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Thursday, January 13, 2005 - 8:41pmSanction this postReply
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Karl Jahn is a historian, author and former Objectivist.  He is now a Straussian and advocates a unique strand of American nationalism.

I disagree with many of the things he says, but he always causes me to question my basic assumptions.  He wrote the following critique of Libertarianism and Leftism, and while it does not specifically attack Objectivism proper, I feel it is worthy of a thoughtful Objectivist response better than I am able to offer:

Libertarianism and Liberalism
Libertarians like to say that the meaning of the word "liberal" has been completely reversed, from being the party of capitalism to the party of socialism. But they do not seem to understand why this transformation happened, nor even to care very much. They do not recognize that the continuities between "classical" and contemporary liberalism are actually much greater than the differences. These continuities are the reason why the transformation was possible, and perhaps inevitable.
Libertarians and socialists have far more in common with each other than either would be willing to admit. Below the level of one or two superficial, derivative issues, libertarians and socialists are of one mind and spirit. The very fact that they so overestimate these minor points of difference, only highlights their commonality, for those of us who do differ profoundly from both of them.
The issue in controversy between the two ideologies is whether the individual is prior to the collective, or the collective to the individual. From this follows the question of political-economic organization: whether all property should be privately or publicly owned. For the total state of socialism, libertarians substitute the total market. But the entire debate over individualism and collectivism presupposes a false and dehumanizing dichotomy. Man is not meant by nature to be either a hermit in his own skull, dealing with others only through commerce and contract, nor a hive-insect, totally submerging his own identity in the collective whole.
Contemporary liberalism manages to combine the worst features of both individualism and collectivism. The individual is a nonentity and a ward of the state, but he asserts his claims against society with a complete lack of restraint and responsibility. Every sort of freakishness and immorality is encouraged in the name of "freedom" and "diversity" and "self-realization," and government is expected to subsidize these "lifestyle choices." This is seen, for instance, in the howls of indignation raised at any suggestion that "artists" who deliberately affront public sensibilities should be deprived of public patronage.

Materialism
By any measure of the real well-being of humanity, capitalism is better than socialism; but nevertheless, the two have a disquieting affinity, and capitalism should not be embraced unreservedly. The debate over capitalism and socialism (at least as libertarians argue it) presupposes the reduction of politics, and indeed of the whole human condition, to economics. (This materialism distinguishes both libertarians and old-fashioned socialists from the New, "counter-cultural," racist/feminist/homophile Left.) For both of them, the production and consumption of wealth is an end in itself, the be-all and end-all of human existence. Their dispute is over the best means to this end, and how the wealth should be distributed.
To the collectivist, equity is synonymous with equality. If the individual counts for nothing, obviously no one deserves any more or less wealth than anyone else. To the individualist, wealth is something to be earned by individual merit (which is true), and society is nothing but a network of contractual, commercial exchanges between individuals (which is false).
For libertarians, it is not enough to say that the market is the most rational, just, and efficient mechanism for the allocation of scarce resources: instead, it must be the principle by which the whole of human existence is governed. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that the Free Market is a kind of God-surrogate. The very thought that the Free Market can produce a bad, wrong, or merely undesirable outcome, is inconceivable; just as, for Christians, it is inconceivable that God might not be good and right. If there's any problem, the Market can solve it; if the Market can't solve it, it's not a problem. Accordingly, all human phenomena are either annexed to the economic sphere, or ignored.
In contrast to most of the contemporary Left, libertarians are not nihilists -- at least, not all of them, or not entirely. They do have an implicit positive ethos. Unfortunately, the only aspects of human nature they affirm are the belly, the groin, and the faculty of economic calculation, whose purpose is to satisfy the belly and groin. This is not to say that the belly, groin, and economic calculation are immoral and disgusting in and of themselves: the evil lies in the sacrifice of the rest of human nature, and the rejection of all goals higher than bodily gratification.
This ethos can never be separated from politics, however much libertarians pretend to be neutral in matters of personal morality. Every movement that aims at a radical transformation of society is based on some conception of good and evil, which will permeate the whole society that it influences. Even when not explicitly promoting actual libertinism, libertarianism tacitly legitimates all desires insofar as they can be reduced to economic terms. This makes it impossible to maintain the distinction between saying "People should be free to do whatever they please" and "People should do whatever they please."

Utopianism
If any one fundamental belief is essential to all varieties of the Left, it is that human institutions, and ultimately human nature itself, are infinitely malleable. They are all schemes to reconstruct society according to preconceived blueprints. Instead of basing politics on man and society as they actually are, Leftists base it on a dreamworld conceived without reference to either nature or tradition.
At its origin, the Left did believe in fixed human nature and objective moral law, by which actually-existing society was judged and found wanting: the ideology of "natural rights," which inspired the American and French revolutions. Libertarianism is, at least partially, a throwback to this original belief. But libertarianism only corresponds to the facts of human nature insofar as that nature has already been stunted and warped by liberalism.
The isolated and homogenized individual that libertarians posit as the human norm can only exist after society has disintegrated. The notion of the primordial "state of nature," with which liberalism began, is only being realized as a consequence of liberalism. In fact the idea of the "social contract" created the very problem it was supposed to solve. In order to establish this "social contract," liberalism had to destroy preexisting institutions and communities, and thereby create a world of unsocial rational maximizers. Instead of socializing unsocial persons, it is unravelling the preexisting social fabric, and sending mankind, for the first time, into a "state of nature."
Of course, few if any liberals, classical or contemporary, would admit that these are the intentions and results of liberalism. Political utopians of every kind are characterized by their attachment to abstract ideals, and by complete indifference to the actual, existential conditions of the ideals' realization. Caught up in their ideological dreamworld, they fail to notice the real world around them, and the real effects of their social-engineering projects. They prefer gray theory to the green tree of life, and unhesitatingly destroy the latter for the sake of the former. Just as socialists (usually) refuse to admit that totalitarianism is the inevitable result of their policies, libertarians (usually) refuse to admit that their policies would lead inevitably to anomy and anarchy.
Translated into flesh and blood, the libertarian utopia is a world of busy, productive, androgynous robots, exercising their absolute freedom of choice in detergents, intoxicants, and sexual partners. Twenty billion of them live on an Earth whose surface has been totally paved over and covered with a glass-and-steel anthill. These billions, despite their antlike conditions, live in perfect isolation from each other, each like Robinson Crusoe on his island, except for relations established by free and deliberate contract. They are all exactly alike, except for their preferences in detergents, intoxicants, and sexual partners. The Gross World Product goes up and up and up, and everything that makes human existence worthwhile gradually disappears. In short, libertarians believe that Aldous Huxley's Brave New World really does portray the ideal society, but that it will come into being by the voluntary action of free individuals.
The question, then, as we contemplate a libertarian future, is whether humanity would be better off if libertarianism works as promised, or if it fails disastrously, as Communism did. I believe that the answer in both cases is the same: better a disastrous failure than the realization of the utopian delusion.

Universalism
The political utopian believes that his ideology can and should supersede all the accumulated experience and customs of previous generations, and that it applies everywhere without modification. Whatever his particular utopia, he is universalist and cosmopolitan: he despises nationality and community, tradition and history, the rooted and familiar; he is, in a word, antipatriotic.
The Leftist's loyalty is never to a real country, but to an ideology, which his country might or might not embody. Nothing could be more alien to the spirit of liberalism than the sentiment dulce et decorum est pro patria mori -- "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country." The libertarian regards his country as a legal fiction that, at best, safeguards his accumulation of wealth, and allows him to live out his lifespan to its inevitable and meaningless end. The contemporary liberal, or socialist, regards his country as a mere province of the future world-state.
Libertarianism and socialism both aim at the homogenization of humanity. The difference between them is whether the abstract individual is considered more important than humanity in general, or vice versa. Libertarians want to see everyone in the world become a money-grubbing egotist; socialists prefer to turn everyone into a classless, selfless nonentity. Either way, everyone will be exactly like everyone else, in all essentials. Or would be, if the world actually worked the way ideology prescribes.
All liberals, "classical" and contemporary, ignore national and cultural differences, most of the time; if they do notice these differences, they bemoan them as "dark forces of tribalism and xenophobia" that are bound to be swept away by "progress" and "enlightenment." Accordingly, no "enlightened" and "progressive" person could possibly object as the West is buried under the wretched refuse of the Earth's less civilized regions. Mexicans, Muslims, Hindus or whatever will all be magically transformed into interchangeable mass-men, just like us.
Libertarians, in particular, are delighted by the prospect of an endless influx of cheap labor. Seeking refuge in their ideological dreamworld, they recite their incantations about abstract "liberty" while ignoring the fact that their precious "liberty" is an historical and cultural artifact, which cannot be conjured up out of thin air. Not only oblivious to the intrinsic evils of a "diverse" and "multicultural" society, they are blind even to the political and economic dangers of importing whole new classes of voters and dependents for the welfare state.
Any legal-political order must rest on some specific moral-cultural order that transcends and justifies it, providing the fundamental consensus of standards and expectations that make social life possible. The whole notion of a value-neutral legal-political framework is delusory and pernicious. Trying to justify a political order by self-interest is preposterous: people will manipulate or circumvent the law whenever they see it in their interest to do so. Only a deep-rooted sense of identification with the political unit, and loyalty to it, will make people regard the benefit of the whole as their own benefit.
Liberals and libertarians see "moral intervention" as a matter of "imposing one's values" on someone, rather than affecting the character of society as a whole, because there supposedly is no such thing as "society as a whole." With liberals, this is mere hypocrisy, since they are not at all reluctant to impose their "values" on others by force.
Libertarians, on the other hand, posit a false dichotomy: either "society" is some mystical entity with a mind and will of its own, or it is nothing. In a metaphysical sense, it is true that only individual persons exist; but every person actually exists in a group of one kind or another, whose members have a distinctive character that unites them together, and sets them apart from others.
If people are not antisocial creatures in some imaginary "state of nature," their social units -- whatever they may be -- will command their primary loyalty. Either their primary loyalty is to the nation-state (or something functionally equivalent) or it is not, and their loyalty will be transferred to particular factions within society, outside the state -- the Mafia, for instance, or La Raza.
Contemporary liberalism, of course, is all in favor of such particularism -- except, of course, the particularisms of American nationality, Western civilization, the Christian religion, and the white race. To both liberals and libertarians, it is self-evident that the "liberation" of the autonomous individual, the proliferation of "diversity," rapid social change, the rejection of traditional mores, etc., can only be Good Things.

Conclusion
The difference between the egalitarian-collectivist-statist Left and the libertarian-individualist-capitalist Left is a lot like the difference between the dystopias portrayed in 1984 and Brave New World. Both destroy the human spirit, or try to: the one by brute force, the other by corruption.
Translated into American terms, Orwell's "Ingsoc" is contemporary liberalism; his "Newspeak" is the mind-numbing jargon of Political Correctness. The liberals themselves are the Party, the ruling class of ideologue-tyrants; their certified minorities are the passive, subjugated "proles," in whose name they rule; the millions of people who resist their will are "oldthinkers" and "thought-criminals." But a complex technological society cannot be ruled by a commissar-class: even if those commissars were rational enough to want to keep it going, they wouldn't know how.
The ECS Left, if undefeated, will destroy all civilization: primarily by dumbing down culture, and particularly education, thereby attacking science, technology, and capitalism at their root. They cannot build, they cannot invent, they cannot create: they can only bully and destroy. In the end, they would destroy themselves, too -- but that would be cold comfort to the rest of us.
The LIC Left, on the other hand, subverts civilization more slowly and subtly. It is indifferent (at best) to the general decay of culture, but would preserve the purely technical side of education, which it realizes is necessary to deliver the goods. It would create a population, not of illiterate neo-barbarians, but of contented, fornicating, soma-taking drones.
The really scary thing about Brave New World and the LIC Left is that human nature itself is changed by technology. "Ingsoc" and the ECS Left only stunt and warp human nature by stamping out its higher manifestations; so there is hope for the remote future, after the collapse. Humanity might recover, and start anew. But in Brave New World, there is no longer any potential that might flourish again.
In Huxley's future, genetic engineering and behavioral conditioning are used by a global totalitarian state to create a new human species, perfectly adjusted and mindlessly contented. The development of similar techniques in a LIC regime would have the same result. People would welcome any technology that would better suit them to their empty, meaningless, hedonistic existence, until it became as natural to them as breathing water is to fish.
A post-Western civilization would be as alien to us as Islam, but still human; a posthuman civilization would be as alien as if Martians had invaded and exterminated us like rats. And, given the soulless, subhuman nature of Brave New World and the LIC Left, such a civilization would not only be utterly alien, but vastly inferior to our own, no matter how much technical prowess it had. Whole vast potentialities of the soul will have been wiped out and replaced with nothing. It would be a world in which anything more to life than fornication and soma and consumer goods is neither imaginable nor desirable.

Karl Jahn, 2000






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Post 1

Thursday, January 13, 2005 - 10:30pmSanction this postReply
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Pete,

There are so many fallacies in here, it's hard to know where to start.  The real problem is that his characteristics are true of some libertarians.  These are commonly known problems because other libertarians argue against them all the time.  Let's see if we can go through some of the points.  I'll paraphrase the ideas.

1.)  Libertarianism is derived from economics.  Obviously there are some libertarians that come at it from this angle.  An objective study of economics often leads to the conclusion that a free-market is efficient.  It's not a giant step to see that it's liberty that makes the free-market possible.  This doesn't apply to Objectivism, which derives its politics from ethics, not economics.

2.) "the production and consumption of wealth is an end in itself, the be-all and end-all of human existence".  There certainly has been some misunderstanding in the past, but the Austrian school for instance argues clearly and consistently against this.  Our values include relationships, the thrill of discovery, romance, excitement, entertainment, education, artistic experiences, and a whole lot more.  If there are economists who think man is (or should only be) concerned with his gut or groin, I'm not familiar with them.  And as far as Objectivism is concerned, this argument is completely off the mark.

3.) Libertarians promote libertinism.  I've written about this before.  It's true that some libertarians are so obsessed with the non-initiation of force, they think only in terms of force.  If it's voluntary, it must be good (or at least not bad).  We just talked about this on a thread you made on SOLO.  Certainly it doesn't apply to Objectivism.  I think it's more of a problem for the Libertarian Party, which to be as wide-reaching as they can have to ignore ethics entirely and focus only on politics.

4.) The free market can do no wrong.  There certainly is lots of confusion here.  Most libertarians with a good understanding of the free market realize that's not the case.  Problems happen all the time.  There will always be mistakes made, or even criminal actions taken.  The question is not whether problems will exist, but what do you do about them.  Under capitalism, the criminals would be arrested.  The market would "punish" the mistakes by making people lose money.  Under a planned economy, the mistakes would be made universal, they would throw more money after their mistakes, and the criminals would be the law. 

Additionally, those with an understanding of the market realize that it's a tool for seeking values, but it doesn't magically make those values good or clean.  If people want to watch stupid movies, they'll be able to, and the movies aren't transformed to beautiful works of art by being voluntary.  But to criticize the market for that is like criticizing hard-work.  It's just a tool for getting the job done.  The fact that you're using it for an immoral job doesn't mean the tool is broken.  You don't argue that hard-work is evil because some people work hard at evil.

5.) "Man is not meant by nature to be either a hermit in his own skull..."  This is kind of funny, actually.  We actually are, by nature, hermits in our own skulls.  If someone else is inside your skull, they put you in an insane asylum.  But I think what he's getting at is the atomistic view of individualism, where everyone locks themselves away from everyone else and can not legitimately find value in other people.  He talks about people living in perfect isolation from one another.  The problem is, nobody advocates it.  It's a straw man used to in a false dichotomy.  If our choices are starving on a our own little island, lonely and miserable, and getting together with others under a "caring" socialist state, the latter is easier to swallow.

6.)  "Political utopians of every kind are characterized by their attachment to abstract ideals, and by complete indifference to the actual, existential conditions of the ideals' realization."  This was one of my points in my article about utopias.  The perceived conflict between ideals and practice.  And as I said in my article, it's not a legitimate argument against ideals.  The burden is on him to show that libertarianism is not practical.  All this talk about utopias is just guilt by association, and not an actual argument.

7.) " everyone will be exactly like everyone else, in all essentials."  This is his argument that libertarians want everyone to be the same.  The problem, of course, is that he doesn't argue what essentials means.  Not initiating force on one another?  How is that a bad thing?  He implies that libertarians want everyone to be mindless materialists.  I've already argued that his claims of materialism are off the mark.  But even if economists did believe that materialism is all there was, libertarians argue for freedom to do whatever you want.  It's hard to see how the drug-addict living with his mom is essentially the same as the scientist working hard to make a breakthrough.  The other problem here is that, even if they did want everyone to be the same, their politics prohibits the use of force to make it happen.  Socialists, on the other hand, try to force people into their molds.  This brings us to his biggest problem

8.) "They do not recognize that the continuities between "classical" and contemporary liberalism are actually much greater than the differences."  The author, in a discussion about politics, completely ignores the use of force.  That would be like talking about ethics without bring up choice.  He dismisses this as an insignificant difference, when it is the primary difference in the context of politics.  If he was trying to argue that libertarians and leftists are more similar than they think compared to normal people (they are strong idealists, they work towards a "better" world, blah blah blah).  But in contrasting the theories, and ignoring force, the whole thing is a sham.  He focuses on non-essentials, and it makes arguments that would be obviously wrong seem slight.  As in #7 above, where he forgets that libertarians can't use force to create a uniform culture, and so paints them with the same brush as the socialists who have spent the last century using bullets to try exactly that.

It would be interesting if he actually cited a leading libertarian thinker who believed all of this.  I don't think it's possible.  It's true that newbies sometimes fall into some of these traps (although I've never met anyone who accept the atomistic and materialistic mistakes he subscribes to everyone), but if his argument needs to rest on the worst possible mistakes being made, that says something.

Now Pete, if you have specific points you want to discuss, or think somehow Objectivism falls into, you should bring them up.  But this particular piece presents such a distorted view of even libertarianism, it's hard to get anything worthwhile out of it.  If this guy was ever an Objectivist, he certainly forgot everything.





Post 2

Friday, January 14, 2005 - 5:45amSanction this postReply
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Thanks for the post, Pete.  I did not hit the Check for this for a couple of reasons.  The post was not really your own, but a long quote.  Also, the post itself did have some basic problems.  That in itself is not so bad because "problems" lead to questions and answers. 
 
My strongest disappointment was that Karl Jahn never defines who or what he means by people or humans or us or whoever it is that we are not liberally homogenized into being.  What is there about being human that is not allowed by utopianisms of the left or right?  Is it art? What does that mean?  That "humanity" might be expressed via "art" is my suggestion, only. Jahn never says -- and that is my point. We are supposed to know what he means.  I do not. 
 
I do agree with what I perceive as the main thrust of the work: humans are complicated.  Objectivists, Marxists, Christians, etc., all have these universal philosophies that ignore what might be fundamental differences in the natures of beings that appear taxonomically similar but who are not interchangeable. 
 
Religion was an invention and apparently every human accepts religion, even when disguised as secular philosophy. If we agree that in fact, religion is not philosophy, then we are left with an even deeper problem: why do some people accept the idea of supernatural beings while others do not?  Conversely, why do some people see through the fallacy of religion while others do not?  Why did Christianity not convert everyone?  Why did the Protestant Reformation leave any Catholic Church?  Why did the Great Awakening not convert all Protestants?  How could anyone hear about the works of Ayn Rand and not rush right out to buy Atlas Shrugged?
 
Rowlands made a crack about people who have "others" in their heads being locked up.  I believe that there are many people who do have "voices" in their heads different from the running voice of consciousness in my head or the memories of sounds and so on.  People say that God talks to them and we can only accept that as prima facie evidence.  After all, the idea of "religion" came from someone who invented it.  It may be that in a few centuries, everyone's corpus collosum will so completely knit the two hemispheres that we will be back where we were in the Neolithic age, only smarter for our (forgive the term) "collective memory" of accumulated knowledge.
 
Of course, in that case, there might still be people with very distinct left and right hemispheres, just as today, there are neolithic people among us who hear voices in their heads.
 
That indicates that "all" people are not "equal."  Each may be very different from the next. 
 
Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden both gave rational-sounding excuses for living in New York City.  My brother lives there and has for 30 years.  Most people find it "nice to visit" but no place they want to live.  I have always been much happier in small towns -- villages, really -- out in the country.  I surely do have my broadband connection and I definitely travel into bigger towns to buy books.  After all, city folk take vacations out here.  So, we all like a break now and then.  (Or maybe "we all" do not.  Maybe some people really hate changes of any kind.  I have heard about them, actually.) When Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber) was tracked and arrested, I remember one of the news reporters finding it odd and disturbing that no one else living in Remote Idaho cared too much about Ted, who he was, or what he did.  Some people are like that.  They apparently do enjoy the luxuries of woven textiles, but somehow I think that such luxuries are so far removed from what they consider important that left to their devices, they might never create a steel mill -- certainly not as a precondition to creating a skyscraper, in which a couple of thousand people will live out their entire lives extremely closely.
 
Von Mises said that people have to be paid to work because mankind is naturally lazy.  A libertarian by the name Bob Black pointed out that socialists and capitalists alike intend for everyone to WORK.  No one seems much interested in creating a world where people PLAY.  Black himself pretty much avoided work by being on welfare and sponging off friends until he alienated both of his friends.  So, the practical limitation on his "ludic lifestyle" might have been narrower than he theorized.  However, I took the main idea for what is it worth.  Not everyone will agree. I can predict that based on the fact that everyone is different.  Perhaps that is just my own prejudice and there are some people who really are so very much alike as to be nearly homogenous.  Oddly enough, I suspect that such people are not "socialists" because the socialists I have met are mostly as unsociable as libertarians are.

 
 




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Friday, January 14, 2005 - 6:55amSanction this postReply
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Joe,
     A great response.  You never cease to amaze me.

Michael,
     You said:
I do agree with what I perceive as the main thrust of the work: humans are complicated.  Objectivists, Marxists, Christians, etc., all have these universal philosophies that ignore what might be fundamental differences in the natures of beings that appear taxonomically similar but who are not interchangeable.
Can you give an example of a "fundamental difference(s) in the natures of beings" that you think Objectivism ignores and is important to the philosophy?

Thanks,
Glenn




Post 4

Friday, January 14, 2005 - 11:59amSanction this postReply
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Glenn Fletcher threw down a gauntlet: Can you give an example of a "fundamental difference(s) in the natures of beings" that you think Objectivism ignores and is important to the philosophy?
Thanks,
Glenn
I believe that some people are "individualists" and many others are "collectivists" for biochemical reasons of genetics. You can never convince the collectivists, any more than you talk someone 75 cm high into being 90 cm high.

I believe that different people have different brains with different structures and processes that cause us to perceive the world differently.  It is not just the sophomoric challenge that when I say "red" you don't know what I mean.  We all seem to agree on "red."  What we do not all seem to agree on are the things that developed after the perception of red.

Reading is not natural.  There is no such thing as a natural alphabet.  Some people will never read, or read well.  Some people do not think well verbally.  They are not "handicapped" or "disabled" or "dyslexic."  They just think with different (and not better) cognitive tools.

All hammers are pretty much the same and all are ambidextrous, indicating that these tools were invented before handedness. 

Handedness might be a result of reading left to right.  I have read (read) that in Arabic countries handedness is not so strong -- and it makes driving a challenge -- because they read the other way.  Which is the "chicken" and which is the "egg"? 

Arithmetic is another example of an "unnatural" process that affects human evolution.  The Minneapolis Federal Reserve has a couple of quizzes posted on its website (http://minneapolisfed.org -- no www in front) and it is interesting to see what most people got right and what most people got wrong.  Economic thinking is not universal.  It is not a matter of what we learn in school, but of how we experience our lives.  (Why do so many cultures count in "dozens"?)

What does all this mean? It means that if you could press the magic Reason button and create the externalities of an Objectivist Utopia, people would aggregate themselves back into coercive social structures.  "Everyone" understands the utlility in a lightbulb.  The utility in Objectivism is not so apparent.  The reason why is that we are all attracted to light and warmth -- we are not all attracted to the opportunity to have our tongue torn out and be burnt at the stake in return for the privilege of temporarily having the only lightbulb. Ideas "make sense" to people -- or not.  It has more to do with the structures of their brains than with the structures of the philosophical systems imposed on them.

Ask any football player: the sound of the home crowd yelling for victory is a motivator.  Is that rational? Does "everyone" experience it?  One of the hallmarks of the "authoritarian personality" is an inability to understand that different people are different.  The authoritarian assumes that everyone shares their values and beliefs.  You get a few of these people together in one place and time and the suggestion that other people believe differently for good reasons is perceived as disharmonious noise.

A philosophy that insists that you have "rights" when other people recognize them, leaves you with no rights at all.  You can claim that your "natural rights" still exist but are unrecognized -- sort of like angels on the head of a pin.  Many other people do not want the right to be different -- and they cannot (can not) understand why you do.  Therefore, rather than expecting other people to be convinced, a rational philosophy shows you how to maximize your own alternatives, regardless of what other people do.




Post 5

Friday, January 14, 2005 - 1:52pmSanction this postReply
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Michael,
Thanks for the response to my question.
You said:
I believe that some people are "individualists" and many others are "collectivists" for biochemical reasons of genetics. You can never convince the collectivists, any more than you talk someone 75 cm high into being 90 cm high.

I believe that different people have different brains with different structures and processes that cause us to perceive the world differently.
I don't agree with this.  Some of your examples suggest that different people think differently.  Perhaps in some cases it is due to their brains being different (dyslexics, for example).  But you can't conclude that those who are collectivists and those who are individualists have different brains.  You have given no evidence for this.

But, let's leave that aside because it doesn't affect your other points, which are stated in the last paragraph.  You said:
A philosophy that insists that you have "rights" when other people recognize them, leaves you with no rights at all.
I'm not sure I understand this.  Can you give an example of a philosophy that doesn't insist "that you have 'rights' [only] when other people recognize them"?  (I inserted "only" because that's how I interpreted your statement.  Correct me if I'm wrong.)  If others don't recognize your "rights", how can you say you have any except in the "angels on the head of a pin" way?

Finally, you said:
Therefore, rather than expecting other people to be convinced, a rational philosophy shows you how to maximize your own alternatives, regardless of what other people do.
Can I conclude from this that you don't consider Objectivism to be a rational philosophy?  I suggest you read Joe Rowlands' article on "Utopias".

Glenn




Post 6

Friday, January 14, 2005 - 2:40pmSanction this postReply
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Michael,

"I believe that some people are "individualists" and many others are "collectivists" for biochemical reasons of genetics. "

I believe this is the least likely explanation for why people are so intractable in their beliefs. More likely are, self interest, and the fact that people learn many things that are difficult to unlearn when they are very young and their brains are not fully formed. These combined with the fact of different levels of intelligence. Life experience has a lot to do with it.

"Reading is not natural...."

People with limited abilities will fare better in an individualist, capitalist society. They will then be individualists. Don't call them born collectivists because they don't have the imagination see a different world.

"A philosophy that insists that you have "rights" when other people recognize them, leaves you with no rights at all. "

I wrote in another post: "But I also believe that the concepts of rights has no meaning without the implied use of force to guard those rights." You can't draw a line in the sand without there being consequences if people cross those lines. Consideration of these consequences are what will ultimately make free traders out of looters. This is why I am not a pacifist.





Post 7

Friday, January 14, 2005 - 3:48pmSanction this postReply
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Thanks Glenn!  Coming from you, that's a real compliment.

Let me add a few comments to the later discussion.

Glenn is right that no evidence is given for saying that collectivists and individualists have different brains.  On top of that, it's not exceedingly difficult to find people with mixed premises (sometime individualist, sometimes collectivist), or that started off one way and move to the other (marxists becoming Objectivists).  And we don't need a complicated and unknown biological explanation for something that's easily explain by reference to philosophy.  A person's fundamental premises drive their outlook, and those premises are often self-reinforcing for a number of reasons.  A philosophy can be difficult to change, but people do change.

This whole discussion of brains working in this different way is weird.  It's determinism, saying people can't identify facts of reality.  It's elitist, saying that there's a minority of people who have correctly functioning brains, and the rest of the masses are doomed to evil.  It sounds like a great excuse to create a dictatorship.  And since the masses will always be a threat, it sounds like a great reason to exterminate them all.  All of this, and without the slightest bit of evidence (and contrary to evidence). 

And it's worse than no evidence...it's not even a real theory.  It's like the Objectivist critique of "instincts".  Saying something is an instinct just describes a behavior, and doesn't at all suggest a mechanism.  It's not even a real theory.  How is it that these other people's brains are incapable of seeing individuals?  Why is it just this one idea that their brain is incapable of grasping, but they can still grasp complex math, science, etc.?  What's so specific about collectivism vs. individualism that people can't grasp it?  And how does it work in practice?  Are they incapable of differentiating individuals?  Are they incapable of having their own values?  Are they incapable of making decisions for themselves?

If you couldn't tell, I disagree with this idea.

As for rights, I think you can say you have them even when people are not respecting them.  If you see it from the perspective of your own choices, rights tell you something important.  When are you justified in using violent force?  If other people are stealing from you, for instance, it would be okay for you to retaliate.  If you steal it back from them, you're not the parasite, they are.  So rights, even when not respected, tell you something.  It's similar to moral judgment.  If you say someone shouldn't have done X or should have done Y, you could say that it's all fiction because he didn't.  But we're not try to describe what a person did, but what he should have done.  This has relevance for future action.  Similarly we don't talk about rights in a way to describe how people do act, but in a way to talk about how they should.  Acknowledging that a government violates rights is meaningful and useful.




Post 8

Friday, January 14, 2005 - 6:08pmSanction this postReply
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Joe has done a good job answering some of the main problems with Jahn's article. I just want to say that Jahn's analysis is standard conservative faire. I've read those points over and over again in the conservative literature. Some of these points are valid against libertarians who try to avoid a moral and philosophical approach.

 

By the way, a interesting book on this topic with both conservative and libertarian articles is George W. Carey, Freedom & Virtue: The Conservative Libertarian Debate, published by the conservative Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Tibor Machan has an article for the libertarian side, of course. There are other notable libertarian and conservative writers.




Post 9

Friday, January 14, 2005 - 11:45pmSanction this postReply
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Glenn Fletcher wrote: Can you give an example of a philosophy that doesn't insist "that you have 'rights' [only] when other people recognize them"?  ... If others don't recognize your "rights", how can you say you have any except in the "angels on the head of a pin" way?
Objectivism teaches that you have inalienable natural rights.  Your rights to life, liberty, pursuit of property, and pursuit of happiness are yours by virtue of your being a volitional, i.e., moral, creature.  According to Objectivism, you might be stuck in a society of creatures who do not recognize your rights, but those rights are still yours by your nature.  (See Ayn Rand's essay "Man's Rights" in Virtue of Selfishness, for instance.  Other citations support the above, as well.)

My point was that Objectivists seek to secure their rights by changing other people. Objectivists want to have their natural rights recognized. I suggest that this is impractical (and therefore immoral) and that a more profitable path is to secure your own rights for yourself as best you can, regardless of what kinds of creatures are in your envirornment. 

It is not that "people" are not "rational" but rather than some people are and other people never will be.  There is a hint of this in Atlas Shrugged when Dagny says that she must try again to talk to the Board, to get them to understand. Why bother? asks Francisco.  "They're still men, aren't they?" Dagny says.  "Are they?" Francisco asks.  The scene ends.
Glenn Fletcher asked: Can I conclude from this that you don't consider Objectivism to be a rational philosophy?  I suggest you read Joe Rowlands' article on "Utopias".
I consider Objectivism to be a good philosophy. It is rational and empirical.  Objectivism is integrated.  It is practical.  It suggests new ideas and offers standards for testing old ones.  I have found no system of thought better than Objectivism.  I confess that I have not done a lot of looking.  I had to take an honors philosophy class in college and some of it was interesting, but nothing motivated me to read Kirkegaard or Berkeley or whoever.  I have read a few things over the years.  I am reading Aristotle's Posterior Analytics now.  The reason I came here to SOLO is to think more deeply and completely about the topics that interest me in Objectivism and to discover new topics.  I like SOLO because it offers the best opportunity for me to explore ideas.  That means both learning from others and offering what I have learned.




Post 10

Saturday, January 15, 2005 - 12:18amSanction this postReply
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Joseph Rowlands wrote: ... no evidence is given for saying that collectivists and individualists have different brains.  On top of that, it's not exceedingly difficult to find people with mixed premises (sometime individualist, sometimes collectivist), or that started off one way and move to the other (marxists becoming Objectivists).  ... It's determinism, saying people can't identify facts of reality.  It's elitist, saying that there's a minority of people who have correctly functioning brains, and the rest of the masses are doomed to evil. 
In any social species, thre are alpha leaders, and beta followers and gammas who move from one gene pool to another to prevent inbreeding.  The gamma humans are "individualists."  That is not congruent with being an Objectivist. 

A person who switches from Marxism to Objectivism has not made a significant change.  See Eric Hoffer's The True Believer.  Many Objectivists are collectivists.  In fact, the tragedy of the individualist communist is a significant theme in We the Living.  Ideology and lifestyle are two different things. 

As I noted elsewhere, expecting to find clever scientists who will endorse Objectivism for popular advertising is to misunderstand the nature of the independent thinker. 

It is true that my emphasis has been on the brain.  Long ago, people thought that the soul was in the liver.  Then they believed it was in the heart.  Now we place it in the brain.  Some people will believe anything.  Who you "are" may, indeed, be greatly locatable in the brain, but much of who you are must of physical necessity extend to all of your nerves, all of your cells, and even form some kind of a "envelope" beyond your skin, otherwise, no one would be able to smell you.

Condemning an idea as determinist and elitist packages it conveniently.

I do not think that other people are evil for being leaders and followers.  It is just what they are.  It has been about 30 years since I rebuked anyone for being evil.  I do not even think you are evil.

One thing -- among many -- that Objectivism shares with Marxism is demonization of the enemy.  As Eric Hoffer put it, a mass movement can be successful without God, but no mass movement can exist without a devil.

Stop me if you have heard this.... Once upon a time there was a simpler, purer life, then the evil betrayers sold us out, and now we are fighting a life or death struggle that will not be concluded in our lifetimes but if we sacrifice for the future, our descendents can have an even better world than the one we lost.




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Post 11

Saturday, January 15, 2005 - 6:25amSanction this postReply
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Marotta says:
A person who switches from Marxism to Objectivism has not made a significant change. 
That statement is total nonsense.

While it is true that some people become objectivist in the manner of changing political parties or switching from one church to another; for many others the switch is not a switch at all, but the  expierence of having their single greatest moment of enlightenment and mental clarity. It is the moment when they threw off the chains of needing to belong to a group, and put on the cloths of who they really are as individuals.

Marotta also says things like:

In any social species, thre are alpha leaders, and beta followers and gammas who move from one gene pool to another to prevent inbreeding.  The gamma humans are "individualists."  That is not congruent with being an Objectivist. 
Who you "are" may, indeed, be greatly locatable in the brain, but much of who you are must of physical necessity extend to all of your nerves, all of your cells, and even form some kind of a "envelope" beyond your skin, otherwise, no one would be able to smell you.
I always get a strange feeling in the pit of my gut when I hear someone expound on the innate/genetic/chemical differences among humans, and who then proceeds to catagorize them by that standard. Perhaps you would be wise to move away from your Anarcho-Eugenicism.

George


 




Post 12

Saturday, January 15, 2005 - 7:58amSanction this postReply
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A person who switches from Marxism to Objectivism has not made a significant change. 

I would have added the word "necessarily" to this. There is not  necessarily a significant change/ difference, in the ideas and actions of one who joins one club versus another. The rules that exist, sometimes covertly, in many collectives are interesting to note. My own opinion is that any collective can be anti-individual, even collectives/communities that call themselves objectivist.

John




Post 13

Saturday, January 15, 2005 - 12:30pmSanction this postReply
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Thanks everyone for reading the Jahn article.  Joe, I appreciate you trudging through this long article and offering specific commentary - I apologize if I framed this topic in a way that seemed to have no point. 

My recent interest in studying Leo Strauss and other forms of non-religious conservatism is what led me to Karl Jahn.  I simply find it strange that depsite the tremendous philosophical influence Strauss has on modern neoconservatism, and the influence neoconservatism has on American politics, there doesn't seem to be much Objectivist critique of Strauss's ideas. 

I'm reading Natural Right and History right now, and might offer a review of it on SOLO if I feel I've picked up some ideas that run counter to or perhaps align with Objectivism. 




Post 14

Friday, February 1 - 10:13pmSanction this postReply
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Hello!

I am grateful to "Pete" for his kind words, which indicate that he and I are of the same mind on fundamental principles. However, I would like to offer a few points of clarification on matters that I evidently did not make clear enough in my initial exposition. And again, I offer thanks to Pete for giving me (however inadvertently) this opportunity to clarify and elaborate upon my preliminary remarks.

1. Am I a "former Objectivist"? This depends on one's definition of "Objectivist." I am still in fundamental agreement with the philosophy of Objectivism as far as it goes into metaphysics, epistemology, and aesthetics. Where I diverge from it is in the subsidiary departments of ethics and politics ... with regard to which, I consider it not so much wrong as incomplete.

2. Am I "now a Straussian"? Again, it seems that I did not make myself clear enough. My view of Straussians, as of Objectivists, is ambivalent: I see much of value in them, and yet also much to be desired.

3. Yes, I am totally one who "advocates a unique strand of American nationalism." This "unique strand" is grounded in an objective ethics that recognizes the fact that human beings are not (as Ayn Rand once wrote) "born alone on a desert island," but rather in communities of persons connected by language, history, descent, and geography ... which are the constitutive elements of nationality.



Post 15

Sunday, February 3 - 8:45amSanction this postReply
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Welcome to RoR, Mr. Jahn.

Are there any points in #1 from above that you care to address?

Ed

p.s., I'm also curious to get your reaction to the following 3 quotes from Leo Strauss:
Are the maxims of foreign policy essentially different from the maxims on which gangs of robbers act? Can they be different? Are cities not compelled to use force and fraud or to take away from other cities what belong to the latter, if they are to prosper?
Experience shows that justice by itself is ineffectual. This merely confirms what was shown before, that justice has no basis in nature. [break] What justice demands of us is then against nature.
Therefore, the conflict between the self-interest of the individual and the demands of the city or of right is inevitable. The city cannot settle this conflict except by declaring that the city or right is of higher dignity than the self-interest of the individual or that it is sacred.




Post 16

Sunday, February 3 - 9:29amSanction this postReply
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... and, more directly, I have to log a disagreement with your reasoning in this paragraph:
Any legal-political order must rest on some specific moral-cultural order that transcends and justifies it, providing the fundamental consensus of standards and expectations that make social life possible. The whole notion of a value-neutral legal-political framework is delusory and pernicious. Trying to justify a political order by self-interest is preposterous: people will manipulate or circumvent the law whenever they see it in their interest to do so. Only a deep-rooted sense of identification with the political unit, and loyalty to it, will make people regard the benefit of the whole as their own benefit.
While it's true that a 'moral-cultural order' is what it is that justifies a 'legal-political order', I don't agree that it's preposterous to 'justify a political order by self-interest'. Analysis of what you are saying is:

1) A moral-cultural order justifies a political order (true)
2) The moral order of self-interest cannot justify political order (because of highly questionable assumption about the nature of man)
---------
3) Therefore, self-interest is not a good moral order for man -- because it cannot justify political order for man (i.e., some form of collectivism is better for mankind).

Would you care to address my distillation of your reasoning? It would seem that you would agree with Hobbes over Locke regarding man's 'state of nature' -- that, if left to our own devices, we would rape our neighbors and we would eat our own children.

Is that true? If it is, then you may be suprised to discover that there is a growing body of empirical evidence against the Hobbesian view.

Ed

(Edited by Ed Thompson on 2/03, 4:11pm)




Post 17

Friday, February 8 - 7:46pmSanction this postReply
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Sorry for the delay, but I am very gratified by your offer to restate my case.

1.) Libertarianism is derived from economics.

This is exactly and precisely why I prefer Objectivism to libertarianism. But even Objectivism (note the capital O) has a deplorable tendency to reduce the human good to material (viz., economic) goods. This is not just some flaky Leftoid talking here, but someone who has long and seriously studied AR, and found her wanting.

2.) "the production and consumption of wealth is an end in itself, the be-all and end-all of human existence". There certainly has been some misunderstanding in the past, but the Austrian school for instance argues clearly and consistently against this.

I have on my very own shelves a copy of Mises' magnum opus on Socialism. If you will refer me to the pages therein that contradict this assertion, I will be very grateful to you.

3.) Libertarians promote libertinism.

See above.

4.) The free market can do no wrong.

This is pretty much just another example of why I think Objectivists are better than Libertarians ... but even so, would you please just stop and think a minute ... if the free market produced a consequence that you believed to be morally wrong ... what exactly would you do about it?

I reckon this is enough for now.



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Post 18

Friday, February 8 - 10:52pmSanction this postReply
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Karl,
...Objectivism (note the capital O) has a deplorable tendency to reduce the human good to material (viz., economic) goods.
I would disagree with that. I believe that the heart of each of Ayn Rand's major works was deeply spiritual. She integrated well-being, self-interest, and morality into a tight package. Roark could have made more money, enjoyed more material sucess by NOT following his spiritual integrity. In Atlas Shrugged, they went on strike instead of going along to get along and piling away more loot. It was the love of being productive - not rolling around in the money made from being productive. Did I miss something? Can you give me something more specific that tells me Ayn Rand was focused more on acquiring goods than the human spirit?
The free market can do no wrong.
I don't believe that the free market can ever produce a consequence that makes the freeness of the marketplace morally wrong. Let me explain. To say a market is free is to say that it is one where voluntary associations are the only kind permitted. If it is not a fully free market, that is saying that some acts are prohibited even if they don't violate rights, and other acts are permitted even though they involve initiation of violence, or fraud or theft. So, in choosing between those to kinds of markets, there is no choice unless one favors some forms of thuggery or theft or fraud. Now, it is true that there can many kinds of unethical or immoral actions that occur in a free market, but I maintain that if an act doesn't violate another's individual rights, interfering would be the more unethical, more immoral act. The context is the type of the market, versus a context of an individual act - your approach appears to be conflating these. Some acts are not permitted by law, others we attempt to prohibit by persuasion.
if the free market produced a consequence that you believed to be morally wrong ... what exactly would you do about it?
Speak out and persuade people that it is not a good thing to do. But I wouldn't throw out the concept of individual rights and attempt to implement a structure that used force to have my moral opinion made the law.
Libertarians promote libertinism.
Some do. I don't. I am an Objectivist, but I call myself a libertarian when the context is purely political and I'm not talking to people who are familiar with Objectivism. It is a mistake when the libertarians attempt to take the political razor of NIOF and inflate it into a positive argument for some form of hedonism. Even when done properly libertarianism isn't a full philosophical system. And, fringe movements tend to attract nuts... which magnifies the problem.



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Post 19

Saturday, February 9 - 10:17amSanction this postReply
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I got lost at "the human good."

What is that singular thing, and who among us as peers claims to speak for 'it?'

This is another indication that a tendency to see and think only in the singular leads one to a certain worldview.

I'll have to add this one the growing list of leglifting totems at the carnival:

God, "S"ociety, the Common Good, the General Welfare, the Social Contract, the perfect state of unbias behind a veil of ignorance that only Rawls can jarringly travel to, successfully pierce and speak for, and now... "the" human good.

All safely beyond the horizon, out of the reach of we mere mortals, and yet, jarringly, requiring one of our peers to roll his eyes into the back of his head, have a vision, and speak for 'it.'

Aka, carny hucksterism as politics: the art and science of getting what we want from that seething sea of others out there.

Peers, living in freedom under rules of free association.

Not buying any leglifting today. One skin, one driver is plenty. Any more of either is precisely too much.

In a free nation, we choose state plumbers and hand them a plunger and ask them to see if they can keep the plumbing of state clean and free flowing for a while. We'd prefer that they don't mistake those plungers for scepters, but alas, all of our efforts are at best imperfect.

Speaking of mistaking a plunger for a scepter, the State of the Union Address is coming up. Can't wait to hear how the pipes are flowing.

regards,
Fred

(Edited by Fred Bartlett on 2/09, 10:19am)




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