Jim Henry - comments on TC #257

Reply to Filthy Pierre on the employer/employee relationship

You ask (in TC #257 p. 38):

But what intrinsic, objective reason is there that the employer should be cast in an "in loco parentis" relationship to the employee?

I didn't say that employees should be in such a relationship, but that they often are. I said (in TC#257 p. 29):

But someone who has no property, no margin of safety in the event of losing their job, is unfree in the degree to which they are subject to their employer. A wider distribution of property would mean that more people are truly free in their relations with actual and potential employers, and not wage-slaves.

What I meant (obviously I wasn't clear enough) is, that someone who has no property, and is thus living paycheck to paycheck, is likely to be desperate to keep whatever job they can find. They feel they have to put up with treatment from their employer that would induce them to quit and look for another job if they had enough property to live on while job-hunting. This condition of propertylessness also provokes (though it doesn't completely justify) government regulation that treats the employer/employee relationship as a patron/client relationship - e.g., requirements that employers provide minimum benefits (insurance, etc.) besides wages or salary, and so forth.

Hilaire Belloc develops this argument in The Servile State (1912). We are too humane to let people starve or freeze when they are out of work and propertyless. But instead of remedying the propertylessness, we tend to make propertyless people "wards", as you put it, either of employers or of the state. This is better than letting people starve, but it would be better to arrange that far fewer people are propertyless. Belloc argues that, given human nature, a society in which many people are in peril of starvation, freezing, or similar distress if they can't get work is not stable. Unless it vigorously reforms itself to distribute property more widely, it will take the path of less resistance, and make propertyless people into de facto slaves of either individual owners (unlikely nowadays, he thinks), corporations, or the government. That is, they would be guaranteed sustenance, but also obliged to take whatever work assigned them. His predictions have not completely come true. Property is more widely distributed (at least in the United States) than it was when he wrote, but there are still many propertyless people, and most of them are far more subject to the state and/or their employer than people with some property.

(It's utopian to expect no one to be propertyless, because there will always be idiots who squander their capital. But we can correct our institutions so it's easier for people with no property to get started accumulating some, and for those with little to hang on to it and add to it. E.g., a progressive property tax, 100% homestead property tax exemption, Habitat for Humanity houses, etc.)

Reply to Filthy Pierre and Abigail Bosworth on marriage

"Bride-price" and "dowry" are old-fashioned terms not likely to come into popular use again, but words shouldn't hide realities from us. The best solution to the problems you (FP) talk about (TC #257 p. 38) is for people not to have sex until they are married, and not to marry until they have a realistic prospect of providing for their eventual children. How do we get there from here? These things would help:

Abigail - you say (TC #257 p. 8) "it doesn't seem practical or sensible to have the law enter into... a love relationship". Not as such; but it does seem necessary for the law to have something to say about parent-child relationships, and therefore about marriage, at least in extreme cases. The state compels a man who has abandoned his wife and children to pay something for their support; this is just. The state intervenes in cases of child abuse to separate children from abusive parents and lodge them with foster parents; this can be done wrongly (by defining "child abuse" too broadly), but in principle this is just too. If a married person dies without a will, the law gives their property by default to their spouse. So the state must recognize the institution of marriage (which is prior to it logically and probably historically), at least when a couple has children. Is it a good thing that the state performs weddings through its magistrates? I'm not sure, but it's at least arguable from the premise that the state ought to protect children by enforcing their parents' responsibilities when one or both parents default. On the other hand, our government has its own implicit notion of what marriage is - expressed in its laws relating to weddings performed by magistrates, no-fault divorce, income taxation, abortion, and other things - that is largely at variance with the Church's definition of the sacrament of marriage, as it is with most other religions' ideas of marriage. So maybe the state isn't really much help. But I doubt that abolishing marriage as a legal category would be beneficial to people in general, especially children.

Comments for Abigail on various topics

It sounds like you recognize your "three rules" as pragmatic political rules of conduct; they aren't your most basic rules for living your life. So they aren't at the same fundamental level as the pagan rule cited by Brian ("An ye harm none, do what ye will") or the Jewish and Christian rules ("Love God with all your heart, etc; Love your neighbor as yourself"). You say the trouble with the Golden Rule is that it doesn't give a reason for itself. It isn't the nature of aphoristic rules to explicate the whole philosophy they are based on in detail, but to summarize it in a brief imperative. (Your "three rules" don't clearly explicate their own reasons.) But since you ask (implicitly), I'll try to spell out the reasons for the "greatest of the commandments" as Jesus cited them.

God is. By nature, necessarily, he exists. We exist not because we are logically necessary, or because we just happened, either by accident or as an unavoidable by-product of something intended, but because God chose to create us and the world that we live in. He could have made a different kind of world or a different set of people, but he decided - not because he was lonely or wanted company, but out of sheer goodness and generosity - to make our world and us. To love God, then, is the right response on our part when we realize this. In the long run, we can't be happy unless we love God. But God has everything he needs; there is nothing we can do that will make him happier. So our love for him tends to be an abstract or symbolical thing, and degenerate into a love of our idea of God, unless we express it by actions. We express our love of God mainly by loving acts toward the other people he made, particularly the ones whom he put close to us in space and time.

You say "that actions have consequences". Did you intend this as an explanation of the Golden Rule, or of your three anarchist rules, or both? If so, it may be correct, but it's not complete enough to be helpful. What bad consequences do you expect to follow from marrying, voting, and owning land? (Is it the legal registration of marriage, rather than the lifelong monagamous commitment, that you object to on anarchist principles?)

On "devotional religion" and "strong emotion" - the love referred to in the "greatest of the commandments" is not an emotion (though it is sometimes expressed in emotion) but a consistent attitude of the will. That is, if you love someone, in this sense, you consistently try to act so as to benefit them and avoid harming them. (God is beyond our actually benefiting or harming him, but we can try to act as he tells us we are designed to act, in a way which pleases him.) This attitude of the will may follow affection or it may be followed by affection, or not. Affection is sometimes a helpful aid to acting in a loving way toward our fellow humans, and it's pleasant when we feel affection for someone as a result of loving them (in our actions toward them). Similarly, emotional love of God can be a helpful stimulant to worship and prayer, and is sometimes a welcome reward for persistence in worship and prayer; but worship and prayer are not pointless when we don't feel loving emotions toward God.

I admit almost boundless ignorance of astrology. My scant knowledge mostly makes me skeptical of its having any validity, except for the incident I mentioned of someone observing my personality and deducing my birthday. Given whatever corrections you think necessary, do you think my proposed study would make sense? Ideally it would be designed by astrologers (so it would be a valid test of real astrological principles, not a straw man version set up by skeptics) but operated by skeptics.

Re: Vernor Vinge. I can strongly recommend his short stories as well. Baen Books published two paperback collections in the mid-1980s, True Names and Other Dangers and Threats and Other Promises, which occasionally turn up in used bookstores. Recently Tor has done a Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge. His novels The Peace War and Marooned in Realtime are also quite good. His earlier novels are not as good.

Comments for Filthy Pierre and others on calendar reform

I like your idea of thirteen twenty-eight-day months per year with leap weeks every 5-6 years. To make it as accurate as the Gregorian calendar, we would need 71 leap weeks in every 400 years. 244 leap weeks out of 1375 years would be more accurate still. I reckon people would tend to treat the leap week as a holiday; maybe we should arrange that it coincides or overlaps with the octave of Christmas; e.g. the leap week always begins on the winter solstice. If we start the year at the spring solstice, the leap week would occasionally (not very often) overlap Passover and Holy Week.

The Connection Web Page


This page has a brief description of The Connection, with Filthy's address, subscription and sample issue prices, and the table of contents file for TC#150-256. It also has my submissions to TC since 254. Those of you with web pages, let me know and I will link to yours.


This first appeared in The Connection #258.

To my home page.