Michael Stuart Kelly

Starving Child in the Wilderness Revisited

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Starving Child in the Wilderness Revisited

There is a debate going on at RoR about a photograph that was posted—one highly pertinent to the starving child in the wilderness episode I was engaged in a while back. I continue to be disturbed about this—not about the issue so much as about the fact that nobody in Objectivism-land has any real answer, but everybody has enough of one to hurl insults at each other. It bothers the hell out of me that the role and rights of children are not well-defined in Objectivism.

First the photo, then some background, then some thoughts.

Vulturewanting_a_meal.jpg

This photograph was taken in 1993 in Sudan by a photographer named Kevin Carter. It was first published by the New York Times, then all over the world. Carter won a Pulitzer Prize for it in 1994. He also took his own life at 33 years old in 1994. In 2004 an HBO Documentary directed by Dan Krauss of Carter's life was filmed: The Death of Kevin Carter - Casualty of the Bang Bang Club. The film won several prizes but was only nominated for an Academy Award in 2006 (for some reason).

KevinCarterAtWork.jpg

This is a famous picture of Kevin Carter at work.

Carter received a great deal of criticism at the time of the vulture photo for not putting down the camera and helping the girl. Guilt over this is usually given as one of the reasons for his suicide. I looked into it and the story is quite a bit more complicated than that. Here is a Time Magazine article (Sept. 12, 1994), The Life and Death of Kevin Carter by Scott MacLeod, that gives greater perspective. There is a series of articles here, The Ultimate in Unfair. The Time article is included and so is another intriguing one, "The Atrocity Exhibition: A War Fueled by Imagery" by Charles Paul Freund in Reason, June 1999. The quote below from that article sheds some light on the moral issue.

In Carter's case, Western newspaper readers saw a little girl. Carter, in the Sudanese village where he landed, was watching 20 people starve to death each hour. Perhaps he might have laid aside his camera to give the victims what succor he could (and thus never have encountered the girl in the bush); perhaps his photographs could have led to greater help than he could personally give. Should he have carried one girl to safety? Carter was surrounded by hundreds of starving children. When he sat by the tree and wept, it was beneath a burden of futility. But his was not a photo of futility, nor of mass starvation, nor of religious factionalism, nor of civil war. Readers saw a little girl. In part, at least, Carter died for that.

Let's put this in a more visual sense. Below are a couple of photos from Carter's daily fare in Sudan:

KevinCarterstarving-boy.jpg

KevinCarterchild.jpg

What do you do when there are so many of them? Here is an experimental video on You Tube that more or less gives a depiction of the inner torment of such a photographer:

. Also, if anyone is interested in seeing what Carter looked and sounded like, here is another video on You Tube:
.

Moral considerations and some things that bother me

The problem that most irks me on the discussion of this affair is the charge that people let their emotions override their philosophical principles. Added to that, some self-proclaimed custodians of Objectivism claim that any thought of the child's welfare on a philosophical level is a form of altruism (in the Compte sense). That is pure bunk.

Regardless of which side of the issue one takes, it is perfectly possible to hold philosophical principles that are not in line with altruism. And regardless of the screech level and pseudo-macho posturing I have observed, the question of emotions/altruism is not the only one at stake. To be fair, there are more reasoned arguments, but most every one I have read so far claims that his/her interpretation is what is proper under Objectivism. After a great deal of thought and reading over months, ever since the starving child in the wilderness episode (see here and here), I have concluded that children's rights is one issue that is not resolved in Objectivism.

I want to repeat that because this is not just an opinion. Children's rights is one issue that is not resolved in Objectivism. I have looked for answers throughout the writings of Rand and others (Branden, Peikoff, Kelley, etc.) and I have found no uniform principles that govern this.

Without going deeply into the arguments, here are a few of the problems that bother me.

1. Objctivism holds that all human beings have individual rights, and that no right of one person may violate the right of another and still be called a right. It also claims that children have the right to life and by definition, they need to be cared for by adults until reaching adulthood.

There is obviously a moral collision here. Something has to give because it is impossible to maintain both positions across the board. When one is considered as true for all cases, the other infringes it at certain points. Several solutions have been proposed (limiting liability to the parents, etc.), but for every principle on one end, another conflicting principle on the other end can be brought to bear.

2. Definition of human nature. Simply put, I have concluded that the Objectivist view of human nature is incomplete. The part that it gets right is right, but there is so much more involved. Rand defined man as a rational animal, with rational being the differentia and animal the genus, then concentrated her entire ethics on the differentia. In her view of human nature, it is up to the individual's rational part to take care of his animal part and that part is nobody else's business.

There are species considerations, however, that are present in common environments and they are simply not covered in Objectivism on the definition level. In questions like the starving child in the wilderness (or Carter's vulture licking its chops), I normally see them all swept under the rug of altruism in Objectivist discussions. This is technically wrong. I don't want to cover this issue here since it has been discussed so much elsewhere. I simply want to register that this is a point that is repeatedly misrepresented.

The argument that a person is letting his emotions govern his philosophical principles suffers from the same error of misrepresentation. All principles start with observations and definitions. A disagreement over the definition of human nature is not the advocacy of altruism, nor the abandonment of rational thought in favor of an emotional reaction.

3. The right of depravity. There is a traditionally argued Objectivist position that a person who ignores a helpless child in the wilderness is morally depraved, but this falls within the individual rights of that person. Regardless of how it is phrased, whether non-initiation of force is invoked, whether voluntary shunning is proposed, etc., the argument is for the right of a person to be depraved with resulting loss of life. There is no way on earth to sell this idea as a philosophy for living on earth.

And there is no such thing as the right to be depraved to the detriment of another. I am not proposing a solution here, merely stating another moral collision.

4. Personal choice. I have a real problem with granting a moral sanction to monsters. I do not want life to be like that and I cannot endorse a moral principle that leads to it. That is not the reason I adopted Objectivism.

A while back, a person sent me an email with a linked story, suggesting that I use it one day for the abandoned child discussion. Here is the story and a quote from it:

Abandoned baby found head-first in Sask. toilet

May 23, 2007

CanWest News Service

A baby boy abandoned after being born in a department store washroom was found face-first in a toilet.

Chad Fraser, manager of the Prince Albert, Sask., Wal-Mart, was the first to find the child Monday afternoon.

"I couldn't see his face, but he was head-down," he said. "He was barely moving when I picked him up. There was blood everywhere.

"It was unreal."

Fraser cleared the baby's airway and massaged his chest until emergency services arrived to perform CPR and hook the baby up to an IV.

A spokesman for the Parkland Ambulance service said it was only Fraser's quick thinking which saved the child from drowning or death by hypothermia.

I believe that Mr. Fraser morally did the right thing and, as a personal preference, I want no part of advocating his right to stand over that child in the toilet, eating a candy-bar, watching the child die and deriving pleasure from that. Paraphrasing Patrick Henry, if this be treason to Objectivism, make the most of it. I cannot live on those terms.

Fortunately, I do not think that defending such a right is what Objectivism is about. I am firmly convinced that it is possible to arrive at a logical solution.

My present position is to (1) add the missing parts to the definition of human nature and (2) reformulate some parts of the ethics by taking the expanded definition into account. (Not an "ethics for mankind" but one for "me as an individual member of the human species.") Then it will be easy to arrive at how to resolve the question of conflicting rights. This is no more than a proposal at this moment. Maybe another solution can be found. After much reading, I have not yet seen anything satisfactory.

One thing is certain. Objectivism does not have a good answer to this question so far.

5. One final beef: the exclusion of context. This is particularly irritating. Let us return to the case of Kevin Carter. On the RoR discussion linked at the start of this post, both sides of this debate condemn Carter in the harshest of moral terms. Both sides agree that he was morally depraved in not helping the girl—the only difference is that one side defends punishing him and the other side defends his right to be depraved. I saw no interest at all in understanding context in that discussion.

Photographers like Carter have an enormously complicated job. The psychological price is overwhelming—so unbearable to Carter that he took his own life. In order to perform his job competently, he was required by reality to step outside the situation. He simply could not do two things of that nature at once. My heart went out to him as he sat under that tree after shooing the vulture away and cried his heart out. What a horrible situation. Yet if he had not done what he did, the world would not have had the visual statement of a drastically depraved situation that needed to be resolved if the sanctity of human life is to be a value.

How can Objectivists miss this kind of thing?

My final conclusion is that, depending on the context, there is no morally correct position. If there is no morality, there are no rights either. I see no point in defending the right of the photographer to be depraved (or the right to life of the child) in a situation where no rights are possible.

This is the only point where Objectivism actually provides an answer. The vulture child was in that heartbreaking situation because of a dictatorship of warring tribes. It was the evil of that dictatorship that Carter was exposing—by showing the world the concrete results. Rand stated the proper moral position eloquently in the Q&A book (p. 114) when questioned about an emergency situation where a person was forced to to do something morally wrong:

Under a dictatorship—under force—there is no such thing as morality. . . Whatever a man chooses in such cases is right—subjectively.

I take this to beyond dictatorships and include all emergencies where force overwhelms an individual's possibility of action.

But I'm still thinking about all this.

Michael

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Questions:

If you did not cause that child to either be in the wilderness or starving what -obligation- do you have to the child. Have you assented to a contract with the child or his parents to rescue the child from starvation or the wilderness?

I understand your "gut feeling" perfectly. I have the same feeling. But unlike you (most likely) I do not let my "feelings" or mawkish sentimentality determine my actions or inactions. By including photographs, I assume you wish to induce a feeling of pity for the unfortunate child. Even so, what can we who are ten thousand miles away do about the child even if we felt like doing something about the child. And what about all other other starving children in the wilderness. Do we have the resources to help them even if we wanted to help them?

As for me, I work to see that MY children and grandchildren will not end up either starving or in the wilderness. My obligations are primarily to me and mine. I am not the Saviour of Mankind. Jesus tried that trick two thousand years ago and it bombed.

I have no guilt because I do not rescue every stranger I feel sorry for. I have my problems. The stranger has his. And that is the way it goes.

Ba'al Chatzaf.

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We either have the right to ignore the troubles of others or we don't. If we don't, then end of story. If we do, then who is going to enforce or punish us if we ignore others in dire straights? Do you propose the government get in the act? Heaven Forfend!

Here is a piece of advice from someone who has ridden this planet about the sun more times than you: Shit happens and it flows (mostly) downhill. That is the way the world works. Try not to let too much land on you.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Bob,

Read the linked threads. All your questions were discussed there.

Also, please read carefully. I did not discuss "gut feelings" or the force of gravity on shit. I stated very clearly I was discussing philosophical principles.

Since you have abdicated ethics in favor of guns and bombs, is there anything you wish to contribute? The discussion is about Objectivist ethics and rights. I would like to keep it on topic this time around.

Michael

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Bob,

Read the linked threads. All your questions were discussed there.

Also, please read carefully. I did not discuss "gut feelings" or the force of gravity on shit. I stated very clearly I was discussing philosophical principles.

Since you have abdicated ethics in favor of guns and bombs, is there anything you wish to contribute? The discussion is about Objectivist ethics and rights. I would like to keep it on topic this time around.

Michael

Any philosophical principle that does not take into account the -fact- that shit happens is deficient. Shit happens all the time. It never fails to happen. What good is Objectivism if it does not consider facts. I thought that Objectivism was all about being in touch with the Real World.

Well, sir, in the Real World there is damned little you can do about starvation in Africa (or just about any other oversea location). That is a fact. Your resources and mine are limited. You are an advocate of Reason, are you not? If so, then if you have a situation you CANNOT deal with, don't even try. If your philosophy does not or will not handle that, give it up.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Bob,

I am going to give it to you straight. You are not discussing ideas, but instead trying to get people to stop discussing them. You are heckling.

I am sure you have gone to a comedy act or show where there was a loud-mouthed drunk in the audience heckling. The problem for the entertainer is that no matter what he says or how cleverly he says it, the guy is drunk and all he does is repeat himself with some inane remark. The problem for the audience is that they came to see the show, not the drunk.

And the problem for the drunk is that he is lonely and needs attention and an audience is available, so he doesn't know when to stop.

I am trying to be tolerant in your case, but you are heckling too much—and in the same manner as that drunk. The people on OL come here to discuss ideas that are dear and important to them, not to read your high-volume repeated messages of hatred.

Sorry, but tone it down or I am going to have to intervene. As site administrator, I cannot let you keep spoiling it for everybody. I am getting complaints about your heckling, but I am also getting pissed about it myself.

Michael

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As usual, the barbarian shows us a rearview mirror of our primitive past, before we had law. The barbarian lives by force and faith, referring constantly to his clan loyalty and its Holy Writ.

Brant made an excellent point in another thread, when he said that "ethics of emergencies" was an admission of failure in Objectivist theory. Above, Michael quotes Rand endorsing moral indifference and subjectivism under dictatorship. Since most of the world is ruled by force and fraud, that excuses everyone past and present. Even at her best (evil requires the sanction of the victim), Miss Rand's contribution to ethics does not exclude barbarism. She merely counsels barbarians to live for their own sake or perish in a battle with their betters.

My view of ethics, informed by Rand's theory but persuaded by her fiction, is that heroism consists in spending one's life in pursuit of a personal achievement. This is not as easy as it sounds. Most barbarians aim at marginal utility, common sense security and ease. Truly unique achievements are remarkable for their ingenuity or courage under fire or both.

The man or woman who can bring Africa into the modern world will be hailed a genius.

But starvation and brutality -- the rearview mirror of our past, however real it remains today -- is not the front line of battle between barbarism and law. Saving African babies from vultures cannot free Americans or restrain the United States Government, which is a much graver threat. Too much of Africa's suffering can be directly attributed to US and European tolerance and financial support for African dictatorship and corruption. Oil, gold, diamonds, uranium, tin, you name it. In Africa and Latin America, the great powers care nothing for humanity. The barbarian speaks for a majority of Western 'democratic' governments.

Therefore, law. The starving child has a legal right to be heard. There's much more to be said on this subject, because too often and too freely libertarians and Objectivists conceive of law in the narrowest possible light, as a mechanism to settle disputes. It is not.

Legal philosophy addresses impersonal administration of public justice..., the combined might of a community, and custodial guardianship of certain individuals who are unable or legally prohibited to conduct their own affairs. -- The Freeman's Constitution

Law is the "unfinished symphony" in Objectivist thought. In the case of the Starving Baby, who is the counterparty? The child's mother and father are dead, or gone, or diseased, or mentally incompetent. The local government is riven by factions of barbarians, still looting and killing for conquest. Who profits from this horror? Follow the money.

W.

I append a link to Billy Beck's weblog entry of the day, because he nails the big issue, as usual.

Edited by Wolf DeVoon

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Thanks for posting that picture Michael and doing the research on the background. I started the RoR thread and told the backstory that the reporter did nothing because he was warned against disease and interfering, though I qualified the backstory that it might not be true and people should withold judgement on the issue until investigating it further. The fact that he ended up killing himself suggested to me that (maybe) he felt he could have done something but did not and was wrecked with guilt over that. But the full story you paint gives a much better context, if there were hundreds of starving kids all around then he really couldnt have done much.

That being said, I think the crux of the heat over this is the differentiation between weather one ought to help out a child like this (in the original and incorrect context, all alone, trying to get to a food camp, photographer didnt bother helping, etc) or if one should be held criminally liable for not helping them. I am one of the first people to morally attack someone for depraved indifference, but I would never advocate punishing them or throwing them in jail for it. I would consider them a disgusting member of humanity and never associate with them, but holding a gun to their head and forcing them to 'help' another person is way over the line. I think on the RoR thread, some people who were very vocal about morally codemning the photographer were mischaractherized as advocating the criminalization of this kind of depraved indifference (though some were actually explicit in stating it should be criminalized) and some who responded with defenses of one's right to life were mischarachterized as asserting the objectivism says it is *wrong* to help a child in this case, which is rediculous.

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Objectivism the philosophy is not deficient because the world is deficient of Objectivism resulting in mass starvations and murder.

--Brant

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This is the only point where Objectivism actually provides an answer. The vulture child was in that heartbreaking situation because of a dictatorship of warring tribes. It was the evil of that dictatorship that Carter was exposing—by showing the world the concrete results.

I think the problems that Carter faced probably had a lot to do with the fact that the context is usually missing from photos of starving children. Any time that they are published or displayed, especially by freedom-loving people such as Objectivists, photos of the cause of the poverty and starvation should be shown right next to them.

J

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You can use altruistic, interventionist state policies to help the victims of altruism and state policies, I suppose, but to do so as an Objectivist requires acknowledging you are doing what you are doing and wearing metaphorical asbestos gloves. It will make you less of an Objectivist but maybe more of a human being. The world of Objectivist perfection requires a withdrawal from the world at large and letting the world go to hell without your presence and sanction. It means letting the bad guys be bad guys as long as they aren't being bad to you and yours. Once they exhaust themselves and die off the pure in thought and deed can move into the vacuum the way the pioneers moved into the wilderness opposed by only relatively few savages. This is a kind of inverted genocide, one no one has to take responsibility for.

--Brant

Edited by Brant Gaede

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Bob,

Read the linked threads. All your questions were discussed there.

Also, please read carefully. I did not discuss "gut feelings" or the force of gravity on shit. I stated very clearly I was discussing philosophical principles.

Since you have abdicated ethics in favor of guns and bombs, is there anything you wish to contribute? The discussion is about Objectivist ethics and rights. I would like to keep it on topic this time around.

Michael,

A discussion about ethics and rights is subsumed by reason. Bob is unreasonably claiming reason absent philosophy although he keeps using rights and above all ethics as stolen concepts. Nonetheless there is still some weird logical connection between his general position and Rand's which we get to explore because he keeps sticking it into our faces. Those Objectivist bozos back on SOLOP who embraced genocide last year lived off the same link. Objectivism, "a philosophy for living on earth," is an earth that "should be and ought to be" not the earth that is. "Sanction of the victim" is the Objectivist way from getting from one to the other. It's not enough for various reasons. In the meantime we have messy people living in a messy world. Messy will always be with us even though there were no street sweepers in Galt's Gulch. But the world doesn't have to be this messy and the world is getting better, slowly.

--Brant

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Brant,

I have no problem with the moral equivalent of Idi Amin expressing his views—in balance. He can state his case, but others will state theirs. I do not expect he will like what they say. That will be mutual and this is part of disagreement. I trust the sound thinking of readers to discern between good and evil, so someone like that poses no real threat. Just because someone says something, that does not make it true.

But I do have a problem with a person using the forum to scratch a neurotic itch.

I did not brake that behavior with another person recently and now I have a huge clean-up job that looks like it will never end. I do not intend to make the same mistake twice. This is a discussion forum, not a preaching pulpit or the funny farm. I even have a dude (new member) at the present under moderation because he is preaching up a storm about a world-wide mind-control conspiracy and I simply don't have the time to engage him to make sure he will not pollute the board with incessant preaching.

I don't like restricting what a person says, but I don't like cleaning up the mess from abuses even more.

Michael

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Objectivism the philosophy is not deficient because the world is deficient of Objectivism resulting in mass starvations and murder.

--Brant

Sometimes you're so deep it's like a zen master. Max cool points. I also think you're right.

:turned:

Edited by Wolf DeVoon

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Wolf,

This is a bit off-topic, but I have seen the ugly underbelly of what you say with my own eyes. American companies, with the sanction and support of the American government, have been in bed with local dictators for years to get cheap raw materials.

In Objectivist circles, there exists a moral equivalence that excuses their behavior because they are so-called capitalistic companies. In those environments, they are more like state-owned companies and even government agencies. They are anything but capitalistic. On our end, they do act capitalistic, though. It is really ugly and the hypocrisy is sickening.

I strongly believe that we can produce our own stuff without promoting the enrichment of thugs and the decimation of populations.

Even with the sanctions against American companies doing business in Sudan, I did a Google search and saw all I needed to with this article: Sudan Divestment published in Business Ethics, March 2006. From the article:

In 1997, the U.S. Congress passed sanctions that prevented American companies from doing business in the Sudan because of its support of terrorism. Nonetheless, according to KLD Research & Analytics, about 130 publicly-listed companies worldwide continue to do business in Sudan. Most of those companies are based in Europe and Asia, but many are listed in U.S. stock exchanges and have access to U.S. capital markets.

The companies named on University of California's blacklist are Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd., China Petroleum and Chemical Corp. (Sinopec), Nam Fatt Co. Bhd., Oil & Natural Gas Co. Ltd., PECD Bhd., PetroChina Company Ltd., Sudan Telecom Co. Ltd. (Sudatel), Tatneft OAO, and Videocon Industries Ltd. The university sent letters of concern to four additional companies.

Not only are these companies on U.S. stock exchanges, their supply contracts with American multinational companies ensure that the inhuman conditions in Sudan are well-funded. We can blame the local dictators for the outrage, but our dollars are what pays for their armies.

Anyway, this is the political angle. There is a moral angle that goes even deeper with the starving children. I don't like to know that my conveniences are produced at the price of starving these children like the photos show, but, as a member of the human race, I don't like the very existence of these children in that condition on earth.

We need to get rid of the dictators who maintain this and we need American companies to stop doing business with those dictators (including broker chains linking to them).

I could go into it more deeply, but I prefer to do more reading right now. At this point, however, I can state with certainty that on a fundamental level, there is no moral conflict between eliminating abominations with children and an ethics of rational self-interest.

Michael

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Brant,

I have no problem with the moral equivalent of Idi Amin expressing his views—in balance. He can state his case, but others will state theirs. I do not expect he will like what they say. That will be mutual and this is part of disagreement. I trust the sound thinking of readers to discern between good and evil, so someone like that poses no real threat. Just because someone says something, that does not make it true.

But I do have a problem with a person using the forum to scratch a neurotic itch.

I did not brake that behavior with another person recently and now I have a huge clean-up job that looks like it will never end. I do not intend to make the same mistake twice. This is a discussion forum, not a preaching pulpit or the funny farm. I even have a dude (new member) at the present under moderation because he is preaching up a storm about a world-wide mind-control conspiracy and I simply don't have the time to engage him to make sure he will not pollute the board with incessant preaching.

I don't like restricting what a person says, but I don't like cleaning up the mess from abuses even more.

Well, Michael, Bob is not, of course, the moral equivalent of Idi Amin. If Idi Amin were to somehow appear posting on OL you'd kick him out so hard and fast he'd have to get your shoe surgically removed from his rectum. When it comes to philosophy, Bob's a troll. Math and science is another matter. But he hasn't murdered anybody I know of while Amin maybe killed half a million people. But that he's the Walter Mitty of genocide is bad enough.

--Brant

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Well, Michael, Bob is not, of course, the moral equivalent of Idi Amin.

Brant,

You are absolutely correct. This is a perfect example of what David Kelley was talking about in A Question of Sanction and The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand: Truth and Toleration in Objectivism with the academic Marxist as opposed to Lenin or Stalin. I expressed myself horribly.

When Bob first showed up on OL, here is what he said:

My user name is BaalChatzaf which is Hebrew for cheeky guy.

You can call me by my real name, Bob, if you are so inclined.

I wish to post in this forum on mathematics and physics with their implications for epistemology. I consider epistemology the part of philosophy that is useful and important. Metaphysics? Well the only metaphysics I use is Reality Lite: Reality (the world outside our skin beyond our wishes and hopes) exists and we all have enough brains to understand it sufficiently to survive in it. Anything beyond this I consider excessive.

I am not interested in ethics or morality.

It hasn't worked out that way. He has preached the ethics and morality of thugs in every other post and constantly repeats the same phrases. He has shown that ethics and morality are his principle interest and he has gone about trying to evangelize his views.

He preaches that it is good to be like Idi Amin, but you are right. He is not the moral equivalent of that monster.

I stand corrected and apologize to Bob.

Michael

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If I have no right to not prevent death then I'll get right on sending every cent of my money to those "for less than a cup of coffee a day, a child in Africa can...". There's no difference between the kid next to the vulture and the kid on the tv screen in such a case except you're in less danger from helping the people in the Africa on the tv screen. Michael, you make the crucial mistake of equating a man who would sit and watch a kid die while eating a candy bar, implying him using the kid for entertainment which is certainly depraved, with someone who would just not help the kid for whatever reason (i.e. risk of disease etc.) which at the very least a case can be made for.

Take away the right to be depraved and what rights do you have left in their full and complete form? What rights does that not contradict?

I have been spending extra time reading Objectivist non-fiction lately and am really surprised as I came back to this forum to see things said where Objectivists think that Objectivism is about "I got mine, Jack, and let everyone else go to hell" and letting the bad people run rampant until it touches me. What happened to the Howard Roarks who would jump into the water to save Wynand on principle because he valued Wynand as Roark said he would do even though he had no moral obligation to do so. When did Objectivism in the eyes of Objectivists deviate from that?

The photographer did the right thing. He did more good by taking those photos than he could have by picking up every kid he saw and taking them to the closest food joint. He held a job similar to that of the runner of Marathon in Ancient Greece. So what would I do in the situation if I came across that kid? I'd help him out, even though I have no legal or moral obligation to do so.

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Michael, you make the crucial mistake of equating a man who would sit and watch a kid die while eating a candy bar, implying him using the kid for entertainment which is certainly depraved, with someone who would just not help the kid for whatever reason (i.e. risk of disease etc.) which at the very least a case can be made for.

Take away the right to be depraved and what rights do you have left in their full and complete form? What rights does that not contradict?

Jeff,

Actually I do not make that mistake. A variation of this situation was once argued to me (I can't remember offhand the exact example, but it was equally obnoxious) and it was on both an Objectivist forum and during a meeting of Objectivists. The idea was that such a person was morally depraved, but that he had such a right, implying that such a right deserved to be protected. I certainly have no interest in protecting such a right and will not spend one second of my existence in benefit of such a right.

You seem to hold a misconception that I am criticizing Objectivism for the position of promoting the sadism and depraved indifference I mentioned. I am not. I am criticizing the interpretation of Objectivism of some boneheads and what they openly preach as Objectivism.

You asked, "take away the right to be depraved and what rights do you have left in their full and complete form?" If you are paraphrasing my position, you should at least include the complete idea which included "with resulting loss of life."

For the sake of precision, I did not suggest taking away such a right. I do not recognize it as a right in the first place. Not all situations we encounter in life entail rights. Emergencies are such situations. To be clear, rights derive from morality, which is based on choice and evaluation. Where no choice is possible, or evaluation of the choices leads to equally irrational results in all cases, there are no rights. Whatever one does is right.

Michael

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So what defines an emergency situation in terms of when something should be done about it? There is an emergency situation in Africa regardless of whether I am there or in the United States. The only difference is that I can help a child easier and with less risk to myself in the United States than I can in Africa. So am I in a permanent emergency situation because I can so easily help that child?

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Jeff,

Your question was asked and argued ad naseum on the linked threads. I do not want to rehash it here. If you are interested, there is plenty to read about it.

Outside of including species as part of the definition of human nature (which leads to the idea of the sanctity of human life), I will say that it is in our rational self-interest to make sure that pestilences like ebola (which have developed in cases like the conditions in Sudan) do not take root and spread.

If you want to think only of yourself cut off from the rest of humanity, think about contracting ebola if that ever becomes a plague. That is a real threat to you as a person.

Michael

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Michael, I agree with you that there is a problem in Objectivism -- in life -- that has to be resolved. But I want to point out what i see as an error im your formulation of the Objectivist position, an error which further complicates what is already a very complex problem. You wrote:

"Objectivism holds that all human beings have individual rights, and that no right of one person may violate the right of another and still be called a right. It also claims that children have the right to life and by definition, they need to be cared for by adults until reaching adulthood.

"There is obviously a moral collision here. Something has to give because it is impossible to maintain both positions across the board. When one is considered as true for all cases, the other infringes it at certain points. Several solutions have been proposed (limiting liability to the parents, etc.), but for every principle on one end, another conflicting principle on the other end can be brought to bear."

There is an implication in your formulation that is not what Objectivism holds. According to your statement, the right to life means the right to have that life ensured by someone else; whereas what it in fact means is that the individual has the right to attempt to ensure his life by his own actions and that no one has the right to stop him so long as he does not infringe the equal right of others. It's true that since a child cannot take the necessay actions, his parents -- because they brought him into existence -- must take the actions he cannot take. However, this is not, according to Objectivism (whether you think this right or wrong) an obligation on those who did not brng the child into existence.

There is no contradiction or "moral collision" in this position. If you disagree with it, fine. But, in justice, it's important to state it correctly.

A further problem. One might ask what a man morally should do when, after having married a woman whom he knew was irrresponsible, he had several children with her and, when he now is released from prison after serving a sentence for a serious crime, he discovers that she had not properly cared for the chidren. He doesn't want to give them into state care, but since he is having difficulty finding a well-paying job because of his criminal past and because he never learned a trade, he is unable to care for them himself. What should he do?? How can he make sure that his innocent children do not suffer?

The answer is that there is no answer. He cannot save his children from pain. It's too late. "What should I do"? is the question he needed to ask himself a very long time ago, before he found himself in this self-created trap.

The situation with the starving child in the photograph is similar in principle. Generations of mistakes, of stupidity, of thoughtlessness, of plain evil, all led to that innocent child dying alone and abandoned. One cannot demand that a cameraman -- or anyone else -- stumblimg upon the child, should resolve the dilemma and create a happy ending. Happy endings are not always possible in a context of such horror. That's why evil is evil.,

Barbara

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Barbara,

To tell you the truth, I did state it incorrectly as if it were explicit Objectivism. However, I go from a logical conclusion stemming from the Objectivist definition of man (and child). I should have stated that this was my reasoning from Objectivist premises regarding a "hole" that is not covered in Objectivism.

The moral collision is not rooted on the rights level, but on the definition level (and embedded within Objectivist literature - I will find quotes later). The problem is defining a child as both unable to care for itself—defending that care on the basis of right to life, but conveniently denying it the right to life in certain circumstances, claiming (for those instances) that its right to life is only a right in the adult sense (right to action, no guarantee of survival, etc.).

Either a child can care for itself or it cannot, and if it cannot, it either has a right to life or it does not. Apparently Objectivism posits both, or at least posits two separate definitions for what right to life means, depending on the case being examined. And that is a collision if I ever saw one (double standard).

I am not comfortable with the position that there is an obligation by parents because they brought the child into the world as a form of stepping around this contradiction. Incidentally, I do agree that parents do have such an obligation, but this is because of two reasons, not one: (1) the parents acted in a manner that impacted another, and (2) the child has a right to life. If the child does not have a right to life, why do the parents have an obligation to it in the first place? What is the moral basis for this?

If a child does have a right to life, is it only a right in relation to its parents? Then what stops a non-parent from killing it, for example, and not being arrested and prosecuted? What is the moral basis? Not caring for it has the same metaphysical result, i.e., death.

Objectivism does not provide a consistent answer to any of this.

Incidentally, I am familiar with the argument that the parents put the child in jeopardy by causing it to come into existence as a helpless being, and that such jeopardy is what creates the obligation, but I do not buy that on a fundamental level for several reasons. If I put another person in jeopardy, am I then obligated to care for him until the jeopardy is over because such an obligation was metaphysically created? That is just the first question. I don't mind this argument on a secondary level and I even agree with it on that level, but I see many problems with it on a primary "premise" level. It does not convince me as a definition of human nature. We are not creators of metaphysical helplessness. It merely happens to us as it does any animal.

I sometimes read in the literature that a child has a right to life and sometimes I read a strong insinuation that it does not.

I believe there has to be a proper alignment between the definitions and later propositions that are derived from them—especially in Objectivism. I am not comfortable with a contradiction on such a basic level.

I believe that this issue always causes such a huge amount of discussion among Objectivists precisely because Objectivist definitions are vague or worse with respect to children.

I would be OK with the argument if Objectivist powers that be (heh!) redefined what a child is and claimed that it is not a human being, for instance, although I would strongly disagree with that. But my disagreement would not be based on the contradiction I presently perceive. In such a case, there would be logical consistency developed from the definition (the premise). If all human beings have the right to life and a child is not a human being because, er... anything... say it cannot exercise its rational faculty as the differentia in defining man, so it is not a rational animal, I see no logical problem. I would only disagree with that definition (and how!), as I presently do about the scope of human nature as defined in Objectivism. But that is another issue altogether.

For the record, I am also not comfortable with assigning unchosen burdens to others (this is strongly emphasized in Objectivism and is one of the initial attractions Objectivism had for me), however, I see this as compounding the contradiction with defining a child the way it does.

And also, for the record, I see the conditions of the starving children in Sudan as a direct result of dictatorships. So if I were to propose any large-scale concrete action, it would be more in the sense of eliminating the dictatorships before anything else is planned or done. Those who are the worst at violating the right to life of those children must be stopped. Then something that will actually work can be done to get them some food and the local adults producing it. Only then, after that crisis has passed, can we discuss what rights they have or don't have and such discussion actually mean something.

Until then, by sanctioning that situation—even with omission—i.e., literally sanctioning the death of innocent children as having no moral import, we are discussing ethics as a form of replacing metaphysics and not deriving from it.

I will not accept (for my own life) any reasoning based on Objectivism that leads to this as the morally correct.

Michael

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Michael, there is no perfection possible with philosophy because life is so much more complicated.

Without getting into the abortion debate, if we posit that a child has a right to life at birth then that child has a right to do what he can for his life. Obviously we cannot claim that a baby can violate anyone's rights.

If a child cries to be fed and the parents will not feed it though they can then they are giving up their custodial rights and if I come along and feed the child they can only practically object by violating my own rights and the right of the child to life. If no one hears the child then they are starving the child and violating his right to life. If they can't feed the child or obtain help to feed the child then they are not violating the child's right to life and their own rights are probably being violated by others. Etc.

Rights theory via Objectivism is succinctly laid out, perhaps too succinctly.

--Brant

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