Not so fast! While zombie is indeed confused, there is much more involved here; rather than clueless overgenerosity, zombie is trapped by a much more fundamental error. Go read the whole thing, as you will definitely need the context (and it’s very informative), and then come back here.
Peripherally interesting is zombie’s take on the character of the hippie movement prior to 1968, which is widely considered by many as a key turning point. (Harry Binswanger, for example, has noted on HBL that 1968 was the year when he directly encountered the Leftist violence and hatred that was coming to dominate the entire movement.) zombie provides some history of the hippie movement which shows that there were indeed some elements of anti-statism and individualism present at one point. I find it interesting in part because it fits the experience of my wife, who saw it firsthand, and it also represents how this climax of the Left’s co-option of American liberalism encapsulates the entire century-long process in miniature.
But the main thing that I found interesting in zombie’s post was the two-dimensional political diagram in it. At first glance it just looks like the usual libertarian attempt to graft the proper statism-liberty axis onto the invalid left-right one to create an unwieldy two-dimensional political “space”, instead of rejecting the invalid one altogether.
Unlike the libertarians, zombie actually does reject the left-right axis entirely in favor of the valid individualism-collectivism one. But then, zombie introduces a second axis defined by a different variable: one’s view of human nature. Its extremes are defined as “innate” (here meaning: immutable) at one end, and (socially) “constructed” at the other.
That’s an interesting approach, but not for zombie’s reasons as we shall see.
The immediate problem with zombie’s second axis, is that it represents the old “nature versus nurture” debate, which is a false alternative of precisely the same sort as the old left-right axis. Where the old axis was designed to obliterate freedom (offering us only a choice in the form of rulers), the new one is designed to obliterate free will.
As with the old axis, attempting to locate Objectivism on it results in confusion. Anyone who attempts to place Objectivism in that space will have no problem placing us on the extreme individualist end of the valid spectrum, but won’t be able to fit us anywhere on the “innate-constructed” one.
Objectivists see human nature as immutable, a given — but also see human beings as “tabula rasa”, a view which zombie and conservatives associate with the Leftist view of human nature as being infinitely malleable. So, for someone trapped in that particular “space”, Objectivism seems inconsisent and confusing.
Sure enough, Zombie ends up placing Objectivists somewhere in the muddled middle, on the “innate” side — but in reality, Objectivism can be placed anywhere in that space with equal (which is to say: zero) validity. Evolutionary psychologists, for example, would place “tabula rasa” Objectivists up at the top. Leftists would put us at the bottom, with the religious/fascists.
Again, the pattern repeats: that is exactly the confusion that results when someone trapped in the old left-right axis attempts to locate Objectivism/laissez-faire on that axis; they end up confused, and condemning Objectivism as inconsistent!
Is this just a coincidence — or is there something deeper going on?
Below is a cleaned-up, edited and expanded version of the comment I posted on zombie’s article, which explains my take on zombie’s “new” axis, and puts forth the “third way” on that axis: the Objectivist view of “tabula rasa” as pertaining not to human nature (which is a given), but to human character (which is individually “constructed”).
The idea that the hippie movement was not Leftist in its original pre-1968 form, jibes with what my original-vintage-hippie wife tells me.
But that “innate versus constructed” human nature axis is a complete disaster — it’s a false alternative, just like the left-right axis. It is nothing more than the “nature versus nurture” alternative, and the falsity therein is this: it operates on the assumption that nature ==> character (where “==>” means “is directly determined by“).
Determinism, in other words.
Just as the left-right axis presents us with the false alternative of “fascism” versus “communism”, where our only choice is between different forms of rulers but not the fact of rule, the “innate-constructed” axis only offers us a choice between the innate “id” and the social “superego” — blame human nature for your failings, or blame society, but either way it’s not your fault. It’s Freud all over again, telling us that “the ego is not master in its own house.”
The option left out here, is the principle of individual self-authorship and consequent moral responsibility — the notion of character as distinct from human nature, in other words. This is the idea that the ego IS master in its own house — and is morally responsible, therefore, for its content.
When Martin Luther King said that men should be judged “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character“, he was rejecting genetic determinism (in the form of racism), the “nature” half of the false alternative. If the innate-constructed axis were valid, it would mean that King must therefore have been in favor of social construction, or some middle-of-the-road “hybrid” of the two.
But that is plainly false. What King meant, was that individuals should be judged as individuals — that individuals were neither a product of “nature” nor “nurture”, neither genetic robots nor passive conformists nor some blend of the two, but were authors of their own character.
That’s called “free will”, and is the genuine meaning of “tabula rasa” — not the Leftist straw man that Stephen Pinker, Thomas Sowell, and other conservatives attack.
Human nature is indeed a given, immutable and unchangeable — but a man’s character is not; it is the blank slate upon which each man authors his own character, by means of the choices that he makes throughout his life. The slate is what it is, and we do not change that fact with the things we write on it. The slate does not, however, determine in any fashion whatsoever what we choose to write on it — it does not write on itself, nor can it veto what we write on it. It cannot affect the content of our minds and our character; that is entirely up to us, the writers.
It is man’s character which is tabula rasa, not his nature.
It is this absolute fact upon which the Left’s programs, all seeking to “fix” mankind by remaking men into something they are not in accordance with some arbitrary prior standard, have indeed foundered. What Whittle and all conservatives fail to acknowledge is that the “innate” side of the axis has foundered just as badly, and for precisely the same reasons. Instead of trying to make human beings into something they are not, the “innateists” sought to prevent human beings from being what they are — again, because they found man qua man to be “flawed” as judged by some arbitrary prior (religious) standard!
What unites “innateists” and “constructionists” is their fundamental conflict with the facts of human nature — they are at war with htese facts, regardless of where they fall on this axis. All of their societies have led to disaster for that common reason.
So, as is now plain, zombie’s new axis unfortunately does not map to liberty, anymore than the left-right spectrum ever did; the impulse to statism can be found equally at either end. As an index to politics, it is therefore just as meaningless.
In fact, something I find most striking of all here, is that zombie’s “constructed versus innate” axis maps much more cleanly to the old left-right spectrum than individualism-collectivism does; “innate-ist” forms of determinism maps to rightist/racist tyrannies, while “nurture” (social) forms of determinism are clearly associated with the Leftist form.
I have long wondered what was the single variable defining the conventional left-right spectrum was; I think I may finally know.
I have to hand it to Zombie; I have never seen anyone spot the trap and step away from it into the light, as you have done — only to reconstruct another version of it, give it a different name, and step right back in (SNAP!)
Statism, in all its varieties, fails not because it chooses the wrong version of determinism, but that statism is based upon determinism as such, putting it at odds with human nature (including free will) — and THAT is its error.
Contra Bill Whittle, liberty is not based on constraining men against their (evil, “bastardly”, power-lusting) nature; how Orwellian that notion is! Liberty is based upon the idea that every individual is morally responsible for who he is, because man is a being of self-made soul — and therefore, to achieve the greatest that is possible to him, he must be free to author himself without unwanted, coerced interference from others who fancy themselves as knowing better.
These facts of human nature, including moral self-authorship, determine what sort of society ought to exist. What is, allows us to discover what ought to be. (So much for that other core conservative premise, the is/ought prohibition.)
Human nature, like the nature of dogs, cats, rocks and oceans, is a given, morally neutral. It is not “flawed”, and has no “tendencies” to good or evil. It simply is.
This is what it is: individual human beings, by their nature, possess free will and the unencumbered ability to choose the content of their minds (their ideas), and therefore to author their character — and they are each 100% responsible for the results. It’s not in the cards you’re dealt; it’s how you play the hand.
Liberty, therefore, is not about chaining the evil; it is about unchaining the good.