Letter from DataPacRat

In response to Paul Bonneau, who wrote a letter in the previous issue

The core of our disagreement seems to be your view that “quantifying is what the state does”. While that may be so, that doesn’t mean that “quantifying”, in and of itself, is necessarily a bad thing, any more than “buying” or “shooting” are, in and of themselves, bad things. Numbers are the most powerful tool of instrumental rationality—which is, simply, the science of winning, of achieving the best possible result in any given situation. And, while numbers can, naturally, be used by a government to limit many peoples’ freedom, they can also be used by an individual to increase theirs.

I freely admit that “lifetime discretionary income” is probably not the best yardstick with which to measure someone’s freedom. That doesn’t mean that the entire approach is useless—only that better measuring standards would allow for better planning, so that you could tell whether your liberty is increasing, staying steady, or decreasing, and what actions have the greatest impact thereon.

If you have any suggestions about how to measure an individual’s liberty, I would love to hear them.

Thank you for your time,

lu .iacu’i ma krinu lo du’u .ei mi krici la’e di’u li’u traji lo ka vajni fo lo preti

And then Mr. DataPacRat replied to furthur communication he received from Mr. Bonneau:

On Sun, Jul 17, 2011 at 9:10 AM, Paul Bonneau wrote:

DataPacRat, our main point of contention is not that “quantifying is what the state does”, but that you are looking for the greatest good for the greatest number (and using a pretty strange definition of good in the process). You have a utilitarian conception of liberty, and I don’t believe liberty is a utilitarian thing even though it usually, as a side effect, increases utility. I would rather be more free even if it decreased my utility.

The very fact your method led to a nonsensical result—that reducing or eliminating taxes might harm what you call liberty—should tell you that you are on the wrong path. Science tells you now to reject your hypothesis.

One of the things I have studied, in my quest to learn what techniques are useful in differentiating truth from falsehood, is the ‘absurdity heuristic’: that things that are obvious nonsense tend to be false. While often very useful to weed out certain sorts of ideas, there are a number of situations where this heuristic is simply outright wrong. Throughout history, it has done worse than maximum entropy—it has ruled out the actual outcomes as being far too absurd to be considered. Thus, in order to find the truth, even what is obvious nonsense cannot necessarily be ruled out simply because it /is/ nonsense. Thus, even if what you are referring to as ‘Science’ may now tell me to reject my hypothesis, ‘truthseeking’ and ‘rationality’ don’t, at least not on that particular ground.

Other grounds are, of course, another matter. For example, we could go over whether finding areas where lots of people have greater freedoms necessarily has any correlation with the freedom of any given individual in that area. But since, as you point out, I’m a utilitarian (or at least something close to whatever is meant by that term), and you say that you’re not, then we’d probably have to find /some/ common ground before our discussion could get to where it produced useful new insights for either of us. For example, I could suggest that you have, in fact, implied that you have a ‘utility function’—that you want to be ‘more free’, even at the expense of decreasing your utility according to other measures. (Utilitarianism, at least the form I’m closest to, doesn’t necessarily imply that everyone has to use any particular objective standard of value, any more than everyone has to agree on whether something is beautiful, or offensive.) Which brings us back to my original point—how can you tell when you /are/ ‘more free’, compared to anyone else, or compared to yourself at different times?

PS: If you wish to continue this communication, please extend the courtesy of using your real name.

PS: I am the only person who uses the name ‘DataPacRat’, and don’t try to conceal its connection to my real name—I simply prefer to use the name I’ve chosen for myself, when online. If you wish to know my real name, a simple Google search would have revealed it on the first result page; among other places, at

twitter.com/#!/DataPacRat and

It would take an annoying amount of effort to reconfigure my mail system to add my real name to the From: header and then to change it back when emailing others, so since my real name is only a single click away, I trust that that will be sufficient for you.

PPS: It may amuse you to know that before I received your letter, I had already submitted an article proposal to The Libertarian Enterprise specifically about online pseudonyms. (I make no guarantees about whether it will be accepted, of course. [See “How to Live Free in an Unfree Internet” in this issue—Editor]) Thank you for your time,

lu .iacu’i ma krinu lo du’u .ei mi krici la’e di’u li’u traji lo ka vajni fo lo preti

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