Friday, September 02, 2016

There Is No Freedom to Be Rational and Wise Without the Commensurate Freedom to Be Peaceably Stupid

Stuart K. Hayashi

September 2 was the date on which Ayn Rand began writing Atlas Shrugged.  Therefore, Happy Atlas Shrugged Day to youuuuuuuuuu!  ^_^

This is quite an exciting time.  Yesterday, a tremendous crowd of people marched in the streets of Caracas, Venezuela, to protest dictator Nicolas Maduro.  Karl Marx was wrong -- the masses revolt against socialism.

Now I want to address something else.  Back in August, I noticed an exchange on Facebook concerning Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson's advocacy of legalizing marijuana.  One man, who claims to support free markets and deregulation, huffed that he looks down upon those who spend so much time espousing the need for marijuana legalization.  This man said that smoking pot is self-destructive and therefore only flaky people engage in this sort of activism.  He wrote, "My greatest concern is that if this is one of the important things for some people, the liberty to do stupid stuff, then it's pretty much over."

The implication there is that your priorities are misguided at best if you are fighting for someone's right to do something unwise even if that unwise behavior results in physical damage only to the person who chooses to partake in that behavior. The idea is that instead of fighting for someone's right to be stupid, we should be fighting for someone's right to exercise wisdom and be productive. But the truth is that there is no freedom to be wise unless there is a freedom to be peaceably unwise.

By Denying Them Ownership of Their Deaths, the Soviets Denied Them Ownership of Their Lives
The degree to which you have legal control of your own life can be gauged by the degree to which you have legal control over your death. In the gulags, some prisoners were so horrified by how they were treated that, as a last act of autonomy, they tried to starve themselves to death. Thus, the Soviet guards force-fed them. The Soviets would not even let these prisoners own their own deaths. The Soviets knew exactly what message they were sending: if you own your own death, it implies you own your life. Bey depriving you of the right to die, they deny you the full right to your own life.

To Ban Religious Belief Is to Deny Your Right to Come to Know If You’re Atheist
Likewise -- as I have stated earlier on this blog -- if you do not have the freedom to be religious, then the truth is that you actually do not have the full freedom to be an atheist. If you live in a society where you can be any religion or have no religion, then you have the ability to weigh your options. You can study Hinduism and judge whether or not you believe in it. But let's suppose that the government outlawed any belief in Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, etc. -- you could not even talk about religious beliefs and weigh them. If that was the case, how would you truly know you are an atheist?

If the State forbade you from believing in Buddhism or studying it, you would not know for certain that you disagree with Buddhism. By contrast, if you are free to practice any religion you want peaceably, and free to study all the religions, and then you judge that you disbelieve all religions, then you know your atheism is genuine. Most people who proclaim, as adults, to be atheist, reached such a point because they lived their lives for years under a specific religion and, reflecting upon their experiences, ascertained that continuing to believe in religion was not really doing it for them. You are fully free to be come to grips with your atheism no more than to the extent that you are fully free to believe in a deity.

If the State Banned Peaceable Choices It Deemed Unhealthy and Unwise, How Would We Ascertain for Ourselves What Is Unhealthy and Unwise? 
 Now let's consider rationality and wisdom. If you follow me on Twitter, you have probably seen me rail very disapprovingly against what I judge to be quack medical treatments. I think that people who partake in these quack medical treatments are doing something unwise. I think that when you pay money for acupuncture or chiropracty on yourself, you are, at best, wasting your money. 

 But it does not follow from this that a government based on a rational philosophy would outlaw a consenting adult from receiving an acupuncture treatment. I have seen many scientists in pro-GMO and Skeptic groups on Facebook proclaim that, in the name of reason, people should be protected from wasting their money on foolish medical treatments. 

 I say that these supposed advocates of reason do not actually understand reason; they definitely do not understand the learning process whereby humans exercise the rational faculty. Rationality starts off as an inductive process. That is, we first learn from observation and experience. Those are our most powerful teachers. I was not lactose intolerant as a child, but, upon becoming an adult, I became lactose intolerant (that is actually common for Asians). Therefore, it would be unwise of me to drink milk without taking a lactase pill. How did I learn that that would be unwise? It was because I drank a lot of milk and had bad reactions, and eventually I had to contemplate the possibility that while I was not lactose intolerant as a child, I had become intolerant as an adult. Sometimes you learn indirectly what choices are unwise. I observed the bad consequences of alcoholism from other people and therefore chose to conduct myself differently.

Those Who Ask for the State to Compel Rationality in Citizens, Show That They Don’t Know What Rationality Is
Some supposed advocates of reason seem to say, "Well, now we know what is healthy and unhealthy. At this point in the history of science, we already know what we need to know. Therefore, we should have the State ban what we know to be unhealthy. We know what types of foods and beverages and ingredients are unhealthy. By denying anyone the opportunity to make an unwise and unhealthy choice, we make everyone rational by default. By compelling the rational choice, we have made everyone rational." 

 That is foolish. It is not rational but rationalistic. Notice that the conventional wisdom among doctors about what sort of food choices are healthy or unhealthy has changed greatly over the past fifteen years alone. And fifteen years ago, health officials issued their same dubious pronouncements with the same level of confidence as those who presently ask the State to legislate our health. 

 The principle holds: it is only by allowing people the freedom to make peaceful-but-unwise choices that we learn, from observation and experience, which peaceful choices are unwise. It is through the freedom of making choices -- wise, peaceful-but-unwise, and sometimes a combination of those -- that we learn which choices are wise. And it is through that process that we exercise rationality and learn to be wise. Thus, any attempt to "compel reason" -- by using the force of law to deny people the freedom to make allegedly unwise and unhealthy choices -- amounts to such a perverse caricature of reason that it becomes the worst attack on reason. I hate quack medicine and consider it irrational. But to outlaw an adult from choosing quack medicine for himself is a greater irrationality, for it assaults the very methodology by which we learn what is wise versus unwise.

The Initiation of the Use of Force As the One Form of Stupidity That Must Be Banned By Law
There is but one type of irrationality that the law must prevent:  the initiation of the use of force.  I believe that if a man tries to rob or rape others, that is irrational and ultimately self-harming.  Should a man try that, it is not merely that others will rightfully retaliate.  There are other reasons why this is irrational and self-harming.  First, a man who makes his living through preying off of others will be left helpless when he runs out of victims.  Also, a man who lives off of preying on other people is ultimately dependent on the victims, rendering him ultimately weaker than his victims.  Psychologically, that is untenable, and that is why a man who starts off dabbling in just "small" violations of the rights of others will usually become more psychologically unhinged as this process of corruption continues.

For people to exercise their rationality to satiate themselves, they have to be free from the initiation of the use of force.  If a man points a gun at me and says, "Give me your wallet! Comply or die!", I am not left free to exercise my own judgment; I am placed in a lose-lose situation where either I lose my life instantly or I lose the wealth I earned and need to sustain my life.  Thus, the violation of the rights of others is violently stupid, not peaceably stupid, and is the one form of stupidity that must be verboten by the State.

 For the State to deny you your right to death is for the State to impinge on your right to live. For the State to deny you the freedom to have faith in religion is for the State to deny you the full freedom to learn for yourself if, deep down, you are an atheist. And for the State to deny you the freedom to exercise peaceful-but-unwise choices is for the State to deny you the freedom to exercise the rational process in ascertaining what is wise. 

 Therefore, it is not petty or shallow for someone to fight for the legal liberty to exercise choices that are peaceful-but-unwise. By fighting for the right of others to be peaceably unwise and unproductive, you fight for the right to be to be wise and productive. And those who would denigrate our crusade to establish the freedom of others to be peaceably unwise and lazy as crusading for something that is shallow and petty, are those who do not understand the very means by which human beings rationally learn to be wise and productive.