The Ethics of Rational Self-Interest and Randian Man

An astonishing phenomena in our present era is that hagged reincarnation of egoism (“rational self-interest”) as a basis for ethical conduct; a perspective, to which all too many American ‘Christians’ attempt to syncretize against their diametrically opposed religious ethic/ethos; a Macbethian witches’ brew, to which even leading theologians timidly soft-pedal their opprobrium.

To be fair to Ayn Rand, the modern progenitor of this ethic; it is an approach at arriving at ethical principles and values, starting from personal interest and preference as arbiter. She presumes that because what happens to society or the world at large, does affect the fortunes of the individual, the enlightened individual will be motivated to understand, cope with and shape the social environment in the best interest of him and perhaps all.

It must be remembered that Rand is responding in pendular fashion to the oppressive travesties and atrocities of statism (Russian Revolution) and self-abnegating forms of Christianity (Catholic/Orthodox Kantianism, which are inconsistent with Biblical Christianity1). It is not unlike Augustine’s overzealous asceticism, reacting to his previous life of lascivious debauchery. Rand is good at locating the profound folly and evil within collectivism. But like those Jehovah Witnesses that show up at one’s door, her cure is just as bad as or worse than that, which she despises and declaims.

It is ironic that the sales of Ayn Rand’s books have risen inordinately after the Financial Panic of 2008 and its recessionary aftermath. For, it was the spirit of Rand, which permeated the fiscal system, which significantly contributed to that Panic. The Rand ethic advocates that the limits of one’s moral obligations ends at oneself and one’s own. To give consideration of another encourages moral imperialism (statism) on one side and parasitic behaviour on the other. Thus Cain’s declaration, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”2, has special resonance with Randian libertarians. One seeks one’s best rational interests on the presumption that one’s counterparty is competently doing the same. So long as neither party is blatantly violating a circumscribed standard of morality, this transactional form of justice is just; so it is claimed.

However, this purposefully naive and obtuse perspective on human nature and the human condition presupposes that we are all born with roughly equivalent knowledge, intellect, wisdom, ethical standards and economic and social and other forms of leverage. This is obviously not true. Thus, this Randian ethics gives intellectual cover and moral justification for the cunning and unscrupulous to devour widows’ houses “with the approval of their own conscience”3.

From the perspective of Randian man, this ethic lends to myopia of view. He begins with his concerns and only those concerns beyond himself, which directly affect him. As demonstrated in the Financial Panic, his unbrotherly attitude toward his transaction partners blinds him to their perils and pains, which he discovers can sweep their effect over his own well-bearing. He wins the sum-zero financial poker transactions but cannot collect on his winnings because he has bankrupted his counterparty. Similarly, corporate leaders press their organic economic advantage at the expense of their employees in order to improve their proportion of the economic pie and productivity gains; eventually choking off the source of future revenues and profits, which are their employees in the role of consumers. In this myopia, the intrinsic proclivity of the Randian man to neglect understanding and practicable concern for the big picture; for social concerns and dynamics, which do not directly affect him; are neglected until the tsunami of such developments builds and overturns his own well-being. The Randian perspective proves to be its own worst enemy.

More ominously, the underlying ethos of self-love cannot inspire others to perform beyond that, which has been agreed upon or squeezed from in cold and barren, mercenary transactions. Mutual love, loyalty and concern, which imply going requirement to hold each other up; this is beyond the syntax and semantics of these colorless and soulless wraiths. They are, however, not beyond exploiting the folly of those who would give them such fealty and loyal generousity. Thereby, this self-love is contagious. For, who wishes to give beyond to that other who sees life as a sum-zero game and is constitutionally unwilling to give beyond?

It is formula for societal entropy as each individual goes their own way and only comes together in common causes with his counterparts if and only if, after calculating the personal risk/reward, it proves immediately profitable. This mindset often spawns treachery toward his community in private accommodations to that community’s enemies. The Randian mercenary always has his price. And in atomistic isolation and subsequent weakness, the wealthy and powerful predator, whether corporatist or statist, can pick off human wildebeests one by one. Or in the inherent weakness due to lack of social cohesion and unity, external enemies invade and conquer.

Endnotes:

  1. Whereas the New Testament teaches a balancing of interests (“Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” Philippians 2:4), the Catholic rendering suggests an obligatory self-denial surrender of one’s interest to others. Thus mothers in labour must sacrifice their lives in favour of the child. (This is not to suggest that a mother should not sacrifice herself. However, there is a difference between an act of obligation and an act of grace. And a sacrifice for a new-born might be imprudent and morally questionable if it means the loss of the mother for the other children in the household.) There are Scriptural enjoinments for self-denial. However, understanding of those passages is a lot more sophisticated and nuanced than the all too simple-minded formulations by Hellenist Christianity.
  2. Genesis 4:9
  3. C. S. Lewis, “God in the Dock”, 1970, p. 292. This is a deliberate misuse of Lewis’ famous statement about moral busybody tyranny to demonstrate that even the robber baron can be guilty of similar self-righteousness.
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The Unfalsifiability of All Forms of Determinism

So, when I say that my choice between apple pie and pumpkin pie is determined, what I mean to say is that whatever choice I end up making is the choice I was going to make, ceteris paribus.

Oracle: I’d ask you to sit down, but, you’re not going to anyway. And don’t worry about the vase.
Neo:       What vase?
[Neo turns to look for a vase, and as he does, he knocks over a vase of flowers, which shatters on the floor]
Oracle: That vase.
Neo:       I’m sorry…
Oracle: I said don’t worry about it. I’ll get one of my kids to fix it.
Neo:       How did you know?
Oracle: Ohh, what’s really going to bake your noodle later on is, would you still have broken it if I hadn’t said anything?1

In my search for materials on another matter, I bumped against this post, which even if I am of the opinion of the blogger’s  error; he, at least, exhibits a rational clarity and coherence while expressing that error. In a world exuding with muddleheaded thinking; clarity of thought, which often requires pinpointing the central crux of the argument while dismissing all the superfluous flak, is a gift to the beholder.

This has been a matter, I have meant to be give expression to, for some time; having relevance in the Arminian-Calvinist controversies as well as in the physicalist (materialist) conceptions of determinism (i.e. physiological / medical model of mind). It is one, in which I had to sink deep into madness to comprehend. And I have known a few, in this day and days gone by, who have stumbled into this intellectual labyrinth, causing great psychological distress, over issues related to deterministic thought.

One ought to first divorce the principle of determinism from its theistic or naturalist underpinnings to clarify the argument. For, the determinism, which this blogger (Jared) upholds in defense of Sam Harris’ “Free Will” (2012) sophomoric exposition, is a mirror image of at least, a milder form of HyperCalvinism.

The analogy that Jared uses above, seeks to refute a misunderstanding of Sam Harris’ determinism. That misunderstanding questions the utility of morality and moral persuasion if the underlying physiological (neurochemical) brain state determines our conduct. Jared (and presumably Sam Harris) suggests that external phenomena (i.e. other people’s moral arguments) have causal effect on our inner subjective consciousness (qualia) and the neurochemical interactions that undergird that consciousness. Thus, we ‘change’ our mind in accordance to the changes in our “mind state/brain state”, which are consequent to these external inputs and their processing within the mind.

Jared summarizes this. “The state of the universe at any given moment contributes to the state of the universe in the very next moment by way of a set of causal relationships.” And thus while a person actually feels that he/she is willing the conduct on the basis of his/her thoughts, feelings, desires and motives etc, those underlying subjective faculties are subject to impetuses beyond the individual’s control.

I am, admittedly, simplifying the dynamic; which might suggest that this process reduces to Skinner’s knee-jerk behaviorism, which has long been officially discredited within neuroscience and psychiatry; although modified forms of it are still essentially practice (i.e. exposure therapy). The prevailing wisdom amongst adherents of philosophy of mind and neuroscience sees the mind as a Functionalist mediator between sensory inputs and behavioral outputs. However, this mediating mind processor, in the credentialed opinions within these disciplines, acts too much like a set of algorithmic (mechanistically logical) subroutines. Having been a computer programmer and having to become an in-depth introspective journalist of my own motions of mind and heart, I can attest that the logical (psychological) level of the mind and the logic level of the computer are little alike (a later project).

However, setting aside all the incoherence and absurdities of the physiological (medical) model of mind, any perceptive Calvinist will recognize this description of Harris’ determinism as “free agency”. One has free will to the extent that one acts according to the mental state to which one is accorded at the present moment. In this, the will is directly connected and subject to these other subjective faculties. This idea is inherent in one variant of Divine Command Theory. Jehovah cannot do evil because His nature will not allow His will to countenance it. And thereby, such proponents have created a philosophical god of the algorithm; more akin to Plato’s “The One” than that of the Jews.

However, my argument is that this formulation of determinism is not falsifiable at a rational, empirical and experiential level. Indeed, any concerted attempt to prove it will “bake your noodle” as I found out in the depths of mental distress. The opening citation of this blog entry was rightly criticized by a commentator as being a tautology or circularity of logic. I bumped against this when I was ‘tempted’ to defy the “irresistible grace” of God.

One has a decision to make. There are a myriad of overwhelmingly persuasive reasons to do A, and absolutely no rational or self-interested reason to do non-A. And there are strong emotive and psychological impulses to do A as well. However, in order to prove that I am not determined (in this case by ‘free agency’, ultimately directed by a Sovereign God; although the subjective conscious faculties and their neurochemical underpinnings can equally apply), I consider to do non-A. There are absolutely no other reasons to do non-A than to prove my independence of will. Will I have broken the spell of that “irresistible grace” or irresistible neurochemically-induced psychological impulse?

The problem is that if I did perform non-A, it can equally be suggested that my irrational decision was predicated on another and prevailing set of internal impulses or reasons. And thus whether I chose A or non-A, my decision can be construed as having been determined. I have no criteria to prove it otherwise. For as Jared said above “what I mean to say is that whatever choice I end up making is the choice I was going to make. And thus as Karl Popper complained about the proponents of ‘scientific’ socialism and ‘psychoanalysis’, determinism is not a falsifiable proposition. It is dogma.

From the perspective of the Calvinist, it is fundamental to understand that even if we believe in the tenets of The Doctrine of the Sovereignty of God, we cannot and are never to operate at the level of.

Endnotes:

  1.  Andy and Lana Wachowski, “The Matrix”, 1999

Twilight of the Judiciary

The de facto U.S. Constitution has dramatically changed from its original conception and understanding, largely through the sleight of hand sophistries and casuistries of jurists; who have connived through judicial review (Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803)) to eventually usurp and concentrate power into their lawless hands, under which no legislation escapes their purview. They have become the effectual inheritors of King Charles I; nullifying at will, the Sovereign Will of the People whenever they deign that that Will does not accord with their self-regarding Reason.

Jurists are the Talmudic Pharisees of political Constitutions, through whose myriad judicial traditions and interpretative principles, they set aside democratic will. They obfuscate the plain rendering of words; making what is, not; making what is not; is. The dissonance between what law and constitutions plainly state and the current practicable renderings by these lawless jurists, discredits the law and administration of justice and bringing it into disrepute; systematically nourishing contempt for rule of law and consensual abeyance to the laws of the land by its citizens and subjects. From their quill of hermeneutical tricks, they can and do selectively contrive to produce legal outcomes that conform to their capricious preferences and prejudices. In one jurisdiction, States rights will trump Federal jurisdiction; in another, the reverse; in order to arrive at foregone conclusions conforming with the ideological hegemony within the legal priesthood.

Through “it is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is”1, the law becomes opaque and inscrutable; the Secret Will of Jurists, to which no other person is privy aforehand. In inscrutability, a fundamental principle of justice has been violated. It becomes a crap shoot. Thereby, inscrutability becomes the vehicle by which the wealthy and powerful, those with deep pockets who can afford the cleverest of lawyers and thoroughgoing of legal staff to oppress those less endowed with wits or resources to purchase wits.

Instead of being interpreters of the constitutions, they have exalted themselves above constitutions; judging the constitutionality of constitutions under the discretion of their rational competence; which is in effect, their sociopolitical preferences. If Constitutions be a military General and judges their supposedly faithful subordinates; the latter have deigned to disqualify the clear commands of their general through obfuscation and sophistry. They are in effect traitors. And thus, the power and authority of the judiciary must be severely circumscribed; their representatives given political beheading; even if through extra-constitutional means; since the de facto constitution has become a lawless, inconsistent and unjust jumble, courtesy of these criminal jurists; since the de facto constitution is the very hands of these criminals of syntax and semantics.

It is lost on these glorified lawyers, overconfident in the power of pieces of paper and the words inscribed therein and their sly ability to manipulate them, that their own pretensions to the Commanding Height of political authority rests ultimately on moral authority and consent of the governed. Judiciaries do not command armies nor have they been known to successfully conscript private ones. Alphabets, syntax and semantics make lousy soldiers; especially if one has corrupted their plain meaning and enervated the confidence that a populace can place in them. It is only a matter of time before men with chests will challenge these usurpers and Pretenders. In that elected officials have shriveled testicles, it will probably and unfortunately be autocratic tyrants that decapitate the pretensions of judiciaries.

This is not a prescriptive polemic; but a descriptive warning. God forbid should I ever leave a principled pacifism. For, if it is written “what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul”2, even one’s soul is worth far more than the saving of the world, were it even possible. However, like Darwin in his book “Descent of Man”, who could perceive the clear and incontrovertible logic of eugenics on the premises of Natural Selection evolution, yet could not bring himself, at least publicly, to advocate it, I can see and foresee the historical progression and rational and psychological logic of Marbury v. Madison, as did Jefferson. And as student of history, it is advised that should the judiciary not rein in their pretensions, their pretensions will eventually be reined in by others. However, in this, it will be a sign and hallmark that free civil society and politics have come to an end.

Endnotes:

  1. Chief Justice John Marshall, Marbury v. Madison, 1803
  2. Matthew 16:26

Knowledge of Sin and Transgression: At Least as Concept

That humanity has an intrinsic ‘moral sense’, few deny. Even physicalists (i.e. Jesse J. Prinz) gratingly concede that “Like language, religion, and art, morality seems to be a human universal.”1 Of course, such persons, in zealous piety to their naturalist dogma, repudiate this universal attribute as having any objective reality. Like the religious ‘instinct’, such devotees advance unsubstantiated (or spuriously substantiated) claims that morality “is a [mere] byproduct of capacities that were evolved for other purposes. Morality is a spandrel…The fact that our lives are thoroughly permeated by norms may be an accident.”1 However, in light of the universality of this ‘moral sense’, at scientific levels of confidence, the ‘supposedly’ rationalist and empirically minded demonstrate an astounding abundance of irrationality.

Any skepticism as to the universality of knowledge of the concept of sin and transgression, conscience, judgment and all the other accruements of ‘moral sense’ in this Postmodernist (or Post-Postmodernist) era might be quickly laid to rest by a nasty little work by a British climate change organization 10:10. A little video clip called “No Pressure”, produced by “Britain’s top comedy screenwriter Richard Curtis”2 (Four Weddings an a Funeral, Notting Hill, Love Actually, and the Mr. Bean sitcom) would have all individuals, of all ages, self-exploding with blood splattering, for failing to commit to and practice a reduction of their carbon footprint by 10%.

It is interesting that the reporter and many of the comments posted in a left-wing newsmedia’s website a left-wing newsmedia’s website (The Guardian) excused, welcomed and applauded the sentiments in the video. That is, prior to the public opprobrium that caused the original 10:10 organization to withdraw the video from public view within hours. For, one can detect in the deep recesses of the heart of such dogmatic disciples of AGW, a ‘moral sense’ that could legitimately be labeled pathological; lacking proportionality over the issue and towards their fellow man.

Nevertheless, the gory fantasy contained all the elements of ‘moral sense’; of an ideal or standard to aspire towards, of rules and regulations engineered to attain that idea, of violations and transgressors, of judgment, condemnation and the punishment of extermination out of opprobrium and intent to deter others. Even the retraction of this politically-obtuse AGW political organization, ostensibly contained elements of “moral sense” and acknowledgement of ‘sin’.

At 10:10 we’re all about trying new and creative ways of getting people to take action on climate change. Unfortunately in this instance we missed the mark. Oh well, we live and learn.2

Even the cult of tolerance and intellectual/moral/cultural equivalence finds it impossible to escape ‘moral sense’ in not willing to tolerate the intolerant; that is; in condemning those who fail to acknowledge and abide by their ethical ideal and standard and their definition of tolerance.

It is not a matter that the current era does not understand the concept of sin and transgression. It is merely that their ethic/ethos differs from Christian, classical and traditional norms. Contained in the 10:10 organization’s retraction, the very clause missed the mark is the very essence of the definition of sin. Neither sin (definition: coming short, missing the mark) nor transgression (definition: overstepping a boundary/limit) are alien concepts to the mind of humanity. It is simply impossible for humans, being in the image of God, to escape this psychological propensity and studiously remain morally-neutral for long.

Endnotes:

  1. Jesse J. Prinz, “Against Moral Nativism”, September 2004
  2. Damian Carrington, “There will be blood – watch exclusive of 10:10 campaign’s ‘No Pressure’ film”, The Guardian, Thursday, 30 September 2010, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1317079/Richard-Curtis-exploding-schoolchildren-climate-change-video-withdrawn.html