Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sam Harris says (almost) everything I wanted to say eloquently!

(via pharyngula)

Apparently, Sam Harris has been taking some heat from his Libertarian fans from a post he made regarding the rich, and Harris recommended raising their taxes. I have been collecting notes for a post of my own on Libertarians and why their proposals won't work, but it seems Harris has covered many of the points I was planning to make.
Many of my critics imagine that they have no stake in the well-being of others. How could they possibly benefit from other people getting first-rate educations? How could they be harmed if the next generation is hurled into poverty and despair? Why should anyone care about other people’s children? It amazes me that such questions require answers.
This is something that I have encountered that bothers me everytime I see it. I once saw someone ask the question of why they should have to pay for other people's children to go to school when her and her husband were not planning to have kids. There are many examples of why they should, but the one I provided was that it was going to be other people's children taking care of her in a nursing home if and when she gets to that age. It's amazing how short-sighted people can be.
Why do we have laws in the first place? To prevent adults from behaving like dangerous children. All laws are coercive and take the following form: do this, and don’t do that, or else. Or else what? Or else men with guns will arrive at your door and take you away to prison. Yes, it would be wonderful if we did not need to be corralled and threatened in this way. And many uses of State power are both silly and harmful (the “war on drugs” being, perhaps, the ultimate instance). But the moment certain strictures are relaxed, people reliably go berserk. And we seem unable to motivate ourselves to make the kinds of investments we should make to create a future worth living in. Even the best of us tend to ignore some of the more obvious threats to our long term security.
(Bolded emphasis mine.) Libertarians tend to promote this idea that people have become dependent on government, taking away from their motivation to take care of themselves and making them lazy, with the implication being that if you get rid of government, people will magically become motivated, hard workers. It may be true that some people do become less motivated, but reality seems to be exaggerated by the Libertarians. Consider Ron Paul's comments on how we should get rid of FEMA and be like 1900. The reality is that 1900 is nothing to brag about. According to Wikipedia, the Galveston hurricane (to which Ron Paul was referring...and apparently they did not have a hurricane naming system yet) is cited as the "deadliest natural disaster ever to strike the United States," killing an estimated 8,000 people. Ron Paul, you can keep your 1900; I prefer living in the 21st century! ***EDIT:*** In a slight defense of Ron Paul, I doubt there would have been much for warning or hurricane tracking systems back then. So, it's not quite fair to compare the impact of hurricanes of today to those back then, however, I still find that Ron Paul's policies would be a step in the wrong direction and would likely result in more disaster related deaths.

Or take Marco Rubio speaking about medicare and social security, claiming that these programs have "weakened our people." The reality is that it really hasn't. Again, there could certainly be people that have been "weakened," but these programs appear to do more good than harm. On a side note, Rubio claims that people had to no longer worry about saving for security because it "was the government's job." But, people do save for security! They are called payroll taxes. If he wants to bitch complain about government forcing people to save, he can do that, but claiming that people don't otherwise save is misleading. ***EDIT:*** I myself have a 401k in which I build up savings.
Many of us have been extraordinarily lucky—and we did not earn it. Many good people have been extraordinarily unlucky—and they did not deserve it. And yet I get the distinct sense that if I asked some of my readers why they weren’t born with club feet, or orphaned before the age of five, they would not hesitate to take credit for these accomplishments. There is a stunning lack of insight into the unfolding of human events that passes for moral and economic wisdom in some circles...
Many of the Libertarians I engage online seem to have this idea that people become wealthy because they are either smart, hard workers, good decision makers (which could be considered part of being smart), or--even better--a combination of the three. Harris's club foot example is exactly the type of ignorance these people exhibit. For example, those who claim their intelligence helped them out seem to have neither considered that they might be good learners nor any remorse for those with learning disabilities.

I have more to say on Libertarian ideas and how they are based on a world of fantasy, so keep an eye out for a future post.

One thing Harris said that I do want to address is this statement:
As someone who has written and spoken at length about how we might develop a truly “objective” morality, I am often told by followers of Rand that their beloved guru accomplished this task long ago. The result was Objectivism—a view that makes a religious fetish of selfishness and disposes of altruism and compassion as character flaws. If nothing else, this approach to ethics was a triumph of marketing, as Objectivism is basically autism rebranded.
I think it's a bit unfair to compare Objectivists to autism. My thought is that Harris was trying to make an analogy to the impared social behavior of autistic people, because that would be the result of selfishness. I could be wrong, but I do not believe Harris was trying to insult anyone with autism.

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