Advice for Politically-Active Objectivists When Dealing with the Media/Public

September 2, 2012 by  

A fellow Objectivist with not too much experience speaking with the media asked for a few pointers. I replied as follows.

I suppose the most important thing is to speak in steak-and-potatoes terms. Abstractions that are well understood by Objectivists often lack a conscious connection to the concretes in a non-Objectivist’s life.

There are some others that come immediately to mind:

1. Avoid the libertarian disease: Don’t talk in terms of “less government” or “smaller government”, but in terms of “better government” or – depending upon the audience – of “having a government instead of a elected version of a criminal gang, doing the very things that they are elected to prevent people from doing”.

2. Be philosophically complete: Almost everyone – including too many Objectivists – make the mistake of thinking that electoral politics and governance is a matter to which only political philosophy applies (in fact, for libertarians, it’s a mistake made intentionally). And so we hear almost everyone talking about how a government is failing to defend rights etc.. That’s a big error. When talking to even everyday folks, be sure to let them know that a government is just like an individual, in the sense that it makes and acts upon decisions, such that its decisions are affected by its metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.

In terms of metaphysics: A government must found its decisions only upon facts for which, ultimately, there is physical evidence (vs, say, doing things because of what is unknown, hence feared…hence the destructive “precautionary principle”)…if there’s no evidence, the allegation of fact – no matter how popular (e.g., that catastrophic climate change is being caused by driving cars) – must not come into the government’s consideration for any purpose. Another metaphysically important consideration for government: the primacy of existence (for example, government should never make policy in accordance with such things as polls about “confidence” in the economy).

In terms of epistemology: A government’s decisions not only must always be founded on facts that ultimately are supported by physical evidence (as described above), but also must always be logical. This means not only that government should decide by way of reason, but that it should not engage in any behaviour that would suggest other ‘ways of coming up with beliefs’ are methods used by government. Hence the separation of prayer from such things as official opening ceremonies of the legislature/court; the absence of religious symbols from government buildings; the absence of organized prayer in government schools. The government must never appear to sanction anything but reason as its method of arriving at decisions. Individual legislators are of course free to believe any irrational thing they want to believe, but the government itself must not be seen to be making decisions based on faith, whim, feelings, etc..

In terms of ethics:
The most important thing is that the government – in all of its dealings – act consistently with the purpose of the lives of the people it is governing: i.e., it must make decisions/policy consistent with every individual pursuing his own happiness. That, of course, implies rationality, because one cannot effectively *pursue* ones own happiness irrationally. And so, for example, the government – in the US context – must never forget the centrality of “the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence. Once a government recognizes the purpose of an individual’s life to be “the pursuit of happiness”, everything else, politically, should follow: the defence of property, the defence of liberty, and the defence of life in general. Or, to put it more concretely: So that every individual can pursue his own happiness first and foremost, the government must do a better job of ensuring that nobody takes another person’s life, liberty, or property without his consent…that nobody murders, rapes, enslaves, or expropriates anyone.

In terms of politics: It is critical that everyone understands that the government’s role is not to require people rationally to pursue their own happiness, but to ensure that one can do so if one chooses to do so. Self sacrifice or self-destruction should be neither required nor prohibited by government…hence the separation of religion and politics, and the separation of economics and politics. In terms of economics, in particular, an important consequence is this: it is not the role of government to create jobs or fix the economy, just as it is not the role of government to destroy jobs or ruin the economy. Look after the individual, and the economy will look after itself.

All of which is to say: “Less government is better government” is a non-essential that is sometimes false, but is always libertarian and anti-moral, anti-reason, and anti-reality because it gives the supernatural the status of the natural, the irrational the status of the rational, and the altruistic the status of the rationally egoistic. It is a phrase that must be condemned as “libertarian”, “ultimately anarchistic”, “morally subjective”, and “irrational”. When people hear you condemning “less government”, you force them to listen to what you’re for, because they can no longer do what too often is done thoughtlessly: write you off as another hairy-assed, smelly, hippy libertarian (something which, incidentally, the hairy-assed, smelly, hippy libertarians falsely will tell everyone you are).

In terms of speaking to the media/public in concretes, here are some examples:

Metaphysics: “The government ain’t going to Heaven. It’s only concern is life on this earth. So it has to be a Doubting Thomas at all times. It must ignore any allegation not backed up by physical evidence. ‘We have to act in case it’s true’ is a sentence that has no place in our legislatures.”

Epistemology: “If there’s no logical argument for doing something, a government shouldn’t do it. ‘How can anything that feels so right be so wrong?’ might work in Romance novels, but it has no place in government decision-making”.

Ethics: “There’s nothing wrong with making the pursuit of your own happiness your sole purpose in this life. It’s human nature, and it’s the essence of America. Some people hate the effort involved in pursuing happiness. They hate human nature and, in fact they hate the idea of America. They are out to defeat human nature and America. And why? It’s a doomed and child-like attempt to get something for nothing; it’s a downright evil attempt to force you to to deliver happiness to them on a silver platter. Such person deserves a bed in a jail, not a desk in the White House.”

Politics: “The most important word in America is: Consent. The government is there to ensure that you never try to ride through this life by hitching your wagon to another man’s horse, unless he allows you to do it.


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