Monthly Archives: November 2004

A writing exersize: answering some basic objections to individual rights.

Introduction: A brief argument for individual rights:

Man requires certain values in order to live. As a rational being, he must be free to exercise his reason in order to achieve his values. The initiation of force by other men is the only way others can prevent a man from exercising his reason, since force makes a man’s judgment useless as a means of survival. In order to live in society, men need to establish the behavior that they should be free to engage in, and the behavior that should be banned because it involves the initiation of force. The principle of individual rights serves this function by defining the range of moral actions open to man in a social context.

Objections to individual rights:

Objection #1: The principle of individual rights is unnecessary.

Why is not sufficient to simply state a general list of actions which involve the initiation of force rather than introducing a complex new set principles? For example, one could simply state that it is immoral to steal, cheat, kill, or enslave others.

Reply:

It is necessary to apply the principle of individual rights to determine which actions consist of the initiation of force. For example, we know that it is immoral to steal, but what constitutes theft? It cannot be determined merely by observation of immediate action. A man who breaks into a car and takes it against the owner’s wishes might be a car thief – or he might be repossessing it because the owner failed to pay off a loan. A man who lies to lies in order to get something he wants might be guilty of fraud – or he might only be guilty of lying. If a man kills another, he might be guilty of murder – or he might be acting in self defense. If a man is forced to work without pay for a period of time, he might be enslaved – or he might be a criminal serving jail time. Virtually every specific action which might constitute the initiation of force in a certain context may be legitimate in another context. It is therefore necessary to establish a set of basic principles in order to deliniate which actions violate rights.

Objection #2: There is disagreement on what constitutes a “right” between individuals and societies, even those that reject the initiation of force. One man’s “right” might be a rights violation to another, and therefore rights cannot be absolute.
For example, abortion is seen by some as a basic right, while others see it as murder. The status and degree to which intellectual values should be protected is also commonly disputed. Public nudity is legal in some communities, but not in others. If there is widespread disagreement on rights, then they must depend in part on social conventions and therefore cannot be absolute and non-contradictory.

Reply:

Moral principles are derived from the facts of human nature, which are independent of the conclusions reached about, whether by difference individuals or civilizations. Since the principle of individual rights is a moral one, it can be derived from the basic facts of human nature. Rather than being inapplicable, the recognition of individual rights is especially important when rights are disputed – issues like abortion and welfare. By understanding the purpose of rights – to allow rational men to pursue values free of coercion, we can recognize that a fetus cannot pursue values, but does impose a burden on the host by its very existence. Likewise, since the principle of individual rights recognizes that values come from the man’s mind and that man needs to secure these values to live, we can recognize the importance of protecting intellectual property.

Again, the principle of individual rights provides crucial guidance for defining the scope of moral action on society.

Objections #3: Why do only some immoral interactions violate rights – why not all? For example, if it is immoral to both kill others and oneself without due cause, why is it that one action violates rights, but the other does not? Even within social interactions, there are many actions which are immoral but not do not violate rights, such as lying, breaking promises, and adultery. Furthermore, if we exclude immoral individuals from our social circle, are we not violating their rights?

Reply:

The purpose of establishing individual rights is to protect man from man – to define the basic conditions necessary for social existence. It does not follow however, that respecting the rights of others requires that we tolerate them or morally sanction their behavior. In a rights-respecting society, individuals with very different values may coexist without harm to each other as long as they recognize the right of others to the same. They may avoid associating with immoral individuals and exclude them from their property, but this does not prevent others from doing the same. The use of coercion to force others into or out of their preffered associations on the other hand, destroys the conditions necessary for peaceful social coexistence.

If, for example, a qualified job seeker is rejected by a business owner because of his skin color, the job seeker is still free to look for work in any other establishment, and others can condemn this action by avoiding that establishment. If however, a government passes regulations declaring legitimate and illegitimate hiring criteria, the judgment of businessmen in choosing which hiring criteria is legitimate, as well as the potential for disapproval from potential employees and customers, is rendered irrelevant. The political arena then becomes a means to coerce others into following ones values rather than a means of protecting one’s ability to choose which values to live by.

Objection #4: The protection of rights in a modern society requires that some entity, such as a government, must establish an official definition of rights, and then force a society to follow that definition, even though many individuals are likely to disagree with it. It is impractical, if not impossible, for all the citizens to observe the definition of rights they find most logical, since it may contradict the definition of others. If it is necessary to force the definition of rights reached by one group of men on everyone else, how can the right to follow one’s reason be guaranteed?

Reply:

Because rights are derived from the facts of reality, in particular, man’s need for freedom in order to live, it is possible to rationally arrive at the correct definition of individual rights and establish a society that protects them. The fact that man’s rational faculty is fallible means that there can be no guarantee that such a definition will be reached, but this does not invalidate the concept of individual rights or the importance of a free society. When choosing what moral system to live by, man faces the potential for error – but it does not follow that he should give up on values or reject reason because it does not make him omniscient. The Founding Fathers failed to see that establishing a separation of economy and state was as important as the separation of church and state – but this is cause to correct their errors, not to do away with the Constitution entirely.

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Intellectual Ventures (and Technological Evolution)

(I created a Wikipedia article from this post.)

Check out this MSNBC profile on Intellectual Ventures, a company created by Microsoft alumni Nathan Myhrvold with a bold new business plan: create a marketplace for intellectual property. Rather than produce any material good, the company does nothing but buy up patents and lease them to the highest bidder.

This development is significant because I believe that intellectual property trading will become, in one form or another, the primary business of the 21st century, and ultimately the final stage of mankind’s technological evolution. While material goods will remain valuable as long as human beings depend on material values for their survival, the primary trend of technological development is the substitution of physical labor for mental labor. Continue reading “Intellectual Ventures (and Technological Evolution)” »

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Blog Icons

If you want blog icons like the ones you see on the left of this page, I have a collection of 100+ here.

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Gmail

By the way, I still have a ton of Gmail invites for anyone who wants one. Gmail just added some cool new features like POP access and forwarding, so you should check it out if you haven’t already.

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Purple America

In response to the recent ballyhoo about “red vs blue” states, a Princeton prof created a color-gradated county-level map which makes the real trend clear: large urban cities vs. America. Kerry’s support came primarily from those who didn’t attend high school (50% ) and post-grads (55%). In areas with a high-concentration of both, such as Washington D.C., the vote was 90% Democratic. This trend was much stronger than religion or “moral values.” According to CNN, 58% Bush and 41% of Kerry voters reported “weekly church attendance”, 50% of Bush and 49% of Kerry voters reported “monthly church attendance”,” and 45% Bush, 54% of Kerry voters reported attending church “seldom/few times a year.” Definitely a relationship, but a mild one that is little changed from 2000.

I believe that the explanation for the overall trend is nothing new: the major sponsors and the major beneficiaries of the welfare state – the intellectual elite and welfare recipients voted overwhelmingly for the candidate who promised to direct the wealth back into their pockets, while the rest of America voted to keep it in theirs.

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Good riddance

Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe gives Arafat the obituary he deserves.

Also read Elan Journo’s piece: Arafat’s Undeserved Honor: The West’s Shame

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Could racist hiring policies be America’s undoing?

It’s an open secret that government bureaucracies in the United States hire minority racial groups significantly over their proportion in the general population. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the EEOC overhired blacks by 623%, the U.S. Dept. of Education overhired by 462% and HUD overhired by 430%. Other federal agencies beat their racial quotas by similarly high ratios, so that only 23 out of every 100 new federal jobs went to non-preferred individuals. My experiences indicates that less drastic but similar patterns are found within state-subsidized as well as large private bureaucracies within private industry, particularly those with low skill/intelligence requirements such as H/R departments, janitorial services and especially university staff.

I think that this overt and institutional racism is due to three factors: (a.) policies which explicitly discriminate against non-preferred groups, (b.) the dominance of leftist politics within minority areas such as inner cities and public universities, and (c.) a self-reinforcing anti-entrepreneurial, pro-entitlement mentality within minority groups.
Continue reading “Could racist hiring policies be America’s undoing?” »

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Firefox 1.0

Firefox 1.0 is out! You should download a copy from my website right now!

If you haven’t heard of Firefox before, it’s a new web browser descended from Mozilla and Netscape. Compared to Internet Explorer, it is faster, more secure, more customizable, theme-able and extensible. It’s designed to be compatible with the latest internet standards, so you see websites as their authors intended you to. Firefox also features some must-have features like tabbed browsing, pop-up management, built-in website syndication, and access to your favorite search engine right from the browser. Even the U.S. government recommends it – so, uh, you know it’s good!

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USAF publishes report on "psychic teleportation"

The U.S. Air Force recently published a “Teleportation Physics Report,” which among other things, calls for $7.5 million to conduct “psychic teleportation experiments.” An Air Force Research Lab spokesman justified the report by stating “If we don’t turn over stones, we don’t know if we have missed something.”

What kind of philosophic corruption makes such a statement possible? Imagine if psychics and faith healers were taken as seriously as scientists. Any crack-pot could present his delusions and demand that they be taken as seriously and potentially valid as a scientific theory that comes from careful research, a rigorous inductive process, and published, verifiable, and falsifiable evidence.
Continue reading “USAF publishes report on "psychic teleportation"” »

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Bush will lose

Tradesports odds are 2-1 against Bush, folks. Looks like it’s all over. After starting the day with a slight lead, he fought for control, then fell hard. I’ve been predicting a Bush victory for months, too – good thing I don’t have any money riding on the election. Wait, where are those tax forms…

Update: Looks like my prediction was a bit off. There is a valuable lesson about gambling in there somewhere…

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