Friday, September 19, 2008

Freedom Or Public Good - Deciding The Evaluative Primary.

Noah Stahl presents an article in The Undercurrent titled ‘Enforcing “Constructive Behavioral Change”’ talking of a raging debate between a group of college Presidents and several other groups, among them are also the Mothers Against Drunk Driving on deciding whether the drinking age should be lowered to 18, the legally recognized age of adulthood. They argue that “twenty-one is not working” because it has “not resulted in significant constructive behavioral change among our students.” Both sides agree on the fact that reduced drinking is good and both sides are debating whose empirical study has the correct findings. Noah Stahl writes,

“Leave aside for now the factual claims of either side and consider the nature of the debate itself. On one side is a group arguing that current laws do not “work”, citing only empirical studies as evidence for their position. On the other side is a group arguing that current laws should be left alone, citing only empirical studies as evidence for their position. In fact, both sides have the same motive (reducing drinking), but only differ on what the “research” tells us is the best way to achieve it.”

Such events only foster the evidence, that when government officials all over the world are considering “what works”, their mind immediately translates it to the question – “Which controls work?” It does not matter to them whether or not the government has the right to force an individual to bypass his highest individual judgment. It does not matter whether men can be treated as animals by asking them to blur their choices and suspend their judgment. As Stahl puts it, “But such questions would likely strike advocates of either position as bizarre – there are no rights under consideration here, only desired behaviors.”

This is a classic case which once again shows the inability of all legislators all over the world to grasp the causal link of freedom, which as a secondary consequence leads to real “public good”. Legislators are more inclined to increase the pubic good without recognizing the base that is the cause of all good: freedom. It is important to note here that a person’s hierarchy of values matter with regard to any issue. One has to evaluate what are ones moral primaries and which is the secondary. In other words, it is important to consider which value is the causal value which leads to all other desired values. Leonard Peikoff in his book on Objectivism illustrates this point with an example of a swimmer. If a swimmers goal is to swim a long distance, then he will keep his body as calm as possible, swim in straight lines and conserve his energy. If, on the other hand, the swimmers goal is to exercise, he will swim at a greater speed, zigzag in direction and expend a lot of energy. The point is that the cause, the “why?” is most important as the effect has its root in the cause. The question, “Why am I swimming?”(cause) is what governs the swimmers behavior (effect). If the cause is not enacted properly, then the effect fails too.

Man like all other things around him has an identity and his identity demands freedom to think and act accordingly until and unless his individual judgment infringes the rights of another individual. Since man needs to preserve and safeguard his life, man has to think and for this to happen, liberty in thought and action must be preserved. It is a matter of historical record of how freedom has effected in large scale “public good” which was unimaginable by our forefathers. It is this reason why Objectivists cannot talk about freedom neutrally as they understand that the essence of freedom is the rapture and glory of aiming for the skies and reaching it.

The modern world constantly provides new technologies and techniques which requires the law has to lay down a framework to preserve the rights of the parties. For instance,punishing hackers or to enforce international contracts. Since there is room to maneuver while framing such laws, it the cause of freedom that must be emphasized or lionized upon if its “public good” that legistlators seeks. From Adam Smith to the present, all laws have been drawn up to meet the public good of the people while grudgingly accepting freedom as a necessary evil. As a consequence, legislators have emphasized on the social effect and minimized the individualist cause. While cutting back on the cause, they cry for “some controls” and later for more controls and end up wondering why numerous policies fail in spite of big money put into such programs. If any law does not take into consideration the scientific morality of man based on his metaphysical nature, it is bound to fail no matter what economics or laws one wishes to implement. By divorcing broad philosophic guidance and methods and by ignoring mans basic identity, no proper goal can ever be achieved. Communist China could serve as proof of the above (link). If the cause is corrupt, then the effect necessarily will be corrupt too.

In this context, it would be appropriate to put forth the statement by Hank Rearden, the industrialist in Atlas Shrugged who is charged with the breaking of a regulation which promotes public good while minimizing the individual effect. Rearden states,

“I could say to you that you do not serve the public good-that nobody’s good can be achieved at the price of human sacrifices - that when you violate the rights of one man, you have violated the rights of all, and a pubic of a rightless creatures is doomed to destruction. I could say to you that you will and can achieve nothing but universal devastation - as any looter must, when he runs out of victims. I could say it, but I won’t. It is not your particular policy that I challenge, but your moral premise. If it were true that men could achieve their good by means of turning into some men into sacrificial animals, and I were asked to immolate myself for the creatures who wanted to survive at the price of my blood, if I were asked to serve the interests of the society apart from my own-I would refuse. I would reject it as the most contemptible evil. I would fight it with every power I posses. I would fight the whole of mankind, if one minute were all I could last before I was murdered. I would fight it in the full confidence of the justice of my battle and of a living being’s right to exist. Let there be no misunderstanding about me. If it is now the belief of my fellow men, who call themselves the pubic, that their good requires victims, then I say: The public good be damned, I will have no part of it!” (Bold added)

Capitalism virtue as a social system does not lie in the fact that it primarily serves the public good. Instead, its virtue rests on the cause of freedom that makes any good possible - the achievement of values. The charge that capitalism is “cruel” is true in its entirety – it forces an individual to take the responsibility of his life knowing fully well the effects of tampering with freedom.


trishula said...

Assuming that you don't quite approve of the govt exceeding its authority by regulating or imposing age constraints with regard to consumption of alcohol,i go ahead to make this particular comment on your post. If the Govt doesn't impose any such age restrictions on the public, there is a very good possibility that the following could be consequential to such an abstention:
- There could be uncontrolled instances of accidents caused due to drunken driving.In such cases the victim could be the drunkard , or it could be somebody else who has to pay for the negligence of the drunkard. such drunken-driving may also cause damage to the public property. So isn't it the only sensible thing that a Govt can do..? To regulate and impose certain controls to avoid any possible damages - because, here , if the drunkard is allowed infinite freedom he is putting at risk not just himself but his victim and as the case maybe, any public property.Also, the age bar restrictions are not meaningless.These restrictions are not based on any hypothesis, but are built on empirical evidences , that at a certain stage man attains maturity of mind and is capable of making fully sane decisions .. and hence the age constraints ! After all , it is the Govt's duty to protect the interests of one and everybody, Because, once the drunkard sets-off on his road rage, his freedom better be finite .

trishula said...

So well , when you speak of an individual having full freedom of action , it sounds heroic or fully moral only in the theoretical sense. In practice or in reality , the dimensions of freedom are situational . Hence, the boundaries of freedom , I believe cannot be generalized. When an Individual is actively involving himself or is engaging himself in a society or a group or a crowd , his freedom has to be regulated.If such a choice is openly left to the Individual himself, it maybe manipulated or misused by him in entirely his favor , which maybe inconvenient to the rest of the Individuals acting around him. So as a matter of convenience to every Individual, there must be a single regulating body that defines the limits.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

I was also troubled by the context of the college presidents against MADD etc., but had not framed it as clearly in my mind as you had framed it.

If a person is an adult at 18, then he or she must have the liberties of an adult and also the responsibilities. The problem with the college presidents and the MADD activists both, is that they believe that they can legislate these responsiblities with external, a priori controls, and in so doing, they create a situation in which the so-called adults do not act responsibly. Why? Because they have been taught that control comes from the outside, and that they are not held responsible if they evade the controls.

It would be better that we exact a high social price on drunken behavior--since we are expecting college students to act like adults--and a high legal price on behavior that violates the rights of others. In this way, most individuals will learn to behave responsibly through suffering the social consequences, or the legal consequences if they actually violate the rights of others. There will be a few who continue to behave badly--this is the risk that comes with freedom--but most people learn to control their behavior through consequence. By adulthood, those controls will be internal. And those who do not learn, will be removed from society by the legal consequences of their actions.

Communities will benefit as an effect of the primary purpose: to hold people responsible for their behavior on the social level (approbation) and on the legal level (legal consequences for violating the rights of others).

I think trushula has misunderstood your argument here; it goes beyond pragmatics to the moral issues of liberty and responsibility.


khartoum said...


You said, "Assuming that you don't quite approve of the govt exceeding its authority by regulating or imposing age constraints with regard to consumption of alcohol,i go ahead to make this particular comment on your post."

I did not contend that the government has no right to impose a minimum age bar for consumption of alcohol. A child does not have the right to drink beer as much as he does not have the right to vote. I took objection with the whole issue because the government had taken for granted that it had the right to "reduce" drinking without considering whether an 18 year old was mature enough to handle decisions as adults given his metaphysical identity.

It is true the government should prohibit minors from drinking, but while deciding who is a minor, it should take into consideration whether an 18 year old is a kid or an adult (for both the purposes of drinking and voting). In short, there must be a discussion on fundamental principles of human nature, not a series of studies conducted for enforcing "constructive behavioral change" to reduce drinking. The thing to consider here is whether an 18 year old can be considered an adult for any purpose. The government should not be enforcing its view of reduced drinking on people to whome consuming liquor is a value. Instead, the whole focus should be on the fact whether an 18 year old can make adult like judgments given his metaphysical nature.

If we decide that an 18 year old can think like an adult given his metaphysical identity, I don't see why there would be "uncontrolled" instances of accidents resulting from drunk driving. Millions of adults drive safely everyday. It must be discussed whether an 18 year old has the capacity to think like an adult and if does, then he should be left free to do things adults do.

There must be a discussion on whether it is "right" to award an 18 year old the status of an adult given his metaphysical identity. If awarded, then he should be treated like an adult and left free to pursue his values.

trishula said...

Agreed with Hannah to a certain extent.All that I wanted to convey was that, it wouldnt mean violation of an Individual's freedom if the Govt. imposed certain controls,like in the case of consumption of alcohol.It would only mean regulation of an Individual's freedom when acting among other groups of individuals, or in a public place.
However,I dont see how or understand why the moral issues of liberty and responsibility go beyond pragmatics. Anything thats beyond pragmatism is a self-evident failure of the philosophy that advocates such ideas that are incapable of application on the practical front.If u meant to imply that moral issues of liberty & responsibility are broader concepts,well then I agree.But i don't believe they are beyond pragmatism.

@ Ramana :
So,is your argument that once an -individual has attained adulthood,his freedom shouldn't be regulated?