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Everything posted by Invictus2017

  1. I was working on an essay about immigration, and realized that I had to first deal with an error in Objectivism. So here is what I ran into. (All quotes are from Rand.) "The basic political principle of the Objectivist ethics is: no man may initiate the use of physical force against others." ("The Objectivist Ethics".) And, "In a civilized society, force may be used only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use." ("The Nature of Government".) These statements are false. To explain why, I need to go back to first (political) principles. A "right" is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man's right to his own life. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action — means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life. ("Man's Rights".) So, the determination of what constitutes a right requires an analysis of what actions the nature of a rational being require in a social context. From "The Nature of Government" (all further quotes are from there): Man's rights can be violated only by the use of physical force. It is only by means of physical force that one man can deprive another of his life, or enslave him, or rob him, or prevent him from pursuing his own goals, or compel him to act against his own rational judgment. This is not true. Fraud, for example, violates rights, but no physical force is used. Rand gets around this by asserting that fraud involves "indirect force", but this is silly — if there is any physical force involved in fraud, it is in the retrieval of that which was taken by the fraud, not in the fraud itself. Moreover, Rand nowhere explains how one determines what constitutes indirect force. What force, fraud, and certain other categories of action have in common is that, by their nature, they are incompatible with their object's actions to further his own life. Force necessarily deprives a person of the ability to act on his own will. Fraud necessarily deprives a person of the information needed to engage in voluntary trade. Rand observed that, "The precondition of a civilized society is the barring of physical force from social relationships — thus establishing the principle that if men wish to deal with one another, they may do so only by means of reason: by discussion, persuasion and voluntary, uncoerced agreement." Rand's error here is not in her conclusion, but only in how she arrived at it. Fraud, e.g., must be banned, not because it is a species of "indirect force", but because it is inconsistent with "voluntary, uncoerced agreement" which, in turn, makes it inconsistent with a person's acting to further his own life in a social context. Why is my way better? Because it allows one to solve other problems that would otherwise have to be dealt with ad hoc, by asserting that they involve some species of "indirect force". So, for example, if I invite you into my property and then forbid you to use its exits, I may not be using any sort of physical force, but I am preventing you from furthering your own life. Such an action would therefore violate your rights. So what to make of the "nonaggression principle" I started out with? It must be taken as a mere approximation, to be clarified later. (It's not really germane here, but I should note that Rand's critique of libertarianism — that it takes the nonaggression principle as an axiom when it is anything but — misses the real problem, which is that the nonaggression principle is simply false.) So what is it an approximation to? The essential point Rand makes is that society is a value because it enables one to obtain knowledge from and to trade with others in the service of one's life. What must be banned is not force, or even the initiation of force, but whatever, by its nature, is inconsistent with those values (which includes the initiation of force). Such things necessarily violate rights and it is proper to use force (or fraud or any other species of otherwise rights-violating action) to protect against them or to vindicate rights violated by their use. There is no short phrase for these things, so I am going to use the phrase "violative force" — with scare quotes — from hereon to refer to these things. (If you will, my "violative force" comprises physical force plus what Rand called "indirect force", except that my definition allows one to use reason to determine what constitutes "violative force".) The proper formulation of the nonaggression principle is that no person may use "violative force" against another. But this principle is not sufficient to for the needs of society. There are situations where it is proper to take actions that would otherwise constitute "violative force" to defend or vindicate one's rights. Such actions, "defensive force" and "retaliatory "force" (again, I'll keep the scare quotes), are not only permissible, they are necessary to a proper society. As necessary as they may be, society cannot function if their use is left to the judgment of each person. There must be an organization, the government, that constrains the use of all three sorts of "force". This constraint operates in two ways. The use of "defensive force" in exigent situations cannot, by its nature, be delegated to the government. If you have a burglar in your home, it's too late to call the police — your rights are being violated and only you (or others right there) can put an end to the violation. The government's function is, first, to define such situations and what constitutes "defensive force" in those situations and, second, to review each use of "force" to see whether it is "defensive" or "violative". You get to shoot the burglar, if that is your chosen method of self-defense, but you will be required to show that his actions were "violative force", thereby permitting you the use of "defensive force". Non-exigent uses of "defensive force" and all uses of "retaliatory force" must be left to the government, but the government must be utterly rule-bound, constrained to act objectively, as Rand noted: The retaliatory use of force requires objective rules of evidence to establish that a crime has been committed and to prove who committed it, as well as objective rules to define punishments and enforcement procedures. Consider, however, what would happen if people could arbitrarily deprive the government of facts it needs to make proper use of "force". Its procedures would then necessarily lack the objectivity that a government must have, and would therefore be inconsistent with the rights of the governed. It follows then that no person may arbitrarily deprive the government of the information it needs to properly employ "force", that doing so is in itself a violation of the rights of the governed. Note here that, under Rand's formulation, a refusal to respond to a subpoena would have to be classified as indirect force, but it is anything but obvious that such a refusal is any kind of force, or even that it violates anyone's rights. It was this conclusion that led me to rethink the formulation of the nature of force. Under my formulation, such a refusal is clearly "violative force" because it is demonstrably inconsistent with the requirements of life in society, just as much as non-defensive physical force, fraud, etc., is. But, to return to the point with which I began this essay, it is simply not true that, "In a civilized society, force may be used only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use." Only by twisting the word force into a hyperpretzel is it possible to consider, for example, a refusal to answer a subpoena as an initiation of force justifying retaliatory force. This proposition needs to simply be excised from Objectivism, replaced with a more accurate description of what sort of actions are forbidden and when an action that would ordinarily violate rights is legitimate.
  2. I spent a lot of time during the 90's on Usenet discussing philosophy. One of the things that really annoyed me was what I call the "hostile reader". They were like cockroaches in the philosophy discussion groups, always there and always ready to pollute the discussion. I encountered one such person on this site and, after his nature because clear to me, I put his username in my ignore list. (I also announced that I had done so, but it appears that he missed that.) But one day I checked the site without logging in, and I saw how he had responded to a couple of my posts. Ordinarily, I would have put his posts out of my mind, but they provided such a good example of hostile reading that I was unable to. After waiting several days (to avoid unnecessary emotionalism on my part) and after some thought, this post resulted. The context was that DonAthos and I were having a discussion that was going nowhere. Over the years, I've learned that if a proper debate results in seemingly irreconcilable positions, the cause is probably not the bullheaded stupidity of one's opponent, it is likely that there is at least one proposition that has not been debated, a proposition relied on by both debaters, which they have different views on. In order for the debate to progress, it is necessary to identify that proposition. So, I decided that I'd get a little Socratic and try a few questions to see if we might spot our real point(s) of disagreement. My first question was, in relation to a situation I had described, "Do you think that it would be legitimate for you to use violence then?" DonAthos' reply was to ask, "what do you mean when you say that the use of violence is 'legitimate'"? He wasn't sure which of the many meanings of the term I had intended, so he asked me. Our hostile reader, by contrast, asserted that, "'Legitimate' is a stolen concept." Of course, "legitimate" is not inherently a stolen concept; what he meant was that I had employed the fallacy of the stolen concept. He based this on the assumption that I had intended the meaning of "legitimate" that is associated with law. I replied to DonAthos, "I meant 'legitimate' in the sense of 'morally proper'". The hostile reader then insisted that, "'Legitimate' hierarchically comes after moral knowledge." and that I was "conflating the moral with the legal." So, instead of accepting that I had used "legitimate" in the sense I had specified (see Merriam-Webster's "conforming to recognized principles"), the hostile reader insisted that his definition was the one I had used. DonAthos displayed the virtue of benevolence: He assumed that I had something sensible to say, and wanted to know what it was. What the hostile reader displayed was irrationality. He put words into my mouth (or, well, meaning into my words), for reasons that had nothing to do with advancing the discussion. A hostile reader is different from a flamer, and is a lower form of life. The flamer is at least honest about his intent -- he wishes ill to that which he flames. But the hostile reader is fundamentally dishonest. He uses the seeming of rational argument, but his goal is personal gratification by means of provocation. He isn't looking to understand or to be understood; he wants to control. In the current example, this is fairly obvious: The hostile reader tried to control the language of the discussion, by insisting that "legitimate" could only mean what he said it meant. No self-respecting debater would tolerate that sort of control, and many will respond by arguing against the hostile reader's position. This is what that person wanted. Had I fallen for it, I'd have become embroiled in never-ending arguments, which would have gratified the hostile reader, but wouldn't likely have done anyone else any good. In my view, the correct response to the hostile reader is to remove him from the forum he disrupts. Failing that, ostracism works well. Like any troll, if he can't get the emotional gratification he seeks, he'll go elsewhere to get it. Arguing with him is a pointless waste of time, because he will only argue on his terms, and his terms are not intended to foster understanding. Those who want to engage the hostile reader must do so with a firm statement of reality. Had I been so inclined, I might have said, "You may not dictate how I use the language, you may not impute to me meanings I am not using, and you will not provoke me into a fight. If you wish to contribute to this discussion, you will make an effort to understand what other people are saying and you will respond to their actual meanings, not what you want them to mean." Repeat, mutatis mutandis, and probably ad nauseam. This is unlikely to generate a change in the hostile reader's behavior, but it may render him impotent.
  3. Dealing with the Hostile Reader

    I think it'd make more sense to respond to the idea, than make it all about you. If the example is wrong, show it, or if you made a mistake, acknowledge it. Doesn't need to be a battle. I think it just all amounts to misreading. It happens, and at times you can read a person's tone as hostile. Perhaps Invictus, too, was a hostile reader of MisterSwig. It's a thing to be aware of. Thick skin as SK suggested doesn't solve it. I made the considered choice to not include an attribution so that the example of hostile reading might be addressed on its merits rather than through personalities. If MisterSwig wants his name to be attached to the example, I would be happy to edit the post (or to have a site administrator edit the post) to reflect his authorship of those quotes. You're right that thick skin does not solve any problem here. This being an Objectivist forum, I would suggest, "Judge, and prepare to be judged" is a more appropriate response. In that vein, let's note what MisterSwig did in response to his asserted desire for attribution -- he didn't ask for attribution, he asked to have my post eviscerated. That is not the action of someone who wants rational discussion, it is the act of someone who wants to curtail rational discussion.
  4. Dealing with the Hostile Reader

    Odds are good that I've been on the Internet longer than you've been alive. As for gtfo....are you here to discuss or to flame?
  5. Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

    Perhaps. Or perhaps there was a contradiction within their arguments that they did not recognize. Yup. And, if so, I might have made a similar error....Anyway, I do hope you understand that I was merely poking a little fun at your labeling my arguments as statist; I certainly don't imagine that either of them are statist. (I also see that my attempt to get rid of those pesky italics was less than successful.) Just to note, I think this takes a different approach than has thus far been taken in the thread, and one that I've been considering for a little while, as well. I've grown to suspect that if subpoena is appropriate in any manner, this may be the way to get there. Rand's position as described in that quote is actually where I started from, but the problems I saw with it ultimately resulted in my starting this topic. The Randian derivation of rights starts from the premises that one must do certain things in order to live and force prevents one from doing those things. Therefore (skipping a few steps), one has various rights and the only time one may use force is in response to another's initiation of force. Rand's validation of the subpoena power, accepting this derivation as valid, requires that any violation of rights be considered a species of force, but this begs the question of why violating rights constitutes force. That said, Rand's position here is not utterly impossible, but it requires an additional proposition before it can stand up, one that I don't think Rand has stated explicitly, but which is implicit in a number of things she said. This proposition is simply that one's right to be free of force extends only to those actions one has a right to take. The most obvious example of this proposition in use is in the NAP itself: Since one has no right to initiate force, doing so negates one's right to be free from force, thus allowing others to reply with force. If this proposition is accepted, Rand's argument makes perfect sense -- if I refuse to comply with a subpoena, I violate the rights of the parties to justice, thereby removing from me the right to be free from force in retaliation for my refusal to comply. The government then has the option to use force to obtain my compliance. This proposition is entirely consistent with the logic of Rand's theory of rights; its main drawback -- for Objectivist purists, anyway -- is that it is inconsistent with Rand's oft repeated assertion that force may only be used in response to the initiation of force. I'm pretty sure that I already proposed the idea that one's right to be free from force extends only to those actions one has the right to take, and that this idea was pooh-poohed. If memory serves, that's why I tried an argument that is closer to the Peikoffian one. (I note that I do not agree with Peikoff's argument, insofar as it seems based on some notion of a social contract. But there is a version of his argument that does not require the use of a mythical social contract. In essence, one assents to the actions of a proper government because one is rational and recognizes one's need for such a government. Anyway, before delving further into Peikoff's argument it would make sense for me to pause to see how you react to my interpretation of Rand's argument.) Just to be sure I'm clear here, the thrust of my argument is that force-in-retaliation is not limited solely to responding to force, but may also be used in response to any violation of rights. Of course, if there's a proper government around, the individual's right to employ force in response to a rights violation is limited to immediate self-defense; otherwise, the government, acting in accordance with law, must act on the individual's behalf. Among the consequences of such a theory is that the government would have the subpoena power, for the reason that Rand gave. ADDED: You said: "This, however, reflects the approach you've taken (at times, at least), and I continue to disagree with it, for all of the reasons already given." In case it isn't clear, I regard this conversation as a method of clarifying my own thoughts on the NAP. I therefore reserve the right to change my mind at any time, in the face of a sufficiently compelling disagreement.
  6. Russia is our enemy, just as it is to any semi-rational people. But, unless Russia starts throwing around nukes, they are not a danger anywhere near that of our own government, enabled by a populace that values what it imagines as security over actual freedom. If anything, Russia might have done us a favor in their efforts to get Trump elected -- there is always the chance that Trump's awfulness will serve as a dash of cold water in the face of the American electorate. (OK, you can call me Pollyanna now. :))
  7. Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

    I meant "legitimate" in the sense of "morally proper". I meant "have a right" in the sense of Objectivist rights theory, as opposed to "acting rightly" or the colloquial "have the right". In practical terms, it matters not at all -- what I was trying to illustrate is that the concept of rights is defined in a certain context -- society -- and is simply inapplicable elsewhere. In this particular example, it is morally proper to use violence. But you can't say that you have a right to use violence (or, for that matter, don't have a right to use violence) because you're not in society and so to talk of rights is to commit a reasoning error. (That's why I phrased the question as, "would you say that..."). I note that when Rand says that rights apply in a social context, she doesn't really define what "social context" is. I took her to mean "in society", but not something like a random meeting of strangers in some untenanted part of the world. One could reasonably say that she intended that to cover any situation where one is dealing with other people. If I were to adopt that definition, I would have to answer "yes" to my first "rights" question. If you prefer this other definition for "social context", I'm happy to oblige, since it doesn't really matter for the points I'm trying to present, although it would change which examples I use in trying to get my points across. BTW, I have been doing some research to see what other Objectivists have had to say on the subject of subpoenas, and I managed to find comments from both Rand and Peikoff. I have found comments from others, but some of them were pretty long. I want to boil them down before posting them. So later, I'll post a complete summary of what I've found. But I figured that you'd like to see what the official Objectivists had to say, so I'll post that now. Rand was interviewed in 1980 on a radio show, The Raymond Newman Journal, and a transcript appears in "Objectively Speaking: Ayn Rand Interviewed", p. 249. (Google has the page online.) She was asked, "Article Six of the Bill of Rights gives individuals the right to subpoena witnesses to testify in their favor. People who don't respond to subpoenas are subject to contempt citations, fines and imprisonment. Does this deny the freedom of the witness if he chooses not to testify?" Rand replied: "Not really. I am in favor of such laws because, presumably, if there is a court case, somebody has been hurt. And if a witness has knowledge relevant to the issue and he refuses to testify, he is the one who is violating the rights of the defendant, or whomever his testimony involves. If either party in the case needs the information he has, he couldn't have an honest reason for refusing to provide it, because he is interfering with justice. He is saying, in effect, 'The court may decide wrongly without me, but I still don't want to testify.' I don't think that's legitimate." Leonard Peikoff also addressed subpoenas in his podcast, at http://www.peikoff.com/2010/06/07/ayn-rand-accepts-the-right-of-the-state-in-the-administration-of-justice-to-subpoena-witnesses-but-this-depends-on-the-use-of-force-and-coercion-of-witnesses-to-testify-why-is-this-justified/ He first stated the question he was addressing, "Ayn Rand accepts the right of the state, in the administration of justice, to subpoena witnesses. But this depends on the use of force, the coercion of witnesses to testify. Why is this justified?" He answered, "She was asked this in my presence, and she said, 'it is implicit in the initial agreement to form a state and obey its laws on the part of individuals. If that is their choice, it is only possible if there are going to be objective laws and objective means of gathering the evidence necessary, including the objective evidence available. Otherwise we are in a contradiction: We want a state with a certain kind of laws and administration, but we're not willing to provide the information that is necessary.' And it was for that reason that the subpoena was justified. "The same, by the way, with a jury, because if no one will volunteer for a jury, the process of adjudication that the citizens have authorized, implicit in forming the government, becomes impossible. "But the very, very important thing is that this cannot be extended beyond the requirements of the legal system. For example, 'Well, in order to have laws, we have to survive, and in order to survive we need food and rent, and therefore the government has the power to coerce it.' That is not entailed. We are speaking of the narrow, concrete requirements to carry out a trial, taking for granted that the feeding, clothing, building, everything else involved, is not within the function of the government." Peikoff slightly amended his position regarding jury duty in a later podcast, http://www.peikoff.com/2010/07/19/should-jury-duty-be-compulsory-as-it-is-in-the-u-s-today/, where he also (perhaps) slightly clarified his position on subpoenas: "If you sign up for a government you volunteer to help set up and support, you want the protection, you pay the cost, and implicit in that is that you will contribute the minimum which is actually required for it to perform its functions, even if that includes a certain degree of your own participation." He then says that part of that minimum is the right of subpoena, which he described as "inherent in justice". I guess they're statists too.
  8. Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

    Obviously, we're not getting anywhere with the rather free-ranging discussion we've been having, so I'd like to try to present individual parts of my reasoning, one at a time, and see what you make of them. So.... Suppose that there is no society. You're living in the middle of nowhere and, while you're away, I come and take some of your things. When you come back, you discover your loss. You hunt me down. I refuse to hand over your things. You use violence to get them back. Do you think that it would be legitimate for you to use violence then? Would you say that you have a right to use violence in that situation? Now suppose that you live in a rational society, one with a functioning government. While you are out, I break into your home and take some of your things. When you come back, you discover your loss. You hunt me down. I refuse to hand over your things. You use violence to get them back. The same questions: Do you think that it would be legitimate for you to use violence then? Would you say that you have a right to use violence in that situation? My answers: In the first situation, your use of violence is legitimate, but you do not have a right to use violence. In the second situation, your use of violence is not legitimate, nor do you have a right to use violence. What are your answers?
  9. Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

    Presumably, Rand had some context in mind, as she generally did. Was her context, "any society", or was it the more restrictive context used in the derivation of the Objectivist ethics? I assume the latter, since that was the context she ordinarily used, and because she use the word "right". Would she have answered differently had the question been whether the draft would be legitimate if the country was facing immediate annihilation? Possibly. All such speculation aside, I really don't much care what Rand had to say abut the draft or about taxation, I want to figure it out for myself. If it's controversial, that means some people don't get "contextual absolutes". In any discussion, it is essential to be clear as to what facts one assumes, because the assumptions do matter. Rand's whole theory of rights is predicated on a whole bunch of assumptions and, if any one of them is negated, the theory is no longer applicable. Here's where Rand tells us of the context for the ethics: But these very benefits indicate, delimit and define what kind of men can be of value to one another and in what kind of society: only rational, productive, independent men in a rational, productive, free society. Parasites, moochers, looters, brutes and thugs can be of no value to a human being — nor can he gain any benefit from living in a society geared to their needs, demands and protection, a society that treats him as a sacrificial animal and penalizes him for his virtues in order to reward them for their vices, which means: a society based on the ethics of altruism. No society can be of value to man’s life if the price is the surrender of his right to his life. So for my purposes, I'm assuming that the society is a free society and that, at least for the most part, the people in it are rational. I don't disagree. However, it's still an error to contradict one's premises with one's later "what if's". Rand, while deriving the Objectivist ethics, assumed the possibility of a human existence -- existence in the mode proper to human beings --- and the ethics is not applicable outside of that possibility. It would therefore be a logical error to ask if a person in a country under threat of immediate annihilation had rights, since "rights" are validated in a context that is inconsistent with such a threat. And equally an error to ask if those rights can be violated or even, ahem, alienated in that situation. But again, consider the context. Rational people pay for the services they receive. To assume that they won't is to contradict the premises behind the politics. The only was to make this possibility into a problem is to assume, not that people won't pay, but rather that they can't. That would rather change the moral calculus -- would society be a value if one couldn't protect one's rights via government? Well, the main difference is that, in deriving rights, we assumed certain things, things that now preclude us from assuming their contrary. We know that a generally irrational populace -- one that won't pay for services nor be hired to defend the country -- is inconsistent with those assumptions. We don't know that subpoenas are -- that is, in fact, the question to be answered. In case it isn't clear, I'm not saying that we shouldn't consider what sort of society is appropriate for people who won't pay for services rendered or hire out to defend their country, I'm saying that such considerations would require rethinking the whole idea of rights. It's a completely different kind of question from whether subpoena's are consistent with rights. (Now, if we concluded that subpoenas were inconsistent with rights, then subpoenas would be in the same category as taxation and the draft.) No, that's a misunderstanding of my original position. My assumption has always been that the government can't initiate force. Before it may act, it must have proof (by an appropriate standard) that force was initiated. So, a government can't just issue a subpoena because it feels like it, it would need proof (perhaps by a "probable cause" standard) that the defendant had initiated force before it may issue a subpoena. My question has always been where the government may direct force, once there's enough reason to think that someone had initiated force. Exactly. Your argument has some, ah, force. But there's a difference between what you're describing -- randomly redirected force -- and a subpoena. In the latter, the government is to follow objective procedures to determine that the subpoena is necessary to an objective outcome before issuing the subpoena. The person who must answer isn't subjected to arbitrary force, but carefully -- rationally -- controlled force. This really is the nub of things. Rand did not think that force could or even should be eliminated from society. She wanted it reduced from the disaster that anarchy would produce to force wielded rationally, meaning in the service of human life. Assuming the report that she approved of subpoenas is correct, her attitude was that your choice was, in essence, between your neighbors barging in and trashing your home looking for evidence whenever they felt the need and a government agent bound strictly by rules asking for particular evidence and allowing you to hand it over in the least painful way. Kind of a no brainer, put that way.... Here, I think you're showing a very fundamental misunderstanding of Rand's theory of rights. Nowhere does she say that each person should expect to be entirely free of force, should they not initiate force. What she says is that you should be free of force where you have a right. Also keep in mind that "I have a right to X" does not mean the same as "I have a right to anything that might be considered X". So, for example, you have a right to self-defense, a right that doesn't evaporate because you have a proper government. What does change is that the actions you can take in self-defense are limited. Basically, you can defend yourself in exigent situations, otherwise you have to leave it to the government. You can't decide to become judge, jury, and executioner, just because you don't feel like invoking the government. You have no right to do so, even though doing so would be one way of defending yourself. The mere existence of a proper government changes the implementation, if not the nature, of your rights. On that understanding, the NAP doesn't forbid the use of subpoenas -- provided that there is no right to not provide the government what it needs to be objective. And understand, objectivity truly is in a different category than taxation or the draft. I can imagine a rational government run entirely by volunteers, that has no army because all of its neighbors are peaceful. But without objectivity, a government is no more than a vicious gang. Objectivity is essential to a proper government in a way that funding and manpower are not. But again, there is a fundamental difference between funding and a request for information. Essentially, funding is fungible; information is not. If some people refuse to fund, the rest will face a somewhat higher cost, but if some people refuse to give necessary information, the government will be entirely stymied in dealing with particular cases. So being an accused subjects one to rights violations, even if one is innocent? Or does the accused simply not have a right to refuse to defer? If so, might the recipient of a subpoena not have a right to refuse to defer? Very true. But objectivity -- and justice -- does not require getting it right in every case. It requires making the best effort one can. At times, I wasn't keeping context clear in my head. So here's my position now: In the normal context, neither taxation nor the draft are proper. In the case of a population that won't supply sufficient funds or manpower or is otherwise generally irrational, all bets are off. It's a different context and I'd want to do a separate line of reasoning to come to any conclusion. Let's call it the "snooze". Yes it is. And the snooze, er, NAP really is misstated in this way. Rand's initial point was that the person who willfully initiated force was a destroyer on a fundamental level. It is proper to use force -- even if it turns out to be an initiation -- if one rationally believes that there was an initiation of force, for then the initiation is not willful. So the NAP really needs to say something like, one may not use force except in retaliation for what one rationally believes to be an initiation of force. (No proofreading...gotta run!)
  10. Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

    Yesterday, I had a power flicker at the wrong moment, and it totally trashed a database I was working on. Of course I had a backup, but I've spent the last day bringing it up to date. It's getting kinda late to read and respond but that's all right, it's a good opportunity to bring up something that I think is getting short shrift. Objectivism is consistently fact-based. At every stage, it assimilates relevant facts into principles and proceeds forward. These facts are generally taken from ordinary life, and result in principles derived from and applicable to ordinary life. This is, of course, a good thing. What good would a philosophy be if it only applied to people living on Pluto? :) But there is a "cost" to it, which is that the principles of Objectivism are not universals in the ordinary sense. They are, instead, contextual absolutes, meaning that they apply only within a particular context, generally that of ordinary (or, in some cases, an idealized ordinary) life. The NAP is one such contextual absolute. It derives from the Objectivist ethics which, in turn, derives from consideration of how an adult human being, living in a situation where long-term planning is possible and acting for the long-term is effective. Neither the Objectivist ethics nor the NAP is a valid principle outside that context. Objectivism is not useless outside the standard context, as many of Objectivism's principles have much wider context. If one must, for example, derive some sort of ethics applicable to children or to surviving a natural disaster, there are some basic principles that will apply. At the absolute worst, one can always go back to the axiomatic concepts, since they're valid in every context. Such an ethics might consist of ad hoc propositions or contextually (in the alternative context) absolute principles. Some of the principles might be close to or even identical to those in the Objectivist ethics or to the NAP. But the essential thing is that, until those propositions and principles are derived, one has no guidance at all in the other context. One cannot simply transplant principles from one context to another and get valid principles. As I mentioned, the NAP has no applicability outside the possibility of long-term planning and action. So, for example, it would not prohibit you from using physical force to knock your friend out of the way of an oncoming bus. The fact of that bus and your friend's likely death should it hit him negates the condition underlying the NAP, that he (because the NAP refers to HIS life) have some life to live. Given the circumstance, you'd rely on a different, and prior, moral principle: acting to keep the value that is your friend. (Of course, you probably don't reason it out, you just act, because you've automatized that principle.) There are two reasons this is relevant to the topic. First, the NAP derives from the principle that each person has the right to life, and so applies to anything a person has the right to do. But where there are no rights, there is no NAP (although there may be other reasons to not use force). So one solution to my problem of the legitimacy of the subpoena would be a demonstration that no one has the right to refuse a legitimate subpoena. The second reason is that we can't lump together reasoning about ordinary existence -- life in a stable country, with a functioning and legitimate government, with a generally rational population -- and reasoning about unusual circumstances like an allegedly rational population that won't pay for its government services or volunteer in sufficient numbers to defend the country. Those are two different contexts and require separate analyses. I'm only going deal with the (idealized) ordinary context from here on. I'm going to assume that we've got a mostly rational population living in circumstances where they can plan in the long term. It is from that context that I'll consider whether the NAP is valid or needs modification and whether the subpoena (and other coercive elements of government) are consistent with the NAP (or its modification).
  11. Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

    "Government is magic" is both liberal and conservative...and absurd either way. Government is simply a bunch of people who use force, and its legitimacy has no direct relationship to the consent of the governed. Yes, I know. Rand said otherwise. Rand was wrong. The whole "consent of the governed" thing is mere "magic". Besides, people can, and do, consent to horrible governments. Does that make them legitimate? Of course not. What makes a government legitimate is that it protect rights. And a government that protects rights does not need anyone's consent to do so. Does that make consent irrelevant? No. Consent is merely how a rights-loving population keeps its government from going out of bounds. Of course. Subjectivity inevitably leads to the rule of force. In my view, the only "rights" a government has are those that are transferred from individuals to government agents so that force may be wielded properly. E.g., without a government, I might have to break into someone's home to retrieve property they stole from me. With a government, I would have no right to do that but must instead let the government do it on my behalf.
  12. Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

    It doesn't directly touch on my personal narrative, because there was never any effort made to defend me. No subpoenas, no nothing. Slightly deeper, though, it does, because my conviction was the product of intentional attacks on the government's objectivity plus the government's general disinterest in objectivity. I'd also add this: Were I to follow my emotions, I'd be an anarchist. Government, in my experience, is so evil (I don't think I mentioned the Hell my childhood was, also largely courtesy of government) that nothing short of compelling necessity would allow me to tolerate its existence. Unfortunately, Rand makes a compelling argument for the necessity of government. Since I'm not prone to letting my emotions dictate to my reason, I accept that argument. All that's left to me is to figure out how to construct a proper government while mitigating its demonstrated propensity for evil. This reminds me of another problem I have with the NAP. Consider what happens if you act properly on any of the Objectivist ethical principles but fail to accomplish your goal. What are the moral consequences? None. Having taken into account everything you could, you are not at fault if things don't work out as you had planned. But now consider the NAP. It says, without qualification, that you have committed an immorality if you use force against anyone who hadn't initiated force. There's no exception for innocent error. So if you believe, after appropriate inquiry, that someone has initiated force and then reply with force, and it turns out that you had erred, you initiated force and thereby committed an immorality. Of course, there can be no such thing as an innocent immorality. At a minimum, this requires rejecting the unqualified formulation of the NAP. This flaw is bad enough for an individual. It is devastating for a government, for the government's business is to employ force -- it is guaranteed to do so erroneously (by NAP standards) if it is to function at all. One of the requirements of Objectivism is logical consistency. If reason requires both the NAP and government, and if government must violate the NAP, even if only accidentally, you have a contradiction. Something is wrong, either with the NAP, or with the very idea of government (or both). The NAP (!) provides a definitive answer. If I didn't initiate force, no one may use force against me. That doesn't change if the someone is a government agent. So, if I haven't initiated force and the government comes after me, it has initiated force, and I may defend myself against it. Whether doing so is practicable is another question.... Of course, I don't think the NAP is accurate, so the answer isn't so easy for me. Once I have a definite answer concerning the NAP and what, if anything, to do about it, then I can work out an answer. As applied to my current situation -- even if I conclude that one should obey a lawfully obtained but incorrect judgment of a lawful government, this one isn't a lawful government. I may defend myself against it as necessary. I agree. I haven't read the more recent Objectivist work on law, but what I remember being said basically was that the American system is fine, let's just fix a few minor things. That's patent nonsense, the sort of noise one hears from people who hear the rhetoric from the legal system without looking at its reality. There are real problems, problems built right into the structure of the system, that must be addressed before it can be a real justice system. I think it requires a total rethink. Anyway, I have lots of thoughts on this, but that, I think should be in a separate topic. Heh. The current random quote says, "It should be remembered as an axiom of eternal truth in politics, that whatever power in any government is independent, is absolute also; in theory only at first while the spirit of the people is up, but in practice as fast as that relaxes." -- Thomas Jefferson A good point to keep in mind when designing a government....
  13. Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

    Not at all. The way I see it, the Randian ethical method asks in each case, "What do I, a rational person, need?" Because the conclusions are based on premises that always include "a rational person", it is legitimate to shuffle the quantifiers around and say, "a rational person needs...", which is what she actually says. But the philosophy is ultimately based on statements about the individual, not about statements about "society" or "government". Anyway, when I was making "I" statements, I intended them to mean, "I, because I am a rational animal, need", not simply "I need". I should have made that explicit. But I wouldn't make those claims, because they don't follow from my premises. Evidently, I haven't made them clear... Well, we'll keep talking until I do... or one or both of us becomes exhausted. (more to come, but I have to get off my computer now....)
  14. Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

    And here again, I don't know that we've exhausted all of our options, or even considered them. A subpoena is a demand for information on pain of government imposed penalty, so it is a use of force. And there's no requirement that the person who must comply with the subpoena be even suspected of using force. That sounds like initiation of force to me. What other option might there be? (Actually, DavidOdden suggested one: that, morally speaking, the initiator of force responsible for a subpoena is the person whose initiation of force resulted in the government's actions. I can't buy that, but it stirred the thought that a subpoena was essentially collateral damage, in the same category as harm done to a bystander when taking down a gunman. I'm not happy about that one either, but it might be a step in the right direction.)
  15. Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

    I'm sympathetic to this idea -- the subpoena certainly seems to me to be important -- but to be honest, I don't think it's been established sufficiently. I think that this is, thus far, a question begged. Well, unless we're going to assume a society of angels who always comply with legitimate government requests for information (hah!) we have to accept that people (and, by present day evidence, a not trivial number of them) will refuse to comply. So what's a government to do in that case? Elsewhere you bring up the idea of voluntary testimony in the same paragraph as voluntary funding and manpower. In the latter cases, though, these things are voluntary on the premise that the government has offered something of value in return -- government services and pay, respectively. I just don't think we can make this work for testimony. Here's an all too likely example of why. Imagine that I commit some fraud and I possess the evidence needed to prove the fraud. I'm accused, brought to court, and in due course receive a request for that evidence. I, of course, refuse to hand it over. Now what? They gonna give me enough money to cover what I'm going to owe if I'm found guilty? Plus whatever else I think I can get away with? Wouldn't that kinda defeat the purpose of my prosecution? Anyway, let me turn this around: How do you propose that a government produce objective judgment in the face of people who will not comply with requests for information? "Pay them enough" is not an adequate answer. Nor is "do nothing" or "act without sufficient information". The former would turn government into a debating society, the latter into a gang.
  16. Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

    Isn't this her case, in a nutshell? It is. However, the NAP has two parts. The first proscribes the use of force except in response to initiated force (I have no trouble with this part) and the second requires that this use of force be applied only to initiators of force. That quote speaks only to the first part; it does not address the second part, nor can I think of anywhere that Rand explains the second part. I also don't think that the Objectivist Politics requires the NAP. It does require the first part, but the second part can be replaced with a corollary of the first part, to the effect that force that does not serve to defend against initiated force is itself initiated force. This change affects very little, as far as I can see. BTW, given this replacement, it is also possible to see why a subpoena would be legitimate but taxation and conscription would not. A subpoena is force in response to initiated force to defend against initiated force. It therefore is consistent with both parts of the replacement. But taxation and conscription run afoul of the first part of the NAP, and my replacement does not change that part.
  17. Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

    Agreed on all points. There is a qualitative difference between the taxation and conscription powers and the subpoena power that makes all the difference here. The difference can be found by considering the sentence, "An organization that does not have property X is not a proper government." If "property X" is "the ability to tax", you do not have a true statement, because a government can fund itself without taxation. A similar point can be made with respect to conscription, since a government can hire the people it needs. This, ultimately, is why my argument cannot be used to justify taxation or conscription. (Yes, I recall my earlier statements. However, I also made the point that, if taxation or conscription were justified, it would only be in extreme cases. Rand, when confronted with the possibility that her ethics led to undesirable results in extreme cases, pointed out that they were extreme cases, and that such cases were outside the scope of her ethics and would have to be evaluated separately. More importantly, she made the point that whatever conclusions one came to concerning lifeboat ethics, they did not affect the validity of her ethics as applied to ordinary circumstances. I think the same applies here. So I'm going to take as the context of this discussion that a government can fund itself without taxation and that it can find enough manpower without conscription. We can discuss the other possibilities at some other time.) But make "property X" "the ability to obtain the facts necessary to objective judgment". In that case, the statement is true. So, the ability to obtain the facts necessary to objective judgment -- unlike the ability to tax -- is a characteristic of a proper government. Does this make sense so far?
  18. Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

    By all means do, since using the correct words is essential to clarity..... Let me introduce a bit of legal-speak, since I think it may prove helpful. In law, a choice is often referred to as "voluntary" if the choice is "knowing", "intelligent", and not "coerced". While the legal beagles are often confused by these terms, they seem clear to me, so here are my definitions: knowing: made by one in possession of all of the relevant facts intelligent: made by one with the capacity to properly evaluate those facts coerced: made because of the threat of violence or because of actual violence When I wrote my post, I was taking the term "physical force" literally, so that only coercion would be counted as physical force. I did that because that seems to be what Rand meant by it, since she felt the need to classify fraud as "indirect force" rather than as "physical force". However, DavidOdden introduced me to Schwartz' restatement of force, which I have decided to adopt. Under that definition, physical force is a physical act intended to make another's choices involuntary, and so would include fraud, and thereby eliminate the need for the concept "indirect force". I take "initiation" to be along the lines of "bring into being". When a punch is thrown, the force is "initiated" when the puncher forms the intention to throw the punch.
  19. Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

    Ah, wasn't it clear that I was paraphrasing Rand? Here's the original: That's very different from what you took me to be saying. Sorry about that.
  20. Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

    Objectivism is often phrased in generalities, like "society needs" or "government needs", etc. But Objectivism is fundamentally, one might even say radically, individualist. So such statements are, strictly speaking, false. So let me put a few things in "I" terms: I need a government so that I don't have to live in anarchy and practice KYFHO. I need a government that is controlled by reason so that I don't have to fear my government more than I do anarchy. I need a government that can subpoena so that it will be objective, so that I need not fear false accusations (a subject near and dear to me!) and so that I have effective recourse should my rights be violated. I'll let you decide which way I lean.
  21. Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

    I'm persuaded that a government cannot be properly instituted without some equivalent to the subpoena and I don't see how a subpoena can be regarded as anything but the initiation of force (even with my rethinking of force, as prodded by DavidOdden). But I also think that the NAP is not really central to the Politics. Rand's goal is not to eliminate force from society but, rather, to bring it under objective control, to make it serve life, rather than destroy it. The NAP is a means to that end. However, I think it's flawed. First, Rand never proves the validity of the NAP. Second, I don't think the NAP is necessary to proving the major points of the Politics. I read it as more a rhetorical device than an actual principle. Anyway, what I ultimately hope to end up with is a replacement principle for the NAP or a demonstration that the subpoena is not inconsistent with the NAP (along with a proof of the NAP). (more to come)
  22. Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

    I don't have the time to disentangle your many seeming misreadings of my post. Pick a single thing you regard as an important error and present it, and I will address that.
  23. Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

    I'm not sure that I was entirely clear on this point, but my intent was to take Rand at her word in order to show a contradiction. So, I meant by " physical force" what I understood Rand's meaning to be. Therefore, a perfectly valid rejoinder to my argument would be that I misunderstood Rand. And, if your final quote, is an accurate statement of Rand's position, I have erred in my understanding. My understanding, in essence, is that, to Rand, "physical force" means a physical action taken by a volitional being against another's physical values, and "initiation of force" means taking steps toward such a physical action. So, a punch in someone's face would be physical force, and swinging one's hand in preparation for the punch would be initiation of force. I reached this understanding because Rand used the concept of "indirect force" in relation to fraud. Such a concept would be unnecessary if fraud were a species of physical force, as it is under Schwartz' definition. Frankly, I much prefer Schwartz' definition to my understanding of Rand's definition, so henceforth I shall use it instead. That also means abandoning the concept of indirect force which, as I've indicated, I have real problems with. That said, this redefinition of "physical force" does not seem to affect my argument that a government must have a means to compel testimony and that this is inconsistent with the NAP. I'll give it some thought....
  24. Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

    (Sorry to take so long to post this, but I haven't had much time for writing lately. Hopefully, I'll have more time to spend on the ensuing discussion.) I begin by sketching Rand's theory of government. A "right" is "a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context". "Freedom" means an absence of "physical compulsion, coercion, or interference" by other people. In a proper society, it is improper for anyone to use physical force or the threat of physical force to prevent or respond to that which another has the right to do. The fundamental right, from which all other rights derive, is the right to one's own life, which means the right "to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life." Implementing this right, and any other rights, requires property rights, "the right to gain, to keep, to use, and to dispose of material values." The right to property "is not a guarantee that a man will earn any property, but only a guarantee that he will own it if he earns it." Another essential right is that of self-defense. Without it, each person would be a victim to anyone who decided to be immoral and employ rights-violating force. However, self-defense is not a matter that can be left to the individual. That way lies gang rule and arbitrary acts of force. Instead, self-defense must be implemented via a government, an organization that employs force only when objectively necessary to implement the right of self-defense of those within its jurisdiction. Rand, at numerous places, asserts that force in society may only be used in response to the initiation of physical force and only against the person who initiates the force, the so-called non-aggression principle (NAP) beloved of Objectivists and libertarians alike. There are some immediately obvious problems with the NAP. In general, neither fraud nor violations of contract involve physical force, so how can a person -- even via his government -- properly defend himself against it? The orthodox solution to this particular problem is so-called "indirect force". I may not have used force in my fraud or contract violation, but when you attempt to retrieve the improperly obtained values from me, I must choose between giving up the values or using force to keep them. If I do the former, there's no issue, but if I do the latter, you may exercise (via the government) your right to self-defense. This "solution" fails because there are means other than physical force to retain values, such as concealment. Be that as it may, a bigger problem for the NAP comes from the fact that a government must function objectively; the last thing anyone needs is a government that behaves according to whim -- even well intentioned whim. But objectivity doesn't "just happen", it is the outcome of a particular kind of process, one that requires obtaining all the facts known to be relevant. But facts are not generally just lying around waiting for some government agent to sweep them up; they are generally in the possession of people, some of whom may be unwilling to give them up. So what's a government to do? Well, if you believe the NAP, nothing. The mere possession of a fact of relevance to a proposed government action does not in itself constitute force, not even indirect force. But if you actually pay attention to the Randian argument, you realize that, no matter how often Rand stressed the NAP, she never proved it, and the method of argument she used in proving the need for government requires discarding the NAP. The Randian argument for government essentially goes like this: Nature confronts man with a choice, endemic violence or a properly constituted government. A proper life is impossible in an environment of violence, so a rational person will choose government. In terms of Rand's rights formulation, rights are those "actions required by the nature of a rational being" to support his life. Having and supporting the government is not merely something one should do, it is something one has a right to do. Conversely, acting against the government is an action inconsistent with the nature of a rational being, so cannot be a right. Just as Nature confronts man with a choice between endemic violence or a properly constituted government, it also confronts man with a choice between a government that acts arbitrarily and a government that acts objectively. The former is nothing more than institutionalized violence, and is just as inimicable to life as anarchy, if not more so. In terms of Rand's rights formulation, having and supporting the government's objectivity is not merely something one should do, it is something one has a right to do. Conversely, acting against the government's objectivity is an action inconsistent with the nature of a rational being, so cannot be a right. Just as the argument for government precludes a rational person from taking self-defense into his own hands when there is a proper government to handle his self-defense, so also does it preclude a rational person from withholding information government must have when performing its function. Neither one of these things can be a right in the presence of a proper government, and so such a government is free to act in response to such actions. Note that this mode of argument is very limited. It only pertains to what are, in essence, metaphysical necessities of government, things without which the government ceases to be a properly constituted government. Where a government has a metaphysical necessity to act, there can be no right to act in opposition to it. And where there is no right for a person to act, and the government has an objectively demonstrable need to act, it may do so without concern that any of that person's rights are violated -- because there are none. Limited or not, this argument demonstrates that the NAP is not true; there are circumstances where a person (acting as a government agent) may properly use force against one who has not initiated force. (I'll review other posts in this topic to see if I need to respond to them. But it won't be today.)
  25. Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

    Rights are both general and particular. The right to property is a general right; the actions one may properly take with respect to particular objects are particular rights. As you say, a general right cannot be alienated; it is a logical consequence of being a human being in a society. But particular rights can be -- and are routinely -- alienated. The only way you could alienate your rights is by enslaving yourself or killing yourself. I think Rand does object to that strongly. She would object to doing so sacrificially. But not if doing so would preserve or gain an equal or greater value.