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Thursday, December 14, 2017

How Should Objectivists and Libertarians Select Political Candidates?

In the wake of the Moore and Trump candidacies, it's clear that very few issues generate more debate in objectivist and libertarian circles than the question of which political candidates to back.  For example, in a recent post, I vehemently disagreed with Onkar Ghate's approach to analyzing Trump.  Also, during the Alabama senate campaign, evidence emerged that Roy Moore may be a pervert at best, or a sexual predator at worst. And, although these charges were not proven in a court of law, the question remained - how should a voter weigh such concerns? In general, what is the appropriate way for voters to evaluate the (often horrible) real world choices of political candidates in a mixed economy?  Perhaps more importantly, what is the wrong method for evaluating candidates which, in turn, becomes the basis for maligning or attacking opponents?

Someone once asked how I would feel about voting for a gangster.  My answer was this question cannot be answered out of context.  What if all the candidates are gangsters and there are no other choices?  What is the current form of government - will their power be somewhat limited by checks and balances, and what are the major issues, if any, on which they will be voting?  Are they in charge of the dog catchers or the U.S. armed forces?  Will they be tasked with making appointments to other federal agencies or are they just sitting on a limited city council?  What if the political position does give the power to regulate the market, and Gangster X is known to take money from a free market group while Gangster Y takes money from communists and the only major issue during their term is regulating the market?  What if the position is that of a figurehead, and Gangster X is a Don Corleone-ish family man who really cares about the future of the community (despite the hypocrisy) and projects a positive and benevolent spirit, while Gangster Y is a psychopathic nihilist who projects disdain and contempt for human life?  How long is the appointment - is it a one year position or a lifetime appointment?  If, for example, this position carries an enormous amount of power and is a lifetime appointment, a la Chavez or Castro, then we should be talking about armed rebellion - not voting!

In other words, the full context must be taken into consideration when voting.  That context involves myriad factors and can require a fairly detailed understanding of the various factors involved as it relates to your own self-interest, including the history of the candidates, recent political history, the nature of the current government, the major issues at stake, the term of the appointment, and so on. 

It would be a grave mistake to simply declare, "Gangster X is a gangster," then proceed to dissect the implicit philosophy of an abstract conceptual gangster (irrational, dishonest, violent, etc.) and subsequently deduce that any decisions emanating from a particular gangster (because all gangsters are irrational, dishonest, violent, etc.) must be bad. This latter approach is a textbook case of rationalism.  It represents an attempt to obtain knowledge through deduction from concepts in your head rather than from facts.  On the other hand, dismissing this larger context, and concluding, without qualification, that Gangster X is an all-around great guy that is impervious to error, just because you heard him give a nice speech or observed him doing a few good things, would also be an error - albeit, an instance of empiricism.

Let's go back to the example where the only choice is Gangster X or Y.  Let's throw in that X is known to be a womanizer while Y lives in a basement and rarely interacts with people outside his caporegimes.   Also, X is overtly religious and wants to appease Muslims due to his mushy Christian altruism, but he hates communism. Y is an atheist who takes a stand against Muslim terrorism - although a lot of that actually emanates from his psychotic love of death and war.  Say the position is a two year position, and there will be many votes pertaining mostly to regulating the economy including health care, the Internet, and the energy industry - but they will have little power over anything else including foreign policy and our relations to Islamic radicals.  Gangster X takes money from a free market PAC while Gangster Y takes money from George Soros. Gangster X has said he believes in a mostly free market approach while Gangster Y wants a full government takeover.  Also, X's son and nephew head an energy concern and hate environmentalists.

Now, does Gangster X really believe in free markets?  Probably not - he is just taking money from free market people who tell him what to say, he hates communism but for non-objective religious reasons, and he wants to benefit his relatives.  Is he a good guy?  No - he spent his life as a womanizing criminal despite his somewhat hypocritical public posture.  Is he a religious fanatic?  Yes, but it is not that relevant to how he is likely to vote on the issues before him and he has no other power to impose his religion on others given his limited power and the other branches.  Could he be bought by the socialists if they pay him more?  Maybe, but we know for sure that Y is already taking money from socialists. Also, we may hate X's tendency to appease terrorists, but he will have little or nothing to do with those policies, so who cares?  Finally, given the nature of the two year term, it is likely there will be better candidates, but if Y gets a foothold, and given the nature of statism and the current political framework, he can use his regulatory power to further his ambitions by shaking down industries to enhance his power and fill his campaign war chest while spreading corruption.  If this is all we know, we have a better shot of freedom enhancing outcomes with Gangster X, over the next two years, given this context.

Would it serve our interests to just surrender to Gangster Y and his followers, who are also bad people but vote against us every time?  Isn't it likely that once entrenched, Gangster Y and his socialist followers, with growing power over regulating the economy while shaking down businessmen, could wreak havoc on the economy for many years to come?   Even if you want to make an argument, that letting Gangster Y win will somehow serve your interests in the long run - for example, maybe you argue that the carnage from his statist policies will expose socialism as a horrible system (as if we didn't know) - you still would need to take into account this full context.  You cannot simply rule either out because they are a gangster or because they are a religious fanatic.  

If you want to advocate a position, you need to integrate political philosophy with political facts.  We would love to have a bunch of George Washington's, who are principled in both theory and action, overseeing a constitutionally limited republic, and we should advocate the principles that hopefully will result in more George Washington's in the long run, but even if this were possible, you always have to advocate for politicians within a context.  Washington was wrong about many things too, as were the other Founding Fathers.

In general, we should never judge a candidate in a moral vacuum as if we are judging his candidacy for heaven.  Ayn Rand, in her essay, How to Judge a Political Candidate, said:
One cannot expect, nor is it necessary, to agree with a candidate’s total philosophy — only with his political philosophy (and only in terms of essentials). It is not a Philosopher-King that we are electing, but an executive for a specific, delimited job. It is only political consistency that we can demand of him; if he advocates the right political principles for the wrong metaphysical reasons, the contradiction is his problem, not ours. [emphasis mine]
With respect to a presidential election, I would submit the following as a partial list of relevant factors to consider: What will the likely issues be over his term?  Is the economy collapsing, are there serious foreign threats emerging, is political correctness threatening civil liberties?  Will there be multiple supreme court vacancies?  Since an executive is different than an intellectual, does he have the temperament to be a leader in a fast moving high stakes environment?  Will he pick good people to advise him and will he listen and communicate effectively with subordinates?  What is his history?  Who does he take money from?  Where are his real interests financially? Does he need money or already rich? Who are his close advisers?  Who is he likely to bring into the administration to head cabinet agencies? What types of people will he put on the supreme court or in the federal judiciary?  What kind of people will he pick to head the military and intelligence services which speaks to both foreign policy and civil liberties.  Who are his relatives and close friends?  Who helped him in politics?  Is he a cheerleader for good ideas even if he doesn't or can't implement them (like Reagan was)?  Does he have a good spirit when advocating for America overseas, i..e, what message does he send to the world about America and American interests?  Does he provoke fear in our enemies or does he project weakness and appeasement (like Obama did)?

As a great example, recall Ayn Rand's consideration of the Nixon candidacy (The Ayn Rand Letter, “The American Spirit,” page 136).  Despite Nixon's flaws (which could be analyzed out-of-context), she weighed the importance of his supreme court picks which would outlive his presidency - a totally rational and pertinent factor:
We may hope that Nixon might gain time for the nation, by granting some relief (i.e., removing a few chains) to the private sector of the economy and by arresting the growth of the public sector. But, in view of his record, we cannot be certain. There is, however, one promise of his 1968 campaign – perhaps, the most important one – which he has kept: the appointment to the Supreme Court of men who respect the Constitution. It is still too early to tell the exact nature of these men’s views and the direction they will choose to take. But if they live up to their enormous responsibility, we may forgive Mr. Nixon a great many of his defaults: the Supreme Court is the last remnant of a philosophical influence in this country.
In closing, I will add that an integrated approach to a significant election requires knowing a lot about politics (political facts) and political philosophy.  Books and essays are written about political figures, giving inside accounts that speak to temperament, their past political affiliations, recent political history and many of the factors cited above.  Given this complexity, even following a rational, integrated method is difficult and fraught with the potential for honest errors and mistakes - while open to debate among reasonable people. However, engaging in purely rationalistic or empirical arm-chair arguments for politicians is a much bigger and more insidious problem that should be understood and avoided.     

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Is There a Right to Immigrate?

In the wake of a recent post I wrote on immigration, an argument that keeps arising is the claim that "immigrants have a right to immigrate."  This assertion takes different forms such as, "a border is just a line," or "everyone has the same rights, how can you deny them the same rights you have?" and so on.  I touched on this argument again in another immigration post, but I want to make a more direct argument opposing the premise of this claim.    

The whole basis of the "right to immigrate" argument starts with a kind of out-of-context, rationalistic, assertion of individual rights from which proponents proceed to deduce conclusions. The proper way to deal with this question is inductively, i.e., start with the facts that give rise to individual rights in the first place so we can see how to apply the concept in practical situations.   

While individuals possess natural rights, by virtue of being human, it is a fact that individuals must take specific actions in order to protect those rights in a social context.  Rights are not respected out of thin air.  There is not some galactic tribunal that emerges from the universe to protect our rights.  There needs to be an actual means or vehicle through which we attempt to protect our natural rights.  

When a group of property owners and individuals agree to form a government to protect each other's rights and provide for the common defense, they create a sovereign "nation" by virtue of that agreement.  That government is granted certain enumerated powers, and that particular government, in effect, is created by and for those particular people, its citizens.  That particular government can take many different forms but, in essence, it is the framework by which those people choose to protect their natural rights.

Those people and their government are a sovereign nation.  They elect and grant power to the government to represent them in dealing with foreign nations or foreign nationals.  The reason they do this is to protect themselves from threats and deal with affairs of state that affect the group collectively.  The threats and issues stemming from foreign relations can take different forms and a foreign policy must be defined, and laws implemented, to fairly and objectively deal with foreigners while respecting the rights of its own citizens.  

Note the flow here.  It starts with property owners and citizens seeking to protect their rights by forming a government within their lands.  The people, through their government, then look out at the world and say "how do we deal with the rest of the world beneficially, while protecting the rights of our citizenry?" It does not start with the claim that "everyone has rights" and proceed to the conclusion that "anyone at anytime can come into any sovereign nation irrespective of the laws and policies of that nation because rights."

A sovereign nation is comprised of the private property owners and individuals that elected and fund that government within that border.  The relationship of the foreign national to a sovereign nation is analogous to the relationship of random citizen to a private property owner.  In the case of a private property owner, he can determine who comes onto his property and with whom he may trade or cooperate.  But, just because someone rings his doorbell, it does not mean he must grant him entry.  

In similar fashion, the government is elected to act as the gatekeeper at the nation's private property door.  However, complications arise, because the government represents a group (the country), not a single individual, and therefore must represent the interests and protect the rights of all the citizens of the sovereign nation in determining who can enter.  Since the government represents everyone, its actions must be based on objective policy and law.     

For example, if one private property owner wishes to trade with foreigners or wishes to bring foreigners into the country, can he do so without the implicit or explicit consent of the rest of the country?  This is exactly why foreign policy and immigration policy is necessary.  It is designed to deal with exactly these situations, and it is why it is a necessary function of the government in its capacity to provide for a common defense.        

In a detail prior post, I covered, in some detail, the types of issues and the types of threats that would be of concern under such a policy.  There I define "threat" in the foreign policy context, and stress the necessity to identify such threats contextually.  For example, should the government prevent a private company from selling military technology or weapons to North Korea or Iran (maybe in the future, these countries will be allies and that is fine)?  Can a private property owner bring in individuals who carry a deadly virus?  Can a private property owner bring in and house thousands of communists who wish to overthrow the government? Could a private property owner who owns ocean frontage allow an enemy nation to dock its nuclear submarine fleet and board its military personnel? Can private property owners transact with nations under embargo?  Can a private property owner bring in ten million destitute Muslim migrants because he feels sorry for them?  

Consider other questions related to the rights of immigrants.  If it's true that we must protect the rights of foreign nationals outside the country (before they are granted residency or citizenship), should we grant those same rights to foreign nationals before launching an attack on an enemy country? Would we interview each foreign national and grant them a jury trial and the various constitutional protections specified by the Bill of Rights before the attack? If you say, "war is different" then you are supporting my argument - foreign policy and the relationship of our nation to foreign nations is a different legal context. The policies by which our country deals with foreign nationals is and should be reasonable and a matter of law (not fiat), but the concept of natural rights does not impose an obligation or duty on the citizens of a nation to extend its own government's jurisdiction to anyone who asks for any reason.    

In the linked post, I make the case that the burden of proof falls on the immigrant or visitor, or his sponsors, to prove they are not a threat or will not impose obligations on others.  If that immigration criteria (developed by the elected representatives of the people) is met, i.e., they are found to not represent a threat under the policy, then it is reasonable for someone to immigrate or visit.  After all, to deny a citizen within the country who seeks to peacefully deal with a non-threatening foreign national, could be considered a violation of that citizen's rights (he would rightly ask, "why would you all stop me from trading or marrying this nice person who I can prove is a great person and no threat to you?").  But, note, any right's violation is considered from the perspective of the citizen, not from the perspective of any right to immigrate.  

Of course, if this policy is appropriate in a more free market context, how much more important is immigration policy today, where we do have a massive welfare state, where democratic elections can be dramatically affected by immigrant voters who skew left, and where myriad threats from overseas endanger our country?  Again, the facts and context drive the state's policy which exists to protect the rights of its own people.  

Friday, December 1, 2017

Sex Scandals Expose Feminist Connection to...Warlock Hunts, Religious Fundamentalism, and Plato?

While outrage over the various high profile sex scandals rightly pervades the culture, Christina Hoff Sommers writes "that there is also panic in the air, which could ruin this #metoo moment."  Citing the "frenzied reactions" of various feminists prompted by these scandals, such as an NYU professor's call to "resocialize little boys" she writes: 
Before we consider all men guilty of harassment or abuse until proven innocent, a reality check is in order. Most of the sensational harassment cases in the media involved high-profile men working in unusual environments with little or no accountability. That suggests they are atypical.
While Sommers, along with most reasonable people, consider these scandals a way to create "a new resolve to make the workplace more respectful and equitable for women - for everyone," she, as well as other commentators like Robert Tracinski, are right to warn about a large segment of the feminist movement that does not seek simple fairness and equitable treatment, but rather regards males or masculinity as inherently toxic.  Recently, this view prompted feminist Emily Lindin to tweet that she doesn't even care if some men are falsely accused in the "process of undoing the patriarchy." In this segment, unhinged feminist Cathy Areu defends Lindin while advocating replacing witch-hunts, not with due process based on individual rights but with "warlock hunts."       

Such a view of masculinity gives rise to a number of reasonable questions.  Obviously, physical assault and stalking, forms of force, are reprehensible and criminal, but, under the view of toxic masculinity, can men ever interact with women, in or out of the workplace, without an inherent violation occurring?  For example, some feminists treat a man's tendency to gaze at a beautiful woman, so-called ogling, as a sexual harassment violation.  Given the inherent nature of men and women - you know, like in the real physical world - what exactly would be an ideal, or even permissible, interaction to these feminists?      

This got me thinking, somewhat humorously, of a post I wrote several years ago, Plato's Beauty Pageant, that took place in Saudi Arabia and its possible connection to western feminist's "ideal," as well as, perhaps, an explanation of the feminist's puzzling whitewash of Islam's barbaric treatment of women (see their enthusiastic support of Linda Sarsour).  The article reported:
Sukaina al-Zayer is an unlikely beauty queen hopeful. She covers her face and body in black robes and an Islamic veil, so no one can tell what she looks like. She also admits she's a little on the plump side. 
But at Saudi Arabia's only beauty pageant, the judges don't care about a perfect figure or face. What they're looking for in the quest for "Miss Beautiful Morals" is the contestant who shows the most devotion and respect for her parents. 
"The idea of the pageant is to measure the contestants' commitment to Islamic morals... It's an alternative to the calls for decadence in the other beauty contests that only take into account a woman's body and looks," said pageant founder Khadra al-Mubarak. 
"The winner won't necessarily be pretty," she added. "We care about the beauty of the soul and the morals."
Got that?  Inner beauty is all.  Physical beauty is unimportant at best - dangerous at worst.  To me, this pageant represents a concretization not just of religion, but the more fundamental philosophy upon which modern religion (and perhaps modern feminism) is based: Platonism.  Just to bore you a bit, let's analyze Plato, who believed actual things are just imperfect reflections of ideal forms that can only be accessed by the enlightened.
According to Socrates [Plato's representative], physical objects and physical events are "shadows" of their ideal or perfect forms, and exist only to the extent that they instantiate the perfect versions of themselves. Just as shadows are temporary, inconsequential epiphenomena produced by physical objects, physical objects are themselves fleeting phenomena caused by more substantial causes, the ideals of which they are mere instances. 
And, c'mon, you've all heard of Plato's cave, right?: 
The allegory of the cave (often said by scholars to represent Plato's own epistemology and metaphysics) is intimately connected to his political ideology (often said to also be Plato's own), that only people who have climbed out of the cave and cast their eyes on a vision of goodness are fit to rule. Socrates claims that the enlightened men of society must be forced from their divine contemplations and compelled to run the city according to their lofty insights. Thus is born the idea of the "philosopher-king", the wise person who accepts the power thrust upon him by the people who are wise enough to choose a good master. This is the main thesis of Socrates in the Republic, that the most wisdom the masses can muster is the wise choice of a ruler.
More to the point, Plato's philosophy leads to a rejection of this world, i.e., reality, in favor of an idealized or perfect world as conveyed to the masses by enlightened Philosopher Kings (like the Pope, the Ayatollah, Obama, or maybe modern feminist college professors). It is obvious that such a philosophy is the essence of religion. In fact, Platonism was hugely influential on early Christian theologians. For a detailed accounting of the early Christian church and the influence of Greek philosophy I highly recommend, The Closing of the Western Mind, by Charles Freeman. For example, Freeman discusses Clement of Alexandria [c.150-c.215]:
Clement was in effect drawing on Middle Platonism, which stressed the power of "the Good" or "the One" to act in the world through the Platonic Forms. Platonism was ideally suited to providing the intellectual backbone of Christianity in that Platonists, particularly Middle Platonists, were dealing with the concept of an unseen, immaterial world in which "the Good," or God, could be described as absolute while at the same time being able to have a creative and loving role. Middle Platonists had developed the idea of the human soul from earlier Greek philosophy. They saw the soul as distinct from the human body and able to exist independently of it and to make its own relationship with a providential God, who, in his turn, might reach out to it living and creatively through the Forms, or "thoughts of God," as they were now described by Christian theologians.
To Plato, everything in the world is an imperfect reflection of the ideal, so logically, this doctrine leads to a disdainful, contemptuous view of reality and of man's nature. Consider the Christian doctrine of Original Sin which regards man as inherently sinful by virtue of having obtained knowledge and the capacity to be human in the Garden of Eden. Note that the essence of religion is faith or belief in the absence of evidence, which is considered a virtue. Note that religion urges the rejection of this world in favor of a heavenly after life; it promotes the worship of an unknowable God; it demands the rejection of sexual pleasure, and in the case of the beauty pageant (and in Islam generally) the literal cover up of physical feminine beauty.

Another important feature of Platonism mentioned in the Freeman quote is the separation of the body from the soul. Note the explicit recognition of this dichotomy by the pageant founder: "The winner won't necessarily be pretty," she added. "We care about the beauty of the soul and the morals." Again quoting Freeman (p. 146):

In contrast to Aristotle, who had talked of the soul as the essence of a human body, using the analogy that a body without a soul would be like an axe that cannot cut, Plato had stressed the independence of the soul from the body and its continuing existence from one body to another.
This doctrine was hugely influential on early Christian theologians such as Origen who argued:
that the soul was preexistent to the body in which it came to live and could move on to others after the death of a body (transmigration), but gradually the belief was consolidated that each body had its individual soul given to it at conception and that soul continued to exist eternally after the death of the body, something Aristotle could never have imagined. It could enjoy the happiness of heaven or the suffering of punishment in hell for eternity.
Origen stressed that the process of learning "true reality" requires devotion and commitment, an attribute of paramount importance to the pageant contestants:
Origen drew on the Platonic idea of a long, disciplined period of training before it was possible to achieve knowledge of the true reality - in their case God. The first step, the desire to commit oneself to the long path ahead, was the most important. This created the possibility of being "transformed, " a key concept for Origen. Those who selected themselves for "transformation" were the equivalents of Plato's Guardians, and like the Guardians their selection distinguished them from the those less committed to recovery.
Note how this philosophy naturally leads to the false alternative between "morals" and "physical beauty". Under this doctrine, in contrast to the Forms or God, physical beauty is regarded as fleeting and imperfect. Accordingly, to the Platonist, it is much more important to devote or commit one's life to the soul which is eternal. Therefore, the choice offered by this false alternative is "morals", i.e., sacrifice and the dictates of dogmatic authority or "beauty", i.e., the physical realm detached from morality.

Today, we see this all around us. It is implied in the false alternative between "religion", represented by the fundamentalist Muslim fanatics in the Middle East, and subjectivism, represented by modern cultures' glorification of physical power and brute materialism detached from the concept of morality. It is implied by Cass Sunstein's distinction between the "consumer" who imbibes "infotainment" and the "citizen" who aspires to higher ideals. It is implied by the pageant founder when she declares:

The idea of the pageant is to measure the contestants' commitment to Islamic morals... It's an alternative to the calls for decadence in the other beauty contests that only take into account a woman's body and looks."
In reality, if morality is derived objectively, i.e., through reason, using man's life as the standard of good and evil, then it becomes obvious that one can and ought to be moral and beautiful. In other words, there is no necessary dichotomy between the achievement of rational egoistic values and physical beauty, nor is there any shame in recognizing and admiring it. The idea of morals without beauty, or beauty without morals, or a beauty pageant where the contestants cover their bodies, should be seen as the ridiculous and disastrous false alternative that it is.

Wishing for a world that isn't appears to be the hallmark not just of Plato and religion, but perhaps modern feminism as well.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Church of the Left Absolves the Sins of the Celebrity Gropers

"We have received from Divine Providence the supreme favour of being relieved from all error." -Constantine, Letter to the Church of Alexandria, c.330AD

What are the ethical premises, and the correlated psychology, of these leftist lechers, who self-righteously profess fidelity to feminism, yet literally assault and rape women in their spare time?  The same question holds for pedophile priests or evangelical characters - like Roy Moore (allegedly), Jim Bakker, or Jimmy Swaggart - who profess pious devotion to religious precepts which they proceed to violate in the most heinous ways.  My contention is that when one feels morally validated by his internal philosophy, projecting his piety socially through virtue signaling, it serves to create a kind of blanket absolution for his own personal sins.  Now, in the case of a pedophile priest or evangelical, it's obvious where absolution lies - repentance and forgiveness from God.  But where does the atheist progressive go for moral absolution?  Answer: The Church of the Left. 

In a previous post, The Offended Generation, I traced liberal Dana Milbank's lamentations concerning his generation's lack of a cause "greater than self" in which he writes: "There have been many noble causes in my time — the fight against apartheid, for gay rights and for environmentalism — but none captured my generation or required the sort of sacrifice the civil rights movement did."   This search for the noble cause and "transcendent social struggle" underpins the modern left.  Whether it be any of its political goals from socialized medicine to environmentalism, the belief in the moral superiority of its causes imbues the social justice warriors with a sense of idealism and self-righteousness.  The SJW crusades to fight injustice, not according to the teachings of Jesus, Moses, or reality, but, rather, according to his Marxist political theories which emphasize class, gender and ethnic victimhood, socialist redistribution schemes, and/or environmentalism.   

This sense of righteousness follows not from some objective theory of rational ethics, but  from our culture's dominant, and largely unchallenged religious ethic, that is, self-sacrifice or altruism. This underlying ethic is what unites the secular left with the religious fanatic - the only major difference being the object of the sacrifice.  The religious demand you sacrifice to God while the socialist demands you sacrifice to the state or Mother Earth.  

It is in this sense that post-modern political correctness and its sundry Marxist ethical-political beliefs are a kind of modern religion. It is, therefore, not a coincidence that the progressive movement increasingly resembles primitive religious movements, like those seen today in the Islamic world, or, at one time, in the West before the separation of Church and State.  Note, that within The Church of the Left, there is an ideological orthodoxy passed down from academic tribunals based on authoritative texts, along with excommunication for heresy, and the violent stifling of dissent from outside infidels (such as conservative speakers or critics of Islam).  

For example, in this video, Ashleigh Shackleford asserts, as a matter of fact, that all white people are born as racist, inhuman demons.  To these types, as in the christian concept of Original Sin, denial is itself regarded as an example of the sin.  This leaves only one alternative for the guilty: confession and repentance.  Again, note the increasingly religious tone and behavior, including calls not only for meek confession and repentance, but the denial of free, rational counter-argument and the rooting out and persecution of non-believers.  

While, the above video exemplifies the practice of critical race theory, a racist theory that criticizes focusing on colorblindness and posits that all white people are guilty of an incurable Original Sin - "whiteness," we cannot forget the other, even more original, Original Sin: carbon footprint.  Consider that the hysterical doomsday predictions of the modern environmental movement increasingly resemble the apocalyptic rantings of ancient mystics. Even their method of chastising and proselytizing the non-believers, so-called "climate deniers," has taken on a religious tone.  The late author, Michael Chrichton, once said:
Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it's a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.There's an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there's a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe.

(Courtesy of Professor George Reisman, we should add to this list the modern environmentalist version of hell, global warming -which, climate priests clamor, will "literally roast and boil the earth.")

Furthermore, it is essential to the left's religious-political doctrine that man feel existential guilt for his energy sin, so that they can tie his penance directly to particular forms of political control of the energy industry.  Now, in reality, the science of global warming is completely separate from any particular political remedy.  (In fact, if global warming were shown to be an imminent threat, I would agree with Reisman, that it is that much more important to maintain a free market, in order to allow humans to efficiently adapt (as opposed to central planning which always fails) and to create the greatest possible industrial and technological base to combat the effects.)  But, they have succeeded in inexorably linking the outcome of the science with their particular political remedy, i.e., actual global warming = throttling fossil fuels along with industrial progress and the economy.  Only a sense of existential "planetary level" guilt could cause man to commit economic suicide on this scale.     

Sadly, by trumpeting the morality of victimhood and sacrifice, like modern and past religious fanatics,  the modern progressive movement robs individuals of the profound joy and happiness that results from purposeful, productive living accompanied by mutually beneficial voluntary cooperation and trade.  It replaces these values with a  sneering hatred of success, and rather than cultivating a benevolent environment of discovery, productivity, creativity, and entrepreneurship - altruism, as always, creates an environment of guilt, entitlement, and dependency. 

The Church of the Left is a fully organized religion in the same fashion as the Catholic Church or the various branches of other organized religions. It's clerics and followers are comprised from the legions of academics, mainstream news reporters, government lifers, celebrity personalities, and coastal elites.  Like pedophile priests, who believed that God would forgive or that their religious status rendered them beyond good and evil, the members of the Church of the Left believe they too can be absolved of guilt.  They believe that by preaching the Good Word, by donating to the Church (the Democratic Party, environmental organizations, and their various political affiliates), and by haranguing the Deplorables with PSAs, tweets, and Oscar speeches, they too, are beyond good and evil.    

Monday, November 27, 2017

Why Objectivists Really Disagree on Immigration, Part 1

Once upon a time, I believed objectivists were distinguishable from libertarians.  After all, in my own experience, I observed that libertarians often take "liberty" or the "non-aggression principle" as a kind of out-of-context philosophic commandment, whereas objectivism grounds liberty in a philosophical framework in which liberty logically extends from metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics to the political concept of individual rights.   Such a distinction is not just an abstract esoteric debate - there are real consequences.  Peter Schwartz wrote:      
"It’s important to realize that libertarianism endorses not simply a false theory—i.e., a dismissal of the philosophic roots of freedom—but a false practice. The protection of individual rights has two necessary components: a government that refuses to initiate force against its citizens, and a government that willingly uses force to repel any threats—whether domestic or foreign—against those citizens. Libertarians regularly oppose the second, thereby making freedom impossible." [emphasis mine]
And, while it's true that many libertarians do attempt to validate liberty on a more fundamental basis, either because they lack the objectivist framework, or because they still rely on the concept of "liberty" arbitrarily, many end up advocating anarchistic politics, for example, rejecting intellectual property rights or calling for the privatization of police and courts.  But, a major practical divergence is in the area of military defense, where many libertarians uphold a policy of blanket non-interventionism. 

This latter divergence is exemplified by the libertarian position towards Iran and Israel.  While intellectuals at The Ayn Rand Institute have consistently defended Israel as a beacon of freedom in a sea of theocratic dictatorship and condemned Iran as a state sponsor of jihadi terrorism, many libertarians such as Ron Paul, take a more or less neutral position towards Israel, while taking a hands off approach to the Iranian regime.  Several years ago, while objectivists cited concerns about the cultural and political implications of Muslims building a ground zero mosque, many libertarians, like Ron Paul, accused opponents of "racist demagoguery," likening construction of the mosque to the construction of a "soccer field."    

Those who rely only on economic arguments or liberty as a floating abstraction, as it relates to immigration, are committing the same error as Ron Paul and other Libertarians by not considering more fundamental facts and principles related to individual rights. In a recent post, Philosophical Foundations of Immigration in a Free Society, I argued that immigration policy should be seen as a subset of foreign policy as it relates to the national defense.  Seen this way, even putting aside concerns about the modern welfare state, an objective immigration policy can be seen as a necessary function of government with respect to protecting the sovereignty and rights of individuals within a free country.  Of course, if this is true, how much more important is immigration policy in the today's context, where we do have a massive welfare state, democratic elections affected by immigrant voters who skew left, and myriad threats from overseas.
That's why, in researching the views of libertarians and objectivists with respect to immigration, I was shocked to find what I regard to be an incredible anomaly.  Many prominent libertarians thinkers, like Hans-Herman Hoppe, whom I quoted in my post and who is quoted extensively here, actually make a strong case for restricted immigration - as do even so-called anarcho-capitalists like Lew Rockwell. Regarding Ludwig Von Mises, Joseph Salerno writes: "Mises did not evaluate immigration in terms of purely economic optima such as maximizing the productivity of human labor, irrespective of the political context. Rather, he assessed the effects of immigration from the viewpoint of the classical liberal regime of private property." On the other hand, many prominent objectivist intellectuals have taken the "open borders" position siding with libertarians like Alex Nowrasteh, and this author.  
After some research, I came to believe many libertarians and conservatives take a more classically objectivist approach than objectivists on this issue by considering more fundamental principles related to private property rights of citizens, the concept of sovereignty, along with a whole spectrum of issues related to culture, nationality, and economics.  How is this possible?  Within the scope of this article, I want to focus only on one objectivist intellectual whom I believe, to his credit, has taken the clearest and most detailed open borders position and has thus most influenced the objectivist community.  In a post titled, Immigration, Dr. Harry Binswanger writes that his article "is a defense of a policy of absolutely open immigration, without border patrols, border police, border checks, or passports." Mirroring the libertarian open borders position, Binswanger writes: 
There is no more authority to demand papers at the border than there is for the police to board a city bus and demand papers of everyone on it. A man, citizen or non-citizen, is to be presumed innocent. He does not have to satisfy the government that he is not a criminal, in the absence of any evidence that he is. 
At the nation's borders, instead of "inspection," there should simply be a sign: "Welcome to America."

Despite his own argument, it is not a position with which even Dr. Binswanger appears to agree, as we shall see later.  In reality, when conducting commerce or contemplating immigration policies, not intranationally (on a "city bus"), but between two nations (internationally) that may be allies, enemies, or in between, such as between the U.S. and China, Britain, Canada, Mexico, North Korea, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, or Somalia, there are other more primary factors that must be considered.

For example, should the government prevent a private company from selling military technology or weapons to North Korea or Iran?  Can a private property owner bring in individuals who carry a deadly virus?  Can a private property owner bring in and house thousands of communists who wish to overthrow the government? Could a private property owner who owns ocean frontage allow an enemy nation to dock its nuclear submarine fleet and board its military personnel? Can private property owners transact with nations under embargo?

Binswanger's argument ignores the more complex context of international borders, which is radically different from the context of movement between local jurisdictions or across state lines, within a free country, where there are long standing constitutional and legal agreements, and where there is a judicial tradition based on the common law.  

Now, in my post, I advocated an immigration policy based on the recognition that the government's primary function is national self-defense and that a community of private citizens and private property owners delegate affairs of state and the retaliatory use of force to the government.  The right of national self-defense is predicated on the concept of sovereignty which is predicated on the principle of individual rights. Binswanger's false equivalence between an international border and an intranational border represents a fundamental denial of the concept of sovereignty.  On this point, Ayn Rand wrote
A nation, like any other group, is only a number of individuals and can have no rights other than the rights of its individual citizens. A free nation—a nation that recognizes, respects and protects the individual rights of its citizens—has a right to its territorial integrity, its social system and its form of government. The government of such a nation is not the ruler, but the servant or agent of its citizens and has no rights other than the rights delegated to it by the citizens for a specific, delimited task (the task of protecting them from physical force, derived from their right of self-defense) . . . . 
Such a nation has a right to its sovereignty (derived from the rights of its citizens) and a right to demand that its sovereignty be respected by all other nations.

From these passages and knowing nothing else, I would have expected an objectivist to approach immigration very differently than an arbitrary "liberty as primary" econ-centric libertarian.  Now, while in one article, Binswanger endorsed a policy of "nothing but a welcome sign," confusingly, in this article, he admits that there are indeed potential threats from immigrants that warrant concern. He writes:  
...Entry into the U.S. should ultimately be free for any foreigner, with the exception of criminals, would-be terrorists, and those carrying infectious diseases. (And note: I am defending freedom of entry and residency, not the automatic granting of U.S. citizenship).

So, here he admits there should be a policy that would except "criminals, would-be terrorists and those carrying infectious diseases," however, he does not say how he would determine who is a criminal or would-be terrorist or disease carrier. The important point is that he concedes the principle that it is proper policy for a free country to police it's borders and to have some policy with respect to determining who is a demonstrable threat.  Unfortunately, he contradicts himself again in the following passage: 
To take an actual example, if I want to invite my Norwegian friend Klaus to live in my home, either as a guest or as a paying tenant, what right does our government have to stop Klaus and me? To be a Norwegian is not to be a criminal. And if some American business wants to hire Klaus, what right does our government have to interfere?

But what if Klaus is a criminal, or a would-be terrorist, or has an infectious disease?  How would we know? Furthermore, what burdens does Klaus's entry place on the rest of the private property owners, particularly, in today's context?  Of course, his own theory implies that Klaus would have to undergo some sort of border check before being allowed into the country. After all, Binswanger concedes:
....a person with an infectious disease, such as smallpox, threatens with serious physical harm those with whom he comes into proximity. Unlike the criminal, he may not intend to do damage, but the threat of physical harm is clear, present, and objectively demonstrable. To protect the lives of Americans, he may be kept out or quarantined until he is no longer a threat.

So would his "Welcome to America" sign perform a small-pox check or do a background check?  He doesn't say, but presumably, such a check would need to be executed by a border agent at a border check - the very authority he excluded when he claimed that his article was "a defense of a policy of absolutely open immigration, without border patrols, border police, border checks, or passports."  

Since it appears that Binswanger himself does not even advocate his own definition of open immigration, then what exactly is open immigration?  I have yet to hear a clear answer, and it leads us to ask, "what the hell is this argument over?"  Well, Binswanger attempts to answer just this question.  In his 2015 post, Why Objectivists Disagree on immigration, he writes:  
Well, they [Objectivists] really don’t. I think we all agree (certainly Leonard Peikoff does) that in a laissez-faire world, there’d be open immigration. The disagreements arise because we are light-years away from that world
So, he asserts that "we all agree" and that the real problem is that we are "light-years away" from such ideal conditions when we can have this fuzzy thing he calls "open immigration" (where we have nothing but welcome signs but somehow can ascertain disease carriers).   In a telling passage, Binswanger claims that the current state of affairs deprives us of the use of principles: 
But philosophy deals in principles.That’s why there are continuing arguments about immigration among those who accept the Objectivist philosophy. 
Deprived of the guidance of principles, the issue then becomes one of concrete facts. 
And since we cannot use principles, he writes:  
"People can certainly differ on these factual issues, and raw, statistical (!) facts are all we have left when we can’t appeal to principles, because the principled path is not “politically realistic.”
I could not disagree more with this argument.  First, his assertion that "we all agree," i.e., that in the case of some fantasy laissez-faire system we would all advocate open immigration, is not true.  If open immigration means a border-less nation with no controls (and, again, I am not even sure it does), I would absolutely oppose such a system under any circumstances.  To not police our own borders, in any context, is a total abdication of the government's defense function!  

Although he appears to believe that we can crush and eliminate Islam as an existential threat, the fact is that there will always be a threat from someone in the future.  Would we also disband the police and the courts in a future laissez-faire world under the presumption that criminals will cease to exist, and humans will no longer need to resolve disputes?  As I said in my post: 
The idea that we can eliminate the threat by crushing our enemies overseas and therefore allow virtually anyone to subsequently enter the country does not recognize the nature of reality.  The fact is that there are always bad guys out there, and the government's job is to protect its citizens from them.  Simply put, there will never be a time when the government can cease to police its own border....  
Furthermore, to advocate defeating our enemies abroad based on rational foreign policy concerns, but not concerning ourselves with potential enemies crossing our own border is a wild contradiction.  Both aspects of defense are crucial and complementary.  

If the government's proper foreign policy endeavors to identify and eliminate existential threats from overseas by procuring intelligence and launching attacks against enemy states, why wouldn't its foreign policy seek to identify existential threats from those on its border seeking to enter the country?  Why wouldn't we apply at least as much scrutiny if not more to those entering the country? If it's true that we empower the government to repel a direct invasion force that would seek to undermine and overthrow our system of government, why would it ever be considered advisable to allow an indirect invasion to occur through legal or illegal immigration of potentially dangerous people?        

Second, eschewing principles in favor of brute empiricism is an example of the rationalism vs empiricism false alternative.   He seems to almost lament being limited to facts, where he is "deprived of the guidance of principles."  But, we should never start with principles and then abandon them once they don't fit the factual situation.  Rather, we derive principles from observable facts.  

For example, in my post, I discuss the factual nature of cognition - that it takes time, and some amount of political freedom, to learn and integrate knowledge.  I discuss the fact that most people accept their culture without consideration either because they have limited freedom, education, and/or aptitude - the very reason we have intellectual heroes.  I discuss the relevance of culture to immigration policy and the legal concept of citizenship.  I recognize the fact that people from around the world are not "atomistic" economic maximizers but share different ancestry, language, and culture and form bonds to their family and community due to these facts.  I recognize that our country recognizes naturalization as a vehicle to implement real citizenship and the fact that our government's laws can and should only apply to our citizens.  I recognize the fact that the government must perform a self-defense function in order to protect a nation of private citizens and property owners from an international invasion while protecting a citizen's right to conduct business with non-threats.  I point to other times in history where these principles have been applied and recognize the contextual nature of these immigration (or any defense) policies as threats emerge around the world vis-a-vis our own actual economic and political situation.  And so on.    

In other words, one must start with observable facts and induce principles by integrating those facts with preexisting knowledge.  Given the open-ended nature of concepts, this is precisely how we gain knowledge.  New facts refine our concepts and enhance our knowledge.  Dealing with ideal or simple cases is a method for understanding, illustrating or applying a principle - not for dispensing with reality.  Principles must always leave room for the unknown.     

Consequently, Binswanger's implication - that we should start with some out-of-context rationalistic conception of "liberty" as an ideal, treating humans as disembodied atomistic minds of equal ability, but throw it out, because reality doesn't resemble the rationalistic fantasy, and, therefore, confine ourselves to statistical and raw empirical arguments, is ludicrous.  Again, this approach is an instance of the rationalism vs. empiricism false alternative.

This rationalistic approach can again be seen in other articles, where Binswanger, as well as other libertarians, conflate intranational borders with international borders in the context of economic arguments.   With respect to immigration, many libertarian's cite the effect of a growing population on the division of labor, believing that a kind of anarchistic open borders immigration policy squares with their concept of "liberty" while relying on the utilitarian argument that such a policy will benefit all economically.  In this regard, Binswanger tells us that "America is a vastly underpopulated country."  By what standard does he make such a claim? He writes, "our population density is less than one-third of France's," which, by implication, he regards as some universal standard. But he goes on:  
You say that hordes of immigrants would come to overcrowd America? Okay, take a really extreme scenario. Imagine that half of the people on the planet moved here. That would mean an unthinkable eleven-fold increase in our population—from 300 million to 3.3 billion people. The result? America would be a bit less densely populated than England. England has 384 people/sq.km; vs. 360 people/sq. km. if our population multiplied 11-fold.
To those who question the value of having our nation increase in population by 11-fold, he argues: 
Contrary to widespread belief, high population density is a value not a disvalue. High population density intensifies the division of labor, which makes possible a wider variety of jobs and specialized consumer products. For instance, in Manhattan, there is a "doll hospital"—a store specializing in the repair of children's dolls. Such a specialized, niche business requires a high population density in order to have a market. Try finding a doll hospital in Poughkeepsie. In Manhattan, one can find a job as a "Secret Shopper" (a job actually listed on Craig's List). Not so in Paducah.
So here Binswanger relies on a kind of utilitarian argument that a growing population will benefit all because it will lead to a greater division of labor which leads to a greater variety of products such as "doll hospitals" and "secret shopper" jobs.  Okay, but why is this kind of "economic optima" necessarily the good?  People are not robots.  What about those who wish to live in rural towns near to family and to those who speak the same language and share the same values?  If we are now to base our policy not on individual rights, but rather utilitarianism, why couldn't the small towners just as easily make the argument that their lives will suffer as a result of increased density (despite having more doll hospitals)?  

He seems to then try and answer this by claiming that all people want to live near a lot of people, because real estate prices.  He writes: 
People want to live near other people, in cities. One-seventh of England's population lives in London. If population density is a bad thing, why are Manhattan real-estate prices so high? People are willing to pay a premium in order to live in a densely populated area. And even within that area, the more "crowded" the more in demand: compare prices for apartments in mid-town Manhattan with prices for apartments on the less crowded northern tip of the island.
Putting aside the fallacy of his argument allegedly proving that "people want to live near other people" (houses on the ocean in Long Island and Malibu and in places with mountain views also sell for tens of millions), all of these claims are secondary considerations.  That is absolutely not the primary context or facts to consider in immigration policy.  

Obviously, two immigrants in a nation of 300 million people could have very little effect on the host country, but what if 50 or 100 million immigrants from India or China sought to land in America?  Numbers or size do matter, and, unlike virtually any other foreign policy consideration, the act of allowing mass numbers of foreign nationals into a country of private property owners can irrevocably change the very institutions of government.  As Ralph Raico wrote: "Free immigration would appear to be in a different category from other policy decisions, in that its consequences permanently and radically alter the very composition of the democratic political body that makes those decisions." The numbers are a primary factor in determining the difference between immigration and invasion.

Not only are large groups of immigrants more likely to form their own community rather than assimilate due to cultural and language factors, they are an electoral (and physical) threat to overthrow existing institutions.  Imagine if millions of immigrants from a hostile country essentially took over a city, state, or region with the intention of changing the form of government or affecting national policy or attacking the current residents?  Who would stop them under Binswanger's open immigration plan? 

We can observe that third world refugees, like those from Somalia or the Middle East, who seek any escape from death defying conditions, may not all understand nor appreciate western customs of law, individualism, and free markets (which, in reality, takes time, education, and experience).  They are not likely to assimilate quickly and they often bring cultural values hostile to western civilization, such as the espousal of Sharia law - the very cultural values that have created the conditions leading to their desire to escape.  Again, would a handful of these immigrants be an enormous problem? No, but thousands or tens of thousands or millions immediately put into a region would, and this is just the kind of practical consideration that a proper foreign policy or immigration policy should consider, and it's precisely the context dropped by Binswanger when he quotes population density statistics without taking into consideration the actual facts.           

But, perhaps, the most egregious claim in his writings is the following:   
In the absence of specific evidence against him, nothing can justify subjecting an immigrant to coercive interference.  
I'm very afraid that the actual reason for limiting immigration is xenophobia, which is simply a polite word for racial bigotry. 
The denial of rights to non-citizens is despicable, an affront to moral principles as such. We have erected a vicious and hypocritical double standard: we locals grant ourselves a right to violate the rights of outsiders.
First, if its true that we cannot deny rights to non-citizens, should we grant those same rights to foreign nationals before launching an attack on an enemy country?  Would we interview each foreign national and grant them a jury trial and the various constitutional protections specified by the Bill of Rights before the attack?  If you say, "war is different" then you are supporting my argument - foreign policy and the relationship of our nation to foreign nations is a different legal context.  As I wrote in my post: "Individuals possess certain inalienable rights or "natural rights," but these are distinct from civil rights defined by the Constitution which are applicable only to citizens of the United States.  There is no obligation under the Constitution to protect the civil rights of non-citizens.  The policies by which our country deals with foreign nationals is and should be reasonable and a matter of law (not fiat), but distinguishing natural rights from the civil rights of citizens is an important legal distinction." 

But, more importantly, in yet another instance of rationalism, Binswanger appears to not even contemplate, for a second, that one could validly criticize his application of principles.  Consequently, he concludes, the only possible objection would be on the basis of a kind of mental disorder - xenophobia.  

Now, the concept of "phobia" connotes an irrational fear.  But, the fear of being consumed by a society of superstitious, witch burning fascists is not an irrational fear - which should not come as a shock to any objectivist.  Such societies have existed and exist today. History is filled with tales of lost civilizations, and mass migration today in Europe should be an ominous warning.  Objectively upholding the values of reason, individualism, and political freedom and acting to protect oneself against those who advocate superstition, collectivism, and dictatorship is neither an instance of racism nor xenophobia - it is their antidote.  Protecting the rights of the owners of our country from objective threats is the function of our government. 

More significantly, by equating dissent with irrationality, Binswanger is implicitly shutting down his opposition by smearing opponents as bigots.  "Disagree? Well then, you are irrational."  Such an approach by a leading intellectual could only fuel vitriolic attacks on dissenters and serve to shut down debate over a complex political and legal application of Objectivism.  This has actually happened.    

Interestingly, while Binswanger accuses his opponents of racial bigotry, i.e., generalizing about the characteristics of foreigners, he feels perfectly open to engage in his own form of positive bigotry when he writes: 
Immigrants are the kind of people who refresh the American spirit. They are ambitious, courageous, and value freedom. They come here, often with no money and not even speaking the language, to seek a better life for themselves and their children.
Really, is this true of all immigrants? It certainly is not.  Now, in my post, I argue for making generalizations with respect to immigration policy, given the constraint of time and resources and the differing legal context with respect to making foreign policy judgments.  I argue that we should not grant a presumption of innocence, but rather the onus falls on the immigrant and/or his sponsors to abide by an objective vetting policy.  In other words, we should not make broad generalizations, either positive or negative, about immigrants per se as Binswanger does here, e.g., "all immigrants are bad or good."  In the absence of evidence regarding an individual, there can be legitimate bases for generalizations, as I outline in my post.      

The body of work put forward by Binswanger and other fellow travelers is hardly the grounds for his supporters to launch sanctimonious attacks and level "racism" smears towards dissenters.  Even my cursory analysis of his work and comparison to much better authors on immigration exposes his approach as rationalistic, incoherent, and suicidal. 

Objectivists disagree on immigration because their intellectual leaders have left them with a false alternative, between rationalism and empiricism, that fails to properly address the core facts and questions surrounding this important and complex issue.  I hope by shedding light on even a portion of these flaws, it can lead to a more informed and civil debate and lead to better scholarship in this area and others. 

In PART 2,
I further analyze the logical inconsistency of the open borders position exposing even deeper philosophical problems underlying this debate.