State Coercion, Objectivism and Compassion

I was looking around again, and I found a post at a blog called A Nine Pound Hammer …. or a Woman Like You, Either One of These Will Do. Which has to be the longest title I have seen for a blog. Anyway, the post basically is quoting Penn Jillette’s opinion piece, “I don’t know, so I’m an atheist libertarian.”

It’s amazing to me how many people think that voting to have the government give poor people money is compassion. Helping poor and suffering people is compassion. Voting for our government to use guns to give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral self-righteous bullying laziness.

People need to be fed, medicated, educated, clothed, and sheltered, and if we’re compassionate we’ll help them, but you get no moral credit for forcing other people to do what you think is right. There is great joy in helping people, but no joy in doing it at gunpoint.

Mr. Jillette has more to say, and the article is worth reading.

I also found a response, of a sort, to the above quote. At a place on the web called Chaotic3quilibrium’s Weblog, I found this reply:

It resonated with me as something an Ayn Rand acolyte might say. So, here’s the response I left on my friend’s Facebook post (with edits and corrections):

Wow! Penn sounds like an Ayn Rand acolyte. I sure am glad these kinds of ideas are not mainstream, at least not today. Perhaps if enough people like Penn educate enough children who become adults and choose to take care of themselves and all those around them who are less “gifted” or explicitly disabled, then and ONLY then would what he (and Rand) is saying might work.

Contribution, either chosen, obligated or forced, has been the story of man since long and deep into is tribal ancestory. The idea that there is now enough excess capacity such that individualism is even possible to hold socially and psychologically is a testament to the previous systems’ ability to elevate homo-sapien’s survival.

Luckily, the very thing that psychologically drives Penn (and Rand) is the very thing that diminishes their ability to generate and sustain social cohesion to the point of their being politically irrelevant. There’s an equilibrium between socialism and individualism. Slide too much to either end of that spectrum and one becomes psychologically incongruent and dysfunctional. I don’t know about Penn, but Rand was clearly at the dysfunctional control-freak end of the individualism end of the spectrum.

Penn gets to say what he says only because so many people before him fought to survive so that he now floats in the excess resource capacity to say it without ever having to directly experience the full consequences of his assertions. I’m glad he’s an entertainer. It’s provides the most elegant ironic background to his “serious philosophical statement”. {smirk}

I find his “moral credit” and “joy” assertions are arrogant. He can assert those values for himself. However, who is he to claim they are universal values and then claim the “proper way to evaluate” both morally and joyfully. What a tool.

1) What Penn Jillette said does not sound like Objectivism, Ayn Rand’s philosophy. Why? Because Ayn Rand objected to altruism, and Penn Jillette clearly does not. I can only conclude that Jim O’Flaherty, Jr., the author of the Chaotic3quilibrium’s Weblog, does not actually know what an Ayn Rand acolyte sounds like. Notably, Mr. O’Flaherty does not at all explain why Mr. Jillette’s comment is supposed to sound like Objectivism.

2) If a contribution is forced, it is not a contribution. It is either extortion or taxation, depending on which entity is doing the forcing.

3) “There’s an equilibrium between socialism and individualism.” Um, no. There is not. He might as well say there is an equilibrium between slavery and freedom. I repeat, no, there is not.

4) “Slide too much to either end of that spectrum and one becomes psychologically incongruent and dysfunctional.” Psychologically incongruent? Psychologically dysfunctional? So people who disagree with Mr. O’Flaherty’s political perspective are mentally disturbed? At this point Mr. O’Flaherty is starting to sound intellectually (rather than psychologically) confused.

5) “Rand was clearly at the dysfunctional control-freak end of the individualism end of the spectrum.” One more reason Mr. Jillette does not sound like an Ayn Rand acolyte.

6) “I’m glad he’s an entertainer. It’s provides the most elegant ironic background to his ‘serious philosophical statement’. {smirk}” Yet Mr. O’Flaherty seems to have missed the “irony” of the fact that his own statement is difficult to take seriously.

7) At this point, Mr. O’Flaherty is just making stuff up.

I find his “moral credit” and “joy” assertions are arrogant. He can assert those values for himself. However, who is he to claim they are universal values and then claim the “proper way to evaluate” both morally and joyfully. What a tool.

Mr. Jillette did not claim his notions of “moral credit” and “joy” are universal values to which everyone else must agree. Mr. Jillette also did not say anything about a “proper way to evaluate.” His comments are certainly no less valid than assertions by some about the wealthy needing higher tax rates because they need to pay a “fair share.”

8) Nothing Mr. O’Flaherty said establishes why what Penn Jillette said is wrong. Mr. O’Flaherty asserts that Mr. Jillette is wrong, and the only support Mr. O’Flaherty seems able to give to his argument is a strawman, some ad hominem, some more unsupported assertions, and an arrogant smirk. Basically, Mr. O’Flaherty is saying that Penn Jillette is wrong because Mr. O’Flaherty says so.

Why do I care about what Mr. O’Flaherty said? Not because it was Mr. O’Flaherty who said it, but because he made errors I see all the time in critiques of libertarianism. “Oh, you’re just one of those Ayn Rand people.” “Oh, so you want people to live in isolation.” “You ideas won’t work because they are impractical.” “So are you okay with making murder legal too?” To these a many other similar comments, I find myself often saying, “Whoah, back up there, pal. That is not what I said.”

The problem with those comments, including the objections of Mr. O’Flaherty, is that the people making those comments are objecting to their own preconceived assumptions about libertariansm, rather than the ideas actually expressed by someone else. Which eliminates any intellectual and/or substantive content the speaker thinks his objection contains. Anyone can set up strawmen and knock them down again. Which is about all Mr. O’Flaherty managed to do. Notice that at no point in Mr. O’Flaherty’s comments does Mr. O’Flaherty even bother to address the issues of coercion on the part of the state. He only makes fun of Mr. Jillette for raising an objection. Mr. O’Flaherty never addresses whether government coercion for social programs is or is not moral or compassionate. Mr. O’Flaherty’s comments simply do not add up to a substantive critique of what Mr. Jillette said.

This is not to say that people only do this to libertarians. People do this sort of thing all the time to others whose ideas they do not like. They do it to Democrats and Republicans and Christians and atheists and people who question authority and on and on and on. I’m not even saying I never do it. I probably have, though I try (usually) to not. The point is, it takes more than saying someone is wrong to prove that he or she is. When you make the kind of comments Mr. O’Flaherty made, you are not proving someone else wrong. More than likely, you’re only indicating how much you are not paying attention.

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