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.

"No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it." Ayn Rand

29 May 2008

Conversation with a Socialist

Recently, when visiting David Mayer's blog, MayerBlog, I saw an ad declaring that there would be one fewer libertarian if I clicked on the click-for-pay ad. I took up the challenge. The link led to one of three parts of a manuscript entitled "Greed", which was written by Julian Edney and is to become a book. Julian Edney is a college teacher and his viewpoint is briefly described in Wikipedia, here. Some links to his writings can be found there. My exchange of e-mail notes with him follows:

Julian,

The United States was founded on the principle that government should protect the right of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Constitution recognized that the way to do this was to prevent persons individually, in gangs or mobs, or with tyrannical governments as agents from stealing an individual's hours of life, dictating his values and goals, taking the property and income he held and earned through the dedicated use of his time and effort, depriving him of the use and management of his body, and otherwise acting forcefully to prevent him from pursuing his self-defined happiness. I fully support this view of a decent society in which people are allowed to manage their own lives and choose their own values and purposes.

You are horribly wrongheaded. You would substitute what you define as the important outcomes for what people have chosen for themselves. What a swollen head you have. You are not qualified to choose my values. I am not qualified to choose yours and will not attempt to do so. But, I will not allow you to become a tyrant over me. I can and do think for myself. I have my own life experiences and have faced them with a highly active and analytical mind. I trust my mind. I will manage my own life and do it far better than you can do it. So I will oppose your every effort to set government policy to force me to live in accordance with your values. It is particularly grievous when those less intelligent than myself and at a great distance from my life, hire government thugs to bash me over the head. At least a common thief comes at me in ones or twos. The likes of you hide behind a great pretense that you are a humanitarian and care about others to create and wield vicious violence against my person, my life, and my pursuit of happiness. Insofar as you do care about others, you must care that they have the freedom of choice to manage their own lives. When someone actually does suffer unusual misfortune and can use a helping hand, then step forward and offer it yourself, rather then stepping back into the shadows and trying to manipulate others under the threat of violence into providing the support for the unfortunate which you will not personally provide. Freedom-loving Americans are an unusually beneficent people, but as you take their freedoms from them, they will more and more resemble resentful and sullen beasts. The socialist image of people is wrongheadedly that they are envious, resentful, and sullen beasts, which image I emphatically reject.

Your committed opponent,

Charles R. Anderson

His response:

Charles R. Anderson,
Thanks for responding to the Greed essay.
I have received hundreds and hundreds of responses such as yours, and approximately an equal number of supporting comments.
I read from one end to the other of your long email, and nowhere did I see the word justice.
I take it you are a conservative (and probably you have even read Ayn Rand) so your prime social value is freedom.
The main difference between us is that I place justice as the highest social value.
I am not willing to live in a society that is all freedom and no justice. That would be a Wild West economy, with short life expectancies for all.
Unlike you, I am a supporter of democracy, too.
Best wishes,
JE

My response:

Julian,

Justice is rendered to others when one does not use force against them to prevent them from managing their own lives and pursuing their own values and happiness. If justice is defined as that condition in which everyone has an equal amount of material goods and equal service requirements of others to oneself, then justice is a very paltry, unspiritual concept. This is justice at the expense of disallowing human potential to flourish. The worst injustice done to a man is make him the slave of others and decree that equality of worldly goods requires that everyone sink to a lowest common denominator. If everyone is allowed the opportunity to flourish, then many will present the remaining members of society with the great gifts of their creativity and thought. Life expectancies have historically lengthened due to this unleashed creativity and productivity. The least able have also become able to enjoy many material goods and many services they cannot afford in those countries that have most nearly practiced your concept of justice. When justice is thought to be the tool of the envious for the destruction of others, real justice is destroyed.

As the founding fathers realized, democracy is another form of tyranny. It is only tolerable if it is limited by principle to a scope of action which is extremely delimited. Our Constitution attempted to do this. Democracy is only slightly preferable to dictatorship and monarchy. All other spheres of human action should be voluntary. I reject the idea also of the great leader who will be elected democratically and then lead us into a highly socialist maze of programs which will make us all dependent upon the state for almost all of our human needs. Most liberals (progressives, socialists in todays context) only use democracy as a means to attain a wide-ranging rule of every life by an elite. In a way, they are simply trying to reconstruct a feudal system, with a great leader king and themselves as the aristocracy.

Only a modern liberal would think me a conservative. Conservatives are appalled by my lack of belief in a God(s), my refusal to use government to enforce more than minimal moral concepts (prevention of murder and fraud), my rejection of victimless crimes, my belief that government plays no role in marriages, but should provide all combinations of people with life partnership contracts, my love of sex and sexual expression, and my strong individuality. I am no sheep. The founding fathers had the most modern of ideas on how society should be organized with respect to government, but I am also a scientist and a man comfortable with the future. Neither Conservatives nor Liberals in the present political spectrum are anywhere near as modern in their thinking as I am. Conservatives are almost always happy with the way things were a couple of decades ago, no matter what was wrong with that time. Liberals really want a return to feudalism modified by elimination of most of the palaces, under the pretense that they are pursuing something radically new. Meanwhile they speak only of people giving up their cars, giving up the use of energy, giving up large homes, giving up freedoms and personal choices, sacrificing themselves to others who are supposedly all sacrificing themselves to still others, worshiping tree spirits and water nymphs, and looking for an imperial president or a messiah. How incredibly backward-looking. They are more backward than the Conservatives!

Yes, I have read and admire the work of Ayn Rand. If you have read her and understood her, then you would see that one does not have to choose between individual freedom of choice and justice. Both are required by man in living life well and fully. Neither is possible to man without the other.

Sincerely,

Charles

His response:

Charles R. Anderson,
Unfortunately that is not the conventional meaning of justice, which is close to equity. If you give concepts unusual meanings, you can prove about anything.
> democracy is another form of tyranny.
Again this is not the conventional meaning of democracy. Democracy is fundamental part of the American system, and it supports popular equality. I know there are some extremists who want to dismantle democracy, but that is not a pro-American attitude.
>Yes, I have read and admire the work of Ayn Rand.
In my essay Greed III (which is taken down from my website to be lengthened, since I am writing a book) I thoroughly defoliate Ayn Rand's work, which is toxic propaganda. She has done considerable damage to this country. She is opposed to altruism. She is opposed to the common good. She seems to promote inequality, and that is undemocratic, in fact it is one of the hallmarks of fascism.
I am familiar with your point of view, since some readers of my Greed essays have responded with similar ideas.
I continue to write to point out the damage to society done by greed. You may be interested in some of my other articles:
JE

My response:

Julian,

It is because the general public has very confused ideas of what justice is that there are many who believe, as you do, that one must choose between justice and freedom. If we framed our view of life's values in such a way that we had to choose between food and water on the one hand and oxygen on the other, then we would, I hope, quickly realize that we had misconstrued the values of life. We would rearrange our understanding of life's values to admit of our partaking of food, water, and oxygen. The majority view on individual freedom vs. justice is clearly in need of a better understanding. Concepts such as justice are very complex and they require considerable thought to understand what they are. It is not surprising in view of the want of analytical thought and observation and the great confusion of our academics that the general public uses muddled and self-contradictory concepts of freedom, justice, tolerance, and benevolence.

Take the latter concept of benevolence. It is often thought that the person who wishes to use government force to take the product of the effort of one man and give it to another who has produced less is a benevolent person. This "benevolent" person threatens the greater producer with great violence if the greater producer tries to defend his life (which is made up of the hours at his disposal, which he chose to use to produce that which was brutally taken from him). So, many have now assigned the virtue of benevolence to a brutal thief. Clearly, this is a very confused concept in the public's mind. The truly benevolent person starts by never threatening another with the use of force and certainly does not bear him the ill will to deprive him of his life by stealing the hours of his life.

Yes, you are right that many people are naive enough to believe that democracy is not tyrannical. But tyranny is the use of force to deprive the individual of his right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious that democracies often do deprive individuals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The historical record is very clear and even the current record of American governments is clear in this regard. Throwing someone in jail for using marijuana or for helping to arrange for other consenting adults to have sex are acts of tyranny. Transferring money from the vast majority of consumers to farmers in the form of food price supports and to further the use of ethanol as a fuel is an act of tyranny. Forcing employers to be unpaid and involuntary tax collectors and record keepers is an act of tyranny. Enacting laws to prevent people from building housing on private land and then taking further money to build subsidized housing for those who cannot afford housing since the supply of land was diminished by government decree is another act of tyranny. We are surrounded and overwhelmed by government generated injustices and instances of the brutal use of force, justified by stupid claims that they are all for the public good. Whenever someone claims that they are going to use government force for the public good, you can be sure [This really should be suspicious, not sure, since government must use force for defense of the nation and that may be for the public good. This qualification was added for this blog posting.] that the real public good, the best interests of the individuals who are the public, will not be served.

The pro-American central idea is that which our country was initially dedicated to serving. The function of good government is to protect the rights of the individual.

Charles

His final response:

Charles R. Anderson,
I don't agree with most of what you say, and you sound like a Libertarian. You obviously write coherently, so I hope you are publishing your views.
JE


If you have read through all this, I hope you have noted the nature of a conversation with a committed socialist. He is little compelled to refute an argument. He simply asserts that some positions are right and some others are wrong. Though you may try hard to elicit a coherent and consistent viewpoint, he will not feel obliged to provide reasons for his viewpoint. He believes his viewpoint is simply the only one any good person can hold. In fact, a good person is defined as one who believes in self-sacrifice and in being one of the elite who will lead the blind and helpless masses to the values they should want.

They are completely able to ignore any challenge to this, commonly by reframing and rewriting any different viewpoint into a complete straw man argument. In fact, the rewrite is usually considered adequate when the straw man argument is simply identified with a codeword or two. For instance, Social Darwinism is code for anything having to do with individual interest and values and Social Justice for anything having to do with the forceful and violent taking of life, property, and liberty for the sake of someone who has less of some good or other. Of course, it is implied that only brutes have individual interests and values, while those who use violence and the threat of violence to redistribute life and property are benevolent. This is as twisted a viewpoint as the viewpoint that one must either choose individual life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness or one must choose justice! Of course they assume that justice is what they call social justice, but there is no such thing. Justice is a concept that pertains to the treatment an individual receives from others, who may come in any combination of individuals from one to many. He also threw in a fascism claim without due hesitation for the fact that fascists are socialists who definitely do not have any respect for the individual. Fling, fling those vicious codewords!

Words like justice should stand for coherent and needed concepts. They may be complicated and require a great deal of thought when the concept is as abstract as that of justice is, but the concept when correctly understood is not of arbitrary content. It needs to serve a useful purpose in clarifying our thinking, not in muddling it and simply pasting good or bad connotative implications upon some ideas. Justice is critical to each and every individual who lives among other individuals for the reason that all individuals need sufficient respect for their individuality and worth that their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is respected. The just person also finds pleasure in finding value and worth in others and acknowledges it when he finds it. Just people find it easier and more mutually beneficial when they are able to work together and pool their talents and specializations, thinking ability and creativity, and their individual abilities to enjoy life.

Everyone has a legitimate need for the exercise of their individual rights and the justice provided by those who respect those rights and further respect the value of individuals who lead rational and productive lives. Justice and individual rights are as necessary for humans as both food and water on the one hand and oxygen on the other. If someone told a human that life requires a man to choose either food and water or oxygen, we would immediately recognize that the person requiring the choice did not understand life. Similarly, if your concept of individual freedom and your concept of justice require a choice of one or the other, then you clearly do not understand human life among other people.

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