Crimes of Conscience: Antigone and Stealing from the Public Library


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The libraries at the University of Texas at Austin shelve 83 volumes by Ayn Rand. Of them, 30 have been stolen. Of those, eight are marked in the catalog as “Missing.” In other words, they left the shelves without being checked out. The others were just not returned by the last borrowers who effectively got away with their crimes.  I identify these facts as evidence of a deeper political problem, first posited 2500 years ago by Sophocles in his drama, Antigone.  More recent, and known well to admirers of the works of Ayn Rand, are the trial scenes from The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.  Not so famous, but cutting more deeply into the fabric of law is Ayn Rand’s courtroom drama, Night of January 16th. The question is whether or not you have a duty to obey the law.

It is important to understand, first, that Ayn Rand was opposed to duty.

Quote

The meaning of the term “duty” is: the moral necessity to perform certain actions for no reason other than obedience to some higher authority, without regard to any personal goal, motive, desire or interest. – “Causality versus Duty,” in Philosophy: Who Needs It?

 
Obviously, for some admirers of the works of Ayn Rand, the prospect of a free copy of one of her books was stronger than any irrational duty to the public order. However, it is also true that Rand’s dictum above must be placed in its proper context because she was far more eloquent in her condemnation of “looters” and substantially incisive in her praise for their antithesis, the producers.  Moreover, the moral and political aspects of her philosophy of Objectivism were primarily about the positive virtues of production, creation, and active reason, against which are revealed the negative, destructive, and empty actions of the irrational and non-productive.
 
The primary concern is not whether the owner of the bookstore sends her children to a government-subsidized daycare center, but where you got the money with which you bought the book.  If you did not buy the book at all, if there was no earned money exchanged, then the failure was yours long antecedent to the gross action of mere acquisition of the book.
 
he essential question here is: “What justifies stealing from the public library?” It leads to a far wider set of questions and actions. I assert that if it is acceptable to steal Atlas Shrugged from the library, then it is acceptable to take a tree from a public park, or a computer from city hall, or the President’s limousine from the White House.  And, ultimately, it would be acceptable to take anything from anyone who accepted any public benefit, whether a social security check, “land bank” payments for not growing crops, sending their children to public schools, or (of course) borrowing books from the public library (and returning them).
 
Some libertarians claim that it is moral to steal from the library, or any other government entity, because their assets all come from taxation, and taxation is theft. When you steal a library book, you only take back what was yours in the first place. This also applies by extension to stealing back what was yours from any business that benefits from government subsidies, whether General Motors or Tesla, Inc., a local hospital, or the florist whom you spot coming from the library.
 
Moving right along, for a philosophical Objectivist (or simply an “admirer” of the works of Ayn Rand) such justifications, extend to their irrational mystical altruist collectivist neighbors. Their theory is that anyone who goes to church or votes for Democrats is fair game, especially when the risks are very low.  Your neighbors who are tax looters or welfare moochers stole from you first; you are just taking back what was yours. If you can get away with it, why not?

Among the many accurate and precise tools of logic that Ayn Rand employed in her expositions was identifying the error of context dropping. In terms of the social consequences of personal morality, it is the error of moral equivalency. It also a powerful tool in Objectivism that moral success begins in metaphysics and epistemology.  So the moral failing of the looter of the library begins with errors in metaphysics and epistemology. Ayn Rand called it “reifying the zero” i.e., attempting to make a “something” out of nothing.  (See “Axiomatic Concepts” in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.) Stealing a copy of Atlas Shrugged from the library is not the moral equivalent of buying one from a bookstore.

 

In Sophocles’ Antigone, the heroine was so outraged by the desecration of her brothers’ bodies, whatever their crimes against the city, that she disobeyed the commands of the tyrant Creon, in full acceptance of the consequences. In The Fountainhead, Howard Roark is prepared to go to prison if his appeal to the creative spirit fails. In Atlas Shrugged, Hank Rearden refuses to hand over his metal and tells the government that he cannot stop their trucks and guns if they come to take it. And he is willing to go to prison rather than to acquiesce in the theft of his property.  In Night of January 16th Karen André has committed or conspired in so many crimes that the play does not even come close to a bill of indictment. She makes no appeal to a higher law or a greater good or a better morality. She does not explain herself at all: no outsider’s opinion is consequential to her.

 

On the other hand, the hooligan who steals a copy of Atlas Shrugged from the public library makes no public statements, issues no manifesto, and stands not in defiance of authority but slinks away with loot.  It might be informative for a bold privateer to wheel several shelving carts out the door while distributing leaflets condemning the philosophical and economic fallacies of “public goods.” (And when the campus police arrive, he should have a clever cloaking device unless he intends to go to jail for his beliefs.) But that is not the case. Instead, other people whose taxes have paid for goods and services are deprived of the benefit of their bargain by a third party. We call that theft.
 
"Rand fans" are not the only people given to "crimes of conscience." The Roman republican martyr Cato the Younger (Marcus Porcius Cato,Uticensis) became a symbol for Christians and ultimately republicans of the Enlightenment. But, again, Cato the Younger took his own life rather than submit to Gaius Julius Caesar. It remains that the jihadi who kill themselves while they kill others in suicide attacks claim obedience to a higher law, also. The actions are not  morally equivalent because the consequences are not morally equivalent.
Do you have a duty to obey the law? In the explicit sense identified by Ayn Rand, that a duty is an obligation that supersedes self-interest, you do not. But that begs the question: What is self-interest? Rand devoted herself to answering that question. If you do not understand why productively earning the money with which to buy a book is in your self-interest while the easy pickings of the public library are not, you need to do some reading.  It is a common error in our common education that we want even our “story problems” to be short, when in fact, the most important aspects of living well require more than a slogan to explain.
 
(This article originally appeared on my blog, NecessaryFacts.)
 

 

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1 hour ago, syrakusos said:

The libraries at the University of Texas at Austin shelve 83 volumes by Ayn Rand. Of them, 30 have been stolen. Of those, eight are marked in the catalog as “Missing.” In other words, they left the shelves without being checked out. The others were just not returned by the last borrowers who effectively got away with their crimes.  I identify these facts as evidence of a deeper political problem, first posited 2500 years ago by Sophocles in his drama, Antigone.  More recent, and known well to admirers of the works of Ayn Rand, are the trial scenes from The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.  Not so famous, but cutting more deeply into the fabric of law is Ayn Rand’s courtroom drama, Night of January 16th. The question is whether or not you have a duty to obey the law.

It is important to understand, first, that Ayn Rand was opposed to duty.

 
Obviously, for some admirers of the works of Ayn Rand, the prospect of a free copy of one of her books was stronger than any irrational duty to the public order. However, it is also true that Rand’s dictum above must be placed in its proper context because she was far more eloquent in her condemnation of “looters” and substantially incisive in her praise for their antithesis, the producers.  Moreover, the moral and political aspects of her philosophy of Objectivism were primarily about the positive virtues of production, creation, and active reason, against which are revealed the negative, destructive, and empty actions of the irrational and non-productive.
 
The primary concern is not whether the owner of the bookstore sends her children to a government-subsidized daycare center, but where you got the money with which you bought the book.  If you did not buy the book at all, if there was no earned money exchanged, then the failure was yours long antecedent to the gross action of mere acquisition of the book.
 
he essential question here is: “What justifies stealing from the public library?” It leads to a far wider set of questions and actions. I assert that if it is acceptable to steal Atlas Shrugged from the library, then it is acceptable to take a tree from a public park, or a computer from city hall, or the President’s limousine from the White House.  And, ultimately, it would be acceptable to take anything from anyone who accepted any public benefit, whether a social security check, “land bank” payments for not growing crops, sending their children to public schools, or (of course) borrowing books from the public library (and returning them).
 
Some libertarians claim that it is moral to steal from the library, or any other government entity, because their assets all come from taxation, and taxation is theft. When you steal a library book, you only take back what was yours in the first place. This also applies by extension to stealing back what was yours from any business that benefits from government subsidies, whether General Motors or Tesla, Inc., a local hospital, or the florist whom you spot coming from the library.
 
Moving right along, for a philosophical Objectivist (or simply an “admirer” of the works of Ayn Rand) such justifications, extend to their irrational mystical altruist collectivist neighbors. Their theory is that anyone who goes to church or votes for Democrats is fair game, especially when the risks are very low.  Your neighbors who are tax looters or welfare moochers stole from you first; you are just taking back what was yours. If you can get away with it, why not?

Among the many accurate and precise tools of logic that Ayn Rand employed in her expositions was identifying the error of context dropping. In terms of the social consequences of personal morality, it is the error of moral equivalency. It also a powerful tool in Objectivism that moral success begins in metaphysics and epistemology.  So the moral failing of the looter of the library begins with errors in metaphysics and epistemology. Ayn Rand called it “reifying the zero” i.e., attempting to make a “something” out of nothing.  (See “Axiomatic Concepts” in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.) Stealing a copy of Atlas Shrugged from the library is not the moral equivalent of buying one from a bookstore.

 

In Sophocles’ Antigone, the heroine was so outraged by the desecration of her brothers’ bodies, whatever their crimes against the city, that she disobeyed the commands of the tyrant Creon, in full acceptance of the consequences. In The Fountainhead, Howard Roark is prepared to go to prison if his appeal to the creative spirit fails. In Atlas Shrugged, Hank Rearden refuses to hand over his metal and tells the government that he cannot stop their trucks and guns if they come to take it. And he is willing to go to prison rather than to acquiesce in the theft of his property.  In Night of January 16th Karen André has committed or conspired in so many crimes that the play does not even come close to a bill of indictment. She makes no appeal to a higher law or a greater good or a better morality. She does not explain herself at all: no outsider’s opinion is consequential to her.

 

On the other hand, the hooligan who steals a copy of Atlas Shrugged from the public library makes no public statements, issues no manifesto, and stands not in defiance of authority but slinks away with loot.  It might be informative for a bold privateer to wheel several shelving carts out the door while distributing leaflets condemning the philosophical and economic fallacies of “public goods.” (And when the campus police arrive, he should have a clever cloaking device unless he intends to go to jail for his beliefs.) But that is not the case. Instead, other people whose taxes have paid for goods and services are deprived of the benefit of their bargain by a third party. We call that theft.
 
"Rand fans" are not the only people given to "crimes of conscience." The Roman republican martyr Cato the Younger (Marcus Porcius Cato,Uticensis) became a symbol for Christians and ultimately republicans of the Enlightenment. But, again, Cato the Younger took his own life rather than submit to Gaius Julius Caesar. It remains that the jihadi who kill themselves while they kill others in suicide attacks claim obedience to a higher law, also. The actions are not  morally equivalent because the consequences are not morally equivalent.
Do you have a duty to obey the law? In the explicit sense identified by Ayn Rand, that a duty is an obligation that supersedes self-interest, you do not. But that begs the question: What is self-interest? Rand devoted herself to answering that question. If you do not understand why productively earning the money with which to buy a book is in your self-interest while the easy pickings of the public library are not, you need to do some reading.  It is a common error in our common education that we want even our “story problems” to be short, when in fact, the most important aspects of living well require more than a slogan to explain.
 
(This article originally appeared on my blog, NecessaryFacts.)
 

 

My guess is that Rand would deny we have a duty to obey -unjust laws-.    But what is unjust? 

 

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Cameras are needed in most public areas. They are relatively cheap. I am impressed with that commercial that shows a house with a security camera and when the owner spots someone coming onto his property he says "don't even think about it." If crooks think about it many of them won't do the crime so they won't do the time.

Locally, most crime is black on black crime, or black on store crime, but there is usually a story a day about drug addict crime featuring some really dopey and sleepy/haggard white people. Is it racist to say that? Hell no. If you are aware of crime statistics it might save your life. Publishing mug shots is a service. And we have a show Delmarva Now at 5pm and a police captain comes on with a most wanted list and he tells us if anyone has been captured. 

I have mentioned this before but I went to Minnesota to a three or four day seminar and I was told to never walk down a certain street visible from our window after dark. Indians lived there and they were thieves and violent.

Peter  

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  • 2 weeks later...
On ‎5‎/‎23‎/‎2017 at 9:58 AM, Peter said:

Cameras are needed in most public areas. 

Locally, most crime is black on black crime, or black on store crime...

People who choose to reject being governed internally by their own Conscience need cameras to govern them externally. They need someone or something else to watch them because they lack the englihtened self awareness to observe themselves so as to temper their own behavior.

As a group but not many individual exceptions, blacks have rotten moral values which have become embedded into their culture. Their rotten vlues go hand in hand with being secular leftists.

Greg

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Greg wrote: As a group but not many individual exceptions, blacks have rotten moral values which have become embedded into their culture. Their rotten values go hand in hand with being secular leftists. end quote

I don’t think many black folks think of themselves as secular leftist or tribal-ists either though they may be. Many black women go to church, to be with the spirit, socialize, and sing. My wife and I used to shop downtown and we discovered a parking lot adjacent to a black church. We sat there without getting out of the car for a half an hour because the Gospel singing was so good. They have a great time. Secular leftists are predominantly white in America and Asian in communistic China.

Peter

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2 hours ago, Peter said:

Greg wrote: As a group but not many individual exceptions, blacks have rotten moral values which have become embedded into their culture. Their rotten values go hand in hand with being secular leftists. end quote

I don’t think many black folks think of themselves as secular leftist or tribal-ists either though they may be. Many black women go to church, to be with the spirit, socialize, and sing. My wife and I used to shop downtown and we discovered a parking lot adjacent to a black church. We sat there without getting out of the car for a half an hour because the Gospel singing was so good. They have a great time. Secular leftists are predominantly white in America and Asian in communistic China.

Peter

Unfortunately   many black folks in the United States have been led into a dependency on government,  usually in the form of welfare handouts or some kind of child support.  This process of  taking black Americans  into the  Welfare Plantation goes back at least as far as FDR  (over 80 years).  After the Civil War reconstruction enabled some ex slaves to move out west and work  40 acres which was given to them in compensation for being slaves.  Prior to the 1930's there were many black  entrepreneurs,  black cowboys (who were free lance  cattle tenders for hire) and others.  Black Americans after slavery were not always on the welfare teat.  Back at the beginning of the Nanny Welfare State "help"  extended  to black folks was sincerely intended,  but like so many well intentioned kind acts  it had consequences that were far from kind.  How is the road to Hell paved?  You know the answer. 

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1 minute ago, Brant Gaede said:

"Sincerely intended" my ass.

They kept piling it on without surcease even though it didn't work the way they said it would. We all know the paving material of the Road to Hell.

Also the -appearance- of Good Intention is often used as a means of deception. 

--Brant

An impulse of kindness  not governed by reason or awareness of consequence can lead  to very bad ends.

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3 minutes ago, BaalChatzaf said:

An impulse of kindness  not governed by reason or awareness of consequence can lead  to very bad ends.

The last two quoted sentences are not mine.

--Brant

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