Sunday, August 14, 2016

Is There a 'Balance' Between the Rights of the Individual and the Benefits to Society?

In my blog post of 1/12/16, How We Pay for Other People’s Education in a Free Society regarding the New Jersey Star-Ledger editorial If you believe in racial equity, don't opt out of PARCC (The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers standardized test),
I covered my answer to a New Jersey Star-Ledger correspondent regarding the financing of education. In my answer, I countered Dale’s collectivist defense of education taxes with an individualist rebuttal.

Dale subsequently replied to me in detail, which I’ll answer here. The conversation takes place under a comment from Reed Rothchild, who argued for individual responsibility in education.

Dale replied:

As with all good things, there needs to be a balance. In this case, there needs to be a balance between the rights of the individual and the benefits to society.

For example, let us say that your municipality does not pick up your garbage and you are required to pay for garbage pickup. If you own a house in a residential neighborhood, should you as an individual be permitted to allow trash to pile up on your property? If you own the property, should you just be permitted to do what you want regardless of the odor, aesthetic, rodent, and health issues that rotting garbage would cause for others in your neighborhood?

There are many things as a member of society that you may not want to pay for in your taxes. Maybe you oppose that your money goes to fund a war that you disagree with; maybe you do not want your tax money to pay for a highway in another state or even in your own town; maybe you do not feel the need to have police services or fire services because you believe that you can take care of all security and emergency issues on your own.

Dictionary.com defines society as "a highly structured system of human organization for large-scale community living that normally furnishes protection, continuity, security, and a national identity for its members." Society is more than a group of individuals working together solely for their own self-interests. Certainly individualized self-interest is part of being human but that is not the only part.

Our nation, and other prosperous nations, work not only because of individual self-interest but acknowledgement that there is something greater than ourselves. Working together in some manner allows us to have roads, bridges, tunnels, the Internet, airports, businesses, consumer goods, and the like.

Libertarianism has many attractive elements, some of which can be effectively incorporated into our society and other societies. However, any type of -ism taken to the extreme will not function effectively and justly in reality. [Emphasis added]

What is meant by “there needs to be a balance between the rights of the individual and the benefits to society?” What is Dale actually advocating when he says “Society is more than a group of individuals working together solely for their own self-interests. Certainly individualized self-interest is part of being human but that is not the only part?”

To decipher what those words mean in actual practice, we need to step back and examine the concept “society.”

Dale speaks of “society” as if it is an entity. But where would I go to observe this entity? If I look up, would I see society in the sky, hovering over mankind? Or would I find it in the woods down the street, of in Yellowstone National Park? How about under that rock over there, or under the ocean? Where do I find this thing Dale calls “society” that my rights must be “balanced” against?

No matter how hard you try, you will never be able to observe “society.” You will, however, observe individual human beings. Why? Because “society” is an abstraction, while individual human beings exist in reality. In fact, individual human beings are the only human entity that exists in reality. Individuals alone can think and act; sometimes cooperatively, sometimes alone. Either way, all human activity is individual. This is observably true. Only individuals can think and generate action. “Society” can not. Abstractions are creations of the human mind whose purpose is to aid in the thought required to understand the objects that exist. Society, as an abstraction, can not act.

The concept “society” is useful only when mentally connected to its referent in reality, the individuals that constitute it. You’d never be able to distinguish that difference between society and individuals in that Dictionary.com definition cited by Dale, or in Dale’s words. Both are corrupted by a kind of mysticism.

So, back to the opening question: What is Dale inferring? Since society does not exist, Dale is essentially saying that the rights of some individuals must be “balanced” against the “rights” of other individuals to trample the first group’s rights; that some individuals qualify as “society” while others do not; that, in the name of “society,” the “benefits” of some may be obtained at the expense of unwilling others; that the self-interest of some may be forcibly overridden by the alleged self-interest of others; that any mob claiming the title of “society” can run roughshod over any individual[s] it pleases, in the name of some arbitrary “balance” between the group of individuals constituting the mob and individualized self-interest; that some members of society may make serfs out of other members of society, with the government as the hired gun.

To personalize the issue, one might ask, aren’t all individuals equal members of society? If so, then what gives any particular individual the right to define education taxes as a benefit to society? What gives Dale the right to impose his idea of societal benefit on me? What makes Dale more of a member of society than me?

If you’ve ever wondered how America came to be a “cold civil war” of political pressure groups fighting to legally force their will on all others, under the banner of the benefit to society, just read Dale’s posts.

As to more specific points raised by Dale, it’s true that individual rights is not a sanction to do as you please regardless of the effect on others. Others have rights, too. In the example cited by Dale in his second paragraph, he asks, “If you own the property, should you just be permitted to do what you want regardless of the odor, aesthetic, rodent, and health issues that rotting garbage would cause for others in your neighborhood?” The answer is no. No one should be allowed to use his property in a way that contaminates his neighbor’s property, thus violating the other property owner’s rights. But neither does your neighbor have the right to seize your money to pay for his or anyone else’s education.

It’s also true that protecting rights costs money. Some form of taxation is required for that purpose. And yes, “There are many things as a member of society that you may not want to pay for in your taxes.” And you shouldn’t have to. In a fully rights-respecting society, no individual would be forced to pay any tax. All taxes would be voluntary. That day is a long way off. Until that day, we should distinguish between taxes that support the proper functions of government and those that don’t. Since the only proper function of government is to protect individual rights—such as sanctioning the polluter in Dale’s example—any taxation that does not support the military, local and state police, the law courts, patent office, and so on should be targets for elimination. Education taxes should be high on the elimination list.

Dale asserts, “Society is more than a group of individuals working together solely for their own self-interests.” No, it’s not. In fact, the only kind of society that is moral and just is precisely one that represents “a group of individuals working together solely for their own self-interests”—that is, working together, or not, based on voluntary, mutually beneficial association, cooperation, and contract known as trade.

There can be no balance between society and the individual. Since only the individual exists, only the rights of individuals are to be considered in establishing the legal framework for society. Any “acknowledgement that there is something greater than ourselves” is the path to statism—i.e., the supreme state—and an end to the freedom of actual individuals to pursue their own self-interest. There is no harmony between statism and liberty because collectivism and individualism are irreconcilable opposites. There is only a choice between a turn to liberty or the kind of steady erosion of individual liberty that America has been experiencing almost since its birth, but especially since the so-called “Progressive Era” a hundred years ago.

Related Reading:



3 comments:

Mike Kevitt said...

"Is there a 'balance' between the rights of the individual and the benefits to society?" The answer is: No. Now, I'll read the rest of this posting.

Mike Kevitt said...

I've now read this whole posting. I find I have agreement. The answer is: No. I just didn't want to go into any details, except to read then from somebody else. But there's a limit to that, too.

I only add this: If, in the distant future, people pay their 'taxes' 'voluntarily', it won't be because they're trying to be nice guys. It'll be because new concepts of human action and human relations will be formed and adopted throughout human culture, and old concepts about the same will be discarded and forgotten. Basically, people will pay for law and government, as per the new concept of it, just like they pay for groceries at the grocery store. It will be not just a moral, but also, an epistemological transformation.

Michael A. LaFerrara said...

"It will be not just a moral, but also, an epistemological transformation."

True. We have a lot of work to do.