The idea that prejudices can and should be eliminated is a fallacy. So long as a man can observe and judge, he will use information to generalize about groups of people, some favorably and others not. Ultimately the question comes down to whether an individual should be allowed to form his own opinion, whether right or wrong, or be forced to accept and espouse the common wisdom. The answer should be obvious.
Ayn Rand: Do not make the mistake of the ignorant who think that an individualist is a man who says: “I’ll do as I please at everybody else’s expense.” An individualist is a man who recognizes the inalienable individual rights of man—his own and those of others.
One sign of a defective organization is the existence of “Godfather”-like figures who operate outside of – and above – normal operating rules and lines of responsibility. Often their excuse is that part/all of the system is broken. The proper way to address such a situation is to correct the brokenness, not circumvent it on a whim. Consider a car with a bad starter. Yes, it can be jumped with a screwdriver, but a motor started that way is not fixed, is it? Of course not. Problems don’t correct themselves. Unless organizational issues are confronted and corrected, the broken behavior remains the same.
Though not normally on my reading list, it came to my attention that Playboy has published the text of it’s 1964 interview with Atlas Shrugged author Ayn Rand on its Facebook site.
It’s a fascinating interview in which Rand easily rebuffs Alvin Toffler’s attempts to paint her views as inconsistent and out-of-touch – highly recommended reading.
Atlas was voted the 2nd most influential book of all time, trailing only the Bible and it’s easy to see why upon reading it. No more consistent or direct philosophy of personal conduct has ever been articulated.
One thing I found disappointing about the interview with Rand was her discounting of individual value systems. Rand’s own views obviously suited her very well. But the ultimate individualist must also recognize that every person prioritizes values differently. This is particularly true in regard to matters of faith, a subject that Rand treats with utter disdain and thereby fails to account for individual value systems, an essential part of any philosophical movement.
One would suspect David Mamet, author of Glengarry Glen Roll and screenwriter of Wag the Dog, of having a liberal’s view of the world. Indeed, Mamet admits to having long done so. Now, in must-read/forward for anyone lamenting over a left-leaning loved one, Mamet writes in the Village Voice that he was wrong all those years.
I took the liberal view for many decades, but I believe I have changed my mind.
As a child of the ’60s, I accepted as an article of faith that government is corrupt, that business is exploitative, and that people are generally good at heart.
These cherished precepts had, over the years, become ingrained as increasingly impracticable prejudices. Why do I say impracticable? Because although I still held these beliefs, I no longer applied them in my life. How do I know? My wife informed me. We were riding along and listening to NPR. I felt my facial muscles tightening, and the words beginning to form in my mind: Shut the fuck up.
This is, to me, the synthesis of this worldview with which I now found myself disenchanted: that everything is always wrong.
For the Constitution, rather than suggesting that all behave in a godlike manner, recognizes that, to the contrary, people are swine and will take any opportunity to subvert any agreement in order to pursue what they consider to be their proper interests.
To that end, the Constitution separates the power of the state into those three branches which are for most of us (I include myself) the only thing we remember from 12 years of schooling.
The Constitution, written by men with some experience of actual government, assumes that the chief executive will work to be king, the Parliament will scheme to sell off the silverware, and the judiciary will consider itself Olympian and do everything it can to much improve (destroy) the work of the other two branches. So the Constitution pits them against each other, in the attempt not to achieve stasis, but rather to allow for the constant corrections necessary to prevent one branch from getting too much power for too long.
Rather brilliant. For, in the abstract, we may envision an Olympian perfection of perfect beings in Washington doing the business of their employers, the people, but any of us who has ever been at a zoning meeting with our property at stake is aware of the urge to cut through all the pernicious bullshit and go straight to firearms.
There’s a lot more to Mamet’s realization – read it all.
At Pharyngula, PZ Meyers lets off a blast of anti-torture steam that must have been building up for some time:
Here is all that torture is good for: inspiring fear in a population.
When the US government announces it’s support for torture, they aren’t talking about intelligence gathering: they are simply saying “Fear us.” They are taking the first step on the road to tyranny.
The real problem is that fear isn’t a good tool to use in a democratic society. We are supposed to be shareholders in our government; when a process of oppression is endorsed by our legislators and president, we should recognize that they are trying to set themselves apart from the ordinary citizenry, and it’s time to rebel…before the goon squads come to your neighborhood. Anyone who supports torture is a traitor to the democratic form of government, and should be voted out of office, if not impeached.
Not so. A more accurate way to summarize the torture debate is to say that it’s imperative that the U.S. indicate that it will match terrorists at every level of the fight. So yes, on one level it is about inspiring fear, but the fear that’s necessary is that which must be impressed on the hearts of ruthless enemies who terrorize the innocent and prey on the tolerance of better societies than their own.
As such the use of torture is a tool that, while repugnant and often ill-advised, is a necessary evil that may have to be wielded in defense of democracy.
I know that some are going to crawl out of the woodwork and say that this merely serves to lower our nation and its citizens to the level of the terrorists.
Such statements are not true. Individuals and nations alike are entitled to defend themselves against attack. While value judgments about the appropriate intensity of that response can be amusing when penned by a deft, clever hand, one thing should remain clear throughout the discussion: All that is necessary for terrorists to avoid a potentially devastating response of this nation’s security apparatus to their lawless behavior is to lay down their arms, pick up their Koran, and make a proper separation of right and wrong based on their own interpretation of the book rather than relying on the mob-rousing clerics who incite them to the heinous acts they perform.
It goes without saying, of course, that Meyers’ article in opposition to a government tactic would be his death sentence in virtually every one of the nations that spawn Islamic terrorism.
A better use of freedom would be to defend its continued existence at home rather than arguing for the non-existent rights of an implacable, murderous foe whose core values demand the complete extermination of the freedoms that allow articles such as ours to be written free of fear.
Melanie Phillips’ latest article is entitled “The drowning of common sense“. It was written after a young boy named Jordon Lyon drowned while emergency workers allegedly dithered rather than trying to save him. Not surprisingly, the police have a different understanding of the tragedy. Somehow it seems difficult to lay blame on the police now and from this distance, though Phillips believes otherwise.
Melanie goes on to write brilliantly about a problem in British society that is prevalent here in the U.S. as well – the “compensation culture” that demands that someone be made to pay for every unfortunate event that happens.
The truth is that unpleasant things happen and it’s not always an individual’s fault or indicative of a problem with business, government, or society. Wondering why the opposite opinion so often rules the day in our media, courts, and legislatures, Phillips says:
The answer surely lies in a far broader and deeper transformation of British society that has taken place. From being perhaps the most independently minded, practical and commonsensical people on earth, we have become a society which is increasingly unable to act at all unless someone gives us permission to do so.
Across the board, our professions have become paralysed by rules, regulations and red tape. Their ability to use their own judgment has been steadily undermined by rules and codes governing their behaviour which are handed down from above and ruthlessly enforced.
Teachers and doctors thus got so tied up in red tape they were unable to attend properly to pupils or patients.
Human rights law further undermined the ability of all in positions of authority – from teachers to park attendants, from care workers to police officers – to enforce discipline, since it made it an offence even to touch a child.
This has resulted in the absurdity of delinquents thumbing their noses at authority while those trying to restrain them are prosecuted.
Such law has had an even more profound effect than fuelling the ruinous compensation culture. It has actually changed the default mechanism that governs assumptions about behaviour.
This is because it is based on the belief that rules governing behaviour have to be explicitly codified. This happens to run directly against the grain of the English common law, which holds that everything is permitted unless it is specifically prohibited.
The process of legalization that Phillips describes is the enemy of democracy, innovation, and personal freedom. We’re told too often that we have no right to prefer one way of living life to another, to hold standard as being inherently more valuable than another, or to value one person more than another. We have no right to choose, we’re told, and too often we don’t.
That is a mistake. The ideology that says that our individual reason is less valid than the combined multitude’s ethereal consciousness is incorrect – no such group mind exists. Neither is there any discernable “common good” save for the general uplifting of society that results from improved corporate profits, resurgent stock markets, and increases in individuals’ take home pay.
The wealth and comfort of western civilization has been on a steady climb upward since the end of the Dark Ages. This progress was and is fueled almost exclusively by people who wanted a richer, happier life for themselves and their loved ones and the freedom to worship as their pleased. Remove the freedom to think and choose and act from these same people and the result would be, on a world-wide scale, equal to the economic and social devastation of the failed Soviet Union and its satellites.
Indeed, the Russians showed the world the danger of over-thinking a problem when their planned economy, built on lies as it was, inevitably collapsed. But the problem of legal calcification in western democracies is no less insidious.
If a doctor is sued for malpractice after stopping at a road side emergency how many physicians will stop at the next crisis? It’s obvious what the result of our improper application of legal remedies will be and the Lyon case may well demonstrate that outcome in action.
Ms. Phillips says:
At the heart of this obsession with codifying rules of behaviour lies a fundamental loss of trust in people to do the right thing. Instead the state – and, increasingly, the courts – believe that they must tell them how to behave.
We clearly see this in the United States when the federal government expands its powers to peer ever more closely into the minutia of ordinary peoples’ lives, the judiciary fails to curb its own ambitions and actively seeks to dictate what should be personal choices, and groups like the ACLU use the legal system as a weapon to dictate patterns of behavior in schools, offices, and public venues.
Ironic that this agenda of control is championed by the generation that ranted about they hated “the system”. Evidently it was only talk. Under their control the tangle of laws and regulations and the brain-dead policy of of group-think has become more oppressive than ever.
What should we expect from our governments? Do we need endless volumes of legal approval that grants us permission to act in every aspect of our lives?
No. What free people should demand from their leadership is amazingly simple: We need less of it. Fewer rules, laws, and taxes. Fewer entitlements, programs, and projects. Less of everything save for the single purpose for which a national government is suited: the common defense.
In all else the government should get the hell out of our way.
Cross-posted at The Van Der Galiën Gazette
Many people will say it is morally acceptable to pull a switch that diverts a train, killing just one person instead of the five on the other track. But if asked to save the same five lives by throwing a person in the train’s path, people will say the action is wrong. This may be evidence for an ancient subconscious morality that deters causing direct physical harm to someone else. An equally strong moral sanction has not yet evolved for harming someone indirectly.
Where do moral rules come from? From reason, some philosophers say. From God, say believers. Seldom considered is a source now being advocated by some biologists, that of evolution.
The graphs do reveal something about my personal philosophy, which is that if people simply take care of their down business and do what’s right that fairness will take care of itself.
I thought I’d use my first post to illustrate what you’ll most likely be hearing from me going forward. In his post on July 24th, 2007 (What Kind of Republican Are You), Marc gives us a link to a site that asks us a series of questions that are designed to illustrate the type of people we are.
Okay, so I did – and here’s the results:
Man, does THAT ever hit the nail on the head. If there’s one thing that could be said about me, it’s that I can not stand the thought of a big government system. Each new layer on our ever increasing national government fills me with dread. To reference a famous quote: I want three things from my government – Protect my shores, deliver my mail, and leave me the hell alone.
The bottom line is that if you’re relying on the government to be there for you, you’re going to be alone on an island looking for a ship that had long since run aground.
Remember Katrina? Who can forget the site of all those people outside of the stadium chanting, “we need help, we need help.” The memory of it still churns my stomach with anger – but not against those that you may think. I don’t blame the government for this failure, I blame the people staying there.
Yes, you read that write – I blame the people. Ask yourself if you would have stayed there hoping that some other entity would show up and make it better for you, or would you have (like I KNOW that I would have) done what you could to get yourself and your family out of there (this of course assumes that I would have found myself in the position to begin with).
This country was founded upon an independent mindset, the need to be ourselves, and an overriding desire to be free. Sadly, more and more people are willing to hand over their power to a governmental entity with a misguided promise that they will be taken care of.
Each time another person does this, one more link is added to the chain that will bind us all.