June 05th, 2013
This week Jad introduces us to a philosophical idea he had been twirling around in his head about giving up on the political process. He essentially concludes that once you’ve discovered without question that the deck is stacked against you no matter how perfectly you play the game, why would keep playing?
Jad articulates this point quite a bit better than I just did, but that’s the gist. Of course there are no arguments from my corner.
Although that’s the bulk of the show, we also transition into some thoughts on government formation and even discuss a favorite Harvard professor of mine by the name of Michael Sandel.
Kevin: Hello and welcome back to the JK Podcast, and antiauthoritarian free speech zone dedicated to the pursuit of liberty, humanity, and equality for all. This week, Jad introduces us to a philosophical idea he had been twirling around in his head about giving up on the political process. He essentially concludes that once you’ve discovered without question that the deck is stacked against you no matter how perfectly you play the game, why would you keep playing?
Jad articulates this point quite a bit better than I just did, that’s the gist of it. Of course, there are no arguments from my corner. Although that’s the bulk of the show, we also transition into some thoughts on government formation, and even discuss a favorite Harvard professor of mine by the name of Michael Sandel. As always, the show is hosted by Jad Davis and Kevin Ludlow – that’s me. So sit back and enjoy this 20 minute ride into the JK Podcast.
Jad: [?] something else that I was thinking of while I was constructing picnic [?] tables. The argument is when do you give up on the political process? Like, when do you say, “okay, this isn’t gonna work”. So you know that Ron Paul is saying this time around if you say you’re all in, 2012 Ron Paul, you go to your local caucus or whatever, you see to win that caucus or do whatever, and in your watching the entire republican system collapse on your guy essentially and basically – in a certain way of thinking about it – the entire exercise, the entire primary season, was just a concerted effort to keep Ron Paul out.
You’ve probably followed this more closely than I did, but he was finishing essentially a third in every race, right? He was – usually it was like, whoever was the leader and then Mitt Romney or something – you know, Ron Paul, or Ron Paul was second, or sometimes he won, but the joke was always that it was like, yeah, Rick Perry was first, and Newt Gingrich was third, and so and so was fourth and fifth, and like, they didn’t even mention who was second.
Kevin: Right. Right.
Jad: Anyway, point being that like, if you put all of your time and effort and energy in and you go to Florida and you end up you know, getting locked out and all that sort of stuff, you could either be totally disenchanted, or you could be like, “well look, I’ve tried as hard as I possibly can inside of the system to make it work, so clearly, this can’t happen; like, there’s no amount of extra effort I can give that’s going to accomplish this task. I’ve given it all I can do, I gave it you know, my heart and soul – everyone else did too – it’s not working, and so we’re going elsewhere.”
I kind of feel like you have the potential because you know, you have infinite energy and talent, so like, you have the potential to do that on a local scale, right? You wanna run for city council, or you want to – and now we’ve got the 10/1 thing happening, so that’s gonna all be you know, city council’s gonna be up in the air. So –
Jad: So again, that’s just a core idea, but I had THC driven insight that made it more exciting. But I guess it was just that you also have like, the grassroots appeal to you like you know, you’re sort of a populist. So anyway, I was just thinking it would be cool. If you did run, I’d be like, well, I’m gonna try one campaign and see if this works. I’m gonna buy into the system, I’m gonna go vote for somebody and maybe I’ll put up a yard sign and whatever else – which is about as much energy as I give for anything – and see how it works out.
Kevin: Well damn, I just need 5,000 more people like you because that’s a hell of a motivation speech there, appreciate that. You know, I think the easiest way to say it is – to the question that was in there – is you know, I watch a lot of movies and in fact, I went to NYU for a while and studied in film school and was doing writing and stuff like that there for arts and for film, and television just because I really enjoy that.
So I really enjoy writing and one of the things that I’ve always learned with film and arts and everything else is that the people who are successful in it, they do it because they love doing what it is that they are doing and comedy usually has the best response from people just because comedy is so very subjective. It’s pretty easy to make something dramatic. I mean, you’d make a film of somebody’s mother dying and it’s a sad story, right – I mean that’s just general human interest. But comedy is a lot more subjective and I think it’s way trickier.
And so what you’ll find is that most people who are good comedians or are good at writing comedy – which I am not at all – but they all say the same thing and it’s just they say that they’re writing what they thought was funny and if somebody else happened to find it funny as well, then so be it. But at the end of the day, they just genuinely believed that what they were doing made them laugh and so they continued with it and – I mean the South Park guys say that all the time and their humor is not for everybody, for sure.
Translating that though into a political spectrum, I think that the problem with politicians is that most politicians don’t believe what it is that they’re saying in the first place. I think that most of them just kind of get on board with this notion that you can accomplish certain things by being a politician and you can further your career. I mean just in a nutshell, that’s the metaphor – you can further your career. In my world view – much like the whole comedy writing sort of thing, I just genuinely believe the things that I say and I genuinely believe the things that I’m passionate about.
And so to our point, I mean, no matter how far I went with it, it doesn’t matter how many election I lost or how many people turned me down or whatever it is, at the end of the day I still believe those things, so I don’t feel bad – I’m spouting them out. I don’t need validation from other people. If people want to validate me, then that’s much to my benefit – I’ll certainly take it and that excites me of course, and it does fuel me way more.
If all of a sudden, thousands of people started reading my book I mean shit, I’d probably have another one churned out in a couple of weeks. But either way, I’m still gonna write that second one eventually, and either way I’m still gonna be espousing the same views because I just think that they are important – to me, at very least – and so if that appeals to somebody else then by all means, I’d be happy to try to lead that train.
But that’s not my starting point I guess, and I think that’s different from a lot of people who are in the political field. I think they genuinely seek the power train – and maybe not even for negative reasons, but that’s their endgame is to say, “I am the person in charge”, and I just don’t feel that way.
Jad: Sure. Right. Well and like you said, they are choosing to be less than authentic in order to achieve something, whatever it may be. It could be a you know, a lofty social goal, or it could be personal aggrandizement, or just a career, you know? But they are going to drain themselves essentially because their exterior personality or exterior presence is not in line with their actual
Kevin: Yeah, I think so. And so if I use my same parallel argument, I don’t know if it’s a great analogy, but just like in the entertainment world, there’s actors, and comedians, and everything else that – they sell out all of the time. And why do they do it? Well they do it because you know, they make friends in the business and those guys have ideas and they want their ideas to get out there.
I mean, kind of like the Adam Sandlers of the world who are just notorious for this. I mean the guy had some great ideas 20 years ago and he wrote them and I love laughing at them, and ever since then you’re just like, “Jesus Christ man, really? You’re gonna – that’s what you’re doing now? That’s what you think is comical?” I don’t believe that for a second and I think in the political world it’s the exact same way.
So churn into the whole Rand Paul thing, I don’t know, I mean, he’s made connections in it – inside of the business now, he wants to appease some of them, some of them can further his career, some of it probably makes him money, some of it guarantees his success, some of it guarantees his longevity, and then he justifies it in his head, “well, it would be better to have longevity in this field and to maybe get to share 10% of my actual principles than to have 0% longevity in this whole thing and try to share 100% with those couple of friends who would otherwise listen”, so you know that’s that rationalization that I think people in those positions come to and frankly, takes you right back to my “everyone is evil” sort of concept, and that’s what I hope to resist at some point is that notion if I ever get to cross that bridge.
In fact, that’s what I even say about it is that everyone is evil, it’s just a fact that
very, very, very few people in this world are ever going to get the chance to cross that bridge to
something that actually matters – it just doesn’t happen. We’re not
that fortunate in those sorts of circumstances and I like to think that should I ever get to one of
those bridges, I would take the attitude that I – what I hold right now. But who
knows, because I’ve never been there, so easier said than done.
Jad: Sure apparently, because like you always say, it never happens, right? Everyone who gets the ring of power uses the ring of power to wreak havoc on everyone else.
Kevin: Seems to be the case, that’s the best I can figure.
Jad: Yeah, which actually brings me to another thing I had thought of last night which was I was gonna give you an example of the “against me” argument. I think that’s [?] setup, so I was listening to the part where we talked about – which we’ve talked about twice now – I think one time you said it as a ski trip – the ski trip story – the other time I think you had it as like, what happens if you drop 20 people on an island sort of scenario. But the idea is the same like, a small group of people are suddenly cut off from all resources and the rest of civilization somehow or other, and then your point being that leadership is a natural human trait.
Somebody will – and I think you said when you were imagining the ski trip – you know, you’ve been leading this trip, you’ve been directing people, getting them where they need to go, getting them all the stuff they need, getting them checked into their hotels, blah, blah, blah, and then the apocalypse happens and you [?] on a hill somewhere. You’re sort of the natural leader in the sense that that’s the pattern that’s been built up, and then you say – if I misstate your story, let me know – but you imagine that you might be a – or you or whoever the ski leader is – might work voluntarily with everyone for years and years or however long, but at some point in time that role, it’s transmorphed into you know, a non-voluntary role – a classic authoritarian, political leader role.
Jad: So then the question is, if I was on a ski trip with you and you said – at any point in time, whenever it was – you said, “and Jad, you have to do X”, and I said, “no, I don’t think I’m gonna do that, I’m just gonna walk away, I’m gonna leave”, would you use violence against me in that situation? I mean, you can imagine it as awful as a situation as you want, but would you be willing to exercise that supposedly natural role against your old friend Jad?
Kevin: Well I’m inclined to say definitely not, but I’m also inclined to consider my ongoing philosophy about that is to say in such a situation, you know, it’s one of those things that it’s so impossible, it’s such a hypothetical to consider, right? I mean, I can imagine the end of the world in my head right now, and I can imagine having to leave this small group of survivors in some sort of survivalist type of situation, but whatever’s in my head is so far removed from what that situation would actually be like. I mean, when genuinely every single person you’ve ever known has been obliterated somehow or another, the psychological toll that that would take on people I just think is so much different – or even just being stranded.
I mean, the same sort of thing like the whole Castaway type of movie, but a group of 10 of us or whatever, when you really get to a point of thinking, “this is it, this is where we’re gonna spend the rest of our lives, completely secluded, nobody will ever know about it.” So I think that the answer is no, and I mean, I guess I’ve had certain situations where that has come about, obviously not with any severity. I think in my case, what I would certainly try to do is to apply various forms of diplomacy and at a certain point, I think what the aggressive moment would be for a rational – let’s just say it’s a monarch or like an authoritarian type of regime but it’s a good one, like it’s a wholesome one – you know, I’ve genuinely worked to your interest. I’ve tried to help you in any way possible and to make sure that we’re all progressing and safe, and we have shelter, we have the basic human needs that we’re looking for.
I think probably the consequence that at some point I guess I would invoke would be to say, “okay well look, we need to work as a team and if you’re unwilling to work as a teammate, then at a certain point, you’re just a drain on this group and if that’s the case then you probably need to go about your own way.” And it just kind of takes you into like, the whole welfare mentality but just at a really small group. If you’re just gonna take from our resources, if you’re gonna live under our roof and you’re gonna take the food that we’re getting and the warmth that we have, and the clothing that we’d been working so hard to prepare, then you’ve gotta put in to get that back and I guess the only thing I could say is I wouldn’t think that I should have to put in any less than you just because I was the leader in that particular case.
But if you’re completely unwilling to do that then I guess at the end of the day, you have to leave. And so if you take that analogy even further as far as how those tribal groups come about, I could see that happening as well where in time you kind of put the rebel forces together because you’re pissed off, and eventually wage war on us.
Jad: You mean the person you vote off the island comes back with a vengeance?
Kevin: Yeah, exactly. I mean, well just as another completely hypothetical type of situation, but yeah. So in this point, you feel it’s unjust, I feel that you know, the group – there’s 10 of us, whatever – 9 out of 10 of us feel like, “look, nobody wants you to leave, but you need to contribute”, and you say, “look, I don’t need to contribute to this group, you guys are doing fine without me and frankly I just – I’m not really cut out for this work.”
And so we say, “you have to leave”, and you feel that that’s unjust, whether it is or not is subjective so it doesn’t matter – no need to debate it – but you feel it’s unjust and you ban together with other people over time and eventually you come back and say, “well, I know where there’s a group of people who’ve got a whole bunch of stuff and I don’t like them to begin with, so let’s just go take them over” – I could see that as being –
Jad: That’s very interesting.
Kevin: – see that as being a plausible scenario.
Jad: And so in that case, you have to keep that person around even though they don’t do anything because they’re a threat to your regime in the long term.
Kevin: Yeah, so –
Jad: I’m kind of getting – that’s crazy hypothetical at that point, but carry on, you sound like you had a follow up so I didn’t mean to step on it.
Kevin: No, that’s fine. I mean that could be the situation too, right? Like you could you know, I think knowing what we know now about human civilization, psychology, applying the intelligence that we have gathered through thousands of years of research, and books, and passing on information, it’s easier to make that decision now.
It’s easier in a modern day sense but if this were to happen, for me to say you know, to consult the elders so to speak, and be like, “well, we can kick him out but if we do, he’s probably gonna die. If he doesn’t die, we risk him avenging us somehow, he knows where we are. Wouldn’t it be better just to take this as a loss?” The problem then becomes though if in doing so, you become the poison for the group and now other people are like, “well wait a second, he doesn’t do shit, so I’m not gonna do shit either”, and eventually you have a complete system breakdown, so I think that’s where some of these authoritarianesque questions come into play. You know, the doing something for the greater good, which I know is a very distasteful notion – certainly to you but to me as well – but I think that’s where some of those fundamentally start getting their roots at least.
Jad: Well we can imagine that scenario anyway, where 9 out of 10 people would agree it as a greater good question, right? But then again, I mean, now I’m really going down the hypothetical path, but then again like you – you’re still not proposing violence against the person, you’re proposing ostracism, right – which is an entirely legitimate – I mean, you don’t have to associate with anyone you don’t want to associate with.
The usual authoritarian model is the inverse though, right? You have to associate with us. Like, you can you know – like in your scenario or whatever – you don’t have to be part of the food gathering sort of stuff, but you have to travel 500 miles from us or something. Then you’re getting to the point – and if we catch you within that 500 mile radius then we’ll kill you –
Jad: – or whatever. Then you tread into the non-political model as opposed to a leadership model.
Kevin: Right. And I think that this is – I mean I have actually philosophized [?] about these ideas before to some degree at least – and I’ve always kind of envisioned that this is probably taking it taking it a step further, this is probably where the basis of laws start coming into play. So maybe we determine that we don’t wanna kick you out of our group for whatever reason, any number of those rational ideals that we had you know, you know where we are and maybe you’ll come back and try to hurt us, maybe the humanitarian, we don’t want you to die, we like you otherwise but clearly you’re not contributing.
And so now I think that’s where laws come from is where you know, you start saying, “okay, well here’s where the group decides, the amount of food that you get is…”, and immediately you introduce these ridiculous – because you try to quantify the problem – so you introduce these ridiculous notions of saying, “okay, well people who work, people who gather food, they’re able to have 60% of the bounty, and the other people who don’t actually gather the food, they’re only entitled to 40% of the bounty. People who make the clothing, they’re entitled to 80% of the clothing, whereas the other 20% are able to then get that”, and then this whole system of trading comes about. Now you’re saying, “Well goddammit, I don’t have as much but I also don’t eat as much so I’ve got all this extra food. Will you give the food that I have saved”, and vis a vis this entire – the whole system starts itself back up.
Jad: Black market.
Kevin: There it is.
Kevin: So I don't know, I mean obviously that’s all kind of far-fetched and it’s I mean, you could create any number of dystopian philosophies behind it, but if I were writing the book that’s [?] mine.
Jad: Right. Right. Well and I think that’s the life boat – it’s a [?] life boat problem, right? Have you heard that phrase?
Kevin: I’ve not.
Jad: Some people don’t like these debates and I think they’re entertaining and I think they have value, but the idea that because under the circumstances of your surviving on an island and some guy is gonna leave and raise rebel force to destroy you because in that case you have to use force, that’s how we have to be in Iraq.
The life boat scenario being the one where you have to kill somebody or – the life boat scenario, the classic one is you know, there’s 20 people in a boat that can hold 19 people. Here’s the list of people and you know, here’s there kids, their parents, or their Nobel Prize winners, or whoever they are, so who do you throw overboard, right?
Jad: So the classic is thing is where you’re already in a situation where there’s no option, it’s either one person dies or everyone dies, you know? Or like the other one with the train tracks, there’s like one person tied up on a train track, but if you – and there’s a train load of people coming at them – you know, if you save the person on the track, the train load of people will drive off a cliff or whatever.
Jad: Anyway, so it’s just that situation in which you’re going to have to be a murderer, now how do you do it and what argument do you make to justify the way you chose to act? It kind of is used to derail otherwise reasonable conversations – not that you’ve ever done it like that, but it does happen.
Kevin: Sure. I think I sent you this a while back, but there’s a guy by the name of Michel Sandel who is a Harvard political science professor and I guess, law professor also, and at least one semester that they did, they put the entire semester online and it’s basically a way to take a poly sci course from Harvard online, and it’s absolutely fascinating I mean, I love it. I’ve watched the entire thing and I think there’s 16 one hour episodes, or technically 32 half an hour episodes, but there’s two at a time, and anyway, that’s actually the very first opening conversation that he gives the class because many of these people have never been exposed to philosophy before and it’s certainly not any type of political philosophy and he actually does the railroad example.
He said, “So there’s a train and the train is loaded with people and you’re the engineer, and there’s a wheel that you can steer. And to one side of the train is a group of five people and they’re on the tracks, and on the other side is just a man. He’s a worker on the track, but he’s all by himself and you have the ability to change the track where you can steer that direction. What’s your decision that you make?” And of course it’s to get everybody to say that you know, you’re ultimately going to strive to only kill the one person if you can spare the five right, because it’s a quantifiable sort of action.
But then he immediately sets the story up right after that and of course again, the overwhelming majority of the class has chosen to kill the one person instead of the five because there’s nothing that you can do about it, but now he makes up this fictitious story where he says, “okay, well here’s a slightly different story. At this point”, he’s like, “you’ve got the same five people, but now the worker’s not there anymore and there’s only one track. But standing over the track is a really fat man and you can push the fat man onto the track. If you do this, he’ll stop the train, but the man will die, but the other five people will survive. What do you do?” And of course in this case, almost everybody says that they would not push the fat man onto the tracks and of course his immediate response is to say, “Well what became of the principle of quantifying the deaths of people? Why is this no longer important?”
In this scenario, it seems that they’re identical and yet for some reason, for some intrinsic reason they’re not and I just think it’s a wonderful introduction to political science and philosophy in general. But anyway, my – the only reason I brought that up is to say that I actually really love those arguments and can discuss them all day.
Jad: Sure, sure. That’s a good one. I remember seeing that, it was something to do with the agency was the only thing that you could really say is different.
Kevin: Well yeah, and there’s the interesting – you know, it brings up interesting thoughts as far as well, who’s actually involved in the situation. In one case, one of the two has to die, right? It’s an either or in the first case, and in the second case technically the one man doesn’t have to die. Those other people, they’re already on a track to die, this guy doesn’t have to die so he has a 0% chance of dying – you’re gonna have to invoke that. And in the first case, the group of five has a 50% chance of dying, and the person of 1 has a 50% chance of dying. So you know, there’s some interesting philosophies that you can take out of it.
Jad: Sure. Sure. Yeah, the interesting thing about that in the context of ethics or political science is again, because the interesting aspect of the life boat scenario is 100% knowledge, right – you have absolute knowledge. The problem is that that sort of decision making doesn’t scale at all, it doesn’t even scale the problem itself, right? I mean, you push the fat man in front of the train and somehow it doesn’t derail the train and then everyone dies, you know? So –
Jad: – but it scales even less to be like, “you know, we’re gonna have to starve or bomb 30,000 people to death, but probably in 30 or 40 years that will turn our better for everyone else around them”, you know? The rationale – the logic of it – goes back to the life boat scenarios.
Jad: Yeah, I don’t think they’re dangerous or bad or anything, and they’re very interesting, but they’re not particularly productive in the context of trying to philosophize again about social organization.
Kevin: So we leave you with some thoughts on fat men and trains – just some of the interesting tidbits from Michael Sandel’s political science class, which incidentally can be found online and we’ll post a link on the site to get you there. Thanks as always for tuning in to the show. It’s listeners like you that make the podcast worth the while in the first place. If you’d like to get in touch with us, please stop by either of our websites. Jad is at Jad-Davis.com, and Kevin is at KevinLudlow.com. You can also find all of our podcast episodes at our website at www.JKPod.com. Thanks again, and we’ll talk to you really soon.