Monday, June 23, 2008

Bad Economy Now Hurting People That Get Shit for Free

According to this news link regarding state budget cuts across the country:

With a new fiscal year beginning in most states next week, budget cuts are about to bite. That means less money for school children in Florida, the end of help with utility bills for poor Rhode Islanders and a good chance tuition will increase at Auburn University in Alabama.

In other words, people who now get shit for free may not get as much or (gasp) may have to pay for some of the shit they use. Those of us who work and have our money stolen to pay for these people's shit, will just have to work a little harder so we can go back to a time when some work and others take it.

Excerpt from "Why Businessmen Need Philosophy"

Quoted below are some excerpts from Leonard Peikoff's "Why Businessmen Need Philosophy" which is an exposition of why it is essential to defend capitalism in principle, that is, from a moral perspective. It also serves to show why those who simply defend capitalism on "pragmatic" grounds or because it is "practical" consistenly lose ground to capitalism's enemies. To change the culture, we must defend capitalism logically and without compromise. Contrary to popular belief, defending capitalism philsophically is the most practical thing in the world:

Why should you care about this philosophic history? As a practical man, you must care; because it is an issue of life and death. It is a simple syllogism. Premise one: Businessmen are selfish; which everyone knows, whatever denials or protestations they hear. Premise two: Selfishness is wicked; which almost everyone today, including the appeasers among you, thinks is self-evident. The inescapable conclusion: Businessmen are wicked. If so, you are the perfect scapegoats for intellectuals of every kind to blame for every evil or injustice that occurs, whether real or trumped up.

We are all trained by today’s colleges never to take a firm stand on any subject: to be pragmatists, ready to compromise with anyone on anything. Philosophy and morality, however, do not work by compromise. Just as a healthy body cannot compromise with poison, so too a good man cannot compromise with evil ideas. In such a set up, an evil philosophy, like poison, always wins. The good can win only by being consistent. If it is not, then the evil is given the means to win every time.

For example, if a burglar breaks into your house and demands your silverware, you have two possible courses of action. You might take a militant attitude: shoot him or at least call the police. That is certainly uncompromising. You have taken the view, “What’s mine is mine, and there is no bargaining about it.” Or, you might “negotiate” with him, try to be conciliatory, and persuade him to take only half your silverware. Whereupon you relax, pleased with your seemingly successful compromise, until he returns next week demanding the rest of your silverware and your money, your car and your wife. Because you have agreed that his arbitrary, unjust demand gives him a right to some of your property, the only negotiable question thereafter is: How much? Sooner or later he will take everything. You compromised; he won.

The same principle applies if the government seeks to expropriate you or regulate your property. If the government floats a trial balloon to the effect that it will confiscate or control all industrial property over $10 million in the name of the public good, you have two possible methods of fighting back. You might stand on principle—in this case, the principle of private property and individual rights—and refuse to compromise; you might resolve to fight to the end for your rights and actually do so in your advertisements, speeches and press releases. Given the better elements in the American people, it is possible for you by this means to win substantial support and defeat such a measure. The alternative course, and the one that business has unfortunately taken throughout the decades, is to compromise—for example, by making a deal conceding that the government can take over in New Jersey, but not in New York. This amounts to saying: “Washington, D.C., has no right to all our property, only some of it.” As with the burglar, the government will soon take over everything. You have lost all you have as soon as you say the fatal words, “I compromise.”

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Modern Intellectuals at the Gate, Part 1

Quoting the International Herald Tribune about a recent trial taking place in Vancouver:

A couple of years ago, a Canadian magazine published an article arguing that the rise of Islam threatened Western values. The article's tone was mocking and biting, but it said nothing that conservative magazines and blogs in the United States did not say every day without fear of legal reprisal.

Things are different here. The magazine is on trial.

Under Canadian law, there is a serious argument that the article contained hate speech and that its publisher, Maclean's magazine, the nation's leading newsweekly, should be forbidden from saying similar things, forced to publish a rebuttal and made to compensate Muslims for injuring their "dignity, feelings and self respect."

In the pantheon of modern political insanity, so-called “hate speech codes” is a political idea more inimical to freedom than any other. The loss of free speech would represent the end of civilization as we know it since freedom of speech, i.e., the freedom of thought, is at the base of all other freedoms. Frighteningly, the article points out that virtually all Western countries now prohibit so-called "hate speech":

Canada, Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa, Australia and India all have laws or have signed international conventions banning hate speech. Israel and France forbid the sale of Nazi items like swastikas and flags. It is a crime to deny the Holocaust in Canada, Germany and France.

Last week, the actress Brigitte Bardot, an animal rights activist, was fined €15,000, or $23,000, in France for provoking racial hatred by criticizing a Muslim ceremony involving the slaughter of sheep.

The article points out that the United States is distinct in that it is virtually the only Western country left that protects free speech.

In the United States, that debate has been settled. Under the First Amendment, newspapers and magazines can say what they like about minority groups and religions - even false, provocative or hateful things - without legal consequence.

"In much of the developed world, one uses racial epithets at one's legal peril, one displays Nazi regalia and the other trappings of ethnic hatred at significant legal risk and one urges discrimination against religious minorities under threat of fine or imprisonment," Frederick Schauer, a professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, wrote in a recent essay called "The Exceptional First Amendment."

"But in the United States," Schauer continued, "all such speech remains constitutionally protected."

Of course, given the swift and docile conformity of American academics to their European intellectual masters, it is only a matter of time before the United States is under the grip of the Politically Correct Inquisition. Such codes are already enforced on college campuses around the country and I disagree that the issue has been "settled." In fact, it appears to be just beginning:

Some prominent legal scholars say the United States should reconsider its position on hate speech.

"It is not clear to me that the Europeans are mistaken," Jeremy Waldron, a legal philosopher, wrote in The New York Review of Books last month, "when they say that a liberal democracy must take affirmative responsibility for protecting the atmosphere of mutual respect against certain forms of vicious attack."

Waldron was reviewing "Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment" by Anthony Lewis, the former New York Times columnist. Lewis has been critical of attempts to use the law to limit hate speech.

But even Lewis, a liberal, wrote in his book that he was inclined to relax some of the most stringent First Amendment protections "in an age when words have inspired acts of mass murder and terrorism." In particular, he called for a re-examination of the Supreme Court's insistence that there is only one justification for making incitement a criminal offense: the likelihood of imminent violence.

The approach of the thought police will not be to overthrow the 1st Amendment immediately. Just as those who advocate controls always claim the controls will be limited, so the advocates of speech-codes will claim that their restrictions will only apply to very limited or "extreme" situations. Of course, the 1st Amendment was not designed to protect people's right to discuss the weather. It was specifically meant to protect the right to express controversial and extreme ideas. The dividing line politically as always should be based on the principle that the government's function is to protect individuals from the initiation of physical force and/or fraud. In this way, the US Supreme Court's standard actually appears to be fairly reasonable:

The imminence requirement [set by the US Supreme Court] sets a high hurdle. Mere advocacy of violence, terrorism or the overthrow of the government is not enough; the words must be meant to, and be likely to, produce violence or lawlessness right away. A fiery speech urging an angry racist mob immediately to assault a black man in its midst probably qualifies as incitement under the First Amendment. A magazine article - or any publication -aimed at stirring up racial hatred surely does not.

In other words, if one directly incites a crowd to violence, this speech is not and should not be protected. There are certainly some more difficult scenarios which can arise in constitutional law surrounding incitement, libel, slander, etc. but generally in the context of this debate these arguments are red herrings meant to confuse rational opponents of speech-codes.

The imminence requirement has very little to do with the basis of the current arguments made by the hate-speech Inquisitors. There is an enormous chasm of difference between one who is directly and imminently plotting murder or inciting a mob to violence and one whose speech is merely critical or even hateful. Keep in mind that the plaintiffs in this case are seeking compensation not for physical injury but for injury to the their "dignity, feelings, and self-respect." The speech code advocates are not arguing that this kind of speech incites violence or directly results in physical injury. They do not even appear to be claiming that such criticism may indirectly incite violence. They simply object to criticism because it is criticism. Keep in mind, the Macleans piece simply said that the rise of Islam threatened Western values which it certainly does. Brigitte Bardot was fined for criticising the Muslim practice of slaughtering animals. Ironically, note that in both instances, the speakers were advocating against violence and criticising those that engage in violence! (In fact, a major concern related to Islam would be the barring of free speech under Sharia law.)

If the speech-code advocates have their way, logically no speech would be allowed in the sense that criticism of anything could hurt someones feelings, pride, or even indirectly lead to violence. If one publicly criticises Islam, it may lead another to not like Islam or injure the pride of Muslims and at some point even lead another to be violent against Muslims. If one criticizes the government, it may lead another to not like the government or hurt a George Bush' feelings and may even lead ultimately to one acting violently against the government. If one criticises a rapist or a serial killer it might hurt his feelings or even injure his self-respect. So, what exactly could we talk about in the speech-code world?

What accounts for these outrageous violations of free speech? Ironically, it is in the name of diversity that the Left seeks to repress the diversity of thought. Recall that the Left rejects reason as absolute and therefore holds there is no such thing as moral absolutes, i.e., they uphold moral relativism. Multiculturalism therefore teaches that all cultures are morally equal. On this view, a primitive culture that upholds mysticism and slavery is allegedly morally equivalent to an advanced society that upholds reason and freedom. Multiculturalism upholds the idea that one’s identity and character are derived from one’s membership in a particular group and that one’s life is to be subjugated for the sake of the group, gang, or tribe. By identifying individuals with a “culture”, the multiculturalist perpetuates racism, i.e., it perpetuates the idea that one’s character is inextricably tied to his membership in a group. This is a philosophy that leads to collectivism which is the opposite of individualism.

So, if one abandons their individual mind and turns to the collective for guidance, what is the result? Gang warfare.

In part 2, I will discuss the further philosophical implications of multiculturalism and discuss why it leads to tyranny not diversity.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Pragmatist Fascist vs. the Principled Fascist

"There is no doubt that any policies I implement will be based on the economic situation I inherit from George Bush - a manager of the economy you should base your decisions on facts not ideology - so even if I am predisposed to a certain set of policies I will want to see what's going on at the moment and ask a wide range of viewpoints from business leaders...some of these [tax increases] you could possibly defer..." - Barack Obama

"Will we enact the single biggest tax increase since the second world war or will we keep taxes low for families and employers?" John McCain

(McCain thinks taxes are currently "low"? Wow.)

The quotes in these links capture the essence of modern philosophy and therefore represent everything that is wrong with American politics.

In a previous post, Modern Politics as Modern Art I characterized Obama's call for "consensus" in American politics as a fundamental rejection of principle in favor of the idea that there are no principles and one must simply act, i.e., the modern philosophical idea of pragmatism. Well, he has shown his stripes once again, and if you were to create a gross caricature of a pragmatist thinker you could not have written a better quote than the one above from Obama.

The dictionary definition of pragmatism is: "guided by practical experience and observation rather than theory". On the surface, this might seem reasonable. For most Americans, it connotes the idea of being practical and able to get something "done" versus the idea of some egg headed professor mired in an ivory tower unable to function in the real world. Of course, this concept begs the question: what does one want to get "done"? For example, would if you want to murder or enslave people? Certainly, one could be pragmatic and be good at getting this "done". The philosophical concept of pragmatism (which has been widely influential in America) is rooted in the works of Pierce, James and Dewey and can be characterized in the following two quotes. Quoting Ayn Rand from For the New Intellectual:

[The Pragmatists] declared that philosophy must be practical and that practicality consists of dispensing with all absolute principles and standards—that there is no such thing as objective reality or permanent truth—that truth is that which works, and its validity can be judged only by its consequences—that no facts can be known with certainty in advance, and anything may be tried by rule-of-thumb—that reality is not firm, but fluid and “indeterminate,” that there is no such thing as a distinction between an external world and a consciousness (between the perceived and the perceiver), there is only an undifferentiated package-deal labeled “experience,” and whatever one wishes to be true, is true, whatever one wishes to exist, does exist, provided it works or makes one feel better.

A later school of more Kantian Pragmatists amended this philosophy as follows. If there is no such thing as an objective reality, men’s metaphysical choice is whether the selfish, dictatorial whims of an individual or the democratic whims of a collective are to shape that plastic goo which the ignorant call “reality,” therefore this school decided that objectivity consists of collective subjectivism—that knowledge is to be gained by means of public polls among special elites of “competent investigators” who can “predict and control” reality—that whatever people wish to be true, is true, whatever people wish to exist, does exist, and anyone who holds any firm convictions of his own is an arbitrary, mystic dogmatist, since reality is indeterminate and people determine its actual nature.

And quoting Dr. Leonard Peikoff in The Ominous Parallels:

In the whirling Heraclitean flux which is the pragmatist’s universe, there are no absolutes. There are no facts, no fixed laws of logic, no certainty, no objectivity.

There are no facts, only provisional “hypotheses” which for the moment facilitate human action. There are no fixed laws of logic, only mutable “conventions,” without any basis in reality. (Aristotle’s logic, Dewey remarks, worked so well for earlier cultures that it is now overdue for a replacement.) There is no certainty—the very quest for it, says Dewey, is a fundamental aberration, a “perversion.” There is no objectivity—the object is created by the thought and action of the subject.

In this sense, Obama's philosophy is textbook pragmatism. He literally calls for "facts" not "ideology". An ideology is a set of interrelated principles and principles are essential to rational thought. Without principles (abstract concepts), our minds would be reduced to the level of an animal consciousness reacting on the range of the moment to every sensation. Note that Obama does not reject a particular ideology - he rejects the concept of ideology as such. He does not want to hear about individual rights or the law of supply and demand. When the time comes, he will assess the "facts" or "want to see what is going on at the moment" and take a poll of experts or "ask a wide range of viewpoints from business leaders." Is the forced expropriation of one's earnings for the unearned benefit of others right, i.e., are taxes immoral? Is the confiscation of a producer's wealth and capital "practical"? He doesn't know. In fact, he might "possibly defer" tax increases depending on the situation.

So, if Obama does not have an ideology then what course of action will the so-called "facts" lead him to take? Again quoting Dr. Peikoff:

By itself, as a distinctive theory, the pragmatist ethics is contentless. It urges men to pursue “practicality,” but refrains from specifying any “rigid” set of values that could serve to define the concept. As a result, pragmatists—despite their repudiation of all systems of morality—are compelled, if they are to implement their ethical approach at all, to rely on value codes formulated by other, non-pragmatist moralists. As a rule the pragmatist appropriates these codes without acknowledging them; he accepts them by a process of osmosis, eclectically absorbing the cultural deposits left by the moral theories of his predecessors—and protesting all the while the futility of these theories.

The dominant, virtually the only, moral code advocated by modern intellectuals in Europe and in America is some variant of altruism. This, accordingly, is what most American pragmatists routinely preach . . .

In politics, also, pragmatism presents itself as opposed to “rigidity,” to “dogma,” to “extremes” of any kind (whether capitalist or socialist); it avows that it is relativist, “moderate,” “experimental.” As in ethics, however, so here: the pragmatist is compelled to employ some kind of standard to evaluate the results of his social experiments, a standard which, given his own self-imposed default, he necessarily absorbs from other, non-pragmatist trend-setters . . . When Dewey wrote, the political principle imported from Germany and proliferating in all directions, was collectivism.

In other words, since the pragmatist rejects principle on principle, he must accept the prevailing views of others. And what is the prevailing view? It is altruism, collectivism and America's current system: the mixed economy. This is what accounts for Obama's unoriginality politically and why he says that he is "predisposed to a certain set of policies." He literally has nothing to new to offer accept the same worn out platitudes and policies of the Left. The political system necessitated by such a philosophy is fascism. If one upholds self-sacrifice ethically, he must desire a dictator or in Obama's words a "manager" to enforce these sacrifices to be made as most will not voluntarily give up their life, liberty and property.

I believe the danger of Obama lies more in his charisma, but why is he charismatic? His articulately altruistic message resonates with the prevailing culture's acceptance of sacrifice as a virtue. In this sense, America is like Wiemar Germany during the rise of the Nazi's. It is a philosophically bankrupt culture begging for a dictator to come and tell it what to do.

And what about McCain? McCain too seeks unlimited government power. However, he believes he is right. In that sense, he is a principled fascist. Of course, since his philosophy is mixed, all he can do is react to his opponent rather than offer anything new. So when Obama calls for raising taxes from 39% to 52% - McCain's response is let's keep taxes "low" at 39%! This is yet another example of why the Republican party is impotent to change anything as I argued in my previous post Ethics, Politics and the Impotence of the Republican Party

Let me end with one more quote from Ayn Rand which captures the essence of pragmatism and in turn represents the fundamental explanation of what is wrong with American politics:

The two points central to the pragmatist ethics are: a formal rejection of all fixed standards—and an unquestioning absorption of the prevailing standards. The same two points constitute the pragmatist approach to politics, which, developed most influentially by Dewey, became the philosophy of the Progressive movement in this country (and of most of its liberal descendants down to the present day).

Epistemologically, their dogmatic agnosticism holds, as an absolute, that a principle is false because it is a principle—that conceptual integration (i.e., thinking) is impractical or “simplistic”—that an idea which is clear and simple is necessarily “extreme and unworkable.” Along with Kant, their philosophic forefather, the pragmatists claim, in effect: “If you perceive it, it cannot be real,” and: “If you conceive of it, it cannot be true.”

What, then, is left to man? The sensation, the wish, the whim, the range and the concrete of the moment. Since no solution to any problem is possible, anyone’s suggestion, guess or edict is as valid as anyone else’s—provided it is narrow enough.

To give you an example: if a building were threatened with collapse and you declared that the crumbling foundation has to be rebuilt, a pragmatist would answer that your solution is too abstract, extreme, unprovable, and that immediate priority must be given to the need of putting ornaments on the balcony railings, because it would make the tenants feel better.

There was a time when a man would not utter arguments of this sort, for fear of being rightly considered a fool. Today, Pragmatism has not merely given him permission to do it and liberated him from the necessity of thought, but has elevated his mental default into an intellectual virtue, has given him the right to dismiss thinkers (or construction engineers) as naive, and has endowed him with that typically modern quality: the arrogance of the concrete-bound, who takes pride in not seeing the forest fire, or the forest, or the trees, while he is studying one inch of bark on a rotted tree stump.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Support Drilling in the ANWR

President Bush has proposed that Congress allow oil drilling in the ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.) I sent the following letter to my congressmen and again recommend as an easy way to reach your representatives. Feel free to use all or any of my text:

I absolutely support drilling in the ANWR and urge you to support President Bush's proposal. Policies that enable domestic oil drilling will increase supplies, lower prices, and decrease our dependence on oil imports.

The Congress should go even further and implement a comprehensive plan to dismantle environmental and pro food based fuel policies and regulations that discourage domestic drilling and refining. Such policies reduce supply, increase prices, and increase our dependence on foreign oil. The government's policies along with federal gas taxes and the federal reserve's policy of inflating the money supply are the real culprits behind rising gas prices.

The recent congressional show trials of oil company executives are red herrings that only serve to deflect attention from the real source of higher prices: government policy. Furthermore, increasing taxes on oil company profits will only serve to increase prices as it is oil company profits which serve as capital for further exploration and research. Oil companies should be revered and praised for supplying energy which is the life blood of our economy and returning enormous profits to their shareholders. This is not a crime but a virtue.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Just Give Me Cheap Gas, Somehow

In previous posts, I have cited the lack of domestic refining capacity due to environmental opposition and uncertain government policy related to bio-fuels as one of the major factors which drives the price of gas higher. Well, guess what? America might get its first new oil refinery in 32 years! Quoting this link:
As midnight approached, they popped the champagne corks, celebrating a hard-fought victory that keeps alive the county's chances of landing the nation's first all-new oil refinery in 32 years.By a solid 58 percent to 42 percent margin, county voters approved Hyperion's request to rezone 3,292 acres of farm land for a new classification, Energy Center Planned Development.

But, hold on. It's not a done deal. This was just a vote to get the citizens of the county to approve the re-zoning. Quoting again:
While conceding defeat, opponents vowed to keep fighting the controversial project on every imaginable front, pressing on with a lawsuit it filed against the county over the zoning procedures and opposing Hyperion as it applies for a bevy of state and federal permits. "We have strategies in place to slow or delay all the permit processes," Ed Cable, chairman of the anti-Hyperion group Save Union County, said after the vote.

Hmmm. I can't imagine why oil companies don't want to fight lawsuits for years to obtain a "bevy of state and federal permits"? That sounds like a lot of fun. Those darn oil companies-Congress should launch another investigation.