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secondhander

Critique my comments in an article-comment debate

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I began a debate in the comments section of a Mediaite story. I the debate, I laid some pearls before swine (meaning, someone who clearly wasn't interested in using his mind or seeking to understand position contrary to his own), but I use these little news comment debates both as intellectual practice and as PR for objectivism. 

 

Here's the link: http://www.mediaite.com/tv/maher-california-booming-because-we-dont-care-about-nonsense-that-keeps-fox-news-up-at-night/

 

Comments are at the bottom. My handle is Reasonator. I'm pasting below the final portion of the debate.

 

What I'd like, from any who are interested, is a review of my points and overall argument and argument style, some pats on the back where you think I've done well, and some suggestions if you think that I've misstated aspects of objectivism, used bad arguments, or could have used better arguments than I did.

 

Even though I didn't post the debate in its entirety, It's a good bit of reading. If it's too much of an undertaking, don't worry about it. There was more to the initial part of the debate that I'm leaving out, but I hope the context clues can help you figure out what's missing. If not, you can find the whole thing if you search through the comments in the link above.

 

Thanks for all who read, even if you don't have the time to comment and critique.

 

----------

 

My opponent:

I'm familiar with objectivist 'answers' (I was a college freshman once, too), I just — like most people who've considered the topic — reject them as both unrealistic and undesirable.

 

Also, you want to be careful about spinning tautological loops (despite their popularity in objectivist circles), because you'll just trip over your own tail, as you did in your sociopath-objectivist argument above. Sociopaths use force only when they deign to interact with other humans (which is as little as possible), and then they're ruthless. I leave the comparison between them and Randites as an exercise for the student.

 

When I stop at a red light, the penalty I might incur for running it is secondary to the physical risk of running it, and tertiary to the risk that a quasi-voluntary system that makes intersections safe might break down if I habitually disregard it. Have you ever tried to drive in Cairo? In that society, both the rule of law and the 'rule' of cooperation are much weaker with regard to traffic control and the result is chaos.

 

Which is exactly what we would expect if anyone ever seriously tried to put an objectivist system of governance in place. What objectivism ignores is that cooperation and coercion are parts of a continuum, not polar absolutes. People live their lives in an analog state, not digital, and any system that relies on black and white will fail.

With regard to schools and fertlizer plants, a sensible person would say that an industrial facility is inherently incompatible with a facility that houses children and the issue would never come up. That's why zoning laws — which coercively restrict fertilizer plant owners' rights to build wherever they wish — are wise, fair, essential, and uncontroversial (outside of Texas, of course).

 

Your argument about roads is perhaps the most fatuous (in this post; I'm sure you've got plenty more). Efficient transportation networks of necessity engage numerous (countless?) stakeholders and relying on market forces to produce something workable with so many competing interests — in the absence of a regulatory and funding network — is simply preposterous. How would that work for electrical power distribution, food safety, air traffic control, or the literally millions of other regulated systems on which our species' survival depends?

 

You may look forward with some sort of glee to a massive die-off of the human race to the point where small tribes can manage their hunter-and-gatherer affairs in some sort of objectivist utopia, but the grownups in the room would, err, object.

 

Me:

If you had also taken a logic class in college you would have learned that "I was a college freshman too" is not only a veiled personal attack (translation: Young foolish people believe that), it is also an ad hominem (Smith believes X. Smith is foolish. Therefore X is wrong) and a fallacy of an argument from age (Smith believes X. Smith is young. Therefore X is wrong).

 

And you would have learned that "like most people who've considered the topic — reject them" is an ad populum logical fallacy (Smith believes X. Most people don't believe X. Therefore X is wrong).

 

You might try putting the personal attacks and logical fallacies away and look at the argument itself that you oppose, and then explaining in a logical way what's inaccurate about it.

 

Moving on, there is no "tautological loop" with how I used sociopath. As you just said, sociopaths sometimes use force, and I pointed out that objectivists don't initiate force, and stand against the initiation of force. Let's call this what it really is -- another personal attack, not an argument. sociopathy is a mental illness. You're doing nothing but listening to people who disagree with you, who lay out the logical argument for their position, and calling them mentally imbalanced. This is not a use of reason or argument -- it's immature school-yardism.

 

Moreover, objectivists don't shun society. We love society and cooperation and working together with people to accomplish things. We just reject forced "cooperation" as slavery and as immoral. The more people I have in my society to work with the better, because as a "free trader," the more people I can trade with and make agreements with that benefit all sides, the better.

 

I also took pains to show you how objectivists define what rights are, and how laws should be constructed, and it follows that objectivists follow moral laws. To continue to think objectivism = anarchism is now a willful lack of knowledge on your part. You have no excuse to continue making that argument. Let me use an ad populum on you: Everyone who has studied objectivism and anarchism seriously, knows they are diametrically opposed.

 

You still haven't provided any philosophical basis for an explanation of what rights are and how they are grounded. I seriously don't think you have a basis for them, maybe other than subjective mob rule.

 

I'd also like to know how you think moral value is defined, or even if it can be defined. And how, if at all, it plays into what a moral government can do or can't do.

 

My opponent:

It’s taken me a couple of exchanges to get out of snark mode, for which I apologize. Nevertheless, your snarkiness about my supposed ignorance of logic actually touches on my reasons for rejecting your arguments and objectivism generally.

 

You speak of my “ad populum fallacy” as if it were actually fallacious. But the notion that pure logic is a particularly compelling factor in human affairs is a much greater fallacy. If it’s true — as I maintain — that “most people reject objectivism,” your challenging my formal logic is meaningless. In fact, your adherence to logic in a situation that is so much more than merely logical causes you to truncate my proposition: “because most people reject or are unaware of objectivist principles, said principles have little practical application.” Doesn’t necessarily make ‘em wrong, just unimportant.

 

Which capsulizes my reasons for dismissing objectivism: as a social system, it relies on effectively uniform adoption and adherence to principles which you can only describe in terms of sterile logic, and which have little capability to drive human behavior. To be frank, any theory of governance that does not take into account sociology, psychology, biology, demography, geography, gender differences, psycho- and sociopathy, education, genetics, accounting, finance, history, tradition, tribalism, and probably the phases of the moon is profoundly unrealistic and only merits academic consideration.

 

As a thought experiment, objectivism may have some value; as a template for social organization, it is little more than a suicide pact. To propose that one should shape a society using such unrealistic underpinnings is at best irresponsible and at worst . . . sociopathic.

 

Your happy band of ‘free traders’ wouldn’t last five minutes without some mechanism to keep those who don’t share your stakeholders’ concerns from dishonoring any transactions in which you might attempt to engage.

 

Because, while humans beings are highly gregarious, social, and have strong tendencies toward cooperation, they are not reliably well-behaved. Just consider — aside from any other factor — the predictably rash behavior of young men. This phenomenon alone is enough to render objectivist approaches useless in terms of governance.

 

Hence coercion. Society works because people tend toward cooperation, but when they fail to do so, coercion is there to bring them back in line. As animals that seek pleasure and avoid pain, humans respond in predictable fashion — in the aggregate — to threats of unpleasant consequences. In fact, such consequences work best when they’re never imposed. (Which is how most of us live our lives, most of the time.)

 

In functioning societies, rights are not absolute, but exist within a continuum of what the society needs and can tolerate. Even simple existence is not an absolute right, or self-defense would be impossible.

 

Hence regulation, where the threat of sanction (i.e., coercive force) frustrates impulses that would be detrimental to the population as a whole. Hence taxation, where personal wealth must be surrendered under threat of imprisonment and public opprobrium. Hence law, where wrongs inadvertent and deliberate are balanced under a system where participants are not permitted to disregard legal decisions lest they be subject to worse outcomes. Hence everything else that constrains individual impulses, so that society as a whole can be more free.

 

And with regard to your objections to my comparison between objectivism and anarchy, I’d ask you a single question: when the effects of objectivism are indistinguishable from anarchy, or chaos, or any similar disaster — does the distinction even matter?

 

Me:

You: "You speak of my “ad populum fallacy” as if it were actually fallacious."

 

It is. If you are trying to determine what's true, it is not determined by what the majority believes in. If it were, we would never advance as a society because no one would ever introduce new ideas that are initially unpopular. Truth is true regardless of whether 5 people believe it, or 5 billion people believe it.

 

You: "My proposition: Because most people reject or are unaware of objectivist principles, said principles have little practical application."

 

Objectivist principles are grounded in practical application. They apply to everything a person could or would do, as well as apply to how people ought to interact with one another and form societies and governments. Just because many people are not aware of the practical application, doesn't mean there is none. Many people were unaware of the practical application of washing their hands before handling food, and of general cleanliness with regard to warding off illness. The practical application was always there, just unknown to many for a long time. You seem to believe that the majority is never wrong, and that all value is subjectively defined by majority rule. Is that your stance? This is why I said earlier that I didn't think you had a philosophical basis for how rights and values are grounded, except perhaps for "subjective mob rule."

 

In your third graph, you essentially say this: Your reasons for dismissing objectivism are capsulized in this: It relies on effectively uniform adoption and adherence to principles of (sterile) logic.

 

Amazing. Your problem with objectivism ... is that it relies on logic. Further, you think that logic has little capacity to drive human behavior. How else do you think human behavior should be driven? You reject logic, but for what? Humans should direct their behavior based on emotions without regard for logic?

 

You seem to think that objectivism is sterile, without regard to emotions. You're wrong. Again, much of this conversation would be unnecessary if you would become more acquainted with what objectivism says. You're basing your arguments on assumptions, not knowledge. Let me make a couple points, first about logic and then about emotion.

If you were to be persuaded to change your mind on some belief, how would you like to be persuaded? If it is not through logic, then are you only persuaded by emotion? How are you trying to persuade me? I offer the observation that you have already accepted logic as a presupposition when you began this conversation, and when you have any conversation with anyone. You must. We live in a real world, a world based on logic. And everyone accepts this, implicitly.

 

And you would like to be persuaded, not forced agree by threat of violence, right? The very notion of discourse affirms the principles of objectivism. A civil society accepts the non-initiation of force and civil dialogue, where each side attempts to persuade the other (logically without force or violence), instead of merely bringing out the clubs and maces. The fact that you are having a dialogue with me, and trying to persuade me peacefully, is the hallmark of how a moral society believes that a man is free to make up his own mind and be convinced by the use of reason; not forced into servitude.

 

The only way we live with each other and cooperate with each other and talk to each other is because words mean things, concepts of language are rooted in logic and assume logic. I expect that the words I say and use represent certain things, and that you grasp and understand the concepts they represent, and therefore can think about them and ask "does this make sense" and likewise say words back to me, words that represent concepts. If there were no logic, then we couldn't even be talking to each other, because no one would know what words mean. And there certainly wouldn't be any point to trying to convince someone of the truth of something if logic didn't exist.

 

You couldn't even say your own position was "true" or "right" without logic, only that it made you "feel" a certain way, and you liked it. But you would have to accept that my feelings were every bit as legitimate as yours are, if there were no logic. So there would be no point in you trying to convince me otherwise. The very fact that we are having this conversation to begin with shows that we both, actually presuppose logic as a means to knowing what is true and right.

 

So how do emotions fit into this? Can a person either use logic or use emotions? Does a person who uses logic preclude the use of emotions? No. Objectivism has specific things to say about emotion.

 

Emotions are not optional. They are necessary. We are humans, not robots. We do have emotions, and must have emotions. Emotions flow from our values. Emotions tell us what we value. Emotion is the mind's automatic response of your value premises. Emotions are the effect of values, not the cause of values. If you don't know what your values are, and if your values aren't based on the reality of the world and rational logic, then you will be a victim of your own whims. Your emotions should have no conflict with rational values, and should flow from rational values.

 

Ayn Rand: "An emotion as such tells you nothing about reality, beyond the fact that something makes you feel something. Without a ruthlessly honest commitment to introspection—to the conceptual identification of your inner states—you will not discover what you feel, what arouses the feeling, and whether your feeling is an appropriate response to the facts of reality, or a mistaken response, or a vicious illusion produced by years of self-deception."

 

You: "Your happy band of ‘free traders’ wouldn’t last five minutes without some mechanism to keep those who don’t share your stakeholders’ concerns from dishonoring any transactions in which you might attempt to engage."

 

That's what government is for. You continue to cling to this misunderstanding that objectivism is the same as anarchism or anarchy. It is not. Objectivism not only believes that government is a good; it is also a necessary good. Objectivism stands against anarchism and anarchy. It says that there should be a government, there should be police, and there should be a judicial system. The purpose of government is to remove force from a society. So if someone tries to "dishonor" transactions of free traders, via fraud or theft or some other use of an initiation of force, then government's role is to use reactionary force to remove the initiation of force. So police would arrest the thieves or the fraudsters, and they would face trial. Their crime (and there is only one crime in a just society) is this: The initiation of force against another individual. They would face punishment for that crime.

 

If you would take some time to actually read Ayn Rand, you would be relieved of your misunderstandings about what objectivism is. It is not, for the tenth or so time, anarchy. It is based on the rule of law, and the rule of law serves one purpose: The protection of man's rights. If you want a good place to start in reading about objectivism, I suggest reading "Man's Rights," a medium-length article: http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=arc_ayn_rand_man_rights

 

I won't go on much longer, but I find it equally amazing that you actually try to argue that the use of coercive force is the means to making people free. Think about the illogical nature of that for a moment. In truth, "a man being coerced" is the opposite of "a man being free." What else is he supposed to be free from, if not freedom from coercive force?

 

But what you really mean by "free," I think, is something along the lines of "safe and secure." Those are not synonyms. What you are really saying, is that the government must use coercive force to keep us safe. But safe from whom? Other people who would use coercive force? Surely, it's the inmates running the asylum who think along the lines that I must be under the thumb of coercive force to protect myself from coercive force.

 

Objectivism is clear and simple: If coercive force is the threat, then government's only role is to punish those who would initiate force, and otherwise leave all other individuals free, truly free. Because they have the objective right to the ownership of their own lives and free from force.

 

You: "I’d ask you a single question: when the effects of objectivism are indistinguishable from anarchy, or chaos, or any similar disaster — does the distinction even matter?"

Once again, if you would familiarize yourself with what objectivism actually means, you would see that your assumption is wrong from the start. Objectivism is absolutely distinguishable from anarchy and chaos. The fact that you don't know why or how is a testament to your misunderstanding and refusal to take the time to understand. But maybe you don't want to understand, because to understand implies an acceptance of logic.

Edited by secondhander

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Great job. I couldn't imagine orchestrating a response like this, I'd get too caught up in the individual packets of the guy's nonsense to see how I should move the argument.

 

The only thing I could think of is when you said "not forced into servitude", people can willingly put themselves in servitude, i.e. democracy. Your opponent probably doesn't know that, but that was the only thing I could think of, if it is anything at all

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"You speak of my “ad populum fallacy” as if it were actually fallacious. But the notion that pure logic is a particularly compelling factor in human affairs is a much greater fallacy."

 

When somebody disputes the validity of logic then there's very little you can do past that. The second sentence there is literally gibberish, along the lines of, "the sentence I am now uttering is false" or, "relying on logic is false and illogical", or, "kjsahdkjashdjkla asdkjlsallaksdklj alksdjsalkj alksdjaskdjasl aksdjl". It's the same thing as stringing together a bunch of random words from the dictionary. It has no meaning.

 

When this happens you need to stop everything and defend logic as such, and play for the audience. Disputing the validity of logic as such is an inherently dishonest argument--it's the language of charlatans. It's the language of somebody who isn't interested in the truth. Don't waste your time ascribing honest motives to a speaker who uses these sorts of rhetorical devices--you fall right into their trap. You should know that no matter what you say, they can always fall back on, "yes, that's logical, but as we discussed, logic is invalid" and you are back to square one.

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Spectacularly done!  I thought you were well acquainted with O'ist concepts and principles, straightforward and eloquent.  I can't say the same for the other guy.

Although I can say that it presents yet another opportunity for some philosophical dissection! 

 

Which capsulizes my reasons for dismissing objectivism: as a social system, it relies on effectively uniform adoption and adherence to principles which you can only describe in terms of sterile logic, and which have little capability to drive human behavior.

 First of all, Objectivism is much more than a social system.  He's categorically rejecting Rights, Selfishness, Reason and ultimately Reality because of Capitalism.

That's like burning down a house because you dislike the particular color of the roof.

 

Second of all, as others have pointed out, "sterile logic doesn't motivate human behavior" is one Hell of a confession.  But the part that interests me is that, while he may be basing this assertion on his own behavior (essentially admitting to continuing evasion), he may not be.  He may be referring to the population at large right there, as distinct from himself.

So it either means that a: he chooses to be irrational when he likes, and plans to go on doing so, or b: he considers others to be irrational, and intends to pander to them.

 

As a thought experiment, objectivism may have some value; as a template for social organization, it is little more than a suicide pact. To propose that one should shape a society using such unrealistic underpinnings is at best irresponsible and at worst . . . sociopathic.

Here we have the theory-practice dichotomy along with the underhanded concession that Objectivism makes sense but isn't realistic, ie: reality doesn't make sense.

This is what makes me think that of the alternatives above, it's probably the latter; by "reality" he's probably referring to "other people".  This is further supported by the assertion that to attempt to implement an Objectivist society in reality would be suicidal. . .

What's he actually afraid of, there?

 

And then he tops it off with the strained implication that Objectivism is sociopathic, which means that selfishness and self-reliance are sociopathic, which stems from the concept that "an abscence of help is the same as harm" (see Cloud Atlas).

Just a rule of thumb:  Whoever says that individualism is the same as sadism is a hater of the good for being good.

 

Your happy band of ‘free traders’ wouldn’t last five minutes without some mechanism to keep those who don’t share your stakeholders’ concerns from dishonoring any transactions in which you might attempt to engage.

It seems like there's much more to this statement than a simple, and rather trivial, criticism.

 

In functioning societies, rights are not absolute, but exist within a continuum of what the society needs and can tolerate. Even simple existence is not an absolute right, or self-defense would be impossible.

He's packaged aggressive force and defensive force together, reified "society" (which seems to be the monster he's trying to appease, in his own mind) and dropped "rights" out of the picture, entirely.

 

I believe that he has been to college.

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the problem with your critics is that they always confuse cooperation with coercion which is completely  befits  the statist mind

Edited by Leonid

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Thank you for the input, all, so far. I'm interested in figuring out what is the best possible way to convince people to change their view, rather than "win" debates, and when I shouldn't even bother if it doesn't appear that an honest and rational discussion is possible. It seems to me that it's crucially necessary to get at a person's axioms and fundamental starting points, because everyone's worldviews comprise intertwined beliefs, like a web, and trying to dismantle individual strands of the web won't do since it would affect other connected belief strands, and they won't dismantle a single belief strand if it's part and parcel of their overall worldview.

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I've found it helps to start from the bottom, instead of the top.

For instance, whenever I discuss politics with someone new to me, I first ask them outright if reality is real and if logical analysis is sufficient and necessary to understand it. If so I ask them about morality before finally mentioning the subject.

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