Archive for June, 2013

Ethnicity is Obsolete

Ethnicity is Obsolete

Tibor R. Machan

One of Greece’s most notable pieces of ancient history concerns the region’s repeated battles with barbarians from the East. The Greeks considered themselves civilized, advanced, cultured people. Cultural chauvinism had been rampant and in most historical accounts it is generally thought to have been fully justified. The reason is that despite much dispute about what if anything is universally, objectively true concerning how human beings ought to organize their communities, certain basic principles are not thought to be controversial. Thus, for example, we now take it that human beings possess certain basic rights. And while this idea may have been expressed differently in ancient times, the Greeks of 5th century B.C. made the greatest leap toward implementing it in their communities. Democracy itself was a result of this revolutionary public policy. And there were all kinds of ethical, intellectual, scientific and related advances made by the Greeks which set them miles ahead of other civilizations of the time.

Yet even back in those days it was rather difficult to be clear(about who actually was a civilized person and who a barbarian. Some who might have looked more like most of the former, did not behave accordingly, and vice-verse. For example, among the barbarians who became slaves in Greece, some became formidable thinkers of their own right. Certainly, interbreeding began right off. So it was by no means simple from the outset to identify ethnic membership.

And this is as one might expect. After all, what really unites us biologically in this world is our membership in the human species. Our so called ethnic membership is ultimately irrelevant to what and who we are, in the final analysis. It comprises only incidental, traditional or conventional elements of our makeup. We take on those elements because our parents and our neighbors insist, not because they are inborn.

If this was true already in the 5th century B.C., it is certainly true today. That is why the recent efforts to reintroduce ethnicity into modern society were so wrongheaded and such a sign of regress instead of progress in the human condition.

One need only travel a bit and notice how true this is. On this trip, which I took so as to deliver a talk about individualism at a conference – held at the Athens University of Economics and Business – I had an experience that fully highlights this point. I met a young person from Pakistan who is engaged to an Italian and they both wish to marry. But the parents of the former are against it on grounds that we can only consider ethnic prejudice. Yet, except for the desire to please the parents, the young persons see no point in upholding the ethnic boundaries that supposedly separate them. Those boundaries are, as they see it, entirely arbitrary except for the wishes of some who are dear to them. This is an especially poignant case to me since I know a young woman who is a Danish national whose parents are Pakistani and Danish. And, of course, my own parents are ethnically diverse – my mother is Transylvanian German and my father was a Hungarian whose parents came from Scotland or Slovakia or something!

In the United States of America ethnic distinctions are especially impossible to maintain with a straight face. Who are the Native Americans? The blacks? The whites? The Hispanics? These are entirely accidental categories, having to do with attributes that hardly remain stable over the lives of individuals, let alone across generations.

In our world the barbarians at the gate are, in fact, those who wish to forcefully reintroduce into our lives the ancient distinction between the civilized and the primitive forces. These barbarians, no matter their color or tradition or convictions, insist that human beings ought to be divided into sects and that this division should make a major difference in their lives. They, thus, deny the most important discovery the ancient Greeks made, namely, that what really counts is that we are all human individuals with the need to be treated justly, that is, in line with our basic humanity.

How to Secure a Free Country

How to Secure a free country

Tibor R. Machan

NSA’s excuse for snooping on innocent citizens — namely, that it can prevent serious harm to us, might even save lives — is spurious. If you incarcerated us all, that, too, might do all that. Free men and women are, of course, capable of violence, even murder, but unless it is proven that they are embarking on these, unless the burden of proof is fully met, they must be left free. The job of protecting the citizenry must be carried out without violating their rights. That is the spirit behind constitutional government, especially the American Bill of Rights. If you sign up to work in the security professions, you must adhere to strict standards and do your job without violating them. You must cope with the limits and not run rampant unrestrained. (It is a bit like medical research and experimentation–it is all very important but doesn’t justify ignoring the basic rights of patients and subjects!)

That our government officials fail to grasp all this is truly a disaster. When they refuse to act within the limits posed by our individual rights, they are a far greater danger than terrorism! Indeed, they become like terrorists, making use of arbitrary means to reach their goals! Nothing excuses it! The oath of office of all security professionals includes a commitment to act without doing violence of the rights of the citizenry, including to their right to privacy and due process.

When I joined the US Air Force I had to swear allegiance to the U. S. Constitution. Same when I took the oath and became a U. S. Citizen. Doing all this had to do with what constitutes limited government. One must not violate the rights of the citizenry while serving in the military or even while being a citizen. In plain terms, one may be a member of the military and a citizen provided one refrains from violating the rights of others. The details may be complicated at times but the principle is the same: No attacks on other people, no violence against them and their property, without following due process.

The NSA, too, is restrained along these lines: to discover if someone is a threat to the country, one must follow certain procedures. If one fails to do so, one is a criminal, not a security officer.

No doubt carrying out one’s duties in the capacity of a security officer can be a challenge, just as it is a challenge to carry out one’s duties as a police officer, soldier, etc. But that is how one serves in the security services of a free country, not by taking shortcuts.

Thank you Scientists and Technologists

Thank you Scientists and Technologists

Tibor R. Machan

There is so much that scientists have discovered that makes our lives rich and rewarding that it may seem pointless to call attention to it all. But I am very fond of the saying, “Notice the good and praise it,” over and over again.

Of course, what science and technology bring forth can be of immense significance, in medicine, transportation, agriculture and so forth. But there are the trivial pursuits that are enhanced by it as well. For me the delete button on my Mac, the mute button on my TV, the screening I can do on my phone now as well as many other minor benefits make a lot of difference.

For example, as an avid tennis fan, I watch most of the major tournaments, such as the French Open, the US Open, Wimbledon, etc. But I detest it when audiences make pointless noise. Certain players have fans who insist on creating intolerable noise. In some cases they even bring noise producing instruments with which to make that racket.

Less annoying but still nice to avoid is when players, mostly the women, scream as they hit the ball or during their serves. Or when some commentators insist on yakking on endlessly, with their idiosyncratic observations and memories of previous tennis events in which I have no interest at all. I am very grateful to whoever invented the muting device and subtitles.

I used to own a P-1800 Volvo sedan. I had it for over twenty years. I liked it a lot and now and then I would express my thanks to the engineers who designed it. These days I do something similar to my computer, my stereo system, TV and so forth.

So let this be a short tip of the hat to all those folks who work on ways to make life better for us all.