Thursday, August 20, 2015

Ayn Rand, of Course, Was Right

“It turns out, of course, that Mises was right.”

The quote is from that “worldly philosopher,” socialist Robert Heilbroner, in a New Yorker article in 1989 (see Skousen). It acknowledges that Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises correctly predicted the decline and collapse of the worker’s paradise known as the USSR.

Bureaucrats in planned economies, as Mises pointed out in 1920, have no God’s-eye view (that is, omniscience), capable of flawlessly determining who should produce what, in what quantities, at what price, and who should get what, in what quantities, at what price.

In other words, socialism is incapable of economic calculation.

Ayn Rand, unfortunately, has yet to find her Heilbroner. Someday, perhaps, a distinguished member of the philosophical profession will announce that “Ayn Rand, of course, was right . . . about many things, but especially altruism.”

Even a cursory reading of Rand’s writings makes it abundantly clear that she did not understand altruism to mean kindness and gentleness or, for that matter, that she did not think it altruistic—or wrong—to aid a deserving friend or relative or to help little old ladies across the street.

To Rand, altruism means self-sacrifice, the giving up a higher value for the sake of a lower- or non-value, the pursuit of a career to please one’s parents instead of the career one truly loves and wants. It means marrying a person one does not love—again, to please those “significant others” who may disapprove of your choice’s religion, social class, race, ethnicity, . . . or sexual orientation.

It means doing your job because it’s your duty, not because you enjoy it. It means giving birth to a child you do not want and enslaving yourself to a mistake or accident that occurred when you were young.

“Moral purification through suffering” is how the ascetic life is sometimes described. It is the motto of altruism.

Immanuel Kant did not not know the word “altruism,” but he did give us the essence of it: always act from duty, not inclination.

It was Auguste Comte who coined the word, and he meant every bit of the notion of self-sacrifice. For Comte, the golden rule is too selfish, as is Jesus’ prescription to love your neighbor as yourself. Suicide is selfish and so are rights.

Fortunately, George Smith at has read Comte’s “tiresome writings” that explain his theory in “excruciating detail.” In a five-part article, Smith demonstrates that Ayn Rand correctly understood the meaning of altruism.

Comte’s ethics, as quoted by Smith:

. . . never admits anything but duties, of all to all. For its persistently social point of view cannot tolerate the notion of rights, constantly based on individualism. We are born loaded with obligations of every kind, to our predecessors, to our successors, and to our contemporaries. . . . All human rights then are as absurd as they are immoral.
The agnostic Comte developed a secular religion such that our duty, harkening back to the devout Kant, is to all of humanity. As Kant said, our duty is to humanity as an end in itself; humanity is never a means to our own ends. Comte put it this way: “To live for others affords the only means of freely developing the whole existence of man.”

Rights, therefore, are out. The collective is in.

Does the individual even exist? No, says Comte. “Man . . . as an individual, cannot properly be said to exist, except in the too abstract brain of modern metaphysicians. Existence in the true sense can only be predicated of Humanity.”

So sacrifice the individual to the collective. On this, too, of course, Ayn Rand was right: altruism and collectivism go hand in hand.

And she was right that the unprecedented devastation of the twentieth century—between 100 and 300 million war deaths, depending on source—was caused by the two doctrines.

Kindness and gentleness are not what altruism is all about. Self-sacrifice is.

Postscript: The 1988 book The Altruistic Personality by Oliner and Oliner is sometimes taken to be the epitome of altruistic behavior. The book consists of a myriad of reflections by rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe. Fascinating reading, the book shows that there were many Anne Franks throughout the occupied countries and several Schindlers. The authors correctly identify Comte as coiner of the word “altruism,” meaning duty, selflessness, and not acting on inclination, but then they redefine it for purposes of their study as “rescue behavior,” which means anyone who has the courage to act in the face of considerable risk.

Ayn Rand said she would take a bullet for her husband. This did not make her an altruist, nor does the behavior of these heroic rescuers make them altruists!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Trigger Warnings

Jonathan Rauch, strong supporter of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and author of Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought argues sarcastically—but also seriously—that the following “trigger warning” should be put on the first page of every college catalogue:

At this university, students could be exposed, at any moment, without warning, to ideas, comments, readings, or other materials that they find shocking, offensive, absurd, annoying, racist, sexist, homophobic, discriminatory, or generally obnoxious.

We call this education.
I can think of a couple of other sarcastic warnings: “Most of the ideas you will hear at this university are 100-plus-year-old dusty variants of Marxism that have been well-demonstrated to be hazardous to your health, and, especially, to civilization’s health.”

And in my fantasies: “What you will hear and learn at this university will likely upset your foundational ideas, that is, everything you have been taught about the nature of knowledge, values, psychology, and political philosophy and economy. It will raise your consciousness in a way you never will have thought possible. You will be challenged to confront the ideas of such writers as Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises. Be forewarned!”

Trigger warnings are a new form of campus censorship in which professors are supposed to give notice to students, before anything is said, about possibly offensive or hurtful speech. In practice, this means ideas the students may not have heard before or, especially, ones they might consider to be a cause of pain.

They are called “triggers” because the ploy is packaged with post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). Symptoms of PTSD can be produced or triggered by specific words, memories, or incidents.

Thus, if a professor states in class that the average wages of men and women are virtually the same when adjusted for marriage and motherhood, or that several African American intellectuals have decried affirmative action because of its effect on self-esteem, he or she must let the poor babies—the students—know that their feelings might get hurt by what is going to be said!

Fortunately, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has nailed the issue: “The presumption that students need to be protected rather than challenged in a classroom is at once infantilizing and anti-intellectual.” The chilling effect on freedom of speech in the ivory tower is unmistakable, as the professors’ thought process becomes, “Maybe I shouldn’t discuss this issue or idea because it might be offensive to some students.”

Concerning the red herring of traumatic reaction, “The classroom is not the appropriate venue to treat PTSD, which is a medical condition that requires serious medical treatment. Trigger warnings are an inadequate and diversionary response.”

And, finally, the American Library Association has called the labeling and rating of ideas or speech, such as “hurtful” and “offensive,” “an attempt to prejudice attitudes” and “a censor’s tool” (quoted in AAUP).

“Trigger warnings” are the radical Marxist left’s latest ruse to silence discussion of anything that does not fit its manifesto. The proletariat in the industrialized world are no longer an oppressed class; today, they all drive SUV’s and live in four-bedroom homes.

The good campus Marxists, as a result, must now find other oppressed groups to exploit: women, African Americans, and the LGBT community.*

These “classes” constitute the new proletariat. Marxist ideology marches on!

*Though, of course, many in these groups—classes?—are not exactly downtrodden and oppressed, since they, too, drive SUV’s and live in four-bedroom homes.

Follow-up: Five studies on trigger warnings

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Not-So-Visible Gun: Government Is Not Our Friend

A relative in years past would frequently tell his children, when coming upon a representative of law enforcement, “See that policeman? He is our friend!”

The militarization of police forces in recent years notwithstanding, and trigger happiness of some cops aside, the police by and large are our protectors against the bad guys. They use self-defensive force to protect us from those who initiate its use.

But government per se? The 22 million or so elected and unelected members of federal, state, and local governments still hold the legal monopoly on the use of physical force. They can initiate coercion against the rest of us to do what they say, or what the law says, we ought to do, supposedly for our own good or to protect us from presumed bad guys.

Some writers have contrasted Adam Smith’s invisible hand of the marketplace with an alternative metaphor: the visible fist of government. While fists can do damage, the symbol of the fist usually indicates intimidation.

Governmental coercion is much more than intimidation.

 “Who Are We Going to Coerce Today?” is how I recently retitled a previous post, because coercion is the essence of governing in our mixed economy. A gun—initiated coercion—backs up every decision of the bureaucrats and law that they enforce.

The problem today is that not many citizens see or acknowledge the presence of the gun.

Special interest groups—and by that I mean not just “crony capitalists” but most significantly leftist intellectual organizations and their leaders—lobby hard to pass laws in the name of the “public good.” In fact, however, they are unabashed rent-seekers whose laws benefit the lobby at the expense of everyone else, often to the detriment of the very groups they claim to benefit.

There are too many examples to cite, but the supposed Robin Hood (redistributionist) principle of taking from the rich to give to the poor usually enriches the better off at the expense of the less well off. Wage controls cause unemployment and enhance the incomes of those who manage to keep their jobs. Price controls of the ceiling type cause shortages and price floors cause surpluses; they benefit the first dwellers, such as existing renters and farmers.

“But we are the government and we can change it,” the naïve might say. No, only the army of 22 million, mostly unelected bureaucrats constitute the government. And change? Maybe a tiny bit can be changed every two, four, or six years when we vote, but that often is for the worse.

Fight City Hall? Not easily, and with extremely rare success. Government prosecutors (1, 2) are often powerful and unaccountable.

The attitude and battle cry of many bureaucrats, unfortunately, seems to be: “We have the power. You don’t. So Get lost!”

That is the gun talking. And that is why government is not our friend.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Polylogism, the Right to Lie, and Serial Embellishers

The subjectivist belief that each class has its own logic, that is, that there is no universal logic that applies to all human beings, is an essential tenet of Marxism (1, 2, 3). Capitalists have their logic; proletarians have theirs. Communication between the two is not possible. Therefore, the capitalist bourgeois exploiters must be controlled and, in some cases, liquidated.

This is why, in reference to the House Un-American Activities Committee, Ayn Rand said, “What those goddamned communists wanted was the right to lie!”*

If you’re an enemy, facts don’t matter.

Today, polylogism is rampant and assumes that all kinds of groups based on race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, physical ability, etc., ad nauseam, have a unique logic that is consequently beyond rational understanding. White males in particular are typically targeted as enemies, but groups in a position of power can and do declare any other opposing group persona non grata and, as a result, conclude that they owe the other groups nothing but ad hominem attacks.

One moderate liberal, Jonathan Chait, recently acknowledged that his more radically left colleagues “borrowed” Marx’s polylogism to establish our current virulently absolutist climate of political correctness. However, Mr. Chait is mistaken. Political correctness is rooted deeply in Marxism and its proponents are the tenured radicals of the 1960’s!

This means moderate liberals, as well as conservatives—most people today, in other words—have uncritically and probably unwittingly swallowed the Marxist agenda of their professors. Have they bought into the “right to lie” part of the agenda?

Probably not, though there are plenty of “serial embellishers” in all areas of our present culture.

“Serial embellishment” is an interesting new phrase that has popped up to describe repeat BS’ers, such as the now less-than-esteemed NBC News anchor.

When facts don’t matter, fiction and fabrication become primary. The trouble with serial embellishment is that the embellishers intend listeners to take their words as true. And most listeners assume they are.

When the words turn out not to be true and the speakers are obviously not novelists or screenwriters, listeners will draw one conclusion: embellishers have adopted the right to lie.

Criminal psychologies are those that lie as a way of life. How should we classify serial embellishers?

*I am quoting from memory here, from the 1970’s. Rand was answering questions of a small group of students after a lecture in New York.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Defending Hate Speech and Satire against the Criminal Mind

Because the criminal suffers a far greater deficiency of self-esteem than anyone else—“I am a nothing, a zero” was a frequent confession to criminal personality researchers Yochelson and Samenow—and because the criminal cannot tolerate the thought of being injured or maimed . . .
A not uncommon fantasy is that of a grand flourish in which the criminal shoots everyone in sight and is then killed himself. (p. 260)
When criminals actualize their fantasies, they produce Columbine, Sandy Hook, and now Charlie.

The enemies of free speech are criminals who just happen to latch on to some ideology as a front, cover, or alleged justification.

Je suis Charlie.

On Hitting Dogs and Children . . . and Prisoners of War

The supposed aim of hitting dogs, children, and prisoners of war (POWs) is a change of behavior, which may include in the latter two the acquisition of information.

To be sure, change of behavior does result—cowering, rebellion, or a combination of the two.

The initiation of the use of physical force does not produce confident and loving dogs; confident, loving, and independent human adults; and accurate, reliable counterintelligence. The psychological principle is the same in all three cases. Talk, which means use reason, don’t hit. Advocates of torture, mostly Republican conservatives, seem to be the same ones who also have no qualms about kicking their helpless dogs or smacking their helpless children.

In the twenty-first century, considering what we know today about psychology, there is no excuse for the torture of incarcerated POWs.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The PhD Cop


The post below completes eight years of blogging once a month. Because I think I have a third book in me, I plan now to take a break from the regular 700-1100-word routine. Writing these posts has been fun and stimulating, but it also has become a distraction to thinking about a book. I probably will continue to write an occasional post, most likely shorter comments or follow-ups on previous remarks.

Writing a book is a lengthy process, so don’t expect anything anytime soon. I will say this: the topic I have in mind is independent judgment as the fundamental psychological requirement of a free society.

Thank you for your patronage.

The PhD Cop

As I have written before (1, 2), I am not terribly impressed by credentials, especially those granted by universities. Nevertheless, when a policeman earns a PhD degree, and does so from Harvard, I have to take note.

The late Joseph McNamara was a by-the-bootstraps scholar and cop. He earned his bachelor’s degree attending night classes while walking a daytime beat in Harlem. He was granted a fellowship to Harvard in 1968 and wrote his dissertation on law enforcement’s handling of drug use before 1914. He became deputy inspector of crime analysis in New York, then served three years as Kansas City’s police chief and fifteen as San Jose’s. He concluded his career as research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Somewhere in that career, he found time to write five crime novels and many op-ed essays criticizing today’s police culture. He was called the father of community policing and hailed as twenty years before his time.

Though politically conservative, he vehemently opposed the drug war and militarization of the police. He advocated the legalization of marijuana and the end of mandatory sentencing.

Community policing operates on the assumption that even in high-crime areas, the vast majority of citizens are law-abiding and want the police to be there to protect them from criminals. It’s the “we’re on the same side” notion that the policemen and the citizens, paraphrasing the song from Oklahoma, should be friends, not enemies.

McNamara learned this lesson on the streets of Harlem and, as a result, insisted on dialogue and cooperation between cops and citizens in his two cities as chief.

Statistics don’t lie (usually)—crime decreased.

In 1991, after the videotaped beating of Rodney King, McNamara called for the resignation of Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates. His point? The viciousness of the beating could only mean that this was not an isolated incident and that the credibility of policing was called into question.

His last op-ed, written for Reuters on August 19 after the Ferguson, Missouri, shooting, is titled “Never an Excuse for Shooting Unarmed Suspects . . .” The cops’ primary goal, he maintained, is to protect human life and only shoot when confronted with imminent danger from a gun or knife.

In a 2006 Wall Street Journal op-ed, referring to two shootings of unarmed victims in New York, McNamara stated that in the two cases neither he, his father, his older brother, nor other relatives—all of whom had worked a cumulative total of 150 years in the NYPD—would have fired a shot.

Though in the Ferguson situation there may have been a justifiably perceived danger from an under-the-influence big man trying to take the officer’s gun away from him, the message from McNamara is clear. Police need to remember they are the citizens’ champions, not their intimidators or oppressors, garbed up in paramilitary, black-shirted outfits with weapons and explosives designed for the battlefield.

The phrases “soldier’s general,” “player’s coach,” “student’s teacher,” and “worker’s manager” describe someone in authority who worked his or her way up to that position but who also has not forgotten what it was like in the lower level.

Empathy and understanding, which is just another way of saying being nice, make respected and accomplished leaders. While there certainly are exceptions, many privileged generals, coaches, teachers, and managers who either do not work their way up to the positions of authority or who arrogantly and deliberately forget their pasts only become fixed-mindset bullies.

Dr. McNamara was the citizen’s policeman and chief. We need far more like him.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Bureaucratic Personality: Similarities to the Criminal Mind?

The criminal personality enjoys manipulating and intimidating others. Excitement from lying and getting away with the forbidden is a way of life.

Intimidation includes verbal abuse and physical harm (robbery, assault, murder), which means bullies are potential criminals, actual when they get physical. Power over others is what the criminal  thrives on. Lack of empathy for victims and lack of conscience are nearly total.

Criminals, according to Yochelson and Samenow in their fifteen-year study The Criminal Personality, get away with substantially more crimes than they are ever arrested for—200,000 for one offender over 40 years with the only arrest sending the criminal to a mental institution, along with a “no criminal record” statement in his file.

Criminality, the authors point out, is a continuum of irresponsibility ranging from hardened psychopaths to less extreme arrestable criminals to a category they call “non-arrestable criminals,” the type of persons who on the surface look like responsible citizens but under cover of family and job lie, cheat, manipulate, and intimidate everyone they come in contact with.

Non-arrestable criminals seek the same power over others the hardened criminals do, as well as the jolts of excitement from getting away with the forbidden (in this case, getting away with what is considered unethical, rather than what is illegal).

Given this description of non-arrestable criminals, a startling question arises in my mind. Does bureaucracy provide protection for criminal personalities and therefore attract them?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Elites and the Underground: No Law vs. Rule of Law vs. Excessive Law

“Rule of law” is an unquestioned prerequisite today for any free society and growing economy. Unfortunately, there is too little rule of law for 80-95% of the world’s population and too much for the rest.

The former population are what Hernando de Soto calls “extralegal” poor who want and need to be able to join the middle classes and thrive in those segments of the developed world that are now a decided minority (1, 2).

The latter are the political and economic elites who live in varying degrees, depending on country, officially under the rule of law but are facing, year after year, increasing erosion of that protection with the growth of dictatorship by excessive law.

The extralegals, as de Soto’s research has found at his Institute for Liberty and Democracy in Lima, Peru, have no legal existence in most third-world countries. They have no titles to their property, no legal descriptions of its location and other public records, and therefore no way to accumulate and protect assets—also known as capital. Yet most of these productive and innovative black-market entrepreneurs want to join the rest of their societies and be just as prosperous as everyone else.

The problem is that most of the ruling elites don’t want them to prosper. The solution is property rights and the rule of law.

Monday, September 29, 2014

“They’ll Be Fine”—Two Takes on Indifference to Psychology

The chiding phrase “they’ll be fine” can be found abundantly on the Internet aimed, deservingly so, at the hysterically paranoid helicopter parents who hover endlessly over their children.

In a different way, the phrase is also used dismissively when, say, a child must be away from the family.

Consider the helicopter parents first.

The anxious, and now self-righteous, helicoptering has become so pronounced that some hoverers use the law to have working moms arrested if they dare leave their nine-year olds alone to play in a crowded park (1, 2).

One such nine-year old left in a park was sent to foster care and the mother went to jail. How good is that for the child (or mother)?

And four children, ages five to ten, were recently taken from a widow who left the children home alone while the mother pursued her college education attending night classes; the children were split up by social services, bounced around, and possibly even abused in the bureaucratically indifferent and incompetently run foster care system.

Power over others, as this mother observed, not empathy or protection, is what the busybody hovering is all about.

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