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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

"Coddling" the Giant Oligarchic Companies

Fareed Zakaria writes in the Washington Post:

"The American economy is sputtering and we are running out of options. Interest rates can't go any lower. Another burst of government spending -- whether a good or bad idea -- looks politically impossible. Can anything protect us from the dangers of stagnation or a double dip? Actually, there is a second stimulus that could have a dramatic effect on the economy -- even more so than government spending. And it won't add to the deficit."

Nevermind that it is only the commoners such as me, who see the "economy sputtering" and there is clear evidence that well financed politicians are blocking every effort to invest in infrastructure or redressing the massive inequality and dispossession that has been getting worse and worse, since Reagan was elected. Fareed is offering up a bait of spending money that workers around the country earned for their companies at one time and is now offshored instead. At least 1.6 trillion of which is "permanently invested offshore" as part of tax avoidance and offshoring schemes aimed at leveraging slave wages in other countries and tax avoidance here. (NY Times article) and as happened with about 400 billion they repatriated in 2004, they are trying to sell the USA on letting them repatriate the money at low tax rates on grounds that they'll invest it here, when - as happened in 2004 such repatriation will most likely go to CEO salaries and bonuses as it did in 2004. The New York times article recaps that:

" it led to no discernible increase in American investment or hiring. On the contrary, some of the companies that brought back the most money laid off thousands of workers, and a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research later concluded that 92 cents on every dollar was used for dividends, stock buybacks or executive bonuses."

Nevermind that government tax breaks unless they come as specific exemptions only result in more money in executive and financier coffers, or that our various companies have been running a rigged, union busting, pension stealing, cheating system of corporate governance that has resulted in that 1.8 trillion declared and even more undeclared money hidden around the world in secret accounts. But of course the CEOs didn't come out and remind him of that. Instead he talks indirectly of the benefits "if only" the honorable CEO's would spend that money here. We tried that, they pay no attention to carrots when they can dig into the nation's wealth in other ways. So Fareed notes:

The Federal Reserve recently reported that America's 500 largest non-financial companies have accumulated an astonishing $1.8 trillion of cash on their balance sheets. By any calculation (for example, as a percentage of assets), this is higher than it has been in almost half a century. Yet most corporations are not spending this money on new plants, equipment or workers. Were they to loosen their purse strings, hundreds of billions of dollars would start pouring through the economy. These investments would probably have greater effect and staying power than a government stimulus.

And other reports put the estimated money hidden abroad even higher. But so far carrots haven't gotten us any "stimulus" and Obama's begging and cajoling them is taken as "anti-business." "Pro-business" means letting them bring that money home as bonuses and for them to buy up foreclosed properties with. In other words, the switch is that none of that money would actually go to stimulus unless it is highly taxed. I say tax it all.

To be clear: There is a strong case for a temporary and targeted government stimulus. Consumers and companies are being very cautious about spending. Right now, government spending is keeping the economy afloat. Without a second stimulus, state and local governments will have to slash spending and raise taxes, which will produce a downward spiral of higher unemployment, slower growth, lower tax revenue and a larger deficit. Joel Klein, the New York City schools chancellor, told me that when the stimulus money runs out at the end of this year, he will be forced to lay off 5,000 teachers. Multiply that example a thousand times to get a sense of what 2011 could look like.

Of course the obvious fact that we have these CEOs, their companies, and their well heeled investors paying lower tax rates than unemployed Steel workers, while lobbying for lower wages and fewer benefits for the 99% of us nation-wide (actually world-wide) doesn't seem to connect with Fareed. Fact is none of them pay their fair share of taxes, and the afore mentioned New York time article showed that the "offshoring" is also just a means to funnel more wealth to their officers and leading investors. The irresponsibility and cheapness of our wealthy has a direct relationship to the loss of jobs for teachers, fire-fighters, police and workers across the country. Who will buy their products if they don't invest in the USA? Chinese, Vietnamese, etc.. of course silly. And our folks will soon be poor enough to be willing to work for slave labor wages.

Fareed buys into their sales pitch:

But government spending can only be a bridge to private-sector investment. The key to a sustainable recovery and robust economic growth is to get companies investing in America. So why are they reluctant, despite having mounds of cash? I put this question to a series of business leaders, all of whom were expansive on the topic yet did not want to be quoted by name, for fear of offending people in Washington.

NO they should fear offending the vast majority of Americans who have supported, funded, and once staffed these companies; and are now getting the shaft from them.

"Economic uncertainty was the primary cause of their caution. "We've just been through a tsunami and that produces caution," one told me. But in addition to economics, they kept talking about politics, about the uncertainty surrounding regulations and taxes. Some have even begun to speak out publicly. Jeffrey Immelt, chief executive of General Electric, complained Friday that government was not in sync with entrepreneurs. The Business Roundtable, which had supported the Obama administration, has begun to complain about the myriad laws and regulations being cooked up in Washington."

General Electric moved a lot of it's manufacturing abroad. Now they claim they are moving them back home. But they don't want to invest here unless they can do it on their terms. In other words, they ware witholding investment as part of a game to force Americans to accept corporate rule. Like John Galt's team in Atlas Shrugged, it's basically a financial strike at American Workers, bureaucrats and the people of this country in general. "Economic uncertainty?" Bullhocky, they know that they can get firesale prices if they hold off, and more importantly they are trying to extort tax breaks from a congress that is just flaccid enough to give into their designs. More "laws" and "regulations" is code for "we won't be held accountable."

He quotes a CEO as saying:

One CEO told me, "Almost every agency we deal with has announced some expansion of its authority, which naturally makes me concerned about what's in store for us for the future."

So they lobby for de-regulation and fund the Tea Party instead. And he quotes Another as:

.... pointed out that between the health-care bill, financial reform and possibly cap-and-trade, his company had lawyers working day and night to figure out the implications of all these new regulations. Lobbyists have been delighted by all this activity. "[Obama] exaggerates our power, but he increases demand for our services," super lobbyist Tony Podesta told the New York Times.

The combination of 1.8 trillion dollars and lobbyists can certainly get a lot done.

"Most of the business leaders I spoke to had voted for Barack Obama. They still admire him. Those who had met him thought he was unusually smart. But all think he is, at his core, anti-business. When I asked for specifics, they pointed to the fact that Obama has no business executives in his Cabinet, that he rarely consults with CEOs (except for photo ops), that he has almost no private-sector experience, that he's made clear he thinks government and nonprofit work are superior to the private sector. It all added up to a profound sense of distrust.

All that is smoke. They know it is smoke. The Obama administration has been the most business friendly Democratic Presidency the business community has ever seen. The man has reached out over and over again to accommodate them. And if they get what they want with the two trade agreements they are negotiating they'll have almost complete impunity and immunity from laws they don't like. So what they are really saying is "we want it all" -- they want their 1.8 trillion in bonuses and stock options -- not to pay any taxes on it.

Fact is they act like they own us

He concludes:

Some of this is a product of chance. The economic crisis forced the government to expand its authority in dozens of areas, from finance to automobiles. But precisely because of these circumstances, Obama needs to outline a growth and competitiveness agenda that is compelling to the business community. This might sound like psychology more than economics, and the populist left will surely scream that the last thing we need to do is pander to business. But the first thing we need is for these people to start spending their money -- soon. As a leading New York businessman who publicly supported Obama during the campaign told me, "their perception is our reality."

Maybe they have a point. We need industrial policy, and corporate CEO's need to have executive advisory roles on a board of governors. They have much more power than that currently. It's just all from behind closed doors. And given the revolving door and the fact that corporations write much of our regulations and laws lately. I have trouble taking them at face value. Also given Obama's administration habit of coddling them up until now, and CEO tendency to have a ruthless and thankless negotiating style. I don't believe them.

No what we need to do is to tax the hell out of that 1.8 trillion and yes, stop coddling CEOs and demand them to earn their money instead. My perception is that these are greedy b*st*rds. And Coddling them will only allow them to run yet another swindle on the taxpaying public, employees and their customers. And yes we need a growth agenda -- spend that money on infrastructure, invest in our people, decentralize our industry, and stop coddling the oligarchs. And yes, we need to reform our regulation process. Just not at the demand of often irresponsible industrialists.

Sources and references:
Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International. His e-mail address is
NY Times article:

Friday, June 14, 2013

NSA who is that?

Living Down the Street from NSA

I've been following the NSA scandals and related matters since I was a teenager and found out that there was this super secret organization down the road from my house which pretended it didn't exist and hired Marines to guard it. I heard all sorts of stories and knew people whose Daddies couldn't talk about what they did for a living and worked there. One day I took a few tests to see if I could work there. Never did get a job there. I'm kinda glad now. The place was known as the National Security Agency (NSA).

The Marines Attack Savage

One day, summer, (I think 1977) a couple of marines from NSA were engaging in recreation at the Savage Maryland Swimming hole on the Little Patuxent (we always called it the Savage river, sort of a joke), and some local toughs roughed them up. I was at work in the Savage IGA and along came a bunch of military vehicles and folks looking for those toughs. I believe an entire platoon of Marines moved through our town that day and they found the two guys I heard and roughed them up.


Shortly after that the Marines were replaced with Hired Guards. Never got that job either. I finished College and was in Buddhism and an organization that called itself "NSA" Nichiren Shoshu Sokagakkai, but was really a branch of a Japanese "New religion." I really thought I could save the world with "Nam Myoho Renge Kyo" for about 20 years from 1974 to 1994. During that time, NSA the spy org, receded to the back of my mind except as a potential employer. Never did get a job there. They require really scary polygraph tests and since I only know I was born in Corona because it says so on my birth certificate, just the thought of all those wires scares me. I got a job out of college, 1978-1979 working for a microfilming company called Datacorp. The place operated 24/7 and I burned out after 2 years. Fell in love with a girl who didn't really love me back. Unemployed. Soon after that in the early 80s I made friends with a Polish dissident named Helena and she got me to help one of her German dissident friends leave Germany. Eventually I did get her out of there. It took about 4 years and a trip to East Germany around 1982. When I came back I almost married a Brazilian. I was out of the running for ever having a security clearance. I did have friends in Buddhism who were in security. At that time many of them lived at Fort Meade. I had a weird life. Explaining that during a polygraph test would have been a challenge.

It turns out the way around all that is to join the military, get a good job assignment, and they then take care of all that stuff. Civilian tracks are much harder. For me getting into my career was a catch 22, got degree, but they wanted "experience" or a "clearance", how do I get that? In the late 70's and early 80's even the military wasn't hiring for good jobs. I should have joined anyway. I took my bachelor's degree and applied it to humping furniture. Got hired by a moving and storage company.

Trying to get into a Programming Job

I had done deliveries of microfilm from 1978-1980. But when I blew that job I found myself unable to continue working with Computers and programming. I took classes. I took a job with a Moving and Storage Company. I wasn't doing programming but my company, Burnham Services, got contracts. My company got some real good contracts delivering stuff for IBM and other Computer manufacturers. I removed or delivered Giant computers and replaced them with ever smaller units. From 1983 or so til I quit approximately 1988. I mostly worked in the Warehouse. Though I participated in some big moves and did whatever they asked me. I married my wife in 1984 and had a son. In 1987 I had a daughter. In 1988 my X became my X and left me, twice. Around the end of 1988 my house would be hit by a drunk Driver.

Shipping Computers

We had contracts to deliver the first PC's. These were big IBM machines with floppy drives as big as vinyl records and limited amounts of memory. I was expert at tracking down missing shipments, but also good at loading and unloading trucks so I was constantly involved in finding and tracking shipments and machinery. Around 1987 or 1988 our company was expanding so much that we were getting contracts in cities where our non-union status was a handicap. I would have joined a union in a heartbeat, but management was religiously against them and operated like the inquisition on the subject. We tried to open a branch in a Union city and there was a shooting war! Our drivers were carrying guns and showing me bullet holes when I was loading and unloading them. We had something called the "Burnham Express" and I was detailed to make sure they got in and out on schedule like a clock. I was proud of that job. It also took me off the night shift where I'd been for a long time. Anyway...

Around that time, we started shipping things with classified markings. Why they shipped them through our warehouses made no sense to me, but we were doing it. We had stuff marked for NSA, State Department, Commerce department, and other places I was sure that if I talked about somebody might off me. Around that time we had shipments going to places like NSA. The people who delivered them had to have clearances. I watched every day, while driving to work as they expanded the NSA buildings. They built 2 buildings with an inner shell and an outer shell, and I believe the purpose was for electronic shielding.

People I knew who worked there told me stories. I learned NSA was not supposed to spy on Americans, but could collect useful information from the key presses of a manual type-writer and that most encrypted messages and other measures were a waste of time. I'm sure some of the information was disinformation, but folks working for NSA proudly took credit for the USA defeating communism even before the Berlin Wall Fell. NSA collated the information from other agencies, I heard, and that information included the ability to read license plates from space. The person who told me that later denied he said it. Maybe it was hype. But that is how NSA was to folks who lived in it's neighborhood. Super Secret, staffed with paranoid people who didn't want you even walking near, and who patrolled the grounds with arms in armored vehicles -- and that was before the Berlin Wall Fell.

Inslaw and Me

Almost a year into working the "Burnham Express", we had some of our machines start disappearing. Funny thing is this was after we upped the security with razor wire and a guard tower. Our warehouse was so secure I used to consider how easy it would be to turn our giant warehouse into a prison.

Anyway, I came into work one morning, around 1986-87 and my immediate boss, a guy named Ray, asked me if I'd seen or moved these particular boxes with computers in them. I hadn't of course, but I spent the next hour trying to help him find the missing equipment. Over the next few months more machines started disappearing. These computers had software pre-loaded on them, and that apparently was what the thieves were after. But what was astounding was who was involved in solving the problem.

Around the time the machines started disappearing we had had some visitors from our headquarters in Burlington Alabama. The only thing that impressed me about them was that they were very much Southern boys. A couple of them were very smart, but they fairly reeked of ambition. A few of them showed up to "help" us with inventory issues. They showed up before the "secret" machines started disappearing. In retrospect I know what happened was an inside job. But I was idealistic.

Soon after a whole team showed up. They were there to "help" with the missing machines. After a short time, one day Ray was ordered to take all the machines that were special order and wrap them with police tape. I asked him "why not put a camera on the machines." We thought this was like putting a target on the machines the thieves were after, but the orders came from the office. We knew they were loaded with specialized financial tracking software. Somebody wanted them. I told my boss he should put some security cameras pointing to the boxes and hide the cameras. He was ordered by the Inventory specialist a guy named "Max" not to. I go home. Next morning two more boxes were gone.

That became a pretext for firing everyone in charge, who happened to not be involved with the missing machines. My Manager Roy and his assistant were both cool guys who were dedicated, loyal and worked very hard. Roy Arnsmeier would work right alongside you and was like the energizer bunny. He took B12 shots that he credited for his energy. He managed multiple locations and was really good at his job. The two of them were out of town when all this was happening, yet for some reason the senior management fired them, and put these inventory specialists in charge of our branch.

"This Never Happened" – Buying the Company

Shortly after that they got investment money I was told came from either China or the Saudis, and bought out the company. Max became a wealthy guy. But what was funny is that as soon as they fired my rather innocent manager and his assistant, the boxes not only stopped disappearing but I was told by our Security Manager in very serious tones "This Never happened."

I can't prove this story ever occurred as I remember it, except I was a witness. It was curious that all this was occurring as a family known as the "Inslaws" were suing the Federal Government for stealing their software. The Promis Software the Inslaws sued about, was probably what was loaded on the machines that went missing. I'll never know who stole the machines, but it is probably whoever bought Burnham Services around the same time.


The investigator Danny Casolaro suicided in 1990 for investigating INSLAW. I understood the software developer also committed suicide, but I can only verify Danny's death. My involvement ended shortly after that when I quit and went looking for a job that had some future for me. That was the 80's. I pretty much have about 90% confidence that I know who really done it. Max Herring. The man is resting in peace now so it doesn't matter, but I'm pretty sure he was involved in something related to CIA/NSA with that incident. Don't know if those machines were going to NSA or somewhere else, but I suspect the thefts were an inside job, maybe even part of a larger deceptive plot. I only got to go to NSA once for that company, that was on a delivery. But spy spooks frighten me, (dead spooks don't) so I'm glad. Never did get a job there. I moved from near Savage to DC. Eventually moved into a tiny studio apartment.

1990's and CDSI

In the 1990's I got to interview for some IT jobs near NSA. I got in with a company that had a huge variety of computer work, CDSI. I ran their old mainframes, delivered stuff all over the place, and eventually started getting contract assignments. I literally started in the mailroom! When a contract ended, they'd find me a new one. I finally started getting into IT and they let me test programs and was prepared to become a programmer. Learned all the languages of the time: C, COBOL, Fortran, Java, and some of the old ones; PASCAL, ADA, PL/1, and most usefully I learned SQL. A select statement may have different syntax in MySQL versus Oracle, but the concepts are identical. I was finally doing my career finally. I was trained as a Tester and could write computer programs. A few times I got close to getting one, but never did get a job at NSA.

Did work for a Navy Contract. As a tester I got to work on pay and personnel subjects. Also some security subjects. NSA is the go to source if you want to understand cryptology, encoding and the rules for cyber-security. I learned a lot from the Navy, mostly from NSA or DISA sources. But I didn't have that top secret clearance, and it was a struggle to get the majority of the jobs. NSA was expanding in the 1990's. The Security establishment doesn't care whose president, just so long as they can be left alone to "protect" Americans from "enemies" "foreign and domestic." NSA wasn't supposed to be spying on people in the United States. But we also had that 5 eyes thing. I was told we did intelligence sharing and our friends shared critical information about our people with us. It's easy to get a warrant for watching a genuine spy. And it's easy for a whistleblower or dissident to get labeled as a spy. A lady in my Apartment complex claimed she was arrested and tried by a secret court in Virginia. She didn't tell me what she was arrested for and I figured she was nuts. Secret courts in the USA? What's that? Shouldn't that be all over the news? I worked that company until 2000.


In 2000 or so I got a job at BLS. We had a Secret Service Office right over head whose whole job was to make sure that none of us invested in anything or misused our advance knowledge of employment and economic data. I had advance notice I was being spied on, and it didn't bother me. I learned all about Databases, got to do some minor scripting and testing, but mostly maintained several databases and released employment information to the Public on a tight schedule. We were always within a second of release time. Never one second early, and rarely more than a second or two late. By being perfect I made the job look easy. They had hired me in case anything went wrong. As a contractor I'd be easy to fire should there be an early release or a breach. I could have been fired for someone elses malfeasance I found out later. We had one breach due to cell phone use down in the Reporter's area. We left all our records out and went to lunch, and when we came back we were fine and the miscreant identified. That is prophylactic security, and I'm fine with that -- no need for a scapegoat like me.

After I left that job I became an Requirements and process maven, and learned about information architecture, acquisitions and related laws. Since contracting is impermanent I was always looking for another position after each contract got to end. So I've applied to NSA several times, and been around some of their IT projects. I can pretty much verify that most of what is going on is based on cool technology being used to get information to go after terrorists. I also know that NSA has had the ability to spy on anyone it wants and has had that technology for most of it's history. In the right hands this is benign. In the wrong hands this is 1984. I'm worried. Not about Obama, but all the enthusiastic prosecutors waiting in the wings. It's they who have criminalized whistle-blowing and real dissent. I got to work with military medical IT and that was cool. The irony is, there I was pushing for better security. The medical folks are supposed to protect Personally Identifiable Information, and that requires that people only have need to know access limited to their area of concern and not only their clearance. There are ways to filter information so that people see what they are supposed to see. Better security means security that respects privacy rights, prevents unauthorized access, and defines unauthorized access to include sketchy access from corrupt officers. I was always puzzled by hard it was to get standards adopted.


Fact is good security is compatible with Democracy, but it involves letting the people watch the watchers and requiring all the evidence on the table. The day when "sources and methods" was a legitimate secret, probably should be over. I found out that the entire world operates security in similar manners. Some do it better than us (the Israelis), some more brutally (The Russians), some idiosyncratically (the Chinese). Bad Security is tyranny. Good security is simply boundary enforcement -- which is the heart of all people's rights.

There are lots of jobs in the spy business if you already have a clearance; mostly for people who know how to use and access a database, or search data. Meta Data has become an important business, and the ability to data mine personal information has become important to marketing, finance, as well as to law enforcement and the spook business. These cats are out of the bag and can't be put back. But we can put some strict controls on the acquisition and use of data. It is not legitimate property of companies or third parties. It is our personal data and therefore our personal property by right, and therefore someone taking ownership of it who is not trustworthy by us is a violation of public trust and usurpation. Once we understand that the real issues start to be clear. I've lived with NSA all my life. NSA never has scared me. It's those sketchy people who use their power for personal benefit who scare me.

Thanks to 9/11 the pretend wall between NSA spying outside USA and inside has vanished. I follow NSA in the news. Stories like how they started storing info from the internet even before the internet was commercialized, how they can store conversations from every phone on earth. More stuff that I couldn't share if I knew. Oh yes, it's an organization to be scared of. And NSA capabilities have a tendancy to become private powers. I run into folks who've spent time in jail because the NSA believed they had disrespected it; not even broken a real law. 30 years ago A Guy like Edward Snow never would have made it to Hong Kong and there was no NSA and there would have been no Edward Snow after he tried to leak that information. Oh yes, they can be very scary folks. Never did get a job there, probably never will. I'm telling this story because I've finally giving up on the prospect. Seriously, NSA you still can shut me up easy. Hire me. I'm not a tattle tale.

Written 6/14/2013, updated a little in 2019

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Redeeming God from the Charlatans

One reason I've been redeeming the theological approach to arguing for progressive ideas is that unless religious interpretation is done honestly the field is left to religious demagogues and outright swindlers. When intellectuals fled the field of theology to rejectionist atheism, they also left the field to authoritarian literalist interpretations of religion. More importantly, by rejecting religion as a whole many of them opened themselves up to a kind of spiritual angst not moderated by the kind of guidance that enables moral and reasonable people to put away "the things of childhood" for mature an more nuanced understanding. A lot in religion is anaecdotal, allegorial, metaphorical, metaphysical, thought experiment, or designed to enable exposition of moral points. Religious dogma is often intended for a child's understanding or for those too busy to think deeply. All spiritual people are borderline atheists. An honest person struggles to decide what parts of his or her heritage are myth and legend, and what parts to take literally. We are enjoined to believe, but to also follow the material truth when it's not misleading us. We don't have to believe literally. And we don't have to accept authoritarianism or dogma. The authority should come from the reasonableness of the arguments and the context of the proofs.

There are spiritual and moral reasons for not rejecting "religion" and staying in the fray. Religious information is institutional wisdom. And if the authoritarians trot out sophistry, much of that is falsifiable and the library still contains the arguments and truths to refute such sophistry. A wise person can use exegesis to refute such sophistry, as John locke did the "divine right of kings" in his "Two Treatise on Government." Common folks had been doing this refutation in a brief slogan dating to the thirteenth century; "When Adam spat and Eve span, who was then the nobleman?" The reason this works and the reason it is needed is that behind most tyrannical decision making are selfish and self-interested reasons, and religion has been pitted against greed, anger and arrogance all along -- even when it's own officers; popes, monks, polemicists have been thoroughly flawed people. So the myth is at odds with the reality? The myth is often an exemplar for virtues necessary for people to play a functional role in society. There are gems of wisdom in even the most flawed of arguments, and one can discern the truth from a pack of lies by observing what happens when the lies are tried.

So I don't reject the religious, just their authoritarian and poorly reasoned arguments. I admire their courage and efforts to do the right thing. And if they are honest people they'll make at least some decisions honestly. If they are dishonest people they'll gradually expose the twisted minds behind the fawning smiles.

I don't know if there is a All Wise, all Knowing God, and don't see much evidence in this world that God is sentient, but I can assume that Universe is a Creator, and I can pray that God actually cares while acting as if he might. That doesn't mean I believe in God. I still haven't been talked to by a burning Bush, and probably would check myself in for treatment if one talked to me. But that doesn't mean I'm an atheist either -- the subject is too important to leave to charlatans. I'm also not agnostic. I know the Universe is self-created. I only pray that somewhere in all that vastness there is the capability to wake up, and that we humans will wake up. I have faith that man will do so one day. That faith demands that I strive to do something in the moment to help make it soon.

Supreme Court does the right thing -- More or less

Supreme Court Ruled Genes can't be Patented

And so one of the more hopeful nuggets in a sea of pro-corporatist and pro-rent seeking decisions is todays almost theological rendering of the court against patenting genes. My only problem is that animal and plant genes shouldn't be patented either. At least not without strong caveats to prevent the kind of behavior where a company like Monsanto sues down-wind farmers oppressively because they can't contain their genes in their sold product. Patenting genes and other intellectual property grabbing is mostly unjustified usurpation of the commons. The decision was unanimous but the fight isn't over:

"The justices took the position offered by the Obama administration -- DNA itself is not patentable but so-called "cDNA" can be. Complementary DNA is artificially synthesized from the genetic template, and engineered to produce gene clones."

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


How time softens the sand,
Turns starfish to decorations,
and shards of broken glass to lovely stones.
Time takes our tracks away,
and lets the seabirds play,
where children always cry,
in trepidation of forever waves.
And time ignores human ways,
to try to stamp sandy beaches.
It gobbles mans flimsy things,
but leaves behind lovely reaches.
And time forgets and time teaches,
if we but listen to conch shells,
and stop chattering like lonely monkeys
and wasting time stocking shelves.
when we could be roasting like an outdoor grill
on a beach blanket between heaven and hell.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Ayn Rand argues against the Enlightenment

A face book friend of mine has a facebook page entitled "Ayn Rand Collected Social Security" that is devoted to the situational ethics (or lack there-of) of Ayn Rand and those sharing her core values. His view of her is a little less nuanced than mine, but essentially the same. Nothing illustrates the immoral emptiness and hypocrisy of Randian/Darwinian/Nietzchean/Darwinian thinking like that title for his facebook group.

I wrote a lot about Ayn Rand about 5 years ago, but it's time to talk about her ideas some more. It's not personal, had I known her and been in her age group maybe I'd have found her hot and she'd have been on my past list of future ex-wives. I'm attracted to Psycho Babes, something that self-preservation has led me to learn to control.

[Reference to Today's "Bizaaro" cartoon]

Fortunately for me she's from a prior generation and is more my late Grandmom's age. Mercifully she's past. Unmercifully she has a cult following that includes many otherwise intelligent people and a lot of folks with power. Her "objectivism" is only the latest incarnation of Nietzchean, Machiavellian, Social Darwinian anti-Christian (and anti-God/Athieistic) rationalization for Mobster "Business" morality. What is funny, is how many people who claim to be Christians follow her rationales. But none of that is surprising, like many professional right wing folks she made her money traveling the motivational circuit and talking to businessmen and salesmen. They loved her.

Immoral images of morality

Arguing with the smarter libertarians is always a bit like being in Wonderland at the Red Queen's court. You hear arguments decrying situational ethics from practitioners. You hear arguments for immorality that claim their non existent morality is merely a fine clothe that only wise people can see. You hear claims that you don't need laws and regulations because immoral behavior is not in their (Long term) best interest. (Read [""] for truth) And sometimes you hear direct attacks on fundamental principles of morality and civilization disguised as a "new morality". These numerous bait and switch arguments sound reasonable until you think about them -- or see how they are applied. Then you see that they are using sugar to hide the taste of poison, and that they are arguments that are mere advertizing for a Bizarro world where right is wrong, selfishness is moral, and trust or doing the right thing is somehow immoral.

I've heard the arguments and for a long time I thought; "These people are smarter and have more status than I have, so I should keep my mouth shut and believe they might have a point. But the reality of their arguments is that the arguments degrade the subjects they touch, misrepresent what others are saying, and have negative consequences to social order and maybe even the survival of humankind. So I see I have a duty to challenge them. I've always liked challenging subjects because it allows me to learn by comparing what one person says to another. This lets me refresh my memory about reality and eases my anxiety about what I'm hearing when it sounds loopy. But the arguments sound good until the truth starts nagging at one's conscience. I've dated all of them. They are all psycho babes.

After doing this for a long time I find I've been around the block and heard both sides and and I can't afford to shut up. I don't want to have any flings that will result in "future ex-wives." Randianism, Friedmanism, Hayekism, Nietzcheanism, all go back to Edmund Burke and his betrayal of the enlightenment, and before that the ancient sophists and the Niccoli Machievelli. All through history Aristocrats have found it easy to enlist scholars to make their case. It takes courage to be a John Locke or a Thomas Paine. Everytime I read them I find myself appreciating the politicians and philosophers of the enlightenment more. ece of Machievelli and the ancient sophists, all of whom championed aristocracy out of cynicism and arrogance.

Supernatural God Atheists Straw Argument

Anyway, the Randians, try to undermine classical understandings of natural rights as “God Given” or “inalienable” by reducing these arguments to an absurdity. They claim that:

"The “natural” law to which Locke, Jefferson, and the other Enlightenment thinkers refer is not natural law but “supernatural” law. It comes not from nature but from “God.”"

But this is a straw argument because the “natural law” is referring to the laws of nature. It is not referring to a “supernatural law” because that would be the super-set of “Gods laws” that contain natural law. Conflating natural law with supernatural law because it “comes from God” is just misunderstanding the theological point – which is the notion that God created the world and all the laws in it. The laws of nature exist regardless of what man thinks about them, or how they came to exist. They are simply laws. Most of science is an explanation of the laws of nature, and until the post modern age even religious people understood that natural law, nature and the material world were a subset of the super-set of mystery which is beyond the reach of human minds that is called “Gods Law” and includes the material world, maybe as a small part of something much bigger and eternal. For classical writers it was taken for granted that “Natures God” or the “Philosopher’s God” could be seen as extractions referring to an order that was so gigantic and mysterious that it makes this entire world, from Adam to the End of Times, seem like a triffle. This view of God as a generative principle is as much an observation of our universe as it is a deduction from religion. When Jefferson says:

"Under the law of nature, all men are born free, every one comes into the world with a right to his own person, which includes the liberty of moving and using it at his own will. This is what is called personal liberty, and is given him by the Author of nature."

Classical writers like Jefferson (see assume God as a Generative principle, and the laws of nature as a subset of the laws of God. There is no conflict between “Gods Laws” and “Nature’s Laws”. Those laws are just there and an author, abstract or real is assumed. The real authority is the law itself, regardless of who wrote it. Similarly the universe exists, therefore something created it (even if it was self-created) and that something is defined as the “God of Creation”. This abstract notion exists because the universe (creation) exists. If that abstract notion is associated with some being the characteristics of that being are infinite size, mystery, and ineffableness. If somehow we resemble that creator we are very lucky.

So it is absurd to argue that:

If natural rights come from God, then proof of their existence depends on proof of God’s existence—and further, on proof that God somehow makes rights exist and cannot repeal them. But, again, there is no evidence for the existence of God, much less for the existence of natural moral laws or inalienable rights that somehow emanate from his will.

No, on the contrary the concept of natural rights comes from the concept of natural laws, which are a matter of observation as much as of religious interpretation. The whole idea of science is based on natural law, which is independent of whether the “creator” or “author” is any particular image invented by man, or even a rational being and not simply the mystery of self creation and a Life, the Universe and Everything that is simply there.

Denying false notions of God

But Rand and her followers just go on to show their ignorance further:

To accept the existence of “God” is ultimately to accept it on faith; accordingly, to accept the idea that “rights” somehow “come from God” is to rest one’s case for rights on faith. This will not do.

But this is a straw argument created by the counter-enlightenment. One does not accept the philosopher’s God, or the God of Nature on Faith. It is an abstraction from the existence of a Universe and the existence of nature and all the laws associated with it. It is the further attributes of God, that this “generative principle” somehow has a greater purpose or compassion for us tiny human beings that one has to have faith in. It is the other mysteries of our existenses in the face of eternity and our short lives that make that faith seem reasonable. But the case for rights does not depend on faith. It is the case for whether humans will ever keep their promises to each other on rights and ethics that requires faith.

He then quotes Ayn Rand directly:

”[T]o rest one’s case on faith means to concede . . . that one has no rational arguments to offer . . . that there are no rational arguments to support the American system, no rational justification for freedom, justice, property, individual rights, that these rest on a mystic revelation and can be accepted only on faith—that in reason and logic the enemy is right.”

Indeed in making this argument Ayn Rand and her followers have setup the same straw and bait and switch arguments that have allowed the resurrection of zombie pseudo fundamentalist and authoritarian ideas such as the abomination that God can be owned by man It is those who force people to choose between atheism and fundamentalism who are distorting reality. Not the philosophers of the enlightenment. Rand has setup a bait and switch argument. One that can just as easily be turned around by fanatics of all stripes. An atheist can say “there is no God, therefore you have no rights” and it will be just as absurd as when a fundamentalist says “Rights aren’t spelled out in the Bible therefore they don’t exist.” One doesn’t rest the case for rights on faith. The appeal to the authority of God is a convention used both to refer to the Philosopher’s God and the God of Nature, but doesn’t depend on it for rationality. It’s more a shorthand. The fact that Rand felt she needed to replace these arguments with others indicates how poorly she understood them not their irrationality.

So, It is the post modern regressive notion of a Authoritarian God that is being artificially pitted against the traditional notion that included God as abstract generative principle and nature’s God as the generator/creator of the laws of nature that causes her to feel she must make her arguments and that is the real problem. This reflects modern ignorance and bad education more than simple conflict. Formerly, people actually regularly studied theology and the bible as a literary and philosophical subject. They learned that the God referred to under so many names can be either an actual physical entity, an abstraction, or simply a stand in for an ineffable higher reality that no human being can image properly. They also learned that the notions of religion have evolved over many centuries and that none of us humans can claim a perfect wisdom, especially if one truly believes in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Moses. The side effect of folks not regularly studying religion is that they easily fall into the simplistic dogmas taught to the simple minded [including otherwise intelligent fanatics and authoritarians] or gullible by religious and political demagogues.

There is no need to choose between this sect or that sect or this image of God or that image of God. There is not even need to believe in the great ineffable God. All one can do is to declare for the “one true God,” put the emphasis on actual in fact truth, and hope that one has the subject right and that the ineffable one believes and helps one as one goes about doing what needs to be done. The law of Nature is part of the laws of Universe and we can only pray that Universe is sentient and listens to our prayers. No one is forced to declare for atheism in such a universe. A bit of skepticism about the perfect goodness of such a God might be order however.

So it is this post modern regressive notion of an authoritarian God imaged by preachers/Imams and pseudo fundamentalists of all kinds who claim to own God as the “one true religion” against it’s enemies – that is the heresy. The writers of the enlightenment had already refuted this heresy. It is the modern order that forces people to declare for absurdist images of God and to choose between atheism and deism on absurd arguments. And of course the irony is that most Randians choose to hold two absurd and contradictory ideas (fundamentalism and Randism) at the same time instead. Indeed many of them despise the theist arguments and prefer Rands arguments because they are more conducive to economic shenanigans.

State of Nature, in Context

Locke had talked in great detail about "the state of nature" and he was referring specifically to a time when man had not banded together into groups to protect himself from beasts and other men. He talked about this largely to refute naturalist, patronistic and abusive notions of liberty as he had found exemplified in a book by Sir Robert Filmer. The author of the article I'm citing has to understand this because the passage he cites from Locke looks very different when the context is restored. The passage the quote is taken from his definition of the State of Nature, which is not a supernatural state at all but an idealized state. Locke writes:

To understand political power aright, and derive it from its original, we must consider what estate all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of Nature, without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other man.

Thus he's talking about a "wild state" before any government of men is enforced. Not anything supernatural. And Locke continues:

A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another, there being nothing more evident than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of Nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another, without subordination or subjection, unless the lord and master of them all should, by any manifest declaration of his will, set one above another, and confer on him, by an evident and clear appointment, an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty.

Indeed this sounds like a libertarian or anarchist utopia. And Locke continues:

This equality of men by Nature, the judicious Hooker looks upon as so evident in itself, and beyond all question, that he makes it the foundation of that obligation to mutual love amongst men on which he builds the duties they owe one another, and from whence he derives the great maxims of justice and charity. His words are:

He then quotes a writer named Hooker:

“The like natural inducement hath brought men to know that it is no less their duty to love others than themselves, for seeing those things which are equal, must needs all have one measure; if I cannot but wish to receive good, even as much at every man’s hands, as any man can wish unto his own soul, how should I look to have any part of my desire herein satisfied, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire, which is undoubtedly in other men weak, being of one and the same nature: to have anything offered them repugnant to this desire must needs, in all respects, grieve them as much as me; so that if I do harm, I must look to suffer, there being no reason that others should show greater measure of love to me than they have by me showed unto them; my desire, therefore, to be loved of my equals in Nature, as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to themward fully the like affection. From which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn for direction of life no man is ignorant.” (Eccl. Pol. i.)

So certainly this "nature" that John Locke is referring to is utopian, but it is also a utopian ideal which people can ascribe to and strive toward. And now I can restore the context, stripped out by Ayn Rand and her propagandists:

But though this be a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of licence; though man in that state have an uncontrollable liberty to dispose of his person or possessions, yet he has not liberty to destroy himself, or so much as any creature in his possession, but where some nobler use than its bare preservation calls for it."

So, Locke's point is that even the state of nature -- the world before "the fall", the universe of completely free anarchistic communities has a Government:

"The state of Nature has a law of Nature to govern it, which obliges every one, and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions; for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker; all the servants of one sovereign Master, sent into the world by His order and about His business; they are His property, whose workmanship they are made to last during His, not one another’s pleasure. And, being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of Nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us that may authorise us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another’s uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for ours. Every one as he is bound to preserve himself, and not to quit his station wilfully, so by the like reason, when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he as much as he can to preserve the rest of mankind, and not unless it be to do justice on an offender, take away or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another.

So Locke is making a limited argument. Given that there is a "state of Nature" even there the "Maker" governs. This was a clear argument among the educated and self educated people of the Enlightenment. There was no need to argue whether God was Moslem, Jewish, Hindu, Chinese or Christian. Chinese could understand "The rule of heaven" here, and any Atheist can understand what he's saying if it is read in context. Jefferson was a Deist, quoted above, who no more believed in a literal God in heaven than any modern Atheist, but he had no trouble with natural rights.

Liberty Bait and Switch - The Bait

Then the authors go on to make a series of additional straw arguments to undermine the notion of inalienable rights by claiming that there is an equation between them being God Given and them being inalienable. This is a bait argument, designed to appeal to the cynical, jaded, or folks who've simply rejected the authoritarian and simplistic (exoteric) preachings of contemporary American Religious demagogues. The first argument is:

"If natural rights come from God, then proof of their existence depends on proof of God’s existence—and further, on proof that God somehow makes rights exist and cannot repeal them.

But this turns the argument on it's head. It doesn't follow from the question of the "existence of God" that natural rights are granted from God. The God being defined here is associated with the "State of Nature" it's "god by definition" and a short cut to a whole load of related concepts; "the Good", "Right and wrong". It doesn't prove God that there are concepts like "The Good" or "Right and Wrong". It's just a way of saying that some things are laws of nature. Locke was arguing with people who argued that rights were privileges only for the owners, the aristocrats of the world. He accepted the concept of the Philosopher's God "The God of Nature" as a definitional principle. The existence of such a God is not a matter of faith or non-faith, but of convention. It's like saying that a woman's child "came from God" because they can't figure out who the father was, or that the bible was written by God due to the obscurity of it's many authors and editors. If folks had posited Newton's law before there was a Newton, his "laws of motion" would still be laws, even if somehow they'd gotten into the Bible and people believed that God had spoken them. Their validity exists independent of the validity of the relationship. But the author is simply trying to claim that there is no reasonable basis for the positing of moral laws!

But, again, there is no evidence for the existence of God, much less for the existence of natural moral laws or inalienable rights that somehow emanate from his will."

So the purpose of this whole effort to reduce 1000 year of developing ideas about rights and theology into an absurdist statement is to bait a hook with a convenient substitute for natural rights. And the author further confuses his marks by tying the notion of natural rights to a mere "article of faith!"

"To accept the existence of “God” is ultimately to accept it on faith; accordingly, to accept the idea that “rights” somehow “come from God” is to rest one’s case for rights on faith. This will not do."

He then ties this entire exercise in sophistryto the core amoral/immoral Randian attack on the enlightenment, quoting Rand:

[T]o rest one’s case on faith means to concede . . . that one has no rational arguments to offer . . . that there are no rational arguments to support the American system, no rational justification for freedom, justice, property, individual rights, that these rest on a mystic revelation and can be accepted only on faith—that in reason and logic the enemy is right.

But the author of this article is playing a game of sleight of hand. Locke, when he describes the State of Nature is not arguing that man is in that state, he's setting up a deeper argument.

A Priori does not mean "resting on faith"

A Priori reasoning is not resting on faith. It is stating that some principles are simply true and one uses judgment and reason to capture that truth and discover them. Natural law in the realm of physics takes this characteristic. The "State of Nature" that John Locke described is looking at the root of rights by imaging what they are. But he also looked at the roots of rights by looking at what they were not. Natural rights are not matters of faith. Liberty and it's opposite are states one can experience. A person in a prison might be free in his or her mind, but she's still in a jail and by definition deprived of her physical liberty. Similarly with "health, limb, goods"; these rights are all connected to survival. Ayn Rand isn't inventing a new argument when she roots values in the a-priori notion of "life:"

Metaphysically, life is the only phenomenon that is an end in itself: a value gained and kept by a constant process of action. Epistemologically, the concept of “value” is genetically dependent upon and derived from the antecedent concept of “life.” To speak of “value” as apart from “life” is worse than a contradiction in terms. “It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible.”

So her God is "life", part of "life, the universe and everything. She rejects "God" and then names God life. Still a-priori reasoning. And you don't need faith so much as trust. But then when Locke described the idealized State of Nature he was doing so to setup a better vision. Because the state of nature requires virtue to sustain it, or a God that can act in the world and punish miscreants. As Locke notes after finishing his discussion of the laws of the State of nature and the ways they might be enforced -- the only men truly in a state of nature, are monarchs:

"It is often asked as a mighty objection, where are, or ever were, there any men in such a state of Nature? To which it may suffice as an answer at present, that since all princes and rulers of “independent” governments all through the world are in a state of Nature, it is plain the world never was, nor never will be, without numbers of men in that state. I have named all governors of “independent” communities, whether they are, or are not, in league with others; for it is not every compact that puts an end to the state of Nature between men, but only this one of agreeing together mutually to enter into one community, and make one body politic; other promises and compacts men may make one with another, and yet still be in the state of Nature. The promises and bargains for truck, etc., between the two men in Soldania, in or between a Swiss and an Indian, in the woods of America, are binding to them, though they are perfectly in a state of Nature in reference to one another for truth, and keeping of faith belongs to men as men, and not as members of society"

Locke is deducing natural rights and then associating them with the "State of Nature" and a man-created "State of Civilization" and not claiming that their only source is from God. He's also setting up a "State of Civilization as a civilized alternative to the State of Nature. In the process he uses the brilliant tool of exegesis to link rights to the concept of "trust" using the examples of Cain for what happens to transgressors under a state of nature and then Saul to describe what happens to transgressors of the public trust. He describes as his less than ideal, but practical world a trustworthy society in which those with power and authority exercise it subject to the trust of those they lead. Locke linked that trust to God's trust but firmly ties God's trust to the people's trust. Locke's argument only rests on God to the extent that the trust of God is a reflection of the trust of the people. Lockes' argument is emminently rational and stands on it's own even without the Judeo-Christian Context. Her attack on natural rights on atheist grounds falls flat

Liberty Bait and Switch - The Switch

But this whole attack on the core principles of the enlightenment wouldn't be complete without a substitute argument. And for that Rand only offers her notions of enlightened Self Interest. She starts out saying things that anyone with a thorough understanding of the concepts of the enlightenment might support;

The maintenance of life and the pursuit of happiness are not two separate issues. To hold one’s own life as one’s ultimate value, and one’s own happiness as one’s highest purpose are two aspects of the same achievement. Existentially, the activity of pursuing rational goals is the activity of maintaining one’s life; psychologically, its result, reward and concomitant is an emotional state of happiness. . . .

But of course the issue of the pursuit of happiness and it's identity with moral values is not a new thing. If that were all involved then the best government might be the "State of Nature" described earlier. But the problem with civilization is that there has to be rule of law, someone with the power to judge, for justice to be achieved in adjudicating boundary issues. If one's own happiness means transgressing on the happiness of others -- then we need states. She claims:

There is only one fundamental right (all others are its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action—which means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life. (Such is the meaning of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.)

Of course, in the end even our lives are transcient, so people also have the right to give their lives to some cause or to behave patriotically or valiantly. If the only right is the "right to one's own life" that isn't much of a right if it doesn't include all the dressing that makes life worth living.

But then she asserts something irrational:

"But the relationship of cause to effect cannot be reversed. It is only by accepting “man’s life” as one’s primary and by pursuing the rational values it requires that one can achieve happiness—not by taking “happiness” as some undefined, irreducible primary and then attempting to live by its guidance. If you achieve that which is the good by a rational standard of value, it will necessarily make you happy; but that which makes you happy, by some undefined emotional standard, is not necessarily the good.

Virtue, duty, honor, don't necessarily equate to happiness. And temporary happiness doesn't always equate to long term satisfaction. Drug addicts are happy while high, but transgress boundaries when seeking to get high. So "man's life" as primary value might sound good, but it doesn't help the soldier, sailor, policeman or whistle-blower when the needs of the greater good outweigh one's personal happiness. Moreover, it doesn't even make sense that one's own life is always one's primary goal. Sometimes we give ourselves to the public good even if it hurts. Ayn Rand is not making new arguments. But she is oversimplifying a nuanced reality. Cause is action, effect is result -- we do our duty even if we don't personally benefit and usually get some vicarious benefit from doing so. For example, being able to look at oneself in a mirror and like oneself is worth ten boxes of chocolate or a hundred gold bars.

She writes:

"No individual or private group or private organization has the legal power to initiate the use of physical force against other individuals or groups and to compel them to act against their own voluntary choice. Only a government holds that power. The nature of governmental action is: coercive action. The nature of political power is: the power to force obedience under threat of physical injury—the threat of property expropriation, imprisonment, or death."

Anyone who has been evicted, thrown out of a business by private guards for protesting or because the Boss felt like it, or read any history knows that either businesses in our world are government or they control governments. Ayn Rand is now starting to make a false argument, as she did repeatedly before audiences small and large, her whole life.

Next she argues, first by restating and subtly distorting a common definition:

“Rights” are a moral concept—the concept that provides a logical transition from the principles guiding an individual’s actions to the principles guiding his relationship with others—the concept that preserves and protects individual morality in a social context—the link between the moral code of a man and the legal code of a society, between ethics and politics. Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law."

No, Rights are common standards, principles of action, that govern both individuals and groups and that state and codify moral laws. Not only individuals. But she equates this with "egoism":

The moral law that Rand speaks of here is the principle of egoism—the observation-based moral truth that each individual should act to promote his own life and is the proper beneficiary of his own actions. Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to the truth of egoism.

I'd laugh at the absurdity of this statement except it is so absurd I can't find anybody who even thought to question it until she made it. But the notion of rights as subordinating society to egoism flies in the face of the origins of rights. The only people who have the power to subordinate society to their egoism are the monarchs, who as Locke observed are "in a state of nature" and not always subject to civilized rules. Thus advocating egoism is very much similar to what Sir John filmer advocates. So basically she's arguing something similar to the divine right of Kings.

Locke's definition of liberty is very different:

And he defines liberty in contrast with slavery and in the context of trust:

"21. The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man, but to have only the law of Nature for his rule. The liberty of man in society is to be under no other legislative power but that established by consent in the commonwealth, nor under the dominion of any will, or restraint of any law, but what that legislative shall enact according to the trust put in it. Freedom, then, is not what Sir Robert Filmer tells us: “A liberty for every one to do what he lists, to live as he pleases, and not to be tied by any laws”; but freedom of men under government is to have a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society, and made by the legislative power erected in it. A liberty to follow my own will in all things where that rule prescribes not, not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man, as freedom of nature is to be under no other restraint but the law of Nature."

For Locke the foundation of government is the trust of the people, not faith:

"149. Though in a constituted commonwealth standing upon its own basis and acting according to its own nature—that is, acting for the preservation of the community, there can be but one supreme power, which is the legislative, to which all the rest are and must be subordinate, yet the legislative being only a fiduciary power to act for certain ends, there remains still in the people a supreme power to remove or alter the legislative, when they find the legislative act contrary to the trust reposed in them. For all power given with trust for the attaining an end being limited by that end, whenever that end is manifestly neglected or opposed, the trust must necessarily be forfeited, and the power devolve into the hands of those that gave it, who may place it anew where they shall think best for their safety and security. And thus the community perpetually retains a supreme power of saving themselves from the attempts and designs of anybody, even of their legislators, whenever they shall be so foolish or so wicked as to lay and carry on designs against the liberties and properties of the subject. For no man or society of men having a power to deliver up their preservation, or consequently the means of it, to the absolute will and arbitrary dominion of another, whenever any one shall go about to bring them into such a slavish condition, they will always have a right to preserve what they have not a power to part with, and to rid themselves of those who invade this fundamental, sacred, and unalterable law of self-preservation for which they entered into society. And thus the community may be said in this respect to be always the supreme power, but not as considered under any form of government, because this power of the people can never take place till the government be dissolved.

But of course Ayn Rand argues that people are enslaved when someone "takes" their produce which starts with a reasonable argument again:

"If some men are entitled by right to the products of the work of others, it means that those others are deprived of rights and condemned to slave labor. Any alleged “right” of one man which necessitates the violation of the rights of another, is not and cannot be a right. No man can have a right to impose an unchosen obligation, an unwarranted duty or an involuntary servitude on another man. There can be no such thing as “the right to enslave.”"

This would actually make sense except she abandons this restatement of the labor theory of value for one that gives all the credit for production to the owners of production and not labor.

The author then summarizes her arguments, claiming they are superior to 300 years of institutional wisdom because:1; there is no such thing as God, and two because:

Rand’s theory holds not that rights are “inherent,” but that they are objective—not that they are “inborn,” but that they are conceptual identifications of the factual requirements of human life in a social context. Her theory is, as this essay has endeavored to show, demonstrably true.

Objective means that they can be deduced (or adduced) from observation. If they are objective, that means the concepts involved were true all along, which means that they are a-priori, which also means that they are inherent. So her argument falls apart by itself. Moreover, her argument is based on the invented argument that the problem with rights theory is because there is no God and that the real problem is that society believes that "self interest is evil"

But the problem is not that "self interest is evil" but that our system imposes obligations, and often forces or swindles people into choosing sub-optimal obligations to people who then live of rents from their labor, rents from their shelter, food, and survival; and who have the power to enforce their "private, separate advantage" through courts and a rigged government. The captains of business she so championed have thus imposed servitude on the vast majority of people of this world, and they use "egoism is good" as their excuse. So her moral system is mostly bait and switch argument and part of a general attack on enlightened values. Where it holds together it borrows or rewords bedrock notions, but where it causes horrible dislocation is her unreasonable assessment of the role of business corporations. The Bait is "enlightened self interest" the switch is local and business tyranny. As Locke said:

"199. As usurpation is the exercise of power which another hath a right to, so tyranny is the exercise of power beyond right, which nobody can have a right to; and this is making use of the power any one has in his hands, not for the good of those who are under it, but for his own private, separate advantage. When the governor, however entitled, makes not the law, but his will, the rule, and his commands and actions are not directed to the preservation of the properties of his people, but the satisfaction of his own ambition, revenge, covetousness, or any other irregular passion."

So selfishness and ego coupled with power is but a source of tyranny. In trying to make a name for herself Rand was just following in a line of shills for power that dates back to Sir Robert Filmer.


Every argument on this page comes from my handy dandy copy of John Locke's book "Two Treatises on Government", my memory, or from the following web-page:

A good read for John Locke (i have multiple):
Argumentation on Ayn Rand (taken 6/7/2013):
Rational self interest: [""]
Further reading on Ayn Rand
Worst Aunt ever:
Clinical Psychologist on how she's influenced our country (for the worst):
Ayn Rand and Dick Cavett:
"She was supposed to be on my show; I was kind of sorry she wasn’t, because I was kind of laying for her. I did not succumb, as a kid, to being enthused by Ayn Rand, and that sense of power, as every kid was at one time until they outgrew it. The old bag sent over a list of fifteen conditions for appearing with me, or for appearing with anyone, I guess. One of them was, “There will be no disagreeing with Ms. Rand’s philosophy.”"