After a 10 year journey with Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, it’s time to move on

It’s been an enlightening and educational ride, but I can definitively say that I am abandoning the philosophy of Objectivism. In short, there is much more to life than rational thinking and being right about everything all of the time. Reason is undoubtedly important, but I can no longer support the idea that manhuman kindis defined solely as a rational animal. That is Rand’s definition of man, and on that definition rests all of Objectivist ethics and all of the intellectual conclusions that it leads to.

In contrast, I believe that, as human beings, we are defined by more than our rational faculty. Ruthless adherence to reason is not the key to happiness or morality. One’s behavior and attitude toward others, and ultimately one’s treatment of others is of much more significance than Objectivism grants. Rational Egoism does not and cannot lead to the joy and satisfaction I get from helping someone in need, cheering up someone who is feeling down, giving someone a reason to smile, or from doing acts that most people would consider “good deeds”whether the recipient is a loved one or a complete stranger. This has been a sticking point with me since I began my journey with Objectivism. Objectivists provide some plausible explanations, but ultimately, they amount to rationalizations.

Objectivists are quick to critique the words and actions of others, and I think they are very good at identifying logical contradictions and flawed premises. Having that skill is desirable and beneficial in a variety of contexts, but it can be obnoxious and counterproductive to navigating normal human interactions or building and maintaining positive human relationships. To the detriment of its adherents, Objectivism dismisses the vital role of such human relationships.

Abstaining from intellectual arguments and critical analysis are certainly not what I’m advocating. I will continue to express my opinions, critiques, and judgements where appropriate. I simply no longer feel the need to justify or reconcile my emotions, thoughts, and actions within the confines of Objectivist ethics.

I don’t yet know how this will affect my position in other areas. At the moment, my political ideas and beliefs haven’t changed. I think Ayn Rand has a lot to offer intellectually, and I know that my own thinking and application of reason has improved significantly over my 10 years of absorbing all of the Objectivism content I could get my hands on.

Perhaps I’ll take a deep dive into my differences with Objectivism and the affects, if any, of my departure from it in the future. For now, I feel a new sense of personal freedom and independence in having acknowledged that what I’ve long been struggling to reconcile is irreconcilable.

Facts Are Necessary Components of Knowledge

A recently published article argues that facts are overrated. The author concludes that because accurate facts can distort the whole picture and misrepresent the truth when taken out of context, facts, therefore, are overrated. I argue here to the contrary.

As the author observes, many people arrive at bad conclusions because their conclusions are based on incomplete information. The author’s conclusion that facts are overrated, however, is dead wrong.

He gives an example of a wall with a window and a door built into it. Even though it’s only a wall, if one sees only the front of it with a window and door, then one might reasonably conclude that it is a house; and one would be wrong. This is true. One who either chooses to limit his observations or is presented with an incomplete picture under the fraudulence that there is nothing more to see, will likely draw the wrong conclusion.

Obviously, if one looks at a more complete picture, more facts come into view, and he realizes (hopefully!) that it isn’t a house and appropriately revises his original conclusion. His new conclusion, which is based on more facts than he previously observed, is more accurate precisely because of the additional facts available to him.

The phenomenon that a lot of people evade the complete context either intentionally or innocently only proves that those individuals are intellectually dishonest or, at best, lazy thinkers.

I think there is a bit of truth in what he is saying, but not in the conclusion he presents. Let’s go back to the author’s example of the wall which some are duped into concluding is a house: If an observer chooses to not look beyond the edges of the face of the wall or refuses to view it from another angle yet keeps piling fact upon fact about the observations he chooses to makefor example, pointing out the fine details of the door frame, the particular type, color and pattern of brick, the ornate window treatments,, the number of window panes, the visible weather stripping, and so forththese facts do earn the adjective, overrated; but only under the condition that more context is humanly observable. Superfluous might be a better adjective than overrated in such a case if the observer’s goal is to distinguish the object as either a house or simply a wall with a door and window in it.

Such misleading usage of facts is the modus operandi of all the dominant voices in today’s culture such as media, academia, politicians, and activist organizations.

One with an active and intellectually honest mind will seek out the missing and hidden facts to gain a complete picture. He will acknowledge that his degree of confidence does not equal certainty until he has enough facts that it does.

The author recognizesat least implicitlythat accurate conclusions depend on facts, and he acknowledges that facts are “not unimportant.” Based on his bio and some of his commentary, I suspect that he doesn’t actually believe that facts are overrated. Rather than attack facts as such, maybe the author should make the case that individuals should become better thinkers; more scrupulous in how they evaluate facts and draw conclusions.

I represent myself, not a race

Your skin color does not obligate you to anything nor entitle you to a claim on anyone else; and the same goes for me.

I detest racism. I emphatically condemn racially motivated actions as immoral and subhuman. The fact that there are people who regard skin color as a relevant factor in evaluating another human being is disgusting. It is the mark of a primitive non-thinking lowlife. Any act by one individual that violates the rights of another individual should be met with the appropriate force of law; the law established to protect individual rights. When the motive of such an act is based on the premise of racism, then I regard that act as particularly evil.

It sickens me that racist behavior exists, and what’s worse is that some of the individuals trusted with enforcing laws that are meant to protect individual rights are perverting justice by committing racist acts. I don’t think the bad cops highlighted in the media are representative of all law enforcement, and I sympathize with the non-racist police officers who are unfairly cast in a negative light by the reprehensible actions of some individuals. Appropriate action must be taken against the perpetrators of these crimes, and I do think—for justice’s sake—that the fact that they are police officers who swore to serve and protect demands a harsher sentence. Racism by anyone should not be tolerated, least of all by those entrusted with wielding the force of the law.

The quality of one’s character should be evaluated by one thing; his or her actions. One should be judged, praised, and condemned as appropriate according to one’s own actions—not the actions of others who happen to be born with the same skin color or who share some other biologically given trait—but by the actions of the individual being judged. I apply this logic to black people, white people and people of any skin color, and I apply it consistently.

Just as I accept no credit for nor earn self-esteem for the accomplishments of some other person who, like me, happens to be white, neither do I accept responsibility for nor earn guilt for the actions of some other white person.

No demands nor any amount of shaming by anyone of any race or authority is going to change that.

Public Health is no substitute for Individual Rights

Many Americans are still under stay-at-home orders, and the chosen productive endeavors of some have been condemned as “non-essential.” As a result, their lives have been upended. Their savings have been depleted, they no longer have income to provide for their families, and for some, lifelong dreams have been irreversibly crushed. These are the victims; not of the novel coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2, but of the government’s response to it.

Some states have lifted their lockdowns. Some have loosened their restrictions, while others chose to not impose a lockdown in the first place. Even the states with lifted or loosened restrictions have threatened to reimpose their restrictions if cases of COVID-19 increase.

The virus doesn’t care about jurisdictional boarders, and all of these states are part of the same country. Why, then, is there such a difference in response from state to state? There must be a standard by which such decisions are made. It is apparent that these governors are not acting on the same standard.

By what standard does the government have the authority to impose or to end a stay-at-home order or lockdown? Should Americans continue to forfeit our freedom—to work, pursue our values, and to live as we choose—until SARS-CoV-2 is eradicated? Should one abandon one’s productive aspirations and turn to unemployment checks, relief packages, bailouts, subsidies, and other government programs as one’s means of income until a proven vaccine is widely available?

These lockdowns were executed and are being enforced by state governments, but the question of a standard applies to all levels of government.

The United States government was established not as a limitless ruler of subjugated citizens, but as a protector of individual rights and bound by a constitution which limits its powers.

Clearly, the U.S. Constitution does not grant the federal government dictatorial power, and by the incorporation doctrine, the 14th Amendment limits the power of state governments correspondingly.

The distinguishing virtue in the founding of this country is the recognition of individual rights; the idea that each and every individual has a right to his own life. The standard, therefore, by which U.S. federal and state government should act is simply to protect individual rights.

The government’s response to the pandemic has succeeded in exploiting people’s fear—both rational and irrational—to evade the standard of individual rights, and without most of us noticing, a different standard has been tacitly substituted in place of individual rights; the public health.

On the surface, public health might appear to be legitimately interchangeable with individual rights. Afterall, what kind of person wouldn’t advocate for public health? But although practitioners in the field of public health serve the legitimate functions of finding causes of—and recommending specific behaviors to prevent—diseases and injuries, this is not the purpose of government. Public health practitioners may recommend policies to government, but it is the task of government to factor such recommendations when defining and enforcing laws; laws based on the objective standard of protecting individual rights.

The standard of measurement for public health is different depending on which aspect of public health the government is acting on and from which public health practitioner the government is taking its cues. Furthermore, permitting federal, state, and local levels of government to govern by the standard of public health broadens the power of government and demands just about any action that results in preventing death, illness, or injury from external factors like COVID-19. The more a government action is purported to prevent people from contracting the virus or from dying due to COVID-19, the more it is regarded—by the public health standard—as “the right thing to do.”

Governors can, by the public health standard, keep people on lockdown indefinitely. A governor may claim that we must slow the spread, flatten the curve, and remain on lockdown until he or she is comfortable with the numbers. Under the standard of protecting the public health, the primary criterion for a governor to criminalize legitimate human activity is the potential that such activity could increase the number of COVID-19 cases.

This puts some Americans at the mercy of their state or local government’s comfort with “the numbers.” This could mean the number of new cases over a given period of time, the number of virus-related deaths within a time frame, the model projections, the total number of existing cases, or any set of numbers inside any set of parameters that a particular governing body has chosen as the standard by which to measure its actions at that particular time.

The standard of individual rights, by contrast, is not malleable. It isn’t subject to the whim of anyone, including those with political power. By the objective standard of individual rights, one has a right to one’s own life, and that standard applies equally to each and every individual. It logically follows that no individual’s rights can come at the expense of another’s.

The right to one’s life doesn’t mean only that one has the right to not be murdered. It doesn’t mean that it is right to imprison an innocent person—one who hasn’t violated the rights of another—so long as he is provided food and water to sustain him. Preventing one from taking the actions necessary to further one’s own life is a violation of one’s individual rights. As Ayn Rand put it,

“Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action—which means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life. (Such is the meaning of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.)”

But how can individual rights be protected during a pandemic? Is one violating another’s individual rights by freely opening and operating his “non-essential” business? Is one violating another’s individual rights by shopping, attending a concert, eating at a restaurant, or getting (or giving) a haircut?

One might conclude that in the context of this pandemic, the aforementioned actions do, in fact, violate another’s rights because one could unwittingly spread the virus. Testing has proven that many people with the virus are asymptomatic, and studies have indicated that they are still able to spread the virus to others. Moreover, pre-symptomatic individuals may not realize they are spreading the virus until their symptoms appear days later. In view of such facts, it’s easy to see why some would conclude that these lockdowns prevent or reduce the chances of innocently vulnerable people from getting sick and, therefore, do adhere to the standard of protecting individual rights.

I argue, however, that while the force of criminalizing “non-essential” work and other legitimate human activity might slow the spread and consequently reduce the chances of the virus being transmitted to vulnerable individuals, it prevents individuals from pursuing their legitimate values and living their lives according to their own judgement. The lockdowns, not legitimate volitional human activity, are violations of individual rights and are, therefore, antithetical to the standard by which government actions should be measured.

The act of going to work, visiting a store, getting a haircut, exercising at a gym, or conducting any other legitimate human activity does not in itself transmit the virus. According to information from the CDC and WHO, and reports on multiple scientific studies, the virus is spread primarily from one person to another through “respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.” Relevant experts recommend that people maintain a minimum distance of six feet from one another to prevent this type of transmission. It has also been suggested that one can contract the virus by touching a surface on which the virus exists and then touching one’s mouth, nose, or eyes. To prevent that type of transmission, experts recommend individuals avoid such actions, wash their hands frequently, and use hand sanitizer.

The CDC published a list of conditions and risk factors for serious illness from COVID-19. Although there are outliers, the overwhelming majority of serious or terminal cases have possessed one or more of the known conditions or risk factors.

The existing knowledge and expert recommendations should be regarded not as reasons to live in fear or to cease all human activity, but rather as a means of empowering individuals to take appropriate precautions to protect themselves, carry on smartly, and get on with their lives.

Many people have come to accept as valid, the accusation that leaving people free to live and carry on with their lives victimizes the vulnerable; that by working, socializing, and playing, people are callously endangering those at high risk of suffering from COVID-19. In reality, however, only actual criminal actions victimize the vulnerable; not people going to work at a “non-essential” retail store or multiple families spending leisure time at a park or the beach, but rather one person violating the private property of another or acting in a way that directly endangers another’s health and, thus, another’s life.

Identifying and defining the actions that constitute endangerment of another’s life is a more challenging task in the context of this pandemic, but that is what must be done. The existence of a pandemic does not nullify the standard of protecting individual rights. The unique circumstances demand strict adherence to the standard. The fact that the existence of COVID-19 adds layers of complexity to identifying and defining the proper course of action is precisely why it must be done. This is the responsibility of government.

A lockdown is not a solution. At best, a lockdown should be regarded as a temporary interruption of human activity for a briefly defined duration. The purpose of which is to stall the spread long enough for the government to actively assess the facts and determine the actual solution; not the solution to stopping the virus, but the solution to protecting individual rights given the presence of the virus.

When government is acting by the standard of protecting individual rights, individuals should be free to assess their own risks, act on their own judgement, and accept the consequences of their own actions; in other words, free to take personal responsibility for their own health and safety. For elaboration on that idea, I invite you to read my previous blog post, “What Happened to Personal Responsibility?”

I argue that putting an end to all lockdowns is vital. Businesses should be free to reopen and enact their own health and safety policies for their employees and their customers based on rationally informed risk assessments, and all individuals should assume personal responsibility for their actions. One should be free to assess one’s own risks and choose whether to work and whether to enter any legitimate place of business.

Federal, state, and local governments should adhere to the standard of protecting individual rights and define specific actions which—considering the complete context unique to this pandemic—are a violation of another’s individual rights. Those who choose to threaten the lives of others through carelessness or deliberate action should be prosecuted as criminals. Any other standard is un-American and inimical to human life.

What happened to personal responsibility?

Why do so many fall in line with the assault on freedom and individual rights being perpetrated by various levels of government across the U.S.? I am referring to the lockdowns imposed by many state governments as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many Americans champion these lockdowns and chastise those who dare to challenge them as being selfish (as if having concern for oneself necessarily means doing so at the expense of others). Those who advocate lifting the lockdowns are frequently referred to on social media as idiots. There are some individuals who—as in almost any crowd—might truly inspire such name calling, but the majority of Americans who challenge these lockdowns rightfully want to be free to return to their jobs, earn an income, provide for their families, and pursue their values. They are willing to take personal responsibility for their health, assume their own risks, and accept the consequences of their actions.

Instead of acknowledging the idea of personal responsibility, however, proponents of the lockdowns insist that it is the government’s role to decide what’s in an individual’s best interest. They assert that “we are all in this together,” and as such, we must all relinquish our individual rights as a means of protecting those who are vulnerable to the virus.

That assertion implies a false alternative: Either all are forced by law to stay home, or the vulnerable will inevitably fall prey to COVID-19.

That false alternative ignores the existence of freewill and evades personal responsibility. This assumes that devoid of government interference, a COVID-19 vulnerable individual is incapable of making a rational decision to protect and maintain his or her own health; that despite one’s knowledge that going out among others dramatically increases his or her odds of coming in contact with the virus and despite evidence that he or she has a high probability of serious illness or death from COVID-19 (see the CDC’s published list of conditions and other risk factors), these individuals will become victims as an inevitable consequence of others legitimately exercising their freedoms.

As a rejection of this false alternative, I argue that if everyone took personal responsibility for his or her own health, one could protect oneself without expecting others to stop living their lives as they see fit. If someone considers himself or herself at high-risk for serious illness or death from COVID-19, then that person should continue to self-isolate and institute his or her own safe plan for acquiring groceries and other goods and services; not expect the government to execute and enforce a stay-at-home order forbidding everyone from producing and pursuing their own values.

The fact that a particular business is open does not relieve an individual from personal responsibility for his own health. A rational response to being free to act on one’s own judgement is not to mindlessly throw all caution to the wind and ignore one’s own risk factors. On the contrary, freedom elevates one’s personal responsibility.

Businesses should be free to operate. It will be in the best interest of the business to set their own health and safety policies for their employees and customers. Such policies must be adequately communicated to employees and customers upon (or ahead of) implementation, and they should be posted and readily available to any potential customer or client so that one can make one’s own informed decision based on one’s own risk assessment.

Employers and COVID-19 vulnerable employees ought to seek mutual agreements that keep the employees productively employed to the extent possible while not endangering their health.

Those who choose to visit a business should do so knowing the risk that they are assuming. If one is not willing to accept that risk, then he or she should simply avoid visiting that business.

In my view, one should take personal responsibility for one’s health and be free to act based on one’s own judgement — and to accept the consequences of that action. A rational individual should implement his or her own precautionary measures in proportion to his or her degree of risk, and everyone should be free to live and make such rational choices.

I’m open to convincing arguments to the contrary.

JUSTICE THOMAS’S OPINION ON LIBEL HAS MERIT, BUT IT DOESN’T THREATEN PRESS FREEDOM OR VINDICATE TRUMP

By Jonathan Carmichael

There might be some merit to Justice Clarence Thomas’s opinion criticizing the decision in the 1964 Supreme Court defamation case, New York Times v. Sullivan, but it does not vindicate Trump’s anti-press comments, nor should it cause any honest news organizations to assume a defensive posture.

The landmark case set a precedent in defamation lawsuits which increased the burden on the accuser by requiring proof that the defendant knew the information to be false and that the defendant acted with “actual malice.”

Thomas makes several objective arguments against the 1964 decision that are worth serious consideration and debate. This does not, however, vindicate Trump’s anti-press statements, despite the fact that Trump called for opening up libel laws. Publishing a story critical of the president does not constitute libel, even if the story is published by a news organization with an obvious opposing political bias. Even in the event that Thomas’s opinion were to lead to an undoing of all or part of the decision in question, no accuser — not even the president of the United States — should have a winnable libel case against the publisher if the published content is factually accurate.

By the same token, the media shouldn’t be in an uproar over Thomas’s opinion. If this causes some news organizations to strengthen their journalistic integrity by applying more rigorous fact checking practices and requiring multiple first-hand sources to avoid publishing falsities, then so be it. But there is no reason to characterize Thomas’s opinion as an attack on press freedom as some seem to imply it is.

Judging by Thomas’s opinion, he is a proponent of the First and Fourteenth Amendments and is not suggesting a repeal of either. A basis for his argument against the New York Times v. Sullivan decision is that, “Although the Court held that its newly minted actual-malice rule was ‘required by the First and Fourteenth Amendments,’ . . . it made no attempt to base that rule on the original understanding of those provisions.”

One legitimate reason to fear a repeal of the defamation precedent is the potential that some states could decide against a defendant simply because a story is unflattering, despite the factual accuracy of the information in question. Unlike the “actual malice” standard, however, that would be an attack on the First Amendment press freedom clause (via the Fourteenth Amendment) and would likely be met with heavy dissent across the political spectrum.

To make a broader point, the fact that an overwhelming majority of the mainstream media have an undoubtedly leftist bias should not have any influence on the value one places on the first amendment as it regards freedom of the press. Many problems exist in the realm of the press, news organizations, journalism, and “the media,” but it’s important that one thinks about those issues objectively, defines his concepts, standards, expectations, and the problems, determines the true cause(s), and — this is crucial — avoids the fatal mistake of devaluing the constitutional protection of freedom of the press.

Capitalism, not conservatism, is the antidote to socialism

By Jonathan Carmichael

Fox News published an opinion piece titled, How to get your child to just say no to socialism.[1] The general concept of the article, written by Justin Haskins, is long overdue, and more voices like his should be heard. Haskins, identifies some important distinctions between socialism and capitalism, but to the detriment of his cause, however, he misses the mark in two key ways.

First, Haskins implies that conservatism, rather than capitalism, is the antidote to socialism. To further erode his purported position, Haskins emphasizes charity as a primary. Those two inaccuracies might fool a non-critical mind in the short term, but they ultimately serve to render opponents of socialism intellectually and philosophically impotent by casting a murky cloud of inconsistency over the argument.

Capitalism—not a mixed economy, and not conservatism, republicanism, or libertarianism—is the moral, philosophical, and practical antithesis to socialism and all variants of statism. This fact of reality must be emphasized in any proper argument for social and economic freedom and against statist regimes like socialism.

Conservatism is an ideology that favors “traditional values,” such as family and religion. Those are two areas in which conservatives claim to know what’s best, and they intend to impose social controls to see to it that everyone falls in line. They talk a big game about economic freedom, but separation of state and economy is not their aim. In fact, it isn’t that they don’t want government interference in the economy, they simply want to be in control of the interference.

They advocate reforms, as a cure to society’s ills; reforms to health care, the regulatory system, senior entitlements, and the tax code.[2] Their reforms are simply a means of manipulating Americans’ behavior to align with the conservative’s traditional values. They rail against big government, but their solution is not much different than the current mixed economy. Conservatives, like all mixed economy constituents, think theirs is a better way of managing government controls.

As representatives of a mixed economy, conservatives aren’t much different than progressives. Each side has a different recipe for the mix. They quibble over the variety, quality, and quantity of poison the mix should contain, but to all proponents of the mixed economy, outright elimination of the poison is not an option. The taste might be slightly altered, but it’s still a mix of poison and nutrients, force and freedom—statism and capitalism.

With regard to the purpose of Haskins’ article, teaching children to reject socialism, a proper moral foundation should precede any discussion of politics. If one considers the essential opposing characteristics of the political spectrum to be freedom and force—that is to say that capitalism represents freedom and that everything from a mixed economy to the most vile totalitarian regime represents varying degrees of force—then one can draw moral conclusions about political systems.

As a child, if one holds a moral premise that initiating force on another individual is wrong, then the choice about political systems will be clear when that time comes. For one to draw the proper conclusion, however, the political systems must be honestly and accurately represented.

When it comes to charity in a capitalist society, it is absolutely voluntary. One can choose how to manage his wealth. If he wants to help someone who he thinks is deserving, then he has every right to do so. Charity, however, is not of primary importance, and as long as people like Haskins argue that it is, the socialists will claim the moral high ground. Consequently, those who are attempting to draw an honest conclusion about which political system is right, whether they are children or adults, will not see the true value of capitalism, nor will they grasp the immorality of socialism.

In a capitalist society, every individual is free to make his or her own choices and live as he or she sees fit. When the government is not stealing our income and wealth, when people aren’t institutionalized, disincentivized, and victimized as recipients in wealth distribution schemes, far fewer people are in need of economic assistance. For the majority of those who are, the need is only a temporary setback. If they desire assistance, they are free to ask friends and family or to seek out private charity organizations. Individuals in such a society are generally more self-reliant and eager to lend a hand to help other deserving people gain or regain their own self-reliance.[3]

An honest look at pre-welfare state America provides ample evidence that, when left free—and when government properly respects property rights—Americans are overwhelmingly charitable. In a society of freedom of association and mutually beneficial trade, we value other human beings. In general, we view one another benevolently—not as a potential antagonist whose “need” constitutes a government forced claim on the product of our effort—but as a fellow advocate of freedom and individual rights whose rational thought and productive actions are a potential value to us.

Freedom is the essential distinction and the primary moral value that refutes socialism. If one truly wants to eradicate poverty, then neither socialism nor conservatism are viable options. Capitalism is the clear choice. It’s clear because it is the only system that removes force from the equation and leaves individuals free, both economically and socially, to live in accordance with their own values and to pursue their own happiness.


Footnotes

[1] https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/how-to-get-your-child-to-just-say-no-to-socialism

[2] https://www.heritage.org/political-process/report/what-conservatives-are

[3] Watkins, D. (2014). Rooseveltcare: How Social Security is Sabotaging the Land of Self-Reliance. Ayn Rand Institute.