When I learned that BioShock was set in an Objectivist society that had self-destructed, I assumed that the story was an attempt by the writer to refute the ideas of Objectivism. I imagined that the author read one of Rand’s books, was irritated by it, and set up the plot of BioShock to demonstrate it to be a load of crap. I was curious to see how much truth there was in that. (Short answer: None, really.) I’m not an Objectivist myself and I’m not interested in actually playing the game, but I thought I’d see what Objectivists had to say about the thing.
And I came up empty. Google had nothing to offer on the subject. Here is a game with a plot that is built around the philosophy, and not one Objectivist has written an analysis on it? How is that possible? If the game had been talking about specific political parties or religions, then the flame war would have gone on until the internet ran out of hard drive space. But not one Objectivist has played the game and talked about it?
I decided to ask an Objectivist myself. I asked Jennifer Snow, who graces the comment threads around here from time to time. She hadn’t played the game, but she put me in contact with The Inspector, who was kind enough to give me a lengthy and detailed look at Objectivism in the game. It turned out I wasn’t giving the writer nearly enough credit. The game isn’t a direct attack on the philosophy and the city of Rapture isn’t a strawman.
I found The Inspector’s answer so interesting that I thought I’d share. With his permission, here is the email he sent in reply:
While I consider myself an Objectivist, I don’t speak for Objectivism in any official capacity – only for myself. What you hear from me is my own best take on it. For the official source, you’ll want to visit The Ayn Rand Institute.
There are going to be some very heavy spoilers here – I’ll warn you of that right off the bat.
Is Bioshock an attack on Objectivism? Well, granted, it does portray a “perfect” society that most certainly has gone to hell, but there’s really a lot more to it than that.
For starters, there’s a major plot twist 3/4 through the game where you discover, basically, that you’ve been manipulated and lied to all along by the villain. And pretty much everyone else has, too. Once you discover this, with some thinking, you can see how just about every bit of information that’s been fed to you to demonize Andrew Ryan is actually misleading and taken out of context. There’s a lot made in the game of how everything’s looking all scary with arrests and martial law, but when you get right down to it, the people arrested really *were* working for the villain. In the end, you don’t really get the full story, but there is at least the possibility that Ryan really didn’t do anything morally wrong at all.
And, really, what you find in the game is that hardly any of the people in the city actually subscribe to Ryan’s vision. The thing that ultimately does them in is that so many of them are willing to lie, cheat, steal, and see no problem with working with this slimeball villain who’s trying the bring the whole place down. And even then, there’s a lot of conspiracy and manipulation on the villain’s part. It’s not really Ryan’s pseudo-Objectivist philosophy that’s failing, so much as it’s an example of what might happen to a society built on that philosophy if less than 1% of its constituant members actually subscribed to it. I don’t think that this, as a message, is any real threat to Objectivism since none of us has ever claimed that everything will get magically better if the law is structured right but society remains culturally and philosophically where it is. Every legitimate Objectivist organization I know of is saying that trying for political change is hopeless until we can achieve a cultural change – i.e. toward reason and individual rights.
Now of course, in the end the city does fall, and regardless of the fact that it’s all a grand conspiracy, this still does say something about the author’s view of the ideas on which the city was founded. But not, I think, in a direct I’m-against-Objectivism sort of way. Having talked to Ken Levine, I can say that the theme he’s after is wider than that. He’s making a comment on human nature itself. It’s not so much that he thinks Objectivism is specifically wrong – in fact he’s told me that from the limited amount of it he is familiar with, he found a lot of it to be quite admirable. But he’s one of those people that just doesn’t think that men can live up to it.
Getting specific, it’s a matter of certainty. Philosophic certainty, that is. Levine, like a lot of folks who were raised on modern philosophy, has an aversion to anyone or anything that claims to have certainty. When you think about it, the 20th century has been a display of many ideologies which claimed to be able to solve mankind’s problems with a grand restructuring of morality and society. One of the reactions to this is that some people have simply become afraid of anything that has a grand and certain vision.
This is actually quite ironic. It was Skeptical calls to philosophic uncertainty just like this which ended the Enlightment, thus paving the way to the totalitarian ideologies which followed. All such movements denied reason and scientific certainty – they had to, in order to deny rights, which were a product of that Enlightenment thought. A lot of people think that Marxism advocated reason or certainty, but that’s just because they’ve never deeply studied it. It actually rejects logic and reason in favor of a bunch of soothsaying mysticism dressed up in complicated-sounding terms like “dialectical materialism,” which have about as much to do with reason as that crazy guy on the corner who likes to yell things at passers-by. But most people have no idea of the actual cause of Nazism and Communism.
I think this sort of fear is a product of not really knowing the history of philosophy (well, that and the influence of philosophic Skepticism). I’m not exactly a professional scholar of it, myself, but there’s a lot of great Objectivist literature out there that really lays out the basics in an easy-to-understand fashion. Totalitarian states didn’t just happen out of nowhere – or simply because some people had a large vision that they tried to carry out, but human nature failed or something. They happened for very specific, repeatable, reasons. All totalitarian disasters share common philosophic premises and roots, such as collectivism and altruism – the idea that men exist to serve the collective. Once you learn that the philosophers behind Communism said that men don’t have rights, and morality consisted of whatever the collective wanted, then it isn’t surprising that their practitioners felt free to start marching people into gulags and gas chambers. And not only that, but the ideologies which created them can clearly be traced back through the movements and philosophers which gave root to them. They didn’t happen randomly, but rather because specific, related schools of thought became prevalent for decades before the disasters ensued.
So is Bioshock an indictment of Objectivism? I’d say no – and I’d even go so far as to say that it wasn’t even the author’s intent for it to be. He does have some tragic themes about human nature and certainty in there, which are definitely in disagreement with Objectivism, but I think that’s going at least three or four levels deeper than most folks will.
I know already that some of this is going to rub some people the wrong way, and that any discussion is inevitably going to trend towards politics and rancor. It wouldn’t be very fair for me to post this and then deny dissenters a chance to have their say, so I’m going to lift my moratorium on that sort of thing for this thread. On the other hand, the last few paragraphs tap into the very heat source for most hot-button topics. Individual freedom vs. the collective is at the root of every major political argument currently simmering out there, and a free-for-all thread is likely to have us swimming in magma before we know it.
So please remember that this is a geek blog. We have a nice community here. We get along well enough, and I’d hate to see bitter feuds appear over previously obscured fault lines in the group. Keep it civil and don’t make it personal. Don’t post angry. I’d rather get along and talk about gaming than have a fight which will cause division without changing anyone’s mind, and I hope the above is a stimulating read no matter where you’re coming from.
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206 thoughts on “BioShock: An Objectivist on the Objectivism”
Hm. Pretty interesting, I have to ““
Wait, arguments? AAAAAHHHH!
*dives into internet fallout shelter, locks door*
EDIT: First! Woot!
(Dons his asbestos typing gloves)
I never played Bioshock, but philosophical ideas, distilled down to simple themes, tend to go over well in popular media. The Matrix, for example, was a pretty clear reference to Descartes’s “evil genius” scenario.
I do agree with The Inspector, though. Most people don’t know enough about philosophy, and even people who make it their business tend not to think carefully enough about it (having been a philosophy minor in college, I have a small bit of experience with that). Most people tend not to enjoy breaking out of a certain mode of thinking, so it’s generally easier to keep things in simpler terms and not push various ideas into extended consequences. In other words, most people are okay just keeping it at “X is evil” without ever wondering why anybody would have believed/followed “X” in the first place.
Yay! I’m so glad you got what you were looking for, Shamus. If anyone has specific questions about Objectivist ideas and how they relate to things they’ve found in Bioshock or elsewhere, I’d like to make myself available as a resource. I haven’t played the game so you’ll have to TELL me what happened and what you think about it, but I’ve gotten pretty good at this sort of thing.
I’d like to add, though, that Inspector’s caveat applies to me, also. I’m not a professional academic Objectivist scholar and I am NOT a spokesman for Objectivism in any way. I’ve simply been a student of Objectivism for 14 years and hopefully have the ability to point people in the right direction if they’re looking for info.
Oh, and to answer Shamus’s question about why there’s no literature on the subject–there are very few Objectivists out there and most of the vocal academic ones DON’T PLAY VIDEO GAMES. Yaron Brook, the “face man” for the Ayn Rand Institute and basically The Spokesman to the extent that there is one, released a brief op-ed on the subject where he simply said that he had no complaints whatsoever about Bioshock. He figured it was good press and if it got people interested in Objectivism, so much the better. From watching his son play it, he believed that the philosophy in the game was flawed, but anything that got people interested in asking the questions was fine by him. That’s pretty much the extent of the official Objectivist reaction to Bioshock. If I didn’t administrate a major Objectivist forum, I’d NEVER have been able to help Shamus.
I’m not an Objectivist myself, but I do appreciate the system’s goals as worthy ones. I like that someone else saw this game as something more than “lol, Rand is teh suxzors”, which is the most common response I have seen.
As to the failure of your Google Fu, Objectivism isn’t really considered a legitimate philosophy by modern professional philosophers, so the community tends to stick to itself without much dialog outside of it.
Is Bioshock’s story worth the money? There is a hell of a lot more to it than most of the “1. You are a space marine 2. there are aliens 3. you have a gun, figure out the rest” plots floating around, and I would have bought it if not for the DRM.
The problem with politics is not politics. The problem with politics is people.
Aergoth, that’s like saying that the problem with clothing not fitting isn’t the clothing, it’s that the people are the wrong shape. A system designed FOR people (politics) ought to be based on what people actually ARE, not on what philosophers imagine they ought to be.
For me, I saw it as a general problem with society, some person(s) with vision starts a grand new way of living/thinking, and it is brought low by the most petty of people, so desperate for personal gain, that they spoil it for the whole. This is seen time and time again. Dare I bring in the banking crisis?
The higher levels of thought presented by the game were completely masked for me by a few gameplay factors though. The Big Twist in particular, which completely broke the immersion. I could see it coming, all the clues were boldy displayed, and yet I could do nothing about it, and instead of feeling like that was the intention, it just felt as though I was being forced along a path with no other options. There wasn’t even the illusion of choice.
I am no fan of Ayn Rand’s work, which colors my perception of Objectivism. But even with an inherent bias, I did not come away from Bioshock thinking the game thought Objectivism was negative. As stated above, the game is more about human nature than any philosophy. The Fontaine is fighting Andrew Ryan over the control of the city in the pursuit of power, not because of Ryan’s ideals. That is a flaw that can bring down any government, regardless of its structure.
Not having played Bioshock except for the excruciatingly dull demo, I can’t comment directly on the game. However I have found that authors who philosophize at the expense of plot and character development tend to lose me as a reader. Terry Goodkind, whose Sword of Truth series started out well, took his success and used it to bludgeon us with his ham-handed Neo-Objectivism. Philosophy can sure ruin a good series.
That’s quite a collectivist assumption, Magnus. What, exactly, did the villain propose to gain via his acts of destruction?
A major part of Objectivism is that acts of short-range, out of context whim-worship are not motivated by selfishness, but by whim-worship. A truly selfish person is reality-oriented and knows that lying, cheating, and destruction does not benefit them in the long run. It isn’t profit-seeking that is the problem, it’s people acting short-range while trying to evade knowledge of the consequences of their actions.
In terms of the banking crisis, for instance, the problem wasn’t greedy or profit-seeking bankers, but the government putting in place institutions like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that “guaranteed” the high-risk loans. In more personal terms, this is like a trainer telling an injured athelete “I’ll just numb it to take the pain away so you can keep playing”. End result? The athelete plays on a ruptured ACL and rips it entirely, thus causing the ruin of their career. This is especially horrific when they could have taken a break, gotten surgery, had physical therapy, and enjoyed many more years of their beloved career.
You tell me who the bad guy there is.
Even if the “authorial intent” of the plot is against Objectivism (which isn’t necessarily true), the most dynamic and memorable character in the story is Andrew Ryan. He is now my go-to guy for Objectivist and libertarian quotes.
“A man creates. A parasite asks, Where is my share?”
@Hal: You missed out the inevitable conclusion that the Matrix is more similar to Plato’s cave; the simulated world is the cave, with shadows on the wall that we think are real, and Neo goes through his (painful) climb into reality (the philosophers journey into the real world), then goes back in an attempt to enlighten others.
It’s definitely interesting that philosophical concepts are being expressed through the medium of video games/interpretive dance. Could this be some sort of new rise of the video game as a true art, similar to literature or painting? It could be in a couple of hundred years time Bioshock will be a museum piece similar to Robinson Crusoe today.
@OEP: You’re right about that, in fact, Ayn Rand herself tried to teach people not to produce art with a didactic motive in mind. Yes, art can *contain* a “message” if the artwork itself is strong enough to hold that message, but the purpose of art isn’t to teach but to demonstrate directly the *consequences* of certain philosophical conclusions.
An Objectivist painter, for instance, would not go around painting dollar signs and giving long boring speeches about the symbolic significance of the dollar, etc. Instead, they might portray a man working in a factory or at a desk in a beautiful, bright, sunlit way that left no question that the artist thought this was a wonderful and meaningful activity proper to humans and to human happiness.
This is immensely hard to do, however, so it seems like we mostly get one or the other. I mean, video game writers aren’t exactly renowned for creating stories of great depth, complexity, and originality anyway, and that’s the sort of artist you need to be if you want to put some heavy philosophy in your work. Most game writers have trouble with simple themes such as the generic struggle between good and evil.
Jennifer Snow: The founding fathers of the United States struggled with that very issue when framing our constitution. There were many in the convention who believed that the document should reflect the pie-in-the-sky version of what humanity ought to be, and those who wanted it to reflect the gritty reality of real life. In the end what we ended up with was an elegant (at times) blending of both. It’s reflected over and over again throughout the whole document actually.
The House of Representatives is a body made up from direct representatives of small (at the time) groups of people who represented the real needs and wants of their constituents. The Senate is a smaller and more deliberative body designed to think on a more national level, but ultimately for the good of an entire state.
The entire legislative process is one where we start (hopefully) with a concept of what “should be” and end up with a law that addresses reality, hopefully still retaining a bit of the “should”.
I actually did a whole project on this in an undergrad philosophy class years ago. It was fun trolling through the constitution and breaking it down between the utilitarians and idealists.
@Nova: You could draw parallels between The Matrix and almost any philosophy out there, because almost all philosophies other than Objectivism and perhaps Aristotle endorse some version of the mind/body dichotomy AND the moral/practical dichotomy.
@Factoid: You are correct, but I’m not against enjoining people to be what they should be (far from it!), but against basing your ideas of what people should be on something other than facts, which is what most philosophers indulge in orgiastically. This is precisely what results in such dichotomies as “the moral versus the practical” or “the mind versus the body”.
Objectivism rejects these viewpoints utterly. To us, the moral IS the practical, because we don’t form any vision of what is moral without first looking at reality.
To use your athelete example, surely the athelete should be aware that numbing the pain is not a cure, and there is still inherent risk in running. The athelete has to make the choice between short and long term gains for themself, and cannot just turn around and accuse the physio. There is a duality of responsibility, but it seems that the short terms goals will often be chosen even if the long term goal would provide greater reward. The difference in reward has to be very notable for the long term approach to be taken instead.
what’s wrong with you people, where’s the flames? where’s the degeneration into leet speak? I’m losing faith in forums as the venting place for the degenerates of the internet!..
Maybe the degenerates are the 50% of internet users who don’t scroll down, or won’t read any article more than a page long. hmmm
I’m not a fan of objectivism, but I never found the game itself to be arguing against it. Ryan never really seemed to be all that attached to his ideals. He set up Rapture as an objectivist society because that philosophy did the most to enhance the position he was already in. When Fontaine started turning the tables against Ryan, Ryan fairly quickly abandoned his ideals in favor of his greed. Again, a lot more about human nature.
Jennifer Snow: “To us, the moral IS the practical, because we don't form any vision of what is moral without first looking at reality.”
Lofty goal but the very antithesis of the basis of moral thought for the majority of individuals on the planet. I was actually a Philisophy major in college AND loathed Ayn Rand (which made for very interesting drunken bull sessions with friends).
I think Hal has said the most interesting thing yet in these comments; “philosophical ideas, distilled down to simple themes, tend to go over well in popular media.”
Simple yet hints at a truth deeper than observed on first glance.
There are numerous components that led to the current banking crisis. Blaming just government institutions like Fannie and Freddie is just as over-simplistic and inaccurate as solely blaming “greedy bankers”. There is enough blame to go around.
And clearly, in this current crisis, there have certainly been enough enough examples of overwhelming greed such as Madoff. To belabor a metaphor, Madoff and his ilk are not athletes running on a numbed ACL. They are the Mafiosi fixing the game, encouraging the athletes, so they can bilk the investors.
It strikes me that there are at least three problematic assumptions there, Ms. Snow. (Um, in your post #10, which was the last one when I started writing this)
First, there’s a tacit assumption that people are effectively immortal. That is, true selfishness is not necessarily concerned with the long run when “in the long run, we are all dead”.
Second, there’s an assumption that the future holds relatively little uncertainty. That is, the notion that a truly selfish person will plan for the long term over the short (and therefore will in effect play relatively nicely) assumes that truly long-term planning can be effective, or at least more effective than the successive accumulation of short-term gains. This is questionable, and particularly questionable in a “free market” style economy.
Third, getting to the more specific question of the banking crisis, there is an assumption that there is somehow an iron curtain between private sector actors such as “bankers” and government, or if there is interaction it is one primarily of government affecting those private actors and not the other way around–government as “coach”, banks as “athlete”. In fact, most government policies relating to financial institutions in our political economy are almost precisely those policies lobbied for by the financial industry. Indeed, most of the relevant government decision makers were previously decision makers in the financial industry, and most of them expect to rejoin the financial industry after their stint in government is done. Given that, it’s a bit much to say “Oh, it’s all the big bad government’s fault–the financial institutions weren’t responsible for anything they did.” They got the environment they asked, and indeed pressured and bribed and subverted democracy, for.
I might said “They’ve made their bed, now let them lie in it”, except I’ve seen no evidence that any of it could be considered a mistake from the point of view of individual top financiers. The results, while terrible for the economy at large, have had no real negative impacts on the individual top bankers who created the mess. They’re still drawing their salaries and bonuses and tucking away their cuts of the bailouts.
The lesson here in fact is that in an unfettered environment, fraud and venality work. They work very well. They work so well, in fact, that thinking in the long term in ways that reduce cheating ceases to be an effective selfish option. Consider “Prisoner’s dilemma”. Normally, “tit for tat” is the best strategy over a long series of games. But what happens if you’re only going to play 100 games and the payoff for defecting to a sucker who co-operates, rather than 5, is 10,000? And you happen to know there’s a bunch of “tit for tat” players out there? Successfully defect *just once* and your payoff is far better than any of the “tit for tat” players successfully co-operating 99 times out of 100.
Deregulation as driven by the financial industry is the process of jacking up the benefits for cheating, so they can make big payoffs that way instead of working for a living.
Interesting, although I dont agree with his assessment of totalitarian forms of ideology, or Enlightenment, but I’m not here to write an entire article in your comments section, SO! Rights are something created by people for people… you can’t deny them when you didn’t have them in the first place, if you remember how crippled Germany was before Hitler came into power, when you look at the rise of the Nazi party, and people seem to completely EMBRACE grand and certain visions, as long as it resonates with what they themselves want and/or believe.
Simplistic, doesn’t really get into the meat and bones of the email, but I think I’ll just cut off my train of thought there.
Also, Dawn of War 2 is fun D:
@Magnus: Of course, and it’s just a metaphor. The reason why the government is the *ultimate* and *fundamental* cause of the situation (as opposed to the many, many proximate and derivative causes) is that it takes a national organization (i.e. the government) to cause a *national* crisis. One or two or three banks might have tried stupid schemes without the government encouragement, “guarantees” and bailouts, but they would have gone under on their own with no one to prop them up and their apparatus would have been bought out and taken over by their competent competitors. As it is, we’re stuck, *by government decree*, with the same crop of incompetent money-burners as the government *takes money away* from productive citizens to give it to people who are essentially throwing it away.
Random comments: The Sword of Truth series were good fantasy, up until the last three books, which were wall-bangers. Faith of the Fallen, particularly, made me question large portions of my Christian faith, for the better, I think.
PS: Kasumi is HAWT.
You didn’t Google hard enough, Shamus.
They’re both quite passionate in their pro- and anti-Objectivism, but put together they make for a fine read.
I guess the position I take is that just because such guarantees had been made by the US government, I feel it was not necessary for so many banks to jump on it and run with it. These are supposed to be intelligent people, and yet they couldn’t even see what those in their own banks were doing, let alone rival banking groups.
I’m in a slightly poor position talking about the US specifically though, as I’m from the UK, and we have a slightly different set of problems, some of which are due to our banks investing in the US sub-prime market. A downside of globalisation I suppose.
The bailouts are a whole new ball game, which I feel underqualified to talk about, since much of it just rubs me up the wrong way! Couple that with the markets plummeting despite all the government intervention and it begins to look like the sky is falling.
Any philosophy that is logically constructed based on reality cannot be disproved using logic and reality.
I think there probably are logical flaws in objectivism (though I’m not interested enough in it to go hunting for them), but I have yet to see anyone actually point them out. I hear arguments to emotion, arguments to authority, and ad hominem attacks on Rand and her supporters.
In designing a form of government, it is necessary to make disobeying the social contract cost more than obeying it. Any system that fails to do so will collapse (hence the failure of socialism/communism). Also, any system that requires 100% of it’s citizens to adhere to it’s principles in order to work will collapse (why pacifism will never work).
I think objectivism as a philosophy has less potential as stable form of government than Christianity, but far more stable than nihilism or humanism.
This has been a stimulating and quite mature discussion!
I would add that although I agree Bioshock is not intended as a direct assault on Objectivism (indeed Levine has stated many times that it is an attempt to expose what he sees as dangers in ANY form of idealism), it does position itself to undermine Atlas Shrugged specifically.
I find Jennifer Snow’s comment that Ayn Rand encouraged non-didactic art quite interesting, as based on my own experience with it, I found Atlas Shrugged to be exactly that. Now, it may be that Rand shifted gears following its publication and changed her style. I have to profess not having much familiarity with her work beyond Atlas.
The problem I had with Atlas was that the characters rang especially false, and while I could appreciate many of the ideas being put forth (and I am all about humanism and the falsity of mind/body separation) I didn’t think Rand was really playing fair with her detractors. The Objectivists in the novel tended to be painted as saintly, as the only people who understood the world, trapped in an existence populated by buffoons and morons. Every socially/economically liberal character in the book is made to be insufferable and annoying. Now, Rand has every right to have opinions about people, but portraying those who disagree with you in such an inane manner is going to be a failure at effecting mass cultural change. So the book ends up shooting itself in the foot both as a thesis and as a narrative.
Bioshock, by contrast, is populated with subtly shaded, three-dimensional characters. To be sure, everyone in the story has an agenda, but it’s not always nearly as clear as it may first appear just what that agenda is. Most characters have both flaws and noble traits. I interpreted Rapture not as being populated by only 1% objectivists but as being populated by a majority of objectivists who also happened to be real people (unlike Galt’s Gulch). So one central theme of the work (as I read it) is that if you were to populate Galt’s Gulch with real (if well-intentioned) people, it would fall. This certainly doesn’t have to mean that Objectivism is a bunk philosophy, but it does present a skeptical view of the idealized sort of society envisioned in Rand’s most famous work.
@ Purple Library Guy:
“It strikes me that there are at least three problematic assumptions there, Ms. Snow.”
They would indeed seem problematic to me if I didn’t know the context. That’s why I’m here, to answer questions.
“First, there's a tacit assumption that people are effectively immortal.”
No–there’s just the assumption that people generally live longer than just a few weeks. The term “long range” applies in the context of the foreseeable length of human life.
“That is, true selfishness is not necessarily concerned with the long run when “in the long run, we are all dead”.
This is true, and a properly selfish person does pay some heed to this fact. It’s just not as important to him as the fact that he’d prefer to hold off that inevitable death for as long as possible–not just for one week or the span of a month-long spree, but for years and years of happy life.
Second, there's an assumption that the future holds relatively little uncertainty. That is, the notion that a truly selfish person will plan for the long term over the short (and therefore will in effect play relatively nicely) assumes that truly long-term planning can be effective, or at least more effective than the successive accumulation of short-term gains. This is questionable, and particularly questionable in a “free market” style economy.
Is it? Well, this is the sort of question that can only be answered by looking at reality. However, I’ll make a short remark that might help indicate to you the direction to go to answer this for yourself: as Ayn Rand says, anyone who believes that we live in an unpredictable universe where disaster can strike at any moment ought to observe the fortunes made by insurance companies.
The Benevolent Universe premise is a part of Objectivism. Not benevolent in the sense of kindly or well-intentioned, but that the universe is “auspicious to human life” if you take heed of your means of survival (your mind) and use it to your fullest capacity.
And as for your contention that successive short-term gains are more efficacious than planned long-term gains, tell me, do you know any drug dealers richer than Bill Gates? Do you know any bank robbers wealthier than Donald Trump? No. Living short-term is like playing Russian Roulette. You might be able to get away with it for quite a long time, and even “run out the clock” by dying of something else before the consequences of your irresponsibility catch up with you. That’s not a rational way to live, however.
“Third, getting to the more specific question of the banking crisis, there is an assumption that there is somehow an iron curtain between private sector actors such as “bankers” and government, or if there is interaction it is one primarily of government affecting those private actors and not the other way around”“government as “coach”, banks as “athlete”. In fact, most government policies relating to financial institutions in our political economy are almost precisely those policies lobbied for by the financial industry. Indeed, most of the relevant government decision makers were previously decision makers in the financial industry, and most of them expect to rejoin the financial industry after their stint in government is done. Given that, it's a bit much to say “Oh, it's all the big bad government's fault”“the financial institutions weren't responsible for anything they did.” They got the environment they asked, and indeed pressured and bribed and subverted democracy, for.”
I know, and it’s quite sad that they’re so stupid, but I didn’t say that the bankers were *necessarily* virtuous just because the government’s behavior in this situation is necessarily NOT virtuous. The *lack* of an iron curtain between economics and politics is precisely what causes this mess–men grow richer not by productive work but by begging political favors from men empowered to deliver them.
True capitalism, the type that Objectivists advocate, *requires* a separation between economy and state identical to the theoretical separation between church and state, and for the same reasons.
“I might said “They've made their bed, now let them lie in it”, except I've seen no evidence that any of it could be considered a mistake from the point of view of individual top financiers. The results, while terrible for the economy at large, have had no real negative impacts on the individual top bankers who created the mess. They're still drawing their salaries and bonuses and tucking away their cuts of the bailouts.”
This, also, is a consequence of the nature of the mixed economy–people are insulated from suffering the consequences of their actions. So, of course, their actions are going to be distorted. When proper behavior becomes self-sacrifice, something is indeed wrong in the world.
“The lesson here in fact is that in an unfettered environment, fraud and venality work.”
HAH! Goodness, what a bait and switch. That’s not the lesson here at all. The lesson here is that ANY form of government intrusion into the economy is BAD. We don’t have a truly unfettered economy and we have NEVER had one. It amuses me terribly when people say things like this, because it amounts to saying, literally, “This collusion between business and government is bad. So we should have MORE collusion between business and government.” Sick men asking for more of the poison that is killing them.
Incidentally, at the end of the original post, Shamus mentioned “Individual freedom vs. the collective is at the root of every major political argument currently simmering out there”
IMO this is not entirely true. In fact, it could be argued that it is a focus most strongly felt in the United States and the Anglo world more generally, and also that to the extent that it is a true conflict it is only applicable to the so-called “negative” freedoms. With regard to “positive” freedoms it is quite the reverse–there are a lot of things you either just can’t do without some kind of collective, or which are greatly enabled or enhanced by its existence. So if I want to write symphonies, I suppose I could do it in an atomized society, but it would be kind of pointless. You need an orchestra to play it. And if I’m in an orchestra, sure there are constraints on my playing (when I’m there), but there are compensations–we can make music that I couldn’t make on my own, and it’s arguably uplifting and fun just to be sharing this project with a bunch of other musicians. It wouldn’t be good to be *drafted* into an orchestra, but its *existence* is a good thing.
Yes, they did talk about it. You just didn’t check the Usenet archives.
I’ve never even heard of Objectivism. Is there a way to acquire more information in French ?
I decided to buy Bioshock on Steam, curiosity needs to be sated :)
It’s worth noting that Objectivism is irrefutably, demonstratably incorrect.
How ridiculously intelligent this thread is. I guess I better bring it down a notch.
Personally, I’ve never even heard of Objectivism. I lead a sheltered life in a small mountain town, what can I say? It’s a bit hard to follow the argument going on here, but I do have a few words (likely the result of ignorance.)
I know lots of people place value on individualism and their self-identity. I’ve never really understood that. Your self-identity is something that you can never share and disappears when you die. It’s only important to YOU, and you’re one in a few billion. You simply don’t matter.
Is it even possible to be important as an individual? Without Newton, we had Leibnitz. Without Einstein, we had others. It’s hard to argue that even the greatest minds of humanity were ever important. They were each a sign of the times and a personification of the ideas that were already coming to the surface.
It seems the only impact an individual can have is to contribute to society. The value of your self-identity is ultimately how it fits in with the whole. It doesn’t really matter what ideas or values you’re promoting; if the majority of society likes and also promotes your idea, then it will win. The world is a war of ideas, all fighting for top dog.
Unfortunately, many of us are caught between many different ideas, stretched from the middle and unable to make a decision. I’m one of those guys.
I see a lot of value in libertarian ideals, but I also recognize that they only work when people are intelligent and are willing to be responsible for their freedom.
And I know there’s no chance of that in the real world.
So what will this all add up to? How will this idea war end? I’ll be dead before then, thank God.
Snorus: I am basically very far opposed to Objectivism, but saying it’s incorrect is still not an argument.
Mr. Venditelli: I see your point, but surely it works in the other direction as well. Can society have a point other than contributing to individuals? What value can it have outside of them?
“I guess the position I take is that just because such guarantees had been made by the US government, I feel it was not necessary for so many banks to jump on it and run with it. These are supposed to be intelligent people, and yet they couldn't even see what those in their own banks were doing, let alone rival banking groups.”
You’re absolutely right, it wasn’t necessary for so many banks to jump on it and run with it, and many didn’t. John Allison, the CEO of BB&T (he’s an Objectivist, hee) foresaw this and his bank is just dandy. And he was *forced*, by threat of losing his bank’s accredited status, to take bailout money because our so-lovely gov’t didn’t want to “stigmatize” the failing banks. Let’s read that again–THE GOV’T DID NOT WANT CONSUMERS TO HAVE ANY RELIABLE WAY TO KNOW PRECISELY WHICH BANKS WERE FAILING SO THAT THEY COULD INVEST WISELY. Who is bilking whom, here?
And keep in mind that if a financial institution takes a certain course and forgoes investments that many, many financial experts are claiming loudly are “perfectly safe”, they then have to justify that action to their investors and shareholders. This is not always easy to do and many CEO’s aren’t interested in going to war in this fashion when they’ve got so much other work to do.
Oh, and let’s not forget the Community Reinvestment Act, greatly expanded under the Clinton administration to give “community” pressure groups such as ACORN leverage to *demand* loans (again, at the risk of losing accredited status) from banks in the name of preventing “redlining”. A lot of banks expected that they’d have to write off those loans (and they did), they just accepted this with weary resignation as part of “the price of doing business”.
As Ayn Rand said in Atlas Shrugged: “And there arose a situation that no one cared to examine too closely or to discuss.”
It’s also worth noting that pi is irrefutably, demonstratably exactly 3. And I won’t argue the details because that’s exactly what you “pi is not 3″ers want!
@Purple Library Guy in 31:
It is true, because you’re dropping the context. A group, will ye, nil ye, is not a “collective”. A collective, in political terms, is a group established *by force* which enforces its edicts on the members *by force* and which the members are expected to serve above, beyond, and *instead of* their own interests or needs.
Voluntary associations (like an orchestra or a rational country) are a part of individualist society, and the men who partake of them join of their own free will, observe the rules of the association of their own free will, and leave of their own free will. It’s a very significant difference.
Oh, TuringAI, don’t dignify that with a response! Sheesh. :D
Well, I might be the first to point this out which amazes me:
As much as I’m not a fan of those cheap anagram/letter games for getting meaning (and thought that they were bollocks in the Da Vinci Code), Andrew Ryan is kinda fun – yoink the R off Ryan and add it to Andrew, you get the first four letters “Rand”, and the remaining “yan” from Ryan anagrams to Ayn…
:D CONSPIRACY THEORIES AHOY!
Yes, thats a very good point (I have almost no knowledge of the community reinvestment act! All I heard was Clinton “made it easier for poorer people to buy a home”). The government supports the banks, the banks support the government, and the people have little to no say. There are many people, and I am one of them, that feel utterly powerless in this crisis, I caused little or none of it, but I will pay for it, and I will have to live through it, and the consequences down the line.
As Ayn Rand said in Atlas Shrugged: “And there arose a situation that no one cared to examine too closely or to discuss.”
I think that it was even worse than this, if you discussed the economy in a negative light, or cast doubt upon its robustness you are “talking down the economy”.
If something so large is so fragile that a few harsh words can make it crumble, something is terribly wrong.
It seems we live in interesting times. If this is indeed as bad as the twenties/thirties, then we have a lot more to worry about.
@Purple Library Guy:
Mike is just fine. >.>
It’s true, society elevates our own intelligence and heightens further contributions. Consider how much we’ve advanced each as individuals just because of our access to technology and the improvement of the art and culture around us.
I mean, it makes sense. A self-identity is purely a collection of memories. If the memories are based on an advanced society, then we ourselves are advanced. It’s a two-way street and that’s a good thing.
This whole discussion is moot anyway. Decades from now, organic and synthetic intelligence shall subsist upon one another. We will all be brethren of one mind, of one network. Hurray for the future! :P
>Individual freedom vs. the collective is at the root of every major political argument currently simmering out there, and a free-for-all thread is likely to have us swimming in magma before we know it.
That’s an ethnocentric statement. The moral of the empowered one is the only one he sees, but there are cultures over there who don’t give a shit about “individual freedom vs. the collective”. That makes a few billions people.
>I could see it coming, all the clues were boldy displayed, and yet I could do nothing about it, and instead of feeling like that was the intention, it just felt as though I was being forced along a path with no other options. There wasn't even the illusion of choice.
Well, in such a situation, my character choose to do something that the game doesnt allow which translates into me stopping to play the game.
I remember never entering baldur’s gates.
naa: Excuse me for making an ethnocentric statement on my English-speaking blog about tabletop games. I had no idea this site was so popular among all those billions of people.
@Ludo: According to the Ayn Rand Institute “Translations” page (http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ayn_rand_works_translations) there are translations of Anthem, The Fountainhead, and The Virtue of Selfishness available on French Amazon.com, so I’d go there first. I really recommend reading them in English if you can hack it, though (possibly AFTER reading them in French).
The reason why most of the world’s population is perishing in poverty is precisely because they don’t even grasp that there is such a thing as a conflict between the individual and the collective. How is it “ethnocentric” to wish to save civilization so that even primitives may some day enjoy the same privileges and prosperity? Are you saying that BECAUSE of their ethnicity, these people DESERVE to exist permanently in a state of primordial savagery and that civilized peoples should damn well make sure that they stay there?
If there is a naked essence of evil, then that is it.
Hey, everybody, I’m having a grand time here (and I hope you are too! Lots of very good and insightful comments!) but I have to go to work. I’ll check the comments when I get home around 7pm EST and try to make as many replies as I can.
@32 Ludo: I’m not surprised you never heard about it, Objectivism is not very well known in France. In the US, its influence seems much greater. According to Wikipedia, the Congress Library cited the book as the second most influential after the Bible. During my studies, I had courses (University level) on philosophy, politics and epistemology, yet never heard of it either. Is Objectivism generally taught in school in the USA ? If it is, at what level ?
As such, I think the whole philosophical implications of Bioshock’s plot just went over my head, and I was left with a story about obvious manipulations (lots of) and selfishness, both of which are not very enjoyable things to endure. Who knows, it may be the reason why I didn’t enjoy it, although I have to say games I played that try to convey philosophy have always failed (Xenosaga with Nietsche, just … no).
So there was a guy on the Escapist boards trying to use Objectivism as a justification for pirating computer games.
I’ve never bothered to register there, so I couldn’t call shenaningans on him.
Wouldn’t it be?
I am not steeped in philosophy, but rather psychology. Psychology tells us that the more information/stress/activities/whatever a person has to manage, the less forward-looking they will be. The less someone has to juggle the more capable they are of being forward looking. It doesn’t mean they will be, but it does mean they are more capable. This is an important consideration. There’s more than philosophy and culture at stake here. There’s the very core operation of our bodies and brains.
Our bodies are designed for survival, part of the reason we have trouble losing weight. You lost about, like, 10% of your body fat and your muscles get 40% more energy efficient (this according to the latest Popular Science). That’s just one example, but our physiology and brain chemistry are often against us in our endeavors to plan ahead. Sure, culture CAN overcome biology in interesting ways, but the amount of biology we have to overcome to achieve true “rational”, long-term sight and goals is overwhelming and we may go extinct before we finally achieve it.
Jennifer Snow wrote:
I don’t see how this is even vaguely possible, nor can I think of any government (current or historical) that has taken this approach. If you could give an example of this type of government, it’d help my understanding.
Without such an example I’m guessing the idea is to create an extreme libertarian ‘government’ which is empowered only to act to prevent the initiation of force or fraud? How is this government to be paid for without affecting the economy? How can you define fraud without effectively creating regulations? Would this government be functionally different in practice than that of, say, Somalia?
@Purple in 52. If you are asking “Wouldn’t it be” of Namfoodle in 51, absolutely not. (Edit to correct name, sorry!)
Piracy is theft of intellectual property. Objectivists are adamant supporters of property rights, including the right to intellectual property. We must be, if we are to be capitalists.
If you are addressing some other post, you should specify that in your responses.
I think the main message of Bioshock is that any philosophy that is reliant on people not being bastards is doomed to failure. Perhaps there are ways of ‘perfecting’ human beings – if only someone could come up with a definition of ‘perfect’ that everybody could agree to – but I don’t think it’ll be achieved by thrusting the current human population into a situation where they have to be perfect.
I’ve always wondered how Objectivism proposes to deal with the mentally challenged or the chronically ill. No matter how heroic a being man might eventually become, I have a hard time accepting that certain wires will never again be crossed and that nobody will ever again be born with an extra chromosome.
Since an Objectivist government is, according to Wikipedia, only allowed to support the police, the military and the courts (which it pays for… how?), I take it care of the less fortunate in society would have to be arranged by charities?
And if so, how would these charities be capable of taking care of everyone? Where would their funds come from? For that matter, where would their employees come from?
And another question for Jennifer Snow:
This statement made my head hurt. Is proper Objectivist behavior self-indulgence, then? It seems to me that any functioning society (group, organization) needs to balance the two things. And I think Christ (among others) had something to say about this subject…
@Wumpus in 54
The US Government is as close as any has gotten, but the Commerce Clause undermines the separation of Government and Economy.
One needs rule of law to protect individual rights. One doesn’t need regulation. Fraud is a form of force, and is criminal, just as assault and theft are forms of force.
As to the broad specifics of paying for Government actions, assuming a culture dominated by reason, just as public figures willingly pay for protection by body guards, rational people would willingly pay to support Government in its duty to protect their own liberty. Being limited in their role, the cost of Government would be substantially less, as well.
A society unwilling to pay for its own defense would die a quick death, after all.
@Jos: You assume that Government is required to care for the needy. Strong arguments exist that dependence upon Government has only expanded the roles of the needy, not empowered them.
@Wumpus in 57: No, self indulgence is whim worship. Rational self interest is not the same as self indulgence. Objectivists believe that there is a rational foundation for moral behavior, and whim worshiping is not included in that set of behaviors.
I think you would find the Objectivist theory of Concepts (Or, really, the entire Objectivist Epistemology) to be more your forte than simple moral talk.
While I’m no specialist, I believe the Objectivist position is that man can never really “overload” on information, as long as they follow the proper epistemological processes. For instance, instead of individually tracking every human being we ever have seen in our mind individually, we dump them into a single, much more simple concept of “man,” as defined by the specific attributes of human beings. Then, when we need to get more specific, we simply focus on one aspect of that concept, in this case, a specific human being. In this way, we are able to compress information that would otherwise drive us crazy.
I don’t find the ‘the government caused the current financial crisis via Fannie & Freddie & the CRA’ explanations at all persuasive (though I do recognize them as Republican talking points). If the problem was loan guarantees, why are banks failing? Their loans are guaranteed – it should be the guaranteeing organization that fails.
The explanation that made the most sense to me was the one outlined on This American Life, which ran:
1) Making some basic assumptions about the housing market, mortgages are a really good investment.
2) This investment can be made available not just to individual banks, but, by repackaging them, to the wider market (mortgage backed securities).
3) Wow! Demand sure is high – how can we get together more of these things… Hmmm… We’ll relax lending standards and stop verifying THE VERY FACTS THAT WE BASED THE ASSUMPTIONS IN STEP 1 on, artificially pushing up housing prices while way over-extending credit. I don’t see how anything could go wrong here…
Mix in some level of fraud on the part of almost every actor in the circuit, and huge payoffs (many to people who have since left the market), and, well, looks like greed wins in the short term, which is pretty much the story of (un- or poorly-regulated) capitalism.
Additionally, there seem to have been at least a few other markets (credit default swaps, other bond and insurance markets nobody really seems to understand) that had similar trajectories, all, it seems, due to the easy availability of credit and the lack of regulation (which the industries in question demanded and got). And when the first card in the house slipped and fell, well, the whole thing came tumbling down.
It was painfully obvious to anyone paying attention (to the housing stuff, at least), that the market was unsustainable. (Seriously – how long had people been calling it a ‘bubble’?) But there was a lack of political will (on the part of the Bush administration, mainly) to do anything about it. Heck, they moved all the FBI agents responsible for investigating this stuff over to our ‘real’ fight: terrorism. Anyway, I don’t think any reputable economist is advocating less regulation as a solution.
Ms Snow (re. #40)
Point taken about voluntary vs. enforced. An orchestra is not (normally) truly a collective. Although your definition is problematic as well; it seems to leave out an awful lot of possible cases which normal people *would* want to define as a collective. It is if anything a caricature of the nature of most collectives–even of totalitarian ones, let alone more normal ones. Take for instance a democratic nation-state. Such a thing *could* be established by force–the US was–but need not have been. Canada as a political entity, for instance, was established without any wars through a combination of legislative action by elected representatives internally with negotiations externally.
And such a state generally *does* “enforce its edicts on the members *by force*”–but there are two important caveats. One is that members can leave if they don’t like it, and when things get bad in a nation-state many people do leave. The other is that to the extent that the state is actually democratic (often not very in modern practice, to be sure) that enforcement is due to laws and institutions that the members wanted. This in turn brings up the question–if you have a group of people, and they want to enforce some norms in the group, what is the ethical nature of trying to force them *not* to do so?
Finally, “and which the members are expected to serve above, beyond, and *instead of* their own interests or needs” is a caricature pure and simple. What I mentioned to Mr. Venditelli *should* be the case, that the point of society is to contribute to individuals, to a fair extent actually *is* both the theory underpinning most actually existing “collectives” and the actual results of their operations–except to the extent that they get successfully hijacked by powerful, selfish individuals. So for instance, in the US there is an explicit devotion to the “pursuit of happiness” as one of the bases of its existence as a collective.
That brings us down to the more factual question, *why* would anyone *want* to limit their own freedom by allowing the collective to enforce certain behaviour? Objectivism, if I understand you correctly, puts all of this amazingly widespread and longstanding pattern of human activity down to “whim”. Objectivism posits that true selfishness leads to the kind of behaviour that builds societies rather than detracting from them, in the absence of any coerced limits to behaviour. Taking that as a given, if people were *truly* selfish, and *truly* understood what courses of action got them the most goodies in the long term, they would build rather than destroying.
The problem with that is, the given simply isn’t true–as I pointed out in my post 22. I don’t consider your response to have refuted it particularly. The fact is that both externalities and free-rider effects are very real, and as to short-termism your reference to Bill Gates is self-refuting. I have read a fair amount about the career of Bill Gates, and in doing so two things have stood out. One is that in fact, his career was built largely on clever, ruthless decisions that were decidedly short-term oriented. These decisions led to significant problems for Microsoft in the longer term, but not enough to counterbalance the increased money and market control they gave Microsoft in the short term. Second, that the dominance of Microsoft has actually damaged the general state of computing in the world, partly because of those short term decisions and partly because of successful selfishness devoted to undermining things like neutral standards.
Related to this is your concept of private enterprise run by selfish individuals, and state, completely separated, with neither able to influence the other. But the situation I described in which the financial institutions strongly influence the state didn’t happen by accident. It’s not that we happen to exist in one possible world where it was like this, where in lots of others that’s not what went on. Any kind of government if it exists at all has resources and some power. Any selfish individual running a private enterprise has an interest in taking those resources and making that power work for him. This is not because the individual is stupid or misreads his interests; the interest is quite genuine. As I pointed out, it is continuing to pay off for the individuals involved even though society is paying a huge price. Therefore, any society in which separation between state and private enterprise is established, but the state has no enforcement powers vis-a-vis private enterprise, will find that situation doesn’t last long at all. Inevitably, the individuals running the private enterprises will use their power to undermine the separation so they can get their hands on the governmental goodies, whether indirectly by buying legislation, or directly a la Halliburton. For them to do otherwise would go against their interests.
I saw a summary of the role of government regulation once upon a time.
“Competition in horse breeding is good. Competition in horse stealing is bad. If competition in horse stealing is not stopped, competition in horse breeding is doomed.”
Ms. Snow, you would have me believe that rational, selfish actors would choose horse breeding over horse stealing in the absence of any coercion forcing that choice. It isn’t true. Horse stealing really is individually profitable on the human time scale, even if it does destroy things given a wider horizon. Externalities and free-rider effects [b]are real[/b].
Well at least I now understand somewhat better the rabid internet libertarians on some forums I used to post on.
HAH! Goodness, what a bait and switch. That's not the lesson here at all. The lesson here is that ANY form of government intrusion into the economy is BAD. We don't have a truly unfettered economy and we have NEVER had one. It amuses me terribly when people say things like this, because it amounts to saying, literally, “This collusion between business and government is bad. So we should have MORE collusion between business and government.” Sick men asking for more of the poison that is killing them.
It’s easy to point to the bank bailouts, or other business type issues and say “obviously the government screwed up, therefore government is bad.” It ignores, though a, lot of functions governments do perform in society that have proven quite useful over time (more organized societies tend to have less murder than less organized ones, property, census data, etc. is easier to maintain in large groups of people with a central organized society, a lot of technology has been developed by government related policies that would have been quite difficult to get started otherwise.) All of these activities influence economics, and in order to get money to carry out functions, governments must interfere in the economy.
In order to tell, for example, whether certain types of government involvement actually are a good idea or not, you’d need to have some alternative for comparison. Simply pointing to something that went wrong isn’t enough, as one example does not show whether something else would have gone wrong had a different decision been made.
You're absolutely right, it wasn't necessary for so many banks to jump on it and run with it, and many didn't…
And keep in mind that if a financial institution takes a certain course and forgoes investments that many, many financial experts are claiming loudly are “perfectly safe”, they then have to justify that action to their investors and shareholders. This is not always easy to do and many CEO's aren't interested in going to war in this fashion when they've got so much other work to do.
The second paragraph is a problem with how incentives are set up within businesses, not directly a government problem. (It probably does involve indirect government issues, but as said above people would need to have examples of different sort of lawmaking to know for sure whether those decisions were bad ones or not.)
Oh, and let's not forget the Community Reinvestment Act, greatly expanded under the Clinton administration to give “community” pressure groups such as ACORN leverage to *demand* loans (again, at the risk of losing accredited status) from banks in the name of preventing “redlining”. A lot of banks expected that they'd have to write off those loans (and they did), they just accepted this with weary resignation as part of “the price of doing business”.
I’ve heard a number of arguments from different points of view related to the community reinvestment act, and what really would be useful for having an opinion on it is the actual amount of mortages made under the act, the default rates, and other numbers for how they effected the banks.
Is it? Well, this is the sort of question that can only be answered by looking at reality. However, I'll make a short remark that might help indicate to you the direction to go to answer this for yourself: as Ayn Rand says, anyone who believes that we live in an unpredictable universe where disaster can strike at any moment ought to observe the fortunes made by insurance companies.
Insurance companies handle certain types of risks that can be statistically averaged, so over a large group of people, they can be more predictably profitable. For individual people, though, the events still have a lot of randomness remaining.
In addition, a lot of the big society events are not predictable, simply from lack of information. there is still quite a lot of incomplete information, though, that makes making long term decisions quite foggy. (Technology development is full of unintended consequences, for example.)
This, also, is a consequence of the nature of the mixed economy”“people are insulated from suffering the consequences of their actions. So, of course, their actions are going to be distorted. When proper behavior becomes self-sacrifice, something is indeed wrong in the world.
For some non-“mixed economy” examples:
Someone’s playing their music too loud next door. I can ask them to stop, but unless they have an individual need to be seen as nice people, or unless I have some method (either socially, or some other way) of causing problems for them, they have no reason to turn the music down.
When making agreements with people, I could be honest with them, but in terms of pure personal advantage there is no reason to unless they have some way of punishing me if they find out.
On an internet forum, I could be a pain in the rear if I so wanted. the other forum members may not like it, but unless they have someone running the forum willing to kick me off or cause other problems, there is nothing they can do about it.
In all of these examples, unless some outside source intervenes, or most people agree to make some “self sacrifice” in some way, there aren’t really any consequences that can encourage people to stop doing things.
(I do have more quotes to respond to, but this has taken about 40 minutes to write or so.)
@Purple Library Guy
I don’t know if this is what you meant, but it’s the lesson I take away from your giant post:
Life is a lot like roleplaying. You get a few players that are really interested in the experience itself, with the rules of play taking a backseat. Then you get the lawyers and munchkins that are just out to take advantage of the system’s loopholes. They care less about the flow of the game and are far more interested in taking what they can get away with. They push as far as it will go and drive the GM governing completely insane.
What’s a GM to do?
EDIT: Pickly says it much better. Some people are just gonna mess with everyone, regardless of idealogy. Without an external force to put pressure on them, they’ll pretty much do whatever they want, regardless of the rest of us.
As for the horse stealing analogy. You could always bring up the act of piracy… but that would be throwing coals on the embers of this thread.
Government – or government-funded institutions – may indeed not be the ideal caretakers of the insane. The family probably isn’t either, unless there happen to be a few members with degrees in whatever is applicable.
So I will assume that in Objectivist utopia, it’ll have to be a non-profit, non-government organisation.
Which will be funded… how?
Well, unless Objectivism actually argues that mental and/or intensive healthcare should be for profit. In which case, how would that work?
Greebo in 55:
How can you support property rights (private, personal, public or otherwise) without supporting coercion?
(By the way, do Objectivists support inheritance?)
Secondarily, did the concept of “intellectual property” exist while Ayn Rand was alive? Copyrights are originally a temporary monopoly on reproduction, not a form of property. Does Objectivism support monopoly?
Greebo in 58:
What’s the difference between “the rule of law” and “regulation”? You seem to be taking an institutional difference and turning it into a philosophical category difference. But I don’t see a philosophical difference. Just because you don’t put someone in jail for breaking a regulation doesn’t mean the regulation wasn’t in place to prevent fraud.
As to rationality and willingness to pay–free rider effect. Sorry. For people to pay for “public goods”–i.e. things useful for all, such as defense or roads–they have to either be “irrational” (for example, have some kind of ethics beyond selfishness), or they have to be coerced. Realizing this, in the interests of getting everyone to help people often do vote for coercion. Often even the selfish will be willing to help pay for a public good *as long as they know they aren’t being played for suckers*–that is to say, they know they won’t be the only ones because everyone else is also constrained to help.
That’s a pretty big clause. How does the U.S. deal with states assessing tariffs at their borders without it? Or block foreign dumping of state subsidized goods? Or deal with monopolies? Or fight global warming?
Where do the laws come from? What is the difference between a law and a regulation? Or is a regulation a just a law that applies to a company? (In which case it doesn’t exist, right, because our Objectivist government can’t make such laws? Can it just not make fiscal and monetary policy? Or can it not make any law respecting an institution of commerce?)
Ah, so rational people would pass the hat to pay for government, each giving according to the dictates of their enlightened self-interest? Sort of like public radio?
Jos: There are any number of possible free market solutions to the dilemma, from hospitals which choose to offer such care to those able to pay, to charitable organizations (note: objectivists have no objection to charity, they have an objection to *mandatory* charity), to possibly even research organizations dedicated to finding cures and in need of subjects to examine to determine causes.
The root problem here is the underlying premise, that being that need constitutes a right. If I need to eat, do I have the right to demand that you feed me? If I need clothes, do I have the right to demand access to your closet? No. Need does not justify theft. No matter how noble the cause, the mandate that one *must* (not may, but must) provide for someone else, and has no choice in the matter, is a violation of the provider’s own right to their liberty.
I can confidently say that the assertions of Objectivism can be shown to be false. I blocked out most of my memories and knowledge of it, however, and can’t be the one to show it.
Rational individuals wouldn’t necessarily give money to the goverment willingly. At least not if their goal is their own financial well-being.
Need is not a right.
Hmm. Fair enough. But it does suggest that homeless people freezing to death is A-OK if that’s the result of nobody *having* to take care of them.
That’s… not the kind of society I’d like to live in, but OK.
See, the reason the loan guarantors didn’t fail is because when all this deregulation happened(largely in the last eight years, but I digress), it allowed banks to PURCHASE these organizations, and essentially become guarantors themselves. So, there was not nearly enough capital to cover a tiny fraction of what was going on, as it was all being “recapitalized” into securities, which they had issued, and were composed of their own bad loans . So yeah, it failed spectacularly. Though quite a few people made a fortune.
This is also why there is such an issue in the UK, since they were allowed to do business with the purchased securities organizations.
Pertaining a bit more to the thread, in any system, there are those who, upon learning the rules, attempt to re-purpose them towards their own ends. Such actions are obviously destructive, and a system that cannot cope with such gaming will collapse.
What would an objectivist society do about the free rider problem of defense funding?
I never saw a definition of fraud in there. Let me throw you three examples: I make a statement which I intend for you to misunderstand, motivating you to take an action that will benefit me at your expense.
I make a statement honestly, however you misunderstand it, motivating you to take an action that will benefit me at your expense.
I make a statement which I believe to be true, but which is in fact false, motivating you to take an action that will benefit me at your expense.
In which of these situations have I committed fraud?
@Purple in 66: Copyrights and patents go back well before the time of Ms. Rand.
Defense of personal property rights (public property being something we do not support at all) does not require coercion. If you own some land, you have the right to choose who may access it. If I choose to force my will upon you and use your land – to farm, to cross, to walk my dog on, without your permission, I am violating your right of property. I have initiated force against you. I’m guilty of coercion, not you.
Inheritance: Yes. My property is mine. If when I die, I wish it to become yours, why shouldn’t it? I earned it fair and square.
Monopoly: We reject the assertion that monopolies are de facto bad. Coercive monopolies are bad, but to my knowledge, such monopolies cannot even exist without government backing. The original federal anti-trust laws were created to bust a railroad with a coercive monopoly that they obtained only with Government (California) backing. A monopoly that exists naturally (if at all possible) without coercion can only exist by being the most competitive, and thus the most beneficial to its customers.
Laws and Regulation: Laws should be reactive, not proactive. The Government holds only the right to *respond* to the initiation of force, not to initiate force itself. Laws punish those who initiate force. Regulations initiate force. You can not force the corrupt to act honestly, and regulations which attempt to do so penalize the honest. This is an expansive topic, not one easily explained in a blog comment area.
The Public Good: (Roads, whatever) It is not the place of Government to provide society with that which is good for it, but to protect the right of each member of society to pursue their own goals and dreams freely. It is “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”, not “Life, liberty, three meals a day, and good highways”. To provide any economic security to one, Government is forced to take economic security from another. Even if this taking is marginal, it is immoral – it violates the choice of the individual.
I’m not an objectivist but I do play one on TV. The big problem with government governing the economy is that you get rent seeking. That’s when companies try to make money by regulation instead of making a product/service people want.
An example: Gas costs around $2 gallon retail. I make biodisel for about $3 a gallon. To make money i can:
A) sell biodisel to people who want to pay extra for it, or are away from the infrastructure and need it
B) refine my methods to cost a competitive price
C) Get the government to give me $1 per gallon, tax other providers up to my level or a combination of both.
Far too many companies choose option C. The only way to stop this is to deny the government the power to tax profitable companies and subsidize the weaker ones. American politicians used to make this very argument back before FDR. And some still give it lip service.
This is the prime problem with government involvement in the economy. The only difficulty with me taking the objectivist absolutist stance on this is sometimes, rarely the government does something very right to help the economy go. The FDIC insuring bank accounts up to $100k is one rare example. This has done quite a bit to keep commercial banks from failing over the years, and is certainly a good thing.
The problem is that every developed economy has gone way too far in the direction of government control of the economy. The only “free markets” that have existed in the last 100 years in the developed world are the ones the government hasn’t noticed.
A lezzie-faire economy does have a more harsh boom bust cycle then we are familiar with, but good arguments have been made that all the regulation does is make the lows into things like the great depression which the collapse we’re in now might turn into, as opposed to more mild recessions far more frequently.
As long as objectivists focus on the big problems like the complex tax code (how the government interferes with the economy) and invasions of personal freedom I can support them.
Mungo II: Financial well being cannot be assured if ones own liberty is not protected. A rational being buys insurance for his house. A rational being buys life insurance to provide for his family. A rational being pays to protect his property. A rational being would pay to protect his own freedom as well.
(Gender neutral his, of course)
Moshi: I have seen conclusive proof that the moon is made of green cheese. I can’t explain it right now, but its out there.
And finally (for now) Jos:
I would defend to the death your right to take that freezing, starving homeless man to a diner and a shelter. If you asked me for help, I’d probably give you a tenner, too. I don’t like to see people suffering any more than you do.
But I have no right to MAKE you help the homeless man, do I?
And people like you will take care (or donate money to the cause) of homeless people freezing to death. Only you do it by the sweat of your own labor, not by stealing mine.
Re: “We reject the notion that monopolies are de facto bad”
Odd, given the objectivist assertion of personal liberties.
Let us take a hypothethical example of a media monopoly (not too hard to imagine in the current climate of gargantuan conglomerates). In such a situation, the most significant pipeline for delivering information pertaining to national current events would be under the control of a single profit-driven entity. That entity would most likely regulate the national dialogue in a way designed to support its own self-interest. But what if that self-interest runs contrary to the interests of any number of individuals? Without appropriate education and access to information, individuals could not be informed enough to follow their own “rationally selfish” motives. In this scenario, the nation has become a sort of de-facto oligarchy with severely suppressed individual liberty.
I’m not sure we can grant that today, in this age of internet that sans regulation there could be a media monopoly. Too much internet. Before the internet cable was diverse enough to keep a monopoly from forming, and before that the cost of printing meant that newspapers were quite common and quite diverse. Before newspapers, yes there was a monopoly on news and it did run in the interest of those that controlled it.
Do you really think that the liberal turner will give in to the conservative Murdoch or the other way around? And the internet with its infinite variety of political flavors isn’t going away unless government kills it.
That’s why monopolies aren’t that bad, it’s really hard to get the last 10%, just ask bill gaates.
Greebo: On public goods:
You are not confronting the basic problem here. Do you understand the definition of a public good? A public good is something which, once created, does good things for the public in general whether or not they pay for it. So if you have a machine for scrubbing the air that takes out the pollution, that’s good for everyone who breathes. So everyone would be happy for the machine to exist. The problem: Without coercion, you can’t as it turns out get everyone to pay for it, because even people who didn’t still get the benefits. Economic theory and practice actually agree on this (for a change). Defense is an example of a public good; it is different from individual insurance in that it’s very hard to provide “defense” to a region while leaving out particular individuals.
As to violating the choice of the individual, that works both ways. If most of the individuals say they want public goods, then a minority of Objectivists would be blocking their individual wills if they object to collective payment. If they don’t want to be among those collectively paying for society’s amenities, they can leave. If they want to go somewhere where collective effort does not result in things like roads, I might suggest Somalia.
Meanwhile, Objectivists believe in inheritance?! How whacked is that? Doesn’t it undermine the whole individual work ethic thing? Does it not inevitably lead to the kind of concentrated power which has always brought down societies with any approximation of non-coercion? And, how can someone have an individual will to be infringed on (by refusing to let them pass on their property to heirs) when they’re dead? Surely dead people don’t go around making individual choices.
Interesting find, Shamus. Thanks for posting the comments! My only passing interest in Bioshock (other than the apparently very pretty water effects) is the Objectivism bit. From what I’ve gathered and the Inspector’s comments, it sounds like Bioshock isn’t quite the train wreck that some make it out to be, but neither is it a grand opus.
It’s definitely good that it’s started some dialogues, though. Getting people to think is a good thing.
>Defense of personal property rights (public property being something we do not support at all) does not require coercion. If you own some land, you have the right to choose who may access it. If I choose to force my will upon you and use your land – to farm, to cross, to walk my dog on, without your permission, I am violating your right of property. I have initiated force against you. I'm guilty of coercion, not you.
How exactly do you plan to actually kick this person off your property without some sort of coercion? It’s well and good to say that “the other person is engaging in coercion, not me”, but that doesn’t actually prevent the person from stealing, trespassing, etc., unless they have a stro ng desire to not be seen as coercive.
If a person can use your property, or otherwise invade your property, without anything bad happening to them, the rational choice is to walk over your property. (Notice the various pillagers and other world conquerors for an example of this.
>A lezzie-faire economy does have a more harsh boom bust cycle then we are familiar with, but good arguments have been made that all the regulation does is make the lows into things like the great depression which the collapse we're in now might turn into, as opposed to more mild recessions far more frequently.
A problem that crops up in a lot of these political/economic arguments is that people seem to expect a perfect system, and use anything wrong with a system to say that it must be replaced with something else. Internet libertarians do this a lot with government and economy interactions.
As for the argument that “the government just made the depression worse (and similar arguments), what I’ve read and heard from different points of view suggests that economics has a long way to go before it’s able to really figure out these sorts of issues. (and that a lot of people arguing about them are way more certain than they have any business being.)
I’m showing up late to this party, so I was all primed to invoke the wrath of Godwin’s Law down upon someone, but dangit there’s only one Hitler reference in the thread and it’s actually historical in context. So now what can I write? Ooh I got it:
Wow, that girl on the left in the fighter game picture is HAWT!!!1!!11!!!1!
Seriously, though, that was really interesting. Thanks, Shamus for sharing that with us. Personally, some of the libertarian and objectivist ideas are appealing to me, but I don’t have their faith that a society or free market economy could function long-term without some non-trivial level of governmental oversight/regulation. Not that regulation is always (or even frequently) the answer, but it seems to me that a highly unregulated free market has a high chance of steady-stating into something not all that free.
Shamus, I have to disagree on the Marxism bit.
Having studied Marxism deeply (like, I have two copies of The Manifesto of the Communist Party), I’d have to say it isn’t based on anything mystical. I’m not going to say it’s based on logic, either, because being for or against communism is opinion, not fact.
But really, what I got out of The Manifesto was that the whole rich-people-controlling-poorer-people thing has to stop. The first section is basically a four-page rant on how asshole rich folks are assholes. Really, the main point, to me, is that the whole concept of some people having more money, and thus more ability to be happy, should be gotten rid of. If everyone is given the same amount of money as everyone else, and everyone is legally and financially equal, we won’t have to worry about people being stifled from their dreams because of who they were born to. At least, this is what I got out of it. Some people may have gotten something different. Either way, in my imaginary communist utopia, this is the primary difference; financial equality.
Of course, there are flaws in it, because the state is meant to (according to some, others pretty much stop at financial equality, which is fine, too) take care of medical needs, child-care related financial needs, people’s education, and such, international trade would obviously be difficult. This is why many communist governments wanted to spread communist ideologies as far as they could. If communism spreads, the nations can unite to form a union of communist nations that trade within each other as is needed, and international trade becomes communistic as well (for the needs of that union).
However, my point stands. It’s definitely not mystical. It’s basically equality taken to an extreme level. Some people think such an extreme is too radical, others think it’s great.
Hate to bring up an old comment, but with regards to comment 45 by “naa,” I have to point out the ethnocentrism in this comment.
That is, to say, that the potential of a debate between individuality versus collectivism does not exist in other cultures or ethnicities simply because the person to point it out was of a specific culture (Western). This overlooks real struggles over the world, in many cultures other than Mr. Young’s, where people who support rights for people as individuals are in opposition with people who would deny this.
Even in horrifically totalitarian collectivist regimes, there are people who are making an argument for the merits of individuality, and they often suffer a terrible price for it.
In cultures other than the free nations of the world, the statement that there exists no debate is plainly false. In these cultures, it only appears that way because collectivist philosophy is dominant–collectivists also have the tendency to attempt to squash opposing viewpoints, brutally in fact. Where these cultures attempt to “not give a damn,” there are still people born and raised among them who see the rationality and morality behind individual rights, and to deny their existence or suffering is to speak only for one group within their culture.
History has shown that collectivists are more prone to horrific atrocity than individualists, who tend to be prone to mere smugness at worst. It takes a certain degree of altruism to honestly believe in the worth of an individual person as well as the many. One that goes beyond the ruthless calculus of collectivist value-judgment. And I mean ruthless: Pol Pot destroyed his own country out of motives born in collectivist thought as well as to live up to his own moral platitudes gratifying a romanticised image of agrarian Cambodia. It would be ironic that the most powerful collectivists are ultimately more selfish and whim-seeking than the most public individualists. Would be, that is, if it weren’t so well-documented.
This is why your statement was much more ethnocentric than anything else posted in this thread, and it reveals a base ignorance that relies on politically-correct-sounding buzzwords in order to appear more “right.”
Sorry if I went and made this thread a bit less pleasant. But I had to say something.
The Inspector is leaving out some rather important points hammered home time and again by the story: how and why everything went to hell. MAJOR MAJOR MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW:
When you start off in Rapture, you find out that 99% of the population has gone mad and wants to kill you on sight. This is mostly due to too much “splicing” which apparently most humans have a very low tolerance for, but also due to the fact that Andrew Ryan has some control over them via a special plasmid that he has access to. (The fact that “Jack”, the main character, can splice as much as he wants and is unaffected mentally is a big clue to the conspiracy.) Andrew Ryan wants you dead at first because Atlas recruits you to his cause right away.
Andrew Ryan and Objectivism are not solely responsible for the downfall of the city, but they are complicit. The timeline of events goes like so:
1 ) The sea slugs with special genetic properties are discovered. Adam, a special fluid excreted by the sea slugs, is extracted and studied.
2 ) It is discovered that Adam is the key to creating a whole new kind of advanced pharmaceutical technology called Plasmids. (In the game, plasmids are essentially spells, but there are many plot-device plasmids that you can’t get that are also important.) Plasmid and Adam research is conducted in secret and funded by Fontaine, a local gangster.
3 ) Fontaine begins to distribute Adam and plasmids on the black market. Lots of people end up “addicted” to Adam and plasmids become a big business, though the insanity hasn’t become widespread yet.
4 ) It is discovered that the most efficient way to produce Adam is to implant sea slugs in little girls. Side effects include clammy skin, slight insanity, and ultra-healing capability bordering on invulnerability. Fontaine has no problem with this, and creates the “Little Sister” orphanages to turn girls into Adam-factories. This is all unknown to Andrew Ryan at this point.
5 ) The protagonist “Jack” is conceived in a love affair between Andrew Ryan and a singer at one of the clubs. Fontaine pays the singer a large sum to take the fetus before Jack is born. Jack ends up at one of the Little Sisters Orphanages where he undergoes mental conditioning, age-acceleration, and other possible genetic alterations for Fontaine’s back-up plan. Ryan kills Jack’s mother in a rage that she would sell her own child to Fontaine, and is unable to find and recover Jack.
6 ) Fontaine starts inciting riots using his growing influence. Andrew Ryan fights back and Fontaine ends up “losing”. In reality, Fontaine fakes his death and initiates his back-up plan. Ryan takes over the Adam/Plasmid business and greatly expands it. Meanwhile, Jack is sent out into the world.
7 ) Ryan, possibly out of guilt because of how Adam is made, creates the Big Daddies to guard the Little Sisters. The addicts are appeased, the Little Sisters seem happy, and Adam reaches mainstream popularity. The only trouble in Rapture seems to be the growing resistance movement headed by the mysterious Atlas (Fontaine).
8 ) On January 1st 1959 (or possibly 1960, I think a couple of the recordings accidentally contradict each other) everything goes to hell. Virtually everyone addicted to Adam goes mad and starts to kill others. Ryan uses a special plasmid to try to retake some control of the madhouse and mostly succeeds, but Rapture is reduced to a shell of it’s former self.
9 ) Some time in 1960, the protagonist “Jack” enters Rapture. Jack is manipulated by Fontaine in the guise of Atlas to try to kill Ryan. As it turns out, Atlas doesn’t just emotionally manipulate Jack (and the player), in fact Fontaine is also directly mind-controlling Jack. Ryan briefly mind-controls Jack (using the special passphrase) in an attempt to break the mental conditioning. The best guess as to why Ryan would risk his own life is that he finally figures out at this point (heavily implied by a bulletin board and two recordings that can be found outside Ryan’s room) that Jack is his son. Unfortunately Ryan fails, Jack kills Ryan as Ryan commands instead of breaking free, and Fontaine uses Ryan’s “genetic key” to take over the city.
Andrew Ryan is a man obsessed with strength who manages to destroy his own city because of his weaknesses. He can be numbered among the villains, because he perpetuates Fontaine’s crimes in the name of freedom, but it’s more a matter of tragically bad judgement than deliberate cruelty.
D C Jasper:
Much more ethnocentric than anything else posted on this thread? I see your general point, but . . .
surely not more ethnocentric than Ms. Snow’s post 47, which frankly horrified me. I’ve been politely ignoring that one because luckily it’s not relevant to the main discussion, but wow! It’s like a 19th century Brit talking about the White Man’s Burden taking care of the undeserving fuzzy-wuzzies. What a bizarre and ahistorical view of the rest of the world.
I wonÂ´t make any insightful comment since IÂ´m an ignorant in the matter, but IÂ´d like to point out that in GameFaqs there is a “Plot Analysis” document that has its first section dedicated to the “objetivism” in the game. It hasnÂ´t been finished, tough, but it is well worth a read. It also covers some other points in the game. For those interested: here it is.
The response you received is pretty much the way I interpreted the events of Bioshock: that Ryan was an idealist whose attempt to create his own idea of Heaven on earth was doomed from the get-go because, being on earth, it could not be inhabited by his idea of angels.
Hi, folks, I’m back. I see a lot of misconceptions going on here (unsurprising) and some very disorganized attempts to deal with them. What I’m going to do is to answer what I see as the condensations of the major points, along with a couple of specific points that need to be addressed.
How would an Objectivist government financing work?
The best method I’ve seen is: by charging for specific services that individuals don’t necessarily need, but DO need the government to guarantee if they choose to pursue them. What’s this service? Contracts. Most people don’t need a law court or a policeman every day, and it’d be ridiculous and immoral for the police to demand a credit card before saving your bacon. However, what can be done is that when you make a contract with another individual, the government charges you a fee to register (or “notarize”) it, and that means that it has legal recognition. You remain free to make informal “handshake” agreements. However, there are many people who make hundreds of contracts every day and can’t afford to assume that all their contracts are going to be honest. They will pay for the government precisely because they’re using most of the gov’t services.
2. It’s okay for people to starve on the streets as long as you aren’t bothered?
Good grief, NO! The problem is that you can’t fix this by making slaves of the rest of the population. At best, all you can achieve is that everyone will starve together. Every man must start out by taking responsibility for his own life, because NO man, no matter how benevolent can support an infinite number of indigent hangers-on. If he’s not free to produce, he can’t even support himself.
3. Is the proper Objectivist behavior self-indulgence?
If you mean, doing whatever you *feel* like doing, regardless of what it is or why you feel like doing it, then no. If you mean, doing what you’ve decided, by using a rational process of thought, is the right thing to do regardless of what anyone else wants, feels or needs, then yes.
4. If the government institutions caused the financial crisis, why didn’t they fail first?
Dude, where have you been? THEY DID. Fannie and Freddie both went under and required a massive government bailout paid for by the taxpayers. That’s what the first bailout WAS, and resulted in a declaration by the gov’t that, oops, sorry, those loans we said we were going to guarantee? We ain’t. Hence why all the banks that relied on those promises are now toppling like dominoes.
5. Purple Library Guy’s many issues with “free riders” and “externalities”.
You’re touching on a really complex issue here that I don’t think we could really develop enough shared context to even begin to dissect in this small forum, so you’d have to spend a lot of time reading books I’m sure you’re not interested in.
The *short* answer is that WHILE these are REAL issues in certain contexts, they aren’t *problems* to Objectivism any more than transubstantiation of the soul is a problem to an Atheist. The point with the “free rider” problem is not that we have to make everyone pay “their share” of the cost of every benefit they conceivably receive, but that it is understood that no one is *obligated* to provide them those benefits. The people who absolutely NEED or really want those benefits ARE going to see to it that they come into existence and it doesn’t HARM them if other people gain the benefit as a side effect. It’s kind of like a loss leader in marketing, yes, not every item you give away generates a sale, but ENOUGH of them do that you can afford to underwrite the small resulting loss out of your profits. How is this a problem? You’re making money, your customers are getting products they need, and everyone else gets to, say, walk on the nice sidewalk without getting their shoes muddy. Everyone wins. How is this a “problem”?
As for externalities, which I understand to be the so-called “hidden” or “invisible” costs of activities, like, say, your water quality going down because three housing developments were constructed on what used to be the vacant land near your house. The *short* answer to this is that no one has the *right* to certain metaphysical conditions. You don’t have the RIGHT to pure water or smog-free air or anything of that nature, although if you can demonstrate that a.) a contract has been violated (and there’s an entire complex sub-category here about implied contracts that I’m TOTALLY not able to comment on usefully) or b.) you or your property have been harmed/invaded by this procedure, you do have legal recourse.
If you’re interested in discussion, I’d suggest you go to ObjectivismOnline.net where there’s more scope for that sort of thing.
One of the primary issues that has always jumped out at me about Objectivism (and there could be a VERY good answer to this question, so forgive me if it is overly simplistic or a straw-man) is if the highest good (the one everyone should uphold and follow) is rational self-interest or “selfishness” it seems difficult to claim any reasonable system of property rights. Say I am starving, if I ascribe to a theory of “rational self-interest” (in this case, I’d rather not starve to death) what on earth could give you a right to claim that I can’t pick an apple off of your apple tree.
Property rights need to come from somewhere, either they are ingrained in us, as in Locke’s theory of natural rights or bestowed upon us by society, as in Rousseau. These both deal with the case of the apple tree that I’ve put forward in more satisfactory (read: internally consistent, my issues with Locke’s theories are many) ways. Locke claims your right to your apple tree is given to you by God via your labor on it, you have a NATURAL right to it (don’t shoot the messenger, it’s what he says). Rousseau says that in the case of you and I living in a just society (a major focus of his work) we have both consented to the rule not to steal.
This sort of thing is, as far as I can tell, the primary reason why Objectivism is rejected by the philosophical community as a whole. It exhorts rationality, but the pieces don’t quite fit together. I’m interested to hear how Jennifer or any of the other Objectivist supporters deal with this issue. Also, I’m sorry for taking this discussion off on a more theoretical track, but looking at how civil this discussion has been I figured that there was no better place to ask this question that’s been bothering me for a while.
P.S. Shamus, I’ve been reading this blog for awhile and this is my first time posting. I just wanted to say that I came to read DM of the Rings, and have been checking every day now for a very long time to read your blog. Thank you.
P.P.S. Jennifer posted again while I was writing this so I’m sorry if anything in this comes off as redundant in light of her most recent post.
Objectivism’s such a crock that just hearing/thinking about it makes me angry.
Post #2, going after more stuff:
6. How would I deal with an obnoxious neighbor in an Objectivist society?
Easily: you’d complain to the police that your property is being invaded, without your consent, by loud, disturbing noise. (If you’re not a jerk, you’d ask your neighbor to turn it down before calling the police, but this is not, of course, compulsory.) The police would tell the noisy neighbor to tone it down, and if he didn’t, compel him to do so.
The thing about this that isn’t easy to understand is how you arrive at this conclusion, but it’s simple really: you have the right to use your property as you see fit, which includes not being annoyed by people who are standing on THEIR property if what they are doing is physically invading YOUR property. (There are, of course, limits on how much this applies. It really has to be detectable from your property via normal means–no stethoscopes, telescopes, etc. Also, you have to assume responsibility for directing your sensory apparatus. If you want to claim that your neighbor’s color scheme nauseates you, then the person paying to have a wall erected is going to be YOU.)
I’m sure some people are going to wonder how this fails to contradict with the thing I mentioned under Externalities for how you don’t have the right to certain metaphysical conditions, and the distinction relies on an understanding of the difference between the metaphysical and the man-made. Groundwater is a naturally occurring resource and as such is UNOWNED until labor has been applied to it, however the peace and quiet of your personal property have been created *by you* prior to your neighbor starting up his Disco Jam party. If, say, you had built your own water filtration system and run piped water into your house, you DO have the right to complain if the housing development tunnels into your pipe and starts using it for septic removal.
7. How can I have property rights without coercion?
Short answer, you can’t–in fact, as history has proved time and time again, you can’t have ANY kind of rights without coercion. This confusion is a result of some poor wording that hasn’t been cleared up yet. OBJECTIVISM IS NOT A PACIFIST SYSTEM. It is not coercion per se that we are against (although you’ll hear that term used a lot when Objectivists talk amongst themselves because WE know the context we’re using), it is the *initiation* of force. Force can and must be used by the government (and, in times of desperation, even by private citizens), but ONLY against people who initiate its use. Yes, technically these people are being *coerced* into not murdering, not stealing, not raping, etc. etc. etc. When you hear an Objectivist condemning coercion, they are always speaking of a specific form of coercion that constitutes an initiation of force, they just didn’t specify that because, usually, they thought it was obvious.
8. Mungo’s wondering about people not giving money to the government voluntarily.
If people don’t want to pay for government, they won’t have government. That doesn’t make it a good thing to force them to pay for the government they don’t want. Usually, when this is tried, people are screaming for government, ANY government, within HOURS. So I really, seriously doubt that this could become a real problem.
9. Why shouldn’t I go ahead and buy weapons and defend myself on my own terms?
Because you’d very likely wind up initiating force against innocent people and they’d have no choice but to shoot you in the head in self-defense. It is in your self-interest to have an impartial arbiter of disputes simply because *you have to sleep sometime*.
10. If we gave everyone the same amount of money, wouldn’t this fix everything?
If you mean “fix” in the sense of “completely destroy the economy and everyone who relies on some sort of division-of-labor for their support instead of living on a self-sustaining farm”, then yes. Me, I don’t think that consigning 90% of the population to almost immediate starvation is anything like a good thing. Money is only worth something as it represents goods. If you give someone with a mountain of goods an equal amount of money to someone with no goods whatsoever there’s no mechanism left whereby they can trade other than ditching the money and resorting to direct exchange of goods.
Re post 89: Oo, you’re horrified. Good for you. Give some reasons and I might be persuaded to care.
“2. It's okay for people to starve on the streets as long as you aren't bothered?
Good grief, NO! The problem is that you can't fix this by making slaves of the rest of the population. At best, all you can achieve is that everyone will starve together.”
This seems to be a common misconception but is demonstrably untrue. The problems with resource inequity in the modern world are ones of distribution, not production. Enough food is being produced currently to sustain the lives of everyone currently living. So why shouldn’t everyone eat? Is mass starvation not a greater evil than your so-called “slavery”?
I also have to say that using the word slavery seems like poor rhetorical form. It is substituting hyperbolic language for rational argument. Which, frankly, is one of the problems I frequently have with Rand.
@Purple Library Guy Comment No. 89:
I’m convinced she only manages to tie with No. 45. Fair enough if her own ethnocentric remarks horrified you, but there’s at least more earnestness in her opinions than naa’s. To make light of atrocity and the plight of rational people all over the world simply to get to say a buzzword one has just picked up in class (“ethnocentrism”) reeks of a less benign conceitedness that comes from a distinct detachment to the struggles occurring in cultures other than one’s own.
I say it’s the most ethnocentric because it’s one that doesn’t even know it is. It’s hypocritical, and attempts to hide its ignorance behind PC-pedantry. Wherein the poster doesn’t even make an attempt to know anything about the cultures of which one speaks.
I don’t think the style of Jennifer Snow’s post is more distressing than the substance of naa’s. Not only because we’re not completely opposed in terms of basic position, but because the reasons why she might consider other cultures barbaric in the modern age aren’t exactly the same reasons the White Man felt his Burden a century and a half ago.
Speaking from a personal viewpoint, there’s many cultures whose attitudes I find abhorrent. And I don’t feel terribly guilty about feeling that way, because I know that there are people raised in those same cultures who feel the same way. These people suffer for having opinions and beliefs differing from those around them.
My referring to the concept of ethnocentrism isn’t from the same position another’s might be. Simply put, I accept that everyone is -centric towards whatever circumstances that they most closely associate. No exceptions. However, to deny that one is -centric with regards to one’s own opinions is hubris. To accuse another of bias while refusing to admit one’s own is hypocrisy.
That is not to say hypocrisy is inherently wrong. People are complex beings, and what they think they believe, what they say, and what they actually feel might intersect with each other in strange ways.
But you’re still allowed to call people out on it. Especially if it helps reveal precisely where they’re coming from or, better yet, if the person being called out might re-examine their own views. (Not likely, but there’s always hope.)
And if someone points out that my own perspective is ethnocentric, nerdocentric, or textwallocentric, then bully for you. As I said, “No exceptions.“
The issue is not necessarily whether or not you can HAVE property rights at all without the use of “coercion” or force, but rather whether or not you can logically DEFEND a system of property rights based on the primary value of Objectivism, “selfishness.” This is important, primarily because of the fact that Objectivism places such value on rationality. What REASON to I have to not steal, what RIGHT can YOU claim to the apple, if we’re all meant to act in our OWN “rational self-interest”?
P.S. I normally write in italics to emphasize words, I’m not intending to “internet-scream” with the caps.
@Lizard: No, this is a good question, it’s just that the answer is more complex than you think.
One of the primary issues that has always jumped out at me about Objectivism (and there could be a VERY good answer to this question, so forgive me if it is overly simplistic or a straw-man) is if the highest good (the one everyone should uphold and follow) is rational self-interest or “selfishness” it seems difficult to claim any reasonable system of property rights. Say I am starving, if I ascribe to a theory of “rational self-interest” (in this case, I'd rather not starve to death) what on earth could give you a right to claim that I can't pick an apple off of your apple tree?”
Firstly, I’ll start out by answering your question with a question: What gives YOU the right to pick an apple off MY apple tree for any reason of any kind? That’s not the starting place, actually, but the ending place, I just want you to know right off the bat where I’m going.
That apple didn’t just *happen* to be there–I had to plant it and tend to it and pollinate it. *Why* are you starving? Why didn’t you do the same? What were you planning to do if I wasn’t here and didn’t exist? Why didn’t you just knock on the door and ASK me? Why didn’t you knock on the door and offer some work in exchange for payment? Why didn’t you do that with anyone ELSE?!
These are the types of questions that never get asked in these hypotheticals, but *all* are of crucial importance in understanding the nature of this kind of situation. The ultimate answer is that the Objectivist ethics does not start with some sort of emergency situation and try to extrapolate how people should act in *normal* situations from that. Instead, we start from normal situations, i.e. the one where, say, you’re capable of providing for yourself, and extrapolate how we should behave in an emergency from that. In that situation, someone claiming the right to take whatever they want because they’re starving is nothing more than a thief and a plain parasite, because they’re starving as a result of their own actions (or, really, lack thereof).
Extrapolating from that, if some fantastical scenario occurs where you really are starving and there’s NOTHING you can do about it other than steal my apples (say, I’m not home and there’s no houses around for miles and there’s a terrible snowstorm that prevents you from walking anywhere), then your self-interest would, indeed, compel you to take the apples. It should also compel you to make restitution when you can because the convenient apple-grower is blameless and you HAVE stolen his property.
If you take it one step further and formulate a situation where the apple-grower IS to blame for your problems (say, he ambushed you on the road and has been keeping you chained in his basement and forcing you to work in his apple field), then those are YOUR apples, produced by YOUR effort and you take them by right. It’s just that you cannot justly expand the fact that he’s not *giving* you the apples into “he brutally attacked me!”
What seems like a simple question is actually very complex in its dissection and understanding, so if you’re not seeing the distinctions here and you’re interested, I strongly advise you to go to the source and read what Ayn Rand wrote. Objectivism, unlike most other philosophies, is very hard to dissect in this manner because it does not consist of a series of stand-alone commandments or doctrines, but of a unified system each part of which depends on everything that went before. You have to start by understanding the Objectivist metaphysics and epistemology before you can really grasp the reasons why the ethics are what they are, and it’s NOT AN EASY TASK. I come across new applications and implications on an almost daily basis and I’ve been at this for 14 years.
Fortunately for interested noobies, once you get the basics down you can figure out the applications and implications for yourself–in fact, you have to, because Objectivists tend to get annoyed if you start looking around for commandments and dogma to obey. We’re way too busy doing our own thinking to do yours for you. All we can do is point you in the right direction.
Sometimes I feel like posting something here, then I feel like it’s too much trouble (I get lost). Today I got dizzy with all these answers. Wow.
All I wanted to say is: my goodness, I agree with so much of what “the Inspector” said.
I don’t study philosophy. And, because it is so badly used by so many, I sincerely don’t feel like it. I study Languages and Literature (Japanese is my major), and I’m so used to people going on about philosophy like they are the l33ts that I just dismiss anything that claims to be related to it – to it’s products. Yet, I’m quite addicted to sci-fi, specially cyber-punk *blushes*. I also really enjoy a few hours of hardcore gaming at home so I couldn’t help but smile at this entry.
“This seems to be a common misconception but is demonstrably untrue. The problems with resource inequity in the modern world are ones of distribution, not production. Enough food is being produced currently to sustain the lives of everyone currently living. So why shouldn't everyone eat? Is mass starvation not a greater evil than your so-called “slavery”?
And how exactly do you think that production came about in the first place? Through the efforts of men working for their own gain. How long do you expect them to be able to produce when you seize their product for the sustenance of people who produce nothing? How long do you expect them to WANT to produce if they receive no reward for their hard work? If they stop and decide to do something else, are you going to chain them to the farm machinery and point guns at them until they grow enough food for “everyone”? And this while irresponsible people the world over are having thousands of babies a minute? How many people are those slaves going to be capable of supporting in this fashion?
No, the starvation is not worse than slavery because slavery results in starvation both of people who don’t produce and people who do. I say that if you REALLY want to cure starvation, you ought to see to it that EVERYONE is free to gain rewards from producing. Then THEY will be as productive as the “Westerners” they condemn at the same time they’re demanding handouts.
“The issue is not necessarily whether or not you can HAVE property rights at all without the use of “coercion” or force, but rather whether or not you can logically DEFEND a system of property rights based on the primary value of Objectivism, “selfishness.” This is important, primarily because of the fact that Objectivism places such value on rationality. What REASON to I have to not steal, what RIGHT can YOU claim to the apple, if we're all meant to act in our OWN “rational self-interest”?”
You can’t, because that’s not the logical order involved. The system of property rights is not based on selfishness, rather selfishness AND property rights are both based on the same primary, namely, the requirements for human life *and* the choice to live. This is why I said that understanding the fundamentals is more important AND way more complicated than anything I’ve said here today. I’m here to answer questions and maybe straighten out some of the worst misconceptions, not defend, because I’d have to deliver a college-level philosophy course to defend everything and frankly, I’m not the least interested in doing so for free. (I have a life!)
Btw, does anyone want to tie this back into gaming somehow, or is it too late? Oh, and I understand that people aren’t “internet screaming” or anything like that. I, myself, don’t get angry in these types of discussions. (Why would I? The only person I could conceivably get mad at is myself, and that only if I’m not presenting what I want to say to my own satisfaction.) People tend to project and assume that I’m angry, though. :P
@ Dorian Something Something Username Too Long
“Simply put, I accept that everyone is -centric towards whatever circumstances that they most closely associate. No exceptions.”
This struck me as terribly funny, because you might as well say “people are self-interested”. They should be! Good for them if they are!
I’m gonna sign off for the evening, I’ve got food to eat and work tomorrow to get ready for. Thanks everyone for participating, and thanks Shamus for posting and hosting!
I deeply appreciate the respectful and interested tone you’re taking in responding to my questions. I thank you deeply for it.
The first issue is that it’s logically not my job to prove why your right to the apple doesn’t exist, it’s your burden to prove the fact they do. We don’t assume things to exist until we see the contrary, we assume them not to until they are proven to. Therefore you still need to prove why you can protect anything you own against theft from others that follows their rational self-interest and not simply ask me to prove MY right to it. My right to it is simple in this case, it is in my rational self-interest to have it.
, I think my life would run smoother when in possession of (insert item you currently “possess” right here).
I admit my example to be a tad flawed now that I think about it but it does bring up another issue that bothers me about Objectivism, which is that it assumes an even starting place for everyone. This is brought up by your assumption that I would be starving because I wasn’t working hard enough. What if I was say, a farmer caught in the dust bowl, traveling west to find someplace I could work, driven to starvation by a lack of jobs. Especially today this sort of “equal playing field” is nonexistent, take for example the many cases of people who work hard getting nowhere (any worker in a sweatshop), and people who work very little getting far (Paris Hilton).
To clear this up, I will change the example, please forget my (now that I look at it, admittedly stupid and stilted) apple example and replace it with just this question, what right do you have to anything you HAVE, that should prevent me, in my own rational self-interest, from taking it? Because, operating from the assumption that we’re both acting selfishly it seems strange to claim that you have a natural right to your own work that should make it not okay for me to take it, even if not taking it would go against my rational self-interest.
EDIT: I just now notice you’ve signed off, but I just wanted to say I’ve enjoyed this discussion immensely and to say that in no way have you seemed angry or touchy.
>As for externalities, which I understand to be the so-called “hidden” or “invisible” costs of activities, like, say, your water quality going down because three housing developments were constructed on what used to be the vacant land near your house. The *short* answer to this is that no one has the *right* to certain metaphysical conditions. You don't have the RIGHT to pure water or smog-free air or anything of that nature, although if you can demonstrate that a.) a contract has been violated (and there's an entire complex sub-category here about implied contracts that I'm TOTALLY not able to comment on usefully) or b.) you or your property have been harmed/invaded by this procedure, you do have legal recourse.
Whether or not public goods or externalities are “rights” violations, or just extra costs, the issue is that if externalities are not properly handled, they will cause resources to bused less effectively than they otherwise could have been (Reducing the overall wealth, making society less productive, etc.)
You argument about public goods being provided by people who want it bad enough is understood already. The problem with this point of view is that public services of this sort will be underproduced unless some other incentives are added.
>However, what can be done is that when you make a contract with another individual, the government charges you a fee to register (or “notarize”) it, and that means that it has legal recognition. You remain free to make informal “handshake” agreements. However, there are many people who make hundreds of contracts every day and can't afford to assume that all their contracts are going to be honest. They will pay for the government precisely because they're using most of the gov't services.
If you pay for government services by charging for contracts, you discourage activities involving large numbers of contracts compared to activities that use smaller amounts. (Or depending on how the charges are structured, some other incentives/disincentives for different sections of the economy.) It’s also quite possible that people who use more contracts would actually be less likely to have them legalized, since there are more contracts, the risk of dishonest people making them can be statistically measured and included in the person’s plans, while people with fewer contracts are more at risk if one goes bad.
Government contract enforcement also has the same favoritism issues as any other system for taxation or government involvement. The government could enforce contracts a certain way, and charges for “notarization” can be lobbied to favor particular groups.
>Good grief, NO! The problem is that you can't fix this by making slaves of the rest of the population. At best, all you can achieve is that everyone will starve together. Every man must start out by taking responsibility for his own life, because NO man, no matter how benevolent can support an infinite number of indigent hangers-on. If he's not free to produce, he can't even support himself.
There are more possibilities than the “slavery” and “starvation” extremes. it is entirely possible that some in between version is actually the best way to run a society. (And as much as anything this post shows a person who is quite emotionally invested in a point of view and may not be viewing the world effectively due to that emotion.)
@Mycroft (Comment 80)
>”I'm not sure we can grant that today, in this age of internet that sans regulation there could be a media monopoly. Too much internet. Before the internet cable was diverse enough to keep a monopoly from forming, and before that the cost of printing meant that newspapers were quite common and quite diverse. Before newspapers, yes there was a monopoly on news and it did run in the interest of those that controlled it.
Do you really think that the liberal turner will give in to the conservative Murdoch or the other way around? And the internet with its infinite variety of political flavors isn't going away unless government kills it.
That's why monopolies aren't that bad, it's really hard to get the last 10%, just ask bill gaates.”
Metal Gear Solid 2 brings up quite a compelling argument that the Internet could be “filtered” as to have a monopoly, and that this monopoly goes hidden. Then again, it relies on the notion of strong AI and a shadow government that has enough power to remain hidden, but still. Give it a look-see. =P
Well, this is an overly long series, but I did want to add some notes that Andrew Ryan himself was ultimately the reason Rapture failed. Ryan was for freedom as long as he was the most free: the most freedom of action through his power. Fontaine did set up a nasty conspiracy. And it might have brought Rapture down. But Ryan apparently continued the mess Fontaine started, built on it, expanded it, and ultimately destroyed his own creation in order to maintain power. There were actual honest, sincere people… but between Fontaine and Ryan, they were all killed.
This is essentially the flaw of Objectivism. It ultimately requires than people be better than I think they are in order to work. It’s actually in many ways a good idea. I simply don’t believe enough human beings are good enough reliably enough to make it work. While it avoids the free rider problem, it puts society is a state which is too unbalanced and too likely to collapse.
@Jennifer Snow Comment No. 105
If by ‘went under’ you mean ‘were placed into conservatorship, where they continue to operate’ then, yes, they went under. But 1) they were not the first failure, or even the first major failure – Bear Stearns went down in March (also not technically a ‘failure’, as they were purchased), where the GSEs were rescued in September, and 2) they did not, in fact, alter the terms of their guarantees.
In fact, if anything, the (mistaken) idea that their loan guarantees are backed by the government was given a huge boost by the government’s action; it seems clear that the government will not allow them to fail and will back their guarantees with taxpayer money if (or as) it comes to that.
So, again, given that the guarantors are still guaranteeing, why are the guaranteed going south? Note: I’m not saying that the GSEs didn’t play a role in these events – just that to blame the whole thing on Freddie and Fannie is, to a large degree, to confuse cause and effect. Fannie & Freddie, by most accounts, actually played it much safer than most in the industry.
Here’s a good timeline to events, BTW:
Note that it start in April _2007_.
So, as long as I’ve got your attention… For a while I considered myself to be a Libertarian (after taking the World’s Most Simplistic Political Quiz). (Forgive me if I’m eliding two things that aren’t the same – I don’t really know what the differences are between Libertarians and Objectivists. Feel free to decline to speak for them if there’s a big difference.) But I pretty rapidly ran into what seemed to me to be a real contradiction in Libertarian attitudes, to whit:
I don’t understand why Libertarians have so much invested in seeing national governments as the source of all evil while excusing or overlooking even the most blatant abuses of power by international corporations (e.g. monopoly).
To me it’s like some weird inversion of the communist faith in government and abhorrence of private capital. (I’m pretty sure that there are places for both markets _and_ safety nets in a rational society, but then I’m an engineer, not a philosopher, and I find uses for both Macs and PCs, and have even used both emacs and vi.) How is it possible that one entity, formed (in some instances) by the free association of a group of people in order to further their mutual self-interest, is evil, while another entity, chartered by governments in order to produce profit for its shareholders, is good?
Shamus, I think you should do this more often.
It’s nice to be on the internet and talk about things like government opinions without seeing people go at eachother’s throats.
The community here is obviously able to handle it relatively well.
Of course, it may not be worth the risk, but seeing a “Controversial Discussion” entry every now and then would be refreshing for such a mature community.
Also, has anyone else noticed the weird similarity between “Andrew Ryan” and “Ayn Rand”? Now that I’ve seen both in close proximity, I can’t help but think that the name “Andrew Ryan” was some sort of remix on “Ayn Rand.”
Wow, I wonder if this thread will eventually produce the most comments on Shamus’ blog?
Referring back to Jennifer Snow’s ethnocentric comments up in the 40’s that folks took issue with: there are folks around the world that live a more collectivist subsistance existance than modern “western” society. Some of them, when exposed to our new-fangled way of life elect to continue with their traditions, and that’s fine. Some anthropologists say their lives have more leisure and less stress. But some folks see modern conveniences and want to join the fun. Individuals should be able to make a choice. Just because it was right for previous generations doesn’t mean everyone should locked in to the tradition.
There will always be folks who decide to go for a more simple lifestyle, grow their own food, etc. But the overall trend for humanity seems to be to keep climbing the tech tree.
@ Wumpus: I’m no expert on Libertarians, but I play D&D with one. I think they may be less leery of corporations because you can usually decline to do business with any company you don’t like, even a monpolistic company. Governments have guns and are therefore better equiped to enforce a monopoly on the services they force you to pay for.
I believe in the power of self-determination. At my kids’ schools, they have the whole place locked down “for their own good.”
So we are going to become a totalitarian nation, because our children are being taught to accept lock-down every day in school, unless we do something about it.
I teach my kids that they know what is best for them, and ask them if they agree with even punishments before they are asked to accept and carry them out.
It’s amazing the look on their face when you ask, “What do you think a fair punishment would be?”
I’d love to compare notes with the rest, but I don’t have time to read the comments. Sorry. :^(
I found this post to be the reason I bother to come here. Thank you so much.
I notice that to a number of objections Ms. Snow basically says that examples such as the ones described would never come up because society run along Objectivist principles would result in an essentially perfect economy where nobody was ever badly off unless they deserved it. That is, Objectivism need not deal with purely logical or moral questionings of things like the underlying valuation it places on selfishness, because the adoption of this kind of selfishness would lead to such wonderful outcomes that the typical moral implications of selfishness wouldn’t matter. There would be a sort of “Adam Smith’s invisible hand” writ large in operation, apparently.
Given that Objectivism apparently accepts monopolies, inheritance of wealth, underprovision of public goods (which are way more important to a productive economy than most people realize), and minimalist handling of externalities, and has never been tried I don’t see how she can be so confident that it would inevitably result in levels of economic perfection that have never been seen. The notion that setting everyone free of the chains of the various things objectivism considers chains would lead to economic perfection is quite wrong. Smith himself would have been among the first to point to the necessity of regulation, for one thing. And antitrust laws. The familiar “efficient market” hypothesis, which is the basis of a lot of ideas about free markets being capable of running society, depends on a number of assumptions which aren’t true in the real world. Until recently nobody was really sure whether it would still work with more realistic assumptions, because more realistic assumptions make the math a massive pain. But there’s now a sizable body of economic work (rarely discussed in the media) showing that if, for instance, information is not perfect, or not free, markets stop being efficient. If there exists an uncertain future, markets stop being efficient. I believe some of the other assumptions have been shown to be important as well (e.g. efficient markets assume *diminishing* returns to scale, making larger firms unable to compete). In short, it turns out markets are only efficient over the rainbow, not in the real world.
So the notion of a perfect or near-perfect economy under Objectivism strikes me as pretty empty hand-waving.
The more I hear about it, actually, the more it feels like an odd mirror image to Soviet Communism. It’s like, the Soviets were all “If only private-sector employers couldn’t exploit the workers because the state took everything over, there’d be a new kind of Soviet/Communist Man who would ensure that the economy would work perfectly. Everyone would be doing great, and so certain ethical problems with the state having complete control wouldn’t matter.” Turns out they were wrong, and so Ayn Rand came out of the Soviet Union hating it. So she goes and says “If only the state couldn’t do anything because the private sector took everything over, there’d be a new kind of Objectivist/Logically Selfish Man who would ensure that the economy would work perfectly. Everyone would be doing great, and so certain ethical problems with insisting on selfishness ruling everything wouldn’t matter.” Strikes me as about as likely to be true.
I’m still not over the fact that you haven’t played Bioshock.
What, didn’t like the idea of playing one of the best games of 2007?
Okay, so the ideas they showed us years before the game was released were interesting, multilayered and grand; then we played the game and discovered that they weren’t nearly as multilayered and grand as we imagined, it just looked that way, though the devlopers did deliver everything they promised, which is more than you can say of some other devlopers ambitions. *coughpetermolyneuxcough*
Oh, and the demo sucks, as do all demos released in the last decade.
Namfoodle, my problem with Snow’s comment 47 isn’t so much that it heaps contempt on certain kinds of society. She’s an objectivist, of course she feels contemptuous of kinds of society that are very different from objectivism in their approach.
No, my problem is that the beliefs displayed there about just what other parts of the world are like and what the reasons are behind the impoverished parts being impoverished, are so utterly bizarre as to reflect not just utter ignorance of history, but wilful setting aside of the real world in favour of cant slogans.
First of all, there is hardly anybody in the world nowadays who can genuinely be described as “primitive”, much less “in a state of primordial savagery”. Actually, it’s unclear what such a thing as a “state of primordial savagery” might be. This is ignorant romanticism run amuck.
Also, the third world aren’t poor because of anything to do with individualism vs. the collective. The third world is not a single lump characterized by a particular political set of views. Much of it has less of “the collective”, particularly by Ms. Snow’s definition, than we do. Somewhat more peer pressure in many cases, but often far less state. Villages of subsistence farmers in poor countries generally don’t see a lot of government; they do tend to have internal governing structures, but these are not “collectives” by Ms. Snow’s definition–they tend to have few coercive tools beyond ostracism, which I don’t think should qualify as coercion to an Objectivist. Some parts of the third world are or have been relatively socialist. Other parts are and have been for some time rabidly laissez-faire. Still others have little state not because of ideology but because of instability or lack of much surplus with which to maintain one. In some poor countries (e.g. Nepal) the average member of the population probably thinks far more about a wider range of political ideas than the average North American. Ms. Snow’s notion about the world out there doesn’t even seem to reach the level of caricature; it’s minimalist even for a stick figure, and what’s worse it has the wrong number of arms and legs.
Interestingly, those parts of the world with quite a bit of “collective” are sometimes not too well off (e.g. China), but sometimes quite well off (e.g. Sweden, Finland, Germany).
In the real world, the more impoverished parts of the world today tend to have gotten that way because someone stole a lot of their stuff, disrupted the hell out of their society, and killed lots and lots of their people. In many cases it’s still going on. Organized coercion by some form of collective, to put it in Objectivist terms. That’s why some degree of expenditure on defense is good value for money–if someone takes you over, they can mess you up real bad in pursuit of their logical self-interest. Usually this has been done by states and the private sector working hand in hand with the state providing most of the direct coercion so the private sector could bring home the profit, but not quite always. In the case of the so-called Belgian Congo, at least a third of the region’s population were slaughtered by a purely private-sector effort. I recommend the book “King Leopold’s Ghost” for those with strong stomachs.
From what I can tell from my readings, Libertarians are like Objectivists but without the “reason” part. Their goals are pretty much the same but the society that would result would be quite different. Libertarians want to do what they want, even if it’s irrational or frivolous. Objectivists also want to do what they want, but they suppose that individuals put reason above all principles and act as such. It’s why Libertarians are often viewed as Anarchists, since without the cement of reason it’s almost impossible to establish common goals (and a government pursuing them).
Back on topic, I’m not convinced a society could finance a government and everything associated with it only by it providing some kind of insurance over contract failures. The government still would have to pay for protection and law enforcement, plus the costs a normal insurance company would have. The first business that would be started would be a contract insurance company with fees much lower than the governments. Considering how high police and army budgets are, a small fraction of the fees would easily be enough to still make an extremely large margin and be 100% safe (or at least as safe as the ‘insurance company’ part of the government would be). The rational choice for self-interested people who don’t want to waste their money on their insurance would be to either choose this company over the government, or start their own insurance company. The government would be put out of business before it even started.
About monopoly “not being that bad”, I can’t imagine how considering prices (for daily products) four to ten times more expensive than they could be is “not that bad”… Because that’s exactly what’s happening in french departments in Caribbean islands, where there’s a monopoly on distribution and transportation. And they’ve been on general strike for five weeks because of it. Monopolies aren’t bad only because [sarcasm warning] the company is evil and wants to overcharge its customer[end warning], it’s also because it doesn’t punish inefficiency and lack of innovation. Microsoft can afford to waste one full development cycle, huge losses from a games department for several years, a buggy release with compatibility problems, and mass consumer aversion for their new product, but still makes large profits and sells its products with no trouble. Were there any real competitor, the company would have been dead long ago.
I find the whole idea of separating economy and government idiotic in the long run. It is certainly true that the more uncontrolled the “economy” is, the higher the “high” gets on the scale of economic growth. Western Europe will never have as low unemployment rates or as many rich people as the US. But on the other hand, we will never crash and burn as bad as the US has a capacity for either. The mixed economies in Europe does act like an airbag in the current crisis, despite the American car manufacturers “trying” to pull us all down. (I fully understand why GM does not give a rat’s ass about SAAB, or OPEL/Vauxhall, and they want to cut their losses. It is probably the first sound economic decision they have made in 10 years), and that is the way we want it.
I’m getting the impression from this discussion that Objectivism, as mentioned several times already and as is the case with every other philosophy, can only really work if everyone involved believed in it, or at least the “true” (“rational selfishness”) version of it.
Anyway, what really made me question Andrew Ryan’s motives was one of his speeches, I think in the very beginning of the game when you first enter Rapture. In his sales pitch while you’re in the bathysphere, he goes on about what he wanted Rapture to be, and he says something like:
“[…] where the scientist is not constrained by petty morals […]”
This brings up the question: is Ryan against petty morals, or is he against petty morals?
I would defend to the death your right to take that freezing, starving homeless man to a diner and a shelter. If you asked me for help, I'd probably give you a tenner, too. I don't like to see people suffering any more than you do.
And so he lives for a single night, but tomorrow the same problem arises anew. This is not a valid long-term solution.
Also, who would be running the shelter? What kind of selfish person would be willing to run or finance it?
Sure, altruists would, but I’m not sure they’d be doing it out of rational selfishness. Then again, I don’t know enough about Objectivism if it acknowledges the existence of altruists or simply considers it a different form of selfishness or something.
But what really hurt my brain was this at 92:
Every man must start out by taking responsibility for his own life (…) If he's not free to produce, he can't even support himself.
And if he’s incapable of production due to mental problems he also won’t be able to support himself. But how is someone like that supposed to “take responsibility for his own life”? You can’t just go and say “From now on, I will no longer hear the voices”. You’d have to say something along the lines of “From now on, I’ll seek help for my problems so that in future I might be able to deal with them on my own and actually become productive one day”. But that requires mental healthcare professionals and medicine – which are expensive and would probably be even more expensive on the unfettered free market. Probably too expensive for someone who is incapable of working due to mental problems.
So how would Objectivism deal with pulling someone out of this trap?
@121, DKELLIS: Exactly, as the Purple guy has pointed out too. Objectivism seems to be as much based in reality as hardcore communism; it is not a philosophy / ideology that works outside a lab environment.
As for the morals, that was the point where it was obvious to me what fresh hell my character had stumbled into.
“All totalitarian disasters share common philosophic premises and roots, such as collectivism and altruism”
Collectivism as the cause of evil. Doesn’t this take you back to the Mccarthy era in the United States, when communism was the cause of all evil and anyone who would condone its practice could be sued to hell and beyond? Now communism was a very badly executed form of government, where the collectivity gave way to a society where the state is more important than the welfare of its people. And especially the USA, in a state of cold war with the USSR, had reason to attack communism (and before that, fascism and national socialism) in their propaganda.
That is history, however. There is only one truly communist country left in the world (North Korea) and no state is as of now controlled by nazis or fascists. I don’t think that it is necessary to continue pursuing a anti-communist agenda anymore. But that’s not what’s going on here. All collectivism is, apparently, evil. Bad to the bone.
The European and Asian successful governments are based, partly, on collectivism. China, politically and economically becoming the second power in the world, is based exclusively on collectivism (since thousands of years). is this Objectivism the continuation of propaganda now centred on China? Or is it simply a formulation of the American culture?
I believe that this is the downfall of Objectivism. It is ethnocentric. Now I’m not necessarily saying that that’s bad, not at all. I do think however, that this paradigm won’t be able to solve the problems the Objectivists think it will: because any believe of any kind, that relies on all people on the planet to convert to their religion if a perfect society is to be achieved, that in its root is ethnocentric, will fail in its execution.
To sum it up. I believe that any ethnocentric belief will be very successful within the confines of its ethnicity. It will however fail outside of it. Objectivism claims that when everyone follows its thinking, a perfect society will form. Objectivism is, however, ethnocentric. Therefore its ultimate goal cannot, ever, be achieved.
Actually I was also wondering how Objectivism would work, and how much of it would work, in various hypothetical situations.
To use an over-simplified analogy, it’s like trying to run Oblivion on something way over recommended specs, trying to run it on Shamus’s computer, and trying to run it on a toaster. In the first case, Oblivion runs as it should, and possibly better. In the second, Oblivion doesn’t quite run as it should, but it does run, if on protest and not as the devs probably intended. In the last case, it doesn’t run at all. (Although now that I’ve brought it up, I’m sure someone out there is going to install a graphics card with 2.0 pixel shader support in a toaster just to prove me wrong.)
So the Recommended Specs is the ideal, best-case scenario where Objectivism works as it should, and the toaster is the worst-case scenario where Objectivism doesn’t work at all. But what of the Shamus’s Computer scenario? How much can Objectivism change from its “pure” form and still be said to “work”, or at least provide a form of governance/philosophy that everyone involved can live with?
And where are the boundaries for this? We’ve seen that Andrew Ryan’s Objectivism doesn’t work when “less than 1%” of Rapture’s population believes in it. Presumably, Objectivism works when 100% of the population believes in it and is willing to follow through. How about 90%? Or 60%? 49%? 20%? Or 20%, but they are all respected/in positions of power?
And by “works”, that could fuel a whole other discussion. A gamer could look at the screenshots and think “well, the game runs at least, so it works”, or think “this looks ugly and horrible, it’s not working”. So something can “work” because it’s something people can live with, or it can “work” because it’s merely something people can live in, at a basic subsistence level.
@Zel (119) and @Jennifer Snow (all over!): I’m interested, too, in hearing commentary about the difference between libertarians and Objectivists. It does rather look like Objectivism is libertarianism with its philosopher’s robes on, but perhaps there are more significant differences?
I spent quite a while reading about libertarianism, listening to libertarian podcasts, and the like, and in the end concluded that I’m still a bleeding-heart liberal. Sorry. :)
@124, DKelly: Exactly, good questions.
Compare with modern Chinese Communism, a system that definitely works, and works well, but is hardly communism anymore. (This is the Shamus Computer scenario, although different since the system actually is working BETTER than it would on the intended system (old-fashioned communism)).
(Incidently the Chinese has also proved the idealists that proclaim that humans will demand democracy and freedom before anything else wrong; instead the Chinese has proven, as I have always suspected, that true democracy and freedom comes fairly low on the list of “Must haves” for most people as long as they are well fed, and feel secure*).
These questions you ask about the ratio is interesting; I am convinced that the system would actually not work for long even if 100% believed in it, I see it as faulty.
I can definitely not see it working with say less than 90% loyal to the system.
*Now there is of course a limit to people’s acceptance. Too much persecutions, torture and general crap and people start value freedom higher.
Coming late to the party, but I DO do philosophy (as a hobby; no, seriously, I have a degree and everything as a hobby) and there are some general issues here:
1) There was an initial comment from Jennifer about how Objectivism deals with reality and other moralities don’t, instead choosing to deal with how people ought to be instead of how they are. Well, that’s true, but morality is normative, meaning it’s about how we OUGHT to act, not how we DO act. But all moralities take into account real humans because of the idea of “Ought implies can”, meaning that for a morality to work it has to be the case that we COULD do that.
2) From the description, I’m going to basically ask this: are you Objectivists giving Hobbes credit for your ideas? Because basically you’re taking his idea of Psychological Egoism (all humans always act in their own self-interest) to Ethical Egoism (all humans should act in their own self-interest) and then importing his Social Contract (we allow for governments and things to punish us because it benefits us in the long run) to make your society. I haven’t read Rand in detail (I do own one of the books, though, but never got around to reading it) but the descriptions here are precisely that.
The problem with the Social Contract is that people only follow it if it benefits them, too. If you can break it and get away with it, there’s no rational reason to not do so. So if I could steal someone else’s apple and get away with it — ie not destroy the source or have that stealing impact my later benefit — I can go ahead and do it. This will lead into the next issue …
3) “Easily: you'd complain to the police that your property is being invaded, without your consent, by loud, disturbing noise. (If you're not a jerk, you'd ask your neighbor to turn it down before calling the police, but this is not, of course, compulsory.) The police would tell the noisy neighbor to tone it down, and if he didn't, compel him to do so.”.
And let’s imagine that I have a group of guys armed with assualt rifles in the house that’s making the noise. The police show up and ask me to stop making noise, and I reply “No”. They say “We’ll compel you.” I reply, “You and what army?”. No, I have a vested and rational interest in resisting compulsion from the police, since the more cowed they are the more I can get away with. They have less of a vested interest in bringing in a lot of force over a noise violation, so they go back and tell the complaintant “Sorry, nothing we can do”. So the more powerful I am, the more I can get away with.
Take some very pessimistic interpretations of the situation today. If you have a lot of money, you can do a lot of bad things because you can pay off the courts and police to leave you alone. But the poor people are still bound by the Social Contract and so if they try to do anything even remotely illegal to stop my illegality, they WILL be charged and sentenced. So I can get away with breaking the Social Contract, and they can’t. Yeah, that works.
Hobbes’ argument for the Social Contract was that it was always the case that someone who was, say, strong could be overcome by someone smarter or a group of people, and someone smart could be overcome (often) by someone strong. But once we’re IN the Social Contract, and our leader is in charge and things are enforced, people who can avoid the bludgeon of the enforcers can override that — until they come in conflict with each other. That’s not a good thing.
4) Psychology has shown that we aren’t good at long-term thinking, even without stress; we tend to take short-term gain over long-term gain.
5) Describing an action as “rational” at a general level is a really difficult thing to do. Rationality has to be evaluated with respect to the goals of the purported rational agent. For example, Jennifer in her example talked about how Bill Gates is better off than most drug dealers or bank robbers, and he got there through hard work, so it’s more rational to work than do those other things. But imagine this: I don’t want to be utterly rich, but be able to live comfortably. I get an opportunity to rob a bank that will net me $5,000,000. I figure I can use $1,000,000 of that to change my name and identity and hide the money, and move to another place where no one will remember me, meaning that I am almost certain to not get caught. And I can live comfortably off of my remaining $4,000,000 and safe investments on that for the rest of my life. If self-interest is my only moral goal, I rationally should steal the money, even if it broke the bank or caused problems in the city that I’m leaving. I don’t need Bill Gates’ money, and this would set me up for life.
6) One objection can be made here that many of my examples can be evaluated rationally by asking “What would happen if everyone did this?”. My reply here would be: but they won’t, because they don’t have that person’s goals or capacities.
7) Even in this thread, when I read the Objectivist comments on what is “enlightened self-interest”, this is what always strikes me: It seems that they want to start from an idea that we should act in our self-interest, but then hit things that violate their moral intuitions, so they come up with a rationalization for why NOT violating that moral intuition is actually in their long-term self-interest. And it often works (see Hobbes’ Social Contract for why). The problem is that for anything that anyone considers horribly immoral I can find a situation where if we considered ONLY the self-interest of the agent it is rational to do it. It usually starts by simply adding “And you won’t get caught/punished for doing it”. That strikes me as still a bit of a problem, and the long-term rationality justifications as being mostly evasions of the real issues.
8) There are reason-based moral alternatives. Kantian, Stoic, and even Utilitarianism are well-known attempts.
Libertarians can’t be Anarchists, because Anarchists are by definition *socialists*. We’re left-wing.
The big problem I have with Libertarians/Objectivists is that their anti-statism is lip service. There are only a handful who use it for more than just anti-welfare/anti-tax arguments and that recognize that the primary beneficiary of statism are not the poor and people on welfare, but the very CEOs, bankers and large corporations that so many champion as being ‘self-made’. They oppose the piddling amounts of money the state spends on social security and other such programs, and have a blind eye towards the most important statist programs: a top down and expensive military, and the police state apparatus.
The state’s ultimate social purpose is to leech from the productive (i.e. lower class and middle class workers) and give the proceeds to the parasitical rich, via corporate welfare, the military-industrial and prison-industrial complex, and other such programs. The welfare state as it exists now is a recent phenomena, in the USA mostly brought on by FDR’s New Deal, which was proposed by *the captains of industry* themselves in the first place as a concession to a labor movement that was on the verge of succeeding in revolution. The purpose is as a bribe to the middle class so that they won’t cooperate with lower class workers in revolt against the robber barons who are the actual recipients of most of the state’s largess.
There has never been a free market in Western capitalism’s history. By definition this means that the people who have been successful under the markets warped by statist policies are the very people who have benefitted from said policies. It is the rich capital owners that control the electoral system and the lobbyists. If you’re looking for the parasites in our society, these are the people you’re looking for, not single mothers on welfare who in their entire lives will be taking less of our tax moneys than a single CEO’s added income due to state policies in his favor.
BlackBloc: I don’t know what libertarians you’ve been reading, but among the ones on my reading list the rest-seekers are a MUCH bigger worry than the welfare system. (Most of their writing concerns the war, the militarization of the police, and corporate welfare / favoritism, and so on.) When people like Ron Paul talk about the “military-industrial complex”, that’s libertarian shorthand for “rich people who make a living lobbying for money or favors from the government.”
But libertarians are inherently fractious. I wouldn’t be surprised if a different reading list yielded a completely different picture of libertarians.
Daimbert: Nicely said. As to moral alternatives, I’ve found that I’m partial to Rawlsian justice theory. Utilitarianism always leaves me with the feeling that there’s gonna be stuff justified that seriously violates my intuitions about what’s right and fair and stuff. Rule-utilitarianism is somewhat better, and there are various other tweaks, but they always feel bolted on to me–like they can’t quite be made coherent with the basic idea behind utilitarianism. So it’s like, stick to the basic clean idea and it doesn’t really work; make it work by hook or by crook and by the time you’re done it’s no longer a clean consistent idea.
On the Libertarians–there do seem to be a moderate number of Libertarians these days who have started noticing the problems Shamus described, and even calling for some degree of tactical alliance with the more small-l libertarian parts of the left (such as anarchists) based on their common opposition to these problems. It’s relatively recent, though, near as I can make out.
Confusing the issue is that quite a lot of Republicans handwave a moderate number of Libertarian ideas even as they champion the police state, corporate welfare etc. Depending on where you draw the line to say what’s a “real” Libertarian and what isn’t, you’ll get quite different impressions of how foolish and/or hypocritical Libertarians are about this kind of thing.
“And if he's incapable of production due to mental problems he also won't be able to support himself. But how is someone like that supposed to “take responsibility for his own life”? You can't just go and say “From now on, I will no longer hear the voices”. You'd have to say something along the lines of “From now on, I'll seek help for my problems so that in future I might be able to deal with them on my own and actually become productive one day”. But that requires mental healthcare professionals and medicine – which are expensive and would probably be even more expensive on the unfettered free market. Probably too expensive for someone who is incapable of working due to mental problems.
So how would Objectivism deal with pulling someone out of this trap?”
As far as my comparatively limited experience of objectivist thought goes, the standard (unsatisfying, at least to me) objectivist answer to this is that while they would prohibit any form of altruism or compassionate action towards this person on the part of the state, citing reasons of coercion of the taxpayer or however the convoluted logic goes, they wouldn’t stop any private individual or organisation from doing it of their own volition. I’ve never seen any objectivist explanation given as to why such people would feel inclined to do so, however, certainly nothing based on the core principle of “enlightened greed” – essentially, anyone unable to support himself for any reason would have little option but to beg in public, and unless such a person could find enough private individuals or organisations who would support him out of some unspecified whim, he’d simply die from starvation, exposure or some other impoverishment. Essentially, the position of objectivist politics towards such matters would seem to be to refuse to take a position at all, neither acting or preventing action, and leaving the resolution to arise, or not, by some other, unspecified means.
@ The unknown 108
I’ve played MGS and MGS2 and while they are fun games with interesting stories, i don’t think they are realistic.
@John F. Schmidley:
Not sure what you mean about moral talk. I was talking about psychology and a little biology. Objectivism may indeed purport that “proper epistemological processes” can prevent “information overload”, but science has observed that information overload and attentional overload is already a problem, so apparently most people don’t have those processes down.
I’m just noting that any philosophical ideal has to contend with the fundamental physio-biology of humankind.
There are many, many strains of anarchism, and they span the full spectrum from extreme individualist (libertarian) to extreme mutualist (syndicalism), with stops all along the way and even outliers like the Zerzan primitivists (who I would call loonies and nihilists, not anarchists, but then they wouldn’t like my libertarian socialism either). The historical roots of most of these movements run quite deep, and reach all over the globe.
The common thread is suspicion of all heirarchy; the common slur is that anarchists seek to destroy all government.
There are people who selfishly want to live in a world of unicorns and fluffy bunnies and then set up and/or donate to shelters, hospitals, churches and other organizations dedicated to helping those who can’t help themselves. These people exist and the fact that they can pay their mortgages means that they are providing goods and services that people want to pay for. Libertarians/objectivists say that the government shouldn’t compete with these groups because: 1) government has to steal/tax money to fund, 2) they crowed out the private do-gooders and 3) they are less effective at the action
The third is more libertarian then objectivist.
Oh, bother. I hate being this late to the party, but I am compelled to note that Ms. Snow’s assertion in post 10, “in terms of the banking crisis, for instance, the problem wasn't greedy or profit-seeking bankers, but the government putting in place institutions like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that “guaranteed” the high-risk loans,” is misleading.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were established by the government, but were private for-profit corporations that were not backed by the government (as of 1970). During most the last almost-forty years, both companies ran boringly conservative business plans which did not guarantee high-risk loans. Competing businesses which did, however, caused the two to begin diving into that same market. Additionally, both near-fraudulently implied to their investors that they had government backing which made investments in the businesses as safe as possible, ballooning their assets and allowing them to invest staggering amounts in the high-risk market.
So, specifically, the government did not put these businesses in the place they were; said businesses chose to enter those markets independently. Other businesses also backed these same loans (see Countrywide, WaMu), and paid the price; the main reasons Mac and Mae didn’t, unfortunately, was that their implication of government backing caused foreign national investment funds to expect a bailout. This, in turn, caused a real threat of seriously souring foreign relations (particularly with China) in the event that they were not bailed out.
If there is any root failure on the government’s part in this, it would arguably be that it did not prevent the two from entering the high-risk market, or that it did not police them well enough.
You might want to look at who was appointing the top management at Fannnie and Freddie. I’ll give you a hint, congress.
Ayn Rand said:
“The retarded should not be allowed to come near children, who cannot – and should not have to – deal with the tragic spectacle of a handicapped human being.
Anyone who speaks of the mentally retarded knows that a retarded child is not capable of taking care of itself. He knows that the child’s parents (particularly the mother) will be tied to that child for life.
The sacrifice of the mentally healthy to the mentally deformed is unspeakable – it is sacrifice without recipients. In that way it is more evil, more metaphysical view of life than altruism. Its purpose is not to have some man sacrifice himself to others, but to have man sacrifice himself. The more useless the sacrifice, the better.
A mental (as opposed to physical) cripple is a horror to deal with, and to a mother it is the constant horror that it is her child, only it is not human.
To be made to live for a subnormal, mindless child whom one cannot face is sacrifice and drudgery without a goal. It is the person’s own values and chance for happiness that are being destroyed.”
From this I infer that a parent of a “subnormal” should be able to terminate that life of (or abandon, which will have the same impact) such a child once it becomes apparent that they are “subnormal”. Or is there some exception to selfishness when it comes to such children?
@Mycroft: while true, this does not negate the fact that said management was, by their charter, independent. They did not take their marching orders from congress, nor did they build their business plans by government dictate.
Tried to post this earlier, it seems to have been eaten.
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Define government dictate. If you mean congress told them to give loans to A but not to B, then there were some broad strokes but I’ll grant you that didn’t happen to a significant extent. But if you mean that congress wanted Fannie and Freddie to engage in certain types of financial behavior then they’re going to pick managers who think that type of behavior is good. And if congress wants to avoid certain financial behaviors then they’re going to pick executives that don’t like them.
This is inevitable if congress is picking the top management, no matter how pure their motives are. And when a member of the house oversight committee is sleeping with one of the top executives, the motives aren’t that pure.
In this particular case it would be difficult at best to pin the blame on congress or the government. Mae and Mac were not the first entrants to the high-risk market, simply the largest, and in comparison to their cratered competitors ran things somewhat conservatively (though obviously still poorly). Finding executives in the financial industries at the time who would not have entered the subprime/alt-a market, especially when respected “experts” claimed it was safe as houses (pun intended), would have been challenging at best.
Saying that congress can influence the operation of such a business seems reasonable, but there’s no evidence they actually did.
Curse you Shamus, curse you for posting such an interesting and conversation-inspiring topic while I’ve got multiple huge projects going on and no time to read it all… much less respond.
However, let me say first off that I am absolutely astounded at the level of civility in this thread. I don’t know what black magic you’ve used to do it, but here we have a long thread, with tie-in to extremely controversial politics, where people are disagreeing with one another on the internet with calm, reasoned, informative discussion. Surely the apocalypse is nigh.
Next, while I’m not sure if I meet any criteria required to call myself a big-O Objectivist, I’m certainly on the Objectivist side of just about any axis you want to measure it on (as those who have read my blog have probably gleaned by now…) That said, if you want to really make an Objectivist or Libertarian’s blood boil, I’d bet the game you’re looking for isn’t Bioshock, it’s Sim City. Of course, a Libertarian version of Sim City would be exceedingly boring, as you sit passively by and watch the Sim people build their own city of their own free will, with no coercion on your part…
Lazlo: Yes! I’m glad I’m not the only person who felt like a jack-booted jerk for enacting all those stupid petty little programs in Sim City and yoking all those people to my whim. Commercial? Residential? Man, you folks know what the hell you want better than I do. I’ll keep the police funded and you people handle the rest.
I am glad my Sims are nice and spineless. They might complain about pollution, joblessness, housing, but they NEVER chafe at your regulations.
“There are people who selfishly want to live in a world of unicorns and fluffy bunnies and then set up and/or donate to shelters, hospitals, churches and other organizations”
I’ve been wondering if someone would bring up something like this. Note the use of the word “selfishly”. There is a strain of thought about “selfishness” that says, basically, that self-interest is whatever a person *wants*, and so by definition pretty much anything anyone ever does no matter how apparently altruistic is “selfish”. That’s fine as far as it goes, but it makes the words “selfishness” and “self-interest” effectively meaningless. Objectivists or other people who want to say “People should live selfishly”, or “People should pursue their self-interest” have to have some definition of these terms with some actual content or they’re just saying “People should do whatever people do”.
However, as soon as you start putting some content into these terms, you pretty much have to set them apart from altruism in some way–in which case donating to shelters etc. is *not* selfish and is *not* something Objectivists should be doing. At which point people in trouble for whatever reason not only should not be helped by the state, but should not be helped by *anybody*. To avoid a situation where everyone who ever gets laid off, receives a crippling injury etc. etc. starves to death or dies of exposure (unless they turn to crime), Objectivism is left depending on people to not practise proper Objectivist selfishness.
This is all quite aside from the fact that private charities simply don’t work very well. Nothing against them, but they are no substitute for state action if you want to simply talk about outcomes, levels of human hunger, misery and deprivation and so on.
Second, I’m Stoic-leaning, but can’t justify/explain the virtues well enough to get real rationality in them.
Third, the objection about the redefinition of self-interest making it meaningless is precisely the objection raised about Hobbesian Psychological Egoism (I don’t take him as an Ethical Egoist; he didn’t think we SHOULD act Egoistically, he just thought we did). My main defense of PE in that case it that it precisely shows why we need something to make doing the right thing be in our self-interest in some way; we won’t even consider doing it if there’s no benefit to us at all.
Altruism and generosity are quite different. Generosity is wanting to help others. Altruism is wanting to hurt yourself to benefit others. A generous person says your doing good if people are being helped. An altruist says your not doing good unless you give till it hurts.
The idea that state action is categorically more effective then private action is also far from certain. Dollar for dollar private charities are much more effective then state aid, but state aid has two problems. First is that the money is taken forcibly from people, the morality of its use is at least tainted. The second is that that while the state can bring in more money then private charities, how much more is uncertain. When the state starts paying for things it crowds out private investment. People give less to charity because their paycheck is smaller because the government is trying to solve the problem. Thirdly people would rather get a check from a social worker then a meal and a bed from a church if the church is also going to give them a lecture on responsibility and jesus. Now if the people who go to the church have are successful at getting jobs then the state aid can actually make things worse.
David Brin, one of my favorite science fiction authors, has an interesting speech on libertarianism over on his website
The Case for a Cheerful Libertarianism”
I sent it to a libertarian-leaning friend of mine a few years back, and after he read it, he said one word to me: “Exactly.“
@ Ifrit & Mycroft:
One of the problems was that Fannie & Freddie were spending boatloads of money with Lobbyists in order to influence congress.
The congressmen were quite happy to take the money, which was basically a bribe to look the other way while Fannie & Freddie did their thing.
The owners of Fannie & Freddie (stockholders) tacitly approved as well, because they thought it was money well spent (although I believe the amounts spent on lobbying were somewhat hidden). It allowed them to continue to make money without restrictions they considered unnecessary. They thought that they and the managers of Fannie & Freddie were smarter than congress or anyone else who might give the stink-eye to what they were doing.
But really, Fannie & Freddie weren’t the worst abusers in the industry. When they guaranteed a loan, their standards were high, and they were reasonably good at making sure that the lenders working as their proxies did a good job. I think they got into trouble from two things: 1. when they started investing in bonds that were backed by loans that didn’t meet their standards; and 2. the overall cascade effect from the mortgage implosion and the tanking real estate market caused even “well made” loans to go bad.
The real problems came from the combination of spiraling real estate prices feeding and being fed by relaxing lending standards. It became possible to speculate in real estate by lying about your income and the value of the house.
With a “Stated Income” loan, the lender didn’t verify that you were employed and had enough income to make the payments. The lender raised the rate on the loan a tiny bit over a “Full Doc” loan and trusted in the value of the house to protect them.
The problem was that the inflated value of the house was provided by home appraisers that just rubber stamped whatever value was needed to support the deal. Appraisers are paid by borrowers but generally referred by loan brokers or lenders. If they appraisers didn’t give high enough values, they wouldn’t get any business referrals. The high values they were reporting could only be supported as long as the banks were willing to lend.
In SimCity, like Civilization, you are essentially a dictator, imposing your will on the society. While the people clearly have a life beyond what you tell them to do, the game rarely concerns itself with that. Interestingly, you could consider SimCity to be supporting limited government in that regard, since you’re basically limited to infrastructure and taxes, and are completely unable to affect what people do with their free time, or how business is conducted, only where.
@Shamus: Letting people decide what they want to build, where, sounds nice in theory, but what happens when your next door neighbor decides it’d be a great idea to open up a landfill on his property, piled high with stinky trash? Or maybe he opens a 24-7 topless disco/biker bar that clogs your street with traffic, rowdy drunks causing trouble outside, and 100-decibel Harleys?
Those are farfetched, obviously, but I can easily think of 100 other things I’m glad my neighbors can’t do with their property because of zoning laws.
Lint Man: So clearly the only way to prevent landfills in town is to have an omnipotent dictator determine the use of each and every parcel of land?
I’m just saying: In Sim City, you have an awful lot of control. I would not want to live in any of the cities I created.
“Oh no! The city bulldozed my house without paying for it! I want to build another but nobody is allowed to build in these open areas. And the CITY is charging me a 7% tax rate to live in this madhouse?”
And note that I can very well plop power plants and landfills down next to people with my supreme zoning powers, and frequently do so. Even in the real world I’d at least have to BUY the property before I did that.
Although the entire idea of “Libertarian Sim City” is completely hilarious to me. You start the game and watch people build while you do nothing. Click on the buildings to get a little informational tooltip that just says “None of your business!”
@John Lopez (139): Holy smokes, where is that quote from?
Surely the point of sim city is, if you don’t provide the appropriate services and such, there will be no people in your city.
People choose to move into the city because you provide a good place to live and work in.
If you provide no services, or tax too heavily, people will leave.
Unattributed *is* bad form, it is from
– Ayn Rand, The Age of Mediocrity, Q & A Ford Hall Forum, April, 1981
@ Purple Library Guy, BlackBloc, etc.
I’m not sure I buy the idea that state action is always superior to private charities. I agree somewhat with Mycroft that there are advantages to private charities.
I don’t think that it is possible for the state to sufficiently tax the productive members of society in order to provide enough funds to care for every single possible “charity case” out there. The cost is probably too high in terms of both “dollar amount” and “how much the productive members of society would accept”. To pull it off, I think the state would have to be pretty Draconian in terms of tax collection and cost cutting measures such as severe population control and perhaps euthanasia.
@ John Lopez: Interesting if somewhat inflammatory point – I’m surprised it hasn’t gotten more attention. I don’t know if the Objectivist would condone euthanasia, but maybe?
Currently in the USA, when it “happens to someone else” society expects the kin of the retarded to sack up and sacrifice their lives and happiness in order to care for the person. So that the rest of society doesn’t have to feel guilty. Anyone that tries to skate on their responsibility or take any iffy “shortcuts” to make their lives easier is generally viewed with hatred by the majority. (By shortcuts, I’m referring to pulling life support on someone in a vegetative state, or stunting the growth of developmentally disabled through radical surgery).
So the majority wants the folks taken care of, but it sure sucks if it’s your relative. I think society wants you to take it like Job from the bible because they subconsciously blame you for your relative’s problems.
If you’re rich, I suppose you can just pay cash for care, and if you’re poor, you can just abandon the person to the state or the street without many repercussions.
“Altruism and generosity are quite different. Generosity is wanting to help others. Altruism is wanting to hurt yourself to benefit others. A generous person says your doing good if people are being helped. An altruist says your not doing good unless you give till it hurts.”
That strikes me as a somewhat skewed representation. I don’t think all altruists are masochists; they disregard personal loss for the greater good, but I rather doubt they actually see such loss as a desirable end in itself, or seek to find the course of action that will maximise it (well, some weirdos probably do, but I’m talking general trends here). I’m not sure exactly what is gained for the purposes of this discussion by pointing out the difference – objectivism seems to treat them the same way, as things any person or private company can do off their own bat but which should never be legislated for or against. I suppose one could make a case that objectivism would not object to a state acting generously with no personal cost at all to the taxpayer, say by distributing an accidental food surplus that nobody else actually wanted to the poor (an unlikely example, I know, given objectivism’s opposition to collectivisation and planned economies), but even then some finite effort must be expended by the state, and hence the taxpayer, for no return, even if it’s just filling in the paperwork to say the poor can have the stuff, so such generosity still entails some finite personal expenditure for no return and technically qualifies as altruism – in fact, you might say that generosity is actually a specific subset of altruism, not the other way around, in which the hardship for the donor is so vanishingly small that they don’t notice or care about it.
Personally, I reject both altruism and egoism. I reckon that one should neither put the collective need above or below one’s own, but strive to weigh them equally; one should evaluate one’s relations with others exactly as one would impartially evaluate those between two strangers, and the relation between an individual and a group of individuals should follow the same principle weighted by number. (of course, nonlinearities might override weighting by number – for example, would one say that one person experiencing hardship or pain equivalent to 90% of what would be fatal would be better, worse or exactly equivalent to ten people experiencing 9%?) Needless to say, without a sophisticated means for quantitatively evaluating net hardship or fortune, sadness or happiness, as one might use equations to deal with conservation of mass-energy, this is a tall order. I’ve been meaning to read up on game theory and related topics to see if there’s even a possibility of such equations being formulated and being of any practical use; in the meantime, all most people seem to have, myself included, is gut feeling and instinct, and it’s probably much harder to strike a balance using only these crude tools than to strongly tend towards one extreme or the other.
The places where I see this quote discussed by Objectivists, they claim that it is *out of context* (although it seems long enough to establish context, and it isn’t hard to find plenty of other quotes supporting this view of “subhumans” in the literature).
The Atlas Society seems to accept assisted suicide: http://www.objectivistcenter.org/cth–1197-Assisted_Suicide.aspx, but I never got anyone to give a straight answer regarding hopelessly deformed or retarded children. It always seems to bend towards Eugenics fixing the problem in the future or the fact that a woman’s choice to bear a child damns her to her fate. I never could tell if the latter was a feminist backlash crossover or not though.
Even the individualist anarchists were socialists (Benjamin Tucker and so on). Modern day libertarians have their roots in classical liberalism, not socialism, and are an entirely separate movement. They are not related to anarchism in any way, except for the obfuscation of Rothbard and the ‘anarcho’-capitalists who used the term under its pejorative form (anti-government, rather than non-hierarchical anti-capitalism).
As an anarchist the very idea that I would be promoting state action is a tad funny to me.
Let me try to explain my view by analogy. Me and my gang hang out in our neighborhood and threaten people with guns so they’ll give us money. We spend most of the money in buying new guns to better threaten our neighbors, and drug and nice cars and other nice things for ourselves. A couple decades ago the people in our neighborhood raised a fuss and we decided to use an infinitesimal part of our criminal gains to fund schools, soup kitchens and whatnots for them.
Now this year there’s a bunch of people who got rich off bribes we gave them who complain and complain about how the people who are getting fed by our soup kitchens are thieves because they benefit from the money some other members of our gang stole from them. And they barely ever raise a peep about all the other stuff we do with the money, like pay them bribes or buy nice stuff for ourselves and them. And the only reason we even deign give the neighborhood part of our cash for these programs is that years ago they rose up, kicked a fuss, some of us and people working for us even gunned down some of the people protesting, but in the end they organized enough that they forced our hand and we had to give them *something*.
Let’s just say people would be suspicious of the people raising so much of a fuss about all the welfare cheats getting money for free off our criminal gang since they’re not very vocal about the fact most of our money ends up in their pockets as bribes and that’s why they had money in the first place for us to steal from them.
So yeah. As anarchists I promote the idea that community action (in non-hierarchical commitees) is better than individual action, for the same reason that when I work with others and have this thing called division of labor we end up producing more stuff than when we’re all in our corner being John Galt the Hunter-Gatherer. But *state* action? No way. However, in the meantime, since we haven’t yet toppled the government, we don’t really have time for disingenous calls to cut back on welfare and keep the rest of the gang apparatus in place.
Namfoozle: Well, “always” is a pretty high bar. I suppose it would be possible for a sufficiently inept state to provide welfarish services that were worse than the actions of private charities.
But basically, this is a settled question. It’s not an issue for theorizing or speculation. There’s just too much real-world experience out there and the data is not open to a whole lot of doubt. The welfare state provides better outcomes for less money than private charities. It’s one of those “you’re entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts” situations. There are scads of reasons–less overlap of services, continuity, less duplication of administration, relative reliability of funding (private charities tend to have problems with periodic donor fatigue and seasonal contribution), ability to do comprehensive programs rather than “feed for a day” temporary fixes, and on and on.
@ John Lopez:
I read Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead many years ago because a teacher gave me the book. Can’t remember if I finished it. The same teacher wanted me to read Atlas Shrugged, but I never did. This teacher was an odd duck: she worked as a teacher at a private high school in a wealthy area, but she was from a very wealthy family and therefore didn’t have to work. She had as much or more money than most of her students, which was unusual given the income of the students’ parents (doctors, lawyers, and movie stars, etc.)
So if she was an Objectivist, she certainly had the means to pursue her own selfish interests whenever she felt like it. She spent thousands of dollars of her own money buying us meals so that we would attend extra lecture sessions on the weekends.
I’m noticing from some of the information popping up here that Ayn Rand is rabidly NOT “politically correct.” Some of her opinions regarding “subhumans” (ouch) and Native American land rights seem a bit harsh to many, and it seems that not all of the adherents of Objectivism are willing to stand up and defend those unpopular ideas.
On the other hand, I suppose the objectivist positions aren’t completely indefensible. Some of them just come off a bit “cringe worthy”.
For example, I don’t see much benefit to leaving someone on extended life support simply to prevent anyone from feeling bad about the switch being turned off. People get “switched off” by accident or design all the time.
And if earlier residents of an area have a perpetual “right” to “the land”, doesn’t that invalidate all human migration past, present and future?
Objectivism makes some interesting points, but I don’t see it sweeping the nation.
Or in more simple terms: The ONLY thing the government has ever done that was more constructive than it was destructive is the welfare state. I therefore have an issue when so-called ‘anti-statists’ have as their only program the dismantlement of the welfare state. Some might say they’re not exactly ‘anti-statists’, more like ‘anti this part of the state I don’t like, but keep the rest cuz it’s neat’.
@ BlackBloc (164):
That’s an interesting idea. Do you think it would be possible to dismantle everything but the welfare state?
It seems to me that the welfare state is the last part that you get after all the other bits of the state are in place. You maybe can’t get enough folks to buy off on the welfare state until you’ve got everyone happy with the rest of the state.
I suppose that it’s a case of “last in, first out” when folks figure they can get rid of the welfare state portion and keep everything else.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a state sponsored safety net, but there are potential pitfalls and unintended consequences. For example, if your population ages, you may not have enough productive workers to support your elderly.
How much relation does Objectivism as espoused by its proponents have with the writings and opinions of Ayn Rand? Or, for that matter, the speeches of Andrew Ryan?
Well at least on this comment thread the anti-statists were complaining about harmful economic regulation and rent seeking before the welfare state came up.
I think the problem is that absent production human beings live in a world best described by Hobbes as “nasty brutish and short.” It’s wealth that makes that life better, I’m not talking about 1 vs 3 TV’s in your house but food cheap enough that you don’t have to work sun up to sun down 6 days a week 52 weeks a year to get it. Medicine so you don’t need to have 8 kids to have a chance at grandkids. A century ago in the US the median income was around 2k. People died of heatstroke if there was a heatwave in the summer, now we have AC. Diseases like polio, smallpox and TB would kill large numbers of people, during WWI there was a pandemic that killed more people then the war, now we have vaccines. I expect in a century the poverty line will be well over 200k in 2009 dollars, and people will look at some of the things we suffer through as tragic barbarism. The only thing pushing us forward to that future is what is described as capitalism. The closer you get to free markets the faster it advances. It doesn’t advance evenly but there are real costs to slowing it down.
Free markets are the best creators of wealth and technology. Extra wealth is one of the best ways to alleviate human suffering. Most people think that we have enough technology and resources, or that we’ve invented most of it already and just have some small details to finish up, or at least act like they think that. They think it’s ok to slow down innovation to spread the marvelous wonder we have now. I say no. I say look at what the richest of the rich had 20 years ago, when only the top executives had brick cell phones, and look at today when over half the world population has much better cell phones and is using them in the poorest parts of the world to start businesses and dramatically improve their lives. What if we could have had that change in 15 years, or 10 instead. How many extra lives would have been saved, how much richer the poorest parts of the world would be. Is that worth the relative advantage that your welfare state gives over private works? Millions of people helped by the welfare state(by your counts) vs billions through faster tech innovations and spreading. Some of us see that the invisible hand does so much more, if you let it, then the state.
@Shamus: True, an omnipotent decider (which is what you are in Sim City) isn’t any better than than the do-what-you-want approach, but in reality, at least, I’d prefer to seek a happy medium. Game-wise, though, “Sim Zoning Board and City Planning Commission” probably won’t be a big seller. And you’re right about buying the property you bulldoze, but “Sim Eminent Domain Lawyer” would be an express lane to hell.
Your “Libertopia” video-game idea reminds me of ProgressQuest. It’s a MZORPG (Massively Zero-player On-line Roleplaying Game). You create a character and then it automatically grinds and loots for you, with no furher input on your part. You don’t get to see the action, you just watch the numberts on the character sheet improve.
It’s surprisingly satisfying.
Above, someone suggested this will be the longest comment thread ever on this site. But the end of DMotR is 630+ comments strong, so I think we have a LONG ways to go.
hewhosaysfish: Yeah, Libertarian City does have that pointlessness of progress quest. There would be nothing to do but click on the little houses and hemp farms, only to have the owner tell you to shove off. It would also be funny to have the policy screen replaced with “suggestions”, which inhabitants would ignore. (I’d make a comic out of this idea if I didn’t think it was too obscure, which is why I’m playing with the idea here.)
Nothing the state has ever done has ever been constructive, whether it be taxation, welfare, war or what have you. Stealing property is the perfect base for a corrupt system which would seek to make its citizens think it was necessary.
Not that big state – little state arguments matter, considering the US government can’t sustain its debts for much longer. Politicians have already seen it and the same thing that happened in the late years of the USSR is happening in the US now – capital is being transferred from the government coffers to the private purse in a desperate attempt by men of the state to cut their losses.
As a browsing Objectivist who stumbled on this most interesting thread, permit me to leave a couple of clarifications that might untie a few intellectual knots I noticed reading these comments.
1. The philosophy takes no position on what human beings will do – only that they are volitional, with neither instincts nor any other pre-determined or externally determined content in their minds. Some will be good, some bad, some rational, some irrational. Their soul (content of their minds) is self-chosen.
2. It takes an absolute position on what men may not do:
No person may initiate the use of physical force to gain, withhold, or destroy any tangible or intangible value created by or acquired in a voluntary exchange by any other person.
That sums up the Objectivist radical laissez-faire capitalism in a single principle. Thus problems that now default to government solutions, such as how will we educate our kids, or how will we take care of the indigent, would be solved any way anyone wants to solve them so long as they are not achieved by force. The principle cannot be rejected without advocating coercion.
3. Concerning property, Native Americans, and such: human beings have a moral claim solely on the products of their own mind and actions. Therefore we can only own that which we create or what someone else creates that we acquire in a voluntary exchange. The physical objects (entities) of existence can only be said to be owned to the extent that they embody created improvements. (That is why homesteading is a justifiable method for establishing the first “owner” of land.) It is not the land one owns, but the improvement of the land – the value added to it. It is not raw materials one owns, but rather the improvement of it by removing it from the earth and processing it into a value.
For the most part, the native Americans did not improve the land as much as they just consumed the natural product of the land. In the wars between them and the immigrant Europeans, the guilt of tyranny must be distributed on a case by case basis to whichever side used force against those who improved the land and claimed ownership on that basis.
By your definition of ownership, as I follow it, if I came along and pumped all the air out of your house, in order to improve it somehow, I would own it, and you, though asphyxiating, would have no grounds to claim coercion, since you had not improved the air, but merely consumed natural byproducts of the air?
Do you have any documentation regarding the effectiveness of state vs. private charities? I’m inclined to agree with you, but some citation would be handy, and I wasn’t aware the question of effectiveness was so settled.
Is there anything that a state *could* do that you would see as constructive?
What if the state is a voluntary, rather than compelling, collective? Maybe something on the order of a micro-state?
By your definition of ownership, as I follow it, …
You didn’t follow it.
That conception of property is not original to Objectivists; it traces back to big time philosophers like John Locke. However, it remains pretty dodgy.
For instance–is there under this approach any way to create a park? If property is only established once you “improve” the land, then presumably there is no way to arrange for a piece of land to remain “unimproved”. Even if all the population except one person wanted Yellowstone to be a park, the one person could turn it into a copper mine or log it or something.
For instance–how much “improvement” does it take? How much of a piece of land does the improvement have to extend over? Say I find myself a hundred acres. I build a treehouse as per Calvin and Hobbes in the middle, and build a fence around the outside. Is it mine?
OK, say I find some wilderness and I log it. Is that an improvement? Does that make it mine? Some might argue that isn’t really improving it a whole lot.
Is a trail people have walked on until it’s pretty flat and level an improvement? Who owns it? How about a dirt road? If a dirt road is *not* an improvement, is it OK if I build my house in the middle of the road?
There’s an intuitive problem with this approach too. In real life, one pretty much always claims the property first, then puts improvements on it. What would be the point of making improvements to something you don’t own?
Incidentally, the Lockean conception of property really doesn’t do much to legitimize the takeover of North America, because as a rule the locals were run out of places that the whites claimed as their property but which the whites had not improved. Settlers might actually homestead one tiny town but want the state to run the Injuns off for hundreds of miles around. Or they’d run out the natives because they didn’t want anyone in the way when they built the railway. Presumably future, hypothetical improvement doesn’t count, right? Also, of course, in the south and parts of the north (certainly in Quebec) the locals were in fact practicing agriculture and doing the kinds of things the Europeans would normally consider “improvements” if they were being done by whites. It’s a bit late now, but I’m always amazed at the lengths we’ll go to claim what our ancestors did wasn’t wrong.
Incidentally, to clarify my own position somewhat, I should say that I’m all in favour of *less* coercion by the state, although not none, and not necessarily a smaller state per se. I am actually more or less a social anarchist, which I understand to mean that government should be able to decide to coerce people, but that decision-making should not involve representatives; if there’s going to be coercion done, it should be by actual majority vote of the community. Meanwhile, I have little trust in markets and none in the notion that unfettered amorality and selfishness somehow lead to good outcomes. I tend to find that those pushing that idea are indulging in wish-fulfillment fantasies. They want to have their cake and eat it too–get all the goodies *and* feel virtuous about it. So they come up with a philosophy that fulfills their psychological needs, rather than one that makes sense.
Don’t get me wrong–markets and capitalism are not completely nonfunctional. They do stuff. But feudalism worked too. Even the Soviet system got stuff accomplished; as Eastern Europe and Russia are realizing now, the major reason their economies were crap under Communism was that their economies had always been crap, which makes it unsurprising that their economies are crap again now under Capitalism. If anything, things worked better under the Soviets than under the Czar, although that certainly isn’t saying much. Just being able to function does not a perfect system make, and market capitalism works worse the closer to an unfettered market system it comes. Mixed capitalism with a strong regulatory and welfare state works pretty well, but it isn’t stable because the rich folks always push to get their hands on the state’s goodies and free themselve from the state’s rules–indeed, to stack the state’s rules in their favour.
@ Mycroft (Post 133)
To each his or her own, but remember, a conspiracy of MGS2 proportions done right would be impossible to prove as any who found out the truth would merely be labelled as crazy and thus not listened to. S3 in action.
I’m a big MGS2 fan, sorry. Back to the Objectivist discussion, everyone. =P
@ Purple Library Guy 177:
For instance”“how much “improvement” does it take? How much of a piece of land does the improvement have to extend over?
The improvement must only be defined by law and sufficient to give the property claimed an objectifiable value in the context of the existing market at that time, whether it be a park, a mine, a farm, a road right of way, or whatever. Sufficiency is not a grave moral issue, for once owned in a free market, property of any kind gravitates to the hands of the most efficient user.
The native Americans did not own (claim improvement of) North America. There are plenty of cases of good and evil in the homesteading of the land and the herding of the ‘Indians’ to go around – all of which are academic now and do not alter the principle one whit.
I'm all in favour of *less* coercion by the state, although not none,…
Rand’s retort to this is simply: “By what standard?” The alternative, freedom v. force is equivalent to life v. death. Compromising the former is the same as compromising the latter. The question is a moral issue. What is the moral principle that justifies you or anyone else or any gang of men, majority or not, in using physical force against others to take what you want from them?
Values are created, exchanged, or stolen. There is no other option. You have had the misfortune to grow up in a society that condones the theft of values by majorities from minorities and takes the process for granted as just. You are a victim of your culture and of yourself for not questioning the morality of it all. Your “getting stuff accomplished” excuse is a classic example of ends justifying means – the ethics of Pol Pot et al.
market capitalism works worse the closer to an unfettered market system it comes.
The capitalism Rand advocates is not unfettered. It is constrained by a single mandate never imposed on any government to date: all human exchanges shall be voluntary. You haven’t even begun to grasp and apply the implications of that.
I always find this point of view interesting, because I can’t really understand where it comes from.
The State (that is, the federal gov. of the US, in this case) is in the position it is in because of radical and deliberate overspending (ironically by a political party that claims to favor “Small government). Part of the problem is increased spending combined with voluntarily cut income (tax breaks).
This is no different from a company deciding to sell it’s wares to a lower price than what it pays for them, and just as idiotic.
Basically, the US state is in deep trouble, but it has nothing to do with it being a “state”. It has to do with it being poorly run. On purpose.
If it could only run all of it’s parts as efficient as it does the postal service…
About migration: Why would it stop it? Just because you are not willing to commit genocide or ethnic cleansing, does not mean you cannot move into an area.
@MichaelM, Point 3: …And this proves again why Objectivism is fundamentally evil.
As for the rest, I still find, reinforced by this debate, that Objectivism is a faulty philosophy, because it not only lack a base in reality (no matter how it’s supporters claim it does) because humans just doesn’t work that way, but it is based, in part, on ideas that are fundamentally evil, and has lead to all kinds of horrors over the centuries (in that regard, unfortunately, they are right I guess, humans work THAT way).
“The question is a moral issue. What is the moral principle that justifies you or anyone else or any gang of men, majority or not, in using physical force against others to take what you want from them?”
In a despotism or any state without universal sufferage, none. In a properly functioning democracy, however, the whole point is that everyone gets an equal say in what is taken by the state and used in the pursuit of common will. If you’re a citizen of such a democratic state (and, crucially, as long as you have the option to renounce that citizenship), you implicitly, voluntarily endorse that democracy and thus implicitly give your permission for the state to take and use whatever taxes are decided to be necessary by everyone. Any coercion in this case, as long as it were exclusively to collect what taxes had already been democratically agreed upon by willing members of the state, would then not be simple armed robbery, as objectivists love to paint it, but merely one party of a voluntary contract ensuring the other party kept their part of the agreement, with force if necessary – an action which I think I’m right in saying is fully endorsed by Randian thinking. In fact, as long as coercion is used only to enforce social contracts that were voluntarily made, and citizenship is itself voluntary, it seems any form of democratic government, even socialist, is no different than one of the private companies championed by Objectivism, since that philosophy doesn’t have any objection at all to such a company of volunteers choosing to use democratic or even socialist principles for it’s own internal management.
“If you're a citizen of such a democratic state (and, crucially, as long as you have the option to renounce that citizenship), you implicitly, voluntarily endorse that democracy and thus implicitly give your permission for the state to take and use whatever taxes are decided to be necessary by everyone.”
This is not an answer. It is but one of the forms of tyranny that are subject of the question. You have not provided the moral principle that will support this as a valid political principle. You have not shown what facts about the fundamental nature of all human beings establish a basic necessity for humans that requires them to hold as an ethical mandate that they must willingly capitulate to the wishes of others who outnumber them in order to fulfill their nature as human beings.
The “if you don’t like it, leave it” scheme you assert is absurd on its face. It proposes that the choice to live in a country that is half tyranny and half free while all other possible places are less free, constitutes a blank check to the democratic majority to take what they want from you by force whenever they want to. No wonder that this explanation is standard among those who thrive on taking by force.
Contrary to your wishes and theirs, the mere existence of a human being in a country does not imply an endorsement of tyranny of any kind, ever. “If you don’t run, I may kill you” is not a moral principle for human beings. It is a law of nature specifically applicable to predatory animals.
The pertinent facts that give rise to the principle underlying capitalism is that man is an animal that survives and thrives by the application of his rational faculty to his physical actions and that we are volitional beings, meaning how we think and act is a matter of choice. Since the ability to choose is the ability to err, all men are fallible.
Since the goal of choosing and acting is life – to survive and thrive as what we are, life is the standard of all values which we act to gain and keep. And since all men are equally fallible, it is inherently in the long range best interest of every human being to be the final authority on his own thoughts and actions, whether self-created or adopted from others. This establishes the primary pertinent ethical principle for men, the mandate for individual autonomy in thought and action. Furthermore, because it is based on the nature of the human being, the corollary to it demands that the same autonomy be granted by each to all other human beings.
In the absence of an organized society, when there is no neutral third party government – no political system necessitating the definition and enforcement of rights, autonomy is automatic, and in such a context each person acts on his own moral code of rights and wrongs.
But when many live with complex interrelationships over long spans of time in a society of men, it becomes necessary to establish a system that will duplicate in the context of the complex society the same moral situation that would exist for individuals absent the society. This establishes the primary pertinent political principle for men that will extend the ethical mandate for individual autonomy into all socio-economic interrelationships.
Since the only way any person could interfere with the autonomy of any other person is by the use of physical force to coerce an involuntary value exchange, then the only moral form of government would be one that removes force from human interrelationships – including the interrelationships between the humans who constitute the government with those who constitute the citizenry.
That form of government is radical laissez-faire capitalism as defined by Ayn Rand.
[b]This is not an answer. It is but one of the forms of tyranny that are subject of the question. You have not provided the moral principle that will support this as a valid political principle. You have not shown what facts about the fundamental nature of all human beings establish a basic necessity for humans that requires them to hold as an ethical mandate that they must willingly capitulate to the wishes of others who outnumber them in order to fulfill their nature as human beings.[/b]
I never intended to do any of those things. I wasn’t aware that any moral justification, valid in the eyes of others, need be given for any system, organisation or action which is voluntary, especially under objectivism, and in my example I specified that the system needs to be voluntary. As I said later on, does not objectivism itself ultimately reject the notion of a private entity being accountable to the morality of others? I never implied or intended to imply that anyone should be morally or philosophically compelled to obey the every whim of a pure democracy, up to and including the confiscation of all their posessions by majority consent; I intended to imply that if a person or group of persons voluntarily, truly voluntarily, decided that they did indeed want to form and live in an organisation or company working along such lines, it would be consistent with objectivism (although objectivists may deride or condemn such people for their choice, the fundamental objectivist principle of non-coercion should mean they couldn’t quash such a democratic organisation as being contrary to objectivism)
“The “if you don't like it, leave it” scheme you assert is absurd on its face. It proposes that the choice to live in a country that is half tyranny and half free while all other possible places are less free, constitutes a blank check to the democratic majority to take what they want from you by force whenever they want to. No wonder that this explanation is standard among those who thrive on taking by force.”
But is “like it or leave it” not very much a fundamental principle of objectivism? I agree with you, the nature of there essentially being nowhere else to go does make one’s voluntarily remaining subject to a given regime something of a joke, but why should a stateless world of objectivist, private companies not be subject to the same limitation? What would prevent a finite number of private Randian organsiations expanding to fill all available space and leaving no room or resources for others, who did not agree with the modus operandi of any of those companies, to form their own with their own way of doing things, as objectivism seems to assert they are entitled to do? Perhaps the solution, in either the objectivist or the general case, would be countries with fully dynamic borders, carefully adjusted according to how many wanted to live in each one depending on its particular political and economic structure, and contracting to make room for any new countries with different ideals that want to spring up – unfortunately, the idea that borders should generally stay put and only be moved after a lot of people line up and beat the shit out of each other is probably just as stubbornly entrenched in the human psyche as, say, the notion that gold, a soft metal with virtually no practical application, is more valuable by quantity than, say, good quality tool steel or aircraft alloy.
“Contrary to your wishes and theirs, the mere existence of a human being in a country does not imply an endorsement of tyranny of any kind, ever. “If you don't run, I may kill you” is not a moral principle for human beings. It is a law of nature specifically applicable to predatory animals.”
I get the feeling you’ve not properly read what I actually wrote. It wasn’t mere presence, but voluntary citizenship that I suggested constituted endorsement, and you haven’t actually refuted or even addressed that, although you have quite correctly pointed out that it really doesn’t work properly where, even if technically “voluntary”, the nature of the rest of the world means that it’s actually the only option. I also suggested that this specific detail completely changes the state from being a kleptocracy whenever it feels like it, taking wealth by force, to using force when necessary to enforce compliance with a prior, freely agreed contract to supply it with wealth according to whatever principles the state is built on, democracy or whatever. I rather thought that, if such a system could truly be made voluntary, it would actually bring the world much closer to objectivism.
Your overall tone suggests to me that you’ve assumed I’m a rabid pro-despot anti-objectivist (please correct me if I’m wrong), when actually I find objectivism raises a lot of very valid points, although I’m still undecided as to whether its proposed answers are workable in any way. I’m actually very much attracted to the idea of “choose your own government” inherent in the private companies of a randian world, I’m just not sure if it could ever be done without the constant availability of extra space and resources every time someone rejected every extant company or state (I rather feel that the two words would almost be synonymous in such a world) and wanted to set up their own (an argument for space colonisation, perhaps? Plenty of room out there. In fact, to get back to the thread’s original topic, isn’t that the whole point of Ryan’s Rapture?). I also rather fear it would send us back to the city-state period of human existence prior to the formation of true countries which, while probably very good for allowing people to choose, by migration, whatever particular form of society they’d like to be in, I believe was also pretty bad for endless petty wars and backstabbing between states, with the lands between them full of banditry and lawlessness.
Whether or not city-states / Randian companies are the ideal, I do quite strongly suspect the total homogeneity the whole world seems gradually sliding towards could be dangerous – as the current financial mess we’re all in right now easily shows, when the whole world runs on one system, when one bit fails it all fails, and it might be a much better idea to have a few redundant, disconnected or weakly connected systems around to help pick up the pieces of the others. Conversely, however, having multiple weakly connected economies could simply serve to make the chaotic nature of the free market even more so, making the system even more unstable and prone to wild, unpredictable swings and the hardship they cause. I’ve heard that Objectivists largely reject chaos theory, but I don’t, and say what you will about centrally planned economies, they’re built in such a way as largely to avoid chaotic unpredictability and instability, and I think (somebody more knowledgable please correct me if I’m wrong) they generally succeed at that, albeit at the expense of a certain amount of stagnation and delayed responsiveness, whereas completely unregulated economies, as advocated by objectivism, seem to put chaos squarely in the driving seat. Some people trust the invisible hand; I’ll trust it when I can not only see it, but see inside it.
This post is starting to ramble a bit, but I’ve run out of time for tonight and so I’ll have to submit it as is. Apologies, therefore, if it’s a little incoherent; I hope at least I’ve raised a few worthwhile points to discuss.
@ Shamus: Wow, over 600 comments? What the heck were we talking about? (Now I have to go check…) Thanks for the trivia tidbit.
Anyway, I’m just going to throw some thoughts out here, but I’m to lazy to tag my responses with names:
So, if you live in a highly efficient “Welfare State”, where it was impossible to “fall through the cracks” and income was aggresively re-distributed, why would a rational person work?
It seems to me that some Objectivists have a concept of Native American rights that is:
2. Perhaps insensitive
But I don’t think it makes Objectivism evil.
For one thing, I don’t think their opinion is internally consistant within the framework of their own beliefs. I suppose I can understand the argument that “you can’t own a whole continent”. But by some of the definitions I’ve seen tossed around here, the original inhabitants did own parts of North America when European settlers arrived. There were villages, there were farms. Yet 400 years later, there aren’t a lot of Algonquin villages left. Clearly someone got hit with the Tyranny Stick.
So in my opinion, the Objectivists aren’t doing themselves any favors by even bringing up Native Americans.
And I’m a little unclear about how ownership is limited to improvements or extracted resources. How do you deal with “resources in the ground”? If you can’t claim ownership until you dig it up, how can anyone own a mine? I guess that you call the hole in the ground an improvement, but you have no claim on the ore itself. So if someone digs their own hole a few feet away, you’re SOL. Better dig faster than them. What about grazing rights for livestock? Do you have to put up a fence? If you go picking berries, hunting game, or fishing in the same place every year, why is that so different (and less protected) from digging a hole?
It seems like Objectivist thinking is skewed towards the idea that a modern industrialist society will produce the “highest and best” use of a piece of land. That’s always going to push some buttons with people. Clearly, the entire human race isn’t going to go back to a hunter / gatherer lifestyle. But I think it’s a bit harsh to say it’s a “bad” choice. There are some upsides. You have a relatively low impact on the environment and your neighbors. I guess the biggest downside is that you take up more space. And people keep having babies.
I never implied or intended to imply that anyone should be morally or philosophically compelled to obey the every whim of a pure democracy, up to and including the confiscation of all their posessions by majority consent; …
I think you did here:
In a properly functioning democracy, however, the whole point is that everyone gets an equal say in what is taken by the state and used in the pursuit of common will. If you're a citizen of such a democratic state (and, crucially, as long as you have the option to renounce that citizenship), you implicitly, voluntarily endorse that democracy and thus implicitly give your permission for the state to take and use whatever taxes are decided to be necessary by everyone.
Somewhere between those two you switched the context from one of governments in the first instance to one of private associations in the second. It should go without saying that Objectivists think people in private association may do whatever they like. What they cannot do, however, is declare other persons living in proximity to be members (citizens) of such an association and then say, if you do not move away, we may do with you as we wish (as the US government does today).
The choice to be a citizen of the US is not an endorsement of the myriad tyrannies it perpetrates. It is a because-of-in-spite-of choice of the least evil option. When I choose to live here, I pay my taxes not because I have some obligation, but because I recognize the necessity of rule by law. I allow myself to be victimized by any of you who support taxation and irrational regulation in spite of that fact and because the other freedoms still allowed here outweigh the tyrannies. When the balance shifts to the other side, the rational choice is to abandon the rule of law and revolt as the founders of this country did against the English tyranny. But the point of most importance is that the capitulation to victimization does not include moral sanction. Initiated coercion is immoral in every instance.
In your 184 comment, you appear to have the impression that Objectivism advocates a stateless society. If you do, you are mistaking Objectivism with anarchy. Objectivism regards the state as necessary to be the sole authorized user of force, restricted by the Constitution, other branches of government, and the populace at large to use it only as objectively specified for the purpose of removing initiated force from all human interaction in the governed society.
Take two islands just liberated from separate dictatorships. Objectivists take control of the government on one and subsequently force all who live there, whether they want to or not to comply with their rule of refraining from initiating force in all exchanges of values that occur on that island. The force they use is moral because it is defensive. It does not gain, withhold, or destroy anything that the citizens – both willing and unwilling – own. It merely prevents them from using force for that purpose against each other. It fulfills thereby the moral mandate that each human shall be autonomous over his own mind and actions.
On the other island, a democratic government like the one we endure today is established and uses force to take values from some citizens and give them to other citizens on the premise that it is good for the society as a whole. That force is immoral force because its takings are based on an asserted priority of the benefit of a floating, indeterminate collection of humans over the mandate for individual autonomy. The lie is in the phrase: the good of the society. There is no such thing. The society is never unanimous. Everyone who sanctions government confiscation of their lives in the name of that pseudo concept is a self-sacrificial victim. If you suffer from it, you earned it.
The morality of which I speak is not “valid in the eyes of others.” It has to be valid in respect to existence – reality – nature – what is independent of the eyes of us or others. Your government must enable you to fulfill your nature, and may do nothing else. This is not your father’s capitalism. This capitalism is unique in the history of mankind. Do not underestimate it!
My spam filter started picking on Lupis for no reason I can discern. I’ve pulled the flagged comments out of the spam trap and restored them, but they likely appeared up in the middle of the conversation.
I normally catch stuff like this within an hour or two, but there’s been a surge of spam for the last week or so and it’s getting tough to stay on top of it.
Apologies if that broke the discussion.
“Somewhere between those two you switched the context from one of governments in the first instance to one of private associations in the second. It should go without saying that Objectivists think people in private association may do whatever they like. What they cannot do, however, is declare other persons living in proximity to be members (citizens) of such an association and then say, if you do not move away, we may do with you as we wish (as the US government does today).”
I refer you back to the expansion problem I mentioned earlier, (that I’d quite like your opinion on, since it seems we’re more or less on the same page on a lot of points, particularly on the matter of the importance of subscription to any organisation or system of government being voluntary) – if all available space is taken by such associations as their property, what option does that leave anyone without a space or company of their own but to join one of them or be classified as a trespasser? Either way, do they not end up subject to “move away or we do with you as we wish?” There’s another aspect of objectivism that worries me in regard to this, that was mildly alluded to in Bioshock – in a totally unfettered capitalist state in its limiting condition, when companies have formed and expanded to consume all available space and resources, will there not be a stifling tendency towards everything, right down to every step you take on a path that somebody went to the trouble to build (in the limiting case of full expansion, like the enclosed city of Rapture by default, there being no free or undeveloped land to walk on and bypass it), being coin operated or the equivalent, necessitating a robot-like prescience to always predict sufficiently far into the future to always carry and maintain a sufficient income to be able to pay, second-by-second, to continue your existence? Even the slightest hiccup in one’s income or productivity could leave one totally paralysed in such a society; strict objectivism is, in that sense, far too inflexible to be workable unless its more successful citizens, on whim and without anything to gain, feel like being charitable towards someone who, say, is suddenly doomed to starve to death at the junction between two toll booths because he’s run out of change or there’s been a brief fluctuation in a particular market he exploits?
“Initiated coercion is immoral in every instance.
In your 184 comment, you appear to have the impression that Objectivism advocates a stateless society. If you do, you are mistaking Objectivism with anarchy. Objectivism regards the state as necessary to be the sole authorized user of force, restricted by the Constitution, other branches of government, and the populace at large to use it only as objectively specified for the purpose of removing initiated force from all human interaction in the governed society.”
If the state’s only function is to prevent any private entity from exerting coercion over any other, then essentially it seems the only difference between true anarchy and objectivism is that objectivism is an enforced subset of anarchy in which, for all other intents and purposes, there is no state. Probably a minor point: why does the state using force to enforce the continued existence of that anarchy not itself qualify as initiated coercion, which you declare above to be universally bad?
I’m short on time. Maybe I can clarify two of your questions at once.
Keep in mind that any government that would be established of any kind by anybody will consist of a dominant majority group in a particular geographic region imposing their moral code on everyone living in that region. That is what the US is today, as is every State and local government.
Naturally, an Objectivist government would come about in the same way. A communist or fascist living under an Objectivist would likely not be a voluntary subscriber to such a government. The Objectivist capitalists, however, would use force to stop them from establishing perhaps a local government entity that would operate on socialist principles. They would, that is to say, use force to prevent them from initiating force against others.
This force as used by the Objectivists is defensive force, not initiated force. It is not force that takes. It is force that prevents or stops a taking.
Initiated force is evil. Defensive force is good.
The proportion of property owners, renters, corporations, associations, clubs, unassociated individuals would not differ greatly from now – contrary to your phrasing about using up all the space. All the space is owned now. What you are not considering is that every business or corporation or whatever has a vested interest in the domiciling and free movement of the citizenry. It is in the best interest of commerce. The mega-corporations would compete for the privilege of funding the costs of defense because of the enormous good will that would be attached to it. Just keep in mind that private businesses have far more to gain from a satisfied, wealty, free-roaming populace than the government ever could have. The governments we have now keep the poor as pets on a leash and trains them to vote them back in office.
And freedom that is free from force is not anarchy. Objectivism supports the existence of a state with the sole purpose to regulate the use of force.
[b]The proportion of property owners, renters, corporations, associations, clubs, unassociated individuals would not differ greatly from now – contrary to your phrasing about using up all the space. All the space is owned now.[/b]
I didn’t mean to imply it wasn’t – current society largely faces this problem just as much today as an objectivist one would. I wasn’t attacking objectivism on that count by saying it’s worse at handling such a situation, I just don’t think it would be any better, either. Prior to the modern age, human society was almost always able to expand in some direction, and evolved with expansion as a fundamental component of its operation, especially financially; only three centuries ago, there were still whole continents that were barely populated at all (relatively speaking) and people raced to colonise and exploit them. In the last couple of centuries, for the first time, we are faced with the prospect of total confinement and rapidly dwindling resources. The only way left to expand is up, which takes colossal amounts of energy that we may not be able to spare even to send out a few unmanned probes in another century or so, and there are still decades or even centuries of work involved before human space expansion is even a remotely realistic answer to the space/resources problem. Even if that ever happens, having a whole solar system at our disposal is still a finite space we’ll eventually fill relatively quickly (exponential growth and all that), and the same problem will have to be faced. Sooner or later, we’re going to have to find a way to restructure our society to deal with the fact that expansion is simply not an option.
[b]The mega-corporations would compete for the privilege of funding the costs of defense because of the enormous good will that would be attached to it. Just keep in mind that private businesses have far more to gain from a satisfied, wealty, free-roaming populace than the government ever could have.[/b]
This seems to me to be profoundly naive and disconnected from simple, observable reality. There are countless instances of private corporations or individuals callously, cynically exploiting and deceiving the consumer, with little or no concern for their wellbeing, in the exclusive pursuit of profit, but also without using any kind of coercion, and so working entirely within the restrictions of objectivism; and there are many cases also where such people have continued this exploitation for quite some time before others have finally established competiting organisations that treat their customers fairly, despite usually having no particular protection from a free and fair market, when this has happened at all, which seems to be objectivists’ standard response to this problem.
Objectivism essentially works like a genetic algorithm, an evolutionary approach to society, where whatever works eventually comes to dominate through simple market forces. I have a few issues with this approach. First, evolutionary approaches can converge relatively quickly on an optimum arrangement compared to other numerical approaches, but they’re still much, much slower than a proper analytical solution which doesn’t simply assume the answers to countless problematic details will arise naturally, as objectivists do with their ultra free-market ideals, and hence actually addresses them fully and not merely dismissively. Assuming an analytically derived social model is possible, objectivism is a very slow and inefficient alternative, and hence potentially dooms human society to a much longer period of imperfection and the hardship and suffering that entails prior to its eventual perfection, assuming that’s possible. Secondly, evolution, even when market success is the objective function of fitness, makes no moral judgement and does not discriminate between symbiotes, predators or parasites – if someone comes up with a workable financially exploitative, parasitic or predatory strategy that doesn’t utilise coercion and so is inviolate under the conditions of the objectivist government’s policing, I see no reason at all to simply assume that it will not thrive in competition with symbiotes (fair and honest traders), rather than die out. Once again, I’m not necessarily saying that objectivism is worse than any current sociopolitical system when it comes to corruption and exploitation, but it doesn’t seem to be significantly more proof against it either, assuming an equal tendency of humans to take an exploitative action, should it appear likely to profit them, regardless of position, be they Prime Ministers or Managing Directors.
With no rules other than “no coercion”, there’s plenty of room for all manner of scams – objectivists would probably argue that gullible or foolish people deserve to be scammed, and this may conceivably weed them out and strengthen society, but there is no shortage of the gullible anywhere, despite millennia of general evolutionary discrimination against them, so it doesn’t look likely to happen soon, and this allows the unscrupulous to thrive and become sufficently potent to damage the rest of the market.
“Naturally, an Objectivist government would come about in the same way. A communist or fascist living under an Objectivist would likely not be a voluntary subscriber to such a government. The Objectivist capitalists, however, would use force to stop them from establishing perhaps a local government entity that would operate on socialist principles. They would, that is to say, use force to prevent them from initiating force against others.”
I’m a little unclear on what you’re saying here; do you mean they would prevent even the establishment of private organisations run internally on such principles, or merely suppress any attempt at revolution by them?
Would they also, I wonder, allow the existence of other countries with non-objectivist internal government but voluntary citizenship with the option to renounce, or is total global control the objectivist goal? It seems that as long an objectivist state exists, and offers the citizen of any other state the option for what I think you would describe as an escape to total freedom, that effectively solves the problem we covered earlier about voluntary membership of those states. The other state would then itself fully comply with the requirements of an objectivist private company (consensual coercion for the enforcement of prior, freely agreed contracts being allowed within private organisations, I think), and so should the objectivist state not simply leave it be? Or does everything ultimately have to fall under the jurisdiction of the objectivist state and its anti-coercion policing, necessitating the invasion and subjugation of other non-objectivist nations, for their own good regardless of how they feel about it? What worries me here is that the objectivist state, even with the exclusive mandate of preventing coercion between its subjects and afforded sufficient power to do so, still seems to be the purest form of benevolent dictatorship and thus still just as subject to the danger of becoming a malignant one at some point. Just who would the objectivist supervisory state be answerable to, and via what mechanism? You reject democracy, so it couldn’t be done that way; you reject the notion of any man having coercive command over any other, so that rules out a despot (it’s all very well claiming to support coercion for the sole purpose of preventing any other instance of coercion, but how on earth do you give any entity the power to do one without the power to do the other?). Just how would it function?
do you mean they would prevent even the establishment of private organisations run internally on such principles,
A private organization consists of a voluntary membership. They can stage fights to the death if they want so long as participation is not coerced.
Or does everything ultimately have to fall under the jurisdiction of the objectivist state and its anti-coercion policing, necessitating the invasion and subjugation of other non-objectivist nations,…
The overthrow of any government whose treatment of its citizens is overwhelmingly coercive would be just, but an Objectivist government would not be likely to do that unless the tyranny presented some present danger to its own citizens. Focus on the fact that there is no taxing power and no power to draft soldiers. Furthermore, the citizens would be predominantly rational people or the government could not have been established as an Objectivist government. The question you want to ask is, “given the high cost in money and lives, under what circumstances would it be in the best interests of the country to overthrow such a tyranny.”
Just who would the objectivist supervisory state be answerable to,
The other branches of government and the citizens, just as ours is now. Only it would be significantly more difficult to misuse its powers. It would be miniscule in size compared with our current government. The Constitution and laws would specify what they may do and under which circumstances, and no other activity by the government would be allowed. The government would not have to own any weapons or facilities, all of which could be leased from private providers, and that would constitute another check on government abuse of power.
Also, I do not reject democracy as a procedure. I reject it as a justification. All democracies are as fallible as their members.
First, I’d like to add to the folks above who commented on how civil everyone has been given the potentially heated nature of the subject matter. If anything I say rubs anyone the wrong way, please know that it’s not my intent to offend.
Second, as regards BioShock, after playing through the first few portions of the game and reading the basic story, I’m of the opinion that the game designer(s) had mixed reasons for the Objectivist references. In some ways, it is a rather simplistic refutation of the implementation of Objectivism; illustrating the opinion that regardless of the internal coherence of the philosophy, it will not stand up to the test of implementation, primarily due to failures in human nature. In others, it uses Objectivism the way The Matrix movies pulled on philosophy; as a way to look cool by being more than a mindless shoot-em-up. Finally, it also uses the history and beliefs of Objectivists the way some Anime uses various bits of Western religion or mythology; take the names and ideas, misspell or misuse many if not all of them, but leave enough in place to allow the viewer’s subconscious to add an artifical sense of depth to the setting.
Finally, regarding Objectivism, it’s followers, and the works of Rand, I’m favorably impressed by about half of their core beliefs, yet unimpressed by a contradiction, as well as what appears to be a false dichotomy or appeal to Gnosis. Specific things that impress me; the acknowledgement and insistence on objective reality, the belief in the competence of human reason, and to some degree belief in self-determination. However, in my personal experiences I have found the fervor which some Objectivists cling to self-determinism to be at odds with objective reality in two related major ways. The first is the lack of acknowledgement of random disaster; no amount of preparation will save an Objectivist from a natural disaster, yet many of the objectivists (pseudo-objectivists?) I meet seem to believe that ‘with proper preparation and hard work, you can not fail’. In other words, their belief in lack of determinism reaches a level where it no longer believes in an objective, non-mystical universe, as preparation and hard work become panacea. Now, this may be a human failure rather than a philosophic one, but in a philosophy that claims to be based on human nature, I find that to be more problematic. The second is the failure to acknowledge that while reality is objective, interpretation of the meaning of that reality is subjective. To illustrate by example, six shots have been fired; this is hard to mistake, it is an objective fact. One interpretation of these facts is that the gunman is reloading his revolver and now is the time to break cover and either advance or flee. Another equally valid interpretation is that the gunman has seven more shots in his Glock. What Objectivism fails to realize is that the coach that convinces his entire (healthy, competent) football team that the former interpretation is correct to the degree that they doubt the evidence of their own senses for even a few seconds will still be able to stop the gunman, no matter which is the objective reality. In other words, second or third tier interpreted truth can become true because of a mistaken first tier interpretation, and those second or third tier interpretations can be as real and meaningful as the objective reality they are used to describe. In other words, and with more wide ranging applications, abstract items are still items, even though they are items created without physical reality, and only exist because of belief in their value. In yet other words, Objective Reality exists separate from observers, but Subjective Reality is created in the mind(s) of the observer(s), and can have meaningful impact on Objective Reality.
Regarding the false dichotomy / appeal to Gnosis, the false dichotomy is the ‘with me or against me’ attitude that Ayn Rand is often described as having. A rational analysis of any interpretation of factual data can elicit anything from complete agreement to complete disagreement, with many steps in between where the analyst can take issue with some portion of the interpretation. Any all-or-nothing dichotomy regarding an interpretation appears to be irrational, and taking the stance that such a dichotomy exists appears to be an attempt to bolster the weaker portions of the interpretation by denying any attempt to separate them from the stronger portions. The alternate argument given is the appeal to Gnosis, where it is stated that once a rational individual ‘truly understands’ all the portions of the relevant interpretation, the individual will then understand why each part is crucial and indivisible from all the others. That kind of appeal to enlightenment appears to be, again, an irrational appeal to something other than rational interpretation of facts.
A digression regarding ‘true’ anything, since it seems to come up rather often, and has even come up here in this most civil of discussions. If in serious rational discussion you find yourself using the concept of a ‘True’ (insert noun here) or something that is ‘Truly’ (insert adjective here), don’t. If you believe an example was flawed, or in some way a strawman, explain that and explain your reasons for that belief.
How did this soapbox get here? Sorry about the reaction to the peeve, but if you find yourself thinking of dismissing an opposing example because it’s not a ‘True’ example, think of the chidren and don’t. Much irony intended in hat last.
*kicks soapbox away*
So, any Objectivists with time and energy and a penchant for educating care to enlighten me as to where I’m misunderstanding things? Any BioShock fans think I’m too far off base on the reasons behind the writing? Anyone thinking I’m living in a dreamworld thinking this dicsussion is civil?
yet many of the objectivists (pseudo-objectivists?) I meet
Objectivism is not about what Objectivists do with it. It is Rand’s personal philosophy. Focus on that first. The rest is interesting, and often helpful, but a critique of Objectivism itself must be ultimately based on what Rand wrote, said, or specifically endorsed.
their belief in lack of determinism reaches a level where it no longer believes in an objective, non-mystical universe, …
You will find that Objectivism holds man to be volitional and denies determinism in all forms as a self-refuting concept. Determinism may not be proffered as “true”, because it is unable to distinguish whether any idea offered is an objective identification of reality or just another externally determined snippet of the content of your mind.
The fact that disasters can befall man has no bearing on the fact that the actions he takes in response will be volitional and fallible. Needless to say, multiple errors could arrive at a truth, but that will not change the distinction between the right way to reach the truth and the wrong way (that would subvert the thinking process in the long run.)
In other words, and with more wide ranging applications, abstract items are still items, even though they are items created without physical reality, and only exist because of belief in their value.
Abstractions are not entities. They are a particular way of grasping and holding particular aspects of entities. If abstractions as formulated are consistent with the nature of the entities abstracted, they are objective. The fact that they are a product of the interaction between a mind and external existence does not make them subjective. A subjective abstraction would be one that for whatever reason is not required to be consistent with reality, whether it actually is or not.
Regarding the false dichotomy / appeal to Gnosis, the false dichotomy is the “˜with me or against me' attitude that Ayn Rand is often described as having.
Does she? Or doesn’t she? Give us a citation please, not hearsay. Then we would have something real to discuss instead of your supposition of what she is said to have meant — and by whom? You appear to be suggesting that Rand believed that adhering to Objectivist principles would yield to some extent a kind of infallibility without any support for it. This would be the stealth form of uncivil discussion.
Sorry, I missed your 192 and replied to 193, and I do not presently have time to go into great detail.
What I object to in your replies, however, is your failure to grasp the exclusivity of the principle and apply it before you wander off recounting the things you suppose would be consequences. The things you enumerate rarely involve coercion. Or they do and you assume the government would not react to them.
You worry about scams, ignoring that a scam is fraud and fraud is indirect force that withholds a value promised requiring force to retrieve it. You worry about exploitation, buying into the socialist lie that exploitation is evil. I am exploiting this blog and you right now and vice versa. It is voluntary on all parts, we are obeying the terms of the implicit contract with Shamus and this exploitation is good.
It is not the job of the exploiter to define a just value in an exchange. It is the job of the exploited to demand it. In a voluntary exchange, each party gives up something they value less to get something they value more. It is the difference of the value they place on that which is exchanged that causes an exchange to occur. Absent coercion, no other human being has any moral right to interfere with those evaluations.
Note in connection to this that it is physical force that is evil. There is no such thing as “economic force”. That is a metaphor stand in for “undue influence.” The fact that any one of us is capable of being a sucker is not a claim on the lives or values of others.
My problem with anything involving pure capitalism/pure selfish choice is that we’ve seen what happens when it’s used, and it simply doesn’t work.
Outsourcing, for instance. It makes sense from a capitalism and selfish standpoint to send your jobs to places that have the poorest wages to save money. But with the net result that people overseas get paid terrible salaries that leave them in poverty, and people here in the US have fewer jobs available (and ironically the companies shoot themselves in the foot because now there’s fewer customers to buy their things).
Which leads me to find a fault in logic at the claim that any attempt at a welfare state would actually perpetuate and solidify poverty. Because market forces tend to deepen class differences due to the fact that some jobs will always be more rewarding from a financial standpoint than others, even though the less rewarding jobs may still be needed.
The whole “not enough teachers, too many lawyers” conundrum, for instance. We have one of the most expensive educational systems in the world, and students need to either pay up front or take on huge debts that need to start being paid off the moment they graduate. (And statistics show that our more expensive colleges aren’t producing smarter students.)
The net result is that jobs that pay well due to market forces attract a lot of students looking to pay off their loans. Meanwhile, jobs that don’t pay well but are either necessary to a good community foundation or help out those in need tend to attract much fewer students than are actually needed to fill those positions, and those students tend to not be the best ones available. (Basically, you end up with the few people generous enough to take a huge pay cut to work those jobs, and the people who can’t get anything better.)
We need teachers, but education is not something that lends itself to market force profitability – a child needs a good education, and giving the best general education requires pretty much always the same expenditure of funds. Which means that, without government funds support, you’d have to charge tuition high enough to earn enough money attract the best teachers – thus ensuring that people too poor to afford that tuition have to either pay for a lower-cost school (that attracts fewer/lesser teachers with fewer resources because it can’t pay as much to keep costs and thus prices down), or they have to go without if they can’t even afford the lower-cost school, thus perpetuating the poverty cycle (a poorly-educated child has fewer good prospects than a highly-educated one).
Other jobs suffer the same fate, especially retail/service jobs. Market forces ensure that, in order to compete on prices and profit, most companies pay their workers as little as possible, with few to no benefits, and deliberately understaff each shift. The net result is well, the same situation as the teachers above, where you only get people generous enough to work at the lousy pay, or people who can’t get anything better. And people wonder why customer service tends to be so lousy.
Not only that, but it creates a perpetual class of the working poor. At least right now we have government support that ensures these people can still have food to eat and a roof over their head. Eliminate that, and you have your service workers either working 12+ hours a day, 6 days a week to keep bills paid, working their shift and then going home to their street corner because they can’t afford rent.
And that’s with minimum wage, mind you. Eliminate that and allow the companies to set wages, and the situation would be even worse. So much for curing poverty, when pure market forces pretty much create and require permanent class structures, including working poverty.
And, getting back to situations where capitalism just doesn’t work, healthcare is even worse in that regard than education. You can’t choose what you get sick/injured with, nor can you choose which treatments end up being effective on your body and ailment. So there goes capitalism’s strengths (choice and competition). And then there’s things like preventative care, which don’t possess any typically profitable results, yet are very valuable in keeping people healthy and reducing the need for costlier and more unpleasant treatments later.
Again, much like education, the only way to compete is quality of care, or doing without. Which leaves us in the same boat we’re in already. The US pays more per capita on healthcare than even countries that offer universal healthcare. And, unfortunately, that’s only partly because we’re buying better healthcare. A good chunk of that extra cost is due to the fact that people too poor to afford health insurance often go without preventative care and only seek medical care as a last resort, which means whatever they’re ailing from is likely to be far worse than normal and require costlier treatments. Not only that, but they also tend to go to the emergency room to seek treatment, which costs far more than when people can afford to go to a regular doctor (and drives down the quality of care for people suffering from real medical emergencies).
I’m not trying to say that capitalism or individualism are bad, mind you. I think that a person being able to choose the way to live that most fulfills them is a very good thing, and I think capitalism applied in situations that plays to its strengths works far far better than pure socialism would.
But, there simply are far too many situations crucial to a smooth-running country full of healthy, fulfilled citizens that capitalism handles poorly because market forces either don’t apply or cause damaging situations. We need socialistic/collective aspects in order to cover those situations. And history has shown that relying on people’s generosity and charity to cover areas that are poorly covered by capitalistic aspects is woefully inadequate.
Not only that, but relying entirely on generosity and charity would actually be freeloading from a different perspective. Think about it – in a completely individualistic system, you’d have the few generous people having to pay deeply from their pockets to cover the fact that everyone else is free of being forced to pay into the system, and thus has no selfish reason to do so (thus freeloading off the more generous people).
Whereas in our current system, yes, everyone is forced to pay in… but the sheer scale of numbers of taxpayers means everyone pays far less per capita to keep the system going. No one person is bearing a disproprortionate percentage of the burden.
Key word being “disproportionate”. Yes, the rich pay more – but that’s because they have more “excess” available. There is a minimum amount of money required to keep oneself fed and clothed, and the poor can’t pay the same amount of tax as the rich because they have much, much less excess above that minimum available to pay from.
And the rich still pay less than an individualistic system would. If you think the rich complain about the tax cuts now… imagine their complaints when they suddenly have to cover the loss of funding caused by the poor refusing to pay any tax from their already paltry excess money, and likely much of the middle class would refuse as well, in the hopes of leveraging that money to improve their class. The rich would pay far more into the system because the lower classes would now have zero selfish incentive to help out.
Either that, or proponents of purely individualistic philosophies somehow believe that humanity would all be gracious enough to continue chipping in their share to fund those situations where capitalism is inadequate… which is pretty much the same situation we have already, except that humanity has somehow magically all become self-sacrificing. (Not to mention… if humanity does somehow all become self-sacrificing and willing to voluntarily contribute to the group in those situations where the group is necessary… doesn’t that kind of negate the point of an all-individualistic society to begin with, except in the happy fuzzies sense of us all being able to work voluntarily together for the good of the planet?)
*ahem* Sorry to spit out a wall of text, but there’s just so many logical and practical problems I see in a pure capitalistic society. IMHO the best solution is, as often is the case, a combination/medium of things. In this case, a combination of capitalism and socialism.
Just a couple questions, for those more versed in Objectivism than I am:
1. Objectivists ofteb say that those who are unable to take care of themselves despite their best efforts (eg. skilled craftsman who lost his arms in a freak accident, someone relatively intelligent but unable to distinguish reality from their hallucinations, etc) will be taken care of by the generous, since they don’t want to let someone else freeze to death on the street. However, Objectivists also often envision an ideal society where everyone works towards their own rational self-interest. In such a society, why would someone choose to be generous? I suppose they could do so because they place some value on the feelings of satisfaction and so on received from helping another, but I was under the impression that objectivism didn’t place value on purely theoretical constructs like “peace of mind.”
2. If I have a technology/technique that benefits me in my lifetime, but will cause horrific problems some time after my death, what rational, self-interested reason to I have to NOT use it? After all, if my life will be ideal, does it matter to me if some time in the future everyone will simultaneously be lit on fire?
Well, the first point can actually be answered quite easily: if there are too many people who are malcontent and being kept down because of fate and the system, a revolution will occur. It therefore becomes the rational self interest of everyone who has an excess of wealth and a vested interest in an Objectivist society to ensure this does not occur by ensuring these people are looked after. Unfortunately, the need for this “voluntary” investment in security becomes just as inevitable as taxes, so I don’t see the benefit of taking it out of the hands of the state.
As for peace of mind not having a value, the happier you are, the more productive and efficient you are. This makes happiness an earnings multiplier, and thus it has economic value. The fact that this knowledge is so rarely acted upon just shows that Objectivism has the same problem as every other political philosophy that requires that absolutely everyone drink the kool-aid for it to work: it’ll never happen, so why bother discussing it?
The slightly worrying thing is, how are the insane supposed to be handled in a society that is so centred on free will above all other things? If someone is mentally ill to the point of being out of control, how do we determine whether they need to be commited, and who takes care of them? With a government controlled health system, we can build in checks and balances, but I don’t see how a micro-government could effectively police a private system for this.
First of all, I’d like to thank everyone – you’ve all given so much time and energy to this topic. You guys are amazing. =D
Objectivism is great, but I don’t think it can work in the world right now…
Where I CAN see it working is in some sort of tabletop setting.
Imagine a GM who runs a really great campaign. He lets you do whatever you want, but every action has a relative EXP consequence. If you complete a quest, or do something productive, or help another person out, you get Experience Points. But if you cheat, or lie, or pass up the opportunity to help someone out, or *ahem* force your will upon another, you LOOSE EXP.
So what are you going to do? Obviously you want to have a powerful character, so you’re going to do whatever makes the GM happy and try to get all the experience points you can. In your selfishness, you end up saving the princess, bringing peace to the town, donating your time to soup kitchens, and making society a better place as you level up your character.
And let’s also say the harder the task, the more XP you get for it
GM: “That guy Min-Max’ed his stats so much that he can’t function properly. If you help him get through the campaign, I’ll give you XXXXXXXXXX experience points.”
When it’s all said and done, you have a ridiculously rich and powerful character because you selfishly did what the GM said would make you that way. The Players who only looked out for themselves don’t have half as much EXP ’cause they didn’t take all the quests available – they just weren’t selfish enough.
Reminds me of something I often say about games with moral choices: If I want to kill a whole bunch of dudes and loot their stuff, the bad guys tend to have better stuff and will obligingly shoot first, giving me plausible deniability and good karma.
What you’re suggesting really does sound like every game I’ve ever played with moral choices. Helping someone out is never a poor investment, you always get something, even if it’s just good karma that makes dealing with the people who are worth talking to easier. It’s rare that evil rewards are equivalent and they often tend to be simple money, not exactly a scarce resource in rpgs.
I do think a game that rewards actions more if the fit arbitrary cultural requirements could be interesting, but that starts to sound like enforcing someone’s alignment.
What, an author drew on personal inspiration to craft a fictional world? Nowai!
Good column , I am going to spend more time researching this subject
I must say this is a quite interesting post. I haven’t played Bioshock myself, but I know about objectivism and I started studying Ayn Rand’s philosophy a few months ago.
A friend of mine told me to play Bioshock, so I would see the problems of my way of thinking (she’s a communist and we have argued a lot about politics and philosophy). Since I will have to wait a few months before I can even start to look for the game, I decided to look for some information about the points of this game against Objectivism. Just like you, I was kind of surprised that all the reviews and analysis were made by people that really hated Ayn Rand (as they described themselves), but I could find some points they used that were not really objectivist ideas but the opposite of them.
Then I found this post, and is quite nice that it explains everything so clearly, even why we can’t find any objectivist analysing this.
I’m still learning about Ayn Rand’s theories and this helped quite a lot.
Thanks for posting this analysis!
PS: Your blog looks amazing… I’ll have to take a look at it!
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