Consider the atmosphere of a Fourth of July parade. Celebrating our nation's birth brings out a benevolent sense of pride in being an American and a sincere admiration for the Founding Fathers. Beyond the superficial, blind, or even forced displays of allegiance in many other countries, in America, there exists a real benevolence that follows from living under a system of laws that protect individual rights and that follows more generally from the morality of individualism. In the past, because each person owned his own life and was free to pursue his own values without interference from others, Americans did not view one another as potential threats. On the contrary, if someone else produced a great value such as a life saving medicine or a spectacular bridge, it was celebrated and regarded as a great value to all. As Dr. Harry Binswanger states in his brilliant lecture, Buy American is Un-American:
But individualism recognizes that wealth is produced, not merely appropriated, and that man's rise from the cave to the skyscraper demonstrates that life is not a zero-sum game -- not where men are free to seek progress.This leads to a crucial principle: there can be no conflict of interests between those who do not seek the unearned. When you recognize that "one man's gain is another man's gain", it is clear that the production and success of any individual is a value to all. Again, quoting Binswanger:
Accordingly, individualism holds that the interests of men do not conflict -- provided we are speaking of self-supporting individuals who pay for what they get. Where there is free trade, the exchange of value for value, one man's gain is another man's gain.
Contrary to Marxism, one does not benefit from the poverty or incompetence of others. It is in your interest that other men -- in every country -- be smart, ambitious, and productive, not stupid, lazy, or incompetent. Would you be better off if Thomas Edison had been dim-witted? Nothing is changed if we substitute a Japanese inventor for Edison.This is the cause of American benevolence. An individualist sees other people as potential values - not as threats. This is why Americans admire talent and success. This is why Americans are the most happy and the most charitable people on earth. Quoting Ayn Rand:
In its great era of capitalism, the United States was the freest country on earth—and the best refutation of racist theories. Men of all races came here, some from obscure, culturally undistinguished countries, and accomplished feats of productive ability which would have remained stillborn in their control-ridden native lands. Men of racial groups that had been slaughtering one another for centuries, learned to live together in harmony and peaceful cooperation. America had been called “the melting pot,” with good reason. But few people realized that America did not melt men into the gray conformity of a collective: she united them by means of protecting their right to individuality.Now, consider the opposite philosophy - a philosophy which holds that capitalists succeed only by exploiting others. Quoting Binswanger:
Collectivism reflects the notion that life is "a zero sum game," that we live in a dog-eat-dog world, where one man's gain is another man's loss. On this premise, everyone has to cling to his own herd and fight all the other herds for a share of a fixed, static, supply of goods.On this view, anyone who pursues his own material wealth must be regarded with suspicion as a threat to the collective. Therefore, an individual's ambition must be throttled, regulated and his wealth expropriated and redistributed to his victims who he exploited to gain his unfair share of the "static" pie. Notice that such a doctrine logically must set men against one another. On this view, one man's gain is another man's loss. One man's success is another man's failure. The least productive see the most productive as exploiters and the most productive fear the repercussions of exercising their ability in a society which regards them as sacrificial animals.
If one's property belongs to the state, so does his mind, and so does his life. In this world, the state, rather than acting as a protector of rights, is empowered to become an agent of violence and coercion which it directs against the talented and the productive. In such a society, anyone who dares to question this doctrine gets branded as "counter-revolutionary" or a traitor to the collective. As the violence and chaos of such a tyranny manifests, the state must take ever more violent measures to retain control and power.
Just as we would expect from the above analysis, as Obama's policies, which are based on the ideology of liberation theology or Christian Marxism, transform America from a country of relative individualism to a nation of collectivism, America's default cultural disposition is rapidly deteriorating from one of benevolence to one of enmity.
This can be seen in the hostility towards financial institutions, reflected in a recent bill to restrict Wall Street pay considered a crime against the people who bailed them out. It can be seen in the increasingly raucous "town hall meetings" and in the hundreds of Tea Party protests across the country as people rationally express their angst and outrage over Obama's statist policies. It can be seen in Obama's bizarre proposal to tax "risky" financial investments "so if you guys want to do them, then you got to put something into the kitty to make sure that if you screw up, it's not taxpayer dollars that have to pay for it" as if bailouts are now a metaphysically given axiom which necessitates a tax to protect the taxpayer collective from exposure to the risk taking collective! It can be seen in proposals to tax millionaires to pay for other people's health care and in proposals to tax the middle class to pay for other people's health care. At every turn, Obama's Marxist world view pits one group against another in an escalating battle over the right to keep what is yours or to loot what is not.
Perhaps, the most frightening manifestation can be seen in Obama's latest outrage: the creation of a government "snitch" program for anyone spreading "disinformation" about Dear Leader's health care program. Quoting the White House website:
There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can't keep track of all of them here at the White House, we're asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.This particular issue was handled deftly by both Gus Van Horn and C. August, and I can't add much to their excellent posts.
However, in the context of this post, let me offer two dramatizations which brilliantly capture the essence of this issue and of my general argument related to the harmony of interests among rational men. The first is a scene from Orwell's 1984, in which Winston is helping a neighbor, Mrs. Parsons, unplug a drain:
'Up with your hands!' yelled a savage voice.The second dramatization is from Rand's Atlas Shrugged, in which a former worker from the 20th Century Motor Company is discussing a plan implemented by the founder's heirs, a plan in which "everybody in the factory would work according to his ability, but would be paid according to his need":
A handsome, tough-looking boy of nine had popped up from behind the table and was menacing him with a toy automatic pistol, while his small sister, about two years younger, made the same gesture with a fragment of wood. Both of them were dressed in the blue shorts, grey shirts, and red neckerchiefs which were the uniform of the Spies. Winston raised his hands above his head, but with an uneasy feeling, so vicious was the boy's demeanour, that it was not altogether a game.
'You're a traitor!' yelled the boy. 'You're a thought-criminal! You're a Eurasian spy! I'll shoot you, I'll vaporize you, I'll send you to the salt mines!'
Suddenly they were both leaping round him, shouting 'Traitor!' and 'Thought-criminal!' the little girl imitating her brother in every movement. It was somehow slightly frightening, like the gambolling of tiger cubs which will soon grow up into man-eaters. There was a sort of calculating ferocity in the boy's eye, a quite evident desire to hit or kick Winston and a consciousness of being very nearly big enough to do so. It was a good job it was not a real pistol he was holding, Winston thought.
...With those children, he thought, that wretched woman must lead a life of terror. Another year, two years, and they would be watching her night and day for symptoms of unorthodoxy. Nearly all children nowadays were horrible. What was worst of all was that by means of such organizations as the Spies they were systematically turned into ungovernable little savages, and yet this produced in them no tendency whatever to rebel against the discipline of the Party. On the contrary, they adored the Party and everything connected with it. The songs, the processions, the banners, the hiking, the drilling with dummy rifles, the yelling of slogans, the worship of Big Brother -- it was all a sort of glorious game to them. All their ferocity was turned outwards, against the enemies of the State, against foreigners, traitors, saboteurs, thought-criminals. It was almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children. And with good reason, for hardly a week passed in which The Times did not carry a paragraph describing how some eavesdropping little sneak -- 'child hero' was the phrase generally used -- had overheard some compromising remark and denounced its parents to the Thought Police.
“Love of our brothers? That’s when we learned to hate our brothers for the first time in our lives. We began to hate them for every meal they swallowed, for every small pleasure they enjoyed, for one man’s new shirt, for another’s wife’s hat, for an outing with their family, for a paint job on their house - it was taken from us, it was paid for by our privations, our denials, our hunger. We began to spy on one another, each hoping to catch the others lying about their needs, so as to cut their ‘allowance’ at the next meeting. We began to have stool pigeons who informed on people, who reported that somebody had bootlegged a turkey to his family on some Sunday - which he’d paid for by gambling, most likely. We began to meddle into one another’s lives. We provoked family quarrels, to get somebody’s relatives thrown out. Any time we saw a man starting to go steady with a girl, we made life miserable for him. We broke up many engagements. We didn’t want anyone to marry, we didn’t want any more dependents to feed.
“In the old days, we used to celebrate if somebody had a baby, we used to chip in and help him out with the hospital bills, if he happened to be hard-pressed for the moment. Now, if a baby was born, we didn’t speak to the parents for weeks. Babies,to us, had become what locusts were to farmers. In the old days, we used to help a man out if he had a bad illness in the family. Now - well, I’ll tell you about just one case. It was the mother of a man who had been with us for fifteen years. She was a kindly old lady, cheerful and wise, she knew us all by our first names and we all liked her - we used to like her. One day, she slipped on the cellar stairs and fell and broke her hip. We knew what that meant at her age. The staff doctor said that she’d have to be sent to a hospital in town, for expensive treatments that would take a long time. The old lady died the night before she was to leave for town. They never established the cause of death. No, I don’t know whether she was murdered. Nobody said that. Nobody would talk about it at all. All I know is that I - and that’s what I can’t forget! - I, too, had caught myself wishing that she would die. This - may God forgive us! - was the brotherhood, the security, the abundance that the plan was supposed to achieve for us!And finally, since I am a "simple-minded" Objectivist, I could not resist one last passage from the "irrelevant" Ayn Rand:
“Yet this was the moral law that the professors and leaders and thinkers had wanted to establish all over the earth. If this is what it did in a single small town where we all knew one another, do you care to think what it would do on a world scale? Do you care to imagine what it would be like, if you had to live and to work, when you’re tied to all the disasters and all the malingering of the globe? to work - and whenever any men failed anywhere, it’s you who would have to make up for it. To work - with no chance to rise, with your meals and your clothes and your home and your pleasure depending on any swindle, any famine, any pestilence anywhere on earth. To work - with no chance for an extra ration, till the Cambodians have been fed and the Patagonians have been sent through college. To work - on a blank check held by every creature born, by men whom you’ll never see, whose needs you’ll never know, whose ability or laziness or sloppiness or fraud you have no way to learn and no right to question - just to work and work and work - and leave it up to the Ivys and the Geralds of the world to decide whose stomach will consume the effort, the dreams and the days of your life. And this is the moral law to accept? This - a moral ideal?