“Great minds talk about ideas; mediocre minds talk about events; small minds talk about people.” — Unknown
Whatever one might think about that well-known quote, it certainly describes the vast majority of Ayn Rand’s critics, ever incapable of dealing with her actual ideas. Instead, they talk about the *person*, jumping on minor aspects of her personality or conduct, or isolated passages of her writing, looking for excuses to justify their scared evasions. Two recent ones are the “speed freak” meme (the comments at that link actually do a good bit of fisking that one), and the “serial-killer fan” meme.
One of the smaller minds at BoingBoing.net, Mark Frauenfelder, brings us another example, sourced from Michael Ford at that paragon of journalism, the CessPit. This one recycles an old argument, often directed at small-government advocates of all kinds, to accuse Ayn Rand of “hypocrisy” for taking Medicare and Social Security assistance while opposing the existence of such programs.
Other examples often used include: driving on the government roads, sending one’s kids to the public schools, using a government student loan program, using a public park, or (in Canada) using the government health care system. (I even had someone deploy it when I commented about Objectivists going to the Clark County Shooting Park in Las Vegas, funded in part courtesy of Harry Reid. He did not yet know that I was one of them, and hilarity ensued.)
Is it hypocrisy to utilize these services while opposing them? Remember that this accusation obviously operates on the premise that hypocrisy is a moral failing. Objectivism agrees with this, as hypocrisy entails a contradiction, a disconnect, between what one professes to believe ought to be, versus what one’s actions actually are. If you are careful not too look too closely or think overlong about the issue, Ayn Rand’s application for Social Security and Medicare benefits does indeed appear to contradict her normative claims; for Fraunfelder, Ford and their ilk, that is sufficient to establish the fact.
Ah, what a relief for them to find something vaguely white with feathers that they can call a duck and scurry away with their conclusions, eh? Who needs to wait around and see if it actually quacks, has a bill rather than a beak, and swims in water?
There is one very, very large fact evaded in this argument, that is completely fatal to it: that is the fact that while we are free to “choose” not to use the services we oppose, we are not free to opt out of paying for such things in the first place. Where was this concern for morality and choice at the moment of the initial theft (taxation) which pays for these services?
Morality ends where a gun begins. If we were to speak out against such things at the outset and then opt in, then it would be hypocrisy… but that choice was never ours!
An Objectivist approaches the issue of using government services in that context — as the victim of a theft. As such, he now retains the moral (if not legal) right of the use of force — retaliatory force — against the aggressor, in the same way and for the same reason as a mugging victim has the right to retaliate.
Of course, the government is a really big and well-armed thief, and worse: they are in charge of the law. Trying to defend oneself by subterfuge (e.g. via tax evasion) is highly impractical and very risky, a poor tactical choice (as Wesley Snipes found out). However, the government is an unusual thief; it occasionally offers to give back some of the loot. Sometimes, it says that you are “entitled” to it, for reasons that have nothing to do with justice (i.e. that it was yours in the first place; see the implicit Marxist premise behind all commentary that speak of tax cuts as a “cost” to government) . Should we care about such details? Notwithstanding our preference for getting and keeping our own money on the grounds that it’s ours, it is morally proper (if not an imperative) to take one’s own money back from a thief at every opportunity, regardless of the thief’s motives.
This “hypocrisy” charge fails to account for these facts; it rests on the premise that government theft is a given, the absolute and not-to-be-questioned (but our right to our property is contingent, subject to how much the government decides we can keep), and that morality only applies *after* the theft — when it’s convenient for the thieves and their pilot fish, but not for the victims of course.
The only alternative left to us in this little racket of theirs, is to openly applaud and sanction the theft in the name of “consistency” (as they do) — or to passively surrender and leave all the loot taken from us to them. By their logic, the only ones who have a moral claim to the loot are the ones who applaud the theft.
The reality is this: Thieves have no moral right to their loot — and neither do those who aid and abet them, physically or morally. That’s pretty clear by itself. But consider this: after you eliminate the thieves and their sanctioners, who is left? All that remains after that, are those victims who did NOT sanction the theft.
In other words, the only ones who can plausibly be said to have a moral claim on the right of use and disposal of the loot — so long as there is any left to reclaim — are those who morally oppose the theft in the first place, the so-called “hypocrites”.
“Since there is no such thing as the right of some men to vote away the rights of others, and no such thing as the right of the government to seize the property of some men for the unearned benefit of others—the advocates and supporters of the welfare state are morally guilty of robbing their opponents, and the fact that the robbery is legalized makes it morally worse, not better. The victims do not have to add self-inflicted martyrdom to the injury done to them by others; they do not have to let the looters profit doubly, by letting them distribute the money exclusively to the parasites who clamored for it. Whenever the welfare-state laws offer them some small restitution, the victims should take it . . . .”
– Ayn Rand, from The Objectivist, June 1966, 11 (Via the Ayn Rand Lexicon).
It is a basic application of honesty that one should be familiar with what an ideology or a person actually says and believes, before criticizing them. If Frauenfelder and Ford had met this minimum standard, they would know that Ayn Rand had already answered their sorry little gambit over forty years ago.
But hey, it’s Ayn Rand, so anything is permissible as far as they are concerned. What trifle is honesty as compared to the circle-jerk of their adoring, Rand-fearing sycophants?
Postscript 1/30/2011: Frauenfelder posts a response to an article over at Reason that makes the same key point I do. Of course, it’s “Reason”, where Tim Cavanaugh loads up his article with the usual “cultist” smear, allowing Frauenfelder to cover his ass on the key point while still maintaining his cred with his sycophants… a nice little reminder why men of actual reason must be careful to keep libertarianism per se at arms length.