Tired: NAP, Wired: NPP

Tired: The Non-Aggression Principle

From the Social Justice Encyclopedia, but still an acceptable definition:

The non-aggression principle (NAP) (also called the non-aggression axiom, or the anti-coercion or zero aggression principle or non-initiation of force) is an ethical principle that forbids actions that are inconsistent with libertarianism’s conception of property rights and other rights. The principle asserts that violation of these rights is “aggression“. NAP advocates deem violation of such rights to be a wrongful “initiation of force” by one party against another. The principle is a deontological (or rule-based) ethical stance. The NAP is considered by its supporters to be a defining principle of libertarianism.[1][2][3][4] The NAP conception of aggression is dependent on and closely linked to a particular conception of property rights, since aggression in this context is defined by what a person’s property rights are.[5] Because the principle defines aggression in libertarian terms, use of the NAP as a justification for libertarianism has been criticized as circular reasoning.[6]

The NAP is an exercise in circular reasoning (tautology). It depends on a definition of property rights which must first be accepted. This is axiomatic thinking, which is the root of any logical system. The problem with logical systems? They are purely conceptual, they are merely models, which may or may not have any reference back to reality (empirical content).

In a math problem we start with certain axiomatic rules, such as the order of operations and the logical operations themselves, then we say “let X = 5″ and we can construct a logical proof that a certain set of operations will yield a consistent result.  The problem? Well, if X changes from 5 to 7 in the middle of the operation, then it fails. How can X change from 5 to 7? If you’ve ever written code then you have probably made the beginner mistake of referencing a global variable in a function, in which case X may then be modified outside of the scope of the local function. So, you think X = 5, but somewhere else, while you aren’t looking, X becomes 7 and your perfectly logical function fails.

In this software example, the function is logically correct, provided that X does not change due to an outside force. In other words, the model works correctly, until it is tested empirically, in which case it can fail. This is the central problem of the NAP, the model doesn’t work in the real world (it cannot survive empirical criticism).

The axiomatic basis of the NAP is the conception of property, as though property is real, as opposed to merely being an norm, or an agreement of behavior. I explain this fully in the post Property and Norms. The NAP depends upon the Lockean Labor Theory of Property, which asserts that an object becomes property once a human homesteads it or mixes his labor with nature. What is the mechanism of the transmutation of an object into property? No one knows. How does the labor mix itself with nature? Are there atomic bonds which are broken and reformed during this process? No idea. Feasibly, it could be the same mechanism that powers transubstantiation: the change of substance by which the bread and the wine offered in the sacrifice of the sacrament of the Eucharist during the Mass, become, in reality, the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Or maybe it is the same process by which ancient alchemists could transmute lead into gold. Who knows? No libertarian alive can explain exactly how this process occurs, without in essence resorting to magic.

That’s how we know the NAP is tired.

Wired: The Non-Parasitism Principle

Curt Doolittle faceberg twitter has never used this phrase (to my knowledge), it’s one of my own invention. I use it because I think it might be a useful bridge from Libertarianism to Propertarianism. An essential approach of the Propertarian method is to start from observable phenomena (empiricism) and work out from there.

From The Cure for Propaganda and Western Civilization:

Science currently warranties speech by requiring the following tests, that demonstrate we are not adding imaginary or allegorical content, to our statements:

1) External Correspondence (we can observe the phenomenon)
2) Internal Consistency (logical)
2.1) Identity : The Logic of Naming
2.2) Mathematics: The logic of relations
2.3) Physics: the logic of causation
2.4) Logic: the logic of language
3) Operationally defined (existentially possible)
4) Falsified (parsimonious)

The Labor Theory of Property fails on tests 1, 3 and 4. However, do notice that the LTP passes #2, it is logically consistent. It just happens to not be externally correspondent.

#1: We cannot observe the transmutation of an object into property.

#3: Because we cannot observe the operation, we cannot define the operation by which objects are transmuted into property.

#4: How is the LTP to be falsified? I don’t think it can be. How do you falsify the existence of an operation which cannot be observed? This is like trying to prove that God doesn’t exist.

What is the Non-Parasitism Principle?

The argument works like this:

  1. Living beings require resources to survive and reproduce.
  2. Living beings, given the choice between defending a required resource, or death, will choose to defend (conflict, violence) that which is required for survival and reproduction.
  3. Humans working in cooperation (conflict minimized) are able to produce more resources (which may be consumed for the purposes of survival and reproduction), than humans working separately (division of labor) or humans in conflict.
  4. Humans have an incentive to maintain the benefits of cooperation, and thus to discover mechanisms which maintain cooperation and to teach these mechanisms to others within a cooperative group (tradition, culture, norms).
  5. Parasitism (theft, fraud, murder, etc.) destroys the incentive to cooperate, which has the result of decreasing the benefits of cooperation within a group.
  6. The norm of non-parasitism, when discovered, disseminated and enforced maintains the incentive to cooperate and thus is a competitive advantage to those groups which implement the norm.

The NAP essentially states that it is morally wrong to aggress against another’s property, where property is some holy, magical thing that shall not be violated. The NPP essentially states that the the Norm of Property (non-parasitism) provides a competitive advantage to groups that maintain the norm, therefore there is an incentive to maintain the norm. Nothing magical to it.

In essence, the NAP and the NPP are similar, with the exception that the NPP yields a greatly expanded portfolio of capital (property) which must not be parasitized. The goal of the NAP is similar: to maintain group cooperation, but it’s simply a rationalization which is used to advocate for certain behavior (non-aggression), and it is fundamentally flawed because it depends on magical thinking.

The NPP has the advantage of being scientifically (testimonially) and biologically correct. It’s time to break magically thinking about property and rights, and learn that these are merely norms, traditions and culture (contracts).


12 thoughts on “Tired: NAP, Wired: NPP

  1. Pingback: Tired: NAP, Wired: NPP | Reaction Times

  2. This is fine thinking. That NAP is a dud is obvious. Even when taking property as broadly as Propertarianism does, it remains first and foremost a prohibition to act when it is arguably necessary to act. NPP gets around all that quite beautifully as it frames the issue as a prohibition on acting against the interests of the group.

    I’ve tended to use the notion of a ‘Principle of Ordered Aggression’, which inelegantly arrives at a similar endpoint. Being that aggression when utilised in the maintenance of the existing order, in line with the structure of the existing order, is necessary and appropriate. In that sense it frames the issues as one of a valuable property that should be defended, rather than as a nebulous concept that can be attacked without viable response.

    Your notion is more elegant in that it frames it as a consideration of value at both the individual and group level.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. While I agree with your basic premise, that NAP and that property is a norm rather than an absolute, I am not sure the following is correct as stated:

    “We cannot observe the transmutation of an object into property.”

    It would seem to me that you could see it becoming property by its reorganization by an intelligence. IOW, if you came across a forest, you would see no signs of property. If you came across a log cabin, it obviously did not assemble itself. Human intervention was required to create its current state. That we can recognize the altered state would be the observation of its state change. One could also argue that the land on which this took place is part of it, though it might be impossible to define how far that extends.


    • We have a legal process called squatting. When we find land or structure that is unoccupied and unused we can use and occupy it. Through our use of it, it becomes our property. So, your house example is not correct. Just because a human built something does not mean it is property. Things made by man can exist in an unowned state.


      • Sure, they can exist in an unowned state after their creation as property. I was only referring to your claim that no evidence of transformation can ever be seen. Even if the house is currently abandoned we would still recognize that it was property at some point due to its organizational state. This would create a problem for determining it if *currently* property though.


  4. You’re still misunderstanding me just a bit. There is no evidence that objects transform into property, that they are somehow magically infused with an attribute known as ownership. Sure, humans transform inputs into outputs all the time, that’s what we do, and generally we treat things that we have transformed as property. But the truth is that transformed objects are still just objects, and that what makes them property is the fact that we agree to behave in a certain way with them, not that there is an inherent ‘property-ness’ to them. This is why a transformed object (house) may be ‘non-property’ (unowned). The act of transformation does not ‘create’ property, it merely signals that we should behave in a certain way towards it.

    The Labor Theory of Property is clear, that man ‘mixes his labor with nature’, that somehow an object is infused with something. This is magical thinking. Now, I keep running into people who want to pretend that the words ‘mixing labor with nature’ don’t mean what they say, that this is some metaphor that I’m misunderstanding. This is also part of the Propertarian philosophy: we can’t behave rationally if words don’t mean what they mean. We can’t behave rationally if our fundamental building blocks are metaphors. We require concrete, clear, unmistakable language with which to clearly describe the universe. Nothing less will do, if we are to create systems which are empirical rather than merely rational.


    • I think we are in agreement, I am just trying to anticipate likely counter arguments.
      So what would be your response to the type of argument made by Kinsella, et al. that what makes something “property” is that one has a better claim to the object than others (either through Lockean homesteading, purchase, or trade)? As a recovering libertarian I am still trying to root out and reassess my thinking on these issues.


      • The usefulness of a ‘claim’ is in appealing to a higher authority to enforce the property right, in which case, he’s admitting that the property right only exists within the eyes of the government which will enforce it. In this case, we agree that property is nothing more than a social agreement. If the government/society doesn’t agree that an object is property, then it isn’t. Which means that property is just a norm, a set of behaviors.


  5. Seriously. I am trying to think of whether anyone else has been able to combine the operational(evolutionary) construction of propertarian ethics, with tests of testimonial truth, … and I don’t think I”ve seen anyone else make it this far. I’m pretty sure you’re the first to use it in a structured argument. It’s … excellent. ANd of course, you’ve originated NPP, which, thank you, is just going to have to be written into canon law now. 😉

    In any group not in conflict:
    1 – Mutual Non-parasitism provides a discount on the cost of inventorying.
    2 – Mutual Cooperation provides disproportionate returns on our efforts.
    3 – Any parasitism causes disproportionate retaliation for our actions.
    Ergo, NPP.

    I usually focus on retaliation, but like most things we discuss, we must consider the balance between positive and negative, between golden and silver rules, and in this case it is non-parasitism, non-retaliation, and multipliers on production vs parasitism, retaliation, and multipliers on lost opportunity.

    As you saw in the comments, you could probably be a little more explicit with “transmutation” by using the existing language. Because I had to read it twice myself. It’s correct however. I just wonder how to say it a little differently: that it’s not the object that changes, but your expenditure of opportunity, time, effort, and resources into something you desire to inventory (monopoly). You paid for it, or you exchanged with others payment for it. So … there is no object called property, anything existential called property, that is added to the action that you’re taking, particularly when we leave the simple (things), and progress to kin, mates, relations, norms, institutions, commons, and monuments.

    I’m going through the thought process here and I end up where spiritsplice did: you’re right I just had to think it through. And I would prefer to substitute an existential term over a risky term like ‘transmuted’.

    Awesome, awesome, awesome… so thrilled.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Rothbard, semantics and sophistry. – Radio In Black

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