Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at thinking, intelligent individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

29 November 2004

Freedom of Conscience

In this note I will develop the reasons why society and each of us as individuals should allow others the widest possible range of freedom of conscience. The burden of proof lies heavily upon us and society to provide the most rational of reasons for any use of force on our part directed at limiting another’s freedom of conscience and of their developing their subsequent values in their own life. Everyone has the right to develop and manage their own life. Everyone is inherently unique and individual, so it is inappropriate to think that we can evaluate their choices and values for them. We would not be willing to accept their unhappiness upon our lives should we make a mistake with theirs. Only each of us as an individual has the right to stake his life and happiness upon his choices of values and his choice of actions to attain and secure his values. Yet, maybe as a consequence of this lack of consequences for making the wrong choices for others, many people seem to relish using their time and effort to prescribe and force choices upon others through societal norms and beyond to making them a matter of law. Meanwhile, they leave their own personal affairs under-attended. Curiously, some of these people point at each other’s under-attended affairs and note them as proof that others are incapable of caring for themselves, so the busybodies, acting through government, must do it for them.

Of course, the affairs of others often seem simple to the casual observer. Yet, human interactions are extremely complex. Most of us appreciate this better in our own lives then when we assess the life choices of others. When each of us knows as much as we do about the complete fabric of our own life (to borrow a phrase from David Kelley), we cannot help but to see a huge complexity of activities and relationships. It is a never-ending intellectual and emotional challenge to handle it all. But this is what makes life so rich with value and interest. It also means that errors of choice are inevitable and not infrequent. The exercise of freedom of conscience allows each of us the means to discover, develop, and alter our lives until we achieve the conditions that make us happy. Each of us is necessarily experimenting with his own life. This gives others some opportunity to observe the results and to either follow or avoid those paths those paths of others that they believe may be right or wrong for them. This may be a lifesaver or it may at least make others more efficient in finding the right path for their lives. Their evaluation of our actions in living our life does not necessarily affirm or deny the choices we have made for ourselves, however. Our choices are good, bad, or neutral in the context of our very rich individual lives and largely based upon a long string of daily choices and our differing natures. What is right for me may or may not be right for you.

Now, you may be concerned that I am arguing for an ethics of moral relativism. I am not. Yet, I do not think we should confuse good and bad choices with moral principles. There are moral principles appropriate for a relatively solitary life in nature. These change somewhat for a man in a primitive society where the use of force is rampant with one tribe taking anything they can get from another by force. Again, the appropriate moral principles change for men living in a relatively free and civilized society. While our primary moral values are always based on the value of our own life and our need to use our ability to reason to maintain our life, the complete code of principles that we each have is very dependent upon our personal circumstance. A major component is determined by the kind of society in which we live. It is very important to understand that as individuals we are each so complex that we need still more moral principles to help us make the choices that apply only to our own personal pursuit of our own values. My detailed values differ from yours. My complete code of ethics starts with an Objectivist ethics, but it adds many, many principles that help me to cope with the complex choices in my own life. Some of these additional principles may be unique to me and probably are. Similarly, I expect that most thinking people will have some principles important to them that are not to me. If I try to prescribe what your choices should be in life, I may very well be at odds with some of your important moral principles. I would be messing with your freedom of conscience. You see, our freedom of conscience is as tied to our freedom of action and choice as our mind is tied to our body.

Each individual needs freedom of conscience for the following reasons:
  • to formulate an idea - Simple ideas do not require that a society recognize freedom of conscience, but life and our world are complicated. Complex ideas or those standing on an understanding of complex issues of reality need to be developed by many thinkers who can make their ideas known to one another without fear of suffering violence (or excommunication, in some circumstances)
  • to experiment with that idea and its consequences - Many ideas require that experiments be performed to test them and to illuminate the productive paths for further development. If an idea is important, whether it deals exclusively with physics or it involves the interaction of many human beings, experimentation must in many ways be used to test theory, or fallible man can and will go far astray over time.
  • to evaluate the results - When an idea is put to use, it is essential that many minds are free to evaluate and compare their evaluations so that more effort may be put in those directions which are fruitful and less into those that are deadends.
  • to redevelop the idea or abandon it as a failure - This is the result of evaluating the truth and consequences of ideas. Those that have problems may be corrected or must be abandoned.
  • to improve upon an accepted idea - The idea that is evaluated as resting substantially upon a true perception of reality and has demonstrable good consequences, may often be improved upon by others with other viewpoints and experiences either now or in the future.
  • to question an accepted idea - It is usually an unpopular role to be the one who questions the truth of a generally accepted idea. But generally accepted ideas are often wrong and have very harmful consequences. The one who questions the bad idea performs a very valuable service to everyone else. We should all be very willing to provide for the general right of freedom of conscience in order that we can enjoy the great benefit the questioner of the generally accepted idea provides us in helping us to see the rut we are in.

Our need to survive by using our minds makes it essential that we always err on the side of allowing others the maximum possible freedom of thought and choice. When we do this, we enrich our own lives. The result of giving others this freedom is a present in a civilized society and a future in which progress can be a constant expectation. In a free society, the consequences of others bad thoughts and subsequent acted choices fall primarily upon themselves and little upon us. Their good thoughts and subsequently acted choices often provide us critical help in understanding life and our world. This gift of understanding has always been the basis of human progress. It is why we no longer generally die before age 30. It is why we do not work hunting and farming from daylight to sundown. It is why we rarely need to worry that a marauding band of Vikings, Visigoths, or Turks will descend upon our home and carry away our wives and children. It is why we know about atoms, electrons, stars, silicon chips, magnetic tape and hard drives, structural steel, stressed concrete, jet engines, vaccines, constitutionally limited government, drugs to lower high blood pressure, x-rays, the novels of Ayn Rand, recorded music, combustion engines, long-life batteries, computers, and a host of other wonderful things. It is also why the world is full of interesting people, despite the fact that many people either choose or are forced to be uninteresting. Freedom of conscience, when allowed in a generous manner in a society, causes that society to flourish in ways we cannot image without standing back and actually observing it with wonder.

12 November 2004

Objectivism and Me

What does Objectivism mean to me? What is my approach to it? What do I think about the movement and where it is going? How do we view Objectivism on the historical scale? What would it take to have it become the dominant philosophy of life in our society? I will answer these questions in this note.

Objectivism is the philosophy whose initial formulation was made by the American immigrant genius, Ayn Rand. She established the essential ideas of her philosophy while writing her great novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, which praised human achievement and the value of the human mind. She showed why man should live for himself and that he could do so to the benefit of all rational men. She developed a metaphysics based on reality, substantially developed an epistemology (theory of knowledge) based on reason, largely developed an ethics based on self-interest, developed an explanation of why Capitalism was the proper expression of politics for rational men since it alone allowed men to trade values freely, and substantially developed a theory of art. Her work was monumental and stands among the greatest accomplishments in all of man’s history. Though I know of no primary thesis of Ayn Rand which is incorrect, the philosophy is not yet fully developed. There has been much for other philosophers and thinkers to do since she died and there remains much to do.

The application of Objectivism to our ever-changing and evolving circumstances is anything but trivial. Those few errors that I know Ayn Rand to have made were in this realm. She was not always wise on her judgments of individuals and she made errors in assessing the consequences of certain choices on political and economic issues. Usually, however, she was brilliant in her commentary on these complex issues. Her commentaries were almost always insightful and wonderful examples of how to apply the principles of Objectivism to making the complex choices we have to make as mortal humans with incredibly complex interactions with others.

In order to further the development of Objectivism as the reality-directed understanding of human life with reason as our only means of knowing reality and of furthering the value of human life, we must establish those conditions which allow and encourage the use of the mind. Every human mind is attached to a body in an inseparable manner. If we are to be actors who can purposely further our lives, then we must be free to express our rational thinking and to motivate it by controlling and managing our bodies. Political restrictions on the use of the mind and of our bodies do not serve us as individuals. They also do not serve us as aggregates of individuals, since every value to be achieved means nothing if it is not of value to an individual human being.

Human society offers us many values, if we are free to trade ideas, our labor, friendship and love, and all the other values of rational men. The civilized society is that society which allows this and banishes the initiated use of force from the realm of human relationships. It also establishes the principle that the consequences of individual errors of judgment will be visited primarily upon the one who errs and the benefits of reality-consistent judgment can be realized by the wise individual without someone taking them away by force. The fact that a civilized society does not deliver the consequences of some one person’s error or that of some group (however large) upon everyone any more than can be avoided, is extremely important in allowing individuals to think and act independently with the appreciation of everyone else. They stand to gain from the exploration of knowledge and the example of attempts to put that knowledge into execution to gain values. The thinker and the actor is freed of the fear of being forced to conform and of having his earned values expropriated by others. Individual by individual, this society is freed to innovate and evaluate new ideas and methodologies they would never have otherwise seen.

Politically, Ayn Rand called this civilized society Capitalism. In such a society, men can afford to be tolerant of one other. Since every other person is likely to create useful values and make these available to you in many cases in acts of trade, it is natural to view others in a benevolent manner. In a society in which some men may use force to coerce you to think as they do or at least only speak or write accepted ideas, may take the hours or the totality of your life, and may take your income and property, other men are a threat and benevolence must shrivel.

Our present society is a mixture of Capitalism and socialism. The socialist aspects take on a variety of forms, including Bismarckian, communist, and fascist forms. Our government is supposed to protect our rights to our freedom of conscience at least so far as to "make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." First, it does not always protect all of these rights, as widely evidenced on college campuses and in the limitations upon speech just prior to Presidential elections. Second, these important expressions of freedom of conscience do not go nearly as far as they should go. The remaining freedoms are covered by Amendment IX, but the government generally chooses to ignore this amendment. Furthermore, it is extremely common for government to take our income and our property. It is also common for it to require us to donate our time to its purposes without compensation. This both limits our freedom of conscience by removing the benefits to us for using our minds and by preventing us from realizing our life values through our actions.
In the terms of our Declaration of Independence, we do not fully enjoy Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Historically, Objectivism has a strong relationship with Greek philosophy through Aristotle and with the Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke. While Aristotle made huge advances in understanding, for a long time his works were lost in Europe and never penetrated most of the world. The Dark and Medieval Ages took over in Europe. The Enlightenment relit the flame of knowledge and had its ultimate political expression in the limited constitutional government of the United States of America. Then the popularity of socialism (both communist and fascist versions) and the present post-modernist period partially robbed us of our belief in reality, the efficacy of reason, and the value of ourselves and of our abilities. Ayn Rand tried to further and re-energize the Enlightenment as she developed Objectivism in the face of a terrible intellectual front opposed to her. There is no historical guarantee that even the most rational and life-affirming philosophy will be accepted by the following generations who great thinkers have offered it to as a wonderful gift. Objectivism may disappear. Or, it may be re-discovered, as was Aristotle, with great effect in a few hundred years.

If the Objectivist philosophy is to become widely accepted, those who ascribe to it must be good examples in applying its principles to their own lives. We cannot be successful proponents of rational behavior if we do not value the attempts others make to be rational. Since everyone makes errors and everyone needs to perform the experiment of putting ideas to the test to see if they are consistent with a complex reality, we must practice toleration. Without it, we raise the stakes of creating any new idea or understanding so high that many will simply be afraid to make their great ideas known to us. Still fewer will be willing to put an idea to the test of reality either by applying the idea to pursue values or by inviting the evaluation of others. A movement without toleration is doomed to stultification. It will also be no fun and will soon be labeled a cult. Since such a group is given to "excommunications" it will also soon be without any of its more vigorous and persistent thinkers. To be successful in winning the hearts and minds of large numbers of people in a society, Objectivists need to act as Dr. David Kelley does and not as Dr. Leonard Peikoff does. The Objectivist Center represents the intellectual future of Objectivism, while the Ayn Rand Institute is an archival museum at best.

No broad-based inroad into controlling the political action of our country will be possible until the teachers in our schools understand and believe in Objectivism. This will be necessary at both the universities and the secondary schools. Clearly, this will be a long time in coming. It will never happen as long as the socialist Baby Boomers control the tenure system of the universities. It will never happen as long as the teacher’s labor unions control the government-run secondary school systems. It may never happen as long as government runs the schools. The political changes required to overcome these barriers to a wide-spread acceptance of the rational philosophy of Objectivism, are likely to take many more decades. Many individuals will have to read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and understand them on their own or with the help of much enlarged centers of learning such as The Objectivist Center. The internet offers many opportunities to make our ideas better known and we have an obligation, if we want to live in a better society, to make an effort to make them available to others. This is an important way to make an end run around the blocking performed by the public schools and universities. We must use it for all we are worth. Nonetheless, many children will never understand the principles of Objectivism well if we do not ultimately get them taught in the schools.

07 November 2004

A Personal Look Back

This is just a superficial note on the history of my life. It is simply a brief sketch of some major events and of some of the things I have seen. The reader may judge how this may have shaped my perspective.

My Dad served in the Pacific as a naval aviator in WWII. He married my Mom when he came back from his first tour out and before going back out a second time in preparation for the invasion of Japan. After the war, Dad left the service for a while, but then went back in and served in the Navy for 23 years. I was the oldest child, but I was followed by 2 sisters, a brother, and then two more sisters. Meanwhile, my Dad went on numerous cruises to the Pacific, the Caribbean, and to the Mediterranean Sea. I lived in many states growing up: MN, CA, TN, MD, FL, VA, TX, NJ, VA again, RI, and then OK when Dad retired. My Mom and Dad were and are good and loving parents who taught their children to be self-reliant and responsible. I am fortunate to have a great brother and four very wonderful sisters.

When I started school in Texas, I was only interested in rough play, though I was always a nice kid. I know this because I did not beat up weaker kids, I took care of my younger sister and let her tag along with us boys even though some of my friends would rather she did not, and I tried to help out at home. In school, I could not see the blackboard. By the third grade in NJ, I was about to be put back, since I could not read. My eyesight was corrected and my mother spent endless hours teaching me to read. I hated it. Half way through the 4th grade, I discovered that there were books worth reading. Books on people in history especially interested me. Chief Black Hawk, Kit Carson, Daniel Boone, Robert E. Lee, U. S. Grant, John Paul Jones, Rogers and his Rangers, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Stephen Decatur and the Barbary Pirates, George Washington Carver, Thomas Edison and others were fascinating. It is a good thing for kids to learn about how remarkable individuals can make a difference and accomplish much despite adversity. Today, I suspect that books about heroic people are less popular because educators are afraid that kids will become hero-worshipers and be inspired to become individualists. I now really enjoyed school, though I had not earlier. About the 6th grade in Virginia, I started reading science fiction, news magazines, and BusinessWeek, whenever I was not playing baseball. In the 7th grade in Rhode Island, I started to read regular adult novels, when I was not playing basketball. From the 7th to the 10th grade, under the influence of a very good man, the Rev. Stenning, I was a serious Christian. I was the Acolyte he could count on for a 6 AM service during Lent. Jerry Wells, Anthony Campagna, Mary Hutchinson, Bob White, Katie Webb, Martin, and Stacy Kinney provided intellectually stimulating relationships.

We moved to Tulsa, OK for the 11th grade and I found a new set of intelligent friends, such as Ron Walker, Ron Brautigam, David Jacobsen, Brooks Campbell, Spencer Grosvenor, Nick Hunter, Larry Bunn, and David Warner. Many of us played a mean game of sandlot tackle football. Meanwhile, the church we went to was overflowing with hypocrites, particularly the minister, and I began more and more to question the validity of Christianity itself as I was repulsed by the small-minded and petty actions of many Christians. The summer between the 11th and 12th grades, I went to a summer program at Brown University and studied calculus, materials science, and computer programming. In the 12th grade, Ron Walker and I tore John Kenneth Galbraith's The Affluent Society to shreds in a debate. Ron suggested I read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, which caused this already very analytical and rational kid to enter into a period of white-heat thinking. I moved on to Atlas Shrugged and loved the experience of reading it and had even more ah ha moments. Many bits and pieces of the truths I had understood were fitting together much better now. So much was clarified. The summer after graduating, I worked as a geophone placement technician for an oil company and was based in Enid, OK. I subscribed to the Objectivist Newsletter and read its back issues. Before summer's end, I was sure I understood Ayn Rand's work well enough to be certain that it was essentially the right philosophy. This careful study served me well in the inhospitable university environment I was soon to enter, and would have served Ron Walker well if he had ever devoted himself to a similar effort.

My next stop was Brown University, where I was a physics major whose high school course in physics was wholly inadequate. I worked extremely hard to make up ground, but nonetheless got into innumerable discussions in the Freshman dorms with the other guys there. Soon, there were often 6, 8, or more guys arguing in favor of various forms of socialism mostly, but sometimes Christianity, with me in these discussions. I was always the lone individualist, not to mention the lone Objectivist, but time after time my opponents had to concede that I was right. Of course, they usually came back the next day and asked what I would do about the poor or the disabled in some context or other, as though posing the question somehow overrode the prior day's discussion. Finally, I met Larry Bellows, an applied math major, who was also an Objectivist. That was a wonderful day. It was great to have a friend who shared my values, was extremely intelligent, and was a really nice guy. Still later, I met Roger Donway, a philosophy major and an Objectivist. Finally, a friend outside of math and science and a very well-read Objectivist with a wide-ranging knowledge of the humanities. Roger was also a good guy, though he was tough on anyone who did not know what they were talking about. As I said, he was a good guy. Roger's older brother Walter was also an Objectivist and made an occasional appearance and he had an impressive friend who was Iranian. When Larry, Roger, and I were juniors, Roger introduced us to a freshman Objectivist with a very quick and keen mind, David Kelley. In the remainder of that year and my senior year, I spent many happy hours in conversation with Roger and David. Larry and I very often ate together and talked then.

After graduating, I returned home to Tulsa and expected to be drafted before summer's end due to the Vietnam War. Somehow, I was not. So, in the Fall, I started graduate studies in physics at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH. In October, I received my order for induction, which was changed to give me a report date of 15 June 70. I studied hard for the year and took all of my final exams despite them being made optional due to the Vietnam War protests that had frightened the faculty. After Basic Training at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO, I was sent to Ft. Polk, LA for Light Arms Infantry Advanced Training. After a week at home, I went to Vietnam. While there, I was at Quang Tri Combat Base and then Camh Ranh Bay, for 13 months, since I extended my tour in order to get an early out from the army. In Feb 72, I returned to CWRU to finish my Ph. D. in physics working with my excellent thesis advisor, Prof. Richard Hoffman. I investigated the surface magnetization of nickel single crystal surfaces using Mossbauer emission spectroscopy and Auger electron spectroscopy. While a graduate student, I met my wife, Anna Palka, who was then a microbiologist at the Rainbow Baby and Children's Hospital. She then got a M.S. in biology and started work as a lab technician in medical research. I then had a postdoctoral fellowship.

I moved on to the Naval Surface Warfare Center in White Oak, MD, where I worked with a fine team headed by Dr. Ron Lee to develop the Surface Evaluation Facility there. I worked on high-energy density batteries, corrosion problems, amorphous materials, sensors, coatings, composite materials, energetic materials, and developing surface analysis techniques, for 10 years. While there, I worked with my good friend Dr. Francisco Santiago, who will not call himself an Objectivist, though that is what he really is. Anna went to Pharmacy School at the Univ. of Maryland and got her degree despite having our 3 daughters. I moved to Martin Marietta Laboratories in Baltimore, in 1990, where I worked on surface contamination, adhesion, sensor electronics, interfacial reactions, rocket motor problems, and infrared sensor distortion correction problems. Just short of six years, Lockheed Martin closed the Baltimore Labs down. I bought up much of the surface analysis equipment, some microscopes, two mass spectrometers, and much vacuum equipment to set up my independent materials analysis laboratory in 1995. We now provide materials characterization services to a large number of commercial firms and some government agencies and universities. We offer surface analysis, thermal analysis, microscopy, electrochemistry, mass spectroscopy, and some mechanical testing for failure analysis, quality control, process and product development, consulting, and expert witness services. Fortunately, my staff scientists and engineers are an excellent team.

04 November 2004

President Bush to Continue

President Bush has won both the majority of the votes and sufficient states to win the Electoral College. This is a good result, but his program includes not only good goals, but also some very bad goals. Some of the very bad goals are very popular with many of his voters. As a man who loves the complete panoply of our freedoms, I will have much to do to encourage the wise programs and to block the irrational ones.

In his victory speech today, President Bush put his emphasis on his good goals. He vowed again to be resolute in fighting the terrorists and in helping Afghanistan and Iraq, to simplify the tax laws, and to reform Social Security with privatized retirement funds. These are great goals.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, while congratulating President Bush on his re-election, stated the need to renew the effort to solve the problem of Palestine. The only solution I can see is that there is a need to so invigorate the economies of the nearby states of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt that those societies are eager to invite the Palestinians into their countries to help them fill out their own workforces. This clearly can only be accomplished in the long run and requires that the people of those countries make a serious effort to improve their governments and add dynamism to their economies by injecting laissez faire capitalism.

President Bush understands this and he hopes Iraq will be the first example of such an Arab and Muslim state. This will take time, but the effect on the neighboring countries, if it is successful, will be huge. The recalcitrant, thug-filled Sunni triangle will have to be suppressed with sufficient force to allow this. The Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south will have to be given sufficient autonomy that their regions can prosper and serve as examples to the Sunni population of what they could accomplish as producers rather than as thugs. We should help the Kurdish and Shiite areas to prosper by providing more security and economic help in their areas and waiting for the Sunnis to get the message.

With his increased support in the Senate and the House, President Bush should move to make the tax decreases permanent so business planning can be freed of the worry of the rates shooting up again soon. Some of the $600 billion in overseas earnings of American-based multinational companies should be coming home in the next several years now that the tax to be paid for bringing it home will drop greatly. This will generate much business investment and many more jobs in the U.S. Reductions in the capital gains taxes that President Bush has indicated he wants should also help to make our now vigorous economy become still more vigorous. We can then respond to the need for more productive workers by increasing the number of highly educated and skilled people that we allow to immigrate to the U.S. This will generate still more growth and jobs, without being a social services burden to anyone. It also provides more workers to spread the Social Security tax over to support the Baby Boomers in their retirement. We need badly to give the public school system more competition. This is the most practical way to begin its badly needed reform. The better investment climate, stronger incentive to earn income, and the stronger work-force will make it easier to reform the Social Security debacle. This is not to say that we should wait until these economy-boosters have already produced their effects before starting the privatization of Social Security. We should carefully explain all of these plans to Americans and enlist their support in this new vision of a freer and richer society. Privatized Social Security will add still more investment money to the economy and make the new investment holders more responsible and knowledgeable with respect to business. I believe that President Bush understands how such a coordinated plan fits together and he needs to start making this clear to the people.

On the bad side, President Bush's re-election was accompanied by a great many propositions that are said by their supporters to protect the sanctity of marriage. These measures are small-minded and irrational. I will soon write commentaries on homosexual and bisexual freedom of conscience. I will build upon a foundation of freedom of conscience and why we must welcome expressions of individual conscience whether we wish to make the same choice ourselves or not. These issues are frightening to many and receive too little rational discussion because people fear the irrational response of others. Oftentimes, that response is ugly. President Bush is willing to take the lead in many difficult situations, but his fundamentalist Christian side does not allow him to do so on some issues. He is not likely to be very vigorous in promoting these issues, since they are hurtful and I do not think the President likes to hurt people. We should watch vigilantly, however, since we know that some cohorts do not mind in the least pointlessly hurting others, though they call themselves followers of the gentle Jesus.

The subject of abortions is also one subject to passions and a strong polarization of some Christians with respect to the majority of the population. Most people are resolved to leave the choice of giving birth or aborting to the pregnant woman. This is as I believe it should be. However, this issue is not a trivial one and it does carry with it an issue of freedom of conscience that cuts two ways. Just as government should not deny a woman the right to an abortion, neither should government take money from those who view abortion as murder and provide it to the poor to pay for their abortions. Government should not be playing any role in this issue except to see to it that neither side uses force against the other. There should be a live and let live policy. Oops! No, in this context, I have to say a policy of free choice must reign. There really is no other practical choice here.

We must watch our civil liberties closely even as we fight the war on terrorism or the war on organized crime. It took centuries to secure the right to be free from unreasonable searches. The Patriot Act allows searches of our homes without us knowing it with a court order. We must see to it that this provision is not abused. We have already largely lost the hard-won right to our property without unreasonable seizure to such recent laws as environmental laws, organized crime laws, and the desire to increase the tax base by accommodating a private enterprise. We do not similarly want to lose our right to have a free trial. If an American is caught with the Taliban, I believe it wise to see to it that he is tried in the manner that any American accused of a crime is tried. Our right to trial was won too hard to let it go under any circumstance. That right does not apply, however, to non-citizens who are or have attacked us.

On many fronts, we must be vigilant in defense of our rights. Our Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness require that we have great freedom to make the many choices required for us to be competent managers of our own lives. Unless a very strong rational argument can be made for depriving an individual of this very wide ranging freedom of choice in any aspect, neither government nor any combination of people have the right to take away any choice. We must always err on the side of freedom and never on the side of apparent convenience. We must never be afraid to demand a good reason when someone proposes to limit our freedom of thought or any action other than the initiated use of force against others. Not even if they say that they do not need to justify themselves to us. Well, no, they do not if we are discussing what color suit they are wearing, their choice of hobbies, or even whom they love. But, they must have a justifying rational argument to back up their use of force to attain their ends. If they do not, then one is justified in using force to protect those of one's values that they have initiated an attack against. Better that we be willing to rationally evaluate the actions we take with respect to others than have to constantly respond with force to repel force. That makes for a very ugly society and quickly leads to the end of civilized life. We have so much to trade freely with one another and to our mutual advantage, that this civilized minimal use of force leads us to a much richer and more secure life.

02 November 2004

The Politics of Benevolence

Why do many well-meaning people think that it is a cruel world in which government does not lend a helping hand to others as a constant and primary function? Primarily this conviction arises from a combination of two premises. The first is that the world is inherently cruel and will bash and batter the most rational and purposeful individual sometime in their life until they cannot possibly recover on their own. The second is that many individuals are not sufficiently well-endowed with intelligence and character that they can achieve the success in life that we, the elite, have achieved.

The first premise is essentially that the cards in life are stacked against everyone. People who believe this are pessimists and there are some such people. But, those individuals who are very pessimistic are generally in no position to help others much. They, like everyone else, will be knocked down by the many trials of life. Those with some optimism in their outlook rise again to face the constant challenge of life. The real pessimist will likely refuse to get up one day after being knocked down. But pessimism comes in degrees and some people have little enough to get up most of the time and may feel they need to help others afflicted by this view worse than they are. If this is one's worldview, the issue is too all-encompassing to be addressed here today.

Most of the people who want to deliver alms to the needy by using the force of government do so because they have a low opinion of the ability and character of many of their fellow humans. A disproportionate fraction of these people seem to hold this opinion in strong correlation with their own wealth, income, and education. If you are college-educated, then you are more likely to support Kerry, while if you are high-school educated, you are more likely to support Bush. The wealthy suburbs of most of the large cities of the northeast and West coasts are strong Kerry neighborhoods. The less well-off small towns and rural areas support Bush. Every four years for the last several Presidential elections, the Democratic Party convention had much wealthier delegates than did the Republican convention. Yet, the Democratic Party is eager and willing to vote higher taxes upon those with greater incomes. Why? Because the party leadership with its wealth and higher education has a low opinion of most other Americans and yet they believe in the mantra of equality.

Now, this has some very interesting consequences. First, they look at the African-Americans and the Hispanic-Americans and convince themselves that they need their help on a broad group basis. Apparently, they judge them to be incompetent and unable to compete on an equal basis. Now, if they thought this was just because these groups may be hurt by often living in areas with bad schools, then one would expect them to address that issue with all the tools available. These would include a welcome to school voucher programs and a demand for more rigorous teachers and courses. The most they ever seek is more money to be pumped into schools which are often well-funded already, but badly managed. Fundamental reforms of public schools are opposed vigorously. In conversations with many elite, liberal Democrats, I have learned that the reason they want programs to offer special assistance to the African-Americans and the Hispanic-Americans is because they believe that these groups are inferior in intelligence and character. For public consumption, they claim instead that this is because these groups are still suffering from victimization. Some of the elite believe this propaganda themselves, but many do not. If I were of one of these groups, I would be furious at the insult whether with respect to being inferior or being unable to rise above victimhood.

What are the practical consequences of being treated as though one is in need of special government assistance by virtue of being from a group classed as either inferior or mired in long-term victimhood? The consequences to one's ability to develop a self-reliant and self-confident character are very erosive. Every time one fails, as most of us do from time to time, one has a ready-made excuse to blame the failure on others. But, the way to success is to think about how one erred and fix it and try again. Or maybe it was just bad timing and one simply needs to try again at the right moment. An example of the latter might be starting a travel business just weeks before 9/11. In any case, one has to believe in one's own ability and the resilience of one's character, and that these make a big difference.

Americans graduated from the public schools are not in general the best educated people in the world. Most Americans are not very knowledgeable about how to lead productive lives when they finish their formal educations. What we excel at is in becoming competent with our on-the-job training. Because of that, by the time we are in our 30s, we are the most competent people in the world. This happens because we teach ourselves and we have colleagues who teach us. It happens because we have confidence that we can do it. We do not allow a fair share of this confidence to those minority groups we curse with Affirmative Action for the wanting. When they achieve a goal, neither we nor they are entirely sure that they achieved it by virtue of their effort or by virtue of a lowering of the bar. This is a terrible way to undercut the effort of whole groups of Americans. Many very capable African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans of my acquaintance really resent this doubt and more and more are hoping that the Affirmative Action programs will go away. They are sure they can compete as equals. Everyone else should be willing to give them this opportunity.

Another problem is that the higher taxes the Democratic Party elite want are generally leveled on higher incomes, but still start in the middle-income brackets. They hide this fact by trying to define the middle-class income upper end much lower than it really is. Then they say the middle class is getting smaller, when what has really happened is that more people are simply making more income than they have defined as appropriate to the middle class. This might be taken to mean that they want a poor middle class! These punitive tax rate schemes have the effect of making it harder for those who are not rich to become rich. The rich often do not mind this at all. We see a graphic illustration of this in their refusal to allow inexpensive housing to be built in their neighborhoods, to require 3-acre lots for homes built in huge areas of some counties, to require large green areas, backing for urban renewal elimination of inexpensive housing, and refusal to allow trash incinerators, gas stations, and any commercial businesses near them. On the other hand, disproportionate numbers of African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans want to achieve a comfortable status. More and more of them are starting to realize that the Democratic programs of high taxes will stand in their way. The property-holder concept of President Bush does make sense for them and everyone else, provided one believes that they and most other people can manage their own lives and their own investments wisely. The doors to wealth will really be much more open with further income tax reductions, less punitive restrictions on investment money for small businesses, and the development of personally-held retirement investments as a part of the solution to the Social Security crisis.

Curiously enough, the logic of the Democratic Party elite should mean that they will want to transfer considerable wealth from themselves to the generally less well-off high-school educated Republicans. More and more, Hispanic- and African-American individuals should see that the route to better education and the acquisition of real, personal wealth is through the policy of self-management fostered more by the Republican Party. The remaining Democratic Party elitists will be committed to yielding power to the Republicans and being unable to make the government make them transfer their money to the Republican beneficiaries. How ironic! The Republican Party will be truly benevolent to these elitists by allowing them to keep what they have earned.

Unfortunately, while it is clear that a still small, but larger portion of the African- and Hispanic-American population is coming to understand where their interests really lie, there may not yet be enough of them who understand to return President Bush to office today. What a horrible tragedy that will be. The elitists may win another victory, but their days are numbered! Their house of cards cannot stand. George Bush may be a bit ahead of his time and he may not have been an adequately eloquent spokesman, but he is wise enough to see much further into the future than he is given credit for doing. Vastly wiser than his unworthy opponent, Senator Kerry.

01 November 2004

The Presidential Election

The two contenders for President are very different men. One is a resolute, principled man whose beliefs stem from a mix of pre-Enlightenment Christian religion and the Enlightenment view that we live by reason and this requires freedom of choice. He sees most Americans as basically competent to live their lives and to make their own choices. He knows that he cannot be successful in doing this for us in most things, but feels obliged to guide us to be virtuous in some Christian beliefs. He is a man who has faced the practical choices of managing in the free market economy, where he learned something about how business investment creates jobs and produces the great wealth of America. America has managed to survive this kind of belief mixture for a very long time. The other is a man committed to socialism and a post-modernist view. To him, we are largely programmed by circumstances and race and are generally characterized as victims or oppressors. Few of us are able to intelligently make the most critical choices in our lives. We need a few elite leaders, most especially him, to provide us constant direction in making these choices. He sees us as children dominated by envy of those who have more income and property than ourselves and promises to distribute these more equally. He would have us become more like France and Germany, where we trade off a more dynamic and rich society for one with more equality. He has experience only in government and working for non-profit outfits. He believes that government creates jobs and that any tax cut is a gift government gives to those who earned the taxed income or property.

It is widely believed that the war on terror is the most important issue of our time. While it is very important, I am not convinced that it is as important an issue as the excessive scope and size of our present governments. Nonetheless, the critical nature of this job and the fact that the President is the Commander-in-Chief direct us to examine which contender for our vote is best able to provide for our security. Both men have military experience and served in Reserve units. Kerry's was called to active duty and he served in Vietnam. Upon returning to the States, he not only opposed the war, but he actively proclaimed the moral superiority of the North Vietnamese communists cause. He used the public attention he received to build a political career and he has been in public service ever since. While a senator, now in his 4th term, he repeatedly sought reductions in defense and intelligence budgets while the cold war was very much in progress. Over and over, he sought reductions far beyond anything his more right-minded colleagues thought reasonable. As President, Bush has shown that he is resolute in pursuing terrorists and in putting pressure on those evil regimes who support them to cease doing so. He has delegated the theater responsibilities to commanders on the ground in a manner we were not so fortunate to see in Vietnam. The results have been better as a result. He is a pragmatic man, who believes that all people want to be free. He is learning from his mistakes, as are his commanders on the ground. Those commanders trust him to be resolute in his purpose, as do our allies. Kerry does not trust military commanders, so he will never heed their advice or give them the necessary power to conduct the efforts on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan. Given his history as a traitor during the Vietnam War and his record of bad judgment in almost 20 years as a senator, our military leaders will not be able to respect and trust him. This is a huge burden to add to their shoulders. Kerry's disrespect for the brave men of Afghanistan and Iraq who are trying hard to create democracies with vastly more freedom than those countries have ever had is also a terrible problem. The same applies to our allies, whose efforts are not trivial, given the limited war-making ability that most of them have. Furthermore, Kerry cannot really regard the terrorists as evil and cannot muster the resolve that comes with that evaluation. He sees them as victims, who have been programmed by poverty and environment to hate us. He believes that hatred is not without considerable justification. This is not conducive to a commitment to the vigorous pursuit of terrorists. Long ago he showed us that he was little repelled by the terrorism of the North Vietnamese.

While the defense of our country is one of the core purposes validating our Federal government, the greatest issue we always face in the modern era is that the many levels of government not infringe our daily exercise of choice in managing our own lives. In this, among the most important issues is the maintenance of our right to choose how we will use our time. The sum of how we use our time is our life. Most of our time is devoted to the production of income and the acquisition of property. We should be very reluctant to select the candidate for president who is entirely wrong-headed about how the economy and private enterprise work. Kerry has little respect for those who produce. He thinks they are cows to be milked to provide the money necessary to provide the government programs necessary to sustain most of us. President Bush understands that earning a living makes a man a hero. He wants to make it easier for us to achieve as much as we can as the producers of the unheralded American wealth. He has fought hard to achieve tax cuts which have reduced the punitive nature of the income tax. He also has worked hard to lessen the tax burdens on business investment and to allow companies to bring profits earned overseas home. The lowering of personal tax rates, corporate tax rates, and the rate on money from overseas operations will allow entrepreneurs to create many jobs. He understands that foreign companies have created many jobs in America and that American companies with operations overseas are dynamic concerns who create more jobs here in America. We are growing at a rate much faster than Canada, France, Germany, and Japan as a result of his tax reductions. He still has much more on his agenda, including more tax cuts for personal and business income and investment. He also understands that the tax law is much too complicated and that taxes and planning for their avoidance rob us of much of our productivity.

President Bush is willing to recognize that the Social Security program is failing. He knows that the future costs have to be contained or America will suffer the French disease of extremely burdensome taxes, slow growth, and high unemployment. Kerry wants to follow the French example and imagines he can avoid the consequences. If Bush manages to push the privatization of the social security program forward, this will have a huge impact on freeing Americans of the sense that socialism is sometimes good. By making almost every American a property and investment holder, we will have a great decrease in the politics of envy practiced by Kerry. I can think of nothing more important. If we do not fix this social security problem, we will have a horrific tax burden falling on those who will be workers in 20 years. I have heard many complaints about the 3.5% of GDP debt we have now (and it is too high), but the debts and the taxes of the future will be huge in comparison, if we do not now reform social security. For 20 years, this problem has been clear and politicians have ignored it. Bush has shown far more honesty in recognizing it than any other President and has the resolve to tackle the problems he sees needing his effort. Kerry has no practical plan for social security. The privatization plans Bush favors will put an incredible boost of investment money into the economy as well. Our private sector will become even more robust and productive. This will provide well enough for the Baby Boomers in retirement and allow their children to be able to count on a means to retire. There is a huge differential on this critical issue between the candidates.

It is clear to me that President Bush is much wiser than Kerry and has the resolve to lead the nation in the right direction on most issues. He is wrong on issues such as that the government has a role to play in sanctifying marriages and some other issues steming from his religion, but on many issues, he understands that the people are adequately qualified to make their own choices. I will have more to say about his errors of judgment at a later time. If he wins office again, it is our duty to oppose his errors with letters to our Representatives and Senators. I will do my part. On the other hand, Kerry thinks we all need constant guidance and assistance. To him, we are each and every one the prodigal child. I find this offensive. I have long been an adult.
Aren't you an adult or planning soon to be one? What could be greater than to manage one's own life as a free self-entrepeneur?