Saturday, May 21, 2005

Column on Words and Pictures not being Sticks and Stones

Words and Pictures don?t Justify Violent Response

Tibor R. Machan

It?s not only some people in the Middle East who go crazy when they get
offended. You can see this kind of thing happening in many crimes of
passion right here in the good old US of A. Men and women who are upset
with what they are told or shown?such as, ?I don?t love you anymore? or
?Please just get out of my life? or some sensational images?often refuse
to deal with the rejection or offense in civilized ways.

Not only that. Entire special interest organizations are now being led by
people who respond to criticism by demanding harsh measures against the
critics. And, of course, we all have heard of those criminal defense
tactics whereby attorneys try to convince juries that their clients did
the crime because of a movie or book or something else they read or saw.

Whatever has happened to that simple but true notion that sticks and
stones may break your bones, but words?and pictures?will never hurt? The
idea behind this is that while emotions might be prompted by words and
pictures, any civilized human being ought to know how to turn away from
them and move on. This is what being a human being, with powers of
self-awareness and self-control, is about.

In anyone?s life there will be many occasions when he or she will become
upset from being called names, having favorite ideas demeaned by others,
derisive references to one?s favorite movies, teams, books, paintings, and
so forth. Any time I read a review of a book or movie or play I like, I of
course get annoyed. Most recently a prominent journal, in which I myself
have published several papers, took off against one of my favorite
thinkers and I went about wounded for a couple of hours. Then there is
always someone telling me I have behaved badly in the face of some event I
should have dealt with differently. I have lost friends, too, because I
wrote things that have offended. And upon that, I myself was accosted with
some harsh words. So it goes, but it should never break out into violence.

Our lives, as noted before, are replete with people hurling invectives at
us, dissing what we like or praising what we hate. But, yes, we can walk
away from these, shake off the insult or ad hominems, realize, after a bit
of mental and emotional shock, that no one owes us to be loved, cherished,
or agreed with about even the most precious matters.

Yet we find that political correctness is nearly abolishing the idea of
freedom of thought and imagery. Saddam Hussein, a mass murderer and
vicious dictator, is depicted in his shorts and this is supposed to be a
major crime for which not just someone who may have sneaked the photo
should apologize?for sneaking it, not for what it contained, mind you;
Newsweek admittedly misreports what some Americans did to a copy of the
Koran and this is supposed to excuse crowds of people going on a rampage?
What is going on here?

I suppose the lesson, not often enough taught?because that itself would
appear to be offensive to some?is that human beings can always regress to
savagery. There is no guarantee that they will be guided by principles of
civil conduct, by restraint and proportionality of conduct. To words, in
short, one responds with words, not with sticks and stones. Yes, words can
produce painful emotions but that?s no excuse whatsoever for losing one?s
cool, for going ballistic.

This is one of the problems with all those erudite analyses about how
terrorism is produced either by the terrorists hatred of liberty or by his
or her taking umbrage at American foreign policy measures. Neither
justifies terrorism?which is lashing out violently, sometimes with mass
slaughter, at totally innocent people. Terrorism is a kind of venting on a
grand scale and whatever other objective is associated with it does not
manage to make it anything better. Like toddlers who throw a fit, smashing
toys and even beating up smaller siblings, terrorists are out of control,
only they are adult human beings and have no excuse to offer for their
vicious conduct.

It would be very welcome if most commentators stopped providing excuses
for blowing one?s top and called for civilized, adult conduct on
everyone?s part who is feeling badly about something that didn?t cause any
damage but merely?even if wrongly?upset some people. This may help reduce
both crimes of passion and terrorism.

Column on Paucity of Integrity

The Paucity of Integrity

Tibor R. Machan

Why should I deny it, I am a moralist. Why would I sound off on so many
topics involving what people think and do, otherwise? I hope to encourage
myself and other folks to do better; I would like to do my level best,
given my resources and talents, to improve institutions. I know of no one
who chimes in about public affairs who isn?t so disposed.

So, here I go again, this time lamenting the paucity of that central
moral virtue, integrity. What is it?

My dictionary tells it pretty straightforwardly, without the nuances and
complications moral philosophers would (quite properly) add: First,
integrity means steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code;
next, it is the state of being unimpaired, of soundness, and finally it
rounds it off with the quality or condition of being whole or undivided;

Integrity then is a human virtue of keeping all of one?s values in sight
as one thinks and acts. It is to be consistent in the adherence to and
practice of the moral virtues. It is, one might call it, a meta-virtue,
imploring us to keep all our virtues intact and not embrace them
sporadically, piecemeal, here but not there, now but not then. There isn?t
a school of bona fide moral or ethical philosophy in which integrity
doesn?t figure prominently but there are other schools that demean it

Why do I say this vital virtue is missing from much of our culture? Why
do I claim that few people appear to be loyal to it?

Mainly because the evidence proves the point. Just watch how often, for
example, journalists will protest any interference with their liberty
while actively promoting interference with the liberty of others. Observe
how readily Enron?s executives will be condemned for failing to have, yes,
integrity itself, while it will also be argued, by the same folks, that we
should all think and act pragmatically, non-ideologically, in ways that
are flexible. Just consider how special interest groups identify their own
projects as in the public interest, while condemning the projects of
others as crass profiteering?the environmental lobbies and groups come to
mind here but they aren?t by any means alone.

Then, also, notice this nearly hysterical embrace, by some of our most
prominent public figures, of the pragmatic approach to, yes, the law
itself?Richard Posner, Judge of the United States Seventh Circuit Court of
Appeals and Senior Lecturer, University of Chicago Law School, comes to
mind here. His volume, advocating unprincipled thinking, titled Law,
Pragmatism and Democracy, published by no less than Harvard University
Press (2003) makes no secret of how little he thinks of integrity in law
and public policy. The Rule of Law itself is decried by Posner as he
unabashedly promotes the notion that what judges should do is make their
rulings on the basis of what they believe will achieve most value in the
world, knowing full well that this is a hopelessly vague idea. As he puts
it at one point, ?No sane persons would balk at abandonment of the
conventional limitations on the power to search and seize and the power to
extract information from suspects and even bystanders? in cases where one
knows for sure these measures will help prevent terrorism.

The point of integrity is, of course, to habituate us?including our
important institutions and their administrators?to keep in mind and adhere
to all the moral virtues and principles of justice even while we are being
vigilant about some that happen just now be in the greatest peril. So, as
this applies to law and public policy, while fighting terrorists, for
example?or child molesters or rapists?due process must also be preserved.
Indeed, without such integrity it is impossible to even figure out what is
worth fighting for and why. Why even bother with fighting terrorists whose
major crime is, after all, to abandon all sense of values, to violate all
the principles of civilized society, if in defending ourselves against
them we are willing to do the very same thing?

It is nothing new, but worth reiteration: Those who are condemning
principled thinking, be this in ethics, politics, law, economics, global
free trade or you name it, are inviting complete chaos regarding how we
ought to act, what we ought to support or oppose. Indeed, in this respect
the Marquis de Sade?who championed an ?ethics of cruelty??and
Machiavelli?who thought that all that really matters in politics is
power?had more integrity than many of our current public philosophers.
These two, at least, consistently, without apology, jettisoned all virtues
and values in favor of unrestrained reckless abandon.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Column on What's Wrong with Government Regulation

State Regulation is Wrong

Tibor R. Machan

As a professor who teaches business ethics, among other subjects, I have
no illusions about the capacity for?and frequency of?business misconduct.
Like members of any other profession, human beings who embark upon
business are fully capable of malfeasance.

Yet it is quite clear that when people in business misbehave, those bent
on imposing more and more tyranny by government gleefully jump in to use
the fact not so as to instruct us about it, criticize those guilty, and
help us all to cope with it but to advocate more and fiercer government
regulation of the profession itself. To make this evident, all one needs
is consider how malfeasance in certain select professions are dealt with
by the finger wagging classes.

In my region of the world, no less so, sadly, than in many others, we now
are confronted with the misdeeds of many members of the Roman Catholic
clergy, at all levels, from parish priests to the highest authorities. The
misconduct by many of these individuals, involving the shocking abuse of
their position as teachers and counselors, is becoming increasingly
evident. And there is also the widespread effort to cover up the
malpractice, so much so that nearly all parts of the church appear to be

Of course, while many are baffled at this, there is nothing all that
amazing about it. Those in the clergy are no less human than the rest of
us and some of their special circumstances are probably supportive of
their yielding to the temptation to carry on in abominable ways. This, as
we know, is no less so for people in many other professions.

Educators, for example, are notoriously prone to misuse their class room
podiums, so they turn from teachers into indoctrinators. I have been in
the field for nearly forty years now and have ample direct evidence of
colleagues who make no bones about advocating to their students their
particular ideology, treating their students as a captive audience for
proselytizing to them about what is dear to their hearts instead of taking
seriously their oath of office, which is to teach them about ideas and
facts and controversies without taking sides in the process.

Coaches, doctors, columnists, journalists, lawyers, engineers, nurses,
hairdressers and the lot, they all have their various opportunities to
become corrupted and many of them yield to the temptation to do so?to take
short cuts, to dodge their responsibilities, to misbehave in various ways.

Those, however, who want to strengthen the power of the government to
meddle in our economic lives are very good at ignoring that members of the
professions that are constitutionally protected from government
intervention are just as prone to malpractice, if not more so, as are
those in the field of business. The First Amendment to the US Constitution
prohibits government intervention in the professions of journalism and the
clergy and the ban on prior restraint applies there fully, so only after a
crime is suspected may intervention commence. And the principle of
academic freedom protects most teachers from interference not only from
government but even their own administrators, so only in the grossest
instances of professional misconduct will educators be reprimanded?and
that is exactly how it should be. The rest must be left to peer pressure
and other informal remedies.

But not with business. If executives in a few companies engage in
malpractice, there is guaranteed to be a chorus of calls for massive
increase in federal, state, or local government regulation of the entire
industry. Just imagine if this were done vis-à-vis Newsweek?s recent
misconduct, or Dan Rather?s or that of all the priests in the Roman
Catholic church? Yet, of course, it is clearly understood that no such
government action may be taken because?.well, why, exactly? Why are these
professions made immune by law to prior restraint but not those in
business? Are people in business any less human, any less deserving of due

No. Sadly our legal system is replete with certain prejudices about
business and other practical professions, age old ones that permit some
people to meddle in the professional affairs of others even if the only
excuse is that certain other people have done bad things in those
professions. That is, in principle, like starting to regulate all
journalists because of how Newsweek?s reporters or Dan Rather behaved. Or
putting all Roman Catholic priest under government supervision because of
the malpractice of some of them.

The fundamental thing wrong with government regulation of any profession,
including business, is that it commits the logical fallacy of
composition?treating all members of a group as if they automatically
followed the bad behavior of some of them.