Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Objectivism & Politics, Part 45

Individual Rights 4: Paper Rights. “Politics,” Otto Von Bismarck tells us, “is the art of the possible.” Since most people who frame theories of politics have no political power and therefore no effective political will, their political speculations remain unchecked by reality. They are merely idle fancies that exist only on paper.

The individual rights advocated by Rand are precisely of the paper variety. They never can nor never will be instituted in reality, because there are too many rooted sentiments and vested interests that stand against them. In a “free” country where people are allowed to develop their own political opinions without fear persecution from the state, wide divergences of political ideology inevitably arise. A democratic nation is an unworkable committee, governed by competing elites of divergent views. The only way to get anything done is through compromise. Hence, no ideological faction can ever expect to get carte blanche: even when they control the legislature and the executive they still won't get everything they want, because the “loyal” opposition can use consititutional protections and the power of vested interests to create a myriad obstacles to any measures involving sweeping change.


What, if anything, can be accomplished towards increasing the “rights” of the individual in the sense of limiting the power of the state to regulate and tax its citizens? There is very little that the average individual can do, since he constitutes, politically speaking, merely one vote among tens of millions. As part of a much larger organization (of, say, a major political party), he may have some effect, particularly if that organization is well led (leadership is absolutely indispensable to get anything done politically). But here’s precisely the rub. An organization, to wield any sort of political influence, must be large. Yet this requires having a “big tent,” i.e., accepting as many people as possible. There is, however, a perplexing trade-off involved in developing a political party that can wield influence and exert a political will: the greater the party, the more compromises that have to be made on ideological grounds to keep it together. The more people you try to appeal to, the more you have to dilute and widen your ideology. But the more you dilute and widen your ideology, the greater chance of your party falling into faction and breaking apart. So there is always a tension between the size of an organization and its cohesiveness. If an organization is ideologically pure, it’s too small to exert a credible influence. If it is too large, it tends to break apart. A political party capable of taking power must find that elusive compromise position between ideological purity and size.

Orthodox Objectivism is one of the most purest ideologies on the current scene. Yet this very purity condemns Objectivism to obscurity and political impotence. The current Objectivist leader, Leonard Peikoff, has rigorously distanced himself from all potential political allies. Indeed, he seems to despise the potential allies far more than he does his ideological enemies. David Kelley’s brand of Objectivism is, politically, nearly identical to Peikoff’s version: yet Peikoff has told Kelley’s followers to get lost (“if you agree with the Branden or Kelley viewpoint or anything resembling it—please drop out of our movement: drop Ayn Rand, leave Objectivism alone,” he wrote). Libertarians, Peikoff insisted on his radio show in nineties, “are worse than communists.” And as for the Republican Party—an organization which, despite its many faults, constitutes the most effective political force aligned against Obamacare—deserves to be either “destroyed” or “severely punished” for the enormous crime of allying itself with evangelical Christians. So those Objectivists who follow Peikoff remain, for the most part, excluded from the political process.

Because of this ideological purity, Objectivists have no effective political will and therefore no sense of responsibility. They can advocate any measure, make any claim, without ever worrying about empirical refutation. Empirical testing, when possible, is always the best way to check the truth of any idea, political or otherwise. When such testing is not possible, the human fancy can reach any conclusion it pleases, without fear of contradiction or embarrassment. This is one reason why fringe political groups with no power often believe the strangest things: they never have to worry about reality refuting their whacky ideas, because those ideas will never be tested.

There is, however, one other crucial side to this. Strangely enough, however irrational an individual’s speculative beliefs may be, normally, they tend to be at least “reality-orientated” when it comes to the business of life. There are Christian fundamentalists, for example, who claim to believe in some rather odd theological speculations that overstep important realities by a wide margin. Yet these odd beliefs do not interfere in their business activities, which often display a high degree of shrewdness and even rationality. The eccentric philosophy professor—to take another instance—who claims that reality doesn’t exist or that knowledge is impossible, nonetheless, when away from the university lecture hall, completely ignores these absurd claims when he’s paying bills, pursuing hobbies, and running his personal household.

The beliefs of theologians and academic philosophers are often mere “paper” beliefs. They are either not meant to be followed or impossible to follow. One interesting characteristic of paper beliefs is that, on one of those rare occasions when an advocate of these beliefs gets a chance to put them in practice, they often “betray” those beliefs. Being placed in a position of responsibility, where one must bear the full burden of failure, often sobers people up. Which leads to the question: would Objectivists be sobered up if they were suddenly thrust into a position of responsibility? Would they really nuke Iran if they had the power to do so? If it became clear that their laissez-faire, no-welfare policies would lead to the death by starvation of 10,000 people, would they really stick to their guns and allow the deaths to occur, even though it would discredit them in the eyes of many and turn people against their ideology? What sort of paper is their beliefs really made from?

80 comments:

Xtra Laj said...

This theme has been popping up a lot in things I read over. There was Jean Francois-Revel: "Utopia is not under the slightest obligation to produce results: its sole function is to allow its devotees to condemn what exists in the name of what does not."

Thomas Sowell in Marxism:

"Intellectuals enjoy a similar insulation from the consequences of being wrong, in a way that no businessman, military leader, engineer or even athletic coach can. Intellectuals and the young have remained historically the group most susceptible to Marxism - even though the young have often abandoned it as they grew older and more experienced, being replaced by renewed sources of more youth following in their wake."

Of course, while Objectivism is not as popular as Marxism for various reasons, you could easily use it to replace Marxism in the above.

Sowell continues:

"The disjuncture between vision and experience was nowhere better illustrated than in the traumatic post-revolutionary experience of Lenin, as he applied the Marxist vision and watched a whole nation sink into economic chaos and starvation by the millions. The Leninist-Stalinist modifications - or "betrayals" - of Marxism have mitigated the severity of the Soviet Union's economic problems, but at the cost of turning a humanitarian creed into a ruthless mode of power consolidation. Both denunciations and apologetics for this often miss the point that a vision that departs from reality must either be abandoned or changed."

In the end, those who are not burdened with producing results can always say whatever they want to free of the necessity of proving themselves.

Anonymous said...

I think Peikoff would, if elected president, become a moderate Republican inside a year.

Anon69 said...

Greg,

The Objectivist would challenge the view implicit in your example (of the starving 10,000) that more people will be fed if the coercive power of government is applied. To the contrary, the initiation of force for seemingly good deeds in the short term would always have the unintended consequence of destroying a greater share of wealth in the long run. So you might save 10,000 today, but tomorrow 20,000 would starve as the producers stop producing as much in response to the confiscation of their freedom. An Objectivist would give that answer and then make an appeal for voluntary charity, noting the potential future profit in saving those lives, which would then be rescued by proper non-coercive means.

Anon69 said...

Greg,

As far as the powerlessness of intellectuals: the reason that an Objectivist movement exists at all (in its Orthodox and other flavors) is primarily because of the emotional appeal of Rand's fiction, which was always stronger than her non-fiction. In that we see the answer to your charge: rational ideas must be supported by romantic art that brings the sentiments along. The enduring popularity of Rand's novels and the political effects they have inspired show that the preponderance of opinion of the "unworkable committee" of a democratic nation, divergent views and all, can be moved. You could criticize Objectivists for failing to produce more such art, and I would agree. But it does not follow that Rand's individual rights can never be instituted in reality. It will require enough art that appeals to a variety of persons to build a sizable enough political majority (in terms of both raw numbers and unequally distributed forms of influence) in favor of those ideas.

Anonymous said...

Fame at last!

http://www.solopassion.com/node/7474

They are reading this one with askance. You better look out as Tom Burroughes is watching you!

Tom if you are reading this Ayn Rand sucks!!!!

Mark Plus said...

@ Anon69:

"To the contrary, the initiation of force for seemingly good deeds in the short term would always have the unintended consequence of destroying a greater share of wealth in the long run."

It would always have that unintended consequence? So when Cuba's government orders its population out of harm's way during hurricanes, that hurts Cuba's economy further down the line? Cuba would instead become wealthier if the government didn't initiate force against these people and left them possibly to die?

Anon69 said...

@ Mark Plus:

Your hurricane example has to be viewed in a broad context to see why the answer is "yes". First, let's conceptualize - moving people out of a hurricane's path may or may not be necessary, but assuming it is, it amounts to a prohibition on suicide. One must ask what it means to give government that power, and the only answer must be that it abrogates man's right to his own life. Voluntary evacuation requests may be proper, however, if government has the power to abrogate individuals' decision to live or not then it *is* destroying what makes life possible in the long run, i.e. man's mind (with particular emphasis on his freedom to choose). So the answer is "yes" over the long term. And I think you have a tough road to argue that rational people wouldn't evacuate voluntarily -- what kind of stupid people do you contemplate these are?

Damien said...

The truth about objectivism or any belief system is that even if it were to become dominate, it's followers would have to still compete and to a large degree, tolerate, radically different belief systems within their society, and there would always be a significant number of people who openly criticized Rands Beliefs. Some would inevitiably be former objectivists and others would be people who still regarded themselves as objectivists but came to doubt but of the philosphy due to their own life experiences. Unless they were to embrace dictatorship and start forcing those who disagree with them to shut up, and blindly follow the leader, there will always be a lot of open disagreement. However, for Objectivists, doing so, would go agianst their principals and their ideals. That of course does not mean that none of them would end up somehow supporting such a thing, in the name of protecting objectivism, or in the name of reason, but it goes to show that conformity and a free society, rarely go together, and isn't objectivism supposed to be an individualist philosophy?

Xtra Laj said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Xtra Laj said...

Anon69,

You seem to be going down that objectivist path of thinking that what one believes is "rational".

The simplest way of showing that "rationality" has less to do with it than you think is that there are people whose behavior changes depending on the incentives presented, amongst other factors. People often talk about how good citizens engaged in deplorable behavior, even by those citizens' own standards, during WW2.

The reason why socialist systems don't work is not because people don't behave rationally or irrationally under those systems. The reason they don't work is that the incentives and social structures that facilitate certain acts are weakened/destroyed and cannot facilitate important decisions.

Is the Cuban government initiating force by even threatening to move people who don't want to move from a hurricane? And since death, as far as we know, has irreversible consequences, couldn't the people who choose death be making an error that they would appreciate being saved from - after all, they could poison themselves or die of starvation later? And may there not be other consequences given incentives that may be strengthened or weakened by the actions of the Cuban government?

To rationalistically frame this as an issue of being "rational" or "irrational" without making it clear what the ends you value are is to beg the question. If the question is wealth, then at the very least, the Cuban government has to try to get the message that you should evacuate to you. If it tries to do so, is it initiating force by siezing the airwaves to get a message across? Or must it pay a market rate even in disaster?

I'm just trying to show that to answer such questions without admitting that one is using a narrow and ultimately personal view of what rational values are is naive.

Anon69 said...

Xtra Laj,


>>Is the Cuban government initiating force by even threatening to move people who don't want to move from a hurricane?

Yes.

>>And since death, as far as we know, has irreversible consequences, couldn't the people who choose death be making an error that they would appreciate being saved from - after all, they could poison themselves or die of starvation later?

That's up to them to decide.

>>And may there not be other consequences given incentives that may be strengthened or weakened by the actions of the Cuban government?

The only incentive of consequence is to enable individuals to act rationally by not initiating force against them.

>>To rationalistically frame this as an issue of being "rational" or "irrational" without making it clear what the ends you value are is to beg the question.

It is man's life, but man's life is not a purely physical existence; it is life qua man which entails the freedom to choose. To "save" man's life by forcing him to live is a contradiction in terms.

>>If the question is wealth, then at the very least, the Cuban government has to try to get the message that you should evacuate to you. If it tries to do so, is it initiating force by siezing the airwaves to get a message across? Or must it pay a market rate even in disaster?

A straw man. There is no reason to think that, in a rational society, seizure of airwaves in such a circumstance would be necessary, and it is not given that government is even the agency responsible for getting the message across.

Xtra Laj said...

Yes.

But they haven't done anything to move anyone. All they have done is make statements that they will

That's up to them to decide.

So family members who are trying to save a relative with depressive, suicidal tendencies are guilty of initiating force too, since it is clear that the person would kill himself if left alone?

Or the government, by the very act of making laws, is guilty of initiating force?


The only incentive of consequence is to enable individuals to act rationally by not initiating force against them.


The non-initiation of force principle is something that cannot defend the vast number of things that are important for a society to survive. Obviously, there is no clear way to defend this on a pure empirical basis, but just about every society that has not had a ruling class to organize and provide incentives for people to act in specific ways denigrates into a lawless anarchy or is consumed by another, more organized state.


The only incentive of consequence is to enable individuals to act rationally by not initiating force against them.


Are you impersonating Anon69, or are you the same Anon69 who has written far more nuanced and intelligent posts in the past?

What is acting "rationally"? Human beings act rationally if that means making choices in accordance with how they *reason*. What affects their behavior is a variety of things, which are broadly classified as either genetic or environmental influences. The environmental influences are what the incentives would fall under. If a human being would steal if he didn't feel that police would arrest him, is the threat of the police arresting him an initiation of force?

To "save" man's life by forcing him to live is a contradiction in terms.

In other words, something a man could do to save his child or his brother becomes "a contradiction" when the government does it (use force to prevent harm from befalling him)? But in any case, this is to some degree besides the point, because you are positing an unrealistic view of how human beings act as a substitute for how human beings really act.

A straw man. There is no reason to think that, in a rational society, seizure of airwaves in such a circumstance would be necessary, and it is not given that government is even the agency responsible for getting the message across

"Utopia is not under the slightest obligation to produce results: its sole function is to allow its devotees to condemn what exists in the name of what does not."

Anonymous said...

Given that Objectivists don't contest elections, how are they going to achieve power and change the world?

Steven

Anonymous said...

Given that a John Galt is not going to come along and change things a-la-Atlas Shrugged, how are they going to achieve their aims?
Give that most objectivists are not exaclty what one would call either charasmatic or polite they are going to have trouble getting their message across.
One can only imagine the scene if they were going from door to door canvassing votes and the unfortunate person who answered said he was likely to vote for the democrats, well you would not want to be on the end of that spit would you!
I've found if you don't agree with, well, anything and everything they say then your a *beeping* piece of *beep* who is destroying the world. And that's just the women objectivists who speak to you like that.

Steven

Anonymous said...

When you see LP or Yaroon Brook on the tube, do you think "I'm going to rush out and buy the VOS"? Would anybody think that, no you think, these guys are a joke basically, good to laugh at. It is very telling that most objectivist clubs/societies are on campus. That is not to say that once these kiddies graduate and leave they renounce objectivism but it does seem very difficult for them to get people in the 'real' world to embrace objectivism.
I've had debates with objetivists in the UK and they always say "objectivism is growing year on year" when you ask for the figures to show this growth they can't/won't give you them. Evading reality or what?
The figure I've got is 100 in the UK, now given you need around 13 million votes to win a general election, they've got their work cut out for them...but objectivism it's appeal, to me, seemed limited to the US only. I could never imagine France or Germany going objectivist. Hong Kong? If they were given a free vote, I'd still doubt they would elect objectivist politicians.

Steve

Steve

Anonymous said...

Oh and Hong Kong does have a welfare state and 90% of it's population is religious so that would surely stop objectivism in it's tracks. I understand the size of government there is smaller than most countries...but that has not stopped the growth of welfare in Hong Kong, nor has it made the inhabitents more 'rational' if 9 out of 10 believe in a diety.

But this not about Hong Kong it's about how the objectivists can change society and whilst they might not admit it I think the question has to be asked just how many do they drive away from Rand's teaching by their behaviour than they get into the movement? I'd say for every one that joins 000's are turned off by their attitudes.

Steve

Anonymous said...

A moot point, but, wikipedia has this to say about Bismark:

"He created a new nation with a progressive social policy, a result that went beyond his initial goals as a practitioner of power politics in Prussia. Bismarck, a devout Lutheran who was obedient to his king, promoted government through a strong well-trained bureaucracy with a hereditary monarchy at the top."

Now, because of his "progressive social policy", objectivists label him a socialist! Well, do I need to tell you what socialists think of him? I just wondered what libertarians & Darwinian conservatives would make of his brand of politics. I think you would be hard pushed to label him a socialist! Yet, whatever label you give him, he is the one to blame for the welfare state, right kids?

Another moot point, to objectivists, every politican is socialist. Even Churchill, Hitler and Stalin were all socialists the UKOA informed me. So why did they end up fighting each other? Let's not forget FDR to, he was a socialist to. So if all four were socialists and evil men to boot and evil men stick together the objectivists tell me, it kinda falls down with WWII

Steve

gregnyquist said...

Anon69: "The Objectivist would challenge the view implicit in your example... To the contrary, the initiation of force for seemingly good deeds in the short term would always have the unintended consequence of destroying a greater share of wealth in the long run. So you might save 10,000 today, but tomorrow 20,000 would starve as the producers stop producing as much in response to the confiscation of their freedom."

Yet this argument, even if true (and it appears rather exaggerated: the U.S. government has been paying out money to help people for nearly 80 years without seriously compromising production), it nonetheless misses the point. You are faced with the imminent deaths of 10,000 people. You will be held responsible for those 10,000 deaths by "society." It's even possible that your political and ethical ideals would be compromised. Can anyone with a conscience, even if is an Objectivist, let 10,000 people die in order to remain true to Objectivist ideals? The imminent deaths of 10,000 is far more real to the human psyche than the purely speculative long-term deaths of 20,000 because of a one-time compromise on one's political ideals. And there exist plenty of rationalizations that can be brought forward to defend that view, even on Objectivist grounds. The Objectivist could claim that Objectivist ideals haven't had time enough to assert themselves in the culture, that a one time compromise is therefore necessary during the transition period to a fully Objectivist society, etc. etc.

Another thing that occurs to me. What if one of the unconscious motivations driving Objectivists to shun the political process stems precisely from the fear of having some measure of success and being given a position of responsibility in the political realm. Maybe unconsciously what Objectivists fear more than losing is winning. So far, only one Objectivist ever achieved a position eminent power; and things did not exactly go well, from an Objectivist point of view, in his case.

Anon69 said...

Greg,

the problem I have with your analysis is that, on the one hand, Objectivist politicians will be held responsible (for the 10,000 deaths) by "society", yet on the other, no one in "society" (or not enough) are willing to step up and be personally responsible for helping through voluntary charity. Why the bias towards government-coerced action over voluntary non-coerced action? I don't disagree with the ends personally, it's the means I question. The very members of the public that one supposes would be so outraged at government inaction would do nothing of their own volition?

I don't understand this bias -- we see it with Obama -- that "only government can do X, Y, and Z" when those things can (and are) actually done through voluntary means. Government is properly the police, military and courts; it's troubling that so many of my fellow citizens now consider it a grocer, teacher, doctor, banker, insurer, car-maker, nanny, and employer as well. Shirking personal accountability is one thing, but doing it while pointing a gun at your neighbor to command him to obey is just disgusting.

Either private citizens would organize and come to the rescue, or their utter indifference would support political inaction, but it can't be both -- not unless the people are irresponsible hypocrites.

Xtra Laj said...

The very members of the public that one supposes would be so outraged at government inaction would do nothing of their own volition?

And one assumes that they would be able to do so without something like a government? The idea that the free market can always replicate the efficiency of centralized command structures for solving some problems is as ideological as the idea that the centralized command structure is better than the free market at solving all allocation problems.

In other words, the government can be the best instrument of the actions that you think others will take in the face of government inaction. Excluding this possibility at the beginning is an ideological commitment, not an empirically motivated one.

Anon69 said...

But Xtra Laj, whether a command structure is centralized says nothing whatsoever about whether its actions entail the use of force, i.e. government. The Red Cross could have a central command, for example. Why do you begin by assuming that only government is capable of acting with the requisite decisiveness?

I am not saying that your efficient command structure cannot exist. I am merely adding the harmless stipulation that no individual be forced to act without his consent, i.e. that it is not a matter for government. In all other respects, the agency would act in the same manner as the efficient government you envision. So what is the problem?

Xtra Laj said...

Anon69,

But Xtra Laj, whether a command structure is centralized says nothing whatsoever about whether its actions entail the use of force, i.e. government. The Red Cross could have a central command, for example. Why do you begin by assuming that only government is capable of acting with the requisite decisiveness?

I lost my original comments and reposted only one point in a haste. My point was threefold: structure, scale and specialization. Structure: a command structure might be easier to enforce in a bureaucratic or military setting. Scale: a large government has the size to make things happen quickly which most corporations do not. Specialization: the government often specializes in doing things that individuals bunched together are not as good as the government at doing. Posting only my first point made it seem that centralization was all I was concerned with.

I am not saying that your efficient command structure cannot exist. I am merely adding the harmless stipulation that no individual be forced to act without his consent, i.e. that it is not a matter for government. In all other respects, the agency would act in the same manner as the efficient government you envision. So what is the problem?

The problem is that this agency is the kind of thing that libertarians for some reason assume will evolve, but how it will evolve and whether it will be unlike a government is unclear without an empirically motivated example. While it is true that the government can and does destroy competition for providing some of the services it provides, especially in a fiat money economy where the government controls the money supply, it is also not completely clear that there aren't services that the government is best at providing for the reasons I provided above.

Finally, framing the problem as one of "force" is to again miss the point as I have argued earlier. Human beings do things similar to what the government does everyday. If criticism of government action in a particular sphere of the economy will be effective, it will require in addition to any philosophical justification, some appeal to empirically justifiable consequences whose value components there will be some broad agreement upon. You have some work on your plate if you want to convince people that citizens should just be left to die because "rational people" can/will save themselves.

Anon69 said...

Xtra,

to take just your last sentence: "You have some work on your plate if you want to convince people that citizens should just be left to die because "rational people" can/will save themselves."

It's not much work. If people can/will save themselves, then by definition they are not left to die.

It's like saying "you have some work on your plate if you want to convince people that Anon69 isn't dead just because he happens to be alive". But that's exactly what being alive means -- the time I've spent arguing here notwithstanding. ;-)

Anon69 said...

Xtra Laj said: "If criticism of government action in a particular sphere of the economy will be effective, it will require in addition to any philosophical justification, some appeal to empirically justifiable consequences whose value components there will be some broad agreement upon."

I'll accept, arguendo, the distinction between philosophy and empiricism (side note: I actually reject this distinction). You spoke of consequences having value components there will be some broad agreement upon. Fine, here's one that anyone who respects human life should agree upon: the invasion of a man's liberty without his consent is profoundly destructive of that cherished value, man's life. The fundamental thing that sets government apart is its capacity to undertake just such an invasion. Were it otherwise, you wouldn't have singled government out as your favored agency of benevolence. In other words, it's the invasion of man's liberty and the destruction of his life that you're really seeking, in the name of life. Can you spot so blatant a contradiction? I assuredly can.

Xtra Laj said...

Fine, here's one that anyone who respects human life should agree upon: the invasion of a man's liberty without his consent is profoundly destructive of that cherished value, man's life.

I don't agree, because I think the consequences of such an invasion can sometimes be beneficial to the man and be appreciated after the fact. Does that mean that I don't respect human life? You would say yes, I would say that it makes sense to weigh the benefits and consequences of actions and how the world really works, not how we imagine it should.

The fundamental thing that sets government apart is its capacity to undertake just such an invasion.

I get the impression that your experiences in life are limited to America and you are willing to forget that the government is often also the check against the invasions you despise, which can be done by many other entities, from Al Qaeda to petty criminals. Go check out other countries where the government is not as efficient and sometimes, the government is as bad as the armed bandits in violating your cherished rights. Maybe as bad as you think America is, you'll be more appreciative.

Were it otherwise, you wouldn't have singled government out as your favored agency of benevolence. In other words, it's the invasion of man's liberty and the destruction of his life that you're really seeking, in the name of life. Can you spot so blatant a contradiction? I assuredly can.

Great rhetoric, but trust me, I know that governments can be as destructive as they can be good. Human beings run governments and corporations. But talking about this "man" whose destruction I'm seeking is just a bit too abstract for me. Let's just say that I'm all for criticism of government as long as it is placed within a perspective that appreciates the complexity of the issue, and doesn't try to simplify it to a "government bad, private citizens good" view of the economy.

It's not much work. If people can/will save themselves, then by definition they are not left to die.

The quotes around "rational people" implied that I disagreed with how you framed the issue. If these people are so rational, why do they need a government anyway?

Anon69 said...

Xtra Laj said: "I think the consequences of such an invasion can sometimes be beneficial to the man and be appreciated after the fact."

I sincerely hope that you will someday reconsider this premise. Barack Obama said that "when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody." What he meant was that it would be beneficial in his judgment, even if not in the judgment of the man whose wealth he was stealing. Now the obvious question is this: who is Obama, or you, or me, or anyone else, to substitute our own judgment for that of this man? It seems to me that respecting his right to make a controlling judgment about how to dispose of his wealth and what is beneficial for him vis-a-vis our contrary judgments of the same isn't just a side aspect of respect for man's life, it is the fundamental, defining issue. The capacity to reason is what sets man apart from lower animals. It is the essential basis of our rights. Rights are meaningless -- meaningless! -- if they can be abrogated case-by-case whenever the other guy thinks he's right and we're wrong.

You want to protest Obamacare? "Sorry, but I disagree, I happen to like Obamacare and think you should too. Empirically, it will lower costs because the CBO said so. I'm going to kidnap you until after the bill has passed. It's for your own good."

You want to post to ARCHNblog? "Sorry, but I don't think that's good for either of us. I studied the consequences and came to this conclusion empirically. I'll just sabotage your internet connection until your mind is right."

You want to drink Diet Coke? "Haven't you heard of aspartame? There are empirical studies about it. I'll have to knock you unconscious to teach you a lesson. Trust me, it's for your own good."

See, I can weight the "benefits" and "consequences" whenever I want, and notwithstanding your judgment, I can invade your liberty based on my judgment, with a fig leaf to empiricism just to make it seem perfectly dandy.

Unless and until you learn to respect others' rights to make judgments you disagree with, without seeing in the benefits and consequences an excuse to initiate force to substitute your judgment for theirs, you have reduced all men to the state of the lower animals. Far from saving civil society, it will render it impossible. Sadly, many of my fellow citizens agree with you, and that's the road we appear to be headed down.

Anonymous said...

Hey Anon69 I like it, can I give a few examples?

"You want to eat and drink adultered food and drink that will poison you and your family? Sorry I don't agree I'm going to have to 'force' the companies to stop this"

"You want to work in an unsafe factory, where you are in danger for your life and limb? Sorry I don't agree, I'm going to have to 'force' the companies to make the workplace safe"

"You want to rent a property that is unfit for human habitation? Sorry, I don't agree I'm going to have to 'force' the landlords to only rent properties that are suitable for humans to live in"

"You want to send your children to a Church school where they teach nothing but the bible, creationism and ID, sorry I don't agree, I'm going to have to 'force' them to provide a better ciricullum for your children.

"Trust me it's for your own good"

Far from destroying civil society actions like these will render it possible. Thankfully most of our fellow citizens think that the government should 'force' others to provide unadultered food and drink, safe workplaces and landlords should provide suitable accomodation.

But banning diet coke? From my cold, dead hand!

Actually have you go a time line for Obama & Co. rendering civil society impossible?

Steve

Anonymous said...

Where are objectivists going to get the money to pay for the military, courts and police? It is not through taxation, it's through a lottery...yet the odds of winning anything on the lottery are so astronomical that most peopel don't bother to do it.

But this funidng of government via a lottery as never been properly explained to me, how, say would they have funded the Iraq war via a lottery? Would there be a 'special' Saturday night draw where are the money raised would go to the troops?

What could you say to the cop, to the solider, to the judge if not enough tickets have been bought? Erm...we'll pay you double next week.
Would there have to be an appeal on the TV? LP telling people to buy more tickets?

Steve

Steve

Anonymous said...

How about health care for people with infectious diseases? It is all very well saying "hey, buddy I ain't your slave, don't hold a gun at me head and force me to provide health care for you, yadda, yadda, standard objectivist line"

What is the guy turns round and say I've just returned from the tropics with an infectious disease, fine if you don't want to treat me but what I have will spread.

In the UK the government was forced to take action over just this issue around 1850, the disease was cholera and thats spreads, regardless of your health insurance! You might have the top plan but the poor guy with cholera can still pass it on to you, is that what we want to go back to?

Steve

Anonymous said...

Suppose I want to sell one of my children, for a yearly fee, to a drug company to carry out testing, would an objectivist government allow me to enter into such a contract?
Or would they government step in and stop this contract by 'force'.

Steve

Xtra Laj said...

Steve,

Thanks for providing a few examples, but unfortunately, Anon69 is still too consumed by the power of his rhetoric.

Anon69,

Why didn't you answer my last question? I reproduce it again below:

If these people are so rational, why do they need a government anyway?


You wrote:

See, I can weight the "benefits" and "consequences" whenever I want, and notwithstanding your judgment, I can invade your liberty based on my judgment, with a fig leaf to empiricism just to make it seem perfectly dandy.

Of course you can, but Greg's point has been that the ability to enforce such actions is what is key here, not whatever you imagine to justify it. The government forces me to pay taxes that I don't agree with, and I cannot do anything about. I could move to another country with a much lower tax rate, but I will be giving up something else. That's the real world. Ranting about my personal dislike for it isn't going to change that.

You may dislike the benefits and consequences way of viewing the world, but in a democracy, it is necessary, and for anyone who believes that human "rationality" is not what it is hyped up to be, it is an important viewpoint to balance the benefits of government with its excesses.

You can defend your Utopian vision of rights for as long as you want because you can rationalize how it works as much as you want. Remember that having a standing professional police force was not always the case in history and is a recent invention in the last 3 centuries of humanity. Steven Pinker gives the example of when in Montreal, the police force of the city went on strike and robberies occurred within 20 minutes of their doing so. Who did the city call in to stop the crime? Not your vaunted citizens, but the military. Pinker points out before this, he always argued that the government was the primary cause of crime because of his ideological commitment to Bakunin's anarchism. I'm sure he could have found ways to maintain that commitment if he really wanted to (after all, one could always point to things like saying that citizens don't always have guns to protect themselves, or that poverty still exists or classes have not disappeared or the state was not fully dissolved or other such nonsense), but the point is that you either want to live in the real world and make a serious commitment to empirically understanding it within testable constraints, or you want to live in lala land with no responsibility to real world implications.

Anonymous said...

Given that objectivists have been saying since year dot (1957 or 1943 - take your pick) that politicians have "...reduced all men to the state of the lower animals." and that we are going to hell in a handcart, what is so 'special' about Obama?

"it's troubling that so many of my fellow citizens now consider it a grocer, teacher, doctor, banker, insurer, car-maker, nanny, and employer as well."

Well, I seriously doubt they think that government should or has assumed all these roles, I mean there are state run auto manufacturers in the US? Since when? When Ma sends her little Johnie out for a loaf of bread does she send him down to the government run bakery? No she does not!
Shirking personal accountability is one thing, but doing it while pointing a gun at your neighbor to command him to obey is just disgusting. As for teacher, who else is going to give the poor kids and education? Would objectivists want to go back to the days of Church schools, where the poor can learn about miracles, ID, creationism etc.

"Shirking personal accountability is one thing, but doing it while pointing a gun at your neighbor to command him to obey is just disgusting. "

Barber shop politics. Asking someone to do their job is not using 'force'

Steve

Anon69 said...

"Ranting about my personal dislike for it isn't going to change that."

Well, at some point the epistemic value of rational skepticism ends and you've got to take a stand. It's not enough to make observations. At some point you've got to draw conclusions and fight for what you believe in. That isn't "ranting". If you don't stand for right policies on principle, you fail the test of being fully human in my judgment. It isn't enough to criticize Rand. You've got to say what you're for and pursue it. Although I disagree with Steven about everything else, I commend his activism. The small principled stands taken by each individual every day really do make a difference. The individual is more powerful than you may give him credit for.

On consequences, I have argued that invading a man's liberty IS a real world consequence every bit as pernicious as willfully letting him starve. The failure of that view to gain traction here to me proves the utter disdain in which you truly hold man. Or perhaps it simply reflects your own poor self-estimate, projected to others.

"If these people are so rational, why do they need a government anyway?"

Because rationality does not equate to "omniscient", "always agrees" or "doesn't need government"; there are instances in which a single authority is needed for persons within a definite territory. There can be only one set of laws, one agency authorized to use force in retaliation against those who initiate its use, one set of courts to arbitrate disagreements about ownership of property and so forth -- the lack of which would plunge the society into anarchy with every man having no recourse but to take disputes into his own hands with physical violence. This is one side of the coin of respecting man's rationality; the other is keeping government tightly within those limited bounds else it goes from protector of man's rights to destroyer.

This is my conclusion. It is open to review based on persuasive arguments, none of which I have seen here so far.

Anonymous said...

"Although I disagree with Steven about everything else, I commend his activism. The small principled stands taken by each individual every day really do make a difference"

Well did you evah! Though in fairness in the 1987 general election the Socialist Party of GB got 75 votes. Cleary that was the electorate telling us it's not yet time...

But, at least we do stand for election, that is the question I always ask objectivists how are you going to get the power to change things? 'Going Galt' is just laughable, does anybody take that seriously? I mean, any of the CEO of the fortune 500 gone Galt yet? Even if they did I'm sure the boards would replace them.

But lets move on, they don't stand in elections, Peikoff and Yaroon Brook are considered either sick or laughable by 99.9% of the US electorate.

When you visit the websites run by objectivists they, from time to time, talk about how their 'intellectuals' are invited onto talk shows, how well the books are selling and so on and yet...every op-ed or article is a rant and a moan about how things are getting worse not better. So to be crude, the book sales and the appearances on Fox news count for *beep* all.

Not to demean the supermarket checker or the garbage man, I am a socialist after all, but how are they going to get this objectivist message across to them? I asked objectivists in the UKOA and they said people will vote for us because it is the "truth". I'm not making this up! I'm sure it was said in jest but you going to need to back it up with more than that, the answer I got was that they'd tell the checker and the garbage man that objectivism means "freedom". Again it's a bit vague, then I finally got "we'd tell them that their life is their own". My friends at that I had to give up, only a masochist would have tried further. So that is their election slogan, objectivism is the "truth, freedom and it means that your life is your own" Perhaps the leaders of objectivism in the UK should go Galt and let more capable men and women take over? Trying to get any sense out of if them is a fools errand. I have found that they tend to hide behind 'philosophical gobblebegook' and trying to pin them down to an definite answer is hard. I did ask them about a strike in the UK, it was the postal workers, I asked did they support them and even then all I got back was "your life is your own" nonsense and unions should not strike for more the market rate. Yes, but do you support the strike? I'm still waiting for the answer. It seems like they have a total inability to translate or even relate their principles/philosophy to day to day life. To carry on with unions if a may, that does seem a thorn in their side, they can't really answer why unions came into existence, at a basic level it's because people are not happy where they work and there is some conflict. Fair enough, so you ask them do you join unions and they say we can, then you ask well are in one and they say well we don't join them because they are unions are full or irrational sheep like people who cant think for themselves. But of course they know how to run the unions, but of course they also won't put themselves up for election as stewards/reps/officers in the unions. I think we can guess why...before you ask, yes we in the SPGB do join unions, we do get elected and we do try to do our bit and my experience of the unions leads me to draw different conclusions from our objectivist friends.

Steve

Steve

Anonymous said...

I was the anon that posted the link to "A book I won't be wating my moeny..."

Should have put my name to that one, hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I love the Solo site, it's like rubber knecking, you shouldn't but you just can't help it. They are a happy gang who tell each other how brilliant they are when one of them publishes an article or an essay at some obscure website. There is a certain charm about the place and Lindsay Perigo(?) clearly thinks he one of the greats, as does Valiant. To be fair so do they members there, they obvioulsy worship them and you'd have to be cruel to laugh at that, smile yes but not laugh. I love it when Lindsay loses it, roughly every 5 minutes, and calls somebody a Pomo wanker. Might not mean much to you Americans, but wanker means I suppose you would say a 'jack-off' or a masturbater.

Perhaps politics needs that?

I know they didn't in NZ.

Some may say it's the language of the gutter, of the sewer and the people that populate that site truly are of the gutter. But as Oscar Wilde said "they are looking at stars". I'm paraphrasing ok?

Steve

Anonymous said...

"A book I won't be wating my moeny..."


Oh no! My activism may be commendable but my spelling sure ain't.

Steve

Xtra Laj said...

Well, at some point the epistemic value of rational skepticism ends and you've got to take a stand. It's not enough to make observations. At some point you've got to draw conclusions and fight for what you believe in.

Well, you are free to state what you've actually done/achieved as an activist to fight for what you believe in that I have not, since you presumably know what I do and how I live. The contrast between my position and yours is a bit like Hayek vs. Von Mises. One guy is more empirical, the other is more rationalistic, similar conclusions, but significant differences based on each other's concept of human nature. It's not always about the substantial conclusions held, but the paths taken to arrive at them, as well as the admission of the limitations. I agree in some ways with what you've written. About 10 years ago, I might have agreed with you much more, but I've grown up since then, having understood the limitations of rationality in realms where you can't run controlled experiments.

On consequences, I have argued that invading a man's liberty IS a real world consequence every bit as pernicious as willfully letting him starve. The failure of that view to gain traction here to me proves the utter disdain in which you truly hold man. Or perhaps it simply reflects your own poor self-estimate, projected to others.


You have every right to pontificate about my psychology from your position of anonymity. All I will point out is that I've seen things that people could not imagine even if they were described to them because I've dealt and worked with the full gamut of human nature. So when I see you write about the "rights of man" or other such rationalistic stuff, I just smile to myself and remember what I was like 10 years ago. Of course, some people never actually try to test their ideas so like yourself, they will always be trapped in an iron ring of ideas that they can never escape. The only way to escape is to continually deal realistically with the data and to see why others might interpret it differently from you. If you don't have that mindset, you can't see where I'm coming from.

Because rationality does not equate to "omniscient", "always agrees" or "doesn't need government"; there are instances in which a single authority is needed for persons within a definite territory.


It's really unfortunate that you can write this and still take *everything* else you've written on this page seriously. Why don't rational people always agree? I would like you see how deeply you've considered this because it is a serious consideration of this question that helps inform how you view disagreements.

gregnyquist said...

Anon69: "the problem I have with your analysis is that, on the one hand, Objectivist politicians will be held responsible (for the 10,000 deaths) by 'society', yet on the other, no one in 'society' (or not enough) are willing to step up and be personally responsible for helping through voluntary charity."

On the (admittedly) implausible assumption that Objectivist-inspired politicians would ever seize power, they will in fact be held responsible for the consequences of their actions (even if it doesn't seem logical or fair). That's just the way politics works. These Objectivists would likely have argued that private charity can take of any issues arising natural disasters and the like. And perhaps a good deal of the time, this is true--although, given Rand's belief that charity is only a "minor" virtue, one wonders whether, in an Objectivist society, why Objectivists appear so confident in the efficacy of a virtue they're not particularly fond of. In any case, it is implausible to suppose that charity can work in all cases, or that some event or disaster might happen that would overwhelm the charitable resources of the community. It is precisely then when practical-minded people will regard the Objectivist refusal to allow for any government assistence, even in great emergencies, as sheer fanaticism.

As for the point about people criticizing the government who are not willing to step up and help themselves--who's to say they're not willing to step up? The problem is that most individuals will not be able to do very much by themselves; and once the charitable resources of the community are over-stretched, the only organization with enough infrastructure and power to help will be the state.

"I don't understand this bias ... that 'only government can do X, Y, and Z'"

Well here you're polarizing the issue between "only the government can do it" and "government should never do it." What about "Government should do it as a last resort, when private measures fail?" You say you support the ends (preventing people from starving), but that you don't like the means (making use of government in the last resort). But is it not irrational to wish an end while failing to support the necessary means to that end?

Anonymous said...

"given Rand's belief that charity is only a "minor" virtue..."

Greg, I always got the impression that Rand & Co. tended to sneer at people who devoted their lives or a part of their lives to charity and it would not be something a card carrying objectivist would get involved in. So I tend to think the role that charity plays would be downgraded and not upgraded.

Steve

Anonymous said...

Given that Gregs book is available to read on-line free of charge, kinda makes his post redundant.

But since when did the truth ever get in the way of an objectivist rant?

Steve

Anonymous said...

"The failure of that view to gain traction here to me proves the utter disdain in which you truly hold man. Or perhaps it simply reflects your own poor self-estimate, projected to others."

It does?

Steve

Anonymous said...

"The failure of that view to gain traction here to me proves the utter disdain in which you truly hold man. Or perhaps it simply reflects your own poor self-estimate, projected to others."

Does it always have to end this way when you debate with objectivists? Abuse, innuendo and intimidation. Perhaps it's a cop out on their part, they don't have to convince anybody of their politics, if the poor voter does not agree just abuse him! Though one wonders if behaviour like this wins 'hearts and minds' or are they forever to be doomed to cult like status with negligible influence?

Steve

Xtra Laj said...

Does it always have to end this way when you debate with objectivists? Abuse, innuendo and intimidation. Perhaps it's a cop out on their part, they don't have to convince anybody of their politics, if the poor voter does not agree just abuse him! Though one wonders if behaviour like this wins 'hearts and minds' or are they forever to be doomed to cult like status with negligible influence?

Steve,

The barbs went both ways. It was a spirited discussion. And sometimes, differences in opinion are so significant that we can't pretend to be polite to others. Objectivists magnify this gulf by by working with their preferred definitions, thereby making debates less meaningful and more dependent on whose counterfactuals are more plausible.

So in Objectoworld, I become not fully human simply because an Objectivist disagrees with my political views, though of course, in the real world, I am human, good or bad rhetoric not withstanding - a human full of hot air is still fully human, even if he is an Objectivist.

Anonymous said...

"a human full of hot air is still fully human"

I agree. I was and am a huge fan of both Bernard Levin & Malcolm Muggeridge. Both men pumped hot air into the English language but at least they used it and did not abuse it.

As for the barbs, it does seem that the objectivists fail to know when to turn it off.


Steve

Red Grant said...

___________________________________

And as for the Republican Party—an organization which, despite its many faults, constitutes the most effective political force aligned against Obamacare—deserves to be either “destroyed” or “severely punished” for the enormous crime of allying itself with evangelical Christians. - Peikoff as paraphrased by Greg

___________________________________



Well, one thing I can agree with Peikoff.






___________________________________

If it became clear that their laissez-faire, no-welfare policies would lead to the death by starvation of 10,000 people, would they really stick to their guns and allow the deaths to occur, even though it would discredit them in the eyes of many and turn people against their ideology? What sort of paper is their beliefs really made from? - Greg

___________________________________




Indeed, I've asked the similar questions to "Objectivists", and all I get is.... "Oh! I can't think of such thing happening."

Red Grant said...

unless they were to embrace dictatorship and start forcing those who disagree with them to shut up, and blindly follow the leader, there will always be a lot of open disagreement. However, for Objectivists, doing so, would go agianst their principals and their ideals. - Damien



Of course, this speaks for "Objectivsts" philosophical cowardice and intellectual laziness.

Anon69 said...

Greg Nyquist wrote: "The problem is that most individuals will not be able to do very much by themselves; and once the charitable resources of the community are over-stretched, the only organization with enough infrastructure and power to help will be the state."

Greg,

Respectfully, I think that this is the premise that needs to be checked. "Infrastructure" simply means organization; to say that only the state can be organized is simply a non sequitur. "Power" here simply means efficaciousness, which resides in the human capacity to produce and act to save lives. It does not follow that coercion is a necessary part of that power.

Furthermore, it begs the question to say that the state can properly provide assistance in the last resort: the whole question is whether state action of this type is proper. We could just as easily say that enslaving a race would be proper as a last resort (to save the starving 10,000), because only that could provide enough power to get the job done. The whole point is that the ends do not always justify the means. The point remains to be proven, that government action for charity is proper. This cannot be assumed, has not been established, and factually (i.e. in real world consequences) runs counter to the rights of the individual. You have not shown how government action as a last resort is different in kind from slavery. I can only guess that because such action is generally accepted practice nowadays, that (unlike slavery) you expect that it won't arouse sufficiently large opposition. That is not a principled way to measure justice.

Anon69 said...

I would also reject the contention, sometimes voiced here in comments, that Rand's description of charity as a "minor" virtue forecloses the sufficiency of the same. Recall that Objectivism rejects the "prudent predator" argument. All men's rights are to be respected because in principle, every man stands to gain from the life of every other. To an Objectivist, every individual life has potential value. Saving 10,000 from starvation in a society of millions would require a truly de minimus contribution from each rational person. To say that this a "minor" value in this context reflects that every man would not give up his own primary pursuits and values to make such a contribution on the side. But for the reason that he values the life of every man, he could be expected to make the necessary donation.

Now, clearly the "every man has potential value" principle only gets you so far -- reality entails scarcity of productive resources -- and each man would have to determine how much value to provide and for what specific charitable ends. Preventing starvation seems proper to me, for example, while providing exhaustive leading-edge medical treatment to every sick person does not. Lines must be drawn by each individual as to what he thinks is proper; but in principle, respecting man's rights means that the individual, and not the collective, makes that determination.

Anonymous said...

But how are objectivists going to get into power and change society? They don’t contest elections and their sloganeering has achieved nothing. What? You don’t’ believe me? Simply go to an objectivist site and read article after article about how thing are getting worse, not better.

I asked the ones in the UK to a debate with the SPGB, the answer I got was they’d love to but they have no speakers with debating experience. Well I got news for you the only way to get experience is just to go for it. Some men and women are naturals others will just sink and you’ll have to politely tell them never to represent you at another debate.

So what are they left with? A bunch of campus clubs, not much to show for 50 years.

Steve

Daniel Barnes said...

Steve:
>So what are they left with? A bunch of campus clubs, not much to show for 50 years.

Steve hits the nail on the head.

Daniel Barnes said...

Laj:
>So in Objectoworld, I become not fully human simply because an Objectivist disagrees with my political views, though of course, in the real world, I am human, good or bad rhetoric not withstanding - a human full of hot air is still fully human, even if he is an Objectivist.

Laj hits another nail.

Anonymous said...

"So in Objectoworld, I become not fully human simply because an Objectivist disagrees with my political views, though of course, in the real world, I am human, good or bad rhetoric not withstanding - a human full of hot air is still fully human, even if he is an Objectivist."

Nevermind, name something they can do that a non-objectivist can't do or do better than they can.

Though I accept it would be hard to be a bigger horses a** than LP.

Steve

Richard said...

Coming late to this one, so pardon me if this was already said somewhere in the comments I didn't read.

Greg wrote:

If it became clear that their laissez-faire, no-welfare policies would lead to the death by starvation of 10,000 people, would they really stick to their guns and allow the deaths to occur, even though it would discredit them in the eyes of many and turn people against their ideology? What sort of paper is their beliefs really made from?

Of course when an ideal lacks real-world instances, one may speculate endlessly about what it might or might not lead to. But if you are going to project hypothetical deaths in an attempt to discredit a political ideology, 10,000 is a shockingly low number to use. Government oppression may have killed more than 10,000 just since you posted this. Millions of real deaths, including multiple attempts at genocide, are attributable to political ideologies that are very clearly not laissez-faire. So do you seriously want to judge laissez-faire vs. government power based on body count? What sort of blood-soaked rags are your beliefs made from?

Xtra Laj said...

Of course when an ideal lacks real-world instances, one may speculate endlessly about what it might or might not lead to. But if you are going to project hypothetical deaths in an attempt to discredit a political ideology, 10,000 is a shockingly low number to use. Government oppression may have killed more than 10,000 just since you posted this. Millions of real deaths, including multiple attempts at genocide, are attributable to political ideologies that are very clearly not laissez-faire. So do you seriously want to judge laissez-faire vs. government power based on body count? What sort of blood-soaked rags are your beliefs made from?

Did the government (or its oppression) save lives too? Can the government save lives? Please let us understand your ideology.

Anonymous said...

I always was of the opinion that Milton Friedman advised Pinochet on how to free up the market in Chile. They may have a free market but that country certainly was not free. How do we judge that laissez-faire state under Pinochet? What a coincidence we were/are talking about 10 000 as that was the number that disappeared under his rule. Maybe they just took a holiday and never came back.

Steve

Daniel Barnes said...

Richard:
>But if you are going to project hypothetical deaths in an attempt to discredit a political ideology, 10,000 is a shockingly low number to use.

Ok, let's use 50,000,000. I'll amend Greg's quote accordingly.

"If it became clear that their laissez-faire, no-welfare policies would lead to the death by starvation of 50,000,000 people, would they really stick to their guns and allow the deaths to occur, even though it would discredit them in the eyes of many and turn people against their ideology? What sort of paper is their beliefs really made from?"

Happy?

Richard:
>Government oppression may have killed more than 10,000 just since you posted this.

Oh, if you are going to project hypothetical deaths in an attempt to discredit a political ideology, such as non-laissez-faire government, 10,000 is a shockingly low number to use. Why, here in non-laissez faire New Zealand, government oppression must kill that many people every day. In non-laissez-faire Australia it's probably more like 40,000. And what about in non-laissez-faire France, where I visit regularly? The streets were littered with corpses!

;-)

Anonymous said...

"And what about in non-laissez-faire France, where I visit regularly? The streets were littered with corpses!"

Oh no, they were only dead-drunk. I've been to France many times had got drunk with French Marxists and non-Marxists, they are all alike, they will literaly sleep anywhere when drunk. On the pavement, on the road even!

Steve

gregnyquist said...

Richard: "Government oppression may have killed more than 10,000 just since you posted this. Millions of real deaths, including multiple attempts at genocide, are attributable to political ideologies that are very clearly not laissez-faire. So do you seriously want to judge laissez-faire vs. government power based on body count?"

This argument is only convincing if the only choice people had was between laissez-faire and a genocidal government. But not non-laissez-faire governments routinely kill their citizens. Indeed, what most people want is a government that (1) doesn't kill people; and (2) doesn't stand by and let people who have been victimized by a sudden disaster die either. It takes a special type of mentality to be so wedded to a principle that, even on the (perhaps rare) occasion when adherence to that principle leads to a bad outcome, they claim, at least speculatively, that the government should do-nothing. How do you think laissez-faire became discredited in the first place? Ironically, it was because Herbert Hoover (hardly a laissez-faire guy) was uptight about pulling out all the stops to help people during the Great Depression that his opponents were able to create, in the minds the public, the bogeyman of laissez-faire. Now if they could succeed in discrediting laissez-faire even when that form of government didn't actually prevail in society, think how easy it would be to discredit a government that actually practiced laissez-faire and did absolutely nothing in response to some crisis!

Richard said...

Daniel Barnes wrote:


Richard:
>Government oppression may have killed more than 10,000 just since you posted this.

Oh, if you are going to project hypothetical deaths in an attempt to discredit a political ideology, such as non-laissez-faire government, 10,000 is a shockingly low number to use. Why, here in non-laissez faire New Zealand, government oppression must kill that many people every day. In non-laissez-faire Australia it's probably more like 40,000. And what about in non-laissez-faire France, where I visit regularly? The streets were littered with corpses!

;-)


You don't get it, do you? I wasn't talking about hypothetical people. Every day, real people are robbed, oppressed, imprisoned and murdered by governments. That is the sickening truth. A million deaths may be a statistic, but each one was a real person. You want to treat hypothetical specters of deaths from laissez faire as a shocking tragedy, without taking any account of these realities. A couple of lame jokes and a smirky-face doesn't change that.

If you want to support the use of force against innocent people to make them act in ways that you prefer, then you should have the courage to accept responsibility for what it means to force people to do things. Antiseptic theories of government ultimately have to be enforced. For my own political views, I propose that such force ought to be used against a narrow set of people who have acted to harm others. Others, presumably including yourself, propose that force should be used much more broadly. So let's move away from the big, impersonal numbers and get personal. I am willing to fight back if someone is attacking me. That is consistent with my beliefs about the proper use of force. So how many random strangers are you willing to personally beat, stab or shoot in order to make people act according to your will?

Abolaji said...

I am willing to fight back if someone is attacking me. That is consistent with my beliefs about the proper use of force. So how many random strangers are you willing to personally beat, stab or shoot in order to make people act according to your will?

Since we are depending so strongly on counterfactuals, you might be unwilling to fight back if you are fairly sure that you will die if you do so, but you will live if you do not. People's choices often change as their power increases, so while we might find your willingness to limit yourself to fighting back credible since you have no political power to speak of, it would be different to see you exercise it when you actually have the power to get things done, which is what actual politicians have to, and in democratic societies, do so within many constraints enforced upon them by the reality of other people's desires/needs. We can compare how politicians behave when they are in opposition to how they behave when they are in power to get a hint of this.

Do you have a stat that points out how many people have been saved by government? The problem here is in part that your method of argument is stacked so heavily against the government because you can always accuse a government of causing death, since you can blame all the failings of government officials on the deaths and dismiss such issues as individual pathology or whether even in the absence of a state, something similar would have happened (human beings have been at war from time immemorial). I haven't read RJ Rummel to understand how he dealt with the problem, but maybe you have and can shed some insight. Should we credit the USA with saving all the lives in it? Or all the lives in Japan and Germany? Or only the people on Welfare programs in the world? Or only government workers?

The problem of how to have a government that plays a role in fostering eudaemonism is a difficult one, but I know it is empirically far more difficult than to assume that non-intervention (as opposed to the right kind/degree of intervention) will solve most problems. Human beings will respond to incentives in various ways, including the absence of deterrence.

Richard said...

Greg wrote:

Indeed, what most people want is a government that (1) doesn't kill people; and (2) doesn't stand by and let people who have been victimized by a sudden disaster die either.

And I want to eat unlimited quantities of cake and ice cream without gaining weight. You are the one who ridiculed people for "idle fancies" and "paper" beliefs that aren't implemented in the real world. In the real world, a wide range of non-Objectivist political beliefs have been implemented. If the result of this was governments whose only activities were benignly protecting people and rescuing victims of sudden disasters, this would be a very different conversation.

Now if they could succeed in discrediting laissez-faire even when that form of government didn't actually prevail in society, think how easy it would be to discredit a government that actually practiced laissez-faire and did absolutely nothing in response to some crisis!

I take a different lesson: people are willing (even eager) to lay blame on people and beliefs that they already disagree with. They are far more forgiving of the ideologies that they are invested in themselves. Some of the same people who blamed laissez faire for the Great Depression were able to ignore or deny the starvation of millions in the Ukraine, so as not to disturb their faith in the socialist paradise.

Richard said...

Abolaji wrote:

People's choices often change as their power increases, so while we might find your willingness to limit yourself to fighting back credible since you have no political power to speak of, it would be different to see you exercise it when you actually have the power to get things done

"Power corrupts" is a old adage. But if I should worry that I, who support a relatively limited use of force, might use it more broadly once in power, how much more would it be used by those who already support the broader use of force when they aren't in power? But I guess we already know the answer to that.

The problem here is in part that your method of argument is stacked so heavily against the government because you can always accuse a government of causing death, since you can blame all the failings of government officials on the deaths and dismiss such issues as individual pathology or whether even in the absence of a state, something similar would have happened

I am not the one who started proposing counterfactual scenarios about people dying. I merely pointed out the disingenuousness of projecting hypothetical evils on one ideology without considering the real harms done by others. It is as if someone told you he refuses to drink red wine at home because he is a afraid of spilling it on his carpets, but then when you see his home it is filthy from floor to ceiling.

Nor have I called for "the absence of a state". Government can and should do some things, and when they do those things they help people. I don't have a headcount of how many people governments have protected, but I assume the number is large. Whether it is larger than the number who have been harmed by governments is hard to say, since both numbers are uncalculated. But I haven't proposed weighing the bodies on a scale. I don't sit around thinking, well, I haven't been mugged or raped, so it is OK if an innocent man is disappeared into indefinite detention. My ethics doesn't work that way. But if someone is going to argue that a single hypothetical tragedy would discredit an ideology that to my knowledge has no actual deaths on its hands, while somehow managing not to notice the pile of corpses behind him, I think I'm entitled to ask: WTF?

Anonymous said...

Right, having been in communication with British objectivists here is how they are going to rights advocated by Rand instituted in reality. Bearing in mind this will all happen in 200 years time.
They won’t be standing in elections as it’s too early. They are going to teach teachers all about objectivism, they will then (somehow) pass this understanding on to the youth, whom they have been entrusted to teach, and then in 200 years time the descendents will ensure these rights become a reality.


Steven

Daniel Barnes said...

Richard:
>You don't get it, do you? I wasn't talking about hypothetical people. Every day, real people are robbed, oppressed, imprisoned and murdered by governments. That is the sickening truth. A million deaths may be a statistic, but each one was a real person.

No, you don't seem to understand the argument in the first place.

Greg was talking about a hypothetical situation where Objectivists might be faced with some unpleasant unintended consequences of their policies. Lord knows they wouldn't be the first Utopians to try to effect radical social change with little more than some exciting-sounding rhetoric and their fingers crossed behind their backs. Faced with this, Greg asks, what would they do? It's a perfectly reasonable question.

Now, in response to this, you produce an irrelevant diatribe about the murders produced by what are loosely called governments over whatever millennia, most recently following the same sort of Utopian project that, to us at the ARCHNblog, Objectivism is likely to be the latest species of.

It seems to me that far from wanting to take up Greg's question, you've used his post as yet another excuse to treat us to yet another episode in the largely irrelevant yet strangely intriguing saga we have come to know as "MY NOBLE SOUL: The Obvious Moral and Intellectual Superiority of Richard Lawrence, Man of Reason." I believe this latest effort is Part 137. While every episode features lashings of self-righteousness and po-faced pseudery, this one is off to an epic start. Sadly I fear it will end the same way they all do: with our hero boldly denouncing the Morlocks of the ARCHNblog and the intellectual slime in which we fester before departing in a cloud of Scholastic blithering, vowing never to return. Until he returns. Again.

But until then: pass the popcorn...

Anonymous said...

"The individual rights advocated by Rand are precisely of the paper variety. They never can nor never will be instituted in reality, because there are too many rooted sentiments and vested interests that stand against them."

I just wondered if the objectivists who post here can refute what Greg has written in this post. How are objectivists going to change society from one dominated by the Kantian, the collectivist, the mystic, the socialist(some hope), the irrational, the reality-evader etc to one that advocates rights by Ayn Rand?
I never received an answer on this. When I ask, do you stand for office? The answer is always; it's too early. So what are you doing?
The books, the op-eds, the websites aren't effective recruiting tools. One thing objectivists seem blind to is that for every 1 person that 'converts' to objectivism after reading AS I'll bet there are 100 that won't touch it with a barge pole.

So the question to objectivists is "how are you going to transform society from it's present state to an objectivist one"

Having read some of the books, I have to say it's not an easy message to get across. Whereas the republicans and Democrats seem to have no difficulty in getting across what they believe in to the voters. Like L. Ron Hubbard or the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland a word means what Rand wants it to mean and that works against the movement not for it.

So, sorry for being long-winded here but I think that is what Greg is trying to ascertain in this topic, how are the objectvists going to, shall we say 'get the keys to the castle'.

Because debating with people and then losing your temper when they don't agree with you and then calling them 'humantiy diminshers' or a bunch of wankers, well you might as well give up before you start if that's your game.

Steve

Dragonfly said...

We can talk till doomsday, but we'll never see an objectivist society.

Daniel Barnes said...

Steven:
>One thing objectivists seem blind to is that for every 1 person that 'converts' to objectivism after reading AS I'll bet there are 100 that won't touch it with a barge pole.

Hi Steven

You may not be aware that the ARCHNblog has already made a back-of-the-envelope attempt to run the numbers on this one here.

gregnyquist said...

"Greg was talking about a hypothetical situation where Objectivists might be faced with some unpleasant unintended consequences of their policies."

That's exactly right. But there is, in addition to this, another, deeper point which Richard also completely misses, which involves the utter lack of empirical checks to Objectivist political speculation. Objectivists are far too obssessed with trying to meet every and all objections to their political ideals—as if individual rights are based on winning arguments or answering objections—that they have lost any sense of reality when it comes to politics. It was Burke who pointed out that the "abstract perfection" of rights "is their practical defect." What seems true or right or correct in the abstract often proves impractical in empirical reality because abstractions are often far too simple to adequately represent the great complexity that social reality confronts us with. If (per impossible) Objectivists attained political power in the state, they would be confronted with situations, dillemas, difficulties that their theories failed to account for which would make it very difficult for them to always stick with their principles. My post was simply proposing a kind of moral test to determine where their allegiences ultimately lie. What is more important to them: their principles, or the possible detrimental consequences that might result if they, in each and every case, stuck to those principles? I realize this is an uncomfortable proposition; and so it doesn't surprise me that Richard would attempt to switch the argument to abstract question of whether the Objectivist theory of rights is "true" or "right" or whatever term of praise one wishes to associate with it.

Abolaji said...

"Power corrupts" is a old adage. But if I should worry that I, who support a relatively limited use of force, might use it more broadly once in power, how much more would it be used by those who already support the broader use of force when they aren't in power? But I guess we already know the answer to that.

Actually, we don't. You might, but it's because you have an answer in mind already. I've seen enough people depart from their announced principles to know that I can only take your proclamations to do this and that in advance of being in a particular situation with a pinch of salt.

I am not the one who started proposing counterfactual scenarios about people dying. I merely pointed out the disingenuousness of projecting hypothetical evils on one ideology without considering the real harms done by others. It is as if someone told you he refuses to drink red wine at home because he is a afraid of spilling it on his carpets, but then when you see his home it is filthy from floor to ceiling.

Dan has pointed out the problem with your interpretation of what Greg was trying to do so I won't retread old ground.

But if someone is going to argue that a single hypothetical tragedy would discredit an ideology that to my knowledge has no actual deaths on its hands, while somehow managing not to notice the pile of corpses behind him, I think I'm entitled to ask: WTF?

Again, Greg's question does't discredit Objectivism, but is supposed to be an example of a situation which Objectivists might face where the rhetoric they espouse might be difficult to adhere to when they are forced to actually apply it and accept its consequences. I've participated in too many arguments where people confuse their personal convictions with facts. Greg is pointing out that this is easy to do when you don't have to face realistic feedback on the consequences of your actions.

The problem of what constitutes realistic feedback is complicated by the fact that people can often claim causes and effects of all kinds, both correct and erroneous. Hence you hear most people use the Ceteris Paribus defense: Objectivism would work only if we had a rational society etc. Real politicians can only get away with this defense if there is an emotion they are pandering to when using this defense.

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, yes we know that the book sales do not translate into growth for the objectivist movement, but do they?
Do they understand that 'record' sales of Atlas Shrugged mean, well nothing? That even if Tara Smith has written a book about obejtivism that means little when you balance this against the 000's of books published, ever year on say Kant alone, imagine if you took into consideration all the books published on philosophers that Rand hated, the ones that preached a 'philosophy of death', yet that is simply ignored.
Has Tara Smith's book advanced the cause of objectivism one iota? Any ideas? So come on guys, what is going to bring about this growth in objectivism? In the UK, the 'offical' group, and by that I mean authoirsed by the ARI, has 100 members. What would you say to them?

Steve

Richard said...

Daniel Barnes wrote:

[Y]ou've used his post as yet another excuse to treat us to yet another episode in the largely irrelevant yet strangely intriguing saga we have come to know as "MY NOBLE SOUL: The Obvious Moral and Intellectual Superiority of Richard Lawrence, Man of Reason." I believe this latest effort is Part 137. While every episode features lashings of self-righteousness and po-faced pseudery, this one is off to an epic start. Sadly I fear it will end the same way they all do: with our hero boldly denouncing the Morlocks of the ARCHNblog and the intellectual slime in which we fester before departing in a cloud of Scholastic blithering, vowing never to return. Until he returns. Again.

The "lashings of self-righteousness" are a matter of interpretation, but considering that during my first participation here, someone said I "seem a reasonable person", the lashing couldn't have been too strong initially. I managed to participate in threads from April to August without any major incident. But in September I apparently offended you, and since then you've chosen to rail at me for haughtiness and deviation from my supposed policy against posting here. Still, even assuming I am both arrogant and a hypocrite, it is hard to see what that has to do with anything being discussed in this thread, except as an opportunity for ad hominem.

As to my supposed policy about posting here: In a thread back in June, I started my comments by mentioning that "I normally refrain from posting here", which was true then and is still true now, since I've commented on seven of the approximately 100 ARCHN blog posts in the past year. By December, you were referring to this comment as a "policy" of mine that required "Special Policy Override Mode" when I want to deliver a "vital message". Now you have evolved it into me repeatedly storming off and "vowing never to return", which has only happened in your own mind. These rants that you now post every time I come here are entertaining in a way, but also filled with highly skewed interpretations and outright falsehoods about my behavior and beliefs. And they are, to borrow a phrase, largely irrelevant. So, any in the future will be met with a link to this post.

Daniel Barnes said...

Richard:
>..considering that during my first participation here, someone said I "seem a reasonable person"...

That was my first impression. However, I found your conduct in later threads very disappointing. I felt I tried to reply to your comments at length and with patience and respect. However all I got in return was, I felt, bad faith - ironically, yet not surprisingly, the very thing that seems to be the general tenor of your criticism of the ARCHNblog. See for example here, where you claim "Apparently almost anything goes here if it is seen as anti-Rand, nevermind consistency or plausibility." Yet after much tiresome argybargy in a very long thread, you finally admit that the premise of the post was plausible after all. Basically after that I've viewed your participation on ARCHNblog as a waste of time. I may be wrong, but I've seen nothing subsequently from you to change my opinion. You've done it again on this thread by arriving with a typically overwrought accusation that, if last time is anything to go by, by comment 176 you will quietly abandon. The difference is that I've seen that movie, and don't feel like sitting through it yet again.

Yeah, no doubt you will say you feel the same way and the ARCNHblog and I are the bad actors etc etc. Well, as I wrote back on that earlier thread, mutual bad faith is a stalemate. It'll be up to each actor prove otherwise, should they care to, and the audience to make their own minds up. That's all there is to it.

Anonymous said...

Well, well, well, this topic has been superceded but another and we still haven't got an answer to the question. That, I feel, leaves a lot to be desired. They can't even answer the question about how they are going to change society to one founded on the rights Ayn Rand talks about. For crying out loud can't you objectivists stop fannying about and answer this one?

Steve

Richard said...

However all I got in return was, I felt, bad faith - ironically, yet not surprisingly, the very thing that seems to be the general tenor of your criticism of the ARCHNblog. See for example here, where you claim "Apparently almost anything goes here if it is seen as anti-Rand, nevermind consistency or plausibility." Yet after much tiresome argybargy in a very long thread, you finally admit that the premise of the post was plausible after all.

You seem to have focused on one specific issue that you raised in discussion, which you now declare to be "the premise of the post". But that blog post made a number of claims, some of which I took exception to in my initial comment, which you linked above. None of the claims that I mentioned in that first comment were the claim that I found plausible in the last comment. In fact, I had already noted a difference between that claim and my earlier claims in another comment farther up that thread. In general, not objecting to Z is not a reversal of one's objections to X and Y.

Yeah, no doubt you will say you feel the same way and the ARCNHblog and I are the bad actors etc etc. Well, as I wrote back on that earlier thread, mutual bad faith is a stalemate.

Except that in both that thread and this one, the claim of bad faith is entirely one-sided. I am not making such a claim against you, and certainly not against the entire community of posters and commenters here. I note that the links above about my "bad faith" and the "general tenor" of my comments are to your posts with your interpretations of my behavior, interpretations that I already responded to in that earlier thread. Whether you actually believe that I've commented here hundreds of times or that I've "vow[ed] never to return" is of little consequence, since it is easy to show those claims to be false. You may interpret a comment agreeing with one proposition as a volte-face on other, entirely different propositions, but I can respond to that without concern over motives, as I did above. In short, when you make claims that are provably wrong without the need to explore anyone's motives, that isn't a "stalemate".

Daniel Barnes said...

Richard:
>Except that in both that thread and this one, the claim of bad faith is entirely one-sided. I am not making such a claim against you, and certainly not against the entire community of posters and commenters here.

1) When you say of the ARCHNblog "Apparently almost anything goes here if it is seen as anti-Rand, nevermind consistency or plausibility", that is a straightforward accusation of bad faith on the part of yer ARCHNblog's authors - that despite our pretences to the contrary, our motives for criticising Rand are dishonest. We'll say anything to get her! No doubt you will deny this ad tedium, as of course this is just not the sort of thing Noble Souls such as yourself do. I will leave readers to decide because:
2) I have a policy of rarely, if ever, getting involved in meta and
3) I am currently in serious violation of that policy. This will not continue.
4) I apologise if I have, in terms of stated exit strategy, mistaken you for some other typical timewasting Objectivist troll.
5) (Insert suitable counter-insult as required)
6) You're still welcome to continue to post here as little or as often as you like, but, as you'll no doubt be happy to hear, you won't attract comment from me. It may well be that you will have productive discussions with other posters here, and if I have somehow seriously misjudged you perhaps that may become evident to me over time. In which case I will say so.

Anonymous said...

Right are we going to stop the fannying about and answer the question. You objectivists have had since 1943 to work this one out, which is long enough in my book. So tell us how you are going to change things. Now the chap in the UK has got the wrong idea, you can't train all the teachers to be objectivists, then let them lose in the classroom and and turn out generations of objectivists so his 'plan' is doomed to faliure. Besides which in 21 yrs he has not convereted a single teacher to objectivism. So what's the plan? Perhaps they are a-waiting for a John Galt to destroy/create. But given that every objectivist you speak to claims to be a 'John Galt' what the bally hell are they waiting for?
Time to put down Atlas Shrugged, roll up your sleves, get off your backsides and do something.

Steve

Daniel Barnes said...

@Steve, re your point about Objectivist impotence, here's a unintentionally hilarious comment by just such a deluded soul. Yes, he's written a Second Declaration of Independence for America, to set that nation back on the right course.

Strangely the USA so far hasn't seen fit to adopt his recommendations. It's reminiscent of the final frame of this cartoon.

Anonymous said...

That bloke reminds me of the mananger in the Office (US version). A complete joke to everyone else but he thinks he's a wonderful manager and 'friend' of everyone. Yes the 2nd American Civil War will only ever be fought on-line. Who plays the role of King George in this one?
Did anyone take the tea-party protests serioulsy? They were some strange people there. They were kind that believes Obama was a communist, fascist and an Islamist. The kind that have found their spiritual home at Solopassion.

But back to business, any objectivist care to step up to the plate and answer Greg's question?


Steve

Anonymous said...

Right, here's some advices(sic) for objectivists. Which I don't feel like giving but will.
Prove your not all 'wind & sails' by getting out there and standing for election. Don't give me the old "the time is not right" chestnut, you've had since 1943, surely the world is ready for you guys to stand for election. If we see your name on the ballot box our heads will not explode, we can cope with an objectivist standing for election. Trust me, we are big boys and girls. So stop hiding behind Rand's skirts. If you lose don't blub and whine about the voters being "bribed and brain-washed" as believe me the republicans and democrats have brain-washed no-one. Nor have the schools, or the state. The voters know what they want and if it's not you then tough. It's that simple.

Steve

lee woo said...

Any truth is better than indefinite doubt. See the link below for more info.

#indefinite
www.ufgop.org