Saturday, July 22, 2017

Symbolater Syndrome, Pt. 4 of 4

or, Those Who Destroy a Great Value As They Perform Gestures That Symbolize Preservation of That Very Same Value

Stuart K. Hayashi

Due to the length of the original “Symbolater Syndrome” article, I am serializing it into four parts. This is Part Four of Four. 

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Entire Essay on One Page

On the very day that Anders Breivik murdered other Norwegians, alt-right propagandist Onar Åm made this remark
visible to several hundred people, most of them in the same clique that was reinforcing the suicidal
and self-mutilating gestures of my friend. The context behind all this shall be elaborated upon below.

Objectivism Versus Symbolaters Who Call Themselves Objectivists
I’m much less conspicuous and loud about announcing my interest Objectivism today than I was when I was sixteen . . . exactly because I’m more fanatical about it today than I was back then. To me, studying Objectivism is selfish — it’s about what I get out of it, and therefore I put more priority on learning about it on my own private time than I do on proselytizing about it to others. To the degree that I have ever enjoyed trying to explain it to someone else, it mostly came from the challenge of trying to phrase the arguments in my own way. My trying to put it in my own words was often a test that helped me gauge which aspects I did and did not understand, and it also helped bring to my attention which points I was unclear on.

Unfortunately, too many people on social media who call themselves Objectivists are more interested in something else. It seems that too many of them are pathologically grouchy men (there are pathologically grouchy women too, but mostly men) who are at levels of accomplishment no better than mediocre, but who seem to believe they are promoting Objectivism by posting an endless stream of right-wing propaganda that they tout as confirming their perpetual fear that Western Civilization, having been corrupted from within, is on the verge of collapse. Usually these so-called Objectivists stress that the coup de grace to the West will be delivered by undocumented Hispanic immigrants or by Arabs. Oh, yes, there are the tiresome postings that go on all day long about one’s hatred for Arabs and Muslims — yes, I understood your hatred for self-described Muslims in general the first thousand times you said it.

Often these grumps focus on everything they think is wrong, and when an accomplished Objectivist focuses on something positive, the grumps will try to put a damper on it. When Yaron Brook speaks of his admiration for the great feats performed in Silicon Valley, the grumps denigrate it by saying that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are all wrong in politics, as if this diminishes their discoveries in science and engineering. Another example is that when some Objectivist girl in university would praise the fiction of J. K. Rowling, the grumps would come along and denigrate J. K. Rowling for her politics. Upon seeing this, I thought, What? The girl wasn’t even defending J. K. Rowling’s politics; she was praising J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Indeed, many of the grumps patrol social media and, when they catch someone phrasing some idea in a way that Ayn Rand would not have phrased it, they pick a fight and “correct” that person. One of them, a ungentleman named Anders, spent hours and hours — then stretching into days and days — on the same thread, going back and forth in a futile “flame war.”

Anders is typical of a symbolater — in his philosophic postings, he has introduced no new ideas; what he says is pretty much repeating stuff Ayn Rand said . . . when he isn’t promoting stuff from right-wing websites that are often inconsistent with Objectivism. In the case of symbolaters, even the phrasing is unoriginal. Someone who has internalized Objectivist ideas and retains such ideas because, upon much reflection, he judges them to be correct, is able to phrase those ideas in his own words; even as he explains or paraphrases someone else’s ideas, he is able to do so in his own unique voice. By contrast, because symbolaters are simply reciting what they have memorized, a symbolater is quite conspicuous when he tries to proselytize Objectivist ideas. As soon he starts saying what Objectivism’s message is, the symbolater’s writing no longer reads as if it’s in his own voice; the phrasing, word choices, and “voice” come off as a knockoff of Ayn Rand. I’m not so worried about that among teenagers who recently learned about Ayn Rand, many of the same phrases and expressions that are idiosyncratic to Ayn Rand’s writings (such as “whim-worship” and “the death premise”) frequently pop up; it is understandable that such adolescents are still trying to find their own voice. But when an old man suddenly starts proselytizing and he sounds as if he’s just repeating Ayn Rand’s favorite phrases, that’s another story.

In multiple postings each day where they tout the impending apocalypse brought on by North African immigrants and refugees, the grumps appear to be engaging in their own symbolic ritual. The endless hysterical postings are actually purported to convey the grouchy posters’ loyalty to Objectivism; they claim this is their method of promoting Objectivism. But it often looks more like another highly negative and self-destructive habitual ritual: the habitual ritual of some adolescent girls to use a blade to inflict cuts on their own wrists.

When adolescent girls cut themselves regularly, that is often a ritual, though, as with most of the case studies I have mentioned, the symbolic meaning is usually not in their conscious minds. The implicit purpose of the self-cutting is to perform some gesture indicating that one can still exercise some control over her life. The self-cutter inflicts pain and physical damage upon herself, but she rationalizes that at least it is pain and physical damage she controls, in contrast to most of the pain she previously experienced, which was imposed by other people and was therefore outside of her control. Of course, whatever control these people claim from the self-cutting is fleeting. In the long run, they ultimately cede control and autonomy because they let the morbid gestures take over — they feel that they must continue the ritualistic morbid gestures regularly to feel “functional” and “all right.” This is a ritual that symbolizes a short-term reclaiming of control when, in the long term, control over oneself is sacrificed.

I fear that the regular pessimistic postings of many people who call themselves Objectivists serves a similar function. The regular pessimistic and apocalyptic postings help those people feel that, for a while, they can exercise some control — while they cannot control all of the insanity that goes on in the rest of the big bad world, at least they can control what they say about it on social media. But the habitual expressions of pessimism and paranoia take over, and, in this respect, an actual long-term recognition of one’s control and responsibility for one’s life ends up being sacrificed.

As Aristotle pointed out, the basis of learning is observation. In effect, going around social media and picking fights is not a winning strategy for creating a more rational society.

I knew a very eccentric woman who was a student in the classes of a rather unusual free-market theorist, a rocket scientist-turned-lecturer on capitalism. She was misguided in many respects, but she told me something that has always stuck with me. One day I asked her why she didn’t talk much about what that rocket scientist’s ideas on free markets. She said,

The most effective method of teaching the importance of having a live-and-let-live society isn’t going around starting arguments. You demonstrate your principles primarily by living them. Converse and write about these topics if you want, but that is secondary at best. Most vital is living by these principles consistently in your normal daily life. I was once with a group of people who knew of my disapproval toward what one of my neighbors was doing. My neighbor was defying a particular ordinance, and I easily could have gone to the authorities and snitched on him. My friends then wanted to know why I didn’t do so. I replied that while I didn’t approve of my neighbor’s behavior, I approved even less of using government force to punish an action that, while very annoying, was still nonviolent and not severe enough to be considered an encroachment upon my property. They asked me, “How did you come to such an odd conclusion?” That was my opportunity to explain it to them. 
Stuart, when other people see you very consistently living by your principles, the honest and curious among them will be impressed and will ask you what’s your secret. And when that happens, they will be much more receptive to what you have to say.

That story can be summarized in five words, five words consistent with Aristotle and scientific experimentation: Demonstration is the strongest argumentation.

That is where the quotation from Bruce Wayne, with which we opened this essay, is correct: “People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy.”

If you want to talk about the importance of pursuing your own values freely and peaceably and selfishly, do so. But more than that: actually do it. That is of greater educational value than are a hundred seven-hour flame wars on social media.

Not All Trump Sycophants Work For Him
One of the more severe manifestations of this is the manner in which some self-proclaimed Objectivists have made themselves apologists for Donald Trump. Here is one guy’s explanation for Facebook-unfriending me:
I have great respect for the objectivist community and the individuals in it, but I have to say... I can pretty much tell who is a mindless drone by how much they [sic; this is using a singular they] hate Trump, and who is an independent and integrated thinker by who recognizes Trump's essential goodness, achievement, integrity, and love for his country. And who can see through the left's dishonest smear campaign to the truth.


Not all self-described Objectivists who voted for Trump are this sycophantic toward him, naturally. Some of them admit that Trump is unprincipled and that their vote for him was cynical, mostly on account of their holding a bigger grudge against Hillary Clinton. Too many self-described Objectivists, though, did praise Donald Trump as some free-enterpriser and, even more worrisome, climbed onto the bandwagon on account of their sympathy for the sleazes of the alt-right and alt-lite.

But, really, this?: “Trump’s essential goodness, achievement, integrity, and love for his country”? What is going on here?

What is going on is that since 1987 with the publication of The Art of the Deal, Donald Trump has convinced many people that he is a symbol for American free enterprise and success. Too many people who call themselves Objectivists have latched onto that superficiality, and their devotion to Trump comes from this syllogism that is based on a faulty premise.

  1. Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy appreciates American free enterprise and success.
  2. Donald Trump is regarded by many people to be the symbol for American free enterprise and success.
  3. Applying Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy means that Donald Trump should be celebrated for embodying American free enterprise and success.

Of dispute is 2. People should examine whether the evidence indicates that Donald Trump is worthy of being associated with American free enterprise and success.

I wish I could tell you that I was never taken in by Trump’s myth-making about himself, but that is not the case. When I was seventeen years old, I said to myself, “I want to be a successful entrepreneur. Therefore, I should learn from the masters. I will read up on Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Donald Trump.” Whenever I spotted a newspaper article about any of them, I clipped it out. In the few years that followed, I read various biographies on the three of them. (At the time, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs made the news headlines much more frequently than Trump did, even as The Apprentice was on the air.) None of those three men are perfect, of course, and now my favorite great inventor-entrepreneur in history is probably George Westinghouse (but that is another beautiful story for another time 😄). But even after learning about the faults of Gates and Jobs, I could still consider them helpful models for what they have done in a professional capacity. I cannot say the same of Mr. Trump — the more I learned about him, the less I could respect him overall, even as far as his business decisions went. It was his habit to over-leverage himself and then stiff his creditors; as a businessman, that was his greatest commonality with the U.S. federal government and, in that respect, he did have authentic training for what it took to become a run-of-the-mill U.S. President — that and that he already had no compunction about exercising government power to confiscate other people’s private property. The evidence pointed to Donald Trump not being John Galt but James Taggart.

There is no shame in being fooled initially by someone’s deceptions — Cherryl Brooks, too, initially fell for the false pretense that James Taggart was a productive businessman. But there is shame when more and more facts come in that disproves one’s initial positive impression and yet, contrary to the facts, one clings to one’s initial impression. That is the faking of reality. We have more and more information coming in that exposes Donald Trump as consistently dishonest — as is common for a pathologically dishonest man, there are examples of him telling lies that are small (the fake Time magazine cover depicting him, which he put in his golf clubs, and also bizarrely posing as someone named “John Miller” who talked up Trump) and telling lies that are big (the denials about collusion with Russian officials).

The most consistent trait of the Trump presidency is Mr. Trump’s pathology. I cannot fault anyone for initially becoming interested in Donald Trump in 2015 — many old people remembered him from the 1980s, when he had a much more glamorous reputation on account of much less being known about him publicly — though the very speech in which he announced his candidacy already indicated something was wrong with him, what with the bigoted stereotypes about Mexican immigrants (stereotypes that are not unlike what was commonly said about Chinese immigrants a hundred years ago). But what I do find disturbing is that even after so many facts about Trump are uncovered, too many people who call themselves Objectivists clutch their initial and false conclusion that Donald Trump embodies such Objectivist principles as candor, a respect for private property rights, and the freedom to trade peaceably with any other peaceable party regardless of that other peaceable party’s nation of origin. To go on hailing Trump as the symbol of free enterprise, against all facts, is not an exercise in rationality or indication of adherence to Objectivism; it is to act in the capacity of a symbolater.

As I said in the beginning, a symbol is worthy of the symbolic meaning invested in it insofar as there is substance — that is, factual evidence — to support it. Despite his many faults, Steve Jobs still deserves to be considered an icon, an idol, a symbol representing entrepreneurial productivity. Steve Jobs has himself made some very stupid remarks, the most egregious being “Good artists copy; great artists steal” (for an explanation of why that cliché is so heinous, see my blog post on it here). But Jobs’s achievements as an entrepreneur are real. Unlike Donald Trump, Steve Jobs didn’t run up huge debts and then take advantage of bankruptcy-law loopholes to cheat his creditors. Unlike Donald Trump, Steve Jobs didn’t lean on Atlantic City officials to attempt to steal a woman’s house or issue a thinly-veiled threat to “destroy” a state lawmaker for defending private property rights against the civil asset forfeiture racket.  Those are not minor nitpicks; they are not behaviors that right-wingers or so-called Objectivists would tolerate in a Democratic politician or self-described socialist.

If a man is going to be held up as being representative of the virtues that made America great —virtues such as financial responsibility, respect for private property rights, and honesty toward both oneself and others — then that man should have a record of exercising those virtues. To hold up that man as a representative of those virtues after the facts demonstrate otherwise is to demean those virtues and instead prioritize a false image of those virtues. This makes as much sense as talking up Bernie Madoff as a pillar of wise investing even after his Ponzi scheme came crashing down and was exposed.

One symbolic association with Donald Trump that does demonstrate merit is the comparison of him with the ancient Greek myth of Narcissus — a metaphor always implied in the accurate pronouncement that Trump publicly exhibits narcissistic traits. It is often said that Narcissus only cared about himself, but that is misleading. Narcissus’s top concern was his reflection — that is, not himself but an image that supposedly represented him. Narcissus gave priority to that image — an image that was far too inadequate in representing his character fully — as he allowed his actual, concrete self to waste away and perish. That is the same sin committed by those who falsely uphold Trump as the image of free enterprise and candor — uphold it as the Trump administration makes mockeries of both free enterprise and candor. The stolen concepts and stolen values are American free enterprise and candor. As with Narcissus and Trump apologists, the reality is being sacrificed for the sake of an image, a symbol.

Those who admitted to supporting Trump for cynical reasons are not much better off than the Trump sycophants. The cynics stated that although they winced at Trump’s incredible distastefulness, it was most important for them to “stick it to the political Left,” especially the Left’s politically-correct “Social Justice Warriors” who were so offended by Donald Trump’s sexism (sexism on Trump’s part that is, all too obviously, real and not imagined). The cynics developed such a grudge against the Left in the first place because of the Left’s consistent attacks on liberty. I cannot deny that the Left has been hostile to liberty. Thus, the cynics let their hatred for the Left metastasize into a pathology that overrides every other consideration, including the love for life and liberty. When the cynics “supported Trump” mostly as a figurative middle finger to the Left, it was an appallingly puerile gesture symbolizing a last desperate defense of liberty. In reality, this support contributed to Donald Trump coming to power so that he could deprive immigrants, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, and free traders of liberty. This includes Trump’s imposition of a delay on “entrepreneurship visas.” The cynics’ gesture was a symbolic salute to liberty and an obscenity against actual liberty.

So-Called Objectivists in Norway Reinforcing the Suicidal Gestures of My Friend
As I said earlier, a principle or rule of conduct is also a symbol — the rule is an easy way to remember what specific course of action to take when a particular sort of situation arises. As we see in the case of anti-immigrationists, there is a hazard in trying to apply the same rule in every instance regardless of context — of trying to apply a rule when the context does not warrant it.

The most infamous example of this comes from Immanuel Kant. In a normal everyday situation where you are dealing with nonviolent people, “You should tell the truth” is a good rule. Kant then raises a hypothetical situation previously brought up by French classical liberal Benjamin Constant. In this scenario, a girl named Margaret is being chased by an assailant who wants to kill her. Margaret knocks on your door and asks you if she may hide in your home. You agree. Then the assailant knocks on your door politely(!), and says, “Excuse me, good sir, but there is a girl named Margaret whom I want to kill, and whom I think might be hiding in your home. Please tell me: is Margaret in your home?” Kant actually tells his readers that if you truly believe in the principle of honesty, then you should tell the truth to the would-be murderer: yes, Margaret is in my home.

This is enormous concept-theft and value-theft on Kant’s part. We have to examine why honesty is important. Honesty is important in normal everyday situations because it protects innocent human life. If innocent, nonviolent people are relying on you to be honest, and then you tell lies to them — as Mr. Trump does — that will hurt those people. Hence, the preservation and furtherance of innocent human life entails being honest with innocent, nonviolent people.  Conversely, if you tell the truth to a would-be murderer who will use that true information to commit murder, that will hurt innocent human life, not protect it. That is why the rule of “You should tell the truth” is applicable when interacting with innocent, nonviolent people and inapplicable when interacting with a would-be murderer. For you to do as Kant demanded is for you to engage in a gesture symbolizing a respect for honesty when, in fact, doing as Kant demands in this situation would destroy the very justification for honesty.  And by disrespecting the very justification for honesty, one disrespects honesty itself.

Kant’s writing of this inanity seems to have been a symbolic gesture on his part as well — a gesture symbolizing his own consistency on principle.  This same gesture actually amounted a self-contradiction on his part — what was to be interpreted as consistency on the matter of honesty revealed an inconsistency in  Kant’s claim to be concerned about the life of the individual.  This, too, is symbolatry.

For me, this is not merely theoretical, as it came into play with a clique of people in Norway who call themselves Objectivists. When you’re interacting with people who are not suicidal and not expressing homicidal ideation, “don’t go blabbing to other people about your friends’ insecurities” is a good rule. Insofar as your friends aren’t suicidal or homicidal, to refrain from telling others about your friends’ insecurities is to respect their well-being and autonomy. However, that rule is not applicable if your friend later shows herself to be severely mentally ill, severe to the point where she has resumed exhibiting a continued fixation on suicide, self-mutilation, and even homicide.

Years ago I became very emotionally close at Hawaii Pacific University with a girl from Norway, to whom I introduced Objectivist ideas. She informed me about her having a long history of threatening seriously to commit suicide, and also of her body dysmorphic disorder: of her hating her face and wanting to find some way to disfigure it to punish herself. She even showed me her old blog where she stated all of this explicitly, in English. “[I] wish i could get hold of a knife so i could cut up that ‘little pretty’ face of mine," she posted publicly years earlier. “Cut it up and make it ugly, just as ugly as I feel..[.] i wanna fuck my face up so no1 [no one] will ever recognize me.” As this was a lot of material, I read it bit by bit over an extended period of time. My Norwegian friend assured me that she was finally in recovery, and I believed her at the time. When she returned to Norway for a summer, she told me that without me around, she wished there were people with whom she could have face-to-face conversations about free markets and Objectivism. On Facebook I came across a circle of Norwegians claiming to be Objectivist; at the first few glances I took, everything seemed to be on the up-and-up, and I introduced my friend to the group. Later the circle convened around a Facebook page it made called “Libertinius”; Libertinius being the name of a cartoon character who wears the Statue of Liberty’s coronet. That the coronet is supposed to be the Statue of Liberty’s is far from obvious, though, since the Libertinius character is purple all over (not a very well thought-out combination of symbols).

Unfortunately, my friend started to resume the suicidal, self-defacing, and even homicidal gestures. At the encouragement of several members of the clique, she uploaded grisly images in which she was photoshopped as a corpse with a chalky white face — the pallor mortis stage where the blood has stopped circulating. Now this was a case of someone using symbolism and actually having a record to back up the symbolism — the corpse imagery coming after a series of blog posts where my friend repeatedly announced a desire to be dead literally.  I was and am relieved that my friend did not use a knife to slash up her face, but the corpse imagery demonstrated that she found another way to “fuck my face up so no1 [no one] will ever recognize me.”  If that wasn’t already bad enough, one of the more famous members of the Norwegian Objectivist(?) clique — an internationally known artist who photoshops himself as a corpse — uploaded a very disturbing video onto YouTube of my friend delivering a monologue in which she characterizes herself as a neo-fascist “of the Fourth Reich,” alluding to Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.

Some people tried to rationalize that my friend was “just being a Goth.” But I have known Goths, and not once they did give me the impression that they wanted to be dead literally. (Now there is a case where I can be grateful about some people’s favorite symbols — symbols of death — not being translated into concrete action.) By contrast, my friend didn’t just depict herself as a symbol of death — this was consistent with her having publicly documented her own suicidal ideation for years. This was something that was necessary for me to take seriously.

I tried to talk to my friend about this by myself. She responded by feigning memory loss; she pretended not to remember having informed me of her history of suicidal and body dysmorphic gestures. Even more disturbing, she actually expected me to play along and help her pretend that she had never mentioned any of this. After this, though, I was not willing to give up on an intervention.

Many people in Hawaii noticed my friend’s morbid gestures but very defensively told me they would never participate in any sort of confrontation with her because they were too intimidated by confrontation in general and by my friend in particular.

I then came across a blog entry that my friend had written earlier: a blog entry that my friend wrote that is a serious murder threat for her mother. She does not say she has a long-range plan to kill her mother. What she does say is that she imagines that one day her mother’s nagging and scolding will anger her so much that she will finally lose control, grabbing a knife and stabbing her mother with it. How she imagines this will play out, my friend describes in graphic detail.

I let members of the Norwegian clique know of the context behind my friend’s morbid gestures — that this was not a matter of her liking symbols of death and darkness for aesthetic reasons, but that she has a history of wanting to be dead literally. I asked that no one would go along acting as if the morbid gestures are safe and acceptable, as refraining from bringing it up is a tacit form of reinforcement. The Norwegian clique’s members responded not with compassion and understanding for my friend, but with hostility toward me. They said it was evil and that I had broken the cardinal rule — not to talk about my friends’ insecurities. They said that my telling anyone else of my friend’s psychiatric condition was an assault on her well-being and on her autonomy. They blackballed me and some of them, such as Tore Rasmussen, went around announcing that I am all about harassing my friend.

Here is what is really going on: by proclaiming that I was evil for having broken this rule not to talk about my friend’s mental illness, the Norwegian clique of pseudo-Objectivists was evading the basis for any rules of social conduct: life as the standard. “Don’t talk about your friends’ insecurities” is a rule that remains in effect on the condition that your friend is not presenting herself as a violent threat to herself and others. That rule is not applicable when your friend is exhibiting indications of being a violent threat to herself and others.

Prioritizing a symbol over the actual value, the Norwegian clique obstructed my intervention in a symbolic show of solidarity with my friend — a gesture to convey respect for my friend’s well-being and autonomy. And as the clique’s members did this, they reinforced my friend’s pathology — the actual, pressing, and obvious threat to my friend’s well-being and autonomy. These enablers to pathology were “protecting” my friend in the same way that Galileo’s persecutors were “protecting” Aristotle. The clique was too myopic and, frankly, insipid, to notice that a right to privacy does not apply to violent threats; nor is one wrong to ask that compassionate attention be directed toward someone who is making suicidal and even homicidal gestures very visibly. The concept and value that the clique has tried to steal is that of concern for my friend; by prioritizing symbolic support for her over a genuine addressing of her self-endangerment, the clique member’s have abdicated any rightful claim to be concerned about my friend’s well-being and autonomy, and yet in their hostility toward me they expected me to believe they were claiming to possess concern for my friend’s well-being and autonomy.

That was just the first of many indications, though, that this clique, which revolves around the “Libertinius” page, is about making symbolic shows of support for Objectivism even as the clique, in its behavior, defiles the very principles that Objectivism espouses. I was wrong in my initial and superficial evaluation of the Norwegian “Libertinius” clique as being a safe to associate with. From 2011 to 2015, the “Libertinius” page denounced Norwegian politicians for disrespecting private ownership rights as the Libertinius page itself repeatedly and regularly plagiarized other people’s explicitly copyrighted political cartoons and, bizarrely, even claimed credit for memes that other people had created (just because someone doesn’t sign a meme he made, that doesn’t give someone else permission to put his logo on it and pretend that it came from him). During the 2016 presidential race, this allegedly nonconformist clique road on the Trump bandwagon and, holding itself as the defender of private property rights, approvingly shared propaganda announcing that Donald Trump had done nothing worse than having “said mean things” — was Donald Trump’s attempt to confiscate a woman’s house by force nothing more than him saying “mean things”?

Libertinius's upload of the meme that dishonestly says Trump's only misdeed was that he "said mean things." This is double propaganda on the Libertnius page's part, as the Libertnius page posted, in the comments section, one of Ben Garrison's many adulatory cartoons glorifying Donald Trump and Stefan Molyneux. When the Libertinius page posted that, Stefan Molyneux was already well-known for touting the inflammatory and scientifically dubious claim that blacks are biologically programmed to be violent whereas whites are not. Clicking on this link will take you to the Archive[Dot]Is archive of the Libertinius Facebook-posting.

In case anyone is interested, here is a correction of the mendacious meme.  The final accusation against Hillary Clinton on the very bottom is particularly baseless.

What was left out by the original meme insisting Trump merely "said mean things" and nothing worse.

 Throughout 2016, the Libertinius page touted itself as the promoter of individualism as it also promulgated the demagoguery and xenophobia (1, 2, 3) of Stefan Molyneux (and Stefan Molyneux mostly parrots the racism and eugenics of J. Philippe Rushton and Richard Lynn of the Pioneer Fund, the latter of whom Molyneux gave an adulatory interview). When I first glanced at the clique’s websites and pages and introduced it to my friend, most of the clique was not promoting the foaming-at-the-mouth xenophobia that would emerge from 2013 onward. One prominent writer in the clique, though — Onar Åm — was already pushing and citing the eugenics of J. Philippe Rushton and Richard Lynn, though this was typed out in Norwegian and I hadn’t bothered to read translations of his pro-eugenicist writings at the time.

The date on which I upload this Part 4 of 4 — July 22 — is a sad anniversary of sorts. It is the anniversary of the day on which Anders Breivik murdered other Norwegians. On that very day, 22 July 2011, soon after hearing about Anders Breivik bombing a government building but before he heard of Breivik shooting adolescents in the socialist party, Onar Åm made these words visible to several hundred people: “News flash:  Terror attack in Oslo, near the government.  8 people are reported injured.  Let’s hope they were tax bureaucrats and not innocent people.”

Fourteen people — including the aforementioned “Objectivist” Anders —  clicked “like” on Onar Åm’s malicious sentiment.  Only two people — a Norwegian libertarian and me — gave any push-back to Onar Åm’s malicious malicious comment.  After the Breivik’s shooting and killing of Norwegian adolescents in the socialist party was reported, that Norwegian libertarian pointedly asked Onar Åm if he condoned that as well.  Onar replied no, he could not condone that, as murder victims were not minors.  Then Onar Åm added that government employees are adults and therefore responsible for their own choices, and therefore they are not innocent and if they are killed violently, Onar Åm believes they just got what was coming to them.  Perversely, it was that Norwegian libertarian who ended up apologizing to Onar Åm rather than the other way around.

In the years that followed, Onar Åm has not eased up on the callous and dehumanizing attitude toward those who disagree with him.  In late 2016, he expressed this dehumanizing attitude both toward (1) single mothers and (2) women who choose not to marry and have children (for him, the only correct course for a woman is to marry, have children, and not divorce for any reason).

As you can see, Onar Åm does not bother to change his profile pic
over the years. If only that were his biggest fault here...

Quite apart from it having been in poor taste to begin with, my friend publicly “joking” about being a neo-Nazi “of the Fourth Reich” — again, facilitated by that well-known artist in the Libertinius clique — was especially unwise in light of the Libertinius clique’s consistent xenophobia and support for the alt-right. If you don’t want people to think you’re a neo-Nazi, then (1) you shouldn’t upload videos saying you’re from “the Fourth Reich” and (2) you shouldn’t be around people who recommend the propaganda of Stefan Molyneux, a known “Race Realist” (“race realist” being a euphemism for racist), nor a clique that recommends the propaganda of the Onar Åm who publicly wishes violent death on other Norwegians for disagreeing with him. (Here is an instance of the Norwegian media calling out the Libertinius clique, very properly, on the clique’s demagogish falsehoods.)

And after all this, some of the younger members of the “Libertinius” clique in Norway, apparently having surmised that in the years after the clique had blackballed me I had gained new clout among prominent Objectivists, actually now want me to endorse and approve the “Libertinius” page and the clique’s various other front groups (such as “the Capitalist Party of Norway”). Hell, no; I don’t appreciate the phoniness of the “Libertinius” clique. Starting in 2017 the “Libertinius” page apparently stopped with the plagiarism and stopped promoting Stefan Molyneux’s racism. But it’s too late; here’s an example of a symbol already being too corrupted. Getting the stink off would involve disavowing Kjetil Knausgård, Emil Christopher Solli Melar, Tore Rasmussen, Carlo Nerberg, and the rest of their bigot brigade. It would mean liquidating the “Libertinius” character altogether and not trying to start over again with some other symbol or project.

In more recent years, it appears my friend lost interest in the “Libertinius” clique and that she stopped uploading images of herself photoshopped as a corpse; she looks alive and human again. However, she legally changed her last name to that of a relative whom she had repeatedly hinted had facilitated severe abuse toward her. And, based on what some of her other relatives have said — including what one relative recounted to American newspapers — there is a strong basis for suspecting that the hints point to something that really did happen. The name change, too, is a gesture symbolizing that everything is OK now. Yet knowing the context behind it casts doubt on what that symbolic gesture is attempting to convey. Knowing the context, the name change looks like another, albeit subtler, morbid gesture. Hence, there is reason to ascertain that my friend is not in recovery and the situation with her still isn’t safe.

See? She Told Ya So
Now here is one case study in symbolatry that is not as obviously tragic. On social media, it seems to have become fashionable for people to tout themselves as “investor” or “entrepreneur” when they have no promising or established enterprise to show for it. I wish I could tell you I have never taken part in such silliness, but I can’t. When I was seventeen and going through my Donald Trump fandom phase, I went around announcing, “I’m an entrepreneur!” Then someone would ask me, “What is it you sell?” To that, I could only reply, “I . . . don’t . . . know . . .” It was quite reminiscent of that scene in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion where Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow keep announcing in a diner “We’re businesswomen!” and then a waitress asks them, “What business are you in?”

Later I noticed that when successful and innovative entrepreneurs are asked to describe themselves, entrepreneur is seldom the first word that comes to their minds. They do not start off saying, “I have decided to be an entrepreneur! Now I have to decide what it is that I sell...” Nay, they tended to follow a different path. Usually what happened is that someone started out as just some weirdo who was really obsessed with something and later found a method for monetizing that obsession. There was once a boy named William who was obsessed with feet. Whenever his parents introduced him to adults, he insisted on inspecting the adults’ feet. He even carried around the skeletal remains of a human foot wherever he went with him. Eventually William grew up to be a podiatrist. Inspecting feet for a living, he noticed that many of the sores and bunions on his patients were the result of their having worn impractical shoes. William resolved to design a much more ergonomic, comfortable model. He did exactly this and patented it, and built a whole business around it. That is how Dr. William Scholl started the company that bears his name, Dr. Scholl’s.

Learning this, I remembered what that eccentric woman told me about how being a good example in your normal everyday activities is the greatest demonstration of any principle. Nowadays I try not to go around announcing that I like to think of myself as entrepreneurial. It’s not even good for me to announce that I am a writer. What matters is that I work on the creative pursuits that hold my interest, and that is what I will have to show for myself — not some title I have tried to bestow upon myself prematurely. “Fake it until you make it” is foolish advice. Regardless of what anyone else thinks, just try to make it — and never fake anything.

This is the point where a hater might say, “If Ayn Rand and Objectivism are so great, why didn’t Ayn Rand anticipate that there would be really silly people who recite her principles but do not live by them?”

Well, not even Ayn Rand could anticipate everything. I just appreciate the writing that she did leave behind. If there is something she did not explain and which I need to figure out for myself, that is no failing on her part; she has already done a lot.

However, it turns out that there are two works in which Ayn Rand did anticipate this phenomenon. In a number of respects, it is described well in her novella and play Ideal. Ideal is — it should not surprise you at this point — a work I consider to be heavy on symbolism. Throughout the story, people from various walks of life tell the glamorous actress Kay Gonda that they value her so highly that they would risk their reputations and social standing for her. They are then presented with the opportunity to act on that very promise — and all but one of them refuses. Therefore, all those phonies’ professing their veneration of Kay Gonda was meaningless at best; their letters, full of accolades, are gestures and rituals that symbolize their placing value on Kay Gonda. But in their actions, they demonstrate they do not value Kay Gonda.

{SPOILERS} Upon meeting the one man who acts upon his professed ideals, Kay Gonda discusses with him the reasons why society has gone so wrong. Initially, she thinks of the false fans who betrayed her as “Those who cannot dream.” To this, the true idealist corrects her — the false fans are “Those who can only dream” (emphasis Rand’s) — meaning that the phoniness comes from people who talk big about philosophic ideals but, when presented with opportunities to act on such ideals, default instead.

This is Ayn Rand’s anticipation of people who claim to value Ayn Rand and Objectivism and yet, through their actions — whitewashing Trump’s authoritarianism, promoting Stefan Molyneux’s bigoted rationalizations, ostracizing the one person who tried to intervene on behalf of a friend publicly exhibiting her suicidal and homicidal ideations — demonstrate hostility to the integrity and individualism and freedom and commitment to love and values that Ayn Rand championed.

In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand also had some choice words for people tout themselves as being serious investors, serious entrepreneurs, or just plain committed to philosophic ideals when, in practice, they have nothing to show for it. In Francisco d’Anconia’s words, such people “seek to reverse the law of cause and effect.” When Cherryl Brooks saw James Taggart’s commercial success — success that was actually James’s piggybacking off of Dagny’s work — Cherryl attributed that success to be the effect of a particular cause: that cause being productiveness. Cherryl was right, of course, that productiveness is the cause of the effect that is commercial success, but she didn’t consider that maybe James Taggart was mooching off the of the productiveness of others, just as in his shady dealings, Donald Trump has piggybacked off the productivity of other people. To be a serious investor or serious entrepreneur is an effect — the effect of productiveness. When people go around announcing themselves to be serious investors or serious entrepreneurs, they do so because they wish to be seen as productive, as if that will give them the cause (productiveness).

However, when they do not have much to show for it, such people are trying to gain the cause (productiveness) by being associated with the effect (being seen as a serious investor or serious entrepreneur). The same goes for the grumps and phonies of the “Libertinius” circle trying to gain a reputation for being serious about philosophy. A reputation for being serious about philosophy is the effect. The cause of it is consistently acting in accordance with one’s professed philosophy. That means not practicing plagiarism, not immediately doubling down when caught in the plagiarism, not promoting Stefan Molyneux’s racism, and not conveniently scrubbing all that in some effort to hide the wrongdoing.

As I said earlier, symbols will always be important to us — at their best, they are cognitive tools whereby we expand our understanding of what goes on in the concrete, literal context — but they must not be prioritized to the point where the symbol of a value takes precedence over the value itself. A gesture symbolizing someone’s defense of some value has genuine meaning, and deserves all of the positive emotion invested into it, no more than the extent to which that gesture preserves and upholds that value in concrete practice.

 To the degree that freedom of speech is upheld in the United States, people are right to venerate the American flag as a beautiful symbol of the freedom of speech. But when politicians propose a law to penalize burning of the American flag — that is, a law to censor disparagement of the flag — it is those politicians, far more than the flag-burners, who devalue and undermine the American flag’s stature as a symbol of the freedom of speech. If you make a Facebook page to praise Ayn Rand and denigrate her detractors — all the while plagiarizing other people’s copyrighted political cartoons — you insult and dishonor Ayn Rand far worse than her detractors ever have.

Yes, cherish your favorite symbols, your favorite symbols representing your professed values. But more than that, the symbols representing your professed values shall retain their glory no more than the extent to which you abide by those same professed values in your literal, concrete actions.

This is full of some of my favorite symbolism --
symbolism that retains meaning insofar as it is backed up by concrete action.


Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Entire Essay on One Page

Friday, July 21, 2017

Symbolater Syndrome, Pt. 3 of 4

or, Those Who Destroy a Great Value As They Perform Gestures That Symbolize Preservation of That Very Same Value

Stuart K. Hayashi

Due to the length of the original “Symbolater Syndrome” article, I am serializing it into four parts. This is Part Three of Four. 

Part One | Part Two | Part Four | Entire Essay on One Page

Christian Bale in Batman Begins, dir. Christopher Nolan,
prods. Larry J. Franco, et al., (Warner Bros., 2005).

Gestures Symbolizing Loyalty to Law and Order That Undermine the Concrete Purpose of Law and Order
Exactly because we need law and order, we should ask ourselves why we need them. They are not ends in themselves; they are intended to serve a greater value and, therefore, the enforcement of any law must be justified by the standard of whether it actually succeeds in serving that greater value. Insofar as the U.S. republic continues to be about freedom and the other ideals of the Declaration of Independence, the law is to serve the greater value that is the safeguarding of individual rights —   meaning that the law protects peaceful people from the initiation of the use of force and that it does not itself initiate the use of force upon peaceful people. After all, the Declaration of Independence does not say that the right not to be aggressed upon belongs to citizens alone; it says the right not to be aggressed upon belongs to “all men,” meaning all peaceful people.

Therefore, although suspected criminals are to be judged before courts of law, the law itself is still not the ultimate standard by which the respective moral statuses of people’s actions are to be judged. We must ask whether the ordinance or statute in question deserves to be kept on the books. As such, the law itself must be judged by the ultimate standard of whether it succeeds in protecting peaceful people against the initiation of the use of force and refrains from initiating the use of force itself. Nonviolent people do not exist for the purpose of obeying America law; American law exists to protect any and all nonviolent people within its jurisdiction. Accordingly, when statutes are not properly crafted — and when their errors go uncorrected — the statutes themselves become corrupt. This is what has happened to federal U.S. immigration law.

Starting in the 1920s, federal immigration law was openly racist, imposing strict “caps” on the number of immigrants who could come in from Eastern Europe and from countries with majority nonwhite populations, while being less strict toward immigration from Northern and Western Europe. A reform in federal immigration law in 1965 genuinely corrected many of these injustices but, on account of some poor planning on the part of the reformers, the reform instituted a new injustice. I cannot fault the reformers much for the poor planning, as it would be difficult for me to anticipate all such negative consequences. Where I do find moral fault is that, in the subsequent decades, this problem has been pointed out many times and many people — mostly on the political Right — refuse to acknowledge the need to rectify this inequity, instead rationalizing the continuation and perpetuation of the injustice.

The issue is this: although the 1965 federal reform on immigration abolished what were the formal quotas on national origin based on race, they still require that to immigrate lawfully to the USA for a long-term period, you need a license from the U.S. federal government. That license is a piece of paper called a visa. There are three basic categories for visas: student visas, family reunification visas, and work visas. Student visas are for foreign nationals attending university in the United States — the sort of visa most familiar to my former classmates at Hawaii Pacific University, most of whom were from Northern and Western Europe. You can receive a family reunification visa if you already have family members in the United States. In some respects, the family reunification visas were part of a compromise with the anti-immigration, pro-racism lobby. Since whites still were the majority in the USA in 1965, they figured that most family reunification visas would still go to white people, or that at least nonwhites who did not have family members already in the USA would be at a disadvantage (and that is indeed the case).

The third type is a work visa. The most famous sort is the H-1B visa, which is for immigrants who can provide skilled labor. The H-1B visa is most famously associated with Silicon Valley information technology workers, but it goes to members of all sorts of skilled professions, such as doctors and university professors. H-1B visas seldom ever go to persons lacking a university degree; an exception is made for fashion models; a fashion model lacking in a university degree can still obtain an H-1B visa.

There are categories of visas for unskilled laborers; these are respectively H-2A visas and H-2B visas. These visas are for much shorter-term stays in the USA than are H-1B visas; an H-2B visa lets you stay in the USA for two years before renewal. Conspicuously, they are even less accessible to unskilled people in poor countries than are H-1B visas to skilled visa applicants.

A relatively new form of visa, introduced under the Obama administration, is the entrepreneurship visa. This is for established business owners wishing to immigrate to the USA to set up new business operations here. As you can imagine, this is not a visa applicable to most unskilled people in developing countries who do not have university degrees. Later we will return to the topic of entrepreneurship visas.

The problem with current federal immigration law is this: the 1965 reform placed a new “cap” on the number of visas that could be issued to particular countries annually. No more than 7 percent of all visas issued in a year can go to applicants of any one country. This rule failed to anticipate that because Mexico is a poor country that is directly adjacent to the United States, it would make sense that a disproportionately large percentage of the people wishing to come to the United States would be from Mexico. Annually, 30 percent of all visa applications arrive from Mexico. You can see how this mismatch would bring forth a dilemma.

People from Bangladesh desire very much to come to the USA too, but they know that in any attempt to travel to the USA they would face geographic obstacles that a Mexican would not. The biggest obstacles for Mexicans in coming to the USA are not geographic but legal barriers imposed by the U.S. federal government.

The backlog for yet-to-be-approved visa applications is a nightmare. If the U.S. federal government received no new applications, it would still take over 19 years for it to clear its entire backlog of visa applications waiting to undergo full processing. On average, it takes a Mexican more than five years, from the start of the process to its end, to receive a family reunification visa. If you are in Mexico and are the spouse or minor child of a permanent U.S. resident (U.S. citizen or green card holder), you can expect to wait no fewer than six years. If, as a Mexican, you are the sibling of a U.S. citizen or green card holder, it is sixteen years.

And if you are a thirty-year-old Mexican with a high school diploma and you have a sister who is already a U.S. citizen, the average length of time you must wait to become a noncitizen U.S. permanent resident — one of those green card holders — yourself is . . . 131 years.

Most poor countries are poor exactly because their governments are kleptocracies. This means that the government usually refrains from protecting its citizens’ rights to life, liberty, and private property but, more often than not, violates them, and can actually violate them on the whim of the governments’ officials. People cannot count on building up productive businesses without all their wealth soon being confiscated, and that is why poverty is rampant. Only those who are well-connected with the government can operate any business securely at all. Under this system, with most people unable to count on the government for protection, many of them turn to gangs instead. For this reason, rates of starvation and murder are disproportionately high in comparison to what goes on in the First World. When someone in a kleptocracy that is south of the USA tries to migrate to the USA, it’s not a matter of someone greedily wishing to come to the USA to go on welfare; it’s a matter of someone trying to avoid dying from starvation and murder.

As Steven Sacco informs us,

One study found that between January 2014 and September 2015 eighty-three deportees who were sent back to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador were murdered after their return. They were people fleeing the killers who eventually took their lives. People like José Marvin Martínez, who fled violence in Honduras and made it to the U.S. when he was 16, but was deported and four months after his forcible return was shot to death. Or Juan Francisco Diaz, also deported back to Honduras, where he too was murdered a few months later. Or Giovanni Miranda, who, after spending most of his life in the U.S., was deported to El Salvador to be murdered in front of his wife and son in June 2015. Or Edgar Chocoy, 16, who ran away from a gang to the U.S. only to be murdered by that same gang seventeen days after he was deported back to Guatemala in 2004. Or an unnamed teenager who was shot to death hours after being deported back to San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Moises, 19, was murdered after he was deported to El Salvador. And there are too many more names we’ll never know. 
What’s more, the number of deportees delivered directly to their killers does not include those who survive attempted murder or other violence because of their deportation — a number no one knows. Isais Sosa, who was 19 when the Los Angeles Times covered his story in 2014, survived being shot by a gang days after his deportation. The 19 year old daughter of Dora Lina Meza fled to the U.S. from the same gang that, after she was deported back home, raped her at gun point. After Juan Ines Alanis was deported he was kidnapped and held for ransom while his fingers were smashed with a hammer.

Many apologists for these coercive deportations claim to admire Ayn Rand — we will discuss that further in the next bit. Note that if Ayn Rand had been deported back to the Soviet Union — and the legality of her immigration status was “iffy”  — she likely would have suffered the same fate as the aforementioned deportees.

Remember that when someone is being deported, he is being supervised by federal agents who have guns at the ready. When you are deported from the United States, this is something that federal agents do to you at gunpoint. They point guns at you to coerce you to return to a place where there is a high murder rate. As far as I am concerned, those who supported that the aforementioned people be returned to their nations of origin at gunpoint are, morally, accessories to what happened to the deportees upon return to their countries of origin.

When most people in a country are poor, very few of them can afford university educations. Therefore, except for the fashion models, H-1B visas are seldom an option for them. And the work visas for the unskilled are even less accessible. This means that if you are poor and unskilled, with no university education and no relatives in the USA, you don’t have many options available to you if you wish to migrate to the USA legally. And it’s not realistic for anyone to expect you to wait over five years for any sort of application to be approved; the threats of starvation and murder are immediate concerns. This is why so many poor people come to the USA without any visas. It is not an accident that {SPOILER ALERT} a virtuous character in We the Living tries to cross a national border illegally.

The deportations are anti-life for other reasons. As I wrote of it months after the incident, there was a time around late 2015 — as the Syrian refugee crisis was beginning to make headlines — when I was reading Rebecca Stott’s book Darwin’s Ghosts, about thinkers who had laid the intellectual groundwork for the theory of natural selection. Near the beginning, Professor Stott points out that because so many Athenians feared Aristotle as some sleeper agent for their military enemies, Aristotle had to flee Athens as a “political refugee.” This struck me because, although I had previously read of Aristotle leaving Athens for this reason, it didn’t dawn on me that the term “political refugee” applied to Aristotle, and yet, upon reflection, it fit. Not thinking that it necessarily had any implications for the Syrian refugee controversy, I tweeted out that there was a point in Aristotle’s life when he was a political refugee. Evidently finding the idea interesting himself, Prof. Glenn Harlan Reynolds, “The Instapundit,” retweeted me. I was then barraged by a number of belligerent tweets from generally right-wing people who presumed that my tweet was some thinly-veiled defense of the Syrian refugees. The belligerent tweets were along the lines of, But Aristotle was a civilized man; Syrians are congenital savages and And there is not one scientist among the Syrian refugees, is there?

It had not occurred to me that my tweet could be misconstrued as me sticking up for them, but, after reading the bigoted derision of them that was directed toward me, it ironically became easier for me to sympathize with the Syrian refugees. Incidentally, there are scholars among the Syrian refugees. Rolling Stone magazine chronicles the travails of one of them, a former agricultural engineering major trying to finish his education. One Syrian refugee who did complete his education is Nedal Said, now a microbiologist at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research. Frankly, though, if there were zero scholars among them, the Syrian refugees would still be deserving of our sympathy. If a group of people are to be kept out of the USA on the basis that the USA is presently at war against their country, that is one matter. Even in that case, though, it would not be just to attempt to write off everyone from that country and of that ethnicity, with a broad brush, as inhuman. After all, there was a moment in history when the wartime enemies of the United States looked a lot like me.

Nedal Said’s story reminds me of another. Decades ago, an impoverished boy in Mexico named Alfredo illegally climbed over a fence to get into the USA. Consistent with the stereotypes, he started out as a migrant farm worker. He saved his money and sent himself to medical school. This was Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, and he is presently one of the world’s foremost brain surgeons. Prolific in the number of operations he has performed, he has saved the lives of native-born Americans. These are native-born Americans who might have died had it not been for Alfredo illegally entering our country years ago. Coercive deportations of nonviolent immigrants may not only result in the deaths of more immigrants, but also of more native-born Americans.

Many people who come to the USA without visas have committed no felony other than the ones directly concerning their having come to the USA without a visa.  For instance, Andres Magana Ortiz — who owned and ran successful coffee farms in Hawaii — is under threat of deportation when, aside from having arrived in the USA without a visa, his only brushes with the law involve two charges of having driven under the influence. Contrary to hysterical right-wing scare stories, you are statistically likelier to be killed by a native-born American than you are by an undocumented immigrant to the USA. Therefore, a legal system committed to freedom and justice — one that serves its original purpose of protecting the peaceful from the violent — would refrain from sending armed men to detain and deport peaceful persons whose acts of lawbreaking all pertained to the mere act of coming to the USA peacefully without a visa.

Yet I frequently come across anti-immigrationists on the political Right — Rush Limbaugh is one of them (I take him to task for it here and here) — who insist that simply coming to the USA without a visa is an act of evil that warrants condemnation and violent retribution on the part of the U.S. federal government. Apologists for that viewpoint shout, “Do you think people should be able to break the law with impunity? The Law is The Law and we gotsta follow The Law!” I remind such people that deportations are backed by armed force. Suppose I invite a Mexican to lodge on my land in the USA. That Mexican agrees. But that Mexican crossed the border without having a visa. Enforcing the law in this case means that armed government agents come onto my land and abscond with the Mexican. When they transport that Mexican back to Mexico, they have their guns at the ready in case he tries to flee their custody and return to my private plot. Deportations are backed by armed force. Again, the anti-immigrationists merely chant that The Law is The Law and we gotsta follow The Law!

People who preach that someone coming to the USA long-term without a visa is sufficient grounds for sending armed men to detain and deport him are practicing their own symbolic ritual, one not unlike Governor Jerry Brown’s. They shout about the need to respect and enforce the law because this ritual of chanting about it has symbolic significance for them. They say that it is their way of reminding everyone of the importance of the law — that if people can flagrantly disregard the statutes, then all order and society breaks down. But that assertion is disingenuous; those who keep chanting about the need to crack down on illegal aliens are not primarily reminding other people about anything. Rather, these people partake in this symbolic ritual — the ritual of reciting their platitudes about the sacredness of federal law — to convince themselves that they passionately care about the law and everything the law represents.

And yet they don’t. The law is not the end but the means to a greater end that the law is to serve. That greater end is the principle that no peaceful person is to be subjected to the initiation of the use of force by any party, least of all by the federal government. If you do not value the greater end that U.S. law was first established to serve, then you do not understand what U.S. law is about. In proclaiming their love for American law, many people are asking that American law violate the moral principle that American law was initially established to uphold: to prevent the initiation of the use of physical force upon peaceful people. Those who demand a government crackdown on undocumented immigrants qua their lack of documentation, are those calling for violence against peaceful human beings for the proclaimed purpose of defending an institution whose only justification was to prevent violence against peaceful human beings.

Of course, anti-immigrationism has its arsenal of rationalizations for this. Stefan Molyneux rationalizes that people from Africa and South America are just programmed to go on welfare, and, by collecting welfare, such immigrants are the ones initiating the use of force against native-born whites. This is just another instance of Molyneux’s ignorance and presumptuousness (a more polite way of referring to Molyneux’s prejudice).

When you say “welfare” in the United States, the first program that normally comes to mind is federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF, formerly Aid to Families with Dependent Children) and, since 1996, an immigrant needs to be a U.S. resident for five years before so much as applying for this.

Moreover, the biggest entitlement program in the USA is, by far, Social Security. At $800 billion per year, it’s the only program that rivals the U.S. military in annual cost. Because undocumented immigrants use fake Social Security numbers, the farms and other businesses employing undocumented immigrants take money out of their pay and put it into the Social Security system. (If you object to how an impoverished immigrant fleeing the high murder rate of his country of origin is using a fake Social Security number to obtain employment, remove the legal barriers that drove him to this desperate resort in the first place.) And this is Social Security that the undocumented immigrants will not collect — the recipients of the undocumented immigrants’ money are retired native-born Americans and retired naturalized citizens, the native-borns greatly outnumbering the naturalized. It is therefore, on a net balance, the undocumented immigrants who are paying taxes to support welfare that goes to native-born Americans.

Among the recipients of taxpayer money, native-born citizens outnumber immigrants by far; it is therefore disingenuous to single out undocumented immigrants as being the major contributor to the rising costs of the welfare state. If collecting taxpayer money is an initiation of the use of force, then repelling it would mean cutting taxpayer funding for all private parties; to target immigrants, on the pretext that they are primarily what drive up government spending, is to prioritize one’s hostility toward immigrants over any lightening of the tax burden.

Nor is there a long-term threat of mass migrations causing overcrowding throughout the country; people underestimate the quantity of land available in the United States. If there were eight billion people on Earth and they all relocated to Texas, Texas’s population density (27,923 people per square mile) would be less than the present population density of the city of Paris, France (55,673 people per square mile). At present, no more than twelve percent of the land in England is developed for urban use and no more than nine percent of the land of the United Kingdom is.

To demand that an immigrant having arrived in the USA without a visa is sufficient grounds to send armed agents after her, out of a purported respect for American law and order, is therefore a symbolic ritual paid to American law and order that, in practice, disrespects the greater value that American law and order were designed to safeguard. It is a symbolic gesture that pretends to pay heed to American law and order as it desecrates the basis of that American law and order. To do this, one must love the symbol of a particular value more than one loves the concrete existence of that very same value.

The stolen concept and stolen value is “American law and the very basis of American law.” By supporting governmental initiations of the use of force against undocumented, nonviolent immigrants, these right-wingers have relinquished any rightful claim to the concept and value of “American law and the very basis of American law.” Yet, as they do this, they try to claim custody over the concept and value of “American law and the very basis of American law.” As Limbaugh has done this, he is not innocent of the very charge he lays at the feet of left-wingers, of putting symbolism over substance.

Sadly, too many people who call themselves Objectivists also do the same.


Part One | Part Two | Part Four | Entire Essay on One Page

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Symbolater Syndrome, Pt. 2 of 4

or, Those Who Destroy a Great Value As They Perform Gestures That Symbolize Preservation of That Very Same Value

Stuart K. Hayashi

Due to the length of the original “Symbolater Syndrome” article, I am serializing it into four parts. This is Part Two of Four. 

Part One | Part Three | Part Four | Entire Essay on One Page

Christian Bale in Batman Begins, dir. Christopher Nolan,
prods. Larry J. Franco, et al., (Warner Bros., 2005).

Courtesy Pixabay.

Dangerous Political Actions That Symbolize Loyalty to a Value But Concretely Undermine That Value
This is frequently visible in the case of raising the minimum wage — in the cases of alleged antipoverty legislation in general. Suppose there is no legally mandated minimum wage, and I am jobless. Then someone named Lysander offers to hire me for $5 per hour. I accept. That is a pay raise right there — I went from making zero to making five dollars per hour. Then the government decrees that there is a minimum wage of $15 per hour. If Lysander is caught paying me $5 per hour, he could be fined or imprisoned. On a cost-benefit analysis, Lysander decides that while he could profit from paying me $5 per hour for the value I add to his business, I don’t add enough value to his business where he would still profit from paying me $15 per hour for that same work. He decides he should not have me working for him. As for the people already in Lysander’s employ, either he fires some of them or keeps them all on while cutting their hours. Far from helping the poor, this measure hurts them. Absent of the minimum wage, I would be making five dollars per hour. With this minimum wage, I am stuck at zero.

For decades, supporters of raising the minimum wage have denied that such a measure has any adverse effect on employment. There is nothing surprising about that. Yet in more recent years, I have noticed a more worrying trend: there are people who support raising the minimum wage who do not deny it.

I first noticed this in my correspondence with a particular woman online. She and I had become acquainted when discussing GMOs (genetically modified organisms). She properly wanted the government to stop interfering with GMOs — and, later, I learned that she improperly wanted the government to continue interfering with pretty much every other industry. Part of her desire for such interference to continue and expand was her tirades demanding an increase in the minimum wage to what she called a “living wage.”

One of our mutual online acquaintances then showed this woman a study that evinced that, everything else being equal, raises in the minimum wage contribute to reductions in employed work hours for the poor and unskilled.

The woman then replied something to the effect of, Yes, I know the economic argument. I support raising the minimum wage because I care about the well-being of low-income families.

I was floored by her reply. I expected that she would deny that the minimum wage contributes to unemployment among the poor and unskilled. She did not deny it. She refrained from denying it and then she still asserted that raising the minimum wage is “for the poor” and unskilled.

That turned out not to be a fluke, as a higher-profile instance of this phenomenon followed. In early April of 2016, California governor Jerry Brown gave this rationale for demanding an increase in the state’s mandated minimum wage [in the link, I cued it to the precise spot where he begins what I quote him saying]:

Economically, minimum wages may not make sense. But morally and socially and politically they make every sense, because it binds the community together and makes sure that parents can take care of their kids in a much more satisfactory way [emphases Governor Brown’s].

He says it at the 1 minute, 24 second mark.

Let’s translate this. What does it mean for a raise in the minimum wage to “make sense” “economically” or not? An increase or decrease in the poor’s average income, as affected by legislation, is an economic effect. For most of the past five decades, hardly any supporter of a raise in the minimum wage would dispute that the very purpose of a law adjusting the minimum wage is to have an economic effect. Legislation on the minimum wage is, by definition, economic legislation. That is just as the purpose of a comedian telling jokes is to make the audience laugh. To say that you don’t care what is the economic effect of your own legislation — legislation that is, by your own design, touted as economic legislation — is comparable to a comedian announcing that he doesn’t care if his jokes are funny.

A government-mandated increase in the minimum wage making sense economically means that raising the minimum wage does exactly what its supporters of the past 50 years have claimed it would do: improve the living standards of the poor and unskilled. To admit “economically, minimum wages may not make sense” is to admit that legally mandated minimum wages do not in fact help the poor and unskilled as was previously claimed, but that they in fact hurt the poor and unskilled. Then, as if Governor Brown did not remember what he admitted a second earlier, he said raising the minimum wage “makes sure that parents can take care of their kids in a much more satisfactory way.” What is the source of this seeming contradiction? Governor Brown explains that it makes “every sense” to him “morally.”

To wit, Governor Brown first inadvertently admitted that raising the minimum wage harms rather than helps the poor (the poor being his ostensive value), but he will go through it anyway as a gesture to indicate his moral concern for the well-being of the poor.

If Governor Brown genuinely valued the well-being of the poor, he would do what “makes sense” for them “economically” — refrain from raising the minimum wage and, more than that, work to abolish it altogether. In lieu of that, he performs a ritual that “makes sense” for him “morally,” which is offering a symbolic gesture of concern for the poor that, by his own inadvertent admission, does actual harm to the poor. The same goes for that aforementioned woman who didn’t even deny the minimum wage raise’s actual effect on the poor. What is purported to be the real value (the well-being of the poor) is being sacrificed and destroyed for the sake of performing a symbolic ritual that is intended to be interpreted as a show of solidarity for those same poor. That is symbolatry in practice.

Some people might respond that, in this context, my introduction of the term “symbolatry” is unnecessary. They might say there is already a term for this, and it is a term much beloved on Twitter by right-wing people who have cartoon characters for their avatars: “virtue-signaling.” But I am not accusing Governor Brown and that aforementioned woman of mere “virtue-signaling”; there are important differences. To accuse a man of “virtue-signaling” is to put emphasis on his desire to convince other people of his own exalted moral status. Rather, my suspicion is that Governor Brown and that woman are performing the ritual of pushing for this legislation in order to convince themselves that they are caring and morally upright. Furthermore, when a man is accused of “virtue-signaling,” the implication is usually that this symbolic gesture is merely empty and of no effect. My accusation against Governor Brown and that woman is much harsher: they are trying to convince themselves that their performance of the ritual indicates compassion for the poor and yet, on some level, they are at least vaguely aware that the ritual’s completion — meaning successful passage of the minimum wage increase — will actually harm poor people in real life. This symbolatry is much more harmful than mere “virtue-signaling.”

When gestures which symbolize help for the poor — and are actually known to harm the poor — are prioritized above the poor themselves, I do not consider that a good intention. As I said before, it is for that reason that I object to the common right-wing accusation that left-wing supporters of antipoverty measures are all about good intentions while not caring the results. As one Wall Street Journal op-ed put it, “Too many policy makers evaluate new interventions — labor rules, wage laws, environmental regulations — only by what they hope to accomplish. They do not consider the consequences, the unintended effects, and the trouble that their policies will cause for employers and workers…” (emphases added). The subheading that Journal’s editors (not the op-ed’s author) chose was, “Free enterprise is under assault from politicians who only care about good intentions, not results.” A conservative who says this reveals a flaw in his thinking far larger than the flaw he imputes to the left-wingers, as that conservative overlooks the very meaning of a sincere intention.

Just as the concept of “50 percent” derives from “a single unit,” the concept of “sincere intention” derives from the concept of “producing the results desired.” Should I have a sincere intention to erect a stable house or not, then I definitely care if, as results of my efforts, the house gets built and remains standing and stable in the ensuing years. But suppose I announce my strong motivation to build a house and, five years later, you notice no house is built and, when you ask me about it, I shrug it off. Moreover, ever since the day subsequent to my announcement, I made no effort to have the house built. Insofar as I am indifferent to the results, it is proper for you to conclude that I held no sincere intention to build that house after all. And a sincere intention is the only kind of intention there is — to be insincere in professing to intend to build a house is to lack the intention of building a house. You can observe the degree to which a person intends to do something by observing the degree to which that person cares about obtaining the results he claims to desire. Even if a person enters a competition she knows she probably will not win, if you observe that she made every effort to do her best within the rules, you know her intention was still to win.

Suppose my home has an insect infestation. I decide to do something about it — I obtain Brand A of an insecticide and spray it. I say that my intention in this is to kill the insects. After the first try, the insect infestation remains. I try four more times; the insects remain. I therefore decide that to attain the desired goal — eliminate the insects — I must try some other measure. I therefore hire an exterminator who uses Brand B on the insects. Finally the insects are gone and I am satisfied.

In that scenario, you can tell that when I claimed my intention was to kill the insects, that was indeed my intention. You can tell as much by how I handled my methodology. I said that I intended to bring about a particular result, and that I was using a particular method — Brand A insecticide — to try to bring about that result. After repeated attempts with this one method, I did not obtain the desired results. Because I was not lying to anyone — not even myself — about intending to kill the insects, I was therefore willing to try another method. In short, if the person saying that he intends to reach that desired goal has tried one method to reach it repeatedly and has always failed with that method, you can tell whether he intends to reach that desired goal by observing his willingness to try some alternative method to reach the desired goal. It is therefore illogical to say that someone has a particular intention when not caring about the result. A person intends a particular result insofar as he cares about the result. To say that anyone can care about “intentions” and not “results” is comparable to saying that you want to eat but that you don’t want any food. For a conservative to accuse anyone of caring about intentions and not results is for that conservative to reveal that he does not understand the meaning of “intention.”

Now suppose I say that I intend to kill all the insects in my home and I try Brand A insecticide. I try four more times and it hasn’t worked. I am introduced to other options. I reject them in favor of trying Brand A insecticide 95 more times, contaminating my house and filling it with fumes. Is it really my intention to eliminate the insects? You would be proper in judging the answer to be no. More likely, my intention was not to eliminate the insects but to go through the motions of “taking action” with respect to fighting off the insects. If my intention was to kill the insects, then the result of killing the insects would take priority over trying Brand A insecticide over and over again after a consistent record of failure.  Indeed, “going through the motions” might have been the original expression for someone merely making gestures that put on the pretense of taking constructive action exactly as one refrains from taking constructive action.

Likewise, if a man says that the intention of his legislation is to reduce poverty, you can observe how much this really was his intention by whether he pays attention to whether that legislation actually reduced poverty. Should it be the case that this man and his colleagues successfully pass such legislation across the country and, after four decades of failure, they are still pushing for more legislation of this type, there will come a point where you are rational for doubting that their intention is to reduce poverty. The likelier explanation is that their intention is to go through the motions of “doing something” about it, just as a man who uses the same ineffective insecticide a hundred times intends not to kill the insects but instead to go through the motions of “doing something” about the insects.

Let’s take a look at someone who truly intends to reduce poverty. When he first started his campaigns to fight poverty, the musician Bono put all his emphasis on the most conventional measures, such as calling for increased foreign aid and trying to pressure the World Bank to forgive debt to developing countries so that they could obtain even more loans. But after years of his campaigning, Bono observed that this was not working. Because he did intend to fight poverty, he was therefore willing to adjust his methodology. He eventually observed that political-economic liberalization — what he explicitly called “capitalism” — is the most effective antipoverty measure. Bono has not given up entirely on recommending taxpayer-funded foreign aid or debt forgiveness, but his willingness to shift emphasis and recommend more liberalization is what evinces that his stated intention to try to fight poverty was indeed his real intention.

Bono talks about capitalism at the 38 minute, 4 second mark.

Conversely, consider some elderly political Progressives, such as Ralph Nader. Purporting to intend to reduce poverty, Ralph Nader has continued for a half-century to urge the very same policy of raising the minimum wage, and, after proclaiming that poverty has not been reduced, he urges this some more. If reducing poverty was Nader’s consistent intention, there would have been some reconsideration on his part, self-reflection comparable to Bono’s. It is not that Ralph Nader cares about his own intentions and not about the results. Rather, Nader does care about the results, and he is getting the results he intends — to go through the motions and make a symbolic gesture to fight poverty. And as Nader and his disciples obtain success in their having their measures ratified, the poor are hurt.

For someone to agitate for legislation that symbolizes helping the poor, all the while knowing on some level that the legislation’s passage will hurt some poor individuals, is not to have good intentions.

Here, the stolen concept or stolen value is “concern for the poor.” By pushing for legislation that demonstrably harms the poor, Governor Brown has relinquished any rightful claim to the value that is “concern for the poor.” Yet, by invoking his legislation as a gesture to indicate his concern for the poor, he is trying to claim custody over the value that is “concern for the poor” anyway — wrongfully. “Concern for the poor” is a concept and value which Governor Brown is trying to steal.

Insofar as a value is sacrificed and demeaned in a ritual or gesture that ostensibly represents devotion to that same value, that ritual or gesture is a symbol that has been corrupted.

Rush Limbaugh categorizes instances such as this one as “liberals” putting “symbolism over substance.” Sadly, conservatives such as Limbaugh are not immune to that malady either.


Part One | Part Three | Part Four | Entire Essay on One Page