Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Why I cancelled my WAMU/NPR membership

I heard a story on Marketplace's Monday March 23 show and it was the last straw. Guest Peter Singer explains to listeners why "It's unethical not to give in recession".
Ryssdal: You actually lay it on, and I don't want to mischaracterize this, but you make a very strong and a very pointed argument that it's unethical, really, not to give if you have the means.

SINGER: I think we have to accept that in a world in which there are a billion people living in such extreme poverty, that they may not be able to feed their children, or may not be able to get basic health care for them, or send them to school, and another billion people, that's most of us, who have a level of comfort that really throughout history people have not had before. I think it's unethical for us not to accept some responsibility.
I can no longer support and sanction content that is clearly designed to advocate self-sacrifical altruism unquestioned, unchallenged, and exalted. Host, Kai Ryssdal, does not bother to ask Mr. Singer the crucial question: "Why".
  • Why is it unethical "not to give if you have the means"? (are there facts of reality that give rise to this idea)
  • What are proper reasons for giving at all? Is it always good to give? (consider: to a crackhead, to drug dealers, to warlords, to common thugs)
  • Why is giving worth considering as a vital part of human existence?
  • Is working in support of your life and happiness a vital part of human existence?
  • If so, how does one reconcile the pursuit of happiness with the needs of others?
  • Why is it considered an "entitlement" if you work to earn something and use it to support your life and your goals?
  • Why is the suffering of people you have never met your guilt and your responsibility?
  • Why must you morally live as a slave -- that is, you work without a moral right to the result of your effort?
Marketplace clearly doesn't think these are important questions to ask when it invites a person to wax philosophical about ethics just because he wrote some crummy book. So much for balanced reporting. So much for asking the hard questions and getting to the essence of a story.

That we have achieved a "level of comfort" is, according to Mr. Singer, the only justification he needs to assert that we have a responsibility to others that we must choose to undertake if we are to be worthy of recognition from his morality. He doesn't stop to consider how we achieved this comfort, what effort was involved, what rights had to be discovered and then protected, what morality gives rise to that conception of rights. (hint: we didn't get here by pursuing self-sacrifice)

I have maintained an NPR membership in support of a few shows that I have continued to enjoy. Wait, Wait. Prarie Home. But it has become much too upsetting to know that I cannot support the good bits without also supporting the likes of Diane Rehm and a the continuing spread of a lot of ideas I disagree with on Marketplace and All Things Considered.

As of today, I have fixed that.

Goodbye WAMU. Goodbye NPR. Goodbye APM. Get your act together and maybe we can be friends someday.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Article: Thank God America Isn't Like Europe -- Yet

Source: www.washingtonpost.com
"We need to remember why America is exceptional, and why it is so important that America remain exceptional."
--
An unusually thoughtful opinion piece in the Washington Post. Three thoughts: 1 - Murray is excited about the implications of what we will discover as the development of "hard" sciences lead to a rational basis for the social sciences (so am I). 2 - these will lead us to conclude what Rand has already stated so eloquently on so many occasions. 3 - What Rand has stated clearly, which Murray has all but stated, is that "Capitalism" (the system of individual rights and the only one morally consistent with individualism) *is* the American exceptional characteristic.

For more information on Capitalism, see:
Capitalism.Org's Tour
Audio Lecture: "What is Capitalism" by Ayn Rand (requires Realplayer)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Stranger with $25

Suppose for a moment that:
  • You live in a town with its own form of currency
  • there is a static quantity of dollars in circulation in town - say $50
  • a sandwich costs $5
  • a man you do not recognize comes into town and purchases half of all of the goods available. he has not added anything to the supply of goods or services, he has only consumed some.
  • there is now $75 in circulation but only half as many goods available for purchase
  • what do you think happens to the price of a sandwich?
If you think it will cost $15 - that's what I think too. The full meaning of what has just happened is that everything has just tripled in price or, conversely, the value of your savings has been reduced by 2/3.

Currency only has value in reference to the goods and services that it can purchase. If you increase the money supply without producing anything, it is the same as having goods and services vanish. In effect, you are either a victim of fraud or theft. The fancy name for this stealth version of theft is "inflation" and it can only be enacted by the government. Quoting Rand:
There is only one institution that can arrogate to itself the power legally to trade by means of rubber checks: the government. And it is the only institution that can mortgage your future without your knowledge or consent: government securities (and paper money) are promissory notes on future tax receipts, i.e., on your future production.
Consider this carefully as you judge the actions of the government and determine what you should demand of it: Article: Washington Post: Fed to Pump $1.2 Trillion Into Markets.

A good start would be to not permit the government to take from you that which you've earned and need to survive; that is, to petition the government to recognize the rights already enshrined in the constitution. When we permit the government to meddle in economics uncontested for the so-called "common good", it is with our lives and the recognition of our rights that we pay.


(To find out more about the nature of Inflation, have a listen to Rand's lecture on Egalitarianism and Inflation.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Damn Good Interview: ARI's Yaron Brook on "Going Galt"

Video: http://www.pjtv.com/video/PJTV_Daily/Is_Atlas_Shrugging%3F/1530/

Yaron Brook from the Ayn Rand Institute talks Pajames Media about "Going Galt" and a few other things:
  • Atlas Shrugged
  • Greenspan and the Federal Reserve
  • It's not time to go on strike, it's time to FIGHT
  • Social Security and Inconsistency in the Advocacy of Freedom
  • A Film Version of Atlas Shrugged (still vaporware)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Initial Thoughts on Going Galt

I've seen a lot of references to Going Galt in the blogrolls lately and I've only done a cursory review of it all but it seems to be a movement consisting of people who don't quite understand what Galt was all about. The focus seems to be primarily on curtailing productive activity in response to the actions of the Obama administration, but there are a couple key bits of contextual backdrop that a person may be ignoring if they're talking about going on strike:
  • Do you have a wealthy friend that owns a hidden valley where you can hide out while the world burns?
  • What purpose you hope to achieve by your productive curtailment other than your own martyrdom?
  • Is this action what best serves your own rational self-interest given that we still live in a semi-free society? (We still have freedom of speech, even if we are being deprived of the product of our work)
In a superficial approach to the act of of "Going Galt" you may fail to live up to the fundamental principles that John Galt represents: Rationality, reliance on the independent judgement of your own mind, self-interest, moral certainty, creativity and productivity. Capitalism. This is what Rand has presented in John Galt.

Galt's strike, which the "Go"-ers seem to be inanely focused on, was based on a fundamental thesis of Ayn Rand. That thesis is that evil is metaphysically impotent and can only exist when it is accepted and supported by the efforts of good men. And she defines good men as those who live their lives for their own sake, neither sacrificing themselves to others or others to themselves.

The chief problem that these men have is that in the prevalent morality of society, self-interest is considered inherently evil, and thus men guiltily work for themselves while undermining themselves each step of the way by attempting to live an unpracticeable morality: Altruism. (I'll come back later and insert some concrete examples).

In each instance of a man joining Galt's strike, the event represents an epiphany on the part of that man where he comes to understand the evil that Altruism represents and what his role is in making that evil possible. By going on strike, they withdraw what Rand terms accurately, "the sanction of the victim". That is, they withdraw their willingness to do the work of the mind on which the survival of mankind depends - always, always, always. Their work, in addition to serving their own self-interest, secondarily supports a society and government that does not appreciate them and even punishes them for the good works that they do. To strike is to no longer accept the role of willing martyr.

"Going Galt" should mean so much more than a curtailment of productivity. It begins approaching life with an active mind and never placing anything above fact as integrated by your rational faculty. In analyzing man's nature and the role of his mind in his survival, you come to understand why this mantra is worth knowing and living: "I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine." When you have the correct philosophical basis, the rest follows.

I can support the idea of "Going Galt" only if it means to stage a revolution in morality for the recognition of self-interest as necessary and good. That's the only thing that will save this country. It would be a return to the principles on which this country was made. That Rand's ideas are making the media is good publicity. But if the publicity spreads a diluted or subverted version of Rand's ideas then it will only serve to give power and credibility to our enemy. Consistency is key (to hell with Emerson).

In my attempts to "Go Galt", I have chosen the path of intellectual activism. That is, to exercise my right to free speech and to advocate the right kind of ideas. It's still a free country and I maintain that the only alternative to a revolution of force is a revolution in ideas.

Friday, March 13, 2009

My Subconscious Altruism Yardstick

Suppose you live the whole of your life as follows:
  • You're an honest person: you don't cheat, you don't lie
  • You went to college to expand your range of knowledge after high school
  • You get a job doing honest work after college. You end up leaving the job because there are some things you're asked to do that you consider to be borderline fraud. You continue your search until you find a number of business concerns whose values line up with your own and you have a fulfilling career doing stuff you're passionate about.
  • You have a few really good friends and you really understand each other deeply. You're glad they exist and vice versa. They're people you admire. They take care of themselves, and never get themselves into trouble.
  • You are happy. Your life is full.
What is absent:
  • Though you've helped your friends in minor ways through the years, you didn't go out of your way to help people in need.
  • You never donated to charity.
  • You never volunteered for Network Engineers without Borders (or Greenpeace).
  • There are still starving people in Africa.
  • You don't intend to do any of these and you don't feel a bit guilty about it. You are not your brother's keeper.
The Question
  • Would you call this life a success or a failure?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Response to Article: Muslim Woman Asked to Leave Line at Bank Over Head Scarf

Response to Article: Muslim Woman Asked to Leave Line at Bank Over Head Scarf
  • In principle, the bank, as the owner and operator of a business concern, has the moral right to choose not to serve anyone, at its sole discretion. A proper government should have no say in this matter since no one is initiating force.
  • A right to religion is not a right to practice it on the property and at the expense of others.
  • If a religion calls for me to be bathed in goat blood and not to wash it off for a year, I do not have the right to force a bank to do business with me while I am in such a disgusting state. I may fully practice my religious beliefs on my own property or on the private property of someone whom permits me.
  • Any government intervention a case such as this one would force the business concern to act against its judgment. In this case, the measures are defensibly enacted to reduce fraud, but that is a trivial secondary consideration which is beside the point. The fundamental consideration is the business concern's right to choose whom it will do business with.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Why You'll Lose

When I presented to a co-worker friend the idea that Capitalism could be defended only on the basis of reason, he asked me this question in response: Why can't a person of faith (a christian libertarian/conservative) effectively argue for Capitalism based on the idea that it achieves the greatest common good?

I promised him a written reply because the topic would require a good bit of elaboration. I won't start by presenting a defense of Capitalism since that has already be done very nicely at Capitalism.org. I'll let them speak for me.

There are two areas where a christian libertarian will encounter conflict in advocating for capitalism. One applies to the nature of human cognition, the other applies to how we define what is good or evil (morality).

Human Cognition
If you read through the Capitalism.org tour then you will understand what I mean when I say that individual sovereignty and rights are based on Reason being the only means of cognition and thus the only tool of survival for a human being. A person who accepts religious beliefs on faith has undercut Reason. In effect, the person is declaring that he accepts as valid an idea that he has no evidence to support. By holding Reason as an equal or a lesser to mystic revelation, logic is pushed off the table entirely.

So, on what basis can a mystic defend Capitalism or any idea whatsoever? The idea of trying to persuade someone using logic and fact pre-supposes that logic and fact cannot be superseded by mystic revelation or any other magic bullets. In order to defend any concept, you have to be able to demonstrate its validity by reference to the nature of reality. This means that you're setting aside faith for the duration that you're making any argument - and thus you must base your defense on reason.

In the end, it comes to this: To the extent to which you fail to live according to your chosen convictions (your faith), you lack integrity. On the most fundamental questions of life, you have already declared that no evidence and no logic are necessary. If a person "of faith" is considered to be weak in his faith for demanding evidence, then how is a man who presents an argument to be evaluated?

Morality
In practice, the morals provided by christianity and the morals of secular altruism are one and the same. Your existence is not justifiable except to the extent that you serve others. For the purpose of brevity I will lump these together as "altruism".

Altruism holds that your action is good for the reason that you are not the beneficiary of it. This means that the extent to which you support your own existence or pursue your own happiness, you get no credit from morality, and possibly some demerits. If you live your life for yourself, working hard, and harming no one else in the process, you are not necessarily a good person. If you sacrifice your life to save the lives of 10 strangers, you are a good person. If you become a millionaire by producing and selling high quality computers, you're not necessarily a good person. If you give all of your money to charity, you are. The common differentiating element is: sacrifice.

Living in support of your life depends on acting in accordance with your nature as a human being. You must use your judgment to determine what is required to preserve and further your life. If morality expects that you sacrifice all of the products of your actions to the needs of others, then the purpose of that morality is to lead you to your death. Altruism cannot be defended in reason. There is no reason given for why it is improper and good for a man to act in support of his own life and happiness. There is no reason given why some men must be sacrificed to the need of others. There is no reason given why their need is your guilt.

Given the nature of altruism, how can a person effectively argue that Altruism, the morality of self-sacrifice, and Capitalism, the system of individual rights and sovereignty, are not complete and utter contradictions of one another? Even if your argument was that Capitalism is the system best-suited to achieve that goal, your argument would be weakened by divorcing means from ends.

Capitalism would leave people free to keep their profits for themselves, which altruism would consider greedy and corrupt. It would obligate no one to act toward the greater good of society because it grants society no recognition over an above an individual, thus permitting people to live immorally. The argument that Capitalism is the best system to support to goals of altruist morals is unconvincing because altruism and egoism, the morality from which Capitalism is derived, are opposites.

In Closing
The political system fully consistent with altruism is socialism. Because your opponents political views are more consistent with their views on morality, they will win and you will lose. The only way you can consistently advocate Capitalism is based on reason and man's right to live for his own sake.

I will close with a quote from Rand's, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.

Consider a few rules about the working of principles in practice and about the relationship of principles to goals . . . .

1. In any conflict between two men (or two groups) who hold the same basic principles, it is the more consistent one who wins.

2. In any collaboration between two men (or two groups) who hold different basic principles, it is the more evil or irrational one who wins.

3. When opposite basic principles are clearly and openly defined, it works to the advantage of the rational side; when they are not clearly defined, but are hidden or evaded, it works to the advantage of the irrational side.

--Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal “The Anatomy of Compromise,” Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 145.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Objectification

Been somewhat interested in the intersection between feminist activism and capitalism. As a movement, they seem to be destined to make the same mistakes as the racial civil rights movements and for the same reasons. Some of what they would like to achieve can be supported in reason - the rest must be questioned.

One of the issues I have with feminist thought is a subjective/arbitrary definition of "objectification". The concept seems to be applied inconsistently because it is poorly defined and because of this, the movement includes all sorts of irrational man-haters.

So it's a concept I'd like to examine, and here's my first stab: objectification as a failure to properly evaluate a person in the capacity of being a total person (mind and body), perhaps due to inverted value hierarchy.

I'll take some time to elaborate later.