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.