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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 (man)," 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 I take as a given that individuals possess natural rights, by virtue of being human, the fact is 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 an ethereal entity that emerges from the universe to protect our rights.  There needs to be an actual means or vehicle through which we attempt to protect, as best as possible, the natural rights to which we are entitled.  

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. [editors note: originally, this post likened the government, in this context, to a home owner's association.  Later I point out how that analogy fails and therefore, I have edited it out as it unnecessarily distracted from my primary claim.]    

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.