Wednesday, June 22, 2022

The Benevolence of Advertising

[After a delay this month dueling with a medical monster (whom I believe I have defeated), I decided to dig into my archives for the current post. It is the final chapter of my 1994 book In Defense of Advertising. The chapter’s title is similar to one used by George Reisman in some of his writing. I highly recommend not just Dr. Reisman’s magnum opus Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (esp. pp. 471-73), but also his Kindle monograph The Benevolent Nature of Capitalism and Other Essays. As Professor Reisman eloquently points out, benevolence and capitalism go together. Here is chapter 8 of In Defense of Advertising.]
 
 
Advertising is just salesmanship.
 
It is not a drooling ogre, waiting to feed on the helpless consumer. Nor is it a vaudevillian’s hook that has the power to yank consumers out of their socks (and wallets) to force-feed them unwanted products. Nor is it a vaudeville show, as many people, including some advertisers, seem to want it to be.
 
Advertising is just salesmanship, the product and expression of laissez-faire capitalism. Unfortunately, this is precisely why the critics hate advertising; namely, that it is the means by which millions of self-interested individuals become aware of the self-interested, productive achievements of millions of other individuals. Advertising is the means by which millions of people learn how to enhance their tastes and increase their standard of living above the ordinary, humdrum existence of their forebears. It is the means by which the masses—including the “proletariat,” the “bourgeoisie,” and the “intelligentsia”—are given the opportunity to live far beyond the wildest fantasies of the rich nobility of earlier years. Advertising, indeed, is the intellectual conduit by which everyone can seek the good life.
 
Daniel Boorstin calls advertising the symbol of American “voluntariness.” “It is an educational device to provide opportunities for freedom of choice.” In societies in which there is no such opportunity, states Boorstin, there also is no need to advertise. Advertising’s presence, he says, is a “clue to the increasing opportunities for choice.”*  These opportunities, which originate as political and economic freedom from government-initiated coercion, manifest themselves to consumers as the many new products the entrepreneurs offer for sale.
 
It was through newspaper advertisements in 1652 that English consumers were first introduced to coffee. In 1657 they were similarly introduced to chocolate and in 1658 to tea. Indeed, advertising, as Boorstin points out, played a critical role in the founding and settling of the United States:

Advertising, of course, has been part of the mainstream of American civilization, although you might not know it if you read the most respectable history books on the subject. It has been one of the enticements to the settlement of this new world; it has been a producer of the peopling of the United States; and in its modern form, in its worldwide reach, it has been one of our most characteristic products.**
Boorstin sees advertising “perhaps even as a prototype of American epistemology . . . a touchstone of the sociology of knowledge, of the ways in which Americans have learned about all sorts of things.”***
 
If advertising is as valuable as Boorstin maintains, and as I have argued throughout this book, then when will it begin to gain the respect it deserves? Not, I am afraid, until egoism and capitalism are no longer defiled as unquestioned evils, and thus are allowed to gain the respect that they deserve. Not until intellectuals of all types acknowledge that man, as an integrated being of mind and body, possesses not only the capacity to reason, but also a consciousness that is volitional. Not until an objective theory of concepts—the foundation of objectivity and scientific induction—becomes internalized on a wide scale. And not until the objectivity of values and the existence of rational options become accepted and understood.
 
To borrow a phrase from Ayn Rand, I ask you to “check your premises”—to introspect and examine the ideas on which your value appraisal of advertising rests. If you do this conscientiously, I think you will find that your negative evaluations stem from the anti-reason, anti-man, anti-life, authoritarian world view that permeates our culture. It is this world view that paints such a satanic, malevolent picture of advertising. It is this world view that also paints such a satanic, malevolent picture of capitalism.
 
If, on the other hand, you examine these ideas in light of Ayn Rand’s pro-reason, pro-man, pro-this-earth philosophy of Objectivism, and in light of the pro-individualist laissez-faire economics of Ludwig von Mises—that is, in light of a truly liberal world view—I think you will begin to look at advertising differently and begin to react to it differently. You will begin to see that advertising and capitalism both are life-giving and benevolent institutions. You will begin to see that capitalism is the social system that provides man with continuous economic progress. And you will begin to see that advertising is the beacon that guides man to the fruits of this progress.
 
Nothing, as far as I am concerned, could be more benevolent than advertising, beacon of the free society.
 
NOTES

* Daniel J. Boorstin, “The Good News of Advertising,” Advertising Age, November 13, 1980, 20. The recent lifting of the American Bar Association’s ban on advertising by attorneys has brought “opportunities for choice” in legal aid to many more people, especially the middle classes. Prior to this change in attitude toward advertising, legal help was available primarily to the wealthy, who could afford the monopoly prices lawyers were (and still are) able to charge because of their government-granted privileges, and to the poor, who received legal aid from lawyers who were paid for their time under other government-granted privileges. The middle classes simply went without legal services.
 
Studies of attitudes toward advertising by professionals provide revealing insight into the motivation of some of these professionals. One study of dentists showed that the majority of older, established dentists opposed advertising, while the majority of younger, unestablished dentists—the ones who most needed some means of finding new customers—not surprisingly favored advertising. So much for principled thought among licensed professionals—not that they are more pragmatic than any other segment of our society.
 
** Daniel J. Boorstin, “Advertising and American Civilization,” in Yale Brozen, ed., Advertising and Society (New York: New York University Press, 1974), 11.
 
*** Ibid., 13.

Postscript

Professor Boorstin, whom I cite extensively throughout this book, was trained in law, but was attracted to history, especially “for the achievements of the ‘amateur’ in history,” according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia. That made him a match to my understanding of advertising as a knowledge tool of everyday buyers and sellers, including the benevolence of America and its sense of life. Which is not to say Boorstin did not have a brief foray into the U.S. Communist Party during the 1930s and does have some negative comments to make about advertising—the usual ones: advertising corrupts American culture, which are part of the litany I discuss throughout the book. Professor Boorstin ended his career as the prestigious Librarian of Congress from 1975–1987.



Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Personality and Style versus Honesty and Justice

Here is a statement sometimes heard, sometimes vociferously: “I can’t stand that person’s personality or style.” The person referenced might by a client, a coworker, a relative—or a former US president.
 
Is the person referred to immoral? That is, dishonest or unjust?
 
Sometimes an elaboration follows about a business or personal relationship: “It’s a personality conflict. We just clash too much and can’t get along!”
 
At my midtown Manhattan job several decades ago, it was clients who were said to have those “bad” personalities and, therefore, were impossible to get along with. Somehow I ended up with three such clients with one each abandoned by my two coworkers and boss. After working with the clients for a short time, I concluded, “There’s nothing wrong with these people. They are quite nice!”
 
On the surface, getting upset over a “personality conflict” or “style difference” seems bizarre. After all, personality or style may mean that one person likes to talk a lot and the other is quiet. These two personalities cannot get along?? Admittedly, the talker may have to ask a few questions to draw the quiet person out. But seriously?
 
Without saying so explicitly, one person in the personality or style conflict—probably both—think the other is immoral, requiring the ending of the relationship.
 
Let us define our terms. As I wrote in Independent Judgment and Introspection (pp. 55-56), personality

is our distinctive method of thinking and acting; it includes all of our beliefs and values—the moral ones, as well as the ones that form our psychologies, that is, beliefs and values about who we are as a person, beliefs and values about other people, and beliefs and values about the environment in which we live. The outward behavioral manifestation of beliefs and values are called traits and the traits that stand out, the distinctive ones, define our personality.
Moral character, then, is a part of personality but must not be confused with our psychologies or our other traits that might be moral or immoral. Gregariousness and shyness are not immoral.
 
The outward behavioral traits define our style, or as the unabridged dictionary says, “an individual’s typical way of life.”
 
Personality and style are obviously related, but not identical. “Style” can be called the acting part of personality. The thinking part is what gives us mental habits that guide our choices and actions.
 
Two more terms to define: honesty means telling the truth, though not always. Exceptions would occur when someone is pointing a gun at you or threatening your privacy, or when the truth might unnecessarily hurt the other person. Justice means correctly judging a person as good or bad or somewhere in between and responding appropriately (1, 2).
 
Judging how honest or just a person is can be challenging in everyday situations, especially if you are not aware of, or allow for, the influence of psychology operating in the other person. Subconscious defensive habits often cancel free will to such an extent that the acting person, the one with the “style,” is not aware of what he or she is doing, such as talking too much or hyperbolizing or feeling afraid to speak up. None of these traits is immoral, or dishonest or unjust in any way.
 
The so-called difficult clients in my experience may have been demanding or even pedantic or confused and unclear about what they wanted. They may have been distrustful and angry over poor service in the past and wanted to be assured that this time everything will go smoothly.
 
My conclusion was that patience and anticipation of possible problems was key to keeping clients happy, and my coworkers and boss did not always indulge such patience, which apparently I did. I believed that my clients just needed to be listened to and that I had to practice that old business-as-usual adage, “promise only what you can deliver and deliver what you promise.”
 
No BS or hyperbole, in other words. Our clients were not dishonest or unjust, though they certainly exhibited many different personalities!
 
So what about the “style,” let’s say, of a former US president? One that called the country’s press the enemy of the people or expressed harsh criticism of anyone who did not do a good job or who criticized him. And was also known to hyperbolize.
 
I heard all of the above types of statements, sometimes with elevated volume, in my years living and working in New York City. Our former president was simply a New York businessman. And that is precisely what his naysayers did not like. He got things done and called his critics names. They declared his personality and style inappropriate, meaning immoral.
 
After all, he did not believe in turning the other cheek, and that was intolerable to anyone who believes self-sacrifice is the highest virtue in personal and professional life. And the “anyone” in this statement is bipartisan, as the doctrine of self-sacrifice is practiced by both leftists and conservatives.
 
Our former US president was not an altruist. He was an egoist who expressed, though not always articulately, the American sense of life. His constituents who also represent the American sense of life responded by electing him president. (See 1, 2, 3.) He was a rare and unusually strong supporter of the US’s national self-interest. Unfortunately, he leaned toward mercantilistic ideas when it came to international trade, but he also used tariffs as bargaining chips in his negotiations.
 
What is essential about our former president is that his “personality” and “style” expressed what is uniquely American by producing significant accomplishments and keeping us out of war for four years.
 
The appropriate response to all of the above types of statements, whether from a coworker or a president, is: “So what?”
 
Get back to work and on with your life.
 
A final note about the mainstream press. We now know how biased, not to mention dishonest and unjust, they were during the previous presidential administration and how eager they are today to silence alternative points of view.
 
Media that advocate censorship are indeed enemies of the people. They are the ones who will welcome a dictatorship to our country (1, 2).
 
See “How Free Speech Dies,” by Wall Street Journal columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady and my post on the same issue.

Saturday, April 09, 2022

On the Separation of Church, Science, Education, and Business from the State: Avoiding Repressive Fascism

A suggested revision of the First Amendment of the US Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, scientific research, education, or business activity, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
When the state meddles, bad things happen—besides violating our rights.
 
The origin of the notion of a dividing line between church and state, or more correctly, “a theory of two powers,” as Britannica.com writes, goes back to Mark 12:13-17 when Jesus replied to questioning by the Pharisees who were attempting to trap him in a dilemma: either offend his followers by saying taxes should be paid to Rome or be arrested for treason for telling them not to pay.
 
Jesus replied: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God” (Mark 12:17, New Living Translation).
 
Prior to this statement, church and state were inseparable. Throughout the early Middle Ages, the Church continued to dominate life, though by the tenth century numerous secular rulers had arisen to compete with and manipulate the Church. Over the centuries, conflict between church and state, as well as conflicts between the newly founded religious sects, led to many bloody wars. In the eighteenth century the notion of individual rights and separation of religion and state became expressed in the US’s First Amendment.
 
Classical liberals of today understand the separation as complete, as in “leave us (the citizens) alone” to pursue religion or not and in the manner we choose. The state should stay totally out of religious life.
 
As writer Collin Killick put it: “Laws that establish religion in government, even if created with the most benign intent, could put our nation on a path toward repressive theocracy” (emphasis added).
 
And “repressive” is how the state has been relating to science and business.
 
Former Harvard epidemiologist Martin Kulldorf, though not fully calling for laissez-faire of science by the state, is calling for the decentralization of scientific research. Kulldorf challenges the domination of government string-pulling in science because the government, especially in public health as controlled by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control, dispenses most of the research money, deciding who gets it and which problem will be studied. Two-thirds of research money comes from federal, state, and local government sources, with well over half from the US government.
 
The gatekeeping, not to mention censorship, by the government on scientific research became apparent throughout our recent past two years of covid totalitarianism, as I have described the ordeal.
 
Kulldorf’s coauthor of the Great Barrington Declaration, Sunetra Gupta, calls the science-controllers cartels: government agencies, journal editors, and peer reviewers, all of whom determine promotion, tenure, and research in academia.*
 
“Repressive scientism,” using F. A. Hayek’s term for a “pretense at science,” is what we seem to have been given. The disastrous effect of logical positivism on science today cannot be overstated. Quoting from the description of Hayek’s book, The Counter Revolution of Science, at Misess.org:
There was once such a thing as the human sciences of which economics was part. The goal was to discover and elucidate the exact laws that govern the interaction of people with the material world. It had its own methods and own recommendations.
Throughout the twentieth century, however,
the economy and people began to be regarded as a collective entity to be examined as if whole societies should be studied as we study planets or other non-volitional beings.
As molecules, in other words, or billiard balls and other inanimate objects. “Science had turned from being a friend of freedom into being employed as its enemy.” From a methodological individualism, where the individual entity or person was the unit of analysis, to a methodological collectivism—the group, or collective, as the unit.
 
The new, repressive method now applies to all sciences. And that is the collectivization and herd conformity (or groupthink) of science that we have today with the government in charge.
 
What we are left with is a narrow range of conventional research, sometimes flawed (or even fraudulent), and neglect or repression of creative thinking and disagreement with the establishment.
 
Decentralize all research to the university level, says Kulldorf. Let universities distribute the money and publish their own scientists’ findings through open (not blind) peer review. The process would speed up research and publication and perhaps lead to innovative findings.
 
The best solution, of course, would be to separate education completely from the state, but that would mean making universities businesses, which they are, as are churches. They just are not profit-making businesses, which they should be. (See Applying Principles, pp. 187-90.)
 
The fundamental issue is to completely separate business and state. Paraphrasing Killick, “Laws that regulate and control businesses could put our nation on a path toward repressive . . . fascism.”
 
Which is what fascism in its essence is. Socialism owns everything and everyone; fascism, a variant of socialism (perhaps we should call it the “Omicron” of socialism??) leaves some property private, but only in a nominal sense. It still controls everything and everyone at the governmental level.
 
It is the total, airtight control we have endured over the past two years.
 
 
* See my discussion of academic research, the peer review process, and its effects on science in Applying Principles, pp. 123-32, 140-42.

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

Science and Great Experiments: The Search for Universals

The 1981 book Great Scientific Experiments by Rom Harré presents in popular format and in only 200 pages the gist of twenty influential scientific experiments, from Aristotle to the twentieth century.

Interestingly, none of the experiments cited uses statistical samples of any size divided into experimental and control groups. All samples are small and one is a sample of one! How is this possible?

And if true, may we conclude that Sigmund Freud and Jane Goodall were great experimenters?

It is the logical positivism of modern science that tells us a sound theory of induction does not exist, because universals do not exist, only statistical probabilities. Therefore, anything close to causal must be found through at least two groups of large samples to control sources of “extraneous variation.” Hence, all we can find through our many studies are “successive approximations.” This what John Stuart Mill’s followers called the hypothetico-deductive method that drives nearly all research today and condemns Freud and Goodall to the realm of “pseudo-science.”

Let us back up and define our terms. Science is a systematic study of an aspect of reality that explains its domain descriptively and causally, and if applied (as technology) provides guidance for human choices and actions to achieve specific goals.

The product of any science is a body of knowledge—a collection of integrated, universal concepts and principles the aim of which is to enhance life.

The second term to look at is experimentation. The Latin root of the word experiment means to try. Paraphrasing the Oxford English Dictionary, to experiment means to test or try something to identify what has previously been unknown. This means experimentation is trial and error. It may involve experimental and control groups (and the manipulation of one variable to determine its effects on another), but it does not necessarily have to. It also may involve an elaborate apparatus or it may be entirely conceptual—in the head, sometimes called a thought experiment.

Science historian John P. McCaskey has traced the history of induction and the role of experimentation in it  (1, 2). Up to the last couple of hundred years, McCaskey found, induction and experimentation were based on the work, among others, of Francis Bacon who based his work on Aristotle’s formal cause. And Aristotle in turn developed his theory of induction from what during the Renaissance was called “Socratic induction.”

Socrates, when taunting his know-it-all Athenian conversationalists, was looking for universal essences that apply in all instances.

Universals, those exceptionless concepts and principles, not correlations or probabilities, are what constitute the essence and foundation of science.

Thus, conceptualization, or concept formation, is the fundamental method of science, because large samples are often not necessary to identify the universals. McCaskey, as do I, gives the nod to Ayn Rand for understanding the role of concept formation in science, specifically the inductive process of identifying essential distinguishing characteristics.

Examples from McCaskey: Robert Koch’s identification of the comma bacillus (Spirillum cholerae asiasticae) as the defining, universal characteristic and cause of cholera, not such competing but correlational hypotheses as season or foul water; Charles Wells’ conclusion, after many small experiments to test a wide variety of independent variables, that water condensation was the essence of dew; and Lord Kelvin’s reasoning to describe tides by their definition and causes, namely “motions of water on the earth, due to the attractions of the sun and of the moon” (quoted in McCaskey).*

Harré acknowledges in his book (p. 191) that one or a few cases, with careful experimentation, that is, trial and error, can yield “defining properties of all samples similar to them.” He calls the small samples “intensive design.” In contrast, he calls the larger (and statistical) versions “extensive.”

The intensive design and sample of one in Harré’s book (chap. 2) is the nine years of experimentation conducted by army doctor William Beaumont on Alexis St. Martin, whose stomach did not close completely after a musket wound. Access to St. Martin’s stomach contents, especially his gastric juices, enabled Beaumont to answer the question, are gastric juices chemical solvents or is the process of digestion some vital force and the juices just “inert water”?

Feeding different foods to his subject and observing his digestive processes and by removing gastric juices to test its effects in a glass jar were the experiments that Beaumont conducted to make the well-respected conclusion of chemical solvency, even of “the hardest bone” (quoted in Harré, p. 41).

The concept correctly identified by Beaumont was that gastric juices were indeed—and universally so—chemical solvents, not inert water.

In my book Independent Judgment and Introspection (pp. 78-79), I praise Sigmund Freud for his work in clarifying and defining psychological repression and Jane Goodall for her discoveries about chimpanzees. Both conducted great experiments, the former in psychology, the latter in biology. They both used the method of conceptualization and deserve to be recognized as great experimenters. Science, in other words, is not confined to the fields of physics and chemistry, or imitations of those fields, as too many positivists are prone to assume.

Freud spent over thirty years in talk therapy with many different patients before he finally formulated the essential meaning of repression as an unconscious (or subconscious) response to anxiety that mutes the experience of or blocks entirely thoughts, memories, or emotions from conscious awareness. He also had to distinguish repression from defense mechanism in general, which for many years he tended to equate.**

Jane Goodall’s work, beginning in 1960, was to observe the behavior of chimpanzees in the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve (now Gombe National Park) in Tanzania. Over the course of many years, she discovered that chimps eat meat, make elementary tools to obtain food, can be violent and even cannibalistic, and have personalities. She gave the chimps names and interacted with them after they had gained her trust.

Goodall’s work required patient observation and, especially, application of analogous concepts from human psychology to the higher mammals, “patient observation” meaning testing and trying different ideas before drawing conclusions.

It is the logical positivists who dismissed Freud’s work as anecdotal at best, literature at worst. And it was the “men of hard science” at the beginning of Goodall’s career who dismissed her as an uncredentialed woman frivolously and anthropomorphically giving names to the nonrational, dumb animals. Paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, however, called Jane Goodall’s work “one of the Western world’s great scientific achievements” (quoted in Goodall, p. xvii).

It is the logical positivists and many of those “men of hard science” who are not particularly scientific, or great experimenters!


* In the study of tides there may have been confusion over the difference between theoretical and applied science, or technology. Sea captains need to know the timing and heights of tides at a specific location, and statistics can help make these predictions. But this is applied science where the universals of theory are used to uncover correlations, tolerances, and averages to guide concrete, practical decision making.

** Repression is a defense mechanism, or defensive habit, as I prefer to call it, but it is not identical to it. Freud’s daughter, Anna, said it was in his 1926 book Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety when Freud identified the correct place of repression in psychology. The muting or barring of an emotion is accomplished by muting or barring the thought that stands behind it. Traumatic memories, I have suggested (fn 11, p. 146), are not repressed and should not be thought of as part of the definition. Subconscious is the more preferred modern term and is discussed in my appendix to Independent Judgment and Introspection.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Mass Psychological Conformity

Thinking about our current covid totalitarianism, columnist Roger Simon recently wrote:

What we have witnessed throughout the world [today] is millions, really billions, of people taking orders without thinking or, in the majority of cases, even seriously investigating what they have been told.
Simon states that witnessing this has helped him answer his long-held question (also held by many, including me): how could educated people in World War II Germany do what the Nazis did to Jews?

The best he could come up with:
We live in a culture of pervasive obedience….It’s everywhere—people giving up their personal agency, even their ability to reason, out of fear and willingly adhering to the mass.
A generation of conformists has been created as never before in our history.
Which certainly is true, but leaves the question “why?” unanswered. The best I can come up with is “mass psychological conformity,” or to elaborate, “mass psychologically-generated callous conformity, indifferent to harm caused to others.” The harm can range from “lockdowns” to mass extermination. In the case of the latter, “inhumanity” may be substituted for callous conformity.

Which still leaves the questions: “Why?” and “How?”

Various attempts to name this syndrome have been made: group psychology, groupthink, the madness of crowds, or true believers in a mass movement. Tulip mania, the current situation is not, though “herd conformity” is a phrase I have used before to describe it. Most recently, the terms “mass delusional psychosis” or “mass formation psychosis” have been offered.

“Delusion” is correct because in its simplest definition delusion means belief in something that is false, whether it’s “I’m probably going to die if you breathe anywhere near me” or “I’m Jesus Christ.”

And the syndrome is “mass” because so many people worldwide have gone along with their authoritarian public health and political leaders.

But these followers are not psychotic in the sense that they completely withdraw from reality, suspending conscious control over life and allowing the subconscious to take over.* Because thinking errors are the cause of neuroses, all psychological problems can be said to some extent to be delusional.

“Inhumanity,” according to Merriam-Webster means “being cruel or barbarous” and “the absence of warmth or geniality.” The past two years have certainly seemed inhumane, at least to those who have been harmed the most: children, small businesses that have closed and workers, if they still have a job, many of them single moms, who have to mask up to serve the laptop elite while the latter dine and shop. Then there are the non-virus related deaths, many by suicide.

Callous indifference, indeed! (See my post “They Just Don’t Care—Rationalization and the Need to Look Good.”

Who exactly am I talking about? The intelligentsia in particular: mainstream media, leftist teachers and professors, certain left-leaning entertainers and business leaders, politicians, and the public health cadre of unelected deep staters.

The latter two may even have a worse psychology. The past two years seem to have brought out their inner totalitarian, as in “we’re telling you who you can have in your home and when or if you can travel. Obey!”

Other people, such as the laptop elite who support the intelligentsia’s doctrines, would have to be included. The cause of all psychologies varies widely, in this case likely ranging from plain ignorance of the doctrine’s consequences to deliberate envious glee for those harmed (akin to many Germans during World War II).

Today, most people are just scared, thanks to the unrelenting propaganda campaign waged by the intelligentsia.

The root of the syndrome is psychological dependence, a psychology that does not depart completely from reality as a psychotic does, but one that shifts reality to other people as their source of beliefs and values. It is a passive acceptance of what those significant others think, feel, and do—a suspension of independent judgment to go along to get along . . . with the crowd.

We all often fail to seriously investigate, because we learn from books and other people and can’t escape the need to rely on experts.

But why the suspension of independent judgment? On the mass scale, this is where there is again a wide variety of reasons. The culture’s philosophy contributes in large part to explaining Simon’s observation of “pervasive obedience.” Germany’s duty ethics of self-sacrifice to the state (or Führer) eclipses independence. “It’s your duty to obey.”

The United States holds a nearly as strong duty ethics based on its predominant Protestantism. Just look at attitudes toward the military draft: “It’s your duty to die for your country.” (Should a big war break out, a new draft would be passed in a heartbeat by Congress and supported by the public. See The Ominous Parallels.)

For over 120 years, American culture has been assaulted and battered unendingly by the progressive left demanding that to be moral we must sacrifice ourselves to the collective, the group, the state.

And in non-Judeo-Christian cultures, asceticism and self-denial are widely held doctrines, with authoritarianism not even questioned.

Hence, worldwide, pervasive obedience.

Psychologically, independence derives from a strong sense of personal identity and self-responsibility. Courage, integrity, and self-esteem are consequences. Parental and formal education (the “how” of this issue) are both crucial in helping us develop these traits, but preaching self-sacrifice and victimhood erodes or blocks the development of independence.

“Dependent personalities,” as I have written before (p. 105), “gravitate to groups as the source of their identity, such as their religion, nation, race, class, ethnicity, or private clubs. They gravitate to the government as their caretaker.”**

Depending on the level of deficiency in self-esteem, dependent personalities will blindly accept whatever the government and its public health officials say, even if they are asking us to give up our rights.

It takes a confident mind to stand up to the irrational onslaught we have been going through over the past two years.

Perhaps the best explanation of mass gutlessness is the bureaucratic state. Bureaucracy is how governments manage their affairs and rules and laws are their tools. “Rules are rules” is the battle cry and “I don’t make ‘em, I just enforce ‘em” is what we have been up against for many years.

Those who respond by saying “Oh, okay”—without understanding or questioning what is being asked of them—encourage the totalitarians to continue with more total control.

The rules and laws—far too many of both in the United States, for about a century—all allow both citizens and bureaucrats to rationalize what they are doing as good. “I’m just following (or enforcing) the law.”

Rationalization is a strong defensive habit that allows us to make excuses for our behavior. Criminals thrive on it. So did many Germans in Nazi Germany.

Deference to authority comes first. Then, the obedience. Rationalization does not require or allow examination.

The bureaucratic state of Nazi Germany had gangs of secretaries typing orders to send Jews to the death camps. How could they do it? The explanation has to be that they thought they were doing something good! (See “The Reductio of Bureaucracy” and William L. Shirer’s book.)

Deference sacrifices independent judgment. Obedience makes one a follower and in extreme cases a killer.

Are we going to reclaim our rights, our personal agency, and, most importantly, our ability to reason to assert independence from the madness of crowds?

Or are we going to continue to go along to get along?


* Psychotics usually have episodes. They are not constantly “out of their minds,” living in a “waking dream,” as psychosis has sometimes been described. Even statuesque catatonics are aware of their surroundings and occasionally will respond to a nearby conversation before retreating to their trance-like states. And one psychiatrist asked a psychotic to “stop acting crazy now so I can talk to you.” The response? “Oh, okay.”

** Psychologist Edith Packer (p. 264): “Such people want to be taken care of, and in return they will gladly obey. A nation that breeds a dictator is a nation of people who are afraid of life.”

Friday, January 14, 2022

How Not to Jump to Conclusions When Judging Business People and Situations

Over the years, I have written a few posts discussing the issue of judging other people (1, 2, 3).

Applying ethical principles to make moral judgments in business is particularly challenging, requiring much research and sorting before making a decision. Taking time to process the acquired data is necessary to avoid making unsound decisions.

There are three overlapping steps in the process: gathering all relevant facts before making a judgment, identifying and separating moral values from optional ones, and, most difficult, identifying and sorting out the role and influence of government in our modern mixed (or worse) economies.

Let us take these overlapping steps one at a time.

Facts. As I would always tell my students, “Dig, dig, dig for the facts. Do you have all of them?” One new fact can overturn a previous conclusion. Calling a person inconsiderate when cutting in line, for example, should change when you realize the cut was inadvertent.

Options. In one of my previous posts, I encouraged readers “to get beneath surface appearances and not be swayed by looks, words, or demeanor.” In other words, style. I emphasized the abstractness and universality of moral values and virtues, cautioning readers not to elevate concretes and optional tastes to the status of moral judgment, such as eating red meat or drinking water out of plastic bottles.

And the use of hyperbole and BS usually does not make another person immoral. Learning the other person’s psychology is prerequisite to making moral judgments. The hyperbole and BS may be the result of years of entrenched defensive habits, often learned from parents. (It’s also called “sellers’ puff” in the law and is ineffective as a marketing technique.)

Competence in business is an expression of the moral value of productive work, but level of competence usually does not entail anything immoral, though it may mean management should work harder to find the appropriate slot for someone who is less competent in the current job.

Personality is our distinctive way of thinking and acting and does include character, but most interaction with other people involves sharing and working with their concrete values and morally optionally tastes and preferences. So-called personality conflicts usually have nothing to do with ethics and everything to do with options—looks, words, demeanor, style.

The importance of getting to know partners was impressed upon me in my six-plus years working for the same company in New York City. The company was founded by two men ten years before I arrived. While there, I did notice that the partners’ offices were at opposite ends of the building, but did not think anything of it at the time. Friction between the owners was mentioned by some co-workers and once I did see what must have been a serious or unpleasant disagreement between them, but in the entire time I worked at the company I never observed a dishonesty (and I don’t think there ever was any). About ten years later, after I had left the company to attend graduate school, I read that the company had closed and the two men were suing each other.*

Moral of the story? Business partnerships (and I include mergers, joint ventures, and acquisitions) are marriages with over half ending either in divorce or with the stronger partner taking over the business.

Taking time to get to know a future partner, including the partner’s judgment of others, is crucial. There does not have to be immoral behavior to cause a breakup in the relationship; most values that we hold are concrete and optional and accepting and enjoying many of the same ones are required for cooperative success.

Government. Identifying and sorting the components of a more general situation in business, such as opinions, personality, and, especially, government intervention are required before judging. This last is not always easy to find, since most today do not think about how government can affect a moral evaluation, nor does the press report such interventions. More digging in search engines to read several articles presenting alternative viewpoints is required.

A 2002 academic paper of mine demonstrates the sorting I am talking about. It untangles many issues surrounding bribery, including its common law definition and the frequent conflating of it with several other terms—perk, grease payment, extortion, broker’s fee, and even candy or money offered to a child to clean his or her room. (Yes, it’s called bribing the child! Should mom be put in the slammer?? No, it’s metaphor, not ethics or law.)

Regulatory agencies, to elaborate further, are major initiators of physical force against businesses, through their nonobjective law, arbitrary rule-making, and catering to favored lobbyists at the expense of those who do not lobby or cannot afford to lobby. Violations of regulatory rules by the people or companies being regulated should not be taken as immoral action. The agencies themselves, not necessarily the regulators (bureaucrats) running them, are the ones that are immoral and unconstitutional, as they combine the legislative, judicial, and executive into one bureau (1, 2).

What I have concluded about judging others is that it takes time getting to know them personally before declaring, for example, a dishonesty. The adage “haste makes waste,” though trite, is relevant here. It should mean: don’t hop into bed after one or two dates or sign a business partnership after one meeting. Personalities and business situations are complex.

The most complex and challenging moral issue in business ethics is what I have called marketing to morally questionable countries. The problem is, what exactly is a morally questionable country—can there be one or are we talking about particular people, such as the leaders of the country who are morally questionable? And which moral values and principles are relevant to be applied?

Full, airtight dictatorship, especially of the giant post-office type of Lenin’s socialism where private enterprise did not exist, is often cited as an immoral country that one should not have traded with. The government owned and controlled everything, including you, so the system was totalitarian. The fascist Nazi Germany, although it had nominally private businesses, was also totalitarian; it controlled everything and everyone. In an airtight dictatorship, everyone is prisoner and slave and all external trade must be conducted with the party bureaucrats, the slave masters.**

In today’s world, countries without private-sector workforces are rare. China may have over 70% of its employment in private enterprises and even Cuba may now have over 20% of its workers in the private sector.

Justice is the relevant principle in judging the morality of international trade. As Ayn Rand stated, “the principle of justice…is the principle of trade,” and includes not treating other people as “masters or slaves, but as independent equals.” The prisoners of airtight dictatorships were slaves and the bureaucrats were their masters, but private enterprisers in many countries today enjoy a modicum of freedom and independence.

Doing business in China can illustrate the complexity of ethics in the international arena.

Ethnic Chinese in particular are known to be entrepreneurial and hard-working, whether at home on the mainland or as a minority in other Asian countries. On the mainland their economy has shown the fruits of their efforts. (Less than 7% of the Chinese population are members of the Communist Party, leaving a large number of people to trade with.)


Economic reform in China under Deng Xiaoping (1978-89) was indeed impressive: de-collectivization of farms, acceptance of foreign investment, allowing citizens to own businesses, privatization of state-owned businesses, and the elimination of price controls and other regulations. Unfortunately, subsequent leaders have sought to limit this reform, though the economy still thrives in all areas of the country.

Also, recent accusations of Chinese genocide should be made more precise. There is no evidence of mass extermination, the correct definition of genocide, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. There is forced labor and forced sterilization, actions the United States was guilty of in the twentieth century with the military draft and the progressives’ eugenic goal of keeping the “feeble minded” from procreating.

But mixing forced labor and forced sterilization with execution to call China’s actions genocide is tantamount to calling the slums of Harlem and Watts ghettos; slums are not ethnic prisons. The definition of genocide being used today comes from the United Nations, which is more broad, going beyond killing, allowing lesser crimes into the definition. The UN itself, incidentally, is a massive governmental organization (hostile to the US) and not exactly an expert on concept formation and definition.

Attempted destruction of an ethnic minority’s culture? This is an accurate description of the actions of a large number of Chinese leaders and bureaucrats, but there is a difference between physical destruction of a group—think Jews, Armenians, Cambodians, and Tutsis—and forcing that group to integrate culturally into the majority. Still horrible, but not genocide.

Free trade is said to be the primary foreign policy of free societies; therefore, trade with private parties, not bureaucrats, should be the corollary. And the line attributed to Frederic Bastiat—“if goods don’t cross borders, armies will”—is also relevant here, but that would take us into economics and away from ethics.

Doing business in authoritarian countries poses additional questions and challenges. Are you really dealing with, and selling your products to, private citizens or with the jailers and killers? How do you know whether your products are made by (semi-) free citizens or by forced labor? Analogous questions can be asked about doing business in (semi-) free countries, such as the United States: how do you know your products are not being bought by criminals and the Mafia?

Facts do matter—a lot of them—especially when trying to decide whether doing business in certain countries is moral.

And judging other people is not an easy task, as the above examples indicate. Digging for facts is the first and persistently enduring action throughout the process required before making moral judgments in business. Time is your friend. Don’t jump to immediate conclusions.


* In contrast, I observed two brothers who owned their company; their desks were up against each other’s in an open office. They seemed to get along well.

** “Airtight” was the working title of Ayn Rand’s first novel We the Living. The background of the novel is life in the early years of the Soviet Union. Rand’s heroine shouts at her communist antagonist (p. 385): “You've driven us all into an iron cellar and you've closed all doors, and you've locked us airtight, airtight till the blood vessels of our spirits burst!” I’ve written before about our recent covid totalitarianism as a taste of airtightness.

But, again, it is necessary to understand the complexity of judging: there are bureaucrats who have their critics cancelled, jailed, or shot and others who may even help some of the slaves to escape. Bureaucracy is a huge continuum from evil to decent. (And yours truly was a “super bureaucrat” for thirty years in two government-run universities; he thinks he was on the decent end of the continuum!)

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Censorship—Direct and “Pre-"

Although censorship is always a government action, it does not always occur through an official “ministry of truth” or “department of truth and social justice.”

Free speech dies in many ways and the ways all support one another. I addressed the process in two previous posts (1, 2) and called some of the ways “pre-censorship,” meaning they are not explicitly or directly actions of the government.

Let me clarify the continuum of attacks on free speech, starting with direct government involvement. (There is likely to be some overlap.)

1. The Government Bureau. The worst, of course, would be the establishment of a “Department of Truth and Social Justice”  at the cabinet level. Such an action would increase the deep state’s control over what we can and cannot say or do, and would be the last stake in the heart of our free society.

2. Congressional or Other Government Threat. I did not include this in my previous posts but the Supreme Court has made it clear that de facto government censorship occurs by turning private firms into state actors. Threats of fine or imprisonment or antitrust lawsuits, or the revocation of Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, enable Congress and other Governnent agencies to coerce businesses to do the government’s bidding.

Recent congressional committees that have grilled social media executives about their publication of alleged “mis-” and “dis-” information are the most recent examples. Ramaswamy and Rubenfeld in a Wall Street Journal op-ed cite several Supreme Court cases, including Norwood v. Harrison (1973). The court in this case said the government “may not induce, encourage or promote private persons to accomplish what it is constitutionally forbidden to accomplish” (quoted in the op-ed).

The authors go on to say that this court holding would cover Section 230 that allows private firms not just to censor speech, but also exempts them from liability.

The removal of books from libraries and retail stores, or the refusal to publish manuscripts, at the behest of Congress and other agents of the government is tantamount to book burning.

In a truly free, laissez-faire society, of course, none of these acts, agencies, or laws—a Section 230, a “Decency Act,” a Federal Communications Commission, or antitrust laws—would exist.

The next two attacks on free speech may be described as pre-censorship, as I did in my earlier post, but the government involvement is still quite direct. Let me call these two a middle range between outright censorship and pre-censorship.

3. Nonobjective Law. This third attack on free speech is nonobjective law and its consequence, scapegoating. An excessive number of laws, especially those that are vague and overly broad, allow prosecutors, whether federal, state or local, to go after anyone they dislike or disagree with. This leads to the Levrenti Beria claim (1, p. 70; 2): “Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime” and is dangerous for a free society, as government censors actively can use the legal system to control thought and speech. The fluidity of nonobjective law makes it easier to criticize and blame disliked persons and groups, and ultimately to conduct purges and pogroms against them.

4. Government Education. The fourth form of “mid-range” censorship is government-run education, whether K through 12 or colleges and universities. The purpose historically of having the government run education has always been to control thought and speech—this is the meaning of “national” education, as in conforming to the national government’s values. And this education, at least in the K-12 years, or most of those years, is compulsory. At the university level, the control is maintained through the government’s approved accreditation agencies.

I also include in this mid-range private schools and universities that pay lip service to upholding the First Amendment, but do not. Such schools usually enjoy substantial government-granted privileges, such as massive amounts of research money, student loans, and are anointed by the government’s accreditation standard bearers.

Private schools that have statements in their charters upholding certain precepts of a religion or philosophy and stating that teachers and students are expected to abide by those precepts are not government censors. Freedom of speech presupposes property rights, which means any private business (or homeowner) who does not enjoy government-granted privileges may kick out or prevent from entering anyone the owner dislikes or disagrees with.

The difficulty in today’s badly mixed society of freedom and government interventions is to sort out and find the interventions. Those businesses that enjoy major interventions are in fact “state actors.”

The final two forms of censorship that I think are properly called “pre-” censorship were identified by philosopher Bertrand Russell and novelist George Orwell, with edits and additions by me. “Pre” means no apparent government involvement, but the silencing of dissent that results softens the populace by letting them know they must be careful about what, when, and where they say whatever might be attacked. Pre-censorship chills speech, paving the way for the acceptance of direct and indirect government involvement.

5. Economic Penalties. This is cancel culture that demotes or fires, or works hard to have demoted or fired, anyone who does not toe the party line. Tactics can include blacklisting, disinvitation, and intimidation and violence by street thugs, especially the destruction of property. As the culture moves more and more toward dictatorship, violence to person becomes common. The primary aim is to prevent the victim from earning a living. Ultimately, it means imprisonment or execution.

6. Distortion of Evidence. Smears and propaganda, libels, double standards, suppression of criticism, sins of omission. These are all practiced by the intelligentsia: media, teachers, professors, entertainers, and business leaders all of whom toe the party line. The mainstream media leads the way—as it did in Fidel Castro’s Cuba, forcefully described by Mary Anastasia O’Grady in her WSJ Column October 25, 2020. The mainstream press paves the way for the dictator by preaching the gospel of the party and censuring those they disagree with using these tactics of evidence distortion. Facts and truth are out in the media. Fictions, aka “narratives,” as in “you have your truth and we have ours,” are created to destroy their opponents.*

News commentator Bill O’Reilly recently asked, “How long can a nation remain free if its press is dishonest?” Answer, not long unless something changes.**

One final note about congressional threats and Section 230 as it relates to social media. I have several times urged the repeal of Section 230 and the FCC on moral and constitutional grounds. Ramaswamy and Rubenfeld make an interesting practical argument at the conclusion of their column. Yes, they acknowledge that social media companies have grown large by their privileged exemption from liability, but to repeal 230 now probably would not affect them. Repeal, however, would make it difficult for startups to grow. They suggest lawsuits against social media, citing the case law that they mention in their article.

The issues concerning today’s social media are legal, moral, and practical. Ramaswamy and Rubenfeld prefer the practical route, which may work in the near future. The longer term solution requires repeal.


* The print media in the US today are generally thought to be free of government regulation, control, or privileges, in contrast to broadcast that are in the hands of the Federal Communications Commission. But print media were given significant privileges in two Supreme Court cases, in 1964 and 1967. The cases greatly delimited the ability of public figures to sue the media for defamation. This enabled all media to practice libel without fear of reproach.

** See journalist Glenn Greenwald for a detailed presentation of how thinking in principles is absent from today’s mainstream media, replaced by judgment based on personality and ideology. Also see Alex Berenson’s book Pandemia for a fact-filled demonstration of how journalism used to be performed—a breath of fresh air in our recent climate of covid totalitarianism. As I have said before, the mainstream media are fools and useful idiots for thinking they will be protected when the real dictator takes over our country.

Friday, November 05, 2021

My Body, My Choice—Her Body, Her Choice. Same Principle

Principles are universal and provide causal explanations and guidance to human action.

Examples from an earlier post, with appropriate qualifications, included water boiling at 212 degrees Fahrenheit at sea level, and never lying in human relationships. The former is a causal explanation with implicit guidance to adjust cooking temperatures at higher altitudes and the latter is moral guidance with a fundamental explanation of benevolent cooperation. Both principles are universal and apply to all instances of water boiling and cooperation.

Two disputed issues in today’s world are coerced vaccinations and coerced birthing of unwanted children. Both violate individual rights—the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The premise underlying both types of coercion, which itself is presented as a universal principle, is the altruistic doctrine of self-sacrifice. As a universal, it justifies extending initiated coercion to other areas of our lives, such as coerced sterilization and coerced prevention of the use of birth control. The premise treats each of us as lambs to be sacrificed to the state. However, there is no right or duty to sacrifice ourselves to others, including the state, and certainly no right to sacrifice others to ourselves or the state.

Rights are freedoms of action, freedoms from any kind of initiated coercion, whether by another citizen or by the government, to choose the values we want to pursue and to take the actions necessary to acquire those values. Rights are moral guidance in a political context and causal explanation of peaceful social cooperation in a capitalist society.

Our only general obligation to others is to avoid initiating coercion against them.

Freedom of action in today’s world includes the freedom to refuse to get vaccinated or to have an unwanted baby. If anyone is afraid to get near the unvaccinated, it is that person’s prerogative to avoid them, not the responsibility of the government to punish or quarantine the unvaccinated. Private businesses can ask you to get vaccinated or stay home. The government cannot.

And the government is nearly everywhere in our lives in today’s mixed economy of freedom and dictatorship, which means “follow and find the government intervention” before drawing conclusions about what should and should not be done in specific cases. Solution: get the government out of our lives, personal and professional.

Freedom of action also presupposes an actual, not potential, independent living human being who does the acting. Cells in a woman’s body is not an independent life and the woman has the right to decide what to do with her body and those cells. If a fetus develops, though not yet into an independent entity, and the woman’s life becomes threatened, terminating the pregnancy is her decision, no one else’s.*

Freedom of action is the legal issue. You can talk about ethical issues of recklessly refusing to take care of one’s health or of recklessly getting pregnant. But the government in a free society has no right to interfere in such a person’s life.

If I sneeze on you and you can prove my awareness of illness and my negligence or intent to harm, you might have a legal case against me. But if a woman gets pregnant to increase her welfare payments—the only thing morally or legally guilty here is the government welfare system, which should be cancelled.

In April 2020, I cited John Goodman of the Goodman Institute who projected what a truly free market in medicine might be like in a pandemic—meaning absent licensing monopolies and health or medical czars telling us what we can and cannot do. Such as, inexpensive testing kits rapidly produced and made available. Doctors or nurses (an abundance of both because there would be no artificial restriction of supply caused by the licensing) would be available immediately to talk to you via telephone or, more likely, the internet, or actually to make a house call. And if you had serious symptoms, you would be welcomed to the hospital emergency rooms (many more than today because of their built-in excess capacity) and treated promptly.

Quarantining (including “lockdowns”) of asymptomatic people is preventive law and, as Ayn Rand has said, preventive law “is the legal hallmark of dictatorship . . . the concept that a man is guilty until he is proved innocent.”**

Emergency powers and martial law of any kind are violations of individual rights and should be banned in free societies.

Also in today’s mixed economy of freedom and dictatorship, both left and right, that is, the pro-choice and anti-abortion advocates have much to clean up before they can talk about the issue of abortion. The welfare state and poverty programs that have given us welfare recipients, including pregnant teenagers, who refuse to get a job or a husband to father their children need to be opposed and repealed. And the adoption system, hopelessly mired in bureaucratic rules that prolong and extend the process, should not have any government involvement at all.

Needless to say, the government and its money should also not be involved in birth control or the actual medical procedure of abortion. Let the market decide and operate. It will do a far better job than any federal, state, or local government.

My body, my choice—her body, her choice. Both follow from the US Bill of Rights.


* The right to life, in other words, begins at birth and the abortion issue is nearly entirely about the first trimester, though the woman’s life, health, or future must never be sacrificed, whether to a rapist or to a healthy fetus, or to a severely disabled one.

** Typhoid Mary? Mary Mallon was the only one of over 400 carriers of salmonella typhi forcibly confined by the health czars of New York City. For a total of twenty-six years! The common cold is asymptomatic for one to four days. If we develop a test and find someone positive after two days, do we put that person in jail (quarantine)? Protect the vulnerable is the advice of rational scientists today. See Oxford epidemiologist Sunetra Gupta’s 2013 monograph Pandemics (Kindle, location 380), where she suggests that our “current patterns of international travel” have exposed us to all kinds of pathogens and likely given us a “global wall of immunity.” Lockdowns and other forms of confinement prevent our acquisition of such an immunity. And, as Gupta also points out, older people during the 1918 Spanish Flu seem not to have been affected because they likely had developed immunity during previous influenza outbreaks of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Pandemics, Kindle, location 20).

Friday, October 08, 2021

The Communist-Fascist-Leftist Democratic-Socialist-Progressive Totalitarians: A Glossary of Dictatorship

This post can be thought of as a kind of compendium of dictatorship, with many links to previous posts where I have touched on the notions.

All terms in the title represent people who desire to, or do, exercise absolute authority or power over the citizenry. Differences between the terms and the people who espouse them are negligible. The consequences of such absolute power are not pretty.

Let me start with the totalitarians. They are the ones who want to and do use total coercive, governmental control to tell us what we can and cannot do in our personal and professional lives. Like, you know in recent times, to leave our homes, travel, sit down in a restaurant, run our businesses, etc., and perhaps even talk to our neighbors. In other words, covid totalitarianism.

The “left,” as in the left-right continuum, refers to the degree of government intrusion in and control of our personal and professional lives. The “far left” wants to control all, which means they are totalitarians. The right limits the government to self-defensive coercion against those who initiate physical force.

The left is Leninist socialism (there is no other type). It is Lenin’s giant post office that we all work for (government ownership of the means of production), protected by an armed proletariat (or other such “protectors”). The right is laissez-faire capitalism.*

The left wants to and does use physical force to establish and control everyone through a dictatorship. The right wants to and does establish the protection of individual rights, including especially property rights, political freedom, and equality before the (rationally defined, objective) law.
 
The middle ranges of the continuum are varying mixtures of freedom and dictatorship (or freedom and controls, as some say). The societies are also called mixed economies. “Moderates,” so called, fall within these ranges. They apparently like to distinguish themselves from the “extremists” on both ends of the continuum.

The freer countries of today’s world, including the United States, are mixed societies of freedom and dictatorship, the dictatorial control coming from the deep states’ and their governments’ overabundance of overly broad, vague laws and administrative rules.

Putting the word “democratic” in front of socialism does not make it a kinder, gentler Garden of Eden in which the lion lies down beside the lamb, nor does it make socialism more peaceful than Marx’s violent revolution. It just means democrats want to use the vote and discussion to abolish private property and establish Lenin’s post office, in increments by gradually moving the mixed economy to total control. In recent times, note how less gradual and more quickly this move seems to be occurring.

The problem with democratic socialism, as F. A. Hayek (chap. 10) and George Reisman (part I) have pointed out, is that the democrats’ policies require coercion to enforce. And because the policies violate some citizens’ rights for the favor and privilege of others, sooner or later the citizens whose rights are being violated start thinking about rebelling. Eventually they disobey the dictatorial edicts. To maintain control, the “lions” in the government will gladly sacrifice the lambs to their favor and privilege.

The worst in moral character, as Hayek demonstrated, rise to the top of government leadership because democrats lose their nerve to enforce coercive policies. Reisman, putting it more bluntly, says that armed robbery and murder become necessary to overcome the citizens’ armed resistance to coercive policies. The worst who have risen to the top gladly comply with this requirement. (Motivation? Envy and hatred.)

This is the time when society becomes rather inelegant or unpretty, you know, as in one-party rule, political imprisonment and executions, expropriation of property, and censorship—and often is followed up with gulags and concentration camps.

Democracy means unlimited majority rule, which is a form of dictatorship. A modest search of the US’s founding fathers will reveal a frequent use of the word “tyranny” in conjunction with democracy. That’s why they called our new nation a constitutional republic, the constitutional part including a bill of rights that restrains the majority. “Democracy” and “free society” only go together if the words “classical liberal” are its modifiers, as in classically liberal democracy.

The significance of the vote in modern history, as identified by Ludwig von Mises (sec. 8, chap. 1), is its use in the transition of leadership, i.e., the vote in place of guns, which means the avoidance of civil war.

The progressives are socialists through and through, though divided into two eras of American history. The early progressives, from 1880s to about 1930, were educated by German professors who were democratic socialists. Back in the US, the progressives’ goal was to replace classical liberalism with the so-called social variety (social liberalism) by establishing an administrative state, i.e., a large bureaucracy of “experts” voting in new laws and establishing regulatory rules to tame the alleged “capitalist beast.” In other words, to establish a mixed economy that would move steadily toward socialism.

The modern version of progressivism, from 1930 to the present, was initially explicit communism or socialism, at least until the mid 1950s. It was Nikita Khruschev’s leaked secret speech about Stalin that caused the leftists to hide behind the banner of progressivism, often dressed up as democracy. (A “soviet is an elected governmental council in a Communist country.”)

Communism and fascism, the final terms to mention, are both forms of socialism, and both decidedly leftist. Marx, Engels, and Lenin all considered communism a synonym of socialism. Fascism (Mussolini’s term) and Nazism (Hitler’s version) were systems that inherited industrial economies with large private sectors. The essence of fascism, as identified by Mises, is a nominal—in name only—private ownership of the means of production, with severe or total control and regulation by the government. Mises’ essentialization (chap. 7) makes it clear that fascism, as “socialism of the German pattern,” belongs on the left in the left-right continuum. It is only the manner of control that differs.

This means today’s mixed economies that have private property and private ownership of the means of production and are controlled and regulated by the government are fascistic. This includes present-day United States. The amount and severity of control pushes the country closer and closer to a de facto socialism.

Other issues associated with fascism, such as racism, militarism, intimidation of voters, concentration camps, and declarations of emergency powers, are either nonessential to the meaning of fascism or are shared with socialism. Not all fascist countries were racist, for one thing, and Hitler learned his tactics from Lenin and Stalin.

Where does this put the United States today? No matter what you call it, we are headed toward a communist-fascist-leftist democratic-socialist-progressive totalitarianism.

Keep in mind, as David Horowitz says (quoted in his website’s masthead), “Inside every progressive is a totalitarian screaming to get out.”

And as Ludwig von Mises (p. 52) put it, “Every advocate of the welfare state and of planning is a potential dictator. What he plans is to deprive all other men of all their rights, and to establish his own and his friends’ unrestricted omnipotence.”


* The “right,” traditionally, has been said to be the home of fascistic, military dictatorships, and the notion can be traced to what is called right-Hegelianism and to the French Revolution. This designation is often meant to denigrate capitalism as fascistic and the accusation comes from the communist-socialist leftists.

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

From the Preface to Applying Principles

Applying Principles: Short Essays Based on the Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Economics of Ludwig von Mises, and Psychology of Edith Packer will be published October 1. It is my first ten years of blogging. The book may be preordered at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, with more information on its website books.jkirkpatrick.net. Here are edited selections from the preface.


Although I spent thirty-six years in college classrooms teaching undergraduate and graduate students business marketing, my bachelor’s degree was in philosophy. That subject influenced and underscored my entire career. As a result, I never let the day job of teaching students how to sell soap (as I would often describe my academic duties) become disconnected from its foundations in psychology, economics, or philosophy.

Indeed, I recognized early in graduate school that marketing, as well as the other business disciplines, are properly described as applied sciences that rest on those more fundamental fields. “Art” is sometimes used to describe applied science, but the usage is correct only if it is meant as a synonym. Often the word is meant to disparage applied fields because they are allegedly less precise or rigorous than “real” science, which means the physical or quantitative sciences. A student many years ago complimented me when she realized that advertising was as disciplined (her word) as finance, her major. There may not be universal equations in the applied human sciences, but the principles are universal in their appropriate context and the fields are “disciplined.”

Business as applied science is analogous to medicine and engineering. Medicine rests on biology for its more fundamental foundation and engineering on physics and chemistry. All fundamental and derivative special sciences, again in turn, rest on philosophy. All such fields are related and should be integrated, rather than isolated as they so often are in today’s academic world.

Thus, what I did when researching, writing, and teaching was to apply principles from the other, more fundamental fields, which explains my interest in epistemology and psychology, as well as the principles unique to marketing and advertising.

To illustrate further, the civil engineer whose goal is to build a bridge must know not just the fundamentals of physics and chemistry, but also the nature and composition of materials (used to build the bridge), and also the nature and behavior of rivers, which includes the history of the particular river over which the bridge will span and the nature and behavior of the river’s soil and water.

Applied science gathers all relevant concrete facts of the specific case it is working on, then uses, that is, applies, the universal concepts and principles of the fundamental sciences on which it rests, plus the narrower concepts and principles of its discipline.

Application is one of the two fundamental methods of cognition and is deductive. Generalization is the other and is inductive. We all use both every day in our lives. The two methods, as I say in my 2018 blog post, “are not the monopoly of scientists, philosophers, or academics in general.” Generalization gives us concepts and principles to guide our lives, while it also gives us theory and theoretical science. Application, which requires the previously acquired knowledge that generalization gives us, is what our medical doctors do, what Sherlock Holmes did, and what we do on a daily basis.

Application means we identify “a this as an instance of a that.” We present a cough and runny nose to our doctor and he or she quickly concludes, based on accumulated knowledge and patient history, that we have a cold. Similarly, Holmes saw that Watson was tanned and showed signs of having been wounded in a war; thus he concluded Watson recently came back from Afghanistan. And a child applies the previously learned concept of balance by shifting weight when learning to ride a bicycle. All three examples are processes of deduction, and illustrate how deduction is the predominant method of applied sciences, as well as everyday life.*

Deduction, therefore, is essentially what I have been doing when writing my blog posts. I am not in any intended way coming up with new concepts or principles, nor am I repeating the proofs of the great writers listed in my masthead, or others I may cite in a post as a reference. I take their ideas and apply them to specific issues.


The following essays are not journalistic as a newspaper column might be. I gave myself the assignment always to come up with something more fundamental than the news of the day, whether theoretical or historical, which last includes relevant citation of research.

The posts are organized into seven chapters, listed chronologically within chapter. Because of the way I write—“interdisciplinary” to use the academic jargon—one may quibble over some classifications. The chapters are “Capitalism and Politics,” “Academia,” “Education,” “Psychology,” “Epistemology,” “Youth Sports,” and “The Arts.”

I do have favorites. It was difficult to choose one per chapter, but here they are, in chapter order:

• “The Reductio of Bureaucracy: Totalitarian Dictatorship”

• “Because the Stakes Are So Small”

• “Go Fish!”

• “Look at Your Premises. Look. Look. Look!”

• “Why Don’t Facts Matter?”

• “Yes, There Is Crying in Softball”

• “Life in Three-Quarter Time”

My idea for publishing this collection comes from two books of columns: All It Takes Is Guts by economist Walter Williams and Double Standards by radio show host Larry Elder. I did not read these books from beginning to end. I skimmed the table of contents and read whatever caught my attention. Readers of this work might want to do the same.


* It is in this sense that history is also an applied science. We, as well as professional historians, look at past events, natural or human, and try to explain them, that is, identify their causes, by reference to our accumulated theoretical knowledge. Historians in the human sciences rely in particular on political philosophy, economics, and psychology. See Ludwig von Mises, Theory and History, amazon.com.
 

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

“Whataboutism” and the Nature of Principles

“Whataboutism” (1, 2) is an accusation of inconsistency.

In recent years it has become a form of the tu quoque (“you too”) fallacy: “what about your (America’s) human rights violations?” But it has another form that has been around probably since the beginning of intellectual argumentation.

“You don’t believe women should be drafted into the military, but what about men?”

“You don’t believe small business should be regulated, but surely you believe big business needs regulation?” What about the steel industry? What about automobiles? What about high tech?”

When it occurs in this form, it might be a logically valid point, or it might be a dropping of context by failing to connect to reality. To understand the difference, we need to understand principles and their application.*

Slightly adapting a definition from the Oxford English Dictionary, principles are fundamental truths on which others depend that provide causal explanations and guidance to human action.

For example, water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit at sea level, lower at higher elevations or higher if the water contains impurities. This is a causal explanation and implicit guidance—adjust cooking recipes in high altitude.

Never lie in human relationships, unless threatened with initiated coercion, uninvited invasion of privacy, or when a blunt truth may unnecessarily hurt the other person. This is a guide to human action, a moral one at that, and an implied causal explanation of what is required for benevolent cooperation and friendship.

Principles are combinations of concepts and each concept in the principle must be true, that is, correctly identify the facts the concept subsumes under it.** In this way principles state truths and enable subsequent truths to rest on them to build our personal knowledge (unique to each one of us) and our physical, biological, and human sciences.

Truth is not in reality to be corresponded to or “grasped” as the traditional theory of truth holds, which is to say truth is not in the thing intrinsically as Aristotle and other naïve realists believe.

Truth and falsity are in our heads based on how well—correctly or incorrectly—we have processed reality, performing certain mental actions to make our identifications. If I call the glass of water on my desk a leprechaun, I have mentally processed the object in a way that the content of my consciousness contradicts the facts. This violates one of Aristotle’s many major contributions to rational thought, the law of non-contradiction.

If I call the object a glass of water, I have mentally processed the object in a way that the content of my consciousness correctly identifies it, that is, subsumes it under the concept “glass of water.”

Correctly identified truths are universal, as are correctly formed concepts, but the fundamental principle that guides all our identifications is Aristotle’s law that includes a crucial phrase at the end of his statement: “at the same time and in the same respect.”

Concepts and principles are formed and applied within a context. Water does not boil at 212 degrees Fahrenheit without appropriate qualifications. Herein lies the problem with the “whataboutists” who fail not just to understand the correct nature of principles but also the context in which they apply, hence the many repeated questions “what about this?” “and this” “and this?”

The principle of individual rights identifies freedoms of action that are universal in a social, political context, meaning they apply to all individuals in society, whether male, female, black, white, American, or Chinese. The principle of rights also applies to anyone who runs a business, any business.

And these rights are violated by initiated coercion, especially when imposed by the government.

This means the military draft is involuntary servitude for both males and females, no matter what rationalizations the Supreme Court has given to justify it. Being against the draft for women means also being against it for men, and vice versa.

If initiated coercion is used to regulate business people, the consistent conclusion of universal individual rights applied to business must be laissez-faire capitalism.

Applying principles means recognizing specific cases that are subsumed under the principle. Men, women, blacks, whites, etc.—and business people—are all included in the principle of universal individual rights, which means all of the individuals’ rights must be protected by the government, not violated through the initiation of physical force.

If, however, we say that some human beings should be drafted into the military, a disconnect from reality has occurred and a concession to the alternative principle of servitude has been made. This sets up a problem of logical consistency: either men and women both should be drafted and turned into slaves, or no one—morally and legally—should be. There is no way consistently to apply the principle of involuntary servitude to one and not the other.***

The same applies to business people. If it is okay to regulate one, consistency of the regulation principle makes it okay to regulate all. This is how government interventions in our personal and professional lives necessitate a full march toward socialism, which is where we are heading today and have been for the past one hundred years.

Consistency means no contradictions, but that can mean what follows deductively from a principle detached from reality or whether the principle is anchored inductively to facts. “Draft and regulate everyone” follows from the principle of servitude, but individual rights as freedoms of action that are violated by initiated coercion are rooted in and derive from the nature of human beings that possess the capacity to reason. Consistency, fundamentally, means being connected to and anchored in reality.

In today’s postmodern culture where facts don’t matter, consistency doesn’t either. Throw in the mixed economy that by its nature violates principles to combine freedom with dictatorship and you have many inconsistencies to call out with “what about this?” “and this?” “and this?”

Nonetheless, there are occasions in which a “what about this?” question, as I alluded to earlier, may bring up a valid point you may not have thought about. Such a questioner, however, must be sincere.

As a teenager I was introduced to whataboutism from one or two adults who condescendingly said, “What about this? I’m just trying to help you. I don’t really believe any of this” (crap was the full implication of the adult’s statement). One even said, “It’s just good debate,” meaning there is no such thing as truth.

These whataboutists are people who do not take ideas seriously and I have no use for them.


* This post is based on Ayn Rand’s epistemology, especially her theory of concepts. See also this earlier post.

** From the OED’s etymology discussion of the verb to identify: “to subsume (several things) under one idea or concept (1610).” Identification means to recognize similarity or sameness in order to classify whatever is similar or the same under a particular concept or principle. Rand’s notion of measurement omission gives us the causal explanation of how we abstract to form valid universals, and the guidance to form them.

*** See my earlier post and Ayn Rand’s comments on the anatomy of compromise of principles (1, 2).