronizing approach (“clearly you have not read a single word of this and that” and his constant interrupting and then going off on a tangent, the biggest takeaway for me was being reminded that this is how many people see us, libertarians. He is a kook !! It was virtually impossible to argue with him and I admire, although don’t understand why, Dr Murphy’s resolve to take him on.

    • Harold says:

      I agree his tone was sometimes dismissive and abrasive. I suspect this comes from frustration at being often misunderstood. He explains at length his position and gets the response “so you don’t believe in X then? (not from Bob, but in that other interview). It is somewhat like libertarians constantly being told they don’t like roads.

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