Monday, August 29, 2011

Are You a Selfish Monster?

“John McCain and Sarah Palin they call this socialistic. You know I don’t know when, when they decided they wanted to make a virtue out of selfishness.”*

Are you a selfish monster? Do you always feel as if you are doing something wrong because you work hard and want to earn as much as possible? Are you guilty because you want to enjoy your life and get the most out of it? Are you constantly striving to do well only to have people criticize you for being selfish? Are you paying ransom to people who expect you to give your money away?

I think it is immoral and manipulative to make a person feel guilty for making his best effort and succeeding. It has been done to me countless times. In fact, demanding that I sacrifice for others is the best way for someone to lose my friendship. Some people call it “Guilt-Tripping” and I think that’s a good way to say it.

How does “Guilt-Tripping” work? I first experienced it when I was too young to understand how insidious it is. It started for me when I was told that I should consider other people to be more important than me; that my purpose in life should be to help others.

Like many young people, I struggled with the question of what is moral. I initially sensed that the advice to live for others was intended to help me be a good person. Yet, the idea made me wonder how I fit in, how could I decide what was right, and what about those people who were not living for my sake (which included the very people telling me to live for others)? I had not understood how it was possible that I should always think of others while never thinking of myself. How did that work?

So I thought that maybe my teachers didn’t really mean what they were saying. Did they just want me to be nice to others or to be a good citizen? Maybe they were saying it because they loved me; they didn't want me to be anti-social. But no, I was told, the sign of piety and love of God is to be totally self-sacrificial. I should live like the saints such as St. Francis who dedicated his life to others.

Somewhere along the line, I even heard that true sacrifice should be all-consuming – if I really loved God, I should be like Jesus who died for man's sins on the cross. Jesus had sacrificed himself completely and suffered; so should I. I also heard that, in order to be moral, I should derive no personal pleasure from self-sacrifice but do it merely because it was right regardless of how much I suffered.

When I read Ayn Rand, I developed a new view of self-interest and morality. Her critique of altruism revealed to me that the method of promoting altruism involved the denigration of the individual and self-interest. She averred that the purpose of life was to live and be happy, not to suffer and die. Almost, without exception, she taught, the entire history of ethics had been founded on the idea of sacrifice. The manipulation was real and they meant their attacks on self-interest.

As a youngster, I did not know that “Guilt-Tripping” was based upon an entire philosophical system that had dominated men’s societies for centuries. I was just another hapless young victim walking into the carnival’s House of Horrors not knowing what terrors I would find. Needless to say, Rand has exposed the scam being played by moralists. From Plato to Kant, the ritual of sacrifice had been nurtured and protected until the 20th Century when Hitler, Mao and Stalin managed to kill millions in the name of sacrifice for others.

Today, I’m amused when I hear people say that the rich should pay higher taxes and give more money to charity. Most rich people accept the guilt and give in because they have been “guilt-tripped”. They can't figure out who's right; they for wanting to do well or their critics who accuse them of "thinking they're so good". They are going through the house of horrors too and eventually they decide that the best way to handle the guilt is to buy heaven. Do you feel better, Warren?

Over the years, as I’ve said, due to the influence of Ayn Rand, I have developed a different conception of proper human action. According to this view, what is important about a man is not that he dedicates his life to others but how he uses his mind. What does he do to develop and enhance his intellectual capacities, how correct is his thinking and how has he used knowledge to advance his own flourishing? This is what I admire: not how many people a person has fed, but how well he has fed himself?

“Guilt-Tripping” is a form of moral intimidation. It is cruel and unfair and no person should go through life thinking there is something wrong with him if he decides to enjoy his life and revel in his ability to produce wealth. Too many of these men lack the intellectual stamina to understand that they have been “Guilt-Tripped”, duped into feeling guilty for doing well and loving their success. They have done nothing wrong.

There is only one difference between the “Guilt-Tripped” average person and the “Guilt-Tripped” rich person. The rich person gets rich in spite of his unearned guilt while the average person doesn’t get rich because of his unearned guilt.

Unearned guilt is a destroyer and too many good people fall for it. They should learn that their “Guilt-Trip”, imposed upon them by people who supposedly love them, has caused them serious psychological and monetary damage. And they should learn that there is nothing about which to feel guilty. If they decide to spend their money in the most ostentatious display of wealth, they should not be afraid of what people think. Even if they decide to have the most lustful parties, spending millions on ice sculptures, enjoying the most beautiful and expensive toys, automobiles, electronic goods, mansions, etc.; good for them. They should enjoy it; they deserve it. They should get more of it and look envy straight in the eye and say, “You’re jealous because you can’t afford it”.

Of course, I know the "Guilt-Tripper's" standard response to the above statement: "How could you live so ostentatiously when so many are starving?" The correct answer to this "Guilt-Tripper" should be "It is my money. If people are starving, that's your fault not mine. Your ideas created the victims of poverty. You feed them."

Yet, whenever I advocate for this view of man, the old “Guilt-Trip always seems to come up. It is, in fact, a cultural institution. Say that you advocate individuality and you’ll hear, “I hate that person”, “How cruel”, “He must be in favor of “dog-eat-dog” capitalism” and “I’ll bet he loves Nietzche”.

Lately, I’ve realized how hateful it is to criticize a person for not giving to or “caring” about others. The recent statements made by billionaire Warren Buffet that rich people should pay higher taxes are cases in point. I think Buffet is totally wrong. Somewhere along the line he has lost a respect for how difficult it is to become rich, how hard most rich people work and, especially, that the money they earn belongs to them. They should not apologize for it nor should they give it away. Buffet, who should know better, has somehow forgotten that “unused” money usually goes into a bank or investment vehicle. Doesn't he know that such investments return more money and do more good compared to money that buys food for consumption? When money is invested in creating companies, jobs, better products and better lives, the result is long-term benefits to people rather than a mere block of cheese.

Why should a person who knows how to invest money give that money to people who did not make it and who have no right to it, and more importantly, who don’t know how to improve peoples’ lives with it? The capitalist investor is the one who cares about people because he treats them with respect and expects them to make buying decisions with their self-interest in mind. That is true love for mankind because it starts with a love for the self and extends to a respect for the human mind. Sacrifice is not necessary to prove that you love mankind. To fall for the “Guilt-Trip” only means that you don’t realize you’ve been conned by people who trade in guilt. They give you guilt; you give them money.

But the most dastardly aspect of "Guilt-Tripping" is what it does to young people who are struggling to learn about morality. It is a travesty of justice to give a child "sacrifice" as a moral injunction. To call a young person selfish; to excoriate, vilify and insult him for seeking accomplishment and pride is the worst form of evil. For parents, peers and teachers to punish children for wanting to do well is akin to murder. These children, all children, should learn the value of self-respect and should be praised, not vilified, for doing well. In fact, those rich who have earned their wealth are the most moral people on the planet.

On the topic of the rich, I was recently involved in some Facebook bantering about Buffet’s statements and was making some pretty good arguments for letting rich people keep their money when someone I did not know made the following statement:

“You guys are funny, in the end [we’ll] ask what did you do for your fellow man, not how much did you get from your fellow man. Yeah funny as a heart attack.”

My response:

[Name], your post is an example of how to induce guilt in honest people. I'm not falling for it. Rich people have a right to their money and they do not NEED to give it to anyone. I don't care what you ask "in the end"...it makes no difference and I don't think successful people should feel guilty for making, earning and enjoying their wealth. They deserve every pleasure they can buy. Most rich people get rich not by "getting" from their fellow man but by offering products and services that improve their fellow man's lives. If their fellow men buy from them, then their fellow men "get" improved lives for their money. For those who want to take money from the rich and have not earned it, I say, "in the end" we'll ask whether you were self-sufficient or a parasite. If there is a Hell, the lowest rung should be reserved for people who think they have the moral authority to tell other people what they should do with their lives and property. Your guilt-inducing game is coming to an end. People are wising up to the scam. I dare you to go to your bank, draw out every penny and give it to the first person you meet. If you don't, you're a hypocrite.”

Interestingly, another person monitoring the thread responded with the following:

“Yes, and if he does not give all his money away voluntarily, he is a hypocrite. After all, it doesn't belong to him according to his philosophy. He stole it from them and quite readily admits it. If he stole it, he should give it back... all of it. He should practice what he preaches.”

I enjoyed this thread and I’ve decided that when every leftist in the world gives away every penny he owns, regardless of how much he got from his government job or government grant, I will then give away all my money. Until then, anyone who wants to be successful should practice his or her selfishness as selfishly as he or she can – proudly and without guilt.

Go ahead, say it.

*Senator Barack Obama

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Society in Conflict - Conclusion

The first step necessary for a proper society is the removal of force as a functioning principle. Force is the enemy of voluntary exchange and it distorts the personal and economic decisions of people by imposing sacrifice as the moral base. Sacrifice is immoral because it re-distributes value from one person who has honestly earned it to another who has not. This is a form of theft that violates the rights of the productive citizen and forces people to function against their self-interest.

How does man outlaw force in society?

First, he must define what it would mean to outlaw force. How does a country do it? What premises must it hold philosophically before it can begin to think about such an issue and move toward practical implementation?

Ayn Rand, again, provides the answer:

“Reason is the only means of communication among men, and an objectively perceivable reality is their only common frame of reference; when these are invalidated...in the field of morality, force becomes men’s only way of dealing with one another.”

The role of government as a protector of individual rights, means protecting citizens against the initiation of force and fraud against them. This protection leaves people free to use reason in order to affect their own survival. Individual rights relate to how man survives. Individual rights is a principle that acknowledges the human mind as the critical factor that must be accommodated in order to have a society without conflicts of interest.

No amount of “good intentions” can ever be more important than the practice of leaving men free to make their own decisions and practice their own moral precepts.

To accomplish this free society, an intellectual and philosophical movement must take place that recognizes the value of the individual mind in society. It involves “respect for human beings”.

Respect for human beings means recognizing that each human being, by his nature, has rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of his own moral code. He has a right to think for himself and to respect himself without the interjection of a ‘moral authority’. When people respect each other’s rights, they recognize that they can only use persuasion and reason when dealing with each other. They also recognize that the only way to make an honest living is by offering products and services to people that actually improve their lives. And they recognize that attempting to profit from dishonesty, deception and lies is not a way to survive.

In fact, one of the most common misconceptions about capitalism is that it allows the unscrupulous to get ahead. It is precisely the unscrupulous who lose when the right of people to make their own decisions is liberated. Simply put, you don’t expect me to do business again with someone who has cheated me in some way. The quickest way for a businessman to go out of business is for him to take the attitude that his customers are stupid and that he gets ahead by cheating them. That is not respect for human beings.

Respect for human beings is at the heart of Rand’s trader principle. Those who live by values, she says, not by loot, must use reason in order to provide values in trade with others. This is the principle that eliminates conflict in society. When disagreements arise, contracts must be reviewed and reasonable people must agree on the terms of the contract. When this does not work, a law court operating on rational principles is consulted. The process is free of violence, free of demands for sacrifice, free of vitriol and conflict. As long as the government does its job of fairly protecting the rights of individuals, society can be civil, relationships can be mutually beneficial and people can live safely, happily and creatively.

Today, under the leadership of President Obama, the collective principle wrongly holds that conflicts of interests rule society. Under this view, there is an evil capitalist behind every corner who must be taxed, regulated and forced to operate without a profit. The President's collective principles demand allegiance and loyalty to the principle of "shared sacrifice" and it asserts that sacrifice is demanded by morality. President Obama's collective principle insists that the productive, the rich, should be forced to sacrifice their earnings for the sake of unions, crony capitalists and leftist government departments and grant recipients that provide no value to American citizens. The enemy of the collective for the President and his cronies is the individual who must be fought, isolated and ostracized if he does not comply with collective demands.

The collectivist idea that capitalism creates a "dog-eat-dog" society is a myth. The truth is that even the low level of freedom that exists today has less conflict than virtually any society in history. More people work together, reason together and come up with better solutions to problems together than during any time in world history. In spite of oppressive government, capitalist systems are the most peaceful, most advanced and most improving societies on earth - and they are the last to start wars. This is because the idea of respecting people establishes a social environment that engenders peace and this brings about a constantly improving society (Remember, it was the communists who claimed that capitalism would die and collapse – it was communism that collapsed because it did not respect people. In retrospect, we can now see that it was not capitalism that was the most exploitive system ever. It was communism and the conflict it created in society.).

Ayn Rand advocated respecting human beings as a fundamental principle of human interaction and she declared that men, using reason and living in political freedom, can get along just fine. When reality proves her case millions of times every day, she is vilified and accused of being in favour of fascism and exploitation. It should make you wonder about the motives and the intellectual dishonesty of her critics. Certainly, the fact that progressives tend to advocate sundry rotting conflict-ridden systems that are exploitive and disrespectful of people should make you wonder why they call their coercive systems “social justice”.

In order to have a society without conflict, we should study the Constitution and learn how the system was intended to work. We should understand the purpose and role that individual rights played. We should understand that individual rights, when protected, were intended to liberate men to use their minds and keep the results of their labors. We should understand the purpose and role of a limited government restricted to protecting individual rights. We should understand the Bill of Rights and why the framers sought to separate religion and state.

And we should understand that the principles of the Founders have been hijacked by progressives who want to turn us into slaves to a coercive state. The best answer we can give the progressives is a Constitutional Amendment that creates a separation of economics and state, a prohibition that keeps the government from economic intervention into the private business relationships, decisions and actions of free citizens.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Society in Conflict Part 3

Rand qualifies her statement about conflicts of men’s interests:

“The symbol of all relationships among such men, the moral symbol of respect for human beings, is the trader. We, who live by values, not by loot, are traders, both in matter and in spirit. A trader is a man who earns what he gets and does not give or take the undeserved. A trader does not ask to be paid for his failures, nor does he ask to be loved for his flaws. A trader does not squander his body as fodder or his soul as alms. Just as he does not give his work except in trade for material values, so he does not give the values of his spirit—his love, his friendship, his esteem—except in payment and in trade for human virtues, in payment for his own selfish pleasure, which he receives from men he can respect. The mystic parasites who have, throughout the ages, reviled the traders and held them in contempt, while honoring the beggars and the looters, have known the secret motive of their sneers: a trader is the entity they dread—a man of justice.”

The trader principle can arise only in a society in which force is banned from the dealings of men. This means that there is no agent of force to intervene and impose collectivist or altruist considerations in society. When men must deal with reality (rather than government) in order to survive, the trader principle begins to function. But most importantly, the banning of force leaves people free to express their deepest values and to pursue them without fear of government intervention.

An unfortunately excellent example of the destruction of the trader principle occurred immediately after President Obama’s inauguration during the time of the restructuring of Chrysler Corporation. A group of investors in Chrysler had contractual agreements with the company that protected their investment if the company should go into bankruptcy. Essentially, they were to be the first to recover their assets. This provision in their contracts was intended to provide additional security for these investors in order to induce them to provide funds to the company. President Obama, on the other hand, decided to unilaterally violate this agreement by placing other parties at the head of the list and disenfranchising these investors. Not only was this an unprecedented violation of the trader principle and the sanctity of contract but it introduced altruism and sacrifice into the negotiations by insisting that Chrysler’s private investors sacrifice their investments in violation of their written agreements. President Obama even explicitly commented that he was not “with” these investors because they had not been willing to sacrifice in order to save Chrysler.

Obama’s goal, this early in his Presidency, was to establish the principle that shared sacrifice was actually a viable principle for guiding a massive economy like ours, and even more astoundingly, that self-interest was no longer to be its guiding principle. This move exposed a strikingly na├»ve approach to economics and to government. To institute the principle of sacrifice as a guiding principle for his Presidency, he signalled that American society would no longer be based upon self-interest but instead upon the idea of altruism. The President ignores the entire histories of socialism, communism and fascism (societies based upon collectivism and sacrifice) that created nothing but decline and destruction. He even ignores the history of capitalism that has created more affluence, wealth and prosperity than any collectivist system in the history of the world. Yet this President is considered to be a scholar and student of history.

Contract law in the USA is not about sacrifice and only a pragmatist like the President would even consider introducing it into a situation where it is not relevant. Investors expect their legal contracts to be honored. President Obama’s decision to disenfranchise Chrysler investors means that a politician, at any time and for any reason may decide to play politics at the expense of their plans for the future. How can an investor or anyone who signs a contract expect that his contract will be honored today? What does this do to the trader principle and how can an economy operate when there are no rules except the arbitrary rules of President Obama? This principle not only threatens investment in this country but it weakens the economy and the kind of long-term planning necessary for major investments in the future.

A government official should be the first suspect when identifying the true criminals in society. Next is a common criminal. Both would interject force into human relationships and this makes mutual trade to mutual benefit impossible (the trader principle). Such force destroys the principle of “respect of human beings” that Rand mentions.

A proper society respects human beings by not interfering in their private dealings. To understand this more fully, we will analyze moral implications of government intervention such as government regulations, re-distribution of income (taxation), inflation of the currency and government financed businesses to name a few.

Government Regulation

A government regulation, in essence, tells two citizens that they must transact business together according to rules that accomplish government goals. Usually these rules are justified by a false critique that one of the parties holds an unfair advantage in the transaction. The regulation is intended to force the regulated party to act in a way the government deems fair according to a collective standard. Such coercion represents the introduction of altruism into business transactions where one of the parties is being forced to sacrifice for the sake of the other party.

The government insists that both parties deal with one another on terms the government decides rather than those the parties would decide on their own. A government regulation makes it a crime to do business on terms agreeable to both parties. The government effectively invents a conflict of interest and then uses force to impact the profits of both parties and turns those profits into a loss for one party and a boondoggle for the other.

The practical effect of a government regulation is to change the terms of any transaction and create winners and losers. When the government invents exploiters and exploited, it uses force to cause losses to the “so called” exploiters and rakes off a big part of the loot to pay for government busy bodies that produce no tangible products or services.

Government regulations may or may not be the rules under which individual businessmen would operate in normal circumstances. If men are free to transact business without government interference, the two parties to any transaction would come to mutually beneficial terms or go elsewhere. There would be no conflict of interest since each wants something that the other party is providing. Government regulations adversely affect costs and sometimes the quality and availability of goods. The result: every party becomes aggrieved. Conflict is created all around, jobs are lost and the economy declines.

Re-distribution

Re-distribution of income (taxation used to pay for government welfare programs) involves the forcible taking of money from one citizen and giving it to another. The government force exerted in re-distribution is engaged through the taxing structure of the nation and creates several conflicts.

Re-distribution creates a reaction among both producers and beneficiaries. Regarding the producers, some of them decide to produce less in protest of high taxes. They see that they are working harder and receiving less of their own money due to higher taxes. So they slow their effort. Other producers who decide to work harder eventually tire and produce less over time. They lose motivation and start hating their jobs because they are not benefiting from their own work. They become too fatigued to affect their own success. In addition, because they pay more taxes, the money they would have invested in the economy is instead spent on consumption by beneficiaries. This makes the producer less wealthy and reduces the amount of money available to invest in the economy. The government, not wanting to reduce benefits, will print more money which inflates the currency and reduces the value of money.

The government beneficiary likes the idea of being "entitled" to his benefits. He demands more from the government or else he will vote for another politician in the next election. Further, the beneficiary realizes that the less he produces, the more he can justify higher benefits. Then when he sees that his newly inflated dollars are buying less, he demands a “cost of living” adjustment so he does not “lose” his benefits.

Yet, we often ignore the altruism at work in the relationship between producer, government and beneficiary. The government tells the beneficiary that he is poor because of capitalist greed and that the successful should "give back" what they have stolen from the poor. This serves to somewhat ameliorate any negative moral feeling for the parasites. Yet, whenever one group considers it the height of morality to be productive and another group considers that they deserve the money created by the productive, the result is conflict and negative feelings on both sides. That this whole process is a corrupt lowering of moral standards (a destruction of morality) is hardly noticed in the futile effort to make sacrifice and theft into a moral activity.

What are the practical results when the government is allowed to forcibly divest citizens of their hard earned money? Debt increases, prices rise, interest rates go up, the cost of doing business goes up and both jobs and profits are lost. With increasing debt, the government finds another way to raise taxes; it prints more money and thereby steals value from the money in circulation. They call inflation "stimulus" but there is nothing stimulated when the printing press merely re-distributes money from those who hold it to those that the government favors. Once the printing press starts, there is no stopping the decline in the economy.

The government refuses to recognize its role in harming the economy through a number of rights-violating interventions such as regulations, re-distribution and debasing the currency. To compensate for the economic consequences of it policies, it re-distributes money to struggling industries that it deems “vital to the public interest”. These actions are always blamed on the failure of capitalism without mention of the direct role of government intervention.

Whenever force creates a problem in society(and it can only create problems), the solution given by the government is always more force against productive citizens. The arguments of altruism and collectivism will continue to be used to hide what is really happening; the looting of the American producer. The trader principle is destroyed and men descend to the level of lying and cheating each other. Running society becomes of matter of manipulating these corrupted factors and re-distributing as much money as possible. Values, standards, justice and truth are all subject to political considerations and the best liars rise to the top. The best producers fade away. Eventually, the productive citizen will give up (as happened in Soviet Russia in the early ‘80s) and the society will collapse.

In a system where the government creates massive conflicts of interest, who are the agents of force? Regulations and re-distribution programs are passed by Congress and administered by the Executive Branch. Money inflation, another form of re-distribution, is authorized by the Federal Reserve and administered by a cabal of crony capitalists with an interest in getting more money from the government. The Executive Branch (the President) uses Executive Orders, which are a violation of the Constitution, to circumvent the other branches and move the country closer to a dictatorship. For whom do these people work? They work for you, the voter. Which voters are responsible for this travesty of the laws? Productive citizens who create the multi-trillion dollar pie that these politicians re-distribute. What should these productive people do? They should realize that a coercive society is immoral. They should understand the roles that collectivism and altruism have played in justifying coercion. They should join the Tea Party and protest this corrupt scheme.

Another name for a coercive society is "statism". Statism is the idea that the state has ultimate control of the people and that the people belong to and work for the state. If you want to fight for freedom, you must fight against the coercion of the state that has infiltrated our once free society. You must fight government force and the conflicts it creates in society. Government force is justified by means of collectivism and altruism. You must fight the philosophical premises that give rise to these political and moral concepts. You must understand individual rights and how to fight for them.

If you want to eliminate conflicts in society you should establish the trader principle by getting the government out of the business of economic intervention.

To be continued.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Society in Conflict Part 2

There are essentially two types of organized society with the key issue for each type being the question of how force is used by government. These types are coercive government (based on collectivism) and a free republic (based on individual rights). You can look at societies throughout history and see that most of them were based on the coercive principle. Even today, the modern examples of coercive governments are considered to be the fount of all good societies. Yet, coercive governments are based upon the view that man is a subject of the decisions of the state and that he is beholden to sacrifice for the group under threat of force. This false view must be changed if mankind is to have a future worth living.

The fundamental question to ask when seeking to understand any society is “How does it view the individual, his nature and his value?” The coercive view of society sees the individual as morally incapable of doing the right thing. It is made up of leaders who presume to know what the right thing is and who see themselves as moral authorities responsible for ensuring that it is done. This view assumes the position that men belong to the state, that they are not sovereign individuals capable of thinking for themselves and that they must be forced to do what is right. You might call it the “men are cattle” view of man’s nature.

A positive view of man's nature (a proper theory of man's value) is based upon two basic principles that Ayn Rand taught in her writings: 1) that man survives by means of reason and, 2) that there are no conflicts of interest among rational men. These principles mean that men are capable of deciding moral action and that their thinking determines how they will survive. It also assumes that men are not cattle but sovereign thinking beings who have a right to pursue property and happiness and keep the results of their work.

This view creates the idea that men should recognize each other’s individual rights. A right refers to the recognition of certain facts about man and how he survives in nature. In other words, in nature, man would survive by making tools to improve his efficiency and production. He would use reason. And, because man would not be able to survive without the exercise of reason, in nature or in society, this process must be respected by other men through a government that protects man’s free exercise of his mind. This society would respect his “natural” rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of property and happiness.

When a society operates on the principle of individual rights, you learn that there are no conflicts of interest among rational men. A proper society recognizes that in any conflict, there must be a wrong and a right and that reality, facts, truth and reason can be applied so that men can live peacefully. Rational men do not need the interference of government. They can cooperate among themselves and agree upon mutually beneficial transactions. Only when misunderstandings arise does the specter of irrationality come forward; in which case a competent third party, a judge, should be delegated to resolve the conflict.

I first became aware of this principle at the age of 18 when I read a book called Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. Here’s the quote from the novel:

"Just as I support my life, neither by robbery nor alms, but by my own effort, so I do not seek to derive my happiness from the injury or the favor of others, but earn it by my own achievement. Just as I do not consider the pleasure of others as the goal of my life, so I do not consider my pleasure as the goal of the lives of others. Just as there are no contradictions in my values and no conflicts among my desires—so there are no victims and no conflicts of interest among rational men, men who do not desire the unearned and do not view one another with a cannibal's lust, men who neither make sacrifices nor accept them.”

Everything I had been taught before my 18th year told me that this idea could not possibly be correct. As a Catholic, I had been taught that selfishness is evil and that men can’t help themselves in doing wrong because of Original Sin – and yet he had free will. The contradiction was not supposed to bother me – yet it did.

In my reading about economics, Marx had averred that capitalism was evil because capitalists were driven by self-interest and that the most unscrupulous of businessmen would always work to take advantage of workers and consumers. Then after reading Ayn Rand’s statement in Atlas Shrugged, my view of morality was shaken. I wondered, how could rational men avoid conflict and what was a rational man?

As my life went forward, I began to ask more questions and I learned that Rand’s rational man was not someone who did what religious leaders and parents told him to do - unless they could make a valid case - he thought it through himself and decided what was right for him. He also did not act whimsically or without deliberate thought. She was offering a view of man entirely different from what I had known. A rational man knew that the good related to the method he used for selecting values. Rand held that values should be based upon the standard of man’s life and that the sacrifice of his values did not meet that standard. I began to see that reason was something real and achievable – but I realized that living up to this view was difficult, especially for a person influenced by prevailing ideas. Later, I learned that in some important respects using reason made life easier because it helped me shed a lot of incorrect ideas that I had accepted up to that point.

Eventually, as I integrated more knowledge, I began to understand what Ayn Rand meant. I realized that, in my youth, I had understood the principle “conflicts of interest” only as it related to one-on-one relationships and had accepted the false Marxist view that all human interchange involved theft and exploitation.

Eventually, I saw that individual business transactions, multiplied thousands of times each day were impacted by the need of businesspeople to “be right”, that in each transaction both parties had obtained something that served their interests. There are no conflicts of interest among rational men. Human interaction is not a “zero-sum” proposition.

The dynamic nature of this principle, operating in a vast economic context, resulted in an always improving economy, not only for individual businesspeople but for consumers who benefitted from constantly improving products, constantly lowering prices and new conveniences made possible by more advanced new product solutions. All of these were outgrowths of free human interactions and, more importantly, of the principle that there are no conflicts of interests among rational men.

You’ll notice that a key application of this principle for Ayn Rand, when it comes to a proper society, is that men should “neither make sacrifices nor accept them.” If one wants to understand what this means in practice one would have to see that man survives by means of his mind, that the quality (or logical accuracy) of his thinking determines how well he survives and that no one can properly make any decision for a man except himself. The individual is the source of his own values and of his own methods for achieving those values – and it is his responsibility to be right if he wants to achieve happiness. No one can properly presume that he has the authority to decide for another individual what is moral – neither religious leaders, politicians nor Presidents of the United States.

According to Ayn Rand, the moral imperative to sacrifice is the wedge into human relations that destroys cooperation and goodwill. Ask any businessperson to sell his or her products at a loss because he “owes” it to society and you’ll learn that a business cannot survive for long on those terms.

Conflict occurs when one person in a transaction or relationship expects the other to do something that the other party would not otherwise do. For instance, in a marriage, if one party expects the other to do something that violates the integrity of the marriage, then this demand puts the two partners at odds. To resolve this conflict, they might go to marriage counselling or simply review the marriage agreement. If the parties cannot resolve the conflict, the rational thing would be for them to part. The same would go in a business contract where one party agreed to provide a given number of product units in return for an agreed-upon price. If one party to the agreement violates the agreement, then the other party will lose money. A judge in a court of law would be needed to review the contract and then decide which party needs to “make the other party whole” and fulfill the original agreement.

However, what happens most often in these cases is that both parties consistently fulfill their end of the bargain and continue doing business. This is because a free society operates without the need for intervention by any third party. The vast majority of business agreements are conducted through purchase agreements, warranties, sales receipts and even verbal agreements because most people understand the terms of the transaction and fulfill their agreements. The only time it becomes necessary for one party to sue another is when one of them has wrongly assessed what is in his or her self-interest. There is a price to pay in any broken agreement; usually the price comes in terms of broken trust and the refusal to do business again.

Rand’s principle that there are no conflicts of interests among rational men does not mean that men will never disagree. Rather, it means that all men are capable of understanding reality. So if two men look at reality and correctly ascertain the facts, there will be no conflict of interest between them. The principle, then, is based upon a view of the nature of reality. It holds that there is only one reality and both men acknowledge that reality when they engage in a voluntary transaction. Each has decided what is in his best interest and agree to pursue it or not. This is the only proper form of cooperation among men. Anything else would involve a sacrifice of one man for the sake of the other.

What does it mean to say that coercive governments create conflicts? When the government dictates that a person should do something other than what he thinks is proper, it must initiate force against the individual or use the threat of force. And, it uses a “collective good” as the justification for its "need" to force the individual. So the sign of corruption in society, the act that causes conflict, is for the government to demand that a person give up his production for the sake of others.

A coercive society is based upon conflict created by the “stronger” to control the weaker or disarmed. In such a society, there is nothing that restricts the stronger from doing anything it wants to others. A leader with the power to create conflict by means of initiating overt force against others is adept at using force but cannot survive by productive means. He needs others because of his own inner isolation. In a twisted sense, he begins to feel that in order for society to “function” properly, force must be the means of control. He believes that sacrifice is the only "practical" way to get things done.

Power lust is the motivation of every “leader” who uses the threat of force to motivate people. This leader sees himself as deserving of any value he coerces people into giving him and he enjoys watching people as they cower in fear before him. He enjoys toying with them, manipulating them and watching their utter fear as he sits above them on his seat of power.

As the powerluster develops his skills of manipulation, he learns that the best way to rule the group is by obtaining the tribe’s willing agreement without using the threat of overt force. Toward this goal he seeks to create a more docile and obedient tribesman who will obey. He learns to drive home relentlessly the ideas that “duty toward the collective” and “sacrifice” are moral ideals”.

He notices that others in society have developed the ability to control men by means of religion and he realizes that religion has a moral component which prescribes what people should do. He enlists the “witch doctor” as his aid in “running society”. He adds altruism and sacrifice to his arguments for collectivism and pretends to be a devout believer even to the point of making sure that everyone sees him practicing religious rites.

Another form of corruption that is often missed in the argument for altruism is that, by doing altruistic deeds, the individual has given up his key faculty for deciding correct action. Not only is his individual judgment compromised through altruistic deeds but so is the quality and accuracy of any decision he might otherwise make. His energy, his integrity, his property and his motivation are all compromised to avoid a conflict with the demands of others. He must also lie to himself that he is doing the right thing while he directly suffers from his loss. The most devastating loss is that he has turned his life into a mere pebble upon a path which the leader walks. He is a willing slave.

A rational person would know that he needs his rational faculty in order to survive, and even to enjoy life. Any suggestion that he should sacrifice it would mean his destruction either slowly or immediately. Further, he knows that only rational people, when they cooperate and trade, are able to improve their own lives. This is one reason, I think, why Ayn Rand saw altruism as evil. No “self-respecting” person who is aware of this issue and the harm it does would consent to having his independence and self-sufficiency compromised in such a way. He would rebel most vociferously at the suggestion that sacrifice is somehow practical.

Coercive society creates a vast number of conflicts. The leader is in conflict with anyone who would challenge him. He deals with it by means of killing and imprisonment. The leader is also in conflict with each citizen who would do other than what he demands. He deals with it by means of killing and imprisonment. The citizens are not only in conflict with the leader but with other citizens who receive their labor and property. They are also in conflict with other groups within and without society who must be scapegoated in order create sacrificial wars and expand the leader's territory. The citizen is required to work according to government decrees without the right to make his own decisions and this puts him in conflict with reality. This is why you see more random violence in a socialist society, more crime and more poverty. Conflicts of interest are created when force is an element in the lives of all citizens. Not only does it create stress and uncertainty about survival, but it creates fear of other people; and this often creates a desire to lash out.

The real scandal of coercive societies is revealed when we see the killing fields of hundreds, thousands and even millions of dead whose lives were ended by the command of coercive leaders such as Mao, Hitler, Stalin and Castro to name a few. Apologists tell us that these murders had nothing to do with socialism (coercive government) but were in spite of it. This is not true. It was no coincidence that millions have died at the hands of socialists and fascists. The murders are endemic to the coercive system of government. Any government that assumes people to be property is a slave society. Such societies consider individuals expendable and any citizen who wants to live freely becomes a victim of that society. Murder is the end result of these societies because coercion never gets nicer; it always gets more coercive and murder is the harshest form of coercion. This principle applies, especially to our society today which endures countless demands for sacrifice by our President, politicians and religious leaders. The President, especially, does everything he can to infuse into every new law, every regulation, every policy and every Executive Order, the demand that someone must sacrifice in order for his policies to work. The opposite is true. Altruism is impractical. It does not work and the killing fields come closer to us the longer altruism and sacrifice are the guiding principles of our society.

To the extent that individual rights are violated in a society, that is the extent to which conflicts arise between individuals and government. A society in which government picks the winners and losers by means of arbitrary force is a society in decline morally and economically. It is a corrupt society.

To be continued in Part 3

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Society in Conflict Part 1

Imagine that you are a space traveler who has landed on a planet where the people are constantly in conflict. As you observe the society, you notice that all male children are raised to be warriors. Fathers teach their sons to have a warrior mentality and to always be suspicious of outsiders.

Society is based upon a pecking order. The strongest member of the tribe must win his dominance by beating any challengers in a fight to the death. Every tribesman is subject to the dictates of the strongest man and they are considered to be his property. The leader dictates the rules and others must do as they are told or be killed.

The more you look around this planet, the more you learn that there is much resentment in society over the demands of the powerful leader. And you notice that these resentments are the very reasons the people are starving AND why they can’t seem to agree about anything. They starve because everyone thinks he should be the tribal leader; but no one has the power to physically overcome the leader or do as he would prefer.

You also notice that the societies on this planet are tribal collectives. For centuries, these men have been told that man could survive only by collective joining and cooperation; otherwise, it is thought, he would die by nature’s wrath. These people believe that man can't survive through his own resources but must rely on collective efforts and total sacrifice to the group.

Needless to say, primitive societies like these have existed on our planet for centuries. They are societies that have not learned how to handle conflict because they value it as a survival tactic. For these societies, life is about dog-eat-dog, about the survival of the fittest who must force all others to obey or die.

In fact, the collective approach to human organization has always countenanced sacrifice as the most practical means of ensuring social success. Even on our planet, many people advocate collectivism as the best way to ensure "justice" and equality of result for all men. Collectivism is supposed to lead to utopia and peace and happiness and eternal salvation...if only men would sacrifice totally to the collective...and do so with energy and hard work and love for mankind.

Yet, we must understand the difference between free cooperation among individuals and the ideology of social collectivism. The former creates peace, the later creates conflict.

Cooperation among individuals is voluntary. Those who agree to join a group effort do so with full freedom to leave the effort at any time. Voluntary cooperation is usually also joined by selected individuals who bring particular skills or knowledge to the group. It is not a group made up of just anyone. And it is the specific skills of the individuals chosen to work in the group that are the keys to the success of the group.

In a voluntary association, there is no demand that the individual must participate or that he is doing something evil by not participating. There is no specter of total social failure looming on the horizon if someone decides not to participate. In fact, cooperation can work only in voluntary associations where each individual has agreed to contribute something specific in order to accomplish an agreed-upon result. Once that result is reached there is no need for the group to continue to function. Yet, the power and success of such cooperation is made possible only because each individual is committed to the outcome for a personal reason. There is no implication that the individual must accept the leadership, must do as told or that he cannot leave the group.

Social collectivism, on the other hand, is based upon an ideology that views collective action as necessary for human survival. Collectivism offers a system of organization in which the leaders have ultimate decision-making powers while individuals must do as instructed. An aspect of collectivist ideology is that the individual is “drafted” into the collective without choice. He is either born into the collective and cannot leave or he is bound by circumstances of territorial origin, ethnic origin, even language or dress. To solidify this membership, the individual member is told that sacrifice to the collective is the highest moral attainment. To dissent, or to express individualistic tendencies, is considered worthy of ridicule and punishment.

There are many forms of social collectivism including fascism, communism, monarchy, socialism, welfare-statism and democracy. Collectivist groups of this type can be small, consisting of a mere few individuals or as large as nations spreading across vast stretches of land. Each form of collective, however, contains an ideology of collective survival, altruism/sacrifice as a moral imperative and hatred of self-interest.

A collectivist society sabotages the free mind. First of all, people with the ability to threaten the life of the individual often decide for him what he should do. These decisions, based upon a collective standard, may not be proper for the individual in his particular context. So when an individual is forced to do something that he would not otherwise do, the negative consequences of this action redound only upon him...he suffers, others do not. This is why collectivism does not work; it always harms the individual by insisting that he do as told.

In a free society, man thrives when he is allowed to use his mind to affect his survival. A free person can certainly make mistakes but he has the freedom to learn from his mistakes and change his behaviour. The knowledge he develops from his successes and failures makes it possible for him to improve his life over time. And because he is able to keep the results of his thought and work, there is nothing holding him back and stealing his production. The only thing that harms a free man in a free society is poor thinking and poor planning.

With social collectivism, serious harm afflicts the individual when he is forced to work for the “state” without payment; or as is more often the case, when he is forced to give up some of the product of his work to the state. Since the decisions of the leaders are often wrong, and since a collective standard benefits some but takes from others, conflict necessarily results. The person forced to give up his product or energy is essentially a slave who is conscripted against his will and this creates the negative consequences that are known to proceed from slavery. No slave will work with vigour and excellence to benefit the slave master. The result is always less production from the slave, “cheating”, poor motivation and wasted energy.

Throughout modern history, collectivists have claimed to be imposing “justice” on people who “sabotaged” their revolutions by not enthusiastically sacrificing. Former capitalists, political dissenters, underground revolutionaries or even people who laugh or smirk at a government official receive the "justice" of the firing squad, the prison or the concentration camp.

Yet, propagandists for collectivism keep promising that all those dead bodies from Soviet Russia, Communist China, Communist Cuba and many other failed experiments, don’t really mean that there is something wrong with collectivism; on the contrary, “this time” they are going to make it work because they will do it right. What so many people ignore about this argument is that it was also made by the leaders of the Soviet and Chinese experiments too. They promised to “do it right”, and the result was millions of dead killed to rid the world of capitalist thinking.

Today, collectivists justify their actions behind a presumed collective “social contract”. According to this view, when we join society, we make an informal pact with other members of society to be loyal to the group in which we are born. Collectivists tell us that part of being civilized includes agreeing to allow the government to re-distribute a portion of our incomes for the benefit of others, as a sort of insurance policy or “social safety net” to be used only when necessary.

Many collectivists ignore the history of ancient Greece where democracy implied a social contract that had devastating effect in the Greek city-states. These governments required that the individual do whatever the majority decided. The result was the hatred that many people still feel about a system that determines life or death according to a mere vote of the majority. Democracy is collectivism run wild; a system where conflict rules and the majority exploits and destroys the minority.

The idea that the individual should accommodate the “will of society” is nothing more than a justification for legalized theft and murder.

One notable characteristic of those who run collectivist governments is the elitism they exhibit when they discuss how to “run” a society. These “planners” think they have the ability to pull the right levers (regulations) and otherwise dictate to citizens what they should do. They obtain college degrees in business law or economics and pretend that they have the knowledge and skills that enable them to control whole swaths of American economic life. The difficulty is that these manipulations affect the lives of real people and they always accomplish the opposite of their intent, decide winners and losers and violate the rights of citizens to freely transact business with their own property. Interventionist economics (Keynesianism) is nothing more than modernized collectivism with the same deadly consequences as tribal collectivism.

For government elites, there can never be enough sacrificing and most of the sacrificed goods or money is spent on feeding or pampering people who do not deserve it. The re-distributed goods are destroyed by mere consumption which means that profits are destroyed and there is often no money left to invest in making new goods to sell. This is the declining society brought about by collectivism. We are seeing this decline happening today.

Many of these elites, after they see the killing fields they have created, wind up bitter that men were not “good enough” to fulfill their vision of a great society – this squalor is not what they had in mind, they scream, and it is not their fault. Their litany of "blame" has no end...because they know, deep down, that they are responsible. Their morning mirror is their hated enemy.

But the real moral failure of a collectivist society is not the "travesties" done by people who are unwilling to sacrifice. The real wrong of collectivism is the immorality of the "elites" who think they have the right to "legally" force people against their wills. By supporting the arguments for sacrifice and justifying theft, these men commit the grossest acts starting with the stealing of money through taxation and ending with wholesale slavery (and sometimes murder).

There is no moral justification for taking from any man what he has earned with his own work. The protestations of people who “have no problem” with it should be roundly met with boos, resistance and defeat in the ballot box.

The lie of the social contract and the call to sacrifice (as expressed by President Obama and progressives) is the belief that proper government is about controlling man, forcing him to do right and ensuring that he does not violate the demands of "duty" or "social justice" – as deemed proper by the elites. To exhort men to sacrifice just a little more when that sacrifice means they must give up their lives and energies is a travesty of true justice.

They ignore the fact that the conflicts they create between productive citizens and society are the very conflicts that, next time, will mean imprisoning and enslaving those people who do not go along, who cheat or who, according to them, make “too much” money. Such is the lynch mob that develops when men embed conflict into their societies.

There is only one type of society that does not create conflict; a republic with constitutionally limited government whose sole purpose is the protection of individual rights. This system enables the citizenry to live without fear of theft or exploitation by government. If a republic is instituted without contradictions, a peaceful, safe society can be created. This is a society where men are left free to make their own decisions and to keep the results of their labor.

To be continued in Part 2.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Dear Mr. President

When asked by Neil Cavuto on his daily Fox News television show (8/12/2011) what he would tell the President if he had an opportunity, Mr. T. J. Rodgers, CEO of Cypress Semiconductors said the following:

“The government has to get smaller. We have to take a smaller fraction of the money [that is in] unproductive government investments where they are investing in green energy which is a long shot investment, which has a low return on investment. We have to put that money back with companies and people. Let me take myself. I’m one of those wealthy people [from whom] they say you should take more money. Well, ok, I have a lot of unused money. 95% of my money is unused. I have it invested. The question is: Is the country going to get better off if the government, for example, takes a million dollars from me in the form of taxes. My money is invested in companies in Silicon Valley, battery companies that are going to make the next generation of batteries in the world, semi-conductor companies, electronic companies that I know personally in Silicon Valley. So when the government taxes me, it takes a million dollars of my money which is invested and it goes to Washington and I’ll just ask a rhetorical question: Is that money going to be better invested in Washington? And therefore, if we raise taxes on the wealthy which is one of the suggestions, we will simply be moving money from productive investments from the wealthy who know how to make investments to unproductive investments and pork barrel projects and overall the country will be less competitive.”

-T.J. Rodgers Cypress Semiconductor CEO – on Neil Cavuto Show 8/12/11