No, Ayn Rand is not Compatible With Christianity

In a recent article over at TownHall.com, columnist Katie Kieffer argues that Ayn Rand’s economic philosophy of laissez-faire capitalism is compatible with Christianity.  In building her argument, Ms. Kieffer makes a number of missteps worth discussing.

First and foremost, I take issue with Kieffer’s primary claim. Pure capitalism (which Ayn Rand advocated) and Christianity are not compatible. To understand why, we must first understand the moral foundations for each system. Let me begin with Christianity. Christianity is based on altruism – the moral philosophy that posits man’s self-sacrifice to others is moral and good. St. Aquinas himself, which Kieffer even quotes in her article, claimed that we should love our neighbor more than ourselves in his Summa Theologica. Christianity’s affinity for altruism goes as far back as Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount and Sermon on the Plain. In large part, Rand’s rejection of religion in general and Christianity in particular was altruism, something Rand regarded as evil and self-destructive if practiced consistently.

Capitalism, however, rests on a different moral philosophy. In a true capitalistic society, individuals are free to trade with each other, value for value, on mutual grounds. Neither buyer nor seller act as master or slave, but instead as moral equals. This presupposes that men have individual rights sanctioning their life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness which can only be obtained by affirming one’s life as one’s highest value. Rand showed that in order to live, in order to obtain any value, reasoned action is required to gain and keep it. Man then plays the role of his own beneficiary, and that “any breach between actor and beneficiary necessitates an injustice: the sacrifice of some men to others, of the actors to the nonactors, of the moral to the immoral.”

Christianity accepts the morality of self-sacrifice, capitalism rejects it. Christianity necessitates selflessness, capitalism necessitates selfishness. Christianity places the welfare of others above one’s own, capitalism affirms man’s right to his own life. Kieffer makes the fatal error of attempting to marry Rand’s philosophical defense of capitalism with biblical altruism, when the two simply aren’t compatible.

Kieffer makes another error that is irresistible to ignore. In attempting to sooth fellow Christians of their contempt for Rand and her atheism, Kieffer says “If it is rational for Rand to believe (without proof) that God does not exist, it is also rational for a Christian to believe that God exists. Since both atheists and Christians are rational, atheism is unessential to being a capitalist.” This is a total misrepresentation of Rand’s atheism. Rand did not submit that her disbelief in God was an act of faith. In actuality, Rand strongly believed, based on metaphysical grounds, that a supernatural god does not exist. A full refutation of God’s existence is inappropriate here, but a brief argument in its favor is necessary.

Christian’s are quick to agree that God is not a natural creature floating somewhere in space and time. Being so would confine Him to natural laws of physics. God is necessarily supernatural, they claim. He exists beyond existence, beyond entities, beyond identity. However, Rand and her heirs were quick to point out that the very concept of the “supernatural” represents an attack on man’s knowledge – an assault on everything man knows about reality. “It is a contradiction of every essential of a rational metaphysics. It represents a rejection of the basic axioms of philosophy.” Keiffer champions reason, but ignores a major assault on reason – faith. Faith necessarily negates reason, to the follower’s detriment.

One last mistake by Keiffer is worth mentioning. “Rand,” she says, “may have been an atheist, but she embraced reason and natural law.” Rand’s conception of rights is far from naturalistic. We have rights, not because we are born with them or that they are innate within us. We have rights because they are necessary to survive in a social context. If we are to live our lives, enjoy liberty, and pursue our own happiness, we need the freedom to do so uninterrupted by others. Rights are then observations of reality and are dependent on context, not naturalistic abstractions that exist irrespective if you’re Saddam Hussein or Ayn Rand.

Ms. Keiffer is well-intentioned but severely misguided and lacking in understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of Rand’s philosophy. I would recommend a further study of Objectivism on her part, one that consists of both Rand’s fiction and nonfiction. Objectivism is no small pill to swallow; it is an entire philosophic system beginning with intense concepts such as metaphysics and epistemology which form the basis for others concepts like politics and economics. A rush to the later without an understanding of the former will make a fool out of anyone.

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Progressivism & Liberty

The narrative of the American experience throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century is marked by a steady increase of the scope, cost, and weight of government. The trend — marked by the birth of the welfare state, of extensive economic regulation, and supremacy of the concept of social justice — is defended by subscribers of a particular umbrella ideology called Progressivism. Such an ideology depends for its coherency certain political, moral, and philosophical assumptions which, as will be argued in this paper, are antithetical to the philosophy of America’s founding; that of Jeffersonian liberty.

Thomas Jefferson, in drafting the Declaration of Independence, enshrined a particular political philosophy congruent with man’s nature; that individuals were, by right of their nature as rational animals, endowed with inalienable rights to the destiny of their own lives. From that axiom grew corollaries like the right to be free of compulsion (liberty), to engage life as one sees fit (happiness), and to keep that which was rightfully earned (property). Thus, “government was instituted among men” for no other reason than to defend man’s natural right to his own life from any corner that may wish to infringe upon it. It was with this philosophical understanding that government was inconsequential to all rights-respecting individuals who kept to themselves or made voluntary agreements with their neighbors. Government’s role was negative in nature; to stop injustice, so justice itself could remain.

This philosophical foundation was reassessed however by the Progressive movement beginning in the late nineteenth century. The Progressive “consensus” was born by discontent with the first “big business,” the transcontinental railroad. Soaked in government subsidies by the passage of the Pacific Railways Act of 1862 [1], the railroad industry was encouraged to over-produce railways so much so to the point where supply far exceeded demand. Yet, instead of prices reflecting this new equilibrium, the monopolistic status granted to railroad corporations by the government assistance, allowed them to arbitrarily set prices.

From this experiment (of meddling in a free market), grew general discontent with the railroad industry in particular and laissez faire capitalism in general. It seemed at the time to many that the rich were getting richer at the expense of the poor; that unregulated capitalism had led to monopolistic conglomerates in the industries of rail and oil and now consumers were paying the (higher) price.

A call for reform echoed across the American landscape in favor of regulation at the Federal level, instituting welfare programs for the poor, and price controls in the forms of laws and tariffs. Herbert Croly, a Progressive intellectual and editor of the magazine The New Republic wrote in his seminal treatise The Promise of American Life:

…the traditional American confidence in individual freedom has resulted in a morally and socially undesirable distribution of wealth. [2]

How, one might ask, could a country in the span of a century go from such staunch individualism as exemplified by the writings of Thomas Jefferson, to varying flavors of Progressivism exemplified by author Herbert Croly?

This fundamental change came from the redefining of liberty as a concept. With the backdrop of the late 1800s, capitalism had seemingly left a majority of the people behind. Liberty as defined as the freedom from force seemed to lose favor. After all, went the narrative, it was the hands-off approach which led to monopolies and wealth inequality. Liberty then seemed not so passive; it required adjustment, adaptation, and progression to deal with changing realities of time. “Life is complex;” Woodrow Wilson would put it in 1912.

[T]he individual is caught in a great confused nexus of all sorts of complicated circumstances, and that to let him alone is to leave him helpless as against the obstacles with which he has to contend; and that, therefore, law in our day must come to the assistance of the individual. [3]

Liberty became a state of being, a standard of living. It became not just the ability to be left alone, but the ability to employ one’s own energies successfully. Wilson likened liberty to a perfectly operating machine, contending that liberty was achieved only when all parts were “associated most skillfully with the other parts of the great structure.” Thomas Jefferson’s “chaotic individualism,” as Croly put it, was far too focused on the wrong side of liberty’s equation. Paradoxically, according to the Progressives, the results of liberty, as opposed to the mechanics and architecture of liberty, defined liberty itself.

From this fundamental assumption (that individuals were entitled to equal results) came a series of policy prescriptions which included the promotion of the poor through welfare programs and the subjugation of the rich through regulation and high taxation; in other words, wealth redistribution. This was completely justified under the holistic reasoning; in order to save the many, a few needed to be sacrificed. To the Progressives, wealth was not tied to productive effort, but was a zero-sum game. The rich could only be so at the expense of the poor, and so these policies were justified in the new definition of liberty.

The year 1913 saw a wave of Progressive reforms on the national level take place; the establishment of the national income tax, direct election of U.S. Senators, and the establishment of the Federal Reserve system just to name a few. During World War I, the Progressives nationalized industries such as railroads and banned alcoholic beverages, two initiatives that would be overturned later by popular discontent — all in the name of fine-tuning the “great structure.”

The Federal Reserve would go on to artificially inflate the money supply which led to speculative bubbles throughout the rest of the century. The direct election of Senators largely removed the states’ ability to check the federal government. The national income tax, despite being reduced after the end of World War I, remained higher than before the war and remained the federal government’s primary source of income. [4]

Some of the consequences of this new chapter of government activity were obvious, like higher taxation and the meddling of natural economic forces. Some of the lesser known consequences however were the introduction of the apparatus for the state to choose winners and losers. By adopting the premise that the government could morally redistribute wealth, competition emerged to secure government favors, benefits, and privileges. J. Brian Phillips writing for The Freeman magazine put it perfectly.

In a capitalist society, in which the government has no control over the economy, there is no benefit to be derived from pressure group politics; in a collectivist society, in which the State controls the economy, pressure groups are a matter of economic survival. [5]

To illustrate this, consider the influx of lobbying in Washington between 1900 and 1920. During this decade known as the Progressive era, the U.S. saw the most interest group organizations form, including the US Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, and the American Medical Association. [6] Moreover, and in particular, the growth rate of non-profit interest groups was greatest during this period. [7]

Progressives, by expanding the state into the business of handing out taxpayer money, would cement the domination of capital to reign over and iniquitously influence politics (which they would later come to despise) giving legitimacy to bribery, blackmail, and cronyism.

These consequences have come to define the recent political discontent with Wall Street and Washington. Despite diverging policy prescriptions, the Tea Party movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement have a general agreement that over the years, the government has picked winners and losers, whether they be the petroleum or the “green” industry, and that such behavior is no longer desirable. But I digress.

The Progressive era reforms that came about during this period marked a tragic scene for liberty’s cause. Now subject to the premise that we were all our brothers’ keepers, that the individual lacked the rational faculties to navigate the complexities of life, and that capitalism was a force to be contained through regulation, liberty’s torch was drenched in a sea of taxation, wealth redistribution, and regulation. The American family would find its hard-earned wealth taxed away, now less free to invest in their future. The poor were rewarded with federal-assistance programs funded by taxes meant to pay for the legitimate roles of government, like a military and the police. Businessmen were now expected to burn the candle on both ends — to increase wages and benefits while simultaneously increasing employment, regardless of economic realities. They were now less free to operate their business as they saw fit.

Egalitarianism inherently circumvents liberty. By ignoring the natural heterogeneity of the human race, Progressives sought to impose equality where it naturally could not fit. Humans are unique in talent, skill, and culture. This uniqueness has allowed a division of labor into specialized groups that has brought untold wealth and prosperity to the entire race. It is this uniqueness, along with our rational faculties, that makes our race what it is. Circumventing that uniqueness has a substantial cost: the liberty of others.

Jeffersonian liberty, the bedrock of America’s founding, rests on the idea that individuals are means to their own ends, never the ends of others; that individuals should be free to engage in voluntary acts of mutual agreement with each other; and that they deserve that which they produce. Progressivism represents the antithesis of these simple concepts. Its dawning on the American polity during the turn of the nineteenth century brought about structural changes that gave rise to iniquitous lobbying that dominates politics even to this day; to the administrative state that continues to circumvent natural economic forces; and to a fundamentally new and perverted definition of liberty and America’s founding philosophy.

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[1] Library of Congress. Primary Documents in American History. June 30, 2010. http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/PacificRail.html (accessed November 2011).
[2] Croly, Herbert. The Promise of American Life, 21. Northeastern, 1989.
[3] Wilson, Woodrow. The New Freedom. 1912.
[4] National Taxpayers Union. History of Federal Individual Income Bottom and Top Bracket Rates. 2009. http://ntu.org/tax-basics/history-of-federal-individual-1.html (accessed November 2011).
[5] Phillips, J. Brian. “Capitalism at a Crossroads: 1875-1900.” The Freeman 37, no. 9 (September 1987): 348-351. http://www.thefreemanonline.org/columns/capitalism-at-a-crossroads-1875-1900/ (accessed November 2011).
[6] Hrebenar, Ronald J., and Bryson B. Morgan. In Lobbying in America: A Reference Handbook, 15. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2009.
[7] Walker Jr., Jack L. In Mobilizing Interest Groups in America: Patrons, Professions, and Social Movements, 63. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1991.

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Collectivism and the OWS Movement

The architecture of liberty is comprised of the same simple concepts illustrated by the Declaration of Independence — that man has a right to his own life, that individuals are sovereign entities entitled to the pursuit of their own happiness so long as such pursuits heed to the sovereignty of others. This individualism defines the standard for which society is to be evaluated. This is why the saying goes “justice is blind” in that the rule of law applies equally to all men, regardless of race, creed, religion, or stature; why we are free to buy or not buy goods based on our own needs and desires (i.e. free market capitalism); why we value such ideas as privacy, free speech, and uncoerced association. All of these stem from one singular concept: the sovereignty of the individual.

But the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement seems to have done away with individualism in their rhetoric. Instead, they plead for the alleviation of society’s needs, the woes of the 99%, the voice of the community. To the occupiers, it seems, America is a homogeneous organic body working in harmony towards a goal of loosely defined progress. Society is thus much like a symphony with individuals working together towards a single composition. When this holistic thinking becomes the standard of evaluation, it doesn’t seem so outrageous to sacrifice some parts to save the whole. After all, wouldn’t any sane person opt to surgically remove a cancerous tumor in order to keep living if given the choice?

We see this today with the words echoed in metropolis centers across America by the OWS — that the top earners in this country have unfairly acquired too much wealth; that corporations are sitting on trillions of dollars worth of capital they should be spending; that more social services like free Health Care are readily practical if only taxes were high enough, and so they should be — all in the name of society’s progress.

In the wake of Progressivism lies the shattered rights of individuals. The rich man suffers from the premise that he is not entitled to his wealth, society is. Businesses suffer from the premise that the jobs they provide aren’t theirs to adjust in times of economic turmoil, they are entitlements to society. Every taxpayer suffers from the premise that if they sacrifice their own happiness and an ever-growing portion of their paycheck to the state, its for the (morally) greater happiness of society.

Progressivism views individuals as a collective and treats it as such. As a result, liberty’s true definition gets muddled, sacrifice becomes a moral virtue, and individual rights become easy to brush aside. America was founded on the ideal of individualism because man’s right to his own life was an axiom based in nature, not a dated and malleable concept. Until the OWS movement embraces that axiom, their message will always be hard to swallow by individuals who value liberty.

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The President’s Half-Truths & Expired Theories

On Wednesday, Harvard’s campus newspaper The Harvard Crimson ran an opinion piece by the President addressing the economy and student loan debt. Unfortunately, the op-ed was riddled with flawed logic, inaccurate statements, and deficient ideology that the American people shouldn’t endure.

First of all, it is worth noting that state-centric approach the President has taken to solve the woes of our time. Speaking to his jobs proposals that did not fair well on the hill, the President said “the best way to attack our economic challenges and put hundreds of thousands of people back to work is through bold action in Congress.” The idea, and the hubris needed to accept it, that the federal government wields sufficient power over the fourteen and a half trillion dollar U.S. economy and can, at will, micromanage it back to health is a bit disconcerting. Such ideas stem from overconfidence in government action and a flawed understanding of a market economy.

Hubris aside, the President bolsters the case for his jobs bill by repeating a faslehood tackled by the watchdog group FactCheck.org. He says:

[…] it’s been so disappointing to see Republicans in Congress block jobs bills from going forward—bills that independent economists say could create millions of jobs though the kinds of proposals supported by Democrats and Republicans in the past.

According to FactCheck.org, “the median estimate in a survey of 34 economists showed 288,000 jobs could be saved or created over two years under the president’s plan.”

Secondly in his piece, the President addressed student loan debt with this:

Living with that much debt forces you to make some tough choices. And when a big chunk of every paycheck goes towards student loans, it isn’t just painful for you—it’s painful to our economy and harmful to our recovery.

Here, the President is insinuating that the economy is suffering from a lack of spending in the private sector as graduated college students make down payments on the loans with money they would have otherwise spent. Unfortunately for Mr. Obama (and for his Keynesian cohorts), that is not the case. According to economic data, personal consumption is at much higher levels today than prior to the recession. And furthermore, consumption is not the engine of an economy, it is production that makes wealth. We should be removing all barriers for the producers of this economy to continue and expand production. With one of the highest corporate income taxes in the world, mounting regulation, and massive deficit spending, accompanied with a growing movement in the downtown regions of many U.S. cities which demand further sacrifice from producers, it is no wonder why the economy is stagnant.

Progressives, such as President Obama believe in a perverted understanding of liberty.  According to them, liberty was not just the freedom from oppression by others, it was the freedom to achieve the most in one’s life — that all peoples were entitled to explore themselves and grow to be the best they can be. From this shore, progressives justified extraordinary breaches of individual liberty including the establishment of the welfare state, extensive regulation of commerce, and atrocious distributions of wealth.

The President seeks to accomplish the same thing as he echos the cries of the Occupy Wall Street hippies for the wealthy to “pay their fair share” in taxes in order to help the country eliminate its deficit problems; as he designs to spend more money we do not have on stimulus projects that do not work.

The President should not get carte blanche to propagate half-truths and expired economic theories. The President can do us all a favor by doing two things: instruct the federal government to move out of the way of the producers of this country and let the marketplace restore itself, and reconcile his progressivism with Jeffersonian liberty in favor of the later.

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Dogs, Ponies, & Gas Prices

All week this week, the federal government has focused on gas prices and oil industry subsidies in lieu of the summer driving season beginning this month. The House of Representatives has given themselves a stage for some ground thumping:

  • The House Oversight Committee is holding a hearing today entitled “Making the Gulf Coast Whole Again: Assessing the Recovery Efforts of BP and the Obama Administration After the Oil Spill.” Quite a mouth-full title to disguise an ear-full of saber rattling amounting to pretty much nothing.
  • Also today, the House Natural Resources Committee will demand the Obama Administration quicken the approval of air permits needed for Arctic drilling in Alaska. Never mind the fact that even with the approval of new permits, it takes at least a few years to get all the extraction equipment setup and ready for production… also amounting to very little for gas prices now.
  • The Energy Department is holding hearings on different natural gas extraction methods for on-ground sites. Not sure what this will accomplish either other than act as a soapbox for politicians.
Not to mention a whole slew of other pointless hearings that will serve nothing and no one:
  • Congressional Natural Gas Caucus Co-Chairmen Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and Dan Boren (D-Okla.) held an event on Wednesday on the role of states in regulating natural-gas drilling.
  • The Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on Tuesday on electric grid reliability.
  • The Transportation Committee held a hearing on Wednesday on the Environmental Protection Agency’s nutrients policies.
  • The Natural Resources Committee will hold a second hearing aimed at “identifying roadblocks to wind and solar energy on public lands and waters.”
  • The Science Committee examined “harmful algal blooms” on Wednesday.
  • The Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing Friday on legislation to ensure the country has a domestic supply of key minerals.
  • The Energy and Commerce Committee will take a closer look Friday at the administration’s regulatory review plans.
But, at the end of the week, at least we’ll have heard our elected officials make grandiose claims, some of which aren’t even true; claims that they will use in reelection campaigns to bolster their preferred stance on energy policy. So please do not be fooled by the dog and pony show on exposé in Washington. Do, however, understand that there is little Congress or the President can do to effect oil prices. As Lon Anderson said to Capital News Connection, “Really, there is very little that Congress can do. The price of fuel is really driven on the world market.” And remember, like I’ve pointed out before, speculators are not to blame either.
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Oprah’s Misguided Call for Servitude

With not a dry eye in the stadium, Oprah Winfrey — an iconic American phenomenon that has traversed the fruited cultural plane — said farewell to her daytime talk show audience and offered words of advice for her viewers. One particular kernel of advice she gave struck me. She said, “Start embracing the life that is calling you and use your life to serve the world.” (Emphasis added.) I have serious disagreement with this call for servitude that I wish to explain.

Implicit in Oprah’s comment was the notion that it is morally right for individuals to “serve the world” as opposed to serving themselves. Oprah has, in essence, encapsulated the altruistic morality perfectly — the morality that states humanity’s justification for existence is to serve others and that self-sacrifice is her highest moral duty. This is an evil moral code that views man as not a heroic being of rational capacity to accomplish the most complex and life-fulfilling of tasks, but as a sacrificial animal to be a slave to the common good.

Human life is a constant struggle. We must acquire food, shelter, and clothing for our bare necessities, but we must also live our life fulfillingly by accomplishing our goals, pursing our hobbies, and live healthy. Such objectives cannot be accomplished if our moral pursuits implore us to view the happiness of another person as good, but not our own happiness. Altruism is, at its root, the morality of suicide.

There is a common confusion that arises from this critique of altruism: should we not help others? Should we live a life of isolation, ignoring the needs of others? Altruism is not just the helping of others; it is the sacrificing of the self to others. Altruism is commonly confused with kindness, generosity, or benevolence, but those characteristics do not imply sacrifice. Altruism does.

If one is to believe in individual rights at all, one must believe in the sovereignty of the individual over their own actions. If humans were not sovereign people, if they were mindless automatons of random action, they would not be bearers of rights at all. Since humans are rational animals, and are indeed sovereign, it should then be to the discretion of the individual — with respect for that individual’s constant struggle for life — when kindness, generosity, or benevolence should be employed.

Oprah is not asking her viewers to help others as they see fit, she is imploring them to serve, which by definition involves self-sacrifice. So I have a better piece of advice for people, one that respects you as a person much more than Oprah does:

Your life is yours to live. It is your ultimate value, your everlasting project. It is full of trials and defeats, elation and success, but it is yours to live. So live it, and don’t just live it, live it flourishingly. Live life to the fullest your imagination and ability can take you. Pursue selfish interests like finding and loving a fulfilling partner; like surrounding yourself with family that make you feel loved and appreciated; like excelling in a career that makes you proud of yourself. You are the ends and the means.

Do not listen to Oprah’s misguided pleas for servitude and slavery. You are not obligated to serve me or anyone else. Your only moral pursuit, your only justification for existence is to live and enhance your life. And if kindness and generosity enhances your life, as it no doubt does Oprah’s, so be it. It’s your choice, not anyone else’s.

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Betting Against the End of the World

Edward Hudgins over at the Atlas Society published a great article regarding Harold Camping’s ridiculous prediction of the end of the world this Saturday. I couldn’t top him, so I thought I’d repost his article:

May 17, 2011 — Throughout human history and especially in recent centuries, cults of all kinds have predicted the end of the world. You’ve probably noticed that they’ve all been seriously wrong.

The latest such silliness has come from 89-year-old Harold Camping’s Family Radio network of 66 stations. Based on his study of the Bible, Camping calculates [3] that doomsday will be on Saturday, May 21, 2011.

Christianity is particularly prone to such nonsense. After all, the Book of Revelation is all about doomsday, though with details from a clearly delusional mind. The “son of man” appears out of the clouds with a two-edged sword coming out of his mouth: that makes it tough to eat and talk! He has seven stars in his hand: a star is a million miles in diameter and a million degrees at its core, making things pretty hot and crowded on the Earth. You get the picture.

American history is full of cults that saw no future for the world. Starting in 1843, William Miller and his followers predicted a dozen doomsdays. One would think that after the first few predictions failed, followers of the cult would disappear. Remarkably, more such cults and followers followed.

The problem is not only found in fringe Christian sects. The landscape of the twentieth century is littered with the failed predictions from a plethora of mystic and New Age groups. The members of the Heaven’s Gate flying saucer cult, to get ahead of the game, all committed suicide.

Rich Suckers

What is perhaps most disturbing about the adherents to cults that make such failed predictions or, more generally, are as crazy as March hares, is that they are not just the most poor, ignorant, or downtrodden in society.

The Heaven’s Gate members were mostly middle class and made money writing computer software. Scientology charges hundreds of thousands of dollars for their “courses” that in fact brainwash those naive enough to take them. Scientology’s victims must be smart enough to make enough money to pay the stiff cost in order to hear L. Ron Hubbard’s delusional alien fantasies. These dingbats count Fox talk show host Greta Van Susteren as one of their suckers.

And the Family Radio network has enough cash to plaster the country with the endtime ads. They’re apparently effective fundraisers.

Money and Mouth 

Here’s a deal you might offer all believers in end-of-the-world predictions. Don’t worry if you’ve missed the May 21 doomsday deadline. There will be plenty more opportunities with new predictions in the future.

Seek out those who mouth a belief that the world will end on a certain date. Confirm that they have assets and possessions—a house, car, savings account, and/or 401(k). Then offer to turn over to them assets of your own, valued at half or less of the value of theirs. They can use your assets to pass out copies of the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, The Late, Great Planet Earth, or whatever on street corners. They can buy TV, radio, Internet, or print ads to announce Armageddon. But on the day after they predict the world will end, title to all of their asserts and possessions will transfer to you.

If the world ends, they’ll have used your assets to promote their cause and their assets will do you no good as you wallow in fire and brimstone. In the nineteenth century members of some sects did give away all their possessions as they anticipated the end. Today few believers in such things actually put their money where their mouths are. Oh ye of little faith!

Big Blind Brains

Many such believers, especially those who hatch and propagate such nonsense, deserve to be countered with the weapon of ridicule. But such cases reveal a far more serious problem with the culture, one that is a major cause of both individual and societal ills.

Consider the report about Michael Finaldi, the 60-something-year-old head of Tele-Solution, a successful business in New Jersey. One watches with pain as this otherwise solid, responsible, individual talks about [4]how Harold Camping’s ravings have convinced him that the world will end on a certain spring weekend. It’s like watching a sound human mind descending into mental illness, a sickening tragedy.

We might simply observe that many otherwise sensible individuals have blind spots, and in the case of cult believers, those spots are huge. But in the twenty-first century, with all the marvelous products of the human mind evident, the continued existence and even spread of new cults suggest something deeper. And we see the same mindset on display in politics. How can people in Greece or in California really expect governments to continue to spend massive amounts of money that they do not have and have no way of getting?

Individuals must think for themselves and make up their own minds on every matter that faces them in life. But what does it take for us to activate our analytic abilities? We must have a firm understanding that reality is objective. We must have an unswerving commitment to seeking the truth, whatever it might be. We must not let comforting fictions lull us into mental illusions of our own making. We must not let preconceptions or an ideology blind us to reality. That goes double for those like Objectivists and Ayn Rand fans who explicitly advocate a philosophy of reason but can let this fact make them uncritical of their own beliefs because they assume that they have a monopoly on truth. We should acknowledge that the root of all immorality is the refusal to think, to focus our minds, to honestly seek to know.

To the extent that we can, we should try to shake the unthinking out of their blindness. But in the long run we must understand the importance of fostering a culture that places reason and truth first. It took centuries in the West for that Enlightenment culture to develop—a culture that produced the scientific revolution, the industrial revolution, and the political revolution that gave rise to the United States. In this way the past should be our path not to the end of the world, but rather to a better tomorrow.

Links:
[1] http://app.readspeaker.com/cgi-bin/rsent?customerid=5076&lang=en_us&readid=wookie&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.atlassociety.org%2Fnode%2F1837
[2] http://www.atlassociety.org/category/atlas-article-author/edward-hudgins
[3] http://www.familyradio.com/index2.html
[4] http://www.mediabistro.com/fishbowlla/california-family-radio-doomsday-craziness-spreads-across-america_b28604

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The Morality of the Obama Doctrine

The much anticipated foreign policy speech by President Obama this Thursday will likely be a more concise verbalization of the Obama Doctrine — a currently discombobulated foreign policy philosophy in much demand to be hashed out. The President will likely strike tones of ‘duty’ to fellow man, ‘sacrifices’ demanded on humanity’s behalf, and will wrap up the strategic posture of the United States in the Middle East during this Arab Spring.

But as we wait on the edge of our sofa cushions for Thursday, we shouldn’t expect much divergence from the President’s moral code of altruism — the code of morality that states man should place others above the self; that he has a responsibility not to his own well-being, but the well-being of others.

This morality plays out throughout the Libyan episode we witnessed this spring. The President spoke of “our responsibilities to our fellow human beings” and that to “measure our interests against the need for action” is an insufficient model and cannot be an excuse “for never acting on behalf of what’s right.” Aside from the fact that foreign policy’s only moral purpose is to serve American interests, what does the President mean by “what’s right?” Right by what standard? His standard is altruism.

In order to understand altruisms incongruence with foreign policy, we must first understand the nature and purpose of foreign policy. Thomas Jefferson once said, “It is to secure our rights that we resort to government at all.” What he meant was that because each individual enjoyed certain inalienable rights, and that if those individuals wished to live amongst each other peacefully, it became necessary to delegate the use of force and judiciality to a government in order to secure domestic tranquility from those who would violate our rights such as criminals, murders, and thugs.

Foreign policy is no different in principle. Criminals, murderers, and thugs may exist in the form of other states wishing to do violence against our rights. The government is then tasked, rightfully so, to defend our rights from foreign threat where ever those threats arise. It is not within the confines of foreign policy to frustrate the efforts of dictators, or to spread democracy at the barrel of a gun.

An altruistic foreign policy philosophy shifts the entire focus from the lives and rights it was established to protect, to the lives and rights of others that have no weight or practical significance to ours. At the expense of our tax dollars, our military, and our resources, we have engaged in an unbeneficial crusade for our “fellow human being.”

On Thursday, the President will defend his altruistic morality and attempt to wrap it nicely in the American flag and call upon us to accept it unquestioningly. But keep in mind the impulses of the American Revolution and the fundamental — and moral — purpose and scope of our government, and you shall not be fooled.

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Obama’s Energy Solution: More Government

President Obama took his weekly radio address to speak towards the growing gas prices across the country and offered a variety of solutions. The common denominator of most of his solutions however, was the direction of, funding from, and oversight by the federal government.

At the onset, President Obama announced the creation of a task force to search and destroy “manipulations in the market that might affect gas prices” with particular focus on speculators. Speculators have been the go-to escape goat on oil prices by both the left and right. Unfortunately, the President’s efforts are misguided. Speculators are those trained individuals who — with advanced knowledge of supply, demand, and the effects on each by current events — buy and sell oil at risk to themselves. If they speculate that in light of a new fervent uprising in Iraq or Nigeria will shake the production of oil, they will buy oil, increasing its price. If an oil company strikes a new bountiful oil well, they will sell, and prices will decrease. We rely on speculators’ insight and knowledge of the oil market to give us oil at its market price.

President Obama seems to view things differently. Such high gas prices shouldn’t be so, facts or market signals be damned. Instead, he seeks to root out, regulate, or annihilate the very components of the oil market that make it tick. Just as a contractor has the experience and know-how to complete a project on time and on budget, so too do speculators have the skill to buy and sell oil based on the facts of production. To assume the federal government could “resolve” anything related to speculation is an insulting irony.

Secondly, Obama seeks to expand domestic oil production, a step forward, but caveats such production with more regulation and misguided incentives, two steps backwards. The President wants to unleash new permits to oil companies for drilling off the coast of Alaska, but says in order to make the process streamlined, a new government organization is required. Such logic seems counterintuitive; how is it that more government bureaucrats and red tape will quicken leasing and not in fact slow it down? Moreover, the President wants to incentivize companies to drill in unused leases — leases that do not have production-worthy quantities of oil or gas. So while the president pushes for the end of oil subsidies, he’s more than willing to subsidize unproductive oil wells. Seems a little two-faced. The only thing different between “incentives” and “subsidies” is the name. The money still comes from you and me.

The President has taken a statist approach to solving the “problem” of high gas prices. Yes, gas prices are high, but oil is a limited resource subject to an infinite array of market conditions, current events, weather, and simple luck of the draw in drilling. To demand a set price based on nothing but wishes is anti-capitalist speak. Dictating prices didn’t work for Stalin, Lenin, or Brezhnev; it wont work for Obama.

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Time to End All Corporate Welfare

It’s of little surprise that House Speaker John Boehner rejected attempts to end oil subsidies, considering the entrenched ties the GOP and the oil industry share. Companies like Chevron, Exxon, and ConocoPhillips all donate large sums of money to overwhelmingly Republican candidates and PACs. Make no mistake, I believe campaign donations are a form of free speech, a right of which a company should not be excluded from. Further still, Republicans are not the only party tainted by special interests. Democrats themselves have invested interests in maintaining the favorable position of labor unions and green energy companies. My contention here is the perverse incentive that exists as a result of oil subsidies.

Consider this model: politicians use their political power to expropriate taxpayer money towards favored interests causing a cyclical phenomenon of continual handouts for continual electoral support. Not too hard to comprehend or deny, is it? But look further and find a inherently immoral and unconstitutional weave.

First of all, on what moral basis does the government have to donate our tax money to a specific industry or company? Aren’t businesses a competent of  the economy? Of a free market? Of capitalism? Shouldn’t those businesses succeed for fail based on the level of satisfaction they provide to their customers (as opposed to their preferred politician)?

Corporate welfare, then, undercuts you and I, the taxpayer and customer. For example, AT&T, the nations largest telecommunications provider, is in the process of eliminating its unlimited mobile data service plans. Call them indulgent, but many Americans (including myself) have become accustomed to not paying by the bite and will find little reason not to switch to one of AT&T’s competitors that does offer unlimited plans. In large enough quantities, customer drops in turn might persuade AT&T to upgrade or expand its infrastructure to compensate for larger bandwidths. But introduce federal subsidies into the equation and AT&T can compensate for this hypothetical precipitous drop in customers.

Subsidies distort market signals and rest on the premise that the government can invest capital better than the private market could. Government, however, lacks the same market signals that private capital markets benefit from. Private investors are much more capable in determining what products and services have the greatest return on investment.

Take a quick glance over the Constitution and you might have a hard time finding Congress’ ability to fund businesses or form public-private ventures with financial behemoths or automakers. Such moral hazards are a gift from the Supreme Court’s generous and far-reaching interpretations of the General Welfare clause (to which we tip our hats) which has allowed Congress to expropriate money that is rightfully supposed to go to little things like protecting our rights as Americans.

It’s high time we end corporate welfare; not just for oil companies, but for all companies; not just because of times of austerity, tough choices, or constitutional reawakening, but because morally, the government has little sanction to spend our money on favors.

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