Quick Roundup 152

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Rowland on Tracinski, Round 2

Tom Rowland has posted the second installment of his reply to Robert Tracinski's "What Went Right?" series. One of the things he does is examine Tracinski's analysis of Julian Simon's The Ultimate Resource.

This quote and the WSJ article don't mention Simon's book but clearly reflects its ideas, Tracinski tells us, calling those ideas a "breakthrough" and a "profound argument for liberty."

But what is new or profound about the idea of people being a resource? Or the modern, welfare-state inspired notion that sees a growing population in terms of such a choice? In a free country -- one dedicated to individual rights -- insofar as people think and go about their business, they trade value for value to advance their flourishing. They do not, properly, view themselves as either a burden or a resource. A tree is a resource, to be used for human ends; the person who grows it is not. Books in the library are a resource; the people who write them are not. The idea that people are a resource for the benefit of the nation is something that could only come up in a "public policy" debate over the disbursement of coerced tax-payer's funds.

Equally as bad is the notion that people might be viewed as a burden. The very idea reeks of the involuntary, anti-valuing, cold bureaucracy of the welfare state. No rational man who takes care of a beloved dying wife thinks of her as a burden and does everything in his power to keep her from thinking of herself in such terms. No proper mother, wiping her child's runny nose thinks "don't bother me, don’t bother me, don't bother me." Only a bureaucrat or a disgruntled welfare state tax-payer could think in such terms.

Galt's oath is the fictional embodiment of this issue. "I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will not live for the sake of another man (consider myself his resource), or ask him to live for mine (take me on as a burden)."

In fairness, what makes Simon's book of value at all is his identification of the fundamental fact that makes people not a resource but a value: their rational minds. ... [bold added]
Rowland goes on to dissect Tracinski's claim that Objectivist intellectuals have been unable to explain the "non-collapse" of civilization. Very interesting reading.

A Thought-Provoking Post

Toiler considers the question of whether he would be comfortable espousing Objectivism as a writer at this point in his writing career and from where he is in his understanding of the philosophy:
On a personal level, it's because I don't want the pressure. Writing has to come from exactly who I am right now, including every premise that I hold, possible warts and all. As many writers including Ayn Rand have stated in one manner or another, there's simply no other way. Fiction is simply too personal; the author can only project that which he has already integrated into who he is. Trying to go beyond that during the act of creation is suicide.

On another personal level, it's because the philosophy that I love so much deserves a more competent spokesman. I have seen in vivid detail recently what happens when a student of Objectivism misrepresents his philosophy in a public forum. The ensuing bloodshed (speaking metaphorically) is not pretty. I don't mind the bloodshed. Objectivists should be passionate about reality; as such, they don't take kindly to facts, especially about their philosophy, being skewed by the uninformed.

So there you have it. Toiler will probably publish under a pen name -- for more than one reason, incidentally -- and he will avoid discussing Objectivism when he represents himself as a writer. He will be, well... him.
Methinks Toiler has a firmer grasp of some of the more important aspects of Objectivism than many of its self-professed (and more outspoken) "fans". I also think the question of his personal philosophy will come up sooner or later in his writing career. By then, I am sure he'll be ready for it, if he isn't already.

A "'Pascal's Wager' Approach" to Global Warming

Glenn Reynolds has been leading the Libertarian/Secular-ish Conservative charge in favor of global warming hysteria. (e.g., "[W]e should probably be acting as if global warming theories are true regardless....")

Today, he comments on a link that it discusses a "Freudian approach" to global warming. More interesting to me was an earlier passage:
Since we can work here, if we insist, on geological time, we can always say that more and better data is needed. But there again, if we risk losing a large chunk of humanity while we conclude a few centuries of fieldwork, that is a high price to pay for reliable data. It may be more prudent to proceed on guesswork, and to guess that we should probably do something to guard against a worst-case outcome, if 90% of scientists (OK, by quantity, even if not by quality) say that that is where we are currently heading, and if the measures needed to combat climate change are not obviously criminal and evil. (I include that last caveat to deal with objections that you could easily have found 90% of German doctors to agree with eugenics in 1938.) [bold added]
A "high price to pay for reliable data"? Paid by whom? Who, exactly, is "we"? The only "we" that has any importance in this debate is the collection of individuals alive now -- who have rights -- and are being asked to sacrifice their freedom and standard of living for something nobody has proven. (At least until the "data" comes in, however long that takes.) Indeed, there will be a high price to pay for "reliable data" by this argument, but it is not the one its author names.

This is particularly pernicious advice since (1) so many scientists today receive funding to study global warming (and are threatened with the loss of such funding and worse if they conclude that it is not man-induced) and (2) most people will not regard environmental regulations as "obviously criminal and evil" (although since they violate individual rights, they are both). To act "as if global warming theories are true regardless" will in fact be to accept less freedom and a lower standard of living based on panic-mongering -- for the sake of the unborn, and on no objective evidence. (Hmmm. That sounds like the same end purpose and end result as the anti-abortion movement!)

In other words, Reynolds and his ilk are taking a "Pascal's Wager" approach to global warming. How is his approach any different from that of accepting Christianity (and all the limitations it places on the one life you have) "as if the Christians are correct"? But then, global warming hysteria is basically a secular religion accepted on faith. Why would we not see some of its proponents recycling old logical fallacies in its favor?

-- CAV


Toiler said...

Thanks, Gus, for the kind words.

You wrote: "I also think the question of his personal philosophy will come up sooner or later in his writing career."

You're right, of course. I thought about that. I guess I'll cross that bridge when I come to it -- if I come to it, that is.

(Here's hoping that I do come to it soon!)

My post was partly inspired by an experienced author who claimed that writers often get treated as "Big Idea People" even if they don't want to be, even if they only write melodramas. The wisest ones, she claimed, go out of their way to keep the focus on what they do best: their stories.

I've noticed that JK Rowling is particularly good at doing that. She doesn't mince words, but she also knows how to sidestep topics that she doesn't want to discuss.

Gus Van Horn said...

I'm sure that's a bridge straight ahead!

Your comment on J.K. Rowling is interesting. I have often wondered what she thinks about certain things, and although I haven't exactly made a huge effort to find out, that might be why!

Tom Rowland said...

Thanks for including me in your round-up and for your kind words. The article is nearing completion and past posts are constantly being revised, so comments are welcome.

Since I'm also writing fiction, I was interested in the comments on being explicit about one's personal philosophy even if one isn't writing "big idea" work. My stories so far fall into two categories: short stories about people you might meet in any town who act in a particularly thoughtful way, and suspense stories (I've got a series Detective novel about half done and am researching another suspense novel). They aren't always explicit but my philosophy is always there.


Gus Van Horn said...

You're welcome, Tom.

I'm glad you found Toiler's comments valuable, too. I thought his take on the matter was a good one, but certainly not the only way to deal with that kind of question.

Since my sole focus is opinion writing, there is no ducking the pressure about philosophy for me, other than to know what I do and do not know and be very clear about it when I do not know.