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The Brownshirts Are Here

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This is an unbelievable story; but, since the Washington Post is reporting it, I assume is happened.

Two uniformed men strolled into the main room of the Little Falls library in Bethesda...Then they made their announcement: The viewing of Internet pornography was forbidden. ... ... After the two men made their announcement, one of them challenged an Internet user's choice of viewing material and asked him to step outside, according to a witness. A librarian intervened...
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This is an unbelievable story; but, since the Washington Post is reporting it, I assume is happened.

Well, it is easy to see that the idea of "homeland security" will appeal to concrete-bound mentalities, and that "securing individual rights" will not be grasped, and hence will be violated. The title of this thread, ominous as it is, is right on the money.

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  • 2 weeks later...

All you need to complete the picture, would be the two officers making a nice pile of books depicting naked women outside the library to burn.

The whole Big Brother issue aside - why would anyone want to browse porn in a library? Just get an internet connection at home like a normal person, and spare yourself humiliation.

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Since the Washington Post is reporting this, I doubt it happened as portrayed. It does point out a problem with public libraries, though. Private libraries could have enforceable rules. Public libraries always have to fear that some psycho will sue and get a million dollars because other people couldn't stand his smell. The rules are hardly ever strictly enforced. The article does point out a paradox, though. If sexual harrassment laws forbid the display of obscene material because it creates a "hostile environment" then the authorities must assure that no such material is available to public view. But if library patrons have a right to view whatever they want, how can the authorities interfere? Even putting up a privacy screen requires that someone notice and act on what someone is looking at. Wacko feminist, meet psycho pervert: result=illogical. Hmm, somebody's assumptions are off base. Maybe both sides?

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If sexual harrassment laws forbid the display of obscene material because it creates a "hostile environment" then the authorities must assure that no such material is available to public view. But if library patrons have a right to view whatever they want, how can the authorities interfere?
Ah, well the trick is that rules against sexual harrassment restrain people on the job, not customers. The library itself cannot display porn and library employees cannot display porn in the course of their work. The relevant law applies to employers, and is about employment practices.
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Two uniformed men strolled into the main room of the Little Falls library in Bethesda...Then they made their announcement: The viewing of Internet pornography was forbidden. ... ... After the two men made their announcement, one of them challenged an Internet user's choice of viewing material and asked him to step outside, according to a witness. A librarian intervened...

Regrettable, but as Objectivism views it, the library Internet user must ultimately assume responsibility for what happened to him.

To quote Ayn Rand,

"If by neglect, ignorance, or helplessness, they [citizens] couldn't overturn their bad government and choose a better one, then they have to pay the price for the sins of their government—as all of us are paying for the sins of ours."
http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pag...nter_friendly=1

If the library Internet user got harrassed, it's unjust but not outside his responsibility to correct. He should have made sure he had a government that wouldn't harrass him.

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If the library Internet user got harrassed, it's unjust but not outside his responsibility to correct. He should have made sure he had a government that wouldn't harrass him.
What do you mean by "made sure", and what follows from making sure or no making sure of something. For example: if you live near people, you should make sure that no thug kills you or steals your property. If you fail to make sure of that, what should we conclude?
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What do you mean by "made sure",

"To cause or assure the success or prosperity of." (Merriam-Webster)

and what follows from making sure or no making sure of something.

A government that respects and enforces rights follows from "making sure." Paying "the price for the sins of their government" (Ayn Rand) follows from not making sure.

For example: if you live near people, you should make sure that no thug kills you or steals your property. If you fail to make sure of that, what should we conclude?

That I am paying the price for the sins of the thug.

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If the library Internet user got harrassed, it's unjust but not outside his responsibility to correct. He should have made sure he had a government that wouldn't harrass him.

Well, it is outside his power to correct. No one individual can change a government/society, although he can influence its long term direction. Its true that a group of people are, in an abstract sense, responsible for their government, but this doesnt mean that everyone is individually responsible. I personally can no more change the government of the UK than I can change the laws of physics.

Language is a good analogy here. A language like English or French is the creation of a group of people, and in an abstract sense, these people are responsible for the existence and structure of their language as a whole. But this doesnt mean that John Smith has any real individual power to change the language. Languages do change over time and perhaps he can give it a push in a certain dierction (just like Ayn Rand gave America a slight push towards capitalism) - but he certainly cant change it significantly, and its absurd to hold him directly responsible for the structure of the language which preexisted his birth.

Edited by Hal
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You should also be concluding that it was your responsibility to not be robbed.

Yes, it is the responsibility of every citizen (in every country) not to be robbed. And "if by neglect, ignorance, or helplessness," he finds himself at the mercy of a thug (government or private) he has to pay the price.

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Well, it is outside his power to correct. No one individual can change a government/society, although he can influence its long term direction. Its true that a group of people are, in an abstract sense, responsible for their government, but this doesnt mean that everyone is individually responsible. I personally can no more change the government of the UK than I can change the laws of physics.

Then you have to be prepared to pay the price for your "neglect, ignorance, or helplessness."

Don Watkins elaborates on this point in an article for Capitalism Magazine:

"A right, according to Ayn Rand, is a right to action, not to the object of that action. The right to life, for example, is the right to take those actions necessary to support one’s life – the responsibility for taking those actions is one’s own. The same is true for man’s right to liberty. The right to liberty is the right to take those actions necessary to secure one’s liberty – the responsibility for taking those actions is one’s own. "
http://www.capmag.com/article.asp?ID=4367

So in the case of the library internet users, they must take those actions necessary to secure their power to surf the net as they wish – the responsibility for taking those actions is their own.

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Then you have to be prepared to pay the price for your "neglect, ignorance, or helplessness."
Are you saying that any improper government action toward me is proof of "neglect, ignorance, or helplessness" on my part?
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you have to be prepared to pay the price for your "neglect, ignorance, or helplessness."

[...]

So in the case of the library internet users, they must take those actions necessary to secure their power to surf the net as they wish – the responsibility for taking those actions is their own.

The "neglect, ignorance, or helplessness" quote is about citizens of a nation that is in danger of being attacked in war because their government is engaging in actions that are an objective threat to the rights of a free country. The "price" they pay is due to a free country protecting the rights of its citizens.

In the case of the internet user, we are talking about a "price" paid due to the government violating the rights of its citizens.

Yes, there are consequences to be suffered in either case, but the prime responsibility in the latter case is that of the one unjustly initiating force -- i.e., the government. Now, if it were clear that the internet users knew they were breaking the law, but did it anyway, they certainly bear some responsibility for their actions. And if we were to find out that these people are ardent statists, who advocate laws restricting free speech, they have little to complain about.

But in general, if upon seeing a case of clear rights violation, you immediately start talking about the responsibility of the victim, you have -- at the very least -- a warped view of responsibility -- and justice.

Mark

Edited by mwickens
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The "neglect, ignorance, or helplessness" quote is about citizens of a nation that is in danger of being attacked in war because their government is engaging in actions that are an objective threat to the rights of a free country. The "price" they pay is due to a free country protecting the rights of its citizens. . .

But in general, if upon seeing a case of clear rights violation, you immediately start talking about the responsibility of the victim, you have -- at the very least -- a warped view of responsibility -- and justice.

Look at the quote again. Ayn Rand wrote, "If by neglect, ignorance, or helplessness, they couldn't overturn their bad government and choose a better one, then they have to pay the price for the sins of their government—as all of us are paying for the sins of ours." Clearly in the last 11 words she did not mean that Americans were paying the price of having a free country protect the rights of its citizens, but rather paying the price of having a government in the U.S. that does not fully protect the rights of its citizens.

As an Objectivist I firmly believe in personal responsibility. If people (including the library internet users in question) neglect their responsibility to institute moral government, then they must pay the price. "—as all of us are paying for the sins of ours."

If you don't like what your government is doing to you, do something about it.

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Yes. Why would an Objectivist permit a person or institution to violate his rights unless he were helpless to prevent it?
In the first place, the process of "preventing it" consists of changing a nation's philosophy, which takes time, perhaps several generations. That does not make us helpless.

Secondly, even in a completely free society, any mugger has the power to violate your rights by whacking you over the head and stealing your wallet. So, according to your interpretation of this principle, the only way not to be "helpless" is to live alone on a deserted island.

Look at the quote again. Ayn Rand wrote, "If by neglect, ignorance, or helplessness, they couldn't overturn their bad government and choose a better one, then they have to pay the price for the sins of their government—as all of us are paying for the sins of ours." Clearly in the last 11 words she did not mean that Americans were paying the price of having a free country protect the rights of its citizens, but rather paying the price of having a government in the U.S. that does not fully protect the rights of its citizens.

Is it your position that those last 11 words mean that the moral blame for a violation of rights rests with the victim because he failed to prevent the violation? If so, then you are quoting Miss Rand out of context and misrepresenting the basic principle she is actually talking about.

As Mark pointed out, the context of Miss Rand's comments concerned the citizens of a nation who are facing attack because their government has threatened or attacked a free country. In that situation, the citizens, even if they are "innocent", cannot complain or expect the free country to refrain from defending itself just because doing so will put them in peril. They have no choice but to "pay the price", because their presence does not negate or attenuate the free nation's right to self-defense; any "innocent civilians" who die are the responsibility of the dictatorship, not the free nation defending itself.

The principle is: the moral blame for violating rights rests with whoever initiates the use of force. This means that when the United States government violates my rights the moral blame rests with the government -- it does not rest with me for failing to prevent that violation. You cannot shift the blame to the victim. Accepting personal responsibility does not mean accepting blame for the actions of others.

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according to your interpretation of this principle, the only way not to be "helpless" is to live alone on a deserted island.

Exactly. A survivalist, sitting in a bunker surrounded by enough food and water to last 20 years, would be another good concretization of this view of responsibility.

Mark

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In the first place, the process of "preventing it" consists of changing a nation's philosophy, which takes time, perhaps several generations. That does not make us helpless.

Definitions for "helpless" include "impossible to remedy, impossible to control." For example, it took several generations to develop a vaccine for polio. Until the invention of the vaccine, people were helpless to control or prevent the disease.

Secondly, even in a completely free society, any mugger has the power to violate your rights by whacking you over the head and stealing your wallet. So, according to your interpretation of this principle, the only way not to be "helpless" is to live alone on a deserted island.

perhaps several generations. That does not make us helpless.

Those who take the steps necessary and sufficient to prevent mugging, don't get mugged.

Is it your position that those last 11 words mean that the moral blame for a violation of rights rests with the victim because he failed to prevent the violation? If so, then you are quoting Miss Rand out of context and misrepresenting the basic principle she is actually talking about.

I didn't say moral blame. The issue is taking responsibility for preventing rights violation. As Ayn Rand put it, "But we should care about having the right social system, because our lives are dependent on it—because a political system, good or bad, is established in our name, and we bear the responsibility for it." http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pag...lian_casualties

As Mark pointed out, the context of Miss Rand's comments concerned the citizens of a nation who are facing attack because their government has threatened or attacked a free country. In that situation, the citizens, even if they are "innocent", cannot complain or expect the free country to refrain from defending itself just because doing so will put them in peril. They have no choice but to "pay the price", because their presence does not negate or attenuate the free nation's right to self-defense; any "innocent civilians" who die are the responsibility of the dictatorship, not the free nation defending itself.

Ayn Rand said we, the citizens, "bear the responsibility" for the political system established in our name.

The principle is: the moral blame for violating rights rests with whoever initiates the use of force. This means that when the United States government violates my rights the moral blame rests with the government -- it does not rest with me for failing to prevent that violation. You cannot shift the blame to the victim. Accepting personal responsibility does not mean accepting blame for the actions of others.

Correct. Citizens are not to blame for socialism. They are only responsible for socialism. “The evil of the world is made possible by nothing but the sanction you give it.” Atlas Shrugged, p. 980.

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Those who take the steps necessary and sufficient to prevent mugging, don't get mugged.
So if I get mugged, I am responsible for it. Whatever this view is, it is not Objectivism.

I didn't say moral blame. The issue is taking responsibility for preventing rights violation. As Ayn Rand put it, "But we should care about having the right social system, because our lives are dependent on it—because a political system, good or bad, is established in our name, and we bear the responsibility for it." http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pag...lian_casualties
You continue to quote Miss Rand out of context and thereby misrepresent her views. You cannot take her quotes about one situation (a war and the status of "innocents") and apply them acontextually to every other situation that suits you.

Ayn Rand said we, the citizens, "bear the responsibility" for the political system established in our name.
That does not mean that I am responsible for the rights violations of every politician in America, including those I voted against. In the context in which she said it, Miss Rand means that if our government attacks a free nation and that nation retaliates, I am a legitimate target. That is all it means. It doesn't mean that I am responsible for what the goons from Homeland Security are doing to our own citizens.

Correct. Citizens are not to blame for socialism. They are only responsible for socialism.
Some citizens are responsible for it. To assign responsibility to them all, both those who fight against it and those who fight for it, is crude collectivism and a reversal of the Objectivist view of responsibility.

“The evil of the world is made possible by nothing but the sanction you give it.” Atlas Shrugged, p. 980.
The inability to eliminate evil does not constitute a sanction. According to your interpretation, Miss Rand is responsible for the evil in the world, because, after all, she did not eliminate it.

Fortunately, we do not have to accept your interpretation, because Miss Rand explained what one must do to avoid giving that sanction. She was asked, specifically with respect to that quote, “How can a person withdraw his support without losing his freedom in the process?” Here is her answer:

“What Galt meant was philosophical sanction: do not accept your enemies ideas; do not compromise with today’s trend; do not pretend to approve of today’s ideas for some ulterior motives. ………. The United States is in bad shape, but not so bad that you lose your freedom for refusing to share the ideas of your enemies. If you have in mind paying taxes, that is way down the line of importance. That’s not how you support today’s government; you support it every time you tacitly accept collectivist-altruist-statist slogans or ideas.” (Ayn Rand Answers, pg 130)

If Miss Rand actually had the view of responsibility that you claim, she would never have said that accepting public-funded scholarships and unemployment benefits is proper, which she justified as follows:

"Third -- and most important -- the young people of today are not responsible for the immoral state of the world into which they were born. Those who accept the welfare-statist ideology assume their share of the guilt when they do so. But the anti-sollectivists are innocent victims who face an impossible situation: it is welfare statism that almost destroyed the possibility of working one’s way through college…….” (The Question of Scholarships in “The Voice of Reason”, pg 42)

“Government controls create unemployment. No matter what happens to your employer, if you are out of work today, why should you protect him and starve? There cannot be individual responsibility for something that is the government’s fault.” (Ayn Rand Answers, pg 124)

“So long as financial considerations do not alter or affect your convictions, so long as you fight against welfare statism (and only so long as you fight it) and are prepared to give up any of its momentary benefits in exchange for repeal and freedom – you are morally in the clear.” (The Question of Scholarships in “The Voice of Reason”, pg 45)

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