When Arguments Fail: A Response to Jason Brennan

So far, the BHL crowd has had literally nothing useful–explanatory, action-guiding, otherwise illuminating–to say about the COVID-19 pandemic. They have mostly kept their counsel, and offered up a series of pointless, incoherent, ranting tweets masquerading as the latest wisdom in statistical modeling. Add it all together, and it amounts to less in the way of insight than might be dished up by a just-buried corpse.

Their recent tactic is to suggest that my criticisms of Phil Magness on COVID-19 (mostly on Facebook, not here) are somehow untoward, chiefly because I’ve made them. Hence, the guy who wandered drunkenly onto my blog a few years ago to tell the world that “clinical psych is easy as pie” now offers up the insinuation that I am mentally ill. Well, Freud thought we all were. But if I really am mentally ill, the sad fact is that Jason Brennan’s about to get his clock cleaned by a crazy person. Sad but true.

Because Brennan et al are not to be trusted on anything they say or do, I’ve cut and pasted his BHL post in the comments, verbatim, as I saw it at 1:05 pm (and a comment I saw somewhat later). I do this because Brennan has said that he reserves the right to eat his words and regurgitate new ones whenever it belatedly occurs to him that he’s getting his ass thrashed in any discursive confrontation with anyone. To be fair, he hasn’t put it quite that way. But to borrow a phrase, regardless of his intentions, that’s kind of what he means.*

Brennan:

Philosopher Irfan Khawaja–who has been posting obsessive rants about Phil Magness–thinks so.

Obsessive how? Magness made some public posts on Facebook and Twitter, and I responded. And I will continue to do so, on my own timeline, and at my leisure. What’s obsessive about that? Isn’t that the purpose of a public post? To be read and commented on? How could the response to a bunch of posts be more obsessive than the posts themselves? Granted, my commentary takes a slightly more adverse form than the sycophantic slop to which Jason and Phil are accustomed. But in that case, maybe they should find a different crowd to hang out with, and come up with better arguments.

Brennan then quotes me. I hesitate to quote a quote of me, but when you’re dealing with Jason Brennan, you have to exercise the caution appropriate to dealing with a pathogen. So here goes.

Khawaja, quoted by Brennan:

There is no moral reason why we must leave social distancing to voluntary persuasion or agreement. If we make unenforceable suggestions, people will flout them, as they already have. Those free riders aren’t just creating some morally neutral or equanimity-compatible “externality”; they are aggressing against others by an epidemiological version of Russian roulette–where a bullet in the chamber means critical care hospitalization or death for others (or oneself, come to that).

Those who refuse to distance are initiating force against innocent victims. And like it or not, that force must be met with sufficient retaliatory force to stop its initiation. We don’t let bank robbers or rapists rob or rape, whether or not they kill their victims. We don’t even just shame them, and hope they’ll stop. We stop them. If they fight back and resist arrest, we escalate force against them; if they keep resisting, escalating force against police escalations of force, they invite death by engraved invitation, and should unapologetically be obliged.

He got that right. I did say that. Bravo.

Here’s his comment, putatively on what I said. I’ve inserted numbers for ease of reference:

(1) He says that if people “fight back and resist arrest,” they should be killed on the spot. (2) Why killed rather than, say, subdued? (3) Isn’t killing an extreme measure to be used as a last resort? (4) Why not try to make them go home, and if they absolutely refuse, issue them a monetary fine and call it a day?

Verdict: incompetent reading comprehension in an inchoate attempt to build a straw man to knock down. Slow down, Jason, catch your breath, and try again. I understand the imperative of having to defend your friend, but ask yourself if you really want to wreck your exalted philosophical reputation on Phil Magness. I wouldn’t, if I were you. Not that I am.

Respondeo:

(1) I didn’t say that. Re-read, please. I said: “if they keep resisting, escalating force against police escalations of force, they invite” death. I didn’t specify any further than that. Nor did I have to. All I meant is that there is some point at which, once you climb up the escalation ladder, you invite death. I didn’t say where. And because I didn’t, it’s hard to insist that I put it there, however badly you wish I did.

(2) Second sentence: see just above.

(3) Third sentence: yes, it is, but I’m focusing ex hypothesi on the last resort situation, wherever it happens to be.

(4) Fourth sentence: see above.

(5) Fifth sentence: see above.

So far, so dumb. Next?

Next:

I wonder what Irfan considers “resistance”? Does that include simply ignoring the orders and continuing to do things such sit in one’s car watching the sunset near a California beach?

What does Irfan even have in mind? People already avoid strangers on the street. Strangers don’t interact unless they voluntarily choose to do so. No one is walking up to Irfan and coughing on him.

So, does he mean that if my neighbor has an outdoor party with 20 friends who come over voluntarily, the police should show up and kill anyone who refuses to go home?

Lots of rhetorical questions. Just FYI, Jason: you can’t refute anyone with rhetorical questions. A question is a request for information. A refutation is a demonstration of the falsity of a claim, or a defect in an argument. There’s just a basic mismatch there, and the rhetorical gusto of your questions isn’t going to fix it.

It’s particularly difficult to refute someone when the rhetorical questions you’re asking just amount to confessions of ignorance. “I wonder what you mean by p, hence I have refuted your claim that p” is an inference whose “hence” is its own refutation.

Digression: Take a second glance at the preceding passage of Brennan’s. One of the interesting features of Brennan’s rhetoric is the ad hoc attitude he takes toward that favorite thing of his, data. Sometimes, “our” data is so “shitty” (as he puts it in the comments) that we’re left in a wilderness of Cartesian doubt, such as when we find ourselves in the middle of a pandemic, and have to do something about it. But sometimes, the complete absence of data entails that Jason Brennan is an all-knowing deity who, sitting in his armchair, can tell you what’s happening in your neighborhood and even in your personal life, hundreds of miles away from him. In other words, health care workers cannot be believed when they tell you, repeatedly, that we are in the middle of a dire emergency. But Jason Brennan is to be believed when, from the Wizard of Oz’s satellite campus in northern Virginia, he tells you what’s going on in your state, your neighborhood, and even your immediate physical vicinity.

As in:

People already avoid strangers on the street.

Really? All people? Everywhere? Not really.

And again:

Strangers don’t interact unless they voluntarily choose to do so.

I could be uncharitable and point out that there is a phenomenon called crime, which often involves involuntary stranger-to-stranger interaction. Another one called torts, and so on.

More charitably, I think I’ll just point out that the preceding bold-ass assertion is, on an ordinary day, falsified hundreds of thousands of times a day on the New York subway, or on mass transit generally, or on the average urban sidewalk, or in a store, or when you stand in line for take-out.

During the current pandemic, it’s also falsified in any context where one person passes within virus-transmitting distance of another. Take two strangers, Smith and Jones. Smith comes closer to Jones than is safe under present conditions, and breathes on Jones. Behold: two strangers have just interacted, and one hadn’t voluntarily chosen to. Welcome to the ABCs of life.  Brennan seems to be staking his claim here on the oddly anti-empirical supposition that commonplace occurrences just never happen. I realize there’s a quarantine on, but maybe we can justify his breaking it, just to clue in to the world around him.

Finally:

No one is walking up to Irfan and coughing on him.

So now he’s stalking me. Who’s the obsessive here?

Anyway, back to the main issue: sorry to be so Leibnizian about this, but I was talking about the case I was talking about, and no other. The case I had in mind was of concerted violent resistance to a justifiable order. Can you shoot someone under such circumstances? Yes, you can. Would I do it myself? Yes, I would. Do I need lectures about police malfeasance from people who, unlike me, have never seen the inside of a jail cell, been strip searched, falsely accused of murder, shot at, and ordered around with an M-16 pointed at his torso? Not really. Does anyone really think that Khawaja is a deranged defender of police brutality? No. But when you live in a 2×4 echo chamber of the sort inhabited by Jason Brennan et al, is it convenient to confabulate such an impression for rhetorical purposes? It sure is.

This is my favorite passage in the whole piece, the khutbah, or homily, like the departing thoughts at the end of an episode of the Jerry Springer show (numbers again inserted for ease of reference):

(1) American police summarily execute people for all sort of minor crimes, and tend to interpret “resisting arrest” in an absurdly broad way. (2) (See my When All Else Fails for examples–all the stories about police murdering innocent people are true.) (3) So, in practice, whether this is Irfan’s intention or not, we wouldn’t want to tell American police it’s okay to kill people who resist arrest for ignoring social distancing rules.

Golly. Who knew?

Respondeo:

(1) True. But then, there are cases where people do in fact resist arrest, and in such cases, something has to be done about them. The world is a complicated place.

(2) No need to keep advertising–I bought the book awhile back. By the way, I spend my summers hanging out in the West Bank. I’ve been shot at, I have friends who have been shot, and they have friends who have been killed. So I don’t really need Brennan’s book or lectures to grasp the phenomenon. Reality does just fine.

Claim (3) is really the piece de resistance, so to speak:

(3) So, in practice, whether this is Irfan’s intention or not, we wouldn’t want to tell American police it’s okay to kill people who resist arrest for ignoring social distancing rules.

The lesson here is that it it didn’t really matter what Irfan said, and didn’t matter what he intended, either. Either way, Jason Brennan was going to dish up whatever rhetorical bullshit he could come up with on the fly, and hope some of it stuck. It has stuck. The problem is, it hasn’t stuck to me. And both Brennan and Magness are going to have to do a better job of making it stick than they so far have before it does. Keep it coming, boys. I’m not going anywhere.

P.S., April 9, 7 pm: I went over to BHL to respond directly to comments there, but naturally, Brennan–who refused to link to my blog in his original post–deleted every word I wrote. Magness has now deleted the March 10 Facebook post to which I took vehement exception, and has now written a finger-wagging public post, written in a tone of disingenuous consternation as to the reasons for my opposition to his claims. He’s referring, of course, to my opposition to the claims that, with a guilty conscience, he’s  discreetly taken down. That’s OK. I have screen shots, which I have every intention of displaying here, with commentary. They’re still up at my Facebook page. You’ll have to do some tedious scrolling, but feel free to take a look.


*True to form, Brennan had originally called me a “mentally disturbed individual,” then deleted it and left things at “philosopher.” Have the courage of your convictions, Jason. If you really think a fellow member of the profession is “mentally disturbed,” say so out loud. The online evidence has a bad habit of remaining in existence long after you hit “delete.”

24 thoughts on “When Arguments Fail: A Response to Jason Brennan

  1. Jason Brennan, Bleeding Heart Libertarians, April 8, 2020.

    Should Police Kill People Who Violate Stay-at-Home Orders?

    Philosopher Irfan Khawaja–who has been posting obsessive rants about Phil Magness–thinks so.

    There is no moral reason why we must leave social distancing to voluntary persuasion or agreement. If we make unenforceable suggestions, people will flout them, as they already have. Those free riders aren’t just creating some morally neutral or equanimity-compatible “externality”; they are aggressing against others by an epidemiological version of Russian roulette–where a bullet in the chamber means critical care hospitalization or death for others (or oneself, come to that).

    Those who refuse to distance are initiating force against innocent victims. And like it or not, that force must be met with sufficient retaliatory force to stop its initiation. We don’t let bank robbers or rapists rob or rape, whether or not they kill their victims. We don’t even just shame them, and hope they’ll stop. We stop them. If they fight back and resist arrest, we escalate force against them; if they keep resisting, escalating force against police escalations of force, they invite death by engraved invitation, and should unapologetically be obliged.

    He says that if people “fight back and resist arrest,” they should be killed on the spot. Why killed rather than, say, subdued? Isn’t killing an extreme measure to be used as a last resort? Why not try to make them go home, and if they absolutely refuse, issue them a monetary fine and call it a day?

    I wonder what Irfan considers “resistance”? Does that include simply ignoring the orders and continuing to do things such sit in one’s car watching the sunset near a California beach?

    What does Irfan even have in mind? People already avoid strangers on the street. Strangers don’t interact unless they voluntarily choose to do so. No one is walking up to Irfan and coughing on him.

    So, does he mean that if my neighbor has an outdoor party with 20 friends who come over voluntarily, the police should show up and kill anyone who refuses to go home?

    American police summarily execute people for all sort of minor crimes, and tend to interpret “resisting arrest” in an absurdly broad way. (See my When All Else Fails for examples–all the stories about police murdering innocent people are true.) So, in practice, whether this is Irfan’s intention or not, we wouldn’t want to tell American police it’s okay to kill people who resist arrest for ignoring social distancing rules.
    Published on: April 8, 2020
    Author: Jason Brennan
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    https://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2020/04/should-police-kill-people-who-violate-stay-at-home-orders/

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    • I’m not going to reproduce it here, but Brennan has one of those memes up, supposedly applicable to me, which has me saying on the one hand that “#BlackLivesMatters and police are too violent,” and on the other that “Police should arrest people who go outside.” Then there’s the image of the anxiously sweaty guy representing “American ‘Progressive’ Intellectuals.”

      My fervent but probably futile hope is that this pandemic will jolt the people who trade on such infantile devices to re-think what they’re doing. What, exactly, is the function of the image that heads Brennan’s piece? I’m not a “progressive,” and have never claimed to be one. Nor does anyone regard me as one. I’ve never been a big booster of BlackLivesMatters. I have on occasion criticized the police. Whoa. But I’ve never said that the police should “arrest people who go outside.” Whatever the intended function, the unintended outcome is to highlight the sheer childishness of the resort to argument-by-philo-memolatry. We’re not children any more. We don’t need to turn the entire universe into a comic book. There’s limited utility in playing to the peanut gallery in the middle of a pandemic, especially when you haven’t ventured a single useful thought in public since the damn thing began.

      Isn’t it time to grow the fuck up? To paraphrase Hillel, if not now, when?

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  2. The “shitty” comment:

    Jason Brennan Mod Justyn Ess • 3 hours ago
    Of course. In the abstract, we can imagine this reasoning being correct. If we were in the middle of the Zombie Apocalypse Virus outbreak, sure.

    But applying this to COVID-19, when our data is so shitty, is implausible. It’s especially implausible when he doesn’t first consider all the possible alternative to killing people.

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  3. A few LOL moments from the BHL discussion:

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    Jonathan Gress • 8 hours ago
    Shouldn’t we be dealing with his central premise that violating stay at home orders counts as initiation of force? If we accept that premise it seems to me the rest of his argument follows – retaliatory force is justified and resistance is justifiably met with escalation of force, even if it ends in death.

    Yes, I think dealing with his central premise is a pretty good idea. The question is how contagious an idea it is.
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    Craig J. Bolton • 3 hours ago • edited
    This is the stupidest discussion I’ve seen in this group and suffers from typical rightwing hyperbole. No one is suggesting that people who violate the guidelines be shot. Most are not even suggesting that they be arrested. (Where would you put them to incarcerate them?) Fined. Maybe. The language quoted simply says what we all know, you don’t get in a gun fight with police. You don’t even forcibly resist them. If you do, you will run a significant likelihood of being killed by them.

    I agree with Bolton, except that I think that his comment involves some hyperbole of its own. It’s not the stupidest discussion I’ve ever seen at BHL. Stupid? Yes. Stupidest? Hyperbole.

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  4. Drs D’Amico and Magness doing grand rounds together:

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    Daniel J. D’Amico • 4 hours ago
    Has his mental illness been healed since the first post?


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    Phil Magness Daniel J. D’Amico • an hour ago
    It appears to be trending in the other direction.

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  5. “Verdict: incompetent reading comprehension in an inchoate attempt to build a straw man to knock down.”

    Very clearly so.

    “You can’t refute anyone with rhetorical questions. A question is a request for information. A refutation is a demonstration of the falsity of a claim, or a defect in an argument. There’s just a basic mismatch there, and the rhetorical gusto of your questions isn’t going to fix it.”

    I get that one from some of my students. Frequently. They have not graduated from high school.

    I ordinarily admire or at least respect Brennan, in part because, unlike so many libertarians, he takes the trouble to understand his opponents’ views and responds to them rather than to caricatures of them. It’s disappointing to see that he’s chosen not to exercise the same kind of responsibility here.

    It’s particularly bizarre that he would try to associate you with ‘progressives’ or with unqualified critics of the police. I’ve long thought that your perspectives on the police were unusually well balanced. I’ve thought of you as more critical than defensive, but you’ve always recognized both the legitimate need for law enforcement and the difficulties involved in doing it well, yet without ignoring or giving a pass to brutality and abuse. Perhaps Brennan’s views on the police bear less resemblance to the incoherent caricature of his meme, but that’s only because they’re too simplistic.

    But then, that’s libertarianism for you. Most libertarians have their entire identity tied up in an a priori commitment to its never, ever being necessary or justified for the state to do anything like issuing and enforcing stay-at-home orders. They’re not likely to have identity-altering conversions, so some are going to engage in all sorts of contortions to avoid it, others are going to ignore it as much as possible, others will try to convince each other that their opponents are mentally deranged.

    The comment from Jonathan Gress is, from a libertarian point of view, exactly right. Those of us who aren’t libertarians will not worry quite so much about whether violating stay-at-home orders meets some theoretical criteria of ‘initiation of force,’ but most libertarians will either have to reject that claim or find some other way to resist the conclusion that pretty straightforwardly follows. I myself have been reminded every time I take a walk around the block and see people congregating in large groups about Nozick’s discussion of ‘innocent threats.’ It’s entirely non-obvious whether libertarians are logically committed to the illegitimacy of enforcing stay-at-home orders, precisely because people violating them (at least in some ways, and at least some orders) are potential threats, both directly and by virtue of making other people threats. I can’t speak for libertarians, of course, but it seems to me that there’s an important set of issues to be discussed there. Presumably some libertarians are actually thinking them through rather than just attacking people like you for being ‘deranged.’

    I’m going to try to go back into my hole now.

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  6. djr says “Most libertarians have their entire identity tied up in an a priori commitment to its never, ever being necessary or justified for the state to do anything like issuing and enforcing stay-at-home orders.” That nails it. Error and corruption are human traits, not just government traits. There is a fine line between too much government and not enough of it, and the line has been crossed in the wrong direction (too much) in many, many ways. But that doesn’t mean that there are no cases in which there isn’t enough government.

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  7. Phil Magness is starting to hear voices.

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    PMagness • 2 hours ago
    I think I’ve heard a version of his argument before…

    “To each of you I will then say: Here is work for you; strike into it with manlike, soldier-like obedience and heartiness, according to the methods here prescribed,—wages follow for you without difficulty; all manner of just remuneration, and at length emancipation itself follows. Refuse to strike into it; shirk the heavy labor, disobey the rules,—I will admonish and endeavor to incite you; if in vain, I will flog you; if still in vain, I will at last shoot you,—and make God’s Earth, and the forlorn-hope in God’s Battle, free of you” – Thomas Carlyle, 1850

    These are the people calling me crazy, and suggesting that I need mental health attention. Also the people who spent months lecturing us over the burdens of scholarship and discourse in the Nancy MacLean affair. Much obliged to anyone who can explain the relevance of this bizarre miasma to anything I actually said.

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    • Since you’re vile and stupid, I’ll explain. Carlyle is saying: look, there’s some things I’m going to order you to do, and if you do them, the results will be great, but if you don’t do them, I will compel you to do them, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll actually kill you. You’re also talking about killing people. Therefore you and Thomas Carlyle are saying the same thing.

      Libertarians get at least one thing right: the threat of death is ultimately something that the state makes against people, and if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be a state. What is less insightful is the pretense that there is something really scandalous about that. After all, most libertarians also claim that each of us is a rights-bearer, and that as such we are entitled to defend our rights even, in some cases, if that involves killing the people who are violating them. So unless one is a radical pacifist, shocked gasps at the idea that the state necessarily threatens to kill under certain circumstances are mere pretense, and there is no decent objection to the existence of the state that rests simply on the fact that states inevitably threaten to kill under certain circumstances. The only relevant questions are about the circumstances.

      I wouldn’t say that you’ve made your view crystal clear, but unless it’s even less clear than it seems, you’re obviously not proposing death as a punishment for these folks. You’re instead rejecting the notion that people who refuse to comply and who forcibly resist being compelled to comply may legitimately be killed. (Well, I think it’s ‘legitimately’; if not, there’s even less of a debate to be had here). I might object to that view, depending on the details, but unless I’m missing something there’s nothing obviously stupid or vile about it.

      On the other hand, there is something vile about the kind of intellectual dishonesty on display in Brennan’s responses to you. I can’t assess Magness’ case, because I have no sure evidence that he is intelligent enough to be above that kind of crap. But Brennan most certainly is. He’s just being self-indulgent and taking advantage of the fact that people in his position can say virtually anything on the Internet without any negative repercussions.

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      • So let me make my view as clear as I can by way of an example accessible to all. Suppose you hold the view that wrongful voting is a bit like pollution, so that each instance of it, though thoroughly wrongful, makes only a small contribution to any adverse outcome to arise from the process. To address the problem, you decide to disenfranchise wrongful voters, describing them as people who “pollute the polls.” The electorate, after all, has a right to competence in those permitted to vote. The means of disenfranchisement you choose is a kind of licensure exam conceived by analogy with a driving test. Naturally, some people fail it because they fail to exhibit the competence the test was designed to measure. Imagine one of the these people, Smith, shows up at a polling station on Election Day. Now imagine that you are the armed police officer stationed there to guard the station.

        Smith stands in line to try to vote. When he gets to the table where his credentials are to be checked, it turns out that he lacks them. He makes a scene. He’s asked to leave. His behavior gets more extreme. He starts screaming. You ask him more firmly to leave. He takes a swing at you. You tell him to stop. He takes another swing at you. You tell him to stop or else you’ll have to use force. He calls you a “pig motherfucker”, picks up a chair, and throws it at you. He misses. He picks up another one. He hits you, but it doesn’t hurt much. He picks up another one. Now it hurts. Etc.

        Now he charges at you. Resolved to wait until the “last resort,” you wrestle him on the ground. He’s strong. You keep wrestling. Etc.

        My point is simply: at some point in this sequence of escalations, if he keeps this up, and you have no backup, and your strength is waning (etc.), you will have to shoot him. At that point, wherever it is, you will have done no wrong. If we assume ex hypothesi, that disenfranchisement of incompetent voters is just, and disenfranchisement is law, then that law has to be enforced. If it has to be enforced, and some will defy it, then those who defy it have to be forced to comply (not necessarily to the point of specific performance, but to some point). If defiance reaches a certain level where it threatens the life of the law enforcement officer, that officer has to take measures sufficient to thwart the threat to him (and/or others). Can it ever happen that shooting is one of those measures? It certainly can.

        Anyone who would like to pretend otherwise should find the nearest high crime neighborhood, rent an apartment there, antagonize the local criminals, and see what happens. I know enough people who have ended up dead under such circumstances to know what happens. I don’t need to do the experiment, and I don’t need to consult back issues of the Journal of Criminal Justice to see the latest data. Not to know this much about law enforcement is to have one’s head too far up one’s ass to make any intelligent contribution to the topic.

        No, I absolutely was not recommending death as a punishment for violating distancing orders. My opposition to the death penalty is public and goes back to 2001. Anyway, David Boonin argued me out of retributive punishment in 2011 (meaning, I read his book on punishment, The Problem of Punishment, and was convinced by it). So depending on what one means by it, I don’t even believe in punishment.The issue is not punishment once the subject has been subdued, but police action prior to subduing a violently non-compliant subject.

        Brennan’s rhetorical question about last resort implicitly concedes the truth of what I was saying.

        Isn’t killing an extreme measure to be used as a last resort?

        Yes, killing is an extreme measure to be used as a last resort. Doesn’t that entail that if you’re at the last resort, then you should kill, or at least may blamelessly do so? I assume the answer is “yes.” If so, why the grandstanding about killing? If he agrees that the police must sometimes kill, and I agree that they must, what is his point supposed to be? He confesses to wondering what I mean, then writes as though he knows exactly what it is, then turns it into something it isn’t.

        Where the relevant points are–i.e., what are the sufficient conditions for the use lethal force in police encounters–I didn’t say. I didn’t say because saying was orthogonal to the point I was making, and would require a long study of a topic on which I’m no expert. I was writing a blog post about how to deal with a pandemic, not a treatise on police ethics. It was sufficient to point out that sometimes you have to shoot people when they fail to comply with the law, and that this could well apply to a law like New Jersey’s Executive Order 107. Have either of them so far proven me wrong?

        I’ve seen Jason Brennan lecture people long and loud about the interpretive burdens of “charity.” Evidently, lecturing is one thing, and practicing is another. No reasonable reader could have taken me to mean that the police should indiscriminately shoot anyone outside, or anyone violating the Order, or even anyone resisting police orders. I didn’t say it, didn’t imply it, didn’t mean it, didn’t intend it. So I’m sorry, but their attempt to suggest that I did is transparently dishonest and stupid–transparent to everyone, I suspect, but them.

        No one disputes Brennan’s intelligence, least of all me. What I dispute is his probity and integrity. He’s smart. He’s just full of shit. The same applies to Magness. I’ve never disputed his intelligence, in the sense of likely having a high IQ. My claim is that intelligence aside, he lacks intellectual integrity, a defect made worse by bragging incessantly about having it in cases like that of Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains.

        So far, they haven’t been able to do much more than engage in insinuations, mischaracterize my claims, and try their best to rouse their eager peanut gallery to abet their defamations. It’s not working very well, as I knew it wouldn’t.

        The irony is that I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said before by libertarians themselves. That law enforcement can, in the extreme case, require killing; that the passing-on of a disease vector is a rights violation; that many disagreements, often wide ones, are possible about the application of the libertarian ban on force initiations; that the imposition of risk is a difficult issue to work out within a libertarian framework; etc. None of this is news. Evidently, it becomes newsworthy when Khawaja says it, and applies it to COVID-19. Whereupon every libertarian truism becomes an expression of derangement. By contrast, it is not, by their lights, deranged to be on record (as Magness is) as asserting that the universities should have been open all this time, and that their abrupt closing in mid-March was a case of their “losing their shit.” Perhaps their loss was Magness’s gain.

        One last point. It’s notable that BHL has been AWOL for most of this crisis. They produced three posts at the very beginning–a rehash of old posts, a post on price gouging, one on Zoom–and that was that. They then retreated to their social media bunkers, where the likes of Magness and Brennan decided that the thing to do was go after the statistical models of the epidemiologists.

        Did they promote social distancing on BHL? No. Did they suggest that the pandemic was real and dangerous, and that it was dangerous to deny or minimize it, as many libertarians were? No. Did they warn of the impending strain on the health care system? No. Did they suggest that universities step up and help? No. Did they suggest that individuals step up and help? No. Did they tap their extensive networks of friends in the medical field and give those people online space to describe their situation from a first hand perspective? No. Did they say a word to dispute the ageist fascism that was being thrown about like the latest fashion? No. Did they make any honest attempt to grapple with the fact that reports were coming in of people flouting norms of social distancing? No, they did their best to pretend that no such reports were coming in at all.

        When, at last, did they rouse themselves? To respond to me. Discrediting Khawaja was more important to them than commenting responsibly on the pandemic. That set of moral priorities speaks for itself. I’ve never claimed to be a “progressive,” or a moral hero, or an expert in epidemiology, or a “scrutinizer of bad statistical takes” (Magness, on himself). What I do know is that when the dust clears, that pattern of behavior will redound to their discredit, not mine.

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        • I think that really settles it: your claim here is that law enforcement officers may kill in self-defense, and not that they may kill those who fail to comply for failing to comply. We might disagree extensively about the conditions distinguishing justified killing in self-defense from unjustified escalation of violence, and about the frequency with which police killings meet the former conditions. Yet it seems pretty clear that unless we’re supposed to be pacifists, police officers can justifiably kill in self-defense. But it appears that on your view, that has nothing to do with their being police officers, except incidentally; they’re justified for the same reasons that you or I or anyone else would be, and they’re simply more likely to confront situations in which they cannot simply retreat from a threat, because enforcement of the law will sometimes meet with resistance that involves such a threat. The view is not that killing should be used as a means of stopping people from violating stay-at-home orders; it’s that stay-at-home orders should be enforced, and that an inevitable consequence of this enforcement is the possibility of resisting up to the point where you threaten the law enforcement officer sufficiently to justify his shooting you in self-defense. Right?

          That is almost boring. It sure isn’t scandalous.

          The alternative sort of view would be at least a little scandalous, I think, but I’m not sure it would really merit the mud splattering you’re receiving. If we consider another sort of case widely regarded as a rights violation that nonetheless does not involve direct threat to a person’s life — theft, say — the notion that private citizens or police officers would justifiably kill an offender as a means to halting the rights-violation would seem a bit extreme: you’re stealing my prized copy of Locke’s Second Treatise, and neither I nor the police can get you to stop or to return it, so I just shoot you, or get the cops to shoot you — that seems a bit much. Yet Locke himself comes close to saying just that in the Second Treatise. It’d be asinine to respond by calling Locke vile and stupid. But then, perhaps he was vile and stupid for other reasons, and maybe you are too. Maybe it’s your tastes in fashion, or your choice of friends.

          I suppose I know full well that behavior like you’re describing isn’t due to lack of intelligence. What misleads me, I think, other than sheer impatience, is that often I’ve encountered folks for whom the kind of misrepresentation that you’re meeting is a more honest mistake than it would be for people with more cultivated intellectual skills and virtues. That’s not what’s going on in at least one of these cases. It is particularly disappointing precisely because it’s the same sort of tiresome thing that clever libertarians like Brennan are subjected to, and rightly object to.

          I’d grumble in old man fashion about the Internet, except that I’m not sure how I’d procrastinate without it. But maybe that’s just another cause for grumbling about it.

          Liked by 2 people

          • To your first paragraph: right. But police officers are much more likely to confront a threat from which retreat is unacceptable. For instance, suppose you work for the Department of Public Works and are asked to monitor social distancing at a park. Now suppose someone refuses to. You ask nicely. They don’t. You persist. They get belligerent. Now they start getting really out of hand. You’re supposed to call the police, not handle it yourself–hoping that nothing really crazy will happen in the few minutes it takes for the police to arrive. Can you, in the extreme case, use direct force? Yes, but it’s advisable to wait. Of course, once the police come, there’s no one left to wait for.

            I really love Brennan’s long lectures about “last resort,” by the way, and the deep importance (they’re trying to impress on me) of trying alternative methods before you shoot someone. I’m training to be a counseling psychologist. In New Jersey, counselors are embedded with police departments to talk down subjects who might be mentally ill (of all things). Is that a good thing? Of course. Should they try? Of course, when feasible. But every counselor–yours truly in about a year–knows that if talk doesn’t work, you’ll have to resort to something stronger.

            So consider. These are people lecturing me about police brutality when I’m the one who’s been detained, arrested, interrogated, shot at and threatened by law enforcement. These are people lecturing me about the need to use alternative techniques when I’m the one going into the field (in both senses of “field”) where such techniques will actually have to be used in real-life circumstances! They don’t have the decency even to provide a link to my site, but they’re willing to sit there and question my sanity in public.

            Brennan’s recent foray is an attack on data collection/statistical techniques in epidemiology.

            https://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2020/04/on-sars-cov-2-and-methods/

            You mean the topic David Potts blogged here four years ago?

            https://irfankhawajaphilosopher.com/2016/01/05/what-if-most-of-the-findings-published-in-psychology-and-medicine-and-biology-and-journals-are-false/

            I’ll leave a response to his argument for another time (enough time wasted on this), but you can probably figure one out yourself. Put yourself back at March 5 or March 9, and imagine that you’re reading Brennan’s “On SARS COV 2 and Methods.” How useful is the advice he offers? How deeply do his criticisms cut if you’d never been a great fan of government regulation in the first place? I’d invite anyone to trawl through Policy of Truth in search of the volumes I’ve written in praise of FDA or CDC regulation. What I’ve written are critiques of HIPPA and IRBs.

            https://irfankhawajaphilosopher.com/2018/12/11/against-hippster-regulation/

            https://irfankhawajaphilosopher.com/2017/12/04/free-speech-for-the-mum/

            Suppose, however, that the clock begins on March 9, or February 9. You have to figure out what to do now, going forward–or what policies to support as a citizen. What has he told you to guide your actions, besides to construct a time machine that takes you to the choice point that might have made things different? The relevant issue is not who to blame, but what to do. His advice is like telling an accident victim to forget 911 and call an accident lawyer. “Yes, right now you’re a Level 1 trauma patient, but your first priority should be the litigation you’ll file against the person who caused the accident.”

            Imagine being at the CDC, or a State Department of Health, and producing a policy paper that says what his post says–not on April 9, but on March 9, or even February 9. The relevant issue is: yes, ideally, we would do all that, but within short order, the Italian scenario will be on us. How do we avert it? In a month’s time, neither Brennan nor Magness have come up with a single post or tweet that deals with this obvious, crucial, urgent question.

            Anyway, here he is, a month in, with the useful advice that if the past had been different, so would the present and future. Really? Has anyone informed the Royal Society?

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  8. Here’s Jason flailing away.

    Avatar
    Craig J. Bolton • 7 hours ago • edited
    This is the stupidest discussion I’ve seen in this group and suffers from typical rightwing hyperbole. No one is suggesting that people who violate the guidelines be shot. Most are not even suggesting that they be arrested. (Where would you put them to incarcerate them?) Fined. Maybe. The language quoted simply says what we all know, you don’t get in a gun fight with police. You don’t even forcibly resist them. If you do, you will run a significant likelihood of being killed by them.

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    Jason Brennan Mod Craig J. Bolton • 3 hours ago
    Irfan literally recommends killing people. Did you see the post above.

    He is a vile, stupid man.

    Definitely pulling out the heavy philosophical artillery there: “vile, stupid man.” This is a guy with a fancy chair at Georgetown. Impressive. Honestly, I thought they could do better than this. All that loud, boastful talk about the virtues of Vulcanism, and this is what we get?

    I agree that I “literally” recommended killing people; I hadn’t meant it metaphorically. Nor, to borrow a phrase, was I “writing a poem.” Killing is not a poem. The question is killing under which circumstances. Surely “literal” killing can be justified under some circumstances? Or has Jason Brennan lately become a disciple of Gandhi? Can’t see him in a dhoti, and frankly would prefer not to.

    But doesn’t Jason himself sometimes recommend literally killing people? Was all the carnage recommended in When All Else Fails meant to be a poem? And here I thought that politics wasn’t a poem (Against Democracy, ch. 5). Reflective equilbrium, anyone?

    Just a small piece of advice to Jason and Phil: the next time it enters your small heads to question my mental competence, make sure you can dish something out that is at least worth laughing at. Because right now, I’m not sure whether to laugh at you or feel sorry for you. You’re not even winning the argument on your own website, much less anywhere else.

    And remember that a finding of mental incompetence requires a diagnosis, which requires clinical skills that neither of you can even pretend to have. Because if you had them, it might occur to you that it’s a violation of APA guidelines to offer an armchair diagnosis on a person you’ve never met. If you were in the relevant field, your attempt would disqualify you from continued membership in it, and because you’re not in the field, your attempt wears its ineptitude on its face. Not exactly a good place to be.

    I told Phil, long ago, to shut the fuck up. He didn’t listen. Behold the result. Feel free to keep digging your reputations into the grave, both of you. It costs me nothing to watch the spectacle.

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  11. I’ve responded to both Jason Brennan and Phil Magness over at BHL (along with a handful of other commenters there). Brennan, who has Moderator status at BHL, can’t seem to make up his mind about what to do with my comments, deleting them, restoring them under pressure from intervening third parties, then deleting them again–a years old pattern with him. As expected, he at first accepted, then deleted my very last comment, which I’ve reproduced in the block quote down below.

    Magness tried to give BHL’s readers the impression that I had simply swooped down out of the blue and attacked him without provocation. He’s lying. There was a provocation, and he knows exactly what it was. I repeatedly said what it was in unmistakably profane terms. He objects to the profanity but lyingly claims to be ignorant of the underlying issue. I’ve described it in the block quoted passage below.

    Brennan and Magness now disingenuously claim not to wish to engage with me on the grounds that they just couldn’t deign to converse with a person as ill-mannered as Khawaja–a claim absurd enough, considering its sources, to make a cat laugh. The more obvious explanation is that their “arguments” stand on pathetically weak ground, and they know it; I’ve rebutted every significant claim they’ve made, and they know that, too. With nowhere to go, dialectically, it becomes convenient to change the subject. And while venomous bile is one of their trademark tactics, I think they’ll have to confess to having met their match in my case: because let’s face it, when it comes to sheer belligerence, I’m sort of hard to beat.

    Though they no longer have the heart to mention me by name, Magness at least continues to take cryptic (and incredibly stupid) potshots at me at his Facebook page. I haven’t checked his Twitter feed lately, and Brennan blocked me on his social media long ago. But rest assured that I haven’t finished with them. There’s more to say, and I fully intend to say it.

    Irfan Khawaja [responding to] Phil Magness • 44 minutes ago
    The provocation was Magness’s March 10 Facebook rant, which I’ve posted on my blog and which I’ll comment on at length fairly soon. Magness should stop pretending to be such a stranger to profanity or invective. There’s plenty of both in his posts, as well as Brennan’s, and has been for years. Both of them are and have been completely out of control for years, but tolerated by the libertarian establishment despite their behavior, in just the way that Brian Leiter was tolerated by his sycophants before the Carrie Ichigawa Jenkins fiasco brought an end to Leiter’s overt abuse. But even Jenkins couldn’t have prevailed but for the tireless efforts of people like Richard Heck to expose the fraud and abuse behind Leiter’s putatively “professional” defamations.

    Why is my profanity so much worse than making the suggestion that the universities have “lost their shit” (Magness’s fragrant words) because they’ve decided to close over a pandemic? How is lyingly accusing someone of police brutality a “reasonable” discursive tactic? Or diagnosing him with mental illness? Or dishonestly asserting that he’s posted “every day”? Not difficult questions.

    Brennan and Magness have gotten away with years of unchecked verbal abuse and dishonesty because libertarian careerists have been too cowardly to respond to them in kind. When they get a response in kind from someone outside of their closed, incestuous circle of acquaintances, all of a sudden they revert to the expression of consternation and bewilderment. What a shock! As the average American thinks that 9/11 materialized ex nihilo, so, people utterly lacking self-knowledge are under the impression that responses to their abuse “came from out of the blue.”

    Look at the way they’ve responded to me right here [meaning at BHL]–a grotesque, transparent good cop/bad cop routine, with Brennan playing the enforcer and Magness playing the poor, hurt ingenue, who just can’t understand why big, bad Irfan Khawaja would have flown in like a bolt from the blue to attack his innocent little ass. That might have worked on me if I were five, but otherwise, it’s a little late for such theatrics.

    So far, Brennan has accused me of wanting to shoot innocent people but not acknowledged that he misinterpreted what I said.

    So far, both of them have suggested that I’m mentally ill but come up with no argument for that claim, no actual diagnosis, given no indication of having any credentials to make it, and refused to acknowledge that it is legally defamatory.

    So far, Magness is on record as saying that the universities ought never have closed in response to the pandemic, and not explicitly ruled out that they ought to have been open this whole time.

    Here’s a piece of advice. Stop lying to your readers. Stop poisoning every well you find. Stop posturing as innocent little professionals brutally attacked by some raving lunatic for no reason at all. Stop misrepresenting people, trying to intimidate them, deleting their comments (restoring them only under pressure from third parties). Stop posturing as paradigms of discursive reasonability while you conspicuously fail to respond to the actual arguments people have made against you, and sit there repeating yourselves over and over like zombies. This didn’t turn out well for you because you’ve acted so poorly. A little self-knowledge would go a long way. Get some, and stop blaming other people for the fact that you so obviously lack it.

    I’m not going to keep coming back to this sewer. If you want to have a conversation, you know where to find me. But rest assured that I’m not going to put up with any shit from any of you, here, there or anywhere else. Get the message once and for all.

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  12. Maybe the cops in New Jersey should give their service revolvers up for books? When they face dangerous suspects, they can literally throw the book at them. I would nominate arming New Jersey’s finest with Jason Brennan’s When All Else Fails.

    https://www.nj.com/ocean/2020/04/man-arrested-twice-in-3-hours-for-entering-wawa-without-mask-making-threats-cops-say.html

    I mean, it’s not like anything dangerous ever happens in New Jersey.

    https://www.nj.com/hudson/2020/04/two-teens-charged-in-jersey-city-shooting-police.html

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  15. From Ray Raad:

    On another note, I can’t seem to be able to post a comment to your blog. It happens sometimes. Here’s what I would have liked to post in response to your latest comment:

    “I think Jason and Phil have been very unfair to you in this process. But going a little further, this is a deep problem with libertarianism. So much of the theory is anti-government that people lose sight of the proper role of government and of the fact that a strong government is necessary to secure individual rights. “

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with the problem with libertarianism, but find it profitable to focus on a different “deep problem.” Every intellectual milieu needs a bit of self-policing for discursive malfeasance. When people come to idolize certain academic players because of the ideological contribution they make to “the cause,” they free ride on the task of self-policing. The result is that academic players with bad moral character run wild. That’s what Brennan and Magness have done here. I’m not the first of their victims, and won’t be the last.

      The people and institutions who hire, fund, or support such people engage in mental gymnastics to pretend that their support should flow without moral strings of any kind. It’s easy for them to ignore the victims; moral agnosticism in the service of dispassionate academic objectivity becomes their modus operandi. The issue is broader than libertarianism. It happens among leftists, among centrists, among conservatives, among cognitive-behavioral therapists, among proponents of psychotropic medication, among psychoanalysts, and in other contexts as well. But it’s the same malady in each case: a refusal to engage in moral judgment, a refusal to follow through on obvious moral facts, and derision for anyone who takes the reverse stance.

      The problem I see with Brennan and Magness’s previous critics is not that they were wrong, but that they gave up too soon. Much of what they said–I’m thinking of people like Steve Patterson, the adjunct activists, etc.–was entirely true. But after exploding in rage at some discrete malfeasance, they focused elsewhere, partly out of fear of being given some bullshit psychiatric diagnosis by Brennan and Magness themselves, and partly because they felt that their time was better spent elsewhere. (This is less true of Patterson than some of Brennan’s other critics.) I have no such fear, and a great deal of stamina for a long-haul confrontation on my own terms. In other words, I’m going to pound the shit out of them until I’m satisfied that I’ve said what needs to be said, and my message has gotten through to my satisfaction.

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