Daily Linz 24 - It's the Integration, Stoopid!

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Wed, 2006-02-08 03:52

“A concept is a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(Drunk, with their particular measurements omitted.”

–—Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology

Somewhere in his prodigious output Leonard Peikoff tells a hypothetical story that is highly instructive. From memory, it goes like this: A group of men sit around and discuss whether it would be moral to rob a bank. The discussion rapidly degenerates into competing suggestions as to which bank might be the most practical to rob—which offers the most loot, the most lax security, the quickest escape route, etc.. The issue of whether they should or should not rob a bank becomes an issue of “Which bank are we talking about?” No one speaks up to say, “Wait a minute! We shouldn’t even be having this discussion. Robbing any bank would be wrong! It would represent the taking of other people’s property, without their permission, by force—force initiated by us. Initiating force is always wrong, if human life is our standard of right and wrong.” To say such a thing would require an ability to derive abstract principles from concrete life experiences and repair to those principles in evaluating possible future actions. It would require the identification of the same distinguishing characteristic in all the proposed robberies—initiated force—and their integration into the concept “wrong,” with a few narrower integrations along the way. Alas, people generally just don’t think that way any more. They don’t think in principles; they don’t integrate—the point of Peikoff’s story.

Years ago I waged a campaign on radio against New Zealand’s broadcasting tax—a compulsory levy imposed on everyone who owned a television set, designed to supplement the income of state television and radio and fund New Zealand-made programmes. I regarded my campaign as a clever ploy that, once successful, would end all statism in New Zealand in short order. Folk were extremely brassed off with the hounding and harassing perpetrated by the government agency that collected the levy, NZ on Air, whom I called "NaZis on Air." As the campaign caught on and more and more people refused to pay the tax, the courts became clogged with cases where outrageous bullying and Police State behaviour came under the spotlight. My cunning plan was this—folk would readily see the injustice in the principle of being forced (particularly when the force was so monstrous) to pay for television channels and programmes they had no intention of watching. Once they’d grasped that, they’d just as readily identify that the same principle underpinned most of what the government did, and resoundingly repudiate it. Libertarianz would romp to a crushing victory in the next election and Nanny State would be vanquished for good, consigned ignominiously to the ashcan of history.

Alas, it didn’t happen that way. We succeeded in getting the tax abolished, but only because it ceased to be cost-effective for the government agency to fight all these court cases against a backdrop of diminishing revenue brought about by the increasingly widespread refusal to pay the thing. Nothing else changed. In principle, nothing changed at all. The government simply proceeded to fund NaZis on Air out of general taxation, every bit as coercive as the old, discrete tax had been, and the sheeple acquiesced just as they always had.

I should have seen the signs when folk who were refusing to pay the levy rang me on air to say they were doing so because there wasn’t enough Coronation Street on state television, or too many repeats over summer, or some such. These same callers tended to be supporters of left-wing political parties and huge enthusiasts for coercively-funded state health and education systems, etc.. The chances of their identifying the principle underlying the NaZis on Air tax, seeing this same principle at work in the whole body politic, and integrating their response into a libertarian world-view were next to zilch. They were unwilling or unable to think in principles.

More recently I had a frustrating conversation with someone defending the Catholic Church’s attempt to have the screening of an episode of South Park pulled because it would offend Catholics. I couldn’t get her to see that in principle, if not in degree, the Church was placing itself on a par with the crazed Muslims who were burning down embassies because they were offended by cartoons in a Danish newspaper. In a separate conversation with this person, she objected to the prosecution of a man by her local council for cutting down a “protected” tree on his property, not on the grounds of the principle of property rights, but because the same council had not prosecuted certain other people who’d cut down the same kind of tree on their properties! My protestation that the council had no right to prosecute anyone for this reason fell on deaf ears. It reminded me of another of Peikoff's stories, this one from real life, about the fellow he finally persuaded, after months of trying, that the coal industry shouldn't be nationalised, who then turned round and said, "But what about the steel industry?"

Ayn Rand called this the “anti-conceptual mentality.” She even posited that it might be the “missing link” between animals and humans:

“There is an enormous breach of continuity between man and all the other living species. The difference lies in the nature of man’s consciousness, in its distinctive characteristic: his conceptual faculty. It is as if, after aeons of physiological development, the evolutionary process altered its course, and the higher stages of development focused primarily on the consciousness of living species, not their bodies. But the development of a man’s consciousness is volitional: no matter what the innate degree of his intelligence, he must develop it, he must learn how to use it, he must become a human being by choice. What if he does not choose to? Then he becomes a transitional phenomenon—a desperate creature that struggles frantically against his own nature, longing for the effortless ‘safety’ of an animal’s consciousness, which he cannot recapture, and rebelling against a human consciousness, which he is afraid to achieve.”

By this reckoning, which affords us a compelling explanation of why the world is at it is, most of humanity is still in a “transitional” phase, and we Objectivists will have our work cut out, imparting the importance of integration, for some time yet.

It is truly, as Rand said, earlier than we think.


( categories: )

Thanks John

Lanza Morio's picture

I expect we are all familiar with Rand's view that we live in a world of absolutes, black and white, Either-Or (thanks Craig Biddle), A is A and so on and so on.

I've carried that view around for almost 10 years and it's still a challenge to integrate it into my daily life because the culture is so brazenly at odds with it. When virtually everyone around is living it up in the "gray zone" and admitting to no troubles it takes tremendous strength to stick to your principles. It's easy to fall into misanthropy if you're not careful. If that happens the mission has failed.

Proposition Accepted

Bikemessenger's picture

JT:

Agree to Disagree...an excellent suggestion, after all, this is a voluminous and expansive series of issues we've delved into.

I certainly don't need an additional venue for this on-going debate. I regularly discuss these matters at:

http://www.afterdowningstreet....

it's a blatanty socialist site, but as I am in general agreement with them on the issues that are the main focus, it affords me an opportunity to expose people to libertarian ideals of limited government and free market economics. I suspect I may have some positive influence, as my opinions seem to have gained me some respect there.

One thing that's missing; intelligent, thoughtful commentary from your side of these issues, I invite you to give it a look, if you're so inclined.

And also, at my own blog, such as here, for example:

http://www.smallgov.org/?p=138

I think ultimately, one of us will have to budge, however, as clearly, we cannot both be right (hmm...could we both be wrong?...interesting thought). Let's see how the facts stack up in the final analysis.

I would, however, suggest that your distinction between domestic and foreign relations issues is a questionable dichotomy, as ultimately the effect on any given individual person of a given governmental act (regardless of venue) must be addressed.

Thanks for the link to the Supreme Court decision, I give it a look.

Thanks also for the moral support.

---The Bikemessenger
(AKA Impeachasaurus Rex)

Agree to Disagree...

jtgagnon's picture

Bikemessenger:
I think you make some fine points and I appreciate your comments, though I think that we're not going to come to any sort of meaningful conclusion here because neither of us is gonna budge.

Like you, I am an advocate of small government. And I agree with Ayn Rand's assessment that: "A government is the most dangerous threat to man's rights: it holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force against legally disarmed victims." That being said, such a statement limits itself to governmental intrusion domestically; and my agreement with you ends when we move from domestic issues to foreign relations issues.

If government exists, it exists for the purpose of interacting with other governments...and protecting its people from relavent threats in that context. As far as the pertinence of the nation-state power structure, it isn't going to change any time soon so we have to deal with what we have.

On the domestic side of things, I think there are some serious problems. As far as the unitary executive issue, there are arguments for and against, and both sides are worth serious, unbiased consideration - I spend the vast majority of my days grappling with these issues. An interesting Supreme Court which sheds light on the power of the executive - and which leaves many questions unanswered is Youngstown v. Sawyer which you can read at http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/... .

For now, you and I will just have to agree to disagree about some of this. And as far as I'm concerned, I applaud you efforts and support your right to ride around town on your bike wearing whatever signs you like.

Obvious, or Faith-Based?

Bikemessenger's picture

jtgagnon:

Thank you for your considered reply; in response, if I may ask:

Really? Then what consitutes "U.S. interests and freedoms" in this context?

Personally, I've always had my doubts as to the pertinence of the nation-state power structure. Some recent readings have convinced me:

http://www.smallgov.org/?p=172

Even george w. bush owns up to the fact that pre-invasion Iraq did not have the means with which to pose the threat that he claimed as inital justification for the war. (Remember, since that was exposed as false, we are now under the new rationale of "liberation" and export of "democracy").

What's truly mystifying is that even after hearing it from his very own mouth, bush's unquestioning supporters still believe Iraq constituted a dangerous threat.

That example of Hitler is intriguing; at what point do you suggest hate speech should be prosecuted? Publication? Or retailing perhaps? Seems like a good follow-up to this:

http://www.solopassion.com/nod...

Want to take action against threats to freedom from the whims of an irrational and dangerous dictator?

How about one that asserts he has the right to arbitrarily identify any citizen of his nation as an "enemy combatant", said citizen may now be imprisoned indefinitely. This without benefit of counsel, or judicial review or any other check or oversite,redress or appeal.

You, as his fellow citizen, have absolutely no basis for accepting his guilt other than said dictator's word, nor may any such basis be forthcoming.

This, clearly, is the state of affairs in the United States today. That can even be gleaned from exclusive use of mainstream U.S.-based news media as an information source.

Moreover, we are also being asked to accept a relatively new concept of the "unitary executive", as espoused by law professor John "what's wrong with" Yoo. In this paradigm, the federal government is no longer comprised of three co-equal branches, but rather is dominated by the executive, as to render, at least in principle, the other two branches (twigs?) now moot.

We see it in action in the form of presidential signing statements; documents, the vast majority of those extant having been signed by the current office holder, which in contemporary usage amount to nothing less than the phrase "I don't care what this law says, I'll do as I damned well please and so will everyone else do as I damned well please.

How convenient, we now grow our own "irrational-and-dangerous dictators". We needn't bother to go abroad in search of monsters to slay.

From personal experience, I can tell it's working famously. To my knowledge, the current White House resident has not openly or explicitly repealed the first amendment to the constitution. Yet, as I parade around downtown Miami every business day on a bicycle bearing signs with the words "Impeach Bush and Cheney" boldly displayed, I have yet to encounter anyone who expects me to survive:

http://www.smallgov.org/?p=169

We'll see how long I can continue to perpetrate so heinous a hate crime.

Thank you,
---The Bikemessenger
(AKA Impeachasaurus Rex)

Explaining the Obvious

jtgagnon's picture

The proper justification and the only needed justification is the defense of US interests and freedoms from the whims of irrational - and dangerous - dictators. Taking action against such threats is not only the US's right, but its obligation.

An example of interesting comparative import which should give us all pause: Many years ago a relatively unknown individual wrote a massive book with the title Mein Kampf. Within it, the author detailed his outlandish plan for world domination, force, fear, and the extermination of the jews. No one took him seriously. Likewise, dictators like the former president of Iraq (Hussein) and the current president of Iran have similarly declared outragious and almost unbelievable goals: the obliteration of Israel, the destruction of the US, and have made it their point to wage a shady war upon reason and fact.

To ignore their bold, anti-intellectual, anti-freedom agenda is to repeat history and to allow savages to bring us to our knees. Do you really want to see Iran follow through on its promises? No one thought Hitler would...but he did. No one thinks Iran will, but it will. No one thought Iraq would - but we kicked its ass before it had the chance, thank goodness.

Let's not support the tyrants, let's expose them for who and what they really are: madmen. And madmen - who ignore reason and debate -should be eliminated, not for the sake of elimination, but for the sake of saving ourselves and our future.

Please Explain

Bikemessenger's picture

If the assault of Iraq and the impending nuclear attack on Iran are "probably the right course of action" and the official rationales emanating from the White House, including the ex post facto "liberation" of and spread of "democracy" to Iraq are "wrong" (and clear, they are not merely wrong, but blatantly false as well, as was well known by the bush administration beforehand); then what, pray tell, were the "right" reasons?

Given that right reasons existed, then why so much effort and entanglement for the sake of putting over lies? Just idle Straussianism?

Surely, more can be brought forth as justification than the fact that the action happened to be taken by the U.S. military, at the behest of the current White House resident.

Perhaps the elucidating of the "right" reasons would require the current White House resident to pronounce the word "nuclear" correctly and therefore could not be effectively enunciated?

Recent National Intelligence Estimates indicate that any desire on the part of Iran to acquire nuclear weaponry (for which there is no clear, tangible evidence beyond mere motive) are based primarily if not exclusively upon well founded fear of American military action against them.

Meanwhile, for the past two years, Iran has complied with it's obligations under the NPT, as well as it's obligations to the IAEA inspection protocols.

Yet, our Sec. of State, Condolizard, continues to beat the war drums at Iran.

Just who precisely is a threat to whom?

Thank You,
---The Bikemessenger
(AKA Impeachasaurus Rex)

Yes, Shayne, the businessmen

Ross Elliot's picture

Yes, Shayne, the businessmen are just as important as the philosophers but most often the two never meet. The D'Anconias of this world are few and far between, and the nascent won't have their nads tickled by a whole lot of pointy heads standing around on one foot reading Aristotle to each other.

In the 1980s New Zealand had the closest thing to a freemarket revolution that this planet had seen for quite a while. It was stalled after a few years but momentum carried it forward for some time thereafter. In the early 90s we had a prime opportunity to cement it's foundation and carry it more vigourously forward. But because of a lack of moral courage anchored by sound conceptual argument (and an inspired leadership (yes, that *is* important)) we FUBAR'd it. And those that did speak up spilled their seed on barren ground.

Since then the old leftists have swanned back into power arrogantly fiddling while our Rome burns, sustained on the bubble of innovation and wealth created by that brief chrysalis of capitalism.

Fact is, both the early champions of the revolution and the modern defilers of it's bounty are subject to the same anti-conceptual mentality, one group not knowing how to hold on and ram it home and the other too dumb to see which side their bread's buttered on. In short it's the prototypical conservative-liberal clusterfuck. Dumb & dumber. The neocons think that traditional values & maintaining the status quo is all that's needed, and the liberals, who actually do have principles, unfortunately copied them off the back of a cornflakes packet.

The solution, indubitably, is the grand melding of a conceptual framework based on rational principles, championed by men of action. We don't *all* have to be intellectuals or shitkickers--some inspire, some are inspired--but there does have be a marriage of the two, or at least a nice, tidy civil union. The intellectuals are ready (aren't you?) but as Dagny exclaimed: Give me the men!

Great topic

sjw's picture

Spot on Linz. The big question is: how to motivate people to start thinking in principles? The only answer I can think of: Show them that it's practical. When Objectivist ideas are applied successfully to push the envelope on various fields, then people in general will be motivated to look deeply at it. Without that, I fear it may be hopeless, as their superficial mentalities will not discern the value, and that is required in order for them to be motivated to think long and hard.

If I'm right, the future of Objectivism lies not with the writers and philosophers, but with the scientists, engineers, and businessmen who will turn the philosophy into results--just as Ayn Rand used her philosophy primarily in order to generate literary results. We need her example, but applied not merely to literature, but to every other field, in order to convince the rest of mankind to rise. It is evident that ideas alone can only appeal to a select minority--we need the fictional heros of Atlas to become a reality in ever-increasing numbers and with ever-increasing results.

And please don't take this to mean that I think that philosophers and writers are worthless--obviously they generate value, the point is that political/philosophical writing alone can't save the world.

Lindsay & Lance,

Charles Henrikson's picture

I think that it has a great deal to do with how we form our relationships with others... or at least how we are taught how to form them. Our culture likes to look up to heroes, and in the absence of true heroes they will look to those that 'present themselves as heroes'.

Living in the USA today, I see that those that 'present themselves as heroes' are mainly politicians; imitating the moral high ground of heroes, an impersonation. Our society has set this up, and continues to support it. It is political philosophy, or its lack thereof, that is to blame.

Political philosophy is ethics applied to our relationships with others. Without an integrated political philosophy anchored in reality, we will have bad relations. A large part of today's integration and social metaphysics issues stem from our political relationships, and of the people who 'present themselves as heroes,' but are not. The democratic framework of the USA's government is a main problem.

Living in and being educated by a democratic state places us with a greater chance of being social-metaphysicians. Politicians play to the lowest common denominator amongst the people, in order to gain the greatest number of votes. This causes people to join together in groups in opposition. This happens easily and early in democratic states, in the USA, for example, by the time we had elected our second president these groups were already formed; we know these groups very well today, we call them political parties.

These who 'present themselves as heroes' shepherd their parties like cattle. Cows, sheep, goats, llamas are cattle because they are hierarchical social animals; ranchers are able dominate them by placing themselves at the top of the structure. I can't imagine that any rancher wants to let his flock think for themselves. Why would the leaders of any democratic institution want their masses of people think for themselves; they couldn't control them, and stay in power. They control their populace as any other statist organizer does, with fear.

The most surprising thing is that the politicians don't have to do this covertly--the people do it for them. Why? Democracy has set them up to be social-metaphysicians--This is what they want: less work for them.

What was it that Francisco said to Rearden? You don't let the masses control the running of your mill; why do you let them control your moral code?

Well why do you let them control your government? Democracy is by definition rule by the majority of people. Even if it is held by a constitution, enough people that believe the same thing can amend it; isn’t that the definition of Social Metaphysics? Reality is what the majority of people believe? Democracy is social metaphysics applied to political philosophy. If we hold that social metaphysics are evil, then we have to conclude that democracy is also evil.

Excellent Discussion

jtgagnon's picture

I just wanted to throw in a few observations of my own:

As far as US policy on Iraq and Iran, I am of the opinion that it is probably the right course of action done for - and justified by - the wrong reasons. As it stands, the moral footing the US stands on is no different than that of fanatacist muslims. If, however, the US clearly stated that it's rationale for action was national self-interest and self-defense against an amoral threat (a notion which many seem afraid to actually articulate), the military actions would be reasonable. There is nothing wrong with the use of force as long as it is morally justifiable.

As far as Lance's post: I wholeheartedly agree that, in broad terms, "the culture thinks less in principles today than it did in the 18th and 19th centuries." The Age of Reason gave birth to what we have today, yet that age was short-lived. We're currently living - parasitically - on the creations and thoughts of generations long dead. If we don't have an intellectual rebirth, we'll inevitably slip back into the dark ages.

I think you hit on a great point when you mentioned the difficulty of principled thinking when most individuals, from childhood on, are taught not to think that way. I recently had a discussion with a dear friend of mine, where I explained my understanding of principled thinking and integration. He kept on shaking his head and said, at the end, "that's kinda tough for me to wrap my head around. I've never throught that way before." His words are undoubtedly true for the vast majority.

Guess what

Bikemessenger's picture

Lance:

People are intrinsically selfish (surprise, surprise). They are born into a social structure and respond to it's incentives. If the incentive is to not focus the mind, then that is what most will do.

There is no discontinuity in the evolutionary process from animal to man.

Man's extraordinary mental faculties are explainable in terms of evolutionary pressures, id est, think or die. Social structures have, unfortunately, twisted that around to think AND die.

Early on, in arguing against evolution, creationists would point to the eye as an organ that could not possibly have resulted from evolutionary forces. It was just too complex and specialized to have been the result of incremental changes over time. That argument has since been debunked.

Of the same nature,but even less viable is the "discontinuity" argument for human intelligence.

This is illustrated time and again by behavioral experiments in which other species are presented with intellectual challenges; of course they don't quite come up to the level of human sophistication, but they demonstrate the latency of intellectual prowess in living species just waiting for evolutionary pressures to bring them to realization.

Rand was mistaken about the intrinsic nature of animal intellectual inferiority; in the long-range time frame within which evolution tends to play out, the unique human intellect is a difference of degree, not of kind.

---The Bikemessenger
(AKA Impeachasaurus Rex)

This is a rich area Linz.

Lanza Morio's picture

This is a rich area Linz. Timely too because I was recently introduced to a fantastic ARI lecture called "Thinking in Principles" by Craig Biddle. Let me hasten to say that I have a lot of improvement to do in this area. This thinking in principles stuff is a big deal.

The idea that the anti-conceptual mentality might represent a missing link between mankind and the rest of the animal kingdom strikes a symphonic chord. There are zillions of people walking around in a fog with all this untapped potential. The have every ability to build their (conceptual) knowledge-base but do not move in that direction. It's as if they are afraid of something.

Within specific fields, modern man is exceptionally well-developed conceptually. Think of all the knowledge that goes into taking one's blood-pressure or performing open-heart surgery. It's awesome to step back and see what mankind has achieved in Medicine. But what health professionals learn in health professional skool tends to stay within the bounds of their profession. It's that knowledge of medicine that makes them viable human beings. It pays their bills. It builds their self-image. It challenges them to get better every day. But the tendency is to rely on those principles only within the narrow context of health care. It's "uncool" somehow to apply those same tools (the ones that worked so well) to other areas of living. Of course, this tendency to cherry-pick principles is found across all professions. I choose health care (a reason-oriented field) to drive home the point.

So, if this is true, why do people behave this way in such large numbers? Part of it must be that it's just so hard to think in principles if, as a child, you've been trained not to. Most adults would have to go through a heroic process of re-training their minds to think this way. We're into our fourth generation of television and that's one of the most anti-conceptual devices ever created. It broad terms, it would seem that the culture thinks less in principles today than it did in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The optimism I have about this is the same that I have for Capitalism. The ideas are out there...they work. Will they ever be consciously celebrated and encouraged widely? They will be in my neck of the woods.

Thanks, Linz. May this be the longest thread ever.

Initiation of Force

Bikemessenger's picture

I'm glad you brought that up; I'm of the opinion that however long a conflict continues, (even cross-generationally) the situation of the initiator of the conflict is distinct from that of the responder.

Thus, even if they are entities of the same fundamental nature, within the parameters of the conflict, they possess intrinsically distinct options, such that the culmination of the conflict can only accrue from a decisive victory by one party or the other or the cessation of hostilities by the initiator.

The responder cannot reasonably be expected to cease hostilies.

In your bank robbery example, the prospective robbers are clearly entiies of the same nature as the bank tellers who would face them. Just as clearly, the available options,in the event of a robbery, are inalterably distinct for the two groups.

I see critical pertinence to this question in the light(darkness?) of the Washington regime's so-called "war on terror", as well as their assault of Iraq and impending nukeing of Iran.

What do you think?

---The Bikemessenger
(AKA Impeachasaurus Rex)

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