Friday, December 13, 2019

QUORA: 'What makes Wikipedia so detested by teachers?'

QUORA: What makes Wikipedia so detested by teachers?

[Sub-note from QUORA: “You were redirected because the question What makes Wikipedia so detested by teachers? was merged with this question.”]

Who knows? Maybe frustrated intellectual power-lust. The teaching profession has lost some power to influence their students’ minds because Wikipedia has made it so easy to check what they’re being taught. Or maybe teachers just resent being questioned by students who have consulted Wikipedia.

In any event, at least one teacher gave Wikipedia it’s proper due. Richard Muller, Prof Physics, UC Berkeley, author of "Physics for Future Presidents", had a great answer. Not only does Muller not discourage kids from consulting Wikipedia, he affirmatively encourages them to use it. 

[Students] have been scolded for using Wikipedia. And yet they had discovered that starting with Wikipedia was the best way to research a topic. Finally, from me, they heard someone in a position of authority confirming what they already had determined to be true. 

I agree. It’s refreshing whenever I encounter a teacher who has such a strong sense of self to proclaim that he doesn’t know everything. A true educator seeks to encourage self-learning and expand his students’ knowledge, wherever that comes from. Collectively, the teaching profession is the most full-of itself profession. It’s over-inflated sense of its own importance evades the fact that by far most learning occurs after the student has left school. The ability to self-learn and a love of doing so are the legacies of a great teacher. And there are great teachers. Muller concludes:

When I was a student, Wikipedia didn’t exist, and the teachers admonished us never to look up answers in an Encyclopedia. Of course I used encyclopedias! And I learned how to disguise the fact that I did so. Now it is Wikipedia.

Amen. A “teacher” who discourages students from looking outside the classroom for knowledge and perspective and bringing it into the classroom, be it Wikipedia, Fox News or CNN, books, et al, is not a true educator. There is no one source for learning.

I left this simple reply to Muller:

My middle school granddaughter told me that a teacher discouraged students from using Wikipedia, saying “You can’t trust everything you read on Wikipedia.” My answer: “You can’t trust everything a teacher tells you, either.”

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

QUORA: ‘Why do law schools teach constitutional law but not the Declaration of Independence as an animating principle?’

Here is my posted answer:

I can’t answer the question directly. But I strongly suspect that the answer lies in the field of political philosophy and that the omission is not accidental.

The question points to a crucial philosophical conflict that has been raging for 200 years. The final outcome of this battle will ultimately determine the future of America as a free country. Constitutional and legal scholar Timothy Sandefur takes on this divide in his book, The Conscience of the Constitution: The Declaration of Independence and the Right to Liberty. In this book, Sandefur answers the question “Is liberty or democracy the primary constitutional value?”

At a time when Americans are increasingly facing violations of their civil liberties, Timothy Sandefur's insightful new book explains why the Declaration of Independence, with its doctrines on the primacy of liberty, the natural rights of man, and the limits on legitimate government, should serve as the guidepost for understanding the Constitution. The author takes the reader through the ideas of substantive due process and judicial activism and defends them from mainstream criticisms while drawing on examples from literature, television, and Supreme Court cases. The Conscience of the Constitution: The Declaration of Independence and the Right to Liberty argues that modern legal doctrines, which value democracy over liberty, are endangering individual rights and corrupting our civic institutions.
Obviously, those who value liberty honor the Declaration of Independence. Statists have every reason to devalue the Declaration. Sandefur comes down squarely on the side of individual liberty, as do I. Pro-liberty forces have powerful backing for the belief that the Declaration is the Constitution’s, and the nation’s, “animating principle.” Giants such as leading Abolitionist Frederick Douglass drew upon the Declaration in his fight to end slavery.  Emancipationist President Abraham Lincoln, Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, and Gay Rights leader Harvey Milk did as well in their fights for equal political rights. 

Do the law schools really not teach the Declaration of Independence as an animating principle? If not, shame on them, because as Harvey Milk put it, 

In the Declaration of Independence it is written “All men are created equal and they are endowed with certain inalienable rights . . . .” That’s what America is. No matter how hard you try, you cannot erase those words from the Declaration of Independence.

Related Reading:

Saturday, December 7, 2019

There is No Society to “Pay Back” To

Letter published in the New Jersey Star-Ledger, March 26, 2018, page 6 (not available online as of this writing):

It’s called paying back to society

To the letter writer who wants to know why he should have to pay for NJ transit upgrades when he doesn’t use mass transit (“Murphy’s taxes will eat up federal tax cuts,” March 23): All the people who do use mass transit could be in their own cars, which would make everyone’s lives more miserable because of the massive increase in traffic and pollution. And why should you pay school taxes even though you don’t have kids in school? Because the kids in school today will be the health care providers and scientists and engineers, etc., who will be running the world that you live in tomorrow. That is what a society does.

Barbara Egger, Lakewood

This is one of the most devious arguments for forced redistribution of wealth.

Society doesn’t “do” anything. “Society”  is an abstraction denoting a number of individuals. Only individuals think, learn, work, and trade. The premise behind catchphrases like “paying back to society" is that some people must be forced to hand their money over to the state, so that some politically connected others can use the gun-backed machinery of government to legally force their values on unwilling individuals.

It’s true that, without mass transit, traffic would increase. But that doesn’t explain why an auto commuter should subsidize a rail commuter. I may benefit with less traffic. But he benefits through lower auto expenses, less traffic aggravation, and convenience. Mass transit is not conducive to all travelers and all occupations. Why should I, a construction tradesman, subsidize a professional who works out of the same office day after day? Why does he rate a lower fare at my expense?

The argument for school taxes is even worse. Many become health care providers, scientists, and engineers. But I don’t benefit from any of those fields without paying an actual health care provider, scientist, or engineer—not all of them, just the few that I patronize. And many people go into fields I never use, such as work for tobacco companies. Why should I pay for them? Others may go into a life of crime, or become politicians who advocate for government policies with which I disagree, such as government schools. Why should I pay for them?

Collectivism is a great moral escape hatch. It serves as a semi-plausible justification for running roughshod over others. But there is no moral justification for forcing some individual members of society to pay the expenses of other members—especially in a field like education, where school taxes in effect put government officials in charge of what is being taught, how it is being taught, and to what end. State schools are not a feature of a free society.  

In a just society, parents pay for educating their own minor children. Career education is ultimately the responsibility of the adult individual. I pay for the education of the doctor, the engineer, the plumber only indirectly as and when I need a doctor’s or an engineer’s or a plumber’s service, through the fees, salaries, or wages of the doctor, engineer, or plumber, when and as I choose. I have no unchosen obligation to pay for anyone’s education, kid or adult, under the rationalization that they “will be running the world that you live in tomorrow,” when in fact they will be running their own lives and financially benefiting from their own chosen occupations. And no one has the obligation to pay for mine. To force people to pay other people’s expenses through government taxes is a moral abomination. To justify the moral abomination through collectivist sloganeering—like “paying back to society” or “That is what a society does”—just adds an unhealthy dose of dishonesty to the moral abomination.

Related Reading:

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

QUORA: 'Could the 9th amendment about non-enumerated rights mean that healthcare is right?'

If this question refers to the “right to healthcare” as advocated by Bernie Sanders and his ilk, then the answer is, No. 

Rights are not arbitrary creations of government or politicians. Rights belong to individuals, and only individuals—no other unit of humanity exists. A right is a guarantee of freedom of action to pursue a goal without coercive interference from others. A right is not a guarantee of achieving that goal. There is no right to goods or services that others must be forced to provide. There is no right to enslave. Therefore, there is no right to healthcare other than what you can secure for yourself, or what others are willing to provide voluntarily through trade or charity. 

The concept of individual rights as unalienable, also known as natural rights and which the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution refer to, means that all individuals possess the same rights, which means one’s right to act ends where the violation of others rights begin. Rights precede government, which is created “to secure these rights.” The unalienable rights of others constitutes the boundary beyond which the rightful actions of any individual cannot go, including individuals as elected legislators or government officials acting on their constituents’ behalf. The Ninth Amendment refers only to these unalienable rights. 

For those interested in digging much deeper into the issue, I recommend Tara Smith, Moral Rights and Political Freedom, and Randy E. Barnett, Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty Chapters 9 (“The Mandate of the Ninth Amendment”) & 10 (“The Presumption of Liberty: Protecting Rights Without Listing Them”).

Related Reading:

Sunday, December 1, 2019

With Her Proposed ‘Corporate Perjury’ Law, Elizabeth Warren’s Attack on Free Speech Accelerates

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday proposed a new “corporate perjury” law that she would pursue if elected to the White House, inspired by Exxon Mobil Corp’s (XOM.N) past failure to share accurate climate change research with government regulators.

[C]ompanies and executives could face criminal liability for false information they knowingly provide to U.S. agencies, leading to up to $250,000 in fines or jail time.

“No one would be liable for mistakes, for submitting research in good faith that turns out to be wrong, or for raising honest disagreements,” Warren wrote on the website Medium.

“But where companies engage in egregious and intentional efforts to mislead agencies in an effort to prevent our government from understanding and acting on facts, they will face criminal liability,” she added.

Who decides what information is "false" or "misleading?" Who gets to distinguish “mistakes, good faith, and honest disagreements” from “egregious and intentional efforts to mislead?” Government officials, that's who; that is, the people with the power of the gun (regulation) over private business—the very people whom the law would legally disarm. What executive is going to risk jail when an “honest disagreement” can be spin-doctored by government regulators into “false information?”

The dictatorial arm of Warren’s proposed law would reach beyond corporations and their officers. Warren specifically called out a private intellectual advocacy group that Exxon helped fund:

Warren noted in the early 2000s, Exxon paid nearly a third of the annual budget of the group Frontiers of Freedom, which promoted industry-friendly research minimizing climate change risks. Tobacco companies such as Phillip Morris (MO.N) and RJ Reynolds also provided the limited-government group with financial support. 

What about government officials, politicians, and Environmental advocacy groups that maximize—i.e.,  exaggerate—climate change risks? What about researchers who do the same? Who will hold them accountable, especially since they influence policies that increase government control and correspondingly diminish individual freedom. 

And why is only “industry-funded research” suspect, but not politically-funded—that is, government-funded—research? The answer is obvious; because government-funded research is more likely to support increased government power and control. Warren, after all, is a statist. Is it any wonder that a demagogue seeking unlimited power would want to dry up funding for people advocating for limited government, but not for people advocating unlimited control? 

The Democrats’’ hostility to the First Amendment grows more open. Warren’s “corporate perjury” law is another attack on free speech, another plan to silence victims of government control and prevent them from defending themselves, another plan to stifle dissent. The focus on "climate change research" as the "inspiration" is no accident. The "climate crisis" has been adopted by the socialists' as their path to totalitarian controls. If the Democrats get their way, political prisons will inevitably follow. 

This is further proof that intellectual freedom cannot last without economic freedom. Government regulators who control economic activity will now have the power to threaten not just ruinous fines but jail for executives unless they get only information that supports the political agenda of the party that controls the executive branch (which oversees the regulatory agencies). 

Yes, government agencies should be “acting on facts.” But who determines what is factual and what isn’t? Some Ministry of Truth? No. Facts can only be determined in a political atmosphere of intellectual freedom, where everyone is free to offer their opinion without fear and anyone is free to challenge and rebut. Truth is an open-ended quest. Only in complete intellectual freedom can beliefs be determined as true or false, prior beliefs be questioned, and facts arrived at to the best of current knowledge. 

Truth- and fact- seeking is the province of free minds and free markets, but the enemy of tyranny. Given her socialist designs on America, Warren’s proposed law is no surprise.

Related Reading:

Among the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment is the right "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." 

The unlimited right to petition the government—to lobby the lawmakers who make decisions that affect your life, your family, your fortune, and your business—is a right that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) thinks American businesses should not have. 

"The right of every person in this country to petition their government does not protect a multi-billion-dollar influence industry whose sole purpose is to undermine democracy and tilt every decision in favor of those who can pay," is the way she put it at one recent rally. It's great to see Warren acknowledge the First Amendment's right to petition the government for redress of grievances. But if she's so dismissive of the right of petition, imagine how she feels about the First Amendment rights of speech, of the press, and of assembly—all of which would be similarly trampled by her series of proposals to curtail political speech.

Unfortunately, rather than challenging Warren on the constitutionality of her plans, Biden is imitating them, at least when it comes to the assault on the First Amendment. This week, Biden announced an effort to amend the Constitution "to entirely eliminate private dollars from our federal elections."

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

A Thanksgiving Message

[This year I want to express my thankfulness for the discovery of property rights. A person's property is the product of his own mind, expressed in the external world. As Ayn Rand explains,
The right to life is the source of all rights—and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life. The man who produces while others dispose of his product, is a slave. 
Bear in mind that the right to property is a right to action, like all the others: it is not the right to an object, but to the action and the consequences of producing or earning that object. It is not a guarantee that a man will earn any property, but only a guarantee that he will own it if he earns it. It is the right to gain, to keep, to use and to dispose of material values.
[Your most important property right is your person--your nind and body. You can't separate your mind (your spirit) from your material self. So this Thanksgiving, I give thanks to the philosophers like John Locke and Ayn Rand and intellectuals like the Founding Fathers and many other Enlightenment thinkers for giving us the practical and moral knowledge and legal protections that our property rights depend upon, without which we would all be basically slaves.]


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.

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.

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.

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:

On Thanksgiving, Be Grateful for Property Rights: There’s no reason to celebrate collective ownership By John Stossel

Saturday, November 23, 2019

For ‘Agree to Disagree’ to have Meaning, We Must Respect Each Others’ Rights

Every so often, someone will offer, as a “fix” for our contentious political discourse, a plea for people to “agree to disagree.” A recent New Jersey Star-Ledger letter is another example of that. In Let’s Agree to Disagree, school teacher Madelaine Riback declared herself “appalled by what I read, hear and see, whether it’s about the national scene, state, town or school board.” In advising us on how to evaluate candidates, we should resolve to “respect each others’ points of view in a respectful way, even if they are different from our own.”

We need to fact check what candidates say to see if what they say is even feasible. We need to listen to all candidates to see how they present themselves and learn about their character. I want representatives who are smart, diligent, respectful and respected. 

Four times the word “respect” is mentioned. In conclusion, “I feel as if the human race is succumbing to animalistic behaviors. Can’t we just be civil and agree to disagree?”

Certainly we must engage on the battleground of ideas in an intellectual way. Others’ viewpoints, no matter how opposed to one’s own, deserve a respectful hearing. Indeed, the only way to counter and defeat ideas one disagrees with or even abhors is to know what they are, challenge them directly, and then propose better ideas. “Animalistic behaviors”--emotional outbursts--won’t do it. But is respecting each other’s points of view in a respectful way enough? I posted these comments, edited for clarity:

“Agree to disagree” won’t fix our electoral mayhem. 

The call for people to agree to disagree must mean not just respecting others’ points of view, but more importantly honoring the rights of those who disagree to go on with their lives unmolested. Yet our political arena is full of people who want to get into office in order to use the legal machinery of the state to force their values on others in myriad ways. This tactic is increasing with each election thanks to the ongoing growth of government control over virtually all areas of our lives, and the corresponding ongoing erosion of our individual liberty. 

Consider the renewed calls for mandatory universal national service. I believe such a program is morally wrong. Yet many candidates shamelessly want to use the law-making machinery of government to force it on everyone. That means forcing my grandchildren into a year or two of involuntary servitude. Where is the “agree to disagree” if the people I disagree with want to force their values on me, my grandchildren, and anyone else who disagrees?

It’s not enough to “respect each others’ points of view.” Our appalling election culture can only get worse until we rediscover America’s Founding principles of constitutionally limited government and the inalienable individual rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Most people still profess belief in those ideals, but only superficially. Few of us would ever think of forcing our values on others in our private lives. But those moral constraints go out the window when we turn to politics. Our elections will continue to bring out “the worst of people” until we actually apply those principles in the political arena. We must realize that our government should be subordinated to the same principles most of us live by as private citizens. That’s the real promise and purpose of the U.S. Constitution. Only then will agree to disagree actually work in our elections.

I wonder how Riback describes the United States of America. Does she refer to it as a democracy? If so, she should realize that democracy is tailor-made to bring out “the worst of people instead of the best”—which is why the Founding Fathers took pains to restrict the democratic process so as to protect individual rights. They created a constitutionally limited republic designed to make sure that our fundamental rights to life, liberty, and property are protected from the electorate. Today, despite our constitution and its philosophical foundation, the Declaration of Independence, our lives, liberties, and property are increasingly at risk with each passing election. Agree to disagree has no chance in America until we roll back the democratic assault on our inalienable rights.

Related Reading: