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Gary Brenner

The Prudent Predator argument

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And, as I said, without proving or even arguing that theft results in more savings of labor than working, this isn't an argument for PP at all.

As was made clear in the lengthy thread of last year, no one is contending that one should engage in theft solely, even when the risks are high and the profit low when compared to other, non-predatory options. Rather, the argument is that in some instances theft may be in one's self-interest if the chances of getting caught are minute and the proceeds greater than one could have gained through one's own non-coercive labor.

I do not have to prove that all one's efforts should be devoted to theft or that everyone is better off by choosing looting over production. All I have to show is that looting does not necessarily lead to the destruction of the looter, which is what Rand claims in “The Objectivist Ethics.”

Now if you simply want me to prove that there exists a person who gained more by theft than he could have by free trade, I will mention the thief who used a brick to smash open my friend’s car window and steal a cash box with $2,000 inside, an action that could not have taken more than 30 seconds. Now it is possible that in stealing the cash the thief relinquished an opportunity to make a greater amount of money by legitimate work, but the odds are against it.

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Rather, the argument is that in some instances theft may be in one's self-interest if the chances of getting caught are minute and the proceeds greater than one could have gained through one's own non-coercive labor.
That's still not an argument, since there is no evidence that that condition is ever satisfied and that therefore one should be a PP. Remember, it is not an argument for PP to take an argument against PP and say "If this if not true, then you should be a PP".
I will mention the thief who used a brick to smash open my friend’s car window and steal a cash box with $2,000 inside, an action that could not have taken more than 30 seconds.
How does that support your argument? It violates your condition e: "X can accomplish the transfer with a low probability of repercussions." The probability of serious repercussions is very high. This is like pointing to the IRS as a long-term successful PP -- the problem is, the IRS is not a PP, it's a blatant and legal predator.

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That's still not an argument, since there is no evidence that that condition is ever satisfied and that therefore one should be a PP. Remember, it is not an argument for PP to take an argument against PP and say "If this if not true, then you should be a PP".How does that support your argument? It violates your condition e: "X can accomplish the transfer with a low probability of repercussions." The probability of serious repercussions is very high. This is like pointing to the IRS as a long-term successful PP -- the problem is, the IRS is not a PP, it's a blatant and legal predator.

You are asking for a standard of proof that Objectivism does not provide for the lifestyles that it approves of. For example, where is the proof that one should be a skyscraper metalworker or a fireman or a soldier or a racecar driver (since there is no perfectly satisfactory evidence that the risk in those occupations is sufficiently low and the proceeds greater than one could have gained in other professions)?

Secondly, I never argued that one should be a prudent predator anymore than I argued that one should be a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker. I have simply said, contra Rand, that the price of looting is not necessarily the destruction of the looter, anymore than the price of being a lumberjack is the destruction of the lumberjack.

Yes, for certain predators, bank robbers, for instance, the probability of serious repercussions is very high. But for others it is minimal. For example, it was unlikely that the cash box thief I mentioned could have been identified, reported and apprehended in the few minutes it took to perform the crime and safely escape.

Finally, since when did the terms “prudent” and “legal” become mutually exclusive? If a person wished to steal from others and do so with impunity, would it not be prudent for him to do so in a way that is unlikely to land him in jail? Rand herself pointed to dictators as examples of those who are destroyed by looting. But every dictator I can think of was what you call a blatant and legal predator.

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Secondly, I never argued that one should be a prudent predator anymore than I argued that one should be a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker.
In that case, your argument is pointless because it isn't an argument for PP. It's certainly not an argument against, so I don't see that it has any relevance to the original intent to accumulate the arguments for ang against PP. Yours is neither.

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I'm not sold on the idea of the prudent predator, but hasn't Gary Brenner presented an argument for the PP?

When should a man act as a prudent predator? Under what principle does he choose to be a prudent predator?

That principle is: when it would be easier to be a predator than to not; when he thinks he can get away with it. He lives his life based on whether other people will catch him at what he is doing. He relies on their ignroance. He is dependent on them for his happiness. Their existence is always foremost in his mind, because he must always consider whether, in an opportunity, he will be able to survive based on their observations (or lack thereof) of his activities.

The principle leads to a second-handedness of nature, but the argument still stands, that a man can live in such a way. He can't live purely as a prudent-predator, but he can dabble, on the side, whenever he sees the opportunity, and whenever there is no reasonable chance of getting caught. The existence of digital piracy should be evidence of that, and the ratio of illegal downloads to actual convictions even more.

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I'm not sold on the idea of the prudent predator, but hasn't Gary Brenner presented an argument for the PP?
No so far as I can tell. What's missing is the demonstration that the should-conditions exist, ever. Yeah, you can put together words and construct the clause "when it would be easier to be a predator than to not", but that doesn't make it evidence in support of an argument.
when he thinks he can get away with it.
That's probably even worse, because it's a version of the previous position, except that it only depends on belief and not reality. Kinda like "you should leap out a window in the hopes of flying, if and only if you believe you can fly".

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I would prefer to have a thread consisting only of quality arguments on the topic. No questions and no replies to anyone- use the other existing threads for that.

When you first posted this, my first thought was "yeah, good luck with that," but I held my comment. I can see I should have had more confidence in my own judgement about what would happen.

Do we really have to rehash this yet again?

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When you first posted this, my first thought was "yeah, good luck with that," but I held my comment. I can see I should have had more confidence in my own judgement about what would happen.

Do we really have to rehash this yet again?

Ha ha, just turn away Kendall. For people like me, we still have to go through stuff like this. It's part of the learning process.

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In that case, your argument is pointless because it isn't an argument for PP. It's certainly not an argument against, so I don't see that it has any relevance to the original intent to accumulate the arguments for ang against PP. Yours is neither.

My argument is very much to the point. Last year’s lengthy prudent predator thread was sparked by my response to Rand’s claim in “The Objectivist Ethics” that the price of looting is the destruction of the looter. By showing that there are men whose choices to prey on others have not destroyed them, I disproved that claim. It is not necessary to argue that one should become a prudent predator to demonstrate that predatory behavior does not inevitably lead to self-destruction or even undermine self-interest.

No so far as I can tell. What's missing is the demonstration that the should-conditions exist, ever.

It is fallacious to claim that if one has not encountered an argument for doing something, there must be no such argument or no good argument. For example, we can ask, where are the should-conditions for being a coal miner? I have never heard anyone say, “You should become a coal miner because . . .” Am I then justified in assuming that for all persons and in all circumstances there is no good reason to be a coal miner?

As I have said, the prudent predator was brought into play to show the weakness in Rand’s argument from egoism to respect for rights. One does not have to advocate becoming a predator in order to establish that the existence of successful, self-serving predators refutes the assertion that the price of looting is the destruction of the looter.

Consider, for a comparison, Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death.” I do not have to make an argument for becoming a sinner in order to show that not all sinners die as a result of their sins. Furthermore, those who advance the idea that sin means death do not refute exceptions to the rule by pointing out that there is no argument for sin.

In sum, demanding an argument for becoming a prudent predator is irrelevant to the central question raised in the earlier thread of whether or not there exist looters who manage not to be destroyed by their looting.

That principle is: when it would be easier to be a predator than to not; when he thinks he can get away with it. He lives his life based on whether other people will catch him at what he is doing. He relies on their ignroance. He is dependent on them for his happiness. Their existence is always foremost in his mind, because he must always consider whether, in an opportunity, he will be able to survive based on their observations (or lack thereof) of his activities.

The principle leads to a second-handedness of nature, but the argument still stands, that a man can live in such a way. He can't live purely as a prudent-predator, but he can dabble, on the side, whenever he sees the opportunity, and whenever there is no reasonable chance of getting caught. The existence of digital piracy should be evidence of that, and the ratio of illegal downloads to actual convictions even more.

Because I enjoy the benefits of a division of labor, I do not see anything inherently disadvantageous in depending on the existence of others for one’s livelihood. I sell alarm systems. If I lived in the wilderness I would certainly be independent of others but incapable of plying my trade and thus much poorer and probably incapable of surviving.

Nor am I convinced that one cannot pursue a full-time career as a prudent predator. For example, to take just one gang in Washington, the Justice Department’s Anti-Trust Division has over 500 full-time employees.

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My argument is very much to the point. Last year’s lengthy prudent predator thread was sparked by my response to Rand’s claim in “The Objectivist Ethics” that the price of looting is the destruction of the looter. By showing that there are men whose choices to prey on others have not destroyed them, I disproved that claim.

You have done no such thing - see my post which I linked to. Furthermore, you are in violation of the rules of this board by attempting to continue your debate in this non-debate section. I call for the moderators to delete your posts.

To others:

Notice that Gary will accept no understanding of Miss Rand's quotation other than the totally literal: a complete and physical destruction of the looter. The idea that it must necessarily turn him psychologically into a miserable freak that is incapable of existing as a man is meaningless to Gary, since he considers all that to be mumbo-jumbo and Objectivism's understanding of what makes a man to be subjective hearsay. Mostly because he refuses to read and understand Objectivism or to actually respond to the points I raised which defeat his claims.

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You have done no such thing - see my post which I linked to.

And see my post in response to it.

Furthermore, you are in violation of the rules of this board by attempting to continue your debate in this non-debate section. I call for the moderators to delete your posts.

My apologies, but I am not the one who started this new thread. And I certainly have no control over what section this exchange of views appears in.

Notice that Gary will accept no understanding of Miss Rand's quotation other than the totally literal: a complete and physical destruction of the looter. The idea that it must necessarily turn him psychologically into a miserable freak that is incapable of existing as a man is meaningless to Gary, since he considers all that to be mumbo-jumbo and Objectivism's understanding of what makes a man to be subjective hearsay. Mostly because he refuses to read and understand Objectivism or to actually respond to the points I raised which defeat his claims.

If this were the debate section I'd mention that I never specified that destruction had to be physical. I would be happy to submit examples of people who take from others and have somehow managed not to become miserable freaks incapable of existing as men. But, as Inspector points out, this is not the place to be argumentative.

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Last year’s lengthy prudent predator thread was sparked by my response to Rand’s claim in “The Objectivist Ethics” that the price of looting is the destruction of the looter. By showing that there are men whose choices to prey on others have not destroyed them, I disproved that claim.

I gave some thoughts to this particular point during the last thread , and I agree with Rand that looting results in the destruction of the looter -- in the long run. It's just that:

1) Here we are talking about looting as a mode of behavior, not as an individual act in every instance.

2) The time horizon for the "long run" may very well be beyond a single human life time.

In other words, prudent predation does not require the predator to maintain his visage indefinitely (which is not possible), but only for as long as he lives (the probability and risk/reward of which can reasonably be weighed). That is what Rand's argument does not account for -- that individual human lives are finite. When we consider the historical relationship between kings and peasants, we can see empirically that ultimately all forms of systemic looting eventually results in the destruction of the looting party -- over the long run. Individual looters however may knowingly and/or easily get away with looting over the course of his lifetime, or even over the course of several generations. As an extreme example, a man afflicted with a terminal disease with a short life expectancy can conceivably borrow large sums of money with no intention of ever paying it back, and reasonably expect to get away with it.

This of course only applies to the physical or financial destruction of the looter, and completely ignores the psychological aspects. I am somewhat agnostic over the argument that looting results in the psychological detriment -be it low self-esteem, general unhappiness, or whatever- of the looter, or even that the severity of said detriment necessarily out-weighs the rewards of looting. I suppose it is possible, and that any looter who says otherwise is simply evading his own reality, but there is simply no plausible way of knowing let alone testing someone's internal mind.

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This of course only applies to the physical or financial destruction of the looter, and completely ignores the psychological aspects. I am somewhat agnostic over the argument that looting results in the psychological detriment -be it low self-esteem, general unhappiness, or whatever- of the looter, or even that the severity of said detriment necessarily out-weighs the rewards of looting. I suppose it is possible, and that any looter who says otherwise is simply evading his own reality, but there is simply no plausible way of knowing let alone testing someone's internal mind.

See, since it is really one of the major arguments, then it's important to understand it if you want to understand the Objectivist position on the issue.

It's not a matter of reading some one person's mind - it's a matter of knowing what self-esteem is - what its source must necessarily be, and knowing what evasion must necessarily do to a person's mind. All of this is Objectivist epistemology, which Gary refuses to read or seriously consider. (the best source for this is OPAR)

And see my post in response to it.

You mean the series of posts in which you didn't answer substantial portions of what I said (and don't ask what - I already said what in my subsequent replies in that thread)? Don't bother replying - that was a rhetorical question.

My apologies, but I am not the one who started this new thread. And I certainly have no control over what section this exchange of views appears in.

No, you can't control where a thread is. What you can do is:

1) Recognize that since this is not the debate section, you ought not be trying to debate here.

2) Recognize that you should have realized this before you started to try and argue here and so you are in the wrong to have even posted what you have so far.

3) Cease and desist replying to this thread altogether. Now.

4) Bear in mind that I won't reply to you any more in this thread except to use the "report" button.

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[...] but the argument still stands, that a man can live in such a way.

As long as you know what a "man" is and what "to live" as man means, then no, the argument cannot stand.

To me the proposition of a "prudent predator" is self contradictory. Prudent implies rational, predator implies force. Rationality and force are opposites, "a gun is not an argument". So any argument made in defense of the prudent predator is self defeating.

If you accept that man's basic means of survival is his rationality; that living rationally means living by principles; that a man lives by creating value; that the only civilized way to live is to renounce the initiation of force; and so long as your purpose is to live a happy life, then there can be no prudent reason to live irrationally, to live as an animal -- as a predator.

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Actually, that is not what I think. To be exact, my position is that Rand has not made a case for rights-respecting egoism. I have presented some examples of individuals who have lived rather long, comfortable lives while taking the lives and products of others on a massive scale. Now you may argue that theirs are not “full successfully happy” lives. But that would require that you present a scale by which we can measure happiness objectively.

By "rights-respecting egoism" you mean a moral code that forbids violating the rights of others. If she hasn't made a case for this then I must ask if anyone has ever made the case for the opposite in your opinion. Make it personal by asking yourself "Does anyone have the right to take what is mine without my permission"? Would you answer yes? Is so, why?

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By "rights-respecting egoism" you mean a moral code that forbids violating the rights of others. If she hasn't made a case for this then I must ask if anyone has ever made the case for the opposite in your opinion. Make it personal by asking yourself "Does anyone have the right to take what is mine without my permission"? Would you answer yes? Is so, why?

The question “Does anyone have the right to take what is mine without my permission?” answer itself, doesn't it? Isn't the act of calling something “mine” an assertion that it does not by right belong to someone else?

As to whether anyone has made a case for the opposite of Rand's position, no, I have never encountered a convincing argument that the power to take another’s possessions (things one has acquired through his labor and free trade) gives one a right to such possessions.

So, in the case of my car, you may very well be able to take it from me, but what is the basis for saying you have a "right" to it? Is it a legal right? Does the law say the car belongs to you? Is it theological? Does God prefer that you own the car? Is it a “natural” right? Does nature, whatever that is, choose you over me in the struggle to gain possession of the car?

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