Archive for April, 2012

The Face of Egalitarianism

The Face of Egalitarianism

Tibor R. Machan

A few weeks ago they ran the famous Oxford v. Cambridge rowing race on the Thames but a fanatical egalitarian, Mr. Trenton Oldfield from Australia, ruined it for everyone by jumping in the river and blocking the race in the name of resisting the elitism of rowing! He was dubbed in the UK the “anarchist swimmer” and has mounted some other guerrilla strikes to make his point. Among other things he is urging cabbies to take well to do passengers on long detours and cleaners not to place toilet paper where they are expected to serve rich folks.

Now some might dismiss this as a mere childish prank by a nutcase but this guy is a London School of Economics graduate. He seems to be taking the goal of leveling very seriously, although his project is incoherent and mostly destructive. (Is someone with a degree from LSE not well to do?)

Still, if you are exhorted by the likes of President Obama or by LSE professors–among them, I believe a little while ago, John N. Gray, a former classical liberal who has turned into a post-modernist/Leftist in his latest incarnation–to rip off the rich, who can tell what limits if any there are to this agenda? After all, there are innumerable activities that well-enough to do people undertake that may, along egalitarian lines, be sabotaged. Of course, polo games will have to be attacked; fencing, too, as well as bridge tournaments. And, of course, there are the regattas of all sorts that are the stuff of entertainment and sport for well off folks around the globe. Fine restaurants would have to be on the list, as well, not to mention stores and clubs and car dealerships. (I hesitate to list more since it may encourage one of these SOBs to take up the task!)

Actually, any game is fair to such equalizers since whenever one is playing, one might be serving humanity or the poor or the sick, instead. Anything goes, just as that famous philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend used to advocate about how to do science (in his book Against Method, for example).

I have a host of emotions welling up when these people take write this material or to the streets or implore us all from university podiums with their insanity. Sure, there is the problem, too, that a river in most places is a public good everyone may use to his or her heart’s content. A private lake would be easier to protect from such terrorists. But never mind that for now. Simple common sense and civility will lead most people to refrain from expressing their political dreams by way of ruining events like that Oxbridge rowing regatta.

But what can one expect when the head of the most powerful government in the world advocates the egalitarian project, suggests tax policy based on its aspirations, bashes the rich at every turn? Not that there is anything revolutionary about this; after all, throughout human history there have been philosophers and others who have promoted evil and aggression as the proper objective for people to pursue (the most famous of these being the Marquis de Sade, of course). Still, it is rare that one runs across the likes of Mr. Oldfield in clear public view in a society such as the UK, one who comes right out and identifies the philosophical source of the destructiveness being perpetrated.

Come to think of it, though, maybe that is just what is needed–for these maniacs to come out of hiding and show exactly what their warped thinking actually leads to.

Zimmerman’s Apology?

Zimmerman’s Apology?

Tibor R. Machan

The shooter of Trayvon Martin is now said by many to have apologized. All over the media this is being reported, even on Fox TV news. Even though he did nothing of the sort.

To apologize implies that one is taking responsibility for something bad. One cannot apologize for a rained out picnic but can for failing to provide umbrellas. What Mr. Zimmerman said in court on Friday April 20 is this: “I am sorry for the loss of your son.” And who wouldn’t be? Saying this doesn’t at all imply that Zimmerman, accused of murdering Mr. Martin, admitted guilt. He, like anyone who grasps the loss of Mr. Martin’s parents, expressed his sorrow.

But by characterizing it as an apology, news reporters implicate Mr. Zimmerman in confessing to murder which he certainly didn’t do.

I have no stake in this at all. I don’t know if Mr. Zimmerman is guilty of manslaughter, murder, negligent homicide, or killing someone in self defense. What I do know is that what he said in court on Friday does not amount to a confession. Let’s get this straight.*

* I develop the thesis here more fully in “Should You Apologize?” a chapter of my book Libertarianism Defended (Ashgate, 2006)

Rich Bashing is Unjust and Vicious

Rich Bashing Is Unjust and Vicious

Tibor R. Machan

The casual manner in which President Obama proposes that various progressive tax measures be implemented against the so called rich–ones who earn more than two million a year–is indicative of just how deep seated and widespread is the prejudice against wealthy people in the United States of America.

This is the country that had been hailed as the leader of the free world, as substantially capitalist, as mostly enjoying a free market place, etc. It seems however that the team now in charge of administering the laws and public policies of the country hasn’t a clue as to what human freedom or liberty really means. Alternatively, this bunch of politicians and bureaucrats have a corrupt idea of such freedom, well illustrated by an outburst during the U. S. Supreme Court’s hearings of oral arguments concerning the constitutionality of President Obama’s signature policy achievement, generally referred to as Obamacare. The outburst came when someone made the point that it is a violation of a citizen’s right to freedom to mandate that health insurance be purchased by everyone. (I didn’t learn of the source despite looking for it for two weeks.) The substance of it was that those who are being coerced into purchasing health insurance by the individual mandate provision of Obamacare do not have their right to liberty violated; instead it is those who lack such insurance at others’ expense who are so victimized. This is the implication of the now relatively prominent doctrine of positive rights (or liberty).

At the beginning of the country the idea of the right to liberty meant what is now dubbed a negative right. That means that to acknowledge someone’s right to liberty requires that no one is authorized to make the person do anything against his or her own will. It means freedom of choice. One’s right to one’s own life is similarly a negative right, requiring of others only that they refrain from interfering with that life. Not killing, not assaulting, not robbing people is how these negative rights are respected and governments are supposed to be instituted so as to secure such rights in the face of threats or aggression by criminals. Of course, slavery was a rank violation of such rights.

Positive rights, so called, are actually provisions extracted from other people when one needs them. The welfare state is substantially built upon the doctrine of positive rights (or liberty). Because when a citizen does not have the means for achieving various objectives that are important, other citizens are legally required to supply them with such means (mostly fungible funds such as welfare payments or services). Instead of securing everyone the protection of one’s rights to fend for oneself and obtain what is needed for living and flourishing, it is others who are coerced into supplying such provisions. These are the famous “entitlements” that are bankrupting welfare state across the globe. The reason they can be dubbed “entitlements” is that they are legally enacted grants from the treasuries of governments, which are supplied by way of taxation and other sources of the public weal.

No one really pretends that one has a natural right to such provisions, that other people owe their lives and works to the recipients of entitlements as a matter of a legally enforceable right. No, they are created by the government. It used to be monarchs that would make these grants to citizens favored by them but in a more or less democratic system, which lacks firm limits on the power of government, they can be voted into existence. This is the aspect of democracy that such thinkers as Alexis de Tocqueville saw as being destructive. And they were, of course, proven right because all the current fiasco about debts are largely the result of such democratic establishment of entitlements and other expenditures.

The idea that those who are rich may be ripped off a lot more than others is merely a tortuous implication of welfare and warfare statist profligacy. It has nothing at all to do with any just powers of government. Quite the opposite. It is a bias against some citizens who do not deserve being picked on, no different from how placing blacks into involuntary servitude had been the result of such unjust bias.

Interview about free trade on Scott Horton Show February 2004

What About those Hoodies?

What about those Hoodies?

Tibor R. Machan

Over the last couple of weeks I have been waiting for something to be mentioned about hoodies, something that I thought was staring us all in the face. This is that during the recent London riots, nearly everyone depicted by the TV cameras was wearing hoodies as they were caught vandalizing the stores in the neighborhood under siege.

At the time it immediately occurred to me that the reason for all those hoodies on the heads of the rioters was that they didn’t want their faces to be captured on film. This would make it very difficult for investigators to do any facial recognition of those filmed committing vandalism.

Actually, I didn’t encounter such an explanation at the time, nor since then, after the role the hoodie had in the Florida fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, the African American teen, a shooting that has unleashed much controversy about hoodies, starting with Fox star reporter Geraldo Rivera’s on air advice that people stop wearing them since doing so suggests to some people that they are embarking on some kind of criminal conduct. Rivera got a lot of flack for making this suggestion and that is when it occurred to me that someone prominent might recall the role of hoodies at the London riot which were covered on American television for nearly a week. After what we witnessed in London, it would not be ridiculous for people to be weary of young people who wear hoodies in certain situations.

To this day I haven’t heard anyone connect the two events, although some have mentioned that hoodies are perhaps used to send a message, namely that of defiance of public authority. And numerous celebrities followed the Rivera comments with donning hoodies, though I am not sure for what reason.

I am not suggesting that there is any simple causal relationship between criminal conduct and the wearing of hoodies. But there could be a customary relationship here, one on the basis of which ordinary people, even professionals, may make inferences about probabilities or likelihoods. If someone shows up on my classroom wearing the kind of sunglasses that disguise his or her eyes, make it impossible to tell which way the individual is looking, it is not unreasonable to suspect that he or she is hoping to remain at least partially incognito. Similarly, when hoodies are worn in neighborhoods that are infested with crime, it is not unreasonable to suspect that those doing this wish to remain at least partially unobserved beneath a cover.

Again, none of this proves, even strongly suggests, that young Mr. Martin intended to hide anything, let alone that he meant to carry out some kind of illegal conduct without being easily identified. But that this might be what he was trying to do is certainly reasonable to consider, especially in light of the experience of the London rioters who were quite evidently committing vandalism while making sure they couldn’t easily be identified doing so.

My point here is only that it would be journalistically appropriate to make note of these matters as the Florida shooting is being seriously discussed across the country. Maybe the reason no mention is being made of the resemblance isn’t a mere oversight. Perhaps it is because mentioning the similarity between Mr. Martin’s attire and that of the London rioters is something public figures do not want to risk doing lest they be accused of racial prejudice. But, of course, it need not be anything like that at all.