The Ayn Rand Love/Hate Myth - Part 2 - Moral Ambivalence


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The Ayn Rand Love/Hate Myth – Part 2 – Moral Ambivalence

by Michael Stuart Kelly

During the last two days I have had an interesting experience on the “Rebirth of Reason” forum. I allowed myself to get sucked into a discussion that illustrates some very interesting aspects about the nature of what goes wrong when you adopt a philosophy and automate fundamental issues in your subconscious. This is the Ayn Rand Love side of the Love/Hate division.

To be clear, I am extending the “Rand Love” concept to people who believe that all fundamental issues of existence and life have been covered by Objectivism and the only things that need to be done now are (1) program your subconscious with these principles, (2) discuss how to apply them, (3) flesh out and maybe correct a few inessential details, and (4) preach Objectivism to the rest of the world.

I contested one fundamental issue on RoR. I have learned the hard way the wisdom of making periodic “reality checks” in my thinking. With principles, I used to substitute the word “absolute” for “no longer need to think about it” in my mind and this led me to great loss and harm. So now, when I see something that bothers me, I go down to the roots and question my sacred cows, if need be. If my fundamental principles are sound, they will stand up to the scrutiny and challenge that reality demands. If they are not sound, I have no business adopting them.

What was discussed on RoR simply would not be an issue to normal people. Believe it or not, normal people – the 98% plus – who read Rand that I mentioned in the first part of “The Ayn Rand Love/Hate Myth,” even those who have very vague moral notions, are extremely clear on the essentials of this case. But they go about living their lives according to their own chosen values and moralities and belong to no formal group.

These people, the vast majority of whom probably have not read Rand in depth, would have no problem at all in identifying an abomination (purposefully starving a strange child to death in an emergency) and condemning it to the point of making it illegal. In their world, this is naked evil. It would be called a crime like homicide or infanticide and the adult who did that would be severely punished. In a word, they have no moral doubts about the theoretical identification of such an evil (ethics) and the practical implementation of what to do about it (politics). They are morally firm and committed in both mind and body.

What is interesting is that this example is generally condemned as evil by both sides of the Rand Love/Hate divide. And our 98% plus “ambivalent” public who leans one way (Love) or the other (Hate), but is not fanatical, universally condemns such an atrocity.

Yet those who are more studied in Objectivism and have swallowed certain tenets whole, like non-initiation-of-force for instance, without proper digestion (i.e., those who merely “integrate” according to an artificial logical construct), these people are morally ambivalent about this. They claim that such a monstrosity is evil ethically (somehow – this is based on feeling, not a philosophic principle like right-to-life or species solidarity), but they break down on how to deal with it in politics. When pressed to the wall, they cannot present anything in Objectivist ethics and politics that would outlaw such an outrage.

They essentially claim that in Objectivist ethics, an abomination that results in a stray child’s death by starvation with malicious intent can be identified as evil, but there is no practical prevention and redress in Objectivist politics. Thus, ethics as a code of values is divorced from reality in their minds. In this case, the translation of ethics into political principles (called individual rights) is a sham. The right-to-life of a stray child is not neither defined nor protected.

This is disturbing. This is very disturbing. However, from the hysterical nature of the reaction I received, I think this is much more disturbing to them than it is to me. And that is one of the things that gives me great hope for Objectivism.

What happens when two fundamental principles collide

Throughout the entire discussion, the single characteristic that was present on all sides was the adoption of the perspective from one of the two ethical-political principles that were colliding, usually to the exclusion of the other.

The first principle is the sovereignty of an adult’s life to independently decide and do what he wishes, so long as it does not violate the right of another.

The second principle is the right to life of a child, who, by definition, depends on an adult for his survival.

There is a third principle, a political one, which is that the government is constituted to protect the rights of all individuals. That is one place where all hell breaks loose.

Here is the problem. When you speak from the perspective of the adult’s rights, any coercion at all to make him act is infringing his sovereignty. When you speak from the child’s view, any adult who stayed around him with food and denied it for a long period of time would be starving him to death.

What should a government do? Which right should it protect? The adult or the child? Should the right of one be more important than the right of the other? What are the actual values (ethics) involved?

One thing stands out. Reason is the method of thinking that Objectivists use to define ethics. Nowhere is reason more needed than on looking at an issue like this. The stakes are sky-high.

On one end, Objectivism could run the risk of sanctioning government interference in the lives of individuals. On the other, the monstrous nature of the example that was discussed is clear to all people of all philosophies and religions, yet Objectivism has no practical moral-political protection against it. Thus Objectivism could be seen as mere kookiness.

What clouds the issue is that Ayn Rand made a brilliant impassioned defense of the rights of productive heroes in her novels and some of her nonfiction. She made it clear that they were lacking a moral defense throughout history – that in choosing between the autonomy of a productive hero and the needs of a helpless person, you choose the hero’s autonomy because ethically that is the good. She grounded that defense in principles that go all the way down to the metaphysical axioms of existence and identity

Rand’s defense of productive heroes stands out as one of the high points in mankind’s intellectual wealth. I consider it to be akin to something like the invention of the wheel. The world is a far better place because of her influence, and that influence is growing. The right of a productive achiever is one of the most sacred rights humanity must treasure and care for. It took centuries of blood to get it. Nothing should ever endanger it.

On the other end, I would like to quote from an email I wrote yesterday:

My whole point in the argument is not to have all the answers. I certainly would not want to put something into law if it could be avoided by all means possible. What I cannot accept is when you ask one of these people, what about the kid? His rights? (…) Then they sidestep, or say that this would never happen (thus [his right-to-life] depends on their goodwill). And if you take this to the end, the answer is always "tough" for the kid.

Well "tough" doesn't cut it with me for a kid – and it doesn't cut it with the vast majority of humanity either. If Objectivism continues this silliness of trying to prove an individual's sovereign rights by contrasting them against things like starving a kid to death (using jargon like "positive rights"), Objectivism is doomed to remain a marginal subculture.

I, as an Objectivist, feel a strong need to speak out and help end this nonsense. How can I adopt a philosophy whose members sabotage it right from the start?

Thus the real problem here is not defending the rights of producers that Rand so brilliantly did, nor defend the basic right-to-life of all citizens that the Founding Fathers so brilliantly did. It is how to reconcile the situation when these two rights collide. The “fact of nature” of the child’s dependency on adult care for survival is the joker in the pack.

Merely ignoring the rights of one to the exclusion of the rights of another is not good enough.

The tricks of evasion

I am loath to use the word “evasion” for what I observed, since it is a term loaded with emotional buckshot for Objectivists, and I strongly believe in the essential goodness of those I debated. But I can think of no better characterization. Two principles were on the table to be discussed: adult’s rights and child’s rights for short. The essentials of one of the principles were consistently avoided by all (child). When you avoid thinking about something essential, that is called evasion.

The rights of the adult were very clearly defended. I even agree on the essentials of what was generally presented. Objectivism 101. The rights of the child were ignored, though. So, being pressed for an example, I developed a scenario where starving the child to death would be chosen consciously over a long period of time by an adult who had enough for both in an emergency.

A nonstop reaction from the posters was to alter the example in order to avoid the issue of the child’s right-to-life.

The lonely child in the wilderness became the oppressed children in Africa or a beggar on a busy street (where other adults were available). The “long period of time” the adult took to starve the child in my example was changed to an adult “walking by,” implying a very short amount of time. The adult making a conscious choice based on his inalienable right was changed to sociopath. (This last example shows clearly how impotent Objectivists are making the philosophy. They claim that there is no protection from the monstrous evil that a sociopath may inflict by starvation on a child.)

There were other attempts, but the bottom line was that the essentials of the issue were pushed aside by constantly rewriting the scenario.

Another form of not dealing with the issue was to proclaim that it was too concrete – that there were no philosophical principles involved. So I supplied the principles, including ethics, politics and rights. The ones that applied to the kid were simply ignored.

Even the last resort of cornered Objectivists was used, which is declaring that the issue is not important. Notice that the essentials do not get discussed when you do that, either. Since the issue is “not important,” you have an excuse to avoid it.

My favorite evasion was by one poster who simply declared that “starving a child to death” under those conditions does not exist because no obligation exists to feed him. Total blank-out of reality and rights of the child.

Another favorite was stating that I was calling Objectivists “child murderers.” That never happened and will never happen. The reason for this accusation (when not politically motivated) is that it sidesteps the children’s right-to-life issue completely by a primitive smear technique.

The whole thread was an exercise in avoiding the discussion of a stray child’s right-to-life. I don’t blame people either. “Tough” sounds terrible when you look in the mirror and say that this poor phrase – “tough” – is all you have to offer for protecting a stray child’s inalienable right-to-life.

Vicious attacks

Another characteristic of the discussion was the vicious nature of the arguments directed at me. I was called many names. Obscenity and constant accusations of dishonesty and so forth were leveled at me. There are good reasons for this, but I want to get the inessential one out of the way first.

There has been a great deal of emailing and telephone calls back and forth on this by people who have a vested interest in another issue where I have some influence (the Brandens). I have made notable enemies, especially because I will not bow down before these enemies. I stand-up to them – and I do it well, since I firmly believe in my position. When you pull the covers off the hypocrisy of a public person, like I sometimes do, you gain his animosity. That is one of the prices to be paid for doing that. In short, some of the viciousness against me was nothing more than baiting that was orchestrated from backstage.

(I am highly amused by a one-man type conspiracy theory to undermine Objectivism running around. I must be one badass dude.)

Here is the essential reason I believe was the source of the attacks. It is from another email I wrote yesterday:

What I wanted to do was drag the issue of stray child care out in the open for all to see in the clearest terms possible. This is one area where Objectivism fails dismally. I had to drag them screaming and kicking to do it. I still didn't get to some of them, but I know I made the readers think hard and start questioning how good a philosophy is that condones preventable atrocities.

I am starting to have a theory. I am starting to believe that a person feels guilty about adopting a philosophy that can categorize the starvation of a child as being morally ambivalent. I think they feel real uneasy about that. So when a person like me who is a bit knowledgeable about Objectivism reminds them of the need to care for that child in an emergency, and how monstrous it is not to, and how that child has a right-to-life, and how starving a kid like that is murder, they go off – but they are ranting against their own eyes, not really against me. I am merely one hell of an inconvenient mirror showing them something about themselves they do not want to see.

That's what makes the attacks grow until they are particularly vicious.

I will admit to a bit of heavy-handedness myself. I saw no other way to bring the issue of conflicting rights to the table. There was way too much rhetoric and not enough substance. The essentials were being avoided. So I basically said that if nobody was going to protect that right of that child, I would do it myself – including punishing an adult who was guilty of malicious negligence.

I’m no sure how much value that has as an argument, but it sure got people’s attention. It got them to thinking that there was “something” wrong somewhere. That something was being left out. Through this gesture, I was able to put the child’s right on the table. It was not actually discussed, but it started readers to thinking about it. That’s all I could really hope for in that environment, but that was a good thing. The evaded issue was starting to be considered. People started using their own minds and not the jargon to think with.

I will always call that a good thing. I trust the independent mind and judgment of a man/woman of goodwill more than any fanatic who has swallowed dogma as reason, irrespective or how good the principles he swallowed are. I echo what Jody Gomez, a very good young independent mind (who disagrees with me at times) stated publicly about me. I would trust Jody (and other people who think with their own minds) with my own sovereign rights. I have nothing to fear from a man like that, as we meet by reason. I do have a great deal to fear from people who suspend their reason to follow a crowd or act on dogma.

The brainwash

I will only touch on this part lightly, but it is very important to the Rand Love/Hate issue. When a man surrenders his need for making the periodic “reality check” of fundamentals that I mentioned at the beginning, he sabotages his emotional faculty. He has “programmed” his subconscious to automatically react, rather than think again. The idea is that the essential thinking has already been done, so it is not needed any longer.

The world is a wonderful place to be in. Unfortunately, though, we are not omnipotent and life throws all kinds of curveballs at us. It is just as wrong to close down the “What is it?” approach when looking at familiar things as it is to sanction evil. Sometimes something familiar comes at you with a curveball.

I witnessed up close an emotional hijack. A friend became an enemy right before my eyes – before the issue was even fleshed out. Suddenly, nothing remained of this friendship, which had flourished with great exchange of value over time. It turned into me watching my friend engage in a repetition of catchphrases and sudden harsh accusations, punctuated in the air by an accusatory finger and an increasingly nasty tone of voice.

I admit that I started getting pretty harsh in response, since that kind of robotic anger always ticks me off. What I witnessed, though, was like pushing a button. All communication instantly shut down and accusation mode kicked in.

If I had wanted to turn the anger off, it would have been the easiest thing in the world. I could have lied and said that I was mistaken and that “tough” for the kid when the adult let him starve to death was OK by me. It would have worked like clockwork, too. Boinggggg. Nice guy again.

I attribute this bipolar behavior (partially at least) to a person surrendering his thinking capacity on fundamentals. This is something that needs to be thought about more deeply. I noticed this same behavior in exchanges with some of the posters on RoR. Reason went right out the window and was replaced by righteous rage. (I strongly support Barbara Branden’s recent examination of this issue. She is doing what needs doing urgently. This problem is far more universal and serious than a mere dispute with one person or another.)

The bottom line is that I reject any process that instills robotic on-off anger in a person. Rand stated that you must program your subconscious emotions. I am not against doing that, but the parameters and limits must be well defined. This is playing with fire. This gets very close to becoming brainwashed – too close for comfort. I expressed my personal evaluation on this in another excerpt from an email yesterday:

I don't EVER want to be that way and I don't want that for my loved ones and friends. That's really spooky and I am trying to figure out how Objectivism can become merely a set of principles that are used in contexts, not something that does a total brainwash in that manner. This borders on emotional mutilation.

When I see that level of kookiness, I start thinking about that kid. I start thinking real hard. I start thinking that maybe I can't trust this kind of person, not because he is dishonest, but because he is emotionally imbalanced and driven by rules, not reality. So I start thinking that maybe a law is a good idea after all, where before I did not. And I start thinking all kinds of weird things. But that's because I see all kinds of weird things.

If other Objectivists do not wish to deal with protecting children's rights, I will deal with it. I intend to discuss it and analyze it from all angles. I don't want all that acrimony, though. I want intelligent discussion. So I don't know how I am going to do this. Another RoR session like that is not good. But this really needs work badly. What these dudes preach is PR poison [for Objectivism].

I guarantee that an intelligent (and common-sense) approach to ensuring care for stray children will do much toward Objectivism being accepted by the public at large, rather than being for a small subculture that gets neurotic at times and bickers itself to death.

One of the strongest indications of the danger of this inadvertent brainwash was shown on RoR after I took a breather. A few posters mentioned that both sides presented strong logical arguments, but that reading the thread was painful.

I submit that the pain was due to seeing irrational naked rage touted as reason. And it was due to seeing how the lack of doing a reality check on a basic premise can lead to that. “After all,” you think, “If others have become that way, is that what I am going to become?”

Conclusion

So how do I come down on the legal aspect? Frankly I am divided on this. From the standpoint of the adult, I am strongly against any law that would limit his freedom. From the standpoint of the child, I want some kind of legal protection for his fundamental rights.

One thing is clear. Politics must rest on ethics. Not the other way around. Ethics does not rest on politics. Non-initiation-of-force as a social principle should never trump individual human life as the standard of value. NIOF is even based on human life. So this is a very complicated issue.

I believe that defining the parameters of the crime of starvation of another is a good start. Also, a standard practice in USA law is to include psychological principles, so maybe it is a good idea to look at this from a philosophical viewpoint.

Shunning was proposed as a practical measure. It is a very good idea for individuals to do, but it does not deal with the child's right-to-life. So I do not believe that merely shunning a person who committed an intentional abomination resulting in the death of a child is good enough for redress.

There is still much thinking that needs to be done here.

One thing I do know, however. Of this I am certain. The moral ambivalence in Objectivism that I have witnessed so far regarding the fundamental right-to-life of children needs to be dealt with before Objectivism will gain any real headway with the 98% plus of Rand’s readers.

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The problem is not only about the rights of children, it's more general. I therefore suggested a different example, that of a seriously wounded victim of an accident on a deserted road:

Let's try a somewhat different and perhaps more realistic scenario: you're driving on a lonely road when you see someone lying on the roadside, seriously wounded and obviously the victim of an accident. There's no one else around and the odds are there won't come anyone soon. Do you have the right to drive on (it's none of my business)? I'm no legal expert, but AFAIK you are punishable by law in some (many?) countries if you drive on and do nothing further to help that victim in such a situation, and rightly so IMO

And sure, the reply was:

Calopteryx, I object to the laws you cite mandating that a person must stop to assist an accident victim. I am not saying those laws are not on the books. I am saying that those laws should not be on the books. I also object to your assessment that government should "rightly so" punish the passers. Wrong! Such punishment flies in the face of individual liberty.

Well, my first impulse on reading that was "to hell then with individual liberty!". But that is of course not correct, I hold individual liberty dear, it should therefore be "to hell with your idea of individual liberty!" A law punishing this kind of criminal neglect is not an example of fascism or socialism, that is the fallacy of the slippery slope. As Rand said: The principle that one should help men in an emergency cannot be extended to regard all human suffering as an emergency and to turn the misfortune of some into a first mortgage on the lives of others

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Michael,

This is one of a host of issues that are addressed by David Kelley in Unrugged Individualism. Basically, if you let the baby die, it is a particularly egregious form of failing to apply the virtue of benevolence. The example in Kelley's book is the Kitty Genovese case where she was brutally murdered in front of witnesses and no one called the police. It is morally evil not to notify the police if there are no extenuating circumstances. What is morally required in these cases is to call the police at minimum. There are other cases, however, where we have no such moral requirement. Babies who lack proper immunizations in the Sudan, for instance. We know they will die, but there are no police to call.

However, you cannot have a duty to aid politically due to the least acceptable practitioner principle. We cannot criminalize certain forms of immorality because the establishment of the principle that there are no positive rights. This is the same reason Objectivists are against taxation even if it was for a justified purpose, such as national defense. We are establishing the principle that a person has an inviolate right to their life, liberty and property.

Jim

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James,

Thanks for the Kelley reference. I have that book, but I haven't read it yet. I will.

From the standpoint of the adult, I fully agree with everything you said.

Now, I wish to ask without acrimony, because this is important. What about the right-to-life of that kid? Are you one who believes that nothing can be done about it?

Michael

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Michael,

Sure. The rights of the child are being violated by the parents or guardian that abandoned the baby. From a legal standpoint, the police should intercede to rectify this. As a practical matter, the police need to be notified. But again, if I don't notify the police, it wasn't me that put the baby in danger and I can't be charged with a crime.

Jim

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Jim,

Thank you. Next question, and I am not talking about you as a person.

A right has value to a human being only so long as he is alive. (I'm kind of tired of typing and polishing the following scenario to hone in on the child's rights, but it needs to be stated clearly from the child's perspective.)

Do you believe that a man who camped out in the wilderness for several days with a child he encountered by chance, had plenty of food and refused to share it with the child resulting in the child's death from starvation, violated that child's right to life? Look at it from the eyes of the child, not the adult. The adult has been very well defended so far.

For the sake of discussion, let's keep this between the man and the child, not police, parents or anybody else.

I promise not to get angry or swear eternal revenge. I am interested in clear statements right now, not controversy.

Michael

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Do you believe that a man who camped out in the wilderness for several days with a child he encountered by chance, had plenty of food and refused to share it with the child resulting in the child's death from starvation, violated that child's right to life?

Michael, I personally think that if I encounter by chance out in the wilderness a child, his right to life has been violated by someone else already, and not by me.

Now, to save or not the child's life, depends on what I would think at that particular moment( I know that I will give him my food) but I don't think I should be responsible for his death if I decide to let him die.

CD.

I didn't copy james' post i just read it after i posted mine!!

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Michael, I think that because you lived for so many years in Brazil, and have witnessed, in first person, the death of so many children killed for sex, organ transplant,etc...you are more sentive to such issues.

It is not just about objectivism i guess?

CD

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Thank you Ciro.

We are starting to progress.

Now from the child's view. Do you believe that the child would imagine his right-to-life was being violated? (Just the child and the man, not others.) If you were that child, for instance?

I know this sounds picky, but this issue is in the moral cracks and clear statements help with the thinking.

Michael

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Michael,

Again, I think it's morally wrong for me not to give food to the child in the scenario you describe, but I don't think the child's rights are being violated. Remember, rights are a specific concept that guarantees freedom of action and protection from force or fraud.

Interestingly, the child would be morally justified in stealing my food, but would be violating my rights.

Jim

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Michael:Now from the child's view. Do you believe that the child would imagine his right-to-life was being violated? (Just the child and the man, not others.) If you were that child, for instance?

If I were the child I would not see it that way, I would smile to the man as much as possible, and hope that he would have pity and save my life.

[-o< :D

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Michael,

This is handled by Rand's essay Ethics of Emergencies. The situation you are in is not metaphysically normal. You are effectively in a state of nature with this child. If there were police available to call to defend your rights to your food, they would also be there to help the child and return him to a state of metaphysical normalcy.

Jim

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I'm late in catching up to the rights discussion on RoR -- and to Michael's article here. I didn't have time to read any of the list discussion until late last night.

Michael, I think that your essay is excellent and searching -- and accurate in its delineation of dynamics, and correct in its assessment of what most people would think on this issue.

However, I think that Jim and Ciro are correct in their replies. There is no right TO life. A right is a right to freedom of action, not a right to be taken care of.

The issue of the status of children is a very difficult issue (one which has been debated at seemingly infinite length over the years on the Atlantis lists). I think there is work needing done with the Objectivist viewpoint on this. My own rather sketchy opinion (I don't specialize in rights theory) is that the parents take on an implicit contract to protect and care for the child until the child is old enough to care for him/herself and that the parents can be charged with negligence and stripped of their guardianship prerogatives if they don't perform responsibly. But that no other adult except the parents has any obligation to the child (unless guardianship is legally transferred to some other adult(s)).

As to your question about how the concept of rights can lead to issues in which an action is immoral but shouldn't be illegal: because rights is only a subcategory of ethics, not the whole ballpark. A right is a freedom of action morally defensible by force. Ethics is very much wider than circumstances pertaining to force.

Ellen

___

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Ellen,

From what you said, and from the adult's perspective, I agree. I really do. No problem.

I feel a collision, though, when the kid's preventable death comes into it.

And a real problem starts when I contemplate the reality of something like that. There are just some facts that will not go away. I am extremely uncomfortable with saying,

"OK, I agree. Let's forget about the kid and if he comes across some jerk who will deny him food in an emergency, well... well... well...

Tough."

You see, I can't get the abomination of this out of my mind. Nor the preventable death at no sacrifice.

I can't go into "abstract-land" and merely forget about the kid when his death was not metaphysically necessary.

As I stated earlier on the other forum, if I saw something like that, I would see red and to hell with everything else. I don't think I have felt such a sense of outrage in ages as I do when I contemplate that kind of monstrosity.

That's what is making me bring the kid's view to the table. Anyway, this is something widely perceived by others when they look at Objectivism. And so far, all we have is "tough luck" for the kid who died and shunning for the adult.

I think this will make any church of any denomination look extremely appealing to a normal person.

I am not trying to be a do-gooder and postulate enslavement. I certainly cannot see clearly how this can be punished by law (as I said, shunning is not sufficient - so I am thinking along the lines of crime, but definition is very tricky). But I swear, I cannot see how this can go unpunished. That abomination is one hell of a two-ton gorilla in my head that just won't go away.

I don't have the answers. More than anything, I don't enjoy contemplating punishment. I would love to find a deterrent. But I only see the reality of the event right now.

(And I was fine until I started hearing people use that to illustrate the extent of their own rights under Objectivism. It got worse when I started thinking about it from the kid's view.)

Do you consider starvation of another to be force? Maybe this is a good path of inquiry.

Michael

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J:The situation you are in is not metaphysically normal

This is true James, but it is also true that we learn by thinking, and creating realities that are not metaphysically normal.

CD

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I'm basically repeating here what I said in ethics a few days ago.

I am truly disturbed at how people would ignore another human being's suffering in the name of practicing Objectivism. It seems contrary to human nature to let a child starve when you could easily help without sacrifice to yourself. This is a case of selfishness being taken too far.

How can one just stand there looking stupid and not act in such a situation? To add insult to injury they are trying to justify their indifference on the basis of Objectivist principles of individual rights. Sorry, I ain't buying that nonsense.

If a child is there without their parents and obviously abandoned, neglected or lost and I was the only adult around, I would not hesitate to step in and help the kid. I think most people would, and I agree with Michael that it would be criminal not to, especially when the kid is considered to be an imposition on one's individual rights. I'm sorry, but in a crisis life or death situation, the normal rules don't apply. Children rely on adults for their survival, so if you are the only adult, you have the responsibility to step in. To make the conscious decision to walk away and let the child die is an act so cruel and despicable that it should be considered criminally negligent. "But I don't think of you" is not an excuse in this case and no cost/benefit analysis and all the Excel spreadsheets in the world ain't gonna excuse letting this young child die of starvation, when you were his or her only chance of survival. It seems so obvious that most people would rescue the child and we shouldn't have to have laws to compel people to act right in such a situation. Why be a killer when you could be a hero?

As an Objectivist, I hold human life as the standard of value. If other Objectivists consider it a governmental initiation of force to compel its citizens by law to act in the interest of saving a child's life, they are putting a political principle (non-initiation of force) ahead of an ethical principle (man's life as the standard of value). Politics is built on ethics, not the other way around.

Kat

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Kat,

This is an example where it is important to understand the role of hierarchy in political institutions. We all have rights that are inherent in our natures, whether those rights are realized or not. However, in order to realize those rights in reality takes an extraordinary amount of effort. We don't consider it a crime not to fight in the armed services, yet the armed services are necessary to the maintenance of our political freedoms.

One of the pillars of a free society is the principle of voluntarism. It is a prerequisite for the kind of laissez-faire capitalist society that we want. We could make all kinds of exceptions to that principle and bit by bit we would erode the freedoms that we cherish. We could say that it is a requirement of society that we pay for a decent education for our kids. After all, without an education the kid will likely not be able to provide for himself. We could require that children be immunized. After all, they couldn't make the choice and if they die from some disease that was preventable, why not prosecute for negligence?

There is already a solution in civil law that could be applied to the example Michael quotes that goes above and beyond shunning. If the wilderness is on government land there could be posted set of "wilderness survival rules" that one accepts when you step onto the property. One could be held liable in civil court under those conditions for neglect or wrongful death of a minor. You could also buy insurance against such claims.

If this happens on private property, the property owner can be sued if it can be shown that he did not have a proper fence preventing entry into his wilderness. He could also buy insurance against that liability. Adults who enter his land could sign a document accepting responsibility for a child if they are in his vicinity.

However, there are no cases in which an adult can be held criminally responsible for inaction, given the fact that he didn't explicitly take responsibility for taking an action.

Jim

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Kat, Michael -- if you can legitimately force an adult (not the parent) to take care of a defenseless baby, you can legitimately force an adult to defend your country. In other words, your argument is opening the door to the military draft. We fought hard to get rid of it and replace it with a voluntary (though tax-paid) military. I suggest we do the same for defending the rights of abandoned children, and not criminalize those who do not want to take part in defense.

Michael -- in our private emails, I have told you how I despise the egocentric, overgrown-teenager mentality that infects the Libertarian and Objectivist movements. This is to be expected in movements that challenge authority -- because the first and most important job of a teenager is to assert his independence from authority (i.e., parents). But too many people stop there -- especially in movements that say that rebelling against authority is OK, even good. Our job is to get them to realize that they still have growing up to do -- not threaten them with jail if they refuse to do so!

More on this soon, because I really do believe that rights are contextual, not absolute, and that the child and/or someone on his behalf would be justified in taking the food needed to survive. If Objectivism's morality is for the purpose of helping you live and be happy, you cannot be required to abstain from an action that is necessary to your survival. And if rights are a principle requiring you to abstain from taking another's property, then it is obvious that there are contexts in which rights temporarily do not operate. They're called emergencies! But they are highly specific -- and temporary!

So, I am not trying to stiff starving babies here. I just don't like treating the baby's starving as if it is something that a non-helping adult is doing to the baby. If you can make a case for a legal responsibility of all and any adults to help starving babies, do it. But don't just assert it because you feel it!

I have long believed that the issue of the right to children of support by their parents (and the related issue of abortion of late-term fetuses) is the Achilles heel of the Libertarian and Objectivist movements, so you are certainly in the ballpark of my deep concerns. I just don't want to see you advocating that we impose a political solution (criminalizing failure to be a Good Samaritan) on what is basically a moral wrong (failure to have compassion for the helpless).

Best,

REB

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Roger,

I feel your pain on this.

Let me correct a poor impression that has become instilled - with the stooges trying to make it stick (which of course it doesn't and never could with people who know me and others who can read).

I am not an advocate for laws that restrict freedom and impose obligations. I am against them. I fully agree that a small seed grows into a huge tree, so this is a very touchy thing we are talking about.

I can't get the abomination out of my head, though. I want the kid's right-to-life protected. This cuts to such a fundamental level that I will say it again louder. I want the kid's right-to-life protected.

I know that right-to-life is not a guarantee to live. That is Objectivism 101. But in a society of reasonable human beings, preventable death of an infant at no real sacrifice to an adult in an emergency is a very serious issue. The moral justification for letting the kid die falls completely flat inside me.

This is something that keeps Christians Christians and Muslims Muslims - and not even look at Objectivism. Look at Kat's post above. She has not read the Objectivist literature extensively, but her view sums up what the vast majority of common-sense people think. No amount of "explaining" is going to change the life view behind her statements (and this goes for the rest of humanity). It just won't happen.

People are always going to think that it's not OK to starve a child to death.

Anyway, this issue bothers the living hell out of me as an Objectivist. The life view (sense of life, whatever) that Kat is coming from is identical to mine. And I have a hard time not wishing for legal protection and redress against violators.

Regardless, I want to back up a bit. Let's forget about politics for now. I'll deal with my urge to waste the monster who starves a kid to death for now (unless I really see him... oops... sorry... I promise to keep a lid on it). I will no longer clamor for the creation of some kind of law governing "positive rights" for now.

However, I still do not endorse this scenario as the good for the adult (i.e., exercising his own right to choose) - not even politically. This can never be the good. A solution needs to be found for the colliding principles. So I am going strongly into "investigate mode." Here is what I posted on RoR about this, and it sums up pretty well where I was inside, even at the beginning of this discussion:

When a philosophy would let a monster like that get off by saying that it was none of his affair, there is something very seriously wrong. So rather than argue or think about the political considerations right now (everybody has beaten that one to death - especially niof), I am going off into the deep end. Politics is based (basically) on ethics which is based on epistemology and metaphysics. Somewhere in the middle (metaphysics usually in Objectivism) is man's nature.

A person just asked me what the Objectivist definition of man's nature is. "Ratioinal animal" came to mind, but I certainly cannot use that definition for my example - neither for the abomination nor for letting the monster go Scot free (except for being shunned voluntarily by society). There is nothing rational about any of this. So I think some serious thinking on the nature of human beings is in order here. Something's missing. If ethics is a code of values for human beings, a study of the nature of human beings is a good place to go. The rest will follow logically.

This is the context of what I wish and wished to discuss. It was necessary to get the issue out there on the table, so a certain heavy-handedness ("creepy, ick," etc.) was needed because people were sidestepping the essentials. As I do happen to respond to attacks aggressively, this issue got sidetracked somewhat and I fear that many good arguments got buried for many people because of the noise level. They get sick reading through the thread.

I certainly look forward to your thoughts, though. You are one of the many very intelligent people around here I admire so much who use their brains for thinking and do not run from hard problems by regurgitating parts of Rand's ideas and aping her condemnatory attitudes wholesale.

Michael

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Michael,

The kid's life is protected by the legal system in the only way it can. We could also save more people's lives by breaking into people's houses or searching their property without a warrant. In many cases, this causes no harm to the property owner. We don't do that for a reason. We don't trust the government with that power. Similarly, we can't criminally prosecute people for inaction when they did not voluntarily take on the responsibility for action.

We can say that person is immoral, judge him accordingly, and in some cases sue him for wrongful death in civil court depending on the rules on the property. That is the extent of what the law can do in a free society.

Jim

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Michael,

The kind of sense of life you are talking about is healthy and I am glad you and Kat have it. It's the same thing that makes people want to watch the Dirty Harry movies. In one scene, Dirty Harry is trying to save the life of a kidnapped child who is going to suffocate to death. He knows beyond any doubt that the kidnapper has her. He motions off his partner, takes the kidnapper onto a football field and tortures him until gives up the location of the girl.

I want Dirty Harry as a neighbor, I might want him as an international CIA field agent. However, I don't want Dirty Harry as a police officer or an instrument of the law. We cannot force others to act morally in a free society.

Jim

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James,

All of those are considerations of politics, and as they are based on traditional Objectivist premises, they are correct.

The result is the "tough" for the kid when he dies in front of a callous monster I mentioned above.

Anyway, I am going deeper. One issue Objectivism covers very little is what I call "species" concerns. (I even wrote about that in my first article on the former SoloHQ, about family, which is reprinted here on OL). We are not just individual "things" all somehow stuck on a spinning orb that is racing through time and space, each fending for itself and cut off from the rest of the universe.

Part of our being is precisely this, though - our individuality.

The other part, the "shell" for our individuality maybe is a good way to put it, belongs to a species. We were born of human parents and we have the capactiy to reproduce other humans - with a strong pre-wired drive in most of us to do that.

There are many documented cases of empathy, where a stranger puts his life in danger to save another stranger - and his reaction was automatic, not thought out. Even sociopathic monsters have been known to have flashes of unexplained empathy. I'm not talking philosophy here. I'm talking about an automatic impulse that led to immediate action, even in people with philosophies that would not lead to that.

Isn't this impulse a part of our nature - the given (in Objectivist words) - just as much as our individuality is? I would call that a "species thing" of some sort.

There are other issues of similar bearing I have been studying, also. There is a fascinating thing called "neural pathway," for example. It goes something like this:

If you are like most people and have no awareness of what being able to wiggle your ears feels like (and this is done with scalp muscles), such awareness can be instilled by creating a neural pathway with electrodes. You attach them to the scalp in the proper place, turn on the juice, the ears wiggle, and after that, you can wiggle your ears all you want. A neural pathway was created.

That is unrelated to our discussion of rights, but not as much as it seems. This type of thing is also part of man's nature. This is a very important epistemological and psycho-epistemological consideration. Since ethics rests partially on epistemology, I can see where this type of "neural pathway" learning and awareness could become very important in determining some kinds of values. Then as politics partially rests on ethics - well, you get the picture.

(I haven't thought this particular example through very deeply.)

Anyway, as I said, I am in "input mode" right now. Processing will come later.

Michael

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My, what an interesting week. What to say...

I can only go for broad strokes.

Their kung fu is no good.

I think one of the many peaks was one of them saying that, due to the supposed hardening that living on a farm gave them, they would walk past a starving, crying kitten in the woods, and... do you still want to know me?

No, because you are either a very callous human, or, more likely, a liar. The worst and most dangerous of which are the ones that actually believe their own b.s.

That was a pathetic display of male bravado, to be sure. That is not kung fu, it's not even pro wrestling. If anything, it suggests a possible past of animal torture, albeit the balls-less varities such as burning ants with a magnifying glass. Oh, it is so easy to make a man like that cry.

I so want to name names and proclaim how painfully obvious it is that there is no way any of them could be any good in bed. Too much acting in one's own self-interest. I know, I know, to do otherwise is immoral. I'd rather be happy, and one of the best ways to do that is make someone else happy. Blank out.

Bad kung fu, and here's one reason why: Rehearsed, repetitive movements, rehearsed responses of any kind are, in fact, inferior when addressing reality, which is fluid, dynamic, and evolving. Their kung fu is slow, and it is stiff, and it is heavily, heavily predictable.

And, of course, there is the whole dissociation/pathology that goes along with an integration gone wrong. Or one not done at all. We're starting to see that with all the sniffy, superior fronting.

Thrown into the thick of a real deal, these boys would either freeze their processors, or make a really, really bad decision.

Thought, awareness, feeling, perception, these are things that come from the whole of you. The you that is seamless with the universe. That's right, that's what I said.

You gotta be like water, my friend, and what I'm seeing is concrete. If water pounds the rock over and over, the rock is what loses, not the water.

Best,

rde

Has reasonably workable kung fu.

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