The broken windowpane fallacy fallacy

Sunday, 17 November, Year 11 d.Tr. | Author: Mircea Popescu

Bastiat is not exactly foreign within these pages ; nor is he all that well understood without.

Take the titular example, possibly his most famous contribution (in any case his most oft discussed, at least among certain circles) : war is "never a good thing", say the indolenti derps, because even as much as a windowpane brokenii is a complete and unmitigated cost to "society as a whole".

Yet... consider. The bloodiest conflicts to date in absolute terms, (occurring not coincidentally the last time socialism flavours disputed the socialist crown) dispatched a few tens of million souls. The bloodiest conflicts in relative terms, either Caesar's wholesale slaughter of Gauls (because the Dacians of the period were too strong for himiii, their falx too scary even if their hundred tons of gold more attractive) or I guess the butchery of that obscure Achaemenid settlementiv wiped a few percents of the known headcount at the time, in their respective spheres -- perhaps a million or so in absolute terms. What's this ?

Piddly nothings, spittle in the rain, an old man coughing in a boat during late August frog mating season. Consider that every human being ever born to date (with proportionally very few -- and in any case, very temporary exceptions) has meanwhile died. Natural causes, right ?

What have these natural causes cost ? Was every Jew dead over the three thousand years they claim for their history worth the forty silver pieces someone was supposedly found to pay for one of them ? How many tons of silver is that, counting fifty generations to the millenium and a million or two heads to the generation yields more silver than was ever found -- in Latin America, much later -- and this is just for the Jews, a nothing % worldwide. Was every college graduate ever produced worth the thousands of pounds sterlingv their education supposedly cost ? Was every female worth the bridal price, dowry, what do you call it in your culture ?

Were they, all of these, worth more than a grain, an ounce, a drizzle of cheap oil ?

Well, if they were, as no doubt they claimed, as no doubt they'd have expected you to agree they were, (but only while living)... where is it ?

Where has it gone ? How did society survive the breaking of so many panes of glass ? Count them, they're trillions, supposedly greatly decorated, subtly priceless, extremely great and wonderful panes of glass. They're all broken, gone now, adieu. Well ?

How have we survived, I wonder, the disappearance of so many irreplaceably valuable "human resources" ? How is it that the cutting of the grass is not at all "an absolute loss" to the field ? How come the shearing of the sheep's not an absolute loss of so much good hair of certain benefit and definite utility the sheep secreted at considerable personal cost through the application of complex technology you can't even industrially replicate as of yet ?

If all these pricy assets had stayed with us, I wonder ? Would we be better off, would there be a marked benefit, would society have greatly gained if all the assorted corpses produced by Father Time (the greatest warrior of all) never rotted, never dissolved, never returned to ash and dust for failure of dying in the first place ?

Consider how greatly the cvasi-immortality of Soviet top bureaucrats aided the Soviet cause (coincidentally, no doubt, towards the end of that state) ; consider also what a wonderful boon the Koschei-like qualities of present US senators constitute for the (coincidentally, I say) decaying pretense they claim to represent. What if every single spurious idiot the workings of physics and biology meanwhile relieved us of instead lingered on ? What if you actually had your nose rubbed in the "great value" of these turds you could no longer ever flush ? There's a reason, you know, "recognition" comes after death ; it's a lot easier to pretend turds were valuable after the flushing than before.

Who'd run the ventilators for ten, a hundred, ten thousand trillion vegetables ? Who'd build the skyscrapers to store them in, thousands of square miles in all directions ? The same people who protect women from being sexed "against their will", I expect, perhaps during their days off from that endlessly thankless yet mindbogglingly pointless task ?

Value is not what you think it is ; and this not coincidentally, but part and parcel, cosubstantially essential part and parcel of why you even think in the first place. It's not a process oriented towards "truth" as much as it's a process oriented towards explaining away this fundamental problem.

Let's just blame Bastiat, huh ? Certainly the fact that you want to read him a certain way isn't his fault, so who better to carry the blame ?

———
  1. The whole "golden rule" / "non-aggression principle" / etcetera wank is nothing but laziness on steroids ; it has no deeper source nor further meaning than the militancy of the idle, attempting a rationalization of why exactly it is they shouldn't have to get up. Somehow the plain (and plainly self-evident) observation that one's own notions as to how interested or not interested in war they might be neither bear nor could possibly ever bear any... bearing, let's say, on war's interest in the one really really bothers Jason -- we could perhaps even go as far as to say it butthurts him, why not. []
  2. Hitler was also oddly fixated on just how bereft of any breaking of windowpanes his coming to power had been, for some reason. Seriously, what's with unsteady thinkers and this windowpane preoccupation ? []
  3. This is no exaggeration, by the way. Precisely in the manner of any socialist government in the supposed modern period, trying to invent a war to escape domestic responsibility (take Southern Argentina, if its Northern exact equivalent is too close to home for comfort), Caesar was stuck coming up with some war to escape his various debts and the need to explain himself in the senate. He went for Gaul rather than Dacia because the rag-tag bands he was kinda-not-really authorized to use / could manage access to would have been mowed down by the well organized, centralized kingdom north of the Danube. So he took his chances instead with the disorganised, more primitive tribes north of the Alps -- and as they say, the rest is history. []
  4. Kuhna Gurgānj. []
  5. Half a kilogram of silver, that's what "a pound sterling" is, yes ? []
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4 Responses

  1. > Value is not what you think it is ; and this not coincidentally, but part and parcel, cosubstantially essential part and parcel of why you even think in the first place.

    Would you be willing to expound on the 'part and parcel of why you even think in the first place' portion a bit?

    Overall, though, I ~think~ I take the article's meaning:

    First, there's the concept of value. For something to have value it must first participate in human activity. Furthermore, for something to have value it necessarily means that a ~specific set~ of humans (a finite set where each member can be enumerated and identified) have determined this through ~measurement~ of some kind.

    Thus, with the above in mind, the very idea that something can be either a benefit or a cost 'to society as a whole' seems quite absurd; a benefit/cost to who specifically? And if the cost is unmeasurable, then how is it known to be a cost in the first place?

  2. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    2
    Mircea Popescu 
    Sunday, 17 November 2019

    > Would you be willing to expound on the 'part and parcel of why you even think in the first place' portion a bit?

    Let's start with an analogy.

    A child is born at some arbitrary moment in time. At some other, later point in the life of that child, someone else, palpably not the child in question, decides it's old enough to go in a car. This decision is not explained to the child, but manifested to it : as far as the child knows, the car just appears in his life, and takes him places.

    The car, however, is not an instrument for "taking you places", such as to the sweet warm bosom of a loving woman. The car is an instrument for moving either down a straight line, or down a circular section of certain radius, in any combination the person seated behind the switch (also called "wheel") analogicaly chooses.

    Your brain is exactly like the car : at some point in your life not-you decided your brain now works inside of you ; but your brain is not an instrument of seeking truth. It is an instrument of seeking the perpetuation of your genes -- some things that have relatively little to do with you.

    For which reason, the concept of value, and your private symbol of value, have anything in common only coincidentally. It's true that some people flatter themselves with better rapport to coincidences than the average ; it's also true most people can systematically improve their apparent rapport to coincidence. Nevertheless, the fact that the car can be made to take you places arbitrarily often doesn't ever, no matter what happens, no matter how long an interval ellapses, make it something else. The car stays what it is, and forever will. Have you ever met one of those drivers proud to never have been in an accident ? How much of it did you think it was their doing ?

    > First, there's the concept of value.

    I do not subscribe to the Platonic view.

    > For something to have value it must first participate in human activity.

    It this were so, what about mining ?

    What about, moreover, the simple fact no doubt already familiar to your senses whereby the very hot women you've never fucked before make larger blips on your radar than the even hotter women you fuck whenever you feel like ?

    Walk with me down the street, if you will, and through my eyes see this hottie. Turn to whichever slut in your escort you feel like and say "go talk to her". Watch the hottie who'd been walking a step behind you for a mile or ten thousand sway her ass towards the hottie approaching, and wonder why the fuck you thought "hottie" about the latter. Why did you ? She didn't participate in fucking activity, not yet at any rate. Why did you ?

    > Furthermore, for something to have value it necessarily means that a ~specific set~ of humans (a finite set where each member can be enumerated and identified) have determined this through ~measurement~ of some kind.

    If you're gonna go down that path, might as well being an engineer right now, why wait for it.

    > Thus, with the above in mind, the very idea that something can be either a benefit or a cost 'to society as a whole' seems quite absurd; a benefit/cost to who specifically?

    This is a weak line of inquiry, not least because the respondent has at the ready the tools of this our republic to butcher you with : "to, specifically, pa&ptCrhuR". What now ?

  3. > at some point in your life not-you decided your brain now works inside of you ; but your brain is not an instrument of seeking truth. It is an instrument of seeking the perpetuation of your genes

    Thank you for going into detail, and this makes perfect sense. (I sort of assumed that this is what you meant but I'm trying to get out of the habit of assuming if I don't have to.)

    > I do not subscribe to the Platonic view.

    This relates directly to the above then, huh. In other words, there cannot be a Platonic notion of 'value' as value only has meaning as a private symbol to a specific brain. Am I grokking this?

    > She didn't participate in fucking activity, not yet at any rate. Why did you ?

    I think I see what you mean. I can (and do) assign provisional value to things based on the observed properties of that thing and whether I've, personally, found those properties to be valuable in prior experience.

    > If you're gonna go down that path, might as well being an engineer right now, why wait for it.

    'Measurement' may have been a misnomer. I meant 'value-finding' within a market of humans.

    > This is a weak line of inquiry, not least because the respondent has at the ready the tools of this our republic to butcher you with : "to, specifically, pa&ptCrhuR". What now ?

    I suppose you're right. Consider that line of inquiry thoroughly butchered!

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