Episode 8: Anarchy
Hello and welcome to Reality Check. Hi, I’m Mark Pellegrino, and today I’m going to talk about anarchy. I think it’s safe to say that people in America are disillusioned with the two-party system and who can blame them? The democrats promise us a socialist utopia where every member of society is forced to work for the common good, and everyone is supposedly made equally prosperous and happy. The republicans promise us a conservative utopia fueled by venerable traditions where social harmony is apparently achieved by sticking to what has worked for generations.
The problem, is both of these options suck, and so it’s easy to see why people are disillusioned and why they’re becoming more open to something that challenges the tradition state versus the social state narrative we’ve all grown so suspicious of. Unfortunately, the only option that has reared its ugly head and generated some steam with the younger generation is the anti-state philosophy popularly called anarchy. I know, you thought you outgrew that anarchy thing when you stopped listening to the Sex Pistols around about 1984.
But what was once the province of silly rich white kids playing at punk rock in the suburbs of LA has now become a bona fide anti-political philosophy with its own set of intellectuals, economists, and historians. So what is this thing called anarchy? Anarchy is the belief that the state is inherently evil, will always do bad things to people, and so should not exist. What should exist in its place? A market.
See, the inherent evil of government comes from the fact that it claims a monopoly on the use of force. It’s this restraint of choice that is the source of all its evil. To amend this obvious moral problem, anarchists claim there should be competition in government. They deduce this from the nearly self-evident fact that competition in the marketplace of goods and services yields better products and results in customer satisfaction. So why can’t the same thing happen with governments? After all, government is only a kind of service. Right?
Now, these are actually good questions. Is government a marketable service? Is it open to competition? Should customer satisfaction be a primary driver of government services? Let’s see.
Markets are distinguished from governments by one blaring feature. The absence of force. I know it’s difficult to tell nowadays, but people in markets are persuading each other to exchange values for mutual profit. If the terms of a proposed exchange are not mutually satisfactory to both parties, no exchange happens. The end. Force is not about persuasion and exchange. Rather it’s about the imposition of one person’s will over another. Force is always monopolistic in nature, and monopolies are anti-market establishments that do not tolerate competition, have given up on persuasion, and are not working for reciprocity. Just compliance. Can one say that which destroys the fundamental conditions of a market is marketable? I don’t know. I think not.
As I already described, force is always monopolistic, and monopolies are anti-competition. Just as the robber attempts to establish a forced monopoly over you upon breaking into your home, and you do the same in defence of your values, so opposing governments can only compete by making war on each other until one wins. Don’t believe me. The 50-year-long spectacle of the cold war is a perfect example of the incompatibility of competing force institutions. As communism and liberalism clashed incessantly all over the globe in conflagrations that took the lives of millions and left only one power standing in the end.
The quick answer is no. Rights protection should drive government services. In the market, each person seeks to satisfy his own subjective wants and tastes, but force is a unique beast that comes in only two shapes and sizes. And given its nature as other directed cannot be subjective at all if we are to maintain a civil society. Think about the various people that live together in society peacefully, satisfying their subjective wants and now carry that subjective satisfaction over to force and ask yourself, would Tony Soprano be satisfied by the same force services as you? Would his satisfaction make you more or less safe? What about Charles Manson or MS-13? Should their force preferences and subjective satisfaction be allowed to compete against yours, or should they be totally discouraged?
Okay, here’s the deal. Government is a gun. And like a gun, it is only as good or bad as the values of those who are using it. If a culture is dominated by collectivism, where individual rights are non-existent, and a wide degree of initiated force is tolerated in society, as a necessary means of achieving ethical ends, the government will be a scourge to human life and prosperity. And this has been the case throughout the majority of history.
On the other hand, if a culture is dominated by individualism and holds each individual life as a sacred and sovereign entity, initiated force would not be tolerated, and retaliatory force would be seen as a problem solved by systematizing universal standards of right. Which at all stages of the retaliatory process would elevate reason above satisfaction. Such a government would be incapable of deliberate harm, so the anarchists are as wrong as any other group of intrinsicists who divorce notions like good, right, the state, liberty, government, and force from the living context of actual human beings and rationalize all systems connected to nothing.
Anarchists, like it or not, government is here to stay. The only question is will it be guided by collectivism and continue to turn back human progress and parasitize the virtuous and productive. Or will it finally unapologetically embrace liberalism and individualism and unleash the great potential of humankind to a greater degree than it already has? Check.
Episode 7: The Problem of Power
The Problem of Power: Transcript
Hello and welcome to Reality Check.
Hi, I’m Mark Pellegrino and today I’m going to talk about the PROBLEM OF POWER.
The online dictionary defines power as: the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events.
Hm. That seems pretty straight forward right? So…what’s the problem?
The problem is…
There are two types of power, and even though they are as different as night and day, people treat them as if they are the same.
And that’s where stuff gets really messy…
There’s the power to persuade and its result: economic power.
…the power to compel and its result: political power.
The power to persuade is the capacity to convince someone that you are right.
And though this power comes in many shapes and sizes, it’s always exercised in what we call a ‘marketplace’.
No a marketplace isn’t just a store you shop at. It’s any place where force is banned and choice is uninhibited.
It’s any place where ideas and products compete with each other for your individual judgment that one or the other of them is right.
If convinced, you demonstrate your conviction with either your material or your moral support.
When you’ve convinced enough people that what you have to offer is a value, their material support can make you rich.
And when you’re rich… you have economic power.
Not so fast..
All Economic Power means is that you have an increased capacity to create values and convince others of their goodness. That’s all.
So all cats like Edison, Ford, Jobs, Gates, Bezos, and Musk have done is persuaded you so much that it’s easier for them to do even more.
The Power to Compel is the capacity to make others do what you want regardless of their preferences.
And though this power comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes too, it’s always exercised outside the marketplace.
Outside a market is any place where force is NOT banned, where competition between ideas and products is NOT allowed and where one seeks to gain material or moral support by exercising violence.
When a person does this without legal sanction we call him a criminal.
When a person does it with the legal backing of the state we call him a politician and the power he is exercising, Political Power.
You see the difference between the two types of power now?
Here’s an illustration: No matter how badly Steve Jobs wanted to turn you against Microsoft he couldn’t raid your house in the middle of the night, kidnap you, and hold you in confinement till you changed your mind. He can only persuade you by creating something that sways your preferences away from his competitor.
Not so the politician who could pass a law against you that favors his constituency and handicaps yours or, if his political world lacks even the semblance of Republican checks and balances, kill or imprison you for the simple fact that you are the competition and he don’t like that.
So check it out; we live in a world where mixed economies are the rule. Mixed economies are definitely places where these powers can merge and where one power can buy influence with the other, but they are not the same. And until we understand this fact identifying who is powerful and how that power affects us will continue to elude us, and we will continue to make policies that promote the power to compel while denigrating the power to persuade.
Episode 6: The Illusion of the two-party system
Transcript of The Illusion of the two-party system
Hello and welcome to Reality Check
Hi, I’m Mark Pellegrino, and today I’m going to talk about the ILLUSION OF THE TWO PARTY
For those of you who live in other countries, or were educated in American public schools, the
United States of America ostensibly has a two-party system of government.
This means that even though other ‘parties’ can enter the political discourse, and from time to
time have, it’s always a Democrat or a Republican that is left standing at the end of every
And it’s not like this is a new thing.
Even as our constitutional republic was being founded, two perspectives respecting the size
and scope of government began fighting for prominence.
One side promoted a large and vigorous government with implied powers; the other, a small
and weakened one that could only act under specific conditions.
Now the fact that parties would quickly ally themselves with one of two perspectives, and
basically remain that way through time, makes sense because there are only two ways of
As collectivistic or individualistic.
From the collectivist perspective, all individual values are directed towards the enrichment of
the commonweal. All participants in this type of society serve its, not their own individual ends.
A large and vigorous government is needed to tame the selfish impulses of individuals within
this society and direct them towards the ultimate end of society’s good.
In opposition to this
The individualist perspective holds that each individual life is the sacred unit which society
organizes itself around to protect. All participants in this type of society serve their own
interests, and society itself is bound by strict rules of engagement with any individual member
within. Society can impose nothing upon the individual save for the demand that he impose
nothing on anyone else.
And ne’er the twain shall these two moral ideals meet.
Let me repeat that: Ne’er the Twain shall these two moral ideals MEET.
And therein lies the illusion of two parties.
Political parties are moral interest groups that attempt to influence a system of moral
As no individual can live with two opposing moral codes guiding his behavior, no society can
either…and as no individual can compromise between two fundamentally opposing moral
codes, without the bad one winning, no society can either.
That’s why at various times in our own history, one party or moral organization was dominant
for long stretches.
And why the two parties today don’t seem all that far apart on fundamentals.
If Ayn Rand was right when she said: ‘there is no middle ground between freedom and
compulsion, so there’s no middle ground between capitalism and socialism.’
Then there can be no middle ground between right and wrong and no decent moral system
organized on a compromise between the two.
I know, it’s scary. One party systems seem to be a feature of totalitarian governments and multi
party systems, a feature of liberty. But the reality is whether your collective is the proletariat, the
environment, the nation-state, the rich, the poor, farmers, religious and ethnic minorities,
women, men, labor or business, you’re a collectivist and the name of your party is just a
distinction without difference.
The sooner we acknowledge that a house divided against itself cannot stand and that we
cannot live in a permanent state of compromise between a big state and a big individual, the
sooner we can get on with the business of living under one code for all…
Episode 5: Selfishness
Transcript of Selfishness
Hello and welcome to Reality Check
Hi. I’m Mark Pellegrino and today I’m going to talk about SELFISHNESS.
If you think selfishness is a dirty word, I don’t blame you. It’s gotten a pretty bad rep over the
Why is that? Selfishness literally means concern with one’s own interests. How can that be
Ok the working modern definition adds the word ‘excessive’ to self-interest, but this still begs
Why is embracing one’s own interests is a bad thing while abandoning them for someone
else’s interests is good?
Why is a game of interest hot potato the ethical standard?
No blame it on religion….and science.
Yeah, you heard me.
Religion is a no brainer. Right?
If men are fallen beings then their interests must be fallen too; Their distance from god,
penchant for disobedience and desire for worldly things makes them particularly susceptible
You know sin right? That bad thing you can’t help but do because you’re, you?
The only way to avoid sin and be ‘good’, so the preachers tell us, is to subordinate those sinful
interests to God’s.
Ok. But science? Science doesn’t claim men are bad.
Now this is true, men may not be bad in the religious sense, but they ARE animals, and this is
You see, to the scientist, men are as much a part of natural selection as ants, elephants, and aardvarks.
Humans are just another part of the animal kingdom and like every other creature in the world,
they are competing with each other and other animals for finite resources.
….And that competition ain’t perty.
Everyone knows that in the realm of red tooth and claw, no one gains without someone else
Just ask him…
The only way to avoid this natural conflict with others, so the scientists tell us, is to subordinate
those naturally evil animal interests to others.
Okay, so I guess we’ve gotten to the bottom of why self-interest is bad…
If you’re just a poor unfortunate fallen from grace, or a little beastie doing beastie things then
your self can’t be a very cool thing and it’s probably best to give it, and its interests, up for
something better, like God’s or someone else’s.
But what if both those alternatives were false?
While it’s certainly true that we humans can do bad things, and that we share tons of
characteristics with animals we also have something that distinguishes us from them and liberates us from the determinism of God or Biology.
It’s the four hundred pound gorilla in the room that neither the religionists nor the scientist want to acknowledge: Our Reasoning consciousness.
You see, a rational engagement with the world fundamentally changes how we interact with,
well, everything and, as a result, changes the nature and meaning of our interests and what we
then define as selfishness.
In other words, the fact that every human value can only be achieved by a process of thought
and a creative interaction with the environment means that life itself is not an immediate
challenge, but a long term project.
Let me repeat that. For human beings life itself is not an immediate challenge, but a long term
This means that almost all of what really lies in our selfish interests are in the long term and
what one usually defines as sin or animal nature – the source of all that agita about selfishness is really just a disavowal of this fact.
When looked at from this perspective almost every bad thing that would typically be labeled as
selfish, actually isn’t; cause pretty much everyone who does bad things is going for the short
term gain at the expense of the long term game.
Taking drugs, cheating your customers, cheating on your spouse, cheating on a test, eating
that slice of pie when you’re overweight, smoking, lying, promiscuity, are all profoundly
unselfish acts because they deny the long term nature of human well being. And denying the
long-term nature of value pursuit in human life is a denial of reality itself.
So if you hold yourself as a value, be selfish the way a rational being must: by always acting for
your long term good and never sacrificing that for any short term gain. Now when you’re doing that
you’re really selfish and selfish, is good.
Episode 4: Rights
Transcript of Rights
Hello and welcome to Reality Check
Hi, I’m Mark Pellegrino and today I’m going to talk about RIGHTS.
Have you noticed there isn’t a day that goes by where someone somewhere isn’t arguing about rights?
Whether it’s rival networks fighting over the deeper meaning of a major news story or a group arguing on Facebook or Twitter, someone inevitably claims that rights are relative to things while someone else counters that rights aren’t relative to things at all. So who do we believe? Do we have a right to stuff or a right to something else?
To sort this out, we first need to go to the source of all the agita, a conflict of visions.
We all have a vision of what the world could and should be like if it were perfect, and for a very long time, two opposing visions of a moral society have been competing for dominance. On one side of the moral divide, we have the collectivists who see society as a single body whose moving parts — you and me — are working from and for this body. Servicing it you might say. Kinky. The collectivist moral ideal is the common good which they believe can be achieved by the establishment of positive rights. No, positive in this context does not mean an affirmation or good feels.
Yeah, not that. A positive right is a claim someone can make on you which you are duty-bound to act on. Making sense?
Okay, on the other side of the moral divide we have the individualists who see society as a collection of individuals working cooperatively for their own individual well-being. The individualist moral ideal is the individual good, which they think can be achieved by the establishment of negative rights. Again, nothing to do with feels.
A negative right is a claim that no one can make claims on you that you are duty-bound to act on. In other words, to the individualists, rights are
duty-free zones. A prophylactic against the potential harm that majorities can impose on minorities, And since every single political issue, including rights, boils down to this conflict of visions, the million-dollar question is, which vision leads to a more secure and peaceful society?
Collectivism, which claims peace and security are achieved by the provision of want through the legalization of social duties, or individualism which claims that peace and security are achieved by the marginalization of violence through the establishment of duty-free zones.
Now if you can’t see what the big difference is between these visions try asking yourself what a duty is. Think it’s just an obligation? Nope. A duty is an unchosen obligation.
Now what does that mean? It means what you want, think or feel about the obligation is irrelevant. You have to do it or else.
Let’s see. Don’t agree with the current war? Too bad, you have a duty to serve your country. Wanted to save money for your own child’s education? Too bad, society demands you spend almost half your wealth on other people. Want to be a model, actress, head a startup? Too bad you have a duty to the unborn. Claims to service you can’t say no to have been called by other names at other times in history and have been outlawed for good reason, because rights and claims to service are incompatible. Let me repeat that: rights and claims to service are incompatible. So I guess that means positive rights aren’t rights at all. Correct! Any system that deprives a person of the capacity to say ‘no’ or freely choose between alternatives cannot be said to be a rights-respecting system at all.
So which place would you rather live in? Somewhere where ‘no’ is not an option or where it is. Is it claims to service or claims to liberty? Check.
Episode 3: Equality
Transcript of Equality
Hello and welcome to Reality Check.
Hi, I’m Mark Pellegrino and today I’m going to talk about equality.
When our founders birthed this nation into existence, their opening salvo went something like this: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and from that glorious moment, when the ideal of a free society was loosed upon the world, that singular concept of equality has worked its way into the founding documents of every country that aspires to liberal government.
And that’s good, right? Of course, it’s good. There’s a catch. There’s always a catch. What does it mean to be created equal? Does it mean we’re all the same, because equal means the same, right?
Now, while it’s true that some species in the animal and insect kingdoms are a little more than knockoffs of each other, a quick trip to the neighbourhood grocery store or a bustling city street anywhere in the world will confirm to any thinking person that we humans are not the same.
We come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and colours. Some of us are strong. Some of us are weak. Some of us are super smart and some of us are democrats … okay I’m kidding, I’m kidding. Some of us
are republicans, and something else too okay.
The point is that when we’re talking about humans, nature loves diversity. So if nature loves diversity in humans, then equality or sameness can’t apply to any of our natural endowments.
It can’t apply to our physical appearance or health or to our relative talents, to our luck or the economic status we were born into.
When it comes to natural endowments, some of us were just graced with blessings and the rest of us have to make do with what we got.
So if nature doesn’t make us equal, who or what does?
We do! But how?
Living in society means living in the company of others. And in order to live in the company of others and keep conflict to a minimum, it’s a pretty good idea for that society to have clearly defined rules that everyone can understand.
Most importantly, everyone must have the sense that they are all subject to those rules in the same respect.
Sameness of rules and sameness in our relation to those rules. That is what equality means.
So while we may not have literally been created equal, we come into the world equally subject to the laws of nature and recreate that sameness in our application of the laws of men.
Yeah, equality can only be before the law. Now, why do I make a big deal out of that?
Because some folks think equality is about equalizing natural endowments. We call these peeps egalitarians. Egalitarians see the natural inequality that results from equal liberty and the equal application of the law as a problem society must fix.
By unequally applying laws and restraints to handicap some and privilege others. In other words, they claim to create equality by practising inequality. I know, it’s weird, but weird is what happens when you don’t understand what you can and can’t control.
So let’s be clear here. You can’t control that there can be huge differences between people and that those differences can create huge disparities and outcomes. That’s equal liberty for you.
You can control whether or not the law applies to all and whether all are equally free from force.
Fighting for sameness before the law. That’s what equality really means.
Episode 2: Liberty
Transcript of Liberty
Hello and welcome to Reality Check. Hi, I’m Mark Pellegrino and today I’m going to be talking about liberty.
That’s right, liberty. Liberty is a word that everyone in the world seems to know and use but very few understand.
Okay, so liberty is freedom, but freedom from what? Ah, there’s the rub.
See, people want to be free from all kinds of things. The problem is most of those freedoms don’t boil down to liberty. Wait. Did I just imply freedom is not the same as liberty? I did!
Well technically that’s true. Hear me out. Freedom in the broadest sense just means without constraints, but the real world is filled with all kinds of natural constraints.
Take gravity for example. You want to fly? Leap a tall building in a single bound? Gravity will constrain you! And there’s not a lot you can do about it. Well, you could but…
Life itself is very constraining. You want to live, you got to work. It’s okay, you’re not unusual. Every living thing in the world from the smallest bacteria to the most complex organisms must work to live. And every living thing in the world knows that except human beings. Only human beings think that the conditionality of life and the facts of reality are things you should be liberated from.
Now where did that come from, I wonder. The desire to be free from the world as it is, seems to be a natural part of the human psyche. People have always wanted to have their cakes and eat them too. And through the ages there has been a steady supply of utopian thinkers to fill our imaginations with stories that appeal to that desire. Now the utopian idea was this. Human existence was once pristine, conditionless, and innocent, but is now fallen, depraved and harsh. The object is to return once more to that pristine and innocent time by creating a social system that could make that possible.
And that’s understandable, right, for most of human existence, life really was hard. Conditions did suck, everywhere, and still do in far too many places in the world, so it’s understandable to want to be liberated from them. The problem is you can’t! You can only be liberated from another moral agent, i.e., human being. You can’t be liberated from the conditionality of the natural world and the constraints of life.
Now what does that mean? It means natural constraints just are and have to be understood and worked around. A moral agent, i.e., human being, is another story. Moral agents do everything by choice, and since one of those choices could be to impede another moral agent’s ability to live and work within his own natural constraints, moral agents set up a rule between them not to. And that rule is what we call liberty.
Wait, so liberty is a constraint? Yes! It is the constraint of force so that moral agents can work within the natural constraints of life. Peaceably. Translation: liberty is freedom from people. Because people are the only things that can use force when they don’t have to.
People can oppress you. Life and the realities of life can’t. They just are. So any liberation movement that seeks to liberate people from conditionality in order to achieve [utopia] winds up achieving [oppression] because the natural constraints of reality in life cannot be pretended out of existence. At best, the burden of complying with these unalterable realities can be shifted temporarily to another. But since they are the price of living, the cost must be borne by someone.
So ask yourself if you want freedom or liberty.
Episode 1: Evil
Transcript of Evil
Hello and welcome to Reality Check.
My name is Mark Pellegrino and I’ll be your host on this journey of evil.
Now is evil really a big bad scary monster that we should all fear? Or is it just a big fat flop that’s not worth the snot in your used Kleenex?
Look, every society in the world has big stories that frame human action as a struggle between two titan and equally powerful forces.
Good versus evil. Light versus dark. Some god versus some devil. And in most of these narratives, evil maintains a strong hold on power and the good guy succeeds by the skin of his teeth.
Sometimes he doesn’t succeed at all.
Ooh. Well, that’s actually very suspenseful writing, for sure, but why do we think evil is so strong? Could it be Satan?
Or maybe it’s because of the way we define what’s good. Here’s what I mean. Now, I bet if you were to ask most people whether it’s better to be materialistic or spiritual, they would probably say spiritual because materialism is shallow and crass. Just ask Madonna.
Now if that’s the case, is it true to say that the more we embrace the spiritual and deny the material, the better our souls? Let’s see. Have you ever heard anyone say something like this before:
“Oh she’s so materialistic with her designer yoga pants and personal chef. Ew. So gross.”
“Chad went to the Himalayas on a silent retreat. He meditated for a year. Oh my god, that’s so cool”
Right. Or how about this one. It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to heaven. Actually, between you and me, anything passing through the eye of a needle besides water hurts me to the core. Ouch. You’re still not convinced?
Okay who do you think are better people? These [spiritual] guys? Or these [entrepreneurial] guys?
This idea that the material world is bad, and the spiritual world is good, was given to us by Plato.
He thought that all we see in this world are mere reflections of a better place. A world of forms. And that world can only be reached by contemplation.
Thinking was the highest good you could achieve. While doing what most people did, living, in the world, was just crass. In other words, the world of Plato is nothing more than a discount trip to the funhouse mirrors of a body dysmorphic teenager. Thanks, Plato, for all measure of eating disorders in the 21st century, you [****].
Now this idea was picked up by religions, particularly Christianity, and became embedded in our culture as a massive dichotomy. Here’s Christ. He’s perfect. You can never be Christ. You suck. The seemingly inherent conflict between the spiritual and the material became the basic plot of many of our cultural narratives, and still informs our standard for good and evil to this day.
Here’s the rub though. Since we’re material beings who live in the material world, and living is sort of our base responsibility, acting, thinking, and desiring are natural results of living. So it follows that making what’s natural bad, creates a conflict.
Live and accept being bad or be good and deny yourself the pleasures of life.
That’s why evil is so powerful and alluring to people. Because we’ve defined good by that which is opposed to life, to living. In this material world. You want to get rich? Be a rock star? Have sex? Eat good food? There’s a sin for all of those. Denial [The Nile] ain’t a river in Egypt, folks, it’s what’s for breakfast.
Okay here’s a question. Answer honestly, would you want to be like this [successful] person or this [spiritual] person?
Now you know you want to be this [successful] one. But you think you should be the other one who looks to be suffering the most. And that says it all.
Evil is powerful, seductive, and beautiful because life is powerful, seductive, and beautiful. And an attractive bad versus an unattractive good is what happens when you make what’s good work at cross purposes to life.
So how about instead of making the good the anti-life, we make the evil the anti-life?
Achieving a thriving life is no easy task. It requires a dedication to fact, a commitment to thinking, honesty, and the will to persevere. Literally every good thing you see around you is because someone was thoughtful, honest, and durable. And everything bad is from the denial of facts, the refusal, to think, willful dishonesty, and fragility.
So, here’s the reality. Being good is the only way you can live and be happy. And evil is just a big fat flop.