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School Sucks and Objectivism

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Brett Veinotte, a former public school history teacher, produces a thought-provoking podcast called School Sucks.

I’ve listened to his podcast for a couple of years now, and he really challenges me to reflect upon my role as a public school teacher. I appreciate his honesty and intellectual integrity.

My understanding of his perspective is that he believes the non-aggression principle should be our foundational approach to all human interaction.

In his most recent podcast (which comes in at a healthy 2 hours 14 minutes), Brett names three philosophies that could lead humanity on a path to non-aggression: in Ancient Greece, during the Enlightenment, and through Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism.

I’d like to discuss why I believe Brett is mistaken in this assertion.

Each of these three philosophies is built upon a foundation of observation and drawing conclusions based upon these observations.

The flaw in this perspective is that there is no such thing as a completely objective person. No one can begin collecting observations without certain preconceived notions.

Just like it is impossible to draw conclusions in a geometry proof without certain non-negotiable givens, it is impossible to draw conclusions about our observations of the world without being influenced by our non-negotiable givens. These are called control beliefs.

I should be clear with my personal bias: I’m a devout Christian and believe that observation supports the story of the Bible.

What Brett has chellenged me to do in this latest podcast is reflect upon the reality that Christian thought has been used as a weapon throughout history to justify all sorts of evil behaviors.

But my concern is that Brett is simply replacing one power structure with another.

Pure observation will never lead us closer to utopia. It will just shift power from people with religious control beliefs to people with objectivist control beliefs.

And as a brief review of Ayn Rand’s life demonstrates, she was not self-consistent in her application of objectivism. When her feelings were hurt as a result of another person’s self-determination life choices, she fought back.

I don’t trust either group implicitly. Neither should Brett. Everyone is selfish, no matter how they try to wrap up their “objective” point-of-view.

  1. Alex Jones
    April 21, 2012 at 10:47 am

    The ancient Greeks had a philosophy called teleology, which is that everything has a purpose or ultimate design. Teleology can keep anything objective.

    • April 21, 2012 at 11:10 am

      Please explain how. I’m not convinced, but I’m open to learning more from you.

      More specifically, who determines purpose and ultimate design?

      I don’t believe that these things can be determined without being influenced by our control beliefs.

      It sounds to me like you’re just shifting power to the teleologists.

      • Alex Jones
        April 21, 2012 at 11:23 am

        Anything created by mankind has a clear purpose or ultimate design. All that needs to be asked is what was that purpose? What is the purpose of school education? What is the purpose to which a certain subject is taught? What is the purpose of the method used to teach? These sort of questions of “why” is something the Greeks obsessed with and from which great works of philosophy emerged.

  2. April 21, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    I agree that these are vital questions to explore. But I disagree with your premise that anything created has a clear purpose. How could I possibly make a definitive statement about the ultimate design of another human being’s creation, when I can’t make these same definitive claims about my own motivations?
    Think of it this way. The last time I did something “nice,” was I expecting something in return? Was my core motivation to be recognized as nice, or to be altruistic, or was there some other mixed motive?
    I don’t yet accept your claim that answering questions about “clear purpose” and “ultimate design” are free of bias, objective, and not influenced by our control beliefs.
    Thank you again for stretching me. I’m intrigued by your ideas.

  3. April 21, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    “..I don’t trust either group implicitly. Neither should Brett. Everyone is selfish, no matter how they try to wrap up their “objective” point-of-view..”

    How do you define selfish here? Unlike the dictionary, I see two rather distinct meanings:

    1. selfish – owning oneself, and being inclined towards self preservation, happiness, security, comfort etc. This does NOT have to be at the expense of other people. In fact there is a large degree of responsibility involved in being selfish (eg to completely give up being selfish means others will be forced to look after you).

    And being selfish can (and often does) ‘spill over’ and spread joy, happiness, prosperity, wealth, knowledge to others around you. In fact many ‘selfish’ desires can ONLY be satisfied by bringing something useful, beneficial or simply joyous into the lives of others.

    Surely the best teachers (to use an appropriate example) want to be the best teachers for ‘selfish’ reasons – any other reason implies they are working reluctantly or under duress or for some ulterior motive. In this sense the ‘selfish teacher’ is actually likely to be one of those inspirational teachers who is remembered and cherished for life by his/her pupils.

    2. selfish, lacking concerns for others or even deliberately exploiting others for one’s own (selfish) ends. This is the more common and simplistic meaning.

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that societies which are based on a centralised authority with the right to use force (such as governments) seem to train their citizens to only view selfishness in its most negative sense. After all, the state demands we sacrifice *our* selfish desires and needs (our comfort, our standard of living, our security, half our earnings, our privacy, our freedom and even our lives) for the selfish desires and needs of the state (and its various free riders). It is in their (selfish) interests to discourage us from valuing selfish behaviour – or understanding the good that can come from it …..and the evil which can thrive when we abandon it.

    For example, if we all acted more ‘selfishly’ there would be no wars because it does not serve ANYBODY’S selfish interests to risk their lives to fight a statist war (not on any ‘side’). The statist rulers who send young men to war understand this, even if the general population has yet to figure it out.

    “Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship…./….voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country”. – Herman Göring

    The most common misunderstanding (which I suggest is a result of state controlled education and state controlled culture in general) is that ‘selfishness’ is incompatible with peace, organisation, collaboration, cooperation and happiness. If it were compatible then it would negate the need for a government! And – lo and behold – when you look at it objectively you find that it IS compatible 🙂

    What is NOT compatible with peace, organisation, happiness etc is to have a massive imbalance of POWER (coercion and violence)…. such as we have in a statist society. A government is (by definition) the only agency with the legal right to initiate force or even violence to achieve its aims. That completely contradicts the basic moral values by which we all live in every transaction we make, during every single moment of our daily lives!

    Our society ALREADY operates as a largely free and voluntary society – whenever we are given the freedom to act in this way (voluntary negotiation / voluntary contracts are typically used in relationships/ business and not clubs and guns!), yet at its centre (the state) these basic moral values (don’t hit, and don’t steal to get what you want) are flipped on their head! Force/ violence (laws, wars, police, armies) and theft (taxes, fines, regulations, fiat currency) are the ONLY methods used by governments to run our society!

    A statist society is so unbelievably messed up that we cannot even begin to use it as a starting point to try and imagine how a free society might work. This is why a free (voluntary) society seems to unachievable to most of us.

    But here is another way to think about it:

    Imagine a free society existing on some continent somewhere. There is no government, no taxation, no government education etc etc Everyone understands (from early childhood) the concepts of property rights and the non aggression principle. People grow up with the understanding that their property and their actions belong to them – both in terms of responsibility and in terms of the right to defend property / actions from being violated. Yes there are disputes, yes there are crimes, yes there is theft and deceit etc but not nearly so much as we have today, and it is simply not *preferable* behaviour to engage in because people in a free society are genuinely responsible for their actions. (there is no state welfare or massive state bailouts to fall back on if you are ostracised by your local community/ global customers for being a car thief or running a company which has gambled away everyone’s investments).

    Ok…. so in this free society there is a walled in commune of 100,000 acres which runs itself as a statist society (just like we have today) complete with its own mini government, mini police force, mini prisons, mini education system etc…. Anyone is free to join but if you do join you must sign an agreement at the gates to give up all of you freedoms, be registered with a SS number, start paying taxes immediately, send you kids to the local government school etc etc.

    The mini government will protect your property rights on your behalf (to the same extent they do in our world), but in return they will obviously tax you for everything under the sun and use the money how they see fit: to make the government bigger, to bailout their bankster friends, start endless ‘wars on drugs’ and ‘wars on terrorism’, to waste on inefficient healthcare and welfare programs which only make poverty worse and help split up the family unit blah blah blah…..

    Anyone who doesn’t like the commune can vote in the mini state elections or if they prefer they can protest on the streets and get tasered in the face or hit by sound weapons or just hit with clubs by the mini riot police force and bundled into the back of a van and thrown in the mini jails etc.

    Now…here’s the question: imagine you are a free individual (or family) living in this free society. Would you ever consider giving up all those wonderful freedoms, half your earnings, most of your choices, your dignity and the responsibilities that come with all those freedoms to go and live in that commune? Would that commune provide for you and your family a more preferable existence, or a less preferable existence than a free society?

    Would joining that commune be the ‘selfish’ thing to do?

    Or would your ‘selfish’ desires compel you to to keep living in a free society, keep defending that free society and keep doing your best to help fix that free society whenever it deviated from the objective principals (such as non aggression and property rights) on which it was based?

    I think once humanity got a taste for a free society they would find it *extremely* preferable compared to the misery, stress, humiliation, discomfort, suffering and increasingly the DANGER associated with a statist (or any kind of coercive, centralised) society. And, naturally, they would do *anything* to keep it free. Maintaining that free society (by definition: a free society for ALL) would become the ‘selfish’ thing to do, for everyone.

    In the end wanting freedom is a selfish desire. Do you want to be free? Answer: YES!

    Objective reasoning is necessary to help us to achieve free society, but the motivation is NOT objectivity (which like philosophy can’t be a motive, only a tool)… the motivation for a free society is ‘selfishness’. (the very thing we are told by the state prevents us from achieving freedom …. go figure!)

    I hope I expressed that OK – sorry to go on so long! 🙂

    BTW have you ever looked into Stephan Molyneux’s ‘Universally Preferable Behaviour’? (scroll down – it’s a free download)

    • April 21, 2012 at 4:39 pm

      No need to apologize! Thanks for the reply.

      You’re right, there can be many positive consequences as a result of rational, selfish behavior.

      Are there real-world examples of these free societies?

      I haven’t read Molyneux before. I appreciate the link.

      • April 21, 2012 at 11:02 pm

        “…Are there real-world examples of these free societies?..”

        When you went about your day today did you initiate force against others to get your way? Did you, for instance, use a gun to hijack the bus, steal sandwiches for your lunch and blackmail people into accepting business from you at work?

        Hopefully not! And I bet nobody else around you did either. So there you go… we *already* live in an overwhelmingly free society. It is, after all, how most of us conduct all our transactions and all our relationships. The exceptions (rape, murder, theft etc) are so rare, and so universally condemned, that they make the news!

        The thing that stops our society being truly free is this thing which lurks at its very centre – in charge of just about everything. This unique group called a ‘government’. Their method of doing things is to initiate force and to violate other people’s property rights – which is the very opposite of how the rest of us conduct our lives.

        Governments (no matter who runs them) are, by definition, the spanner in the works which stop us from living in a truly free society….. or you could say they prevent us from enjoying and developing our already semi-free society to reach its full potential.

        When you think about it the state is a legacy of ancient history… and of a far more primitive and barbaric age. Not long ago Africans were still being kept as slaves, women were being burned as witches, children were sent up chimneys or down mines and wives were considered the property of their husbands! But we have moved on from these times and are all the better for it……. yet the state’s use of violence to extract money from us (taxes) and enforce its will (laws) persists, unchanged through the centuries (in fact governments have grown bigger!)

        Like slavery and burning witches the state also has to be discarded. As a society we have to move beyond it, if we are to progress (or even survive!) as a civilisation. It is simply immoral. It is holding humanity back ….. it is threatening our very survival as a species!!!

        These days we can configure our own personalised internet, TV, insurance (or whatever) services with a click of a mouse. We can pay bills online. We can share information and communicate around the world essentially for free. So why on earth do we still need an agency to steal half our earnings (with the threat of being thrown in a cage if we don’t pay) in order for them to then spend our money on the very things we all want anyway like roads, hospitals or refuse collection? Why can’t we just keep our money and pay for these things for ourselves – in a free and competitive market of services (rather than a government monopoly!)

        We have become a free society already in so many ways…. yet we are still not there yet. The state’s violence and theft is the last great obstacle in the way.

        As for Molyneux – I can’t recommend his books, podcasts and videos enough.

        Here’s a couple of his videos to give you a taste – they are short, concise and devastating!

        The Sunset of the State
        Good is Evil
        True News 11: Statism is Dead – Part 1

      • April 21, 2012 at 11:12 pm

        Thank you again! I will give Molyneux another chance.

  4. April 21, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    I read the first 27 pages of Molyneux’s book, and I don’t find it entirely compelling. Sorry about that.

  1. May 12, 2012 at 1:03 pm
  2. May 6, 2014 at 5:24 pm

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