Saturday, June 15, 2019

Was Ayn Rand a 'Hypocrite'? Does it Matter to Objectivism?

Because Ayn Rand was horribly self interested [sic], despised poor people, reified business, wrote horribly and became the ultimate hypocrite in her twilight years when she accepted state financial aid. Her theory was very weak, philosophically poor but extremely pretentious and simply did not hold up to scrutiny whatsoever.

Zehndorfer doesn’t provide any example of “scrutiny” that Rand’s “poor” philosophy doesn’t “hold up” under. But I felt like answering, anyway.

“Ayn Rand was . . . the ultimate hypocrite in her twilight years when she accepted state financial aid.”

As a Social Security recipient who is a conscientious objector to the program, I find this highly offensive.

As far as I can tell, the “state financial aid” Rand accepted was Medicare, a coercive government program that she, like everyone else, was and is forced to pay into, under threat of being dragged off in handcuffs and thrown into a prison cell for tax evasion. So accepting promised benefits of a coercive government program one is forced to pay for, even if morally opposed to the program, is not hypocrisy. It is justice. There is no moral conflict there. If you paid for it, you’re entitled to it, no ideological test required.

The opposite view focuses only on the benefits, while dishonestly ignoring the taxes. Since we are forced into Medicare and Social Security, we are entitled to the promised benefits for the same reason we are entitled to get out wallets back from a street thug who robbed us at gunpoint. When it comes to forced redistribution of wealth, there is no essential difference between turning over your wallet to the thug to avoid being shot or turning over your money to the tax collector to avoid being jailed.

The hypocrite accusation is a sleazy smear of anyone who advocates for a free society and rolling back the welfare state. I oppose tax-funded libraries and tax-funded state unemployment “insurance”. Am I a hypocrite for using the local public library, which my taxes pay for it? Am I a hypocrite for collecting state unemployment benefits if laid off, which my taxes pay for? The list can go on and on. It’s cruel to say it’s moral to force me to pay for the welfare state, but not moral to collect the promised benefits because I have dissenting views. The hypocrite accusation is a sneaky little gimmick to discredit and silence opponents of welfare statism.

Elesa replied, again without backup and again from ad hominem:

Hi Michael, Have you read Ayn Rands [sic] books? I have - all of them. I find her writing offensive and poorly thrown together. In the context of knowing her writing very well, my comments are ones I stand by completely. And yes, she was a hypocrite, if you know her life and philosophising well.

Elisa: Rand may have been hypocritical in some areas—I don’t know. I did not personally know her. But taking Medicare was not one of them, in my view. Yes, I have read all of Rand’s work—often more than once. But I do not conflate her personal life and opinions with her philosophy, which she called Objectivism. A philosopher's life is certainly open to examination. But I also believe a philosophy should be judged on its own merits, not the philosopher's personal behavior. (Personally, whatever her faults, I think she epitomizes the American Dream—a poor immigrant making something of her life.)

I have also read many Objectivist critiques. I believe I have a good grasp of Objectivism and many of the arguments against, and I find Objectivism to be a great guide to live by. So, we disagree. People should not draw final conclusions based on what you or I say, though, but should read her for themselves. Her writing is plenty clear. Sincerely, Mike. [PS; I’m puzzled by your charge that Rand “despised poor people.” I know of nothing about Objectivism or of her fiction and nonfiction writings that supports that view.]

Related Reading:

My answer to QUORA: ‘Why is it so difficult for many people to understand that selfishness is the middle between altruism and selfism when reading Ayn Rand?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

QUORA: Is Ayn Rand's 'Selfishness' 'the middle between altruism and selfism?'

I posted this answer:

I think the lack of understanding stems from the deep-seated moral preconceptions most of us are inculcated with. To understand Rand’s concept of morality, “the Objectivist Ethics”, one must completely set aside the pre-conceptions about altruism and selfishness and the purpose of morality, and essentially start from scratch with a mental moral blank slate. That’s very hard to do. It was for me. It took time to grow into the understanding. My preconceived notions of altruism as the good and selfishness as evil kept getting in the way.

Once you cast aside this conventional understanding of altruism as the good and selfishness as the bad and morality as solely about how you treat others, you are on your way to understanding the Objectivist Ethics, which Rand termed rational selfishness to distinguish her reasoning from the biases of our preconceived notions.

Understanding rational selfishness is hard. But once you grasp it, a funny thing happens: It clicks for you that in many ways, you and most people live more like rationally selfish individualists than altruists—and that doing so does not require sacrificing yourself to others or sacrificing others to yourself. You realize that being rationally selfish is not only conducive to a good and flourishing life, but also conducive to mutually rewarding relationships with others; it is vital to both. Quite simply, you can’t live right without being selfish—rationally selfish. Achieving a life the best it can be is only possible to the extent that you act rationally selfish. Then it hits you: Rand didn’t so much as invent a new ethics as articulate explicitly something most of us try to be most of the time—only don’t know it and don’t see it as virtuous. She just taught us how to be properly selfish and that it is good, thus removing the guilt of living for ourselves.

However, it’s not only a matter of not understanding. I’m convinced there are people for whom understanding Rand is not the problem. There are people who simply like the conventional view that altruism is good and selfishness is bad, because it gives them a rationalization to use other people as means to their own ends. After all, if living for others is the ideal, then why not be “others,” and demand that they live for me? Why be immoral and selfishly keep what I earn for myself? Why not take the altruists at their word? If modern moralists are right, then my needs grant me a moral entitlement to other people’s lives and property, which is their duty to provide. The conventional view of morality is tailor-made for the unscrupulous—the greedsters and predators and socialists—and they take full advantage of it.

As to the question, I looked up “selfism” in my 1979 Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary. The definition at that time, when Rand was still alive, is simply “absolute selfishness. [rare.]”—whatever that means. I don’t remember Rand ever using the term selfism in her writings, perhaps because it’s so vague. Anyway, I can see why someone could think of Rand’s selfishness as a middle between altruism and selfism. But I don’t think that’s accurate. If “absolute selfism” means exploiting or sacrificing others to self, then it is merely the flip side of the altruist coin, which calls for sacrifice of self to others. Rational selfishness stands against both, instead calling for non-sacrificial, win-win relationships based on trade.

Related Reading:

Why be moral? Your life depends on it!—Jaana Woiceshyn: “To say that many people are confused about morality is an understatement. Yet, our lives depend on getting morality right.”

Ilene Skeen’s answer, which I “upvoted.”

Related Viewing:

Yaron Brook Responds to Ben Shapiro's view of Objectivism
: Regarding altruism, trade, happiness, rational selfishness, and hedonism.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

‘Radical’ Should Not be Whitewashed from Our Language

In Anti-Muslim memes have no place in our politics, the New Jersey Star-Ledger opined:

There is a flyer circulating among voters in Piscataway [NJ] that uses the kind of coded anti-Muslim language that makes most of us uneasy.

The bigger problem is that the person who funded the flyer — powerful state Senator Bob Smith, the Middlesex Democrat — doesn’t see the necessity to repudiate it or apologize for it.

The language used against their opponents from the Central Jersey Progressive Democrats is unambiguous: Naming an outspoken and admired Muslim school board member, the MCDO called the opposing slate “a radical group under the leadership of Atif Nazir that wants to take over our township government. We cannot let that happen.”

The Star-Ledger quoted one opponent as calling the use of the term radical as “disgraceful” and “absolutely inappropriate.” “You can oppose their ideas,” he said, “but to use such a term violates the spirit of the political process.” [!!!--italics mine]

The Star-Ledger uses terms like “coded” and “dog-whistle stuff” to tarnish the term radical. Mind you, this is the same editorial gang that routinely labels people who oppose the Left’s climate catastrophist agenda as “deniers” to equate dissenters with Holocaust deniers.

For some strange reason, the comments section of the op-ed is closed on the same day it was published in the Star-Ledger print edition, 5/27/19. So I posted the comments I would have added to the article comments on my Facebook page. From my Facebook Page:

‘Radical’ means fundamental, far-reaching change. In and of itself, the term has no moral import. Good or bad, right or wrong, depends on what a person is radical about. The Founding Fathers were radicals: They declared that the individual is free and sovereign, not the subject of any monarchy or other supreme ruler. Today, OAC has declared herself a radical: She seeks to fully transform America into a socialist state. The sect of Islam that seeks a worldwide caliphate that subjugates the individual to totalitarian Sharia law is radical. I consider myself a radical for Americanism in alignment with the Founders and Ayn Rand.

“Radical” is a valid term. Whitewashing language by eliminating certain words from political flyers is the tool of people who want to hide something, or avoid answering what another has to say. Smith’s flyer should be challenged. But demonizing the flyer for the use of the word “radical” without answering is cowardly. Backers of the flyer should be held accountable for the description of the Nazir group as radical, and challenged to back it up. It is up to the voters to decide if the description of Nazir’s ideas as radical is valid or appropriate.

Smith and his supporters should not apologize nor repudiate. Initiating such a debate is perfectly consistent with “the spirit of the political process.” The Star-Ledger should apologize for demonizing Smith as “anti-Muslim.”

Related Reading:

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Murphy’s Veto of NJ’s ‘Dark Money’ Ban Should Be Unconditional

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy “conditionally” vetoed a bipartisan “dark money” disclosure bill that would have forced political advocacy groups to publicize their donors. In GOVERNOR’S VETO OF THE ‘DARK MONEY’ BILL IS WRONG FOR NEW JERSEY, NJ Spotlight’s David Goodman railed against the veto, criticizing “the governor’s misunderstanding of transparency in combating dark money’s corruption of politics and elections.” Goodman continued:

So, where do we go from here? In the past two years, almost $100 million in untraceable dark money has flowed into New Jersey elections. Special interests can manipulate elections by shuttling their money through nonprofits, corporations, and other outside groups. These groups, under the current law, do not have to disclose their donors, meaning that those special interests function in secret. Without S-1500, New Jersey voters cannot know who is trying to buy their vote.

Goodman and his ilk never explain, or offer proof of, how “untraceable dark money” corrupts politics, or manipulates elections, or buys votes.

I posted these comments:

“Untraceable dark money”, “manipulate elections”, “buy their vote”, “transparency” are hollow catchphrases meant to equate free speech to some sinister underworld. But what we’re talking about is private citizens merely seeking to express themselves in the political process—to “influence”—that is persuade—people to vote a certain way. And whether expenditures are done cooperatively, through PACs or advocacy groups, or individually, anonymity is an inalienable right. It’s especially important to dissenters or unpopular viewpoints, which could bring social, political, or economic persecution. There are many people, including politicians, who love demonizing people for their viewpoints. A person who doesn’t want to risk such attacks shouldn't have to shut up.

And that’s the real “corruption of politics and elections”--the politicians desire to escape the “corruption” of public criticism and scrutiny. “Dark money” bans are designed to mute and silence--particularly focussed on people who have the financial means of reaching a mass audience. When politicians silence “big money,” they silence us all.

A government should be accountable to the people it governs. Private citizens who have done nothing wrong should not be accountable to the politicians. The right to freedom of political expression and activism does not and should not come at the price of a person’s privacy, safety, or comfort. Money is the means of expressing one’s thoughts, and is thus inextricably linked to freedom of speech. Citizens’ political/issue expenditures are none of the neighbors’ or politicians’ business. Murphy’s veto should be unconditional.

Related Reading:

The Intimidation Game: How the Left Is Silencing Free Speech--by Kimberley Strassel, especially Chapter 2, “Publius & Co.”

Monday, June 3, 2019

The Collectivist Rationalization for Keeping Overtaxed New Jerseyans from Leaving the State

On 4/15/19, a guest column by Philip Perinelli explained “This is why I’m leaving New Jersey.” There is a fight being waged over whether to impose higher taxes on the rich, a tax that has come to be called the “millionaire's tax.” Opponents argue that the already high income tax on high earners will cause more of the rich to flee NJ. Perinelli argues that it is not only the rich who are feeling the pinch enough to flee the state:

Much has been said about a millionaire’s tax. Some say tax them and they will leave. And they well may. Of course, . . . they may not. The fact is that the truly rich can decide to stay or leave. They can afford to do either. Mr. Duffey also points out that the state needs the money. I am not a millionaire. And that is why, while there is much to love about living in this town and this state, my wife and I plan to leave New Jersey in the next several years.

Egregious property taxes are just the beginning. For example, while a retiree’s Social Security benefits are not taxed, New Jersey only allows for a retiree to pay no income tax if income is below $100,000. At $100,001, you are taxed on the entire amount. We have worked hard and saved hard over the years, and I am proud that our retirement income will exceed that threshold. As a result, we will get no tax break. Pennsylvania charges no income tax on any retirement income, including pensions, IRA’s, 401K’s, and Social Security.

On 4/22/19 came another Star-Ledger guest column, Why homeowners should stay in N.J., despite the taxes. A millennial explains, in which Jason DeAlessi chastised Perinelli for his “somewhat selfish reasons, abandoning the very location responsible for your family’s success and wellbeing.” “Furthermore,” lectures DeAlessi, “do you not understand that your wealth has been accrued through the support of millions of your fellow New Jerseyans?”

That last statement, which smacks of tribalist/collectivist overtones--including "You didn't build that"--was cited in yet another Star-Ledger guest column I’m a millennial and a mayor and I can explain why people are leaving New Jersey by Tony Perry. Backing up Perinelli, Perry writes:

An editorial was published recently by a millennial, who does not own a home in New Jersey, yet felt poised to lecture New Jersey homeowners on why they should stay in the state during retirement, despite the exorbitant cost of living and a property tax dilemma, which year after year ranks our state as highest in the nation.

From this incredibly narrow viewpoint, it can be easily understood why the author believes what he wrote. He has not yet experienced the relevant life lessons like buying a home, understanding the physical and financial upkeep and maintenance, along with all the extra costs that come along with it.

His opinions are based on inexperience, assumptions and anger toward success, the last of which has become a favorite talking point of some political leaders. The author questions retirees by stating “Do you not understand that your wealth has been accrued through the support of millions of your fellow New Jerseyans?” The retirement savings of our seniors was not built by some heinous act, it was built on hard work, risk and planning.

Echoing Perinelli, Perry also notes:

Furthermore, he completely fails to appreciate the fact that the people fleeing New Jersey are not just the uber wealthy. They are the school teacher who taught for 30 years and can no longer afford to live in the very state they worked in. The police officer or firefighter who served his or her community for decades. The small business owner who employed people within their community and decides to move to a state that does not crush them in taxes after years of hard work. Businesses that contribute billions of dollars in corporate taxes, employ our residents and provide philanthropy to the thousands of nonprofits across the state are demonized.

I left these comments, somewhat edited and expanded for clarity:

A statement like Jason DeAlessi’s “your wealth has been accrued through the support of millions” shows a person that has no idea how money is earned. To make money means to provide an economic value to people who are willing to pay you. To make money (on any level) requires virtues like thought, self-motivation, and hard work. To accrue wealth (savings) takes virtues like long-term planning and self-discipline. Yes, we can gain a lot from others. But such “support” is not gained by handouts or favor or exploitation, but by providing a value in return--that is, by trade.

DeAlessi apparently means that if you are successful, “You didn’t build that.” But the clerks and the warehouse and airport workers are not special cases of privilege. A job is a trade--a mutually agreed transaction--and job-holders get paid for their services. They contribute economically, and are paid accordingly. This millennial seems to have particular enmity for high earners. But at the end of the day, every productive worker, from clerks to CEOs, earned their keep, are entitled to no more or less, and owe nothing further to each other. In fact, the high earners are the primary movers of the economy. If wealth accruers owe a debt to “millions,” then those millions owe a vastly greater debt to wealth accruers.

DeAlessi’s is a mind poisoned by collectivism, the idea that the group is supreme and individuals are interchangeable cogs subservient to the tribe. But the individual life is the supreme value. NJ is not a tribe with any moral claim on any of us. Every dollar accrued through trade is earned, and each person should selfishly pursue the betterment of himself and his family, even if it means moving out of state to escape confiscatory taxes imposed by politicians his ungrateful “fellow New Jerseyans” elected.

I have often observed that collectivism is a moral escape hatch--an escape from the moral and civil responsibility to respect the rights of others to live by their own judgement. It is lack of respect that underpins Jason DeAlessi’s cruel collectivism.

Related Reading:

The Trader Principle--The Ayn Rand Lexicon

Friday, May 31, 2019

America is Secular/Individualist—Not European, Judeo-Christian, or Multicultural

In an editorial, the New Jersey Star-Ledger Editorial Board raged against Republican NJ state senator Mike Doherty over comments he made that were published in an article by Mike Kelly. Doherty made some interesting points. But in N.J. senator, a white man, just wants to feel 'comfortable' in America, the Star-Ledger fpcussed on what it saw as Doherty’s “bigotry”:

Now, in a Record column by Mike Kelly that profiles him as President Trump's lonely cheerleader in New Jersey, Doherty says the U.S. shouldn't take any more immigrants from certain countries: "non-European" nations that are not part of a "Judeo-Christian culture."

Left these comments:

I read the Kelly article. Doherty makes a good point about the economy. America has a mixed economy—a mixture of free market capitalism and statism; that is, a politically corrupted economy. This allows the politically connected to “rig the system” in their favor through government favoritism.

But he’s dead wrong that America is a “European" and "Judeo-Christian culture." Despite the fact that America is numerically of majority European descent and Christian, America is a secular individualist culture and government. Has Doherty not read the Declaration of Independence? Has he not read the Constitution, especially the First Amendment? Has he not read the inscription on the Statue of Liberty?

Doherty’s view actually has a lot in common with the Left, with it’s high-brow racism snuck in as “multiculturalism” and “diversity” based on ethnicity. Both the Left and the social Right are collectivist. Both sides deny American culture, which is individualist—a nation where people can leave their suffocating political, cultural, religious, and family baggage behind and start fresh in a land of intellectual, political, and economic freedom. A place where, in theory if not so much any longer in practice, people are judged individually on attributes of choice, such as the content of their characters and the sum of their achievements, rather than uncontrollable and unchosen group similarities.

Related Reading:

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

American Schools versus the U.S. Military

Fox news highlighted this rant by a California teacher, Gregory Salcido:

“Think about the people you know who are over there,” Salcido is heard saying. “Your freakin' stupid Uncle Louie or whatever. They're dumb s - - - s. They're not high-level bankers. They're not academic people. They're not intellectual people."

“They’re the freakin’ lowest of our low.”

The irony is that the military is a legitimate function of government, especially as it is an all-volunteer military. Government schools, on the other hand, are not a legitimate function of government. They are an infringement on the inalienable individual liberty rights of Americans. America’s public schools are locked in place by compulsory attendance and compulsory taxation, and some level of coercive government control extends to private schooling as well.

A further irony is the relative performance of the military versus the schools. The military has done a stellar job of performing its primary function of defending America’s borders from foreign enemies (even while hamstrung by politically imposed combat restrictions). On the other hand, American schools are largely failing at educating American kids. It’s interesting that Salcido is a history teacher. One of our schools’ greatest weaknesses is the failure to educate American kids on America’s Founding freedom principles—individual rights, constitutionally limited government, political equality, free markets, intellectual freedom, etc. More broadly, American kids are failing to learn to think critically and independently.

Given this disparity in performance, is it the military or the teaching profession that can logically be accused of being infected by “the lowest of the low”?

Related Reading:

Why Johnny Can’t Think--Leonard Peikoff

The Comprachicos—Ayn Rand