Starving Child in the Wilderness Revisited


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Barbara made me very glad this morning when I read her concise, exact expression of the moral enterprise, viz: "What should I do?"

That's the proper basis, scope, and limit of all moral reasoning. Not what he, she, it, or they should do. Not what the law, or the market, or the family, or the tribe, or the government should do. Nor what promises were made, broken, voided by force majeur, misunderstood.

"'What should I do?' is the question..." Three cheers for Barbara's Razor.

:flowers:

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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 wh

Very eloquent and compelling post, Michael!

I'd like to offer some ideas that may help to de-tangle these issues:

First, not all violations of moral principle justify forcible intervention or punishment of the violater. This is an obvious point, but one worth listing here.

Second, the seriousness of a moral violation is almost completely unrelated to forcible intervention against the violator is justifiable. Stealing a candy bare should be illegal. Saving a candy bar for yourself for the plane ride back from the Sudan, rather than offering it to a starving child, should not be illegal.

Third, in many cases, morals aren't binary, with either you're acting morally or you're not. There are degrees. Objectivists get this when it comes to achievement. It's immoral to mooch off others when you are perfectly capable of supporting yourself. But there is nothing immoral about working just enough to pay your bills, but not achieving much more than that. However, working your butt off to make a serious contribution and do important work is more admirable than just getting by. The same analysis can apply to compassion and other virtues.

Gotta run, so I'll leave obvious applications of these principles to the reader...

Mike Lee

Hit and Run

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Michael, you are still speaking as if the Objectivist theory of rights were not clear and consistent. As I said, I have no objection to your criticizing the definition, but I do protest your continuing misinterpretatiom of Objectivist theory. According to Objectivism, the right to life is not the right to have someone feed and clothe you --whether you are a child or an adult. The parents' obligation to the child arises not from the child's right to life, but from the fact that the parents are responsible for the child's existence. Yes, a child has a right to life -- and to liberty, and to property. But it cannot yet exercise these rights.

If you say that the child's right to life means that it should be fed and clothed by others who did not bring it into existence, that would mean that you and I and everyone else are infringing a child's rights whenever, anywhere in the world or the universe, a child is underfed or beaten or otherwise harmed. But surely that is not your position. So please, discuss whatever you, Michael, see as the human obligation to children, but not in the context of a misunderstanding of the Objectivist theory of rights.

For the record, I believe that anyone who would pass by a starving child when he has the power to help, is, under most circumstances, a moral monster. And I believe that under certain circumstances -- which need to be very carefully defined -- there should be a legal penalty for such a failure, perhaps along the lines of the American concept of accesory to murder. But that is a completely separate issue from the Objectivst theory of rights.

Barbara

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For the record, I believe that anyone who would pass by a starving child when he has the power to help, is, under most circumstances, a moral monster. And I believe that under certain circumstances -- which need to be very carefully defined -- there should be a legal penalty for such a failure, perhaps along the lines of the American concept of accesory to murder. But that is a completely separate issue from the Objectivst theory of rights.

Barbara

How can one who does -NOTHING- be an accessory to -ANYTHING- unless he defaulted on a contractual duty to act, in which case his wrong is breach of contract, not accessory to murder. So a tort might be filed against him.

As far as I can tell, none of us have a contractual duty a priori to help strangers in distress. We might help them out of "the goodness of our heart" but doing so is not in conformance to a contractual duty.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Barbara,

How can there be an obligation to someone, even parents, without considering the person who receives?

Does the child receiving the obligation have a right to that obligation or not? If he does not have such a right, why is there the obligation? That would be duty for the sake of duty.

The Objectivist literature I have read is ambiguous on this point, one time saying the child does have a right to be cared for, and the other saying no, he does not. And the basis usually given is the right to life, which cannot mean what you state if the child has a right to such an obligation (even if limited only to his parents). I see two meanings for right to life in Objectivism and I have been unable to discern the logic behind when to use one or the other (I am speaking on a fundamental level, not secondary).

This is the hole I see in the Objectivist theory of rights—as far as children are concerned. It is not consistent. For adults, I have no qualms with the Objectivist theory of rights as it is.

I think I better find some quotes from Rand to make clear what I am talking about.

Michael

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For the record, I believe that anyone who would pass by a starving child when he has the power to help, is, under most circumstances, a moral monster. And I believe that under certain circumstances -- which need to be very carefully defined -- there should be a legal penalty for such a failure, perhaps along the lines of the American concept of accesory to murder. But that is a completely separate issue from the Objectivst theory of rights.

Barbara

How can one who does -NOTHING- be an accessory to -ANYTHING- unless he defaulted on a contractual duty to act, in which case his wrong is breach of contract, not accessory to murder. So a tort might be filed against him.

As far as I can tell, none of us have a contractual duty a priori to help strangers in distress. We might help them out of "the goodness of our heart" but doing so is not in conformance to a contractual duty.

Ba'al Chatzaf

If you refuse to testify at trial and consequently a murderer goes free or an innocent is convicted then you are an accessory to the purported crime even though you did "nothing." This justifies subpoena power.

--Brant

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Michael, you are still speaking as if the Objectivist theory of rights were not clear and consistent. As I said, I have no objection to your criticizing the definition, but I do protest your continuing misinterpretatiom of Objectivist theory. According to Objectivism, the right to life is not the right to have someone feed and clothe you --whether you are a child or an adult. The parents' obligation to the child arises not from the child's right to life, but from the fact that the parents are responsible for the child's existence. Yes, a child has a right to life -- and to liberty, and to property. But it cannot yet exercise these rights.

Barbara

Well, he can certainly exercise his right to life by crying out for food, love, and comfort. When he gets that he rewards the giver by saying "Goo, goo!" and stopping the crying. What his parents don't have the right to do is place him where no one else can hear his cries and not meet his needs so he dies. That'd be murder. If you come upon the dying child and you can help him but don't then you will be an accessory to murder.

--Brant

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Well, he can certainly exercise his right to life by crying out for food, love, and comfort. When he gets that he rewards the giver by saying "Goo, goo!" and stopping the crying. What his parents don't have the right to do is place him where no one else can hear his cries and not meet his needs so he dies. That'd be murder. If you come upon the dying child and you can help him but don't then you will be an accessory to murder.

Brant,

This is really close to my thinking. I am still moving around inside myself investigating all kinds of angles (and at present compiling a list of Rand quotes), but you are so close to what I think it is... let's say "exciting" to me for lack of a better word.

Morally, what you just described is what I believe—strongly—when I look at the emaciated children photographed in Sudan. There are no legal rights because the government is all screwed up over there. But if, as a civilization, we allow ourselves to look at that situation with full awareness and permit it to continue on the basis of it being morally correct for us to do so, and we allow the irresponsible evil adults who are causing that abomination to continue doing what they are doing for the same reason, morally we are an accessory. We are an accessory by sanctioning the power to do that as proper for that part of the world. We are saying that Objectivism is a philosophy for living on one part of the earth, but not on another.

We should remove those monsters from power in the name of the right to life of those children.

And I say this as a person who is essentially a non-interventionist in foreign affairs. A moral line gets crossed when children are made to starve like that, I don't care how individualistic or isolationist a philosophy is. I may have difficulty articulating that moral line right now, especially in identifying where Objectivism turns a blind eye to a such a moral outrage, but this needs to be done. It is frustrating as I grope for the proper words, but I see it as clear as day and it is in the definition of human nature on which rights are based. I cannot help seeing it. Even if I wanted to not see it (say, to avoid conflict), I could not. I see what I see and it gives me no peace. (And I will not give up Objectivism.) My only recourse is to keep groping until I find the right words to express it.

I believe one of the reasons Kevin Carter sat under a tree and cried his heart out after shooing the vulture away was because of the sheer weight of the enormity of the evil he was witnessing and knowing that whatever he did as one man would not make any difference at all. The evil would continue just as strong as it was. If I were him, I would have done the same. Even the knowledge that a photograph could help in the future does not alleviate the situation one sees with one's own eyes right at the moment. His sense of helplessness before evil must have hurt so deeply that it paralyzed him. He did take his life later.

I don't know which is worse, knowing that the world—the man made part, not the metaphysical—is totally evil on purpose because some men chose it, or knowing you can't so a damn thing about it.

Well, we can. We should. And we are morally right to do so.

Michael

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Be careful, Michael, of the "good" that a civilization does as opposed to pure individualism. The US by doing "good" has killed 40-50 million babies and infected 1/2 a billion people with crippling malaria through its war on the manufacture and use of DDT. The US by doing good in the Civil War killed directly and indirectly nearly a million Americans. The US by doing good mucked up The Great War by making it WWI which led to WWII, communism in Russia, the Korean War, the Cold War and Vietnam. That's about 100 to 200 million right there.

--Brant

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Brant,

There is a consideration that Barbara just pointed out to me about sacrificing American lives for this. Who is more valuable, an American soldier or a starving child in another country?

That is definitely a consideration and, as a simple trade-off, I would never choose to sacrifice the American soldier, not even for many starving children. But it bothers me—on a moral level, not just emotionally—to see that kind of situation perpetrated and not do anything about it. Imposed starvation is not proper for human life on earth.

I would be VERY COMFORTABLE with the idea (as a moral "should" issue) of removing dictators who bring that level of abomination (like in Sudan) to their people but not endangering American soldiers while doing so. I am not comfortable (morally speaking) with simply saying that a man-made abomination (genocide, massive starvation, etc.) is none of our business because it is over there somewhere.

I am still thinking.

Michael

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Michael, you can help, but it's not right to force someone else to help you help. The essential purpose of the US government is to protect the rights of American citizens, not remove dictators (to be replaced by whom?).

--Brant

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The essential purpose of the US government is to protect the rights of American citizens, not remove dictators (to be replaced by whom?).

Brant,

I just said that about the US government using other words. About myself, I consider myself to be a human being first and an American second. Therefore I do have a legitimate interest in humanity.

And replace dictators by whom? Why almost anyone who will not commit genocide or impose mass starvation will do for starters. (The dictators who do that are the ones where I believe a moral line to be.) Surely that is not such a high bar that it is impractical.

Michael

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If you refuse to testify at trial and consequently a murderer goes free or an innocent is convicted then you are an accessory to the purported crime even though you did "nothing." This justifies subpoena power.

--Brant

The various governments already have subpoena powers. That is in line with the power to prosecute legal investigations a punish infractions. When one is summoned to testify he must comply with the summon. He has to show up in court. Of course he can always "not recall" this or that. But he must bring his overtaxed body to court in compliance with the summons. We are already compelled to report crimes that we happen to witness or know about. Refusing to testify or refusing to report are NOT accesory actions. They are specifically actionable under specific laws. Accessory means the person specifically aided a breach of the law, either before, during or after the breach. So hiding persons sought by the law (for example) IS an accessory action. But this is in connection with crimes. We are talking about rendering aid to the injured or those otherwise in peril. The Constitution does not grant the government any power to compel that people help strangers who are in peril. This is completely distinct from the already existing power of government to enforce existing laws. Shall we punish folk who hear a call for help in the night and decide to go back to sleep?

Now, do you -want- the government to have the power to compel aid by punishing refusal to aid those in peril? Raise your right hand if you are in favor of such a law. Do you want the government to be the judge of how much help A should give B if B is peril and A did not cause it? We are already taxed to the hilt to pay for the care and feeding of the lamed, the maimed and the stupid. How much further should this go? Citizens are already compelled to feed the children of the poor by being taxed to maintain our welfare system. We are heavily taxed to provide medical are to the indigent. Shall we also require that citizens jump into the water to help drowning folk?

Here is the general question: how much duty to help is there in the absence of a specific contract to render aid (for example as an EMT or a lifeguard)? If one is in the business of rendering aid (see prior examples) and receives pay for being at the ready then he is in breach of contract if he fails to render the aid he was paid to render. This is NOT what we are talking about. We are talking about a general situation where B is in peril and A is compelled to help even if A had NOTHING whatsoever to do with the peril in the first place.

Good sense will reveal that should such a duty be found we are all slaves to the least competent among us which includes children who are unable to take care of themselves. If some complete stranger has a child and does not take care of his/her very own child why should you or me be compelled by Law to do so? Do you wish to be drafted into Nanny Service?

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Michael, you wrote

"But if, as a civilization, we allow ourselves to look at that situation with full awareness and permit it to continue on the basis of it being morally correct for us to do so, and we allow the irresponsible evil adults who are causing that abomination to continue doing what they are doing for the same reason, morally we are an accessory. We are an accessory by sanctioning the power to do that as proper for that part of the world. We are saying that Objectivism is a philosophy for living on one part of the earth, but not on another.

"We should remove those monsters from power in the name of the right to life of those children.

"And I say this as a person who is essentially a non-interventionist in foreign affairs. A moral line gets crossed when children are made to starve like that, I don't care how individualistic or isolationist a philosophy is. I may have difficulty articulating that moral line right now, especially in identifying where Objectivism turns a blind eye to a such a moral outrage, but this needs to be done."

Michael, you cannot have your cake and eat it, too. Do you not see the blatant contradictiom in saying both that we should remove from power dictators who starve children, and also sayig that you are a non-interventionist? You need to decide which of these two you accept. And if you accept the first premise, you need to recognize that it means we would be sending thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of American soldiers to die in probably thirty or more countries at any given time. What about their lives?

Nor is it reasonable to blame Objectivism for this dilemma, to say, as you do say, that Objectivism turns a blind eye to the suffering of children. It is not turning a blind eye to suffering or "permittimg" evil to continue to acknowledge that we cannot cure the ills of the world single-handedly, and to say that we have no moral right to demand that our sympathies for children be expressed at the cost of American lives -- or, for that matter, at the cost of any other lives. If you want to help these children, then do so, and, if you can, convince other people to do so.. But do not demand that an entire coumtry be mobilized and its soldiers be sent to die in battle in the name of your sympathies.

If one does not look too closely at your position -- and I recognize that you are beginning to temper it -- it might seem to be kind, and caring, to insist that something be done about starving children. But one must look at the total of the position-- not just at the starving children, but at the bleeding bodies of the soldiers who will die because of your concern for children. After all, it is not you and I who will do the fighting and the dying to save these children; you are demanding that others do it -- young men and women who themselves are scarcely more than children.. By what right?

Barbara

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Barbara,

I think you must have missed my Post 35. Here are the pertinent parts.

There is a consideration that Barbara just pointed out to me about sacrificing American lives for this. Who is more valuable, an American soldier or a starving child in another country?

That is definitely a consideration and, as a simple trade-off, I would never choose to sacrifice the American soldier, not even for many starving children. But it bothers me—on a moral level, not just emotionally—to see that kind of situation perpetrated and not do anything about it. Imposed starvation is not proper for human life on earth.

I would be VERY COMFORTABLE with the idea (as a moral "should" issue) of removing dictators who bring that level of abomination (like in Sudan) to their people but not endangering American soldiers while doing so. I am not comfortable (morally speaking) with simply saying that a man-made abomination (genocide, massive starvation, etc.) is none of our business because it is over there somewhere.

I am still thinking.

That may not answer all of your objections, but I believe it answers most of them.

I do have one other issue, however. I do not consider condemning a dictator who starves children to death merely a matter of opinion (my sympathies) as if there were another valid one. It is rationally evil—vile and despicable—in all contexts.

Michael

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If you refuse to testify at trial and consequently a murderer goes free or an innocent is convicted then you are an accessory to the purported crime even though you did "nothing." This justifies subpoena power.

--Brant

Legally speaking a murderer cannot go free. Everyone who is tried of a crime is legally innocent of the charge until convicted.

Refusal to testify is contempt of court. When the court summons one to testify he must show up or be in contempt. There is no law that that makes a person who refuses to testify to details pertaining to a crime an accessory to that crime. Check out accessory laws on Google.

Even if one shows up and takes oath he can be "hazy" on the details or claim he is not sure which essentially will void his testimony. This is not purgery nor is it contempt.

Accessory means being a willing knowing participant to a crime before, during or after the fact. One must be willing in his connection to the crime. This a person who rents a car to a criminal and it is used in a bank robbery and the renter did not know of the intended use of the car is NOT an accessory. Whereas one who drives the get away car, even if he was not a direct participant to the robbery is an accessory. Also one who obtained the car knowing its purpose is an accessory.

There are very few States in the U.S. where depraved indifference is a felony or even a misdemeanor (and you may thank whatever it is you worship for that). Once depraved indifference laws are passed there is no limit to what legal duties may be imposed. Perhaps refusal to donate blood will be regarded as a crime.

I believe in several States that if one happens to witness an crime he must report the crime to the police. He is in no way required to intervene. That sort of duty is in the same category as jury service or duty to comply with a subpoena. One the other hand no one is obliged to partake in a posse comitatus. And you will also notice that we currently have no draft laws.

You may think ill of the indifferent but you ought not be allowed to impose your concerns on others. If you want to help the needy or those in peril go ahead and do so. No one is stopping you. Before you do, it would be advisable to make sure there is a "good Samaritan' law in place to protect your butt.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Edited by BaalChatzaf
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Bob,

I was talking about parents starving their child unto death, not welfare or compulsory aid to those generally in need. I was talking about murder. Legal philosophy can logically distinguish between each. As for morality, not everything that is immoral should be illegal or is. Thanks for the info on actual, current law regarding accessory. It seems to be generally accurate.

--Brant

PS: Our posts seem to be crossing. I'll review them later today.

Edited by Brant Gaede
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Bob,

I was talking about parents starving their child unto death, not welfare or compulsory aid to those generally in need. I was talking about murder. Legal philosophy can logically distinguish between each. As for morality, not everything that is immoral should be illegal or is. Thanks for the info on actual, current law regarding accessory. It seems to be generally accurate.

--Brant

PS: Our posts seem to be crossing. I'll review them later today.

Deliberately starving someone is murder or homicide at the very least. That is a felony plain and simple. A caregiver had both a fiduciary and a legal obligation to see that his charge is properly cared for. That is a matter of law. This is a far removed thing from not feeding some strange kid not legally in one's charge. That is a matter of choice and inclination. There is no obligation either legal or moral to do so. I imagine most folk are given to sentiment and would want to feed some poor waif even if it isn't their poor waif.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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On depraved indifference, I believe in not evading reality.

If we are to imagine the horror of our soldiers dying, and I believe we must, I also believe, if we want to be objective, we must see the pictures of those children dying and know that the people we elect are encouraging/sanctioning/protecting business with the dictators who perpetrate that. This means that the raw materials for our conveniences and needs are being paid for by literally starving children to death.

This is one more reason to not tolerate such dictators, but that is not my main point right now. If we can look at that situation, be fully aware of the connection between that and the conveniences we use and the sanction our government provides the dictators through meddling in business, and say that it is not our problem, I would call that depraved indifference.

We can create our wealth without having to starve children to death as an input.

Michael

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If we are to imagine the horror of our soldiers dying, and I believe we must, I also believe, if we want to be objective, we must see the pictures of those children dying and know that the people we elect are encouraging/sanctioning/protecting business with the dictators who perpetrate that.

Michael

Michael, please realize that this is a complete change of subject, and not relevant to our obligations to starving children as previously discussed.

Barbara

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Barbara,

My original point was discussing a contradiction I perceive in the Objectivist definition of human nature (adult versus children) when used as grounds for developing the concept of rights, not soldiers dying. Since that was added, I expanded the reason children die like that overseas to include the entire context. (This level of abomination does not happen in free countries.)

My basic point is that in Objectivism, man is a rational animal and "rational" is the differentia because the rational faculty is man's means of survival. But it is not a child's means of survival. Being cared for by adults is. Yet in Objectivism, a child is a human being bearing rights in some cases, and treated as nothing more than an obligation-generating property of adults in others.

This leads to something else. Man's means of survival is not usable for survival for several years during a person's existence. It has to be developed to be usable. That means using resources created by someone else. I see the word "debt" on the horizon. I will have more to say about that later, but let's say I see a problem in that only those human beings who have received enough resources from others to develop their own means of survival—without repayment in the equation—are the ones with rights.

Please give me a couple of days on those Rand quotes. I have compiled a bunch so far (about half), and I want to present them in a specific order. But there are many and I also have other things I need to do in the meantime.

Michael

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We can create our wealth without having to starve children to death as an input.

Michael

Quite right. We can also create our wealth without having to feed starving children for whom we have no responsibility or obligation, as an output.

Creating wealth and feeding starving children are orthogonal to each other. Neither one implies the other. Or putting it another way, we can be both productive and indifferent to the suffering of strangers.

If you want to use your spare money to feed the Miserable of the Earth, by all means do so. No one is stopping you.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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We can create our wealth without having to starve children to death as an input.

Michael

Quite right. We can also create our wealth without having to feed starving children for whom we have no responsibility or obligation, as an output.

Creating wealth and feeding starving children are orthogonal to each other. Neither one implies the other. Or putting it another way, we can be both productive and indifferent to the suffering of strangers.

If you want to use your spare money to feed the Miserable of the Earth, by all means do so. No one is stopping you.

Ba'al Chatzaf

I think this line of discussion is way off base. To end our complicity in world hunger and suffering is fairly simple -- laissez faire. Let them alone. Graft and corruption will continue, but we don't have to be party to it. Certainly it's a moral question. US 'bulge bracket' banks are hip deep in wertfrei pragmatism. Where we invest matters. US foreign aid matters, too.

W.

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I think this line of discussion is way off base. To end our complicity in world hunger and suffering is fairly simple -- laissez faire. Let them alone. Graft and corruption will continue, but we don't have to be party to it. Certainly it's a moral question. US 'bulge bracket' banks are hip deep in wertfrei pragmatism. Where we invest matters. US foreign aid matters, too.

There should be no U.S. foreign aid as such. If the U.S. gummint has to lease bases overseas for national defense, so be it. But give-aways to other nations from revenues extracted from U.S. taxpayers should cease. If individuals want to be charitable to parties overseas, nothing should impede them (except for aiding enemies of the United States in a war situation).

Ba'al Chaztaf

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