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Gary Brenner

The Prudent Predator argument

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In essence, that it is an impractical ethical philosophy for us to be looting each other. Much more practical to figure out rules that we now call “rights” and trade with each other under those rules.

I think this is an excellent point, one of the best made in this thread by me or anyone else.

But two problems work against an ethics of universal, uniform honoring of individual rights:

1) A looter may agree that a system of capitalism and private property produces far more wealth and scientific progress than any other political arrangement. So if the looter thinks, “I favor the prohibition of force for Thee but not for Me,” how can we respond? As long as most people are respecting rights and producing goods, the looter can still benefit quite handsomely from his crimes.

2) Even under socialism, looters in high places can still live lavishly while millions in the provinces starve. To a ruthless egoist, it might not matter how miserable everyone else is, as long as he can enjoy his compliant female interns and the latest Western-made gadgets.

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1) A looter may agree that a system of capitalism and private property produces far more wealth and scientific progress than any other political arrangement. So if the looter thinks, “I favor the prohibition of force for Thee but not for Me,” how can we respond? As long as most people are respecting rights and producing goods, the looter can still benefit quite handsomely from his crimes.

That one is simple: you've already agreed that unbreached reason is required, so contradictions like that are right out.

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Inspector wrote:

But I thought we were talking about a man who has chosen reason as his sole decision making tool. Are you suggesting that one could, in reason decide that mass murder is enjoyable, much less more enjoyable than running a steel factory?

I’m waiting to see the demonstration that 1) reason establishes the existence of individual rights, and 2) the violation of those rights in any and all cases is unreasonable.

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aequalsa wrote:

Or any way to prove that he did, for that matter.

If there is no way to prove or disprove the existence of benefits, the following statement by Ayn Rand is a mere assertion and is therefore of no value in formulating a system of ethics:

“Such looters may achieve their goals for the range of a moment, at the price of destruction: the destruction of their victims and their own. As evidence, I offer you any criminal or any dictatorship.”

You can’t look at someone else and determine that they are happy by the wealth they have of the way they behave. You assume that they are happy. I believe they were not, because I believe self-esteem and self-efficacy are instrumental to real happiness and further that neither can be had without an honest assessment of reality.

Actually, I’m not making any assumptions about the happiness or self-esteem of others. To be exact, I’m questioning any claims that the producer is necessarily happier or more self-valuing than the looter. There is no objective data to support such claims.

A looter realizes, sunconsciously, if not consciously, that he cannot live without someone else to provide for him. That he is a parasite. Looting is an admission of ones own inneptitude at navigating reality. It is an admission of a lack of efficacy. An admission of having no self-worth. It is taking the effect and pretending that it is the cause to attempt to live with oneself. Happiness in anything but the most trivial sense cannot be had by a man that does not like himself.

You are drawing conclusions without presenting any evidence to support them. If your position is that each and every looter is making “an admission of having no self-worth,” I say prove it. And proof does not consist of stating, “Well, you can’t prove otherwise.”

I\'m don\'t think you will find the proof you are looking for unless there is a way to measure an individuals inner-state.

That is precisely correct.

The only way to arrive at the cause of happiness or self-esteem is to analyze yourself. Under what circumstances do you like yourself? What causes you to be happy?

The causes of my own happiness can tell me nothing about the causes of another’s happiness. For example, I don’t care for small children. Other folks love them. So what can I hope to tell about the source of happiness in others by examining myself?

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... if the looter thinks, “I favor the prohibition of force for Thee but not for Me,” how can we respond?
By putting him in jail, or worse.

As long as most people are respecting rights and producing goods, the looter can still benefit quite handsomely from his crimes.
The looter benefits to the extent that rationality is put in his service. However, I think that the ratio of predominantly non-looting individuals to predominantly-looter individuals is not a good metric here. A better one would be the percentage of predominantly non-looting individuals who nevertheless act in ways that support the looter. One might call this: "percentage of part time slaves". Or, "percentage of people who sanction evil".

For instance, I would guess that there is some positive relationship between the support that a crime receives from non-criminals and the longevity of a criminal career in that sub-field. (Of course, there are other factors.) So, as a rule, drug-dealing and prostitution would be more reliable routes to material success than, say, bank robbery.

Even in the case of fraud, a lot of con-men rely on some irrationality of their target, often the target's irrational hope of making a "quick buck". As for, government looting, that clearly has wide and democratic sanction all over the world.

2) Even under socialism, looters in high places can still live lavishly while millions in the provinces starve. To a ruthless egoist, it might not matter how miserable everyone else is, as long as he can enjoy his compliant female interns and the latest Western-made gadgets.
Most of these people live in fear for their lives, keeping body-doubles and what not. Even so, if one considers just the material wealth, these examples are similar to the person sanctioned by irrationality. If their countrymen were knowledgeable and rational, these people would be in jail, or worse. Take the case of Saddam. His family probably had a lot of wealth, as did his close advisers. As one expands the ring a little wider, past the top generals, one would find a support network that is rich relative to the rest of the population, but not compared to a free country. So, once one goes beyond (say) the richest 1000, one has people who are supporting the system to their long-term detriment. [i am not saying that they're all stupid fools, who should obviously rebel. I'm not making a point abouit political action here, but about political philosophy. If they had the right political philosophy in the first place, 1000 would not be able to rule by force.]

The same impracticality can be found in the world of drug-dealing. While the king-pins drive the cool cars, it's just not a great career move for the bulk of the bad guys. (Check out the book called "Freakonomics" and read the chapter titled "Why do most Drug dealers live with their mothers".)

Ofcourse, the broader point is whether the western gagdets, cool cars and the rape of scared interns is good for a human being. In that regard, we circle back to the drug-addiction examples. (perhaps stuff for a different post)

On an administrative note, could you use the "Reply" or "Quote" buttons so that the username of the person you're quoting is preserved in your quote block. You can also type it in manually like this:

[quote=username] blah blah [/quote]

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hunterrose wrote:

Really? Your Mao statementssuggest otherwise.

I’m not aware that Mao shot himself in the head or blew himself up.

I’m not asking whether russian roulette and random bomb-defusing can be destructive, but whether they are destructive actions even if they don’t result in physical injury. Surely you don\'t agree with that?

I would say that such activities carry a high risk of self-destruction. So, no, pointing a gun at one’s head and bringing the hammer down on an empty chamber (even if there is a bullet in another chamber) is not self-destructive.

That’s not the argument against looting. The argument is (or rather the argument leads to the conclusion) that looting is destructive to the looter regardless of what results a particular case of looting leads to.

So tell me, please, precisely how was looting destructive to Chairman Mao?

FYI I’m sure the Objectivists here (of which I am not included) would say that the looter doesn’t face risks in the first place, as “risk” implies there is a potential reward.

Well, I won’t ask you to defend a position that is not your own.

It seems a digression, but I would say that whether or not X is enjoyed has little (if anything) to do with whether X is objectively destructive/impairing.

If something is “objectively destructive,” then it can be grasped by means of our senses. Let us now proceed to measure the precise amount of destruction/impairment that, say, a tax collector experiences.

Someone did make a similar argument not too long ago. It’s somewhat interesting. Check it out.

Again, I won’t ask you to defend a position that is not your own.

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Inspector wrote:

This hints at a “no,” but silly me - I need an explicit statement. :thumbsup:

I’m not talking about whether you have enough information in a particular case, such as with Steve, to know the cause of emotions - I am asking you if you believe that the causes of emotions are both objective and knowable.

Since I was a small child I have had a slight fear of heights. For example, I do not enjoy amusement park rides or scenic elevators. You will have to take my word for it when I say that I do not know the cause of this emotion. If stating “the cause is objective” means that it exists in reality, then, yes, it is objective even though I know nothing about it. Furthermore, I would not say the cause is unknowable, for it may be possible one day through psychotherapy to discover it.

That no matter how weird and screwed up a person’s emotional mechanism is, that they are an objective product of his reasoning (or lack thereof); that they do not occur causelessly.

I do not believe that anything occurs causelessly.

Do you believe that the causes of emotions objective, knowable, and a product of a person’s reasoning (or irrationality)?

Yes to “objective” if “objective” means that the cause exists in reality.

Yes to “knowable,” in the sense that if something is part of reality it is potentially within man’s means to grasp it. That is not to say that I or anyone else presently possess the means to grasp it or will anytime soon.

No, to the idea that emotions are necessarily a product of a person’s reasoning (or irrationality). For example, anxiety can be caused by unnaturally elevated levels of adrenaline in the blood, which in turn may be caused by a tumor. In such a case, anxiety is not a product of reason or irrationality.

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Inspector wrote:

I’m afraid that won’t do. You see, you committed to two things - that you accepted the goal of living, and that you accepted the means of never breaching reason. The questions posed by Groovenstein showed you that actions like deciding to loot are not primaries - that they rely on a long chain of antecedent reasoning. If you don’t have a long chain of reasoning linking your end decision - looting - to your initial premises - life and rationality - then you have nothing but a wild guess as to whether you are really meeting your goals at all.

I have answered Groovenstein’s questions in a separate post. In response to your points above:

1. On this forum I have not yet seen a demonstration that the looter necessarily commits a breach of reason.

2. I do not dispute the contention that the decision to loot relies on a “chain of antecedent reasoning,” long or otherwise. What has not been shown is that the looter is acting contrary to “life” (his own, that is) and “rationality,” or that he is unable to determine whether he is meeting his goals.

If you’re going to engage in ethical philosophy, (with a reason-based approach, that is) then you have to be ready to do these kinds of things.

I’m ready. Let’s get started.

Edited by Gary Brenner

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Inspector wrote:

That one is simple: you’ve already agreed that unbreached reason is required, so contradictions like that are right out.

It would be a contradiction only if it were shown that reality dictates that no man may steal from another. But where has it been demonstrated that reality forbids theft?

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I was directed to this thread from the Pragmatism thread (http://forum.ObjectivismOnline.com/index.php?showtopic=8839).

I have not had a chance to read through all the posts here but like Gary Brener, I have given a lot of thought to the virtue of predation. I do not consider myself an Objectivist though I greatly admire Rand and respect Objectivism.

The question that I have posed in the past is this: is predation a virtue? The answer is not a simple "yes" or "no."

You can read some of my thoughts here: http://www.conquistador.org/index?name=way

I'll read up on this thread when I have more time and see what I can contribute.

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softwareNerd wrote:

By putting him in jail, or worse.

Yes, and that is just how I’d want those who loot me to be treated. But force is not an ethical argument, unless we take might to equal right.

The looter benefits to the extent that rationality is put in his service. However, I think that the ratio of predominantly non-looting individuals to predominantly-looter individuals is not a good metric here. A better one would be the percentage of predominantly non-looting individuals who nevertheless act in ways that support the looter. One might call this: “percentage of part time slaves”. Or, “percentage of people who sanction evil”.

For instance, I would guess that there is some positive relationship between the support that a crime receives from non-criminals and the longevity of a criminal career in that sub-field. (Of course, there are other factors.) So, as a rule, drug-dealing and prostitution would be more reliable routes to material success than, say, bank robbery.

Even in the case of fraud, a lot of con-men rely on some irrationality of their target, often the target’s irrational hope of making a “quick buck”. As for, government looting, that clearly has wide and democratic sanction all over the world.

Nothing to disagree with here.

Most of these people live in fear for their lives, keeping body-doubles and what not. Even so, if one considers just the material wealth, these examples are similar to the person sanctioned by irrationality.

I have already dealt with this point elsewhere on the thread: “. . . some individuals actually thrive on danger. At the airport I recently met a group of soldiers who were on their way back to Iraq. I asked them if they were afraid. The majority of them said no. And some of them talked about what a “rush” urban warfare is. In fact, there are many individuals who frankly enjoy the risks their occupations entail: firemen, boxers, mountain climbers, etc. If worries about physical danger figured large in Mao’s mind, it is highly unlikely he would have become a Communist revolutionary in the first place.”

If their countrymen were knowledgeable and rational, these people would be in jail, or worse.

Take the case of Saddam. His family probably had a lot of wealth, as did his close advisers. As one expands the ring a little wider, past the top generals, one would find a support network that is rich relative to the rest of the population, but not compared to a free country. So, once one goes beyond (say) the richest 1000, one has people who are supporting the system to their long-term detriment. [i am not saying that they\\\'re all stupid fools, who should obviously rebel. I\\\'m not making a point abouit political action here, but about political philosophy. If they had the right political philosophy in the first place, 1000 would not be able to rule by force.]

None of this is debatable or of much relevance to our discussion. The fact that the residents of some countries don’t have the “right political philosophy” and support the rulers to the “long-term detriment” of the masses does not constitute a reason for certain opportunists not to engage in looting.

The same impracticality can be found in the world of drug-dealing. While the king-pins drive the cool cars, it’s just not a great career move for the bulk of the bad guys. (Check out the book called \\\"Freakonomics\\\" and read the chapter titled “Why do most Drug dealers live with their mothers”.)

The fact that many individuals do not enjoy long-term success in crime does not constitute an argument for no person to try his hand at crime. By analogy, very few young women who aspire to movie acting careers actually attain success in that profession. But the lack of success of the many is hardly a reason for the few who do succeed to abandon their careers.

Of course, the broader point is whether the western gagdets, cool cars and the rape of scared interns is good for a human being. In that regard, we circle back to the drug-addiction examples. (perhaps stuff for a different post)

From my own point of view, I don’t see how skydiving, listening to earsplitting rock music, baking in a tanning bed, or running with the bulls at Pamplona does one any good. Still, some people can’t get enough of those activities. Yet what would be my grounds for declaring that my happiness and self-esteem are stronger than those of the bull-runners, tanners, and skydivers?

On an administrative note, could you use the \\\"Reply\\\" or \\\"Quote\\\" buttons so that the username of the person you\\\'re quoting is preserved in your quote block. You can also type it in manually like this:

[quote=username] blah blah [/quote]

Yes, I was required to change my IP host, and for some reason the full quotation, including speaker’s name, is not being preserved when I hit the “Reply” button. Since I discovered that error, I’ve been inserting the speaker’s name manually. I regret any confusion I may have caused.

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Yes, and that is just how I’d want those who loot me to be treated. But force is not an ethical argument, unless we take might to equal right.
No it isn't, but are you suggesting it is in these people's interest to end up in jail, where they undoubtedly will?
None of this is debatable or of much relevance to our discussion. The fact that the residents of some countries don’t have the “right political philosophy” and support the rulers to the “long-term detriment” of the masses does not constitute a reason for certain opportunists not to engage in looting.
The relevance is as follows: that the looter can only "succeed" in that material sense to the extent that he dupes people.

I assumed you were asking why one should not loot. Are you actually asking: why should one not become a looter if the world is predominantly made up of irrational people around who will let one loot?

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No it isn’t, but are you suggesting it is in these people’s interest to end up in jail, where they undoubtedly will?

I lived in an apartment with a woman for two years. Sadly, the relationship ended, and, while I was out of town, she walked off with thousands of dollars of my books, artwork and stereo equipment. After I consulted law enforcement officials and private lawyers, I was told that it would cost me more to pursue the case than to let it go. So where is the “undoubtedly” in this particular looter’s case?

The relevance is as follows: that the looter can only “succeed” in that material sense to the extent that he dupes people.

Fine, now provide evidence that “dupers” must necessarily incur negative costs.

I assumed you were asking why one should not loot. Are you actually asking: why should one not become a looter if the world is predominantly made up of irrational people around who will let one loot?

If selfish interest is the goal, please explain the distinction between looting from rational people and irrational people – as long as the predator intelligently accounts for the risks in each case.

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Just to be clear, are you suggesting that a life of duping people out of a few thousand dollars here and there is a practical guide to life? If one's kids asked one about such a life, regardless of the morality, would you say it is practical? What about the lottery, if one ignored the thrill and focused on money, is that practical too?

Edited by softwareNerd

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Just to be clear, are you suggesting that a life of duping people out of a few thousand dollars here and there is a practical guide to life? If one's kids asked one about such a life, regardless of the morality, would you say it is practical? What about the lottery, if one ignored the thrill and focused on money, is that practical too?

To be fair (or probably overly generous) to our prudent predator, he isn't here saying that looting is good, he's saying Objectivism can't prove it's bad.

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To be fair (or probably overly generous) to our prudent predator, he isn't here saying that looting is good, he's saying Objectivism can't prove it's bad.
I haven't read the entire thread, but I think that two arguments that have been presented are:
  • that looting cannot make a person happy (I'm summarizing tremendously)
  • that looting isn't practical

For now, in my own posts, I've concentrated on the second, because I see many others are already making the case for the first.

So, with that frame of reference, I have said that looting is not practical advice. I would not advise my son to grow up to be a bank robber, because he will almost certainly end up in jail. That is bad. So, I am definitely saying it is bad. Whether I've proved it is a separate issue. One thing's for sure, one cannot deduce it without looking out at the world, considering the individual and their options and seeing what their best bets are (in other words, non-philosophical observation). The dumb guy who gets caught during his tenth petty burgalry would probably do better in some simple honest occupation; the super-smart million-dollar con-man could almost certainly do better at some honest job and with far less risk. To be looting people is to turn the odds against onseful. To be trading is enlist others in one's success.

On the other side of the argument too, one will never be able to deduce from some other philosophical principle that a man requires self-esteem, nor will one be able to deduce from some philosophical principle that man needs food, or that smoking too heavily can be detrimental to one's health.

Edited by softwareNerd

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One way to simply the discussion is to examine legalized looting (e.g. the democratic process) or looting across cultures (e.g. old fashioned conquest).

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It would be a contradiction only if it were shown that reality dictates that no man may steal from another. But where has it been demonstrated that reality forbids theft?

No, it is a contradiction on the grounds that he advocates a different ethics for everyone else than he does himself. Pray tell what is it, in reason, that permits him to do this? Ethics is derived from the nature of man. What is different in his nature that allows this? Furthermore, he is an egoist so he is claiming that it is good for others to allow him to loot them. Where does he get off claiming this? Tell me where reason might make such a claim...

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I’m ready. Let’s get started.

Let's? Do you perchance have a mouse in your pocket? (hahaha, no offense. I've just been waiting to use that for a while)

See, you're the one who has made a positive claim: that reason dictates that it is in your interest to loot. Please present an unbroken chain of reasoning that starts at life and reason and ends at looting.

Yes to “objective” if “objective” means that the cause exists in reality.

Yes to “knowable,” in the sense that if something is part of reality it is potentially within man’s means to grasp it. That is not to say that I or anyone else presently possess the means to grasp it or will anytime soon.

No, to the idea that emotions are necessarily a product of a person’s reasoning (or irrationality). For example, anxiety can be caused by unnaturally elevated levels of adrenaline in the blood, which in turn may be caused by a tumor. In such a case, anxiety is not a product of reason or irrationality.

Excepting tumors, then, emotions are caused by our reasoning or irrationality, correct?

And since you have accepted that you will be using unbreached reason, we can reject for the purposes of this thread any emotion caused by irrationality, right?

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I would say that such activities carry a high risk of self-destruction. So, no, pointing a gun at one’s head and bringing the hammer down on an empty chamber (even if there is a bullet in another chamber) is not self-destructive.
Ah, then you still don't understand. Something like random bomb-defusing is fundamentally different from something that is risky like a run in Pamplona. You have to grasp that before you will understand any argument against looting.

Running the bulls is pretty risky, sure. But the means to go about such an endeavor at least has rational basis. You could actually prepare for something like this. Get in physical shape. Watch how (and how fast) bulls move. Learn the contours of the streets. Carry an emergency firearm (heh.) I don't know, wear armor and not wear red. While daredevilish, it's not inherently irrational...

...like defusing a bomb by cutting random wires. The MO a person accepts in such an act (life-or-death through random action) is objectively self-destructive, regardless of whether it takes the form of random bomb-defusing or other idiocies, regardless of whether or not it results in physical harm in a particular application of the principle.

You're saying that these two things are fundamentally the same, merely a difference of degree. You see these two actions as both having chances of peril, and without concern for why they're perilous, begin running with philosophical scissors. You don't understand that the "mere" act of accepting an irrational process is self-destructive, again, regardless of its results in one case or another.

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softwareNerd wrote:

Just to be clear, are you suggesting that a life of duping people out of a few thousand dollars here and there is a practical guide to life? If one\'s kids asked one about such a life, regardless of the morality, would you say it is practical?

It would be practical only if one is good at it. Like alligator wrestling, sword swallowing or tightrope walking, it is not for amateurs.

What about the lottery, if one ignored the thrill and focused on money, is that practical too?

The fact that the lottery is not practical does not mean that one could not make a living at other games, such as blackjack or poker.

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Inspector wrote

No, it is a contradiction on the grounds that he advocates a different ethics for everyone else than he does himself. Pray tell what is it, in reason, that permits him to do this?

But if one’s primary ethical goal is one’s own survival, enrichment and comfort, then why would it be unethical to promote what Nietzsche called a “slave morality” for others? In doing so, the egoist is not contradicting his core values.

To put it another way, where is it shown that there must be a single, universal morality for all men? Where is the demonstration that all men are or should be equal in a moral/political/legal sense? Before you call the predator contradictory or anti-reason, you must first prove that we are all endowed with the same rights and that reality forbids one to violate the rights of the other.

Ethics is derived from the nature of man. What is different in his nature that allows this?

Where do we look to find this “nature” of man? Can it be found only in the soul of the producer and not the predator? Perhaps we could say that the ethics of looting is derived from the “nature” of the looter.

Furthermore, he is an egoist so he is claiming that it is good for others to allow him to loot them. Where does he get off claiming this? Tell me where reason might make such a claim...

To practice egoism one does not have to convert others to the idea. And a looter does not have to be truthful in the tales he spins for his victims. He only has to be convincing. Besides, only government looters have to bamboozle their subjects into thinking that (tax) looting is good for them. And for that they can safely rely on the public school system, which spends about ½ billion dollars each year on that and other forms of miseducation.

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To put it another way, where is it shown that there must be a single, universal morality for all men? (...) Before you call the predator contradictory or anti-reason, you must first prove that we are all endowed with the same rights and that reality forbids one to violate the rights of the other.

Actually, the one advocating predatory Ethics gets to prove that the he is different from everyone else and thus deserves a predatory morality while everyone else works their ass off to provide for him.

Until you differentiate somehow, all "rational animals" are the same - in terms of their nature.

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I do not dispute the idea that reason is necessary for one’s survival. What has yet to be proven is the argument that the producer is reasonable and the predator is unreasonable.

The answer is that man survives through production. His values must be produced, and that requires reason. Reason is even required, indirectly, for the looter. The looter requires that some people using reason produce the values that he steals. That is why looting is a parasitical activity, and not a primary on its own.

The fact that man requires values which are produced using reason is an objective fact of man's nature. You can claim disagreement with it, but that does not change its validity.

Looting is not practical as a social principle. The only way for large-scale production to occur is if property rights are protected and looting is forbidden. For anyone who wants to enjoy the benefits of abundant production, he will want to live in a capitalist society governed by strict protection of individual rights. That means he will choose out of self-interest to live in a society where looting is forbidden by law.

If you want to live on a pirate island, or in a gang's lair, or in fear in your own home over when your scam or crime will be uncovered and you will be arrested, or if you want to live on the run or in hiding, be a looter. Or, if you want to try to be dictator of a country and hope that you are the "lucky" one who gets to rule for a while, not one of the many thousands who try and end up in jail or dead trying to take over, go ahead.

It's your choice, your personal choice, Gary Brenner. You can choose to be a looter, but you cannot argue that it is in man's rational self-interest to be one.

An analogy would be to say that food is an objective requirement of man's survival. You can choose to eat poison, or even eat food that sometimes contains poison. You may even say you like it. That does not change the fact that you are threatening your well-being. It is contrary to your rational self-interest to ingest poison or even risk ingesting it. The same applies to looting, a parasitical activity that subjects you to serious risk of death and suffering.

For my argument more fully stated, I refer you back to my post #23. Those arguments still stand.

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Actually, the one advocating predatory Ethics gets to prove that the he is different from everyone else and thus deserves a predatory morality while everyone else works their ass off to provide for him.

Until you differentiate somehow, all "rational animals" are the same - in terms of their nature.

Yes, this is my response as well.

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