Saturday, December 31, 2011

So what’s Wrong with That?

Tibor R. Machan

So there is now concern by some so called journalists that “in his 1987 manifesto ‘Freedom Under Siege: The U.S. Constitution after 200-Plus Years,’ Presidential hopeful Ron Paul wrote that AIDS patients were victims of their own lifestyle, questioned the rights of minorities and argued that people who are sexually harassed at work should quit their jobs.” Of these only the last could be objected to on rational grounds and only if the harassment involved coercion. Thus if some colleague happened to place an objectionable picture on his office wall, a picture that others do not have to look at and can easily avoid, that would be a matter of office privacy unless the firm had a policy against it. There is no universal right to be free of annoying colleagues.

Arguably, though probably not in all cases, AIDS patients did invite their illness through risky activities they choose to engage in. At most Paul was exaggerating: some AIDS patients become infected from blood transfusions for which a hospital or medical office, not the patients, in responsible. In most instances it is probably true that AIDS patients are more like those who experience motorcycle or mountain climbing mishaps; they took on risks that landed them in medical trouble, something we all do now and then as we move through a risk infested life.

As to “the rights of minorities,” Paul is entirely correct. Minorities as a group have no rights. No group has rights, only individuals do. Members of minorities do, of course, have rights and when these are violated, it is the function of the government of a free society to secure them, just as the Declaration of Independence makes clear. Arguably no one has the right to have government mandate affirmative action in his or her behalf. Such a policy needs to be achieved by way of employment contracts, not legislation. More to the point, the whole matter of such mandates is open to serious dispute and should be perfectly acceptable as a subject of political debate.

These complaints against Ron Paul demonstrate a total failure to understand what democratic politics is about, namely, debating public policy. No such policy is sacrosanct apart from the commitment to the philosophy of the Declaration and the Bill of Rights and to constant debate. Just as many liberal democrats disagree with the War on Drugs and free trade measures and are willing to challenge these in public discussions, so libertarians have their list of public policies they want to challenge and change.

Reporters who express shock with Ron Paul’s positions should realize that in a democracy innumerable matters are up for debate, including the right to an abortion, to assisted suicide, minimum wage laws, undeclared wars in Libya or elsewhere. Ron Paul, just as any other candidate, may be open to criticism for the side he takes on any of these issues but it is a complete misunderstanding of the nature of political debate to consider simply holding views with which others disagree as something objectionable. What do these people want, anyway? Do they expect that elections will be about what spices should one use when baking a turkey or colors to decorate one’s garden?

The pretended outrage with Paul’s positions of several decade ago also fails to allow for any nuance in his libertarian stance, or indeed for some change in his political views. Why is this objectionable about Paul but not about Romney or Gingrich? It shouldn’t be about anyone who has a long time ago professed to hold views that he or she no longer considers sound. It is especially hypocritical to object when so many journalists are rank radical pragmatists, like Paul Krugman and President Obama, people who proudly reject principled thinking about anything.

Moreover, when journalists get into the fray and start championing the views of some of the candidates they cover, there is no longer any integrity to what they are doing; indeed, their journalism is seriously corrupted. This is why so many in America have a negative attitude toward the media--to many of these folks put themselves up high as if someone appointed judges and juries of public debate. They should, instead, keep their political opinions to themselves as they carry out their work, just as doctors, teachers, and others should.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Sobbing for Dictators!

Tibor R. Machan

As the BBC reported, the late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il was provided with mass marches throughout the country in mourning of his recent death. As the thousands were shown on TV, they did what is routine on such occasions in countries with absolute rulers. The people gyrate and undulate and holler, supposedly expressing their earnest grief, although it is remarkable that no tears were in evidence from any participants.

These sort of mass exhibitions are not confined to mourning. They also occur during what are supposed to be celebrations of anniversaries, holidays, etc. Because North Korean officials forbid any visits from foreign journalists, it is difficult to get reliable information from the country, including about these mass events. When television footage is shown outside the country, reporters only have the pictures produced by the lackeys of the regime inside.

One way to obtain reasonably accurate news of what is happening is to consult with refugees who have taken part in these kinds of demonstrations in the past. Since, however, such refugees are mostly highly critical of the regime and the rulers, it can be claimed that they will be biased and that they have a stake in giving false reports.

I was personally part of such demonstration during the era of Joseph Stalin, when he cam to visit Budapest in the early 1950s. Thousands of young people were take out of school and ordered to join the mass demonstrations that Hungary’s puppet government was required to organize for the Soviet dictator. We were ordered to get into our Young Pioneer uniforms -- white shirt with red scarves -- and gather at Budapest’s Hero's Plaza and shout at the top of our voices “Our Dear Father Stalin” for as long as the parade lasted (except when a speech was given). And at the end we were all counted up so the officials could divide those of us who attended from those who were absent since the latter would be penalized, mainly by docking their grades in school. What happened to adults I do not know although we heard that they were often physically beaten for missing such demonstrations.

The inference that all of this was a charade is impossible to avoid. No kid I knew wanted to be there for most of a weekend’s day; very few I was aware of wanted to exhibit joy at Stalin’s presence in the country. It was all done out of fear except perhaps by a very small percentage of dedicated communists. (And by the way, the political system of communism was itself betrayed at these events and throughout the history of these Soviet puppet regimes since such a system would not have a dictator but would be a massive commune! That’s true for North Korea, Cuba and any other such society.)

The dishonesty surrounding all of this is well illustrated by the terms being applied to the rulers, such as “Supreme Leader” and “Our Dear Father,” let alone by the utterly artificial expression of emotions, good or bad. There are -- and have always been -- quite a few societies in which the population is coerced into various gestures shown at mass demonstrations, for example for the rulers and the regime or against foreign critics. It is something of a mystery to me how so many people can be induced to take part in these dishonest mass gestures and, indeed, in decades of compliance with the ruler’s orders. For us the biggest incentive was that in our midst there were always people who were lurking about taking down information about those of us who showed any sort of reluctance or rebellion so they could gain favor by making their reports. Since these regimes do not only punish the non-compliant or rebellious but also members of their extended families and friends, the show of resistance wouldn’t only have bad consequences for the perpetrators but many others and hardly anyone wanted to be the cause of such grief and gross injustice.

Making friends with people who rule these countries, as some suggest, is out of the question for anyone with even an ounce of decency. If one must deal with them, as diplomats often do, they have to be treated with utter formality so that no propaganda gains could be gotten for them from such associations.

Indeed, it seems to me that one line of education for diplomats who are required to deal with these dastards would be to learn just how most effectively refuse to show any kind of sanction of the ruler and their regimes while not encouraging the brutalization of their population.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The BBC’s Sorry Journalism

Tibor R. Machan

The BBC recently published the following in a report about the Republican primary contest in Iowa: “Correspondents say a Ron Paul victory in Iowa would be a major embarrassment to the Republican party as many of his views are seen as too libertarian and isolationist. Mr. Paul would order a $1 trillion (£641bn) spending cut, eliminating a number of government agencies, including the Department of Education. He also proposes returning the dollar to a gold standard and cutting all foreign aid, including to Israel....”

“At a recent campaign stop in Iowa a breast cancer survivor began crying after he told her insurance companies should not have to cover those who are already sick, Reuters news agency reports….”

This passage is worth some attention if only because those of us who have sympathies toward Representative Paul’s libertarian politics should not duck out when opponents target him for criticism, be it fair or not. Let me start with the last bit, the treatment of a crying breast cancer survivor as a kind of “gotcha” device versus Paul. (And incidentally, who are those correspondents who say that Paul’s “victory would be a major embarrassment to the Republican party”? Let’s have some names her, some attributions, by BBC!)

Now we all have hopes and wishes that people will be helpful to and supportive of us, especially when we suffer from maladies or hazardous conditions we had no role in bringing about. Casualties of acts of nature do often deserve our sympathy and even help, unless they have been negligent in taking precautionary measures, such as saving up for health insurance. Even in cases when one has been negligent, often others overlook this and tend to be considerate beyond the call of duty, as it were.

Representative Paul and other libertarians are often first in line with offering private support to such people. The citizens of the US are often first in lending a hand to those who have been hit with natural disasters, like a tsunami or earthquake, and the essence of generosity is precisely that, offering private support and aid to those in need.

What Paul and libertarians in general object to is the coerced support given to those in need by governments are expropriate resources from the citizenry, take a sizable chunk of it for administrative expenses, and distribute the funds according to the lights of the politicians and bureaucrats. This kind of forcible distribution of others’ money is what libertarians are against as a matter of principle and Ron Paul is no exception. This does not at all make him or libertarians callous, heartless, cruel or anything of the kind, however much many claim this about them, ones to whom it seems to come very naturally to confiscate other people’s resources and do with it as they think they should. (I explain this in some detail in my book, Generosity, Virtue in Civil Society [1998].)

As to the cuts supported by Ron Paul, I would urge those who are going to give the matter some thought to consider, once again, that these cuts are an effort to eliminate or at least reduce the forcible taking by some people of the resources that belong to others and to which they have no right whatever. All charitable, helpful acts must be voluntary otherwise they have no moral merit whatsoever. Yes, there are some spurious arguments claiming that out good behavior may, indeed must, be imposed upon us by wiser and more virtuous people than we are but it is just a ruse. No one can make other people moral except by example!

This also applied to foreign aid, be it to Israel or Mongolia. People abroad aren’t entitled to the property of Americans or anyone else who has not voluntarily given it to them. Israel is no exception!

Unfortunately this line of thinking is rarely if every presented to readers in an accurate way so they could consider it without bias. Instead journalists have a dogmatic commitment to the coercion involved in government support for the needy, failing to even mention that kind of thinking summarized above and making it appear that those who do share it are monsters.

Lost of people also mistakenly identify the coercive taking of people resources with Robin Hoodism but in fact Robin Hood took back from the tax takers what they forcibly took for the those whom they victimized. The proper approach to seeing people in need is to mount a serious, voluntary effort to secure support for them, starting with one’s own, not to advocate taking from them what belongs to them and what only they have the rightful authority to give away.

Now in a messy world it is very difficult to be principled and trying to be usually brings on the charge of being an ideologue, a blind adherent to simplistic ideas. But in fact it shows integrity, nothing less! And it is time that politicians show some of it because without integrity the game is up anyway--trust, honesty, responsibility and all such virtue go out the window, never mind simple, honest generosity.