What Democracy — i.e. mob rule — in Egypt might look like

Well, Mubarak is out, and for some reason (perhaps because of what they’re being told by the media), many people see this as an opportunity for Egyptians to have “freedom” of some sort. Obama is throwing around words like “justice” and “democracy” and even the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who I assume is a Republican, is encouraging Egypt to form some sort of “democracy” instead of letting the “extremist” elements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, take over.

First of all, why do intelligent people, especially so-called conservatives, even use the word “democracy” anymore? Democracy means rule by the majority — i.e., mob rule. Democracy can result in all sorts of horrible things, such as making Socrates drink hemlock, the majority of poor and middle-class people voting to confiscate the wealth of the 5% most productive people in the country, putting a Hitler or Hamas in power, etc. Any serious freedom-loving person does not speak of creating a democracy, rather, he speaks of creating a constitutional republic, dedicated to the protection of individual rights. (For more on this, I refer you to Ayn Rand’s essays, “Man’s Rights” and “The Nature of Government.”)

I guess the reason people still speak of democracy is because they think it is important that everyone have their “say”, that everyone’s opinion is just as important and worthy of attention as everyone else’s. Said Obama in one of his recent speeches, “Above all, this transition must bring all of Egypt’s voices to the table.” Well, let’s see what we are likely to wind up with if this approach is applied.

In this editorial, you can read a condensed summary of the results of a Pew Research Center poll, conducted of Egyptians last year. Some highlights (or, should I say, lowlights):

• 95% prefer the religion play a “large role in politics.”

• 84% favor the death penalty for people who leave the Muslim faith.

• 82% support stoning adulterers.

• 54% support a law segregating women from men in the workplace.

• 54% believe suicide bombings that kill civilians can be justified.

• Nearly half support the terrorist group Hamas.

• 82% of Egyptians dislike the U.S.

Do these data points make you think that Egyptians want anything that even remotely resembles “freedom”? No, me neither. What would the poll data look like if the sample population was limited to the “extremists”?

But, hey, look on the bright side. Perhaps whatever government is formed in Egypt will adopt the Obama Administration’s trait of selective hearing. The majority of Americans didn’t want Obamacare, it’s probably not even constitutional (see my previous post), and yet Obama insists on moving full-steam ahead with it anyway.

[Update: David Hayes had this to add on Facebook. I reproduce it here by permission:

Ayn Rand wrote:

“… in 1917, the Russian peasants were demanding: ‘Land and Freedom!’ But Lenin and Stalin is what they got.

“In 1933, the Germans were demanding: ‘Room to live!’ But what they got was Hitler.

“In 1793, the French were shouting: ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity!’ What they got was Napoleon.

“In 1776, the Americans were proclaiming ‘The Rights of Man’–and, led by political philosophers, they achieved it.”

Quote from “Blind Chaos,” in “The Ayn Rand Column,” pages 45-46, and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (this piece is reprinted as the second half of chapter 12), pg. 137-139.

Egyptians have been right to be protesting, but what they’re asking for is vague. We’re right to be concerned that this will come to lead to the worst consequences. (I nonetheless want that the Egyptian people be spared this if they can bring about a proper government.)]

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56 responses to “What Democracy — i.e. mob rule — in Egypt might look like

  1. Good points, Amy. The “pulse on the street” of every-day people I run into who seem to care about this feels very much like the day after Obama was elected. In both cases, it’s all elation for “hope and change” without any idea or definition of what that means.

  2. Alec Bass

    I think one of the reasons so many people favor democracy is that we were indoctrinated in school that democracy is good, majority rules, etc. In classes, democracy was contrasted to dictatorships, and as you said, democracy seems much better because every has a say.

  3. doug

    Re: “I guess the reason people still speak of democracy is because they think it is important that everyone have their “say”, that everyone’s opinion is just as important and worthy of attention as everyone else’s.”

    Perhaps that’s true of most intellectuals, but I think at least most people confuse democracy with the idea that every adult citizen be entitled to vote in political elections. I think more activism is needed to clarify this important conceptual confusion.

  4. perfectlyGoodInk

    Most political scientists consider “constitutional republic” to be one form of democracy, so you’re splitting hairs here. After all, direct democracy as practiced in Athens doesn’t exist in the world today, whereas representative democracy (i.e. a republic) is the most common form of democratic governance today.

    • I’ll take your word for it, as I don’t keep up with classifications used by most political scientists. In any event, when one has a constitutional republic with representative democracy, it is not the “democracy” that protects one’s rights, primarily, it is the limitations that exist in the constitution. (Of course even a really good constitution can’t withstand cultural decay, due to the democratic influence on a government like ours, and I understand this is the reason why Benjamin Franklin said, “A republic … if you can keep it.”)

      And still our own constitution, although imperfect, seems to have been much better than people are coming up with today. How else is a terrorist organization like Hamas allowed to govern in a modern “representative democracy”? See this article for more.

      • perfectlyGoodInk

        A constitution is nice, but not necessary, as the British have shown. It really is the democracy part that protects rights because the need for political leaders to win elections makes them accountable to the people. They have an incentive to not infringe upon people’s liberties, and I think that becomes clear if you look at the human rights records of democracies versus dictatorships. Really, any leader that behaved like Mubarrak did would easily lose a fair election.

        Constitutions are generally a good idea too, but remember, our own Constitution didn’t provide for the protection of individual rights or liberty. We needed the first Ten Amendments for that. Our Constitution has also proven to be a poor way of preventing government growth. Checks and balances don’t work when the same party controls multiple branches. The Founders failed to foresee that the system would create political parties (let alone an oligopolic two-party system — political science hadn’t yet discovered Duverger’s Law).

        But yes, democracies aren’t perfect. An election is a contest, and somebody who is good at winning elections isn’t necessarily someone who is good at governing countries, as your examples point out. But elections still provide much better incentives for good governance than a dictatorship.

  5. The British have had socialized medicine and I have heard that they are now allowing Sharia law to govern in some areas of the country. I’m not sure what your political views are, but to me neither of these are compatible with protecting individual rights.

    An elected official is accountable — to the majority of voters. So, if the majority decides that the minority should give up their right to something, it’s gone. That’s why, e.g., “The top-earning 5 percent of taxpayers (AGI over $159,619)…. earned 34.7 percent of the nation’s adjusted gross income, but paid approximately 58.7 percent of federal individual income taxes.” And there’s nothing the top 5% can do about this, short of a major change in the culture, because of a glaring defect in our constitution: no real protection for the right to property.

    • Richie Reynolds

      Ridiculous. As a top-1% earner, I know that money is power, not votes. I can buy votes with $$! It’s a lot easier to pay for commercials than it is to get voters to vote for something. That’s why the top fed tax bracket has dropped from 70% during Reagan to 35% today.

      An elected official is accountable to $, because $ is what buys votes, not policy. No one gives a shit about policy, what matters is what they see on the news and in commercials.

      • If I recall correctly, it was Reagan who instituted those tax cuts, no doubt partly on pragmatic grounds: he realized that overall tax revenue would increase when people are “allowed” to keep more of their money, and therefore have an incentive to be productive. And I guess he didn’t object to people actually keeping their money, as Carter did. Oh, and a quick counter-example to the idea that one can “buy” votes without convincing people that the policy is correct: Michael Huffington’s run for Senate: “After one term in the House, Huffington spent $28 million dollars in a bid for a seat in the United States Senate in 1994. In the Republican primary, he defeated William E. Dannemeyer. At the time, Huffington’s was the most expensive campaign in a non-presidential election in American history. Huffington lost in the general election by 1.9 percent of the vote to Dianne Feinstein.” (From his entry on Wikipedia.)

  6. M. Stern

    “Democracy” is the term the Left has used to smuggle socialism into America (with cowardly assistance from the Conservatives). I don’t think that its usage is innocent as perfectlygoodink implies. Everyone today, even the Conservatives, use the term democracy. As it is used, it is a mushy term that seems to combine the right to vote with some protection of “human rights” (the term “individual rights” is never used). But given that the results in the Middle East have been that either outright Jihadist groups like Hamas or Jihad sympathizers like Karzai have gained control of the “democracies” we have installed, I think we can safely say that the term stands for majority rule in practice.

    Given that Egypt is so heavily Islamic as the Pew research poll shows, it is a safe bet that some version of yet another Islamic republic will now emerge. This means that there is now yet another enemy government in the Islamic world that will do its best to harm America and Israel. Our entire political philosophy of “spreading democracy” and nation building in order “to win the hearts and minds” of Islamic peoples and transform Islamic nations into peaceful and stable societies has been a total failure. Of course it had to be given the nature of Islam and its grip on the Middle East and North Africa. IMO, this is all altruism in action.

  7. Michael

    A representative government is one in which political authority is exercised by means of officials chosen to hold that authority (e.g., the Congress in the United States or the Parliament in the United Kingdom). A republic is a form of government in which the government’s authority is strictly limited by individual rights (e.g., one can see this as the explicit intention of the United States founding fathers, even if it is no longer true). One can certainly have a republic which doesn’t use representatives to exercise government authority (one could argue that Galt’s Gulch had such a government), and one could certainly have a representative government which is not a republic. Most countries today hold elections for governmental officials, but very few make any reference to individual rights in their founding documents, and even those hold that some citizens may be taxed and the money redistributed to other citizens without their consent.

    I think the support for democracy stems from this attitude that government should not be “ruled by elitists”. It has to be a government of the people, for the people and by the people as opposed to a government that protects and preserves individual rights.

  8. perfectlyGoodInk

    I am a Republican who voted for McCain but preferred Ron Paul and interned for a summer at the Cato Institute. And as someone with an economics background, I think it is silly how the Right throws the word socialism at everything. Socialism means state ownership of the factors of production. It died when we won the Cold War; every economy today is a mixed economy.

    The British enjoy pretty much all of the same rights that we do. Not to the same degree, but pretty close. For a democracy without a constitution, that isn’t bad. The Economic Freedom Index from the Heritage foundations ranks them 16th out of 179 countries. Not as good as the U.S., which is 9th, but still good enough to qualify for the top category of “Free” and far, far better than Egypt under Mubarrak, which is 96th and categorized as “Mostly unfree.”

    Interestingly enough, on Transparency International’s Corruption Index, Britain is 20th, ahead of the United States at 22nd (Egypt, predictably, is 98th).

    I understand you don’t like Britain’s healthcare system, but it is poor methodology to judge countries merely by whether they enact policies you disagree with. What you want from government is probably different from what they want from government. After all, you aren’t the one living there paying their taxes and benefiting from the services, even though you have the freedom to move there and they have the freedom to move here.

    Also, property rights is protected by our Fifth Amendment. I know a lot of libertarians think of taxation as theft, but I am not one of them, because I view taxation as necessary to overcome tragedies of the commons and pay for public goods and other goods that have positive externalities.

    I do support a flat tax (or a national sales tax), however, I don’t think democracy is the problem to getting such things enacted. In a political system such as ours, money is a valuable commodity. Therefore, it is much easier for wealthy interests to rent-seek (i.e. lobby for government money) than your Average Joe. The problem is that the people don’t want it.

    You view this as tyranny of the majority, but it sounds like you would wish to impose your own personal policy preferences on the country, thus creating a tyranny of the minority. How is that better?

    • I don’t judge countries by the standard of mere subjective disagreement — e.g., I prefer the pattern of red, white and blue on our flag to theirs; I like having a “Congress” vs. a “Parliament,” because the latter was the name of a cigarette and sounds dirty. I judge countries by whether they protect individual rights, which I believe, following Rand, is an objectively provable moral concept. See her essay, The Objectivist Ethics, in addition to the two essays I link to in my post, if you are interested in the objective proof she offers for rights.

      If I seemed to speak as if it is a matter of preference, it’s because I could tell that you obviously didn’t share my philosophic foundation and thought it best to avoid debate on such. Yes, I do think involuntary taxation is theft. What else would one call the taking of one’s property by threat of force? In addition, not that I’ll ever be “electable,” but if I were in any position of authority in government, it would not be proper to speak of what I’d work towards as a “tyranny of the minority,” because I would work towards a government that does not initiate force of any kind, but rather uses force only in defense against those who initiate its use, as Rand would.

      • perfectlyGoodInk

        Whether or not natural rights exist is besides the point, because dictatorships have a much worse track record at defending them than democracies. This is because a dictator faces much less incentive to protect individual rights than an elected official. The contest of winning an election — while imperfect — is still a far better way to select political leaders who will protect individual rights than, say, the contest of winning a war or a military coup.

        Thus, any friend of liberty would support representative democracy over authoritarianism, as should be obvious given Egypt’s current ranking on the Economic Freedom Index. A more comprehensive liberty index is the State of the World’s Liberty index, which incorporates that index along with several others, including civil liberties, political rights indices, and tax burden. The U.S. is 8th. The U.K. is 7th. Egypt is 125th (hardly surprising, given Mubarak’s repression of freedom of religion and press). So where does your favorite authoritarian dictator rank on that index?

        Nothing in philosophy can be proven, because there is hardly any empiricism in philosophy. That is why there is more disagreement in philosophy than in physics, economics, or political science. I see no proof nor even any empirical data in that essay, only rhetoric. Was it published in a peer-reviewed journal? As I said, whether or not natural rights exist is immaterial to this debate, but if you wish to make your point, explain her proof using what you’ve learned from her rather than just linking her.

        I haven’t yet said much about terrorism, as my point about elected officials not always being good at governing includes those that wage non-defensive wars, which also constitute initiation of force. There is nothing special about terrorism that makes it worse than war. The main difference is the perpetrator is a non-state actor, making reprisal difficult. A representative democracy that includes terrorists can be a bitter pill, but it at least moves such actors into the state realm who now face incentives if they want to hold onto power — which I think generally makes them easier to deal with.

        As for why Hitler came to power, that was less to do with democracy and more to do with the way WWI was settled, where Germany was left footing the bill, resulting in hyperinflation and very angry German voters. A lesson we learned and did not repeat at the end of WWII or after we defeated Iraq; we helped rebuild the losers’ countries. This seems to be a lesson that Israel is still learning. I’d hate to live in a timeline where the Allies built settlements in Germany and Japan.

        I like having a “Congress” vs. a “Parliament,” because the latter was the name of a cigarette and sounds dirty.

        Awful cigarette, too. One of my former roommates was a blues musician who can really wail on the harmonica and is as cool as the other side of the pillow, except that she inexplicably smokes Parliaments.

        But anyway, if you are curious about the field of Comparative Politics, you should know that parliamentary systems have a much better track record than presidential systems. There is still a little bit of debate going on, but for the most part, the consensus view is pretty well represented by Juan Linz’s, “The Perils of Presidentialism.” One of the main points is that there is no mechanism in presidential systems to resolve conflict between the executive and legislature, whereas parliamentarism has the Parliamentary vote of no-confidence and the ability for executives to call for early parliamentary elections.

        An alternate view is Jose Antonio Cheibub and Fernando Limongi have an alternate view with “Democratic Institutions and Regime Survival: Parliamentary and Presidential
        Democracies Reconsidered” in the Annual Review of Political Science, 2002. But he doesn’t really contest Linz’s main point about the superior record, he just says that the deficiencies aren’t inherent in presidential systems, and thus they could be amended to avoid the disadvantages.

        The debate over what form of democracy is better is a helluva lot more interesting than the debate over whether democracy is better than authoritarianism. For instance, I strongly believe that the two biggest problems our own democracy faces is: 1) the two-party system and 2) the 17th Amendment.

        We currently have one party that wants to grow government and one party that pays lip-service to limited government but fails to do so when they win elections. Fans of limited government who vote Republican are like Charlie Brown trying to kick a football held by Lucy. But you can’t really blame them too much, because the Democrats don’t even pretend to care about limited government (and when they do, it’s even less convincing than the Republicans). Furthermore, having only two parties assures that one party will control the legislature — and face a strong incentive to increase their own power and influence by expanding government.

        For the 17th Amendment, I’ll refer you to Bruce Bartlett.

        • “Nothing in philosophy can be proven, because there is hardly any empiricism in philosophy.”

          If by empiricism you mean forming arguments that can be reduced to observation, philosophy has plenty of that. If you mean statistical studies with graphs and charts, no, it doesn’t need that. In Rand’s essays, particularly in “The Objectivist Ethics,” there is plenty of *inductive* argument, rooted in observation of, e.g., characteristics of living things vs. nonliving; human beings vs. other animals. Perhaps not a type of argument with which you are familiar, but not mere “rhetoric.”

          Democracy can be better than a dictatorship, I suppose, if your standard is a utilitarian one. Democracy sucks of you happen to be Socrates (or any other minority who has had his “besides the point” natural rights voted out of existence).

          At least we can agree on two things: the disappointing nature of most Republicans, and the yuckiness of Parliament cigarettes.

  9. First,it’s not as bad as you think in Egypt,it’s worse.

    According to Zogby 79% of Egyptians think it would be good if Iran acquired Nuclear BOMBS,(Not reactors)

    http://theneointellectual.wordpress.com/2011/02/11/zoby-79-of-egyptians-believe-iran-should-have-a-nuclear-bomb-iranelections-freeiran-tcot-egypt-jan25/

    The Muslim Brotherhood also wants
    Egypt to have a Atomic bomb which it says will be “decisive” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    http://theneointellectual.wordpress.com/2011/02/12/muslim-brotherhood-egyptians-ready-to-starve-to-have-nukeswhich-will-be-decisive-against-israel-jan25-egypt/

    On the question of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen though,I disagree.First,whatever her private beliefs,as a member of the US Congress she cannot be as blunt as a private citizen can.Despite the
    attitudes of the Egyptians,they may vote for candidates whom they think may be best able to supply them with food etc,(people forget that this was initially triggered,in large part by food prices),rather than for those who best represent their views on Sharia.It depends on the strength of their belief in Sharia.We also do not know how many of the Egyptians will turn out to vote.(People underestimate the poverty & illiteracy of the Egyptians).Given all this Ros-Lehtinen’s reasoning may be that elections will happen no matter what she says,& that it is best to try to warn about the danger of the Muslim Brotherhood.And that brings me to another point about
    Ros-Lehtinen:she has been one of the most outspoken elected officials
    regarding the Muslim Brotherhood.She is warning about the threat posed by this org,

    …”Engaging the Muslim Brotherhood should not be on the table,” warned House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).”..

    Also see Gary Ackerman (A Democrat!)

    …”f the group were to seize power. “Why would you load a virus into the system?” asked Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), comparing the group to a computer program. “Nothing good will come of it,” he said, adding that the Brotherhood “would destroy the government.”…

    Compare this to the statement of the Highest Ranking REPUBLICAN on the Senate Intel. Cmte. Saxby Chambliss

    …” And there is a radical stream within the Muslim Brotherhood .“ I don ’ t know if we could say if the organization as a whole is made up of radical Islamists . But that part of the world has a lot of extremists in it . And some of those extremists are members of the Muslim Brotherhood . “ It is a concern , but it looks like they’ re going to have to be part of the mix.”…

    Unlike Newt Gingrich, Saxby Chambliss thinks Muslim Brotherhood will ‘have to be part of the mix’ in Egypt | Political Insider

    http://blogs.ajc.com/political-insider-jim-galloway/2011/02/10/saxby-chambliss-muslim-brotherhood-will-have-to-be-part-of-the-mix%E2%80%99/

    My response:

    “Indeed,there was also a anti-semitic & racist strain in the Nazi party.There was a racist & anti-semitic strain in the KKK,(along with a “extremist wing”,which “occasionally” committed lynchings”. (What is it about a group of misogynistic,anti -semitic,medievalists,that attracts some “Progressives” ?Apparently,it affects some “Conservatives”,as well.) Chambliss’ statement is delusional.”…

    By the way I am urging people to demand that Chambliss retract his statement and step down.

    http://theneointellectual.wordpress.com/2011/02/12/demand-that-saxby-chamblissretract-his-statement-on-the-muslim-brotherhood-resign-muslimbrotherhood-tcot-teaparty/

  10. Please excuse the typos,I am typing this on a smartphone.

    • No worries, your comments were a valuable addition here. And yes, warning of the dangers of the Muslim Brotherhood’s participation in the new government is important and appreciated. My only point was that the attitude of the population as a whole, as evidenced in these polls, rivals that of anyone our media or government officials might call “Islamic Extremist” (or whatever is the phrase-du-jour for referring to a consistent practitioner of Islam).

  11. Curt

    (perfectlyGoodInk) “Nothing in philosophy can be proven, …”

    Is this something you have proven or shall we just take your word for it.

    • perfectlyGoodInk

      Or you could debate the point and show a counterexample by proving the existence of natural rights.

      • M. Stern

        Or you could debate the point and show a counterexample by proving the existence of natural rights.

        Or you could make arguments that aren’t so easily destroyed by the fallacy of self-exclusion.

  12. Michael

    I think this issue can be best explained by liberal vs illiberal democracy.

    “Liberalism and Democracy happen to be two things which begin by having nothing to do with each other, and end by having, so far as tendencies are concerned, meanings that are mutually antagonistic. Democracy and Liberalism are two answers to two completely different questions.

    Democracy answers this question–“Who ought to exercise public power?” The answer it gives is–the exercise of public power belongs to the citizens as a body.

    But this question does not touch on what should be the realm of the public power. It is solely concerned with determining to whom such power belongs. Democracy proposes that we all rule; that is, that we are sovereign in all social acts.

    Liberalism, on the other hand, answers this other question,–“regardless of who exercises the public power, what should its limits be?” The answer it gives–“Whether the public power is exercised by an autocrat or by the people, it cannot be absolute: the individual has rights which are over and above any interference by the State.”
    -J. Ortega y Gasset, Invertebrate Spain, quoted in Hayek, ibid, pg. 442

  13. Roger Zimmerman

    Undoubtedly, Islamist theocracy, whether elected or not, would be worse for the Egyptians (and their immediate neighbors) than was the previous regime. But, that regime was, undoubtedly, horrible for the Egyptians and their immediate neighbors. While the correct moral position is clear given those alternatives, it is not at all obvious that U.S. or Israeli foreign policy would have been served by propping up Mubarak.

    Arguably, having the wishes of the Egyptian populace expressed by their government would clarify things for the West, especially Israel and the U.S. Indeed, the rise of an Islamist Egypt might be just what is needed to move the U.S. electorate more in the direction of righteous self-defense in our foreign policy. The philosophical premises of the Middle Eastern Arab/Islamist regimes are so pathological, that perhaps the only hope is for unmitigated disaster, followed by enlightenment.

    • You may be right, but if so, it’s beyond sad that *conceptual* beings need to see another “unmitigated disaster” before finally deciding to act in self-preservation. Wasn’t 9/11 enough?

  14. perfectlyGoodInk

    In Rand’s essays, particularly in “The Objectivist Ethics,” there is plenty of *inductive* argument, rooted in observation of, e.g., characteristics of living things vs. nonliving; human beings vs. other animals. Perhaps not a type of argument with which you are familiar, but not mere “rhetoric.”

    Perhaps not. In the sciences that I am more familiar with, proofs are extremely difficult. Even if you gather immense amounts of data and find strong correlations between variables, you are still left with the problem that correlation is not causation. Most of the scientific method involves making a theory and testing it. If it survives enough tests, it becomes accepted, but this is still well short of a proof. Newton’s Laws of of Motion turned out not to hold in relativistic environments.

    So, in a field where empirical data and replicable experiments are scarce, I find it hard to believe that it is any easier to prove anything.

    So educate me. Prove to me the existence of natural rights from what you’ve learned from Rand.

    Democracy can be better than a dictatorship, I suppose, if your standard is a utilitarian one. Democracy sucks of you happen to be Socrates (or any other minority who has had his “besides the point” natural rights voted out of existence).

    But dictatorship sucks for anybody who isn’t the dictator. They are the only one whose rights are protected.

    I agree that utilitarianism isn’t the only standard of comparison, but I feel to see by what standard a dictatorship would come out ahead (except the standard of how well the dictator fares). As the liberty and freedom indices show, Egypt has a poor record of defending individual rights. Need I mention Stalin and Mao?

    • Michael

      But dictatorship sucks for anybody who isn’t the dictator. They are the only one whose rights are protected.

      In a dictatorship, there are no rights. There are only arbitrary demands, and the dictator is granted his–until he is killed.

  15. M. Stern

    perfectlyGoodInk,

    You’ve got a strong case of “physics envy”, also known as philosophic empiricism. You are arguing that the methods of the hard sciences should be used for both morality and politics. This is a category error and it is something which Objectivism rejects. It is not necessary to place natural rights under a microscope to prove the necessity for their implementation.

    For Objectivism, rights are not gifts from god like the Conservatives believe nor are they societal grants like Leftists believe (and apparently you as well). Nor are they something spiritual that exists in humans like the religious view of the disembodied soul. Rights are moral principles and they are derived via induction; specifically looking at the observable nature of humans. Like all moral principles they do not require science studies for their derivation.

    As for empirical “proof” of natural rights, I would quickly tell you that mankind’s entire history is proof of what happens when rights are violated as well as when they are partially upheld. I am tempted to ask a libertarianish person such as yourself (who also comes across as a positivist) how many civilizations and how many oceans of blood do you require before you are capable of seeing the devastation that is unleashed by initiating force against individuals; ie violating their natural rights. But in your lifetime, you may very well get yet another demonstration as the Western welfare states are beginning to rupture and the currency is being systematically destroyed. Islam is being emboldened and the menace that it represents is being ignored.

    Put all this together, and there are storm clouds on the horizon for the West. But you go ahead and debate the best form of democracy while the Titanic sinks. Rearrange some deck chairs while you are at it.

    • perfectlyGoodInk

      You’ve got a strong case of “physics envy”, also known as philosophic empiricism.

      As I mentioned earlier, my training is in economics, which is a field that has physics envy, thus the name change from political economy and the piling on of econometrics and calculus. I am not a fan of this trend, but I am also not a fan of the Austrian School which relies upon introspection, a method that psychology chose to abandon because of its lack of replicable results.

      I am, however, a fan of peer review.

      As for empirical “proof” of natural rights, I would quickly tell you that mankind’s entire history is proof of what happens when rights are violated as well as when they are partially upheld.

      You don’t need to look at mankind’s entire history. Just look at Egypt, which as I have has a poor record of protecting a free press or freedom of religion. As you would expect from an authoritarian dictatorship.

      Oh, I guess religious freedom is only a natural right if you aren’t a Muslim.

      • perfectlyGoodInk

        The above should read “Just look at Egypt, which, as I have mentioned…”

      • A few points I probably should have hit earlier:

        Obviously dictatorship is bad, and the Mubarak regime has been bad for the Egyptians, and probably not great for us. My real point in writing this post was to say that if we take “democracy” as the standard for what’s to come in Egypt, and we look at what the population is likely to vote for in an election, things don’t look much better and probably look worse, especially from the standpoint of the United States. We will have to wait and see what sort of government replaces the Mubarak regime.

        Dictatorship vs. Democracy is a false alternative. A government whose powers are limited by a Constitution that protects individual rights would, of course, be ideal. But would the Egyptians even want such a thing? Again, the poll data suggests they would be happy with an Islamic theocracy, which is bad for any freedom-loving person on the planet.

        Finally, why be a fan of peer review in philosophy? Does the fact that some “respected” names in academia “approve” make a philosophic principle truer, or the proof of it better?

      • Michael

        but I am also not a fan of the Austrian School which relies upon introspection, a method that psychology chose to abandon because of its lack of replicable results.

        I would hardly say that the Austrian school relies on introspection.

  16. Richard Ruggiero

    Meet the Egyptians: 97% of Egyptian women aged 15-49 have their genitals mutilated while young so that they can never experience an orgasm or sexual pleasure. Since Egypt is 10% Coptic Christian, this is not limited to Muslims. How can any adult inflict such barbarity on an innocent child? Think about this for a moment. What kind of man would want his partner to not enjoy sex? Why do we give these creatures 2 billion dollars a year in government aid and encourage their voices to be “heard” instead of condemning such an evil culture?

  17. perfectlyGoodInk

    apeikoff: My real point in writing this post was to say that if we take “democracy” as the standard for what’s to come in Egypt, and we look at what the population is likely to vote for in an election, things don’t look much better and probably look worse, especially from the standpoint of the United States.

    Of course. It is much easier to manipulate a dictator into enacting U.S.-friendly policies than it is to manipulate an entire country’s populace. The problem is that the Egyptian people have natural rights that are not trumped by our “right” to having a friendly dictator.

    It also tends to backfire upon us in the long run, like in Operation Ajax.

    apeikoff: Dictatorship vs. Democracy is a false alternative. A government whose powers are limited by a Constitution that protects individual rights would, of course, be ideal. But would the Egyptians even want such a thing? Again, the poll data suggests they would be happy with an Islamic theocracy, which is bad for any freedom-loving person on the planet.

    Unclear what you are advocating here. Do the Egyptians have the right to a government that they want, or only the government you would want for them? Do they have the right to pursue their self-interest only if it results in choices you approve of?

    Would agree that it’s a false alternative because no friend of liberty can truly advocate any sort of dictatorship. It’s obvious that we should support democracy, and the only question is what form it should take.

    Certainly, I would prefer that they use a form of government with significant minority rights so that Muslims don’t trample upon the religious rights of Christians and others, but of course, our own form of government does not do a very good job of that. There are about 20-30% libertarian Americans, but we do not get 20-30% of the seats in our legislature because we use a winner-take-all system.

    apeikoff: Finally, why be a fan of peer review in philosophy? Does the fact that some “respected” names in academia “approve” make a philosophic principle truer, or the proof of it better?

    A great thinker in any field would wish to add to the body of knowledge of that field, and the best way to do that is to submit and get published in the relevant academic journals of that field so that their ideas will be read, cited, and commented upon by other top scholars, especially those who might disagree with them. Otherwise, one runs the risk of only being read by people who are fans of their work, merely creating an echo chamber of like-minded people rather than genuine dialog. This can lead to groupthink.

    Of course, one can choose to write whatever they choose to write, but not all sources are created equal. Presuming you have experience in writing academic papers in college or graduate school, you should remember that articles in peer reviewed journals are considered better sources than blog posts, magazine and newspaper articles, novels, or Wikipedia entries.

    I have tried reading Rand before, and she is not to my taste, largely due to the utter contempt she has for everyone who disagrees with her (which seems to me to be a sign that she only wishes to preach to the converted). I’ll read it if you read the two papers I posted on parliamentary vs. presidential democracies. Otherwise, explain her proof of natural rights using your own words.

    perfectlyGoodInk: Nothing in philosophy can be proven…
    Curt: Is this something you have proven or shall we just take your word for it.
    perfectlyGoodInk: Or you could debate the point and show a counterexample by proving the existence of natural rights.
    Curt: Or you could make arguments that aren’t so easily destroyed by the fallacy of self-exclusion.

    That fallacy would apply had I been making a philosophical proof. Instead, I made a falsifiable claim. Certainly, it is a claim that cannot be proven because one cannot prove a negative. But the next step in the debate is for you to falsify it, as a single counterexample would do it.

    While inability to falsify the claim certainly does not prove anything, it still means something.

    But as I said, the existence of natural rights is irrelevant to the fact that authoritarian dictatorships such as Egypt have a much poor track record of defending rights than democracies.

    M. Stern: But you go ahead and debate the best form of democracy while the Titanic sinks. Rearrange some deck chairs while you are at it.

    Tis a more productive and more interesting debate than whether authoritarianism is better than democracy at protecting natural rights. If you really did believe that, you must also be advocating that the U.S. transition to a dictatorship. But you go ahead and do that to hasten the sinking.

    • Michael

      But as I said, the existence of natural rights is irrelevant to the fact that authoritarian dictatorships such as Egypt have a much poor track record of defending rights than democracies.

      If they don’t exist, how can they be defined or defended?

      I have tried reading Rand before, and she is not to my taste, largely due to the utter contempt she has for everyone who disagrees with her (which seems to me to be a sign that she only wishes to preach to the converted). I’ll read it if you read the two papers I posted on parliamentary vs. presidential democracies. Otherwise, explain her proof of natural rights using your own words.

      100 Voices is full of refutations of that “contempt.”

  18. Michael

    A great thinker in any field would wish to add to the body of knowledge of that field, and the best way to do that is to submit and get published in the relevant academic journals of that field so that their ideas will be read, cited, and commented upon by other top scholars, especially those who might disagree with them. Otherwise, one runs the risk of only being read by people who are fans of their work, merely creating an echo chamber of like-minded people rather than genuine dialog. This can lead to groupthink.

    Of course, one can choose to write whatever they choose to write, but not all sources are created equal. Presuming you have experience in writing academic papers in college or graduate school, you should remember that articles in peer reviewed journals are considered better sources than blog posts, magazine and newspaper articles, novels, or Wikipedia entries.

    Again, that is an appeal to a social standard of truth, which is a fallacy. Peer-reviewed journals “are considered better sources” … and therefore they are?

    Besides, peer review as we know it today is a bit of a misnomer. Unless one writes in secret, any nontrivial publications “will be read, cited, and commented upon by other top scholars, especially those who might disagree with them.” What we have today is a system of pre-publication approval by peers. It is basically a quality-control system that journals have chosen, but nothing logically compels them to use this system.

    • Andrew Dalton

      Michael –

      I don’t appreciate my comments being copied verbatim, without attribution or linking, from another site.

      • Sorry, Andrew, I hadn’t realized, otherwise I would have pointed it out or deleted them sooner. I was aware a couple days ago that people were discussing perfectlygoodink’s comments over on an “Open Thread” on Diana Hsieh’s blog, without mentioning the comments’ source, because I saw a report of traffic coming from over there (someone had linked in an earlier “Open Thread,” apparently). I guess it was “D. Simms” who would rather take the arguments over there and discuss them there than post here. Anyway, would you want me to delete the comments here? Can you point out which ones? Sorry, I haven’t read the whole thread.

  19. Michael

    peer reviewed journals are considered better sources than blog posts, magazine and newspaper articles, novels, or Wikipedia entries.

    This comparison is problematic. These types of sources all differ from journal articles in one or more important aspects unrelated to peer review, namely: purpose, closeness to the subject matter and sources (primary vs. secondary), presence or thoroughness of citations, and permanence.

  20. Michael

    That fallacy would apply had I been making a philosophical proof. Instead, I made a falsifiable claim. Certainly, it is a claim that cannot be proven because one cannot prove a negative. But the next step in the debate is for you to falsify it, as a single counterexample would do it.

    the cult of Karl Popper

    Your error is in saying that we must accept your arbitrary expectorations unless we “falsify” them. Logically, the burden of proof rests on the guy making the claim (you in this case)

  21. perfectlyGoodInk

    Michael: In a dictatorship, there are no rights. There are only arbitrary demands, and the dictator is granted his–until he is killed.

    Unless I grossly misunderstand the meaning of natural rights, their existence isn’t conditional upon the type of government you live under.

    Michael: Logically, the burden of proof rests on the guy making the claim (you in this case)

    Must I remind everybody that the original claim was that Rand had proved that natural rights exist:

    apeikoff: See her essay, The Objectivist Ethics, in addition to the two essays I link to in my post, if you are interested in the objective proof she offers for rights.

    Perhaps my counterclaim was not convincing, but I considered that whole part of the thread to be of lesser interest than whether authoritarianism was better than democracy and what forms of democracy are better.

    As with most philosophical matters, I honestly am not sure whether or not natural rights exist. However, I agree that we are better off when governments defend them.

    And to get back to the topic that grabbed my interest in the first place:

    Michael: A republic is a form of government in which the government’s authority is strictly limited by individual rights

    Michael, what is your source? I’m not really finding much about republics that refer to limited government or a constitution.

    Dictionary.com: a form of government in which the people or their elected representatives possess the supreme power (i.e. representative democracy -pgi)

    Merriam-Webster: a (1) : a government having a chief of state who is not a monarch and who in modern times is usually a president (i.e. democratic rather than authoritarian -pgi) (2) : a political unit (as a nation) having such a form of government b (1) : a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law (i.e. representative democracy -pgi)

    The Online Dictionary of the Social Sciences: This has come to mean a society where there is no hereditary or appointed monarch or emperor as head of state (i.e. democratic rather than authoritarian -pgi). Originally it referred to a system of political rule where citizens, through representative institutions participated in government and exercised political power (i.e. representative democracy -pgi)

    And at the risk of offending those who don’t like peer reviewed sources, Robert W. Shoemaker in “‘Democracy’ and ‘Republic’ as Understood in Late Eighteenth-Century America”, American Speech, Vol. 41, No. 2 (May, 1966), pp. 83-95: republic is the main category of government in which authority rests initially with the populace, but is composed of two subcategories, the democratic if all the people rule or the aristocratic if only a select number of them do.

    But again, I doubt anyone here advocates the aristocratic form for Egypt. Which means you want democracy.

  22. perfectlyGoodInk

    By the way, I was wrong. My ex-roommate, Anne Bonny, doesn’t smoke Parliaments, she smokes Pall-Malls. But they also suck.

    She is still way cool, though. And not that you care, but the blues band she’s in is Gutbunny Revival.

    • perfectlyGoodInk, Rand’s argument is a long and complex one, and with your avowed skepticism, I doubt it will convince you anyway, but perhaps it’s worth trying this much. We’ll take the argument in small chunks and, so long as you find it convincing, we continue. If you disagree at some point in the argument, we just agree to disagree and leave it at that. We will still agree about the Parliaments!

      So we’ll start at the foundation of Rand’s ethics. Rand defines ethics as “a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions.” Then she asks whether there’s any basis in reality for it or, instead, it’s just an arbitrary construct of human beings:

      “To challenge the basic premise of any discipline, one must begin at the beginning. In ethics, one must begin by asking: What are values? Why does man need them?”

      Rand then proceeds to answer these fundamental questions:

      “‘Value’ is that which one acts to gain and/or keep. The concept ‘value’ is not a primary; it presupposes an answer to the question: of value to whom and for what? It presupposes an entity capable of acting to achieve a goal in the face of an alternative. Where no alternative exists, no goals and no values are possible.”

      She elaborates via a passage from her novel, Atlas Shrugged:

      “There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or nonexistence—and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms. The existence of inanimate matter is unconditional, the existence of life is not: it depends on a specific course of action. Matter is indestructible, it changes its forms, but it cannot cease to exist. It is only a living organism that faces a constant alternative: the issue of life or death. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action. If an organism fails in that action, it dies; its chemical elements remain, but its life goes out of existence. It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible. It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil.”

      She then asks the reader to consider the following thought experiment in order to make the point clearer:

      “[T]ry to imagine an immortal, indestructible robot, an entity which moves and acts, but which cannot be affected by anything, which cannot be changed in any respect, which cannot be damaged, injured or destroyed. Such an entity would not be able to have any values; it would have nothing to gain or to lose; it could not regard anything as for or against it, as serving or threatening its welfare, as fulfilling or frustrating its interests. It could have no interests and no goals.”

      Whether or not you find that thought experiment convincing will depend on the conclusions you reach based on your observation of living vs. nonliving entities. If you don’t agree with Rand’s characterization of the difference between these two, then you won’t agree with what follows. Here she describes observations that support her conclusions about the fundamental difference between living and nonliving entities: that values exist only for living entities, because they are the only entities that face the fundamental alternative between existence and non-existence, and they are the only ones who have the power to, and who do, pursue values.

      “Only a living entity can have goals or can originate them. And it is only a living organism that has the capacity for self-generated, goal-directed action. On the physical level, the functions of all living organisms, from the simplest to the most complex—from the nutritive function in the single cell of an amoeba to the blood circulation in the body of a man—are actions generated by the organism itself and directed to a single goal: the maintenance of the organism’s life.”

      So, are you on board so far? If not, let me know where you disagree or don’t understand and we’ll see if I can provide an alternative explanation that is helpful. I doubt whether I can, as Rand’s writing is as clear as it gets, but I’m willing to try. There may be other readers of the blog who are willing to jump in as well, who have perhaps had similar discussions with friends or colleagues before.

      • perfectlyGoodInk

        Okay, I take it you agree with me that democracies protect individual rights better than authoritarian regimes, and that republics are representative democracies.

        While my interest in philosophy is not much higher than your apparent interest in political science or economics, I will humor you.

        Rand: Matter is indestructible, it changes its forms, but it cannot cease to exist. It is only a living organism that faces a constant alternative: the issue of life or death.

        I’m not so sure the distinction makes much sense. Living organisms are made out of organic matter which also changes forms after death. Both inanimate objects made out of matter and living organisms made out of matter can cease to exist.

        Rand: Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action.

        Not for children and elderly and any other beings (e.g. pets) who are being taken care of by others. Whereas, it is true for non-living artificial entities, such as those in simulations, even those as simple as John Conway’s “Game of Life.”

        Rand: “[T]ry to imagine an immortal, indestructible robot, an entity which moves and acts, but which cannot be affected by anything, which cannot be changed in any respect, which cannot be damaged, injured or destroyed. Such an entity would not be able to have any values; it would have nothing to gain or to lose; it could not regard anything as for or against it, as serving or threatening its welfare, as fulfilling or frustrating its interests. It could have no interests and no goals.”

        A thought experiment? Is this an argument or is this a proof?

        Whether or not one is immortal or indestructible is irrelevant to whether that entity owns property, and they would stand to gain or lose. There is much more one can gain or lose than their life. Its immortality and indestructibility would be tremendously helpful for it to acquire whatever items it wants via force or whatnot, but they would not necessarily carry the day, especially if there were other such beings with similar capabilities. Therefore, such beings would be capable of acquiring assets and trading in a market economy.

        Would such a being be capable of having relationships with other beings? This is unclear from “cannot be affected by anything.” If so, it could care very much about them, and thus have plenty to gain or lose in social capital as well as physical capital.

        Rand: Only a living entity can have goals or can originate them. And it is only a living organism that has the capacity for self-generated, goal-directed action. On the physical level, the functions of all living organisms, from the simplest to the most complex—from the nutritive function in the single cell of an amoeba to the blood circulation in the body of a man—are actions generated by the organism itself and directed to a single goal: the maintenance of the organism’s life.

        I think she contradicts herself by saying that living entities can originate goals but that all their actions are towards the single goal of maintaining their life. And of course, there are living beings that do not have goal, as evidenced by those who commit suicide.

        Many non-living things can have goals. AI characters in video-games such as first-person shooters or sports simulations artificial worlds, or agents in Agent-Based Modeling simulations. Perhaps only living entities can originate goals, but that is hardly clear. It’s possible that our goals are originated by some unknown external entity, such as God or aliens that secretly control us with invisible puppet strings (or subconsciously, as in Asimov’s Foundation series). Or it could be that everything that anybody does is — including goal-setting — is deterministically determined by our genes and environment.

        While it seems that we make choices and have freewill, I don’t think you can prove this either way any more than you can prove or disprove the existence of God.

  23. perfectlyGoodInk

    “And of course, there are living beings that do not have goal, as evidenced by those who commit suicide.”

    Sorry, that should read, “there are living beings that do not have that goal.”

  24. perfectlyGoodInk

    apeikoff: See her essay, The Objectivist Ethics, in addition to the two essays I link to in my post, if you are interested in the objective proof she offers for rights.

    Okay, I finally read the whole thing. I found no such proof. It also isn’t very convincing as an argument, seeming to be more descriptive of what Objectivism is than an attempt to persuade anybody to Objectivism. It is filled with many unsubstantiated claims, as I describe below. She doesn’t even cite a single scientific study, and indeed, the only source she does cite is her own novel, Atlas Shrugged.

    Rand (via John Galt): There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or nonexistence—and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms.

    This is a claim, and a strange one. An alternative that was truly fundamental would apply to all classes of entities, not a single class.

    Also, the universe is full of different alternatives, dichotomies, and dualities: light vs. dark, hot vs. cold, matter vs. vacuum, order vs. chaos, individualism vs. collectivism, production vs. consumption, creation vs. destruction, harmony vs. dissonance, analog vs. digital, variety vs. uniformity, peace vs. conflict.

    She provides no argument to back her claim that the alternative she cites the only truly fundamental alternative.

    Rand: It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible.

    Another claim, and one that I would disagree with. It is only scarcity that makes value possible (the same condition you need to have a field of economics, incidentally). As a thought experiment, consider the Garden of Eden where everything was plentiful — including life. Did anything have any value? Do they need a property rights system? No, because Adam and Eve could have anything they wanted. The concept of ownership is useless. Only when they were kicked out of Eden and faced an environment of scarcity rather than abundance do they need the concepts of property rights and values.

    Certainly, immortality plays into this situation, as immortality comprises an infinite amount of time — abundance, whereas the human condition involves a scarce amount of time. But the important condition is not immortality or indestructibility, but scarcity.

    Rand: If some men do not choose to think, but survive by imitating and repeating, like trained animals… The survival of such mental parasites depends on blind chance; their unfocused minds are unable to know whom to imitate, whose motions it is safe to follow.

    Or whose parents you have. I know of a lot of people who blindly imitate and repeat those they admire, who use more than chance to select whom to imitate. Indeed, I know of a several very intelligent scholars who blindly follow very closely in the footsteps of thinkers that they admire.

    Rand: Such looters may achieve their goals for the range of a moment, at the price of destruction: the destruction of their victims and their own. As evidence, I offer you any criminal or any dictatorship.

    So Rand does harshly condemn any and all authoritarian regimes (although really, I cannot fathom how anybody could do otherwise and still profess to support and love liberty).

    Rand: But an animal has no choice in the knowledge and the skills that it acquires; it can only repeat them generation after generation.

    Rand: An animal’s life consists of a series of separate cycles, repeated over and over again, such as the cycle of breeding its young, or of storing food for the winter; an animal’s consciousness cannot integrate its entire lifespan; it can carry just so far, then the animal has to begin the cycle all over again, with no connection to the past.

    What basis does this have in science? She doesn’t cite any studies. Does she include chimpanzees and dolphins and other animals that scientists have been able to teach basic language skills to?

    Indeed, my wife tells me that there was a study in Bristol where the researcher fed chickens blue and yellow corn where the blue kernels were injected with a chemical that made them sick, and the chickens taught their young to avoid them, even after the blue ones were made safe again. My wife says this behavior persisted for generations, but I’ve not been able to verify that part.

    Rand: Man’s life is a continuous whole: for good or evil, every day, year and decade of his life holds the sum of all the days behind him.

    What of people with anterograde amnesia, like depicted in the film Memento, who are unable to form new memories? Do they no longer qualify as people? Are they animals?

    Rand: The Objectivist ethics holds man’s life as the standard of value—and his own life as the ethical purpose of every individual man.

    You’re going to have to explain this one to me and the reasoning behind it. To me, a standard is something one compares something to, and the two things have to be similar. For example, in baseball, comparing a leadoff hitter against the standard of Rickey Henderson. Value and life are two very different things, and I find life to be very difficult to compare anything to.

    Rand: The material is the whole of the universe, with no limits set to the knowledge he can acquire and to the enjoyment of life he can achieve.

    There is a limit: a finite lifespan and a limited throughput in one’s brain in processing new information.

    Rand: The virtue of Rationality means the recognition and acceptance of reason as one’s only source of knowledge, one’s only judge of values and one’s only guide to action. It means one’s total commitment to a state of full, conscious awareness, to the maintenance of a full mental focus in all issues, in all choices, in all of one’s waking hours.

    I know nobody who lives like this, do you? Downtime during waking hours is pretty useful. One can get a lot of subconscious thinking done and have inspiration strike when they are performing mundane tasks and lets their relaxed mind wander.

    Rand: The virtue of Pride can best be described by the term: “moral ambitiousness.”

    I suppose this is why the only source she does cite in this work is her own novel.

    Rand: And, above all, it means one’s rejection of the role of a sacrificial animal, the rejection of any doctrine that preaches self-immolation as a moral virtue or duty.

    So, if one could assassinate Hitler or Stalin or Mao and prevent their massacres — but at the cost of one’s own life — this selfless ambition would not be recognized as virtuous pride in Rand’s book. “Self-immolation” also seems to be a condemnation of Buddhism.

    Rand: The basic social principle of the Objectivist ethics is that just as life is an end in itself, so every living human being is an end in himself, not the means to the ends or the welfare of others

    Wow, so altruim and cooperation are bad. This is another claim that she makes without backing. This also sounds like egoism, a philosophy that I find unconvincing and unsatisfying.

    Indeed, there is an evolutionary derivation of altruism that Matt Ridley writes about in his book, Origins of Virtue. The gist of it is that evolution works on more than just individuals. It works whenever natural selection comes into play and thus can operate on social norms and languages. Societies that value cooperation and altruism do better and outcompete societies that do not.

    Rand: Emotions are the automatic results of man’s value judgments integrated by his subconscious; emotions are estimates of that which furthers man’s values or threatens them, that which is for him or against him—lightning calculators giving him the sum of his profit or loss.

    I disagree with this claim. Many people like to experience things that create what most would call negative emotions, such as fear or sadness. Think about horror or action movies and so-called tear-jerkers. By Rand’s judgment, people would avoid such things instead of seeking them out.

    Rand: But if a man values destruction, like a sadist—or self-torture, like a masochist—or life beyond the grave, like a mystic—or mindless “kicks,” like the driver of a hotrod car—his alleged happiness is the measure of his success in the service of his own destruction. It must be added that the emotional state of all those irrationalists cannot be properly designated as happiness or even as pleasure: it is merely a moment’s relief from their chronic state of terror.

    I know quite a few folks in the BDSM community that would strongly disagree with this unsubstantiated claim.

    Rand: And when one experiences the kind of pure happiness that is an end in itself—the kind that makes one think: “This is worth living for”—what one is greeting and affirming in emotional terms is the metaphysical fact that life is an end in itself.

    That claim, I can agree with.

    Rand: (such as the ethics of Bentham, Mill, Comte and of all social hedonists, whether they allowed man to include his own whims among the millions of others or advised him to turn himself into a totally selfless “shmoo” that seeks to be eaten by others).

    Remember when I said, “I have tried reading Rand before, and she is not to my taste, largely due to the utter contempt she has for everyone who disagrees with her (which seems to me to be a sign that she only wishes to preach to the converted).” How else can one interpret her use of “shmoo” and her referring to these folks as social hedonists rather than to Bentham and Mill as utilitarians and Comte as a positivist? Calling them social hedonists strikes me as an insult akin to calling an Objectivist a Randroid.

    Rand: To love is to value. Only a rationally selfish man, a man of self-esteem, is capable of love—because he is the only man capable of holding firm, consistent, uncompromising, unbetrayed values. The man who does not value himself, cannot value anything or anyone.

    While I tend to agree with this one, it is another unsubstantiated claim. This “proof” is filled with such claims.

    Rand: Man is the only species that can transmit and expand his store of knowledge from generation to generation

    This is contradicted by the chickens study I cited earlier, as well as other studies about animals passing down traditions, such as dances, although there is much disagreement over whether such traditions constitute culture.

    Rand: This form of cooperation allows all men who take part in it to achieve a greater knowledge, skill and productive return on their effort than they could achieve if each had to produce everything he needs, on a desert island or on a self-sustaining farm.

    I do, of course, agree with gains from trade and division of labor. However, that she values cooperation seems to contradict what she said earlier about life being an end to itself.

    Rand: No society can be of value to man’s life if the price is the surrender of his right to his life.

    I would tend to agree, but I know of no such society. In many societies, the price is paying taxes or dues or membership fees, which is not nearly the same as surrendering the right to one’s life.

    Rand: The basic political principle of the Objectivist ethics is: no man may initiate the use of physical force against others…. Men have the right to use physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use.

    I have heard this axiom many times, and while it sounds agreeable enough, it is another claim she makes without any backing (it does, also, argue against preventative war, such as our invasion of Iraq).

    Rand: The only proper, moral purpose of a government is to protect man’s rights.

    I would argue against this claim, saying that an additional purpose of government is to supply public goods — that is, goods that are nonrivalrous and nonexcludable, such as national defense. Such goods tend not to be supplied by the free market due to the free rider problem. I would explain this further, but you have not indicated much interest in economics thus far.

    Rand: Without property rights, no other rights are possible.

    Um… what? I strongly disagree with this claim. I support property rights, as they are an effective way to address tragedies of the commons, but I would say if there was one fundamental right, it would be to liberty, which does not require property rights. Free speech and the right to your life (and to defend yourself) and the right to a fair trial also do not depend upon property rights.

    Rand: When I say “capitalism,” I mean a full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism—with a separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church. A pure system of capitalism has never yet existed, not even in America; various degrees of government control had been undercutting and distorting it from the start.

    Indeed, it is not possible to have a pure system of capitalism as she describes. One cannot fully separate state and economics because you need a state to enforce property rights. Which is one reason why the field of economics was known as political economy before it succumbed to physics envy.

    Anyway, this was an essay that was pretty good at describing what she believes, and did a fair job explaining why she believes it, but did a poor job at convincing me why I ought to believe it. And it fell very shoot of being “an objective proof” of rights.

  25. Michael

    One cannot fully separate state and economics because you need a state to enforce property rights

    You can separate state from economics the way you can separate state from education, state from church, or state from any other aspect of human affairs. The state is there to enforce the laws that protect the individual rights of life, liberty, and property. Not to be an actor in its own right and own name and own interests.

    I strongly disagree with this claim. I support property rights, as they are an effective way to address tragedies of the commons, but I would say if there was one fundamental right, it would be to liberty, which does not require property rights. Free speech and the right to your life (and to defend yourself) and the right to a fair trial also do not depend upon property rights.

    That’s like saying the right to life is an effective way to address murder, or any value is an effective way to address the negative of a dis-value. The right to one’s life implies the use of one’s mind (which is the only way for man to live). This includes freedom of thought, of speech, of action and of the right to own the products of one’s efforts, i.e. property.

  26. Talal

    I will divide my response into two parts. Here is the first part below

    I strongly disagree with this claim. I support property rights

    In what sense do you support property rights? And in what sense can you only partially support a Right? Or, in what way do Rights over property not fully apply to the owners? Please define the word Right here, and justify it.

    This is Rand’s explanation: “man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life. The man who produces while others dispose of his product, is a slave.”

    but I would say if there was one fundamental right, it would be to liberty, which does not require property rights.

    The right to liberty is *not* a fundamental right. The right to liberty is instrumental in the furtherance of something more fundamental: your life. Liberty cannot be an end in itself, because it doesn’t address the issues: freedom from what or whom? What will I do if I am free? Why do I need to be free? And these questions are answered by identifying the fundamental Right: the Right to life.

    as they are an effective way to address tragedies of the commons

    I’m not sure how property rights would positively or negatively address this “dilemma”. If there are limited resources to be used, the question is merely: who has the right to use and dispose of said resource? Either individuals do, no one does, or the government does. The latter is not justifiable, and if a resource will expire anyway, how does property rights address this? Moreover, if a resource that belongs to someone will expire, I fail to see how that is a “dilemma” requiring your care or “addressing”.

    Free speech and the right to your life (and to defend yourself) and the right to a fair trial also do not depend upon property rights.

    Free speech – by what means? Using whose equipment? On whose territory? Defend yourself – with what? Using what tools? Who owns these tools? A fair trial – in whose court? On what charge? Criminal behaviour? Committed against whom? Violating whose property?

    Indeed, it is not possible to have a pure system of capitalism as she describes. One cannot fully separate state and economics because you need a state to enforce property rights.

    This is a misunderstanding on your part. Rights are not enforced, they are defended. The protection of individual rights is the only proper role of government – this is a political issue – which is why government must use force against those who initiate its use, and function as an objective arbiter in the case of legal disputes.

    This is the difference between political power and economic power, between a fist and a coin. In order to function properly, government must have a monopoly on the use of force. This is the only justification for force. Government has no other moral obligations to perform, which includes amongst other things: the economy.

    Your statement above is a non-sequitor.

    Which is one reason why the field of economics was known as political economy before it succumbed to physics envy

    Physics envy is not confined to economics. In any event, numerous economists and intellectuals have exposed why socialised markets and central planning are thoroughly impractical and devastate markets. Most of them are not Objectivists and disagree with Ayn Rand, all the same they can see the facts clearly enough.

    Rand further says: “No society can be of value to man’s life if the price is the surrender of his right to his life.”

    I would tend to agree, but I know of no such society. In many societies, the price is paying taxes or dues or membership fees, which is not nearly the same as surrendering the right to one’s life.

    Various Rights are not isolated and delimited – there is only one fundamental Right, the Right to life. All other Rights are corollaries of this. To have a Right to life but no right to property is a contradiction in terms. The right to think, but not act is a contradiction. The right to act, but not think is a contradiction. The right to Life, but not to free speech, or the right to “not suffer” but no Right to life, is a contradiction.

    When any of your true Rights are violated, even slightly – the question is being made that you do not properly have that Right – which means fundamentally that you cannot truly own your own life. This is an example of a moral principle being applied fully and consistently – something that is very rare in ethical discussions today. But that’s not Ayn Rand’s fault.

    Rand: It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible. I would disagree here. It is only scarcity that makes value possible (the same condition you need to have a field of economics, incidentally).

    This is not true. Mass-murdering psychopaths are scarce – does that make them valuable? To whom? Anti-matter particles are scarce – does that make them valuable? To whom? Do you value them? If I generate a text string of 1 million random characters it will most likely be unique in the universe – does that make it valuable?

    Since you deny that life makes value possible – would you assert that gold, silver, diamonds, love, metal, are valuable if humans didn’t exist? With no life form in existence, who would value gold or platinum?

    *Who* are valuable things a value to? Why?

  27. Talal

    (continued)

    As a thought experiment, consider the Garden of Eden where everything was plentiful — including life. Did anything have any value?

    Did Adam and Eve need to eat? If so, was food a value to them? Did they value each other?

    Do they need a property rights system? No, because Adam and Eve could have anything they wanted. The concept of ownership is useless.

    Property Rights only exist in social settings. With no other people to potentially violate property, the concept of Rights is irrelevant.

    Only when they were kicked out of Eden and faced an environment of scarcity rather than abundance do they need the concepts of property rights and values.

    So if Adam and Eve are starving, which is of more value to them – the rarest diamond in the whole of the earth – or a chunk of meat or a bunch of bananas? If they are being wind-swept or caught in a snow storm, what is more valuable – the largest repository of platinum, or a mud hut?

    This is where trying to fault Ayn Rand without understanding the concepts involved is an exercise in futility, and serves only to highlight philosophical naivety.

    A value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep. Things in themselves have NO value, regardless of abundance of scarcity. They acquire value to living beings in the context of that being’s life.

    Rand: “The concept “value” is not a primary; it presupposes an answer to the question: of value to whom and for what? It presupposes an entity capable of acting to achieve a goal in the face of an alternative. Where no alternative exists, no goals and no values are possible.”

    Certainly, immortality plays into this situation, as immortality comprises an infinite amount of time — abundance, whereas the human condition involves a scarce amount of time. But the important condition is not immortality or indestructibility, but scarcity.

    This sentence only partially makes sense to me. The part I do understand is false. If you still want to maintain this, please define the word “value”. As Rand explains, values are not primary concepts – they presuppose that something is a value to someone. In other words, values are not subjective – i.e. whimsical or arbitrary, nor are they intrinsic, i.e. a painting or a slab of gold are not innately valuable – but they are objective – they have definite value to living beings in the context of those beings’ lives.

    Rand (via John Galt): There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or nonexistence—and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms.

    This is strange claim.

    Really? Please identify what the third (or more) missing option is for me between existence and non-existence? What is more fundamental than that? In other words, whilst *every* other alternative to me presupposes my existence – what even more fundamental alternative do I face that is based on something even more basic than existence? I would be most intrigued to hear your suggestion.

    An alternative that was truly fundamental would apply to all classes of entities, not a single class.

    This is not true; this ignores the self-evident fact that all entities have their own nature. Existence vs non-existence only applies to the class “living beings” because only living beings can die. Only living beings pursue the furtherance of their own life through self-directed action.

    She provides no argument to back her claim that the alternative she cites the only truly fundamental alternative.

    Because there is only one fundamental alternative. I can ask you to provide an alternative to existence or non-existence, but you wouldn’t be able to. Or I could point out the epistemological chain of the concepts involved: every conceivable alternative a living being could face, to eat or not eat, to run or fight, to laugh or cry, to love or hate, to struggle or surrender, are themselves dependent on the antecedent concept of life. In other words, that being is alive and therefore faces alternatives – but the most fundamental alternative of all, the starting point, before any other alternatives can exist is: existence or non-existence. Alternatives without existence is a contradiction in terms, it’s like deciding whether your dead great grandmother prefers tea or coffee.

    To me, a standard is something one compares something to, and the two things have to be similar. For example, in baseball, comparing a leadoff hitter against the standard of Rickey Henderson. Value and life are two very different things, and I find life to be very difficult to compare anything to.

    No, life is the standard *against which* all things are compared. In ethics, man’s life is the standard because ethics is a question of what is good or bad for man – the good being that which furthers it and the bad being that which ails it. This depends on what is man’s nature and what does his mind and body require.

    Rand: “The only proper, moral purpose of a government is to protect man’s rights.”

    I would argue against this claim, saying that an additional purpose of government is to supply public goods — that is, goods that are nonrivalrous and nonexcludable, such as national defense. Such goods tend not to be supplied by the free market due to the free rider problem.

    National defence is not public “goods” – national defence is a vital part of a government’s proper role. Why would you think that “protecting man’s rights” *wouldn’t* come under the category of national defence??

    In Rand’s words: “The only proper functions of a government are: the police, to protect you from criminals; the army, to protect you from foreign invaders; and the courts, to protect your property and contracts from breach or fraud by others, to settle disputes by rational rules, according to objective law.”

    Rand: “This form of cooperation allows all men who take part in it to achieve a greater knowledge, skill and productive return on their effort than they could achieve if each had to produce everything he needs, on a desert island or on a self-sustaining farm.”

    I do, of course, agree with gains from trade and division of labor. However, that she values cooperation seems to contradict what she said earlier about life being an end to itself.

    Then you misunderstood, most likely because you are taking isolated quotes and trying to deconstruct them in a vacuum, without reference to her antecedent principles or understanding the concepts involved.

    Cooperation and society can be immense values to human beings. But values cannot be forced upon another; that is a contradiction in terms. A man who needs screws to build his table doesn’t value “cooperating” with the butcher who only has meat to sell. Men *choose* who they cooperate with based on what they need. So cooperation as a concept is very beneficial to man, assuming man freely engages with other men to mutual advantage. However, cooperation is not parasitism or cannibalism – two things which *deny* that life is an end in itself. These two anti-human evils pretend that man’s life is not an end in itself, but merely a means to someone else’s end – usually a “greater good” or a god, or a tribal leader, or the tribe itself, or a welfare state.

    It is precisely because every man’s life is an end in itself that men freely choose to cooperate with each other, neither one sacrificing himself to others or others to himself.

  28. perfectlyGoodInk

    Rand (in “The Objectivist Ethics“): Without property rights, no other rights are possible.
    perfectlyGoodInk: I strongly disagree with this claim. I support property rights…, but I would say if there was one fundamental right, it would be to liberty
    Michael: The right to one’s life implies the use of one’s mind (which is the only way for man to live). This includes freedom of thought, of speech, of action and of the right to own the products of one’s efforts, i.e. property.
    Talal: The right to liberty is *not* a fundamental right. The right to liberty is instrumental in the furtherance of something more fundamental: your life.

    You are both saying that, without the right to life, no other rights are possible. This contradicts what Rand’s claim that no other rights are possible without property rights.

    Talal: In what sense do you support property rights?

    I support them in the sense that I believe societies with property rights operate more efficiently because you can leverage the power of markets. I disagree that no other rights are possible without property rights. I disagree that you can prove their existence.

    Talal: I’m not sure how property rights would positively or negatively address [tragedies of the commons]. …who has the right to use and dispose of said resource? Either individuals do, no one does, or the government does.

    In the absence of property rights, nobody owns anything (individuals and governments can only own resources if property rights exist), because there is no concept of ownership, whether private or public. This is the same as saying everything is communally owned or shared. This means nobody has an incentive to take care of, maintain, the resource, resulting in the resource becoming depleted or depreciated or destroyed. This is the tragedy of the commons.

    Michael: That’s like saying the right to life is an effective way to address murder

    Isn’t it? Murder is wrong because you are violating someone else’s right to life. How else would you propose murder be addressed? One could make the case that allowing murder makes societies and markets much less efficient, but somehow I don’t think you would.

    Talal: Free speech – by what means? Using whose equipment? On whose territory? Defend yourself – with what? Using what tools? Who owns these tools? A fair trial – in whose court? On what charge? Criminal behaviour? Committed against whom? Violating whose property?

    Realize that a society without property rights would not resemble ours very much, but those other rights would still be very possible in such a society: speech via your mouth, and self-defense using your limbs and your teeth (less useful for most people than for Chuck Norris, but still very possible). And note that crimes can still occur without property, for example, murder, assault, rape, and libel. Courts can exist without being owned by anybody.

    Rand: It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible.
    perfectlyGoodInk: I would disagree here. It is only scarcity that makes value possible
    Talal: Did Adam and Eve need to eat? If so, was food a value to them?

    I don’t think they needed to, as my understand is that they were immortal, which means food was a luxury not a necessity. If they need to eat to survive but food is abundant, you can make the case that it has value in the sense that they are willing to pay the transaction costs of procuring and eating the food. However, food’s infinite abundance would mean that its market price would still be zero, and as time is also abundant, this means that there are no opportunity costs of procuring and eating food, which means the transaction costs are also still zero. So I would argue that value still has no meaning even if they need to eat food.

    Talal: Did they value each other?

    Yes, but there is only one Adam and one Eve, so they are both scarce.

    Talal: Mass-murdering psychopaths are scarce – does that make them valuable?

    Well, there are goods and there are bads. Goods are what is valued, but only derive that value if they are scarce. When you have something bad, like pollution or murders, they have negative value. However, this is identical to valuing their opposite: clean air, or safety from murder — but again, such things only have value if they are scarce. An infinite amount of clean air or infinite safety from murder removes their value.

    But I would tend to agree that scarcity is necessary, but not sufficient. You do need beings who have values. Life, on the other hand, is neither necessary nor sufficient for values, as I argue below…

    Talal: *Who* are valuable things a value to? Why?

    What constitutes life? Rand fails to define it in the essay (one reason it fails to be a proof), but utilizes a thought experiment involving immortal beings, so it seems to me that her definition of life involves the ability to die. Immortal beings cannot die and have no life to lose. Therefore, they are not alive.

    Rand posits that such immortal beings cannot value anything: “Such an entity would not be able to have any values; it would have nothing to gain or to lose; it could not regard anything as for or against it, as serving or threatening its welfare, as fulfilling or frustrating its interests. It could have no interests and no goals.”.

    I disagree with this. Such immortal beings (whether they be indestructible robots or vampires) could have goals and interests. Note, they could still value relationships with each other (especially if there are very few of them, as you rightly note in Adam and Eve valuing each other). They could thus care about their social status in their pecking order. Also, as time is infinite, they would also value anything that makes the passage of time more pleasurable, such as entertainment and creature comforts.

    This means that entities without life can still have values. Life as Rand seems to define it, but should one choose other criteria of life, such as organic matter, reproduction, or what have you, I think you can still create a hypothetical race that does not fit that criteria that would still have values.

    Talal: Rights are not enforced, they are defended. The protection of individual rights is the only proper role of government

    The difference between enforcing behaviors so that nobody’s rights are violated and defending rights seems to be a semantic one. Nevertheless, your latter statement is the claim that apeikoff claimed Rand had proved in this essay. I dispute that she did, but neither you nor Michael have weighed in on whether or not you agree with apeikoff ‘s claim that Rand offers an “objective proof” for rights.

    By the way, I am addressing everybody by how they sign their comments for the sake of readability and equality. I intend no disrespect, and if anybody wishes to be attributed differently, please let me know.

    perfectlyGoodInk: Indeed, it is not possible to have a pure system of capitalism as she describes. One cannot fully separate state and economics because you need a state to enforce property rights.
    Talal: The protection of individual rights is the only proper role of government – this is a political issue

    The former part of that sentence is merely the claim Rand and you are trying to prove. The latter part is false. It is not purely a political issue, as protecting property rights impacts the economy. Government cannot perfectly protect property rights without expending infinite resources, but such an expenditure would require infinite taxation (and, arguably, a degree of monitoring that would violate rights to privacy). Thus it must choose the degree to which property rights violations are tolerated, and the choice it makes has very different economic outcomes.

    Talal: National defence is not public “goods” – national defence is a vital part of a government’s proper role. Why would you think that “protecting man’s rights” *wouldn’t* come under the category of national defence??

    There are some anarcho-capitalists that argue that governments do not need to provide such services because the free market would, and I disagree with them. The nonexcludability factor makes such goods and services difficult to charge for, because it is difficult to keep non-payers from enjoying the benefits of the good or service.

    Nonetheless, providing such goods and services requires economic resources, creating additional distortions upon any free market.

    And unless Rand has a proposal to prevent rent-seeking, money will always inevitably influence policy-making.

    perfectlyGoodInk: To me, a standard is something one compares something to, and the two things have to be similar. For example, in baseball, comparing a leadoff hitter against the standard of Rickey Henderson. Value and life are two very different things, and I find life to be very difficult to compare anything to.
    Talal: No, life is the standard *against which* all things are compared. In ethics, man’s life is the standard because ethics is a question of what is good or bad for man – the good being that which furthers it and the bad being that which ails it. This depends on what is man’s nature and what does his mind and body require.

    That still doesn’t clarify me. One can judge a leadoff hitter like Jose Reyes by comparing his accomplishments and abilities against the standard of Rickey Henderson. Rickey Henderson is thus the standard against which leadoff hitters can be compared to. How do you compare something against life? The value of both players is to their team (and to the team’s fans), as being a good leadoff hitter furthers the team’s goals of scoring runs and winning games. However, it makes no sense to say that the standard for leadoff hitters is their team. It makes more sense to say cite an example of a good hitter as the standard.

    Speaking of good of the team, there’s another point I wish to bring up. I’ve now also read “Man’s Rights“. It has similar problems as “The Objectivist Ethics” in that it is filled with unsubstantiated claims. However, I tend to generally agree with its conclusions, and as there are enough topics to discuss right now, will postpone any discussion of it for now. However, in both essays Rand claims that, “…there is no such entity as “society,” since society is only a number of individual men…” This thinking is echoed by those who subscribe to methodological individualism, so I have heard it before.

    I believe this to be fallacy of composition, arguing that a group of people have the same properties as those of individual people, summed up. One could similarly say that there is no such entity as a person, since a person is only a number of individual atoms. The problem in this is the failure to realize that there are emergent phenomena at play — or in other words, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts (which is particularly obvious in sports, where some players can thrive in some team environments and flounder in others).

    Atoms behave in a certain way, and we have the science of physics to analyze them. However, when you group atoms together into molecules, they do not behave as sums of atoms, but instead behave completely differently. Thus, we have a separate science: chemistry, to analyze the behavior of molecules. Likewise, we need biology to study the behavior of organs and organisms, and psychology to study the behavior of organisms with developed brains.

    If it were true that everything behaves as sums of atoms, the only science we would need is physics, and all other fields would be subfields within it. Similarly, if groups of people behaved as sums of individual people, the only social science we would need is psychology. But as Georg Simmel recognized, the possible interactions increase in complexity as the number of people increases. Two people on their own have a certain number of possible relationships. The addition of a third person makes possible many new relationships and roles. For example, the third person can mediate between the other two or enflame disputes between the two, or they can try to exercise power over both or choose to support the power of one of the two against the other. As you get into larger groups, many different kinds of groups and institutions become possible: clubs, markets, schools, governments, political parties, interest groups, mobs, etc.

    This is exactly why there are a whole set of social sciences: social psychology, economics, political science, sociology, anthropology, archaeology, history, law… and arguably philosophy. None of these sciences bears very much resemblance to psychology. Therefore, society is much more complex than a sum of individual people. Of course, whether or not society has any rights is certainly debatable — although a society does seem to fit Rand’s definition of life in the sense that they can die, thus have something to lose, and thus can have values. However, Rand seems to want to dodge that debate by claiming that society does not exist without arguing why she believes that (and while still using the word “society” quite liberally herself).

    I’ll have more to say later about altruism and cooperation. I am disappointed that nobody has commented on Matt Ridley’s book, The Origins of Virtue, which is much more thoroughly researched than Rand’s essay and supplies more specific examples of animal and human behavior. Rand seems to derive much of her argument from her observations of what makes humanity unique, comparing it to the behavior of animals. However, as I have pointed out, she does not cite any animal studies and seems not to have consulted with any experts on animal behavior. For instance, she claims: “On the physical level, the functions of all living organisms, from the simplest to the most complex—from the nutritive function in the single cell of an amoeba to the blood circulation in the body of a man—are actions generated by the organism itself and directed to a single goal: the maintenance of the organism’s life.” This is false.

    What is more accurate are that the single goal of organisms is to perpetuate their genes, as demonstrated by studies by biologists George Williams and William Hamilton. As Ridley says, “Usually the genetic and the individual interest coincide — but not always (salmon die with the effort of spawning; bees commit suicide in the act of stinging),” and this echoes the objection that David Friedman has when he says, “A male mantis, for example, mates, even though the final step of the process consists of being eaten by the female. Female mammals get pregnant, even though (especially in species where the male does not help support female and offspring) doing so substantially reduces their chances of survival.” It also explains the behavior of honeybees, as sterile worker bees will work to benefit that of their queen even if it means against their own interest.

    Ridley’s book is filled with many specific examples of animal cooperative and/or altruistic behavior, such as those of honeybees, bottlenose dolphin, stickleback fish, African vervet monkeys, the seedharvester ant, as well as many human tribes, such as the Hutterites, Yanomami, Ache (nomads in Paraguay), and Yir Yoront Aboriginals. Rand could and should have made a much stronger case had she taken the same approach, rather than relying upon broad and unsubstantiated generalizations.

    In addition Rand’s focus upon animals fails to foresee that a more relevant comparison would be between humanity and computers in the form of artificial intelligence. I can excuse that she is a product of her time (Jane Goodall would do most of her work after the publication of “The Objectivist Ethics”), but it would seem that her theories and ideas would need a great deal of updating in light of what we now know about the capability and behavior of animals and machines.

    In addition to providing evidence, her contribution would be much more useful if she made falsifiable hypotheses. Claiming that natural rights exist is less useful than claiming that state defense of so-and-so natural right leads to greater economic growth. This would indicate that there should be a correlation between the degree that a state defense said right and per-capita GDP, and this would allow someone to do a cross-country study to see if such a correlation is there, providing evidence either in support or against her hypothesis. But I suppose this is me subscribing to the cult of Karl Popper.

  29. perfectlyGoodInk

    Lest I repeat Michael’s mistake, I should mention that the argument about society and emergence originates from either an anthropology lecture by Charles Darrah, or Roger Trigg’s book, Understanding Social Science (I no longer have a copy of it, so can’t verify this for sure).

  30. @perfectlyGoodInk, I have been very busy helping to release promote a friend’s book this week, and now I finally have time to respond.

    “Okay, I take it you agree with me that democracies protect individual rights better than authoritarian regimes, and that republics are representative democracies.”

    If they do, it is only by the accident of 51% of the population agreeing that, in a particular instance, protection of rights is what they want. Hell, a dictator could “impose” individual rights on a population, if he so chose. Whether something happens by the whim of a dictator, or by the whim of 51% of a population, its source is still whim, and one cannot be secure in the idea that his rights will be protected in a regime governed by either.

    “Rand: ‘Matter is indestructible, it changes its forms, but it cannot cease to exist. It is only a living organism that faces a constant alternative: the issue of life or death.’

    “I’m not so sure the distinction makes much sense. Living organisms are made out of organic matter which also changes forms after death. Both inanimate objects made out of matter and living organisms made out of matter can cease to exist.”

    She did not say that organic matter doesn’t change form after death. Obviously both organic and inorganic matter changes form all the time. In fact the organic matter in my body is changing form at a rate faster than I would like! What ceases to exist (rather than merely changing forms) at a certain point, is the living thing, as a living thing. The matter may still be there (albeit in a different form) but it is no longer living.

    “Rand: ‘Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action.’

    “Not for children and elderly and any other beings (e.g. pets) who are being taken care of by others. Whereas, it is true for non-living artificial entities, such as those in simulations, even those as simple as John Conway’s ‘Game of Life.'”

    If you put that quote from Rand back into the context, you see that she includes a broad range of actions in the category of “self-sustaining and self-generated actions” that support life. Babies, e.g., have to digest the food we give them and convert it to the nutrients that their bodies need.

    “Rand: ‘[T]ry to imagine an immortal, indestructible robot….

    “A thought experiment? Is this an argument or is this a proof?”

    I take it as a creative way of explaining her point to make it clearer. It counts on the reader’s ability to abstract away something in reality to try and see what would be the effect of removing it — i.e., to see what results because of its presence. Here, she’s trying to get the reader to understand the importance of the life-and-death alternative, because the rest of her argument rests on understanding its importance.

    “Whether or not one is immortal or indestructible is irrelevant to whether that entity owns property, and they would stand to gain or lose. There is much more one can gain or lose than their life. Its immortality and indestructibility would be tremendously helpful for it to acquire whatever items it wants via force or whatnot, but they would not necessarily carry the day, especially if there were other such beings with similar capabilities. Therefore, such beings would be capable of acquiring assets and trading in a market economy.

    “Would such a being be capable of having relationships with other beings? This is unclear from ‘cannot be affected by anything.’ If so, it could care very much about them, and thus have plenty to gain or lose in social capital as well as physical capital.”

    Her point is that, even if such a robot could engage in these activities, none of them would have any point, they could not matter to the robot. The robot can’t say that anything is good, because for something to be good, it is good for something and nothing can affect the robot; nothing can make any difference to it one way or another. There is no difference in outcome to him that will result from him taking action A vs. action B.

    “Rand: ‘Only a living entity can have goals or can originate them. And it is only a living organism that has the capacity for self-generated, goal-directed action. On the physical level, the functions of all living organisms, from the simplest to the most complex—from the nutritive function in the single cell of an amoeba to the blood circulation in the body of a man—are actions generated by the organism itself and directed to a single goal: the maintenance of the organism’s life.’

    “I think she contradicts herself by saying that living entities can originate goals but that all their actions are towards the single goal of maintaining their life. And of course, there are living beings that do not have goal, as evidenced by those who commit suicide.”

    Living things can choose to originate whatever goals they want, but they can’t hope to stay in existence if they choose goals that are contradictory with those things that are necessary to sustain their life. Just because living things are capable of goal-directed action doesn’t mean that they will initiate actions in furtherance of the proper goals. Rand will go on to acknowledge, later, that the whole realm of ethics depends on one choosing to live. If one doesn’t want to live, than ethics doesn’t matter.

    “Many non-living things can have goals. AI characters in video-games such as first-person shooters or sports simulations artificial worlds, or agents in Agent-Based Modeling simulations. Perhaps only living entities can originate goals, but that is hardly clear. It’s possible that our goals are originated by some unknown external entity, such as God or aliens that secretly control us with invisible puppet strings (or subconsciously, as in Asimov’s Foundation series). Or it could be that everything that anybody does is — including goal-setting — is deterministically determined by our genes and environment.

    “While it seems that we make choices and have freewill, I don’t think you can prove this either way any more than you can prove or disprove the existence of God.”

    Let me know the next time you see a non-living entity originating a goal. Fictional characters don’t count, nor do robots that we program to achieve goals of ours. The other issues you get into belong in other branches of philosophy. So, for example, nothing is “possible” unless there exists at least some evidence for it, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen any evidence of a God, whatever, originating goals for me or other living creatures.

    Finally, and here we’ll probably just have to agree to disagree because this is so foundational: the entire concept of “proof,” on which our whole back-and-forth depends, presupposes the concept of “free will,” which you are questioning. How could anyone be open to having something “proved” to him if he was not free to choose whether to believe it? You cannot prove that you have free will, as all proof presupposes free will.

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  32. perfectlyGoodInk

    apeikoff: I have been very busy helping to release promote a friend’s book this week, and now I finally have time to respond.

    No worries. A more leisurely pace of discussion will, I think, promote a more thoughtful one. And congratulations to your friend.

    I want to try and reread Rand with a more open mind and think a bit about the topic before I address the rest of your points, but democracy is a topic I am more interested in.

    perfectlyGoodInk: Okay, I take it you agree with me that democracies protect individual rights better than authoritarian regimes, and that republics are representative democracies.

    apeikoff: If they do, it is only by the accident of 51% of the population agreeing that, in a particular instance, protection of rights is what they want. Hell, a dictator could “impose” individual rights on a population, if he so chose. Whether something happens by the whim of a dictator, or by the whim of 51% of a population, its source is still whim, and one cannot be secure in the idea that his rights will be protected in a regime governed by either.

    It is neither accident nor whim that a government chooses that policies that it does. It depends on the actors that influence policy-making as well as their goals and incentives. The whole point of democracy is that elections are a means of more closely aligning the interests of a ruler with that of the governed. No such mechanism exists in an authoritarian dictatorship.

    According to political scientists Davenport and Armstrong (2004):

    When democratic systems exist, it is generally expected that the authority’s willingness and capacity to violate human rights would be diminished. This pacifying influence is largely attributed to the fact that within these contexts the constraints on such activity are both numerous as well as mutually reinforcing. For example, in democracies political leaders who use repression against their citizens can be removed from office through the popular vote (emphasis mine) and, at the same time, these governments contain numerous institutional checks and balances on government activity—mechanisms which increase the difficulty of taking coercive action because they facilitate (and even encourage) the resistance as well as retribution of other political actors against those responsible for this type of behavior.

    From Davenport, Christian, and Armstrong II, David A., “Democracy and the Violation of Human Rights: A Statistical Analysis from 1976 to 1996”, American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 48, No. 3, July 2004, Pp. 538–554. Recall that I said earlier, “the need for political leaders to win elections makes them accountable to the people. They have an incentive to not infringe upon people’s liberties.” This intuition is confirmed by empirical research, as Davenport and Armstrong report:

    For thirty years, quantitative research has supported this relationship. Repeatedly, democratic political systems have been found to decrease political bans, censorship, torture, disappearances, and mass killing, doing so in a linear fashion across diverse measurements, methodologies, time periods, countries, and contexts (e.g., Davenport 1995, 1999; Harff 2003; Henderson 1991; Hibbs 1973; Krain 1997; Mitchell and McCormick 1988; Poe and Tate 1994; Poe, Tate, and Keith 1999; Zanger 2000; Ziegenhagen 1986).

    There isn’t much of a debate anymore that this relationship exists, just about the exact form of the relationship. Most of the above studies proposes a linear relationship. Three studies put forth the “More Murder in the Middle” argument, where partial democracies fare worse than both full democracies and full autocracies (but full democracies still perform the best), and Davenport and Armstrong argue in favor of a threshold model, where democracy only reduces repression when the amount exceeds a certain threshold.

    Again, none of this is surprising when you think about the incentives and constraints that democracies face compared to authoritarian dictatorships. Rand probably recognized this when she said, “The men who attempt to survive, not by means of reason, but by means of force, are attempting to survive by the method of animals. But…men cannot survive by attempting the method of animals, by rejecting reason and counting on productive men to serve as their prey. Such looters may achieve their goals for the range of a moment, at the price of destruction: the destruction of their victims and their own. As evidence, I offer you any criminal or any dictatorship.

  33. perfectlyGoodInk

    I have not forgotten this debate, and have been reading some philosophy and also thinking and talking about freewill and determinism. However, I probably will not have sufficient time to comment until the beginning of April. My apologies.

  34. Pingback: Happy Blogversary to Me! | Don't Let It Go

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