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


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Hi, Michael.

You mentioned the word "honor." Very interesting. An Objectivist friend of mine once referred to the virtue needed in situations like we have been discussing as "honor." The questions that arises is: what kind of person would allow a baby to starve when he had more than enough food for his own needs? An ethical egoist? A Randian rationally self-interested person? Puh-leeze. Try: a sociopath or, more charitably, an overgrown-teenager who has not grown morally and emotionally beyond the egocentric phase of development.

Beyond this, what kind of person would allow a baby to needlessly starve, when he could comfortably do something about it? What kind of person? That is the question of honor. What kind of person are you? What kind of person do you want to be? One who would stand by his Randian guns and say, "I don't have to save this starving baby, so I won't, just to make sure no one thinks I'm an altruist and starts asking me to contribute to charitable organizations"? Perish the thought!

I've always wondered whether honor carries with it a sense of obligation, or whether it is simply something that one feels (or one doesn't), like generosity and benevolence. Do you have an ethical obligation to do the honorable or generous thing? Rand would probably say no, because it's a "marginal" issue, one that is not essential to human existence, but only to emergencies, which are not normal aspects of human life. But was she right about this?

It's hard for me to see how obligations arise from questions of honor -- unless we connect it somehow to pride aka "moral ambitiousness." Do you want to go around with the black stain on your character of having denied a starving baby food? Do you want to be regarded by your fellow human beings as a callous, uncaring monster, who will allow death to prevail, when you could have lifted a finger and prevented it? Isn't there a saying: "the only way evil (or death) will win is for good people to do nothing"? So? Do you want evil and death to win? Is that the kind of person you are?

*********************************************

I have said this before, and I'll say it again. As much as I sympathize with Michael's example of the starving baby and the callous stranger, I'm much more concerned with the considerable strain within Objectivism and Libertarianism opposed to the legal obligation of parents to support their children -- and the corresponding right of children to support by their parents. As long as we have as many vocal opponents to this obligation and right as we do, I don't see how we're going to get anywhere arguing about Michael's example. I have beat my head against the wall, trying to convince people that children really do have a positive right to be supported by their parents, because those parents -- by bearing them into the world -- put them in a position of helplessness. This moral myopia exists across the board: on RoR (formerly SOLO), in TOC, on Noodle Food, in the Libertarian Party. It is, as I have said, "the Achilles Heel" of modern individualism. Unless we address it and defeat it, I think the goose of rational individualism is cooked. In that respect, I have similar concern to Michael and Kat, though I think we should focus on the issue involving rights and the parent-child relationship. Until we get that nailed down, we will get nowhere on the tougher issues.

REB

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Roger,

For the record, I am a bit stunned about the widespread conviction of Objectivist-libertarian people not recognizing parental obligations.

What on earth kind of expression is "positive rights" anyway? A euphemistic form of pretending that an obligation is not being addressed?

I saw the thought expressed the other day that a person should only gain protection for his rights from a social structure, but not have any obligations whatsoever. That's a lopsided bargain to me.

Granted, an individual's choice in this cost-benefit and price-and-services arrangement is limited (by vote, usually), but the only viable alternative I see is dictatorship.

Then, we get to kids. Are they citizens or not? If they are, they have some basic rights and some others they gradually assume as they grow up. How are these rights to be protected without assigning legal obligation to adults (parents, mainly)? This is an interesting question in identifying reality.

Rand always said, if you encounter a contradiction, check your premises. In light of the contradictions, that is what I have been doing.

Michael

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Michael, the "positive" and "negative" lingo in discussing moral and legal obligations and rights has to do with things you are supposed to do or refrain from doing.

In "Man's Rights," Rand says:

The concept of a "right" pertains only action--specifically, to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men. Thus, for every individual, a right is the moral sanction of a positive--of his freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice. As to his neighbors, his rights impose no obligations on them except of a negative kind: to abstain from violating his rights. [p. 110, VOS]

Bear in mind that the right to property is a right to action, like all the others: it is not the right to an object, but to the action and consequences of producing or earning that object. It is not a guarantee that a man will earn any property, but only a guarantee that he will own it if he earns it. It is the right to gain, to keep, to use and to dispose of material values. [pp. 110-111, VOS]

The right to life means that a man has the right to support his life by his own work (on any economic level, as high as his ability will carry him); it does not mean that others must provide him with the necessities of life. [p. 114, VOS]

Kind of hard to see how babies fit in there, isn't it! Even if your baby has the right to life, it would seem that all you are negatively obligated to do is avoid interfering with his "freedom of action." You have no positive obligation to provide him with "the necessities of life." Well, whoop-de-frickin-doo! Three cheers for the anti-parental-slavery movement!

One thing the Libertarian and Objectivist parent-liberators overlook, however, is that the parents, by their own actions of bearing their youngster into the world, have placed a human being in the position of being unable to exercise his freedom of action in order to "support his life." They have put their child in the same position that one puts an adult that one has run into with one's automobile and made into a helpless quadriplegic.

If you did not provide assistance and support to the quadriplegic whose helpless condition you brought about by your own actions, you would be guilty of attempted murder. The same is true for failure to provide support to one's children. (Don't even get me started on those who deny that children are rational animals and therefore don't possess "man's rights.")

Now, we might suggest a "fix" (anticipating howls of dismay and disappoval from those who think "Man's Rights" is perfect as it stands), by reformulating Rand's negative obligation statement as follows:

As to his neighbors or parents, his rights impose no obligations on them except of a negative kind: to abstain from violating his rights and to abstain from placing and/or leaving him in a helpless state without proper support and care. [Roger Bissell's perversion of Ayn Rand's sacred words]

Then, the support children rightfully receive would be seen as part and parcel of parents respecting their negative obligations, rather than some nasty old "positive rights" to goods at their poor enslaved, sacrificial animal parents' expense. (Jesus Christ, how it galls me that I have to write this kind of stuff in answer to people who claim to be the paragons of rationality and individualism -- and to be more Objectivist and Libertarian than I am. Barbara, I've got some rage happening here. You're welcome to mention it in your TOC talk!)

Well, Michael, do you see my point? This is a huge, festering sore in Objectivism and Libertarianism, and few people are willing to acknowledge it and do the right thing about it. I was appalled when I read Murray Rothbard's rejection of children's right to support in The Ethics of Liberty and Bill Evers' similar piece in Journal of Libertarian Studies, back in the 1970s. But now I'm reading on Noodle Food, RoR (and SOLO), and Atlantis, etc. the same goddamned baby-murdering crap.

Michael, you don't want to leave your kids with Libertarian or Objectivist strangers? How about we start by making it illegal for Libertarians or Objectivists to have children, unless they affirm that they have a moral and legal obligation to support their children!

And now you know what pushes my buttons -- and has been for the past 30 years.

REB

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Can we assume that ARI folks at least are committed to parental obligation? This was certainly Rand's position.

With them it sometimes happens that a given position of Rand's will be viewed as "not part of her philosophy" and therefore not something they need to agree with.

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John,

I am not familiar with ARI's writers writings on rights (except for sporadic articles), but I have never heard about parental obligation denied by them. I am sure that if they promoted this idea, many different people would have commented wide and far.

Good point.

In terms of compassion, though, I have seen some things that take my breath away. The bleeding pregnant lady by Peikoff. The tsunami oped right while the body count was being reported on TV, going up to 200,000, stating that it would be immoral for the USA to send money in aid. A few others.

Michael

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John & Michael, I think it is fair to assume that Peikoff still supports the concept of parental obligation. And that Nathaniel Branden still supports it. I don't know about ARI as an organization -- nor about the other principal spokesmen for ARI. I misspoke myself two posts ago about TOC. I don't know their position. The other groups and discussion lists I mentioned, however, all have been infested with this horrendous denial of parental obligation.

I should dredge up some examples just for (?) fun, but I'm too tired. I do recall having had a rather heated debate on Noodle Food several months ago with Adam Reed, a long-time Objectivist and Libertarian, who attends both ARI and TOC functions (as do I), and he rejected the notion that children have rights. The RoR examples wouldn't be too hard to find. The other stuff would be harder to research, except I know that Rothbard and Evers were never adequately answered in Libertarian Circles, and someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that the Libertarian Party has never adopted a plank recognizing children's right to support. (They were more concerned with recognizing children's rights to do whatever adult activities they wanted to do, including own property, run businesses, divorce their parents, etc.)

REB

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On August 9, 2005, I argued on Noodle Food with Adam Reed about whether children have rights. He claimed that they are not rational beings and thus do not have rights. Here are his comments and my replies:

1st exchange:

Adam Reed wrote:

LS' explanation is a paraphrase of one of Mortimer Adler's arguments in "Ten Philosophical Mistakes." Adler's argument is based on the Aristotelian "moderate realist" theory of "universals," which Ayn Rand properly dismisses in the foreword to ITOE. Contra Adler, Rand shows that an individual man has rights by virtue of his own individual attributes (and not by virtue of his membership in a "universal class" of men, per Adler and the Scholastic Aristotelians, and apparently LS.) An individual man who lacks some of the specific attributes by virtue of which men have rights, lacks those rights that depend on the attributes which he does not have. I don't want this to go on a tangent about Ayn Rand's differences from previous Aristotelians, but we are dealing here with the epistemological foundation of Rand's ethical individualism, so it is important that LS' position should not be mistaken for anything derived from the work of Ayn Rand.
[emphasis added -- comment: in other words, babies, who lack a rational faculty, because they can't think (duh!), don't have rights]

REB replied: I think this is a gross misinterpretation of LS' position. A careful reading of "Man's Rights" shows that LS' careful attempts to avoid rationalism in re rights fits squarely into Rand's viewpoint without any recourse to Aristotelian moderate realism.

Yes, "an individual man has rights by virtue of his own individual attributes (and not by virtue of his membership in a "universal class" of men)". Or, as Rand said, "a right is the property of an individual." (110, ppbk) So, when she wrote "rights are conditions of existence required by man's nature for his proper survival" (110, ppbk), she meant each and every man, by his nature, as an individual, not just some men (as individuals) who happen to have a certain attribute at some point in their life cycle.

In particular, "the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action--which means: the freedom to take ALL the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life." (110, ppbk, emphasis added) By his nature, a individual rational being begins his life as a helpless baby. He cannot further his life as a rational being, if he is not allowed to live while a baby, and we ought to acknowledge that fact as part of how we ethically treat all individuals, which means that an individual rational being should be recognized as beginning his life with the (i.e., our sanction of his) right to life. Further, since he was put in the position of helplessness by his parent(s), an individual rational being also begins his life with the right to parental support, for they put him in the position of being unable to provide for his own support.

As L.S. said, "rights are something possessed by man the complete organism." An individual rational man, as a complete organism, is at a certain point of his organismic existence a non-conceptual, helpless being. He, at the very minimum, is possessed, as an individual, of the right to life (and, I would argue, the right to support by his parent(s)).

Remember, too, that a man's life is his not only by his nature, but also by moral principle "defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context." That is, we rational individuals acknowledge (sanction) the proper freedom of all rational individuals to take ALL the actions required by our natures as rational beings for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of our lives. So, the right of babies to live and the right of babies and children to support (by parents) is something that we all, as rational individuals, ought to acknowledge.

===========================================

2nd exchange:

Adam Reed wrote:

LS wrote: "Rationality is required in principle to arrive at man's rights philosophically--but once the principle is discovered then you proceed to apply it to *all* men, even those who's rational faculty is limited or impaired because of age or defect." The idea that principles apply to "*all* men" - that is, not qua individuals individually having attributes on which the principle is based, but rather men qua members of a universal class - is pure "moderate realism."

REB replied: By the same logic, you would have to reject Ayn Rand's assertion that the right to life means "the freedom to take ALL the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life." (VOS, 110) Each rational being, as an individual, by his nature, requires being free, while a baby, to live. This freedom, while one is a baby, is one of the "conditions of existence required by man's nature for his proper survival." (VOS, 111) Either the principle of man's rights pertains to ALL an individual man's survival actions, including those taken before that man is capable of rational action, or Adam is rejecting Rand's model of rights. And I still fail to see how either Rand or L.S. is guilty of "moderate realism."

Now, there is a possible escape hatch here for Adam. Don Watkins appears to equate a "brainless baby" with a baby "born without a rational faculty," which suggests that he also regards a baby born with a brain as a baby having a rational faculty. I agree with this. And it seems clear that there are times during which we are unable, for one reason or another, to use our rational faculties, whether while unconscious or temporarily disabled by disease or during early childhood. I don't think our rights blink into or out of existence, depending on what state of ability our existing rational faculty (brain) is at the time. That is just too bizarre. And scary. Around certain Objectivists, one would be afraid to sleep too soundly!

Adam Reed again:

So is the idea that, "once the principle is discovered," thenceforth it applies to the "universal class," including to individuals who lack the specific attributes that make the principle possible in the first place. LS just managed to smuggle it in less visibly than Adler.

REB replied: What makes the principle of rights possible in the first place is being the kind of living being who, while being rational and able to grasp moral principles, is also, by his nature, at times in his life cycle or due to circumstance, unable to exercise his rational faculty. As L.S. said, and Don Watkins, too, we are not just our defining characteristics. We are whole beings, with whole lives. Our rights apply to each of us, as individuals, and to our entire lives. You cannot deny rights to young children without also denying that young childhood is an essential stage of one's life as a rational being, and one's being allowed to live as a young child a "condition of existence required by man's nature for his proper survival." In other words, it would appear that denying rights to young children involves the Stolen Concept fallacy.

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Mike:

~~ I must admit, when I referred to Piekoff's hearsayed response re the title subject, the main thing I found 'wierd' was that he would even have tactlessly asked the woman the 'criterion'-question in the 1st place (not to mention doing bad-PR advertising that he would.) :-&

~~ I must say, though, that if this hypothetical female (15 or 51) made clear right in the beginning that I'd 'better' help her because I'm 'supposed' to...then even *I* might have some 2nd thoughts about helping someone who's advertising their own self as an ingrate who demands that others do what she...demands.

~~ Just getting things clear here. :-s

~~ Re ARI's writings, other than what I read 'hearsayed' by others (or occasional checks on their W-Site), I also don't have any idea what their latest analytical-acumen shows on the subject. I've just been arguing from what I see as the logical connection between the idea of rights and, for want of a better term, interactive-ethics, or, inter-relational-morality.

LLAP

J:D

P.S: Can't seem to get the 'whistle' smiley-icon to show up. Hey! I like to whistle sometimes.

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Thanks Michael and Roger for the info.

In theory you can separate the issues of "children have rights" and "parents have an obligation to care for children." But they are certainly related. I seem to recall someone at TOC, at least at one point, was negative on children's rights, but positive on parental obligation. When pressed carefully, his position did not allow for child abuse, so his real position was not as outrageous as it had first seemed.

Also, someone at TOC argued that a father was not responsible for the child if he and the mother were unmarried and had not discussed the possibility of having children. I published an article exploring my disagreement with this position.

Personally I fall into the rights-for-children and obligations-for-parents camp, which is a well-populated camp. I do think the obligation to care for your offspring is one that can reasonably be transferred at times, as when a very young mother puts her child up for adoption.

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Roger,

We basically are on the same side of the fence, but I have a small nit to pick. Before I do, I want to thank you for making a distinction between starving a person to death and watching him starve to death. That is an important distinction and it is a line that gets crossed when force is involved.

We probably disagree, however, on where a person crosses that line. If he shows up with food and denies it to a child over a couple of days while watching the disaster happen, you would probably say he did not cross it and I say he did. This is such a gray crack in an otherwise clear black-and-white principle that I am glad it is being discussed.

Now onto the nit. We both clearly agree about parental obligations (including considerations for the distinction from child rights, as John Enright just said). I am fully in the camp of the adults making sure their kids are taken care of and being morally and legally responsible for this.

This is particularly painful to me because of my past. I am what could be considered as a deadbeat dad. I left my two boys with the mother when I perceived a lot of emotional blackmail was being used ON THEM. The whole family was rich and tribal (Arabian culture), so on leaving them behind, the only thing I took with me in terms of reassurance was that they would be well cared for. If I had not had that luxury, I would have stayed around to care for the kids, but I probably would have done something really, really stupid over time (even more stupid than drugs). On the other hand, with less money, those people in that family would not have had such a controlling influence on their daughter, so the reality might have been different.

Leaving my boys was the most painful decision I ever made in my life and my now-known voyage through alcoholism and drug addiction had its roots in doing that. Thus, on top of any moral-legal considerations when we discuss kids, there is a hole inside me (a bit scarred, but still a hole). The topic of children is a very sensitive point. Do I overcompensate? I keep asking myself this and so far I don't think so. But I am aware that I want to.

Back to the nitpick (for the second time! - this time for real). You state that parents place the children in a position of being unable to care for themselves. I see the logic of this form of argument, but I am not comfortable with it. It sort of makes a "metaphysical rights and obligations" theory based on a principle and not on biology, i.e., nature.

I prefer to look at the fact that youth and development - and procreation - should be considered as parts of man's nature and have ethics become derived from that nature. Your statement makes a logical derivation for a child from a principle applicable to another stage of a human being's development (adulthood).

As you can see, I don't agree with a fully developed individuality theory for a child at birth (at least rights-wise). He is individual only in having life and being separate. The rest of his individuality qua man (to coin a phrase :D ) needs to be developed physically through growth and mentally through learning.

Parents are responsible for him because they generated him. Period. That's just the way human beings are. As they have rights for their rationality, they also have obligations (and rights) for their procreation.

Objectivist ethics should deal with that more in depth. Then afterwards, as you said, it is easier to deal with starving stray kids and bleeding pregnant ladies.

John Daily, I love those attempts at terms: "interactive-ethics" and "inter-relational-morality." About getting ticked at a loud-mouthed lady, I might get ticked also. But in that context, saving her life would take precedence to winning an argument. I cannot live with an image of myself being able to deny it to her and watching her die because of her yapping.

There is only one case I know of right now where I would deny it - NB mentioned it in his essay, "Benevolence versus Altruism." If a person is a known mass-murderer like Hitler (or a pregnant female equivalent), then one does not save the life of a mass murderer. Human life is the standard and that would not be logical. One lets a mass murderer die.

Michael

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Mike:

~~ I suspected something down the line of what you just explained re your past history for your...sensitivity...to clear-cut disagreements about your view on your original scenario.

~~ Believe it or not, I quite understand. Methinks most (not all!) of your past 'disagreers' are not experienced with children (or, haven't 'walked-in-the-Indian's-mocassins' if you wish), ergo, have no basis for such directed empathy, ergo, no basis in really understanding your perspective with what you see as a prob re the ethics/morality they accept.

~~ In short, they see you as creating a prob where there 'obviously' isn't any...that they are able to see. --- If I may suggest, empathize a bit with THEIR myopia; I've been there (blinders) and done that too; I suspect that you also have. Give THEM a...bit (not much!)...of a break on this, this, pointless conflict.

~~ Glad to see that even in your own hypo'd scenarios, that even you might make some exception or other (in this case, the scenario of the 'bleeding, pregnant, woman'...who becomes too much of a demanding yapper.) For the sake of hyping this example more: suppose it was Eva Braun? --- No need to answer; merely 'rhetorical'; just...think about it. (Oh, btw: no, I'm not thinking of Eva having an 'Adolph-clone' infant! 'Course the kid wouldn't necessarily be like Adolph!! I'm talking about E-V-A, herself.)

~~ My point re the last 'hyped' example on your new scenario is this: No matter WHAT 'horrible sounding scenario' one can come up with that makes person 'X' seem evil re what they refuse to do (barring betraying a committment/agreement), one can always add a hypo'd addition re an exception to 'what-('generally'/Absolutely)-supposedly-should-be-done.' --- Maybe to put all this another way, much 'evaluation' of a 'refuser' may depend on WHY they refuse...and one's own evaluation of their WHY, non? Which means, in any 'simple' scenario, things are not all that 'black-and-white' as they may superficially seem presented as, non? --- I mean, even regarding 'children/kids' (5? 11? 17? retarded [include 19+]? geniuses [include 18-])...well...ever see The Bad Seed ('56-P. McCormack)..or...The Children's Hour ('61-A.Hepburn/S.MacLaine)...or, the latest of 'evil' kids, The Good Son ('93-Macaulay Culkin [yeah, the 'Home Alone' one])? One might have very little prob making THESE 'babes' left lost in the woods.

~~ I find it interesting that, on the other side of the coin of 'shoulds' (Ethics/Morality necessities), re 'LOVE', Rand herself gave a non-philosophical 'definition' of it as "...exception-making." I.e: one can overlook 'flaws' (presumably to-a-point) in one whom one loves (all depends on what one calls 'flaws', of course). --- I therefore also suspect that one can overlook superfically-apparent 'evil' also...if one looks deeper, and can find 'exceptions' there. This is not to say one will find such, but...my point is that there are exceptions in moral evaluation of even abandoning children in the woods.

~~ I DO hope you catch that movie-tape.

LLAP

J:D

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Michael, I disagree with you. You wrote:

You state that parents place the children in a position of being unable to care for themselves. I see the logic of this form of argument, but I am not comfortable with it. It sort of makes a "metaphysical rights and obligations" theory based on a principle and not on biology, i.e., nature.

I don't see the conflict. My argument is based squarely on biology AND on the principle of man's rights that Rand enunciates. By the biological nature of procreation, parents bring babies into the world that are helpless. They can do very little except eat what is spoonfed to them. They are not free; they are HELPLESS, and they are so because of the biological process by which they were created, the responsibility for which lies with their parents. Rand says that ALL human beings should have the "freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support...of his own life." But babies have been brought by their parents into the world in a condition of UNFREEDOM, inability to take the actions required to support their lives. Babies have been placed, by virtue of biology, of being borne into the world by their parents, in the position of being helpless, of being unable to take all those actions. This is biology AND principle. I don't understand why you are uncomfortable with it.

I prefer to look at the fact that youth and development - and procreation - should be considered as parts of man's nature and have ethics become derived from that nature. Your statement makes a logical derivation for a child from a principle applicable to another stage of a human being's development (adulthood).

Drawing an analogy, as I have, between a helpless infant that a parent brings into the world and a helpless quadriplegic that one has hit with one's car is not deriving children's rights from the rights of accident victims. It is merely drawing a parallel, for the purpose of illustration and clarification. The overall principle applies regardless of a person's stage of development. If you cause another human being to be in a state of helplessness, so that he is unable to act to support his life, you are responsible for his support and care. Period!

As a gruesome example of this: suppose I have a two year old, who is totally dependent upon me for support and care. Some drunk driver slams into our car and renders my two year old a permanent cripple. Now who is responsible for his support and care? Me, the biological parent, who brought him into the world as a helpless youngster -- or the drunk driver who made him a permanent cripple? Remember, the kid is 2 years old, so he still doesn't have any rights other than the right to life -- which means the right to be fed and cared for by his parents. But now another person has made him unable to ever relieve his parents of this task. Should they have to shoulder it for the rest of their lives? Or to pay for the cost of their child's rehabilitation? Of course not. The parents should be expected to provide the same general amount of support they would have otherwise, and the drunk driver should have to provide the rest, including lifetime disability payments, if needed. And this all applies, even though we are not talking about someone "at another stage of a human being's development (adulthood)," but instead a helpless child.

As you can see, I don't agree with a fully developed individuality theory for a child at birth (at least rights-wise). He is individual only in having life and being separate. The rest of his individuality qua man (to coin a phrase  ) needs to be developed physically through growth and mentally through learning.

I agree with this, as noted above. Babies just have the right to life. They gradually acquire more rights as they develop the ability to exercise them. I don't argue for "fully developed individuality...at birth." I argue for full status as a human being possessing the right to life at birth.

Parents are responsible for him because they generated him. Period. That's judt the way human beings are. As they have rights for their rationality, they also have obligations (and rights) for their procreation.

I disagree. Procreation is not the only factor involved in parental responsibility. Parents are not responsible for their child because they generated him, "period." They are responsible for him because they generated him AND as a result of that generation, he is helpless. If he were born able to feed and take care of himself, there would be no question of their responsibility for his support and care, would there?

There is one thing that bothers me about the different ways we go about arguing for children's rights. You seem to dichotomize between what you call "principle" and "biology," and you seem to want to side with the latter in preference to the former. Maybe I'm just not understanding you clearly enough, but I don't see a conflict between them. I don't think there can be any theory of rights that is in conflict with either the morality of rational self-interest or the facts of biology. Why would you want to legally impose responsibilities on people that are not in their rational self-interest? I have no problem with the marriage of the two, because I see acknowledging and fulfilling one's parental responsibilities and respecting one's child's rights as being in one's rational self-interest.

I realize that there are some people -- even "Objectivists" and "Libertarians" -- who do not acknowledge that recognizing children's rights and parental responsibility is in their rational self-interest. But I feel the same way toward those pseudo-individualists who would rationalize a way to evade their parental responsibilities as I do those who try to wiggle out of paying their financial obligations. They may squeal and squawk about how it is against their "rational self-interest" and "enslaves" them to make them "involuntarily" work to support their children or pay their bills. But that's just tough! Nobody forced them to incur the responsibilities and generate the rightful claims of their children and debtors in the first place! The only mystery is: who told them they could hold such irresponsible views and still call themselves Objectivists or Libertarians?

REB

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Roger,

I think we basically agree. A child certainly is helpless and the parents did engage in nooky.

My perspective, however, is pre-political. I am thinking in metaphysical terms. Do people really create other people by intent and put them into a helpless situation? Or is that capacity already built in?

Obviously, it comes as part of the show of being human - it is a part of our nature. Do we really put a human being in a helpless position, or is the fact that he is born helpless automatic and already part of his nature? The answer is obvious. I know of no person who can generate Athena.

(btw - As an aside, the "Athena mentality" is a gripe I have against the way some people adopt Objectivism and I will probably write on that. Athena sprang from the head of Zeus - from one of his many indiscretions, but not sexual this time, here he literally ate his wife - fully armed. He had to have his head split open for her to pop out. The symbolism with the true-believer approach to Objectivism makes my own head spin.)

So I am looking at WHAT man's nature is BEFORE attributing rights and obligations. That's the nit. I do admit that it seems like a small one too.

Thus, according to this standard, man's nature is identified as being in different stages of development, not a static mid-life stage only. (And while we are on this, how about the elderly? That's another stage. They have always been a problem for civilization since recorded history.) Thus I derive the need for a parent to care for offspring as a survival condition imposed by nature - by human biology, the animal part. I do not look at right-to-life as a first cause. I derive right-to-life from human nature.

That is what I meant by "period." (That probably sounded harsh, too, but I did not intend harshness.)

Going to your formulation, parents are responsible politically because they were the ones who placed the child in a position of helplessness. As I said, I can see the logic, but the metaphysics don't add up. The condition of helplessness on being born simply is, it is not chosen by anyone. I think this is a point that can be attacked by those who disagree. That is why I hold that parental responsibility derives from the biological part of man's nature and not just from an ethical part that was created for adults.

Michael

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Michael, you wrote:

I think we basically agree. A child certainly is helpless and the parents did engage in nooky. My perspective, however, is pre-political. I am thinking in metaphysical terms. Do people really create other people by intent and put them into a helpless situation? Or is that capacity already built in?

It doesn't matter whether parents intend to create helpless children. The helplessness of their children is a natural byproduct of their having successfully had procreative sex. This is just as true as the helplessness of an accident victim is a natural byproduct of my hitting him with my car. I may not have intended to make him helpless. But it is a natural causal consequence of my chosen action (driving the car and hitting him).

But I think we can go further than this. While I may not have foreseen that I would create a helpless adult with my car, my driving was intentional and I know that such outcomes can result, even if I don't expect or want them to happen. Similarly, even if I am so clueless as to realize that I might create a helpless baby by having sex, my having sex is intentional -- and I think most if not all people realize that such an outcome can result, even if they don't expect or want it to happen.

Obviously, it comes as part of the show of being human - it is a part of our nature. Do we really put a human being in a helpless position, or is the fact that he is born helpless automatic and already part of his nature? The answer is obvious.

He is automatically helpless at birth AND we put him in that position by conceiving and (the mother's) carrying him to birth. Until birth (or viability, take your pick; there is plenty of argument over this), he is not a living, individual human being. No individual, no individual rights. But by carrying him to fruition (whether viability or birth), we transform a helpless fetus into a helpless individual human being. And once we have caused there to be a helpless human being, we are responsible for that human being's care and support.

So I am looking at WHAT man's nature is BEFORE attributing rights and obligations. That's the nit. I do admit that it seems like a small one too...Thus I derive the need for a parent to care for offspring as a survival condition imposed by nature - by human biology, the animal part. I do not look at right-to-life as a first cause. I derive right-to-life from human nature.

So do I. But it is part of human nature that we have been placed in a position of being a helpless individual human being by our parents who brought us into the world. Had they aborted us or miscarried us, the issue would not arise. It is their intentional actions of putting us into the world as a helpless being that creates their obligations to us -- and our rights in regard to them.

That is what I meant by "period." (That probably sounded harsh, too, but I did not intend harshness.)

It didn't sound harsh. It just sounded like you were leaving out an essential factor. You put your period too soon; it should have been a semicolon! :-) (And no jokes, please, about women missing their period.)

Going to your formulation, parents are responsible politically because they were the ones who placed the child in a position of helplessness. As I said, I can see the logic, but the metaphysics don't add up. The condition of helplessness on being born simply is, it is not chosen by anyone. I think this is a point that can be attacked by those who disagree. That is why I hold that parental responsibility derives from the biological part of man's nature and not just from an ethical part that was created for adults.

Again, I disagree. One's condition of helplessness on being born is chosen by one's parents because one's being born is chosen by one's parents. You can't choose existence without identity! Helplessness is an essential part of what goes along with being born -- and every parent who doesn't have his/her head up his wazoo knows this! You can't get specific responsibilities out of biology -- only the general responsibility to act according to what is needed for you to survive and be happy. All the specific responsibilities have to be derived from that in conjunction with the particular facts (biological or other) that are pertinent to those specific responsibilities. So, in deriving children's rights and parental responsibility, you have to have both biological facts AND moral principle as the foundation of your conclusions.

REB

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Roger, you just wrote:

So, in deriving children's rights and parental responsibility, you have to have both biological facts AND moral principle as the foundation of your conclusions.

We fully agree here. I just derive moral principles from biological facts and existential axioms. (Death, for instance is another biological fact, as is the need to act to continue surviving.)

The reason I stressed this is that I have seen arguments by Objectivists and libertarians where biology is ELIMINATED from the equation. In reading biology, read "reality." The fact that we belong to an animal species - and one undeniable fact with the overwhelmingly predominant majority of animals is that the parents (one of them at least) tend to their young until they become mature enough to survive - is usually completely ignored as one of the bases of parental obligations in our philosophical corner of the world.

These arguments (not yours, arguments by others I have witnessed), by twisting logic around ass-backward, manage to eliminate man's nature from rights and moral principles. Or they restrict man's nature to mean ONLY some kind of "need" for unrestricted action. Man's nature - which includes biological facts - is what gives rise to his values (ethics). It cannot be the other way around. What is the nature of the entity valuing if that happens?

Anyway, we certainly agree that the child has a right to live in our society (as one of his fundamental rights as a citizen) and that his parents are morally and legally obligated to care for him until he is mature enough to care for himself.

btw - Your mention of the nine months to term certainly makes the adult's choice very clear in a society where abortion is easy to obtain.

Michael

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I was reviewing the Altruism thread on RoR that is related to this Rant thread, and I found a comment by Michael Kelly that I thought needed replying to. But rather than posting it there, I am sharing it here. It is basically a reformulation and clarification of points I've already made, but the additional examples and analogies may help nail down the issues a bit more.

In post 206 of the Altruism thread on RoR, Michael wrote:

A child has a right to be cared for based on "fact of nature." Read Rand on this. It's in a post if mine above. Just because a parent is not present in an emergency, but another adult is, that child's right simply does not evaporate. Especially when the situation gets to a life-and-death level (the mother of all rights). I get the feeling that the child's right is being blanked out of existence and treated as not worthy of consideration by the others here.

I don't think this is correct. There are two facts of nature on which a child's right to care is based: it is helpless, and its parents brought it into the world that way. These two facts are both necessary to establish that the child's need for care is more than just a free-floating need, but is the result of his parents placing him in that situation. They also specify who is responsible for fulfilling that need: the people who placed him in that situation -- his parents. Since the child's right to care is a special claim on his parents, rather than a general claim on humanity (e.g., not to shoot and kill him), his right to care and support does indeed "evaporate" if his parents die or abandon him -- unless some other adult willingly assumes responsibility for him.

If this seems harsh or callous, consider this parallel: suppose I hit another person with my car and render him a helpless quadriplegic. I am then legally responsible for his care and support until and unless he becomes rehabilitated. He has a special claim on me, a "positive right" in relation specifically to me. But what happens if I die or flee the country? Michael might argue that any other convenient person with more than enough for himself is legally obligated to care for this helpless guy. And that that other person is starving the guy if he doesn't feed him. That is the implication of Michael's stand on the supposed rights of abandoned children to be fed by the nearest available adult. It's a matter of survival, after all!

I'm sorry. This just won't wash. Special rights of those who have been put in a situation of helplessness are very much like contractual rights. If I agree to pay Michael $5000 in exchange for his car, and then I drive to Mexico and never pay him, I have deprived Michael of something he rightfully has coming to him. Since I am not available, does Michael have the right to be reimbursed by the nearest person with "more than he needs"? No. Michael's special right is in relation to me, not to humanity at large, let alone the nearest guy with "more than he needs." I am the one who put him in the position of deprivation; I am morally and legally responsible. Not anyone else. And the same is true for the helpless quadriplegic and the helpless child.

The child's rights are worthy of consideration, while there is a parent available to hit up for the money to support the child. But once the parent is out of the picture, all the child has left are needs -- and the hope that some kind person(s) will step in to help. But need and hope do not generate rights. What generates rights are the obligation to not interfere with another person's actions in the support, furtherance, and enjoyment of his own life -- and the obligation to not place and leave another person in the position of being unable to support, further, and enjoy his life. This last part is a corollary of the first, and it indicates why parents are obligated to support their children, but convenient strangers with deep pockets are not.

REB

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Hypotheticals in general are limited, artificial, because they are so reduced to the essentials. The essentials lie in the way the hypothetical is presented. In effect, you are hearing a story and being asked to either finish it, or if you agree with how the major protagonist acted. More or less, that is the situation when one is presented with a moral choice type of hypothetical.

In this hypothetical, 99% of the time, if not more so, I'm going to help the child.

Why?

Because of my reverence of life. Because my moral compass automatically defaults and overrides in those situation.

Because it is right, it feels right. To me.

That is not shameful self-sacrifice of anything. I believe it is called by different names. Nobility. Bravery. Compassion. Love.

rde

Sometimes You Have To Take One For The Team.

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Roger,

We fully agree on one thing. If you take the kid's parents out of the picture, all you have left is a being with needs who cannot fully exercise his rights on his own.

But this little being is supposed to have at least a right-to-life in our society. We are back to perspective. You are only seeing the rights thing through the lens of the adults, not through the eyes of one of the holders of a right.

How we deal with that right-to-life is what we are discussing (or so I think). Just because his parents are not present all of a sudden, that does not mean that his right-to-life got canceled? Can a society cancel a right-to-life of a child because it doesn't fit with definitions placed on adults?

Are you saying that?

This shows that talking about only parent's rights and obligations is not really on target with my original example. So back to the original example.

In a one-on-one situation in the wilderness, you (adult) get lost and encounter another stray child who is lost. You have it within your power to do something that is no real sacrifice (share your food, which you have enough), but to the kid it is literally life-and-death.

It is not merely callous to walk away or stay around him and not give him some of the food. It is wrong and evil to do so.

No amount of stretching points to try to cover it (like parental obligations, rights of the adult, whatever) is going to make that morally indifferent or good. It is not. I repeat, letting that child starve to death under those conditions is wrong and evil.

This is why people prefer to avoid talking about it and changing it to something else. This is an example that is in the cracks and there are no easy answers. Much easier to forget about it - or change it - and move on to something easier to justify.

Personally, I am groping for the principles here, since they have been ignored ever since Objectivism first came into being. If my situation is evil, there has to be an identifiable principle. Going the religious route, saying that God commands you to care for stray children, is not very satisfying for the obvious reason of not being reason-based. Going the collectivist route, altruism, also is not a good way, precisely because altruism itself is evil as a doctrine.

I prefer my position of not having all the answers right now. I cannot in good conscious declare that in my situation, what the adult does is indifferent or good.

Frankly, if Objectivism is going to preach that it is, religion and collectivism have won by default. They both say that this thing is evil. Maybe they got the reasons wrong, but the kid stands a chance under their systems. That is what the majority of people see and they will never go along with moral indifference in that case. Hell, I don't and I am an Objectivist.

Roger, did you see what you did by the end of your post? You removed the emergency context and made it seem as if I were talking about forcing "convenient strangers with deep pockets" to pay for the upbringing of children that were not theirs. I never did that.

(Actually, the rights of orphans is a very interesting topic, but that is for another time. I understand your position as meaning that orphans have no right-to-life if they are not developed enough to exercise it on their own. Is my understanding correct?)

Michael

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I was afraid I was going to confuse the issue by bringing in the analogy to contractual rights. Please try to forget that example.

No, I do not assume that the child's right to LIFE disappears when the parents die or default. I'm sorry if I gave any such impression. You are confusing the right to life with the right to SUPPORT.

The child's right to LIFE exists in relation to all other human beings. This is a GENERAL right that results from one's being a human being, and it is possessed by all human beings, regardless of their state of development or capacity to support themselves. As such, the child's right to life imposes the obligation on all other human beings to refrain from assaulting or killing the child.

But the child's right to SUPPORT does NOT exist in relation to all other human beings, but only its parents. It is a SPECIFIC right that results from one's being put in a position of helplessness in the world by specific other human beings. It is possessed only by helpless human beings and only in relation to those other human beings who put them in that position of helplessness.. (Important qualification: a person who becomes helpless through his own misfortune does NOT have the right to support by others; it is only those whose helplessness is caused by others that has the right to support, and ONLY from those others, not people in general.)

That is where we appear to differ. You seem to think that the right to support is possessed in relation to any available human being, should the parents default. You have not offered a justification for this. I don't think you can, any more than you could argue that a person I cause to be a helpless quadriplegic is entitled to care and support from any available human being, should I default.

Barring some kind of proof that the government should enforce others providing that support, either by drafting the nearest adult or by tax-supported welfare, the baby and the quadriplegic will have to rely on people's voluntary generosity. Would this really be so bad, to have a society where we trust people to be generous -- and if they fail to be so, we simply have less (maybe MUCH less) to do with them and/or punish them in non-coercive ways (as I have described previously)?

Going any further than this, by using force to require and punish, would start to waddle and quack a whole lot like a statist, collectivist, altruist duck. Please think more carefully about what you are proposing that we do to people who default on being generous to helpless babies and adults. Bill Dwyer is correct that there is a slippery slope here, leading straight to the welfare state, with not even a speed-bump to slow us down. Once you make anyone other than a baby's parents legally responsible for his care and support, the next stop is socialism. Or at least, what we have in America today, which really sucks.

REB

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Roger,

I prefer to stay on topic. My original concern (and my continued present one) is emergencies.

I stated quite clearly to Bill that we fully agree for normal situations, but we disagree on emergencies.

My reason for this lies in the nature of a child as opposed to an adult. What use is a right to him if exercising it by definition leads to death? Support by his parents is granted to him by the right-to-life until he reaches enough maturity to be able to care for himself. Any other formulation is a death sentence for him - especially a formulation that ignores his special developmental status. Now, does that right disappear because his parents are no longer present?

I say that this is a gray area that needs common sense before all else. (I even read once in a book on philosophy that common sense is precisely what philosophy throws away in order to deal with more important matters. I consider this to be a vicious and false dichotomy.) Philosophy must look at this kind of issue in a reasonable light. (In my scenario, the adult's behavior is certainly not reasonable.)

Thus in life-and-death emergencies, where rights get turned all topsy-turvy because nature has scrambled all the values up and eliminated all semblance of society, survival emerges to me as THE ONE overpowering concern - much more so than property or anything else. I sincerely believe that a definition of good and evil should take this into account. (The politics will follow after such definitions. And I do not support any slippery slope that leads to statism - but I do support the need for a government.)

Michael

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Michael, it's only a "gray area" if you don't stick to one definition or principle. That is, it's only confusing if you switch justifications in mid-stream. For instance, you wrote:

Support by his parents is granted to him by the right-to-life until he reaches enough maturity to be able to care for himself. Any other formulation is a death sentence for him - especially a formulation that ignores his special developmental status. Now, does that right disappear because his parents are no longer present?

Now, you started out by saying "support by his parents is granted to him by the right-to-life..." Exactly right.

But then you ask: "does that right disappear because his parents are no longer present?" You say no. You want to argue that it does not, that any available adult must take over and feed the child or face legal punishment for failure to do so.

You can't have it both ways. You can't base the child's right-to-life (i.e., to support) on his parents having granted it to him, and then turn around and say that he still has it even if they disappear. What you are implying is that the parents don't "grant" him the right-to-life (support) just in relation to them, but in relation to all people.

In other words, by having a child, I thereby impose an obligation on any and all other human beings to feed my child, if I die or default. Is this what you mean to argue? Do parents have the...uh...right to do this to all other people? Sounds to me like what we already have: America the Welfare State, rather than Objectivism.

Here is my answer to your question about the child's right-to-life. The child always has the right not to be aggressed against and killed. The child always has the right not to be starved by its parents or the child's willing caretakers (whether hired or not), since they are agents of the parent. If the parents default and can be found, the state, acting on behalf of the child in relation to its parents' legal obligation, has the right to enforce the parents' fulfillment of this obligation (i.e., to forcibly extract values from them in order to do so). If the parents are willing to sign over parental rights to some adoptive agency or person, that would let them off the hook. If the parents cannot be found, some agency or person would be free to adopt the child.

However, forcibly extracting values from (or punishing for "default") someone who is not the child's parent or legal guardian is imposing unwilling caretaking upon that person. It is coercion. It is making someone an agent of the parents against that person's will. That person is not responsible for supporting or caring for the child -- only for not aggressing against and killing it.

Again, you are confusing the right to be allowed to live (to not be killed) with the right to be supported and cared for (to not be allowed to die of starvation) -- and calling both "the right-to-life." This is an equivocation. The former is a general right, while the latter is a special right, held only against the parents or legal guardians (and their agents). (And in general, by helpless people against those who made them helpless, not against humanity at large.)

REB

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Roger,

May I resume your position as the following?

An adult has the rights you mentioned in all situations, including emergencies.

A child has a right to support until maturity only in parent-related issues, even when extreme indifference by an adult around him in an emergency results in his death.

Is that fair?

Michael

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Michael, you wrote:

May I resume [assume?] your position as [is?] the following? An adult has the rights you mentioned in all situations, including emergencies. A child has a right to support until maturity only in parent-related issues, even when extreme indifference by an adult around him in an emergency results in his death. Is that fair?

Michael, I really want to end this constant rhetorical circling around what should be a moral issue, not an issue of politics and rights.

Here is what's a "fair" representation of my position.

A child has the SAME right to support as an adult who has been placed in the position of helplessness by the actions of another. That right is in relation only to the person who put the child or the adult in the position of helplessness -- not anyone else.

Extreme indifference to someone else's plight is NOT a violation of their rights, unless you are the person who put him in his plight.

Extreme indifference to another's plight can qualify you for the status of moral monster, but it does NOT qualify you as a rights-violator -- again, unless you are the person who put him in his plight.

You seem to disagree, but I think that moral monsters do not belong in jail unless they default on their chosen legal obligations. And last time I checked, I did NOT, by virtue of having been born and grown to adulthood, acquire an unchosen legal obligation to feed abandoned children! I may be a blackhearted SOB if I refuse to do so, but I swear I don't see how it becomes a violation of the kid's rights.

Are you now arguing that, along with our birthright to be cared for and fed and, in general, not aggressed against, we also have birth obligations to take care of the helpless, once we reach adulthood? You're really losing me here.

REB

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Roger,

I am really interested in the ethics (and human nature) part. I only mentioned the politics so we could simplify it and discuss the ethics for now - and then go back to politics. For instance you wrote:

Extreme indifference to someone else's plight is NOT a violation of their rights, unless you are the person who put him in his plight.  

Extreme indifference to another's plight can qualify you for the status of moral monster...

OK - you covered politics in the first statement. That is clear. In your conception - or going from your premises - a kid starving in the woods has no rights in the Objectivst view of society if a strange man comes along and has food, except for rights covered under the NIOF principle. (Parents are missing, so those rights are meaningless in this situation.) The fact that the kid depends on adults for his survival has no moral weight at all in applying it to society - not even in emergencies like that.

In your second statement, you discussed ethics (I excluded the part that returned to the politics for the purpose of my point). You call such a man a "moral monster." Would you use the word "evil" to characterize his attitude and actions?

If so, by what principle?

I want to get a clear good-evil parameter before going back to politics.

Michael

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Michael, you quoted me and wrote:

REB:

Extreme indifference to someone else's plight is NOT a violation of their rights, unless you are the person who put him in his plight.  

Extreme indifference to another's plight can qualify you for the status of moral monster...

MSK:

OK - you covered politics in the first statement. That is clear. In your conception - or going from your premises - a kid starving in the woods has no rights in the Objectivst view of society if a strange man comes along and has food, except for rights covered under the NIOF principle. (Parents are missing, so those rights are meaningless in this situation.) The fact that the kid depends on adults for his survival has no moral weight at all in applying it to society - not even in emergencies like that.

[emphasis added]

Before we go on, again, you are misrepresenting me. I have never said that there is no moral issue involved regarding other adults and a starving child. There most certainly is, and I stated so in my posts on this thread on Fri Feb 24, 2006 11:07 pm and Sun Feb 26, 2006 6:26 pm. Here are the relevant quotes:

REB: [A] person who does not take such an action to save a life, when there is no significant risk to himself, is a moral monster. A person who has that little regard for human life cannot reasonably be held to be fit for the company of rational beings – not from the standpoint that he is dangerous, but from the standpoint that he is oblivious to the value of human life.
REB: [W]hat kind of person would allow a baby to needlessly starve, when he could comfortably do something about it? What kind of person? That is the question of honor. What kind of person are you? What kind of person do you want to be? ... Do you want to go around with the black stain on your character of having denied a starving baby food? Do you want to be regarded by your fellow human beings as a callous, uncaring monster, who will allow death to prevail, when you could have lifted a finger and prevented it? Isn't there a saying: "the only way evil (or death) will win is for good people to do nothing"? So? Do you want evil and death to win? Is that the kind of person you are?

Where you and I differ is how this moral default should be dealt with, and specifically whether it should be politicized and made into a crime, i.e., a violation of a supposed general right that a child has in relation to all adults in society vs. a real, limited, special right that a child has in relation to only the adults that legally assumed responsibility for the child's support and care. My view is the latter, and you -- without proper supporting argument -- take that view and imply that all adults have (by virtue of being adults, I guess) assumed responsibility for any and all starving children in the society.

You have said in various places that any starving child not fed by any adult with food was "starved to death" by that adult. By that argument, a man dying from a ruptured appendix, who is not operated upon by a doctor, was killed by that doctor. Just one of the many problems with your method of assigning legal responsibility to provide care. You may not think that your position implies a military draft, but I don't see how you can avoid the conclusion about drafting the nearest available doctor to provide care to dying patients, and punishing him if he refuses to provide care.

You continue:

MSK: In your second statement, you discussed ethics (I excluded the part that returned to the politics for the purpose of my point). You call such a man a "moral monster." Would you use the word "evil" to characterize his attitude and actions?

No, a moral monster is not evil. He is actually good at being morally monstrous, so it would not be accurate to call him evil.

Just kidding. Of course, he's evil! You had to ask? Why do you ask? Are you trying to suggest that any and all evil must be legally punished? Evil per se is irrelevant to law.

What is relevant to law is the specific kind of evil where legal obligations are broken and rights are violated. Both moral monsters and petty cads are punishable by law for such breaches and violations.

But outside of the area of legal obligations and rights, even the most heinous evil must be addressed by strictly voluntary means -- including shunning, ostracism, and the relentless kind of hounding and negative publicity I mentioned in an earlier post, but NOT the coercive mechanism of the government.

REB

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