Open Letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty re: "Africentric Alternative Schools"

January 25, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Dear Premier McGuinty:

Re: Toronto District School Board Vote on “Improving Success for Black Students”

As you know, a report (01-08-1217) was recently issued by the Toronto District School Board in anticipation of a Special Meeting that said Board will hold on January 29, 2008. It is expected that the Board will then vote on whether to accept the recommendations in the report. Among the recommendations is that the TDSB open an “Africentric Alternative School” encompassing grades Kindergarten through 12.

The report recommends, in part:

That a three-year pilot program be established in three existing schools beginning in September 2008, to implement a model for integrating the histories, cultures, experiences and contributions of people of African descent and other racialized groups into the curriculum, teaching methodologies, and social environment of the schools.

and that:

…the Director report to the Board in April 2008 on an action plan…based on proposals received from community stakeholders…

Attached as Appendix “A” to the Recommendation is a list of proposals that were received from community stakeholders at two meetings held in December 2007. They include:

  • “Establish a committee of Black educators, parents, students, members of the community and the clergy to work with the Board to organize, implement, and administer Black-focused schools”;
  • “Require equity targets for the School Improvement Plan”;
  • “Teach all students about how race, class and gender impact their lives, and provide curriculum resources and teacher training to support this teaching”;
  • “Invest substantially in literature, film, documents, and aids that depict legitimately the experiences of people with whom the diverse community of students can identify”;
  • “Teach historic facts about wealth creation, entrepreneurship, science and academia of people of African descent in order to change current societal emphasis on Black role models in sports and entertainment”

In a nutshell, the community proposals include the idea that there should be schools advised and operated by “Blacks”; having “Africentric” curriculum, adornments, content and teaching methods; and giving students hope for success by demonstrating the success of some other “Black” people.

Some have criticized the recommendation on the ground that it constitutes or would promote segregation on the basis of “race”. I do not agree with the concept that humanity is divided into distinct “races”. However, I agree that the proposed schools would both constitute and promote segregation on the basis of genetic make-up, and I stand with those who condemn the proposals to segregate students on the basis of genetic make-up. The fact that no person would be barred from attending on the basis of “race”, and that no person would be required to attend, does not alter the fact that the proposals undoubtedly will lead to the creation of schools attended almost exclusively by people who consider themselves (or who are considered by their parents) to be “Black”. In other words, even if segregation is not the purpose of the recommendation, it most certainly would be an inevitable effect of the recommendation, were it adopted and implemented.

However, segregation, per se, is not the only problem with the recommendation. The most fundamental problem inherent in the recommendation is that it purports to aim at improving levels of success among “Blacks” by distinctly racist, irrational, anti-intellectual means.

The idea of some educators is that by providing examples of successful Black individuals in history, false beliefs that Blacks cannot accomplish such successes will be eliminated. However, such a methodology actually deepens racism by accepting, rather than rejecting, the notion that the success of an individual is tied to his phenotypical traits: hair colour, skin colour, eye colour, sex, etc.. When a teacher tells a student “You can do this, because another person having the same skin colour was able to do it”, he is implicitly telling the student that “However, you cannot do that other thing, because no other person having the same skin colour has ever done it”.

It gets worse than that, in fact. When a teacher tries to build self-esteem by saying “People of our ‘race’ have a history of being great and moral, why, just look at the great and good and successful Mr. Bloggs” the teacher is teaching the student that the student should evaluate his own character, ability, morals etc. with reference to the successes, greatness, or righteousness of another individual. The horrible, frightening, and disgusting implication of such teaching is that it also teaches children to evaluate their own character, ability, morals etc. with reference to the failures or evil of another individual.

If we are to eliminate racism, we must teach children not that their “race” has a history of success, but that – in a just world – a person’s race has nothing whatsoever to do with anyone’s success. One simply cannot teach children that genetic make-up is irrelevant by setting up a school that “focuses” on genetic make-up.

Children need to be taught what they should value in themselves and in others: a knowledge of scientifically-discovered facts of nature; the indispensable necessity of strictly logical thought for the purpose of obtaining knowledge; the virtues of honesty, productiveness, integrity, justice, independence, pride and rationality in general; a society in which all relations with others must be consensual. These things are indispensable for the success of each child, regardless of his or her genetic make-up. It is these things that should be the focus of a child’s education if he is to succeed. However, just as role models actually entrench racist thinking, and unwarranted estimations of ones own ability or tendencies, a focus on “heritage” in education flies in the face of learning how to think as one must if one is to succeed in life.

The history of technology or political events – as just examples – around the world are histories that belong to all of humanity. When evaluating a technological development’s usefulness or uselessness, goodness or harmfulness, greatness or smallness, the genetic make-up (or country of origin) of the inventor is utterly irrelevant. Having a school that “focuses” on great African achievements – for the purpose of showing that Africans can or have made great inventions – tells students that the genetic make-up of an inventor (or his country of origin) is somehow relevant to whether the technology in question is an important one in human history.

Similarly, the history of the development of political theory is important to all students, regardless of their genetic make-up. Great advances in peace and freedom are great not because those who discovered them were Greek, or Roman, or African, or European, but because they are great advances.

Stated most generally: all children must learn how to evaluate things rationally. They must be taught to admire the good, and to condemn the evil or bad; to honestly judge and identify what is more valuable, and to distinguish it from what is less valuable according to a rational standard. Their success and their happiness depend on that skill. If students are taught that something is valuable simply because it is old, or traditional, or “part of our culture”, or “part of our heritage”, or “created by people of our race”, we have done a great disservice to them: we have taught them that the value of things is intrinsic, and has nothing to do with their own rational evaluation of them. If students are taught that “anything you desire is something that is a value”, we have, similarly, done them a disservice: students must learn that the value of something must be judged by the standard of what a human being needs to live and to be happy; they must learn that although one may desire the thrill of jumping out of a plane without a parachute, doing so is not virtuous because it will lead to ones own death rather than to sustained joy.

Premier, the scope of our school board’s authority is wholly determined by provincial law. You have made it clear, from the outset of your first term in office, that you want to be remembered as the “Education Premier”. To that end, Premier, I would beg you not to allow your legacy to be the Premier who washed his hands and took a nap while those under his power planted and nurtured the seeds of racism, career failure, and educational segregation.

I am asking you, in particular, to introduce legislation that will remove from all publicly funded educational organizations the authority to set up schools that – as I have described above – foster racism, career failure, and educational segregation. And, at the same time, I am asking that you take steps to cause our tax-funded schools to do a better job of explaining the utter irrelevance of race, and the irreplaceable roles of reality and reason in the pursuit of success.

Paul McKeever

Leader, Freedom Party of Ontario

c.c. TDSB, K. Wynne, Ontario PC Party

Re Mark Steyn – Speech vs. Human Rights: Losing the Argument by Shooting the Messengers

January 24, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

I oppose laws, like Canada’s human rights hate speech provisions, that interfere with a person’s freedom to express his opinion. However, I think it is a grave and unwarranted mistake to conclude that those who are hired to judge cases are dishonest in their assessment of evidence or in their application of such laws. Yet that is exactly the implication of Mark Steyn’s recent article in Mclean’s magazine:

In the three decades of the Canadian “Human Rights” Tribunal’s existence, not a single “defendant” has been “acquitted.” Would you bet on Maclean’s bucking this spectacular 100 per cent conviction rate?

The “100 per cent conviction rate” statistic has wound into a tizzy the well-intentioned folks who are upset at human rights commissions in Canada that have been processing complaints concerning the publication of Danish cartoons, or concerning remarks that allegedly “offend” some muslims (Mclean’s is in the midst of a complaint concerning material written by Mark Steyn). It was meant to wind them into a tizzy. The statistic does so effectively because it gives the immediate impression that human rights tribunals themselves (i.e., the judges who hear human rights cases) are biased (e.g., that the tribunals will not evaluate the evidence honestly).

Such is not a conclusion that can rationally be drawn from the rate of “conviction”. Here’s why.

Consider the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s 2006 Annual Report:

How cases were resolved in 2006

There were 1,074 final decisions rendered by the Commission in 2006. Of these:

* 384 or 36% were decisions not to deal with a complaint pursuant to section 40/41 of the Act. In 284 of those cases, complainants were asked to first pursue other redress mechanisms. The remaining 100 cases were out of time, out of jurisdiction, or considered trivial, frivolous or vexatious.

* In the remaining 690 cases, the Commission dealt with the complaints on their merits and ultimately made a decision either to dismiss the complaint, approve a settlement or refer the matter to Tribunal.

* The 297 dismissed cases represented 43% of all cases dealt with by the Commission in 2006. Typically, these are cases that have been submitted to the Commission for decision following an investigation. Cases can be dismissed for a number of reasons, such as lack of sufficient evidence or merit, or because the respondent has taken appropriate action to remedy the situation. This could also include a small number of cases where the complainants withdrew or abandoned their complaints. This percentage represents a fairly steady trend over the past four years.

* A total of 278 cases were settled. This represents 40% of all cases dealt with in 2006. Most of these settlements were arrived at with the assistance of a Commission mediator or conciliator. In a small number of cases, the parties settled the matter on their own.

* A total of 115 cases were referred to the Tribunal in 2006, a number similar to the previous two years.

In other words, only 9.3% (i.e., 115) of complaints were ever referred to a tribunal for a hearing: the rest were either rejected at the outset, dismissed along the way, or settled (often for an apology, or for a nuisance amount paid without any admission of any violation of the law). Clearly, those 115 would be cases in which the Commission decided to refer the matter to a Tribunal because the evidence and law was sufficiently compelling that the chance of loss, for the Commission, was very small. In other words: cases that are referred to the Tribunal for a hearing are cherry-picked as slam-dunk winners before they are referred to the Tribunal for a hearing.

The whittling-down does not end there. Of the 115 that were referred, only 70 resulted in the opening of a file at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (see the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal’s 2006 Annual Report).

Of the files that are opened by the Tribunal (after being referred to it by the Commission), a high percentage are typically settled without a hearing (approximately 64-87% were settled without a hearing in 2003-5). This contributed to the fact that, in 2006, the tribunal issued only 13 decisions. In other words, the Commission and the Tribunal had the benefit of giving a hearing to only 13 of 1,074 complaints (here, I am using 1,074 as a stand-in figure, because it is not clear when the Complaints were made for the 13 matters heard in 2006).

It should be amazing that, even then, the Commission can lose. In fact, though it is not far-off, the “100 per cent conviction rate” line is actually a falsehood: the Commission has not been successful in 100% of Tribunal hearings. For example, of the 13 decisions issued in 2006, 1.5 of the complaints were dismissed (again, see the Tribunal’s 2006 Annual Report).

The remaining 12 cases were not necessarily complaints commenced in 2006, but 12 is not a greatly abnormal number of cases for the Human Rights Tribunal of Canada to hear in a typical year. Using that figure, therefore, we have a substantiation (“conviction”) rate of 12 out of 1,074: 0.01. In other words: based on 2006 data, approximately one percent of all claims filed result in a substantiation (“conviction”).

If there are any biased or dishonest members on the Tribunal – and I have no evidence that any of them are biased or dishonest – the “conviction” rate is hardly compelling evidence of it. Instead, the “100 per cent conviction rate” is a false and misleading line which unjustly implies dishonesty on the part of those who hear human rights cases: those who weigh the evidence in accordance with the procedures and laws of evidence that they are required to use, and issue decisions about whether or not a violation of a human rights law has occurred.

Those who seek to defend their freedom to speak and to write do themselves a disservice by making judges their targets. The problem is the law, not those who apply it, and the use of misleading statistics like the one used by Steyn makes free speech advocates themselves look dishonest. When advocates for free speech (or anything else) appear dishonest, onlookers may question the wisdom of having that which the advocates are advocating.

No amount of honest, even-handed judging can make an unjust law just. I would encourage those who are advocates of free speech to keep their eye on the ball: the law itself. Those who are looking for someone to blame should look no further than their Member of Parliament, who should be working with other Members of Parliament to repeal the legislation in question.

An Aphorism: Human vs. Man

January 23, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

The capacity to reason makes you human, the decision to reason makes you man.

"If you want freedom…" Q&A: Passion no defence of freedom.

January 17, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Some folks are apparently unhappy that I have criticized the logic and effectiveness of Ezra’s argument for freedom of speech.

The general thrust of some responses has been: “Look, the fact is that he’s exposing the Human Rights Commission, and defending himself from a bully when others would not do so. That makes him a hero. Who cares about egghead analyses of the foundations of freedom?! Shut up!!”.

And that is precisely my point. If you want freedom, the one thing you simply cannot shut up about is: a rational defence for freedom. The freedom to live a rational life cannot be achieved by whipping up a crowd into an anti-intellectual, anti-state passion. Such behaviour can only achieve the opposite: the glorification, and justification, of the anti-intellectual and the anti-rational.

None of this is an attack on Ezra. It is an attack on his arguments for freedom. If those arguments are not identified as flawed and ineffective for the purpose of achieving freedom, we will continue to rely upon them to the demise of freedom.

"If you want freedom…" Q&A: Freedom Party on "Hate Speech" Regulations

January 16, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

BlawBlaw wrote:

Does the Freedom Party have a position on “hate speech” and its regulation?

We oppose Canada’s hate literature laws. Here’s why.

Reason is man’s only means of obtaining knowledge. Accordingly, rationality is required for human survival and happiness. For that reason, it is right to use force to ensure that
ensure that every individual is free to make and act upon rational decisions. The duty of exercising such force on our behalf falls to the government.

Rationality cannot be produced by force. In contrast, irrational conduct that interferes with rational conduct can be prevented, punished, and discouraged with force.

One can make and act upon rational decisions only if one cannot legally be deprived of ones own life, liberty or property without ones consent. Therefore, to ensure freedom of rational thought and action – i.e., of thought and action upon which life and happiness depend – government, properly constituted, uses force to require that all relations among individuals are consensual (whether or not they are rational).

Relating this to freedom of speech: when a speaker’s words are not calculated to deprive another person of his life, liberty or property without his consent, it is not proper for the government to respond to the speaker’s expression of those words. If the government does respond by taking the speaker’s life, liberty or property without his consent, the government is doing that which it is supposed to be preventing.

So it is in Ezra Levant’s case, in my view.

Mocking religious beliefs – or stating that some of a religion’s beliefs threaten to subject people to non-consensual deprivations of their lives, liberty or property – is no doubt offensive to those who hold said beliefs. Such statements may very well cause great numbers of people to fear, condemn or hate the religion, or those who advocate or promote such beliefs. However, none of these consequences (offence, fear, condemnation, hatred) constitute a non-consensual deprivation of life, liberty or property. Accordingly, the government has no legitimate role in outlawing such statements.

Some beliefs are false and evil. Some are contrary to individual freedom, contrary to individuals pursuing their own happiness, contrary to reason, or contrary to the facts of reality. When it is illegal verbally to condemn false and evil beliefs, reality, reason, happiness, freedom and capitalism are themselves condemned.

That some people hold such false or evil beliefs as religious beliefs does not rationally imply that such beliefs, or such believers, should be protected from criticism or emotional discomfort. In my view, those who believe that the earth is flat should not be surprised at the laughter and ridicule they receive from others, and the fact that one holds such beliefs as a matter of religious faith, or drunken stupor, or brain damage, or cultural norm, does not change the fact that said laughter and ridicule does not comprise non-consensual deprivation of anyone’s life, liberty or property. Those who believe that non-believers, or adulterous women, or homosexuals etc. should, as such, be murdered must not only be ridiculed, but verbally condemned in the most vocal and appropriately blunt manner (along with the source of their belief, whether religious or non-religious). Such verbal condemnation, similarly,
does not comprise non-consensual deprivation of anyone’s life, liberty or property. The government ought not to intervene.

Ezra should not be involved in this legal proceeding for the following reason: the law in question should not exist. It is anti-rationality, hence anti-happiness and anti-survival. It is a law founded on, and serving, the hatred of what makes man man: reason.

"If you want freedom…" Q&A: Ezra's battle against Islam and himself

January 16, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Mark Hubbard wrote, in part:

Finally, Ezra Levant’s defense of free speech in the YouTube clip Sandi put up was inspirational: you’d have to go a long way to find a better advocate of free speech for your speaking engagement, who also has public exposure. So, what is your gripe with him?

I like Ezra. I think he had fun with the Alberta Human Rights Commission. I think he enhanced his notoriety with that stunt. Good for him (and I mean that). However, I don’t think he has contributed, at all, to the prospects for a freer Alberta or Canada.

A condemnation of the Alberta Human Rights Commission should not treat as essential its procedures: that Canada’s human rights tribunals have more inclusive policies in respect of evidence is not the essential problem with them; nor is the essential issue something relating to who one can have as legal counsel etc. Procedure is not the issue. Substantive law is the issue. If a person can be charged and convicted for believing and saying that everything is physical and nothing is supernatural (or the corollary: that it is irrational to defend or obey the alleged whims of an alleged god), then the right to a choice of lawyers, or to protections against hearsay, or to other procedural matters is hardly the point: the problem is that a law makes the expression of such a belief illegal, and that peoples’ belief in the supernatural has resulted in such laws being made.

Ezra beefs that the Complainant is Islamic, and that the Complainant is a “fascist”, etc. But, like an Islamic person, every religious person (Christian, Jewish, etc) believes that obedience to the will of their god is the highest virtue, that belief in their god’s alleged commandments (as set out in holy books) constitutes knowledge, that there exists a supernatural realm, etc. Ezra blames the Imam for outrage over insults concerning Mohammed (insults that, according to the imam, are not permitted by the laws of Allah), but Ezra – taking care to say that he is Jewish (impliedly in a religious sense) – takes no exception to the idea that it is right to obey allegedly divine commandments. Where does a nod to the idea that obedience is a virtue leave Ezra if the Imam’s god allegedly commanded that no person allow the ridicule of Mohammed, and that man must create governments having and using the power to punish those who ridicule Mohammed?

The case against those who are putting Ezra through the ringer is rightly founded on the facts of reality, upon rationality, and upon rational self-interest. Those who – like Ezra – implicitly take the position that obedience to allegedly divine authority is a virtue can therefrom make no logical argument that it is wrong for men to govern in accordance with the commandments of Islam’s god.

"If you want freedom…" Q&A: Libertarianism

January 16, 2008 by · 1 Comment 

Richard wrote:

“What’s your gripe with libertarians? A libertarian is, by definition, a person who believes that the only action that may properly be banned in a free society is the initiation of force…”

I replied:

The only thing wrong with libertarians is their libertarianism.

The essential characteristic of libertarianism is that it regards Rand’s non-aggression principle to be axiomatic.

Does existence exist? “If we all just refrain from violating the non-aggression axiom, metaphysics is irrelevant to achieving freedom…metaphysical squabbles are unnecessary among libertarians, and can only divide us and undermine our effort to achieve freedom”, replies libertarianism.

How does a man discover knowledge, such as knowledge of a proper code of ethics? “If we all just refrain from violating the non-aggression axiom, epistemology is irrelevant to achieving freedom…epistemological squabbles are unnecessary among libertarians, and can only divide us and undermine our effort to achieve freedom”, replies libertarianism.

Is rationality a virtue or a vice? Is obedience (for example, to the alleged will of an alleged supernatural being) a virtue or a vice? Is doing what feels good a virtue, or a vice? Is it right to sacrifice of oneself? “If we all just refrain from violating the non-aggression axiom, ethics is irrelevant to achieving freedom…ethical squabbles are unnecessary among libertarians, and can only divide us and undermine our effort to achieve freedom”, replies libertarianism.

Why should we all refrain from violating the non-aggression “axiom”? “That doesn’t matter” answers libertarianism.

If it doesn’t matter why we should all refrain from violating the non-aggression “axiom”, what do I say to someone who tells me it doesn’t matter why we should all violate the non-aggression “axiom”? “Ask him why he makes that claim”.

What if he doesn’t have an answer? “Then, clearly, lacking an answer, he’s lost the debate. Tell him he’s wrong” says the libertarian.

But what will I do if he doesn’t agree? “Agree to disagree”, comes the ultimate reply.

Well, then what? What if he and his ilk, seeing no reason not to violate peoples life, liberty and property, keep violating those things? “Well, that’s when it’s time to break out the guns” or “Well, that’s what the ballot box is for”.

Ultimately, libertarianism confronts irrational opposition to freedom not with reason, but with force. It has to: asserting that its position is axiomatic, it has denied itself a rational defence of its position. All that is left is bullets and ballots.

Should a parent pimp out his 8-year-old to a pedophile so as to have the money needed to feed the child? Should your country’s government ever order a pre-emptive military strike in a country that has not yet actually attacked your country? Is land for peace a good policy? Will more publicly funded basketball courts prevent poor kids from turning into gangland murderers? Does poverty and boredom turn one into a murderer? Is anarchism ideal? Raise questions like this among libertarians and the shite will hit the fan. There will be a flurry of allegations that “that’s not the libertarian view” or “you don’t speak for all libertarians”, or “it depends”, or “you think too much”, or a host of ill-fated analyses that start with things like “Well, let me see…if my freedom ends at the point of your nose, then…hmm, how does that relate to appeasement, or the age of majority, or land for peace or…well, I’m not sure, but I’m sure that libertarianism has an answer and I’m sure it was stated by one of the great libertarians like Locke, or Jefferson, or Paine, or Mill, or Bentham, or Hume, or Smith, or Rothbard, or…”.

This will be followed, in the “Libertarian Party”, with a decision such as “Anarchist libertarians can be members, but don’t have the right to vote”.

Ask a typical libertarian: What, exactly, are rights? “Well, they’re things you possess.” Like a screw-driver? “No, more like a deed”. Where do they come from? “Well, they’re self-evident, but there are good arguments that they serve the greater good, that most people want them, or that god gave them to us”. Can you violate a right? “Sure, by not respecting it”. Why is it bad not to respect a right? “Because they’re inviolable, or inalienable, or…well, because they’re absolute”. Ah. So the violation of inviolable or absolute things is morally wrong? Why? “Well, would you want someone to violate your rights? Of course not. Obviously, its wrong”. Ah.

Libertarianism is not a philosophy. It is a “big tent” electoral strategy to try to pull together as many people who – for whatever reason – believe that they love and want “liberty” – however they might personally conceive of it – into a political party that will advocate “freedom”. Visit any libertarian function (well, don’t actually do it), and you’ll find an assortment of mystics and moral relativists, some of whom have even read Rand but who clearly either missed her meaning or disagreed with her. You’ll also typically find, interspersed among them, other people who claim to be libertarians for various reasons: the “pro-free speech” crypto-nazi, because – he explains – the laws of his country punish him for saying that Aryans should live separately from blacks (he’s usually really good at quoting Voltaire…poorly); the constitutional originalist who loves Jefferson and Paine, says that constitution was not properly changed to incorporate the power to tax income, and is sure that the constitution doesn’t prohibit the government from banning abortions; the NAMBLA member who says he is defending every 8-year-old child’s choice to make decisions for himself concerning his or her sex life…etc.

And, just try being an advocate of reality and reason in a group of libertarians. Freedom Party’s biggest detractors? Not Liberals. Not socialists. Not Conservatives. Libertarians. Why? Because we want a single, rational legal system, common to all, designed for the sole purpose of preventing people from engaging in irrational conduct that interferes with the rational pursuit, by others, of their own happiness. Because we refuse to try using non-essential arguments to justify capitalism. Because we expressly condemn non-essential arguments for capitalism (and, sometimes, those who use them), especially and most harshly when they are presented by people who claim to be advocates of reality, reason, morality, individualism, consent or capitalism (or of “freedom” or “liberty”).

Libertarianism is ‘freedom’ for dummies, mystics, hedonists and moral relativists. It appeals to people who don’t care why freedom is good for man; to people who are okay with just agreeing with the non-aggression “axiom”, for whatever reason; to people who will cherry pick quotes from a mish-mash of philosophers and economists whose philosophies or economic views are/were in many ways conflicting, and call them all “great libertarian thinkers in history”; to people who would call Jesus a “libertarian” because he was reportedly unhappy with a dude who buried his talents of gold for safe-keeping instead of investing them and getting a return on his investment; etc.

Libertarianism’s utter disregard (even scorn) for the role of metaphysics, epistemology and ethics in achieving freedom, together with its erroneous claim to represent those who want freedom, render it a high-profiled failure, and a continuous source of evidence for the falsehood that reality, reason, rational egoism, individualism, freedom and capitalism are indefensible.

As Rand said:

…the guiltiest men are not the collectivists; the guiltiest men are those who, lacking the courage to challenge mysticism or altruism, attempt to bypass the issues of reason and morality and to defend the only rational and moral system in mankind’s history – capitalism – on any grounds other than rational and moral. (from “What is Capitalism”, in Ayn Rand’s Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal).

Mark Hubbard wrote:

..I have always assumed that Libertarianism is informed by Objectivism as its philosophy…

I replied:

I think that the most accurate assumption, in this regard, is that Murray Rothbard (the father of libertarianism) thought the non-aggression principle – if somehow obeyed – to be something that rendered the underlying metaphysics, epistemology and ethics non-essential. I think that Rand’s reaction to his mystical wife ticked him off sufficiently that he actually spent time writing papers/books alleging that those who agreed with Rand – having rejected mysticism, and having demanded that capitalism be justified only rationally – were “cultists”, that Rand was a witch who didn’t live up to her own philosophy, and various other smears that persist to this day (with the assistance of eager, if desperate, Humeans, Kantians, and the like). I think that libertarianism is Rothbard’s legacy: a stillborn, consistently and routinely failed effort to prove Rand wrong about her assertion that freedom and capitalism could be justified only on rational and moral grounds.

"If you want freedom…" Q&A: The False Dichotomy: Rationality vs. Electability

January 15, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

First quoting my house metaphor, G writes:

This only makes the homeowner question why a group of roofers that are trying to be foundation workers, keep on roofing.Should the roofers give up roofing or should they just exist to repeatedly knock on the homeowners door to point out that there’s a leak here and a shingle missing there without ever getting the homeowner to hire them??

I take G to be implying that a politician will not get elected if he does not base his advocacy of freedom solely upon matters of political philosophy (e.g., “rights”, “freedoms”, capitalism, etc.), and if he does not refrain from advocating positions on metaphysics (i.e., the facts of reality), epistemology (i.e., the means of identifying facts and falsehoods) and ethics (i.e., right vs. wrong).

Debating the metaphor is fraught with possible mis-communications and the likelihood of arguments based on silly non-essentials but I introduced the metaphor, so I respond as follows:

The most popular home renovation shows feature people who, for example, are asked to come to a house to put in a walk-in closet, but who end up advising the owner that the foundation must be repaired before such a closet can be built or expected not to collapse. Nothing requires a renovator to limit himself to fixing rooves. It would be unconscionable to put in a closet that the renovator knows will collapse without first explaining that to the customer, and identifying what must be done to prevent the collapse.

Let us leave the metaphor, and deal with a sample issue in government. When someone complains that he lacks freedom to manufacture, sell or purchase an incandescent bulb, you will not help him by saying: “Well, what you need is some rights”. Instead, as a politician, you need to point out that the ban on incandescents is the logical consequence of a belief in man-made global warming, and that the belief is not founded on the facts of reality but upon the popularity of the belief. You need to recommend a cure, not a band-aid: that government should not act on beliefs for which there is no rational foundation. Promising a “right to light-bulb choice”, or promising “free markets” is like promising to fix haemophilia with a band-aid. The right answer, from an honest politician, is: “The belief that humans are causing catastrophic global warming is false until we discover a rational foundation for that belief and, until we do, the government ought not to ban incandescent bulbs”.

Such statements do not move a politician out of the realm of politics and cast him solely as a philosopher: rather, such statements disclose that the politician is knowledgeable. People do not regard a politician as not-a-politician simply because he promises never to act on irrational beliefs (such as man-made catastrophic global warming).

If the essential problem is political, the politician should say so. If it is moral, he should say so. If it is epistemological, he should say so. If it is metaphysical, he should say so. And, having identified the problem and its nature, he is in a position to justify his position on whether and how the government should respond.

If the renovator does not get hired to build the closet that will collapse, and the homeowner hires a cheat who neglects to tell the homeowner about the inevitable collapse of the closet (or who lies), the homeowner will get exactly what he bargained for, and the renovator can come back to offer his services to rebuild the house, armed with an “I told you so”. Similarly, if the advocate of reason is not elected because he mentioned things that people would prefer not to know – e.g., that consensus is no means of discovering knowledge – he can come back to the unemployed, candle-bearing victims of enviro-irrationalism, armed with an “I told you so” and a promise never to make laws for which there is no rational justification.

If You Want Freedom, Advocate Reason

January 15, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

W wrote:

Ezra Levant would be a good draw as a guest speaker at [Freedom Party’s next] dinner.

I responded:So would a host of other “freedom” fighters, but I think it would be a mistake to invite them to be guest speakers. Ezra is not pro-reason, even if he is – in some morphing, caricaturish, opportunistic sense – in favour of freedom of this thing or that thing (but not of the other thing). At best, he is a traditionalist or sentimental conservative. At worst, he is a libertarian.

There can be no denying that if a political party wants large audiences at its guest-speaker-featured dinners, it needs to feature popular guest speakers (even if they are only transiently popular). If one wants quickly to have a bigger political party that is in favour of freedom of this or freedom of that (but not necessarily freedom of the other thing), one should invite people like Ezra to speak at ones dinners. However, if we want a political party that is in favour of a society in which rational conduct is not illegal (in some circles, this is called a “free” society), we should not be expecting large audiences in the short term, and we will not be promoting such a society by having Ezra Levants (or Stephen Harpers, or Ron Pauls, or [insert libertarian false hope du jour here] ) speak at our dinners.

Thinking rationally is extremely unpopular. We are faced with so many other opportunities to survive without thinking: we can work on an assembly line; we can eat, bathe, defecate, copulate and pray exactly at the times, and in the manner, and with the people, that our parents, or church, or politicians, or friends told us to; we can get intoxicated at all times except where it would cause us to lose our jobs or to be imprisoned; we can watch the news and pretend that we are thinking about the world around us (thereby alleviating whatever guilt we might have about living life unconsciously); we can refrain from ensuring that our children learn how to think rationally and instead offload the structuring of their minds to the government and its anti-reality, anti-reason, anti-moral, pro-collectivism schools; we can get promotions by taking credit for the work done by others and by blaming others for the discreditable work we do; we can blame our unhappiness on the government, or on immigrants, or on the lack of good TV programs, or on a god (i.e., on a god having imposed unhappiness upon us as a consequence of having violated his laws by putting cheese on our burgers, or by shopping on Sunday, or by failing to cover our bodies with clothing from head to toe), or on the failure of people to just “get together”, to “unify”, and to just “give peace a chance” (because we all know that “love is all you need”).

And we believe, so easily and so eagerly, that it is possible to have our cake and eat it too; that we can have a free country led by god-fearin’ mystics, and by democratic committees of depressed moral subjectivists so long as we all just recognize – as an axiom, no less – that the government should not initiate coercive physical force. Why, as evidence, all we need do is look at how Ezra Levant, who dispenses with all of that philosophy nonsense, gives the Human Rights Commission a tongue-lashing. The bloggers pause their ripped version of “V for Vendetta” long enough to rejoice: “Boy, he showed them. The future’s bright for freedom. The government’s learning that the rights that god has given no government has the right to take away! The silent majority are waking up and demanding to be released from their shackles” (the shackles in which they put themselves so that government could do the thinking for them).

Society is a house. The roof is politics, the walls ethics, the foundation epistemology, and the building site metaphysics. Our house is teetering on the brink of a muddy, eroding cliff. Our foundation is splitting and tilting. The mortar is falling from the bricks. The roof is threatening to come down on all of our heads. The critical priorities are to move the house from the brink and to enter the basement, even if largely unseen by passers-by, so as to repair and level the foundation. The roof may be leaking, but replacing the shingles is not going to save us from our demise. And if, as renovators of society, we promote ourselves by featuring our roofers, we will eventually find ourselves trying to serve a dead market.

All of that said, I despise erasers that do not come with pencils. Having done some erasing, let me offer some penciling. Given the current attention being drawn to freedom of speech and human rights commissions in Canada, and given the amoral, oh-so-libertarian response to it all (and, implicitly, the threatened loss of a chance to focus attention on the metaphysical and epistemological nature of what ultimately draws Ezra Levants and Mark Steyns into legal proceedings), I think we could do no better than to have Peter Schwartz address our dinner audience.

"Justice" Q&A: Just decisions require objectively-weighed values

January 14, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Leonid wrote:

Paul: The Nazi does an injustice to himself when he condemns a virtuous person,”

Exactly this part of your theory I’m struggling to understand. Nazi acts according to his code of values. It can be wrong, but as long as he holds this code he wouldn’t consider his actions as injustice neither to himself, nor to his victims.

Let’s start with this, upon which I assume we both agree: if one’s code of ‘ethics’ is that of the Nazis, then one is committed neither to the facts of reality nor to rationality. The ‘ethical’ code of the Nazis is irrational, false and evil. A Nazi makes erroneous measurements of value, whether or not he does so intentionally or knowingly.

Consequently, even if it could be said that a Nazi had never traded something of greater value to him for something of lesser value to him, that would not imply he had always made just decisions because it would not imply that his values were objectively weighed. If he does not weigh his values rationally, he cannot know what is of objectively higher value to him. Consequently, any just conduct on his part is, at best, a fortuitous accident. That “he wouldn’t consider his actions as injustice neither to himself, nor to his victims” (as you say) is irrelevant.

You have defined justice as “That which is a net value to ones own life is the good. That which deprives one of value and thereby threatens ones own survival and happiness (i.e., that which is a disvalue), is evil.” But, strictly speaking this is not definition of justice, this is definition of good and evil…True,the concept of justice can be derived from these concepts, but it isn’t identical to them.

You are not quoting the section in which I define justice. I defined it as follows: “…justice is the choosing of a greater value over a lesser one, and – when presented with no alternative but to choose between evils – the choosing of a lesser disvalue over a greater one.” My definition of justice concerns objective, objectively weighed values.

And what if one deprives others of value and threatens their survival and happiness? Wouldn’t you define that as injustice as well?

Another person’s survival and happiness, per se, is irrelevant to the issue of the justness or unjustness of my action. Consider this: if, by means of the sheriff’s office, I have a deadbeat deprived of his property in order to satisfy a debt that a court has found owed to me, then I have acted justly because my decision was one by which I ensured that I did not give money to the debtor without getting it back, plus the interest he had agreed to pay, plus the costs of obtaining my money from the deadbeat. If, as a result of the enforcement, he does not survive or is unhappy, that is nonetheless irrelevant to whether or not my decision/action was just.

Since moral values are objective one can decide whether his or anybody else actions are moral or not.

Sometimes you will have the information required to do so, but usually you will not. Tell me: should I add chicken to my salad today? Should I use Caesar salad dressing? There are objectively just answers to these questions, but you do not know them.

The balance of your post didn’t really address my argument but, rather, simply asserted that justice is deservedness, and gave examples of things you would call just. Suffice it to say that I agree with you about the injustice of calling a murderer a freedom fighter (for example), but I disagree with you about why, and to whom, such actions constitute injustices. My article includes my answer in this regard.

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