Tag Archives: Ayn Rand

Makers and takers

Paul Ryan is Mitt Romney's Vice Presidential choice.  As a consequence, there's been a good bit of attention paid to Ryan's much-touted appreciation of Ayn Rand.  One edge is to criticize Randian economic policy.  Another edge is to ask whether Ryan himself lives by the Randian rules.  Here's Joan Walsh taking the second option, over at Slate,  with her article, "Paul Ryan: Randian Poseur":

When his lawyer father died young, sadly, the high-school aged Ryan received Social Security survivor benefits. But they didn’t go directly to supporting his family; by his own account, he banked them for college. . . . After his government-subsidized out-of-state education, the pride of Janesville left college and went to work for government. . . .Let’s say it together: You didn’t build that career by yourself, Congressman Ryan.

It's been a regular question here at the NS whether some kinds of tu quoque arguments can be relevant.  Again, the best example is what we've been calling smoking dad, which has the father, in the midst of taking a drag from a cigarette, telling the son that he shouldn't smoke because smoking's addictive and bad for your health.  Of course, the father's a hypocrite, but he's right, and his hypocrisy actually is relevant, because it's evidence that the father, who thinks smoking's bad, can't stop.  So it is addictive.  OK, so what about Walsh's argument here?  It seems to be that: Paul Ryan is committed to Randian principles, but doesn't live by them.  So… what follows, and why?

Here's the argument with the strongest conclusion:  Ryan's failure to live by his principles shows that they aren't right, that they aren't practicable.  Randianism is all about individuals, doing things by themselves, and ensuring that others don't interfere.  But that's not how societies work. Instead, individual success arises out of large-scale cooperation, opportunities afforded, and others giving back. 

Now, I do think that the hypocrisy of those avowing ideology X can regularly be relevant to our estimation of X.  But not all hypocrisies are created equal.  Couldn't a defender of Ryan and Randianism say something like: sure, but all this is evidence of how things work now, not how they should.  Paul Ryan benefitted from this system, and it was in his interest to do so, but that doesn't mean that the system is just or appropriate.  It just means it benefits some people.  They should be free to criticize it, still.

I think that reply is just about right, but it does miss one thing, which I  think Walsh's column could make clearer: it's easy to forget, even when you're Paul Ryan, that individual successes are nevertheless social products.  And that social programs do help people, even Randians, pursue their self interest.

There’s an argument for that

Maybe someone can do a spoof of that Apple "there's an app for that" commercial replacing "argument" for "app."  Here are two possibilities. 

First, Newt Gingrich–the stupid man's idea of what a smart person sounds like–argues that Child Labor Laws ought to be repealed.  Seriously, this was practically what I had assigned to my Phil 210 course this year as a troll assignment: they had to argue that children ought to work–or ought not to be prohibited (with child labor laws, etc.) from working–in coal mines.  His argument

This is something that no liberal wants to deal with," Gingrich said. "Core policies of protecting unionization and bureaucratization against children in the poorest neighborhoods, crippling them by putting them in schools that fail has done more to create income inequality in the United States than any other single policy. It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in, first of all, child laws, which are truly stupid.

"You say to somebody, you shouldn't go to work before you're what, 14, 16 years of age, fine. You're totally poor. You're in a school that is failing with a teacher that is failing. I've tried for years to have a very simple model," he said. "Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they'd begin the process of rising."

Interesting choice of words. The second is a variation on the argument that pizza is a vegetable.  Pepper spray is "a food product, essentially", one squirt and you're South of the Border.  Where would one find this?  Why Fox News of course.  Video here.

O'Reilly: "First of all, pepper spray, that just burns your eyes, right?"

Kelly: "Right, I mean it's like a derivative of actual pepper.  It's a food product, essentially.  But a lot of experts are looking at that and saying is that the real deal or has it been diluted because–"

O'Reilly: "They should have more of a reaction than that."

Kelly: "That's really besides the point, it was obviously something that was abrasive and intrusive.  Several went to the hospital."

Tastes like burning (someone–can't remember where–beat me to that one). 

Anyway, here's one more from the archives.  Do you do something that contradicts your stated principles?  Well, Ayn Rand has an argument for that.  It's not wrong for you, because you object to it.  Do you disagree with all forms of public welfare but collect it?  It's not wrong if and only if you think such things are wrong.

The recipient of a public scholarship is morally justified only so long as he regards it as restitution and opposes all forms of welfare statism. Those who advocate public scholarships, have no right to them; those who oppose them, have. If this sounds like a paradox, the fault lies in the moral contradictions of welfare statism, not in its victims.

And so on.  Much more in our archives. 

Weeds, birds, and reptiles

P.J.O'Rourke, the satirist, writes a satire-filled (April 2nd) op-ed against (of course) urban biking.  Sure, it has some funny lines–funny if you think making fun of misfortune is funny:

Even Dublin, Ireland, has had portions of its streets set aside for bicycles only—surely unnecessary in a country where everyone's car has been repossessed.

Stupid Irish.  And then there are the lines that are funny because of their sheer ignorance:

Bike lane advocates also claim that bicycles are environmentally friendly, producing less pollution and fewer carbon emissions than automobiles. But bicycle riders do a lot of huffing and puffing, exhaling large amounts of CO2. And whether a bicycle rider, after a long bicycle ride, is cleaner than the exhaust of a modern automobile is open to question.

But he really does mean to object (seriously) to urban biking or bike lanes in traffic-dense urban areas.  The most serious point he raises is this:

In fact, bike lanes don't necessarily lessen car travel. A study by the U.K. Department for Transport found that the installation of "cycle facilities" in eight towns and cities resulted in no change in the number of people driving cars. Bike lanes don't even necessarily increase bike riding. In the late 1980s and early 1990s the Dutch government spent $945 million on bicycle routes without any discernible effect on how many Dutch rode bicycles.

This is selective.  There are lots of reasons to have bike lanes, such as increasing the safety of bicycle riders.  Besides, if one takes the width of the average bike lane, it doesn't turn a two-lane street into a one-lane street.   Further, bike lanes in very dense parts of New York City (which is what O'Rourke has in mind) are really a small set of bike lanes.  And the alternative to biking there is not driving your personal vehicle (which takes up more space, pollutes more, etc.), but taking public transportation or waking.

 Anyway, dismissing this argument unseriously is merely a set up for his darker purpose:

But maybe there's a darker side to bike-lane advocacy. Political activists of a certain ideological stripe want citizens to have a child-like dependence on government. And it's impossible to feel like a grown-up when you're on a bicycle if you aren't in the Tour de France.

Being dependent on your car is true, grown up freedom.

Satire is fun because it gives you a free pass on sophistries.  For this reason it would be out of order to hit O'Rourke for the slippery slopes, etc. Nonetheless, underneath all of the nastiness he's trying to make a regular argument.  It's just a crappy one.

Speaking of environmentalists and ulterior motives, here's Ayn Rand (courtesy of Crooks and Liars):

Ecology is the war on abundance, fought by the same people who are fighting the war on Poverty. The Ecologists claim that local pollution affects the whole world and threatens the survival of all living species. There is no scientific proof of this claim and none has ever been offered, on the grounds of nothing but arbitrary projections and panic mongering slogans, the ecologists are urging mankind to commit suicide by paralyzing industrial production. Their immediate but not ultimate goal is the destruction of the last remnants of freedoms of capitalism in our mixed economy and the establishment of a global dictatorship. In order to protect our natural environment, this means to enslave mankind on order to protect weeds, birds and reptiles.”

If only that were meant to be satire.

It’s not hypocrisy if you don’t like it

Word has it that Paul Ryan, the respondent to the SOTU address, is a major fan of hack philosopher and confuser of undergraduates Ayn Rand such that he distributes copies of her works to staffers and credits her work with his desire to go into public service.

With Ryan and Rand Paul and everything, Ayn Rand, the original, has undergone somewhat of a renaissance lately.  This is really sad, as there seriously have to be more worthy versions of libertarianism on which to base one’s opposition to Obama’s extremely socialist agenda.

With renewed interest there will naturally be renewed scrutiny (and reawkened revulsion).  Along these lines someone has discovered (or made up I’m not sure which) that Ayn Rand and her husband received Social Security benefits.  This is supposed to be some kind of hilarious contradiction.  It’s not really.  You pay in to SS and get money out.  That’s the way it works.  You’re entitled to it because it’s yours.  They even keep track of it.  Now some might get more than they pay in, and whether Rand did is open and somewhat uninteresting question, but that’s another matter.

What is hilarious, I think, is what issues forth by way of justification for participation in public benefits.  Via someone’s attempt to support Rand’s view, here’s what she had to say about public scholarships (which has to be on the minds of all of those young Randians who get them, who attend public colleges, etc.):

A different principle and different considerations are involved in the case of public (i.e., governmental) scholarships. The right to accept them rests on the right of the victims to the property (or some part of it) which was taken from them by force.

The recipient of a public scholarship is morally justified only so long as he regards it as restitution and opposes all forms of welfare statism. Those who advocate public scholarships, have no right to them; those who oppose them, have. If this sounds like a paradox, the fault lies in the moral contradictions of welfare statism, not in its victims.

Since there is no such thing as the right of some men to vote away the rights of others, and no such thing as the right of the government to seize the property of some men for the unearned benefit of others—the advocates and supporters of the welfare state are morally guilty of robbing their opponents, and the fact that the robbery is legalized makes it morally worse, not better. The victims do not have to add self-inflicted martyrdom to the injury done to them by others; they do not have to let the looters profit doubly, by letting them distribute the money exclusively to the parasites who clamored for it. Whenever the welfare-state laws offer them some small restitution, the victims should take it . . . .

Again, in the case of Social Security (and medicare) this makes sense (though it remains a ridiculous justification–there is no way an average elderly person could possibly pay the private cost of medical insurance or health care nowadays)–but in the case of money simply gifted to you (or provided you in the form of deeply subsidized federal loans) it doesn’t.  Being morally opposed to receiving others’ stolen money, yet taking it anyway, thinking your moral opposition to it absolves you of hypocrisy makes you a double hypocrite: you’re a hypocrite for violating your own principles and you’re a hypocrite for thinking your moral opposition to an action you engage in and profit from makes you not a hypocrite.