TCC Year 1
To read past Dialogue click above on TCC Year 1 or the months for TCC Year 2.
2 November 1999...............egoism, altruism, and gains from trade
Quoting from MORAL RIGHTS & POLITICAL FREEDOM by Tara Smith---------------"The concept of rights frequently has been denounced as egoistic. Jeremy Bentham condemned declarations of rights as fostering our ' selfish passions.' Karl Marx alleged that ' the so called rights of man ' are actually rights of ' eqoistic man, man separated from other men and the community.' Rights protect the freedom ' of a man treated as an isolated monad and withdrawn into himself.' The right to property is ' the right to enjoy (one's) possessions and dispose of the same arbitrarily, without regard for other men.....the right of selfishness.'
In recent years, communitarians and gender ethicists have launched similar attacks, contending that the rightholder of traditional liberal theory is but a fictional construct. No one is, could be, or should be as independent an agent as rights theorists posit. Such ' atomistic ' individuals are not us. People are dependent upon and defined by an intricate web of relations with others.
Through its varied incarnations over the years, the thrust of the eqoism charge has been that acceptance of rights condones self-interest. Rights protect individuals turning away from the needs of others. Recognition of rights thereby sanctions individuals' devotion to their own needs and desires. Such eqoism, these critics urge, is a grave defect of rights.___________
In maintaining that rights are egoistic, I mean that the recognition of rights requires acceptance of the premise that it is morally proper for individuals to pursue their own interest._________
Ethical egoism posits that individuals should pursue their own self-interest, that it is right for people to act to advance their own lives and happiness.________
Egoism denotes a type of theory, then, open to different renderings of what a person's interest consists of, for example, pleasure, wealth, fame, eudaimonia, nirvana, or eternal salvation._________
Egoism should not be confused with hedonism.__________
The essence of altruism is the thesis that the proper beneficiaries of a person's actions are other people. A person should place others' interests above her own. The French philosopher August Comte, who coined the term ' altruism, ' held that ' the object of morals is to make our sympathetic instincts preponderate as far as possible over the selfish instincts. ' Comte urged the subordination of self-love to social feeling.
Altruism should not be mistaken for benevolence, kindness, or generosity.__________
Perhaps the paradigmatic exhortation to altruism is found in the Bible. Christ, the figure who suffers public humiliation, ignoble torture, and crucifixion to save mankind, commands, ' Love as I have loved you. ' This captures the self-sacrificial core of altruism.______
In essence, altruism posits an obligation to serve others while egoism posits an obligation to serve oneself._________
My central contention is that recognition of individual rights depends on the belief that it is morally proper for individuals to act to promote their own interest. Rights cannot be successfully defended in isolation from this premise._________
We should now be able to appreciate much more vividly the manner in which rights are egoistic. The concept of rights arises because individuals' pursuit of their lives requires their freedom to choose their own actions. This freedom is what rights safeguard. Rights are egoistic because they are designed to protect a rightholder's pursuit of her own eudaimonia.__________
Individuals ruling their own lives is not an inherently good thing.__________
If we failed to recognize rights, we would respect no moral bar to forcing individuals to depart from their self-generated projects in order to serve others. Given the self-generated character of individual well-being, though, redirecting people's efforts in this way could not advance anyone's good---not the good of those whose actions are so rerouted, nor the good of the intended beneficiaries, nor the good of those doing the forcing. Eudaimonia simply cannot be hoisted onto a person. Since a good life is a function of conducting one's life in a certain manner, we could not enhance any individual's life by looking to what others might do for her. No set of altruistic obligations, however extensive and however meticulously fulfilled, could enable one person to provide another with eudaimonia..
Since rights protect the freedom required to engage in self-interested action and self-interested action is necessary for eudaimonia, rights provide a necessary condition for achieving eudaimonia. This is the sole reason to recognize rights._________
Freedom is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for eudaimonia._______
My argumnet is that the nature of rights' telos dictates that the only way for anyone to attain this end is through her own egoistic efforts. If individuals are to attain good lives, each person must act to promote her own. This cannot be achieved without rights. To pursue eudaimonia, to act rationally to advance their own interests, individuals require freedom from others' interference." Questions: Is it possible to be altruistic and egoistic at the same time? When two people trade they often both say "Thank-you". This is because both parties are better off by their own subjective scale of values when they engage in voluntary trade. Economists call this result the "gains from trade". Is engaging in mutually benefical activities egoistic or altruistic? Comment: Note Comte's reference to instincts and how this might relate to our study of evolutionary psychology. (PD)
3 November 1999...............regarding the 2 November 1999 input
Egoism and altruism are systems of ethics, not specific virtues. They are also mutually exclusive. If one lives by a system of virtues that requires placing others ahead of oneself in the guidance of one's conduct, that means one cannot also place oneself ahead of others, as a matter of principle. By the way, in a neo-Aristotelian framework, ethics is understood as a system of guidelines or virtues which enable one to flourish, to be the best human individual one can be. It is in this sense that this tradition is egoistic, not in the more commonly understood sense that one's actions must always result in some gain. But the real question should be whether it is possible to be generous or benevolent toward others while at the same time also being prudent or self-interested? An act of generosity could certainly also be an act of prudence, although it need not be such. I may provide someone with shelter because I care for him but it may also generate good will in return. Trade, however, is mainly prudent, unless expressly conducted so the profits may be used to help others. In trade all the parties aim to be better off once the conclusion has been reached. More modestly put, trade aims to achieve all parties' purposes, be this profit or enabling oneself to contribute to charity or just to speculate. (It isn't always easy to know why people trade since that would require knowing their ultimate goals.) Trade could be systematically altruistic only if the trader wants primarily to serve other people with his earnings. (Monks who grow food or make wine presumably do so for reasons of service to others.) TM
5 November 1999................regarding the 3 November 1999 input
Tibor Machan correctly posits that egoism and altruism are mutually exclusive.
That being said, let us not allow ourselves to be painted into a corner by the fallacy of false choice offered us by our philosophical opponents. Those who beat us with the supposed bat of "egoism" have as their supporting premise that only altruism is beneficial to society, while egoism only takes for the selfish, self-involved and self-centered individual a piece of an ostensibly "zero-sum" pie, depriving the rest of us.
Okay, so I overdid the metaphors, but you see my point: we must clearly show, though it really should be obvious to all, that even an egoist may benefit society, whether he intends to or not. When he engages in fair and free trade, he gets his piece of the pie, yes; but the pie is a growing one, not the static one of our opponents' construct -- that is, his trading partner also gets a piece of the pie, and all are the better for it.
I'll take it one step further. It is much more likely that a true egoist will benefit society than it is that a true altruist will. For the altruist acts for no gain, and perhaps even loss, to himself. We can therefore roughly assume that the net benefit of an altruistic transaction is half that, and perhaps even less, of the egoistic transaction. Perhaps an altruistic transaction might accidentally result in a benefit to both parties, but you see my point: it seems odd indeed that we as a society should hold selflessness as a virtue and egoism as a vice, when the latter gives us the greater benefit.
So to return to our program director's question: "Is engaging in mutually benefical activities egoistic or altruistic?" It is almost certainly egoistic -- outside those accidents I mentioned above -- and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. -JV-
7 November 1999...................Carl Drega vs. The State
Here is a tragic story by Vin Suprynowicz, assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, about the consequences of having laws that some citizens think are oppressive. Questions: Can facism and democracy co-exist? Is this an isolated incident or an indicator of a trend? Would a return to the concept of a legal system based on natural rights eliminate this kind of problem? Would it be worth it considering the need for zoning, environmental protection, child protection, etc.? -PD-
FROM MOUNTAIN MEDIA EDITORS: THIS "CLASSIC COLUMN" FROM 1997 IS BEING RE-SENT BY REQUEST FOR RELEASE DATED SEPT. 21, 1997
THE LIBERTARIAN, By Vin Suprynowicz: Live free or die: how many more Carl Dregas?
Go where the land meets the water, anywhere in New England, and you will begin to understand how deeply the region of my birth lies in bondage to the Cult of the Omnipotent State.
Town and state governments throughout New England traditionally buy and dump tons of sea sand -- or whatever will pass for it -- along the shorelines of their municipal beaches and parks. It doesn't matter whether the shoreline of the lake, river or ocean cove in question was originally a reeded marshland, naturally filtering away pollutants while offering pristine habitat to waterfowl and a hundred other creatures -- the kind of place I (for one) would far rather spend my time communing with nature during that nine months of the year when it's NOT "time to turn, so you won't burn."
No matter: What the majority of taxpayers want is a sandy beach for picnicking and sunbathing (in fact, precious little "swimming" ever transpires), and that is what they darned well get. Actually, the institutionalized destruction goes much deeper than this. "Urban Renewal," in New England, often includes development of new office complexes and highways on "unused" or "blighted" land. For 40 years now, the larger New England cities have bulldozed interstate highways through the "seedy, decrepit" areas of docks and profitable but low-rent private businesses which used to line their waterfronts, throwing small business owners on the dole and erecting their new throughways atop impassable 20-foot concrete embankments, until two whole generations have grown up within a mile or two of the ocean or the navigable Connecticut River in Hartford, Springfield, New Haven or Boston without so much as SEEING the water that gave their cities birth, except as a distant glitter far below the highway bridge they take to work.
But let a PRIVATE CITIZEN try to turn a slice of his own private, rocky shoreline into a boat dock, a sliver of sandy beach, or even a well-intentioned but "unpermitted" refuge for turtles and wood ducks (yes, I know of just such cases, in Connecticut and New Jersey) -- let him try to similarly adjust nature to his needs or wishes -- and suddenly the state authorities descend like locusts, seizing and destroying the privately-held turtles, demanding to see all the required permits, showering liens and injunctions like a freak April snow shower.
What's more, the very populace who blithely speed along on the shore-destroying freeways, who consider it their civic right to lie in pure white sand where geese and fox and a hundred other creatures used to raise their young, cheer with glee as these "greedy" private "despoilers of nature" are brought low, for daring to offend against the state-enforced religion of Environmentalism ... on their own property.
How dare such troglodytes tamper with sacred resources belonging to all the people, doing whatever they please with no more justification than the fact they happen to hold some bogus "private deed"?
Of course, the notion that one need only "apply for a permit" is nothing but misdirection, equivalent to telling the Jews as they boarded the trains to the East that they should be careful to "label your luggage carefully for when you return." Big commercial developers who make big campaign contributions may well get some kind of hypocritical "certificate of environmental compliance" for THEIR plans to pave and channelize the local waterfront ... requiring yet more government seizure of private property for another big "flood control project" upstream ... but the little guy faces years of hoop-jumping as his permit applications are lost, or returned for re-filing on updated forms, before they're finally denied. At which point, the poor sad sack will learn to his dismay that it's too late to declare, "Well then, your whole permitting process is bogus, and I'm going ahead anyway."
At that point, the long-suffering citizen will be advised by a stern-voiced judge that he waived his right to appeal the validity of the permitting process when he filed his application (way back in the days when he was told "That's all there is to it,") thus tacitly acknowledging the right of the state to either grant or withhold its permission for the project in question!
Just ask 67-year-old carpenter Carl Drega, of Columbia, N.H.
Laughed out of court
In 1981, 80 feet of the riverbank along Drega's property collapsed during a rainstorm. Drega decided to dump and pack enough dirt to repair the erosion damage, restoring his lot along the Connecticut River to its original size. A state conservation officer, Sergeant Eric Stohl, claimed to have spotted the project from the river while passing the Drega property on a fish-stocking operation. (The river's natural ecology harbored huge runs of shad and Atlantic salmon, as well as native pike, pickerel, and brook trout. So most New England states -- these devoted acolytes of environmental purity -- now routinely stock bass, and brown and rainbow trout, none of which is native and few of which survive long enough to reproduce.)
The state hauled Drega into court, attempting to block his tiny "project." This was piled atop earlier actions by the Town of Columbia, some dating back more than 20 years, and starting when the town hauled Drega into court and threatened him with liens, judgments and (ultimately) property seizure over a "zoning violation" which was comprised of his failure to finish a house covered with tarpaper within a time frame which the town considered reasonable, former selectman Kenneth Parkhurst told the Boston Globe.
Drega tried for years to fight the authorities on their own terms, in court. Needless to say, as a quasi-literate product of the government schools, and no lawyer, his filings became a laughing stock both in the courts and in the newspapers to which he sent copies, begging for help.
"The dispute, punctuated by years of hearings and court orders, became an obsession for Drega," wrote reporters Matthew Brelis and Kathleen Burge in an Aug. 20 follow-up in the Boston Globe. Drega "filed personal lawsuits against the state officials involved and contacted newspapers, including the Globe, imploring them to write about the injustice being done to him."
In court in 1995, the Globe reports that Drega explained, "The reason I'm like this on this case, when I started my project 10 years ago I was issued permits and everything I needed. When I reapplied 10 years later, that's when Eric Stohl came in and the Wetlands Board had absolutely no records.... I am liable for everything that's done there. In the New Hampshire Wetlands Board, if it's not done according to the plan, they can take it out. And if I don't have the money to take it out, they'll take it out. And if I can't pay for it, they'll take my property."
I sort the incoming letters-to-the-editor for a major metropolitan newspaper. The receipt of such sheafs of heartfelt, illiterate pleadings from folks at their wits' end (child custody leads the list, though property rights also feature prominently), pleading for help from SOMEONE, has become an almost daily occurrence.
Since such tirades are too long, rambling, and "not of general public interest" to run as letters, I diligently forward them to the city desk, in hopes an editor there may occasionally assign a reporter to check them out.
They never do ... unless the author shoots somebody, at which point there ensues a mad scramble through the wastebaskets. In newsrooms around the country, the running joke when a large number of such missives or phone calls come in on the same day is that "It must be a full moon."
Reporters cover the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy is adept at putting out its version of events in reasonable-sounding, easy-to-quote form. Those who can't get with the program are generally ridiculed by reporters as "gadflies," "malcontents," and (more recently) "black helicopter conspiracy nuts." Their rambling, disjointed stories don't tend to fit well into the standard 12 inches.
By 1995, it was obvious that Carl Drega was running out of patience. Town selectman Vickie Bunnell, 42 (since appointed a part-time state judge) accompanied a town tax assessor to Drega's property in a dispute over an assessment. Drega fired shots into the air to drive them away.
(In New England, special property tax assessments are common, and especially cruel to old folks. The courts have ruled that if the town decides to run a municipal water or sewer line along a street fronting one's property, the property owner can be assessed the amount by which the town figures the property's value has been enhanced -- usually in the thousands of dollars -- even if the property owner has a perfectly good well and septic system, and opts not to tie into the new municipal lines. Failure to pay can eventually lead to eviction, seizure, and auction.)
Carl Drega could see what was coming. He couldn't have been ignorant of the government tactics used to ambush and murder harmless civilians at Waco and Ruby Ridge.
He bought a $575 AR-15 -- the legal, semi-auto version of the standard military M-16 -- in a gun store in Waltham, Massachusetts, a state with some of the most restrictive gun laws in America. He also began equipping his property with early-warning electronic noise and motion detectors against the inevitable government assault.
Too light a round
But they didn't come for Carl Drega at home. On Tuesday Aug. 19, 1997, at about 2:30 on a warm summer afternoon, New Hampshire State Troopers Leslie Lord, 45 (a former police chief of nearby Pittsburg) and Scott Phillips, 32, arrested Drega in the parking lot of LaPerle's IGA supermarket in neighboring Colebrook, N.H.
("Arrest" comes from the French word for "stop." Whenever agents of the state brace a citizen, stop him and demand to see his papers, he has been "arrested," no matter whether he has been "read his rights," no matter what niceties the court may apply to the various steps of the process.)
Why was Carl Drega arrested that day? New Hampshire Attorney General Phillip McLaughlin pulls out his best weasel words, reporting the troopers had stopped Drega's pickup because of a "perception of defects." Earlier wire accounts reported they were preparing to ticket him for having "rust holes in the bed of his pickup truck."
But Carl Drega had had enough. He walked back to Trooper Lord's cruiser and shot the uniformed government agent seven times. Then he shot Trooper Philips, as the brave officer attempted to run away. Both died.
Drega then commandeered Lord's cruiser and drove to the office of former selectman -- now lawyer and part-time Judge -- Vickie Bunnell, 44. Bunnell reportedly carried a handgun in her purse out of fear of Drega. But if so, she evidently had no well-thought-out plan to use it. Bunnell ran out the back door. Drega calmly walked to the rear of the building and shot her in the back from a range of about 30 feet. Bunnell died.
Dennis Joos, 50, editor of the local Colebrook News and Sentinel, worked in the office next door. Unarmed, he ran out and tackled Drega. Drega walked about 15 feet with Joos still clutching him around the legs, advising the editor to "Mind your own (expletive) business," according to reporter Claire Knapper of the local weekly.
Joos did not let go. Drega shot Joos in the spine. He died.
Drega then drove across the state line to Bloomfield, Vt., where he fired at New Hampshire Fish and Game Warden Wayne Saunders, sending his car off the road. Saunders was struck on the badge and in the arm, but his injuries were not considered life-threatening.
Police from various agencies soon spotted the abandoned police cruiser Drega had been driving ... still in Vermont. As they approached the vehicle, they began taking fire from a nearby hilltop where Drega had positioned himself, apparently still armed with the AR-15 and about 150 rounds of ammunition. Although he managed to wound two more New Hampshire state troopers and a U.S. Border Patrol agent before he himself was killed by police gunfire, none of those injuries were life-threatening, either.
(Those preparing to defend themselves against assaults by armed government agents on their own property should take note that these failures do not appear attributable to Drega's marksmanship -- after all, he scored plenty of hits -- but rather to his dependence on the now-military-standard .223 cartridge, which has nowhere near the stopping power of the previous NATO standard .308, or the even earlier U.S. standard 30.06. (Some states won't even allow deer to be hunted with the .223, due to its low likelihood of producing a "clean kill" with one hit.)
Fertilizer and tractor fuel
Immediately, the demonization of Carl Drega began. A neighbor told the Globe about seeing a police cruiser pull up to the Drega house at 2:50 p.m., and leave at 3:10 p.m., minutes before smoke began to pour from the house. Ignoring the likelihood that a uniformed officer might have been sent to see if Drega had gone home, "Authorities believe the fire was set by Drega," the Globe reported on Aug. 20, thereafter reporting as a matter of established fact that Drega burned down his own home. Isn't it funny how they always do that?
Searching the barn and the remaining property later that week, "Authorities found 450 pounds of ammonium nitrate, the substance used in the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings, as well as cans of diesel fuel," came the breathless Aug. 31 report by Boston Globe reporter Royal Ford. Trenches on the property held PVC pipe carrying wires to remote noise and motion detectors. No remote booby-traps were discovered, though the barn and a hillside bunker contained ammunition, parts for AK-47s and the AR-15, "and a few boxes of silver dollars," as well as "homemade blasting caps, guns, night scopes, a bullet-proof helmet (sic) and books on bombs and booby traps," as well as "the makings of 86 pipe bombs."
"The makings," eh? I wonder how many wholesale hardware outlets in this country currently stock "the makings" of 860 pipe bombs? 8,600?
The FBI was johnny on the spot, of course, helping New Hampshire State Police Sgt. John McMaster search the three-story barn, with its "concrete bunkers" containing not only ammunition, but also "canned food, soda, and a refrigerator."
(I wonder if my basement would suddenly become a "concrete bunker" if I had a run-in with the law? How about yours?)
But it was the 400 pounds of ammonium nitrate (the estimate kept dropping during the week) and the 61 gallons of diesel fuel in five-gallon containers that gave authorities the willies.
"Realizing the he had walked into the most dangerous private arsenal he had ever seen, McMaster began climbing the stairs to the second floor," reported Brian MacQuarrie and Judy Rakowsky of the Boston Globe on Aug. 22. "Halfway up, (State Trooper Jack) Meaney shouted for him to stop: He had just picked up a bomb-making manual opened to a chapter on how to booby-trap stairs. ... "The large stores of dangerous materials, combined with the discovery of three instruction manuals on explosives and booby traps, helped persuade N.H. authorities that they should destroy the barn with a controlled burn and explosion," which they promptly did.
"Some federal agents initially questioned the plan to destroy the huge cache of evidence that may have shown whether Drega had links to militia groups or criminals," the Globe also breathlessly reports, though the paper at least had the decency to note no such affiliations were ever established.
(One wonders whether the newspaper would have given equal play to someone lamenting that they thus lost the chance to search for hypothetical links between Drega and the Irish Republic Army, Drega and the Ted Kennedy campaign staff, or Drega and the Buddhist nuns who laundered campaign contributions for Al Gore.)
Ammonium nitrate is, of course, a common fertilizer, sold in 50-pound bags to anyone who wants it -- no questions asked -- in garden stores in all 50 states. Farmers all over the nation store more than 60 gallons of diesel fuel at a time, and even know how to combine the diesel fuel with the ammonium nitrate to make a relatively weak explosive, useful in blowing up tree stumps. Purchase of blasting caps for this purpose is also perfectly legal. If this and a few hundred rounds of military surplus ammo constituted "the most dangerous private arsenal" the head of the New Hampshire state police bomb squad had ever seen, he must not get out much.
Anyway, the buildings are all burned to the ground now -- just like at Waco -- and the newspaper reporters -- trained to just report the facts and never express opinions -- had ruled within days that Carl Drega was"diabolical and paranoid," while they never got around to asking why on earth the officers chose to detain him for having rust holes in the bed of his pick-up in the first place.
That, presumably, would have been "disrespectful to their memory." The remaining question is, did government agents Vickie Bunnell, Leslie Lord, and Scott Phillips deserve to die? Did Carl Drega pick the right time and place to say "That's as many of my rights as you're going to take; it stops right here?"
Or IS that the right question? The problem with the question is that the oppressor state and its ant-like agents are both devious and clever: Except when faced with overt resistance and a chance to make an example of some social outcasts on TV, they rarely send black-clad agents to pour out of cattle trailers in our front yards, guns ablaze.
No, they generally see to it that our chemical castration is so gradual that there can NEVER be a majority consensus that this is finally the right time to respond in force. In this death of a thousand cuts we're ALWAYS confronted with some harmless old functionary who obviously loves his grandkids, some pleasant young bureaucrat who doubtless loves her cat and bakes cookies for her co-workers and smilingly assures us she's "just doing her job" as she requests our Social Security number here ... our thumbprint there ... the signed permission slip from your kid's elementary school principal for possessing a gun within a quarter-mile of the school ... and a urine sample, please, if you'll just follow the matron into the little room ...
"Those are the rules," after all, "Everybody has to do it; I just do what they tell me; if you don't like it you can write your congressman."
When ... when is it finally the right moment to respond, "I'll tell you what; why don't you take this steel-cored round of .223 to my congressman? In fact, take him a whole handful, and tell him to have a nice day ... when you see him in hell!"?
Carl Drega decided the day to finally say that, was the day they came to arrest him on the private property of a supermarket parking lot, supposedly for having rust holes in the bed of his pickup.
Does anyone believe that's really why they stopped Carl Drega?
Lots more coming
I am not -- repeat, not -- advising anyone to go forth and start shooting cops and bureaucrats. To start with, one's own life expectancy at that point grows quite short, limiting one's options to continue fighting for freedom on other fronts. Most of us -- unlike Carl Drega -- also have families to think of. Third, there may be other solutions. Just as much of the farmland near Rome sat vacant by the fall of the Roman Empire -- it simply proved cheaper to move on than to endure the confiscatory Roman taxes -- so do James Dale Davidson and William Rees-Mogg predict in their new book, "The Sovereign Individual," that Internet encryption may allow many to spirit their hard-earned assets beyond the reach of this newer, oppressive slave state, making "the tax man in search of someone to audit" the laughing stock of the 21st century. And finally, such a course invites obvious risks of mistaken identity, collateral damage to relatively innocent bystanders (witness newspaperman Coos), and an end to due process ... a concept for which I still harbor some respect, even if our government oppressors do not.
What I do know is, in little more than 30 years, we have gone from a nation where the "quiet enjoyment" of one's private property was a sacred right, to a day when the so-called property "owner" faces a hovering hoard of taxmen and regulators threatening to lien, foreclose, and "go to auction" at the first sign of private defiance of their collective will ... a relationship between government and private property rights which my dictionary defines as "fascism."
Carl Drega tried to fight them, for years, on their own terms and in their own courts. We know how far that got him. What I do know is that this is why the tyrants are moving so quickly to take away our guns. Because they know in their hearts that if they continue the way they've been going, boxing Americans into smaller and smaller corners, leaving us no freedom to decide how to raise and school and discipline our kids, no freedom to purchase (or do without) the medical care we want on the open market, no freedom to withdraw $2,500 from our own bank accounts (let alone move it out of the country) without federal permission, no freedom even to arrange the dirt and trees on our own property to please ourselves ... if they keep going down this road, there are going to be a lot more Carl Dregas, hundreds of them, thousands of them, fed up and not taking it any more, a lot more pools of blood drawing flies in the municipal parking lots, a lot more self-righteous government weasels who were "only doing their jobs" twitching their death-dances in the warm afternoon sun ... and soon. When is the right time to say, "Enough, no more. On this spot I stand, and fight, and die"? When they're stacking our luggage and loading us on the box cars? A fat lot of good it will do us, then.
Mr. Jefferson declared for us that "whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People, to alter or abolish it."
Was Mr. Jefferson only saying we have a right to vote in a new crop of statist politicians every couple of years, as the pro-government extremists will insist?
No. The Declaration fearlessly declared that the Minutemen of Lexington and Concord had been right to shoot down Redcoats who were "only doing their jobs" in Massachusetts the year before. And it put the nations of the world on notice that Gen. Washington was planning to shoot himself a whole lot more. "You must be kidding!" come the outraged cries. "This guy shot a fleeing woman in the back."
Oh, pardon me. Did Judge Bunnell propose to fight a straightforward duel with Mr. Drega, one on one, mano a mano, to determine who should have the right to decide whether he could build a tarpaper shack on his own property, or repair flood damage by sinking a few rocks and pilings along his privately-owned piece of river shore? Of course not. The top bureaucrats generally manage to be sipping lemonade on the porch when the process they put in motion "reaches its final conclusion," with padlocks and police tape and furniture on the sidewalk ... or the incinerated resister buried in the ashes.
Go watch "Escape from Sobibor." When the Jewish concentration camp inmates finally start to kill their German oppressors, tell me how long you spend worrying that they "didn't give the poor, jackbooted fellows a fair, sporting chance."
Each and every one of us must decide for him or herself when the day has come to stand fast, raise our weapons to our shoulders, and (quoting PRESIDENT Jefferson, this time) water the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots, and of tyrants. Give up the right to make that decision, and we become nothing better than the beasts in the field, waiting to be milked until we can give no more, and then shuffling off without objection, heads bowed, to the soap factory.
Carl Drega was a resident of New Hampshire. On the day Carl Drega decided was a good day to die -- on the day they towed it away -- the license plates on his rusty pickup still bore the New Hampshire state motto: "Live Free or Die."
Carl Drega was different from most of us, all right. He believed it still meant something.
10 November 1999..............archy vs. anarchy
To read an open letter by the late Roy Childs to Ayn Rand concerning free market anarchism as an alternative to statism, click Here. Questions: Why is there so little support for voluntarism compared to statism? Is American statism the result of a rational choice by informed citizens or of their lack of imagination and fear of the unknown or is there another explanation? Is the State subject to growth limitations imposed by natural law that would not apply to free market anarchism? Can the State sustain itself at the limits of its growth or must it then begin the process of disintegration? -PD-
11 November 1999..............regarding the 10 November 1999 input
Roy Childs changed his mind on the issue of anarchism versus archism -- he did this when he considered the turmoil in middle east politics wherein different groups claimed to be the government of the same country. Of course, his argument against Rand is still of interest. But there is more to his developed thought than the piece on Rand reveals. -TM-
12 November 1999.................Rand vs. anarchy
The following input is from Chapter 7 of Tibor R. Machan, Ayn Rand (Peter Lang, 2000).
Philosophy of law
Rand has argued--actually, more like railed--against anarchism. Her idea that government is necessary and must have a monopoly on the legal use of force leaves open the issue of what kind of monopoly such an institution would be. If it is the kind that some firms achieve through the voluntary exchange of goods and services, namely, dominance but not an exclusive position in the market, then the monopoly position of government need not preclude what Rand found to be totally unpalatable, namely, competition among governments. And in one sense, of course, governments do compete for citizenship and the presence within their jurisdiction of corporations. A government of a country may not function as effectively, even if it is properly limited in its powers, as does one in another country. So citizens and their various organizations may find it beneficial to switch their legal alliances. If, however, Rand means by monopoly of the legal use of force a restricted or exclusive monopoly, then the question can arise, once faced by Nozick, whether such an institution violates anyones rights by forbidding competition. It seems to me that Rand is committed only to the former type of monopoly. She could argue that the service rendered by government is necessarily geographically bound--for example, so that the legal authorities can function effectively, travel within their jurisdiction, make arrests, and reach binding verdicts via the adjudicative process. It is possible that such a monopoly is unavoidable, comparable to how it is unavoidable that an apartment house or a gated housing community would be a monopoly--within its boundaries competition would be impossible, even though once terms of exchange have been satisfactorily met, those who belong within the system can depart (use the exit option, as the economists would say). Still, it is unfortunate that Rand was so impatient about this topic and treated critics or adversaries with so little respect.
13 November 1999..............regarding the 10 November 1999 input
Thanks for calling out Roy Childs' classic 1969 individualist anarchist critique of Ayn Rand's "Objectivism." This point of view still seems fresh to me, perhaps because it was innocent of Libertarian Party politics. Since then, there have been some refinements in the argument for what Childs called "market anarchism" at the time. The term anarcho-capitalism came later. "Laissez Faire" came before and after. The language of discourse on the subject has improved more than the understanding so far, somewhat as it must to steer clear of taint from libertarian statecraft. Sadly, these advancements would not have made Childs' argument any more persuasive to Rand. It is said that Childs confessed some illusions about what he called "anarchy" in 1989 (Laissez Books). I think his confessional might be worthy of study.
Dr. Machan seemed to be suggesting as much in his 11 November 1999 input........." Roy Childs changed his mind on the issue of anarchism versus archism -- he did this when he considered the turmoil in middle east politics wherein different groups claimed to be the government of the same country. Of course, his argument against Rand is still of interest. But there is more to his developed thought than the piece on Rand reveals. " I was wondering if he might elaborate.
Apparently, nativism, nationalism or just plain atavism represent huge bugaboos for libertarian and anarchistic thinkers alike. This is nothing new. The dilemma goes all the way back to Aristotle in his argument with his teacher Plato over man vs. the polity.
"Why is there so little support for voluntarism compared to statism? Is American statism the result of a rational choice by informed citizens or of their lack of imagination and fear of the unknown or is there another explanation? Is the State subject to growth limitations imposed by natural law that would not apply to free market anarchism? Can the State sustain itself at the limits of its growth or must it then begin the process of disintegration?" -PD-
"Voluntary" human action, whether it is of the do-it-yourself, teamwork or specialization variety, depends on self-reliance. So does self-government. Without a substantial degree of self-government in effect, political government is outright brutality. With a substantial degree of self-government in effect, political government is utterly superfluous. This is the sham that is politics. But the cultivation and promotion of the state by ambitious politicians and their naive supporters inadvertantly saps, distracts or otherwise suppresses the development of self-reliance in the subjects of public policy.
We need a mature social science to develop competence in what I would call "social pathology--the study." Then we might be able to gain a better understanding of the public attraction to politics and its anti-human institutions (statecraft). Such a study might also come up with explanations of the lack of journalistic attention to "Voluntarism" in preference to "Statism." We need a theory of statism to be able to answer your questions regarding growth, maintanence and disintegration of the state. I find pregnant suggestions in the ideas and phenomena of "paternalism," "protection," "status" (privilege) and "conquest." My guess is that this will be a high class challenge no matter the degree of scientific prowess that can be brought to bear because there is so much psychology (emotion) and mythology (superstition), theology (religion) and status (conflict of interest) involved as to burden the inquiry. -AL-
14 November 1999...............to vote or not to vote
Question: Statism, as practiced in America, involves voting. Does voting give us all a degree of control over our collective destiny or is voting a strategic device that allows Statists to have power over other people's lives? Here is an opinion on voting by one of our Cactus Club members.
"Are you familiar with the sorites argument? It's this logic that dictates that my vote absolutely *doesn't* make a difference, despite all the caterwauling and doomsaying of the pundits and politicians."
I don't know "the sorites" argument but I'd like to. I do know T.J. Lowi's argument to the contrary (see conquest theory of government in "Incomplete Conquest," Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1981, p. 25). That argument makes clear that voting makes all the difference in the world when it comes to legitimizing politics, which is to say, legitimizing conquest. And it is oh so simple. He says: "Participation is an instrument of conquest because it encourages people to give their consent to being governed....Deeply imbedded in people's sense of fair play is the principle that those who play the game must accept the outcome. Those who participate in politics are similarly committed, even if they are consistently on the losing side. Why do politicians plead with everyone to get out and vote? Because voting is the simplest and easiest form of participation by masses of people. Even though it is minimal participation, it is sufficient to commit all voters to being governed, regardless of who wins."
You should understand that government as used above is defined as "institutionalized conquest" where conquest is the action gained by force of arms to bring a territory and its inhabitants under control. "All revolutions degenerate into governments. Governments are the cold remains of conquest" (p. 7).
What do you think would happen if "they" gave an election and nobody came? Do you think "they" would be emboldened to spend your money for you quite so brazenly? This explains all "the caterwauling and doomsaying" of the politicians and their paid hacks including pollsters, wonks on grants, etc. when confronted with abstention. Sedition, even treason and subversion, they can handle all in a days work. But non-participation is a complete rejection of all they stand for--legitimate plunder. The doom they see in non-voting is their own, of course. What about the idea that ordinary working stiffs can get along quite nicely without any of "them"? Perish the thought!!! So far since Plato, that thought has been effectively suppressed. (Obfuscated might be more accurate.) Otherwise, how could political institutions and processes have been able to masquerade so freely and without audible challenge as salvors of humanity, as the sine qua non of civilization. As we know, nothing could be farther from the truth. When was there ever a war in the absence of political states? -AL-
15 November 1999...........regarding the 14 November 1999 input
The most perceptive piece of writing on voting I've seen follows very much the substance of Al's reply to Jim. It is Robert Weissberg's "Election Day:A Means of State Control," reprinted in the Voluntaryist for December 1977. Weissberg is a professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana -Champaign. His article first appeared in Chronicles for November 1996. I cannot overstate my recommendation of that article. -SM-
17 November 1999..................Natural Law: physical and ethical
Quoting from THE ETHICS OF LIBERTY by Murray Rothbard-----------------"Among intellectuals who consider themselves 'scientific,' the phrase ' the nature of man' is apt to have the effect of a red flag on a bull. ' Man has no nature! ' is the modern rallying cry; and typical of the sentiment of political philosophers today was the assertion of a distinquished political theorist some years ago before a meeting of the American Political Science Association that ' man's nature ' is a purely theological concept that must be dismissed from any scientific discussion.
In the controversy over man's nature, and over the broader and more controversial concept of ' natural law, ' both sides have repeatedly proclaimed that natural law and theology are inextricably intertwined. As a result, many champions of natural law, in scientific or philosophic circles, have gravely weakened their case by implying that rational, philosophical methods alone cannot establish such law: that theological faith is necessary to maintain the concept. On the other hand, the opponents of natural law have gleefully agreed; since faith in the supernatural is deemed necessary to belief in natural law, the latter concept must be tossed out of scientific, secular discourse, and be consigned to the arcane sphere of the divine studies. In consequence, the idea of a natural law founded on reason and rational inquiry has been virtually lost.
The believer in a rationally established natural law must, then, face the hostility of both camps: the one group sensing in this position an antagonism toward religion; and the other group suspecting that God and mysticism are being slipped in by the back door. To the first group, it must be said that they are reflecting an extreme Augustinian position which held that faith rather than reason was the only legitimate tool for investigating man's nature and man's proper ends. In short, in this fideist tradition, theology had completely displaced philosophy. The Thomist tradition, on the contrary, was precisely the opposite: vindicating the independence of philosophy from theology, and proclaiming the ability of man's reason to understand and arrive at the laws, physical and ethical, of the natural order. If belief in a systematic order of natural laws open to discovery by man's reason is per se anti-religious, then anti-religious also were St. Thomas and the later Scholastics, as well as the devout Protestant jurist Hugo Grotius. The statement that there is an order of natural law, in short, leaves open the problem of whether or not God has created that order; and the assertion of the viability of man's reason to discover the natural order leaves open the question of whether or not that reason was given to man by God. The assertion of an order of natural laws discoverable by reason is, by itself, neither pro- nor anti- religious." Questions: Is man's nature a purely theological concept? If not, can evolutionary psychology help to understand this subject? What are the political implications of the discovery of ethical natural laws? Will ethical natural law ever have the same scientific stature as physical natural law such as the law of gravity? In economics we have the law of demand and the law of diminishing returns. The latter is a physical law. What is the former? Must positive law ultimately conform to natural law? -PD-
18 November 1999..................regarding the 17 November 1999 input
PD asks: Is man's nature a purely theological concept? Clearly not, since many atheists as well as religious folks entertain it with their philosophy....... Aristotle, Spinoza, Rand, to name just a few. If the law of identity is understandable sans God, then everything that is, is a given something, i.e., has a nature (i.e., attributes by virtue of which it is what it is). -TM-
19 November 1999..................regarding the 17 November 1999 input
You picked an excerpt from Rothbard's writings that exposes his misapprehension of science. Here he is in lock step with his mentor Mises (see "THE ULTIMATE FOUNDATION OF ECONOMIC SCIENCE: AN ESSAY ON METHOD," D. Van Nostrand, 1962). The red flag for me, a scientist, is not the idea of "human nature" as he suggests but his inference that The American Political Science Association is a scientific authority. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Rothbard confuses statistical ruminations with scientific endeavors.
Rothbard and the Austrian School generally rely on what they call "reason" to establish what they call "truth." They advocate that "right" thinking alone can somehow sort out reality. To them, making a sound judgment about nature is possible without any systematic observation and testing against experience. Of course, this is a misattribution of the concept of truth which, paired with its polar opposite "falsity," refers to the use of the senses, i.e. observation. The appropriate criteria of reasoning are "validity" and "invalidity," not "truth" and "falsity."
You recently referred to a critical examination of the late Ayn Rand's "Objectivism" by the late Roy Childs (10 November 1999..............archy vs. anarchy). Childs exposes Rand's blindness to a certain kind of authoritarianism as well as her particular arrogance but he fails to explain how these eccentricities of hers are attributable to her ignorance and neglect of scientific method. Indeed, Rand's "Objectivism" suffers the same epistemological defect as Rothbard's "right reason." Both attempted to deal with nature without acknowledging that one must start and end his inquiry with observation. The problem with Rothbard, Rand et.al. is not that they never eyeball reality. It is that they deny such mundane and messy business is a necessary part of their method. No matter how sophisticated and conscientious the thinking, the only check on arbitrary opinion is the risk of falsification by innocent sensory perception. Thus, the scientific method is successful in establishing knowledge of the real world while avoiding sectarian prejudice because it begins and ends with observation. It involves inductive and deductive reasoning but these mental feats are bounded and disciplined by the information of the natural world brought into the deliberations by the senses.
You ask: Is man's nature a purely theological concept?
I would say from a scientific point of view, contrary to Rothbard's antagonist, man's nature is no more a theological matter than is the nature of a butterfly, a wart or a meteor. Theology deals with the supernatural. There is no limit to the fantastic dreams that can be hatched up in the mind of man and theology is such a phenomenon. Science deals with the natural world we encounter from time to time with our senses. Admittedly, we don't always take our sensory inputs at face value but they are there for us to abide or fantasize at our own risk.
You also ask: If not, can evolutionary psychology help to understand this subject?
To the extent evolutionary psychology is a scientific discipline, it can do so, no guarantees, of course. Science can not guarantee results either in time or substance. Science offers no certainties. Only theologians and politicians offer certainty.
And then you ask: What are the political implications of the discovery of ethical natural laws?
As I see it, scientific progress in the ethical field reduces legislation to an absurdity. If legislation is generally recognized as absurd, who will stand still for the pomposities and usurpations of the political institutions that formerly depended on the mythical legitimacy of collectivized regimentation and coercion. In the limit, statecraft will dissolve.
You also ask: Will ethical natural law ever have the same scientific stature as physical natural law such as the law of gravity? In economics we have the law of demand and the law of diminishing returns. The latter is a physical law. What is the former?
The "laws" of economics are bonifide social laws provided they enjoy a high level of confidence from survived attempts at scientific testing. In other words, they are hypotheses about some aspect of the real world of human affairs that have survived attempts at falsification on a regular basis. The "law" of gravity is also a well-tested hypotheses but it deals with some aspect of the physical world. So the difference is in the domain of phenomena in question, not the general method of investigation.
You also ask: Must positive law ultimately conform to natural law?
I assume you are referring to positive ethical prescriptions in contrast to negative ones. What might a positive law contain? A recipe for a successful business, perhaps? If so, it must indeed conform to "natural law" whether fully elaborated in scientific journals or not because a business is in the real social world. Presumably, such laws have to do with social technology like contracts, money (exchange), marketing and selling, pricing, accounting, etc. -AL-
20 November 1999..................regarding the 19 November 1999 input
AL writes: "Both attempted to deal with nature without acknowledging that one must start and end his inquiry with observation." This is certainly wrong about Rand, as any cursory reading of her Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology will reveal. Rand held that all knowledge rests on observation or experience, namely, perception, but she did not accept the reductionist version of these as sensory input (which is what the empiricist philosophy of science -- though not the practice of scientists -- holds). Knowledge for Rand requires the use of the integrative and differentiating function of thought in intimate combination with the observational function of the sensory organs. She is very far indeed from those who believe that one can understand the world solely in terms of armchair thinking. Even the few principles that can give us, A is A and such, must involve initial perception. -TM-
21 November 1999..................regarding the 20 November 1999 input
As you say, I could be wrong about Rand because I have not read her "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology." When I met her in 1961, she regarded the scientific method as something scientists do but she didn't have to. At that time, she avowed she didn't have to know how to practice science as long as her scientific and technological heroes did. Prolonged discussions of scientific method bored her. That she may have subsequently professed "all knowledge rests on observation or experience, namely, perception," is nice to know. But I haven't seen much evidence that this new insight moderated her devotion to medieval rationalism as the actual source of her authority. If, as you say, Ayn Rand did not accept the reductionist version of observational procedure in science, which you refer to as empiricism, that is to her credit. However, any philosophy of science is mere sentiment unless combined with the practice of science which includes wading out into the world with your hypotheses and testing extrapolations of them against experience. Lets face it, Rand did little research herself after escaping from the Bolsheviks and she expressed little interest in the research of others.
The sentiments nurtured by philosophical endeavors alone can be admirably pure but they are usually outright aristocratic. But the practice of science is inescapably uncertain and it is inevitably downright humiliating. That I know of, Ayn Rand never admitted an iota of doubt in her thinking out loud as if to do so would be an abdication of the potency of her intellect. A true scientist has to be able to admit to a degree of uncertainty and remain sane nevertheless.
The knowledge I got from reading such works of Ayn Rand as "FOUNTAINHEAD" made me what I am today. So please be assured that I have the utmost respect for her memory and regard for her work. I don't doubt that she used "the integrative and differentiating function of thought in intimate combination with the observational function of the sensory organs," as you say, because her basic advice is easily found to be consistent with reality. But don't we all do this to some degree to stay alive even if we don't admit it? However, it seems a matter of opinion how far Rand got from armchair thinking in professing her views of the world. Since when were any of her principles to be considered worthy but tentative pending further trial and corroboration. I don't remember that she ever said anything like "A is A pending on-going observational confirmation." Science involves much more than an initial perception. That's only the first step. Ayn Rand was not all things to all men. But she was something very special to me, and apparently to you as well. -AL-
22 November 1999..................regarding the 21 November 1999 input
Thanks for the clarification. It may be that we disagree on something, though, namely, whether what Rand was embarking upon requires the scientific method, however you characterize it. Indeed, a topic such as the scientific method is itself not part of science but is about science. Sort of like aesthetics is not about artistic work but reflections about art. Most declarations about what science is or is not, how it should or should not be done, and so forth emanate from philosophers who have a concern with but do not devote themselves mainly to doing work in any field of science (Thomas S. Kuhn is a good example, as are Carnap, Hemple, and, earlier, Aristotle and Hume). Indeed, before we can do science with reasonable success, we already have to have some implicit if not explicit idea about what counts as knowing something, as being reasonably certain, as drawing an inference from something else one knows, etc. In short, epistemology is prior to science, logically or conceptually. As you were making your points about Rand and science and such, you weren't being a scientist but a philosopher of sorts criticizing someone else of that ilk. -TM-
25 November 1999..................America, Thanksgiving, and natural rights
Here's an article by Vin Suprynowicz that deals with social organization and Thanksgiving. Questions: Is there a reason for the practicality of natural rights moral philosophy? Can you think of any examples to the contrary? -PD-
THE LIBERTARIAN, By Vin Suprynowicz
God bless America
And so, as beefy gladiators chase a pigskin down the field in Miami or Detroit, we settle into our living rooms, loosen our belts, wave off a second helping of pie, and remind the little ones this is the day we echo the thanks of the Pilgrims, who gathered in the autumn of 1621 to celebrate the first bountiful harvest in a land of plenty.
That first winter in the New World had been a harsh one, of course. Half the colonists had died. But the survivors were hard-working and tenacious, and - with the aid of a little agricultural expertise graciously on loan from the Wampanoag, the Narragansett, and the Mohegan - were able to thank the Creator for an abundant harvest, that second autumn in a new land.
The only problem with the tale, unfortunately, is that it's not true.
Oh, the part about the Indians graciously showing the new settlers how to raise beans and corn is right enough. But in a November, 1985 article in "The Free Market," monthly publication of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, author and historian Richard J. Marbury pointed out: "This official story is ... a fairy tale, a whitewashed and sanitized collection of half-truths which divert attention away from Thanksgiving's real meaning." The problem with the official story, Mr. Marbury points out, is that "The harvest of 1621 was not bountiful, nor were the colonists hardworking or tenacious. 1621 was a famine year and many of the colonists were lazy thieves."
In his "History of Plymouth Plantation," the governor of the colony, William Bradford, reported that the colonists went hungry for years because they refused to work in the fields, preferring instead to steal. Bradford recalled for posterity that the colony was riddled with "corruption and discontent." The crops were small because "much was stolen both by night and day, before it became scarce eatable." Although in the harvest feasts of 1621 and 1622 "all had their hungry bellies filled," that relief was short-lived, and deaths from illness due to malnutrition continued. Then, Mr. Marbury points out, "something changed." By harvest time, 1623, Gov. Bradford was reporting that "Instead of famine now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God." Thereafter, the first governor wrote, "Any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day." Why, by 1624, so much food was produced that the colonists actually began exporting corn. What on earth had happened?
After the poor harvest of 1622, writes Bradford, "they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop." And what solution was decided upon? It turned out to be simple enough. In 1623 Gov. Bradford simply "gave each household a parcel of land and told them they could keep what they produced, or trade it away as they saw fit." What? Wasn't that the American way from the start? Not at all. The Mayflower Compact had required that "all profits & benefits that are got by trade, working, fishing, or any other means" were to be placed in the common stock of the colony, and that, "all such persons as are of this colony, are to have their meat, drink, apparel, and all provisions out of the common stock." A person was to put into the common stock all he could, and take out only what he needed - a concept so attractive on its surface that it would be adopted as the equally disastrous ruling philosophy for all of Eastern Europe, some 300 years later.
"This 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his need' was an early form of socialism, and it is why the Pilgrims were starving," Marbury explains. Gov. Bradford writes that during those terrible first three years "Young men that are most able and fit for labor and service" complained about being forced to "spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children." Since "the strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes, than he that was weak," the strong men simply refused to work, and the amount of food produced was never adequate.
In historian Marbury's words, Gov. Bradford "abolished socialism" in the colony, "replacing it with a free market, and that was the end of famines." In fact, this lesson had to be learned over and over again in early America. "Many early groups of colonists set up socialist states, all with the same terrible results," Marbury notes. "At Jamestown, established in 1607, out of every shipload of settlers that arrived, less than half would survive their first 12 months in America. Most of the work was being done by only one-fifth of the men, the other four-fifths choosing to be parasites. In the winter of 1609-10, called 'The Starving Time,' the population fell from 500 to 60. "Then the Jamestown colony was converted to a free market, and the results were every bit as dramatic as those at Plymouth. In 1614, Colony Secretary Ralph Hamor wrote that after the switch there was 'plenty of food, which every man by his own industry may easily and doth procure.' He said that when the socialist system had prevailed, 'we reaped not so much corn from the labors of 30 men as three men have done for themselves now.' "
They say those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Sadly this was a lesson the people of Russia had to learn all over again - at the pain of equally devastating starvation and penury - in our own century. By the 1980s, when the discredited and bloodstained rulers of Russia finally threw up their hands and allowed farmers to raise private crops and sell them for profit on a mere 10 percent of their lands, once again more crops were produced on that 10 percent of the land than on the 90 percent devoted to "collective agriculture," the system under which - as the bitter Russian joke would have it - "We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us."
Yes, America is a bounteous land. But the source of that bounty - and the good fortune for which we annually gather to give thanks - lies not merely in the fertility of the soil or the frequency of the rains - for there is hardly a more fertile breadbasket on the face of the earth than the Soviet Ukraine. No, the source of our bounty was the discovery made by the Pilgrims in 1623, that when men are allowed to hold their own land as private property, to eat what they raise and keep the profits from any surplus they sell, the entire community becomes one of prosperity and plenty. Whereas, an economic system which grants the lazy and the shiftless some "right" to prosper off the looted fruits of another man's labor, under the guise of enforced "compassion," will inevitably descend into envy, theft, squalor, and starvation.
Though many would still incrementally impose on us some new variant of the "noble socialist experiment," this is still at heart a free country with a bedrock respect for the sanctity of private property - and a land bounteous precisely because it's free. It's for that we give thanks - the corn and beans and turkey serving as mere symbols of that true and underlying blessing - on the fourth Thursday of each November.
God bless America - land of the free.
Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
27 November 1999.....................property vs. legal plunder
Quoting from THE LAW (note: This book was first published as a pamphlet in June, 1850) by Frederic Bastiat-----------------------"Here I encounter the most popular fallacy of our times. It is not considered sufficient that the law should be just; it must be philanthropic. Nor is it sufficient that the law should guarantee to every citizen the free and inoffensive use of his faculties for physical, intellectural, and moral self-improvement. Instead, it is demanded that the law should directly extend welfare, education, and morality throughout the nation.
This is the seductive lure of socialism. And I repeat again: These two issues of the law are in direct contradiction to each other. We must choose between them. A citizen cannot at the same time be free and not free.
Mr.de Lamartine once wrote to me thusly: ' Your docrtrine is only the half of my program. You have stopped at liberty; I go on to fraternity. ' I answered him: ' The second half of your program will destroy the first. '
In fact, it is impossible for me to separate the word fraternity from the word voluntary. I cannot possibly understand how fraternity can be legally enforced without liberty being legally destroyed, and thus justice being legally trampled underfoot.
Legal plunder has two roots: One of them, as I have said before, is in human greed; the other is in false philanthropy. At this point, I think that I should explain exactly what I mean by the word PLUNDER.
I do not, as is often done, use the word in any vague, uncertain, approximate, or metaphorical sense. I use it in its scientific acceptance--as expressing the idea opposite to that of property (wages, land, money, or whatever). When a portion of wealth is transferred from the person who owns it--without his consent and without compensation, and whether by force or by fraud--to anyone who does not own it, then I say that property is violated; that an act of plunder is committed.
I say that this act is exactly what the law is supposed to suppress, always and everywhere. When the law itself commits this act that it is supposed to suppress, I say that plunder is still committed, and I add that from the point of view of society and welfare, this aggression against rights is even worse. In this case of legal plunder, however, the person who receives the benefits is not responsible for the act of plundering. The responsibility for this legal plunder rests with the law, the legislator, and society itself. Therein lies the political danger.
It is to be regretted that the word PLUNDER is offensive. I have tried in vain to find an inoffensive word, for I would not at any time--especially now--wish to add an irritating word to our dissentions. Thus, whether I am believed or not, I declare that I do not mean to attack the intentions or the morality of anyone. Rather, I am attacking an idea which I believe to be false; a system which appears to me to be unjust; an injustice so independent of personal intentions that each of us profits from it without wishing to do so, and suffers from it without knowing the cause of the suffering." Question: Society evolves certain generally accepted rules of the game which we would like to think facilitate social interaction and ameliorate social tensions. Property defines one set of rules. Legal plunder another. Do games have natural rules that are determined by the nature of the game or is the nature of the game determined by the rules? -PD-
28 November 1999....................regarding the 27 November 1999 input
I think that there is a little of both going on. That is, some rules will naturally flow from a game once the nature of the game is established. For example, the rules of basketball have been changed to keep the nature of the game somewhat consistent. Examples would be the rule against goal tending and the widening of the lane as players got larger and more skilled. However, it is also true that rules will determine the game. Bastiat's example is that if the government is allowed to take from me to give to you, then the game will be different. A number of outcomes will result from that rule determination. In THE LAW he points out that all issues will become political. Returning to basketball, if we make any basket from 19 feet out count as ten points, then the nature of the game would change. -GW-
29 November 1999.....................subdivisions and hysteresis
Quoting from THE ART OF COMMUNITY by Cactus Club member Spencer H. MacCallum-------------------"Mobile home parks normally have the option of replanning and upgrading or even of converting to a wholly different use as the existing leases revert or come up for renewal. Obsolescence can be programmed out systematically. In subdivisions, however, the land pattern is permanently committed, and reassembly and redevelopment are unlikely except where compelled through condemnation. This is the problem in miniature of all cities, which are simply larger, agglomerate subdivisions. Few sights are quite so discouraging as an obsolete mobile home subdivision. It is a permanent reminder on the landscape of the crude designs of early mobile home parks---evidence that nature rewards flexibility and punishes rigidity in her always evolving forms." Questions: Like the physical concept of hysteresis, which is the failure of a system to return to its original value once the source of a change has been removed, government programs and policies are often unresponsive to changes in the social environment. Is there any greater reason for the impracticality of state solutions to various social problems? Why is the private sector more adaptive than the state? -PD-
30 (A) November 1999....................social arts or social science
Quoting from THE ABOLITION OF MAN by C.S. Lewis------------------------"My point may be clearer to some if it is put in a different form. Nature is a word of varying meanings, which can best be understood if we consider its various opposites. The Natural is the opposite of the Artificial, the Civil, the Human, the Spiritual, and the Supernatural. The Artificial does not now concern us. If we take the rest of the list of opposites, however, I think we can get a rough idea of what men have meant by Nature and what it is they oppose to her. Nature seems to be the spatial and temporal, as distinct from what is less fully so or not so at all. She seems to be the world of quantity, as aginst the world of quality: of objects as aginst consciousness: of the bound, as against the wholly or partially autonomous: of that which knows no values as against that which both has and perceives value: of efficient causes (or, in some modern systems, of no causality at all) as against final causes. Now I take it that when we understand a thing analytically and then dominate and use it for our own convenience we reduce it to the level of ' Nature ' in the sense that we suspend our judgements of value about it, ignore its final cause (if any), and treat it in terms of quantity. This repression of elements in what would otherwise be our total reaction to it is sometimes very noticeable and even painful: something has to be overcome in a dissecting room. These objects RESIST the movement of the mind whereby we thrust them into the world of mere Nature. But in other instances too, a similar price is exacted for our analytical knowledge and manipulative power, even if we have ceased to count it. We do not look at trees either as Dryads or as beautiful objects while we cut them into beams: the first man who did so may have felt the price keenly, and the bleeding trees in Virgin and Spenser may be far-off echoes of that primeval sense of impiety. The stars lost their divinity as astronomy developed, and the Dying God has no place in chemical agriculture. To many, no doubt, this process is simply the gradual discovery that the real world is different from what we expected, and the old opposition to Galileo or to ' bodysnatchers ' is simply obscurantism. But that is not the whole story. It is not the greatest of modern scientists who feel most sure that the object, stripped of its qualitative properties and reduced to mere quantity, is wholly real. Little scientists, and little unscientific followers of science, may think so. The great minds know very well that the object, so treated, is an artificial abstraction, that something of its reality has been lost." Questions: Can issues of social relationships and social organization be reduced to quantitative analysis? Is the resulting artificial abstraction meaningful? Useful? Should we study the social arts instead of the social sciences? --PD--
30 November 1999................regarding the 29 November 1999 input
Regarding the program director's question(11-29-99): "Why is the private sector more adaptive than the state?" There are a number of valid reasons this is so. The obvious one is that the state is a monopoly to some extent, and simply doesn't face the competition that private entities do. True, individual lawmakers and their parties are subject to electoral competition, which can impact their legislative decision-making. But this isn't the same as the day-to-day competition in the private sector. When we consider the alphabet soup of agencies that now pervade our federal and state governments, which really make the majority of laws with which we must comply, and which effectively answer to no one and are faced with no competition at all, it's easy to see why the state becomes an almost unresponsive entity that adapts with glacier-like swiftness.
Another reason is that governments by their nature are about enforcing a "one best way." One of the principles behind the founding of the United States was that there would be competition among the states; the central government was invested with very little power for this very reason. The past few generations have seen fit to ignore this principle, and the pervasive central authority we face now regulates every single facet of our lives with one-size-fits-all law. As Virginia Postrel pointed out in her book, *The Future and Its Enemies,* however, this is the single worst way to govern. It ignores regional differences, local knowledge, and the rapidly changing nature of our country itself. The inefficiencies resulting from the stasist regulation of the federal bureaucracy have been well-documented. Happily, Americans are themselves an adaptive bunch, and our tremendous wealth creation and booming economy are indicators that there are ways to adapt to the unadaptive regulations with which we are governed. An equally positive sign is that the evolution of corporate management is now tending toward decentralization, since the competition from Asia a decade ago awoke the business world to the inefficiencies their own bureaucracies had saddled their organizations with. Perhaps there's some glimmer of hope that government policies might follow this trend.
A final reason is that existing organizations simply do not perform well in breakthrough innovation. Clayton M. Christensen's recent book, *The Innovator's Dilemma,* documents his extensive research into how rapid innovation -- what he calls "disruptive technology" -- occurs. His findings show that existing firms are much less likely than new startups to pursue disruptive technology, and indeed, that existing firms often fail even when they pursue a disruptive technology that threatens their livelihood. Moreover, he shows that good management practices almost inevitably lead to such failures for established firms. If businesses can be so unresponsive to a threat they fully recognize and take every effort to address, how on earth can a government innovate, when it faces no such threats?
I submit that even the best of our public servants must necessarily fall short of the private sector in adaptability. This is one of the many reasons that individual liberty will trump government mandate if results are weighed equally. We presently have an environment in which our citizenry turns to the central government to address every ill, every symptom of the human condition. Perhaps one day they will realize they've put their hopes into the outfit with the absolutely worst customer service. -JV-
30 (B) November 1999...................regarding the 30 (A) November 1999 input
Regarding the C.S. Lewis piece [30 (A) November 1999}....................social arts or social science
Lewis writes.....Nature is a word of varying meanings, which can best be understood if we consider its various opposites. The Natural is the opposite of the Artificial, the Civil, the Human, the Spiritual, and the Supernatural. The Artificial does not now concern us.....
I don't find this statement to be particularly helpful in sorting out reality for scientific purposes. No doubt the word "nature" has various meanings in the common languages of every culture. But it is a synonym for reality in the language of science in every culture. Thus "natural" is not the opposite of "the artificial, the civil, the human, the spiritual and the supernatural" because these words stand for features of reality as perceived or experienced by humans, who are natural entities themselves. The "artificial" is also recognized as a technological expression in the real world of a particular scientific understanding of reality. As such, the "artificial" concerns us greatly.
Lewis continues with his "opposite of nature" idea: .....Nature seems to be the spatial and temporal, as distinct from what is less fully so or not so at all. She seems to be the world of quantity, as against the world of quality: of objects as against consciousness: of the bound, as against the wholly or partially autonomous: of that which knows no values as against that which both has and perceives value: of efficient causes (or, in some modern systems, of no causality at all) as against final causes........
This statement is highly misleading inasmuch as humans are a part of nature. It is an attribute of humans that they develop values, preferences and priorities and make choices among alternatives, thereby giving rise to the notion of quality as well as quantity. Thus, quality is not unnatural. It is a feature of human nature. [Please see Spencer Heath "Citadel, Market and Altar" on the subject.]
I believe Lewis misconstrues science as well as nature when he says: .......Now I take it that when we understand a thing analytically and then dominate and use it for our own convenience we reduce it to the level of ' Nature ' in the sense that we suspend our judgements of value about it, ignore its final cause (if any), and treat it in terms of quantity. This repression of elements in what would otherwise be our total reaction to it is sometimes very noticeable and even painful: something has to be overcome in a dissecting room. These objects RESIST the movement of the mind whereby we thrust them into the world of mere Nature. But in other instances too, a similar price is exacted for our analytical knowledge and manipulative power, even if we have ceased to count it. We do not look at trees either as Dryads or as beautiful objects while we cut them into beams: the first man who did so may have felt the price keenly, and the bleeding trees in Virgin and Spenser may be far-off echoes of that primeval sense of impiety. The stars lost their divinity as astronomy developed, and the Dying God has no place in chemical agriculture......
This statement carries Lewis' distinct and most poetic theology. Trouble is, it fails to come to grips with life for the whole person who must live through the day to dream through the night. He continues: .....To many, no doubt, this process is simply the gradual discovery that the real world is different from what we expected, and the old opposition to Galileo or to 'bodysnatchers' is simply obscurantism. But that is not the whole story. There is no denying that wishful thinking often overcomes rationality and prudence. It is not the greatest of modern scientists who feel most sure that the object, stripped of its qualitative properties and reduced to mere quantity, is wholly real. Little scientists, and little unscientific followers of science, may think so. The great minds know very well that the object, so treated, is an artificial abstraction, that something of its reality has been lost.......
Lewis is showing a bit of presumptiveness here as he tries to make a virtue of human blindness and sensory limitation. Most scientists know their models or theories are limited and that there is a lot more "out there." This is not the last word on the subject. Please read Frederic Bastiat's "That Which is Seen and That Which is Not Seen," Edward McCrady's "Seen and Unseen--a Biologist Views the Universe" and Arthur Eddington's "Science in the Unseen World" for contrasting visions of reality by a social, biological and physical scientist respectively.
Then you ask: Can issues of social relationships and social organization be reduced to quantitative analysis? Is the resulting artificial abstraction meaningful? Useful? Should we study the social arts instead of the social sciences? --PD--
I think these are good questions and wish I could settle them for you. I would point out, however, that the study of social relationships and social organization, unlike the physical and biological sciences, cannot be reduced to quantitative terms alone because the individual human (the unit of the inquiry) has the faculty of choice and preference, introducing qualitative terms like value and price into the study. Economics shows how quality and quantity are not mutually exclusive properties of the inquiry. Remember that all scientific theories are abstractions called selective subjectivisms by Eddington. As far as the "study of the social arts instead of the social sciences" is concerned, my answer is that this is a false alternative. It is art until there is rhyme or reason after which it is science. --AL--