Tuesday, January 30, 2018

All Speech, not Just Press Freedom, Should Be Protected

A New Jersey Star-Ledger guest editorial by Linda Stamato titled JOURNALISM IN DANGER ran last January (2017), or thereabouts. It was a strong defense of freedom of the press. Unfortunately, the article was not to my knowledge posted online, only in the print edition, which I didn’t save.

But the point of the article was to highlight the importance of a free press to democracy.

I don’t agree with everything in this article. But I agree with the main point; the principle that freedom of the press is indispensable to the democratic process in a constitutional republic. But more importantly, freedom of speech is crucial to a free society. America is not a democracy. To call it that is fake news. It is a constitutional republic based on individual rights; that is, all individuals’ rights, not just reporters.

Likewise, all people, not just people of the press, have freedom of speech.

On this count, Stamato’s ringing defense of press freedom rings hollow in the face of the war on free speech, of which she is a leader. The constant drumbeat for “campaign finance reform,” a euphemism for silencing free political speech, the proposed “Democracy for Allconstitutional amendment to protect the political class from private criticism and accountability, and the “AGs United for Clean Powerprosecutorial assault on dissent masked as “anti-fraud”, all are examples of the move to stifle the First Amendment’s general freedom of speech protections. The spread of “safe zones” and political correctness on college campuses, while perhaps not a technical violation of the First Amendment (at least not for private colleges) certainly violates the spirit of free speech. And then there is Stamato’s own smear piece against the Koch Brothers—posted in the Star-Ledger, and which I posted about—in which she brazenly attacked their inalienable right to spend their own money exercising their own freedom of speech, calling it “dangerous” to America. (Yes, free speech for non-press activists requires money every bit as much as press freedom does. Economic and intellectual freedom are inextricably linked.)

Defending press freedom without defending speech freedom for all is like being for eating but not breathing. You need to eat and breath: Without both, you’re dead. Likewise, press and speech are inextricably linked. The combining of speech and press in the same clause in the First Amendment—Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press—is no accident. Likewise, the combining of free speech and press in with the rights to freedom of religion (conscience), association, and petitioning of the government is no accident. All are vital to what the First Amendment is broadly set to protect—intellectual freedom.

You can’t defend any First Amendment right without defending all First Amendment rights. Given Stamato’s record on free speech, her defense of press freedom is completely undercut, and she has no credibility as a defender of intellectual freedom.

Related Reading:

Linda Stamato Smears (and Fears?) the Koch Brothers

Freedom of Speech and Press are Linked

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The idea of ‘Protected Classes’ Does not Advance Individual Liberty

Just before leaving office, a law signed by President Obama explicitly extended freedom of religion to non-religious people. Obama Signs New Religious Freedom Act Protecting Atheists, reports Tyler O’Neil for PJ Media. The subheading of O’Neil’s article states, "Non-theists are now recognized as a protected class."

The Act supplements the 1998 Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). Tyler reports:

The new version restates America's commitment to freedom of conscience abroad, and strengthens existing law in a few direct ways. It directs the president to sanction individuals who carry out or order religious restrictions, it instructs the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom to report to the secretary of State, and it requires foreign service officers to be trained in the "strategic value of international religious freedom.

But perhaps the most eye-catching part of the updated legislation is the explicit guarantees of religious freedom granted to non-believers.

The "freedom of thought, conscience, and religion is understood to protect theistic and non-theistic beliefs, and the right not to profess or practice any religion," the updated act now states.

It’s refreshing to see America firmly standing up for its principles. Encouragingly, the Act received broad approval. “Both Christians and atheists praised this change,” O’Neil reports. And its certainly appropriate for America to non-sacrificially promote and stand up for these principles as a matter of international policy. But I have a few qualms. As O’Neil reports:

Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the non-religious American Humanist Association (AHA), praised this "historic legislation," and said his organization "looks forward to working with the US Department of State to ensure religious liberty for non-theists and religious minorities abroad."

"That non-theists are now recognized as a protected class is a significant step toward full acceptance and inclusion for non-religious individuals, who are still far too often stigmatized and persecuted around the world," Speckhardt added.

The emphasis is mine. In a country founded on the principle of unalienable individual rights protected equally and at all times under the law—political equality—there is something inherently wrong with the idea of a “protected class.” It implies that some people are “more equal than others.” It is thoroughly collectivistic. Given that the heart and soul of Americanism is individualism, the protection of classes (groups) rather than individuals is an un-American idea.

Despite the wording of the First Amendment, which specifically singles out religion for protection, the spirit of the First Amendment is to protect freedom of conscience. The Founders used conscience and religion interchangeably. Based on the original social compact as stated in the Declaration of Independence, American constitution and law presupposes the primacy of personal liberty based on unalienable individual rights as the starting point of law and politics. It is not necessary to single out specific “classes.” It is only necessary to protect individuals—all individuals, regardless of group characteristics—equally and at all times.

I also think O’Neil’s phrase about the new law “explicitly extending religious freedom protections to atheists and other non-believers” needs elaboration. Being an atheist is not just about being against religion or a non-believer in religion. Atheism is not a belief system. It’s not a philosophy. Religious freedom—that is, freedom of conscience—is about living by your own ideas, morals, and philosophy, not merely rejecting the idea of a God. I have encountered religionists who assume that not having a religion means not believing in any guiding principles. But being an atheist does not automatically make one a non-believer. For example, I am an Objectivist, the philosophy of reason and individualism developed by philosopher Ayn Rand. It’s a guide to life based on well-developed and reality-based principles. It differs from religion in several key aspects. Take morality. Whereas religion holds that morality is derived from God as a kind of unchallengeable dogma as espoused in sacred texts by people who claim to speak for God, Objectivism holds that morality is science, with proper moral principles derived from a study of the facts of human nature and man’s relation to broader nature. .Religious freedom is not just the freedom to reject religion, important as that is; it’s about freedom of conscience. I am an atheist. But I am primarily a believer in Objectivism.

The bill Obama signed makes a clear statement that religious freedom is not just about freedom of religion. It’s about protecting people from religion. That’s a good thing. Whether the term “protected class” appears in the text of the Act or is Speckhardt’s interpretation, we’ve got to get away from the growing practice of ascribing rights protections to groups—a practice encouraged by the proliferation of anti-discrimination laws targeted at the private sector. Only individuals, not groups, have rights.  

Related Reading:

The Objectivist Ethics—Ayn Rand

Friday, January 26, 2018

QUORA: Can't We Make the Electoral College More Democratic?

QUORA: As we're stuck with the Electoral College, can't we make it more democratic by making each state's electoral votes proportionate to their populations?

I posted this answer, slightly edited for clarity:

While I’m not a Constitutional expert and don’t claim to be, I think the Constitution is clear on this.

Article II of the constitution states that “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature there of may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress” [My emphasis].

Within this constitutional context, the answer to the question seems to be, yes, it can be made more democratic. In fact, Maine has already done that. All states and the District of Columbia have chosen to have their Electors appointed by popular vote, with all but Maine choosing a winner-take-all apportionment. In Maine, Clinton got 3 of the state’s 4 Electoral votes, and Trump got 1, based on Clinton’s popular vote victory of 47.8% to 44.9%.

Robert Traverso replied:

Thanks for the excellent answer. The question now is whether the method of choosing the electoral votes be made more democratic by amending it to only reflect population. As the system now stands it is in violation of one person one vote where individuals in some densely populated states have less importance than those in lightly populated states. More like a one acre one vote.

I posted this reply:

Your welcome, Robert.

For the purpose of clarity, I refrained from offering my opinion on the merits of the Electoral College, which I answered in detail here. But since you raise the question, I must say I disagree. The Electoral College must be understood in this context: Contrary to the distortions of “progressives,” the defining principle of America is the primacy of liberty based on individual rights, not the primacy of majoritarian democracy. The question is not how to make the Electoral system more democratic. The question is how to structure the vote to best protect liberty. The Electoral College is a key part of the structural checks and balances the Founders put in place to protect liberty from governmental tyranny not only of Kings or demagogues but also of electorally powerful majority or plurality factions.

It is not true that the Electoral College violates the principle of one-person-one-vote. Each voter does have an equal say—that is, one vote—in the allocation of her respective state’s Electoral votes. In a sense it may be true that the relative “importance” of individual votes may vary slightly from state to state and from election to election. So what? That’s a strength, not a weakness. Besides, it’s not a one way street. Remember that larger states have a proportionately larger sway on the electoral outcomes. California, for example, provides the winner of that single state with 55—more than 20%—of the Electors needed for victory. California’s power was demonstrated in 2004, when a swing of a mere 60,000 votes in Ohio would have handed John Kerry that state’s 18 Electoral votes, making Kerry the president with a 269-268 electoral win despite G. W. Bush’s 3 million national popular vote majority. Bush’s margin was larger than Hillary’s, yet Kerry came within a whisker of victory, in large part because California would have provided 20.4% of Kerry’s 269 votes. You can hardly say that California voters—or Texas (38) or New York (29) voters, for that matter —are inherently short-changed.

The Electoral College as it currently stands acts as a good check on majoritarian power by breaking down the so-called “will of the people” into 51 distinct popular vote contests—which on its own merits is much fairer than a single national popular vote dominated by one or two concentrated voter hotspots. We should keep it. It works well, fits with our giant country’s unique diversity, and, most importantly, is consistent with the most fundamental defining characteristic of America, the primacy of liberty.

If the idea that the relative importance of the single presidential vote is less in large states than in small states is a concern to some, then that may be a good argument for breaking large states up. As Steven Greenhut reports for Reason:

In California, we have one Assembly member for every 483,000 residents. That's the worst ratio in the country. In New Hampshire, which has the best ratio, there are approximately 3,200 residents for every member of the statehouse. What are your chances of influencing or even reaching your legislator—or even his or her staffers—in California?

This means that a single California vote is 1/150th as “important” as in New Hampshire within the state. Compare this to the Electoral College. In California in 2016, there were about 159 thousand votes cast per electoral vote. In New Hampshire, there were approximately 87 thousand votes per electoral vote. So in the Electoral College, California’s vote was a bit less than 1/2 as “important” as in New Hampshire. California voters enjoy a much greater “influence” in the Electoral College than they do in regard to their own representatives.

I realize that this comparison has an element of “comparing apples to oranges”. But the point is still valid that if the goal is to reach some kind of influence parity for every vote (a fantasy if ever there was one), then we should consider breaking up large states rather than do away with an important structural part of the checks-and-balances established to ward off to much concentration of political power and protect liberty.

Again, the one-man-one-vote principle means just that—each individual voter gets one vote, and that’s it. That has nothing to do with proportional voter “influence”. The democratic process in a free country is not primary, and must be considered within a much wider context of constitutional protections of individual rights. The Electoral College was meant to place an intermediary between popular passions (which can be irrational and even mean) presidential governance. That intermediary is the state legislatures. Though elected, state legislators are believed to represent cooler heads.

The College is also intended to balance the power between the state and federal governments. With the states responsible for directly choosing the president, the federal government is therefore more sensitive to the need to balance the interests of the states rather than cater only to the popular vote. The College thus acts as a check on federal power even as the federal constitution acts as a check on state power. Once again; checks-and-balances as a protection of freedom based on individual rights (“liberty rights” for short). America is not a democracy, which is freedom based on the vote, which is not true liberty at all.

Related Reading:

Wouldn't going by Popular Vote be an even worse system than the Electoral College?

Is the Electoral College Un-Democratic? You Bet. Unfair? Nope.

The Conscience of the Constitution—Timothy Sandefur

The Electoral College System Required Trump to Win the Popular Vote—30 Times

Avoid ‘Majority Rule’—Keep the Electoral College in Fact and in Spirit

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Conservatives’ Christianization of Christmas and the Left’s Multiculturalism Are Both Un-American

David Greenberg of Rutgers posted a guest editorial in the New Jersey Star-Ledger just before Christmas 2017 lamenting the battle over holiday greetings. He writes, in part, in an article titled ‘“How Christmas Became a Political Hot Potato” published in the print edition [but not, to my knowledge, online] on December 23:

The holiday season is here again, and as a break from arguing about sexual harassment, we can all look forward to a lovely spell of denouncing and unfriending one another over which holiday greetings to use. 
With Donald Trump as president, we can be sure that no cultural scab will go unpicked. After all, among his many pioneering achievements, Trump is our first president to win the White House— at least in part — on a pledge to roll back the freedom to say “Happy Holidays.” 
“I’m a good Christian,” he insisted on the campaign trail. “If I become president, we’re gonna be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ at every store. ... You can leave ‘Happy holidays’ at the corner.”

How on Earth did such an innocent gesture become so politically charged?

Of course, the Christian Right has been railing about “Happy Holidays” for a long time. It’s part of their campaign to fight an imagined “War on Christmas” and to lecture us to “keep Christ in Christmas.” But Greenberg makes the valid point that Christmas has become increasingly secular:

The secular consensus gained strength in the 1960s and ’70s, as the Supreme Court ruled prayer in public schools to be unconstitutional and otherwise reinforced the traditional wall between church and state. 
As recently as a few years ago, Trump bade his fellow Americans “a wonderful holiday” and “happy holiday season” — precisely the sort of inclusive messaging that he would assail as a candidate.
This is true. I would add that, since Christmas was made a legal holiday by both the Federal and state Governments, it is by definition a secular holiday. How can a religious holiday be a legal holiday in a nation dedicated to the separation of religion and state? It can’t—not without violating the constitutional protection of religious freedom and freedom of conscience. This issue went before U.S. District Court in Ganulin v. United States, in which the Court ruled that the recognition of Christmas as a legal holiday for purposes of a paid day off did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because “the Christmas holiday has become largely secularized” and that the government was “doing no more than recognizing the cultural significance of the holiday.” The attempt by any political leader to Christianize Christmas is therefor un-American. People are free to celebrate the Christmas season in any way they like, with or without Christ, with or without religion, and with or without the greeting “Merry Christmas”. That’s America.

But the Left’s “solution” to the Christian Right’s pushback against “Happy Holidays” is at least as bad, if not worse. Greenberg goes on:

As the Republican Party adopted a right-wing populism on cultural issues, it was only a matter of time before this delicate balance was upset. The country grew polarized. 
Democrats championed multiculturalism and drew on their civil libertarian bona fides to paint themselves as the natural home for Muslims, Hindus and members of other religions whose ranks were swelling. On the right, Christian leaders such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson led evangelicals into the political fray, forming a bedrock of a new GOP coalition.

Multiculturalism is a rejection of American culture, which is rooted in individualism.

More precisely, multiculturalism obliterates the very idea that America has its own culture. It rejects the idea that all people are created equal by virtue of our common humanity as beings possessing the capacity for reason, for which it follows that every single one of us should be judged on the content of our character, not our race, cultural background, national origin, or other insignificant attribute. Under a veneer of “inclusiveness”, multiculturalism sneaks in collectivism by tribalizing America into racial, cultural, or ethnic group identities, undercutting American culture and the individual rights that automatically flow from that individualist culture. The corollary of this is to undercut the principle of inalienable individual rights, held equally by all individuals, and protected equally at all times by government under the law—and to switch the concept of rights from the individual to the group, paving the way for government to favor some groups over others at the expense of political equality.

Whether the religious conservatives’ attempt to Christianize the secular end-of-year Christmas season is a reaction to the Left’s multiculturalism, or the other way around, both are an attack on Americanism. I reject both viewpoints. America is neither a Christian nation nor a multicultural nation. It is an American nation—a nation of the Enlightenment including the values of reason, individualism, freedom of conscience, and free market capitalism.

Related Reading:

A ‘War on Christmas?’ No: A War on non-Christians

Move Over, ‘Happy Holidays’: Starbucks’ Cup Opens a New Front in the ‘War on Christmas’

Christmas: A Holiday for All

"Learning Experience", or Anti-Americanism?

Monday, January 22, 2018

QUORA: Is spirituality for losers?

Quora is a social media website founded by two former Facebook employees. According to Wikipedia:

Quora is a question-and-answer website where questions are created, answered, edited and organized by its community of users. The company was founded in June 2009, and the website was made available to the public on June 21, 2010.[3] Quora aggregates questions and answers to topics. Users can collaborate by editing questions and suggesting edits to other users' answers.[4]

You can also reply to other users’ answers.

A recent QUORA submission asked, Is spirituality for losers?

I left this answer:

Is spirituality for losers? Only for those who want to deny their own humanity.

The human spirit is the non-material part of a person. It is your consciousness; your capacity to observe and understand the world, direct your actions through choice of values and rational thought, experience emotions, develop moral character, form evaluations of others (admiration, disappointment, etc.), store and retrieve memories, and so on. Spirituality is the act of using one’s non-material capacities in service to one’s life.

The problem is that religion has hijacked the concept of spirituality, redefining it as some kind of alien body-snatcher that descends from another allegedly supernatural dimension to take over an otherwise soulless body—to return to that other world after death. Consequently, religionists have convinced us of the myth that spirituality equates to religiosity, and is somehow separate from the real world. I think this concept of spirituality is what the questioner has in mind.

I reject that otherworldly concept of spirituality. Your spirit is not an alien invader. Spirituality is an integral part of your humanity—as indispensable and real to your life as your body. You may use your spirit to its fullest, or not. But to live, you must use it—be spiritual—to some extent. Though non-material in nature, spirituality is as real as your bodily organs, including the physical senses that transmit perceptual material to your brain, which then through logic and reason integrates the data into knowledge. Human life is an integration of body and spirit—of the material and the spiritual. There is no dichotomy there. Transforming an idea into an invention is an integration of the spiritual and the material. Applying your knowledge and skills into a paying job is that. Transforming the desire for companionship into a romantic relationship or friendship is that. Transforming an answer to this question into the written word is that. Adopting a philosophy—religious or secular, supernaturalist or real world-based—and applying its principles to the governance of one's life, is that. Both spirit and body come into existence together; develop together, largely according to our own choices; and go out of existence together at death.

Spirituality, properly understood as the full use of one’s mind in service to one’s life, is not for losers. It is essential to making one’s life—as far as we know, the only life any of us will ever have—the best and most flourishing it can be.

Related Reading:

Consciousness—Ayn Rand Lexicon

Saturday, January 20, 2018

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

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan launched a major attack on Donald Trump—but more fundamentally on Americanism. In Louis Farrakhan: America 'Became Great Enslaving Us,' So Trump Won't 'Make America Great Again', Tyler O’Neil reports for PJ Media:

On Thursday, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan called on President Donald Trump to repent for America's sins and denounced the very idea of American greatness. He addressed Trump, saying the president cannot "Make America Great Again," as his campaign slogan promised.

"Mr. President, you won't make America great again, not in our time," Farrakhan declared Thursday in a speech at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. "She became great killing Native Americans. She became great enslaving us, bringing us from Africa into America to work the cotton fields. You're not going to get that opportunity back anymore."

Farrakhan's group, the Nation of Islam, was formed in Detroit in 1930 and Farrakhan took control of it in 1977. The group started in order to "teach the downtrodden and defenseless Black people a thorough Knowledge of God and of themselves, and to put them on the road to Self-Independence with a superior culture and higher civilization than they had previously experienced."

The Nation of Islam leader called on Trump to "repent for all of the evils that America has done to us, to the peoples of the world."

Was the treatment of blacks and Native Americans consistent with America’s Founding philosophy?

A resounding NO!!

America wasn’t made “great” because of the collectivism that makes slavery and other like evils possible. America is great because America was formed on the basis of the individualist principles that led to the abolition of slavery (along with other forms of political inequality). The Declaration of Independence clearly states that

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . .

There is nothing unequivocal about those words. It says all men.

The principles in the Declaration of Independence directly conflicted with both slavery and the reactionary Separate-but-Equal and Jim Crow laws—a fact that both the abolitionist Frederick Douglass and Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King and other crusaders for justice well understood. Fortunately, the Declaration won out over both of those evils, albeit after much blood was shed.

Political equality for individuals across the board, based upon the common fundamental nature of all humans as beings of reason—that’s what made America unique, and exceptional, and great—and has been an inspiration to, not an “evil” done to, the freedom-loving “peoples of the world.” Unfortunately, Donald Trump doesn’t understand that—at least not fully. So his “Make America Great Again” slogan rings hollow. Worse, Trump’s usurpation of the slogan plays into the hands of statists who reject those principles of America’s greatness. As proof, I give you Louis Farrakhan’s comments.

Related Reading:

[Excerpt] “The tale of Douglass’s education, escape from slavery and ascent to leadership of the abolitionist movement is familiar to any high school American history student. But less examined is the story of his intellectual transformation, from a follower of radical rejecter of the Constitution, William Lloyd Garrison, to an ardent defender of the self-evident truths embodied uniquely in America’s founding documents.”

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Explaining Charity’s Standing in the Objectivist Ethics

A For the New Intellectuals Facebook Post by Anoop Verma highlighted Yaron Brook’s talk Why Capitalism is the Only Moral System. The post triggered this question by a correspondent:

I'm having some trouble with this topic. If I enjoy serving others, sometimes even at my expense, am I not serving my self [sic]? It brings me joy...so I'm getting something out of it. Or maybe that's not the same thing. I'm still learning. I'd appreciate your thoughts.

It’s “serving myself”—self-interested—as long as the service does not come at the expense of something more important to your life and well-being. Otherwise, it’s altruistic—self-sacrificial (self-destructive)—and thus wrong according to the Objectivist Ethics.

“Service”, of course, is a broad term. For example, serving others is the act one performs in making money. Productive people serve their customers or their bosses or whomever is paying them for the service. That is called trade. Making money—earning a living—is vital to living. Money is not the only form of payment, though. Trade is broader that money. Joy is a form of payment. But if the service the questioner speaks of comes at the expense of money or time or effort needed for purposes more important to you, then the joy is not worth it and therefore not selfish, and therefore not moral. Personal well-being is a long-term process to the rationally selfish individual. With very rare exceptions involving emergencies, the long-term always trumps immediate gratification. Would you go out of your way to serve a stranger if the cost is standing up a friend who is counting on you? Risking a friendship, not to mention your reputation for trustworthiness, for the sake of momentary joy is neither selfish nor rational.

Let me step back a second. Ethics was one of the hardest aspects about Objectivism for me to grasp. It took me years to grasp that altruism is not about good will or serving others, and that selfishness, properly understood, is not about screwing others. Altruism is about making one’s own life worse; that is, giving up a greater value for a lessor value or a non-value; that is, self-sacrificially serving others. Objectivism holds that one’s actions should always be self-beneficial, not self-sacrificial. There is nothing about the Objectivist Ethics, called rational selfishness, that stands in the way of serving others, even if only as an act of goodwill and benevolence. Other people (or causes that benefit people you don’t even know) certainly can be a value to a rationally selfish person.

Which brings us to the starting point of the Objectivist ethics. The Objectivist ethics starts with the observable fact that human life, like all life, is about values—specifically, for humans, the need to pursue, achieve, and to protect the values that your life and flourishing depend on, from material values like food, shelter, phones, and cars, to the spiritual like human relationships or relaxation. Humans need a philosophic guide to figure out what is good or bad for them, which leads to the need for a moral code. This leads to the question above—when is it moral to serve others for the mere joy of it? The Objectivist ethics holds that one must perform the task of hierarchizing one’s values by importance to one’s life; a hierarchy of values geared not to the short term but to the long term context of one’s entire life. Once you have established a proper value hierarchy, you are in a better position to judge whether a given action or goal is rationally selfish or self-sacrificial.

Only when the service rendered advances one’s own values is truly “serving myself”. Let me give an example. My wife and I are both retired. My wife used to volunteer at a food pantry. She quit that to become a CASA volunteer. CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children. It’s strictly volunteer service that requires the juggling of her time. But none of the time spent working at the food pantry or the more demanding CASA interferes with her personal relationships or activities she loves or in any way undermines her enjoyment of her retirement. She is serving these children, but not in a sacrificial way. That is the Objectivist Ethics—rational selfishness.

On the other hand, volunteer service is not for me. My main retirement interest is writing as a political activist—activism not in regard to the usual Republican vs. Democrat, or conservative vs. liberal, or “Right” vs. “Left”, but in the more fundamental sense of individualism vs. collectivism. I have other activities, as well. But my interests do not involve volunteer service. That, too, is the Objectivist ethics. The Objectivist ethics does not hold service to others as a moral commandment.

My wife and I are both pursuing our interests and values non-sacrificially—that is, not at the expense of our commitment to each other, our children, our friends, our interests, or any other important values. We never deliberately ignore our hierarchy of values.

There is nothing about the Objectivist ethics that doesn’t leave room in one’s hierarchy of values for serving others or giving a helping hand, even to strangers. In the example above, there’s nothing wrong with short-term joy if it doesn’t harm you longer term. The trader principle, exchanging value for value that results in win-win, comes into play whether the payment for service is material or spiritual (no one should ever demand service from you unconditionally, nor should you give it, nor should you ever expect unrewarding service to you from others.) If your payment is spiritual—that is, the mere joy of it—it’s fine as long as it is genuine joy (not a quest for others’ praise or approval) and it doesn’t conflict with what in your own judgement are values more personally important. Self-sacrificial service is never good. It is dishonest, because it ignores one’s own needs. And research is increasing showing that self-sacrificial service—putting others above self—can be psychologically, emotionally, and even physically damaging (See Being empathetic is good, but it can hurt your health, Jennifer Breheny Wallace).

The most fundamental question is not, does this action give me joy or satisfaction, important as those emotions are. Emotions are a reflection of your convictions (right or wrong). They are not a guide to action. Only reason should be your guide. The question is, where does this action fit into my rational hierarchy of values? Am I giving up another value in my service in pursuit of joy? If so, is it a greater or lesser value? If a lesser value, or if the action doesn’t entail giving up another value, and if the service is consistent with your own convictions, the service can be considered self-interested. However, if the action requires the giving up a value that, by one’s own rational judgement, is greater than the value derived from the act of service one is considering, it is a sacrifice and is thus immoral.

Other people can be and often are of great value to us. As long as person(s) are deemed to be worthy according to our own judgement, we should approach them as selfish values, and act accordingly toward them—that is, in accordance to our own value hierarchy—and expect no less in return from them.


Normally, I’d have posted this answer as a reply to the questioner. But Eric MacIntosh replied at length and did a good job, as well as posting a link to his article Other People as Egoistic Values Versus Other People as Objects of Self-Sacrifice in Ayn Rand’s Philosophy. So I didn’t think my explanation, being largely redundant, would add substantially to the conversation (though MacIntosh doesn’t mention Rand’s value hierarchy tool).

Related Reading:

The Objectivist Ethics by Ayn Rand

Books to Aid in Understanding Rational Selfishness

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

NJ’s Self-Serve/Full-Serve Gasoline Wars: The Star-Ledger exposes the True Motive Behind Government Regulation

For years, New Jersey was one of only two states that banned motorists from pumping their own gas at public gas stations. With Oregon eliminating its ban, NJ now stands alone.

On January 6, 2017, the New Jersey Star-Ledger whined:

One of the things that makes New Jersey such an attractive state to live in and do business is our quality of life. Here in the Garden State, we don't have to get out of our cars in a freezing tempest, or get smelly gas on our hands. And as we sit snugly in our cars in arctic conditions, we have the comfort of knowing that we are providing jobs.

To the folks who call that elitist: Polls have consistently shown that most New Jerseyans like it this way. Are we all elitists?

This is the will of the people, and legislators ignore that at their peril. Besides, with the very real problems plaguing this state, ask yourself: Why should this even make the list?

Some killjoys - mostly out-of-state transplants - will argue that this isn't an either or. If we just drop the state law that mandates full-service gas, they say, you can get your gas pumped, and I can pump my own. Do not fall for this.

If you see other people getting out into the cold to save a few pennies, you may feel obliged to do the same. Making it a law delivers us from all guilt.

And the reality is, as soon as we eliminate full service at most of the pumps, cars will back up at the one or two pumps that still offer it. Then the majority of people in this state, who do not want to pump their own gas, will be forced to.

Eventually, gas station owners will see that when required to wait, New Jerseyans do pump their own gas, and they will eliminate full service entirely because self-serve is cheaper. And a longstanding, beloved and truly special piece of New Jersey culture will be lost forever.

Those misanthropes who want to force us all to pump our own gas can get their tanks filled in another state.

Here is my Comment on the NJ Star-Ledger editorial N.J. hearts go out to Oregonians, forced to pump their own smelly gas, edited and expanded for clarity:

There is absolutely no justification for government force to be injected into the gas station business where no public safety issue is involved. It’s not true, as Sweeney says, that legalizing self-service means “abandoning full-service gasoline.” Legalizing self-service gas pumps would not outlaw full service. The state would simply be removing itself from the decision-making process. It would end the forced restrictions forbidding station owners from allowing their customers to get out of their cars and do it themselves.

A free market is the only fair solution. Must everything be politicized? Full-service fans should not be allowed to use the government’s law-making powers—the power of the gun—to impose their full service on others who don’t want the cost or inconvenience of someone else pumping his gas. A free market—that is, a market free of coercive political interference—would leave the market—that is, the commutative voluntary choices of gasoline merchants and consumers—to decide. If enough New Jerseyans are willing to wait longer and pay extra for full service, as that poll suggests, service stations would be free to provide it—and will, or lose the customers.

As to “the comfort of knowing that we are providing jobs,” a legitimate—that is, productive—job is one that provides a service that others want and are willing to pay for. Not to denigrate anyone’s work personally, but it must be said: No one has a right to force others to provide him with employment. Otherwise, why not legally mandate that every homeowner hire someone to dig and refill holes in their backyards?

No one would be forced to pump their own gas, as the Star-Ledger absurdly claims. A government mandate is force. Removing the mandate is to remove the force—unless you believe that the person who doesn’t like pumping his own gas has the right to force others to satisfy his every whim. This thinking is a moral and logical inversion. It’s like saying a restaurant patron is “forced” to cut his own steak because the owner doesn’t supply a meat-cutter to do it for him. There are a million and one mundane little tasks that life requires us to do, but which we may not like doing. Does doing these mundane tasks translate into being “forced”? Forced, by whom? By anybody who chooses not to offer the service? (A collectivist would say, by “society”.) The fact that life requires us to perform myriad minor tasks doesn’t mean the state should mandate full-service this, that, or the other thing.

Don’t laugh. As far as I’m concerned, having an attendant pump my gas for me is just as ridiculous as having someone cut my meat. No one has a right to other people’s labor if no one chooses to supply it. Laws outlawing self-service at gas stations force people, under threat of fines (the seizure at gunpoint of his money by government agents), to have someone else do what the customer could safely do for himself without any undue risk to others.

But, the Star-Ledger says, polls show that most people want full-service. If so, then why does it—or the “most New Jerseyans” who allegedly represent “the will of the people”—fear a free market, which incentivizes merchants to cater to customers’ wishes? No answer. It just ridicules the very logical argument that if we “just drop the state law that mandates full-service gas, . . . you can get your gas pumped, and I can pump my own.” “Do not fall for this” argument, the Star-Ledger urges. If self-serve is legalized, more people “may feel obliged to do the same” until “Eventually, gas station owners will see that when required to wait, New Jerseyans do pump their own gas, and they will eliminate full service entirely because self-serve is cheaper.” And that’s the real fear, isn’t it?; that, when given a real choice, people will choose differently from the way the Star-Ledger wants. It’s a rare admission by a statist, and the heart and soul of government regulation—You have no right to act on your judgement: It’s my way or the highway. Completely divorcing itself from logic, and citing polls, the Star-Ledger claims that abolishing the the legal ban on self-service would “force” us to give up full service, thus succumbing to “the tyranny of the minority” (yes, tyranny). What about actual tyranny—the tyranny of the majority? How about no tyranny—that is, a free gas-pumping market?

Related Reading:

A Proposed Compromise on NJ’s Full- vs. Self-Service Gasoline Controversy: Legalize Both

After Big Gas Tax Hike, Will New Jersey Finally End the Ban on Self-Serve Gas?

New Jersey’s Still Debating Whether to Legalize Self-Serve Gasoline

A brief history of why you can't pump your own gas in N.J.—NJ.com

Where Does Valid Law End and Regulation Begin?

Friday, January 12, 2018

Free the Market to Sort Out the Future Course of the Energy Industry

An international agency representing 29 major nations is reporting that the U.S. to Dominate Oil Markets After Biggest Boom in World History. As Grant Smith reports for Bloomberg Markets:

The U.S. will be a dominant force in global oil and gas markets for many years to come as the shale boom becomes the biggest supply surge in history, the International Energy Agency predicted. 
By 2025, the growth in American oil production will equal that achieved by Saudi Arabia at the height of its expansion, and increases in natural gas will surpass those of the former Soviet Union, the agency said in its annual World Energy Outlook. The boom will turn the U.S., still among the biggest oil importers, into a net exporter of fossil fuels. 
“The United States will be the undisputed leader of global oil and gas markets for decades to come,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said Tuesday in an interview with Bloomberg television. “There’s big growth coming from shale oil, and as such there’ll be a big difference between the U.S. and other producers.”

The shale boom was made possible by the miraculous technological advance known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Is there anything that can derail the shale boom? Possibly.

The Washington Post is reporting that There’s enough wind energy over the oceans to power human civilization, scientists say:

New research published on Monday finds there is so much wind energy potential over oceans that it could theoretically be used to generate “civilization scale power” — assuming, that is, that we are willing to cover enormous stretches of the sea with turbines, and can come up with ways to install and maintain them in often extreme ocean environments. 
It’s very unlikely that we would ever build out open ocean turbines on anything like that scale — indeed, doing so could even alter the planet’s climate, the research finds. But the more modest message is that wind energy over the open oceans has large potential — reinforcing the idea that floating wind farms, over very deep waters, could be the next major step for wind energy technology.

Of the two, shale oil and gas seems like the most realistic outcome, by far. But who really knows? Shale has long been known to harbor vast reserves of oil and gas—it was even included in the plot of the 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged. Fracking opened this vast new previously technologically unexploitable hydrocarbon supply. Who could have predicted the shale boom just 15 years ago? Is there a similar unforseen dramatic technological breakthrough “waiting in the wings” for wind energy that would overcome the seemingly insurmountable drawbacks?

And then there is nuclear power. Though stymied for decades by Environmentalists’ scare-mongering, major nuclear technological advances have opened the potential for a nuclear power resurgence, reports Ronald Bailey for Reason.com.

In view of the exiting advances in energy technology that have occurred or could occur, how do we sort out the best course forward? That’s easy. Restrict government interference and favoritism, and liberate the energy market. A regulated, controlled, crony-dominated industry—an unfree market— restricts or forbids some ideas while favoring others. One might call an unfree market a partial or total “moratorium on brains”. A free market ends that moratorium, and opens up the field to all ideas and investments on an equal basis, while liberating energy consumers to make their own choices. A free market requires fair and evenly enforced laws. A free market is not just the most practical and objective way to get at the most progressive energy production, from a human flourishing perspective. It’s also the only just way, because a free market eliminates force—in other words, political influence—from the decision-making process of all participants.

There is no shortage of exiting real and/or potential, known and unknown, energy advances out there. Only freely operating private enterprise, shielded by strong property rights and anti-fraud laws, can keep progress toward an ever cheaper, more reliable, environmentally cleaner, human flourishing-enhancing energy future a reality.

Related Reading:

If ‘Renewable Energy’ Technology Has Truly ‘Proven Itself,’ Why Does the Renewable Industry Need NJ’s 80% 'Renewable' Mandate?

Climate Change Catastrophists Who Oppose Nuclear have Anti-Humanist Premises

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

‘Hate Crimes’ are Invalid as Objective Laws

A savage attack by four black thugs on a disabled white man in Chicago, which resulted in a controversial charging of the four black thugs with a “hate crime” was the subject of an article by Michael Hurd. In 'Hate Crimes' Go Both Ways, Hurd points out the double standard involved:

"Conventional wisdom and contemporary legal practice hold that if you kill or injure someone in a protected racial or social group minority – i.e., black, Hispanic, gay/lesbian, Muslim – then it’s automatically and always a 'hate crime.'" 
Logically, if you commit a crime against someone because they’re Christian, atheist, agnostic, Asian American or white … well, isn’t that a hate crime too? Conventional wisdom doesn’t have an answer. You just don’t ask that question. At least not until now. [emphasis added]

Hurd points out not just the double standard, but that the designation “hate crime” itself is nothing more than a political weapon used to create victimhood out of thin air—and the dangerous end to which this premise leads:

The classification “hate crime” was only ever necessary to ensure that some crimes become more criminal than others when they’re committed against politically powerful victim groups. It never was about justice; it was always about politics. Because once a government elite can punish us merely for hating, the stage is set to punish us for thinking, speaking or believing. Even in America, we’re perilously close to the edge of entering that zone. [emphasis added]

A hate crime amounts to criminalizing people for thoughts the government doesn't approve of. Sooner or later, "hate" will be decoupled from the commission of an actual crime, and people will be punished simply for expressing thoughts the government doesn't approve of. It's already happening elsewhere. “Hate Speech” is now a crime in Europe. The precedent is set: You can be punished for your thoughts. It's a precedent that leads straight to political prisons.

On Hurd’s facebook post, Michael Mangold commented:

A crime intended to intimidate or terrorize a community has more victims than one that isn't. Burning a cross or spray painting a swastika is different than random vandalization, for instance, and requires commensurate penalties.

Hurd responded:

As to this argument: "A crime intended to intimidate or terrorize a community has more victims than one that isn't. Burning a cross or spray painting a swastika is different than random vandalization, for instance, and requires commensurate penalties." 
Why? On what basis? The moment you start penalizing or making illegal hatred (or any emotion, feeling or idea) itself is the moment you have created the basis for a totalitarian dictatorship. The rest is only a matter of time. As revolting and disgusting as I find some attitude or feeling/idea, I can't use the force of government to punish/jail/fine people only because I find it revolting and disgusting. I can only invoke government once force or fraud are involved. And the fact that millions or thousands agree with my disgust has no bearing on it either. That's the moment you're talking about mob rule. The inherent self-refutation of the "hate crime" concept can be seen in the facts of this Chicago case. If you classify it as a hate crime, then you elevate any case as arguably a hate crime; if you get rid of the concept altogether, then you simply classify all crimes as crimes, perhaps debating what constitutes a crime or what the penalty should be, of course. Bottom line context, and this cannot be dropped or evaded: In a free society, you don't punish anyone for an emotion; only for an action. And you don't penalize the crime more heavily only because of the emotion behind it.
Michael Mangold replied:
I'm taking it as an unintentional compliment that you quoted my comment. I usually agree with you and find your insights invaluable. The number of victims when a community is targeted is greater than is the case from a mere random act of violence. That is why; that is the basis.
I agree with Hurd. But there’s more to say here.

On the face of it, Mangold’s argument is a plausible one. If a black woman is targeted because she is black, then every black woman could theoretically feel at risk. But on examination, Mangold’s argument collapses.

The term "intimidate or terrorize a community" is way too vague and subjective. What about a serial killer or street gangs, who can be said to "intimidate or terrorize" everyone regardless of race, rather than just a politically powerful group? Why are people "intimidated or terrorized" by gang violence not victims, while people "intimidated or terrorized" by burning a cross are so classified? What's to stop the premise from being expanded to encompass ever more "protected groups" at the expense of individual rights?

And if being "intimidated" or "terrorized" makes one a victim, then why shouldn't being "offended" also make one a victim? Once you go down the road of expanding the classification of people as "victims" for how they feel, it's a dangerous expansion of criminality beyond aggressive force and fraud.

The whole idea of "protected groups" runs afoul of the 14th Amendment. How can we have equal protection under the law when the level of one's protection depends on the group one is assigned to, and whether one's group has a privileged "protected" status or not? We can't. The only basis for equal protection is the principle of inalienable individual rights, protected equally for all people at all times.

I sympathize with victims of bigotry. I’ve been one. But only the actual physical crime, or direct imminent threat thereof—not thoughts, however hateful—should be punishable. Only objective laws can accomplish that.

Related Reading:

Cohen: Hate-Crime Laws are "Totalitarian Nonsense"

“Hate Crime” Laws are Gateways for Censorship and Statism—my article for The Objective Standard

The Sentencing of Dharun Ravi: Judge’s Reasoning Highlights Dangers of “Hate Crime” Laws—my article for The Objective Standard

Monday, January 8, 2018

Is It Now ‘Respectable’ to be a Moocher?

A New Jersey Star-Ledger guest editorial titled I'm battling cancer: Why are medical costs harming the lives meds try to save was published early last year. The complaint of the author, a woman battling cancer, is with out-of-pocket costs of the medications—even with health insurance; even with ObamaCare. The point was to advocate for a bill in the NJ legislature to cap out-of-pocket expenses at $200 per month (the author currently pays $550 per month, including her $250 insurance premium. She doesn’t say how much she is not required to pay, thanks to insurance and government subsidies [other people]).

Now, we can all sympathize with a person struck with cancer. We all know someone who has been afflicted, or been afflicted ourselves.

But on reading this article, my first thought was to attack the call for yet another health “insurance” mandate. It is such mandates that has pushed health “insurance” premiums beyond the reach of many. The ACA plans are already heavily subsidized, with purchasers paying only a small percentage of the actual premium. The rest of the cost is forced onto everyone else in the form of inflated premiums. This bill, A2337, would shift more of the burden onto premiums, making “insurance” even more unaffordable, forcing more people into subsidized plans. (I use scare quotes around “insurance” because actual health insurance has been outlawed in this country. If insurance were legalized, this article wouldn’t have been written. From here on, I won’t use scare quotes with this understanding.)

But that didn’t seem like enough. There was something very disturbing about this article, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

Then it hit me: When did moocherism become so acceptable that an article like this could be printed in a major newspaper? There was a time when being on the dole was considered shameful. A serious need might justify privately asking for charitable help. But a person asking others for help in paying her bill wouldn’t broadcast it. She would keep it private, and she certainly wouldn’t consider forcing others to help her—not if she had integrity. Here, we have a person boasting about her inability to afford to pay his bills. She gives no reason why she might be deserving of others’ helped. Why is she in this predicament? Bad luck, or bad choices? Why, at 63 years old, is her only income a $750 disability check? She doesn't say. She apparently believes it’s not relevant; that mooching is now so mainstream that she doesn’t feel the responsibility to at least explain why she deserves help from her fellow man.

Her need alone not only justifies shifting her bills onto others’ shoulders; but forcing it onto others shoulders through law. She just lays the pity on thick. I can’t pay my bills. Therefor, the world owes me. She probably figures her demands are legitimate, since she can hide the immorality of the taking behind the fact of politicians legitimizing it through legislation. But make no mistake: Taking others’ property by force is wrong whether you pull street robberies or use the government as your hired gun. This may sound callous, at a glance. But make no mistake. A government is supposed to protect us from human predators, not be the predators’ agent. What about the people and employers already struggling to pay artificially inflated premiums? Where is the consideration for them—the victims?

But that’s what America is coming to. Have unmet needs? Didn’t work for it or plan for it in advance? No matter. It doesn’t matter any more whether an unmet need is the result of misfortune beyond a person’s control or the result of laziness, incompetence, or irresponsibility. The mere fact of an unmet need entitles you. The mere fact that politicians pass a law to effect it makes it OK to put your burdens on people you don’t know. America the nation of self-reliance is becoming the nation of the greedy needy.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be too hard on Debbie Biase. The lie that healthcare is a “right” has been peddled for so long—and so rarely challenged in the only way it can be challenged, morally—that it should not be surprising that there is a “NJ Out of Pocket Prescription Cost Limit Coalition.” The idea that you—not “society” or government—are morally responsible for paying your own way, and that insurance is merely a tool for you to use toward that end, is alien to most people, at least when it comes to healthcare.

Of course, that attitude increasingly extends beyond healthcare. We hear more and more about a “right” to an education, or a “right” to a livable wage regardless of your productiveness, and so on. When mere need is considered an automatic moral claim on others wallets; when productive self-responsible individuals’ financial health is at the mercy of anyone claiming an unmet financial need; when what one “deserves” becomes completely divorced from what one earns; when moral character deteriorates to the point where articles like this one don’t elicit outraged moral outcries in defense of the people who will be victimized by such predatory legislation; when need trumps justice: It makes one wonder how America the prosperous free country can survive much beyond another generation or two.

Related Reading: