Category: Altruism

Genocidal Libertarianism

| April 15, 2015 | Reply

How much collateral damage are libertarians willing to accept as the price for implementing their policies? In my experience, they avoid this topic by refusing to recognize the existence of collateral damage. Instead, they speak of the Promised Land on the horizon – – the utopian society that will simply occur once government packs up and leaves.

At Think Progress, Ian Millhiser discusses the foundation principles of libertarianism set forth by Herbert Spencer. Here’s an excerpt:

Herbert Spencer was a popular author during the nineteenth century who supported strict limits on the government and even opposed many forms of charity towards the poor. Nature, Spencer argued, “secures the growth” of the human race by “weeding out those of lowest development,” and he also believed that neither government nor private charity should interfere with this process of natural selection. Though Spencer was not a eugenicist — he actually argued that the poor should be treated much more harshly than nineteenth and twentieth century eugenicists did — he was both a social acquaintance of Sir Francis Galton, the father of the eugenics movement, and a significant influence on Galton’s thinking. Spencer also shaped many of the policies developed by some of the most powerful judges and lawmakers of his era.

Reading Spencer’s many works today is an uncomfortable experience — the man devotes hundreds of pages to establishing a philosophical justification for a kind of neglect that most Americans would now view as a moral atrocity. Yet Spencer is also one of the foundational thinkers in the development of the economically libertarian philosophy that drives politicians such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). . . . Not long after we published this piece, two of the libertarian movement’s flagship institutions leaped to Spencer’s defense. Over at Reason, Damon Root does not contest our description of Spencer as one of the foundational thinkers in the development of Rand Paul’s economic libertarianism. He does, however, contest our description of Spencer as a genocidal libertarian. Though we quote Spencer’s 1851 book Social Statics, which opposes “[a]cts of parliament to save silly people” and argues that if a man or woman is “not sufficiently complete to live, they die, and it is best they should die,” Root claims that Spencer “never advocated anything remotely like letting the poor die in the streets.”

Miller quotes Spencer on the roll of charity:

Instead of diminishing suffering, it eventually increases it. It favours the multiplication of those worst fitted for existence, and, by consequence, hinders the multiplication of those best fitted for existence—leaving, as it does, less room for them. It tends to fill the world with those to whom life will bring most pain, and tends to keep out of it those to whom life will bring most pleasure. It inflicts positive misery, and prevents positive happiness. . . . ”

Miller comments on Spencer’s disparagement of public (governmental) and private charity:

Spencer called for a near-blanket prohibition on “relief of the poor from public funds raised by rates,” but he also objected to charity administered by “privately established and voluntary organizations.” When a donor gives to such an organization, Spencer reasoned, the “beneficiary is not brought in direct relation with the benefactor” and this increases the likelihood that the money will ultimately be spent on “idlers, spendthrifts, and drunkards” or someone else that Spencer viewed as “worthless.

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Eulogy by the Deceased

| November 18, 2014 | Reply

Eulogies are best when given by the (not-quite-yet) deceased.

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Other things security cameras capture

| April 20, 2013 | Reply
Other things security cameras capture

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How Ayn Rand destroyed a home

| August 16, 2012 | 13 Replies
How Ayn Rand destroyed a home

Salon presents a young adult’s description of how Ayn Rand destroyed her family. This vivid and intensely personal article by Alyssa Bereznak exposes the ugly underbelly of objectivism, summed up by the following words by Ayn Rand:

My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.

I disagree with those who believe that Rand offers a path to a meaningful life. I see life as a yin-yang dynamic, a struggle we all have trying to balance our own needs and wants with the needs of the group. [More . . . ]

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Giving away things you don’t need to wash your spirit clean

| December 17, 2011 | Reply
Giving away things you don’t need to wash your spirit clean

Cherokee song with a simple challenge:

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Why does Santa Claus let so many African children starve to death?

| October 29, 2011 | Reply
Why does Santa Claus let so many African children starve to death?

Tomorrow is Halloween, the day when Americans agree that it’s OK to talk about death, evil spirits and depravity while eating lots of unhealthy food. These traditions seem normal to those of us who have done this October drill more than a few times, but Halloween must seem completely bonkers to outsiders.

I suspect that Halloween serves as a psychological safety valve, allowing us to air out our anxieties about our deepest fears. On Halloween, we talk about these horrible things (dismemberment and other forms of horror) together while laughing—there’s seemingly safety in numbers. And then we make sure that we avoid talking about these things for the remainder of the year. On days other than Halloween, we don’t like to be reminded of the fact that there are skeletons inside of our bodies and that we’re all on a treadmill leading to inevitable death, and that there is no evidence of any afterlife. These things freak us out because there is no cure, no fix, other than working hard to fabricate that everything is OK.  For most of the year, we follow the pattern predicted by Terror management Theory: we cover up the fact that we are mortal animals through the use of elaborate diversions and baubles, pretending that we are Gods with anuses.  I often attempt to do otherwise, and to share my thoughts freely, but I admit that my fear of inevitable death occasionally gets the better of me too. Thus, I do think I understand the need for something like Halloween in a society that heavily discourages free-thinking about disturbing topics. These topics are heavy to me too, though regularly delve into these topics rather than dousing myself in Halloween tradition or seeking comfort by joining a traditional religion. For most people, though, Halloween rituals seem to offer a bit of relief from this admittedly heavy existential anxiety.

Thanksgiving is coming around the corner, and we have ready-made myths to take care of our anxieties related to that holiday too.  Thanksgiving is the time for many Americans to unquestionably repeat the myth that benevolent Europeans were welcomed to American by the Native Americans: “Hello, white people. Make yourselves at home. Take our possessions and our land. Send us to reservations.” One little story about Europeans sharing a meal with Native Americans takes care of thousands of pages of inconvenient history. One little myth kicks in the confirmation bias and invites Americans to believe that they live on a moral oasis, and that it’s OK to strictly filter our history in order to think happy thoughts about how many of us came to be here. Pass the turkey, please.

What kind of myth would extend one’s belief in a moral oasis almost all the way to the new year? If you owned a magic sleigh and you were capable of creating and distributing toys and food all over the world, why would you ignore the children of Africa? The evidence suggests that Santa skips them year after year, even though many of them are dying of starvation and malaria.  Further, this tragedy is something that American children don’t discuss in the context of the Santa

myth. But if you’re magical then, damn it, what’s more important? More iPods for well-to-do American families (it seems like Santa gives well-to-do American families better gifts) or basic food, water and medicine to prevent African children from starving?  Maybe Santa doesn’t care about African children. Or maybe he doesn’t know about the existence of Africa because his Atlas is out of date.  Or maybe he avoids Africa there’s not much snow there. But, again, we don’t discuss the Africa problem with our children when we tell them about the magic and benevolence of Santa Claus, and we are silent because Africa is inconvenient to the Santa story.

The increasingly dominant prosperity Gospel churches preach that Jesus wants us to hit the stores hard on Black Friday because we deserve to have lots of stuff. Many Americans are attracted to churches that advise them that admission to heaven is through faith, and not good works. It’s OK with this Faith version of Jesus that we buy lots of consumer goods rather than saying no to ourselves and sending all of that gadget money to organizations that can truly feed starving African children and provide them with mosquito nets. Year after year, the Santa myth serves as a focus-mechanism of a precious human commodity—attention–that makes certain aspects of the world salient at the expense of downplaying others. That is the general mechanism of all myths. They are colored filters for reality.

In these modern times, our many comforting myths need some serious self-critical analysis, but that is unlikely, because their power is in their uncritical repetition. All of this immediately makes sense when we remind ourselves that we choose our myths—they don’t fall down from the sky.

[http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-santa-in-his-christmas-sled-or-sleigh-silhouette-image20920349 used with permission.  Map of Africa – creative commons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Africa_(orthographic_projection).svg]

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Ayn Rand’s worship of a serial killer

| April 17, 2011 | 2 Replies
Ayn Rand’s worship of a serial killer

I was stunned when I read this article by Mark Ames at Alternet. I’ve long found Ayn Rand’s worldview to be morally stunted, even sociopathic, but I had no idea that she was so far gone that she fervently admired a serial-killer/dismemberer. Check out this intro:

There’s something deeply unsettling about living in a country where millions of people froth at the mouth at the idea of giving health care to the tens of millions of Americans who don’t have it, or who take pleasure at the thought of privatizing and slashing bedrock social programs like Social Security or Medicare. It might not be so hard to stomach if other Western countries also had a large, vocal chunk of the population that thought like this, but the U.S. is seemingly the only place where right-wing elites can openly share their distaste for the working poor. Where do they find their philosophical justification for this kind of attitude?

It turns out, you can trace much of this thinking back to Ayn Rand, a popular cult-philosopher who exerts a huge influence over much of the right-wing and libertarian crowd, but whose influence is only starting to spread out of the U.S.

One reason most countries don’t find the time to embrace Ayn Rand’s thinking is that she is a textbook sociopath. In her notebooks Ayn Rand worshiped a notorious serial murderer-dismemberer, and used this killer as an early model for the type of “ideal man” she promoted in her more famous books. These ideas were later picked up on and put into play by major right-wing figures of the past half decade, including the key architects of America’s most recent economic catastrophe . . .

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Craig Newmark’s new connection-venture

| April 10, 2011 | Reply
Craig Newmark’s new connection-venture

Craig Newmark is the well-known founder of Craigslist. At the 2011 National Conference for Media Reform, I had the opportunity to hear him discuss his new project, craigconnects, the stated goal of which is to bridge the gap between concerned citizens and great causes. According to this write-up, craigconnects “spotlights companies doing positive work in categories including Veterans’ Issues, Technology for Social Good, Community Building, and Journalism Integrity.”

At the NCMR, Newmark remarked that craigconnects is going to be a work in progress and that he has made a 20 year commitment to see how far he can take it.

Hearing about craigconnects reminds me of an organization a friend recently told me about:  Kiva.  If you would like to help someone out with a micro-loan, Kiva is a great place to get you connected.

We are a non-profit organization with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. Leveraging the internet and a worldwide network of microfinance institutions, Kiva lets individuals lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world.

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Free market family

| February 8, 2011 | Reply
Free market family

Have you ever heard of a family that ran well without any bureaucracy and without any formal regulations? Of course you have, and that because the social group is small and all members are well-acquainted with each other. The group is kept in check as a result of a top-down power structure under the control of the parents. The family is also guided by well-understood customs and habits, by kin selection and by reciprocal altruism. No surprise here, that families don’t need formal rules and regulations.

How about a corporation, though? Have you ever heard of a successful large corporation that had no need for formal rules and regulations? I haven’t. These organizations are much bigger than families, of course. There is little biological relatedness and they lack most of the other “natural” regulation that families have. They are held in check thanks to numerous rules and regulations, many of them published in the corporation’s manuals filled with policies and procedures.

Now think about an entire country. How is it that so many conservatives insist that a country can run well without rules and regulations? How can they insist that the fewer rules, the better a country will run? On what do they base this? On countries without rules and regulations, such as Somalia or Haiti?

We have test cases called corporations that absolutely need formal regulations, yet free market fundamentalists insist that entire countries, which are much larger, much more complex, and rife with conflicting interest groups, will simply run by themselves, without planning or structure.

I don’t get it. Just because many rules and regulations don’t make sense, you don’t through out rules all together. Large organizations need smart rules. They need rules that work. There is no example otherwise. How can this possibly be controversial?

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