Archive for December, 2012

On Rape and Pragmatism

On Rape and Pragmatism

Tibor R. Machan

Something not often noted in the discussion of rape across the globe is that in an age that prizes pragmatism as opposed to firm principles of conduct, even rape can be excused based on the expected benefit to the rapist versus injury to the victim.

If one doesn’t care about the basic principle of consent, of voluntariness of human relationships–as many do not do so–why worry that victims of rape don’t have their rights respected? Consider how proudly Nobel Laureate (and NYTimes columnist) Paul Krugman, for instance, and even President Obama champion the pragmatic approach to public policies! Since ideas have consequences, this should not be ignored.

Some think one can simply differentiate between principles pertaining to personal conduct–i.e., ethics or morality–and guidelines concerning public policy, such as how to deal with public finance. If it is pragmatically OK to carry unbelievably high national debt, with no concern about the consent of those who will have to cover it (members of future generations who aren’t even alive or able to give their consent to being burdened with it), why not just be pragmatic about anything at all.

Strictly speaking, for pragmatists it is all a matter of whether something works and that is determined by what one is aiming for, never mind any principles. It is usually Machiavelli who is credited with promoting this line of thinking but in our time it is usually the more vulgar (but even not so vulgar) pragmatists who peddle it! So in the case of rape, the pragmatist would ask whether it is sufficiently pleasurable to rapists when they assault their victims to outweigh the pain and injury of the victim(s).

I do not assume that rapists normally engage in such cost-benefit calculations but these things tend to become second nature based on one’s ideas. Since ideas do have consequences, it can be expected that the spread of the pragmatic approach with the help of prominent folks like Krugman and Obama would aid and abet the kind of conduct that led to the murder of the young Indiana woman. Those six or so men who decided to rape her–and thousands of other rapists–may very well have internalized the pragmatic approach. (And since what works or doesn’t work can often only be established after a policy has been implemented, without principled opposition to rape and other forms of assault, it is easily imagined that potential perpetrators will “calculate” so as to rationalize their own strong urges or desires.)

A hero of mine, the late Ayn Rand, used to ask in the title of one of her non-fiction works, “Philosophy, Who Needs it?” and here is an excellent instance for answering that we all do, at some level of engagement. Pragmatism–or at least its vulgarized version (since more sophisticated ones tend to resist deploying it in such barbaric ways)–is a philosophy that has become influential in America. (Indeed, it had its origins in America, with the thinking of such figures as C. I. Lewis, John Dewey, and most radically Richard Rorty.)

Not unless pragmatism is rejected as a reigning public philosophy, with the president of the country and prominent intellectuals such as Paul Krugman repudiating it good and hard, will folks once again take principles seriously and think twice before they ignore the basic human rights of women as they consider intercourse with them.

It would be catastrophic if instead of spreading the principles contained in the Declaration of Independence, America left a legacy of spreading pragmatism around the globe.

The Erosion of Our Freedom

The Erosion of Our Freedom

Tibor R. Machan

Often when I argue that governments must not violate our rights–they are supposed to be unalienable, after all–statists have a ready retort: Government is already violating them, good and hard, all over the place.

Recently I pointed out that imposing fines and constraints on gun owners who haven’t been shown to have committed a crime, not even close, is a case of prior restraint, of unjustifiably depriving a citizen of liberty since only convicted and guilty people may be so deprived. In a free country citizens may not be intruded upon by their governments without having been convicted by methods of due process. Governments, in other words, are supposed to defend the rights of their citizens; that is their proper purpose!

My statist adversaries eagerly point it out to me that government is intruding upon as all over the place: we are forced to obtain a driver’s license, innumerable permits as we go about living in our communities (building our homes, engaging in businesses, practicing professions, etc.). Nearly everything we do requires a license even though we are legally innocent! Ergo: prior restraint big time!

Now some of this is accurate enough–citizens in America are indeed subjected to prior restraint left and right, up and down. Most of the time the justification given is that government must protect us against possible malpractice and government regulations and licensing are the best way to do this, never mind that our rights are clearly being violated in the process. Unalienable is a nice idea in a document like the Declaration of Independence, but let’s get real, please! It is completely impractical in actual life, right?

Wrong. It is not some kind of romantic, impossible idealism to insist that when anyone intrudes upon another person, this must be properly warranted–as it would be in self-defense, for example. Just notice how easily this is grasped when it comes to sexual freedom–no amount of “necessity” or “practicality” overturns the prohibition against rape or even plain sexual harassment. Why is that so simple to grasp? Because it is a form of intrusion that is very close to home, quite direct, not encumbered by fancy-shmancy public policy rhetoric!

Insisting that prior restraint be banned overall is just taking the above line about all uninvited intrusions by some people against others. If the intrusion is indeed invited, no problem–surgeons, dentists, personal trainers and coaches routinely intrude on us but with our permission, so that is unobjectionable.

However, for centuries this was not so–the royal courts and similar oppressive regimes ran roughshod routinely over their subjects (!) since they were actually deemed as their owners (which is how serfdom and slavery managed to be palatable). In time the idea gained currency that such subjugation lacked justification, amounted to coercive imposition based on various fictions of class superiority, etc. Once these were demonstrated to be unfounded, slowly but surely it dawned upon millions–as it is still dawning upon them across the globe–that the oppressors were getting away with a ruse and resisting them is just and right.

It is about time that even the more subtle sorts of oppression, involving the prior restraint I was pointing to above, be abolished. If problems need to be solved, they must be solved without resort to some people coercing others! Again, think how natural this is when it comes to sexual intercourse! It should be plain across the board of all human relations not confined only to sex. The law and public policy must be adjusted to the principles laid out in the Declaration of Independence, namely, the universality of our basic rights to our lives, liberty and property! No compromise, however imperative it may appear, must be tolerated.

When it was pointed out that the price of liberty is indeed eternal vigilance, the point of that warning was exactly to alert everyone that various sophistical, phony reasons will be used to erode our liberties. Just recall for instance what was noted by William Pitt, the elder: “Necessity is the excuse for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of the tyrant and the creed of the slave.”

Gun Control Obscenities

Gun Control Obscenities

Tibor R. Machan

When the massacre occurred in Connecticut, there was no call for commentary, certainly not from me who lives thousands of miles from where it occurred and knew none of the victims, the culprit or their family. Silence was probably the right reaction, and some reflections on just how vulnerable people can be in even a quite civilized society. I could have come up with some ideas on the effects of disarming school teachers and administrators but without knowing details, they would have been unhelpful.

What did start to prompt foul reactions from me is the politicians’ beginning to sound off. How they took advantage of the grief surrounding the event was not only predictable but disgusting. Promising to reenact the old and by all accounts quite ineffective federal assault weapons ban is difficult to explain as anything more than an empty political–in the worst sense of the term–gesture.

And of course all the venom was directed not at the perpetrator, by then himself deceased–and good riddance–but at opponents of gun control legislation. Scapegoating is what the politicians who chimed in did so diligently. Not a single gun control opponent could be faulted for the horrors inflicted upon the victims, not a one, yet they were under moral indictment by the politicians, including President Obama, more so than the culprit.

Just let us remember that a good many who oppose federal and other gun control laws do so on grounds that they do not want the federales to be the only armed people in the realm. Rightly or wrongly, they are concerned that disarming the citizenry who have done nothing to deserve that is a pointless and mindless self-indulgence, nothing at all useful or helpful. In a considerably free country people will always be able to engage in murderous conduct. It happens day in and day out across America and elsewhere. It is one part of the price of liberty, namely, that citizens are not shackled and bound and thus are able to carry out not just all the praiseworthy but also many vile acts. For such acts they would best be severely punished–something, by the way, that most gun control advocates are notoriously silent about! (I watched quite a few talks shows and read a bunch of pundits during the last several days and those lamenting the lack of police state like gun prohibition–which have been and are still favored by tyrannies and dictatorships throughout history and the globe–have expressed zero hostility toward the people who carry out massacres like the one in Connecticut. It is, instead, always society or culture or America or some such nebulous culprit that’s being blamed, with the actual perps mostly suffering from alienation, mental disease, etc. Among these folks the idea of human evil appears not to have any reality to it!)

Another reaction from the political class, you know which I have in mind, that’s really pathetic is the promises made not to allow such a thing to happen, ever again! And just how is that going to be done? Even if every school in the world will have a squadron of cops marching up and down its corridors, how will it be assured that among them there will not be some vile sadists who will take advantage of their privileged position and carry out a similar deed? How will Mr. Obama make sure that that will never happen? So because this is nonsense, and because Mr. Obama is certainly not ignorant about it, what we must be witnessing is rank demagoguery.

Sometimes the best response to what happens in the world is outrage, especially with those who carry out vicious deeds. Human beings are, after all, the one known animal that is responsible for its behavior, driven not by instincts but by conscious choices. When those choices are irresponsible ones and vile, they are the ones whose guilt should be our focus.

As we learn from Shakespeare–from Cassius in Julius Caesar, Act 1, scene 2–”The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves.” Indeed, the kid who carried out the murders in Connecticut is very likely the responsible party. Let’s get that right and then we might embark on some useful understanding of such deeds.

Taxes versus revenues: Leslie Stahl’s Malpractice

Taxes versus Revenues: Leslie Stahl’s Malpractice

Tibor R. Machan

As I reach old age I shield myself from unpleasant television as much as I can. Of course, in order to stay apprised of events I cannot afford to skip all of what is irritating but given all the repetition, I have managed to reduce exposure to much that’s bad for my nerves.

One show I used to watch regularly was CBS-TV’s 60 Minutes. It was a kind of ritual. But no longer, other than accidentally. Which is why I managed to catch one of the 60 Minutes follow-ups the other Sunday evening. In it Leslie Stahl commented on Grover Norquist’s fight against the spendthrifts in Washington. Never mind for now her typical support of more spending and higher taxes; it is to be expected from her, a veteran Washington insider. What was interesting is the length to which she went this time to bolster her support.

She seems to have decided that instead of using the term “taxes” for what Norquist opposes, she characterized it as revenues. And that is dirty pool.

Taxation isn’t revenue raising. It is confiscation of people’s resources. Revenue is what merchants or employees earn in voluntary trade. To classify taxes as revenues is an obvious distortion. It is akin to characterizing the loot from a bank robbery as earnings, profits or income. There is no way that Ms. Stahl doesn’t know this.* She is simply falling in line with President Obama’s efforts to warp the English language for political purposes. Like when Obama decided that imposing additional taxes on what he calls the rich or wealthy amounts to “asking them for a little bit more.” Imposing taxes on people is no more asking them for funds than is a tax a form of revenue. Both of these distortions have to be conscious since they both clearly serve to help to pretend that something voluntary is going on when that is the farthest thing from the truth.

We aren’t asked to pay in funds on April 15th. The funds are extorted from us with the threat that unless we mail them to the IRS, we will end up in jail and if we resist we could be killed! And when we are taxed, the resulting funds at the IRS aren’t some kind of revenue but the fruit of unabashed confiscation.

When our celebrity journalists become complicit in the government’s confiscation of our resources, we are in bad shape indeed. The press used to be a partner in the resistance of government oppression. Now it is like in a dictatorships, a co-conspirator, a partner in crime–think Pravda and Izvestia.

*Some many moons ago Diane Sawyer, if memory serves me right, did a report on the street thieves in Rome, Italy, and called their loot “profits.” That 60 Minutes bunch is very confused or perverse.

The Statists’ Continued Folly!

The Statists’ Continued Folly!

Tibor R. Machan

Krugman has a regular column in The Times, so he can discuss what he chooses to discuss so why is he fussing, as he did in a recent column, that others have other topics they wish to discuss not the ones he likes? Must we all take the lead of Krugman? What conceit!

Krugman’s “solution” to the unemployment “crisis” is no solution but merely a shift–let’s burden future generations with higher costs and taxes, right? Yet what is needed is fewer obstacles to growth, that is to say less government regulation, much lower taxation, and the encouragement of private investment and innovation–in short, Hayek instead of Keynes! What is bizarre is that Krugman and his master, Obama, are dead set on socking it to the rich, so much so that even without any need for garnering more funds from them they insist that it be done! In other words, this bunch is interested in punitive taxation, never mind budgetary concerns.

Is this to show the “base” that they are tough, merciless? Is this to very visibly implement their leftist policies just to show who is in the driver’s seat now? Is it to demonstrate to the world that America’s tradition of substantially free enterprise will not be allowed continue since it makes it possible for economically savvy citizens to succeed while those not much interested in playing according to the rules of capitalism may experience losses from scoffing at ambition? That famous 47 % plus or minus that expects to be taken care of by government with just a minimum of effort–effort consisting mostly of political maneuvering, not smart enterprise–must not be disappointed. Obama must continue to be their leader, guru, guide and protector!

Looks to me that Obama is making no secret of it now: he will cater to the dependent class and only throw a few bones to the entrepreneurs, enough so they keep producing enough for Obama’s constituency to remain satisfied parasites. Most of them feel that those who are successful in a largely free market economy don’t deserve it; they are living off the blood and sweat of Obama’s people!

If you don’t believe me, consider a recently deceased philosopher of the welfare state from Harvard University, the place where much of Obama’s political and moral philosophy was fashioned: “The assertion that a man deserves the superior character that enables him to make the effort to cultivate his abilities is … problematic; for his character depends in large part upon fortunate family and social circumstances for which he can claim no credit.” John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971), pp. 104.

In other words, as Obama put it during the campaign for the presidency: You did not build it: “if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something–there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there….” No, you got there mostly by accident of birth! Like the rich of the feudal era!

None of us is successful without having gained from certain others in our lives. No argument about that. But, first, this doesn’t entitle anyone else to rob one of the fruits of the success. It doesn’t follow! Second, the entrepreneurial initiative of those who do succeed is not shared by all. They may have had some help but they needed to figure out how to put that help to good use. That is where they earned their success, not from creating things out of nothing (a ridiculous idea that the takers wish to peddle).

The bottom line is that Obama & Co. want to promote the idea that successful people have but a tiny bit if anything at all to do with their success and, therefore–which is a colossal non-sequitur–Obama & Co. may rip them off good and hard.

In fact, the human element in human success is enormous. What it requires from those like Obama is for them to get out of the way, to show confidence in the makers, not the takers.