Sunday, January 10, 2010

Stossel takes on the nanny state and discusses Ayn Rand and Objectivism

This weeks episode of Stossel was on Ayn Rand and also on the nanny state.

The nanny state part was fun and they interviewed Nick Gillespie from for that segment. It was definitely the best part of the show. They brought on some politician from New York who believes it is his job to make laws that say you cannot soak your feet in a fish pond if the pond was designed to provide “fish pedicures” which is a popular practice in parts of Asia. The fish eat the dead skin off of your feet and leave the living tissue. It is natural and safe, but the politician thought that since you cannot sterilize a fish between feet that the practice should be banned and he was willing to ban it through the violence inherent in government to get his way. I say if he doesn't want a fish pedicure then he doesn't have to get one, but for others they are willing to take whatever risk there is because they enjoy the process and the results. Fish pedicures are just one example of the stupid nannyism that surrounds the government. Don't they have something better to do? Even the liberal audience seemed to enjoy this segment.

The Ayn Rand segment did not generate the same warm feelings from the mostly liberal audience. I agree with a lot of objectivist principles, and liked the overall message the segment the objectivists on the panel presented. However, there was one point when a member of the audience asked “don't we need some government?”. John Allison answered that we need government to provide defense, and courts, cops, and to protect private property. This is where I break away from the panel. I don't believe it is the governments job to do any of those things, and even if I did think that, the problem is that it puts the government in a role where in order to protect your property they must steal it from you, in order to protect you from crime they must engage in criminal aggression against you. It doesn't make any sense at all to me to think that you are somehow being consistent by saying “we need the government to protect your property and in order to fund the government we will need to take your property away from you”. It is as Marc Stevens says, “if the government really cared about protecting your freedoms and your possessions, they would not be the first ones trying to take them from you”. However, my main beef with objectivists is not that they are minarchists, but rather that they were pro-war during the Bush years. This was a serious infraction to me, and one that showed me their true pro-state colors. You can claim to be small government all you want, but if you also claim that that the military should go oversees and bomb people who have done us no harm and that taxes should be extracted by force from unwilling tax payers to pay for it all just makes me sick. This aspect of objectivism was not discussed on the show.

Overall another good episode, and I look forward to the next.

Thanks to my friend the Whited Sepulchre for finding this weeks episode on Youtube since not all of my readers have Fox Business Channel.


clay barham said...

Obamakins believe community interests are more important than are individual interests and follow the ideas of Compte, Rousseau and Marx for America’s future. The pursuit of legitimate self-interest, recognizing the importance of family and close community, made America the most prosperous nation in the world, as cited in the book SAVE PEBBLE DROPPERS & PROSPERITY on Only 400 years of proving individual freedom works against thousands of years of tyranny, where the few elite rule the many, is the obvious intention of Obama and his commissars.

byafi said...

A clarification: neither libertarians nor objectivists are pro-war. I'd be interested in learning where this notion came from.

Fester said...

Byafi you can start here:

nice quote from that site:

This author supports the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the long-term commitment to rebuild that country that must follow. We need to be willing to use military force soon in Korea as well, if we cannot get a reliable settlement with North Korea—and provided that South Korea accepts the risks. -William Thomas

Then head over here:

from that page:

Eliminating Iran's terrorist sanctuaries and military capability is not enough. We must do the equivalent of de-Nazifying the country, by expelling every official and bringing down every branch of its government. This goal cannot be achieved painlessly, by weaponry alone. It requires invasion by ground troops, who will be at serious risk, and perhaps a period of occupation. But nothing less will "end the state" that most cries out to be ended. - Leonard Peikoff

then check out:

"French president Nicolas Sarkozy said that attacking Iran over its refusal to abandon its nuclear program would be "catastrophic."

Quite to the contrary, an attack on Iran that destroyed its nuclear program and regime is long overdue." - David Holcberg

then if you are still unconvinced that "Objectivists" are pro-war, go to:

I quote:

"What we advocate for is a real war of self-defense, a war to protect the lives and freedom of individual Americans, and we advocate waging as ruthless a war as is necessary to defeat Iran's regime." - Yaron Brook

I could keep going, but you get the idea. Maybe some rank and file Objectivists were anti war, but the leadership was not.

Michael M said...

You have made a number of serious mistakes in your representation of Objectivism:

1) WAR: Pro- v. anti- war is a false alternative. War is a neutral term referring merely to a conflict between an aggressor and a defender. You cannot find any principle or position in the philosophy of Objectivism that takes a stance on war per se. Since Rand is dead and the philosophy is now a closed body of material, you must be careful to refrain from trying to blame the philosophy for the ideas and/or actions of individuals who profess to be adherents to it. Keep the two distinct at all times.

Objectivism is anti-aggression and pro-defense. Objectivism holds that violators of human rights and those who support them forfeit their own rights (you can't have your cake and eat it too). Also note that an Objectivist can maintain that a particular government has no right to exist but not advocate a preemptive strike against it, because it poses no threat to our lives. That only appears to be a "pro-war" stance.

2) TAXATION: Contrary to your assumption, Objectivism rejects all taxation for any purpose whatsoever, because it requires the initiation of force to take values from men who own them. If the populace cannot figure out how to finance a government, they can't have one. If not enough of them choose to fund a war, there will not be one.

3) ANARCHY: Objectivism holds that force is the only enemy of freedom and that a large and complex society of men living within a given region requires a neutral third-party institution to be charged with the task of removing all force from human interrelationships — to guarantee that all exchanges of values shall be voluntary. Unlike all governments heretofore, it may only use force to defend from force. That requires in turn that what is or is not initiated force must be defined objectively, proven, objectified in written rights and laws, and available to all at any time.

It is the latter requirement for the objectification of rights, laws, and procedures of enforcement accessible to all that precludes the justification of anarchy of any kind. Out of a fear that a government might err, anarchists abandon the only means to establish a knowable set of objective standards for the use of force. It leaves society vulnerable to unpredictable variations by random groups of individuals.

The ultimate error of anarchists is their failure to recognize that over half of the benefit of freedom is the day-to-day justifiable expectation of it.

Fester said...

Michael, either objectivists are super confused or they are really statists, or they have never done a good job in resolving a fundamental flaw in their argument for a limited government that attacks places like Iran. How is this “benign” yet warlike government to be paid for? How are the wars in Iraq and the future war in Iran to be paid for? If government is funded entirely through voluntary exchange, then it ceases to be a government.

I don't know what Ayn Rand herself would have said about the current and proposed wars, but I do know that today's Objectivists supported them and support more war in the middle east. You are going to have a difficult time countering this claim since I have already cited several sources for this belief and I have many more that are simply not as accessible do to the authors taking their work down, or it being in mp3 interviews etc.

Michael M said...

Part 1 of 3: Fester, you will never be able to cobble together a cogent argument regarding Objectivism without first getting a grip on its actual content. You are trying to make pragmatic judgments about the politics of a philosophy that rejects pragmatism from the get-go. You are criticizing it in the context of the logistics by which one would apply the principles without identifying and dealing with the principles themselves first.

Rand's radical capitalism is derived from, dependent on, and subservient to the Objectivist ethics. Politics is an extension of ethics in the context of the life of an individual into the social context of the life of an individual living among other individuals. Thus, morally, the purpose of a government is to sustain for every individual the same freedom to pursue life consistent with his ethics that he would have if no government existed at all. The rights defined to protect individual autonomy impose only negative obligations to refrain from interfering with any individual's autonomy. The goal for radical capitalism is simply to assure that all human interrelationships are voluntary. Summarized into one principle, it is to assure that:

No person shall initiate the use of physical force or the threat thereof to gain, withhold, or destroy any tangible or intangible value owned by any other person who either created it or acquired it in a voluntary exchange.

This effectively defines the prerequisite for attaining a coercion-less society. It is a principle that cannot be opposed without advocating the use of force by one person or group of persons against others to dictate their choices of action or take away their earned values. Now apply that to your concerns.

Michael M said...

Part 2 of 3: Re taxation:

Objectivism rejects all taxation, because it constitutes an initiation of force by one group (a majority) to take the earned values of others without their consent and use if for purposes they choose. If you have never considered such an idea, i empathize with your initial disbelief. But given that all the government does is achieved by ordinary citizens, the logistics are just a question of how would they be most effectively managed and by whom if coercion were removed from the process.

If no one forced people to pay for their defense, do you think they would be unable to find a way to defend themselves by other systems and means? If you were taking a class in political science and your final grade depended on outlining a plausible system that could not be knocked down by the average blogger, would you write "it won't work" on a piece of paper and turn it in? Here's a hint: is anyone being forced by the majority to produce the infrastructure that makes this blog possible? Who is paying for the benefit it is to you and me?

Regardless of your ability or anyone else's to figure this out or not, the opposition of Objectivism to taxation is not the economics of it. It is the immorality of it. The motivation to devise a method by which government will be funded without coercion is the necessary moral conclusion that if you can't figure it out you can't have a government — a moral government, that is. The Objectivist position is that morality is ever a higher priority than convenient logistics.

Michael M said...

Part 3 of 3: Re war:

Since the moral claim to autonomy implies a moral obligation to grant it to others, no one may violate any individual's autonomy without forfeiting any claim to one's own. You can't have your cake and eat it too. In the extension of this moral principle to politics, to violate individual rights is to forfeit one's own (=justification for imprisonment of criminals).

A government that routinely violates the individual rights of their own citizens and/or those of other countries likewise has no rights to claim against any invader who would seek to replace it with one that would defend those rights. Thus, the right to invade Iran in the defense of the rights of its persecuted citizens and the threat of force Iran represents to the citizens of that invader is a valid one.

If there were an Objectivist government in America, however, the choice to actually invade or not would be very different from the discussion of what the present government should or should not do. When funding of military operations is a choice and not an obligation, there would have to be an enormous consensus supporting it who would be willing to bear the cost alone if necessary. They would also have to be able to withstand the personal and commercial shunning/boycott of the opposition. That alone would have a dampening effect on the readiness of a country to go to war, the extent of which has never been seen.

To debate this issue in the present context is to step into a moral quagmire wherein the Objectivists are the number one victims, not the victimizers. The ones, like Peikoff, advocating the replacement of the regime in Iran are necessarily focused on the logistics of protecting ourselves in the long-run, and so far their assessment has proven to be prescient. They initially opposed the invasion of Iraq by Bush, favoring instead a direct strike on the real source of terrorism, Iran. They would prefer that such involvement be wholly voluntary on the part of the citizens of this country, but that is beyond their power and fruitless to even advocate thanks to all who like you unequivocally support funding such decisions with forcefully extracted funds.

I am not interested in discussing the ins and outs of declaring war on Iran — like I said .... "quagmire." I only respond to you in attempt to put you on more solid footing when dealing with the threat you currently perceive the burgeoning interest in Objectivism to be. You are reacting to the superficial appearance of the positions of some Objectivists with no understanding of the deeper underlying principles. The philosophy has a hierarchical structure. You won't get anywhere throwing rocks against its outer walls. You must first grasp the principles by which it has been engineered, point to errors in the calculations, and demonstrate exactly how those errors contradict the 'physics' of reality.

Fester said...

Michael, you still have given me no answer to how you will fund this voluntary government, or what would make it a government if were voluntary. I believe in the non-aggression principle and that is why I have rejected the concept that it can co-exist with any sort of government. The definition of government is a monopoly privilege on the use of force
(i.e. the use of aggression) normally in a geographic area. I agree with the assertion that all the government does has been and can be achieved by ordinary people if they wish to do the same thing, but then that begs the question "why then do insist that there continue to be some sort of government?", instead of just letting people act freely.

If no one was forced to pay for the military and you still wanted to start a war in Iran, I wouldn't care as much. That is not the world we live in so when an objectivist advocates for war, they are advocating the use of force against me. You can try and justify it as a good idea, but it won't fly from a moral perspective in the world we currently live in.

From your description of Objectivism it sounds more like market anarchism, but from the reality of what objectivists actually advocate it is more minarchism. I think once you resolve the inconsistencies in your thought process you will find that you are not an Objectivist, but a market anarchist.

Fester said...

Michael, I recommend you check out Stefan Molyneux. He was an objectivist for most of his life and a few years ago he realized he was really a market anarchist. He has many many podcasts, but if you are new to him I would start with his books (my favorite is everyday anarchy) and then move on to the podcasts. I honestly think that if you consistantly apply the non-aggression principle, you will find that Objectivism is not a good fit for your beliefs. We are not much different in our beliefs from what you have said, but I am afraid that your beliefs do not really reflect those of most Objectivists if you truly believe in the NAP and believe in a society with zero taxation.