Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Objectivist Mirror Issue #2

The Objectivist Mirror Issue # 2
We propose a better way.

First of all we would like to apologize for the delay in the writing of this second issue of the Objectivist Mirror. This semester has been rather busy, and it is only now that we find ourselves with the time to really sit down and get this done right. Secondly we would like to note two changes to the format of this newsletter that will be effective immediately. The first is that the formerly four page physical newsletter will be discontinued. This newsletter will be shortened into single-issue discussions and only distributed online. We will now be welcoming questions or issue suggestions from readers. If you have any questions about what we have written, or if you have suggestions about a topic you would like covered, simply comment on the blog, the Facebook article, or contact either of us in person or by e-mail. Thank you very much.

We last left off with a look at altruism and the need that compels one to engage in acts of philanthropy, the “moral duty” that people feel that they owe the other. Why is it moral to act in accordance with a practice that demands all of your intellectual, mental, physical and sometimes literal capital with no return on your investment – whether that be your time or your money? Why is it your “duty” to engage in such an act? Is it because it is a virtuous deed that will ultimately make your life better, and that by enriching the crops of others’ fields, you will set the stage for them to bestow their bounty upon you? By giving them a leg up the latter, they, by virtue of you helping them, are obligated to pull you up by your outstretched hand? This issue shall delve deeper into the issue of altruistic behaviour and further elaborate upon its uses in real life - how people have come to incorporate these views of duty and morality into their personal “philosophies” and how the ideal of self sacrifice has made its way into the realm of not just inter-personal politics, but also transnational and global politics.

What is a virtue? If asked on the street, your fellow citizen might be inclined to answer: “an act of doing good”. This is only half right, as the subject of the sentence is missing. For whom is this good? The answer is for yourself. A virtue is an upholding of moral excellence. In essence, it is doing what is right while avoiding what is wrong. This is a very straightforward and basic concept; good things are right and are beneficial, the gaining of such adds to one’s happiness while bad things are wrong and detract from it. It is in this simplicity, however, where the concept of virtue is cast into the gray zone of the average mind and is subjected to the existence of a self-righteous buzzword. Many people toss around the words “moral, virtuous, good” in order to perpetuate the notion of their own validity, as if the use of these words will make the causes they advocate legitimate. The fact is that these words are exactly just that, tools used for communicating ideas. Without a subject to put them in context, they become merely hot air passed over vocals cords, rhetorical devices used to sway and indoctrinate whomever allows themselves to be influenced without ever asking “why?” or “how come?”

A virtue is a “good”, but a stronger definition of it is in relation to its value. Virtue is simply the action one takes to gain and retain a set of values, values being what one aims to obtain in the first place. It is these values that guide one in their actions. What is it then that man should value and hold as his number one absolute, that which is the irreducible ideal, the driving force in his life? His mind and his ability to reason. Holding such a value as prime is the means to happiness, and in doing all the “good” things necessary to perpetuate your values you are achieving the status of “virtuous”.

The problem with people’s perception of what is good, bad or virtuous can be linked with that which they consider “duty”. This wrongly interpreted ideal has caused a switching of the role of the individual from “self” to “non-self”. Whatever is not in your best interest is what is good for you. People donate money to charity, time to homeless shelters and energy to their fellow brother, all because it is for the “good”. As mentioned before, philanthropy is only acceptable under the premise that you are doing it for your own benefit, that you are destroying that which you see as wrong by your own volition and with your own two hands, not because the Christian Children’s Fund has guilted you into feeling sorry for something that is ultimately none of your concern or fault, therefore subjecting you to the role of philanthropic keeper of your third worldly brother, a role that you can never fulfill and which will drain you until you lie buried in the ground; at which point, a new keeper will be made to take up the role for his billions of brothers. The sense of happiness you receive for righting something you value as wrong is justice, and is deserved because you have preserved your values. Your deed was accomplished not for man, but for you. If done for any other reason, it is only done out of a self-righteous need to lord something over someone, to hold the esteem of an action as a means for exploiting man as a means, demanding a reciprocal action in place, and tricking another person into having him fulfill another’s need for control, power and dominance.

Such a mindset of inherent moral duty, and either the reluctance of others to repel it or the lack of insight to perceive it, has led these self righteous ideals, not only from person to person in their quest for control, but further into the realm of politics to perpetuate the pollution of the pool of reason, turning the world from a potential oasis into a churning cesspool. The question still lies, however, as to why people see the goals of others as their duty, and how such ways evolved from and into the political forays of today.

The definition of politics, as a branch of philosophy, is the social institutionalization of ethical theory. Essentially this means that a political system is merely a group of people with similar moral views making those views into laws in order to govern there interactions. Therefore the basis for a rational, reality based political system, must be a rational, reality based ethical theory. We believe that the ethics of Objectivism fit these criteria perfectly. The ethics of Objectivism holds that there is only one moral obligation between free people, the obligation to respect individual rights. It is of vital importance to note here the difference between what are known as “positive rights” and “negative rights”. The difference between these two forms of rights evolves out of the Kantian theory of positive and negative moral duties.

Deontologist Immanuel Kant proposed a moral imperative which stated that one must always treat others with respect and never as merely a means to ones own ends. On the surface this may seem like a fairly sensible rule but when Kant went into detail about the nature of “treating others with respect” it became apparent that his rule lost any connection to rational morality. Kant believed that our duty to treat others with respect lead to what he called positive duties. Positive duties are essentially moral duties to perform certain actions for the benefit of others. Kant’s justification for these duties is important, as it is their product, positive rights, which we wish to refute. Kant believed that all humans are intrinsically valuable and that therefore it is our duty to do whatever is in our power to preserve the lives and wellbeing of others as long as we avoid any serious detriment to ourselves. However, Kant did not provide, nor does there even exist, any logical connection between the statement that human beings are inherently valuable and the statement that we are responsible for the continuation of their lives and wellbeing. Kant ignores the issue of personal responsibility for ones wellbeing and thereby evades his own contradiction, however, we will not ignore personal responsibility and we will not evade Kant’s contradictions.

This belief in the existence of positive moral duties depends necessarily on the existence of positive moral rights. If you have a moral duty to give some of your money or time to help poor people, then we must logically conclude that poor people have a moral right to demand some of your time and money. This principle can be, and is, applied to many other issues including health care, education, infrastructure etc. Now, since we have defined political systems as merely the institutionalization of ethics, we can logically come to the conclusion that a belief in positive moral rights will inevitably lead to the creation of positive legal rights. The evidence of this claim is all around us as we constantly hear people clamouring that they have a right to an education, a right to roads, a right to health care. However, just as the belief in positive duties necessarily leads to the creation of positive rights, the existence of positive legal rights requires, by definition, the creation of positive legal duties. The proof of this can be seen in the need for the government in Canada to create “essential services” laws. Those professions who provide the services that people believe they have a right to are one by one being declared “essential” and the workers are legally prohibited from striking. Preventing striking, however, only practically solves the problem; if one was to imagine a scenario in which all the practitioners of a certain “essential service” chose, not to go on strike, but to quit… what would the government be forced to do?

While the people of the nation all scream that they have a right to health care, and the doctors refuse to go to work, how is the government to fulfill the peoples “right” to health care? The obvious answer is to infringe upon the rights of the doctors and force them to work. The existence of positive legal or moral rights contains an inherent contradiction. The belief that you have a right to a service presumes an answer to the question “provided by whom?” Although, the recipients of these “rights” are very careful to avoid realizing the answer to this question, because it is of course, provided by slaves. That is what all workers who provide these “essential services” become. Simply because they choose not to try to run away or simply because they choose to continue working does not mean that they are free. Their salaries are dictated by government edicts, not market forces, their right to strike is obliterated, and hypothetically, their right to choose their own profession, or leave their current one, could be ignored.

The issue of positive rights creates a conflict between the positive rights of some and the negative rights of others. Negative rights are the traditional form of moral and legal rights also known as “hands off” rights. These essentially are rights not to have certain things done to you and can be found in the constitutions of most civilized countries. Examples of negative rights include freedom of speech, movement, association, religion etc. These rights do not entitle you to the product on anyone else’s labour they merely protect your autonomy from those who would make you into a slave.

We choose to end this issue with questions for our readers. How could we ever have allowed a political system which condones robbery and slavery by the state and spits on the constitution to be erected? And much more importantly, how can we allow this system to continue to rule our lives?

MacDonald and Holtam

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