The New Atheists have just changed God’s name

Tim Sandefur over at his blog has posted a total demolition of a Sam Harris blog post entitled “How rich is too rich?” It’s called “Sam Harris, anti-reason“, and here’s the link.

Sandefur brilliantly illustrates how Harris, like Hitchens, Dawkins, and other Neo-Atheists, who are nearly always Left-wing Liberals, have simply taken all the unspoken and mystical assumptions of religion, but replaced service to “God” with service to “others”; the “others” being, well, anyone but ourselves. Service to society, the public good, those “in need”, those without what we have. They have taken the self-sacrificial preachings of Christ and simply blotted out the nasty “god” parts. They have regurgitated the mysticism and ephemeral bilge of religion, all in the name of rationality, atheism, science, and all that good “free-thinking” stuff.

Even more worrying is the total economic ignorance Harris shows, so we shouldn’t wonder that his followers across the blogosphere, all the internet atheists, demonstrate this level of ineptitude and misunderstanding of economics. And not just economics, politics. And not just politics, but ethics.

As Sandefur himself points out, Harris and the Neo Atheists are superbly adept at pointing out all the logical fallacies and loopholes in the arguments of the religious, yet Harris can’t even define his own simple terms. He contradicts himself. His premises are unspoken, unjustified, or simply wrong.

It’s very rarely I criticise religion on my blog anymore. In fact, I haven’t written anything anti-religious in years. Why? Because I really don’t see the religious (with the exception of Islam and the fundamentalist Right-Wing American Christians) as the primary threat to my well-being. It’s the socialists, the collectivists, the Left, which the Neo-Atheist “rational” crowd flock to, which is a far greater problem. In fact, it’s probably more accurate to say I don’t see the religious as more or less of a threat than the New Age Atheists, it’s that I lump them all together; I see them as just different types of the same problem.

Whatever your political persuasion, you should really read the article.

Advertisements

A critique of Universal Utilitarianism

Introduction

A popular writer in the atheist “freethinker” blogosphere once offered a moral code called “Universal Utilitarianism” (UU). It is, I believe, an honest attempt to provide a secular non-mystical objective foundation for morality. A lot of the ideas are good. A lot of the intentions sound noble. But they are held in a vacuum without reference to antecedent principles or identification of the concepts involved, despite the writer’s desire to “cut straight to the heart of the matter.”

I will demonstrate why UU is not objective, its terms are poorly-defined (or not at all), and is contradicted by the writer’s (Ebonmuse) politics. Through each stage of the author’s article – I will contrast UU with Objectivist ethics, and show how the former cannot hold a candle to the latter in terms of philosophical robustness, and ultimately – truth.

Reality and morality

Ebonmuse begins by rejecting relativism, and he is very true when he says: “the position of moral relativism is self-contradictory and logically incoherent and therefore must be rejected.” For the purposes of this article, we will take for granted the self-evident fact that relativism is self-annihilating. Also, since Ebonmuse and I agree that only objectivity is worth considering, there is no need to discuss this further.

Ebonmuse says “If intelligent beings were to cease to exist, morality would cease to exist as well.” This is also true. Objectivism sees morality as a code of values to guide actions (through choices). Without life, there is no choice. Without choice, no morality is possible.

He also says: “True, morality is not exactly like science. It is not something that exists independently of us, “out there” in the world. Unlike scientific truths, the basic principles of ethics cannot be discovered by empirical inquiry, no matter how careful. There is no atom of morality, no elementary particle of good or evil.”

Note that Ebonmuse accepts that morality relates only to intelligent beings (I would use the word rational), but he cannot establish the connection between reality and those beings. He states it cannot be “out there” in the world, or identifiable like any other matter of fact, which raises the question of how he connects morality to reality in the first place. This is a connection he never manages to make throughout his system.

Ebonmuse goes onto further explain why moral relativism is silly and self-defeating, which I agree with – so I need not address that here.

Now he gets into the “heart” of the matter: What is the most basic principle, the most fundamental goal, that should underlie the way we treat each other? What is the goal we are trying to achieve, what is the end we are trying to maximize, when we conceive of a moral philosophy?

Note that, at the outset – Ebonmuse presumes that morality is a matter of “the way we treat each other”. But why? He then asks “what goal we are trying to achieve?” But surely the answer to that question has already been assumed; we want to “treat each other” well? But where is the justification that morality is about “how we treat each other”? It might be. It might not be. But you don’t assemble a moral foundation on your preconceived ideas – this is begging the question.

Ebonmuse mentions several political systems (which are predicated on ethics indeed, but they are not ethical systems; he treats political systems as competing ethical systems and then criticises them for not justifying themselves), and asks: “Why should [they] be the foundation of morality and not something else?”

Note also that, thus far – Ebonmuse has not actually defined the word “morality” as he intends to use it.

Ebonmuse now, very shrewdly and correctly observes the following: “If some proposed moral system claims that the ultimate virtue is something like justice or obedience or duty or piety, we can always ask why that should be, why we should choose that quality and not a different one. Granted, there cannot be an infinite regress of justifications; any chain of explanations must stop somewhere. However, we should not stop sooner than we have to. If we are truly to reach the roots of morality, we should keep asking the question of why as long as it can be meaningfully answered.”

If one devotes some thought to the matter, I believe it will become obvious that there is, and can be, only one answer. No matter what quality anyone proposes as the root of morality, it is always possible to ask why we should value that quality and not some other – except for one.

Ebonmuse uses the term “ultimate virtue”, but does not define “virtue” in this context. A virtue is not the same as a value, which is either a grammatical or philosophical mistake on his part; probably the latter. Objectivism defines them: a virtue is that which enables one to achieve a value and keep it. A value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep. For example, self-esteem is a value, which one achieves through the virtues of productiveness and pride.

He uses the words quality and virtue interchangeably here, but the word he is looking for is value. Accepting that, what he says is right – there is only one ultimate value man can have in life, because the alternative is self-defeating. He wants to look deeper and deeper until we find an ultimate quality that we can value. But this is epistemologically false. A quality, which I assume is a virtue – is only an attribute that helps us achieve a value. Ebonmuse has not identified any values so far – he has not even defined the word.

“There is only one quality that is immune to this question and that therefore can truly serve as the foundation of morality, and that quality is happiness.”

Ebonmuse does not define happiness – and such definition is essential, because it will form the basis for UU’s entire system. Unfortunately, because he does not identify the term and its nature – UU is on shaky footing from the outset. “Happiness” is not the root of the issue: what is happiness? Why do we desire it? Why is it “good” to be happy? Note that happiness is an emotion; Ebonmuse bases UU on the pursuit of an emotion – without identifying the place of emotions in man’s life – or whether they are indeed good or bad. Ebonmuse presupposes that pursuing happiness is “good” – but good is a moral question, but isn’t that what he’s attempting to lay the foundation for? Why is happiness good for man? In fact, what is good for man? As above, Ebonmuse begs the question.

At this point, I’ll offer the Objectivist theory of ethics: as a rational being, man interacts with reality, and reality can have positive and negative effects on him – things that both enhance and further his life, or things that stifle, ail, or end it. Man can live or die – based on what happens to him (which might be outside his control), or he can act for the furtherance of his life. Therefore, man is faced with a choice – to pursue his life or die. That which enables the former is good, that which furthers the latter is bad. The field that helps man determine between the two is called “morality”. The Objectivist code of ethics therefore is: always act consistently with your hierarchy of values, and never sacrifice a higher value for a lesser (or none) value. Notice how Objectivism identifies morality as arising directly from the nature of man and his relationship to reality? Notice how, since it is objectively possible to identify that which furthers man’s life versus that which detracts from it – we do have a “real life” reference guide to these terms. Which means, that ethics is a science: just as we can establish the distance of the earth to the sun – we can establish whether drinking poison is good or bad, whether violence is good or bad, whether freedom is good or bad, whether happiness is good or bad.

Man’s Nature

If we can identify the good from the bad for man, another question is: “what actually are the requirements of man?” This of course depends on man’s nature. I will forgo the full exposition of Objectivism metaphysics and state that man’s fundamental nature is “rational being.” Objectivist morality is therefore a code of values to guide man as a rational being, in pursuing the good (for his mind and body) and avoiding the bad (for his mind and body). Also notice that the context of good and bad is: man’s life. The choices he makes (choices he can’t make are irrelevant to morality) are ultimately either good for his life, or bad. So here we have the “ultimate value” that Ebonmuse is looking for: man’s life.

Now, it is indeed true that by realising his values, man achieves happiness – but happiness is the result, the reward, the emotion. Objectivism at this point does what Ebonmuse is yet (and incidentally not going) to do; define happiness: “the non-contradictory joy that comes from realising one’s values.” Happiness in itself tells us nothing about HOW to get there; HOW to live our lives – which is the entire purpose of morality.

Happiness is not, as Ebonmuse asserts, the end in itself – it is a consequence. Happiness is the only moral purpose of life – but it comes from pursuing the thing that makes happiness, and indeed all other values, possible: life. Whose life? The life of each one who wishes to live, of course – that is in other words: an individual. And since we are all individuals – the moral code for one is the moral code of each of us.

Ebonmuse does attempt to identify the nature of man, but he is in error: “The occasional aberrant pathology aside, human beings are social creatures, designed by evolution to live in groups.” Whilst it’s true that evolution has selected for certain behaviours that are advantageous – the fact of evolution says nothing about right or wrong. For example, a side-effect of selecting for pattern recognition in the human brain might be drawing mental causal links where none exist; hence the tendency to believe in magic. Would Ebonmuse argue that man is a magical thinker because evolution has selected for these traits too?

Claiming that man is a social creature is in fact a gross error; it actually ignores the nature of man. Since man’s most fundamental identifying feature qua man is his capacity for reason, and man must apply his mind to pursue his values, his own mind and his own thoughts determine his actions. No one can think for another – therefore no one can act for another. The problem of survival is one that must be addressed individually – whether one is alone or in a city. For example, if man “the social creature” is alone on an island, or perhaps has no friends, he does not suddenly go into mental shut-down and die – he is still left with the challenge of identifying what is good or bad for him; the reality doesn’t change – if he pursues the wrong thing he will suffer and perhaps die. He must think and act, constantly – to stay alive, and flourish. In other words, regardless of where he is, man still needs a moral code. This is the crucial flaw that Ebonmuse has made when considering ethics: that morality is irrelevant unless others are involved. And of course, this is patently false.

Man – by metaphysical nature, does not depend on other men to survive. He survives by use of his mind. Whatever the accident or incident he finds himself in, however much he benefits from or avoids society – the prime mover is man’s mind. Man is not a “social creature” but a “rational creature.” To finally concretise this point: you can take man out of society and he is still a man. But take the mind out of man and he becomes an animal. UU is an ethical system for man that doesn’t correctly identify man, and is therefore doomed to failure.

Ebonmuse continues: “Just as food and water are basic human needs and therefore it is generally a good thing to provide them”. It’s not generally a good thing to eat and drink – it IS a good thing to eat and drink! It’s essential. Of course, that raises the question of WHO will provide these things, which we will address later.

So too it seems that living among happy individuals can significantly contribute to one’s happiness.” Ebon is right here, but vague. Living among happy people can certainly be a positive thing, but if one is not realising one’s values in life, being surrounded by happy people is of no comfort. Other people being happy, in and of itself, says nothing about your happiness. For example, just knowing that other people in the world are happy doesn’t make the man happy who just lost his family in a house fire. Who these people are is a vital factor in how it affects you. Also notice that he justifies considering the happiness of others on selfish terms: it contributes to one’s own happiness. (This is in fact the Objectivist ethics, that morality is egoistic.)

Ebonmuse: “In addition, there is a strong, purely practical reason to create a moral system that encourages individuals to contribute to the happiness of others, rather than the opposite.

Remember, the purpose of a moral system is to tell man how to live his life; as we saw above, it cannot mean anything else. Now, Ebon phrases this strangely: a moral system should – as a consequence of training man to pursue his life, mean he also values people in his life. But Ebon makes the sudden leap that a moral code should also encourage man to “contribute” to the happiness of others. If by “contribute” Ebon means ‘give at no cost’, he hasn’t in any way explained why this is a benefit. Bear in mind that man will always try to pursue his perceived vales, which includes the people he cares about. “Contributing” to another’s life in this sense is not only perfectly fine, but rationally necessary. One would have no hesitation in being generous with friends and family. But Ebon uses the word “others” without identifying who he means. Since those one values are covered by the Objectivist theory of ethics, and presumably Ebon concurs, who else can he mean? Does he mean we should contribute to those we DON’T value? Does he mean that the happiness of others that we don’t value should be a concern in our lives? If so, he doesn’t explain why. A moral code for a man’s life that doesn’t relate to that man’s life is meaningless.

As noted, he tries to root “contributing” to others in “selfish” terms – i.e. that it ultimately benefits us in some way – but he breaks the connection between those who man chooses to value, and those he doesn’t or chooses not to value. And again, it is not clear whether Ebon is saying that we should contribute to others’ happiness because it will make us happy, or whether we should contribute to others’ happiness because it will make them happy – regardless of how we feel. And again, remember that Ebon is still yet to define happiness – nor explain HOW ones arrives at it. And again, Ebon misses the point that since happiness comes from realising values, and only individuals can think and pursue their values, it is simply not possible to pursue someone else’s happiness for them. We can of course help other people – but that is not what I believe Ebon means.

Also, the whole notion of happiness without a context is so vague it’s almost meaningless. For example, if one is happy under the influence of drugs, should one wish to maximise this pleasure for all humanity? If one is happy cheating, or stealing, or lying, or having unprotected sex, should we maximise this? Well it depends how you define happiness. Is happiness the same as pleasure? Which sources of happiness are good or bad for man? Objectivism clearly defines all of this and prescribes moral decisions on all. UU doesn’t even come close.

Ebon continues: “if your happiness is obtained in a way that makes other people unhappy, they will always oppose you and work to hinder your goals. On the other hand, if your happiness is derived wholly or partially from other people’s happiness, they will be far more likely to assist you, since their goals align with yours, and you will be more likely to achieve your own ends and be happy as well.”

This is where I believe Ebon is totally confused. For a start, he immediately assumes that the happiness (the word he should use is interests) of rational men are automatically in conflict. He does not justify this unspoken assertion. He assumes that man can derive happiness from the unhappiness of others – but what is the justification for this cynical worldview? This highlights how if one has faulty premises, one’s resultant chain of thinking will be fatally flawed.

We saw above that man is a rational being (NOT a social one); he must use his mind to identify his values and pursue them. A man knows that he can wish for water and food and shelter and love, all his wants – but wishing doesn’t make it so. A rational man doesn’t wish or pray for his values, he knows he must act to pursue them. He knows that when he produces, he has earned. But by extension, (and I am not doing full justice to Objectivist ethics here), he does not wish for results he cannot earn. He knows that praying for a fountain, or a house, or a job – won’t make it magically appear. And he knows that wanting what he hasn’t earned is irrational, because there is no moral or logical link between the two. He knows that the only way he is able to think and act in the first place around others is freedom. He acknowledges that this freedom is essential for him to pursue his values as a man. Therefore, he must necessarily accept that this freedom applies to other men too. And so a man knows that he is free, but that freedom ends where another man’s life begins.

So Ebonmuse is wrong that the “happiness” of men conflicts. Again, since he talks of happiness which is the result of achieved values, he ignores the actions that make those values (and ultimately happiness) possible. That is why he should really use the word “interests” instead. Since the pursuit of a man’s life does not clash with another man’s pursuit of his life, there are no conflicts of interest between rational men. (For a full elaboration on this, I recommend Tara Smith’s book: Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics). Because man should not desire the unearned, and because man cannot claim another man’s life – if there appears to be a conflict between men, the dispute will not be rational. (This is a principle – I will not apply it to real life examples here, such as wanting the same job, or the same woman – but can do so separately if prompted). Essentially, I am observing that Objectivism sees no conflict between the rational interests of men on principle – and how UU does not explain what men’s interests are, how they are achieved – but just vaguely alludes to happiness as some goal to be achieved (how?) and assumes without argument that men must necessarily clash at some point.

Ebonmuse: “the straightforward conclusion is that happiness should be maximized.” Whose happiness? How? If Ebonmuse intends to maximise the achievement of values for individuals (and therefore happiness, but since he hasn’t explained how else happiness is to be achieved I must provide the Objectivist version), how does he propose to do this? Since the pursuit of values is primarily an individual effort, what Ebonmuse should be saying is that the happiness of the individual should be maximised – in other words, man should try his best to achieve his values – in other words, we need a social system based on this moral code that best allows man to achieve his values. As we saw above, since man achieves values through the use of his mind and resulting action – the best way to ensure this happens is freedom.

Now Ebon makes another unwarranted and illogical leap forward in saying: “Giving aid to people whose aim is to reduce the happiness of others…will actually decrease, not increase, the total net happiness of humanity.” What does the “net happiness” (whatever that means) of humanity have to do with a moral code to guide man the rational individual? Collectives don’t think and choose – only individuals do – so moral codes only apply to individuals. And “humanity” or “society” is just a collection of individuals.

If morality is not a guide for individual living, i.e. if an individual’s life is not his ultimate value, then what else is? What else can morality apply to? There is nothing else. Remember, although Ebonmuse never uses or defines the term “value”, Objectivism defines it as that which one acts to keep and/or gain. A value without a valuer is a contradiction in terms. Ebonmuse wishes to claim that “net happiness” is a value, or that “humanity” is a value – a value to whom?? This is actually an appeal to intrinsicism – a mystical notion that must posit some external standard of valuation. In religious circles, this is explicitly given the name of “god”. Ebon makes the same mistake, only he doesn’t call it god, he calls it “humanity”. But “humanity” is of value to no one – only individuals can value, and a value to man’s life external and beyond that life – is a contradiction in terms.

Ebon: “Aiding people who already enjoy a high level of comfort is unlikely to increase their basic happiness significantly, and so is far less urgent than aiding people who are in need of basic necessities.” Urgent – to whom? Significant – to whom? Need – whose need? Notice the error? Ebonmuse commits the fallacy which Ayn Rand called “concept stealing”. Ebon uses the words urgent, significant, and need – which presuppose some standard of valuation. He then severs the link between valuation and any party which can value. As I don’t need to remind Ebon, there is no god looking on weighing up human lives and counting “value”. Now, certainly, people who “need” “significantly” “urgently” value their own lives, and people who are wealthy and happy value their own lives. Are less happy people more valuable than happy people? Valuable to whom? Why?

Is there a cosmic scale “we” need to balance up? What is this scale? Where is it? What is its name? How does it value? Only living beings can value – could this external intrinsic immanent valuer be given another name – say, God??

Social interaction and Rights

Ebon: “Regardless of whether we recognize it or can tell what it is, there is one way of living, one way of structuring society, that will produce greater happiness than any alternative method for all concerned. That one true path is what constitutes objective morality.” What Ebon is now getting onto is a system that regulates social interaction based on a moral code. However he reverses the order of morality and social interaction. Social interaction does not constitute objective morality, rather: morality constitutes how one should interact socially. Morality therefore lays the ground for politics – not the other way around. Before you even get to politics, to social interaction, you have to know why are you right, and why this or that is good or bad. Objectivism provides a moral code for individuals from the start, but UU stumbles and assumes its way to social interaction, then tries to work backward. This is the classic fallacy of putting the cart before the horse. It is also why UU’s politics, as we shall see, fail.

As I briefly mentioned earlier, Objectivism identifies that man needs a moral code to live his life – wherever he is. How does he live his life? By using his mind and acting accordingly. Ebon would agree that there is no dichotomy between the mind and the body – the mind/body problem or dualism as theists would put it (bear this in mind as we go on). Man’s action, and his produce – are the physical realisation of the mental effort to pursue his life. Man may choose how to live, but it is only by property that he can exercise this choice. Unless his property is his own, his mind is not his own. Without his mind, man is nothing but an animal. There is only one thing that can prevent man acting freely: force. When you introduce force, you prevent man from following his own thoughts through to their conclusion. And, since this is the only good way for men to live, force is antithetical to individual well-being. And, force can only exist in social settings. On an island, there is no one around to use force against a man – but in a society, there is. It is therefore necessary to establish a moral principle that restricts the initiation of force. This principle governs how men should interact with each other. This is the foundation for the concept of Rights. Since Rights arise from the principles of individual well-being, Rights only apply to individuals.

Rights only impose a negative obligation on others: “you must not initiate force against me.”

Now, rather than recount the entire Objectivist philosophy here, I am trying to point out how detailed, objective, logical, and grounded in reality Objectivist ethics are compared to what Ebon presents in UU. Notice how Objectivism defines all its terms, and works from the start through each link in the chain in a consistent rational manner? UU does not do this. It uses ill-defined or undefined terms, taken without context, with too many unwarranted assumptions, starts with incorrect premises, and makes too many non-sequitorial leaps to its next stage. At this point in my critique, UU is actually less consistent than another ethical theory: religion. Religion states and defines its premises much clearer than UU has done. Religion is open about its mysticism and appeal to intrinsic values external to man. UU, like all secular humanist positions, borrows these religious premises without noticing.

Ebon continues: “Justice – defined as giving people what they deserve and not giving them what they do not deserve – is and must be a bedrock principle of universal utilitarianism.” He is right. Objectivism similarly defines justice as “a concept to designate the act of judging a man’s character and/or actions exclusively on the basis of all the factual evidence available, and of evaluating it by means of an objective moral criterion” (ITOE). Ebon further explains why justice is important: “It is easy to see why: a society where justice is not ensured vastly increases both the actual and potential suffering of all its citizens, actual because of people who legitimately do not receive the reward their efforts merit, potential because all people will have reason to fear that the same will happen to them.” However, the Objectivist theory of ethics has already established a principle upon which people receive the reward for their efforts: individual Rights. Since no one may use force against another, man can fully realise his rewards, but only his rewards. Therefore, reality ensures that man gets what he’s earned but no more – and freedom prevents him losing it through force (or fraud). In other words, assuming force is not introduced, justice is easily realised by simply letting reality be the arbiter of success or failure, not some external bureaucrat.

Ebon goes on: “By a very similar argument, we can establish a basis for many fundamental human rights, such as the right to life, the right to pursue happiness, the right to freedom of conscience, the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of protest and assembly…” Ebon asserts that the basis of human rights is therefore justice. However, justice itself is based on a preceding moral code. Ebon throws all these Rights together as one – without clearly identifying the causal connection: it is a man’s Right to his own life (and therefore property, without which the former would be meaningless) – that gives rise to his corollary rights to pursue happiness, freedom of speech, etc.

Now, the principle of justice means that just as man is entitled to his own rewards, he is also responsible for his own failures – and he is morally accountable for his actions. We can dismiss the concept of “original sin” as mystical nonsense, because justice tells us that moral guilt is not transferable. But if a man cannot take the blame for someone else’s crimes, he cannot take the praise for someone else’s virtues either. In practice, a man cannot take the rewards for someone else’s effort.

Therefore, morally and judicially, a man’s life and his rewards are exclusively his own. So far, UU would seem to agree with this.

Ebonmuse asserts that the political system that is based on freedom and justice is “otherwise known as democracy.” He has not defined democracy at this point, nor explained why democracy is necessarily based on these things. Democracy is, essentially, unlimited majority rule. It makes no assurances that individual rights will be fully protected. It’s not certain why Ebon automatically leaps to the conclusion that democracy is the only moral politic setup, as if this was a given, except perhaps that he’s already picked it as his favourite. When establishing an ethical system from the ground up, one needs to do a little better than this.

He is right though, when talking of “fundamental human rights…that these rights exist not for mystical or supernatural reasons, but because they are the principles that, when enshrined into law and consistently obeyed, create a society that guarantees the best chance of peace, security and happiness to all of its members.” Notice that: consistently obeyed (or applied). A principle that cannot be applied consistently is not worth applying at all. Since Ebon agrees that individual rights must be consistently applied, he must favour a political system that consistently applies this principle to its logical conclusion.

However, when perusing Ebonmuse’s statement of principles I encountered more in the way of his politics that are not the logical application of his own ethical system, and wildly diverge from the alternative objective morality I have contrasted his with (Objectivism).

Incidentally, Ebon identifies his metaphysics as “atheist” – with is not a metaphysical position. One cannot base an entire worldview on one isolated opinion that is the result of rational enquiry; by definition, rational enquiry can only be conducted once one has established a metaphysical basis.

Ebonmuse identifies himself as a classic liberal, and believes that democracy is the only fair and feasible choice. He does not define democracy (again), but suggests that it “gives all adult members of a society an equal say in how that society should be governed”. He once again begs the question in assuming that society needs to be governed in the sense he means. What exactly do adults in society need to decide on? What matters are appropriate for vote and which are rightfully outside that power to change? And why? To what extent should “government” govern?

Ebon says: “To safeguard the rights of minorities, however, every society should agree to bind itself by a constitution which guarantees fundamental human rights and puts them beyond the shifting dictates of popular will.” Ebon is right that Rights should be constitutionally guaranteed, but makes another flaw (or assumption) that “minority” rights must be given extra consideration in case in the future some power of the majority changes society. The glaring oversight he makes is that in a system where Rights are guaranteed, no one may change them at any time, by any action or majority vote. There cannot be a Right to violate a Right – therefore you either have the Right to vote to violate someone’s Rights or you don’t. You have either initiated force against another person, or you haven’t. That is why there is no such thing as “minority Rights” – there are only Rights – and remember, the smallest minority is the individual! Under such a system, every man has the same Right to his own life and property, whether he is rich or poor, black or white, a businessman or a janitor.

Ebon’s system pretends to establish itself on Rights, then, in an attempt to solve a problem of its own imagination (that is, that Rights will necessarily clash), it declares that some Rights need to be protected more than others. Not only is this merely an assumption, and a contradiction of its own system, but it’s egregiously false; Rights are, by definition – the same for everyone.

(What I believe Ebon is alluding to, is a preconceived Egalitarianism notion that, quite simply, not all men are born equally beautiful or clever, and that this is unfair and we must artificially compensate for this perceived inequality. Note, egalitarianism is not the belief that all men should be treated equally; the principle of individual Rights ensures this. Egalitarianism wants to make all men equal in consequence, but not action; equal in effect, but not cause. As Ayn Rand said: “Since personal attributes or virtues cannot be “redistributed,” they seek to deprive men of their consequences—of the rewards, the benefits, the achievements created by personal attributes and virtues.” As she also points out, since it’s not possible to reverse reality – the simple fact of existence that some people are smarter and more productive than others, and therefore more successful – since egalitarianism can’t change reality, it tries to change people. And since the ones with “more” have supposedly received some lucky advantage, they must be penalised in practice to compensate those with “less”. In other words, the best of humanity is penalised for being the best, and the worst is rewarded for being the worst.)

At this point I should point out that, despite stating that UU ensures Rights are respected – Ebon has not, nor will, define the word Right. I did this some time ago on behalf of Objectivism. Ebon, like so many other concepts, takes their meaning for granted without clarification or justification. What is the UU basis for individual Rights? There isn’t one. Since Ebon doesn’t identify or morally justify Rights, he lets distorted interpretations of the term creep into his political system.

You see, the full exercise of properly-defined individual Rights can only be realised by the political system of laissez-faire capitalism, which is founded on the non-initiation of force principle.

Politics and Economics

I recognize the power of free markets to generate economic growth and spur innovation, yet when unchecked, they lead to greed, corruption, and inequality that’s impossible to justify by any rational accounting and corrosive to society as a whole.” This is a slew of unsubstantiated assertions and accusations. Ebonmuse here directly attacks capitalism, yet he would be unable to provide any historical evidence for his claim. Laissez-faire capitalism has never truly existed, but the closest the world came to it was 19th century America – and any historian will tell you this was the longest period of sustained and highest economic growth in history – and, by no coincidence, also the longest era of peace the world had seen until that point, and since. (Should we compare this to those periods and regimes that embraced the opposite ideals of capitalism, i.e. the rejection of individual Rights? Nazi Germany, Imperialist Japan, Soviet Russia, Communist China – all spring to mind.)

Ebon believes that free markets need to be regulated (a contradiction in terms) “To ensure that markets serve the needs of society, rather than vice versa.” Notice again the malevolent premise taken for granted? That if one man wants to be successful (or ‘happy’ to use Ebon’s word of choice), another one must pay. He offers no metaphysical justification for this claim. He does not explain why the nature of man is necessarily predatory (because it isn’t), or why one man’s achievements must come at the expense of another’s (because they don’t).

Also note that the sentence above removes the individual from the picture altogether. But what are the needs of society? Are these any different to the needs of its constituent individuals? Why? Society is not a lifeform, therefore it has no needs or values. The individuals in society do have needs and values, but as Objectivism clearly demonstrates (and UU is powerless to), these values are pursued through individual effort, and the reward is individual happiness. Is this not what Ebon seeks to maximise? What other kind of happiness does he want? “Net happiness”? Since Ebon seems to clearly believe that the happiness of men will always conflict (and therefore he seeks to redistribute “happiness” – how?), and some men are happier than others (though he doesn’t identify why), he must mean that the happiness of some men is more important than the happiness of others. Important to whom? And why? He doesn’t explain, because there is no possible answer. I think Ebon assumes that this is somehow important to “us” in some way – and by “us” he doesn’t mean “us” the individuals, who clearly cannot have a vested interest in every other person in society as a whole, but “us” the collective – the mystical consciousness that arises from society – which is an appeal to supernaturalism; it is just a secular take on pantheism.

The regulation of productive individuals in order to “serve” some other collection of individuals is the founding principle of the systems socialism and communism; communism being the same moral principle applied totally.

Trade

There is one essential and beautiful aspect of human interaction that Ebon, and other collectivists, totally ignores: trade. In Objectivism’s words: “The symbol of all relationships among [rational] men, the moral symbol of respect for human beings, is the trader. We, who live by values, not by loot, are traders, both in matter and in spirit. A trader is a man who earns what he gets and does not give or take the undeserved.” Since Objectivism defines happiness as the lasting non-contradictory joy that arises from the achievement of values, and since Objectivist morality is a moral code of values to guide action, the loss or surrender of values therefore leads to unhappiness. I cannot compare Objectivist ethics to UU’s in this regard, because Ebon did not define happiness, or value, or how happiness is achieved – he just tells us to increase it (somehow…)

During trade, men exchange value for value – and they both win! During trade, because no party can force another to agree to something they do not want, there are no losers. During trade, both men give something of value in exchange for a greater value (to them). Note again that values (in this case material) have their place in the context of man’s life; a man who buys a new car does not want his own cash anymore – he wants the car! The seller has no interest in keeping the car – he wants the cash! But both parties recognise that neither of them have the Right to the other’s property outside of trade. The car dealer cannot take the cash and not provide the car, and the buyer cannot drive off in the car without paying. Of course, the principle of individual Rights outlaws such behaviour in a free society by making the use of force (and fraud) illegal.

Ebon: “I advocate strong regulations and a system of progressive taxation that reinvests the bounty of the market in ways that benefit all members of society”. Ebon asserts that the market, which is really just a very complex series of interactions between individuals, belongs to society. To put this in explicit terms, this is what he means: the myriad private agreements of voluntary trade between free men belong to all the other men that are not involved in any voluntary agreement. There is no justification for this thinking that isn’t based on mysticism; only believing in collective consciousnesses will get you here – and last time I checked, I don’t have any Borg nanites floating in me.

This shouldn’t need further deconstructing, but I shall do so anyway: consider the trade example of the car above. Does a passer-by in the street have a vested interest in the transaction? No. Does his family? No. Does his village or city or nation? No. Now, I imagine Ebon would argue that all members in society (I don’t object to this term, as long as it’s used properly) have an interest in what happens in it. This is only half-true – and let’s be clear: you can’t have in interest in something which you cannot affect (for example, you can have an interest in going to college to educate yourself and get a better job, but you can’t have an interest in an asteroid not destroying the earth.) Individuals in society do have an interest in what happens in that society, inasmuch as it affects them and it’s within their right to act on it. But how are we to tell who has an interest in what? Fortunately, there is already a principle in place to identify where the interests of men lie: trade! We can see where men’s interests lie by who they choose to deal with. A party external to a trade cannot have an interest in that trade, because they cannot act to influence it, not should they. Wanting a piece of someone else’s pie is not having a rational interest.

The collectivist might argue that even in buying a table there is more involved in the trade of that table than simply handing over money for wood – but collectivists drop the context of trade, specifically: the division of labour. Every link in any transaction, from cutting down a tree, to transporting the wood, to assembling the table, to varnishing it, to selling it – involves free trade between individuals – as those traders pay for each step along the way with those involved. The man who buys the table doesn’t need to pay the courier; the supplier already did that. The supplier doesn’t need to pay the van driver; the wood-cutter already did that. And so on. No matter how vast, complex, or interrelated the traders involved, you can be sure that all of them played their part in “the market” and exchanged value for value. But, what Ebon wishes to assert is that, on an undefined principle, all external parties to any market have an interest in that market and must be “served” (his words) by that market. In fact, he must necessarily mean people who played no part in the market because, if they were involved, they’d be covered by the trader principle above and exchange value for value. Ebon wants external parties to do nothing and receive values. Why is this good for anyone? How is this at all consistent with Ebon’s declaration of justice above; to give people what they deserve and don’t give them what they have not deserved?

If trade is the free exchange of value for value, what is the exchange of value for nothing? If men produce to share their work and mutually benefit, what happens when a man works for another with nothing in return? If trade is voluntary – to give in order to receive, what it’s called when man doesn’t have a choice but to give with nothing in exchange? This is the alternative to trade: slavery.

When Ebonmuse says that “the market”, in other words, all markets – all voluntary trades between specific individuals, must serve society – he is saying that individuals who trade must serve those who are not involved in the trade and those whom one hasn’t chosen to deal with. There is simply no other word for this than slavery. He is saying that all other men you aren’t dealing with have a claim on your business, your property, your life. Property is how man physically pursues his life; to have a Right to one without the other makes no sense. Is this justice?

The Wealth-Happiness Contradiction

But there is another contradiction in Ebon’s politics and a rather glaring one too. Remember, UU seeks to maximise happiness (leaving aside that “net” happiness is a stolen concept, and because Ebon never asks WHY some people are happy and some aren’t; WHY some are successful and some aren’t, a question that Objectivism certainly does answer) – but happiness comes from fulfilling values – it cannot be redistributed! Objectivism shrewdly observes that simply giving someone what they “want” (or even need) will not make them happy, because you cannot substitute it for the rationality, productiveness, and pride – that goes into achieving values. Objectivism also points out that merely existing isn’t the same as living and flourishing. This is of course why earning a car or house through hard work brings happiness, but simply stealing doesn’t. And why making love to the partner you adore is more fulfilling than having sex with a prostitute. Should there also be a government program to redistribute lovers from one person to another, because some have “too many” and some have none?

When UU seeks to redistribute happiness, what it really means is redistribute wealth (“progressive taxation”). Since the former is impossible, Ebon settles for the latter. This is what he really wants. He thinks that redistributing the values of men that have worked to produce, to those who have not worked nor earned – will make the latter happy. But he then goes onto say: “There’s no reason not to do this, anyway, since wealth doesn’t buy happiness.” Well if wealth doesn’t buy happiness, there is no reason to redistribute it! If simply taking wealth from those with to those without, won’t make those without happy – and it certainly won’t make those with happy – whose happiness is actually being increased? Is Ebon, in Ayn Rand’s words “raising men to the mountains” or “razing the mountains”?

UU gets it right and then sadly wrong

Let us briefly return to individual Rights and show that Ebon is not consistent or true to his own premises: “following the principles of justice and human rights and being consistent in doing so, even if an immediate gain can be realized by violating them, is the course of action that truly will produce the best outcome in the long run. There is and can be no conflict between universal rights and specific situations; the conflict is only apparent, due to our limited perception which can see the immediate consequences of an act but cannot as easily view all its ramifications.” (Bold mine).

Ebonmuse is spot on. In fact, so cogent and remarkable a statement is this I have trouble understanding how he goes so wildly astray. I don’t know what he means by “universal” rights but I’ll assume he means individuals Rights which of course apply to everyone.

It is precisely because we cannot foresee every single outcome that we need principles. Objectivism defines them thus: “A principle is ‘a fundamental, primary, or general truth, on which other truths depend.’ Thus a principle is an abstraction which subsumes a great number of concretes. It is only by means of principles that one can set one’s long-range goals and evaluate the concrete alternatives of any given moment. It is only principles that enable a man to plan his future and to achieve it.” Ebon points out, rightly so, that it’s useless to speculate on specific incidents that appear to cause a moral dilemma; we should simply apply our principles consistently. With this in mind, does UU fully apply the principle of individual rights, or does it pay lip-service to those Rights, but then convolute isolated examples in society that appear to cause a dilemma, or “conflict between universal rights” – and then contradict those principles in order to solve its own “dilemmas”?  It most certainly does.

One such “conflict” is that some men are happy and some men aren’t. Since happiness is an end, a result – and not a commodity, it cannot be traded or even pushed upon men. Property can however, through force. UU sees a conflict between the property of some men and that (of the lack of such) of others. But, since we know that man has a Right to his own life and necessarily property, the apparent contradiction is resolved: there cannot be a Right to violate a Right; so the apparent Right of some men to the property of others is an illusion. As I said above, principles that cannot be applied consistently should not be applied at all.

But if you want to think in terms of consequences, and put effect before cause, or argue that the ends justify the means – even that will get you nowhere; the consequences of a system that does not consistently apply Rights will be of ever increasing restrictions and violations of those Rights; observe that every regime and nation in history that did not apply this principle had, and has, slid into Statism – investing more and more power into the government, and decreasing civil liberties. The end result of collectivism fully realised is communism. Socialism is a less potent facade for this. The principle is the same.

Again, if you want to talk about consequences, observe that free men can only exchange value for value – they cannot exchange value for fresh air. They exchange currency for value, but they cannot exchange paper. Observe that money represents actually produced but unconsumed goods. But when you have an agency that can replace value for paper, or take without return, or consume the stock seed (capital) of citizens, and pretend that paper can replace actual goods – you get inflation and recession. Only one institution has this power – and that is the one vested with the duty to protect Individual Rights: government. You cannot protect a cause by violating it.

If you want more consequences, consider that every single totalitarianism regime in history; every war ever started; every butchering or genocide of people; every sacrifice of an innocent life, was justified on the grounds of an appeal to “the greater good”; the tribe, the gods, the führer, the state, the society. Every dictator in history demanded that the needs or Rights of some collective outweighed those of the individual; that the individual must come second to others. Now consider that absolutely no evil, no enslavement, no crime, no war, could ever be achieved under capitalism. Under capitalism, every human being, including the government – is constitutionally prevented from violating another’s Rights. No one has ever justified dictatorship or enslavement on the grounds of capitalism and individual Rights. Why? Because it simply is not possible. So if you really want to achieve freedom and peace (and happiness) – what does experience tell you is the best way of getting there? Capitalism or collectivism (in all its forms)?

Finally, even if the sacrifice of values was moral (it can’t be), and even if giving up values instead of pursuing them made you happy (which it doesn’t), and even if it was moral or noble to pretend some men are more worthy of value than others simply from having a deficit (which is meaningless) – the forced redistribution of wealth would still not be moral, even under UU’s own rules, because if morality is a code to guide actions, then where choice is impossible morality is impossible. You cannot force someone to do a moral deed. At the point of a gun, it doesn’t matter what you choose. You cannot be praised or condemned for it. If freely choosing to help someone is noble, how is being forced to? One might call this Universal Totalitarianism.

If you’re so convinced your political system is the only moral one, the only one based on reason and practical for man, trying to force it upon others is a gross contradiction. What do collectivists have to be afraid of? I’ll tell you: collectivism cannot work without force. It is based on the initiation on force, on the premise that man must be compelled under duress to act against his will, in order to do the right thing, but this somehow is “good” for everyone. This is the noble system Ebonmuse advocates?!

Miserable view of life

The worst part of UU is that it actually undermines genuine sources of human generosity, benevolence, and compassion. UU wants to achieve these things, by force. It thinks it has the best system to achieve happiness, but if you don’t agree – you’ll be thrown in prison. Force is what you use when you can’t get someone to agree with you through reason.

The kind of heavy regulation of people under a government that sees its citizens as cash-cows, instead of clients – is incredibly impractical. By comparison, capitalism needs no such artificial manipulation and restriction. Capitalism doesn’t see men at war with each other – nor does it need to force them to act against their free will through force and tax. Capitalism actually requires nothing – except the prevention of force. Hence, capitalism needs a government dedicated to protecting individual Rights – and since such a government’s only purpose is that protection, it cannot become the violator, for any reason.

When men are free to deal with each other as traders, i.e. as equals – neither slaves nor moochers – they are demonstrably more generous (where do you think aid and charity comes from, if not free people?) – and as with all trade: everyone wins. Man will necessarily seek to act in his best interest. Rather than pretend this is a vice, capitalism is based on the fact that this is man’s nature – and it’s a good thing. Name any noble or moral deed, and I will show you the selfish interest in it. No good action is born out of selflessness, ever. In every action, a man will be pursuing something he sees as a value in his own life. This isn’t something to be critical of, but appreciative! Human beings can choose to deal with each other – where they both win! Doctors can save lives; parents can bring children into the world; free citizens without having their investment capital squeezed dry by a greedy power-hungry government can choose to help others, if they encounter people they consider worthy. Similarly, businessmen can pursue wealth and prosperity for themselves, and countless others directly and indirectly benefit as a result of their innovation and business needs.

I am sure Ebonmuse might counter with a hundred examples of emergency dilemmas, or apparent “conflicts” (his words) between Rights. But by his own reasoning, he knows that even apparent moral dilemmas do not violate principles. It is not my intention here to review potential objections and elucidate how Objectivism overcomes them. It is not even possible unless one first rejects their improper view of man and their mystical metaphysics. A discussion of what capitalism means for an economy is fascinating and illuminating – but this isn’t the place. Doubts are not valid philosophical objections. I’m sure Ebonmuse would agree that using “God of the Gaps” reasoning, and suggesting that just because some aspects of a free society are unclear in practice – does not invalidate the legitimacy of the principles upon which it’s based. “What if?” is not a philosophical rebuttal, but merely the enquiry as to how some objective principle will be applied in practice.

An objection I often encounter from honest enquirers regarding a free society, is what happens to those who can’t directly support themselves. It’s a legitimate question. I will not answer it here, as I have written on my blog before on this subject, as have other Objectivists. The reason I mention this is because I find it rather illuminating as to a person’s worldview and their view of man. The cynics say “if no one was forced to help others, no one would.” What they are really saying is one of two things:

1. ‘I am so good and generous and caring that I would always look after people, but you can’t count on others to be as moral and noble as me – so we should force our noble ideals on them.’

2. ‘If no one was forced to pay for others, I know deep down that I never would. So it’s a good job the decision is taken out of my hands, meaning I don’t have to think about the problem.’

I have a much more optimistic view of the human race. I think that human beings, when left to rely on their own minds and reason, act more rationally than one might generally expect. It takes no great mental effort to see that living in a benovelent and respectful society is to one’s own direct advantage. It is obvious that fostering a friendly atmosphere amongst people costs so little and reaps great rewards, especially when this is natural and free, and not forced. I believe that having an intrusive government that interferes in almost every aspect of human life has atrophied man’s thinking process and rendered his moral capacity useless. As a result, people are so used to government regulation and involvement they find it hard to foresee any alternatives.

As regards optimism, speaking for myself, I respect others unless they give me a reason not to, and I treat other humans with dignity, and am more than willing to assist people, but I have no desire to serve them, nor rule them. Should I not expect that other people are at least as virtuous as me? I believe that when the collectivist criticises the benevolent nature of people left to their own devices, they are revealing a much more sinister and cynical view of the world than they’d care to admit.

The economic facts are, whilst charity might have its place, even ignoring tax altogether, no one “contributes” more to society than a businessman.

Summary

UU is a hodgepodge of isolated notions and ideals, taken out of context, weakly joined by faulty logic and leaps of faith, and founded on the altruistic basis of religion, itself a product of supernatural metaphysics. UU is another example of collectivist mentality and altruist ethics. Altruism is the code that says you must sacrifice your values. Religion and UU are just variations on this theme.

However, I do believe that UU is an honest and genuine attempt by Ebonmuse to provide a secular foundation for morality. It is no mean feat, and credit must go to Ebon for tackling the problem – especially when so many in the world today see non-religious morality as impossible. If I didn’t believe Ebon’s intentions were genuine, or that he wasn’t beyond honest discourse, I wouldn’t have taken considerable time to compose this critique in the first place.

Unfortunately, Ebon’s mistake is that rather than build an ethical system from scratch after basing it on objective reality – he actually assumes all his premises and does not define his terms – and then goes from there. Ultimately, Ebonmuse begs the question.

Ironically, as a self-professed champion for humanity, freedom of thought (and by corollary: property and action??), and opponent of mysticism – Ebonmuse, like all secular humanists, would do well to find an ally in Objectivism – which provides what they so clearly lack: an objective philosophical foundation from which to defend their ethics and politics. Until they do so, they will be trapped in the same nihilistic mire as the irrationalists they seek to oppose.

Humanists don’t have a clue

I used to identify myself as a secular Humanist. I even joined the BHA, and subscribed to their mailing list – something I still haven’t unsub’d from – so recently I received their latest bulletin entitled: “Population is a moral issue – but not like this.”

I‘m always amused by what mental contortions and subjective ideas Humanists can come out with, so I read the brief message.

Apparently, Francis Philips from the Catholic Herald has pointed out how demographics are changing, as a result of low birth rates in the 90s. She cites the then Russian President Medvedev and other experts who argued that families should be having three or more children to compensate for this disaster.

Philips goes onto ask: “’why doesn’t the Government offer incentives to married women to stay at home and have larger families?” Enter the Humanist with the chance to apply their rational atheistic worldview to this “moral” issue. I agree it’s a moral issue – but then what isn’t?

“The assumption appears to be that a significant spend on incentivising fertility – for couples who perhaps aren’t ready to have children – is preferable to simple immigration” says the BHA newsletter. The issue of parents being bribed by the state to make life-changing decisions that they wouldn’t normally make, is totally overlooked. But then, all governments consistently offer incentives to distort natural law – so we shouldn’t be surprised.

“Whatever your view, world population is certainly something that humanists should regard as a moral and social issue.” At first I was thinking ‘ok, that’s fair’, and then I thought – why? What exactly IS the issue? It’s like saying war is a moral/social concern. This is generally true, but it doesn’t mean that it’s YOUR concern. A war between two tribal religious gangs in Africa is a concern to them, but not to me. The “issue” is not actually elucidated thus far – save for the mention of changing demographics above. (Which is, of course, the issue.)

“But it’s far from clear, when there are very serious concerns about depleted resources and environmental catastrophe, that actively promoting childbirth is either necessary or wise” continues the BHA. Well, it wouldn’t be modern Leftie liberalism without including some overhyped environmentalism – a “science” that is riddled with corruption and attention-seeking celebrities and politicians.

Note how the Humanist questions whether actively promoting childbirth is necessary or wise. In other words: it would be ok, if it was necessary. Necessary…for whom? Is there any other person on the planet apart from mum and dad who can decide if having a child is necessary or not? For what other purpose, apart from for their own selfish joy and love – is there for two people to bring a child into this world? Note also how the alternatives are “necessary or wise”. What about right?

The BHA continues: “In the case of a boom like that suggested by Phillips the real intention, worse than self-interest, appears to be the interest of an in-group.” (Yes, the only thing worse than self-interest is favouring a particular group…hang on a second…) The BHA vilifies the Catholic Phillips (rightly so, because you can never vilify Christians enough) for wanting to select for a culture of “Christian Europe”. And, true to the spirit of true democracy, she wants to use government force to get her way for her gang. The BHA fairly denounces this: “rather than dialogue, education or tolerance, she sees engineering the ethnic ratio as the way to go about it.”

The BHA finishes with: “Surely we’re passed the point at which wouldbe parents can be treated solely as such, asked to breed in the name of shoring up nationally, religiously or ethnically defined in-groups.”

Well, no. We’re not past that point – because the justification for using people as cattle for some other, intrinsic, “greater” good is the root of the most prevalent political system in the world today (socialism, in all its forms). And the means of achieving this collectivist end, the same as attempted by the Third Reich and Soviet Russia, is to use government force to engineer changes in peoples’ lives and markets that have nothing to do with simply protecting their Rights – the only thing any government should be doing.

Humanists will slam the nonsense coming out of the Church, rightly so – but they don’t have a clue themselves why it’s wrong. And they disagree on this particular point, not on the far more foundational principle of individual rights, but because, on this occasion, the power of government would work against them. But show the government enough votes and it would happen.

Not once do Humanists even question the idea that government offering incentives for people to breed is a gross trespassing of its rightful powers. This issue is totally lost on Humanists, and that is the real problem. The tenets and subjective moral basis of Humanists is hardly different from religion – hence I see them as inherently no better or worse than Christians. Given enough power, I’m afraid both groups will violate my Rights, and for a long time it’s actually been the liberal lefties who are the greater sinners. One group wants me to sacrifice for God, the other wants me to sacrifice for society.

The sad thing is that Humanists and other Neo-Atheists say it all in the guise of rationality. But rationality is a virtue that has its place in a person’s philosophy. It is needed because of the nature of man and the nature of reality, i.e. his metaphysics. It has its applications in identifying the good and bad for man, i.e. his morality – and the application of that to how he should live with other men, i.e.: his politics. Humanists fail because their metaphysics, morality, and politics are an irrational jumble of conflicting ideas. So they can talk about rationality all they want; they are missing the cart and the house.

There’s Something Wrong With You

Is there any religion that doesn’t tell you that you’re dirty, tainted, immoral, and flawed? If there is such a religion, there certainly isn’t a monotheism that doesn’t.

Why?

Here’s why: virtually all religions share a standard of morality in common with secular beliefs, as much as the Humanists and New Atheists would like to believe differently. They all hold one particular action as the standard of good noble virtuous behaviour, a standard that is irrational, contradictory, and ultimately impossible to achieve. It is no surprise therefore that the phrases “nobody’s perfect” and “I’m only human” are bandied around so often by theists and atheists alike.

What is this standard? Sacrifice.

Before anybody complains that I’m tarring everyone with the same brush, I’m talking about society in general, religion in general (monotheism mostly), and even secular atheist forms of morality. Ask yourself: do you consider the parable of the widow’s mite a lesson in virtuous behaviour? To those not familiar with the story, it’s a lesson given by Jesus in the bible in the gospels of Mark and Luke. After seeing the rich and wealthy donate large sums of money in the temple charity box, an old lady comes along and drops only two mites, the least valuable of coins. Jesus has this to say: “That poor widow has put more into the offering box than all the others. They all gave a lot because they are rich. But she gave even though she is poor. She put in everything she had. She gave all she had to live on.” – Mark 12: 43-44, New International Reader’s Version.

There are several interpretations of the lesson being offered here, but I will take this one: the greater the sacrifice, the more it hurts, the more of a burden you impose on yourself for others, the more virtuous, the more moral the action.

Even the non-religious might empathise with this thinking. After all, taking care of yourself or those you care about is easy isn’t it? It takes a really moral person to put other people first, to put strangers ahead of loved ones, to give instead of receive.

This, basically, is what is wrong with religion and society’s warped view of morality today. Why else do you think selfishness is regarded negatively, and selflessness is praised?

But if sacrifice is the human ideal, to whom should we sacrifice? And what is to be sacrificed? You cannot sacrifice to those you care about, since that would be selfish. The more selfless the act, the more you should sacrifice to those you care least about, or even hate. And how can you sacrifice without first having? So what does this morality recommend? Do we live a life of “immoral” selfish pursuit, accruing values until some undeterminable point in the future when we must then give away? If everyone did this, what would be left to sacrifice? And when you have sacrificed until you have nothing left, the beneficiary of your actions must then sacrifice everything they have for another, and so on and so on, until the entire human race is left with nothing and there is nobody left to sacrifice to.

This thinking leads to the punishing of productivity and creativity for their own sake, and the raising and exalting of inability and suffering for the sake of being so. Don’t believe me? Consider some examples:

Who is living the more “moral” life in your eyes: the social worker who slaves all day to help people or the businessman who makes a fortune off his products? The son who leaves home to pursue a career of his own, or the one who spends his youth taking care of his sick relatives?

These aren’t specific examples – but they illustrate a trend. Act for yourself: selfish, immoral. Act for others: selfless, moral. For everyday examples, notice when you try to justify an action to others. You will have far more chance of being convincing if you make out yours actions were motivated by concern for others at your own expense, than if you just stated honestly that you were acting in your own rational self-interest.

Here’s a fact: businessmen throughout history have done more to benefit the human race than any number of social workers, charity workers, or caring for the community workers ever have done put together and squared. I’m not attacking charity at all. On the contrary, charity is a wonderful way for those who are well-off to take care of other people and benefit their society as a whole through a freely chosen genuine act of compassion and human empathy (which is a selfish action by the way). What I am attacking is the notion that this is the most noble act one can do. As if the greatest thing a human being can do with their life is live it for other people. Wrong.

No person is a sacrificial object for another person. Nobody’s life belongs to you, and your life belongs to nobody but yourself. Nobody can make a claim to your mind or your body or your property (they are one and the same), nor can you claim theirs.

Yet, that is exactly what most religions and collectivist moralities deny. They say that you have no right to exist in your own right; that the noblest thing you can do is forsake yourself, give away what you have, live on the essentials, give what you can to others, live for the sole purpose of making the world a better place, for making other people happy. What about the self?

Any morality that asks this of its adherents has only one standard: death. Why? Simple: if you choose to live, if you choose to pursue your own life as your ultimate value, you must act in harmony with that value and hold your other values as a guide to your actions. You must accept reason as your primary means of survival, and act consistently with your values. This means NEVER sacrificing a higher value for a lower one. In fact, it means NEVER sacrificing anything, ever. If you give something up of great value for something of even greater value (say, spending £100,000 on an operation to save your child), that is NOT a sacrifice.

There is absolutely no way to deny this, except to use something other than your own life as the standard. And of course there is only one alternative to life: death.

No wonder the morality of sacrifice, of altruism, is so impossible to achieve! No wonder this morality teaches people that they are sinful depraved losers in dirt, who must constantly keep giving and giving to achieve an impossible standard. The morality of sacrifice is the philosophy of self-denigration, self-abuse, self-rejection, and suffering.

Consider this alternative:

The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.

Sweep aside those hatred-eaten mystics, who pose as friends of humanity and preach that the highest virtue man can practice is to hold his own life as of no value. Do they tell you that the purpose of morality is to curb man’s instinct of self-preservation? It is for the purpose of self-preservation that man needs a code of morality. The only man who desires to be moral is the man who desires to live.”

Both quotes are taken from John Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged.

It’s a shame that so many New Age Atheists who are so quick to vilify religion as immoral and irrational still accept many of its basic tenets.

Ayn Rand saw man as a being that could achieve moral perfection. As a being that was not sinful and flawed, but as an efficacious virtuous rational creature without limits, that could achieve his own happiness and betterment. She did this by rejecting the irrational evil morality of suffering and self-sacrifice, and identifying rational egoism as the code of morality, and reason as the highest virtue man could hold. If you can do this, then you’ll learn that there is nothing wrong with you! You can be a perfect virtuous person.

Why Selflessness is Immoral

Selflessness or altruism means putting the interests of others above yourself.  Just as “selfishness” has negative connotations in society of self-interest at the expense of others, “altruism” is often thought of as kind or generous acts for others.  This view is wrong.  It is wrong because the originator of the term himself, Auguste Comte, meant it to mean precisely what it implies: acting for the sake of others with no thought to oneself.

It is this true original definition of altruism that I am using here, and I will use altruism and selflessness interchangeably.

Selflessness is irrational.  It is irrational because it demands that the beneficiary of your actions be others.  Does it suggest who these others should be?  That is a decision an individual would make for himself based on his personal values.  But, since altruism dictates that we should hold our interests or values in no regard when acting, altruism actually states that the personal value of the beneficiary be irrelevant to our action!  By this “logic” not only would giving money to a drug-dealing rapist be just as moral as giving money to an orphanage, it would be more moral!

Why is that?  It comes down to personal values.  To suggest that some people are more worthy than others to benefit from acts of generosity implies that one has made a value judgment oneself in such matters based on a personal evaluation of worth.  But acting in accordance with one’s personal values is a SELFISH act.  Choosing to help your friend over a stranger is a selfish act.  Choosing to save the life of your lover over the life of an enemy is a selfish act.  Going to work and spending your hard-earned money on yourself and not giving it to every beggar in the street who asks is a selfish act.  Conversely, giving help to an unknown over a friend would be selfless.  Giving up the life of your lover so that a hated person could live would be a selfless act.  Coming home from work and handing out £50 notes to people you see on the street would be a selfless act.  Selfless means “otherness”; it means the defiance of personal values.

Clearly, this is not the sort of moral guide most altruists have in mind when they talk about “selflessness” (although many altruists do, such as the religious), yet that is exactly what their “morality” means, and if they disagree they don’t understand their own moral position.

A perfect example of this self-contradiction is in a recent post by the humanist Ebonmuse:

Instead, what brings happiness is participation – interaction with the world and exploration of all it has to offer, our relationships to friends and loved ones and a larger community, and selfless labor for the good of others.” (Bold mine)

Notice that our friends, our loved ones, our community, our happiness, our interaction are cited as positive things.  Positive for whom?  Beneficial for whom?  For us!  These are selfish values.  They are a personal value to us, and we act on them because we derive benefit from them.  Yet Ebonmuse also insists that our labour be totally unrelated to personal value!  So which is it?  Should our actions be selfish or selfless?  You cannot have it both ways.

Proponents of “selfless morality” (a contradiction in terms) will fiercely disagree and claim that I am attacking a strawman or twisting their position.  But clearly I am not: to use any personal values as a guide to making decisions is a selfish act.  Selflessness requires the contradiction of personal values; it requires that one act for the sake of acting, for no personal benefit at all.  And if you disagree that this is the correct course of action you should not call yourself an altruist or promote selflessness.

The belief that an act (or anything) is good or bad in itself is intrinsicism.  However nothing can be good or bad in itself.  “Good” or “bad” provoke the question: good or bad to whom?  Which implies that someone or something can make a value judgment concerning the objective effect that something in reality will have in regard to their existence.  There is only one thing in existence that can do this: consciousness.  Moral value judgments arise because of a consciousness’ relation to reality.  This is simply, and self-evidently because, for there to be “good” or “bad” – value or non-value, there must be a valuer.

This personal evaluation of what is beneficial or detrimental to a conscious being has to be performed by that conscious being.  By identifying the type of being it is and its relationship to reality, a being can discover what is of value to its life and what is not; what is “good” for its life and what is “bad” – and this is what morality is: a code of values to guide actions.  That is why true objective morality is not a duty, or set of rules passed on by authority, or a guidebook invented by man.    It is something that can, that has to be, objectively discovered by humans; by each human.

For this reason, morality is a personal matter – it is a guide for each of us how to live our lives.  It is not an ethereal magical phenomena that arises through social behaviour; it is not determined by social norm or majority whim or evolutionary instinct.

Since morality is a code of values to guide actions, it is necessary that these values be rationally discovered – otherwise they would not correspond to reality and would therefore be useless as a guide to any action.  But selflessness would demand the contradiction of our values.  It would demand of us sacrifice.

The morality of altruism is the morality of sacrifice: the giving up of higher values for lower ones; surrendering what is of more value to you for what is of less or none.  Just as giving up £100 for £5 is irrational, so is sacrificing your values to non-values.  But the irrational cannot be the moral, since it is only moral values that can be a guide in our life.  Therefore, selflessness and altruism are positively immoral – they require the irrational nonsensical valueless abandonment of our values for a non-existence supposedly intrinsic immanent “good”.

The sacrifice of values cannot result in happiness, since happiness is the lasting joy that arises from achieving our values.  Our values guide our actions, and ultimately every action has a purpose, and our ultimate purpose is: life.  There is only one alternative: death.  And since selfishly pursuing one’s own values is the moral guide to achieve happiness, selflessness is ultimately the immoral guide to achieving suffering.  Rational egoism holds life as the standard.  Selflessness’s standard is death.

The Problem with Atheists

Self-professed atheists think they have come to the conclusion that there is no god through a process of critical thinking and logical reasoning. They either make the positive intellectually-certain claim “there is no god” or what many believe to be the more “balanced”, “less radical” position of “I have absolutely no reason to believe in god but cannot rule his existence out altogether”. The problem with many atheists is that once they reach this position of god-denial, they think their reasoning is done, and become just as assured of their other positions as the theists they dislike so much, thinking of themselves as “rationalists”.

There is a difference between being an atheist and having a rational worldview though. Being an atheist just means you have taken a position on one particular matter of belief. Atheism is not a worldview or a belief system. It offers absolutely no other descriptive or prescriptive content apart from ‘this person doesn’t believe in god’. The problem with some atheists is that they do indeed think atheism is a worldview.

Atheism belongs only to the question of “god” – which is only one in the myriad field of questions, under the heading of belief. The problem with modern atheists is the same “problem” that plagues the worlds of philosophy and science. They tacitly or openly accept the notion that omniscience is necessary for absolute certainty. Philosophical scepticism permeates their worldview like a disease: we can never be sure of anything; our senses aren’t reliable; certainty is impossible; objectivity is naive; definite statements can’t be made in science; total knowledge is necessary for accurate claims. There is no greater exponent of this scepticism than the postmodern subjectivist with his diabolical multiculturalism. But the scientific community as well as the philosophical one as a rule accept this nihilism as the given.

As an example, how many times have you heard a theist say “you can’t call yourself an atheist – have you examined every part of the universe to see if god exists??” To which the atheist might respond: “I don’t need to examine the entire universe; there might be a god, but I see no reason to believe in one – and the burden of proof is on you.” The atheist is right that the burden of proof is on the theist – but he still cannot be 100% sure of his position, and he unwittingly accepts the philosophical scepticism that the theist smuggles into the question. In the same way that philosophical scepticism says that just because the sun rose yesterday doesn’t mean we can be sure it will rise tomorrow, the atheist who “is committed to reason and logic” refuses to rule out the supernatural, god, ghosts, vampires, goblins, elves, chi, astrology entirely – because he still accepts the nonsensical proposition that definite knowledge is impossible; that omniscience is necessary for certainty; that our senses can be fooling us one from minute to the next. So no matter how “rational” the atheist is, he still has to allow a modicum of irrationality in his worldview: that all the things he rejects might actually exist. But omniscience is not necessary to know that god is impossible and that the supernatural and paranormal are irrelevant anti-concepts that can be dismissed with 100% confidence.

Atheism is not a replacement for religion. That is why many deconvertees feel despondent and nihilistic when their worldview is shattered, as I once did. Religion is a complete worldview – it is an attempt to provide a complete philosophy, in that it attempts to account for knowledge, metaphysics, morality, politics, and aesthetics. It fails – but I think many atheists don’t realise how powerful religion is – it is powerful because it is important, and it is important because it represents a true human need: a philosophy for living. Religion doesn’t answer that need, because it is intellectually void and rejects reality – and places the primacy on consciousness and not existence itself. Atheism is not a worldview, and it is most certainly not a philosophy. The other “worldviews” that atheists turn to are not valid philosophies either. One example might be Humanism, a position that claims the universal value and worth of all people. However, Humanism does not give a definite objective definition of morality and it has no political agenda. Peter Singer as one example, a self-professioned Humanist, disagrees with many tenets of Humanism, such as the preferential treatment of human beings. Unfortunately, there is no way for Humanists to decide who is right on this issue. Secular Humanism has come to mean the rejection of religion in a political and moral setting, but it prescribes nothing objective in its place. For this, Humanists are free to discover any code of morality they choose, and are left to argue over what is right, morally and politically. Humanism has no objective definite positions on morality or politics, and what positions are generally accepted by humanists are usually based on some subjective collectivist notion of morality, such as utilitarianism – the idea that the whole is more important than any of its parts, and humans are cells in a superorganism that can and should be sacrificed for the good of the whole. In this respect, utilitarians merely substitute “god” for “society”. Atheists want religion gone, but offer nothing in its place that even resembles a proper philosophy and worldview.

The problem with some atheists is that, in their rush to displace religion and espouse all that religion traditionally rejects, they turn their lives into a quest to “make the world a better place” – and just like the religious, only their definition of better is allowed, and, just like the religious, they want their notions enforced politically. To take just one example: the fundamentalist wants a global theocracy. The modern-day atheist wants a global democracy. Most atheists idealise democracy almost religiously – an absolute to be unquestioned, “the best government we have or can have”; a “necessary evil”, they might say. It never even occurs to many to even question the idea of “universal good”, “making the world a better place (even by force)”, “democracy”. And this is because, just like the theist, many atheists steal the concepts of “good”, “better”, “freedom” from their necessary antecedents and apply them out of context, not realising they are contradicting themselves.

Want some examples?

Animal rights. “Rights” are a moral principle that define freedom of thought and action. Animals are not moral beings and have no conscious freedom of thought and action. They cannot therefore have rights.

Free Democracy. Democracy is unlimited majority rule. It is the enforced demand of a majority that is necessarily at the expense of the minority. It holds the collective as the standard and purpose, and individuals as means to that end. As such, it cannot respect freedom, since freedom only applies to thought and action, and only an individual can think and act. “Free democracy” is an oxymoron.

Making the world a better place. This idealist notion holds other peoples’ lives and happiness as the purpose of one’s own. By this thinking, the only goal in your life should be to make other people happy or maximise happiness in general, even if at your own expense. If there is no one around to please or help, your life has no meanin therefore. What about those who don’t want your help? What about those you don’t subscribe to your collectivist mentality, an example of which is the redistribution of wealth? Do you take their property from them? Do you threaten to arrest them if they don’t share their wealth? “Well”, you rationalise to yourself, it’s for the “greater good”. Wrong. Again, more concept-stealing – how can you enforce a moral action?? It’s a contradiction in terms.

A perfect example of this Modern Atheist is the excellent Christopher Hitchens. I like Hitchens, and I love watching him speak and debate – but his idea of morality is evolved social behaviour. His political ideal is democracy (I believe he is still a socialist). His support of the invasion of Iraq is not grounded primarily on acting in American’s rational self-interest, viz, to remove a very real threat – but as an act of altruism to “save” the Iraqi people and make their lives better, even at the expense of thousands of American soldiers. When it came to justifying an objective epistemology and metaphysics based on atheism, Hitchens was put in the shade by the Dinesh D’Souza.

In a recent debate, I encountered several of these “New Atheists” who’d read a little Dawkins and Hitchens and considered themselves rational just because they rejected god. Being an atheist means NOTHING about having a rational worldview – it is only one possible corollary of having such a worldview. As theists love to point out, many atheists committed atrocities just like theists did. Many atheists like to fight on this issue, especially Hitchens and Dawkins, protesting “but they didn’t commit their crimes in the name of atheism! Who cares? Some of them actually did – the point is that it doesn’t matter: they were atheists, so in and of itself atheism says nothing about a person’s rationality. The war to fight is not theism vs atheism, it is irrationalism vs rationalism, subjectivity vs objectivity. And then, the war is there to fight only if it is of value to YOU. It is not a purpose in itself; not a campaign to spend your life selflessly pursuing.

There is one philosophy that I accept to the best of my knowledge. One that rejects philosophical scepticism; one that refuses to fight on the nihilistic grounds of the irrationalist; one that knows what its foundations are; one that has an objective account of reality and knowledge; one that has an objective morality; objective politics; and defines the proper values and virtues of human life. One that states that “the highest moral purpose man can pursue is his own happiness”; that life is an end in itself; that our lives are not sacrificial objects for the sakes of others – they our lives are our own and belong to us and no one else. A philosophy that states that reason is our primary means for survival – and every else flows from this. This is of course Ayn Rand’s Objectivism.

It’s not my purpose in life to “convert” people, and I don’t live to win people over to Objectivism or do their thinking for them; I don’t live to “make the world a better place” – each of us must make our lives as good as possible, and that includes caring for those we value. All I would like to point out is that many atheists these days are confused about their philosophical premises, even the “experts” like Dawkins and Hitchens. A person who honestly seeks a rational worldview would do well to study Objectivism, especially those “rational” atheists out there who despise religion so much yet cannot justify many of their own subjective notions.

Humanist Symposium #12

Humanist Symposium #12

DEDICATED TO BLUE LINCHPIN

Greetings one and all. It is my pleasure to present this Humanist Symposium, the last one of the year.

Before we go any further, I would like to take this opportunity to dedicate this Humanist Symposium to Blue Linchpin. Her last post was June 11th and she had been struggling with cancer for some time. This would be a tragedy no matter who it was, but when it happens to someone so young and so intellectually alive, it seems all the more unfair. After silence for so long, I think we all fear the worst.

 

I couldn’t think of a particularly unique or clever way to present this Symposium (!), so I’ve decided to offer each submission with my personal reflections on each article.

Let’s get started:

 

A Load of Bright presents a treatise On Patriotism. This is a brief but excellent summation of the arbitrary nature of nationality, and why the author identifies himself as a citizen of earth first and foremost, instead of referring to the accidental place of birth. This article echoes my personal opinions on the matter too.

Greta Christina’s Blog – A Relationship Between Physical Things: Yet Another Rant on What Consciousness and Selfhood Might Be

This is a succinct, eloquent, and very enjoyable read about the nature of human consciousness; blowing dualism out of the water.

Wild Philosophy – Humanism – Nietzsche and Camus

An interesting insight into one humanist’s political and moral positions, inspired by Camus. I agree with hardly anything said in this controversial article but it’s definitely worth a read.

Spanish Inquisitor – My Reunion

I had the pleasure of reading this article when it was first posted on Span’s blog which I frequent. This is a beautiful and touching story that I strongly recommend everyone read.

An Apostate’s Chapel – Words of Wisdom from Walt Whitman

A nice poem, and a few words from the blogger about how he feels being an humanist means a connection and a responsibility with and to all people, and the planet itself.

Sharp Brains – Robert Emmons on The Positive Psychology of Gratitude

This article is a question and answer session with Robert Emmons, Professor of Psychology at UC Davis, on the positive mental and physical effects of holding a better psychological approach in life.

Next up, we have Greta Christina again, with If You Weren’t an Atheist, What Would You Be?

Here, Greta asks if we can we find the good things in religion but without all the rubbish that goes with it. In doing so, she looks at all the major religions and some minor ones, and gives her personal opinions on them. This is well researched and nicely put together. A definite must-read.

Richard, at Philosophy, et cetera talks about Critical Values …and defends the value of rational disagreement, something I strongly agree with!

Ranaban in the article Brian May Not Like This…briefly talks about the slaughter of whales and why he thinks the suffering of animals should give them the right to not be harmed.

Next, is Reason and Capitalism with an excellent article entitled Cold Reason. I gave a big thumbs up to the monitor after reading this very brief but eloquent passage!

Skeptic’s Play presents a short essay explaining why life has Meaning Without God. From the article itself: “just because the universe is uncaring doesn’t mean we have to be. We may be invisible from just a few light-years away, but we’re not a few light-years away—we’re right here.”

Next, we have Shaun Connell again over at Reason and Capitalism with The Pursuit of Happiness.  I really like this short article, explaining what true happiness is from a Randian point of view; realising our values, with morality (based on reason) and reality (objective non-contradiction) as our permanent guides and checkpoints in achieving those goals, and therefore achieving happiness.

The Urban Monk treats us to a really interesting and quite contemplative article Love and Loneliness – Unravelling the Ego and Pride. This is an unusual submission for the Humanist Symposium but the sentiment is quite catching; self-love, pride, self-esteem, ego, from a non-theistic spiritual point of view.

Innovation Politics presents Democratizing Politics, which contrasts “typical” democracy that we’re used to today with a novel concept called “Open Politics”, which sounds quite revolutionary.

Get into the seasonal spirit with Letters From A Broad and Festive Carols for a Merry (Secular) Christmas and other Happy Holidays!

Atheist Revolution presents Responding to Anti-Atheist Bigotry. This top class article is best summed up by its own closing words: Perhaps we should strive for a more balanced approach by increasing the proportion of offensive to defensive responses. The last thing we want to do is foster the already prevalent view that religious belief is somehow exempt from criticism. Atheism, when one understands what it is and what it is not, needs no defense. On the other hand, faith-based belief is simply indefensible.”

Atheist Ethicist presents a case for objective non-religious morality based on values and human desires. Read it here.

Finally, I present my own article Standing On The Shoulders of Giants. From the dawn of man through the ages and all the greats that have come and gone, I consider being alive in this modern era as a privilege akin to sitting at the feet of the masters of history, with no boundary on what we can learn, or what the human race can achieve.

 

Thanks to all for ‘attending’. This will probably be my last submission to the Humanist Symposium for the foreseeable future, but it was a privilege to host it, and thanks to Ebonmuse for some hand-holding through the process!

The next Humanist Symposium will be over at Faith In Honest Doubt on January 6th, 2008. You can submit articles here.