Sunday, November 26, 2023

[PP] QUORA: ‘Wouldn’t Heaven literally be Hell? Imagine living forever and ever and ever . . .?

QUORA: ‘Wouldn’t Heaven literally be Hell? Imagine living forever and ever and ever and you can’t do anything to stop it… Wouldn’t you go mentally crazy at some point?’

I posted this answer:

This question struck a chord with me, primarily because I am a Twilight Zone fan. The Twilight Zone’s creator, Rod Serling, was a master at concretizing abstract ideas through very  interesting, captivating entertainment. And Serling dealt with this very question, in slightly expanded fashion, in the episode A Nice Place to Visit.


In this episode, a two-bit thief with a history of bad behavior dating back to his childhood, Henry Valentine, nicknamed Rocky, is shot and killed by police during a gunfight. He awakens to who he thinks is his guardian angel standing over him. The “angel,” identified only as Mr. Pip, announces that his job is to grant Mr. Valentine his every desire on demand, be it beautiful women, wads of money, great food, winning at gambling, or even the chance of getting caught robbing a bank or losing occasionally at the craps table—anything, at any time, all pre-arranged by Mr. Pip.

Rocky, initially ecstatic, soon tires and grows increasingly frustrated of getting everything he wants, when he wants, without any chance of losing or failing. Without the challenge, Rocky muses to Mr. Pip, “It’s not the same.” Toward the end of the episode, Rocky tells Mr. Pip that eternally getting every desire provided at will does not provide satisfaction, but instead will make him “go nuts.” He tells Mr. Pip that heaven is not for him, that maybe he belongs in “the other place.” To which Mr. Pip declares, through a demonic laughter, “Whatever gave you the idea you were in Heaven . . .? This is the other place!”

I am an atheist. But I’ve often wondered about religionists’ promises that if you lived a virtuous life—by their standard—you would be rewarded after death with a trip to heaven, where you will live in eternal happiness. Happiness without effort . . . eternally . . . “forever and ever and ever,” as the questioner so succinctly puts it. That prospect always sounded hellish to me. 

Maybe it is Hell—”the other place”—and the joke is on us. Given that religious ethics commands us to put the happiness of others above our own as the price of getting into Heaven, maybe real virtue means working to achieve our own personal happiness through honorable means.

Have a watch of A Nice Place to Visit

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

A Thanksgiving Message for 2023

I’ll use Thanksgiving 2023 to express my profound thanks for Global Capitalism. Though incomplete, battered, demonized, attacked by populists Left and Right, the spread of Global Capitalism since 1980 has brought billions out of extreme poverty and billions more into the middle class. Global extreme poverty plummeted from more than 40% in 1980 to less than 10% today. At the same time, the share of the world population living middle class (or higher) lives has passed 50% for the first time in human history. The last four decades is but the latest chapter in what Deirdre McCloskey accurately calls The Great Enrichment enabled by the rise of modern Capitalism—itself the result of Enlightenment values such as individual rights and limited government. 

Reprinted below are two thanksgiving messages that I think captures the true essence of Thanksgiving, a holiday practiced only in America. Regardless of how one believes he came into existence (God or nature), the reality is that man is a being of self-generated wealth based on reason who requires certain social conditions for his survival. America was the first country founded explicitly on those conditions; i.e., a country where every individual owns his own life and possesses inalienable rights to life, liberty, property, and to the pursuit of his own happiness, coupled inextricably with the obligation to accept the reality that all people are equally endowed with these rights and to treat them accordingly.

It is thus that America, born of the enlightenment ideas of individualism, reason, and republican government, achieved in the span of a mere two hundred-plus years (following centuries of stagnation) its spectacular standard of living. The ensuing excerpts are from two essays that I believe correctly recognize where the credit for America's material plenty belongs: to any man or woman, on whatever level of ability or accomplishment, who contributed in a great or small way to American greatness by doing an honest and productive day's work in pursuit of his or her own well-being.

Thanksgiving: A Most Selfish Holiday by Debi Ghate

Ah, Thanksgiving. To most of us, the word conjures up images of turkey dinner, pumpkin pie and watching football with family and friends. It kicks off the holiday season and is the biggest shopping weekend of the year. We're taught that Thanksgiving came about when pilgrims gave thanks to God for a bountiful harvest. We vaguely mumble thanks for the food on our table, the roof over our head and the loved ones around us. We casually think about how lucky we are and how much better our lives are than, say, those in Bangladesh. But surely there is something more to celebrate, something more sacred about this holiday.

What should we really be celebrating on Thanksgiving?

Ayn Rand described Thanksgiving as "a typically American holiday . . . its essential, secular meaning is a celebration of successful production. It is a producers' holiday. The lavish meal is a symbol of the fact that abundant consumption is the result and reward of production." She was right.

What is today's version of the "bountiful harvest"? It's the affluence and success we've gained. It's the cars, houses and vacations we enjoy. It's the life-saving medicines we rely on, the stock portfolios we build, the beautiful clothes we buy and the safe, clean streets we live on. It's the good life.

How did we get this "bountiful harvest"? Ask any hard-working American; it sure wasn't by the "grace of God." It didn't grow on a fabled "money tree." We created it by working hard, by desiring the best money can buy and by wanting excellence for ourselves and our loved ones. What we don't create ourselves, we trade value for value with those who have the goods and services we need, such as our stockbrokers, hairdressers and doctors. We alone are responsible for our wealth. We are the producers and Thanksgiving is our holiday.

So, on Thanksgiving, why don't we thank ourselves and those producers who make the good life possible?

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to recognize what we are truly grateful for, to appreciate and celebrate the fruits of our labor: our wealth, health, relationships and material things--all the values we most selfishly cherish. We should thank researchers who have made certain cancers beatable, gourmet chefs at our favorite restaurants, authors whose books made us rethink our lives, financiers who developed revolutionary investment strategies and entrepreneurs who created fabulous online stores. We should thank ourselves and those individuals who make our lives more comfortable and enjoyable--those who help us live the much-coveted American dream.

As you sit down to your decadent Thanksgiving dinner served on your best china, think of all the talented individuals whose innovation and inventiveness made possible the products you are enjoying. As you look around at who you've chosen to spend your day with--those you've chosen to love--thank yourself for everything you have done to make this moment possible. It's a time to selfishly and proudly say: "I earned this."
Debi Ghate is associated with the Ayn Rand Institute.
This Thanksgiving, Don't Say Grace, Say Justice by Craig Biddle

The religious tradition of saying grace before meals becomes especially popular around the holidays, when we all are reminded of how fortunate we are to have an abundance of life-sustaining goods and services at our disposal. But there is a grave injustice involved in this tradition.

Where do the ideas, principles, constitutions, governments, and laws that protect our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness come from? What is the source of the meals, medicines, homes, automobiles, and fighter jets that keep us alive and enable us to flourish? Who is responsible for our freedom, prosperity, and well-being?

Since God is responsible for none of the goods on which human life and happiness depend, why thank him for any such goods? More to the point: Why not thank those who actually are responsible for them? What would a just man do?

Justice is the virtue of judging people rationally--according to what they say, do, and produce--and treating them accordingly, granting to each man that which he deserves.

To say grace is to give credit where none is due--and, worse, it is to withhold credit where it is due. To say grace is to commit an act of injustice.

Rational, productive people--whether philosophers, scientists, inventors, artists, businessmen, military strategists, friends, family, or yourself--are who deserve to be thanked for the goods on which your life, liberty, and happiness depend. ... Thank or acknowledge the people who actually provide the goods. Some of them may be sitting right there at the table with you. And if you find yourself at a table where people insist on saying grace, politely insist on saying justice when they're through. It's the right thing to do.

Craig Biddle is the Editor of The Objective Standard.
I couldn't have said it better myself. These truths are obvious. A simple rudimentary knowledge of history, coupled with basic observation and logic, are all that's required to realize it. Thank you Debi Ghate and Craig Biddle!

Have a joyous, and well earned, Thanksgiving.

Related Reading:

The Star-Ledger's Thanksgiving Tantrum

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Should Reparations Include White Victims of Anti-Black Racism?

In Racism harms everyone, the New Jersey Star-Ledger Editorial Board’s Tom Moran interviewed with Heather McGhee, the author of a new book on race in America, “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.”

One question stuck out:


Q. How do you expect that to play out?

A. Reparations shouldn’t be seen through a zero sum lens. It’s not taking money from white people. The government did the enslaving, the excluding, the racist policies. We all pay into government today. This should be seen as seed capital for the America we deserve, where the past does not haunt our children today.'

It’s true that the government spearheaded slavery, Jim Crow laws, and segregation. But actual victims proven by evidence, not mere skin color or genetic lineage, should be the standard. Just as a person wrongfully incarcerated for a crime he didn't commit (or his family) can sue for damages from the government, so reparations must be tied to direct harm. If our own government did the injustice, it should pay--meaning the taxpayers foot the bill. 

McGhee is wrong on many counts, but she implies a valid argument for how reparations could play out. The debate would have to be over who gets the reparations. For example, should private businesses, regardless of owners' skin color, be able to collect for loss of business due to segregation laws (See Sowell)? Reparations should not become a grab bag of handouts, nor focussed only on blacks. McGhee should agree, since her whole premise is that we all suffer from racism and segregation. She brings up New Deal housing racism that excluded blacks. True enough. But weren't home builders victims, in the form of lost sales to black families? Weren’t  whites who lost access to community pools victims? Weren’t whites who lost housing options in integrated neighborhoods victims. If we're all victims, shouldn’t reparations go to all victims?

Of course, justice demands that reparations go to still-living victims. Why should people generations removed from the injustice be able to cash in on the dead victims’ suffering?

Another complication arises with time. McGhee flippantly asserts, “We all pay into government today.” Yes. But it was yesterday’s government that committed the crimes. I did not pay into the governments that legally enforced slavery, or segregated America ( I was only 15 when the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed.) When both the victims of government-enforced racist policies and the people responsible for that government are long dead, who can justly and logically be entitled to reparations, or be stuck with the bill?

And what about the political villains? The Democratic Party is the party of slavery, racism, lynching, and Jim Crow. Being the prime political mover of all of the very government that McGhee acknowledges did the enslaving, the excluding, the racist policies, should the Democratic Party be liable for the damages. But then the same question arises: Why should Democrats who weren’t around during the era of a pro-slavery Democratic Party be liable? Maybe they shouldn’t be. But in another sense they should be, because being a Democrat is a choice. To be a Democrat today, don’t you accept moral responsibility for the entire history of your party, especially since in some respects the party really hasn’t changed its stripes?

Aside from these arguments, McGhee urges us to see reparations as “seed capital for America. That sounds a lot like industrial central planning and another attempt to sneak in socialism through the back door.

You can go on and on dealing with complications and contradictions once you drift away from normal rules of evidence and proof and individual responsibility. Yes, the government did it. But no, that fact does not justify an open-ended, never ending flow of reparations to non-victim descendents.

Related Reading:

On New Jersey’s Proposed Bill to Study Racial Reparations

SUPPLEMENTAL TO ‘New Jersey’s Proposed Bill to Study Racial Reparations’: The ‘Slavery is Good Economics’ Argument

‘Reparations’; Another Leftist Path to Socialism

Why It’s So Important to Understand What Actually ‘Made America Great’ in the First Place

The Dem's Jim Crow 2.0

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Warren/Sanders Wealth Tax is Rooted in the Ultimate Collectivist Evil, Egalitarianism

Regarding Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders propose 3% wealth tax on billionaires, CNBC reports:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders and other Democrats on Monday proposed a 2% annual tax on wealth over $50 million, rising to 3% for wealth over $1 billion.

The Ultra-Millionaire Tax Act would aim to close the U.S. wealth gap, which has grown wider during the Covid pandemic.

This is the ultra-evil of Egalitarianism laid bare. Note that the rationale for the proposed wealth tax doesn’t even pretend to offer a positive benefit to anyone. It’s purpose is strictly to tear down the successful. It used to be that Leftist sought to take from the “haves” to give to the “have-nots.” It’s morally wrong, but at least their ostensible purpose was to economically lift the “less fortunate.” But who gains by “closing the wealth gap?” No one. The only purpose behind the Warren/Sanders wealth tax, by their own brazen admission, is to loot the successful because they are successful. That’s pure nihilism. That’s Egalitarianism. 

On a more practical level, you can't "close the wealth gap" or ever significantly "reign in" the gap without subjecting all or most Americans to the wealth tax and at much higher rates. As Reason’s Peter Suderman observes in Elizabeth Warren Still Wants a Wealth Tax. It Still Won't Work:

Warren's advocacy for the wealth tax is also born out of a desire for easy political targets who can shoulder the blame for whatever problems or pseudo-problems Warren wants to bring up. What Warren needs are villains.

The plan would, however, result in a huge uptick in tax-related hassle for ordinary, not-super-rich people: Beyond the annual tax on wealth, her plan would also pump an additional $100 billion into the Internal Revenue Service to beef up enforcement, and mandate 30 percent annual audit rate for the agency—meaning that nearly a third of American households would be audited every year.

This expansion in "enforcement" of a wealth tax bill can mean only one thing; to set the stage for a huge expansion of the wealth tax down the road. Given the logic of the basic Egalitarian premise behind the wealth tax--"fighting" [i.e. outlawing] wealth inequality--it is inevitable that every dime of Americans' wealth up and down the wealth scale must eventually be considered a target of the wealth tax, and at much greater percentages. After all, if a person with $50 million is targeted because his wealth is greater than those with less than $50 million, then the same logic can be used against people with net worth of $5 million, $500,000, $50,000, $5000, or $500.

A wealth tax is much more insidious than the Income tax. At least you know that once your income is taxed, the rest is yours, and the only additional tax you would owe is the earnings on your after-tax wealth, not your after-tax wealth itself. But under the Warren/Sanders wealth tax, none of your wealth can ever be safe from the Egalitarian looters—and for no other reason than that the next guy doesn’t have what you’ve earned, and that “wealth gap” must be closed.

Related Reading:

Leonard Peikoff on Egalitarianism, from The Dim Hypothesis, Page 171


‘Terrible Idea’ With ‘Dismal Track Record’: Top Economists Blast Elizabeth Warren’s Latest Proposal

‘Equity’ in Education is Inequitable and Anti-Education Excellence

‘Harrison Bergeron’ vs the Right Way to Address the ‘Achievement Gap’ in Education

Economic Egalitarianism Leads Directly to Racist Policies in NJ

QUORA *: ‘Why do people find communism so terrifying as an idea?’

How Egalitarianism Rewards Failure and Penalizes Success

President Obama, Stop Damning the Achievers for their Virtues—Harry Binswanger

Obama's Corrupt "Equality" Campaign and the 99/1 Premise

Saturday, November 4, 2023

The Separation of Press and State

The death of local news has been greatly exaggerated. That’s the message that comes across loud and clear in a revealing Washington Post report by Leonard Downie Jr., The rebirth of local news depends on all of us. Downie reports:

You’ve heard local news is dying. In fact, it might just be evolving.

Look around: Online nonprofit local and state news sites are proliferating. Some family newspaper owners are purchasing and investing in endangered small-town papers. A few billionaires have bought large metropolitan dailies. Some public radio stations, local television stations and even universities are getting into the act. Much of this is being seeded and nourished by philanthropic foundations and nonprofits.

American local newspapers had long depended on an economic model primarily supported by advertising and print subscriptions, both largely destroyed by the digital revolution. By contrast, the nascent revival of local news media is dependent on a variety of still evolving models. Here is a sampling of what is working and where.

Downie then catalogs the numerous examples of how private funding is underpinning this evolution. This is good news. It’s exactly how the market works, and a refreshing counterpoint to previous calls for a dangerous government bailout of local news. But the list contains a poison pill for press freedom, which is the subject of my posted comment:


Unfortunately, this otherwise hopeful accounting of the "evolving '' local news market in the digital age contains a dangerous element—the inclusion of government economic support as one element of the evolution. This is a dangerous equivocation, because government support is not market support, it is force. "[G]overnment support, so long as there are no strings attached" is a contradiction in terms. What about implicit strings? Once news outlets become hooked on political support, their independence and objectivity cannot be assumed. Government support is different in kind from the private methods of support highlighted throughout this article. It is the difference between force and voluntarism. And why should taxpayers be forced to support news outlets that they won't voluntarily patronize? The First Amendment reads "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom . . . of the press." I read that statement as establishing the complete separation of press and state, in the same way and for the same reasons as the opening line establishes the complete separation of religion and state. Keep the government at all levels out of the press. As this article makes clear, private market forces are fully suited to "saving" local news.

Related Reading:

The Pravda-ization of the American Press

New Jersey Civic Information Consortium’s Immoral Taxpayer Grab

Keep the press free from the academics and the politicians by Paul Mulshine

NJ Government Takes First Step to Becoming ‘the Sole Arbiter of Truth’

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

‘Banned Books Week’ vs. Real Book Banning

Did you know we just had “Banned Books Week?” Yes, there is such a thing. In America, of all places—as absurd as that sounds. It ran from October 1 - 7.

This silliness is a reaction, of course, to the controversies surrounding the appropriateness of certain books being carried in school libraries. A Washington Post article by Alyssa Rosenberg and Greg Sargent, It’s Banned Books Week. Here’s how to fight for libraries, covered the issue from the perspective of the side opposing the so-called book banners—i.e., the parents who object to their children being exposed to certain material they believe is inappropriate for their children. 

I will not wade into the controversy here. I’ve already done that here and here. My aim here is to push back against what I consider to be a gross misuse of wording and thus a gross misrepresentation of the issue. I posted this comment:

Can anyone cite one single instance of someone being fined, jailed, hung, burned at the stake, or forced into exile for owning any book in America? I ask because those outrages have been what has been inflicted throughout history on those who dared to violate ACTUAL book bans—books banned by government edict or laws. If you’ve ever read Jacob Mchangama’s excellent “Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media,” you’ll see what ACTUAL book banning looks like. 

Today, no books are banned in America. The powerful First Amendment won’t allow it. In classic Orwellian style, the Left has mischaracterized the controversy over what books are appropriate for school libraries as a battle over book banning. In fact, the issue is educational and involves age appropriateness of material available to children. There are no books that can’t be legally published and purchased by adults in America. Unfortunately, a tiny cabal of activists has managed to highlack the debate for it’s own narrow political ends, abetted by an uncritically compliant media. So-called “Banned Books Week'' is a fraud, and only serves to white-wash the legitimate competing issues and concerns surrounding school libraries and education, and demonize one side of the debate.

Related Reading:

NJ Proposed ‘Book Ban’ Law Seeks to Silence Parents, Debate and Dissent.

Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media by Jacob Mchangama 

Book-Banning vs. Age-Appropriate Educational Material

Real vs. Pseudo-Censorship

What the Parents’ Rights Movement is Really Really About

Friday, October 27, 2023

The Morals of the Israel/Hamas War—and the Vindication of Leonard Piekoff

The moral standing of the latest Israel/Hamas war is as bright a line as you’ll ever see. The aggressor is Hamas. The defender is Israel. From the moment Hamas launched its barbaric attack on Israel, every casualty on either side became the moral responsibility of Hamas, the aggressor. Every brick in the Gazan rubble resulting from the Israeli military retaliation; every drop of blood and every tear shed by Gazans, civilians, foreign nationals, or others, is the moral responsibility of Hamas. 

To be clear, let’s consider the alleged destruction of that hospital that was first reported to have resulted in hundreds of deaths. Hamas immediately blamed an Israeli air strike. It has since become clear that it was an errant missile fired by a Hamas ally. And the death total and damage to the hospital turned out to have been greatly exaggerated. But all of that is morally beside the point. Even if the original reports were accurate, and a strategically targeted Israeli air strike destroyed the hospital and killed many hundreds, the responsibility would be on Hamas. Hamas is the aggressor. Israel is the defender. That strike would not have happened but for Hamas’s attack on Israel.

From here on out, whatever death and destruction results from Israel’s avowed strategy to eradicate Hamas once and for all—including the use of nuclear weapons, if God forbid it comes to that, will be laid at the feet of Hamas and its master, the Islamic theocracy of Iran.

Which brings us to the next point. In 2001, right after the 9/11 attacks, Ayn Rand Institute founder Leonard Piekoff went on the Bill O’Reilly show to advocate for the response to the Islamic attack on America that he considered proper. In a contentious interview in which O’Reilly treated Piekoff at times less than respectful, Piekoff argued that the Taliban in Afghanistan was the wrong target. The right target, said Piekoff, was Iran, the spiritual and political head of the entire anti-civilization Islamic Totalitarian movement. Have a listen, think about where we are now, and then dare to tell me that Piekoff was wrong. 

Imagine where we’d be today had America followed Leonard Peikoff’s advice.

Related Reading:

The Jihad Against America and How to End It, by Craig Biddle for The Objective Standard blog

Winning the Unwinnable War: America's Self-Crippled Response to Islamic Totalitarianism, by Elan Journo

The War Between Enlightenment and Fundamentalist Political Islam—and the Choice All Muslims Must Make

Bush's Collapsing "War on Terror"

The "Forward Strategy" for Failure by Yaron Brook and Elan Journo

Related: Democracy in Action in Egypt

Ralph Peters: "Mesmerized by Elections, We Forgot Freedom"

Iraqi Democracy vs. Freedom

Mesmerized by Elections, the NJ Star-Ledger Forgot that Tyranny is Tyranny