Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The Culture: Bridled Individualism vs. Unrestrained Altruism

Consider the following quote from the speech given last night by Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate for US Senate from Illinois:

For alongside our famous individualism, there's another ingredient in the American saga. A belief that we're all connected as one people. If there is a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for their prescription drugs, and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandparent. If there's an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It is that fundamental belief, it is that fundamental belief, I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper that makes this country work. It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams and yet still come together as one American family. [link]
So we have the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness "alongside" the "fundamental" moral duty to be thy brother's keeper and a false charge that this country is imprisoning whole American families without the benefit of the constitutional protections for the accused.

This speech was certainly audacious, but it is not hopeful. Its favorable reception indicates that a significant part of the population thinks that life is a hospital and that the able must sacrifice to sustain it. Where is the line drawn? At what point does our famous individualism mean we can stop being our bother's keeper and have the freedom to live our own lives? Is the line drawn at 40, 50, 60, or 70 percent (if not more) of our incomes and time? How can anyone say with a straight face that they respect individualism as they do everything in their power to circumvent it? If we are not free to keep the fruits of our labors and if we are not free to refuse the burden of keeping every man, woman and child, we are not free. This was not a speech in defense of freedom--it was a speech in attack against it, yet I guarantee you most pundits will miss the point.

This (and the other speeches I've heard thus far) indicate that the choice in this election will be between the religious dogmatism of the right and the socialistic skepticism of the left. This is where we are at until we advance Objectivism to the point where it can play a real role in shaping our public debate.

I wonder why people don't get it. A people who can not articulate a definition for their freedom nor recognize the encroachments against it are doomed to loose that freedom.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Rights and Reason: The Public's Right to Know

The son of Paul Johnson Jr. (or someone claiming to be him) has left a series of feedback posts and phone calls condemning CAC’s decision for the Rule of Reason to link to photos on the Drudge Report website showing Johnson’s decapitation at the hands of militant Islamists in Saudi Arabia. Striped away of its profanity, the individual’s argument is that “nobody has rights (sic) to look at that.” The individual then proceeded to threaten legal action against CAC and promised that “[we] will take [the pictures] down.”

Whether this request actually came from Johnson’s son, or just a member of the public masquerading as his son is immaterial. The photos of Johnson’s murder are not private photos or government photos taken because of official work and for which there is an expectation of privacy. They are the deliberate propaganda of a savage and bloodthirsty enemy of the United States dedicated to the usurpation of western civilization and its replacement by an Islamic theocracy. They were released by this enemy for no other reason then to show our impotence and strike fear in the hearts of our people.

I consider it crucial that Americans do not blanch away from confronting the horror of this enemy; in fact, I believe that for America to prevail, our people must look at such images, confront them for what they are and act accordingly. It takes incredible contempt for human life to hold a man who has harmed no one down upon the floor and cut his throat with the indifference in which one would slice bread. It takes even more contempt for life to dance around this victim's lifeless body as if his murder is worthy of joy. A picture may not be a substitute for an intellectual argument, but in this case, it serves as concrete proof of the enemy’s vicious nature; a nature that we at CAC believe is being equivocated away through bromides such as Islam being “a religion of peace.”

It is misguided that Johnson’s son (or whoever is claming to be him) condemns CAC for linking to these images. We respect the desire not to look at images of death, especially if they involve loved ones, but that is an individual’s personal decision and not one that can be made for the public as a whole. We did not produce this propaganda or the savagery behind it; on the contrary, it is our goal to eradicate such acts from the face of the earth. No one has the right to scour the Internet and demand the removal of these images. Such conduct treats this murder as if it did not happen and that it has no larger implication for the rest of us. These are horrific, shocking photos of unmitigated brutality, but they are not private ones. Terrible as they are, they need to be seen and understood.

Today, Johnson’s son (or the person claiming to be him) indicated that he intends to send copies of our website to all the members of Congress in an attempt to pass a law outlawing links such as ours. (I have the sense that his lawyer told him he had no legal case against CAC). I nevertheless respect his decision. Congress will have to confront both the evil of these acts against American citizens and the public’s right to contemplate them.

The Culture: Hatred of the Good

For some odd reason, the world press hates Lance Armstrong. Could it be because he is an American who wins victories?

Monday, July 26, 2004

The Culture: Congratulations to Cox and Forkum

John Cox and Allen Forkum are two of the most creative and powerful political cartoonists in America today; they create compelling statements that challenge the ideologies of both left and the right, and they stand for values that most in their field sneer at. Last week, the duo passed an important milestone in their careers--they were picked up by the Detroit News and Investors Business Daily.

Bravo to both of them for their intelligence, perseverance, and dedication.

Rights and Reason: KFC vs. PETA

Chicken is a food staple; according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, in 2000 Americans consumed 25,132 million pounds of chicken, or 91 pounds for every man, woman and child. Chicken is also a persistent target of the animal rights activists who seek to outlaw meat consumption and force vegetarianism. The notorious animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), as part of a longstanding campaign against Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), has released a video alleging one of KFC's suppliers maliciously tortured the chickens it raises. The video itself is standard animal "rights" fare, focusing on breeding and slaughterhouse methods, complete with a fuming narrative by former "Golden Girl" and curmudgeon Bea Arther.  

KFC has responded by dropping its supplier until it can confirm that the supplier will follow its own published standards. Yet rather than remain silent or appease PETA's ultimate demands, KFC is doing something practically unheard of in the business community: it is defending itself. Consider this statement from KFC President Gregg Dedrick's at a press conference last week answering PETA's charges: 

We ask you today to stop being a pawn used by PETA. For example, some of the TV press coverage today said this is a "KFC videotape investigation." The Courier-Journal today failed to mention that we're just one of the many fast food customers of this facility - the entire article made it look like it was a KFC facility. In fact, almost all the press coverage made it look that way. And the media is not publishing all the facts. This ongoing PETA campaign of distortion, deceit and duplicity is outrageous. Their publicity ploys, like today's call for our CEO to step down, are ludicrous.  PETA has distorted the truth time and time again. Here are just a few examples of mistruths:  

-a fabricated letter by the Dalai Lama;
-claiming Jason Alexander is anti-KFC; 
- claiming a former president of KFC was forced out of the company for meeting with PETA; and most importantly, 
-saying we don't enforce animal welfare standards with our suppliers. In fact, our animal welfare advisory council, made up of some of the world's most-renowned experts in this area like Dr. Temple Grandin, have endorsed our actions as recently as this morning.  

What's more, PETA not only distorts the truth, they have harassed our executives and engaged in a campaign of harassment, invasion of privacy and what I'd call "corporate terrorism."  

Bruce Friedrich, PETA's vegan campaign director, publicly said "all fast food establishments should be bombed, and he would say 'Hallelujah' to anyone who did this.  

That same person was arrested and convicted for criminal trespass at the home of a Senior Executive at Yum! Brands on Christmas Eve, and that's not the first time PETA has invaded our privacy at our homes, church, at work, and with our families, our neighbors and their children.  

According to the FBI, PETA funded the legal defense of an animal liberation front arsonist who was convicted of torching a Michigan State research lab.  

This is not your warm and fuzzy animal rights group. This pressure through intimidation, harassment and invasion of privacy should not be tolerated. It is nothing short of "corporate terrorism."  

We call on the news media and all Louisvillians to tell PETA enough is enough. Tell them their tactics are not welcome in our community. And join us by calling on Congress to strip PETA of their not-for-profit tax-free status. We hope you are equally outraged that taxpayer dollars are being used to fund this campaign of deceit, duplicity and terrorism.

If you think that Dedrick's terrorism charge is too incendiary, you should check your premise. Just last week, wildlife agency officials in Florida were advised to avoid wearing their uniforms after a series of death threats over the defensive shooting of a tiger by one of their agents. In Britain, a top adviser to two powerful animal rights protest groups called for the assassination of scientists working in biomedical research becuse it would save animals' lives. Time and time again, the animal "rights" movement has crossed civilized boundaries in their quest to bring rights to the denizens of the jungle.  They call the meat industry "inhumane," yet its their own conduct that is an a affront.

The only thing missing from Dedrick's statement in defense of KFC is a philosophic assessment of the reasoning behind PETA's campaign. PETA's supporters are not mere vegetarians, but crusaders for an irrational cause. Ed Locke explains their reasoning: 

As someone who has debated them for years on college campuses and in the media, I know firsthand that the whole movement is based on a single—invalid—syllogism, namely: men feel pain and have rights; animals feel pain; therefore, animals have rights. This argument is entirely specious, because man's rights do not depend on his ability to feel pain; they depend on his ability to think. 

Rights are ethical principles applicable only to beings capable of reason and choice. There is only one fundamental right: a man's right to his own life. To live successfully, man must use his rational faculty—which is exercised by choice. The choice to think can be negated only by the use of physical force. To survive and prosper, men must be free from the initiation of force by other men—free to use their own minds to guide their choices and actions. Rights protect men against the use of force by other men. 

None of this is relevant to animals. Animals do not survive by rational thought (nor by sign languages allegedly taught to them by psychologists). They survive through inborn reflexes and sensory-perceptual association. They cannot reason. They cannot learn a code of ethics. A lion is not immoral for eating a zebra (or even for attacking a man). Predation is their natural and only means of survival; they do not have the capacity to learn any other. 

Only man has the power to deal with other members of his own species by voluntary means: rational persuasion and a code of morality rather than physical force. To claim that man's use of animals is immoral is to claim that we have no right to our own lives and that we must sacrifice our welfare for the sake of creatures who cannot think or grasp the concept of morality. It is to elevate amoral animals to a moral level higher than ourselves—a flagrant contradiction. Of course, it is proper not to cause animals gratuitous suffering. But this is not the same as inventing a bill of rights for them—at our expense.

If KFC is to defend its business and ultimately prevail against its critics, it can not merely rely on the court of public opinion, which currently runs against the animal rights activists but can easily change, or point to the more outrageous actions of the animal rights movement, treating the wickedness of these actions as self-evident. KFC's executives and employees are under moral attack and they must defend themselves as a matter of principle. They should explicitly spell out why both the tactics and the larger principles of the animal rights activists are both vicious and wrong.

Friday, July 09, 2004

The Culture: HBL

I just happened to notice that I recently received my 9,000th HBL post, and that figure doesn’t include posts received through my prior e-mail service which I was not able to archive. Today, my files add up to 55MB of text--unadulterated intellectual activism on the highest level.

HBL is tremendously valuable to me. I find the debate insightful, the methodology refreshing, and the intellectual camaraderie an absolute pleasure. I often refer back to archived posts to clarify my own thinking, and I can’t recall how many times I have thought to myself how intelligently a contributor has expressed his or her position, as well as how Dr. Binswanger’s brilliant commentary (and helpful essentialization) adds to their value.

For those of you who are not members, let me recommend HBL to you. No Objectivist should be without it.